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Monthly Archives: July 2013

What Every Noob Needs To Know About Riding In A Pace Line…

I rode in my normal Tuesday advanced club ride the other night. We had a noob in the crowd and we knew this before we ever clipped our second foot into our pedals. How you ask?

Well, it wasn’t the normal “cargo pants in the peloton” scenario, he announced it as we were waiting to start. The announcement wasn’t necessary, we knew it was his first within 100 yards. He had a nice high-end bike, decent kit (including bibs – I still ride in shorts) but he rode that nice bike like he was on ice. He was all over the place.

Now, before you run off to the comments section to berate me for being callous, hold on a second sparky because you’d be going off half-cocked, on emotion, and you’d be mistaken. I’m a really great guy…ask anyone who knows me! (That’s a joke, you don’t even know me let alone several people who know me. Calm down, take a few deep breaths into a brown paper bag and hear me out for a second).

This is going to get a little sticky because I won’t be pulling any punches (or trying to be politically correct) because this is important.

First, pace line riding is awesome, cool and exciting. It’s also dangerous as hell. People die in pace line crashes, from something as innocuous as a little bump of the tires between two cyclists. Death is very, very rare but that’s not the point. The point is that it happens and if there’s a noob in the group who can’t even ride in a straight line well, the chances of an accident go up exponentially. This is all that matters and it transcends the emotional, ‘let’s feel sorry for the poor noob because I felt a certain way as a noob and it didn’t feel nice to feel that way – and I never quite got over feeling that way so let us apply those emotions to this situation’.

This really gets to another hotly contested debate: Golf is learned on the golf course. Slow play must be tolerated by noobs they say. After all, they’re learning. Nonsense! The game is learned at the driving range, it’s played on the course. If you cannot play the game you have no business on a golf course. Why? Because nobody wants to wait on your slow ass, and if you disagree it’s because you’re selfish and self centered (but I forgive you).

Now add the element of bodily harm and we’ve got a discussion.

So here’s the difference between the right way and the wrong way to prepare for a club ride because the rest is just fodder for discussion. First, what doesn’t matter: The type and year of your bike and the cost of your cycling shorts and jersey.

Let’s start with the improper way:

Buy a bike, clip in and out of the pedals twice, ride it a couple of times and show up to the advanced local club ride and let them teach you how to ride in a pace line at 23 mph!!! Woohoo!!!

Uh, no.

The proper way: Learn to ride in a straight line first. To do this, ride alongside the line on the (PROPER!) side of the road. Get to a point where you can do this almost subconsciously, without looking at the line. Get to a point where you can, subconsciously again, clip in and out of your pedals. Put in a couple of thousand solo miles then ask your local bike shop which ride you’d be best suited for based on your average pace – and then pick up a map of the ride so you won’t have to worry if you get dropped.

While you’re out there, zig-zagging, while it may be “fun”, is generally frowned upon. Remember your training, young apprentice.

Now, where cycling in a pace line differs from golf is in the old adage, “if you can’t play good, look good”. You can be entirely decked out in perfectly matched kit, helmet, glasses and have a stellar bike (much as this fella was hooked up) but if you ride that awesome steed… If you ride that thing like you would a mechanical bull, you’ll be dangerous and nobody with sense will let you get close. You’ll be ostracized, have your petty feelings hurt and it will be your own fault.

Now, if you’re riding in a slow no-drop ride, things are a bit more laid back and you’ll have some space to cut your teeth as the saying goes.

So, it’s personal experience time… I rode a road bike for six months and could maintain an arrow straight 20 mph average solo before I even thought about riding in a group. I studied up best I could on the web and I talked to my LBS owner about it before I finally went out… And I still got dropped after 8 miles… Which brings me to my final point. Get a map or a freaking GPS if you want to ride with the big dogs right off the bat and you’re new. There’s a good chance you’ll need it. OR if you can’t keep up, drop with another rider and plan on hanging with them.

Finally, if you’re new to pace lines, the pros make 34 mph look easy. It’s not. That’s is blazingly fast. 23 – 25 is really hard. Pick the right group to ride with. Drafting helps but you had better be able to get within 3 mph solo of the group average or you’re hit… And the advanced group is no place to learn to pedal a road bike.

A near death experience

Cycling in NY

Riding in NYC is dangerous. Full stop. I am an advocate of making it safer, but unless NYC has a bicycle transportation system like the Dutch, it will always be dangerous. I had two close run-ins again on my commute earlier in the week. One involved a bus (doesn’t it always?) where a bus passed me on the left and then pulled in front of me to let off/pick up passengers, trapping me against the curb. After slamming on the brakes to come to a stop before I hit both the bus and the curb, I then have to put walk my bike up on to the sidewalk, else the bus will run me over when it pulls away. When I ride in the city, I am hyper-aware of my surroundings. As I have said before, when you bike here, you have to leave your front door with the assumption…

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Boeshield T-9 vs. Finish Line Ceramic Wet Lube

I’ve written effusively about Boeshield T-9 chain and drivetrain lube in the past. It’s all I’ve used on my chains for two seasons. That was until my local shop ran out and gave me a sample bottle of Finish Line’s ceramic wet lube to try in exchange for unvarnished feedback.

This is where I come down on the two:

In my most humble opinion Finish Line’s Ceramic Wet Lube is technically the better lube. It lasts longer under dry conditions, keeps the chain quieter longer and using it improves power transfer… There’s less power loss at the chain and I can absolutely feel the difference. It’s not much but it is absolutely noticeable and it won’t make me faster, it just makes turning the crank a little bit easier.

That said, I went back to T-9 for two reasons and the bigger reason is vanity. After two applications (of the Finish Line product) and cleanings, the Ceramic Wet Lube is dirty. It leaves a brown residue all over my drivetrain within 30 miles (even though I wiped the excess off after application). One of the best things about T-9 is that it keeps the drivetrain clean looking in comparison, by an order of magnitude.

Second, Boeshield stays on in the rain. 10 miles in a rainstorm Tuesday night and my then Ceramic Wet Lube-stained chain, cassette and chainrings were sparkling… I rode most of a 100k in a downpour and the Boeshield was less degraded. Now I don’t ride in the rain often but I don’t want to ruin my drivetrain if I get stuck out there from time to time either, and I’m not about to pack it in for rain if I’m already out there.

Finish Line Ceramic Wet Lube, all things considered, is a fantastic chain lube but the truth is, even though I’ll be subjected to more frequent cleanings, I’m sticking with Boeshield because my drivetrain looks cleaner after 250 miles than it does after 20 miles with the Finish Line lube.

The Cost of Victory | Tour de France

Waterlogged Cycling…

Last night’s club ride was nothing short of spectacular – or stupid, I haven’t quite made my mind up yet. But I digress…

I rode the warmup with Mike as usual, every group should have an ex-pro like that guy, he’s just a really nice guy (I say pro, he is a once nationally ranked triathlete, at 65 years old he still pulls a 23 mph average on his TT bike). We talked about wind direction, heat and his latest race. The five miles ticked off in a hurry.

We started promptly at 6 pm and kept a fairly easy pace for the first mile and a half waiting for the group to congeal. Mike and I were second in line to pull and we upped the pace quite a bit.

I was feeling awesome and even dropped back to try to help a new guy keep up. Unfortunately he wasn’t ready to hang with us. It was his first time in a pace line and he was all over the road. When I got back to him I could tell by his breathing alone that he was suffering so I told him to get on my wheel so I could help him back. Unfortunately all we could do was keep pace with the group, we couldn’t make any distance up and we were only about 50 yards back.

Just as I was about to sit up and take it easy to show him the route, two riders dropped off the back so I took the opportunity. I dropped two gears and sprinted to the back of the group – don’t ask me where this came from, just a few weeks ago I was clinging to the back of the group just trying to hold on… Possibly it was just that this occurred early enough in the ride, but I don’t think it’s that simple… I was up to 25 mph and closed the distance quickly. i was amazed that I didn’t have to kill myself to get back to the group – I had a lot left. .

We made a left and that’s when it became clear we were going to get soaked, it was just a matter of time. The sky was ominous. At 12-1/2 miles four of us decided to take a shortcut and limit the damage. It was raining within minutes.

At 15 miles we had an nice pace going for only four guys, taking conditions into account, 22 mph… And that’s when the skies opened up and the first guy was hit with a flat. We all stopped, Chuck helped while Mike and I watched. I turned on my flashing tail light to warn traffic, in the rain I liked the idea of visibility. It took forever to get rolling again and the poor guy didn’t have enough air to keep up so Mike, Chuck and I made a dash to get to the vehicles so we could pick him up… And just about the time we really got moving again, Chuck flatted with just three miles to go. Chuck told us to roll on so Mike and I pushed to the vehicles, soaked to the bone. Mike packed up his bike and I, mine and we took off to help our brothers out (but not before I snapped a couple of pictures). I ended up stopping for Chuck who was already working on pumping his tube up with a little baby hand pump. I gave him my floor pump to make the task a bit easier. By the time I reached Chris he was already loading his bike into somebody else’s car so I drove ahead to make sure everyone else was okay.

After checking on the others I headed back to our start and said my farewells, went and ate dinner, then headed for home where I completely cleaned my bike and re-lubed everything (I do this after every rain ride).

All I can say is thank God for my Lifeproof iPhone case. I rode through that rain with my phone on my bar mount and didn’t worry about my phone surviving once.


A Cycling Noob’s Guide to Choosing Shifting Ratios…

I’ve often contemplated the best gearing for my road bike.  I’ve currently got a triple on my 5200 that I love in the mountains but hate on my normal Tuesday club ride.

So, in the next year I’ll be either trading my 5200 in and buying a Specialized Venge, Roubaix, Trek Domane or rebuilding my 5200 – including a new paint job and new 10 sp. Ultegra components (everything, shifters to derailleurs to crank).  Either way I decide to go, I want to have as much reasonable versatility built into a double drivetrain as I’ve currently got in my triple.

The one thing (and there is only one) that I hate about my triple is that it cross-chains like a bear in the big ring once I pass the middle gears on the cassette. I can get into the 23t and 25t cogs but the chain will skip on both so I often end up riding in the 42t middle ring because I can hit all of the cassette gears and many of the easier gears in the big ring are close to the same ratios as the middle to smaller gears when I’m on the middle ring.

So here’s the conundrum… I love riding in the mountains.  We’re vacationing in northern Georgia again this year and the climb to the house we stay in is north of a 20% grade. I wasn’t strong enough to climb it in the granny/granny gear last year (my goal is to crush it this year)… With the new drivetrain I’ll want to be as close to that 30/25 ratio as possible.

There are a few options here but the one that gives me the best of both worlds is a double – the only question is do I go compact or standard and which cassette do I choose… This gets tricky.

First, I check my current setup on Sheldon Brown’s gear ratio page (selecting my current triple (52/42/30) and cassette range (12-25), 172.5 crank and mph@90 rpm cadence – to keep it simple).

I’ve got a top speed of 30.5 mph and a low end speed of 8.4 mph in the granny/granny gear. The surprising thing is just how many gear ratios in there are duplicates, or close to it – there’s a lot of overlap.

Now, I can go with a classic/modified double (52/39) and if I choose an 11-34 10 sp. cassette, my top speed jumps to 33+mph and my low end speed drops to 8.1 – this appears to be the best option right off the bat – but hold the phone… I like to ride at or near 21 mph (give or take) for my regular training rides. With this setup, I’ve got one gear that gives me 21.4 but each cassette cog has to jump by two teeth per gear to make the 11-34 spread. Going with an 11-32 is no benefit either because the only cog that changes is the granny gear. Still, this is an appealing option.

If I look at a compact double (50/34) with that same cassette, the top speed only drops to 32 mph but the bottom drops to 7.1 – which I like for the mountains. Unfortunately the hole at 21 mph, where I normally like to ride, is huge! I’d have an 18.4, a 20.7 and a 23 mph gear. I don’t like that one bit. If I go to a 12-25 cassette, my large hole in the 18.5-23 mph range closes up tightly but my low end speed raises to over 9 mph… Possibly too tough for the steepest climbs I’ll see. A 12-27 cassette with a compact double though, now that raises my low end to 8.9 and lowers my high end to 29.3 mph but the 20 mph hole is fixed.

So let’s try a classic modified double (52/39) and a 13/29 cassette – low end is too high (9.5 mph) and the high end is too low (28.1 mph). That definitely won’t do…

In the end, if I want an overall setup that does everything my current triple does, only with a greater range, the logical choice is a 52/39 double with an 11-34t cassette.

If, however, I want to be clever, I could get the compact double 50/34 and two cassettes, one for home (11-23t) and one for the mountains (11-34t). The home cassette would give me almost any gear I could need to climb hills around here (I’ve never used the 30t small chain ring in Michigan – only the 42t middle ring) while giving me the perfect stretch of speed gears for my club ride… and the 11-34 cassette would be excellent for the mountains, giving me a granny gear that I could use to climb almost anything but a sheer face.

Now all I have to do is run that by Matt at the shop to make sure I didn’t make any stupid assumptions or mistakes.

So why the consternation over the crank and cassette? My current setup, 52/42/30 crank and 12-25 cassette is great but I really hate that cross-chaining triple. Back when all we had was seven and eight speeds they were great and even necessary. A triple on my ’90 Cannondale seven speed would be great because with a racing double (52/42) and the largest cassette cog at 23t, that bike is rough on the climbs. If that bike had a triple, I could take it just about anywhere. With the newer 10 and 11 speed cassettes there are enough gears available that the triple chainring is all but obsolete for road cycling.  However, when it comes right down to it, going with a double, compact or not, still leaves a few holes – and thus the reason for this post…

I’ve got enough experience now that I can walk into my local bike shop and say, “okay here’s what I want…  I need a normal flat Michigan cassette that gets me a few decent climbing gears but better options right around 20 mph (preferably 1 tooth increments on the cassette), then I’ll need a cassette that I can take to the mountains.”  When we’re noobs, the tendency is to take what we’re given until we get that experience and can narrow down exactly what we need.  I don’t have an easy answer to this, I don’t think there is one.  For me, I found my favorite speeds (around 19-23 mph and I’m going to get the gears to match that so I can keep an easy 90 rpm cadence in the big ring for my next bike – and then add an option to switch cassettes when I head down south.

My Best Birthday Present

I’ve long since given up on the importance of birthday presents – which is quite amazing because I used to cherish a good gift. Nowadays I’m all about the life enriching kind of gifts, a hug from my girls, a nice dinner and a family movie (Chinese and Despicable Me 2 this evening). I am not wealthy by any stretch but I let go of the idea that money (or the acquisition of stuff) and happiness are linked.

So, the greatest birthday present I got this year was that my wife picked up cycling, and it seems like she’s slowly coming to the ferocity with which I enjoy it. Friday at dinner my wife asked me if there were any girls that hang with the guys I ride with… She plans on being there with us soon (though there is one already who can hang for the first 20 miles or so).

There are several reasons to celebrate this. First of all, I’m a guy so… Cycling will keep her looking like the MILF version of the hot young woman I married. Equally important though are the rides together and spending time cruising down the road (hopefully during a few centuries in the near future!). When I met my wife, we found that we shared a love of roller blading and I’d hoped that would have us sharing some form of fitness throughout our marriage. My wife got me into running and we ran together for a while but that faded after our kids were born. Now that they’ve grown up a bit, we’re finding the time to ride together and I’m loving it.

Finally, and most humorously, my wife used to grow weary of my talking about cycling almost instantly – now I used the word weary, but the ferocity with which she would attempt to shut me up was hilarious. The other day, with the girls at a birthday party, my wife and I sat eating dinner using our utensils as props for a discussion on drafting, pace-lines and echelons. Though I was laughing inside I kept a straight face because the truth was, I was in heaven. Cycling was my birthday present last year, cycling with my wife is this year’s.

As a friend from Dayton remarked yesterday, life is good.

The Birthday Ride, and the lead up to it…

The Fourth of July week has been the big kickoff to my big-ride year for the last two years running. I had a hundred mile week in the books (in only two rides) after Thursday’s ride. I had to work yesterday so I took the day off the bike. The question for today was go long or short… I opted for a short 16 with a short break at the bike shop to have my derailleur hanger looked at (it’s seemed to be just a touch toed in ever since I bought the bike and I was finally getting sick of looking at it – the shop confirmed this and fixed it).

I chose this option so I could ride my birthday 43 tomorrow on my actual birthday. On that note I’ll take the opportunity to reiterate that age may not be as benign as “just a number”, but it’s not that big of a deal either… I feel much better today than I did in my 30’s. On the other hand, damn, 43?

Oh well, the important thing is I’ll roll passed 160 miles for the week tomorrow and I’m feeling fantastic leading into our cycling/family/pontoon boat/playing spades till 4am vacation… And I need it.

Also, and for this I’m SERIOUSLY fired up, I wrote a post more than a year ago about the 10 bloggers I’d most like to go for a ride with… Next Saturday I’ll be heading out for a mountain ride with one of the first to make that list. That’s one thing I never expected out of writing and blogging. At times, with more than 1,000 posts since December 16, 2011, this blog has been tough to maintain, but it’s paid me back – all I had to do was open my eyes and recognize it.

A fitting ride for the day…

I started out the day with a 5 mile warmup, the distance from my house to my LBS. I took it easy only averaging 17.5 mph to warm up my legs. Wait, back up a second…

I followed my pre-big ride routine to a tee. 2 cups of coffee, a banana, apple and a Hammer oatmeal and apple power bar. 15 minutes before I walked out the door I wolfed down six Gatorade Prime chews. Slathered on the sunscreen, aired up the tires, kissed the wife and kids and out the door I went.

So, back to the uneventful warmup ride. It was nice, I could tell it was going to be a good day for a long one – I felt fantastic and I had to keep from pushing into the heavier gears, I could have easily averaged north of 20 mph.

I was first to the shop but only waited alone for a few minutes. First Matt pulled in, then Mike, Jeff, Adam, Diane, Chuck and several others… We had ten bikes and two tandems all told and settled on a metric century. As soon as everyone was prepped we were off. I set my Endomondo app, watched the countdown and set it in my back pocket, muted.

The ride was amazing, mostly decent roads, light traffic, sun and low to mid 80’s – it was a perfect day for a ride and the pace was awesome. I ride with guys who are so fast that I’m always holding on for dear life just to keep from getting dropped. This was an invite only ride so the ride was stacked with folks who were capable of maintaining a 19-20 mph pace but weren’t known for winding it up too much. At any given moment, up until the last ten miles where we really ramped it up to get back, I could easily pass the group on my own or pull for a couple of miles before needing to retreat for a breather.

We pulled in with 66.5 on Mike’s computer, after adding the ride to and back home from the bike shop…

76 miles on July 4th.

Ironically we celebrated the evening with my buddy, English Pete and his family.

What a great day.





Happy Independence Day!

Happy Fourth of July. To celebrate, I will be riding down to the Capitol with a couple of dozen of my closest friends. As has become customary I will be decked out in my best red white and blue for an 80 mile round tripper, celebrating the day as any fit fellow should.

Happy riding, running, or swimming and enjoy the day.