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Monthly Archives: August 2013

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The FSA Pro Compact Crank – the answer to the triple. Kind of.

IMG_3038My new ride presented an interesting opportunity for a fun little foray into “cycling geek mode”, so I decided to take advantage of it.  I have a new type of double on my Venge.  It’s billed as a “Pro Compact Double” and is somewhere between the compact and standard double.  There are several types of standard doubles:  52/42 is the racing double, 52 (or 53)/39 is another.  The compact double is typically 50/34 which is fantastic for climbing, especially with the 11-28 cassettes, but it leaves a little to be desired for top end speed.

My new Pro double, however, gets the best of both worlds at 52/36 – and it shifts excellently, no hang-ups or slow shifts which I thought would present a problem with such a large jump (from the 36 tooth chain ring to the 52).  The extra two teeth don’t really hurt the climbing gears either.

I went over to Sheldon Brown’s gear ratio calculator and entered in my chain rings and cassette sprockets and this is what it spit back out:

52-36 ratiosThe numbers corresponding with the chain rings (at the top) and the gears (to the left) are speeds at a 90 cadence.  Now I compared the Venge to the Ultegra triple (52/42/30) on my 5200:

52-42-30 I’m gaining 2.8 mph of top-end speed and only losing six tenths on the low-end…  What’s really interesting though is all of the overlap in gears with the triple!  But, and this is where it gets important, with the triple I can’t access the low two gears in the big ring or the top two gears in the small ring because of severe cross chaining…  Not without wearing out the chain rings.  The end result is a lot of shifting any time I come up on a decent hill just to get into a decent climbing gear.  By contrast, I only lose the 28 tooth sprocket in the big ring and the 11 tooth sprocket in the small ring with the modified double…  In short, with the modified double, I can climb a steeper hill more comfortably without having to touch the front derailleur.  Now that works great in Michigan.  Where this will get tricky is my mountain climbing vacations.  It appears I’ll be getting a little stronger for next year.  Losing four tenths on the low-end may not sound like much – until you’re looking up at a 20% grade.

On the other hand, it is plausible that last gear was a little bit too easy for my main climb (and that would explain why my legs could take the effort but my lungs couldn’t) but I was to chicken to shift up a gear for fear I couldn’t get the crank around at the 25% sections.  It’ll be interesting to test this out next year.

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Light Headed and Dizzy After Long Workouts

Never would have guessed it…

Cycle Faster In Ten Minutes, With No Extra Effort – BUT…

I’m playing the odds here…

Cycle faster in ten minutes, with no extra effort… BUT this is going to hurt. Well, it’d take me ten minutes, it may take you a few more…

Now, anyone who rides fast already will tell you flat-out that this is impossible! But it’s not, technically. So, are you ready to go from 16-1/2 mph to 18, maybe even 19 on your road bike? Almost immediately?

Okay, let’s get to it.

First, call your local bike shop and tell them you want a 10 degree stem (or less) to replace that 45 degree mountain bike monstrosity you have on there now. Then pick it up and come back to me (and for the love of God, please get the right one for your bike – they’re are dozens of shapes and sizes)…

… Got it? Okay, now take your old stem off and while you’re at it, three of the spacers too. Drop that shiny new stem on there upside down. Then put the spacers on top of the stem. Then rotate your bars so the top tube of the drops follows the line of the stem… Then, and be careful here, this is tough: Peel back the rubber part of your hood along the outside (up where your hands go). See that 5 mm Allen bolt head? Yeah, loosen that up and gently slide your hood down so the hood runs on the same line as the top drop tube and stem. Be careful because this could mess with the bar tape.

Now go back to the bike shop and buy some new bar tape ’cause you messed it up and while we’re at it, we may as well re-wrap them. When you redo your bar tape, take your time and do so preferably without the need for electrical tape. If you get it right, that’s instant cred points at the local club ride, for what that’s worth. 😉

You’re now about 25-35% more aerodynamic. Pedal for a minute to get used to the hoods, then get down in the drops and pedal your ass off. You’re now a bunch more aerodynamic. It will hurt because you’re not used to it. Now rinse and repeat – an hour or two every week in the drops should do. Now, I’ve always cycled in the traditional aerodynamic fashion but I have had to lower the stem a time or two. I had to get used to the lower drop too, so it is possible, without injury – I’ve done it.

Disclaimer: This post is meant to illicit a laugh, I’m joking, but only kind of. If your saddle is the same height as the bar top, or (God forbid) lower, this just might work! The only question is are you flexible enough?.. Your shop set your bike up the way it did because the consensus is that upright is more comfortable. Depending on girth and flexibility, this may be so, but I’m not very flexible and I have the traditional saddle to bar drop and it’s not uncomfortable at all – of course, I’m also hard headed and I’ll be damned if I’m going to ride a road bike that doesn’t offer at least a little aerodynamic advantage to a hybrid.

Now, if there is a girth issue, referring to your gut, you’ll have to lose that before slamming the stem – so this may take more than ten minutes. Get on with it, and know I have more faith in you than you do. While you’re at it maybe we should try to fix that too, eh?

And She Shall Be Named “Cavallo Rosso”

My Venge is the Ferrari of bicycles, everyone knows this. Mine, being the “Comp” may be the Dino or in today’s terms maybe the FF (Ferrari’s grocery getter) but I’m cool with that – and the best part is my wife didn’t ask for a divorce when I brought her home, so that was the icing on the cake. Had I come home with the $12,000 S-Works Venge, well let’s just say a bike worth Twelve Grand would be cool as hell at the Tuesday night club ride but it wouldn’t exactly keep daddy warm at night. Get it?

Whatever. The point is, I had to come up with an awesome name for her because she’s a badass… She shall be called Cavelo Rosso [Notice the difference from the title – It took a bit to hit me, change the vallo to velo…  Cooler!  Yes, I am aware that I am a nerd.  In the real world I hide it well.  On my blog I can let him play.], which means Red Horse in Italian. Now, you might be inclined to say, “but Jim, that bike’s black“. Oh ye of limited vision! That’s not black, that’s clear coated carbon fiber baby, she’s naked! So, she’s a naked mare – just enough red to cover up the ni- well, you get it. That’s hot and deserving of a proper name that exudes that hotness.

So, I got to thinking, Ferrari, red, red, Italian…stallion… BINGO! But red stallion looks like this: Stallone Rosso. Yeah, I’m not a gay femme so that wouldn’t do. Then I went with Red Mare because in English, that sounds pretty freaking awesome! Night mare, red mare – wicked fast! YES! Unfortunately that translates to Italian like shit, so that was out. I couldn’t even pronounce it!

Then I didn’t like the masculine nature of red horse so I just decided out of the blue that I’d tinker with the gender. Made sense to me and 95% of the people who will ever read this blog would never be the wiser! Unfortunately it’s that five damned percent that would figure out, while much sexier sounding, Cavalla Rossa really means Pink Horse – and Rossa is spelled wrong, it’s Rosa! Well, again, back to the “not flamin’ gay” thing. It’s just not, um, me.

So Cavallo Rosso held the day. And as the great and wise Donald Duck Dunn once said so eloquently:

Fit it does.

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Update: driving down the road this morning I thought of a much better name Cavelo Rosso.

The Noob’s Guide to Cycling Hydration: How Much and What to Drink

One of the toughest things I’ve dealt with on a bike (besides pedaling harder) is proper hydration.  My first year I was all over the map and I paid for it on more than one occasion with huge bonks – and even a large drop in performance over two weeks because of a severe electrolyte imbalance.  I’ve since worked it out to a bit of a science.  To keep this post a reasonable length, I’m not going to bother getting too verbose with the importance of proper hydration, I’ll just simply leave it at this:  It’s more important than what I eat and just plain water isn’t good enough.  No it isn’t, please cut it out, you’re wrong (or you’re not pedaling hard enough).

In my first year of cycling I stuck mainly to H2O on the bike – no additives, just water.  Generally speaking I’m not a big water fella, but on the bike water worked at quenching thirst better than anything.  Unfortunately it also diluted what little electrolytes I had left in my body over a long ride or ten so I would end up cramping up on a ride longer than 75 miles – it got so bad my sweat stopped tasting salty.  Gatorade helped fix that but I always ended up a sticky mess.  Then I won a pair of Peal Izumi shoes from another blog last year and when they arrived, much to my surprise, the box was filled with goodies including Gu electrolyte tabs.  I love those – they’re just mildly flavored in a 26 ounce water bottle and not near as sticky if splashed on me (or the bike).  I stuck with that in one bottle of water and one of the Electrolyte tab (or Gatorade) for every long ride since and have yet to have a cramping episode like I did last year.  Just a few weeks ago though, a friend gave me a half-used jug of Hammer Perpetuem (H.P.) drink mix and I traded that for the Gatorade or electrolyte tabs, at least until the first refill.  This has proved to be the best yet, especially for centuries.

There’s always a question of how much though.  Fortunately, Endomondo (my fitness tracking software of choice) throws out a suggestion for hydration for each ride.  Assuming warm conditions, 85 degrees, it breaks down like this for me:

(2) 26 oz bottles of water on rides ranging from 16-20 miles (or 1.5 liters)

(1) 26 oz bottle of H.P. and one of water, for 20-40 miles

(1) 26 oz bottle of H.P. and one water, then refill both with water for 40-60 miles (or 3 liters)

”  “, then refill one Gatorade or electrolyte tab and one water twice for 60-75 miles

”  “, then refill at least three times with one Gatorade (or electrolyte tab) and one water for 100+ mile rides (about six liters total).

Depending on your noob status, you may be looking at those last few (3-6 liters) and worrying about having to stop to let some of that liquid back out too often.  If you’re giving enough of an effort, the fear is unnecessary.  You’ll be able to go when you stop to refill and that’s only if you have to.  Often times I don’t have to relieve myself after the first stop on really long rides (75+ miles).  I almost never have to stop for rides up to 40 miles long.

Some personal stats, considering weight and effort is important to hydration needs.  The harder the effort, the more you’ll need to stay hydrated (I’m assuming if you weigh more, you’d need a little more fluid, though I may be mistaken – I simply don’t know):

I’m 6’0″ tall, weigh 158-160 pounds and I ride between 19 and 21 mph average.

Now, I actually have a friend who passed out on a 41 mile solo ride and bashed his melon pretty well because he didn’t drink enough (he used to make jokes about “p*ss*ng crystals” after a century).  Thankfully he was just fine with a black eye and a little scrape, but he cracked his helmet too.  Proper hydration is a must if you’re going to perform well.  Good luck and enjoy the ride.

Specialized Venge Comp – First 50

IMG_3054I am here to smash a few myths in the face about the Specialized Venge Comp. This will be a short post because I’m excited to have a great new bike but I’m not stupid – I’m on the pink cloud right now and it’s going to last a while before I come down – my bike is AWESOME.

That said, here are just a few:

The Venge Comp is a stiff ride and no good for a century unless you’re a racer in which case you’ll live with the pain: Nope. The Comp is smoother than my Trek 5200. I’d choose the Venge for a century over the 5200 seven days a week and twice on Sunday. Now, is it as stately as a Roubaix on rough roads? Hell, I couldn’t tell you because I’ve never ridden one, but the truth is, the Venge Comp is a race bike – it’s a Ferrari. A very well mannered Ferrari (Call it the FF of Ferrari’s). It is not the S-Works F-50 though. I will have no problems riding my bike on century rides – guaranteed.

The Venge slices through the wind! Well, yes I’m sure it does, but it’s still a bicycle. It does not pedal itself and the nameplate is a big “S”, not “Harley Davidson”.

Now, one thing I can confirm about the Venge… Rough pavement on any bicycle sucks – bad. On my Cannondale SR 400, rough pavement was demoralizing, on my 5200 it was a nuisance. On my Venge Comp? Surprise! It’s still a pain in the butt. It’s rough freaking asphalt! On the other hand, put the Venge on decent pavement… It’s a rocket ship. It’s fast and smooth.

Finally, and I don’t know if I just happened to hit the perfect setup on my bike or whether it has something to do with the geometry, but of my three bikes, the Venge is by far the most comfortable to ride in the drops. The other two aren’t even close (the Trek does beat the Cannondale for comfort in the drops but only because the overall ride is so much more comfortable).

So, as we all know, these bikes are not cheap – the real question is this: Do I have any remorse or second thoughts now that I’ve got a few miles on the bike?

Not even a little bit. The Venge Comp far exceeds my expectations. It’s an exceptional bike for the money.

I did have one surprise however. I was cruising down the road with a smile on my face when something occurred to me… I no longer have an excuse. Three days ago I was riding a 14 year-old bike with round composite tubes. Now I have one of the most aerodynamic bikes on the market with fantastic race gearing. Now the only weak link is me.. I didn’t see that one coming.

UPDATE:  Because I am comparing the ride between my new Venge and my 5200, there are a few important details that will matter to those who have a decent working knowledge of bikes…  First, both bikes have the tires inflated to the maximum 125 psi.  Second, the 5200 sports a 2011 Specialized Romin saddle while the Venge came with a 2013 Specialized Romin saddle.

UPDATE 2:  I developed a bit of slop in the rear hub.  My LBS pro tightened it up a bit but I won’t know if that did the trick unless I get my new rear wheel taco’ed.  I picked up a new set of rims that ended up being just shy of a full pound lighter and are a whole lot smoother.  I am immensely more happy with my bike with the new wheels.  Faster too.

UPDATE 3:  My full 700 mile review is here.

What Fit Looks Like – Pt 3… Intensity

PSA:  There exist people who are not able to handle direct honesty or evaluate themselves well.  If you are one, it would be best to skip this post.  While it is not my intent to shame or berate anyone, some do not possess the ability to address reality on reality’s terms and will therefore misinterpret the intent of this post.  If this describes you, there is no sense in reading on.  You will end up with an unnecessary and unintended resentment.  Best to move along to something that suits your character better.

This series is not, thank God, my Anthony Weiner lapse into idiocy, where I find it necessary to post a bunch of pec, bicep and glute photos that show how awesome I think I am and look (truthfully I’m not all that impressive, but it’ll do).  Thankfully I am not such a sad person emotionally that I must show off physically to compensate for the screw that’s loose mentally (got that Tony?).  That said, part one dealt with frequency or how often I must ride in order to maintain my awesome boy-ish figure (if not for the unavoidable signs of aging; gray hair, crow’s-feet, receding hair-line, etc., there’s no way you’d guess I’m over 40).  Part two was about attitude.  I opened myself up a bit to illustrate what I must do mentally to maintain fitness.  To sum it up in a short sound bite:  “There isn’t much traffic on the extra mile”.  For part three, I thought I’d look a bit at intensity.  I’ve been going through a remarkable change in the last several weeks, centered around an incredible uptick in miles and intensity week over week and month over month.  Here’s the week over week illustration:
Mileage Week over Week
My normal week is, depending on weather, between 100 and 150 miles.  In the summer time that’s closer to 150.  The two weeks in July, the 8th to the 21st, were broken up by a vacation down to the mountains of Georgia where I concentrated on short but challenging climbs and less intense rides with my wife…  In short, I was on vacation – I wasn’t exactly looking to tear it up.  When we got home though, the mileage and the intensity really started ramping up.  The color differences on the graph are as follows:  The darker yellow (small slivers at the bottom of three weeks) signifies mountain biking.  The lighter yellow, cycling transport, or my version of a light intensity ride (17.5-19 mph average).  The Red signifies cycling sport or, you guessed it, red-line hard cycling – I use the sport designation only to track high-intensity solo workouts or group rides where the average speeds (on open roads) will be in excess of 20 mph.  Let’s look at month over month now:
Mileage Month over MonthThe pink signifies indoor trainer workouts and green is running…  Now this was an incredibly bad summer weather-wise.  We’ve had loads of rain – so much so that it actually harmed some of the State’s crops so my overall mileage has been down over last year, especially through June and July, but you can see the spike this August…  I’ll easily end the month with around 750 miles (if not a few more), my best month ever by almost 70 miles, yet I’ll hit that having taken off seven days.   Last September, my second best month ever (next to the previous month at 684 miles – just couldn’t get it to fit in the graph) I only took four days off all month.  Now, I gave the month over month breakdown to add context, for when I try to break this down point by point – and please try to remember, this is an opinion piece…  It is not necessarily based on science, just my experience.

How many people have you seen out there who are amazingly fat and out of shape, walking and/or jogging as if their life depended on it (well, let’s face it – it does), sweat dripping off of their faces, huffing and puffing, working hard?  How about on a bike (which is probably a better method of fitness to look at for this post)?  Not many.  I’m looking at the ladies who put on makeup before they “run”.  Now, not discounting the fact that if we exercise in zone two we burn more fat, I find the calories in/calories out approach much more appealing because it doesn’t take ten years to knock the fat off.  My weight loss, and invariably my fitness, were dependent on my willingness to put forth an effort crossed with my willingness to eat a decent, balanced diet.  The harder I worked and better I ate, the slimmer I got until I’m at a point where I have to eat more than I’m comfortable with just to keep my weight up (I know, this is a good problem to have).  That worked excellently last year when I finally gave it the effort I needed to get the body I’ve always wanted.  Last year, more than 250 miles per summer month were dedicated to red-line riding.  This year, until August, I kept the cycling sport workouts down to around 200 miles per month but ratcheted up the intensity in hopes of getting to the next level in terms of speed.  August showcased the payoff.  I’m riding 1-1/2 to 2 mph faster this August compared to last August and loving it.

My wife and a few friends were hanging out making jokes out of excuses that we’ve heard and even uttered as it related to riding Lead Bike for the 8km race-walkers in the Crim yesterday.  Keep in mind, the walkers start ten minutes after the runners…  I had to start punching a hole for the lady who eventually won within one mile of the start.  In other words, a lady walking at a 10 minute mile pace caught runners within a mile who had a ten minute head start.  Folks, here’s the harsh reality:  You may get into shape at that pace before you croak, but it’s doubtful.  The dreadful truth is this:  People who get into shape comfortably are almost as rare as unicorns – they give up first, complaining that “exercise doesn’t work”.  Exercise works just fine, they don’t, and therein lies the rub.  Now, remember the context folks, before we get bent out of shape…  We are dealing with extremes here.  While I don’t disparage a twenty-minute mile, I don’t agree with the premise that this is a type of exercise that will bring about desired results either.  It’s something, that’s for sure, but once you’ve broken the cobwebs lose (with the aid of your doctor of course), if you want to lose that ass this century you’d better try a little harder than two hours for a five-mile “jog”.

Now, that said, and going back to my data for the last month…  In July I thought I’d plateaued, hit a spot where I just couldn’t get any faster.  The reality that I had to come to grips with was that I had plateaued and that I didn’t want to work any harder than I already was to get faster.  A gentler way to put it would be that I just didn’t have the time or desire to put the energy into improving.  Eventually I came to the conclusion that I was okay with this.  After all, I thought, there are folks out there who only wish they could ride as fast as I do – on a slow day.  Then we went on vacation in the mountains and I tried a climb that I’d done last year at the same time and made it three times farther up an insane mountain road than I did just the year before.  I tried again with the same results, and again…  Four times farther than the year before.  Then one last time before we left – six times farther than my best effort from last year.  That got me a little bit excited…  Here I was just a few days before thinking that I was as far as I could go – and then this.  Well, to keep an already long story from getting out of hand, I hit August refreshed and recommitted.  Three centuries, three weekends in a row and I had a personal best by five minutes, a very solid effort only missing the prior week’s performance by ten minutes and then I blew the doors off that first century by 19 minutes, cranking out a 4h:36m 100 miles – in a week that I’d put in over 200 miles.  Folks, I’m not supposed to be able to do that, but there it was.

So here I am, coming into the fourth weekend in August and I was pretty beat.  I rode hard on Tuesday and then again on Thursday, but I took Monday off (as I have been for a couple of months now).  Wednesday was slow and short.  Yesterday we put in 26 miles but they were very slow.  Today will be long and slow followed by another needed day off tomorrow.  I need to ratchet things back a bit to rest up.  I don’t have to take time off of the bike necessarily, but I do have to take it easier for a minute to get my legs back.  I know this, but damned if I’m not sitting there yesterday evening trying to figure out how I can squeeze a few extra hard rides in because I don’t want to lose any momentum!  I won’t, in the end, add any extra fast rides, but that’s the discipline needed to drop the fat.  I am an all or nothing kind of guy (as are most people when you boil it all down).  I can take, and need, easy days to let my legs recover.  I have to be careful though, that I don’t take my foot too far off of the gas pedal;  200 pounds and misery is waiting for me if I do.