I went for a long bike ride with six of my best cycling friends yesterday. It’s been a cold spring so far, absolutely nasty, so none of us had any real miles on our legs, so I rode the extra five miles to my buddy Brad’s house to get a few more in. Unfortunately, my legs were colder after my warmup than when I walked out the door. Just barely above freezing and into the wind. No worries though, with six of us, I knew there would be enough shelter to warm up – and temps were supposed to be in the mid-40’s by the time we were done. Also, other than the possible mistake of not adding a second layer to my legs, I was perfectly comfortable everywhere else.
I was right… Everything worked out excellently and I had a great time. In fact, only two miles after the halfway point that ride became my longest of the year. This is what I love about cycling – once you get your legs (and maintain them), training distances are pretty much whatever your mind can convince your body to do (within reason of course).
We had about fifteen miles to go when it struck me how well all of my equipment was working for me. My bike is exceedingly, unfairly even, comfortable. From my socks to my dome protector, everything was doing it’s job to get me to my lunch back home, comfortably as is possible (or as comfortably as 45 miles at just under 20 mph can be in the chilly early spring morning can be). It took me three years to assemble everything, one piece at a time, often opting for the cheap version when I had to (shorts are a good example – and my butt paid for that one) but I’ve finally got everything right.
The bike’s geometry is utterly perfect (or at least my estimation of perfect, our local pro fitter seems to think we’re pretty close too) and that works with my pedals which work with the cleats on my carbon soled cycling shoes which work with my socks and leg warmers… You get the idea, but this is where this gets important… When I brought my Venge home last August, I could immediately feel a huge difference in how comfortable the bike was compared to my 5200 but it wasn’t until yesterday, after riding the 5200 all winter long, that the scope of just how big the difference is became evident…
Starting from the beginning, from my Cannondale which was purchased too small for me to comfortably fit on (because I didn’t know any better), to the first saddle that I chose, almost everything that I changed, thinking I was doing it wisely, was wrong. I entered the fray that is high performance cycling with the typical distrust of the industry displayed in Saturday’s post by the narrator of the embedded video – and with just as much ignorance… Here’s the saddle I picked for that Cannondale (cost something like $35):
VS the saddle on my Venge and 5200:
Now most noobs are going to look at those two saddles and think that the one on the left would be far more comfortable… and would be entirely wrong – if one has the proper shorts to go with the saddle on the right. Now don’t get me wrong, riding fifty miles on the saddle on the left is possible, I’ve done it – it just hurts. Another example I can use of cutting corners to the detriment of comfort was my initial desire to wear my mountain biking shoes on my road bike – after all, I already had my shoes, all I needed was a pair of $50 pedals and I’d be good, right? Well, that was brilliant in theory but not very practical. Mountain biking shoes (at least the one’s I had) are meant to walk in more than road shoes and are a bit more flexible. They also have a very small connection point to the pedal. What I ended up with was terrible “hot spots” on my foot where the cleat clipped into the pedal when I was riding more than 50 or 60 miles at a crack. I ended up with some excellent composite soled tri shoes with Look Keo Classic pedals and haven’t had a hot spot problem since.
Here’s the point: When I have the right equipment and it fits right, from the bike all the way up to my brain bucket, I am more “connected” with the bike. Every movement, whether it’s climbing a hill out of the saddle or sprinting to the finish line on Tuesday night, feels better. With pieces of the puzzle missing, I was always trying to battle some kind of pain – and when you’re talking about 50-100 miles, I ended up with a lot.
Where I went wrong is that I approached performance cycling as if I were riding a bike as I did when I was a kid. My skepticism of what I thought “the market” decided was a necessity got in the way of truly enjoying cycling – and I spent more money than necessary to find this out the hard way.
To wrap this post up, I am not suggesting anyone should spend themselves into oblivion or debt to enjoy the sport. What I am suggesting is that if you’re like me, if you really want to perform to the best of your ability on a bike, the carbon fiber soled shoes, the fancy pedals, the perfectly fitted featherweight bike, aren’t necessary but they really do help one enjoy the sport. It is my experience that it all works together and when it’s right, I can absolutely feel the difference.