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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Specialized Venge Comp/Elite – Don’t Believe the Hype: It’s NOT Too Stiff

If you find yourself shopping for a bike and become smitten with the Specialized Venge, one of the likely things you’ll hear at the bike shop is that it’s too stiff.  Visit the message boards and you may read a lot of comments that suggest it’s too stiff as well.  In fact, a guy just left a comment on my 700 mile review of my Venge that he was told the same thing after owning one when he wanted to pick up the new 2014 Elite.  The shop he was at told him he should be looking at a Roubaix or a Trek Madone instead (he’s a mileage cyclist like me – the shops almost always push the Domane* (Trek) or Roubaix (Spec.) for we long-range fellows).  One of the younger guys at our local shop made the same suggestion in passing when I was looking to buy mine but the owner dismissed that adding that he thought I’d be perfectly happy with the bike.  The owner was right.

Now THAT'S a bike!

Now THAT’S a bike!

I’m telling you right now, don’t believe the hype.  The Venge, at least the Comp or Elite, is not too stiff.  It’s not near as unforgiving as my Trek 5200 – and the geometry is so utterly spot on, I simply can’t speak highly enough about it without coming off like some kind of Kool-Aid drinking dope – it’s that nice of a ride.

Now, I am going to go off on something of a tangent at this point because I’ve read (and heard, from no one with authority) about a hypothesis that looks at the different frame grades:  The S-Works frame and the standard frame are made with different grades of carbon (11R for the S-Works and 10R for the standard frames).  The higher grade carbon fiber in the S-Works frame is said to make the frame stiffer, so my understanding is that the reputation for being stiff could come from the S-Works’ frame, while people who actually own the standard Venge frames are quite pleased.  This would explain a lot but the hypothesis isn’t without its flaws.  Either way, I’m going to try to get an answer from Specialized and I’ll amend this post if I get anywhere…

I own the 2013 Venge Comp and in my review I recommended upgrading the wheels.  I still stand by that recommendation – I have a smoother, faster ride and knocked off almost a full pound (0.95 to be exact) for less than $400 with a pair of Vuelta Corsa SLR’s by switching them.  I don’t know about the 2014 Elite’s Fulcrum s5 wheels – I don’t know how they ride or how heavy they are so if you pick up the ’14 Elite, do your research.

The Venge is awesome, and all kinds of comfy for a race bike.  I’ve ridden somewhere near a dozen centuries in the last two years on my 5200 and the Venge is much better as far as comfort goes. Now this is an incredibly important distinction to understand:  The Venge is Specialized’s Flagship race bike.  It’s not supposed to be one of those squishy endurance bikes in the first place – but that said, I believe Specialized managed to come up with the perfect balance between comfort and speed.

At a little more than $3,000, if you’re willing to sink that kind of cash into a bike, you probably already love cycling and know at least a fair bit about the sport.  If you’re relatively new and/or haven’t learned all that much about cycling, look at the two profile photos of my bike, you’ll notice the plane of the saddle is quite a bit higher than the plane of the handlebar – this is more of a racing position.  Having the saddle up that high gets my head out of the breeze and reduces my profile – my body, when I’m riding, doesn’t so much resemble a big sail as it would if I were sitting upright.  The trade-off is that this position is said to be less comfortable than having the saddle and handlebar closer to the same plane.  My experience suggests otherwise (less pressure on the lower back) but I’m no pro so I have no problem deferring to better judgment.  The importance here is that I knew what I wanted and what I was buying so my expectations were that I would be getting a stout bicycle to begin with – that’s what I wanted.   Imagine how happily surprised I was when I found out the bike was vastly more comfortable to ride than I’d expected.

To wrap this post up, of my three road bikes, my Venge is, by far, the most comfortable.  Short 25 mile ride, full century, it doesn’t matter.  Just know that the Venge is a race bike first.

*Trek Domane:  If you notice, I made a switcheroo earlier…  I was talking about a guy who was shopping for a Venge and wrote that his local shop recommended a Madone or a Roubaix instead.  This seems odd to me because the Madone is Trek’s race bike while the Domane is Trek’s “endurance” bike.  Both the Roubaix and the Domane have special features built into the frame that offer a little more forgiveness on rougher roads than the race bikes.  You lose a little power transfer to the crank but they definitely absorb road imperfections better.

Uh Oh, Guess What Day It Is, Guess What Day It Is…

VENGE DAY, Woot Woot!!!

Weather’s finally nice enough and we just got through two straight days of rain so the roads were clear enough to take the Venge out for my regular Friday ride (I couldn’t take looking at it just sitting in the corner of my bedroom any longer anyway).  My first ride of the year on it.

With the SSE wind my 23.5 mile route was perfect, most of the worst of the wind in the first 7 miles, the next ten were all with a helping wind.  At 39 degrees, the temperature wasn’t great but the sun was out in all of its glory…and I was on the VENGE!  What day is it?  Venge Day!  Woot Woot!

No bike rides itself, but I’m here to tell you, that’s one heck of a smooth, fantastic ride…

Now THAT'S a bike!

Now THAT’S a bike!

Yes indeed...  That's ice in the background behind the bridge.  That's a corn field.

Yes indeed… That’s ice in the background behind the bridge. That’s a corn field.

I know, it's facing the wrong way - gimme a break, I was hungry!

I know, it’s facing the wrong way – gimme a break, I was hungry!


Notice the Tool Keg in the back bottle cage? I’m so glad I got rid of the saddle bag on that bike!




Fantastic Springtime Tip for Increasing Cycling Speed Average (If you don’t have a mountain in your back yard)

I’ve gotten a few comments on my Noob’s Guide to a 23 mph average post that made an addendum a bit of a necessity and considering that I’ve already added to that post three times, I figured I’d just write a new one to cover the one thing that absolutely transformed my summer cycling performance and enjoyment – and is exceptionally simple.  Before we get going, I wrote simple, not easy, for a reason.  Easy, this is not.

Increasing your average speed, for anyone who has ever tried, isn’t easy – especially going from 18-19 mph to 20-21 mph (solo, relatively flat roads).  There are two aspects to doing so that are absolutely crucial; the ability to get used to being uncomfortable (or to work harder) and leg strength.

The best thing I’ve found for both that translates to big gains on the flats is climbing mountain roads.  If, however, you don’t have a mountain road that you can climb off of your driveway, I have developed a way to cheat that training on relatively flat roads.  We’ve got a couple of decent climbs in my neck of the woods (though I have to ride 20 miles to get there) but if I don’t have a few hours to get there, climb the hills a few times and ride back, there are steps I can take to get a fantastic workout in on my normal 20 mile daily ride that pays huge dividends within a few weeks.  Do this correctly and you will improve your overall speed (average), your ability to climb tougher hills and your overall fitness.

First, this assumes you are indeed already a cyclist – that you ride your bike frequently already so we don’t have to get into the whole “check with your doctor so you don’t croak” thing.  If this is not the case, if you’re not already in shape, consult with your doctor, your nurse, your nanny, local government official, Obamacare Death Panel Advisor™ or priest before attempting physical exertion that might cause you to croak – because this simple tip will challenge you…

Do this once or twice a week:  On an otherwise normal training ride, take a few minutes to warm up till you’re at your normal cruising speed, then every time you approach an incline, rather than downshift to an easier gear, up shift one or two gears, and attack that hill (out of the saddle) until you pass the crest of the hill.  Then soft-pedal (maintaining your speed) to catch your breath on the way down the back side.  If I don’t have a back side of the hill to go down, sad to say, you’re bummin’.  No rest for you, downshift to your cruising gear and maintain your speed (this is how I do it at least).  The idea is to attack every single incline on your normal training route – even if you have two in a row (I have several of these and they suck).  You want to pick up speed going up the hill rather than slow down.  Basically, it’s an interval on top of a climb.

This simple tip is so awesome, I’d be amazed if you didn’t see tangible results in as little as two or three weeks.

Happy cycling, and good luck.  This one isn’t for the weak-willed, this one hurts.

Oh, I almost forgot…  We’ll call them Hill Sprints.

A Temporary Slow Down is on the Horizon

To all of my ether friends, I’m in the middle of something pretty big so while the posts probably won’t slow too much, my ability to get around to reading your posts might have to take a back seat for a minute. I just opened a new company today, something that’s been in the works for over a year now. I can’t really write about it yet because I’m dealing with Trademarks, a new website, domain name (just secured today) and a bunch of other stuff – in addition to being (thankfully) busy at my day job as well.

It’s going to be an interesting summer to say the least.

I promise, as soon as everything is done, legal and protected you will be the first to read about it.

How To Lose Weight – While Sitting on Your Butt…

Ah, that magical cure for obesity – take this pill, undergo this surgery, stick to this diet…  First of all, I say whatever works.  I used running, cycling and diet.  I have friends who have gone the surgery route and it worked quite well for them.  Magic pills?  Well, I’ve never met anyone who those have worked for so I’ll just say I’m a skeptic.

That said, most anyone who has a major life issue to fix wants the “easiest, softest way”.  Anything from recovery from alcoholism (as in my case) to losing weight (also in my case) to climbing out of debt.  Whatever the issue, once we realize it’s time to change, we just want to be better – preferably with as little work as possible.

Sadly (or not), this is not “Blow smoke in the direction of one’s buttocks” day at Fit Recovery so I’ll skip right to the goods:  The easiest way is the hard way.

This is how it works, or at least how it did with me and virtually every other recovering person I’ve ever met:  We start off easy, seeking the path of least resistance that actually bears results.  If the results aren’t apparent, we either quit or immerse ourselves in whatever lifestyle change a little deeper, waiting to see if there are any results.  Again, at this point we either quit or tack on just a few more changes.  Rinse and repeat.

The problem with this approach is that there are simply too many opportunities to get frustrated and quit.  A habit takes two weeks to 90 days to form, depending on who you talk to (at least as far as I’ve read).  If I’m changing the habits ever month or two, it makes sense that getting into a groove would be exceptionally difficult.  To compound the trouble, when we’re talking about something like weight loss through exercise, your body probably won’t let you dive right in with both feet.  A proper regimen must be worked up to.

The fact that I’m a cycling nut aside, riding a bike has been the most enjoyable way I’ve found to lose weight and stay in exceptional shape…  and it is done from the seated position.  Also, recovery time, the time it takes for the muscles to recover from one bike ride till the next, is minimal (a fraction of the time it takes to recover from jogging in my experience).  In addition, riding with enough effort, one can expect to burn upwards of 1,000 calories an hour (though 500-750 would probably be closer to an “average”).

Alas, as is a popular theme on my blog, cycling is not the best way to get in shape.  The best way is whatever an individual will stick with.  That said, cycling is exceptionally easy to stick with for several reasons including scenery, speed and the “kid factor”.  The one thing that I enjoy most about riding my bikes, whether it’s a quick trip up to the market to pick up some burger for tacos, a full century ride or playing in the dirt on my mountain bike, nothing takes me back to the freedom and sheer joy of being a kid like riding a bike.

To wrap this up, many claim that cycling is too expensive – I hear that a lot.  And from one point of view, it is:  From the short-term perspective.  Let’s say we’re starting with a sedentary you and you invest $1,000 into a bike and gear ($500 for the bike and $500 for shorts, a bike carrier for your car, etc.).  It’s a well-known fact that fit people live longer, more fulfilled and productive lives.  There are so many studies out there that show this unequivocally that I won’t bother pointing them out – call it accepted science (chuckle).  So, how much value do you place on three more years of productivity?  How much is it worth to look forward to the wind in your hair on a daily basis?  How much do you place on promotions at work, simply because you’re a happier, more productive you?  How much value do you place on getting to see the grandkids graduate?

A thousand bucks is nothing when weighed against the benefits.

Just make sure and follow the rules of the road so you can live to cash that in and remember:  Everything worthwhile comes with a little bit of risk.  Even wasting away on the couch.

Happy Cycling.

Cycling: Why March Matters in July and August

I hate cycling in the cold. Notice I’m using the word hate.  I don’t hate much on this fantastic planet, but riding a freaking bike in temps at, or just above, freezing is one of those things.  I don’t care about all of the great, expensive clothing, the hyper-expensive jacket, the arm and leg warmers, compression shorts, gloves and neat little caps.  Oh sure, I own (and use) all of it and it helps, but folks, cycling in the cold sucks…

Of course, there’s only one thing I hate more than freezing my keister off:  The damned trainer.

Back to hating cycling in the cold… I showed up for the Tuesday night club ride yesterday shortly after 5:00. The temperature was hovering around 42 degrees. Not really bad, especially for the first fifteen miles or so.  Our neat little twelve man crew had been whittled down to six or seven. All of the big dogs and me.  I’m no miniature poodle but I don’t work hard enough to be a big Rottweiler either.  Call me a black lab.  All of the guys I normally ride with had dropped off the back citing “too early in the season”.  Two miles later at something like 23 or 24 mph (though it felt like 28) and “too early in the season” was sounding pretty good.

I eased off the back rather than suck wheel and be a jerk.

I hammered on, alone for all but a minute or two…  And then, joy of joys, I turned into the wind.  Sweet Lord Almighty, I was in my 18 mph gear and I was struggling with it.  The temp had dropped a bit and the cold reached right through my leg warmers and squeezed the life out of my legs.

Eight and one-half miles of… Well it sure wasn’t joy, but every time I got to thinking about how sucky it was, I changed the thinking.  I know why they say that the summer gains are made before the snow melts.  I get it and I could actually sense the last few pieces of the puzzle snapping into place last night.

Even though I wanted to just let up and spin back easy, I kept at it pushing with everything I had. Every pedal stroke, every minute, every mile I have in the saddle now will translate into a more enjoyable summer when I get to shed all of the cold weather gear.  In short, I can suffer now or I can suffer later – I choose now for a reason.

There is a very important distinction that must be made about “suffer now or suffer later”:  I’ve found when you get up to the decent speeds, 22+ mph average on relatively flat open roads (this translates to 24-26 mph between stop signs and traffic lights), I don’t suffer any less later in the year – that kind of speed isn’t easy to maintain over decent distances – I’m just used to it so it doesn’t suck as bad.

The one piece of decent advice to any noob who wants to ride fast, you’ve gotta embrace the work – because that’s what everyone else is doing and no amount of whining or complaining will change it.

23.5 miles in 1 hour and 10 minutes (give or take)…  Not great, but this early in the season and in those conditions, I’ll take it.

The Noob’s Guide to the First Group/Club Ride: What To Do If You Drop Off the Back

Cycling with a group for the first time can be intimidating.  If you’re clumsy on a bike it can be down-right scary (and it should be).  Not only do you have to keep up to take advantage of the draft, you’ve got traffic and the route (that you probably won’t know) to deal with.  For most, starting with a no-drop, slow group is advisable.

My first club ride was different, it was a baptism by fire.  Zero knowledge of the route.  I’d never really ridden with another cyclist, let alone a group of them (a group of four or five friends did a couple of Olympic length Tri’s together but that was just for fun and there’s no drafting anyway).  I had no idea if I was fast enough or not…and did I mention that I had no clue about where I was cycling (or how to get back if I got lost)?  Oh, and this was with the advanced, everybody gets dropped group.  Pretty much the worst case scenario.

Now, before you get to thinking, “man, he’s stupid” – a sentiment I’d have agreed with waiting in line to start, I was invited to join the group by the owner of our local bike shop.  I’d passed his shop countless times on my daily training rides and had talked with him about my average speed solo amongst other cycling intricacies – so I took him on his word that I was ready.

So there I was at the starting line – April 4th, 2012.  I had my iPhone with the Endomondo tracking app (in my back pocket), two bottles of water and my bike, riding with a group of 20-30 guys (and a few girls) that I’d never even met before, and Matt (the aforementioned owner of the local shop).  We started out easy enough, maybe 19 mph and my confidence was buoyed…  I could hold that all day.  Then we hit the second mile and things picked up.  By the fifth mile we were upwards of 22 mph and I was hanging on okay and took my turns at the front.  On the seventh mile we were up to 25 and then they put the hammer down, up to 28 on the flat (that’s 45 km/h) and I was off the back.

Worst case scenario.  Off the back and I’ve got no clue where I am.

First, even though I was only eight miles in, turning around and heading back would have done me no good.  I had absolutely no idea how to retrace my path.  Second, I could have pulled out my phone and started looking for a way back but I really wanted to finish my ride.  In my world you don’t show up for a 33 mile ride and cut that in half.  What I did instead was not panic.  There were only twelve cyclists left when I peeled off the back – out of somewhere between 20&30 that started.  This is the best lesson I learned on my first group ride – don’t be the first off the back.

I could have slowed way down and waited for some of the others to catch up, that’s an option.  Instead, I saw another rider drop off just ahead of me, maybe a half-mile up.  I wanted to ride with someone at least as fast as me so I caught my breath (figuring the other guy would have to as well) and started hammering to catch him.  It took a mile or two but I reeled him in and we rode in together.

If you’re in a no-drop group then you won’t have to worry, either someone will help you back or they’ll fall back and ride with you but when you’re out with the big dogs, it’s every man, woman or child for themselves.  If you’re the first off the back and you don’t know where you are, it’s best to have a GPS tracking system on so you can either retrace your path back or find another way.

Happy cycling!

Cycling Without the Stats…

I wrote, several weeks ago, that I was giving up on the tracking software.  No more cycling apps, no more recording of workouts.  The reasoning at the time seemed quite sound.  Concentrate more on cycling with my wife and quality over speed, watts and feet ascended.  I had a good enough base that I haven’t worried about my weight in two years, and I’m fairly fast, about as fast as I can get without making sacrifices I’m simply not willing to make (training plans, dietary changes, and so forth).

I’ve come to understand the two aspects to cycling with speed that cannot be messed with though:  Intensity and Distance, or Frequency if you like.  If I want to be fast I cannot mess with either one, but distance can be tinkered with and have less of a negative result.

In the last three weeks, on every ride I’ve gone on (which isn’t many because of global warm… er, cooling… er, Climate Change) I’ve been able to hit it pretty hard but I’m not used to knowing where I’m at, at least after my ride is over.  This is, if you can believe it, both a good and bad thing.  First, I have hardly any enthusiasm left on the trainer – at this point in the winter, I’m just getting my revs in.  On the other hand, when I’m out on the road I have a tendency to automatically assume I’m phoning it in, that I need to work just a little harder – so I do.

Now, without the stats I don’t really have any way to judge where I am this season over last, but at the club ride last Tuesday I felt quite strong.  I’ve obviously got some work to do (pulling at the front was short!), but I’m actually out on the road a little earlier this year than last (I’m so sick of the trainer that I’m willing to ride in much colder conditions this spring) and I’m feeling pretty good.

Still, I have to admit – I miss having my stats.  They let me know exactly where I was and I knew how hard I had to work to get into shape to ride with the group.  There’s a flip side to that though and I’m going to try to capitalize on it:  If I don’t know how hard I have to push, I won’t hold anything back…

Time will tell how that works out.

Meat and a Movie: The Guys Night Out!

It’s a rare day that my buddy Pete and I do something, that doesn’t involve running or cycling, without our wives (who are also good friends).

My wife was having one of those eleven kid sleepovers for my daughters so I had a great excuse to get out of the house – sorry ladies, that’s just too much estrogen for a guy to handle at one time. We got dolled up and hit the town (I figured we’d show the kids how a man dresses in public). Our buddy Steve was going to hang as well but when he dropped his daughter off at our place for the sleepover, his wife helped him opt for a date night instead (the hours they work, we didn’t blame them).

We had steaks at a local micro-brewery/steak house, The Redwood Lodge, one of the nicest steak houses in the greater Flint area. That’s the meat.

The movie was the consummate 3D guy flick: 300 Rise of an Empire. Four words: Jaw droppingly freaking awesome. Fellas, of you’re a fan of Eva Green (and what guy isn’t) you must see this movie! The story, the Battle of Thermopylae, was better in the first movie, but the battles in this installment were far more awesome. Oh and did I mention Eva Green? Good God.

Anywho, we followed that up with a deep spiritual discussion on the way to Pete’s house and called it a night.

Meat, a Movie and a little bit of God to cap it. It’s all good baby! Can’t wait for the next 300! Yes, it’s open for another!

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, but…

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, but false judgement can never hurt me.

Now, we’re talking about simple everyday life here – not accusations of criminal activity or the misuse of government institutions or the media for harassment. That’s a different story.

I read a post the other day that broke my heart.  I won’t link to it because I don’t need to make a big deal about it and we’ve all heard it:  Don’t judge people because I felt horrible because I was afraid they were judging me. 

Folks, we evaluate people every day.  Sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly.  There’s another word for that in the animal kingdom:  Instinct.

Human beings are the only animals on the planet who are taught to ignore their instincts.  We’re also the only animals who can abuse those instincts.  Basically, it’s a mess but that mess comes with a choice.

Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy.

Personally, I choose happy – most of the time. Nobody’s perfect. That rare time I choose to be right is what I want to write about today.

Being an ex-drunk, I have a lot of excuses to be less than stellar. After all, being a loser is in my DNA, it is my nature – it is my default, even after more than twenty years of learning to be a winner.

With those decades and a whole lot of practice has come an understanding of how I work, of how and when I trip the default and head back to victim-ville where “it’s not fair” rules the day. Unfortunately, not being perfect comes with its disadvantages: It can take a few days to figure out when I’m going the wrong way. On the other hand, practice mitigates the damage. Often I can identify poor thinking within a second or two which allows me to stay on the “happy” path.

Rather than bloviate further, I’ll get right to the meat and potatoes of staying on the right path when it comes to other’s judgement of me. Do I want to be right or happy, because it can rarely be both. The first, most important point that I must keep at the forefront, at all times, that another’s opinion or judgement of me is none of my business when I’m doing my best estimation of the next right thing. The core of this understanding is the fact that almost all people who make mistakes in judgement contrast what they see through their lens, my outsides, with what is going on inside themselves.

For the sake of being right, people will make an assumption of who I am based on their past experience – they filter my words or actions through their past and make assumptions based on that little snapshot. This is human nature – this is instinct and there’s no way I’m going to buck someone else’s ignorance and evolution in one fell swoop.

Explained this way, hopefully I’ve made it rather clear that even attempting to change someone else’s filter, their very life experience, is futile. The question becomes, why bother? This is the basis for the earlier statement that someone else’s opinion of me is none of my business… And the key to my happiness.

The truth is, life is difficult enough just trying to do the next right thing than to try to keep up with everyone else’s notion of who I am.

That reality leads to the real bombshell: The only time someone else’s criticism really hurts is when that judgement confirms what I already believe about myself.

This gets back to doing the next right. If I am shorting myself, if I am putting forth half-measures, harsh criticism and judgement will confirm what I already know: That I’m phoning it in – and that’s why it hurts.

The temptation is to lash out at a person for making an observation while the real damage is being done between my own ears. If I’m concentrating on what a jerk the other person is I can miss the fact that the problem is within me.

If one really wants to be happy, all that must be done is to make sure that we’re doing the next right thing at any given moment. Doing so sets our minds at ease so that when someone falsely judges us, we are equipped to set the record straight and to move on. This is what winners do.

This is what I aspire to, and what I practice on a daily basis.

May your body be in constant motion, so your head may be at peace.