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Monthly Archives: June 2014

Cycling – High-end Carbon vs. A $500 Hybrid… and “I Need a Better Bike”.

Watching my wife racing in her first triathlon, I couldn’t help but notice some of the high-priced carbon out there. Including on S-Works Shiv with Zipp 80’s… About $14,000 worth of bike. There were plenty of others: Specialized, Felt, Trek, Guru – and that was just the Tri bikes I saw. The list of road bike manufacturers was too big to bother with. Everything from high-end to entry-level, carbon to aluminum to steel. There were hybrids and even a mountain bike or thirty (about five percent give or take).

The interesting thing to me (as a spectator), and this is for a sprint – a 10.7 mile bike ride, was how many hybrids came in ahead of those high-end TT and road bikes worth several times more.  I used the opportunity as a teachable moment for my daughters who both ride mountain bikes because of their versatility, cost and the simple fact that they aren’t ready to ride on the roads yet.

I heard (and overheard) a common theme throughout the day as well: “I just need a better bike”.  It was repeated so often I lost count.  In some cases the person had a point but in most, while a “better bike” would help, it wasn’t necessarily the answer either.  In this post, I hope to examine the “better bike” subject fully and offer my experience, having ridden everything from a rusted out $20 garage sale Huffy to a $4,000 full carbon aero-bike in the last three years.

First of all, of all of the people whom I heard say they needed a better bike, I asked “I’m curious, have you had your current bike fitted to you?”.  Every single one, without fail, said no.  One of the most oft made mistakes for the noob triathlete or cyclist is thinking their bike is too cheap to bother with getting it to fit right.  Improper fit is far and away the most detrimental problem associated with cycling fast.  Saddle height must be as close to perfect as humanly possible.  Too high and you sacrifice power at the bottom of the pedal stroke (one foot at 4:00 thru 6:00 and the other from 10:00 thru 12:00).  Too low and generating any real power is nearly impossible.  Then there’s the fore and aft position of the saddle.  Too far back and you have to use the back of your leg on the pedal stroke which will mess up your run.  Too far forward and you’ll feel mashed into the cockpit and lose power.  Then there’s reach to the handlebar and width of the handlebar (see my Bike Maintenance and Fitting page for links to detailed analysis of most important issues – read one or two posts a day so you don’t become overwhelmed).

Once the fit is right, then we can talk about a better bike.  HOWEVER, a high-end bike is not a cure for low-end legs.  It never was and never will be.  In the end, if you spend $500 or $15,000 on a bike, you still have to pedal it.  Having done all kinds of analysis on which bikes are good for a certain speed, it’s fair to say the following:  I ride my aero race bike at 21-22 mph (solo, on flat ground).  I ride my Trek 5200 road bike with standard round tubes and aero wheels at about 21-21.5 mph (in other words, almost as fast as the aero race bike).  I ride my Cannondale aluminum road bike at 20.5-21 mph.  The Cannondale is a little heavier and has the same round tubes as the 5200.  The difference between the three is the comfort.  I can ride for miles on the race bike at that speed with little discomfort.  The 5200 is a bit of a harsher ride so I can carry its speed for the same distance, it just hurts a little more when I’m done.  The Cannondale is so harsh (because aluminum frames are so stiff) that I’m good for maybe 20-25 miles at that speed before I’m in too much pain to keep that pace up.  Having ridden on carbon fiber bikes, I just hate the feel of aluminum over longer rides.  It sucks the life right out of me.

On a hybrid, with slick road tires, I can hold about an 18-18.5 mph average and on a mountain bike with knobby tires that drops down to 15-16.5 mph depending on whether I ride my 26″ standard mountain bike or my 29’er.  Now I’m above average when it comes to cycling speed but not by much so here’s how to look at the numbers I’ve laid out:  If you’ve got a mountain bike and can’t hold a ten mph average, the problem is with the setup and/or the legs trying to propel it.  A new road bike would help but that would only get you to maybe 12 or 13 mph.  A new aero time trial bike?  $2,500 – $5,000 and you’ll get 12.2-13.2, maybe a little bit better.  On a mountain bike you should hold at least a 13 mph average… a hybrid?  shoot for a minimum of a 15 mph average and 18 on a road bike before you start worrying about “a better bike”.

One of the toughest truths to help people understand is that a bike is a bike.  All too often those who don’t know any better think that because they see me flying down the road at 25 mph in the drops, my legs cranking like pistons (as my wife likes to say), if they get the same bike they’re going to be able to ride like that too.

This simply isn’t the case folks.  We who cycle fast do so because we’ve put in the time and effort, because we can hurt more than slower folks can.  We’ve become comfortable with feeling discomfort that would have most people heading for the couch… I’ve busted my butt over three years to get this fast and I haven’t let up even a little bit over that time.  I put in more than 5,000 miles a year and I’m pushing at or beyond my capacity for at least 1/2 of those miles.  The reality is that I have great legs and I ride a nice bike.  If you’re not willing to put in some crazy miles to make your legs great, a nice bike will only make you look good while you’re riding slow.  Also, if you’re only going to do one tri a year, don’t worry about the new bike.  Work on your legs and your lungs and be one of those people on a hybrid passing one of those high-end carbon triathlon bikes.  When you can do that, then you’ll be ready for a better bike.

UPDATE:  One thing that I should have added originally is this:  Please don’t think that I am against anyone buying a nicer bike.  Buy the nicest, coolest, lightest bike you can afford, by all means (I did).  Just know that once you do, and you’re cruising down the road only slightly faster than you did on your old bike, it’s a rough mental place to be when you discover that you don’t have any excuses – that you’re just slow and you don’t want to work any harder to get faster.  It’s a harsh realization.  I’ve been there.

A Wild Weekend…

It’s been a pretty wild weekend so while I will apologize for not getting to much of a post, I’m not exactly too broken up about it. The kids and I are down in Jackson, MI for Mrs. Bgddy’s first ever Tri. A Tri Goddess Tri sprint.

We had a fantastic dinner together last night then I took the kids to the pool so my wife could crash, followed that with a few innings of the Tigers game on the tube (and fell asleep before the eighth as usual). We’re all just about to get out of bed so we can get packed and out the door.

I’m going to ask the Mrs. to write this one up over the week, so more to come on the Tri.

We’ve got a lot to do in a very short amount of time.

Focus vs Look

Yowzah! Sprintastic Suisseness!

So ya think you’ve got what it takes to ride in the peloton? Watch this… (It set me straight)

VeloVoices

Might not want to watch this if you’re prone to motion sickness – I nearly lost my lunch around the 1.30 mark – oooh and the 2.10 mark! inCycle’s bikecam is on the move with the peloton for the sprint in Stage 5 in the Tour de Suisse.

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Cycling: Bicycle Saddle Height – One Millimeter Can Change A LOT…

Wednesday my bike was in the shop to have a rather annoying ticking sound investigated and the mechanic had his shoes with him so he could ride it around the block after each attempt at fixing the Godforsaken clicking… To do get on the bike comfortably though, he had to lower the saddle a lot.

Now, my seat post came with factory centimeter marks and hash marks at every half.  My saddle sits at 12-1/4.  I know this spot, to the millimeter, by sight, no additional marker or tape lines necessary so when I checked where Mike put the post when he raised it back up, I knew looking at it that he was a millimeter high.  I had Specialized’s most intensive (non-pro) fitting done on my Venge so the saddle height was perfect, a perfect blend of power and comfort…  And I’ve got thousands of fast miles on the bike with that setup.

So, what does raising the saddle up one millimeter do?

First, most notably and counterintuitively, with the saddle a little higher I can’t get my head as low when I’m riding in the drops.  On one hand this isn’t exactly a bad thing:  With the post-fitting setup I was almost flat so I had a tougher time craning my neck to see down the road.  On the other, riding with the saddle lower was more efficient (*only from an aerodynamics standpoint but I’ll get there in a minute) and comfortable when in the drops.

Second, I could feel a real difference on the sit bones – I felt a little more “connected” to the bike.  It wasn’t bad, just different, but with that slight change in position a great deal of the pedal stroke on my quads (front of the “thigh”).  With the lower saddle height, again just one millimeter, the workload was more evenly distributed around and down my legs.  I’m on the fence about this though.  Enough, in fact, that I’m considering keeping it the way it is for a week or two…  While my quads tired out a little bit easier on my ride yesterday evening, and I can really feel it this morning, I was noticeably faster as well.  I felt like I had a little more power on the best part of the pedal stroke.  That may sound good at first but, and this is important, I had notably less power at the bottom of each pedal stroke.

As far as any “pain” goes, after just one ride there’s nothing out of the ordinary other than my quads being a little effort-sore.

With all of that said, most recreational cyclists wouldn’t feel a difference if their saddle was raised or lowered by a millimeter – but that’s not the point.  The point is raising or lowering the saddle by as little as a millimeter does make a difference.  If one can accept that, one can grasp just how important the initial bike fitting is.  Everything matters.  Handlebar width, stem length, stem height, saddle height, crank arm length, saddle fore/aft position, cleat position, cleat shims (if one leg is longer than the other, enough that the difference can’t be split with saddle height).  While it is possible for a non-pro, who understands the concepts involved in the bike fit, to get into a fairly comfortable and efficient position on the bike, a true fitting pro can dial that in to virtual perfection.  In fact, on my fitting I had everything perfect except for the saddle height – I was two millimeters too high.

UPDATE: I lowered the saddle after my morning ride. Just one millimeter, on the nose. I was also remiss in not stating the obvious in my post: Part of my problem is that I’ve been training in the exact same position for almost a year now – I’m used to my saddle height, therefore anything different, even a little bit, feels a mile off.

Um, Yeah… No Bikey For Big Daddy.

Well, I played a little hooky today, knowing we were going to have a fair chance of rain – I woke up to it at 4:15 this morning. I got ready and went in to the office just as I would any other day. I worked my butt off till 11 and loaded up as the sun was beginning to poke through the clouds.

I’ve been taking the Venge in on rain days to try to get an odd clicking sound resolved and I wanted to get a good jump on it with a few interesting avenues to follow…

First, my awesome wife dug through my tool box out in the garage and found the original cassette spacer that came with my wheel. It wasn’t as thick as the standard shop spacer and since I’d developed a chain skip in the third gear (from the smallest – 13 tooth sprocket) since the cassette was shimmed a couple of weeks ago… This went unnoticed because A) I never use the small ring and B) because I have to be going 27 mph to need this gear – which is mainly on a downhill so I usually flip through it pretty fast to get to the 12 or 11… Then back the other way when I’m leveling out. Well with that 25-35 mph tailwind last night I was cruising easy at 28… Right in that gear’s wheelhouse. The skip drove me nuts! Worse, it was only in that one specific gear. Maddeningly, the shop couldn’t recreate the skip on the stand (so they obviously thought I was nuts)…

We found the culprit at the shop today. When we pulled the old spacer off it was visibly deformed in three places… There are three posts that hold the cassette together and those posts protrude from the back of the cassette ever so slightly. To make a long story a little shorter, the cassette was seated barely off kilter. Matt ground the posts down, we installed the OEM spacer and voila! No more skip.

The little clicking noise, after the entire steerer assembly was rebuilt, still persists though.

Sadly, today will be a day off, minor clicking under extreme pressure or not:

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Out of the Refrigerator and Into the Fire… Part Two.

You’ve gotta be kidding me…  Yesterday morning I wrote a post about how I was going to kick some butt at the club ride because it was going to be so hot out, right?  Well it helps to check the wind forecast first.  25 mph sustained with gusts up to (and holding) 35 mph – that’s more than 56 km/h for you folks to the north and east (across the pond).  Oh yes, it was warm – 90 degrees (32 C)…so warm that the 35 mph gusts felt like standing in front of a giant furnace vent.  Folks, the little ring on the Venge was used last night, for the first time ever, on flat road.

Even with that crazy wind, I showed up, ratcheted and clipped in and rode my butt off but it was about as sucky as you could expect – but taking into account that it sure beat staying late at the office.

We started out at a doable pace, right at 6 pm (and after a 9 mile ride around the block – I’d call it a warm up but all you had to do for that was step outside the air conditioned vehicle).  I took my turns up front, making sure to pass up any holes that were opened to let me in earlier than the very back and things were going quite well, with the exception that we were getting pushed all over the place by the gale force gusts (as defined, “anything from 32-63 mph” though this is debatable).  I hung on for eight or nine miles but things were getting ugly in the group – way too much side-to-side – so I eased off the back figuring I’d let the rest of the B+ guys catch up and we’d give it hell.  Unfortunately, being the last non-racer to fall off the back I knew I was going to be in for a slog waiting for them to catch up.  The best I could tell, the closest guy was more than a mile back.

I kept at it over the next six to seven miles and nobody had caught up to me which really struck me as odd but I just kept my head down, spinning into the furnace.  Lo and behold, fifteen miles in I finally caught a cross-tailwind.  I shifted, finally, back to the big ring and kept a decent pace up but held back just a little bit to see if someone could catch up so the last fifteen wouldn’t be so lonely.  Four miles later I gave up hope and decided to hammer the last eleven with a 25-35 mph tailwind (technically two of those were with the cross-tailwind)…  Folks, as you can imagine those last eleven went by in a hurry – pedaling fairly easy I was averaging between 26 & 28 mph and it was awesome.

When I pulled in, the parking lot was all but deserted – everyone but the “A” group was gone…  Everyone in the group I ride with cut another eight miles off the ride and did the 22 miler.

SO, in the end the only butt I really got to kick was my own – but hey, that’s good enough for government work, eh?

Out of the Refrigerator and Straight Into the Fire. Summer’s Here!

On my Saturday ride I was in full cool weather gear, ended up stowing the arm warmers in my back pocket but never thought of removing the leg warmers – too cold (60 degrees).

Yesterday it was 90 degrees and sunny, and I was all smiles.  Rather than take my scheduled Monday off, I went for an easy 16 miler (only six or seven minutes under an hour so I think it was slow enough.  I am one of those guys.  Put me in a sauna and my body, for whatever reason, regulates well.  I love the heat even when it’s warm enough to look forward to a headwind.  For some reason I just stay cool. It’s a gift…

This gift I intend on bringing to the club ride this evening.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, today will be my day to dish out the pain.  It’ll be my day to smile as everyone else talks about how brutal the pace is and how extreme the heat is.  For three years now, it’s taken me less than a working week to become acclimated to the heat (cold is a very different story)…  This year I don’t even think it will take that long as I wasn’t struggling in the least last night.

I wish I could offer tips as to how I cope with the heat so well but I think it’s just a lack of bulk and genes because I really don’t do anything special…  That said, I can say this:  Cycling in the heat burns fat like nothing I know.  When the temps really crank up is when I go from decent to lean and cut (though my wife is hoping I combat this for the coming season – oddly enough she likes me a little bulkier).

So for all of you first-time cyclists and fitties out there, now that the heat in the northern hemisphere is ramping up:

Stay hydrated – you probably need more H2O than you think.
Don’t forget the electrolytes – Gatorade, PowerAde, Nuun, whatever it takes, don’t skimp on the electrolyte additives, you need them.
Bananas – learn to love them.
Work hard but work wisely.  Heat stroke sucks.
It typically takes two weeks to acclimate to hot weather.  Take your time in that period.
Cycling and running in the heat is just as bad on the heart as shoveling snow in the winter.  Be aware of the ticker.
Swimming in a cold lake after a run or a ride will help your muscles repair and bound back (at least it does mine).

Thank God it’s SUMMER!

 

You Have What It Takes to Be the Best You Possible – You Just Have to Figure Out the Combination to Unlock It…

 

I went out for a great ride with my buddy Phil on Saturday, nothing special, 52 miles + or – 58 miles and we certainly didn’t burn up the clock.  We ended up out in Fenton to climb my favorite, (and one of the larger in southeastern Michigan) Denton Hill.  If I had to guess (and it would be a guess), we kept it around a very easy 17-18 mph.  We hit Denton Hill road more than halfway through the ride and I’d been pulling the entire way… I was thinking about how happy I was to be me quite a bit during the ride.  Here we were, just a couple of guys cruising around town, enjoying a nice, easy bike ride.  It was entirely sunny but cool enough to keep the sweat to a minimum and sipping was all that was required.

Down the hill we went, 40 mph without breaking a sweat.  It’s a straight shot so all one has to do is tuck and fly.

On the way back, with about thirteen miles left, I noticed Phil lagging behind a little bit, almost every time I looked back.  I slowed down and let him take the lead for a couple of miles so I could get his pace right.  It turned out that the hill toasted him just a bit…  We stopped at the shop with just five miles to go, Phil headed home and I went in to use the facilities before heading home myself.

I was only three miles from home when I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since I left the house, since breakfast.  53 miles down, at a relatively easy pace and I needed only one bottle of Hammer Perpetuem laced water and one bottle of water.

A constant thought that made its round through the melon committee was how lucky I am to be me.  I’m not perfect, I have plenty to work on, to improve – and I will, but for right now, for today, I’m just about the best me I can be at the level of effort I’m willing to put into cycling and staying fit.

I look good, feel good, have a great handle on what I eat and my miles are way up from last year (mainly because of longer weekend rides).  I’m riding strong.

Denton Hill is what really had me smiling yesterday.  It’s not an easy climb and riding it the easy way/hard way one after the other should have hurt me a lot more than it did.  7% the easy way and 10-12% the hard way and it was the first time this year that I needed the small ring.  That monster should have had me struggling for the rest of the ride but it didn’t.  I recouped within a half mile and was smiling all the way home.  We’re halfway through June and I’m in better shape than I was last September.

Here’s the kicker:  There are two major departures from last year, and only three things I’m doing differently.  First, my slow rides are a lot easier.  The second is I’m at least five pounds heavier than last year.  Finally, I’m riding a lot longer on the weekends and on my easy Friday ride with Mrs. Bgddy.  This week I managed to squeeze in somewhere around 172 miles.

The major departures are in the easy efforts and the increased mileage.  The smaller began before the snow had melted all of the way… at the start of the season I decided to make a few changes.  I started concentrating on enjoying cycling more and tracking everything less (or not at all as the case turned out to be).  I anticipated a decrease in performance over last year but I was willing to accept that as part of being able to enjoy cycling and spending more time with my wife over enjoying great stats.  Now, I’ve known for a while that I had fallen into a common trap for avid enthusiasts:  My easy efforts were too hard and my hard efforts were too easy.  Not so anymore.

The point to this is all very simple… Last year I thought I was as fast and strong as I could get without working harder – or hard enough to take the fun out of it. I was certain of it. This year, the only thing I did was ride easier a few key days of the week and bump my miles up by maybe 20%… and I’m already in better shape than the height of my season last year.  First, there really is something to the statement “your easy efforts are too hard and your hard efforts are too easy” – believe it.  In addition, because that isn’t the all of this, I’m still – more than three years into an insane cycling schedule for a normal person – trying to figure out the exact combination required to unlock everything I’ve got.  Folks, this isn’t about riding bikes or running or even swimming…  Almost anyone can do them, it’s about getting the combination right so that we can do our best (or our best approximation of what that is at any given moment).

I wasn’t slow last year (indeed, I was quite fast), but I still wasn’t doing it right.

If I could offer one thing from my experience, it would be this:  Don’t be afraid to not know everything.  I’ve found my best me by remaining teachable – which, ironically enough, also helps me to not be an asshole.  Just sayin’.

Happy Father’s Day Dads…

May you be lucky enough for your wife and kids to think you’re a unicorn too…

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