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Monthly Archives: July 2014

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Tour de France 2014: Stage 18 – Pau to Hautacam

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At Long Last, My Venge is Back… And QUIET.

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My clicking Venge is finally back, sans “clicking”.  Assenmacher’s Cycling Center, my local shop has worked tirelessly to get it right over the last two months on rain days.  Three months ago or so, just eight months after I bought the bike, it developed a mild ticking that sounded like it came from the crank but as anyone who has had an annoying noise pop up on their bike, they all sound like they’re coming from the crank.  When I first reported the problem, the owner of the shop offered to work on it through rain days so I wouldn’t miss a ride.  Whenever rain was expected, I’d drop the bike off and they’d work on a few new possible issues.  We looked at the cassette body, where the spokes cross on the wheel, the bottle cages, the steering assembly was taken apart, cleaned and put back together, the entire bottom bracket/crank assembly was disassembled, cleaned and repacked, the chain was replaced (that one was at my request, even though the original chain has a few months left on it), the derailleur assemblies were looked at, the seat post/saddle assembly was cleaned and reassembled…  Folks, the shop completely tore the bike down and rebuilt it trying to figure this out.  We even swapped out the wheels, front and rear, to make sure it wasn’t in the wheels.

Nothing worked.

Finally, I dropped the bike off yesterday to leave it overnight.  Rain was in the forecast on Wednesday but it was clear that it would only be cool and cloudy but I was so desperate to get this resolved, I opted to drop it off anyway and ride my backup bike (though I opted for a dirt road mountain bike ride instead – I needed to get some miles in on the dirt bike).  When I showed up yesterday afternoon to see if a culprit had been identified, they were no closer.  Matt (the owner) and I disassembled the crank again and decided to try plumber’s thread tape where the left crank arm joins with the drive assembly – now that showed some temporary promise!  I got two silent revolutions out of the crank before the ticking started again – we were getting close.  That’s when we decided to start looking at the crank itself.  It turned out that they had a 54 cm model on the floor with the exact same crank assembly.  Rather than waste more of his money on the bike, I stuck around and swapped the old crank for the new one from the 54.  Sure enough, the bike was silent.  Then I took my old crank and put it on the new 54.  There was the clicking again.  Then we decided to isolate the exact offending part, so I put the old left crank arm on the new right crank/chain ring assembly on my bike…  No clicking.  Then the new left crank arm on my right crank assembly on the new bike…  Clicking.

It was the right drive assembly where it joined with the left crank arm.

Now, before you guys get any ideas, the chain ring bolts have been disassembled, cleaned and lubed twice, and then done a third time with lock-tite just to make sure it wasn’t the chain ring bolts.  When we took the crank assemblies back apart, the splines on my old right side showed us something…  The lube that we’d applied on the splines was black, even though the crank had been through less than 50 revolutions which meant there was movement when torque was applied to the assembly (shown below from a different FSA BB30 crank assy):
FSA BB30 Crank Assy
See the splines on the right (with the two washers on them), and how they mesh with the left side crank arm?  The wear was showing in the valleys of the right side.

On getting all of this straight the owner of the shop contacted the proper folks and was asked to send the assembly in for inspection.  This, believe it or not, is a problem because that means I’ve got a bike with no crank in the peak of the season.  I assumed, of course, that I’d simply get the new crank off of the new bike and we’d be good, right?  Well not exactly because then the shop’s got a bike that was on the shelf but can’t be displayed any longer.  Technically my bike is supposed to be sitting in shop limbo until FSA and Specialized figure this one out before sending me a new crank.  Thankfully, my local shop is awesome and they opted to give me the new crank so I can still ride while this mess gets sorted by the powers that be…  Now, I’ll refrain from comment, disparaging or otherwise, about this until more is revealed because I’m sure neither FSA nor Specialized have any idea how much time went into tracking this down but I will say this; Dude, I paid a shit-ton of money for that bike.  It’s under warranty and we went to extreme lengths to rule everything else out.  I can’t imagine having to leave that bike at the shop until they get their part figured out, nor can I imagine that they’d take more than ten minutes to figure out, “hey, this crank crapped out”.  More later.

How to make yourself feel like crap: Clothing Edition

And to think, I was going to write a post about my awesome mountain bike ride yesterday… One of these days I’ll learn.  This is going to be a touchy subject so please, bear with me…

I am very careful about the clothing that I buy and wear nowadays – it wasn’t always like this.  I used to shop at Sears or JC Penny’s or Macy’s (then Hudson’s) and thought all clothing was pretty much the same.  For the most part, they make clothes for larger people than me, for people whose inseam is smaller than their waste size.  When I buy a shirt from one of these places, what I normally end up with is way too much material around the waist – I look like I’m wearing a shirt that is a size or two too big.  Enter Express.  Their clothes, while more expensive, are made for a thinner crowd.  Now, I can do one of two things:  I can pony up and feel good in what I’m wearing or I can be cheap and feel ugly in what I’m wearing (or I can find another store that caters to a thinner customer).

I used to choose the cheap route and no matter how hard I tried, I always felt like a skin-flint.  I felt ugly and I’m a damn fine-looking guy.  What I was doing, specifically, was wearing clothing that highlighted my flaws.  When I looked in the mirror, that’s all I saw – my one and only flaw.  It was my little sister, fresh out of college with a degree in fashion who finally helped me out of my jam.  She was the one who turned me on to Express and the fact that I needed slimmer fitting shirts in the waist.

Folks, there is only one person on this planet that can “make” me feel “less than” and that’s me.  Any other person on this rock who would say something off about how I look is simply confirming that which I already believe to be true.  The same applied when I was heavier (though I did something about that before it got out of hand).  What I was doing was setting myself up for misery.

There’s another aspect of this that can work against us as well.  How often do you wear something that otherwise looks gnarly because it “hides” one of the things that you dislike about your figure?  “Well, this swimsuit is nasty but it hides my big ass”.  This is a double whammy waiting to happen!  Not only are you self-conscious about your big ass but you’re self-conscious about your ass and you’re in a piece of clothing that you know is ugly because it hides your big ass.  Ladies and gentlemen, in this instance, you’ve so set yourself up for failure you don’t even need any external input.

The point is this:  If you already feel bad about yourself, why make it worse with what you wear?  Why set the world up to confirm what you hate about yourself?

This is human nature, that’s why.  In the case of the swimsuit, the names were left out on purpose, but this is a person I know in the real, non-blogosphere, world – and I didn’t sit idly by…  I said something to her and it went like this:  “You know, you’re a beautiful woman and that swimsuit is not meant for you, it doesn’t fit, why do you wear it?”  She replied, “Well I don’t like my butt and it hides it well.”  My response went something like, “You deserve to look as pretty as you are, find something that fits the rest of you and hides your butt at the same time.  You’re worth it.”  Now, I’d have argued that her heinie wasn’t all that bad to begin with but that never works out because she’s already got it in her head that it is.  There’s no way I’d be able to fight that City Hall, so I rolled with it.

Guess who showed up with a new swimsuit that hides her butt and looks like a million bucks on her?

Learning to shop and dress to match one’s body style is, alas, often just a Band-Aid.  It’s not always perfect and it certainly isn’t easy.  Finding the right places to shop takes time and effort and worst of all, it takes time in front of a mirror, often looking critically at that which we’d rather ignore.  The question is, how good are you at actually ignoring it?  If you’re anything like me (and honest about it), you probably aren’t.  No matter what, it’s always nagging you.  However, put the right set of clothes on any body type and it will make all of the difference in the world.  The important thing to remember is that we can complain about “society” until we’re blue in the face, it won’t do a bit of good because no matter what society’s slight, the real pain lies in society confirming what we already feel.

Then buy a bike and ride the wheels off it so you don’t ever have to worry about that crap again.

A Post for My Buddy, Aaron

It’s hot.  Not Nova Scotia in August hot, it’s hot. It’s “I have to rehydrate after the five mile warm-up” hot.  It’s “let’s get in the shade till we start because the sun hurts” hot – and the humidity is pegged.  It’s “I have an advantage” hot.  Oh, and because it’s Tuesday, it’s windy.

I formed a game plan as I “warmed up”, which line I wanted to be in, where I’d switch lines to get the most protection, etc..  And threw it right out the window five seconds after we started – I was lead out and on the wrong side. “So be it”, I thought. “I’m working tonight”…

After our mile-and-a-half pull we turned north with the wind at our back. My legs were protesting quite a bit during the warm-up so I was nervous about the start. All worries faded away as the pace passed 27 miles an hour on the six mile stretch. I was pulling again before we got to the end. Then as I faded back after, a hole opened up way to early, only two riders back. I took it – you never get stronger at the back.

A mile north and then the suck started. A sharp left had us almost dead into a 20 mph wind and we were north of 21 mph.  All of a sudden the pulls went from a mile plus to a third of a mile and I didn’t miss a turn.  Surprisingly, ecstatically, I realized I was having to let up quite often so I didn’t half-wheel the guy next to me… “When did this happen”, I wondered to my melon committee.  To my surprise one of the junior members piped up, “you never get stronger at the back, jerk”.  It is rare when the committee gets it.

Over the course if the next seven miles I took way too many turns up front and when we got to the hills people started burning up and the group got chippy.  A few of my normal buds had fallen off, leaving only Mike and I in the group.  I hollered up to Mike that I was dropping off with the others… We started this practice last year – you’ve got the categorized racers (3&4), a world ranked duathlete/triathlete and a few other racers whose rank I don’t know – when they get to culling the herd, we used to hang on until we were individually cooked then finish the ride alone.  Several of us talked about watching out for one another, dropping off together so we could finish the ride faster and with a tight group of friends. We’re darn near down to a science at this point and it’s been much more enjoyable…  Roll out trains, perfect echelons and a sprint to the finish every week.

We formed up going up a pretty fair little hill and once everybody had a few seconds to recover, we got after it.  Mike and I are the strongest (and when did that happen) so we do the lion’s share of the pulling and I made sure, with the exception of the steepest hills which are “every man for himself”, to relax a little bit on the climbs so we could stay together and when we did split we regrouped before or during each descent.  Once we got into town we picked up a tandem, a father and his daughter, so Mike and I got a better chance to recover…  We used that to pick up the pace.  I can’t ever remember working so hard and having so much fun doing it.

We cycled through our rotation until we turned right to head down the home stretch, one of the first times I can remember being a little bummed that we only had seven miles to go.  We held our pace until we were down to four.  Mike had been pulling for about two miles but I wanted him to be rested for the sprint so I accelerated and when I drew even I said, “Rest up brother, ’cause we’re goin'”.  Once I’d given him time to latch on I slowly started picking up the pace.  22 mph, 23, 24, 25…  I was feeling awesome but I had to hold back so I had some left.  26, 27, 29 mph… 30.  We had two to go so I signaled to the tandem that I was heading back to recharge.  I spent a minute catching my breath – we were up to 31 mph.  “Only one to go, just hold on”, I thought…  “Not yet”…  The final corner was in sight and we were closing fast…  “Half mile to go…  Three…”  I blew out a sharp breath and let my lungs fill…  “Two”…  One more exhale – lungs fill…  “GO“…  I upshifted to my last gear – 52/11 on flat road and put the hammer down and shot by the tandem.  “Quarter mile to go…  not too much”…  And that was it.  I was later told that I went by at north of 34 mph – with a crosswind and on a flat stretch.

This is why I push myself so hard.  It doesn’t have much to do with beating anyone else, it has everything to do with beating the old me.  Of course, lest I need to point out the obvious, when I beat up on who I once was, I still win.

 

[ED.  One minor note on “you never get stronger at the back”…  Technically you do, but it takes a lot longer to see progress and I’ve been clinging on back there long enough so when I want to quit or hide, that’s what I use for motivation to muscle up a little bit.]

 

Why it shouldn’t matter that you’re a vegetarian… And why it does.

I read a couple of posts the other day that placed vegetarians in the victim role when it comes to their acceptance and it drove me up a wall.  Now, possibly I am at fault from time to time for lumping all vegetarians into the same camp but hey, if the s#!t fits, wear it.  What had me fired up was the manner in which it was stated that vegetarians are often verbally derided for their choice in diet and each author gave a semi-credible list of possible reasons.  The problem, in both cases, is that they left out the most glaring reason why vegetarians and vegans are so often given the cold shoulder:  They keep attacking those who eat meat by suggesting an end to its consumption or worse, by attempting to shape legislation that would make its consumption more costly or difficult for the 95% of the population that does eat meat.  In short, I could give a crap if you’re a vegetarian or vegan until you try to piss in my swimming pool.  Then we have a problem.  If you want to be left alone, shut the hell up and eat your beans and sprouts and leave everyone else alone – and if you’re not one of those, pass the word on to those you know who most certainly are of that ilk.

I decided to come up with my own list of the reasons for my lack of acceptance of the vegetarian’s insistence that their idea of a diet is better than a standard omnivore diet when it is most definitely not:

*While you insist that you can get by on a vegetarian, or worse a vegan diet you’re over there sucking down whey protein shakes like they’re going out of style so you can get enough protein because you’ve finally figured out that beans and legumes just ain’t gettin’ it.  Fortunately, as an omnivore I don’t need that processed crap.  Gimme a steak and I’m good.

*Iron:  It isn’t just for pumping.  Even on a fish and chicken diet you don’t get enough iron.  An older buddy of mine’s wife tried him on the precursor to the vegetarian diet, the fish and chicken diet…  Within two years his kidneys were shutting down from a lack of iron.  A few steaks later and he’s healthy as an ox again.  Uh, no thanks.  My diet ensures I don’t have to be a meticulous weenie to follow it.  While this example is purely observational, there are a wealth of studies that show vegetarian diets, without supplements, are lacking in even a minimum of the iron a body needs to function.

*Vegan and vegetarian diets are exceptionally unhealthy in the long-term unless you’re a nutritionist – and even then it’s 50/50 at best.

*No matter how dearly vegetarians cling to the notion that mankind wasn’t meant to eat meat, no matter how harshly one might attempt to defend that position, no matter how conclusive one might believe the “evidence” is, you are and forever will be wrong.  So when you cart out your list of misinformed talking points and people roll their eyes to the sky and say, “hmmm…” or “I never looked at it like that”, they’re not agreeing with you.  What that means is, “Oh dear Lord, not another one…maybe if I just don’t say anything they’ll shut up and go talk to someone else.”

*There is no credible scientific evidence that a vegan or vegetarian diet is better than any other diet.

*And finally, there is no credible scientific evidence that eating a balanced diet that includes meat – even red meatis bad…  On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence that vegan and vegetarian diets are bad, especially for children and those who don’t meticulously track minerals and vitamins commonly deficient in a vegetarian diet.

What is happening here is one segment of vegetarians are complaining about being attacked by “society” (there “society” goes again) but they’re only being attacked because another segment of their “society” keeps attacking “society” at large.  I know, it’s enough to make your head spin.  Simply put, if you think anyone else on this planet should stop eating meat and do anything to stop them doing so, you’re a self-centered jerk.  Cut it out and we’ll leave you alone too.  Deal?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Pass me the bacon.

 

What Is Chip-Seal: The Cyclist’s Bane

Last year I wrote a post complaining about chip-seal roads. The road commission had just done about 25% of the roads on my favorite routes and I was quite a bit less than pleased.  After two to four weeks of constant road traffic newly chip-sealed roads are fit for cycling traffic again… Before that, they’re dangerous so I had to come up with new daily routes for a month.

In response to that post, I had a couple of people ask what chip-seal is, well here you go…

In words, chip-seal is a new 1/2″-1″ topping of fresh asphalt which is left to cure for a few weeks. During that time, roads are awesome for cyclists – imagine a once bumpy road that is now just shy of glass smooth. Life is good – and fast.

After the setup period, the crew comes back and sprays a thin coat of tar over the road followed by a thin coat of gravel. As cars travel over the gravel (rock “chips”) it becomes embedded in the tar and creates a hard, mildly lumpy road surface. Chip-seal, at least for the first year, is a speed sucker for a cyclist.

Over the space of a year the surface becomes smoother and more reasonable for cycling, though the surface is really rough on tire longevity. The rough stretch, the 2-4 weeks it takes for traffic to trample down the chips, is where we cyclists run into trouble.  In a perfectly dry setting, flats are common.  Throw in a little rain and the smaller chips stick to tires and become embedded in the rubber and you almost can’t avoid a flat. Needless to say, we avoid the newly chip-sealed roads like the plague.

This year, the crew is at it again so while out on an easy day I stopped and took a few photos of a brand new “chipped” surface – thankfully this section only butts up to my normal 16 and 20 mile routes:

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Now, I think you can see why new chip-seal sucks. If you’re not sold yet, imagine the dust kicked up by a car on a newly chipped road.  It’s nasty.  On the other hand, after the chips are smoothed out a bit and after they’re swept (think rotating broom, one lane wide, on the front of a dump truck), they turn into this:

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I’d say 75% of the roads I ride on are chip-sealed surfaces and they normally wait until August to start spreading their joy but (thankfully) they went early this year. All of the surfaces are done (I hope) before the big centuries get rolling.

That’s chip-seal folks.

The Noob’s Guide to Buying the Proper Bicycle/Cycling Helmet…

Ah, the melon protector…  Nothing says “I get it” or “I know what I’m doing” more than a decent dome cover – and fortunately I’ve been all over the map so I can offer a few tips for picking a helmet that will work for you whilst not looking stupid in the process – as it could be argued, I did.

First, I have a big problem when it comes to my dome in the first place…  A size 7-1/4, I’ve got a small-ish head so finding the proper protector for it was not easy – they’re either too big or too small.  Because of this reality I stuck with purchasing one from my local bike shop rather than attempting to get something from an online store so I could try before I bought.  Of course, at first I had no idea what I was doing.  Mistakes were made.

My first helmet was a low-end Specialized mountain bike helmet, a large and it was too big.  Though it did fit, I always felt a little top heavy and goofy in it.  I still have that helmet and I do use it occasionally as a backup – and it does match my mountain bikes (matching the steed is important but not entirely necessary) but in the case of this helmet, I’d crashed the day before (rather than running my 9 year-old daughter over, who crashed immediately in front of me) and I almost hit my head…  I was that close to being in a diaper so I just wanted a helmet, now.  I picked one that was less than $80 and felt okay.  Unfortunately I didn’t look in the mirror, ’cause that thing was gnarly big:
MtnMelonCoverFor my next helmet I had evolved from mountain biking to road cycling and I’d read that having a decent aerodynamic helmet was on par with having a decent set of aero wheels…  now, I already had a good set of wheels so it made sense to ditch the oversized mountain bike helmet for something a little more, um sleek.  Add to that the fact that the old helmet clashed horribly with my new road bike and I was going to get into cycling with the big dogs on Tuesday night and I had to upgrade.  The Trek helmet I chose, a small, ended up being too small – but hey, on the bright side, it matched the bike (this is written tongue-in-cheek):
BontDomeCoverClose but not quite (this photo was taken after my first sub-five hour century so forgive the fact that it’s a little cockeyed – I was beat).  Here’s where the small is a problem:  The dome cover rides high on my forehead.  For a proper fit, you’re only supposed to be able to fit two fingers from the bridge of your nose to the brim of the protector…  That’s three, so while it was vastly preferable to my old helmet, it was too small indeed.  In this case I probably tried a little too hard to get the fashion end right while forsaking safety too much to get there…  Sadly I missed on the fashion end too because unsafe is, well stupid and in my case a very noob-ish mistake.

Finally, last year I got it right.  The idea behind the color scheme on my 5200 was “red, white and blue” so having a blue helmet didn’t make sense – I needed a little more white in there.  This time, instead of attempting to figure this out on my own I went to the owner of my local shop for a little guidance.  Unfortunately he’s quite a bit “old school” so the idea that I was making a big deal about my melon cover and its sizing seemed silly…  Thankfully, one of his mechanics, a serious mountain biker and cyclist, understood my plight and helped out:  We went tried out a few different options – well, almost everything he had in stock – and I finally settled on a medium Specialized Propero II.   This is Specialized’s mid-grade road helmet so it’s not the lightest Specialized has to offer but it is aerodynamically sound, has a ton of vents and is reasonably priced:
SpecProperoIIThis helmet has it all:  The proper fit, aerodynamically sound, venting and it matches all of my bikes.  All told, I wasted about $140 finding this helmet and I was on something of a fairly limited budget – I didn’t have the money to blow.  Unfortunately I also have an “I want what I want when I want it” complex that I’ve been trying to  work through for some time and cycling makes getting that worked out much more difficult.  Worse still, going into shopping for cycling kit with that attitude can have you settling for something that seems good at first but really doesn’t work – and that’s exactly what happened in my case with helmets.

The key here is taking one’s time.  That last time I went into the shop looking for a helmet I was prepared to A) Look elsewhere if necessary, B) walk out of the shop without a helmet and C) have one ordered if I found a size that suited me but they didn’t have the right color.  It ended up we had to order the white one and I waited a couple of weeks to get it and was infinitely more satisfied with the purchase.  In fact, when the little pads inside the helmet wore out (a fine excuse for getting a new one btw), I like that melon cover so much I paid five bucks for new pads rather than pick up a new helmet.

Now that I’ve laid my noobishness bare, let’s look at the really low hanging fruit – here’s what not to do when purchasing a helmet:

1.  That Finding Nemo helmet is not cute on an adult.  I don’t care if you love Dory.
2.  Only go with Hi-Viz if you must – a Hi-Viz vest is enough, and the flag is only useful if you’re over 70 or under 12.  Too much of a good thing is bad.
3.  Fashion is fickle – don’t forsake safety for fashion (thankfully there are enough choices out there that both functionality and fashion are possible at the same time).  Remember, unsafe on a bike is never fashionable.  That stuff is for high school.
4.  Do not, under any circumstances, settle.  If you’re not sure in the shop, chances are you’ll be looking for something else before you should have to.
5.  This goes for online shopping as well – Don’t settle.  Send it back if it doesn’t work for you.
6.  Pay attention to sizing.  There are sizing charts on the helmet boxes…  Get the right size for your melon.
7.  Cycling helmets are the equivalent of “accessorizing”.  So are gloves, shoes and shades.  You can opt out, at your own peril.  Goofy lookin’ is a waste of money.  Trust me.

The final biggest rule is, even though we want to refrain from “goofy lookin'”:  Don’t take yourself so seriously – nobody else does.