Two years ago I met a fellow who happens to be blind… Or is it “without sight” or “visually nonfunctional” maybe? I don’t know.
Anyway, I’ve taken this man out for dinner a number of times but I really wanted to get him on a bike. I spoke with the owner of the LBS a number of times and he recommended a tandem but that idea made me nervous and let’s face it, tandems are cool but he’d never get to feel the wind in his face because he’d always be the stoker.
Then three weeks ago a fellow showed up at Assenmacher’s with a special tandem that he had built so he and his special needs son could ride. I don’t know any more of the story than he said he no longer had use for it and wanted to donate it to the shop.
A few hours later, for no good reason, I decided to stop by to say hi in the middle of my daily training ride and there she sat…
Thanks to the generosity of Matt Assenmacher and a little bit of fate (I choose to blame God, I prayed extensively for the guidance to get my friend on a bike, but you don’t have to share that belief), this happened yesterday:
The bike is being loaned to the family, free of charge. I picked up the helmet from the shop and Bob’s your uncle.
When I quit drinking I was having a tough time holding down a pizza delivery job well. I’m sure “I had potential” but that’s really just a nice way of adding, without really saying, “…but in your current state you suck”. When you looked up the words “self-centered” in the dictionary, they had my picture. Fortunately, when I gave up the bottle I could start growing up. I even managed to pick up a decent life lesson or two along the way.
Being sober for just shy of twenty-two years now, I don’t ever put a limit on what good can be done if I just look for the opportunity. I have limits, my faith doesn’t.
I played hooky from cycling Saturday and Sunday… I could have gone for a ride yesterday, it was cold, just above freezing, but nowhere near too cold. The truth is, I’m getting nervous. The tendonitis in my right elbow/forearm is getting worse. If you’ve been following my posts for any length of time, you already know that I’ve been struggling with it for something like four or five months now. I have simply refused to take the time off to let it heal (that’s what winter is for, right?).
Well, I woke up yesterday morning and the wing was absolutely hit. Normally, like any form of tendonitis, once you get it moving, the pain is at least bearable. Not the case anymore and after two days off I should have been feeling better, not worse.
I used yesterday wisely, mulching up the last of the fallen leaves in the yard. I started to get itchy midway through the Lions game though. After they won I was fit to be tied. I had to run up to the store, four miles round trip, to pick up some cow for bacon burgers so rather than hop in the car I decided to ride the mountain bike to the store instead.
Two silly little miles, barely enough to get my heart rate up, but I was wearing a cyclist grin. I picked up my burger meat, buns, put them in my backpack and headed for home, amused at how much fun I was having.
Eight minutes, each way. Barely enough to break a sweat, in weather that would have 95% of the population reaching for their car keys… Now I’m not about to sit here and tell you it was faster or quicker to take the bike, it’s much faster to drive it (I live in farm country). The simple truth is, it was a whole lot more enjoyable than driving it.
Ah, fall. I’ve been at it hard all season long, it’s nice to take it easy for a minute, even if it isn’t gong to last very long…
Bicycle Aerodynamics, Style Watts and Why You Don’t NEED It (but it sure don’t hurt)…and If You’re Losing Weight, Why You Don’t WANT It.
Cycling is a funny thing for those who choose to become avid enthusiasts (“Avid Enthusiast” is a slightly more politically correct term for “freaking bike nut” for those who might not know). I put a lot of money into cycling over the last two years, on new bikes and new equipment… Last summer I’d come up with an idea for a new cycling related company that was supposed to launch this last spring but getting all of the legalese out of the way took about six months longer than anticipated… This company will involve quite a bit of travel (if it works) and I didn’t want to show up to advertise my wares on a fourteen year-old steed with peeling paint and nail polish patches. Also, I had the cash and absolutely fell in love with my Venge when I saw it on display at my local bike shop.
To be technically honest, I fell in love with its potential. While the frame was beautiful, the rest of bike, the wheels, bar and stem and the crank were a little plain Jane-ish:
I did not buy this bike because it was an aero-bike, though I am glad it is. The wheel upgrade was all style, weight and quality though they had a minimal impact on aerodynamics (bladed spokes in lieu of round). The stem was a weight and style upgrade (80 grams and really cool looking) and the handlebar, while advertised as saving of about 20 seconds over 40 km or about 25 miles, was mainly “style watts” and a little bit of weight (like 40 grams). Add in the time savings from the bike (about 46 seconds over 40 km compared to my 5200) and you’re talking about something though – something like 2-1/2 seconds a mile over this:
With fall set in, I’m on the 5200 almost exclusively now and I’m not much slower on that bike than the Venge – at least not perceptibly so. The actual difference in miles per hour is simple: 20.00 mph on the 5200 works out to 20.34 on the Venge with the exact same effort. There’s a trick to this though. On the 5200 I have to make up the difference with legs, ass and “want to” when I’m riding with others. In other words, I have to work just a little harder to keep the pace. Now keep up with me here, because this gets fun. If I’m cycling to lose weight, I’ll burn an extra 3-5 calories per mile in the process of keeping my speed up. This may not seem like much until you factor in a full season. Over a nine month season, based on 3,600 miles (or about 400 miles a month) you’re looking at an extra THREE POUNDS on the low-end and FIVE on the high. Folks, that’s something. Who wouldn’t want to lose an extra three to five pounds for a bare minimum of extra effort. Point is, if you’re into losing weight and don’t have to have the coolest, fastest bike, you just may want to opt for a standard over an aero bike.
This is highly subjective of course, possibly unquantifiable in reality because the truth is, you’re going to ride as hard as you ride and you’re going to eat what you eat.
The point is, three tenths of a mile an hour is a big deal when you’re in the upper echelon of cycling and the newer aero bikes do tend to look quite awesome but there’s a reason most knowledgeable people will tell you that thousands of dollars worth of aero equipment can be made up for with a little effort and some want to. On the other hand, it sure don’t hurt.
When I purchased my vest two months ago, the owner of our shop said that I picked the most important article of cycling clothing one can buy for enjoying fall cycling. He wasn’t kidding. Vests can create and solve a lot of problems at the same time, though if you choose the right one you can win all the way around.
Mine is made by Louis Garneau and has a nylon, windproof front and a mesh back. This may seem a little counterintuitive when you’re looking to stay warm but the truth is, all of the cold comes from the front. With the mesh, a lot of moisture is let out the back so it keeps the sweating to a minimum, which in turn helps keep me warm. If you’re reading this thinking, “yeah right”, you’re not alone. That’s exactly what I thought when I was laying the cash down for mine. I can tell you right now, arm warmers, a short-sleeved jersey, a light long-sleeved jersey and my vest and I’m good all the way down to the mid-30’s. I lose the long-sleeve for 50+ degrees and the arm warmers too for 60-65 degrees. The mesh back works.
With that out of the way, there’s one more important thing to look at when you’re buying a vest: Pockets. Mine has three deep pockets, so I’ve got the three from my jersey for things I probably won’t need (spare tube, pump, tire levers, etc.) and the three in the back for more important needs (food, phone, a spare pocket for gloves or my hat if it warms up…). I’ve seen a lot of vests out there and after having one with pockets (and having several friends comment on how cool it is that my vest has them), I would never want one without.
If you want to ride comfortably in the cold, may I humbly suggest a decent vest. They’re worth every penny. Mine made this fall vastly more enjoyable than the last two – and spring will be a lot less daunting when it rolls around too.
Yes, certified organic catnip. It exists, just saw it advertised. Proof positive, a fool and his/her money are easily parted.
We take that a step further humorously enough… We grow our own catnip in the flower garden.
You think a cat goes nuts over dried catnip, try a fresh stalk. It’s hilarious.
Possibly one of the toughest questions to answer pertaining to cycling, especially when starting out, is whether or not your steed’s setup feels right for you. Beyond the typical, “get a bike fit done”, how do you really know if it’s right? If you’re putting enough effort into it, riding will hurt for a time until you get used to the effort, let alone your bike and its setup. Without time in the saddle it can be seriously difficult to figure it out. To make matters worse, sometimes getting one bike right can be quick and easy and another can take forever and a day. As examples, my Venge took three hours. My 5200 took something like three years to finally get it dialed in to where I really love to ride it. There’s a reason for that three years though… I’ll get to that toward the end of the post.
First, everything matters – centimeters, more often millimeters. The trick really is, once you get your bike dialed in right, you’ll know it. When you get out of the saddle to pick the pace up or climb a hill, your butt will naturally find the right spot on the saddle when you sit back down, without even thinking about it or having to shuffle around to find the spot – I call this “my butt’s happy spot” (saddle position/height). Your arms won’t feel like they’re too wide on the brake hoods and they’ll be just wide enough that you won’t clip your elbows when you pedal (handlebar width). You won’t feel like you’re reaching too far for the handlebar or that you’re crammed into the cockpit (stem length). Your sit bones won’t hurt – one side or both (saddle width or style, position and height). Your shoulders and neck won’t hurt (too far forward or incorrect drop [saddle to bar])… You won’t get numb feet (cleat position, softer soled shoes, saddle too high). Now these are just a few simple examples, I could probably go on for a bit longer but you get the idea.
Where this gets tricky is saddle time. The more I train in a specific position on the bike, the more natural it will feel, the better that position works for me… This only works to a certain extent though, it’s not infallible. If you’ve got one component (or more) off by a couple of millimeters even, saddle time won’t fix the problem, it’ll make it worse. If this seems confusing, like a lot to figure out, don’t worry (you’re not alone). The solution is to be systematic in your approach to making sure your setup is dialed in the best it can be by paying attention to how you feel during longer rides that don’t exceed your current fitness level. As an example, if you’re comfortable at 35 miles as your long ride, looking at how you feel after a century may not paint a proper picture.
First, know that all of the research you’ve done and everything you’ve read that says to get a fitting done is right. Unless you’ve got thousands of miles on bicycles, and actually know what you’re doing, don’t even bother trying to set your own up. Once you’ve gotten your bike fitted, then start paying attention to how you feel to get it dialed in perfectly. Assuming you don’t exactly know what you’re doing, you can either tell your setup person at the shop what you feel and they’ll help you or you can try to tackle it yourself (if I’m not sure of the ramifications of what I’m doing, I’ll ask someone at the shop first and make adjustments based on their recommendations).
Also, as a resource, if you’re having trouble figuring which way to go or diagnose what you’re going through, try my “Noob’s Guide” or “Bike Fitting and Maintenance Issues” pages… Maybe you’ll get lucky and I messed it up before you had a chance to, and I wrote about it.
One final note on my Venge and 5200… Specifically, how I finally got the 5200 figured out. When I bought my Venge, I did know a little something about setting up a bike because I’d been trying to get the 5200 figured out for so long. Straight from the shop, I got the Venge very close so when I took it in for my fitting, after three hours of crunching numbers and angles all that had to be done was lower the saddle by two millimeters (which helped quite a bit by the way… Also, before they did the fitting the owner wanted me to put some miles on the bike to see what I liked and what I didn’t). Once I got it home, the fit and feel were unbelievable. The first thing I noticed was the width of the handlebar (42 in lieu of 44 cm on the 5200). The Tarmac bend bar on the Venge was much better suited to my shoulder width. Now I thought of buying another handlebar from Specialized and putting that on my Trek but instead opted to upgrade the bar on the Venge and put the old bar on the Trek. That sorted, I made a couple of other changes (90 mm Bontrager SSR stem in lieu of the 70 mm I had on there, lowered the saddle 2 mm and brought it in (toward the handlebar) one millimeter… That done, now my butt finds the happy spot on my saddle, naturally. In other words, I made the fit on the Trek like the Venge (though it’s not exact, the geometries are different so it took some tweaking to make it feel like the other bike).
Some of the errors and omissions over the years were as follows:
1. I knew I hated the deep ergo drop (with the flat spot below the brake levers to rest the hands) but I didn’t realize that it was too wide until I was riding the Venge and got to experience the proper bar. This was a setup oversight, but I would have tried to live with it rather than upgrade the bar anyway. That won’t happen again, the bar width is a big deal.
2. When I bought the Trek, the saddle was too wide at the sit bones (155 mm, I need a 143). This problem only took a couple of days to figure out. My sit bones hurt after every ride so I explained the problem to Walter at the shop and he fitted me for a new saddle. Saddle width matters – believe me, get your sit bone width measured and purchase a saddle to match that width.
3. Because I wanted to look like I knew how to ride, I always sought to have my saddle as high as possible so the drop from the nose to the handle bar was as great as possible. This effected my power at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Far better to set it right and lower the stem.
4. Now this is important… I tried to make the Trek exactly like the Venge by measurement, which meant using a 100 mm stem on the Trek to get the Saddle Nose to Handlebar measurement right. Unfortunately because the geometries of the two bikes are different, that didn’t work. I had to reach way too far for the handlebar which meant that my butt always wanted to go to a spot too forward on the saddle for comfort. The answer was a 90 mm stem but I still was just a touch shy (it took 5 miles of a 35 mile ride to figure this out)… I was so close, but I was still too far forward. I cheated. Even though I knew I had the saddle in the right fore/aft position on the bike, I moved it forward 1 mm. That’s it, just one mm, but that made all of the difference in the world. It’s perfect now. Or at least good enough for government work.
5. The stem change (from 70 to 90 mm) was not a setup oversight. That stem fit the bike and my riding style when I first started riding. In fact the owner went to great length to get me fitted onto that 5200 as comfortably as possible. My riding style changed over the years and adjustments had to be made.
[The Doors, “This is the End” playing in the background]
My Venge sits clean and pedal-less in its spot in the spare bedroom:
We skirted rain last evening, but barely, for the final club ride of 2014, a fun but somber occasion. By “barely”, I mean it stopped raining just one hour before we were slated to head out. The road was still wet for the warmup but the wind was whipping up so they were drying out rapidly… We began at six pm in the evening (thank you Hillary [aka the real-life Lady Redundant Woman*] “when that phone rings at 3 am in the morning…”), light all but gone. My trusty Serfas 305 headlamp and Thunderbolt tail light firmly affixed to my recently perfected Trek 5200’s Specialized Tarmac Bend handlebar, slicing through the darkness…
Now this is was my second (I think, maybe third?) first Tuesday in November club ride, this is the one Tuesday of year where we all tend to stick together, with the exception of the two groups that normally ride (we do all stay together for the first four or five).
Unfortunately, as I wrote earlier, the wind was really starting to whip up, so that ended up shaking out one of our small rabble. The weather channel had predicted a 12 mile an hour breeze out of the WNW but we ended up with a 22 mph chill inducing wind and we were dead into it or fighting a nasty cross-headwind for what seemed like forever.
We started picking the pace up about ten miles in and didn’t back down until we crossed the finish line after 30 miles. The main interesting item of note was the last six or seven miles – when we finally had the full weight of the wind behind us… Justin and I were up front and he let me know we made it up to 23 mph before we could feel that we were cutting into the air… We ramped up the pace to 26-28 mph for the charge home.
It was another one of those nights – had I not been a hardcore cyclist, staying home would have made sense but it ended up being a great night for a ride that even the less fanatical amongst us would have enjoyed thoroughly.
We finished off the season with a nice dinner at a local diner before heading home and turning in. I am absolutely happy with my season. I am stronger and faster than I was last year and I had more fun than I could have hoped for, and that’s all I wanted.
*Lady Redundant Woman is a character on PBS’s Word Girl
I’ve always been one to ditch the road for the trainer when the temp dipped below 45 (F). I figured I was too old for cycling near freezing to matter all that much – it’s not like nutting up was going to gain me anything being a good decade past my prime… Why suffer, right?
I stepped out the door yesterday morning and it felt like a cool summer’s morn, warm enough that I unzipped my jacket. I unlocked my truck, got it and turned the key and turned the heater blower to 1… When the display screen flashed back to home, next to the 5:37 am, the outside temperature stood out. 45 degrees.
I’ve picked up a lot of cool weather cycling gear over the last year, including a vest, a couple of light caps, a long-sleeved jersey and some knee warmers – the vest being by far the most enjoyable of the lot – but everything I’ve picked up was for warmer weather than the mid-40’s I was okay with riding in – or so I once thought…
My Specialized Element jacket is only used when the starting temp is below 35 and the finishing temp is forecast below 50. Tights? I’ve only used them twice so far this year (starting temp at freezing or worse). My balaclava? Once and I wished I’d opted for a cap the whole ride.
Now, looking at this realistically, as a store owner would their inventory, there are several reasons that would go a long way to explaining this change in attitude toward cold weather cycling… First and most obvious is the fact that I’ve upped my game. I’m no longer hanging on at the back (except on Tuesday night) but playing a bigger role in leading out our train – I’m working harder, thereby generating more body heat. Second is the addition of the vest. I simply can’t say enough about how important a good vest was to my comfort in colder weather (a more detailed post to come). The big deal has to be acclimatization though – this is the only thing that explains feeling warm when it’s only 45 degrees when the most strenuous thing that early in the morning was taking a shower. The simple reality is, I’m much better acclimated to riding in the cold this year, because I’ve done it. In other words, cycling in the cold, actually the definition of what I find cold, is relative. Cold is now below freezing, where my cutoff was 45 last year.
I’d be remiss without adding one final note on cold weather cycling… One big factor: Willingness.
This winter was supposed to be nasty according to the Farmer’s Almanac – just as bad as last winter, the worst in recorded history in Michigan. I can normally cycle pretty safely on the road right up until Christmas but last year we’d already had something like a foot of snow on the ground. Never mind temps below freezing, as far as I knew I’m running on short-time here and I knew darn good and well that come February, after two months of turbo training monotony, I’d be seriously bummed for having missed out on any days on the road, even if it was cold outside.
Well, according to a farmer friend of mine, F.A. has changed their prediction and the winter is supposed to be a lot less brutal than originally expected. Even if that’s the case, I’m glad I got to learn this lesson. I’ll be a lot happier come February (and I might even be a little more willing to get out for a few rides through the snow this year).
Bgddy Jim’s cycling in the cold theory of relativity: The harder the ride, the less the cold sucks, the colder I can ride without it sucking. That’s about as good as it gets.
An excellent post about finding solutions rather than mentally staying in the problem…
Advantages of being a writer that appeared HERE:
The benefits of writing go far beyond building up your vocabulary.
No matter the quality of your prose, the act of writing itself leads to strong physical and mental health benefits, like long-term improvements in mood, stress levels and depressive symptoms. In a 2005 study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, researchers found that just 15 to 20 minutes of writing three to five times over the course of the four-month study was enough to make a difference.
By writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events, participants were significantly more likely to have fewer illnesses and be less affected by trauma. Participants ultimately spent less time in the hospital, enjoyed lower blood pressure and had better liver functionality than their counterparts.
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