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Monthly Archives: January 2015

Get Low

Not much I can add to this excellent post…

The Problem with Riding the PERFECT Bike.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time (and actually taken the time to read my posts) you know I write about my Venge a lot. My Trek is a great bike, a formidable racer and the Cannondale is old school cool but it’s like riding on… Hmmm, something really stiff and hurty. I’m thinking one of those hand operated rail cars, on bumpy rails, only with a saddle on it. Yeah, that.

In any event, up until I started riding the Venge, the Trek was fantastic. Smooth, fast and comfortable. Sized properly, fitted expertly… Then I rode the Venge and my understanding of smooth and comfortable was thrown on its head.

Closing in on the fall, when the weather starts to turn for the worse and a rain bike becomes necessary, I decided to try to get the setup on the Trek to match the Venge. Unfortunately the two bikes are just too different…it’s a standard compared to the Venge’s compact frame so with geometry differences and a lack of patience, I call close good enough. I did get it close though, after changing out the stem and handlebar.

In the middle of a fifty mile ride early this fall I realized I had a niggle. I just couldn’t get comfortable in the saddle. I pulled out the level and found my saddle to be slightly nosed down. On trying to level it, the notches in the seat post wouldn’t allow a perfect level. The only options were nose slightly up or slightly down.

Problem #1: My Venge infinitely adjusts. No notches mean I can set it perfectly level – and I don’t use a dinky torpedo level, I use my 4′ pro carpenter’s level. Folks, when I say perfectly level, I mean it.

Problem #2: Nosing the saddle up, when you ride in an upright position, is awesome – it better supports the posture. When you have an aggressive posture and your a guy, bad things happen. We’ll leave it at that.

Problem #3: I’ve been riding with the saddle nosed down slightly since I bought the Trek. When that was my “A” bike, I never new what the perfect balance felt like, I was always being pushed forward so I just got used to it. When I switched to the Venge and a perfectly level saddle, I got used to the proper balance… Two autumns ago and then through winter, when I switched over to the Trek and more weight was thrown onto my upper body I ended up with a gnarly case of tendinitis in my right arm that I fought ignored all summer long. Enter this fall and my arm is starting to hurt again so I nosed it up. See Problem #2 – big time. I nosed it down, arm started hurting again and I’d finally had enough…

Yes, Titanium Henry, it is. Carbon Fiber. I ordered it from the shop sight unseen but I figured with a retail of more than $150 it should have, if not infinite adjustability, a setting for dead level (and if it didn’t, I could always send it back).

Well, it showed up at the shop yesterday and I’ve got it meticulously set (the adjustability is just as good as the Venge’s seat post but even easier to dial in). I should be good to go.

The point is, once I found and started training on the perfect bike, in both geometry and components, a few thousand miles over a summer made even minor defects in the Trek serious issues. There’s another side of this little ongoing saga though… I’ve managed to write a rather lengthy post about maybe two millimeters. I may have gotten used to the Trek’s saddle as it was, nosed down of course, but I really didn’t want to fight through another season of tendinitis if I couldn’t. Also, if I were one to only ride a few miles a day, such a great attention to detail wouldn’t be so important… When you average up to 30 a day though, getting things dialed becomes a little more important. When it comes to cycling, millimeters matter.


The Noob’s Guide to Cycling, and the Golden Rule for Purchasing a Bike: Don’t Ride What You Can’t Afford

Now that I’ve had my way on everything from a rusted $20 garage sale mountain bike to a purebred race bike, there are several things that I simply can’t live without now that I’ve felt the difference between the former and the latter.

I’d say one of the coolest things that cycling has going for it, beyond the enormous health benefits, is that it can be enjoyed at almost any income level until you get to the upper levels of group riding. For solo cycling, getting fit and dropping weight, a few hundred dollars can set you up for years of pleasurable fitness.

The trick to sticking to what you can afford when it comes to a new bicycle is never riding (or even test riding) something outside of your price range. If the best you could afford three years ago was a big box Huffy mountain bike and you’ve managed to scrape together $600 to splurge on an upgrade, don’t test ride a Trek Superfly 9.9 XX1 (they’re $8,600 new). If you’re currently riding a ’78 Schwinn ten speed and have a thousand bucks together to upgrade to a new street machine so you can finally ride with the local group (and keep up), don’t test ride a Specialized Venge…

The phrase, “ignorance is bliss” may not have been coined for cycling but it perfectly fits the difference between a $300 bike and something fifteen times the price. It is my experience, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I’m much happier if I don’t know what I’m missing.

I’ve got a few decent bikes and I absolutely love riding them but my Venge (and to an extent, my Stumpjumper 29’er) ruined me as far as ever enjoying a nice, cheap bike again.  So here’s what my going big wrecked for me, top ten style and what I can no longer live without:

10. Great Cycling Shorts – Riding fast is fun, but it ain’t easy, and it’s much, much, much (you getting this?), much more painful in cheap shorts. As long as I’ve got a job and a roof over my head, I’ll have the nicest shorts I can afford.

9. 10 Speed Cassette (minimum) – I love all of the gear selections with a ten speed cassette. Even riding a nine speed is lacking now that I’ve got a 10. Of course, now we can get 11!  For the serious noob who purchased a bike and is thinking of upgrading, my wheels are 10/11 sp compatible – an 11 sp. cassette is a little wider than the 10 sp. so, if you’re thinking of upgrading, your wheels will have to be compatible.  Also, you’ll obviously need new shifters, the new cassette, a new rear derailleur and possibly a new front derailleur and crank.  In other words, upgrading is (often) no simple matter.

8. Internal Cable Routing – I was laughing about this with one of the mechanics at the shop yesterday… Now that I’ve got an internally routed bike, I’d never go back – no more replacing cables on a yearly basis because they’re barraged by sweat and a little bit of rain.  No more cables sticking, poor braking or slow shifting.  Internally routed cables are, in my not-so-humble opinion, the best thing since sliced bread.  They may suck to work on but that’s why they make bike mechanics.


7. A Decent Wheel Set – I made a conscientious decision to stay away from carbon fiber wheels because they don’t make a good all-around wheel when my love of climbing and descending mountains is taken into account.  That said, the very first thing that I broomed from the Venge was the wheels (I have the base model so the wheels were pretty cheap).  Riding on decent, quality rims results in excellent feel and speed benefits.

6. Carbon Fiber Handlebar – This is one of those perfect examples of a luxury turning into a necessity. I’ve got 17,000 miles on aluminum bars and 1,000 miles on a composite… The carbon fiber knocks out so much road chatter in the hands, arms and shoulders the upgrade was worth every penny.

5. Carbon Fiber Frame – Aluminum works fabulously until you’ve ridden a carbon fiber bike…  It’s a ride difference akin to a Chevy Chevette and a Limousine.  If you can’t afford a $1,500 bike (minimum), don’t ever go near anything with a carbon fiber frame.  If you’re an enthusiast, you’ll go into hock to upgrade after a one mile test ride.  There are alternatives, of course.  Many people like the ride of a steel frame or want to split the difference with titanium but steel is heavy and doesn’t last like carbon composite and titanium is more expensive than composite.

4. Stiff Race Saddle – I’ve ridden on a few saddles ranging from a $30, off the rack el cheapo saddle with excessive padding to my current $100 Specialized Romin race saddle which has about two millimeters of padding (if that) and is designed for an aggressive cycling posture.  If you weren’t aware, the stiffer saddles with minimal padding are vastly more comfortable than the cheap padded versions.  Not only that, the high-end saddles come in several widths for optimal comfort.  Choose thy saddle wisely.
3. Pro Compact Crank – The pro compact crank is relatively new in the last couple of years that features a 52/36 chain ring combination.  While it is just shy of the compact crank set’s 34 tooth small chain ring, it’s close enough for government work when climbing all but the steepest of inclines and you get the 52 tooth big dog.  Put simply, my 5200 is a 52/42/30 triple and I’d take the pro compact every day of the week and twice on Sunday.  Believe me, to be this far down on the list (meaning more important), it’s a pretty big deal.

2. STI Integrated Brake Lever/Shifters – If you’re thinking, “Hey, I’ll just buy an older used bike and get by with down tube shifters…  They can’t be that much slower”.  Your thinking is naïve and incorrect.  Down tube shifters are that much slower and because they’re typically working a seven speed (or less) drivetrain, you’ll have to work a lot harder to keep up.  I save my old Cannondale for slow days when I feel like a change – it rarely comes out of the shed.  While I do dig riding it now and again, just to feel “old school cool”, as a practical matter it will never see a century or a regular speed group ride.

1.  A Proper Bike Fitting – Or, jumble the words:  A proper fitting bike.  My aforementioned Cannondale is about two sizes (6 centimeters, measured by the seat tube) too small.  It was advertised as a 56 cm frame and because I didn’t know my butt from a hole in the ground at the time, I took the guy at his word.  Oops, it was a 54 cm standard Criterium frame (as opposed to a compact frame)…  Long story short, the 54 was way too small for my 6′ frame.  It took a lot of tinkering to get that bike so I could ride it.  I bought my 5200 used from my local bike shop (a 58 cm standard frame) and then my Venge (56 cm compact).  Rather than get into the why’s and how’s of the geometry and how that fits you, I’ll just say that I thought I knew a lot when I bought that Cannondale and to say I was wrong is an understatement of epic proportions.

As a bonus, something I just began to enjoy last summer that I can’t do without but is not directly attached to new vs. old cycling technology is my wife as a cycling partner.

UPDATE: My friend, Titanium Henry commented below that I left out clipless pedals (and carbon fiber soled shoes). Clipless pedals would have to be in the top two, probably tied for first. They are, without a doubt, a perfect example of “now that I know how awesome they are, I can’t live without them”. Thanks brother.


The Venge

The 5200

The Cannondale

Fit Recovery on Effort: What I Mean by “I Ride Till I Puke”…

Yesterday I wrote that the key to my weight loss, my wonderfully quick, easy weight loss, was effort – lots of good old-fashioned, ugly, sweat-drenched effort.

Two things: It was quick, once I figured out what I was doing and how I wanted to get there but it took me something like a decade to get the combination right. Second, yeah it wasn’t all that easy either.  Easy is a figure of speech pertaining to its simplicity – I literally had to work my ass off (and I’m using the word “literally” correctly).

Now, often a mental “defense” switch is flipped in certain people when we start talking about effort. People circle their mental wagons, get upset and vociferously defend whatever it is they do (or someone else does) as “good enough”.  This is not without its irony.

Some people use races for motivation, others use weight goals, there are all forms of carrots and sticks to be used as incentives to maintain the course that leads to a happy, fit person.  I’ve done everything I want to do in cycling already.  I can ride pretty fast, I can cover long distances, I’m in fantastic shape, I’m happy with my weight, I have several bikes that I enjoy immensely…  You get the idea.  I’m pretty much out of “stuff” to use as motivation, with the rare exception that I have a ride to get ready for (this year’s Horsey Hundred in Kentucky for example, 100 and 77 mile rides, consecutively over Memorial Day weekend), with one exception:  I use my weakness and desire to take it easy as motivation to push harder.

What this means, specifically, is that when I’m on training rides and I hit those rare instances where I want to slow down and ride easy, I remind myself that I’m being weak, that my fat ass and gut hates me working that hard and that I’ll be better for the effort, and so forth.  In reality, I use much harsher language on myself, I cleaned it up considerably for the blog.

Please don’t read into my describing this as a shot against anyone else, it’s not intended that way.  It’s simply the only way I know to keep from settling for second-best.  This is also a good point to explain that this effort that I’m talking about is not all-out, all of the time.  I mix in easier rides as well, just like “they” say we should and I could put more effort into cycling.  With the proper training plans, workout regimen a little strength training and most importantly time, I could be racing-fast.  This doesn’t fit what I want out of cycling.  I’ve got three jobs already (run two companies and being a husband/dad), I don’t need a fourth.  My balance is keeping it fun and fast while keeping me lean and mean.  Keeping my balance doesn’t require a lot of time during the week – only 45 minutes a day with the exception being Tuesday night where it’s just over and hour and a quarter to cover almost 30 miles (1:18 to 1:25 depending on the group we’ve got), though it does get a little long on Saturday and/or Sunday with anywhere from two to four hours a day in the saddle, I try to keep it manageable.

The point is, if there must be a point, I have to make sure my effort is in line with my desires.  If I don’t mind being overweight or obese (and I do mind, considerably), then I can be happy with loafing about the house.  If I don’t mind being a little chubby, then cruising around at 15 mph to simply enjoy an hour or two on the bike, there are plenty of local groups I could ride with…  Or I could do that and radically modify my diet so my calorie intake drops but I don’t want that either.  On the other hand, if I want to be a lean and mean cycling machine (and I most certainly do), then I have to put enough effort into it to be that guy.  Unfortunately that means pushing hard enough that I puke every now and again.

The only time this becomes a problem for someone else is when you want to keep up, so please, take what I write with a grain of salt (or two).

Cycling and Weight Loss… Effort and Intake: How Hard You Work and When You Eat is the Ticket to Freedom

I have a problem:  I love to eat, hate diets and hate being chubby.  I quit smoking cigarettes just about the time my young(ish) metabolism decided to peter out on me.  After I regaining my taste buds and discovering that food really tasted good, the metabolism thing presented a problem, especially considering the fact that I’d just taken a desk job.  That’s a bad combination right there, let me tell you.  I went from 150 pounds to 195 before I knew it – and I really didn’t know it…  Being a six-foot tall guy and only weighing 150 pounds, I never had to weigh myself so I never did.  All of a sudden, there I was in a photo with a double chin and in crisis.  That was something like fifteen years ago now.  I started running in 2000, and managed to shed about 24 of those pounds.  It was cycling in 2011 and that provided the real ability to change.  My first year, training for triathlons (a mix of running/cycling and a little swimming), I logged in a little more than 1,800 miles for the year (May thru December), but 2012 I really ramped that up and managed 5,300 miles between running and cycling (mostly cycling).  I bested that in 2013 with 5,600 and then beat that with over 6,000 miles last year – that’s more than 18,700 miles to work on my weight and diet but I’ll guarantee you, my experience is an interesting one and it won’t follow the path most would think, where I’m constantly struggling to drop weight to get to a fitter size…

I have played with my weight a lot over the last few years, mainly because I can. I’ve learned how to tinker, to gain weight (mainly off-season – in season is just too hard), lose weight (the opposite) and maintain it. Going easiest to hardest, it’d be pretty much what you’d expect: Gain, Lose, Maintain.

Gaining weight is simple as it gets. Keep eating like I’m riding, polish couch with ass. Doesn’t get any easier than that.

Next up is losing weight, which is almost as easy, if it weren’t for all the effort required. Ride lots of miles, real fast. Eat well, don’t blow anything on silly calories, and eat at the right time… I’ll get into that last part in a minute.

Finally the tricky part, maintaining my weight between the seven or eight months I’m riding and the four or five I’m putting in my miles on a trainer. This is hard but more out of season than in.

We almost all find it quite easy to gain weight, so I’m going to concentrate on losing. For me, losing weight is all about the effort and the idea for this post struck me the other day watching a commercial for a tread climber.  It struck me, while watching that commercial, that none of the people who were walking on the thing were sweating…  Not even a little bit.  I think this gives the false impression that it’s possible to lose a lot of weight in a short period of time (six months to a year), without working all that hard.  To make matters worse, you’ve got governmental agencies saying that walking a half-hour a day will help one lose weight as well…  What they don’t say is it’ll take about 45 years, and therein lies the rub.

It is my experience that weight loss is all about effort.  While many people would rather not see a sweaty woman slumped over the arms of a tread climber, gasping for breath and dripping sweat all over the floor and machine.  That kind of effort is what it takes*.

I see a water Zumba class from time to time and it just breaks my heart. There is, of course, the reality that everyone has to start somewhere – I do get that, but even Richard Simmons was Sweatin’ to the Oldies. He was putting some effort into it, no?

There’s another school that says we should find that fat burning zone (zone 2), just cruise there and watch the fat fly off! Now maybe I’m doing it wrong (I do have a mean fast streak that I find impossible to throw a leash around).  Maybe it was my diet that caused the problem with the “zone 2” fitness schedule, I really don’t know.  That said, with the exception of Tuesday nights last year, I tried it and it’s just not me.  I did manage to maintain my weight which is a good thing, but I never felt quite right, like everything was in control – it felt as though I had to work too hard to keep from gaining weight and I often felt slow when riding with the rest of the guys.  If that wasn’t bad enough (and it very much is), there’s another school of thought that says if person trains their body to burn mostly fat, than every excess calorie that is consumed is stored as fat, do not pass go, straight to the gut…  If there’s any validity to that, I don’t want anything to do with it.  That said, while zone two isn’t all that hard, you still work up a healthy sweat over time.

Finally, there’s the old-fashioned “go out and ride (or run) till ya puke” way of doing it.  It’s not as difficult as it sounds; once you get used to it hurting, it doesn’t hurt so bad.  Also, it’s definitely not all out, every time (medium effort and easy rides should be incorporated into the schedule as well).  For peeling off weight, this worked the best for me.  As far as getting faster went, it had its problems because my medium and easy effort days tended to be faster than advised if I were to truly develop speed.  While I was quite fast, if I’d have been faster had I gone easier on my easy and medium days and a little harder on my hard days.

In the beginning, cycling, running and weight loss is not necessarily about balance – for me, the search for balance came later.  My first couple of years cycling I wanted to see exactly how low I could go, pertaining to the scale – and my max effort (without overcooking my body) was absolutely the quickest way to meet my weight goals.  In fact, it worked so well, I had to change direction a lot sooner than I expected to.  Looking back on photos from two or three years ago, I was skinny, and back down to that magic 150 line on the scale…  It took my wife complaining about how skinny I was getting to get me to eat more as a counterbalance.

*Consult your doctor before beginning a weight loss program.  I am not a doctor, I just ride a bike.  Really fast.

As for when I eat, this one took some serious tinkering while I was dropping weight.  I wasn’t used to being hungry all of the time.  Famished would technically be a better word.  Once I got my mileage up to 100 a week, a lot of info became popular about the proper fueling of the muscles (or maybe it finally hit my radar, whatever you want to call it, I’m good)…  Eat within 45 minutes of activity, 60/40 carbs to protein, etc.  I modified the first of those two and tried my best to stick with 30 minutes after and used the 60/40 rule religiously – and that was the breakthrough I was looking for.  There was an excellent unintended consequence to doing that as well:  Because I was eating so soon after a workout, I wasn’t in any shape to overeat.  Truth be told, I’d have much rather waited a couple of hours, when the real hunger pains hit, and go to town, but I was doing the “fuel for the muscles” thing and “they” said 45 minutes so I stuck with it.  Lo and Behold, I had a tough time stuffing myself, even after a hundred mile ride (which burns, in my case, about 5,200 calories, give or take).  Once I combined eating at the right time with a fair bit of mileage, I dropped weight like it was going out of style and I was rarely hungry enough to hurt my efforts (though a few handfuls of peanuts, an apple or a banana always helped me through a tough time or two).

Good luck!

Golden bike: Licence to thrill

Anybody got a spare $370,000?!

My brother from another continent (and another mother), Christopher stopped by to let the air out of the gold plated bike… How to put this mildly… According to my BFACAM, the spec on the bike is nothing special. Take the gold plating off and you’ve got a bike you could probably pick up for under a thousand dollars. Interesting, eh?


We’re using to seeing Olympic champions such as Samuel Sanchez sporting a spot of gold on their person, bike or shoes but here’s a bike that takes bling to a whole new level.

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Fear could be said to be the root of all evil. The cause, reason, excuse…but it is much more. Fear is at the root of damn near every personal demon that possesses me, from lethargy to procrastination. Fear, and the escape from it, is why I drank like I did.

On the other hand, fear is not all bad, it’s partly to blame for my decision to recover. It was the fear that I would wind up a perpetual loser that got me to try a better way of life, to boil everything down to one simple action: Do the next right thing at any given moment.

My girls taught me a lesson about conquering fear yesterday. They were at their diving lesson, my yards already put in and watching them. The tuck dive already progressing it was time for the girls, just 8 and 11 mind you, to learn to dive backwards off the board.

It started at the edge of the pool, simple enough; arms in the air, hands locked on over the other with the thumbs, look at the hands, arch the back and fall back off the ledge.

After that was mastered, it was to the board. The eldest went first and the initial attempt was fair enough. Then under-rotation led to a back-smacker and fear. That led to more fear, less rotation and full-on back flops. That progressed to utter paralysis. A complete inability to stand backwards on the board and look at her hands above her head. My heart ached for my daughter. To say I could feel her pain was an understatement. I lived through that pain for years and I know how it can keep me from enjoying life if allowed to fester.

I watched the coach try to coax her to fall off the board, only to freeze as her eyes rolled up to spot her hands… Paralysis. She would walk off the board to the steps and get down. As a kid, that’s where I threw in the towel. I’d go until fear got the best of me and I’d quit. It’s no way to live.

My daughter didn’t quit though. She’d walk a couple of lanes down from the board and practice falling off the edge… With just fifteen minutes left in the session, the coach started ramping up the effort, if my daughter went home, left to dwell on the fear rather than victory over it, that could lead to problems at her next class… I joined in. She kept freezing.

The 8-year-old heard us talking about flexibility and decided to show off. She laid down on her belly on the deck, pushed up with her arms, arched her back and curled her legs up until her feet rested flat on her head. Folks, you’d have to cut tendon and break a few bones to get me into that position, but it gave me an idea… I had the younger try the reverse off the board, explaining she’d be perfect for that dive with her flexibility. Their coach caught on immediately.

The little one’s first attempt was darn near perfect as she entered the water just shy of vertical.

When the elder saw the younger, the desired gears shifted in her head, I could literally see them click into place… And

Within three minutes, they were wearing out a path in the tile to the diving board. One after the other. Arms up, arch the back, watch the hands… Into the water.

Bella smiled and we all exchanged hi-fives. Inside of fifteen minutes, my daughter went from frozen with fear to “this is easier than I thought it would be”. Something I took years to do.

I can catch a life lesson on how to be a better dad, husband, boss and father from anyone, even an eight and eleven year-old.

Yesterday I caught one. It was not only about facing fear – though that was the broader part of it. My daughter expressed her fear, as she felt it, holding nothing back, not even the tears, she trusted her coach and mom and I with it, so that we could help her work through it, not around it.

Trusting someone else with my fears, unconditionally, and then taking their advice to get through it… Now that’s scary. And the simplest way to victory over them.