The Cycling Blog World is losing a good one. Aaron and I have been in touch on and off for years. He suffered a hip injury a couple of years ago and it’s simply not healing well so he’s throwing in the towel on his blog.
For the cycling community, should you desire a climbing vacation in the southern US (Tennessee, the Carolinas etc) be sure to check out his posts, they’re a gold mine of ideas.
I’m afraid this is the end of SteepClimbs as a regular blog.
With all this injury history over the last couple of years, I’ve contemplated pulling the plug many times. The only reason I haven’t is because, surprisingly enough, people still visit. Traffic has dropped slightly from where it was when I was riding and posting regularly, but not as much as I expected. Most of the people are reading the Climbs section, Rides, or Routes. Why stop something that many people find useful?
The answer is that I’m not. That information is going to remain up, but there will be no new posts and I will not be actively maintaining the site. At some point it will become outdated, but it should be useful information for many.
The reason is because I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that this part of my life is over…
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My legs are so brilliantly awesome they can’t be contained by a $100 pair of jeans.
Most normal people would be severely bummed had they ripped their favorite pair of jeans… Especially if they retail for a hundred bucks. I’m a cyclist though. My legs are so friggin’ huge and fabulous that they cannot be contained, even by ridiculously expensive jeans.
I did that simply lifting my leg up to get into my wife’s SUV.
Cycling rocks! Buy a bike, ride it a lot and ride it fast. You too can shred your jeans! Happily. It sucks, sure but at the same time… It’s awesome.
Curse you CycleOps… A bike thong? A thong?
Photo from REI
Accordingly, Mrs. Bgddy chimed in: “Yours keeps the sweat off of your bike. Mine is a string up my butt”.
Alas, I endured one full winter using a towel over my top tube to keep the sweat off of my bike. I’d drop it almost every ride and have to stop to pick it up before commencing my misery on the trainer. Finally it was too much – plus, CycleOps sweetened the pot by adding the phone/remote attachment so I can actually hear my phone ring over the movie I have playing so I can pause it should I have to answer the phone – I found my thong at the bike shop a couple of weeks ago… I had to have it.
Sadly, it’s not quite as sexy as my wife’s thong but at least my bike doesn’t have to be wiped down after every ride anymore.
If, like me, you choose to endure the grinder, AKA “the trainer”, over wrapping yourself up like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story to train through the winter, definitely pick up a… Um… Dammit. A bike thong.
God Almighty. Phrasing.
Beyond a professional bike fit which will get you somewhere between “close to” or “right on” a perfect fit for your bike (depending on how much time, money and energy you’re willing to put into it), there are a number of other factors that can lead to a need to tweak a bike from time to time. Normally I’d be writing a post like this about my Venge, but as it’s about as close to perfect as I can hope for, I’ll instead concentrate on the 5200 which recently went through some major changes that required quite a bit of tweaking to get it right.
My Venge came with the latter of the setups: I put a lot of time and energy into getting that one right and when I ride the bike it feels, without a doubt, amazing. There is no pain, other than an inappropriate lack of saddle time, associated with riding. No saddle sores, no knee pain, no arm, shoulder, neck or back pain. It’s perfect (or as close to it as I can imagine at this point). The 5200, on the other hand, has been quite a bit more elusive when it came to getting it set up so I felt as good as I do on the Venge so I have quite a bit of experience in working things around to get it to where it is today.
Now, in case you haven’t been around for the history, I bought my Venge at the end of the 2013 season. 2014 was my first full year on the bike and it was marvelous. I also upgraded the handlebar at the end of the season (this is important later). I bought the ’99 Trek used, in the winter of 2011 after blowing $400 on a Cannondale that was too small for my needs (a definite rookie mistake). The full carbon 5200 came with all of the stock equipment (drivetrain, saddle, seat post, handlebar, etc.). I had problems with it right away. Here’s what it looked like the day I brought it home (and after two hours to clean it up decently):
Please forgive the gnarly entertainment center and the mountain bike pedals… In any event, the saddle that came on the bike was too wide. So wide that my left sit bone hurt quite a bit after long rides and after a while it got so bad that it affected my left hamstring. I had no idea at the time that my problem was a saddle that was too wide, I’d never heard of such a thing (when you’re a kid, your parents buy you a bike and you ride it – no rocket science involved) but as a noob I did the right thing when I realized that my bike was hurting me – I went to the bike shop and explained my problem. The technician measured my sit bones (a rather obtrusive process) and came to the conclusion that my saddle was 155 mm wide and I needed a 143 mm saddle. Here it is with the new saddle and after I dropped the stem considerably:
This is where two simple changes get tricky. Because I bought a new saddle that had about an inch less padding on it, I had to raise my seat post to get the reach to the pedals right. Makes sense, yes? I wasn’t done yet though… Because I raised the seat post, I had to move the saddle closer to the handlebar by a millimeter or two (if I’d have lowered it, I’d have moved it back). Lowering the handlebar also changed my reach a little bit but if you look at the difference between the first and second photo, you’ll see that I addressed this by rotating the bar upwards which brought the hoods closer to me. I rode the bike like that right up until I bought the Venge when the 5200 became my rain bike…
Once I rode the Venge for a week I realized just how much I really hated the handlebar on the Trek. The flat part of the ergonomic drop never felt right. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t good. As well, the bar that came on the bike was a 44 cm bar – the bar on the Venge was a 42 and fit me much better (a 44 is for someone with exceptionally wide shoulders). I didn’t change it though, even though I could have picked up a new bar to match the one on the Venge for somewhere around $45, I figured I’d live with it because it was only my rain bike.
Last year I decided that I needed to upgrade the handlebar on my Venge from the alloy bar to the carbon fiber Aerofly handlebar. The reach and drop on the Aerofly bar was very close to that of the Tarmac Bend alloy bar so no changes were necessary to the Venge’s setup but I was finally able to put the bar from the Venge onto the Trek…
Now this gets interesting, please stay with me. The difference between the old Trek bar and the new bar was huge. The drop was way less, as was the reach on the new bar. This meant that I didn’t have to reach as far to get to the drops which put me in a bit of an odd position on the bike. Here’s what the Trek looks like today:
First, many apologies that I didn’t stage the bike properly – mea culpa. Now, because the original handlebar was a different diameter at the stem, I had to get a new stem for it and I picked up a quill stem adapter from Nashbar (cheap and light). Originally I got a 70 mm stem, to match the reach of the old stem but when I installed that and rode it, I felt cramped up (if you put in enough miles on a properly fit bike, you can feel these small differences instantly when you switch to a different bike). So I tried the spare stem from the Venge (I replaced that when I upgraded the bar) but that stem is a 100 mm reach and was way too much stretch. I ended up with an 80 mm reach stem. Now, if you notice the angle of the hoods, I changed that in the process because the idea (according to the cool kids) is to have the line of the hoods be on the same plane as the bar as it stretches away from the bike:
Originally, I had the hoods a little lower, so they better followed the line created by the bar – like I have on the Venge:
Unfortunately, that just didn’t work out. I made it a couple of months like that, hoping I could get used to it but in the end, it was causing me a little bit of pain in my right elbow – I had to reach just a little bit too far. What I ended up doing, rather than try to find a decent 75 mm stem (there’s no such thing, they come in increments of 10 mm), is I simply raised the hoods about five millimeters so that I wouldn’t have to reach so far. I could have kept it simple and rotated the bars up so the hoods came with it but that would have messed with how I ride in the drops and would have looked really goofy (it matters to me, maybe not you, but it does to me).
To simplify a rather complex concept, one that is likely to bring about howls of protest were I to make any kind of concrete statement about how to actually go about fine-tuning your bike to your liking, I’ll simply leave it at this: There are dozens of ways to tune your bike to your exact liking. You’re not limited to the simple things (or the things that cost you to change), saddle height, saddle fore/aft position, stem length, bar drop/reach. You can also change the angle of the handlebar, raise or lower the hoods (just make sure they’re even and level when you’re done – if you have one hood higher than the other, even by a little bit, you will be in for some pain over long distances), you can adjust the level of your saddle (nose up if you ride upright, level if you ride aggressive, and nose down if you’re a woman (seriously, women tend to like their saddles nosed down a little bit if they’re not happy with level).
Now, you may be wondering, how do you know if your bike is right or if you have work to do?
I can only offer my experience on this front, having ridden everything from a bike that’s too small to one that’s a little big, to one that is absolutely spot-on perfect… I can tell by feel. I should feel like my weight is distributed evenly to a point where I don’t put a lot of undue pressure on my butt, my arms/hands/shoulders and I don’t have to crane my neck beyond being comfortable when I’m in the drops (I should be able to easily see 2-4 car-lengths in front of me while riding in the drops). I feel balanced and pain-free on a ride of medium length and intensity with proper saddle time (call it two hours at 20 mph in the saddle in my case). I’ve found that if something is off, if something is not right, I’ll experience a sharp pain after a decent ride. Say one of my hoods isn’t level with the other one (I’ve dealt with that once before I knew to check it) or my saddle isn’t perfectly level (and by perfectly, I mean it). The pain will be sharp and intense… In the case of the saddle level, I’ll feel like I’m being pushed forward. I slide towards the nose of the saddle and have to keep pushing myself back to get to the happy spot on my saddle. In the case of one hood being out of level (or square), I’ll feel pressure on the arm that doesn’t have to reach as far. If my saddle is too far back or my stem is too long, I’ll feel like I have to reach too far to the hoods (assuming the stem length is right*), riding with my hands on the bar-top will be more comfortable (the hoods should be the most comfortable position on a road bike).
Finally, to wrap up this first rather lengthy post, fitting a road bike properly becomes more important as the distance, speed and time in the saddle increases. An improperly fitting bike, in the short-term, will often present painful hot-spots that will fade after a ride. Often the cause of this pain can be mistaken for effort or more time in the saddle; “Well, I increased my effort on the last ride, so that’s why my arm hurt afterward”. Over time though, the pain will intensify and sometimes even migrate. I’ll cover several of my experiences and how I corrected for them in the coming weeks…and I guarantee, the posts will be much shorter than this one. As I add them, I’ll amend this post below with their links. The important thing to remember after all of this is that you should not be sore after riding your bike unless you attempt a very intense hike in saddle time. If you are, the first thing to look at is the setup.
Here’s Part II: The Hoods
We’ve been eating Little Caesar’s pizza every Wednesday for the last, God it has to be going on ten years now. That’s point one. Point two is that I love bacon. If you think I am exaggerating, please go to my main page and look to the left… That little sign that says, “This blog is fueled by bacon”. I’m the same way with pizza. I managed a gourmet pizza parlor for a year when I was a kid and I ate pizza every day for a year. Every day. I was never bored with it. Oh, and did I mention that the owner of Little Caesar’s owns my favorite hockey team too?
Well last night we saw a commercial for LC’s – they came out with a new pizza that has a bacon wrapped crust. Dude, bacon. wrapped. crust. Three feet of bacon stretched around a deep dish pizza:
That photo is worth an extra two hundred-fifty words on top of the normal thousand – and it tastes even better than it looks.
Pure awesome. Heaven on earth.
I may get misty over that pizza.
My daughter, Bella won her sixth grade spelling bee a couple of weeks ago. It was a two-day event and she ended up winning the whole thing. She’s heading to the district meet today.
I won’t deny that I’m a smart cookie and that I had a contribution in the gene pool but I’m not necessarily “book” smart unless it’s a topic the catches my interest. Cycling, health through fitness, commercial construction, baseball, golf, running, swimming… Bella, on the other hand, possesses that crazy ability to learn about anything.
The kid’s an A student, second chair trumpet (she was first but just lost a challenge by one point a week or two ago), a competitive swimmer, she probably reads at a level that comes close to me (with equal comprehension and better retention) and she’s definitely better at math than I am at this point.
Thank God for marrying well and for my wife who had done a stellar job of raising our girls.
This isn’t to say this isn’t a team effort and I didn’t have something to do with my daughter’s success but I play a secondary role at best. While I handle my role well, providing the environment for my daughters to be successful, it’s my wife who is in there getting her hands dirty and my daughters (both of them) who ultimately take responsibility for their education and run with it.
UPDATE: She ended up getting knocked out, my wife thinks in fifth place in Districts. Unbelievable – Top Ten.
The force is strong with this one…
It grows stronger…
“I find your lack of faith disturbing”…
Cat damn near choked me out, just with that stare.