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Fit Recovery’s Perfect Father’s Day… Day TWO!

This is the follow-up to Sunday’s post

Sadly, this weekend did have one bummer.  We had to drop our oldest daughter off at band camp yesterday, for the week.  Truth be told, it messed me up a lot more than I thought it would.  My daughter Bella is just fun to be around and I’m going to miss her a lot.

However, once the bummer that dropping my daughter off was over, the fun started.  We headed down to Midland, unpacked the bikes, aired up the tires, donned our cycling gear and hit the Pere-Marquette Rail Trail for my Father’s Day 60 miler.  The Pere Marquette trail, without a doubt, is the nicest trail I’ve ever ridden.  No worries of traffic (except at crossings of course, and they must all be stopped at because many of them are quite blind till you get to the road).

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Cycling: It does a body good

The trail is 30 miles east to west, into Clare, Michigan.  It can be picked up again, just outside of Clare and stretches all the way out to the west coast of the State, but I’d have to say that my favorite part is the Midland to Clare section.  It’s just far enough out to feel secluded but you’re never really that far away from something.  The fun part is that with the prevailing westerly wind, if you start out early enough you can head into a breeze but as the day wears on, the wind builds and you end up being pushed home by a decent wind.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to start out early enough but it still wasn’t that big a deal.

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We hit the 30 mile turnaround point with an easy 16 mph average and the goal was to hammer it home around 20…

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I think I may have to declare aero bars to be cheating very soon.  What the heck was I thinking getting her that bike?

So we wrapped up our 60 mile ride with a 17 mph average, packed up the car and headed out to dinner at our favorite “We don’t have the kids so we can eat spicy food” restaurant, Qdoba.  It would have been horrendous, how much I ate, if I hadn’t just ridden so far.  After dinner, we headed home, showered and watched some TV.  I don’t remember anything after my younger daughter was dropped off from staying at her friend’s house.  I slept well.

In the end, it was a perfect cap to a great week.  213 miles, total for the week, giving me 623 miles for the month…  With nine days left in the month, I shouldn’t have any problem hitting 800 again.

I’m a Blessed man.  My wife and daughters didn’t give me a great Father’s Day, they gave me a great Father’s Day weekend.

Fit Recovery’s Perfect Father’s Day(s)

Saturday

A perfect Saturday morning, cool but clear and sunny.

Wake up at 5 am, fall back asleep after writing a post.  Wake up at 8 and have some cereal for breakfast.

30 mile time trial at 11 am.

Stop by the bike shop to say hi to the guys.

Four slow, painful miles toward home, maybe 17-18 mph.  See the wife and kids cross the road on their bikes half a mile up.  Kick back into TT mode and catch up, my wife had turned to let me catch up.  Ride another eight slow miles with them.

Have a hotdog lunch with my wife and girls.

Shower and a nap at 3.

Head out for putt-putt and ice cream.  

Head out to dinner at Freakin’ Unbelievable Burgers (Yes, they’re freakin’ unbelievable).

Come home, play badminton with my wife and oldest daughter (the youngest is staying at a friend’s house overnight).

Watch the Tigers.  

Sleep.  Hard.

Today we’re taking our oldest to band camp before heading over to Midland to ride the Pere-Marquette rail trail from Midland to Clare and back.  60 more miles (I need at least 47 to make another 200 mile week).

Head home, we’ll have a nice dinner and I’ll fall asleep missing my daughter.  Man, she’s getting big in a hurry.

We started training on Saturday, without my daughter knowing it, for her first Aqua Bike next year.  My wife was riding slower, with our youngest and her friend around a nice little half-mile oval loop in an affluent neighborhood near our home.  Traffic is always light there and the people out tending to their yards are exceptionally friendly and gracious towards cyclists, so it’s safe to stretch our legs a bit.  We had a bit of a lead so I asked my girl if she wanted to try to lap her mom and sister before they came around again.  She was all over that and we jumped on the pedals hitting and maintaining speeds between 16 & 20 mph.  After my hard 30 it hurt but I muscled it out and we did complete the lap.

Then we did it again, this time two complete circuits to their one.  I was fried.  Toast.  Hungry and absolutely, positively done.  

We limped home from there while my wife put in a few more miles.  

I have no idea how today will turn out with a slight chance (5-10%) of rain but it’s already been a fantastic Father’s Day weekend, and a nice 100k with my wife will be just about over the top.

To all of the dads our there, Happy Us Day.

The Road Bike:  An Attempt at Setting Up Two Completely Different Bikes So They “Feel” the Same (it’s harder than you might think)

My Venge was set up using Specialized’s BG Fit method (BG stands for “Body Geometry”).  It’s the Cadillac of the bike fits (keeping in mind, there are Benz’s, Beemers, a Lexus…you get the idea, I hope).  It’s not the standard, “let’s get you in a comfortable position on your Allez so you can ride it to the grocery store” fitting.  The BG Fit took three hours, measured my flexibility, took into account my medical history (which is flawless with the exception of some big back problems that mostly resolved themselves since I started running and virtually went away since I started cycling) and what I wanted as well.  While there is nothing wrong with the more upright riding posture, that’s not me.  I wanted fast.
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Now that’s fast baby.

In the end, after some minor cleat adjustments, my saddle was lowered by two millimeters.  That’s it, two millimeters on the saddle height from where I’d set the bike up.  We’re talking about video, lasers, angles…  All of that data analyzed, and my saddle had to come down two millimeters.  Later, as I became more comfortable on the Venge, I lowered the handlebars by a couple of spacers to where it’s at today.  My 5200, on the other hand, was never quite as aggressive.  It’s a bigger bike:
OldGlory
This is the 5200 as I bought it, though I put a better fitting saddle on it and slammed the stem (also the drop was only a 6.5 cm or 2.5 inch to start).  I hated the handlebar though.  Hated it.  So when I upgraded the bar on the Venge to the S-Works Aerofly bar, the old bar from the Venge went on the Trek (don’t tell the Brand Police):

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Originally I had a shorter stem on it, a 70 mm to match the size of the original quill stem, but that made me feel to crunched into the cockpit compared to the Venge.  Luckily I had an 80 in the garage and that felt a lot better but the drop from the saddle to the bar just didn’t feel right.  I had a tough time putting my finger on it, but it just wasn’t right.  I monkeyed with the saddle, I brought it forward a little bit and raised the hoods a couple of millimeters and called it good.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was as close as I could get on my own without really messing up my position over the pedals.

And therein lies the rub.  The Trek, while a fantastic bike, is a standard 58 cm frame.  The Venge on the other hand, is a compact 56 cm frame (generally speaking you can tell a standard from a compact frame by the sloped top tube).  Going by measurements, I belong on a 58 or preferably a 59 cm frame.  I bought the Venge a size small on purpose so I could peg the saddle and slam the stem which would give me an exceptionally aerodynamic position on the bike.  The 58 cm Trek was recommended by the owner of our local bike shop before I really knew anything about cycling, under the assumption that aggressive but comfortable would be best.  For more on this, see this GCN video “How to set up your bike like a Pro” (at 1:58):

Looking at the two bikes, one would assume the Trek is more stretched out, and one would be right – even though the Venge feels more stretched.  You would also be right if you figured that the drop from the saddle nose to the bar top was greater on the Venge (but it’s only 5 mm [less than a quarter of an inch] – I’d bet you thought it was more).

With that out of the way, that two millimeter drop in the saddle from the BG Fit was actually a pretty big deal in terms of comfort and power.  Even though by the heel method to determine my saddle height (where you place your heel over the axle of the pedal and pedal backwards, your legs should straighten at the bottom of the pedal stroke without your having to rock the hips to get there, it’s quite simple) had me at where I set the saddle, analyzing the video showed a hitch in my giddyup.

After that fitting the Venge was so comfortable I decided to try to transfer that setup to the Trek.  Now keep in mind, the Trek is just my rain bike.  Between May and October, I might ride that bike fewer than a half-dozen times.  I ride it more often in November, exclusively in December thru much of March and split time in April.  The first item to change was the handlebar and stem.  Then, I had to move the saddle forward, which messed up where my knee was in relation to the pedal axle when the crank arms are parallel to the ground but it was the only way I could get the Trek’s reach as close to the Venge as possible.

Now fast forward from this spring till last week.  Rare for early summer, we’ve gone through an odd stretch of wet weather.  I’ve got a phenomenal year going and I didn’t want to take a bunch of time off the bike for a chance of rain so I took the Trek out four times in a row.  On finally going back to the Venge after that stretch, for the first time in two years, riding in the drops on the Venge felt odd.  Red flags went up, well technically it would be closer to say I freaked out a little bit.  I scheduled some time at the shop and took both bikes in so I could see if there was any way I could make the Trek fit exactly match the Venge so it wouldn’t matter which bike I rode, the feel would be the same.

After an hour of taking measurements and crunching numbers, the owner of our local shop (a man who built a 24 world-record breaking bike frame) stood up and said, “Jim, you did as good a job as you could have setting [the Trek] up as close to the Venge as was possible”.  At that point, I was beaming with pride a little bit, so I can’t get the rest of the quote right, but the word “impressive” was used in that next sentence.  In the end, the drop from the saddle to the handlebar was, as written earlier, 5 mm less.  There was a 5 mm difference in stretch (distance in length from the center of the saddle to the center of the bar) and a 5 mm difference from the nose of the saddle to the center of the crank (this latter measurement being the most important).

Now, the drop from the saddle to the bar is simple enough, especially with three spacers on the Trek’s stem, two of which could be removed…  If the threaded part of the fork was cut down (it’s got an old-style quill stem which complicates lowering the bar further.).  In the end though, making the two bikes match exactly just won’t be possible without dumping a lot of cash into a backup bike.  The geometry on the Venge is too different from that of the Trek.

The owner of our local shop suggested, and I agreed, that there are better ways to spend my money.  The Trek is closer than government work and that’s good enough for me…  Unless I pick up the new Venge and use my old Venge as my rain bike…  Imagine that, a $5,000 rain bike.
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The photo is from a GCN video about the new Venge available here.  PS.  See if you can find the brakes.  Also, where did all of the cables go?  Oh my, I likey!

To my wife, who will undoubtedly read this post at some point:  “Don’t worry sweetheart.  I think.”

Die-In

Read more about the Vision Zero initiative linked in the story. Very cool.

A Promise to Dad

London and Toronto have a fascinating idea!

Die-In at City Hall

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Mrs. Bgddy gets Her Speed On…

It’s Monday night, I’m watching the Tigers clobber the Cincinnati Reds, maybe 50 miles north of Detroit.  It’s raining so hard up here that Noah’s thinking of a comeback.  Detroit?  Comerica Park is an open air ballpark.  Not a drop.


Earlier this evening, Mrs. Bgddy and I barely fit in an easy 16 mile ride before it started spitting on us (We even took the rain bikes just in case).  Our last mile was spent in a lazy drizzle that cooled us down nicely.  God, I love riding in that kind of rain.  Riding in what you see on the photo on the other hand, woulda sucked – bad enough that all you could do would be laugh and keep pedaling (or phone in a ride home – that much rain on the windshield of a car would make seeing a cyclist exceptionally difficult.  I would prefer not to be on the road).

When we pulled into the driveway my awesome wife apologized for “being so slow tonight”.  She was fighting a little bit of a lung thing that started in the rain yesterday and she just wasn’t feeling herself.   Riding the rain bikes, I had to track the ride on my phone because I don’t have a computer on that bike so I really didn’t know how fast we were going throughout the ride, though I had a general idea simply by knowing the gear I was in…

I reached into my back pocket to pull out my phone and stop Endomondo.  16 mph on the nose.  16 miles, 59 minutes and 49 seconds, and she had just apologized for being slow.  On her slow bike.

Lately that is a little slower than normal, but on a Monday, that’s exactly what I wanted, to spin my legs up for the big ride on Tuesday.  Monday is supposed to be slow.  For my wife, she’s coming off a decent effort in miserable conditions Sunday morning.  She’s supposed to be slow the next day…  This is interesting becasuse because (how did spell checker miss that one?) last year 16 mph for her was fast – 13 mph was slow.

With regular saddle time and consistently increasing intensity, my wife has gotten fast in less than a year.  We’ve even started talking about a babysitter for the kids on Tuesday night so she can start riding with the club.

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This presents its problems for me though.  Historically, Tuesday night is my night to be fast.  It’s my night to hammer.  To work on my fitness and to hang with my friends…

On one hand, my wife joining our group on Sunday has been a gift, not only for me but for several of my friends as well.  We ride hard on Saturday, so when we show up on Sunday and grind out the first 15-20 miles, we can drop back when my wife is out, let the racers hammer, and protect my wife on the ride back – we get the best of two (or even three) worlds in one ride:  we get to hammer for half and enjoy a reasonably paced ride for the second.  Truthfully, my wife joining us has doubled my enjoyment of the sport.

On the other hand, Tuesday is not a day for taking it easy, unless you count the 8 mile warmup as easy.  Not at any point during the 30 mile jaunt except when we form up at the 20 mile mark do we ride in a fashion that could be mistaken for easy.

Now, this presents a problem because, as I’ve made abundantly clear previously, everyone gets dropped on Tuesday night.  I do and don’t want to be selfish here.  I had to make it on my own, I wouldn’t want to deprive my wife of the satisfaction of doing the same.  I also want her to make it, because the faster she rides, the faster I get to ride.  So do I wait when she drops, or not.  Let’s just say that if I do, it would be the first time in three years I’ve waited for anybody, with the exception of forming up for that last ten mile ride in.  I think we’ll simply have to have a frank discussion about expectations and see where it all shakes out.  One thing’s for sure, I want my wife to be as fast and happy as possible, without sacrificing my own speed and time with the boys.

One way or another, I’m going to have to figure out how to have my cake and eat it too…  Which leads me to another interesting realization:  I love my problems today.  It makes me laugh when I think about the bad-old-days, back when I was drunk on a daily basis and had a tough time paying for my car insurance let alone afford a place to live.  So much has changed since then, I can’t even relate to who I was back then.  This doesn’t, of course, mean I should double-down on stupid and try drinking again, it simply means I’m on the right path.  I don’t miss the old me.  Not even a little bit.

Getting Your Kids Into Fitness – Patience, Persistence and Leading By Example are the Keys to Success.

My wife just completed her first Sprint Triathlon of the season the other day and she’s becoming quite the cyclist.  My cycling exploits are well documented over the last three years of this blog.  I used to run, before cycling, with a friend of mine when our kids were just stroller-bound.  We’d meet every Saturday at a friend’s house and Pete and I would plop our four kids (two each) into their kiddie running strollers and we were off.  It gave Pete and I time with our daughters and more importantly, gave our wives some alone time.  The fella, whose house we ran at, still gets misty when recounting the story of Pete and I passing him on the way out, pushing our daughters in their strollers.

My daughters have never seen the other side of me.  The overweight side.  The guy who stood in front of a mirror and said, “Heck with it, I’m just gonna get fat”.  I buried him when I bought my first pair of running shoes.  He’s got a grave marker that reads, “C’mon man, you’re too old for this…Or somethin’!”

My wife and I have pushed our daughters, well nudged is a better word, toward leading a fit lifestyle ever since they were old enough to understand what the words “fit” and “lifestyle” meant.  We had help too.  Many of our friends lead a fit life.  Grateful Jim, when our kids were too old to push in a stroller, used to take our kids to a pool to swim and then to lunch so I could get my run in.  I always made the mistake of saying he taught my kids how to swim but he corrects me, “I only taught them how to not be afraid of the water”.  Either way, he had a profound influence on both of my daughters who are now on a traveling swim team.  They’re eleven and eight years-old.

A month ago, I purchased a road bike for my eldest daughter.  She had been asking for one for a year but I wasn’t looking at some cheap big-box mountain bike with drop bars version of a road bike.  She was going to end up with the real deal because one of the great aspects of cycling is enjoying what you ride.  We settled on a full-sized 700c Specialized Dolce, with a carbon fork, a triple crank and a decent integrated brake/shifter component set.  Originally I was reluctant to drop almost $800 on a bike for an eleven year-old.  What if she didn’t like it?  My fear was fair but wrong in the end.  She took to that bike like she was meant to ride and she makes her dad proud.  Her younger sister inherited her mountain bike (a 21 sp, front suspension Trek) and loves it…  It couldn’t have turned out any better.  Or so I thought…

Monday, while on a training ride, my wife mentioned that my daughter was interested in doing the Aqua-Bike at next year’s triathlon, with my wife.  I contacted the organizers of the race by email and explained our situation and my daughter’s age – and also her level of proficiency when it comes to swimming and cycling and asked that she be allowed to compete even though she’ll be well under the minimum age requirement.  They responded that a special consideration will be allowed based on her proficiency as explained in my email.  Of course I’ll have her whipped into even better shape for the bike leg by that time and I’ll be riding the course myself, as neutral support for all of the cyclists (it’s a female only race).  She’ll be good to go and based on this year’s results, she’ll even have a very good chance at a podium spot – racing against adults.  In fact, I don’t know who’s more stoked about my baby girl in her first race, my daughter or me or her mom.

Getting to this point has taken patience – if we were to push too hard, we could have turned both of them off from fit sports altogether.  It’s taken persistence – always reminding them that their youthful bodies will get old in a hurry if they’re not moved pushed on a regular and consistent basis.

Most of all, it’s taken my wife and I leading by example…  Physical fitness and a happy, healthy life go hand-in-hand.  There is no cheating it, no miracle pill, no easy way around it.  There are no shortcuts, no days off.  We can pay now or pay later and for those who opt for the latter, “later” is usually way too early.  Living fit doesn’t guarantee a long, happy life.  It just makes that more attainable.  More probable.  My kids see this and now they want to be a part of what makes their parents so happy.

A fit life is not a theory, you have to live it… And that in living it, life is good.

Tuesday Night Club Ride: The Wheels Fall Off Edition. What the Heck Just Happened!

Sitting in my office yesterday, I was ready to go.  Fired up, in the groove and ready to get my speed on after a relatively easy weekend and a nice spin-up ride on Monday.  Then, while driving home and speaking to my wife through my hands-free blue tooth mobile phone hookup, I my voice switched from clear to gravelly.  At first I was nervous, I know what comes next.  A sore back, a runny nose and a cold.  Sunday standing out in the rain for most of the morning must have done me in.

Much to my surprise, the fall off of the healthy cliff never came.  There was no runny nose, no sharp pain at the small of my back…  I was not getting sick.  I rejoiced!  I was still going to be able to rock my ride (but I took a short nap just in case)!  Some kind of strange anomaly.  I woke up from my nap, rarin’ to go.

I packed up my gear, trued my rear wheel (I hit a bump the last time I rode it that I figured was going to knock it out of true a little bit and I wasn’t mistaken), pumped up my tires, filled my H2O bottles and loaded everything into the car and I was almost out the door when I thought I should grab a Gatorade and a granola bar for the road.  I figured I’d be okay so I didn’t bother.

On arriving at the meeting place, several minutes early, I decided to spin around the parking lot for a minute…and that’s precisely when I noticed that my left hood was about a half-inch (1 cm) lower than it should have been on the handlebar drop.  I went back to my car, found the set screw, adjusted the hood (I got it close at least – eyeballing that stuff is tough).  I guess I’d hit that bump a little harder than I thought.

Mike forgot his shoes so I went out for the warm-up with McMike.  I was feeling fast and awesome for about three miles.  Then I started struggling on the silly, little 20 mph warmup.  I knew then I should have had that granola bar and Gatorade.  I was running on an empty tank.  Well, maybe a quarter tank.  On getting back to the parking lot, rather than spin another mile around the block as I normally do, I stopped and drank a bit of Perpetuem with the hope it’d charge me back up a little bit.

We rolled out and I was second bike, behind my buddy, Mike.  After our first right turn, I took the reigns and promptly fell apart.  I spent the next nine miles struggling to hide at the back.  I don’t know what the hell happened, but I was a mess.  I sat up after eleven miles and let the group go.  Whatever it was, I was going to be better off sorting it out by myself.  I showed some flashes of brilliance on the ride home and even opted for the 24 mile route rather than the 21, but I started to run out of gas with five miles left.  I limped back home, sometimes struggling just to maintain 16 mph up some otherwise easy hills that we climb north of 19.  Something was seriously off and I’ll be darned if I could figure out what it was.

Of course, you know what that means…  I blamed it on the fact that I took Sunday off and I haven’t been riding hard enough over the last four days, of course.  In other words, I was wrong.  Entirely.  One does not entirely lose their fitness in four days because they took a rain day off and rode slow for the other three.

I just had an off day.  Oh well.

Today I’ve got some maintenance to do on the Venge, I want to pull all of the zerts that hold the cable housings for the internal cable routing so I can clean the salt out, reset the brakes and lube the pivot points, and then I’m going to get that hood dialed in a little better and maybe mess around with that rear wheel a little bit.

Tips for Buying A Road Bike:  Why It’s So Difficult to Figure it All Out – The Little Things That Make a Huge Impact.

So, you want to buy a road bike.  On a normal day I hardly pay attention to what someone else rides.  As long as they ride it well and don’t crash into my bike, we’re good.  However, my wife competes in triathlons on a fairly regular basis and rather than compete myself, I usually go with as support.  I see everything from $12,000 Triathlon bikes to mountain bikes and what thoroughly amazes me is how many people have bikes that don’t fit and how off many of the saddle heights are (usually way too low).  Because all of your ability to get leg strength into a pedal stroke starts with saddle height and how close the saddle is to the handlebar, getting either measurement wrong, by as little as a few millimeters, can absolutely kill your bike leg in a triathlon.

Just deciding to buy a bike, we’ve already run into three entirely different scenarios which will greatly impact how much you enjoy the bike you end up with.  First, and usually easiest though often more expensive because the bike shops carry a high-quality bikes from the major manufacturers, is going to the bike shop.  The second is buying used from a private seller.  The third, and least expensive but hardest to get right, is buying a road bike from one of the big-box warehouses.  I’ve gone two of those three routes and while the private sale is cheaper in the short run, if you don’t know what you’re doing, there’s a very good chance it’ll be more expensive – once you pick up all of the extra parts you’ll need to make it fit right.  If you pick the wrong sized bike for your needs (as I did on my first go around), it could be a complete waste of money.  Here are just a few of the small but impactful things to look out for:

Bike Frame Size:  You need the right bike to fit you.  When we were kids, our parents just went out and bought us a bike that looked good.  We rode the wheels off and all was good.  As an adult, bikes are not like that at all.  Bikes are made in a dozen different sizes from 44 cm all the way up to 62 or 63 cm.  There are bike frame calculators available online and that’ll get you close, but even that isn’t perfect.  For instance, with experience came knowledge.  When I fell in lust with a race bike, I knew that I wanted to have a steep drop from the saddle to the handlebar top so I could ride low and aerodynamically.  I chose the 56 cm frame in lieu of the 58 or 59 cm frame that was recommended on the calculator.  For this reason alone, if you’ve got the money but not the experience, getting a bike at a bike shop makes sense.  All you have to do is tell the person at the shop that you plan on riding fast and you need a bike that will get you there.  Tell them your budget and let them work out the details.  In fact, my shop owner suggested a 54 might be even better, but I’m not 25 anymore.

Race Bike or Squishy Bike:  Sticking with Specialized and Trek for simplicity, both manufacturers make a stiff race bike and an endurance “squishy” bike.  The race bikes are self-explanatory.  They’re stiff, but very, very fast.  The “squishy” bikes, Specialized’s Roubaix and Trek’s Domane, have built-in features that allow the frame to flex which absorbs a lot of road shock and vibration.  You’ll sacrifice a little bit of speed over a race bike, but the ride is more comfortable.  The Roubaix is very popular with the pros in the Paris-Roubaix one-day race for exactly that reason.  The cobbles would suck on my Venge!

Shifters:  I saw one of those GMC Denali bikes at my wife’s triathlon and was immediately saddened.  It’s a pretty enough looking road bike but they’ve got stinkin’ twist shifters on the bar tops, in close to the stem…  You know, the shifters that they put on kid’s mountain bikes?  Now this poor woman is probably thinking, “Hey, I beat the system and got a beautiful road bike for a few hundred bucks!”  What she got was a bike that is difficult to shift under the best of conditions but will be miserable for shifting while riding in the drops, on the hoods or when climbing hills because she’ll have to reach for the least stable part of the handlebars to shift.  She’s thinking she won’t lose that much for not having those high-priced brake lever shifters, and she’s entirely wrong.  There’s a reason they’re so popular.  Because they are perfect.  Other than clipless pedals, the integrated brake lever shifters are the greatest invention since road bikes were created.  Unless you absolutely cannot afford the integrated shifters, do not settle.  They’re that good.  On the other hand, better something than nothing.

Gears/Drivetrain (Chain Rings and Cassette Gears):  So, do you want a compact 50/34, a Pro compact 52/36 or a Racing 53/39 crank?  How about your cassette?  Definitely 10 or 11 sp, but an 11-27, 11-32 or 11-25?  This obviously depends on where you’ll be riding and how fast you want to go, but without experience, you could be up a creek.  Imagine, you’re a decent cyclist but you’re just not that into really fast top speeds and you live in a hilly place like Kentucky, where the downhill sections aren’t all that steep or long but the rollers go on forever – or you live in the mountains and want a little extra low-end to get up the really steep climbs…  You take a used bike that’s got a 52/42 race crank on it.  Kiss a few hundred bucks good-bye for new chainrings before you even get the bike out the door.  Make sure you end up with the right crank for your desired riding style on your bike.  It could mean the difference between hanging on and keeping your draft and being dropped off the back.  If you’re going to ride really fast, nothing less than a 52/36 (that’s what I ride – best of both worlds, 52 tooth big dog and 36 for climbing.  It’s beautiful).

Pedals:  Speed Play, Look Keo’s or Shimano’s Clipless road pedals?  These technically don’t have anything to do with purchasing a bike though because you have to buy them separately.  Repeat after me:  “Platform pedals” (the kid’s bike plastic pedals) are bad. Again, if you’re going for speed, the pedals that you clip into keep your feet on the pedals in the proper location on the pedal…  A necessity with a 90 rpm cadence.

Saddle Width/Saddle Height:  Believe it or not, there are several widths for saddles that insure a comfortable ride over the long haul.  Also, on a road bike, contrary to popular belief, those gnarly wide saddles with 6 inches of padding on them are not comfortable.  They’ll hurt you.  Now, if you’re buying a used bike, plan on picking up a new saddle too because saddles and pedals don’t come with the bike (they never do, this is accepted practice).

Handlebar Reach/Drop:  I covered this a little bit, earlier.  Too much of a good thing is bad, but not enough of a good thing is worse.  If you want to be fast, it helps to ride low.  To get low, buy a bike a size smaller and “slam that stem”.  For reach, this is best determined by a proficient bike fitter.  It refers to stem length and how far you have to reach to hold the brake hoods, bar top and drops.  It is very common to need a different stem than the one that comes with a bike, especially a used bike.

Handlebar Size:  Handlebars, or I should say adult handlebars come in several sizes and shapes…  And widths.  Standard for a male is 42 cm wide.  44 cm is a wide bar for guys with wide shoulders and a 40 is for the smaller fella.  Women will typically go with a 36, 40 or 42.  If you buy a used bike, you might get lucky because you’ll be buying from a person roughly your size, but buyer beware.  Handlebar width matters.  Also, and equally important is the style of bar.  You’ve got the ergonomic bar with the flat section right where your hands go when you ride in the drops (I hate those), a standard drop (my favorite) and a shallow drop.  Reach is also a factor, or how far the curved part extends out from the bar top.  Too much reach and riding in the drops is uncomfortable.  Not enough and it’ll hinder your breathing.

Crank Arm Length:  This one gets messy.  A decent crankset can cost as much as $600 (mine was $500 and I didn’t have to buy new chainrings – add another $260 for those).  You can get them for much, much less, but don’t worry, I’m worth it.  In any event, crank arms come in three standard lengths but you can get others, usually by special order (from a bike shop).  Standard lengths are 170 mm, 172.5 and 175.  I’m 6′ tall, on the nose and mine are 172.5’s (per my professional fitting workup).  My Cannondale has 170 mm crank arms and it feels like pedaling a kid’s bike.  If the cranks are too long or too short, it messes with the rest of the setup on your bike’s geometry so you can never quite comfortably get power to the pedals.  This is one of those things that really matter if you want to go really fast.  There is a little bit of wiggle room here, especially if you want to go a little bigger for more torque, but one should not go to extremes here.  You end up doing more harm than good.

To wrap this post up, this is my race bike:
IMG_7053

A good amount of drop from the saddle to the bars, proper stem length for the proper bar (width, reach and drop), 172.5 mm crank arms, 143 mm aggressive posture saddle to match my sit bones.  Almost no padding on the saddle, but I have excellent shorts…  This is what I look like on the bike, on the hoods:
IMG_7668
I’m obviously the one on the left…  Arms are comfortably bent, hands are loose on the hoods, but with enough grip that hitting a bump won’t knock them free, down fairly low, but comfortable…  This is the perfect blend of comfort and speed for me, as was determined by a professional bike fitting.

This is what I look like in the drops:
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Flat back (or flattish, I’m not 35 anymore).  Again, arms bent…  Everything about that posture is comfortable for me.  That’s how it works when time is taken and consideration given to all factors of how my body needs the bike to work and fit.  While cycling is not necessarily about look, it is about feel.

Get the bike fit right (correct) and with some saddle time, 100 miles in 4-1/2 hours is doable, comfortably.  Get the fit wrong and ten miles on an otherwise great bike will feel like riding on barbed wire.  Your arms, neck, shoulders, lower back, knees, ankles and/or feet will hurt.  Been there, rode through it and I can tell you, it sucks.

So, ladies and gentlemen cycling noobs, if you absolutely cannot afford to get your bike adjusted and fitted properly, keeping in mind the fit is just as important as the bike, visit my Noob’s Guide to Cycling page…  It has almost anything you might need to do it yourself.  Just save up for a real fitting before you start on the upgrades for the bike.

To put a professional bike fitting into context, say you’ve got a high-end, entry level bike (between $900 and $1,400 new).  Poorly positioned on the bike, you struggle to maintain a 15 mph average.  After a fitting, if enough of the important items above were off and fixed, you’ll probably be riding between 16 and 17 mph with little to no extra effort.  It’s that big a deal.

If Cycling in Bad Weather makes One a Bad@$$, what About…

If you’re a cyclist, you’ve probably heard about “The Rules”.  If you’re an avid  cyclist, you probably follow most of them.

One thing is for sure; if you do, you look good and ride hard.

The problem with the rules, if there must be one, is that if one takes them too seriously one can become a bit of a elitist snob.  If that’s you, please see Rule #43.

When I look at the rules, I look at them as a tongue-in-cheek guide to cycling etiquette – as long as one understands that the rules are a bit like government, or laws (at least in the Industrialized First World sense – meaning laws tend to be limiting to freedom because it’s impossible to follow them all.  In an a well-intentioned way, the Rules/Laws become a restrictive noose.):  If you like clones, automatons, or worse, bureaucrats or if you want to be a friendless loser, inflexibly in requiring others to follow the rules is great.  

With that out of the way, there are a few rules that are simple statements of truth.  I’m thinking of #5 (HTFU) and more important to this post:  Rule #9 If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

My wife did a sprint triathlon yesterday.  The only time it was not pouring rain was during the swim.  The irony was awesome.  The air temp was 67 degrees.  Water temp was 74.  800 yard swim, 10.7 mile bike and a 5 km run. No wetsuit, 18 mph average on the bike and on wet, hilly roads and a muddy 5k trail run.

She is a badass:


      
However, and this demonstrates the inflexibility of the rules, were I or my wife ridiculous about the rules, she wouldn’t have been able to gut that race out because of rule #42:  A bike race shall never be preceded by a swim and/or followed by a run.  That’s just silly.  Well, for my wife.  I won’t wreck a bike ride with a swim and/or run anymore.  But that’s just me, though technically it takes an obtuse look at Rule #42 to come to my conclusion (though let’s not get too deep).

In any event, my wife finished 164th overall…  Not bad…  But she finished 46th on the bike leg.  Now that’s what I’m talking about!

All good streaks must come to an end…  I think. Probably. Maybe.

I’ve mentioned my desire to give a pro riding schedule a try in several posts and it’s been going incredibly well:

   
 

Now, it should be stated that I am not independently wealthy and hold down a difficult, full-time day job, it’s not like I can rely on a team of people to do my job for me. I’m the team, so if the family is going to eat, I have to work.  I work long, hard hours…  I just happen to do that before the June sun comes up so I can get home early enough to get a decent hour or two in on my bike.

At the heart of my new schedule is the notion that a true “day off” of the bike being necessary once every week or two is entirely unnecessary.  The pros don’t take days off and ride a whole helluva lot harder than I do and they spend several hours on a trainer to keep their legs spun up on their days off during the tour season.  

I’ve got 13 consecutive days and feel strong and good.  I’m fast, fit and suffering no ill-affects.  Two years ago, when I tried this the first time, I was wiped out and my performance started waning after ten days.  By the time the thirteenth rolled around I was cooked.  

Another interesting point is that two years ago, 150 miles in a week was a lot. 120 was a decent, average week.  This year is different there as well:

  
I’m putting out some crazy weekend mileage so my weekly average has increased by, meh, 70% or so.

Oh, and did I mention that I’m faster too?  A lot faster.  A full mile per hour faster on our Tuesday night average.  

So, if you’re scratching your head, wondering how is this possible in our “listen to your body”, “take days off”, “sleep eight hours” world?…  

Three of those seven days a week, I ride slower(ish – damn if she isn’t getting fast), with my wife.  Two of those days are very hard (beyond anything that could be called “comfort”) and two are fast, yet sustainable.  

I’ve gotta get into average speeds here for a second, so bear with me…  And know that hilly terrain, call it 700 feet for every ten miles, knocks the pace down by 1-2 mph.  I’m also going to stick with the Tuesday club ride stats because the course is consistent.  I did some exceptionally fast centuries two years ago, one in just 4-1/2 hours and we had a 24 mph average (23.8 actual) pulling into the 58 mile rest stop…

Two years ago, my fastest Tuesday was 21 mph.  We were consistently between 20 and 21.  This year, with more miles per week, many of them slower and fewer days off, that best average is 22.5 and we’re consistently at 22 or just slightly under.  

My slow rides, by contrast, went from 18 mph two years ago, down to 16-17 mph this year.  

The easiest way to explain this in a sentence is that my hard rides got harder and my easy rides got easier.

So, I’ve only taken one day off in the last 20, I feel fantastic, and I’m faster than ever…  All because my easy days are closer to where they should be.  Riding with my wife made me a better (and vastly happier) cyclist.  

I’m winning on so many levels I’d make Charlie Sheen jealous.  

That last sentence is obviously tongue-in-cheek.  Life’s good though.

Alas, this great streak will be ending today:

  
Down in Ann Arbor my wife is doing a sprint Tri and I’m the support staff.  We’ve got a two hour window of no rain down here but I doubt I’ll be getting any miles in today with the expected thunderstorms all day long.  It’s all good though…  Maybe I’ll take a nap.