I’ve done enough research to finally understand the pattern of light weight bike wheels and cost. I also have a bit of experience to throw into the mix. I won’t, however, be delving into the Chinese carbon fiber wheels. I’ll leave that for another day…
“That’s the price of using lightweight equipment”, or a varient of that, is a common refrain in the bicycle industry and wheels are one of the best places to start if you want to shed some poundage from your bike.
Now, it is said that it’s easier, and it’s certainly cheaper, to lose body weight than putting a lot of money into a bike… However, that only works if you don’t know what you’re missing. If I drop five pounds over a month I won’t feel a difference, or much of a difference, climbing a hill up to a 12% gradient (because I’m in great shape at 170 or 175 pounds). If I go from a 1450 gram wheel set to a 1970 gram set, I can absolutely feel it over a little roller. Go from a 950 gram crank to 460 and I can absolutely feel the difference. The question is how much that actually matters. I have two carbon bikes, about four pounds difference between the two, and four pounds matters. A lot.
This isn’t to say I can’t go just as fast with a little more effort on the heavier bike, I most certainly can, but I can feel the extra effort.
If you ride alone, on excellent roads, you can get away with going cheap when it comes to wheels. I’ve been rolling on a set of $360 Vuelta Corsa SLR wheels I bought from Nashbar that have been a little problematic, three broken spoke nipples (can I say nipple?!) and a significant amount of truing issues, oh and a spoke tension problem – mainly with the rear wheel, though two of the broken spoke nipples were up front.
Then came a pothole the size of a Prius on the last day of DALMAC…
There are three more like that and that hoop is completely done. Smoked. Put a fork in it.
I ride in a group most of the time and our roads, while better than the Michigan average, aren’t great either. The problem is, in a group, mistakes are made and potholes aren’t correctly pointed out from time to time. Ride in a group and you’re going to hit something gnarly every now and again.
For wheels, there are three factors that matter: Durable, Lightweight and Inexpensive. We get to pick two.
Technically there’s a fourth, fast but fast throws inexpensive out the window every time. Ceramic bearings ain’t cheap.
With those Vuelta’s I picked light and inexpensive, so I sacrificed durability – see the photos above. On the other hand, Rolf Prima’s are an exceptional lightweight and durable wheel. They run about a thousand bucks. They’re aero too. For a lower profile, climber’s wheel, I’ve heard good things about Campagnolo’s Shamal Ultra… They’re under 1400 grams and run between $800 & $1,400 depending on where you shop and the deal you can get.
This gets nutty though. Let’s say you went with the Vuelta Corsa’s, actually any set of Vuelta’s wheels (the Corsa SLR’s are sold by Nashbar exclusively but Vuelta USA does sell several other sets including the Vuelta Corsa Race which is even lighter than the SLR, for just $600) and you break a rim like I did… Under normal circumstances with the pricier wheels, you contact the company and just buy a new hoop (rim) and relace it with the old spokes and hub. They’ll even send you the proper stickers for your other wheel if they’ve changed… With the Vuelta wheels you have to buy a whole new set of wheels. Front and rear.
Long story short, I’m not going to be taken to the cleaners, no matter how perfectly those wheels matched my bike. I bought a new hoop from Velocity Wheels for $85, as close to the Vuelta profile as I could get, and paid $40 at the LBS to have the new hoop relaced with the spokes and hub from the wrecked wheel.
Unfortunately the old hoop was 380 grams and the new one is 460. On the other hand, Velocity has a great reputation for making solid wheels though, and because we’re talking about a rear wheel, a more durable wheel is worth the 80-ish grams.
Cost Vs. Weight
Staying with the name brand wheels, there are only a few ways to win the price game. Vuelta USA or Vuelta wheels, specifically the Corsa SLR’s on Nashbar make a decent, fast, light wheel for a decent price but they’re anything but durable, in my experience. I’m 6′ tall and I weigh 170 pounds, give or take, and I absolutely hammered my SLR’s. Their spokes are nothing special though their hubs appear to be exceptional for the price you pay for the wheels (mine have around 10,000 miles on them and still roll excellently). That said, if you want to know what wheels are going for, here are some general price-points by weight:
Vuelta Corsa SLR: 1,470 grams $330-$360 plus shipping+
1,800 – 2,000+ grams: $150 – $300
1,600 – 1,800 grams: $300 – $500
1,500 – 1,600 grams: $500 – $750
1,400 – 1,500 grams: $800 – $1,500
1,200 – 1,400 grams: $2,000 – $3,800
<1,000 grams (tubular only): $4,000+ Yes, they actually do make wheels this light. The Reynolds RZR 46 tips the scales at just under 1,000 grams for the set.
The weights and prices aren’t set, and if you look hard enough and wait, you can find some really good deals. The Vuelta USA Corsa Race is a good example. For $600 you can have a sub-1,400 gram wheelset. The question, of course, is whether or not you’re light enough to not do what I did to the wheel – and like the wheels sold on Nashbar, they won’t sell you a single hoop if you do bust a wheel – you have to buy a new, full set. I know, I tried, when I couldn’t get Nashbar to budge… Of course, the Nashbar version are set up for 24(front)/28(rear) spokes and the Vuelta USA rims are drilled for 20/24 so it wouldn’t have mattered if they would sell me a single rim. Point is, in my own personal opinion, you get what you pay for – one way or another. I did. Also, and this is just a hypothesis, it makes sense that the cheaper wheels make up weight with a lighter rim. The expensive wheel sets, Rolf Prima as an example, use a heavier rim but make up the weight in the hubs and spokes – both of which add cost.
In the end, it will all work out for me. I have removed the decals from my front wheel (though I might shill for some custom wheel decals, I haven’t decided yet) and have a solid enough front wheel, I think, because the rear wheel takes more of the weight and abuse anyway. With the new Velocity rim, I definitely have a solid rear wheel (again, Velocity’s reputation for quality is solid). The overall weight of my wheelset is now around 1,550 grams and I’ve got $510 into the set (shipping and labor included)… And still considerably lighter than the wheelset that originally came on my Venge in the first place.
Incidentally, this lesson I’ve learned came at a price. I’ve blown a significant amount of down-time on figuring this whole wheel thing out. If I’d have just gone to my local shop in the first place, I’d have paid a little more for my wheels, but the owner is a friend and someone I ride with regularly. There’s no way he would have led me down a road where I’d end up with an inferior wheel. He could have saved me a lot of headache, but you know what they say about intelligent people…
Intelligent people learn from their own mistakes. Wise people learn from the mistakes of others.
I am not wise.
My new hoop came in from Velocity Wheels so I decided to ride it up to the shop rather than drive it up there… I get bored with driving, I do it a lot. Of course, I ride a lot too, but I never tire of that.
Now, if you look at my Venge on the “My Bikes” page, you’ll see some sharp looking Vuelta Corsa SLR wheels on the bike… You may be wondering why I switched to Velocity for a new hoop. Well, I busted my rear rim on a pothole during DALMAC. Unfortunately, Nashbar only will sell a full set of two wheels (rims [or hoops], spokes, hubs). They won’t be bothered to part with one hoop, so rather than blow another $360 on a new set of wheels, I just bought a hoop, the closest thing Velocity had, and I’ll just have the new hoop relaced with the old spokes and hub… I’ll save $220 and end up with a better, sturdier (if slightly heavier) wheel.
So I’m riding the five miles and change to the shop, my new hoop slung around my shoulder and down the opposite hip, one hand on the bar top, the other on the hoop to keep it in place, at better than 18 mph, and I’m smiling at nothing.
I tend to smile a lot when I ride a bike…
I get to the shop and find out I won’t have to shill for new spokes (
probably I wont, they worked) because the two rims are so close, the wheel builder thinks it’ll be just fine.
Matt was chuckling at me and asked if I’d gotten anything done, being in the shop twice already… Of course I had, when you wake up at four in the morning, you’ve got an eight hour day in at noon. I’d already put a number on, and secured, an upscale steakhouse in Ann Arbor and let him in on that. I chuckled and said, who knows, I’m doing well right now, Christmas might come early and I’ll have you order me up those Roval 40’s before Mike gets that hoop laced up. He said, “Man, every day seems like Christmas for you”.
I laughed and said, “You know what? You’re right. It’s close.”
I left, hopped back on my bike and pedaled off to nowhere in particular, contemplating the neatness of Heaven on Earth, or at least my approximation of it. Lovely wife, awesome kids, good job, lots of cycling with my buds… I gotta admit, it’s good.
Of course, that’s just the outside… Nobody, especially the owner of the bike shop, sees the stress, the hard work, the sweat. One company I did work for stole $40,000 from me last year. I took the word of a close business mentor that they were okay to work for. He was mistaken. I had some other good jobs that made up for it though, and things worked out…and I definitely learned my lesson. Point is, it’s not all good times and noodle salad, but things seem to work out okay in the end. Or they have so far anyway.
I’ve been working with a sponsor on the “Back to Basics” of the Twelve Steps and I needed it. Technically, I’m co-chairing the program, and it’s kinda cool, being in that chair as an old-timer, so young. Exactly what I needed. We’re working with some very new people and to see that kind of raw fear and pain in them… It really takes me back to the bad old days.
I remember that fear, terror really, about the unforseen future. The horror of contemplating cleaning up the wreckage of my past. The fear of choosing a life without alcohol or any form of escape. Working with newly recovering people brings that all back, but in a good context.
I know how that Act closes. I made it, simply by having a little faith in a Power greater than myself, not drinking, working a few simple steps, changing the manner in which I process thoughts… And by doing the next right thing at any given moment.
That Act in the Play closes with me riding my bike, smile on my face, wind in my hair (through my helmet vents of course), plenty of cares in the world but knowing I’ll be okay. God has shown me He’s got my back and I have faith that if I do the next right thing, at any given moment, things will continue to get better.
In short, my thinking has changed. What used to be waiting for the other shoe to drop, envy, greed, gluttony… Has become positive action, gratitude, contentment, and giving it away to keep it.
It is Christmas every day for me, it’s just not how most people think Christmas looks nowadays. I’m good with that though.
I am grateful for what I am, for what has been taken away, and for what is left. I’m thankful for being saved from the hell I created.
All too often I see people trying to find shortcuts, to find an easier, softer way. Too often I hear people complain that it’s not fair, that it’s too hard, that someone else has it easier! Envy, that is. Greed, that is. Self-centered. The beliefs that it’s not fair or that someone else had it easier are poison. The poison to happiness. Doing what’s right and good, no matter how hard, is always the easiest, softest way.
To test this theory I need only look back on those times when I said or thought “it’s not fair” and ask myself, “In all of that time, did it ever become more fair because I thought it wasn’t? Did complaining ever fix anything? Did coveting someone else’s “ease in life” ever make mine better?” Of course not.
Were he alive, my dad would add: “Weigh that jealousy in one hand and shit in the other… Tell me which fills first.”
My life only got better when I did the easy thing and quit looking for the easy way out.
I’m not big on two-a-days anymore, that was for the triathlon days. Besides, a training ride today is 50-80 miles where back then it was more like 25…
That said, yesterday was one of those perfect days. 82 gloriously, perfectly sunny degrees, a gentle breeze from the south, crickets, frogs, heck even the cicadas were sounding pretty cool. I pulled into the driveway with the window rolled down and our $75 wind chime played the most beautiful song (Yes. It was worth every penny)…
These days are in short supply now. Before long I’ll be cooped up in the living room on a Saturday morning watching the snow fly and a movie as I pedal away on my godforsaken trainer. One must take advantage when the opportunity strikes.
Mrs. Bgddy wanted to take the mountain bikes out today. I wasn’t to jazzed about the idea but I relented. At least we wouldn’t have to worry much about traffic. The one thing gravel roads are good for… Mountain biking.
We didn’t even worry about pace. We talked about some fun stuff, then argued politics for a minute, then went back to fun stuff… some things are just better left alone.
We hit a stretch where we just rolled along, enjoying the warmth, sun and breeze… and we rolled into the driveway too soon. I could have gone for hours last night. The girls had swimming though, so we’d done all we could. A little more than 11 miles…
After Mrs. Bgddy left with the girls I pumped up the Venge’s tires and headed back out. I rode up to the bike shop to say hello to the fellas and talk wheels for a minute. Did my favorite corner and headed for home, an easy but solid 18 mph average.
Two great rides, 24 miles total, and I’m a happy man.
Now it’s time to eat!
Some days, 50 minutes on a bike just isn’t enough. Some days are just too perfect. Today was one of those days, and this is why I cycle.
It was hot last evening, mid-80’s. And windy. I hate the wind on club ride nights and we’ve only had three the whole season where we could just tuck in and get a good draft.
On the other hand, I got my Venge back from the shop before the ride. I can cruise to a 22 mph average on my 5200 but it’s work. That same pace on the Venge is noticeably less work… you know, after writing that, “less work” probably isn’t the proper phrase. “Easier” isn’t it either. Maybe more comfortable or more enjoyable?… See, here’s the deal. I can feel the drag on the 5200. Between the round fork tubes, all of the cables and the fact that the bike is four or five pounds heavier, it just feels sluggish. That’s the ticket! I have to pedal through the sluggishness of the bike.
Anyway, during the 8-1/2 mile warm-up, I tried to get everyone to come to a consensus on how we were going to handle the ride. Where we were going to drop, how much we would protect Brad… I got nothing. So I just rolled with it. I was going to give it my best and call that good.
Turned out the racers of the group figured it out for us. Ten miles into the 30 mile ride, I was up front, pulling 23 mph into a heavy 15 mph wind, and at the end of my turn. I heard someone coming up on my left, over the yellow line. One racer, another, and another… then two more. On the hard, unsheltered side.
I flicked off to the left and let one of the other guys give chase, I was in no shape for bridging a gap after more than two minutes in the wind. In all, maybe eight or ten, in total, made it. The rest let them go. Didn’t break my heart at all.
I bought into that horse shit, about riding with guys faster than me to get faster, and there’s something to that. However, when they’re that much faster, that they can pull 26 mph into the wind, after I’m already in the red at 23 (which was a little faster than the pace I took over at), let’s just say it’s too fast for me to enjoy the ride and still be productive. I hate hiding and sucking wheel… It pisses me off, but at that pace, I have no choice.
There were more guys like me last evening than there were racers so I smirked as they went, and proceeded to drop four guys who made the gap. Six guys with 20 miles to go, in that wind? More power to them.
It took a minute for us to get situated, there were a couple of new guys and one of the regulars was pissed at someone else for letting a gap form and allowing him to get dropped by the main group, but once everything was sorted, we commenced to hammering our ride out. Amazingly, Brad, in his sixth week of chemo, hung on with us all the way into the biggest hill on the ride so we waited for him at the next turn, where we were going to catch a tailwind… Finally.
We kept it quite civil, between 24 and 26 mph and I spent a lot of time up front. I got a great workout and was exceptionally happy to be back on the Venge. With a mile left to the finish I was second bike behind the tandem and I could hear Mike behind me talking to someone. I had a feeling he knew what was coming.
During a slight pause in the push, I upshifted during a three second-long coast, hoping Mike would miss it. The farmhouse that marks the best spot to start a sprint to the City Limit finish was in view and we were closing in on it, fast. Still, riding one gear harder was a little tough, but I knew if I could just bide my time, I might be able to hold Mike off. He’s a heck of a competitive guy and when he’s behind me, he’s almost impossible to shake or drop if he knows what’s going on and he’s exceptionally tough to beat. Inside a quarter-mile to the house I’d been in the drops for more than a mile (another tell for Mike is if I get into the drops late)… 200 feet from the house and we’re at 24 mph and I’m in the perfect gear… 100 feet… 50… I went early, no warning, out of the saddle and I’m hammering for all I’m worth for that City Limit sign. I looked down at my computer, 32-1/2 mph, and thought no way Mike would match that so I risked a glance under my shoulder… He was right on me and grinning. Shit. I dug deep and pushed harder… Only 50 feet to go… And I held him off, barely. I was entirely gassed. Mike and I shared a fist-bump and a chuckle.
This is my new idea of enjoyable riding. We work hard, have a good time and still have just enough left at the end for a good sprint finish. We’re not hanging on for dear life for 20 miles anymore, just to get dropped and struggle all the way back, those last ten miles. Tuesday night is still about speed and getting faster, but I’m finding it more enjoyable to have our group of friends together for the whole ride than suffer for two-thirds of the ride only to hit the last ten miles with Mike and Phill, if we’re lucky. Call it an evolution in thinking – which fast is fast enough… It’s not perfect, I can’t help but think I’m wasting a little bit of potential, but I’ve been at this for something like three years now and I’m only marginally closer to hanging on with the main group. I’ve got a group of friends and we all ride well together – it’s time to leave well enough, alone. The trick, of course, is not resting on that… Lest I slow down so much my friends drop me too.
And for that I am grateful.
Well, technically “Why you should consider cycling with a club” or maybe “Why you should do a four-day 400 mile tour”…
Day 1. 0.00 miles in…
Morning of Day Two DALMAC. Unfortunately, the parking lot of the school was a lot drier than the rest of the county…
…we passed a horse and buggy. Day Two.
Day Three of DALMAC, just putzing along at 22 mph… And finally dry at last!
Day Four of DALMAC… Matt took this one, no-handed at 20+ mph.
Rolling into Harbor Springs… We had a stop coming up in a mile or two so I didn’t have to worry about falling off the back a bit to take some photos.
Harbor Springs in all of its glory.
Climbing out of Harbor Springs. After getting a mechanical issue resolved at the bike shop three of my friends stayed back to work me back up to the group… At this point I didn’t know they were actually there to help me back, I thought we were just going to chill out and enjoy the scenery for the rest of the ride.
Descending to the “Tunnel of Trees”…
The famed “Tunnel of Trees” in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. 27-1/2 miles of pure beauty. Cycling this route has been on my cycling bucket-list since I started riding a bike, literally the day after I bought my first bike. I still think we’re chilling out, Matt is long gone in search of a slower companion or three. Mike and Phill are still busting their ass to get me to the main group and we’ve got another stop coming up in ten miles or so…
Now it’s getting serious so one more photo and it’s time to tuck into the draft…
We caught the group at lunch and had just enough time to fire down a superb burger before topping off the water bottles and heading out. We were supposed to be taking it easy from here on in because one of the younger guys in the group was struggling to keep up… That lasted all of ten minutes and the pace was ratcheted up by the lead tandem to the mid-20’s. No time for photos, until I asked them to soft pedal for a few blocks so I could take a few photos of this…
There’s the group… but this is what I wanted to see…
We were about 370 miles in at this point, only fifteen miles to go and I was tuckered… Still, when I caught back on and the speeds were taken back to the mid to upper 20’s again, I hung on for all I was worth. Then, with about a mile to go, to descend down to the Mackinaw City High School, everybody sat up and the three DALMAC noobs were given the honor of leading the group in… Ron and I decided that we’d give Eli, just 15 years old, the honorary center position and form an arrowhead next to him…
This is what I saw coming in…
My wife and kids are up in the distance, cheering us in… This is what my wife saw:
The home stretch, coming into Mackinaw… 380+ miles later. The perfect cap to a really long ride.
This is from Mountain Mayhem: Beat the Heat a few weeks earlier:
Mountain Mayhem: Beat the Heat, rolling in with my buddy, Phill… Incidentally, Phill was the guy who helped me home on my first club ride after we were surreptitiously dropped just eight miles into the 30 mile ride.
My Beat the Heat partners in crime… More speed limits were broken that day than should be bragged about.
Cycling isn’t just about getting fit and losing weight, even if you won’t find a whole lot of fat in our group. Cycling, after joining a good group or club, is as much a social gathering and enjoyment of time off spent with good friends as it is about burning a mess of calories. It’s about bikes and buds (the human sort).
Now, unfairly left out of this post for this long is my wife, who made this whole trip a lot more enjoyable for all of us – and she is why the previous sentence said “buds” and not “bros”. Because of her having things so well thought out, we had time to help everyone else get their camping gear set up before hitting the showers. She was, and is, spectacular.
Cycling at or above 20 miles per hour: What I’ve Learned Over Four Years of Chasing the Speed Dragon.
Let me make one thing very clear… Well, maybe a few things:
- Cycling fast is fun. Not just a little bit, it’s awesome, so if you have fantasies of rocketing down the road at break-neck speeds and feel like you’d like to give it a go, by all means. Do it.
- Cycling fast, no matter whom you see doing it, is hard. Maintaining a decent average, above 20, is not comfortable. I’ve gotten a lot faster over the years, but it doesn’t get any easier.
- Cycling fast is not about the bike. A good bike just makes fast minimally easier. I can ride my beat up old Trek almost as fast as my two year-old Venge, but the new bike is more solid and more comfortable.
With that out of the way, this is not going to be a post about how to get faster. I’ve climbed that mountain. This post will get into how to make happy with the speed you’re capable of attaining or making sacrifices and choices that will get one to the next level – and whether they’re worth it. I will use me as our guinea pig and you can make up your mind about what you’re willing to give up in the elusive hunt for speed. Hopefully, if I explain this well, my experience might help shed some light on what the average noob will be in for if they want to get fast. Unfortunately there’s a little more to it than just pedaling harder.
I started trying to go “faster” about five minutes into my first ride on a mountain bike… I was 41 years old and had absolutely no idea what was involved in modern cycling. Heck, I only ever rode a mountain bike as a kid, and a cheap one at that. I bought my first road bike toward the end of my second season after I started “gearing out” of my mountain bike. To gear out is to run out of gears that you can push to go faster. After my first road bike, I bought another and finally my Venge. In the last four years I’ve put 24,000 miles on my bikes with the sole goal of getting faster.
I’ve tried it all and while many products, like a light bike or water additive like Hammer Perpetuem, make faster easier or more comfortable, in the end it’s all about intensity and duration in training. Good luck trying to cheat either of those, it simply can’t be done. If I had one great point to offer it would be that the biggest mistake I see made pertaining to how fast others ride is that getting fast is easier for them, that it must not hurt as bad for them. Otherwise, who would bother? I banished that thinking completely, and early on. Put another way, I ride with a Cat 4 racer on Tuesday nights, Dave, who can absolutely tear me up. Can’t hold his wheel for more than a few miles. He’s a little heavier than me though I have a nicer bike. I’ve tried to push as hard as I could and he’s just too fast for my current level of fitness. On the other hand, he rides with Greg, a Cat 3 racer who absolutely eats Dave’s lunch… Simple fact is this: Fast gets more comfortable, but if I’m going to catch up to Dave, I must be willing to hurt as bad, or worse, as he did to get where he got. There’s no simple way around that. If I’m not getting faster, I simply have to push harder, longer and/or smarter. My intervals have to get longer and faster, my hill repeats have to repeat more. No amount of bike will fix that because as I’ve always said… A high-end bike won’t fix low-end legs (Copyright).
In the end, if I want to get faster, I have to make a few choices and a sacrifice or two. As fast as I am, to work any harder will take a commitment of time and energy. Can I pull time out of work or with my family? No. So I have to look at getting stronger intelligently. Can I push my workouts harder and make them shorter a couple of days a week (to do more intensive interval training)? Yes I can. Am I willing to do that, because that will take some of the fun out of cycling? No, I most certainly am not. The truth is, I have a really good thing going. I am fast enough to fit in with a group of really great guys who do a lot of fun things on their bikes… Tours, century rides, long rides on the weekends, things like that. If I want to get faster, I have to be willing to do what fast people do… Trade some of my rides for time in the gym, shorten my long rides and trade that for High Intensity Interval Training a couple of days a week, and so forth. These are things I’m not willing to do so I have to accept that I’m about as fast as I’m going to get (to an extent).
My natural way of looking at cycling is to strive to do better, to go faster, to keep up with the next group up. Doing this will wreck the dynamic that I already enjoy though, so the real question I have to ask is am I willing to give up what I love to ride faster?
And therein lies the rub.
I did a four-day, 380 mile tour with my friends last week, and while I had to work to keep up (and contribute), there’s no amount of fast worth giving those experiences up. There’s no amount of speed worth giving up rides with my wife. When I look at everything in perspective, I’m fast enough.
We’re not quite done yet though. Fast isn’t necessarily rocket science either. It’s not like each individual is as fast as they can get and unless they give up “X” and “Y”, they’re doomed to a 16 mph average on their road bike. To an extent, getting fast(er) requires at least two or three hard days a week and two or three easy days a week. On the hard days I push just a little harder and on the easy days I go just a little easier – there should be at least a 5 mph difference between the two but no difference in cadence (just easier gears). To an extent, we can get faster simply by learning to be comfortable with pushing a little harder.
Am I as fast as I can get?
The real question is this: Am I as fast as I need to be?
First, if you want the real answer, continue on. If you want a fake, BS, “you’re good enough if you’re happy” answer, look anywhere else on the internet. I believe in honesty, and being honest with myself, rather than going for those “happy, happy, joy-joy” answers; “I am good enough if I can convince myself that I am” sounds great in a government pamphlet but sucks in the mirror.
First, if you’re stuck at 10 to 12 mph on a road bike, the simple truth is: You’re doing something wrong, you’re old (in which case, dude, once you hit 70, who gives a shit about speed – you should be happy you’re on the right side of the grass, pumping air, for God’s sake. Chill out and enjoy your bike ride and laugh at those foolish young bucks who only worry about who they can pass!), or your bike’s setup is way off.
Other than that, here’s the best answer I can give: Be fast enough that you can keep up with a group of friends, without being a wheel sucker. If you want to lose more weight, get faster. More speed is more calories (though long [40+ mile] distances in “zone two” help immensely as well). I would also recommend getting no faster than is enjoyable. If you’re working too hard, it can suck the fun right out of the ride. No sense in that.
I’ve chased faster for a long time before I finally realized “fast enough” is hanging with friends and enjoying the good times that come with riding them. This:
…beats being the fastest guy in your county and riding alone, every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
On the other hand, if you’re talking about racing, throw everything you just read out the window and pedal harder dammit.
It’s still summer, just eight days left till fall but summer nonetheless.
No more centuries, we’re looking at Metrics now. 60 to 65 miles on the weekend days…
And now it’s time to put aside the road bikes for a bit and roll out the mountain bikes. It’s time for a little single-track cycling. Dirt, sand and mud. Time to trade the slicks for knobby tires, time to jump and roll over rocks on purpose. Time to let down the air pressure a bit, if you will.
It’s time for hunting and camping and cooler weather…
It’s all okay too. I don’t mind missing out on miles as this year comes to a close because when we ride tomorrow morning, I’ll pass my mileage total for all of 2014. I’ll hit 10,000 km for this year, easily. Like, next week-ish.
Yesterday morning I went out with my friend, Chuck, for an awesome trail ride at Island Lake State Park down in Brighton. 14 miles and some change in about an hour… I had to chuckle. I suck on a mountain bike… Well, that might be a bit harsh, but Chuck had the two F’s needed in mountain biking – fitness and finesse. I have the legs but I’m a noob as far as single track goes. Which, when you think about it, is kind of funny.
I steer instead of letting my weight do the work by leaning the bike (mainly because I don’t trust the tires to hold). I still tend to get a little bit of tunnel vision and tend to look more at where I don’t want to ride than where I do. That means I tend to run into a bit of trouble from time to time.
Put those three together and I can crash into some stuff when I crank the speed up. It’s pretty funny. I almost went over the bar once (long story, trying to pass three guys who stopped at the base of a hill, just after a switchback) and darn near kissed a tree (hear that tree-huggers? Mountain bikers up the game) and I still managed to reel in more than a few mountain bikers.
In any event, and I’ll have to devote a larger post to this, riding a 29’er compared to a 26″ mountain bike… It’s simply ridiculous how much better the 29’er rides. Sand? Meh. Super loose dirt? Just hit the back brake to scoot the back end out. No worries. Roots? Just pedal a little harder. The difference is about the same as driving a lifted 4×4 truck on a two-track compared to a four-wheeler. A cheap one. Seriously.
This morning we’re heading out for a ride, somewhere between 40 and 60 miles… Oh, and I did end up taking Friday off the bike. I did hike a couple of tough miles through a forest so I’d be hard-pressed to call it a “day off”, but whatever you call it, my streak of consecutive cycling days ended at 60. I’m no worse for the wear and I’m glad to know I’m tougher and more knowledgable for it.
Interestingly, for all of that riding, I didn’t gain or lose one pound.
It’s been said that to achieve Mastery in a field, it takes 10,000 hours of practice.
My sponsor tells me it’s a good start though, so at least I have that going for me. 😉
This isn’t to be cocky, of course. I could flush all of the good I’ve done in sobriety down the toilet with one stupid decision. This is a daily reprieve only. I just managed to put a few days together, with a whole lot of help.
Still, pretty cool considering I was just barely 22 when I quit.
The Post in which I Finally Call BS on the Notion of “Rest Days” and Cycling: I Need Rest Like I Need a Hit in the Head… IF One is Intelligent About It (and that’s the problem).
I’ve gotta head up north today to set up my hunting blind for the coming bow season so there is a very good chance I won’t get a ride in, we’ll have to see. If I don’t, it’ll be my first day off in two months, since July 11th. I’ve ridden, after my sixteen miler this evening, well over 2,150 miles in those two months, about nine centuries (I don’t know, I lost count, it may be ten), including three in a row at just short of max effort, followed by a 72 miler at max effort the day after (that’s 380+ miles in 4 days after more than 50 days in a row on the bike). I’ve averaged a little better than 35 miles a day over that stretch and my average speed was over 18-1/2 mph. The trick, of course, is the distance and speed. Anyone can get on a bike for the first time and ride five or ten miles a day at 10 mph. Anyone. If the bike’s set up right and you push the pedals, it’d be akin to walking. You start talking about an average of two hours a day, with three of those days (and the longest of them) at average speeds above 20 mph, well now you’re talking about something.
Zero injuries, zero back pain, zero neck pain… My legs were a little smoked after that four-day tour, but they’re coming back just fine and without time off.
Two days after my tour I was right back to hammering on the Tuesday night club ride, Wednesday was an easy ride, as was Thursday evening’s (just 16 miles each, taking just under an hour)… Today, maybe I ride, maybe I don’t. Saturday will be a mountain bike ride with my friend, Chuck and Sunday will be a 50 or so… I’m right back into my normal pattern again and it’s all good.
The trick to my success goes way back to when I first started cycling four years and 25,000 miles ago. I’ve done a lot of things wrong and learned from those mistakes. Eating too much on long bike rides, not drinking enough, not enough electrolytes, not enough caffeine (Is there a such thing as too much? I’m sure there is, but I’m responsible enough to have not found the answer.), too many hard days… I’ve never done too many easy days. Too much food off the bike, too little food off the bike… Cheap cycling shorts, oh that was a big mistake…
I learned from those mistakes. In fact, the only thing I didn’t get wrong, once I started putting some serious miles in on a bike, was that I spent a lot of time with my shop owner getting my setup right. I’d say that took about a year to get everything dialed in and right. Saddle width, that one caused some trouble, saddle height, saddle fore/aft positioning…
See, here’s the point: If I’m going to go two months, cycling every day, everything has to be right. The bike’s gotta be right, the nutrition has to be right, the clothing has to be right, the workout schedule has to be right… Everything has to be set up just so to make this work. If my cleats are off by just a little I’d have ended up with sore knees or ankles. If my saddle is too wide I’m going to suffer through sore hamstrings and saddle sores. Too much padding on the saddle and I’m into numbness or saddle sores, wrong shoes, cleats or pedals and I have foot problems. If the bike’s the wrong size or one of the setup points are off, it’s a sore back. Handlebar is too low? Sore neck. One of the hoods is a quarter-inch lower than the other? Sore shoulder/neck.
On top of that, I need a decent base of miles. I’ve tried completing this before and the best I’ve ever done without my performance suffering was thirteen days – and I was riding a lot back then. I had to build up to this over three years (though much of that time was spent just getting the bikes dialed in).
Then there’s nutrition… I had to stop looking at food as enjoyment and more as fuel. If I ever had the notion that I was going to fuel a four-day, 380 mile tour at an average pace above 19 mph, on donuts, cookies and Coke, I’d have bonked out in the first fifty miles. There’s simply no way. Now, do I get to enjoy the occasional donut because I’m literally riding my ass off? Absolutely, but the bulk has to come from a decent mix of carbs, proteins, greens and fruit. I’d love to lie and tell you otherwise but I had to take fueling up the muscles seriously, because I built up a bunch of them. Now if that wasn’t hard enough, and it is for a lot of people, I actually had to eat at the right time too. See, while the body is complex, it’s a pretty simple at the same time. Proper recovery after a hard ride is imperative if you’re going to ride daily. If I don’t recover fast enough, I’m going to start taxing my system and I end up with a performance drop off after a while. I must refuel my system within an hour of any hard effort but preferably within 30 minutes. 60/40 carbs to protein works best for me, and if I’m going to drink a Coke, during or immediately after a hard effort is best. The sugar goes straight into the system to replenish lost stores so it won’t be an issue weight-wise. I can live with this, without Jonesing for a Coke in between. Others aren’t so lucky, so if you can’t control the soda intake it’s best to skip it altogether. I’ve tried to control my own alcohol intake to no avail so I’ve found complete abstinence the best way to deal with my lack of control – same principle.
Finally, the schedule has to be right. I work a full-time job and have a wonderful wife and two kids. I have to balance everything if we’re all going to be happy. Not only that, I have to make sure I get slow recovery rides in between the hard efforts as well – I can’t go hard all of the time without burning out. Slow recovery rides are defined as “slow enough that you’d be embarrassed if your friends saw you riding that slow”.
In other, simpler terms, when it comes to daily cycling, if you think you’re just going to climb in the ring and box, you’ll probably be in for a rather painful surprise. On the other hand, take the time to do it right, to train for the effort, fuel it right and get the equipment right, that crap about needing days off is for the birds – you just have to know what you’re doing.
Of course, as always, I’m not a doctor. All I know for certain is what works for me and will not take any responsibility if you do something stupid and screw yourself up. I also reserve the right to be wrong – even if I don’t think I am. If you think you need four days a week on the couch, you probably will. Just don’t bother trying to sell that hoo-hah to me, ’cause I don’t buy it – at least until my doctor says to cut it out… We’re still on “keep doing exactly what you’re doing” though, so it’s all good.
I’m a cycling nut. Every regular reader of this blog already knows this, but for those who don’t, there’s my rigorous honesty for the day. Rather than take a day off the bike for the Monday day off work, after having ridden more than 380 miles over the previous four days, I rode with my friends and wife. It wasn’t much, 24 miles at a leisurely 17 mph pace but it was a ride nonetheless. It definitely hurt.
Yesterday I was excited at lunch time because it was supposed to rain at 5. I thought I was too tired to ride. At 4:00 the radar showed the trouble was north of us, all clear so we were riding.
With the Venge in the shop, I was on the 5200. The Trek is a great bike but it definitely takes a little bit more oomph to get it down the road. “Oh well, if I get dropped, I get dropped. I’m tired, I have a good excuse.” I thought.
We started out at a leisurely pa… Ah, who am I kidding, I have no clue what our pace was. I don’t have a computer on the Trek yet. The pace felt relatively comfortable for the first mile and a half, maybe a little fast. Let me check my app… ah, nope… definitely fast. 22 mph in lieu of the normal 19 in that first mile.
In any event, once we turned north with a little help from the wind and the pace went from comfortable to holy smokes in, like three seconds. Just barely shy of 30. 30 on the Venge is hard. Doable, but hard. 30 on the Trek is a little shy of fun. Yeah, that’s a good way to put it.
Just four miles in, Mike started fading off the back and I went with him. Matt went to, then Brad, then Lenny (on a frickin TT bike, in a group ride*). As we rolled down the road at a more enjoyable less ridiculous pace, we started reeling in stragglers. We formed a group of about eight “B” riders and rolled on. Somewhere around mile ten my legs came back. I almost couldn’t believe it but the soreness simply faded away and the springy, strong feeling returned… This was not mental (though I needed the mental to hold on long enough for that to happen).
I took a lot of turns up front. More than ten. They were long, strong turns and I felt good doing it. Same with Mike and Mike and Diane on their tandem. We did our level best to back off on the hills a little bit for the tandem, backed off when Brad needed it (he’s going through chemo) and did our best to keep our pace strong but reasonable.
The pace was so perfect that I could take another turn up front within minutes of falling back for a rest, if needed. I went from holding on for all I was worth to being a contributing member of the group.
We rolled into the finish with a 21 mph average, just five tenths to one mile per hour slower than our normal all-out pace on fresh legs, and with the exception of the guy on the TT bike, it was a safer and far more responsible ride. We all got our workout and had a much more enjoyable time. We let the racers do their thing and we did ours, and it was good.
I am looking forward to many more of the new Tuesday night format rides. This was a conscious decision to keep the group safer and more enjoyable. I’ll write more about this, and why I chose to stay a B rider rather than put the effort in to be an A, later.
* The time trial/triathlon bike on a club ride. I’ve seen five or six exceptional cyclists on TT bikes on Tuesday nights. They all thought they were competent enough cyclists to ride that monstrosity in the club. Only two actually were. The others were dangerous to the group. They push the wrong gear at the wrong time, weave too much, and were/are a general nuisance to the safety to everyone around them. If you think you are that person who is good enough, read this again. There’s an 90% chance you’re one of those who only thinks you’re good enough.