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Monthly Archives: October 2015

What is the Perfect Bicycle for You… How I Found Mine

What is the perfect bike for you?

Carbon fiber?  How about aluminum or even steel?

How about the crankset?  Aluminum or carbon fiber?

Handlebar – same choice, aluminum or carbon fiber?

Wheels – same choices…

Or how about frame style? Classic or Compact (for a road bike)? Dual Suspension or Hard Tail (for a mountain bike) or no suspension at all (the really fast guys usually go with no suspension to save weight – though, if you’re willing to spend ten grand you can have an awesome hard tail that weighs about 19 pounds)?

Or is it a price-point?

$200, $400, $700, $900, $1,200, $1,500, $2,000, $3,000, $4,000, $5,000, $8,000, $10,000?  How about  $15,000?

Ooh, how about a color!? Blue? Green, Orange, Black or Red? How about Stealth Black on Black (must be shiny on flat, not the other way around)? For me, this one is simple… Red on Black. Sporty. Fast. Spectacular.

Sadly, there is no perfect answer here, none that I’ve seen, based only on the reality that we’re all different. You’ve got the “A bike is a bike, as long as you ride it” crowd who can ride with miss matched wheels and four different colors of kit… As long as everything works, they could care less. Then you’ve got people like me. Everything matches, from the helmet down to the shoes and everything matches the bike… And you have everything and anything between.

And therein lies the rub. It’s almost like you have to figure out who you are while you’re learning to ride in the first place. In fact, I started out somewhere between mismatched and I thought I was okay with that… oh, how times changed.

Sadly, I blew a lot of cash to find out what I liked. I started out with mountain bikes because they’re cheap, at least at the low-end… It didn’t take long for me to realize that, as awesome as mountain biking is, I needed more speed.

Then came road bikes… My first was nice, but aluminum and way too small. One of the pluses of an aluminum frame is that they’re ultra-stiff. All of the power goes to the pedals. On the other hand, they’re impossibly stiff… Every nook and cranny in the road comes right back up the frame. It hurt to ride that bike. Not only that, it had the old-style down tube shifting and that’s a huge disadvantage…

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The fate of this Cannondale is yet to be determined…  The latest idea I’ve had is to outfit it with a SRAM Apex 10 sp. and a new carbon fork for my daughter – a bit of old school but awesome-ized – once she outgrows the road bike I just bought her last fall…

My Trek 5200T(riple) was next. The right size too (classic frames make sizing incredibly important). The color was tricky though… A cool, deep red with orange/gold metallic flake but darn near impossible to match with the kit and helmet.

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That became my rain bike once I bought the perfect bike for me…

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Compact, carbon fiber everything, except wheels which are aluminum and better suited to my needs… One size smaller than recommended so I can get that saddle raised up way over the handlebar.  It’s a great story, really.  I was in the process of just starting a construction company that became quite successful (considering the climate) so I went from having little cash to blow on a hobby to an income that allowed a dalliance here or there, within reason.  In other words, I didn’t have to stick with what I had.  I had the option of going lighter, faster, better and newer and finding something that really fit the way I wanted to ride.

Now, you may, looking at my bike, jump to the wrong conclusion that I picked that bike based on price point – that I was just going for something expensive but that isn’t the case.  That bike was a love at first sight (maybe lust), find a way to save up and afford it over nine months, purchase…  I had to work for that bike.  That said, a lot of trial, error and research went into that purchase and it still came down to simply “lucking out”.  It took a year of getting the fit perfect too.  It took experimentation, dabbling, raising the hoods just a smidge, lowing the stem considerably (15 mm), raising the saddle then lowering it back down a little more…  It took a three hour fitting after a month or two of riding the bike (I only had a quick, rudimentary fitting done the day I bought it – saddle height and fore/aft position and I believe this was the best way to go as it gave me a month to get used to it, to become accustomed to the ride before having it tweaked and dialed in)…  Now that all of that is done, I can’t imagine having a bike that could fit better and that’s why it’s the perfect bike for me.  It’s just the right blend of stiff for speed but compliant in the right places for comfort (though admittedly, I really don’t know any better with the exception of trying my wife’s bike once.

In the end, the perfect bike is a balance.

For me, the newer compact frame, with the sloped top tube is a must. I have two classic frames and they just don’t feel right… The compact geometry just fits better. The components, well, I knew I needed race ready and cost was an issue so Shimano 105 made sense. I’d have liked to go up at least one level, to Ultegra because that line really is that much better but I couldn’t justify the cost of the bike. I gave a little bit there. Color was a no-brainer, bright red on black, the paint job on my bike is tops in the industry at that price-point, by a long shot (so sayeth the owner of the local shop, a seasoned frame builder of phenomenal reputation). Then came the upgrades, the S-Works Aerofly carbon handlebar and Crankset and an FSA carbon wrapped aluminum stem (lighter than a full carbon stem, if you can believe it)… More style watts and weight savings than anything else and a better set of wheels (1,500 grams in lieu of 1,900 for the wheels and 450 grams in lieu of 900 for the crank… the bar was nominal, maybe 50 grams).

From there, it was just a hop, skip and a jump, and about $1,500 in red and black cycling clothing, red pedals, a red and a black bottle cage.

Now, if you notice, style came third . Weight came second… Fit comes first. Always. And this was my exact line of thinking when I bought the Venge:

I had a choice between a 54 cm frame and a 56. I could be fit on either one – and at 6′ tall, the calculator puts me on a 58. Now here’s the deal. I knew I wanted the racy fit on this bike. Saddle high, bar low. Well, how you get that is you buy a smaller frame. I was already pretty aggressive on my Trek and I felt I could do a little better. On the other hand, I planned on riding this bike for a long time. At 44, I wasn’t going to get any younger, or more flexible… Mainly because Yoga and stretching are humorous. Yes, I’ll leave it there.

Anywho, with a 54, the head tube would have been pretty short so the bar would have been pretty low unless I had an ungodly amount of spacers raising it up so I could ride it comfortably, so that meant the 56 was the one for me. So far, my thinking was right on.

As far as frame material went, I don’t care what you say about steel and aluminum, there’s a reason the pros ride carbon fiber and having ridden an all-aluminum race bike, there was no way anyone was going to sell me on aluminum – no matter what they say about technological advances.  Carbon fiber lasts better than steel, you can manipulate the tube shapes better, and it’s vastly superior to aluminum as far as comfort goes.  You’d have something with titanium, but those frames usually cost as much or more than carbon fiber anyway.  Now, and this is important, there’s a trick to aluminum…  Aluminum frames are so stiff, they actually transfer power from the pedals to the rear wheel better than any of the other frame materials.  The problem is they also transfer road chop from the ground to your butt just as efficiently.  It was my experience that what I made up in acceleration, I lost in trying to pedal through vibration from the road.  Having been through that, if my Venge, my love (or lust) at first sight Venge, had been aluminum I never would have bought it.

Finally, the last thing I wanted to get to was componentry.  That first Cannondale has down tube shifters and they are an immense disadvantage when cycling with others (a club or group ride) compared with the modern integrated brake lever shifters.  This is not an understatement.  Immense disadvantage.  Don’t think you can save $500 by purchasing a bike with old down tube shifters and you’ll be okay to keep up with modern bikes – you’ll be in for a shock.  What happens is, you’ve gotta take your hands off of the handlebar to shift, which really isn’t that big a deal until you factor in that you’re riding at 25 mph with only six inches to a foot betwixt you and the person in front of you…  Say you go to shift at exactly the wrong time and you have to feather the brakes to bleed a little speed with one hand.  Been there, done it, don’t like it.  Also, to avoid that situation, you will invariably end up pushing too hard a gear when a surge hits…  You’ll let a gap form and have to struggle to catch up (this happens a lot when noobs try to ride Time Trial bikes in a pack – a no-no by the way).  Oh, and so you want to upgrade that down tube shifter bike?  Well, it’ll have a seven speed cassette (or less), so you’ll need to spread the rear dropouts (which can’t be done cold on an aluminum bike or you risk breaking the welds or the frame), then you’ll need a new cassette, a new crank set, a new front and rear derailleur, new shifters and even a new wheel.  At best you’re looking at $300 to upgrade the bike, but more realistically, $500-$750.  You may as well just buy a new bike and save the headache.

The truth is, it’s hard to know ahead of time whether you’d prefer a classic or compact frame.  I was fortunate enough to be in a position where I could afford to experiment and found that I was a compact frame kind of guy.  The rest, though, is fairly easy.  It’s a matter of making a decision about how you want to ride and ticking off boxes to get you to the bike that’s right for you.  It’s also important to note that having exactly the perfect bike for you isn’t really necessary at all.  Your body, to an extent, will adapt to what you put it on over time.  As long as the fit is right, you dictate to your body what it will get used to so it’s not like you have to test 35 bikes to get the one that fits your body perfectly.  In other words, let’s say the Trek 5200 maxed me out it the cash department, I just didn’t have any more money to spend on a bike.  Over time, given a few changes (the original handlebars were too wide and I didn’t like the ergonomic drop, things of that nature), there’s no doubt I could have gotten that bike to a point where it would have been just fine.  Given enough miles, that would have been the perfect bike for me too.

So give your bike purchase some thought, but don’t stew over it too much.  Buy what you like and the best you can afford.  Then ride the wheels off of it.  Or buy a few bikes…  Use one for the trainer, one for the rain and one for those perfect, sunshiny days.  Just know the one you ride the most will feel the best.

Fixing the World’s Problems at Deer Camp…

Things have been rather quiet around here since Thursday.  This is, of course, by design.  I don’t take much time off from writing but my hunting buddy moved back from South Carolina so come October 1st, everything got put on hold while we do our best to help thin the deer herd for the Insurance industry of Michigan.

All kidding aside, while we don’t exactly rough it (it’s not like we’re out in the Michigan wilderness in a tent in the middle of October – though we’ve done that), living outside and getting the required “butt time” is quite time-consuming.  Rather than use the time to write posts or catch up on current events, I instead choose to reflect, meditate (to the greatest extent possible for me, anyway), and inventory my life… if I have to be away from my family, I may as well make good use of the time.

I would say I don’t solve the world’s problems while I’m sitting out in the woods, but technically, I do…  I just start with the one person I can do something about.

As is so often the case, my inventory always comes back to the same thing:  Rigorous honesty.

I’m not talking about the BS “political” honesty, where I spew the latest thing the masses want to hear, I’m talking about the unvarnished truth.  The good, the bad, the sick and the healthy.  Basically, the inventory looks a lot like it would for any shop owner takes inventory of what’s on the shelves so they can order more of what’s selling and discontinue ordering that which isn’t.  What I’m talking about here isn’t an instant-ass-kicking machine or an all-out “I’m awesome” love-fest either.  It’s an honest assessment of what I am doing well and what I can improve on.  It’s that simple.

When I do this, everyone around me benefits.  My family, my customers, my suppliers, my subcontractors, even the gas station attendant a mile from my house.  The world becomes a better place because I am a better person once I start discarding the old items on the shelf that just aren’t selling as I thought they would.

There’s a catch though…  This inventory is limited to my own thoughts and actions (or in many cases “reactions”.  If I devolve into how others have treated me and the unfairness of it all, I am sure to end up with morass and self-pity that no amount of awesomeness can prevail over.  In fact, the inventory is often referred to in Biblical terms (Matthew 7:3):  Don’t concentrate on the splinter in your neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in your own (or any of the variants in translation).  That description is lacking though.  It must be taken a step further to “Don’t bother with the log in my neighbor’s eye when I’ve got a splinter in mine.  I have an example.

I’ve made mention of a customer who tried to make away with $70,000 owed on a contract in past posts.  Here’s the unvarnished truth of that $70,000.  Due to my customer’s ignorant management, the job fell behind schedule (part due to his over-promising, part due to other trades taking longer than they should have, part due to inspections taking too long).  Once behind schedule, and coming up on a hard Grand Opening party for major contributors/benefactors, the contractor looked to my company to get the job done in a portion of the time I’d been allotted and I couldn’t supply ample man-power to do so (I simply ran out of guys).  The contractor supplied supplemental labor that I accepted.  He then over-billed me (up to $100 per hour) and charged for time prior to the date I accepted help.  When all was said and done, he wanted $52,000 and some change but withheld $70,000.  We had a meeting and I went through and marked off a few things that were double-charged and for the time prior to the agreed upon date.  That dropped the bill, not even looking at the egregious overcharging of cost per hour, down to $29,000, plus the cost of a piece of glass that one of my guys destroyed through ignorance ($1,100 – I know, it was an expensive piece of glass) and one other charge bringing the total to $33,000.  My attorney became more actively involved and new charges were trumped-up and they tried to up the ante to $60,000…  We eventually agreed on $38,000 to me and $32,000 to him and I got my check in the mail more than a year after the job was completed (some of the numbers have been changed so that this very public post couldn’t be tied to the actual job – that said, the descriptions are fair and honest).  In any event, the takeaway from my inventory on the situation was that I should have done better homework on the customer before I ever took the job.  I would have been better prepared for what happened and better documented the problems so I had better footing leading into the “bargaining phase” after the job.  There is no doubt that my guys performed admirably on the job, with the exception being that piece of glass, and that I did a good job from a management standpoint – even after all of that, the job did make a profit.  However, I should have been better prepared for what I was getting into.

This is the kind of honesty I’m talking about…  Bad things happen to good people all of the time.  What is important, what matters, is what I do when life throws me a lemon every now and again, if you will.  I can complain about someone else being a jerk or dishonest until I’m blue in the face – it won’t do either of us any good.  This is one of my keys to happiness…  If I rely on sources outside myself for my happiness, if I rely on everything outside of myself, that I can’t control, to go my way to be happy, I’m cooked before I ever entered the game because life just doesn’t work like that.  On the other hand, if I’m constantly taking action to be a better me, weathering the bad things becomes bearable because there’s always something I can learn from – there’s always a way to be better.  All I have to do is find it, so it helps to be looking.

So, if you’re wondering how my use of my time at hunting camp solves the World’s problems, well there’s a big picture and a little picture way of looking at this.  For the little picture, if my experience helps one person to look at life just a little differently or to understand a problem that’s been giving them trouble, I have been useful.  On the big picture side, if you’re wondering what the answer to the biggest problems facing the world today, they can all be fixed with a little bit of good old-fashioned rigorous honesty.  Every last one.  The problem is, of course, is that it’s easier to concentrate on the other’s splinter.  Or log, as the case may be.

What do you know, it’s not rocket science after all.

Anyway, my apologies for going silent all of a sudden.  I did need it, for what it’s worth.

Cool Things You Learn At Hunting Camp…

The optimal temperature for a Twix candy bar is 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

Try it, you’ll like it.

Still no luck, but we’re bringing in the big guns tonight……

The Importance of Proper Staging When Photographing Your Bicycle…

Now, I’ve written about this topic enough already, but for those who may have missed it, and for some of my newer friends who may have missed it, this is how you photograph your bike:

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Well, I might have picked a better location, maybe outside or something, but really, it’s an interesting background in my house…  the wood panels and brick…  In any event, notice you can’t see the inner tube stems?  Hidden by the frame.  Chain is on the big ring and the crank arm is in one of two acceptable positions.  The other is with the leading arm along the same line as the chain stay. 

Now, look at how the sun caresses the bike, illuminating it’s svelte curves in this next picture:

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Crap…  Zeus!  Ya dope!

I’ll get back to this post another time… Lost the sunshine again.

…”Next time, wait till I’m done taking photos ya big, purring dope.”

Tuesday Night Club Ride: 100% Chance of Being 15% Wet Edition

The weather last night was typical for November…  Sadly it’s October.  ‘Bout time it caught up with us.  It was cold, damp and windy.  Still, I showed up, because that’s what we do.  My gut doesn’t care if it’s a bit nippley outside.  Oops, did I say nipple?! 

Anyway, the brilliant Weather Channel said a 15% chance of rain.  Fifteen percent, at one time, meant the Venge was going out because there’s an 85% chance it won’t rain…  Now it seems like a 15% chance of rain means an 85% chance of sprinkles with only a 15% chance of a downpour. 

The warm up sucked.  Shortened due to impending darkness, we were wet before the second mile was done – and it only got worse…

We managed to keep our warm by taking laps around the 1/2 mile block and the sprinkling stopped.  We rolled out at 5:30, Mike and I in the lead but not before cracking a decent joke…  One of the guys who shows up now and again noticed my perfect choice of matching kit and said, “Man, check you out all decked out!”  I did, if I do say so myself (and I do), look smashingly awesome.  I said, amidst my group of friends, “Well I figured out how to work the kit…  If I can’t ride like Dave, I should at least dress like him.”  Dave recently took a podium spot at a huge Crit amongst Cat 1, 2 & 3 cyclists – Dave’s fast.  We all had a laugh at my expense and rolled out.

We pulled into the wind at 18.5 mph (not terribly bad into an 18 mph wind) for a mile before falling back… and that’s precisely when the skies opened up, again. 

Mike looked at me and said, “You know, I could be done.”

That’s all I needed to hear.  We turned tail and headed back to the parking lot as the rain picked up…

I don’t need the miles.  Not this late in the season.  Not that bad.  We packed our bikes into our vehicles and beat a path for home.

I’ve eaten dinner, had a cup of coffee and have watched the rest of the Cubs win over St. Louis (!).  I’m just starting to warm up.

I’ll hear about it next week, from Phill and Dave, but I’m okay with it.  I’ll live. Meh.

The Noob’s Ultimate Guide to The Ten Commandments of Sucking Wheel: How to Get a Free Ride With the Advanced Group Without Being A Jerk

Every cyclist who’s ever ridden a bike has sucked wheel at one point or another.  Alberto Contador has turned that into an art form for crying out loud.  I ride with a group of cyclists who are vastly faster than my friends and I.  If I’m going to survive, I’m sucking wheel for most of the ride – short turns at the front, a little bit of hiding and a strategic fallback or two at a traffic sign before the hills.  When you’re an avid enthusiast rolling with Cat 3 and 4 racers, you just do your best.  Or better still, you’re a “D” rider trying to hang with the “C’s” or “B’s” or a “C” with the “B’s”.  Whatever the case, it’s been oft-repeated that if you want to ride faster, ride with people faster than you – and that pretty much sums it up.  It’s not rocket science.  If you want to ride faster you just gotta learn to push harder on the pedals.  The best way to do that is to ride with those who already can.

That said, there are rules (many unwritten) on how this works so one may maintain a good standing within the group, have a good ride, and be a useful part of the group.  First, and contrary to popular belief, when looking at advanced groups, you have to know one thing right off the bat:  The group owes you nothing.  The vast majority of the advanced groups are not the touchy-feely “no-drop ride” types.  It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that they will expect a certain level of effort and performance out of you if they’re going to go to the trouble of helping you ride like them.

Advanced groups will also require you to actually know how to ride your bike. See, here’s the trick: Riding in a pack is dangerous at 16 mph if you have people who don’t know how to ride in a group. At 30, a little mistake can be catastrophic. We all have wives or husbands and kids that we very much want to see after the ride and rather than risk it, you will be dropped like a dirty shirt if you are identified as a threat to the safety of the group. Seen it happen, been a part of it happening, done it myself – and we most certainly don’t care if that hurts your feelings. Better your feelings than our necks. If you never thought to look at club cycling from the perspective of those you’re going to be riding with, it’s probably good that you’re reading this post.  Rather than take it personally, work on riding better and come back strong, fit and stable.  Your effort will be noticed and reflected in how you’re treated.

Here’s how the drop works on flat ground. You’ll be huffing and puffing along, all over the lane, in the wrong position (say in the middle, betwixt the two pace lines), at 22-23 mph. All of a sudden two or three of the stronger cyclists who were behind you in the line will shoot up the side of the group. The pace will then jump to somewhere between 28 & 30 mph. You’ll let a gap form because you weren’t ready and in too hard a gear to match the surge… and you’re off the back. That fast. You try to bridge the gap but the group slowly pulls away. Hills are used for the same purpose… The group climbs at 17-19 mph usually but on a particularly tough grind, they take the hill at 23… It’s to drop you – or possibly another noob, maybe you’re just unlucky this time.

Here are the Ten Commandments of Advanced Group Riding that will help you to not be the person the Club wants to drop:

  1.  Know Thy Place.  As a newbie to the group, you pose a threat to the safety of everyone around you.  A bike ride is just a bike ride at 12 mph.  At 28, one wrong move at the wrong time and you can actually kill someone, or put them in the hospital for months.  If the group is a little leery of you, this is to be forgiven immediately, without a second thought – and this goes no matter how good you think you are.  Experienced cyclists know they’re good already and that this will show once they’re down the road.  If you’re agitated that nobody trusts you before they’ve seen you ride, that says volumes about you – mainly that you don’t ride well or you’re a jerk.  The former can be fixed with practice in a slower group.  The latter, not so much, and nobody wants to dig deep and work for someone who won’t respect the effort.
  2. Thou Shalt Learn to Ride Before Thou Ridest.  It’s wise to know how to ride in a straight line and learn how to ride in a group before you ride with the big dogs.  Unfortunately, you can’t just get on a bike and jump in the ring to box.  Start off with easier groups or take several months to learn how to ride well first.
  3. Work for Thy Place.  Every now and again, no matter how good you are at hiding at the back, you are going to get stuck going to the front.  It happens.  Accept it, do your part and take a turn up front…  Your turn doesn’t have to be long, even 20 or 30 seconds will suffice.  If, however, you find yourself running out of gas quick and you must go to the back, do not just pull over and leave a gap!  The correct way to head to the back is to signal with your hand that you’ll be exiting to the outside of your line and announce to the person in front that you’re coming up on their [insert “left” or “right” here].  Then you start to speed up and pull the person behind you up.  You close the gap for them with a draft, then fall back.  Signal your exit again and do so.  If what you just read is Greek to you, you’re not ready for the advanced group yet.  Work on a few no-drop rides first to learn how the choreography of a group works.
  4. Hide Decently in Thy Place.  There is a difference between hiding and hiding well.  A good way to look it this is that the cyclists at the front, who are doing all of the work for you, are the worker bees.  Generally, you’d be considered the “hive” builders, but you can’t knit a sweater at 20 mph, so you’re more like one of those sucker fish who cling to a Great White shark for a free ride and an easy meal.  Not that this is bad, that’s just the best way to describe us when we’re sucking wheel.  Generally speaking, if the group is working right, you’ll have two lines of five to ten workers with the wheel suckers behind.  The lead sucker will open up a hole for the worker to slide into and announce that the worker should get in…  If you’re too embarrassed to do this, you need to be farther back in the group.  Also, if the group is small and you don’t have enough worker bees, you will run into the unenviable position of not being able to suck wheel.  Do your part and drop off the back when you’re cooked.  Don’t open a hole for a guy who’s just taken a 3 minute pull at the front if you’re just three or four riders back from the person who just took the lead.  That’s just plain rude.  A worker should get at least five cyclists to recover behind before their next turn up front.
  5. Thou Shalt Know Thine Hand Signals.  Remember boys and girls, we’re talking about the advanced clubs here, not the weekly 15 mile “Ice Cream Parlor Ride”.  Unless you’re invited to ride with the group ahead of time (which will mean one of the club members will already know that you can ride well), learn the hand signals and verbal gestures ahead of time.  There are a number of posts throughout the web that deal with “group ride hand signals” and “group ride etiquette“.  If you want to do the no drop rides, read a few posts.  If you want to jump right in with the big boys and girls, read as many as you can (ten each, minimum).
  6. Thou Shalt Not Slow Down Without Hand-signaling and Shouting, “Slowing” or “Stopping”.  I was guilty of this once… We missed a turn on a century, I was at the front and heard a bunch of commotion about missing the turn so I stopped pedaling and turned to ask, “What do we do?”  Seems simple enough, yes?  Well, I almost caused a wreck…  Use your hand signals and verbal cues… and use them at all times.
  7. Thou Shalt Announce Your Presence in the Event Thouest Latches On to the Back.  I almost loogied on a cyclist the other day because he managed to latch on to our 20 person group without announcing he was there.  Don’t get loogied on.  Let the person in the back know you’re on too.  Just a simple, “Mind if I join you” will suffice.
  8. Thou Shalt Not Be the Cause of a Gap if Thou Hast Joined a Group.  Just about the rudest thing you can do is join a group and then let a gap form, splitting up the group.  If it’s too fast for you, get out early and leave the group to themselves, especially during a long ride.  You will rightly be remembered, forever, as the “wheel sucking [insert expletive here] who broke the group up”.  Don’t be that person.
  9. Thou Shalt Not Allow One of the Horses to Drop His Mates Without Letting Him Know.  This one happened to me just the other day…  I was feeling particularly awesome about 55 miles into a 65 mile Tour and I was up front.  My friends Mike and Phill had taken all of the pulling responsibilities for the last 30 miles and had a group of about 20 sitting in behind us.  Lo and behold, I’d dropped three of my group, including my wife (all in the same kit), in all of my awesomeness and the wheel-sucking losers took something like two miles to tell me.  That was the last time I worked for the jerks.  I signaled and pulled off the side of the road and let them work themselves back whilst my friends caught up.  Don’t be like them.
  10. Thou Shalt Not Be a Jerk.  No more need be said.

Tour de Livingston: The Perfect Ride with the Fastest, Best Club (Possibly in the State)… and the Benefits Therein.

This post started out with a different Title and with a lot more negativity that I’ll get into in a later post but after some careful consideration, I thought it only right to do yesterday’s ride the justice it deserved rather than focus any energy on the wheel suckers that we encountered (one of whom I almost spit on – missed him by only an inch or two because I’d just dropped off the front for a rest – I was the very last bike, or so I thought…  I saw him out of the corner of my eye as I was letting a loogie fly)…

Livingston County is one of the most beautiful cycling counties in Michigan  (next to Genesee of course).  Livingston is the second richest County in the State so the roads are fair and the motorists are reasonable.  In fact, in 65.7 miles, we didn’t have to think (0r shout) “jerk” one time, in relation to a motorist.  The weather, other than it being a little on the cool side, was absolutely perfect.  Not a cloud in the sky and barely a breeze at the start of the day.  We rolled out at 8 am with two of our club’s fastest at the lead.  I was second or third depending on where Greg was and Dave and his wife on their tandem was the other bike.  Either Dave and his wife or Greg led every one of the first sixteen miles and we were rolling out fast – all rollers, followed by some very tight turns in through Howell.  I was having a very good time…  What I didn’t know was that one of the times that Greg had gone to the back, he noticed that my wife had fallen off of the pack, so after pulling for two or three miles at 23+ mph, he dropped back to help her get back to the group…  Then he came up for another turn at the front.  Meanwhile, Dave and his wife were driving to group and fortunately, they were mercifully slow going uphill.  Gotta love the tandems, God Bless ’em.

16 or 17 miles in, either Greg or my friend Winston, came up and said that my wife had fallen off so I shouted up to my buddy Mike that I was going to wait for her.  I pulled off into a parking lot after a left turn and waited.  Shortly thereafter, maybe a minute later, my wife and friend Phill came rolling up the road…  I got started, took the lead and held it for several miles.  I had to adjust a little bit because we had some pretty hefty hills to climb and I have a tendency to drop my friends on the way up if I’m not careful.  It took a few tries but I finally got the timing, cadence and effort pretty close.  I know Phill worries early so he doesn’t like to pull a lot till the end and he’s been working a lot so his miles are down as well, so I took huge turns up front – three to five miles at a time, before going back for a couple-mile rest in the draft.

About 30 miles in, I needed a restroom break and I couldn’t wait any longer…  I couldn’t believe we hadn’t seen a rest stop yet.  I found a good secluded patch of trees and asked my wife and Phill to soft-pedal for me till I could get back…  On my return, there was my buddy, Mike too.  He’d been dropped shortly after we were but managed to stay just ahead of us.  When I got back, my wife told me about how she and Phill, when Mike asked where I was, told him that they’d dropped me a mile or so back.  He was obviously incredulous and asked what had happened to me.  When I rolled up, we all had a pretty good laugh.  The four of us rolled together to the rest stop a full seven more miles up the road and Mike and I took over almost all pulling duties.  The lead group, of Categorized racers mind you, was just pulling out when we rolled up.  We waved them on and they waved back that they got it…

From that point, we picked up quite a few stragglers who formed a fairly large group behind us.  They literally did no work, other than serving a purpose:  To block wind for my wife.  Mike, Phill and I did all of the driving for the next 20-ish miles (but mostly Mike and I).  I tried to head back for a rest three times, but every single time we’d hit a stop sign within a quarter-mile or so and the rest of the group would slowly spin up, fighting to stay back…  I know what hiding looks like so after my third time trying to grab some draft and almost spitting on someone who’d come up behind me (I was the last bike, he must have just caught us after a stop sign), I decided I knew where my place was and didn’t bother falling back more than a couple of bikes after that.

We finished the 65.7 mile course in 3h:34m, an average of 18.3 mph and, for me, it was an easy, fun, enjoyable ride.  I finished with a smile on my face, no doubt about it.  For my wife, it was a little tougher.  She was moved to tears a couple of times and had to struggle through some mental anguish but she rose to the challenge and made it.  It was her longest ride, ever.

Talking afterward, my wife confirmed a long-standing suspicion of mine (but I’ve always squelched thoughts about it as too arrogant ):  She said it’s surprising to see how much faster our club is than many of the other clubs that ride organized rides – and for the most part, with maybe the exception of the Wolverines (Ann Arbor’s cycling club), we’re easily the first or second fastest club – individuals may be faster, but as a group, almost everyone ends up trying to hang with us when we show up in force.  It happened yesterday and even with just Mike, Phill and I – three of the B guys (well, maybe B+), we had a whole host of other cyclists who couldn’t help hold the pace that we kept, easily…  The benefit of riding with a really strong club, and especially one that cares for and helps the slower members so well, is that even our easy, fun ride pace is far better than average – so much so that three guys could pull a group of 20+ decent cyclists around for 30 miles.

The truth of the matter is that we “B” cyclists, as much as we may hate being flogged on Tuesday night, are much better cyclists for it.  We’re stronger, faster and exceptionally responsible in a group, and it’s all because our local racers are some very decent people who aren’t afraid of a little extra effort to help us to be better.  The truth is, we’re lucky to have such a strong, good group.

I apologize for not having any photos of this one, it was an incredibly beautiful ride.  I just spent too much time up front.

Oops.

Don’t bother clicking on this post…  I hit the wrong button.  Gimme a minute.  Please.

It’s Six Am in the Morning, Mrs. Redundant Lady…

It’s 6 am.  It’s cold outside, only single digits above freezing.  Still can’t wait…  Two more hours and I’ll be on the Venge, rolling down the road with my wife and one of my other best buds. 

Nothing big, 35 miles or so in a couple of hours but my cousin’s son is getting married today, so we’ve gotta be back to get ready for that and tomorrow we’ve got the Tour de Livingston 100k…

Four years into cycling. Five awesome bikes, more than 25,000 miles between them spread out over more than a thousand bike rides. Almost a million and a half calories burned…

…And I still get excited about going out for a bike ride.

Life, on two wheels, is good.

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Sometimes It’s Best to Sacrifice a Goal on a Recovery Day for a Greater Cause… And a New Look at Why People Fail Their Diet and Exercise: The Flaw is in “Cheat Days”.

I used to be extremely rigid and unoriginal when it came to my mileage and speed workouts.  There are a few more descriptive words that come to mind, none of them good.

There was a reason, of course…  How often have we seen someone’s dreams of being fit and fantastic derailed because a day off or a “cheat day” turned into a week off, turned into a month off, turned into depression, turned into 20 pounds, turned into 40 pounds, turned into diabetes?  Happens every day.  Well, there was no way it was going to happen to me and rigidity served me well for a time.  The politically correct term for that rigidity is “discipline” – not to be mistaken for “willpower”, of which I have about as much as a gnat or mosquito…

I got to a point where I didn’t need to go for a ride, I wanted to ride.  Every day.  I went from having to stay fit to control my weight and aid in my recovery to fitness becoming a way of life, just like recovery from addiction did… This made all of the difference in the world.

Today I have the desire, the need, and the support of more than a dozen like-minded friends that a day or two, devoted to a better cause (alternatively “for the right reasons”), can be a good thing.  This wasn’t always the case.  See, I have to be willing to “give it away to keep it” – a central tenet of recovery, applied to fitness.  Meaning, I have to be willing to bring new people in, and help them achieve what I have and greater, to maintain the excitement needed for my own fitness…  If I don’t have anything to give, now that is where we run into trouble.

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Last evening, my wife and I took our daughter for her first fourteen mile ride on our sixteen mile route. Normally the sixteen miles, by design, take an hour or slightly less (53-59 minutes usually)…  I knew it was going to be slower, probably by a lot, because we had my daughter with us.  Before today, this ride would have been out of the question – my fitness always came first, playing around with helping new people out, even my own daughter, was reserved for after I got my miles in.  Is it selfish?  Sure it is, to an extent, but only if you’re obtuse about it…  See, all too often people look for excuses to lame out.  To take it easy, to go the easy road.  There once was a time even I may have used that as a springboard to let up.  All of the excuses come out then, “At least I’m getting out”, or “I’ll make up for it tomorrow” but tomorrow never gets there…

A part of maintaining fitness, or sobriety (or both), is the ability to know oneself and “to thine own self be true” – and we’re talking about rigorous honesty here, not the “how can I manipulate myself into believing that what I want at the moment is ‘true'” honesty.

The Flaw in “Cheat Days”

This all ties in to diet, exercise and fitness with an epiphany I had this morning (well, this posts on Friday, so technically I had the epiphany yesterday morning, but whatever).  I’ve always had a problem with “cheat days” within diets and it took me a while to figure out why.  This all started percolating last Tuesday when I was invited to the bar/BBQ restaurant with a lot of the hammers from the Tuesday night group.  I had to decline, as much as I wanted to go, because I just wasn’t in a good space to put myself in that environment.  I had a lot of stressful stuff going on at work, I was trying to get a bunch done before my hunting trip, we were having part of our house fixed and I was a little worried about costs getting out of control (as they normally do with our house), and worst of all, my spiritual connection with my Higher Power was a little off (all my fault of course).  See, given the right circumstances (or maybe the wrong circumstances) and a lack of attentiveness on my part, I am capable of getting drunk again.  I would use the word “drink” instead of “getting drunk”, but I’m not into kidding myself.  If I’m going to blow 22 years of sobriety, I’m gonna do it right.  Again, rigorous honesty…  If I sit in a barber shop long enough, you can be certain that eventually daddy’s getting his hair cut.  You know what I’m saying?  So there are no cheat days in recovery, right?  I can’t drink or I am assured of going back to that old, drunkards life…

Ah, but there are cheat days for recovering alcoholics.

There are days when I am capable of handling a drinking environment without even a thought of partaking myself.  We actually have a test for this.  First, “Do I have a legitimate reason to be at the establishment in question?”  Second, “Am I on a Spiritually sound footing?”  And third, if the first two are met, I must have my own quick exit plan that doesn’t rely on anyone else (meaning I have to drive my car and not have ties to anything or anyone that would keep me from leaving on a second’s notice if I began to struggle).  Now on that night last Tuesday, I could meet two of the three, but not the good Spiritual footing…  That meant I was in no shape to handle the environment, so I declined.  Even when one of the members offered, “Oh, it’s okay, you can drink water with me”.  That sounds good, to the uninitiated outsider, but I don’t drink water in misery at a liquor joint.  I have to be on firm Spiritual ground with my Higher Power so that I’m happy to be drinking a Coke with my friends, rather than kicking the cat in the corner with a water in my hand because I can’t drink like them.

And therein lies my rub with dietary and exercise “Cheat Days”.  I don’t “cheat” just because it’s Sunday and it’s “Cheat Day”.  I go through a whole list of preparations before I will put myself in a position that could potentially end in disaster.  The only difference between drinking and eating/fitness “Cheat Days” is the severity of the consequences for a relapse.  I’m not going to jail or be asked for a divorce if I eat too much pizza or miss a bike ride, but you can bet that’s a real possibility if I choose to place an alcoholic drink to my lips.  Those are only the physical consequences though.  The mental consequences are just as severe, either way, whether for getting drunk or relapsing on my diet.  Let’s look at this in context…

If I’m on poor footing for a dietary cheat day, that single day can turn into a second simply because I choose to eat leftovers – or worse, because it’s a cheat day, I decide to not leave leftovers.  The next morning I wake up, feeling bloated and gnarly for the binge the night before and instead of doing the right thing, I reach for the kid’s Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Lucky Charms instead of my banana.  Then, for lunch, I pound down a burger for lunch instead of my Subway Sub…  By the time it’s time for my ride that evening, I’m feeling like crap so I may as well skip that too and take a nap.  I’ll feel better after dinner.  Pizza.  I’m off on a food bender for another three years, I gain all of the weight back and I’m wondering where I went wrong…  I resolve to do better, pick myself up by the boot straps, and start over.  And the next thing I do is plan out what day will be my “Cheat Day”.

My problem with “Cheat Days” is that they’re based on a day on the calendar and not the mental and Spiritual fitness necessary to keep from fully relapsing into a dietary/fitness puddle of goo and indecision.  Oh you could take the low road and go with the, “Well you don’t understand because you don’t have the same problems I do”.  You could go there, but I would simply reply, “Yes, funny that, isn’t it?  The reason is that I don’t set myself up to fail in the first place.”  Just a thought.

The point, of course, is that “Cheat Days” – or better yet, a cheat meal, should be based not on what day happens to appear on the calendar but how we’re doing with the maintenance of our diet (and I would argue that Spiritual footing here is just as important).  Better yet, wouldn’t it be wiser to schedule a cheat meal based on a goal attained?  I lost “X” pounds in three weeks so I get to have four pieces of pizza for dinner (not the whole freaking thing, ladies and gentlemen).  In fact, once you start ticking off those goals, my bet is that you’ll be hard pressed to take that cheat meal and undo some of the good you did in the first place.

In fact, this is exactly how I handle my “diet” (if you can call it that).  Once I hit my goal weight, I could have a burger for lunch…  Funny thing was, first thing I thought of on the way to the burger joint was, “Why would I want to do this, I’d rather stay on the path I’m on because I feel better this way”.  I turned the car around and headed for Subway.