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Monthly Archives: October 2015

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My Three Favorite Words when Cycling with Friends…

My wife asked me yesterday morning if I’d ride with her later in the evening after she dropped the girls off at swimming practice.  We’d talked about doing this for quite a while but just never got around to taking the bikes down there…  My kids swim in a small city where a lot of the decent, fun hills are located so what she was proposing meant a fair amount of climbing.  She then texted two of my friends to see if they wanted to join us.  They both showed up, we were four:

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Now, you’ll notice there are four in the photo and that I’m not in there, so that means I’m the one holding the camera, off the back a little bit (for safety)…  My three favorite words.

We met in the parking lot at the high school.  Chuck had been there already, to get some extra miles while our new friend, Ron, showed up right on time.  We headed out into the perfect, clear, cool evening breeze on our way to a subdivision notorious for its hills.  We climbed and descended, chatted, and generally took it fairly easy while keeping a decent pace.  It was one of those perfectly enjoyable paces where you know you’re working, but you’re just far enough below the red that even the tougher climbs are fun.  You can’t beat rides like that, I absolutely love ’em.

We approached the subdivision somewhere around nine or ten miles into the ride and the climbing really ramped up.  A quarter of the way up the first hill, we noticed another cyclist up ahead.  Now, when my wife isn’t with me, another cyclist ahead is almost impossible for me to not chase.  When my wife’s in the group, I can let him/her go for her sake.  My wife asked, “It’s killing you, isn’t it?”

I replied, “No, I can let it go…”

Then I started thinking about it…  Oops.

We wound our way around the subdivision and when we reached the bottom of a little climb we saw the solo cyclist look back to see where we were.  He must have noticed that we’d closed the gap a little bit because you could instantly see a change in his cadence as he tried to get up the hill.  The four of us had a chuckle watching it.  Ooh, now I wanted to go get him.  That’s exactly when my wife uttered my three favorite words to hear on a group ride:  “Go get him”.

I passed Ron and Chuck, trying to contain myself and build my speed slowly.  The three caught on and I got to work on the quarter-mile that separated us.  I had him within a mile.  I love reeling people in… and there was my wife, at the back of the train.  I can’t put into words how proud I was that she’d stayed with us – I really had to drop the hammer to make up that much ground in such a short distance.  It turned out that Greg, the guy we caught, was a part of the Flying Rhinos Cycling Club – a group that we regularly see represented at a lot of the local supported rides, and in force at the Assenmacher 100.  We finished the rest of the 25 mile loop without much incident (I missed a couple of turns while in the lead because I didn’t know  the route) and rolled into town with a smile on our faces…  Until I saw the City Limit sign.

My wife and I have developed a penchant for racing for signs.  I saw this one with only a few hundred feet to spare so I leapt out of the saddle to start a sprint…  I took the sign uncontested just as my wife realized what was going on.

A quick loop through one last subdivision and we were on the home-stretch where I took those photos.  We finished with 24-3/4 miles in 1h:27m, an average of just over 17 mph.  A great average considering the amount of intense climbing we did.  It was one of those perfect nights, just fast enough that you know you did something but slow enough that there weren’t any “Man, I can’t hold this pace for much longer” moments.  It was one of those, “Geez, this is why I bought a bicycle in the first place – this is what I always wanted, nights.

And I got to hear my three favorite words.  Thanks sunshine.

Now, humorously enough, my wife ribbed me about wanting to chase Greg down as we were packing up the bikes afterward, she had a chuckle about how I so much love being the guy they send out to reel people in… so I looked right at her and said, “Honey you’re right, but you like me being that guy too. You think it’s sexy.”

Bullseye. She even admitted it. Enthusiatically. Damn I love cycling with my wife.

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Tuesday Night Club Ride: Some Things Are More Important than a Bike Ride Edition

I skipped the Tuesday Night Club Ride Tuesday, thus no post about it yesterday…  That was the first one I’ve missed this year, if memory serves.  I had something far more important to tend to.

My daughter is smart.  Like, “How did my DNA produce a kid that well put together” smart.  I’m no dummy, but she’s next-level, crazy smart.

My daughter is like me in that she’s got a bit of an awkward childhood going on though.  When I was a kid, I thought I was skinny and ugly…  I didn’t find out that I was wrong, that i saw myself in the mirror differently than others, until my senior year of high school.  Unfortunate that.  I missed our on a lot of good times because I thought, incorrectly, that I was “less than” others. My girl is wrong too, of course, but there’s no telling her how truly beautiful she is…

See, here’s the problem… my Bella has a little sister who is stunningly beautiful.  I mean, I’m glad I own firearms, pretty.  The younger is more of a social butterfly and is wildly popular.

One day she came home in tears over their difference and it really broke my heart.  I mean deep down, dad hurt.  One of those where I wished I could take that pain and carry it for my girl so she’d never have to feel it again…  See, my first daughter is living, breathing proof that I recovered from being a drunk, that kid is very, very special to me.  She’s starting to hit her stride though.  She advanced in swimming because she’s absolutely killing it, she’s starting to grow into herself, she’s well on her way to becoming a fine, beautiful, young woman.

Then, a few weeks ago, she was asked to be a part of the National Junior Honor Society.  Last week, she received a letter from Northwestern University (THE Northwestern! Watch out Christopher, I may be sending her your way…) asking her to consider taking the SAT to possibly start classes early.

My daughter is twelve years old.  Twelve.

Well, Tuesday night was my baby’s big night.

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This was one thing vastly more important than a club ride.  One of the proudest days of my life, next to the day I decided to sober up, the day I married my best friend in the whole world, the day my daughters were born…

A very big deal was made of this night.  It was as it should have been.  My baby is brilliant, and thank God when it came to brains, she got more of her mom’s DNA than her pops.  I wouldn’t have missed that one for anything.

Bella, I am so very proud of you, of the effort you’ve put in to excelling at everything you put your mind to. You are truly awesome, kiddo. Congratulations tough girl. Keep it up.

Yep, some things are more important than a bike ride.

***A special tip for new dads: When your baby is born, while you’re giving your wife a break and when your baby is quiet or sleeping, lay down with your baby facing you and let your baby breathe on your face. Then let this roll around in your melon for a minute: You made that.

It changed my outlook on life.

A Friend’s Post About Those Awesome Things Kids Say…

Lemon Soup For The Soul – http://wp.me/p3JW5y-Ftq

It took me back a bit and warmed my heart.  An excellent “parent” post.

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.”