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Today is a Good Day to Ride… With Friends: An Impassioned Look at Social Cycling

This beautiful Friday will be the beginning of a rare great week in February.  I can’t ever remember having a decent cycling weekend this early in the season.  We’ve got 30 miles on tap for today, and undecided amount tomorrow and another 37 on tap for Sunday.  In total I should end up between 90 and 100 miles on the weekend.

Weekend Weather.JPG

While this isn’t perfect for April, it’s unprecedented for February.  Under normal circumstances we can’t hope for weather like this until the middle of March.  It won’t last, of course, but we’re going to make hay while the sun is shining.

This leads me to an important point, my friends.  Many people, myself included, start out as solo cyclists.  We often figure there’s no way we can hope for people who will be able to bend to our schedule so we don’t bother getting involved.  If you’re like me, you figure riding alone is fun enough anyway – and it most definitely is.

Even if riding alone is enough for you, try to find a group to ride with.  Please.  Social cycling is simply better, if one can find the right group.  While cycling solo may be a touch more convenient, cycling with friends one can enjoy the experience with other likeminded enthusiasts – and this is what I failed to grasp as a solo cyclist.

I was invited to ride with a group over a period of six or nine months and I put it off because I thought I was having as much fun as I could possibly have.  After a short time I decided that I’d give the group a try but I wanted to improve my skills first, so I could get into the group safely.  I can still remember my first club ride and the exhilaration of riding with a large group.  I rode alone five or six days a week and once with the club for almost a full season.  I got to know people, slowly.  At some point I met enough of the right people and that’s when things really changed for the better;  That’s when the weekend invites started.  Before long I was riding with friends three days a week and solo three days.

After some time with those friends I bought a great bike for my wife and she got into cycling.  That was essentially the end of my solo cycling days.  I rode alone last year, maybe a couple of dozen times and surprisingly, I missed the company on all but one or two.  Solo cycling has become my backup plan – it’s better than not riding.

My friends, if you’re thinking riding alone is as good as it gets, try putting the effort into finding a group.  Meet some people at the local club ride, get to know them, and take a few road trips.  Only when you’re sitting around a dinner table after a great day on the bike, laughing about the little intricacies of the ride, will you be able to grasp just how much better cycling with friends is.

Two Million Words and all I have to show for it is a Cool Bike… but that’s about to Change.

I started writing this blog, not this post, the collection of my posts, with a purpose; To share what I’ve learned in recovery with those not fortunate enough to have “a program” as well as share my experience with those who do.

I’ve written a lot more about cycling than initially intended but that’s only because cycling is awesome and the sport makes my recovery more enjoyable.

Thus far I’ve received exactly nothing for my effort, and that has always been the idea.  We don’t sell recovery, we give it away.  Free of charge.  A bunch of people gave me a new outlook, a good, happy, wonderful outlook on life so I’m simply doing my part to make sure others get the same, if they’re willing to work for it.

It turns out I’m not a very good sponsor, mainly because I expect people to work for their recovery as I did.  Not exactly skirt-blowing news (most people prefer the “osmosis method” which typically has poor results).  I have, in the process, been able to reach more people that I ever could attending meetings.  I’ve gotten several “this post changed my life” comments and that’s what has kept me going.  That’s all this blog has ever been about (again, the collection, not the post).

As cycling goes, I’ve never sought out ambassadorships, free stuff or sponsorship.  I don’t even race competitively.  I’m too busy having fun and being happy.  That’s what sobriety is all about…  Good, clean living in lieu of bad choices, sickness, dependence and mayhem.

I did end up with a cool bike though, but even that has ties back to recovery.  My bike is the biggest thing I’ve ever paid cash for:

32 One Hundred Dollar Bills laid on the counter.  My wife’s was the next biggest, though I wrote a check for that one, the novelty of the thick stack was done.  This is what happens when one chooses the path of recovery.  Good decisions tend to lead to good results.

The best I could manage as a drunk was delivering pizzas and living at my parents’ house.  I wasn’t very good at delivering pizzas.  Today my efforts provide good, high-paying jobs for dozens of families.

Back to writing… I was contacted last week by the publisher of an endurance sport magazine about a post I’d written a short time ago.  They want to publish my post, and not only that, I’ll be paid.  Not a lot, of course, but dude!

I took my bikes into the office yesterday to work on some better, cleaner pics to go with the article.

I don’t know if my post will become a real, honest to God article yet, but you can be sure that if it does I’ll let you know where it’s published… More, I hope, to come.

Fitness and the Art of Changing the Tape YOU Play in YOUR Head…

Trigger (heh) warning when reading this post:  Please consult the note on the left of this page.  Also, if you prefer to covet your status of “victim”, it’d probably be best to not read this post.  No sense in messing up your status to get better, eh?

“I’m not good enough”, “I’m not fast enough”, “He thinks I’m too slow”, “She thinks I’m ugly”, “Society thinks I’m fat”, “I’d love a donut right about now”…

I’ve thought more than one of those, many have.  It’s been a long time though.  I’ve fixed how I think.  I had to when I quit drinking more than two decades ago now, and the thoughts I entertained as a practicing alcoholic were much worse than “I’m not good enough”.  Try, “I don’t deserve to live.  I should end it before I hurt someone”.  I had to fix that.

The good side of having to fix stinking thinking that far gone is that minor stuff, especially anything that is commonly blamed on “society”, is easy.

In recovery one of the first things we learn is the Serenity Prayer.  For this post though, we’re going to let God chill out a minute.  The prayer is simple and we’ve all heard it at one time or another.  If you’ve been living under a rock though, click here.

The prayer sets a personal order… of everything.  Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change (people, places and things other than me), the courage to change what I can (me), and the wisdom to know the difference.  The way I learned this was a bit extreme; Embrace this simple concept or die.  So embrace it I did.

I cannot change or control other people (you), places, or things (society, etc.).  I can change me.  All I need after that is to be able to discern which I cannot and which I can change.  This, I learned, was the path to happiness.

Next I learned to change the tape I played in my head when certain situations arose.  Being at the bar, even though it was just for a business lunch, made me feel uneasy.  Well, I can’t change the bar, a bar kind of is what it is.  I can change me though.  I can suggest an actual restaurant for that lunch, or make sure I’m on more secure footing with my program so I don’t feel the same pull to drink when I’m there.  The latter doesn’t always work though, some days are better than others.  The former works every time.

Now, let’s apply this to a non-drinking situation.  Let’s pick something “less controversial” so I can avoid a bunch of ridiculous comments:  “I’m not fast enough”.  Now this is going to take what we like to call “rigorous honesty”.

Okay, now I highly doubt someone told you you’re not fast enough (that’s rather rare), so the notion had to come from somewhere.  Where did it come from?  Did it come from inside your head?  Of course it did.  It came from you getting passed up or not being able to keep up at a ride/race/run and you not liking it so all of a sudden fast people are jerks and society sucks because the internet says you should be faster.

Here’s the trick:  What can I change?  Me, and only me.  Oh, you can launch some kind of “accept me as I am” campaign but in the end, nobody really cares because it was never about “society” in the first place.  Now, once we know that “the buck stops here”, we can get to work on fixing the tape we play in our head with an honest assessment of what’s actually happening up there and what we can do to fix it.  We have options:  Get faster, quit whatever activity it is we think we’re not fast enough at, or accept how we are.  Right?

Most people want the first option but don’t want to work to attain it – or worse, they want what they want right now and are willing to throw half-measures at it.  Let’s say, because we’re practicing honesty here, we’re going to try to get faster.  We know what this takes:  Harder work and less weight.  This will take some time though so we get to it.  Every time that thought pops into our head, “I’m not fast enough”, we assess the situation honestly.  Am I doing everything I can, today, to be faster?  Did I eat well?  Did I stick to my workout plan?  If I can answer yes to these questions, honestly, then the thought that “I’m not fast enough” loses its validity.  I’m doing everything I can today to get faster.  I may not be fast enough today, but I will be tomorrow.

Apply that same idea to anything:  I’m too heavy.  Have I done everything I can, today, to be at my best, healthiest weight?  If the answer is an honest “yes”, you’ll have no problems sleeping at night and you certainly won’t care what “society”, whatever that is, thinks because you’ve done the best you could today.

We get into trouble though, when the honest answer is no.

The single hardest thing about eating well and exercising is falling out of the routine.  With sobriety it’s a little easier to stay on the wagon because if I don’t, I’ll die.  It’s that simple.  Eventually my liver will shut down from the abuse and I’ll die a horrible, ugly death.  With fat, it doesn’t kill you that quick – and you normally won’t lose everything that is good in your life if you do get fat so it’s harder to keep at it.  There is another concept I can share about this that will explain why I am the way I am:  How well do you pay your bills?  Have you ever been late?  Let me tell you, I have.  The first time I was late paying a bill, I felt horrible.  The next time it was a little easier though, and the next, and the next…  Before long the creditors are calling.  One other example:  Have you ever cheated on your spouse?  How about a boyfriend or girlfriend?  The same concept applies.  It gets easier to do again after the first time and every time thereafter.  I cheated on a girlfriend when I was 18 years-old.  That was the last time, because I never wanted to feel that way again.  Had I not become the militant anti-cheater that I am, it would have become easier.  Once it gets easy, most never come back.

The same can be said for all of the examples I gave above.  Getting faster, getting thinner, getting fit… every time I cheat it gets a little easier to live with cheating.

This is why I don’t believe in cheat days.  You’re programming yourself to be okay with pigging out.  It’s just a matter of time before that one day a week becomes two, then three, then four – after all, it’s Christmas.  Before I know it, I’m back into binge eating and hating myself again.

You can blame “society” all you want in the end, but society will never fix you.  Change the tape that you play in your head and you can let society be society and get on with being happy.

The Best Reason there is to Maintain One’s Fitness through the Winter, or Alternately, I’m not Freaking Nuts for Riding a Trainer Six Days a Week… Really!

February, in Michigan, sucks.  February is the grayest, snowiest, coldest month of them all.

This year we actually had a reasonable day, without a lot of snow already on the ground to melt, and it was taken full advantage of.  

My wife and I rode with Phill and Brad for 18 on the dirt roads at 9.  It was enjoyable, serene and fun.  The dirt roads were dry so we weren’t contending with muck and the temperature, at a balmy 36 degrees (2C), doesn’t get any better for a February.  Sadly, I was hoping for 22-24 but Phill got a flat and then another flat in his only spare tube so he had to stop every three miles to pump his tire up.  We just took it home.

This is post doesn’t end there though because 18 miles is less than half the story….

My buddy Mike had to miss out on the morning festivities because  he was babysitting for his daughter.  When I walked in the door, I dialed him up to find he hadn’t left for his ride yet.  We made plans to take the road bikes out, in a mere 30 minutes… In February!  I believe this could have been my first February road bike ride ever.  Definitely my first “above freezing”, non-sucky road bike ride in February.

My friends, a two-a-day workout in February is entirely un-freakin’-necessary.  However, when you love cycling and  good times in February are few and far between, going for a ride on the road bike is on par with a puppy hugging a kitten whilst your wife brings you a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk.  It’s pretty freaking good.

I chose the Trek because the roads were a tad wet and I’m just not willing to take the good bike out yet.

I rode to the end of my road and waited a few minutes for Mike.  As I’ve done hundreds of times before, when he was a few hundred meters out I started down the road keeping an easy 15 mph pace so he could catch up.  As he closed the gap I picked up the pace.  17 mph, 18… 19 and 20.  21 mph and I kept it there for a couple of miles till Mike came around me and took it down to 17-18.  This is when I realized I was being a bit of a dope.  Base miles, no need to put the hammer down.

Once we hit the quiet back roads Mike pulled up along side me and we continued side by side talking and laughing like it was summertime.

It was glorious, really.  The sun was starting to peek through the clouds and the temperature had risen above 40!  There was no contesting City Limits signs, no punishing pace and little need to get into the drops (except for the three miles we spent directly into the wind).  Just me and my buddy, cheating winter for 22-1/2 miles.  I ended up with just over 40 miles on the day.

There once was a time I’d take the winter off, back when I was still running.  The year before I switched to cycling exclusively I started riding a trainer through the winter.  I often complain about the trainer by calling it soul-crushingly boring (in fact, I’ve written that enough that my phone anticipated the term, I only had to type in “soul”) but I’ll take a little boring when I can have a day like yesterday without having to work up to it.

Winter makes its return today so it’ll be back on the trainer for an hour or so but that’s just fine with me.  Next weekend’s weather is supposed to be even better.

Good times are here again, and because I push on the trainer through the winter, I’m ready for them.

The Importance of a Good Road Bike Frame in Relation to Speed;  A Stiff Frame is Great to Find, Kinda…

I’ve written a lot of posts about my road bikes.  About the upgrades, the order of importance I placed on those upgrades, and the pieces of the puzzle that I was happiest to spend a ridiculous amount of money on.  What I haven’t written about, I think ever, was one of the final contributing factors that really sealed the deal for my purchase of a Specialized Venge Comp.  If I remember the review correctly, they suggested that, for the money ($3,100 at the time), you couldn’t go wrong because even if you took all of the pieces and parts off, you still end up with a world class frame for Three Grand.  I liked that “world class” bit.  Put in perspective, a Pinarello F8 frame starts at Five Grand.  How about a Time Izon?  $3,200.  A Bianchi Infinito?  $3,700  See where this is going?  I got a whole bike for less – and a couple of the top sprinters on the Champs Elysees were riding that frame (though with better carbon fiber – 11r for theirs, 10r for mine, but I need that extra “r” like I need a hit in the head):

Eventually I’ll pony up for a really nice set of carbon clincher wheels but I’m not holding my breath.  My wife isn’t either.

That out of the way, I was reading a post a while back that had me beside myself that I’d missed something so blatantly obvious in all of my musings about what I’d learned over the last several years of cycling that I had to give it some mention.

The author’s bicycle “order of importance” list, pertaining to the parts on his bicycle that are most important to his racing, had the bike frame first and the wheels, amazingly, were down toward the bottom of his list.  Wheels were toward the top of my list and the frame didn’t even make the list.

In thinking my cycling experience through, I never even thought about the importance of a good frame because all the while I’ve been riding on two world-class frames.  I’ve never really ridden a bad frame.  In other words, I’ve had a blind spot – in assuming that a frame was a frame.

With equal wheels (actually with the same wheels), riding in a group, there is little difference between the two bikes shown above.  I do have to work just a little harder on the Trek, but I can ride it just as fast and just as far as I can the Venge.  The difference is noticeable but not extreme… until we start talking about sprinting.

Where the two frames part company is during sprints.  I can launch the Venge.  That’s the best way to put it.  When I get out of the saddle and triple my power output in two pedal strokes, the bike shoots forward.  On the Trek I simply can’t duplicate the results I get on the Venge.  We’re talking on the order of 3-5mph slower in a sprint and there’s a lag in the surge of the bike when the power is put down as well.  This is a problem with the frame (all of the components and bearings are in good working order)

The lag and flex of the frame is so bad, depending on the company I’m keeping, I’ll change roles from sprint to lead out if I’m on the the 5200.  I simply can’t put down enough power to overcome the flex in the frame.  I’ve written about this difference in frames before but never expanded on the idea because, truth be told and not to put too fine a point on it, I was ignorant.

The Trek 5200 was a gold-standard race frame from the late ’90’s and early 2000’s but it can’t hold a candle to my modern Venge frame, at least in a sprint.

Thinking about this in terms of my own ignorance, having never ridden on an inferior frame, I have to concede to the idea that the frame choice, for those who are contemplating getting into racing or even contesting City Limits signs on a club ride, matters.

The problem facing manufacturers has been making the frame compliant enough to dampen road vibration and bumps while being stiff enough to take immense force on the crank arms at acceleration.  Add to that, weight and it gets tricky.

Interestingly, my wife rides a brilliant Specialized Alias.  I’ve had occasion to test it for her a few times (my wife is only a few inches shorter than I am) and can tell you, without doubt, her bike is considerably better at smoothing out rough roads.  “Vastly” might actually be a better word than “considerably”, it’s that good.

Where this gets interesting is that a bike that is smooth on something like chip-seal asphalt will improve overall power output over the long haul.  Having ridden an ultra-stiff Cannondale SR-400 aluminum racing frame that transferred the vibration of rolling over a pebble a little larger than a grain of sand straight to the legs and kiester, rolling over chip-seal roads was demoralizing.  Trying to keep the power to the crank while being jarred was no fun.  I did it, but it sucked.  Going from that bike to my Trek 5200 was like switching from riding a jackhammer to Harry Potter’s Firebolt.  I actually paid attention to certain sections of my ride routes that had me gritting my teeth on the Cannondale… on the 5200 I was two miles an hour faster with the same effort.  My overall speed improved by almost a mile an hour (as tracked by Endomondo).

This gets really fun when the Venge is thrown in though.  I’ve already stated that the frame is stiffer which makes it a better bike for sprinting, right?  Well the Venge is also slightly more compliant than the 5200 when it comes to road chatter too.  I don’t know how Specialized did it but they did.  The Venge is compliant where it needs to be and stiff everywhere else.

That said, once I’ve floated all of that, what advice could I give about choosing the right frame for someone else?

This is my conundrum.  I simply don’t have anything.  I got lucky.  The bike I fell in love with in the display just happened to be exactly the right bike for me.  That said, I do have resources, so I’ll get to work on coming up with something.

To be continued…

By the way, as a side note, there will be those who will suggest that installing extra-wide tires, say 28’s or 32’s, and using lower tire pressure will lessen the harshness of the ride.  This is absolutely true.  On the other hand, everything you gain will work against you in a sprint (equal and opposite reaction and all – when you push down on the back as you’re lifting on the handlebar, that rear tire is going to flex under the pressure).  Not only that, those big tires won’t fit on most road bikes anyway.  My Venge is limited to a 25 or 26 mm tire (I run, currently, 24’s).

Fit Recovery on Cycling: How Fast is Fast Enough on a Bicycle?

How fast is fast enough on a bicycle?

There are too many variables to even begin to answer that question in a blog post.  The easy way out, and certainly the funny way out, is to answer simply, “If you have to ask, you’re not there yet.  Pedal harder and/or faster.”

What are your goals for cycling?  Is it just to shed a few unwanted pounds?  How about a lot of unwanted pounds?

Perfect, the correct answer is faster than you want to go.  If your idea of a good ride is 10 miles in an hour, a lot faster than you want to go.

How about if you want to hang with the next group up at the club ride?  How fast is fast enough?

The answer is, “Fast enough to keep up.”

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Here’s the ugly truth, all BS aside:  Until you get to the Cat 3 racers (some would argue Cat 2, and I’d probably grudgingly concede that), the main thing getting in the way of getting faster is “want to” and too much butt.  It’s not a magic bike or a magic cadence, or [insert anything that isn’t “pedal harder” here].  It’s effort.

I’d love to pump you up and give you hope of a magical pedal stroke that’ll make you fast as Sagan but the bitch is, if I want to be as fast as Sagan I have to work harder than he does, it’s as simple as that – and that’s where my “want to” hits a big frickin’ wall.  See, if you look at it from an obtuse point of view, you could be under the mistaken impression that one simply has to be willing to hurt equally as bad as the next group up, but that’s not the case at all.  I also have to make up the little bit I’m short too – in other words, I’ve gotta hurt worse than everyone I want to keep up with.  They’re already used to that effort.

I am not immune to the Idontwanna bug either.  I haven’t gotten to the point where I can’t get any faster but I’m beginning to know my limits and I’m quite okay with them.

The truth is, I’m closer to 50 than I am 40 and nobody gives points (or cash for that matter) for being the fastest 45-49 year-old in Genesee County.  I have a great group of guys I ride with who are good people, non-drinkers who happen to be especially fun to ride with.   All I have to do is keep up with them.

What doesn’t matter is some societal figment of my imagination in which I have some mistaken assumption that others look down on me because I’m not a little faster (who would want to live like that is beyond me).

What matters is a smile, because life is hard enough.  I don’t need to make my playtime a job too.  I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t try our best.  By all means we should push our limits, right up until it isn’t fun anymore.  Then back off a hair and call it good.  Happy, fit and healthy will beat fast every day of the week.  And twice on Sunday:

A Rare, Perfect Day… on the Mountain Bikes!

I’ve never been shy about the fact that I’m a road cyclist first.  Since I bought my first road bike mountain bikes have taken a back seat…. on a really long bus.

I like the speed most of all.  I’ve had my road bikes over 55 mph, heck most of my Tuesday night sprints on flat ground are close to 35…  I love fast.  I feel like a kid with a toy so exclusive, most people can’t even imagine spending on a bike what I happily laid down for mine.

For years I’ve ridden mountain bikes when it’s just too nasty for a road bike.  Too cold, too wet, too much snow…  It’s a rare day I’ll take a mountain bike out over a road bike.  Yesterday was one of them.

The temperature was just below freezing but we had worries about residual ice on the road so for safety’s sake we rolled out chubby tire bikes.  My wife, my friends Matt, Chuck, Phill, Mike, and I rolled out heading west into a fairly gnarly headwind.  I worked my way to the front (we still draft, even on the mountain bikes – “You can put a roadie on a mountain bike…”) and went for the first Township sign just a mile from my house.  Phill was coming up hard on my left so I put all of the ass I had into my sprint.  I pulled so hard on an up-stroke that I pulled my right foot right out of the pedal.  Phill got me at the line.

Mrs. Bgddy turned back a mile later and headed for home, early.  We continued on.

He got me at the next one too.  I’d been up front pulling for two miles before the sprint and I simply ran out of gas before I hit the line.  The same thing happened on the third.  Too much time up front, but I hammered them pretty good on the way to the sign.

We turned around and I took the front again, this time with a cross tailwind. I was really starting to get my stride, as they say.  I pulled for two or three miles and headed to the back.  I’d stay in the draft for a mile or two and work my way back up front again.

We were coming up to the next sign, a County sign this time, and even though I’d been up front at 21-22 mph I wasn’t going to lose another sign.  Chuck pulled along side me and started a conversation so I chatted with him for a second.  Then I heard gears shifting behind me.  Chuck was in mid-sentence when I up-shifted and launched my sprint, this time being careful not to pull too hard with my back foot.  I crossed the line a full two bikes in front of Phill and 100 meters in front of the group.

Mike came charging by me trying for the next town line sign, only a quarter of a mile after the county sign.  I’d taken the Genesee County sign at 26 mph so I let Mike take Gaines.  I still had two more I to get on the way home.

We were heading west now, with a great tailwind and we kept up a ridiculous pace for so early in the season.  I was at the front again and we were holding down a great but sustainable pace.

To make a long story short, I took the last two signs, launching from second and lead bike respectively and got them by a goodly margin.

I feel like my trainer workouts are going quite well as I was feeling exceptionally awesome the whole last half of the ride and we pulled into the driveway with 28-1/2 miles in 1:58 and some change and I could have easily added on another ten or fifteen miles and I spent a ton of time up front.  There’s nothing like going into a new season, with more than a month to go before the real mileage starts adding up, knowing you’re in good shape already.

Getting the “Feel” of a Bicycle Right… After It’s been Fitted to You.

There is one trick I used to getting a bike to “feel” right after it fits right.

I bought and installed a new stem on my old mountain bike yesterday, the final piece in getting my fourth and.last bike dialed in….

I had a little, stubby 60 mm stem that I threw on the bike just to get it on the road.  I don’t ride the bike much but when it gets nasty out it’s good to have.

The bike used to numb my hands within ten miles until I dropped the stem some 15-20 mm to allow me a more aggressive position on the bike.  I just did it for fun, just to see how ridiculously low i could go on a mountain bike but my hands no longer got numb.  This little perk was entirely unexpected.  After a while, as I put more miles on the bike, I  couldn’t help but feel too cooped up in the cockpit.  I needed to stretch out a little bit so after quite a bit of consternation about whether or not I should blow any money on the bike I went from a 60 mm stem to 110.

The same went for my 29’er Rockhopper.  100 mm stem (the 29’ers are a little different setup because of the bigger wheels, even though the frame is a half-inch smaller), slammed the stem and it’s a different bike altogether:

As opposed to when I first brought it home:

There are a few things that didn’t change though.  Saddle height and the position (fore/aft) are where they are once they’re dialed in.  After that, it’s all cockpit adjustments.  Longer or shorter stem, more or less rise in the stem or more/fewer spacers under the stem.

Here’s what I did to dial in all of my bikes, except one:

My good road bike was put through a fit wringer.  Three hours, lasers, video, tape measures, dexterity and flexibility tests… all by a guy who built world record class frames for a living.  I went through it all and the bike is fitted so well it feels like a part of me when I ride it.  After 11,000 miles I can’t imagine it could get any better.  From there, I transferred numbers to my other rain bike and set that one up myself, as close as I could get that one to my Venge:

Once I had the 5200 dialed in (and checked by the aforementioned professional who confirmed that the bike was as close as it could be to the Venge), the next step in the formula was simple:  Add miles. 

I developed a keen feel for the two bikes.  I can feel the power and torque moving from my legs to the crankset and to the wheels.  My hands feel equally at home on any position on the bars; drops, hoods or bar top (though admittedly the Venge is just a hair better than the Trek on the hoods).  

I rode the road bikes for two years before I started tinkering with the setup on the mountain bikes.

The Specialized was first.  Again, with the saddle locations set, all that was left was to tinker with the cockpit.

The first thing I didn’t like about the feel of the Specialized was the wide handlebars.  I don’t know when extra-wide bars became popular but I don’t like them.  While they’re good for balance, they suck for getting around trees on a single track.  The bar needed to go.

The second thing that had to go was the short stem which had me feeling like I had to be shoe horned into the cockpit.  I put the old stem that came with the Venge, a high-end 100mm job, onto the Rockhopper and I put the shorter bar on that.  The ride was much improved but something still wasn’t right after several hundred miles.  That led to slamming the stem and another testing phase.  That turned out to be just what the cyclist ordered.  I could tell within 20 miles I’d hit it just right, just by feel.

Next was the Trek.  Originally I was just going to relegate the bike to a backup for my daughers’ friends when they needed an extra bike but when my wife and I started putting in more winter miles I saw a use for it… that bike takes the abuse.  Wet, nasty, muddy, salt or snow covered roads.  Not to mention the fact that, with its 26″ wheels and geometry to match, it’s a punchier, quicker ride.  That said, the bike took a lot of tinkering to get right.

The saddle was set properly, then it was on to the cockpit.  I went through the same process but skipped the longer stem because I didn’t have one laying around – that modification would cost me a few bucks so I figured I’d hit that last.  Dropping the stem helped a lot but it was still off and no matter how hard I tried to be okay with the setup, being crunched into the cockpit drove me nuts.  I finally bit the bullet and bought a used 110 mm stem at the local shop.  Now it’s perfect.

My trick is knowing how I should feel on a bike in the first place and there are three things that make that possible:  A shit-ton of miles, having a perfectly set-up bike in the first place, and paying attention to what perfect feels like.  After that, all that’s left is knowing how to get from what I have to what I want.  Now, to an extent, the body will adapt to what one chooses to put miles on, within reason.  That’s only within reason though.  If the saddle is an inch too high, you’re simply going to hurt, all the time.  If it’s too low, you’ll lack power (and your knees will hurt in both cases – front and rear of the knee respectively).

Truth told, I could have taken all three of my other bikes to the shop to get fitted up.  I could have had an expert dial them right in, it just would have taken a bit more money but a lot less time.  Only two things I had to consider: 

  1. If I pay someone to do it for me, how will I ever learn to do it myself?
  2. Where’s the fun in #1?!

There is No Struggle when it comes to My Fitness and Taking Care of Me.

When I chose the path of recovery from addiction over being addicted I chose a path that requires maintenance.  When my wife chose me, she understood that this path requires that maintenance (not only was she on board, she is anything but shy about letting me know I should look at whether I have work to do in that regard).

My fitness is no different.  My remaining at a healthy weight, fit and trim requires time.  Between 45 minutes and an hour, each and every day of the week, minus a day off every now and again.  I will bend over backwards to fit it in too.  First thing in the morning, later in the afternoon, whatever it takes.

Typically speaking, I am an “all or nothing” kind of guy.  I’m just pointing this out for any new visitors of course.  Fitness, however, is often a lot like recovery when viewed in context because it takes a considerable amount of effort to start and then to maintain the lifestyle.  My chosen kick, of late, is cycling (and I certainly hope it remains that way for a long time to come) and breaks that mould.

As a final piece of the background puzzle, my happiness and my recovery depend on my being active.  I’ve done lazy and it just doesn’t work.  My wife will attest to this unequivocally.  Riding a bike, for just an hour a day during the week and a few hours each day over the weekends, gives me time to clear my head, dial in my focus, and put a smile on my face.  I don’t stay fit to chase a good body, though this is a welcome side effect.  I choose fitness because it makes me happy, and it works.

Too often I hear people make the simple reality that it isn’t all that difficult to fit a simple hour of fitness into their day more difficult than it has to be.  While I understand this and often struggle to work around my other responsibilities as well, I don’t participate in using anything as an excuse for extended absences from my bike (injuries excepted, though I haven’t experienced one in several years).  Over the last 14 years, I’ve found a way to make it work.

My wife, kids, employers, family and friends all need a focused, happy, healthy me.  Without my fitness I’m tired, sore, slow and worse, old.  I can’t keep up my kids, my work or life.  Without my health I’m doomed to blowing a small fortune on doctors, medication, and unintended side effects.  It’s not even necessary to explain happiness.

My only problem, if I’m honest, is in my head.

Living a fit life is not always easy and the one thing that saves me is the fact that I absolutely love riding a bike.  As a runner I struggled with “want to”.  I had to rely on friends to get through stretches where I just wanted to polish the couch with my butt.  I had to throw every trick in the book at it.

Thankfully all of that angst is in the past and I’ve managed to get in with a great bunch of cyclists.  Even if I hadn’t, riding solo or with my wife would be good enough.  I have attained the holy grail of fitness;  I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t have to stay fit.  Fit happens as a result of simply wanting to go for a ride.