I had it Wrong About Cycling; There can be a Balance between Speed and Fun. It Doesn’t have to be All Speed All the Time.
Over the last five years I’ve worked hard at getting faster on my bike(s), concentrated so intensely on being the fastest I could be, that I looked at my hobby with tunnel vision. My most popular post, out of more than 4,000 that I’ve written, is about how I got fast, to a 23 mph average.
That tunnel vision served me well. I did get fast. After three or four years I got my “cycling legs”, and now I’m fit enough to really enjoy riding and helping the group I’m riding with.
Last year, after trying to hang with the racers for several years, I decided that I didn’t want to work hard enough to get there, and I was close. A few friends of mine and I built a second group for the club ride on Tuesday night and I was free…
I worked hard with the new group. I became one of their horses and spent a lot of time up front. Not only did that keep my fitness up, the effort improved it. At the same time I went from constantly being on the edge of my ability to being able to actually enjoy the effort.
This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy cycling the prior years, because I did. I just enjoyed the effort more after the change.
Then there are the weekend rides. Over the last three years there were five or six of us who rode regularly on the weekends together. This year, we are between nine and twelve on any given weekend morning and we’re actually drawing a few of the A guys who are willing to sacrifice a little bit of pace to enjoy the ride. That was completely unexpected.
I always assumed that once you could keep the pace with the racers, that’s always where you’d prefer to ride. That was my blind spot. The few faster guys that we’ve had join us have been surprisingly enthusiastic about being able to just have fun rather than race all of the time.
Now, this does produce trouble now and again. Their cruising pace is pretty hard for some of our normal riders so we have to dial them back from time to time. Where I misunderstood was in thinking being held back would suck and would compromise fitness (if you’re being dialed back, you obviously don’t work as hard). The counter is to spend a lot of time up front, problem solved.
There are limits, of course. Using myself as an example, I’m good from a 17 mph average to 22. 23 is a lot of work and 16 is too easy.
A couple of years ago, everything was 20 mph average or better. It was all go, all the time. This year we’re anywhere between 17-1/2 and 21 for an average and I’m enjoying cycling a lot more.
Now the question is, if I hadn’t been all go all the time from the beginning, would I be having as much fun today? Now that’s a good question, and I’ll answer it like this: Without the fitness gained at the beginning, I’d be working harder now and not enjoying the ride as much. There is no doubt, though, having fun and enjoying cycling is way more fun than always being on the edge, focusing only on the ass and wheel in front of me.
I tend to laugh at people who whine about getting dropped at a club ride. Our club ride is “Everyone Gets Dropped” so I got dropped every week for four or five years before I wised up and formed The B Group™, but I never whined about getting dropped. I knew my fitness, or lack thereof, was the problem. For the whiners, however, their complaints will invariably devolve into “why can’t they just slow down!”
Why indeed. They don’t slow down because half of their fun is going fast. Waiting for a slow whiner is most definitely not fun. So, first, don’t be that guy/girl. If you don’t want to get dropped, don’t be that person because a few in the group will attack just to drop you. If you think that’s mean and nasty, try riding around with another hostage taker who is just like you, only 5 miles an hour slower and babysit them for 30 miles. You’ll know exactly what I mean.
Second, is be a safe, courteous cyclist in a group. If you’re not thinking about those around you, those around you are biding their time to attack your @$$ and leave you behind. Know that this is happening. Does someone from the group always attack right after you take a long pull up front? Guess what… It’s possibly because you’re an unsafe @$$hole. If you don’t want to get dropped, don’t be that guy. I specified “guy” because the vast majority of women don’t act like that – at least I’ve never seen it. Ladies, if you’re an unsafe @$$hole who doesn’t care about the cyclists you ride with, please leave me a comment below so I can put that little bit of sexism to bed… But wait, is it really sexism if you think women typically act better than men in a given situation? I suppose that might be reverse sexism, no? Anyway, I digress… Don’t be the unsafe @$$hole of the group – or if you are, you’d better be the strongest in the group. We have one in our group and I’ll attack him on every hill we hit because he sucks on hills and he’s dangerous to ride with. We’ve all tried talking to him but he just won’t change – so we drop him. Every time he shows up. It is
almost a game at this point. I almost feel bad for the dude, but making it home safe is more important.
Third, don’t be the one who always shows up late, lest you arrive one day to find the group decided to leave five minutes early and your butt’s out. You’ll be dropped before you even get your shoes on!
Fourth, Aero bars. I understand the attraction to them, I do. With the right setup a road rig can be made faster with them. Know this: If you ride on the bars anywhere but the very front of the pack or the very last position and a touch off the back of the pack – anywhere but those two positions, what it says about you is that you are either arrogant or an idiot (usually both). You’re too far from the brakes. Period. You will be dropped at the first opportunity.
Fifth, and this is a big one, don’t have a gnarly, squeaky bike. If it’s squeaking or creaking and you don’t know why, take it to the shop to get it fixed! Nothing is worse than riding behind, “squeak, squeak, squeak, click, squeak, squeak, squeak, click” all day long.
Sixth, and finally, don’t be stinky. I don’t care if you’re a hippie, use some pit stick and wash your cycling kit before you ride with the gang. Nothing is more off-putting than riding behind someone who hasn’t used deodorant in six months. Well, I say nothing, but a stinky @$$/b@lls/v@g is worse. If you can smell it, everyone else can, and it’s even gnarlier to them. Trust me. Unless you live in France.
To wrap this post up with a nice little bow, if any of this post pissed you off… Well, Sparky, you’ve got some work to do. Get after it. Otherwise, keep riding alone.
It was supposed to be raining yesterday afternoon and I was supposed to have a day off. Mostly sunny, 85 degrees.
I have this thing; I can’t take a sunny day off. It is what it is. I spend all winter cooped up, there’s simply no way I can look at a sunny, mid ’80’s day and say, “Nah, I’ll couch it and watch the baseball game.” Not after three months of snow, ice and bike riding in freezing temperatures and riding on the modern equivalent of a hamster wheel.
So I suited up, prepped my bike and geared up.
30 mph wind gusts. The first mile was slow but fine. The second, well look at the trees and flag. I almost was blown to a stop, then off the road so I turned around and headed home. There’s a difference between dedicated and stupid, and I do know where that line is drawn, even if I try to dance on it.
So I was three slow miles from an actual day off. I’ll call that good enough for government work.
I made it home a little early yesterday and I had every intention of not riding a bike.
Look at me. Every intention.
It was windy (20+ mph). But it was sunny. It was hot. But it was warm! It wasn’t raining and there’s a chance of showers this evening. I had to do it. Had to.
Seriously though, at least it was slow(ish).
Besides, my bike had developed an interesting click when I pedaled under power. It sounded like dirt in the crank but the shop recommended a few things to try first. I tried three new things and I wanted to see if any of them worked.
One of two things did the trick. I had two sticking keys in the free hub (the free hub holds the cassette on the wheel. When you stop pedaling, that clicking you hear is the teeth in the free hub). I cleaned those keys and got them to stop sticking and put the rear huh back together (I think that’s what did it).
Then I looked at the spokes. Where they cross on the rear wheel, they tend to rub together. They can wear a groove that will click when the wheel goes around. I did find two crossing spokes that were grooved. I put a piece of paper between the spokes….
Whichever it was, the click is gone.
So maybe I’ll get a day off today… and maybe not. I need some rain! Chuckle.
¡No Mas! ¡No Mas! Listening to One’s Body Sounds Cool, but Every Now and Again I Need to Tell Mine What’s What.
Okay, I’m tired. I know it, even if I’m not riding like it. Most days I’d tell you, I simply need a recovery ride, chill out a little bit, sit up and spin my legs… I might get away with that, but I really don’t know.
Check it out:
Last Friday: 39 miles
Last Saturday: 60 miles
Sunday: 49 miles
Monday: 32 miles
Tuesday: 39 miles
Better, averages, in order of appearance: 18.4, 19.5, 17.6 merciful mph, 19, 20.4. It’s the last two combined with the distance. 219 miles in five days is a lot, but at those speeds and this early in the season? Those are August numbers…
After just 16 days in a row, I’m taking a day off (it just happens to coincide with my youngest daughter’s band concert). I’ve already gone 60 days in a row this year but this feels different. There’s nothing wrong, really, in fact I feel quite strong and rode very well last night. I just want to keep that going.
In this case, my body is saying, “Roll with it, big fella. Keep riding.” Rather than listen to it, I’m taking a day off. At least I think I am, as of 4:30 this morning…
Often, I can buy into the whole “listen to my own body” thing, as long as I am truthful in my interpretation of what it’s saying. Too often I see people choose to confuse “lazy” as a means of “listening”. I worked very hard over the winter to be fit this spring. My strategy paid off and I want to keep it rolling and in this case rather than listen to my body, which is technically saying “go”, I think I’m going to tell it to chill out a minute.
Maybe you think I’m right, maybe wrong…. In the end, what matters is what I think and what I can get behind – my end goal is always stronger, faster, fitter. In this instance, a day off makes sense.
The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: How to Find YOUR Proper “Level” for Your Saddle (Or More Aptly Stated, How I Found Mine)
Or conversely, How we ride on those hard freaking saddles all day long!
If you listen to enough sources about how to properly level a saddle, you can come up with so many different answers your head will spin. You’ll be left dazed, confused and babbling, wondering just what the hell to do!
Fear not, my friends! There is a simple solution. Well, kind of simple. And kind of not. Really. Err….
The owner of our local shop is a “level it front to back and call it good” guy. That works for the Selle Italia saddle on my Trek:
That method does not work for the Specialized Romin saddle on my Venge though. Not by a long shot:
The flat saddle on the Trek is different from the one on the Venge. You can see the dip in the middle/back of the saddle:
That little dip is the sweet spot on the saddle. Now, another common way to level that saddle is to level the nose, or the front half of the saddle with a spirit level, but that’s not exactly right either – unless you’re a pro with a ridiculous drop from the saddle to the handlebar.
I only have 4″ (10.2 cm) of drop from the saddle to the handlebar. I say “only” because 4″ by pro standards isn’t much. By amateur standards, it’s a lot. If I were to level the front of the saddle, I would have to lower the nose another 3-4 mm. Did it, tried it, felt like I was being pushed to the front of the saddle and every couple of minutes I’d have to scoot my butt back to the sweet spot.
Once I had the front half of the saddle level, I brought the nose up a millimeter or two, rode it like that for two days, then raised the nose again and rode it for two more days… That’s the last time the saddle was touched. My saddle, that style of saddle, is meant to cradle the cyclist, whether on the hoods or in the drops. The front and back of the saddle support me just enough so I’m neither sliding forward nor does the nose feel like it’s jamming into my…. um… err…. gorunias.
What’s a gorunia you ask? (Go-roon-ya)
Well, you get kicked in ’em, it’s gorunia (gonna ruin ya)…
Anywho, with the contoured saddles, the idea is not to level the saddle but to set it so the saddle cradles you while you ride. It takes a little figuring out to get right but once you do, my God is it sweet.
The process of setting it is very simple. Level it (either back to front or just level the front half). Ride the bike. If it feels like the saddle is pushing you forward, tilt the nose up a little bit and ride some more. If the nose feels like its digging into your nether region, especially when you’re in the drops, lower the nose a little bit and ride. Rinse and repeat until your saddle cradles you. .. At that point, don’t touch it!
The Title is a blast from the past, referring to a Crocodile poacher…
My friend, Chuck, sent a text out about a new ride a few towns south of us. With the club ride tonight, I wasn’t looking for anything fast. His text billed it as a “no drop” ride and my daughter was competing in a track meet at the very school we were meeting at. Mrs. Bgddy, God bless her, suggested I ride…
Sometimes fast just finds a way. ‘Er somethin’.
It started out simple and slow enough. We headed out of the parking lot and within three-quarters of a mile were in the middle of our first of many climbs. The group broke up a bit on the climb but we regrouped three miles later.
We rolled just as soon as the last straggler rolled into the lot.
Within a half-mile, we were slowed. The straggler threw his chain. He ended up cutting his ride short. We were off again, and the speed built from there. It felt like we hit every hill in a 20 mile radius, not on a main artery or freeway. The only time I climb more is when we head down to the mountains in Georgia (USA) or when we head to the “up north” half of Michigan.
The speed built up slowly, kinda like the story of boiling a frog. It was easy at first but it just kept getting faster until all of a sudden, a real ride had broken out.
There were, apparently, two or three problems…. maybe four, on second thought. First, we had a legitimate horse among us. I was the second problem. I’m not losing his wheel. The third problem was Chuck. That dude is nothing short of amazing on a hill. Stupid fast. The fourth went to several guys who were quite adept at sitting in so that we never really got split up.
I’d figured we would put in 26-ish miles. We ended up with 32. With all of that climbing, it being a no-drop ride and considering I’ve got a big ride tonight, I’d have been happy with a 16 mph average. My wife and I ride many of those roads in the fall and spring ending up with a 15 mph average that I was plenty happy with….
19 miles per hour. 32 miles in an 1:41.
Coolest thing ever, and that’s why I ride as hard as I do…. Every once in a while I’m around when a real ride breaks out. It’s awesome to be a part of it.
We were cruising about 21 mph into the mildest breeze we’ve had this year, maybe 3 mph.
It was kind of cool to start, but just warm enough to take the arm warmers off when we stopped about 19 miles in. If there ever was a perfect day for cycling, we were smack-dab at the beginning of it.
Put it thusly, the wind was so little a factor, it didn’t matter if it came at us cross. We just lined up single file and rode. That cloud on the right? That was the first, and last, of the day.
Nine showed up for our Saturday morning invite-only ride so nobody had to spend too much time up front, unless they wanted to and there was plenty of cover for the few who wanted to stay at the back.
The group held together for the full 59 miles, start to finish. 20-21 into the wind, 21-23 mph on the way home. It was a perfect day. Not too fast, not too slow, no struggling to keep up, sunny, breezy and warm but not near too warm. 59 miles in 3 hours, 5 minutes – 19.46 mph average. Perfect.
Every day on the bike is a good day, but every once in a while you get one of those perfect “unicorn” days that helps you remember how lucky you are to be a cycling enthusiast.
This post is about my experience, strength and hope. My results may differ from yours.
I rode my bicycle more than 8,500 miles last year. The year before was 7,500. The year before was 6,000. The two years before that topped 5,500. Add my miles up over the last six years and I’m well into my second time around the world (38,000 miles and change). I ride an average of better than six days a week, but I never considered what I do “extreme”. Intense, maybe, but not extreme. Extreme was for those crazy people who are running marathons through the desert, or who take a couple of weeks to cycle across the US… Not me.
The last time I sat in a doctor’s office (something like 3 or four years ago), after having a full blood workup, my doctor said, “Whatever it is you’re doing, keep doing it”. Cholesterol, blood sugar, my “inflammation” numbers… by every measure I was extremely healthy. In that case, extreme was good.
Going back three doctors and a decade there has been concern over my EKG readings though. The first cause for concern was the “spike”. My “spike” is big. Really big. The spike led to an ultrasound of my heart and an “all clear”. I even called my doctor back to make sure I’d heard right in his office, that I was clear to continue exercising as I had been. The worry was that my heart was enlarged. While it is a little bigger than normal, it was discovered that it’s not really that big, it’s just strong.
Over the ensuing years I cut days off the bike to a point where I’ll now go for a month or two without taking a day off. I simply substitute easy days for taking a day off (three easy days a week). That’s not “extreme”, right?
Well, maybe not. It’s the duration.
According to my new doctor, who I know personally and have for years, and whom I trust to look out for me, there’s a new understanding that’s come about over the last three to five years about what happens after that spike in the EKG that I mentioned earlier. I can’t remember all of the jargon, but there’s a drop after the spike (which is normal) but there’s a small rise after that drop followed by another small drop that shouldn’t be there. It was once thought that the small rise was benign. Sadly for me, “once” is a very big word in that last sentence.
Unfortunately, because Government-down Obamacare sucks, I can’t be referred to a cardiologist to have my ticker checked out because I’m too healthy. While my EKG shows signs for concern, I’m not exhibiting any negative symptoms or problems related to that little rise…. On the other hand and thankfully, Democrats didn’t go full stupid for a Canadian-style socialized scheme so I can still pay for the consult and new ultrasound with a cardiologist out of my pocket. In the next few weeks I’ll be going to see a cardiologist about how to make my ticker keep up with the rest of me. Where this gets really fun, if there is something wrong with my pump, we’ll catch it early enough that the available treatment options will work excellently because I’m so damned healthy.
Anyway, back to the main topic: How much fitness is “extreme”? I don’t freaking know. I always figured I was a little above average and maybe slightly nutty, but extreme? We’re not even that fast, above average, yes, but I know a whole class of guys who ride a lot faster than my friends and I do… Then my buddy Mike pointed out over the phone yesterday, “Yeah, but it’s not about the speed. We’re out there doing a hundred miles in five hours.” And that’s precisely when I saw me as I am. If the average person puts in 30-45 minutes a day, five days a week… measured against that… Their week is my Saturday. Or Sunday. In those terms, I may not be hardcore, like someone who races, but “extreme” is fair.
Finally, and to wrap this up with a neat little bow, I still have a lot to learn about what is going on with me, whether it’s just genetics that is messing with me or whether I even have a problem to begin with. There is one thing that keeps ringing in my melon, what my doctor said about how much I choose to exercise or ride my bikes… Once you go from a normal amount of exercise to the extreme, the risks not only outweigh the benefits, there are no additional benefits.
That one hurts, and it fits me perfectly.
So, what’s next for me? Well, it’ll be that appointment with a cardiologist and I’ll wait for his recommendations – and I’ll follow them. If that means slowing down or limiting the length of time I’m on the bike, I’ll do whatever I have to for longevity. I like riding fast. I like being in the upper crust of endurance cyclists. I like long rides with my wife and friends. I also believe in one important axiom a friend of mine passed on to me: “It’s real easy to talk tough about death, until the bus shows up for you.”