We had two of the stranger weather days I’ve ever seen. Storms just popped up and sat there. No wind, no movement. My wife and I were leaving the meeting place from the Tuesday night ride, without having actually ridden.
Dude, I’ll do a lot to get a bike ride in, but not in that. Five miles south, the sun was shining. When we got home, with the sun shining, my wife and I got ready and headed out. A mile north and two east and it was sprinkling with the sun shining.
Dejected, we turned it around and headed home. Where the sun was shining. Three miles made that much of a difference.
Rather than go in and write the evening off, I grabbed my Allen wrench set and we took to dialing in my wife’s new saddle. My wife is insanely difficult with saddle location. Think the princess and the pea and translate that to bike saddles.
After four adjustments, we think we have something to work with. That’s after three previous adjustments over a few days. The most frustrating part for me is in wanting my wife to be able to feel good in her saddle while struggling so mightily to make it happen. By comparison, it takes ten minutes to dial my own saddle in. I take a 5mm Allen wrench with me on a short ride. A little nose down, a little move back, nose up just a hair…. done, perfect.
It’s been a lot tougher getting my wife set up, and we needed that time to concentrate solely on getting that saddle dialed in. Hopefully that’s the difference.
After, a light dinner and some fun couch time with my wife and kids. I don’t even know what time it was I dozed off….
I’ve ridden three road bikes over 40,000 miles since I started riding just six years ago. I’ve ridden on super-cheap all the way up to decent wheels, but limited to aluminum only. I’ve had “bomb-proof” Rolf Vector Comp’s, Specialized El-cheapo DT Axis 4.0’s (I despise these wheels), a set of hybrid Vuelta Corsa SLR/Velocity wheels I had built after the Vuelta’s ran into big problems due to lightweight rims, and a set of old-school cheap wheels that came with my ’91 Cannondale SR-400.
That said, I’m going to concentrate on two sets of wheels for this post to keep it simple: The DT Axis 4.0’s and the Vuelta/Velocity Hybrid set. For the record, the DT’s are more “aero” that the Vuelta/Velocity set. Not by much, but the DT’s offer a better profile.
That said, the Vuelta/Velocity wheels are vastly faster and more enjoyable to ride. The differences come down to the hubs (and I’ll be replacing the hubs on the DT’s as soon as disposable income allows). The Vuelta hubs are closed bearings while the DT Swiss hub internals are the old-school cone race, loose bearing type. The Axis 4.0’s simply don’t roll as well…. and they’re impossible to get all of the play out of the rear hub without making the bearings too tight to roll.
A while back, a blogger/racer I hold in high regard wrote a list of important features to look for when purchasing a bike, I believe it was a top ten. At the top was a good frame. Wheels were all the way at the bottom of the list, least important.
I don’t own a poor frame, but I do own a decent frame and a top notch frame. I also don’t race, so I assumed he knew better than I about the order of importance of the two.
I respect his opinion, but as far as enthusiastic road cycling goes (lots of miles, very fast), In my experience, good wheels trump a good frame.
I ride two bikes with regularity. A race bike and a rain bike (a road bike dedicated for crappy weather). The race bike gets the upgraded “good” wheels and the rain bike gets the cheap, “came stock on the race bike”, wheels.
The Trek, with the cheap wheels, is a ho-hum ride. It’s acceptable, but not noteworthy, and slower. Put the upgrade wheels on that bike and it’s transformed from a decent ride to a great ride.
Follow that to its logical conclusion and put the cheap wheels on the Venge and they take the Venge from a rocket ship to an “above average” frame at best.
Having considered this over the last week-ish, with the proper set-up, a good set of wheels can improve a frame’s characteristics. Having my druthers, I would take a decent set of wheels over a great frame, any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
You’re not going to believe this…
Decisions, Decisions… Picking the Proper Bike for the Ride and a Bonus Creak in the Unlikeliest of Places
Up until three weeks ago, there was never a question which bike I’d take on a long tour….
385 Miles of glorious bicycle miles over four days. I have a bike tour coming up next month and I have a decision to make about which bike I’ll ride. I’ve chosen the Venge every time. It’s three or four pounds lighter and it’s always felt a bit better than the 5200 to ride.
That is, until I fitted the Trek with a new seat post and a new saddle. The saddle completely changed the bike’s ride characteristics, to the point the 18 year-old Trek rides better than the Venge. There was a time, six months ago, I thought about buying a new Specialized Roubaix, the ultimate “squishy” endurance bike. You know, the bike the pros turn to for the Paris-Roubaix race.
Not anymore. I don’t need it. The 5200 is that good.
It might not be that good, of course. I’ve never ridden a Roubaix, so I really have no idea… but the Trek rides so well now, spending $4,000 on a new bike seems silly.
There’s another plus with the Venge that made it a shoe-in to go on every tour I’ve ever done; It’s fast. Noticeably, indubitably faster. Like, bounce you too close to a star and end your day real quick, faster. I know, you’re thinking there’s no way a bike frame could matter that much. It sounds nuts… but it’s true. You push on the pedals and the Venge goes. The difference isn’t enough it can’t be made up for with “want to”, but when you’re riding that far over four days, well, you to take the bike that makes you work less.
There’s an “except” now though. The Trek is a smoother ride, and that makes up a little for the vastly superior aerodynamics of the Venge.
We’re not done yet, though. Zoom into the crank on that top photo. Triple. The Trek has always been a better climber. By a lot. Even though it’s a little heavier. Add to that, the ability to carry a saddle bag on the Trek (I can’t bring myself to defile the Venge with one), so I have pocket room to spare for a vest or arm warmers, the Trek has become a no-brainer.
So, I’m going to roll the Trek exclusively for several weeks before the trip so I can make sure I’m good with the setup. I also switched out the cheap wheels on the Trek for the wheels on the Venge (they roll faster, about 5 to 10% maybe, and they’re 3/4’s of a pound lighter between the two)…. Sure enough, I’ve been trying to nail down a creak in the Trek for two years now, and I was sure it was in the bottom bracket. I tightened down everything else.
After switching out the wheels yesterday morning, I rode a perfectly silent 100k. Not. One. Creak. Not even out of the saddle. The creak is somewhere in the other wheels, possibly the quick release skewers?
Well smack my heinie and call me sunshine. I never would have guessed.
Fitness and Fun; Desire and Dedication. And a Side of Happy. Bikes are the Answer to All of Your Fitness Needs…. If done Correctly.
My friends showed up Saturday morning and we rolled out, after Gary and I tinkered with his front derailleur to get it to stop dropping the chain into the bottom bracket when he was in the three easiest gears on the cassette…. Fortunately, I have a good set of cycling tools I carry in a duffle bag.
We all know riding with friends always beats riding alone. Maybe we don’t…. It does, trust me. From safety in numbers to laughs and good conversation, there’s nothing better.
We had some real wind to contend with for the first time in at least a month so having a draft to rely on was awesome. That said, the 2 hours 35 minutes went by pretty fast.
Sunday morning was more of the same, but we chose a different route, better for those light breeze days because it’s straight west, a little south, then a lot of west. We had eight so a perfect double pace line.
I was feeling surprisingly strong, considering I’d helped a friend of mine hang some drywall after riding on Saturday and I figured I wouldn’t be worth much. I helped bring the group back together a couple of times and stayed with one of the guys who had to deal with a flat so I could help him back, too.
Quite often it’s suggested that we ride in a group that has cyclists just a touch faster than we are so we can get faster. That great to a point, and maybe once during a weekday ride that’s a brilliant idea.
On the weekends, though, might I suggest riding in a group of people who are your equal. Not only can you enjoy some excellent conversation and laughter, if someone drops you’ll be able to help them back. Not much feels better than helping a compadre back to the group. Well, at least not much that can be done with clothes on.
But that’s a story for a different blog.
Cycling opens up a whole world of awesome when it comes to fitness, but when done correctly with a club, the fitness is more a side-affect.
Try it. You’ll like it.
Einstein is quoted as saying, “You can’t fix a problem with the same mind that created it” or a variation on that.
Here’s my twist: I cannot fix my alcoholism with the same drinking that created it in the first place.
The idea is simple but the fix isn’t.
I know of treatment centers that have recovering people sitting in the same waiting room as people waiting for their daily hit of methadone. It gets better, those who have already taken their hit and are effectively sitting there stoned.
This is so-called “evidence-based” recovery, or more to the point, this is what you get when those who know nothing about recovery try to implement a recovery program. I mean someone who studied sociology in college, got their degree, and figures they know about recovery and addiction because they learned about it over a few chapters in a class or two… and they’re smart.
Put a newly recovering person in that situation and they’re drunk or shooting up again within a week, or they’re on methadone again.
If you put someone with a year of clean time in that situation, I would expect they would sit through it once, never to return. They would likely remain cordial, quiet and reserved.
You put me in that situation and… well let’s just say you could expect an enthusiastic, proactive response, followed by my laughing at you as I walk out the door. It takes a special kind of stupid to put newly recovering people in that situation.
We have this funny saying, “You sit in a barbershop long enough, eventually you’re getting a haircut”. In the case above, the counselors are actually taking the barbershop to the addict.
You can’t fix an addict with the same use that created the addict in the first place. We get away, or we get dead. It’s simple as that. I cannot fix my alcoholism with the same thinking, the same sickness that created it.
Don’t take my word for it though… You go right ahead and bang your head against that brick wall. I’ll be over here enjoying my existence. See me when you’re tired of failing so we can change that thinking a little bit.
This isn’t revolutionary thinking actually. It’s been around for a little more than 80 years. It was uber-revolutionary back then though… if that makes you feel better.
I’m tired. I could feel it last night, bad. That is, until I got back from my easy Thursday evening ride.
I just wasn’t feeling the love as I headed out. Five miles in and I stopped to help a couple stranded because they managed to drop their timing chain. I was unfamiliar with their type of eccentric bottom bracket that didn’t gave Allen wrench locking keys, it used a rather large nut (22-23 mm?) instead…. I simply didn’t have anything to get slack in the chain to set it back on the cog. Fortunately they had a ride coming to pick them up. How they dropped it is beyond me.
I got rolling again and I smiled at how good my feet felt. The new shoes are awesome. The toe box is a little bigger so my dogs have enough space…. The real test will come this weekend when I put some decent miles on them. The timing will be impeccable, but more on that later.
Getting back to my tired legs. I wish I could describe this more aptly, but I just don’t feel very powerful lately. I’m missing some liveliness that should be there. I know the answer, thankfully. I think a day off on Monday is in order. That, and another slow day today before we hammer out some good miles over the weekend.
I stopped at the shop to say hi to my friends before they rolled out for their ride, then headed home.
I pulled into my driveway expecting maybe a high fifteen, low sixteen mph average, based on how I felt and because my aim had been to ride slow anyway…. 17.8.
Maybe I’m not as tired as I thought. Sadly, I think I liked it better when everything made sense. Chuckle.
I have a confession. I rode in a a lot of pain on any distance over 60 miles for a long time. On a century, it’s often so bad it’s impossible to enjoy the last ten to fifteen miles. Eight miles from the finish line at the A-100 the other day, I was worried that I’d done permanent damage it hurt so bad. I didn’t stop though. I pushed on and finished with the lead group.
An hour in running shoes after the ride and I was fine.
My buddy Chuck said they call it Morton’s neuroma, so I looked it up… I don’t know, sounds plausible:
Morton’s neuroma may be caused by pressure or injury, such as from running or use of high heels.
Morton’s neuroma may feel like a pebble in a shoe or a fold in a sock. There may be sharp, burning pain or numbness in the ball of the foot or toes.
Treatment might include arch supports and foot pads, corticosteroid injections, strength exercises, wide-toe shoes, or surgery.
Now here’s the funny part: I knew the problem was my shoes. I’ve known for years. I didn’t have the problem with my last pair…
Here’s the problem: My cycling shoes are badass. They’re a perfect 13 of 13 on the stiffness scale… and they’re white. Oh, and they only cost me $125 (2012 shoes bought in 2014). Unfortunately, they’re skinny in the toes. After 70 miles they make my feet feel like someone stuffed a lit match in my socks. After 100 miles, it’s hard to describe the pain. It’s intense, but it goes away as soon as I’m off the bike for a bit.
Enter the Torch 2.0 from Specialized. The carbon sole on my old pair had cracked so I was in the market for a new pair. I almost went for the Torch 3.0 (the red probably would have worked better now that I have the shoes unboxed) but I can live with what I got because they feel amazing. I wore them for the first time on Tuesday night for the club ride. Once I adjusted the left cleat a little after the warm-up, no pain.
Here’s the fun part; I installed my own cleats. Just to see if I could get them right. Proper cleat alignment, especially when you’re riding 200-250 miles a week, is exceedingly important. Fortunately, there are demarcation lines on the soles so I just lined up the new cleats like the old, and I’m good. Well, as long as the shoes are exactly the same size… but let’s not complicate this complex issue too much. They’re both 44’s.
They’re also really hard to hold together to make that photo work. Anyway, trust me, they’re lined up really close to perfectly. As close as I can get them, anyway, without special alignment tools (which I will eventually pay to use at the bike shop…. I just had to try to see if I could get it right on my own, first).
The key is the feel. During the warm-up, after the first mile, I knew good and well my left heel was out too far. The right felt good. By the time the seven mile warm-up was done, I knew the right was spot on and that the left needed adjustment. My ankle hurt a bit and I could feel it in my knee. Fortunately I’d packed a 3mm Allen wrench before I left. One small adjustment and I was good.
I’ve got 54 miles on them, and 47 were excellently comfortable. The big test will come Friday evening though, when I get the cleats properly aligned. More then.
It has been approximately one and one-half months since we had to ride in any wind of consequence… and keep in mind, I ride every day. It’s been awesome.
That is, until last night, of course.
I was walking out the door with my Venge when a bank of clouds caught my eye. I turned the bike around and took it back in the house. I prepped the rain bike.
We had a quick storm blow through so the warm-up was slow and short. The combination of wind and sun dried everything off quickly enough though, and by the time we rolled in from the warm-up, we only had the wind left to contend with.
There’s no doubt, I was glad I brought the rain bike. Till we rolled out for real. Oh, how I love the A bike in the wind.
Anyway, with a lovely northwest wind, the best we get on our route is a crossing tailwind. We rolled out into it and it was pretty much a blur from there. From my perspective, I spent way too much time up front but that’s nothing new.
What is new this season is the 14 year-old boy who has been riding with us. We’re grooming him for the A Group in the next year or so.
He’s able to keep up with us on our 30-mile 21 mph club rides, the 20.3 mph A-100, pretty much anything the B Group does, he’s right there…. And he’s already started on developmental camps. It’s really something watching him develop over the last couple of years, and it’s special to watch how many members of our group try to help him out.
Leading into the intermediate sprint, we picked up one of the strongest A guys who’d gotten a late start and missed catching on with the A Group, so when a group of four formed a gap, I didn’t worry. Mike had already primed him to leading me out.
It wasn’t even fair. I had a 31 mph lead-out and we passed everyone easily. I jumped as soon as we drew even with the leader and nobody could match.
From that point, once the rest of the group caught up, it got hectic pretty fast. With a cross tailwind and a horse pulling us home, we were way beyond my comfort zone. We were holding our pace between 25 & 27 mph, hammering it home.
I, like most of the group, didn’t make the final sprint. There were four of us left in the last mile and I was cooked. I took a short turn up front and when I slid off, the guy behind me surged. I think I could have made it but I simply ran out of “want to”. I sat up and watched them go.
I can sure feel it this morning as I type this. I’m whooped. Man, was it fun though…. and this weekend is holding a lot of promise, both weather and mileage-wise.
Choosing the Proper Bike Saddle for a Road Bike – and Setting it So it doesn’t HURT: No more riding on barbed wire….
Road bike saddles are sometimes a tough case to crack. Getting mine set up perfectly has taken years. For some, it’s simply buying a saddle, slapping it on in the traditional spot after taking a few pertinent measurements, and you’re off. For others, not so much. I will posit this, though: The more you ride, the more important it is to get it right.
I have a unique situation that I’ve dealt with over the years and I’ll offer this simple recap: First, I have my race bike set up perfectly – and by perfectly, I mean within a millimeter front to back, up and down, side to side (width), and level. There is something amazing about having a bike set-up so perfect. I also have a rain bike that is close to the race bike in how it’s set up, but it’s not quite perfect. That bike has taken some tinkering – thus the reason for this post. Finally, there’s my wife’s bike. Her saddle position and the type of saddle has been incredibly difficult to dial in, between style, thickness of padding, and position. I finally got it right over the last two weeks…. and I almost wept inside to be done.
First, a few things must be known and accepted.
- This will be a process. We seek progress, not perfection. Not at first.
- The “goal posts” will move. This isn’t a set it and forget it thing, not for most.
- The importance of interpreting feedback from the body, knowing what you’re feeling and how that relates to saddle position, cannot be understated. If you don’t know what you’re feeling, hoping someone else will and be able to adjust your saddle to that… well, it isn’t going to end well.
- More important, not all feedback requires moving the saddle. A little nagging pain when mileage is increased or after a really hard day or two in the saddle is normal. What’s important is the structural pain – when the knees hurt after or during every ride, when a hamstring flares up (hamstring issues can often be traced back to saddle width, by the way), things like that.
What I like to use to work on my saddle position:
- Proper Allen wrenches
- My trainer (for the tougher, bigger adjustments). The trainer affords me the opportunity to take a lot of variables out of the equation.
- A 4′ (1.25 meter) level (for the initial set-up).
- A spirit level (6″ to 8″, a tiny level). There are smartphone apps for that, too.
To get my saddle height, I used the old-school 109% of my inseam measurement. That works out to 36-3/8″ on the nose. Take a book, jam it into your crotch (be careful, of course) and measure from the floor up (make sure the book is level). Take off your shoes first. Take that number and multiply it by 1.09, convert the decimals to a fraction (use Bing), and you’re good to go. You can also use the old heel on the pedals at the axles and pedal backward method… That works too.
Fore/aft positioning for a road bike saddle is pretty simple. Drop a weighted string from the front of your knee toward the pedal. The weight should be right smack-dab in the center of the pedal axle when the crank arms are parallel with the ground. Or simply use a 4′ level – place the top-back edge against your knee and the bottom-back edge against the end of the crank arm with the crank arms parallel to the ground… You should be plumb (level, up and down). That’s where you start (for a time trial bike, the starting measurement for the fore/aft positioning is very different). Ride for a while. Pain at the front of the knee means you lower the saddle. Pain at the back of the knee means you raise it. Fore/aft position will change slightly as you raise or lower the saddle, remember that. Also, if you raise the saddle, it comes forward. Lowering it means you move it back, so be aware of that. Conversely, if you have to move the saddle forward, you’ll likely want to raise it just a bit. If you move the saddle back? You guessed it, lower it a little.
Those are the basics. Now, let’s deal with the fine tuning, because this is the interesting part. Once we get the saddle close, we want to dial it in. If we’re feeling too stretched out or too scrunched up in the cockpit, we don’t move the saddle, well, a little bit is okay. We change the stem which brings the handlebar closer or pushes it farther away. That said, there’s a happy spot on the saddle, and that happy spot is meant to cradle the cyclist and support their position on the bike. For this reason, I hate the “level it and call it good” option. Leveling the saddle doesn’t go far enough, especially for those of us who ride in an aggressive posture and put in a pile of miles:
First, there are three types of saddle: Flat, contoured and a happy medium in between the two. On the race bike I have a contoured saddle, on the rain bike I have the happy medium. On the race bike, the front nose of the saddle is level plus a degree or two of “up” so it cradles me. If my position was a little more aggressive, I’d naturally set the nose down closer to level for the nose of the saddle. If I was more upright, I would naturally have the nose up a little higher.
For the rain bike, I’m still dialing that one in, but that was level minus 1.3 degrees until yesterday… Remember, there’s an app for leveling? It actually gives you tenths of a degree, very nice. Anyway, the rain bike’s saddle level is measured front to back because the minimal contouring of the saddle makes it too tricky to find a good place for the level. What’s important though, is how the saddle cradles me relative to the bike’s set-up. If it’s nosed down too much, I’ll want to slide to the front of the saddle. If it’s nosed up too much, I’ll feel pressure where it sucks to feel pressure when I’m riding. The idea is to fine-tune the level so the saddle neither pushes me forward, nor puts too much pressure on the front nether regions, if you know what I mean. We’re talking about millimeters here, too, even tenths of millimeters. So use small moves.
I’ve got my Venge to use as a benchmark, because it’s perfect, so we start there. I’ve got the Trek saddle height right, adjusted up 2mm for a little bit more padding on that particular saddle, and the fore/aft is located where it should be. I’ve been riding with this set-up for two weeks now and I realized yesterday that I’m having to scoot back on the saddle, maybe five or ten millimeters or so, every few miles. So this morning, I loosened the front bolt and tightened the back on the saddle to move the nose up a hair (just a half-time each bolt):
l tested that out on the trainer for a few minutes and it felt good, so that meant taking it out for a road test. The road test felt a little better than what I switched from, so I’ll be sticking with that for now…
The ultimate goal in all of this is simple; When it’s all said and done, I want my butt to automatically find its happy spot on the saddle when I sit down on it. I want to be cradled by the saddle so it’s not pushing me forward or giving me pressure up front… Until I have that happy medium, I have to tinker once in a while as I become aware of new changes in how the saddle feels.
As for picking the right saddle, the key is not always more padding. Not on a road bike anyway. There are instances where a little more padding helps though. My Venge is one of the stiffest frames available on the market, but Specialized magically made it compliant for road chatter. My 5200, fifteen years of technological advancement behind the Venge, is the opposite. It’s a squishier ride but less reasonable on road chatter. On the Trek, a few extra millimeters (not inches) of padding helps smooth the road out considerably. In fact, the saddle I have on there now is a mountain bike saddle… but it works.
To wrap this post up, if you’re thinking of putting one of those gel pads over your saddle, your bike needs the set-up fixed to fit you better. You should never, ever need one of those on a road bike. Never. Look at me…. Ever. If you can’t get it set right using the instructions in this post, take it to a pro. Your heinie deserves it.