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.
Our B Group finished the annual Assenmacher 100 miler in 4:55. It was awesome and we all had a good time. The conversation was lively, a few of my friends and I were able to drop back and help friends out who lost parts of their bike on potholes (two water bottles and one drop bar mirror) get back to the group… I participated in each of the three instances.
I know of no better compliment in group cycling than to be asked by your friends to help one of them bridge back to the group.
At no point during that ride did I want to sit up and soft-pedal home. It wasn’t easy, of course, but I wanted that five hour century. Our whole group was at least 20 strong and we nailed it….
We had time for moments like this, whilst still being able to hammer out a decent pace…
With the mild breeze, I managed to head up to the front of the group and snap a succession of photos for the group on the way back….
We stopped, at least momentarily, at each of the rest stops for a quick bite to eat and to refill water bottles. We finished strong, smiling and together. There were laughs and fist-bumps a plenty.
Contrast that with the A Group. They had a different experience. Their finishing time?
4:17 and some change. 23-1/2 mph average on open roads… And they only stopped twice in 101 miles.
Speaking with many from their group, who were sitting in the shade on the sidewalk when we pulled up, you were hard-pressed to find anyone who actually had a good time. One friend of mine said that he rode for a hundred miles and didn’t enjoy one of them. Another said they were riding so hard he didn’t have time to eat anything on the bike. My friend Chuck dropped after just 30 miles saying they were nuts (we caught up to him at the 30 mile rest stop and he rode with us the rest of the way).
I have no doubt some in our group struggled at times. One would expect that in a sub-five hour century. Sure, we were a little slower, but at least we had fun – and that’s exactly why I choose to ride with the B Group. I’d rather be a little slower and enjoy myself than be fast…. And I’m one of the lucky few who could be fast enough to hang with the A guys. I choose not to. This isn’t to say there’s something wrong with racing or riding that fast, there isn’t. The key for me is to be happy and enjoy my time on the bike – and if I’m going to have fun and enjoy the ride, I know I can’t do it at 23+ mph.
To thine own self be true.
That said, a 4:17 on that course is really impressive. Damn, that’s fast!
It is the day before the big ride. 100 miles, you’re shooting for a five hour century. Do you ride the day before or take the day off?
If you’re a runner reading this post, you’re shouting at your screen, “Take the day off, dummy! You gotta taper!”
If you’re a cyclist and you know how to stack rides, you know that the best thing to do is ride, easy and at a moderate pace. The second-worst thing you can do is ride hard, and the worst thing you can do is take a day off.
We don’t have to taper in cycling, dear. It sounds wonderful and lovely but it’s all but entirely unnecessary.
We rolled out at 7:18 am. The days are growing shorter again, so we’re starting out a little later to let it brighten up a bit. There was nothing spectacular or noteworthy about our ride, other than the fact that it was fun….
So here I sit, rested and ready to ride. I’m on my second cup of coffee and I know I’m as ready as I can be to ride my best.
If I’d have ridden hard yesterday, I would be fighting tight legs for the first ten or 20 miles. Worse, with a day off, it would take half the day to spin my legs back up.
I’ve taken two rain off since the beginning of July. Thankfully, in my world the answer to the question in the title us almost always “To ride, of course.”
Thanks for playing.
Setting up a road bike, the right way doesn’t necessarily have to cost an arm and a leg. A good budget doesn’t hurt, but we can work around it.
First things first, pick a color scheme. I was all over the map. For a while, I really liked red, white and blue…
The bike above wrecked my infatuation with that color scheme, so I went traditional…. Then I bought my Specialized and everything went red on black.
The Venge was easy, and I went the high-end budget with that bike. $110 for the water bottle cages, $450 crankarms, $165 stem, $300 handlebar, etc.. When you spend that kind of cheese, it’ll look good.
The Rockhopper is all stock. Simple.
The Trek 5200 took some work though. The paint had been through the wringer and was even scratched off in several places on the frame. The original 1999 5200 is…. well, gaudy. I had to decide, go original (gaudy) with a bunch of stickers, or do I go old school understated. I obviously chose the latter.
The white brake cable housings went in the recycling bin ($10). Almost more important than looks, the real reason for switching cable housings is little known… I went with Jagwire 5mm cable housing. Standard back in the day was 4mm, the extra millimeter gives a lighter feel at the shift lever and a smoother shift.
The next little “attention to detail” piece, another bargain ($12), was the seat post collar. The original collar was a standard aluminum piece with no coating or color. It simply didn’t look right on all of that beautiful black.
There were two places I didn’t skimp on price when I rebuilt the Trek. The first was the seat post. I went from aluminum alloy to carbon fiber, but not for vanity…. The original seat attachment device had teeth that meant the saddle had settings. My comfort spot was literally between teeth. One click down and I was pushed to the front of the saddle. One click up and I was getting some gnarly nether region pressure. The Easton post was the only one I could find that gave me unlimited adjustability.
The second was the headset. I went big with a Chris King headset. The old headset was smoked. Dead. It was so bad, once it was removed from the bike to paint the frame, it couldn’t be reinstalled. King components are known for their longevity and I plan on keeping the bike for a long time. The best one word description is butter.
A couple of years ago, the front wheel blew out at the brake track. Luckily, I’d upgraded the Venge wheels and the original wheels fit perfectly on the Trek’s new paint scheme ($0).
Finally, other than adding a couple of black, plastic Bontrager bottle cages, I had been searching for a saddle to fit this bike. It hasn’t been easy because the Trek is a bit of a harsh ride. On a fluke I tried a mountain bike saddle that Matt had laying around his shop. That saddle transformed the bike entirely. For $30, and it even matched the red of the Trek stickers.
Rounding out the changes to the Trek, one of my shifters gave out after 18 years of hard life. If I had an unlimited budget, and I don’t, I’d have upgraded to a 10 Speed drivetrain. That would have run, maybe $600 – $800 after it was all done. Instead, I went with MicroSHIFT shifters, 9 Speed, for $75 and left the original drivetrain alone. Perfect
My final budgetary concern for the Trek was doing all of the work myself. I saved hundreds of dollars (if not a cool grand), including stripping the bike down and putting it back together for the new paint job. The knowledge gained was priceless.
To put a bow on this post, one can blow a small fortune fixing up a bike, but it doesn’t have to be that way, with a little forethought and some planning.
Either way, ride it hard… and ride that ride with a smile.
#36 in my list of reasons why I’m no longer a runner….
Dude, I love toys!
There are obvious advantages to running, especially for the expendable cash strapped, because cycling can be stupid expensive. On the other hand, done wisely, it’s not all that bad either. The trick, of course, is obtaining the wisdom before one runs out of cash.
I once enjoyed running myself, for quite the stretch of years….
Nowadays I like my toys though.