I was standing in line the other morning with my mints and small coffee in hand, waiting to roll out to the office. I eyed a maple/peanut encrusted donut as I was putting my five ice cubes into by coffee cup but walked away empty-handed. It wasn’t easy, of course.
So there I was in line and the guy in front of me steps up to the counter, places three cans of Monster energy drink on the counter and asks the attendant for a pack of smokes.
Three cans of Monster and a Pack of smokes?
All I could think was, “Da-a-a-m-m-m-n”.
He was a younger kid, of course, maybe in his late 20’s, but he’s going to find out what old feels like in a hurry if he doesn’t watch what he’s putting into his engine.
I am not always so well equipped to handle situations like that. Sometimes that crap can look tempting, when I’m weak.
For those moments I have a prayer that I repeat in my weakness (before temptation, preferably, but during works in a pinch):
“God, please give me five seconds of sanity before I do anything stupid.”
That’ll about do it, and it puts everything in proper perspective. My sentiments toward putting crappy fuel and cigarette smoke into my body are pretty simple:
Uh, that would translate to “no thank you. I’ll take the coffee and tin of Altoids (peppermint)”.
I attended the viewing for a colleague’s husband Wednesday afternoon. He had passed quickly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. That’s not what got him though. His cancer was actually shrinking with the treatment he was on, by almost half. No, they found a brain tumor after he became increasingly dizzy. That was too much.
There’s something about a good bike ride that can turn around a sad story for me every time. I headed straight home, kissed Mrs. Bgddy repeatedly, and got ready to ride. For once, my wife rode with and we left early, about twenty minutes, for some extra miles. She rode on while I headed back to the house to grab my friend, Chuck.
Two miles in we caught up to my wife. A mile later we were standing on the side of the road. I’d hit a little pothole and broke a spoke nipple. I twisted the loose spoke around an adjacent spoke and opened up the brake release. We rolled on, opting to do the whole route. My wife headed home while Chuck and I pushed on.
A half mile later the spoke came loose from the good spoke and wrapped itself around the axle. No chance of saving the spoke now, so I wrapped it ugly around the good spoke again. It wasn’t going to come loose again.
Now, you might think that I was all kind of messed up, with the viewing anxiety, seeing a friend grieving over the spouse she’d loved… now messing with the spoke…. But no. I was still out for a bike ride in shorts and short sleeves, at 5:30 on a Wednesday evening, at the end of September – and I’d rolled over 1,000 miles for the month a few miles back.
The wheel held up from there and we made it to the bike shop without incident where I was hoping I could borrow a wheel for a couple of days so Matt could rebuild mine…. Instead, he just fixed it on the spot. New spoke and trued, out the door. I put the tube and tire on, checked that the tire was seated properly, and while I was messing with that, Chuck and Matt made plans for the new paint job for his Tarmac.
Done, we rolled out.
The ride home was all tailwind and fast. My wife rolled in with the kids and pizza for dinner right behind us. My day was rough but the evening more than made up for it.
I sobered up when I was just a kid, coming up on a quarter-century ago, with the simple hope my life would end up okay. Just okay would have been awesome contrasted with what I left behind. There’s a lot of chaos in my life lately, but I have faith I’ll make it through, because as tough as things may seem, my troubles pale in comparison to those of my drunk days…
I heard something that made me chuckle, paraphrasing:
Now, we often hear people say that their worst day sober is better than their best day drunk and I feel sorry for them. I had some really good days when I was drinking and they were definitely better than my worst day sober. However, there is no doubt that my worst day sober was vastly better than my worst day drunk and my best day sober was vastly better than my best day drunk.
All I need is to spend some time with my wife, kids and a friend or two on our bikes to realize how good I’ve really got it. Oh, and let’s not forget, some pizza pies to go around. Gotta love the pizza.
This has almost become a series. Well, if the $#!+ fits, wear it.
In the last six years I’ve ridden a bike more than 40,000 miles. A little over, actually. A pedal bike, not a motorcycle.
I went through a period when I was much younger, where I was almost entirely sedentary. Video games, a desk job…. I mean sedentary, my friends. I did play a lot of golf, but honest people don’t classify golf as exercise unless you walk the course. I didn’t count it even though I played better when I walked. Anyway, I went from 150 pounds to 195 and at 6′ tall. Almost 200 pounds and it was all chubby.
To thine own self be true
I am not a dieter. Sure, I’ll choose to forego dessert, or I’ll eat a lighter meal that tastes really good, but I won’t go all “Adkins” either. I won’t be eating twigs, leaves and berries. I absolutely would never, on principle alone, go vegetarian (or worse, vegan) – I’m not into having to take processed vitamin supplements needed to make up the dietary shortfalls from either one. I prefer a more natural diet, as they say.
There’s one ugly truth that has to be mentioned here as well; I can’t be happy as a fat or chubby person. It’s simply impossible for me to act as if eating myself unhealthy is okay.
Something had to change
The one certainty in my life back then was that something had to give. I had to get active again – and if I was going to get active, it was going to be in something that held my interest. Too often I tried to do the “I’ll go to the gym” route, only to give up after a few weeks. I needed something quickly accessible and above all fun. Trudging my way to fitness simply didn’t work.
My changes came in the form of rollerblading, running and now cycling. While I have the most fun on a bike or on rollerblades, running wasn’t so bad either. Skating wasn’t all that easy because if you think cycling on the road with traffic sucks, try rollerblades. That’s a whole new level of messed up. The accessibility just wasn’t there – if I have to get in my car to travel to a destination, it’s simply too easy to justify days off. Running and cycling are about tied for accessibility. Running is probably a sliver easier because there’s less “junk”, but the “junk” is half the fun in cycling, so I’d call that a draw. Either activity, all I have to do is suit up and head out the door. Cycling is even easier than running in the winter though, because I can ride on a trainer in the house. Not having to worry about frozen eyelashes in the wintertime is quite nice, actually.
So, in conclusion, cycling and running have everything I need to stay fit and trim. The way I participate in those two sports, they both burn a fair amount of calories, they’re both easily accessible which limits excuses, and I absolutely love cycling – I can’t wait to throw my leg over the top tube of my bike every day.
In the end, something in my thinking didn’t change. Everything did… and that’s why it worked.
It wasn’t the fastest club ride of the Year but it was pretty close – call it within 30 seconds.
We had a huge B Group, we were at least 25 deep. The A group… they weren’t so lucky. I think they had six or eight, so they offered to roll out with us for the first half and keep the pace between 22 & 24 mph – a rare first.
It was 93°, impossibly sunny, and just a little breezy, another perfect night for a ride. We have been blessed this year as perfect days for a ride go, if it was a bit on the warm side.
We rolled out at 20 mph and I made a joke to Chuck that I’d be surprised if the pace lasted for more than two miles.
Try fifteen. Miles, not feet. Not yards, meters or kilometers. Miles. The A guys all stayed up front and pulled us around the route at a reasonable 21 mph average pace. It was so awesome I didn’t bother taking any pictures of the ride in progress. I just rode it, with a wide grin stretched across my face the whole way. It was awesome. Of course, me being me, I pulled through at the front. I simply can’t not do my part.
What would normally be a test of will to hang on at 28+ mph, was a fantastic ride for all.
And right at the 15 mile mark, they simply pulled away.
The rest of the ride was a blast. I spent a ridiculous amount of time up front and led an awesome 30+ mph lead-out to the intermediate sprint.
For once, I didn’t participate in the sprints. I was lead-out and I did my job with a smile on my face. I so dig being up front for a charge like that – it’s almost as much fun as the sprint.
After the ride, Dave (one of the stronger A guys) came up and asked if they’d kept it reasonable enough for everyone. I almost fell over.
It was a great ride for us.
I did my rounds, shaking the hand of each A guy. I thanked each for doing such a great job of keeping the pace reasonable. Last night’s ride was as good as they get. We B groupers never begrudge the A Group their need to turn Tuesday night into a race. We’re happy to do our own thing too – though it was nice, for once, to have the whole group back together again.
My wife likes to let me know, from time to time, how much it means to her that I took the time and care to introduce her to cycling at her pace.
She’s almost as fast as I am now. If I want to take her in a sprint, I have to work for it. No more 27-28 mph, I’ve gotta get north of 35 if she jumps at the right time.
Such wasn’t always the case.
I wanted to have some kind of hobby my wife and I could share to stay fit since we started dating more than 22 years ago. I chose my wife because she’s smokin’ hot (and like most other guys, because she picked me) and if we know anything about aging, it’s that most people don’t do so gracefully. At least with a fitness hobby, we have a chance.
Running worked for a while but I grew bored with and gravitated to cycling via triathlons. I fell in love with bikes almost immediately and eventually I wanted to get my wife into it, so she could experience the joy and freedom I felt.
This is exactly where it gets messy for many.
My initial desire, or hope, had my wife jumping into cycling like I did, both feet, as fast as she could go, increasing mileage from day eight, all the while learning to fix problems with the bike… A lot like most guys approach cycling. That’s not how my wife worked, though.
I am a part of a very fast group. Normal clubs publish their “A” rides at 19 mph. Our B group averages between 21 and 22. Our A group is at 24. It took me four years to be able to keep up with the A group for 20 miles, there was no way my wife was just going to jump into that.
Starting the season after I gave her a shiny, new bike for Christmas, I would go ride with my buddies on the weekends, say 50-70 miles, then I’d come home and go back out with my wife. We’d do 15-20 miles at her pace. I would reassure her regularly, because my wife thought I was a “fast all of the time” kind of guy, that I didn’t care about the pace, that I was simply happy to be out riding with her.
I earned a lot of saddle sores doing that, but they were, every one, worth it because, unbeknownst to me, I’d earned a lot of honey points as well. My wife and I started going on road trips together, or would take our bikes with us when we went on weekend vacations. We visited a rail-to-trail near her mother’s house when we took the kids up to visit or we’d take the mountain bikes up to ride over Thanksgiving vacation.
We began riding on weeknights together, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, she picked the pace. I would encourage her and reassure her that I got plenty of “fast” on the weekends and Tuesday night, that I was just glad to be riding with my wife and I needed recovery rides anyway.
After a while my wife got faster. She began holding her own on the reasonable weekend rides. 40 miles at 18-19 mph? No problem. Well, she’d get home tired, but she got home. Then came the Tuesday night club rides and her first shots at 20-21 mph. She’d do well on days where the wind wasn’t too tough and get dropped when it was windy, but she didn’t give up – and I never stopped encouraging her. I think she’d say, “I never stopped being supportive”.
Now she’s doing centuries, metric centuries, and almost anything we can come up with. She’s picking routes and volunteering with the club. My wife is one of the gang, same as me.
It’s not all roses, rainbows and happy thoughts but as long I keep my eye on the only important thing; that my wife and I have a hobby that keeps us fit and active that we can enjoy together, that we’ll have something when the kids are grown and moved on to their own lives, that our fitness time together is play (and that we even have a fitness activity)….
One of the most challenging endeavors I’ve taken up in cycling has been sharing it with my wife because I had to take me out of it. Taking three hours on my first derailleur adjustment pales in comparison to the patience it took to figure out how to help my wife into the sport. The key was help, rather than bring, force or horse her in.
All of those good things listed above, to be able to share cycling with my best friend in the whole world, well friends, that’s something to fight for and protect. That is good times and noodle salad. It’s as good as it gets.
I went out for a ride with a few friends on the Venge Saturday morning. I was taking 3+ mile turns up front at 22 to 24 mph and I could have gone longer. I felt like a Hundred Dollars. I felt fast.
Since getting the Trek dialed in I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on it. A new, cheap mountain bike saddle has made it impossibly comfortable and I love the bike like never before. It’s a crazy balance, really. A cheap, semi-squishy saddle isn’t supposed to be that comfortable on a road bike, but it is. Everything I’ve ever read has said a saddle should be as hard as possible to allow for blood flow – the Bontrager saddle on my bike is anything but, and it works.
I rode that bike for years with a Specialized Romin on the Trek. The same saddle I have on my Venge, and the ride was a little harsher than that of the Venge:
So that meant it was easier to use the Trek as my rain bike – to use only in the event of a 20% or better chance of rain. I never much cared for the Trek… maybe three times a summer and a little more often in Spring and Autumn, I’d take it out.
Then I changed everything on the Trek, including the wheels, over a few years:
The wheels are slow when compared with the wheels on the Venge. The Trek wheels are cheap and heavy. The Venge wheels are three-quarters of a pound lighter, have aero spokes, and cartridge bearings vs. the old-school cone and race loose bearing hubs of the Trek. The wheels provide much of the speed disparity between the bikes.
Technology makes up a little more of the disparity. Fourteen years of technological advances separate the two bikes, a lifetime of advancement, mean the Specialized is stiff where it needs to be (ie. the bottom bracket) and compliant where it matters for absorbing road imperfections. It was, at the time it was manufactured, the ultimate aero-sprint bike. The Trek, on the other hand, is a first-generation full carbon fiber frame. Full carbon frames had only been in production for four years. 1993/1994, frames were lugged – carbon fiber tubes in aluminum or steel lugs. In other words, there’s a lot of know-how packed into the period between 1993 and 2013.
Finally, aerodynamics make up the rest. I’d be willing to bet the difference is as much as 10 watts, easy.
Now, where this gets fun is that I actually find the Trek more enjoyable and comfortable to ride while it’s old-school cool, and beautiful to boot, if a little more work to ride. I’ve spent a lot of time on the bike this year because it’s so much fun to ride… and that means I’ve become a lot stronger on the Venge.
I’ve trained and become faster simply by riding a slower bike. If I add up the disadvantages, I can be looking at an extra 20-30 watts, then minus a few for comfort…. Could you use a 10% increase in your power output?
I don’t know any cyclist who would say no to that. If you want to ride faster, pick up a set of slower, cheaper wheels you can put on your bike or ride a slower bike on everything but the fastest days. Or, if you want to ride faster on the bike you have, pick up a set of good wheels. Swap out the good for the bad on those days where you need a little boost. It works
Because, from what I’ve read, this isn’t seen often (I see it all of the time, of course):
Somebody call the UN to let them know all is finally well in the United States of America! With this out of the way they can work on something serious, like North Korea or Iran. Phew!
All kidding aside, because c’mon, man… it’s the UN, looking at cycling from my perspective I don’t understand the consternation with the whole “male dominance in cycling” thing. I do get that the male of the species likes cycling, so there are a lot of us at club rides and such. I get that, but dominate? Populate, maybe. Anyway, I had a little chuckle just before I took that photo because here we are, cruising down the road at 21 mph with my wife and our friend, Diane in the lead with three guys in their draft and we’re just riding.
While we can’t do much about anyone else’s feelings (nor would we attempt to), in our group you’re judged not by whether you wear drop back bibs, but on the content of your ability to pull through.
And that is as it should be.
I simply can’t do any better with my limited equipment (a Galaxy S6 and patience):
The wheels are right, the cables are right, the crank is right, chain on the big dog, proper setting on the camera. Handlebar angle, hoods in perfect perspective alignment, impeccable bar tape, clean tires, tire logos centered on the valve stems… Everything is just right, even decent lighting (though the sun had more to do with that than I did).
Of all of the photo I’ve taken of my bike’s, that one is the first that perfectly follows all of the rules of proper bike photography.
I printed it, framed it and hung it on the wall of my office the other day (I also digitally removed the 1° of drop in the garage door in the photo that went on the wall – I left it in for this post so something could be wrong with the photo. I strive for perfection but I handle it horribly when achieved. Chuckle).
I can die a happy man. Just not for another 53 years or so.
Let’s not be coy; there happens to be a reason the average triathlon participant has a yearly income in excess of $125,000 in the US, and it ain’t because running and swimming are expensive sports. Sure, a wetsuit will set you back a few hundred bucks and shoes are anything but cheap, but everyone knows the real money is in the bike(s). Expensive is easy when it comes to cycling. Plop down a crap-ton of money and ride. Great if you’ve got $10,000 laying around ($20,000 if you’re married because the spouse has gotta ride too!) but if the sport can seem out of reach to everyone but the very well-off. It’s not. Now, the amounts I’m going to cover still won’t be cheap, so if you’re hoping to get into road cycling for a few hundred bucks, you won’t. You will not. It cannot be done. Buy a mountain bike and be happy. The road clothing alone costs more than the few hundred if you get it on sale. We can, however, beat $10,000 by a lot.
In this post, I will cover in detail, how I went from this:
To this (in less than $1,500 – it took me $1,750 I think, but I’m pretty picky):
First, buy the bike used – the depreciation isn’t great as bikes tend to hold their value after the initial plunge once they’ve been ridden: $750 is what I paid for that red beauty above (new, it was over $2,500 – in 1999, that’s about $3,700 today). Now, don’t do what I did and spend a bunch of money on trinkets for the bike, that’s the first good tip! Develop a plan and a color scheme and go with it. Get the bike painted: $400. Have a new headset installed while they’re painting the frame because chances are, the old headset is smoked (mine was): $100 – $150 (ish). Add a couple of matching bottle cages ($40 total) and you’re well on your way. Add some new bar tape ($20 – $70 [for leather, like mine]), and a new stem so the bike fits you ($80). Throw in some new 9 sp. shifters from MicroSHIFT ($75 delivered), $100 for some pedals and all that’s left are wheels. Mine came from a different bike ($0), a saddle ($25 to $175 [mine was $25]) and a new seat post because I didn’t like how the old one adjusted ($100). That’s $1,765 total, for a perfectly functional carbon fiber road steed… Or roughly, a little more than $1,000 less than you’d pay for the new equivalent.
Once the bike is complete, the only thing left is maintenance. Tires, chains and cassettes, and the better you maintain the bike, the longer those things last. I clean my chains once every two weeks, whether they need it or not. I get a full season, 3,500-5,000 miles per bike, on a chain. Most people only get 1,500 miles out of a chain.
Where we often get into trouble is thinking this through without the added benefit of time. To buy everything new, you have to plunk down a large amount up front, or worse, finance it… It took me five years to get that bike to the shape it is now. First was the saddle and bar tape, then I rode it for two years before I did anything else to it. I changed my pedals to go with some shoes I won, but that wasn’t out of necessity… Then came the wheels because the original rear wheel blew out at the brake track (literally, the aluminum cracked in several places). Next up was the seat post, then the stem and handlebar (the bar came from a different bike $0)… Then the paint job and headset… more than a year later the old Ultegra shifters finally gave out and I had to replace them. After the bike is out of the way, then it’s some cycling-specific clothing, pedals, shoes, and a melon protector and you’re good to go. Again, not cheap, but not unattainable either.
The important point is, the worst hit I took was the initial $750 for the bike. After that, it was bits and pieces up until the paint job/headset (which was a fair chunk). Over the six years I had the bike, we’re looking at an average of only a couple hundred dollars a year and that covers the bike and all of the parts I picked up for it. In other words, if one has a mind to approach cycling on a budget, it is possible. I did it.
In conclusion, we have to deal with expectations. Don’t expect this:
That will run you a pretty penny… [Full Disclosure: technically you’ll need another 499,999 pretty pennies to go with that first one, give or take]
You do not have to be wealthy to be a cyclist. Like any other leisure-time sport, it doesn’t hurt to have money, but it’s not a requirement.
Next, I’ll tackle clothing… Now THAT’S a tricky topic. Stay tuned.
A fast, stout bike can make a fast paced ride seem reasonable. They simply lack a little in comfort.
A comfortable road bike, well those make a reasonable pace feel wonderful, though they are a bit more work.
While DALMAC (our four day ride covering 380-ish miles) is grueling, there wasn’t a day that I pulled into camp feeling toasted – but the pace wasn’t so outrageous that I’d have needed the faster bike either.
Both bikes have an aggressive set-up though, because while I may be a avid cycling enthusiast, I definitely wanted to look the part. Call it naïve exuberance. When I bought my first real bike, the Trek above (though in much worse shape back then), it came set up closer to a leisure rider than I liked. The bars were raised to a point where there was only a 2-1/2″ drop from the saddle to the handlebar. Today, the drop is more than 4″. I started messing with the shop supplied set-up only a week or two after bringing the bike home – it didn’t look anything like it does now.
There was one simple driving force: I will make my bike look as “pro” as I reasonably can and I will get used to that. That’s exactly what I did and so it has been for the last five years (and 38,000 miles, give or take). My bikes, as shown above, are as close to perfect as I can get a bike to fit me but I do believe my determination to make that set-up work had a bit to play in the orchestra.
Where this gets interesting is when we throw my wife’s bike and experience into the mix. When I bought her bike I specifically requested that the stem be flipped upside down, like my bikes:
My wife rode in that fairly aggressive position for two years but was never really comfortable. We came to find out the biggest problem was that she had been riding on a saddle that was too wide for her sit bones. When we fixed the saddle, it wasn’t the end I expected. My wife liked the saddle change but still felt just a bit off… She took the bike in for a second fitting and Matt (the owner of the shop) threw the kitchen sink at it, changing the saddle height, the level on the saddle… he even flipped the stem which raised the bar an inch-and-a-half:
The result of the new fitting was nothing short of stunning. The day after all of those changes, my wife accompanied us on a 68 mile ride on some fairly hilly terrain. She finished the ride tired, but with a smile on her face. The next day she went out for another 35 with my buddy, Mike. She rode Monday and again on Tuesday without a major complaint.
I have always been about small moves, so it was a real shock that all of those big moves paid off for my wife.
So back to the small moves. This is my Trek a few weeks ago:
This is my ride today:
Notice the nose of the saddle. It’s down a millimeter or two because it was putting pressure where pressure doesn’t belong. I also felt like I was sitting a little too upright on the bike so I rotated the drop bar down. That increased my reach slightly and lowered the hoods a bit so I’ll cut into the wind a little better when I’m riding on the hoods (something I felt I needed on that bike).
My first ride with the new set-up felt awesome. Still, I have a record of what I did in the event I have to put it back if I end up not liking it or it causes some unforeseeable pain.
That last point is key. When I went to pick my wife up at the shop, after her fitting, Matt handed me a sheet of paper with the old measurements and the new. This way, if the new set-up proved awkward, we could change everything back. I’d never done such a thing (because I’m either very sure of what I need/want or I’m very ignorant – I’m leaning toward the former but that might be a little optimistic…).
In any event, if you know your way around a bike set-up and can translate what you feel in the saddle into moving components around (that I can do), small moves and keeping track of them is the way to go. If, however, you’re like my wife and don’t, do not collect $200, do not pass Go, head straight to your local shop and get your bike squared away.
Finally, my best efforts weren’t enough to help my wife. God knows, I tried, but to no avail. It bums me out that I couldn’t figure everything out for her, but the changes were too big for my minimal experience. There is a very thin line between comfort and pain on even the squishiest of racing road bikes and I don’t recommend trying to straddle it.
Balance yes, straddle no.