I have a bit of a problem, and before I even get into this, it’s a good problem to have… I give myself five sick days a year, on top of a couple weeks of vacation. The problem is, I don’t get sick often. It’s been two years since I burned a sick day because I was actually sick, so by and large my sick days go unused.
For the most part.
Every now and again, as a cyclist, I bump into a perfect day for a ride and the standard 16-17 mile evening ride won’t do. Yesterday was one of those days.
This past winter was ridiculous as weather goes. Last year I was able to log 400 outdoor miles between January and February. This year, a measly 183, and a third of those were in the last four days – in other words, we’ve been stuck inside for a long stretch.
Yesterday’s forecast called for mid 50’s (12 C), mostly sunny skies and a mild breeze. The mild breeze part was a little off but the sunshine and mild temperature bit was right on. We rode at 8:30 in the morning, call it 38 (3 C) and rising. My buddy Mike, my wife and I fought the wind for eighteen miles before letting it push us home. As one would expect, that eighteen miles into the wind wasn’t the greatest but the return trip was a blast.
The abundance of sun had taken the temp from just above freezing to 56° (13 C) in just an hour and, for the first time in four months I was warm on a bike ride. It was spectacular.
36 miles and some change, a little more than two hours, and a fantastic morning. It was so awesome I went into work after showering up. I was never very good at taking time off anyway.
It never ceases to amaze me, that little weight drop when the outdoor miles begin after the big thaw…. Chuck went to Arizona for a month and it appears he sent us some nice weather.
Saturday was a peach of a 32 miler, Sunday was way too windy for cycling, and I played a little hooky at lunch yesterday because it was almost 50 degrees. The sun was so brilliant, I thought I was in the wrong state.
If you remember that photo of our front yard half-flooded the other day, the photo above shows that the rain soaked into the ground pretty well. Let’s just say our water table is replenished. After yesterday’s short lunch time ride I showered up and got dressed, only to realize I needed a belt. As long as I choose my food wisely, cycling is like cheating. Just one more reason to love riding – cycling ROCKS!
Freaking Unbelievable: Our First Ride of the Season (Before the Season Technically Begins) is Just what the Doctor Ordered. Um, Literally and Figuratively.
We rolled out at 9 am, shortly after I pulled into the driveway after dropping the kids off for a swim meet. The temp, a balmy 35° – and that’s in Fahrenheit, not Celsius. I think that works out to 2C or something. Rather than rolling out on the tandem, I decided we oughta take the singles out… I’ve been itching to take the Trek out for a proper ride after I changed up the cockpit.
There were six of us, a decent group for a day just barely the good side of freezing. We kept it really tame, considering one of the guys who joined us is a serious mountain bike racer.
Folks, we just rode. 32 miles, 18 mile an hour average. The cool part, at least for me, was that the Trek’s cockpit change really felt great. See, on the Venge, when my wife takes a turn up front, I can get low enough in the drops to actually get a draft off of her when she gets down on her aero bars. Worse, she doesn’t know it but she has a tendency to put the hammer down because she can’t see her computer – getting a decent draft is fairly important behind her:
That wasn’t the case on the Trek – the front end was just a little too high, so my head and shoulders were out of the draft. Now I can get down low enough that I’m entirely in the draft.
32 miles for the first ride of the new season – and I could have easily done 40+. This is going to be a great year – I haven’t lost a beat from last fall.
There was an unfortunate part to our ride. We started out with the wind at our back. We fought the wind all the way home, which meant that we were a little chilly by the time we pulled into the driveway. On the other side of that, we spent more than an hour and three-quarters in the fresh air. Forget about all of the weight benefits and the cardiovascular benefits… A ride outside does the soul good. As the day went on, I felt more grateful for having gone out. After a long, cold winter with a bunch of snow, there’s nothing better than finally getting outside.
If you’re interested in nursing, read the linked post…
I spend the cycling off-season getting the bikes ready for the next year. New cables, new chains – in this year’s case, new brake calipers on my wife’s and my A bike. I also attended to some simple projects like having my name put on the Trek and hooking that bike up with a more aggressive front end. Best I can tell, we’re ready to go.
I thoroughly enjoyed this winter. While I rode most every day on the trainer, I enjoyed the simple schedule and putting in some miles in front of the television – unquestionably boring, but the flexibility in the schedule wasn’t so bad.
Different this year, I got a lot of good maintenance work done on the bikes and that, surprisingly, kept me engaged and constantly looking forward to the coming spring. My wife’s bike is in fantastic shape and probably got the most meaningful upgrade of all of the bikes. The new brakes are going to vastly improve the handling of her bike. The Venge was fairly straightforward, and the Trek jumped in stature from just my “rain bike” to a righteous classic steed. Other than wheels, in the distant future, the bike is as good as I can get it.
So, with the temperature outside finally topping freezing (it’s been colder than normal for most of the winter) and looking like they’ll hold for the foreseeable future, cycling season starts today. In just under two hours my friends will start showing up and we’ll roll out….
For those who are cooped up for the winter, you know how good this day feels; It’s finally time to get some fresh air!
I was driving to my normal Thursday night meeting after dropping my daughter off at a band concert and I passed the local shop. Much to my surprise, the “Open” sign was still lit when the shop should have been closed. Being that the owner is one of my favorite people in the world, I signaled and turned into the parking lot, only to see my friend, Chuck’s truck in the parking lot as well. I went in and they were setting up Chuck’s newly painted 2008 Specialized Tarmac – he also upgraded the componentry to last year’s Ultegra and put a new Aerofly handlebar, so the front end is now cleaned up… Put simply, the bike looks awesome, especially compared to where it was before the paint job.
Chuck is understandably stoked.
He was also a bit on the bummed side. Unlike my set of Aerofly handlebars, Chuck’s are the riser variety, that has 25mm of rise built into them:
So he’s atop the bike, spinning away on the trainer to make sure the fit is right, and Matt asks if I want to help fit him… I automatically freeze, because, not to put it mildly, I’m navel lint next to Matt, but offer a lame, “He looks comfortable”. Chuck stops pedaling and dismounts. We start talking about the position of the handlebar and how he’s thinking he might want to lower it a little bit to counter the rise in the bar because there are only a few centimeters’ drop from the saddle to the bar. That’s when I added, “Absolutely, slam that stem. Drop that bar all the way and don’t bother waiting”. Matt suggested that he wait and make sure the initial setup works, first.
What’s the right way to proceed?
Folks, the most important thing in cycling (especially if you want to do so with any speed), without question, is that the bike fits the rider. This goes double for the noob cyclist. Until you’ve spent a butt-ton of time in the saddle, it’s best to go with the shop’s set-up until you get some miles on your heinie.
That’s not the end of the discussion, though, especially for the cycling enthusiast.
Here it is, the second most important thing…
Once you know your way around bikes, the second most important thing is that the cyclist looks at his or her bike and can’t help but think, “My bike is awesome“. Whether we’re riding an old classic, a 2008 Tarmac, a 2013 Venge Comp, a classic Trek 5200, or a brand spankin’ new Trek Madone 9-point-Sweet Jesus on a pedal bike, if the cycling enthusiast thinks they’re riding an inferior bike or they’re not confident in their bike’s set-up and/or looks, they’re going to be lost.
Chuck knows those bars must come down to be in the “cool kids” club and whether that is technically right or wrong has absolutely no bearing on the fact that Chuck thinks that’s gotta happen. It just is what it is, so make it happen. There’s no sense fighting it.
My bikes have been tinkered with so that they are as cool as I can afford to get them. Stems were slammed, angles were toyed with, saddle tilt was adjusted (and is still being monkeyed with on the Trek), and I’ve spent thousands of hours in the saddle getting used to an aggressive position so I could be one of the cool kids. More important, whether someone else thinks I am a cool kid is irrelevant because they’re not pushing on my pedals.
The only question left is whether to start tinkering right away or to play it safe.
I have, up until this post, always maintained that a little restraint is wise – go a little bit at a time until you hit that spot where you’re so low you’re not comfortable, then raise the bar 5mm and ride it. That’s how I did it, and that’s generally how I would recommend it be done. On the other hand, we have to add the cyclist’s experience to the context as well, and Chuck is a great example. He’s been riding for a fair amount of time, he’s been riding the same bike for years. He knows that bike and he knows what he wants. In that case, I say go for it… Why wait when we’re only talking about swapping some spacers?
On one hand, absolutely, we want to be comfortable on our steeds. On the other, once we’ve put in our saddle time and know what we want, go for it. Don’t wait, don’t put it off. Worst case scenario, if you don’t like what you’ve done, lowering a handlebar isn’t permanent until you have the fork cut down. You can always undo or modify what you did to make it work… and the best time to do that is when you’ve still got some days left on the trainer before it’s nice enough to take the “A” bike outside.
You’ve seen that view before on this blog. Most of the year it looks a lot like this:
We had a nice temp the other day but there’s no riding outdoors. Roads are flooded out, the wind was howling, it’s simply gnarly for as comfortable as the temp was.
Back to the refrigerator yesterday though… It may be back to chilly but it’ll be perfect for some early spring cycling later on this week. And the roads will be cleaned off from the rain. Glass half full, or better!
In the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with the trainer. Works great. Even hammered out two rides yesterday, in between work.
When in doubt, double up.
If you’re new to recovery, in recovery, or struggling a little bit with your recovery, grab a cup of coffee and stick around a few minutes. This one isn’t short, but it gets somewhere good.
I follow a lot of recovery blogs – I’ve also unfollowed as many, or more… and the unfollows are all due to a personal flaw of mine. I find it difficult to sit back and watch someone blindly walk through their recovery and fail, only to blame that failure on a symptom of the problem. Worse is to watch someone continuously put themselves into positions that make failure inevitable, let alone more likely.
My problem is that when I decided to quit, I didn’t mess around. Even at 22 years old, barely old enough to drink legally in the USA, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, my drinking career had come to its inglorious end. That didn’t come immediately, though. I was sent to inpatient treatment at a working farm (back when they detoxed you right, I was still hungover, with alcohol in my system, when they sent me to the pigsty to shovel pig $#!+. Cold turkey, baby). The day of my intake, I fully planned on doing my time in treatment, just long enough to get out of trouble with the law, to return to my drinking. Two weeks in and I’ve still got the shakes, night sweats, nausea… That’s when I knew if I kept drinking, what was left of my existence would suck. I’m one of those lucky few whose liver can’t keep up with my stomach and melon. Based on liver enzyme readings, doctors gave me till I was 30 for my liver to completely shut down if I kept drinking as I was. Folks, dead at thirty.
So, that brings us to my decision to quit, to really quit. I was fortunate enough to not involve my ego in that decision – I didn’t care what I had to do, I just wanted the pain to stop (mental and physical, remember, I’m going cold turkey). This is the beauty of doing things the hard way, my friends. By relieving the symptoms of detox with drugs, you lessen, even cheapen, the experience of the detox. My detox lasted weeks and it was f***ing miserable. There’s no way I wanted to go through that again. The fear of reliving my detox helped to keep me sober. If it’s not as painful, it’s not as big a deterrent to picking up a drink again. Anyway, my ego… the one thing that I knew when I quit was that I knew nothing. I had no clue how to stay sober. I couldn’t make it more than a few days with my best effort, so I’d do whatever they told me to do. I’d have stood on my head in the corner if that would have done any good (though I didn’t make that public knowledge, lest someone take advantage of it for a good laugh). They handed me a book and said the instructions for how to stay sober are on the first 164 pages. Do that and you’ll have a chance, so I did.
I also didn’t have a major problem with “the whole God thing”. Let’s just say I was comfortable with not knowing anything – even at 22 when we know everything. I considered myself a “recovering Catholic” right from the beginning. I didn’t get the whole “fire and brimstone” God that I’d been taught about since I was a kid, so I took baby steps and I talked about my hang-ups… then, because I’d put my ego on the shelf, I actually listened to others who had figured that out already, and I tried to do what they did. Eventually I came up with a concept of God that worked for me – that didn’t require me to stand on a hill with a trumpet, extolling God (in fact, I often have a problem with God’s cheerleading squad – they’re just as insufferable as the tiny minority who are anti-God and loud). However you choose to look at it, I made a deal with God on the day I decided, for real, to quit drinking. I thought, “God, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll give this recovery thing everything I’ve got, if you’ll help me”.
That was it, nothing more, and the weight that was removed was immeasurable. Well, immeasurable at least until I did a Fifth Step, that was so awesome I still can’t quantify it without sounding like a USA Figure Skating announcer (ridiculously over-the-top enthusiastic).
Sometime after leaving treatment, and with a full desire to continue my sobriety, I walked into a bar with my six-month coin. Actually, it wasn’t any bar, it was my bar. My stomping grounds. I can’t remember why I went in there, it wasn’t nefarious and it wasn’t so I’d be tempted – in fact, it wasn’t even at night… Anyway, I spoke with the owner for a bit, and let him know I’d quit and wouldn’t be around anymore. He said, and I can still remember this 25 years later, “Wow, I didn’t know you had a problem”. All I could think was, “Wow, you’re not very perceptive.” A short while later (a couple of months maybe) I was at a bar across the street with a good friend from school, celebrating his birthday with a local police officer friend of his… They had beers, I had a near beer. I’d been sober for going on eight months and drank that near beer without issue. Then I ordered another. I drank that one half-down and froze. I stood up, apologized and said I had to go. I left some cash on the table and walked out the door.
The infinitesimal amount of alcohol in a non-alcoholic beer triggered something in my melon that took me straight back to the day before I went to treatment. I was scared. I drove to an outpatient treatment center I’d been through a couple of years earlier and asked to see my old counselor. She saw me and I explained what had happened. She explained that I had been as close to a relapse as a person could get without actually relapsing. Let’s just say I understood. I thought I’d been doing good. After some analysis with that counselor, though, I found that I’d been falling away for almost a month and a half. I called my sponsor on the way home.
That conversation was interesting. He gave me a few pages to read from the Big Book and asked me how I parked my car, whether I pulled into a spot nose first or whether I backed in. I told him I pulled in nose first. He said I should back in to every parking spot for the next month and that he’d tell me why after the month was up.
I did. For a month I backed into every parking spot I could. At the end of the month he let me in on why. He said, Jim, I had you back into parking spots for a month because it was easy and if you weren’t willing to do something that easy without complaint, there’s no way you’d be willing to do what it takes to stay sober. It was more than fifteen years before I found a reason to walk into a bar again, and that time it was with a sober friend who also happened to be my salesman from work… and that was the last time I was in a bar.
This goes back to that “stand on my head in the corner” thing. Most people, especially nowadays, would question backing into a parking spot to stay sober. They’d say it was stupid and useless and tell me how stupid I am for requiring such a stupid thing… All the while, proving exactly why they can’t stay sober and keep relapsing.
Motherfucker, I said stand on your head in the corner and it’ll help you stay sober.
It did me. Folks, my biggest hurdle in the way of my recovery was me.
Often, the bike we own limits our ability to modify it to fit. In my case, my Trek is a 58cm standard frame. It is the exact size for my height. If I’d bought a 56cm, there would be a little more room in the cockpit for adjustment, but then the back half measurements are a little bit more finicky. Today’s modern compact frames allow for a little more adjustability in that respect…
I wrote, last week, about a change I decided to make to the Trek, where I went from a 10° stem (flipped) to a 17° stem (flipped as well), both were 90mm***. I did this to make the rain bike (or winter bike as they’re called in the UK – there’s no such thing as a road bike for the winter up in the northern Midwest of the U.S.A. – we have to use fat bikes for winter with the amount of snow we get). Point is, there are no spacers that aren’t necessary to the function of the bike below the stem – I’ve run out of spacers, so the only thing left to lower the handlebar was to go with a more aggressive stem. We’re seeing a lot more of this in the pro ranks as well, though they go a lot farther than I ever would. Where I’m at now, I’m maxed out as my flexibility goes.
Let’s do a before and after – some things to look for: The angle of the handlebar – I was able to rotate the bar forward so the bottom of the drops were parallel with the ground, and that changed how my weight was handled at the front of the bike. Because the hoods are now parallel to the ground, my weight is better centered on the bike rather than the hoods pulling me forward to the front of the bike.
Now, it’s easy to get lost in the little details, especially as the bottom of the brake levers look to be quite close to the same level in both photos… This is because I could rotate the bar up a little bit. Look at the bottom of the drops, though. In the top photo they’re clearly above the closest line. In the bottom photo they clearly split that same line in the garage door. In other words, I’ve got a couple of centimeters more drop in the handlebar by switching to the 17° stem. The bike also looks slammin’ with the new stem on there. I have to do something with the computer mount as that clearly won’t do, but that notwithstanding, the bike is much more comfortable to ride.
So, if you run out of spacers and you would like a little more drop, go with a more aggressive stem… I’m vastly happier for having finally done it. Best I can tell, because I never bothered to measure anything, I ended up with about 1″ of drop, swapping out the stems, or about 2.7 cm. Give or take.
Finally, I have one little, exceptionally important tip; You don’t have to go it alone on this change if you don’t know exactly what you want. Ask if you can borrow a used stem in the length and rise you want at your local shop to try. Being the cycling geek I am, I knew exactly what I wanted. If you don’t, your local shop will work with you. Just know this: If you bum a stem from the local shop, only to turn around and order what you want online, you are, in cycling parlance, what is called a twatwaffle. If we were to use non-cycling parlance, we would say snake shit is higher than you. Actually, check that, monkeys fling you… Get it?
If you’re going to buy on the net, at least do the honorable thing and order what you think you want and try it. If you don’t like what you got, send it back and try another size/rise.
***My old flipped 10° stem and the new flipped 17° were both 90mm. The 17° stem increases the reach by more than a few millimeters when you flip it (it decreases the reach when you use it right-side-up. Be careful here, especially if you’re going from a 6° to a 17… The difference in reach can be significant and you might need a shorter stem to keep your cockpit reach comfortable.
It’s a rare day in February I’m going to ride twice in one day. In fact, yesterday very well could have been my first ever. For February. Just want to be clear…
It was supposed to be a perfect morning for a ride. Wait, back it up… It was a perfect morning for a ride. Sun, mild temp and minor breeze. Where that got messed up was the inch of snow that was dropped on the roads the night before. That turned into slop and ice overnight with the temp hoovering around freezing.
I cancelled the ride and Mrs. Bgddy and I put our miles in on the trainer around 10 a.m. It started warming up just about the time we were wrapping up, but it was gnarly wet out. Without an Ass-saver there was no way.
Around noon, any hint of a cloud moved off – blue sky, sunshine, and the temp warming up to the low 40’s… there’s just no way I can pass that up. The only question in my mind was, Trek or gravel bike?
With the new stem and cockpit on the Trek, I
wanted had to try it out on the road.
Well, the feel of the new set-up was fantastic. The extra seven degrees of drop to the stem was exactly what I’d hoped for. I am fairly certain if I’d gone with a 25° stem it would have been too much.
My average speed wasn’t all that impressive, actually it was quite slow, but for this early in the season and for the second ride in a day, I can live with it. I was a little bummed that I had to ride solo, but better to ride solo than not at all.
And with that, it’ll be back on the trainer tonight. Nice temps but rain that’s supposed to be measurable in “inches” will be enough to keep me inside. The rain is good news, though – it’ll wash the roads off.
For my buddy, Steve… check out the rear wheel in the photo above… Cheap rear wheel for the trainer – the rear wheel that matches the front has a new tire on it and is waiting to be swapped out in the event I can take it outdoors in the near future. No changing tires, just wheels and a small adjustment of the rear derailleur to get everything lined up right. Twenty seconds instead of five minutes.