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Monthly Archives: April 2018

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The Hardest Part of Owning a Specialized Venge… Admittedly, it’s good to have my problems.

I aired up the tires on the 5200 the other day and readied it for duty. It’s a fantastic bike and now that I have a good saddle on it, it’s exceptionally comfortable, a plush ride indeed… The bike and all of its components perform flawlessly.

1999 Trek 5200T

I walked into the bike room to get a cap to wear under my melon protector and there sat my Venge. Four pounds lighter than the Trek, lightning fast wheels and all go… Speeds that take a fair bit of “want to” on the Trek are vastly easier on the Specialized.

I can feel the difference in the transfer of power between the two bikes. The 5200 is a little squishy under full power. The Venge is stout.

Instead of going with the Trek, I pumped the tires up on the Venge and wheeled it out the door, threw a leg over the top tube and pushed off.  The instant surge forward is a little bit addicting when you push down on the pedals.  The smooth operation of the four-year-old steed is intoxicating.

Riding a Specialized Venge is like cheating compared to the Trek.  One day shortly I’m actually going to find out by how much (a friend has power meter pedals and I’m going to figure out how to measure the difference fairly) but in the meantime, I just have to smile every time I ride it.

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Cycling and Scheduling Days off; Rest is Different for Runners and Cycling. Don’t Confuse the Two.

I was once a runner.  I ran as much as I could but I never got to a point where I ran enough that I could become comfortable with running daily.  I was a three, maybe four times a week guy.   I didn’t understand back then that the key to being able to run every day was just doing it, then doing it enough that you would become comfortable with it.  Eventually.

Cycling, with its lack of jarring impact, is a different animal.  I started cycling four days a week right off the bat and quickly expanded, comfortably, to six.  This was all on a mountain bike, mind you.

I graduated to road cycling in short order and cycling took off for me.  Weekly mileage went from 4 miles (Sunday May 23, 2011) to 60 miles (for a full week) in five weeks.  I was just shy of 100 a week later.  Another four weeks and I was fluctuating between 85 and 105 miles a week – all on the mountain bike.  Then winter and I was training indoors on a trainer as well as running outdoors.  When spring hit, in March, I went straight into 100 mile weeks and I started flirting with the 150’s.  With road cycling, an easy week was 100 miles, a normal week was 150 and a heavy week approached 200.  Today, an average week is a little more than 200.  A heavy week is north of 300 and tops out north of 400 miles during DALMAC week.  The trick is, I might take one or two days a month off of the bike – and it’s been six or seven years since I took time off for an injury (other than letting a saddle sore heal).

Put simply, I don’t need time off like I did when I was running.

Right or wrong, according to whatever professional you’d want to ask, I’m happy and that’s what really matters most.

The trick to my ability to ride as much as I do is a judicious use of the easy day.  My hard days I’ll turn out an average pace between 20 & 23 mph (usually between 21 and 22).  It’s a rare day I’ll ride two hard days in a row, let alone three, and I only ride four hard days in a row once or twice a year.

Before a big day on the bike, I’ll ride easy and usually a little shorter, making sure to spin my legs out, tenderizing them if you will.  The end result, if done right, is that my legs feel a little more lively when I’m lining up for a tough ride.  There are a host of things I do to keep my body fit for cycling but the easy day is just as important as properly fueling a ride.

And here’s the best part: most people think that we fast people are all go all of the time.  While there’s some truth to that, in that our slow days are often faster than many other’s fast days, a 17-1/2 mph day is still a perfect speed to sit up and take in the sights that I’ll normally miss because we’re cruising down the road in a pace line with less than a foot or two between bikes at 40 feet per second (1/2 a meter/12 meters per second).

Two more Cents on the Wider Road Bike Tire Debate – My Experience

Okay, so here’s what I’ve got to go by:

Trek 5200: 20 lbs. 24mm tires

1999 Trek 5200T

Specialized Venge 16 lbs. 26mm tires (used to ride 23’s & 24’s)

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Specialized Diverge 23 lbs. 28mm tires

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So this is going to roam just a little bit, I’ll try to keep it tight and simple. I just rolled over 15,000 miles on the Venge – in other words, I’ve got a lot of saddle time on that bike, between 3,000 and 4,000 miles a year. In other, other words, I’m acutely aware of what the bike feels like.

My extensive experience on the Venge is only bested by that of my 5200, which I’ve been riding the longest of all my bikes.

We all know riding on rock-hard 23’s on great asphalt is fast. Those 23’s are great on good asphalt as well. These statements are not controversial, they are the truth. Unfortunately, we don’t often get great, or even good, asphalt to ride on, and that’s where the debate gets sticky.

Now, before we get into this, I can’t run anything more than a 24mm tire on the Trek. I tried a 26 last year and the paint was rubbed off of the chain stays (on my brand new stinkin’ paint job), so that bike is out of the discussion. That leaves the Venge, which will take a 26 but not much more. I’ve been riding 26mm tires for the last bit of the 2017 season and so far this season and I completely agree with reports that say the wider tires are faster on less than great pavement, and for exactly the reasons given – they smooth out road imperfections. I’m running 26mm tires at 95 psi instead of the 23’s or 24’s at 115+ and that 20 pounds over a greater surface area makes a fair bit of gnarliness go away.

See, the Venge is a true race bike. It’s stiff where it needs to be and compliant where it can be, but that’s within reason. Specialized didn’t sacrifice power-to-pedal stiffness for compliance, and with a barely padded saddle, much of the road vibration makes it through the bike to my butt. With the wider 26’s, the ride is much more enjoyable, and not noticeably slower – and keep in mind, with 15,000 miles on the bike, if it was slower, I’d know it.

So what about 28’s?

I don’t want to use 28’s, and there’s a good reason; I found out by chance that once you get to a certain level of performance, the 28’s are just too squishy unless you inflate them to a point where you’re defeating the purpose of riding the 28’s in the first place. I usually put 65-70 psi in the 28’s on my gravel bike when we’re riding them on pavement. I go with 60 on gravel roads for a little more stability. So, say I’ve got 70 psi in the tires and we’re on a stretch of pavement… I like the 28’s a lot – my gravel bike is aluminum and the 28’s smooth out the road considerably – they make the aluminum frame feel reasonable which is no small task. Normally aluminum frames are so stiff you can feel sand particles on the road – and I’m only a little hyperbolic there.  They are slow, though….

So I get out of the saddle to catch the lead group.  I put some serious wattage to the pedals… and the bike starts bouncing – a bounce every time I get to the power zone on the crank. And therein lies the rub. I’ve read reports that suggest going as wide as 45mm tires is better than 23’s… I’ve seen one that said 54’s. Folks, tires that wide may work fine if you’re putting about at 16 mph but if you’re going to be cruising at 23+ and sprinting for City Limit signs, let’s just say I’d be nuts going with anything more than a 26’s…. and anything more than 28, to say they’re better or faster than 23’s is simply bat-shit crazy. Comfort only goes so far against aerodynamics and rolling resistance.

Don’t agree? Try that gravel bike with 45’s in our A-Group club ride where they’re turning out a 24+ mph average.  Good luck with that, Skippy. If your last name isn’t Sagan, you’re getting dropped… and that’s the whole point; the wider tires become a disadvantage shortly after 26mm.

To recap, 25’s and 26’s are excellent.

The big point I wanted to get at is that 28’s are a little too much for fast rides unless you pump them up with enough air to negate the comfort benefit of the wider tire. Anything more than 26’s I’ll save for dirt roads (and I have to tell you, on anything but freshly grated dirt roads, 28’s are excellent).

Cycling, Fitness and the Perfect Hour (well, 56m:46s anyway)

I love 5pm on a weekday.  My day starts between 3:30 and 4:30am, so by Five in the evening, I’m about done.  In the industry I’ve chosen as a career, it’s quite normal for people to ignore their cellphone, especially when they’re “in trouble”.  I decided, when cellphones first came out, that I wouldn’t be one of those people.  For that reason alone, I hate ignoring my phone to ride.  I won’t do it, even though I could get away with it.  That is, right up until 5:00pm on the nose.  At 5:01, my butt is dressed, helmet on, shoes on, tires pumped, and on my way out the door – then my time starts.

Last evening fit into that mold exactly.  It was 61° and sunny with a decent breeze out of the west…  Technically, too cool to skip the knee warmers (the cutoff is 65°), but after our extended winter, I didn’t care.  I left the knee warmers in the dresser drawer.

I started out a little slow because it felt like there was a little north to that west wind, but quickly found my rhythm and the speed ratcheted up.  By the time I’d turned west, into the wind, I was cruising easy between 20 & 21 mph, down in the drops to avoid the worst of the headwind.  I chuckled thinking about our local shop owner’s description of the local wind; “The wind is Michigan’s mountains”.  We don’t have many big climbs around here but we get plenty of wind.

Cruising in bibs and a short-sleeve jersey for just the second time this year, I was struck with a happy, content feeling.  That feeling is why I ride.  My brain shut off, with the exception of normal cycling related duties, and I rolled.

I pulled into my driveway, 17.6 miles in 56 minutes and some change, having ridden the Trek and that 18.5 mph pace was easy…  This is definitely going to be a good year.  I am a little heavy, but I’m also in fantastic shape.

I enjoy that hour ride after work.  I appreciate the shortness of it, the simplicity, the low impact to my busy schedule…  It’s so easy to fit into my life and does so much to keep me sane.  Life is always better after that hour.  Oh, and a shower.  Woof.

There is no question there’s recovery without fitness… The question is would I want anything to do with it?

I’ve been in recovery from addiction for 25 years. I’ve been into fitness in one form or another for close to 20 of those – the first three, skip five-ish years, then the last seventeen, give or take.

I didn’t mess around with those five missing years, either. I did it right, they were sedentary. My weight shot up from a scrawny 150 pounds to a chubby-ish 195.

I didn’t know what I had those first few years of fit recovery. As fitness went, I just did what I did and concentrated on fixing what was wrong with me so I could recover. It wasn’t until that second stretch of fitness started – after I’d put some time in and cleared up much of the wreckage – that I was able to grasp what I’d previously taken for granted.

It all started with running.

I didn’t want to be a runner, I hated it with a passion… right up until I didn’t want to be fat more than I didn’t want to run. I never loved running, but that endorphin rush, after having no mood or mind-altering drugs for so long, felt awesome. I did come love that.

Then came cycling and I could have that feeling every time I rode, and I could ride almost daily. For some reason it doesn’t work the same inside, on the trainer, but I rode the trainer through the winter just the same, to stay sane and thin.

Now, cycling is special to me. I do love cycling. I love the toys, I love the mechanics of it, the physics, the friends, and the “want to”…. and I love the perspective and dimension it adds to my recovery.

Recovery from addiction is about coming back from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. Quitting drinking, dope, and cigarettes is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and likely the hardest thing I’ll ever do. I was miserable and beat down when I quit. Over time, throughout my recovery from that hopeless state of mind.  Fitness has provided an excellent balance to my recovery.

There’s no doubt there’s recovery without fitness, but fitness makes recovery better.  I am a pickle and always will be, so recovery is the only option for me that keeps me on the right side of the grass.  I would continue in recovery without fitness – I just wouldn’t like it as much.

Tuesday Night Club Ride; Wet, Rented Mule Edition

You know those days as a cyclist; you know you should probably phone it in for a day off. The radar shows you’re hit but the hourly forecast says you’ll be fine (from three different weather sites). You show up, do the warm-up and figure you’ll cut it short if it looks hairy… Right?

Then, it looks hairy but you’re having too much fun because the winter went on forever and you’re tired of that stupid trainer anyway, so you hope for the best.  You ride on, only for the skies to open up on you.

Two miles later you’re hoping you can outride the rain. Two miles after that and you know by the size of the drops hitting your helmet that it’s gonna get bumpy.  Then, because the group you ride with is awesome and strong, you do outrun the rain.

That was last night, in a nutshell – and it was awesome.

The weather was iffy at best.  The radar was awash in green and we were scratching our heads as to whether or not we should even ride.  On the other hand, the hourly forecast showed no appreciable rain until well after we’d be finished. As is typical with me, I don’t mind if I’m caught out in it but I find it difficult to start in the rain.  It really wasn’t raining, so I supported going with it, and ride we did… and wet we got, though it was more of a “damp”, really.

As for the rented mule part, including last night’s 38+ miles, I’ve ridden 213 miles in the last five days and I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time up front.  I do this, in part, because I can.  I also do it because there were a lot of people who did the same for me when I was a noob.  We had a double pace-line with four cyclists per side rolling last night and I took a lot of turns up front.  I spent so much time up front, I had nothing left for the sprints – both the midway sprint where I simply got beat by Chuck who’d ridden my wheel until I was out of gas 50 meters before the sign and the final sprint where I finished dead last in the group.  I had nothing left in the tank.  While I didn’t get my sprints, as I’ve written before, sometimes you’re the sprinter, sometimes you’re the lead out in group rides.  Last night I was the lead out, I just led out for a bunch of miles.  What was important, at least to me, was that I left everything I had on the road.  It was awesome.

And by the time my fish and shrimp dinner was set down in front of me, I wasn’t thinking about the rain or being wiped out…  I was thinking about how awesome it is to be me, and that’s what cycling is all about.

The Exact, Specific Reason I Train Like a Dope All Winter Long. Part 643

Straight off the trainer I rode 17-1/2 miles on Thursday, 35 Friday, 50 Saturday, and another 52 Sunday. Not a bad four-day tally this early in the season, especially after the never-ending winter. Monday seemed like a good day for a day off, or at the most, an short, easy active recovery ride….

There was a problem, though; it was 71° (21 C), sunny, with a light breeze. The first shorts and short sleeves day of 2018.

So, scratch the day off. No chance I’m polishing the leather couch with my butt when it’s 70° outside.  I called my buddy, Chuck and Jonathan had asked by text if I was riding at 5… We got lucky and moved everything up to 4pm as well – bonus miles.

We started with a mild tailwind. 22 mph was easy, 23 took some effort, but I’d promised Chuck we’d take it easy after the stretch of weekend miles. I kept it around 22 and we just rolled down the road.   It was wonderful to be outside minus the thermal layers!

I took the first two miles, then Chuck took a turn, then Jonathan. We kept a nice turnover going and every one took long turns up front. We were riding like a finely tuned machine.  Heading south we encountered our first bit of headwind. We did quite well with it, though. We managed two mile turns at 19-20 mph.  We stopped at a gas station at mile 14 because Jonathan’s rear derailleur needed to be indexed to get the clicking out of it…  I showed him how to do it in ten seconds, we took a drink and rolled.

For the next ten-ish miles we had one form or tailwind or another – mostly cross, but every once in a while we’d hit a stretch with a dead-on tailwind.  We rolled pretty fast through there, taking care to maximize the draft – there wasn’t much riding on the hoods, it was all drops and all go.

The final twelve were always going to be the toughest, we knew that going in.  In my neck of the woods, if we want to get to the quiet roads during the week, we have to go south and west…  When we’ve got a southeast wind (as we often do during springtime) that usually means the last bit of the ride is going to be mostly headwind.

Fortunately, Jonathan is a pastor of a local church and he isn’t able to get out in the morning on the weekends… so he had fresh legs.  I let him know right up front that we were going to ride him like a rented mule and we did.  And he stayed took us home like a champ.  Chuck and I would take a mile or two but Jonathan was taking 3 & 4 miles at a chunk, and at almost 22 mph at times.

And that’s where we come to the title of the post.  I rode outside four days in a row, now five, fresh off of the trainer and we were crushing out some really tough miles into that cross headwind with nowhere to hide, really.  Traffic on that stretch is notoriously bad so we kept it to the shoulder, often riding in a 1′ strip of asphalt, into a cross headwind, at 22 mph.  To say it was tough is an understatement, but I was fit enough to hang.

If I hadn’t trained like I do, without fail, without hesitation, and without waiver in intensity, there’s no way that ride goes off like it did.  Either I’m looking at the best day of the year from the couch in front of the TV or I’m riding alone because I got dropped (or we’re riding a lot slower as a group, there’s a fair chance Chuck and Jonathan would have waited up).  Instead, we got a great workout, in only bibs and jerseys, on a perfect day for a bike ride.  We ended up with 36-1/2 miles at a 19.1 mph average pace.

My friends, it doesn’t get any better than that.