I’ve been having a rough go at work lately and I’ve been using my evening rides as a break to center my melon. Last night’s ride was exceptional for that. Chuck called at 4:00 to let me know he was going to be a little late, so naturally I left a little bit early. I rode at my normal leisurely pace (call it 17-18-mph) and just wandered for a few miles. I headed over to Chuck’s house to find he hadn’t made it home yet, so I took a lap around his neighborhood and caught him pulling up to his driveway on the second. A few more laps and he was ready to go. The pace kicked up considerably and we did our normal 17-1/2 mile weekday loop.
The ride was divine, if exceptionally hot.
I ended up with 25 miles (just short, I actually had to mount back up and head out of the driveway for a tenth of a mile) when the dust cleared and headed in to the house.
My mind cleared, I sat down to dinner and watched Star Trek (the third newest one) on DVD with my kids. I drifted off to sleep… some time after the final act, but definitely before the credits ended. It was one of those nights; I’m sitting there enjoying the evening and BAM. I’m asleep.
I woke up this morning fresh and recharged, ready to tackle another day. It’s going to be another doozy, but I’ll be as ready as I can be for it… and I’ll likely throw another bike ride at the day this evening (and it’ll be another slow one).
This is my favorite benefit from cycling, shedding all of the day’s “junk” before dinner. A bike ride has fixed a whole lot of “messed up” for me, and for that I am grateful.
Last night’s edition of the TNCR was a mess, that’s the only way to put it.
We watched the A Group roll out at 6:01 and we followed shortly thereafter, after I called three times, “Let’s roll”. Jonathan and I took the first turn up front. Jonathan and I don’t do well at the front together. For some unknown, but highly scientific, reason the two of us have a tendency to start out slow but take it to hyper-speed in a matter of seconds. Unfortunately, at the same time we hit 21-mph, the rest of the group realized “Let’s roll” meant “my friends, it is Tuesday at 6:02pm in the evening (lady redundant woman) and we are astride our bicycles, which means it would be about that time to depart on our most excellent ride”. Which also meant they were about a half-mile back.
There were five of us off the front and as soon as we realized the other fifteen members of our group weren’t there, we sat up so they could catch us.
Of course, on their catching up we were informed that it was all our fault. It didn’t improve much from there.
Riding was tough last night. Hot, sticky, Dave described it best, methinks, “the air is thick”. Heading down Shipman Road was downright miserable, dead into a headwind that was barely there, but smacked you in the forehead like a 2×4. Ironically, this was the first time in the ride that the rotation started to work properly. Normally we’ll have guys scrambling to hide behind stronger riders when the headwind hits, but for once, people were pulling through.
I wasn’t taking too many turns up front at that point, maybe one or two more than normal, but we had the hills coming up and I had a feeling they were going to be ugly into a cross headwind from the left. I wasn’t mistaken. The order shuffled on each of the three humps till we hit the top. Then we got stuck behind a train after we rounded the corner to start the next climb. I welcomed the breather.
The next three hills kind of shook the group out and I think that was what was needed, because after the regroup, everything seemed to come together. The sprint was like any other sprint, except I timed Toby just right and he ran out of gas (for once) about 200 yards from the City Limits sign. I took it by a good margin. We reformed in town and headed for the home stretch…
The gang was rolling nicely at something like 25 or 26-mph with a decent cross tailwind when we came up to a 10′ chunk of road that had been torn up to get cable across the road. Amazingly I picked the perfect line through the gravel and made it through smoothly… or so I thought. A minute later my bike started bouncing with each pedal-stroke, the telltale sign of a flat. I raised my arm, yelled “FLAT”, and worked over to the side of the road.
I expected to be left alone on the side of the road to fix my tire – I wouldn’t have stopped for anyone either, but I was shocked to see Jonathan peel off the back of the group and head toward me. I made quick work of the tire and tube, almost blowing my CO2, but I’d gotten enough into the tube and we were on our way.
Ukulele Dave, after dropping somewhere back in the hills, caught us just as I was getting my tire seated on the rim and joined us for the last seven-ish miles back to the parking lot. Jonathan and I had kicked around whether to hammer it home or take it easy, but we never made a decision… I made it for us. 23-mph was easy enough so we kept it there all the way to the City Limits sign, though Dave did nothing more than sit in our draft. Jonathan and I were hitting it pretty hard and rolling over every couple of miles. We rolled over the City Limits sign with a 20.8 average (so Strava said – Jonathan ended with a 20.7).
So here’s my takeaway after that mess of a ride…
First, there wasn’t anything I’d have rather been doing on a Tuesday evening. Second, even though most of the ride seemed like a mess, when I was off the back with a flat, a friend stuck around to help me out. Man, it doesn’t get much better than that. Third, hey, it sure beat work.
The special at the diner last night was an “inside-out grilled cheese” sammich with a bowl of chili. And to think I almost went for a small pizza instead! If you’re a fan of the grilled cheese sammich and ever see an inside-out option on the menu, get it. Freakin’ amazing.
We have a group for every level of cyclist or bike rider in our club. About the only cyclist we can’t give a good workout to is a Cat 1 pro or better. For the purposes of this post, I’ll mainly be referring to our B Group, because that’s the one I know best – it’s the one I ride with.
We split the A Group in two a few years ago because the A guys were simply getting too fast for many of us to be useful. We ended up just hanging out at the back while the real A guys spent the first twenty miles trying to shake us off. We B guys (and ladies) would get spit off the back of the group over about fifteen miles, which meant we rode back alone – or with a few others if we were lucky.
Long story short, we split after much consternation. There were a several who were reluctant, but both groups were happier for the split. The A guys were vastly smoother for not having to weed us out. And we were smoother because we didn’t have to ride with our tongues dangling in our spokes anymore. With that split, a C, D, E and F group became more solidified as well.
I can remember our first Tuesday night this year with near perfect weather. I must have met 20 new cyclists that night, from all stripes. We had a guy on his mountain bike, his wife on her road rig (an Argon 18), a new kid on a Schwinn road bike with toe clips, several new guys who went with the A group, and we picked up three in the B group – almost all of whom have become regular riders. As new riders have come in, I meet them, introduce myself (I’m the club’s
dictator president), and talk to them about their level of cycling ability, at which time I fit them in the group I think they’ll enjoy the most – after explaining that they can jump to the next group any time they like.
We’ve got calendar rides almost every day of the week and I’ve got a private invitation list that started out twelve deep but is now up to 26 (and counting).
The club sponsors one major ride per year – other than that, all we do is ride our bikes and try to promote the sport.
We have what I believe is the perfect club. It requires little work to keep going, has virtually no “dependents” (those who require constant attention), and each little group is self-sustaining… not to mention the fact that we’re far enough out in farm country that we have hundreds of miles of roads to ride on that are exceptionally light on traffic.
I follow cyclists’ blogs from around the world and from what I’ve read, what we have something special. Minimal effort, maximum enjoyment – and if you’ve got a bike and know how to ride it, we’ve got a group for you to ride in.
It’s as good as it gets.
Oh, by the way, if you have one of those litigious types who wants a form and a waiver to be signed before (and likely after) each ride, along with the filling out of a rider satisfaction card, shut the club down and ignore that person (or group of people) until they move. Then start afresh. If a bike ride takes that much paperwork, they’re f***ing doing it wrong.
I do, however, recommend the proper insurance(s). You don’t want to find out you have one of those losers in your club after it’s too late.
Our club has everything, from racers to our own resident old cranky fella. In his youth he was fast. We’ve got an A Group, a B Group, and every other letter represented down to F. Maybe G.
For the most part we don’t interact together all that much. The A guys are too fast for the B’s, the B’s are too fast for the C’s, etc… It’s just too messy for the group above to try to take it back enough for the group below. Every once in a while, though, we get a day where a few of the A guys will want to hang with us for a bit, and some are better at it than others. Every once in a while, some of the B’s will ride with the C’s – again, some are better at it than others. I am one of the others, though I have my days where I play well, if I’m on the Trek. Dave, a Cat 2 or 3 masters racer is one of the A guy others, while Greg or Winston can match their pace with ours quite well.
The Assenmacher Pre-Ride, where a group of B’s ride the 100 mile route to give the route a once-over. That was yesterday… I’d invited a few of the A guys, Greg, Dave and Todd – Greg and Todd work well with others, Dave is working on it and showing significant improvement.
We, the gang, my wife and I, rolled at 8am, or a few minutes thereafter, and having gotten one mechanical issue taken care of within three miles of leaving, we took the pace to our normal 21-23 mph. As has become quite normal this year, the weather was absolutely perfect. 62°, sunny and no wind. It’s amazing how many days we’ve had like that this summer. Anyway, we picked Greg and Dave up en route, stopped at the gas station in Byron, and headed on – that first stop and 17 miles (or so), we didn’t stop again till somewhere around 50 miles. We had a good turnover, as well. Dave and Greg would take a five mile pull at 22-23 mph, then we’d roll over four turns between 20 and 22 to give everyone a break, then Greg and Dave would come back to the front and take over again. I loved it – a few others found the faster pace a little difficult.
Mrs. Bgddy was hanging on like a champ, taking turns up front and riding strong. At the 50 mile stop I knew she was in desperate need of a Coke and I was looking forward to one myself. I picked up two and a Snickers for me – I didn’t want any version of Betty White showing up on this ride. After a nice ten minute break, we rolled again, everyone having topped off their water bottles.
The next 22 miles, on our roll into Owosso (and lunch), was a little tougher. Some in the group were starting to get tired, but we pressed on. Just before lunch, Allen had his hamstring seize up on him so he dropped off the back and limped home (taking every shortcut he could find in the process). We kept the normal pace and rotation, Allen being the only casualty.
Mrs. Bgddy, on her first pre-ride, was doing great. I’d expected a meltdown or two before we stopped for lunch, but she was riding with a smile – and that made my ride a lot more fun because I wasn’t worrying about how she was doing. Every once in a while I’d flash her the thumb’s up to let her know she was riding superbly. We stopped for lunch, as we do every year, at mile 72-ish at the Owosso Subway. I chose the new Chicken Caesar Wrap. Now, I’m not a big Subway guy, but I’ll eat there on occasion when I’m watching calories… It’s a passable lunch. However, that Chicken Caesar Wrap is freaking fantastic. With the dressing, it’s probably a brazillion calories, but it’s good.
We rolled after finishing our sandwiches and commenced to getting after it. Greg and Dave had split off, having left from Greg’s house, they only had ten-ish miles to go. We, on the other hand, had 27.
For the most part, we rode together well, though we did single file a few times to beat the wind as some of the group stopped taking turns up front (normal, and perfectly okay). We also managed to get the pace back up into the low 20’s. With ten to go, my wife started struggling. Willem Defoe showed up and we had at it for a few seconds. She finished her turn up front and we quickly apologized to each other, and we rolled on. I was having a great ride. Normally I’m pretty smoked around 85 miles, especially with only two short stops and a third for lunch (I like to stop every 20 miles, even if it’s just for a few minutes).
The wind had kicked up but was still only in the single digits. We rolled into the parking lot, just shy of 100 miles (99.8 miles). One lap around the parking lot fixed that. Allen didn’t stop for lunch and managed to cut off seven miles so he beat us back and was doing fine. The rest of us made it back tired, but intact. It was hi-five’s and handshakes all around.
My text went out Friday afternoon to the gang:
Tomorrow’s ride, 7:30am. Figure 2-3 hours, fairly laid back pace to get tuned up for Sunday, my place.
Simple enough, right?
We rolled our at 7:32am. No wind, the temp was a chilly 57° (14 C), but it was sunny and would warm up quick. And indeed, we did take it easy. Ten miles in, we were maybe a shade south of 18-mph. Then my wife and Mike split off, leaving McMike, Mike S (new to our weekend gang), Brad, Karen and me. I knew Karen wasn’t going to stay with us for long and Brad was going to stay with her as soon as she dropped.
We went from 18-19 to 23-mph, right now. Heading into Byron, the there’s a Strava segment and we had a good leadout to the City Limits sign, so I got ready to hammer it. Halfway down the hill leading to the sign, I put the hammer down, easily blasting past 32-mph. I gave it everything I had till I ran out of gas and soft-pedaled it in to the rest stop at a gas station in town.
We stopped for a few minutes and readied to roll. Brad said he and Karen were going to let us get on with it and take it a little easier heading around the same course.
We rolled out McMike in the lead, me second and Mike S. third. Over the next 32 miles we dropped under 21-mph six times. Two hills and four intersections with stop signs.
There were a few times I contemplate riding into a ditch so I could take a nap, but I held on instead… Then, at about the 25 mile mark, everything clicked. Not only was I holding on, I kept the pace when I got to the front and took full two-mile pulls. Both Mikes had been taking awesome turns up front and, for the fantastic pace, the ride was ultra-smooth. I went from worrying that I was the weakest rider to knowing I could contribute, and well. The three of us worked together like we had been riding together for years. McMike and I have, actually, been riding together for years, but Mike S. and I, only on the rare occasion. I don’t know that the two Mikes had even met before.
We hit the home stretch with ten miles to go and a tailwind, and that’s about the time I really relaxed about being able to keep up. I just hung on and rode the course. Over the last five miles the pace started cranking up. 22… 23… 24… 25… 26 at times. I took the last two and kept it between 24 & 25. And we were done.
We rode the first ten miles under an 18-mph average. We finished, 32 miles later, just shy of 21 (20.89 – Strava shows less, but it picked up my walk to the restroom and back as a part of the ride). Anyone who has ridden at the speeds we were enjoying knows how hard it is to raise an 18 mph average one mile an hour, let alone three. The effort was big.
Most people who know me don’t know this about me; I ride with some doubt every now and again. There were a few times I thought there was no way I’d be able to maintain the pace. Those thoughts were wrong, though. Not only was I able to stick with it, I was a part of the buildup of speed at the end.
While I obviously have my limits, I have a tendency to mentally sell myself short from time to time, when I’m the weaker link in the chain. More often than not, if I push through those thoughts, I find that I shouldn’t have been entertaining them in the first place.
That ride yesterday is one of those I’ll be remembering for years to come. It was just a Saturday bike ride, but having the opportunity to be a part of something like that is special.
As Strava goes, I ended up with three Third Place overall’s on some big segments including a 5.8 mile segment we did in 15m:38s (230 watts), the Byron Sprint (30.8 mph 489 watts)and a Fifth Place overall on a 4.08 mile segment that we did in 8m:09 seconds at 29.9-mph (222 watts) – I’m in some very rare air with the strongest cyclists we have in the area.
I’d have missed out on a lot of good had I sat on the couch… or had I listened to those thoughts that said it was too fast.
The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: The Stem and Handlebar – Understanding the Bicycle Cockpit and How it Works
I’ve seen a lot of strange things as bike cockpits go. Typical, and this is even among some strong cyclists, is the handlebar tilted up at an awkward angle so the bottom of the drop bars aren’t parallel to the ground. This tilts the hoods up, presumably to help with reach. There are angles for the hoods that pro bike fitters will shoot for, but I’ve tended to go by feel (and, ahem, looks), so I don’t know if I’m right… but I can ride 100 miles without my hands going numb on either road bike so I had to get something right. Or close to it.
The cockpit is where a lot of a bike’s mojo happens. Too stretched out and you feel like you’re always being pulled to the nose of the saddle. With the handlebars too close, you’ll feel like you’re sitting bolt-upright, or worse, like you’re crunched between the saddle and the handlebar, especially when you’re in the drops, and breathing properly will be nearly impossible. Another big mistake I’ve seen noobs make is to set the cockpit before the saddle, or simply live with the factory stem and set-up. The simple word is don’t.
Here’s a before and after of my A bike – Never ridden at the end of the 2013 season, and with 16,000 miles on it in 2018:
First, notice the spacers below the stem on the 2013 photo. The stem length and angle are the same (just a different, lighter stem) on the ’18 photo. The saddle is back maybe 2cm and the handlebar doesn’t follow the plane created by the stem – the bar is rotated down to give me a bit more drop. One thing I would be critiqued on is the angle of my hoods – they’re just a touch passed level and they really shouldn’t be, according to Hoyle. On the Venge, the drop and reach are perfect and I can ride for hours in the drops – the reach is just right. While a pro bike fitter might take issue with my hood angle, it works.
Then there’s the Trek:
There’s a lot going on here, because I’ve changed quite a bit – everything but the brakes and chainring bolts. The saddle is a little softer because the Trek’s a harsher ride. The saddle is also a little farther back in the newer version of the bike and the stem is quite a bit longer – as is the reach in the bar itself. The hoods are entirely different. Back in 2012 I was riding, as designed by the shop owner, in a much more upright position, compared with now:
Shops tend to opt for the upright posture on a bike, a position I tend to disagree with, personally. Either way, I changed my cockpit to suit me as I grew as a cyclist – and let me tell you, the second photo is a whole ton faster than the first – and that’s the same bike.
So let’s look at the nuts and bolts of the cockpit. First, we set the saddle. Height first, then fore and aft, then we check height one more time to make sure we’re still good. These are both simple procedures. Then, once the saddle is set, we set the reach – because the reach can change once the saddle is properly set.
It’s here I run into trouble. I don’t know much about bike fit angles and such. It could be fair to say I know just enough to be dangerous. I do know what looks good, though, and these look good, ride fast, and are exceedingly comfortable.
What I did, rather than just go all willy-nilly, is I took my professional three-hour-long fit results and I changed the cockpit, little by little. Once I took it too far by a couple of millimeters, I went back. The result is the Specialized in it’s current state. From there, I did my best to transfer those numbers to the Trek, I even went with a 17° flipped stem so I could get more drop… because only with a bit more drop could I get enough to match the Specialized. This is because the 5200 and Venge are different sizes and completely different geometries. And I decided to do that because I saw this photo whilst researching another post:
Now, I made some improvements on the photo above. Rather than put the shifter hoods on an awkward angle, I opted for straight in line with the handlebar plane and rather than rotate the bar forward and down, which would level out the bottom of the drops, I like following the plane created by the stem. A small detail, of course, but I think the bike looks a little better with the cleaner cockpit angle.
To wrap this post up, there are some things that can be messed with on your bike’s cockpit, and some things that should be left alone. The height of the stem, the angle of the handlebar and hoods, the drop or rise of the stem… all of those can be played with to your heart’s content. The reach, or length of the stem, shouldn’t be messed with much after you’ve had your professional bike fit – with the understanding that raising or lowering the handlebar can change the required length of the stem depending upon how drastic a change it is.
It’s always best, when playing with the set-up of your bike, to go with small moves to make sure your body “likes” the change. Be smart, research the changes you’re going to make, and don’t be afraid to go back once you’ve gone too far.
Road cycling is an expensive sport. A new entry-level bike runs a Grand. A decent bike is three or four times that. A top-end bike is north of $12,000 and can be painted, if you’re lucky, by an Italian fella who won’t commit to a timeline. You’ll get your bike after he decides to get to it.
Once we’ve got our bike sorted, then we’ve got pedals, shoes, a helmet or two… Great. The pedals run north of a hundred bucks, the shoes are double that, easy, and a decent helmet can cost more than most people would expect to pay for a big box bike.
Then we have the joy of looking at clothes. Because you’ve heard of Rapha before, you check them out… only to find a pair of cycling gloves that costs more than that aforementioned big box bike. For a pair of gloves!?
In fact, that’s exactly what I thought when I saw the $175 price tag.
Then you’ve got the $250 bibs and the $175 jersey. Times four. You swear. Your spouse rolls the eyes.
Folks, if it were really that expensive, I couldn’t have afforded to get into cycling, let alone my wife, too. Don’t sweat it… I’m not from the government, and I really am here to help.
There’s an art to looking good, on a budget. You’ve got to balance what you need with what you can afford.
You don’t need the $3,300 set of Enve wheels. $600-$800 will do fine. The bike? Buy used, $750-$1,500 (just be sure to get the right size). Shoes? Specialized Torch 2.0, one of the best deals on the market for a carbon fiber shoe – $150. Find a decent helmet on Competitive Cyclist, Pro Bike Kit, or Nashbar $100-ish – or hit the local bike shop. They’ll have something that will work – the lid I’m wearing in the photo above was purchased at the local shop. Bibs and jerseys? Clearance rack at the shop, or one of the aforementioned sites. Better, try Coconut bibs and jerseys on Amazon or eBay – you can’t go wrong there, for the price. I don’t know as I’d try a century in one of the Coconut kits, but the bibs would be good for a metric.
So that’s the easy stuff. The trick is putting that budget stuff together to make it look good. Kit yourself out in the most expensive clothing and put you on a Pinarello, you’re going to look pretty good – in most instances you do get what you pay for. On the other hand, there are workarounds to a $#!+ ton of money.
First, eat less and ride more. If you look good, what you wear will look good.
Second, match what you wear with your bike. It may seem cheesy but it looks cool when everything matches up.
Third, don’t go baggy on the jerseys. If you’re bigger and feeling self-conscious, do what it takes to get yourself out the door. Once you’re at a weight where you can, start switching to the tighter fitting kit. You can’t look cool with five pounds of stuff in your back pockets and the back of your jersey sagging halfway to your knees. That’s no bueno.
Fourth, bibs. Not shorts. The bibs hold what little gut you’ve got left, in.
Fifth, baggy bibs are bad. Always. The proper size is preferable but one size too small is better than a size too big and a droopy ass. They should be fairly tight, but not ridiculously so. Beware of sausage legs. Return a pair of bibs that give you sausage legs.
Sixth, and perhaps this should be first, keep the bike clean and well lubed. Your bike will make a distinct sound if it’s not lubed regularly. It will sound dry when it’s ridden. Others will notice that you don’t take care of your bike and you will feel self-conscious when yours is the loudest bike in a group (this can’t be helped with all of the kind, false-hope words in the world. You can try to ignore it but you won’t be able to). Better to just take twenty minutes a week to clean and lube your bike.
Seventh, learn to ride in a straight line. Playing “dodge the draft” is not going to win friends. It will, however, influence people – but not in a good way. Learn to ride well.
Eight, smile. You’re out there to have fun. Give fun your best effort.
Nine, and this is another important one, think about how you affect the cyclists you ride with. Nothing makes one look bad like selfishness.
Ten, shop the clearance racks. It won’t matter that it’s last year’s kit. Purchasing clothing out of season is a great way to save a veritable $#!+ ton of money. This includes internet sites – look for the clearance items.
To wrap this up, there are several things one can do to look good and competent on a bike that don’t have much cost whatsoever, just value. There are ways around much of the expense in cycling – I only paid $750 for that Trek in the photos (though I’ve got extensive work and cost into getting it to look like it does in the photos). One thing that will save a lot of cash is research. Know what you want before you buy and you won’t waste any of your hard-earned cheese on something that ends up collecting dust.
Then there’s one final piece; if you want to look awesome, ride awesome.