How much road bike is needed to ride fast?
It’s a trick question.
I’ll use myself and two friends with whom I ride on Tuesday night as examples in this post to illustrate a point.
I ride either my 2013 Specialized Venge or my 1999 Trek 5200. The Venge is 15.75 pounds of pure, aero carbon fiber awesome. The Trek is 18.5 pounds and I had it built from the ground up as my rain bike, but turned it into a fantastic any day steed in its own right. I’m just as fast on the Trek as I am the Venge – it’s just that the Venge is a little easier to go fast on. Over 30-40 miles, the difference is easily overcome. Over 100 miles, not so much.
My friend and cycling buddy, Jonathan rides a Specialized Allez – and not the $2,200 smartweld, aero, Sprint Edition rig, it’s the 9sp. Sora equipped entry-level model that has since been upgraded to 11sp. 105 and a decent set of alloy wheels. Figure less than $1,000 for the bike, $400 for the upgraded components and another $600 for the wheels. I’m guessing he’s got $2,000 into the bike. I’ve got $5,700 into my Venge and about $1,800 into the Trek (overall I’ve got $2,800 into the Trek when you take into account the paint, seat post, headset and other necessities – I bought the bike used). Jonathan is skinny, maybe a buck-forty, a buck-fifty max, and he can ride. Without a doubt he can keep up with me on either of my bikes, though given enough miles I think I could put him in a hurt grinder, and I’m up at 173 pounds. As far as the club ride goes, though, he’s always there for the sprint finish. On a Specialized Allez.
Then there’s Vince. Vince has got more money than God, and he puts a lot of it into bikes. He’s got a Pinarello Dogma F10 (I think it’s Dura Ace Di2 and it’s got Zipp 404 wheels, so call it $14,000). He’s also got a Colnago with Campagnolo Super-Record components that was hand-painted by an Italian dude on a mountain in who won’t give you a timeline on when you’ll get your custom rig, you get it after he gets around to painting it. He’s got the Zipp 454 Whale Wheels on that one. The wheels alone go for 70% of what I have into my Venge. I can’t even fathom what he’s got into the Colnago with that custom pain job (I’m pretty sure it’s a C64). Vince is a strong, competent cyclist… who had eaten too much at some point not long ago. Knock 20-30 pounds off of him, and he’ll be with us at the sprint finish. He drops off the back when we get to the hills, though, but he’s on a diet and he’s committed to getting into shape by next year.
The point is, between the three of us we have the whole gamut covered. We’ve got everything from the entry-level steed, to the mid-range aero-bike with bargain 38mm wheels, to the ultra-high-end super-bike. We’ve also got the full body-style range covered as well…
The super-bike won’t make a rider fast enough overcome the way they choose to eat. That’s a simple reality and there isn’t an amount of money that will fix that without getting into mechanical doping.
However, that’s not where this little post ends. The three of us, even at a 22-1/2 mph average, reside in the B Group. Our A Group can ride three miles farther and usually pass us before the finish on our slower days (21-1/2 average). They average 24-25 and they all have high-end bikes. In fact, only one guy in that group, that I can recall sitting here on my couch, rolls with alloy wheels. He’s rolling those alloy wheels on a top-of-the-line Scott aero bike, though. As the other’s wheels go, there’s a set of Madfiber’s, 808 Zipps, 606’s (that’s an 808 rear and 404 front), Yeoleo 50’s (no kidding), Dura Ace, Enve… There are a lot of great wheelsets out there in the A Group. The bikes are upper-crust as well. A few Venge’s, a Cervelo, a Tarmac or two – Giant, Scott, Trek Seven Series, a few Madone’s, a Blue… many brands are represented and they’re all high-end frames. Only two guys ride aluminum frames – a Specialized Allez smartweld, and a Cannondale (both have high end components and high-end deep-section wheels). Point is, there’s something to the high-end equipment. The deep-section wheels are easier to keep up to speed once you’re faster than 20 mph. The high-end frames and components will help a good, strong cyclist ride just a little faster. They won’t, however, make a C Grouper an A – or even a B Grouper. Weight, fitness and “want to” are more important to fast than equipment. When you get up to that 20+ mph average and have the weight under control, at that point the high-end equipment can give you the needed edge to keep up with the big dogs.
So where does this leave a cycling enthusiast?
While speed mostly comes down to “want to”, we’ve got to take reality into account. A good set of wheels and decent gearing matters because the average cyclist is only going to be able to muster so much of that “want to”. Jonathan struggled mightily before he picked up that upgrade set of wheels. He also had a problem with the 9sp. components that came on his bike because he had a hole between the gears needed for our normal cruising speed. This meant he was either spinning too fast or pushing too hard a gear (cassette choice can go a long way to fixing this problem). Now that he’s got decent wheels and a good component set on his bike, he’s one of the stronger riders in our group… In other words, the wheels and better components were the difference between struggling and being in the upper crust of our group.
That’s how the high-end equipment helps a cyclist. That high-end equipment won’t make it so you can all of a sudden jump to the next group. It’ll make it easier to hang with the group you normally ride with.
No amount of road bike will make you ride fast. “Want to” will. The high-end bikes will make your “want to” a little better. There’s no doubt about that, it’s just not as sexy as “a super-bike is all that stands between you and the pro peloton”.
Friday, three days early, I stopped my bike in my driveway with exactly 1,000 miles for the month of September (on Strava – Endomondo is more accurate at
1,014 1041 – but that requires more than a three-sentence explanation). It helps, of course, that I started the month off with 160 miles in the first two days – but I still had to ride the other 840 miles over the remainder of the month.
My only day off this month was a… whoops. I didn’t take a day off yet this month. Anyway, I probably will tomorrow because the weather is supposed to suck… For two weeks. Hopefully it’s just the Weather Channel being overzealous.
For my yearly tally so far, it looks like I’ve got a chance to break 10,000 miles this year if everything works out. I’ve got 8,200 miles on the year with October, November and December left. If I go by last year’s mileage it’ll be close, but it looks like I’ll have about 400 miles as a cushion. Now, I have to clarify for the purists; that total includes trainer miles. I figure, if I ride ’em, I count ’em. Not everyone agrees with that perspective. Either way, if I only count outdoor miles for the year, I should end up with more than 8,000 – and that’s not bad for a working fella.
I’m feeling like a pretty lucky fella, lately. My fitness is great, my health is as well, and my stress level is relatively low. Good times and noodle salad, my friends. It’s as good as it gets, and that’s all I could ask for.
There are several clichés in recovery… who am I kidding, there are hundreds. One of my least favorites is “think, think, think”. I don’t know where that one came from (the context is a little different than how I take it, if I remember correctly), but my response is “no, no, no, don’t, don’t, don’t”. Especially early in recovery. There are some things I am very good at in life. Others, not so much, and I can think myself into a box quicker than most. It’s definitely best I leave the multiple “think’s” to others, all things being honest.
Then we have the deeply profound clichés:
In recovery, life doesn’t get any better… you do.
This is why twelve step recovery programs are so important to what happens after one stops drinking or using drugs. To be fairly straightforward about this, anyone can switch addictions. How many times do we try the only beer, only mixed drinks, only near-beer, only weed/pot/doobage switcheroo’s? I exhausted every one of them – my personal favorite was the “only beer, liquor, and weed” combo. That was a fantastic year, right there. Anyway, I digress.
Let’s take it back to the point, and why all of the so-called “evidence based” recovery techniques produce worthless results: In recovery, life doesn’t get better. I do.
If I’m not doing anything to get any better, and the people, places, and things around me certainly won’t be changing any time soon, I wind up miserable because the only thing that changes is removing the escape hatch from my perceived miserable life. It’s like taking the pressure release valve off a pressure cooker just to see what happens. It’s no bueno, folks.
In other, simpler terms, if I don’t get better, life won’t, and to be fairly blunt about it (because that’s kinda how I roll); who the hell would want that?!
Just a thought for a Friday.
I was 👌 that close to writing a fluff piece about cycling today, but…
I had a mini, two-second panic attack out on the road last night, riding with Chuck. My first ever.
A car passed us, just a little closer than normal – maybe 2-1/2 feet instead of 3′ – something that normally wouldn’t even phase me… that has to get down to inches before I even think about getting nervous, and even then, it’s gone pretty fast. I don’t know why I am blessed so, I’m just glad that I am.
We rode by the site of that motorcycle accident from the other day and I saw the bloodstain on the asphalt with the paint outline. I can’t unsee the look on that poor guy’s face. It was an expression that showed half “oh, $#!+… I’m F***ED” and half “wait, why can’t I talk, I need to get back on my bike and get out of here” bewilderment. The vehicle passed us shortly after that, and that’s when I had my little moment.
54,000 miles and I can’t remember, not once, ever thinking I didn’t want to be on the road until last night. And it sucked.
That face is starting to blur around the edges, though, and I know what I have to do. I have to keep getting my butt back in that saddle until I’m back to my normal self. I have to keep talking to friends about it, and I’ll probably have to write about it a time or two until it’s gone – but it will go, because that fear is irrational and most important; I want it gone. Too often we let our fears define who we are. I won’t say anything about anyone else, but in my world, that shit is a choice and I won’t accept a life of being defined by a fear.
The reality is, I’m happiest when I’m working my recovery program, putting effort into my marriage and family, and cycling.
Just something to kick around.
This has been the strangest week I’ve ever spent on two wheels (by week I mean seven consecutive days, not “Monday to Sunday”). If last week’s debacles weren’t enough (and believe me, they were), last night turned out to be a little messy as well. First, we started out with a decent 10+ mph wind from the south. A south wind isn’t all that bad, it’s definitely better than anything with “east” in it, but it makes for a rough home stretch because we’re stretched out in echelon across the road – it’s just messy. Second, the weather was odd. Two miles south of our location it was raining to beat the band. Where we were, the sun was shining – right up until we made our first left turn of the evening, and that’s where this little sordid tale picks up… Oh, those left turns…
We made that left through an inordinate, but manageable, amount of gravel. We were heading east after a nice push north that had us pedaling easy at 26-27 mph and it was almost time to pay the piper. A mile west, another north and we turned sharp left into Hurtsville.
We were heading southwest with a straight south headwind. Fortunately we had a fairly small group last night so keeping it between the yellow and white lines wasn’t all that difficult. In fact, and I still can’t figure this out, our speed wasn’t affected all that much by the wind, we just kept our heads down and the pulls short, and motored into it at 22 to 23 mph.
Then we came up on the A Group gathered on the side of the road. There were a couple of “that can’t be good” comments drifting back. We slowed to a crawl but were told all was well. Todd, one of the all around good guys on Tuesday (and a freaking horse if ever there was one), was bleeding a bit from the right knee and his shoulder was dusted up pretty well. Other than that, everyone seemed fine (I later learned he rubbed a wheel and went down, but managed to find a soft patch to do it in).
We rolled on, having caught the A Group for the first time. Ever.
I’d been eyeing some clouds to the west and south that were looking fairly ugly and I considered, for about three miles, taking my toy and going home. I was, however, on the Trek, so what’s the point of having a rain bike if you’re not going to use it in the rain? I decided to stick it out.
The next several miles were smooth, fast, and enjoyable. Quite fantastic actually, and the rain never did hit.
We have two decent hills to run up before a short downhill followed by a left turn and our regroup. The first hill was fairly quick, north of 21 mph, but the second, with two tandems up front, was a little easier. We rolled down the back of the hill coasting because our regroup was right around the corner and I was in the lead four bikes up the hill… and that’s where things got ugly.
First, the intersection is stupid. There’s a stop sign on the northbound and westbound sides of the intersections, but no stop on our southbound lane (it’s a three road juncture). There was a car waiting to make a right turn with a gaggle of cyclists all turning left with no stop sign in front of them… I hate those situations, but I concentrated on watching the wheels and lights of the car to make sure it wasn’t going to move. I could hear some vague conversation behind me, but couldn’t make it out over the breeze and concentrating on not getting mushed by the car. I started to make my left turn – and that’s precisely when the lead guy from the A Group caught up to us and tried to pass me on the left. My front wheel hit his pedal and I almost when down but managed to throw my elbow into his hip to check myself and right my bike with a hip check, just enough that we both went away pretty clean.
A mess, but the crash was averted. A later postmortem had one of our guys trying to remind the A Guys several times that we were turning left but as fast as the A Guys go, many are in a state of cycling haze. I like to call it cycling brain, where you can only focus on a couple of simple details related to not crashing – after that, it’s hard to hold a conversation without jumbling up words, and some of the finer motor skills suffer a bit. It’s just a byproduct of going fast. You see this in pro cyclists all of the time after they cross the finish line. They’re so smoked they have to have someone hold them up so they don’t fall over. Same thing for us, just to a lesser degree, because we don’t have someone to hold us up when we stop.
The truth is, when it was all done and the bikes were in the cars, there was nothing that happened last night that we couldn’t fix with a handshake, a fist bump, and a pat on the back. The rubber stayed down and I have to get a mild warble fixed in my front wheel (and a new magnet – my speedometer magnet got knocked off… two spokes got hit, that’s all, and I managed to get one of the spokes with the magnet on it).
Once I figured out that my wheel probably wasn’t going to fall apart, the rest of the ride was uneventful. I didn’t participate in the sprints because I didn’t want to bust a spoke nipple under the effort, but we rolled along just fine and ended with a 21-1/2 mph average.
After the ride, things were exactly as they should be after an incident like that. No blaming, no yelling and no finger pointing, just apologies, taking account for our own actions, and the aforementioned handshakes and pats on the back.
The truth is, we are always taught (keep in mind, my friends, I’m in the USA) to pass on the left. We never pass on the right, even when an ignorant cyclist is taking up the center of the road… except in that one instance at that exact time. That was the one time to pass a cyclist on the right, because we B guys were making the left. In the end, it was one of those, “Hey, no harm, no foul” situations. Todd even offered to pay for the spokes and truing of my wheel (don’t hold your breath for that bill, Todd – it won’t be coming any year soon).
Hopefully, that’s it for the season and we can get back to those hi-five and fist bump rides again. This stuff lately is nuts!
Ever since I put my Ican wheels on the Venge, that bike has gotten an inordinate amount of love – and for good reason. The Venge’s days for this year are numbered. It’s almost time to take it apart, clean and lube the parts, reassemble it and put it to bed for the year. In fact, it’s almost gravel bike season for that matter.
So the weather was iffy, but not too bad last evening. Wind out of the east, maybe 10-12-mph. Overcast is the correct term for the cloud cover, and “blanket” doesn’t quite do it, either. I’ll go with “downed comforter”. We also had some mist in the air but that proved to be short-lived. At least it was comfortable at room temperature.
I prepped the 5200.
I left a little early to get to Chuck’s house because I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and ride – even if it was misting a little bit. The plan was for a slow-ish day but I picked up the pace a little faster than I probably intended but that happens when I’m feeling really good. The asphalt was a little wet but not near enough to throw up a rooster tail.
I pulled into Chuck’s driveway, and just like that, the mist stopped and it lightened up just enough to give a fella some hope.
We started out with a tailwind and rather than start hammering, Chuck was content with just cruising – which I was more than happy with as we’ll be hammering out the hard miles this evening anyway.
I love this time of year. Bad weather days are on the increase and that will mean I finally get some time off the bike without feeling like I’m missing out (I’ve only taken eight days off since April – I’d rather take active recovery rides than a day off if the sun’s shining, or even if it isn’t, as long as it isn’t raining).
We rolled past the site of that motorcycle accident from last Thursday, twice, and I got a little closer to making peace with what I saw. I still have a tough time with that empty look on the guy’s face.
From that point on, we were eating wind most of the way home. We didn’t sit around watching the grass grow, but we weren’t hammering it too hard, either. We simply put our heads down and motored. Before I knew it we were on the home stretch. I pulled into the driveway with 23-1/2 miles and a big case of the “life is awesome’s”.
I do love that about a good bike ride with a good friend. It doesn’t get much better than that… until you start hitting 24-mph.
I know I get off on a cycling tangent pretty regularly but that hour a day (and three-ish on the weekend days) is a pretty big deal in my recovery. My bike ride a day isn’t to the status of a meeting, nor is it set in stone as going to meetings is – an afternoon of rain will derail a healthy desire for a bike ride on a weekday. It’s pretty important, though. It’s good for the mind.
This weekend was weird, as cycling goes.
After a horrendous Friday, where we had five years worth of “bad” things happen all in one morning ride, Saturday was nervous. It was chilly and a little breezy, but in the end we had quite the nice time, if it was on the slow side.
After our ride, my wife and I went to watch my daughter dive in our County Swim/Dive Invitational. Last year she didn’t make the weekend cut, but she made it with five places to spare this year – and she moved up a place to make the top ten in just her sophomore year. Very cool, indeed.
Sunday was one of the most beautiful days we’ve had for cycling, though it started out cold – or at least cold by what we’ve been used to… enough I had to cover my ears and wear a vest. On the other hand, it was impossibly sunny with barely a breeze. Mike was back with us after his little blood pressure drop episode, and Matt was back after two weeks off due to a ticker procedure. I knew going in it was going to be a slow, short day. I enjoy days like this at the end of the season. We’ve ridden most of the big rides, ridden hard for most of them… and it’s time for some easy miles at the end of the season, so easy it was. I even had enough time to take out the camera and take a photo.
We rode 36 or 37 miles together and called it good.
I wasn’t done, though. I wanted another 16 miles to make it 53. My wife rode with me for a few and headed back for home. I put the hammer down and turned that easy ride into a bit more of a workout, fighting that little breeze all the way home. I was infinitely glad I did the bonus loop. I worked some things out in my head and rode by the motorcycle crash site, hoping I could make my peace with that. It did some good, but it remains to be seen how much.
After cleaning up and having some lunch, I took one of the best naps I’ve taken in a long time. I was out for a full hour.
I woke up, mainly because I didn’t want to spend another hour on the couch, and did some maintenance on my wife’s bikes (shot bearing in her gravel bike’s headset and a creaky crank on her road bike). The gravel bike was a mess. The lower headset bearing was toast and had fallen apart. I took the pieces to the shop and had them order two new bearings, then put it back together when they said it’d be a week before the parts came in. I figured she could at least ride the bike if I could get the bearing to work half decently… I put switched the bearings, though. I put the bad bearing on the top because that gets less debris. The fix isn’t perfect, but it’s better than passable, too. It’ll hold up till the new bearings come in.
Finally, to wrap up the weekend, it was bowling night. After a fantastic dinner, I headed over to the local lanes and proceeded to roll a 636 (actual) series. Not bad for a fella who normally carries a 175-185 average. I actually got on a pretty good roll on the second game, finding my groove. I threw six strikes in a row to start the game before faltering a bit… We normally call that choking.
And then the Lions beat the Patriots (football). ?!
I got no work done other than my wife’s bikes, but man did I have a fun time this weekend. It simply doesn’t get much better.