There are days that bode well for a fast ride on the bike, and there are those that don’t. Last night was one of the latter variety.
For the Tuesday Night Club Ride, the Tuesday before Halloween is a little tricky. First, the week before, a huge group of the A and B riders head out to Johnny V’s Smokehouse after the ride to celebrate the season – for the A Group, that’s the end of the season. For the B Group, we ride one more week and then after the time change we’ve got our annual night ride. Sometimes a few from the A Group will join us, sometimes not. Last night was windy with a fair chance of rain – it was cool, cloudy, windy and a bit nasty. Only Mike and Diane, Chuck, Jonathan, and I showed up…
There was no warm-up last night. It had been raining on the way over and I was still in the process of deciding whether or not I’d even ride when everyone pulled into the parking lot. Well, misery loves company, and the spritzing rain stopped. A check of the radar, a prayer, and I started getting ready. Only one E Group guy and a C Group guy, other than us, showed up. We invited the C Group guy to roll with us, but he shooed us on. He said he knew the route and wouldn’t want to hold us up. Just like that the five of us took off.
After our warm-up mile and a half, we turned north with a nice tailwind. I took my computer off the Trek a while back so I had no clue of our speed, I just knew I was laying down some fair watts up front. A stop at a busy intersection to let traffic clear and we were off again. I expected we’d drop speed when we turned, heading west, but we only dropped 2-mph (looking at Strava after the fact). I’d taken refuge behind the tandem, which is exactly where you want to be on a cold and windy evening – specifically for what was coming…
A sharp left turn and we were dead into the wind. The farther north we’d gone, the wetter the pavement got, but it wasn’t bad enough (thank God) to throw a rooster tail. As we headed southwest, though, it dried up again. I knew we were hammering pretty hard, considering the brutal headwind, but I had no idea we were managing to keep it north of 20-mph. Turns up front were much shorter and everyone came off the front fighting for breath. We made it through the wind, though.
Even though we started early, with the cloud cover it was starting to get dark so I made a command decision to cut our 30 mile loop short, down to 24-ish. A right, followed by a quick left and we were dead into the wind. I took it up to 21-mph but faded fast. I think I might have lasted a half-mile at best. Jonathan took over next, and he’d been taking some long pulls up front, so I was thankful when he started bleeding speed. The headwind was just brutal, even four bikes back, behind a tandem.
Next was a stretch on a busy highway with a fair shoulder for us to use, but I was a bit worried as we wouldn’t be able to echelon for the crosswind. Amazingly, it wasn’t bad at all, and we held a fair 20 to 21-mph. We took a left turn and it was time for tailwind again. With the tailwind there was no time for celebrating as the speed shot up to 30-mph with the tandem up front. As luck would have it, we had a short climb after that left and the tandem lagged a little so I sneaked around them and took the lead with the tailwind. Coming down the hill, though, they came around me like I was standing still to take their rightful place up front. There was a small gap to Jonathan and Chuck, so I filled it and took my place behind the tandem again. Mike and Diane took the rest of the tailwind to the dreaded final miles heading west.
This was another nervous section of road. We were headed dead west with a SE/SSE cross-headwind with no houses or trees for shelter from the wind, just dead-open plowed fields. Thankfully, we only had the five of us on four bikes so there was plenty of room for the echelon. I was up front, leaning my bike about 10° into the brutal wind. It was whipping me so hard I actually started laughing. I took a long stretch, a little more than a mile, but the open fields took a toll – I started out strong at 21-mph, but faded fast to settle in between 19 & 20.
Once I came off the front the pace evened out a little as we got some shelter in the form of houses and trees, and with some downhill we managed to keep a fair pace.
We came into the home stretch with a couple of miles to go and Mike and Diane took the lead. The home stretch is slightly downhill most of the way to the City Limits sign so it tends to be really fast. With the crosswind, we only lost a little. The speed crept up, little by little, until we were at 27-mph heading into the final sprint of the season. I signaled to Jonathan and Chuck that I wasn’t going to go for the sprint.
Every week, all season long, the tandem leads the group out for the single bikes to drop them in the last 30 seconds in the race to the sign. I thought, for once, it would be cool for them to take the sprint. We stayed in formation right through the sign, giving Mike and Diane their much deserved win.
From there, we sit up and spin back to the parking lot as darkness started to fall. Thankfully we all had our rear blinkies burning. We’d rolled over the line with a 20.6-mph average (33 km/h). With the amount of wind we had, over the distance we covered, and the small group, I was supremely happy with our result. I pulled into the parking lot with 20-mph on the nose (normally I shut Strava down after the sprint finish, but at the end of the season, with full gloves on, I figure why bother – we’re not setting any speed records anyway).
Helmet went in the car, shoes changed, cycling cap donned, bike in the back and I walked around to say good night and thank my friends for coming out for the ride – and just like that, everyone started to leave, the end of another great season. I got in my car, shut the door, and it started pouring. Out of nowhere, the rain came in buckets. We missed it by two minutes, max.
I pulled out of the parking lot and a quarter-mile up the road, here comes that C Group guy beating it for the parking lot like his life depended on it. Poor guy got soaked.
It was a great last fast day of the 2018 season. The wind made it impossible to get close to our normal average for the night, but we busted some butt for an exceptionally satisfying ride. Dinner at the diner with my favorite old-timer (that E Group guy) was extra tasty last night. As good as it gets.
We’ve had a gnarly stretch of weather. I wrote about the gnarliness just yesterday.
I woke up this morning to more cold, cloudy and crappy. For once, rain wasn’t in the forecast. After a tough day at work, I was really looking forward to a nap… but something unexpected happened, long about 2pm. A strange glowing white/yellow orb appeared from between the clouds… It… t’was… the sun.
Sweet Jesus Marimba!
I got home and readied my bike. Pumped up the tires, filled my water bottle… and did something stupid. I sat down on the couch for a few minutes. I almost called my buddy, Chuck to tell him to ride without me. Almost.
I took my glasses off, set them in my lap, rubbed my eyes, and yawned. Yep, yawned. And that’s precisely when I placed my glasses back on my face, stood up and went to the bedroom to suit up.
Properly kitted up, I looked out the window. A line of dark clouds had blocked the sunlight, making it look cold… and that’s what I hate.
I stood at the window, looking outside, resenting the first two miles it would take to warm up, before I even walked out the door. It would be just like last Tuesday… or Monday… or Wednesday, Friday. Saturday or Sunday. I’d shiver, start pedaling, hate the wind, and that first two miles would suck.
You know what I mean.
“Maybe I should just ride the trainer?
But the sun is out, kinda. How many of these days are we going to get?!
Man. I hate that first two miles.”
So, out the door I went. I shivered a bit, took my cleat covers off, clipped my right foot in, started Strava, pocketed my phone and pushed off.
The first mile wasn’t bad – I felt surprisingly good, and the houses were blocking some of the wind. I turned west, for Chuck’s house and the wind was at my back. It wasn’t too bad. Maybe… And then Chuck came into view. I pulled a u-turn into the win,,,
The sting of the headwind. Relentlessly, right in my face.
A half-mile later and Chuck and I were cruising down the road at speed, talking about current events.
Three miles later I was thinking about how lucky I was to be on the right side of the grass and on my bike. Two miles later, I didn’t even care about the headwind. Chuck was taking his turn up front.
We went for two bonus laps, we were having such a good time, each adding another 2-1/2 miles to our ride. Heading up a short hill at the start of the second bonus lap, I was laughing as I said to Chuck, “Two bonus laps? I feel like such a rebel!”
Ah, the little things.
The rest of the ride was crosswind or tailwind, so we put our heads down and motored, at times almost toughing 30-mph with a push from the wind.
There was no place I’d rather have been right then.
Chuck and I split ways as I turned into my driveway. I dismounted, pulled my phone and shut Strava down. I could feel the chill almost immediately, so I didn’t bother sitting around. I took it inside.
All was right in my world. I smiled to no one as I entered my ride data into Endomondo.
I still hate those first two miles. The next twenty-and-change were awesome, though… and I’d have missed them of I’d ridden on the trainer.
It’s been cold here in Michigan-land. To put a bit of truth to it, it’s been cold, cloudy and windy, with a side of crappy for a long time. Normal high temp for this time of year is 60° (15 C). We’re lucky if we see 50° (10 C), but that means we’re riding when it’s 40° (5 C)… and damp, and cloudy. Oh, and crappy. Can’t forget the crappy.
It’s a bummer for sure, but we’re still riding. We rode yesterday and managed to sneak in 37 miles before the rain came. We were rained out for Saturday. 33 on Friday, again, just beating the rain. Monday and Wednesday were cloudy, but relatively nice gravel bike days. Tuesday was a cold and windy. I’d been working a little too hard so my legs were smoked. I chose to ride with my friends, Phill, Brad, and Vince rather than slog it out with the A Group. Thursday was a nice spin on the trainer to try to loosen my legs.
…And the forecast for the next two weeks is even worse.
Off-season Bike Maintenance; when the Snow Flies is the Time to to Get a Tune-up Done, not Springtime…
Do you wait until springtime to get your road bike(s) tuned up? Many do – and they usually wait until the first nice day hits the fourteen day forecast… which means the shop fills up with tune-ups and it takes days, or even weeks, to get your bike back. Why wait?
Why leave all of that gunk in your bike over the winter? Why wait until everyone else is rushing their bike to the shop to get it tuned up for the spring?
Bike shops start slowing down as winter approaches. Only we nuts are out on our bikes until the snow flies. Also, noobs to the sport rarely buy a new bike in the off-season when they can’t ride it (great time to find a deal, though). Shops are letting go of their least talented mechanics, only holding onto the good one’s through the winter.
In other words, it’s the perfect time to get your tune-up done.
Better, it’s the perfect time to learn how to tune the bike up yourself!
So let’s look at what you’re going to want to do and what to leave to the professionals. For me, here’s my list, in no particular order – and I’m going with the Trek for this, because the Venge is treated different. I only have to change the cables every three or four years, and I only have to clean the bearings out once a year because I only ride the bike in perfect conditions. The Trek needs more work:
- Clean, wax and polish the frame. It’s not accidental the bike looks as good as it does. I have a random orbit polisher for the job. I don’t mess around. Typically, I like to remove all of the cables first, so I don’t have anything in the way of the polishing wheel.
- New cables all around, whether they need it or not, while I’ve got them off to clean the frame. Also, it’s a perfect time to remove the bottle cages, clean the bolts, lube the bolts and install the cages after the frame is cleaned and polished.
- Take apart, clean, and lube the headset and bearings – also, clean up and lube the quill stem assembly.
- Take apart, clean, and lube the crankset (done with the frame cleaning). Also check chainring bolts (they tend to loosen and can lead to a creak that’s difficult to pinpoint.
- Clean the brake calipers of dirt, dust, and debris. Clean the brake pads (this should be done several times a season to protect the brake track of the rims).
- Another item that should be looked after several times a season, that I take a little farther for the off-season clean up, is cleaning up and lubing the derailleur pivot points. I use a light lube for this – Boeshield T-9 or a Teflon spray-lube.
- Disassemble, clean, lube and reassemble the wheel hubs, including the cassette body.
- Remove and clean the carbon seat post.
And that’ll about do it – there isn’t much left.
This is a lot of work, admittedly. It’ll take several hours over a couple of days to get everything done and put back together, but the worth of completing this level of maintenance is incalculable. Everything lasts longer and works better when the bike is properly maintained. Go through that list and pick out the tasks you can complete and give a list of those you’re not comfortable with to your mechanic at the local shop.
A clean bike makes for a happy owner, and thousands of quiet, trouble-free miles.
I’ll start with an awesome pro tip that I can’t recall ever seeing in writing about climbing short hills, especially rollers. Hammer the downhill before you start up a short hill. Your momentum will allow you to climb about 33% faster. Only the racers in your group will know what you’re doing (or they’re already doing it). It’s why they climb so much faster than everyone else. Try it, you’ll like it. I did.
There is nothing that improves my ability to push harder on bicycle pedals than climbing hills. The faster I can climb a hill, the faster I am on flat ground, it’s as simple as that, so I like to climb whenever possible. I’d tell you I do hill repeats all the time, but I’d be lying. Hill repeats seems too much like riding on a trainer. Go up the hill. Go down the hill. Go up the hill. Go down the hill… God help me, no. Once I see a piece of road, I’m continuing on, I don’t have to stick around to see it six more times. On the other hand, if I can find some hilly roads, I’ll hit every hill I can.
Therein lies the rub in my neck of the woods; finding hilly roads.
We don’t have many in southeastern Michigan. There are a few, but it’s not much better than climbing overpasses in Florida. Up in the north of the State, well that’s a different story – there are plenty of hills up there. That’s a three-hour drive though, and we’re far too busy to make the trip but a few times a year.
That’s where the wind comes in. A friend of mine likes to say that the wind is Michigan’s mountains, and he’s got a strange, but true, point. How fast can you ride up a 10% grade? Maybe 12-14-mph? 10-mph? How fast can you ride into a 20-mph headwind? About the same, maybe a couple of miles an hour faster, but not much. Same principle, though, as gravity makes riding harder, riding into a wall of wind does, too.
Hills will do wonders for one’s cycling fitness. In the absence of hills, go into the wind. If you really want to be a bad ass, do like Eddy Merckx did… Save the headwind for the second half of the ride.
Oh, and don’t curse at me in the comments section… I know full well that wind sucks… or blows… err something. In the absence of hills, though, it’ll do in a pinch.
I’ve become familiar with quite a few cranks over the last several years. They’re all supposed to work – some work well while others… well, not so much.
Sticking only with what I know, in order of perfection, I’d go with the Specialized S-Works crank over anything else I’ve seen. Light as you get, simple, elegant, and because the tolerances are so tight, very easy to keep clean. In fact, I’ve never had to take the crank apart to clean out debris that would cause creaking. The crank is amazing and when compared against other carbon fiber cranks in the same category, a fairly good deal (maybe not a bargain, but definitely reasonable). Just remember to order the right one for the right application (mine is a BB30) and with the carbon fiber spider.
Next up is going to be the Shimano line of cranks. I’ve got the middle to lower end of the line on my Trek, and I’m here to tell you, it’s a simple, stellar crank.
The one I’ve got is a bit on the heavy side, but it’s simple and it works. One more shining example of Shimano’s excellence. The 105, Ultegra, and Dura Ace models are as good and lighter – there’s not much difference other than weight in the upper grades.
There’s Praxis, not bad, but not spectacular, and FSA… Now FSA gets a little interesting. I have several friends who run FSA cranks, especially the SLK (their high-end carbon fiber model). From everything I’ve heard, the SLK is a competent design – I’ve never heard anyone complain about theirs. On the other hand, between my wife and I, we’ve got three FSA Gossamer cranks (the lower-end, alloy crank). One on her gravel bike, one on her race bike, and one sitting in a box in the shed that used to be on the Venge but was upgraded to the aforementioned S-Works:
While the Gossamer was respectable, it was definitely heavy and required constant cleaning. The problem is the wavy washer on the non-drive side. The S-Works crank is a tight fit to both frame cups, no wavy washer. For the Shimano on the Trek, a wavy washer was provided but not needed… With the FSA cranks (and the praxis on my gravel bike, too, for that matter), the wavy washer is a necessary evil. The wavy washer allows grit, sand, dirt, and dust into the crank system. Eventually, enough builds up that the crank develops a creak or a click. With the Gossamer crank, whenever I rode my Venge in rain or moisture (sometimes even through a puddle) I would automatically pull my crank apart to clean it. Waiting to see if it would creak was futile. Without doubt, it would.
Do your homework before you buy a crankset for your bike… and there’s a lot of homework.
There are more cranks, for more bottom brackets, for more applications, and all with five different crank arm lengths, that it might not be a bad idea to seek the counsel of a bike shop mechanic before you run off and order a crank. It’s easy to mess up and get the wrong one for your bike and they don’t make good paper weights.
Wait, does anyone even use paper anymore?
My friend and cycling brother from another mother wrote a post about some of his desires as they relate to cycling. One was to get a little faster.
I can relate to that line of thought. I shared it for several years. After all, it doesn’t get easier, we just get faster, right?
It’s been my experience that the theory has its limits. While there is no question one can always learn to push a little harder on the pedals, I’ve found a happy balance between speed and fun is more important.
In my case, there are a lot of factors that go into “fast”, including whether or not I want to ride with my wife regularly, and I do – more than anything:
- If I’m too fast for my wife, neither of us is happy – I’m riding too fast and she feels like I’m trying to hammer her into the ground, and I feel like she’s riding too slow and dogging it. Nothing good comes from that scenario.
- If I’m too fast for the group I ride with, and I’m close enough already, I end up hammering them into the ground while we’re supposed to be out on a fun ride – and nobody likes that guy. I should know, I’ve been hammered into the ground by enough of them.
- I like the guys in the A Group, and riding with them is great but I’m happiest with my friends in the B Group.
- Finally, and most important, dude, how bad do I want to hurt whilst I’m supposed to be having fun?
That last one is really what all of this comes down to. I’m not getting any younger and there’s a level of discomfort to riding north of a 23-mph average that I’m not too excited to sign up for. I know I’d get used to it before long, but in the meantime, it’s just not all that appealing.
I love being one of the strong guys in our group. I like being a guy my friends and wife can rely on to take a long turn into the wind so the group can rest up, or the guy who, in a pace line, rides a little out in a crosswind so those behind me get more shelter than if I’d lined up properly in the echelon…
In the end, if I get much faster, I’ll have to jump groups and that would likely mean a change I’m not willing to accept. At least not right now.
Cycling, for the avid enthusiast, isn’t always about getting faster – or at least it doesn’t have to be. Nowadays, what’s most important is the smile on my face when it’s all done. I find more appeal in looking back and thinking about how much fun I had than how fast I rode. This wasn’t always so, but that’s how it is now.
There will always be someone who’s faster. How much as I enjoy the entire experience of cycling is just a little more important than how hard I can push on a couple of pedals.
I picked up my Ican 38mm clinchers at the beginning of September and rode them most of that month and a few times this month – when the weather gets cold and the toe covers/over-shoes come out, that bike takes its place in the bike room in the house. I’ve got 1,100 miles and change in September and 600 so far for October, so I’m pretty sure I passed 1,000 miles on them somewhere. The importance isn’t the exact mileage, though, as they’re the same today as the day I took them out of the box… Rock solid, fairly true, fast, and smooth. On the fairly true part, well, they came out of the box with a minor wobble in the rear wheel – less than a millimeter and it just wasn’t a big enough deal to mess with. Most people wouldn’t even notice it, I’m just that picky.
Shod with Michelin Pro 4 Service Course 25mm tires (which were an absolute bear to get on the rims – but that has more to do with the tires than the wheels – Specialized Turbo Pro tires are much easier to work with), the wheels are smooth as glass, and we’ve got some pretty rough roads we ride on. It used to be my Trek 5200 was a just a touch more comfortable than the stiff Venge with the rail for a saddle but that’s not the case anymore. With the Ican wheels on there, I have a hard time reaching for the Trek. The ride is exceptional.
With that, 1,000 miles in, I don’t have a bad thing to say about the Ican 38mm carbon fiber wheels. At $400 they’re a steal.
As a final note, I had a conversation with one of the mechanics at the local bike shop about the wheels, specifically the less expensive Chinese carbon fiber wheels. It was his opinion that if the company that makes them (Ican, Superteam, etc.) is willing to put their name on the wheels, they’re pretty solid. It’s when you get into the off-brand wheels that he sees trouble. As far as Ican goes, I feel like I got away with something every time I ride my bike. They’re that good.
Check them out here: Ican
My buddy, Chuck and I had a play date scheduled for last evening – I think that’s what the millenials call “hanging out together”, nowadays. It was a beautiful day, low 50’s, a little breezy, and impossibly sunny.
Simply a great autumn day.
Nine times in ten we’d be on the road bikes, but after riding the gravel rigs the day before, I had a hankerin’ for the peace and quiet of the back roads again. I texted Chuck and suggested we ride them again, instead of the road bikes. He replied that he was cool with either, as long as we took it slow. I was more than pleased to oblige.
I rode over to his place at about 5pm and we rolled out for the back roads. Three miles and we were on gravel, dodging potholes.
We saw three cars in 20 miles, rode side-by-side and talked most of the hour and change we were out. According to Strava we rolled at 15.5-mph, but it was closer to 16 by my computer. Either way, it was an easy conversational pace. I wasn’t ever at a point where I was struggling to talk. It was a great time.
I love my carbon fiber and speed all season long, from March through September. I live for the speed of paved road cycling… Can’t get enough. When October rolls around, though, it sure is nice to hit the gravel roads and quit worrying about traffic and pace for a while, and just ride.