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How to Rebuild a Road Bike from the Ground Up: Part Two. Choosing Your Frame.

Let’s hit the ground pedaling, my friends.  For those who clicked on this post for insight, welcome.  For my friends, thanks for reading.

Picking the frame for your road bike is a big deal.  As a noob, I had no idea what I needed, so I did what a lot of noobs do right off the bat; I bought a bike that was two sizes too small.  That first one doesn’t count.  For my second bike, the owner of our local shop, who has a vast expertise in all things cycling, set me up with a shop loaner.  I paid right around market value for it and I immediately brought it home and cleaned it up.  Having someone who knew so much about cycling was incredibly important.


So that’s it, on day one.  A Trek 5200 T (for “Triple”), 1999 vintage.  I’m 6’0″ tall and that’s a 58 cm standard frame.  I have it on authority from the shop owner that more State Championships were won on that frame in the USA that any other frame in history.  When I bought it, my plan was to upgrade it as the times changed, so I was still riding it when I had to trade in my road bike for a trike (hopefully not till I’m will into my 90’s).  Therefore, size was imperative.

One can size a bike with an internet calculator but a calculator can’t possibly take into account how you want to ride on that bike.  The calculator recommends a 57, 58, 60. or 61 cm frame for me.  It doesn’t differentiate between old-school standard frames (as shown above), or modern compact frames.  The new compact frames afford for a taller rider on a smaller frame, thus I’m a 56 in a compact and a 58 in a standard.  Also, the bigger frames won’t suit the style of riding I wanted as a younger man (late 40’s now, early 40’s when I took that photo) and definitely enjoy as I grow older.

That’s my other bike, a 56 cm compact frame race bike.

See, I didn’t know it then, but I’m all about the aggressive riding style (high saddle, low bars, very aerodynamic).  Choosing a larger frame would change the geometry so the handlebars would end up being too high.  They say sitting upright is more comfortable, but I beg to differ, at least to a certain extent.  I can’t comfortably ride any lower that the Trek and Venge are set up for.  I’ve tried, I’m not flexible enough.

The main point is, I didn’t happen on all of that information by magic, and I wasn’t smart enough to get it off the internwebz.  Most of my frame size knowledge came from the local bike shop owner.  Some I came across reading internet articles, but that only added on to the base I got from the shop.  It’s good to get to know the knowledgeable staff members at your local shop.  They’ll help you avoid costly mistakes… like buying a bike that’s two sizes too small.

Starting with a frame, properly sized, is the most important aspect of building a bike.  Everything after is built on that foundation.

The last important point to cover is get a fitting done at that local shop.  If you want to ride an aggressive setup, tell them before you start.  That’ll save both your technician and you some headache.  Bike fitting technicians tend to assume most people want to ride in the industry’s idea of comfort, which would be more upright, so if that’s not you, let them know ahead of time.

Stay tuned for part three, where we’re going to start digging into changing parts to suit what we need.

How To Rebuild a Road Bike from the Ground Up: Part One. The Overview

This will be a multi-piece series that’ll detail, specifically, how I went about rebuilt my ’99 Trek 5200 which should help anyone who wants to rebuild their own used bike from the ground up.



I’ll cover everything, from wheels to cranks, to seat posts, brakes, saddles, the cockpit, drivetrain, and wheels… even the seat post collar.  I did it all.  The only original things I left on my bike were the frame (though I did have it painted), the fork and the chainring bolts.  Everything else is new.

Now, to start, there are a couple of ways to go about this.  I have a friend who’s got enough money that we mere mortals simply couldn’t keep up.  He goes all out, all at once.  Brand new, top of the line everything (including SRAM Red eTap and usually a set of Zipp wheels, even carbon fiber brake calipers for a steel frame).

I, on the other hand, took six years to build my Trek and bought almost every part on sale… or not, depending on “need”.  Everything that went on the bike is quality, but nowhere near the level he can afford.  In this new series, I’ll stick with what I know.  I’m going to get into how to picked each part, or series of parts, and what went into the choices I made.  I’ll also go in order of importance/completion, so anyone who reads the series will be able to build their dream ride, hopefully with a greater depth of knowledge… and maybe even avoid some costly mistakes.

Part two we’ll start with the choosing bike/frame and push on to the saddle and seat post in part three.  Then we’ll look at the cockpit.  From there, we’ll get into the paint job and accessories. That’ll be followed by the drivetrain and crankset.  Brakes will be thrown in there somewhere toward the end, then I’ll wrap up with wheels.

And unlike my usual “once a week” series release , all of these posts were pre-written.  I’ll be able to publish them one right after the other… so part two comes out tomorrow.

How to Treat Your Newly Recovering Addict/Alcoholic Through the Holidays…

A friend recently asked, in a comment to a post, how to treat her niece who had been dis-invited from a family party because there would be drinking.  She was invited one minute, and not the next.  Now, that may seem a little harsh, but when the full context of why this happens is considered, it may not be all that terrible.  It happened to me, as many as fifteen-ish years into sobriety and I managed to live through it, barely.  My tongue is firmly in cheek…

My friends, this gets a little tricky, dealing with your recovering alcoholic or addict.  First, you’re so used to living in fear your loved one will relapse, because they’ve done that so many times, and blamed you/others for it, that your initial reaction is to treat them with kid gloves.  I’m not a particular fan of that approach, but I absolutely understand it.  I can only imagine the heartache one must go through just to get to that point, then to be afraid that any little thing can send the person they care about so much out the door to the nearest liquor store…

We can’t hide from alcohol, though.  Because it’s everywhere.  At best, we can avoid the liquor aisle at the grocery store, but it’s so pervasive, it’s simply inescapable.  And because it is inescapable, we have to be prepared to live in that world.  Does that mean we go to a family party, even a holiday party, if there’s going to be drinking?

Yes.  And No.

Recovery is “a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our [program]”.  What that means for me is I have to honestly assess where I’m at on a daily basis when it comes to whether or not I should go to a particular event when I know there will be drinking.  Some days I can handle it, others I can’t – and when I can’t, I don’t.

There’s more, though.  How about those instances where we feel we’re on solid ground, but we find out while we’re there, the ground looked good but it was really quicksand?  What then?  Well, if we have a desire to stay sober, we have a reliable way out of the situation ready at a moment’s notice.  For instance, we park the car where it can’t be parked in, even if it means having to walk a distance to the party.  Nothing can be in the way of making a hasty retreat should the need arise.  Finally, find a meeting nearby (before you even go to the event) and/or have your sponsor’s number at the ready should you need to be brought back from temptation.

As for relatives, we don’t treat our recovering folk as though they’re damaged goods, even though they often are.  Once alcoholics have found the path and have a firm desire to stay on it, they can usually handle a holiday party with the family.  If you’re concerned, ask them about their program/spiritual condition.  Are they on solid ground?  How about their way out?  Do they have an escape plan if they feel squirrely?  How about someone to talk to?  Did they look up a local meeting just in case?  If you’re not going to be drinking – and only if you’re not going to be drinking anything, let your loved one know you’re there if they need someone to talk to during the party.  If you’re going to have a beer or ten, don’t offer.

One final note to the recovering person; often, when we aren’t invited to these functions, it’s not because people are really nervous about whether we’ll drink or not.  That’s just a clever, easy excuse.  A manipulation.  Often, the real reason we aren’t invited along is because we’re a buzzkill.  We are shining examples of what happens when shit goes sideways due to a career of drinking too much.  Most people don’t want a constant reminder of how f***ed life can get staring them right in the face while they’re in the process of drinking too much.

I’ve been an un-invited co-conspirator more than once, and for exactly that reason.  It bummed my wife out, but I looked at it as a badge of honor; I am a buzzkill, because I am what happens when shit goes sideways.

I’m also a buzzkill because I am a constant reminder that complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol works.  I am a reminder for heavy drinkers that their days are numbered… and who would want to drink around that?!

I wouldn’t have.


How Much Road Bike Is Needed to Keep Up with the Group?

When someone says you can keep up with “anyone” on a Sora-equipped aluminum road bike, and that’s definitely been said, in that statement there’s a nugget of truth hidden inside a big pile of bullshit.  I’m going to try to save you getting your hands dirty digging for that nugget of truth.


Peter Sagan “kinda” did it, and he even came in second place in that race, if memory serves.  Sagan’s was a Dura Ace Di2 equipped, ceramic bearing everything, $3,000 50 mm carbon fiber deep-section wheel’ed aluminum bike. In other simpler terms, not at all what we’re talking about in the opening statement.  Put Sagan on my gravel bike and put him in the peloton and let’s see how he does.  There’s no doubt he’d kick my ass all over the place, but we’re not talking about him racing a fifty year-old weekend warrior B Group’er.  We’re not even talking like vs. like – Sagan is at the top of the cycling peloton’s heap.

Starting with the little nugget of truth first, a 24-ish pound aluminum road bike, as shown above, with the proper legs over the pedals, and the proper tires under the bike, and decent gearing, is a formidable machine.  You put Sagan on that bike and I guarantee you he can keep up with all but those in the pro ranks – and that’s because there’s a world of difference between my gravel bike ($1,150 new) and his S-Works Venge or Tarmac.  A world of difference.

I can keep up with anyone in the C and D Groups on that gravel bike, probably even put a hurting on many of them.  There’s only one problem; I normally roll in the B Group.  Now, it might be possible to keep up with my normal group on my gravel bike, but only if I hid in the back the whole ride.  I don’t consider “hiding” keeping up, though.


In simple terms to understand, there’s no chance me on an entry-level Diverge is keeping up with me on my upper-crust Venge.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of something.  However, if we were to put one of the faster guys in our A Group on my gravel bike, it’d be hard on them, but I’d bet they could keep up with our B Group ride… and even take a few turns at the front.  I think that fairly illustrates the difference between an entry-level bike and a mid-to-upper-level road bike.


The simplest way to understand what you’ll need to keep up with a group you’re interested in is to look at what they’re riding.  With the B Group I ride with (which is most Clubs’ A Group), I can get away with riding a supremely, excellently, beautifully updated 1999 Trek 5200 with v-shaped alloy wheels with some excellent hubs (and bladed aero spokes).  It’s not easy and I have to work a little harder than I like, but I can make up for the minor disadvantage with a little extra “want to”.

On the other hand, the same ride on my ’13 Specialized Venge is vastly more enjoyable.  Lightweight (15 lbs. vs. 18), aero frame, aero wheels, beefy frame at the bottom bracket for power transfer, carbon fiber everything…  The speed is simply easier, though I like to clarify that while the speed is easier, I’m not appreciably faster on the “better” bike.


Having spent as much as I have on bikes and upgrading those bikes, the simple solution is to buy the lightweight, expensive rocket.  Once you’ve got the good bike, any problems are in the engine.  On the other hand, if that’s out of the realm of possibility, as it was with me, simply get the best bike you can, put some good wheels on it, and upgrade it as you get some loose spending money.  It’s more expensive over the long run than just buying the super-bike, but I like to advocate responsibilities over toys.  Even if I have a tough time living up to that advocacy… it’s a lot more enjoyable picking each upgraded part to customize the bike, anyway.

Gravel and Dirt Road Cycling: Maximum Tire Width and What to Do If Your Tires Rub the Chainstays

I had a problem with my 2017 Specialized Diverge. The bike is said to take 32 mm tires.

Sure enough, 32 mm tires do fit. Barely.

Sadly, when one takes a corner, the tires flex ever so slightly and the edge of the tire can run the inside of the chainstay. Add mud and guess what you have? A grinding wheel.

I wore a nice little groove in my chainstay without knowing I’d done it. That is, until I got home and cleaned the bike.

To fix this, I thought about getting the same tire, but in 28 mm for the back.  I’d run a 32 up front, where it fits, and a 28 in the back. No big deal, another $50 for both gravel bikes…

First I had to have the frame looked at by someone who knows a lot more than I do about bike frames. It was recommended the groove be filed out, flush, thereby making the frame smooth again.  The idea is, with a grove in the aluminum, every single movement the frame goes through, ends right at that groove, where the frame is now weak.  Filing it smooth “fixes” this.  He then applied primer and a coat of flat black paint.

He recommended, rather than a different tire, grinding the side edges down so the tire can’t hit the frame…

Those are my winter slippers, by the way. I didn’t turn into bigfoot. Or a werewolf.

He recommended a grinding wheel, but I don’t have one, so I improvised. 80 grit sandpaper and a wood block… turn the crank real fast, apply the paper, and Bob’s your uncle – in about five minutes.

I gave the wheel a little flex to make sure it wouldn’t rub the frame, and I should be good… and now I can give that girl a bath.

Dirt riding is a delicate balance between traction, rolling resistance, speed, and effort.  Classic road bikes are easier in this regard. With a road slick, you choose between suppleness, rolling resistance, and cornering grip.

With road tires, suppleness is important because it takes some of the shock out of the asphalt.  On dirt roads, suppleness is imperative.  Traction on paved roads is important, but if you’ve ever slid on sand on a paved road, you know how much more important traction is on a dirt road.

I’ve ridden slick(ish) 28’s on my gravel bike and I really don’t like them.  They were all over the place on anything by pristine dirt roads.  The Protek Cross tires are fantastic for riding dirt and I liked the extra 4mm of width – and I didn’t want to give up traction to go with a smaller tire, so working the rough edges off made a lot of sense… and it saved my Fifty Bucks in the process.

Zero-Point-Zero Alcohol “Beer”… Can An Alcoholic Tempt Fate? Or Better, Should?

Back when I quit drinking alcohol (etc.), way back in ’92, the closest thing to a non-alcoholic beer actually had alcohol in it. Not much, something like a half of 1% alcohol by volume, if I remember. O’Doul’s was the “near beer” of choice back then.

Somewhere shortly after my six month anniversary, I had exactly one and one-half O’Doul’s near beers at a local bar whilst celebrating a drinking friend’s birthday.

Long story, short, my body remembered the alcohol f***ing instantly. Just that infinitesimal amount… I started shaking, and I could feel the pull to “go all the way” and order a “real” beer. I left immediately. I just got up, apologized, and walked out. That was the last time I spent time with a friend from the old life. I called him up later in the week and apologized, but I had to go in a different direction if I was going to stay sober. Later, I met my best friend from my childhood in my folks’ driveway and told him the same thing. I couldn’t hang out with drinking friends anymore. No more ex-girlfriends, no more old friends, no more old faces, no more old places.

If you’ve read any of my recovery posts, you already know it was well worth a few burnt bridges.

All over 1-1/2 O’Doul’s near beers. Near beer, near death as they say. In my case, that’s literally how it worked.  I didn’t want to be any nearer.

So, here comes a new near beer, this time 0.0% alcohol by volume. No alcohol. The real question is this, can a recovering alcoholic now safely imbibe?! Without actually imbibing?! No more infinitesimal amounts of alcohol.

I know the answer for me; I didn’t drink for the taste; I drank for affect… and therein lies the rub.

I have no fear of honesty in acknowledging who or what I am; a near beer is a lose-lose proposition for a drinker like me. There is no way to win:

  1. On one hand, let’s just say I try a near beer. Within a week of drinking a six-pack of near beers a night, I’m back out, pounding down the real beers. To be clear, I’m 98% sure this is the way it would go. Six months later, the house is gone, my car is gone, my career is “poof”, right into thin air. My wife left after two weeks, with the kids, which was the agreed remedy to relapse. It gutted me and touched off a spiral of depravity because I found out I really can’t live without my wife and kids. I’m dead one to six years later. One year would be a bullet, six would be liver failure. I die alone and afraid, with nothing. Misery isn’t a strong enough word to describe my world as an alcoholic. Come to think of it, it’d be the six year option, I’m too big a sissy for the bullet.
  2. On the other hand, let’s just say I try that near beer and I’m not impressed. I buy a six-pack and four sit in the fridge till summer time. After mowing the lawn, I decide to crack one open. Then another. The last two sit in the fridge for another month. Keep in mind, this is the 2% option… I decide after a particularly hot Tuesday night club ride to polish off the last two. I’ve got this licked! I must have changed! Right? You with me still? How long is it before I think, “well, if I did that well with near beers, maybe I can handle the real thing? Six months later, the house is gone, my car is gone, my career is “poof”, right into thin air. My wife left after two weeks, with the kids, which was the agreed remedy to relapse. It gutted me and touched off a spiral of depravity because I found out I really can’t live without my wife and kids.  I’m dead six years later after my liver failed. I die alone and afraid, with nothing. Misery isn’t a strong enough word to describe my world as an alcoholic.

Lose – Lose. There’s no way I win by drinking a near beer. Near beers are also referred to as “non-alcoholic” beer.

Another, more prescient way to look at it; near beer isn’t for alcoholics.

You go ahead and tempt fate. I’m good.

On Being My Own Bike Mechanic; Weekend Maintenance and Tinkering

I saved myself about $50 Saturday and have made for a happy wife at the same time. A friend of ours who has a lot of high-end bikes loaned my wife a Cannondale SuperX Ultegra gravel bike that he had sitting around and figured it’d be better to let someone use it than have it collecting dust. She’s been trying to ride the wheels off the bike for weeks now, and she’s fast on it.

My wife took the bike into the shop to have the front shifting looked at a few weeks ago, but they figured we wouldn’t want to pay to fix someone else’s bike – and I didn’t want to mess with someone else’s bike. They cleaned everything up and sent it back with my wife. Well, the front shifting became pooched again over the last week of mucky miles. The front derailleur was completely unworkable.

So I took the whole shifting system apart and got to cleaning everything and installing new guides that had gotten gummed up with dirt over time. The shifter cable also had a couple of kinks in it that were completely messing up the operation of the shifter itself. Kinky is all bad when it comes to cables.

Installing the new cable, the new guide housings, lubing everything up, trimming the shifter cable and tuning it took about 45 minutes and the bike is shifting like it’s brand new again. I also fixed the routing of the cable at the rear derailleur that wasn’t factory proper, so the rear mech works a lot better now, too. That took another ten minutes. And I’ve got about $5.00 in parts into the whole ordeal.

I love being able to be my own mechanic. I love fixing bikes, and as I become better at it, as my confidence grows, the speed with which I can take these things apart and put them back together has increased exponentially. What used to take hours, takes minutes.

The other day I installed new chainrings on my Venge… prior to that, new handlebars for both my Trek 5200 and Specialized Diverge. A brake cable on my wife’s road bike, then setting up her old Specialized Secteur so she could have a trainer bike. I’ve got enough bikes the possibilities are almost endless. New internally routed shift and brake cables for the Venge (not that was a chore, though I’ve learned to use a magnet to make things easier and A LOT faster).

Bikes will generally provide years of worry-free riding, unless you really ride them – and we ride our bikes. Keeping a high-end bike tuned and running properly takes a little bit of effort. Cables go bad over time, they collect road dirt, and lightweight parts wear a little faster that their heavier brethren. Gravel bikes take a beating. To keep them running optimally, and that’s really the point here, optimally, it takes a little work here and there.

If I could put a figure on it, I’d guess, by performing almost all of the maintenance on our many bicycles, I’ve easily saved $3,000 (or a decent bike) over the years. And it’s satisfying to be able to take a gorgeous bike and make it run like new.

So here are a few of my tricks, if you have a hankering to get into wrenching yourself:

  • Be very careful with carbon fiber frames. Over-tight bolts void the lifetime warranty on the frame. And yes, they know if it was an over-tightened bolt.
  • Use the Bike Repair App when you’re new – all bike wrenching requires following steps, doing certain things in order. Mess up the order, and you’ll make a mess of your steed.
  • Buy the right tools for the job. Some tools are expensive, so you might want to leave those repairs you don’t have tools for to the pros.
  • It’s easy to become frustrated when things aren’t working out. I’ve learned the problem is almost always me… If I take a step back, take a bit to calm down, I always find my mistake when I go back – and it’s almost always missing a step in the process.
  • Bicycles are exceptionally simple machines. They only appear to be complex. If you’re stuck, YouTube and a good search will usually straighten you out.
  • Start with brake adjustments, then derailleur adjustments, then brake cables, then derailleur cables… then take the crank apart and put it back together… then the headset.
  • DON’T MESS WITH THE DERAILLEUR SET SCREWS UNLESS YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU’RE DOING. Many bike shop trips have been initiated by the simple turn of a set screw. Look at it this way, it’s a set screw. Once it’s set, you rarely will need to change it.
  • Don’t neglect the rear derailleur’s pulley wheels. They’ll squeak when they need attention, and they’re ultra-easy to remove, clean and reassemble. Just do one at a time – it’s very important they go on the right way, and the upper and lower are location specific. Put the lower on the upper and your shifting won’t work as it should.
  • A regularly cleaned drivetrain will last four times longer than a dirty one – even if the dirtier system is regularly lubed.
  • Disc brakes are easier than rim brakes, believe it or not, and rim brakes are easy.
  • If you don’t have a work bench with a peg board (I don’t), keep your tools in a gym back or a toolbox – and they get heavy, so one with wheels.
  • WD-40, which is a BAD chain lube, is excellent at getting grease stains out of carpet. It’s also good for removing sticker/decal goo.
  • If you want a decently clean chain, soap and water (wet lubes only, won’t work on wax/dry lubes). If you want a clean chain, mineral spirits. If you want a sparkly clean chain, gasoline. Gas will dry really well, too, so you’re not adding lube on top of the thing meant to cut it. Be environmentally careful with it, though.
  • Rinse off your gravel/mountain bike immediately after a mucky ride – they clean up a lot better and faster before the mud has a chance to dry and cake on.
  • Clean the headset on the A road bike once a year. Two to three times a year for the rain bike. Four or more for a gravel/mountain bike. They get dirty fast on a dirt bike.