So long ’10’s, here come the 20’s!
2019 was a good year for the blog, though my hits were way down. I managed to post almost every day and still ended up with 77,000 hits on the year. I think I wrote some of my best recovery posts this year, and that’s what I am happiest with anyway. I celebrated 27 years in November, and have managed to build a thoroughly enjoyable life with my wife and daughters. Much of the year was spent in gratitude and awe at how good life is.
Cycling was much better than anticipated. After last year’s 10,000 miles, I knew I’d ride less but I still managed 8,184 overall miles, with 6,211 outdoor miles… many more than expected. I’d have been happy with 4,000 outdoor and 5,500 overall as a total as I spent most of the summer working out of town with a 2-hour commute each way.
Life, overall has been good times and noodle salad… As Good As It Gets.
And that’s as it should be in recovery. Bring on 2020!
I read a post yesterday that had me laughing. Now that wider tires have been proven to roll as fast, or close enough for government work, as their skinnier bretheren, say 25 to 28 mm, contrasted against a 23 mm tire, there’s all sorts of craziness coming out trying to make the leap that, if 25’s or 28’s are good, then 54’s are even better! Uh, no.
The concept with the 25’s, 26’s and 28’s is sound; in real world situations, we’re not riding on perfectly smooth asphalt (if we were, the 23 mm tires would win, hands down) so the wider tires, while slightly less aerodynamic, smooth out the imperfections which improve the performance of the motor (us) to a greater degree than the loss of aerodynamics in going from a 23 mm tire to a 25, 26, or 28 mm tire. Add in gains from today’s wider 23 mm rims, which make the leading edge of those wider tires more aerodynamic than the older 19.5 mm rims, and you’ve really got something – a smoother ride, with no aerodynamic disadvantage. Now we’re talking!
What happens when we start looking at wider tires, though?
Enter Jan Heine, the Don Quixote of bike tire width and speed. Here’s my favorite quote from his “Are gravel bikes slower than road bikes” post (click here):
Is it true? Are gravel bikes slower than racing bikes? The answer is: ‘It depends.’
Now, he’s right, even though he’s making the leap from tire width to gravel bikes which messes everything up, anyway, but let’s stick with it. It does depend, it depends a great deal on what you’re riding. First, gravel tires are meant to grip the road better, especially dirt, so they will naturally be slower than road slicks on asphalt. Also, most dirt road riders are going to set their dirt steed up so they ride a little more upright for pothole avoidance. That’s slower. Then, as in my case, my Specialized Diverge AL Sport, at 24 pounds, is more than eight pounds heavier than my Specialized Venge aero race bike. So let’s see, slower, slower, slower…. that’s slower, not “it depends”.
Is faster than this… is faster very much faster than…
But why? Why all of this mess, anyway? It’s all about the Benjamin’s and an industry conspiracy to get you to buy more bikes…
I suspect the reason is simple: The industry wants to sell more bikes. The thinking seems to go like this: Now that many riders have bought a gravel bike, let’s convince them that they need a new road bike. Of course, most already have a road bike, but that one has outdated rim brakes. It’ll be easy to convince them that they need a disc road bike with tubeless tires.
Um, no. I disagree entirely with that conclusion, especially if you know what you’re doing. Disc brakes are nice – they really are – but not nice enough to necessitate at new road bike. The brakes are only there to slow you down, anyway. Especially with advances in carbon fiber brake pads. Second, gravel riding shot up in popularity for one reason; less traffic… well, two, better scenery. We used to have to ride a 28 pound mountain bike (I have two) to ride on dirt roads. Now we can ride 17 pound road bikes with tires wide enough for some decent stability, so people added the gravel bike (not the other way around). Some of us just opted for the heavier, less expensive version, as I did.
Look folks, if you absolutely have to have a bike that does everything, you can get a nice 17-18 pound carbon fiber gravel bike, with an extra set of wheels (one 50 mm carbon set for road tires, one [carbon or alloy] for gravel). You’ll lose a pound or two and a little in aerodynamics to someone who’s got a full aero race bike or a climbing bike, but that’s about all – and that can be made up for with some extra “want to”.
At the same time, if you think your entry-level gravel bike with some cheap dirt tires will keep up with you on a 15-pound racing missile on asphalt, you’re frickin’ nuts. Those entry-level gravel bikes are a lot of extra work!
To wrap this up, gravel bikes are slower than aero road bikes on asphalt. They are, and no amount of fuzzy science is going to change this. On the other hand, hold your breath now, gravel bikes are faster than aero road bikes on dirt roads. They are. On anything but perfect dirt roads, I’m going to be faster on my gravel bike than I would on my Venge. First, because the increased stability of the dirt tires make riding on gravel and rocks a lot more enjoyable, second, because 105 pounds of air in a 25 mm tire sucks on bumps next to 50 psi in a 32 mm tire on the same bumpy dirt roads.
If you don’t want to fall into the N+1 bicycle trap, where you always need another bicycle, get yourself a really nice gravel bike with a 50/34 double crankset (maybe a 48/31, but don’t go any smaller), some hydraulic disc brakes, and an extra set of 50 mm carbon fiber disc wheels for asphalt tires. You’ll spend around $6,000 when it’s all done, but you’ll have everything you need in one bike. You can’t go the other way, though; you can’t get the aero race bike and hope to ride that on dirt. Even a disc aero race bike… there won’t be enough clearance for the dirt tires on a road bike.
Also, and this will be another source of contention, if you want a “one bike does it all” solution, I’d go with a double crankset, not one of those 1x drivetrains. Whilst riding on dirt, finding the right gear isn’t such a big deal. Riding on pavement, you’ll want to match gears to your cadence and speed a little more. The 2x drivetrain will be better for group rides on asphalt.
Conspiracy theory debunked. Drops mic, goes for a ride.
A while back, I wrote about upgrading the handlebar on my Trek 5200 to upgrade my gravel bike. I like to call that a win-win.
I completed the bar switch on the gravel bike after a couple of years of consternation over whether or not to even bother. The difference in going from a compact drop bar to a standard (Tarmac bend) drop was exactly what I needed, though… The extra reach (a full inch, or 2.5 cm) stretched me out which made the bike much more enjoyable to ride, and a little less “twitchy” on rough roads.
The cycling world decided a while ago that gravel/touring/adventure bikes would get either compact drop bars or those crazy, flared out (hideous) touring bars. Compact is the short way of saying shallow drop, short reach.
I liked my Specialized Diverge A1 Sport when I brought it home, but I hated the bar. After setting the bike up how I thought it should be set up – a 10 mm shorter stem, so I’d sit up a little straighter to see potholes a little better, I found myself hunching to ride in the drops because they were too close to my knees. My elbows got in the way, too. It wasn’t horrible, but when you’ve already got two road bikes that fit you like a $80 pair of Rapha cycling gloves, even a little bit “off” feels like a lot.
The reach on the bar that came on the gravel bike sucked, and the drop wasn’t much better. I didn’t mess with it though, because, truth be told, I really don’t ride the bike all that much and I didn’t know if I wanted to put the money into a new bar.
This year I decided I’d do something about it, finally.
Rather than mess with a specialty bar, I kept the same stem (again, 10 mm short – it’s a 100 mm stem, so I’m slightly more upright for pothole avoidance) but put the standard Specialized Tarmac Bend handlebar on it that came off of my 5200. This gave me a full inch (25-ish mm) more reach for riding on the hoods and in the drops.
The whole change, including bar tape, took less than an hour.
I took the bike out a while back and decided to try for a dirt segment that I held sixth place in. I knocked a minute off my previous best time on that segment; 9:42 down to 8:38 for the 2.92 mile stretch and 4th place on the segment. A little bit of stretch was the difference between 18-1/2-mph and 20-1/2, both hard efforts.
The Delicate Balance between properly stretched and too stretched…
There exists a delicate balance when it comes to cockpit stretch. At first, it’s going to be about what you’re used to. My wife rides a Specialized Alias, a road bike setup with aerobars, and the geometry of a triathlon bike. For that bike, the seat post angle is a lot more upright than that of a standard road bike. This is done to get one’s elbows comfortably down to the aerobars and it engages the quads more in the pedal stroke, saving the hamstrings for running. The steep seat tube angle also makes for a tight cockpit. I’ve ridden my wife’s bike a few times to locate creaks and ticks and I don’t know how she rides like that, but she loves the bike. What I’m getting at is, even if your setup is a little off, you’ll tend to get used to what you’ve got.
However, when you’ve got a road bike setup, there are little tells that you might have a problem.
If you’re more comfortable riding in the drops than with your hands on the hoods, you’ve got problems. The goal for the drops is to be able to ride in them for an hour, not all day. That’s likely going to be too little stretch (or possibly a handlebar that’s too high). You ride down in the drops for that extra reach because it stretches you out and helps you to breathe. In the case of my gravel bike, because I already had two perfect-fitting road bikes, I could feel a massive difference in how I felt on the gravel bike. If you’re not that fortunate, a decent bike fitter will see that your handlebar is too close immediately, where you might not “feel it”.
I have always recommend getting a bike fit to the rider by a professional because being a little tight in the cockpit is hard to tell by feel for a newer riders, and as I wrote above, just an additional reach of an inch can mean great increases in speed. If you want to tinker with the setup after that, by all means, have at it. Get the pro fit done first, though.
On the other hand, if you find yourself riding with your hands on the bar top rather than on the hoods “because it’s simply more comfortable, you’ve got too much reach. On modern road bikes, this simply means you need a different stem. If that stretch is just a little too much (not enough to keep you on the bar top), you can also add a 5 mm spacer below the stem to bring the drop up a bit.
Two different bikes, almost the same setup. The two bikes are actually a lot closer today after some tinkering on the Trek (left).
The demoralization in abusing drugs and alcohol comes with the hope that someday, somehow, things will be normal and we’ll figure out how to properly use our drug or drink to properly escape the feelings and life that is so unpalatable to begin with. This is where use turns into abuse, and the train eventually falls off the track. Fighting that last part is like fighting gravity… with slippers and a magic wand.
It only works in a Disney movie, though sadly that’s enough to keep one’s hopes up.
The reality is this; it never gets better. We just get worse. No matter how hard we search for that magic combination of drunk/high and responsible, there’s just no such thing for the alcoholic or addict. Eventually, it will come down to a choice between three options:
Choose one. Sadly, the first two are a lot more popular because for us, it’s simply too hard to fathom how we could possibly dig ourselves out of the hole we dug in the first place. That sentence was written with the desperation we have in mind – we try to dig ourselves out of a hole we dug, by digging a little more. If we just use the side of the shovel, not the point. Maybe the other side? How about if we turn the shovel upside down and scrape at the side of the hole? Maybe use the handle as a lever to dislodge dirt, then we can just use the proper end to throw the dirt out the hole? Hey, lets dig with our hands for a change!
If that seems nuts, and it should, welcome to my world before I quit drinking. Most normal folk would have simply stopped digging before the hole was ever ankle-deep. As a drunk, I think I was close to 20′ deep before it occurred to me the trouble was getting real and I might want to stop digging.
I had to accept the reality that is addiction; if I keep digging, the hole only gets deeper. There is no such thing as tunneling out. That only worked for Bugs Bunny, never Wile E. Coyote.
Here’s something they won’t tell you when you first sober up: Recovery, at least at first, is almost as painful as using. This is why so many people relapse. Not only are you still lugging a trainload of shit behind you, your reason for continually trying to escape it through using, your emotions are raw, exposed, and hyper-sensitive. The draw to numb that is scary enough to make me shudder typing this, 27 years on in recovery.
There is light at the end of that tunnel, and it isn’t a train. In my case, casting aside my fire and brimstone “Catholic” notion of God for something that more resembled my father’s love was a turning point, but that came long after I asked the fire and brimstone God to help me get over the mental anguish. “They” said you need a Higher Power, I said okay, and I just let it happen. That’s when the small dot of light appeared at the end of that really long tunnel. From that moment, I started toward the light and I picked up speed as I went. Within a month, the pain of quitting was bearable. Within a few months, I was thoroughly wrapped in the “program”. I was a member. I was in the middle of the wagon, because it’s a lot harder to fall off than dangling your feet off the edge. Within a year I understood why they say the first year is a gift.
It sure as hell doesn’t feel like that when you’re going through it, but if you’ve done the work of cleaning up the wreckage of your past, as you’re supposed to, you’ll come to realize that just being sober isn’t enough. You’ll want more growth – you’ll want more happiness, and you’ll know what you have to do to get it.
Friends, the key to sobering up is to stop digging. The key to staying sober is don’t pick up the f***in’ shovel.
Let me welcome you to a new world and a new way of life. If you let it, it’ll bring you happiness you’ve only dreamt of.
For Christmas Day, there could only be one photo that makes my Christmas, Christmas.
The sun rises and sets on my wife, and I make sure she knows it. Last week, a few days after our company end-of-year party, the office manager stopped me on my way out the door for home. She said, “You know, I’m a people watcher, and I couldn’t help but notice at the party, how much you love your wife. It was special.”
Our marriage was fought and worked for, like anything else good in life. I wake up daily, knowing that out of all the billions of people on this planet, I am with the one for me. She puts that smile on my face, every day. Good times and noodle salad, indeed.
Merry Christmas, my friends.
Another montage for the day, Christmas Eve. This one highlights our post-season dirt road adventures. After a long season (10 months, from January on the trainer, to October) of pushing it, I love taking the last couple months to enjoy the fun side of cycling… I may even have to devote a Garmin “mode” that just gives me heading, current speed, and time of day, so a ride can’t be about average pace…
Anyway, I am grateful for my friends, without whom cycling wouldn’t be as fun.
Day 10 has gotta be a montage from our final road trip of the year for my buddy, Chuck’s birthday. It was cold, but a LOT of fun. Good times and noodle salad, my friends.
Day 9’s photo is from DALMAC again and represents 100 of the best miles I’ve ever spent on a bicycle. This was day three of four, and maybe 30 miles in. We stopped to meet Chuck’s (viewer’s left) wife in a McDonald’s parking lot to shed our cold weather gear. We had a tailwind almost the entire 100 miles and all seven of us worked together like a team who’d been riding together for years. It was, without question, amazing to be a part of that group.
I was a late bloomer cyclist, picking the sport up at 41 after it became apparent I was too cool to ride a bike the day after getting my driver license at 16-years-old. Sad, really, but at least I’m riding now. Getting to the point, once I realized how much fun cycling was, I wanted to get into the “sporty” side of it. Light, sleek bikes, flashy setups with the saddle several inches above the handlebar… it seemed like an “elegant” sport to use to keep fit.
For those who want to get into this side of cycling, there are a few hurdles. First is weight. A spare tire can’t be cycled around – we have to lose it before the front end of the bike can be lowered. We’ve gotta ride the gut off, first. Second is the local bike shop’s setup of the bike (or the previous owner’s setup if buying used). The tendency with fitting a person on a bike is to “get you in a comfortable position”. Riding with the handlebars dropped in the front, with the saddle high, isn’t exactly comfortable… at first. Once you’re used to it, that’s another story, In my case, I started with the shop setup, then started lowering the bar as I got comfortable with riding. I didn’t have any weight constraints. The others can be overcome with a little knowledge. How to swap spacers from below the handlebar to above, etc.
For most of my 40’s, I’ve tinkered with my setup on two, now three, road bikes until they were each as low as they could be at the front while still allowing me to ride comfortably. To be honest, I’m a little sad that I’ve found my limit on all three of my road bikes.
This all started back when I brought home my Trek 5200 that the shop had set up with the handlebar only a couple of inches lower than the saddle. Within weeks I was lowering the handlebar, a little bit at a time, till I got to about four inches. Then, my Specialized Venge in 2013, at the end of the season. I had a Body Geometry fitting done on the bike – the only thing they did was lower the saddle two millimeters. I’d set the bike up myself, correctly, with that small exception. Once the Venge was set, I shifted my attention to the Trek. I tried to match that to the Venge as closely as I could. Here are four photos that illustrate the changes over time:
In the last photo, bottom right, you can see the nose of the saddle on the left, and the huge increase in drop from the photo just left of that. The changes to the Venge were subtler, but substantial at the same time:
The drop from the saddle to the handlebar on my 5200, after the last adjustment, was so profound I actually had to put a spacer below the stem to raise it up 5 mm so I could ride it comfortably in the drops. The key is to know my limits… but to know them, I had to find them first, then back it off a bit.
Sadly, age is finally catching up to me as I near 50. I’m still quite flexible, and the bikes as the setups are now are comfortable and fast. I just can’t go any lower unless I get into drastic remedies to improve my flexibility. I won’t say never, but it won’t happen any time soon. I’m content to leave well enough alone at this point.
For my 12 Photos of Christmas, passing a horse and buggy on DALMAC is an easy choice. That won’t be the last photo from that epic road trip to make this series…