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Monthly Archives: July 2020

An Ode to Joy, An Ode to My Venge After A Fantastic Tuesday Night In Lennon

No, I’m not going to drop a true ode to my bike… maybe a sonnet…

I tried to downplay the awesomeness of the new wheels I bought for my Specialized Venge.  Surely, they can’t be that much of an improvement!  My old alloy wheels were put through a lot and they’re still pretty fantastic.  Then, my original set of Ican carbon wheels were (and still are, on the Trek) stellar…  Truly, after all that masterful piece of carbon fiber and epoxy and I have been through, it can’t have gotten that much better over time, could it?

It most certainly has.  Vastly superior wheels, astoundingly more wonderful crankset, better gears, upgraded drivetrain and shifters, better brakes… they’ve all contributed to a ride quality so stellar, it’s hard to believe how much fun it is to throw my leg over the top tube and clip in.  Sure, all of those people saying, “Don’t worry, you don’t need all of that stuff” was cool, it made me feel like I had a fighting chance, but in the end, I can do things I could never do before I put the goods on the bike.

We rolled out last night with a whole lot of new blood.  Guys from the C Group giving us a try, a few new guys, and even the wife of one of the regular B’s on her brand new Bianchi decided to give it a try.  It was a little sketchy at times, but it remained calm and collected up front until one of the new guys, pushing way too easy a gear (maybe a 120-130 cadence), decided he couldn’t keep up so he tried to come off the front through the middle of the double pace-line.  I saw it coming three bikes back of him.  It goes to the excellent professionalism of our riders that someone didn’t get taken out, but we navigated around him without incident.  I let him know that we most certainly don’t do that as he dropped back (later, after the ride, I took the time to explain pace-line do’s and don’ts in great detail).

The pace was a little subdued starting out last night, and that was surprising.  With only a slight breeze and reasonable temps, I was expecting it to be fast right out of the gate.  Instead, other than a few instances where the speed spiked, we kept it between 22 & 24-mph.  After the hills, we were passed by two A guys and we let them go.  A few minutes later, a good chunk of the A Group passed us and we did latch on to them – and the pace got fun.  The pace bumped up to 24 to 28-mph.  We crossed the line in a big bunch, smiles all around.

So here’s my schpiel (or spiel, depending – I’m particularly fond of the “ch” version) one more time…  I am, without question, faster on the Venge as it is now, contrasted against when I brought it home.  Some of my fastest rides, however, are on a non-aero Trek 5200 (though it does have 38 mm wheels finally).  In other words, and on one hand, it’s definitely the engine that matters most.  On the other, all of that aero makes fast easier.

On the Venge last night, with an average of 22.7-mph over 28 miles, I never dropped more than five riders back in a pack of 20 in a double pace-line (10 each side).  I was always up in the rotation, pushing hard – often driving the pace.  I was never, at any point, close to my red line (with one exception; when I jumped two places in line and drove the pace up from 25 to 31-mph on a flat section leading into a sprint – I drove the pace).  On the Trek, with a pace like that I have to be a little more judicious with my effort.  I can still play cat and mouse a little, but I have to be careful.  In other words, speed, on the Venge, is easier.  And that, in a host of reasons, is why I’m grateful for my Venge.

That bike is fast, baby… and those Ican F&L 50’s are freaking spectacular.


It’s Been 1,500 Miles Since My Last Day Off And I’m Still Lovin’ It

The last day it rained too much to squeeze a ride in around here was June 10th.

I’ve put just shy of 1,500 miles since that day and, while I’ve had a few rough mornings waking up, I’m usually up and moving freely again within 10 or 15 minutes… and if I’m really in bad shape, a Tylenol and an Advil together will have me feeling like I’m 25 again in short order.  Between my two road bikes and the tandem, there’s never a dull moment and I feel fortunate to be able to switch up bikes whenever I want – this way, there’s always something to tinker with.  Last night was removing a spacer from under the handlebar of the Trek to see if I would ride a little lower comfortably.  I’ll just say the jury is out after the first ride – I’m not going to toss the alloy spacer in the recycling bin just yet.  At the beginning of the season I was simply too… erm… well, chunky.  Too many winter dinners did me in.  I’m down fifteen pounds at the moment, though, and the weight is coming off easily as long as I’m not stupid.

I’ve got two months to drop another nine pounds (nine is the hopeful version, I’d be satisfied with four), then I’ll see if I can’t be a little more intelligent about the winter.  I don’t want to have to go through what I did this spring, staring at a number I don’t like on the scale.  This year I’ve been faster on a bike than at any point since I started cycling – even with the weight and riding every day.  Thankfully, our part of Michigan is mercifully flat!

The trick has been to take my active recovery rides.  To thoroughly and embrace the slow days has been a difficult journey through the brain, but now that I’ve got it, I’m having more fun than should be legal.  What I had to do was look at the slow days as building blocks for the fast days.  I still have to mentally hold myself back and remind myself that every day doesn’t have to be a building day… and once I took the time to look around and enjoy the scenery I was missing because my head was always down trying to get the most of a ride, I began to enjoy those slow days.

And so it was yesterday evening.  After a long week with four hard efforts (one trying unsuccessfully to outrun a thunderstorm), I could feel I needed an easy day.  I picked Chuck up at his house and we tooled around town talking about the day’s events.  We didn’t charge up one hill.  We didn’t knuckle down one time.  Just smooth, easy, fun miles.

This is the only way I know to ride every day, week after week.  And now that I’ve figured out my place in how this all works, I get the exhilaration of the fast group while enjoying cycling like the slow group does every now and again.

It’s the best of both cycling worlds.  Life is good.

Sometimes You Have To Get Caught Out In The Rain For The Best Memories

We rolled out yesterday morning, joined by Diane, Mike, Jason, and Justin with Mike & Diane on their tandem and my wife and I on ours. Two tandems, four single bikes, and we picked Phill up en route. We had high hopes for the day.

The weather service had been predicting early morning storms but, as dawn approached, they were pushed back to 10:00 am. We had enough time to squeeze in a nice 30-ish miles at our Sunday Funday pace (18-ish mph).

We headed into the wind to get it out of the way and had a really nice pace going. The tandem has been less of a struggle of late and “Sunday Funday has become a much enjoyed addition to my cycling week. We decided on a route change to split some of the headwind up. Traveling south was a bear, even on the tandem. We had to make an early stop, but it was a quick one… and this simple ten minute stop will be important later.

Rolling out, we had a cross-headwind for a few miles that was a little tougher than it should have been. With a left-turn south, we learned why. The wind had shifted from SSW to WSW. That was good for us. Coming into town, my wife and I took advantage of a downhill City Limits sign and put the hammer down. We crossed the line at 32-mph with no one on our tail. That tandem is tough uphill, but downhill it’s comically fast. We pulled into our normal gas station stop and I pulled out my phone to check the radar. The future feature put showers over our head at 11:45. With an hour and three-quarters left, we had more than enough time to fit the deer loop in. We rolled out, heading west, into the headwind.

Two miles of three in, my wife tapped me on the butt and said, look right. The sky was unmistakable; we had showers rolling in. The question was going to be when.

We headed north, into the ugly, for two miles, then we turned for home. 13 miles if we went the shortest possible route, but that would require a dismount and walking the tandem through a construction zone (Sunday, no workers), or 17 miles if we went around the construction zone.

It’s hard to say how hard we were pushing the pace – we were keeping it between 21 & 23-mph except on the climbs – but my wife and I were very much in tune with each other. We were matching power well and cruising. Once through Gaines, with the sky darkening considerably and my wife and I out front, Phill split for home and we put the hammer down. With just eight miles to go, taking the shortcut, it was going to be a drag race. We bumped our already fast pace to 25+. While we were trying to outrun a storm, I can’t ever remember a tandem ride feeling quite so… awesome. We were really laying down the watts while my wife tried to keep an eye on everyone to make sure they were holding wheels. Heading north again, Justin split for his run home after a mile and Mike and Diane headed the other way for home. That left Mike and Diane on their tandem and Jason with us… and it started spitting on us. Then the lightning started – and it wasn’t that stretch across the sky heat lighting, it was cloud to ground, big blasts, straight down. And then the rain hit. Instantly going from a spattering to high winds and downpour. My wife and I were hammering for the last turn and the three mile home stretch when Mike shouted over the wind-driven rain, “We’re finding shelter, we’re out”. I hadn’t even looked around, as if I had horse blinders on. It was bad.

We stopped and dismounted. I ran our tandem over to a nearby garage and leaned it. Mike put theirs right behind ours. Jason around the corner, and we ran up to the porch. We knocked on the door and asked the woman who answered if we could borrow their porch to ride out the storm. She said of course, and asked if we wanted to come in to warm up. We told her we were more than happy outside on the porch but thanked her for her hospitality. She went inside and returned a few minutes later with folding chairs and towels so we could dry off.

Just a random house and this nice lady is bringing us towels and chairs… folks, it restored my faith in humanity just a little bit.

I checked the radar again and it was bad. We had three more waves behind the first and they were dark green, yellow, orange and a little red on the radar. Jason called his wife who hopped in their truck and came to pick us up. Mike and I climbed in his truck while the ladies stayed on the porch. We returned with our own SUV’s a short while later and loaded up the tandems…

Cleanup took a while, but with the fenders, there wasn’t any dirt to speak of… I just had to wipe the tandem down. And my daughter made some French toast while I was cleaning the bike.

My wife and I talked about what a good ride we’d had while we ate. And it was good.

We’ll have that story forever, about getting caught in the rain with our friends and what a crazy trip it was. I always love beating the rain by a few minutes, but every now and again it’s good to get caught in it. As long as everyone is okay but waterlogged, it’ll at least make for good dinnertime stories.

Just One Of Those Rough Rides… Proving I Still Have the Capacity To Be A Knucklehead.

I was absolutely stoked about our ride yesterday.  I woke up way early, got the bikes prepped and waited patiently for the time to come to shower up and leave.  We were doing one of my favorite loops, a 64-1/2 miler into the hometown I grew up in.  I miss it the town, but it’s become too expensive for my paycheck and it’s gotten big.  The ride through town hits most of my old haunts from my drinking days.  Many of the buildings changed – Cardona’s (pronounced car-dO-na’s, the owner was Italian) was my favorite bar.  That’s been turned into “Stout Irish Pub” – somewhere Lou Cardona turned over in his grave, but progress, eh?  On a side note, my mom is very Irish and my father very Italian and my mom’s very Irish father married into a very Italian family.  We don’t talk about it.  Ever.

Anyway, my goodness did I get off the beaten path!  Wheels rolled from a high school south of here at 7:30 am.  It was already sticky hot and muggy enough it only took ten minutes of the bikes being outside on the car rack for condensation to stick to them.  We headed off into the wind, taking the back roads all the way down through Oak Grove to Howell.  A couple of stints on major five-lane roads and more back roads, we were making great time and there was plenty of talking and laughing.  We stopped at a fabulous bakery in downtown Brighton where I had a “French Toast Bake” with maple syrup.  It was good enough it should have been illegal… and also only eaten on the occasion of a 100k or greater bike ride.  Which I met.  We rolled out of Brighton at 34.77 miles into the 64-1/2 mile ride – better than halfway done.

I didn’t know this until just this morning but the next 25 miles are virtually all uphill.


And that explains what happened next.  We had the whole second half of the ride with a 10 to 13-mph tailwind.  I figured it’d just be a fun cruise home… but my buddy, Mike started bonking right about the 50-mile mark.  We were cruising fairly easy, about 23-mph (it was only about 130-ish watts?) and word filtered up that Mike was off the back.  We slowed up to 19-20, soft pedaling with the tailwind and he caught back up.  We took it back up to 21 and here comes my wife, whipping around from the back after pulling Mike back to the group, at probably 23-ish.  Nothing, and I mean nothing pisses me off more than “hey, slow down”, then the person who yells “slow down” comes whipping by to crank the pace up.

I took three others with me and steadily built my speed up.  I reeled in my wife and passed her at 27-mph.  I let my speed drop down to 26 and after another half-mile I flicked off the front.  Once ensconced on the back, I looked back at my wife and gave her the big, “come on up” gesture and shouted, “Come on, honey, take the lead, we’re only going 26!”  The group was shattered.

My blood has a little rolling boil just typing this out.

The rest of the ride was a complete mess.  Every time we got up to 20-mph, someone dropped off the back for something.  A bonk, a saddle bag fell off… it was like drama on the high seas…

We waited for Dave to get and secure his saddle bag, which Diane had picked up on the side of the road.  Meanwhile, Mike went up the road.  We were on the side of the road, waiting for this to sort itself out, for a good three minutes while Mike was putting distance between us.  We rolled out and the pace equalized.  We were pounding down the road at an easy 23-ish-mph (37 kmh) and we reeled Mike in and slowed our pace to let him catch on to the back.  And he went straight off the back just that fast.  The group shattered again and we ended up waiting at an intersection for him to catch up.  I gave my wife most of my second water bottle as it was starting to get really hot.  Mike passed us right up and kept on up the road.

We waited another several minutes.  And then smoothly reeled him in, and phhht, straight off the back he went.  Next we stopped at a gas station for a liquid refill.  We took our time and Mike went back up the road again.  We took so much time refilling bottles and drinking Coke we never caught him.  But the pace smoothed out.

Chuck was prepping to go back out to get 100 in and he convinced Levi to go with him.  I thought about it for a minute, but I wanted to be done.  I’d had enough.  Besides, the grass needed cutting.  We waved goodbye and headed for home.  After talking things out with my wife, I realized what the problem was, said my piece, and apologized for being a knucklehead.  It still happens now and again.

It was only then I realized I hadn’t snapped one photo the whole trip.  I was really bummed then.

A Noob’s Guide to Cycling: Spring Training and Riding Slow To Be Fast… In Proper Context

This year has been a total shakeup to how I ride… I’d say, “train” but I’m a lot less pro than that. Ride will do.

With COVIDcation, I was lucky to be able to ride with my wife while the rest of the state was riding solo – but I thought the pace often left a lot to be desired. I was looking to prep for club and group rides after the virus. My wife just wanted to ride. We had a tough time for a week or two with a power struggle but we came up with a way we could both be relatively happy.

I took the entire first half of the ride into the wind, pulling for my wife, then we’d trade turns heading home with the tailwind. It was better than nothing, I figured, though I couldn’t help but think I was missing out on an opportunity to get stronger if I wasn’t pushing it on a regular basis.

Late spring was on us and we finally started riding in small groups, lockdown be damned. My wife and I rode with a couple of friends of ours and I did my usual 20-mile pull into the wind and thought little of it.

Several hours later I got a call from another friend who was content to ride solo. He said he’d heard I managed come through the spring really strong.  Befuddled is a good word.  I couldn’t get a handle on the concept.

Long story short, I was wrong. Taking those slow pulls into the headwind for my wife turned out to be better than any spring training I’d ever done on two wheels. All of a sudden that stuff about spring training in the little ring made sense. It actually worked.

Well into this summer cycling season, the slower spring set up the fastest summer I’ve ever experienced. I still have some work to do on hills but our Tuesday night groups are killing it.  We beat our old record (from last year) of 23.3-mph by more than half a mile an hour, topping 24-mph over a 28 mile route (28 miles in 1h:10m and some change.  On a hillier route down south of us we’re turning in 21-mph+ efforts regularly, now.  Last year we were happy with anything over 20 (20 on that route is really fast).

So here’s that context I mentioned in the Title:  Those 20-ish mile pulls in the wind were at a pace I estimated had my wife on the edge of wanting to quit, but slow enough she wouldn’t leave my draft.  Sometimes she had to dial me back, but I always got a good workout bucking the headwind.  The key was working against the headwind, hours on end.  There’s no question now that we’re later in the year, that this translated into a fantastic increase in my ability to hang with the fast crowd.

This isn’t perfect, of course.  I had a lot of experience coming into this spring and I knew what it was like to crank out some watts.  At some point, if you want to be fast, you’ve gotta ride fast.  On the other hand, there’s no denying that this slow spring had a positive effect on a very fast summer – enough I’ll be training slow with my wife again next spring.

And now I’m off for another fantastic day in the saddle…  Ride hard, my friends.

The Thursday Night Lake Shannon Loop; Fast, Fast, Fast…

If you’ve read any of my posts, you likely know about our epically fast Tuesday night ride. At 28 flat(ish) miles we can pull 22’s all day long. We’ve got a handful of 23’s and even a 24-mph average.  There are some hills, but at just 400+ feet of up, it’s a great track for speed.

The Lake Shannon Loop is not that.  It’s anything but flat.  You start out with a climb that hits 10% in the first mile and a quarter, then there are four 5%’ers, several 4’s, a few 3’s and a partridge in a pear tree.  For this loop, if you’re pushing a 20-mph average, you’re working hard.

We rolled out under some pretty ugly skies last night, but the temp was mild and the wind as fair, out of the northwest (we’re heading south here, maybe three miles in and the wind is pushing at our right shoulder):


We pounded out the non-climby stuff at 24 to 27-mph and the climbs fast enough they hurt.  I spent way too long up front for my first few pulls before wising up and shortening my turns.  I didn’t want to pay for it later – I could tell it was going to be a fast one right out of the gate.

The Lake Shannon loop itself, the actual loop around the lake, is one fantastic bit of road for cycling.  It’s seven miles of down, a little bit of up, and a lot of curves where you’re fast enough you’ve really gotta lean to get the bike around the corner.  It’s one of those stretches that makes cycling feel incredibly cool.  Sadly, there’s no time for photos because if you lose even a little bit of ground, you’ll be in a world of hurt trying to latch back on.

It was down in the drops, @$$holes and elbows, giving it everything we had, though the line stayed smooth and efficient.  We came out of the lake loop and we’re presented with a climb that absolutely destroys me, every single freaking time.  It starts out gradually but ramps up to better than 8%.  I, stupidly, plowed way too much air up front before dropping back just before the climb.  As the road pitched up, the group came around and left me grunting as they pulled away.  I simply didn’t have the gas to stay with them.  No chance.

Thankfully, about a half-mile after that, there’s a regroup point and I hammered after the group once the ground leveled out a little bit, closing ground as I regained my faculties.


And that’s when things got fun.  There are a couple of decent climbs after that, but I knew I would be able to hang.  They’re tough, but not horrible – and I wasn’t about to repeat the mistake I’d made a mile earlier.  We rolled out with a lively pace, heading south with a tailwind again.  The clouds had parted and the sun was shining brilliantly.  The temp also started to climb.


We hit the turnaround at just over 20 miles and we started up one of the remaining climbs.  Normally, 12-mph is halfway decent 5% grade as we’ve got a long stretch that we like to hammer hard just over the crest.  Last night we did it at 18-mph.  Into the wind.  Thankfully, I was back in the pack and was hanging on Chuck’s wheel.  Chuck is Mr. Smooth on a bike – if there’s a guy you want to hold a wheel on, it’s Chuck.  He doesn’t pull any hop out of the saddle surprises and he holds a good line.  I just concentrated on his rear wheel on the way up and just kept pedaling.

Once over the hill, the pace leveled off at around 24-mph and we pushed for home.  The headwind wasn’t easy, but as long as the turns up front were short and hard, it could be battled.


The home stretch was a blur.  The pace was all over the place but only in response to smaller hills.  We came around the final turn at speed with the final climb just ahead.  Mike had the pace at around 22 and I knew I was going to be in trouble.  I was running on empty and the 9%’er was looking ugly.  I have to be honest, I didn’t care.  The group headed up the hill and I lagged.  We were in the last half-mile and I was popped.  I struggled up the grade, then hit the pedals hard coming down the back to close distance.

I pulled across the City Limits sign with a 21.1-mph average (33.8 kmh).  Mike pointed out later, commenting on Strava, that I’d clocked 11 new achievements on a route that has 16 segments on it… I’d been a little bummed that I popped on the two hills until he pointed that out… including a PR on that last climb.  Popped, I PR’ed a climb.

Later on in the parking lot, everyone was laughs and hi-fives.  Doc Mike had clocked a 21.5-mph average for the loop.  As far as I know, that was a new record as well.  I can tell you, looking back, it was more fun than a fella can have with his clothes on.

Special hat tip to Joel for taking the photos used in this post.  Impressive, brother.  I was trying to hard to keep my tongue from getting tangled in my spokes.

67,780 Clean, Sober, Happy, Active, Wonderful Miles in My 40’s

I started cycling and actually tracking mileage at 41, almost 42 years old so I’m shorting myself… meh, maybe 1,200 running miles but when you’re already above 65,000 what’s 1,200 between friends?!

At 50 years old I feel better than I ever thought possible.  I wouldn’t say anything silly, like “I feel better at 50 than I did at 30″… I most certainly do not.  However, between not drinking or using drugs, not smoking, eating a balanced diet and enough exercise to choke a horse, the equation isn’t exactly rocket science.

While a clean, active, happy existence isn’t a promise of longevity, if I’d kept up the way I was when I was a kid, there’s no question I’d be worm food already.  According to doctors, I’ve been alive 20 years longer than if I’d kept drinking – my liver was that cooked.

Life, after sobriety, doesn’t necessarily come at me any easier but I sure do react to it a lot better – and therefore life itself is vastly better.

Let’s hope in another decade I’m celebrating another 60 or 70,000 miles… and continued recovery.  Life does get better, as do I, if I work for it.

Enough that I feel sorry for those who wait for it to happen to them.

Tuesday Night In Lennon: Keep Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’ Edition

84° (29 C), partly cloudy, wind 5-mph from the southwest.

There was only one choice to make and it was easy.

The Venge, baby…

I readied my Venge and gear for the ride. Matching Specialized Team kit, S-Works helmet, Torch 2.0 shoes. Water bottles, tools… and out the door.

Out in Lennon, at the church parking lot, there were only three others there. We rolled out together for a warm-up. Two A guys, me and another B guy. It started out easy enough but got out of hand in a hurry. We were pushing crazy speed into the barely there breeze. We turned north with a tailwind and the tempo picked up. I’m going to save you the suspense. We pulled into the parking lot with a 20-mph average.

Who does a freaking 20-mph warm-up?  Why?!

After the warm-up, the first thing I noticed was the B Group was in trouble.  We had four solid “up front” people show up and about six who would want to hide most of the ride.  This doesn’t exactly bode well for a record setting night.  The decision was made, not by me, to roll out with the A’s.  I don’t know what the deal was, but they took it easy on us again this week.  I made it the full 20-ish miles to Shiatown where we dropped off the back for the shorter route home.  We were rockin’ a 23.3-mph average… and had tailwind all the way home.

I led the group out after the regroup and took the first mile uphill before the sprint into Vernon.  I was four bikes back by the time we came into view of the sign.  I put the hammer down early and liberally and got a fantastic separation within a few pedal strokes.  Nobody else had a chance and I cruised over the line near 33-mph and a smile on my face.

Then it was time to knuckle down for the final push home.  I was glad I was on the Venge, too – it’s just utterly fantastic at speed.  I could tell my regular riding buddy, Chuck wanted to up the average because once we cleared a busy intersection, he cranked the speed up in a hurry.  He flicked off and I took the next turn keeping it near 27-mph before dropping to the back.  We held anywhere between 24 & 28-mph all the way till the last couple of miles.

I was in entirely the wrong position.  I knew I was going to be the leadout.  There was no way around it other than a quick turn and a flick and I’m not about to do that.  I got down in the drops and waited for Mike to flick off.  He drifted off the front at 24-1/2-mph and that was my cue…

I thought about going hard as if I’d been let out of the gate, but I chose to take it up gradually to give Mike a chance to latch on.  The speedometer topped 25… 26… 27… I almost flicked off but decided to do it right and give the guys a “blaze of glory” sendoff.  I put my head down and pounded on the pedals.  I was giving it everything I had coming around a lazy left curve before the final straightaway before the sprint.  I was almost to 28 (45 kmh) when I ran out of gas just as Josh and the boys were coming by.  I sat up and still held 26 across the line.

The average ranged between 23.1 (me) to 23.4 (Chucker) for the ride.  Not a record, but a solid ride.  I still can’t believe we, as the B Group, are averaging 23-mph – and so smoothly.

I think I was still smiling when I fell asleep last night (I know I was when I woke up this morning).

The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: Everything You’ll Need to Get (And Stay) Fast On A Bicycle

This post was originally written in 2014… under a different, horrible, very bad Title. I’m reposting it under a better Title

So you’re getting into cycling. You love it but you want to get faster and you’re at a loss for where to start. Fear not, it’ll take a lot of hard work and a little bit of cash, but it’s not impossible (and age, while it matters, isn’t as big a factor as many think). One thing is for certain though, if you don’t have a plan you can get bogged down on some of the less important aspects of speed because there’s a lot one can do to improve their overall pace on a bike. Let’s get right into it…

1. Weight (and we’re not talking about the bike here): Cycling is not like golf, meaning you can’t cycle around your gut – it’s just the nature of the sport. This doesn’t mean you can’t ride, it just means you can’t realize your full potential until you drop the gut. First, being heavy will mean extra weight climbing hills and you won’t be able to make that up on the downhill – the disadvantage is disproportionate to the advantage. Second, having to work around a belly will mean that you can’t ride low on the bars and drops which, in effect, turns you into a big sail on top of a bike. The best way to get fast is to get low, out of the wind. The cyclist’s weight is the single most important factor to cycling, above all else – and it’s also the cheapest to do something about. Ride more and eat less – in fact, fixing the weight can even be said to save money.


This dude has some gut to work on.

Bike Setup: The single most important bike related and second most important factor detracting from speed is the bike setup. There are a few things a noob must embrace when it comes to the setup: 1) You don’t know what you’re doing. 2) The setup person at your local shop does. 3) Millimeters matter and by that I mean one or two. Get your bike set up by someone who knows what they’re doing and pay attention while they’re doing it so you can change it on your own as you improve and lose weight. Important areas: Saddle height (this needs to be within 2 millimeters of dead on). Saddle fore and aft (one millimeter). Stem Length (5-10 millimeters). Things to remember: You don’t change the fore-aft position of the saddle if you have to reach too far for the handlebars – ever. Do NOT do this. You buy a longer/shorter stem. Your feet, and legs and more importantly, knees have to be in a specific position above the axles of the pedals. Saddle height is nothing to trifle with either. 2 millimeters too high and you lose power at the bottom of the pedal stroke, where you need it. 2 millimeters to low and you lose power at the main section of the pedal stroke – where you need it even more.

UPDATE: MJ Ray, in the comments, suggested verifying the bona fides of your “fitter” as some “fake it”. I agree, though thankfully I’m spoiled in this regard – the owner of our local shop has more credentials than could possibly be needed.

Diet, both on and off the bike: Now this is a tricky one – if you have any questions, first look to #1. That notwithstanding, you’ve got several camps on this front. The main groups would have to look something like the healthy eaters, the vegetarians, the omnivores and the sweets fanatics. I’m an omnivore who enjoys his occasional treat. Fit into any of the first three and if you want to lose weight while you ride, I might even suggest limiting the meat and bread to an extent, with the understanding that your body will require a substantial amount of protein to build muscle as you work on getting faster. Once the weight is under control though, I would recommend against a vegetarian diet. Veggies are not a great power-food. In fact, at no point in the history of mankind, ever, has someone uttered the phrase, “Yeah, I got a big race tomorrow, I’m gonna veggie load.” If you’re going for speed, even sugar (within another longer burning fuel source, of course) is far better for you than a cucumber. You must, one way or another, learn to love bananas though.

Fitness/Legs and Flexibility: Next up would be fitness and flexibility. For the fitness, this only takes time, miles and intensity. Get to it. The flexibility is simple enough but requires a little pain tolerance, at least to do it my way. I’m not big into stretching, yoga and all of that hoo-ha so I worked on my flexibility on the bike. This meant getting used to riding in the drops regularly for long periods of time – the goal at a minimum should be an hour straight riding in the drops. The more you can ride in the drops, the lower you can drop your stem, the faster you’ll be able to ride. Just keep in mind that too much of a good thing is bad. As far as the legs go, here’s the catch phrase (Copyright, of course): “A high-end bike won’t fix low-end legs”. Burn that in.

Bike Frame Material: Holding a decent average on a high-end entry-level bike (meaning not your big box special road bike with the twist-grip shifters, those are crap and will slow you down when it comes to shifting into the proper gear as needed – you want Trek, Cannondale, Specialized, Jamis or Scott just to name a few) is possible, often desirable to some racers because the aluminum frame of the entry-level bike is stiff. No power loss when you’re putting the hammer down. On the other hand, that stiffness comes at a price: Comfort. You’ll feel every single little pebble in the road. If you can afford a carbon fiber bike, they’re much more comfortable. How does this translate to speed? Well, rolling over gnarly pavement on an aluminum bike can be quite demoralizing as the miles rack up. You can literally feel the speed bleed over the bumps. On a carbon fiber bike, they absorb chop a lot better so you should be more comfortable and able to hold high speeds for longer. This was a great leap for me, one of the happiest days of cycling, when I brought home my first full carbon bike. Take note though, how low this is on the list.

6. Wheels: In my experience, wheels are one of the most overlooked component to cycling with speed. While the nice carbon aero wheels are great, a decent set of wheels with some high-end hubs will go a long way to making a decent speed maintainable. You can overcome the disadvantage of cheap wheels (I do, mine only cost me $370 or so), but even my cheap wheels were a vast improvement over the wheels that came on the bike originally. When it comes to wheels, the good stuff does matter, but they’re not worth the poor-house either.

7. Aerodynamic Equipment: Notice this is before the overall weight of the bike? The only time aerodynamic equipment takes a back seat to weight is in the mountains. Aero beats weight every day of the week and twice on Sunday otherwise. You’ll be able to get around the equipment with hard work and guts but it’ll take a lot of both to do it. Unfortunately, you’ll be paying top-dollar for anything aero – from helmets to clothing to the wheels and bike itself. Aero is never cheap unless you can get a deal on last year’s stuff – and even then, it only costs an arm… Which is good, you’ll need that leg to ride.

8. Bike weight: Finally we’re down to bike weight. Now, if you’ve got the cash, this is the easiest way to pick up a little bit of speed. All it takes is a month’s salary (on average of course). Having a light bike helps immensely on hills, there’s no doubt about that, but on flat ground it’s really not all that big a deal (see #7).

Just think, for the bargain price of $15,000 (and change), you can have a 10 pound bike too (4.65 kg)! Just remember, that reduced weight comes with a price. You’d better be pro skinny and be ready for that light bike to feel like you’re riding a bike made of pre-cooked spaghetti. 15 to 18 pounds is a great range to be in. 18 or 19 pounds is reasonable. Above, say, 22 pounds, start shopping if you want to go fast. You’re riding an anchor.

Now, it could be stated that component choice should be included in this post as well but I can clear that up in one fell swoop: As long as you’re looking at any of the three main manufacturer’s base race lines (Shimano 105, or SRAM Rival as examples) or better, the components won’t have much of an effect on speed. Obviously, the more you’re willing to spend, the lighter the components are but by the time the noob gets to that point, you’re splitting seconds. Whatever line you choose, save the down tube shifters and the bar end shifters for your leisure bikes. If you want speed, the integrated brake/shifters are the only way to go. Anything less will have you working harder to keep up. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the shifters aren’t that big of a deal, that you can get used to the down tube shifters and everything will work out. You’ll be wrong. I was.

Vernon, Michigan 66-Miler On Fantastic, Scenic Paved Country Roads

This is the best part of our Sunday morning Route as published on Cycling Michigan

Cycling Michigan

For this, spectacular ride, park at the Spring Street Park in downtown Vernon and be prepared to ride some fantastic, paved country roads.  About 30 miles in, stop in the town of Elsie for a break and visit Perx & Pastries for some outstanding treats.  Whatever their blueberry cake is made with, the icing is phenomenal.  17 miles later you’ll be able to stop in Laingsburg for an ice-cold drink at the local Citgo gas station.  This quickly became a local favorite route – I can’t recommend it highly enough.

If this is your first go around, you must read the “How To” and Disclaimer first, (here)

The route is on Strava (here)
The route is on Ride with GPS (here)

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