We rolled out Sunday morning, two tandems and two single bikes on a cool, almost cloudless morning. My wife and I on our tandem, Diane and Jeff on Diane’s (they aren’t a couple, they just ride together… and they’re strong), Mike and Chuck. We started out easy and built pace over several miles and Greg met us on the road. The pace was fairly subdued throughout, though there were times I was working pretty hard – too hard to hold a conversation beyond a few words, but it was fun.
We stopped at the Tuesday night church parking lot to use the club’s porta-john but it was a little too early for my snack so after everyone was relieved we rolled out again.
After the break and a couple of miles to work back into it, my wife and I found our rhythm. Later than usual, but we hit our stride nonetheless. Greg split off to head home in Durand and we took it a little easier heading home. We were sitting on an 18.5-mph average and the goal had been 17-18 (this adjusts according to who shows up, or it’s supposed to) so the worries about pace and keeping up went out the window.
And that is precisely when Jeff said, heading up a little 2%’er, “It’s not the roads you ride, it’s the friends you ride them with.”
And that sums up, in one sweet little sentence, why I enjoy cycling so much – love it, really.
We made plans for October on that ride, for Chuck’s birthday ride up in Interlochen. We’ll head up there for the end of the week and spend a couple of days riding near the shore of Lake Michigan. We’ve ridden throughout much of the pandemic with friends (after the fear calmed down to a dull roar), but the road trips have been cut to a bare minimum. The pandemic was the very illustration of Jeff’s simple observation, though. We had a blast this year. It really didn’t matter the routes or roads we rode on. It was the friends we rode them with.
We’ve gone through some nasty weather over the last day or two, so I readied the Trek 5200 for Saturday duty. I felt I probably could have ridden the Venge, the chance of rain was only 10%. I thought about it a minute but stuck with the Trek. It needs a good romp now and again.
Then Greg texted he’d meet us on the road. “Okay”, I thought, “Greg plays nice.” Then Winston pulled into the driveway. “Ruh roh.” Then McMike rolled up… on his Venge. “Oh, crap.” That’s a trifecta of fast right there. I stuck with the Trek anyway, though the pull to switch to the Venge was strong.
Mike S. texted he was running five minutes late but I stuck with the Trek. We rolled as soon as he was ready…
And in classic Michigan fashion, it was spitting on us before my Garmin read 1.3 mi. 100% chance of getting 10% wet. There were times it was looking ugly and just four miles in I swore we were riding directly into rain but… nothing. Some wet pavement was it.
Oh, but there was wind. It was though someone simply turned off summer, just like that. One day, hot and muggy (91° or 33 C) to cool and windy the next – we’ll have to pull out the arm and knee warmers this morning. Thankfully, a couple years ago I slammed the front end with a -17° stem. I’m able to ride as low on the Trek as I do on the Venge.
So there I was, marveling at how wonderful my Trek was. I expect a certain level of comfort out of the Venge. The amount of engineering that went into the bike was astounding, right down to the partnership with McLaren. The 5200, though, the same frame Lance Armstrong won the ’99 Tour de France on, is a modern classic – one of the first full carbon fiber frames, I’d never expect that level of comfort. Yet there is was, as I was hurtling down the road at 25+ mph with a smile stretched across my face.
We found out early in the ride it was McMike’s birthday ride. We pulled into the driveway with just over 70 miles – enough he just needed to ride home and do a loop around his neighborhood to get his 72 miles.
And he can kick my 50-year old ass up and down the road whenever he wants.
It was a fantastic day in the saddle on the Trek. There’s just something sweet about the feel of a classic. Every time I ride it on a long ride or tour, I’m thankful I rebuilt it.
Brought to you by cycling: the ability to put on your socks at 50 like you did when you were ten.
Ride hard. Move it or lose it.
Advancing from a Recreational Cyclist to an Enthusiast; What You Need to Know to Stay Sharp, Fast, and Happy on Your Bike(s)
There are certain things I know that make life as an avid cyclist a lot easier, beyond simple “clean your chain” maintenance. Maybe simpler is a better word than “easier”. Come to think of it, “less chaotic” would do as well.
Cycling by the Numbers
For instance, off the top of my head, my saddle height is 36-3/8″, give or take a millimeter. The distance from the center of my handlebar to the tip of my saddle should be between 22-1/2″ and 22-3/4″ depending on the saddle – the most important thing is that my knees are properly over the pedal spindle, of course, but I’ve also got to have the reach right. The angle on my saddle, nose down, should be 3° on the Venge’s Romin saddle and 2° on the Trek’s Montrose Pro saddle. I pump my 24mm tires up to 108 psi. My 25’s go to 95 and 100, front and back. These are my numbers. With those numbers I can set up virtually any properly sized road bike on the planet up to fit me well enough I can ride a 100k without pain. As much tinkering as I do on my bikes, it only makes sense to keep those numbers at the front of my melon.
The Intricacies of My Bicycles
There are also a few intricacies I have to remember to keep the fleet rolling properly. I have to clean and lube the metal shifter cable guide plate under the bottom bracket shell on my Trek every once in a while or it gets gooped up and won’t shift right. I have to clean out the rear brake cable exit point from the Venge’s frame or else it’ll get caked with salt from where my sweat hits the top tube. I also have to watch the sweat drippings on the Trek at the rear brake cable – under the fame, too. I have to clean out the rear derailleur’s cable housing every now and again on the Trek because it gets gummed up – a normal thing in exterior routed cable bikes. The Trek’s headset needs to be cleaned and tightened up regularly or it’ll creak when I’m out of the saddle. On the Venge, I’ve gotta move the seat post around a little bit and tighten it back up once a year or it’ll develop a creak. I’ve gotten rid of quick releases for Halo’s hex key skewers because they’re light, solid and quiet.
Most people won’t go to the length I do to know my bikes. For many, it makes more sense to “take it to the shop” and let a mechanic sort any mechanical issues out. If I were to follow that line of thinking, I’d probably need three or four more bikes – one race bike and two rain bikes – so I could make sure to have one at the ready at any given point. All too often I’ve got something that needs a little tinkering on at least one bike. If I had to drop one off at the shop for a week every time I had to get something fixed… well, thank God I don’t!
One of the intricacies in dealing with high-priced, light equipment is that it often needs to be tinkered with (my Ican wheels, now that I’ve gotten through the initial build issues, being an exception). The cleaner I keep the bikes, the better I maintain my equipment, the longer they last, quieter they are, and nicer they look. Cables need changing, bolts need tightening, parts need cleaning (and to be lubed back up). Between my wife’s bikes and mine, if I took them into the shop for everything that went wrong, I’d have more bikes in the shop than in the bike room.
This list would be never-ending…
Look folks, truthfully, I could probably go on to a point of getting boring with all of the neat little things I do to keep my bikes tip-top (my friend Ukulele Dave puts me to shame). The point is, being a recreational cyclist is awesome. You take your bike out now and again, you ride it some, you put up with some minor clicks and creaks… and when you’re done you put it up till the next time. Being a “ride every day” enthusiast is a different beast entirely. You’ll have multiple bikes to maintain and keep quiet and lubed/clean. You’ll ride enough that “clicks and creaks” will be a once a month issue (if not more frequent) and, because a quiet bike is so awesome, you’ll obsess about finding whichever one you happen to be looking for at the time. Some are rather elusive. With some time and “want to”, though, you’ll begin to build a historical knowledge of your bikes. You’ll be able to diagnose clicks and creaks simply by the noise. You’ll be able to make new bikes fit just like the old one’s. And you’ll be infinitely more comfortable when you ride for all that fine-tuning.
Being an enthusiast, rather than an occasional cyclist, is extremely rewarding and fun. It’s just a lot of work.
Garmin Incident Detection: A Fantastic Idea, Horribly Executed… I Finally Had to Shut Mine Off To Avoid It CAUSING a Crash
In theory, Garmin’s incident detection is a fabulous idea. A sudden stop and a klaxon alarm blares from your phone and emails go out to chosen contacts. Brilliant!
Ish. Well, not really.
In reality, it’s more likely to cause a crash than help someone who’s actually, you know, crashed, because it goes off if you stop your bike in an abnormal place (driveway, intersection, etc.). Now, for a certain group of naysayers I should clarify, by “stop your bike” I do not mean “grab a handful of brakes and skid that sucker to a tail-sliding stop, kicking up a cloud of dust”. No, I mean “stop your bike”. My tires cost $50+ a pop! No chance I’m stopping like that!
Garmin simply made the system too sensitive… say, by a factor of… guessing here… 20? Ish.
So, with cars behind me waiting to clear an intersection that I properly stopped for, the freaking alarm starts sounding. I had to clear the intersection to allow traffic behind me to get on with their lives after patiently waiting on me while trying to steer the bike through a turn, in traffic, with one hand and cancel the alarm within 35 seconds with the other, or the emails go out that I’m “rubber up” in a freaking ditch… and all because I stopped my bike a stop sign intersection.
Presumably, if I’d have rolled it, I wouldn’t have such a fantastic tale to pass along.
Last Saturday, in the middle of a century, my regular riding buddy, Mike, was on the toasty side and wanted to stop by the side of the road. I coasted to an easy stop at the end of a paved driveway, unclipped, put my foot down, looked back at Mike… and the klaxon. That was the last straw. After riding 103 miles and my ride was uploaded, I sat down and turned off the incident detection.
So, Garmin, a note to you on the incident detection system in your devices (Edge 520 Plus in my case), I’d rather turn it off and risk actually needing it than live with my phone bleating at me that I’ve stopped when I don’t roll through a stop sign at an intersection. Do us a favor, would ya? Turn that sensitivity down just a bit so we can, you know, use the incident detection system that actually detects incidents… not incidents and that you’ve stopped your bicycle.
After the weekend I had, work turned crazy Monday morning. A high-profile job had me scrambling all day long. I was on my feet most of the day and I was absolutely beat.
I got to the office early and left downtown Detroit late (don’t believe all of the reports, I did and I was on edge for nothing – everyone, cops to citizens were cordial – the weekend was crazy but Monday was back to normal). By the time I got home I almost thought about phoning it in. I knew my riding partner was hurting after a long weekend in the saddle, though. No chance he’d want to hammer it.
It was almost comical. Two miles in (four for me – I rode the two miles to his house) we were looking at a 15-mph average into a single-digit breeze… and I had no desire to try to raise it. I simply chose an easy gear and turned the crank. Chuck wasn’t coming around, either. We talked politics (he and I being on the same team, this is possible on a bike ride – when in a mixed group or if you don’t know the composition, I recommend sticking to the tried and true “no politics on a bike ride”).
I was just shy of 10 miles before Chuck came around to take his first turn up front… it lasted less than a mile-and-a-half. That was the last time he saw the front. This was perfectly fine with me. I knew Chuck was hurting after two centuries in a row (miles, not km’s) Saturday and Sunday. I did the Saturday century but kept my Sunday to 42 miles.
Twelve miles in and we were still below 16-mph for the average but my legs were starting to come back to life a little bit. I decided to pick up the pace. Not much, but enough.
Our max speed for the ride was just 23-mph and that took a decent quarter-mile long downhill to hit it.
16 miles in and I was starting to feel like me. I rode down in the drops just to change up my position a little, but maintained our slow pace. 18 miles, still up front and I could have picked it up to a more normal 20-mph pace. The pain in my back was gone, my legs were loose and happy. I didn’t budge off 18-mph.
I know guys who will swear up and down, “why ride if you can’t go all out?” It’s been a long while since I was one of those.
I pulled into the driveway with a 16.1-mph average over 22 miles and some change. I’d gone from run-down, not wanting to ride to feeling a little bit like myself in less than an hour and a half. The active recovery ride is the key to my riding every day – and there’s no question, a Foghat ride is a better fix for sore legs than days off. Monday’s are perfect for a slow ride. Take it easy.
I could almost smell that noodle salad.
My wife and I are really coming into our own on our tandem. It’s now our go-to bike for Sunday rides and we’re having a blast on it. This is as it should be but it takes some want to to get there.
I’ve been asked how much more work the is tandem over a single bike. To answer the question, I’d have to guess, but that’s a guess I can make – 20-30% depending on the strength and size of the stoker.
We don’t ride our tandem like that, though – we’re not on the tandem for speed, to burn up the tarmac… we’re our there for the fun of it.
We rolled out yesterday morning with a goal of 40-ish miles at a pace between 17 & 18-mph. That lasted all of eight miles and we were pushing 19. We picked up one of the better tandem couples in our county about four miles in and things got a little out of hand. We tried to continually check with everyone to make sure the pace wasn’t a problem and would have pulled up if anyone did.
And it did get a little crazy.
Our 30th mile was completed at just a shade under 26-mph… and we were at a 19.9 average. The next mile was at 24 on the nose. Then a couple of slow miles before we hit a section of rollers famous for tandem awesomeness. Over a three mile stretch (or so), there’s a negative grade of a percent or two with some fantastic rollers thrown in. On a single bike with a slight tailwind, you can keep the pace up above 21-mph, including the uphill portions. On a tandem, with the exception of one or two key hills, it’s 23-mph. The single bikes can have a tough time holding on.
We pounded that section.
We took a little break at the next intersection before the 12-mile cruise home. We were at 20-mph on the nose at this point but I doubted we’d hold it. Usually, when we have to stop to get out of the saddle for a minute, that’s the beginning of the end for my wife and I.
That wasn’t to be, though. We hammered it all the way home taking our average from 20 to 20.2. With three tandems, two of the teams vastly above my wife and I, and four singles we took Sunday Funday a little far. We were supposed to end with an 18-mph average, max.
You never know when a real ride is going to break out. And I was quite stoked that my wife and I could keep up on that one. There’s no question, if you can find someone you can learn to tolerate on a tandem, it’s a fun way to get around.
With the prospect of a second century in as many weeks, Chuck and I figured we’d have more than a few of our friends show for the century add-on. We were mistaken. I rolled out alone from my house at ten to seven yesterday morning to pick Chuck up. Two miles later, he was ready to roll when I got rounded the corner.
The ride to meet everyone should have been terrifying. Most of the ride was down a five-lane highway with stretches posted at 55-mph. Instead, because motorists had a lane to go around us, Chuck and I, riding side-by-side, got our own lane. No angry honks, no hammering the gas to cover us in exhaust… nothing. It was also early enough there weren’t many cars on the road, anyway.
The entire 17-1/2 mile ride there was inconsequential and we pulled into the parking lot with ten minutes to spare – only to find my wife, Mike and Phill were the only one’s in the lot getting ready. It was going to be a hard century with only five of us sharing the load. But, out of the blue, Chuck said he wanted a relaxed pace… and everyone else agreed… so we actually took it easy the first 60 miles. Unfortunately, it got hot toward the end and Mike was struggling. He asked Chuck and I to go ahead and my wife rode with him while Chuck and I hammered down the road toward lunch.
We hit a Subway at 84 miles and sat outside against the building and ate our lunch.
We had something like 16 miles to go and it was beyond warm, right into freaking hot (close to 90). We took a couple of miles to wind our legs up and we put the hammer down for home. We each took two-mile pulls into the mild breeze at between 20 & 22-mph but we relaxed going up the hills. This proved to be an excellent strategy in the heat of the day. As we crossed 100 miles, with a few left to get home, we were both feeling exceptionally spry for the final miles of a 100+ mile day. I didn’t have any signs of cramping and was riding happy. Chuck and I split off a mile from each other’s house after saying our thank you’s and whatnot.
I pulled into the driveway with 103.7 miles, an 18.1-mph average, and a smile on my face.
Until this year, I’ve never been much for the whole “Long Slow Distance” thing. After COVIDcation and yesterday’s relaxed century, the idea’s really growing on me.
535 miles to my 6,000 outdoor mile goal. I should be able to hit that before the middle of September. Hate to cut short and run, but I’ve gotta go get the tandem ready for Sunday Funday!
It was a slow start to August, mileage wise, but that was by design. I had a goal, January First, of 6,000 outdoor miles. I’ve got 635 to go. That’ll be 535 after today. I was ready for a bit of a break after four straight 1,000+ mile months.
I believe I may have been a bit overtrained. Still, my wife and I rode most days, we just didn’t do any long rides – we had plenty of other fun things to do on vacation, like boating and swimming… and eating!
Since coming back last Saturday, though, it’s been a straight diet of miles. We did a century last Saturday and we’re out for another this morning and all is well.
The important thing overall, however, is I’m happy. I’ve had a lot more temptation to drink over the last week but my reaction kicked in like a steel trap, just as it should. I have a daily reminder pop up that says, “Do you still think you’re in charge of your character defects?”
The short answer is, I’m not. They’ve been given to my Higher Power, so when they pop up, I know just where they belong – and temptation is just like any other defect. If I ask for it to be removed from me, it’s gone. Instantly. This takes faith and practice, but it works, and that’s all a recovered drunk can ask for. Well, that, peace and contentment, and I have it all.
Work is going well and we’re very busy.
And my wife and I just celebrated the big 25 years together (together, not married – that’ll be in a couple of years). Folks, as that goes, it’s as good as it gets. Peace, contentment, happiness, faith and hard work.
Certainly more than a drunk deserves. Just about right for a recovered one. It is, after all, promised… if we work for it.
Make it an awesome day. I have to get the Venge ready!
Group and Club Rides: The Art of Not Getting Dropped When the Cycling Gets Fast (And Knowing When Fast is too Fast)
Okay, so we all know I ride with some fast folks. Some people think I’m one of the fast people. To an extent, I am, but a lot of that speed is strategy. I’m going to share with you some of my secrets for sticking with it when it gets tough.
- The first one is simple: Save the good legs for the big rides. We have a guy who runs a really fast ride out of his house every Saturday. 50 miles and they usually average 23 to 24-mph on open roads. He likes to tell every new person who shows up, “You gotta bring your good legs to this ride”. You DO NOT, the day before a ride you know is going to be fast, go out and do hill repeats or anything else that’ll tax you for the next day. For instance, my hard days are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday… Monday, Wednesday and Friday are moderate to fairly easy days. It’s okay to take the time to smell the roses to save your legs for the hard rides.
- No matter what, I always pull through in a group. My turn at the front, if I’m already pushing max heart rate, may be short but I never – NEVER – pull out early so somebody has a gap to make up. This is one of the biggest douche moves in club cycling (right next to pulling up front and exiting a double pace-line up the center of the group… look at me now, never). If you can’t stand the heat up front, keep your butt at the back where it won’t get in the way. Always do your best to not disrupt the group pulling your butt around the course.
- Now for the good stuff. You’re going to have times where you think you’re cooked – at the end of your rope. You’re probably not. Get off the front after your turn and recharge. You’ll feel better in a minute. Don’t confuse how you feel at the front with how you’re doing overall. The front should get your heart rate up. It’ll drop down after your turn.
- If you’re legitimately hurting, take a short turn up front. The group will respect you for taking your lumps up front, even if you can’t hang long. If, however, one of the regulars offers for you to hang at the back, by all means, take them up on it. I have to give it a short pull every now and again and doing so saves my bacon – especially into the wind.
- Use intersections to drop back a few places if you need a longer rest. Using this tactic gets a little tricky, but it works. Don’t use it too much, lest you get the reputation of wimping out of your duty to the group. Use it to get you to the good side of a bind.
- Know who’s wheel you can trust and who will get you dropped. You don’t want to ride behind someone who will get you dropped at the first sign of the ride getting tough. There’s nothing worse than coming off a good pull at the front, just to have to bridge a gap because the rider in front of you dropped just as you came back. Sure, that’s a twatwaffle move on their part, but a little caution on your part will save you having to bridge immediately after a turn up front.
- While at the back, later in the ride, take an assessment of who is hurting. If one of the riders you’re behind seems like they’re flagging, pass them up at an intersection and get in front of them. Better to be in front of them one or two places than behind them when things get tough. This way, if they drop, you’ll be rested when it happens so you’ll be able to bridge a gap.
- Don’t try to hammer the group with sudden accelerations early, just to blow up later in the ride. Watch your sprints for town signs, etc. First, everything in a group ride should be smooth. If you can ride faster than the guy who just flicked off the front, great. Ramp the speed up slowly so A) the person who just pulled has a chance to latch on and B) the group behind you doesn’t have to work extra hard to bridge a gap you just made. If you surge as soon as they flick off, you’re a dick. A limp, tiny dick, too. The group isn’t thinking, “Wow, look how strong Bob is!” They’re thinking, “Where in the f*** does Bob think he’s going, that douche nozzle!” Don’t be Bob.
- The ride can be tougher at the back if you’re not in an exceptionally competent group. Spend enough time in a group and you’ve ridden behind this guy; six pedal strokes, coast, six pedal strokes, coast, rinse and repeat… he’s falling back a few feet every coast, then he closes the gap with those six pedal strokes. This person is, whether he knows it or not, an @$$hole. If you’ve got a few people behind “that guy”, the yo-yo effect is going to be horrendous… and a lot more work than taking your lumps up front. Pass that loser up. Coasting is just fine, but only if you’re able to maintain your gap with the rider in front of you. Don’t be the start of the yo-yo. The reason this is so difficult is you’ll have to pay triple the attention you normally would and you’ll be constantly hitting your brakes after hammering the pedals to make up the gap the person in front of you is making. I can only stand about 30 seconds of this before I’ll pass someone up. One thing is for sure, staying in the back with that is going to hammer you into the ground.
- For my last little nugget of advice, I’ve saved the most important. If you’re in a group that you’ll struggle to keep pace in, be selfish about who you’ll ride behind. Don’t put up with someone who isn’t riding competently just to stay at the back – or, if you must suffer someone, try to take it in small chunks. Shake up the order of the pace-line at an intersection or after a stop. You don’t have to start in the back after a stop. Start out front and take a pull and after you’re done, you’ll drop to the back. Or start second bike after that stop… this is a great way to take a turn early, after your heart rate has calmed down, before heading to the back for a nice, long rest before your next turn.
Now, every now and again you’re going to run into a group that’s simple too fast for you. It happens. First, if you don’t know where you are, don’t be the first one off the back. Second is fine, that way you can team up with the other person who went of the back. Next, don’t sacrifice good form to stay with a group. In other words, don’t do any of those bad manner things listed above because you’re at the end of your rope. That’s not an excuse and nobody else will care anyway. Just do your best and remember, the group comes first. Be good to the people and they’ll ask you back.
Good luck and ride hard.