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Monthly Archives: October 2020

The Case For (AND Against) Buying an Entry-level Bicycle…

I own one of everything when it comes to road bikes; entry-level right up to opulent. Short of top-of-the-line, but I’ve got two girls about to head off to college. $8,000-$12,000 for a bicycle would be stupid on my salary. Besides, what I have is certainly enough bike for my needs – and that’s what’s most important.

I’m going to veer off, though, because this isn’t about a top-end bike. Top-end bikes are exactly what you’d expect shelling out that kind of cash for a machine that doesn’t have a motor. I want to talk about the entry-level steed. Most people, when they start thinking about getting into cycling, look at the upper end of the food-chain and wonder how someone could possibly want to spend $5,000 on a bicycle, let alone double that. They immediately head for the bargain rack and start looking at the alloy entry-level bikes. The Trek Emonda AL, Trek Checkpoint, etc. and the Specialized Allez or Diverge. When you’re looking at a bike ranging from $5,000 to $12,000, $1,000 doesn’t seem all that bad. Hold that thought.

My wife and I decided to buy gravel bikes a while back and that presented me with an interesting problem; I knew about the differences between a $3,000 gravel bike and a $1,000 bike and I wanted the $3,000 steed. The problem was, $2,000 was doable. $6,000, not so much and I had to buy two. We went with entry-level rigs:

Mine, on the left with Shimano Sora components, has been fantastic.  I had to do a lot to dial it in because the person who built it at the shop didn’t have the attention to detail I do, but with the time I put into it, it’s quite excellent and trustworthy – if heavy. 

Then there’s my wife’s.  Better paint job, but with Shimano Claris from 2016/17, one level of components below mine.  We’ve had the crankset warrantied twice and I just ordered a Shimano Sora drivetrain because I’m so sick of dealing with Shimano Claris I could scream.  Now, to be fair, the Claris setup on my wife’s bike is the previous generation.  I’ve heard from a few friends who have the new generation (2018 and newer), that it’s much more reliable.  Those bottom-of-the-line components, while they’re meant to work, often leave a lot to be desired if know how good “good” is supposed to be.

So let’s get down to where the rubber meets the road, to what really matters.  What will dictate your purchase is your intended riding style.  If you’re going to putter around, smelling the fresh air and enjoying being outside, an entry level bike is all you’ll ever need.  With a little bit of training and effort, you’ll be cranking out the big miles in no time.  I’d go with Shimano Sora or better, which will add some cost to that entry-level steed, but it’s well worth the nominal upcharge.  Also, while we’re at it, if we’re going for the easy riding entry-level bike, I’d go with a gravel bike over an alloy road bike.  The gravel bikes are versatile and spectacular.  Especially if you buy a second set of wheels (preferably lighter and more aerodynamic) for road use so you can put knobby tires on the original set of wheels and road tires on the lightweight wheels for road use.  Then you’ll have all of your bases covered.

On the other hand, if you’re picturing yourself rocketing down the road with a gaggle of friends, hands in the drops, banking into corners… well, that entry-level bike simply isn’t going to cut it.

It’s not to say one can’t keep up with the fast kids on an entry-level bike, because it is possible.  The problem is the rider has to be in tip-top shape in order to make up for the wattage required to make an entry-level bike do what a high-end bike does naturally.  People in cycling talk about “free speed” a lot.  Think of this as “expensive speed”.  “Expensive speed” is just like it sounds, and it is fantastic.  Having a fast and light bike won’t improve one’s fitness, but it does more with one’s fitness than an entry-level bike will.  Therefore, if you’re on an entry-level bike trying to box with the top-end bike crowd, you’ll have to work a lot harder to keep up with them.  It can be done, but it sucks.

For instance, using my 24 pound gravel bike as an example, with friends I can hang easily with on equally matched road bikes, I struggle to keep up with the same people who ride advanced gravel bikes (one friend’s is six pounds lighter, another is five…).  I can do it, but it ain’t easy.  There’s more to it than that – tires, tire pressure, gearing choices, etc., but this paints a fair picture.  Put simply, the faster one plans on riding, the more the bike matters.  

That’s not the end of the story, though.

If the best you can afford is an entry-level bike and you discover that you too would like to go fast, there’s light at the end of the tunnel and it isn’t a train (or the A Group with headlights).  Your salvation is upgrades.  Being fair, it’s rare to be able to afford a $7,000 bicycle.  That’s a lot of cash.  However, if you wanted to do it like I did, it’s a little more expensive in the long run but you get the benefit of spreading the cost out over time.  Upgrade your way out of your entry-level bike.

Wheels, wheels, wheels…

There is no better way to make an entry-level bike faster than by upgrading the wheels.  You’ll lose upwards of a pound (or more) and improve your aerodynamics in one upgrade.  I went from 23-mm alloy wheels, to 38-mm carbon fiber, to 50-mm carbon fiber wheels.  The original wheels that came on the bike were around 2,000 grams.  The 50-mm wheels are 1,470 – I dropped more than a pound on the wheels and they’re vastly more aerodynamic at the same time.  Even the 38’s were a huge improvement over the  23-mm alloy wheels.  If you’re on a budget, as I was, I recommend Ican wheels.  They’re fantastic, reliable and affordable.

Next would be drivetrain upgrades.  Going from, say, Shimano Sora to Ultegra will mean more gears and a significant drop in weight as well as a decent performance improvement.  Don’t forget, when you upgrade the shifters and derailleur(s), adding gears, you’ll also have to change out the chainrings, cassette and chain.  Choose wisely because this isn’t a cheap upgrade.

Finally, for pure weight gains we can upgrade the crankset.  Cranks, especially on the low end, are notoriously heavy and typically require a lot of maintenance.  Changing the crankset out for something higher on the food chain can save considerable weight.  I dropped almost three-quarters of a pound upgrading from an FSA crank to S-Works.

To put a nice, big bow on this post, entry-level road bikes have their place, there’s no doubt.  Depending on what you want out of cycling, there’s no need to blow thousands of Dollars on a bicycle if you’re just looking to explore the countryside at a leisurely pace.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re very nice, but they’re not a necessity.  Also, if your budget prohibits a high-end bike, you can always buy the best you can afford and upgrade as you can afford it. 

The main rule has always been, ride hard.  The rest tends to work itself out in the wash.

One final note, going back to my entry-level gravel bike… Other than swapping saddles with the saddle I had on my tandem and swapping the shallow drop bar for a classic drop bar I had in the spare part shed, I haven’t upgraded a thing on the bike that would make it “faster”.  I didn’t buy the bike to ride fast, so I haven’t bothered with upgrades.  An entry-level bike has its place in the stable, even for the avid enthusiast.

The Black Bibs Review – Finally, A Cheap Set Of Bibs Decent Enough For A Long(ish) Ride! FINALLY!!!

A cycling buddy, Jonathan, sent out a text to our group the other day recommending we try The Black Bibs for reasonably priced trainer shorts.  I’ve already got a drawer full of trainer bibs, but I’m always on the lookout for a decently priced pair of bibs. 

I’ve been a fan of Funkier for a few years now, but they can leave a hot spot in a really bad place if you’re not careful – and I definitely won’t wear them on rides longer than, say, 40 miles.  They’re for weekday rides so I can save my nice (expensive) bibs for the long days in the saddle without wearing them out.  After all, I pay more for one pair of bibs than most would want to spend on a bicycle, I want them to last.

So, that brings me to the aforementioned Black Bibs.  The slogan is “No Labels, No BS, Undeniably Affordable”.  

Yep, no labels, check.  No BS, Check.  There’s no question, at $40 for their bottom tier bibs, they’re affordable.  So, check.

The ordering process is simple.  Delivery, at least to my house, was swift.  My pair arrived the day it dawned on me I should track the shipment to see where it was.  It was in my mailbox.  Now, I picked up that bottom tier pair to try out.  Why?  I don’t know, possibly to be a crank when they didn’t live up to my high expectations… political season is in full-swing and the politicians have gotten everyone so riled up, cats and dogs are sitting back slack-jawed at the carnage.  Hey, honesty is the best policy, and if I’m anything, I’m capable of being honest.

Wednesday night was my first ride in The Black Bibs… erm… bibs, and I picked a doozy of a night.  My buddy and I went from a lazy, fun evening ride, to a full-on hammer-fest in 23-miles.

First impressions were a little tricky.  The bibs are slippy on the saddle out of the package, so it was difficult to keep my keister in its happy spot on the saddle – I slid all over the place.  Also, the chamois is rather thick, so it feels a little unsettling on the heinie at first.  One really nice attribute is the leg hem – there’s no grippy on the hem so those who hate the grip will LOVE these shorts – and my leg warmers were still where I’d put them at the end of the ride, too. 

About 15 miles into the ride, the slippery nature against my Bontrager Montrose Pro saddle relaxed and I was able to sit on the saddle without it feeling like it was a contoured sheet of ice.  After that, the bibs went away entirely.  And that’s exactly what I want in a pair of bibs.  I want to not think about them.  At all.  Until the next time I put them on.

The chamois was acceptable and would be alright on a long-ish ride.  I loved the lack of grip at the leg hem, but probably my favorite was the shoulder straps.  I have pecs… not big one’s, mind you, but they’re there.  And because I have pecs, there are rubbed raw nipple issues with some shoulder straps.  Not with The Black Bibs.  Normally I have to pay north of $100 for a pair of bibs that won’t rub my nips raw.  $40 is unheard of unless they’re on sale, marked down from $100+.

Much more research will be necessary, and I’ll have to get a pair of the $65 high-end bibs, now.  So far, though, I was thoroughly impressed with the pair I bought.

For sizing, I bought a Large, which is par for the course.  I used to be a medium before I learned how to eat for my mileage, but those days are long gone. I’m 6′ tall and between 170 and 175 pounds (depending on whether we’re before or after November/December family get-togethers and dinners).  Interestingly, the sizing charts go by loose measurements and are worthless.  If you keep scrolling down, you’ll see a chart that goes by weight/height and that had me pegged at the tall/heavy end of a Large.  They fit excellently.

You Just Never Know When A Good Ride Will Break Out

Chuck and I rolled out last evening to a phenomenal evening that’s supposed to be the beginning of a great stretch of weather.  We’ve been battling gloomy and rainy over the last week or more and we finally saw some sunshine yesterday.  I was perfectly dressed for the low 50’s and an easy jaunt around the block.  Heading north was fast, I was over 20 before I knew it.  I turned east for Chuck’s house and that was fast, too.  Southwest wind.  It was going to be an interesting night.  Fortunately, we fit a lot of miles (23 or more) in a small 6 mile by 4 mile rectangle for our normal loop so we were never more than a couple miles of headwind at a time.

We rolled out slow and easy, picking up the pace as we headed into the wind.  I took the first three miles dead into the wind but I wanted some tailwind, too.  I took a half-mile of Chuck’s turn.  Then he took a turn… and it was on his second mile, into the wind on the smoothest road in our county, at 22-mph – I think that’s what did us in.  I took a chunk leaving a subdivision that we normally take fast because of a nice downhill.  It was a little tougher with the cross-headwind, but we kept the pace lively.  Entering the subdivision for a second time, I kept the pace up a hill with some tailwind help, then flicked off coming to a stop sign.

Chuck took over and hammered it.  Then I took another turn and hammered it.  Then the tailwind section and we both took some of that north of 23-mph.  Then it was time to come to Jesus.  We were staring at two ugly miles into the wind before another cross-tailwind mile.  I was still feeling pretty good at that point, so I offered to take the first mile of headwind, too.  I had a feeling I was making a mistake.  I wasn’t wrong.

Up a slight incline off of Calorie Corner (six fast food restaurants within spitting distance of each other) and I was north of 20.  I switched to the drops to cheat the wind a little more, but I was approaching max heart rate.  I lasted another half-mile but once I hit 172 on the heart rate, I have to go back for a rest.  I was beyond that.  Chuck took over for a half-mile, then I took a half, then Chuck again.  I caught the tailwind section and took it up to 23 again, but my heart rate maxed out again almost immediately.  I was done.  I made it a half-mile and told Chuck to roll on without me.

He was only a few hundred yards ahead of me when I turned the corner for home and I slowly ramped the speed up after having caught my breath.  I pulled into my driveway just behind him.  He was mildly bummed, after that big effort that we were only at a 19.4-mph average but he’d forgotten to take the slow start into account.

Then he said something to the affect of, “Yeah, I figured you wanted to go fast when we went into the subdivision, so I kept the pace up.”

I looked at him slack-jawed.  “I didn’t want to go fast.  I thought you wanted to go fast.”

Chuck chuckled. “I didn’t want to go fast.”

Me, “Damn.”

Yerp.  You never know when a real ride’s going to break out.  I have to admit, though… my pizza was just a little tastier than usual last night.

A Good, Enjoyable Recovery Is All About The Small Victories

Last night was my daughter’s senior night for swimming and diving. She’s a team captain and she is fierce. Her little sister has talent in spades, but my oldest makes up for it with raw determination.

I was the meet announcer last night, so I had a front-row seat to watch my girl kick some butt in the lanes, then put in one of the better diving performances I’d ever seen from her. Mid-way through the meet, her coach took the mic while my wife and I took either of her arms and walked her, parade style, down the pool deck and below an arch her teammates made by holding kickboards. My baby’s eyes were not dry, nor were her mom’s or mine (though I was much more stoic about it).

These are normal, everyday occurrences for “normal folk”. For recovering alcoholics, they’re a reminder of how wonderful life is, to be able to feel the raw joy of the moment, without a bunch of baggage creating worry to drown out that Hallmark moment.

There once was a time, long ago, I couldn’t have enjoyed something like that. For one, I doubt I could have found a woman crazy enough to stick it out with my drunk butt. For another, the aforementioned “bunch of baggage” that infects and permeates anything good.

I was all smiles dodging traffic on the way to work this morning, thinking about how grateful I am to be me.

Life in recovery isn’t always great and peachy. Recovery is the only thing that makes “great and peachy” possible and regular, though. Today is a good day. I’ve thanked my HP for another day on the right side of the grass and have committed to another 24 hours of peace and contentment in recovery. This isn’t how it works. This is what happens when it’s worked.

Skinned Knees and Mud Puddles… Fall Is In The Air!

I can’t remember the last time I hit the dirt.  It had been a while.  The operative word in that last sentence is “had”.

It was a cold afternoon after a day from hell at work.  We chose the gravel bikes – I love not worrying about traffic through the post-season.  That, and 40° at 18-mph is way better than it is at 24.

I rolled over to Chuck’s at 5, taking my time about it. I wasn’t in a hurry. I was looking forward to lollygagging, actually.

My gravel bike, a low-end Specialized Diverge, would be uncomfortable if I used normal road tires on it. Alloy frames tend to be somewhat brutal. With 32-mm gravel tires at about 45 psi, the thing is surprisingly buttery and wonderful (once you get beyond the slow and heavy aspects) and fun to ride. Especially at the end of the season out with my buddy, Chuck. This is what I was thinking as we were making our way out and this is specifically why I have such a deep love of cycling. I went from one of the most brutal Mondays in memory to thinking about how comfortable my gravel bike is and how much fun I’m having.

So let’s get to the good part. We’re coming up a hill to a busy intersection and there’s traffic coming from the left but the lead car is turning left. Chuck jumps at the chance to get across, so I follow slightly behind. I got way over on the side of the road, because, gravel bike, as the car turned in behind us. He went by and I decided I should ride up on the grass a little bit. Again, because gravel bike. And that’s precisely when I looked up and saw the trenched out mud puddle right in front of me, no doubt made by a mail truck… I didn’t want to hit the puddle or get run over, so I tried a track stand in possibly the worst place in the entire world to try a track stand while the truck cleared. And my front wheel slid down the trench into the mud puddle and I went straight over sideways landing on my elbow, shoulder, knee and hip. My hip hurt quite a bit, taking the worst of it, and I hit my knee pretty hard, but other than that, I was okay. I also had to twist my left shifter back into place.

Thankfully, I missed most of the mud.

We had a chuckle at the silliness of the situation and rolled on. My main concern was to keep everything moving after a hit like that. Too slow and every part that hit the dirt seizes up and I didn’t want any of that. After a while, all of the mud cleared my tires and I rode up into a little more grass to clean them off the rest of the way.

The ride got a little fast after that. The sun was fading into the horizon pretty fast and with intermittent cloud cover, we didn’t have much light left. I’d been up front for miles and pulled over to let Chuck take a turn but he didn’t come around. He’s riding tonight and I’m skipping for my daughter’s senior night for swimming, so he’s going to need his legs. I stayed up front and took it to the barn.

It was only when I started peeling layers that I realized the extent of the damage. Hip was a little sore but okay, elbow was good. The knee, though, I’d skinned my knee up pretty good. A lot like every other Friday when I was a kid.

My wife had an awesome chicken pot pie waiting. I cleaned up and we sat down for supper. It didn’t last long.

Waking up this morning, though, I wasn’t near as spry as I once was. No real harm, though. Skinned knees and mud puddles. I slept like a baby last night. Not one thought about my crappy Monday. I’m sure today will be a lot better.

Fall Cycling in Michigan with Friends: A Perfect Time to Relax & Smell the Dirt

All year long, from riding on the trainer starting New Year’s Day to get into spring fit and strong, to the first thaw in early spring and all through summer and into fall, we grind and hammer to be tip of the sword fast.

There are recovery rides, of course, but at least four days a week it’s hammer down.

Then comes autumn proper. Cold morning temps near freezing, cloudy skies, and nature’s fireworks display. 23-mph on a road bike is double-cold, so we’ve taken to gravel bikes and easy rides on dirt roads.

We talk about the year gone by and crack good-natured jokes about the year’s miscues and bonks, and we spin the cranks.  The pace is relaxed and fun – a bunch of old kids out on their toys.  Fall is our time to stop and smell the dirt.  To enjoy the gains we worked for all year long, to laugh and to ride with friends.

We’ve all heard or read “in these trying times” or “to save lives” so many times, they’re likely a trigger for most (I’m real close with “to save lives” myself), riding the back roads with friends “in these trying times” is the safest way I know to enjoy time together with others.  While some of us like to act like hermit crabs, we all need friend time.

And so it was, Saturday and Sunday.  We rode slow and had a lot of laughs.  We watched the colors change right in front of us.  And, just for a few hours each day, things were normal again.  And it was good.

A Noob’s Guide to Saddles and Saddle Width: Conclusions on a Decade-Long Experiment. Saddle Width is the Key to Happiness

I’ve written about bike saddles before. I currently own four bikes (five if I count our tandem). I’ve been through a bit of N-1, but for good causes. My old Cannondale will go with my daughter to college once I convert it to modern shifting this winter and I gave my old Trek 3700 mountain bike to a co-worker at the beginning of his career whose big box bike had completely broken down. For those five bikes I currently own… counting… nine saddles. I’ve got everything. 155-mm, 143-mm, 138-mm and even a 128-mm. I’ve got thinly padded saddles and thickly padded saddles, flat saddles and contoured saddles, cutouts, no cutouts and yuge cutouts… steel rails, titanium rails, and carbon rails.

In the following post, I’ll detail what I’ve learned over many years of saddle sores, hamstring pain so bad I was hobbled, squirming on my saddle on anything more than a 40-mile ride, and finally, saddle nirvana and actually feeling a saddle sore go away, as I rode, after switching the saddle on my most prized race bike.

I was measured for saddle width in the late fall of 2012 for the first time. Till then, I’d ridden on anything I could get my hands on, not knowing the difference, and certainly not understanding why the saddles I did choose hurt so bad. My first problem, one that many noobs have, was the padding paradox:

In road cycling more is less and less is more, was ever thus – comfortable. In mountain biking, gravel biking, and tandem riding, a little padding goes helps me go a long way.

The key is picking the right contouring and setting the saddle in the proper position on the bike, including height, fore/aft, and tilt. My road saddles are 36-3/8″ off the pedal spindle, 22-5/8″ from the handlebar center, contoured, and 3° nose down. The gravel, mountain and tandem bicycles take a page from that setup, but the nose down angle and distance from the handlebar changes for each bike. From my aforementioned prized race bike to my gravel bike, to my mountain bike. On all of my bikes, the biggest difference is the saddle’s width.

The type of cycling and how upright I will ride determines the width of the saddle. I found this out on my own, too. When I was first measured, I took it that the measurement would be the end all, be all.  143-mm was my saddle width.  All of the saddles I bought, till last year, were purchased with that measurement.  Everything was a 143.

Last year, Trek had a beautiful, light carbon fiber saddle for sale.  It was a 138 Montrose Pro.  I dropped more than 100 grams from the old saddle and to my surprise, for the first time since I started purchasing saddles for bicycles, I experienced what it feels like for a saddle to disappear under me.  

This year, the Montrose Pro was even more steeply discounted so, in the middle of a saddle sore outbreak, I bought another, though this one was a 128-mm, and I put that saddle on my Specialized Venge.  I thought, “if the 138 feels better than my 143-mm Specialized Romin, maybe that 128 will be even better“…

With the purchase of that 128-mm Montrose, my three dimensional education in saddles began to crystalize.  I was afraid when I hit the “purchase” button on Trek’s website with that saddle.  I was worried the saddle would be too narrow and thus, painful.  How mistaken I was.

When I was measured and it was determined my width would be a 143, I was measured sitting upright with my knees only slightly raised from 90°.  That’s not how I ride, though, sitting upright.  I ride road bikes in a very aggressive posture for a 50-year-old man:

Compact frame – Standard (Classic) frame

I knew enough that I needed a contoured saddle to be comfortable.  I’m not incredibly flexible and all the research in the last decade or more says that flexible people ride flat saddles while we flex-challenged ride a contoured saddle.  Fine with me.  However, what isn’t discussed, or is commonly left out, is how the support bones that are ridden on change as the drop from the saddle nose to the handlebar increases.

Put simply, as we rotate our hips forward to lower our shoulders, the support bones narrow.  Thus, I’m infinitely comfortable on a 143 on my tandem, mountain bike, and gravel bike – the ride is much more upright.  On my road bikes, both of which feature large drops from the saddle to the handlebar, that same 143 will give me saddle sores because of excessive rubbing at the crook of my leg and hip.  I don’t get that with the 138 or the 128.

With the 128 Montrose on my race bike and a 138 on my rain bike, I literally rode a saddle sore away.  I ride every day, saddle sore or no, and while the first day was painful, after I got the 128 correctly adjusted, the pain faded until the sore went completely away.

On the other hand, with the road season over, we’re riding on gravel roads now.  My gravel bike has a slightly more upright, less aggressive setup, and that exact same 143-mm Specialized Romin that gave me saddle sores on my Venge feels like butter on the gravel bike.  As my hips rotate back to sit up a little, the distance between the support bones increases and that 143 fits as it was measured way back when.

If this seems like a lot to keep straight, you aren’t wrong.  Most people won’t go to the length I do to get right on their bike(s).  Most people don’t ride like I do, though.  When you’re in the saddle almost every day, you want the experience to be as pain-free as is possible.

So, to wrap this post up, let’s look at some key saddle features and getting a saddle properly set:

  • Flat or contoured?  Flat for flexible, contoured otherwise.
  • Padding:  More is not always the answer.  I like to go for as little padding as is possible for how I’m riding.
  • Width:  Having to do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I’d go with the upright measurement, knees slightly raised from 90°.  That’s the width for my mountain, gravel, and tandem which are more upright.  Then, decrease width for more aggressive postures on the road bikes.
  • Saddle height:  General saddle height is dialed in first – heels on the pedals (bike on a trainer or supporting yourself in a doorway indoors or in the garage), pedal backwards.  Legs straighten without rocking at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
  • Fore/Aft next:  After a short warm-up on that trainer, find your “happy place” on your saddle and pedal for a few minutes.  Stop with your crank arms parallel to the ground and run a 4′ level from the front of your kneecap to the ground, touching the front of the crank arm.  The level’s plumb bubble should be between the lines, adjust fore/aft till it is as close as possible.  You can also use a plumb bob, but that goes from just below the kneecap to the center of the pedal spindle.  Same measurement, different method of getting it.
  • Adjust down-angle of the saddle to suit, so you’re riding on your support bones (not necessarily the sit bones, mind you).
  • Dial in final saddle height.

Bob’s your uncle.

Group Cycling for Dummies (Also for Those with a Boat Anchor for a Bike)

I started cycling like many. Mountain biking, then a road bike, then a real road bike, then a real road bike, upgrades, wheels, saddles… ah, road bikes. Or, as I like to refer to them, toys. For adults.

My entrée into road cycling was like akin to Christian Bale’s Ken Miles at the Dearborn test track after the engineers cram “the beast” into a GT40 prototype in Ford Vs. Ferrari… That was me, cycling in a group the first time. “Oh! I’ll have some more of that my girl!”

I felt like I was in the Tour de France. For all of eight miles, when I was promptly dropped as the group surged beyond 28-mph. I wasn’t the first to drop that night and I definitely wasn’t the last, so I chased a guy down who dropped a quarter-mile after I did. Being lost as lost gets, he helped my get back to the parking lot. We rode together every week after that and ended up becoming a very good friend.

I’ve learned a lot since that night.

So that leads to my first tip, a favorite from that little blast from my past:

Don’t be the first to drop in a club ride. Especially if you don’t know where you are!

All kidding aside, getting into group cycling isn’t easy, especially when the group you run into is fast. Everything happens so quickly, one little mistake can be disastrous. So here are a few advanced tips to work for as you progress:

  • Don’t ever be late.  10 minutes early is on time.  Most groups will leave without you if you make it a habit of being late.
  • When we first start out, we tend to concentrate a lot on the wheel ahead of us.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, at first, but the focus is too narrow.  The goal should be to become spatially aware of your surroundings so you can look beyond the front of the group to see what’s coming long before it gets there.  See, concentrating on the wheel in front of you at 40 feet per second is too late for you to react.  You want to expand that range of vision so you can also see what the front of the group is doing.  You’ll want to learn to know exactly where the wheel in front of you is while you’re looking up the road.  It’s not easy and don’t force it, just make it a goal to get to that point.
  • Get low when the going gets windy.  Sitting upright in anything but a dead-on headwind will have you working almost as hard as the person driving the group if you don’t have enough space for an echelon.  You can cheat this a little by riding in the drops and getting a little lower to fit in the draft.
  • If you’re a “masher”, learn how to spin, too.  Mashing the pedals takes a lot of effort, maybe 20% more than spinning.  You have to work a lot harder to be a masher, so take a winter on the trainer and learn how to spin.  It’ll help when you’re in a group that’s a little stronger than you are.  Look at the difference this way; how many one-arm curls can you do with a 30 pound weight?  10?  20?  That’s mashing.  How many curls can you do with a 2 pound weight?  You can go all day.  That’s spinning – and at the same time, you’ll be able to accelerate a lot quicker when you’re spinning – to an extent.  
  • Don’t overlap wheels, even in an echelon, until you know how to overlap wheels.  If your front wheel touches or rubs the wheel in front of you, someone’s rear wheel, you’re the one who goes down – and usually very quickly.  The theory is simple.  A rear wheel is fixed and has most of the rider’s weight on it.  A front wheel is not fixed and doesn’t have as much weight on it.  It’s much less stable.  The front wheel twists, and bam.  You’re down.
  • Look at me now.  This is important.  Don’t ever stop pedaling when you’re at the front of the group unless you signal a slowdown first.  With your hand down, make a stop signal and say loudly, “Slowing”.  Don’t EVER stop pedaling when you’re at the front.
  • Smooth and predictable is the order of the day when you’re in a group.  This is not easy at 30-mph (50-km/h), but it is what you must be at all times.  When you’re hurtling down the road at that speed, you’re in the same space the person in front was just at in less than two-tenths of a second.  Blink.  That fast.  You must, except when you’re the last bike in the line, be smooth and predictable.
  • DO NOT ACCELERATE OFF THE FRONT OF THE GROUP after the person in front of you flicks off.  The others behind you are not thinking, “Wow, that fella is strong!”  No, they’re thinking, “Where does that twatwaffle think he’s/she’s going?”  Don’t be a twatwaffle.  See also, smooth and predictable.  If you can go faster, accelerate smoothly and predictably over the course of a quarter-mile.
  • Don’t take someone explaining ground rules to you personally.  Group cycling is all about self-preservation.  If you’re new to a group, they want to make sure they can trust you… and if you make a mistake, they’ll have a desire for you to not make that mistake again.
  • No aero bars in the bunch.  You’re not good enough to use them in a group.  Stop.  You’re not.  Those who actually are good enough to use them in the pack know nobody is good enough to use them in the pack.  At the front, meaning first bike, or off the back and to the side only.  You’re too far from the brakes and your arms are too narrow for decent control of the handlebar.  If you truly believe you’re good enough, it’s likely because you’re a boob.  And you’re wrong.  And colossally arrogant.
  • Start with a slower group for your first rides until you learn the ropes and how they feel when your back is up against them.  Put your ego aside for a few weeks, there will be plenty of time to show everyone else how strong you are… after you know what you’re doing.  For a better workout with a slower group, pull at the front longer. 
  • We have five different classes of rider on our big club ride.  Find out where you fit by talking with others.  We gladly help noobs find the right group to ride with before the big ride.  We want for you to be happy with the group you’re with.  It’s in our best interest for you to come back and ride again.  Groups rely on new blood to remain viable.
  • Always remain teachable.  Those who know everything tend to be a bore.

Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer: As the Narrative Crumbles, Governor Provides Proof Michiganders Need to Check Her Power In November

I can’t take it anymore… Trigger (heh) Warning: Typically I try to leave politics alone because I just don’t want to be that guy. You immediately piss off half of everybody by taking a political stand one way or the other. Our governor is overstepping the bounds, though, and I’m not going to take it sitting down any longer. If you don’t appreciate the rare political post, please feel free to move along. Also, if you feel compelled to leave a comment, please keep it civil. Anything less will be deleted without reply or explanation as soon as I get around to it.

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”****

Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer unconstitutionally used a 1940’s law to declare ongoing states of emergency every 28 days while ignoring a 1970’s law passed specifically to limit a governor’s power to do that. Michigan’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously that she should have gone by the 70’s law that involved Michigan’s legislature***. The ruling against the governor’s actions was what we would call “bipartisan” in politics, even if we aren’t supposed to think that way about justices. The governor dishonestly said the ruling was split 4-3 along party lines (there was a split on two other separate parts of the ruling).

Immediately after the ruling, The Gov. hit the airwaves to claim that her ill-gotten power and the orders put forth using that power were really good for another 21 days while she appealed the matter – time that could have been used working with the state legislature to pass laws “protecting Michiganders” was squandered. The Supreme Court then came out and let the Governor know she’d overstepped her bounds, yet again, that their ruling was to take immediate effect and any orders she’d issued were tossed out.

In the meantime, autumn temperatures and kids going back to school drove we Michiganders indoors. To be very clear, COVID is an indoor virus, it’s just not being reported that way because there’s no political benefit to common sense. Now, the article I linked to says cases will spike and a drop in relative humidity will be a factor as well, but that doesn’t begin to explain why the south was hammered so brutally over the summer. Humidity is high and brutal in the south (even in the airconditioned indoors). Covid ravaged the northern states in the early months of the spread until temps warmed up and we northerners started spending more time outdoors. Southern states seemed to escape the wrath of COVID at first. However, once temps started rising down south and southerners went indoors to escape the heat and humidity, their numbers exploded while ours dropped to a trickle. As temps cooled for fall and Michiganders have gone indoors again, the numbers are peaking again. Here’s a news flash; when the temps cool down in the south and people escape to the outdoors again, their numbers will drop.

Under that backdrop, our governor came out the other day with a chart that she claimed showed the rise in cases tied in with the Supreme Court’s decision. That notion is utter poppycock. Absolute folly. Technically, “malarkey” would be a better way to put it. In fact, I’d wager you’d have to either be named Gretchen Whitmer or be entirely ignorant of reality, charts and COVID-19 to believe what she claimed about the charts. Don’t take my word for it, either. Here’s the first chart (the first and third are most useful as an illustration to her delusion of grandeur).

Folks, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the trend beginning three weeks before the Supreme Court ruling.  The orders and rules had been in place since March, though sectors of the economy were opened up starting in mid-May (I was back to work in my office just a week into May when construction was opened up).  Better, look at the trend for the Midwestern States (to further illustrate my exact point, that COVID-19 is an indoor virus, because every midwestern state is following the same trend):

This corresponds with temps dropping and college kids, not grade schoolers or high schoolers, going back to school.  Grade and high schoolers are all  under strict protocols with social distancing and mask wearing just so they can be in school, across the state.

Now, why did I carve out grade and high schoolers?  College begins in late August.  Grade schools started right after or just before the 6th of September (not the end of August, though there may have been a few to start that early).  Everyone knows there’s a one-to-two-week lag in case spikes as it takes two to five days for symptoms to appear.  This has been common knowledge since March. Heck, call it five days (now, five days does coincide with the grade and high school kids going back to school).  This would mean those new infections began to rise almost a month before the Supreme Court stripped Empress Whitmer of her ability to keep her thumb on the state.  The important point is that our governor is a fantastic partisan and leader when she’s got all of the power and no accountability.  She’s shown herself to be terrible at actually governing anyone outside her infinitesimally narrow ideology. 

I’m almost done. I’m going to wrap this up with, tah-dah! the WHO, that showed up late to the useful party, but decided to play Captain Obvious by finally proclaiming lockdowns and shutdowns should not be the means of stopping the spread of the virus because doing so only makes poor people poorer.  Not surprisingly, our brilliant governor recently threatened the People of Michigan with another lockdown:

If you want your kids to have the prospect of in-person learning, if you want to stay back at work, if you want to keep your business open or make sure that businesses stay open, every one of us has to do our part.”

Governor Whitmer, I’m going to tell you something – I’ll continue to do my part, but you have to do yours as well, and so far, you’re doing a lot worse at your part than I am of mine.  You’re the governor of Michigan, not its ruler.  Try to be a little more like Rick Snyder or something.  Try to work with the legislature.  That’s the job, like it or not.  I’m not going on lockdown again.  I enjoyed the first vacation, and I’m quite glad you shilled for the unemployment checks, but I’m not going back.  You don’t have the power to impose it anyway, so stop the empty threats.

Also, while we’re on that, I’d like to know why you would threaten to make poor people poorer with another shutdown?  Maybe you could try to answer that at your next presser about “saving lives”.  Another shutdown would ruin an order of magnitude more lives than it would save.  

We know what we need to do and we all know there are treatments out there that are helping people recover (which is why fatalities are down – if you and Dr. J. aren’t aware of this yet, fear not, it’ll be reported on around November 4th or 5th).  Do us a favor and knock off the one-state dictator crap and quit primping for that cabinet spot on Biden’s administration.  Actually, wait, keep up with the preening because that’d be a win-win for sanity and rule of law in Michigan.  You’d be off in Washington, Garlin Gilchrist would become Governor, he would be horrible because he’s a full-on alt-left extremist true believer and he’d be overwhelmingly voted out in two years.

Now that I think about it, as you were.  

Lastly, the important part:  If you want to continue to be locked down and dictated to, then by all means, vote left for your state legislature, Michiganders.  If, however, you’re for sane governance, vote “along party lines” to keep the governor’s power checked by re-electing your Republican state reps and senators.  Governor Whitmer has clearly shown she doesn’t have what it takes to lead in America.  It’s quite plain to see she likes to rule rather than lead.  She’d be better off in a banana Republic.  

***Interestingly, most left-leaning media sources incorrectly state the Supreme Court decision was 4-3 along “party” lines. On two other issues, they were split. On the issue I detailed, it was unanimous. To report that the ruling was 4-3 is highly disingenuous but not surprising. Let’s just say it follows a pattern. One is only left to assume ignorance of those being reported to was the goal.

****The quote from Ben Franklin, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” is said to mean the opposite that which it is commonly used, by some historians. I disagree, even in context of the tax dispute for which it was first uttered, but this post is long enough as it is. In this case, I used it to mean exactly as the words read.

2020 Cycling Season Recap and Closeout: We All Need Someone to Lean On

I rode with Mrs. Bgddy last evening. Just an easy jaunt around the block, and oh my, was it fun. We laughed, raced for a few City Limits signs, and generally talked about stuff.

I was about 🤏 that close to taking the 5200 out but it was sunny and fair at 55° with barely a breeze. I had to take the Venge for one last hurrah. I’m not going to kid myself here, the days left this year that I’ll be willing to take the Venge out are numbered. Even if it’s sunny and dry enough, the Venge is a 45° and rising bike (7 C) because anything below that and I need toe or foot covers to withstand the cold, and that means I have to take the Trek because the short axle on the Venge’s pedals won’t allow for foot covers. There are worse problems to have. Add to that, the upcoming time change and weekday rides in the sun are out – and the aero drop bar on the Venge won’t allow for a light mount…

So there we were, rolling along my usual route in perfect tranquility, slow and steady after Tuesday night’s hammerfest… I’m on my race bike, cruising at 16-mph with my wife, thinking back over this most peculiar cycling season.  

After thinking I’d struggle to hit my 6,000 mile outdoor goal in March, I blew by it more than a month ago.  I’m currently sitting on 7,300 and change.  I’ve been fortunate enough to make some excellent upgrades to my road bikes – lightweight carbon fiber wheelsets for both bikes, new pedals for both bikes, a much needed new saddle for the Venge… new chainrings on the Venge to make it a 50/34 like the Trek.  It’s been a great year for the bikes I’ve got.

The speed has been surprising this year as well.  I’ve broken all but my previous longer distance speed records (50 km, 50-mile, 100km and 100-mile, all from the same ride in 2013), including my best hour distance of 24.4 miles (39 km & change) on my 50th birthday.

My weight is excellent as well.  I’m probably a few pounds heavier than I’d prefer, but I’m right where my wife and doctor like me.  I’m no mountain goat, but I’m not chubby by any means, either.  The weight was a real wildcard for me this year.  I really have to learn how to control my eating over the winter so I don’t have to go into the spring feeling like the blob.

In the end, the best part of the cycling year was riding with friends.  While everyone else has been limiting contact, our tight-knit group, for the most part, didn’t miss much of a beat.  We didn’t have any sanctioned or supported events, but we managed without just fine.  While everyone else has been shut down to most contact outside their immediate family, other than April when we were all riding solo, we’ve had fantastic group rides all season long.  Sure, there were those who thought it inappropriate – such as the sad folk who would drive around their convertible with a mask on, or walk alone outdoors, 100’s of feet from another human with a mask on – but those (scientifically challenged) few simply stayed away.  Not one case was spread among us, and we were still able to enjoy that all-important friendly human connection that many of us need to be happy, even if there was no physical contact in the form of actual hi-five’s or handshakes.

In many ways, because I relied so much on my wife and cycling friends to stay grounded, this cycling season was better than most.  Cycling didn’t just keep me fit, healthy and happy, it filled a hole that the virus stole from most, and for that I am grateful.