An Experiment in Saddle Width: We Know Too Wide is Bad, But What About Too Narrow? I’m About to Find Out the Fun Way
At the end of autumn, 2012, I was fitted for a Specialized Romin 143 mm saddle. I’ve got one on my Diverge and one on my Venge. I rode with one on the tandem for quite some time as well, but switched to a Specialized Toupe Sport – 143 with the hope of a little more comfort as I’m on the saddle for miles on end on the tandem (the saddle that came on my Diverge – I love that saddle). I’ve ridden 143-mm saddles forever, until I bought a Bontrager Montrose Pro Carbon for my 5200. That saddle raised my eyebrows it’s so comfortable – and it’s a 138.
When I ride my Venge a lot, and I do ride it a lot, I can end up with a saddle sore on the right side of my inner thigh, just forward of the sit bone. Some years I go without a saddle sore, others I seem to have one every few weeks. There’s no rhyme or reason except that they’re painful when present.
That persisted until I started riding the Trek with the 138 Montrose more. I don’t have the same problem on the Trek. The Montrose 138-mm saddle doesn’t touch the same location because it’s not as wide.
I got a fantastic deal on that saddle, too. I paid, if memory serves, $120 for it – and they’re normally $220. I went back to look at them the other day and they’ve got the same saddle in 128-mm but for only $80.
I pulled the trigger on one after two days of contemplation and some research. I want to see how I feel on that 128. The 143 Romin is livable, as I’ve been riding one for the better part of eight years with a few saddle sores to show for it, but I know the 138 is vastly superior… so if 138 is better…
The theory, going from what I’ve read on forums, the more aggressive the position on the bike, the thinner the saddle should be. When I was measured, all those years ago, I was sitting on a bench in a relaxed, upright, position. My position on a road bike today is vastly different than that measurement posture. They say, as the position gets more aggressive and the rider tilts forward, the sit bones narrow. This aggressive position requires a narrow saddle and would explain some of my past difficulties.
Anyway, I’ll know this afternoon – and I’m fully prepared to, after a few rides, to have to package that bad boy back up and sell it to the shop or put it on eBay. But I want to know, though. I’ve gotta test it out. It’ll be an easy 25+ miler this afternoon, followed by a full-immersion test tomorrow – I’ve got a hundie on the docket. Hey, why go at it with half-measures?
On a side note, I’ve tried too wide as well. The original saddle that came on the my 5200 was a 155 and it hurt a lot. I ended up with severe hamstring pain for riding so much on that behemoth of a saddle.
I dropped a little more than half-a-pound when I upgraded to the Romin. I lost just shy of a quarter-pound more when I upgraded to the Montrose.
Now, where this gets really interesting is the bike that new saddle is going on… I’ve only got one Trek in the stable and that bike already has a Montrose on it. The new Bontrager saddle is going on my Venge.
I know, gasps of awe and confusion, shock and chagrin… A Trek saddle on a fully customized, fully badass 1st Gen. Specialized Venge Comp upgraded to an S-Works? Hey, when a comparable carbon Romin goes for $300 and I can get a lighter saddle I already know I love for $80… well, some of that craziness about mixing and matching brands goes right out the window. The heinie shall be happy!
More next week. I’ll either be smiling or limping. Chuckle.
With Addiction, A Relapse is a Relapse as a Duck is a Duck.
I read a post the other day that was the inspiration for this post. The post had little to do with alcoholism, per se, but it had everything to do with relapse.
I’ve managed to accumulate 28 years of sobriety in recovery – complete abstinence. I’ve chosen this lifestyle because it’s not what I used that was important, it’s why (as my wife likes to say).
I don’t have to dabble in the mental masturbation of “what if” I could partake in alcohol like a normal person because pondering “what if” always ends the same way; with me spiraling out of control toward death, a mental institution, or a ditch. Using is like a tractor beam of shit for me. Every single time, no matter what I try or how I try it.
And there’s one simple reason that explains the “why” of it. Let’s just say you came out with a magic pill that its makers proclaimed could turn alcoholics into normal drinkers, where we could have a couple of drinks and be happy, going about our daily lives as normal folk do. First, congratulations, you’re an instant billionaire. Second, what does a real alcoholic say as they’re about to swallow that magic pill?
“Oh yeah, I’m taking this pill and I’m gonna get wasted! Who’s the designated driver?!”
Folks, you just can’t turn that off with a pill. You can’t hope to turn it off with self-knowledge. You can’t hope to turn that off with drugs or alcohol. The only outcome is one is too many and too many is not enough.
To recover and live a decent life, I had to learn how to stop fighting the desire to destroy myself. I learned that the only way to recover was to put that desire in an unlocked cage in my mind and as long as I don’t tempt it, it stays in that cage. Over time, it learns its place and as long as I don’t introduce mood or mind-altering substances to my body, alcoholism is maintainable and the happy life I’ve always wanted is not only possible, its acquisition is quite simple and straightforward.
If I try to alter that arrangement, though, all bets are off. I’m cooked before I’m even buzzed. I know this, because I’ve already tried everything else. Nothing is as powerful as that hellish tractor beam if I use. Not love, not happiness, not contentment… I can’t turn off that need to escape and get wasted. It’s impossible.
For me, the key to victory is learning to not fight who I am. I mustn’t fight what I am. King alcohol had kicked my ass and brought me to my knees. I have to crush any idea that I can drink like a normal person. By working at (and for) recovery, I can win, one day at a time. I have come to find a new freedom and happiness. I know peace. All of which I thought were out of my grasp.
I know one thing for sure: I can remain in recovery for today. It’s my only chance at a happy life.
Or, I can relapse, and I can have all of my misery back.
TNIL: One of the Best Yet… and I Try to Bring You Along for the Ride.
I have 295 separate and distinct rides this year. It is the 281’st day of the year. My reason for pointing this simple fact is to illustrate, for those who aren’t aware reading my blog, I ride my bike. A lot. Moving along…
I woke up this morning sore from last night’s effort at our Tuesday Night In Lennon ride. I actually feel 50 for once.
We’ve been blessed with a lot of sunshine this fall – a lot more than is normal, but last night we were going to have to do battle with the wind – 14-mph out of the WSW with gusts over 20. It’s a rough first-half wind, but it’s fun for the push home. I pulled my Equinox into the parking lot with plenty of time for the warm-up – if you can call it a warm-up and not a main event. 7 miles in 20 minutes flat. I was questioning my decision about wearing arm warmers, but stuck with them for when the sun started dropping to the horizon.
The turnout was sparse for such a gloriously mild autumn evening. No doubt the wind was a factor. We had six bikes and seven cyclists for the B Group, about 10 for the A Group and only two C’s. We almost rolled out with the A’s but thought better of it as they rolled out. We waited 30 seconds and rolled out in a single pace-line.
Chuck set the tone early with a fantastic effort into the headwind for a mile and some change. There was no dilly-dallying to form up because nobody wanted to get stuck trying to catch up in that wind. I found a home on Doc Mike and Diane’s tandem wheel. We turned north and I was expecting the going to get rough in the cross-tailwind but, and I can’t quite figure this out, the normal echelon problems simply weren’t there. With a little undulation in the asphalt, our speed rose to 26-mph and there was no trouble staying in the draft. We cruised up to an intersection we almost always have to stop for at speed and with a perfectly placed gap in traffic, shot through the intersection at 23-mph. The tandem took another half-mile and it was my turn. I had to work, but had no problems keeping the pace in the 24-25-mph range for my mile and some change. Next was a fairly brutal slog into headwind followed by another quick mile north at 24-mph.
We hit Shipman Road with a 22.5-mph average… and $#!+ got hard, real fast. Shipman runs northeast/southwest so we’re almost always looking at a hard slog into a headwind for ten miles. We hit the hairpin corner and formed up quickly behind Chuck who was on the tail end of a monster pull. The next ten miles were a study on how to handle a headwind with a small group in a pace-line. Chuck, then Clarke, then Mike & Diane, then me, Mike I., Joey… we each took fantastic turns in the wind between 19 & 22-mph.
One of the neat side notes for that gnarly jaunt into the wind, everyone gave each other a “nice work”, “nice pull”, or “good job” after their turn. It was truly awesome to be a part of that effort – we were all in for each other.
We hit cross-tailwind at 15 miles and, sadly, it wasn’t the help I was hoping for. The tandem was first up the hill, the group behind me on their wheel and I was amazed at how much work 22-mph was with what should have been some help. We were heading due southeast, though, so I think it was more “cross” than “tail”. At 18 miles we hit true tailwind and the real fun we’d worked for started. We had some hills to contend with, but we took it easy on the tandem and let the wind help us up.
The sun was getting low and with eight miles to go, we decided to push through without a regroup in our normal spot – the whole group was together anyway. Down a nice hill, then back up, we kept it reasonable on the ascent then the tandem handed me the baton at the crest. I gave them a 20 seconds to latch back on and hit the gas. I took it up to near 30-mph before shifting to easier gears, allowing my speed to drop a little. I flicked off when I felt my legs burn under the effort and drifted back at 26-mph. I was down in the drops and stayed there, waiting for the sprint finish. The pace line broke up a little and the tandem ended up on the front again and I held their wheel. I thought about going for the intermediate sprint but thought better of it, figuring I’d let the tandem have it. And that’s when Mike came darting from the back to cross just in front of the tandem. We chuckled about that and settled in behind Mike to ride him like a rented mule for snagging the sign.
We were running out of light in a hurry so we didn’t wait around to watch the grass grow. I cleared a busy intersection for the tandem and the rest of the group and we rolled on at pace, keeping it a lively 24 to 27-mph (38 to 43 km/h). We hit the home stretch with the A Group solidly in the rear view. We managed to hold them off for several miles before they cranked it up and passed us (watching the flyby on Strava was awesome). They overtook our group as I tried to clear an intersection for the tandem but we had a car approaching on the left. One of our ranks jumped up to finish with the A’s but the rest of us formed up behind the tandem.
With a little more than half a mile to go, Clarke was up front and Chuck shouted for him to ramp up the speed. He complied immediately and the pace wound up from 24 to 27-mph. We were hammering for the City Limits sign and I was trying to figure out whether or not I’d sprint. With just a couple of tenths to go, I thought I’d just sit in. With a tenth to go, I changed my mind and got down in the drops, waiting for the launch point. We were really moving now and I pounced as we hit 28-1/2. I shot off the front at 34-mph (55-km/h) and took the sprint by a length.
The mile cooldown back to the parking lot in the fading daylight was glorious and full of laughter and good-natured banter.
2020 has been a shit of a year for almost everything. Not cycling, though. This year will go down as one of my favorites.
*Photos are from previous rides – I’m pretty good on the bike, but not that good to be able to snap photos in a 15-mph headwind in a pace-line… actually, that’d be dangerous enough to be advised against.
Cycling and Getting My Head Straight After Work; Much Better Than Living with the Stress.
Chuck and I rolled out under perfect fall conditions. Work’s been a bear lately and I’m really pushing it if I try to roll out before 5 (the time at which I can actually ignore my phone while I ride). The weather in October is normally pretty sketchy, we’re lucky if we see the sun most days, but yesterday was one of the good one’s. Light breeze, almost 60° (15 C), and abundant sunshine. I was almost giddy as I clipped in at 4:55 and rolled out towards Chuck’s house.
Chuck wasn’t going to be ready till a quarter past so I had a little time to pad my mileage. I rolled by his street and completed two extra miles before heading back to his house. I’d spent so much time on the Trek lately, I was surprised when I looked down at my Garmin and noticed the 19.5-mph (31-km/h) average. Down in the drops in the cross-headwind, I had no problem exceeding and holding 20.
You hear or read Specialized’s pitch that “Aero is Everything” and most skeptics will think it’s hyperbole (for the average 15-mph cyclist it is), but for those who build up the fitness and stamina to really ride fast, the pitch is no joke. My ’99 Trek, for all its old school awesomeness, can’t hold a lit candle to my Venge. The Venge simply slices through the air while the Trek pushes it out of the way. It’s a massive difference easily felt at 20-mph into a headwind.
We started out a little on the slow side, which is good because we want to save the good legs for tonight, but the speed crept up as we headed west. With a turn north, and crosswind, Chuck bumped the pace up. I followed suit, and we ended up with quite the spirited ride on our hands. It’s been a while since we’d traded turns on a Monday evening like that. Relatively little time for talking, ploughing headlong into the wind… carving around corners, inside leg out for a gravity assist, half the time in the drops to slip through the wind (especially south!).
When Chuck and I get wound up, it never ceases to amaze me how well we work together, using corners to slingshot by whoever’s in front to get the fresh legs in the lead – heck, half the time we don’t even bother flicking off the front. We’ve ridden together enough to know when it’s time to trade up.
We didn’t talk much, as we normally would, but some Monday’s require a little aggression to be burnt. That’s what yesterday’s ride was for me, and it did exactly what was intended. My eldest daughter was called in for work last night and my youngest had swim practice – that left my wife and I to a rare dinner together, spent intimately talking about the days’ events, followed by Monday Night Football… and sleep. Oh, I slept like a baby last night. For that, and a spirited jaunt on my bike after work, I am grateful.
This morning, I can hear the windchime outside already. It’s going to be a breezy edition of TNIL tonight. The first 15 miles are going to be rough but the last 13 are going to be fantastic – tailwind all the way home… and another chance to burn the candle for a good night’s sleep.
The Best Part of Fall Cycling Can Be Easy Rides with Friends
In years past, I’d keep pushing the training till the snow hit the ground or the weather turned ugly… then I’d ride inside on the trainer as if my speed depended on it – I was all go all the time. Then I matured. It occurred to me I’d become a bit of a bore – a little too rigid to be any fun. Some of my friends started slowing down due to health issues and, if I wanted to ride with them (and I most definitely did), I was going to have to learn how to relax a little bit.
I’ve been through that process in posts past, but if you weren’t around, it was a little on the messy side and I had to eat a lot of crow, but I did what was right in the end and grew in the process.
This year was a bit of a mess with the whole COVID lock down situation. While everyone else was riding solo, I was able to ride with my wife, but the pace was a lot slower than I was used to heading into the first club rides of the season. We were normally around 17-mph when I’m used to something a little more… energetic. I learned how to ride in service of my wife – to pick a decent pace in the headwind and pull for her till we hit tailwind. I figured it would be mid-summer before we were riding with other friends again, at best, so I figured I’d struggle to keep up for a few weeks, maybe deal with getting dropped a time or two before getting my legs back, then all would be okay.
That’s not how it worked. All of those long, slow miles in the headwind paid huge dividends. I did get dropped once on Tuesday night, but that was an overheating issue – we went from the low 60’s (15 C) to the low 90’s (32 C) seemingly overnight. I wasn’t acclimated. Once I got used to the heat, I was right on form again and pulling at the front, often. We hit records all summer for the 28-mile course, including a 24-mph average (28 miles in 1:10 and change). We hit records on Thursday night, too. That 28-mile route has three times the up and 20-mph used to be fast. We were cranking out 21’s and 22’s throughout the summer. My slowest spring ever and I was at my fastest over the summer. I found there’s something profoundly beneficial to “long slow distance” training.
So here we are, early autumn, and it’s unseasonably cold (15° below average yesterday, colder today) and I’ve changed. I can leave fast to Tuesday nights where I know I’ve got the legs. I’m not afraid of easy rides anymore, especially pre and post-season because I know I’ve got the watts.
Yesterday was a case-in-point. Completely out of character, I’d scheduled us to ride with the slower Gaines gang out of our normal Tuesday night spot. We had to hustle to get there, but pulled into the parking lot with two minutes to spare and 12.5 miles under our belt. Over the next 39 miles we dropped to a 17-mph average before my wife, Mike, Diane and I split off for home. Our average increased to 17-1/2 over the last 12 as we hammered it home north of 20-mph. It was one enjoyable 100k and I didn’t feel out-of-sorts once about the pace.
I used to think being fast on a road bike relied upon several hard efforts a week and serious training in the early spring. I’d do hill sprints, hard slogs in cold weather, hard trainer rides when the weather was too gnarly… I was strong, surely, but wrong, entirely. I’ve come to find relaxing a little bit hurts nothing – and it’s a lot more fun than being on the gas at every given moment.
One thing hasn’t changed, though. I love my bikes!
Good To Be Back On The Bike…
Cycling has been a part of my daily “therapy” for almost ten years now. The decade before that, it was running. I’m a happier person with cycling but running served its purpose…
There were two reasons I started running in the first place. First, I quit smoking and started liking food. Second, I went to the doctor in my early 30’s with chest pains. The problem was excess adrenaline from stress at work. The week I started running regularly, the chest pains were gone. And so it’s been, since.
We’ve had some wicked weather blow in over the last few days, after a fabulous two-week stretch of fantastic sunshine and decent temps. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday were days off. Put simply, I might take three days off in an entire month. Taking three days off in a week is rare indeed (it may be four, depending on the weather tomorrow – it’s supposed to be ugly).
My weekday riding buddy, Chuck and I took to the road yesterday afternoon – I left around 4:30 and got in some extra miles before he was ready. I’d spent two of those three days tinkering with the Trek’s shifting and my Franken-cassette worked like a charm – silent and glorious (I actually combined the three big gears from an Ultegra cassette with the smallest seven from a SRAM PG_1070 cassette and ended up with a quiet, crisp shifting perfection. I can’t figure out what the deal is, but when that cassette is worn out, I’m saving all of the spacers to use on the new cassette.
I pulled into Chuck’s driveway with a 17.5-mph average over five miles and waited a few minutes for him to get ready. It was cold, low 50’s (10 C), but I didn’t care. After two days spent on maintaining the fleet while it rained, I needed some asphalt.
Chuck and I rolled out. I took the first turn up front and took my time ramping the speed up – in fact, I took a lot of time. In fact, I don’t think you could ever say “speed” had anything to do with that ride last night. My season is officially over on the First of October, so I pretty much take it easy except on Tuesday nights (and we only have four more of those left). We talked about the debate and laughed a lot about current events and the political nature of everything until the election and simply turned some fun miles.
With the hectic work schedule and all of the other craziness going on, it was nice to just chill out and laugh a little.
It was a really good time – the cold didn’t even bug me all that much.
I pulled into the driveway with an easy 16.4-mph average over 28 miles and a smile on my face.
Road Cycling and the Cockpit: Stretched Out or Compact?
Normally, I pick nice, tidy, simple topics and I don’t go too far outside the mainstream when writing about cycling. I might get a little nutty and get close to the parapet, but it’s been several years since I’ve dangled my feet over the edge. Welcome to the opposite that – I’m about to do a chin-up on the gargoyle statue.
I love going fast on a bicycle. Gravel bikes are great, mountain biking is fun now and again, riding the tandem with my wife is unquestionably enjoyable… but nothing beats a 23-mph average on Tuesday night.
In my pursuit of speed on a road bike, I’ve tried everything from normal to the extremes; smaller bikes with outrageous drops from the saddle to the handlebar, an industry standard setup that was supposed to deliver comfort and power, to my current low and stretched option that I’ve tailored on my own over several years’ trial and error (thankfully, just a bit more trial than error).
The photo above was taken by a friend – I’m on the left in the neon socks (Horsey Hundred 40th Anniversary) and that’s my “sitting up” posture on my Venge. See, rather than go with a -17° stem and a massive drop from the nose of the saddle to the handlebar, I’ve instead opted to stretch out the cockpit, and thus the reach, to help bring my shoulders down.
In this photo, I’m in the Hammers jersey on the left, on my Trek 5200. As you can see, I’m fairly low and flat for an aging fella. The Trek is an interesting story, too, that requires some depth of explanation to grasp the full context of just how stretched that bike is – and I’ll get to that in a minute, but I want to talk about fitting in the cockpit first.
I don’t want to give the impression that I just went about changing my cockpit in a willy-nilly manner (trial and error). There was a method to the madness. Everything I changed was done in small increments. This is the expensive way to do it, but this way, you know immediately when you’ve gone too far and can back it off. Originally, I had the bike set up to be comfortable and a little more upright:
You can see how I changed the bike over time. The first photo was from the Spring of 2013. Below that is Summer 2013. Above right is from 2015 or 16, then bottom right is 2018. Now let’s get into the specs, because I love this part. The original stem on the bike was 60 mm. After a few weeks I started lowering the stem, then I switched to a threadless stem with a quill stem adaptor with a 6° 80 mm stem and a proper road handlebar. I ended up switching the stem to a 17° flipped 90 mm because I made a mistake on the length… I thought the 80 I had on there was a 90. Rather than send the stem back, I gave it a try for a few weeks and found I loved the extra room.
The riding position took a while to get used to, but because I did this in increments, the gradual change wasn’t too bad. In the end, what’s important is that I didn’t go too far. Any longer in the reach and I’d feel more comfortable on the bar top than the hoods. This is one of the telltale signs you’ve done stretched it out like a limo rather than a Ferrari Enzo.
In the end, what’s important is that low is fast. I can’t handle a setup that has the saddle six inches higher than the handlebar. I can’t crane my neck enough to ride like that (Yes, I’ve tried. It sucks.). I found there’s more than one way to get there, though. I just had to stretch the cockpit out a little bit.
That’s A Wrap On Another Thousand Mile Month
My first thousand-mile month occurred in 2015. August, to be exact, and I was stoked. September of that year was my second. I had one in June of 2016 but that was all I could do. 2017 proved to be a bumper year for me with three – May, August and September. Thousand-mile months were old hat after ’16, I had five in ’18, May through September. A new job and longer hours meant fewer miles in ’19, but I still managed two thousand-mile months. This year, with COVIDcation, I’m back up to five (April, May, June, July, and September – a two-week vacation made August impossible, but fantastic)… and I wrapped it up in semi-dramatic fashion.
Monday was a washout, cold and raining. I could have ridden inside but I chose to maintain the stable instead. I was eight-and-a-half miles short going into Tuesday. We were showing a 15% chance of rain, the cutoff for riding my Specialized. The seven mile warm-up was not dry but not really wet, either. Call it moist. I was tempted, after the last mile of the warm-up, to roll for another mile-and-a-half to get my 1,000 for the month and split, but I chose to stick it out (this is so not like me).
The first two miles were damp to wet and I was seconds from turning around and heading home, but the sky ahead didn’t look as bad rather than spend the next two miles in the rain, I pressed on.
The rest of the ride was dry and about as enjoyable as I’ve had on a Tuesday night. We all had a blast and I pulled into the parking lot with 1,028 miles for the month.
So that’s about it for my season, really. I dusted off the gravel bike over the weekend and prepped it for duty and the mountain bike is ready to go. Now it’s time to enjoy the fruits of my season and take it easy for a couple of months until I start crushing it January First for the beginning of the 2021 season.
While it’s a little depressing that the days of short-sleeves and bibs are numbered, I do love this time of year. Now all of that “training” can relax for a minute and I can get down to just enjoying what days we’ve got left before the snow flies.
This has been a challenging year for many, but for me, I’ve had a fantastic time of it. And for that, I am thankful.
YTD: 6,783 miles outdoors. 7,744 overall. Only 400 to go to beat last year.