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Monthly Archives: January 2021

Physical, Mental and Spiritual Fitness and What They Mean to Recovery from Addiction

Last Thursday was a glorious January day in Michigan. Normal temperatures for a January day are in the high 20’s (call it -2 C) but last Thursday, it was a fantastic 41 degrees (or 5 C on the nose). Under normal circumstances, and that day was normal excepting fantastic weather, I’d simply not show up to the Zoom meeting with my sponsor. He knows I’m riding outdoors on a day like that.

Driving back to the office from an on-site meeting I was struck with a thought that said, “call Greg”. It was that simple, and I heard it, I didn’t simply think it. So, having had this happen in the past, I did without hesitation (I wish I could say it was always without hesitation), figuring I would leave him a voicemail letting him know I was riding outside and not to expect me (he rarely picks up on the first try). That day was different. He answered on the second ring. I greeted him cheerfully as I always do, but he wasn’t in a good space at all. I’d never heard him talk like he was. He was struggling hard.

Two years ago, he was helping a semi-truck driver clear debris from the road that had fallen out of another truck. An old-timer in a pickup truck hit him hard enough he wasn’t expected to live. He did. His recovery from the crash has been anything but easy and he was down about how far he’d slid in terms of his ability to work. He’s worked his entire life and derived a lot of self-worth from his ability to easily make a buck (actually, piles of bucks). At this point he can only be on his feet for an hour or two at a time before he needs rest, or even a nap.

I listened intently and waited until he was finished. Then, completely out of character, I said, “You’re Gregory f***in’ C******. You are my sponsor and the man I look to when I don’t know what else to do. You will get through this. It’ll be baby steps at first, but this is no hill for a mountain climber.” That snapped him back a little bit.

We talked a while more and when he was good and done he said, “You know, this call couldn’t possibly have come at a better time. I can’t even tell you how much I needed this. Thank you.”

I offered that the pleasure was mine and we exchanged pleasantries before hanging up.

The moral of the story is this: Listen to that voice. It’s a gift and whomever that voice is about needs the other side of that gift.

Then…

The other night I wasn’t looking forward to my workout. I had intervals and pushups on the schedule and for one rare minute I actually thought about taking a day off. Surely a day off could be justified! I thought better and dressed. I thought, “Screw it, I’ll just do an easy 45 minutes and call it good.” I suited up, fired up a movie and started pedaling. I was slow for exactly three minutes. 15 to 16-mph was too easy. I up-shifted. Picked up the pace… up-shifted again. 18-mph, 19… 22, 23… and a rest for a minute or two… then I put the hammer down. 27… 28… 30… I held that for a minute then backed down for a couple of minutes. Then another interval, rest, then another, and another. I was done after 30 minutes and spent.

A friend of mine has a pain cave with a saying on the wall that says, “If you knew you couldn’t play tomorrow, how hard would you play today?” My answer, of course, is “very hard“. If I took it easy every time the mood struck me, though, where would I be when it was actually time to play? I’d be sitting on the couch watching the world go by! Well, not likely, either, but you get, the idea. And a nice use of the Shatner comma.

I’ve got another recovery post brewing, but this one’s gonna be tough…. stay tuned.

The Hylix Specialized Venge Seatpost: It FITS, and I Like The Saddle Attachment Bracket Better Than The Original…

I cracked my Venge seatpost during a seated sprint late last season. I heard it go as I passed 33-mph trying to hold off a friend going for the Durand City Limits sign. It was actually quite the excellent battle. I didn’t have time to stand when I noticed my friend trying to pass on my left. I’d started ramping the pace up a more than a mile earlier, expecting I’d have dropped everyone (or at least convinced them not to bother trying to come around). Jonathan, however, had been busy much of the summer and hadn’t been riding much – he was feeling spunky. I put everything I had into the pedals. It was about the third revolution I put some serious @$$ into it and heard the faint crunch. I did pull away from him well before the line but there was damage…

The owner of our local shop had a look at it and said as small as the crack was, it’s orientation on the seatpost, and with all of the good surrounding fiber, it’d likely last me decades without a problem.

So let’s say it lasts a decade. How many Venge seatposts are going to be floating around out there in a decade, now that the entire line has been discontinued? That’d be approximately zero. A few weeks ago I decided to try to locate a replacement. I struck out with a Chinese exception on eBay. My extensive search produced the Hylix Carbon+Ti Seatpost for my bike and a couple of others.

I hesitated to pull the trigger for more than a week, hemming & hawing about whether or not to risk it. I imagine I could have gotten an original from Specialized for a few Hundred Dollars, but the allure of saving more than $200 and wondering if I’d someday have to mothball my favorite bike finally proved to be too much. Even if I doubted it would fit properly.

I bit the bullet and ordered the Hylix and crossed my fingers. The link above is to the seller I bought mine from. 100% flawless sale.

It came in the other day and I dig it immensely. The saddle clamp is tricky at first glance, but once I figured out how to use it, I like the idea better than the original. We’ll have to see how it works out on the road before I’ll render final judgement. After the visual test came the fit test. It fits exactly as well the original. The carbon layup is sharp and it’ll do nicely once it got its Punisher sticker.

The packaging was more than adequate and the matte, naked finish is quite cool. On the other hand, it won’t quite match my bike as it is, no matter how cool that may be…

I’ll have to think that a bit, though. The naked, no paint look is growing on me… it matches the wheels, too. I ended up swapping out the seatpost last night after looking closer at the crack in the original with a magnification app on my phone. It looks like the damaged area was growing. I may try to have the original repaired, though I think that’ll take a little more than some epoxy… In any event, the new seatpost is on the Venge and the saddle’s been dialed in and I gave it a go on the trainer last night to make sure the saddle clamp would hold the saddle solidly. The only minor wrinkle is that, unlike the original saddle clamp which is self-centering, you have to watch to make sure the Hylix mounting system holds the saddle straight. Mine was off by a lot the first time I set it… it won’t self-center perfectly. That said, once it’s in and cranked down it’s solid. I didn’t experience any problems with the saddle moving throughout my 45 minute workout. There is also one component that the replacement post exceeds Specialized’s: The Hylix’s 7x9mm oval mounting clamp better fits the rails of a carbon saddle.

In any event, you can see more care went into the layup and construction of the original Specialized seatpost (lower right photo, the original is on the left). The side wall on the original goes thin while the Hylix sidewalls are almost the same thickness as the ends. Interestingly, the layup for the outer layer is quite close to the original.

The important part is, the Hylix seatpost fits as well as the original. The only question that remains is how well it holds up to my @$$ on the road. If it’s near as good as the Ican wheels I’m rolling on my good bikes, I’ll be a happy cyclist.

The CycleOps Trainer Tire: The Best $40 I’ve Ever Spent on a Tire. It’s So Good (AND QUIET) I Still Can’t Believe It.

I was sure my CycleOps trainer tire was going to be a gimmick. Surely it would start squeaking within a week of installing it on my trainer wheel… and I’d be relegated to writing the “well, it was quiet while it lasted” post, dejected. My high hope was maybe it wouldn’t be as noisy as a standard road tire…

Let’s back up a minute. I own a normal, “dumb” trainer. On purpose. It’s not entirely dumb, though. It’s a CycleOps Magneto trainer and it is unquestionably “neat-o”. The harder you pedal, the more resistance it gives you. 18-mph is just as hard or harder on my trainer than it is outside. With that much resistance in the flywheel, though, normal tires end up squeaking after I melt them during intervals (I’ve melted Specialized tires at a mere 23-mph). Once they’ve melted, they’re done. Every pedal stroke elicits a tiny squeak as the tire tries to stick to the flywheel. I installed a Bontrager tire several weeks ago, an AW-2 if memory serves. A terribly slow but undeniably reliable road tire, I figured if anything could work quietly on my trainer, this would be the tire. It was spectacular. For two weeks… and then the squeak appeared.

Exasperated, I remembered the shop had a couple of CycleOps tires made by Kenda specifically for the trainer. I went in for a visit hoping they still had one in stock. As luck would have it, $40 trainer tires are not high on the COVID demand list because there were four on the shelf – a painful purchase, but I needed quiet. After a couple of weeks, I have to say, I’m nothing short of impressed.

I hit 30-mph during intervals last night, several times – a full-on effort in the 50/12 gear as fast as I could pedal and not a squeak. Not even when I’d dropped down to an easy gear for recovery. In fact, I just walked over and felt the tire surface – it feels the same this morning as it did the other day. No sticky melted rubber.

The CycleOps tire by Kenda is legit. It takes everything I’ve got. And quietly. Without protest.

Stress, Grinding Teeth at Night, and the Immense Body Pain a Bite Splint Corrects

I’ve, for decades, clenched and ground my teeth at night. I have a stressful job and I’m not going to change that because I make a lot of money for a fella who drank his way out of college long before his degree. I have no doubt my career will be responsible for years off of my life in the end, but the trade-off is worth it and I do what I can to mitigate the damage by living the rest of my life awesomely.

For the longest time I had a very expensive, well made sports bite splint that I wore at night. After having a bridge installed because I’d broken a tooth in half grinding my teeth at night years before, that splint was useless. I bought a two-pack of the set-yourself variety from the local pharmacy but the first one I set was poorly done – my bite was slightly off when I set it so it was less than comfortable by the time I woke up in the morning. Besides, you go from a pro-quality bite splint (the same kind Patrick Mahomes uses) to a boil and bite model, it’s a big fall in quality. I ended up throwing both of them in the trash and going without.

And so it was for a few years. As I’ve cruised through my 40’s, into my early 50’s, life was good. I’m clean and sober, fit, healthy, and happy… but “rise and shine” was more “rise, get moving and loose, then shine”. I put it to “getting old”. My lower back was so sore and stiff on waking I’d have a tough time putting on my fleece pajama pants in the morning (my arms were almost too short). Once I got moving, though, everything was okay.

Then I cracked a tooth grinding at night. Then another. I decided it was time for that second boil and bite, but this time I wouldn’t mess up the bite when I set it. I took my time and nailed it. My jaw is comfortable when I wake in the morning and isn’t out of place or stiff. I wear the splint religiously through the night now.

And that stiffness in my lower back is completely gone. This morning, as I was whipping on my fleece pants I thought, “Wait a second… that shouldn’t have been that easy”. And that’s when it dawned on me… when I wear my bite splint at night, I wake up loose. When I don’t, I’m tight and stiff until I get moving in the morning – I feel my age.

Here are some of the benefits of wearing a bit splint at night I’ve noticed now that I think about it a little bit:

  • I sleep deeper, often through the night
  • Fewer late night trips to the bathroom (say a 50 to 66% reduction)
  • No to vastly less lower back stiffness
  • No shoulder and neck pain on rising in the morning (this was pain I didn’t even know was there till it was gone – it was mild)
  • I feel a decade, maybe more, younger on rising in the morning
  • I wake up fresh

Friends, it’s hard to tell if you grind your teeth. I made the mistake of thinking stress reduction techniques might help – and they did with stress… right up till I chipped another tooth. I tried everything from prayer to positive thinking to relaxation techniques. While they did wonders for my outlook on life and my overall attitude, they didn’t touch my clenching and grinding. Only a bite splint could help with that.

Usually your dentist will be the first to notice you grind your teeth. If that is the case, don’t be like me. Don’t hesitate to do something about it. It won’t “go away”, it’s doubtful mindfulness techniques will work (though they absolutely help with overall attitude), and it will only get worse – especially when your teeth start to crumble. The expensive bite splints many dental establishments will sell are preferable (having had one myself), but even the inexpensive options available at your local pharmacy will correct the problems associated with teeth clenching and grinding if properly set. If you find your jaw uncomfortable on waking, you’ve likely set the bite incorrectly the first time. Try again until you get it right.

Trust me. A good night’s sleep is worth it.

My First Legit Ride of 2021… Just Me & Chucker.

I sent a text out to my friends that we’d be riding at 2, knowing it was likely only going to be Chuck and I. Most of us are early cyclists. Chuck and I, because we’re working stiffs, are a little more… ah… flexible with the time we’ll ride. The others, they like to get out early or ride their trainers in the winter, to get the workout out of the way. The problem we had yesterday was that we were on the back end of a two-day warm front, followed by rain turning to snow ahead of the cold front the evening prior which froze the roads. They were dicey in the morning. However, temps were due to climb to just above freezing by noon. This is why we set the time for 2pm.

I started getting ready a little early so I was out in the living room to see it my clear driveway – nobody else was coming.

I rolled my Trek out the door, that’s right, the skinny-tire bike in January, just a Chuck pulled up. Garmin and taillight on and we rolled out. The roads weren’t entirely dry but they weren’t a bit icy, either. We’d picked the “Deer Loop”, so named because my wife and buddy, Mike had a deer run into our group causing Mike to fall backwards off his bike, breaking his tailbone. From my house it’s a 35-mile route heading out west and south before heading back north and east. We like it because we’ve got eight to ten inescapable miles of moderately trafficked road and 25 out in the middle of nowhere.

The pace started out quick right out of the gate and I could feel the effects of too many easy days over the last couple of months. I’d dressed for an easy ride so I started sweating almost immediately. Thankfully, with my new jacket, sweating doesn’t mean what it used to (freezing). I still stay comfortable while I’m dripping wet. The pace was interesting. We were taking three-mile pulls between 18 & 19-mph into the wind, but it wasn’t what you’d call “horrible”. I felt it at the end of those three, though. Chuck, who’s been riding outside daily, even in the snow, is in better shape than I am (or at least that’s my perception – he’s been turning in slow miles outdoors while I’ve been hammering the trainer pretty hard these last two weeks). The southerly miles weren’t near as bad but I didn’t get many of those… it was mostly east-to-west for my miles.

We stopped at the Gaines gas station we always do about 14 miles in and had a decent 17.4-mph average. I was hungry from the effort and was just about to break into my pocket food when Chuck emerged from the store with a couple of Payday peanut bars. We cracked a couple of jokes about licking salty nuts outside the gas station beating licking them on the couch (as a dog licks its nuts… sadly, I don’t actually possess the flexibility for this, but it makes for a funny double entendre – someone asks, “what are your plans for the day?” “I’m gonna sit on the couch and lick my nuts”… said deadpan, it’s freaking hilarious).

We rolled out after finishing our peanut bars, just three miles of headwind left in the ride. The wind was picking up a little, too. We did, however, manage to bump that 17.4 up to 17.5 when we hit quartering tailwind, though. The pace bumped to a relatively easy 20-mph, and relief. Kind of. The effort stayed the same commensurate to the amount of tailwind so there wasn’t much of a break. Our pace ticked up quickly once we hit glorious tailwind. Within five miles we’d cracked 18-mph. Seven miles later we were bumping on 18.5… and I was running out of gas. With six miles left, and it being my turn up front, I thought about sitting up for a minute or two of that first mile. I decided I wasn’t going to get any stronger sitting up so I told the complainer in the melon committee to sit down and shut it. Then came the quartering tailwind section and I didn’t drop my pace accordingly. By the end of that two miles my tongue was dangling… and I mean that literally. When I flicked off the front after that pull, I was hit. Chuck laughed when he came by, seeing my tongue lolling out of my mouth.

The last four miles, one quartering and three tailwind, were no rest for the weary. We hammered toward home near 23-mph as the snow started coming down lightly. We cracked 18.5-mph with a shade less than three miles to go. Chuck headed for home while I turned up my road to head to my driveway, hitting the Garmin at 35.4 miles in 1:54:21, good for 18.6… I was cooked, but at just above freezing with all of that gear on, and our first hard ride after months of taking it easy, that was a really good result.

I started falling asleep on the couch before we even ate dinner. After, we played a couple of family games of Euchre, then watched the last of the Packers game, then the start of the Bills before I wandered off to bed with my tablet to watch a bit more of the Bills while my wife and daughters watched a movie on the TV. I don’t even remember how much of the game I made it through before crashing, but it wasn’t much. I slept like a baby.

Bicycle Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder: Behold! Bike Pron! And The Great Paint Debate!

My riding buddy, Chuck, is awaiting his brand new Specialized Tarmac SL5 (hydraulic disc, Ultegra Di2, etc, etc). He’s also got a set of Roval 50’s on the way as well, because he decided late that he wanted the SL7 instead, but that would have kicked him to the back of the que and likely meant he wouldn’t get his bike till the spring of 2022 when leaving things as they are will mean his 5 will be here in a couple of months (some time in March).

Chuck’s issue, beyond the badass Roval 50’s, was the blue paintjob. I, on the other hand, prefer the silver for one spectacular reason that I’ll get to in a minute.

I have been locked into black and red for a long time, since 2012. Oh, sure, I can get away with a blue jersey now and again (I own three, but only one I wear regularly on the Trek), but for the most part, if I want to look good atop the good bike, I’ve gotta be in red and black.

Chuck, if he had gone with the blue Tarmac, would have been locked into blue black and gray for the next decade, possibly longer. On the silver SL5 he can wear anything and get away with it. White, blue, red, black, gray, silver… he’ll get away with anything he wants.

Now, having been locked into red and black for so long, there are worse color schemes out there – in fact in the 2021 Tarmac SL5 line, even. The other two SL5’s are a terrible peach/pink and a baby blue to $#!+ brown paintjob… I don’t know how they got those by the big wigs, but having to always hunt for red and black can be a little monotonous. God only knows what you’d wear on the peach bike, but on the baby $#!+ model, you’d be stuck with throwback AG2R kits… until you sold the bike (or had the ugly bastard repainted red & black).

In the end, bicycle beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While there’s a lot we can do to influence that beauty with proper a proper setup, paint schemes are left to the owner. Unless you’re the owner of this:

If that’s your bike, I’m sorry, first, for poking fun. Second, take your palm and firmly smack your forehead.

What Makes a Bike Clunk When You Pedal? And There’s a BIG Difference Between a Clunk, a Click, a Tick and… Uh, Anything Else.

Were we simply talking drivetrains, I could write this post in two words because only the main culprit will make a “clunk”. “Ticks and clicks” take care of virtually everything else in the drivetrain. The two non-drivetrain related “clunks” are a quick release skewer being loose to a point of being dangerous and a loose headset. “Ticks and clicks” cover everything else there as well. The diagnosis of a loose headset is simple: grab some front brake and rock the bike back and forth. Place your right hand on the headset while you’re rocking the bike. If it’s loose, you’ll feel the slop in the system. Loosen the stem bolts that clamp to the fork post, tighten your stem cap bolt till the slop is taken up, tighten the stem bolts, and you’re done. Quick release is even easier. Give your wheel a side-to-side wiggle. If it’s loose, you’ll feel it. Tighten the quick release before you crash into something and don’t ever let your bike get like that again. You should be checking things like that routinely before you ride.

The main clunker is your crankset and/or bottom bracket bearings.

Road bike cranks tend to be relatively simple affairs nowadays. The pricier models, such as the S-Works crankset on my Venge, is ridiculously simple and impressively light. The cheaper the crank, the heavier and more complex they get, requiring special wavy washers and cap washers to keep dirt out. Cranks that require wavy washers are notorious for letting dirt into the system. They require regular cleaning to keep from clicking and ticking while the pedals go ’round. Your Dura-Ace, Ultegra, S-Works and SRAM Red and Force lines don’t require as much fuss.

We’re talking about clunking, though. Not clicks and ticks. Clunking is caused by a loose spindle or bearing. If the crank bolt isn’t tightened enough (and they require a hefty amount of torque, just look on the crankset and it’ll tell you how much), you’ll eventually get a little clunk at the top of the pedal stroke as power is transferred from one crank arm to the next – often in the left arm.

Now, on one hand there’s the simple fix; tighten the bolt. On the other, I like to go a little further and pull the crankset out, clean it, lube it and put it back together. If I’m going to be in there anyway, I may as well clean it out and do it right. I’m going to have to deal with it sooner or later anyway.

A Glorious Thursday Night on the Good Bikes… Outdoors!

We’re at the end of a rare January warm up that lasted all of two glorious days. We’re back into snow today, but I made hay while the sun was shining…

The high temp on the car’s digital thermometer said 46 degrees F (8 C) on the way home yesterday afternoon. I’d made my call to my sponsor to let him know I’d be taking advantage of the mild temp by going for a ride with my normal riding buddy, Chuck. I was a mere hour away from my ride, but I was exhausted. I’d shorted myself sleep and I was not in a good space. I had to grapple with the thought of a nap more than once. I simply didn’t have time. I readied my Trek for a night ride which included witching rear wheels (trainer to outdoor wheel), setting the headlight on the handlebar, pumping tires, water, and so on.

Then I went into the bedroom to contemplate what to wear. This was a little tougher than I’d imagined it would be. I’m constantly battling the urge to overdress just to be warm. When it was all done, I opted for a light long-sleeve, a thermal long-sleeve, and a light windproof rain jacket.

I rolled my bike out the front door just after 5 and headed for Chuck’s.

The ride over was simply fantastic. I’d managed to dress perfectly for the effort – slightly less than moderate. Chuck was ready shortly after I pulled into his driveway and we rolled out. We didn’t break any speed records; we didn’t bother trying. We simply enjoyed the ride in the decent evening weather.

The Trek felt fantastic. After all that time spent with the rear wheel locked into a trainer, it was nice to get the bike outside again – and for once at a temperature that wouldn’t cause normal, sane people to wrinkle their nose when it’s learned you rode outdoors.

The pace was interesting. There wasn’t much push to either of us, though we did open it up a few times just to get the lead out. The fresh air was exactly what the doctor would have ordered if I’d seen the doctor… certainly what the psychiatrist would have prescribed… were I to actually need a shrink.

Meh, I bought a bike instead. Cycling (and a program of recovery, of course) keeps the need for either at a bare minimum.

Why Working a Program of Recovery is so Important to Success in Terms of Peace and Contentment

It is commonly, correctly, truly stated, “if you sober up an alcoholic horse thief, you’re still left with a horse thief”.

I’ve never, in twenty-eight years of recovery, seen a person walk through the door of an AA meeting and announce, “Yeah, I’ve been doing awesome! My family is happy, my work life is fantastic, the bills are paid and I feel an overwhelming sense of being content with how things are in life… I just drink a little too much so I thought I’d quit just because I have nothing better to do.” Nobody comes in on a winning streak. We resort to quitting after we’ve been on our hands and knees looking for a crumb in the carpet for the last 40 minutes in our underwear after spending our last five from trading in the TV at the pawn shop.

We therefore have things to rectify in order to get our lives back on track to being a productive member of society again. Osmosis, sadly, isn’t good enough. We have to work for it, and in the meantime we tend to feel a lot of pent up emotion. The emotional pain can be immense – it was for me and I couldn’t wish away that pain anymore than I could wish away the absolute need to get drunk or high.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel – and that light is heaven on earth, not a train. Hear me out.

When we work at a program of recovery (my program of choice is the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of AA), we clear the wreckage of the past that made escape so desirable. Once at the end of that process, we pass on what we’ve learned, our experience, strength and hope, to others as we help them to find their light. As we seek to help others, thereby losing interest in selfish things and build on the good we are doing, we go through a change. Our lives are transformed from needing to escape, to greeting the new day with enthusiasm. Eventually we get to a point where we wake up looking forward to what a new day will bring.

That is, if we stick around long enough.

For me, this process took decades. I was a slow worker, though. Back then, I had a skewed perception of the work. I wanted to do just enough to get by. I didn’t realize until much later, the more diligent I was about working recovery, the greater the benefits, the happier life became, the more I had to pass on to someone else. Meh, “sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly”. Peace and contentment will always materialize if we work for them, as they say. And they do say.

And I always remember, if I don’t pick up a drink, if I keep coming back and working on my recovery, I’ll never have to go through quitting again… and that’s music to my ears.

Don’t think about the work as a task. The work is the key that picks the lock holding you back from being content.

There Are Two Ways to Set Up a Road Bike to Ride Low and Fast: Stacked High or Stretched Out (and How to Choose Wisely)

Let’s talk road bikes, speed and comfort, because what a fun, wonderful topic that is!

The industry has been stuck on the position that “most people want to ride in a less aggressive posture for comfort” for some time. I’ll admit, riding a little more upright on my gravel rig isn’t all that bad, but neither is low and sleek on my Venge. I’ll tell you what is uncomfortable; trying to ride with our A or B group whilst imitating a sail atop your bicycle on Tuesday night! Actually, riding without a motor is uncomfortable with the A group now that I think about it. I digress.

For those of us who are burdened with the need for speed, and lots of it, that upright posture requires more watts than most will be willing or able to create at 25 to 28-mph. Even in a draft. See, approaching 30-mph, pushing air out of the way is not easy. With a draft and, say, a foot between wheels, if you fit in the slipstream it takes considerably less effort to keep the bike up to speed. If, however, your head is always sticking up out of that slipstream, your benefit won’t be near as spectacular. I’ve actually done experiments north of 30-mph in the past, just to see what it was like. If you’re head’s above the draft, the difference is surprisingly great.

The photo above illustrates the point well. I’m the guy on the left, my riding buddy, Chuck is on the right. He’s down in the drops while I’m on the hoods and our heads are about the same level. We’re both the same height as well. If I’d been sitting up higher, the ride is still easier than no draft, but you can feel the drag when your head is above the draft – which means you’ve gotta get that melon down in it!

Now, there are two ways to handle getting your head down into the draft. First is simple: buy a small bike, put a long stem on it and peg the saddle just as high as you can get it so you have a massive drop from the nose of the saddle to the handlebar. I cannot ride like this so I’ve got a photo from a post way back I can use:

That’s A LOT of drop right there. The problem some of us older farts run into is that we simply can’t crane our neck enough to see down the road with the saddle to bar drop steep. Believe me, I’ve tried. I can’t do it without turning my head sideways and taking glances up the road. I only lasted ten miles before turning around and heading home.

I have to opt for the second option and stretch out a little bit. I have a larger bike (the proper size for my 6′ height, a 58 cm frame), and use a long cockpit to get low (note how much higher the drop bar ends are on my steerer tube):

Also, and interestingly, the setup above, at least the saddle height with the amount of seatpost showing above the frame, is technically “correct” for a standard frame. The stem choice, a flipped 17 degree 90 mm stem, was “after fitting”. I had a 12 degree 80 on there prior but a shorter reach drop bar by 10 mm meant a longer stem was needed and I wanted that sleek look I got with the steeper stem. That Trek evolved to that setup over twelve years. The bike I originally bought isn’t even recognizable contrasted against what it is today.

My really, really good bike employs almost exactly the same setup:

While there’s plenty of drop from the saddle to the handlebar, the Venge is almost the same as the Trek – it just looks like more drop because the top tube of the Venge slopes down.

I chose reach over a massive drop (technically, a decent mix of both drop and reach, but lets stay on point) to get me low because of the aforementioned neck issue and because I’m a little chubbier than I should be. This is, of course, in cycling terms. I am not, in any way, shape or form, “chubby”. I’m what you’d call “cycling chubby”. The point is, you can’t cycle around your gut if your quads keep bumping into it. Therefore, a little bit of stretch will help you get around an extra slice of pizza.

Stretch has its problems as well, though and they can be just as bad as too much drop in the saddle to bar top. Too much stretch too soon will have you sitting up with your hands on the bar top rather than around the hoods where the hands belong. The drops will be virtually unusable because if reaching for the hoods is uncomfortable, reaching a bit further for the drop will be even worse. Therefore, stem length and saddle setback have to be carefully considered in terms of reach and stretch. This doesn’t mean we should live with an upright cycling position, just that we should be careful not to alter that setup with big changes and short break-in periods.

This gets important when we consider the one thing that a lot of cycling will do for a body: make it drop weight. As we ride more (and hopefully we don’t eat more to compensate), the body will change. With enough speed and mileage, weight can melt away. That’s the way it happened with me, until I changed my eating habits, at my wife’s urging, before I turned into the human equivalent of a twig. As the gut disappears, we can lower/stretch the cockpit so that we can ride lower which will make us, naturally, faster still.

The key here is to change the setup on your bike a little bit at a time with a break-in period between changes so you can evaluate how each change feels. This way, if you run into something you don’t like, you can change it back and go another route before you get lost.

Above fast is always “fun”. If you aren’t having fun, you need a reevaluation, because everything about riding a bicycle should be fun… unless someone is paying you to ride one. In order to have fun, you have to be comfortable atop that steed. The key is you get to determine what is or isn’t comfortable, not the industry.