Comfort On a Road Bike, the Better Part of Intelligence; Don’t Sacrifice Comfort (And Speed) for “Cool”
A while back I wrote about slamming the stem on my ’99 Trek 5200 as low as I could get it, removing a 5mm spacer from below the stem and inverting a 17° stem to get a zero rise out of the cockpit. The bike, without question, already looked fantastic and sleek, especially for a classic with the 5 mm spacer below the stem:
But I wanted to see if I could do better. This was an experiment, of course, and when I wrote about it I said I was going to give it a go and see if I could adapt to the extra drop and make it work, I believed it to be a worthwhile exercise. If I could ride, comfortably, just a little lower, I’d do that much better in a headwind (or cross-headwind as the case often is). Well, the data is in and it isn’t great. I gave the new setup several months and all winter on the trainer and, if I were to stay on the hoods 100% of the time, that’d be the setup. Unfortunately, I like riding in the drops as well, and the reach to get down that low was simply too much on my neck and shoulders. I got to a point I stopped using the drops and would simply bend my arms a little more if I wanted to get a little lower into a headwind because the drops were too much of a strain on my neck.
Now, will anyone but me notice there’s a 5 mm spacer below my stem? Not likely. Still, I’m like most road cyclists, I want to ride the cool lookin’ whip. I want to have that nice massive drop from the saddle nose to the handle bars. The problem I had to come to grips with, as most recreational cyclists do when they push the boundaries of “how low can I go”, is that power to the pedals is always cooler than a perfectly slammed setup on the bike. Every time.
I took the Trek out Wednesday night for the first time since switching the setup and sure enough, no neck or shoulder pain the next morning, and I spent several miles in the drops*.
A cool setup is great, but riding comfortably is what’s most important. This doesn’t mean a cyclist shouldn’t try to get that setup as aggressive as possible**, as enthusiasts that’s what we do. Instead, I’m simply suggesting is get as low as you can, then go a little lower (because you’re going to anyway)… then back that off to where you were comfortable.
*Interestingly, when comparing my Specialized Venge with the Trek 5200, I’ve got a whopping 5″ drop from the saddle to the handlebar and only slightly more than 4-1/2″ for the Trek… and I’m more comfortable on the Venge with the bigger drop. This reality is, I’m assuming, due to advantages inherent in a compact frameset. That’s a post for another day, though.
**On one hand, I get the whole notion you should go with the “comfortable setup on a bike” side of the discussion and I don’t disagree with the idea, entirely. On the other, why leave free watts at the crank? If we go by the standard “industry professionals say” setup, a rider is likely to be more upright than is necessary. So I simply, humbly suggest taking the shop’s setup and tweaking it so you can get as low as is comfortable without hurting yourself (short or long term). This way, when you’re confronted with everything but a tailwind, you’re as efficient as possible.
I started buying Ican wheels because I simply couldn’t afford the premium wheelsets but I wanted some carbon fiber wheels to improve the ride of my Venge. At first, I figured I stick with alloy wheels on the Trek and pulled the trigger on a set for the good bike. I’d thought about purchasing two sets of the 38 mm standard wheels, one for me and one for my wife, but decided to try them out myself to make sure they were safe and worth the money. They vastly exceeded my expectations. I ordered my wife’s set within a few weeks of receiving mine. Within two months, three more of my friends were rolling on Ican’s 38 mm standard wheels. A fourth bought a set of Fast & Light 50s (FL 50s).
I rode the 38s mostly on the Venge but switched them over to the Trek for 2019’s DALMAC tour – 385 miles in four days and rolled on them for most of a year before Covid-19 hit. Long story short, I did well over my lockdown time off. I received a healthy bonus on returning to the office more than a year ago, now and with a portion of that bonus I picked up a set of FL 50s for the Venge:
The FL 50s were quite a bit pricier than the standard 38s but they’re effectively the same weight as the standard 38s and they’re a more aerodynamically acceptable shape for crosswinds. The FL 50s pick up a little more crosswind than the 38s but not enough they’re difficult in a fairly stiff wind, either.
While I’ve read some not-too-flattering comments and reviews about the Novatec hubs for the FL50s, I have zero complaints. They’ve been straight up solid since I’ve had the wheels. The wheels themselves were true out of the box and after a year of potholes and gnarly train tracks, they’re still as true as the day I took them out of the box and I’ve had them beyond 45-mph without so much as a shimmy.
With at least a dozen century rides, two dozen metric centuries, and an absolute pile of Tuesday Night Club Rides where we average between 22 & 24-mph for the 30 mile route, I can say without equivocation, these wheels are considerably faster than the fantastic set of alloy wheels I had built for the Venge years ago. Ican wheels are an excellent, affordable option for those looking for a wheel and a speed upgrade.
Put simply, I’m ecstatic with all three sets of Ican wheels my wife and I roll. I’m particularly fond of the Fast & Light 50s, though. They’re a stellar bargain in my often not so humble opinion.
The only thing left would be if I could just get them to make me eat less. A fella can dream.
The evening started out sketchy in the morning with a stiff breeze and a fair chance of rain but the outlook improved as the day wore on. A 15-20% chance of rain throughout the day was dropped to 4%. I was planning on taking the Trek when I walked out the door in the am, but once I saw 4% I switched immediately to the Venge.
I arrived a bit early, but I was the only one in the lot. Jonathan showed at 5 and was the only one to make the warm-up. We rolled out for the seven mile loop. Jonathan took the lead into the headwind and I rode him like a rented mule. I as we neared the 3-1/2 mile mark I pulled alongside him and commented that I didn’t know what sin he’d committed that required that level of penance, but I was grateful for whatever he’d done. I had only one mile of cross-headwind followed by a bunch of tailwind. We rolled into the parking lot to wait for the big ride with a 17-1/2 mph average for the warm-up… a perfect pace considering the wind.
We rolled out for the Tuesday Night In Lennon Main Event as one big group, As & Bs. This was for the best, of course, we only had five or six B riders and the wind was strong out of the northwest. A northwest wind is fairly ugly (I prefer southwest if I have my druthers) on the group. There isn’t much help till the home stretch five miles and it makes for interesting pace-line dynamics. The weather was cool and gray and I marveled at how an 80 degree day (27 C) can make 58 (14 C) feel cold a few days later, but it certainly does. We started out into the cross-headwind fairly easy until we turned north and caught a little downhill grade help (still cross-headwind). The pace ticked up from 21 to 24-mph and I was on the side of the pace-line that caught the wind. I chose that side purposely as I start out having to battle the wind, but once we turn southwest, the other side of the pace-line gets pummeled by the wind while I’m riding easy on the protected side.
I took all of my turns up front, though they were of the shorter variety, and was enjoying myself quite nicely. We were heading south at 27-mph and I was second bike on the left side with the Watt King next to me. He’s earned that nickname and, to be honest, I’d rather be lined up behind him that next to him. The temp had dropped precipitously but I was still comfortable and we took our turn to the end of the road before making a left. Then another turn south and I was second bike again… already. I took my turn up front but I managed to cook myself on the way up a hill. We were fifteen miles in and we still all of the hills left to go, and just like that I gave up and pulled off the back of the line, almost taking Doc Mike out in the process (in all fairness, I thought I was actually last, off the back, and way over in the oncoming lane). I just didn’t want to deal with the hills then have to fight the headwind back to where I already was. I’d heard a couple of the A guys talking about taking it easy until Shiatown then dropping the hammer and I didn’t want to be around for that. Apparently, neither did Jonathan. He was there soft pedaling right next to me, so we turned around and headed for home.
Jonathan took a lot of the headwind so I took a massive pull up front with a cross-tailwind and we took it to the barn, inching our average up from 21.8-mph to 22.2 by the time we crossed the City Limits – and Jonathan came around me at the last second to take the sign (I had nothing left to answer him, anyway).
And so it was. Our friend, Chuck had made it out for his first Tuesday back after having a stent put in and he was dropped fairly early as well. We ran into him in the parking lot before he left and exchanged fist-bumps and a warm “welcome back”.
So, to the title of this little ditty… Heading back with a cross-tailwind at about 24-mph and a smile stretched all the way across my fact, I had a clarifying moment about how fortunate I am to be me. My Venge is absolutely perfectly tuned. The wheels are phenomenal, there isn’t a creak or tick, and the operation of the bike is flawless. I’ve put a lot of effort (and a sh!+-ton of cash) into getting that bike to that point. I rely on that little sucker for my health and wellness, and for optimizing my state of mind – and also to burn off excess adrenaline from too much stress at work… that one little machine adds a lot of happiness to my life, and for that I am grateful.
Is a Fast Cyclist a Thin Cyclist? Better, Is a Thin Cyclist a Fast Cyclist? I Have Certainly Changed My View on the Subject Over the Years.
I read an interesting article in Cycling Weekly about the drive to be thin, or in many cases, skinny to be fast. The title of the article then teases that you should get fast by ditching the skinny part but doesn’t give much in the way of why or how. Having been a skinny cyclist (<2.2 lbs per inch), and not by design – I rode so many miles I couldn’t eat enough to keep my weight up. I’ve since rectified that issue, thank you BBQ, Roast Beef and Burgers.
The main point in the article was that too much emphasis has been put on cyclists being ultra-thin, old spaghetti arms Chris Froome as the shining example.
The article does a fine job of labeling cyclists as victims of their own dieting at the urging of their (often overweight) managers and, if you’ve read more than a post or two here, you know I don’t subscribe to the “woe is me” blame game, but what about we weekend warrior cyclists? You can’t ride in a pace-line for 50 miles without hearing the fast people talk about weight at some point.
The article doesn’t delve deeply enough into the science of being able to ride healthier, happier, faster, and farther when you’re not a rail. Actually, in my case, I’d instead call me slightly fat and happy. Maybe cheerfully chubby.
Anyway, there’s no question I’m faster today at 178-ish pounds than I was at 154 (though I prefer 165 to 170, or 2.3 pounds per inch but too many of the aforementioned hamburgers have made that weight difficult). Let’s dig into this a minute, though.
There’s no doubt I can ride further with the extra 24 pounds. I can’t remember the last time I bonked completely (it’s been years). Of course, there is that uphill asterisk, but when things are all averaged out, I’ve got one heck of a reserve in the tank if my body needs something to burn. The one time that weight really does hurt a cyclist is on the “ups”, though. Conversely and humorously, on the flat and downhill sections, it’s clear; some fat is fast. If you want to see something funny, take one of those spaghetti people and put them next to a Clydesdale on an 8% descent. Have that little fella draft the big guy, and no pedaling. It’ll be shocking how much faster the big fella is than the skinny one. I see it often in our group. Hills I coast down, the skinnier, smaller girls have to pedal their asses off just to stay in my draft.
Another benefit to having a little bit of weight is overall health. While I wasn’t quite skinny enough to present health problems, I was close. The rail-thin climbers in the pro ranks are always on the razor’s edge of being fairly healthy and sick and they often have a team of people to help look after their nutritional needs (or so I’ve been told by those in the know). While I certainly wish I could climb a hill a little faster, my body’s immune system is absolutely rockin’ and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. As a 50-year-old weekend warrior, I’d never trade my health for a faster time up a hill.
Finally, it’s quite simple, if you want to win in the master’s class races, then by all means, watch your diet and obsess over whatever you have to to stay thin. Me? I will have fries with that. As long as I’m careful about how much I eat, I can maintain a decent, healthy weight and eat some really fun food in the process.
Hell, folks, that’s why I ride a bike in the first place.
We rolled out Saturday morning to a cold start. It was nasty cold, but perfectly sunny so we were expecting it would warm up as the morning wore on. The sunshine helped, of course, but with the temp near freezing and a pile of headwind in front of us, it was rough going. Thankfully, and surprisingly, I got my layers just right and while the first two miles were chilly, I was never uncomfortable once we got going. We picked a nice 57-mile route that had almost all of the headwind out of the way early, so once we finally hit some tailwind about 27 miles into the ride, We pushed the pace a little and it good times and laughter all around.
Sadly, it wasn’t all sh!ts & giggles as we had plenty of crosswind, but the ride was quite a lot of fun. We finished the route with an 18-1/2-mph average.
Clouds rolled in before we finished our ride but it really wasn’t much of a big deal against the temperature. It just stayed cool through much of the day. In the early evening, however, the clouds moved out and the temperature moderated, finally rising into the 60’s. The remainder of the evening was quite wonderful and I ended up cooking steak tampico on the grill (sirloin steak, Mexican blend cheese, medium Garden Fresh salsa – it’s absolutely fantastic).
I slept in a little bit and enjoyed the morning, stepping outside to get a sense of the temperature. It was supposed to be quite mild, but after Saturday’s start I was a little more than skeptical. It was glorious, in the mid-60’s (18 C). Without a doubt, shorts and short sleeves. I readied my Venge, though almost decided on the Trek when a quick popup shower blew through. Thankfully, it was short-lived. I got ready early and went out to meet Mike on his way over to get a few extra miles in before we left. We tooled around the block at an easy pace, talking about cycling stuff. I enjoyed the leisurely pace and company. It’s not often I ride like that.
We made it back to the house and the group, comprised of Mike, Chuck, Diane and Mike on their tandem, my wife and I (on singles, it’s a long story, no tandem yesterday), rolled out into the wind. Six miles in, my wife broke a spoke when she got out of the saddle to shimmy up a little hill. I stopped to take the spoke out but she opted to take her toy and go home rather than stick it out with a wobbly wheel. We had a club event in the afternoon she wanted to prep for, anyway. She called in a favor to a buddy of ours to give her a ride home (he lives a mile from where my wife broke down) and we went on our way. Two miles later we picked up Mark and Jon, then Greg, Dave and Todd shortly thereafter… It was the five of us B’s (Mike is an A rider on a single, but a solid B on the tandem with his wife) and five A’s and it got lively.
The headwind was picking up and those five A guys were driving into the wind north of 20-mph. I was up in the rotation taking my turns, though shorter than the A riders, so I didn’t notice that Mike and Chuck had slipped off the back. We dropped back to bring them back up to the group but they’d turned around and high-tailed it home with a tailwind. I only found this out because I called Chuck, who said they were good and heading home, to go on without them. And on we went.
Todd took the “catch the front group” pull. He’s an absolute beast of a rider and had us up to 24-mph into a 14-mph headwind. We were to the main group in short order, and it helped they stopped at an intersection to wait for us. Mark and Jon split to head home and the rest of us got to it.
We had three more miles to go into the headwind, but a miraculous thing happened as we’d been cruising along… the clouds had dissipated and the temperature responded with the sunshine. I was actually sweating! We completed the three miles and turned to head back… and God smiled down on us with the most glorious tailwind I’d ever experienced, with 29 miles left to get home. We had an eight mile stretch that, guessing, had to be north of a 27-mph average. We were absolutely cruising. Then a stretch north, more tailwind, then more north (a whole lot faster than we should have taken that section), and we were on the home stretch. Ten miles to home with a tailwind all the way.
The A guys headed home with about eight to go for Mike, Diane and I and we took the pace down to a more reasonably 21 to 23-mph, settling in for the last push home. Mike and Diane were both cooked from the effort and I wasn’t much better. The relaxed pace was welcomed. We pulled into the driveway with 56 miles and a 19-1/2-mph average. Taking into account the dawdling at the beginning of the ride and we were north of 20-mph for the main body of the ride.
A shower later and I was packing up my bike after wiping it down, for that event my wife had to get back for. Our club sponsored a bike parade and some laps at a new trail that just opened up next to our bike shop. I grabbed some McDonald’s on the way and sat with my friends, talking more bike stuff, while people filed in. It was a glorious afternoon in the mid-70’s and even got into the low 80’s (28 C). We had a broad cross-section of the population show up and put in some laps on the new track. I rode with my buddy, Jonathan and his young son (eight) for a couple of miles, then Dave joined us on his replica 1905 track bike (it’s immaculate, and absolutely gorgeous).
We laughed and talked about everything under the sun, including the nuts hiding behind masks, socially distanced in the sunshine with a 12-mph breeze, many of whom were fully vaccinated. I felt a sorry for them, actually. If ever there was a place to safely interact like normal human beings, that was the place. Many left their masks on as the properly distanced parade pulled out. Sadly, you just can fix that, so I just let them be and said a short prayer for them to heal mentally after this year-long ordeal. Meanwhile, for me it was party time. I had a blast… and my slight sunburn shows my effort to make up for the last four months of gray weather by topping off my Vitamin D reserves.
My wife and I went out to eat Friday night with a good cycling buddy of ours and his wife as a double-date at one of the nicest restaurants in town. We’d planned on doing this since our first shot – for me, as a way of flipping Covid, and the ridiculous restrictions that came with the pestilence, the bird on the way out the door.
My wife and I are fully vaccinated, and now immune to Covid-19, so, rather than our fearful leaders, I’m going to lead by example and act like it. The reason behind their over-the-top silly actions is simple and follows along the “never let a crisis go to waste” line of thinking. The WuFlu is now in “milk as much as you can out of the crisis and don’t let it go without deep claw marks left in it” mode. They’ve ridden that ass to the point it’s beat up, tired, and unwilling to take another step so they pull out the crop and start whipping it on the side of the ass while it just stands there. That’s exactly where the notion “wear a mask outdoors even though science says doing so is preposterous” came from.
Originally, this post was likely to turn into another rant about outrageously ignorant outdoor mask mandates, guidelines and regulations for vaccinated people, when I realized I can do better.
I’m going to celebrate the fact that we are vaccinated against Covid (and the “variants”, as that poor donkey gets its ass whipped again), and better, according to all sane data, can’t spread the virus to others (in the off chance we encounter enough of the virus to even cause an immune reaction in the first place).
Is that a bold statement? Yes, but haven’t you wondered why we, the vaccinated, can only say we can’t spread the virus “according to a growing body of evidence”? Why hasn’t that test been done to conclusively say one way or the other? It’d take about ten minutes. The right questions are out there, they’re just not being asked. Do you see vaccinated people running around worrying about mumps and measles (both caused by viruses, by the way)? Of course you don’t.
And so that’s it, folks. I have to work on letting my anger and frustration go as these clowns fall all over themselves to keep perpetuating the crisis. It’s what politicians do… at least those who see themselves as leading a kinder, gentler, Empire.