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Monthly Archives: August 2021

Going Gravel… Early

With Chucker, my weekday riding buddy, away on a weekender and my wife and daughters at the salon, I was hit with a tough choice; which to choose – gravel, mountain, or road?

Now, I’m not about to drive to a ride, so the trails were out. I could ride dirt roads on the mountain bike… or my gravel bike, but my gravel bike is a little depressing this time of year. My good road bike weighs only 16 pounds. My rain bike is only 18-1/2. My gravel bike is about 24.

That 24 pound bike is not easy to choose, but I did. I had no desire to be on paved roads through a Friday evening. I just wanted some peace and quiet.

And dust. Did I mention dust? Yeah, I forgot about that part of the equation until I was well underway. On the other hand, I think I was passed by about four cars in 22-miles of dirt… and not one of them honked or crowded me (of course, they did blow dust all over me, but that’s the nature of dirt road riding).

I chose to add some paved roads to bump my mileage for the afternoon because, well, why not? I pulled into the driveway with 27 miles and a smile on my face. With the ladies away, I cooked some salmon for dinner and sat down to watch some baseball. A short while later, the ladies came home and we started packing up a van for this morning. We’re moving my eldest daughter to college today.

I don’t wonder where time went because I enjoyed most of it, but it sure did go! My baby is off to take a bite out of life! Only three years left and my wife and I will be empty-nester’s.

Cycling Tips For People New to Group Riding – Some Simple, Funny Examples of What Not to Do.

Being a part of a cycling pace-line, to be able to feel what it must be like to ride in the peloton at the Tour de France, is truly something special. To be able to feel the draft work, combined with the speed with which everything happens… and the whirring of drivetrains and whizzing of freehubs as people coast… that’s what changed me from a bike rider to a cyclist. My first day in a group pace-line I was summarily dropped after just 8 miles – but that was enough. I was utterly hooked. I’ve learned a lot since that day and I’ll share some of that here.

Riding in a group, while spectacular and awesome, is inherently dangerous and I recommend against it if you can’t afford the possibilty or prospect of getting hurt. I also recommend against it for the letigeous among us who would get hurt then look for someone else to blame for a payday. For those who can live with the risk, there are some important things to know about cycling with friends.

Ride smooth and predictably. If you want to be invited to the next ride, be smooth and predictable. No sudden surges, don’t ever stop pedaling when you’re up front unless you signal you’re slowing first, no dodging, bobbing and weaving. Smooth accelerations are acceptable if you can pull a little faster than the last person, though slowing without signaling before is not. No side-to-side, or dodging obstacles without pointing them out first. If you dodge an object without pointing it out, others behind you will hit said object and you will properly be blamed and even shunned. If someone does this to you, the simplest way to say, “nice going” without calling names is to simply say, “Yep, I got all of that one”.

Don’t hope (or wait) on the guy riding the gravel bike with a camelback hydration system to pull you back as the group accelerates away. If you tuck in behind that guy, you’ll be able to watch your dreams of a PR slowly drift away with the main pack as they speed off over the horizon. This isn’t to say gravel bike people aren’t competent riders – I know several right off the bat who are exceptional, capable riders. What you’re worried about is noob gravel guy with a camelback who doesn’t have much experience riding with a group. If he falls off the pace, the last place you want to be is behind him hoping he’ll get you back. He won’t.

As a seasoned cyclist, having put in tens of thousands of miles with cyclists of varying talent, I can spot a noob to group riding from a quarter-mile away, so I know to watch when I’m on their wheel that they don’t create a gap I can’t bridge across. See, when a seasoned cyclist is out of gas, they’ll signal for the group behind to pass and unceremoniously fall off the back to spin home. This is the polite thing to do for everyone else. Noobs don’t exactly know how to be polite when they drop, so if and when they do, they tend to take everyone behind them with them. I can see this coming by paying attention to how someone is riding because I’ve seen it a hundred times and gone around them to bridge the gap and survive with the main group. Another noob to group riding won’t be able to spot this coming because they don’t know the telltale signs to look for… it’s for that reason we look at “gravel bike guy with his camelback” the way we do. Seasoned road cyclists don’t wear camelbacks and/or ride knobby tires on a 22-mph 100-mile ride.

Use a speedometer and make “current speed” the biggest (or only) item on the display. The number of cars that have passed you means absolutely nothing when you’re cruising down the road at speed. Knowing how many calories you’ve burned or the elapsed time of your ride is utterly worthless as you’re hurtling down the road at 50 feet per second (15 meters per second). Current speed, however, is immensely important. Get a sense of the pace and when you take your turn up front, hold the pace the group is riding at. Don’t go all crazy and try to bump it up a couple of miles per hour, and don’t stay up front so long you can’t hold the group’s pace. If you get the thought that those behind you are waiting on you to speed things up, you’re mistaken. They want you to maintain the pace.

When you get out of the saddle to climb a hill, you surge forward as you stand up. You DON’T pull back on the handlebars to stand. The former means you create a little gap. The latter means you drift back and put those drafting you on edge, or worse, on the ground if they rub your rear wheel. Don’t be that person.

While we’re on that last item, don’t overlap wheels and don’t follow directly behind the wheel in front of you. A couple of inches either side of the wheel in front of you could save you from a face plant if the person in front of you happens to pull back on their handlebar when they get out of the saddle to climb a hill.

Always remember the most important item when it comes to group riding:

The least important thing is what you want. The most important things are the safety and happiness of the group. Look out for others as much as you look out for yourself (or more) and you’ll be just fine.

Easy Like Wednesday Evening: Another Week In Life on the Bike

I managed to crank out 235.57 miles last week. Not an incredible amount, but decent enough. About average for this time of year.

What wasn’t average about the week’s mileage is the amount of time it took me to get those miles done… 12h:03m. That breaks down to 19.50-mph for an average speed. Any way I slice that, that’s a fast week.

Monday was mercifully easy, then Tuesday was high on the octane again – it was a great night. It also wore me out. Big time. So it was received with great happiness when Chucker rolled out of his driveway with, “This is gonna be s-s-l-l-l-o-o-w-w”.

I needed slow.

And slow it was – and fun. I think we barely topped a 17-mph average by the time we pulled into my driveway. Sometimes I just need a slow day to get collected – to get my good legs back under me. The last couple of years I’ve come to really enjoy my slow days. I’ve managed to shut off that part of my brain that always defaulted to “I could be using this time to push harder and get faster”.

And I’m glad it’s gone. For the most part.

WOOOO! What a RIDE! A TNIL for the Books!

We rocked so much ass last night, I’m still smiling!

The warm-up was easy to moderate. The weather was fantastic, though on the warm side. Not much in the way of wind, and the clouds were light and wispy. We live for nights like this.

When the Elite and A Groups shook out, it was a toss-up. Ride together with 20 or wait 30 seconds and go with ten of us and keep it smooth. We chose door number two. For one, our old route was finally opened and we wanted a smooth, fast ride. Second, Dave rolled into the parking lot with Carla in the stoker’s position on his tandem. Dave, in his Strava posting of the ride, referred to her as “Carla the Super-stoker”. Those two can lay a hurting on anyone on that tandem… none of us A folks wanted any part of that.

After the A Elite Group rolled, we waited 20 ticks and rolled out ourselves. We led out easy and built up speed over the next mile. And with that, it was on. There wasn’t much time for talking as we surged to 25-mph and kept it between 22 & 28-mph. With ten bikes in our group, usually, with wind to deal with, it’s a tossup between a single and double pace-line and we almost always opt for the double which burns everyone out twice as fast but you can fit more people in one lane of the road if we go double… This time, with only a 3-mph wind to consider, the consensus was single and we absolutely flew down the road.

When we’re side-by-side, the ride has a social aspect to it – you’ve got people in earshot. With everyone in a train, it’s all about pace, speed and fun. I like both for different reasons and I dig it when we get a speed train rolling. We’d made the decision early to give the old route a try. Construction operations were supposed to have been complete but there were still some barrels up, though several friends had already ridden it and said it was good to go. It was like hugging my wife after she gets back from a road trip.

Everything came rushing back – where to hold on, where to hammer it, where to let off for the tandems… oh, it was like the good times were back as we hit the hilly section. Everything just felt… right. Add to that, the perfect weather and I was like a kid in a candy store.

We rolled the re-group point because we didn’t lose anyone in the hills. I took the lead out but got a little ahead of the group and had to let them catch up before I took my pull up an incline that we normally climb at 20 to 21-mph. I have no idea how this works, every time. That hill should be a 16-mph affair, max, but we just nail it every time. And following comes the screaming descent into Vernon. We hit 31-mph coming down the hill and Chuck kept the power on for a surprising amount of time after the Mike and Diane had flicked off the front on their tandem. Nobody bothered with a sprint for the City Limits sign – I think we were mainly just enjoying being back on the normal route… and we were flying.

Once through town, I shot off the front to clear an intersection for the tandems that always has a lot of traffic. And for once, we just rolled right through it and carried on up the hill to the next fast section. It’s downhill, maybe 2% easing to 1/2% for most of the next mile. We had to feather the brakes to let a car go through a four-way stop but as soon as the tail end of that car was through, we were right back on the gas, hammering the pace to the upper-20s.

With a slight tailwind, we kept the speed up but reasonable for the tandems as the next mile is slightly uphill, again 1% give or take.

Once through the uphill section, we made a left onto the homestretch road and put the hammer down. Really, the best aspect of last night’s ride was how smooth it was. We were north of a 22.1-mph average at this point (35-km/h) and we just kept it between 22 & 25-mph… a little less on the uphills and a little more on the downhills… until we hit the last two miles.

I took the uphill after we blew through a clear intersection and started up at speed. It starts at 3%, so it’s more than a little molehill, but eases toward the top and I crested just shy of 20-mph before flicking off the front. It was down in the drops after that and we hammered for the City Limits sign north of 24-mph, sometimes approaching 30. We crossed the line in perfect formation at 28-mph and eased off the gas. We finished with a 22.4-mph average (36 km/h) and smiles on our faces. It was high-fives and fist bumps all the way back to the parking lot.

100 miles at 21.7 Sunday followed by a 30-mile 22.4 average… the comments on Strava were glowing late into the evening. We all enjoyed that one – neither the Elite group or we A folks set any records last night, but it’s rare to see that many smiles during the cooldown and after-party in the parking lot.

Wow, what a ride.

That’s literally the very definition of “smooth”… in blue.

The Assenmacher 💯, A Perfect Day and an Attempted PR for 100 Miles…

The forecast couldn’t have been better. 58 degrees at the start, rising to 80, mostly sunny and a whole 1 to 3-mph for the “wind” all day long. We couldn’t even call that a breeze. It was the perfect day for a 100 mile ride…

We rolled out at three minutes after 8, heading for Gaines and a few friends who had rolled early. I told them we’d be passing through at 8:34. We had a massive double-paceline eleven deep and most of us were not only experienced pace-line riders, we’d ridden together for years. And thankfully the Elite riders were off of a race the day before – they didn’t have any desire to hammer the pace. The cycling of the pace-line was smooth and efficient.

And the breaks between pulls were huge. Not only that, with almost no wind, it doesn’t matter as much where you are in the pace-line (in terms of which lane), you get a great draft. Best, everyone in our group took their turns up front. The elite guys a little more frequently than some of the A guys, but there wasn’t much wheel sucking to speak of. And that makes for a smooth ride.

The clock hit 8:34 twelve seconds before we rounded the corner to the first stop – that, we skipped. Twelve miles in is way too soon for a stop.

And so we hammered on, down through Byron, then toward Bancroft. Greg, one of the elite guys, had lamented a week earlier on the pre-ride that we’d changed the route to skip the sod farm leg of the route due to road construction in Bancroft because we’d miss the sunflower fields. The powers that be decided it would be safer to bypass that part of the route so riders wouldn’t be confronted with having to cross a road that had been ground up, with only dirt and gravel remaining. I asked Greg as we rolled on if he wanted to do the original route by the sod farm. I wanted to get that shot, anyway, of the group hammering by the rows of sunflowers, and we had the sunniest day possible. The decision was made on the fly to do the original route.

Sadly, as sunny as it was, the sunflowers hadn’t had time to look up yet. We were simply too fast. We were sitting on a 21.8-mph average at this point and the mood was jovial throughout the group. We talked and caught up with each other until we were third bike or so, when the draft wasn’t quite the help as it was further back. Then we’d get to our turn up front and head back to strike up another conversation. d you’ll see an intersection up ahead. We make a right there and head down, then up a short, shallow incline before we hit a long stretch with some downhill to it.

I came off the back and worked up the group, taking a photo of each pair all the way up the line so I could send them to my friends later. Halfway up the line and I’m thinking, “This is so cool! Charging to the front of the group at near 28-mph, snapping pictures of my friends… I’d always wanted to be able to have the strength and confidence to do this”… as I snapped the last photo, I was ready to head to the back and cough up the rest of what was left of one of my lungs.

Todd was a lot happier looking than I was at that point!

I drifted back and took my place in line.

We stopped for the first time at mile 29, just long enough to get something quick to eat and use the portable facilities. When we were all topped off and relieved, we rolled out easy and steadily picked up the pace till we were back to our 23 to 25-mph. At the back it felt like you could hide a truck in the draft. With the decent group we had and everyone taking their lumps up front, we didn’t have the same yo-yo effect you normally expect at the back with a big group, it was just smooth.

I was on the Venge for this one and I won’t lie, there wasn’t one solitary thought of wishing I’d brought the Trek… and on this route, the Venge could have had a 1x drivetrain. I didn’t drop out of the big ring once.

We stopped for lunch at the 55-mile mark with a 22-mph average. I didn’t eat much, a peanut butter & jelly sammich, a pickle, and drank some Gatorade. I was feeling quite spectacular as we rolled out but I didn’t want to get too cocky… we had a gnarly hill coming up and I about want to lose my lunch on that hill every year.

Except this year. We were down to 15-mph by the time we got to the top, but I quickly caught my breath and we rolled on. After I recovered so quickly from that nemesis hill, I knew I had a special day going. I took my lumps at the front and enjoyed my rests at the back. I’ve been on this kick lately, thinking about how my best days in my early teen centered around riding my bike to a friend’s house to hang out for the day. He lived seven or eight miles away, all on dirt roads.

Here I am now, and not much has changed, though the bike ride is the fun part. Oh, and the bikes are vastly superior next to what I had as a kid.

We skipped the rest stop at mile 72. I wanted to stop but the elite guys were starting to get a little antsy. Heading through the town of Owosso, they raced through a couple of lights with surges from 22-mph to near 30. A few of our guys got stuck at one of the lights, so we decided to just let them go.

And this is where this story gets a little dicey. I knew what they were doing and I was with the lead group that made it through the lights – I’d managed to go with the surges. And I almost went with them. Looking back, I think I had the legs, but not with the surging… and when those guys have one of us on and they don’t want us there, they have a tendency to keep surging till we’ve had enough. Well, I didn’t want to put up with that, either. I chose to stay with my normal riding friends and call it good… after all, we were sitting on a 22-mph average.

The remaining 25-miles were excellent once we got a few issues sorted. Enjoyable, even. The best I can remember feeling on the homestretch of the A-100. Turns up front weren’t too difficult but they weren’t easy, either. Even so, we had at least ten in our single-file pace-line to share the load. They were also slower, so that 22 average slipped to 21.9, then 21.8 as we were approaching Lennon, seven miles from home. We were nearing the Tuesday night sprint point at around 22-mph when Mike says, “Well, go on and get that sign”. I’d planned on sitting in, but you can’t sit still on a prompt like that. I upshifted and hit the gas ramping it all the way up to 32 (52 km/h) and crossing the line before checking to see if anyone had come. I was up the road by a massive amount so I took it down to about 14-mph to let everyone catch up. I went a little too hard and put myself in a bit of a hurt locker. I recovered quickly, though, and we pressed on. One in the group didn’t approve of my sprinting for the sign, but I took it for what it was… we were all a little tired and cranky at that point. Anyway, with six to go, Chuck took a monster pull into the little, baby headwind and we crushed it. Stuck at a stop light with a mile to go, we were looking up the last hill of the day. You can hardly call it a molehill, but that freaking hill will suck the life right out of you that late in the day. I passed the parking lot with 99.7 miles and tacked on another two tenths before turning back. 100.1 Miles in 4:37:06. I was pretty sure that was going to be a PR as I thought my old century record, set in 2013, was 21.6-mph.

After looking it up, that one was at 21.7, also. I missed a PR by 8 seconds (though I really didn’t learn that till Monday morning). The important takeaway is that I felt great when we finished. I had more than the normal fumes I’m running on at the end of a century, and I wasn’t cramping or struggling to catch my breath. It was one of the best century rides I’ve ever been a part of.

I headed home after getting something to eat and showered up. I’d hoped to take a nap but was soaring a little too high. I couldn’t close my eyes, so I got back in the car and headed back to help with the cleanup effort. We finished, dropping off the last truck at 6:45. My daughter, who had been helping since before dawn, was passed out tired in the back of my car. I dropped my wife at her car and went to pick up the pizza, letting my kid sleep. Pizza was the perfect capper to the perfect day. I even remembered my sunscreen so I didn’t get burned. Heh.

Vindication On My Trek’s Chain Line Fix; Shim the Cassette, Baby! Well, Kinda… The Finer Points In Fixing Chain Line Issues on Classic Bikes with Modern Components

[Ed – The information contained in this post is solid, though digging deeper into the problem I eventually came to find that the main culprit to my tale of woe was a bad chainring.]

So, about my Trek’s massive shifting problem and it’s skipping the chain off the small ring into the bottom bracket… I was partially vindicated over the weekend when I had a chance to question the owner of our shop about what I’d done to cure said skipping of the chain into the bottom bracket.

First, a recap. My Trek has been skipping the chain off the front ring under full power (call it 600 to 900 watts) ever since I updated the components from a 9 speed triple to a 10 speed double – I just didn’t know what was happening until recently because I rarely lay down that kind of power in the little ring. On a recent vacation I made all of the connections to what was going on, only because the barrel adjuster had come out of adjustment by two full turns with the bike transported on the back of my wife’s SUV. The chain would drop every time I climbed a hill out of the saddle. With the rear derailleur adjusted properly, it’s considerably more difficult to drop the chain… but not “more difficult” enough.

After adjusting the rear derailleur to perfection, I had to do some research into what else could be wrong. The easy answer was set screws on the front and rear derailleurs. Those are set perfectly on the Trek. The next answer is “chain line”, and that’s a little harder to deal with because of all of the changes I made to the bike. Put simply, the double crankset needs to move the chain rings closer to the frame. This can only be done by choosing different bottom bracket bearings, but if the current bottom bracket fits my Shimano double crankset perfectly so I don’t need shims or wavy washers. Oh, how I hate the wavy washers!

Now, if I loosened the barrel adjuster, thus moving the system outbound, the almost imperceptible clicking of the chain would go away but the bike wouldn’t shift properly up the cassette (from small to big cogs). This is how I was able to determine the chainrings wanted to go in, toward the bike. That wasn’t going to happen, though… so common sense (but not proper bike mechanicry) dictated, add a shim to the cassette. I started with a .5mm shim. That helped a lot, but I was still getting an minute hop when I back pedaled slowly… I gave it a full mm shim… and silence. Not only was the drivetrain quieter than it had ever been (both with the 9 speed and 10 speed drivetrains), it stopped skipping off the front under load in all but the smallest three gears on the cassette – gears I’d never use to climb out of the saddle in anyway – and I ran out of room at the rear dropout, anyway. I might be able to fit another half-millimeter in there, but I’m calling it good enough as is.

Well, Saturday I was able to run all of this by the owner of the local bike shop. The man built frames for a living and apprenticed under frame building nobility in England back before I was born. If ever there was a man to bounce my thinking and actions off of, that’s the guy.

His answer was exactly as I’d hoped; we’d prefer to move the chainset in by choosing a different bottom bracket, but if we can’t do that, shimming the cassette out, while not ideal, is the next best thing.

My A-100 Write-Up Will Be Forthcoming…

My friends, we rode the Assenmacher 100 yesterday and I’m here to tell you, it was possibly the best weather we’ve ever had for the ride. It was a perfect day and it was fast.

Unfortunately, after the ride I had something to eat (and a lot to drink) and went home to shower up before returning immediately to help with the cleanup. I worked till almost 7:00 before picking up pizza and heading home. My wife, youngest daughter and I ate. After dinner, I lasted, I don’t know, a few minutes before falling asleep. I barely had any time to work on the write-up. It was too much to get it done. I’ve got another post publishing in its stead in a minute and I’ll get the big ride write-up done for tomorrow.

A little too much fun in a 24-hour period… and not enough time to write about it.

Fast or Fun? Or BOTH?

When you absolutely, positively need the big guns for a big, fast ride…

The Ultimate American aero race bike from 2012 thru 2019 (I could convincingly argue it’s better than the newer generation of aero bikes)

Or for fun, when you just feel like cruising (though more than worthy in the event a real ride breaks out):

The Ultimate American race bike from 1996 thru 2006

I’ll be writing more about the differences betwixt the two bikes above, but for today suffice it to say the Venge, watt for watt, is worth 1 to 1-1/2 mph over the Trek. It’d be closer to 1-mph if I put the 38s that currently sit on the Trek on the Venge – both bikes have 10-sp drivetrains so this would be easy as swapping wheels.

The Trek has a lot of pull, though, because that bike, my bike, was handmade in the USA. Everyone has their frames made in Taiwan nowadays.

Anyway, everyone should be lucky enough to have to make the hard choice of which one to ride.

Today is one of those, “when you absolutely, positively, have to get there fast” days. The Venge is all dolled up, ready to go.

The Best Bike Ride in the World…

The best bike ride in the world is the one I’m walking out the door to start.

I got home from the office a little early. Early enough I could chill out for a bit on the couch. Chuck called and said he had to put some bigger, beefier tires on his new off-road pickup. Normally, I’d be a little bummed because I’d always prefer company over a solo ride, but the weather was perfect and the sun shining, so I prepped the Trek and got ready to roll. The Trek is utterly perfect lately, I literally can’t make the 22-year-old steed creak (more on that another time), and as perfect as the Venge is, it’s become too easy to pick the Trek.

Out the door at 4:30 and I eased into it. Within a half-mile I hit my happy place on my bike. I was going to keep the pace down because we’ve got a monster weekend culminating in what will likely be our fastest 100-miler of the year, Sunday. As I rolled on into what little breeze there was, I couldn’t help myself and ramped up the pace. All of the noise of the week faded into a blur, a lot like the gravel on the side of the road when you’re not looking directly at it as it goes by. All that mattered was the quiet whirring of the drivetrain and tires on the road and working on my suntan.

The kids were out, one in driver’s training, the elder out and about, and my wife was tending to club ride business. My God, where did time go? Anyway, this meant I had nowhere to be and nobody to answer to (or for). I had nothing better to do than ride my bike. I didn’t even hesitate when the thought of a third bonus lap popped into my melon. I turned back into the subdivision and lumbered up a tiny molehill and around the two-mile-long sub again.

Riding through the sub, there’s a lot of uphill to the first half. There isn’t much to it, it just grates on you a little bit with a north or west wind – it seems like a lot more work than it should be. Add to that, stress cracks in the asphalt, that first mile is a little annoying. There’s a payoff, though; the next half is all downhill and I had a tailwind for the last half-mile. It was a pain in the butt for the first half, but that second was a stretch where, for no better reason than to go fast, you get down in the drops and start pedaling harder… you just can’t help yourself!

I whipped out of the sub and headed north for the home stretch. It was tailwind and sunshine all the way home. And it was glorious.

On pulling in the driveway, I was literally smiling as I climbed off the bike. I went in the house and showered, then headed over to the bike shop to help my wife with preparations and to take her out to dinner.

Good times and noodle salad, my friends. It’s as good as it gets.

Air Kiss CO2 Inflator for Gravel and Road Bikes – A Much Needed Review

I should have posted this review years ago but I never thought to. Here’s what I have to say about the Air Kiss CO2 Inflator: My mother always told me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.”

Well…

Anyway, let’s just say, if it wasn’t for my buddy, Chuck saving the day with his most spectacular Lezyne inflator, I’d have been walking home last night. A few of my friends had the Air Kiss inflator and I think I was the last of us to still have one in their saddle bag. I have a Specialized inflator in my tool pack for the Venge that’s worked quite well.