Yeah, given that yesterday was the second perfect day we had in a row after it rained for the better part of last week, I don’t even know if I should admit it, but I took the gravel bike out… and I didn’t even lose a bet to do it.
My normal riding buddy is out on the west side of the state on a camping excursion, so I was flying solo. The thought of battling cars alone, this late in the season, really wasn’t that appealing… so I chose the peace and quiet of the back roads.
It also made sense that, after Tuesday’s hard effort, the dirt would be a perfect excuse to sit up and sightsee a little bit. The trick was in getting to the gravel. The easy road, about a quarter-mile from my house, had just been grated and I didn’t even want to mess with that, so I chose route B – a mix of pavement and gravel… it was going to be better than 20-ish miles on loose dirt, which would have sucked (too much dust).
I started out easy enough but quickly built up a head of steam to a point I was motoring along quite well and, before I knew it, I was looking down at better than an 18-mph average… on what was supposed to be an easy day. Up hills, down hills, around bends, I was feeling a lot better than I should have. I just rolled with it.
I don’t recall being passed by one car on the dirt.
Ten miles in, I was still sitting on an 18-ish average and my legs were starting to feel heavy, so I eased off and sat up. It was also getting a little late and I wanted to get back so my wife and I could have some dinner together. Rather than go for longer miles (and push the timing with my Wednesday meeting), I headed south a few miles to a straight shot back to my road.
I pulled into the driveway with 20 miles and some change… without having been passed by one irate idiot behind the wheel. While I did have to give the bike an extensive wipe-down, I have to be honest; riding on the dirt was really refreshing. It’ll never replace the awesomeness and speed of riding on the asphalt, but I dig the peace and quiet every now and again.
And sadly, thus begins the great unwinding. I just realized tomorrow is the first of October… we’re into the last five Tuesday nights of the year. Oh, say it ain’t so!
It’s all good in the end, though. I blew by my 6,000 mile yearly goal at the beginning of the month.
It’s rare, this late in September, to get a night as good as we had last night. Upper 60’s (around room temperature), low single-digit winds, not a cloud in the sky (or not many, at least)… it was perfect cycling weather. And perfect always means fast.
Even the warm-up was fast. After 8-ish miles we were sitting on a little better than a 21-mph average. Chuck and I cooled it down after leaving the group, but I wasn’t exactly ecstatic whilst, and at the same time, hurtling down the f’ing road at 26-mph on the warm-up. That’s 34 & 42 km/h in Moose Latin [aka real freaking fast]. In hindsight, I needed that warm-up, though. Over the course of that really, really fast warm-up, my legs loosened up. I felt… good.
We didn’t have enough for a B Group so we all set off together.
The start for the main event was mild, a smart way to start to the ride. Too fast, as is often the case, and everyone is into the red too soon which means trouble later. Instead, at a mile-and-a-half, we turned into the wind, then the speed ramped up in a hurry and we were (for the most part) ready for it. The pace went from the low 20s to the upper 20s and stayed there.
The next sixteen miles were a picture of efficiency and speed. We were very fast all the way to the hills, taking our average to 24.3-mph (39-km/h). I limited the duration of my turns up front so I didn’t burn up too soon.
As we got to the first set of hills, the tandems started having problems. The elite guys, as much as I love them, don’t have an “off” button – or even a 75% button where they can ease off just a bit to let the tandems stay on.
My weekday riding buddy, Chucker was off the back with the first tandem as we shot up the tri-tiered hill at 24-mph. I stayed with the second tandem until we got dropped on the next hill when the pace was ramped from 21 to 28 in a matter of seconds. Tandems simply can’t deal with that level of acceleration (unless there’s a downhill slope involved – in that case, stay to the right, out of the way) and I didn’t want much more of that anyway. I was thankful to see the tandem had fallen off as I slinked off the back. Had they stayed on, I’d have had to grab their wheel and I was running short on want to.
I took the lead to give Mike and Diane a rest and we beat a path for the regroup spot, figuring at least a couple of guys would drop off and we could wait for Chucker and the other tandem.
And just like clockwork, Clark & Dave were waiting as we crested the hill to make the left at Shiatown. Chucker and Dave and Sherry were maybe 45 seconds behind us and when they made the turn, we were off.
The remaining ten miles were almost entirely into the mild wind and we got right to it. Turns at the front were short, but useful.
I always get itchy about holding off the elite group and I had an eerie feeling they might make it. Their route is a couple of miles longer than ours (almost three), so it makes for an interesting chase. With a tailwind, they’ve come close a few times, but with a head wind, they’ve got a good shot – add to that our extended wait at Shiatown, I thought they might have a chance.
We were moving, though. 23 to 25-mph on the flats, a little slower on what little hills we had left, but we handled the wind quite well. Coming into the home stretch, the pace was ramped up to 28-mph and we flew across the line with nary an elite guy in site and better than a 23-mph average (37 km/h). It was hi-fives, fist bumps and laughs all the way back to the parking lot and we were off our bikes and starting to pack up when the Elite Group rolled in.
I’m pretty sure I fell asleep with a smile on my face…
First, let’s get into how to know your rear “mech” or derailleur is going bad. This is a very simple assessment. Complexly. The derailleur will become increasingly more difficult to “dial in” to a point it will shift well going up or down the cassette, but not both (unless you’ve got it set just right – then, a short while later, that won’t work, either).
There’s only one big problem: the same diagnosis applies for about a dozen other problems in shifting as it pertains to the drivetrain. Worn chain rings, worn cassette, worn chain, worn master link, loose chainring bolts, too much tension in the cable, too little tension in the cable, a kink in the cable, dirty shift cable housing, old cable housing… sweat or dirt that clogged a cable housing ferule, a dirty shifter, sweat or sports drink that leaks down to and gums up the cable guide below the bottom bracket housing… and that’s just a good start!
The point is, the only way to really know it’s your derailleur is to make sure all of the above items are eliminated first. If you’ve got those issues well under control and your shifting is still suspicious (and you’ve got five to 20 years on a derailleur, it’s a fair bet your mech is tired. I like to be in the perfect gear at any given moment, so I shift a lot. It makes sense that I’ll only get eight years out of a derailleur. Give or take.
Now, I know some will replace their drivetrains every few years. I know one guy who lives in the UK where it rains a lot, and changes out his drivetrain yearly. I can get five to ten years out of a drivetrain, but I don’t ride much in the rain, either. Usually, cleaning the drivetrain or replacing cables and housings will do the trick for any shifting issues I’ve got.
Recently, though, I’ve had to replace the derailleur on the Trek and the Venge is up next. First, there’s no question the chainrings are bad, so those have to go as well. However, it’s quite easy to tell the Ultegra rear derailleur is on its last leg. I’ve got a new stainless cable, new housings, new ferules all the way back to the rear mech. It shifts like butter at the shifter… except it’s almost impossible to dial in at the rear barrel adjuster. The derailleur is going.
So, the answer is to hop on down to the bike shop and order a new 10 speed Ultegra rear derailleur, right? Wrong. You can’t get them anymore. Not new, anyway… unless you’re willing to pay $70 for the new part and $150 for shipping (I’m not kidding). And a used mech from eBay will likely get me into the same mess I’m already in… So, the answer is a new 105 10 speed rear derailleur. They’re still made and sold new and run about $45 to $60 before shipping. Mine is on the way, with the new chainrings (I got about five years out of the current chainrings) and the order was big enough I didn’t pay for shipping.
Now, ordering the rear derailleur isn’t perfectly simple – nor is ordering the chainrings.
First, for the derailleur, you’ve got to decide on a short or medium cage. If you’re using big rings (52 & 53 tooth) with a corncob cassette (say 11-23), you’re going to want a short cage. With a compact setup (50/34 or smaller) with a bigger cassette (say 11-28 or 11-32), you’re going to want a medium cage which will allow for a bigger cassette for those climby days. I’ve covered chainrings elsewhere. For derailleurs, I really had to hem and haw over the Venge but I ended up going for the medium cage. I could have gone short, but I wanted the option for when I’m older to use a bigger cassette (currently 11-25 or 11-28 as the mood and amount of “up” suits me).
So, that’s the first option. There is a second… but it’s sketchy. And I’m going to try it after the new derailleur gets here.
The second option is to rebuild the old derailleur. You can purchase kits that include a new spring and grommets to refurbish an old mech, and there are plenty of videos on the web that show how to accomplish this. There’s also, for the real adventurous, a third option. The part that holds the replaceable spring has two holes. One for less tension and one for more tension. If the spring is worn out, and mine likely is because my derailleur is obviously clean and well-lubed because I take care of my stuff, common sense suggests I should be able to switch spring holes to add a little more tension to the spring which should get me a few more years out of it (?).
I’m not going to mess with that until the new mech is here and installed, though. I’ve got about another month of riding left on the Venge. I’m not about to shelve the bike until the cold weather has me storing it for the winter.
More to come…
I chose recovery over the alternative very early in life. I was only legal to drink for a little more than a year when I decided I’d had enough.
I was about 30 minutes short of homeless. I technically had a car but couldn’t afford to keep it up. My health was already failing. After having bloodwork done, a doctor told me I had the liver of a 60-year-old chronic alcoholic and I’d likely be worm food before my 30th birthday if I didn’t quit drinking. I was 21.
I stayed drunk for another year after that. Doctor Jim figured the real doctor was lying to scare me. What can I say? Adding alcohol makes me stupid.
I got myself into quite a bit of trouble over the next year and a judge decided it might be a good idea for me to quit drinking. The whole entire State of Michigan, everybody, agreed. It said so on all of the paperwork… The People of the State of Michigan… vs. Me.
I took that chance after a considerable amount of hemming and hawing. By “considerable”, I mean a freaking lot. When I walked through the doors of the treatment center, I had every intention of doing my time and using again when I got out.
But I didn’t. I had a life-altering change of mind in treatment… shortly after the DTs started. At 22 years-old, who gets the DTs?
Once the decision was made, I almost never looked back. I did for about 30 seconds and it scared the hell out of me so I severed ties with all of my old friends. I completely (read entirely) left my old life in the rearview. I gave everything I had to recovery… and I did recover.
I’m in the middle of celebrating 21 years of borrowed time on the right side of the grass. Figure, if I’d kept drinking and died at 30 as predicted… and I’m 51…
My life doesn’t even resemble what I started out as. I don’t even know who that stupid kid is anymore. Life has only gotten better. Happier. I understand peace and enjoy it thoroughly.
As I like to say, “The hardest thing I’ll ever do in my lifetime I did at 22-years-old. I lived through hell on earth. Anything after that* is a party by comparison”.
Keep coming back. No matter what. Even if your ass falls off. If your ass does fall off, put it in a plastic bag and take it to a meeting. Someone there will be able to show you how they put theirs back on. If you work for it, your life will get so good, you’ll think it can’t possibly get any better. Six months later, you’ll realize it did. All by itself. This is a promise, if you work for it. I’ve been at that point in life so many times I’ve lost count, but I keep coming back.
I want to see for myself exactly how good it can get before I slide into my casket in a cloud of dust and shout as I croak, “Wow, what a ride!”
*Anything after living through hell on earth is a party… if I work for the good stuff. If I simply quit drinking and do nothing, guess what I’ll get?
My ultimate goal in dying is to skid sideways in a cloud of dust into my casket and exclaim, “Wow! What a ride!” Then croak and fall in.
That would be just fine with me.
I realized, however, just yesterday morning that this goal might be rather… erm… selfish. I believe I’ve been a little lulled into a false sense of awesomeness by being “a good guy”. I realized there’s another who will be on that ride, skidding sideways in a cloud of dust with me… and she’s not been properly accounted for on that journey.
This wasn’t an epiphany in which I realized that I’ve been living all wrong all along and a complete 180 is necessary. No, I have done a much better job of it than my dad did and he did a very good job of “dad”. He’ll always be remembered fondly by all of his kids. He wasn’t a good husband, though. My mom was a handful and a long way from perfect, no doubt, but my dad didn’t do much with what he had. Again, I do a better job of husband than my dad did, but I saw room for improvement yesterday – a blind spot, if you will.
My wife and I had to drop off our daughter for a swim meet yesterday morning. It was raining and had been for hours (and would continue raining for many more) so there was no ride to be had. We’d hoped to sneak one in, but neither of us had a desire to ride in that mess. My wife was sitting drinking her coffee and I was thinking about my little ” I want to skid sideways into the casket in a cloud of dust” goal when I realized it would be a lot more fun if my wife and I were riding together.
It was then I could see that I can be a better riding buddy for my wife. A big overhaul isn’t necessary, but there are small things I can do much better. I kissed my wife’s neck a few times and let her know I realized I should be doing better and will continue to in the future. I’ve got a new way to look at our life together and it’s rather exciting, really.
Shortly thereafter, we were in the car with our daughter, on the way to drop her off for the bus ride to the meet. We went home and got ready to head to the swim meet ourselves, but decided to have breakfast at a local diner we rarely frequent. We talked about current events and future plans, and it was good. We had a fantastic time at the meet and our daughter did well. After her last event, it was in the car and off to our eldest daughter’s university football game where she’d be performing in the marching band. We missed the first home game for DALMAC, so this was our first time seeing the band perform a real show.
It was fantastic and a joy to behold. My wife and I had a fabulous time and even got to have our picture taken with the EMU Eagles’ mascot.
The handler is hiding behind us. The eagle is very much alive and we were instructed to keep our fingers at our waist if we wished to go home with all of them. She bites, apparently. The bird was unquestionably magnificent and I had to quell the urge to put my pointer in the air and shout, “‘Merica!”.
The halftime show was phenomenal and the home team won by a handy margin (59 – 21). I’m proud to be the papa of a kid who’s playing in such a wonderful band – that first note was an absolute punch to the mug (that’s a good thing – the sound was enormous). After the game, we took our daughter out for dinner then dropped her off at her dorm before driving around the campus to take a look after dark. It’s a lot prettier than when I attended 30 years ago (damn, that’s amazing to me).
My wife and I headed home hand-in-hand, having shared a great one together.
We’re heading out for a ride this morning, followed by a nap on the couch, a nice dinner at the dinner table, and bowling this evening. I will remember that the goal is for my wife and I to skid into the casket sideways in a cloud of dust exclaiming, “Wow! What a RIDE!” Together.
Or, yet another ode to my Specialized Venge…
My buddy, Chuck and I rolled out early yesterday afternoon. The weather was as close to perfect as we’re going to get at the end of September, and after four days of rain and no outdoor riding, it was a relief to get outside.
It was so spectacularly beautiful I got to take the Venge, whose days are unquestionably numbered for this 2021.
I installed a new shifter cable and housings for the rear derailleur last week, from front to back. Shimano housings and caps with a high-end stainless cable, this time. I went with the good stuff.
I simply couldn’t believe how well the system shifts. I could downshift with my pinkie finger if I wanted.
I see many of my friends buying new bikes and every now and then I think to myself, “Ya know, self, one of those spiffy new rigs with the new hydraulic disk brakes and all the trimmings wouldn’t be so bad”…
Then I throw my leg over my Venge and, without a creak, click or groan, it launches when I put the watts down. Unlike every other bike I own, I can literally feel the Venge cut through the air… and it’s not even 16 pounds. Do you know how much you have to spend to best 16 with hydraulic disk brakes?!
Then I think, “Nope. I’ve already got the best of both worlds (aero and lightweight) under me. I’d have to spend upwards of $6,000 to downgrade…”
It’s right about then I lean into a corner and I can feel the little asphalt grabbers on my Turbo Pro tires dig in so it feels like my Venge is on a roller coaster rail as I round the corner. A wry smile stretches across my face and my decision to stay with my Venge is confirmed once again.
That badass rocket is staying right where it belongs. At the top of my stable.
I wipe the dust off, drop it into the little/little gear combo (while a bike should never be ridden in this gear selection, storing the bike in that combo de-stresses the cables and derailleur springs) and roll it to its place of prominence in our bike room (aka the in-law bedroom).
I love that bike!
Well, it’s raining cats and dogs and has been for the last couple of days and it won’t stop raining till later tonight. I’ve got ponds in my yard where ponds don’t belong. I hadn’t been on a bicycle since Sunday and I wasn’t going to miss yet another day. My saddle sores from DALMAC are long healed and I’m no longer in need of medication (Aquaphor and Cortizone 10, alternating, are fantastic), so, as one would expect with several days off in a row, I was a little antsy.
So with much trepidation, I threw the old Trek onto the CycleOps Magneto trainer (after putting a new battery in the speed sensor) and got dressed to roll.
I’d forgotten how hard that trainer is – I almost miss the good old days of my Giant Magnatron. Ah, the heady days of spinning easy, watching a movie, just putting my time in with the drivetrain in the top three gears. Oh, there was sweat and effort, because I always went into spring in pretty good shape, but I never really worked that hard at it.
My CycleOps trainer is a different story, though. That little torture device is work. This will be my third year on the thing and I’m toying with the idea that, rather than take it easy till the new year, as I normally would, I may just skip the easy period and keep after it. This is what I was thinking as I turned the cranks yesterday.
The jury is still out, though. That would be a lot of effort spread out over a long winter. However, what better have I got to do with my trainer time this offseason?
That’s the six-thousand-mile question, really. And the extra work would definitely have an upside. More as my thinking evolves on this later…
I rode in our trek to Mackinaw City over the Labor Day weekend (first weekend of September). It was a fantastic return to almost normal. There were masks the first two days, but they were sparse. I don’t know of a single cyclist who isn’t vaccinated so masks were largely for show. Thankfully, at least, I didn’t see one cyclist all weekend wearing a mask while riding… and that was beyond a step in the right direction.
The route was switched around for the first day, but the remaining three were the same old routes. It was a different adventure, though, and that’s the beauty of DALMAC.
While you’ll always get the action shots on this blog, what you don’t see (and rarely will) are photos of the fellowship before and after the rides. I don’t take many photos of the private moments. The laughs shared waiting in line for a meal, or when putting up/taking down tents or our pop-up camper, or the trips to the ice cream shops Thursday and Friday evening after dinner.
Riding bikes is fantastic, especially a full 100 miles a day (or better), but that four-day weekend is always just as much about the fellowship, good times and laughs before and after the ride, as it is during the ride… and I’m lucky enough my wife joins the party!
After the ride is over and we’re all back to normal again, I still flip through the photos now and again and reflect on the fun that was had. Every time, I end up in the exact same frame of mind: God, am I grateful for this life. And that’s exactly as it should be.
I am a proper peacock on a road bike. I offer the distinction of the bicycle type because on a gravel bike I’d be fine, but on a mountain bike, my normal dress would be wildly outside of norms… or overdoing it.
Now, the coming sentence is going to be a little controversial. Please give me a moment to make my case before you storm off in a huff.
The Rules as written by Velominati helped me immensely to get a firm sense of how to look good on a bicycle. First, I really enjoyed the blatantly over-the-top arrogant humor and I was able to keep that in context to use “The Rules” as a guide rather than a straight jacket. I can only offer this, don’t get lost in the over-the-top snarky nature of the rules. Just use them.
So, there are a few simple suggestions people can employ to bring out that inner peacock that will, hopefully keep one spectacular without devolving into looking like you’re in a clown suit.
- Helmet is the proper size. Too big and you look like a mushroom. Too small and you look like… well, quite goofy! You want a happy medium and the helmet should match the color scheme of the bike or the tertiary color of the bike/kit color scheme (in the case above, if I didn’t have red, white). Purchasing tip: Don’t settle if the shop doesn’t have the proper size for your melon. A drive to the next shop, or God forbid, buying on online, is better than being stuck with a poorly sized melon protector. And while we’re at it, the idea is for the thing to protect your head in a crash – if it’s the wrong size, it may not do that as intended.
- The rules say no saddle bags, but those knuckleheads have never done multi-day tours where you have to stow arm warmers or rain jackets in your back pockets, along with food and phone. That’s too much crap when you throw in flat tire repair tools. A cool, small saddle bag is the way to go so you’ve got room to store extra clothing that was required because you’re out long enough to experience a 30-degree swing in temperature (12 in Cs).
- The idea is to show off by looking good, not by sticking out like a sore thumb. A clown suit, multi-colored, obnoxiously loud in hyper-viz colors is likely going to be over-the-top and the louder you go, the tougher it is to pull it all together to make it look good. If you want to be seen, try a rear blinkie or a Garmin radar taillight. However, this look can be carefully pulled off – it just isn’t easy to do. Ask Mario Cipollini… and if you’re going to go that route, it doesn’t hurt to be able to sprint like him.
- While pro kits are a little more common, a good guide is to stick with the retro stuff and leave the current pro kit to the pros. Do what makes you happy here… with one exception; don’t, under any circumstances, choose the world or national champion kit. Choosing that is like painting a bullseye on your back that says, “make me prove I deserve to wear this”. You will be ridden like a redheaded stepchild till you rightly blow up and bonk yourself to a crawl… and the others who blew you up will take pleasure in riding away from your bonked self and then recount the tragedy for the next twenty years. It will go like this, “Remember when we blew up the German National Champion? That was awesome!” Don’t be that person.
- Manufacturer team kit is always awesome. This isn’t to be confused with “Pro Team Kit”. I have three pro-quality Specialized “team” kits. I bought all of them on sale because they’re wildly expensive and entirely awesome. When weather is going to be excessively hot and you’re going to be riding with the big dogs and you really need the performance kit, the top of the line from one of the manufacturers, often referred to as their team kit, is awesome to have. Take advantage! (See gallery below).
- White shoes(!). In baseball, and a few other sports, white shoes are left to the superstars. Not so in cycling. White shoes, while near impossible to keep clean, are spectacular. Period, end of discussion. Just, um, try to keep ’em clean.
- White bar tape? If you race, approximately 60% of all pros have white bar tape and saddles – even when white bar tape doesn’t make sense. It’s a “thing”. A “I have a team mechanic to keep my bar tape clean and bright. You don’t” thing. If you do go with white bar tape, the saddle should also be white. Otherwise, your bike will look unbalanced. Black tape is fine and wonderful… and you don’t need a private mechanic to keep it clean looking:
Examples of manufacturer team kit above… and local team jerseys below – local team kit is absolutely fabulous – you can never go wrong flying your local colors. Assenmacher’s is our local shop, the Affable Hammers are our local team.
To wrap this post up, being a peacock, properly, is never a bad thing. Going to far, into the clownish, is. Know the difference and ride with confidence. And don’t sweat the rules. Too much. Try to see the humor in them and use them for good.
I’ve had the gravel bike out to make sure it’s ready to go, it’s great. I’ll probably take the mountain bike out at some point soon, as well. The road bikes are tip-top and running like finely tuned machines.
We’ll be out on our gravel bikes regularly any day now. The mornings are cooler, it’s raining more often and we don’t need sunscreen as often (if at all) as the sun is sinking to the south as the days shrink before our eyes. It’s not yet “all over but the shouting”, but it’s time to get the voice warmed up.
We had a weird and squirrely ride Saturday, with a northeasterly wind that ended up being mainly easterly on the way back, so we fought it all the way out, then didn’t get much help on the way back… and we did a north/south route, hoping the forecast would hold and we’d have a tailwind for the return trip. It ended up being one of those rare days it was easier at the front of the group than at the back and nerves frayed. More than one friend went home pissed off after that one.
Sunday’s ride was vastly more civil and enjoyable. The wind was still something of a pain, out of the southeast this time, but it wasn’t as strong and the pace, while considerably faster, was smooth and consistent. There’s no question that one was a “keeper”. As you can see, there was no shortage of sunshine yesterday – but if you look close, you’ll see a vest hanging out of a back pocket and another guy with rolled up long sleeves, and yet another with his jacket tied around his waist. I had my armwarmers in my back pocket by the time those photos were taken.
As the year comes to a close, I’ve taken stock of what I want to do this fall in terms of cycling. First, I’ve been branching out, looking to chores around the house like a little bit of lumberjacking and some building/repairs to our camper to fill my need for exercise. While it’s not the same as riding my bikes, it’s nice to get something done around the house and I needed to work something other than my legs. I’m also wanting to spend more time watching my kids with their sports and activities and, though it hasn’t been noticed yet, I’m trying to be a better husband in the process. I neglected that a bit and I can do better… I think where I’m going with this is that I’ve had a nice long run where I’ve concentrated on riding a lot. While my enthusiasm for cycling hasn’t waned a bit, I want to do some other things so I’m a little less two-wheel-centric in the off-season.
I may even see if I can talk my wife into pulling the skis out of the attic this winter… we haven’t been skiing in… my God, a looooong time. More will be revealed.