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Seventy Miles on a Bicycle is a lot Harder when You only Stop Once

I love long bike rides. Wait, let me clarify and define; I love long rides between 50 and 100 miles (80km to 160km). I’ve gone further, to 125 miles (or 200km) once on a solo ride but didn’t much care for it – a little too much of a good thing, even though I managed an 18.8-mph average.

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50 miles on a bike, depending on fitness and speed, is hard. 100 miles is really hard, especially when you’re averaging north of 18 or 19-mph. (28-30 km/h), but there’s something rewarding about completing a ride like that. I’ve written before that the 100k or 62-1/2 mile ride is, in my humble opinion, the perfect distance. It’s just long enough that you know you’ve done something special and still short enough that, with the right training, you can get used to doing a ride of that length without grinding yourself into the ground, and with a regular day job. That’s not so much the case with the 100 miler.

I maintain that stopping to refill water bottles and refuel is fair game without counting it against your average speed. The day we get team cars to help with flat tires and hand us water or a Coke, and food, well that’s the day when you can fairly say we shouldn’t be stopping… and that leads me to my one conundrum with cycling with my friends: they’ll go 30-40 miles in between stops, I like them a little more frequent. Say, every 20-25.

When we do supported rides, we’ll hit most of the stops unless the first one comes too soon (I can think of two rides right off the top of my head where the first stop is only 12 miles in and we blow by each of them, every time). That said, when you’re stopping every 20 or 25 miles, it’s east to break a 100 miler down into manageable chunks, mentally… and that’s what I like about the stops.

I can almost do 20 miles standing on my head, so when I hit that 60 mile mark and I start to get tired, it’s easier to just think about getting to the next stop.

And that’ll do till they give me and my buds a team car.

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What to Do when Presented with a Perfect Day for a Bike Ride….

I got home from work a little early yesterday and I was cagey. I was supposed to meet Chuck at a quarter after five but it was impossibly nice outside. 80° (27 C), only a few wispy clouds in the upper atmosphere, and a barely there mild breeze. I readied my bike and dressed, wheeled the bike outside at five after… and there was no way I was waiting ten more minutes. I threw a leg over the top tube and rolled, my characteristic cycling smile stretched across my face.

The first mile was a little tougher than I expected it would be but I didn’t care. I headed toward Chuck’s house, figuring I’d pick him up along the way. I showed up at his driveway and his wife’s bikes were hung in the garage, along with his rain bike and his tandem, but his bike was nowhere to be found. I checked my phone, “On my way” 5:14 pm. It was 5:17, he must have gone a different way out of his subdivision so I high-tailed it back to my house. Sure enough, there he was in my driveway. We had a laugh and rolled out.

Traffic was fairly light and we didn’t get buzzed once. Somebody in a white Chevy Silverado, 2017, yelled something out the window at us as we cruised in the bike lane down a busy city street, but I assumed it was “You guys are awesome!” or something like that, because obviously we are.

Chuck has a big ride this evening so we kept the pace pretty subdued and just enjoyed the ride… and the suntan! Normally, by this time in May we’ve had dozens of perfect days like that, but they’re in short supply so we passed my road up like a dirty shirt and kept riding. Eventually, we turned back toward my place as I had some dinner to get ready, but I waited until the last possible minute.

I did what we do when we get a perfect day for cycling; I squeezed every mile I could out of it. Eight extra miles, to be exact. Then I went to a meeting… because everything in recovery is better with a meeting.

My gratitude for being me on laying down to bed was immeasurable, and that’s as it should be.

Tuesday Night Club Ride; Back to Fast… and Gratitude.

I thought back, sipping on my coffee whilst watching the Tigers’ game last night, to my first club ride. My friend, Phill, fell off the back of the pack a quarter-mile after I did after someone attacked at the front and took the pace north of 28-mph. I spent the next two miles chasing him down. I had no clue where I was or how I was going to get back…  I caught Phill and rode back with him and we’ve been friends ever since.

Last night’s turnout was decent even though it was pretty chilly and cloudy.  It seemed rain was a threat at any second though it never let loose on us.  We rode a seven mile warm-up loop at about 18 mph and lined up for the start of the main event.  I’d taken Monday off due to rain and some really tired legs and I was a little worried about how I’d feel.  Those worries were put to rest in the warm-up.  I felt fantastic.  Spry, even.

The A guys rolled right at 6 and we, the B group waited a couple of minutes…  We felt slow at the start even though we worked our way up to and beyond 20 mph.  After two miles we headed north, into the wind.  I was up front, I think with Jonathan, and we picked up the pace to 22-mph and kept it there for our mile.

Lately, we have a tale of two groups; one who does the work and another that tries to hang on at the back.  Not last night.  Last night was a perfect example of a club ride.  Everyone did their share, to the best of their ability and it was smooth.  That’s when I have the most fun.

Making a long story short(er), I came in second on both sprints, but I started each from the front after pulling at 25+ mph for more than a half-mile.  In other words, I’ll take second after being the lead out too.

We rolled across the finish line approaching 30 mph, 29 miles and change, at 1:20:12 or 21.1 mph for an average.  Not bad at all.  It was all high-fives and laughs back in the parking lot, as it should be.

I spent the rest of the night feeling grateful for being me.  Cool indeed.

 

On Being a Cycling Weight Weenie and Climbing; Bike Weight isn’t the MOST Important Thing – it’s within Reach, really… But a Close Third

If I had a dollar for every pound I dropped off my Venge through upgrades, I’d have three Dollars. That’s not bad when you consider I started with an 18 pound bike.

Sadly, I’d only need another $1,897 to break even…

S-Works crank, FSA carbon-wrapped stem, wheels, and pedals – those were the big hitters that dropped the most weight. Brakes, handlebar, bottle cages, cassette, chain… those were smaller improvements.

All of that money and my 1999 Trek, that weighs three pounds more, is a better climbing bike. With the good wheels off of the Venge, of course.

1999 Trek 5200T

Here’s the kicker; yes, a lighter bike is easier to get up a hill and with enough miles in the saddle you’ll be able to easily feel the difference in just one pound – but gearing is more important.  Don’t take my word on it, look to the Velominati for the historical perspective (and this should be something the “Rule” haters should even be okay with):  “Riding light bikes is fun, but they won’t make you go any faster. Pushing harder on the pedals does.

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I’ve lugged both bikes up that hill, and believe me, it’s decently steep. 18% and it goes up for a minute. By the time I get to the top I’m absolutely out of breath. My Trek, with a 9sp. triple, was easier to get up the hill and I think I could have done the climb with a gear left, too. On the Venge, it was the last gear or bust.

That’s really the trick, gearing. With a 52/36 crank on the Venge and an 11/27 cassette, the easiest gear I get is 36/27. The Trek, by contrast, has a 52/42/30 triple crank and an 11/25 cassette. 30/25 being the easiest. I’m sure it doesn’t take much to figure out that 30/25 is going to be a lot easier to turn over when things get steep. It’s enough that the gearing more than makes up for the weight difference in the two bikes. I am much faster up the hill on the Trek. So, I think for the average roadie, gearing would be most important. The right chainrings and cassette will mitigate a few pounds in bike weight. Now, you take my gravel bike against the Venge (or the Trek for that matter) and forget about it. The gravel bike is a beastly 23 pounds. There isn’t any amount of gearing going to fix a seven or four pound difference.

Now, you might be thinking, “wait a minute, a three pound difference in the Trek to the Venge is okay, but the four pound difference from the Trek to the Diverge is too much?” I’m already pushing a gear that matches up with the Diverge on the Trek – there’s no beneficial “easier but slightly faster” gear on the Diverge, so I’d be pushing gear for gear and four pounds more on the gravel bike. Advantage Trek, every time.

Next, without a doubt, is wheels. A good set of wheels will roll better than cheap, heavy wheels and will therefore help one get to the crest of a hill.  Notice, at the beginning of the post, I mentioned that the good wheels have to go on the Trek?  The cheaper wheels that currently reside on the Trek are for training.  I use the wheels on the Venge when I want to go fast.  The wheels matter.

So that would bring overall bike weight to third in the list behind gearing and wheels. So before you drop another Two Grand on making your road bike a couple of pounds lighter, maybe think about putting compact chainrings on there and upgrade the wheels instead.

***My friends, this was obviously an opinion piece. There is plenty of room for different opinions.  I’m just going by my experience.

My Best Non-DALMAC Week Evah!

Under normal circumstances, once the season gets going, 200 miles is a good week for me. 250 is exceptional.

After Saturday’s 28 miles with Chuck, in between rainstorms, I was sitting on 246 miles and I had a 56 miler yesterday morning. It turned out to be 57 and change.

I don’t think I’ve ever rocked out a 300 mile week outside of DALMAC.

Back when I started riding, 100, I thought, was pretty cool but unsustainable. 200 was crazy miles for a week, as far as I was concerned just four years ago. 250 was almost too hard to do. Topping 300 was thought to be near impossible for me.

Of course, I had to take three days off work to do it, but 304 is in the bank.

Now it’s time for a day off.  I’m freaking tired!

Cycling and Back Pain; My Experience and Why I Wish it would be Looked at Scientifically

I can’t explain why my back likes cycling so much, but the results of 47,000 miles in the saddle are in, and they’re good.

First, I have a confession to make; if you guessed that I ride the bike I do, set up as it is, for reasons connected partly to vanity, you’re not wrong.

No doubt about it, my bike is sleek and awesome. So is my other one. And my other one. Oh, and let’s not forget my mountain bike…

Variations on a theme…

Anyway, getting back to the point, I ride in an aggressive posture. There’s a lot of drop from the saddle to the handlebar on my bikes. The mountain bike is the only one where the drop is a bit closer to normal.

Where this becomes important is that I have a really bad back. I have suffered physical back pain for most of the last three decades, unless I’m riding a bike. I used to define good weeks and bad weeks by how many Aleve I had to eat (because of my being an addict, I never accepted narcotic pain meds even though they could have been justified – I’d end up eating them like candy, it’s my nature). Two or three pain relievers a day for six days of the week was a really bad week. Two a day for three or four days in a week was average. One or two days a week was a good week. Before cycling, there was no such thing as a week without an Aleve (before 1994 it was Advil or Tylenol but I didn’t want to have to go through the pill amount conversion).

Today, after seven years of cycling regularly, my back isn’t cured but it certainly is manageable. My Aleve habit has dropped from as many as 20 pills a week down to one or two – or even none most weeks. On my recent mountain climbing cycling sabbatical I didn’t take a pain reliever. Three days, 160+ miles, climbing hills I’m not used to climbing, and I didn’t need anything for pain. My last day off the bike was April 14th, it’s currently May 20th.

I don’t do sit-ups, I don’t do core exercises, I don’t stretch… I just ride my bike with a smile stretched across my face, and it’s all good.

I’m sure there are contributing factors that explain my results, but I don’t know how to explain the fact I’m not all that flexible (I’ve never been able to touch my toes) but I can ride my bike comfortably with the aggressive set-up I’ve got, and doing so actually makes my back feel better.

In the end, I’m sure the lack of belly fat has something to do with it, as does the fact that I still get a great core workout riding. I think there’s one other thing at work here. It’s more a law; A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. Conversely, a body at rest tends to stay at rest…

What I Learned about Climbing Hills, Gears and Shifting on My Cycling Sabbatical

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Last year, my friends Mike and Chuck went on a three-day trip up north to Boyne City where a few hard sportives are held every year, the series is called “Mountain Mayhem” and it lives up to the name, at least for flatlanders from southeastern Michigan. I was bummed I couldn’t go last year, but this year the stars aligned and I made the trip with them. Camping, good food, great friends and all of the cycling I could handle – with great weather as well. And more climbing than I could shake a stick at.

Mike has always struggled with hills. He sucks at climbing them. The dude is exceptionally strong on the flat ground, but you put anything more than 5% in front of him and he drops off the back like a lead weight. I’ve tried to work with him in the past, because I can see why he struggles plain as day, but he’s tough to bring around.  He’s one of my best friends on this rock, but that boy is stubborn.

This year, though, I got through to him after the second day of the sabbatical.

I rode behind him leading up to many of the hills on day two and I watched how, and more important, when he shifted. I was typically three gears lower (easier) than he was, and about 30-45 seconds faster at shifting to easier gears.  I would spin right by him as he started grinding his way up a climb.

Anticipating hills

I anticipate hills and assume I’ll need an easier gear than I likely will. I don’t have a Garmin so I have to go by look and it’s better to be in too easy a gear and shift up than be in too high a gear (especially up front on the chainrings). Say I’m looking at a 10%’er as I round a corner. I might very well be able to climb it in my middle ring and the biggest cog in the back (42/25). On the other hand, with eight cogs behind that on the cassette, why not be prepared and shift immediately to the small ring up front (30t)? Mike stayed in his middle ring and ground up the hill. I’d shift to the baby ring long before and spin right by him with a smile on my face.

There’s no big d*ck prize for grinding up a hill in the biggest gear.

Contrary to popular belief, there are no points for grinding the biggest gear up a hill if you’re the last one to the top every time the road goes up.

Shift early into the baby ring.

Anticipate a low gear because you’ve got a full cassette of harder gears that you can up-shift to if the climb is easier than you thought… downshifting to the baby ring in the middle of a steep climb could end in a dropped chain – in fact, that happened to Mike.  Twice. That’s often followed by a descent to a place where one can turn around and climb the hill in the right gear rather than trying to start out from a stop on a 10% grade.

Now, Mike and I were both riding triple cranks – in fact, we were both riding Trek 5200’s with 9sp triples, so anticipating a hill is a bit of an urgent a matter.  Trying to climb a hill in the middle ring can be an absolute bear if you guess wrong.

Sitting down to dinner on day two, Mike and I had a talk (and Chuck backed me up and filled in some blanks I missed).  I led with the “no big d*ck prize for climbing in the biggest gear” comment and I got through to him.  The next day, Mike followed me up many of the hills and shifted when I did, especially into the small ring.  Lo and behold, he was right on my wheel up most of the toughest climbs, including a couple of brutal “granny gear” hills.

After the ride, I mentioned to Mike how much better he’d done.  Chuck chimed in, right on time, “Well look at that, you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

I don’t know how long that small victory will last, but there are more than enough hills out there to find out, and you can bet we’ll ride them.