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How to Become a Decent Bike Mechanic; As A Cycling Enthusiast, It’s Imperative…

I could make this post short.  Very short.  One sentence… heck, one word:  Practice.

At the One Helluva Ride a couple of weeks ago, I hit a pothole so deep I think I saw a kangaroo at the bottom of it.  Dead nuts’ed it, too.  That happens in a pace-line from time to time if you’re not looking up the road like you should be (ahem).  Amazingly, I didn’t pinch flat and I didn’t bottom out the tire on the rim, which surely would have wrecked the rim (thank you, Serfas, for the awesome prototype tires).  I did, however, develop a little bit of a knock in the headset whenever I hit a decently sized bump thereafter.  When I got home I took a 4mm Allen wrench, loosened the three bolts in the proper order, and tightened down the headset.  It took, literally, two minutes.  My Venge is just as quiet and smooth as ever.  How many cyclists would either not recognize there was a problem, or take the bike in to have it looked over, taking it out of the stable for up to a week – for a two-minute solution.

VengeSerfasPrototype1

Two weeks ago I developed a creak in the headset of my 5200.  This one was a bit more troublesome because it’s a dreaded threaded headset.  If they’re not kept clean and lubed, they creak.  So I took my wrenches in hand and went to work.  Sadly, I made a rookie mistake.  I tried to tighten the lock nut (the top one) by pulling down from the right side of the bike, instead of standing at the front of the bike and pulling toward me from the left side of the bike.  The wrench slipped and took a nice chunk of paint out of the top tube.  I got the headset to quiet down but my pristine refurbished 1999 5200 had a gnarly top tube paint problem.  Into the shop it went – some things are better left to the pros, like one who has a airbrush paint setup, not a novice with a can of spray paint.

I picked it up the other day, along with a glorious new Bontrager Montrose Pro saddle.  At the beginning of the season I’d tried out a friend’s Selle Italia SLR minimalist carbon saddle.  I thought I liked it on the Trek.  Unfortunately, that was in March – way early in the season when I don’t have 4,000 miles on my tuchus.  Fast-forward to July and that little hunk of carbon, as light as it was, was far from comfortable after 50 miles – and my Trek is my long-range bike.  The Montrose Pro is 50 grams heavier than the svelte 110 gram Selle, but that fifty grams all goes to padding.  It’s also contoured to match my aggressive bike setup and my lack of flexibility.

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So, on went the saddle and figured I’d run my random orbit polisher over the repair on the top tube.  While I was at it, the rear brake cable was a little ratty from collecting a year’s worth of sweat.  May as well take care of that too.  And come to think of it, it’s big miles season here in Michigan, so maybe some new shifting cables were in order… as long as I was doing the brake cable anyway, right?

Exactly.

Well, to thicken the plot, my buddy, Mike called me while I was on the way home Thursday and said we should go on a road trip up north next week for a couple of long days in the saddle.  I had planned on taking my sweet time on the Trek, but now all of a sudden I only had a weekend to get it done.  I love my Venge, but it’s not my climbing bike.  My trek is set up for hills, and our “up north” has plenty of hills. I tackled it after work Friday.  Three hours, bike polished (the whole bike, not just the repair), new helicopter tape for the cable housings, new rear brake cable, new shift cables, dialed in, and ready to ride.

I took the bike out for a 100k yesterday, and my repairs were flawless.

Now, I’m fortunate.  Or blessed, or lucky, call it what you want… to have two bikes.  I have a level of freedom to tinker that many don’t because if I mess something up and have to look to the local shop to fix it, I’m not taking time off to have my bike fixed.  I could have easily taken the Venge up north next week.  Without question, it would have been fine, even on the hills.  I would have simply had to work a little harder with fewer climbing gears.  Instead, I’ve got both bikes sorted out and I get to pick and choose.

My first answer to my Title is, if you want to become a decent bike mechanic as a cycling enthusiast, buy a second bike.  A rain bike, if you will.  A backup.  Have a bike waiting in the wings, just in case, frees one up to tinker with impunity.  My wife has her gravel bike that she absolutely loves.  I’ve got my Trek and my gravel bike.

The second answer, the real answer, is practice.  It makes perfect.

The third is patience.  Have some.  You will need it.  The first time I tried indexing the shifting on my Trek 3700 mountain bike, I messed it up so bad I almost had to take it to the shop to have them fix my mess (don’t mess with the set screws on the derailleurs unless you REALLY know what you’re doing!).  The three minute repair took three hours.  Once I looked at Sheldon Brown’s detailed instructions, I had it fixed in 15 minutes.

The fourth is buy the Bike Repair app.  Pay the Four Bucks, it’s worth it.  Wrenching on a bike is a specialized talent.  Not only do you have to know what to loosen and tighten, you also have to know the proper order of the process steps.  Do the steps out of sequence and you’ll likely make your bike worse.  Having all of the steps in front of you will help immensely, and speed up the process.

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Cycling in Your 40’s; The Good Advice. And the Bad. There’s Nothing Wrong with Wanting to Be Fast.

I recently read an article in the MapMyRun Blog that had me smiling in one paragraph, and scratching my head the next.

I started cycling in my 40’s and have manage to put in 59,000 miles in that time (I’ll cross 60,000 this year if it ever stops raining), so I know a little about it.  A little.  Probably just enough to know I don’t know very much.  In any event…

Here’s the tip on how to start cycling in your 40’s:  4.  Looking to the Pros for Advice

Watching pro cycling can be great entertainment, and like anything else, you can learn a lot about the sport by watching those who do it for a living. However, trying to mimic certain things the pros do isn’t recommended for most older cyclists. Taking unnecessary risks when descending, riding through dangerous weather conditions and taking your daily cycling workouts too seriously as opposed to just having fun are all ways you can wind up being forced to take time off the bike.

Okay!  So far, so good.  In fact, I’d say the author, Marc Lidsay is right on the money.  We’ve got guys who ride in our group who go all out every Tuesday and I don’t know as any of them actually has much fun.  The whole idea for me is to enjoy my time on the bike!  Yeah, I love to go fast, but a 25-mph average is a little over the top for my liking.  I’m on board all the way with pushing the pace without making a job of it.  And as far as descending too fast or riding through dangerous weather, well I don’t get paid to ride and I have a wife and kids whom I very much want to see after my ride (or in the case of my wife, during the ride) – sane cycling goes without saying.

Then the wheels fall off:

Choosing a bike or gear that focuses on speed instead of comfort and opting for a bike setup that looks cool and professional as opposed to one that fits your body’s geometry are two other important aspects of pro cycling you shouldn’t mimic. Instead, focus more on what feels good, fits your body type and allows you to have the most fun and be pain free when you ride. If you’re unsure where to start or what to buy, see a local bike shop and get a professional bike fit to determine what’s right for you.

I’m calling PC bullshit here.  Look, if you want to drop $5,000 on a road bike then set the handlebar the same height as the saddle, more power to you, but riding a bike that’s got the saddle pegged and the handlebar dropped a little bit isn’t all that big a deal and it is awesome.  See, the important part here is that we don’t have to put those who ride aggressive setups in a negative light to shine a positive one on setting a bike up properly until you get rid of the gut (that’s the “fit your body type” business – he uses a coy tactic to beat around the bush).  See, the truth is, you can’t ride around a big gut in an aggressive setup.  At the same time it’s also true that a fairly aggressive setup on a road bike is not uncomfortable if you don’t have one.

I’ve got friends approaching 70 who still ride fairly aggressive setups.

Now, would I recommend someone jump right into the sport on my bike?  Hell no, that’d be crazy… and probably a little funny to watch, but working towards that is easy enough with a little want to.

My friends, riding a bicycle fast is a whole bunch of fun, especially in a big, competent group. I belong to that group that drops jaws as we go by on a sportive.  We are smiling and talking almost the whole way and we’re not working all that much harder than those going half our speed.  A very large part of why we’re so much faster is that we’re not sitting upright, using our upper body as a sail.  If you notice in the photo above, the guys at the back are all sitting upright, more or less.  The guys at the front are down in the drops, hammering the pace.  That’s how we roll, baby, and there’s nothing wrong with it.  In fact, it’s all right.

The whole truth…

The pros are paid to go to become limber enough to ride in extreme positions – and at the speeds they attain, it’s quite necessary.  Whilst someone in their 40’s doesn’t have to fully emulate them, taking a page from them isn’t all that big a deal, either.  The key is to ride in a manner that puts a smile on your face.  If that’s upright and slow, awesome.  If it’s low and fast, ride that ride with a smile.  Do what makes you happy, not what some author says is the best or most comfortable.

 

A $17,000 eBike?! Where Can I Sign Up?! All of a Sudden My 38-Mile Commute to Work Can Be Done on a Bicycle?! HOLY $#!+

Specialized just came out with a road eBike.  The S-Works version runs $13,500, but get this; it’s pedal assist up to 28.5-mph.  And it comes in under 30 pounds.  It’s three settings are controlled by an app you run on your smartphone.  Disc brakes, carbon everything, and it looks an awful lot like a Tarmac… except at the down tube (where the battery is stored) and the bottom bracket shell (where the gears are stored).  There’s a more reasonable version that’s a little heavier, but still delivers the same power that runs for $9,000.

The bells and whistles version, limited to a 250 model run, goes for a whopping $17,000.

Still, the system is good for 80 miles (120 with the extender battery).

Let that sink in.

In my case, if I can average 25-mph, my 38 mile commute can be done in less than two-hours (1h:35m to be exact)… and I get a fantastic morning and afternoon workout in without having to mess around after work.  In other words, I would actually gain about 50 minutes in the afternoon by riding my bike home.  Think of the gas money one could save whilst maintaining fantastic health.

Oh, it’s an exciting time to be alive, my friends.

Bontrager Takes the Complex Saddle Choice and Makes it Simple(r) with Performance Postures

Specialized does it through shop employees with measurements, angles and videos too numerous and complex to get into, they call it their Body Geometry fit (I had one, when I bought my Venge, and it was awesome).  Long before that wonderful day and after a few months on my new (to me) 1999 Trek 5200, I went to the local shop complaining of immense pain due to my saddle after a steady increase of miles.  Walter quickly measured my sit bones on a handy-dandy board with memory foam on it and handed me a Specialized Romin (143mm) saddle.  The old, original saddle was a 155 – no wonder it hurt. The 143mm Romin, with its marvelous contours, just happened to be the exact saddle for me. I even put a second Romin I own on our tandem.

Fi’zi:k does it with an app. Hold your smartphone at your chest and bend over as far as you can… they match you to the proper saddle of their three different types. Not bad, but I’m in between saddles according to the app (or at least I was last I checked). Doesn’t that just figure? I can measure twice in a row and get two different saddles. Fortunately, luck got me where I needed to be previously, anyway.

Bontrager seems to have simplified everything and explained it so anyone from a leisure cyclist to a road racing cyclist can easily see what will likely be the best saddle fit for their riding style. It’s not, after all, rocket science. It’s close, though, once they really start looking into the science and how a saddle will affect a cyclist. Behold, simplicity and the Performance Postures (or as they like to call it in technical terms, “InForm BioDynamic Designs”):

bontrager-biodynamic-saddle-posture-comparisons

To keep things moving, I’m a Posture 2. I ride an aggressively set up road bike (both of them):

Then they got into the contour of the saddle:

bontrager-biodynamic-saddle-posture-curvature

And followed that with the profile:

bontrager-biodynamic-saddle-posture-profile

Without question, especially looking at my Venge up above and how much I love the Romin saddle, I’m a Posture 2 guy, and it makes sense now that this is all laid out above:

Now, will this way of looking at saddles tick everyone’s boxes and make them comfortable on a Bontrager saddle?  I would land somewhere between “doubtful” and “not a freaking chance” – saddle choice is too personal and complex.  That said, for me, it works and it makes sense.

Where this gets a little sticky is that saddle on my Trek, a Selle Italia.  It’s basically a flat saddle with a minute curve to it.  It’s a full carbon fiber saddle that weighs in at a miniscule 110 grams (Bontrager makes a 64 gram saddle, basically the weight of two plastic bottle cages, if you’re interested):

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Contrast that with the saddle on my Venge (or one like it) on the Right and a Bontrager Montrose on the Left:

My friends, I may ride low but I am not flexible.  I can barely touch my toes (though barely does count!).  That little bit of contour in the saddle helps me rotate my hips forward so I can ride comfortably in the drops and on the hoods.  I do have to make sure to bend my arms sufficiently when I ride with my hands on the bar top, though.  Sitting upright isn’t comfortable on a contoured saddle like the two above – at least not the way I set mine up, with a 3° drop from back to front (measured the full length of the saddle).

People can get sucked into the wrong saddle pretty easy.  Whether they’re in it for the weight, or just trying to get a cool-looking saddle…  Folks, some saddles just fit some butts better than others.  The more information you’re armed with, though, the better equipped you’ll be to help a knowledgeable person at a shop help you into the proper saddle… or try luck.  It did work for me.

RominAndMontrose

 

Testing a New Tire for Serfas…

I was given a new prototype pair of Serfas tires, free of charge, to test.  Each set came with a comment card to fill out and the contact info for the product manager.  Rather than fill mine out once, because if I’m anything, I’m through, I took a photo of mine so I could fill it out digitally and send regular reports rather than a one-off, five line comment.  I figured they’d want a little effort for what’s probably $80-$100 (or more) worth of rubber.

The tires are 25’s, maybe 26’s (they measured out same as my wife’s Specialized Turbo Pro 26mm tires).  Other than the words “Prototype” and “Serfas” along with a set number, there are no other markings on the tires.  After measuring my tires to determine they were indeed 25’s (not 23’s), I filled them to F; 107 psi, R; 110 psi and took them for their first spin.

VengeSerfasPrototype1

Because I don’t do anything half-assed, their first feel was a 57-ish-mile ride with my friends.  It was an awesome, if a little warm, morning for a ride.

The prototypes were nicely grippy, surprisingly so, as a matter of fact.  After having spent the last umpteen thousand miles on S-Works Turbo’s and Michelin Pro 4’s, I was very impressed at the grip of the Serfas tires.  The ride, on the other hand, felt a little stiffer than the S-Works and Pro 4 tires.  On the first ride, I attributed this to the newness of the tires.  Anyone who’s ridden a new set of tires knows they break in after a couple of hundred miles.  Also, I didn’t necessarily think the solid feel was a bad thing.  It wasn’t near as harsh as some other name brands that make a much less supple tire – especially those that don’t have a foldable bead (these do have a foldable bead).

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Then came Tuesday night’s club ride.  My best speed to date for a sprint, ever, was 35.4-mph, with a touch of tailwind.  For Tuesday night’s intermediate sprint, I held 36.2.  The feel on the club ride, again on decent roads, was still on the stiff side, but again, it felt more “fast” than punishing and slow.  I really liked how responsive they were when I put the hammer down and how grippy they were in the corners – they felt stable, like they’re on rails in the corners.

Then came Saturday’s One Helluva Ride full century.  They changed the route for 2019 so I was looking forward to riding on better roads.  I don’t know what the ride volunteers were thinking but they actually picked worse roads for the new route.  It was brutal trying to hang in there with a 20+mph group while dodging crappy roads.  I hit a pothole so hard, I was sure I was going to pinch-flat, or worse, wreck a rim.  Nothing.  Not even a busted belt in the tire.  When I didn’t have to pull over to the side of the road to fix a flat, or worse, call SAG with a busted rim, I was sold.

I just hope these tires come out before I wear this set out so I can buy another.  Serfas is coming out with a decent tire.

Now is the Time to Take Advantage of End of Season Savings from Two of the Big Three American Cycling Gear Makers…

My friends, if you don’t keep track of deals on cycling equipment, now is the time to start looking for deals.

Want a racing saddle? Trek’s got a Montrose Factory Racing carbon rail saddle for $120 – $100 off the original price. They’ve got thirteen more saddle options on sale as well. Folks, that Montrose is only 170 grams! For a Hundred Bucks?! That’s a downright steal.

Cycling kit? Specialized is running a smokin’ deal on bibs – their top of the line pro bibs for just $100 – that’s $80 off retail price. Women’s too. (I picked up a pair for Mrs. Bgddy). Want something else? A jersey, gloves, or shoes? Check out the Sales page, by clicking here. I had to quit looking lest I get myself in too much trouble.

If you’ve read my blog for long, you know I’m a huge fan of Specialized’s clothing. Their high-end bibs and jerseys are fantastic and last forever (or relatively speaking as cycling kit goes). I also have several pairs of socks, gloves, shoes, and a helmet or three. I tend to be a rolling endorsement for Specialized.

If you’re not into America’s Big Three (Specialized, Trek, Giant), check out ProBikeKit’s sale as well, for some great high-end cycling kit.

Finally, Nashbar is back! They don’t have the same smokin’ deals anymore, but that’s not exactly a bad thing, either.

If you have a need for some new cycling kit or equipment, now is the time to start hitting the websites, while the getting is good.

If you’re not, if money is too tight, avert your eyes, because there are some great deals out there right now.

Ah, Almost Back to Normal Again

Since I’ve gotten back from the west side of the State, things have slowly gone back to a more “normal” state of affairs. I’m into the office early, which means I’m leaving early as well, and it seems like I’m pulling into the driveway before I know it – I’m home well before 5 pm. My drive is less than 45 minutes (I haven’t had less than a 38 minute drive to work in more than 23 years). Better, I’m able to stay up a little later and sleep in (if you can call it that, and most normal people don’t – I still have my alarm set for 4 am).

I rode what we call the “Deer Loop” with some friends yesterday morning, under utterly perfect conditions. 3-mph wind, not a cloud in the sky, and mercifully cool (low 60’s – perfect starting temp [16.7 C]). When I included “Deer Loop” in my Strava ride title, one of my friends asked in the comments, “Did you bring the deer magnet with you”. I laughed out loud – my buddy, Mike (aka the Deer Magnet) has a funny way of attracting animals so he hits them. He got a deer two years ago and a dog and a squirrel so far this year. I don’t know how many near misses there were, but I was there for a few with deer crossing just in front of us… and I’ve heard of many more than I saw…

Which leads me to the big plus: My mileage is heading in the right direction. Two weeks ago, with the long Fourth of July weekend, I managed to clock in more than 300 miles for the week. Last week, with a normal work schedule I was over 210 miles. I also popped over 4,000 miles for the year last week, so it seems I’ll still be able to have a decent year after the job and our crappy start to the Spring.

In other cycling news, the Trek is in for a paint touch-up. I put a gnarly gouge in the top tube when I had a wrench slip off the headset lock nut. It was bad – and just two days after I put an awesome new Punisher sticker on it, too…

Anyway, that’s where I’m at. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re really good and looking up. Now if I could just drop about five more pounds! Dammit, they’re a lot harder to take off than put on!