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I wanted to ride my mountain bike so bad I could feel the grips in my hands before I rolled out of bed. It’s a rare day I’m hankering for that bike, so I wanted with everything I had for the forecast to be wrong.
Rain rolling in at 7am, possibly snow… and the temp was 2° above freezing (1 C). At 7:30 it started snowing, lightly though. Just flurries. A few calls between friends and we prepped to roll out, hoping it would stay flurries. We were on the damp road at 8:30, but the dirt wasn’t that bad at all. And I was in all my glory.
My wife had to ride her mountain bike because I messed her gravel bike up trying to fix a bent chainring (it came like that, very long story). I’d had it pretty close but had to get it perfect… alas I went too far and now the pros will have to fix it. Point is, there was no way I was going to ride my gravel bike while my wife had to ride her mountain bike, anyway. At 8 miles my wife said, “You guys are freaking nuts. I’m taking my toy and going home.”
She wasn’t wrong. It was nasty.
As we rode on the snow intensified and it seemed like all of a sudden the roads went from “not too bad” to straight up “baby $#!+”. We had snow caked on us from head to toe – actually, that says a lot about our gear when you think about it – if snow can stick to the outside of your clothing, there isn’t much heat escaping. With just over a mile left Chuck made a joke about Mike looking like he had an “ass-splosion”. I chimed in with a crack about being on the wrong end of a bean burrito. We were a mess and our bikes were absolutely smoked and grinding all sorts of grit. We were a sight.
I’d pushed it as hard as I could after my wife turned off early and turned that 10.8 average into 12 by the time we rolled onto my paved road. I was soaked to the bone, but from the inside. Now I remember why we bought those gravel bikes in the first place. That bike is work.
I didn’t even bother going inside. I took my bike straight back to the hose and rinsed it down before taking it inside to dry if off and clean and lube everything. I had to strip off my outer layer before my wife would let me in the front door. Her top layer lay in a heap on the floor, puddles formed under the tires on the wood floor.
We had a lazy day, watching it snow, and life was good. Every once in a while I like to ride stupid. Too often would get old, especially with the maintenance. Once or twice a year, though, makes me feel young and dumb again. That’s definitely a good thing.
I sent out the invite to our cycling friends Friday afternoon, hoping five would show up for our Saturday morning ride. It was due to be cold and quite breezy, so I figured it would be a small crew. The text list has grown in the last four years since I began putting rides together. It started out as a twelve-person text. The list has more than tripled.
My hope of five was vastly underestimated.
Friends started filing in around 8:20… Phill, Brad, Joel… then Mike and Diane rolled up. Then McMike… my wife and I made it a gaggle. We rolled out, heading west to unknown territory, roads most of us had never seen before – we ride paved roads out that way all of the time, never dirt. We were out for a straight up dirt road adventure.
We picked David up along the way, maybe five miles up the road, to make nine.
The ride was, for the most part, moderate and fun. There were times when it got a little fast, but as soon as someone fell off the back we’d hold up. We had almost every style of dirt bike there is, from mountain bikes to entry-level gravel bikes, right up to a $4,500 epic, a Crux and a Salsa Warbird. It was a diverse group, let’s say that.
Late fall in Michigan can’t be beat for dirt road cycling. Mountain bikes, gravel bikes, cross or fatties, and this autumn has been utterly spectacular. Cold, most of the time, with a few warmer days, but mainly dry. The “mainly dry” is the important part for me – I can ride in the cold, I hate riding in mud.
And so we rolled down the road, keeping a decent pace but certainly not crushing it. We laughed and caught up, told jokes and poked fun at each other as we rolled along. We simply had a good time in the cold sunshine.
Cycling makes things seem normal again for me. COVID, politicians, shutdowns, the utter silliness of politics, uncertainty… and the frustration of a nation, myself (obviously) included, that gets sucked into arguing the extremes to the benefit of politicians who consistently lie and flout their own rules and regulations to illustrate just how silly the rules, regulations and politicians really are… it all goes away for the time it takes to make it around a 35-mile dirt loop on my gravel bike with my friends.
Thankfully, talk of politics on bike rides is fading and turning to more pressing topics, like “where does that road go?” Here we were, nine friends out for a late autumn two-wheeled adventure. So it was yesterday morning for more than two glorious hours. When we pulled into the driveway, I couldn’t have been happier.
And I was so excited to see so many mountain bikes, I pulled mine out of the garage and got it ready to ride in case it was possible this morning. We’ve got a rain/snow mix moving in just about the time we’d clip in, so doubtful… but that mountain bike sure cleaned up nice. I just may pull her back out for a ride over Thanksgiving weekend.
Having so many bikes to choose from presents a fun problem to have; which one to choose?!
Until this year, it’s been a rare day I’ll ride outdoors after dark. I do the annual club “night ride” without fail, but my headlight was the least used piece of cycling equipment I own. Most years I used it just that one time. Even with my fantastic Varia taillight/radar and a decent headlight, I still felt uncomfortable riding in the dark.
The strange thing is, with proper lighting and a little thought about reflective clothing, I’m more visible at night than I am during the day. Whatever it is, I just didn’t like it.
I’ve gone through a change this year, though. I’ve got more rides outdoors than I do on the trainer in November, and to ride outside during the week, after the time changes back on the first Sunday, it’s going to be in the dark.
With the gravel bikes and riding dirt roads so much the last few years in the postseason, my appreciation for a lack of traffic has increased immensely. Not enough to switch exclusively to gravel during the spring and summer months (I’d can’t give up the speed), but autumn cycling is vastly more enjoyable when we’re only being passed by a single vehicle every 20 miles or so.
Due to that lack of traffic, I’ve chosen to ride outdoors with my normal riding buddy, Chuck, after work. Oh, it’s a chore getting all of the clothes out and on – it’s not as simple as throwing on a tee shirt and an old pair of bibs to ride on the trainer, but my God is it fun. With some consistency I’ve managed to drop my fear of cycling at night.
Last night was a phenomenal example of a perfect ride in the dark. 24 miles (and some change), and I think we were passed by two vehicles. Chuck and I sat up for most of the ride talking about work and current events, letting our problems drift off in the wind as we rode. By the time I pulled into the driveway, about an hour and a half later, I was feeling so good I could hardly stand myself.
I did manage. And after dinner, I drifted off to sleep with a smile on my face. As could be expected, I slept like a brick.
This evening; rinse and repeat.
Last night was pretty awesome. I’m giving a little away here, but most who have read this blog will have guessed this already, I’m just going to confirm it. My wife, as she always does, gave me my 28-year coin last night. A rarity, my anniversary actually fell on a meeting night this year.
Normally, a bunch of us would go out to dinner and have a good three hour meal to catch up. Sadly, in this mess that simply can’t happen… unless you’re Gavin Newsome. In that case, go right ahead and break all the rules you made and yuck it up. But I digress. For us peasants, we must follow the rules because most of us are in this together. Or something.
I took a moment to think about this last night, but just a moment; it was a bit of a bummer that COVID screwed up my night this year. Of course, on the plus-side, at least I was at a real meeting last night and not on a Zoom call. Now, I could be a whiner and complain about how unfair this all is, and maybe even blubber on about how life sucks just a little bit, but I don’t roll like that. $#!+ is what it is. I think the whole thought process lasted less than 20 seconds before I balled that stinkin’ thinkin’ up and pitched it in my melon’s garbage can and got on with enjoying the evening that I had.
And a fantastic day and evening it was. I took my daughters to Popeye’s for their world renowned chicken sandwich. I got to listen to my daughters explain how much better Chick-fil-A is for most of the ride there… until they bit into their sandwich and all conversation froze in the air. My daughter hadn’t even finished chewing her first bite when her jaw dropped. I just chuckled. Yep. It’s that good. Back home, I got through some work and got ready to ride. I changed my plan and rode indoors to keep time from becoming an issue. After my ride, my wife went to pick up our usual Wednesday evening pizza dinner and I got the table ready. We rushed off to the meeting, and the rest will stay there, at Crankin’ Rankin… except I got my coin and had a wonderful meeting.
There is a chance the church will shut down, leaving us without a meeting place indoors, but we worked around that. If need be, we’ll meet at one of the guys’ pole barn and bring in a couple propane heaters to warm the place up. It won’t be ideal, but it’ll do till spring. In my humble opinion, in-person meetings are worth the risk. I need that face to face interaction, even if face-to-face is 10′ apart.
So there went another year. I started out an hour at a time. A few times I went down to seconds at a time, minutes at a time, then one day at a time till I had 365 of them. Then 364 days at a time till I hit 2 years. Another 364 and 3 years, and so on. Then five, ten, fifteen, twenty, and twenty-five years… all, one day at a time.
Kept simple, recovery’s given everything back that I gave up as a drunk. And it is good.
Oh, how I love November 18th! One more year in the book, only three more years, 200-some odd days left to hit 1,000,000,000 seconds in recovery! And if you’re curious, 28 years and a few hours (six) works out to: 883,634,400 seconds.
Looking back on the final months that led up to my ultimate swearing off of all mood and mind-altering drugs, it doesn’t take but a few seconds to remember why I quit. My life was a freaking train wreck and my prospects for a happy future were bleak at best. I couldn’t even deliver pizzas very well.
28 years later, I’m on the back end of a cool career that I quite enjoy, in a wonderful marriage that produced two wonderful daughters, with a nice roof over our heads and reliably decent transportation. Above all, I am content and live in peace.
Before I quit, I couldn’t muster enough cash to get out of the state (that’s a long story).
In recovery, it’s literally been decades since I’ve had to look over my shoulder. Life isn’t perfect, of course, but “perfect” was never in the brochure. Peace, happiness and contentment were, and I’m plenty fine with that. After all, once you’ve already lived through hell and had your HP lift you out and save you, well, it’s easy to look at recovered life as wonderful.
So the message for today is this; I don’t know if I’ve got another recovery in me, but I know I’ve got another drunk in me. As long as I don’t drink and work a program of recovery, just for today, I don’t have to go through what it took to get here ever again. Better, peace and contentment are not only possible, they’re probable.
That walk through hell sucks, and I don’t want any more of that.
So, the one problem I had with my wife’s gravel bike rebuild is that the medium cage Sora derailleur is on backorder. This is a massive problem for normal folk, but not for me. I’m only rarely normal folk. Or is that… regularly… Meh. I went out to the parts shed, pulled out the old 9 speed Ultegra derailleur out of my old Trek box, and installed that on her bike till the new one comes in. BAM! Drops mic.
One small problem… the B set screw that pulls the pulley wheels away from the cassette teeth. Even after adjusting it, with the B screw all the way in, the pulley teeth were crashing into the cassette on the smallest cog. Which is better than when I first set it up because it was crashing into the biggest and smallest cogs.
I set it so my wife couldn’t use the 32/11 and 47/11 combos and suggested she not use the 11 tooth till her new derailleur came in. Because how in God’s name do you fix that!
Early yesterday morning, I was surfing for B screw setting instructions before work, and I happened on a video that showed a hack to fix a short set screw. He recommended a m4 x 25-mm with a nut to rest on the derailleur hanger. They were relatively cheap, though, so rather than just go for a 24, I picked up a 6, 12, a 20 & a 25, and one nut.
I only needed the m4 x 12. And I didn’t need the nut.
All 18 gears, works beautifully. And a total cost of $3.46. Gotta love it.
Chuck was late getting out of work, so I was hoofin’ it to his place at ten after five. It was cold and we were due some rain, possibly snow, later in the evening. I won’t pull any punches, I hate the cold. Hate it, despise it, don’t like it (if your sensibilities are a little too frail for “hate”). I can live with it, I can even enjoy it from time to time, but for the most part, I’m supposed to be a semi-tropical person.
On this particular occasion, however, I dressed correctly – and by correctly, I mean I dressed to be comfortable in the cold. My Specialized Element 2.0 jacket (I’ve had that jacket for eight years now and it’s still spectacular), a thermal running shirt, neck gaiter and hat that has the little ear flaps. I’d had a thin long-sleeve jersey on but once I stepped outside and felt the cold, I marched directly back into the house to switch base layers.
I had a crosswind the first mile to Chuck’s, then a fantastic tailwind for the second (that we’d be eating shortly). I was up to temp after the first mile, and that mile wasn’t even bitter.
Normally, I dress a little cooler so that I can ride a little harder without worrying about sweating (sweat wicks body heat away something like 25 times faster than air, if I remember my Survivor Man correctly). Last night, I dressed warmer and rode for the temp, which meant a little slower… and I really had a good time.
Once the sun went down, traffic thinned to a trickle. By the time we hit dirt, we were all alone. We had a few laughs, talked some about current events, and spent a bunch of miles silent, enjoying the ride… and then everything changed.
I was feeling surprisingly awesome for a cold night ride, but then the wind picked up enough that it was surprising. We were back in our normal “Jimmer Loop” subdivision, going for a “Chucker Bonus Lap” when what to my wondering eyes did I see but little droplets in my headlight… then one hit my cheek, but it melted. It was starting to snow. We were headed for home at that point, about six miles from home, so I picked up the pace a little bit, trying to push it to get home.
Then something surprising happened… I realized I wasn’t cold or miserable. I wasn’t in a bad way at all. We had a tailwind for four miles and we enjoyed the boost. With two miles to go my Garmin died (it had warned me the battery was low at Chuck’s house so I turned off the backlight, hoping it would get me home). Not even eight minutes from the house.
Ah well. The final shot to the house, I was ready to be done. I pulled into the driveway with 23-1/2 miles and a smile on my face. Whatever I did last night to get my temp right, I’ll have to try that again. I hate the cold… but I didn’t last night.
Dear God, Brent, I may need to look at a fat bike.
I love this time of year. It seems like we’re on the go all year long and when the weather turns cold and nasty in the fall, it’s the perfect time to be a little lazy.
Saturday was cold, but dressed properly, the cold only hurt the five square inches of skin visible between my neck gaiter that was pulled over my nose and my cap… not much. It warmed up pretty well, too, at least enough to take the sting out of the air. We got an even 30 miles on dirt roads, and it was fun. I started my wife’s gravel bike drivetrain upgrade, grilled burgers for dinner, and fell asleep on the couch watching… something.
Sunday wasn’t fit for man nor beast outdoors, so we rode on the trainer after a lazy morning in which I completed everything on my wife’s gravel bike but her last brake cable… I had a couple, but they were regular road bike length (the cable set that came with the shifter lever set was for a standard road bike with rim brakes as well – too short for a mechanical disc brake). Fortunately, a friend had one, the required 6′ length, at home and was going to be out for an errand later so he offered to drop it off.
He showed up three minutes into our ride. I thanked him profusely, and off he went. After our ride, a shower, and some lunch, I went to work on that brake cable. Fifteen minutes later, the drivetrain upgrade was complete and her gravel bike is spectacular.
With intermittent rain, wind gusts topping 40-mph (60-ish km/h), and wet roads, the best thing to do was sit down on the couch and enjoy some (American) football. Mrs. Bgddy made some slow cooker chili for dinner, followed by more football and falling asleep. I woke up for a bit to watch Spiderman (Tom Holland is my youngest daughter’s crush) and then went to bed for real around 9.
I have to be very careful with weekends like this. I truly believe I was meant to be a man of leisure. While some people would get stir crazy with nothing to do, I’d be able to give it a good run. Left to my own vices (I know that’s the wrong word), I can become complacent. Lazy. Useless. I have it in me to do nothing… and so I can only enjoy weekends like that sparingly.
To thine own self be true, they say… and I am that. I know who I can be and who I want to be, and complacent and lazy isn’t it. My only defense is to keep moving. Thankfully, it looks like we’ll have a pretty decent week for some evening rides. Though this is Michigan. I’m not holding my breath.
This is one of my favorite times of year. It’s unfit to ride today, with rain, thunderstorms, winds in the 40-mph (64 km/h) and temps in the mid-40’s (7 C). I’m tired from a long season in the saddle and I can look forward to a few easy weeks, picking and choosing when I ride outdoors and tinkering on the bikes when it’s too nasty outside or I simply lack the desire – Friday was a perfect example, mid-40’s, breezy, cloudy… I just wasn’t feeling it so I rode indoors on the trainer.
I went to the bike shop yesterday, to say hi and check out the new bikes (slim pickens right now, though the new Roubaix by Specialized is almost nice enough to get me in trouble!), and the parts for my wife’s gravel bike were in. COVID has everything behind. What should have been a few days to get the parts, took three weeks.
My wife took my daughter to the gym yesterday, so I got right to it once I got home from the shop. I’m knee-deep in the upgrade and, with the new Sora drivetrain, her gravel bike will be better than mine when I’m done (hopefully some time this morning, if a friend has a brake cable I can bum till I can replace it tomorrow). The new drivetrain, consisting of two new shift/brake levers, a cassette and chain, will run less than $300 when it’s all done and be worth at least $1,200. That Claris drivetrain sucked.
The previous generation of Claris was its own design, and it was terrible. The 2017 Sora is, without question, vastly superior and based on the 105 line. I’ve been running that on my gravel bike going on three years now and love it. With the rebuild of my wife’s bike, I’m going through and resetting everything to factory specs, cleaning things up, and more important, lubing old bits and bolts. Specialized replaced her rear wheel under warranty a couple of years ago with a vastly superior DT Swiss build because her old wheel cracked in several places… so she’ll be a little lighter than me when it’s all over.
I’m excited for her, too. She loves her gravel bike, so she’s going to be enthralled when I’m done. I’ve got everything set up to the rear brake (which, again, need a cable) and it’s shifting like a dream contrasted against the old system. She loved her bike before when the drivetrain was crap. Next chance she gets to ride it, she’ll be in for a nice surprise.
As a final note, there’s a reason I went with Sora 9 speed rather than jump to Tiagra 10 speed or 105 11 sp.. With 9 speed components, the front derailleur won’t matter and can stay, but with the new rear derailleur and cassette comes the requirement of a 9 speed chain. It just so happens 8 speed chainrings are compatible with 9 speed drivetrains. I don’t have to upgrade chainrings and/or the crank, so not only did I save money by going with Sora over 105, I didn’t have to replace the crank or chainrings to go with the upgrade as well. I figure I saved $400 going with Sora over 105, maybe $350 over Tiagra.
Thank God for autumn! And bike projects! I’m in my tinkering glory!
There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather, Just Bad Gear (And Other Nonsense Having to Do With Cycling In Bad Weather)
There is such a thing as bad weather for cycling. Let’s see if you can guess which photos best depict this simple truth:
Friends, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist. When you have snow stuck to your eyebrows, that’s a pretty good indication you’ve just ridden in weather bad for cycling. Let’s say you know someone who’s extra-dim, though. Have them ask anyone who lives in Ireland (or most of the UK for that matter) and they’ll be more than happy to tell you all you need to know. Sadly, in such places, if you want to ride, you’re going to have to come to grips with a popup rain shower. I’d bet my lunch the saying originated either during a Minnesota winter or anywhere in the UK. There once was an All Seasons Cyclist who loved that saying (and did more than his fair share to prove its plausibility). There’s just one problem: real bad weather sucks. All good gear can do is make bad cycling weather suck less.
Let’s just say we’ve got, for comparison’s sake, on one hand, a sunny 80° day with a gentle breeze. On the other, a windy, 34° (1 C) day with a smattering of rain/snow mix. The first example, if you hadn’t guessed yet, is a good day for cycling. The second would be bad. You can’t put enough lipstick on that second pig to make it pretty.
See what I did there? I took a perfect day and compared it with a perfectly lousy day – I took the two extremes as examples to bolster an obvious statement so as to create controversy in the middle by playing the poles. That, my friends, is politics. Let’s look at a simpler scenario. Let’s take out the wind and rain and just go with a chilly night for a ride. I had one just the other night as a matter of fact, that provides an excellent example of how not to dress for the cold.
When I walked my bike out the door at 4:50 pm, it was 54° (12 C). Not exactly balmy, but pretty normal around here for mid-November, average. I rolled out over to Chuck’s house and found myself riding a little faster than I’d planned, to stay warm. I had on arm-warmers, a short sleeved jersey, and a nice long sleeve that I love for 50° rides – it doesn’t block the wind at all, though (thus, the jersey and arm warmers). For below the belt, I went with wool socks, mtb shoes, leg warmers and bibs. Again, normal for 50. I should have been fine and was quite flummoxed as to why I was cold.
In hindsight, once the sun started going down, the temp went with it, and the Weather Channel completely missed this happening. It had us in the upper 40’s till 9pm) but that’s not what we got. It turned cold. By the time I had four miles in it was down to 45° (7 C). Just two miles later, 37° (or 3 C). I was on the bad side of cold most of the ride (though it wasn’t too horrible as long as I didn’t coast much). I didn’t know why I was so cold while I was riding, but now that I can see the temp reading from my Garmin on Strava, it makes all the sense in the world. I should have had a thermal vest on as well, and a second layer down low, with either foot covers or at least toe covers. And that’s exactly where the saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear” makes sense.
There’s no question I was underdressed for that ride. In a case like that, the gear selection made for a chilly ride, even if it wasn’t technically my fault. The prognosticator at the Weather Channel wasn’t riding my bike, so “blaming it” on him does about as much good as $#!++!ng in my hand to prove a point. It wasn’t a “bad” ride by any stretch, either, but the right clothing would have made it vastly more enjoyable. And that was my first poorly judged weather scenario of the fall season.
In cases like that, good gear choices can absolutely make or break a ride. Getting closer to the bad pole, though, sucky cycling weather is sucky cycling weather, was ever thus.
Suffice it to say, some frickin’ days are meant for Zwift. Or a good movie. And jammies.