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A Surprisingly Small Group and Our First Perfect Day for a Bike Ride

It feels like the weather’s finally broke and we can get on with spring. When I woke yesterday morning I expected a big group for the ride. I was shocked when only two others beside my wife and I showed. It did make some sense, several of our friends headed over to the west side of the State for Barry-Roubaix, the largest gravel road ride in the USA, but I still expected six or eight.

I’d pulled out the big gun for this ride.  I’ve been riding the Trek since last fall and have it dialed in excellently, but I was missing the easy speed of the Venge.  Apples to apples, and both bikes at the very top of their operating ability, the old Trek can’t hold a candle to the Venge.  Literally and figuratively.  The 5200 is an excellent and comfortable bike but 14 years of technological advancement in carbon fiber is simply too great…

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Final tally notwithstanding, we rolled at 9am, Mike, Chuck, my wife and I. The conditions, for the end of April, were stellar. Sunshine, 41° (5 C) and virtually no wind.  We kept a lively but easy pace for the first six miles or so before turning dead into what little breeze there was.  Holding 19 wasn’t all that hard but my wife was suffering a late night, little sleep and tired legs, so we kept the pace low for her.  She left the group at about the ten mile mark to head back… our daughter had to prep for her first high school prom (! DUDE!) so my wife wanted to get back to her.

I’d dressed a little under for the temp because I knew it would warm up soon enough but I struggled against the chill on the upper body for about 45 minutes, and then… boom, I the warmth of the sun on my red long-sleeve thermal finally cut through the cold.  Apparently my friends felt it too because it went from quiet to lively talk about how great a day it was for cycling all within ten minutes.

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We all took turns, over the course of the next 35 miles or so, expressing how much fun it was to be out in good, warm weather.  I wish I could put it into writing, how enjoyable it was, the relief, to be out with two of my good friends like that, after one of the longest, coldest winters in Michigan history (the longest since 1874).  I felt like our planned 50 just wasn’t enough – a stark contrast against looking forward to being done after 25 or 30 miles in the cold.

We stopped into the bike shop to say hi to everyone on our way home and they were hopping inside…  People milled about all over the shop.  Everyone in our group, everyone, has a high-end bike.  Be it a Specialized, Trek, Giant or even a Merckx, we’re all sporting top-of-the-line stuff so we like to line our bikes up along the outside window as free advertising for the shop owner and eye candy for the shoppers (who are usually inside looking for a leisure bike of some sort).  Several stopped to ogle after completing their purchases.

After our greetings we headed out and threw a leg over the top tube for our final five miles to home, but horror of horrors, I discovered I would be shy of miles!  On the first perfect cycling day of the year, a day that was finally warm enough that you didn’t have to worry about sweat killing you because it sucks heat out of your body 25 times faster than air, I simply couldn’t come up short of our planned 50!

I chose to stick with Mike and Chuck to Chuck’s house (Chuck lives just over two miles from my house) and rode Mike home down another mile toward his house (Mike lives two miles from me as well), then took it back to my place.  I pulled into the driveway with 50.12 miles.  Perfect.

I had a couple of delectable pulled pork sammiches for lunch, with slaw and Devil’s Spit barbecue sauce from Famous Dave’s (it’s hot, but not as hot as the name suggests, it’s a spectacular spicy BBQ sauce), watched some of the Tiger’s baseball game and took a 30 minute nap.

I’ll tell you, it’s nice to be back on my “more mileage” schedule.  This week, after this morning’s 50, I’ll top 200 miles for the first time since last fall.  Everything seems easier when I’m on that schedule.  My body works better, food tastes better (and certainly does less damage, heh), and my attitude and outlook on life are better.  Folks, life is better.

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Winter’s Last Hoorah… and I got Caught in the Middle of It

Tuesday there was no way I was riding. Barely above freezing, with 18-mph wind. I like to think of myself as tough, not stupid. I rode the trainer.

Wednesday was supposed to be better, but go from rain to snow in the afternoon. Not exactly the best conditions for a ride so the plan was to hit the trainer yet again.

However, miracle of my week, the Weather Channel said the rain would hold off till 7pm… what to do, what to do. No question I was riding, hey 40° (3 C) is still better than freezing even if it is 20° (7 C) below normal (Al Gore, call your office). The question was which bike to take!?

With a gnarly east wind I really wanted to take the Venge. As silly as it may sound, riding it in the wind is like cheating compared to the 5200. On the other hand, the Trek is just a little more comfortable, even if it is four pounds heavier. Side by side, the Venge is the better bike to ride, by a long shot….

I liked the Trek for this one, simply because it’s a little harder to ride. Better to push the harder bike earlier in the season, then let loose on the good bike later.

The first mile was nice. The second, with a strong tailwind was awesome. A mile north, turn around and back south… followed by three dead into the teeth of the wind. Okay, that kinda sucked. I was wishing I’d picked my Venge a half-mile into that headwind slog. At one point it pushed me back to 14-mph.

I just kept my head down and pushed through it. I turned south and that was a lot better… right up till it started sleeting. Right then I was glad I’d picked the Trek.

The roads started getting wet. I could have gone home. I could have made it home in less than seven minutes from right there.

I didn’t turn back though, because that would have made for a short post. I did pick up the pace – no sense in prolonging the mess.

Soon enough I was on the last mile and the ice was picking up in intensity. I rolled into the driveway after a fairly easy sixteen miles in just over 53 minutes.

Winter held on a hell of a lot longer than it should have but I was glad to get one last tough guy ride in before the good weather finally showed up. Now it’s time to make up for lost weeks….

The Never-ending Winter gave Me an Opportunity to Learn how to Train Better on the Turbo… err Trainer.

When winter throws you $#!+ stained snow, make $#!++¥ snowballs…

It was 35° (1 C) with a brisk 18 mph wind from the west for last evening’s Tuesday Night Club Ride. I didn’t even take the Trek off of the trainer. That temp is more than 25° (8 C) below normal. F**********ck THAT!

Mrs. Bgddy has been a little impatient with my penchant for blaring Star Wars over our Bose Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound system. You know how it sounds in a theater? My living room system is almost that good – certainly louder. It’s freaking fantastic.  Unless you’re my wife, apparently.

Anyway, happy wife, happy life, I opted to spin outside of the box with my movie watching last week. I dug out a pair of ear buds and sat my phone on my Trek’s sweat thong, tuned in to Alien Covenant and cranked it up.

Halfway through I became acutely aware of how hard I was spinning. Sweat rolled off the tip of my nose. My bibs were wet with sweat and my shirt was drenched. To be honest, I was a little surprised that I had another gear on the trainer.

I didn’t let up, either.  I just let myself get lost in the movie and rolled on.

I’ve had three days on the trainer since switching from the big screen to the small and all three were excellent. I’m sure I’ll switch back when my wife and I are riding together, but as good as those three trainer sessions were, I’m quite happy with the small screen. It’s a better way for me to train on the trainer.

All of that trainer BS is out the window, though. Finally.  I’ll publish a post about my laughable Wednesday ride tomorrow, but we are beginning a week of fantastic weather. Sunshine and mercifully average temps (low 60’s). It’s time for some big miles.

A Revolutionary Way to Change a Bicycle Tire… Here’s a Hint: Leave the Tire Irons in Your Saddle Bag

Everyone I’ve ever seen change a tire has used a tire iron. Every. Single. Time.

Until last week.

I was dropping off a rear wheel at the shop to be relaced. Seconds before I left I realized I needed my rear tire to put on a spare wheel I had at home. No sense in riding a new tire this early in the season, right? Of course right.

I raised a finger in the air and exclaimed, “Wait, fine shopkeep! I need my tire!”

I strode confidently toward one of the shop benches for tire irons… I was in the back of the shop. Matt, the owner, stopped me in my tracks.

“Neigh, neigh, my young apprentice, we shan’t be needing the irons of the tire”, he said.

Aghast, I stumbled backward as if mortally wounded, clutching at the heart fluttering in my chest…

“Kind sir, that’s imposs…”

My word trailed off as, with a pinch, a twist and a healthy push, the tire and tube were stripped from my clincher wheel.  I $#!+ you not.

I looked at him as Luke first looked on Yoda after realizing who the little green fella was.

But unlike young Skywalker, I’d paid attention to those deft three moves and I shall now pass them on to you, my friends, because that’s how I roll.

May the Force be with us.

First, let the air out of the tube, all of it. Dead flat.

Next, opposite the valve stem, pinch the tire so you’ve got the tire and tube between your thumb and forefinger.

Next, bend/wiggle the tire back and forth until you can see a little daylight betwixt the tire bead and rim, like so:

Then, with one move, twist and push the tire away from you and the rim… the tire and tube will come off, straight away – and the twist is not left or right, it’s away from you, top to bottom (or tread to bead):

You want to look like some kind of pedaling Svengali? Next time you’ve got a flat, try that little move and watch the jaws go slack.

Dude.

*** I should add, here, this won’t work with every tire and rim combination – some tires are simply too tight on the rim, though I did this with two different sets of wheels and it worked both times for me.

What You Need to Know About Road Cycling when Entering the Sport for Fun, Weight Loss, or just because…

Friends, Romans, and soon-to-be cyclists, there are a few helpful things, let’s call them nuances of the sport, that are helpful for the new and aspiring cyclist to know going in. I am going to try to come at this from a more obscure standpoint, not necessarily the simple, cookie cutter points.

First, buying a Peloton stationary bike and paying the $40 monthly fee to ride it is probably the more expensive and boring way to get into cycling. I can see a lot of boxes being ticked with it, though… You don’t have to rely on weather, time of day, traffic, just to name a few. On the other hand, you also don’t get to see anything outside of a computer screen and the surroundings of whatever room you choose to put the exercise machine in. One of the more enjoyable aspects of road cycling is seeing the countryside from the saddle. While there are dangers to cycling, if you don’t live in a major city or can get out of town to roam the countryside, there is nothing better than cycling to see the world you’ve been missing from the driver’s seat.

Road cycling will challenge your definition of “expensive”.  You’re thinking $500 for a bicycle is nuts.  I’ll tell you $5,000 for a bike is reasonable, understandable, and a fantastic investment in one’s health. Better, given some time in the saddle, I’d put money on you agreeing with me. How often have you heard a doctor say, “Whatever it is you’re doing, keep doing it.”? That becomes the refrain after cycling several years. It did for me.  Not only that, what sounds better, buying a few expensive bikes or funding your doctor’s weekend vacation home because you’re fat and sick?  I’ll take the former, thank you.

New studies out show that cyclists get a special boost to their immune system and that a cyclist’s immune system looks decades “younger”. This isn’t a surprise to me as I’ve been living it for years. While I used to get sick a few times a year, I rarely catch a cold (or the flu), even when it’s traipsing through my house in my kids.  Regular exercise, I should say regular vigorous exercise, keeps me healthy beyond what I thought possible.

Many people think taking the time to exercise takes up too much time…  Cycling, especially road cycling, doesn’t take as much time as one might think, especially if all you have to do is get dressed, wheel your bike out the door and start riding.  I manage to ride an hour daily during the week for much of the season and three or four hours on Saturday and Sunday.

Next, be prepared to feel more relaxed the other 23 hours of the day (or 20 as the case may be)….  If you’re lucky enough to love cycling, you’ll likely find that life changes pace a little bit.  Those everyday pains you used to live with go away.  You no longer run out of breath walking up four flights of stairs…. and if you’re as fortunate as I am, you’ll enjoy your balanced life a lot more.  You will likely come to find that you miss your bike if you can’t bring it with you on vacation.  You’ll find yourself more irritable.

Then, once you get back from that vacation, no matter how active it was, you’ll throw a leg over your top tube after getting back and three miles down the road all will be right with life again.

Cycling, for some, is just something you do.  For those of use who embrace it as a lifestyle, you’ll find life much more enjoyable than you thought possible.  Find some friends to ride with and you’ll wonder how you ever got by before you knew what a crankset was and that a good one can cost more than your first bike – and you thought that was expensive when you bought it.

This has been a public service announcement from Fit Recovery, on the behalf of spring, cycling and friendship.  Ride hard my friends.

Cycling and Diagnosing a Minor Ticking Sound… It could be a Wheel-y Big Pain in the Keister, or not. Diagnosing Clicking Spokes that Sound like a Derailleur Problem.

Diagnosing small ticks and noises that a bicycle makes (but shouldn’t) can be easy… Sounds like it comes from the bottom bracket, it’s random in that it doesn’t happen at exactly the same place in the pedal stroke every time around… Dirt in the crank. Take it apart, clean it up, lube the parts, put it back together, Bob’s your uncle.

Then there are the tougher ones… Fairly random, loud click, usually under pressure when pedaling hard. Gets worse over time… You’ve taken the time to check all usual suspect bolts are properly tightened. Check the seat post. Loosen the collar bolt, raise and lower the saddle a few times (be sure to mark the post with a piece of electrical tape or a marker so you can replace the post where it was), take it out and clean it. Replace it, maybe using some carbon paste if necessary… creak’s gone. I had that one happen to me – took two days to nail it down on the Venge and it drove me NUTS.

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Then you’ve got the chain ring bolts, headset, rear derailleur hanger bolt, seat collar bolt(s), front derailleur bolt and stem bolts… even a bad quick release or the cassette lock nut. Every once in a while I’ll run into something that takes a “shotgun approach”. Do a bunch of stuff and hope one of them does the trick.

The key is to listen carefully and to regularly tighten suspect bolts (seat collar, stem, etc.) and to revisit when necessary – and definitely don’t forget the chain ring bolts… and isolate whatever part is causing the trouble. Oh, and one last thing – even after you’ve impeccably looked after your bike, know things will happen, it’s what bikes do. With my seat post story earlier, I have a regular maintenance schedule for the Venge where I check the tight on the main culprit bolts once a week. It takes about 35 seconds. I’d just gone through the ritual before we left for a road trip to Kentucky for the Horsey Hundred. About halfway through the century my bike started creaking. First under pressure, only when pedaling hard up a hill. We were in Kentucky, mind you, there are a few hills on the route. I went so far as to put little pieces of paper between each of the spokes where they crossed because I thought maybe the sound was coming from the wheel… I did this in the middle of the hundred. I was literally thinking about throwing my $5,000 race bike into the ditch and walking away (thankfully the thought passed).

When that didn’t fix the creak, upon getting back to the hotel room with my wife, I checked all of the culprit bolts again. All of them, including the derailleur hanger bolt. Everything was properly snug. Out of exasperation, I loosened the seat post collar and moved the seat post up and down several times before clamping it back down. The bike was silent thereafter.

Now that brings me to an interesting one… What if it’s the wheel?

Over time, the spokes can “find a home” where they cross. If you pinch them, they’ll click and you’ll feel where the spokes ground a little groove in each other when they load and unload under your weight while riding. It’ll happen over five or six years (maybe sooner if you’re heavier – I’m 175 pounds and this took five years of hard miles on the Trek’s wheels – but keep in mind, I ride two bikes throughout the season – the Trek gets the ugly, wet miles).

Let’s start with what it sounds like. It’ll almost sound like you’re half-shifted in the rear cassette only there won’t be much of a rhythm to it… If you’re half-shifted (either you’ve limp-shifted or your derailleur needs a quarter-twist on the barrel adjuster, in whichever direction you’re shifting is slow, up or down the cassette) it’s a constant “tick-tick-tick-tick” as you pedal. On the other hand, if it’s your spokes, it’ll be more random but you’ll definitely get a sense of a rhythm – “tick, tick… tick, tick, tick… tick, tick…” The “ticks” will sound like they’re coming from the cassette almost and they’ll sound similar but the spoke problem won’t be quite as loud.

There are a couple of ways to treat this.

First, check the rear derailleur indexing. With the bike upside down and whilst advancing the pedals, turn the barrel adjuster one way until you get a clicking sound, then turn it the other way until you get a clicking sound. Then turn it halfway in between and check the shifting to make sure it’s spot on. Make minor adjustments as necessary. Truthfully, this shouldn’t be necessary. If it’s your derailleur that’s out, when you advance the pedals with the bike upside down (or on a stand), you’ll hear the clicking. If it’s the spokes, you won’t – you need the wheel to load and unload to get the clicks. Still best to be sure.

Simplest, and least painful, is to rub some heavy lube in between the spokes where they cross. This should help and may even fix the problem so you won’t have to do anything else.

Next, if that doesn’t work, is to take a thin file and pinch the spokes together so you can access the groove. Simply file the groove out with a couple of light passes with the file. Then lube the spokes and you should be good. Now, notice I didn’t write, “file the hell out of the spokes”? You want to be gentle here so you don’t compromise the integrity of the spoke.

Finally, if that doesn’t work, have the wheel relaced.

The easiest way I know to isolate the problem, so you know what you’ve got, is to use a spare wheel. I have a separate rear wheel for the Trek so I don’t use a good wheel on my trainer over the winter. If the problem is indeed the wheel, you can use a different wheel to check it. The click will obviously go away with a different wheel on the bike. Another way is to put pieces of paper between the spokes to isolate them, as I described earlier:

Road Cycling: Vintage Down Tube Shifters Vs. Modern Integrated Shifters/Brake Levers

I think one could fairly argue that, of the five or six big innovations in modern cycling, modern integrated shift levers and brake levers are the second greatest innovation in cycling, after the derailleur, behind only clipless pedals – especially for those of us who ride in a group, or peloton.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for me to knock the old down tube shifters, friction or indexed, you’re going to be disappointed.  I can’t, especially the old friction levers.  While they took a little touch to use right, they were ultimately simple.  They also didn’t break very easily.  As one recent commenter on another post wrote, “…Just hook it up, set the limits and enjoy more time riding”.

Of course, for those of us who know how to index a derailleur, the process takes but five seconds – it’s not that big a deal.

There are advantages to each for the solo cyclist.  For the person riding in a group, modern integrated shifters are the only way to go.  I’m sure there are purists out there who will lie to you and say it’s not that much of a disadvantage, but it is.  Anyone who claims otherwise is lying or ignorant.  The disadvantage is huge, and that’s why they don’t put the old down tube shifters on new road bikes (except the ultra cheap big box bikes, but even those usually get twist grip shifters nowadays).

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Where the old down tube shifters excel is in their simplicity.  There’s one moving part that pulls or loosens the cable to move the derailleur.  They last for decades without wearing out (with proper maintenance which is next to nothing) and don’t require much playing around with barrel adjusters (the old friction levers don’t even need barrel adjusters).

The old-style shifters do take some getting used to for noobs, however.  Typically most noobs don’t/won’t appreciate having to remove their hands from the handlebar to shift.  Once this irrational fear is gotten over, shifting from the down tube becomes second nature.

Modern integrated shift levers, however, are the cat’s pajamas.  While they do wear out over time because of all of the moving parts and springs (20 years is reasonable for a life expectancy), gone is the need to remove one’s hands from their resting place to shift.

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The standard riding position is with the hands on the hoods and the shift/brake levers are readily accessible, but they’re equally accessible from the drops, and with the newest electronic shifters you can even get buttons for the bar top so you can shift from virtually any hand position on the bike.

Where all of this comes in handy is when we start riding in a group.  Riding alone, one can shift as they please, opting to ride in a tougher gear to plow over a hill or shift as necessary.

In a group, all bets are off.  Actually, you know what?  I’m going to temper this a little bit because I know who reads my little page of cycling heaven…  I’m speaking directly to you now.  If you’re riding in a group that’s below your fitness level or you just happen to be a part of a group who all ride classic bikes, you’ll be just fine riding down tube shifters.  If, on the other hand, you ride with a group that matches your fitness level (or is slightly faster) and everyone else is riding modern shifters, you’re going to be smoked – one way or another.  Here’s the problem; eventually you’re going to get stuck on a hill where you should shift but can’t because the group is surging so you’ll be pushing the wrong gear up that hill… and that’s going to happen over and over again.  Sooner or later they’re going to run you out of gas.  It’s simple as that.

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My friends, I am speaking from experience here, I’m not guessing – being able to shift without moving your hands from the hoods is like cheating it’s so much better than down tube shifters.  Cheating.

To get down to the brass knuckles of the shifters, “want to” will make up for a lot of bike disadvantage, and riding a steel or aluminum bike with down tube shifters is a lot of disadvantage.  You put some good wheels on there, though, and you’re probably going to be able to hang, unless you challenge yourself with a group a little faster than you are.  In that case, you better bring a lot of “want to”.