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How to Pick and Set Up the Perfect Rain Bike – and Why Every Cyclist Should have One

Across the pond in England, they call it a winter bike.  I call it a rain bike, my dedicated, “better than 15% chance of rain” bike… because not only was the good bike expensive, replacement parts are freaking ridiculous.  We call it a rain bike over in the US because they don’t get snow in the UK like we get snow, and there’s no riding a road bike in the snow.  Skinny tires are hard enough in the rain, dude!

The quintessential modern American Rain Bike

Ideally, the responsible way to pick a rain bike is to relegate the old A bike to rain bike status when you get a new A bike.  At least that’s how I did it until I bought my Specialized.  

My first rain bike was a Cannondale, all aluminum with a chro-mo fork…  Riding on an actual railroad rail would only be slightly less comfortable:

I could still make this beast average 20 mph though

Ultimately, the rain bike will be set-up quite close to the A bike – and thus why I like relegating the old A bike to rain bike status.  The closer the two bikes are in set-up, the more seamless it will be to transition between the two when the weather has a chance of getting nasty.

Now, say money wasn’t an object (it is) and I wanted to keep the Trek as an heirloom bike, updating the components.  My A bike is a Specialized Venge:

It just so happens that I know the next best thing to a Venge is an Allez.  There are minor differences of course, but I should be able to match the set-up on the Venge easily.  Let’s say I had a Tarmac for an A bike, I would go with a Secteur or Roubaix.  Those pairings in Specialized’s line-up match up in geometry fairly close.

Now, let’s get into how I know this, because most people won’t know how in God’s name to figure out which geometries work within a bike line:  I took a factory photo of an Allez, made it transparent, and placed it over a factory photo of a Venge.  The only difference to work around is the head tube height on the cheaper Allez models.  Now, if you have a shop owner who builds frames, they can look at the published geometry numbers….  I don’t have the time to apprentice for him so I can learn how the numbers work.

 Beyond that, because my rain bike has a vastly different geometry from my A bike (they’re even different sizes), I transferred the numbers from the A bike to the rain bike then took both bikes to the shop to have them compared.  I’m as close as I can get the two bikes.  I paid attention when the Trek and Venge were fitted to me, so I know what to measure and how to change the set-up.  Simple as that.

One more thing to consider….

There’s a neat reason I like my 5200 for my rain bike:  Easy Access Repairs.  I have completely stripped down and put back together my Trek.  I can change a brake or shifter cable in minutes.  I have internal routing on the Venge so it’s a little tricky should a cable fray while I’m up north on a road trip in the middle of a four day tour.  This is a tiny point, though.  Barely worth mentioning, but still, a fair point indeed.

In the end, I want my Venge to operate flawlessly for as long as possible so I prefer to have a rain bike should we be heading out under a chance of rain.  The rain bike takes the abuse so the A bike can shine. 

Worse case scenario, and this is what I really appreciate, with a rain bike in the stable I never have to miss a day on the bike with my friends should the A bike go down and have to spend some time at the shop for a repair.

Of course, there is one other non-option:  Take a day off every time you think it’s going to rain…. but that’d be silly.

36 Miles in 1:45 is Hard Enough….  It’s Harder with the Brakes On.

Seriously.

We rolled out early, 7 am on the screws, and I had a nice smile stretched across my face.  The sun was just coming up, it was a wonderful 70 degrees (21C) with no wind.

That’s my favorite thing about summertime cycling.  Days where the only wind is that which I create with forward motion.  On a bicycle.

20170708_101531

It’s a pretty simple route, a hybrid out and back with a loop, but all of the good stuff is saved for the second half.  We started out tame, between 20 & 21 mph, but it got hectic pretty fast…. specifically when Winston took the lead for something like five miles taking it up to 22-24.  Once he relinquished the front it calmed down a little bit, but not by much which suited me just fine.  We may only get a half-dozen days in a year where we don’t have any wind and, if you didn’t already know, when there’s no wind the draft is ridiculously awesome.  22 mph at the back of a decent pace line (we had seven or eight) feels like 15.

All of a sudden, it felt like I was working way too hard.  We were coming down a shallow but long hill (less than one percent) and I had it cranked up to 26-27.  I broke the group up and turned the corner to head home and my wife got behind me….  After 20 seconds she asked Chuck if it looked like my wheel was wobbling.  Chuck agreed and I had a look.  It wasn’t quite hitting the brakes but it was wobbling pretty good.  I kept pedaling and reached back to open up the brake release.  Then the proverbial wheels fell off.

The wobbling increased over a couple of bumps and before long I was hitting the brakes twice every time the wheel went around.  Fortunately I carry a spoke tool so we stopped to tighten up the offending spoke.  Unfortunately, the spoke nipple was broken…  I just put everything away, dropped my pouch in my back pocket and rolled on, wheel hitting brake.

When it was all done, that was the hardest I’d ever worked for a 20 mph average over 36 miles, but man did I have a good time…. and we were back home before 9 am.

This little tale ends interestingly.  I took my wheel into the shop to have the spoke nipple replaced and the wheel trued.  When it was all said and done, two nipples were broken and five more had to be replaced.  I was lucky the wheel didn’t fall apart on me!

Almost Everything a New Cyclist Needs to Know About Modern Road Bike Shifters and How they Work;  A Noob’s Guide.

Modern bike shifters, also known as integrated brake and shift levers, are the second best innovation to cycling since they put gears on a bicycle.  The only greater innovation in the last century and change is the clipless pedal.  Not carbon fiber, bro.  Not electronic Bluetooth shifting (yes, that’s a thing), sister.


Some will claim the old down tube shifters were better.  Randonneuring fans occasionally swear by bar end shifters.  I won’t bother wading into that swamp.  One thing is for certain, for sport cyclists, only clipless pedals have made the sport safer, more accessible and more enjoyable.

Now we don’t have to move our hands from the handlebars to shift…. or away from the brakes.  I have ridden an older bike with down tube shifters in a group setting and that set-up is a stark disadvantage.  Rather than shifting every time a different gear is necessary, one tends to push too hard a gear with the down tube system rather than reach for the shifter – same for bar end shifters.  Instead, whether riding with one’s hands on the hoods or down in the drops, the shifters are inches away.

Let’s work on some vocabulary too, because I just realized that last paragraph may seem like a foreign language to some (click to embiggen):

Drops and Hoods.jpg

Like the clipless pedal, if you’re new to cycling, the shifters can be a little daunting – until you use them and get used to how they work.  Once you know what you’re doing, they’re incredibly intuitive and wonderful.  This post will get into how several of the shifters “work”.

There are three main brands and one new upstart that will become very popular in the coming years.  The big three are Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo.  The new company is MicroSHIFT.  Of course, they’re all different in the manner they work.  I own shifters from two different brands, Shimano and MicroSHIFT.  I am, however, familiar with Campagnolo and SRAM.

Now, many people become confused because the shifter “buttons” move the chain in reverse direction front to back.  However, when you consider what they actually do, both shifter levers/buttons move the chain similarly, to smaller or bigger rings.  For instance, let’s start with the vastly more popular shimano shifters:

Shimano Shifter...

So that’s the right hand shifter.  The left operates the front derailleur for the larger sprockets called “chain rings”.  The inside shift lever moves the chain from the bigger chain ring to the smaller chain ring.  The Main Shift Lever moves the chain from the smaller chain ring to a bigger chain ring.  The direction the chain moves is different but the levers actually do the same thing.  One lever moves the chain to a smaller ring/cog and the other to a bigger ring/cog.

Now let’s have a look at MicroSHIFT, which is set up a lot like Campagnolo, only the shifters are about three to six times less expensive.  Seriously.

MicroSHIFT Shifter

For the MicroSHIFT shift levers, the main silver lever is only a brake lever.  Unlike the Shimano shifters, that only moves front to back and applies the brakes.  The shift button shifts the chain to a smaller cog in the back.  The shift lever moves the chain to a bigger cog.  Same for the left side (the button moves to a smaller ring, the lever to a bigger ring).

For Campagnolo, you have the lever and button system and the levers and buttons do the same things as the MicroSHIFT levers and buttons:

Campy Chorus.jpg

As I wrote earlier, Campagnolo components are the more expensive than the MicroSHIFT components, but Campagnolo is Italian and enjoys the “cool” label.  Campagnolo is what all of the cool kids use…  Well, at least the cool kids who can afford $500 for their shifters and $130 for a cassette.  We mere mortals with one household income, a spouse, and kids tend to go for the Shimano/SRAM setup….  My cassettes cost about $40.

So, we’ve covered some basics about what the shifters do, how they operate, and in general, that Campagnolo is the coveted, more expensive brand.  We’ve scratched the surface of the full shifter education.  Barely.  I’ve stayed away from SRAM thus far because SRAM went their own way a while ago when it comes to shifters…  To tell you the truth, I’ve never even used a set so I can’t comment intelligently on the double-tap system they employ for their shifters.

With that said, with each of the Brands, there are several product lines within the brands.  There are nine lines within “Shimano”…  Let’s see, going top of the line to bottom:  Dura Ace Di2 (Electronic), Dura Ace, Ultegra Di2 (Electronic), Ultegra, 105*, Tiagra, Sora, Claris, Tourney, and A050.  I placed an asterisk next to 105 because that is said to be the line of demarcation between racing components and leisure cruising.  Also, the 105 line is Shimano’s workhorse.  That line is known industry-wide to last forever and a day, and to take a beating.

Then Campagnolo:  EPS (Electronic), Super-Record, Record, Chorus, and Centaur.  Campagnolo Super-Record EPS runs anywhere from $2,700 to $4,000 for the entire line, while Shimano Dura Ace Di2 runs about $2,300, give or take, for the entire line of components.  SRAM etap runs about $1,900 and is cable free – the components speak to each other via Bluetooth.  Seriously.

The SRAM line is:  Red etap, Red, Force, Force 1x, Rival, Rival 1x, Apex and Apex 1x (1x refers to only one chain ring… no front derailleur).

Each brand above is listed top of the line to bottom.  The higher the line in the hierarchy, the more expensive and lighter the components (with the exception of the electronic models – the batteries add weight).  Now, I can even give you the differences between the brands, stereotypically speaking.  Shimano shifters are buttery smooth.  SRAM, on the other hand, give a grand “clunk” when they shift…. you know you’ve shifted a gear with SRAM.  Campagnolo (aka “Campy”) are dead in the middle of Shimano and SRAM.  Smooth, but with enough feedback to know you’ve shifted.  MicroSHIFT tends to be even more buttery than Shimano…  They’re smooth.

That last paragraph is why Campy components are so popular.

Finally, I want to talk about one more thing in relation to noobs and shifters, something that came up a few weeks ago on one of the blogs I follow:  Dial indicators on the shifters.  For Shimano, only Claris, Sora and the 050 lines have dial indicators – the bottom of the line-up.  There is a reason for this:  Once you’ve ridden for ten minutes without the indicators, you realize you really don’t need them because typically we shift till we run out of gears, then we shift into the small chain ring up front… and we have ten or eleven more gears (eight or nine for the lower lines) to work with.  What gear I’m in doesn’t matter.  What matters is my cadence and speed, so the dial indicators become useless….

Because?

They become useless because my drivetrain is tuned so well, I can shift both shifters at the same time, going up a hill, and my chain won’t drop.  I’ll just keep rolling.  Then there’s the “When in doubt, Baby Ring” way to manage hills and shifting.  If I don’t think I can climb a hill in the easiest gear with the chain on the big ring, I instantly shift to the baby ring (up front, remember; cogs are in back, chain rings are up front).  Shifting to a harder gear going up a hill is easy.  Shifting to an easier chain ring, unless you really know what you’re doing, is not.  If it looks like I might need the little ring, I don’t hesitate – this way I’m never caught in the wrong gear.

That covers the basics of shifters… stay tuned next Friday and I’ll dig a little deeper.

Curse You Chip Seal!  The Antithesis of Happiness, Good Times, and Sunshine to a Cyclist

My Trek was about as clean as an eighteen year-old bike can possibly be.  Two coats of wax, and polished to perfection….

Rarely will you find a bike that has been through so much, including being a loaner bike for the local shop for years, look so good.  With the obvious exception of the well-worn components, the bike was immaculate…. I-m-m-a-c-u-l-a-t-e.  

Then this:

Eventually, I will be glad that our road was resurfaced.  The old cracks are filled in and it’ll be smooth once again…  In the meantime though, it sucks.  Dirty, dusty and nasty, for two or three weeks until the rock chips are finally seated in the tar base layer.  Even then, it’ll be next spring before it’s smooth enough to enjoy riding on again.

Curse you Chip Seal.

Heaven on Earth can be as Simple as a Bike, some Friends, and a Couple of Hours to Let Loose.

I’ve had an awesome run at life over the last twenty-five years of sobriety.  There’s a chance of a few major potholes in my near future that will have to be navigated at high speed.  It’s times like these that my daily bike ride becomes extra important.  My ride is my decompression.  

A bike ride (or a bike) is not my Higher Power, so please don’t bother, just for the sake of being obtuse.

We rolled out after an 8-3/4 mile warmup.  My buddy Mike was up front with Doug, I was second, and we had another five or so behind each of us.  

The start was a little slower than normal but we were into a bit of a headwind. 

Fifteen wonderful miles later we were getting into the hills.  There once was a time I would struggle in the hills but those days are in my past.  I’m not the fastest in our gang, but I’m not near the slowest either.  

At 20 miles we’d rolled up the last decent hill and we were on our way down into Vernon.  The intermediate sprint at the City Limits sign.  I took my turn up the hill so I could ride wheels into the sprint, and I timed everything just right.  My main worry was Doug.  He took his turn right after me and he was sitting right on my wheel.  
The person up front in a sprint rarely wins.

I launched immediately after an oncoming motorcycle passed us.  We’d been cruising at around 24 mph, maybe, and I put everything I had into the launch.  I could see Doug’s shadow behind me and directly to my left so I broke right to disrupt his draft.  With 100 meters to go I was maxed out and I could feel Doug right behind me.  He was grunting against the effort.  I’d beaten him the week before and I knew he was way too competitive to let that sit.

I turned over the pedals as fast as I could and even managed to accelerate a little bit.  I was still barely ahead with 10 meters go go….  I had him.  By a front wheel.

My legs, unfortunately, were jelly and I only had eight miles in which to recover for the final sprint.  Rather than fade to the back, I like to take a turn up front after a sprint so I can control the pace and let the group form back up.  Then I can head to the back for a decent recharge.

Five miles later I was sitting four bikes back with three to go.  My legs had come around a bit but I still gave them a good shake to loosen up the cobwebs.  I was either going to end with a perfect lead out from Phill or I was going to have to sprint from the front – and that almost never works.  

Coming in to the last mile and it was Phill, then me, then the group, single-file behind us.  Phill was laying down an excellent pace and with a quarter-mile to go he started accelerating.  I knew then that Phill was going to bring it home.  

I waited till the farmhouse to launch my sprint from 27 mph.  I hammered just as hard and just before the City Limits I glanced at my computer.  35.1 mph.  I could see a shadow behind me so I kept the power on and cruised over the line by maybe three-quarters of a bike length.  I was cooked.

A family was waiting in the parking lot with water and Gatorade, ice cold and provided by their church.  They handed the drinks to anyone who reached for one…. Never seen anything like it.  I stopped, gratefully took a Gatorade, and took a minute to talk to them about cycling, our group, and what we do.  Of course I helped the kids pick up my bike so they could feel how light they are, then moved along to pack up.

We each talked about our ride, in particular how grateful we are to have started the B Group, and how nice it is to be able to ride hard and fast, without it becoming a race – that we can keep the group together.

Then it was on to a raucous board meeting for our bicycle club, and dinner at the local diner.

All of my troubles are still there today, but I slept like a baby last night, and right up to the alarm.  A bike ride goes a long way to putting a smile on my face, and sometimes that’s all I need to get fired up to suit up for another day in the trenches of life.

I Rode on a Padded Saddle (and I Liked It)….

It wouldn’t be quite as scandalous as Katie Perry kissing a girl (and she liked it), but it’s pretty close;  I ride on a padded saddle, and I definitely like it.

It’s against the rules (No. 61).  It shouldn’t work.  My butt should be aching after 20 miles.  It should be like riding on barbed wire after 50.  I should hate it.

But I don’t.  I really do like it.

Rule 61 allows for 3mm of padding on a saddle, with a special 2mm carve out for those who are fighting with saddle sores.  That Bontrager saddle has 4mm, but those 4mm work.  Of course, I have 1mm, maybe 2, on the Venge’s Romin.  If the two were combined, I’d be alright, no?  6mm combined padding, divided by two saddles… 3mm each.

All silliness aside, the saddle on my Venge is hard.  I figured all saddles should be like that one because the Romin saddle is butter on the Venge.  It was a good saddle on the Trek too, but all of the road vibration went straight through to my keister.  The 5200 is a harsher ride than the Venge (if you can believe that).  The extra three millimeters of padding on the Bontrager saddle make the 5200 an incredibly plush ride – almost as nice as the Venge.

There’s an important caveat though…  I had to raise the saddle a couple of millimeters to account for the thicker padding so I wouldn’t bounce when I pedaled, but the bike is smoother than it’s ever been – and smoother means faster.

So whatever the case may be with The Rules, I’m going to justify the thicker padding on the saddle because it makes an already decent ride, plush.  

I never thought I’d suggest this, but try it, you might like it!  Just beware, this can definitely be taken too far in a hurry.  If you’re thinking you need a gel pad to go over your saddle, there’s something wrong with your setup or the saddle is completely wrong for your physiology.

Oh, and if you really want to know the funny part:  I think the shop owner got that saddle off of a kid’s bike and had me try it as a backhanded joke because I happen to be a little finicky about saddles.  To quote Donald “Duck” Dunn in the original musical, The Blues Brothers, “If the $#!+ fits, wear it”.

To the Cyclist Hater:  Do You Honestly Believe a Cyclist wants to Share the Road with You?!

This won’t be a ridiculous treehugger post where we equate vehicles to pistols or rifles, because that’s silly, and only alienates participants of an important discussion.

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of angst out there about cyclists and their use of the road, and it’s building to a crescendo because cycling is growing in popularity again, or remains popular.  It’s like going for a walk.  Without the trouble of walking, is several times faster, and you get to buy a toy!  You haven’t seen anything yet – wait until autonomous cars come along and the car automatically treats cyclists right!  Then you’re going to see some anger.

I would like to make a few points about our equal right to the road:

  1. Do you really believe we have a desire to be on the same road surface with a person who is angered to a point of being willing to assault one of us, because they’re held up by 20 seconds waiting to safely pass us?  Really?
  2. Yelling at us, revving your engine, and honking won’t work, not as much as you wish it would.  We regularly hear of friends being picked out of a motorist’s grill and we still choose to ride.  Your acting petulant isn’t going to have the affect you think it will.
  3. I’m not about to hang up my super-bike because you get a little pissy about cyclists.  We are faster than most farm equipment and take up a fraction of the space and nobody would argue that farm equipment should be banned from roads.
  4. Here’s the important point though:  Your anger is misplaced.  You don’t want us on the road surface proper and we certainly don’t want to be there with you either!  In my home State a past liberal Governor promised a three foot shoulder on every new road built.  That never happened (though many roads in the north end of the State did get them).  With a decent shoulder, do you think we would opt to ride on the road surface?  It’d be a rare day and a big group that would get us anywhere near the road surface.  Don’t be angry with us, simply because we’re trying to stay fit, be angry at your State and local politicians who keep us on the road surface.  It’s their fault.
  5. Let’s look at another:  You’re angry because you see a Cyclist in the middle of the lane, dodging potholes?  I guaran-damn-tee you I didn’t cause the potholes with my bicycle, nor is it my fault the road is in shambles.  We pick the least-traveled roads we can to get us to where we want to go….  We don’t want to see you anymore than you want to see us.  It’s your local politician who has a responsibility to get the roads fixed.  While they’re at it, lobby for a rideable shoulder too!
  6. Last point, you’re not really angry with us when you think about it, you’re angry with your local political system for not adding shoulders and for not keeping up on road repair.  Take your angst out on someone who actually cares, because it isn’t that cyclist you see on the road every now and again.  They’re just trying to live a happy, fit life.
  7. As a capper to this post, this last point:  Cyclists aren’t from one party or another.  We encompass all political ideologies.  If you’re a Republican cyclist hater, chances are you’re buzzing a Republican cyclist, not an ignorant treehugger.  If you’re a Democrat cyclist hater, you’re probably buzzing a treehugger, not some racist conservative.  One thing is for certain, if you’re buzzing cyclists you’re the jerk and if you just happen to buzz one of us who has a camera on their bike or person (increasingly common nowadays), you just might wind up in jail where you belong.