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On Being a Cycling Weight Weenie and Climbing; Bike Weight isn’t the MOST Important Thing – it’s within Reach, really… But a Close Third
If I had a dollar for every pound I dropped off my Venge through upgrades, I’d have three Dollars. That’s not bad when you consider I started with an 18 pound bike.
Sadly, I’d only need another $1,897 to break even…
S-Works crank, FSA carbon-wrapped stem, wheels, and pedals – those were the big hitters that dropped the most weight. Brakes, handlebar, bottle cages, cassette, chain… those were smaller improvements.
All of that money and my 1999 Trek, that weighs three pounds more, is a better climbing bike. With the good wheels off of the Venge, of course.
Here’s the kicker; yes, a lighter bike is easier to get up a hill and with enough miles in the saddle you’ll be able to easily feel the difference in just one pound – but gearing is more important. Don’t take my word on it, look to the Velominati for the historical perspective (and this should be something the “Rule” haters should even be okay with): “Riding light bikes is fun, but they won’t make you go any faster. Pushing harder on the pedals does.”
I’ve lugged both bikes up that hill, and believe me, it’s decently steep. 18% and it goes up for a minute. By the time I get to the top I’m absolutely out of breath. My Trek, with a 9sp. triple, was easier to get up the hill and I think I could have done the climb with a gear left, too. On the Venge, it was the last gear or bust.
That’s really the trick, gearing. With a 52/36 crank on the Venge and an 11/27 cassette, the easiest gear I get is 36/27. The Trek, by contrast, has a 52/42/30 triple crank and an 11/25 cassette. 30/25 being the easiest. I’m sure it doesn’t take much to figure out that 30/25 is going to be a lot easier to turn over when things get steep. It’s enough that the gearing more than makes up for the weight difference in the two bikes. I am much faster up the hill on the Trek. So, I think for the average roadie, gearing would be most important. The right chainrings and cassette will mitigate a few pounds in bike weight. Now, you take my gravel bike against the Venge (or the Trek for that matter) and forget about it. The gravel bike is a beastly 23 pounds. There isn’t any amount of gearing going to fix a seven or four pound difference.
Now, you might be thinking, “wait a minute, a three pound difference in the Trek to the Venge is okay, but the four pound difference from the Trek to the Diverge is too much?” I’m already pushing a gear that matches up with the Diverge on the Trek – there’s no beneficial “easier but slightly faster” gear on the Diverge, so I’d be pushing gear for gear and four pounds more on the gravel bike. Advantage Trek, every time.
Next, without a doubt, is wheels. A good set of wheels will roll better than cheap, heavy wheels and will therefore help one get to the crest of a hill. Notice, at the beginning of the post, I mentioned that the good wheels have to go on the Trek? The cheaper wheels that currently reside on the Trek are for training. I use the wheels on the Venge when I want to go fast. The wheels matter.
So that would bring overall bike weight to third in the list behind gearing and wheels. So before you drop another Two Grand on making your road bike a couple of pounds lighter, maybe think about putting compact chainrings on there and upgrade the wheels instead.
***My friends, this was obviously an opinion piece. There is plenty of room for different opinions. I’m just going by my experience.
I can’t explain why my back likes cycling so much, but the results of 47,000 miles in the saddle are in, and they’re good.
First, I have a confession to make; if you guessed that I ride the bike I do, set up as it is, for reasons connected partly to vanity, you’re not wrong.
No doubt about it, my bike is sleek and awesome. So is my other one. And my other one. Oh, and let’s not forget my mountain bike…
Variations on a theme…
Anyway, getting back to the point, I ride in an aggressive posture. There’s a lot of drop from the saddle to the handlebar on my bikes. The mountain bike is the only one where the drop is a bit closer to normal.
Where this becomes important is that I have a really bad back. I have suffered physical back pain for most of the last three decades, unless I’m riding a bike. I used to define good weeks and bad weeks by how many Aleve I had to eat (because of my being an addict, I never accepted narcotic pain meds even though they could have been justified – I’d end up eating them like candy, it’s my nature). Two or three pain relievers a day for six days of the week was a really bad week. Two a day for three or four days in a week was average. One or two days a week was a good week. Before cycling, there was no such thing as a week without an Aleve (before 1994 it was Advil or Tylenol but I didn’t want to have to go through the pill amount conversion).
Today, after seven years of cycling regularly, my back isn’t cured but it certainly is manageable. My Aleve habit has dropped from as many as 20 pills a week down to one or two – or even none most weeks. On my recent mountain climbing cycling sabbatical I didn’t take a pain reliever. Three days, 160+ miles, climbing hills I’m not used to climbing, and I didn’t need anything for pain. My last day off the bike was April 14th, it’s currently May 20th.
I don’t do sit-ups, I don’t do core exercises, I don’t stretch… I just ride my bike with a smile stretched across my face, and it’s all good.
I’m sure there are contributing factors that explain my results, but I don’t know how to explain the fact I’m not all that flexible (I’ve never been able to touch my toes) but I can ride my bike comfortably with the aggressive set-up I’ve got, and doing so actually makes my back feel better.
In the end, I’m sure the lack of belly fat has something to do with it, as does the fact that I still get a great core workout riding. I think there’s one other thing at work here. It’s more a law; A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. Conversely, a body at rest tends to stay at rest…
I’ve had a semi-squishy saddle on my Trek for the better part of a year, now and at one time I thought it was the cat’s pajamas. Mind you, this wasn’t the 4″ thick, eight pound saddle people put on their leisure bike. No, this was a 10mm padded saddle (give or take). It’s too much.
I ride a hard saddle on my good bike. It’s not impossibly hard, it’s got a couple of millimeters of padding on it, but that’s not much:
Lately I’ve haven’t felt quite right riding the Trek even though I didn’t change anything on the set-up, but that was the bike I wanted to take up north for our cycling sabbatical for the triple crankset (when going exploring for mountains to climb, it’s typically a good thing to have as many gears as possible with which to climb said mountains). I did something a little crazy… because I knew the stinging pain I was feeling after 40 miles in the saddle was due to too much padding.
I had an identical saddle to the one on the good bike on the tandem, so I put it on the Trek. The day before the trip. Without testing it first. Not exactly smart, but I’ve put tens of thousands of miles on that Specialized Romin saddle – I knew it would be right and I knew exactly how to set it up for level and fore/aft (-2.1°, exactly 22-1/2″ from nose to handlebar center).
And my heinie was happy. The whole 160-miles-in-three-days trip. Not one stinging sensation – and in a place one definitely doesn’t want stinging sensations!
So, common thought typically suggests that one, if one is uncomfortable on a bike saddle, should buy a thicker saddle, with more padding. This is entirely opposite that which should be done. It is common misperception that racers and road cycling enthusiasts ride on those impossibly tiny saddles to save weight or to look cool.
We ride on those tiny-ass saddles because they’re vastly more comfortable over long miles at high speeds.
The trick is finding the right one and setting it up properly.
I picked up, marked almost half-off, the full set of Specialized Therminal 2.0 arm, leg, and knee warmers from Specialized’s website.
My last set, love it as I did, was put through the wringer. I hammered the warmers over seven years, putting them through gnarly weather and tens of thousands of miles of use.
As far as I’ve seen with the useful life of most cycling clothing, I’d have been happy with half the time I got out of my old set. The old arm, leg, and knee warmers were fantastic.
The new 2.0’s are better. They seem better constructed, they’re warmer, and they let through less cold air.
Sadly, when we rolled out yesterday, the temp was cold enough to require both arm and full leg warmers – actually it was colder than I like for leg warmers, I’d normally have gone for tights but I wanted to give the leg warmers a fair run in cold weather… 40° (4 C) and windy. And my legs were comfortable the entire ride, even into the wind.
Wearing my last set, I’d have been cold enough my legs wouldn’t have worked at their peak level. Yesterday I felt great the whole ride. Perfect.
I highly recommend them at full price. They’re a steal when marked down.
Cross-training, for the avid enthusiast road cyclist, is important. They say too much of a good thing, that would be cycling, can be bad. Or somethin’.
Something about weight training, or weight bearing exercise comes to mind. Heck, I think I wrote something about that way back when. I was running back then, not because I was good at it, but because it kept the pounds off. I only transitioned to cycling because running got a little boring. At the time, running made sense as a cross-training tool.
Then I went all full-on avid cycling enthusiast and running, well running didn’t even take a back seat. Running was following in the short bus five vehicles back from the back seat.
So here I am, and I have no problem getting on a bike daily to get my exercise in but there’s this nagging sliver in the back of my mind saying, “Well, ya gotta get your weight bearing exercise in, there big fella.” So what’s an avid cycling enthusiast to do?!
There’s only one problem, at least for me; once the weather turns nice, and right now it is nice, I find it very difficult to pick a 23 pound gravel bike over a sub-sixteen pound super-bike.
Enter my friend, Chuck. He’s a heck of a cyclist and he loves a wide array of cycling, from mountain biking, to gravel road cycling, to pure road cycling. So we’re talking at the Tuesday Night Club Ride the other night and he invites me to a gravel grinder ride out east of Fenton… It’s a tough ride, that one. A plethora of steep, short, punchy climbs through the whole 27 mile dirt road track.
I almost thought of bailing yesterday, to ride the road rig, but ended up opting for the butt-kicking I was sure to get on the dirt bike. In the end, I threw the gravel bike in the back of my car and got my butt bounced around for 27 miles on gravel roads, many of them washboard pothole strewn…
So, if you’re worried about issues arising from only riding on the road, give the gravel a try once in a while. Choose the right roads and it’ll definitely bounce you around enough.
This has been a public service announcement from Fit Recovery.
Cycling, as far as I’m concerned, is the best thing since sliced bread for weight lo… err, wait a second. That doesn’t quite work, now, does it? Anyway, the point is, cycling works for me because I love it. Whenever I have a rough day, I think about getting on my bike in the early evening and spinning that crap away. It works wonders.
So the Title is a bit of Click Bait… I don’t have a dozen of the best tips for cycling and weight loss because you only need one; Ride more, smile more, eat less.
That’s all we need. Oh, and a super-bike or two wouldn’t hurt.
I am a recreational cyclist… What you’re about to read my not seem like recreation to you, but it is to me.
Without question, the highlight of my season is DALMAC, a four-day, 100-miles-a-day bike tour from Lansing to Mackinaw City, Michigan. I ride plenty of great rides throughout the year, the Horsey Hundred in Kentucky being one of the nicest, but DALMAC is the one that really requires some actual training because while we don’t exactly have “get-there-itis”, we don’t stop to watch the paint dry, either. Last year we completed the 377 miles at an average speed of 18.55 mph and there’s quite a bit of up on the last three of four days. Our fastest day was the hilliest, 101 miles at 18.8 mph (30 kmh). The year before was 379 miles at an average pace of 18.2 mph (29 kmh – we had a brutal headwind the first two days that year). In ’15 we did the 388 miles at an average pace of 19.5 mph (31 kmh)… And in each instance, the last day was the fastest (it’s also the shortest at only 72-ish miles).
Most people have a tough time completing a century ride in five hours, let alone three in a row with another 72 on the last day for good measure. The short answer for how we train for that is, we ride a lot. Take 2015 as an example, I only took one day off the bike in September that year. I missed a day in August and two in July. The short answer doesn’t really get at the heart of it, though. There’s a method to the madness.
For starters, I’m very careful with how I stack my hard days on top of each other. For us, the weekends are for riding hard, so ride hard I do on Saturday and Sunday. The other days of the week are carefully plotted out, though – they’re the days that really whip me into shape so I can pound out four hard days in a row. I’ve established that I ride hard on the weekend days – usually a mix of one shorter ride (35-65 miles at 18-19 mph or 28-30 kmh) and one longer, faster ride (65-100 miles @ 19-20 mph or 30-32 kmh). My weekdays are pretty structured, too – mainly to get around work and having to make a living. Anyway, here’s a method:
- Monday – an easy 16 to 17-1/2 miler, at 16.5 – 17.5 mph (25 – 27 kmh)
- Tuesday – easy 7-10 mile warm-up, hard 30 miles @ 21-22 mph average (33 – 35 kmh)
- Wednesday – easy 16 to 17-1/2 miler
- Thursday – moderate 16 to 17-1/2 miler @ 18 – 19+ mph
- Friday – 28 to 40 miles easy at 17 – 19 mph (28 – 30 kmh)
The easy days are for cruising and spinning out the legs. They’re the hands on the bar-tops or hoods, rarely (if ever) in the drops, “look around at the world I’m riding through” kind of effort. They’re for spinning out tired legs and enjoying the scenery. They set up the hard days. Without those easy days, training would be a lot harder and require a lot of weekdays off, and I’m simply not willing to do that. They call it active recovery, and I like it!
That takes care of intensity.
The second aspect is distance (or duration). It doesn’t matter how fast I can ride 20 or 30 miles if I can’t do the big distance. Distance is ramped up over a period of a month or two, usually from March to May. Unfortunately, this year we’re a little behind the eight ball so we’re trying to ramp things up rather quickly – all in May.
Going by feel – I want to train hard enough that a distance 25-33% less than what I’m training for doesn’t take so much out of me that I feel the couch is needed for anything more than a nap after lunch.
Saturday morning we rode almost 82 miles (132 km). It was a slow ride, under 18 mph (28 kmh) for an average, but I was pretty tired afterward. Sunday was a lively 57 miles (92 km) at 18-1/2 mph (30 kmh). Now, for most people who take days off between rides, trying that early in the season would hurt them. Because I ride every day, I felt better Sunday than I had on Saturday. Next week we’ll do something similar and I’ll feel even better, same thing the week after that. Eventually those 75-100 and 50-70 miles rides will become comfortable. That’s exactly when I’ll be ready for DALMAC.
My plan is pretty simple, and because I like riding so much, it’s an ass-ton of fun. It isn’t flawless, though. The second day of DALMAC is going to hurt. It always does. The third day, I should start feeling better again and day four, even though it’s the fastest day, should be pretty awesome.
There will be other issues to deal with as well… saddle sores, maybe a strange mechanical issue or two. I’ll be as prepared as I can be, though.