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I started cycling and actually tracking mileage at 41, almost 42 years old so I’m shorting myself… meh, maybe 1,200 running miles but when you’re already above 65,000 what’s 1,200 between friends?!
At 50 years old I feel better than I ever thought possible. I wouldn’t say anything silly, like “I feel better at 50 than I did at 30″… I most certainly do not. However, between not drinking or using drugs, not smoking, eating a balanced diet and enough exercise to choke a horse, the equation isn’t exactly rocket science.
While a clean, active, happy existence isn’t a promise of longevity, if I’d kept up the way I was when I was a kid, there’s no question I’d be worm food already. According to doctors, I’ve been alive 20 years longer than if I’d kept drinking – my liver was that cooked.
Life, after sobriety, doesn’t necessarily come at me any easier but I sure do react to it a lot better – and therefore life itself is vastly better.
Let’s hope in another decade I’m celebrating another 60 or 70,000 miles… and continued recovery. Life does get better, as do I, if I work for it.
Enough that I feel sorry for those who wait for it to happen to them.
This post was originally written in 2014… under a different, horrible, very bad Title. I’m reposting it under a better Title
So you’re getting into cycling. You love it but you want to get faster and you’re at a loss for where to start. Fear not, it’ll take a lot of hard work and a little bit of cash, but it’s not impossible (and age, while it matters, isn’t as big a factor as many think). One thing is for certain though, if you don’t have a plan you can get bogged down on some of the less important aspects of speed because there’s a lot one can do to improve their overall pace on a bike. Let’s get right into it…
1. Weight (and we’re not talking about the bike here): Cycling is not like golf, meaning you can’t cycle around your gut – it’s just the nature of the sport. This doesn’t mean you can’t ride, it just means you can’t realize your full potential until you drop the gut. First, being heavy will mean extra weight climbing hills and you won’t be able to make that up on the downhill – the disadvantage is disproportionate to the advantage. Second, having to work around a belly will mean that you can’t ride low on the bars and drops which, in effect, turns you into a big sail on top of a bike. The best way to get fast is to get low, out of the wind. The cyclist’s weight is the single most important factor to cycling, above all else – and it’s also the cheapest to do something about. Ride more and eat less – in fact, fixing the weight can even be said to save money.
This dude has some gut to work on.
Bike Setup: The single most important bike related and second most important factor detracting from speed is the bike setup. There are a few things a noob must embrace when it comes to the setup: 1) You don’t know what you’re doing. 2) The setup person at your local shop does. 3) Millimeters matter and by that I mean one or two. Get your bike set up by someone who knows what they’re doing and pay attention while they’re doing it so you can change it on your own as you improve and lose weight. Important areas: Saddle height (this needs to be within 2 millimeters of dead on). Saddle fore and aft (one millimeter). Stem Length (5-10 millimeters). Things to remember: You don’t change the fore-aft position of the saddle if you have to reach too far for the handlebars – ever. Do NOT do this. You buy a longer/shorter stem. Your feet, and legs and more importantly, knees have to be in a specific position above the axles of the pedals. Saddle height is nothing to trifle with either. 2 millimeters too high and you lose power at the bottom of the pedal stroke, where you need it. 2 millimeters to low and you lose power at the main section of the pedal stroke – where you need it even more.
UPDATE: MJ Ray, in the comments, suggested verifying the bona fides of your “fitter” as some “fake it”. I agree, though thankfully I’m spoiled in this regard – the owner of our local shop has more credentials than could possibly be needed.
Diet, both on and off the bike: Now this is a tricky one – if you have any questions, first look to #1. That notwithstanding, you’ve got several camps on this front. The main groups would have to look something like the healthy eaters, the vegetarians, the omnivores and the sweets fanatics. I’m an omnivore who enjoys his occasional treat. Fit into any of the first three and if you want to lose weight while you ride, I might even suggest limiting the meat and bread to an extent, with the understanding that your body will require a substantial amount of protein to build muscle as you work on getting faster. Once the weight is under control though, I would recommend against a vegetarian diet. Veggies are not a great power-food. In fact, at no point in the history of mankind, ever, has someone uttered the phrase, “Yeah, I got a big race tomorrow, I’m gonna veggie load.” If you’re going for speed, even sugar (within another longer burning fuel source, of course) is far better for you than a cucumber. You must, one way or another, learn to love bananas though.
Fitness/Legs and Flexibility: Next up would be fitness and flexibility. For the fitness, this only takes time, miles and intensity. Get to it. The flexibility is simple enough but requires a little pain tolerance, at least to do it my way. I’m not big into stretching, yoga and all of that hoo-ha so I worked on my flexibility on the bike. This meant getting used to riding in the drops regularly for long periods of time – the goal at a minimum should be an hour straight riding in the drops. The more you can ride in the drops, the lower you can drop your stem, the faster you’ll be able to ride. Just keep in mind that too much of a good thing is bad. As far as the legs go, here’s the catch phrase (Copyright, of course): “A high-end bike won’t fix low-end legs”. Burn that in.
Bike Frame Material: Holding a decent average on a high-end entry-level bike (meaning not your big box special road bike with the twist-grip shifters, those are crap and will slow you down when it comes to shifting into the proper gear as needed – you want Trek, Cannondale, Specialized, Jamis or Scott just to name a few) is possible, often desirable to some racers because the aluminum frame of the entry-level bike is stiff. No power loss when you’re putting the hammer down. On the other hand, that stiffness comes at a price: Comfort. You’ll feel every single little pebble in the road. If you can afford a carbon fiber bike, they’re much more comfortable. How does this translate to speed? Well, rolling over gnarly pavement on an aluminum bike can be quite demoralizing as the miles rack up. You can literally feel the speed bleed over the bumps. On a carbon fiber bike, they absorb chop a lot better so you should be more comfortable and able to hold high speeds for longer. This was a great leap for me, one of the happiest days of cycling, when I brought home my first full carbon bike. Take note though, how low this is on the list.
6. Wheels: In my experience, wheels are one of the most overlooked component to cycling with speed. While the nice carbon aero wheels are great, a decent set of wheels with some high-end hubs will go a long way to making a decent speed maintainable. You can overcome the disadvantage of cheap wheels (I do, mine only cost me $370 or so), but even my cheap wheels were a vast improvement over the wheels that came on the bike originally. When it comes to wheels, the good stuff does matter, but they’re not worth the poor-house either.
7. Aerodynamic Equipment: Notice this is before the overall weight of the bike? The only time aerodynamic equipment takes a back seat to weight is in the mountains. Aero beats weight every day of the week and twice on Sunday otherwise. You’ll be able to get around the equipment with hard work and guts but it’ll take a lot of both to do it. Unfortunately, you’ll be paying top-dollar for anything aero – from helmets to clothing to the wheels and bike itself. Aero is never cheap unless you can get a deal on last year’s stuff – and even then, it only costs an arm… Which is good, you’ll need that leg to ride.
8. Bike weight: Finally we’re down to bike weight. Now, if you’ve got the cash, this is the easiest way to pick up a little bit of speed. All it takes is a month’s salary (on average of course). Having a light bike helps immensely on hills, there’s no doubt about that, but on flat ground it’s really not all that big a deal (see #7).
Just think, for the bargain price of $15,000 (and change), you can have a 10 pound bike too (4.65 kg)! Just remember, that reduced weight comes with a price. You’d better be pro skinny and be ready for that light bike to feel like you’re riding a bike made of pre-cooked spaghetti. 15 to 18 pounds is a great range to be in. 18 or 19 pounds is reasonable. Above, say, 22 pounds, start shopping if you want to go fast. You’re riding an anchor.
Now, it could be stated that component choice should be included in this post as well but I can clear that up in one fell swoop: As long as you’re looking at any of the three main manufacturer’s base race lines (Shimano 105, or SRAM Rival as examples) or better, the components won’t have much of an effect on speed. Obviously, the more you’re willing to spend, the lighter the components are but by the time the noob gets to that point, you’re splitting seconds. Whatever line you choose, save the down tube shifters and the bar end shifters for your leisure bikes. If you want speed, the integrated brake/shifters are the only way to go. Anything less will have you working harder to keep up. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the shifters aren’t that big of a deal, that you can get used to the down tube shifters and everything will work out. You’ll be wrong. I was.
I’d managed to cut all the grass, by sheer determination and want to, Saturday afternoon. We’d ridden just shy of 100k and I really wanted a decent nap but we had another cool metric century planned for Sunday and I figured I’d be tired Sunday afternoon after our second in a row. No sense in leaving some for Sunday so I powered through it.
Then Chuck texted Saturday afternoon… I’ll give you the important parts:
“I think I’m goin for 100 tomorrow” Then, “Lemme know. No pressure of course”
I wrote back that I’d check with my wife and get back with him… and fell asleep before she ever got home.
After my wife woke up to her alarm Sunday morning, we had that conversation and I texted Chuck I’d meet him on the road.
And so it was.
We rolled out under perfect cycling conditions. Barely a breeze, slightly under room temperature, and fair skies. I’d calculated our route to get to the meeting spot using Maps which said 18 miles. The goal was to chill on the way over, but we couldn’t chill much if we were going to make it on time. I pushed the pace… just to find out it was only 17 miles. With a 19.5-mph pace we were there ten minutes early.
Diane laid out a course that would highlight some of Mid-Michigan’s wheat fields before the harvest this week for Sunday Funday. It was supposed to be a long track, though, around 65 miles, so my wife and I opted for single bikes in lieu of the tandem (that’s just a little too much tandem right there).
I don’t know how far in we were when we hit our first wheat field, but that’s it. Those are, I believe, sandhill cranes in the background.
Greg, you can barely see him at the front on the right, established the “no pull” lane for anyone who wanted to sit in. It filled quickly. Diane asked me to take the spot directly behind Greg because I cast a bit more of a shadow than he does, and third bike is usually better than second. And so it was for probably 20 miles at 20 to 21-mph… into the breeze. I don’t know how Greg does it.
We rolled into the town of Elsie, out in the middle of nowhere, and stopped at a renowned coffee shop downtown. The shop owner, one of the kindest ladies I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, filled our water bottles. In turn, we bought some snacks for which we paid a little extra. I was a little bummed we didn’t have time to stay for breakfast – the place smelled amazing.
My wife started having mechanical issues on the final stretch heading home. At first we though it was the front derailleur cable slipping but it ended up being the crank loosening (!). I made the necessary repairs to get her rolling again but her front shifting was fairly pooched. It was going to take some work later on. I got everything squared away enough using Chuck’s simple Allen wrench set (thank GOD he carries that!) that my wife could hobble back using the big ring – she wouldn’t be able to use the little, but we were on a flat route and on the home stretch.
The route ended up shorter than was intended but nobody was complaining. We rolled into the parking lot right at 19-mph, faster than we should have done. Fast enough I actually felt bad. I should have done something to rein the pace.
I had other things to worry about, though. Chuck and I still had 23 miles to go… and I wasn’t feeling all that awesome. Still, we had tailwind almost all the way home. How bad could it be?
At 85 miles I wanted to lay down in the ditch and take a nap. At 95 miles I actually contemplated doing that. At 98 I just wanted to go home… as we passed my home because we were only at 98 miles. I was going to complete a 4 mile loop and drop Chuck at his house but a mile up the road I told him I was turning around to take my toy home. I’d had enough. I pulled into the driveway with 100.11 miles and I was a shade over “medium” (in steak parlance).
From there, the rest of the day was a flurry of activity and I never did get a good nap in. I was present, if a little cranky, at a board meeting for the bicycle club, cooked dinner, and had one of those talks fathers dread with their daughter and wife. Not that talk, but bad enough.
I fell asleep on the couch watching Mission Impossible: Fallout.
It’s going to be an interesting week. Fortunately, I have everything I need to meet any challenge I might face. This is one of the many reasons I continue to work a program of recovery…
After riding my Trek for the B Group’s huge 24-mph best ever loop on Tuesday night and then for another excellent effort Thursday (we were expecting rain both nights), and with a fine wheelset now on the Trek, choosing between which bike to take becomes much more intricate. I’d always assumed choosing the Venge between May and October would be a no-brainer unless rain was called for. The Venge is better than two pounds lighter (1.2kg), it has 50’s on it… and look at it.
The Trek is a damn fine machine, though… there’s just something about its classic look…
Meh, I’ll have plenty of time to ride the Trek when the snow flies. I rode the Venge yesterday for what ended up being just shy of a 100k ride with friends at a 20-mph average. It was a beautiful day, if a little windy, but we worked the miles out so that we ate the vast majority of the headwind on the way out – a steady diet of 27 miles of headwind wore on us but we managed a healthy 18.5-mph average into the wind. Then we headed for home with a most fantastic push and the average climbed quickly. We ended up pulling into the driveway with a 20-mph average, on the nose. 61.27 miles in 3h:03m:31s
This is pretty indicative of the conditions we ride in between May and the middle of September. Over the last few years most of our roads were repaved so we are in the middle of being about as spoiled as a cyclist can get. Minimal traffic, maximum awesome tarmac, sunshine and cycling with good, competent group of friends.
So on tap for today, my weekday riding buddy, Chuck and I are going to ride out to the ride, about 16 miles each way, plus a 65 miler, so we’ll have to figure out where to add three more miles on the way home so we can get an even 100. The conditions will be some of the best we’ve experienced all year. Light breeze, partly cloudy, low 60’s at the start, rising only to the upper 70’s by the time we’re done, and with the wind increasing as the day goes so we get a better tailwind push home that we fight going out… plus 100 k of that ride I’ll be riding with my wife and the rest of my friends.
The only way life could get any better would be to do all of that and win the lottery. On thing is certain; I am a fortunate man. Call it a recovering drunk’s privilege. Or something. I may have to work on that. It doesn’t sound “victimy” enough. Chuckle.
With any luck, I’ll end up with almost 300 miles this week – and some fast miles at that! 118 of those miles were north of 20-mph… 57 were north of 21-mph, and 28 miles were north of 23. Life’s been a perfect storm of awesome. And I love it when that happens.
Does Bike Weight and Becoming A Weight Wienie Actually Matter? Does A Light Bike Help or Hurt A Cyclist? A Look at a Misleading Article on Bike Weight
First, I’m going to be straight up; bike weight matters. So does my once fat ass, and yours (fat or not). What’s the use in having an aero bike when one’s figure is anything but? Yes, pushing oneself away from the table is most important and the easiest, cheapest way to dial the weight factor down on the cyclist/cycle combination. This is all true.
The object of my weight wienie-ness…
I ran into an article on the Pros Closet that delves into the question of bike weight and whether it’s worth the cost. On reading the article, the author makes a fair case that being a weight wienie is expensive. It is. However, she gets into a little deception when bringing up the cost vs weight savings. She uses a 77 gram, $11 aluminum bottle cage as an example against a Specialized S-Works Zee Cage, $70. Now, she gives the proper cost of a carbon zee cage, but the photo she uses shows a $20 plastic zee cage being weighed. So you’re getting what looks to be a 36 gram difference for an additional cost of $59. It’s really a $9 difference in cost for that 36 grams (worth it). It gets better, though. A carbon zee cage weighs just 28 grams, a difference of 49 grams next to the alloy cage. Add two bottle cages together and you’ve got a little less than a quarter of a pound (but more than two tenths of a pound)… on just two bottle cages. Sure, you’re spending $140 for a couple of bottle cages, but two-tenths of a pound just on bottle cages?! I’d do it. Hell, I did it! Twice. I bought the Chinese cages for $18 each, though… so for an additional $7 a cage, I saved more than two-tenths of a pound. Without question, worth it.
Now, I only know all of this because I’m ridiculous and a little bit meticulous about trimming weight off my Specialized Venge. I’ve got an ultra-light stem (110 grams), an ultra-light S-Works crank, carbon pedals, the aforementioned carbon cages, carbon wheels, carbon handlebar, Ultegra drivetrain… Ultegra cassette, SRAM ultra-light chain… when I pulled that Venge out of the box, it weighed 18.8 pounds, not including pedals. It’s down to 15.8 (15.5 if I use the 110 gram carbon saddle I’ve got, but it’s just too uncomfortable). Now, can one feel the difference between three pounds? Abso-freakin-lutely. I can feel a pound, but only because I have so many miles on each of my bikes. That’s not the question, though. The question is, do those three pounds matter in terms of how fast I can get my bike down the road.
Because most of my fastest rides were on this:
An 18-1/2 pound, fully restored and updated 1999 Trek 5200. Not ironically, it has Blackburn carbon cages and those were expensive ($55 each).
It only worked that way, that most of my fastest rides are on the Trek, by chance, of course. It was due to weather. The Specialized is much faster – noticeably, tangibly faster. But the three pound difference, well, two-and-change now, doesn’t make much of a difference. I just have to work a little harder (and yes, I do and can feel the difference).
Let’s go one better, though. How about almost a five pound difference?
Now we’re looking at my Trek vs my gravel bike, a 23 pound Specialized Diverge. Now we’re talking some weight. Now, supposing I put some real road tires on that Diverge… can the “me” on the Diverge keep up with “me” on the Trek? No chance, no how, no way.
On my Trek, average estimated wattage for a 28-mile, 24-mph average ride is a whopping 273 watts. On the Diverge that adjusts to 399 watts… For an hour and ten minutes? Sign me up for the Tour de France. No chance I can hold that, no matter how big the draft. That’s a difference greater than most people can even pedal a bicycle (136 watts).
So my two cents on the subject is this; to an extent, the bike’s weight does matter, especially when you start getting into the really heavy bikes. It just doesn’t matter as much as some think (or maybe hope).
Now, one thing I did appreciate about the Pros Closet article is that the author looked at how light is too light – at which point does a lightweight bike mean a decrease in performance. I don’t have to worry about this problem because I’m not going to bother trying to get the Venge much lighter. It’s good enough for government work. However, at some point you’ll sacrifice stiffness to weight reduction and end up with a spaghetti bike. I can tell you this, that weight is below 15 pounds.
Besides, I think they were more talking about mountain bikes and durability in the article anyway (except one of the merchandizing office guys she quoted).
So there you have it. Of course a light bike will be slightly faster and a heavy bike will be considerably slower. The trick is your definition of light and heavy combined with how you’ll be riding said bike… and the depth of your bank account. In my case, every upgrad I made was worth it. Every pound I dropped, worth it. I just don’t have to delve any deeper.
Trigger (heh) warning: If you happen to be a sissy, the following might trigger you into sucking your thumb and curling up into the fetal position for anywhere from five minutes to several days. Do not read this post if this is something you’re capable of. I haven’t sucked my thumb since I was knee-high to a grasshopper (I think I was 3) and the last time I was in the fetal position, I was actually in the womb, a person like me would be reasonably safe to read what I’m about to write. You have been trigger (heh) warned.
My daughter, for my 50th birthday, baked me the most delectable carrot cake (with cream cheese icing, of course) to ever have passed my lips. It was one of those cake eating experiences that, because it’s so utterly fantastic, makes you close your eyes in ecstasy the first several bites.
So there I am last night, sitting on the couch after a big, fast Thursday night ride (36 total miles) and, because I’m so attuned to what my body is telling me, my body says, “Hey, yo! Down here! Hey, I need some carrot cake down here!”
Well, now that’s a reason to rejoice right there! My body says it needs carrot cake! Well, you know what happens next: I’m ass-deep in cream cheese icing when I realized I’d made a mistake in interpretation…
My body only asked for carrots. My melon filled in the “cake” part.
The Noob’s Guide to Cycling Clothing: Bibs, Shorts, Jerseys… Are The Expensive Options Worth The Money? (And How and When To Go Cheap)
So, I think the real question is this, are those high priced cycling clothes worth the crazy price tag?!
Now, two years ago I’d have said, “it depends” or maybe even given you a flat-out “not really, but(t)”. See, expensive bibs and shorts are, without question, worth the money if you’re going to be putting in long days on a saddle and you can afford them without undue pain to the finances. We’re looking at, say 60+ miles in a day. I’d also have then added, the jerseys really aren’t necessary but they’re a nice luxury. Today, my opinion has changed for the pricey on the jersey after a few lucky purchases…
We’ve all seen the noob just getting into road cycling sporting the Sponeed kit (hell, I have a Coconut kit myself). While the Chinese brands are acceptable, even fairly comfortable. for shorter rides, they tend to fall flat (read that “painfull”) over longer stretches in the saddle. But what about the jersey, you ask?
The jersey is where this gets fun. I actually really like my Coconut jersey, and Funkier has some good stuff, too. That said, while the cheaper Chinese stuff is passable, the expensive tech stuff, say the Specialized SL Race and SL Air jerseys, are fantastic in warm temperatures. Sadly, they suck if you’re a little chunky because they show a lot, but they are vast improvements in that they help to keep you cool in the heat. A lot better than a standard jersey.
Even our standard Affable Hammers jerseys from Mt. Borah, as fantastic as they are (and as well as they hold up over time – they’re literally spectacular in that regard), pale next to a newer full tech kit (Mt Borah does have a tech line that’s spectacular, I just don’t own any of those jerseys to be able to comment on them – my friends are very pleased). The newer tech kits are so good at wicking moisture, over a long ride I’ll end up with a salty crust on the outside of the high quality jerseys.
There are tricks to purchasing that can put the most expensive items in your drawer…
This is where this post is going to get important. Lean in, real close… [whispering] I can’t afford expensive kits. I’ve got a fleet of bikes to maintain, my wife and I both ride, and I don’t make a Quarter of a Million Dollars a year. We feel the pinch of cycling’s expensive nature now and again, but I’ve learned how to avoid paying top Dollar for top-of-the-line cycling clothing. I buy everything on sale. The aforementioned Funkier? They have a sale on bibs going on right now, all sizes available, $19.99. That’s not a typo. I bought two pair. Even if they just sit in the drawer till I need them, they’re worth it. Specialized team kits – I bought two last year. Normally $300+ for a jersey and bib set, I paid less than $150 each set. Specialized’s bibs? I bought two pair from the SL line for $99.99 – $50 off one pair and $80 off the other. I bought an SL Air jersey on sale for $37.99, I think that jersey was $60 off retail – and I bought several items for my wife using the same technique.
The key is shopping when I have money, and avoiding it when I don’t. We’ve had to drop a couple grand on making my vehicle run properly lately and that’s put us in a bit of a pinch so I absolutely quit shopping. I don’t even look. No need to tempt myself. On the other hand, I laid out a lot of cash picking up the items I mentioned above. $300 for a couple of cycling outfits is a lot of money… but I didn’t spend $600. The key is finding the deals when they hit and having a little bit of backup cash to blow in the event I find something worth purchasing.
And when cheap will do…
Let’s say you don’t have the disposable cash to make the bigger purchases – $150 for one kit is simply too much. First, stick to black bibs or shorts because they’ll go with any jersey – don’t purchase a pair of bibs that obviously has a matching jersey that will have to go with the shorts. You’ll end up buying the jersey when you realize how dorky the shorts look with another jersey. Second, the less expensive cycling clothing works on shorter rides. See, I’ve got four distinct kits for long distance cycling – I need that many for DALMAC, a four-day tour from Lansing, MI to Mackinaw City, MI (380 miles in four days). I’ve also got several less expensive jersey and bib combos to choose from for 20 to 50 mile rides. It makes sense to not to wear the good stuff on the short rides because I won’t wear it out near as fast if I’m only washing it a dozen times a year, rather than once a week. Set out with a strategy to maximize the bang for your buck. You’ll appreciate it when you’re coming down the home stretch of a hundred mile ride in the dead of summer and you’re feeling a lot fresher than you normally would in a lower-quality kit.
And to put a nice little bow on this post, in the event you can only afford the cheap, Chinese Sponeed or Coconut cycling kits, buy ’em and be proud. “Want to” is a lot more important than an expensive kit. That “want to” just hurts a little more when you don’t have the best cycling clothing money can buy.
UPDATE: The Omil, down in the comments section, makes a fantastic point as seasoned cyclists go. Do give that comment a look.
Cycling And Speed: There’s A Difference Between Knowing There’s A Hill… And Climbing The Hill; Beating The Mental Block To Being Your Best On A Bicycle
Who can forget when Neo just begins to discover he really is “the one“, when Morpheus utters that simple line, “There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path”, in the movie The Matrix (1999 [1999?!])?
So it is with cycling and speed. There’s a difference between knowing fast and cycling fast – actually doing it. The tone of this post should not be taken as one of braggadocio, but of humility. In cycling, the phrase there’s always someone faster was ever thus and shall always be. I am a very small fish in a very big pond… but I’m a small fish who also happens to be decent with a keyboard – and we are a rare breed, indeed.
First, I’m going to be straight up here. If you try to push your limits, you’re going to get dropped every now and again. You’re going to spend some miles crawling back after you’ve popped. How can you learn to pass your limit if you don’t know your limit in the first place?
Next, and this is a big one, you have to shove aside that negative self-talk and doubt bullshit. I know people near as strong as I am but talk themselves into hurting when they’ve got gas left in the tank. They’re miserable and struggling and I’m just cruising along. If ever there was a saying to embrace in cycling, “this too shall pass”. When I’m feeling a haggard, I know it’ll pass and I’ll feel at least a little better before long. There’s an ebb and flow to cycling at higher speeds. Try to concentrate on the flow a lot more than the ebb. In fact, let go of the ebb.
Save your good legs for the big days! If you’re one who lets a lack of confidence gnaw at you, for the love of God and all that is holy, good legs for good days. You don’t go out the day before a big ride and go hard. We mere mortals have to pick our battles. Of course, you don’t take a day off either. The day before a big ride is perfect for an active recovery day. You’ll want to be slow enough that you get a little antsy about whether or not you should be trying a little harder. If ever there was a day to take a few pictures along your route, the day before a big day is it. Chill out and ride on the bar-tops a bit.
Eat, but don’t be all crazy about it. Carb-loading is great and all, but you can only store so much “carb” before it becomes “fat”. An extra slice of pizza? Great. An extra pizza? Not so much. If you feel like crap when you clip in, you’ll be thinking about that extra pizza weighing you down. Cue confidence train wreck and you dropping off the back, dejected. Don’t do that to yourself.
Now, finally, repeat after me: I am a badass. I’m a horse. I am fast. I am strong.
Now get out there and hammer it out.
Road Cycling, Comfort, and the Setup of a Road Bike; A Detailed Overview of the Bike Setup Pitfalls that Effect Comfort
In the photos above, I’m on two entirely different race bikes. On the left, I’m in front of the guy in black and florescent yellow on my secondary “rain” bike, a standard 58 cm frame, in the drops. On the right, I’m at the back in the red and black on my good bike, a compact 56 cm frame, on the hoods. If you use the stack and reach method of measuring a bicycle, where you measure off set objects (a wall or the floor), the setup on both bikes are almost identical (saddle is the same height off the ground, same distance from the wall, handlebar same height off the ground, etc.). There are a couple minor differences, but they don’t effect the ride of either bike.
And it’s taken one hell of an education to get my bikes to where they’re comfortable. With this post, I’m hoping to shorten the time span it takes to accrue the knowledge and simplify the intricacies.
size of bike/frame
I can’t think of much more important than frame size when it comes to the comfort of a bicycle – and a road bike is that much more important because once a cyclist finds out how much fun the speed is, said cyclist will spend a lot of time on said bicycle. With the wrong frame size, compensations must be made in order to get a person on the bike in something that mimics comfort but isn’t quite it. For examples of what not to do, click here. Actually, I’ve got my bikes on there too, as what to do, also. Now, where this gets interesting is when you look at my knowledge, which is exceptional for an avid enthusiast, contrasted with someone who builds/built bike frames for a living. Folks, I know a lot about bikes but I’m an ignoramus next to a frame builder when it comes to knowing the angles and tube lengths, etc., etc. The owner of our local shop put my wife on a 54 cm Alias when I was sure she’d need a 56 (she’s 5’10”). My standard frame race bike is a 58 while my compact frame race bike is a 56. A qualified person will take angles and geometry into account that we mere mortals simply don’t have the equations for. Unless you really know what you’re doing, it might be best to leave frame size to the pros.
saddle fore/aft position
This is an easy one. Keeping in mind that the setup of a time-trial or triathlon bike is different, a standard road bike position is fairly simple. With the crank arms parallel to the ground and you in the proper position on your saddle, the leading edge of your front knee should be directly over the pedal spindle. Use a level or a plumb-bob to line you up. It’s as easy as that.
The saddle width can be an enormous issue that, if too wide, can lead to severe pain. Look at me. Severe. Said pain will radiate all the way down into the hamstrings and you’ll think something else is the problem. It happened to me. Whether or not you’ve had problems, I can’t recommend getting measured enough. It’s a really big deal.
With the fore/aft position squared away, we’re going to dial in the saddle height. This shouldn’t blow up anyone’s skirt, but saddle height matters. Too high and you’ll feel like you’ve got a saddle stuck in your butt. Too low and your power output will suffer. Also, as a rule of thumb, if the front/top of your knee(s) hurt, lower the saddle. If the back/bottom of your knee(s) hurt, raise it. With your bike on a trainer, put your heels on the pedals. Your legs should straighten out – perfectly straight – without rocking your hips. Micro-adjust from there (and re-check the fore/aft position).
crank arm length
Short crank arms aren’t a pain/comfort issue as much as long crank arms are. Long cranks are a huge problem if your legs are too short. I’m 6′ and I could take a 175 or a 172.5 – I go with the shorter. My wife is a 170, she’s 5’10” but has shorter legs. I have a friend, Jason, who just found out that, at 5’7″, he’s a 170 and that 172.5’s are painful. Suffering through short cranks isn’t such a big deal, you simply spin more and don’t get as much leverage on the pedals. Too long is a huge problem and, if left unchanged, can lead to severe knee problems.
If your cockpit is too short, you end up jammed and can’t breath right. Too long and you’ll ride in weird positions because reaching for the hoods or drops isn’t comfortable. If you prefer to ride hands on bar top rather than hoods, you’ve got a problem. The problems poor cockpit sizing can cause are almost too numerous to list. Numb hands, sore shoulders, sore neck, sore ass… sore just about anything else.
width of handlebar
Now this one might be a bit of a surprise. Handlebar width, typically 42-mm for a male, 40-mm for a female, is one of those issues that won’t appear to be a big deal until you ride a bike that has your proper handlebar. I rode, comfortably, a 44 for years before settling into a 42 and heaven on a bicycle. Riding on a bar that’s too wide or slim didn’t present any pain problems, but the proper width sure felt better.
reach and drop of handlebar
The reach and/or drop of the handlebar can be a factor if the cockpit isn’t quite set up properly. Case in point; my gravel bike. I bought a 56 cm Specialized Diverge because my Venge is a 56. What I didn’t know is that the gravel bikes have a relaxed setup to them so I didn’t have the same reach on both bikes. The Diverge was more upright. I put on a longer stem but it’ wasn’t quite long enough (though that was by design – I didn’t want to ride so low I’d have a tough time seeing and dodging potholes). Then, out of the blue, I decided to buy a Bontrager aero handlebar for my rain bike. That meant the standard bar I had on the Trek could be swapped for the compact bar that came on the gravel bike. Just like that, my cockpit issues were fixed. Switching from a compact to a standard bar made my gravel bike a lot more enjoyable to ride.
location of hoods/levers on handlebar
Now this one’s a little on the tricky side. To be “stylish”, the hoods should be parallel to the ground. Sometimes this simply won’t work as you end up putting too much weight on your hands. If your hands go numb, or you have other problems, you might want to try raising or lowering your hoods relative to the handlebar. I raised my hoods on my Trek a bit and the bike went from “meh” to “spectacular” just like that.
In that last item about the location of the hoods, equally important is the rotation of the handlebar relative to the ground. Basically, you want the drop portion of the bar close to or maybe not quite level to the ground. You don’t want the bar rotated enough that the bar ends are pointing up to the rear of the bike – you’ll be overcompensating for another problem by doing this. Fix the other issue rather than rotating the bar too far forward (see above and below).
pedals, shoes and cleats
The cleat setup on a shoe is so vastly important it’s hard to understate just how meticulous the setup process is and its value to creating a comfortable ride. Eventually, with enough miles on the saddle, you might become good enough to work on your cleat position (I do), but the best answer to cleat and pedal setup is to use ISSI cleats which are compatible with Look Keo pedals and cleats. The ISSI cleats are two-piece, so one piece can be removed at a time, insuring exact placement ever time you change your cleats. For my initial setup, when I buy a new pair of shoes, I always have the owner of our local bike shop set mine.
We rolled out Sunday morning with a small but lively group with a goal of just 45 miles at an easy, fun pace.
Yet another Sunday Funday on the tandem, my wife and I lighting up the front. We kept the pace steady, around 20-mph, the first 13 miles but Diane and my wife both had to stop to use a port-john before we got to town so three single started rolling a few minutes before we took off out of the school parking lot. We took it easy starting out but I fell into chase down mode and we took to reeling my friends in. After a nasty (but shallow and short) incline that my wife hammered up, we started putting down the serious watts. We had a sprint coming up in a few miles and it’s perfect for a tandem. We pulled around the lead group with about a mile to go and kept ratcheting the pace up to be discouraging to anyone wanting to come around. It didn’t work.
We pounded down the hill, shifting as we went until we settled into a good gear. The other tandem had come around as well as three of the single bikes and we were two lengths behind. Once everyone cleared us I figured my wife would ease up but she wanted the City Limits sign. She was laying out some power, so I gave it everything I had. In the stretch to the sign, we overtook all three single bikes at 34-mph and pulled along side the second tandem… but we needed another ten seconds. The got us at the line by a half-length. It was a good effort.
After a short stop at our normal gas station, we rolled out into the morning sun. It was starting to warm up but we had virtually no wind. The rest of the ride, up until about 43 miles when both our butts had had enough, was fantastic and we ended up pulling into the driveway with 45 miles and some change at 18.6-mph. That was speedy for a Sunday Funday on the tandem. And all was well.
I went out with a couple of friends and helped one of ours clear out some big items out of his garage. It was well over 90° and the sun was hammering us, but it was worth helping a friend out. We ended up working from noon till 3:30 or so. It was some hard work but we all felt pretty good about helping a friend out. After showering up, we had a fantastic dinner (grilled chicken and sweet potatoes along with a salad). I put on Aquaman after and drifted off sometime in the special features and slept like a baby through the night.
We’re still muddling our way through COVIDcation, but I can’t complain. It was a fantastic weekend of family, friends, sun, swimming, food and fun… and that most important aspect we celebrated the day before; Freedom.