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Bonus Miles and Yet another Perfect (if hot) Evening for a Bike Ride

I’ve been having a rough go at work lately and I’ve been using my evening rides as a break to center my melon.  Last night’s ride was exceptional for that.  Chuck called at 4:00 to let me know he was going to be a little late, so naturally I left a little bit early.  I rode at my normal leisurely pace (call it 17-18-mph) and just wandered for a few miles.  I headed over to Chuck’s house to find he hadn’t made it home yet, so I took a lap around his neighborhood and caught him pulling up to his driveway on the second.  A few more laps and he was ready to go.  The pace kicked up considerably and we did our normal 17-1/2 mile weekday loop.

The ride was divine, if exceptionally hot.

I ended up with 25 miles (just short, I actually had to mount back up and head out of the driveway for a tenth of a mile) when the dust cleared and headed in to the house.

My mind cleared, I sat down to dinner and watched Star Trek (the third newest one) on DVD with my kids.  I drifted off to sleep… some time after the final act, but definitely before the credits ended.  It was one of those nights; I’m sitting there enjoying the evening and BAM.  I’m asleep.

I woke up this morning fresh and recharged, ready to tackle another day.  It’s going to be another doozy, but I’ll be as ready as I can be for it… and I’ll likely throw another bike ride at the day this evening (and it’ll be another slow one).

This is my favorite benefit from cycling, shedding all of the day’s “junk” before dinner.  A bike ride has fixed a whole lot of “messed up” for me, and for that I am grateful.

 

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The Rare, Perfect Cycling Club – Something to Protect and Enjoy.

We have a group for every level of cyclist or bike rider in our club. About the only cyclist we can’t give a good workout to is a Cat 1 pro or better. For the purposes of this post, I’ll mainly be referring to our B Group, because that’s the one I know best – it’s the one I ride with.

We split the A Group in two a few years ago because the A guys were simply getting too fast for many of us to be useful. We ended up just hanging out at the back while the real A guys spent the first twenty miles trying to shake us off. We B guys (and ladies) would get spit off the back of the group over about fifteen miles, which meant we rode back alone – or with a few others if we were lucky.

Long story short, we split after much consternation. There were a several who were reluctant, but both groups were happier for the split. The A guys were vastly smoother for not having to weed us out. And we were smoother because we didn’t have to ride with our tongues dangling in our spokes anymore. With that split, a C, D, E and F group became more solidified as well.

I can remember our first Tuesday night this year with near perfect weather. I must have met 20 new cyclists that night, from all stripes. We had a guy on his mountain bike, his wife on her road rig (an Argon 18), a new kid on a Schwinn road bike with toe clips, several new guys who went with the A group, and we picked up three in the B group – almost all of whom have become regular riders. As new riders have come in, I meet them, introduce myself (I’m the club’s dictator president), and talk to them about their level of cycling ability, at which time I fit them in the group I think they’ll enjoy the most – after explaining that they can jump to the next group any time they like.

We’ve got calendar rides almost every day of the week and I’ve got a private invitation list that started out twelve deep but is now up to 26 (and counting).

The club sponsors one major ride per year – other than that, all we do is ride our bikes and try to promote the sport.

We have what I believe is the perfect club. It requires little work to keep going, has virtually no “dependents” (those who require constant attention), and each little group is self-sustaining… not to mention the fact that we’re far enough out in farm country that we have hundreds of miles of roads to ride on that are exceptionally light on traffic.

I follow cyclists’ blogs from around the world and from what I’ve read, what we have something special. Minimal effort, maximum enjoyment – and if you’ve got a bike and know how to ride it, we’ve got a group for you to ride in.

It’s as good as it gets.

Oh, by the way, if you have one of those litigious types who wants a form and a waiver to be signed before (and likely after) each ride, along with the filling out of a rider satisfaction card, shut the club down and ignore that person (or group of people) until they move. Then start afresh. If a bike ride takes that much paperwork, they’re f***ing doing it wrong.

I do, however, recommend the proper insurance(s). You don’t want to find out you have one of those losers in your club after it’s too late.

The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: The Stem and Handlebar – Understanding the Bicycle Cockpit and How it Works

I’ve seen a lot of strange things as bike cockpits go. Typical, and this is even among some strong cyclists, is the handlebar tilted up at an awkward angle so the bottom of the drop bars aren’t parallel to the ground. This tilts the hoods up, presumably to help with reach. There are angles for the hoods that pro bike fitters will shoot for, but I’ve tended to go by feel (and, ahem, looks), so I don’t know if I’m right… but I can ride 100 miles without my hands going numb on either road bike so I had to get something right. Or close to it.

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If your bike looks like this one, there is something very wrong with your understanding of how a bike should be set up. With the amount of seatpost showing, the rider is WAY too small for the bike. And that handlebar is entirely wrong.

The cockpit is where a lot of a bike’s mojo happens. Too stretched out and you feel like you’re always being pulled to the nose of the saddle. With the handlebars too close, you’ll feel like you’re sitting bolt-upright, or worse, like you’re crunched between the saddle and the handlebar, especially when you’re in the drops, and breathing properly will be nearly impossible. Another big mistake I’ve seen noobs make is to set the cockpit before the saddle, or simply live with the factory stem and set-up. The simple word is don’t.

Here’s a before and after of my A bike – Never ridden at the end of the 2013 season, and with 16,000 miles on it in 2018:

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First, notice the spacers below the stem on the 2013 photo. The stem length and angle are the same (just a different, lighter stem) on the ’18 photo. The saddle is back maybe 2cm and the handlebar doesn’t follow the plane created by the stem – the bar is rotated down to give me a bit more drop. One thing I would be critiqued on is the angle of my hoods – they’re just a touch passed level and they really shouldn’t be, according to Hoyle. On the Venge, the drop and reach are perfect and I can ride for hours in the drops – the reach is just right.  While a pro bike fitter might take issue with my hood angle, it works.

Then there’s the Trek:

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There’s a lot going on here, because I’ve changed quite a bit – everything but the brakes and chainring bolts. The saddle is a little softer because the Trek’s a harsher ride. The saddle is also a little farther back in the newer version of the bike and the stem is quite a bit longer – as is the reach in the bar itself. The hoods are entirely different. Back in 2012 I was riding, as designed by the shop owner, in a much more upright position, compared with now:

Shops tend to opt for the upright posture on a bike, a position I tend to disagree with, personally. Either way, I changed my cockpit to suit me as I grew as a cyclist – and let me tell you, the second photo is a whole ton faster than the first – and that’s the same bike.

So let’s look at the nuts and bolts of the cockpit. First, we set the saddle. Height first, then fore and aft, then we check height one more time to make sure we’re still good. These are both simple procedures. Then, once the saddle is set, we set the reach – because the reach can change once the saddle is properly set.

It’s here I run into trouble. I don’t know much about bike fit angles and such. It could be fair to say I know just enough to be dangerous. I do know what looks good, though, and these look good, ride fast, and are exceedingly comfortable.

What I did, rather than just go all willy-nilly, is I took my professional three-hour-long fit results and I changed the cockpit, little by little. Once I took it too far by a couple of millimeters, I went back. The result is the Specialized in it’s current state. From there, I did my best to transfer those numbers to the Trek, I even went with a 17° flipped stem so I could get more drop… because only with a bit more drop could I get enough to match the Specialized.  This is because the 5200 and Venge are different sizes and completely different geometries.  And I decided to do that because I saw this photo whilst researching another post:

Now, I made some improvements on the photo above.  Rather than put the shifter hoods on an awkward angle, I opted for straight in line with the handlebar plane and rather than rotate the bar forward and down, which would level out the bottom of the drops, I like following the plane created by the stem.  A small detail, of course, but I think the bike looks a little better with the cleaner cockpit angle.

To wrap this post up, there are some things that can be messed with on your bike’s cockpit, and some things that should be left alone.  The height of the stem, the angle of the handlebar and hoods, the drop or rise of the stem… all of those can be played with to your heart’s content.  The reach, or length of the stem, shouldn’t be messed with much after you’ve had your professional bike fit – with the understanding that raising or lowering the handlebar can change the required length of the stem depending upon how drastic a change it is.

It’s always best, when playing with the set-up of your bike, to go with small moves to make sure your body “likes” the change.  Be smart, research the changes you’re going to make, and don’t be afraid to go back once you’ve gone too far.

Happy cycling.

Cycling on a Budget; How to Look like You Spent $15,000… on a Fraction of That.

Road cycling is an expensive sport. A new entry-level bike runs a Grand. A decent bike is three or four times that. A top-end bike is north of $12,000 and can be painted, if you’re lucky, by an Italian fella who won’t commit to a timeline. You’ll get your bike after he decides to get to it.

Once we’ve got our bike sorted, then we’ve got pedals, shoes, a helmet or two… Great. The pedals run north of a hundred bucks, the shoes are double that, easy, and a decent helmet can cost more than most people would expect to pay for a big box bike.

Then we have the joy of looking at clothes. Because you’ve heard of Rapha before, you check them out… only to find a pair of cycling gloves that costs more than that aforementioned big box bike. For a pair of gloves!?

In fact, that’s exactly what I thought when I saw the $175 price tag.

Then you’ve got the $250 bibs and the $175 jersey. Times four. You swear. Your spouse rolls the eyes.

Folks, if it were really that expensive, I couldn’t have afforded to get into cycling, let alone my wife, too.  Don’t sweat it…  I’m not from the government, and I really am here to help.

There’s an art to looking good, on a budget. You’ve got to balance what you need with what you can afford.

You don’t need the $3,300 set of Enve wheels. $600-$800 will do fine. The bike? Buy used, $750-$1,500 (just be sure to get the right size). Shoes? Specialized Torch 2.0, one of the best deals on the market for a carbon fiber shoe – $150. Find a decent helmet on Competitive Cyclist, Pro Bike Kit, or Nashbar $100-ish – or hit the local bike shop. They’ll have something that will work – the lid I’m wearing in the photo above was purchased at the local shop. Bibs and jerseys? Clearance rack at the shop, or one of the aforementioned sites. Better, try Coconut bibs and jerseys on Amazon or eBay – you can’t go wrong there, for the price.  I don’t know as I’d try a century in one of the Coconut kits, but the bibs would be good for a metric.

So that’s the easy stuff. The trick is putting that budget stuff together to make it look good.  Kit yourself out in the most expensive clothing and put you on a Pinarello, you’re going to look pretty good – in most instances you do get what you pay for.  On the other hand, there are workarounds to a $#!+ ton of money.

First, eat less and ride more. If you look good, what you wear will look good.

Second, match what you wear with your bike.  It may seem cheesy but it looks cool when everything matches up.

Third, don’t go baggy on the jerseys.  If you’re bigger and feeling self-conscious, do what it takes to get yourself out the door.  Once you’re at a weight where you can, start switching to the tighter fitting kit.  You can’t look cool with five pounds of stuff in your back pockets and the back of your jersey sagging halfway to your knees.  That’s no bueno.

Fourth, bibs.  Not shorts.  The bibs hold what little gut you’ve got left, in.

Fifth, baggy bibs are bad.  Always.  The proper size is preferable but one size too small is better than a size too big and a droopy ass.  They should be fairly tight, but not ridiculously so.  Beware of sausage legs.  Return a pair of bibs that give you sausage legs.

Sixth, and perhaps this should be first, keep the bike clean and well lubed.  Your bike will make a distinct sound if it’s not lubed regularly.  It will sound dry when it’s ridden.  Others will notice that you don’t take care of your bike and you will feel self-conscious when yours is the loudest bike in a group (this can’t be helped with all of the kind, false-hope words in the world.  You can try to ignore it but you won’t be able to).  Better to just take twenty minutes a week to clean and lube your bike.

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Seventh, learn to ride in a straight line.  Playing “dodge the draft” is not going to win friends.  It will, however, influence people – but not in a good way.  Learn to ride well.

Eight, smile.  You’re out there to have fun.  Give fun your best effort.

Nine, and this is another important one, think about how you affect the cyclists you ride with.  Nothing makes one look bad like selfishness.

Ten, shop the clearance racks.  It won’t matter that it’s last year’s kit.  Purchasing clothing out of season is a great way to save a veritable $#!+ ton of money.  This includes internet sites – look for the clearance items.

To wrap this up, there are several things one can do to look good and competent on a bike that don’t have much cost whatsoever, just value.  There are ways around much of the expense in cycling – I only paid $750 for that Trek in the photos (though I’ve got extensive work and cost into getting it to look like it does in the photos).  One thing that will save a lot of cash is research.  Know what you want before you buy and you won’t waste any of your hard-earned cheese on something that ends up collecting dust.

Then there’s one final piece; if you want to look awesome, ride awesome.

 

Taking the Gravel Beast Out for a Spin…

It rained yesterday, on and off, from about noon till 4:30 in the afternoon.  I’d planned on taking the Trek, my rain bike, out but as clean as it is (shiny, baby), I was having a tough time wanting to take it out the door knowing it was going to get gnarlied up.  I mentioned this in passing to my wife who said, matter of factly, “Why don’t you take the gravel bike?”  Why don’t I, indeed, I thought.

It’s funny, when I start to think about how silly a few pounds is, comparing the Venge to the Trek.  That is until I take my 23 pound gravel bike out for a ride.

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The Diverge is almost eight pounds heavier than the Venge, five heavier than my Trek.  Getting that beast up to speed takes a little bit of effort!  On the other hand, once it’s rolling, keeping it up to speed isn’t all that bad.

So, my buddy Chuck and I went out for what was supposed to be an easy ride – he brought his A bike, so it was an easy ride for him, and I had the beast so it was quite a bit more work for me.  After lollygagging around for the first few miles, as is normally the case on a Wednesday evening (after a hard ride on Tuesday evening), we actually got after it a little bit.  That’s when I figured out the Diverge wasn’t so bad once I got it rolling.  I was cranking out 21-mph easily enough and I was able to sustain between 20 and 22 without much more effort than I put into my Trek.

What makes the Diverge reasonable is the 28mm tires (I can go up to 32’s, but it came with 28’s and I’m going to ride those till the threads are popping before I replace them).  On fairly rough pavement, and at 70psi, there’s enough give and enough roll for the aluminum bike to be quite comfortable, while maintaining enough firmness to roll well.

While I wouldn’t go all crazy and start spouting off that an entry-level gravel bike isn’t all that different from a high-end race bike, it certainly wasn’t all that bad, either.  There was even a little excitement at the upcoming gravel road season.  Not too much, mind you – it’s a little early for that, but I’m not going to grudgingly pull out the gravel bike when the day gets here, either.

Lest we not forget, with just a second lightweight set of wheels and slick tires (for speedier rides), the gravel bike is the most versatile bike on the market.  You can do anything on a gravel bike (or a cross-bike for that matter).

Tuesday Night Club Ride: My Hot, Rockin’ Wife Kicks Butt Edition

Last night’s club ride was a rarity as cycling goes. As a group, we’ll see one or maybe two days like that all year long, where the wind is so negligible, it doesn’t factor into the ride.

Unfortunately, it was also fairly hot, sunny and muggy… 86° (30 C).

Mrs. Bgddy didn’t participate in the warm-up because she’s the volunteer coordinator for the upcoming Assenmacher 100 so she wanted to make some calls and do a shorter warm-up. I rolled with the boys for the normal 7+ mile loop. After, we gathered at the start and waited for everyone to get rolling. Just with the ease of the warm-up, I knew it was going to be a fun evening and I wondered if the A guys would finally crack a 25 mph average. They’ve been close a few times this year.

They left a minute after six, we rolled a minute after them. I worked my way up front because I like to take the first pull. If we go out too fast, we tend to have a slower overall average. If we take it out easy, say 19-20 mph, then pick up the speed in the second mile, we tend to fly.

The draft was perfect as I tucked in back after my turn up front. 23-24 mph felt easy (36-38 km/h), but the group was a little unruly – too many people trying to hide at the back tends to be our downfall – my lack of trust in certain wheels is mine, so I tend to take way too many turns up front rather than just drifting to the back and bridging if necessary. Thinking about it, in all seriousness, it just might be a patience thing.

The ride, thinking back on it, was a bit unremarkable. It was fun, as all bike rides tend to be, nothing really stuck out as impressive. I took two turns up front in the last three miles of the intermediate sprint and tried to launch a decent 34-mph (54-km/h) sprint just behind Toby, but I didn’t have enough leg… but that’s when I noticed my wife, just a couple of bikes back. Not only was she hanging with the group and taking her turns up front, she was participating in the sprints. I took second, my wife third, and we exchanged fist-bumps on the way into town.

From there, I took another turn up front, but this was a shorter one. I could feel the effort and needed to recharge a bit for the final sprint just eight miles up the road. We were fast on that last leg so I tried to stay toward the front so I didn’t get stuck behind someone who decided to drop. We went from a double to a single pace line as well, so that made it a little easier.

Coming into the final sprint, we were between 24 & 26 mph and cranking pretty good. Chuck came around at about 28 and Toby said, “There we go”, and went with him. I followed. Then, with way too long to go, I launched an attack. I went around Chuck at 32 and rather than let up, I tried to keep it going. I held Toby off all the way to the last 50 meters and took second in the sprint from the front. I was happier with that than winning the sprint – that push took some effort, baby.

I reached into my pocket and shut Strava down. I turned to see where my wife was behind me… I couldn’t see her and was bummed, thinking she’d dropped in the last couple of miles when we kicked it up. I turned forward and slow pedaled on – and that’s when I saw her pink helmet up the road. She hand’t dropped. For her to be way up there, she must have been right on my heels at 32 mph!

Sure enough, my wife, one of only two women who can hang with the B group, hung with the lead group and participated in the sprint. We spent the next ten minutes hi-fiving and sharing different aspects of our ride. We’d turned out a remarkable 21.6 average for the 28 miles. Mrs. Bgddy’s got some oomph to her! Better is sharing the speed and the stories with her. No longer is her side of the story “I dropped four miles from the finish”… Now it’s, “I was right with you”, and that’s as good as it gets.

UPDATE: I failed to properly mention in the post; not only did my wife keep up, she led us out for the final sprint. Dude, seriously. She’s badass.

What a Day Off Looks Like in a Cycling Enthusiast Marriage…

It’s a rainy Monday and I’m not riding today – my first day off in a long, long time – in fact, my last day off the bike was in June. I’m not over-tired, of course, I ride “smart”, but a day off every now and again doesn’t hurt either.

Unfortunately, a day off the bike isn’t necessarily a day away from bikes in the life of an enthusiast. A day off in a cycling enthusiast marriage is even more hectic.

Rather than chilling on the couch like most normal people, I tended to the bikes. My Venge got a cleaning of the drivetrain. My Trek, a longer cable housing at the shifter to improve shifting (worked like a charm), and a cleaning of the drivetrain, along with removing the crank to clean the dirt out of the bottom bracket bearings. I cleaned the drivetrain of my wife’s Alias and tended to her crank as well, before wrapping it up by cleaning the drivetrain on her gravel bike. All in the space of a couple of hours.

This ritual, the cleaning of the drivetrains and cranks, is quite normal in our home. The cranks are a little less needy, but the chains and cassettes can always use a good cleaning – especially when we’re putting 250 miles a week on the bikes.

It’s the only way I know of to keep them looking like this:

The Specialized at the top is a 2013, the Trek at the bottom left is a 1999 and the Alias at the bottom right is a 2014. Cycling is an expensive sport as it is. Clean bikes last longer and require fewer replacement parts. Besides, keeping them clean keeps ’em fast, quiet, and pretty.