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On Gratitude… for Simply Being on the Right Side of the Grass, Pumping Air

It’s easy to be sucked into the morass of the news cycle. It was a dark day in America way back when the big whigs at CNN, on their second day of the network’s existence, realized that 24-hour news was really hard. It seems shortly thereafter they figured, well, if the news won’t come to us, we’ll start making it ourselves.

This isn’t going to be a critique on CNN, though. The point is, when we’re bombarded with crap designed to keep us glued to a TV screen, eventually, to use a phrase seemingly designed for CNN, throw enough crap against a barn, eventually some is going to stick. Therein lies the rub.

I have something rare going for me. I’m a terrible, raging alcoholic.

It’s rare that being an insufferable drunk is looked at as a benefit, but if given some decent perspective, it’s the best thing ever to happen to me.

Being an alcoholic, recovering from it, specifically, has put life in perspective. The hardest thing I’ll ever do in my lifetime is recover from that pit of despair and hopelessness. I did it at 22 years-old, and with just under half of my brain constantly trying to get me back to the miserable relief of escapism through drinking and drugs.

Not only have I stopped mood and mind altering substances, I’ve flourished in this new lease on life, and if I can do that, after all of the despair I suffered through, anything is possible.

One final note on gratitude. The moment after I gave up and asked God for help to recover, I had a complete change of mind and heart. My compulsion to drink was lifted. Maybe “eased” is a better word, but it was something tangible, something I could feel. A crushing weight lifted off my chest… real relief.

People often speak of “being saved”… I get to know, deep down to my baby toes, exactly what being saved feels like. And I know enough not to waste what I was given.

My friends, life is all about how we choose to look at it. Injustice exists everywhere. So does great joy, friendship, happiness and love. Everywhere. What am I going to choose to see, and share with those around me?

Life is never perfect, but if I remain grateful for what I’ve been given, it’s never CNN bad, either.

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The Garmin Varia Radar Tail Light… Why I Won’t Leave Home Without Mine.

I’m a firm believer in “safety in numbers” when it comes to cycling. First, a double pace-line with 24 cyclists is a little hard to miss. Second, a motorist has to get into the opposite lane to pass – there’s no squeezing by a double pace-line.

Riding solo is a different ballgame altogether.

Rather than use this time to give you yet another review on an excellent product, I thought I would take a minute to pass along how I use mine – it’s a little unorthodox.

If you look at the display, only a corner of the Garmin’s display screen is used up on the radar.  In the upper-right hand corner you’ve got a little symbol to show the radar is connected and working:

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Now, the magic happens when you’re moving and a car gets within 150 yards.  You get a verbal cue that a vehicle has just been picked up and the sides of the screen go black and a dot appears on the right side that represents the car.  That dot on your screen moves closer to the radar symbol at the top of the screen, proportionally, to the car closing in on you…

With me so far?  I know, roughly, when the car will come by me…

So here’s how I use the blip;  I normally ride exactly where a vehicle’s passenger side tire would go, maybe even a little toward the center of the lane.  As that blip approaches I pick a line, before it’s on me I move right about two feet, toward the edge of the road.  The three feet a motorist is required to give me becomes five.  Any jerk who tries to buzz me will find their vehicle at or slightly greater than the three feet they’re required to give me anyway.

Now, is this foolproof?  No.  Sadly, fools have been finding ways to screw things up since the beginning of time, but it’s the best thing I’ve come across so far.  And I haven’t had anyone come close to buzzing me since I started the practice.

This is worth the price of my Varia… if I had paid for mine in the first place.  I was given it by a friend who upgraded to the newer, fancier model.

The Perfect Road Bike: How to Attain Yours

Attaining the perfect road bike may seem, at first blush, a bit like attaining a chupacabra.  If you’re light on your Latin lore, try Bigfoot.  There are so many factors it may better to say it would be like trying to use Bigfoot as bait to catch the Loch Ness Monster.

My friends, it’s not quite that bad, if you know what you’re doing.  If you don’t, this is the post for you, because it’ll get bumpy in a hurry.  Let’s look at some points that don’t require a tinfoil hat.

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The Bike:

The most important question you’ll have to answer to build your perfect bike is, “What kind of rider do I want to be?”  I realize most won’t have a clue – don’t be discouraged, it’s not a requirement.  Yet.  There’ll be a little more trial and error with the process at first if you don’t, but that can be worked around with the right amount of cash.  If you like the idea of road cycling, what kind?  Do you want to be fast, kinda fast, or do you just want to putter around the 40-mile block?

If you’re going to be very fast, if that suits you, then you’re going to want something very light, very aero, and very carbon fiber.  If you’re going to be kinda fast, then the aero bit is nice, but not entirely necessary.  The carbon fiber is a must, and the gearing will be slightly more important than weight.  You just want to ride around the block at a fair clip?  Well, in that case you can easily get away with aluminum if you’re running 25 or 28mm tires.  In simple terms, the faster you want to go, the more narrow the gap to thread the needle.

The same will go for mountain bikes or gravel bikes – the faster you want to be, the more important the frame material and component class become – more on components later.

The Numbers:

In order of importance, you’ll have frame size, stem length, saddle size/width and crank arm length.  Those affect all of your big hitter pain centers.  Too much reach, drop or rise in your stem and you hurt or your arms and hands go numb.  Saddle too wide, oh dear God will you hurt.  Frame too big or small, pain indeed.  Stem too short or long?  Take a guess.  How about the crank arms?  Too short, no power.  Too long, pain, pain, pain, pain.  Saddle too high?  Ouch.  Saddle too low?  Guess!

You get the point.  The numbers have to be very close to right.  Don’t just go with any size, either.  Even going with the internet frame size calculators is a little iffy, because a true pro will take the geometry of the whole frame into account before picking the right size for the rider.  Using me as an example, the computer model showed I should be on a 58cm frame.  For my Specialized, I knew better, though.  I wanted something a little more low slung so I ordered a 56.  Because it was a compact frame, I even could have been worked into a 54 but I thought that would be too much drop from saddle to bar, and the stem would have been really long.

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You’ll also have to take frame style into account.  The Specialized is a compact frame while the Trek two photos up is a standard.  Standard frames are a little more finicky when it comes to size so it is wise for one to stick a little closer to the proper size.  You can tell them by their top tube – it runs almost perfectly parallel to the ground.  I could have fit myself on a 56cm standard frame, but it would have taken some creative part selection.  The 56cm compact frame, it was no problem at all.  10mm longer stem, peg the saddle, slap it on the keister and call her a biscuit.

I’ll Take Mechanically Sound for $1,500, please…

This is going to be a very short paragraph because it’s very simple.  Shimano 105, SRAM Rival, or Campagnolo Chorus are the minimum starting point for components.  You don’t need top of the line for your perfect bike, but you have to start somewhere, and that’s where.  I have two perfect bikes, one with 105 and one with Ultegra components (third and second from the top, respectively).  Dura Ace would have been nice, yes, and another $1,000 per bike.  Not necessary for my above average, but below hair on fire, pace.

Color Me Happy…

And that leads us to the all-important color selection.  Look, unless you really like baby-$#!+ brown, don’t settle for a bike that looks like a baby $#@+ on it.  For this point, and I can’t believe I can say this and mean it, I like my Trek over the Specialized.  I built the Trek from the ground up.  I picked the crankset, the chainrings, the pedals, the seat post…  I picked the colors.  I picked the stem and the quill stem adapter.  And the headset.  And the bottom bracket… and the bar tape.  And the handlebar…  Right down to my name on the top tube and the Punisher decal on the down tube, the Trek is my bike.  I built (and for some parts, had it built) exactly how I wanted it, from the ground up.

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Whoever tells you road cycling isn’t a bit of a fashion show, they’re either lying, they don’t know any better, or they truly don’t care.  Either way, it’s a fashion show on two wheels.  And let’s face it, if they’re in the “don’t care” camp, that puts you in the “ain’t listening to someone who doesn’t care” camp.

Finally, we come down to the little details.  The decals, the style and color of the decals, and so forth.  Too many decals and your steed won’t look flashy in the “flash me your boobs” way.  No, boobs are wonderful.  Bikes with too many decals are gaudy.  Don’t go there.  Just a few, here and there.  Let the awesomeness of the bike speak for itself.  Anyone who knows a 1999 Trek 5200 knows they were gaudy.  So gaudy, I need only link to it (page 19).  When I built mine, I could have had the original decal set put on the bike.  You can see what I went with, “Trek”, a “Made in the USA” decal (because it literally was, twice), and a “Velocity Wheels” decal, because Velocity is awesome.  Finally, I just added that Punisher decal.

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There’s a big gap between a really good bike and a perfect bike.  Really good will get the job done.  It’ll get you where you want to go, as fast as you want to go, provided you’re willing to give it the effort.

You’ll give your perfect bike a double-take when you walk by and it’ll be a pleasure to ride.  That’s when you know you’ve got it right.

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The Best Part of Being Me…

I am known throughout my entire family for wearing the young kids and pets out. It’s a gift. I walk in the door almost always the biggest kid in the room.

And I love it.

I love being Uncle Jim. It fills my heart with joy being that guy…

And it sure didn’t used to be like that. I thank God every day for good, clean, sober living because it saved my butt and made me worth having around.

That’s as good as it gets.

TNCR; Creative Avoidance of the Chip Seal Roads

My wife came through again.  As I was loading my car I saw a screw sticking out of the tread.  Now, I happen to know the pan head was just a shade more than a half-inch long so I had hopes it hadn’t penetrated the shell of the tire.  I went into the garage and grabbed my trusty cat’s claw and went outside to see if I could pull it.  As I gently started to pry it loose,  a hiss escaped.  I tapped it back in and prepared for having to skip my ride to get my tire fixed before that screw came out on its own…  Long story short, my wife let me take her vehicle to the club ride and took mine in to get it fixed on her way to pick our eldest daughter up from band camp.  The ride was on.

We’d changed the location of the ride because our normal route had been chip sealed over the last week.  Newly chip sealed roads are impassable in a double pace-line.  It’s WAY too dangerous.

I pulled into the parking lot at 5:30.  I did not like what I saw… serious fire power from the A Group and me.  I knew my friends were on their way, though.  I just hoped it was enough to make a decent B Group – the route we picked has some real hills on it.  The parking lot, before long, was teaming with cyclists – many more than I’d assumed would show up.  We ended up with a great B Group and a stacked bunch of A’s.  We rolled out together but the A’s were by us and up the road after a mile.

And that’s when our ride got fun… and hard.

We had a bit of a tailwind so the pace wound up to 26-mph in a hurry and it stayed there – even up hills we were incredibly fast.  Because of the hills we handle this route a little different than our normal Tuesday night – we have several regrouping points throughout the 31 mile route and we needed all of them.

We entered a secluded lake subdivision that features a long, winding loop around the lake.  Plenty of up, a lot of down, and brand new pavement the whole length of the road.  It was incredibly fast, but provided one of those situations that makes you glad to be a cyclist on a fantastic bike.  It’s hard to describe, the emotional charge, where you’re down in the drops because it’s so fast you don’t dare peak your head out of the draft and cranking it around a winding road where you have to lean deep into the corners and look through the corner, a couple hundred feet ahead for the next change in direction… it’s just badass – and we had that in spades.

We exited the subdivision and charged out onto the main drag again with a tailwind.  And then, after a few miles, we turned around and had to pay the piper.  To say I was winded was an understatement, but we had a couple of horses up front who took some enormous turns, giving me the opportunity to recharge a bit.  I needed it, because I knew what was coming.

We charged up the road and made a right, heading down a partially gnarly street with potholes littering otherwise decent asphalt.  You had to keep your wits about you and we at the front did our level best to point out the holes to those behind us.  Thinking back, I don’t remember hearing anyone hit one, so all went well.  At this point, Chuck turned off for a shortcut and I announced I was going with him, but several in the group piped up, pressuring me to stay on for the main climb.  Peer pressure is a bitch.  Before I got too deep into the shortcut turn, I checked my six and whipped ’round to catch the draft at the back of the group.

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A left turn and Denton Hill loomed in the distance.  At four tenths of a mile and an 8-10% grade, I stayed with the tandem and we climbed that sucker in 2:28, averaging 237 watts up the hill.  It sucked, and I was down to my last gear to spin up the steeper section but crested it we did and tore off down the back of the hill into town at 40-mph.

We hammered all the way to the parking lot, pulling in with a 20.8-mph average.  I was more pleased with that than our normal 22+ average back home.  Our normal route only has 480′ of elevation gain.  The route yesterday more than doubled that at 1,122.  We were all smoked after that ride, but it was smiles, hand shakes, and fist bumps all around as we loaded our gear into our vehicles to head for home.

I was struck, for the remainder of the night and into this morning, with how blessed I am to be able to ride like that with a group of competent friends, and to have the life I do.  This is the main benefit I get from cycling.  I hate to use the word, but it fits, a little bit; there’s nothing better than feeling lucky to be you, and that’s what cycling does for me.

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The Bontrager Montrose Pro Carbon Fiber Saddle; A Pillowy Stroke of Genius

My friends, there once was a time I thought a lightweight race saddle was going to be a relatively hard saddle that had to be put up with, rather than enjoyed, over a long haul.

I had a beautiful Selle Italia 110 gram saddle on the Trek, then on the Venge, that was close to fantastic but it was in the realm of the hard saddle that had to be put up with when the mileage bounced over 50.  It was nice enough, and was a huge weight improvement over my 274 gram Specialized Romin saddle that goes on the Venge.  It was an even bigger advantage over the $25 mountain bike saddle I had on the Trek, though that mountain bike saddle was comfy.

The Selle Italia started out on the Trek at the beginning of the year, then went over to the Venge when I decided I wanted to get all weight weenie to see how light I could make it.  I loved it on the Trek, early in the season.  It wasn’t great on the Venge, though.  I just couldn’t get comfortable in it on the longer rides.  As I put more miles on my butt throughout the season, I became less and less fond of the saddle on the Venge so I switched it back to the Trek.  That magic I’d felt early in the season was gone.  With 4,000 miles on my hind end, what was once fairly wonderful became a bit like riding on barbed wire after a metric century.  The saddle had to go – I’m not paid to ride and I’m not putting up with an ultra light saddle just so I can say my Venge weighs 15-1/4 pounds instead of 15-1/2.  Better, it’s the difference between 18 and 18-1/2 pounds on the Trek.  Folks, 18 pounds is 18 pounds, and I need something I can be comfortable in on the long haul rides, because that’s what the Trek is for.

On a fluke I happened on a sale on the Bontrager/Trek website.  They had the Montrose Pro on overstock sale, $100 off.  I paid $120 for mine – a fantastic deal for a high-end saddle.

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The profile is almost a perfect match to the Specialized Romin on the Venge that I absolutely love.  A little less rise on the nose, but otherwise, a spot-on match.

After the storm, the clouds parted and the sun shone…

After a couple of test rides I took the saddle and my Trek up north on a road trip with two of my best cycling friends.  77 miles on day one, 67 on day two.  The saddle is my new favorite.  It’s a fantastic balance of bounce and padding – and my 5200 needs a little help in that regard.  It’s a pretty stiff ride for a carbon fiber frame and fork.

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There’s about 50 grams difference between the Montrose and that previously mentioned Selle Italia saddle, and it all went into padding in the perfect places, and no more than absolutely necessary.

I am not all that flexible (I’m no spring chicken) and I ride an aggressive setup, so having the right saddle, that allows my hips to rotate a little so I can get low enough, is a requirement.  That’s exactly what the Montrose’s profile does.

I’ve always wanted the 5200 to be just a little more comfortable than my Venge so I’d ride the Trek more… and I’ve always felt that was impossible.  The Specialized is fourteen years newer so the technological ride advances are huge.  Not only do they make today’s bikes light and aero, with a little manipulation of the lay-up, they can make today’s frames stiff where it’s needed for power transfer, but compliant where that’s needed for ride quality.  Not to mention, the Trek will only fit a 24mm tire while the Trek will easily fit a 26… more volume in the tire means a better ride.

The Trek has one thing going for it over the Venge; the Trek is just a touch more vertically compliant than my Venge.  Vertically compliant means I’m not quite as low-slung on the Trek.  Add the Montrose Pro to the mix, with 24mm wide tires, and what was once thought of as impossible is now a reality.   My 5200 is slightly more comfortable.

The Montrose Pro is a fantastic saddle and decently light at around 160 grams.  It’s an all-day saddle that, once properly set, keeps me comfortable for hours.  I am perfectly pleased with it and can’t recommend it highly enough.

I almost forgot! My wife and I and some of my regular riding friends were in a commercial…

The ad ran locally during the TdF for our local bike shop. We did something like ten takes, up and down Denton Hill to get everything in. Considering the theme of my post yesterday, the message in the commercial fits right in.