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My Thursday evenings have been thoroughly packed for years to the point I can only afford a short ride after work. After having found my lumbar support digging into my back for better than a couple of months, with a four-hour-a-day commute, and correcting the issue, I feel so much better it’s hard to put into words. I went from fully healthy, bounding up dozens of flights of stairs every day at work to having a tough time walking two flights. I fought in my head for more than a month, trying to figure out what went wrong.
In fact, I was in so much pain when on my feet at work (a large part of my job), that when I discovered the lumbar support in my vehicle’s seat pushing into my back, I worried it couldn’t be that simple…
I rode last night, just my second day (first full day) removed from discovering the problem. I turned in an easy 14 miles in 43 minutes. That’s almost 19.5-mph, for a fun, semi-easy spin. It’s hard to describe the relief I’m feeling – not only the physical, but the mental. It’s not easy to go from fully fantastic to struggling to stay on your feet for more than a couple of hours. All I could think was, “what the hell?!”
I rolled out with the wind in my face, and was content to keep the pace mild, at 17-18-mph. Originally I’d planned on an easy day. On turning left, into a cross-headwind, I changed my mind on the easy part as I passed 20-mph on the computer. I wanted to see if I could break 19-mph with the stiff, late summer breeze.
Without ever really pushing too hard, just keeping it steady, I rolled into the driveway at 19.5-mph average. Good enough to be relieved that my back is back. I think I can turn the page on this ugly episode, thank God.
Happier days are ahead!
I’ve written extensively over the last several years of my bad back. Before running it was really bad. While I ran it was manageable. Since I started cycling, fantastic has been the best word for it.
A couple of months ago I started having problems at work. I could do my job, but too many hours on my feet hurt. Bad.
I started stretching a few times a day. That helped a lot but it flummoxed me that I was having so much trouble. I figured it’d work itself out over time.
Yesterday morning, on the way to the office, my back started bugging me. I took an ibuprofen and that dented the pain, but the reason eluded me… and not knowing was like a giant splinter in my melon. I kept picking at it.
After work, back in my car and the pain came roaring back. It drove me nuts. I mile down the road and I was trying to play with my seat angle and I bumped the lumbar support button. The bar in the seat moved back. It should have been all the way back already. I pushed the button again. The lumbar support moved back another two inches. I’d been commuting four hours a day with that stupid thing wrecking my back for the better part of two months. No wonder I’d been sluggish!
And, just like that, my pain went away. I managed almost 20-mph (19.7) with Chuck over 19.7 of my 24 miles last night. I haven’t had a desire to be that fast in months. I’m sure it’ll take a week to fully recover, but I feel a mountain better this morning. I feel like me again. What a relief! Here I thought I was riding too much, or maybe I had done something unspeakably wrong to the Trek’s setup! Whew!
So, you may wonder how this could have happened… my daughter started driving and she has to adjust the seat to reach the pedals. She simply hit the wrong button.
I read a post the other day from a fellow recovering drunk who was lamenting, I think it was, a new craft beer that had been released. I quit long enough ago craft beer was made by my buddy’s dad in the garage and tasted like… well, really not good. The craft beer of today wasn’t even a glimmer in someone’s eye yet. Hell, I quit before Zima and slightly after ICE beer.
It’s been a long time since I felt I missed out on a new drink. Hard lemonade, hard cider, hard seltzer water… and there is a very simple explanation for this; I don’t like prison more than I wish I could have a Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. Well, let’s put this into proper context; I don’t like prison more than I wish I could have 24 Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandies. You know what I’m getting at?
I default straight to the misery, and that’s why I don’t miss out. The trouble for newly recovered alcoholics is the new misery of quitting can tend to be only slightly less miserable than drinking. Especially if one is trying to white knuckle it. Blur the lines too much and drinking can win out. For someone like me, who continually works a recovery program and keeps a vivid memory of what my drinking misery was really like, it’s easy to pass because my life, with all its fleas, is awesome.
And awesome is good. Prison? Not so much.
Specialized does it through shop employees with measurements, angles and videos too numerous and complex to get into, they call it their Body Geometry fit (I had one, when I bought my Venge, and it was awesome). Long before that wonderful day and after a few months on my new (to me) 1999 Trek 5200, I went to the local shop complaining of immense pain due to my saddle after a steady increase of miles. Walter quickly measured my sit bones on a handy-dandy board with memory foam on it and handed me a Specialized Romin (143mm) saddle. The old, original saddle was a 155 – no wonder it hurt. The 143mm Romin, with its marvelous contours, just happened to be the exact saddle for me. I even put a second Romin I own on our tandem.
Fi’zi:k does it with an app. Hold your smartphone at your chest and bend over as far as you can… they match you to the proper saddle of their three different types. Not bad, but I’m in between saddles according to the app (or at least I was last I checked). Doesn’t that just figure? I can measure twice in a row and get two different saddles. Fortunately, luck got me where I needed to be previously, anyway.
Bontrager seems to have simplified everything and explained it so anyone from a leisure cyclist to a road racing cyclist can easily see what will likely be the best saddle fit for their riding style. It’s not, after all, rocket science. It’s close, though, once they really start looking into the science and how a saddle will affect a cyclist. Behold, simplicity and the Performance Postures (or as they like to call it in technical terms, “InForm BioDynamic Designs”):
To keep things moving, I’m a Posture 2. I ride an aggressively set up road bike (both of them):
Then they got into the contour of the saddle:
And followed that with the profile:
Without question, especially looking at my Venge up above and how much I love the Romin saddle, I’m a Posture 2 guy, and it makes sense now that this is all laid out above:
Now, will this way of looking at saddles tick everyone’s boxes and make them comfortable on a Bontrager saddle? I would land somewhere between “doubtful” and “not a freaking chance” – saddle choice is too personal and complex. That said, for me, it works and it makes sense.
Where this gets a little sticky is that saddle on my Trek, a Selle Italia. It’s basically a flat saddle with a minute curve to it. It’s a full carbon fiber saddle that weighs in at a miniscule 110 grams (Bontrager makes a 64 gram saddle, basically the weight of two plastic bottle cages, if you’re interested):
Contrast that with the saddle on my Venge (or one like it) on the Right and a Bontrager Montrose on the Left:
My friends, I may ride low but I am not flexible. I can barely touch my toes (though barely does count!). That little bit of contour in the saddle helps me rotate my hips forward so I can ride comfortably in the drops and on the hoods. I do have to make sure to bend my arms sufficiently when I ride with my hands on the bar top, though. Sitting upright isn’t comfortable on a contoured saddle like the two above – at least not the way I set mine up, with a 3° drop from back to front (measured the full length of the saddle).
People can get sucked into the wrong saddle pretty easy. Whether they’re in it for the weight, or just trying to get a cool-looking saddle… Folks, some saddles just fit some butts better than others. The more information you’re armed with, though, the better equipped you’ll be to help a knowledgeable person at a shop help you into the proper saddle… or try luck. It did work for me.
On one hand, this summer, if you could call it that until two weeks ago, should have been a YUGE letdown. My miles are down, my weight is slightly up, and the weather has just plain sucked. I haven’t even topped 4,000 miles for the year yet, and I’m liking food way more than I should.
On the other hand, I’m on the job of my career and I’m freaking digging it and the pay has been quite nice.
I don’t know what the rest of this year will hold, but beyond the sacrifices, I’m having fun and I’m happy. And that’s what really matters.
Then, out of nowhere, the best cycling weekend yet this year. It was supposed to rain every day, but the worst we got was a popcorn storm for ten minutes, and never while we were on the bikes. I could have put in so many more miles, though… 75 on Thursday, 40 Friday, another 56 for Saturday, and we’ve got a 100k on tap for today. If memory serves, I’d have sprinkled in an 80-100 miler in there and at least one of the 40 or 56 mile rides would have been a 100k. I’m not that guy this year, though. For the longest time, I feared I would like cycling less if I let off the gas, if I didn’t try to cram absolutely every last mile in. I was so wrong; I like it more.
Because I’m not always trying to push max miles out of every ride, my enjoyment of the sport increased and I enjoy each mile much more. In the end, there’s still no place I’d rather be than on my bike, and the search still continues for the sucker who’ll pay me to ride it. I’ll let you know when my luck changes.
In the meantime, it’s just another day in paradise on two wheels.
There once was a time when all I could do was think about how I could escape being miserable. Every day I’d try to figure out how to game the system so I could have just one more day drunk before the house of cards crumbled under the weight of my poor choices. Today, 26 years without a drink or a drug, and I’m working on making content and happy, happier. Talk about a difference that’ll put a smile on your face!
My friends, once I embraced that the hardest thing I would ever do in my life occurred 26 years ago, in quitting drinking (and eventually, smoking), once I realized I’d already been through hell and as long as I keep on the right path, I don’t ever have to go back, life became less about survival and more about enjoyment.
Just for today. Keep quit, no matter what. Even if your ass falls off… and in the event it does, put it in a paper bag and take it to a meeting. They’ll show you how they put theirs back on. There’s only misery at the bottom of that bottle. It won’t get better this time. There’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Shit, there’s no rainbow. Because there’s no sunshine. Just keep quitting.
Cycling sacrilege is right! But let me go back a bit, to bring this home correctly. You know me, I don’t do much half-assed…
Five months ago, a friend gave me a Selle Italia carbon saddle. It’s ridiculously, outrageously light. It also required a special saddle collar to fit on my Venge so I tried it on my Trek first, just to see what I thought until the proper collar I ordered for the Venge came in. The saddle was magic on the Trek. It was so perfect, I almost cancelled the collar and left the saddle on the Trek. But I had to try it on the Venge. I had to. After all, an ultra-light saddle would perfectly round out that spectacular bike (it also took the bike from the high 15 pound range to the mid-15’s).
Well, a month(ish) into that experiment and I didn’t like the result. Most of my problems are likely due to fit, but I’ve adjusted the saddles and I just can’t quite get to the bottom of the issue… if you know what I mean. The saddle on my 5200 was spectacular. On the Venge, it was a little closer to “meh”.
Over the last month, as I’ve started ramping up the miles, I just couldn’t get the Selle Italia saddle to a position I liked as much as I had on the Trek. I hemmed and hawed for at least two weeks about switching them back. Then, with my second big tour of the year looming, I decided to switch them back – against every weight weenie fiber in my body. Unfortunately, a flared up hip made the decision a little easier. After changes are made, sometimes it takes a good bit of miles to really evaluate the change. I really started feeling the pain last week, maybe two weeks ago, butt in hindsight only. With two hundred mile days in a row looming, I had to change something before that sore hip became an actual injury.
And just like that…
My first ride after having swapped saddles was a big one – go big or go home (or both in this case). Typically, it’s
a little stupid not adviseable to swap out a saddle and head out for a big mile ride, but if you’ve read this blog for very long, you know me; overconfident in my mechanical abilities, and often lucky enough to be right (or at least close enough for government work).
Last week, my Garmin died toward the end of a 65 mile ride so I had my buddy, Chuck add me in to his for Strava. He finished that ride with 71 miles, though, so I had some penance miles to make up. Well, I got four of those done on Tuesday night but I still had two left, so I decided to make them up checking my saddle position yesterday morning before our ride. It felt great so I rolled with it.
Fourteen miles into the real ride and I knew I’d missed the mark, but just barely. At our first stop, because I was smart enough to bring an Allen wrench with me, I lowered the saddle by a millimeter. And there it stayed for the remaining 64 miles. Amazingly, the saddle felt like butter – much better than it did on the Venge. I have no idea what gives, but I really don’t care at this point. My hip soreness even let up after 20 miles.
My 1999 Trek 5200 is now down to the low 18 pound range and My Venge is still technically a 15 pound bike – and both bikes are now wildly comfortable. I made the light bike heavier and the heavier bike lighter…
Sometimes you have to go to any length for things to work out right in the universe – or buttiverse as it is in this case. My heinie is happier… and I’ll stop there, before going over the line – or down the crack. In this case, even though that badass (there I go again) Selle Italia saddle belongs on the race bike, it just doesn’t work. No sense in trying to stick with it till I was injured.
And incidentally, with the Specialized Romin saddle back on the Venge, the good bike is vastly more comfortable as well. I did two more penance miles on the Venge to make sure I’d gotten that one right as well. I can live with an extra 110 grams (a quarter-pound) for a peppier posterior.
Cycling Every Day; How I Trained My Body to Keep Up with My Desire to Ride (It’s not Difficult, but It ain’t Easy, Either).
I’ve been riding every day for the better part of four years now. I took 21 days off all of last year. I went more than a month without a day off several times, and managed to average 29 miles a day when I did ride.
For a working fella, there’s a trick to riding every day. I had to acquire an off button. Technically, this off button doesn’t shut me down, it shuts the voice in my melon that wants to push it every single day I ride. My first three years riding, I didn’t know any better so I pushed it almost every day until my legs were smoked. Then I’d take a day or two off. I worked in scheduled days off, too, because everyone said I had to take time off to realize my fitness goals. I didn’t like that much at all – cycling was my way to clear my head and refocus on why I love life so much. I wanted to ride every day for that benefit alone.
Eventually, as I grew into the sport, I learned that it was okay to take an easy day on a regular basis. Self-knowledge is about as useful as toilet paper in the next stall, though. I had to train myself to be okay with sitting up and enjoying a ride now and again if I wanted to ride daily without over-training.
So, for me, that voice says that if I feel good, if my legs feel alright, then I should take the opportunity of being out on a ride as an opportunity to increase my strength, stamina, and fitness by pushing it a little bit. For years I didn’t even know I should shut that down and I ended up with over-training issues and even a couple of minor overuse injuries. Once I learned that I could ride every day, pain-free and without repercussions, if I simply told that voice to sit down and shut up, my level of enjoyment increased exponentially.
As in recovery, riding is more about managing my melon than my legs.
And that’s my secret to a happy bike ride. Fast, or my approximation of slow.
Ride hard, my friends. And enjoy the ride; most aren’t lucky enough to know the joy of riding a bicycle or running.