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When I got into road cycling, there were a few types of road bikes. You had your road race bikes and your cyclocross bikes (though they weren’t all that popular yet). The squishy/endurance bikes were just starting to gain a little traction as well…
Oh, if they had gravel bikes when I started cycling!
I won’t even mess with the suspense. If you’re looking for a go anywhere, do anything road bike, you want a modern gravel bike (or maybe a cyclocross bike, though I prefer the gravel bike for the normal bottom bracket height).
However, Houston, we have a problem: The bike, my gravel bike, in the photo above weighs a whopping 24 pounds, on the nose (10.9 kg). It’s an upgraded entry-level bike, a Diverge Sport, but it’s a hog compared to my 17 pound (7.7 kg) Venge.
If you can feel a pound when riding, and believe me you can, seven is beyond noticeable, and tap-dancing “in your face”.
In my case, I’ve already got two decent race bikes and I was buying two gravel bikes (one for my wife, too)… I simply didn’t have to go big on the gravel bike. For someone looking to a gravel bike to be their only road bike, you would want to go mid-grade, or even upper echelon. If it were me, I’d go with something like the Diverge Comp model ($3,000 – carbon frame, 11 speed 105 drivetrain, 48/32 crankset, hydraulic brakes, etc.).
The Expert (one step up) has an x1 drive with only one chain ring (up front) so I would advise against using one as a “do anything” road bike, because you can’t keep up with a fast group, especially a surge or sprint in a fast group, with a 42 tooth chain ring (max speed is approximately 27 mph). I should note, I have a nasty disdain for the x1 drivetrain on road bikes in club settings. One of the toughest aspects of cycling in a fast group is picking the right gear for the pace. With the x1 drives you’re limited to 11 (or supposedly 12 in the near future) gears in the cassette and you need some climbing gears thrown in there too, so call it an 11-32 cassette. There are a lot of 2 and 3 tooth jumps in the cassette gears, especially when you get down to the 11-15 tooth cogs, big jumps make it tough to match the pace of the group – you’ll often find yourself in between gears, which means you’ll have to push too hard a gear to keep up. I would recommend a “do anything” bike, not a “do some stuff” bike.
Sadly, we’re not done yet… While you could use tires that are okay for the dirt and the paved road, I would opt for two sets of wheels with different tires for dirt and pavement. While you could change tires every time you change riding surfaces, that’ll get old in a hurry. The dirt wheels will generally, unless you get the high-end gravel bike, be the wheels that come on the bike. You get an upgrade set of carbon wheels for the road wheels and put the proper cassette on the road wheels, and all you have to do to switch surfaces is change your wheels. That’ll take about one minute.
What I like about gravel bikes is that they can do anything a race bike, rain bike, or dirt bike can do, as long as they’re fitted with the proper tires. You don’t miss a thing. With other bikes, there’s always a big sacrifice. Take a hybrid as an example. Halfway between a road bike and a mountain bike, yet it does neither well. No bueno.
Look at it this way, you can spend $3,000 for the bike and another $1,000-$2,000 for high-end road wheels ($4,000-$5,000 total), or you can have the trifecta:
Gravel bike, rain bike, race bike… for $8,500.
We were down in Florida, Panama City Beach to be exact (it’s like Daytona, only not quite as nice. If you’ve been to Daytona Beach as an adult, you get the joke). We were sitting in our rented beach house (which was admittedly, awesome) watching some late evening TV when I felt something dig into my back. I reached back to scratch it without even thinking and got a beach burr stuck to my finger. I picked it out of my skin, walked over and tossed it into the garbage can. No biggie.
When I sat down, I felt an itch in the same spot the burr was dug into my back. I reached back to scratch it…. and got a barb stuck just underneath my fingernail. Good Lord, did that suck!
I tried to dig it out with some tweezers but just couldn’t get at it. Then my mother-in-law tried. Unfortunately, she took a stab at it and pushed it deeper into my finger, deep enough I couldn’t see it anymore. That was about 31 days ago. Now, if you paid attention in school, you probably learned that the body is amazing at pushing foreign objects out, so I decided to let the body do its thing…. As of last week it still hadn’t worked its way out yet and my finger was starting to ache so bad that I was having a tough time operating my left shift levers on my bike. My middle finger was infected. Bad.
Interestingly, when I was a kid my little brother got something stuck beneath is toenail at camp and never told my mom about it. It got so infected he almost lost his big toe. Seriously. I had a feeling I was going to be in trouble if I didn’t get to the doctor. I also remembered that my brother was in the hospital for a week while they drained his toe.
What has two thumbs and doesn’t have a week to sit in a hospital?
In a last-ditch effort before I went and saw a doctor, I snuck in a few minutes early at the office, sterilized a pocket knife and some nail clippers and went to town. I won’t get too into the descriptions but there was puss, blood and pain. In the end, I dug that little bastard out though.
This is a week later:
Now for the disclaimer: On this hand, what I did is exceptionally stupid according to the powers that be. If I’d screwed up just a little bit, I could have lost my main salute finger or worse. As well, if I’d let that infection go much further I could have really been in trouble. I should have let the pros handle it.
On the other hand, I won’t have to come up with $10,000 for my deductible either, so that’s a win either way.
Humorously, on somebody else’s hand, I’m thinking back on my post the other day, about the wussification of men who can’t even change a car tire…. A pocket knife and fingernail clippers.
For the cycling enthusiast….
The thing to do the day after a nice, hard hundred miles on the bike, contrary to popular opinion, is not sit it out on the couch with a well-deserved rest day.
In fact, now that I’m on this kick, the thing to do the day before a hard hundred on the bike is not polish the couch with the seat of one’s pants either.
At the very least, the best thing to do on each occasion is to ride, short and slow. My usual group pace average is between 19 and 21 mph for 100 miles. That means the minimum the day before and after is between 16 and 18 miles in about an hour, give or take (give for 16 and take for 18).
I have seen a lot of people mess this up, so I’m going to lay out how I do what, when, so the legs stay as fresh as possible.
First, the worst thing I can do is take a day off the day before a big ride. Second worst is ride hard the day before. The key is balance. Save the legs for the big days and go easy before and after. Simple.
For example, I know Tuesday and at least one weekend day will be hard. That means, without a doubt, Monday will be an easy day. Wednesday is going to be easy, as will Friday (though I go longer on Friday, 30-50 miles). Thursday and one weekend day will be moderate.
The trick is to make sure I do my best to have an easy or moderate day before a hard day. That’s the balance and it requires flexibility.
I have a friend who, God bless him, would choose to do an interval day the day before our club ride earlier this season. Intervals. He’d show up Tuesday night with sore or dead legs. He managed to stay with the group by hiding and sucking wheel, but he complained about it during the warm-up a few times. Eventually, I did say something. You have to pick your days for the hard efforts.
The key, in my experience, is to keep the legs spinning the day before and the day after a tough ride. If nothing else, it’s a perfect excuse to take in the surroundings and enjoy sitting up a bit. Remember, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Even though riding a bike is play, working too hard at it will make your legs dull. We enthusiasts need our happy time. It makes the work that much more rewarding. Trust me.
Don’t bother with a day off before a big ride. Take the day off two or three days before the event. Then use the day or two before to spin your legs up and get ready.
I rolled out with my wife and friends at 8:02 yesterday morning. Why the 02? Winston texted me at 7:56 that he was running late. Punctuality is not his strong suit. He pulls like a tiny Clydesdale though, so what’s two minutes between friends, eh? Nothing.
It was a perfect day for cycling. 60 degrees to start (15 C) and not a cloud in the sky, and no wind.
At 8:03 on Sunday morning we had 5 hours and 18 minutes – and 99.75 miles – to go. No hill for a mountain climber.
At some point, around 20 miles in, the guy at the front missed pointing out a hole in the asphalt. It was hard to see, as the road had simply sunk in a 6″ round hole so there was barely a shadow. I missed it but several behind me didn’t. Lynn didn’t. He was taking a swig one handed when he hit it. He lost control and endo’d down a 10-15′ deep ditch. It was something out of a TdF crash video.
Amazingly, he was okay. A little scratched up and his bike was going to need new bar tape and his shifter lever straightened, but he was back and riding after we formed a human chain to pull him out of the ditch. Seriously.
We sorted him out and once we were certain he was okay, we rolled on.
From that point, there were a few issues that popped up. One of the guys was struggling to keep up so Winston and I dropped back to bring him back to the group. Chuck’s rear wheel decided to start rubbing his frame so he dropped out of the group to wait for a ride to pick him up (he ended up letting a little air pressure out of the tire and that gave him enough clearance to finish but he was out there for 45 miles on his own – talk about gutting it out…), and Lynn’s adrenaline from the accident finally wore off and he slowed down and dropped off the back.
In the end, we all finished and my buddy Mike took the sprint at 99.5 miles. I took the final pull, starting at 95 miles, and kept it between 21 and 22 mph until we hit 98-1/2. The idea at that point was to ramp it up to see if I could drop everyone else and cruise over the line alone. I was so close too. I dropped everybody but Mike and Brad – they managed to stay on like dug-in ticks… I came over a little rise at 25 and accelerated to 28 heading back down what could barely be called a hill. Brad ran out of gas but Mike got me by a half a bike length. Unfortunately my strategy was a little lacking. I didn’t have anything left – no more gears left in me to answer him.
In the last ten miles I’d pulled all but three of them.
There once was a time, not too long ago actually, when an 18.9 mph 100 miles would have been a bummer. I was always shooting for that 20 mph average. Those days are long gone. Nowadays it’s more about spending time with my friends and building memories to laugh about as I get older. If I feel I need to work a little harder, all I have to do is stay up front.
Lynn and Chuck left a lot more on the road yesterday than I did (I still feel a little selfish for not waiting for Chuck and letting the rest of the group go). It was still a heck of a lot of fun and I left enough out there for government work.
The humble cycling computer…
If you don’t know how fast you’re going, you have no idea whether you’re crushing the wills of your friends, doing them right, or babying them. Worse, you have no way of tempering your pace when you are riding with slower cyclists so you don’t bury them.
I capped off a perfect week of cycling with an easy club ride yesterday followed by a cookout/potluck for the club in my backyard. We had one of the craziest mixes of cyclists I’ve ever ridden with – four B’s, three C’s, a D and two E’ s (!). Heading into the wind, it was easy to keep the pace reasonable and I took advantage of the best characteristic of a strong headwind: It kills those at the front while the cyclists in the back get an awesome free ride. My first turn at the front, in a double pace line, lasted ten miles. I never rode at the back, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
After we got the whole group out of the headwind we split the group up. B’s and C’s in one group, D and E’s in the other – and we picked up the pace.
Before long it was tailwind time and it was all good all the way home. We ended up with 35-1/2 miles at 17.8 mph – an excellent, moderate to easy ride to cap off a perfect 250 mile week.
Then there was the cookout after. Burgers, hotdogs, garden burgers, coleslaw, salads and desert…. and fellowship.
Witnessed yesterday, live and in person, picture this:
A man rides down a short, steep hill. One hand on the hood, feathering the brake, the other holding a can of beer. He picks up speed coming down the hill (I needed and used both brakes) and promptly hit a spray paint marked speed bump at what looked to be 15 to 20 mph.
Long story short, he stopped his bike the rest of the way with his face.
On hitting the speed bump, the rider’s front wheel turned instantly following the line of the speed bump, launching him over the handlebar and planting him on his nose and chin. He slid on his face for several feet, removing a fair bit of skin from his nose and chin in the process.
As he sat there on the ground bleeding on the pavement, another cyclist walked over with a half-crushed can, head oozing from the can’s opening and hands it to the dazed man… who says, “You didn’t spill all of your beer.” It was priceless.
The injured man finished the ride on his bike. The crash was at mile 60(ish) of 100. One could hardly call the crash an “accident”.
My friends, please don’t ride stupid. The idea is to keep the rubber side down. Oh, and if drinking and driving a car don’t mix, you have to be worthy of the Darwin Award to ride a bike and drink.
Stupid is as stupid does, Forrest.
On a brighter note: