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So early in my road bike days, about two years into cycling, I had a saddle problem. The saddle that came with my Trek 5200 (used, 1999) was too wide. I didn’t know what was causing my pain, but I attributed it to running first. It was only after a week off the bike and a return to it that I felt the pain in my hamstrings that had faded into the background. I went straight to the bike shop after that ride and described my problem. I was measured and promptly fitted with a new saddle that was 12 mm thinner. That was the only “overuse” injury of note in a decade of cycling.
That problem with saddle width taught me early on how important the bike’s set up was to cycling regularly, without injury. I worked on becoming exceptionally knowledgeable about my numbers; saddle height, fore/aft position of the saddle, level of the saddle, distance from the tip of the saddle to the center of the handlebar… I had a pro fitting done on my Venge and transferred the numbers over to my Trek. Then there was the cleat positioning. Rather than simply put them on in a neutral position and hope for the best, I had them professionally dialed in. Then I tinkered and dabbled and took years perfecting the set-up on my bikes.
That work paid off. I can ride anywhere from 200 to 400 miles a week and at an excellent pace (17-mph for slow days, and up to 23-mph on the fast days) without having to worry about over-use problems (joints, bones, musculature, etc.). I do have to watch the saddle sores, of course, but other than that I ride trouble-free.
With running, it seemed I’d have to nurse at least one injury a year back to health. With cycling and impeccable attention to detail when it comes to setting the equipment up, I’ve been fast, sleek, and injury-free.
I wouldn’t want to pull the “old man” card, not yet at least, but I have to be honest at the same time… I’m no spring chicken and I quite enjoy being able to stay fit and healthy throughout the season without having to worry about what I’ll injure next.
Ride hard, my friends. Especially if you’re having to battle frequent running injuries. With the right set up on the bike, you’ll go as far and as fast as you want to. Well, within reason.
A friend of mine, on our 22-mph avg group ride, said that he’d been noticing on Strava that I’m riding every day without a break. He added that we older folk need our days off, that here I was riding 100 miles Saturday, 52 Sunday, another 52 Monday (over the 4th of July weekend), then playing tennis with my daughter in the afternoon… and I made it out for the Tuesday Night In Lennon ride.
Now, he wasn’t wrong. My legs were a little smoked by the time I was hitting with my daughter Monday night. In fact, I had to refrain from going after several balls to keep from wrecking my legs enough I’d have to skip Tuesday night.
Then, a week after, my family and I went on a two-week vacation during which I only rode twice. While we were exceedingly active over our vacation (hours of swimming daily, hikes, stair climbing, etc.), coming back to cycling was interesting. My first day back, we rolled into town at 9:30 pm and we were shoes on, ready to roll at 8 the following morning, I did a 19.2-mph 100-mile ride with several friends. I felt like Frankie Fresh Legs. I had a blast the whole ride, all the way home – including a decent sprint at the end for the final City Limits sign. I was tired, but I was in great shape considering.
Monday evening I rode easy. Tuesday night was hard (and I felt like I was constantly ready to bonk). Wednesday was easy… and that’s when the saddle sores started. Thursday hurt, but I rode easy anyway. Friday was a little faster but more painful. I started fighting the sores with Cortizone 10 cream. I was feeling it in the legs, too. Saturday, the sores started to subside and the ride was fairly quick at just a hair under 20-mph for the average. Then, Sunday morning rolled around. My legs were pretty shot but we had the A-100k pre-ride. We pounded the 65-miles out at a 19.9-mph average, we were at 19.2 for the full 75 (I rode with a couple friends out and back from our houses). And I was out riding again Monday – 22 miles and we didn’t crack 17 for the average (16.8).
One saddle sore in particular was screaming by this point. It was hard to find a comfortable place on the saddle, but I managed. Now, at this point it’s important to interject, riding on screaming saddle sores without proper treatment is a risky proposition I’ll save for another post. Let’s just say they can lead to surgery if one is not careful. I switched to Aquaphor and I was riding comfortably two days later.
I haven’t missed a day since I got back from vacation and just in my second week back turned in my fastest ride of the summer (30 miles at 23.2-mph, with friends) this past Tuesday.
The first key for me is to take it absolutely as easy as I can stand on easy days so I’ve got my legs for when things get hectic (fast).
The second is to manage the saddle sores that invariably pop up when I go from hardly riding to 250 miles a week. Things get ugly in a hurry. I’ve ignored them in the past, but there are two problems with that strategy. 1) They freaking hurt. 2) They can turn into a serious problem that could lead to surgery if they’re ignored long enough. No, either Cortizone 10 or Aquaphor are much faster and less painful options.
Some people believe they lose fitness after taking a couple of weeks off (I have a friend who thinks you lose 3% a day if you take time off) and I can see why – it’s a lot easier to keep the train rolling than it is to start it back up. However, after two weeks with only two easy rides, I was able to come back with a vengeance and knock out 100 miles at better than a 19-mph average. If I’d have lost anything, that would have been impossible.
Ride hard, my friends.
Now I Remember Why I Ride a Bike Every Day! Building the Fitness to Be Able to Ride That Much HURTS!
I used to think riding every day was a less painful way of life than taking more than one day off a week (say, ride four, three off). After riding every day excepting rain days (maybe one a week), I took two weeks off for vacation, only two riding days the whole stretch. I was surprised to find I felt really good throughout the vacation.
Now, I wasn’t inactive those two weeks. I swam a minimum of an hour a day, usually a lot more, and we had 68 stairs down to the boathouse… I walked that at least three times a day, plus a day hiking at Tallulah Gorge and walking the neighborhood we stayed in with my wife.
The way I ride, though, cycling fit is a lot more “fit” than what I did on my break. I expected to experience a little pain from slowing down, but apparently I didn’t slow down that much.
Then I went directly back to my normal cycling routine the day we got back. 100 miles Sunday, 20 Monday, 40 Tuesday, 20 Wednesday, 20 Thursday…
I woke up this morning and immediately popped two Tylenol. I even found it difficult to make my coffee – which is why I reached for the Tylenol in the first place. I’ve got a couple of over-use saddle sores that I’m dealing with and I ache down to my baby toes even though three out of the last six days on the bike were relatively easy.
The point is, I know an inactive lifestyle is vastly more painful than that of an active lifestyle, but an exceptionally active lifestyle isn’t less painful than an active lifestyle – it’s simply painful going from active to exceptionally active.
And so I learned something this week. I still love riding every day and I will continue to do so… I just have to watch how I come back from an extended period off the bike. I may have to take a couple of weeks to work back to shape rather than trying to cram everything into a week.
RAT Ride Asks to Avoid “Racing Clusters”; Also, the Funniest Recommendation I’ve Ever Seen on a Ride Advertisement…
In the advertisement for the Ride Around Torch (Lake, Michigan) forwarded to me by a club member, I found a fine nugget of wisdom under the 100-mile route which does include some pretty decent climbing; “Racing clusters are not recommended”.
Well, me and my “racing cluster” believe a 100-mile hilly bike ride isn’t for the faint of heart (they do have a 26 or 40 mile option for the nattering nabobs of numbskullery). While I appreciate the recommendation, we would choose to “cluster” anyway. The members of our “
cluster” pace-line log more miles in a year together than most ride in a half-decade. In fact, I think I’ve only ridden solo, or not in a racing cluster, three times this year.
Actually, I see this as a nice little window into the coffee klatch brigade, or perhaps a touch more apropos, the kaffeeklatsch brigade. Those who would sit at the local McDonald’s drinking their senior coffee for hours on end thinking of ways other rabble-rousers should behave to better suit their (typically ignorant) sensibilities. “Racing clusters” would be the perfect target of gossiping ninnies. “Oh, we wouldn’t want any racing clusters, now! They look so dangerous.”
Getting into proper responses, of course, one would be, “we have no racing clusters here, ma’am! We’ve got prancing pace-lines. We’re good.”
Or, should they catch you in one of those “racing clusters”, “Fear not sir, not a one of us is a racer. We wouldn’t even know how to form a “racing cluster”.
Or better still, “Oh, I’m so sorry, sir! I thought a “racing cluster” was an energy bar or a candy bar or something… this is just a pace-line. We’re good here.”
To take that thought a step further, “Don’t worry, ma’am. The brochure said you recommend against “racing clusters”. This is a pace-line, not a racing cluster. We leave the racing clusters to the professionals. Thank you for your concern.”
The point is, if you know anything about “racing clusters” whatsoever, and the person who chose the language in the brochure clearly doesn’t (perhaps a ploy for plausible deniability should a “racing cluster” crash happen?), racing clusters are always recommended… unless you want to work twice as hard to go 75% as fast all while having 25% of the fun. If that’s what you want out of cycling, by all means, avoid those rascawy wacing cwustews! (That’s “rascally racing clusters” in Elmer Fudd).
Otherwise, Mr. (or Mrs.) Fun Sponge, leave the cycling to the avid enthusiasts. Thanks for playing.
Tuesday Night’s Club Ride (which technically isn’t a “club ride” till some time in May, but let’s not get lost in the deep weeds) always leaves my legs rubbery on Wednesday. Wednesday is “pizza day”, though, so I have to get on my bike to justify my dinner.
Last evening’s “recovery” ride that really wasn’t a recovery ride because I was 2-mph too fast, was wonderful. Moderate westerly breeze, a little bit of sunshine, and an excellent 70 degrees (21 C)… none of which bodes well for a recovery ride, even if my legs really were smoked from Tuesday night. Chucker was stuck in a test car on a track in a non-descript location so I was on my own and I started out with excellent intentions that were thrown out the window after a quarter mile. See, even though I know the massive benefits of taking an easy day between the hard days on the bike, I still struggle with thinking I’m squandering an opportunity to get a little stronger by keeping my speed down.
That’s only part of the issue, though. Really, I just like to go fast… so what usually happens is I take the headwind sections easy and then let the wind push me home. Simple enough, but I tend to push a little harder on the tailwind sections to go faster and I end up with something near 18-mph when it should be 16-ish (29 km/h & 25 km/h). Done too often, eventually my legs will deteriorate to a point where I’m forced to go slow or take time off. So far I’ve been able to heed my legs talking back, though.
So last evening’s “should have been a recovery ride” was actually a lot of fun. I did some pretty speedy cornering coming of a downhill into a tailwind and just kept it light and simple. There was a little bit of up, some headwind, but there wasn’t much in the way of difficulty to the ride. One thing is for sure; I had a smile stretched across my face when I pulled into the driveway.
I simply love days like that. Good times and noodle salad. Only with pizza instead of noodle salad.
Cycling and Saddle Height – You Learn Something New… Erm… Every Few Years. A Tale of Excessive Butt Pain On a Tandem and How I Finally Fixed It By Getting My Saddle High Enough
I ride a pretty spectacular tandem with my wife. We bought a Co-Motion Periscope Scout and had it fitted with road components – a 10sp triple crank with Shimano 105 components. It’s a heavy steel bike, but it’s absolutely beautiful. The welds are utterly gorgeous and it’s adorned with top-notch equipment. The quality of that bike is phenomenal and it’s truly a joy to ride and the steel frame is unbelievably comfortable. There’s one problem, though… it was less than easy getting the saddle right. On a tandem, it’s not like you can just get out of the saddle to climb a hill, relieving your butt of the pressure of sitting on it, so you tend to spend a lot of time seated and pedaling.
Unlike a standard tandem, with a Periscope from Co-Motion you can fit anyone from 4’2″ to 6’2″ on the back…
I’ve had, ever since we brought the bike home, saddle issues with it. Whenever we go beyond 40 miles we’ve had to schedule a late stop so we can give our keisters a rest. I’ve tried three different saddles, a Selle Italia low-end saddle that came with the bike, a Specialized Romin road saddle and finally, a Specialized Toupe sport saddle that originally came on my Diverge AL Sport gravel bike. That Toupe was the best fitting saddle I’d had on the tandem but I just couldn’t pass that 40-mile mark without baboon heinie issues.
A few weeks ago my wife and I did our normal Sunday Funday tandem ride and I told my buddy, Mike that I’d switch bikes and ride home with him for some extra miles. Immediately on getting back I parked the tandem, went in the house, changed shoes (road shoes for the road bikes, mountain for the tandem) and wheeled out my Venge. On hopping on the bike, it felt weird… like I was off balance and the bike wanted to rock side-to-side as I pedaled. I knew exactly what causes that sensation. The saddle on the Venge was higher than the Co-Motion. After 37 miles on the tandem, then hopping straight on the Venge, the difference was plain as day.
Now, I know the Venge’s saddle is perfect. The amount of time, detail and attention that went into getting that saddle in the perfect location borders on the ludicrous. Long story short, I ended up recently raising the saddle on the Venge because I refused to believe that my legs were 1/4″ shorter at 50 than they were at 42… my measurement used to be 36-5/8″ and I was all the way down to 36-3/8″ after lowering it for “feel” over a few years’ time. I raised the saddle 1/8″ (or 3 mm) and couldn’t figure out why I ever lowered it in the first place. Then I raised the saddle on the Trek to match (then lowered the nose by 1/4 turn of the front saddle mount bolt). Well, after riding the Venge, I raised the Co-Motion’s saddle to match the Venge, too… and our first ride since was Sunday… and nirvana.
My wife and I rode 46-1/2 glorious miles on the tandem and I felt fantastic through the entire ride. Oh, there were minor adjustments as the ride wore on, but there was no point at which I simply wanted to get off the bike so I could get off my butt for a minute. A first – and our only stop was at about 14 miles (give or take).
So, after a considerable amount of effort in getting the saddle on the tandem right, I can tell you a saddle too low is just as bad and painful as having it too high. To describe the difference in pain is quite simple, though. If the saddle is (slightly) too high, you’re going to feel like you’re bruising your sit bones, or the bones right in front of the sit bones that form the hip. This pain is ugly. On the other hand, if the saddle is a little low, the pain will be “hot” on your keister… I like to call it baboon or tandem @$$. If you can coast and stand up for a second, the heat goes away and you’ll be good for another few miles but it’ll invariably flare back up again, this is the pain I’m talking about. The saddle won’t be so low that your knees hurt (at the back of the knee… if the back of the knee hurts, raise, if the front hurts, lower), but you’ll feel more like you’re riding on a heating pad that’s set to “scorched sphincter”.
Now, this will work for a single bike just the same. If you’re feeling like your butt’s on fire after 30 or 40 miles, it just could be you have to raise your saddle a little bit… just not too much.
Just a thought. And some experience sprinkled on top.
My wife and I were back at Sunday Funday on the tandem yesterday. I prepped the bike early, and outdoors for once (this early in the season I will often wheel it into the house to get it ready because it’s too cold to want to bother with it outside). We were set to roll at 9am with a light breeze from the northwest and abundant sunshine. It was a little cool, around 47 degrees (8 C), but the sun warmed things up quickly and nicely. We rolled north, a route we normally reserve for northerly winds and Sundays (it’s a little busy most Saturdays). After a grand 50 miles Saturday, my wife and I were both in the mood for Sunday Funday where we keep the pace a little light so everyone can have a good time. While my wife and I can keep up with a 20-mph average on the tandem, that’s a lot of work and neither of us enjoy that much. However, 17-18-1/2-mph is right in our wheelhouse. At that pace, we work together well – and I mean impressively well – and we provide an attractive ride for those who like it a little faster but don’t want to have to push a 20-mph average (it takes 22-24-mph to end up with a 20-mph average).
We rolled out into the wind, a whole gaggle of us… and we picked up more on the road as we went. Though we had a flat to contend with early on, maybe four miles in. Someone failed to point out a pothole that you could see Australia through and Chuck hit it dead-center. We all stopped, eleven of us by this time (and every one of us at some stage of vaccination – whether fully or partially) and waited for the flat to be fixed. I texted three others that there was a flat to fix and we’d be a little late getting to them. They replied that all was well and they’d see us when we got there.
We rolled out again after five or six minutes… and the second tandem dropped their timing chain a half-mile later. Now, timing chains are notoriously difficult to re-install because the tension is supposed to be quite tight on the chain… of course, if the chain is tight enough you can’t get it on, you shouldn’t be able to drop it. Theirs was a little loose because of a concentric crank manufacturing issue that makes their difficult to properly tighten, so it was a perfect bump at exactly the wrong time and they were on the side of the road, trying to get it back on the rings.
That took another couple of minutes. We soft-pedaled and stopped for 30 seconds till they caught up. And that was the last problem of the day. We formed into a tight group and headed into the wind. Normally Jess and I take most of the headwind, but yesterday we decided to share the wealth and rotate through the group a little more often. We picked up Dave & Sherry on their tandem and Greg on his new gravel bike and struck out to see the world.
What followed was one of the most tremendous tandem rides I’ve ever experienced with my wife. We matched almost perfectly and we did a lot of talking when we weren’t hammering to keep pace. There were at least a dozen times I was overcome by the glorious feeling that I’m the luckiest guy in the world to be riding on that tandem with my wife.
Dave and Sherry are a 30-year tandem team and they are phenomenal on their Co-Motion Macchiato. I’ve never seen anything like it… they come up to a hill and Dave says, “Up”, and on the next pedal stroke their both out of the saddle climbing like they’re on single bikes. Jess and I tried that once and had to sit back down immediately. We have tried with Jess out of the saddle and me seated and that works a little better. Anyway, they were up front a lot and we rode their wheel quite happily.
Before we knew it we had 23 miles in and it was time to head home. Chuck is under strict orders from his heart doc to “try two or three miles” but don’t go crazy with 50… so 48 miles is the limit. Runners and cyclists are a funny bunch and doctors rarely “get” us. Also, my wife and I like to keep our jaunts on the tandem to 40 miles or we start getting a little sore in the backsides. However, and this will get it’s own post, after our last ride on the tandem, I switched to my Venge to ride my buddy Mike home and I could feel the height difference between the Venge and tandem immediately – the Venge was a good 2-mm higher. I decided to raise the Co-Motion’s saddle the 2-mm and it turned out to be absolutely freaking glorious. The first time I’d ever been over 35 miles on the tandem that I wasn’t wishing for a short stop.
We made it a fantastic 46-1/2 miles and, while I was definitely tired, I had a wide smile stretched across my face we pulled into the driveway. I’d never had so much fun on the tandem.
The weather was fantastic all day and, after a quick nap, we had a cycling club board meeting and then I went to play some tennis with my daughters.
We had hamburgers for dinner and watched Captain Marvel after, before I retired while Mrs. Bgddy was working on some cycling club business. I was off to sleep within ten seconds of my head hitting the pillow. This weekend was as good as they get. No noodle salad this time, but plenty of good times.
Cycling on the Proper Side of the Road (and Why Cycling Against Traffic is Cycling With a Death Wish Part 174)
I was out for a Saturday afternoon cruise, all by my lonesome a few weeks ago. It’s a rare Saturday I’m not with my friends, but things just worked out that way. I exited a subdivision onto a short, punchy climb and was out of the saddle pushing my way up the incline when I saw a woman and her two young boys riding on the wrong side of the road with a minivan bearing down on them. I, in the correct lane, stopped pedaling and waved to the minivan that it was okay to pass them in my lane. I could see the hesitation by the driver, but he realized in short order that it was going to be safe to pass and did. The boys and their mother had no clue what was going on – they were completely oblivious to the accident they could have caused.
Had I not been paying attention and just kept trucking, head down, it could have gotten messy. In fact, this is exactly how many cyclists riding on the proper side of the road are killed, when a vehicle traveling toward them in the opposing lane comes into the lane the cyclist is riding in to pass – and the driver of the truck, with a mother and two boys bearing down on them on bikes in the wrong lane would have no choice but to try to thread the needle between them and me. Thankfully, I saw that coming a half-mile away.
Now, I’ve made comments to riders in the wrong lane before, but in this instance I chose a new approach. I pulled alongside the mother and started, “Good afternoon. I appreciate that you like to ride in the wrong lane, but I would like to make a couple of observations that you may not be aware of.”
First, I said, if your boys are that far ahead of you and they approach an intersection, say a car is making a right hand turn into their lane, where is that driver looking when he gets to the intersection?
She actually got it, immediately. “He’ll be looking left”. I said, right, and he’ll be pulling out directly into your boys without looking. So that’s the first scenario you have to worry about. Second, you’ve got a car coming at you that wants to pass as you’re pedaling towards it, but there’s a truck coming the other way. The driver coming toward you can’t get into the other lane and you’re closing distance on the truck… surely, you can see the trouble on the horizon. If you’re in the proper lane, with the flow of traffic, the car behind you can slow until oncoming traffic clears, then go around when safe. Not so if you’re in the wrong lane.
And with that, we exchanged pleasantries and I sped off down the road. It’s amazing how a difficult topic like that can be diffused with a good attitude and a smile. The last time I had a conversation with a woman about riding on the wrong side of the road (with her child in tow, for God’s sake), she ended up hollering something about the patriarchy… I’m going to have to change my tactics from now on, because this time turned out much better.
File these two under the old, “We don’t care if you think cycling on the wrong side of the road is dangerous, we know it’s safer, nah-nah-na-nah-nah”… and remember the important rule here: People are going to do what they do. We have to keep our own eyes peeled because we can still, doing the right thing, get stuck in between a rock and a speeding truck.
Bontrager’s new Wavecel technology Specter cycling helmet ticks two very big boxes for me. First, being mildly allergic to bee stings, after a decade of riding with some form of cycling cap under my brain bucket to protect from the wayward bee flying into a vent, I can finally, safely go without. That little bit of freedom alone was worth the reasonably priced Bontrager Specter helmet ($149.99 at your local Trek bike shop).
The second, I’ve got friends who’ve crashed wearing them and escaped serious head injury. And each friend who crashed wearing a Wavecell helmet bought another to replace the damaged brain bucket. Better than all the BS taglines a company can come up with is a person who has crash-landed on their melon and purchased another of the same helmet.
Now, that’s just the main two boxes. I bought my wife a Specter last year because she’d crashed and I wanted her to have the best replacement I could buy. I bought mine so we could match on the tandem. A little corny, yes, but I can live with that.
Now that I’ve worn mine a couple of times, I have to get into the things that were done right with this helmet, and there’s a lot to crow over. First, the chin strap system and clasp are fantastic, infinitely adjustable, and easy to get the straps to lay perfectly flat against your face… simply, and without much fuss. Just follow the instructions in the manual for a perfect fit. Next, the Boa closure is vastly superior to the old ratchet style fitting systems. The pad system takes a page from Kask sweat pads that actually retain sweat so you’re not dripping sweat into your glasses. Simply remove said glasses and push the helmet to your forehead to squeeze out the sweat. Having owned a half-dozen Specialized helmets, everything from the cheap to S-Works, Specialized wishes their sweat pads were this good. Finally, is the fit. It’s a rare day I’ll crow about how a helmet fits, but the Specter’s fit is exceptional. Wonderful, even.
Without question, the Bontrager Specter helmet with Wavecell Technology is one of the best cycling helmets I’ve ever worn. It is a bit on the heavy side at 330 grams, but the weight is the only thing I could think to complain about – and even at that weight, it didn’t bother me a bit over yesterday’s 52-miler.
If you’re in the market for a new helmet, I happily recommend the Bontrager Specter.
Another friendly runner is about to earn his cycling shoes…
Five or six of my best cycling friends are ex-runners. One, an accomplished runner, in the low five-minute miles for a marathon distance – he was fast. I am a one-time runner, much slower. My wife, too. I’m a rare ex-runner cyclist, though . I found cycling long before injuries sidelined me and I found a love for cycling I never had for running. I liked running, I love cycling.
About 25 years after I rode the wheels off the Murray Baja mountain bike my parents bought for me (coincidentally, exactly ten minutes after I was first licensed to drive a car), I bought my first real bike and found joy. I ran sparsely after for a couple of years, but once I picked up my first carbon fiber road bike/rocket ship, it was all over for running.
My best cycling friend, however, said he would go back to running in a minute if his body would let him.
Once we learn peace and serenity are achieved through the physical exertion of running, some of us have a tendency to overdo it. With excessive running, if the form isn’t perfect, the body will break down over time.
Thus, when we get to that point where we can’t (or don’t want to) run anymore, many turn to cycling because those of us who turn to running because it makes us feel spectacular, need something to do to keep that going.
For all you runners out there, I’m here to tell you, cycling works. In some ways better, in others, not. It’ll get you that euphoric feeling that running gives you, only you can ride every day without fear of beating your body to a pulp. There’s a big learning curve, of course, but once you get the hang of it… well, it’s quite fantastic.
If you are getting to the point where you think running is just too debilitating anymore, you’ve earned your cycling shoes. Try them on.