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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.
First of all, I have tried to set my bike up like a pro – a frame two sizes too small, super-long baby’s arm-length stem, six inch drop from the nose of the saddle to the handlebar… the bike looked… erm… not right (click here, scroll down to the last bike) and the real answer is no, you absolutely shouldn’t try to set your bike up like a pro does – not all the way, anyway. Simply because you’re not 20 anymore. As Manon Lloyd suggested would be the case, I lasted five or ten miles with the bike set up like that. I had to cock my head sideways to be able to see up the road. Forget about riding in the drops. It was all I could do to ride on the hoods. It was, simply put, untenable.
So, above is GCN’s Manon Lloyd in a video about why one shouldn’t set one’s bike up like a pro. Of course, the comments also humorously pointed out that GCN’s next video would be “Why You Should Set Your Bike Up Like a Pro”. In fact, I do remember one or two about how to set your bike up like a pro, but should you or shouldn’t you?
Neither question is the correct question because whether you should or shouldn’t, you’re going to try. We all do because a pro setup looks awesome. So give it your best… and find out the normal way that we all end up somewhere between “pro” and “handlebar same height as the saddle”.
Now, on a humorous note, take a look at that pro’s bike in the embedded video above. Now look at mine:
I can tell you confidently, at 50 years-old, riding in the position needed for that setup isn’t all that big a deal – I’m certainly not uncomfortable. And that’s really the important point. It is that which is most important in cycling: When it’s all said and done, the idea is to put as many miles on your bike as is humanly possible. May as well do that in comfort. Unless you’re getting paid to ride. And you have a masseuse. And a team paid DO/Chiropractor.
As far as the GCN video goes, it doesn’t matter whether you should or shouldn’t. You’re going to try anyway, so just give it your best and see what you think.
It was cold yesterday morning. I mean COLD. 17° F or -8 C. Mike texted early that he was riding the trainer. I got ready hoping nobody would show but my friends Phill and Doc Mike showed up to ride. I was out the door with a few minutes to spare.
I wanted to test the limits of my new Funkier jacket anyway…
We rolled out on time and I was warmed up within two miles. A light base layer, a decent long-sleeve running shirt and I was sweating before mile seven. Sweating. Sadly, my lower body was chilly. Not horribly so, but I didn’t want to be out too long and risk. Erm… problems.
We chose dirt roads and were happy for the choice until about five miles in. The conditions devolved into an icy nightmare. Several times we were reduced to unclipping and pushing off on the ice. It was absolutely treacherous.
Nine miles in we chose a paved road and stayed on asphalt all the way home. We hit the pavement with a 12.8-mph average and pulled into the driveway at almost 15-1/2. The ride home was a blast, holding 18-20 all the way. On the gravel bikes with all that cold weather gear on, in that cold, we were moving.
The ride wasn’t all that long but we were out there for more than an hour and I had some serious fun. Had we been out much longer I think it would have taken away from the enjoyment of the ride. The cold would have caught up.
So this led to the good part. Before getting in the shower I stepped on the scale for the first time since Thanksgiving. I was ready for my jaw to drop at the jump in the number on the screen… and I was only six pounds over mid-season cruising weight… and still in the 170’s. Barely, but I’m there. I was expecting to be well into the 180’s and to have a daunting task in front of me to get ready for the hills of the Horsey Hundred. Instead, it’ll just be some rigorous trainer rides for the next couple of months with some intelligent eating decisions. Once March gets in gear, I’ll be in fantastic shape in no time.
I did some maintenance throughout the day, lubing chains and a bit of crank work on the Diverge (I didn’t quite get the bolt tight enough last time I cleaned it – you really have to… um… crank on the Allen key to get it tight). I also went to the shop with Mrs. Bgddy and picked up a trainer tire. I’m pushing too hard a gear and road tires just aren’t lasting very long. I had a Bontrager tire on there for a couple of weeks and that worked well till it started slipping the other day. I’m hoping this puts the issue to bed. I won’t find out today, though. We’re going to brave the cold again and head outdoors.
UPDATE: My friend who goes by biking2work asked how the jacket held up in that cold. I finished slightly sweating. Comfortable and warm the whole ride. The wind chill was 14 F or -10 C. Simply amazing, though not a jacket to go all out in. You’d end up a puddle of sweat on the road.
I wrote about changing my cockpit on the Venge over the weekend. I swapped out the lightweight stem I’d had on the bike for the last five years for a stem that had more drop (-6° to a -10°). The switch was mainly for vanity – the front end looks vastly more impressive now. However, a blog friend, Dan, commented that the amount of drop was pretty extreme in the new setup. He was right. 20 mm, 2 cm, or roughly 3/4” is a huge change – especially for a bike I’d been professionally fitted on and riding comfortably for years.
Basically, what I did, for the reasons I did, is less than wise and goes against virtually every bicycle fitting “rule” there is. I’m going to be me, though, so full speed ahead. It’s not like I can’t put the bike back together the way it was in ten minutes flat, after all. If you simply look at where the bar end lines up with the hole the shift cable housing enters the frame, you’ll get a sense of the change (just looking at where the angle of the two stems doesn’t quite do it justice).
This leaves me a conundrum for Venge Day 2021, though. Typically speaking, this is going to be some kind of hooky day, early in the spring when the temps finally warm enough after our first major rainstorm that I can be assured I won’t be caking my good bike in the winter’s road salt. Venge Day usually isn’t a short day in the saddle, so I want to be able to roll the bike out of the house fairly confident that I won’t have to come home early because I’m an idiot and my bike fits like crap. Because that’d suck, though I imagine the blog post after would be interesting.
It was raining yesterday, technically, rain mixed with snow, so “snaining”. There was no chance I was taking a road bike outside, let alone my good one. That left… the trainer. I did the unthinkable. I put my trainer wheel on my Venge and spent 45 minutes on the trainer kicking the tires on the new setup.
Now, the trainer actually has several benefits built into it for testing a new setup. First, it’s not like you’re out of the saddle, dancing on the pedals whenever you get a chance. On a stationary trainer, my tuchus is pretty much in the saddle the whole time unless I stand up for a little break – I’m not about to bob and weave out of the saddle, putting that kind of torque on an irreplaceable carbon fiber frame. This magnifies any problems in the setup because I don’t get a break from the position I’m riding in. If it’s going to suck on the road, 45 minutes on the trainer will bring it to agonizing light. Especially when you’re watching John Wick whilst riding.
And so I did my 45 minutes on the Venge… and I liked it. A lot. I may have to tinker with the pitch on the saddle next season, after I get some decent test miles in, but I won’t have to take my toy and go home early on Venge Day. The ride is very low, but I have a good angle on the hoods and I’m well supported, likely better than the old setup. Watching the movie was a little difficult in the drops, but that’s as it should be. Watching the movie on the hoods was doable, and with my hands at the back of the hoods (not all the way up to the horns), watching wasn’t a strain at all. I didn’t spend any time on the bar top – a sure tell that the setup is rideable.
If you spend a lot of time with your hands on the bar top, or that’s the most comfortable place for your hands, that’s a sure tell your bike’s setup won’t work for you. It’s either too aggressive or too stretched out (or both). The most comfortable place for your hands should be the hoods. Use the drops for headwinds and your turn at the front of a pace-line and the bar top for long hill climbs (this opens the chest up and gives the diaphragm room to work). And, incidentally, on the trainer I want to be able to watch a movie from the hoods, about 20′ back from the TV. From the drops, I should be able to focus on the bottom edge of the TV (ours is off the floor about 3′) without trouble, but watching the movie should be a bit of a strain on the neck. I have all of this down to a little bit of a science, a sure sign I spend way too much time thinking about cycling.
In any event, this most important test was passed last night. Now all I have to do is wait four months for Venge Day.
I bought my wife a Specialized Alias in 2014, for Christmas, hoping a decent high-end bike would help her embrace cycling more… enthusiastically. She was still running back then and liked to dabble in the occasional triathlon so that particular bike made sense. It’s a brilliant mix between a triathlon bike and a road bike, with a forward swept seat tube that gets the rider over the pedals. This incorporates the quads for cycling leaving the hamstrings and back of the legs fresher for the run. She’s come to love that bike. Absolutely adores it – especially the aero-bars when she’s up front. In fact, she loves it so much she wouldn’t let me replace it after the carbon was slightly damaged in a crash with a deer (the shop looked it over and gave it their blessing).
That photo was from a few years ago… I bought her carbon fiber wheels since that photo. Over the years, as I did, my wife has walked away from running and moved to cycling exclusively for her fitness (though she’s just recently started going to the gym with my daughters). While both her trainer road bike and her gravel bike are compact frames, they both feature the more traditional seat post angle. Throughout the last couple of summers, my wife has become quite the strong cyclist. She can put a few of the guys we ride with in a hurt locker and she’s been known to make my tongue dangle into the spokes from time to time. She’s also developed a nagging backpain since. Well, she finally went to her doctor to get it checked out. It was tendonitis. The doctor gave her a shot that relieved the pain but we started talking solutions.
I started doing some research.
See, we all know, the seat tube on a tri-bike is swept upright a lot more to engage the quads, right? Right. Well, because my wife stopped running, she’s developed a massive imbalance between her quads and the muscles/hamstrings in the back of her leg. This pulls on the hamstrings which connect to tendons in the back, which can’t deal with the constant pull, become inflamed and voila; tendonitis.
I’ve searched for solutions in the past, too. We went from a zero-offset seat post to a 20mm offset. Now we’re going to try a 32mm offset (FSA K-Force SB32) to see if we can get her back far enough she can get a little more use out of the backs of her legs in the pedal stroke.
Before you head to the comments section and ask, yes, I’ve tried to get her into buying either a new frame or a whole new bike. She’s not having any of it. She wants to run the options out on the seat posts first and see if she can solve the issue that way… and happy wife, happy life. Some $#!+ you just don’t fight.
The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: Setting Up the Cockpit of a Road Bike; Handlebar Angle, Hood Angle, and Drop – and the Pain Getting It Wrong Can Lead To: Part Two; The Stem
Picking up where Part One left off, the cockpit of a road bike is where a lot of the action is. You know, once you get the crankarm length right, the pedals figured out, the saddle width, the saddle height adjusted and the fore/aft position of that saddle, and then back to height, well all that’s left is the cockpit… and stem rise/drop, stem length, stem spacers, handlebar width, reach and drop, and the angle at which the bar comes off the stem. We’re going to need a bigger post.
Short story is, there’s a lot to deal with. Now, if you want to skip all of this mess, and I certainly would understand if you did, just have your bike fit to you by a pro. I spent three hours having my Venge done and out of the whole process, we lowered the saddle by about two millimeters (I won’t lie, I was stoked that I set the bike up that close to perfect on my own). If you’re going to go the pro fit route, I recommend telling that pro how you’d like to ride, aggressive, leisurely, or somewhere in the middle. I’m what I like to call “middle-aged aggressive”. My really flexible days are long gone, but I can still get pretty low and fast… and it’s better on my back this way. Whatever your choice, it’s important to know the default of most bike fitters will be “leisurely”. They’re going to put you upright on your bike so you act like a giant wind scoop. Oh, it’s comfortable alright, until you try to pedal that thing over 25-mph and you’re looking for a second drop bar so you can get down out of the wind.
Let’s start with the first piece of the cockpit, the stem. The stem, at least on modern bikes with modern handlebars (but not the integrated stem/handlebar single piece setup), is the most flexible piece of equipment there is on a bike when it comes to quickly changing the characteristics of a road bike. The modern system is called a threadless headset. Typically, you’ve got an upper and lower bearing that sit in cups in the “head tube”. The upper shaft of the fork slides through the bearings and the stem slides over that. The top cap screws into a bolt in that shaft, tightening the system to the point there’s no play. Compared to the old threaded quill stem steering assembly, the threadless setup is a marvel of ingenuity and one of those rare instances where engineering makes something work better while making it easier to maintain at the same time. Like I said, rare.
For noobs, there are a few important points to remember about setting up a bike. Once the saddle is situated in the right location, the stem is the piece that gets the handlebar where we want it. We never adjust the saddle to make the cockpit fit. Other than the spacers above or below the stem, the stem itself dictates reach and rise. On my two road bikes, I’ve got different stems to get the shifter hoods in the same location with the same saddle to bar drop on two vastly different bikes:
The Specialized on the left has a 100mm stem with a -6° rise. It’s a 6 degree stem flipped upside down to cut down the angle rather than make the handlebar rise. This is a little deceptive, of course, because either way you flip the stem, it’s still going to rise due to the angle of the fork and steering assembly. If I wanted a flatter look, I’d go with a 12° stem, flipped (I’m actually thinking about doing this, just for fun). On the Trek, however, I’ve got a 17° stem flipped, which is enough to take the rake of the fork to make the trek’s stem “flat” or level to the ground. This is decidedly badass, especially when it’s on a 21 year-old frame. Now, if you compare the rake of the Venge and the Trek, you would see that a 17° flipped stem would be too much on the Venge, you’d end up with a drop. We match the rise or drop of the stem with where we want the handlebar when we’re done.
Now, the stem also handles another invaluable role. The length of the stem will determine how far you have to reach for the handlebar hoods. If the stem is too long, it’ll be uncomfortable to reach for the hoods because you’ll be too stretched out. Too short and you’ll feel cramped into the cockpit.
My Trek, a 1999 5200, is a standard (or traditional) 58 cm frame. The Specialized, from 2013 is a compact 56 cm frame. They’re very different frames with different geometries, but with the proper stem, I’ve got the same reach and drop from the saddle to the handlebar on both bikes. I’ve got a 90mm long 17° negative rise (meaning it’s flipped) stem on the Trek. On the Specialized, it’s a 100mm 6° (again, negative rise). With those two setups, using “stack and reach” measuring, the hoods on each bike are exactly the same height off the pavement, and the saddles are in almost the exact same location in relation to the pedals and off the ground. In fact, the bikes are so close, the owner of our local shop checked my work and said making the two any closer is an impossibility.
This is by design. I wanted to be able to go from one bike to the other, because I ride both a lot, without feeling a difference. I can ride the Specialized for 50 miles, switch to the Trek and go for another 50 without feeling it in the setup.
With the right stem, you can adjust a cockpit to suit your needs, whatever they may be (or however those needs may evolve over time). My gravel bike is a neat case in point. I should have put a 120mm stem on it if I wanted to match my road bikes (it’s a 56 cm compact frame, with a more relaxed geometry than my Venge, which has a race geometry) The longer stem would give me the proper stretch, but I chose a 110mm with 6° negative rise so the handlebar is a little closer. This allows me to sit slightly more upright which helps when trying to dodge potholes on dirt roads. I have the same drop from the saddle nose to the handlebar, the same saddle location, etc., etc., I’m just a little shorter in the stem so I can sit up. I also switched the handlebar from a shallow drop to a standard… but that’ll be the next post.
I can’t remember the last time I hit the dirt. It had been a while. The operative word in that last sentence is “had”.
It was a cold afternoon after a day from hell at work. We chose the gravel bikes – I love not worrying about traffic through the post-season. That, and 40° at 18-mph is way better than it is at 24.
I rolled over to Chuck’s at 5, taking my time about it. I wasn’t in a hurry. I was looking forward to lollygagging, actually.
My gravel bike, a low-end Specialized Diverge, would be uncomfortable if I used normal road tires on it. Alloy frames tend to be somewhat brutal. With 32-mm gravel tires at about 45 psi, the thing is surprisingly buttery and wonderful (once you get beyond the slow and heavy aspects) and fun to ride. Especially at the end of the season out with my buddy, Chuck. This is what I was thinking as we were making our way out and this is specifically why I have such a deep love of cycling. I went from one of the most brutal Mondays in memory to thinking about how comfortable my gravel bike is and how much fun I’m having.
So let’s get to the good part. We’re coming up a hill to a busy intersection and there’s traffic coming from the left but the lead car is turning left. Chuck jumps at the chance to get across, so I follow slightly behind. I got way over on the side of the road, because, gravel bike, as the car turned in behind us. He went by and I decided I should ride up on the grass a little bit. Again, because gravel bike. And that’s precisely when I looked up and saw the trenched out mud puddle right in front of me, no doubt made by a mail truck… I didn’t want to hit the puddle or get run over, so I tried a track stand in possibly the worst place in the entire world to try a track stand while the truck cleared. And my front wheel slid down the trench into the mud puddle and I went straight over sideways landing on my elbow, shoulder, knee and hip. My hip hurt quite a bit, taking the worst of it, and I hit my knee pretty hard, but other than that, I was okay. I also had to twist my left shifter back into place.
Thankfully, I missed most of the mud.
We had a chuckle at the silliness of the situation and rolled on. My main concern was to keep everything moving after a hit like that. Too slow and every part that hit the dirt seizes up and I didn’t want any of that. After a while, all of the mud cleared my tires and I rode up into a little more grass to clean them off the rest of the way.
The ride got a little fast after that. The sun was fading into the horizon pretty fast and with intermittent cloud cover, we didn’t have much light left. I’d been up front for miles and pulled over to let Chuck take a turn but he didn’t come around. He’s riding tonight and I’m skipping for my daughter’s senior night for swimming, so he’s going to need his legs. I stayed up front and took it to the barn.
It was only when I started peeling layers that I realized the extent of the damage. Hip was a little sore but okay, elbow was good. The knee, though, I’d skinned my knee up pretty good. A lot like every other Friday when I was a kid.
My wife had an awesome chicken pot pie waiting. I cleaned up and we sat down for supper. It didn’t last long.
Waking up this morning, though, I wasn’t near as spry as I once was. No real harm, though. Skinned knees and mud puddles. I slept like a baby last night. Not one thought about my crappy Monday. I’m sure today will be a lot better.
A Noob’s Guide to Saddles and Saddle Width: Conclusions on a Decade-Long Experiment. Saddle Width is the Key to Happiness
I’ve written about bike saddles before. I currently own four bikes (five if I count our tandem). I’ve been through a bit of N-1, but for good causes. My old Cannondale will go with my daughter to college once I convert it to modern shifting this winter and I gave my old Trek 3700 mountain bike to a co-worker at the beginning of his career whose big box bike had completely broken down. For those five bikes I currently own… counting… nine saddles. I’ve got everything. 155-mm, 143-mm, 138-mm and even a 128-mm. I’ve got thinly padded saddles and thickly padded saddles, flat saddles and contoured saddles, cutouts, no cutouts and yuge cutouts… steel rails, titanium rails, and carbon rails.
In the following post, I’ll detail what I’ve learned over many years of saddle sores, hamstring pain so bad I was hobbled, squirming on my saddle on anything more than a 40-mile ride, and finally, saddle nirvana and actually feeling a saddle sore go away, as I rode, after switching the saddle on my most prized race bike.
I was measured for saddle width in the late fall of 2012 for the first time. Till then, I’d ridden on anything I could get my hands on, not knowing the difference, and certainly not understanding why the saddles I did choose hurt so bad. My first problem, one that many noobs have, was the padding paradox:
In road cycling more is less and less is more, was ever thus – comfortable. In mountain biking, gravel biking, and tandem riding, a little padding goes helps me go a long way.
The key is picking the right contouring and setting the saddle in the proper position on the bike, including height, fore/aft, and tilt. My road saddles are 36-3/8″ off the pedal spindle, 22-5/8″ from the handlebar center, contoured, and 3° nose down. The gravel, mountain and tandem bicycles take a page from that setup, but the nose down angle and distance from the handlebar changes for each bike. From my aforementioned prized race bike to my gravel bike, to my mountain bike. On all of my bikes, the biggest difference is the saddle’s width.
The type of cycling and how upright I will ride determines the width of the saddle. I found this out on my own, too. When I was first measured, I took it that the measurement would be the end all, be all. 143-mm was my saddle width. All of the saddles I bought, till last year, were purchased with that measurement. Everything was a 143.
Last year, Trek had a beautiful, light carbon fiber saddle for sale. It was a 138 Montrose Pro. I dropped more than 100 grams from the old saddle and to my surprise, for the first time since I started purchasing saddles for bicycles, I experienced what it feels like for a saddle to disappear under me.
This year, the Montrose Pro was even more steeply discounted so, in the middle of a saddle sore outbreak, I bought another, though this one was a 128-mm, and I put that saddle on my Specialized Venge. I thought, “if the 138 feels better than my 143-mm Specialized Romin, maybe that 128 will be even better“…
With the purchase of that 128-mm Montrose, my three dimensional education in saddles began to crystalize. I was afraid when I hit the “purchase” button on Trek’s website with that saddle. I was worried the saddle would be too narrow and thus, painful. How mistaken I was.
When I was measured and it was determined my width would be a 143, I was measured sitting upright with my knees only slightly raised from 90°. That’s not how I ride, though, sitting upright. I ride road bikes in a very aggressive posture for a 50-year-old man:
I knew enough that I needed a contoured saddle to be comfortable. I’m not incredibly flexible and all the research in the last decade or more says that flexible people ride flat saddles while we flex-challenged ride a contoured saddle. Fine with me. However, what isn’t discussed, or is commonly left out, is how the support bones that are ridden on change as the drop from the saddle nose to the handlebar increases.
Put simply, as we rotate our hips forward to lower our shoulders, the support bones narrow. Thus, I’m infinitely comfortable on a 143 on my tandem, mountain bike, and gravel bike – the ride is much more upright. On my road bikes, both of which feature large drops from the saddle to the handlebar, that same 143 will give me saddle sores because of excessive rubbing at the crook of my leg and hip. I don’t get that with the 138 or the 128.
With the 128 Montrose on my race bike and a 138 on my rain bike, I literally rode a saddle sore away. I ride every day, saddle sore or no, and while the first day was painful, after I got the 128 correctly adjusted, the pain faded until the sore went completely away.
On the other hand, with the road season over, we’re riding on gravel roads now. My gravel bike has a slightly more upright, less aggressive setup, and that exact same 143-mm Specialized Romin that gave me saddle sores on my Venge feels like butter on the gravel bike. As my hips rotate back to sit up a little, the distance between the support bones increases and that 143 fits as it was measured way back when.
If this seems like a lot to keep straight, you aren’t wrong. Most people won’t go to the length I do to get right on their bike(s). Most people don’t ride like I do, though. When you’re in the saddle almost every day, you want the experience to be as pain-free as is possible.
So, to wrap this post up, let’s look at some key saddle features and getting a saddle properly set:
- Flat or contoured? Flat for flexible, contoured otherwise.
- Padding: More is not always the answer. I like to go for as little padding as is possible for how I’m riding.
- Width: Having to do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I’d go with the upright measurement, knees slightly raised from 90°. That’s the width for my mountain, gravel, and tandem which are more upright. Then, decrease width for more aggressive postures on the road bikes.
- Saddle height: General saddle height is dialed in first – heels on the pedals (bike on a trainer or supporting yourself in a doorway indoors or in the garage), pedal backwards. Legs straighten without rocking at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
- Fore/Aft next: After a short warm-up on that trainer, find your “happy place” on your saddle and pedal for a few minutes. Stop with your crank arms parallel to the ground and run a 4′ level from the front of your kneecap to the ground, touching the front of the crank arm. The level’s plumb bubble should be between the lines, adjust fore/aft till it is as close as possible. You can also use a plumb bob, but that goes from just below the kneecap to the center of the pedal spindle. Same measurement, different method of getting it.
- Adjust down-angle of the saddle to suit, so you’re riding on your support bones (not necessarily the sit bones, mind you).
- Dial in final saddle height.
Bob’s your uncle.
I started cycling like many. Mountain biking, then a road bike, then a real road bike, then a real road bike, upgrades, wheels, saddles… ah, road bikes. Or, as I like to refer to them, toys. For adults.
My entrée into road cycling was like akin to Christian Bale’s Ken Miles at the Dearborn test track after the engineers cram “the beast” into a GT40 prototype in Ford Vs. Ferrari… That was me, cycling in a group the first time. “Oh! I’ll have some more of that my girl!”
I felt like I was in the Tour de France. For all of eight miles, when I was promptly dropped as the group surged beyond 28-mph. I wasn’t the first to drop that night and I definitely wasn’t the last, so I chased a guy down who dropped a quarter-mile after I did. Being lost as lost gets, he helped my get back to the parking lot. We rode together every week after that and ended up becoming a very good friend.
I’ve learned a lot since that night.
So that leads to my first tip, a favorite from that little blast from my past:
Don’t be the first to drop in a club ride. Especially if you don’t know where you are!
All kidding aside, getting into group cycling isn’t easy, especially when the group you run into is fast. Everything happens so quickly, one little mistake can be disastrous. So here are a few advanced tips to work for as you progress:
- Don’t ever be late. 10 minutes early is on time. Most groups will leave without you if you make it a habit of being late.
- When we first start out, we tend to concentrate a lot on the wheel ahead of us. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, at first, but the focus is too narrow. The goal should be to become spatially aware of your surroundings so you can look beyond the front of the group to see what’s coming long before it gets there. See, concentrating on the wheel in front of you at 40 feet per second is too late for you to react. You want to expand that range of vision so you can also see what the front of the group is doing. You’ll want to learn to know exactly where the wheel in front of you is while you’re looking up the road. It’s not easy and don’t force it, just make it a goal to get to that point.
- Get low when the going gets windy. Sitting upright in anything but a dead-on headwind will have you working almost as hard as the person driving the group if you don’t have enough space for an echelon. You can cheat this a little by riding in the drops and getting a little lower to fit in the draft.
- If you’re a “masher”, learn how to spin, too. Mashing the pedals takes a lot of effort, maybe 20% more than spinning. You have to work a lot harder to be a masher, so take a winter on the trainer and learn how to spin. It’ll help when you’re in a group that’s a little stronger than you are. Look at the difference this way; how many one-arm curls can you do with a 30 pound weight? 10? 20? That’s mashing. How many curls can you do with a 2 pound weight? You can go all day. That’s spinning – and at the same time, you’ll be able to accelerate a lot quicker when you’re spinning – to an extent.
- Don’t overlap wheels, even in an echelon, until you know how to overlap wheels. If your front wheel touches or rubs the wheel in front of you, someone’s rear wheel, you’re the one who goes down – and usually very quickly. The theory is simple. A rear wheel is fixed and has most of the rider’s weight on it. A front wheel is not fixed and doesn’t have as much weight on it. It’s much less stable. The front wheel twists, and bam. You’re down.
- Look at me now. This is important. Don’t ever stop pedaling when you’re at the front of the group unless you signal a slowdown first. With your hand down, make a stop signal and say loudly, “Slowing”. Don’t EVER stop pedaling when you’re at the front.
- Smooth and predictable is the order of the day when you’re in a group. This is not easy at 30-mph (50-km/h), but it is what you must be at all times. When you’re hurtling down the road at that speed, you’re in the same space the person in front was just at in less than two-tenths of a second. Blink. That fast. You must, except when you’re the last bike in the line, be smooth and predictable.
- DO NOT ACCELERATE OFF THE FRONT OF THE GROUP after the person in front of you flicks off. The others behind you are not thinking, “Wow, that fella is strong!” No, they’re thinking, “Where does that twatwaffle think he’s/she’s going?” Don’t be a twatwaffle. See also, smooth and predictable. If you can go faster, accelerate smoothly and predictably over the course of a quarter-mile.
- Don’t take someone explaining ground rules to you personally. Group cycling is all about self-preservation. If you’re new to a group, they want to make sure they can trust you… and if you make a mistake, they’ll have a desire for you to not make that mistake again.
- No aero bars in the bunch. You’re not good enough to use them in a group. Stop. You’re not. Those who actually are good enough to use them in the pack know nobody is good enough to use them in the pack. At the front, meaning first bike, or off the back and to the side only. You’re too far from the brakes and your arms are too narrow for decent control of the handlebar. If you truly believe you’re good enough, it’s likely because you’re a boob. And you’re wrong. And colossally arrogant.
- Start with a slower group for your first rides until you learn the ropes and how they feel when your back is up against them. Put your ego aside for a few weeks, there will be plenty of time to show everyone else how strong you are… after you know what you’re doing. For a better workout with a slower group, pull at the front longer.
- We have five different classes of rider on our big club ride. Find out where you fit by talking with others. We gladly help noobs find the right group to ride with before the big ride. We want for you to be happy with the group you’re with. It’s in our best interest for you to come back and ride again. Groups rely on new blood to remain viable.
- Always remain teachable. Those who know everything tend to be a bore.
How to EASILY Install a Stubbornly Tight Bicycle Tire on a Rim… No Muss, No Fuss, and No Special Tools Needed.
I bought some new rubber my wife’s Alias. For Ican wheels, the first seating of a brand new tire tends to be difficult. I’ve often resorted to using a tire jack rather than risk ripping my thumbs at the nails again (yes I have, and yes, it hurts). Once the tires are ridden on for a couple of weeks, putting them on and taking them off is much easier.
Well, I was determined to muscle them on my wife’s wheels without tools yesterday. However, I chose to set up shop outside, even though I normally work on the bikes in the living room or our bike room. Somebody shut summer off summer the other day and it was quite comfortable with some cloud cover.
The first tire was tough, but I surprised myself when I rolled the last few inches over the lip. I cleaned up her wheel and installed in on the bike. Then came the second, the rear tire. I opened and set the new tire on the grass, then set about removing the old tire from the wheel. I looked up as the clouds parted and sun shone down. The increased warmth was nice. Not too much, just enough. After removing the tube from the old tire, I centered the new tire’s logo on the valve hole and set the first bead. Then the tube. Then I started the second bead. I was sweating under the heat of the sun by this point. I got to the last six inches and prepared myself… and slipped the bead right over the lip. Easy as an alloy wheel.
Then it dawned on me why it was so easy.
I’d let the tire sit out in the sun for a few minutes and it softened up and expanded a little bit. It slid on like I’d buttered it without touching my KoolStop tire jack.