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How to Pick and Set Up the Perfect Rain Bike – and Why Every Cyclist Should have One

Across the pond in England, they call it a winter bike.  I call it a rain bike, my dedicated, “better than 15% chance of rain” bike… because not only was the good bike expensive, replacement parts are freaking ridiculous.  We call it a rain bike over in the US because they don’t get snow in the UK like we get snow, and there’s no riding a road bike in the snow.  Skinny tires are hard enough in the rain, dude!

The quintessential modern American Rain Bike

Ideally, the responsible way to pick a rain bike is to relegate the old A bike to rain bike status when you get a new A bike.  At least that’s how I did it until I bought my Specialized.  

My first rain bike was a Cannondale, all aluminum with a chro-mo fork…  Riding on an actual railroad rail would only be slightly less comfortable:

I could still make this beast average 20 mph though

Ultimately, the rain bike will be set-up quite close to the A bike – and thus why I like relegating the old A bike to rain bike status.  The closer the two bikes are in set-up, the more seamless it will be to transition between the two when the weather has a chance of getting nasty.

Now, say money wasn’t an object (it is) and I wanted to keep the Trek as an heirloom bike, updating the components.  My A bike is a Specialized Venge:

It just so happens that I know the next best thing to a Venge is an Allez.  There are minor differences of course, but I should be able to match the set-up on the Venge easily.  Let’s say I had a Tarmac for an A bike, I would go with a Secteur or Roubaix.  Those pairings in Specialized’s line-up match up in geometry fairly close.

Now, let’s get into how I know this, because most people won’t know how in God’s name to figure out which geometries work within a bike line:  I took a factory photo of an Allez, made it transparent, and placed it over a factory photo of a Venge.  The only difference to work around is the head tube height on the cheaper Allez models.  Now, if you have a shop owner who builds frames, they can look at the published geometry numbers….  I don’t have the time to apprentice for him so I can learn how the numbers work.

 Beyond that, because my rain bike has a vastly different geometry from my A bike (they’re even different sizes), I transferred the numbers from the A bike to the rain bike then took both bikes to the shop to have them compared.  I’m as close as I can get the two bikes.  I paid attention when the Trek and Venge were fitted to me, so I know what to measure and how to change the set-up.  Simple as that.

One more thing to consider….

There’s a neat reason I like my 5200 for my rain bike:  Easy Access Repairs.  I have completely stripped down and put back together my Trek.  I can change a brake or shifter cable in minutes.  I have internal routing on the Venge so it’s a little tricky should a cable fray while I’m up north on a road trip in the middle of a four day tour.  This is a tiny point, though.  Barely worth mentioning, but still, a fair point indeed.

In the end, I want my Venge to operate flawlessly for as long as possible so I prefer to have a rain bike should we be heading out under a chance of rain.  The rain bike takes the abuse so the A bike can shine. 

Worse case scenario, and this is what I really appreciate, with a rain bike in the stable I never have to miss a day on the bike with my friends should the A bike go down and have to spend some time at the shop for a repair.

Of course, there is one other non-option:  Take a day off every time you think it’s going to rain…. but that’d be silly.

Curse You Chip Seal!  The Antithesis of Happiness, Good Times, and Sunshine to a Cyclist

My Trek was about as clean as an eighteen year-old bike can possibly be.  Two coats of wax, and polished to perfection….

Rarely will you find a bike that has been through so much, including being a loaner bike for the local shop for years, look so good.  With the obvious exception of the well-worn components, the bike was immaculate…. I-m-m-a-c-u-l-a-t-e.  

Then this:

Eventually, I will be glad that our road was resurfaced.  The old cracks are filled in and it’ll be smooth once again…  In the meantime though, it sucks.  Dirty, dusty and nasty, for two or three weeks until the rock chips are finally seated in the tar base layer.  Even then, it’ll be next spring before it’s smooth enough to enjoy riding on again.

Curse you Chip Seal.

Heaven on Earth can be as Simple as a Bike, some Friends, and a Couple of Hours to Let Loose.

I’ve had an awesome run at life over the last twenty-five years of sobriety.  There’s a chance of a few major potholes in my near future that will have to be navigated at high speed.  It’s times like these that my daily bike ride becomes extra important.  My ride is my decompression.  

A bike ride (or a bike) is not my Higher Power, so please don’t bother, just for the sake of being obtuse.

We rolled out after an 8-3/4 mile warmup.  My buddy Mike was up front with Doug, I was second, and we had another five or so behind each of us.  

The start was a little slower than normal but we were into a bit of a headwind. 

Fifteen wonderful miles later we were getting into the hills.  There once was a time I would struggle in the hills but those days are in my past.  I’m not the fastest in our gang, but I’m not near the slowest either.  

At 20 miles we’d rolled up the last decent hill and we were on our way down into Vernon.  The intermediate sprint at the City Limits sign.  I took my turn up the hill so I could ride wheels into the sprint, and I timed everything just right.  My main worry was Doug.  He took his turn right after me and he was sitting right on my wheel.  
The person up front in a sprint rarely wins.

I launched immediately after an oncoming motorcycle passed us.  We’d been cruising at around 24 mph, maybe, and I put everything I had into the launch.  I could see Doug’s shadow behind me and directly to my left so I broke right to disrupt his draft.  With 100 meters to go I was maxed out and I could feel Doug right behind me.  He was grunting against the effort.  I’d beaten him the week before and I knew he was way too competitive to let that sit.

I turned over the pedals as fast as I could and even managed to accelerate a little bit.  I was still barely ahead with 10 meters go go….  I had him.  By a front wheel.

My legs, unfortunately, were jelly and I only had eight miles in which to recover for the final sprint.  Rather than fade to the back, I like to take a turn up front after a sprint so I can control the pace and let the group form back up.  Then I can head to the back for a decent recharge.

Five miles later I was sitting four bikes back with three to go.  My legs had come around a bit but I still gave them a good shake to loosen up the cobwebs.  I was either going to end with a perfect lead out from Phill or I was going to have to sprint from the front – and that almost never works.  

Coming in to the last mile and it was Phill, then me, then the group, single-file behind us.  Phill was laying down an excellent pace and with a quarter-mile to go he started accelerating.  I knew then that Phill was going to bring it home.  

I waited till the farmhouse to launch my sprint from 27 mph.  I hammered just as hard and just before the City Limits I glanced at my computer.  35.1 mph.  I could see a shadow behind me so I kept the power on and cruised over the line by maybe three-quarters of a bike length.  I was cooked.

A family was waiting in the parking lot with water and Gatorade, ice cold and provided by their church.  They handed the drinks to anyone who reached for one…. Never seen anything like it.  I stopped, gratefully took a Gatorade, and took a minute to talk to them about cycling, our group, and what we do.  Of course I helped the kids pick up my bike so they could feel how light they are, then moved along to pack up.

We each talked about our ride, in particular how grateful we are to have started the B Group, and how nice it is to be able to ride hard and fast, without it becoming a race – that we can keep the group together.

Then it was on to a raucous board meeting for our bicycle club, and dinner at the local diner.

All of my troubles are still there today, but I slept like a baby last night, and right up to the alarm.  A bike ride goes a long way to putting a smile on my face, and sometimes that’s all I need to get fired up to suit up for another day in the trenches of life.

I Rode on a Padded Saddle (and I Liked It)….

It wouldn’t be quite as scandalous as Katie Perry kissing a girl (and she liked it), but it’s pretty close;  I ride on a padded saddle, and I definitely like it.

It’s against the rules (No. 61).  It shouldn’t work.  My butt should be aching after 20 miles.  It should be like riding on barbed wire after 50.  I should hate it.

But I don’t.  I really do like it.

Rule 61 allows for 3mm of padding on a saddle, with a special 2mm carve out for those who are fighting with saddle sores.  That Bontrager saddle has 4mm, but those 4mm work.  Of course, I have 1mm, maybe 2, on the Venge’s Romin.  If the two were combined, I’d be alright, no?  6mm combined padding, divided by two saddles… 3mm each.

All silliness aside, the saddle on my Venge is hard.  I figured all saddles should be like that one because the Romin saddle is butter on the Venge.  It was a good saddle on the Trek too, but all of the road vibration went straight through to my keister.  The 5200 is a harsher ride than the Venge (if you can believe that).  The extra three millimeters of padding on the Bontrager saddle make the 5200 an incredibly plush ride – almost as nice as the Venge.

There’s an important caveat though…  I had to raise the saddle a couple of millimeters to account for the thicker padding so I wouldn’t bounce when I pedaled, but the bike is smoother than it’s ever been – and smoother means faster.

So whatever the case may be with The Rules, I’m going to justify the thicker padding on the saddle because it makes an already decent ride, plush.  

I never thought I’d suggest this, but try it, you might like it!  Just beware, this can definitely be taken too far in a hurry.  If you’re thinking you need a gel pad to go over your saddle, there’s something wrong with your setup or the saddle is completely wrong for your physiology.

Oh, and if you really want to know the funny part:  I think the shop owner got that saddle off of a kid’s bike and had me try it as a backhanded joke because I happen to be a little finicky about saddles.  To quote Donald “Duck” Dunn in the original musical, The Blues Brothers, “If the $#!+ fits, wear it”.

To the Cyclist Hater:  Do You Honestly Believe a Cyclist wants to Share the Road with You?!

This won’t be a ridiculous treehugger post where we equate vehicles to pistols or rifles, because that’s silly, and only alienates participants of an important discussion.

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of angst out there about cyclists and their use of the road, and it’s building to a crescendo because cycling is growing in popularity again, or remains popular.  It’s like going for a walk.  Without the trouble of walking, is several times faster, and you get to buy a toy!  You haven’t seen anything yet – wait until autonomous cars come along and the car automatically treats cyclists right!  Then you’re going to see some anger.

I would like to make a few points about our equal right to the road:

  1. Do you really believe we have a desire to be on the same road surface with a person who is angered to a point of being willing to assault one of us, because they’re held up by 20 seconds waiting to safely pass us?  Really?
  2. Yelling at us, revving your engine, and honking won’t work, not as much as you wish it would.  We regularly hear of friends being picked out of a motorist’s grill and we still choose to ride.  Your acting petulant isn’t going to have the affect you think it will.
  3. I’m not about to hang up my super-bike because you get a little pissy about cyclists.  We are faster than most farm equipment and take up a fraction of the space and nobody would argue that farm equipment should be banned from roads.
  4. Here’s the important point though:  Your anger is misplaced.  You don’t want us on the road surface proper and we certainly don’t want to be there with you either!  In my home State a past liberal Governor promised a three foot shoulder on every new road built.  That never happened (though many roads in the north end of the State did get them).  With a decent shoulder, do you think we would opt to ride on the road surface?  It’d be a rare day and a big group that would get us anywhere near the road surface.  Don’t be angry with us, simply because we’re trying to stay fit, be angry at your State and local politicians who keep us on the road surface.  It’s their fault.
  5. Let’s look at another:  You’re angry because you see a Cyclist in the middle of the lane, dodging potholes?  I guaran-damn-tee you I didn’t cause the potholes with my bicycle, nor is it my fault the road is in shambles.  We pick the least-traveled roads we can to get us to where we want to go….  We don’t want to see you anymore than you want to see us.  It’s your local politician who has a responsibility to get the roads fixed.  While they’re at it, lobby for a rideable shoulder too!
  6. Last point, you’re not really angry with us when you think about it, you’re angry with your local political system for not adding shoulders and for not keeping up on road repair.  Take your angst out on someone who actually cares, because it isn’t that cyclist you see on the road every now and again.  They’re just trying to live a happy, fit life.
  7. As a capper to this post, this last point:  Cyclists aren’t from one party or another.  We encompass all political ideologies.  If you’re a Republican cyclist hater, chances are you’re buzzing a Republican cyclist, not an ignorant treehugger.  If you’re a Democrat cyclist hater, you’re probably buzzing a treehugger, not some racist conservative.  One thing is for certain, if you’re buzzing cyclists you’re the jerk and if you just happen to buzz one of us who has a camera on their bike or person (increasingly common nowadays), you just might wind up in jail where you belong.

Yet Another Perfect Morning Spent with Friends on Two Wheels

60 marvelously cool degrees at 7am, when we were wheels down and rolling.  The wind… wait, we can’t call three mph wind!  The breeze was out of the northwest at just three mph.  Seriously, barely enough to notice as we headed west, then north till the tripmeter read 31 and change.

Then we turned around and headed for home, without knowing exactly how we were going to get there without hitting a gravel road.  Call it an adventure.  On a bike.

Our average suffered because we had to double back a few times, but yesterday wasn’t about an average, it was about the perfect joy that cycling is:  Cruising down the road, cares left behind, laughing, talking with friends, and maybe three or four motorists in a seven mile stretch who were a little less than appreciative at seeing cyclists on the road…..  Beaten only by the Jesus freak with “saved” messages all over their vehicle, who scream and holler that you’re going to hell for riding a bicycle.  True story.  Only one thing can be said in response:

“You’re number one!  Have a nice day.”

61 miles, 3:17 and change.  18.5 mph average.

A Record-ish Week on the Bike is a Mix of Fitness, Laughter, Good Times and Noodle Salad, Baby.

I consider myself quite lucky to be able to ride as much as I do.  I imagine I would have to be retired to ride any more.  If not retired, definitely divorced, because my wife certainly wouldn’t put up with me devoting that much time to cycling.  I also wouldn’t blame her – I’d have to kick my own @$$.

Considering I’m not ready to retire and I have no desire to be divorced, I’ll just call what I have, good enough.

Before last week, my best non-DALMAC one week total mileage was 280.  I beat it by just ten miles but when you’re me, being able to put in 15-1/2 hours of any week into cycling is pretty rare… and good!

I managed 70 miles on the Fourth and 81 on Saturday… throw in a 33 mile Monday, a few easy days and another 54 on Sunday.  Add them all up and it’s 290.

I love big mileage weeks.  It’s not some hokey notion that 290 miles is cooler than 150 or 200 but because if I’m putting in near 300 miles in a week, I’m spending a lot of fun time with my wife and friends – and that’s all good.

Cycling is the fitness and weight loss equivalent of good times and noodle salad.