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Is there a such thing as a much needed day off in cycling?

Since April I’ve taken just four days off the bike.  My penchant for riding almost every day goes back several years – I figure if the pros can do it, so can I, only at two-thirds the intensity and half the distance (or less).

So, in southeastern Michigan, this last week was hot.  We did a fairly intense 21.8 mph Tuesday Night Club Ride, but Wednesday and Thursday were mercifully easy (between 17 & 17.7 mph).  The weekend got pretty crazy, though.  Friday we held a 19.5-mph pace over 35 miles between Jonathan, my wife and I.  Really, it was a surprising effort.  Saturday was a 4:54:30 century, followed by yesterday’s 56 miles at 19.6-mph.  The high temps for each day varied between the high 80’s and low 90’s (30 to 34 C)

I woke up this morning a little haggard.  Actually, I felt really good for the first hour after waking up, but it’s starting to catch up with me as I’m writing this post.  It’s rare I ride that hard three days in a row (before DALMAC).

Thankfully, we’ve got afternoon thunderstorms in the forecast for this afternoon.  If it’s raining, I’ll take the afternoon off.  If not, I’ll ride but it’ll be an unusually slow ride – I’m talking 15-16-mph slow – and that’s usually better than a day off anyway.

So here’s my experience when it comes to daily cycling:

  1. If I fuel the effort properly and get a good amount of sleep, I can ride till my heart is content.
  2. If I intersperse easy, short rides in with the hard efforts, I can ride as many days in a row as I want.
  3. On the other hand, too many tough days in a row will wear me down in a hurry and I’ll need some low-key rest to keep it going.
  4. When you only get a few rain days each summer, take advantage of them and take a load off.  I don’t need to ride every day.
  5. Those easy days sure are fun.
  6. Replace the electrolytes.  Nine times in ten, when I’m feeling rough, it’s because my electrolytes are off.
  7. Daily cycling isn’t for everyone.  In Michigan, we’re stuck in the house for two or three months and we’re riding in cold weather another three or four.  When summer hits, you’ve gotta pry me away from my weekday evening and weekend morning rides.  We only get so many shorts and short-sleeve riding days – I don’t want to miss any.

Done carefully and intelligently, cycling daily is possible and enjoyable.  I’ve been cycling daily for three years now, and it’s been seven since my last side-lining sports injury.

Ride hard and often, my friends… just don’t forget to ride easy now and again, too.

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One Helluva Ride: Out of the Frying Pan.

The weather forecast was weird.  It was supposed to be hot, as is normal for this ride (I’ve never done it with a finishing temp below the upper 80’s – call it 28 C), but remain cloudy for much of the later miles with rain rolling in after 3pm – plenty of time for us to get done and get gone.

For those who follow me on Strava, I track certain rides on my phone because I’ve yet to pick up a Garmin so time gets added to my rides when I’m walking at a rest stop – my app picked up a 19.7 average while my computer showed two tenths more miles (I almost forgot to start the app) and a moving time of 4:55:45, a 20.3-mph average.  Let’s face it, six tenths isn’t much, but 20.3 for 100 miles is a lot sexier than 19.7 – especially when you figure we only had five guys.

Anyway, getting back to what’s important, it shouldn’t be surprising with a name like One Helluva Ride that rolls through Hell, Michigan, we haven’t had much luck in completing the ride.  We’d cut it short the last three or four years – and that’s not a bad thing.  By the time we get to lunch, it’s so miserably hot that when one guy suggests cutting it short, the rest crumble in seconds.

Death by 3% Hills

Not literally dead, like “my heart was literally beating out of my chest”, one of the dumbest sentences I’ve ever heard spoken in a commercial.  No, it literally wasn’t.  You’d be dead, sweetheart – and none of our group died because of little, tiny 3% hills.  By the time mile 98 flashed on the computer, though, we’d seen enough.  The point is, there were a lot of little, baby hills and rough pavement that it was torturous on the feet.  If by torturous you mean awesomely painful, yet not really torture, because it’s a bike ride, dude.  In the scheme of things, that’s my kind of torture.

The Winston Wildcard

We had my friend, Winston with us.  He’s about eight inches shorter than me and you would have to sit a 40 lb bag of salt on his lap for him to get an idea of what it’s like to be me, climbing a hill.  He pulled, averaging north of 21 mph, for the first fourteen miles.  When Winston’s riding, it’s gonna be fast.  The dude is freaking strong – and a great guy to be around.  With just five miles to go, I was hurting.  Bad.  I was struggling to stay on at the back and I just wanted to get off my bike.  I was “stick a fork in me” done, so I told my friends I was slipping off the back, that I’d see them soon enough.  Here comes Winston back after me, and he says, “I’m not going to leave you back here with only a few miles to go, now come on… Let’s get it done.”  He pulled me back to Chuck and Mike and the four of us cruised it in – if you can call north of 20-mph “cruising”.

So with that, we set our bikes on the nearby rack and headed over to the watermelon booth, where they served the most delectable watermelon wedges I’ve ever eaten.  Every year, the watermelon at the end is one of the most talked about parts of the ride.  They chill it to a perfect 40-ish degrees, slice it up, and line it up on the table for famished riders to eat.  I had four wedges and almost filled up on watermelon.  Those of you who eat it, know how much you have to eat to “fill up” on watermelon.  It’s a lot, but it’s so good!

There are those scenic rides, like the Northwest Tour, where you want to slow the pace down to look around and take in the beauty of seeing the land from a saddle.  OHOAR isn’t one of those.  There isn’t a lot to look at (though it’s vastly better than the Tee-shirt Ride – woof!).  One Helluva Ride is one of those, “put your head down and let’s hammer this out” rides where you want to see how fast you can get around the 100 mile course, while exploring just how close to heat stroke you can get while doing it.

With today left to run up my weekly mileage total, I’m sitting on 225 miles… Just 14 days into the month, I’m sitting on 583 (that should be close to 640 after today, midway through the month) and, for the year, I’ve already surpassed my total mileage for all of 2012 with 5,388.  Truthfully, this has been one helluva year.  I can say that I’ve had happier moments, obviously, but overall, this has been one great year.  I’m having more fun than politicians would normally allow.  It just isn’t fair for one guy to enjoy life so much, to horde all of that happy.  They’d have to knock me down a few pegs and share some of my happiness with others, you know, to spread the happy.

Why Exercise is So Important to Recovery in One Simple Concept… and some Experience, Strength, and Hope

I was at a meeting last night and we were talking about the reading from the Daily Reflections that talks about humility, and the loose definition therein as it relates to recovery and the most unlikely old-timer dropped the simplest concept I’ve ever heard as it pertains to recovery. I’ve been trying to boil this down to the simplest common denominator for going on seven years (maybe eight?), and here we are at a small intimate meeting and this fella just nails it.

We have this little catch about expressing what we hear in meetings as it pertains to other members who shall remain anonymous so, other than this simple concept, I’m going to keep this very general. This old-timer was talking about how he likes to go for a walk when life is coming at him fast, because his walk gives him time to disconnect from what’s troubling him and sets him up to work the program at his troubles – which is exactly what we do – we work the program at life’s problems so we don’t have to live in that morass that once had us drunk in a ditch. The point is, I’ll just get right after it:

Exercise puts us in the right frame of mind to work on recovery.

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This, in one simple sentence, gets right at why exercise is so important to recovery for so many – it clears out the cobwebs so we can look at what life gives us in a clearer perspective.

From there, it’s simply an inventory, sharing, amends, and maintenance and we’re working on a solution. Once we’ve made it through, we share our experience, strength and hope that it may help others in their recovery.

And that, in one simple sentence, is why Fit Recovery was born in December of 2011. To pass it on. Pretty neat.

Tuesday Night Club Ride; Wheel Sucking Perspective Edition

It was an odd night for wind. For what is usually the hardest part of the ride, we were going to have a nice tailwind.

The warm-up was an easy 17.7-mph, over seven miles and some change. The temp, in the mid-80’s, was perfect. We had a little wind, but it wasn’t all that bad. The northeast direction of the wind, now that presents a problem or two. Chief among them is the last fifteen miles of the ride being into the wind. That’s no bueno.

We rolled shortly after the A Group left and got right after it. I was second bike with another horse of a guy so we jammed the pace right out of the gate. We were up to 23-mph just after we we hit the first turn… into the wind. We went for a mile and dropped back, maybe fifteen bikes to rejoin the line.

The first third of the ride was fantastic, a big group working together. The second third, not so much…  Gaps, the group breaking apart, only to come back together, guys fighting to be the last bike, etc.  I struggled and spent a ton of time up front, but coming into the intermediate sprint at 20 miles one of the stronger guys came up from the back and urged me to get on his wheel as he went by.  I did and took the City Limits sign with a comfortable gap and 33 mph.  I recovered while everyone caught back up and it was more of the same as we headed north, into the wind.

I was up front a lot because you never know who’s going to drop and when – besides, the draft is actually better up front where everyone is working together than in the back where everyone is jockeying for the worst position.  Still, I can’t help but get a little edgy as I’m wearing down and we’ve got guys screwing the people in the group who are willing to work so they can attempt to stay in the back.

Coming into the final sprint, I was third bike behind two tandems and I thought I was positioned perfectly – right up until that second tandem pulled off a quarter-mile early – which meant I was going to be the lead out.  I hammered the pedals, jumping from a solid 24-mph to 28… I gave it everything I had and arm-flicked out when I was done.  I watched the others ride by, and one of the guys who didn’t take a pull the whole 30 miles come shooting by to take the sprint to the City Limits sign – and it wasn’t who we’d expect, either.  That guy has at least been pulling through the last several weeks.  Nope.

My gut reaction was to cry foul.  What he did was foul – people who suck wheel all ride long, only to pour it on at the sprint in a club ride (in other words, not a freaking race) are lower than a snake’s ass.  It just is what it is*.

I’d gone to the café and eaten, made it home and unpacked and I was still hot about the whole thing.  Then, in the shower, I realized what I’d been doing to myself.  If you’ve read my last couple of recovery posts, I’ve been writing about only worrying about myself, and what I’m doing – and keeping my side of the street clean.

Ooh, that was a bitter pill to swallow as I let the water rinse the soap off.  I did right during the ride.  I worked hard and did my part.  That’s the end of it for me.  If I don’t like the wheel sucking that’s been going on of late, I can always quit riding with the group on Tuesday – or go out on my own after the group leaves…. but let’s be realistic, that ain’t gonna happen.  So that leaves me two options; keep my mouth shut, or nicely point out that the group works better when we all work together.

I’m going to have to sit on it a while because it’s going to be the latter option and I would have a hard time with the “nicely” part.  I’ll have to work on that.

And you thought recovery was just about not using drugs or alcohol anymore.

* I should add, there are certain people who have earned the right to hang in the back and suck some wheel.  They’ve been contributors for decades and they’re slowing a little but they can still hang with the big group if they hide a little bit.  These people get a pass.  Those who don’t are the younger, stronger bucks.  The older guys aren’t entirely exempt either – one in particular last night, left a gap in the right lane in a double pace-line because he “didn’t want to be up front when the hills started” then lamented the fact that others from the left lane didn’t eat wind to fill in the hole he created…

Folks, don’t be that guy.  Ever.  I did let him have the truth, too.

 

The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: Understanding Chainrings – the Road Bike’s Front Gears, How and Why.

In cycling, understanding, really getting into, the front gears, or chainrings, is a bit more complex than simply “buy a bike and whatever happens to be on it, go”. In fact, the front gears are just as important as the back gears and can be tailored to match your riding conditions or even your riding style. In this post I’ll cover the triple, the pro double, the pro compact and the compact set-up.

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The triple was once common because it was magical when things got uppity. It’s also the most finicky of the cranksets available on a bike – getting one dialed in properly can be a lesson in patience. For the triple, you’ve got the big ring (52 or 53 teeth), the middle ring (39 or 42 teeth) and the baby ring (24 to 30 teeth). The pro double, once the staple of pro rigs, consisted of a 52 or 53 tooth big ring and a 39 or 42 tooth small ring. The pro compact, new as of 2012 or 2013, is 52/36. The compact crank is 50/34.

Now, back in the day of 5, 6 and 7 speed cassettes, getting a full range for going fast on flat ground and climbing steep hills could be a little tricky – thus the use of the triple crankset. The triple gave you all of the gears of a standard pro double (52/42 or 53/39) plus the baby ring (24 to 30 tooth) for climbing. Going up an 18% hill in a 42/23 (front to back) combination was ugly. With the triple, all of a sudden hills that would baffle many enthusiasts became accessible.

With the advent of the ten, eleven, and now twelve speed transmissions, the third chainring is becoming obsolete because there are so many bigger gears available on the cassette, the triple isn’t necessary anymore.

That said, where triples will always be invaluable is on a tandem.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s get to the fun part! The coolest thing about chainring combos is tailoring them to your needs. First, if you need to know your recommended crank length, go here and input the pertinent info… Next, if you’re like everyone else, you’ll just live with what you’ve got, so let’s move on.

Let’s say you’ve got reason to install a new crank on your bike, or you’re replacing worn chainrings. Most will just go ahead and get the exact replacements for what they’ve already got on the bike, but let’s think this through a minute. What is your riding style? How about top speed? What’s your normal terrain, flat as a pancake or hilly? How about your average pace? North of 18-mph or south? All of that info will factor into your chainring selection.

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For instance, if your average pace is 16-mph, the last thing you’ll want is a 52/36 or 53/39 as you’ll spend most of your ride in the little ring – 52/25 or 26 (the second to the last gear on your cassette is only good for 15 or 16 mph… or the last gear on your cassette that you can use with the big ring because you don’t cross chain the drivetrain). No, a 50/34 would be a much better fit as you’ll have three more gears to play with when you’re riding in the big ring. With a top-end of around 37-mph (50/11), you’ll have more than enough gear to keep up on the downhill sections.

Say you’re a stronger cyclist, able to hang with the 20-mph + crowd. You’re an enthusiast, certainly, but you’re more recreational than a racer and you like to get into some hills now and again (this describes me, by the way). Well, in that case the 52/36 was made specifically for you. You get all of the top-end speed out of the Big Dog, but you get a decent baby ring for when things take a turn for the up. I’ve had my Venge (pictured above with the aluminum colored chainrings) on inclines above 20% and I was able to crank out more than a few feet with the pro compact crank.

Aspirations on being a racer? 53/39 all the way. Enjoy horsing that big bitch up an 18%’er though. Serious racer? 52/42. Peter Sagan? 55/42. What a beast! I’d be willing to bet he goes with the 52/36 on his Tarmac, though (his climbing bike… the 55/42 is for the flatter stages… nope – 53/39… what a feakin’ animal!).

Anyway, you get the idea. Why settle for what comes on the bike when, with a little thought, you can have a drivetrain that fits your needs?

In my case, I have a 52/36 combo on my Specialized, because A) that’s what I wanted because you can’t have a race bike with a compact crank on it at my age, B) it suits my riding style and pace perfectly, and C) well, it came on the bike. The Trek was a different story entirely. I put some serious thought into what I wanted on that bike. First, it’s my rain bike, but more important, that’s the bike I take out on tours because it’s so easy to work on if I have a problem – and now with the new Ultegra bottom bracket and Shimano RS500 crank, it’s better than anything I’ve ever worked on. It’s actually simple.

I thought about what I was going to need that bike for. I encounter a lot of hills when I travel, so score one for the 50/34. I like to climb hills when I travel, so that’s two. The tours I do, specifically Northwest and DALMAC, both have a fair bit of climbing… score three. They also don’t have a lot of top-speed descending, and the guys I ride with really don’t push max-speed anyway, so I won’t have a problem keeping up. In other words, the compact makes a lot of sense on the bike, all things considered. After a couple of weeks on it, I couldn’t be happier with the decision.

The point is, don’t settle. Make your bike yours, you’ll appreciate it more. That’s the way it works for me.

This is a companion piece to this post.

A Birthday 100k, and a Perfect Day

I readied the bikes and packed them on the car rack long before it was time to leave. It was mercifully cool at the start, 55° (just 13 C) and after our long heat wave, it felt almost chilly. We still started out in short sleeves and shorts as it was due to warm up quick with a perfectly clear sky and barely a breeze.

It was a thin crowd, just Chuck, Phill, my wife and me, but we made a fantastic ride of it. We held a comfortable pace the whole way down to Brighton, where I had a cup of coffee and the pleasure of splitting one of the best sticky buns I’ve ever eaten with my wife at a café. After firing down our treats, we mounted up headed back.

We had a little bit of a cross breeze for some of the ride home but for the most part it was a tailwind for almost 25 miles – if a mild one.

My wife and Phill split off and headed back to the high school parking lot and I rode with Chuck back to his house so I could get some bonus miles and a full 100k because I’m enrolled in this Strava thing for July that tracks how many 100k’s we do in the month… unfortunately, I forgot my phone in the car so I couldn’t track the ride and we were five miles down the road before I’d realized I didn’t have it. I did add it in later, though.

When Mrs. Bgddy and I got home, my oldest daughter had made real, honest to God biscuits and sausage gravy for my birthday breakfast. My favorite breakfast in the whole entire world… and she made everything, including the gravy, from scratch. It was, without a doubt, one of the coolest birthday presents I’d ever received.

After breakfast, which was freaking phenomenal, I showered up and we all took a nap. For the afternoon’s entertainment we visited my sponsor who’s recovering in a rehabilitation center after being hit by a truck on a rural highway, helping to remove a roll of padding that had fallen off a carpet truck with a truck driver who’d stopped as well. He had several friends over for pizza and a meeting.

After, we headed home and watched the Tour de France coverage before crashing for the night.

I think I’d have OD’ed on awesome if we tried to fit one more cool thing in there.

Best day ever.

Component Upgrades on a Classic Bike; Perfecting a Classic or Sacrilege?

My Trek isn’t quite a classic, but it’s close and it’ll do for this post. It turns 20 at the end of the year – next year it’s a classic. On one hand, I do feel a little sad that I’ve done so much to transform the bike over the last six years. On the other, it rides so much better today than the day I brought it home in 2012, I would never want to go back to what it was (even if I did hold onto the old, worn-out components).

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From the gaudy, weathered, flaked, and gouged candy apple red/gold flake paint job to the rotted headset (and by rotted, I mean dangerous – the rust was the only thing holding the headset together), the beat up Ultegra triple components and the soon-to-be worn out chain rings, the bike had seen better days, long, long ago.

Even as good as the bike looks and handles now, there’s still that part of me that looks at the vast improvements as “Chip Foose-ing” a classic, and we only need to look as far as the cleaned-up front end of the bike as an example – new on the left, old on the right:

It’s not all bad, of course. Today, when I get the bike above 40 mph, I don’t get a speed shimmy (it’s been up to 50). The brakes work a lot better with newer pads. The triple is a double and shifting is so much better, it’s astounding. The new shifters are smooth as silk. The saddle is adjusted to within a hair of perfect (that required a new seat post because the old alloy post that came with the bike had notches that meant the saddles nose was too low or too high with a one-notch adjustment).

And while all of that is great, the best part is how much of the work I did myself, and how much I put into picking every new part to match – though I’m struggling with the brake calipers. On one hand, they’re all that’s left of the old bike. On the other, black 105 calipers sure would look sharp in place of the polished aluminum…

In the end, there is an overriding factor that will have me accepting and moving beyond my minor consternation over altering a classic: The bike is now spectacularly fun to ride. All of the old creaks that used to plague the bike, especially when climbing out of the saddle, are gone. Now, and only someone who’s ridden an impeccably maintained, high-end road bike will know what I’m talking about, the only sound when I’m cranking out the watts is the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of the tires on the asphalt. The Trek is as quiet as the fifteen years’ newer Venge – and the only reason the Venge shifts better is it has the next step up in components.

The bike I brought home was decent. The bike I made it into (with a lot of help from Assenmacher’s bike shop) is exceptional. I don’t care much for the pomp of riding an original equipment classic. While I can certainly understand those who choose the classics, I prefer the more modern accoutrements because the newer components look and work better.