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What’s the Fastest Tire Pressure for a Tandem?!

Much has been made of tire pressure over the last few years, but mainly centered around road, gravel and mountain single bikes. What about tandems?!

My wife and I ride 30-mm Specialized Turbo Pro tires and we’ve been riding 100-psi for quite a while, but we’re not your sleight, sub 160-pound cyclists. We could be, but American barbecue just tastes too damn good. We rode 28s in the same brand and line for a year before at the same pressure… and even with Michigan roads, we’ve only ever had one pinch flat, and the feel was fantastic. In my opinion, we’re at the right pressure for those tires and our current weight.

The simplest way to explain this, without getting too deep into the nerdy weeds of cycling’s geekdom is that we want the lowest pressure possible without pinch flatting when you hit something reasonable. Now, this is not the easiest thing to find, obviously. It’s not like you’re going to want to take six spares and a floor pump out with you so you can figure your optimal pressure, so here’s what my did, in a nutshell.

We started out at the max pressure for the tires, I think 125 or something. Unless you’re a really big tandem couple, that’s way too much pressure, and I knew that from being way too geeky about this stuff. So, I dropped 20-psi off that right from the beginning. Then, I had to consider we’re two people on two tires (not two on four), so my normal 85-psi on my 26mm tires for my road bike wasn’t going to be enough. We went with 100 and gave it a run. I hit a couple of railroad crossings on that ride and everything was smooth. Next ride out I dropped five psi and everything was fine but the ride felt a touch squishy… bouncy when we really got into a rhythm. I dropped five more the next ride and we pinch flatted. 100 psi it was.

Now, some will have us running to a tire pressure gauge that’ll give us the nearest tenth of a psi and try to dial it in to the nearest psi. In fact, I could be that silly… but my wife wouldn’t put up with that ridiculous shit, so I keep it simple to the nearest five psi.

I roll 90-ish psi on my Trek 5200 with 24mm tires, 85 on my Specialized Venge with 26mm tires and we roll 100 psi on our tandem… with zero pinch flats.

I’m down as low as I want to go without being silly… and without squishing when we sprint. And that, my friends, is the proper balance.

Holy Footbed Shims, Batman! You’re Amazing! Cycling and How to Know You Need to Shim a Cleat, What It Feels Like… Before and After

I’ve been cycling, enthusiastically, since 2011. I’ve gone through professional fittings and become adept enough at the process I can fit myself on a bike with ease, and can even manage to help set my wife up on her new bike (who happens to be a lot harder to fit on a bicycle than I am… but mainly because I can’t feel what she feels). Point is, I know my way around setting a bicycle up. Not enough to be cocky about it, of course. We must make that distinction, because otherwise everything comes off as cocky in writing.

Anyway, every year, around this time in February, I start feeling some pain and tenderness in my left… well, just in front of the sit bone area from my inner leg hitting the saddle on the bottom of the pedal stroke. Only on the left side. Eventually, I contemplate lowering the saddle to keep this from growing into something more persistent and painful. In the past, I’ve gone that far, only to raise it again once I got back on the road after winter because it felt foreign.

Also, almost every saddle sore I’ve gotten in the last decade has been on the left side, in the same exact place.

I knew my left leg was shorter and that this was likely a problem, but I figured the saddle sores were fairly normal (and I would get one on the right now and again), so I left well enough alone and rode through the pain of the sores every now and again.

Then, my wife and I were on the phone Saturday afternoon and she said I should stop by the shop to say hi to Matt and the fellas. First, I know, that is sexy as hell – especially considering there was a massive sale going on… I LOVE MY WIFE! While there, I picked up a few tires I’d need for the season and on a display I saw a size 43/44 footbed and shim set from Specialized marked 40% off. I thought, why not give that a whirl. So I bought the set and headed out to meet my wife.

I get everything ready the next morning before our trainer ride.

I started out adding a 1.5mm shim to my left foot but that didn’t feel much better, so I added another 1mm shim and hopped back on the trainer… and the difference was utterly astonishing. So much so, I was interested to go an extra ten minutes just to see if my left leg would start talking to me like it normally does.

Not a thing.

Just like that, I’m sold. I put two shims in my left mountain bike shoe as well, which I’ll use on the tandem and on my gravel bike. And so easy!

Now, this isn’t all perfect and I’m going out on a little bit of a limb because Specialized’s shims aren’t exactly set and forget. They’re a little thicker on the inside than the outside which is meant to straighten the foot. There’s a very good chance I’ve simply rolled my foot too far out which can cause problems as well. To that end, I switched out an old set of S-Works footbeds for a new set and I cut up the left footbed to match the shims I put in my first pair of shoes and I put the footbed shim in my second pair of road shoes to see if I could tell the difference. That’s the cheap and easy way of fixing a leg imbalance.

Anyway, the important thing is, I’m excited for this season, to see if I can escape without saddle sores. I’m especially interested in seeing what happens on the tandem where the vast majority of one’s time is spent saddle-bound.

And that brings me to one final point about Specialized. While they’re treatment of small shop owners is enough to give me the vapors, when it comes to the equipment they make, they really show a lot of give a shit. Tinkering with my shoes and their footbeds, I was shocked to discover that there was virtually no difference between a footbed in a mid-level mountain bike shoe footbed and a pair of $425 carbon fiber-soled S-Works shoes. It was literally the same footbed with different brand writing… and a few different lines pressed into the mold to give them a different look. Same weight, same density, same size and shape.

You hear about “trickle down technology” with Shimano quite often. I never expected to see what I saw when I pulled my shoes apart over the weekend.

Note: Technically, in the Title, I wrote shimming a “cleat”. I don’t shim cleats because that’ll make the cleat a little more proud and therefore dangerous, especially for a mountain bike shoe. I prefer to shim the footbed for safety.

Clipless or… Erm… Pedals Without Clips… Erm Flat/Platform Pedals?

I believe I’ve seen all of the videos GCN has put out on flat/platform pedals vs. clipless. For the uninitiated, “clipless” refers to a lack of toe clips and straps… you still, ironically, clip into clipless pedals.

What they rarely cover in the whole discussion is foot position, though they did for a second or two in the imbedded clip.

First, clipping into clipless pedals, to spoil the clip and add my two cents, is only slightly more efficient than using platform pedals with little screw-in flat spikes and mountain specific shoes without cleats, until you get out of the saddle and sprint. At that point, a person who has used clipless pedals will feel vastly safer to hit the gas harder because their feet are connected and secured to the pedals.

Having ridden a 30-mile loop with the Elite A-Group on Tuesday night on a set of platform pedals (though, admittedly, the pedals I used were the cheap, stock plastic platforms without spikes). At a decent pace and cadence, it’s simply too hard to keep your feet in what I approximated was the proper position.

And that word, “approximated”, was the important part of that sentence, folks. You have to guess… and at 90-rpm, guessing where your feet should be gets old in a hurry. Especially bad is when you’re a little off and you can’t move your foot in little increments while moving at that rate of speed. What I ended up experiencing was a lot of pain from having my feet in the wrong place on the pedals to work the crank efficiently for my ankle, knee and hip joints. For that reason, I’ve never bothered with trying platforms again. Perhaps cycling at a less aggressive pace wouldn’t prove so difficult.

Next is the mountain bike issue (and this applies to potholes on the road as well – especially bunny-hopping an unexpected pothole). When descending, you can experience everything from roots to rocks making the descent tricky. If your feet are clipped in, you don’t have to worry about your feet bouncing off the pedals. The spiked platforms wouldn’t be as bad as straight up plastic, but I’ve always felt better being connected to the bike in clipless pedals.

In the end, the choice to go clipless or platform will come down to choice. This commentary is included to help those new to the choice to make a reasoned choice. It’s always an interesting topic.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the comments. What a great topic for well-reasoned discussion based on experience. Great stuff.

Our New Tandem is Almost Here… and An Unexpected Note on New Bikes

Jess and I spoke with the owner of our local shop yesterday and he gave us the report he’d spoken with Co-Motion just the other day and found out our tandem is coming along right on time; it looks like the very end of February or beginning of March at this point – perfect for the start of the 2023 season.

Jess and I were getting excited yesterday, talking about new adventures for next year after having been through our total marriage makeover which is proving to be better than either of us hoped for.

My biggest problem is I haven’t made enough to retire at 53-years old. Had I, it’d be all over but the shouting. Sadly, I’ve got another decade and some change before that’s a possibility, but I can be patient on that front. We still have a lot of excellent adventures on the horizon.

Now, on another note, I have had to change my understanding a little bit on new bikes; they’re not terribly over-priced… at least, not as much as I once thought. The Trek Emonda, at 18 pounds and costing $5,000, comes out the door with Shimano’s Di2 105 groupset and legit 35mm carbon wheels. Folks, for what I have into my bikes and considering what the world has been through, that’s a fair deal.

Even Specialized has a fairly legit equipped Aethos that comes with DT Swiss wheels and SRAM Rival eTap 12-speed for $5,200.

I’d go with the Emonda any day of the week and twice on Sunday for $200 less than the Specialized, by the way.

If Specialized were to quote Ken Miles (or, technically Christian Bale) in Ford vs. Ferrari, “If that was the beauty pageant, we just lost”. Even with the eTap drivetrain.

All of that said, I’m liking Trek a lot more these days. I’ll have more on why at the start of the season. I’m glad I own a Trek that I love to ride.

Buying the Cheap Cycling Stuff; Is It Worth It?

I won’t lie, I had a serious laugh watching that clip. Never mind that he wore the shorts inside-out and the shorts were two sizes too small (oh, my was that funny) and that they ordered a jersey four or five sizes too big. Even if they’d gotten the sizing right on the battery operated heated vest, the jersey and shorts, he still would have looked a little goofy… because that cheap stuff, next to the good stuff, does look a little crappy. It’s not horrible, mind you, and maybe that’s why they played with the sizes as they did, but I own some of that cheap stuff and I can unquestionably tell the difference between a $150 Specialized pair of bibs and the $40 Coconut jersey and bib kit that I paid $56 for.

Hell, my wife asked me to refrain from wearing the bibs out in public.

So, the real deal is just as GCN presented it; you can tell the difference between that cheap stuff and the good stuff. The materials feel better, the bibs stay where they should better… and the good stuff looks infinitely better. As for the helmets, I really don’t know. You’ve really gotta watch out for the knock-offs because I’ve seen some pretty scary stuff centered around knock-offs and Specialized helmets. I don’t know if I’d want to trust my melon to just anyone, if you know what I’m sayin’.

With that said, look, if you can’t afford the expensive stuff, and believe me, I know how hard it can be to shell out the big bucks for that stuff, maybe buy a couple of the cheap kits and start saving for the good stuff. You don’t have to go all “top-of-the-line”, either. The midgrade stuff is vastly superior to the cheap stuff… and I have the hot spot experience to know what I’m talking about.

Or writing about.

A Note To Manufacturers On Automatic Gears (Stop Trying… Please).

Look, this post is going to be very simple. To anyone working on automatic shifting, stop it. Put the bong down and listen for a minute.

Cycling is supposed to be fun, remember? Cruising down the road in a tight pack with a few friends on a warm Saturday morning. You try, but you can’t wipe that smile off your face. It’s like a perma-grin.

Remember that?

Learning to ride, and I mean to really ride, is part of the joy. Learning to shift properly is all part of the fun.

And now once we’ve hit avid enthusiast status, shifting is one of the pure pleasures in hitting the road with my friends. I don’t need you trying to mess that up by doing away with my shifters.

In fact, Shimano and SRAM, you keep this shit up and I’ll switch my groupsets to Campagnolo. At least with Campagnolo you can rebuild your old shifters if you like them. Ahem.

… It’s 2023! Let the Fun (And Work) Begin!

My wife asked me last night if I had any resolutions in mind for this year. I put it quite simply, “I’ll continue what was started last year… just maybe a little thinner.”

My “eat anything” lifestyle has caught up with me. Not so much I have to go on medication, but enough that my doctor finally said it’s time I started on a low cholesterol diet. Well, my wife suggested we start looking at new dinner options today, and I agreed. I’m all in for giving it my best chance for a loooooooooooooooooong life. As good as our marriage and recovery are right now, I’m actually hoping for another 50-ish years. Life is awesome.

On the cycling front, and in typical fashion, there are changes afoot that begin today; I stop taking it easy on the trainer and start working for a strong start to the new cycling season. We joined MUTS (Michigan United Tandem Society) last week and we’re gearing up for a big year with the new tandem. So far on the calendar we’ve got the Ride for Recovery in Ypsilanti, the Horsey Hundred, we’re looking at a gravel ride in Ohio with a blog friend, and we’ve got about three or four tours on the slate… including DALMAC on the new tandem (more on that later). Then we’re absolutely doing the Sunrise Adventure (the date’s been changed to September) after the Shoreline West tour… and we still have to work in the Midwest Tandem Rally (though that looks to be a 2024 enterprise). In short, when it comes to cycling, we’ve got a lot going on this year and it all looks fun.

As far as work goes, well, work is work and there’s a reason they have to give me money to do it. I think there’s room for improvement, though, so I’ll tend to that in the new year.

Basically, that’s about the done of that. I’m excited and grateful for the new year.

How Much Should You Spend for Carbon Fiber Wheels (and How Good Are the Cheap Wheels)?

A couple of Specialized Venges on Ican wheels…

I’ve been a big fan of Ican wheels. My wife did get a bum rear wheel from them, that’s since been replaced, but other than one bad rim, we’ve got thousands of miles on Ican wheels with only a broken spoke or two – no more than we’d expect from any other name brand expensive wheel (I’ve had similar problems with a number of name brands such as Rolf, DT Swiss & Velocity).

My wife and I have three sets of Ican wheels; two sets of base price 38s and I have a set of Fast & Light 50s on my Venge. We have less of an investment in three sets of wheels than some spend on one wheelset (a little north of $1,600 for three wheelsets). We’ve put those wheels through the ringer, too. Multiple 23+ mph average rides, a few 20+mph centuries, countless 50+ mile rides… and when I ride an alloy set of wheels after my carbons on the same bike, there’s an unquestionable difference related to speed and effort.

So, when I saw this video on my feed, I was drawn to click on it like a moth to a porch light:

Without ruining the surprise ending, the cheap wheels weren’t the slowest, but they were close to the slowest, and a cheap set was among the fastest. In fact, two sets closer to the affordable end did quite well. The testers also didn’t test Ican wheels, so I have no idea where they’d come out, anyway.

The point is, if you can afford those $4,000 wheels, by all means, have at it. They’re awesome. If you can’t, don’t feel like you’re missing out, because you’re not. If you’ve got a decent set of 40s or 50s on a reasonably equipped road bike that’s mechanically sound, at that point it’s simply a matter of working on the engine if you can’t (or don’t want to) keep up.

Bicycle Paint Repair; The (Best) Easy Way to Fix Chipped Paint

Early last spring during a spring cleaning round, my wife came out of the garage in tears. She was trying to lift a folding table over my prized Trek 5200 and accidentally scratched the paint on the top tube. It was down to the paint layer, through four coats of clearcoat, but not down to the primer.

We had just begun fixing our marriage and she was distraught that something this big might throw our whole marriage recovery into a tailspin. With the old me, I would have given her reason to worry. With the new me, it wasn’t even going to be a blip. In fact, I looked at it that my wife’s being as visibly distraught as she was as a sign we were making immense progress. That epiphany alone made having my frame scratched up worth it.

In fact, I considered leaving it as it was as a reminder of where we’d been and how far we’d come. Besides, the easy way to fix a chip or a scratch is with nail polish, but that’s not exactly the prettiest best way to fix a chip or scratch. Put simply, it fills ugly. The best way to fix a scratch or a chip is to airbrush the color and clearcoat over the scratch/chip after its been sanded down. I don’t have the equipment or patience for that. My wife, however, asked me about fixing it months later, so we started looking into nail polish. The old black polish I’d used on the frame had mysteriously grown legs and walked away… likely to the room of one of my daughters, but who knows, I could just have easily misplaced it. We’ll never know at this point, because my wife did me one better while we were out roaming Meijer (it’s a massive grocery/everything you need for daily life warehouse). She suggested this:

I didn’t know it at the time but my wife was a genius. The scratches were located on the exact top of the top tube, so when I laid the gel nail polish over the scratches, gravity pulled the polish into the scratches and the nature of the gel formula made it so the scratches filled much better than I would have expected. In fact, unless you really know what you’re looking for, you won’t find the scratches without an up-close visual inspection.

So, that’s my new trick, folks. Nail polish is, without question, the easiest way to cover up a chip or scratch in the paint. If you really want to cover the imperfection the best you can without pulling out an airbrush, try a “gel-like” polish and get that blemish facing “up” so gravity will help you fill the area without leaving ugly edges.

If you look at the fine print above, it’s a “gel like” polish. Apparently certain gel polishes require a UV light to harden – my wife says these are referred to a shellacs. Being the male of the species, I don’t know a thing about nail polish, but some quick Google searches produced the results that there are “gel” polishes that require setting with a UV light to set. Also, shellacs are, according to Cosmopolitan Magazine, the mix of regular polishes and gels and still require UV light. So, the “gel-like” polish is a regular polish, without the hassle of needing a UV light to set it. And now I know way too much about nail polish.

Merry Christmas, My Friends!

Well, the snow did finally get here, though we only got a total of about 6″ over the last few days and it’s beautiful outside!

Sadly, if we’d have taken Brent’s advice and bought fat bikes, we’d… still be riding our trainers this morning. It’s freaking cold outside! We’ve got a current temp of 15° with a wind chill of -1° (-9 C and -16 C in Moose Latin). I won’t ride below 20, anyway.

That said, it’s looking a lot like Christmas around here and I love it!

Happy Holidays!