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Road Cycling and Saddle Height; Down to the Last Millimeter

I’ve been struggling, a happy struggle mind you, with the saddle on my Trek 5200. Specifically, the height of said saddle on said 5200.  The fore/aft location is darn-near set in stone, as I prefer my kneecap to line up with the pedal spindle per the normal setup of a road bike.

First, that Montrose Pro carbon saddle is one fine saddle and some the best money I’ve spent on that bike went to that saddle. It’s got the perfect blend of lightweight, flexibility, and padding for a long distance saddle. I can even wear my thinner chamois bibs for 70+ mile rides on it – bibs I once only wore for 25-35 mile rides on inferior saddles.

My biggest issue has been getting the height dialed in so my Trek feels like my Specialized, though.  So, second would be the disclaimer that I’m notoriously picky about saddle height. Obsessive isn’t really a good word, but it comes pretty close to reality.

When I picked the saddle up, I first set it just a touch too high (my measurement is exactly 36-3/8″). I lowered it once because my keister was hurting. Then I lowered it another bit because it still hurt my heinie and by that time, my back was hurting and starting to seize up on me every now and again.  The second lowering did the trick, and that’s where I left it for DALMAC. I rejoiced for the weekend because the saddle felt excellent, with only a minor flareup of baboon @$$.

It wasn’t until I got back and rode the Venge a few days, then took the Trek out once more, that I realized the saddle on the Trek was a little too low. It felt it at the time, but in reality, it wasn’t by much.  It just felt… off.  It felt like I wasn’t getting my full leg extension, that I was working just a little too hard.

Well, Saturday afternoon I raised the saddle up to test my theory, thinking maybe I lowered it too much the last time. I didn’t raise it much, maybe 1-1/2 to 2 millimeters:

With the heightened chance of rain on Sunday, I rode the Trek. At first he saddle height felt right, or better at least.  I was definitely getting full leg extension, and I felt a bit stronger.  40 miles in, I was antsy in the saddle and my back pain started in again.  I knew I’d raised it too much. There was too much pressure on the sit bones. On coming back, I split the difference and lowered it by about half… and nirvana!

I rode with my buddy, Chuck Monday night, picking my lightest pair of bibs, and I could tell instantly, I nailed it.  Finally.

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I almost can’t believe it, the infinitesimal amount I’m talking about, but I’m here to tell you, that millimeter made a difference (actual difference once I lowered the saddle is half the gap shown above between the seat post and the marker line).

So here’s what was messing me up; having the saddle high helps keep your butt up and your head down – it’s aerodynamic.  Having the saddle up also allows for a stronger pedal stroke.  Unfortunately, having the saddle too high also hurts like hell.

Does it help that I’ve got the Venge to contrast what I’m feeling on the 5200?

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*Does it or doesn’t it help to have a phenomenal race bike to contrast my other bikes against?  Look, this is going to be a matter of perspective.  It’s more a blessing than a curse as I see it.  Having the Venge to match the Trek to has made the Trek a significantly better bike.  I never could have gotten it to where it is, as fast as I did, without the Venge.  Mrs. Bgddy might disagree with that assessment as it pertains to cash, though.  Ouch.

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Cycling Legs; What They Are and How to Get Yours

The most valuable things I’ve acquired in all my years of cycling, other than happiness, contentment, and exceptional fitness, some awesome bikes, of course, are my cycling legs.  They’ve been just as important as the bikes I’ve chosen to ride.

Back in 2012, when I was just a pup, one of my friends mentioned that it would take about three years of solid, heavy miles to attain my “cycling legs”.  I didn’t know exactly what he meant back then, but I sure know now…

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This photo was taken at approximately 24-mph.  My friend, Doug, having just come off the front after a 2-mile pull, is obviously no worse for the wear and my friends are looking quite comfortable.  We’re 50 miles into a 100 mile day, after riding 100 the two previous days.

If we had to define “cycling legs”, it’s when one acquires the legs needed to put in the miles one wants to put in, without having to worry about the ability to complete a difficult ride (or several in a row).

For instance, after the four-day tour mentioned above, I didn’t take the day after off.  No, I went for a ride with my friend, Mike.  It was certainly an easy pace and we didn’t go very far, but we were out riding nonetheless (37 miles at 17.5-mph).  The day after I turned in a 21-mph effort on Tuesday night for the club ride (though I dropped off the back after 11-ish miles because I didn’t feel like working that hard – we were above 22 for the average when I dropped).  I didn’t take a day off till it rained that Friday.

That’s having your cycling legs.

So, how does one acquire them?

Well, that’s a little easier said than done.  Going all the way back to 2011, my first year on a bike, I put in 1,820 miles for the year.  Not near enough to begin working on my cycling legs.  2012 was much better at 5,360 – really, that was the first year that mattered.  2013 I barely broke the year before with 5,630.  2014 was the year I really took off, though; 6,000-ish (I didn’t keep any records that year, so I guessed low – 2015 was 7,620 and 2016 was 8,509… I’d say I guessed low by about 1,000 miles, give or take).  It was the three years in a row, north of 5,000 miles, that really got me there.

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Cycling legs are half physical and half mental.

The physical part of cycling legs is simply getting the miles on your saddle to get your body prepared for the regular load we put on them as cyclists.  That’s the easy part, and I felt different once I got my legs under me.  Now, I’m particular about what I’m feeling – I pay acute attention, so I knew within a month of when I hit my stride.  I didn’t hurt the same after a big effort.  I tended to recover a lot faster from hard efforts and could expect more out of my legs.

The mental side of cycling legs is knowing that if you go out for a 100k (or some other distance) ride, you’ll make it back home.   It isn’t “hoping”, or “speculating”, it’s knowing.  Not only that, it’s knowing how hard you can push yourself before you crack.  There are some extenuating circumstances, of course.  Maybe you bonk or you cramp up… but even in those situations, you know you’ll be able to spin home without too much trouble.

There’s one word that really encompasses the whole gamut; experience.

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I’ve been there, done it, got the t-shirt and worn it out – now I use it to clean my chains.  That much experience.

Day One of My Specialized Strike – Specialized Forgot the Number One Rule in Cycling

Specialized signed on to the pie in the sky “Global Climate Strike” where a bunch of Kool-Aid drinking crumb crunchers decided they needed to “strike” by skipping school because they’re ignorant enough to believe they want an end to the use of fossil fuels. 100% wind and solar is the goal. They only forget to mention one thing; in order to power everything as we know it, 100% of the world will have to be blanketed by solar panels and wind turbines. No room for farming, no growing food, nothing but windmills and solar panels. I wonder what that would do to the environment. In other words, the movement is too stupid to even take seriously.

Whatever their rationalization for signing on (and I did send them a rather scornful email and got a response replete with the normal drivel you’d expect), Specialized screwed the pooch. First, when we take a political stance, based on a politician’s half of a story, we’re immediately going to scorn 40% of the country. Second, it’ll likely be ignorant, because politicians survive by keeping people fighting – and supporting any movement that calls for an end to the use of fossil fuels, is as ignorant as you get when your company relies on them so heavily. Finally, there’s the number one rule in cycling:

The number one rule of cycling was ever thus; no f***in’ politics on bike rides, boys and girls.

Specialized forgot that and they need to be made to remember it.  Our lives are ripped apart by politicians, special interest groups and the news media on a daily basis. Politics are never used to bring people together anymore. They’re used as a wedge. We need our leisure activities to come together as human beings so we can remember why we need each other, how important it is to rely on each other, and why we need to care for each other.

When you drag politics into our fun time, too, you destroy one of the great things there is about being alive and on the right side of the grass.

Shame on you, Specialized.

It’s a damned crying shame…

Oh, and Trek, please stay out of the fracas… I’m running out of bikes!

TNCR; The B Group’s Fastest Night Yet, but An Otherwise Perfect Night was Marred By A Crash

There are those nights a fast ride breaks out of nowhere and we manage an excellent night. Last week was one of those. It was way too windy for us to have the 22.3-mph average we did, but there it was.

Then there are nights you know it’s going to be fast before you pump up your tires. Sunny, 75 perfect degrees (24 C) with winds out of the east at just 3-mph (5-km/h). My friends, it just doesn’t get any better than that on a Tuesday night. We had a lot of those this year, as a matter of fact. A perfect night, and I showed up with my Sunday best kit and the Venge.

We also had two new competent B Group’ers join us, which was excellent.

We rolled out about 30 seconds after the A Group and it was on right out of the gate. Our first and slowest mile was at 20-mph until we got into Vernon 22 miles later – everything else was between 21 & 26-mph. We had damn-near a perfect group – and I’d say we pounded out the miles, because the pace was so excellent, but that’s not what happened, really. With the lack of wind and everyone doing their part (for the most part), for the first 15 miles there was a flow to the ride… the speed wasn’t as hard last night.

Making a left to get into our version of the hills, I expected the pace to go crazy a little bit, as it can, but it was copacetic. We had three tandems last night, and crushing the hills can hurt them. The downhills, of course, did get a little chaotic through the hills because one of the tandems likes to take advantage of them, even if it does blow up the group a little bit – let’s just say the captain of said tandem isn’t exactly a team player… and we’ll leave that fart there to waft a bit.

Once through Vernon, our slow mile of the evening (it always is – a bit of up and it’s a small downtown area, so we use it to regroup again after the City Limits sprint – which I was third in, by the way. I took a 30-mph lead out to about 500 yards from the line, no way I was going to hold that pace for as long as I would have needed to take it), things got fun. That section of the ride has some decent rollers with mild grades so it’s easy to hammer the uphills above 20-mph and double-hammer the downhills at 27-30. And that’s what we did. We were our approximation of flying, ticking off the miles between 24 and 26-mph, when the A Group came by.

I was second bike back and we picked up our pace as their line went by. A couple of 20 seconds of hard effort and we were in their draft at 29-mph but far enough back we didn’t mess with their rotation. With only two miles to go we turned in our fastest mile of the night at a solid 27.07-mph (43 km/h – I’m sorry, but that sounds vastly awesomer!).  Approaching the sprint point, which the B Group was going to sit out of for the free ride, the pace picked up.  30-mph… 31… 32… and all hell broke loose.

I saw a rock fling from a tire ahead before I heard the immediate psswsshwsshwsshwshh… then the group spread apart, over both lanes of the road with Todd trying to get to the side of the road.  I slowed, but not too fast to allow those behind me space to slow down, then his wheel cocked, whipping him around, his eyes were wide as saucers when he went down hard. Another cyclist just behind him managed to hold his bike up as he headed down a ditch and into someone’s front yard. He was 150′ into the yard before he managed to come to a stop from that speed.  Nobody else, out of the 25-ish in the expanded group, went down.

We went over to check on Todd who was laying on the ground.  He was shook up pretty bad but managed to sit up.   He was starting to bleed from a couple of gashes on his elbow and he had some serious road rash on his leg, thigh and hip.  That seemed to be the worst of it, though.  Greg, after checking on his friend, grabbed Todd’s keys and took off to get his truck.  A few of us stayed with Todd and the rest of the group departed shortly thereafter.

Todd stood up and assessed his bike, because any of us, with working appendages, knows that the cuts and scrapes will heal… the carbon fiber, not so much.  No cracks, not so much as a scuff in his Argon 18 super-bike, though he’ll be picking pebbles out of places there shouldn’t be pebbles for quite a while – and not just from his skin.  When that front tire flatted instantly (and a tubeless tire at that) and rolled on him, the front wheel went through the dirt on the shoulder.  He picked pebbles out of the wheel/tire, out of the brakes (which locked up the back wheel).  Still, all things being equal, as fast as we were going, once he cleans up and has a week or two to heal up, he was extremely fortunate how things shook out.

As I said last night, the fact that Todd was the only one who went down is a testament to how he handled himself and his bike in that situation, and also a testament to the quality of cyclists we have in our group.

I received a message on Strava from the big guy (he’s a battleship, at 6’3-ish”) that he’s doing well.  He’d managed to clean up pretty well and said he’d be back out this evening for a recovery ride… on his gravel bike, no doubt.  It’ll take a minute to get the Argon cleaned up and rolling again, I’d guess.

After Todd was picked up, I looked at our stats… just before the crash we’d cracked 22.5-mph for our average.  We were down to 22.4.  Still, fastest B Group average to date if memory serves.  I think we hit 23 once before, but that was a mix of the A and B Groups.  Too bad things turned out the way they did.

 

One Fantastic Weekend of Cycling

Saturday was one of those gloriously sunny days that make a cyclist smile. We had a solid west wind so we chose to fight it all the way out and ride it back. Now, any avid cyclist who’s tried this will tell you the wind shifted on them about two miles after the turn for home. That’s just how it goes. Always.

Not this time, baby.

We went 23 miles, dead into the wind, before turning for home… the long way home. On the way out, I tried to take a lot of miles because I knew the ride home was going to be fun. The last four miles into the wind were mine.

For this route, we stop at a gas station in town before heading back and I chose my favorite, a Vanilla Orange Coke and a Twix White Chocolate.  The Twix was really good, but the OV Coke… it’s heaven on Earth. We rolled out after a quick ten-ish minute stop.

The ride home was an absolute blast. Tailwind, with a little crosswind, all the way home. Our average jumped a mile-and-a-half an hour and we went from quiet effort to laughing and talking the whole way home. We ended up with just shy of 53 fantastic miles.

Sunday was a different story altogether. The weather prognosticator of choice was all over the place. Rain in the morning, rain in the afternoon, rain in the early morning, ending by 2am, then picking up again… my text to the gang was simply, “we’ll have to play it by ear”.

I woke up at 4am and the app said later in the early afternoon we would have a chance to ride. It changed just before 6am. I sent out a text that wheeis were rolling at 8. We had a 3-1/2 hour window and we had the 56-mile Cohoctah loop on tap.  And nobody showed but my buddy, Mike.

The start was hectic and a bit slow. Mike was up front for three miles and we were pushing a 16-1/2 mph average… but Mrs. Bgddy caught us at mile two. She decided to join Mike and I for a few miles before spending time with her dad. I took the next five miles up front, taking it fairly easy into a cross-headwind at 18-1/2-mph because my wife was on her gravel bike – more than 18-ish would have been brutal for her.

My wife announced she was heading back for home as we turned south. We caught Greg, who texted earlier that he might roll with us at 17-ish-mph and that was the last time we were that slow without a stop sign. Greg opened it up and took the pace to 22 in a tough cross-headwind. After three miles, Mike called uncle.  Literally, he called uncle… and I wasn’t bummed he did. I could have held Greg’s wheel but it was gonna hurt at that pace. We ate wind to mile 28, when our fortunes turned and the pace picked up. Greg split at 37 miles for home. Mike and I rolled on for our homes, 19 miles away.  Thankful we could relax a bit.  Or so I thought.

A mile later, something caught my attention over my right shoulder.  Clouds.  Gnarly one’s.  We had rain coming in, and with and hour to get home, it was going to be close.  I thought we would he on the losing end, being honest.

Heads down, in the drops, we hammered for home.

It started sprinkling two miles later. Five miles later it started coming down a little harder. Not enough to call it rain but it was getting close.

Mike and I traded places at the front every couple of miles. We were making some decent time, too. A 21-mph mile, 20.8, 22… 21.3, 22.8… We were starting to get damp, too. Mike said he was going to take a shortcut to get home a little sooner.  I didn’t blame him.  It was really starting to look like we’d get pounded.

As soon as he split, I put the hammer down, heading north. And rode right out of the drizzle!  I sat up a couple of times to catch my breath but got right back after it. I didn’t want to squander getting out of the drizzle, and the horizon to my right was not good, even if the sun poked through the clouds now and again.

I pulled into the driveway, dismounted, and got my butt in the house. Two minutes later, no exaggeration, the sky opened up.

Just in the nick of time. Lunch was sweet. And my nap was even sweeter.  Nothing beats beating the rain.  Thankfully, Mike had the same good fortune.

Surviving a Big Week on the Bike

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I put in a 466 mile week at the end of August and into September. 377 of them coming in just four days. My average pace for the 466 was north of 19-mph.

So, how did I prepare for that with a wife, kids and a job?

I wish there was a magic bullet. “Yeah, just ride so many days in a row, for so many miles, at such-and-such a pace, and you’ll be great!” Wouldn’t it be wonderful? It would, but that’s not how it works.

In all seriousness, as a working stiff, there’s really no great way to train for a four day tour where you’ll be putting in upwards of 100 miles a day – and all four days are going to be a fairly hard effort. There are a few things that will be helpful to know up front.

  • Day One, be careful. It’ll be easy to go out too fast. Your adrenaline will be maxed, so you’ll have to contain yourself a little bit. This is especially true if you’ve done the ride before – the more I ride tours, the more excited I am to do them. Just remember how many days you’ve got in front of you.
  • Day Two sucks the worst. You’re fresh off your first hundred. Your butt’s a little sore, your legs are tired… and you’re just not feeling up to snuff. You’ve gotta muscle up. It’ll only hurt until you get settled in, maybe ten or twenty miles in. Just keep pedaling.
  • Day Three should feel better – well, most of you should feel better. Your ass will feel as though it’s on fire when you first sit on your saddle, but that’ll numb out as the day progresses. Don’t worry. Just keep pedaling.
  • Day Four will likely be your best day. You’re ass will be red enough they’ll be shooting blow darts at you in the locker room when you shower up after Day Three, but your legs will have adjusted and, other than the aforementioned fire heinie, you should feel pretty spry. Just keep pedaling.
  • I’ve only ever done a four-day, so I can’t really speak to what’s next, but rinse and repeat just keep pedaling. Your Dave’s Insanity Sauce butt will recover just fine. Later. Much, much later. As long as you don’t have an extra hole or two in there, you’ll be alright. If you do, Aquaphor. Buy some. Use it. Love it.

Now, the previous commentary was meant to be truthful, but also funny as all get out. If you didn’t laugh at the part about having blow darts shot at your baboon ass, you’ve got something wrong with you. That bit was funny. Thanks for the heavy lifting on that one, Chuck.

Let’s get into some real, valuable information, though. This is the middle of Day Three and those six smiles are all genuine (Todd was having a rough go).

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  • First, get your gearing right for your environment. I’ve got compact chainrings and an 11/28 cassette on the my tour bike. On my Tuesday Night fast bike I’ve got more of a corncob – 11/25 for the 52/36 chainrings on that bike. If you’re riding a flat course, then go with the corncob. On the other hand, if you’ll be doing a lot of climbing, go with some easy gears. Also, factor in you’ll be tired by the second day. You’ll want one or two easier gears than you think for those late-week hills.
  • EAT! You shouldn’t be out on a multi-day tour to lose weight. Trying to ride hungry is ill-advised, as you’ll already be pushing the comfort zone. Nobody needs to throw in a bonk halfway through the trip.

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  • Gu UP! Aussies call them something else, but we Americans call the single-serving packaged gels, “Gu’s”. Point is this; if you’re feeling rough, if you feel some butt pain spring up, maybe a sore muscle or something, I always look at that as my body’s way of saying, “Yo! Knucklehead! You’d better send something for me to burn up pretty quick or I’m gonna make this $#!+ hurt for real!” I always fire down a gel when I start to hurt for no good reason. Preferably something with caffeine. Gu Roctane is good for that. Lots of caffeine. And a Coke. Sweet Jesus in a manger, a Coke always makes miles feel better.
  • Speaking of Gu’s, if you’ve got a big climb coming up late in the day (and if you’re lucky enough to know about it ahead of time, ahem), fire down a Gu about 10 or 15 minutes before you get there. It’ll kick in just as you get to the hill and it’ll help A LOT. We’ve got a monster 18%’er after a 2-mile 2-4% climb at mile 91-ish on day three of a normal tour I do. There’s a rest stop at mile 89, so (at a friend’s suggestion, thanks, Chad) I fired down a Gu Jet Blackberry just before I left. I beat my best time on the climb up to the wall by more than a minute and knocked 30 seconds off the big climb. There’s no question it helped.

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  • Dude, here’s the tricky part; you finish by not getting off the bike. Keep track of the electrolytes, eat well (not a bunch of sugary crap, unless said sugary crap is ice cream… in that case, knock yourself out), and drink lots. Keep pedaling… and don’t listen to any self-sabotaging bull$#!+ coming from the melon committee (the one in your melon, your head). It’ll be hard but you’ve gotta shut that $#!+ down or it’ll eat you up alive because long tours hurt.
  • Garmin Edge 520 Plus (or better). Buy one. Use it. Download the routes from Ride with GPS to it and follow the turn-by-turn directions (and set up one of your fields with the “Distance To” feature so it’ll tell you the distance to the next turn). Not having to worry about a cue sheet is WONDERFUL.
  • If you’re riding alone, leave a little early and wait for a group to pass you in a pace line. Start to pedal harder as the first one goes by and as the last one passes, latch on to the back. Let the person in front of you know you’re there (don’t be all shy about it, a pace line is not the place to be shy). If you can keep up well, these will be your new friends. Be nice to them and they will likely be nice to you. Do your turns up front and they’ll accept you into their group without hesitation. Almost everyone loves another person in their group who will help. We’ve got a guy who joins us every DALMAC, who showed up exactly that way about four years ago. Now he rides with us, eats with us, camps with us… he’s just as much a part of our group as I am.
  • Finally, and lean in because this is important, you need a new, clean kit for every day. I own, currently, about eight full kits (jersey & bibs), but only four make the rotation on tours. I have a specific jersey & bib combo for each day, too. Semi-pro kit for day one, pro kits for days two and three, and a very specific bib/jersey combo for day four, that match perfectly with the bike and saddle I’m using (the kit below is Day Four’s – Gore bibs and my Affable Hammers jersey). For whatever reason, the chamois in those bibs is perfect for the Trek’s saddle. I don’t know why, either, because it’s a thin chamois and I generally prefer thicker… but the point is, I stick with what works and I always use my best stuff on tours. They’re long days, my friends. I give myself the best chance of making it to the end with a smile on my face… and enough in the tank for one last sprint.

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Most of all, my friends, have fun. We’re not getting any younger and nobody gets out alive. Enjoy what time you’ve got left, you never know how much that is.

Wait, You Want HOW MUCH For Those Brakes?!

I was just perusing, because I do that sometimes, the webz for some lightweight brake calipers – just to see if I got the best deal I could on my Shimano 105 brakes that I installed on the Trek (and that look spectacular, I might add):

So this is what pops up:

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So, as you can see, those bad boys are carbon fiber.  They also look to be quite well built… they have a nice finish to them, right?

Take a guess at how much those suckers cost.

No.  Guess higher.  Still higher.  MUCH higher.

Okay, you won’t get it.  Cane Creek, some of the best brakes on the market, go for about $350 a set.  The THM Fibula’s run $1,360 for the pair.

My friends, I can tell you this, I got a good deal on my 105’s and I shan’t ever wander too far from the beaten path again.  My whole gravel bike was less than those brakes!  If I ever get to be that much of a weight weenie, I’ll have to kick my own ass.

Holy moly!