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How to Become a Decent Bike Mechanic; As A Cycling Enthusiast, It’s Imperative…

I could make this post short.  Very short.  One sentence… heck, one word:  Practice.

At the One Helluva Ride a couple of weeks ago, I hit a pothole so deep I think I saw a kangaroo at the bottom of it.  Dead nuts’ed it, too.  That happens in a pace-line from time to time if you’re not looking up the road like you should be (ahem).  Amazingly, I didn’t pinch flat and I didn’t bottom out the tire on the rim, which surely would have wrecked the rim (thank you, Serfas, for the awesome prototype tires).  I did, however, develop a little bit of a knock in the headset whenever I hit a decently sized bump thereafter.  When I got home I took a 4mm Allen wrench, loosened the three bolts in the proper order, and tightened down the headset.  It took, literally, two minutes.  My Venge is just as quiet and smooth as ever.  How many cyclists would either not recognize there was a problem, or take the bike in to have it looked over, taking it out of the stable for up to a week – for a two-minute solution.

VengeSerfasPrototype1

Two weeks ago I developed a creak in the headset of my 5200.  This one was a bit more troublesome because it’s a dreaded threaded headset.  If they’re not kept clean and lubed, they creak.  So I took my wrenches in hand and went to work.  Sadly, I made a rookie mistake.  I tried to tighten the lock nut (the top one) by pulling down from the right side of the bike, instead of standing at the front of the bike and pulling toward me from the left side of the bike.  The wrench slipped and took a nice chunk of paint out of the top tube.  I got the headset to quiet down but my pristine refurbished 1999 5200 had a gnarly top tube paint problem.  Into the shop it went – some things are better left to the pros, like one who has a airbrush paint setup, not a novice with a can of spray paint.

I picked it up the other day, along with a glorious new Bontrager Montrose Pro saddle.  At the beginning of the season I’d tried out a friend’s Selle Italia SLR minimalist carbon saddle.  I thought I liked it on the Trek.  Unfortunately, that was in March – way early in the season when I don’t have 4,000 miles on my tuchus.  Fast-forward to July and that little hunk of carbon, as light as it was, was far from comfortable after 50 miles – and my Trek is my long-range bike.  The Montrose Pro is 50 grams heavier than the svelte 110 gram Selle, but that fifty grams all goes to padding.  It’s also contoured to match my aggressive bike setup and my lack of flexibility.

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So, on went the saddle and figured I’d run my random orbit polisher over the repair on the top tube.  While I was at it, the rear brake cable was a little ratty from collecting a year’s worth of sweat.  May as well take care of that too.  And come to think of it, it’s big miles season here in Michigan, so maybe some new shifting cables were in order… as long as I was doing the brake cable anyway, right?

Exactly.

Well, to thicken the plot, my buddy, Mike called me while I was on the way home Thursday and said we should go on a road trip up north next week for a couple of long days in the saddle.  I had planned on taking my sweet time on the Trek, but now all of a sudden I only had a weekend to get it done.  I love my Venge, but it’s not my climbing bike.  My trek is set up for hills, and our “up north” has plenty of hills. I tackled it after work Friday.  Three hours, bike polished (the whole bike, not just the repair), new helicopter tape for the cable housings, new rear brake cable, new shift cables, dialed in, and ready to ride.

I took the bike out for a 100k yesterday, and my repairs were flawless.

Now, I’m fortunate.  Or blessed, or lucky, call it what you want… to have two bikes.  I have a level of freedom to tinker that many don’t because if I mess something up and have to look to the local shop to fix it, I’m not taking time off to have my bike fixed.  I could have easily taken the Venge up north next week.  Without question, it would have been fine, even on the hills.  I would have simply had to work a little harder with fewer climbing gears.  Instead, I’ve got both bikes sorted out and I get to pick and choose.

My first answer to my Title is, if you want to become a decent bike mechanic as a cycling enthusiast, buy a second bike.  A rain bike, if you will.  A backup.  Have a bike waiting in the wings, just in case, frees one up to tinker with impunity.  My wife has her gravel bike that she absolutely loves.  I’ve got my Trek and my gravel bike.

The second answer, the real answer, is practice.  It makes perfect.

The third is patience.  Have some.  You will need it.  The first time I tried indexing the shifting on my Trek 3700 mountain bike, I messed it up so bad I almost had to take it to the shop to have them fix my mess (don’t mess with the set screws on the derailleurs unless you REALLY know what you’re doing!).  The three minute repair took three hours.  Once I looked at Sheldon Brown’s detailed instructions, I had it fixed in 15 minutes.

The fourth is buy the Bike Repair app.  Pay the Four Bucks, it’s worth it.  Wrenching on a bike is a specialized talent.  Not only do you have to know what to loosen and tighten, you also have to know the proper order of the process steps.  Do the steps out of sequence and you’ll likely make your bike worse.  Having all of the steps in front of you will help immensely, and speed up the process.

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Bontrager Takes the Complex Saddle Choice and Makes it Simple(r) with Performance Postures

Specialized does it through shop employees with measurements, angles and videos too numerous and complex to get into, they call it their Body Geometry fit (I had one, when I bought my Venge, and it was awesome).  Long before that wonderful day and after a few months on my new (to me) 1999 Trek 5200, I went to the local shop complaining of immense pain due to my saddle after a steady increase of miles.  Walter quickly measured my sit bones on a handy-dandy board with memory foam on it and handed me a Specialized Romin (143mm) saddle.  The old, original saddle was a 155 – no wonder it hurt. The 143mm Romin, with its marvelous contours, just happened to be the exact saddle for me. I even put a second Romin I own on our tandem.

Fi’zi:k does it with an app. Hold your smartphone at your chest and bend over as far as you can… they match you to the proper saddle of their three different types. Not bad, but I’m in between saddles according to the app (or at least I was last I checked). Doesn’t that just figure? I can measure twice in a row and get two different saddles. Fortunately, luck got me where I needed to be previously, anyway.

Bontrager seems to have simplified everything and explained it so anyone from a leisure cyclist to a road racing cyclist can easily see what will likely be the best saddle fit for their riding style. It’s not, after all, rocket science. It’s close, though, once they really start looking into the science and how a saddle will affect a cyclist. Behold, simplicity and the Performance Postures (or as they like to call it in technical terms, “InForm BioDynamic Designs”):

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To keep things moving, I’m a Posture 2. I ride an aggressively set up road bike (both of them):

Then they got into the contour of the saddle:

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And followed that with the profile:

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Without question, especially looking at my Venge up above and how much I love the Romin saddle, I’m a Posture 2 guy, and it makes sense now that this is all laid out above:

Now, will this way of looking at saddles tick everyone’s boxes and make them comfortable on a Bontrager saddle?  I would land somewhere between “doubtful” and “not a freaking chance” – saddle choice is too personal and complex.  That said, for me, it works and it makes sense.

Where this gets a little sticky is that saddle on my Trek, a Selle Italia.  It’s basically a flat saddle with a minute curve to it.  It’s a full carbon fiber saddle that weighs in at a miniscule 110 grams (Bontrager makes a 64 gram saddle, basically the weight of two plastic bottle cages, if you’re interested):

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Contrast that with the saddle on my Venge (or one like it) on the Right and a Bontrager Montrose on the Left:

My friends, I may ride low but I am not flexible.  I can barely touch my toes (though barely does count!).  That little bit of contour in the saddle helps me rotate my hips forward so I can ride comfortably in the drops and on the hoods.  I do have to make sure to bend my arms sufficiently when I ride with my hands on the bar top, though.  Sitting upright isn’t comfortable on a contoured saddle like the two above – at least not the way I set mine up, with a 3° drop from back to front (measured the full length of the saddle).

People can get sucked into the wrong saddle pretty easy.  Whether they’re in it for the weight, or just trying to get a cool-looking saddle…  Folks, some saddles just fit some butts better than others.  The more information you’re armed with, though, the better equipped you’ll be to help a knowledgeable person at a shop help you into the proper saddle… or try luck.  It did work for me.

RominAndMontrose

 

Ah, Almost Back to Normal Again

Since I’ve gotten back from the west side of the State, things have slowly gone back to a more “normal” state of affairs. I’m into the office early, which means I’m leaving early as well, and it seems like I’m pulling into the driveway before I know it – I’m home well before 5 pm. My drive is less than 45 minutes (I haven’t had less than a 38 minute drive to work in more than 23 years). Better, I’m able to stay up a little later and sleep in (if you can call it that, and most normal people don’t – I still have my alarm set for 4 am).

I rode what we call the “Deer Loop” with some friends yesterday morning, under utterly perfect conditions. 3-mph wind, not a cloud in the sky, and mercifully cool (low 60’s – perfect starting temp [16.7 C]). When I included “Deer Loop” in my Strava ride title, one of my friends asked in the comments, “Did you bring the deer magnet with you”. I laughed out loud – my buddy, Mike (aka the Deer Magnet) has a funny way of attracting animals so he hits them. He got a deer two years ago and a dog and a squirrel so far this year. I don’t know how many near misses there were, but I was there for a few with deer crossing just in front of us… and I’ve heard of many more than I saw…

Which leads me to the big plus: My mileage is heading in the right direction. Two weeks ago, with the long Fourth of July weekend, I managed to clock in more than 300 miles for the week. Last week, with a normal work schedule I was over 210 miles. I also popped over 4,000 miles for the year last week, so it seems I’ll still be able to have a decent year after the job and our crappy start to the Spring.

In other cycling news, the Trek is in for a paint touch-up. I put a gnarly gouge in the top tube when I had a wrench slip off the headset lock nut. It was bad – and just two days after I put an awesome new Punisher sticker on it, too…

Anyway, that’s where I’m at. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re really good and looking up. Now if I could just drop about five more pounds! Dammit, they’re a lot harder to take off than put on!

2019 One Helluva Ride; That Extra Two Tenths of a Mile Can Kiss It…

I rode the one hundred mile ride through Hell, Michigan they affectionately call “One Helluva Ride” with a bunch of my friends yesterday, and more than a few new friends. It is, typically speaking, the hardest ride of the year. It’s hot as, well, hell, the roads suck, and it’ll beat the snot out of you – especially if you go out too fast, which is easy to do because the first ten to fifteen miles is a negative grade.

Our average speed was north of 23-mph (37-km/h) at the first rest stop. One of the lead guys through that front section (I took a long turn up front, too and I didn’t slow down, either), toward the end of the ride, said he kept looking back and everyone was there, so he figured the pace was good and kept it. For my turn up front, holding 24 to 25-mph didn’t feel so bad, so I held it.

We decided as a group to pull the reigns in after that first rest stop. We needed to slow it down or we’d literally be cooked later on. By the time we hit the second rest stop at 49-ish miles, our average was down to 21.6-mph. Unfortunately, as we pulled into the parking lot, several of the guys were fishing for white flags in their back pocket… One, an incredibly strong dirt rider on a gravel rig, said he’d have phoned it in had we not stopped at the rest area. He was starting to feel a little toasty… it was getting hot.

We were still holding it together at the third rest stop. Our average had dropped to 21-mph, though we’d lost five guys out of our group. I was still feeling pretty good and we only had 23 to go. Unfortunately, that 27 miles between rest stops hammered most everyone else. Four guys were doing better than I was, and a bunch were a lot worse off.

The heat cranked up like a sauna without the steam – it was just hot. Guys started slipping off the back and before we hit 85 miles, our eighteen man group was down to just five. And then they started throwing hills at us. Three of the guys left were mountain goats. They cruised up the hills with relative ease. Then there was Chuck and me. Mountain goats we’re not. I’m still trying to lose my last few pounds from vacation… I’m feeling a bit the fat ass. Jonathan, Vance and Mark tore up this innocuous looking hill and Chuck and I were just behind. Chuck had been dealing with the early stages of cramping, and about halfway up that hill, the hammer dropped on me. I went from, “meh” to “oh, $#!+” in one hill. I’m thinking, “what the hell, this hill is no big deal, what is going on?!” That’s when Chuck chimed in, “Yep, 7%”. It was one of those deceptive optical illusion hills. You’re dropping down to the baby ring and you’re like, “hey, I should be doing 20 right now”. Trying to keep up on that hill torched me. We only had seven miles to go.

The next three miles were plain ugly. I even thought about getting SAG’ed in for a few seconds. My feet were hot. The one bright side, with the exception of the unrelenting sunshine, was that I’d picked up a new Specialized Jersey – one of those crazy-high priced pro style deals, and it was absolutely amazing how cool it kept my upper body in the intense heat. As I’m suffering along, the performance of that jersey crossed my mind more than once.

I didn’t call SAG, of course. I decided I’d let everyone go if I had to. I was going to take the hills easy, coast down the descents, and hold 20-ish on the flats… and before I knew it, I was still with the front crew, for the most part, and we crossed the 97-mile mark. I relaxed a little bit, “No matter how pooched I am, I can ride three miles”, I thought. We navigated the neighborhoods of Chelsea until we could see the fairgrounds. Chuck with renewed life, said, “If I’m not at a hundred when we hit the parking lot, I’m going to get the extra”. Not me. I rolled into the parking lot with 99.8 miles and I was freaking done. I didn’t even ride my bike to the rack. I got off and walked it.

I’d had enough.

Some watermelon, Gatorade, water, more watermelon, a half a turkey sammich, and a shower later and I was starting to feel okay again. Chuck had driven and I managed to stay awake till we hit my driveway, but I was half asleep when I wheeled my bike into the house. My nap was awesome.

Surviving Hell on Earth was a Lesson in Perspective. At the Time It Sucked, but It Turned Out to Be the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me.

Nowadays we sell struggle. And pain. And blood and guts. We sell anguish and anger.

My alcoholic, and subsequent recovery, story isn’t anything all that special.  Sure, I got in some trouble and I was facing some serious time for crimes I played a small bit role in, but I’m typically what you call a “high bottom” drunk.  I quit way before things got really bad.

I didn’t do too many hard drugs.  I never shot up.  I never whored myself out to cover my tab with the dealer.  I was never really homeless, if I was close a time or two.  I caught a break going through intensive out-patient treatment when a doctor ran some intake tests on my liver and they came back really bad.  At 22 I had the “liver of a 60-year-old chronic alcoholic”.  He said I’d likely be dead of cirrhosis by 30… if I even made it that long.  I drank for another year, but eventually I arrived at the obvious conclusion; I was f***ed.

The 26-year journey from the day I quit has been, at times, a serious struggle.  My first year was a bitch… until they told me that year was a gift – and I found out what, exactly, that meant.  They were right, it was.

After five years, the fog started to lift.  The clouds broke around ten.  At fifteen, it was partly cloudy.  At twenty, the sun was shining.  And at 25, it warmed up in the sunshine.

I truly believe the hardest days of my life are behind me.  The hardest thing I’ll ever do was done at 23-years-old.  Or perhaps, let’s say that if I choose to stay on my current path in life, the hardest thing I’ll ever do was done at the ripe old age of 23…  Should I decide to firmly implant my head in my ass again and drink, the hardest thing will become quitting again.  I know I’ve got another drink in me, I don’t know about another recovery.

So here’s the trick; everything I am has changed.  I believe my Higher Power (God, in my case) granted me grace.  I did something really good with that grace and quit killing myself, and torturing those who loved me (not an easy task as I was).  My attitude and outlook on life has completely changed.  Completely.  I’m on a path that led from hell on Earth to Heaven, to where I’m truly grateful for every day I’m on the right side of the grass, pumping air.

Getting to the point without getting too deep into the weeds, and to put this in a way that anyone can use, my version of hell was bad enough.  I didn’t have to dig any deeper.  My version doesn’t have to be better than or worse than anyone else’s, what matters is that it was enough to get me to see that, after a whole lot of working to make me a better version of me, each day is a gift.  Even the hard days, because as few as they are, they get me to the good (and vastly more plentiful).  I’ve cleaned up who I am to a point that, instead of continually making and cleaning up messes I make, I’m able to concentrate on something higher.  Something better.  I can concentrate on doing more of what made the sun shine.

Because I’m no longer the drunk who was only capable of doing exactly the wrong thing at any given moment.

At the time I was going through it, my first year sucked.  In two through five, I saw that first one as a glorious gift.

I thought I was doing really well in my fifth year sober, till I made it to ten and looked back – then I realized how hard I’d worked and was entirely thankful to have made it as far as I had.

Then came twenty, and I realized I really hadn’t known much at ten, but I’d made a good start of it – and besides, the sun was really shining now.  Things were really clicking.  My job was good, my marriage was great, the kids were good and doing great things… and my recovery was well spent.

Then I hit twenty-five and I realized I had a lot of room for growth, because in that short five years my life had gotten exponentially better… and I know that if I keep doing the right thing at any given matter, it’ll likely continue to get better.  Quitting drinking really sucked at the time, but when I look back at how I’ve changed, it’s the best sucky thing that’s ever happened to me.

And why wouldn’t it keep getting better?  For twenty-six years, since I started working a program of fixing the train wreck that I was, that’s all that has happened; things got better*.  And if I can do it, anyone can.  There’s an instruction manual.  It’s 164 pages long, and they call it the Big Book.  It just takes some want to.  And therein lies the rub.

Better, you don’t have to be a drunk to use the work in that Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous to better yourself.  Just take the drinking out of the equation.  Step one:  We admitted that we were powerless, that our lives were unmanageable.  Step two:  Came to believe a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.  Step three:  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him… and just keep going.

Powerless over what, you ask?  Who cares?  Do you want to get better or don’t you.  Make a decision and roll with it.  Powerless over being happy.  Start there and build on it.  That’s how it works.

*Not easier.  Better.  Big difference.

And Finally, Some Decent Miles to Go with Summertime (and How Sobriety Factors into the Fun)

On one hand, this summer, if you could call it that until two weeks ago, should have been a YUGE letdown. My miles are down, my weight is slightly up, and the weather has just plain sucked. I haven’t even topped 4,000 miles for the year yet, and I’m liking food way more than I should.

On the other hand, I’m on the job of my career and I’m freaking digging it and the pay has been quite nice.

I don’t know what the rest of this year will hold, but beyond the sacrifices, I’m having fun and I’m happy. And that’s what really matters.

Then, out of nowhere, the best cycling weekend yet this year. It was supposed to rain every day, but the worst we got was a popcorn storm for ten minutes, and never while we were on the bikes.  I could have put in so many more miles, though… 75 on Thursday, 40 Friday, another 56 for Saturday, and we’ve got a 100k on tap for today.  If memory serves, I’d have sprinkled in an 80-100 miler in there and at least one of the 40 or 56 mile rides would have been a 100k.  I’m not that guy this year, though.  For the longest time, I feared I would like cycling less if I let off the gas, if I didn’t try to cram absolutely every last mile in.  I was so wrong; I like it more.

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Because I’m not always trying to push max miles out of every ride, my enjoyment of the sport increased and I enjoy each mile much more.  In the end, there’s still no place I’d rather be than on my bike, and the search still continues for the sucker who’ll pay me to ride it.  I’ll let you know when my luck changes.

In the meantime, it’s just another day in paradise on two wheels.

There once was a time when all I could do was think about how I could escape being miserable.  Every day I’d try to figure out how to game the system so I could have just one more day drunk before the house of cards crumbled under the weight of my poor choices.  Today, 26 years without a drink or a drug, and I’m working on making content and happy, happier.  Talk about a difference that’ll put a smile on your face!

My friends, once I embraced that the hardest thing I would ever do in my life occurred 26 years ago, in quitting drinking (and eventually, smoking), once I realized I’d already been through hell and as long as I keep on the right path, I don’t ever have to go back, life became less about survival and more about enjoyment.

Just for today.  Keep quit, no matter what.  Even if your ass falls off… and in the event it does, put it in a paper bag and take it to a meeting.  They’ll show you how they put theirs back on.  There’s only misery at the bottom of that bottle.  It won’t get better this time.  There’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  Shit, there’s no rainbow.  Because there’s no sunshine.  Just keep quitting.

My Buddy’s Inaugural Firecracker 100K was a HUGE Hit – Our Invite Only Fourth of July Ride

I’ve got a list of 29 30 people that I text every weekend to let them know when and where to show up if they want to ride with our group. I don’t put our rides on the club calendar because we’re not a no-drop style of ride. We expect those who ride with us to keep up so with the invite-only list, we can be sure whoever shows up can hang. Some might find that objectionable. I’m okay with this.

With that out of the way, we had an impressive group turn out for our Fourth of July ride – eighteen showed up and we met one on the road. The weather was about as perfect as we could ask for on a Fourth of July ride.

We rolled out shortly after 7am with virtually no wind, little cloud cover and temps in the upper 60’s (that’s 20 C for everyone other than we ‘Mericans). We started relatively slow but the tempo built as we headed out of town. An 18-mph average increased steadily till it was catching up on 20 (32 kp/h for the Canukians)

The cloud cover came and went and we even got a momentary sprinkle from the clouds, but that bit of marvelous relief was short-lived.  Shortly thereafter, the clouds dissipated and someone turned up the heat… and the sunshine… and the pace.  Halfway in, Chuck suggested we should call our Fourth of July ride the Mike A. Firecracker 100k from now on, and so it shall be.  How he came up with that with cycling brain, I’ll never know, but it’s a good one.

As the miles ticked by I watched the average pace increase from 19-mph to 19.8 in the last few miles – and I had the 17-mph ride to the school parking lot included in my average so we were easily above 20-mph average over the 100+k.  In fact, after checking out the stats on Endomodo (it provides a better breakdown, by a long shot, than Strava), I found we’d completed a 100k in 3:03:09…  20-mph is 3:08:20 give or take – and everyone made it across the line with the lead group.

In all, I don’t think there was any question it was our best ride (and riding conditions) of the year.  It was smiles and hi-fives all around afterward.  There’s no better way to spend a summer holiday morning than with almost 20 of your best friends on the planet, chewing up the road.  Even better, I spent much of the ride next to my wife (the hole between first and third bikes is mine, and my wife is the one in the pink, I went to the front to take that photo by request, then slipped back into place next to my wife).

My wife and I, after thanking each cyclist for coming out, spent our five mile cool down ride home talking about how lucky we were to be able to ride together like that.  Good times and noodle salad, folks.