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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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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!

Tuning In Your Bike with Tires and Tire Pressure… This Should Be Fun.

I’ve got a post about tire pressure that’s been sitting in my Draft folder for something like four years. Four years. Folks, I’m not afraid of much, but I’m scared to hit the publish button on that post… because tire pressure is a personal thing.  It’s incredibly subjective and depends on everything from rider preference to frame and rim material to saddle/heinie comparability, to chamois choice.  And anyone who rides seriously will have an opinion about tire pressure – and the angrier the person, the more right they are and the dumber you are for having your opinion.

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That said, there is general wisdom to pass along without inflaming the hemorrhoids.  Too much. Such as:

  • Heavier riders use greater pressure. This doesn’t need to get silly, though. I’m 175 pounds and I roll 115 psi in 23mm tires, 111 psi in 24mm, and 105 to 107 psi in 25’s.
  • Lighter riders don’t need all of that tire pressure to avoid pinch flats.
  • The balance is; little enough to smooth out the roads, but enough you don’t pinch flat whenever you hit a pothole – or, if you go tubeless, little enough to smooth out the road, but enough you don’t crack your rims on potholes.
  • You can use tire pressure to tune your bike in so the ride feels a little more buttery.

That last bullet point is where the cheddar’s at. I’ve got this down to a science on the Trek. With the alloy wheels on the bike, if I go to 114 psi with 24’s, I can feel every bump on my keister. Drop three psi off that and the bike is heaven. With the carbon fiber wheelset and 25mm tires on either my Venge or the 5200, it’s a little less of an imperative to get the pressure exactly right because the wheels do some of the heavy lifting and take a some sting out of the road.  Still, I like 105 to 107 psi in the 25’s on the carbon fiber wheels.

Now, as mentioned above, there’s a delicate balance to be maintained here. Too little pressure and you’ll pinch flat every time you hit a decent bump and it’ll feel like you’re trying to ride through mud, and as you can see in the photo above, we’ve got some bumps to worry about and nobody likes riding through mud… err… on slicks… on a road bike.  Also, part of that equation is to balance your tire pressure with your weight as well.

The next time you’ve got some solo miles planned, take some time and a handy, dandy hand pump and play with the tire pressure a little bit as you ride.  Add a little, drop a little, drop a little more… hit a few bumps to make sure “a little more” wasn’t actually “too much”… Tune your bike in to the road with your tire pressure so you’ve got the perfect balance between fast and smooth.

You won’t regret it.

Cycling and What You Need to Know About Carbon Fiber Rims and Wheels.

I’ve got approximately 40,000 miles on this bike:

I’ve ridden it, almost exclusively with aluminum wheels, for upwards of eight years. It was only recently I decided to fit my good wheels to the rain bike for DALMAC.  It’s a long story, but I thought I couldn’t get 25mm tires and 23mm (wide) rims to work with the frame clearance I had on the old 5200.  25’s on my alloy wheels rub the chain stays – there’s no clearance.  With the wider carbon fiber rims, though, I was mistaken.  The extra width of the rim changes the profile of the tire, therefore allowing 3-mm each side of the tire betwixt the chain stays – enough space.

I did need new brakes, though. The old calipers wouldn’t take the wider rim, so I picked up a set of 2019 Shimano 105 calipers for the ’99 frame. I fitted the new wheels just a week before the big tour – just enough time to give them a roll to make sure everything was good…

I rode the new setup for a week before the big tour, then for the 377 mile weekend.

First, I was riding Specialized Turbo Pro 24mm tires pumped to 112 psi on the aluminum wheels.  I’ve got 25mm Serfas Prototype tires on the carbon wheels and I pump those up to 107 psi (lately).  There might be a little bit of difference in suppleness between the Specialized and Serfas tires, but it wouldn’t be much and the edge would absolutely go to the Specialized tires, if a difference exists.

With that out of the way, carbon fiber wheels are exactly what you’d think.  They’re faster and they improve ride characteristics.

Staying with subjective data, because I don’t have a testing facility other than open roads, my legs and my heinie, understanding and quantifying the improved ride quality is fairly simple.  If you’ve ridden a bike with an aluminum frame and another with a carbon fiber frame, you don’t need a $40,000,000 testing facility to know that the carbon fiber frame, all things being equal, will be a more comfortable ride that the aluminum frame.  Well, the same improvements in feel apply to carbon fiber wheels.

While some people want to make this into rocket science, I don’t think it’s entirely necessary.  There’s certainly room for completely geeking out over testing data, but all one really needs is to ride one a lot, then switch to the other.  You’ll feel the difference immediately.

So, while I would owe some improvement to the 1mm difference in tires and the extra five psi, the difference would be minimal at best.  The interesting twist happened when I swapped wheels back on returning from DALMAC.  All of a sudden I could feel every bump in the road riding the 5200.  I’ve found that when ride quality is improved, for whatever reason, the benefit slowly fades to the background as time goes by.  This happened on my tour.  So it was a pretty big shock going back to the alloy wheels.  I just might have to try lowering the pressure in those tires a little bit.  The difference between wheelsets was surprising.

Simply put, if you can afford a set of carbon fiber wheels, they’re worth it.  The aerodynamic improvement, even of a 38-mm rim over, say, a 23-mm, is well documented and make the wheels easier to keep up to speed (above, say 20-mph).  The ride quality improvements are equally impressive, if not more so.

To wrap this up, carbon fiber wheels won’t give you an edge.  They won’t make you faster.  They won’t take you from a B Group rider to an A.  They make fast a little easier.  If you want to jump groups, you’ll need a heaping helping of “want to” before you start worrying about which wheels you’ll buy.  On the other hand, there’s no question, a set of carbon wheels sure takes some sting out of the road.

Bike Handling in a Group Setting; The Friendly Shoulder Bump… Or Elbow, as May Be Necessary (and Probably Wiser).

This post was prompted by reading Bike-Handling Basics #6:  How to Do Pro Tricks (Read number 5 for the cool shoulder…)

A few weeks ago we had a double pace-line going of around 20 cyclists.  Not big by our standards, but not small by any stretch, either.  We were cruising down the road at a spirited 22-mph pace when the road started getting choppy along the right side.  I was in the left part of the right lane.  My counterpart up front started inching closer to me, to the point he started going over the center crown of the lane.  He pushed me closer to the double-yellow until I simply wouldn’t go any further left.  I’m not getting my handlebar anywhere near over the yellow for anyone… he inched closer.

Now, right there, most people will freak out a little and say something.  Not a bad reaction, indeed.  Another cyclist starts crowding you like that, it gets dangerous.

Well, folks, there’s no need to get belligerent about being crowded a little.  Also, there’s definitely no need to cross over the yellow line into opposing traffic.  The key is to ever-so-slightly bend your elbow so it extends beyond the end of the handlebar so it rubs against your counterpart’s elbow.  If they’re novice enough to crowd you during a ride, they won’t be able to hold it together when you start putting an elbow into them.

In my case, I wasn’t nasty about being crowded.  I didn’t jab my elbow into him, and I certainly wasn’t trying to get him hurt.  The elbow did its job, though.  I just kind of eased it out there till he bumped into it…  After bumping arms with him twice, he moved off of me to the right a little bit and that was the end of it.

As it turned out, I didn’t know why my friend was crowding me like that until he mentioned that the right side of the lane was horribly choppy and he couldn’t keep the pace in the bumps.  Things get chippy in a group sometimes.  The elbow, or even pushing a on another cyclist’s hip to let them know they’re getting into your personal space a little too much is a great way to set boundaries and diffuse a situation before it gets too messy

Just remember, you get too pushy and you could end up knocking a bunch of your friends down in the process.  It is very important that we exercise care, caution and restraint, always remembering that we’re traveling down the road at 40 feet per second.

60,000 Miles on a Bicycle, and What It’s Taught Me About Life

Last Sunday, I rolled over 60,000 miles since I started keeping track in 2011. In terms of a special milestone, it’s not all that special. There’s a phone book of people who ride that in a year, worldwide. It’s my milestone, though. I did it, and what’s important is that I’ve had fun putting almost every one of those miles on my bikes.

Cycling has evolved for me over the last eight years. The first few weeks weren’t all that impressive, until I bought a decent bike. An adult mountain bike. After that, a cavalcade of road bikes… and it was Katy bar the door from the moment I first rode my Trek 5200. I dropped 20 pounds so fast it actually scared my wife. I was skinny. Then I learned how to eat, ahem, for an active lifestyle and have been okay ever since. It could be said that I certainly do enjoy eating a lot more.

Anyway, I’ve had my bikes, one or the other, all over the place – especially all over our home State of Michigan, and after all of those miles, I’m still excited when a big tour rolls around. Who am I kidding? I still get fired up, just to run a quick loop around the neighborhood. For those who ride a lot, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I write that cycling has been my source of fun, rather than a source of exercise. The fact I burn a lot of calories just comes with the fancy pedals.

I headed out last evening to hammer some miles out with my friends and, unlike the stock market, past experience is an indication of future returns. I was driving home with a big smile on my face, thinking about how lucky I am to be me. I’m nothing special, of course, but I do believe I’m a blessed guy to have the wife, kids, friends, bikes and life that I have.

I don’t have a whole lot of money. I don’t have a big, fancy house. I do have a smokin’ hot wife, two awesome daughters, some great friends, a good job, a stellar, clean life, (ahem) six bikes, good health… and some fantastic memories.  Above all, though, I am happy.

What I’ve learned over the last 60,000 miles is that the miles don’t matter.  It’s the spending time, regularly, with friends and family making memories.  As we get older, most everyone wants to slow down time.  The only way I know to do that is to take the time to enjoy life.  A little bit, every day.  When I take the time to savor where I’ve been and where I’m at, life slows down just a little bit… and it’s vastly sweeter.

And that’s enough to make any ex-drunk get a little misty. Keep coming back, my friends. It gets good enough, if you work for it, that you simply can’t believe that things worked out so well.

Important Question of the Day: Should a Grown Man Take the Time to Wax and Polish a Bicycle?

The obvious answer to that most important question; should a grown man take the time to wax and polish a bicycle?

No, of course not, because your bike is likely powder coated, it won’t need to be waxed. Also, if you own a matte finish, such as the one on my Specialized, without question, no.

However, should you just happen to own a badass vintage bike that was stripped, painted, and shot with enough clear coat your Floridian grandma would be comfortable in Siberia, then the no-brainer is yes…

Sometimes you have to see just how deep you can make that black look.