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An Excellent Video for Fitting Road Bike Cleats

This video has a lot of excellent cleat fitting pointers – especially for getting the cleat properly under the ball of the foot.

I’m going to use a couple of the pointers myself, especially the “ball of the foot” tip.

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Better to Make Due with what I’ve got than Long for what I haven’t.

For the last five years I’ve taken my trainer to the office and ridden there, during lunch, in the off-season.  

This year things haven’t quite worked out as they had in the past.  Sadly, I just can’t easily fix what’s keeping me from my normal trainer time… so I improvised.

No more noon rides, I put in my 45 minutes on the trainer after I get home, around 5.  

That’s my commitment to fitness.

I can whine and lick my nuts on the couch, or I can get busy making use of what I’ve got – and let’s be clear, I’d need a whole lot of yoga to… well, let’s stay on track here.

I thought it would be interesting to break that down fully.  There are 168 hours in a week.  I only need seven of them to stay fit through the off-season.  Only twelve in-season.

Digging further, I need 50-ish for work and 42-46 for sleep.  Call that 101 on the high side.  That means I’ve got 67 hours left to fit in my seven hours for fitness (and sanity).


I can make that work.  For me, it’s fit and happy or…. not.

Are eBikes (Electric Pedal Assist Bikes) the Wave of the Future?  I Certainly Hope not.

A friend told me he read that Focus bikes believes they will, eventually, migrate to making only eBikes.

I know the City of New York doesn’t like the idea.  Bill de Blasio and the fun-hating commies in the New York bureaucracy have already banned them…  They’re actually confiscating them 

On the other hand, apparently there are actually idiots who ride them on sidewalks.  From that perspective, how do you fix that much stupid?

I am not personally impressed with eBikes either.  I have no desire to own one – and I enjoy owning a fairly diverse bunch of bikes.  

That said, I am not lost on the fact that there are plenty of people who could benefit from the electronic assist.  Sadly. I can imagine that many who would need the help would be, how do we say this, technologically challenged.  One could imagine an old-timer cruising down the sidewalk and being afflicted with a case of whiskey throttle.

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Beyond that, the reason for my dislike of the bike is the concept itself.  While nobody could be against someone who needs an eBike riding one responsibly…  My God, I’ve been watching that whiskey throttle .gif over and over again – just makes me laugh out loud…  Anyway, what I don’t like is the idea of the lazy using them as a means of weight loss.  How long will it be before we hear of complaints that cycling is a lousy way to lose weight because some dolt is tracking calories based on real cycling but is riding an eBike?

Next will be class-action lawsuits against bike manufacturers, fast food joints, and calorie tracking apps.  “Did you gain 50 pounds whilst riding an eBike to lose weight?  Call Dewey, Cheatum & Howe because you may be entitled to a cash settlement based on the fact that you’re stupid and couldn’t figure out that an eBike that does half of the pedaling for you doesn’t count the same as riding a bike that doesn’t.

Insanity, I tell you!

Next you’ll have STRAVA KOMs being taken with an eBike….  Monkeys will start riding them – hell, at that point you’re only a matter of years away from Planet of the Apes!

On the other hand, those who can’t keep up with the fast groups anymore, all of a sudden would again.  Imagine drafting a dude on an eBike rolling down the road at 25 mph.  That would be awesome!

Hey, on second thought….

Road Bikes and Stem Lengths – Short and Twitchy or Long and Stable? Slammed or Stacked? How I Found the Right Mix for Me.

I am going to start off with this simple little nugget of wisdom first, “What works for me may not work for you..  The answer will be based on your feel and what you like”.

While that sounds awesome and “all-inclusive” and such, to a noob those words are nonsense.  Jibberish.  How could a noob possibly know what they want?  About all I could tell you, as a noob, was what I didn’t want:  I didn’t want to be one of those who ride with their handlebar level with their saddle.  I knew that right off the bat.  Unfortunately, that’s about all I knew.  It took a couple of years of evolution and understanding to work it all out – and while I’d love to slam all of the knowledge I have in my melon into yours, it doesn’t work that way.

I ride a long and stretched out bike.  I slam my stems, peg the saddle and stretch ’em out – within reason, and there is method to the madness.

I’ve got a 110mm stem on my race bike, an 80mm* stem on my back-up bike and a whopping 130mm stem on our tandem.  I also roll with a 110 on the gravel bike but the geometry is different enough on that bike I could have gone with a 120 or even a 130…   Interestingly, the reaches on all four (race, back-up, tandem and gravel) are close.  22-1/2″ (57 cm) on my two road bikes and the tandem, 22″ on the gravel bike.  I left the gravel bike 1/2″ short so I could sit more upright so I could see and hopefully avoid bumps on the dirt roads and it works as I expected.

With the background out of the way, I have a blog friend who is an engineer (or something – you ever notice how easy it is to spot an engineer?).  The way he looks at a bicycle is vastly different from the way I do.  I’m a seat of my pants “feel” rider.  I like long, low and very fast.  He, on the other hand, likes upright, nimble and a more relaxed ride.

So which is right?  Well, that depends on what you want out of cycling, but what is incredibly important is going into the decision with your eyes open.

The GCN guys did a neat video on stem lengths, and that was the impetus for this post.  Check it out, it’s interesting.  See, my engineer buddy is big on wide/soft (38mm 50 psi) tires, short stems and riding on the hoods.  I like skinny/hard (24 mm/100 psi or 26mm/90 psi) tires, long stems and riding in the drops.  My bad back likes riding low and fast, so that’s how I roll.  My buddy’s bad back keeps him upright and slower, so that’s how he rolls.

Now THAT’S comfort, baby!

It’s not about short or long, when it comes to stems.  Ahem.  It’s about the position in the cockpit that really matters.

First, short stems typically mean twitchy, sharp handling.  Twitchy and sharp are great on a trail at 15 mph, navigating trees, roots and rocks.  Twitchy, sharp is, however, definitely bad at 55 mph, blasting down a hill.  Long and stable is much more desirable in that case.

Now, here’s where the measurements come into play.  Bikes are funny things.  You do a general fitting, make a couple of simple tweaks, and train there.  Your body adapts to the position and all is hunky-dory.

The trick is matching different bikes to the position you like or have grown accustomed to.  That’s why I’ve got an 80mm stem on the Trek and a 110 on the Venge.  The Trek is a standard 58 cm frame and the Venge is a compact 56.  The Trek is long by design, the Specialized needs the longer stem to get there – the 110 is more than an inch longer.  The way I see it, I’d rather have the set-ups on my bikes close so I don’t feel a big change between steeds.

This won’t be scientific, by any means, but have a look at my three normal “my bikes” photos, with some lines I added for context…

For the Diverge, the gravel bike, I don’t want the same low, stretched out ride so I’ve got the compact drop bar leveled out nicely but I’ve got the hoods angled up slightly.  The Venge, in the middle, is perfection.  I feel exactly how I think I should feel on the bike.  The Trek was the trick – how do I make that bike feel like the Venge?  There were several problems I had to address.  First, the standard frame in the proper size meant I didn’t get the drop I would normally like.  To help cheat that, I rolled the handlebar down a little bit to lower the hoods.  I also have a perfectly matched stem – it’s not a negative drop but it’s flat.

You also may notice that the saddle looks a little higher on the Trek.  It is, but there’s a reason…  The saddle on the Specialized has just a couple of millimeters of padding on it.  It’s a hard saddle.  The Trek has triple that, so to compensate for the extra squish I had to raise the saddle a little bit.  I found out, within the first hundred yards of riding that bike with the saddle set without taking the squish into account, that I’d bounce like kid in a bounce house if I didn’t raise the saddle to accommodate the squish.

With that explanation out of the way, even though the three bikes are quite close in terms of the set-up, they are each good examples of how to manipulate the set-up to accommodate what I like and what I want out of each bike.

Cycling and Speed; A 22 Mph Average is a Commitment and Reachable.  In a Winter.  On a Trainer.

I’m came up with this topic, and began writing the post, atop my steed, on my trainer, pushing the second hardest gear (52/12) in the hardest setting (7) on my trainer.  I started the 45 minute session in third hardest (52/13).  A person commented on one of my posts yesterday, and it got me thinking about being as fast as I want to be.

I’ve got a towel on my handlebar to mop up the sweat in between sentences and scenes from Mission Impossible:  Rogue Nation.  You can have your Zwift.  Give me a good movie and 45 minutes and I’m a happy guy.

Last year, when I came up with my off-season plan, I could only muster a few minutes in 52/13.  I’d have to spend much of the ride in 52/15 and shift up to the harder gear in intervals.  Before the end of the winter I was spending most of my time in 52/12 and dabbling in the sacred 52/11.  The week before March I was spinning in 52/11…

When the new season hit I was more than ready.  I was stronger than I’d ever been going into a season and I had fun with it – all season long.  I’ve managed to maintain that fitness to where I don’t have to take the time to work up to the harder gears this year.  So next year, as long as I remain committed, I can enter the season even stronger.

Going fast is, and always has been, a commitment.  I have been willing to work hard enough to be pretty fast.  I also have to keep this in perspective – the A guys in our group are a lot faster than I am… I’m simply not willing to push hard enough to be that fast.  I could be that fast but for the willingness.  A friend of mine put it best after completing a 4:15 minute century this summer:  “I just rode a hundred miles and I didn’t enjoy one of them”.  I ride a hundred and don’t enjoy five.  Maybe.

The key to cycling at a 20+ mph pace is being able to push on the pedals hard enough.  If you’re waiting for a magic pedalstroke or better, a magic bike to get you there, it’s not going to happen.  Well, if you pick up an eBike….  Let’s not get too deep into the weeds though.

The key to pushing harder on the pedals is to force yourself to actually push harder on the pedals – and this is the commitment because pushing harder hurts.  This is where most people get lost and where the winter trainer season is the perfect place to begin.

On most trainers, smart trainers excluded because they offer up to 2,000 watts of resistance (I’m just talking about the cheaper turbo trainers – mag and wind) if you can use the hardest setting and ride in the three hardest gears in the back (with the big chain ring up front), you can build up the fitness over a winter off-season to be fast enough come Spring to hang with the 20 mph crowd.

I’ve got a Giant Cyclotron ($160-$180) and that provides enough resistance that I can not only keep up with my group in March, I can spend a good deal of time up front.

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There are limits, of course.  If one is overweight, a winter on the trainer won’t fix that and extra weight always has an adverse affect on speed (a season on the bike and some excellent eating habits will probably do the trick though).  Speed also doesn’t accommodate “cheating” very well.  If one were to challenge oneself once a week, that won’t bode well.  Once a week isn’t enough.  It’s a nice start, but we’re talking about three hard days a week – it’s a full commitment, not half.  In fact, I was going to get into the HGH doping topic as well, but let’s face it, if you’re not willing to work hard enough to make doping work, well we needn’t consider it.  The main point is, you either have the willingness or you don’t.  Don’t be ashamed that you don’t, but do be honest about it.

If you truly have a desire to get faster, it just takes a little commitment, and a whole lot of pushing on the pedals.  There’s no better time than right now to start.

Do Away with Drop Bars?  The Other Side of the Story: Sadly, You can’t Fix Stupid (or Clickbait).

A fella who goes by the name of Eben Weiss recently wrote a wrong-headed article for Outside Magazine that gives examples ranging from poor to silly as reasons bicycle manufacturers should do away with drop handlebars; Presumably, so we can all ride the kinder, gentler flat-bar bikes which he approves of.  Put simply, if flat bars become the only option, I’d simply stop buying new bikes (or I’d be the one to retrofit drop bars and sell the components to others).

From his article:

Clearly [the drop handlebar] has stood the test of time.

Nevertheless, just because something’s been around for as long as we can remember doesn’t mean we shouldn’t scrap it…

So… because something works well enough to stick around, in an industry known to change things faster than my teenage daughter changes clothes, for decades, we should just change it because this wahoo says it’s time to change?!  

Dammit, I am easily infuriated by egomaniacs with superiority complexes (I’m different my friends – possibly an egomaniac, but I have an inferiority complex – big difference).  I digress…

His next claim is that the drops are underutilized.  Because?!  The people he rides with don’t use them, presumably because they’re either too weak or fat to bend down far enough to use them.  Honest, you can’t make this up:

Before your next group ride, surreptitiously put some ink on your palm and shake everyone’s hand. If by the time the ride is over even one of those riders displays so much as a smudge on their drops, I’ll give you $100.*

I don’t have to use ink… and he owes me, let’s see, $2,700 A WEEK for, let’s see, the length of the season… 35 weeks, carry the… $94,500.  I won’t even use my Wednesday ride (which has been designated “drop day”) or Friday, Saturday and Sunday rides with my friends.  That number, for a season would get me a shiny, new Colnago with Campy EPS… for me (and all of my friends – all 27 of us).

Most cyclists, in the group I ride with, use the drops every time they’re up front, because riding 24 mph into a 15 mph headwind is hard.  The drops allow one to ride a mile or two an hour faster than one would sustain on the hoods.  In fact, in those conditions, the first two or three cyclists in the pace-line are in the drops.  The drops are necessary for a 22-24 mph average on open roads.  Alas, Mr. Weiss disparages “fast” cyclists, one would assume, due to envy or ignorance.

Then it gets fun…

The upshot of all of this is that the typical road bike is set up for maximum comfort while riding on the hoods, and the entire drop zone of the bar has become vestigial. This is why you’ll often find them set up so askew, with the bars canted upwards in a manner that brings the levers closer to the rider and completely obviates the presence of the drops—now pointing fang-like at the floor and wrapped in unsullied bar tape that has never known a rider’s touch.

Askew, HUH?!

Well, surely that’s just my race bike.  My other road bikes must be askew, because we often ride like that…


Surely the tandem!

Nope, maybe Eben is simply a cranky butthole in this case.  Moving along, ahem, Mr. Weiss attacks those who don’t ride like ninnies as “delusional” and claims the ninny crowd should be riding drop bars because they can ride on the bar tops which he presumes is “more comfortable” (?).  Apparently he forgot, this is ironically exactly why he claimed drop bars should go the way of the dodo, earlier in his article.

Another tidbit that caught my eye:

…and it’s only riders who fancy themselves fast who position their handlebars virtually beyond their reach.

Wait, virtually beyond their reach, what?! 

Vestigial?!

This photo was taken on day four of a 385 mile, four-day tour.

To end my critique on a fun note, Eben writes:

Now you’d be hard-pressed to find a rider who doesn’t keep her hands on the hoods pretty much all the time.

Mr. Weiss needs to put on his big boy shorts and ride with my wife.  She’ll show him, in one 30 mile ride, how a woman rides in the drops and why he needs them too, as he’s trying to suck her wheel.

In the meantime, we road cyclists like our drop bars just fine, Mr. Specialized, Mr. Bontrager, Mrs. Giant, Monsieur Cervelo, Señora Bianchi.  We use them.  We train on them.  We love them when the wind is whipping and we’re heading dead into it.  We need them to be fast and efficient whilst pulling for our brothers and sisters.

Please leave them be.  Don’t listen to that crank.  He either has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about, or he’s just putting out clickbait – which is just as bad as being ignorant.  Those of us who use them and appreciate them, vastly more than 10% of us, rely on the increased aerodynamics.  Those in the know understand how important that is when the speed cranks up.

I should also clarify:  I am a 47 year-old cyclist.  Drop bars and an aggressive position on my bikes fixed my lower back pain that once made life uncomfortable at best, ugly at its worst.  The group I ride with has a range of cyclists from 30 to 70 years-old.  We are fast.  We are respectable.  We certainly don’t make apologies for those who choose to discriminate against us because we like to ride our bicycles fast.  My God, does that sound silly anyway!

The One Road Bike that can Do Everything….

When I got into road cycling, there were a few types of road bikes.  You had your road race bikes and your cyclocross bikes (though they weren’t all that popular yet).  The squishy/endurance bikes were just starting to gain a little traction as well…

Oh, if they had gravel bikes when I started cycling!

I won’t even mess with the suspense.  If you’re looking for a go anywhere, do anything road bike, you want a modern gravel bike (or maybe a cyclocross bike, though I prefer the gravel bike for the normal bottom bracket height).

However, Houston, we have a problem:  The bike, my gravel bike, in the photo above weighs a whopping 24 pounds, on the nose (10.9 kg).  It’s an upgraded entry-level bike, a Diverge Sport, but it’s a hog compared to my 17 pound (7.7 kg) Venge.

If you can feel a pound when riding, and believe me you can, seven is beyond noticeable, and tap-dancing “in your face”.

In my case, I’ve already got two decent race bikes and I was buying two gravel bikes (one for my wife, too)…  I simply didn’t have to go big on the gravel bike.  For someone looking to a gravel bike to be their only road bike, you would want to go mid-grade, or even upper echelon.  If it were me, I’d go with something like the Diverge Comp model ($3,000 – carbon frame, 11 speed 105 drivetrain, 48/32 crankset, hydraulic brakes, etc.).

The Expert (one step up) has an x1 drive with only one chain ring (up front) so I would advise against using one as a “do anything” road bike, because you can’t keep up with a fast group, especially a surge or sprint in a fast group, with a 42 tooth chain ring (max speed is approximately 27 mph).  I should note, I have a nasty disdain for the x1 drivetrain on road bikes in club settings.  One of the toughest aspects of cycling in a fast group is picking the right gear for the pace.  With the x1 drives you’re limited to 11 (or supposedly 12 in the near future) gears in the cassette and you need some climbing gears thrown in there too, so call it an 11-32 cassette.  There are a lot of 2 and 3 tooth jumps in the cassette gears, especially when you get down to the 11-15 tooth cogs, big jumps make it tough to match the pace of the group – you’ll often find yourself in between gears, which means you’ll have to push too hard a gear to keep up.  I would recommend a “do anything” bike, not a “do some stuff” bike.

Sadly, we’re not done yet…  While you could use tires that are okay for the dirt and the paved road, I would opt for two sets of wheels with different tires for dirt and pavement.  While you could change tires every time you change riding surfaces, that’ll get old in a hurry.  The dirt wheels will generally, unless you get the high-end gravel bike, be the wheels that come on the bike.  You get an upgrade set of carbon wheels for the road wheels and put the proper cassette on the road wheels, and all you have to do to switch surfaces is change your wheels.  That’ll take about one minute.

What I like about gravel bikes is that they can do anything a race bike, rain bike, or dirt bike can do, as long as they’re fitted with the proper tires.  You don’t miss a thing.  With other bikes, there’s always a big sacrifice.  Take a hybrid as an example.  Halfway between a road bike and a mountain bike, yet it does neither well.  No bueno.

Look at it this way, you can spend $3,000 for the bike and another $1,000-$2,000 for high-end road wheels ($4,000-$5,000 total), or you can have the trifecta:

Gravel bike, rain bike, race bike… for $8,500.