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The Selle Italia SLR Tekno Flow Carbon Saddle; $450 Thing of Beauty, Or Lightweight Torture Device?

Almost a year and a half ago, at a local endurance sport swap meet, a friend of mine gave me a Selle Italia SLR Tekno Flow Carbon Saddle. He was trying to get rid of some of his extensive inventory, something his significant other was pushing for, and he wasn’t going to go back to using the saddle on any of his bikes. Back then they were going for $410 – $460 online (you can find them as low as $320 today, though the MSRP is $436). My saddle at the time was a little on the heavy side, a Specialized Romin weighing in at 274 grams (0.60 of a pound) with a cost of around $100. The Selle Italia weighed in at a nice 110 grams, a savings of a third of a pound at no cost. In the history of cycling, dropping a third of a pound on a bike free is rare and fabulous.

I first put the saddle on my Trek 5200 last summer, and I must have hit the location just right because the saddle felt like butter on that bike. Some time later, I found a Bontrager Montrose Carbon team saddle on Bontrager’s website for the astonishing price of just $120. I jumped on it and the Montrose went on my Trek. I wanted the SLR for the Venge so I could drop some weight on my good bike. I fitted it up and rode it for all of two or three weeks before switching back to the heavier Romin. On my Specialized, the saddle just didn’t live up to the experience I had with it on the Trek. I attributed this to the Venge’s stiffer frame. The $400 saddle went into a box in my bike shed.

2013_Specialized_Venge_Comp_2020

A few weeks ago, whilst on COVIDcation and bored out of my mind, I decided to dig that Selle out of the box and give it another try. Why not? I thought.

I learned something dialing in the Bontrager Montrose in for the Trek. First, I set the saddle where it should be (36-3/8″ +or- OR 92.4 cm). Then I dialed in the level of the saddle, first with a level at -2°, then by feel, so the nose supported my position in the drops and on the hoods, but didn’t dig into me. At the same time, the down angle wasn’t pushing me to the front of the saddle. It’s a delicate process. Once that was done, I went and raised the saddle by a millimeter to get the max height. I learned that if I was a little too high on the saddle, it would cause a lot of pain. So I went down that millimeter… and then another half for good measure after a week of riding, and that’s where I found heaven. It was perfect.

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I simply applied that same setup technique to the Selle Italia on the Venge. However, and this is actually quite interesting, for the saddle on the Venge, I mistakenly started out too low by something like two millimeters… and that caused quite a bit of pain from the saddle digging into the side of my hip, just forward of the sit bone. I didn’t expect that… After one ride, I checked the height with my handy, dandy tape measure and ended up raising it to exactly 36-3/8″. My next ride on the saddle and I could tell a big difference – especially towards the end of the ride. Now, I don’t know how to put this delicately, but I’m going to give it my best. My nether regions have never felt so good after a ride. The inside of my hip was still healing up, but everything, erm, else… was fantastic.

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The ride after that, a 100 k (may as well go big or go home), after the initial pain areas had time to heal up, the Selle Italia SLR actually felt like a $400+ saddle. I’ve got close to a half-dozen rides on the saddle, and I enjoy it thoroughly.

In other words, the reason I didn’t like the saddle on my Venge the first go ’round was because I didn’t quite have the setup right. The problem was installer error, but that’s an over-simplification. It appears to me now, that the teeny, tiny saddle has to be very carefully dialed in. There isn’t much room for error or you feel it in the heinie. This hypothesis would make my experience make sense, at least.

Oh, and this is a road saddle. I wouldn’t use that on gravel or single-track. No chance.

Incidentally, I’ve got a little more than a 4-1/4″ drop from the saddle to the handlebar and I’ve got the nose down at 1°.

UPDATE: Did 104 miles on it yesterday… I was feeling a little rough after, but it was my longest ride if the year… by 41 miles. It was actually awesome.

How I STAY Fast; A Noob’s Guide to Maintaining a 23-mph Average on a Bicycle and the Mental Edge Needed to Do It.

As the Greg LeMond quote goes, it never gets easier, you just go faster, was ever thus…

The most popular post I’ve ever written is centers on how I trained to get fast enough to hold a 23-mph average in a pack.  That’s fast enough some believe we can’t possibly hold that on open roads but I assure you, we do… and I’m not even in the A Group.  Our A Group is up to a 25-mph average on Tuesday nights.  On open roads.

I’ve been 150 pounds dripping wet and held a 23-mph average (though I was more prone to cramping and bonking).  I’ve been 175 pounds and held the same average.  Though my wife prefers me at 175 (I’m happier at 165 but she says I’m too skinny).  I’ve held 23-mph on a 21-pound carbon road bike with a faulty headset and a triple drivetrain, and on that same road bike three pounds lighter and completely rebuilt from the ground up with a compact double chainset, and then on a 15-pound aero-everything racing steed.

Oh, and I’ll turn 50 in a couple of months.

I’d love to tell you the bike matters a lot, but it doesn’t.  The bike helps a lot, of course – a great aero bike makes fast easier but I still have to have the fitness in the first place.  The ride, on a 15 pound aero bike is obviously a lot easier that the old triple was, but I still managed.  I think more than weight, the keys for the bike are decent, working components, good wheels, and proper setup.  Get those right, and that’s most of the battle.  This changes as we get above the 21+ pound range for a bike, though.

My first foray into speed in cycling was addictive and that’s really what got me started on the right foot.  I only lasted eight miles with the main group – I was dropped like a dirty shirt when they accelerated from a reasonable 23-24-mph to 28 – but I found a small slice of heaven on earth that first ride.  Being a part of that kind of speed and group effort ticked a lot of boxes for me – and it’s only gotten better in the last eight years (I had a solo year and change prior).

And I have gotten faster… but it has gotten easier.  Ish.  Hear me out.

The keys to getting fast were numerous.  Proper hydration, proper nutrition (and a lot of it), proper rest (not much) that included mainly active recovery rides… and a whole $#!+-ton of “want to”.  Without the “want to” I may as well have bought a beach cruiser.

Most important, I got my cycling legs after a few years, and that’s where the “maintaining” starts.

Cycling legs are acquired, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.  Let’s back this bus up just a second, though.  First, “cycling legs” are a “thing”, and I’ll get back to that in a minute.  Second, the acquisition of cycling legs depends on how hard one is willing to work for them.  The typical length of time it takes is three years, though this can shortened or lengthened depending on effort, commitment, and mileage.  In the end, cycling legs are the body’s natural reaction to cycling on a regular basis.  If there is no “regular basis”, then no cycling legs for you.

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Once you’ve been around the block a few hundred times, with the exception of the rare bonk (which still happens, and sometimes even when you’ve done everything right), you can rely on the legs to get you through rides that don’t go quite as expected… and that leads us to the second important factor in maintaining “fast”; the mental end.

I always chuckle when my wife gets the mistaken impression that, in a 20-mph headwind, I’m spinning at 18-mph for 20 miles and she thinks I’m just sitting up there with a smile on my face, cruising down the road without a care in the world.  To a certain extent, she isn’t wrong, but for any avid enthusiast, that hurts.  The mental end of cycling is knowing down to your baby toes what you can get away with without putting yourself in the pain cave from whence there is no return.  What separates the fast from the moderate cyclist is the ability to not think oneself into more pain than what is really there – and the conviction of knowing that even if you’re not feeling too hot for a couple of miles, you will come around if you dial it back just a hair.  My wife isn’t much slower than I am but she completely lacks the mental edge I have.  If she starts hurting, she immediately wants to dial the pace back.  When I start hurting, I start breaking the ride down into chewable segments in my head.  “I just have a few miles before we get to this turn and tailwind”.   This gets me through the hard times and back to where I’m feeling okay again.

Then there’s the knowledge that everyone else is hurting and the pain of keeping up can’t last forever…  I know down to my baby toes, if I’m three bikes back and struggling to hold a wheel in a headwind, the person up front is cooking themselves.  They won’t hold that pace for very long or they’ll drop off the back.  Without being able to compartmentalize the ride in one’s mind, all you’re left with is how you’re feeling at any given moment, and if you’re there, you’re in pain.  We faster types figure out how shut that thinking down.  There’s no place for it.

This mental edge is your experience.  It’s knowing how to fuel your ride, it’s knowing where to push, where to hide, and just how far you can go before you pop… and it’s knowing down to your baby toes that “how far you can go before you pop” is subjective.  You can do better.  And it’s knowing that if you’re hurting, others likely are as well.  Just stick with it and you’ll come around.  Or you’ll blow up spectacularly and fall off the back to spin for a few miles while you recharge.  Friends, it happens.

If you really have a desire to be fast, the thing to work on, once you’ve gotten a bike and your cycling legs, is that gray matter betwixt your ears.  That’s where the magic happens.

A Time of Year for Celebration… And Then WordPress Dropped a WordBomb on the Classic Editor.

This was going to be an uplifting, wonderful, happy post. We’ve finally broken through to some decent weather and last evening’s ride was wonderful. Therapeutic even. I wanted a moderate ride and managed an easy 19-1/2 mile average over 22 miles (or just short, I think). We’d had two days of drenching rain – enough our water table is now topped off – and it’s very green around here after the white of winter and brown of early spring… the robin’s eggs are hatched and wildlife is everywhere.

It rained all day and only dried up just before I got home but the temp was right, at room temperature, so shorts and short sleeves were the order of the day. I even, against my better judgement, readied the Venge. After reinstalling the Selle Italia SLR Tekno Flow saddle last week, I wanted to put it through its paces before the long rides hit this weekend. I’ll get into this a little deeper in a later post, but taking the time to meticulously dial it in paid off. It’s an amazing saddle and my nether regions have never been so… um, not angry after a ride. Anyway, I really put the Venge through its paces last night without getting too outrageous. I started out aiming for an 18-mph average and overshot that by quite a bit. Ah well, I earned dinner last night, and it was spectacular. Shepherd’s pie, made out of slow-cooked roast beef, veggies and mashed potatoes. I still have to post the recipe, but it’s freaking amazing. Anyway, I digress…

COVID-19… COVIDcation… A recession… murder hornets…

Then I woke up and checked the blogs I follow and found a new post by WordPress in which they announced they’re doing away with the old WordPress editor in favor of the atrocious, pile of steaming shit block editor. You know, I was wondering what was next. Now I know. Look, I wouldn’t be surprised, if you’re a web developer, if the block editor is the cat’s meow. If you’re a writer, the block editor sucks ass because you can’t actually write. I’ve tried it a few times and end up wanting to throw my Lenovo Thinkpad through the window… thus wrecking a $1,500 laptop and a picture window at the same time. The WordPress post received negative comments so fast, the author shut comments down after only 28.

There is hope, however. WordPress is doing away with the WordPress editor (the one you and I know and love), but they did install a Classic editor in the system and they have a classic editor block if you want to use that. How to access all of that bullshit, God only knows. They like to call their techs Happiness Engineers – the block editor’s creation leads me to believe happiness engineers are kinda like “democratic socialism”. “Oh, don’t worry about the socialism part, it’s democratic socialism. Who gives a f*** if it’s democratic? It’s still f***in’ socialism! Holy hell, the government still controls everything! That’s like saying, “Hey, don’t worry about the herpes, they’re democratic herpes! Smile!” F***, they’re still f***in’ herpes!

The post was bad, too. I’d have kicked my own ass for writing it, though I’ve gotta hand it to the author at the same time, it ain’t easy putting on a happy face to sell a literal pile of shit. Could you imagine having to try to sell a pile of shit? My favorite is the part titled, “Why switch to the WordPress editor? Let us count the ways.” Are you ready for this?

  1. The block editor was released more than a year and a half ago. That’s one of the reasons… wtf
  2. Since then it has been improved in numerous ways (Or, another way to read that, it sucked so bad we’ve been trying for a year and a half to make it right and writers still hate it).
  3. There are more than 100 content blocks to thoroughly confuse the $#!+ out of you.
  4. Dozens of built in page templates (again, to thoroughly confuse the writing experience).
  5. That’s it, folks. That’s why we should want to change.

Anyway, hold on to your butts. The changes hit June 1st… and if I have to use the real block editor, folks, I’m done. I’ll take the next year to put all of my best posts into a book, and I’m out. I can’t live with that negativity in my life. It ain’t worth it. “Smile”.

Road Bike Shifting – Tinkering Your Way to Perfection (It Takes a While to Figure It Out, But the Practice Is Worth It)

I noticed on Venge Day, by chance, (the first day of the year that warrants taking the good bike out) the chain was rubbing in the little ring when in the last three (small) cogs on the cassette.  Thinking back, I never checked that end of the cassette in the small ring.  I think I forgot… because who rides in that gear combo anyway?!  Now, this would never be a cause for concern, really, as I never use those last gears in the baby ring.  Who would?  A blast from my writing in the past:

If you’re fast enough that you’re in the smallest three gears on your cassette in the baby ring, you should be in the big ring.  Everyone knows this.

With an abundance of time on one’s hands, though, why not play around a bit?  I have always been afraid of set screws because I really messed my first mountain bike up when I was still a noob.  I made an absolute mess of the shifting that took me hours to get right again.  The instructions below changed me, though.  Practice makes perfect and I’m anything but, so I got my tools out to play.

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Shimano’s diagram for setting up a front derailleur has been the biggest help to my mechanic skills as anything I’ve read in the last five years… well, accept the directions for how to perfectly wrap a handlebar that Trek now has with all of its Bontrager bar tape.

With those simple instructions I was able to set up my Trek flawlessly (every gear, only having to trim the derailleur in the baby ring for the smallest cogs).  Then I did the same to my wife’s 11 speed alias.

With that initial setting done (you do have to make sure the low gear won’t rub), from there it’s just a matter setting the outer limit screw so you don’t rub in the big ring/little cog gear.  Simply shift down to the small cog on the cassette and turn the outer set screw till you’ve got a millimeter of space between the cage and the chain.  That done, the only thing left is a matter of cable tension.

Mrs. Bgddy’s Alias rubbed gears since I brought it home even though it was taken into the shop to have the issue looked at.  After working extensively on my Trek and dabbling a little on the Venge, I set out to fix my wife’s bike once and for all.  Twenty minutes is all it took.  She’s got every gear now (unlike me, my wife has no hangup about using every one of her gears).

Even though my Venge was close enough for government work, with some extra time on my hands, I set out to make awesome better.  First, I took the wheels off and cleaned off what little dirt there was from my first few days outside on the bike.  My Trek can have a little dirt on it.  The Venge?  Not so much.   Then I attended to the front derailleur… after ten minutes of farting around  I got two more gears but still can’t get the 11 tooth cog without messing up the big gears in the big ring.  It’s so close… but I’d rather have all of the gears in the big ring and leave the last gear in the baby ring to rub a little bit.  I just don’t use that gear.  Ever.  Not even by accident.

Tinkering with my bikes over COVIDcation made me a better mechanic.  Tinkering has been a source of joy ever since I brought my old Trek mountain bike home.  It used to drive me nuts to mess things up and have to run a bike up to the shop.  Now that I’ve actually acquired some skills, I have a lot of fun with it.

Speaking of, I’ll have something new to write about in a few days.  C’mon UPS!!!

Fit Recovery: Two Million Words About the Awesomeness of A Happy Life

Gerry, over at Vicious Cycle, found some stats I never knew existed. One was a yearly word count… I added mine up. I think I might break two million this year. I’m currently sitting at 1,889,435 words, not including this post.  Going by my average yearly output, I should hit two million by the end of the year, maybe a little after the new year.  There are two ways of looking at this.  One, I’m awesome and I’ve got a lot of give a shit to keep producing the way I do.  If that’s what you think, thank you!  I’m going to look at it that way, methinks…  Because the second isn’t as sexy.  The second is, I’m a nut for continuing to work this hard without getting paid to!

Well, there is that, but there’s an explanation that goes with this that makes it all understandable and worth while.  First, the cycling stuff I write about is purely for fun.  I write about bikes and cycling because writing about cycling makes me happy.  Second, and most important, I believe writing about recovery makes a positive difference in the world.  I believe I’m doing my part as a recovering person to help others.  The truth is, if what I write helps a handful of people enjoy their recovery, or better, recover in the first place, well I’ll continue with a smile on my face.  It’s worth it.

More later as I get closer to 2,000,000.

The Noob’s Guide to Road Cycling Saddles; The Fat, Bad and the Ugly. Seven Reasons Your Saddle Hurts to Ride On

How Can A Good Cycling Saddle Feel So Bad?

If you think a minimally padded $400 bicycle saddle looks more like a torture device than a bicycle saddle, and I’m speaking from experience, that says more about you than the saddle.  Contrary to popular belief, manufacturers won’t charge more for a saddle than most people will pay for a complete bike, whilst trying make a torture device out of it.  Even those super tiny, ultra-thin, almost no padding saddles are meant to be comfortable.  If yours isn’t, the problem is likely the setup, not the saddle (although there is room for the saddle being at fault – or more to the point, you picked the wrong one – but we’ll get to that in a minute).  Let’s begin.

Saddle is too high.  The easiest, by far, reason your saddle will feel like it has barbed wire embedded in what little padding there is that you’ve got the saddle too high.  This means your hips will have to rock to stay connected to the pedals on the downstroke, where you’re weakest anyway.  Put your bike on an indoor trainer and put your heels on the pedals.  Spin them backwards.  Your legs should straighten without rocking your hips.  This can be done, carefully, in a doorway by bracing yourself with one or both hands on the jamb(s).

Saddle is too far forward or back – so you end up riding on the wrong part of your butt.  If you are riding with most of the pressure on the area between your genitals and your sphincter, well, you’ve got problems.  The rubbing/hurting kind of problems.  You want to be riding on your sit bones, as the saddle starts to widen out – not on the very back of the saddle and definitely not on the nose (though there is precedent for scooting up a little bit when time trialing).  If you look at the profile of a contoured saddle, you’re looking for the area that just starts to rise toward the middle/back of the saddle to cradle you… your sit bones should be just to the back side of that rise.  In road cycling, you’re looking for position 2 or 3:

Level is off.  This one is simple.  For me, for the style of riding I’m used to, I’m a position 2 up above, but the profile photo of the saddle, as it is in the photo, would be a little too “nose down” for me.  Not much, but a little.  The key is that you don’t want the nose to dig into you, but you don’t want to feel like you’re sliding to the front of the saddle, either.  The key is to find the happy spot right in the middle.  This can take some saddle time and several adjustments to perfect.

Wrong kind of saddle for a rider’s flexibility.  If you’ve got the wrong saddle for your flexibility, you’ll likely have huge problems trying to get comfortable on the saddle.  I prefer a contoured saddle because I’m not very flexible – I’m actually in the middle range.  A contoured saddle will help a less than bendy human’s torso to rotate forward slightly to aid in an aggressive posture on the bike.  Those who bend at the hips well won’t need that help and will be fore comfortable on a flat saddle.  Fizik has a really neat app that’ll help you understand your place in the contour food chain.  There’s also this:

bontrager-biodynamic-saddle-posture-profile

Too wide. Folks, I’ll make this very simple.  If you’re on a saddle that’s too wide for your sit bones, the pain – and I’m speaking from experience again – will be immense.  Increasing as your mileage and time in the saddle will only increase the intensity and severity.  Left long enough and this pain will radiate down the legs into the hamstrings.  It is quite excruciating.  If you have a question about the saddle size you should be riding, this is a perfect issue to get sorted at the local bike shop (I’m about 140 mm… I can fit on a 143 but I like 138 a little more for the slimmer saddle nose).  They’ll have you sit on a board with memory foam on it which will leave indentations from your sit bones.  They’ll measure the distance between the indentations and come up with your saddle width.  Women tend to be a little wider than men, for obvious reasons.  I think Mrs. Bgddy rides a 155.

Too much padding.  I have a friend who rides a cruiser around town.  He’s got one of those big, fat, ugly padded saddles.  Over the top of it, he’s got one of those shag padded seat covers.  Over the top of that, he’s got a gel cover.  And he asked me if I though he could add another cover.  I’m not kidding.  He had so much padding on that saddle, I think it actually cut off the supply of blood to his brain whilst riding.  Padding on the saddle cuts off blood to areas that really, really need blood.  When that blood flow is cut off, the affected area hurts.  It’s the body’s way of telling you, hey, somethin’ ain’t right down here!  I’ll tell you what ain’t right.  It’s all that padding.  Additional padding is not the answer, though a reasonable amount is a good thing, this can easily be overdone.  The answer is a good pair of cycling shorts and the proper setup of the right saddle for your body.

Finally, and this one will be surprising (it was for me – and I just figured this out a short while back), if your saddle is too low.  That’s right, too low.  I was trying out one of those aforementioned $400 saddles and I had a nagging pain, like the edge of the saddle was digging into my left hip bone.  I’d set the fore and aft properly (through a series of measurements), set the level properly (2 degrees nose down, then fit to feel for that cradled balance described above), and I thought I’d set the height properly.  After my second ride and the saddle just not feeling right, I checked the height.  Sure enough, it was about two millimeters low.  I raised the saddle and the pain went the way of the dodo, immediately.  The clouds parted and the sun shone (and the wind died down) and all was well.

My friends, good saddles are a dime a dozen if you know what you’re looking for and how to set one up on your bike so it feels like it should.  Don’t settle for feeling like you’re riding on barbed wire after 20 miles (once you’ve got your requisite saddle time in – new cyclists will experience some pain while they acquire their cycling legs).  The answer is fixing the saddle’s position, width, or height, not adding another layer of padding.

If You’re an Avid Enthusiast Cyclist, It’s Time to Take Razor to Leg…

My friends, for the avid enthusiast cyclist, if you haven’t already, it’s time to shed the winter fur and take a razor to the legs.  My wife prefers I go all year fur-free, and I happily oblige.

For those who didn’t know already, glistening guns are absolutely more aerodynamic – scientifically proven in a wind tunnel.  Shaving the guns is worth between two and four free seconds a mile.  That may not sound all too impressive, but that works out to between 200 and 320 free seconds over 100 miles.  Now, either you save three to six minutes or that’s watts you don’t have to produce to keep up.  Don’t stop reading just yet, though!  There’s more to this than just shave your legs to be like the rest of the sheep.

I messed up when I shaved my legs the first time – I listened to the damned internet before properly investigating whether or not I should even bother.

So here’s “the rest of the story”.  I was going to start riding with a group – my first club ride – and I didn’t want to look like a noob.  Everything on the web back then said you gotta shave the guns – and this was before Specialized tested shaved legs in their wind tunnel.  It was treated as a right of passage, almost.  It even made the rules.  I bought into the online hype and quietly, without telling my wife, went to town.  Now, I had some hairy legs back then.  Not quite yeti, but pretty freaking close.  I even had to regularly trim that leg hair with a set of clippers when it got too long and unruly.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t too much a shock for my wife the first time she crawled into bed and was like, “Hey, wait a minute“…  God bless her, she loved my newly shorn legs and I’ve never looked back.  But…

Upon discussing my new, sparkling guns with the owner of the local shop, he chuckled and said it was completely unnecessary as only racers bother.  I had to scrape my jaw up off the asphalt with a shovel – I must have looked pretty funny because I was wearing one hell of an incredulous look on my face.  I said, “But the internet”… and just let it trail off.

With that out of the way, there’s a pecking order of who shaves and who doesn’t – and this is important so you don’t show up for the wrong group with the wrong legs!

Roadies:  Shave.
Gravel Roadies: Yea or neigh.
Mountain bikers:  Don’t shave.
Triathletes:  Shave, without question. Including eyebrows, ears, nose holes… possibly eyelashes…  I’m just kidding.  Just the legs will do, but you’re thinking about the eyebrows, aren’t you?  I know.

Now, there’s a pecking order to that as well, because many of us cross lines into different genres of cycling.  You defer to shaving.  For instance, if you’re a mountain biker who occasionally rides a gravel bike, you’re okay with hairy legs.  On the other hand, if you’re a mountain biker who occasionally plays a roadie, you shave.  If you’re a triathlete dabbling in the other genres, think about investing in Nair… or see if you can be their CEO.  The point is, if you will ride, even occasionally, a shaving bike, you shave.  Or you’d better be able to lay down the watts so others are in awe at your fabulousness.

So, folks, the truth is you really don’t have to shave your legs if you’re a dude.  On the other hand, I’ll never go back.  Once you’ve ridden in a group for a while, you’ll pick out hairy guys in a pack almost instantly because they stick out like a sore, hairy thumb… and nine times in ten, that identifier tips you off to keep an extra watchful eye on how that person rides because they’re often new or not used to riding in a pack.  Or they’re the one whose wheel you want to ride.

So, shave your guns or don’t.  You will work a lot harder if you don’t.  It’s science.  And physics.  And rocket science.  Or something.

UPDATE:  As you will see in the comments section, there is a technicality in terms of what “Guns” are.  In weightlifting, guns are the arms – that which is used to pump iron.  In cycling, the “guns” are the legs – what you use to turn the pedals.  Just to be clear.