A friend of mine has more bikes than… well, he has a lot of bikes, so he let my wife borrow one of his gravel bikes because it never gets any use – it’s been sitting in his basement for quite a while. This is great for me, because I’ll still be riding my 24 pound behemoth while she’ll be sporting a sleek, 16 pound rocket – I’m going to get a workout this gravel season.
Speaking of, I just went out for my first gravel ride of the post season last evening and it was spectacular. I picked up some new tires, 32’s (the widest that can fit on our gravel bikes), and they’re excellent – much better that the Espoir Sport slicks that came on the bike. The dirt section of the road I live on was absolutely gnarly last evening and I was still able to hold 19-ish mph. With the old tires, I’d have been happy with 15 because I’d have been all over the place.
So back to the post. The bike showed up last week but we haven’t had any time to mess with the set-up but we’ve got a big gravel ride coming up on Sunday so I had to deal with it last night so my wife could test it out today and we could tweak it after my ride this evening if necessary. I’ve got her old gravel bike, so I’ve got the dimensions I need – I just had to transfer them over.
First, I measured and set the saddle height. My wife is easy; 36″ on the nose. Next, I took out my 4′ level and set the edge at the nose of her saddle, plumb to the floor, and took the measurement from the edge of the level to the center of the crankset – 1-7/8″. Fortunately, the saddle on the loaner was set perfectly at 1-7/8″ once I’d raised it the inch and change. From there, I check the reach. In this case there’s a bit more reach on the new ride, but it’s not like we’re putting a new stem on someone else’s bike, so we’re going to see if my wife can live with an extra 1/2″ reach. That’s a bit of a stretch – I like an extra 1/4″ myself, but a half inch is a lot of extra reach. We’ll see.
From there, I eyeball the drop from the nose of the saddle to the handlebar. Normally, I’d take that 4′ level and set it on the saddle of the original bike, finding level, then measure from the edge of the level down to the handlebar. On the new bike, I’d do the same and swap spacers from below the stem to above the stem to lower (or vice-versa and raise) the bar to where it needs to be. In this case, with the extra reach and a little bit of stretch, we’re going to see how my wife likes it where it’s at, then lower it from there – with the extra reach, we won’t need as much drop.
So there it is, the fifteen minute set-up transfer.
Now, if the reach had been a little closer, and I’d dropped the bar to match the original gravel bike’s set-up, that might have added two or three minutes to the process… but then the Title would have been “How I set up a road bike in 17 minutes”… and that just doesn’t have the same ring, now does it?
No, of course not.
I’ve written before about my Garmin Varia radar/taillight and how much I love it for solo rides – and more important, how I use it to keep from getting buzzed.
My wife is happier when I use it on weekend club rides, too, but I’ve run into problems when I want to use the radar with a saddle bag on my Trek 5200. Now, this is about to get highly technical, so try to stick with me, and I’ll do my best to clearly describe the issues with using the mount that comes with the Varia on a standard road bike frame versus a compact road frame.
First, on a properly sized compact frame, which has a sloped top tube and extended seat post, I can use the regular “rubber band” mount because I can get the Varia low enough it won’t interfere with the back of my legs when I pedal (I do have to use the aero post adapter and I had to cut out quite a bit of material with a razor knife to make it fit, but it works).
With the 5200’s standard frame, with a top tube parallel to the ground, I’ve had to mount the Varia high, so my legs don’t hit it with every pedal stroke which can move the light, changing the radar’s angle and effectiveness at picking up traffic. Under normal circumstances, this isn’t a big deal because I don’t use saddle bags on my road bikes – I prefer a pouch I can put in my back pocket (and that’s just a personal bike snobby preference – my bikes look “cooler” without the saddle bag). Yes, I know. No, I don’t care if it’s a bit snobby. Yes, I’ll be able to live with myself just fine, thank you.
From time to time, though, especially getting into the cooler months, a saddle bag is a necessity so I have a spare pocket to store clothes that come off as [or “if” as often is the case] it warms up throughout a ride. Last weekend was a perfect example. My wife and I loaded up the camper and headed up north to join a friend on his birthday ride. The forecast called for some seriously cold weather, with eventual warming throughout the day. I needed the pocket room so the saddle bag went on and my Varia stayed at home, which meant my wife was a little bummed.
Thus enters the expensive but useful round seat post mount.
I had to turn my seat post collar around to make room for the mount (see the second photo below), but with the Varia secured, I no longer have to worry about it moving if I brush it with my leg as I’m pedaling. Truthfully, I’d hit it now and again even with it mounted right under the saddle as it is in the photo above. The secured mount is a vast improvement. Again, though, this isn’t a problem with a compact frame, because it can be mounted low enough that the legs can’t hit it.
Now I’ve got it mounted in a place where it’s almost low enough my legs don’t brush it, but it’s secure enough it won’t move even if I do – so now I can use a saddle bag when I’m heading off on the next adventure:
We’ve had some rough Tuesday nights this year, but last night wasn’t one of them. Perfectly blue skies, a breeze so mild, I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, and a perfect 68° (20 C).
Amazing for October.
We rolled at 5:30, to beat the fading light, just behind the A Group… there was talk of going together but the tandems up front didn’t seem interested in chasing the A Group, about 15 seconds ahead of us, down.
What followed was the smoothest TNCR I can remember.
Rather than kick the speed up all in a hurry, it was a gradual crescendo that allowed the whole group to work together, rather than hold on for dear life. The speed rose from 18 to 24-mph (38-kmh) in the first two miles, then from 24 to 27 (43-kmh)… and it stayed in that 22-27-mph range until we hit the hills.
As I would get to the front, I could feel the drag increase. At the back, maintaining 24-mph took a few pedal strokes and a short coast, a few more and a coast. Up front, say the front three bikes, it was some work. Front bike at 25-27-mph was plain old hard. Turns up front were short and sweet.
At our 20-mile turn, the pace ratcheted up in a hurry after our regular regroup. We were climbing the last real hill on the route at better than 20-mph and the trip down the back, we were up to 32-mph. I ended up at the front to take the lead out for the first sprint. I didn’t fret about it and did my duty, leading the gang out at 30-mph on flat pavement.
The last eight miles can get a little punchy so I prepared myself for it mentally. I needn’t have bothered. Uphills were quick but steady, downhills were fast, and anything on the flat was spirited.
Coming into the home stretch, the two guys up front were dogging it a little bit at 22-mph. I was wondering what was going on up there, when Dave and his wife blew by on the left. I shouted out to the guys at the front that it was time to pick it up and the pace went from an easy 22 to a more apropos 27-28. We rolled across the line with a 22.8-mph average (I showed 22.6 because I got across two busy intersections and had to soft pedal for the group to catch up). My buddy, Chuck even had 22.9. Our fastest unassisted B Group average for the 28-mile route.
It was hi-fives and handshakes back in the parking lot. More than normal, because everyone knew, deep down, that these days were numbered. We all know what’s around the corner. I can say this, though; dinner was extra tasty.
I should have just ignored the ringtone. It was early, though, not 5pm yet, so I’m still “on the clock” even though my day started 5:20 am when I rolled out of the driveway.
Then another call. And two texts. And another call.
My buddy, Chuck was a good sport about it – thankfully, Monday rides are always easy, anyway. No sense in burning matches before the big Tuesday Night Club Ride, so I tended to work.
Finally, the phone stopped and we were able to roll for a bit. I pulled into the driveway with just under 20 miles and a smile on my face.
A shower followed by a quick dinner and we were out the door…
My daughters both had school engagements, the eldest the prep show for Marching Band. The youngest, an opening address for the National Junior Honor Society. It was either ride early or no ride at all.
After, my mother-in-law and step-father-in-law are in town, so it was euchre and ice cream cones.
I watched about thirty-four seconds of the latest episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives before drifting off to sleep, having left work on the road where it belonged. Not even a little bit of late office work can wreck a good bike ride, and for that, I’m thankful.
It did come close, though…
My wife and I went on a road trip over the weekend for my friend’s birthday.
It was a fantastic weekend with pile of miles, good food, jokes, and laughs.
The whole weekend went off without a hitch and we had more fun than a bunch of friends should be allowed to have. This got me thinking, it might be helpful to write a new series of posts that really dig into how we set one of these trips up so they come off without a hitch.
One of the easier ways to customize a road bike to how you’ll ride is the cassette.
While many will stick with the cassette that came with the bike, because the big manufacturers usually do a pretty good job of including a decent cassette that matches their bike’s intended use, we can do better for the avid enthusiast.
First, the all-around cassette
One of the most common cassettes out there is the 11-28 tooth 10, 11, and now 12 speed. Paired with the right chainring combination up front, a decently strong cyclist can climb just about anything on that cassette. I prefer the compact 50/34 setup with the 11-28 cassette, however. Though I’m a decently strong cyclist, I’m not fast enough to get away with the 52/36 or the 53/39 combo with that cassette. The bigger cogs (easier gears) jump too many teeth, so at critical speeds I always felt like I was in the wrong gear. The “hole” shows up between 18 & 22-mph with the 52/36, but at 14-17 with the 50/34.
The 11/28 paired with a compact crankset, I can ride just about anywhere in my State without worry. This is a great choice for my tour/rain bike. The key, though, is that the cassette perfectly matches my high-end and low-range needs. I can get up to 40-mph before I gear out, and I know from experience I can get up anything up to 22% in the 34/28 front to back combination.
For my race bike, I go with a smaller low (easy) gear. I roll, at least for now, a 52/36 chainring combo with an 11-25 tooth 10sp cassette. The smaller easy gear means only a two tooth jump in gears at the bigger gears.
The smaller low-end gears match my normal riding conditions for that bike perfectly. I rarely climb anything that requires the baby ring up front, let alone the 25 tooth ring in the back (Notice there aren’t any wear marks on it? That cassette is a year-old).
While the Venge would be a formidable climber and tour bike (not touring, tour), I save that for the 5200. The Venge, with its internal cable routing (including through the handlebar) is a little more finicky when it comes to getting wet and dirty. The Trek, on the other hand, is externally routed and very easy to clean, and if necessary, swap out cables and keep it operating smoothly. Besides, it’s nice having a separate bike for fast days and the tours.
Now, if I wanted to be even more persnickety, I could technically drop that 11-25 tooth cassette down to an 11-23 to get the gears even closer to the near perfect “one tooth drop per cog” where I’d only be dropping 5-rpm per gear in my cadence. There’s one reason I don’t; while I don’t use that last 25 tooth cog very often, I do use the 23. If I were to drop to a true corncob cassette (meaning a cassette that more resembles the head of a corncob, where the gears are close together) I’d want to use that last 23 tooth cog regularly, which would mean I would cross-chain in the big chainring. Cross-chaining, or riding in the biggest cog in the back in the big chainring up front (or the small in the back and small up front) puts a lot of stress on the chain and the drivetrain. We want to avoid that whenever possible. In my case, that means going with an 11-25 over an 11-23 tooth cassette. Sometimes it’s even important to consider the gears you won’t be using.
Why does it even matter!?
For those who ride solo all of the time, who rarely ride with others, but who don’t “compete” in triathlons (if you’re there to “compete”, then paying close attention to gearing is very important, especially on a time trial bike – if you’re just doing triathlons to have fun and as a reason to train, you won’t need to worry as much), you’ll be able to use whatever you’ve got and being finicky won’t be as necessary.
Most newer cyclists aren’t quite aware that a bicycle customization is possible with something as simple as picking a cassette. We should take every mechanical advantage to make our ride more enjoyable, and where applicable, faster. The lowly cassette is one of the better, reasonably priced places to start*.
*Reasonably priced tends to be a matter of opinion. Some people think it’s nuts to spend $80 on a cassette. Those people should price a SRAM Red cassette and get back to me.
In Cycling, what’s More Important, Weight or Aero?! For the Avid Enthusiast, What’s Most Important is How You Want to Ride…
If you’re into cycling, you hear a lot of hub-bub about aerodynamic or super-light bikes – which is more important, which is better, which is faster… etc. I like aero over weight by a smidgen. From my understanding of the data, my choice is backed up by the science… but that’s just my opinion and it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter, anyway.
If you’ve got a vast fortune to blow on new bikes, you can do like cycling teams do and get a bike for each days’ occasion. Climbing? Pull out the Trek Emonda. Heading out for a hot, flat ride with the A-Group? Take the Specialized Venge. Time Trial? Take your Cannondale Slice. Feel like going on an adventure, where you ride anywhere, on any road? Take a Giant Revolt Advanced 2.
Ahem, I don’t have $28,000 to blow on bikes – especially considering it wouldn’t be $28,000, it’d be $56,000 because I’d have to get each type of bike for Mrs. Bgddy as well. That’s a lot of cheese, folks!
As a cycling enthusiast, you’re going to need a gravel bike. That’s a must have. The time trial bike? Unless you’re going to do time trials or triathlons, they’re not necessary – especially not necessary if you plan on riding in a group. That leaves the climbing bike and the aero bike. Which one? Which way to go?! Dear sweet baby Jesus in a manger… Decisions, decisions…
For the non-pro avid enthusiast, there’s one thing that trumps all of the crap; the drivetrain.
My friends, I’ve got it all. A 15-pound aero race bike, an 18-pound race bike and a heavy gravel bike, and the most important part(s) on each of those road bikes is the humble drivetrain.
If I’m going climbing, I don’t take the Venge anymore, the aero (and, ironically, lighter) race bike. The gearing is all wrong for climbing. I opt for the 18 pound Trek for the drivetrain, every time. It’s the only bike I think of taking on my trips up north to the hills, and you know what? That extra two pounds and change doesn’t even matter. Can I feel the difference? Sure, but the gearing is way more important than a couple of pounds.
So what does this mean? Folks, chain rings and cassette gears.
Technically, if you really wanted to do it right, you take whichever bike you’ve got and you get two cassettes for it and go with a compact 50/34 crankset. The first cassette, the racer, is going to be either an 11-23 or an 11-25. You’re not going to have much for climbing but you’ll have enough gears to get you by in a bind.
For the second cassette, you’re going to opt for the 11-28 or, if you have the right rear derailleur, the 11-30 or even a 32 (I don’t like having big jumps in the size of the cogs because that creates cadence holes, so I’d never go that big, but if you need the extra gears for climbing, then by all means, have at it).
The rest is elementary.
Now, if you haven’t noticed, bikes have gotten a little bit heavy in the last couple of years. Light is now 16 or 17 pounds for a reasonably priced climbing bike. Your aero-bikes are downright weighty: A Madone 7 disc, costing $6,600 is a whopping 18 pounds (a Madone 6 weighs in at more than 19 at $4,700). Looking at Specialized, the Venge Pro (a mind-blowing $8,000) should be a little lighter than the cheaper Madone, but not by much. The Trek Emonda, the climbing bike, is quite a bit better that the Madone, the Emonda SL7 Disc has a price tag of $5,100 and you get a 16 pound bike for your money. Not bad, but my first gen. Specialized Venge weighs in at less than 16 pounds and I don’t have anywhere near $8,000 into it.
In the end, I really can’t tell the weight difference between my 18 pound Trek and the 15-ish pound Venge when I’m going up a hill. Not as much as I can tell how much better the Trek is geared for climbing. And that’s what’s really important when you’re not getting free bikes with your pro contract.