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Is Rapha’s Kit Worth the Money? The Answer May Surprise You. It Did Me.

First, you can always tell when someone is wearing a piece of Rapha kit. Their jerseys always stick out because they always look perfect – and the thing that really surprises me about their jerseys is that they look better than any other manufacturer on those of us who need to put in more miles and eat a little less. And yes, I do lump, for lack of a better word, myself into that category.

I’ve had a little bit of a resentment at Rapha for the longest time, though. Their kit is expensive, prohibitively so; and I justify throwing a lot of money at cycling and its related clothing.

Recently, however, they had a sale and all of a sudden, friends who’d never worn Rapha kit started showing up in jerseys and bibs. I investigated and found a midweight jersey I liked on sale for $55 US (sadly, the sale is over). Again, as I lump myself in with the “not exactly at mid-season cycling weight”, I ordered a Large.

So, I’ve always said you can tell a good jersey by how it doesn’t feel. When I’m on the road in my Rapha jersey, it’s so comfortable it just goes away – especially on long rides.

The fact is the core jersey that I picked up is worth every penny of the full sticker price of $75.

If you’ve always wondered, “is Rapha worth the price tag?”

Yep. Shockingly, it is.

A Perfect Wrap to the 2022 Horsey Hundred Road Trip

I’m not even going to try to avoid getting too sappy on this post. The best I can promise is that I’ll try to limit the damage.

With my newfound romance with my wife, something so special I’ve struggled putting it into words, we set out for Sunday morning’s day two of the Horsey Hundred knowing the group was going to do the 52 mile route but we were keeping it to the 37.

My wife, fearing the old me would resurface, asked delicately the night before, “I may not feel up to the full 52 miles, would you mind it if we decided to cut it to the 37-mile route if I’m not feeling it?”

I responded, “I loaded the 37-mile route on your Garmin yesterday. Whatever we ride, as long as we’re together, I’ll be happy.” My wife wiped a tear from her eye…

We rolled out at 7:45 to head over to the start line downtown and stopped for our group start line photo:

We rolled out with the main group at a decent pace. I took position behind my wife – she doesn’t like being last bike, she likes being second to last so she feels impelled to keep up with the group so the rider behind doesn’t get dropped. After the hundred the day before, I was more than happy to take that role! We stayed with the group for about ten miles before my wife started falling off the back on the hills. Shortly thereafter we were talking about splitting from the group and Chuck decided to go with us on the shorter route.

Before long, it was the three of us cruising down the road. Chuck would pull ahead, then wait for us to catch up. My wife and I just cruised along with smiles on our faces, enjoying the sunny, warm Kentucky morning and each other’s company. This was a complete departure from the normal Jim.

When my wife struggled up a hill, I’d pull up next to her and rest my hand on the small of her back, kicking up my watts to give her a small boost – we call this “Jenkinsoning someone”… in other words, “to be Jenkinsoned”, coined after our friend Greg, who helped my buddy Mike up the tough hills when he returned from an illness.

We did our 37-miles and had an absolute blast. After we finished, in the parking lot, my wife said that was the ride she’d always prayed for with me on a Horsey Hundred Sunday. Now it was my turn to wipe a tear from my eye. Friends, it’s as good as it gets.

Now that’s a happy wife… and a happy husband.

We showered up, packed the car and headed over for lunch before hitting the road home. Choosing the 37-mile option worked out great. We were heading for the car when the 52-mile group showed up for lunch.

We worked on our marriage renewal vows on the way home and sent out a text to our family that we were going to have a ceremony in our backyard in a couple of weeks. It was the best ride home of any Horsey weekend.

Good times and noodle salad. It’s as good as it gets.

A Most Enlightening and Wonderful Horsey Hundred…

Typically, you know if you’re ready for a 100-mile bike ride. They’re old hat for my friends and me. We’ve done dozens upon dozens together over the years. Conversely, you also know when you’re not ready – an unsettling feeling going into the hardest century of the year… and it also being the first and longest ride so far this year. By double.

The evening before, I’d offered to ride with my wife for the hundred km option. I knew it was going to be hard for her and I was nervous about the full distance anyway having only completed a fifty-miler on the tandem so far this year. That, and now that my wife and I are kicking on all cylinders again, the thought of her struggling alone out on the course… well, it wasn’t easy to accept. My wife, however, tenderly placed a hand on either side of my face and said, “Sunday. We’ll ride Sunday together. Tomorrow, I want you to ride with your friends.” I agreed.

We rolled out to cool temps and cloudy skies but there was barely a breeze. It was perfect for a start to a hundred-mile bike ride. The pace to start was marvelous. A little on the fast side, but not too much to handle. My wife stayed on for ten miles before sliding off the back… it was not easy to let her go. She fell off on my turn up front and when I dropped to the back, I could barely make her out in the distance. I rolled on with the group, though.

We stopped at the first rest stop and topped off water bottles and used the facilities. It was to be a quick stop. Just as I came out of the porta-john, I looked up and my heart skipped a beat. My wife walked up and kissed me and said, “I busted my butt to catch up so I could see you”. I knew she wasn’t going to hang on long when we started off again so I offered one more time, implored, really, to ride with her. I was really unsure of whether I’d make the full hundred anyway. She stuck to her guns and said we’d ride together tomorrow, that I should go with friends.

We rolled out. My wife played cat and mouse with the group for a few miles but before long was off the back again. The group was punishing up hills. Downhill and on the flats, my wife is mega-strong, but she has trouble with hills. And there’s lots of them on this ride. I came to the back after a turn and could see her off in the distance. It took everything I had to stay with our group.

And that’s exactly when I started praying about what in God’s name was going on in my head. I’d never had a problem letting my wife do her thing in past Horsey Hundreds! I literally asked God, pedaling away, holding the wheel in front of me, “What is going on!”

And the answer came in a flood of emotion; “You love her so much it’s hard to ride away and leave her out there on her own”. We’ve made such great strides in our marriage lately, staying with her on a bike ride had triggered a biological/emotional response to stay with her rather than my friends.

It all made so much sense. This is exactly how a husband should feel in a situation like that – a feeling I’d suppressed for decades because of resentment and marital angst between us. Resentment and angst that was all but gone.

I stuck to what my wife said, though. I fought through the desire to ride with her and I rocked that hundred out. At the lunch stop, I texted my wife our location and ate my lunch. She called after I’d finished to say she was struggling and needed a pep-talk. I’d planned on telling her what I’d learned later that evening but figured that was my prompting. I walked away from earshot of my friends and explained it to the last detail. I told her she was awesome and she’d walk all over that 100k and I’d see her soon. Her mood buoyed, we said our “I love you’s” and hung up.

I’d almost cut out for the 75-mile route with a couple of others a few miles earlier but had decided to stay on to the end. I wanted my 2022 pin to add to my collection.

And so it was. And we ended up with an average more than a mile-an-hour faster than last year.

My wife was waiting outside at the hotel as Mike and I rode up. My heart skipped a beat again.

Thank God for Bicycles!

I’ve got my Specialized Venge all tuned up. The shift and brake cables are all brand new. The bearings are all new. The chainrings, chain, cassette and rear derailleur… all new.

The water bottles are filled and ready for action. Garmin Varia and 510 are charged and ready to go. Rare for the Venge, a small saddle bag is affixed under the saddle – the smallest I could get that can fit what I need… expertly packed and tight to the bike so it won’t move, thereby scratching the paint, when I’m out of the saddle to climb.

I’m T-minus three hours to launch on my first 100-mile ride of the season.

I’m excited and nervous all at the same time. Three hours to go and it’ll be time to drop some weight.

I’m sipping on my first cup of coffee of the morning, watching my wife sleep. She’s not the early riser I am. God, she’s beautiful. I’m thinking about what a lucky guy I am. We’ve been through a lot together and it looks like the next 25 years of our marriage are going to be vastly better than the first. And for that, I am thankful.

Well, it’s time to shave and shower. Once we get breakfast going, launch time is going to be on us in a hurry.

You know, I’ve been to the gym a hundred times. I can’t ever recall feeling like this before pushing weight.

As fitness goes, only a bike can get me so fired up. Look at that beautiful carbon fiber and alloy steed… what a bike!

More later.

Why An Expensive Road Bike is Worth the Outlandish Money… Even If “Expensive” Isn’t a Prerequisite for Being Fast

After riding the tandem with my wife for the last few weeks, I finally threw a leg over my Specialized Venge Wednesday night. The weather is, at long last, changing for the better and we’ve had more than enough rain to clean the roads… it struck me just how much fun it is to ride my Specialized Venge.

I’ve got a little more than $6,000 into that bike, by the time you figure the $3,100 price tag plus the upgrades – handlebar ($350), saddle ($250), wheels ($750), crankset ($550), brakes ($157), Ultegra drivetrain ($200 pre-owned but spectacular), stem ($167), seatpost ($110 after shipping), new rear derailleur ($75), chainrings ($105)… so, new, the bike out of the box weighed in at 18-1/2 pounds. As it sits today, it’s down to 16 pounds – or perfect… for a bowling ball or an aero-bike.

I rolled out with my buddy, Chuck for our normal loop and the first thing I noticed as I got my butt used to the saddle again is how twitchy and responsive the Venge is after riding the tandem so much – and how easy it is to make the Venge accelerate. You simply push on the pedals and it goes. Anyone who’s ridden a top-end race bike knows this fantastic feeling. Even above that is the fact that the bike, after eight years, is still as tight as it was the day I brought it home. Everything still works as it should, in other words. No creaks or weird clicks, no loose parts (though the original seat post did fracture during a seated attempt at a City Limits sign…).

One doesn’t need a great bike to ride a bike very fast. One needs strong legs, massive lungs, a good diet and a decent bike (preferably with some aero wheels as those do make a difference) to be fast. Oh, I almost forgot; and a whole lot of “want to”. Most who have had the great fortune of riding a fantastic top-end bike, though, will tell you they’re worth it.

Not exactly necessary, but wonderful indeed.

The Goldilocks Saddle Status and the Position Proposition; Attaining True Perfection in Your Saddle Position – and Transferring That from One Bike to Another, Easily

Now, I’m going to keep this as simple as I can, for an insanely difficult and controversial topic. There are three things at play that pertain to positioning the saddle properly, and two that go to the size of the saddle that are absolute musts to achieve something close to perfection. Maybe “really, really close”.

First and foremost, I’ve never found there to be a saddle that corrects for a lack of saddle time. There are comfortable saddles, sure, but time must be spent in the saddle. There’s no way around this.

Before I get into locating the saddle, let’s talk about saddle size and style. The general rule is, the more flexible you are, the flatter the saddle you can comfortably ride. The less flexible, the more contour you’ll want in the saddle. The contouring of the saddle allows the hips to open up when you ride in an aggressive, road bike position. Getting the contour of the saddle to your liking is a big piece in this puzzle of perfecting the saddle.

After contour, there’s width. I’ve read, from much smarter people than I, that a saddle that isn’t wide enough is excruciating. This hasn’t been my experience at all. My problems have always centered on saddles that were too wide. Now, there are interesting things at play here. First, the more aggressive a position we ride in, the thinner the saddle should be. The more upright we ride, the wider the saddle.

I can comfortably ride on a 143 mm saddle on our tandem, but those are excruciating on my road bikes. I rub the insides of my of my pelvic bones on the edges of the saddle in an aggressive setup. On my Trek 5200 (below, left) I run a 138. On my Specialized Venge (below, right) I run a 128 that is pure heaven next to a 143.

After we get the contour, next we move to width. I was measured at a 143 mm width, but that works for an upright position, call it the tandem riding position I mentioned earlier. The more aggressive I ride, on my two road bikes, the less width I want. When it comes down the the bottom line, I don’t mess with what works and keeps my heinie happy. I just roll with it.

The best way to figure your saddle width is to get measured at a shop that has a proprietor or two who know what they’re doing. Make sure to let them know how aggressive your setup on the bike is (if they don’t already know), or take a picture – or even the bike – with you to get measured.

With that out of the way, we’re going to get down to the nitty gritty and position. I’ve been of two minds on this. For a while, I was like, “Yeah, saddle height is important, but as long as you’re close, say within a few millimeters without going too high, it’s all good”. I disagree with that point currently. I’ve got an exact number that works on all of my bikes – and by exact, I mean that word. Before we get height drilled in, though, I should get into the fore/aft positioning of the saddle, because we do this first because this affects the up/down location.

Simply stated, on a road bike, the fore/aft position gets a normal rider’s leading edge of their knee directly above the pedal spindle when the feet are clipped in and the pedals are parallel to the ground. I like to check this when I’m setting a new saddle by getting the height close to where I want it (my personal norm is 36-5/8″ on the nose, maybe a 32nd of an inch less). Then I warm up for a minute or two and check the level by setting my crank arms parallel to the ground and running a 4′ level from the pedal spindle up to the leading edge of my knee. That should be plumb, up and down.

With that set, I move to the height. I’ll go with the 36-5/8″ and give it a ride, preferably outdoors because the trainer just doesn’t do the real world feel justice. Then I set the tilt of the saddle, while I’m out, so I’m perfectly balanced and cradled with my hands down in the drops or on the hoods. Once that’s done, I can drill in my saddle height over the next few rides. 36-5/8″ is close enough, but I may lower it just a touch if something doesn’t quite feel right over, say, 100 miles in a few days.

And that’s how I get to my Goldilocks saddle height position. It’s not too high (any higher and I’ll have some form of pain), it’s not too low. It’s just right.

It’s a lot of effort, yes, but it pays off… in the end.

I couldn’t resist.

When 14 Miles on My Road Bike is Enough…

I got home from work a little late last night. Not terribly so, only about ten minutes, but I’m usually like clockwork. The Michigan State Flower, affectionately known as the Road Construction Barrel is out on the first third of my expressway ride home and traffic is a little silly until I start heading north. I have another way home, if I choose, but that route is a little less than enjoyable so I’ve avoided it.

My wife was going to be working late and there was a slight chance of a popup shower or two so I readied the Trek. I had big plans of 23-ish solo miles. My riding buddy is out of town till this afternoon and there was plenty to do around the house so I decided to throw my high-minded goal out the window and do a nice little recovery ride before heading home to attend to some things around the house.

At a touch past 5 I wheeled my Trek out the door and threw a leg over the top tube. Right pedal, easy push off, fumble with my left foot for the pedal, snag the loop, lock in and I’m off. I don’t know when that little quirk happened, the fumbling with my left foot, but it makes me laugh every time it happens. I do know why: A lot of time on the tandem with my wife. We have two-sided mountain pedals on the tandem, so it’s vastly easier to line up a cleat and mash down on the pedal, rather than line up the toe to the loop and push the loop forward to engage the cleat.

All that time on the tandem this spring has paid dividends on the single bikes, as I hoped it would. I was a little slow heading north, but with a west-northwesterly wind, a little slow wasn’t surprising. I also had a design of a much needed active recovery ride. After three hard days on the tandem, I probably should have taken a day off, but the opportunity to ride solo and easy don’t present themselves too often. I turned left at the intersection to get some of the headwind out of the way early… and dropped like a rock from an easy 18-mph to struggling to hold 15. The headwind actually made me laugh as I rounded the corner after clearing traffic.

A mile west, then one north, turn around and back south… and then the fun part. Three miles heading east. 25-mph was fairly easy. 27 took some effort. A couple of miles south, turn around and two north, then two east and one south to the driveway. Just enough to keep the legs spun up for tonight. It was better than taking a day off, that’s for sure!

Incidentally, my daughter was cooking us a chicken taco dinner and needed a bunch of stuff from the grocery store she hadn’t counted on needing. I barely got anything done that I needed to because I had to run out shopping. Ah well, the chicken tacos were amazing. Worth it.

So Many Miles on the Tandem!

This has been the wackiest year of cycling since I started riding in 2011. The weather all spring was ugly and uncooperative and I don’t know anyone up in miles from last year. No one.

That said, the weather has taken a turn for the better and improved significantly to where we’re out in shorts and short sleeves. I’m up to something resembling normal week numbers – after Saturday’s 49-mile ride on the tandem, I was sitting on 177 miles over the last seven days.

In addition, my wife and I have been doing significant work on our marriage and we’re happier together than I can ever remember. That blessing translated even to bike choice. In previous years, we’d either choose single bikes and let the tandem sit, or only ride the tandem on Sunday mornings. We’re choosing the tandem every time we ride together. In fact, after some rudimentary math on the way out on a 50-mile out-and-back route, I realized I’ve got more miles on the tandem this year than I do on the Venge and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Jess and I are actually talking about trading in our Periscope for a new Co-Motion Robusto – a significant increase in quality and a massive decrease in weight. The changes also meant less time for cycling, but the benefits vastly outweigh missing some time on two wheels.

At this point, I’d rather ride with my wife on a tandem. So why not do that on something that would compliment our speedy nature rather than act as a boat anchor? We bought our periscope so that we could have something that would fit a stoker as small as our young daughters, or my wife. With the one of the girls off at college and the other halfway through high school (and neither enjoying cycling), it makes sense to get us onto something that fits us properly.

In the case of my wife and I, a friend loves to say a tandem is a marriage maker, or a marriage breaker. We made our marriage… then brought the tandem to the party. For us, the tandem perfectly compliments where we are at, mentally and physically, in our marriage. The better we’re doing as a couple, the more we enjoy riding the tandem.

I never thought I’d choose a 43-pound boat anchor over a 16-pound aero race bike. But I do, and for that I am grateful.

A TNIL Breakdown; Crankset Woes Lead to Limping My Toy Back Solo

Yesterday was rough. I’ve been working on emotional stuff for the last two months and I’m starting to get into the difficult items that I like to keep swept under the rug… which, ironically, leads me to sweeping ALL of my emotions under the rug and makes me a difficult husband and dad. The good thing this time around is that I have a vast array of tools at my disposal I didn’t have before. We had a funeral to go to, for my wife’s aunt and that was hard on my heart seeing all of that grief. My wife’s uncle is devastated. They were inseparable and together for something like 61 years. There was a lot of love in that room, though. The service and lunch after finished around 3 yesterday afternoon so we headed home for a 20-minute nap. I readied my Venge for Lennon and my wife decided to check out a gravel group nearby.

I arrived at the church parking lot a little bit late, but got ready and Chuck and I headed out for a quick seven mile warm-up loop. We had just enough time and with a southerly wind, we were making fast work of it. Until we got about a mile from the parking lot and I realized I’d developed something of a “click” every time the pedals went ’round. In the parking lot, when I went to unclip from my pedal, the left crank arm felt odd… and it only took a shake of that crank arm to know I had a major problem – and one that requires a long Torx 45 key to fix.

I took the dust cap off with Chucker’s multi-tool 6-mm Allen key but I didn’t know what I could do about the Torx-45… I pulled out my 5-mm Allen key from my pouch, lined it up in the bolt hole and turned it, cockeyed, and shored up the bolt. It wasn’t perfect, but it was tight and the slop was taken out of the crankset. I crossed my fingers as the group rolled out for the main event.

Four miles later I knew I wasn’t going to be finishing with the group. I probably could have toughed it out but I didn’t want to do permanent damage to my $600 S-Works crank. I turned around and hobbled my Venge back to the parking lot.

I got to work on it as soon as I got home. I knew I was going to test-ride it, so I didn’t even bother changing out of my kit. Now, there’s a trick to the S-Works crank. There’s an adjustable washer that sets the crank arm width inside the bottom bracket shell so that everything is tight, but without binding. When the bike came back from surgery on the crank, in hindsight it’s likely I didn’t set the washer correctly which caused the crankset to pinch on the bottom bracket bearings, which required I not tighten the bolt all the way to keep everything from binding… we’re talking fractions of a millimeter here.

Rather than mess around, I took everything apart yesterday, including the lock washer – I stripped the whole damn system down, cleaned everything, and put it all back together with some Loctite Blue on the threads… and sure enough, it went back together perfectly. Including the lock washer that I’d absolutely installed wrong the first time. This time I was able to tighten down the bolt as should be done.

I took the bike out for a test six miles and it was spectacular. Perfect.

It was a bummer of a lesson to learn on a Tuesday night, but I’ll stick with being glad I learned it.

The First Proper Ride of 2022, and It was a Doozy!

So, as I’ve made painfully clear over the last couple of months, this spring has been terrible in terms of weather. Normally, I’ll have somewhere between 600 and 1,000 miles for the month. I’m sitting on a paltry 375 with barely a week left in the month. Preposterous. It’s been so bad, even the usual guys who ride in the worst weather are straight-up depressed and have refused to ride in the crazy crap we’ve had.

All of that changed yesterday.

I had to schedule the ride a little later than normal to a) give it a chance to warm up and b) give it a chance to dry out. The weather report showed rain ending at 4 or 5am so I set the wheels roll time at 9. We picked up a few worms on our frames, but this turned out to be the right time. It was sunny, 50, and the temp was on the rise with a decent southerly wind. We rolled out a couple of minutes after 9 with a group of six.

We picked a route that was favorable for the wind but that meant eating a lot in the first 30 miles. That meant favorable conditions on the ride home, though. We picked an alternate route to split up some of the considerable headwind. It was bad enough even guys who never ride in the drops were down as low as possible to gain every possible advantage. It was bad enough McMike, once we got to the first stop of the day, asked how much headwind was left.

We struggled on, battling the wind for 28-miles before hitting our first substantial tailwind stretch that lasted for ten glorious miles. We simply flew down the road – five excellently matched veteran cyclists in a glorious single-file pace-line flying down the road north of 25-mph as the sun beat down on us. Battling the headwind was made worth it in that 10-mile stretch. We rotated flawlessly, as though we’d had half the season in our legs, guarding each other from the crosswinds, and pointing out the winter’s potholes… it was perfect.

And our average pace started ticking up with the help.

This was my longest ride of the year, by a lot – fifteen miles – and I was wondering if I would bonk spectacularly. There were a few times, trying to hide in crosswinds, that I questioned how much longer I’d be able to hang on… but the blowup never materialized. I just kept right at it, taking my lumps up front, then falling back for a rest.

With less than six miles left, we turned north and put the hammer down. We passed 19.6-mph for an average (31.5 km/h). We turned right with a crosswind and I expected the pace to slow a little… and it did till McMike got up front for the last mile and decided to stretch it out. The pace went from a calm 20-mph to 23. Jay, who’d just taken the last two miles, tapped out and slipped off the back. I was bound and determined to stay with Mike, though. 19.7-mph average. As we turned the corner for my driveway, I let off the gas and said my goodbyes. Chuck and McMike headed for their respective homes and Jay pulled up 30 seconds after I hit the driveway.

My average pace had dropped to 19.6 in that last couple of tenths, but I didn’t care. I was good and done.

But not quite done enough. After cleaning up and some lunch, I went over to the school tennis courts to hit with my daughter. And that was a bad idea. Mid-season I can pull that off, a long ride followed by some tennis with my kid(s). This early in the season, with nowhere near enough miles on my legs, not so much.

I woke up feeling like I was 70 (or my approximation of what 70 might feel like). Thankfully, it’ll be Sunday Funday on the tandem today, followed by hitting a bucket of balls at the driving range if the rain holds off, then bowling this evening.

As they say, “I’ll rest when I’m dead”. Then I add, so long as not resting doesn’t put me in the grave sooner. I’ll rest enough it doesn’t come to that.