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The Gift Cycling Keeps on Giving: A Tuesday Night In Lennon to Remember

The night started off, humorously enough, with a discussion of politics – but this was a good discussion, like one of those discussions we’re supposed to have. It was the beginning of a discussion that could fix the country if the political class were adults and spoke like we did. When it was time to ride, though, my friend moved to the A group and I stayed on the A- side.

There’s been a lot on my angst lately. Difficult times with our daughter that are going to take some time and a lot of love to fix and a job I’m running that makes that problem look like child’s play, and I’m a little stressed lately. I needed a good hammer on the Venge.

We rolled out about 40 seconds after the A Group into a fairly stiff southerly crosswind 12 to 14-mph.  We had a couple of new guys rolling with us – one looked like he belonged with the A guys, another looked like he belonged on a weight rack rather than a BMC disc race bike, and another who looks like he belongs with the D Group but is starting to come around (though he wore headphones last evening, which I explained after the ride wouldn’t work in our group because it’s too dangerous at our speeds).  

The next three miles north were unbelievably fast – we were topping 30-mph at times.  A mile west, and another fast one north and it was time to pay the piper.  The new guy who looked like he could ride had a tendency of shooting off the front as if he were a horse in the Kentucky Derby and after the second time, one of my friends asked me to talk to him.  He did it once more, blowing up the group in the process and I had the conversation with him about how we roll.  It was smooth after that – until we got to the hills.

Half the group charged up the second set of hills too fast for the tandem, so another group of us, myself included, took to trying to bring the tandem back to the group.  We got close a couple of times but never quite made it – we let them go on the last hill and made our way to the regroup point at 20 miles in.  

The rest was a blast.  We headed north for the intermediate sprint, Mike I. and I up front.  Mike looked over and asked if I wanted to try to take the group all the way to the sprint lead-out but I shook my head.  I knew I was going to give it everything I had to get the group to 30+ mph and there was no way I was lasting the mile and change at those speeds.  Mike read me perfectly and we threw down the gauntlet, taking it to 32-mph with the group in tow.  When I was out of gas I signaled to Mike and flicked off, barely latching on at the back.  With a quarter-mile to the City Limits sign, I didn’t have a sprint in me.  Four others prepped and went.  I stayed with the tandem and brought everyone back together.  Then, the A’s passed.

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Several of the A- guys shot up to latch on to the A Group and we, a group of five, let them go.  We only had a couple of miles before a straight crosswind and I wanted a smaller group so we could echelon without taking up the entire road.  The strategy worked perfectly.  The five mile home stretch was flawless in a heavy crosswind.

I was going to wind it up for the final sprint.  We started ramping it up with 0.8 of a mile left, working the pace from 21-1/2 to 27.  I waited, as nobody was really going for it, until the last second and dropped the hammer from 27 to 32 and some change, passing the rest of our group.  I had some aggression to get out so I stayed on the gas until the sign, letting up and coasting just at the line.

I got a fairly cool photo heading back as the smoke from the Oregon forest mismanagement fires has made its way all the way across the country.  It’s way too thin to block the sun, but it’s enough for a spectacular scene.  We got back to the parking lot and it was hi-fives and laughs all around.  We had a few “herding cats” moments at the beginning of the ride but all’s well that ends well, and that ride did… and I rode my angst right out.

I thanked God more than once on the way home.  I needed that.

Some Venge Time and the Best Tip I’ve Seen For Installing a Difficult Tire on a Tight Rim

It just hit me last week that I’m spending WAY too much time on the Trek.  It’s difficult not to when the bike is performing so well – it’s a bit like driving a classic sports car.  Sure, it’s a not a McLaren, it’s more American muscle – a little more Caroll Shelby – only, in a bike.  Well, somebody just shut off summer, and it jarred me a little.  Pretty soon, all I’ll be riding is the Trek until next spring’s Venge Day so it’s high time I spent some miles on the good rig before having to put it up for the winter.

After arriving home on a perfectly sunny but yet another unseasonably cool afternoon (we’ve been several degrees – 6 to 10 – below normal for what seems like weeks), I set about cleaning up the Venge for duty.  Part of that prep was rotating the tires.  I like to rotate mine – some do, some don’t…

Now, installing the tires on these wheels the first time was not easy.  I needed mechanical help in the way of a KoolStop tire jack.  However, after a few weeks’ break-in time, I was hoping they’d go on relatively easily.  Then, just the other day, by chance, I happened on a GCN video tutorial on how to deal with installing a difficult tire on a rim.  My FL 50 Ican wheels all have a groove down the center (many tubeless and tubeless ready rims do):

Well, the tip is to work the beads down into that groove (it takes a little effort to do this, and you’ll feel one side, then the other, slip down into the channel).  So, you get the first bead all the way seated, then you start on the second until you get to that spot, about 80% done, where you can’t see how you’ll ever slip that last bit over the rim, and you work the beads into the channel starting opposite the part of tire overlapping the rim and working around, one side, then the other.  By the time you get both beads into the channel the entire 80-ish% around the rim, you’ll begin to feel a fair amount of slop that wasn’t there before pushing the beads to the center channel.  At this point, that last 80% of the tire should (shockingly) easily slip over the edge of the rim.

Before I centered the beads, I was going to need mechanical assistance.  After, it’s almost comically easy.  I’m still glad I’m using Specialized tires, though.  They’re better than most brands for seating on tight rims.

Now, there exist decent arguments for starting at the valve stem, finishing at the valve stem, add air to the tube, don’t add air…  I’ve tried them all.  My favorite is start with some air in the tube, start at the valve stem and finish opposite – and let the air out for the centering the bead in the grove and that last 20% of the second bead.  Starting with air makes it easier to get the tube inside the rim and it keeps it from getting pinched.  On the other hand, the added air makes it a little difficult to finish seating on a tough rim.

Anyway, after wiping the Venge down, I took her out for an evening spin with my regular weekday riding buddy and it was fantastic.  She’s also going out today (we’ve got big plans today).  We’re due a considerably nice stretch of weather over the next two weeks so I’m planning on making the most of it on the Venge.  I’ll have plenty of time on the Trek in the coming months.  As cold as it’s been this early, I don’t imagine it’s going to be a mild winter.

The Thursday Night Lake Shannon Loop; Fast, Fast, Fast…

If you’ve read any of my posts, you likely know about our epically fast Tuesday night ride. At 28 flat(ish) miles we can pull 22’s all day long. We’ve got a handful of 23’s and even a 24-mph average.  There are some hills, but at just 400+ feet of up, it’s a great track for speed.

The Lake Shannon Loop is not that.  It’s anything but flat.  You start out with a climb that hits 10% in the first mile and a quarter, then there are four 5%’ers, several 4’s, a few 3’s and a partridge in a pear tree.  For this loop, if you’re pushing a 20-mph average, you’re working hard.

We rolled out under some pretty ugly skies last night, but the temp was mild and the wind as fair, out of the northwest (we’re heading south here, maybe three miles in and the wind is pushing at our right shoulder):

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We pounded out the non-climby stuff at 24 to 27-mph and the climbs fast enough they hurt.  I spent way too long up front for my first few pulls before wising up and shortening my turns.  I didn’t want to pay for it later – I could tell it was going to be a fast one right out of the gate.

The Lake Shannon loop itself, the actual loop around the lake, is one fantastic bit of road for cycling.  It’s seven miles of down, a little bit of up, and a lot of curves where you’re fast enough you’ve really gotta lean to get the bike around the corner.  It’s one of those stretches that makes cycling feel incredibly cool.  Sadly, there’s no time for photos because if you lose even a little bit of ground, you’ll be in a world of hurt trying to latch back on.

It was down in the drops, @$$holes and elbows, giving it everything we had, though the line stayed smooth and efficient.  We came out of the lake loop and we’re presented with a climb that absolutely destroys me, every single freaking time.  It starts out gradually but ramps up to better than 8%.  I, stupidly, plowed way too much air up front before dropping back just before the climb.  As the road pitched up, the group came around and left me grunting as they pulled away.  I simply didn’t have the gas to stay with them.  No chance.

Thankfully, about a half-mile after that, there’s a regroup point and I hammered after the group once the ground leveled out a little bit, closing ground as I regained my faculties.

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And that’s when things got fun.  There are a couple of decent climbs after that, but I knew I would be able to hang.  They’re tough, but not horrible – and I wasn’t about to repeat the mistake I’d made a mile earlier.  We rolled out with a lively pace, heading south with a tailwind again.  The clouds had parted and the sun was shining brilliantly.  The temp also started to climb.

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We hit the turnaround at just over 20 miles and we started up one of the remaining climbs.  Normally, 12-mph is halfway decent 5% grade as we’ve got a long stretch that we like to hammer hard just over the crest.  Last night we did it at 18-mph.  Into the wind.  Thankfully, I was back in the pack and was hanging on Chuck’s wheel.  Chuck is Mr. Smooth on a bike – if there’s a guy you want to hold a wheel on, it’s Chuck.  He doesn’t pull any hop out of the saddle surprises and he holds a good line.  I just concentrated on his rear wheel on the way up and just kept pedaling.

Once over the hill, the pace leveled off at around 24-mph and we pushed for home.  The headwind wasn’t easy, but as long as the turns up front were short and hard, it could be battled.

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The home stretch was a blur.  The pace was all over the place but only in response to smaller hills.  We came around the final turn at speed with the final climb just ahead.  Mike had the pace at around 22 and I knew I was going to be in trouble.  I was running on empty and the 9%’er was looking ugly.  I have to be honest, I didn’t care.  The group headed up the hill and I lagged.  We were in the last half-mile and I was popped.  I struggled up the grade, then hit the pedals hard coming down the back to close distance.

I pulled across the City Limits sign with a 21.1-mph average (33.8 kmh).  Mike pointed out later, commenting on Strava, that I’d clocked 11 new achievements on a route that has 16 segments on it… I’d been a little bummed that I popped on the two hills until he pointed that out… including a PR on that last climb.  Popped, I PR’ed a climb.

Later on in the parking lot, everyone was laughs and hi-fives.  Doc Mike had clocked a 21.5-mph average for the loop.  As far as I know, that was a new record as well.  I can tell you, looking back, it was more fun than a fella can have with his clothes on.

Special hat tip to Joel for taking the photos used in this post.  Impressive, brother.  I was trying to hard to keep my tongue from getting tangled in my spokes.

Specialized’s Torch 2.0 Road Shoe – A Top-Shelf Carbon Fiber Cycling Shoe For Anyone On A Budget – 20,000 Mile Review

I purchased a pair of Specialized Torch 2.0 shoes a little more than two years ago.  Then I bought a pair for my wife because they’re spectacular.  Then I recommended them to friends, three of whom bought them

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Now, on one hand, to be honest, the color upset me more than a little bit (I ordered them online, through the local shop and they were a lot more red on the computer screen).  I’m a black and red guy, not a black and funky orange/red hybrid guy.  On the other hand, the shoes are so fantastic I really can’t complain about them… and they won’t wear out so I can buy a white pair.

Two years on and they still look good, the heel pad hardly shows any wear at all, and when I take the time to clean them up, they really don’t show any signs of the amount abuse they’ve taken.  The soles are marred up, as one would expect of a carbon fiber sole after a couple of years in service, but the function hasn’t changed a bit.

They’re currently going for $160 a pair and come in several color options – or better, go for the Torch 3.0’s for $225.  Still a fantastic price for a top-notch carbon fiber pair of cycling shoes.

To wrap this post up, the best compliment I can give for a pair of shoes is that I can’t get them to wear out so I can buy a new pair.  Most cycling shoes look hit after two years worth of miles.

If there’s one knock on them, they don’t have a vent in the bottom of the shoe… if you’re caught out in the rain, they do tend to fill up before long.  On the other hand, the vent isn’t letting water in, either.

 

Ican 38 mm Standard Wheels Vs. Fast & Light 50’s

The wheels on the Trek 5200 (right) are Ican’s 38 mm standard wheelset.  According to their website, they weigh in at 1,505 grams (as I remember them, they used to be shown as 1,490 grams + or – 20 grams).  The wheels on the Specialized Venge (left) are Ican’s Fast & Light Series 50 mm wheelset and they’re advertised at a cool 1,470 grams (I did weigh the 38 mm standard wheels, I did not weigh the FL 50’s):

At just $419 US, the 38 mm standard wheelset is an amazing bargain.  After having ridden on them for the last two years, I can’t say enough good about them.  Actually, I can:  I bought my wife a set.  That’s about as much good as any decent husband can say about a set of bicycle wheels.  They roll fast and stay true.  I had them trued after a one-month break-in period and haven’t had to touch them since (though I may have broken one spoke nipple… I can’t quite remember):

The standard wheelset is laced with Mac Aero CN 494 spokes and use their standard four sealed cartridge bearing rear hub with 6 pawls and two sealed bearing front hub.  My wife and I put about 6,000 miles each on those wheels every year and they still operate like they’re brand new – so 24,000 and the only issue is the dust cap loosened up on my wife’s rear wheel and had to be tightened.  For a $420 set of wheels.  My favorite feature is the rear hub with six pawls.  Many wheels’ rear hub (Chris King excepted) have three pawls so there’s a little pause before the wheel catches when you switch from coasting to pedaling.  With six pawls, there’s barely a pause before engaging… and they sound wonderful.  The freewheel makes a very distinct, fantastic sound when coasting.

The 38’s are excellent in the wind, too.  I’ve never had a problem with them and I’ve ridden regularly in wind exceeding 20-mph (steady and gusting).  If that wasn’t enough, and it should be for most, there’s no question they make going fast easier.  They won’t make anyone faster – wheels don’t do that – but they will make your approximation of fast easier.

I just picked up a set of the Fast and Light 50’s last week.  The 38’s are better wheels than their cost, there’s no doubt in my mind but the F&L 50’s are better (at least so far).  A lot better.  First, with a 35 gram drop in weight from the 38’s due to upgraded Sapim CX Ray spokes and better, Novatec hubs, the 50’s are plush.  Fitted with Specialized Turbo Pro 26 mm tires, the 25 mm wide rims flush up with the tire nicely for an obvious aerodynamic advantage.  There are plenty of negative reviews out there for Novatec hubs (enter “Novatec hubs junk” into Google) but mine seem fine.  They’re a little unorthodox in their design, but, should bearing changes be necessary in the future, their innovative axle makes removal simple.

There are a couple interesting items I’ve had to get used to in dealing with the beefier 50 mm deep wheels, such as riding them in the wind.  Even with an improved design for crosswinds, they’re a bit twitchy in 15-mph+ winds next to the 38’s.  Then there’s the gyroscope phenomenon…  The wheel’s rotational mass wants to keep the wheel upright so when you go ’round a corner, you can feel, ever so slightly, the wheel wanting to correct itself and run upright.  This happens with any deep dish wheel, but it’s been interesting feeling it when it happens.

I can’t predict long-term results, especially when we’re talking about Novatec hubs, but if the FL 50’s hold together and last like their less expensive cousins, I’m going to be one happy guy.  I can tell you so far, at $1,064 for two nice sets of carbon fiber wheels weight less than 3-1/2 pounds a set, I feel like I made out like a bandit.

 

Just Like That, iSSi Pedals Restored My Venge to Its Former Glory… Err, Only Better.

Three weeks ago, I couldn’t handle the squeaking of my Look Keo Classic pedals any longer. The cleat bed was so worn I could only un-clip by pushing my heel in, towards the bike. They did last six years, so I definitely got my money’s worth, but they were unquestionably shot.

My three weeks ago Specialized Venge

Sadly, Look did away with their red pedals years ago so I was prepared to settle for a less than splashy black. I also wanted an upgrade, at least, to the Keo Max 2 Carbon. The Max 2 doesn’t have a plastic cleat bed like the Classic, it’s got a stainless plate so the bed won’t wear as the Classic did.

I contacted the shop owner and talked to him about options. He said he had either the Max 2 Carbon or the Cabon Blade but suggested I give the iSSi brand a look so I didn’t have to settle for black. He recently started stocking them.

They were fairly light (10 grams heavier than the Keo Max 2), but they were 1/3 less than the Keo Max 2’s price. The iSSi’s also came in red.

I could live with 10 grams to save $50… especially, because I didn’t know what was going to happen with COVID-19 at the time. I placed the order and paid for them just before the lock down hit.

First, they’re surprisingly light next to my Keo Classic pedals. The construction is solid and as you can see, the “Especially Red” is especially red. Also, the iSSi Carbon Road pedals are compatible with Keo cleats, so I didn’t have to change out my almost new cleats. Another plus is the size of the cleat bed. For this vast improvement, a photo is worth a bunch of words (maybe not a full 1,000, but a fair bunch):

That’s some square inches right there, baby… and at a considerable weight savings, no less. And they have a stainless steel plate for the cleat interface I wanted…

The installation was a little snug, but snug is never a bad thing with pedals. It seemed like the coating on the threads was just a little thick, even greased up. It was simple as the model it replaced with an 8 mm Allen key.

I clipped my shoes in and unclipped them by hand as a test and they worked as one would expect them to (if you can clip them in by hand, with your weaker hands/arms, they’ll be a snap with your feet/legs).

And there she is, in all her red-pedaled glory.

Now all that’s left is a road test, but that will have to wait for the weekend. We’re in the middle of a cold spell. It snowed yesterday. The Venge doesn’t see weather like that… except looking out the window.

Incidentally, the mount on my seat post is for my Garmin Varia. During our COVIDcation-2020 lock down, we now cannot group together with anyone other than those in our household… that means if my wife doesn’t want to ride, I’m riding solo. If I ride solo, I don’t leave the house without my Garmin radar.

UPDATE:  After getting the pedals installed on my bike, I ran into a problem; the spindle is short, meaning the inside of my shoes rubbed the crank arms whilst pedaling, especially with toe covers on.  This is not acceptable with a $550 crankset.  Fortunately, there is a solution.  First, I don’t ride the Venge in the cold, gnarly weather.  That’s what the Trek is for, so I’m not worried about the toe covers.  I slid my cleats, maintaining the alignment, of course, to the inside of the shoe, maybe three millimeters.  This gave me the room I needed so my shoes don’t rub the crank arms.  It also will give me additional room for foot covers on the Trek, so bonus.

If you have wide feet and don’t have any play in your cleats to the inside of the shoe, consider getting the black pedals with the +5 mm spindles.

A Weekend Ride and the Difference Between a Full-Aero Bike and a Standard Road Bike.

My buddy Chuck and I went for a ride yesterday.  I was tempted to take the Venge out but I opted for my Trek instead.  I pulled it off the trainer, swapped the trainer wheel for my outdoor wheel, and readied it to roll.  I love riding my Trek now that I’ve got it right (or at least, this version of right).

Chuck and I rolled out at 1 pm to give it a chance to warm up.  His fever finally subsided Saturday and I didn’t want to stress his system… and I am not particularly fond of riding in temps below freezing anyway.  The goal, agreed to before we left, was for an easy paced ride but we had a problem.  The wind was out of the southeast.  From my house (Chuck lives just two miles away), there really aren’t many good routes that head east and south first.  We’ve got southwest, northwest, and straight up north or west covered, but everything east is ugly.  We had a southeast wind so even our north/south route was pooched because it’s all north to start.

The route we decided on a good first and third quarter.  The second and fourth were gonna suck.  We rolled out slow and easy with a nice tailwind push.  The first quarter was wonderful and we talked about a lot… from a socially distant distance.  Then came the second quarter, several miles dead south, and that’s where it got a little ugly but it wasn’t horrible.  We just kinda kept after it.  A little more cross-tailwind for the third quarter that was nice, but I knew we were going to have to pay the piper when we turned for home.  It was going to be a long stretch into some ugly headwind.

I hate headwind on the way home.  Don’t get me wrong, it beats not riding by a lot, but it’s still a tough way to ride.  And that was when I realized how much more power is needed to keep the Trek up to speed.  I powered on, but I definitely didn’t like it.  Holding 18-mph into the 13-mph headwind wasn’t easy at all… and that’s where my aero Venge shines brightly over the Trek.  With a tailwind, both bikes are fantastic but when the going gets tough, the Specialized slips through the wind.

The differences between the two bikes are quite obvious.  25 mm alloy wheels on the 5200, 38 mm carbon wheels on the Venge.  Standard round tube frame for the 5200, aero frame for the Venge.  Both bikes have aero handlebars, but the Venge’s seat post and seat post tube are foil shaped.  The 5200’s are round.

Eventually, the next nice bonus check will go to a set of 50’s for the Venge and I’ll put the 38’s on the 5200.  The Trek is noticeably better with the 38’s over the 25’s.

I can’t quantify with power data the increase in wattage needed to produce identical results on both bikes, but it’s a fair amount.  On a day like yesterday, it’s the difference between being smoked after 35-1/2 miles and having a good workout.  The GCN boys actually worked this out once, too.  If memory serves, Simon figured watt for watt it was the difference between a 20 minute ride and a 50 minutes… it was a big advantage.

When I ride the Trek I try to look at the bright side:  Every time I ride it, I’m getting faster for where it counts.  Tuesday nights.

Guess what day it is! Guess what day it is!!!

Venge Day!

Anyone who tells you a normal road bike with a decent set of alloy wheels is the same as riding a sweet aero bike with a decent set of aero wheels, well they haven’t spent enough time on an aero bike.  The difference is astonishing.  In all fairness, though, a great bike won’t make a cyclist faster; a great aero bike makes fast easier.

That’s right, my friends.  I carted the Venge out yesterday for my ride with Chuck. Technically, Venge Day should have waited for another couple of weeks, but as you can see, it was beautiful outside.  Maybe not as warm as I’d have liked, but 50° (10 C) will do.

Having the Venge out was fun right from the first shift, after having perfected the cable routing over the winter.  I don’t remember the bike shifting that well right out of the box!  Part of the enjoyable nature of the ride was having completed all of the maintenance over the winter – the bike feels new.  Everything is tight, there are no creaks or squeaks… no clicks… just a whoosh through the air and that telltale sound carbon fiber aero wheels make when you’re pushing the pace out of the saddle.

We headed into the wind to start, taking it a little easy which was exactly what I wanted… Chuck and I are rarely in sync with easy days – either he’s pushing the pace or I am, but yesterday we just took it medium into the wind.  After a bonus 2-mile loop, the real fun started and we pushed the pace all the way home with a tailwind.  With the Trek, I’ve really gotta put some effort into getting the most out of the bike.  With my Specialized, I can literally feel it slip through the air… and that first time I feel it after spending the first weeks of the new year on the Trek, it always puts a smile on my face.

Venge Day was glorious this year.

The Noob’s Guide Cycling; The Humble Drop Handlebar – All You Need to Know, Starting with “It’s Anything But”…

Nowadays, the humble drop handlebar is anything but humble…

IMG-20120121-00585One of the uglier handlebars to ever come on a bike…  Never mind the saddle (!).  And the entertainment center (!).  Thankfully, my home, and that Trek, are much improved since 2011.

The humble handlebar can make or break the feel of a road bike.  While most people will buy a bike, set it and forget it, some of us go to great lengths to understand how something as simple as a saddle, stem, crank, or a handlebar can effect how a bike fits.

In addition to the crazy monstrosity (handlebar) above, we’ve got standard drop bars, shallow drop bars, compact drop bars, track drop bars, ergonomic drop bars… you could go nuts trying to keep all of them straight.  The important thing is to figure out what you like and stick with it.  I hated the bar that came on my Trek.  I’m sure it was supposed to be cool back in ’99, but I ended up swapping that bar out immediately after I upgraded my Specialized to a sexier, carbon fiber bar.  That upgrade was important – that was the point I started paying attention to how a handlebar was shaped because I absolutely loved the bar that came with my Venge while hating the Trek’s original bar.

Enter stage left, the term “drop” (the distance from the top of the bar top to the drop) and stage right, “reach” (the distance from the bar top out to the bend).  And, just to clarify, typically when we’re talking about handlebar measurements, we’re looking at the “center of the tube”, not the front or back edge.  Anyway, I loved the handlebar that came on my Venge, so when I thought about buying the aero carbon fiber S-Works upgrade, I looked at the reach and drop first.  The reach was perfect but the drop was 5mm shallow.  It was little enough I could live with it, especially considering the steep drop from the saddle to the handlebar.  At that point, 5mm really isn’t much.  I went through the same process when I upgraded the Trek’s bar so I could put its old bar on my gravel bike…

New bar on the left, old on the right….

While some put stock in the “drop”, I’m more concerned with “reach”, personally.  I don’t ride with my hands down at the ends of the drops.  When in the drops, I ride with my hands just below the hoods, where I can easily grab the brakes or shift – I ride with my hands out on the reach.

The reach is what stretches you out – the more stretch, the better I breathe – though too much of a good thing would be bad.

So, when I brought home my gravel bike and tried to set it up like my road bikes, I was a little stymied by why I felt so scrunched in the cockpit.  I designed some of that in by ordering a shorter stem (by 10mm) so I would sit more upright.  This would aid in pothole avoidance.  However, the reach on the bar, or lack thereof, made the bike less than enjoyable too ride – I was too tight in the cockpit.

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This is a couple of iterations ago… I just used this photo to match the background which highlights the contrast between the two drop bars.

It doesn’t take much to see the difference between the compact drop on the Specialized and the regular drop on the Trek.  The difference in reach is a full inch (25-ish mm).

What does all of that hoohah translate out to in how the bike fits?  From the nose of the saddle on the Specialized to the edge of the hood (where it curves up) is a full two inches less that of the Trek.  I lost 10 mm to a shorter stem, 15 mm on geometry differences, and another 25-1/2 mm for the compact handlebar that came on my gravel bike.

Now that I’ve got the bar that once resided on the Trek on my gravel bike, I’ve changed that 2″ shortfall to a more reasonable 1″ – and I’ve got a little more drop to boot.

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Speaking of drop, the final little piece to this sordid puzzle was making the Trek just slightly more aggressive.

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If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll notice the bar doesn’t follow the plane of the stem, the bar rises slightly up from that plane.  This brought the hoods up, say 3/4″ (2 cm) higher that they’d have been if the bar followed the plane of the stem.  Well, with the new handlebar I decided I’d try to give it the whole enchilada and see how I’d do.  I rotated the bar forward so it followed the level of the stem.

Well, it’s definitely aggressive, but I was more than a little nervous after my first test on the trainer.  I felt like I might be too low.  That was, until I took the bike outside.  The first thing I noticed was how much it felt like my Specialized.  The two are almost identical in terms of saddle position and drop to the bar from the saddle.  After a five mile break-in period, the Trek felt like it should have been set up that way from day one.

Equally important is the width of the handlebar.  Drops come in 40 cm, 42 cm, and 44 cm.  I’m a fairly big fella and I prefer a 42.  The original bar on the Trek was a 44 and it was too wide.  I eventually got used to it, but when I brought my Venge home with a 42 on it, I was ruined forever.  Women typically go with a 40 (or 42 if they have very wide shoulders).  Men with exceptionally wide shoulders, or who want a little more steering control, go with the 44’s.

With that out of the way, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the difference between carbon fiber and alloy handlebars.  In order of importance, as carbon fiber goes, first is the frame, second is wheels, third is seat post, and fourth would be handlebar.  However, what is important is a carbon fiber handlebar will take some sting out of the road.  It’ll also look sexier.  It’s doubtful it’ll be lighter than an alloy bar, though.  A decent alloy bar will be just as light as a carbon fiber bar – and about a third the cost.  If you’re worried about feeling too much road vibration, go with a bar tape with a little padding to it.  In all, I’ve only got one carbon fiber bar on my good bike, and I bought it because it’s sexy.  That’s a period at the end of that last sentence.  If you don’t want it, you don’t need it.

To put a cherry on top of this post, just remember that you’re not limited to the bar that came on your bike – or more important, on a second bike.  If you don’t like it, it’s likely you can find something you will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You won’t regret it.