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My Wife’s New Road Bike; Ready For Asphalt (Even If The Weather Has Us Stuck Inside)

My wife’s new road bike, a steel Assenmacher circa 2004-ish (Jess is doing the research with Matt to figure out what year, exactly), is done. New short reach handlebar, new bar tape, carbon bottle cages (which match the carbon on the rest of the bike), carbon bar-end plugs… and all cleaned up, ready for duty. The completed bike, with pedals, weighs in at a mere 18 pounds. Astonishingly light for a steel bike (that carbon fork and carbon crank make a huge difference).

The bike is stunningly beautiful and my wife couldn’t be happier to own and ride a bike hand built by a friend – and I couldn’t be happier for her that things worked out the way they did.

Good times, noodle salad.

Why the Specialized S-Works Crux ISN’T The One (All-Purpose Bike)

I watched a YouTube video (link below) that suggests in the Title that the S-Works Crux, a $12,500 bicycle, might be The ONE. The ONE all-purpose bike that let’s you do it all. Group rides, road rides, dirt rides, the whole nine.

It is, without a doubt, a decent bike. Especially the eTap wireless electronic shifting option. I’m going to pull the curtains back on this one pretty fast, though. The ONE, this ain’t.

At around 17-pounds (7.7 kg), it’s a fairly light gravel bike. However, while it does have a decent set of Roval wheels on it out of the box, you’d need a road set of 50s to make the most of a club ride. Especially so you don’t have to swap tires to ride gravel or road. Unless, of course, you like spending your free time swapping tires around throughout the summer months… oh, and working a little harder than everyone else in the group your riding… So you’re looking at another $1,000 to $2,000 for your road wheels, plus another $120-ish for tires. Oh, and rotors, and a cassette… and shims so you can swap one set for the other without messing with the brake calipers. Throw on another $300.

We’re not done yet, though. That $12,500 bike that is already up around $14,000, comes with a 1x drivetrain. With a 10t to 44t cassette and a 40t chainring. Now, the fella in the video actually said he spins out at about 34-mph in the last gear 40/10. This makes sense. I could probably get it to 37 with a little extra kick, but you’re out of gear there. I can get 45-mph out of a 50/34 and 11/28 cassette. 37 is pretty good, though, so maybe swap out a 42t chainring for a little extra oomph in the sprint? Hold on, though, sparky. There’s another problem that must be addressed before we call this good. You’re looking at a 12-speed 1x system with a 10 to 44t cassette.

Having already played this game before, here are the cogs:

10-11-12-15-17-19-21-24-28-32-38-44

You’ve got a 1-tooth jump for the smallest three cogs, but you’ll always be in the wrong gear going from the 12 to 15. So I’m not going to bother doing the math on Sheldon Brown’s gear calculator site. Actually, I will. And wouldn’t you know it, I was right. See below for the results.

You’ve got a massive hole between 19 & 24-mph. So you’d need to shrink that chainring so the hole is in the slower speeds. But we need a bigger chain ring for the sprint!

So let’s throw another $700 at the problem and get a front derailleur, a double crank with a legit 50/34 crankset on it (surprisingly, it looks like the original shifter might work with a 1 or 2x).

So your $12,500 Crux is now just shy of $15,000 and you’re finally ready for a road ride! Wow, I’m tired. And exceptionally broke.

The Crux isn’t The ONE. I’d take my 10-year-old 16-pound Venge over a brand new S-Works Crux out of the box in a road ride any day of the week and twice, literally, on Sunday. And I’d work you into the ground on your S-Works Crux with a smile on my face…

Maintaining A Shimano 10-Speed Groupset on a Road Bike So It Always Shifts Perfectly; There Are A Lot Of Little Things That Add Up to Perfect.

The first tip for maintaining a mechanical groupset on a road bike so it always shifts perfectly is, don’t use Shimano’s 10-speed groupset as your example of perfect.

Campagnolo? Awesome. SRAM 10-speed? Fine and dandy. Shimano? Well…

I should know. My wife and I have four bikes in our stable with differing lines of Shimano 10-speed drivetrains. We’re in the process of acquiring a Campagnolo Record equipped 10-speed bike and have an 11-speed Shimano and 9-speed Shimano gravel bikes (one of which was upgraded from Shimano Claris 8-speed which was absolute garbage). In the 10-speed camp, at the top of the range, we have my Ultegra-equipped Specialized Venge, then my 105-equipped Trek 5200, my wife’s Specialized Secteur, and our Co-Motion tandem. My wife’s Specialized Alias has Shimano’s 105 line in 11-speed.

The key here is knowing the one problem with Shimano’s 10-speed line; if you know this problem, you can fix that when it rears its ugly head. Worry about the other minor problems as they arise. The main problem resides in a weak spring in the rear derailleur. This causes the derailleur’s performance to degrade long before its useful life should be over.

I chose the words in that last sentence very carefully, because they’re exceedingly important to how the drivetrain performs when that spring goes bad. It’ll operate like the shifting cable has drag in it, leading you on a wild goose chase for a phantom problem you’ll never be able to find. Oh, there will be signs that you’ve finally found the problem but your shifting will soon be pooched yet again… because you really just need a new rear derailleur.

Basically, you won’t be able to dial the rear derailleur in. It’ll shift well going up the cassette or it’ll shift well going down, never both as it should.

Unfortunately, that’s also a major clue for having drag in the shifting cable that’s preventing the derailleur from properly indexing. A little dirt or grime, some rust on the cable, grime in the connecting bits (ferrules and grommets and such), as well as grime in the cable guide under the bottom bracket… even grime in the shifters themselves – any of those issues will make your bike’s shifting go bad.

The simplest way to fix the rest is to pick up and install a shifting cable set from the manufacturer of your drivetrain. Even though you can technically use SRAM and Shimano interchangeably, I’ve taken to using only products that complete a line, with the exception of chains and cassettes. I use Ultegra chains and cassettes on all of the 105 bikes. They cost a little more, but the weight savings is worth it to me. New cables, housings and end caps (also referred to as ferrules) from the shifters to the rear derailleur, along with a shifter/hood cleaning will cure all ills if the derailleurs are in good working order.

An End-Of-Season Sale At The Local Bike Shop! Assenmacher’s Cycling Center

There’s a sale that just started at Assenmacher’s Cycle Center on Hill Road in Flint Twp.

Matt’s got several styles and manufacturers on sale.

20% off select brand bikes

25% off select accessories, including clothing and helmets.

If you want to purchase a bike at a good discount, now is the time… and there’s enough knowledge at that store to get you properly fitted to anything you can get your hands on.

Now, I can’t promise you’ll land a beauty like one of my bikes, but they do have a nice gently used Roubaix disc (2018) on display and they’ve got all forms of mountain bikes, hybrids and even a selection of eBikes.

Check it out!

PS. Full disclosure, the owner is a very good friend and riding buddy of mine, my wife and my daughters. His brother was my grade school gym teacher. My wife and I have bought every bike that we currently use on the road in our stable from him… including three (about to be four) road bikes, two mountain bikes, two gravel bikes and a tandem. He’s forgotten more about bikes than I could hope to know. He is good people. Matt did not help me get the cycling bug. I got that on my own. He just helped make riding bikes more fun than should be legal.

Ride hard, my friends. Or your approximation of it.

And the obligatory bald eagle. ‘Merica!!!

Setting Up a Road Bike; My Gravel Bike (As Much As I Love To Hate That Bike, It’s Technically Perfect)

I didn’t set my Specialized Diverge gravel bike up exactly like I did my Venge. The geometries on the two bikes differ slightly, requiring a 120 mm stem to get the handlebar of the Diverge far enough away I’d match the reach on the Venge. I opted for a 110, though, because the shortened reach, I reasoned, would allow me to ride slightly more upright which would be better for spotting potholes in the dirt roads. I was, surprisingly, right.

Riding my gravel bike the other day, I couldn’t help but realize I love the bike. Oh, it pisses me off that I can’t really fit anything greater than a 30mm tire on it (the bike is supposed to take a 32mm but in the conditions I ride, too much mud will rub the paint off the chain stays) and at 24 pounds (10.8 kg) it’s a little bit like lugging a boat anchor up a hill next to my Venge’s 16 pounds (7.2 kg).

That said, I really did a bang up job setting the bike up. I described the bike fit I put on it to my friend (and the owner of the local bike shop) as “fitting like a fine leather driving glove”. It’s not just “fits like a glove”, it’s one or two steps better than that. It feels fantastic riding it.

And so exists my bike-snobbery gravel bike conundrum… I’ve got a heavy, low-spec, poorly engineered bike that rides and operates perfectly, and fits me like the tubing was cut, fit and welded to a solid casting of my entire body set in the quintessentially perfect riding position. It doesn’t fit any better than my Trek or Venge, but that lowly $1,150 bike is just as comfortable to ride as my $2,500 or $6,000 road rigs.

I don’t know whether to have a temper tantrum or pat myself on the back.

The Anatomy of a Super Cool Road Bike

I’ve gotten a little fat and happy over the last several years and I was more than a little nervous about slamming the stem and flipping a 10 degree stem in addition, but I look my bike, as in the photo above, and I just can’t help but think, “That’s one beautiful bike!”

If you haven’t noticed, I love taking photos of my bike propped against “No Bikes Allowed” or “No Parking at Any Time” signs.

Before I get into this too deeply, the very definition of the anatomy of a super cool race bike begins with “It’s one you can ride”. We start there, because if I’d have put myself in an uncomfortable position, on any of my bikes, to the extent I can’t ride one efficiently, well that’d just be silly.

Beyond that, let’s get into the low-hanging fruit first: my saddle bag, or posterior man-satchel as they’re sometimes referred to. A saddle bag is “technically” against the rules, but we break the rules when it is necessary. When riding a 40-mile club ride with our buddies, we can stuff our spare tire kit in our back pocket. When you’re on a 400-mile multi-day tour, carrying all of that crap in your back pocket sucks – especially when you need space to store arm warmers and food because you’re riding a hundred miles a day with your buddies and the temperature will jump by as much as 30 degrees (F)… and you don’t have a damned team car to take your cool weather gear so that stuff has to be stowed in a pocket.

Next, we’ll go for that rearward facing blinkie. Not exactly de rigueur, but I like to be seen and the Garmin Varia is the best light on the market for that. Not only because we’ve had police drive up to us and compliment us on our choice of rear blinkie, but because it doubles as a radar.

So, complain if you will. I can take it. On both counts.

Next up, I’m going to ask you to disregard the poor staging of my Venge in the photos above. I know how to take a proper photo of a bicycle, I just enjoy the randomness of simply propping a bike up on a sign in a casual manner, rather than messing around with staging it to make sure the perfect length Presta valve stems are at 6:00 and the cranks are parallel to the ground or in line with the chainstays (whichever you prefer, but the latter obviously looks better – see below).

That said, let’s get down to the details of what makes a super-cool road bike super-cool!

  • No rust
  • No crud
  • No dirt
  • Excellent working order
  • Shimano 105 or better groupset, or the Campagnolo or SRAM equivalent – and for those not in the know, matching a groupset is preferable (even between SRAM and Shimano which should work across lines up to 11-speed).
  • Decent wheelset (carbon fiber isn’t necessary, but it doesn’t hurt)
  • A modern threadless stem (with a carbon fiber fork) should have one 5mm spacer below and one above the stem (this is to ensure the carbon fiber isn’t crushed by tightening a stem to the fork)
  • Stem should either follow the top tube or be as close to parallel as possible while still allowing for comfortable cycling (see above and below)
  • Comfortable saddle with level one or two padding (carbon fiber is preferable, but not a requirement – it is a good way to save an easy quarter of a pound)
  • Pedals should match secondary color of the bike, if at all possible (if not, black is the standard). Keep in mind, too much of the secondary color can get to “gaudy” in a hurry! Proceed with caution.
  • Hoods, if tolerable and allowing for proper wrist alignment, should be parallel to the ground, but preferably have a 5 degree rise to allow for the aforementioned proper wrist alignment (see below)
  • Black bar tape is standard, though colors can and should be incorporated where sensible and prudent without being gaudy.
  • A decal or two can make a wonderful addition, as can be seen below; an A100 sticker on the seat tube just below the top tube and a Punisher skull on the downtube to remind one of their badassery when their tongue is dangling in close proximity to it because the ride is so damned fast, are perfect examples (see below):

Above, and also: A perfect representation of the 5 degree rise of a shifter lever hood on my Trek 5200.

And so there you have it, a super-cool bike and a bonus super-cool classic…

Ride hard, and your approximation of fast, my friends.

How to Identify and Eliminate a Seat Post Creak in a Road, Gravel or Mountain Bike

For that “out of the saddle” creak that you just can’t find but drives you absolutely up a wall, always start with the seat post. First, a minor creak is the bane of a cycling enthusiast’s existence. Some are notoriously difficult to properly diagnose, too, like a creaking seatpost. It’s one of those pain-in-the-butt creaks to nail down.

First, let’s start with how this petulant creak will present before we get to the fix. You’ll notice a creak once in a while, almost always while seated, and it will get louder and more persistent over time. Eventually, your bike will creak whether you’re in the saddle or not, which will make the noise all the more difficult to pin down. What’s worse, you’ll likely just tighten the bolt(s) on the mounting collar, thinking that’ll fix the problem. Worse than that, you’ll think it’s coming from the bottom bracket which will drive you bonkers. Then you’ll think it’s possibly a loose spoke making the noise. Loose cassette next? Loose quick release skewer, anyone?

My heart bleeds for you, oh poor cyclist. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though, and it isn’t the nanny state!

Over time your seatpost will simply need to be moved up and down to work the lube or carbon paste around a little bit and it’ll quiet right down. Measure your saddle height (whichever method you’re familiar with – I like to measure from the drivetrain side with the crank arm bottomed out to the top of the saddle following the middle of the seat post – this, to me, ensures as close to an exact measurement as is possible). Then, simply move the seat post up and down (a minimum of 6″, or even pull the seat post all the way to clean and lube it fully) and re-seat it at the proper height before tightening it back down.

Done correctly, your bike will quiet down immediately.

It’s very easy to mistake this for a bottom bracket creak… or anything but a wonky seatpost. If you thoroughly clean and lube your crank and that hasn’t worked, try the seat post next. I damn-near threw my Specialized Venge in the ditch five years ago when I couldn’t figure the creak out after trying a half-dozen different things… including tightening the seat post collar bolts without moving the seat post. Sure enough, on a fluke, I loosened the collar bolts and worked the seat post up and down a few times to work the carbon paste around and it fixed it.

I FIXED MY TREK’S CREAKING HEADSET! Simple and Painless

My Trek 5200 is a phenomenal rain bike. Always has been. It has a deep, dark secret in its past, though. It suffered years of neglect before I bought it in terms of the headset and steering assembly. By the time I got it, it was a rusted mess.

I had a new Chris King headset installed when I overhauled the bike back in 2016.

The headset, even the new King headset, was notoriously difficult to dial in. It had to be within an eighth of a turn or it would present difficulties. A sixteenth too tight and it would bind, causing the front wheel to “gyroscope” – this feels incredibly unsettling in a corner when the bike tries to right itself as you’re leaning into it. A sixteenth too lose and it would creak when I got out of the saddle to put max power to the pedals. Let’s just say I lived with a creak. Oh, I’d get it right now and again and it would only creak under excessive load, but for the most part, it’d creak when climbing hills and during sprints.

All of that pitting is the cause of the creak that I lived with for all those years. The new race wasn’t enough. So, after years of messing around with trying to get the Chris King Gripnut right, I’d worn the paint off it and made it look messy. It was good enough from afar, as I’d dress it up with black nail polish from time to time, but it was ugly. Two years ago I placed an order for a new Gripnut… and because of the pandemic it took until this week to come in.

My glorious, outstanding, beautiful wife went in to pick that beauty up when she went in to pick up her next new/used road bike and I just had time to install it last night. However, instead of living with the same problem, I emailed Matt and asked if there was anything that could be done about the pitting to fix the creak. The crown race is still tight on the fork and obviously looks amazing. The interface is the problem, though, but he said that could be re-machined. I got to thinking, if it can be re-machined, why can’t I just sand the pitting down?

I picked up 4 sheets of sandpaper on the way home last night… 80 grit, 120, 160 and 320. I used the 120 and 320.

I took the fork off after getting home from work and cleaned it up, making sure to degrease it entirely. Then, I simply took a long strip of each kind of sandpaper and sanded the interface smooth(ish). I cleaned it up, de-dusted it, lubed it and put everything back together so it was just tight enough to take up the slop in the fork.

I was certain it was going to creak because it wasn’t anywhere near tight enough to start binding, but the steering was better than on my Venge (which is immaculate) so I decided to suit up and give it a try just for shits and giggles.

Not a creak, groan, moan, or… anything. It’s perfect. That bike is going to get a lot more use in the future, I can tell you that! Well, technically that’s not exactly true, either. The new tandem is going to get most of the miles. The Trek will split solo rides with the Venge and will be my exclusive (solo) tour bike for things like DALMAC and possibly the Horsey Hundred (I just remembered we’re likely to take the new tandem on Horsey next year). I’d chosen the Venge a little more frequently lately because of the creak, but with that gone, the Trek operates just as good as the Venge! Happy Day!

Cycling and Carbon Fiber or Aluminum?

Aluminum has its place in cycling. It’s stiff, light… erm… well, it’s stiff and light. Carbon fiber took the world by storm starting in the late 80s and early 90s but really broke metal’s hold on cycling in the late (late) 90s when Trek introduced one of the first production full carbon fiber frames and dominated the road bike market with it’s 5000 series frames (including the 5200 and 5500 frames). Carbon fiber is infinitely moldable, while aluminum is quite finite as a frame material.

So, which would you choose for your bike?

I’ve got a little of both in the stable; aluminum gravel bike, aluminum mountain bike, steel tandem, carbon fiber road bikes.

With today’s trend of wider tires, aluminum can actually make a little more sense with its main feature; stiffness. Now, we’re going to pretend for a minute that you can’t make carbon fiber stiff in one direction but compliant in another by adjusting the layout and orientation of the carbon sheets. The one killer of efficiency in a bike frame is compliance. The more the frame move as one pedals, the less efficient the frame is. If we can do anything with aluminum tubing, it’s make a stiff bike frame. The one downside of those frames in the 80s and 90s was that skinny tires made them terribly uncomfortable. Once we started throwing 28 to 32 millimeter tires on bikes, aluminum’s rigidity was able to shine because the tires could take so much of the road’s chatter away.

For this reason, I love my gravel bike. Sure, it’s heavy, but it’s not terrible at 24 pounds… until I try rolling with someone on a 17-pound carbon fiber gravel bike. That extra seven pounds takes a good bit of effort (not all seven pounds are in frame weight, obviously, it’s only a pound or two… the rest is cheaper components and wheels. I could make the bike 18 pounds if I invested some money in wheels and decent components).

Where aluminum really makes a good showing is in a tandem frame. Carbon fiber, and there’s at least one manufacturer who makes them (Calfee), is prohibitively expensive when you get to something as big as a tandem. A frame alone costs as much as my wife and my full Co-Motion Kalapuya (with a second set of road wheels) – this is enough I wouldn’t even want to afford one… but that aircraft grade aluminum beauty we ordered is going to be phenomenal when it gets here! And with the ability to ride 32s for paved roads and 45s for gravel, I have zero worries about the rigidity. In fact, I’ll welcome it next to our current steel tandem that weighs 42-pounds. The new tandem will be in the mid to upper 20s.

There’s a return to aluminum as the frame material of choice because it’s more abundant, recyclable and it’s cheap. With the wider tire fad of late, this makes that at least reasonable.

On the other hand, I’d never trade in my carbon fiber. When it comes to an awesome ride, carbon fiber is still the best – no matter how fat tires are getting:

DALMAC 2022 Part Four Day Four: The Parade to Mackinaw City… and More Than Enough Headwind for One Trip

Day Four of DALMAC is always tough for me. I don’t want to be done, especially this year as it was the best DALMACs ever, but I’m glad for the day because the ride is epically beautiful. Some of the best scenery Michigan has to offer.

And so, with a semi-heavy heart, we rolled out of Boyne City high school for Mackinaw City, just 73 short miles away…

The morning was crisp and the forecast called for a windy, partly cloudy, cool ride. The second mile of the ride begins a miles-long climb out of Boyne City that culminates in a mile-long descent later on. We never made up the We enjoyed sunshine for much of the first 40 miles but the cloud cover increased as we headed north to our destination. There was lighthearted banter, periods of fast, periods of slow, and a lot of “up”.

We go off-course to do a series of rollers commonly known as the 7 Sisters along the shore of Walloon Lake, then pick it up again the Walloon Lake Country Club. The next big “this is so freaking incredible” sight is the Harbor Springs tour of the bay. Utterly gorgeous, and my favorite mile of the year.

After Harbor Springs, there’s a long climb out… followed by another climb… and another… and one more, still… but with all of that climbing comes a payoff; we call it The Chute, where we hit our top speed of the day, north of 40-mph. The Chute drops us onto South Lake Shore Drive, and it’s exactly what you’d expect from an epic road name like that along Lake Michigan’s coast that we call “The Tunnel of Trees”. It’s world famous.

We stop at Goodhart for a wonderful lunch before pounding out the last 30-ish miles to Mackinaw City. This year, that last hour and change was brutal, with a nasty headwind out of the northeast. Still, it’s a sight to behold.

We had two DALMAC rookies in our group this year, and they were both given the honor of leading the group home on the last mile. I captured them in the third photo, before drifting to the back to watch them take it to the finish line.

My wife, who has supported me on seven DALMACs and, as I wrote in a previous post, each one was always a self-centered affair for me. This year, as we approached the finish and my wife cheering us in, I pointed to the right to clear the lane and pulled my bike off onto the gravel shoulder. Once I hit grass, at full speed, I unclipped my left foot and skidded my bike to a stop just as I passed my wife. I unclipped the other foot and placed my bike on the ground to turn around to embrace her and plant the biggest kiss I thought she’d be able to stand after 74 hard miles. I hugged her tightly and thanked her for being there and told her, specifically, exactly how grateful I was.

Later, she said it was one of the sexier things I’ve done… especially the skid.

And so it was, another DALMAC in the books. We loaded up the bikes, along with Matt and Jonathan, and headed home. It was a perfectly awesome tour and weekend. 4 days, 372 miles, and a pile of fantastic memories.