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What Happens When A Road or Mountain Bike Saddle is Too Wide: Complications in Bike Setup… and One Major Pain In One’s Heinie.

I’ve written about this topic in the past, butt it keeps rearing its ugly head – and this time I’d gone radical in the name of… being a weight weenie! Of all things. Now, after enough double entendres in one sentence to choke a chicken, it’s time to get serious because this really is no laughing matter. The truth is, I’ve got a much better understanding of how saddles work – and more important, how the width of a saddle can have an affect on the sitting area. Because I’m still riding on one.

My true saddle width is somewhere between 128 and 138. A 138 is plenty comfortable but I’ve ridden quite a few centuries on a 128 with nothing but glowing reviews. My Bontrager Montrose Pro Carbon saddles aren’t all that special, either. They’re contoured rather than flat with minimal but fantastic padded support, and they’re light. 140-ish grams if I remember. Just shy of a third of a pound for a saddle. There are lighter saddles out there, down to 80 grams, but I tried a minimalist 110 gram saddle with virutually no padding and I just couldn’t make it work (and it wasn’t for a lack of effort). I have thousands of miles on those saddles and I learned something I didn’t know over the last few weeks.

I used to ride a Specialized Romin 143 that I thought was the cat’s pajamas. I had one on my race road bike and one on my rain road bike, and put tens of thousands of miles on them. At first, the local shop set me up with Specialized’s Body Geometry fitting. I’d done my best and was excited to see how I stacked up against all of the glorious video equipment and high-class software analytics that could be thrown at bike fitting.

The shop lowered my saddle two millimeters after the three hour fitting process.

Over the years and six to ten thousand mile years, I developed a sore spot on my left inner-thigh bone, just forward of the sit bone (my left leg is a little shorter than my right). I simply lived with it for years as it wasn’t a full-time pain. It was fleeting. A few years ago it stuck around for a while and I decided to lower my saddle a couple of millimeters to see if that would fix it. That worked for the most part.

Until I found a Bontrager Montrose Pro Carbon on sale for around $120. The Romin I had on the Trek at the time was heavy – 276 grams or a little less than two-thirds of a pound. The Montrose had a 138 mm width, though, and I was supposed to be a 143. I threw caution to the wind, figuring it was worth the risk to drop that much weight with so little money (they normally ran around $300). When my saddle came in, I fitted it on the Trek and rode it for the first time, it was glorious.

After giving it two months with nothing but good to say about the saddle, I went back to buy a second for my Venge. You find a saddle that feels that good, it doesn’t matter the brand mismatch. Sadly, they were out of the 138 but they had 128s in stock. I gave it a go. I dropped even more weight off the Specialized and the feel wasn’t all that different from the 138. I expected the 128 to hurt a little because it wasn’t wide enough, but that worry turned out to be unnecessary.

And once I had both Montrose saddles on my road bikes, I found I could raise the saddles, comfortably, back to the old shop setting. 36-5/8″ (93 cm or 930.2750 mm) and I don’t have that pain on my left inner thigh bone just forward of my sit bone anymore.

That is, I didn’t have that pain anymore until I started riding my gravel bike that has a 143 mm Specialized Romin 143 mm saddle on it and I hit a bump… and that’s when it all started to make sense.

The pain I’ve been experiencing gets worse the wider the saddle gets, too. My Trek originally came with a 155 mm saddle that had me so sore I thought it was a running injury. As it turned out, after a few days off the bike, the pain subsided – then flared right back up after riding again.

The point is, saddle width is a little tricky to diagnose and it can present as other things, such as a saddle being too high. There’s also a difference between finding something that’s livable and something perfect, as was my case with the small difference between a 143 and a 138 mm saddle. The more I ride, the more that little bit mattered.

What I Would Do To My Specialized Venge If Money Were No Object (and It Is, But a Fella Can Dream of “Just Hit the Lotto” Money)

I opened a big, fat can of worms in Wednesday’s post about my Venge’s most excellent outcome in extracting the crankset from the bike. See, the S-Works crankset on my Venge is technically top-of-the-line. That’s a technicality, though. First of all, S-Works is some fantastic bike equipment. Think of the line as Specialized’s Skunk Works. If you’re drawing a blank, Skunk Works is Lockheed Martin’s top-end aircraft design studio that started back in the 1930s, extending through the days of the most awesome Supersonic SR-71 Blackbird.

I have mentioned on this page that my dad was a weatherman in the Air Force. Well that’s where I got my love for the weather, aircraft, and fast carbon fiber things… it only makes sense that I latched onto cycling the way I did. The only sad part is that it took me till I was 41 to find bikes that weren’t sold at a Sears.

In a matter of three years, I went from thinking bikes didn’t get much better than a Sears $185 hybrid to this:

So, in working on my post Wednesday, that can of worms I opened was in the form of hashing out the definition of “top-of-the-line” in terms of a crankset. Technically, my Venge is top-of-the-line in realistic terms. In pie-in-the-sky terms, there’s top-of-the-line, then one crazy step above that: there’s THM.

I think I dropped around $600 on my S-Works crankset (with spider) and it weighs around 500 grams (if memory serves). The THM Clavicula SE crank, by comparison, runs about $1,400 and weighs only 300 grams with the spider. Check out this thing of beauty:

So, I thought, what if I took my Venge to beyond top-of-the-line? What would it look like (and vastly more important, how much would that cost)?

Going back to that $185 Sears hybrid, the FSA Energy brakes on my Venge retailed for $160 (I found them on closeout for $50). They’re lighter than Shimano’s Ultegra at 316 grams for the set (Dura Ace run 300 grams, Ultegra are 360, and 105 brakes are 380). In other words, my brakes retailed for almost as much as I paid for an entire bike and they’re decently high-end.

Then there’s the THM Fibula caliper brake set. The set retails for around $1,500 but only weighs an astonishingly light 120 grams… for the set. Have a look:

That’s just next-level sexy, right there.

Then there’s the stem and handlebar (or the handlebar/stem combo if I really want to get expensive). That got me to thinking, “What would it cost if I went all in? Better, what would my Venge weigh afterward?”

I did the math.

For around $5,000 I could get the full line of THM parts and install them on the Venge. My current hair under 16 pound Venge would drop to 14-1/2 pounds. Then, I really let my melon run riot… what if I went next level and dropped another $1,000 on Dura Ace shifters and derailleurs?

My 16 pound Venge would come in around 14 pounds or 6.3 kg. For an aero bike.

Why stop there, though? Let’s replace my 1,500 gram carbon 50mm wheels with something really lightweight. I can drop 400 grams for another $4,000, give or take! I could, technically, get my Venge down to the 13 pound range – under UCI allowable limits, if I drop another $10,000 on the bike (after I’ve already got $6,000 into it). And that’s where this little mental exercise hits a brick wall. I need a $16,000 bike that weighs around 13-1/2 pounds like I need a hit in the head.

The math fun isn’t done, though! I can take this up a notch like I did with the component exercise. My bike at, call it 13.5 pounds would cost $16,000 (give or take). That’s $1,185.18 a pound.

The Koenegsigg Jesko, one of the premier top-of-the line hyper-cars on the market, fully decked out in all of its carbon fiber glory, comes in at a paltry $958 per pound. Of course, it weighs over 3,000 pounds, but let’s not get lost in the equity woods, here! With a big enough wad of cash, you could make a Specialized Venge cost more per pound than a Koenegsigg! Now that’s sexy, baby.

It was a fun exercise. All of that carbon fiber is spectacular.

The exercise is done. We now return our seat backs to the upright position as we descend from the wispy clouds of dreamland. It was fun while it lasted!

*This was supposed to post Friday but I found something a little more pressing to write about. When that inspiration happens, I don’t fight it. I believe the inspiration has a purpose bigger than me.

Post-Op Prognosis for My Specialized Venge After Open-Crank Surgery

I thought it bad form to get into the details of my Venge going under the knife until I knew the S-Works crankset I love so much was going to make it through, or whether I’d be sporting a new Ultegra crankset next summer. It was touch and go, my friends, until Saturday… and I didn’t get the word we were out of the woods until Sunday after the Cider Ride. Truth be told, I didn’t want to jinx it. Call it silly and superstitious if you must, I’m fine with the label on this count. This is my Venge we’re talking about here!

So here’s the deal, in a bottom bracket shell.

I had the crank upgraded from the low-end, heavy, creaky FSA Gossamer crank that came on the bike to the most-glorious, highest of the high-end* Specialized S-Works cranks you see in the photo above back in May of 2015. In fact, here is the drive-side view from the day I got it back home after the upgrade (I made a copy of the actual photo to cut the size of the jpeg down):

With that upgrade alone, I dropped three-quarters of a pound on the bike. Ah, those were the days…

I rode the Venge through the summer, thoroughly enjoying the new crankset. I ran into trouble late that autumn when I tried to take the crank apart to clean the bottom bracket bearings, cups, and the crank spindle – something I’d done regularly with the old crankset. I needed a Torx bit that Specialized supplied with the crank to undo the single bolt that holds everything together. I picked a set up from the local auto supply store and went to work. I snapped the tip off the first Torx wrench almost immediately. Then I went to the shop and got the bit that came with the crankset. I snapped the tip off that one as well. Now I knew something wasn’t right in Denmark (or Michigan, for that matter).

I’m going to cut right to the chase and give you the goods. When the new crank came in, Specialized wouldn’t allow the crank to be installed in a bike with plastic press-fit BB-30 bottom bracket cups (like mine), because they’ll creak under load. I like to think Specialized figured, if you’re willing to spend that kind of dough on a crankset (think Dura Ace and add a few bucks), we best make sure that sucker doesn’t creak! So, they supplied metal cups to replace the plastic parts that came on the bike. There’s one problem; the metal cups have to be epoxied into the frame. That, and the epoxy is some 3M space-grade epoxy. Once it’s set, everything else around it fails before the epoxy. Steel and alloys bend or snap, carbon fiber shatters, etc., etc.. The installation is so specialized, the owner of the shop actually brought in the regional Specialized rep to offer guidance. Well, somehow in the process of gluing the cups in they accidently got some epoxy on the crank’s bolt threads. That bolt wasn’t coming out using a Torx wrench. Ever.

Fastforward six years. I hadn’t had one creak, tick or click from that crankset since it was installed more than six years ago. Every other crankset on every bike I’ve got has to be taken apart, cleaned, lubed and reinstalled to keep everything quiet – and least once a year, usually more. Not the S-Works crank. Until DALMAC. The start of Day Three was messy. A little wet and misty. Roads were damp to wet. The sun was on the way up, though and it ended up being a peach of a day.

I noticed climbing The Wall, an 18% monster of a hill 90 miles into the 100-mile day, that something grinding something fierce. Any time I laid down serious power, it’d grind. Under normal power, all was quiet and good.

At first I thought it might be the chain going bad. Nope. Chain was at 75%. Maybe the cassette? I ordered and installed a brand new Ultegra 11/28. Nope. Chainrings! Ordered and installed two brand-spankin’-new chainrings. Nope. Still grinding out of the saddle, no change. I removed, cleaned, re-lubed and installed the seat post to make sure that wasn’t it. It wasn’t. I took apart the headset, cleaned it, lubed it and put everything back together. Nope. I even installed a new rear derailleur just for $#!+s and giggles (the old one was going bad). Nothing changed. That’s when I knew my run of good luck with that crank was done. I dropped it off at the shop about three weeks ago, prepared for the worst. “Sorry, we couldn’t save your crank. We had to drill it and… it just didn’t work. You’re going to need a new crank, but they don’t make the S-Works BB30 crankset anymore.” I was sure I was going to have to take a weight penalty of about 100 grams and go with an Ultegra crank (the best option I could afford). I started rationalizing; “Well, it’s not even a quarter-pound more. I can live with that. I won’t like it, but I can live with it. And Shimano cranks are great, anyway. It’ll be okay. I just gotta breathe…”

I’d resigned to a lesser crankset on my most-fantastic race bike [a tear hits my pantleg as I sit here typing].

However, I was told Sunday morning that the crank was apart, the bolt was removed and new bearings were ordered and on the way! My worst fear wasn’t going to be realized – they saved my beloved crankset. The cause of the grinding, the cluprit; there was no grease left in the bottom bracket bearings. They were dry. Shot. Caput. You could feel it when you turned the race by hand. That was the cause of the out of the saddle noise.

So, parts will hopefully be here before next summer [chuckle]. I can wait, though. It’ll be nice enough just to have my Venge back as I love it; with that beautiful, top-of-the-line* S-Works carbon fiber crankset. And now I’ll be able to service the bearings regularly.

*Technically, top-of-the-line is the THM Clavicula SE Road full carbon fiber crankset (even the spindle is carbon fiber) @ roughly 1,200 Euro… it’s only 300 grams with the spider. My S-Works is something like 500. Sadly, $1,500 for a carbon crankset is absolutely out of the question (plus I gotta add the chainrings and bottom bracket bearing assembly). We can all dream, though**.

**Don’t worry, sunshine. We have better things to do with that kind of money… I’m just geeking out over a part I would never buy***.

*** Actually, a line of parts. You might want to skip reading Friday’s post. That’d be a good idea.

Freezing Fog? A Great Time for Dirt Roads and Friends.

Well, the freezing fog was little early this year, and quite a shock, but with the proper cold weather clothing it’s not impossible to have a good time when it gets a little gnarly outside… and gnarly it was.

We decided on gravel and mountain bikes (gravel for us, and a mountain bike tandem) on dirt roads, rather than paved because of the visibility factor. We also had rain rolling in at some point in the afternoon, so waiting till the fog lifted was an option, but it could have gone either way. I readied the dirt bikes and layered up.

Now, getting the layers right has always been a difficult puzzle for me. Either I’m too warm and overheat as if I’m in a sauna, or I’m just a little light and I face a double-edged sword: I’ve gotta pedal harder to stay warm but, because I’m pedaling harder, I’m going faster which makes the ride colder with more wind. Well, yesterday I got it almost perfect… A warm-weather wicking jersey with arm warmers as a base, a long-sleeved jersey, and a thermal long-sleeved jersey/jacket up top and bib/leg warmers and tights for a second layer… wool socks, full foot covers and a hat that covered my ears. I thought that ought to do it.

My warm-up lap proved me a little wrong. I needed a neck gaiter to cover my neck and chin.

By the way, the neck gaiter is the best way I know to regulate temperature in cold weather. In this case, my jacket has a high collar so I thought I might be okay. The warm-up lap was to figure out if I needed the neck gaiter or not. If my neck and chin aren’t covered, I cool down (or stay cool). If they are covered, I’m much more comfortable. So, going by the old axiom, you can take it off, but you can’t put it on if you don’t have it with you, I start with losing the neck gaiter if I’m a little overdressed because the cold air on my neck and chin will cool me down immediately. Yesterday, I went into the house and put one on and was much happier.

We rolled out for the dirt at precisely 9am.

Visibility was about a quarter-mile but there was no traffic on the dirt. We all had our Garmin flashy radar taillights going and I was quite confident we were in good shape as far as being seen went. Now, unlike the gravel ride the day before, this one was slow… and with four times less elevation gain, it was just a super-easy, enjoyable morning on the bikes. While I love a little bit of work on a ride, every now and again those easy rides are just what I need to put a smile on my face.

We talked and laughed for much of the ride, until Jeff and Diane started getting rambunctious on the tandem. They’d drive the pace up to 21-mph and, though I had no problem holding their wheel, I knew my wife was a few bikes back cursing between gasps for air. They’d wind it up and I’d give them a bit to stretch their legs before asking them to dial it back. We rolled into Byron as I needed to stop to use the gas station’s facilities, and had a quick snack before heading out again to check out one of our favorite dirt roads. It’s out in the middle of nowhere and you’re almost guaranteed to see deer out foraging. We saw eleven in the space of a few miles. Seven in one group, four in another later on.

And it warmed up so riding was more on the enjoyable side.

We headed for home and pulled into the driveway with a cool 33 miles. Unfortunately, my wife’s bike needed some attention, though. Shifting from the little to big ring up front had become difficult. Typically, with a gravel bike, this only requires cleaning the points of entry for the cables into the housings and the cable guide under the bottom bracket, but after messing around with it, I figured why not just go all the way and install a new cable? In addition to the new cable, I also took the barrel adjuster off of the frame and clean, lubed and replaced it. Once everything was back together, it shifted like new again and I took to cleaning my bike of the morning’s dirt.

I think we were passed by three cars in that 33 miles. I’d never forsake the speed (and cleanliness) of riding on paved roads for dirt, but it sure is nice to not have to worry about traffic.

I turned on a football game after eating some lunch and dozed off. It was a spectacular nap.

Sweet Baby Jesus, I Got the Last Creak In My Trek 5200 Figured Out

It’s been a rough couple of weeks months bike-wise. The Venge, after shifting horribly for a minute (frayed, and eventually broken, shifter cable) and getting new chainrings, chain, cassette and a rear derailleur, is now in the shop for open-bottom bracket surgery (this is a long story for another day). Then, after finally getting my Trek’s drivetrain figured out so it didn’t skip every time a mouse farted, I’d developed a nasty creak in the fork somewhere.

The shifting problem, or “chain skipping” problem to be clearer, ended up being a worn inner chainring. Don’t ask me how it got worn when I barely use it, but once I put the new chainrings on the bike, everything worked exactly as it should. The click/creak issue was a little more challenging.

First, the Trek’s click/creak wasn’t that big a deal. The Venge, that’s BIG. Second, we’re about a week away from full-blown gravel season so I’m almost ready to mount the Trek on the Trainer for the winter. Third, the Trek is 22-years-old! Should I be surprised if it creaks a little?

Well, it creaked a lot. Mainly out of the saddle, and I could recreate the creak by straddling the bike and torqueing on the handlebar.

It was simple deduction, Watson. It had to be the headset.

And I tried everything over two weeks. Specialty bearing grease (thick and tacky – not BBQ sauce!), tightening the grip nuts, loosening the grip nuts, regular lube, but lots of it… I even sanded some ridges of the fork race to make sure the surface wasn’t the problem.

That last item actually made it worse for a minute.

I was just about to throw in the towel and live with it until I got the Venge back so I could then take it to the shop and let them deal with it… when I decided to give her one last go. I thought, “Dammit, I know what I’m doing and I’m not about to let that creak win.”

As it turned out, the Chris King Gripnut, which is possibly on its last leg, has to be exactly the proper torque, or some pitting in the fork race from years of prior abuse, will allow the fork to move, ever so slightly, producing a click or creak when the handlebars are torqued out of the saddle. If the Gripnut is exactly right, and the locking Gripnut is tightened to within an inch of its life, the creak will go away. The trick is getting “exactly” exactly where it needs to be. Too tight and the steering drags (and the bike gyroscopes when the wheels roll). Too loose and it creaks.

I spent a perfectly quiet 22 miles on it last evening and it was glorious. Climbing hills, albeit small one’s, out of the saddle, gearing up for a sprint, it’s all good. I tried it all.

I almost got a little misty as Chucker and I were doing our second bonus lap around our favorite subdivision. I’ve got a lot of devotion wrapped up into that perfectly spec’ed out and kitted classic 1999 Trek 5200. I rebuilt it myself from the ground up, had it painted by one of my best cycling friends on the planet, in the exact colors I wanted, including having a nameplate set into the clearcoat on either side of the top tube… and it was my first road bike – a bike I barely had the cash for when I was only a few years into my first construction company.

I’m just as attached to the Trek as I am my Venge, and I’ve always used it as my go-to bike when I absolutely, positively need a bike I can rely on no matter what the weather throws at me. So, to get it back to “whole” again, and vastly superior to what it was when I brought it home (and 2-1/2 pounds lighter), is a relief.

I love that bike.

TNIL: More Fun than Should Be Legal With Your Clothes On! Edition

I’ve come up with a new writing project for the remainder of the year – something I’ve come close to touching on but haven’t quite hit the right tone. I’m going to put into words how good it feels, the doubt, exhilaration and the sense of accomplishment that goes with slogging it out with a group of good friends in the headwind, wanting to quit but taking your lumps at the front anyway, to make it to the tailwind and the homestretch as you struggle to keep your breathing calm… then glance at your computer to see it tick by 34-mph as you’re bridging a gap to get back to the lead group that dropped the tandem as they rocket for the City Limits sign… and make it.

It’s freakin’ awesome. Anyway…

Last night’s edition was a perfect example of exactly how gnarly it can get in the wind – and it’s been a while for us. Basically, we’re windy from March through June, then we get a break from July through much of September… but in October the wind, she blows again. Even the warm-up was a bit of a mess with the days dropping time faster than seems fair. We had a southwest wind – my favorite, if we have to have wind. One road in particular, sucks, but the back 40% of the ride is stellar (we chew up 10% with a crossing tailwind at the beginning of the ride).

We rolled out into the wind with, if the count was correct, eleven riders on ten bikes. I was up front with Dave for the first three-quarters of a mile and that was enough for both of us. We retreated to the back for a break. After the next three-quarters, we turned northward for a little help and the pace picked up in a hurry, from 21-mph to 27. With the Venge in the shop for a major problem that needs fixing (and is entirely above my paygrade), I was on the Trek, which is quite a bit more work at those speeds (though it is a shade better in a crosswind). That was followed by another mile-long slog into the wind, and Dave and I were back up front for that one. One last mile north before the pain started and, as we got to the back of the group Dave said, “Hey, why don’t we ever get one of these?” (referring to a pull with a tailwind). I was too gassed to respond. I just nodded till I caught my breath.

And right on cue, Shipman Road. Dead. Into. The. Wind. Our pace slipped from 26-mph to 20-21. Turns up front were mercifully short, but the rapid turnover meant only a 2-1/2 mile break before we were back up front again. My heart rate would jump from the 140s to the mid-170s in a matter of a minute trying to hammer through the wind. More than once I thought about throwing in the towel and heading back early. I didn’t, though. I put my head down, gritted my teeth, and gripped the drops just a little tighter, and hammered that $#!+ out. And I stayed with the group. A couple of miles south and we were back into a cross-headwind and the beginning of the hills. Those first three hills suck with no wind, but we were close now. I was only a mile from a crossing tailwind.

I was at the front up the last hill, just a molehill of a thing, and down into the final stretch before tailwind… and even downhill into that wind sucked. Knowing another hill was coming as soon as we turned, I flicked off a little early so I could recover my breathing for a minute before we headed up. And it worked.

We crested the first hill with the group intact. The pace, with the crosswind, stayed around 22-mph. In a bit of a dick move, I switched lines in the double pace-line so I could hide a little from the southerly part of the wind. The first half of the ride took a lot out of me and I was struggling hard.

19 miles in, we hit the real tailwind. Most of us went short, four chose the long route, and Chuck had us slow up the main hill till we crested and the pace went from 20-ish to 30.

Rolling into Vernon, we were lined up single-file and I had no intentions of challenging for the sign – besides, we were at almost 30-mph on flat ground… why? And here comes Chuck, right off the front and he says as he goes by, “New bike!” We busted up laughing as he pipped us for the sign by about three meters.

The next few miles heading north were fairly easy, if fast, but the homestretch was where it was at. We made the right turn and the pace stuck from 23 to 28-mph depending on whether or not we had a slight grade up or down. After an intersection we were able to cruise through, we had one last hill and the tandem was up (which was perfect so they could lead the pack at their pace) and I was second with the whole pack behind, single file. The tandem flicked off as they crested the hill and I went by, giving them 20-ish seconds to get on the back… and then I slowly ramped up the speed from 21 to 26, and I flicked off for a rest.

This is the magical part of the ride – everything we’ve worked for through the headwind, our hearts beating against our rib cage… our lungs burning half the time… sweat dripping all over the bike… and it comes down to that last two miles. I was in awesome shape after my turn up front. I flicked off the front with just enough juice left to latch on at the back, behind the tandem. The pace, at this point, was my fault. The group held together and the pace was fantastic. Diane, Mike’s wife on the back of the tandem, is a wonderful, but little woman… they’re a great draft, though, but when the pace picks up, the drops are necessary to stay in the groove. I was in the drops as we hurtled down the road for the finish line, the Lennon City Limits sign. With just under three-quarters of a mile to go, we were at 27-mph, but someone up front put the hammer down. The tandem had made a move to lead out, but Diane smacked Mike square in the ass and he dropped the pace a little bit, creating a gap. Two others behind me recognized the problem and came around me. The lead four were pulling away and I got on Clark and Dale’s wheels to catch them. The pace went from a decent 28 to crazy, and was still climbing when I glanced down and saw 34-mph (55-km/h). Folks, that kind of sustained speed on flat ground is simply awesome… it’s like all of your senses are woken up… we caught the lead group with about 50′ (maybe 15 meters) left, and literally less than a second later, at just shy of 35-mph, we shot across the line.

35-mph is 51 feet per second. It doesn’t seem like much in a car, but on 18 pounds of carbon fiber and aluminum alloy, it’s 50 feet per second of pure awesome.

Ride hard, my friends. If it doesn’t put you in the hospital, it’ll put a massive smile on your face.

TNIL: Days Are Getting Short Edition

We showed up early yesterday. After a day of epic rain, another damp day, and clouds all morning long, the clouds parted and sun shone brilliantly. We had a bit of a breeze from the northeast, but nothing horrible. Todd, Chucker, David, Brad and I rolled out for the warm-up. It wasn’t “hot” by any stretch, but it wasn’t cool, either. Just above room temperature – a little cool for my liking (I had arm covers just in case), but certainly not bad. The warm-up started slow but picked up pace in a hurry. Todd and I were gabbing up front about bikes… obviously near and dear to my heart, I didn’t even realized we were doing 23 with a slight crossing tailwind until I looked down at my computer a few miles in. Chuck and I split off for a couple of extra miles as we were going to be early getting back. We took the pace down a bit and enjoyed the ride back to the parking lot, still arriving with an 18.6-mph average, where we waited for the start.

One of the Elite guys was running late so about ten of us in the A Group decided to roll out in front of the Elite gang. In all the years of the B/A Group, I can’t ever remember going first. I gave us eight miles before they caught up. We rolled out easy, but with a tailwind to start, the pace picked up quickly. Three miles in we were already up to a 22-ish-mph average… and that’s about where it stayed. We were in a double pace-line and we were dealing with some crossing headwind for much of the first six miles, but after that we had a massive stretch of tailwind that we took full advantage of, pushing the pace beyond 25-mph. I kept expecting the Elite guys to roll by, but it never happened. Looking at Strava’s “fly-by”, they never got within a mile of us until we stopped at our regroup point and stopped to wait a minute for a few guys to catch up who got chewed up in the hills.

The last eight miles was going to be entirely into the wind, but it had calmed down considerably – I’d be surprised if it topped 5-mph (maybe 8 km/h). We rolled out and quickly singled the pace-line. This stretches us out and makes it a little more difficult to pass, but we were on less-traveled roads and the longer break between pulls up front was quite nice. We hammered the pace for the parking lot like we were being chased… technically, we were. We hit the homestretch and the tandem I was behind had a hard time keeping up with the lead tandem with just 2-1/2 miles to go. I jumped in and gave them a little 40-watt push every chance I could, then I’d drop back and catch my breath for a few seconds, then give them another push.

Once we leveled out, the lead tandem and three others were putting some distance on us. I made a decision to take the lead and try to bridge the gap and pull them up. I came around them at 24-mph and told Mike, “I got you” and I went by. I took the pace to 25 and held it for a short dozen seconds before ramping up the pace to north of 26 (42 kph). I burned every match I had as I closed the distance to zero. Then the lead tandem came off to head to the back for a rest and that left me third bike and way into the red. Dave picked the tempo up and I held on for as long as I could, but I was too smoked to match him.

I signaled I was out and dropped off the back. I took an easier stroll back with the tandem I’d been riding with as they’d fallen off, too.

We crossed the line with a 22-mph average and no sign of the Elite Group.

A group of girls from the church was there handing out water and Gatorades to anyone who wanted. They’d been there almost every Tuesday night, all year long. Some of the nicest, most thoughtful kids I’ve ever met. I said hello, as I always do, and we made small talk for a few minutes before I headed over to my car. It was already dusk and getting dark fast. We’ll be able to manage 5:45 for one more week, then it’ll be down to 5:30. Another week after, we’ll be doing the night ride, and it’ll be all over but the shouting at that point.

This is one of the few years that I’m really bummed is coming to a close. It’s been a great, fun year.

Road Cycling and A Tire Air Pressure Conundrum: I Forgot to Air Up My Tires and Accidentally Found Out What I Was Missing!

I’ve been pumping my tires to 90 psi for quite a while, now. Before you scroll immediately to the comments section, I’m no lightweight. Running 26 mm tires at 70 psi would be a fantastic idea if I want a pinch flat every time I roll over a railroad track.

I had a lot on my angst Tuesday night. My Venge has been acting up a little bit, lately. The problem is a combination of worn chainrings and a rear derailleur that appears to be on its last leg (more on that in the coming weeks – I’ve got a few things I’m going to try to bring it back), so as I was prepping the bike for the fastest ride of the week, I forgot to air up my tires before I left.

I didn’t even think about it till after the warm-up, which was ridiculously fast. We were sitting on better than a 21-mph average after eight miles. Every one of those eight miles is on excellent asphalt, though, so it never occurred to me that anything was amiss. In fact, when I rolled into the parking lot after 10-1/2 miles, I was just trying to remember if I’d aired them up.

I thought about asking one of the others to use their pump, but convinced myself I must have aired them up and decided that’d be a waste of time.

The Main Event started off calm and collected, and again, on excellent asphalt for the first six miles so everything appeared normal. The road is fine for miles seven and eight, but stress cracks every twelve feet (four meters) make the next three miles… erm, a pain in the ass. I hate that section of road. It bums me out every time we hit the first crack (you would expect nothing less of my choice of words, :D)…

This Tuesday was different, though. We were well into the bad section when I realized I wasn’t as angry as I normally am on that section of road. In fact, I was gliding over cracks I used to have to clench for. Not only that, the above average speed over that section wasn’t near as taxing as it should have been. Then, one of the guys who likes to take stints off the front launched one of his attacks… it was way too much for me, but the group surged and started to reel him in. I decided to give the tires a go to see if they’d squish. The group was at 26-ish already and I went off the front at 30+, out of the saddle for a few pedal strokes… and the tires didn’t squish for the effort. I blew by the guy and stayed out there for a minute.

I’d be willing to bet the others thought I had ulterior motives, and that was a part, but I wanted to see how squishy the tires would be with a real effort. As the group caught me, I knew I was onto something. But there was one more test before I could give it the stamp of approval: The tracks in Vernon.

We drop down off of a fast climb into the City of Vernon and, just as we’re cooling down from the City Limits sign sprint, we hit one of the gnarliest railroad track crossings in lower Michigan. That bastard has ended many a Tuesday night rides with a group for a pinch flat. The tandems dropped the hammer at the crest of the hill leading to the descent and we had an excellent lead-out train. None of us opted to sprint for the sign, I’d like to think one of the tandems earned it so we let them have it without contest.

Up over the railroad tracks and off the other side without so much as a hiccup and we were clear. And I knew for sure, whatever the magic number was when I got home, that was my new air pressure. 80 psi.

Now, the obvious issue here is the pinch flat. I don’t exactly want to find out the hard way that, yes indeed, 80 psi is too low because I just blew out my tire and crunched my rim on a train track. Instead, I started at 100 psi and let pressure out till the ride got comfortable (but not squishy) and went a few pounds higher. That had me at 85 to 87 psi. 80 is a lot better, though…

And there you have it, an avid enthusiast’s account of how to accidentally stumble on a more comfortable (and faster because of it) ride.

TNIL: Still Got It Edition

It’s rare, this late in September, to get a night as good as we had last night. Upper 60’s (around room temperature), low single-digit winds, not a cloud in the sky (or not many, at least)… it was perfect cycling weather. And perfect always means fast.

Even the warm-up was fast. After 8-ish miles we were sitting on a little better than a 21-mph average. Chuck and I cooled it down after leaving the group, but I wasn’t exactly ecstatic whilst, and at the same time, hurtling down the f’ing road at 26-mph on the warm-up. That’s 34 & 42 km/h in Moose Latin [aka real freaking fast]. In hindsight, I needed that warm-up, though. Over the course of that really, really fast warm-up, my legs loosened up. I felt… good.

We didn’t have enough for a B Group so we all set off together.

The start for the main event was mild, a smart way to start to the ride. Too fast, as is often the case, and everyone is into the red too soon which means trouble later. Instead, at a mile-and-a-half, we turned into the wind, then the speed ramped up in a hurry and we were (for the most part) ready for it. The pace went from the low 20s to the upper 20s and stayed there.

The next sixteen miles were a picture of efficiency and speed. We were very fast all the way to the hills, taking our average to 24.3-mph (39-km/h). I limited the duration of my turns up front so I didn’t burn up too soon.

As we got to the first set of hills, the tandems started having problems. The elite guys, as much as I love them, don’t have an “off” button – or even a 75% button where they can ease off just a bit to let the tandems stay on.

My weekday riding buddy, Chucker was off the back with the first tandem as we shot up the tri-tiered hill at 24-mph. I stayed with the second tandem until we got dropped on the next hill when the pace was ramped from 21 to 28 in a matter of seconds. Tandems simply can’t deal with that level of acceleration (unless there’s a downhill slope involved – in that case, stay to the right, out of the way) and I didn’t want much more of that anyway. I was thankful to see the tandem had fallen off as I slinked off the back. Had they stayed on, I’d have had to grab their wheel and I was running short on want to.

I took the lead to give Mike and Diane a rest and we beat a path for the regroup spot, figuring at least a couple of guys would drop off and we could wait for Chucker and the other tandem.

And just like clockwork, Clark & Dave were waiting as we crested the hill to make the left at Shiatown. Chucker and Dave and Sherry were maybe 45 seconds behind us and when they made the turn, we were off.

The remaining ten miles were almost entirely into the mild wind and we got right to it. Turns at the front were short, but useful.

I always get itchy about holding off the elite group and I had an eerie feeling they might make it. Their route is a couple of miles longer than ours (almost three), so it makes for an interesting chase. With a tailwind, they’ve come close a few times, but with a head wind, they’ve got a good shot – add to that our extended wait at Shiatown, I thought they might have a chance.

We were moving, though. 23 to 25-mph on the flats, a little slower on what little hills we had left, but we handled the wind quite well. Coming into the home stretch, the pace was ramped up to 28-mph and we flew across the line with nary an elite guy in site and better than a 23-mph average (37 km/h). It was hi-fives, fist bumps and laughs all the way back to the parking lot and we were off our bikes and starting to pack up when the Elite Group rolled in.

I’m pretty sure I fell asleep with a smile on my face…

Back on the Venge and Happy Again: Finally, Some Better Weather

Or, yet another ode to my Specialized Venge…

My buddy, Chuck and I rolled out early yesterday afternoon. The weather was as close to perfect as we’re going to get at the end of September, and after four days of rain and no outdoor riding, it was a relief to get outside.

It was so spectacularly beautiful I got to take the Venge, whose days are unquestionably numbered for this 2021.

I installed a new shifter cable and housings for the rear derailleur last week, from front to back. Shimano housings and caps with a high-end stainless cable, this time. I went with the good stuff.

I simply couldn’t believe how well the system shifts. I could downshift with my pinkie finger if I wanted.

I see many of my friends buying new bikes and every now and then I think to myself, “Ya know, self, one of those spiffy new rigs with the new hydraulic disk brakes and all the trimmings wouldn’t be so bad”…

Then I throw my leg over my Venge and, without a creak, click or groan, it launches when I put the watts down. Unlike every other bike I own, I can literally feel the Venge cut through the air… and it’s not even 16 pounds. Do you know how much you have to spend to best 16 with hydraulic disk brakes?!

Then I think, “Nope. I’ve already got the best of both worlds (aero and lightweight) under me. I’d have to spend upwards of $6,000 to downgrade…”

It’s right about then I lean into a corner and I can feel the little asphalt grabbers on my Turbo Pro tires dig in so it feels like my Venge is on a roller coaster rail as I round the corner. A wry smile stretches across my face and my decision to stay with my Venge is confirmed once again.

That badass rocket is staying right where it belongs. At the top of my stable.

I wipe the dust off, drop it into the little/little gear combo (while a bike should never be ridden in this gear selection, storing the bike in that combo de-stresses the cables and derailleur springs) and roll it to its place of prominence in our bike room (aka the in-law bedroom).

I love that bike!