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What Does It Feel Like To Have Your Saddle Too Low, Too High… Or When FINALLY Attaining Goldilocks Saddle Status?

So, my wife and I were on our tandem Sunday. She’d mentioned that she’d like to have her saddle raised a little after our ride Saturday. I knew mine was a little low, too, but I forgot to raise either.

A day earlier, as a part of my normal yearly maintenance on the tandem, I’d removed, cleaned and lubed both seatposts. While I marked the insertion depth with electrical tape, I must have installed both seatposts just a hair lower than they’d been before. We’re talking less than two millimeters here.

So, what does it feel like when a saddle is slightly too low?

First, if we’re only talking about a millimeter or two, you’ll be slightly robbed of power. It’ll feel like you’re working too hard for the speed/power you’re generating – but not as much as it is if the saddle is too high. Second, when you pedal hard, which happens a lot on a tandem, it’ll feel like you’re jamming your sit bones/butt into the saddle as you pedal if the saddle is too low. Over the course of 20 or 30 miles you’ll develop a hot spot on your heinie that can be relieved by standing up, off the saddle, but it’ll get worse as the miles tick by. I’m not talking about a “chaffing” hot spot, either… I’m talking about an actual hot spot from the pressure of sitting too hard on the saddle to get the pedals ’round. This is a sure sign, more than what your pedal stroke feels like, that your saddle needs to be raised. Again, mine was just a millimeter or two (same for my wife’s), but I developed the aforementioned hot spot and I could literally feel my sit bones jamming into the saddle as I rode.

Now, the cool thing is what happened when we pulled over to the side of the road so one in our group could take a nature stop… I quickly raised both saddles and we rolled.

We were 2-mph faster and the hot spot pain went away immediately. For both my wife and I.

Now, if the saddle is too high, the pain is different. It’ll be on the inner-thighs from your legs bottoming out at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Your hips will rock as well, to get your foot to the bottom of the pedal stroke. Finally, your power to the pedals will be greatly affected because you’ll have to rock your hips to get to the bottom of the pedal stroke.

The key is to find the “butter zone” in betwixt too low and too high. Once you do, it’s magical. Maybe try a tandem…

The Legitimate Classic Racing Road Bike and It’s Relevance in Today’s High-Priced Carbon (Fiber) World

So there we were, Sunday morning. The sun was up in all its glory and the high-priced carbon fiber was on display (with the exception of Diane’s alloy tandem)… but I wasn’t on my Venge – and I honestly thought I should have my head examined as I pumped up the tires on my 23-year-old carbon Trek 5200. The Trek doesn’t fit better than my decade-and-a-half newer Venge, but the Trek does feel spectacular in its own way, even if you can feel the difference between the more modern Specialized aero bike and the old round tube Trek.

Where the newer high-end aero bikes matter is at higher speeds. Call it above 25-mph. The old round tube bikes are mainly fine and dandy below that, but at the higher speeds they tend to be more work contrasted against the modern-day aero bikes. It’s not an exaggeration to say you can quite literally feel an aero bike cut into the air. I’m not even talking about a headwind, with enough miles on a standard round tube bike, you’ll literally feel an aero bike cut the air better (it’s actually quite satisfying, especially putting in a long ride on the classic, then switching immediately to the aero bike for another bonus jaunt).

The second big difference between the two bikes is the bottom bracket stiffness. It doesn’t take a specialist to notice the size difference of the bottom bracket shells between the two bikes. While the Trek was unquestionably legit as a race bike in its day (one of the winningest frames in State cycling history), technology has passed it by. The Venge is stiff in response to watts to pedal while the 5200 frame bends slightly against the effort. The difference isn’t obnoxious by any means, but it is absolutely noticeable.

As for how the old school road race bike fits in today’s world, while it’s heavier, twitchier, and slightly slower, there’s no reason it can’t be useful in even the fastest crowds. The only issue would be if you’re on the bottom end of the “fast scale” and you’re having to work really hard to keep up. I struggle a little bit and take shorter turns up front on the Trek while I can push the pace and take longer turns on the Specialized.

Beyond that, I think the Trek is a “classic beautiful”. The Venge, on the other hand, is straight up badass on carbon fiber wheels. I still have a tough time picking which bike I want to ride from time to time, but only on any other day but Tuesday. The Tuesday night big club ride is reserved for the bazooka, opposed to the hunting rifle.

Cycling Stories: Mountain Mayhem, Brutus Road

My friend, Jonathan sent me the following text in response to my announcing our first group ride of the 2022 season this past Saturday, about the note that it was a “no-drop” ride. Now, you have to understand how “no-drop” works in a cycling context, and how that differs in the group I ride with before we get into Brutus Road. A no-drop ride is pretty self-explanatory. The slowest rider who shows up dictates the pace of the ride. They will not be dropped by the group. In the group I ride with, no-drop means “you’d better keep up or you’ll be dropped repeatedly… but allowed to catch up at the next intersection before take off and drop you again”. It’s a little more complicated than a simple “no-drop”, but fast riders gonna be fast. Even on March 5th (in the northern hemisphere). So, Jonathan’s text:

Just wanted to double check, does your sending out [Saturday’s ride] mean you are going to go? Just don’t want to end up riding in the E Group at 14-mph, LOL.

Me: I think I will. Mike is going to want to ride early in the morning when it’s still freezing and I have no desire for that silliness.

Okay. I’ll probably go either way. I can always do a solo TT. 14 is the lowest I can go without falling over.

Me: I’ll see you there. Worst case we ride together and have a good laugh. Oh, I guarantee you can get down to 2-mph. Brutus Road up north. I kid you not. Brutus Road, that’s the freaking name. Mike shut his Garmin down cuz he was going too slow and I passed Phill going 2-mph.

Chuck, Mike, Phill and I were up north (we call the upper lower peninsula “up north” in Michigan. The UP is the upper peninsula of Michigan) for Mountain Mayhem: Beat the Heat Edition. My wife was along for the trip but she didn’t ride. The course featured, as the name would imply, an exceptional amount of climbing, especially for a bunch of down-state flatlanders – about 80-ish’ of up per mile averaged out over the 100 mile ride, and a good deal of it was at the end of the ride. Including the climb I’m about to describe which, if memory serves, was right around 80 miles in.

We were riding along on a mercifully flat stretch when Chuck’s Garmin alerted him we were approaching a turn in a tenth of a mile. The sign read, as we approached, Brutus Road. Now, imagine yourself 80 miles into a hundo called “Mountain Mayhem” and you see “Brutus Road”. Imagine the joy when you look up, literally, and see the hill only looks to be a few hundred yards long. You get down into the granny gear and start up the 18%er. Just as you’re nearing the top and about to breathe a sigh of relief, you see the false crest. The hill keeps going, just at a shallower 12% pitch so it only looked like you were near the top. It’s at this point you and your friends realize you weren’t prepared for this. You were damn-near out of breath just from the initial climb let alone the rest of the monster you still had left to conquer.

Mike’s Garmin was set to shut off for anything below 1.5-mph (something like 2.25 km/h). It beeped at him to let him know he’d stopped. On the way up a hill. I gritted my teeth and steeled my nerves and pushed the pedals. I passed Mike as his Garmin beeped and started reeling Phill in. As I pulled even, I could see 1.5 mph on his computer. Mine said 2. The lactic acid was threatening to seize my leg muscles up but I pushed for the summit. Chuck, a mountain goat in his own right, was far enough ahead I wasn’t going to catch him. Just as I saw the end, I realized that 10%er didn’t end. It just eased to 5%.

Thankfully, however, 5% after what we’d been through, felt like a gift. The hill stretched on for another quarter-mile before we finally hit a bit of a downhill. There was no descent after, we’d climbed out of a valley.

And we laughed about Mike’s Garmin shutting off and Phill seeing just how slow he could go without falling over all the way to the last rest stop. After we caught our breath.

And so was Brutus Road. Forever cemented in my memory.

What Level of Road Bike is Needed to Ride with Every Group of Cyclist?

I can remember a video a while back where the vaunted (and often hot-air-filled) Durian Rider stated a Shimano Sora equipped bike was enough to keep up with the fastest of cyclists, even the pros. He then managed to find the likes of Chris Froome and Team Sky to latch on the the back for a couple of miles before they dropped him. Keep in mind, pro training rides rarely top 20 or 21-mph for an average. In other words, a fair bit slower than our Tuesday Night Club Ride B Group average.

The newer generation of Sora components are fantastic and I can absolutely vouch for them as I have a gravel bike with Sora components. The operation of the shifters and drivetrain is every bit as good as the Ultegra on my Specialized Venge or the 105 drivetrain on my Trek. I curse trying to keep up with my friends on more expensive gravel bikes, though. I have to cheat by using slicker tires, otherwise their leisurely ride on a 17-pound gravel rig has my tongue dangling by my spokes on my 24-pound rig. Now, there’s a lot I could do to lighten my gravel bike up, and I may yet (a new set of decent wheels, better disc rotors, etc.), but there’s no way I’m keeping up comfortably with the B Group on Tuesday night (let alone the A group) the same I would on my 16-pound Specialized Venge or 18-1/2-pound Trek 5200, on the gravel bike in its current configuration unless I’m sucking wheel and hiding all night.

On the one hand, “the faster you want to go, the more expensive the bike you’ll need” has some truth to it. On the other, there are ways to cheat this; the problem is you have to make it up with “want to”.

Let’s start with keeping up with the fast groups, 20+mph average (aka 32-km/h). First, like lunch, there’s no such thing as free speed.

Now, my Specialized Venge at $6,000 and just barely 16-pounds (I can get it down to 15.6 with a costlier/less comfortable saddle and Dura-Ace or SRAM Red cassette) is just shy of tip-of-the-sword top-of-the-line. My 25mm x50 mm wheels are light (1,470 g for the set) and I’m running Ultegra components. The Venge is enough bike that the bike isn’t an excuse. If I can’t keep up, it’s the engine, not the bike.

My Trek is a little heavier at 18-1/2 pounds and it requires a little more effort to get around the block but it’s still quite the capable bike. I can do everything on my Trek that I can on the Venge, though watt for watt, the Trek is about 1-mph slower, give or take. The point with my Trek is that I can hang on that bike, but it’s a little harder to do it. We could get into the technical aspects of this, but this would be a much longer post.

Where this gets fun and exciting is with my 24 pound gravel bike. Even with slicks on the bike, I’d have a tough time keeping up with my normal Tuesday night group. Riding the bike is just harder. There’s no question I could keep up with the C Group on the gravel bike, but I’d be at a serious disadvantage with my friends.

So, here’s the breakdown: For the E, D & C groups you’ll be able to get away with anything from entry-level up for a road bike. For those groups, the main issue in keeping up is the engine… you. For the B group, we start getting into the need for a better steed. Something with Shimano 105 or the Campagnolo or SRAM equivalents. Also, upgrading the wheels from those 25 mm alloy rims to something a bit more carbon fiber will be helpful. Those deep-dish wheels aren’t a big deal at all when you’re looking at slower speeds but above, say, 23-mph the difference is huge. Having ridden excellent alloy wheels, 38 mm carbon and 50 mm carbon, I’d go with the 50s. The 38s are great but the 50s are a little better.

Finally, you’ve got the A group (and in our case, the A Elite group). I don’t know too many with top of the line pro rigs, but there are a couple. My Venge is somewhere in the middle and like I wrote earlier, it’s enough. It’s light enough and sleek enough that I have no excuses if I can’t keep up. As road bikes go, if your goal is to get into the A group fast rides, entry-level won’t do unless you’re Peter Sagan. In that case, your sister’s steel bike will do. At 51-years old, I need all the help I can get… and a decent bike makes fast just a little more attainable.

Longing for the days of blasting down the road on my Venge….

The Lock Screen and Background photos on my computer are both shots of my Venge.

Normally, I don’t even think about it when I turn my machine on, but about this time every year I can’t help but long for the days of blasting down the road in my finest bibs on the Venge in my favorite red & black Affable Hammers jersey… man, I’m excited for the new season to start.

We’re into the dead of winter, now. It’s ugly and looking worse with morning temps 30 degrees below freezing (that’s -17 C for those speaking European [that’s a joke, of course]). It’s going to be a while before we’re looking at short sleeves, but March is on the horizon and we’ll be able to get outdoors to stretch the legs out pretty soon.

In the meantime, all I can do is go into the bike room and lift the Venge up to feel its featherweight awesomeness. It’s all ready to go, too. New bottom bracket bearings, headset that’s perfectly clean and lubed, new chain, new cassette, new chainrings, new rear derailleur… it’ll feel like a new bike on Venge Day 2022.

Because Nobody Ever Whiskey Throttled a Road Bike… A Funny Cycling Story for a Tuesday.

Several years ago, in July, my brother had his family up from Florida visiting my mom. I had One Helluva Ride early in the morning (100 miles starting in Chelsea, MI and rolling through Hell, MI and back to Chelsea), so I stopped by on the way home to say hello. After a fair amount of conversation, my brother said mom had told him I rode 100 miles with my friends earlier in the day… he asked if I was nuts. I assured him I was quite sane and explained 100 miles on my $6,000 road bike wasn’t quite what he remembered when he drifted back to riding a dozen miles on our 35 pound steel Murray Baja’s back when we were kids. He asked to see it, so I took him out and pulled my amazing race steed from the back of my SUV.

As one would expect, for anyone who thought top of the line was an aluminum mountain bike, his eyes popped open in shock. I offered for him to pick it up (I think it was around 17-1/2 pounds at the time). His jaw dropped. I smiled. He asked if he could give it a spin and I said, “absolutely”.

He threw a leg over the top tube, put a foot on one of the Look pedals as if it were a regular platform pedal, and pushed off to do a lap around the cul-de-sac… and I looked on in sheer horror as he damn near toppled over in the first five feet. He wobbled dramatically, trying to hold on to the intractable steed. It was the ugliest “bike ride” I’d ever seen – the closest I’ve ever seen to whiskey throttling a bicycle. He wobbled around the cul-de-sac a little more, a look of determined panic set across his face… he couldn’t figure out how to put a foot down with the saddle pegged so high. He slowed to a crawl and tilted the bike, putting his right foot out to stop gravity doing its thing… and the gambit worked. Curse words followed, then “How in the f*** did you ride that 100 f***ing miles!”

Note to new cyclists: Jumping from a mountain bike, where the handlebar is a little higher than the saddle to a performance race bike where the saddle is 5″ above the handlebar is a bit of a stretch. Especially when you haven’t ridden a bicycle in 25 years. I would recommend not starting out with the bicycle aimed at a fence.

If you think I’m being silly, just in case, you should probably have someone video tape it. Some $#!+ is worth seeing over and over and over again.

Ride hard, my friends.

Bike Chain Lubes, From Wet to Dry, And Which Is Best, and Where (IMHO)

I’ve used a lot of chain lubes in the last decade. It seems I’m trying a new one every year or two, so I’ve acquired quite the base of knowledge built up on what I want to use, where, and why.

First, much of the cycling world has gone “dry” lately. There are a lot of wax-based lubes out there that have people all buzzed about not having to deal with a grimy chain anymore – myself included. For a while, I used White Lightning Clean Ride chain lube for a time, but the stuff was so dry the drivetrain was noisier than I could tolerate. Then I switched to Finish Line’s Dry Wax Lube and I really didn’t like that for the same reason. Finally, I settled on Squirt Wax Based Dry Chain Lube last year. Now that, I like. It’s a better combination of dry, but not too dry to cause a noisy drivetrain – that is, unless you go on more than a six-hour bike ride – which I’m very much prone to do! The big plus is that it really is clean. I can touch my chain without getting greasy gray lube residue all over my hands. And that, I love. It’s also great on the gravel and mountain bike because there’s nothing for dirt to really “stick” to like a wet lube. Like I wrote earlier, the only down side is having to reapply every six to eight hours of ride time.

I used squirt on our whole fleet last year. Road bikes, gravel bikes, road tandem and mountain bikes. And I went through a lot of it, having to buy two bottles so far. I did get fair chain life, also. Probably a few thousand miles a chain.

Above: That’s a well-cared for chain and cassette using Squirt – but I have a special trick to keep the wax buildup to a minimum. I clean the chain and cassette with a mild degreaser every five or six reapplications. The buildup is actually supposed to be a good thing and the instructions on the bottle recommend leaving it be, but I can’t stand a messy lookin’ drivetrain.

While there’s no question I’ve enjoyed the cleanliness of the wax based lube, I decided to switch back to wet on the road bikes next season. Specifically, to my favorite wet lube of all, and I’ve used a few; Sunlite light spray lube, Boeshield T-9 (technically a dry lube), Finish Line Wet Heavy Duty chain lube, there was another spray lube in there but I can’t remember what… but I’m going back to the crème de la crème of wet bike lubes, Finish Line Ceramic Wet Lube (FLCWL for short, because that’s a lot to type) for the Trek and the Venge. Now, FLCWL is, without question, a messy lube. If you have to touch the chain on the road, you better hope you’ve got a pair of plastic gloves or some grass nearby to wipe your hands on. The stuff gets nasty. However, and this is why I’m going back, if you truly want a whisper-quiet, fast, functionally smooth and perfect drivetrain, Finish Line’s Ceramic Wet Lube is where it’s at. The stuff is slippy. Also, and this is only a minor point, the wax lubes wash off almost instantly in the rain and, on the rain bike, that’s really not a good thing. I was caught in two or three showers last year and the last time convinced me I should be riding a wet lube rather than no lube if I get caught in the rain.

I will, however, stick with Squirt dry lube on the gravel bikes (and possibly Mrs. Bgddy’s road bike if she so chooses because she doesn’t like getting her hands dirty on her chain – I am more than understanding in that regard). Even though the wax lube is vastly superior to any wet lube in terms of cleanliness, there’s no beating a quiet, trouble-free chain that’ll last a full week or two in the heat of the season and you won’t have to worry about if you hit some rain.

Testing My Specialized Venge – Or, How To Make Your Road Bike Feel Like New Again!

So, last night was a little weird. We had 30-mph winds and it was a wonderful 60 degrees, but with the wind whipping like that, and the temperature falling faster the popular opinion of another Covid lockdown, Chuck and I decided to take a night off. Humorously enough, I actually called him back and told him I’d changed my mind, that I’d ride after all, and he told me I was freaking nuts.

And so I was faced with a few choices. I opted right off the bat, not to ride. Then I decided not to ride the Trek on the trainer. Then I got to looking at the Venge after I did some tinkering on my wife’s gravel bike… I haven’t so much as sat on the bike since I got it back from getting new bottom bracket bearings installed. I gave the tires a quick squeeze, they were close enough, then rolled up my right pant-leg and pushed that beautiful steed, fresh with a brand new chain, new 11/28 cassette, new 50/34 chainrings, new rear derailleur, and new shifter cables and housings out the door… and I took it for a quick spin to check the settings and see how the bike shifted.

The derailleur was great shifting up the cassette but slow going back down so I gave it a quick adjustment and… beautiful, quick, easy shifting. Silent perfection. My Venge didn’t feel like new again, it was better than new. I’ve had a better handlebar, better crankset, upgraded shifters and derailleurs, and vastly superior wheels put on the bike since I first brought it home.

The important items were the shifting quality, which was incredible with new cables, housings and a new rear derailleur, then that the crank was smooth again with the new bottom bracket bearings.

I’m stoked for next season already. My Venge is back and better than new.

You’ll have to picture it, but this is me smiling.

Road Bikes, BABY! One Last Day… Well, In the Gloomy, Damp, Cloudy Dark – But It Was Warm Enough for ROAD BIKES! WOOHOO!

This could very well have been my best week of cycling in December. Ever.

Saturday was a little bit of a mess. We had to ride our gravel bikes on the paved roads because the dirt roads were wet from rain the night before. Sunday was a fantastic morning for a ride… then I rode Monday, Tuesday and last night as well. Five days in a row, in December. Well, sadly this all ended with that road bike ride last night, because the wind is already picking up around here and riding in 30 to 40-mph winds isn’t my cup of tea… let alone doing that in the dark.

But what a ride it’s been. 110 fantastic miles in five days/nights.

Chuck texted just before lunchtime to see if I could come out to play after work and suggested if we did the same route as the night before, the ride home would be great… except he didn’t account for the rain the night before not mixing well with dirt. It was supposed to be almost 60 degrees at 6pm, too. I asked for road bikes and suggested our normal loop. Chuck agreed and I prepped the Trek once I got home. The plan was to leave at 4:30 rather than 5. I hate risking the phone ringing in that 30-minute stretch, but some things must be done to get bikes on roads.

We had a big south wind, so the end of the ride was going to suck pretty hard with three of the last four miles dead into it, but the rest of the ride was going to be great. I threw my leg over the top tube and rolled out, chuckling as I left the driveway at how easy the Trek’s crank went ’round compared to that of my gravel bike. Nothing beats the free speed of a road bike after four weeks on the gravel and mountain bikes.

There wasn’t a minute of that ride I wasn’t grateful for having one last shot at a road bike before the weather turns (tomorrow). The ride was fun, fast, and enjoyable as they get.

There’s no question I appreciate dirt road riding on a gravel bike. The lack of traffic on dirt roads makes my gravel bike worth its weight in… erm… Sterling Silver? That is, until you throw a leg over an 18 pound road bike and cruise effortlessly down the road (with a crosswind) at 20-mph. Ah, my glorious Trek 5200. How I missed thee.

Winters are (Now) Perfect for Days Off… and Other Ways to Switch Up the Monotony of Another Boring Evening on the Trainer

I love to ride bicycles enough it’s hard to take a day off during the season. I’ll go a month taking only one of two days off the bike during the late spring, summer, and all the way into late autumn.

When winter rolls around, though, I can very easily find an excuse to take a day off. Now, by winter, I don’t necessarily mean winter proper. I mean when the snow flies. And it just so happens that’s what we have on the ground. Not much, but enough to make it messy. And freaking cold.

So that’s what I did last night… just out of the blue.

I was going to ride on the trainer, my wife on hers next to me but she was running late out of the grocery store so she texted that I should ride without her. That sounded like a perfect excuse to take the day off.

I’m not like this, normally. I’ve always felt I should try to get as many days in on the trainer as possible so I could stay in shape for next year’s season. This year I’m switching up a little bit, but I don’t exactly know how. Yet.

Last night, by contrast, was another interesting night. The high temperature for the day was 24 degrees. That’s with an “F” after it. In moose-Latin, that’s -5 or some such. It’s freaking bone-chilling cold for this time of year (about 20, or 6-ish C, below normal) and I was nowhere near wanting to ride outside in that… in the dark. I opted for the trainer and hopped on shortly after 5 and quickly settled in on a pace a lot faster than normal. I felt much better than normal. I was pushing around 90 rpm and decided to work intervals in, keeping the cadence in the same neighborhood for the harder gear… and I settled on holding that for a half-hour, in terms of the pattern.

At the end of the half-hour, I was smoked. My legs were a little wobbly and a little unstable. I ended up with an 18.7-mph average (23-ish in actual wheel speed) and felt like I’d spent a half-hour on the hardest Tuesday night road we ride. Typically, dead into the wind.

I feel a little out of sorts this winter – but in a good way. As I said earlier, I’m usually very structured. I ride, whether indoors or out, five days a week and enjoy two off. This year, I’m a little looser about taking another day off a week. At the same time I’m finding myself more willing to crank up the intensity on the trainer (even if I drop down the ride time as I did last night) when I do ride.

It’s a good start to a long winter. We got another couple inches of snow last night and the drive in this morning sucked. Thank God for our Blessed Lady of All Wheel Drive!