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Brought to you by cycling: the ability to put on your socks at 50 like you did when you were ten.
Ride hard. Move it or lose it.
Advancing from a Recreational Cyclist to an Enthusiast; What You Need to Know to Stay Sharp, Fast, and Happy on Your Bike(s)
There are certain things I know that make life as an avid cyclist a lot easier, beyond simple “clean your chain” maintenance. Maybe simpler is a better word than “easier”. Come to think of it, “less chaotic” would do as well.
Cycling by the Numbers
For instance, off the top of my head, my saddle height is 36-3/8″, give or take a millimeter. The distance from the center of my handlebar to the tip of my saddle should be between 22-1/2″ and 22-3/4″ depending on the saddle – the most important thing is that my knees are properly over the pedal spindle, of course, but I’ve also got to have the reach right. The angle on my saddle, nose down, should be 3° on the Venge’s Romin saddle and 2° on the Trek’s Montrose Pro saddle. I pump my 24mm tires up to 108 psi. My 25’s go to 95 and 100, front and back. These are my numbers. With those numbers I can set up virtually any properly sized road bike on the planet up to fit me well enough I can ride a 100k without pain. As much tinkering as I do on my bikes, it only makes sense to keep those numbers at the front of my melon.
The Intricacies of My Bicycles
There are also a few intricacies I have to remember to keep the fleet rolling properly. I have to clean and lube the metal shifter cable guide plate under the bottom bracket shell on my Trek every once in a while or it gets gooped up and won’t shift right. I have to clean out the rear brake cable exit point from the Venge’s frame or else it’ll get caked with salt from where my sweat hits the top tube. I also have to watch the sweat drippings on the Trek at the rear brake cable – under the fame, too. I have to clean out the rear derailleur’s cable housing every now and again on the Trek because it gets gummed up – a normal thing in exterior routed cable bikes. The Trek’s headset needs to be cleaned and tightened up regularly or it’ll creak when I’m out of the saddle. On the Venge, I’ve gotta move the seat post around a little bit and tighten it back up once a year or it’ll develop a creak. I’ve gotten rid of quick releases for Halo’s hex key skewers because they’re light, solid and quiet.
Most people won’t go to the length I do to know my bikes. For many, it makes more sense to “take it to the shop” and let a mechanic sort any mechanical issues out. If I were to follow that line of thinking, I’d probably need three or four more bikes – one race bike and two rain bikes – so I could make sure to have one at the ready at any given point. All too often I’ve got something that needs a little tinkering on at least one bike. If I had to drop one off at the shop for a week every time I had to get something fixed… well, thank God I don’t!
One of the intricacies in dealing with high-priced, light equipment is that it often needs to be tinkered with (my Ican wheels, now that I’ve gotten through the initial build issues, being an exception). The cleaner I keep the bikes, the better I maintain my equipment, the longer they last, quieter they are, and nicer they look. Cables need changing, bolts need tightening, parts need cleaning (and to be lubed back up). Between my wife’s bikes and mine, if I took them into the shop for everything that went wrong, I’d have more bikes in the shop than in the bike room.
This list would be never-ending…
Look folks, truthfully, I could probably go on to a point of getting boring with all of the neat little things I do to keep my bikes tip-top (my friend Ukulele Dave puts me to shame). The point is, being a recreational cyclist is awesome. You take your bike out now and again, you ride it some, you put up with some minor clicks and creaks… and when you’re done you put it up till the next time. Being a “ride every day” enthusiast is a different beast entirely. You’ll have multiple bikes to maintain and keep quiet and lubed/clean. You’ll ride enough that “clicks and creaks” will be a once a month issue (if not more frequent) and, because a quiet bike is so awesome, you’ll obsess about finding whichever one you happen to be looking for at the time. Some are rather elusive. With some time and “want to”, though, you’ll begin to build a historical knowledge of your bikes. You’ll be able to diagnose clicks and creaks simply by the noise. You’ll be able to make new bikes fit just like the old one’s. And you’ll be infinitely more comfortable when you ride for all that fine-tuning.
Being an enthusiast, rather than an occasional cyclist, is extremely rewarding and fun. It’s just a lot of work.
Group and Club Rides: The Art of Not Getting Dropped When the Cycling Gets Fast (And Knowing When Fast is too Fast)
Okay, so we all know I ride with some fast folks. Some people think I’m one of the fast people. To an extent, I am, but a lot of that speed is strategy. I’m going to share with you some of my secrets for sticking with it when it gets tough.
- The first one is simple: Save the good legs for the big rides. We have a guy who runs a really fast ride out of his house every Saturday. 50 miles and they usually average 23 to 24-mph on open roads. He likes to tell every new person who shows up, “You gotta bring your good legs to this ride”. You DO NOT, the day before a ride you know is going to be fast, go out and do hill repeats or anything else that’ll tax you for the next day. For instance, my hard days are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday… Monday, Wednesday and Friday are moderate to fairly easy days. It’s okay to take the time to smell the roses to save your legs for the hard rides.
- No matter what, I always pull through in a group. My turn at the front, if I’m already pushing max heart rate, may be short but I never – NEVER – pull out early so somebody has a gap to make up. This is one of the biggest douche moves in club cycling (right next to pulling up front and exiting a double pace-line up the center of the group… look at me now, never). If you can’t stand the heat up front, keep your butt at the back where it won’t get in the way. Always do your best to not disrupt the group pulling your butt around the course.
- Now for the good stuff. You’re going to have times where you think you’re cooked – at the end of your rope. You’re probably not. Get off the front after your turn and recharge. You’ll feel better in a minute. Don’t confuse how you feel at the front with how you’re doing overall. The front should get your heart rate up. It’ll drop down after your turn.
- If you’re legitimately hurting, take a short turn up front. The group will respect you for taking your lumps up front, even if you can’t hang long. If, however, one of the regulars offers for you to hang at the back, by all means, take them up on it. I have to give it a short pull every now and again and doing so saves my bacon – especially into the wind.
- Use intersections to drop back a few places if you need a longer rest. Using this tactic gets a little tricky, but it works. Don’t use it too much, lest you get the reputation of wimping out of your duty to the group. Use it to get you to the good side of a bind.
- Know who’s wheel you can trust and who will get you dropped. You don’t want to ride behind someone who will get you dropped at the first sign of the ride getting tough. There’s nothing worse than coming off a good pull at the front, just to have to bridge a gap because the rider in front of you dropped just as you came back. Sure, that’s a twatwaffle move on their part, but a little caution on your part will save you having to bridge immediately after a turn up front.
- While at the back, later in the ride, take an assessment of who is hurting. If one of the riders you’re behind seems like they’re flagging, pass them up at an intersection and get in front of them. Better to be in front of them one or two places than behind them when things get tough. This way, if they drop, you’ll be rested when it happens so you’ll be able to bridge a gap.
- Don’t try to hammer the group with sudden accelerations early, just to blow up later in the ride. Watch your sprints for town signs, etc. First, everything in a group ride should be smooth. If you can ride faster than the guy who just flicked off the front, great. Ramp the speed up slowly so A) the person who just pulled has a chance to latch on and B) the group behind you doesn’t have to work extra hard to bridge a gap you just made. If you surge as soon as they flick off, you’re a dick. A limp, tiny dick, too. The group isn’t thinking, “Wow, look how strong Bob is!” They’re thinking, “Where in the f*** does Bob think he’s going, that douche nozzle!” Don’t be Bob.
- The ride can be tougher at the back if you’re not in an exceptionally competent group. Spend enough time in a group and you’ve ridden behind this guy; six pedal strokes, coast, six pedal strokes, coast, rinse and repeat… he’s falling back a few feet every coast, then he closes the gap with those six pedal strokes. This person is, whether he knows it or not, an @$$hole. If you’ve got a few people behind “that guy”, the yo-yo effect is going to be horrendous… and a lot more work than taking your lumps up front. Pass that loser up. Coasting is just fine, but only if you’re able to maintain your gap with the rider in front of you. Don’t be the start of the yo-yo. The reason this is so difficult is you’ll have to pay triple the attention you normally would and you’ll be constantly hitting your brakes after hammering the pedals to make up the gap the person in front of you is making. I can only stand about 30 seconds of this before I’ll pass someone up. One thing is for sure, staying in the back with that is going to hammer you into the ground.
- For my last little nugget of advice, I’ve saved the most important. If you’re in a group that you’ll struggle to keep pace in, be selfish about who you’ll ride behind. Don’t put up with someone who isn’t riding competently just to stay at the back – or, if you must suffer someone, try to take it in small chunks. Shake up the order of the pace-line at an intersection or after a stop. You don’t have to start in the back after a stop. Start out front and take a pull and after you’re done, you’ll drop to the back. Or start second bike after that stop… this is a great way to take a turn early, after your heart rate has calmed down, before heading to the back for a nice, long rest before your next turn.
Now, every now and again you’re going to run into a group that’s simple too fast for you. It happens. First, if you don’t know where you are, don’t be the first one off the back. Second is fine, that way you can team up with the other person who went of the back. Next, don’t sacrifice good form to stay with a group. In other words, don’t do any of those bad manner things listed above because you’re at the end of your rope. That’s not an excuse and nobody else will care anyway. Just do your best and remember, the group comes first. Be good to the people and they’ll ask you back.
Good luck and ride hard.
The most valuable things I’ve acquired in all my years of cycling, other than happiness, contentment, and exceptional fitness, some awesome bikes, of course, are my cycling legs. They’ve been just as important as the bikes I’ve chosen to ride.
Back in 2012, when I was just a pup, one of my friends mentioned that it would take about three years of solid, heavy miles to attain my “cycling legs”. I didn’t know exactly what he meant back then, but I sure know now…
This photo was taken at approximately 24-mph. My friend, Doug, having just come off the front after a 2-mile pull, is obviously no worse for the wear and my friends are looking quite comfortable. We’re 50 miles into a 100 mile day, after riding 100 the two previous days.
If we had to define “cycling legs”, it’s when one acquires the legs needed to put in the miles one wants to put in, without having to worry about the ability to complete a difficult ride (or several in a row).
For instance, after the four-day tour mentioned above, I didn’t take the day after off. No, I went for a ride with my friend, Mike. It was certainly an easy pace and we didn’t go very far, but we were out riding nonetheless (37 miles at 17.5-mph). The day after I turned in a 21-mph effort on Tuesday night for the club ride (though I dropped off the back after 11-ish miles because I didn’t feel like working that hard – we were above 22 for the average when I dropped). I didn’t take a day off till it rained that Friday.
That’s having your cycling legs.
So, how does one acquire them?
Well, that’s a little easier said than done. Going all the way back to 2011, my first year on a bike, I put in 1,820 miles for the year. Not near enough to begin working on my cycling legs. 2012 was much better at 5,360 – really, that was the first year that mattered. 2013 I barely broke the year before with 5,630. 2014 was the year I really took off, though; 6,000-ish (I didn’t keep any records that year, so I guessed low – 2015 was 7,620 and 2016 was 8,509… I’d say I guessed low by about 1,000 miles, give or take). It was the three years in a row, north of 5,000 miles, that really got me there.
Cycling legs are half physical and half mental.
The physical part of cycling legs is simply getting the miles on your saddle to get your body prepared for the regular load we put on them as cyclists. That’s the easy part, and I felt different once I got my legs under me. Now, I’m particular about what I’m feeling – I pay acute attention, so I knew within a month of when I hit my stride. I didn’t hurt the same after a big effort. I tended to recover a lot faster from hard efforts and could expect more out of my legs.
The mental side of cycling legs is knowing that if you go out for a 100k (or some other distance) ride, you’ll make it back home. It isn’t “hoping”, or “speculating”, it’s knowing. Not only that, it’s knowing how hard you can push yourself before you crack. There are some extenuating circumstances, of course. Maybe you bonk or you cramp up… but even in those situations, you know you’ll be able to spin home without too much trouble.
There’s one word that really encompasses the whole gamut; experience.
I’ve been there, done it, got the t-shirt and worn it out – now I use it to clean my chains. That much experience.
For those who are new to my blog, I wanted to do a compilation of some of my most read posts of all time. Some will appear on the right of my home page, but for those who read my posts in the WP browser, you’ll never see that list. Not surprising, my most popular posts, without exception, pertain to cycling. I’ll do a separate list for recovery posts another day. So without further ado…
10: With just shy of 12,600 hits, I wrote a review post on my Specialized Venge after 700 miles back in October of 2013. It’s actually time for another review on that bike… This one for 15,000 miles.
9. With just over 13,000 hits, I was infatuated with trying to slam my stem to get in the most aggressive position possible ever since I brought home my first real road bike. The post is The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: Want Speed? SLAM THAT STEM!!! To a Degree.
8. How much Faster is a Road Bike than a Mountain Bike Pt 2: It’s not just the Tires comes in at number 8. I did quite a bit of research for this post and laid it out simply… There’s a reason road bikes are chosen for speed…
7. Road Bikes: Internal vs. External Cable Routing, with 16,200 hits, comes in at number seven. This is an opinion piece on why I’d choose internal over external routing any day of the week and twice on Sunday… External has its place, of course, it’s as simple as you get, but in terms of saving maintenance, internal routing is as good as it gets.
6. With 18,700 hits, A Newbie Comparison of Shimano Shifters…UPDATED is a look at Shimano’s line of components from back in February of 2012. Not much has changed since, except 10 speeds, 11 speeds, electronic shifting…. Well, a lot has changed, but the post still stands.
5. Coming in at number five is part one of the two-part “How much Faster is a Road Bike than a Mountain Bike” post. In this post I actually give numbers and times. This isn’t a guess at how much faster a road bike is than a mountain bike. Interestingly, I got those numbers on the Trek… If I’d had the Venge back then, the difference would be greater.
4. With more than 20,000 hits (and climbing, this post still gets 20-60 hits a day) is my Noob’s Guide to Buying Cycling Shorts: Exactly what to look for and what to avoid. The post gets right down to it, including the difference between a 20 mile pair of shorts and a 100 mile pair.
3. Next, I wrote a post back in December of 2011, just twelve days into my blogging experience, about how I made my mountain bike fast, on a budget. The post only got five “likes” at the time (which I thought was awesome) but it continues to bring people in. Of course, now that I’m not a noob (cyclist or blogger) I know the best way to make a mountain bike fast is to buy a road bike…
2. Number two on the list, with 23,400 hits is one of the best posts I’ve ever written on cycling: Cycling, Speed and Cadence – Why the 90 RPM Cadence is So Important to Cycling Fast
Finally, with a whopping 55,622 hits, 38 “Likes” and 75 comments – and second only to views on my homepage/about page, from May 15, 2012, I wrote How I Got Fast – A Noob’s Guide To A 23 mph Average. If you haven’t read the post and think I’m full of it, you aren’t the first. I’d direct you to the proof post, here. Please know, while the proof is real, the anger is tongue in cheek. That said, be sure to scroll down to the bottom to get the full effect. 😀
The chica in all of the photos above is my best cycling bud, my wife.