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Accepting Life On Life’s Terms, One Day At A Time. That’s How It’s Done.
I am very much going to miss my old, cushy, comfortable job. It was anything but easy, but it was comfortable and I knew what to expect. I had a boatload of vacation time and had a future that was workable. Another 15-years of work and I was out. A few years on my own cash, then social security would kick in and it was coasting for 30-odd years till my wife and I were worm food.
That’s not how that ball is going to bounce, though.
My first day at my new job was quite awesome. The new company made every effort to make me comfortable in my new role and it was awesome. I felt like I contributed quite a bit on my first day and I’m working with a great team.
One thing is certain; if not for recovery, this tale would be very different.
Things have a funny way of spinning sideways from time to time, and my career is a great example. I didn’t think my old company was crazy enough to try to get along without me, but here we are. That said, after the initial shock, I didn’t label this a bad thing. It was the story of the farmer whose son went off to war; the whole village came out and said how horrible it was. The farmer said he didn’t know if it was a good thing or bad, he just knew it was. That’s where I’m at. I don’t know if this is a good thing or bad, but it definitely is a thing. I am going to walk through this one day at a time and give my recovery, my wife and my life the best I have.
I can, and will, accept life on life’s terms. The alternate is more misery than I would want to tolerate.
You’re Killing Me with The 1x Drivetrains, Smalls… A Bike with a 1x Drivetrain Cannot, By It’s Very Nature, “Do It All”.
You’re killing me, interwebz… I’m seeing more of the “the S-Works Crux is the one bike that does it all” videos on my YouTube feed. It’s enough to drive a fella a little nuts, I tell ya.
1x drivetrains aren’t all bad, of course. Adjusting a modern mechanical front derailleur so the chain doesn’t rub the cage or the cage rub the crank arm has become an exercise in patience, but it is possible, I’m here to tell you!
What a 1x lacks to a 2x is gear options, and those gear options are massively important when riding with the fast crowd.
Each tooth jump in a cassette cog is worth 5-rpm on the crank. Therefore, when you get a cog tooth jump of something like three teeth when you get to the hard gears, it feels like you’re always in the wrong gear to match your cadence to the speed the group is going.
Better people might be able to get used to that. I changed my chainrings to put the cadence gap in my 11/28 cassette where I wanted it; at 14 to 17-mph rather than at 18 to 21.
For that alone, the S-works Crux can’t be “the one”.
Now, put a 2x on that svelte beauty and that changes the conversation landscape immensely.
What’s the Fastest Tire Pressure for a Tandem?!
Much has been made of tire pressure over the last few years, but mainly centered around road, gravel and mountain single bikes. What about tandems?!
My wife and I ride 30-mm Specialized Turbo Pro tires and we’ve been riding 100-psi for quite a while, but we’re not your sleight, sub 160-pound cyclists. We could be, but American barbecue just tastes too damn good. We rode 28s in the same brand and line for a year before at the same pressure… and even with Michigan roads, we’ve only ever had one pinch flat, and the feel was fantastic. In my opinion, we’re at the right pressure for those tires and our current weight.
The simplest way to explain this, without getting too deep into the nerdy weeds of cycling’s geekdom is that we want the lowest pressure possible without pinch flatting when you hit something reasonable. Now, this is not the easiest thing to find, obviously. It’s not like you’re going to want to take six spares and a floor pump out with you so you can figure your optimal pressure, so here’s what my did, in a nutshell.
We started out at the max pressure for the tires, I think 125 or something. Unless you’re a really big tandem couple, that’s way too much pressure, and I knew that from being way too geeky about this stuff. So, I dropped 20-psi off that right from the beginning. Then, I had to consider we’re two people on two tires (not two on four), so my normal 85-psi on my 26mm tires for my road bike wasn’t going to be enough. We went with 100 and gave it a run. I hit a couple of railroad crossings on that ride and everything was smooth. Next ride out I dropped five psi and everything was fine but the ride felt a touch squishy… bouncy when we really got into a rhythm. I dropped five more the next ride and we pinch flatted. 100 psi it was.
Now, some will have us running to a tire pressure gauge that’ll give us the nearest tenth of a psi and try to dial it in to the nearest psi. In fact, I could be that silly… but my wife wouldn’t put up with that ridiculous shit, so I keep it simple to the nearest five psi.
I roll 90-ish psi on my Trek 5200 with 24mm tires, 85 on my Specialized Venge with 26mm tires and we roll 100 psi on our tandem… with zero pinch flats.
I’m down as low as I want to go without being silly… and without squishing when we sprint. And that, my friends, is the proper balance.
Holy Footbed Shims, Batman! You’re Amazing! Cycling and How to Know You Need to Shim a Cleat, What It Feels Like… Before and After
I’ve been cycling, enthusiastically, since 2011. I’ve gone through professional fittings and become adept enough at the process I can fit myself on a bike with ease, and can even manage to help set my wife up on her new bike (who happens to be a lot harder to fit on a bicycle than I am… but mainly because I can’t feel what she feels). Point is, I know my way around setting a bicycle up. Not enough to be cocky about it, of course. We must make that distinction, because otherwise everything comes off as cocky in writing.
Anyway, every year, around this time in February, I start feeling some pain and tenderness in my left… well, just in front of the sit bone area from my inner leg hitting the saddle on the bottom of the pedal stroke. Only on the left side. Eventually, I contemplate lowering the saddle to keep this from growing into something more persistent and painful. In the past, I’ve gone that far, only to raise it again once I got back on the road after winter because it felt foreign.
Also, almost every saddle sore I’ve gotten in the last decade has been on the left side, in the same exact place.
I knew my left leg was shorter and that this was likely a problem, but I figured the saddle sores were fairly normal (and I would get one on the right now and again), so I left well enough alone and rode through the pain of the sores every now and again.
Then, my wife and I were on the phone Saturday afternoon and she said I should stop by the shop to say hi to Matt and the fellas. First, I know, that is sexy as hell – especially considering there was a massive sale going on… I LOVE MY WIFE! While there, I picked up a few tires I’d need for the season and on a display I saw a size 43/44 footbed and shim set from Specialized marked 40% off. I thought, why not give that a whirl. So I bought the set and headed out to meet my wife.
I get everything ready the next morning before our trainer ride.
I started out adding a 1.5mm shim to my left foot but that didn’t feel much better, so I added another 1mm shim and hopped back on the trainer… and the difference was utterly astonishing. So much so, I was interested to go an extra ten minutes just to see if my left leg would start talking to me like it normally does.
Not a thing.
Just like that, I’m sold. I put two shims in my left mountain bike shoe as well, which I’ll use on the tandem and on my gravel bike. And so easy!
Now, this isn’t all perfect and I’m going out on a little bit of a limb because Specialized’s shims aren’t exactly set and forget. They’re a little thicker on the inside than the outside which is meant to straighten the foot. There’s a very good chance I’ve simply rolled my foot too far out which can cause problems as well. To that end, I switched out an old set of S-Works footbeds for a new set and I cut up the left footbed to match the shims I put in my first pair of shoes and I put the footbed shim in my second pair of road shoes to see if I could tell the difference. That’s the cheap and easy way of fixing a leg imbalance.
Anyway, the important thing is, I’m excited for this season, to see if I can escape without saddle sores. I’m especially interested in seeing what happens on the tandem where the vast majority of one’s time is spent saddle-bound.
And that brings me to one final point about Specialized. While they’re treatment of small shop owners is enough to give me the vapors, when it comes to the equipment they make, they really show a lot of give a shit. Tinkering with my shoes and their footbeds, I was shocked to discover that there was virtually no difference between a footbed in a mid-level mountain bike shoe footbed and a pair of $425 carbon fiber-soled S-Works shoes. It was literally the same footbed with different brand writing… and a few different lines pressed into the mold to give them a different look. Same weight, same density, same size and shape.
You hear about “trickle down technology” with Shimano quite often. I never expected to see what I saw when I pulled my shoes apart over the weekend.
Note: Technically, in the Title, I wrote shimming a “cleat”. I don’t shim cleats because that’ll make the cleat a little more proud and therefore dangerous, especially for a mountain bike shoe. I prefer to shim the footbed for safety.
Clipless or… Erm… Pedals Without Clips… Erm Flat/Platform Pedals?
I believe I’ve seen all of the videos GCN has put out on flat/platform pedals vs. clipless. For the uninitiated, “clipless” refers to a lack of toe clips and straps… you still, ironically, clip into clipless pedals.
What they rarely cover in the whole discussion is foot position, though they did for a second or two in the imbedded clip.
First, clipping into clipless pedals, to spoil the clip and add my two cents, is only slightly more efficient than using platform pedals with little screw-in flat spikes and mountain specific shoes without cleats, until you get out of the saddle and sprint. At that point, a person who has used clipless pedals will feel vastly safer to hit the gas harder because their feet are connected and secured to the pedals.
Having ridden a 30-mile loop with the Elite A-Group on Tuesday night on a set of platform pedals (though, admittedly, the pedals I used were the cheap, stock plastic platforms without spikes). At a decent pace and cadence, it’s simply too hard to keep your feet in what I approximated was the proper position.
And that word, “approximated”, was the important part of that sentence, folks. You have to guess… and at 90-rpm, guessing where your feet should be gets old in a hurry. Especially bad is when you’re a little off and you can’t move your foot in little increments while moving at that rate of speed. What I ended up experiencing was a lot of pain from having my feet in the wrong place on the pedals to work the crank efficiently for my ankle, knee and hip joints. For that reason, I’ve never bothered with trying platforms again. Perhaps cycling at a less aggressive pace wouldn’t prove so difficult.
Next is the mountain bike issue (and this applies to potholes on the road as well – especially bunny-hopping an unexpected pothole). When descending, you can experience everything from roots to rocks making the descent tricky. If your feet are clipped in, you don’t have to worry about your feet bouncing off the pedals. The spiked platforms wouldn’t be as bad as straight up plastic, but I’ve always felt better being connected to the bike in clipless pedals.
In the end, the choice to go clipless or platform will come down to choice. This commentary is included to help those new to the choice to make a reasoned choice. It’s always an interesting topic.
UPDATE: Be sure to check out the comments. What a great topic for well-reasoned discussion based on experience. Great stuff.
In Bike Frames, Steel May Be Real, But Can It Compete With Carbon Fiber?
Six months ago, I’d have answered “not a chance” if you’d asked “can a steel bike frame compete with a carbon fiber frame?” That abruptly ended when we bought my wife a 2004 54 cm steel Assenmacher with a 10-speed Campagnolo record drivetrain and I set the thing up with a new stem and handlebar to suit her.
Her reports of how the thing launches when she puts the power to the pedals, when contrasted against her carbon fiber Specialized Alias, had me perplexed. The smile on her face had me convinced I’d been fed some bad information.
My wife’s 18-pound steel Assenmacher next to my 18-1/2-pound carbon fiber Trek 5200 (my Trek is five years older):
Now, there’s no amount of money (that I’m aware of) you can spend that wouldn’t end up with a carbon fiber a pound or more lighter than the steel option in terms of modern bicycles. In fact, I have no doubt my Trek would be a touch lighter than my wife’s Assenmacher if we had the same wheels and components on the different frames. However, I now believe the notion that the steel bike wouldn’t be as responsive has to be tempered for we weekend warriors… and a steel bike can obviously be made exceedingly light with the right groupset.
There’s no question my wife’s bike is lighter than my carbon fiber Trek 5200.
How Much Should You Spend for Carbon Fiber Wheels (and How Good Are the Cheap Wheels)?
A couple of Specialized Venges on Ican wheels…
I’ve been a big fan of Ican wheels. My wife did get a bum rear wheel from them, that’s since been replaced, but other than one bad rim, we’ve got thousands of miles on Ican wheels with only a broken spoke or two – no more than we’d expect from any other name brand expensive wheel (I’ve had similar problems with a number of name brands such as Rolf, DT Swiss & Velocity).
My wife and I have three sets of Ican wheels; two sets of base price 38s and I have a set of Fast & Light 50s on my Venge. We have less of an investment in three sets of wheels than some spend on one wheelset (a little north of $1,600 for three wheelsets). We’ve put those wheels through the ringer, too. Multiple 23+ mph average rides, a few 20+mph centuries, countless 50+ mile rides… and when I ride an alloy set of wheels after my carbons on the same bike, there’s an unquestionable difference related to speed and effort.
So, when I saw this video on my feed, I was drawn to click on it like a moth to a porch light:
Without ruining the surprise ending, the cheap wheels weren’t the slowest, but they were close to the slowest, and a cheap set was among the fastest. In fact, two sets closer to the affordable end did quite well. The testers also didn’t test Ican wheels, so I have no idea where they’d come out, anyway.
The point is, if you can afford those $4,000 wheels, by all means, have at it. They’re awesome. If you can’t, don’t feel like you’re missing out, because you’re not. If you’ve got a decent set of 40s or 50s on a reasonably equipped road bike that’s mechanically sound, at that point it’s simply a matter of working on the engine if you can’t (or don’t want to) keep up.
Cycling and the Finer Points of Cockpit Setup (and I Do Mean the Finer Points)
Originally, I was going to start this post out by pointing to my Trek 5200’s setup as the pinnacle of my achievement in terms of bike setup that took almost ten years to perfect, but that isn’t the case anymore. My greatest achievement was setting up my wife’s new (to her) Assenmacher so that when she climbed aboard for the first time after all of the changes she said, “This feels great, let’s go with this.” My wife is exceptionally finicky about her bike setup so that was a massive compliment.
Setting up my own bike was easy. My wife, being tougher about her setup than I am, I also had to learn how to adjust her setup based on conversation rather than feel. As a true, “please let me fix this” guy, nothing was more satisfying than putting even more than I put into my own bikes into my wife’s bikes and having it work out to her satisfaction.
Our tandem would have to be next for at least a couple of reasons. I’ve got a ton of time into setting up our tandem, between the two of us. Again, setting up my wife’s half of the bike was even tougher because that was the first time I put my full effort into working setting a bike up for my wife. Normally, I’d always left my wife’s setup to the pro at the local shop. I figured he was way better than me, so it made sense. While there’s no doubt he’s more knowledgeable, he can’t possibly take the time I could to work with my wife. The best he could do was move a few things and say, “Try that”. I took my tools and rode with my wife, stopping every now and again to adjust things little by little until we hit pay dirt. The front half was a little easier as the shop had the cockpit setup done to match my Trek before I ever brought the bike home.
Finally, we get to the Trek. At this point, all of the bikes in my stable are set to my approximation of “correctly”, but the Trek is the one that blazed the way. Here are the little details in setting up the cockpit so it works with the bike’s geometry and my reach:
- The hoods are tilted up about 5°. This was a new revelation watching a setup video on YouTube a couple of years ago.
- There’s a 5mm spacer below the stem – without the spacer, the handlebar sits just a touch too low for comfort.
- The stem, with a classic frame and rake, is 17°, flipped to give it that parallel to the ground look.
- On a compact frame (with a sloped top tube), the rake changes and 17° is too steep, you’d need a 12°.
- The reach is standard, for the handlebar, but the drop is a little shallower than normal.
- I went with a 42cm wide handlebar and am quite happy with it.
- In order for me to ride comfortably in the drops, I’ve got the saddle nose down 2°.
For my wife’s bike(s), she’s more flexible than I am, but not by much. She doesn’t like tolerating the steep drop from the saddle to the handlebar that I do/can, so I had to learn a few tricks. Second, as can be seen in our tandem photo below, Jess’s saddle is almost exactly as high as mine. Her legs are actually a little longer than mine even though I’m a couple of inches taller. She’s also got a leg longer than the other, but that imbalance wasn’t fixed with the bike. We shimmed the insole of her shoe.
- This isn’t technically a cockpit thing, but it absolutely is; I had to drop the nose of my wife’s saddle quite a bit to get the front of the bike to work properly. So, it isn’t a cockpit issue, but the front of the bike can’t work unless the back of the bike is in order first. My saddles are set between 1 and 2° down. My wife is 5°.
- My wife needed a shorter stem, I think that’s a 60 with a 12° rise, so I could keep her from stretching too far.
- I didn’t change the spacer stack from the way it came when we brought the bike home, I just relied on the rise in the stem to bring the handlebar up to where my wife needed it.
- Notice the handlebar isn’t rotated back to raise the hoods… I had to loosen and adjust them after I set the handlebar to get that 5° rise from parallel to the ground. Try to avoid over-rotating the handlebar to move the hoods as this leads to poor placement of the hands in the drops. You’re not going to be as comfortable in the drops, as a rule, but you should be comfortable enough you can ride in them without feeling like a fish out of water for ten to thirty minutes.
- The final trick I used for my wife’s cockpit setup was the short reach handlebar. This brought the hoods in closer to where she needed them. The original bar, a nice carbon fiber deal, had a massive 7″ reach. The reach had the hoods so far away, she preferred to ride with her hands behind the hoods. A normal handlebar has a reach between 4″ & 5″. She needed something short of standard, so I picked up the bar on her Assenmacher for $40 at the local shop. She’ll have a short reach carbon handlebar as a birthday or holiday present in the near future.
There are so many opportunities for jokes in Number 5, I can’t refrain from acknowledging them. I know.
In Cycling, Variety Isn’t The Spice of Life. Nor is Carbon Fiber… Though Carbon Fiber Does Help.
I’m atop my Trek 5200 for an indoor commute to nowhere watching Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back for the umpteenth time, and it occurred to me how much I love this bike. It’s nowhere near as fast as my Specialized Venge, but it’s as comfortable or slightly better… and I had a hand in rebuilding it from the ground up. Put simply, the old alloy wheels that came on the bike sucked the life out of a ride so upgrading to wider rims allowed for wider tires which meant a better ride quality, too.
Now, the Trek needed the upgrade to carbon fiber wheels.
I also ditched the original Ultegra triple for a more efficient and 14-years newer 105 compact double. The compact 50/34 chainrings match my 18 to 24-mph average pace perfectly. The old 52/36 put a cadence hole between 19 & 22-mph so I always felt like I was in the wrong gear. I could have gone with an 11-26 cassette and fixed the gap but I felt I needed the 28 for climbing. For that reason, I went to compact rings and haven’t looked back.
With that out of the way and with those upgrades, there’s nothing I can do on my Venge that I can’t do on my 5200. Conversely, there’s plenty I will do on the Trek I wouldn’t on the Venge. It does take a noticeable amount of effort to make the Trek perform like the aero bike, but it’s not a bridge too far.
My eight-year-old Venge is perfect in my eyes. It’s light. It’s sleek. It’s aero. It’s got decent wheels. Great components. It ticks all of the boxes except “new” and that’s a box I don’t care much about.
My 5200 checks light, decent wheels and decent components, but it’s got something that the Venge couldn’t have; me as a designer. For having that history with my Trek, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for that bike above all others. It’s kind of funny and ironic, really. Now that I’ve got a whole stable full of bikes, I’ve come to realize it’s not about having new stuff so much as it is a great bike that’s mechanically sound. It did take me eight years to get that Trek to where it is now.
Above: My 5200 as it sits today. Below: My 5200 in March of 2012. Just a few months after I brought it home.
Could There Be A “One Bike That Does ALL”? Would Anyone Even Want That?
I wrote a post a short while ago about a YouTube video in which the fella tried to make the case that the S-Works 1x electronic shifting Crux cyclocross bike is possibly the One bike that will do it all.
Of course, because there’s thankfully no such thing, his talking points were quite simple to dispatch. A 1x bike has no place in a paceline unless it’s a relatively flat course. Even then, it’s quite simple to show that’s not a good idea. There are “cadence holes” at important speeds that will have the rider feeling like they’re always in the wrong gear. For that reason alone, if a bike that will be ridden in a pack, especially a $12,500 bike, doesn’t have a 2x drivetrain, the rest of the group will put the 1x rider in the hurt locker. Unless they’re substantially stronger than everyone else they’re riding with.
I can make a legitimate case that I need at least three of my bikes and I can make a reasonable argument for a fourth. I could probably shave a couple off of that, though, if I limited my trail riding. And we’re off…
The first is going to be either my Venge or my Trek 5200. I like having a rain/trainer bike, but I could arguably live without one. The jury is out on which I’d choose. The Venge is the cat’s pajamas in my stable. At 16 pounds and aero, it’s a beautiful machine. On the other hand, my Trek is completely customized and incredibly old school cool.
To tell you the truth, it’s a tossup. The Venge is faster, but the Trek is mine. Completely custom from the ground up.
We’ll say, if you held a gun to my head, the Trek.
Next up is the tandem. Now, our new tandem, which should be arriving in the next month or two, will be able to pull double duty. We’ve got road and gravel wheels coming for the bike. A speedy set of lightweight Rolf tandem wheels for the road and the wheels that come with the bike for gravel. It’ll take up to a 45mm tire for gravel riding and we’re going to roll with 30s for the road. So that’s two. I wouldn’t want to live without a tandem nowadays.
Next up, we’ve got the gravel bike. I love my gravel bike. It’s awesome… and wonderful to ride after the summer road season. I gotta have a gravel bike. Now, if Specialized hadn’t screwed up and limited our frames to accepting just a 32mm tire, we’d have been able to ride the gravel rigs on trails. So that makes a mountain bike a necessity, though I really don’t ride the trails enough to “need” a mountain bike. That’s something I could currently live without. There are my four. And I’ve got five.
My wife has, counting the tandem as one also, six.
The question is, though, is there one bike that can do it all?
Leaving the obvious glaring point that we must possess at least one tandem in all of this; technically, I could see a gravel bike as a one bike does all solution. With the setup like we’re doing our tandem, two sets of wheels, one road, one gravel, a 2x 50/34 drivetrain with an 11-32 11 or 12-speed cassette, you could make the case that one really could do it all on a bike like that. It’d have to be a fairly high-end rig, though, so you could keep the weight down. Anything over 19-pounds simply won’t get it. We’re looking at the 17 to 18-pound range (7.7 to 8.1 kg range).
And if you’ve seen bike weights lately, let’s just say steel with rim brakes is back in the picture as a frame material again.