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The Sweepstakes for the right to go to DALMAC: and the Trek 5200 WINS… by a butt

I had the opportunity to ride both bikes yesterday while trying to dial my wife in to her single bike so she could ride comfortably on it. With as many miles as we’ve put on the tandem, we were both more than a little nervous about how she’d do on her good bike. The test ride was long. And ssssslllloooooooooooowww-uh, but we got a lot accomplished. My fingers are crossed for her.

On my end, I’ve got a saddle sore. A massive, hurty one, so I wanted to see if either bike, the Venge or Trek, favored the sore better. My money was on the Specialized Venge with its super-narrow 128 mm saddle, so I took it first. It was not a comfortable ride. The saddle hit right on the sore and, though the bike was impeccably smooth and quiet (especially so on brand new tires), it hurt.

Next up was the Trek… and it was as if the heavens opened and the clouds parted, and God said, “Let there be peace and a happy tuchus on earth”. And it was so.

The Trek is going on DALMAC for its day in the sun, even though the forecast says “Venge” all the way.

My 1999 Trek 5200 wins by a butt!

Ready for DALMAC – A Last Minute Check of the Trek

I checked the Trek out for DALMAC last night. It was 99% humidity and spitting on me the whole 16-mile ride. One small barrel adjustment for the front derailleur, call it a eighth of a turn, and it’s 100% ready.

Trouble is, I’m tempted to take its 16-pound stepbrother, now. The weather report for next weekend is looking quite phenomenal after rain Monday and Tuesday. I could go either way, technically. Neither bike has ever ridden as well as they are right now. I think the Trek’s setup is mildly more suited to a 372-mile tour, but there’s always the free speed of the Venge (easily a half-mile an hour for free… well, not free – it cost an arm and a leg, but you get the idea!).

Let’s just say it’s a good problem to have.

The ride was fantastic. Smooth, quick 100% crisp shifts all the way up and down the cassette… no lagging, just “click”, “shift”, roll. I love giving the Trek its day in the sun for DALMAC, too. I give the bike a little bit of a soul that way. I suppose most avid enthusiast cyclists who have as much as I do wrapped up into that bike give theirs a bit of a “personality”.

An interesting side note; I changed the tires, cassette and chain at the end of last season before I put the bike to the bike room for the winter… it still shows as a “new” chain on my chain checker and the rear tire barely has a flat spot worn up the center. Normally I’m installing a new chain and tires for DALMAC right about now (on both bikes). The tires on the Venge are showing some age but they’ve got two seasons on them… and that chain is still brand new as well. There is a most excellent reason for this.

I’ve got so many miles on the tandem with my wife this year, all of my other equipment is brand, spankin’ new. On the tandem with my wife is the best place there is on two wheels. I can’t wait till the new one comes in! Should be January or February – just in time for the 2023 season.

A Makeover… For Your Old Road Bike? Yes, Please! Part Four – What To Change; The Drivetrain

This post could end up being a massively difficult task, because there are so many moving parts to a bike’s drivetrain. Ten and eleven speed road groupsets were easy for older bike frames (steel and carbon fiber – aluminum not so much). I’ll stick to what I know, which is admittedly little.

The Ultegra shifters on my 9-speed triple went first. I tried to find replacement shifters to no avail, but I did find a small company new in the drivetrain component market called MicroShift. They made Shimano 9-speed compatible integrated (road) shifters… in a triple, that were priced well and worked as good or better than the original shifters had for a couple of years. Good enough I’d have been fine to keep the bike as it was… until a friend sold me a gently used Ultegra 10-speed groupset that I could use on my Venge. That freed up the 105 10-speed groupset for my Trek.

My ’99 Trek 5200 Triple fitted out with MicroShift’s finest.

The Shimano 105 upgrade – 1999 Ultegra to 2013 105 is a massive leap in technology and a decent drop in weight – was going to be a game changer, but I had to change a lot to make it happen. Here’s how the bike sits today:

So, the crankset is a low-end Shimano. It’s much the same tech as a 105 or Ultegra crankset, just a little heavier. I needed a new English threaded bottom bracket (BBR-60 if memory serves, but I’ll find out for sure and update the post as soon as the shop opens). The crank fits perfectly with no shims to that bottom bracket. That bottom bracket change did lead to the need for a shim change to the cassette at the rear wheel, though. The 11-speed wheel requires a shim to get to 9 or 10 speed… but I needed another to force the cassette out a little further so the chain line worked with the new crankset and bottom bracket, to get the front shifting matched up with the cassette.

There was another massive issue that required a little fabrication trickery. The front derailleur clip for the frame wouldn’t allow the front derailleur cage to drop far enough to work well with the 50/34 chainrings (52-36 worked but had a cadence hole with an 11-28 cassette that I absolutely hated between 18 & 22-mph). Finding a new clip that’ll work with a compact crank and fits a Trek 5500/5200 frame is impossible, so our shop owner welded a bit onto the bottom of my original clip and drilled out the hole (elongating it) so I could get an extra 2 to 3-mm worth of drop to the derailleur cage. That fixed the shifting and the smaller compact crankset worked fantastically.

The final issue I had to deal with was difficult to figure out. I had some chain-drop issues with the small chainring because I was using aftermarket “Amazon” SRAM labeled chainrings. That issue could only be resolved by installing Shimano 105 110-BCD 5-hole chainrings. With the aftermarket chainrings, once in a while, under climbing power, the chain would drop into the bottom bracket for no apparent reason. The problem was the cheap aftermarket chainrings. I believe they worked fine new, but probably needed to be replaced every couple of years – more often than I wanted to bother with. The true Shimano 105 chainrings fixed that issue completely, though.

Other than those solvable issues, everything was bolt-on and simple and I went from a 52-42-30 triple with an 11-26 9-speed cassette to a 50-34 double with an 11-28 cassette.

With those issues corrected, ten or eleven speed will work just fine on my 5200. I’ve heard we may get into trouble with 12, though. That’ll be a post for another day. In the meantime, my old Trek 5200 is riding like a new, much lighter, vastly more enjoyable bike.

The only question left is, should update a classic bike like that? Well, that answer depends in how you want to ride the bike and how long you’re willing to wait for replacement parts when something goes bad. Me? I’d rather ride my bike. Lots. So the change made sense.

A Makeover… For Your Old Road Bike? Yes, Please! Part Three – What To Change; Stems, Handlebars and Brakes

Part three of my bike makeover series is going to get into messing with the stem, handlebar and brakes… the stem and handlebar for fit and aesthetics and the brakes for better braking and/or aesthetics.

The photo on the left is of my 1999 Trek 5200 T shortly after I brought it home in 2012. The photo on the right is how the bike looks today. Let’s ignore for another post the fact that its color changed drastically, as did the entire drivetrain (those posts are coming), and I covered the wheels, saddle and seatpost in part two. For this post, we’re going to start with the stem…

So, if you are an astute, knowledgeable bicycle aficionado, you’ll note the old-style quill stem on the left and the threadless stem on the right. It’s a cheat workaround, not a change from threaded to threadless. Now, threaded/threadless refers to the fork’s steering assembly. The old way of attaching the stem to the fork was a threaded upper portion of the fork – you literally screwed the headset to the fork and that locked everything down. Nowadays they use a threadless system that’s infinitely easier. I’ve got a quill stem adapter that allows you to use 1-1/8″ threadless stems because they’re infinitely more adjustable. Finding old quill stems with the exact drop and reach is getting, well, difficult. Finding them in anodized black? Well, good luck chasing that unicorn. So, I dealt with a little bit of a weight penalty to have the cockpit I wanted. Oh, and it looks fantastically better. For the current cockpit, I’ve got a -17 degree 90mm Bontrager Light alloy stem on my quill stem adapter.

For the handlebar, I went through some serious gymnastics. First, I hated the handlebar on the left. Measured, I should take a 42cm-wide handlebar. Newer ergonomic though would even suggest a 38 or 40, but let’s not get too lost in the weeds, here. I’m a 42 for all intents and purposes. The bar above/right is a 44. Riding on a bar that’s just two centimeters too wide, when you’re on your bike 8- to 10,000 miles a season, sucks. For the longest, I had a Specialized Tarmac bend handlebar on the Trek – an abomination to be sure, but I loved the ergonomics of the bar. The drop and reach suited me perfectly. I’ve since upgraded to an aero Bontrager model that suits the bike perfectly and even allows for internally routed cables.

The funky bar tape has since been replaced with Supacaz Sticky Kush Black. The bike, as it sits now, is absolutely perfect (the reach may be a cm too long, in all honesty – I couldn’t remember if I needed an 80 or 90 when I ordered the 90… it’s livable, though).

Finally, as an afterthought, when I upgraded the brakes on my Venge from Shimano 105 to FSA Energy calipers for Christmas several years ago. They matched the red/black scheme of the Venge perfectly (astonishing, really, they look amazing), so I had an extra set of brakes laying around… that just so-happened to look awesome on my newly black and red Trek. So on they went replacing the (heavier) bushed aluminum 1999 Ultegra brake calipers. There was no difference in performance, just looks.

There’s no question, the black 105 brakes are a massive improvement.

When I changed components around, in most cases there was an aesthetic purpose at the start, but I made sure to incorporate functional use as well. The 105 brakes were fifteen years newer, so massive improvements over the old Ultegra line that came on the original bike. Getting quill stems for the bike was ridiculously difficult (and I ended up having to settle for something a little shorter than I wanted, but it “worked”), and the handlebar? Well, I couldn’t live with a Specialized handlebar on my Trek. My friends wouldn’t let me live that down.

Many would opt to keep their old-school bike looking original, and I certainly get that. I’m not that guy. Next up we’ve got the drivetrain. There’s an interesting story behind that.

A Makeover… For Your Old Road Bike? Yes, Please! Part Two – What To Change, Saddle, Wheels and Seat Post

A blog friend from Texas, Jeff, asked for this series. My friend, here you are…

So, the other day I posted all of the photos linked to changes in my Trek 5200 over the years that took it from a 21-ish-pound behemoth to a svelte 18-1/2 pound speedster. That was Part One of what will become a series, and I’m about to share those changes with you… and some of the deeply technical aspects of those changes so, if you decide to undertake updating an old-school steed, maybe you’ll be able to avoid a few pitfalls.

First things first when I brought the 5200 home, I put a new saddle on the Trek. The old saddle was, thankfully, way too wide. I currently ride a 138mm Montrose comfortably. The saddle that came on the bike was a 155 and hurt me massively, especially in the hamstrings as the pain radiated down over the miles. I had a 143 mm Specialized Romin on the Trek for years but switched to the Bontrager Montrose carbon saddle a couple of years ago because it was much more… erm… Bontrager (Trek) is phenomenally comfortable (and is also very light, ahem). I’d be willing to bet, from the original saddle to the svelte carbon beauty that’s on there now, I’d dropped at least a half-pound, possibly more.

I also upgraded the seatpost from the alloy one that came on the bike (left) to a wonderful Easton carbon model (right). The reason for the change was that the seatpost’s leveling mechanism on the left was “notched” so that you were limited to the nose up and nose down positioning of the saddle. One notch meant the saddle nose was either too high or too low for me and I hated the feel. The Easton post was infinitely adjustable so I could put it exactly where I wanted it. That, and “carbon fiber”. It has been written that, when the option for alloy or carbon fiber exists, one should always opt for the carbon fiber (unless the cost of said component exceeds one’s reasonable cashflow). Joking aside, there’s an interesting footnote here that made the carbon fiber post a wise choice over another alloy model. It is well known that alloy to carbon fiber creates a funky reaction that will, over time and without proper lubing of the parts, fuse the two parts together (seat post and seat tube). I wanted nothing to do with having to worry about this, so, again, carbon fiber.

Next, I blew out the original Rolf rear wheel at the brake track. Too many years of braking wore the alloy rim thin and it eventually blew out, so the rear wheel was toast – and good luck finding a replacement! I took the wheels from my Specialized Venge and put them on the Trek after buying a new set for the Venge. Later, when I bought my first set of carbon wheels for the Venge, I put the better, lighter alloy wheels on the Trek (Velocity). Then I bought a set of carbon 50s for the Venge and put the carbon 38s from the Venge on the Trek – that’s where the wheels sit today. The Ican 38s are special and well suited to the Trek because they’re 23 mm wide (old alloy wheelsets are 19.5 mm wide at the brake track). The wider rim means you can use a wider tire (up to a 25 mm, though I prefer 24 mm) in betwixt the skinnier chainstays of an older bike like my Trek. A tire wider than a 25 (even a 26) will rub the chainstays when I climb, though, even with the 23mm-wide rims. Now, the interesting thing is, even a 25 would rub when using a 19.5 mm standard alloy wheel. Using the 23mm carbon wheel eased the “lightbulb” effect of the tire which meant the tire would fit with the wider rim. Food for thought, anyway. I dropped well over a pound upgrading the wheels, upwards of a pound-and-a-half (almost 1kg). Sadly, there once were photos of the damage, but I seem to have lost them and deleted the last two from the blog…

Now, in case you’re wondering, the Ican 50s on my Venge absolutely will not not fit on the Trek. The 25mm-wide rims are simply too wide to fit between the chainstays. The point is, you have to watch the chainstay width when upgrading wheels. Go too wide on an old bike and you’ll be sending the wheels back because they won’t fit.

I think that’ll do for this post as it’s getting a little on the long side. Part three will be coming up soon.

A Makeover… For Your Old Road Bike? Yes, Please! Part One

I’ll have more on this later, but this is the journey my 1999 Trek 5200 took from the day I brought it home in 2012 till today. The changes were worth every penny. The 2012 5200 weighed more than 21 pounds. The 2023 5200 is a svelte 18-1/2 pounds and is a wonderful bike to ride.

Feeling A Bit More Like Myself Post Covid… A Little Pep In My Step

My wife had to work a little late so I prepped the Trek and rolled out for a solo Jimmer Loop, planning on keeping the pace around that butter “15-mph” range so my lungs didn’t get cranky. I rolled out of the driveway and the bike felt fantastic under me. The Venge is all speed and flash while the Trek (a fabulous race bike in its day) is more like a modern day luxury sport sedan… thinking along the lines of a nice, sporty Cadillac CT-4 or something. It’s no purebred sportscar, but it’s no slouch, either.

Anyway, not unlike the days of old, or younger as the case was, “easy” lasted all of three turns of the crank. After a full day of work, I was feeling surprisingly fantastic. I mean really good… so I decided to push it a bit… until I turned left and remembered we had an 18-mph headwind out of the west. That put a little damper on the plans. Still, I managed between 15 & 18-mph into it. Not too shabby for a “last days of Covid” patient.

As one would expect, the ride north, south and east was fantastic. And I had all of the west out of the equation before long anyway.

I stopped at the middle school parking lot to take some photos of the parking lot where it’s failing after less than a year… I’m about to raise some hell about it. Then, I headed for home feeling surprisingly well. Heading south, I was between 19 & 21-mph and west, 24 was feeling quite easy. My lungs were acting as they should and I barely had a runny nose.

I felt like Jim again and pulled into the driveway with almost 19 miles and a 17-1/2-mph average. I’ll take it easy for another week, but I’m pretty stoked about were I am.

Life on two wheels is a blessing.

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.

As the Snow Flies, Now Is the Time For Bicycle Maintenance; My List of Items to Cover Over the Long, Cold Winter

Not long ago I didn’t know my butt from a hole in the ground as far as correctly maintaining a bike goes. I was in that “knows just enough to be dangerous” category. I could complete some things deftly and quickly, but I had a tendency to skip a step or two and I could really pooch things up if I wasn’t careful. However, now that I’ve fixed enough of my mistakes, some multiple times, I learned the correct ways to go about taking care of those items that I don’t make the mistakes anymore. It’s not exactly the sexiest way to become competent at bicycle maintenance, but hey, whatever works.

With winter, and for us in the great northern Midwest, comes a time that is both excellent and miserable at the same time. First, without a fat bike, riding outside is pretty much burned till March. We’ll get a few decent days, possibly, between now and January 10th, but they’re numbered. That means trainer season for many of us. The good news is this season is also crushingly boring.

It’s the perfect time to take the bikes apart and put them back together – and if you’re only a mediocre mechanic, this is an excellent time to mess things up so you have time to fix them. Now, perhaps I’m a bit of a nerd, but I really enjoy taking the bikes apart and putting them back together through the winter to get them ready for the spring thaw. Man, if that isn’t turning a frown upside down, I don’t know what is!

So here’s the list I go by, usually not in any specific order, as I work my way through my wife and my fleet of bikes.

  • Brakes center calipers and check and adjust pull and inspect brake cables/housing. Clean and lube or replace as necessary.
  • Clean and lube headsets. This is one of my more enjoyable tasks because it’s one of those that doesn’t seem like it does all that much to improve the bikes performance, until your headset bearings freeze up from a lack of maintenance. Seen it happen on friends’ bikes. It is not pretty. I’ll tell you what is pretty; perfectly clean and smooth bearing operation in the steering. I’m almost bummed I’ve already done most of our bikes already.
  • Shifter cables and housings. The conventional wisdom is cables should be changed yearly and housings every two to four cable changes. This is another of those maintenance items that really puts a smile on my face. If done well, the result is one’s bike feeling like new again. I depart a little from the conventional wisdom when it comes to internally routed bikes. The cables are protected don’t let in dirt as easily so they tend to last A LOT longer. I have friends who’ve gone more than five years without new cables on their internally routed bike.
  • Jockey wheels. You know the saying, the squeaky wheel gets the grease? I wonder if this isn’t where that saying originated (not really, just making a point). I like to take them apart, clean them and lube them and put the assembly back together. A yearly must for a quiet bike.
  • Crankset cleaning. The crankset and bottom bracket collect more than their fair share of grit and dirt. I clean them up quite often, but I give them a good going over during the winter months after I run out of other things to work on.
  • Bottle cages; clean up on the down and seat tubes! Believe it or not, I take the bottle cages off the bikes, clean the frame behind the cages and clean and lube the bolts and put them back every winter. This is another of those, “okay, I’ve done everything else” projects. Guess who doesn’t find cage bolts have magically welded themselves into the frame with a semi-permanent mixture of sweat and sports drink? That’s right, folks. This guy.
  • Free hubs! The free hubs are not free. They do spin more freely and sound awesome when they’re properly cleaned and maintained. I also use this as an excuse to check the wheel bearings, though I don’t know exactly what I’d do if one went bad… If your bike makes a strange noise when you coast, other than the normal ratcheting sound made by the free hub, the free hub is a great place to look.

Now, I do each of those for no less than six bikes… so I manage to keep fairly busy on the weekends for the eight to ten weeks we’ve got snow on the ground. And our bikes are obviously happier for it.

Fast or Fun? Or BOTH?

When you absolutely, positively need the big guns for a big, fast ride…

The Ultimate American aero race bike from 2012 thru 2019 (I could convincingly argue it’s better than the newer generation of aero bikes)

Or for fun, when you just feel like cruising (though more than worthy in the event a real ride breaks out):

The Ultimate American race bike from 1996 thru 2006

I’ll be writing more about the differences betwixt the two bikes above, but for today suffice it to say the Venge, watt for watt, is worth 1 to 1-1/2 mph over the Trek. It’d be closer to 1-mph if I put the 38s that currently sit on the Trek on the Venge – both bikes have 10-sp drivetrains so this would be easy as swapping wheels.

The Trek has a lot of pull, though, because that bike, my bike, was handmade in the USA. Everyone has their frames made in Taiwan nowadays.

Anyway, everyone should be lucky enough to have to make the hard choice of which one to ride.

Today is one of those, “when you absolutely, positively, have to get there fast” days. The Venge is all dolled up, ready to go.