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Is It Time to Be Done with Specialized Bicycles?

I’ve been an unpaid, walking advertisement for Specialized for the better part of a decade. I ride their bikes (3 – road, mountain & gravel), I sport their kit (mainly because it’s awesome), I ride with their shoes (S-Works & Torch 2.0), their gloves, and until just last year, their helmets.

You get the idea…

Specialized bikes were the best as far as I was concerned. Sleek, aero, lightweight, fast… they seemed to have everything.

They’ve always leaned on our local shop owner pretty hard, though. He was grandfathered in as a Trek and Specialized store, though, so they “technically” couldn’t touch him. They found a way to punish him with the pandemic, though. He hasn’t displayed a Specialized road bike in his store for going on two years. They won’t ship him any. Hardly a mountain bike, either. Oh, he gets plenty of leisure bikes and cruisers, but that’s about it. They’re currently telling him he’s as far out as 2024 for orders that used to take two or three weeks. It feels like they’re trying to choke him.

Now, I’m usually not one for big corporate conspiracy theories, but what’s happening at our local shop just doesn’t pass the smell test.

The rumors are bad enough I’m actually thinking about retiring a lot of my Specialized kit and getting the Venge painted to cover up the “Specialized” and “S” markings. I’d void the lifetime warranty on the frame, but it’d be worth it.

If anyone at Specialized is paying attention, you’ve got a crisis on your hands, boys and girls. You’d better get to work on damage control. If someone as level-headed as I am is thinking about quitting you, you’ve got major PR problems.

The Ten Commandments of Cycling: #7 Thou Shalt Not Squander Perfect Days…

If you’ve been around for a while, you may remember I’d taken a fondness for the Ten Commandments of Cycling… well, I felt yesterday’s ride rose to the level of a Commandment, and lucky number Seven at that: Thou Shalt Not Squander Perfect Days on the Couch.

My lovely wife had board meetings that I had a feeling were going to run late. Still, I thought, what if she actually gets to come home between them, as she normally does? I don’t want to miss her, I thought (I’d gotten home from the office just in the nick of time to give her a kiss before she drove off to that first meeting). On the other hand, it was perfect out. Barely a cloud in the sky, a barely there breeze… and the temp was even reasonable in the low 80s (probably 27 or 28 C if memory serves). It was literally a perfect day. There’s no way my wife would want me to miss riding in that, not today. Not the way we’re doing today. I reasoned, if she wasn’t on the way home at 5, I’d ride (she had another meeting start at 6).

I threw my leg over the top tube and was off at 5:10.

Tuesday night’s ride on the tandem had been hard. Strava and Garmin showed an estimated power output of over 360 watts for the hour and twenty minutes and I’d actually woken up the next morning with shaky legs, adding weight to the guesstimate… so I chose easy, recovery pace… for maybe one or two miles. It was just too perfect!

And just like that, at 5:20-ish, my wife texted me a simple, “I love you”. I took a quick selfie video from the bike and said, “I love you” whilst pedaling and sent that. Technology is grand. And I pedaled on.

I had a busy evening ahead so I had to shave the route and cut some corners to get done in time to pick up pizza for dinner and drop a love note off on my wife’s car on the way by, but I filled every spare minute I had on the Venge. I’d even dressed in my best Specialized peacock kit, with my racing helmet, S-Works shoes, and the whole getup. I was feeling quite spectacular as I rolled down the road.

I pulled into the driveway with just shy of 16 miles and a little better than an 18-mph average. It was no ride on the tandem with my wife, but it was a lot better than polishing the leather on our couch with my butt, too. Thou shalt not squander perfect days…

¡The Triumphant Return of Los Cuatros Amigos!

I didn’t intentionally blow off a meeting to ride with my friends, but that it wasn’t intentional didn’t mean I didn’t blow off the meeting.  I did.

My wife had meetings in the morning so the tandem was out.  Originally, I was just planning on riding with my buddy, Mike but Chuck and Phill showed up, too so it was a picture of the good old days when the four of us would ride all over God’s creation together.  My mind drifted back to the heady days of Mountain Mayhem: Beat the Heat when Mike managed to pause his Garmin on the way up Brutus Road, while Phill tried to see exactly how slow he could go without tipping over on his bike (1.2-mph).  Ah, those were the days!

Mike and Chuck showed up early so we rolled out well before 7:30, our scheduled departure time, and picked Phill up along the way.  It wasn’t long before we got into a great rhythm heading into the wind in a tight pace-line.  Unlike the pros, where they take twelve seconds of headwind before rotating to the back, we were up front for several miles at a time (we were also well short of the pro’s 30-mph pace).

The sun shone gloriously and the breeze was mild… and the four of us had our fun.

My 16-pound Specialized Venge was all pleasurable business, a model of mechanical perfection as we strolled down the road at a brisk (but fun) pace. Mike, Phill and Chuck had their “good” bikes as well. Phill has a Fire Engine Red Specialized Roubaix, Mike a Trek Emonda 7.0 and Chuck a Black on Black Ghost Giant TCR Advanced… We talked and laughed and caught up… and I pulled into the driveway with 35-ish miles at 18-mph and a smile on my face.

It was perfect Michigan summer cycling. With friends. The only way it could have been better would have been if my wife and I were on the tandem. There will be plenty of time for that, though.

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.

Tuesday Night in Lennon: Popped Edition

We had a small group in Lennon last night and it was windy, out of the northwest. This is not a good recipe – especially as my wife and tandem partner had to work late (as it turned out, very late). Only Chucker and I showed for the warm-up, so it was low key and I felt quite good with the easy pace on the Venge. It was good to be on the Venge, but I felt off at the same time. It was reinforced that I’d prefer my wife on the tandem any day of the week and twice on Sunday…

We rolled out into the headwind for the first third of the ride. I chose the left lane of the double pace-line so I’d get peppered with headwind to start but be protected down the long stretch down Shipman road. I’ve quietly and successfully employed this strategy for years – and it always works… as long as I stick to it.

Getting hammered by the northwest wind wasn’t great, but I was able to hide behind Greg’s wheel and I spent a lot of time in the drops or low on the hoods to stay out of the wind. My mood lightened as I caught up with folks I hadn’t ridden with in months but riding without Jess just isn’t as fun. It’ll do, ya know?

I was doing quite well when we hit Shipman road, but riders started getting dropped off the right side, meaning I was no longer protected once I got to the back after a short stint up front. I believe I made it three or four miles, but once the tandem dropped off to my left, I took the right lane to even the pace-lines out and I only lasted three turns up front and popped about three from the front. And by popped, I mean popped. Done. As soon as I hit the unprotected side, my heart rate jumped from the 150s to the 170s and I was done.

Thankfully, I was right by a massive shortcut so I took my toy and went home.

I only lasted 8-1/2 miles, but I definitely wasn’t the first off the back, so I’ll take solace in that. And on the positive side, it was really nice to feel a little out of place on my Venge. It was good to feel a little bummed that I had to ride a single over the tandem. My wife is awesome.

UPDATE: I received a text this morning from Chucker… The A guys ended up with a 24-mph average for the night… and everyone we normally ride with popped.

A Couple of Days on the Single Bikes Reinforced an Inescapable Truth…

Wednesday night, my wife decided to take a day off from riding so I headed out with my buddy, Chucker, on the Venge. As one would expect, after five days in a row on the tandem, the Venge felt strange and twitchy… though the free speed was marvelous, I am grateful for how “off” it feels getting back on one of my single bikes.

Chuck and I talked the whole ride and it was quite nice, but it wasn’t the tandem with my wife.

Last night, because we have a big weekend coming up with Independence Day, I chose to spin it out for twelve miles to keep my legs going with my wife working late… and I wanted to put the Trek through its paces. That poor girl hasn’t seen the light of day in quite a while, and she’s riding great. And so it was. I got dinner (steak, sweet corn, sweet potato home fries and a salad) prepped and ready to throw together when my wife got home and headed out the door.

The Trek has a bit more of a relaxed geometry to it so the ride is quite nice compared with the Venge, though the power to the pedal always plays second fiddle to the Specialized. Oh, what 14 years of technological advances in carbon fiber design did!

I used that solo time to meditate on our marriage and to thank God for being free from my bondage of self that held me back from being truly happy with my wife. I am so thankful for the man God made me today. I wrote in a love letter to my wife that God “knocked a bunch of dirt off me, polished me up and gave me back to her” to describe some of the changes I’ve gone through and that seems an apt way to describe it.

I’m looking forward to a long weekend on the tandem with my wife (and Rear Admiral). It’s a wonderful way to spend a bike ride. I still can’t believe how much I prefer that steel behemoth over my svelte, aero, carbon fiber Venge… but that has more to do with the Rear Admiral than the bike.

Thank you, God. I needed this.

Thank God for Bicycles!

I’ve got my Specialized Venge all tuned up. The shift and brake cables are all brand new. The bearings are all new. The chainrings, chain, cassette and rear derailleur… all new.

The water bottles are filled and ready for action. Garmin Varia and 510 are charged and ready to go. Rare for the Venge, a small saddle bag is affixed under the saddle – the smallest I could get that can fit what I need… expertly packed and tight to the bike so it won’t move, thereby scratching the paint, when I’m out of the saddle to climb.

I’m T-minus three hours to launch on my first 100-mile ride of the season.

I’m excited and nervous all at the same time. Three hours to go and it’ll be time to drop some weight.

I’m sipping on my first cup of coffee of the morning, watching my wife sleep. She’s not the early riser I am. God, she’s beautiful. I’m thinking about what a lucky guy I am. We’ve been through a lot together and it looks like the next 25 years of our marriage are going to be vastly better than the first. And for that, I am thankful.

Well, it’s time to shave and shower. Once we get breakfast going, launch time is going to be on us in a hurry.

You know, I’ve been to the gym a hundred times. I can’t ever recall feeling like this before pushing weight.

As fitness goes, only a bike can get me so fired up. Look at that beautiful carbon fiber and alloy steed… what a bike!

More later.

An Easy TNIL; When Riding Easy, Eat Headwind for Dinner

As a part of our marriage renaissance, I’ve been opting to ride with my wife more. Firstly, we simply weren’t as close as we could have been for long time and missed her terribly – I missed loving to spend time with her, and she with me. Secondly, well, see firstly. Thirdly, you get the drill.

And so it was, last night, my wife and I attended our daughter’s tennis meet a half-dozen miles from the start of Tuesday Night in Lennon. When I got home from the office, my wife was on the fence about riding, I was not – wheels were rolling at 6. I asked her if she’d ride with me and after some convincing, she agreed. I quickly prepped both bikes, aired tires, set water bottles, and laid out my clothes to get dressed after packing the bikes and our gear – helmets, shoes and shades.

We headed to my daughter’s meet and watched her win a grand match. It was fun to watch.

After, as the wind started picking up, adding an unsettling chill to the already cool air, we loaded into the car and headed over to the church parking lot where we meet up. We’d missed the warm-up and headed into the church to change into our cycling kit. Once changed, I unpacked and readied the bikes to roll and let my normal riding buddies know my wife and I would be riding together. We also picked up Jonathan and Big Joe. We rolled out shortly after the A/A-Elite mixed group headed out.

I took the lead into the headwind. My original intent was just to set the pace so my wife could hang at the back and catch a decent draft without being too taxed but as the miles ticked by, I decided to stay up there and eat the first four miles of headwind. The pace was lively and just right to be fun and taxing but nothing too difficult.

In fact, it ended up turning into one of the more enjoyable Tuesday nights in recent memory.

On the homestretch, we were in a tight bunch with a decent tailwind and were pushing around 22 to 24-mph (35 to 38 km/h). Jonathan was up front and started pulling away, with me in second. I could see Joe’s and my wife’s shadows start to fade off, so I slowed down to wait for my wife. Jonathan was about ten bikes up and my wife said, “No! Go play. I’m okay”. I said no, that I was staying, but my wife insisted. I went off to chase Jonathan down. He’d slowed down to wait but as I got within earshot, I told him to “go-go-go” and he picked up the pace. He pipped me earlier at the Vernon sign by drafting me till the last minute – I had nothing left to match his challenge. I did the same to him. I rode him like a rented mule at 26-mph (decidedly faster than a mule will run, btw) and as we rounded the corner at the farmhouse I waited till I knew keep full gas on all the way to the City Limits sign. When I hit the spot, I launched from 26-mph to 31-1/2. Like me at the first sprint, all Jonathan could do was watch me go by.

Up the road a short way, I turned around and waited for my wife and Joe to get across the line. We joined up again and had a few laughs as we took it easy for the last mile to the parking lot.

We turned out a little more than 25 miles and we crossed the City Limits sign at 18.5-mph for an average. It was a great night.

A TNIL Breakdown; Crankset Woes Lead to Limping My Toy Back Solo

Yesterday was rough. I’ve been working on emotional stuff for the last two months and I’m starting to get into the difficult items that I like to keep swept under the rug… which, ironically, leads me to sweeping ALL of my emotions under the rug and makes me a difficult husband and dad. The good thing this time around is that I have a vast array of tools at my disposal I didn’t have before. We had a funeral to go to, for my wife’s aunt and that was hard on my heart seeing all of that grief. My wife’s uncle is devastated. They were inseparable and together for something like 61 years. There was a lot of love in that room, though. The service and lunch after finished around 3 yesterday afternoon so we headed home for a 20-minute nap. I readied my Venge for Lennon and my wife decided to check out a gravel group nearby.

I arrived at the church parking lot a little bit late, but got ready and Chuck and I headed out for a quick seven mile warm-up loop. We had just enough time and with a southerly wind, we were making fast work of it. Until we got about a mile from the parking lot and I realized I’d developed something of a “click” every time the pedals went ’round. In the parking lot, when I went to unclip from my pedal, the left crank arm felt odd… and it only took a shake of that crank arm to know I had a major problem – and one that requires a long Torx 45 key to fix.

I took the dust cap off with Chucker’s multi-tool 6-mm Allen key but I didn’t know what I could do about the Torx-45… I pulled out my 5-mm Allen key from my pouch, lined it up in the bolt hole and turned it, cockeyed, and shored up the bolt. It wasn’t perfect, but it was tight and the slop was taken out of the crankset. I crossed my fingers as the group rolled out for the main event.

Four miles later I knew I wasn’t going to be finishing with the group. I probably could have toughed it out but I didn’t want to do permanent damage to my $600 S-Works crank. I turned around and hobbled my Venge back to the parking lot.

I got to work on it as soon as I got home. I knew I was going to test-ride it, so I didn’t even bother changing out of my kit. Now, there’s a trick to the S-Works crank. There’s an adjustable washer that sets the crank arm width inside the bottom bracket shell so that everything is tight, but without binding. When the bike came back from surgery on the crank, in hindsight it’s likely I didn’t set the washer correctly which caused the crankset to pinch on the bottom bracket bearings, which required I not tighten the bolt all the way to keep everything from binding… we’re talking fractions of a millimeter here.

Rather than mess around, I took everything apart yesterday, including the lock washer – I stripped the whole damn system down, cleaned everything, and put it all back together with some Loctite Blue on the threads… and sure enough, it went back together perfectly. Including the lock washer that I’d absolutely installed wrong the first time. This time I was able to tighten down the bolt as should be done.

I took the bike out for a test six miles and it was spectacular. Perfect.

It was a bummer of a lesson to learn on a Tuesday night, but I’ll stick with being glad I learned it.

The First Proper Ride of 2022, and It was a Doozy!

So, as I’ve made painfully clear over the last couple of months, this spring has been terrible in terms of weather. Normally, I’ll have somewhere between 600 and 1,000 miles for the month. I’m sitting on a paltry 375 with barely a week left in the month. Preposterous. It’s been so bad, even the usual guys who ride in the worst weather are straight-up depressed and have refused to ride in the crazy crap we’ve had.

All of that changed yesterday.

I had to schedule the ride a little later than normal to a) give it a chance to warm up and b) give it a chance to dry out. The weather report showed rain ending at 4 or 5am so I set the wheels roll time at 9. We picked up a few worms on our frames, but this turned out to be the right time. It was sunny, 50, and the temp was on the rise with a decent southerly wind. We rolled out a couple of minutes after 9 with a group of six.

We picked a route that was favorable for the wind but that meant eating a lot in the first 30 miles. That meant favorable conditions on the ride home, though. We picked an alternate route to split up some of the considerable headwind. It was bad enough even guys who never ride in the drops were down as low as possible to gain every possible advantage. It was bad enough McMike, once we got to the first stop of the day, asked how much headwind was left.

We struggled on, battling the wind for 28-miles before hitting our first substantial tailwind stretch that lasted for ten glorious miles. We simply flew down the road – five excellently matched veteran cyclists in a glorious single-file pace-line flying down the road north of 25-mph as the sun beat down on us. Battling the headwind was made worth it in that 10-mile stretch. We rotated flawlessly, as though we’d had half the season in our legs, guarding each other from the crosswinds, and pointing out the winter’s potholes… it was perfect.

And our average pace started ticking up with the help.

This was my longest ride of the year, by a lot – fifteen miles – and I was wondering if I would bonk spectacularly. There were a few times, trying to hide in crosswinds, that I questioned how much longer I’d be able to hang on… but the blowup never materialized. I just kept right at it, taking my lumps up front, then falling back for a rest.

With less than six miles left, we turned north and put the hammer down. We passed 19.6-mph for an average (31.5 km/h). We turned right with a crosswind and I expected the pace to slow a little… and it did till McMike got up front for the last mile and decided to stretch it out. The pace went from a calm 20-mph to 23. Jay, who’d just taken the last two miles, tapped out and slipped off the back. I was bound and determined to stay with Mike, though. 19.7-mph average. As we turned the corner for my driveway, I let off the gas and said my goodbyes. Chuck and McMike headed for their respective homes and Jay pulled up 30 seconds after I hit the driveway.

My average pace had dropped to 19.6 in that last couple of tenths, but I didn’t care. I was good and done.

But not quite done enough. After cleaning up and some lunch, I went over to the school tennis courts to hit with my daughter. And that was a bad idea. Mid-season I can pull that off, a long ride followed by some tennis with my kid(s). This early in the season, with nowhere near enough miles on my legs, not so much.

I woke up feeling like I was 70 (or my approximation of what 70 might feel like). Thankfully, it’ll be Sunday Funday on the tandem today, followed by hitting a bucket of balls at the driving range if the rain holds off, then bowling this evening.

As they say, “I’ll rest when I’m dead”. Then I add, so long as not resting doesn’t put me in the grave sooner. I’ll rest enough it doesn’t come to that.