Ride the Puddles

Stuff Beginners Should Know (But Almost Never Do)

This is a collection of articles from, all with the same premise; Gee, I wish someone had told me THAT when I was starting out!


I had a couple of topics I wanted to write about and just discovered that Coach Levi has covered them, too.

Him being smarter than me, I’m going to refer heavily to is articles, and I hope you’ll go read them.

One of those topics is riding on a trainer.

Basic Trainer

For those of you new to this winter time riding stuff, the link above shows a cycling trainer. It is, in fact, the very trainer I use. Mine’s held up really nicely and I’m going into my third season with it. The one in that ad is $5 less expensive now than it was when I bought it.

Sometimes life is just so unfair, but I don’t hesitate to recommend that trainer. Then again, if you wait three years maybe it’ll be another $5 less expensive.

If you want something a little nicer and with a more realistic feel, and have about 3X the cash to spend, you might want something like this:

the Kinetic trainer

Or if you want the absolute best and price isn’t a concern, go with the Lemond Revoltion (sorry, no link).

So, HERE is Coach Levi’s advice for how to put your bike on your trainer.

Levi’s article assumes that you’re riding a road bike. I’ve typically kept my mountain bike on mine (though this season I’m snow biking with the MTB, so the CX is on the trainer).

Regardless of what type of bike you use with your trainer the basics are the same.

— The smoother your tread, the better it is for use with a trainer. I’ve used my Continental TravelContact tire (a really excellent tire for railtrail use as well as a perfect tire for the trainer) for two seasons and about 2,000 miles of trainer miles and it still looks great.

Right now my CX is mounted with Panaracer Pacela tires. Still a good choice, but not as perfect as the Conti TravelContact. And there are some even better choices.

Coach Levi lists one, the $5 Hutchinson Flash, a horrible road tire but an excellent trainer tire. And you won’t find one at a better price.

If you don’t mind paying more you can get something sturdier that’s made JUST for your trainer.

Here’s one for your road or CX bike.

And here’s one for the 26″ wheels of your MTB.

What you don’t want to use is any type of knobby or heavy tread pattern. You’ll destroy those tires well before it’s time to get back out on the road and trail again.

Another thing you want to do, I mean you REALLY want to do, is follow Levi’s advice for how much pressure to apply with the roller on the tire.

Just enough to get the roller spinning without ever skipping. If you over tighten this adjustment and apply additional pressure, attempting to increase tension and resistance, you’ll destroy the tread by the added pressure, and the sidewall because you’re deforming it and heat will build up in it as you ride. Unlike your car, your bike’s sidewall isn’t intended to take that kind of abuse.

— Something else you’ll absolutely require is a box fan, even better, a pair of box fans.

Because even if you ride with a window open or in your garage with the door open, you’ll have a tough time preventing overheating without some air flowing over you.

Just set each fan a few feet ahead of your trainer, one a few feet to each side, and angle them in and upward so that they blow directly on you as you ride. Keep them blowing on the highest possible setting.

— You’ll want to prop your front tire up a few inches and you can purchase blocks made just for this purpose.

There are less expensive models than this one, but they tend to be flimsy.

Personally, I just put an old phone book or a wooden TV tray under the front wheel. But I’ve never cared much about style points.

— Lastly, don’t ignore hydration. I find that it’s most convenient to use my hydration pack, just as if I were on the road or trail.


Paul recommends the use of a rim trainer if you have a mountain bike.

They’re about twice (or more) the price of a basic trainer, but they review well for feel, and most owners seem to love them.

Some are wheel size specific, but some will adjust to fit from 24″ rims to 700c.

— If you’re a little more advanced and confident and don’t mind spending a little more than you will for a basic trainer, you can always go with a roller.

But that’s another article.
This time it was Bill Larson of Cycle Path in Portland Oregon that I was pestering.

Even if you don’t live in the Portland Oregon area you’ve likely heard of Bill, because he’s been included several times in articles at Cyclocross Magazine.


I’ve said before, to me, it seems that bike sizing is the first step in finding a proper bike fit. But it’s something most people know almost nothing about and it often seems like bike dealers and bike shop techs aren’t much better informed.

Bill Larson:

“I agree with you in it being the first step. Yup, fit is something that does escape many people, is very important, but is getting more attention and play in shops all around the US.

I see more shops taking a serious role in bike fit these days. The “mom and pop” shops that dont tend to progress with technology and trends as quickly are taking more interest in providing good fit services. The bigger shops that focus more on business, that talk about how many “units” they sell in a year rather than talking about all the awesome bikes they built and sold to happy customers, are getting more into fit services. I really think bike fit is coming of age and is being seen more universally as something that needs to be taken seriously and offered if a shop wants to weather the storm of these economical and informational times.”


When I bought my MTB the dealer used nothing but standover height (he said 1″ inch for MTB, 2″ for Road).

When I bought my CX the guy used God knows what method. His only input was “You looked a little stretched out on the 56 cm.” and then only after I’d asked to test the 54 cm.

Bill Larson:

“It was typically said that you needed 2″ of standover for mtn and 1” for a road bike. Any time riding off road you need more standover and typically a smaller bike to be able to man handle it easier. However, geometry for bikes has changed a LOT in the last 10 years and you really cant use standover anymore because top tubes on bikes slant down so much more than they used to, not to mention many other refinements.

Today bike fit is all about top tube length.

For decades these rules of thumb were the standards for fit and those people within the industry who didnt progress (that is, continued the learning process as the bike industry matured and got much more technical and specialized) still often use the same old techniques.

Its one thing to use these simple tactics to initially get someone out on a bike for a test ride, but in the end if someone is purchasing a bike from you, further steps need to be taken to assure its a great frame size and there is a proper fit.”


It seems like from shop to shop there is a lack not only in standards, but in the education of the techs and sales people. That isn’t helpful when the average person is entirely ignorant on the subject and expecting that the guy selling the bike is going to be an expert, and so trusts him.

Bill Larson:

“As I have said, things are getting better in terms of many more shops having fit knowledge. Like any industry, there will always be the simple shops and/or those that dont believe in technology, dont have time, interest, financial ability or the customer base that pushes them to invest in these great customer services. Because of this there will always be customers that wont have great experiences riding bikes and therefor wont get “hooked” on cycling.

It should be said though that there are PLENTY of resources for education and standards on fit. One just need put the time and interest in searching and making it happen.

It doesnt have to cost a ton of money. Obviously it can though.

Given the importance we see in fit, we put a lot of money and time in that direction. We use the Retul fit system which is an LED motion-based fit system. Its a great tool as its extremely precise in optimizing one’s fit.

You dont have to use something such as this to great a good fit, but it helps when you have a demanding customer base or one that is focused heavily on performance. You can get more info on Retul at

Furthermore, I have spent time going to fit schools, seminars, reading as much as I can find and even studying up on anatomy/physiology and sports science. There is a lot of bad info out there, there is a lot of good info. I think by learning as much as possible you take a broad spectrum and figure out what seems to make the best sense.

Many customers do tend to have a bit of fit info. This can be good or can be bad. It all depends on how accurate it is, but its a great step in getting a customer towards a more exact fit.

However, the responsibility should not be left up to the customer. It is not their profession and they should be able to rely on their professional bike shop for that service.”


What should we be looking for / at when we size a CX bike? A MTB?

Bill Larson:

“You gotta search out a great shop that you trust that seems to know what they are doing. It may not be easy depending on what city you live in.

In Portland, customers are a bit more lucky as its a very progressive, bikecentric city that places a lot of importance as bikes as a way of life. It doesnt mean each shop necessarily is giving out the best info, but the chances are much greater and any shop that has put any effort whatsoever into learning about a professional level of fit will be much better than one that hasnt.

Weeding these shops out shouldnt be too difficult. One could just go into a shop and ask:

— what kind of fit system they use,

— who the fit tech is,

— what accreditations they have, etc.

If they have put some good effort into this, it should show.”


Is there an accreditation service?

Bill Larson:

Serotta has a fit school. Retul has a fit school. CronoMetro has a school. BikFit has a fit school. Slow Twitch has a more triathlete-specific fit school. these are just a few off the top of my head.

There are lists of fit data that give benchmarks of angles used in fits. Im sure if one were to do a simple Google search, he or she could find plenty of this kind of info. So, there are plenty of references and sources for professional knowledge and experience.”


What’s the proper toptube height vs standover for either style of bike? Is this even a valid method of finding the proper size bike for either CX or MTB?

Bill Larson:

“This would not be a proper method for finding bike size anymore. You obviously need standover, but the standover doesnt correlate to bike size accurately. As I said, top tubes slope down more these days, so standover height is inherently much lower than it used to be.”


Or should be be looking at something else, like top tube length?

Bill Larson:

“Top tube length is king!

Bikes used to be square geometry which means if you rode a 56cm bike it had a 56cm top tube length and seat tube length. So, you could have a bike that was the proper length, but you may have had no standover. So, youd downsize to get some standover and you had to compensate for the short top tube length with a long stem.

People would also use layback posts to get the cockpit longer even though they may have needed a straight-over seatpost so that their knee was positioned over pedal spindle in the three o-clock position of the crank revolution.

Now with sloping top tubes you can get all the standover height you need even though you might need a long top tube length for a long torso.”


I know this is a complex subject, but what are the most basic things anyone interested in buying a bike should be aware of in sizing their new ride?

Bill Larson:

“It is complex subject, but I will try and give you some advice that could be useful even though it might require some tools and may not be easy walking into a bike shop to purchase a bike:

1. Extension angle of the leg is of utmost importance. When seated with foot at bottom of crank stroke there should be between a 30 and 40 degree extension angle.

That would be the angle if you were to extend the femur out past the knee cap and use the tibia and femur as your angle arms.

A glorified protractor with long arms (called a goniometer) is very useful in facilitating this.

2. From here you’d check the flexion angle, or the angle at the 12 o-clock position of the crank. here you’re ideally looking for a 110 degree angle using the femur and tibia as your arms for the goniometer and taking the angle in front of the shin, not behind the leg. Given you have a proper extension angle, if you get a flexion angle in the range of 115 degree, you could ideally use a shorter crankarm length.

If you’re getting a flexion angle in the 100-105d range you could ideally use a longer crankarm to bring extension/flexion into a 35ish/110ish range respectively.

3. The next part of fit is to get the knee over pedal spindle in the 3 o-clock pedal position whereby you’d drop a plum bob down to accomplish this.

You can move the seat for/aft to accomplish this.

4. At this point you address upper body fit criteria.

There are many different ranges in upper body based on what a person desires in a fit. Comfort? performance? a little bit of both?

The benchmark for back angle on a road bike or cross bike is 45 degrees, 50 degrees on a mountain bike (MTB), 20-30 degrees on a tri/tt bike.

You choose a proper back angle from these benchmarks based on where your intended purpose falls.

If you want a more sporty road fit, you can set yourself up more towards the 40 degree back angle.

Time trials are very short as opposed to triathlons, so going 20 degrees or lower on a TT bike is common, while on a triathlon bike people trend 20+ in back angle.

Back angle is derived by taking a horizontal line (parallel to the ground) at the top of the femur and making another line from that point to the acromion process, which is the most bony tip of your scapula located where your shoulder meets your arm. There are other things that go into fit, but this nails things in a nut shell.”


If toe overlap is a problem do we have the wrong size frame or a frame with the wrong geometry? Or is toe overlap an acceptable problem we should just learn to deal with?

Bill Larson:

“It is rather acceptable.

Cross bikes tend to have big issues because they have bigger tires and shorter top tubes on average than road bikes.

Its very common as you get down into the very smallest of sizes. People need a given size top tube, but at some point if the top tube goes shorter, the rider will have massive toe overlap issues.

So, you get around the 50-52cm range and with many brands you wont see top tubes lengths shortening much as you go smaller in frame size.

This sucks as its hard to get a bike short enough for someone, but its seen as a lesser evil to toe overlap. So, people then tend to go with VERY short stems or get a fork with a funky rake which can make a bike handle a bit funny.

Ultimately this is where custom geometry could come in and help a bunch, but it costs a lot of money too.

My wife is 5’2″, so she is a great story here.

We had Moots custom build her a road bike and cross bike. We had the head tube angle cocked back half a degree which kicks the wheel more forward and the top of the steertube more rearward thus effectively make the stem closer and wheel further away.

You obviously wouldnt want to mess with this too much or you’d end up with a funny handling bike, but she doesnt have any issues with hers.

Additionally, we had the seat tube angled forward by 1 degree which brought the seat closer to the handlebar while keeping the crank the same distance away from the tire.

Again, this is something that can mess up a bike’s handling if taken to extremes, but she loves the bike.

Additionally, Moots figured out between the two of these alterations how small we could go in top tube length combined with intended crankarm length and size of Samantha’s shoes what we could run to where she wouldnt have toe overlap but end up with as short of a top tube as possible.

Samantha has never had better fitting, better handling bikes in her life! Of course there is a cost to this, but if it positively changes a bike geek’s experience on a bike like it has done for Sammy, then its obviously worth it.”


Is there a fitting system that you recommend once the proper size frame has been found?

Bill Larson:

“There are many adequate systems out there, but LED based 3-dimensional motion-capture systems are awesome.

They place LED’s on each necessary pivot point of the body; metatarsal, heel, maleolus, epichondral of the femur, greater trochantor of the femur, acromion process, elbow, and wrist.

The unit that reads these LED’s and plots them out on a computer not only sees these points on a x/y axis, but also knows how far away these points are, so we get a knee tracing as your leg goes up and down through its pedal stroke. So, we can see what kind of angle your pedal stroke has, we can see how much your knee moves medial/lateral through its stroke. this can help us weed out knee/forefoot issues that some people have where we can try and fix problems with shoe/pedal shims, longer pedal axles, etc.”


How do we arrive at the proper frame size / top tube length for CX? MTB?

Bill Larson:

“It’s about achieving the correct upper body angles once extension angle in the leg and knee-over-spindle has been acheived.

This obviously isnt an answer that helps the consumer address frame size very easily just walking into a shop, but a very well-versed shop will be able to look at a customer and have a good idea of frame size, if not a choice of one of two sizes.

After that its about setting you up on the bike and making the right adjustments to optimize the fit and building a bike that is proportionally correct in its cockpit part dimensions.

Ideally building a bike that is well balanced in terms of weight distribution and part sizing. If you got to put a 130mm stem on a 52cm road bike to get the upper body in an ideal position, obviously the person is probably better suited to ride a 54cm with a 110mm stem….”


— Once we get the basic numbers, are there any modifying factors like age, fitness level, flexibility and medical conditions that we should make adjustments for?

Bill Larson:

“Definitely. This is all asked early on in the process though.

Can you reach your toes when bending over? Your age? Will you be racing? Are you a recreational rider? Are you somewhere between race and recreation? Have you had knee, lower back, upper back, shoulder or neck injuries? Any leg length discrepancies that you know of?

A fit tech will take these answers into consideration in terms of how low he/she sets the back angle.

This info will help decide if we need to spend more attention addressing biomechanical issues with the knee or forefoot where we might install cant wedges or still one leg to make it the same length as the other.”


— Are we looking for top tube numbers that are long or short in comparison to the equivalent numbers for a road bike? not sure if I understand this question.

Bill Larson:

“You will typically setup the cockpit of a CX bike shorter. Therefore, either the top tube ends up being a tad bit shorter, or you make up for it in the stem length or bar reach.

A shorter reach allows you to handle a CX bike better offroad. It gives you a better posture to lift the front end up, bunny hop, corner in slick sharp turns and handle bumpy terrain.

MTB top tubes are generally longer or at least as long. That, and/or an MTB bike ends up with a longer stem. MTB benchmark for back is 50 degrees making it a more upright fit than a road bike, but MTBs dont have a handlebar that extends forward another 3-4″ out to their shifter.”


For riders at the smaller and larger end of things, what should they look for as an acceptable range for head tube and seat tube angles in order to avoid purchasing a poor handling bike that technically may be the correct size?

Bill Larson:

“We all have different ideas of what make a bike handle well. I think a shop that does a great job of providing a good fit for a test ride will give a customer a wonderful opportunity to see if that bike has the attributes he/she is looking for. Since we all have different fit needs based on flexibility, injury, etc this question can’t be answered simply or with one answer for all.”


Is there some factor or factors commonly overlooked when sizing one type of bike vs another that we should be aware of?

Bill Larson:

“Getting a bike too big or small are bummers we all have heard about. So, this is where you need to find a good shop and put some faith in them once they have earned your trust.

If you’ve had some experience in riding bikes, have bought a couple/few in your time, you probably have some input towards what made your past bikes good or bad. Feel free to offer that info up when discussing the size bike you’ll be getting next.

Many people are in between two sizes of a make/model they feel they absolutely want. So, weighing the pluses/minuses of going up or down in size need to be weighed and a good shop employee can help with that.

All brands are not created equal size wise. dont get married to a particular frame size. If you owned a Cannondale before and are buying a Moots now you may not be getting a 56cm Moots just because thats the size of the Cannondale. They derive measurements from different spots on the bikes. This is why good fit always goes back to getting those fit dimensions dialed in once you’ve found a frame size or two that appear to be the ticket.”

Reference the Road Bike Sizing article, to get an idea of how to reach the starting point for your ideal top tube length.

Here’s the contact info for Bill and for Cylepath:

2436 NE MLK Blvd
Portland OR

PHONE: 503-281-0485




Consider this information road bike specific, not CX, TT or Triathlon bikes.

I’ve been pestering Eric from BikFit about proper bike sizing.

Eric and I agree that 1. Most cyclists have no idea about the proper way to size a new bike and many, if not most, local bike shops aren’t much better informed.

Because you may not be able to rely on your local bike shop to properly size and fit you, your best bet in finding the bike that you’ll be most comfortable on and the one that you’ll perform your best on is to become educated in sizing and fit yourself.

The first things I learned are that the issue of bike sizing is more complicated than “what size frame should I buy” and that bike sizing is just the first step in proper bike fitting.

So, we’re just gonna give you a starting point, here, then provide some links for you to get additional information.

As Eric says: “. . .frame sizing is a fairly complex issue, and is really the key to obtaining a comfortable reach to the handlebars . . .”

Eric: “Most people I fit are on bikes that are simply too long for them.  Most often it’s because they “got a good deal.”  I’m amazed that someone will shell out 6K for a new bike, but was never really sure if it was the right size.  Most people think if they get in the right ballpark, a different stem is all that is needed to get them “dialed in.” 

Did you see that? It isn’t just schulb’s who haven’t been riding seriously before or for long who screw this up, it’s guys who’ve been riding bikes long enough that they’re ready to invest in top end gear. Why? Because, we’re just not taught this stuff as we go along or before we get heavily involved with the sport. We’re taught to make alterations by buying parts that adjust different aspects of our bike’s fit, instead of how to first buy a bike that fits us best.

What is the most important measurement to consider when attempting to find the proper frame size? The top tube (actual or, in the case of sloping top tubes or compact / women’s frames,
“effective” or virtual) measurement.

How do you find the correct top tube measurement?


“The really simplified rule on frame sizing is the same one that has been used by bike fitters and frame builders since the dawn of time – multiply your inseam by 2/3, and that will give you your correct center-to-center seat tube length (on traditional level top tube bikes, or the virtual center-to-center measurement for sloping geometry).  Provided your inseam is in proportion to your torso (see the attached Fitting Guidelines for further guidance), then the top tube should also be the same length (again, for sloping geometry this would be for the virtual, or effective, top tube length). It really doesn’t matter what size the manufacturer may label the bike; it’s the effective center-to-center top tube length that is more important than some arbitrary sizing convention like Small, Medium, and Large.   
The above rule applies to those who meet my “5Fs” rule: (More on Eric’s “5Fs” later).

So, you first need to measure your inseam, and no, it’s definitely not the same as your pant inseam.  

— First, you will need an assistant.  Make sure you are in socks and cycling shorts.

— Next, set your feet about 9-10”(23-25 cm) apart and straddle a 2-3 foot (61- 91 cm) carpenter’s level that has about a 2-3” (50-76 mm) thickness.

— Pull the device firmly into your crotch while facing a wall (leave enough space between you and the wall so you can hold both the front and back of the level, and your helper also has room to mark the wall).  Make sure to use enough pressure to simulate the pressure you would feel when sitting on your bike.  Make sure your level is perpendicular to the wall.  

— Have your helper mark the spot on the wall at the top of the level.

— Measure from floor to this mark and you now have a fairly accurate measurement of your inseam. “

If you walk into a bike shop it’s unlikely they’ll so much as mention top tube length.

Talking to a bike shop tech it’s all about stated frame sizes (usually listed in centimeters, but sometimes in inches) and sometimes it’s about “standover height” and you’re really lucky if anything else is even mentioned.

For instance, I was told by a dealer that for an MTB you want one inch standover height clearance “and for a road bike you want at least two inches.”

Hence, by standard bike shop wisdom, you begin by choosing a frame with the proper standover height and all else should fall neatly into place.

Is there any truth to that at all? Or is it nonsense? Should “frame size” or “stand over” be used as a guide at all? Should it be entirely ignored?


“First, a little background. Back in the days when all top tubes were level on road bikes, frames were sized by the length of their seat tube, which was usually measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the center of the top tube (sometimes it was to the top of the top tube).  If you selected a frame that was about 2/3 the length of your inseam, standover height wouldn’t be a problem, and generally you’d have about 1-2” clearance over the top tube. Usually the top tube lengths would be within about a centimeter of the seat tube length. Bikes were also usually built in one centimeter increments,and it wasn’t uncommon to find a range of 12-15 sizes from any given builder.    
Now, flash forward to today and almost nothing has a level top tube.  Compact geometry and sloping top tubes rule the world.  Most bike models will come in a range of 4-6 sizes. Strangely, the same sizing conventions are now used today – bikes are still often measured by their seat tube length, and that is given as the stated size. As an example, a 56 cm bike with compact geometry might only have a actual seat tube length of 49 cm, yet the “virtual” or “effective” seat tube length is 56cm.  In other words, if the bike had actually been built as a traditional diamond frame design with a level top tube, then the seat tube would have measured 56 cm. Some bike companies have opted to simply label their bikes as XSmall, Small, Medium, Large, and Extra Large. (this is the way mountain bikes have always been sized).  What does this tell us about the top tube length?  Not a whole lot. Most people can probably comfortably standover 3 or 4 of these sizes, so the top tube length now becomes ever more important in determining correct frame size. 
The moral of the story, is that a bike should fit you both vertically and horizontally. If your inseam and torso are proportionate, then a bike with the correct seat tube length (actual length for a level top tube, or virtual/effective length for sloping/compact geometry) is going to get you in the right ballpark, and standover height will then take care of itself.     
P.S. Mountain bikes should have a top tube that is about 4-6cm longer than a correctly sized road bike, as more weight needs to be over the front wheel. I’d use the same seat tube length requirements”

Now for some basic adjustments to your desired top tube measurement (this is where Eric’s “5Fs” come in):


“Sometimes static measurements alone aren’t the best way to ultimately determine your correct
top tube length. Measurements and formulas are a good starting point, but your level of
fitness, type of riding, flexibility, age, and injury history should also be taken into
consideration. I use the following “5 Fs” to help determine if the top tube length should be
further shortened:

Fit – How often does the cyclist ride?

No Deduction – Cycles at least 3x per week.

.5 cm deduction – Cycles 2x per week (preferably with one mid week ride).

1 cm deduction – Cycles only once per week.

Fast – What consistent speed can the cyclist maintain on relatively flat ground, while by
themselves, for at least an hour (group rides don’t count)?

No deduction – approximately 18+ mph (27+ kph)

.5 deduction – 15-18 mph (23-27 kph)

1 cm deduction – less than 15 mph (23 kph)

Fairly young – How old is the cyclist?

No deduction – Less than 40 years old

.5 cm deduction – 40-60 years old

1 cm deduction – 60+ years old

Flexibility – Can the cyclist touch the ground when bending over at the waist, feet together,
and knees locked?

No deduction – cyclist can easily touch the ground

.5cm deduction – cyclist can get to about ankle height

1 cm deduction – cyclist can only reach to shins

Free of pre-existing conditions – Has the cyclist had injuries/pain/accidents/medical
conditions (includes obesity) that would affect fit?

no deductions – none/never

.5 deduction – in the past, but not currently an issue

1 cm deduction – current/present (within the past year)

Overall, I find that most “roadies” tend to need about a 1 cm reduction from their starting top
tube length, thus the vast majority of them are on bikes with top tubes that are a bit too long.”

There’s much more that may need to be considered in getting the proper size and fit. Here are some recommended links to help you figure it out:

Visit Eric’s BikFit website and sign up for his newsletter. Once you do that you’ll get a link to an article with a lot more detail about bike sizing and bike fitting.

You might also look at:

Neuvation’s Bike Geometry Page. There’s some information about “reach” that you might want to understand a little better, there.


Fit Kit for a location of a bike shop that provides Eric’s recommended bike fitting system.

*UPDATE: Eric just put up a little more detailed article on bike sizing.

He’s also offering a new service that I enthusiastically recommend for those seeking help outside of his area:

You can also get in touch with me. I have a bike buying program for which I charge $75 for all of the following:

— a telephone interview,

— emailed instructions on how to take your anatomical measurements,

— determination of your ideal frame geometry,

— help with locating a bike/frame or custom builder within your budget,

— and if you want, I’ll even try to locate a bike fitter in your area who can help with fine tuning your final position and pedaling biomechanics after you get the bike.

If you live in my coverage area and want me to perform the final bike fit, I’ll credit the cost of this program to my bike fitting services.

Eric Bowen (858) 414 -7093 or

It may be the best $75 you invest in your bicycle.
While my fitness has improved considerably since I began this season’s riding and training, I have one great frustration; those last few pounds of fat, ALL of them right at my stomach, look pretty much EXACTLY as they did before last December coming off of four months of doing zip which followed a weak riding season.

I’m burning 12,000 calories per month, at a minimum, more than I did back then. But those pounds at my stomach have pretty much told me “piss off, bucko, we ain’t goin’ nowheres”.

Coach Levi explains why.

And Recovox offers a possible solution.

Power in the Drops (the lower part of a “ten speed” style handlebar), and What Exactly is Cycling Strength?

My thanks to Coach Levi for again taking time to answer cycling related questions.


After Stage 20 at the TdF I saw some pictures of George Hincapie sleeping in the team bus. After wondering why he seemed to be wearing Depends, “My first thought was, my God, he’s got sickly old man legs”.

Now if we stood up beside each other and a casual observer looked only at our legs, they might say, “Oh yeah, Tom would kill George in a race”, yet the fact is that regardless of the bike or the course, George would slaughter me and not even breathe hard or break a sweat while doing it.

To me it seems that there is something very different about the muscle development of cyclists. In layman’s terms, how is cycling related strength acquired and what IS cycling “strength” (because it doesn’t appear to be at all comparable to what most people would expect).

Coach Levi:

I do know George Hincapie has arguably the most infamous legs in the pro peloton. Put his legs in a lineup and anyone could pick his out! Anyway…

The first thing to know is that muscle size and strength don’t seem to have a direct relationship. Even when talking about purely anaerobic activities such as powerlifting, a skinny guy doing strength training might squat more weight than a bigger dude who focuses on hypertrophy training. I’d sum it all up with one word: specificity.

(I’d also throw in the word genetics, because some people have naturally large legs while others have chicken legs. Another reason you can’t determine strength based just by size.)

Moving to cycling, things are even more complicated because cycling is more of an aerobic sport. Leg strength is a small part of the equation. Your heart and lungs and other metabolic processes (none of which are visible to the naked eye) play a greater role in your performance than your leg muscles, so a huge leg strength advantage yields only a small cycling advantage.


Today while riding my new bike (switching from an Mountain bike to a Cyclocross bike) I finally spent significant time in the drops. To my surprise there was an instant gain of 1 -3 miles per hour, yet with no additional application of effort.

Is that just in my head? Or is there a real difference in power delivered to the pedals while in the drops vs riding upright and using the crossbar.

If it’s a real difference, could you explain how that comes about?

Coach Levi:

For the question of riding in the drops, I’d throw out the word power and focus on aerodynamics. With a typical road bike position, you should deliver about the same amount of power whether on the bar top/hoods or in the drops. (And if you are applying no additional effort, that’s a good sign that your power output is remaining constant.)

What changes is aerodynamics. It’s entirely possible to see a speed gain when getting down in the drops. Not seeing a speed gain would surprise me! In most cases, switching to the drops provides a significant decrease in frontal area, making for a decrease in drag. Since you’re fighting less air resistance, your speed will increase for a given power output.

Typically you might go from 17 to 18mph, or from 27 to 30mph, since aerodynamics play a bigger factor at higher speeds. (If you were riding at a paltry 5mph but hit 8mph just by going to the drops, that would probably be all in your head.)

You would need to use a power meter and repeat the test in similar conditions to make sure you are indeed putting out the same amount of power in both positions, but yes, you can get a good, real speed boost going to the drops.


I’d thought that maybe being in the drops was just a more efficient position, so that while I’m putting the same effort into pedaling, more power was actually available.

Coach Levi:

It’s possible to be in a better position for power generation, but you really need a power meter to be sure. It’s a case-by-case scenario and why pros spend so much time and money calculating the perfect bike fit.

It’s a good thought and a good question, but in most cases you would produce slightly less power the more aerodynamic your position (but go faster thanks to a bigger gain in aerodynamics to offset any other losses.)

Enjoy the speed of drop handlebars,


What kind of bike should I ride.

Since the season began I get that question a lot. This is just a very rough guide based on nothing but my opinion.

Cruisers and Comfort Bikes

If you’re gonna ride less than ten miles at a time, on packed gravel or limestone trails or on pavement.

Fat tires. Wide, cushioned, springy seats.

These bikes are often needlessly heavy, so look for one with an aluminum frame. If you can find these at a weight less than 30 lbs that’s good, because 40 lbs is a lot of weight to push. I think 25 lbs for a bike of this style would be ideal.

Mountain Bikes

Mountain bikes are easily the most common bike style I see, whether on a rail trail, in the city or just in town around my apartment.

Why? Because they’re easy to find at fairly low prices. You can still get a Huffy for under $100. But a bike like that, while it’ll last for years, will weigh in around 50 lbs. Not to pick on Huffy, there are many low end, inexpensive, very heavy mountain bike brands and they all have the same shortcomings.

But just because they’re cheap and plentiful doesn’t mean they’re a good choice. In fact, a mountain bike, except for the convenience of cost, is almost always a poor choice.

Mountain bikes are fantastic if you’re really going to ride on rough trails and downhills. But for your day to day jaunts there’s almost always a better choice.

Trail Bikes

Trail bikes look like mountain bikes, but they have lighter frames and larger diameter tires. They’re a much better option if you ride primarily rail trails with maybe a little road riding thrown in, and if you’ll be riding distances between 10 and 25 miles.

You’ll sit more upright on a Trail bike than on a Cyclocross bike and you’ll have mountain bike style shifters.

Cyclocross Bikes

A Cyclcross bike is also a great choice for rail trail riding, but resembles a road bike and you’ll be more in a road bike position while you ride, with road bike style shifters. If you’re riding longer distances on a rail trail or doing a heavier mix of road and rail trail riding, the cyclocross bike is a great choice. With the right tires it’s equally at home in either situation.

For distances longer than 25 miles I think this is a superior bike to the trail bike.

In my opinion, the Cyclocross style bike is the most versatile.

Road Bike

Now you’re bike dealer is gonna tell you that there’s no way a road bike will hold up to the rigors of rail trail riding. But there’s no stretch of any rail trail that compares to the savage conditions of racing over Belgian cobbles, and you don’t see the prissy little bikes those guys ride falling apart along the way.

But over time a rail trail may damage the lighter forks and wheels of a road bike. So they really are best suited to primarily road rides. They’ll also not be as smooth on a trail as a Cyclocross.

They’re not the best choice if you’re going to be carrying groceries home from your local food store, but for straight up road riding at any distance they’re a dream.
More articles from Recovox News, Coach Levi and some guy named Mark.

What is creatine and should you use it.

Nutrition: The benefit of fat

Nutrition: Fish Oil.

Nutrition: Carbs and Proteins

Exercise vs Belly Fat

Reps and Sets for Body-Weight Exercises

Benefit of Upgrading Tires
Riding with a plan

Not everyone cares about becoming the strongest cyclist they can. A lot of people are happy just getting on the bike and circling the block now and then, or going to a rail trail and taking a leisurely 5 mile ride.

There’s not a thing wrong with that. You should enjoy your bike according to what you’re comfortable and happy with.

But there are those who really want to be better than they are. Kathryn Bertine might say that this is the beginning of a cyclishness infection, and it often is.

Though these people may feel the tickle of cyclishness in their throats and honestly yearn for the day when they become the next Lance Armstrong, they don’t really know how to get started heading in that direction. That was my problem for a long time. This year I’m doing things differently.

This is the first year that I’ve actually had a plan for developing as a cyclist. Most years I just ride, ride, ride and hope against reason that simply adding miles to my bike and my legs will see me crushing Lance to goo by the end of summer. I suffer insanely, pushing out five more miles, ten more miles, forcing myself to increase my distance but with very little improvement in my times or even in my conditioning, thus allowing Lance one more summer of life as The God of Cycling and hating him for it.

Base Miles

Putting in base miles just means getting time in the saddle so your butt, legs, heart and lungs get used to riding. Hours are more important than miles or exertion.

I started with a goal of putting in 1,000 base miles using my trainer over the winter (I fell just a little short and finished my base miles on the road). When I first read that number I thought it was insane. 1,000 miles? Crap, most seasons I’d been lucky to get in 700. But it only seemed unreachable. It wasn’t nearly as hellish to accomplish as it first sounded.

Bike Trainers

A bike trainer looks like an inverted V. You hook your bike’s back wheel into it and it allows you to ride indoors during bad weather.

This past winter was the first that I had my trainer. Riding that trainer was the first hint I had that 1. I was so wimpy and pathetic that I was nowhere close to where I need to be to reach my goals and 2. Real improvement takes a butt-load of time and work and comes at a frustratingly slow pace.

When you try to force it to happen faster you reach a state called over training.

Over Training

When you work too hard, for too long, too often, and don’t rest enough between tough workouts, your muscles can’t recover and can actually become weaker, rather than stronger. Rather than becoming a stud you’re become more wimpy than ever.

I finished the winter with my legs in a gross state of over training, because I pushed toward goals that were out of line with my strength (“strength” is not really appropriate, here. I should say, out of line with my sorry state of rubbery-legged weakness) and conditioning. By the end of winter my legs were tired, weak, stiff and frequently just plain hurt like hell. It took most of April to recover from that bit of brilliance.

Goals and Training Plans

Climbing: Riding up hills to build strength.

Intervals: And example would be riding all out for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds; Then 1 minute / 1 minute; Then 2 minutes / 2 minutes. Then in reverse; 2 minutes / 2 minutes; 1 minute / 1 minute; 30 seconds / 30 seconds. Repeat (if you aren’t already puking).

Distance: Coach Levi suggests two forms of distance riding. The first is a one to two hour ride where you push as if you’re in a race. The second is 3 – 4 hours of a comfortable riding pace. I usually have a distance goal in mind, but I’m gonna mix in time goals.

Now I lay out short term goals by way of weekly training plans. I work in a climbing day, a day of intervals, then distance and recovery days. I’ve learned two things from that (I may have learned more but I have trouble counting higher than two, so we’ll stick with that for now). First, improvement comes a lot faster this way. Second, self-discipline is a biatch to come by.

Rest Days and Recovery Days

A rest day means you aren’t riding at all.

A recovery day means you’re taking an EASY ride.

I’m still inclined to just get on my bike ride almost every day and I’m still inclined to just hit the trail and ride until my butt and my legs are begging for mercy and I’m swearing to God that I’ll never ride my bike again. Fighting that inclination is tough, but necessary.

I push myself hard on climbing and interval days, because I figure that if I’m gonna give a half-hearted effort I may as well just go back to the screwed up way I was doing things before.

In between is the hard part. I rest. No riding. Usually.

Occasionally I’ll push myself hard enough that even after my rest day my legs hurt in a way that reminds me of how I felt in late winter. If I need a second day off I’ll take a recovery ride. Recovery rides are easy rides, hardly any effort at all, and they’re shorter, no more than 30 minutes.

I do it that way because I read an article by Chris Carmichael in Bicycling magazine where he said that recovery rides offer no benefit over “sitting on the sofa” for a day. Once I’m on the bike I have trouble not pushing myself in some way, so I “sit on the sofa”.

But if I need a second day, then time in the saddle is beneficial just to keep my butt used to being there, my legs used to turning the cranks and because I feel like when I’m mildly worn down I actually recover better with light activity than with sitting.

I’d read and had advice from a much more experienced cyclist and blogger that after a winter on the trainer what I really needed to do was get some big gear climbing in, so I could build strength (riding on a trainer is not a good strength builder).

I’d intended that, but forgot the advice. So I focused too strongly on distance too early and was very disappointed with my development. I had started working in one of day climbing, one day of intervals, one day of distance, but really that wasn’t close to good enough. My improvement was better than any other year over the same period of time, but behind what it could have been.

So now I’m backing off the distance and the intervals for a couple weeks, focusing completely on climbing in my big gears. And it’s paying off. I can feel and see a difference in my legs and I’m climbing the toughest parts of my chosen hill in gears I’d only hoped I might just a few rides ago.

I’ll finish out this week and weekend climbing, then go back to my routine of one day climbing, one day intervals, one day distance and see how I’m feeling and performing at the end of a cycle or two of that. And I’ll probably spend another week or two just climbing in big gears again at some point of the summer.

But no matter how hard I work this year I can already see that I’m not going to reach where I want to be until next season. I have too much work to do and I’ll be lucky if I’m doing a century by late August or early September, rather than the one per month I wanted to do starting this June. I may not get any in this year.

I’m ok with that, because I’m enjoying this new program and pushing myself in new ways and seeing the little steps forward that I’m making through nothing but my own study and effort. It’s incredibly rewarding.

I wish I’d done this a year ago. I’d be so far ahead of where I am now.

I’ll be adding basic training plans to the beginners riding group you see at the top of this page.
CLIPLESS PEDALS: A Pound of Flesh.

Yeah, they’re great. Blah, blah, blah. But does anyone tell of the price you’ll pay in blood while you’re getting used to them?

This is my first season using clipless pedals and I’ve had more scrapes and bruises in the months of April and May than I normall have in an entire season. Right now I’m marked up from ankles to a**.

A pound of flesh? Only if you get a heavy discount.

They really are amazing. There are places I regularly ride where I still expect my feet to get bounced off the pedals and I’m still always just a little surprised that they stick like glue. That’s cool. Really cool.

There are other times, especially when I’m getting fatigued, when my feet have always left the pedal just a little bit without me knowing it was happening, but now I can literally feel the pedals and cleats keeping me in constant contact.

So, yeah, it’s been very helpful overall.

But what about the “but”?!

To start with you do not know the meaning of terror until you’re doing nearly 30 MPH down a rutted, loosely graveled hill and suddenly realize that if either tire slips seriously or if you take a bump just the wrong way YOU ARE NOT JUMPING SHIP. Because by the time you take that extra moment to twist out (clip out) you and your bike are laying in a heap together on the side of the trail.

The terror is at least tripled if you’re going down a true mountain bike trail with ruts and rocks and gravel that make your day to day rail trail look like well-maintained pavement.

The irony is that while those are the places that you most fear a fall, they’re almost never the places that you actually do. Except . . .

I almost forgot.

Ok, so you’re going down a really steep, terraced or torn up muddy or gravely hill. Your instinct is to slow down. Your instinct is gonna get your butt on the ground.

You’re gonna be so focused on taking that hill slow and easy that the first time you wobble you’re going down, because there’s no way you’ll switch attention back to twisting out of your pedals in time to save yourself.

Just go. Give your bike it’s head, so to speak, and you’ll be a lot less likely to end up eating mud and gravel.

I’m gonna tell you something that you aren’t going to believe until it starts happening. And when I tell you you’ll think, as I did when I first heard of it, that anyone this dump deserves to eat road. Come back laughing after your first dozen asphalt sandwiches and we’ll talk.

99% of the time when you hit the ground you WILL NOT HAVE CRASHED. No, you’ll simply . . . fall over.


Stop signs and stop lights are your biggest enemy during your first season using clipless pedals.

You’ll be so intent on what’s happening at the intersection that twisting out will momentarily be forgotten. You won’t remember until you attempt to slide your foot off the pedal and can’t. By the time you figure out what’s what, you’ll be on the ground and everyone in their cars will be laughing at you.

And one more thing. Twist out your right foot first, because if you fall to that side you’ll likely bend your derailleur hanger.
Cyclocross Bikes: What Makes a Bike a Cyclocross Bike?


And my thanks to Andrew over at Cyclocross Magazine for his help with this.

I’ve been searching for a new bike. I want something faster and lighter than my mountain bike and since I’m primarily on “rails to trails” not roads a cyclocross bike seems a natural choice.

The problem is that the difference between an cyclocross (CX) bike and a road bike seems arbitrary.

And WHY a CX bike better than a road bike is confusing, as well.

— If you go into a shop they’ll say that NO WAY will a road bike hold up to riding rails to trails. No way.

But Belgian cobbles are a thousand times more brutal than ANY stretch of any rails to trails I’ve been on, and I’ve logged at least a couple thousand miles on them.

So from a durability aspect, is there really any difference in frame and fork? Is there any significant difference at all?

— The ONLY difference I find on ALL cyclocross bikes vs road bikes is the tires (32, knobbies vs 2X treadless).

— The next most common, but NOT universal difference is the crankset. CX bikes usually come with a 48/38 double, roadies typically have something with a bigger big gear and a smaller small gear (54/32, for instance).

*– What is the purpose of the 48/38 chainrings (as opposed to something like a 54/32 on a road bike)? It’s so common there must be a reason for it.

— OCCASIONALLY I’ll find that the derailleurs are mixed, with the rear being a mountain bike style (Deore LX / SLX) and the front (and the remaining groupo for that matter) being road (105). Just as often I find the entire groupo is road.

So what IS the difference? What is it that really defines a cyclocross bike?

Here’s Andrew’s reply:

Dear Bikezilla Reader,
Rear Deraillures (RD)

Andrew here from Cyclocross Magazine – honored to be asked by Bikezilla for our expert opinion. You’re correct in that a road bike should be able to handle the cobbles and the rigors of a rail trail. Would a cyclocross bike be a better option? We think so. You identified some key differences between the two bikes, but here are a few more:

Cyclocross bikes not only come with wider tires, they have clearance for fatter tires and mud. If you’re riding off-road and unpaved surfaces, if it gets a little wet, you’ll appreciate this clearance as it’ll keep you rolling, not walking. Also, what many folks don’t realize is that on a bumpy surface, that wider tire, at lower pressure, will be much faster than a high pressure, narrow tire. Also, a wider tire will help you reduce pinch flats as compared to a narrower tire at the same pressure.

* A road bike most commonly has 39/53 rings, sometimes 39/52, 39/50, or 42/53 on a 130 BCD. We’ve also seen compact cranks become more popular, such as 34/50 or 36/48, with a 110 BCD. However, cyclocrossers often use a 36/46 on a 110 BCD, or a 38/48 or 38/46 chainring combo. In the back, instead of a 11×23 or 12×23, we typically use a 12×25, 12×26, even 13×26 or 12×27.

The reason a tighter chainring combo is used is that the speeds and terrain in ‘cross just don’t vary that much. Sure we go from a standstill to a full sprint out of almost every corner, but without a pack or paved downhills, you just don’t need that top gear like a 53×11. We never reach those speeds you would riding in a fast pack or screaming down a paved hill. Our downhills are usually sketchy, so you’re on the brakes, not pedaling, and the paved sections are short, and often up a hill, and does not have a big pack roaring along most of the time.

On the low-end, you really don’t need a tiny chainring like a 34 or huge cogs in the back because if a hill is that steep, you’re faster running it. It’s all about speed in a short amount of time, not conserving energy or being efficient. A lighter gear might be easier, but the key is to get over the hill as fast as possible. Because you don’t need a really low gear, or a really tall gear, the tighter chainring combo is actually more usable, all the gears are ridable, even if there is more effective overlap. But because there is so much overlap in the gears, many people just choose one front ring. So a 42 tooth chainring and a 11×27 in the back would be perfect. 1×8, 1×9, 1×10 are all popular. Some riders even use unusual sizes like 41 or 45t rings.

Another benefit to not having a big gap in the front chainrings is chain tension. With a smaller difference, the chain can be tighter, and you have less chance to drop your chain – which is a big problem when riding on bumpy surfaces and dropping you bike after barriers or a run-up.

The geometry of the bikes is also different, albeit less so than ten years ago. Bottom bracket drops are now pretty similar to road bikes, but chainstays are a couple centimeters longer, and angles are less steep. What results is a less twitchy ride when the surfaces get sketchy. You may want a super fast steering bike for your criterium but maybe not for a pretty straight rail trail or bumpy fire road. Forks also have a longer axle-to-crown distance, btw. They also may have longer head tubes, or shorter top tubes, putting you a bit more upright. These are good things if you’re not out to set land speed records.

Brakes are different too – with cantilever brakes gracing ‘cross bikes. They can offer more mud clearance, but also offer more clearance for fenders. Stopping power can be better on the low-profile cantis that have longer V-brake pads.

Lastly, about the durability aspect…while you’re right that most road frames/forks should handle the cobbles well, you don’t see the very lightest equipment at Paris Roubaix, and you also don’t see lightest frames and forks built for cyclocross close to the lightest weights for road gear. The lightest cx frame is still 300 grams heavier than the lightest road frame, and the forks are 150 grams heavier than the lightest road forks. This is also the case with wheels. So I do think if you compare lightest to lightest, the ‘cross stuff is built to withstand a bit more abuse than the road gear. But with 100+ psi narrow road tires and high speeds and a random big pothole, a road bike can be subject to just as much abuse as a ‘cross bike rolling around leisurely with 35 psi on some fat clinchers.

Regardless, we think ‘cross bikes make great options for folks who don’t intend to race on the road. They’re versatile machines and can handle road and trail well with just a quick tire change. Plus it’s our secret hope that if you do watch a ‘cross race or pick up our magazine, you just might want to give the sport a try. And if so, you’ll be ready to go if you pick up a ‘cross bike. For more opinions, you can also check out our forums in addition to Bikezilla.

Cyclocross Magazine

At some point you’ll want to upgrade your bike. A lot of you will start with some part of your groupo. There’s a lot to learn and I felt lost in my own search while looking for a new rear deraillure.

So dang many terms that are confusing but need to be understood if you want to get the right equipment for your bike and style of riding.

Low normal / bottom normal / rapid rise, high normal / top normal, Shadow, long, medium and short cages. I had no idea.

So I turned to Coach Levi.

Here’s what he had to say.

“Here’s a quick guide to rear derailleurs (RD):

Low normal vs high normal.

High normal, also called top normal, is how a traditional RD operates.

Low normal, also called Rapid Rise, is specific to Shimano’s mountain bike derailleurs. It operates in reverse – a quick click of the shifter downshifts to a larger cog. (Like with a front derailleur, a quick click downshifts to a smaller chainring.)

The selling point of Rapid Rise is that it is easier to downshift in high-torque situations such as climbing.


This is another Shimano trademark applying to their mountain bike RDs. One with “shadow technology” has a very thin profile which helps keep it from getting snagged by rocks, roots, and other trail obstacles.

Cage length.

The most important and universal thing to know about RDs. The simple buying advice in this case is as follows: Road bikes with a double crank will use a short cage RD. A triple crankset of any sort is best with a long cage RD. The mid cage is for more unique situations, perhaps an XC mountain bike racer with a 2×9 setup with a smaller cassette, like 11-32 or even a road cassette.

The theory behind cage length is that the wider the range of gears, the more chain slack there is in certain smaller gears. The RD must wrap up this chain slack to keep the bike operable. So a bike with lots of chain slack will require the long cage RD.”

Levi puts up a lot of useful info, so visit him often.
Here are some more things for newbies to ingest.

Measuring Training: Miles vs Hours.

Junk Miles, Base Miles, Fun Miles.

2 Common Climbing Training Mistakes (I know it says 3, but the last one is just a plug).

Bike Upgrades. It’s specifically about rear deraileurs, but gives some good advice that you can apply when considering any upgrade to your bike.

Riding High Cadence vs Riding Low Cadence.


Recovery: Hydration, Energy Replacement, Balance.
Someone over on the forums of asked about ride / event etiquette.

Here are a few articles I found.

One from Pez. Funny AND helpful. Just what you’d expect from Pez.

This is the one where I found the peloton vs group ride gripe I loved so much I had to write about it.

Found this one on a triathlon forum. Detailed and really helpful. A lot of “stuff beginners should know but hardly ever do”.

And the list would not be complete without crash etiquette.
Rides and Races

Shaving Legs

There’s a good and sensible reason to shave your legs if you’re going to either ride very often or very far and especially if you are going to race. No, it is NOT so that you’re legs will be as pretty as your GF’s.

WHEN you breakout with a case of road rash it is:

First, much easier to clean a wound if you or your nurse don’t have to pick a few thousand curly little hairs out of it.

Second, even freshly washed hair has bacteria running rampant over it. Unshaved legs greatly increase the chance for infection.

Yes, if you shave your legs you will be a sissy. But, you’ll be a sissy with easily cleaned and uninfected road rash.

Feeling Good

Early in a race or a long ride you may find that you feel a lot better, a lot fresher, a lot stronger than you’d expected to. This may simply be the exhilaration of getting out from under your psycho wife’s thumb for a few hours, or it could be a result of diet, conditioning a preparation.

Either way, your inclination will be to light your rocket booster and tear up the trail and your competition. Don’t.

If you do, more often than not you’ll find yourself within sight of your goal without enough juice left to make that final push. You can lead 90% of a race or ride burning up that good feeling, only to have it evaporate and discover your competition blowing by you, leaving you in their dust and off the podium in those crucial final km‘s.

Pacing and self-discipline are your friends.

Balance of Pain

Again, this is a lot like getting used to your wife. Sure, she’s a nagging witch, but damn she can . . . Uh, never mind.

Anyway, try to ride with equal amounts of discomfort in both your legs and your lungs.

If your legs are feeling a higher percentage than your lungs, you’re pedaling too hard (too high a gear).

If your lungs are feeling a higher percentage than your legs, you’re pedaling too fast (too low a gear).

How Hard to Pedal

This is another one that’s counter intuitive and it’s related to the Balance of Pain.

It makes sense to think that if you ride with the chain on the big gear in front and the little gear in back that you’ll go farthest fastest. But no.

Why? Because you expend such a great amount of energy and effort in your highest gears that you will become fatigued very rapidly. Once this happens it is very difficult, sometimes impossible, to recover over the course of the ride.

Riding at a higher cadence (more revolutions of your pedals per minute) eases the strain on your big leg muscles and allows them to put out a very high amount of effort for a much longer period of time.

To just think about it you might believe that this would leave you worn out in no time, kind of like running as fast as you can. But you’ll be amazed at how much longer and farther you can ride by spinning your wheels faster rather than harder.

What’s a good cadence? If you’re riding roads aim for an average of about 100 rpm’s. If you’re on trails or mountain biking, the principle is the same but there is no rule of thumb (at least none that I’ve heard of) for a specific cadence goal.

Yes, there are times when pushing harder is better, but we’re talking about bike riding here. Perv.

Anyway, pushing hard in your largest gear has a time and place, it’s on your bike for a reason. You just need to be judicious with its use.

How do you measure cadence? The easiest, most reliable and safest way is to buy a cyclometer (bike computer) with that feature.

1. Wheel and Tire Weight

If you want to lighten your bike, you’ll be a lot happier dropping grams from your wheels and tires than pounds anywhere else. That is to say, begin your bike’s weight loss program by purchasing lighter wheels and tires.

Stock wheels and tires, especially on low end bikes, are made specifically with the goal of making you as tired and miserable as possible during each and every ride and moment of riding. Like a controlling wife, the sooner you dump them the happier you’ll be and it‘s worth some financial discomfort to be rid of them.

2. The Quality of Derailleurs and Shifters

Upgrading from low to mid-level derailleurs and shifters is a relatively inexpensive and very effective way to reduce frustration due to lags in shifting and the associated anger that could lead to your bike’s premature demise.

For instance, take a hammer to your Shimano Sora and Acera derailleurs and shifters. Replace them with 105 and Deore LX or SLX, or go from SRAM Rival or 3.0, SX 4 and SX 5 to Force or X 7

3. Logging Miles BEFORE Training

Ride, simply ride, for 1,000 miles prior to beginning any type training program for the season. These are called “base miles” and their purpose is to get your body used to just being on the bike. Your butt, legs, lungs and heart need to reach a basic level of strength and endurance.

4. Seat Width

Though it is counter-intuitive, a narrower seat is A LOT more comfortable on longer rides (say anything over 15 miles). The longer the ride, the more you’ll feel the truth of this.

Trust me, your prissy little behind will endure far less pain if you’ll abandon your ultra-wide touring seat.

5. Suspension Frames and Forks vs. Fixed Frames and Forks

Unless you’re doing some serious mountain biking, meaning rocky or rutted trails and the like, suspension forks and frames are not worth the trade off of comfort for weight (or the additional considerable expense).

If you ride a lot of “Rails to Trails”, like the Illinois Prairie Path, chances are that you’ll not only see some very hot women during your ride, but you’ll be happier with a solid frame and fork. On a “Rails to Trails” kind of a ride you’ll notice and appreciate the weight savings of the solid frame and forks, but get very little (if any) benefit out of a suspension system.

5a. If your hinter parts really need some tender mercy, you can always buy a seat post that is made specifically for cushioning your ride. It’ll cost less, weigh less and give more relief than suspension forks and frames on “Rail to Trail” riding.

5b. Suspension frames aren’t really meant for comfort, they’re meant for safety. The idea is not so much to keep your butt from being bruised as it is to keep your tires in constant contact with the trail surface while you’re riding over rocks and ruts and roots.

6. Pedals

The platform pedals your bike probably came with are not your friends. They don’t even resemble friends. In fact, they hate you and will prove it to you again and again, every time they toss your foot.

In my opinion toe straps, called “clips“, are even worse, because they provide only minimal security unless you adjust them ridiculously tight. But, if you do adjust them so that they’re snug enough to provide a good bond between your foot and your pedal, then you’ll be so much meat scraped onto the pavement should you wreck, because you’ll never get your foot out and on the ground in time to prevent a wipe out.

In fact, even if you leave them loose they still inhibit dismounting in an emergency.

Clipless pedals take a couple of rides to get a feel for (so it’s helpful to break them in while your bike is mounted on a trainer). But they prevent your foot from slipping or bouncing off of the pedal and for that alone they’re worth the investment.

They also help you transfer more power to the pedal with less effort and if you want to race or take progressively longer rides or do some serious climbing you’ll find that quality to be a gift from God.

They are touted as actually being a safer pedal. But! Those statements never say in comparison to what. Well, in comparison to toe straps / clips. With clipless pedals you just give a little twist and, pop, there you are, out of the pedal and pushing off, preventing a bout of road rash.

In an emergency they are NOT safer than your plain old flat pedals, though they are not very much less safe. You can’t simply slide your foot and plop it on the ground. You DO need to give that little twist and when a wreck happens in a matter of 1/2 a second that extra 1/16th or 1/8th of a second spent twisting, especially while you’re learning to get used the them, can make a big difference.

And they’re NOT just for road and cyclocross bikes. You’ll love them on your mountain bike, too.

7. Bike Fit, Body Positioning, Posture and Form

Your posture on the bike, your position while riding and your pedaling form have a huge impact on your comfort while riding and on post riding pain.

There are books that can help you learn about adjustments to your seat, handlebars, etc. But, if you’re intent on riding it’s well worth the investment of time and money to find a bike shop that specializes in fitting you to your bike.

I’d avoid the ones that do it for free, because it’s likely that their training and attention to this area is minimal and unhelpful. For instance, the first time I was “fitted” for a bike the only thing they paid attention to was frame height. There’s A LOT more to a good fit and good positioning.

The right fit won’t happen in five minutes or in one attempt but they’ll tell you things you haven’t even considered and make initial changes that will make more difference than you can imagine in the comfort and power of your rides. They’ll also give you some knowledge you can use to continue refining your fit on the bike.

A few examples:

Properly adjusting your seat position will give you your easiest and most powerful pedal stroke AND help alleviate potential pain in your wrists.

But there’s a lot more to adjusting your seat than just how high or low it is. It also needs to be properly adjusted forward and back. That may seem like a simple set of adjustments, but they interplay and when you change one you may also have to change the other.

Why? Because moving your seat up OR back lengthens your pedal stroke, moving it forward OR down shortens it. Each adjustment affects the other so you have to find the right balance.

And you can’t just focus on up or down, or on forward or back adjustments, because each change also affects how your body leans toward the handlebars and the straightness of your wrists as you grip the handlebars. If you ride with your wrists bent you’ll end up with pain in your wrists after your ride and numbness in your hands as you ride.

Riding with an improper fit, which will cause poor posture and positioning, could lead to post ride headaches, knee pain, wrist pain, numbness in your hands of feet, shoulder soreness . . .

Form is important as well, and not just to ease the effort of riding. For instance new riders, without realizing that they’re doing it, often flop their legs outward while riding up a tough hill or when fatigued. This pushes their knees out at a very bad angle and puts a heavy strain on them. They most likely won’t feel it right away, but later, after his or her body cools down and especially the next day they’ll have pain in their knees.


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