It must be the wheel

A couple of weeks ago, after I groused about my warped tire, my friend David suggested I come over and borrow one of his spare wheels. He recently bought them for his five-year-old Fuji, but then he decided to upgrade and got a new Giant Defy. So the Fuji and its almost-new wheels were not being used.

After the Bike Fest, I rode over to his house, and we swapped my front wheel for his. One of the first things he noticed was the feel of my old wheel. “Feel that?” he said. “When you spin it between your fingers, you can feel the grinding in there. This hub needs work.”

We tried the same test with his wheel, and it spun freely. It’s a Forte Titan — the Performance house brand, and appears to be the least expensive road wheel they offer. To top it off, it carried a new Continental Ultra Race tire with a Kevlar belt and a red tread. When mixed with the black and blue paint of my bike, it’s a striking look.

RedwheelThe Forte Titan stands out because of its black spokes, which are flat, and the red tire — which may not be to everyone’s taste.

I haven’t been riding as much lately as I did during the summer, so the new wheel has only been on two Sunday club rides. It seemed okay, although with a 23 mm tire, instead of the previous 25, it felt a tad twitchier. I figured I’d keep it until I had a chance to get my old wheel over to our club bike mechanic, and get his advice about the hub.

Then tonight came the last time trial of the season. I wanted to ride, since no official time was posted for the last TT. My previous best time was 24:10 and 20-something mph. I wanted to beat that tonight, and get my time under 24 minutes.

The ride seemed easy. In fact, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to beat my old time. I was well within my comfort zone for most of the ride. Over the last two miles, I pushed harder than I had during the first six.

Holy cow! My unofficial time was 23:02! I knocked a minute and eight seconds off my previous best. Speed was just a smidge over 21 mph. How was that possible? I’ve been riding less, I don’t “train” for rides like this, and honestly, I felt as though I’d left something out on the course. Sure, I rode hard. But I think I could have ridden harder.

Mrs. Noob nailed it: “No way you improved that much in three weeks,” she said. “It must be that new wheel.”

Yeah, that’s it.

Fitting in

Jeff Hemmel is back again, telling of his recent attempt to ride with the big boys. Meanwhile, I’m still taking responses to the question, “What saddle do you ride?” Drop me an email. I’ll have a report sometime this week.

HemmelsRide2Lately I’ve been feeling a lot like that little dude Hermey, from Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. You know, the elf who wants to be a dentist, and wonders why he just “doesn’t fit in.”

That’s become me on the bike.

Once upon a time, I fit in pretty well with my good friends who were casual cyclists. We rode together occasionally, enjoying our time on our bikes. Pretty soon, however, it was clear that I was getting more serious about the relationship, while they were content playing the field. To put it in Hermey-speak, I had designs on being a dentist…while they were happy just toiling away at the North Pole.

So, at least in my cycling life, I began to fit in with a smaller group of friends. I ride with one or two of them once or twice a week, and churn out the rest of my miles solo. Occasionally I’ve even started joining a few group rides. Still, sometimes I can’t help dreaming big.

A few weekends ago, I decided to see how I fit in with a faster crowd. I knew where my ride would intersect theirs, so when they came by right on schedule, I latched on as the caboose, trying to stay politely out of the way and feel them out. I tried to ingratiate myself with a few comments during the tamer part of the ride, but no one seemed overly friendly. So, I passed the time checking them out.

They all had shaved legs; I was hairy. They all had cool jerseys from clubs and events and races; I was sporting a blank Pearl Izumi that, in its “screaming yellow” color way, also practically screamed, “watch out for the noob!” (In my defense, my ride started at dawn, in Florida. Considering the motor-vehicle reputation of our, shall I politely say aging population, you’d want to be seen too!) Eventually the pace quickened and I held my ground, even bridging the gap back to them when we briefly got mixed up with a slower ride. Hey Hermey, maybe we can fit in after all!

Then came the bridge, a towering structure over a waterway pass. Determined to not get gapped again, all I wanted to do was move myself a little further up in the pack. What happened, however, was that I found myself stuck in the lane of traffic when all of them compressed into the bike lane. I’ve got decent legs climbing, so I just did what came naturally and rode until I found an opening. It came at almost the peak of the bridge…and after I had passed all but three of the riders.

Yup, suddenly I was at the front, and with what seemed like a grand tour-sized peleton breathing down my neck. Long story short, I held my own, plunging down the bridge before settling into a fast paceline. I even took my turn as the engine of that train, doing my best to fit in with their obviously well-practiced rotation. Elated to be hanging with the cool kids? On the contrary. I started to ask myself if I’d feel comfortable having some stranger thrust himself into the midst of my group, traveling at those speeds and within such close proximity. After about a mile, I also began to question my legs. I was hanging with them at the moment, but what shape would I be in after five more miles? I had already done a decent ride before I hooked on, and now about 10 more miles with the group. Would they slow, or pick it up even further? Could I hang, or be embarrassed when I had to drop out?

Was I ready for this?

I took one more rotation through, then began to drift back. After about another mile, I let them go.

This elf, however, has now tasted life as a dentist. And while I don’t think it’s the profession for me all the time (maybe I’m content as, like, the cycling equivalent of the hygienist or something), I’d like to know I could play doctor on occasion. I’d like to, what else, fit in.

Anyone else out there caught in cycling limbo? Send a comment. I’ll read it…just as soon I finish watching Hermey pull the Abominable’s teeth.

What saddle do you ride?

Saddles

Here’s a post on a subjective topic: saddles. We’ve discussed them in the past, and it always seems to be a topic of interest. This time around, I want to know what kind of saddle you’re riding, and what you think of it.

This idea was suggested by our regular guest poster, Jeff Hemmel, who reviewed the Bontrager Inform a couple of months ago — and has now fallen out of love with it. Likewise, a saddle I once liked, the Specialized Alias, now sits on a shelf in my garage, and the one that replaced it — the San Marco Selle Ponza — is okay, but not super.

So we’re curious. Have you found a dandy saddle that you can ride comfortably for long distances? Would you recommend other riders try out a saddle like the one you have?

Here’s my request: Send me an email with the make and model of saddle you ride. Tell me a little about its strong points, and/or its weak points. In other words, provide a mini-review of your saddle. If you want to send along a picture, that would be wonderful. I’ll compile the submissions, and feature the results in a future post.