Saddle Feels Funny – But In A Good Way!

I’ve been bugged lately by soreness in my butt during rides. This is a problem I’ve wrestled with pretty much since I started biking. A pro bike fit a couple of years ago helped, but not entirely. And in recent months, I find myself standing on the pedals at regular and more frequent intervals to take the pressure off from down under.

I finally decided to do something about it, and last weekend I dug out the Allen wrench and went to work on the seat. Well, nothing drastic. I just thought it made sense to scooch it back about an eighth of an inch. Using the time-honored method of gauging seat fore-and-aft, I realized that when riding normally on the hoods, the front hub stuck out from under my handlebars — just a little bit.

My first ride after the adjustment Friday afternoon was inconclusive. I thought maybe it felt better, but the ride was only for 20 miles — about an hour and 20 minutes. It wasn’t enough time to get a good feel for the new placement.

On Sunday’s ride though, I did spend enough time in the saddle. My ride was almost three full hours, and we traveled 43 miles. Sure, I stood on the pedals. But on a ride of that length, who doesn’t? What I did notice was that the seat felt more comfortable. I was sitting a slight bit back, and it seemed to make a difference.

When we got to the convenience store we use for a turnaround, I propped the bike up against a wall and went in to refill my bottles. When I came out, I took a look at the bike — then looked again. That saddle seemed to have a marked tilt down! I have no idea how it got that way, except that when I loosened the bolts to move the saddle back, I must have knocked it off level.

Even a quick snapshot in my cluttered garage shows the forward tilt to the saddle.

Even a quick snapshot in my cluttered garage shows the forward tilt to the saddle.

I’ve always set my saddles so they’re level. Well, maybe I fudge a little bit, and tilt it half a bubble down, according to my carpenters level. But this was lots different. The tilt forward was noticeable just by eyeballing it. My initial reaction was to reach for my multi-tool and set things right, but then I remembered — on the ride out here, my butt wasn’t bothering me. The soreness and pressure I usually experience just wasn’t there. I decided to leave well enough alone, and ride back.

I’ve already talked about that ride in the previous post. It was an easy ride for my companions, and a challenge for me. But even during the final mile, when I was pedaling hard to keep up with one of the club’s faster women, the saddle wasn’t bothering me. In fact, I seemed to be able to apply more power to the pedals in the new position.

Last summer, I rode with an older gentleman who tilts his saddle forward at a drastic angle. I told him I was surprised that he didn’t slide off during his rides — the tilt was that severe. He pointed out that he spends most of his riding time on his aero bars, and he needs a tilted saddle to fit the bars well with a well bent-over riding position. It must work — he’s a faster rider than I am.

So even though I’m riding with a greater forward tilt than I think I should, I’m coming to the conclusion that maybe I should have been doing it this way all along. My saddle tilt isn’t as great as that fellow’s, but as I said, it’s obvious even to the casual cyclist. I’ll let you know if I decide to keep it this way.

Going Fast Sooner Than Planned

I’d been pretty good at following my slow biking strategy since the beginning of the year. But today being Sunday, I decided to do the club ride. The main ride would go north in the city — a ride I’ve been on before, and liked all right, even though I’m not a big fan of urban riding — but I was concerned it would be too fast for me.

The club also has a Saturday ride, that was canceled Saturday because of wet conditions. They rescheduled for today, and planned to start later than the regular group, at 9:30 instead of 8:15. The leader of the Saturday group always adheres to a “no drop” policy, unlike the main ride, and I figured its pace would be more to my liking.

I was disabused of that notion early on. One rider with a reputation for going fast showed up on a tandem, and his stoker was a blind female triathlete who apparently has something of a stellar record in big events — like Ironmans. The others who wandered in were mostly A riders as well. Oh, what the heck. We set off.

To my surprise, I stayed with them for quite awhile. In fact, I fell back only when one of the other riders told me there was some concern about my rear wheel alignment. One person thought it was out of true, another thought it was off center, perhaps due to the axles not going into the dropouts correctly.

The group waited at the Walgreens in Buda, and several milled around my bike when I arrived. No one was able to find anything wrong, and one rider opined that it was my 25 mm tire that was the cause of the problem — because it fit between the rear stays with little clearance. “You’ll prefer using 23s on this bike,” he said. I didn’t tell him that I’d dropped the 23s I used to run in favor of the 25.

Out of Buda, I was with the group again, until we reached Farm Road 1626. That road has a good shoulder, but it’s a slight uphill grade for several miles. I’m terrible on those. By the time we reached the turn toward Kyle, I was trailing by a wide margin. Again, they were kind enough to wait, and even insist that I grab a breather before we got going again. “It’s no fun to push yourself to catch the group, and then not get a little rest,” said one. “I’ve been in that situation lots of times.”

Jerry, the ride leader, decided to pace me all the way into Kyle. We trailed the peloton by a considerable distance, but finally got to the gas station that serves as a rest stop and turnaround. The break was only about 10 minutes — just right, I thought. I looked forward to the return trip, which featured a fast downhill with a tailwind most of the way back to Buda.

Okay, I trailed again, and Jerry paced me again. We made pretty good time, but the rest of the riders got to the town well before me. We regrouped, helped by a red light, and began the final 15-mile push to Austin. This time I wasn’t so far behind, because the tailwind pushed me a bit. We took a hilly, curvy road up to an intersection where all the traffic was stopped by a freight train., Then it was a recently-paved shoulder on a mostly downhill leg where we could make good time.

Pow! My friend Rick ran over a shard of glass and punctured a tire. Four of us stopped — the rest were too far ahead to realize what had happened. I was sent to catch up to them and tell them to keep heading for home — Rick and the two other guys would meet us at Starbucks.

The last couple of miles involves riding on Slaughter Lane — a divided four-lane that I hate to ride. Traffic is usually heavy, and not tolerant of bikers, who do not have a shoulder here, but must take the right lane. We did, and didn’t even get honked at. After sitting at another stop light, I took off after Nancy, who jumped out ahead. We pushed hard to the Starbucks where our rides begin and end. There, some nice outdoor tables awaited, and we could unwind with riders from the earlier ride, and swap stories.

It wasn’t until after I got home that I realized just how hard I had pushed it. After a quick shower and a sandwich for lunch, I couldn’t stay away from the bed. I flopped down, but didn’t get my usual post-ride nap — I was just too worn out to sleep.

At 43 miles, the ride was the farthest I’ve gone since the new year began, and to couple that distance with the faster speeds of this group really wore me out. I’m glad I’ve been practicing slow riding lately, but it’s obvious that it’s time to step it up a bit in order to tackle longer distances at a decent pace.

Bike Lanes Are Inadequate

I’ve noticed that more bike lanes are popping up around town. I think that’s generally a good thing. My attitude is, if I stay in my lane and motor vehicles stay in their lane, we should have no problem.

Of course, we’ve all had experiences with drivers who can’t seem to control their vehicles and cross into the bike lane from time to time. In addition, bike lanes tend to become repositories of broken glass, gravel, and other debris that can make riding there hazardous.

Still, if I have the option to use a bike lane, I generally take it.

But during the week, my attention was drawn to an interesting collection of infographics regarding bike lane design. In essence, the infographics suggest that a three-foot wide bike lane is inadequate to meet the safety needs of cyclists. They’re part of a web site called “I Am Traffic,” whose stated goal is to achieve equal status for bikes with other vehicles on the road. Some of their information is new to me, and quite thought-provoking. Here’s a sample:


Click the image to enlarge.

To see the whole collection of infographics, and get an in-depth dose of cycling infrastructure ideals, visit I Am Traffic.

The 14 Mile Per Hour Club

So, here I am a couple of weeks into my easy riding phase, where I am concentrating on not pushing the speed when I’m out on rides. I’m doing it because it will allow me to rebuild my base (and easy exercise is a good way to burn fat!) and get ready for more strenuous riding in another month.

I noticed after an easy ride Saturday that I seem to be accomplishing my goal. I rode 25 miles at a whopping 13.8 mph average. Okay, there were some hills in there, and I did have to work a little harder to climb them.

But then I looked at my average speeds since the beginning of the year. On only two rides out of nine have I averaged more than 15 miles per hour.

Okay, that means I’m doing a good job at riding easy. But I’ve also noticed in the past that easy riding can lead to good average speeds. It got me to thinking — have I been losing speed over a longer period of time?

Way back when I started riding — about 2007 — my friend David observed, “You’re pretty even with me — in the 15 mile per hour club.” That seemed like a reasonable average to shoot for at the time, and since then, I’ve often gauged my rides based on whether they achieved that 15 mph average.

So I looked back at my riding stats — I enter my times on a simple spreadsheet — and came up with these numbers:

  • 2008: 15.09
  • 2009: 14.91
  • 2010: 15.06
  • 2011: 15.03
  • 2012: 14.69

Those are the average speeds of all my rides for each year. A very slight falloff in 2009, but for the most part, David is right. I’m a 15 mph rider. Until last year. That dropoff seems to be significant.

I’m trying to figure out what caused last year’s speed to fall. At first, I thought it was because I had increased the number of rides I take with my wife. These tend to be much slower than my usual pace. But a quick comparison of 2012 with 2011 and 2010 shows that i rode about the same number of rides with her each year. It also appears that my longer rides average a slightly higher overall speed.

More hills? Not so much. I do some rides that involve steep hills, but they’re mostly short. They pull down my average speed, but I’m riding about the same amount of hilly rides each year, so it’s not a big contributor to going slow.

Am I getting older and slower? Is it just a natural part of aging? Sure, I’m getting older. But several guys in my club are older than me, and they’re all a lot faster. I know there’s room for improvement on my part.

Well, I’m not going to dwell on it. I just noticed that last year, I migrated from the 15 mph club to the 14 mph club. As I said, in a month I’ll start some speed building exercises and see if they pay off. In the meantime, if anyone wants to ride slow, get in touch. It looks like I’m your guy.

It’s a Good Thing I Like to Ride Alone

It looked like this would be a great day for a ride. The temperature got into the 40s (4+C) relatively quickly, and I suited up to head over to the club ride. The evening before, I had posted on the club’s Yahoo group that I would be riding, and expected to follow the main group at a B ride pace. I hoped that would bring out some B riders to share the road with me.

But once again, I was the only B on the ride. Our club president, who usually picks the route for the day, sent an email that he was recovering from a tough ride yesterday and would spend the morning as a couch potato. It turned out that some of the other riders weren’t keen on the route he had picked, and decided to go another way — south instead of southeast. Okay by me. South would take us to Buda, and it would be easy to turn around whenever I felt the urge. The main group was planning a 54-miler. I figured I’d wind up with something over 30.

As we left the Starbucks where our rides begin, the road we took is a gentle downhill for a quarter mile. I found myself out in front of the entire group, because my bulky body gives me an advantage on downhills. Three miles later though, we turned onto Davis Hill — a hill that can test newer riders, although the A riders in the club like to attack it. As my friend Rick once observed, “The difference between A and B riders is that the A’s stand up and attack that hill, while the B’s sit and spin.” As I sat and spun, I had to admit that he was right on.

I watched as everyone passed me going up the hill. I deserved to be passed — they do a lot more hill work than I do, which is practically none. By the time the road leveled out some distance past the crest of the hill, the peloton was well ahead of me. I wasn’t too concerned, since I knew a stoplight would hold them up in another couple of miles. But when the light came into view, I could also see that it had changed — and the group was accelerating across the road. Of course, by the time I reached the light, they were already out of sight, and I wouldn’t see them again for the rest of the ride.

I made it to Buda, about 16 miles from the start, and pootled around the old part of town for a bit before deciding to head home. On the way back, I saw many more bikers than I had seen on the way out, but they were all headed where I had just been. Apparently, a lot of cyclists had decided to wait a bit until the temperatures warmed up some more.

I got home in plenty of time to do a bit of yard work before the football games started in the afternoon. Another terrific Sunday morning ride — but decidedly lacking the social aspect we associate with club rides. I’ll keep trying to enlist some B’s to come out and join me, but I’ll also resign myself to riding solo until the warm spring mornings arrive.

The Decline of the Group Ride?

This week, I got the monthly email newsletter from the Austin Cycling Association, a group I belong to. One item in the missive caught my eye: it said participation in the ACA’s “classic” rides has fallen off considerably. These are group rides the organization (It doesn’t call itself a “club,” so I won’t, either) hosts every Saturday and Sunday. The locations rotate among a couple dozen different spots, and riders can choose from several different distances for each ride.

“Ten or 12 years ago,” said the newsletter, “a typical ACA suburban or country ride would draw 50 or perhaps 70 riders; nowadays, they draw only a dozen or so.” The newsletter expressed bafflement as to why this would be the case.

The ACA is the largest cycling organization in the Austin area, with about 1200 or more members. The rides have always been one of the group’s attractions, so the news that participation was down that much was unexpected.

However, I must admit that although I’ve been a dues-paying member for several years, I myself haven’t taken part in that many rides. When I have, it’s often been because they’re merged with a ride some other group is putting on, such as a training ride for an upcoming charity event. For a couple of years, I’ve resolved to get out on ACA rides more often, because they go to places I rarely ride, and the change of scene would be welcome. But those different places are often 30 or even 40 miles from where I live. In my part of the city, the group doesn’t offer many rides.

Riders mill around before the start of one of our club rides.

Riders mill around before the start of one of our neighborhood club rides.

Those it does put on around my area are routes that I ride a lot — usually with my neighborhood cycling club, so I always go with my club rather than the ACA. And maybe that’s the reason for the decline in ridership. In the five years I’ve been riding, I’ve noticed lots of groups spring up that offer group rides. My neighborhood club is one example. We also have group rides on Saturday and Sunday, and lately, our Saturday rides have grown.

Then there’s the Austin Cycling Meetup group. Meetups are informal gatherings coordinated via a Meetup website — they exist for a wide variety of avocations. The cycling meetup sprang up about five years ago. I’m listed as a Meetup member, but I don’t ride with them anymore, for the same reason as above.

Several bike shops put on their own weekend or weekday evening rides. I’ve been on a few of those. And there are a number of other clubs in the area that all stage their own rides.

I can’t speak for any of the other groups, but my neighborhood club rides attract anywhere from a dozen to three dozen riders on Sunday mornings. That’s dependent on the weather, of course. In fact, I’d say our rides have grown over the last year or so by a little bit. Our Saturday ride had the reputation of being a “fast” ride, but some members will informally post that they’ll be heading out at about the same time, perhaps on a different route, at a different pace, and some of those rides draw decent numbers.

A bright spot in the Austin Cycling Association is the growth of so-called “hosted” rides. These differ from the “classic” rides in that a trained ride leader organizes the ride, they’re rated for speed and climbing, and they’re “no drop” rides. When you go to a classic ride, a ride “starter” furnishes you with a map and cue sheet, says a few words about the route and riding etiquette, and then the riders set off. They separate quickly, and it’s easy to find yourself on your own. I suppose that could be daunting for new riders, but anyone with some experience should be comfortable by themselves, especially with a map to help them out.

So, I don’t quite know what to make of this. Maybe it’s just that people prefer riding in smaller groups. Maybe it’s the early start time — most classic rides start at 8 a.m., which is another reason I’m not likely to drive 30 miles to get there. The ACA seems befuddled by the trend.

What’s your experience in your area? Have you noticed a falloff in group ride numbers? Or are yours flourishing? Are they large rides, or small? Do the routes vary, or are they repeated week to week? Let know in the comments.

Editor’s Choice — Essential Cycling Gear

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel is back, and he’s got the results of an informal survey.

HemmelsRide2Let’s face it, the title of this blog may be Bike Noob, but it’s a description that no longer really fits Ray, its creator. Nor does it really describe occasional contributors Don Blount or myself. Between the three of us, we’ve logged tens of thousands of miles, including multiple centuries, big charity rides, serious mountain ascents, races…and even changed a cassette or two. And along the way we’ve learned, often through trial and error, what kind of stuff helped us to better enjoy the ride.

So I emailed both Ray and Don and posed this question: What five items were your best purchases, or do you consider most valuable? My thinking is that the answers just may improve the ride for both noobs and experienced riders alike…not to mention save the expense of a drawer full of unused gear. (Don’t ask me how I know about that last one.)

As you might expect, there were several shared answers. Both Ray and I gave the nod to quality tires, specifically Continentals. “I run 25 mm, because I like the extra little bit of cushioning they give,” notes Ray of his favored Gatorskins. “They’re 100 psi instead of the 120 I had run on my 23s. Earlier this week, a club ride had a whole mess of flats rolling over grit left after a rainfall. Me, no problems.”

I wholeheartedly agree, although my favorite style is the GP4000S in the 23mm version. Before I switched to the Continentals, flats were a little too common. In the years since, they’re a rare occurrence. Hope I didn’t just jinx myself.

Ray and I also agreed on the merits of a good base layer in cooler weather. Base layers provide some warmth, but perhaps more importantly, wick away sweat so it doesn’t stay against your skin and chill your core. “Let me sing the praises of a base layer t-shirt I got last year,” comments Ray. “It’s a polyester T from Performance that fits loosely, and I think the air that gets trapped in the folds helps insulate me. It’s never as soaked with sweat as my clingy base layers.” Me, I like clingy, but agree most “polyester-feel” shirts leave me soggy. My runaway favorite is the Pro Zero from Craft. It’s pricey (I waited till I had a credit at Performance and the shirt went on sale), but I can honestly say it’s worth every penny. Something about the material feels more like a cozy cotton, or maybe even a nice, non-scratchy wool. It does a fantastic job of wicking away the moisture, keeping me feeling dry on those cold days.

Ray recommended two more pieces of clothing — a long-sleeved jersey from Performance, and a pair of wool socks, specifically Wooleators by D-Feet. “I’ve had the jersey for years, and I still look forward to wearing it,” says Ray, noting the lightly brushed fleece lining. “Great by itself in the 60s, with a base layer in the 50s, and under a windbreaker in the 40s.” As to the socks, he notes they do what wool does best — keep his feet warm in cold weather and cool in the heat.

Don and I agreed upon the benefits of a professional bike fit. “I rode my bike for a few months with the setup I received at the bike shop before going to a professional fitter,” says Don, who has had a fine-tuning since and plans on getting checked again before Spring. “A good fit goes along with a good ride.” I, too, received an initial fit with the purchase of my bike, but later fine-tuned it with a professional fitting. My fitter put me into a far more comfortable, efficient, and dare I say faster position on the bike. Fitters can also take into account previous injuries or limitations.

Don and I also tout the merits of a comfortable saddle. “Ever ride with a sore bum?” asks Don. “Enough said.” Don favors the Selle Italia SLR Gel Flow saddle. I’m still looking for my preferred perch. Along the same lines, Don and I both recommend a quality pair of cycling shorts or bibs. If you ride a lot, this isn’t a place to scrimp. Cheap alternatives are available, but pricier shorts typically feature far better chamois pads and more comfortable materials and cuts. Well worth the investment.

Don also suggests choosing the correct gearing. “I did an all-time high of more than 90,000 feet of climbing in 2012,” he says. “I rode with a 50-34 compact chainring and an 11-28 cassette. I know folks who switch out their rear cassette depending on the terrain. I am too lazy to do that, but this combo works pretty well for me for the riding I do.” I stick with my stock 11-28 when I get the chance to go into the mountains, but have added a 12-25 for the everyday flat conditions here in Florida as I feel it gives me more choices in my typical range. Truth be told, a cassette is actually a pretty simple thing to swap, although you’ll need a couple inexpensive tools. It’s also a good idea to match a chain to each cassette to prolong the life of both.

Other personal favorites? Don pegs comfortable shoes. His Bont ctt3 shoes are heat moldable, better to accommodate his “platypus” (wide across the ball, narrow at the heel) feet. He also likes to wear something under his helmet. “Even with padding, a bicycle helmet can feel like sandpaper on my shaved head,” says Don. He has proper headwear for every season — a breathable, sweat-absorbing skullcap for hot weather, a wind-blocking style for cool to cold temps, and a Walz wool cap (with earflaps) for really cold days.

Me, I’ve grown pretty attached to a sports drink, Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix. Adequate fluids are essential while riding, but I’m sick of syrupy Gatorade and hate those fizzy tablet drinks. All-natural Skratch (formerly Secret Drink Mix) tastes great, is flavored by real fruit, and has some sharp, science-minded bike nerds behind it. It’s pricey, but hey, I don’t drink that other bicycling staple — coffee — so guess that’s how I justify the expense.

One last item? Don suggested a bike computer, specifically his Garmin Edge. “It helps me keep track of time, distance and vitals such as heart rate, elevation, cadence and speed. In short, it provides great feedback for my riding.”

If there’s one common thread throughout all our picks, it’s comfort. “I believe comfort goes a long way in helping a rider’s performance,” suggests Don. “If one is not comfortable on the bike, then you won’t spend time on the bike.” Ray also notes that, with perhaps the exception of his tires, most of his must-haves are pretty reasonable in terms of price. “Not a lot of expensive stuff (on my list),” he says. “But I’m not the gearhead some of my fellow riders are. You can have a great cycling experience for a modest outlay.”

Agree, disagree, or have a few suggestions of your own? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments section.