I have been riding bikes for over 15 years now and I have never had a professional bike fit until this month.
I thought that would be a great way to start this experience just to give you guys a baseline. I have always done my own fits based off of feel on the bike. Over the years, I have grown to know my body, my riding style and where I am most comfortable. It was not until my recent back issues (not biking related…just hurts while on the bike) that I considered getting a bike fit done to make sure I was not further agitating the condition.
I will say…my “just on feel” theory was wrong after having a real fit done, so here is the story.
The Professional Bike Fit
I called up a friend of mine that owns Reality Bikes in Cumming, GA. We have been talking a lot over the past couple of months about my back issues and what do to on the bike that could help that out. With the help of doctors and his first hand knowledge, I had gotten to the point that I was comfortable on the bike again.
When the Specialized Venge came in for review (first look article coming soon), I knew there was going to be a lot of saddle time involved. It was time to throw away my old way of doing things and make sure that everything was perfect. I told Todd what was going on and he scheduled me in that week to see where the current fit stood and what we could tweak to make sure I was getting everything I could out of the bike with the least amount of body error that might agitate my back or any other parts of my body. I fit the measurements of the Venge directly to what I had been riding on the previous Tarmac. This is also what I had been riding on for the shakedown rides.
Pedal Right Fit Studio with Retul
Todd uses the Pedal Right Fit Studio with the Retul fit system. What is really cool about this whole process is that he essentially traces your bike to find your baseline measurements. Then…once the fit process is complete…we retraces it to give you your measurements. This allows you to have the data to transfer the fit to other bikes. It also satisfies the data geek within me.
Tracing the bike with the Retul system.
Using a scanner and several key points on the bike, Todd was able to draw my current setup virtually. It really reminded me of the Xbox Kinect as he went from point to point. It is really cool how far technology has come over the years.
The Retul Scanner
After all of the baseline measurements were taken, Todd had me get on the bike and warm up a bit. After I had gotten comfortable and into my stride, he started to have me stop the pedals at 6 o’clock and 3 o’clock to check alignments and measurements as I sat on the bike. As many of you already know, bike fit is essentially a science. There are certain geometrical solutions that create the most power at a healthy angle for your body.
So what was the outcome of my “feel fit”?
Well…I ended up having the most common problem in bike fits…my saddle height was too low. Ironically, most of my other measurements were pretty dead on, but that doesn’t mean a thing if the saddle height is not correct as that is probably the biggest factor in a correct bike fit.
Todd got to work on the saddle height and then started tailoring the rest of the measurements around that. As we continued working on the fit, we noticed another glaring problem. I had been telling him how I feel like my heals want to point out on the bike. As it turns out, my pedals were so far inward that the laser was not even showing up on my foot when lined up with my kneecap.
A couple of washers later…and I had a straight line heading from my leg to my foot. As you might have heard before, your leg is like a piston in producing power. You want the straightest line possible to the ground to insure there is no power loss in side to side torquing motion (as a gear head I love that analogy). I was losing power due to not striking the pedal straight on. That can also be a source of knee pain over time as I was essentially torquing it to the side.
We got done with the rest of the measurements and Todd gave me the final data. These sheets aren’t of any real value to you unless you are my exact same proportions and measurements, but I thought they would be cool to post here so you can see how things changed.
The Proof in the Pudding: The Rides After the Fit
It is amazing how much little changes can make a big difference. The bike feels great right now and it is the most comfortable I have ever been on a road bike. Obviously, the biggest changes I can feel is the pedal placement and saddle height. I really don’t feel like I am fighting anything on the bike anymore during my pedal strokes. Fellow riding friends have even said that it looks more comfortable as we are riding in a paceline.
So…long story short…I was wrong.
This is something I should have done a long time ago regardless of the issues with my back. I started thinking about how much power I have left on the trail or the road due to not being lined up correctly on the bike. How many more miles could I have ridden? How much faster could I have been with that extra energy and by getting the energy I did have straight to the ground?
I’ll never really know the answers to those questions…but I do know that I am sold. If you are in the local area, Reality Bikes is a great place to get a fit done and I have always highly recommended their shop for a lot of things…so check them out. Otherwise, get a fit done at your local shop as it will help your riding.
Getting a new mountain or road bike is one of the many exciting parts of the sport of cycling. Let’s face it…there is nothing quite like a shiny new sled. You get to act like a 5 year old on Christmas morning. However, there is a process you need to go through with each new bike purchase to insure that the excitement keeps rolling forward and doesn’t turn into a stoke ending catastrophe.
For many, this process will be aided through your local bike shop, but let’s lay out the top 5 things you need to do on your new bike when you first take it into possession.
Top 5 Things Every Rider Should Do When They Get A New Bike
So here they are…the top 5 things every rider needs to do when they get a new bike…
Swapping parts between the Specialized Tarmac and the Specialized Venge
#1 – Swap Parts
Even if you are buying a complete bike that is ready to go off the shelf, there are probably some parts that you have upgraded on your old ride or parts that have to do with fit (handlebars, stem, seatpost, seat, etc.) that you will need to swap over to your new ride. It is best to go ahead and get this process started right away even if you really just want to tear it out of the box and start getting it dirty. Now is also a good time to look over the frame and add 3M protective film to anywhere on the frame where there might be cable or foot rub. That will keep your bike looking new for the long run and prevent those heart breaking first scratches.
This is also the time to check the torque with a torque wrench (all riders should have one) on all of your bolts to make sure nothing randomly falls off on your first ride. Nothing kills the new bike fever worse than a bad wreck.
Bike Fit Done by Todd at Reality Bikes in Cumming, GA
#2 – Get A Bike Fit
Many riders know exactly how they fit on the bike down to the millimeter, but many do not. A proper bike fit will insure less injury and more power from your legs getting transferred to the ground. This is also a great time to get a new fit done to begin with as your new bike’s geometry is most likely not the same as your old one. There will be tweaks to the fit that need to be made.
I always like to match up the fit from my old bike to the new as close as possible…then go in and get a fit done to fine tune the process. That also gives me an awareness on how the new bike fits differently than the old.
#3 – Shakedown Ride and Attitude
Now this is the tough one. Just when you want to go out and prove the new bike actually does make you faster…you can’t. The first ride on a new bike should always have an adjustment in riding attitude. During this first shakedown ride, you should pick a trail or road that you know very well. Preferably…one that is close by the car or tools so if you need to make adjustments you can.
During this ride, you are riding slower and not as intense as usual. You should be getting used to the new handling characteristics of the bike, watching for any loose bolts or fitment issues and taking it easy while observing all of these things at once. Shakedown rides are also shorter in distance as changes will need to be made and you are trying to just shake everything loose on the bike.
Just take this ride easy and make sure it ends well. Your time to push the bike is coming soon…
Shakedown on the new Specialized Venge
#4 – Recheck Torque Settings
After your shakedown ride, it is time to get your new bike in the garage and recheck all torque settings with a torque wrench on the bike. You are going to be surprised. That first shakedown ride popped a couple of things loose that you are not going to want to fall off on the trail or road. This is also a great time to double check all of the areas that you put 3M film and make sure it is doing its job. In many cases, the first shakedown ride has also pointed out new places that I want to keep components or other factors from hitting the frame.
#5 – Post It All Over The Internet
You know you want to and are going to. Part of the fun of getting a new bike is taking pictures of it out on the trail…in your car…on a couch in the house while your wife is not looking. Have fun with it. We all get excited over new bikes even if they aren’t ours.
It occured to me as I was talking to a few friends of mine that over the last few years of riding bikes and also getting into racing, I’ve learned quite a lot about bikes, riding them properly, exercise, racing and otherwise having a blast on 2 wheels. There are quite a few things that I would have been better off if I had known about them when I got started, or at least before I stared getting “more serious” about biking. They would have saved some rides, prevented injuries, and saved me some money, so I figured I should share them (in no particular order) and hopefully provide some advice to others. As always, I’m open to comments or additions, or arguments, so if you have any please feel free to share below.
1) If you are ANY sort of mechanically inclined, learn how to work on your own bicycle. You don’t have to do the things that require very special tools, but spend $250 on basic bike specific tools, a cheap repair stand, open youtube and get cracking. If you have to get your headset pressed in, destroyed one of your shifters, or need a wheel dished, absolutely take your bike into the LBS, support them, and get some work done, but for things such as cleaning/lubing, derailleur adjustments, simple wheel/rotor truing, re-cabling, part swapping/upgrading and basic fork/shock maintenance, you’ll be able to get by a youtube video. Not only will you save money in the long term, but almost more importantly, you’ll know what to do when you are 20 miles away from the car and you can’t get your bike to stop ghost shifting.
You don’t have to be a full mechanic, but learning the simple stuff will go a long way
2) When you go on “epic” rides, carry spares and a basic first aid kit. I know that inside we are all weight weenies and we want the lightest setup possible, but if you are going out for a big day on the bike, especially if you are riding with a group, it’s going to pay off to have some very simple spares. Things you wouldn’t normally think about carrying, but they can absolutely save you or your buddies day. I’m not talking about the basics like a tube and pump, but here some of the items I now take with me and boy have they helped:
- Extra derailleur hanger
- Derailleur cable (it weighs almost nothing and can save you or a friend’s day)
- 2 SRAM quick links (carry one extra, they weigh nothing)
- One extra bolt of each kind (3,4,5mm, cleat bolt, stem bolt, seat post bolt, etc)
- Electrical tape, Duct tape, White Athletic Tape (2-3 ft of each wrapped around my pump)
- Along with your regular tire pump, carry a shock pump, especially if you ride a full suspension bike
If it’s an epic ride, carry your spares, it will be worth it!
3) Get a basic bike fit and cross train. Especially when you up your mileage and start riding more than a couple of times a week, make sure that you aren’t going to cause yourself any injuries. If you have the money and desire, a Professional Fit like 55 Nine Performance is absolutely awesome, but if you don’t, at least spend a few minutes measuring yourself and make sure your seat and bars are close to being in the correct spot. Competitive Cyclist has a great free fit calculator that is easy to use. Also, don’t just bike. Make sure you prepare your body for mountain biking, especially for longer rides. There are great exercises you can do to make sure that you are using all of your leg muscles (I’ve detailed them in the past here) and also, core work is very important. Again, you can spend some money and do structured programs that are intended for people that at more serious, but you can just hit some squats, lunges, push ups, planks, and pull ups on a regular basis and you’ll be much better off than not doing anything.
4) Ride TO the trail. I know that this will really depend on how far away you live from the trail and how much riding you want to get in, but this has been a big eye opener for me in the last few months. I’ve been struggling to get enough ride time in for training purposes and was crying the blues about spending time in the car to go mountain biking. Then I realized that I’ve got trails 15 miles from my door. Add into that 10-12 miles or riding on the trail itself, and I just rocked out a great 40-45 mile 3-4 hour day and I was able to leave from my front door. No wasted time! Just grab a blinkie to throw on the back of your bike, and enjoy not only getting more exercise, but also doing some “rambling” while you are out and about. Hit a few pieces of dirt, go down that stair case, jump off some of those curbs on the way. It’s way more awesome than sitting on traffic on the way to the trail.
5) I really struggle with this one, as I have a BAD case of “shiny new thing” syndrome, but be happy with the bike that you have and ride the hell out of it. When stuff breaks, upgrade. The bike companies are in the business of making you want that new part. But don’t waste your time and money upgrading that 1×10 setup to 1×11. Sure it’s going to be nice and shiny, but as much as you think you will, you won’t get that much money out of your used part on the open market. And that 1×10 works awesome, and it’s going to continue being awesome. Just wait until it’s time to replace those worn out parts and then, yup, then go blow your hard earned money on that shiny new smelling 1×11, oh I want it!!!!
This Turner is now 4 years old, but still a BLAST to ride!
For the last year or so I’ve been interested in bikepacking and ever since I watched “Ride the Divide” it immediately went on my bucket list. Not that I love gravel grinders, but I have a big sense of adventure and that seems to be the most adventurous thing that I could actually accomplish in my life. Last year I researched, purchased all the gear, and attempted to ride the TNGA (Trans North Georgia) route. It’s a brutal 350 mile route with over 50,000 feet of climbing across the N GA mountains. It started out well and good, but a seatpost that slid down without me really noticing, led to some knee pain and put me out after only 120 miles. I’ll be back to try it again later this year, but for now I figured a flat(ish) adventure across warm and sunny Florida during the winter was the way to go. It was also perfect timing for a mid-winter mountain bike “training camp”.
Fast and flowy Florida singletrack
I heard about the Huracan 300 route from a friend, read some great write ups around the web, and after talking through Facebook to Karlos (who created the route and runs the race in March) I downloaded the GPX file on my Garmin 800 and started to get excited. The Revelate Designs bags (Pika seat bag, Jerry Can, and Sling) went onto the bike, I got all my gear together (http://goo.gl/LsLgo for a gear spreadsheet) and I took a couple of days off work (the best part!)
I spent some time in Google Maps checking out the route itself, as well as lining up plenty of places to stop along the way (http://goo.gl/maps/VBqcU). I planned on doing 3 100 mile days and staying in hotels overnight. It was a beautiful 70 degrees during the day, but with 40 degree overnight temperatures, I didn’t feel like camping this time around. Technology is very cool, as I was not only able to look up places to stop, I was able to check out Street View and verify that they even existed.
Good morning Florida!
I took off on the route on a beautiful Friday morning and got a cold start as it was in the high 30s. It warmed up fast as the sun started to come up all the way. I got treated to some very cool swampy paths and some fun twisty single track through the palm trees as I headed for Ocala National Forest. The forest itself is a network of sandy gravel roads and has a Naval bombing range right in the middle. I got my timing right, as I rolled up just as some fighters were performing a bombing run. Too cool!
Naval Bombing Range
After 50 miles, I stopped by a very lonely convenience store to refuel, and kept on riding. I heard/read about the crazy deep sand and wanted to hit it while I had plenty of energy. It ended up being pretty brutal, but not as bad as I was fearing. Between keeping a very smooth pedaling stroke (Thanks Eddie!) and spending some time riding on the side of the road, I was able to get through the deep sand pretty quickly and headed to some fun single track in Wekiwa Springs.
I made it across the “creek” crossing!
There is a small “river crossing” in Wekiwa Springs, and considering it’s Florida and that the water was “chest high in some spots”, I was pretty worried about getting eaten by a gator. The nice “yup, there’s gators in those waters” from the Park Ranger didn’t make me feel any better. I got to the crossing, did some yelling to scare the gators away (ha!), picked up the bike, and waded through quickly. No big deal! I made my first 100 miles, was back to civilization, was feeling great, but decided to go ahead and call it a night vs continuing on. I wanted to save any energy that I had for the next couple of days.
After some good Italian food and some easy sleep I headed out for Day 2. I didn’t realize that the route today has a good bit of pavement so the first 50 miles flew right by. I saw an unexpected grocery store (Public) right off the route and treated myself to an awesome deli sandwich (and a ton of peanut M&Ms, I was craving those the whole time) The next 40 was a mixture of forest service roads, more sand, even more sand, some more sand, and finally some pavement (never thought I’d be GLAD to ride pavement on my mountain bike). There is a super long “rails to trail” section and I got to ride quite a few miles through it. When I got to where I planned on spending the night, Ridge Manor, it was 4:30, I still had 1.5 hours of daylight left, and I knew I’d hate myself if I stopped now. The longest mountain bike ride I’ve done in my life was the day before at 100 miles, so why not try for 140 to get to the next town. After all, I had lights, and it was still nice outside.
Did I mention there was some sand?
I hit a gas station for some dinner, pushed through and hit the Croom singletrack north of town. There is about 10 miles of pretty technically challenging singletrack, especially with a 40lb loaded bike, and I had to walk a few sections but it was still really fun. It shot me out on some country back roads, and I just spun along and enjoyed the stars. Spent some time with my lights off riding to the moonlight. I was a bit worried about some back country rednecks, but didn’t encounter anyone at all. I was feeling really good considering the mileage, and I knew I hit what I read about earlier: Diesel Mode. It’s basically when your legs and heart are too tired to go hard, but they feel just fine going a certain speed, and for some reason you feel like you can just go forever at that pace. At around 10pm I rolled into Inverness after 142 miles and 13 hours on the bike. Long day and I was ready for a burger! I ate, turned on the TV in the hotel room and instantly fell asleep.
Dieseling along some forest service roads
With such a long Day 2, Day 3 turned into a super fun “short jaunt” through the Santos Mountain Biking trail. Combined with the Ross Praire forest, it’s nearly 40 miles of great dirt and singletrack. Santos is very fast, flowy, and a blast to ride. It was awesome to finish with this trail as it gave me a “singletrack high” and I finished up the route feeling really good and in great spirits.
Riding this route renewed my appetite for bikepacking, and I’m really looking forward to attempting TNGA again this summer. I also got to see some great sights, as Florida is full of nature. (My full gallery of pics here: http://smu.gs/15tRFHA) From the National Forests, to the Wildlife Management Areas, to the all the back country roads, it was all awesome! And let’s not forget about the unlimited “all the peanut M&Ms you can eat” diet you can have during one of these adventures. Heading into a gas station and needing 1000 calories of junk food is so great. I can go through my full gear setup if there is any interest and I’ll also post my ride report from the TNGA in July. Also, here are the Strava links for each of the days: Day 1 - http://app.strava.com/activities/39705204 Day 2 - http://app.strava.com/activities/39705219 and Day 3 - http://app.strava.com/activities/39705186
As I talked about in a previous article about me knee pain, I got into CrossFit over late fall/early winter to work on some muscles that were heavily underused in my biking. It turned out to be an awesome experience and I would highly recommend for everyone that is into mountain biking to at least incorporate some of the CrossFit principles into your cross training workouts. There are some very direct mountain biking benefits to this type of cross training. My technical climbing and descending has greatly improved, and my burst power used in those steep grunts is way better than ever. I’m able to finally understand what people mean by muscling my bike through rocks. I can pick up the tires over rocks and direct the back end of the bike where I want. It has enabled me to clear technical climbs that I used to walk, and I recently nailed a very technical what used to be a 50 minute climb in 32 minutes. That’s what I call improvement!
CrossFit in short is a training methodology that focuses on “functional movements”, which are basically things you could do in real life (well not me and you, but maybe firemen or policemen, I sit at a desk). You don’t do any isolation exercises like bicep curls. It has compound exercises, many of which are Olympic lifts that work not only your major muscle groups, but also all the stabilizer muscles. That is the key in my opinion, as it will not only make those major muscles stronger, you are also working out all the support muscles leading to less injuries. There is a new WOD (Workout Of the Day) each day, and those are switched up, so you and your muscles and never bored and plateau’d. Also, the competition aspect of CrossFit makes you work hard and really push yourself. Every workout has some competition aspect to it, whether it’s AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible in a defined time frame) or performing a pre-set number of rounds no matter how long it takes.
An example CrossFit homy gym. Mine isn’t that fancy.
Having said all this, CrossFit can be abused and since it’s easy to open a CrossFit gym, there are many bad ones to go along with the great ones out there. In my opinion, it’s very much worth the extra money to join a good, experienced CrossFit gym in the beginning to learn how to perform all the complex Olympic lifts and learn proper form. Without proper form, you WILL hurt yourself. Especially if you try to overdo it. I personally joined a great gym for 3 months and learned as much as I could. I went 4 days a week and tried to absorb all the knowledge. Now that the biking base training season has kicked in, I’ve built a little home garage gym, and I’ve scaled back my workouts to 2-3 days a week as part of my training plan (LW Coaching training plan review coming soon!) and don’t do as high of an intensity as I did before. I’m focusing on maintaining my strength and keeping all those support muscles happy but I don’t want to build a bunch more strength.
Have you tried CrossFit and if not, what kind of cross training do you do?
For my whole time racing/riding I’ve used a mix of fluid/gel/food to get me by. While it’s worked, and I haven’t had too many nutritional issues, it sure isn’t convenient. Dealing with used and unused gel packets, wrappers, Clif bars, dosing etc is a pain in the butt. I’ve been looking at the possibility of switching to just a single source of energy, and when I heard about Tailwind Nutrition I was excited to try it, as it seemed like a product aimed directly at me. It’s a single endurance drink that gives you everything you need, and nothing you don’t. It is supposed to be easy on your gut, easy to drink (even after 6+ hours on the bike), and hydration bladder friendly (a must for long training rides).
Here at Bike198 we got some samples from Tailwind and we’ll be putting them through the paces during training and racing. The idea of it sounds awesome, and in my opinion, it has a bit of an advantage over it’s main competitor (Infinit Nutrition) as it is very camelback friendly, has easier dosing options for easy/medium/hard rides, and is slightly cheaper. Tailwind also does not have any protein in it’s drink, as according to it’s website, it can cause stomach issues in endurance athletes. Lastly, compared with a similar dose of Infinit (~250 calorie portion) is has more Sodium (750mg vs 380mg), same Carbs, more Magnesium (37mg vs 23mg), and more Calcium (63mg vs 30mg). On paper, it sounds like a winner.
I’ve now tried Tailwind on 2 different training rides and have had great results. The first ride was a quick “trial by fire” as it was a Performance Test I was doing as part of my training routine. It was a short ride (30 minute warm up, 20 minute test, 30 minute cool down) and I did one bottle of 2.5 scoops. Solid energy the whole time, but I wasn’t expecting to have issues. The next test was a bit longer as it was a 4.5 hour training ride this past Saturday. I put in 10 scoops of Tailwind into my 100oz camelback expecting to drink 20oz and 200 calories per hour. I brought some energy gels as backups, but didn’t have to use them. I felt good the whole ride and never ran out of energy. The taste is this mix of sweet/salty that kept me coming back and I never got tired of it the whole time. It comes in 3 different flavors, so we’ll see if Orange and Berry are as good as the Lemon one I’ve had so far.
I’m looking forward to using Tailwind exclusively as fuel for my training and racing. With my weight (170lbs) I plan on consuming around 150-200 calories for my longer training rides, and 250 during racing efforts. If things go well, this will be the end of my having to deal with gels, Clif bars, and other random things I have to hunt down and eat during my riding. I’ll keep you guys up to date with how the longer training rides are going, as I have a couple of 5-6 hour rides planned in the next 2 weeks.
Last but not least, Tailwind Nutrition is so sure of it’s product, it offers the Tailwind Challenge. “It’s simple: if Tailwind Endurance Fuel doesn’t make you stronger, happier, and less stressed while you train and at your next event, we’ll pay your race fee.” That’s a pretty bold statement and I like the fact they put their money where their mouth is and back up their product.
I’ve been dealing with knee pain on the bike for pretty much all of the last year. After multiple rounds of taking time off the bike, 3 different MRIs, Physical Therapy, massage, cross training, and Voodoo, I think I finally have it kicked this time around. This is a writeup of what I went through, and I feel that over the last year I’ve sort of become a mini-expert on biking and knee pain, so if anyone has questions about theirs, feel free to ask.
(This came out a little long, so if you are just interested in what worked for me, skip down to the last couple of paragraphs)
When I first got into biking a couple of years ago, I came off the couch and was super out of shape. I had no muscles in either the upper or lower body and just started riding. I didn’t do too much riding as I was tiring fast, and I ramped into it pretty well and somehow managed not to hurt anything. Being an analytical guy, I got a professional bike fit from 55Nine Performance (Wobble Naught fit methodology) and figured I was fine. At the end of 2011 I ramped up my hours greatly and did a 50 mile endurance race and 6 hour race over a 2 week span to end the season. After those last two weeks, the pain came fast and totally took me off the bike. I couldn’t even turn the pedals over without intense pain in my knee cap. I took some time off the bike and and got my fit rechecked (patella pain is usually a seat that is too low). Surprisingly, everything was fine with the fit and I couldn’t figure out what it was. I had some MRIs done, went to a orthopedic doctor and they said everything was “fine with my knees”. They couldn’t explain the pain.
I took 6 weeks off the bike, and got back into it. I could bike for 2 hours on the local trails without pain but as soon as I went to climb some mountains, the pain came back with a vengeance. I got more MRIs with the same results, so I decided to take more time off the bike. I even got another bike fit from a different brand (Retul this time) which ended up putting me in the same 100% exact position as Eddie’s original fit. The bike fit was not my problem for sure. I ramped up my training after this next session of time off and long story short everything was fine until I did a longer race towards the middle of the year. Terrible knee pain again.
This time, knowing the MRIs weren’t the way to go, I decided to see a number of Physical Therapists and finally found a knee specialist that started looking PAST my knees to find where the actual problem was. Within 15 minutes, he had me diagnosed. I had a muscle imbalance in my quads. Since I never had leg muscles before biking, with how I’m built, I naturally developed my outer quad which led to that muscle being actually too strong, and over a longer ride/harder effort pulling my knee cap sideways, resulting in my pain. No matter how much time I took off, as soon as I got back into it, I re-hurt my knee.
This time, I took a few weeks off the bike to get everything calmed down and started doing Physical Therapy exercises specifically targeted at the VMO (Inner Quad muscle) as well as CrossFit. The below wall ball exercise has been key in getting VMO strengthened and along with full squats (Don’t stop at 90 degrees, cover the calf with the hamstring when doing squats as seen in the video below) I’ve completely rebuilt the muscles in my leg.
I’m happy to report that I’m now 6 months into no knee pain and have done a number of long mountain rides and hard efforts. My legs also look balanced where before my outer quad completely dominated. I’m hoping that continuing to build CrossFit and VMO targeted exercises into my training throughout 2013 will keep me 100% knee pain free.
Hey, I’m new here. Wanted to introduce myself, as I’ll be doing some write ups and reviews on Bike198.com during the coming up race season. In 2009, I was 250lbs, and racing cars with the SCCA. I bought a bike for myself for my birthday as I was always interested in mountain biking. I had a few friends that were “recovering car racers” that raced mountain bikes and I thought I’d give it a try. I picked it up pretty damn fast, fell in love, and created my next obsession.
3 years later, I’m 170lbs, been riding better and better and got into racing. I’ve done a handful of 6 hour races, a couple of 50-60 mile races here in the SE, and was ready to take it to the next level last year. I ended up hurting myself with a muscle imbalance in my quads/legs (write up about that and how I fixed it to come) and took a while off racing to get fit and recovered. Just riding for fun has been awesome, but I’m in the best shape of my life, ready to really kill it in 2013 and be more of a serious wanna be racer. I’ve got 4, 100 mile NUE races planned, along with a number of 6/9 hours.
I’ve done a bunch of research on training methodology, programs, and coaches and settled on a series of 12-week training programs structured around my 2013 racing season. Look forward to articles about cross training, racing preparation, how my training is working (or not), and nutrition. Along with racing, I also do plenty of riding for fun, and am a technical nerd and mechanical guy, so I’ll also be do some writing about my equipment: The race bike (Trek SuperFly 100) and also the fun bike (Trek Remedy 9.9). Have fun out there and enjoy the awesome fall riding weather (at least it is that way here in the SE)!
Picking tires for xc racers and dh rigs is easy. Find the lightest or biggest tires for your ride and taylor them to the conditions you are riding in at the time. Other than that…ride it like you stole it. For recreational riders on trail bikes in the 130mm – 150mm travel range, life is not as easy. You want the grip of the heavy set from the DH rigs but you also want the low rolling resistance of the XC weight weenie tires.
So what are you supposed to run that will give you the best of both worlds?
The answer is a little bit easier than you would think, but you need to take into consideration what is actually happening with your bike while on the trail to make an informed decision that works.
How your bike works on the trail
When you ride a trail bike, you take it everywhere. From long climbs to long descents and pedaling rollers, the modern day trail bike is touted as the do-it-all option for riders looking to get out on the weekends. It has cemented itself as a great one bike option or the bike you grab when you just want to have a day of fun on the trail. Whether it is a 120mm travel 29er or a 150mm travel AM monster, the bike is not meant to be on the podium of an XC race or do big drops…it just works really well in almost all conditions.
When you ride your trail bike, there are certain fundamental things that are happening that allow it to do everything. The geometry is relaxed enough to give you stability on the downhills, but the bike is also efficient and light enough to sustain all day climbing. So how to we optimize both characteristics with your tire choice as it can be the #1 part that speeds you up or slows you down?
The Front Tire On A Trail Bike
The front tire on your trail bike is your main source of grip and braking. When you go blasting into a turn or have to brake hard for obstacles, the front tire is what keeps your bike upright and brings you to a stop. The front tire is also the source of most “oh shit” saves in conjunction with the front suspension fork, so increased volume is always a goal as that increases the bikes ability to pull you out of hairy situations. The front tire’s cornering grip is also essential in preventing front end washouts that leave you performing a huge yard sale on the trail.
On the flip side of that equation, the front tire has very little to do with climbing other than weight on your bike. For this purpose, when we think of front tire choices, we think of the DH side of the equation.
How much grip and volume can we get on the front without attaching an overweight boat anchor to the front end of our bikes?
Luckily, the tire industry has caught up with the latest trends in biking and has released large volume, grip filled, lighter weight tires that are perfect for this application. These tires (while heavier than their narrower counterparts) provide the balance between volume, grip and weight that we really look for in a front tire for a trail bike. With widths typically in the 2.3 to 2.4 range, these tires will transform your bike into a DH monster without carrying around a DH tire.
The rear tire of your trail bike is what puts the power to the ground. The chainline is direct attached to the rear wheel that drives your bike forward, so the more tread and weight you have…the harder you are going to have to work to propel the bike in the forward direction.
Under braking, the rear tire is typically used as a momentum scrubber that often times locks up and skids. This makes some tread a good thing, but going overboard with a grippier tire does not pay the dividends like on the front. Also, your “oh shit” moments are greater aided by the stiffness and rear weight bias on the rear suspension. While the increased volume on the front saves you weight weight shifts forward, the rear is more stable and capable of handling big hits with ease.
When you take these into consideration, the rear tire lends itself towards a lighter, narrower and faster rolling setup to optimize efficiency. Depending on trail conditions, you might even want a really light, mid volume tire with a really low tread pattern (think hardpack trail conditions) so you really maximize the amount of power that is coming from your legs that reaches the ground. If the trail is rockier and more technical, look for a tire with increased sidewall protection to prevent flats. If you followed the same setup as your front tire, that efficiency could be lost. Tires for the rear typically range from 2.1 to 2.25 (2.35 sometimes depending on manufacturer) widths.
So what have we done here? We analyzed exactly how each end of the bike functions and optimized the tire selection to match that purpose. By doing this, we are able to increase efficiency while not losing the overall grip we are ultimately wanting out of a trail bike. Overall weight was also kept at a minimum without much sacrifice.
There are too many times we have seen 150mm trail bike setups with very small tires up front on big forks in an attempt to save weight when…in reality…the savings are trumped by the lack of grip. With the latest tire designs and technology, we are now able to bring that grip back without the weight issues due to how the front tire actually interacts with the bike and effects your ride.
A week ago yesterday, I headed out for our regular Tuesday night “Dirt and Taco’s” at our local mountain bike trail.
As part of the evenings festivities, we typically head back to a small DH/FR area and session for most of the night. We get in some great climbing while getting the added benefit of a big payoff on the way down. After about a dozen or so runs (the DH run only takes 43 seconds if you are pinning it), we finish out the XC loops and head to a great Mexican restaurant afterwards.
Last Tuesday, I decided I was going to go for broke. Thanks to Strava, we have a segment on the gully run of the downhill, so it is always a battle for the top spot. I held it for a long time but a friend of mine came back and dropped me by a second. It was time to drop the hammer and put down a hot run to reclaim the top spot.
The bike felt great on the climb up so I decided to make the first run of the day my Strava segment crusher. Those of you that have been riding for more than 5 minutes already know that the first or last run of the day is the last run you ever want to make a balls out timed hammer. I went against my better judgement and came manualing across the start line at full tilt ready to show everyone how incredibly awesome I am after my upload and subsequent post to Facebook that night.
The first turn hit and it was much looser than previous days. The hot days of Atlanta have settled in a grip was at a minimum. The front end of the bike completely left me and it was yard sale city. When the dust settled, I had a completely road rashed arm, chunk out of my hip, bruised up legs and a broken brake lever on the bike. My night was over before it even started and I officially had my first SIW (Strava Induced Wreck). I packed up my ego and headed home with mangled bike and body.
So…instead of resting like I should, I decided to grab another bike and head out to Stanley Gap on Saturday for a ride we had planned for awhile. I wasn’t quite 100% yet obviously but what the hell…I wasn’t missing out on my favorite area to ride in GA. The day started off badly. An unknown mechanical wasted half of my energy up the first climb and I was quickly realizing that my body might not be ready for several thousand feet of elevation gain on the day.
I ended up cutting most of the ride short in preparation for the last downhill to try to at least salvage something out of the day. The last 7+ minute downhill finally came and again I was ready to hit it at full tilt. My legs were trashed but I was still managing to keep some speed down the hill and through the technical sections.
About 3/4 of the way down the hill…it happened…
Right calf cramp in an off camber, washed out corner, at speed. I hit the ground fast. When the dust finally settled on that wreck, I was left with a broken rear spoke and saddle but I appeared to be fine other than my glasses and helmet visor far away from me. Then I finally got home and realized that my elbow was sollen up and my face had bruises. Both sides of my body were beat but no hospital trips so that is a win (funny how we try to make wrecks positive…that means I can ride right?!)!
Now…with two broken bikes and some time off the bike…that 5 day stretch is leaving me feeling like I just went rounds with Tyson. For some odd reason, my brain is actually telling me it is ok to ride even though commonsense is stepping in with the reality that if I push myself now…the 3rd one is going to be a hospital trip.
Why do wrecks come in series?
For as long as I can remember riding (seriously riding since the early 90′s), my wrecks have always come in series. I’ll have months of worry free shredding to come across a week or several weeks of doing nothing but hitting the ground. Sometimes they are bad and end up in hospital visits. Other times it is just an annoying set of seemingly lost rhythm that can not be shaken. Either way, it ends up coming then going away with no real reason why.
Does the first wreck start a mental breakdown that causes the second? Is my body just not ready and I push it too hard? Is there an uncontrollable force in the biking world that creates this phenomenon? Have I lost “the force”?
At first, I thought it was just me, but if you ask riders across the world, they will tell you the same thing. Wrecks breed wrecks and it takes several solid, wreck free runs to get out of the cycle.
Whatever causes it, I am in the uphill battle of getting out of the rut and getting the focus to clean runs that keep the rubber side down. That might require me to slow down a bit which is my hardest hurdle in life. Either way…I have to quit hitting dirt.
Modern mountain bike suspensions have a lot of little adjustments that can make really dialing in your bike a daunting task for those riders that are not used to setting up a bike. With air pressures, damping control, rebound adjustments and travel changes, there are a lot of factors that effect each other on your bike.
Most riders rarely ever look at the adjustments they have available on their suspension components. Many bikes are left with the settings they had on the showroom floor which means you could be giving up better traction, control and more speed on the trail. These are not that hard to dial in as long as you take a few necessary steps to insure you are getting the proper setup.
Step 1: Sag on Rear Suspension
How much sag you want to run (the amount your suspension compresses from just sitting on the bike) is largely dependent upon the type of bike you are riding and the style of riding you call home.
As a general rule, the more XC oriented your bike is…the less sag you will run. If you are riding a 29er cross country bike or a bike in the 130mm rear wheel travel range, you are going to run between 20% and 25% sag. To measure the sag, push the o-ring on the shock to the top and sit on the bike being careful not to press down on the suspension with more than just your body weight. When you measure how far the o-ring went down, that should equal 25% of the stroke.
A great starting point is to fill the pressure in the shock to your riding weight in psi or go by the manufacturers recommendation adjusting from there. If you are on a bike that has 140mm or more of travel, you will be looking for 35% or greater sag to make better use of the travel. This initial setting is going to give you the starting point for on trail testing.
Step 2: Set Initial Pressures on Front Suspension
What we have found across most suspension manufacturers is that the recommended pressures for suspension forks is too stiff for regular riding. It does give you an idea on where to start so you can then adjust on the trail to get everything dialed in the way you want. With differences in geometry and the way you sit on a bike, it is hard to go by any typical sag measurements on forks.
Step 3: Find a Section of Trail You Know Very Well
For the rest of the setup procedure, you really need a section of trail that you know like the back of your hand. This section of trail also needs to have varying characteristics to it such as roots, rocks, downhill and climbing. This is easiest to tune when the trail is in a confined area that can be looped multiple times very easily.
This video is the downhill section of my testing and tuning grounds that has a steep climb to get back to the top. It is the best of both worlds that allows me to feel the bike without having to worry about the trail as I can basically ride it in my sleep. that makes it perfect for suspension tuning. I can get in about 8 rounds before my legs start to really feel the climbing.
Dial In Your Suspension
As mentioned before, all of your suspension components and adjustments work together on the bike. The ideal setup allows you to use all of your travel without bottoming out hard on big hits. It also allows for the suspension to suck up small and large bumps while still keeping efficiency for pedaling and climbing. So…let’s run through how the bike should feel…
Not Using All of Your Travel – Air pressure adjustment. Let out about 5 to 10 psi at a time until you are comfortable with the amount of travel you are using under hard hits. If you have a small ledge or successive hard rock hits, that is perfect to try to get worst case scenario on the trail.
Going Through Travel Too Easily – Add more pressure. Basically the opposite of above. The bike will feel really mushy and too plush.
Rear End Is Bouncing You Out of the Seat After Compression – Check your rebound setting. If it is set too fast (typically counterclockwise on a dial), the suspension is trying to recover too quickly from a hit thus springing the bike upward. If you have your air pressures dialed, you should not feel like every rock and root eventually kicks the rear end of the bike up. One thing to keep in mind…having too little or too much air in your tires can also cause this feeling on the bike.
Rear End Feels Dead and Seems to Sink – When you have rebound too slow (turned clockwise), the shock can not recover fast enough so it ends up packing up. It starts to sink farther into the travel over time eventually staying in the bottom portion when you are getting successive hits. By turning the dial counterclockwise, you speed that recovery up to you are in more of your usable travel. If you make it too fast, you get the feeling above.
The same goes for front suspension as the rear. You want to use all available travel without harsh bottom outs. The o-ring on the stanchion is a great indicator on how the suspension is performing in terms of air pressure. The rest of the settings (typically just rebound as the others are in relation to lockout mainly) will be adjusted according to feel on the trail.
As a good rule of thumb, if you really want to see how adjustments effect suspension, get your air pressure dialed then try each of the extremes of rebound. This will let you feel how the bike reacts under each extreme so you can then start to dial it back and forth to get the optimal setting for your bike and riding style.
One of my favorite parts of riding is hammering sections full of rocks and roots. The suspension gets to show off exactly how much grip there is to be had on the trail and it is an escape from smooth singletrack. If I had my choice, every trail would be littered with as many rough sections as possible.
When riders are just starting out or trying to get into more technical riding, these larger roots and rocks can be intimidating. In the video above, Tara Llanes takes you through the basics of roots, rocks and water crossings. Who better to hear it from than a X-Games gold medalist and World Cup DH Champion?
We also have a couple more things to add for a couple of unique situations…
The Mountain Bike
Whether you want to admit it or not, your bike has much more capability than your riding skill. There are situations that as long as you have your weight back (keeps you from going over the bars) and you trust the bike, you will pull out of it just fine. Sometimes as riders, we let our head get too much in the game and we end up wrecking ourselves instead of committing and letting the bike do its job. The more you can let the bike naturally do what it wants to…the better off you will end up.
Modern mountain bikes – even xc race oriented ones – are much more capable of technical riding than in the past. Trust the bike and the flow.
What it looks like vs. what it really is…
How many times have you stared at a section of trail only to psych yourself out of riding it? On a mountain bike trail, unless you are looking at a huge drop or road gap, the trail rarely rides like it looks.
If you are nervous about a section, have a friend ride over it first and then follow that same rider down for your first run. Even some of the most technical looking rollers end up feeling like nothing on the bike if you just try it. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched riders stare at a section of trail only to be semi embarrassed after they ride it because it ended up being nothing in the end.
Slow Speed Technical Wrecking
Last weekend, a friend of mine and I were sessioning a section of slow speed technical rock croppings. While it looked catastrophic if one of us would have crashed, the reality is that we were not going fast enough for anything serious to happen. One of the best ways to get better at riding more technical trail with roots and rocks is to session slow speed technical trail until you get it right. Your body ends up learning the bike, your center of gravity and momentum better which translates to the on trail experience.
The trail is going to look like you could lose a limb if you fall (as long as there isn’t a cliff you could fall off of), but don’t be scared to try as a wreck in that situation would amount to you just falling over and trying again. I can’t tell you how many times we did during the session and left without a scratch.
You Just Have To Ride!
Roots, rocks and water crossings are trail features you just have to ride to get over the initial fear. Especially if you are on 29 inch wheels, the bike is built to get you from point a to point b during the run. The trick is to trust your bike and have the desire to become a better mountain biker to conquer the feature.
Even if technical riding is not what you want to do all of the time, it will make you a better rider for those types of trails you call home. Every rider gains from learning how to control their bike better and learning more about balance and momentum.
Now just go hit that section of trail you have been staring at for too long…