Catching up

While this year is turning out to be a great year for me with bikes, it’s not such a great year with riding.

I’m just getting back the form and conditioning I had earlier this year. Shortly after returning from the GFLBT in June, I came down with some sort of cold/flu/mung-lung disease that took me out of commission for the better part of four weeks. I never take sick days. I took two, returned to work one day, then took another.

Before leaving for my annual vacation at my parents’ summer place in the Rideau Lakes region of southeastern Ontario (that’s Canada, eh?), I felt about how I did in March after a winter of rides no more than three or four miles each.

I had no power, no endurance, and no speed. And I was recording frighteningly high maximum heart rates.

Complicating that, I couldn’t quite get the Litespeed’s fit dialed in. Two days before leaving, I had a fitting with Andy at Park Ave Bike.

One discovery during the fitting was that I’ve been riding with my hips crooked on the saddle, sort of sidesaddle to the left. It may be the cause of chafing issues I’ve been having this year as well.

The fix we’re trying involved moving the cleats on my shoes. The goal is to correct my position rather than compensate for it. This one change altered my muscle usage. I could feel the change in the left IT band area and the right hip flexors. Of course, it also shifted the balance in my quads.

We adjusted other things too—moving the bars up and the saddle forward.

Riding home from the fitting I felt simultaneously better and worse. Better, in that my position was closer to that on Blue, my new reference standard. Worse in that the muscles I’d strengthened through the season were no longer the ones doing the bulk of the work.

I actually lost speed and power, but I knew that was a short-term loss working towards a long-term improvement.

I rode barely 150 miles in Canada this year, about half of what I ordinarily ride. Partly it was weather, but mostly is was that I had to rebuild in the middle of the season. So I used every ride as a training ride.

Arriving home last weekend, I still felt slow, weak and without endurance, but things were improving at a satisfactory rate. Then on Tuesday I set a new personal best time on the long loop (Clover St) home, riding Yellow Bike.

Oh, I’d transferred the bar-to-saddle measurements to Yellow Bike, moving its saddle nearly an inch forward. It now uses my legs in much the same way as both the Portland and the Litespeed.

Today on a morning ride on the Litespeed, (I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed my Saturday morning rides, but that’s another story.) I began to feel like I did in late May and early June. And despite the heat and high humidity, my heart rate was nearing my long-term normal range for that sort of ride. I still have a ways to go, but things are coming along nicely.

The Litespeed

Because of health issues I have only 230 miles on the Litespeed to date. About half of those were from before the fitting. I really felt uncomfortable and out of position on it. Things are much better now, but there’s still some fine-tuning to do. I think I want a longer stem.

Anyway, despite the passage of nearly six weeks since I build it up, I still consider it to be early days with it. I’m still discovering its personality, its likes and dislikes, and it remains unnamed.

Part of the problem too is that, especially after putting a longer stem on it, I really, really liked Blue. I felt at-one with that bike in ways I’ve never felt on any other bike.

Plus, given the legends surrounding mid-90s Lynskey-built Litespeeds, and the legends of titanium bikes in general, I was looking for an extraordinary experience.

So with the bar was set really high and the fit problems and health problems, the first few rides on the Litespeed were completely underwhelming. I reserved judgment, while at the same time longing for Blue.

The week in Canada, while it was low miles, revealed quite a bit about the Litespeed.

Our road to the cabin is a dirt, double-track affair, cut through the woods in the 1920s or 1930s. It’s four miles long and the one long straight stretch is only a quarter-mile. The Portland likes it a lot, but only when its wearing its cyclocross tires. Yellow Bike hates it with a passion.

I’ve always had my father ferry us to the boat/bike launch ramp at the end of the lake to start my road rides. After a quick half-mile out-and-back on the Litespeed, I felt that wouldn’t be necessary this year.

By the end of the week, I’d built enough confidence in the Litespeed, that I was nearly as fast on it in the dirt with 25mm road tires as I was on the Portland with 34mm cyclocross tires. In other words, it’s a very stable and predictable ride. Very little seems to upset it.

Out on the macadam, it feels settled, even over bumps and potholes. It maintains its line better than any of my other bikes. Cornering is a blast with it. It’s the first of my bikes where in the city, I can corner with it one-handed (while continuing to signal with my left). It’s that confidence-inspiring.

Transitions are interesting. I’m not quite sure how to characterize them. Where Blue seems to know where I want it go go, the Litespeed needs to be led. It’s not a bad thing, just different. When I lean from the hips to turn, I can feel the motion through the frame. The connectedness between the seat tube and head tube is palpable.

I’m beginning to see why for decades, parallel 73° head and seat tubes, and a level top tube, were the gold standard in road bikes. It feels incredible.

Ride quality isn’t quite the “Holy cow!” I expected of Ti. Part of it is a testament to the ride quality of my other bikes, and part of it is because I run my tires at lower pressures than is currently popular. (See PSI Rx and Tire Drop, both by Jan Heine.) I run my 25mm Continental Grand Prix 4-Season tires at 70 PSI in the front and 80 PSI in the rear.

My disclaimer here is that, unlike many roadies, I rely on my tires to add comfort to the ride rather than my frame. As a result, there’s less for the frame to do in ride comfort management.

Still, what the Litespeed does is wonderful. There’s a short, maybe 30 to 50-foot section, of the Canalway where the tree roots are bursting through the pavement with such abandon, that someone’s spray-painted “BUMPS!” on the pavement as a warning.

On this morning’s ride, I piloted the Litespeed through that section one-handed while drinking from my water bottle. Didn’t spill anything either.

Don’t get me wrong, the effect is subtle and understated. There’s no suspension effect. But it takes the edge off so well that it’s easy to maintain control and the bumps become insignificant.

However, another thing I found, while riding the dirt road, is that the Litespeed’s Time Carbon/Vectran fork, made in the the mid-90s, visibly flexes and shimmies side-to-side in certain conditions. I’m not sure if this is a problem or simply how this fork manages road shock.

The design of the Wound-Up fork on Yellow Bike, and the knock-off of it by Bontrager on the Portland, eliminates this issue. I didn’t notice it on Blue’s Easton fork, made in 2005, then again I never took it off pavement.

But it does make me want to experiment with moving the forks around between the bikes.

There are two other differences I’ve noticed on the Litespeed. First, the Litespeed doesn’t have the drivetrain “snap” that Blue does, or even Yellow Bike does (but to a lesser extent). I came to really like that snap when riding Blue and it’s one of the things I miss on the Litespeed.

Second, the bottom-bracket doesn’t seem quite as stiff as my other bikes. I can flex it enough under power that the chain rubs in the front derailleur with each half-revolution on the right side. This could be related to the lack of snap. It could also contribute to ride quality. I’m not making any judgments yet.

In summary, the Litespeed seems to be a very subtle and refined ride. It doesn’t seem like anything special until I really pay attention and think about it. As a result, it’s taking a while to tease out its secrets. My opinions are likely to change with additional saddle time. I’m looking forward to it.

Biking the Branches

Two years ago, the Rochester Public Library’s Assistant Director for Branches and its Finance Director took some City budget officials on a little tour they call Biking the Branches. The idea was to get the city guys out to the branch libraries to see where and how the taxpayer’s money was being spent. They toured all ten neighborhood branches by bike.

When they stopped at Winton Branch, where I was working at the time, I was pissed that I didn’t get to ride along.

Last year they didn’t do the ride. This year, I’ve been bugging both the Assistant Director and the Finance Director to do the ride again. They did, and I joined them. Even took a day off to do it.

Thursday morning we met at 9:30 at Central downtown. It was the best weather of the week. Sunny, light winds from the northwest and temps forecast in the 70s all day with little humidity.

Five of us rode, including a guy from the City budget office and woman in charge of budget in the Architectural office. Riding the Portland, I had far and away the nicest bike of the bunch, and it’s no surprise that I’m the most accomplished cyclist of the bunch.

Still, I had great fun. For me, it was a nice, all-day recovery ride, while the others really worked at it. I got to ride thorough parts of town I’ve never ridden in before, and I got to show the others some ways around that they’d never done before.We had a nice lunch portside at the Pelican’s Nest on River St.

The day’s numbers were nothing to write home about from my perspective—36 miles at 11.3 MPH average. But it was a reminder of exactly how challenging 36 miles is to the occasional cyclist, even when it takes all day and includes ten SAG stops plus lunch.

The naivete of my fellow riders was revealed at our third stop, Arnett Branch, where I work. Of the five of us, only three brought a lock, and I’m the only one who was locking up at every stop. On the way out the door, a kid grabbed and began riding off on the city budget guy’s bike, a borrowed Kona dual-squishy mountain bike.

This city budget guy is apparently quite a sprinter (or else he was really motivated) and caught the kid, pulling him from the bike by his shirt. The kid got up, brushed himself off, shrugged and walked away. After than, everyone locked their bikes.

One Response to “Catching up”

  1. Apertome Says:

    It sounds like the Litespeed has a more relaxed geometry than Blue. Interesting to read your notes on its handling.

    “Biking the Branches” sounds like fun!