Thank me? Thank YOU!

February 6, 2021 § Leave a comment

I’ve been organizing group MTB rides during the Time of Corona. It started back in maybe the second month of lockdown when an old friend I used to ride with got in touch. I’d been putting in the miles for the first time in forever so the timing was perfect. I can look back in my 1991 paper training log and there he is, mentioned regularly. But of course after a little while, several fun rides and a join by a second mutual bike friend from back in the day…I started proselytizing. Apparently it is a bit like a substance use disorder….you can go clean for years but are highly susceptible to relapsing.

You see, back in the day I had a habit of dragging whatever friends I heard owned a mountain bike out on the trails. Lord knows, I used to torture those poor folks. Even my super fit marathon running friend wasn’t putting in the kind of ride time that I was. And most of our riding friends were fit, but not primarily cyclists. We would explore all sorts of local trails, including many very technically or cardiovascularly challenging ones… and occasionally get lost. Once or twice at night. I hope they enjoyed it, I sure as heck LOVED it.

Not because I could beat up on noobs. But because I find the local mountain biking to be the best kind of fun. Or at least I did. Then life happened. And I took almost a two decade hiatus from consistent bike riding.

Then Covid hit. And I fixed up a bike. And went riding. Then fixed up another bike and rode some more. And then my friend (still super fit, maybe not quite in marathon shape anymore but damn close) called. And we did some Glory Days rides. And a night ride or two. And always came back with huge smiles on our faces.

Anyway, if I can remember hearing that any of my current friends own mountain bikes or even just have heard that they road bike a lot, I’m getting in touch. And I’m putting them on the list. “Want to ride this weekend?” is a regular group text going out from my phone.

We have some primarily roadies, so we’ve even done a road ride or two. I’m not a purist. I just want to get out there and enjoy our county. It’s a pretty good one for cycling.

They say “thanks for organizing” when we’re done.

I mutter “no problem, thanks for coming out”.

But they don’t know. They don’t get it. This is for ME. I’m having the grandest of times.

Thanks, riders.

Saddles and pedaling

January 25, 2021 § Leave a comment

The Essax Shark saddle has been making the rounds on my social media lately. I don’t know why, I find initial references to it back in 2014, 2015. I am still not totally convinced it isn’t some sort of April Fool’s prank. From what I can tell, if it is not a prank, the idea seems to be that it helps you to pedal properly.

This article claims it is a design from a top level bike fitting company. And that it is designed to fix or prevent biomechanical problems:

Iriberri says a misalignment on the saddle can have a number of unwanted consequences: a rider could be placing more weight than necessary on the soft perineum instead of the two sitbones; it could lead to riders favouring one leg over another and may lead to joint injuries.

I guess I can buy this as a training aid. The sort of device you use to correct a specific bad habit or to help fine tune your form. But it is not something I’d see as a long term solution that you ride with all of the time.

I spent far too much time thinking about this saddle on my ride yesterday, because the day before I was helping a friend set up his cleats on a brand new road bike. Of course I was blathering little tidbits, as I do.

One thing I always mention if someone seems to be offering an opportunity for my expertise (lol) in this area is to ride quietly. I have no firm memory of what I picked up from sources of alleged pro advice, from just watching people in group rides, from watching professionals on television and from trying to be a better rider myself. But for whatever my given level is at a time, I think I ride more quietly than most. So I must have somewhere taken in the idea that this was a cycling goal to strive towards.

I also follow this advice with something along the lines of: “Try to ride from your hips. Plant your body center, focus on your butt on the saddle. Move your legs in circles from there. Keep your upper body and shoulders relaxed, but steady. quiet. no dramatic rocking”.

I think, after consideration, that the Shark fin seat is trying to do more or less the same thing. To achieve a fixed, ideal position on the saddle and to eliminate all unnecessary movement. To maintain pedaling equally from both legs. To keep the upper body from shifting around too much. To ride efficiently. This is probably my major reason for working on cycling form. I was always pretty large for a cyclist, yes even when I was 13 and started riding. Amateur grade semi-serious riders that came in under 160 lb sure seemed to dominate. I ran about 172.5 lbs all through most of my racing career. I think the lowest extreme I ever hit was about 168 lb. So I had to be efficient to have any prayer of staying with the skinny guys. Anything to save oxygen. And if your upper body isn’t doing much work, so much the better.

The Shark fin seat looks like you would be able to set it up for a limited number of typical positions in cycling, though. Yes, there are ideal positions for, say, most of your flat riding. And it looks like it probably wouldn’t be a problem when you shift forward on the saddle, say when climbing. But there ARE going to be times when you want to shift back in the saddle. To involve the hamstrings more to rest your quads. To involve the hamstrings more for pulling fuller circles when you are on the flats and have to close a gap. To get more aero. To rail it, while staying in good control on high speed descents.

And then there is sitting back down when you are out of the saddle. Getting in and out of the saddle is a good thing in cycling. There are many times where it is more efficient to stand up on the pedals. And when you sit back down, well, you don’t always land square where you want to be. I’d hate to land on the fin in the wrong place.

So to the extent the Shark seat implies to you that you should work on planted, steady, quiet riding…..this is fantastic. But to the extent it implies that you will always be in the exact same position on the saddle…massive fail.


June 30, 2020 § Leave a comment

Fast group cycling has a very well deserved reputation for not being welcoming to newcomers. There are many reasons for this, including that the sport does attract some element of the jerk type. But one of the most important reasons is that each rider is trusting everyone else with their $$$$ precious bicycles and their intact hides and collarbones. It is very easy for the uninitiated and even the boneheaded initiates to cause a wreck that totals a multi-thousand dollar bike, breaks a collarbone, removes a very uncomfortable large patch of skin and/or all of the above. So a lot of riders are very….discouraging to newbies.

It is a shame because fast group cycling is a total blast.

Back in the day, from when I was still racing up through when I wasn’t road racing anymore but really enjoyed the local San Diego club rides, I was kind of a group cycling proselytizer. I would encourage the fairly-fit newcomers to find group rides or come out on the ones I was joining. These might be MTB converts, runners looking to save their knees, tri-geeks or just plain new cyclists.

There was one particular species of conversation that touched on the other intimidating aspect of fast group cycling. I would almost inevitably be asked: “Well, how fast do they go?” Because of course nobody wants to look the fool and if you can’t actually hang with the group, you are not going on a group ride at all, just starting on one. I would respond with whatever I thought was a reasonable estimate. Say it was 24 mph.

They would get this look. “But…but…I only average 19 mph when I’m riding hard so I’ll go train more and see if I can get closer“.

It is really hard for newcomers to group cycling to understand just how much advantage you get in a large pack of riders. Sure, they had drafted another rider now and again. They knew it was helpful. But I would have to explain how first, the only way they are going to get really fast in a hurry was to join a club ride. How you had to do some stints at 28-30 mph in the heat of battle, rest and recover in the back and then jump back out again to get those legs ready to work. And then I would try to explain just what a rocket ride it was, idling the pedals at 20-22 mph in the middle of the group, just resting up, waiting for those moments when you had to do some hard efforts for several minutes or miles.

But most importantly, I have this recollection of my threshold. “If you can average 18 mph by yourself on a reasonably flat ride, you are ready to join a club ride. Maybe not the A ride/group but you are ready. And it is going to take you forever to get faster just riding by yourself. Come out!

18. That is what I would tell newbies.

I’ve put in about 37 bike rides over the last 101 days of this corona virus quarantine. I have not ridden this much in…well, I don’t think since I was on a college racing team. Maybe not even then, I was not the most dedicated bike geek around campus.

Before my work shut down for corona, I think I had not pedaled a bike for serious in at least 9 months (I had a work thing) and things were not awesome before that either.

I have been stoked by several things during this return-to-riding stint. The first time up via Capri without stopping in probably 25 years! It was on the MTB with slicks, but still. The first time I sat the bike for over 2 and a half hours in god knows how long. And then did it again a few days later. Cleaning a few challenging MTB sections on my usual rides.

I have not been stoked by my speed on the road. Sure, I’m riding routes with a lot of stop/start for street crossings and what not. And some of the road riding has been beating myself up with climbing just because. and a lot of this riding has been on the MTB. but…I’ve been eyeing key splits on well known road riding sections. and things have been NOT GOOD. Ffs I am mostly coming back with ride averages of 13 mph or less. Barely ever seeing speeds over 16 unless it is downhill and even then, not very impressive. I was getting convinced that this was going to be it.

Just too old and fat and out of shape. Done.


Today the MapMy segments insisted I was over 18.5 mph average for 6 straight miles. And then over 19 for another 4.

It was a very good day.


I made my peace with that a long time ago

May 28, 2020 § Leave a comment

In this Time of Corona, it seems a lot of my community would like to continue their enjoyment of the lovely outdoor weather in San Diego. They like to get out and walk and bike and run and skate. When the parks and boardwalks were closed, these folks were still out there, now crowded onto the sidewalks and bike lanes of our surface streets.

I’ve been riding on the streets myself quite a bit in the past two months.

The cars. Well, the car drivers have been not so great in the Time of Corona. It’s strange because there is much less traffic on surface streets (when I emerged for grocery shopping) and on the freeways (the two times in two months that I went to work as a test of my usual commute). So you would think the drivers would be chill.

Turns out they think this is an opportunity to drive even faster. And are apparently frustrated with all of the people suddenly appearing in the bike lane or out into the driving lanes in an attempt to maintain distance from other passers-by.

Oh right. The bikers and walkers and joggers are taking up more room. They are jammed onto the streets, since the parks and boardwalks are closed, and they are trying to be polite in my neighborhood. People who would just pass on the sidewalk are now stepping way out into the bike lane. People riding in the bike lane are pulling out into the driving lane just in passing someone on the sidewalk.

It’s a situation.

So anyway, a friend of mine has been doing some bike riding in the streets and was expressing his consternation with cars getting too close, passing too quickly, etc. And sought my advice.

I barely have noticed, as a rider. I made my peace with riding bicycles on the street, in the direction of traffic, with my life and health at the mercy of raging cagers a very, very long time ago. I’ve ridden rural roads with no real bike lane. I’ve ridden in city streets. I’ve ridden exclusively in States which provide bicycle riders all the protections of being a vehicle with rights to the road and nobody in cars ever seems to know, or agree with, that. I’ve ridden on roads as a pre-teen all the way through my current advanced age.

I have been very fortunate not to have had too many very threatening situations happen to me. A lot of this is pure good luck. Some of it is undoubtedly top-level strategy in where I have chosen to live, once that choice was somewhat within my control.

Some of the lack of threatening situations is likely due to my awareness of my surroundings while I am riding.

Some of it is due to a very well considered set of behaviors that I engage in to reduce my risk.

These behaviors are certainly the ones you can think of, in terms of awareness, bike control, vision, etc. Higher risk situations of various types that occur with regularity (hello, ol Left-turn Louie. There are data).

They are also behaviors that are designed primarily to communicate with those raging cagers and to reduce their tendency to rage at me, specifically, and more generally at bicycle enthusiasts.

I have even been known once or twice to rage at fellow bicycle enthusiasts out on the road for engaging in behavior that I know makes raging cagers even more ragey.

Like I said, I’ve lived exclusively in States in which bikes are given full right to the road. There is language in the statutes about how bikes are allowed to impede traffic if the conditions are dangerous. Cars are obliged to respect cyclists’ presence.

Strictly speaking, the vast, vast majority of enraged car driver attitude towards cyclists on the road is illegal. They are in the wrong when they get all bent about having a bike slow them down or inconvenience them. Self-righteously wrong, for sure. It will not surprise you at all that this sort of enraged entitlement associates with all of the usual axes of entitlement and rage.

I have a lifelong expertise in the beliefs and entitlement system of the truck driving white male redneck, the evolution of the Volvo-minivan-SUV-crossover-now Prius Karen and, always, the BMW/Tesla douchebro. and their ilk. They are in the wrong. Consistently.

But there is an imbalance here. A driver in the wrong can very easily kill or cripple a cyclist that is in the legal right, enjoying his or her State guaranteed freedoms of the road. And if you are that cyclist, it is very, very stupid to risk that sort of harm just because you are legally entitled to the road.

But what are you going to do? Not enjoy cycling because some idiot might kill you?

Of course not. It’s a free country. A free country that comes with occasional risks.

So you manage them. And you live your damn life. And you rely on the by-now subconscious set of behaviors that you always have relied upon.

SD in the Time of Corona: How I missed the trails

April 28, 2020 § Leave a comment

The trails are back open. The city and county closed everything there for awhile as we were trying to bend the curve of the Corona Virus pandemic.
It is spring and if there is one thing that I NEED in the spring after our winter rains it is this. The head high profusion of yellow flowers that line my favorite mountain bike trails. I think we’re past peak, but it sure is nice to be able to get back out alone in nature.

The Sette Serum Pro is still running great, btw. I didn’t realize it has been so long since I got it so I guess maybe that explains why I had to get the fork re-sealed last summer. That was a nightmare, the shop took up all of my staycation in shipping it to the wrong places, finally got it back but no time to ride.

So when SARS-CoV-2 hit and we were forced to stay home, well, the bike was calling. And then they closed the trails.

Just happy to have them open again.

You are a thug and a habitual criminal…so you deserve it if the police kill you.

May 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

You are. A thug. A habitual criminal.

I know this because I’ve been watching you. Your entire life.

Petty shoplifting as an elementary school kid. You took that candy bar. I saw it. It carried over into your tweens and teens when you took a Coke or maybe stole some clothing from the mall. Took a few bucks out of Mom’s purse without permission or raided the penny jar.

You smoked cigarettes before you were 18. I saw you. That’s a crime. Illegal.

Do we even need to discuss the drinking? The alcohol consumption under the age of 21…. and very likely the purchase mediated by an older conspirator? Conspiracy to commit a crime is an extra charge.

You tried smoking marijuana. I was there. I know.

You were a habitual criminal before you even got your driver’s license. A thug.

And let’s discuss that driver’s license shall we? Another lifetime of crime described by one little rectangle of plastic.

Speeding. Rolling stop signs. Running red lights. Driving with that blinker out. Driving with a burned out headlight. I see you. All the time.

Driving impaired.

Don’t play. I know you have. Over the 0.08 BAC limit. Probably more than once. But impaired in other ways too. Texting on your phone. Overtired. On prescription meds.

You are a dangerous criminal that imperils everyone around you.

Do you skimp a little bit on your taxes now? Now that you are a mature adult? No? You don’t play a little fast and loose with the rules?

Sure you don’t.

Just like you don’t smoke marijuana. Also illegal, and you also feel perfectly comfortable letting me know you do.

or did. Back in college. Where you tried LSD and mescaline and psilocybin mushrooms. And Ecstasy. Only a little cocaine.

Criminal. Druggie. Loser. …and thug. You. Yes. You.

Do you pay your share of the taxes for your childcare worker? (You call her the baby sitter but she works almost every workday for you for a year. I see it.) Are you sure the guys working on your lawn are legally entitled to work in this country?

How many times has your child who is supposed to be in a car seat or booster ridden unrestrained by such inconveniences?

Thug. Criminal. That’s you we’re talking about.

The only difference is that the cops don’t mess with you over petty crimes.

They don’t. Never have. Maybe you got off with a stern warning as a kid. Maybe you were the one in several hundred that actually got cited for holding the joint and had to get a lawyer to go and keep you down to a fine and probation. Maybe. But probably not. And nobody knows about that….or your childhood referral to a few AA meetings for underage drinking.

No biggie.

You didn’t get shot down like a dog. You didn’t get choked out until you suffocated. You didn’t get handcuffed and put in the back of a patrol wagon for a “rough ride” until your spine was severed.

That only happens to criminal thugs.

Not nice upstanding (upper) middle-class criminals like you.

Like us.

Like me.

On Marriages, approved and otherwise

February 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Gallup polling organization reported some interesting attitudes on marriage in 2011.

Unfortunately we can’t tell if the Loving v. Virginia decision by the Supreme Court in 1967, produced any movement since the only prior poll was in 1958. Nevertheless, I suppose we should be pleased that as of a few years ago only about 14% of all US citizens (and about 16% of white respondents) disapproved of black people marrying white people. Ok, ok, really lets all admit to being more than a little surprised that it took until the late 1990s for this country to tip past the half-way point. That’s really quite astonishing. But still, much progress seems to have been made since about 1995 or so.

But this brings us to our current debate about who should be able to get married. In this case, people of the same sex. Gallup has another set of data to relate, although this only starts in 1996:

Not quite as positive, although it is nice to see the tipping point has been reached. More than half of all Americans believed, in 2011, that same-sex couples should have their marriage recognized by the law with the same rights as different-sex marriages. Okay true, this is not the same as the “approval/disapproval” of the above polling but we’ll take it for now.

The “I” in Team

February 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

this is my new favorite thing.


This version found here.

A career on the color of my skin

November 26, 2013 § 4 Comments

IMG_4374[1]First, a late submission to Hope Jahren’s #ManicureMonday subversion of the ridiculous social media meme of Seventeen Magazine. I am not fond of bimbofication culture in the least and I am even less fond of it as a parent of female offspring.

So yeah, here’s what my manicure less nails do at work, most days.

On to today’s topic spurred by an epic troll from the DM

Jesus christ on a popsicle stick.

Look, I know this person has a long history of unstable pronouncements on the Internet. And I know this person has been placed in a really, really shitty public position lately.

But that situation is only tangentially (and temporally) related to the issue involving Danielle Lee.

The entire sentence is as follows:

If Danielle wants to leave science and make a career out of the color of her skin, I think it would be a shame for science to lose her, but again, go for it!

This is so ridiculously offensive I hardly know where to start.

As you can tell from the figure above, the color of my skin is categorized, in these here United States at present, along with Danielle’s much more frequently than with that of the author of that ridiculous comment. I point this out so that in the event the intemperate author happens by here she will understand that her comments are not a theoretical issue to me. I am not defending Dr. Lee so much as I am defending my own reactions.

There is no reasonable way to interpret that ridiculous comment of hers in any other way than as a recitation of a pervasive right wing meme that people who are minorities have some fabulous advantage due to the color of their skin. And that they can “make a career” out of this fantastic birthright.

This is false.

Don’t get me wrong, the phenomenon of “Rev Inc” is not entirely a right wing fantasy. There are indeed people who make careers out of defending and promoting the status and rights of underrepresented groups in this country. Including those who happen to share the skin tone that is one of several defining characteristics of the class under discussion.

Does this mean that they are making a career out of their skin color? Of course not. They are making a career out of addressing substantive issues of public policy and civil rights that are specifically relevant to people who share their skin color.

The suggestion that it is about profiting from one’s skin tone is a direct attack on the very substantive issues of equality and opportunity available to different subpopulations in the US. It is a direct attack on the legitimacy of the situation with Dr. Lee and the piss poor response of Scientific American to her blog post calling out some yahoo for expecting her to blog elsewhere for free. It is a direct attack on the notion that the experiences and reactions of someone who is not of majority culture are legitimate and in need of hearing. It is basically telling Dr. Lee, and those like her, to never mention a perspective that is informed by the color of her skin and the way that society treats her because of that feature.

Lest one be accused of making a career on the basis of skin tone.

I don’t ask for an apology from the original author of these comments. I don’t really care one bit if the comment was a result of striking out in anger and pain or whether it betrays a fairly confirmed mindset. I don’t even particularly think anyone should front her all mad-like.

What I do want is for you to forward me any job opportunities that involve easy money on the basis of my skin tone1.

That would be sweet.

1See Figure 1.

The world is still a very large place

November 26, 2013 § 4 Comments

I have never been an early adopter of social media but I am most definitely an adopter. I was not the first guy in grad school to start up with obsessive email, nor to create one of those new fangled World Wide Web Homepages. But I caught on quickly. Blogging had been going on for years before I even grasped what one was….and found my niche for reading them. And eventually writing them. I was a latecomer to Facebook and Twitter. LinkedIn had been under operation for some time before I was triggered by an academic colleague to sign up.

The more recent iterations of network-based social media, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter primarily, have presented me with a fascinating question.

I am still waiting for the astonishing, out of the blue, friend-of-a-friend connections to emerge.

What I mean is that I have many circles of social media networks and connections. My family links, of course. Some based on my misguided youth- friends, classmates, etc from primary through secondary school years. Another circle based on my college years. Another one based on my graduate school social connections and yet another that is based around my current profession.

I always thought that over time, I would get some amazing coincidental networking connection. Where someone in my professional life is connected to someone from my childhood or college years in a way that has nothing to do with our shared experience (i.e., not counting people who share both profession and a prior social circle with me).

It hasn’t happened yet.

Some Open Carriers are more equal than others

January 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

Via the Being Liberal Facebook:


I know what it feels like to sports dope

July 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

It was someplace in the middle of my college years and I was home for the summer. I went to a circuit race that I’d raced a few times over the years. It was maybe a mile per lap, around a park (ok, mapmyride claims 1.1, good memory!).

Normally the circuit race is my game…..crits (under a mile, four corners around a block, typically) were cool, in theory, but I didn’t usually have a team capable of support and I’m kind of a wuss at the high-speed, elbow rubbing, apex cornering mid-pack thing. So a full-mile, maybe 1.5 circuit suited me well. Slightly less importance on repeated, high-speed cornering, lengthier straightaways to group up and the possibility of a short rise. Now, I sucked ass at hill climbs, true, but short power climbs, taken up out of the saddle were doable. Short enough and they were actually an advantage to me.

The course had a hill early in the lap after four right angle corners. Then it was about 30 feet of gain from 0.22 mi to 0.37 mi and then it was drifting up, almost flat up to 0.7 mi, then back down to the start line. Just after the course started downhill there was a acute turn, sharper than 90….crank it up to the 1.0 mi mark, bank a 95-100 degree left and it was about a tenth of a mile to the line.

Races were maybe 45 min at that point? I was in the Cat IVs so that seems about right. That would make it on the order of 18 laps or so? maybe 20. Not so far but believe me, you were hauling ass the whole time.

I always loved this course and had managed a prime (intermediate sprints within the race) or two over the years but had never won. My memory suggests that I was never in there for the finish…for whatever reason. Most usually because the climb had me at my limit. I could hang for most of the race, and be at the front enough by the start of the downhill to dice for primes at the bottom of the course. But in the end, someone would light it up enough over the climb late in the race for me to lose contact with the front.

Not this year…..

I was FLYING. I mean, I didn’t feel like Superman, toying with the other riders. I didn’t feel like I was riding a motorcycle. I was working my ass off, dicing it at the front through the danger zones, then sitting in. Chasing down breakaways a few times…. and above all else, strategically climbing the hill. No big deal, I was racing. And I’d get tired….and have to back off for a lap.

But every lap, I was in there. Coming through the left-hand turn that started over the crown of the hill, I would gain places, slip up to the front….shut dudes down. I may even have had to chase down some real climbers on a lap or two. And my HR would spike. But then I’d settle down and catch my breath and get back to where I needed to be.

And there I found myself, last lap. Up the right-hand side as we hit the corner in the middle of the hill…jamming up to the slightly strung out front 10. Slipping into the five just before the turn onto the downhill…and then I nailed it. It was downhill so I don’t even remember the usual dramatics….flat or uphill and my back wheel was typically jumping around a bit when I spooled up a sprint. But I was goooooooone. Flew into the final bend a bit hot and I do remember juuuuuust not clipping the curb on the outside…and then it was up again and across the line.


Of course, I hadn’t been doping, not really. But I HAD been training and racing above 6,000 feet for many months prior to this race. No doubt I had a significant red blood cell advantage over many of my competitors that day. I certainly had one over my own historical races on that course.

This is what EPO does, of course. Increases oxygen carrying capacity. So does blood doping.

Several years ago I started to realize that this is why you see so much explaining and defending out of the cycling dopers that get caught. “Everyone is doing it”. “I had to if I wanted to keep my (domestique) job”. “I had a bad day and needed to stay with the team”. “You still have to put in the work!”.

Yeah….yeah you do. And no, you don’t feel like you are cheating.

What you feel like is …”finally! I feel right. Like I’m where I should be based on my training!”

I can see how it would be very easy to convince yourself it wasn’t exactly cheating.

But it is.

Sette Serum Pro Review: Part 2

June 28, 2012 § 5 Comments

As I noted in the last two posts, I bought a Sette Serum Pro to replace my ancient Mongoose mountain bike.

The Serum Pro is carbon light…haven’t weighed it but the specs claim 22.56 pounds for my 19″ size and I believe it. My old bike was in the 22-24 pound range depending on what was on it at the time for parts and this new ride is right in there.

I have some initial ride impressions to relate after a few miles both off and on road with it. I did end up putting a seatpost with a more normal set-back to the clamp on it which got the saddle back to where it should be for me. I also put a 120mm stem on, but this is still a tad short. I may eventually put a 130 mm on it but I’m waiting to transfer my bar ends over before I get too pissy. I initially hadn’t done anything to the forks except twiddle the dials…I did put the air pressure up to 120 psi for the last couple of rides.

So far, the bike is fantastic. Bottom Bracket and rear stay flex under heavy pedal pressure is probably my starting point for evaluating a frame and this one is rock steady. Jumps out just as you would want with no sign of weaseling or flex. I had been riding the Shimano external cup bottom bracket with SLX cranks for at least a year on the old rig so I’m not attributing it to that at all. Frame is solid.

Interestingly the XT M775 wheelset is a 24 spoke count…I’m used to 32 as a minimum and I was a bit worried. No sign of problem yet. They seem sufficiently stiff under heavy pedaling and under cornering….within the limits of the Kenda Small block 8 tires. This will be an area of interest in the long-term test situation.

My second point of consideration is the frame stability under turning and it is coming though with flying colors. Good design.

The M770 9speed Shimano XT shift train is excellent, as expected. They have seemingly returned to a more “positive” feel to the shifters. This means it clicks and clunks solidly so you know you are making a change. I like this. I did not like the ever-softening and quieting approach they were taking late 90s and into the 00s.

I am definitely still working on the fork. It has a lot more travel and compliance (springiness) then I am used to. Some of this may be set-up and some of this is undoubtedly that modern forks specified on a XC race-style MTB are designed for more activity than the old Mag21 I had. Which, btw, has probably been relatively immobile relative to original design for years since I’ve never done any recent maintenance on it. My issues with the Fox 32 F100 R Open Bath is that it is too soft for my (current) taste. The wheel drops down when you pull up on the bars, making quick elevations over bumps and curbs different from what I expect. This is intentional, I should note, as a way to improve bump compliance when you are not trying to lift the wheel. Correspondingly I’m fiddling with the compression damping (big lever, easy to switch on the fly) and the rebound damping knob (not so easy on the fly) to adjust the ride. The other problem of this squishiness is that the front end bobs when standing up out of the saddle on hills. This is something that needs to be fixed for my style of riding. Putting the compression lever all the way up helps and I may have to live with this.

Hey, going from a rigid fork to my original Mag21 took some adjustment too!

The on-road feel is a pretty good way to evaluate a MTB as well and the Serum has been good there too. It doesn’t resonate with the tires or ping or click or anything that I associate with Al frames. The frame is solid on-road too, where tire grip is good and one can really crank in the big ring. Instability in high speed cornering is minimal and right now I’m putting this down to the fork and my unfamiliarity with it / possible failure to set it up properly. The bars and stem are stiff, maybe even stiffer than I’d like. I have a 110 gram titanium bar on the old bike that, amazingly, is still alive and well. It was always a little tiny bit flexy which I actually liked.

The oversized seatpost specification seems to make up for a rather hefty bit of mast I have showing. Let me note that I have never been a fan of the sloping top-tube design. This one has more of it than my last one did which means slightly more seatpost is used. This has the potential to be flexy but I’m not noticing anything. The extra diameter over what was spec’d on my old bike may be the difference here…or perhaps my fears of flex from the seat post were simply unfounded.

So, to conclude from the first few rides, this bike is light, stiff and everything I expected in a carbon frame. I have the fit nearly dialed in so I can get to riding. The only spot of weirdness is going to be the suspension fork although this is down to my tweaking the adjustments and learning to ride with a modern type of fork.

Sette Serum Pro Review: Part 1

June 22, 2012 § 1 Comment

Continuing on from my observations earlier in the week in which I was pointing out that I tend to cheap out on bike frames.

I pulled the trigger on the Sette Serum Pro, which I bought from Price Point. It turned up about 29 hrs after ordering it, at a cost of just over $1,800. To nonbikers and especially spousal units, this is not “cheaping out”. For us normal folks, this is a SCREAMING good deal.

Trolling around the usual suspect major manufacturers like Trek, Specialized, Giant, Jamis, Cannondale, etc you will find, first, that many of the hardtail MTB offerings of any decent quality are 29″ wheelers these days. Being the retrogrouch that I am, I had to peer a bit harder to find the 26″ers. Still, it rapidly became clear that the $2,500-$3,500 range was the entry point. Many of these, especially on the lower end, were Al frames. I am not a fan of aluminum for bike frames, all else equal. I find them to be noisy, as a first fault. Second, I was biased during my enthusiastic mountain biking days in the early to mid 90s when boutique framebuilders were sprouting like weeds. I saw many, many fairly expensive mountain bike frames get cracks. This put me off both Al frames and boutique builders…and reinforced the notion that extra cost did not mean extra quality when it comes to bike frames. I do ride a Al Redline cyclocross bike so I’m not totally biased. Some of my best friends are…..ahem.

Back to the story, my initial read was that the more obvious bikes in my initial price range were specified with a mixture of SRAM X.7 and X.9 drivetrain parts. Some of them came with Shimano SLX (which seems to be a fair enough replacement for the old Deore LX line, even though I think it started out below LX). I was really looking for a carbon fiber frame though, given the great experience I had with a circa ’95-96 Mongoose IBOC Team SX Carbon frame. To get a carbon frame one, I was seeing things on the upper side of the $2,500-$3,500 range, but still finding bikes specified with the same approximate parts bin.

There’s nothing wrong with SRAM, though I haven’t spent serious time with it. From the price points though, it seems that X.9 is slotting in just beneath XT. And, as I said, SLX seems okay and in fact I had been riding SLX cranks for a year or so. The thing is, while I tend to cheap out on frames, I also want the value of the just-below-chi-chi componentry. Off road that pretty much means Shimano XT. At the very least in the derailleurs and shifters. I can manage with lower level hubs and cranks. But the shift-train is kind of important. Especially as I get old, have little time for maintenance and want the bike to work when I have a chance to get out for a ride.

Looking at the XT-spec bikes is what gave me sticker-shock conniptions. The notion of Trek or Specialized hardtail MTBs that run over $6,000 is a little daunting. So I was trolling around the internet trying to find something a little more affordable and I ran across the Sette.


This is more like it. Carbon frame, XT kit (shifters, derailleurs, cranks, wheels)…disc brakes that look to be a decent line (Avid Elixer CR. heck, I wouldn’t have sneered at cable actuated ones). I was previously riding an old Mag21 that hadn’t been touched in many years so the fork selection was going to be better no matter what. The XT is 9-speed, not the current ten speed introduced in 2010 or so. I was uncertain about how dated the components are but figured it was a good place to save some money, even if this stuff is a couple of design years old. It sure as hell was going to be an update on my old bike, even if the XT was from the 2009 design year.

Reviews online were a bit hard to come by, you can Google them yourselves. Not hard to find but there aren’t very many of them. Nevertheless, the available reviews all seemed to conclude the bike was “as good as advertised” . One check of the geometry spec for my size frame (19″) and I was pretty much good to go. As I said, it came in a day.

First impressions are excellent. The double-box referred to elsewhere is an impressive way to ship. You will definitely need some basic bike mechanical skills, as with any bike you buy in a box. If you can’t break down and reassemble a bike then I suggest you don’t really have much call to be mail ordering. Unless you have a bike buddy who can help, I suppose.

This was a straightforward job of installing the seatpost (seat already mounted), stem (bars already mounted) and front wheel. It comes without pedals, the assumption being you’ll have your own clipless pedal preference. I do and am using my old ones.

There were only two problems I noted with the preparation. First, the front brake caliper was off and I had to re-adjust it. I am not too familiar with discs so I may have to play with it a bit but I got it in working order pretty quickly. Without referring to any manuals…so it’s pretty damn obvious what to do. Second, the bars were mounted in the stem at a smidge of the wrong rotation. This is an easy fix and almost comes under the personal adjustment clause.

Personal adjustment: These are things that you can’t blame on a mail order bike, but that you might possibly have fixed at a local bike store at the time of purchase. The stem is not right for me, I’m going to need a different one. This is totally typical and the one on the Sette is pretty neutral (about a 100 mm, 6 degree rise)…presumably designed to fit the larger number of riders. Second, the seat post may not allow enough set-back as the clamp is directly over the post centerline. At some point this became popular with off-road posts, replacing the traditional look that included the clamp centered behind the post. I’ve had to go with set-back models in the past so again, this is expected. Posts run anywhere from $20 to $120 (and up) and stems go from $20-90. So there’s $100 or so that you might possibly have saved in the bike store purchase as they will occasionally do a size swap. That’s a long ways from the thousands of bucks differential in bike purchase price, don’t you think?

The only thing to criticize here is the Kenda small block 8 tires. As I read in one of the available reviews, these are a pretty good road tire. Since tire preference is so individual , I’m giving the Sette Serum Pro a pass on this. Still, you can add another $100-$120 bucks to the cost to get yourself a set of decent skins.

Initial verdict is, just as good as advertised. And a screaming good deal.

June 28: This post has been edited from the original, mostly for readability and to expand on some things I left too abbreviated in the original version.

Moving on…

June 20, 2012 § 5 Comments

When it comes to bikes, my philosophy has always been to cheap out when it comes to the frame. Well, more like my reality.

In the day, I just couldn’t afford the top line stuff from the serious makers. Not the established Euro brands and for damn sure not the boutique builders.

Heck, I couldn’t even afford the best the mainline brands (Trek, Cannonwhale, Specialized) had to offer.

So I’d go looking for deals. The less popular brands which had to try harder and couldn’t upgrade the sticker price based solely on the name plate. Ones that had to figure out how to compete within a component-spec level of the market.

This is the way I ended up with a Schwinn road bike in the late 80s. It wasn’t awesome but the components were Sante, priced above Ultegra and under Dura Ace. With a very….unusual finish. Still, I got the whole thing for under what most mainline Ultegra level bikes were going for at the time.

This cheapout plan is also the way I ended up on a series of Mongoose MTB frames in the early 90s. In this case I bought into some racer contingency program…they sent you the frame for something like $225. This was when the burgeoning small-manufacturer offerings were running at least $500 for the frame, and likely much more. For welded Al frames that hadn’t been optimized for durability….I remember a ton of cracked frames leading to arguments over replacement from the builders.

So I scored a decently light Al frame with the weird Toblerone top tube…slightly long in the reach but a pretty decent ride. Eventually it cracked and I got the company to replace it for free. This was at least a year later and Mongoose’s top offering was then a carbon job. AWESOME.

This was early in the mass-production carbon frame days and quality was not assured. Clearly this one was being produced on a factory line…on the cheap. No big-name designer was identified so who knew how the geometry would work out.

It worked out great. The frame was a fantastic ride, super light and durable. The first one had the bottle bosses come unstuck after maybe a year and I fought them into giving me another one for free.

The replacement lasted 18 years. Or thereabouts.

Finally, the seat tube cracked off the BB shell.

So I went looking for another MTB.

Simple hard tail XC race design, front suspension only…nothing fancy. XT componentry level…maybe STX if necessary.


And up?

Yeah, I STILL can’t afford the bikes I want to ride.