One of those days

There are days when cycling is no fun. Today was one of those days.

When I stepped out of the house at 7:30 AM the weather was muggy and the temperature rising. By the time we started The Big Event ride at 9, I swear temps were north of 90 F.

John, Scott, Fred, Susan and I knew it was going to be a hot day, so we kept the pace relatively calm. Without working too hard we hit the first rest stop at 24 miles with an 18+ average. Still, we could tell it was going to be a tough day.

The route rolls over countless hills, and our group (which had grown by a few) broke apart each time we’d roll up a small climb. We’d periodically regroup, but it became almost impossible to keep everyone together. And by the last rest stop everyone was in survival mode. We saw several temperature readings of 103-106 F, and riding became a struggle to roll along fast enough to get the ride over with, but slow enough not to overheat.

The last few miles along Summit, Bass Chapel and Pisgah Church Rds. were a drag, with Scott, Jack and I limping into the parking lot where we found a cooler of cold drinks.

Virginia on my mind

It occurred to me, in the midst of a very busy workday, that Bike Virginia is only a couple of weeks away. I haven’t been riding enough — rather, I haven’t been riding hard enough — to go into it in stellar condition, so I suspect I’ll hurt the first couple of days before I start to pick up steam. After all, we’re going to face some mountains.

A new Selle Italia SLR is on the way to lighten my bike by a couple hundred grams and comfort my rear end.

Tomorrow promises to be a hot one. We’ve got a 62 mile ride on the agenda, and the temps should be close to 100. Whew.

Bike saddle demos

A test ride on a bike saddle is worth a thousand opinions. The only way to know if a saddle is right is to spend time on it. So when my Fizike Arione started bugging me I ordered a demo kit from Competitive Cyclist.

The idea is simple. They send you 11 saddles. You ride any or all of them for a week. You send them back, postage paid. If you like one enough to buy, part of the demo fee is credited to the purchase.

It’s a great idea. I wish local shops would do this.

The kit arrived in time for Memorial Day weekend.

It’s a hardshell case containing 11 saddles, a data sheet with the actual weight and price of each saddle, and a UPS return label. Pretty impressive.

Eleven saddles and one week. Where to begin?

Which raises an issue with this demo program. Unless you’re going to devote a full week (eight hour days, let’s say) to testing saddles, you’re going to have a tough time giving each and every saddle your full consideration.

Time was wasting, so here’s what I did:

  • Set aside the Selle San Marco Regal and Rolls. I own a Regal (like it, by the way), and loathe the looks of the Rolls. Call me shallow.
  • Set aside the Arione. Got one already.

Now we’re down to a slightly more manageable eight. I grabbed allen wrenches, tape measure, and level, lined up the eight candidates, and gave each an initial test.

First, the Selle San Marco Concor. I used to own a Concor. Hated it. Verdict after sitting on it for 30 seconds: Still hate it. It feels (and here’s where we get into the realm of the totally subjective, so your mileage may vary) too narrow, too short, and too dished. There seemed to be a sweet spot about a millimeter long.

Seven left.

The Selle Italia SLR was next, simply because I thought this exercise in ultra minimalism would quickly follow the Concor into the discard bin. But nope, I was wrong. I actually liked the shape and firm padding.

Seven and holding.

I continued working my way through the pile. Prolink Light? Wrong shape. Flite Gel Flow? Painful. Aliante? Everyone likes the Aliante, right? Uh, maybe.

In the midst of my deliberations it came time to actually get out and put some miles on one of the candidates. I decided to throw the SLR on the Landshark and see if it was a serious contender or a 149 gram (actually weight) ass hatchet. It was the former.

As I worked my way through the demo kit, I discovered some general likes and dislikes of mine, saddle-wise:

  • Comfort is the raison d’etre of cutouts, but cutouts are anything but comfortable. I do not like cutouts. At all.
  • A narrow nose is better than a wide nose.
  • Seems kinda counterintuitive, but shallow thigh glides are more comfortable than deep ones. This was the undoing of the Aliante.
  • Gel is almost as bad as a cutout. Almost.
  • The SLR T1 is, despite its odd appearance and gel-padded nose, a pretty neat saddle. If only the nose were narrower.

So, was there a winner? Yes indeed:

The Selle Italia SLR, and it wasn’t even close. I put in about 130 miles on it, and loved the combination of support and comfort. It felt, and this is a compliment for a saddle, like it wasn’t there. Which is to say the shape didn’t interfere with my pedaling or get in the way when I moved around, stood up or sat down.

The only thing I didn’t like about this particular SLR was the color. When I order one, it’ll be white.

Adventure Cycling

I can’t even recall where I saw it, but I came across a link offering a free membership to Adventure Cycling. Coincidentally, a friend had just told me that she’s joining their Underground Railroad tour this summer, so I put my name in, and soon received a membership packet.

Today my first issue of Adventure Cyclist arrived in the mail. There’s a particularly interesting article about touring and eating in Italy. Looks to be right up my alley.

Memorial Day Ride

I printed 50 cue sheets for the Memorial Day ride, handed them all out and left a few people wanting, so I’ll call the turnout about 60 people. The ride was a repeat of last year’s; the long route took riders from Hagan-Stone Park to Saxapahaw and back. Each of the three routes stopped at Homeland Creamery.

There was a moment of concern at the start when I learned that the bridge on Woody Mill Rd was out. A detour was suggested and announced to the group, and all was well.

I fell in with my usual crowd and made the trek to Saxapahaw. It’s a hilly ride, and it didn’t help that we faced a headwind most of the way back. Here’s the detour-adjusted cue sheet (total mileage: 66.4):

L Hagen Stone Park Rd
X 421
R Liberty Rd
L Dona
L Monnett
R Coble Church Rd
L Phillipi Rd
L Hwy 62
R Alamance Ch Rd (SR 1005) STORE
BR W GSO/CH Rd (Kimesville goes left)
Just after stone dam
X NC 49
Just past Yesterday’s Grill go:
L Snow Camp Rd STORE
R 2172 (Moores Chapel Rd)
L Church
X bridge and BR to STORE
R Moores Chap Cem Rd
L Snow Camp Rd
L S NC 49
R Timber Ridge Lake Rd
R Smithwood Rd
R Bowman Dairy Rd
Optional Detour to Homeland Creamery:
X Hwy 62, continue on NC3360
Stop @ Homeland Creamery
Return to 62, go R
R on Coble Church to rejoin route
L Coble Church Rd
X Hwy 62
L Watchtower Rd
L Monnett Rd
R Dona Rd
R Liberty Rd
L Hagan Stone Park Rd
R into HS Park

Saturday saddle test

Saturday’s ride was all about covering some long, flat miles. Or so I said. Really, it was a chance for me to spend a few hours on an unfamiliar saddle, and have several folks along who could listen to me gripe if the experience wasn’t good.

Early, rain fell, leading to a rash of calls and emails asking if the ride was on. It was.

By the time we left the parking lot of Christ Community Church on Air Harbor Rd, the temps (still chilly) were starting to climb and the sun was shining. Our route was simple:

Navigate to Hwy 150 north.
Ride until we got tired of going north.
Turn around and ride back.

Doing all of this netted us 53 miles, at an average of about 19 mph.

Oh yes, the new saddle. My Fizik Arione, which I’ve always thought of as a friend, was starting to annoy me in a variety of ways, comfort-wise. In the old days — maybe 20 years ago — the solution was simple: Cough up $20 bucks for a new saddle, and if you didn’t like it, sell it to someone else for a small loss.

These days, $20 has inflated to $100+ — and often much more — making the buy, try and see if you like approach a bit riskier.

So, instead of shopping my way to a more comfortable solution, I decided to give the Competitive Cyclist saddle demo program a try. I went online, ordered a demo kit, and a few days later a hardshell case carrying 11 saddles was delivered to my door.

Saturday was my first day testing a different saddle. I’ll get in another 60+ miles tomorrow in my quest to find the perfect seat. And after I wrap up the demo I’ll post my impressions — the good, the bad, etc.