I am a competitive triathlete who competes at the local, regional, and national level. I began competing in triathlons in 2010, coming from a sports background in swimming and running. Back then, I considered myself a runner who tolerated biking in order to compete in the sport.
But in the past few years, particularly as COVID-19 altered the way all athletes trained, I really found my passion for cycling. It not only is a sport I compete in but also consider it in how I commute around the city. Unfortunately, the east side of Metro Detroit is not well suited for bike commutes. I hope this changes in the future. While I continue to focus on all three sports in triathlon training, I consider myself a cyclist now, who tolerates running and swimming. I started road racing bikes in 2022.
My Strava feed has been the blog of my life over the past 5 years and I've always wanted to expand upon it. However, I never found the right forum for it until now. What follows below are my thoughts and feelings around the world of cycling, in a conversation with myself, because I could talk for about it for hours; well beyond the capacity of my family and friends, who love me but clearly have heard enough.
10 July 2023 - Budget Bike Brands Addendum
An additional piece I neglected to mention about budget bikes is that they often are "one size fits all" models, which in reality is a terrible convention. The 26" in an adult bike refers to only the wheel size, which is an important factor in separating adult bikes from junior or youth bikes, but within the adult category the frame size matters much more than the wheel sizes (adult wheel sizes run from 26 to 29 inches). In adult bikes, wheel size is a factor in how the bike will be used, what terrain it will be on, and what the desired handling characteristics are (not the size of the rider, although smaller riders tend to ride on smaller wheels). Frame size compensates for the height of an adult rider, from Extra Small to Extra Large (possibly even XXL). It has a large affect on rider position on the bike and, ultimately, how comfortable it is. Budget brands often do not have sizes for their bikes beyond "26", setting the frame size as a Medium, or possibly even smaller. If that happens to be the correct size for you, then great. But if not (a medium bike would generally fit a 5'6" rider plus or minus 1-2 inches), you're starting to sacrifice comfort for cost. You really should be on a bike with a the correct size for your body.
18 May 2023 - Budget Bike Brands and the Problems They Cause
I've wanted to write about this for a while but avoided it because it involves money and I know not everyone is on the same level of what affordability means. So, I'll just say that above everything else I'm about to say, buying the bike you can afford, not the one you can't, is the overriding factor to any purchase. However, with that in mind, I think there are still good alternatives out there for everyone's budget.
The vast majority of bikes I see in the shop and on the road are what I label as budget brands. There's hundreds of different brands I see that fit into this category but the most common are: Schwinn, Huffy, Hyper, and Mongoose. Typically, these bikes sell for under $400. If a bike came from a big box store (Meijer, Walmart, Dick's, Amazon, etc) and not a biking-specific store, it's a budget brand. I know that sounds very elitist of me, but hear me out first.
One of the problems with these bikes is that, in an effort to cut costs, they're made so poorly that they're more disposable commodities than repairable. They use budget componentry that is more liable to break, more susceptible to quality issues that lead to poor biking performance, and are more cost effective to replace than repair. I think a good analogy is to compare budget bikes to the fast fashion industry - products are made to appeal at a low cost and to provide the appearance of following the current trends, but are poorly made and not durable so they end up being discarded much sooner than a traditional product from that industry. I've sent more than a handful of budget bikes to the recycler because it was more cost effective to buy a new one than to repair it. I haven't done it once for a non-budget brand. And while recycling is better than a landfill, this is still a problem because: 1) it's not 100% recyclable, still some components end up in the landfill and 2) keeping it in use will any trump any dispose and replace method.
There's other issues these budget bikes have that I wont detail here for brevity but summarize into two categories: performance and total ownership cost. I often hear "I just ride casually, performance isn't a factor to me" but I think that's an misinformed opinion. Factors like comfort, ride quality, and weight are important to riders of any ability more than most people realize. I could do a whole post on how critical weight is to the casual rider. Likewise, I'd argue that total ownership cost for a budget brand is on par or perhaps higher than a quality bike. Yes, the initial cost is less. But for your traditional brands (Trek, Specialized, Giant, Cannondale, etc), the maintenance costs over the coming years is marginal. Let me offer you this anecdote: typical budget bike I see (with about 100-200 miles ridden on it) needs an annual tuneup, a cable or two replaced, and in some extreme cases a new shifter or derailuer. Typical non-budget doesn't need anything at 200 miles; might need a tuneup around 500-1000miles, and multi-thousands of miles before replacement of parts becomes a question. You end up paying the difference in the end trying to keep the bike (which wasn't designed for longevity) running. Also consider, there's a point where it'll be nonviable to repair and you'll need to buy new, whereas a non-budget bike will easily last 30 years or more.
All that being said, what DO I recommend people do: The top recommendation is to buy from your local bike shop. Price for an adult bike start around $600, yes, 3x what you can find one at Walmart for, but that price difference is not just markup, you're getting a material benefit in the product itself. If that's too high, then next there are other retailers that sell quality bikes. I think very highly of the Co-op brand at REI. They start around $400, if I recall. There's probably some online retailers that follow a direct-to-consumer model to save costs that are good too, although I dont know of any specifically. I'd be wary of anything less than $400 because they only way the price gets that low is by sacrificing needed quality (don't be fooled by it saying "Shimano-equipped", Shimano runs the gamut from terrible to high performance and you're not necessarily actually getting anything other than a label). Also, just because the shifter and deraileur are branded Shimano, doesn't not mean all the pieces in between those two parts are of the same quality. If that's still too high of a price, instead of buying a budget brand, I suggest looking for a used quality brand. Depending on year, the average quality brand hybrid bike runs between $100 and $300. That's on par with buying a new budget brand, and what you're getting in terms of performance, quality, and reliaiblity is markedly better.
15 May 2023 - Fighting Through the Spring Rush
It's been a busy spring. I've been averaging about 10 bikes per week while work has been sending me all over the country each week for a variety of events. I'm doing the best I can to turn around bikes in 24 hours, but I ask for patience in scheduling as I try to manage my work schedule, requests for repair and the amount of storage I have available. To that last point, I do appreciate all customers who can pick up within 24 hours of the work being completed. I understand this is not always possible, and will make due if that's the situation. However, I can only store about 4 bikes at a time. Beyond that, bike start taking up shop space which is already tight.
24 April 2023 - 2023 Race Season Has Begun
I opened my racing season two weekends ago with my first gravel race, Barry-Roubaix in Hastings, MI. My ego wanted to sign up for the 62 mile race, but I more reasonably chose the 36 mile version and I'm glad I did. After a fast start, I'm in the lead pack of 200-300 bikes, all within a few feet of each other, doing 26+ mph on a dirt road with so much dust you can't see 10 feet in front. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time. About 7 miles in, the person in front of my had a chain issue, and I ran into him, not enough to do any serious damage, but it skewed my handle bars off center a bit. My least favorite moment was when the race turned into a two track trail and became quite rough; I just dont have the technical skill to negotiate through at race pace. But I was able to made it through the full distance which set up a fast sprint finish where I passed most of the group I was with. Finished 8th out of 100 in Age Group and 69th of 1800 overall. Two days ago, I did the Willow Time Trial, a max effort event solo event, and my specialty. Basically, 13.2 miles as fast as you can go, and no help from the draft of others. I completed the course in 30:51, averaging a speedy 25.9 mph overall. 2nd in Division and 5th fastest overall, out of 80. Now, I have a month of no races, until triathlon season starts for me in June.
22 January 2023 - My First Race Bike Starting to Show its Age
Back when I was hit by a car in Rochester while riding (May 2022) I was riding my 2010 Cannondale Slice 5, the first race-quality bike I ever owned. The bike itself wasn't destroyed in the accident, per se, but since it is a carbon fiber the frame was considered compromised so I relegated it to indoor use only just to be safe. With about 1500 miles on it since its last major service, it was time to put it on the stand, disassemble, clean, inspect, and service. During my inspection, I found two areas where I suspect the carbon fiber is cracked or on its way to cracking. I cant recall if that damage was present after my crash in May, i vaguely remember there was some notable damage but nothing that was past the paint. I now can see the carbon fiber core in one area, which I'm pretty sure was not exposed in May (although likely exacerbated by the accident). It goes to show that not all things, even high end bikes, last forever. To be clear, I'm still going to ride this one until it becomes unsafe to ride indoors (probably would have to break a chainstay clear off to get to that point) but those days are at least countable at this point. How many are left? I have no idea, I hope to to be a year or two still, but I'm still thinking about what end of like means on this bike. Like, what do you do with a end of life carbon fiber frame is? It seems wrong to put it on the curb with the rest of the garbage.
3 January 2023 - Thankful for all of you
As the new year comes in, I wanted to express my gratitude and appreciate for each one of my customers over the past year as I got this business started. I extra appreciate each one of you that took your time to write a Google review of your experience. I've tried my best to provide high quality service, faster, and for less cost than the industry. Your reviews help me keep that goal in mind while helping me get the word out of what I offer. I have dreams of one day growing this into a full-time activity and when that happens, I will not forgot those that were with me from the beginning.
19 December 2022 - Pricing Changes for 2023
After a great inaugural year, I'm going to make some pricing adjustments to some of my services effective January 1, 2023. A lot of thought and a few factors have gone into this decision that I'll succinctly explain here, but I wanted to start by stating I still am true to my vision: being a trusted, low-cost mechanic that's focused on high quality, fast turn-around work. I still plan on keeping my annual tuneup service at $35 because I think it's a fair price even though it's well below what I could charge. However, some changes are necessary, either due to rising costs of tools/materials or other factors I did not anticipate.
Full Detail Service will be $75. Frankly, $50 was ridiculous in the first place, considering what goes into it (tools, soap, towels, degreaser, lube, etc) never mind the time it took to disassemble a bike. ($15 more than the annual tune when I put $10 of supplies into it?) Occasionally, I'd receive bikes that were really a mess or have a bunch of small nooks and crannies that took double or triple the normal time. So, I'm also going to have two surcharges of $25 added if the bike is excessively dirty or excessively complex (I'm looking at you, Full Suspension MTBs!)
Wheel Truing. I don't think the three tiers I have now works well. It doesn't describe the actual effort involved, nor reflect the expense of the tools to do it, nor how I think tuning is a unique process to each bike and its rider. I think i'm just going to use a labor by the hours pricing model. I know this doesn't make pricing easy to understand up front, and that bothers me too, but I don't know any better way to do it. As always, i can provide an estimate up front after i get the bike on the stand and get an idea of it actually would take.
Flat Rate Pricing. I'm going to try to keep as much flat rate repairs the same because I love the simplicity of them, but I think the flat rate for spoke repair needs to go. Much like wheel truing, so much rides on "it depends" that it's really hard to have a set price. Instead, I will offer individualized estimates based on the bike and how it's used to that will I think be a better value to all involved.
29 October 2022 - A believer of the Tubeless Tire
On my ride today, I ran over nail about 20 miles into my ride. Straight through the tire, this would have been a ride-ender if I had a traditional tire tube. But because I converted my gravel bike to tubeless a few months prior, I finished the remainder of my ride with full pressure (only a few miles, but it was holding - I could have done a lot more. I was pretty impressed. I took the nail out - it was pretty decent size, maybe 2-3mm across and the sealant held my tire together with no impact to my ride. I took the nail out when I finished, and of course the tire went flat, but I filled it again and let it sit for a day. I'm happy to say the the hole was plugged by the sealant with no intervention from me and I've ridden on it for a few hundred miles since. I'm completely sold that this is the way to go and I'll convert my race bike over in the spring.
21 August 2022 - Now offering Tubeless Conversion
I have had some requests over the past months about changing tires over to a tubeless setup. I wanted to do it first on my own bike before I started doing it to others. I completed that conversion yesterday and I'm now offering that service to others. Tubeless is exactly as it sounds, removing the tire tube and using liquid sealant to make the tire airtight. Contrary to what it may seem, a tubeless setup is less prone to puncture, has lower rolling resistance, and allows to ride at lower pressures (better ride quality). It does come at cost of sightly more maintenance required, but I'd put it on par with the level of time and expertise required to check/fill the engine oil on your car. If you're interested in going tubeless, I'd love to talk to you about what it takes and if it's the right choice for you.
8 August 2022 - Wish-A-Mile 300 Tour
Devastated to hear today that 2 cyclists were killed when a car hit them during the Wish-A-Mile 300 Tour in Ionia last week. Having been hit myself earlier this year (see below) I'm intimately aware of the dangers that exist of riding on the road as an individual. But to be hit in a formal event with hundreds of riders - there's no excuse for that. I want to believe this was a once in a million occurrence, and I hope it was, complicated by alleged intoxication of the driver because if there's no safe haven in a formal event for road cycling, what else is left?
7 August 2022 - 2022 USAT Nationals
USAT Nationals were disappointing this year. While eligible for both the Sprint and Olympic races, I chose only to do the Sprint because of timing reasons, even though i prefer the Olympic distance. The Olympic race, on Saturday, went off with out issue. However, thunderstorms rolled in over night and the Sprint race was reduced to a Super Sprint (roughly half the distance in all events). It entirely changed the character of the race and while still enjoyable, it was not really what I drove all the way to Milwaukee to accomplish. In the end, I ended up doing very well, I think - it's hard to judge because I've never raced at that distance before. I finished 34th out of 81 in my age group which was depressing at first since I usually finish in the top 20%, if not the top 10%. But once I adjusted my perspective (this is Nationals and only the top 30% of the nation even qualify for it), that I finished just about where I'd expect to be. So in some theoretical way, I'm ranked 34th in the Nation for the Sprint distance in the Men's 40-44 age group. But that's not really a useful measure of ability since it only measures those that actually went to Nationals, and not everyone else that had other commitments or didn't want to travel to the race. Out of ALL US triathlon racers this year, I'm somewhere in the 600's out of 4200. Top 20% - just like it should be.
31 July 2022 - Tour de France Femmes
This is the first year of a women's tour, which started right after the men's race (well, technically, a few hours before the end, but who's counting?). After watching both tours more-or-less in their entirety, I'm struck by how they seemed remarkably different. The mens race seemed well-coordinated, professional, and planned - like watching an F1 pit crew. The women's race appeared haphazard, contradictory, and amateur. Now, please understand me correctly, in no way am I suggesting the women's physical abilities or potential are any less than the men. All involved are amazing athletes and impressive in their own right. Additionally, it's hard to compare an inaugural race with the a world premiere race that's been around for 120 years, so I acknowledge that challenge. However, I think the disparity highlights a much more important and interesting difference in the sport - money. Just looking at the prize money alone (total $2.7M for men, $250K for women) shows major disparity. But, I like to think bigger than that. Money to support a race, a team, or a world tour and all the trappings required of those things do not come from no where - ultimately it (primarily) comes from corporate sponsorship/advertising. Every aspect of a professional athlete's training and livelihood ties to money via sales/advertising/sponsorship in some way and while I've accepted that commercialization as a fact of life at this point, I think there's a disappointing theme that's playing out in professional sports because of it - the financial disparity between men and women's professional sports. The difference I witnessed between the men's and women's races is not a statement about the differences due to ability, knowledge, or any other human trait, per se. Instead, it is a stark example of the result when the world values one aspect of the sport as financially lucrative, and the other less so; that's very sad.
24 July 2022 - Tour de France
This year, I watched every stage of the Tour, except one. I'm in awe by the fitness and resolve of these cyclists. From a pure mileage standpoint, they ride 100-120 miles per day - in a race - for 21 days, in the mountains, no less. That's impressive enough as it is. But what really struck me this year, more than ever before, is how they can have a bad crash, or two, and still do all that. I had two crashes this year in May within 5 days of each other, the first being less catastrophic than the second. While I was unable to continue riding after the second because the bike was destroyed, I still had the will to continue riding for both, albeit shaken. So yes, in the Tour these are pros and they earn their livelihood through riding and I can understand the desire to get up and continue after a crash, on adrenaline alone. However, the next day, and the days that followed, I was really hurting and didn't want to ride (nevermind, 100s of miles in mountains). That's what impresses me the most - it's not the crash or the immediate pain in the race, per se. It's the lingering. pain and discomfort that affects your life 24 hours a day afterward for days or weeks on end. Can't get comfortable enough to sleep well, hobble around the room when walking, can't sit straight - that's what I remember during the recovery period. Yet these pros are still able to get up the next day, keep their mind focused, and race at a World Tour pace without rest.
20 July 2022 - Catchup year to date
A lot has happened this year that, had I started this earlier, I would have wrote about. But, they form the foundation of my cycling experiences for the year so I should at least summarize them. As of today, I sit with about 2500 miles of biking this year, a little over half of which was indoors (Zwift). That's not a lot of miles by traditional cyclist standards, but it's the most I've ever done in a year and quite sufficient by triathlon standards. I vEverested in March in 16 hours (complete the elevation of Mount Everest in 1 ride on a single (virtual) hill). I rode all the named roads in Troy in April/May (around 500 unique miles worth). I was hit by a car while riding in May, I added 2 new bikes this year for a total of 4 in my collection (yes, I need them all). I won the Armed Forces Triathlon National Championship in June. There's a lot I could have talked about over the past year. Suffice it to say, that if it's not on my mind every day, cycling is at least on my mind nearly every day.