Cyclocross test-ride: Ridley X-Bow, and how to fit on a bike pt.2

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I had friends in high-school that were really into skateboarding, were complete punk attitude, and axle-grind-kick-flipped off anything they could find in town. That was the norm-oh, and trying not to flip off the cops took effort. This is a bike that starts the rider down that road. This is not a road bike. Ridley cross bikes are aggression. Once I found a frame size that fit me, the attitude came out.

Ridley cyclocross bikes have bizarre fitment issues because everyone thinks about road bikes as their starting point of reference. Since this is 100% NOT a road bike, most of what you know on bicycle fitting is out the window. Earlier in this blog I mentioned how stand-over height really doesn’t matter anymore as it’s now all about how you feel while ON the bike, not where your junk is in relation to the top tube. You have to be comfortable with how your reach to the handlebars is and what your body can tolerate. (Not everyone can tolerate the Greg LeMond horizontal super-man position.) Ignore Ridley’s chart listed stand-over height on their cross bikes. Also ignore Ridley’s seat tube measurement to choose a size of frame. You might as well ignore the top tube measurement because the slightly different angles of those seat and head tubes change the measurements enough where you can’t count on that as selection criteria. The bottom line here, is that a Ridley cross bike is more compact and taller than what you’re used to. The bottom bracket is the single zero point of reference and it is also higher than you are used to. Every measure of what you want or like on a bike starts there. Know what you need for Reach, use a longer stem to accomplish that.

The reach is the primary factor. That is from bottom bracket center measured horizontally to where the center of the top of the head tube is located. What is it on your road bike? On my CAAD9 60cm road frame it is 404mm. Remember the goal here is slightly less – an inch shorter (25mm) or close to that. Looking at the Ridley X-Bow geometry chart, the size L reach is 389mm. About 3/4 inch less than my road frame. This was on the money of what i should expect and according to the professionals here and there, in a range where we I need it to be for my height. I made a few calls and found a shop with one in stock and actually built. I arranged a test ride and rode my CAAD9 19 miles to their store. A nice warm-up.

They did a quick fit to the bike, swapping my pedals over. Once on it I forgot what lower pressure knobby tires feel like. I thought I was on a flat, or was dragging a sail in the water. I noticed right away that this frame was more nimble than a road frame. It wasn’t right away something to be careful of, but it was noticeably easier to change direction from when in a right turn transitioning immediately to a left turn. Twitchy. I was reminded of something I read in my childhood enthusiasm for airplanes. The F-16 fighter jet was designed to be unstable so it could change directions faster and evade or attack easily. The computers keep it stable for you in the meantime. You are the computer on this bike so you had better like a more responsive ride.

I made my way up the road a bit and then found a small park with some gravel pathways allowing bike traffic. I went in for 5 minutes and came out. Holy crap, that was all it took. It had 50psi in the tires and it carved pretty well on some turns. I can only imagine what it would have been like with 30psi tubeless rims and the associated grip laying it over and digging in, leaving ruts. If I were only that talented with handling.

The X-Bow was easy to hop a rut or jump off some smaller bumps. I felt really in control and whatever handling skills I had before, were enhanced significantly on this frame. It felt much better. I’m not sure if it was psychosomatic, like wearing a tank top automatically makes you bench press another fifty pounds (or 20 kilos). But it did feel more like the satisfaction of having the right tool for the job instead of improvising with a hybrid conversion. The higher bottom bracket was not an issue. It allowed me to pedal while leaned over in turns and really get the power in earlier on corner exit.

Power transfer was great. I dare say that this frame is stiffer than my CAAD9 in acceleration force, and that bike is known as one of the stiffest aluminum road frames out there for criterium racing. A go to. Power down was a direct translation. Riding back to the shop I was on the sidewalk, some dirt paths, grass, I tried to be anywhere but on the road because I just didn’t want to be on pavement anymore. I just turned left and jumped off a curb, then bunny-hopped over road kill. I could weave and bob and dodge like a boxer. The problem here, is the new unleashed handling abilities tempt the rider to do stupid stuff on the road. The kind of things that get cyclists in trouble and give us bad names. A skater punk on a bike. Get yourself chased by cops.

Keep in mind that the X-bow is the lowest spec bike of Ridley’s cross offerings. It’s frame geometry is just a degree or two different than the upper spec bikes such as the X-ride; X-fire; X-night. The next step up is the X-ride and that aluminum frame is not only the lightest alloy cyclocross frame available (as the 2014 models go) but it shares the same geometry with the top line X-Night carbon bike. So if this X-bow is this leaning toward wicked and fun, the bikes above it must truly be special if not downright nervous and ready to over react. True fighting machines. No wonder it’s so popular around here.

[Edited notes: After racing a Fuji cross a year after this article, I can say that a higher bottom bracket is now useful if you are a rider that forcefully drives into the corner and really attacks the course pedaling everywher to get ahead. Result: you have to jump a few mil higher to remount. A geometry for committment in corners otherwist youll feel a bit tipsy]

The X-bow, according to company literature, has a frame weight of around 1800 grams, or nearly four pounds! the fork was the surprise. It weighs in at around 750 grams, or close to 1.7 pounds. This makes for a frame and fork combined weight of 5.5 pounds. Not light, but given how stiff and capable this bike is and what abuses it’s designed for, that’s pretty good. Comparing to it’s top flight X-Night, that’s 2.2 pounds heavier than the best of their best carbon offering. Separating the parts, the X-ride aluminum frame (the lightest alloy frame in cyclocross remember…) is only a pound lighter overall than the X-Bow and the majority of that is in the fork differences. All up weight of the test-ride bike is a claimed 20+ pounds. Not so bad. Two pounds can easily be lost through budget purchases of ebay stuff. Wheel rim and tire choices, seat post and handlebar stuff can all reap rewards for not much money. This bike is truly a fantastic ride for anyone wanting a maneuverable city bike (complete with pannier and fender mounts) or a great entry race bike that can compete all the way into the mid Cat levels until you become good enough the bike itself is the limitation. That’s quite a bit of fitness to attain.

This handled magnitudes better than the Trek Boone carbon cross bike I tested a few weeks ago, admittedly in street clothes, but I could immediately feel where the Boone tendencies were and they were not twitchy and nervous. This bike has personality. This bike has ability. This geometry is for punks and hooligans. What else couldmake the ride more enjoyable?

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The season is here. Ride more!

The cycling club has group training rides for any kind of upcoming event. If there is an ultra-long range or a suicidal masochistic experience that your wife signed you up for – then this training ride is for you. The Saturday morning rides are designed to ramp up the mileage every week, higher and higher, to get your body in condition to withstand the hours in the saddle and to re-learn how to hydrate and feed while riding. This way, when Ride-the Rockies comes around, you can do 500 miles over 7 days, no problem mind you since you have been training, up and down the mountains. Last week, my friend Rob rode on the first Saturday ride of the year. I follow him on a fitness application and saw it was a 40 mile ride. I saw the average speed was close to what I normally do by myself and thought this would be what I need and what I am ready to do. I wanted to get a 40 mile ride, I need to spend more time riding in groups and to learn a bit more about pace lines and that sort of thing. This was to be the longest I have ever ridden at once, but not that much farther than I’ve done twice before. I finally solved the hydration/calorie issue and was comfortable on the bike since I had the fitting. I fixed pancakes for the family and loaded myself up with a few and then drove on down to the start – the organizers house.

Roy’s driveway had a table of fueling foods. Bagels, juice, peanut butter, a honey bear and laying there a clip board showing the ride dates and distances. Several guys were standing around with very un-feminine yet structurally awesome legs chuckling about random conversations and eating peanut-butter bagels slathered with honey. Looking at the clip board I saw 40 miles was last week. Today I was destined to do 60 – or doomed was more like it. I thought I would be home by 1 pm. That assumption was so wrong now. I considered how much nutrition I brought and decided that I had enough and I should stop silently panicking. I had my caloric infused water and an energy bar I bought from some mellow dude named Cliff and a new set of slightly more recommended bib shorts in an effort to stem the tide of sore sit-bones the previous pair was likely causing. The edges of the chamois padding after thirty miles would develop a small fold or crease creating a hot spot seam where I sat. Going past thirty miles would become awful. I was hopeful this pair would fix my posterior position and started in. The ride started great. Everyone was going at my usual pace along the flats. Climbs however showed my weakness.

Cyclists, to be all around capable, must have a well-rounded muscle group for all situations. Since I check the Caucasian box, that well rounded muscle group is missing from my backside. I slowly trudge up the hills and the rest flutter past me having spent years and years exercising their backsides to correct their genetic issue. At the top of the first climb, a short one that’s really not all that tough and less than a mile, we wait for the last of us. The sweeper at the moment, the man in back to help those with flats or mechanicals, is a man named Malcolm. He is turning sixty-five this year and today is riding one hundred miles. Because he wants to but also, If I heard this right, is riding the double triple bypass event later on in the year. That event is 240 miles over two days and involves over 20,000 feet of climbing. Denver to Vail and back. He has already ridden twenty miles before starting with this group. Did I mention that I just turned forty and haven’t ridden more than thirty-six miles at any single time in life?

That was a nice warm-up. I set a personal best up that hill which is good news because two days ago I climbed the same hill and felt like a complete dog the whole time. Ten miles down. We set off towards Lyons, CO and slightly north into apple valley and to the first real climb. Just so you know, a half mile at a 22% grade means probably 6 miles per hour and for the second half of that, thoughts of where all those gears went are constant. “I thought I had more gears!” We will skip this part, but after the climb the rest of the route was rolling hills and good views that let my heart back down from 183 beats per minute. A turnaround at the end and back down to Lyons for a brief break was scheduled.

I had an espresso! I think. It really didn’t do much in me. I couldn’t tell any difference except for the twenty dollar bill was now a roll of $18. I had another bottle of water/mix left which should take care of my electrolytes and the +1 bar of Cliff should provide the additional calories on top of that. I was sitting at twenty-eight miles and we all deliberated what we wanted to do next. Continue the route or for those that did not want to could split off and head back. For those that wanted to go on there was one more climb to do and then it would be straight back to the house where we began. Some had already put in miles before this ride. One person said he was looking at four hours on the bike and that was enough. He had to go skiing tomorrow. Another had to drive into Denver that afternoon to do some work. Mentioning my previous thirty-plus mile rides to friends or family living outside Colorado is met with great appreciation and in some cases, demographically brought on astonishment. (Just try riding 30 miles in Buffalo, If you like being run over that is. Hence the amazement from in-laws over anyone riding any distance. ) In this state, Seventy mile rides are a drop in the bucket! Fifty-mile rides are considered quick weekend spins and during the week thirty miles once or twice a week is normal behavior. I was anticipating the feeling of being destroyed after seeing that clip board of sixty-miles and I was actually feeling decent. I’m going into the last hill ready to see what it’s all about but I did have a fear of hitting a wall sometime soon. I was not all that sure my provisions were enough.

Rabbit Mountain is a government open space. The road into it dead ends at the top of another twenty something percent climb. Well, it actually becomes a network of privately maintained roads with many keep-out signs. Getting there was a few miles up a road with an unnoticeable incline uphill, sort of like the tax deadline. You don’t know it’s there until you’re at the end. The big hill was just like the one before; however, this time it was at thirty-six miles. This was the farthest I had ridden yet at any single time and here was a hill served up for me. My muscles were showing signs of use at this point. I wasn’t dehydrated, but I was possibly starting a calorie deficiency. Getting up a steep hill like that is best done by spinning that last granny gear. I can go faster if I have the power but I really had no idea if I had that or not. If I chose to go deep into the lactate burn, I wouldn’t make it but I felt I couldn’t spin slower and be comfortable. I finally learned, that to make it I had to quit trying, but not quit. My legs had their own weight. I just had to focus on picking them up and let them fall down. My revolutions slowed a bit but I didn’t stop and I didn’t feel like I was going to run out of steam. I made it to the top. Not all but many of the guys waiting there had grey hair.

Downhill is fun! The fastest speed I recorded was forty-three miles-per-hour. This was limited a little bit by several riders in front. This is also the moment I was hit squarely on the bridge of the nose by a small round bug. We eventually formed a bit of a pace line back out the way we came in. The wind was ust a slight breeze from the west and as we went south the pace was at about 29mph and I rotated to the front to pull a little bit and then back, as we turned west I rotated to the front and pulled along a bit. Just that little bit of wind slowed the pace to 25mph. I recorded an average of 250 watts during this work and I could feel the drain. It wasn’t sudden but I knew I wasn’t going to last long at what was sort of comfortable before. We began our trip back over rolling hills, pretty much flat stuff through Seventeen miles to go. There is a stretch of a dip down, and then a climb back up and on that up climb is where the lack of gas was felt. After that I drank the last of my water and the list bit of the Cliff bar. I could finish but I had no idea if I would see that strain induced headache caused by the lack of electrolytes. For the last ten miles, my heart rate was at 170 or just over. Typically I never saw it into the 170 range unless there were some hills or harder effort parts. I’m comfortable with it but at this point it showed I was getting fatigued. My body was running out of fuel. Roy and another rider were in the back and helped a bit with some drafting and pacing. I wasn’t a lost cause yet, I just would not be able to maintain that nearly 20 mph the front group was doing. After the last downhill stretch, I put the coals to the last hard effort cruise I could muster just to finish strong and only had twenty seconds of that. It did not make much of a difference. 23mph. Roy and the other guy were not too far behind me. Roy is retired and also riding in the double-triple-by-pass this year.
In the grand scheme, I wasn’t too bad in the end. I finished strong enough. If I had kept going I would have had problems that make me pray for the end. I was at that tipping point and learned a lot about how the body behaves and reacts. Other riders talked a bit about how they didn’t drink enough or also didn’t have the right balance of what they brought to eat and drink. They were also learning what they need for this year. The recovery provided was a tray of more peanut butter bagels with honey, a few free cans of beer from a club sponsor and all the chocolate milk you might want to drink. The combination sounds dreadful I’m sure. Looking at the platter academically there’s the recovery your body needs, just pick your poison. Beer has quickly absorbed and metabolized sugars you happily need, peanut butter has the protein, chocolate milk refuels the muscles very quickly. If I made a peanut-butter and honey bagel sandwich with beer and a milk chaser I would probably unswallow it all, out the window, on the drive home. My little GPS computer and budget power meter tells me I burned 2,600 calories on that ride. I’m trying to recover but have to do it slowly. I just don’t feel too hungry – another sign of being close to problems. I should have felt ravenous.

I cycled 55 miles in the end. My sit-bones were not overly sore and felt about the same from mile 25 until the end. I averaged 17.6 mph, averaged 215 watts output for the whole three hours and climbed a total of 2,300 vertical feet. That was a very good ride and thanks to the drink mix I was using, (I must plug them: Hammer nutrition HEED) I did not have any ill effects afterward driving home. In fact I cleaned up and the family and I went out to look at boulders for a yard project. It’s funny you see, because we live in boulder county, where there’s boulders and we’re looking at boulders.

Next? Now I know how to endure for longer. Now I know what to eat and drink later on. Now I can ride harder and try to do that 20mph average on a 20 mile ride soon. I know I have a long way to go and am doing well and getting batter at this. I now know I need to really step up the work on climbing muscles especially If I am to try cyclocross this fall. I will be required to run up a staircase holding my bike over my shoulder a few times in an hour. It would be nice to have a rear end that lets me do that.

“Nice power!” was said to me. To a friend: “That guy over there kept killing us”

Compliments are nice to hear. I’m sure it really wasn’t that wonderful. I did ride with the B-group which is not the fast guys, but at the front of the B group is a bunch of reasonably fast-er guys. 18 mph over 19 miles is nothing to scoff at. It’s not slow and it is a good effort pace and one that can add a little bit of burn to the top of the knees that’s for sure. The comments toward me I feel good about but in no way am I letting those pump up an ego. I have a frame of reference to measure with. Now, if they were said by a Category-2 or 3 Criterium racer who has monster sprinting power, then that would be another thing. Since no such person said anything like that, I’ll just feel happily satisfied that my winter exercising had a result. Every work overnight had squats holding free-weights and lunges plus an hour on an exercise bike doing intervals designed to cover me in sweat by the end. Times three or whenever the schedule let me do it. I’ve lost weight and gained muscle in the legs. I’m not sure I had this sort of muscle before there. The end result has me able to cruise at 20mph or a little bit more across flat ground for a good long while. The trick is to know when to burn the legs for a bit and when to recover and also, knowing how to do a slow recover. Where I am still cruising fast but not just letting up and going granny slow. Since everyone else is now cycling outside and there are group events taking place that I cannot attend, I will imagine the rest of the guys with regular jobs will be able to put on more miles than I. since I am also at a point where it’s time to step up the weight and increase the reps and start building power, I can’t let up now. It would be nice to have the speed to run with the A group for 30 miles by the end of the summer. I started to three-step run the hotel staircase up to the top floor twice a night. I’m starting to do more things as I don’t feel completely used up by each exercise. I am needing more so I will have to sit down and figure out a routine that maximizes my time each night at work. Look for that post coming up soon.

Learning to ride in groups. first ride on the new fit.

I had the bike properly fit and put on new tires on the newer wheels. this bike was ready to roll! The group ride was my first ride with multiple people. I can tell you that with only six people around me, I had to get used to just knowing where they were at all times. Developing a pivoting head is necessary as well as slow movements so I don’t freak others out or overlap wheels (a horrible and painful way to the ground at 30mph). I was in the B group. The A group already left and they are the fast guys who compete in area events sometimes. The B group split into two halves. the faster guys who aren’t yet ready for the A group and then the B riders who just aren’t able to put in the power due to physical limitations or age or whatever. they can still travel far and have endurance, but blistering along at 25mph for a while is past their own personal limits. I started off riding along. Once we got out of the busy streets into the countryside things opened up. I was along with the slower riders for a while, probably 10-15 minutes, then I began to make it worse for myself. Add some more speed, getting a bit of a workout. that’s why i’m here. Not just exercise but to get better. So I caught up to the lead of the B group. their pace was a good one. I don’t normally press on that hard for longer range cruising but I suppose I should now. It wasn’t too bad. there is just a touch of burn in the knees involved in that speed. If I pressed on the burn would be much more and I wouldn’t be able to hold that pace. that’s the glycogen I’m burning away. My fuel! Burn just a teeny bit going along the flat grounds, burn more going up a hill, relax a bit on the other side and recover, then burn a little bit again. That’s the way i’m doing it.

Pace lines. that is interesting. It’s when a group of guys ride in a single file line but rotate positions. the guy in back moves over and pulls to the front of the line and then moves over to the front and relaxes a bit while the next guy in line follows him up to the front and takes that position. Done right, the whole group rides much faster than they would have before and saves power in the end. the problem is it takes coordination and knowing those around you. If the guy in front is too fast the others don’t get that rest they need to make the pace line work. I was in my first line and after two rotations I wound up not slowing down enough….they couldn’t catch me. I thought I did slow down enough but It’s all a learning thing. that’s why we’re all here.

So 18 miles in one hour. I am very happy with that average. there were a few rises and descents but nothing drastic. the good news is that I was completely fine on the seat. No soreness as before. No back aches beyond normal forty-year-old stuff. No shoulder strain. I felt fine. There was easily another 10 or 15 miles in me if we were to keep going. This is going to be a fun summer if I can only get a schedule that works for group rides. Solo riding is good, but groups are a lot more fun. Especially when followed by a nitro porter and quesadillas.

Getting fitted properly is a huge difference.

You and I can’t come nearly as close to adjusting the seat position as we think we can. There is a lot more to this than the majority of people riding a bike have an idea about. I paid for and received a professional bicycle fitting. I really didn’t know about this practice until I moved to Colorado and only then, when talking to my friend rob about his recent bike purchases. There is well trained technique to this art. The result? An absolutely comfortable position on the bike. I was having problems with comfort on the seat as well as back strain after forty-five minutes or so of riding. So, after I finally acquired the parts I wanted to have on the bike, and the proper frame size as well, I went in and had it done.

The fitter is trained by the Specialized/BG-Body Geometry people to do fits based on your physical characteristics. I had my range of motion of legs, shoulders, neck, hips and ankles all checked and logged. This all includes the natural motion inclinations, all having to do with the knees and feet. For example, sitting on the edge of a table with your feet dangling down, bend forward and then sit up again. You might see your feet rotate inward or outward and then back to neutral through that motion. If your feet are clipped into the pedals and the cleats are in the wrong spot, you could easily damage your knees through those unnatural motions. just yesterday I was riding behind someone who had a knee that was way out to the left when he pedaled. that’s just his natural movement. some people can ride with their torso just flat or way down near level. For example Greg Lemond did this during his career but he had back strength and natural motion range to allow that. I do not. So whatever is a competitive and fast fit where I am comfortable is the solution.

For my fitting, the end result is the following: I have seriously flat feet (over pronation) where I had to get insoles for higher arch support and then a wedge under the ball of my foot. This corrected that pronation and made power delivery into the pedal much more direct, therefore efficient. The Seat height was then adjusted for the proper leg angle extensions. My knee was still not far forward enough in my range of motion while pedaling so the seat was moved much more forward. the posts I had were limited in how far the seat could move forward so that’s when I bought a basic straight seat post with a zero offset that let the seat move forward enough. (Usually an offset post has the seat mounting geometrically behind the line of the post) Once that was taken care of, the handlebars were just a touch out of comfortable reach. I could reach them yes, but I was previously resting a lot of weight on the bars and the tension was huge in my shoulders and then down my back. We flipped the neck upside down which raised the bars a bit and also brought them just a touch closer. At that point, I was comfortable and when I went down into the drops of the bars, I felt the power come on. If I had to cruise fast, I could just motor along with much better speed. Now I was ready for this bike and the summer. I can ride fine and pain free. The total cost was $200 for the fit, and plus anything I had to buy to make it comfortable where the stock parts did not work. Just insoles for the shoes and the seat post totaled everything out to about $310. Honestly that’s a whole lot of money to go spending on adjusting parts. That’s half of what I paid for the bike! Given the prices of the newer bikes out there and how high it can get, $300 is really nothing compared to that and for a perfectly comfortable ride, especially if your serious about putting on some miles on a nice bike, it’s worth it. Just as an example, if the weather is good and I have my usual 3 days off after I get home from work, I’ll probably put on nearly 100 miles in two rides this summer. I anticipate 2,000 miles or more for the year and this fit is worth the money if that is to be the case.