9 Apr 2010

April full


Ist April 2010. 38F, wet and windy turning to snow then sleet. An 8 mile shopping trip left me soaked to the skin. I need a mud flap on my front mudguard. The water was pouring off the front wheel, through the ventilation net of my shoes and out of the cleat fixing area of the soles. My windproof jacket is not remotely waterproof. The road was so wet that standing water was lying in sheets.

April 2nd. 41-47F. Mostly dry but windy again. 12m/s = 25mph. I decided to tip  the Brooks slightly nose up to see if it helped. Not noticeably. My confidence is improving so I am increasing my radius from home to take in new places. I  should have done the headwind leg first but that is rarely possible if one has a particular goal. Pedals still good as are the shoes. Saddle still extremely variable. 35 miles.

April 3rd. 37-41F. Cool, very windy. Only time for a couple of short rides. The shop in Odense replaced my GPS unit under guarantee without a problem. Rain forecast all day for tomorrow. I suppose it will help to dilute the remaining road salt. It may even wash away some of the dunes of sand. Which was presumably mixed into the salt for more grip. Or was part of the rock salt.

I have to make a decision soon on touching up the paintwork on the Higgins. (or completely repainting it) I have to do something to stop it rusting where there is now only bare metal. Much as I liked the original purple I find it a bit dowdy now. The problem is then of finding a matching touch up paint. Or worse; making a decision on a new colour. I don't have the funds, right now, to hand the job to a bike painting specialist. Though there is a local car sprayer where I know one of the staff.  I might ask about pricing. They have a baking oven and may even have a more gentle form of "sand" blasting. I don't know anybody who does powder coating. Or even if it is applicable to a 56 year-old, 531 trike frame. I'll have to do some homework online. Only 18 miles today.

April 4th 42F. Slightly less windy. Took advantage of a window forecast between showers. 30 miles.

April 5th. Easter Monday.  40-44F. Overcast with a stiff westerly breeze. Most of the supermarkets were closed today. Wandered the empty coastal roads and deserted gravel tracks heading north until I found a rural supermarket which is usually open.

Trikes are not really at home on potholed and corrugated gravel tracks. The trike rocks wildly from side to side and the steering gets very unpredictable. With the handlebars thrashing about. Provided one keeps a light touch on the bars it  is usually safe enough. It helps to lift off the saddle to let the trike do its wild cavorting without rattling one's teeth. Having had so much recent practice on ice and snow I just press on as quickly as I dare. I constantly choose my line to stay on the smoothest areas.

Flattened rafts of reeds line the edges of the sea in a quiet inlet north of Assens. The water is covered in a whole variety of nervous birds from swans to large geese to small waders, gulls and ducks. They rise and move away complaining loudly at my disturbance. The track snakes between isolated cottages and farms out on the drained, coastal marshes. This track even has its own cycle route number. [70] Though it is more suitable for a fully suspended mountain bike, with fat tyres, rather than a skinny, lightweight trike on rock hard 700x23s.

The Brooks Professional is getting worse instead of better. Despite over 500 miles riding on it the leather refuses to sink to the pressure of my left sit bone. It could be the 15-odd years in warm, dry, LBS storage which has stiffened the leather excessively. It is becoming so painful to ride on it that I will now have to take desperate measures! It is really spoiling the pleasure of cycling. Either I will have to try some saddle oil in the sit bone area. Or I will have to rest something rounded and heavy on that same area to make the leather sink. Provided it sinks below the present convex form it doesn't matter how, why or when it happens as long as it is soon. The right side is not nearly so bad because it has already wrinkled and deformed slightly to my constantly applied weight and movements as I pedal.

There are no seams in any of my various racing shorts. They go into the wash after every ride anyway. So I really can't blame the shorts for the continuing discomfort. The padding in each pair is different from the others. I have no saddle boils or spots. It is all a matter of localised pressure with not enough padding in the affected area of my anatomy. I  have tried tipping the nose up and moving the saddle back and forth, within its range. Even adjusting the height up and down. Nothing helps. The saddle actually looks oddly twisted now. The leather on the right side is much more wrinkled than the left but the right side is higher.

My Brooks Professional saddle after 520 miles.

Cruel and unnatural treatment? A batten through the saddle wires provides resistance to the two G-cramps *very gently* deforming the leather top. I have protected the leather with closed cell foam to soften the pressure points. First  I applied a little horse saddle oil only to the pressure areas on top and on the undersides. The spine of the saddle must not be softened or deformed so I carefully avoided getting any oil on this area by using a single digit as the applicator.

I sat on various breadths of timber to discover that my sit bones are about 3.5" apart where it matters. So they fall naturally within the correct area of the saddle. Though it may be that they are also being forced apart by the convex curvature of the very stiff saddle top. As well as suffering from localised pressure.  I  have only deformed the leather by about 1/4" with the cramps. The leather is far too hard/stiff to bend this far with my bare hands. Though the right side is very noticeably softer than the left to finger pressure. The deformation with the cramps can be repeated as often as necessary. BTW: Left and right are relative to the forward-facing rider. Not as seen in the images above.

I have no intention of damaging my precious saddle. I only want to accelerate the breaking in to save myself from further suffering. If something doesn't give soon I'll have to go back to the Vetta SL! It really is that bad. The Brooks has become the new and severe limitation on my daily mileage. I can still feel my poor, complaining sit bones as I sit here in a comfortable chair at the computer. Grr. One thing after another!

Well, I gave the cramps an hour and checked the leather deformation after removing the cramps. The right side seems a fraction lower than before. The left side returned to its original convex form! So I have added more protective foam and screwed down a bit more on the left cramp. The right cramp has been removed.  I'll check the curves again after a couple of hours to see if any progress is being made. If the cramp doesn't press it down permanently it is hardly surprising the left side hasn't moved despite the 520 miles of exposure to my sit bones and a goodly proportion of my near-12 stone.

Here's a link to a fairly decent image of the human pelvic girdle and the offending sit bones: [Lat: Ischial tuberosities]


It seems too obvious to mention that most of us will have different spacing and different forms of these bony extensions. Our skeletons are all very different from each other just as a result of our skeletal frame size, height, reach and leg length. Expecting one saddle to fit all is never likely to make much sense. The promise of perfect comfort, some time down the road, no longer outweighs the countless miles of real pain and discomfort. Many do not reach leather saddle nirvana and will have suffered (perhaps) months of pain without ever receiving the final reward. Of a saddle which does not torture them whenever they climb onto it.

If you find a man-made saddle which you can live with in perfect, long term harmony give grateful thanks. I strongly suggest that you invest in another example before the manufacturer goes bust, is taken over or changes his product lines for the worse. Just be absolutely sure you don't end up with two identical saddles which you loath and detest after 50 miles of riding. Don't expect your saddle to feel comfortable after a lay-off either. You have to rebuild the muscular support and pedalling strength before you become acclimatised (once again) to your old saddle. No doubt most saddle sales occur in the spring. Patience may, or may not, be rewarded if last season's saddle still felt perfectly comfortable after a long ride. With luck and patience it should do so again.

April 6th. 52F. Winds lighter. I left the G-cramps on the saddle overnight with rubber pads to protect the leather. It seems to have worked. (almost) Once mounted, there was a total lack of pain after the misery of the last few days. Only after 15 miles did I begin to notice the localised pressure on the left side. Then it passed and I forgot about the saddle again. It may have started hurting because I was climbing a lot of long steep hills with my hands on the centre tops of the 'bars. I was following my wife's suggestion in wearing two pairs of padded shorts which certainly helped improve comfort.

Don't take my word for it that I have solved the leather saddle, break-in problem. Don't blame me if you try the same idea and utterly ruin your beautiful saddle. I have ridden mine for over 500 miles and applied Proofide. Even tried some saddle oil to distinct areas only. It is extremely unlikely your own treatment of your saddle remotely matches mine. It is guaranteed our bone geometries do not match. The likelihood of your leather being the same as mine is also extremely slim. Mine doesn't even seem to match from one side to the other. I presume the original skin has been cut mildly wedge-shaped rather than of perfectly even thickness. It may be that leather is not entirely predictable over the width of a saddle.  Brooks today is probably not the Brooks of fifteen years ago. Nor will most buyers get such an old saddle masquerading as new.

I am fully aware that a single depression of the leather, by indecent force, is not the same as hundreds of thousands of applications of oscillating pressure by my own sit bones. It's just that I don't feel I have very much choice in the matter any more. I have tried both ways. Only the wrong way produced a result which allowed me to continue cycling in some comfort. The correct way patently did not! Not even after 500 miles of increasing pain and discomfort! Once injury is caused it takes time to recover. Even when the offending object is removed or modified.    

The saddle leather marks incredibly easily. So I used the large rubber sealing pads from the new cycling shoes for protection from the cramps. These pads were ideal. Being slightly curved, soft but firm and of a good thickness. I think I will apply only one cramp overnight on the recalcitrant side. Just to show who is boss. It still hasn't sunk remotely as far as the other side. I am using the shape and orientation of the depression on the right as the model for the left. I have no reason to suppose that I am particularly lop-sided down there. Time will tell.

The feeling when I first climbed on the trike today was a saddle contour which fitted me like it had been moulded to me. It reminded me of one of those old, pressed steel, vintage tractor seats. The ones that look as if they have been shaped on a real person's derrière. A glimpse, perhaps, of the ideal, leather saddle form once it has been fully broken in.  The curves are still very subtle, even now. 25 mostly comfortable miles, uphill and down, in the weak, spring sunshine.

April 7th. 48-51F Sunny and windy again. Took the cramps off the saddle but it was instantly uncomfortable on the left side as I climbed on. Probably bruising caused by previous rides. The saddle varied from hurting to unnoticeable over the next 23 miles. I only had a 2 hour window to ride in.

A burst pipe blocked my way down a tiny rural lane. With no easy route options I took to the soggy field for a hundred yards. Then continued on my way. I'm now wearing a florescent, Giordana cycling jacket. Many motorists seem to be getting rather close in their desperate attempts to get past. Despite being thin and lightweight the jacket is amazingly windproof. I started off wearing a jumper under it but soon removed it. With just the polyester vest underneath the tightly knit polyester jacket wasn't at all sweaty and was very comfortable at 50F temperatures. My vest also remained dry instead of becoming wringing wet down the back as it usually does with heavier jackets.

I now weigh 11.5 stone, 160lbs or 74kg in my shorts and vest. Height 5'10".  I think I was somewhere around 13.5 stone last summer before I started riding a trike seriously. The amazing improvement in my health is all down to cycling. My diet hasn't changed much. Though I always ate fairly sensibly. There used to be the weekly Danish pastries at work and lots of free, but foul, industrial grade black coffee. Those have both disappeared from my diet. We haven't had sugar in the house for decades. I have always avoided fizzy sugar drinks. I drink pure apple juice from a small box with a straw if I'm thirsty these days. Though usually I forget to drink it when I'm out on the trike. This is probably a mistake and I should really drink and eat more on a ride to keep me going.

April 8th. 45-50F. I listened to my wife's advice and put two pairs of racing shorts on again. It worked well with very little discomfort from the saddle today. I was feeling quite strong and enjoyed the ride more than usual. This was despite pushing myself quite hard on the hills and into the wind. It occurs to me that the shopping bag must add a couple of square feet to my frontal area. Which is okay when it's full of shopping but could be reduced considerably when empty. Perhaps I should experiment with a strap or two to draw it into a smaller drag profile? While it may be partially obscured by my flailing legs it is still a very box-shaped parachute. It is also getting heavier as my tool kit grows foolishly to cover every possible eventuality. I worry about being marooned and having to walk back a long way as I push my geographical radius ever outwards. A 30 minute ride at 25mph with a tail wind is a very long walk back. There are very few local bike shops on any of my usual routes. 

I really like this new Giordana florescent jacket. It is extremely windproof without extra warmth but still breathes. I just need to remember to take off my jumper a bit earlier before I become too hot. The fear, out on an exposed road, is that I will be too cold without the jumper. Amazingly it's just not true. I just need a few more days of wear to fully accept the concept of modern, windproof, cycling clothing. The elastic in the hem of the jacket needs loosening because it tends to ride up despite the specially long shaping at the rear.  I certainly feel a lot safer in it. I also get a lot more worried glances from would-be suicidal pedestrians as they decide whether to throw themselves under my wheels. Thankfully it looks more like serious cycling wear than my usual dull assortment of winter fleece jackets. Shame about the total lack of pockets. I need a thinner. skullcap, type hat now. My trusty Thinsulate tea cosy is just too warm for 50F. My bike computer rolled over the 1000 mile mark again as I neared home. 25 miles today.

April 9th. 40-46F. Breezy with lots of movement in the trees. I chose the hilliest route I know of with three long hills and lots of smaller ones. I took my jumper off when I warmed up on one long hill but should have put it back on again later. It stayed cold and so did I. Which was a bit silly. I kept going for 30 miles.

I have been experimenting recently with the effect of my one wheel left hand drive on heavily cambered deserted lanes. Naturally I am interested in the effect of left hand drive on Continental roads. OWD seems to be no real handicap on the flat but is very noticeably beneficial on the left of the road. As in the UK. When climbing steep hills the left hand drive helps to lift the trike out of the gutter. The tendency is for the trike to "fall" down the camber towards the left but this is nicely counteracted by the left hand drive. So OWD on the left side is a natural choice for the UK.  If I was heavily laden for touring or wanted the maximum performance for racing I might buy a 2WD system or order it with a new trike. Sprinting out of the saddle would be much easier with 2WD. If I still lived in the UK I probably wouldn't give half as much thought to investing in Two Wheel Drive as I do over here. 

The real problems only start when riding on the (Continental and US) right hand side of the road with left hand side OWD. When climbing steeper hills the front wheel lifts easily and tries to jump hard to the right. The camber is now working against you.  Not only will the trike be driven down the camber by the OWD but the front wheel will see only fresh air as it lifts instead of the solid crown of the road. (As in the UK) The front wheel  tries to turn sideways (to the left) too unless quickly corrected.  The lower the gear the worse it all becomes.

Many cyclists tend to place their hands on the tops of the handlebars, on either side of the stem, when climbing. It just feels like the natural thing to do because it aids breathing and allows you to relax as you climb. This has the distinct disadvantage of pushing the centre of gravity of the rider even further backwards. Further lightening the load on the front wheel. The incline is already pushing the centre of gravity backwards by rotating the rider backwards.  The steeper the camber and the greater the incline the worse it becomes. The combined effect of the camber, the incline, the low gear, the rider's position and any load at the rear is all cumulative. The front wheel lifts with nothing to resist its tendency to swing to the right. Climbing a steep hill becomes a series of front wheel hops and corrections. Leaning well forwards helps a bit but one automatically begins to climb out of the saddle after a while. Standing on the pedals is the only guaranteed way to keep the front wheel firmly down. Though this is quickly exhausting and leaves you no option to select a very low gear and grind your way steadily upwards.    

Why a road needs heavy camber on a steep hill seems odd at first. Perhaps it is to shed water onto the verge to stop it running the entire length of the hill. Thereby avoiding potential flooding at the bottom of the hill. One cannot demand less camber on steep hills just because one rides a trike. Particularly if one is obtuse enough to ride a left hand drive trike on the Continent or in the USA.

Two wheel drive (2WD) makes real sense here. The twin freewheel types of two wheel drive always send your pedalling power to the slower (inner) wheel as you follow any radius. No matter how large or small that radius might be. So in theory it should send the power to the right hand wheel if there is any tendency for the front wheel to lift to the right. The right rear wheel automatically becomes the inner (slower) wheel. The power is then automatically sent to the right rear wheel to help to fight the effects of camber. In practice the drive shifts rapidly back and forth to each independent freewheel in turn. 

Lest anyone should think a one wheel, left hand drive is impossible to use on the Continent nothing could be further from the truth. Only on steep inclines and low pedal rpm does it become a bit of an embarrassment. Keeping up a reasonable cadence avoids a jerky ride with the front wheel pawing the air on each power stoke on the pedals. 

April 10th. Almost a frost overnight. Started my ride at 34F and finished at 40F nearly two hours later. The cold wind increased all day to 15m/s (35mph) and a warmer 50F in the sunshine. Still cool in the shade. 20 miles early morning then 8 miles late afternoon. I have noticed strange pains in my legs for the first time in 6 months. Not the pain of tiredness or lactic acid but odd aches and a feeling like cramp. It may be due to too many hours standing around this week. It was the endless standing which ruined my physical health on the last job.  I have started a new job on a month's trial. I can try limiting the  amount of standing to see if it helps. Perhaps I have been overdoing the training rides and just need a rest day?

I bought a cheap gel saddle cover from a supermarket special offer which was amazingly comfortable on the first, 8 mile ride. It will save a bit of extra laundry not having to wear two pairs of racing shorts for every ride. No doubt doubling up on shorts would become too warm as spring turns to summer. Hopefully by then the Brooks Professional saddle will be far more comfortable. My feeling is that the gel saddle cover will allow the saddle to continue breaking in but without causing me so much discomfort. The cover was so inexpensive that it seemed worth trying. If it had not worked as hoped then little would have been lost. If it allows my nether regions to safely recover from the bruising the saddle has already caused then it will have been well worthwhile.

Brooks Professional. The right hand side could be said to be almost broken in. It has a large smooth depression almost to the centre line. The left side has hardly started to sink into a depression to match my left sit bone. The light spot at the centre rear is where a tiny piece of leather fell out leaving a small,  jagged hole. Perhaps it was a pore?

It is difficult to capture the still-shiny leather of the Brooks Professional to show the effects of natural wear and breaking in. Only the right hand side is depressed into a slightly concave form from well towards the centre of the saddle to the outer edge. The left side remains much the same convex shape as when new. The surface wrinkles are much more obvious on the right. Almost non-existent on the left except at the outer edge. This is after 650 miles!

Here I have outlined the wrinkled areas of the saddle to make it clearer where the depressions lie. It is obvious that one side is far more advanced towards breaking in than the other. Only the left side hurts.

I am now tempted to try the moisture treatment mentioned on a website. A damp cloth is placed only over the area required to be modified for an hour. Then the saddle is rode on while still damp. A G-cramp (C-clamp) and a piece of soft rubber packing will do instead for a first experiment.  I will try the left side only to see if it works.

Three overall applications of Proofide and two (localised) of horse saddle oil have had no effect on the very hard left side so far. The yellow line indicates where a depression needs to spread even to start matching the present right hand side. The difference in feel between the two sides is even more noticeable now.  The right side flexes to my thumb pressure in the middle of the depression. The left side not at all. No matter how hard I press in a similar position it does not move.

I knew I should have bought a bigger trike! Looks like I'm carrying a bit of extra ballast in the jacket too! :-)

April 11th. Cold, grey and windy again. 40-42F. 15m/s = 32mph. Sun forecast all day but it has been overcast since early on. Tried to find a route which avoided a head wind but it is so strong every direction seemed to have a head wind. The trike itself complains about the wind with a forlorn whistle from the perforations in the brake levers. I went out in two jackets and a jumper and still had them all on when I returned! My eyes were watering and my nose running continuously and I wasn't going anywhere fast today. Except for one iffy descent at 32 mph on a very bumpy main road with a a car on my shoulder desperate to pass me in the built up area!  After 27miles, mostly on the middle chainring, I'd had enough for one day. It really is raw and downright unpleasant out there!

Specialized Tahoe shoes now with properly centralised SPD cleats.I has originally set them for maximum crank clearance for my big feet but it really wasn't necessary.

The gel saddle cover was fine until after 18 miles and then my left cheek started hurting again. Not as badly as before but it's obviously going to take time to recover from the damage already done. My left thigh also feels a bit tight and as if it is strained. Not badly, but enough to make me want to ease off a bit on the hills. I have lowered the saddle slightly and moved the shoe cleats to the centre. Just to see if it reduces the odd aches I have been getting. There was no need to offset the cleats like I did at first. There is plenty of crank clearance for the largest of shoes.

Perhaps I am  simply overdoing it in trying to build my average mileage to 30 per day? If I went more slowly it probably wouldn't be a problem riding 30miles, or more, every day. It's just that I try and ride hard all of the time and it is taking it out of me. Perhaps it is just my age? Or I shouldn't expect to be able to ride like this only 8 months from hardly riding at all? Particularly considering my fitness level when I started.

I may have been very lucky in avoiding any injury so far. Careful attention to my position on the trike and a very steady build up may have protected me so far. Instead of riding a lot further I have been trying to ride harder and faster recently. Taking every advantage of my increasing fitness. Particularly up the hills. I ride for speed. Not duration.

It has been consistently windy for what seems like weeks now. 12-15m/s winds have become a daily routine no matter from which direction it blows. It is a real struggle at times to keep up a good speed (above a 12mph minimum) into a strong headwind. It is very tiring to ride fast in windy conditions no matter how low a gear I select and try to increase my cadence to compensate. When the wind, or the incline eases off,  I immediately change up a gear or two. Then start pushing harder again. My expectations have been increasing in line with with my improved fitness level.

Perhaps I am simply expecting too much from an ageing body? If I had ridden seriously all of my life I would have had many hundreds of thousands of miles of accumulated muscle strength and sinewy  toughness by now. I didn't do so and my overall mileage in the last decade is still quite pitiful even now. When I was young I rode as many miles in a week as I average in a month these days. I lived on the bike and always road hard wherever I went. It became a habit. What a shame that I did not continue.     


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