Monthly Archives: July 2015

Why it’s good to ride with cyclists who are better than we are (sometimes)….

Aracena CoachingVito Valentini
  Tom and Juan must be reviewing my data              He who laughs last laughs best!

Juan (Aracena Cycling Coaching) invited me to ride this past Wednesday morning so that he could assess my starting point in order to begin the coaching process.  My goals are pretty simple:

  • I would like to improve my general cycling skills (I began teaching indoor cycling in 2006 and wanted to be a better teacher so began cycling in 2007 at the age of 48.  My students have told me that I am a good teacher and coach but I know that I have a long way to go before I feel really solid going downhill at 60kph, climb to what I believe is my potential and fell really comfortable riding in the drops)
  • I would like to finish Campagnolo Gran Fondo NY in under 8 hours in 2016; I have never finished in under 9
  • I would like to improve my coaching ability

There was really nothing formal about the scheduled ride so I posted it on FB and was happy to see that my friend Tom decided to join us.  (By the way if you are interested in joining us for a weekend ride please visit the Gavia Cycling FB page).  As we were leaving the parking lot Leo joined us as well and off we went.  To give you and idea of who I was riding with:

  • Juan have been a cyclist for longer that he will admit, has been coaching cyclists for more years than he will admit, and has been the NJ Masters Champion
  • Tom participates in 12 and 24 hour time trials (yes, you read it right)
  • Leo is simply a beast of a cyclist

Thankfully Tom was out for a recovery ride so I only had to kill myself to keep up; the other two guys went ahead of us in River Road and only had to come back down about 100 meters at the top of Alpine to put the group back together.  Off we went to 9W, around the back to Tweed (Leo went off to the right and headed back) and Juan, Tom and I headed to Nyack for a snack at True Foods.

We rode Tweed back, those hills are always fun headed south, then 9W into the park and home.  During our ride back Juan spent some time working with me, teaching me proper technique related to riding in the drops, tugging on my handlebars from time to time to teach me balance and then showing me how to stand up, climbing State Line in the drops with a heavier gear than normal so that I could practice the side to side movement of the bike while leaning over the handlebars.  In this case it pays to be heavier than light as the upper movement helps improve your speed uphill – if one were to use the words “speed” and “uphill” in the same sentence when describing my cycling…….

For the Strava gang, no surprise that I had 23 PR’s riding with these guys; more importantly I was required to ride at a higher level than I could ride on my own – the biggest benefit of riding with people better than you.  I would encourage cyclists of all levels to do that from time to time – ride with people better than you even if they aren’t going to coach you or wait for you.  Let them know ahead of time that you would like to join the ride, even if it is for a short period of time.  I learned from my friend Juan Carlos a while ago that if the general makeup of the group is a little stronger than your level, try to remain in the middle of the group.  If you begin to detach the people behind you will simply pass; if the group is large enough you will recover while some of the group pass you and still won’t get shelled out the back.  Typically though, there is always someone who is happy to help bridge you back up.  The exception – when the group is a training group and you see them riding single file, time trialing or pace lining; let them be, they are involved in serious training and we ought not disturb that.

One of the things I like most about cycling is the social aspect of the sport.  In no other sport are the fans able to get so close to the professionals before, during and after the event; in training we all ride the same roads and for the most part everyone is really nice.  If you are new to the sport it is pretty easy to find a group of people to ride with and if you are trying to improve, just find a better group; you will develop relationships with some really great people and improve just by showing up and riding your bike, as I did on Wednesday……

There is no barrier to entry – just get on your bike and go!


How to Choose the Most Comfortable Cycling Saddle

The three most important points of contact when we ride our bikes are the handlebars, the saddle and the pedals.  Out of those three there is one that can’t win: it either causes us the most amount of pain or we forget that it exists.  Knowing that our saddle has no ego our goal is to choose the saddle that allows us to forget that it exists!

Different types of Saddles

Selle San Marco Selle San Marco           Contoured back vs. flat saddle                                          Solid vs. cutout

I have shown three different types of saddles.  Notice the saddles in the photo on the left are slightly different in that the mounted saddle is completely flat while the saddle sitting on the top tube has a slight contour at the back.  The saddles on the right differ in their construction; one has a cutout in the middle and the other does not.  I have ridden all three of these saddles and have been comfortable on all three.

Selle San Marco
I am really lucky to be a member of Gruppo Sportivo Gran Fondo NY, the ambassador team for Campagnolo Gran Fondo NY; as a member of that team I am sponsored by Selle San Marco and have been since September, 2011.  I have been cycling since 2006, my first bike was an aluminum Merckx that came with a Selle San Marco saddle; I have never ridden anything else and see no reason to change.  The company has been hand-making saddles in the same town in Italy since 1935; they currently make approximately 600,000 saddles per year, still by hand, still in the same town in Italy.  The process by which we choose our saddles doesn’t change and you can use this process to decide on a specific saddle made by your favorite brand as well.  (Just thought I would let you know that Andre Greipel rode a Selle san Marco saddle to four sprint victories in this year’s Tour de France).

Body Type and Position on the Bike

It is important to have a knowledgeable person help you choose a saddle, and even after they do, you need to ride with the saddle for a short period of time.  Every high quality bike shop has what is called a “test kit” provided to them by the saddle manufacturers; those test kits are there to help customers choose and then test the saddle for a short period of time – usually a couple of rides will tell the tale.  Strictly Bicycles is a client of mine and my friend Juan Carlos works in sales/customer service at the shop.  He is a Cat 1 racer and is good at explaining to people that what works for him may not necessarily work for them.  I have included a photo of our group getting ready to head out to the start of Campagnolo Gran Fondo NY 2015; Juan Carlos and I are the two guys in the center, me with the sunglasses and Juan Carlos to my right in the white/black shorts

Gran Fondo NY

He is about 150 pounds soaking wet, I am 190, we are about the same height; he is 27 years old, I am 57.  He has been a bike racer for most of his life, I began cycling at 48, he sits in the low sprinter position and rides in the drops quite often while I have arthritis in my spine and therefore have to work at becoming more flexible.  So when you walk into a store and the salesperson tells you to buy something because it is what he uses, turn and run the other way; cycling, especially when it comes to bikes and saddles, is NOT a one size fits all sport!

The Saddle Buying Process

Saddle technology changes, the really good companies spend time and money on innovation; even if you are completely happy with your current saddle at some point it begins to wear out.  It is worth paying a visit to your local bike shop to find out what’s new.  When you do, it is worth going to the shop on or with your bike so that the person attending to your needs will be able to assess your riding style and position on the bike, looking for measurements such as the difference in height between your handlebars and your saddle, your fore and aft position on the bike, your position on the saddle so that they can determine whether a narrow or wide saddle might be bets for you, the amount of time you spend on the bike, whether your race or commute, how long you have been riding, etc.  If you are fortunate you will get someone who is experienced in bike fitting.  Through the question and answer process they will help determine the best saddle for you and mount a test saddle on your bike, let you use it for a few days or rides, and then have you give them some feedback as to comfort, fit, etc.

If you would like to get a head start on the process, Selle San Marco has a simple app (DiMA) on their website – or you can download it to your smartphone – and with five simple questions the application provides you with the name and model of the saddle most appropriate for you.  I don’t believe the app is a substitute for visiting your local bike shop, but it gives you some idea of what to expect when you get to the shop.

Bike Fit

Bike fit is part art, part science – one requires both.  Some people have great intuition when it comes to fit, some people study, study and study.  In my experience a good fitter does enough of both so that their intuition is supported by science, knowledge, experience and their process of continuous learning.  One of the great things about the world we live in today is that information is easily accessible to those who are willing to invest the time to learn; the person doing your fit should be experienced AND should be involved in a process of continuous learning.  Ask about their experience before you let them fit you.  I like people that ask questions rather than give the pat answer (Juan Aracena of Aracena Coaching is someone I trust and have recommended to friends and people I ride with).

A Couple of Related Items

I know from being and indoor cycling instructor and coach that many people use gel pads.  Please destroy your and invest in a high quality pair of cycling-specific shorts (or cycling-specific long pants if you don’t feel comfortable in shorts – I wore long pants for two years until I figured out that no one was really interested in my legs…..but do what is comfortable for you).  The connection to your bike, indoors or on the road, is one of the most important considerations in safe and effective cycling; the gel pad is an added slippery layer that causes an unsafe condition and can also cause irritation.  Please dispose of it as soon as possible!  Please purchase a jar of high quality chamois cream and use it whenever you ride; some are better than others, there are lots of choices, there are gender specific creams – please use it for both comfort and health reasons.

Selle san Marco

We’re smiling after 100 miles on our perfectly fit saddles, using cycling specific shorts & chamois cream!

Please don’t feel like you need to know everything right away.  Cycling mimics life – we learn as we go so we can grow.

Please feel free to email me if you have any questions:

Enjoy your ride!

We Can Always Do a Little More Than We Think We can

In my attempt to get the entire world riding bikes I created a series of group rides using the name “Gavia Cycling”.  I integrate the new groups into the existing group ride I lead on the weekends, typically beginning at Strictly Bicycles.  Today was the first ride from Port Imperial with a stop to pick up participants at The Modern in Fort Lee then meet the rest of the group at the entrance to River Road (the park that runs along the Hudson River from Fort Lee to Alpine) and north to Nyack we go!

River Road Group Photo July 25 2015our group after completing Alpine Climb – notice John’s facial expression!!

John exemplifies the title of this story – he has absolutely no quit in him.  He completed the Medio Fondo course of Campagnolo Gran Fondo NY 2015 that included the climb to the top of Bear Mountain.  To give you some perspective, the racers that day completed the approximately 8.5km/5mile climb in under 15 minutes; normal people like me and my wife Melanie complete the climb in 30 to 35 minutes….John climbed for almost 90 minutes that day.  90 Minutes – pedal stroke by pedal stroke (perhaps feeling as if he were going to have a stroke) he just kept going until he got to the top.

Our goal today was to enjoy a simple group ride to Nyack and back – the “back” requires a little bit of climbing, nothing like Bear, and the choice is simple – climb early and get it out of the way or take the flat road home and climb at the end – I usually let the group decide (actually today I found out that our group is referred to as “the Dog Pound”) unless of course there is a lady present in our group in which case the choice is hers, as it should be.  Scenic flat route was the choice…..but of course my friend John decided midway through the ride that he would show us a route that would wind up to the top of 9W, making the climbing easier.


We got lost somewhere in Tenafly or Englewood Cliffs and had to go up short pitches that felt like 15%+….but everyone kept at it – all while creating new names for John – very creative names I might add!  Somewhere in the midst of all the heart pounding, breath removing climbing Eldy had the presence of mind to look at his Garmin to find the way out of all the dead end streets (you know, the streets that only say “dead end” AFTER you are on the last block) and as I headed onto the first flat road I tried to click into the big ring….no movement…turns out I had been climbing in the big ring the entire time!  Somehow we ended out midway up E Clinton, kept it in the big ring all the way to the top.

I realize that for most people reading this climbing in the big ring is no big deal, but for me, climbing in the 53 is a sign that by simply riding my bike more often and by riding with people better than me I am getting stronger.

The story title is “we can always do a little more than we think we can”.  The climbs were there, i focused on the right hand and the gears in the back and simply forgot about the front ring.  How lucky was I?  The “mistake” turned into an opportunity to challenge myself rather than end up taking the easy way out using the small ring.  It hurt, I kept going (as I am sure it hurt for John when he went up Bear Mountain, or my friend Ektor who rides with compressed discs in his back but never uses that as a reason or excuse not to ride.
Life constantly presents us with growth opportunities masked as difficulties.

Change your belief system, look at your difficulties and challenges as a way to grow.  Believe in yourself; you have only just scratched the surface of your capabilities!


See you on the road!

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