5 Things I Wish I Knew Working on My Bike for the First Time

My first exposure to building and working on bikes was in the fall of 2016 when I took a job working for Sun & Ski Sports in Franklin, TN. I had a coworker who helped me to learn to build bikes and check them before they were picked up to go home from sales when I took the position of bicycle coordinator there. I have learned a lot since my early days of wrenching, and now am certified by Trek as a repair technician, and there are some things I feel like would have been really helpful to know when I first started down this path.

rear derailleur limit screws

Everything About Limit Screws
Understanding limit screws, the specifications of the derailleurs, and how they interact with cable tension plays a huge role in understanding how to properly adjust derailleurs. Sometimes when having shifting issues getting into the big ring or into the climbing gear in the back, I would think limit screw, when really it was cable tension. Since then, I have learned a few tricks to know which one it is, and even tricks to use my limits to set my cable tension when the cables have stretched.

Measuring Chains
The first time I installed a chain I made it too long multiple times. I also routed it incorrectly. Now that I know better, I highly recommend people search how to do this correctly, so you don’t make my mistakes. Depending on the bike, the way I measure a chain varies, but I now only get messed up when I run into bikes with front triple chainrings on road bikes. Also, the direction your chain faces can make a difference too.

Bearings Need Grease
Also, bearings, that they exist, and where they go on a bike. I will happily admit my ignorance to anyone about this. I didn't know what a bottom bracket was, or really much about the bearings in the headset of my bike either. I did learn these things quickly, and have even installed almost every common type of bottoms bracket at this point. The most embarrassing moment of this was when I discovered my bearings were not only getting worn in my headset, but also that sweat had seized all of the spacers onto my steer tube at the time.

Complexities of Cable Routing
My Felt B16W has full housing and guides within the frame for the housing. This makes it easy. Now, my Trek Madone, Domane, and Crockett, all have internal cable routing with no full housing aside from brakes. My Domane and Crockett have pretty similar routing, but the Madone with fully internal cables and wiring is a whole other animal. There are also complications when cables get crossed, or the worst cable routing to deal with, which is the zip tie in the middle of the frame of the Trek Remedy that holds all of the cable housings to keep them from rattling.

2018 liv pique 3

Disc Brakes are a Thing
So, when I first really started getting into my bikes, I didn’t know too much about disc brakes. I came from road and triathlon, so even road disc brakes were not super common where I came from yet in cycling. Now, I am all about them, but there was a serious learning curve when it came to brakes for me. I am now experienced in bleeding both road and disc brakes from Shimano, Sram, and TRP.

While I have learned a lot, there are always new things I can learn. There are new things like 12-speed road groups, entire gravel group sets, and synchronized shifting on electronic group sets. I will never find a day when there is not something new I should learn about bicycles. Also, I will never know everything about bottom brackets, because I feel like there is no possible way to know everything about them.

My Review: Bontrager Specter WaveCel Helmet

As previously promised, I am going to review Trek’s new helmet. I purchased a pink Bontrager Specter helmet. Yes, I get discounts. No, I do not let the discounts affect my opinions on the things I purchase, because like Bontrager shorts, I don’t always like the things I buy.

I am going to compare three helmets. First, the new Bontrager Specter Wavecel, which retails for $150. Second, the Bell Z20 MIPS, which retails for $230. Third, the Giro Cinder MIPS, which retails for $150.

Bontrager Specter Helmet Pink
Bontrager Specter Helmet Pink Side View
Bontrager Specter Helmet Pink Rear View

Comfort Winner: Bontrager Specter Wavecel
This actually surprised me. I previously used a rental helmet from the shop where I work and had problems with the fit of the medium, feeling like it was too tight in the forehead, but when I first put on this helmet, I was pleasantly surprised. I felt like the helmet was snug where it should be, and the upgraded BOA dial from the adjustments on the Z20 and Cinder was a nice touch.

Bell Z20 MIPS
Bell Z20 MIPS Side View
Bell Z20 MIPS Rear View

Lightest: Bell Z20 MIPS
There isn’t too much of a challenge here. The Z20 is created for the purpose of being light, and in the Tennessee summer heat, it is definitely a big advantage. The Z20 comes in at 303 grams, the Cinder is close at 305 grams, and the Specter is a far third at 341 grams.

Giro Cinder MIPS
Giro Cinder MIPS Side View
Giro Cinder MIPS Rear View

Best Protection: It’s a Toss Up
Both the Z20 and Cinder are traditional helmets with added protection for angled impacts from the MIPS system. The Specter has Trek’s Wavecel technology, which is supposed to be a replacement for MIPS, which I have talked a little bit about here. You can also find more information directly from Trek. Based on both the testing from Trek and from independent parties, I am not making any call on the safety of these helmets compared to one another. The most important thing is that you do wear a helmet when you are out riding.

My Choice to Ride: Bell Z20 MIPS or Bontrager Specter Wavecel
I am torn between the two. I find both to be comfortable, and I like the idea of the added protection of the Wavecel, but I feel like I have more ventilation with the Z20 and a lighter helmet, which is nice for the summers here. Another important note is that on the Specter, there is nowhere to put your sunglasses on top of it, which has been mentioned many places. If I saw extremely concrete evidence that one helmet was safer than the other, my opinion may change in the future, but for now I am going to just go with the helmet I feel like using.

As for my overall opinion on the Specter, I think it is a good helmet. It is comfortable, and the lowest price point of the Wavecel helmets at the moment. I would like to see more Wavecel options, like a $100 price point or lower, as well as youth options. There are a couple things I think are missing with the Wavecel options at the moment as well. I would really like to see a road helmet with more ventilation on it, because looking at the XXX I don’t think there is enough compared to my Z20. I also noticed it is not possible to put sunglasses on the helmet when not wearing them, and as a coworker pointed out, he couldn’t scratch his head through it.

In the future I will continue to ride it, although the temperature has risen quickly in Nashville, so tonight I am going to be using my Z20 for my group ride. I can’t be a full Trek ad all the time.

The Phil Cookie: Ask a Pro Book and Cookie Review

I mentioned previously I read Phil Gaimon’s book Pro Cycling on $10 a Day: From Fat Kid to Euro Pro, so when I needed something to read when relaxing without classes for a month, I looked for another light read. I did not plan on finishing the book in a day, but I did, so I needed a new activity. Then I saw the cookie recipe in the back of the book.

Ask a Pro Phil Gaimon

This book is a compilation of Phil Gaimon’s Ask a Pro columns from Velonews with the occasional additional witty comment you would expect at this point if you are familiar with his work. I enjoyed Pro Cycling on $10 a Day, so I knew I would probably enjoy Ask a Pro, and I was not disappointed. It is rare I laugh out loud at a book, and this was one of them.

The book is split into multiple parts, based on Phil’s journey as a pro, and you can see how some of the answers seem to change throughout the book. Another thing is that some questions may get answered twice, because the answer changed, the same way cycling has changed over the years, just like how now aero bikes are for a lot more than time trials. His answers are honest, sometimes sarcastic, and on occasion point out how ridiculous some of the questions people constantly ask him tend to be when looked at from his perspective.

At the end of the book, he includes the recipe for the Phil Cookie, which includes, peanut butter, peanuts, chocolate chips, pretzels, and homemade peanut brittle. Just reading the ingredients I knew I needed to make this cookie. I also really like cookies and am always hungry right now from beginning to get my training on track for some possible 2020 racing.

Phil Cookie Peanut Brittle
Phil Cookie Cookie dough

I went to the grocery store, bought all of the ingredients, made a huge mess of my kitchen, and learned a few things about baking cookies. Number one was that a stand mixer is a great addition to any kitchen. I went ahead and used mine for all of my mixing for this recipe and highly recommend it. Number two is that this recipe makes twelve big cookies, meaning I had to run three batches in my single oven. If you have two ovens it will be a lot faster. Number four, peanut brittle is actually super easy to make.

The Phil Cookie Ask a Pro

After all of my struggles with spilling flour all over the kitchen when trying to sift and then pour my dry ingredients into my mixer I managed to burn my fingers a few times on the oven when adding toppings to the cookies, but the final product was worth it. The cookies are chewy in the middle, and crisp on the outside, with a texture kind of like a peanut butter cookie. They are also extremely rich, and I could only eat half of one, so I am also sending some to Ohio to my family with my dad this weekend, and I am thinking about bringing some to a group ride one night to share.

When am I Racing Again?

Long story short, I do not know. I haven’t raced triathlon since Augusta in 2017, and I really feel like I should have taken a year without racing after Louisville, but I felt this need to keep improving, but other parts of my life needed attention too. I know one thing. I am not racing in 2019. What I really want to talk about is when it is the right time to race for me.


I Enjoy Racing
I feel like after Louisville in 2016, I didn’t enjoy racing as much. I had begun to focus on time, because I had achieved all of my distance goals. Times are the same thing that got me away from swimming after high school, so I didn’t want to feel like I was racing the clock so much. Right now, I am focusing on improving as an athlete by improving my hill climbing on the bike and hill running skills, not getting ready for any distance.

I am Meeting Responsibilities in My Life
I am currently in school for accounting, so I know in my future I will not be racing long distance in the spring, more likely just building a steady base until I can pick up after busy season. I also have a husband at home that I care a lot about and need to spend time with him. I think everyone needs to keep in mind the


I am Enjoying Training
Doing session after session that is planned started to get a little difficult for me, especially as I began to enjoy riding outside more often. I got tired of structuring trainer rides when I could just as easily jump on my bike after work to go ride with other people. Right now, I am focusing on just doing workouts that feel good and are productive, while also enjoying things like group riding.

I have Time to Train
Similar to meeting responsibilities, having time is important as well. Right now, I just have not had the time to swim as much as I like, so I know I need to find that time before beginning to train more. It is just like if I am going to do another full,I know I need to be prepared to do some really long rides on the weekend.

I want to Race
This is the most important. Right now, I want to enjoy training, and racing is not a priority, but the urge to race more is creeping up slowly as I begin to look at more races for next year. I don’t feel any responsibility to be racing, just an urge that I want to go out and perform at my best again.

Basic Group Ride Etiquette

Recently, I have had the opportunity to begin to go on group rides a little more, although my pace is unfortunately slow at the moment. I feel like I am finally when in a group getting the hang of drafting and riding with people, where previously I rode a lot on my own and people made me nervous. When you ride alone, you don’t have to worry about drafting or someone behind you, but in a group there are a lot of other potential issues.

  1. Know your pace. Right now, I am with our C group, which is 14 mph and up, but when I am in better shape, I am a B group rider, which averages 17 mph normally. Typically you will be faster in a group than on your own, but pick the group that is your speed and stick with it. Normally you will all progress similarly, so you still have a good group to ride with. If you are on a group ride that is a little faster than your usual pace, but you can hang on, sit on the back and let other riders know you are staying on the back.

  2. No aero bars. You can ride your Tri bike with some groups, but no getting in aero bars when in a group on a road or Tri bike. This is for the safety of you and the other riders. I don’t care how good your bike handling is. If have to brake for a sudden red light and you’re behind me in your aero bars, there is a good chance of us both crashing.

  3. Know your pace lines. Most groups employ either a single or a double pace line and will have their set ways of pulling off to the back. In a single pace line, the rider in front will typically signal they are moving to the left and going to fall to the back. In a double pace line the riders will sometimes split to the left and right, or they will both move left, so I suggest starting in back or asking if you are unsure of how the group tends to ride. My biggest pet peeve is in a double pace line when the person next to me will ride between two people instead of on their wheel.

  4. Know your signals. The two most basic are your turn signals for left and right. Beyond that, we also want to point to either side and announce things like glass, potholes, and gravel. I also suggest knowing signals for slowing/stopping, and announcing this as well.

  5. Announce cars. If you hear a car and you are in the back, call out that there is a car back, so everyone is aware and if you need to move to a double pace line you can.

  6. Maintain a steady pace when pulling. This can be a fast pace, slow pace, or a moderate pace depending on the ride, but the goal is to maintain the pace the ride is intended to be. If you are about to pull, look on your computer to see your current pace and try to maintain that when on the front to avoid going too hard, which is easy to do.

$700 v. $7000 Bike: What is the Difference?

When talking to my husband, I frequently hear how he does not understand my bicycle obsession, because it is just a bike. I understand, because I used to be him. Until I worked in a bike shop, I knew nothing of the different between my 8-speed Claris components and 10-speed Ultegra components and the new 11-speed groups. The only difference I knew was carbon fiber versus aluminum, and for me all that meant was weight savings.

The $700 Bike


My Trek Lexa purchased in 2012 brand new. It is a full aluminum frame and fork. It had Claris 8-speed components, externally routed cables, and aluminum wheels. This was my dream at the time. I had barely ridden a road bike. it was lighter than the mountain bike I had to ride around campus, and it was purple. It also came with pedals with toe clips and straps.

The $7000 (approximately) Bike


My Trek Madone. The first bike I bought for myself. It is a carbon frame, fork, steerer. It has lightweight aluminum wheels, Ultegra 11-speed electronic components, and is red, which automatically means it is faster. It is also an aero frame with hidden cable routing.

Where does the $6300 come in?

Carbon Frame & Fork - It is more responsive, stiffer, and absorbs vibration from the road better than aluminum.
11-speed components - The number of gears alone creates smoother shifting. In addition, this system being electronic means I can shift with the click of a button and there is not a long lever throw, especially for the front shift. This makes for faster shifting, especially going up hills.
Lighter Wheels - Another weight saving move. The wheels I have on the Madone are also a little stiffer and have a wider rim, so they fit 700x25 tires better the the ones on the Lexa.
Hidden Cable Routing - I am not talking about just cable routing that is mostly in the frame. I mean you don’t see the cables on this bike. This is not only protecting the cables, but it is also reducing some air drag (although if I shrink myself that does it too).

The Real Question

Does the $7000 Bike Make Me Happier?
I don’t know. I love both bikes. I tell people I will never get rid of my Lexa, because it was my first bike, but I would sell the Madone for the newer Madone SLR 7 Disc, and I would upgrade to carbon wheels, so I guess what I am saying is that you do get something for your money, but there is nothing that can beat the feeling of having something that is yours and allows you to feel as free as I did on that first bike. I have upgraded some parts of course like any good bike mechanic would on the Lexa.