Saturday, October 29, 2016

Successful Coffeeneuring ride.

It is Saturday, October 29th, 2:56pm, and this morning I completed my first successful coffeeneuring ride. Coffeeneuring wasn't the main objective of my ride; I was riding to a local roaster to pick up some beans.  But I thought, well, I'm going to where there is coffee, and since I'll be there, why don't I have a cup of coffee?

I started out in the morning to weather like this:

Fortunately, the weather changed by the time I reached the coffee shop (about four miles away). I didn't get a picture of just the sky for this one, but you get the idea. I did get rained on when I was riding, but not enough to be really discouraging.

And at last, I fulfill my goal to be a coffeeneur (is that a word?) by taking this picture of a cup of coffee and a slice of banana bread:

The coffee was good (as it should be, coming from the roaster). The banana bread was wonderful.

I had a great ride home. And when I got home, my wife had done this in the garden:

I really like the way this is put together.

And that was today's coffeeneuring. Even though I had to remind myself to take pictures, I enjoyed the ride and the process. Possibly I'll take part in the challenge next year.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Living in the past

There's a series on PBS called Grantchester. It takes place in rural England in the early 1950s. One the protagonists is a clergyman who, when visiting his parishioners, almost always rides his bike. He never seems to be hurried; he's going somewhere, and the bicycle is just the way he does it.

I admire that attitude; bicycling not as a goal, but as a means. It's been pointed out that there is a segment of the population who, when they take up a hobby, go all in. Or all out. They have to become the best. For many in bicycling, that's racing. In racing, it's easy to tell who's the best, because of course it's competitive.

I've been finding, though, that that attitude seeps into other aspects of bicycling. The group ride becomes a matter of getting to the goal in the shortest time possible. The social ride becomes a competition to see who can "lead the pack".

But what if you don't subscribe to that attitude? What if your goal is not to get to your destination as quickly as possible, but simply to see what's on the way? At that point, the journey becomes the goal, and you are not primarily a cyclist, but someone who travels by bike.

When you take that attitude, that the bike is a tool and not a platform from which to compete...well, then, what sort of bicycle do you get. A hybrid? A touring bike? An "all-around" bike?

Seriously, I'm asking. If you don't think of biking as competition, what is your goal, and what kind of bike do you think will help you realize that goal? I'll go first: my goal is long-distance riding, not just to get somewhere, but to be able to be in different places every day. The bike I think of doing this on (in my dreams) is a steel framed bike with a Rohloff IGH. And a dynamo hub up front, so I can be the power source for the bike lights. This hypothetical bike will also ride best with a front load; two panniers and a handlebar bag.

How about you? If you're not competitive, why do you ride a bicycle? And what bike do you think will help you realize this goal?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Style, comfort, and some other stuff

Taking a break from thinking about politics in America to post a stream-of-consciousness about tires and handlebars...

When I decided to take up the bicycle again at the beginning of this year, I had specific ideas about the type of bike I should get. For one thing, it couldn't have drop bars. Drop bars would force me to ride in an uncomfortable position. And it couldn't have skinny tires, because I wanted to go any place that looked interesting -- and sometimes those places were a little muddy, or were just simple dirt tracks.

I came to these opinions with no basis except for knowledge gleaned from reading the internet, and...well, you know what that's worth.

But thinking about these things did start me thinking about the audience for most current bicycles. The idea of "wider is better" as regards tires has pretty much gained acceptance, and I'm all for that. Perhaps not to the extent that we'll all end up riding fat bikes, but at least to the extent that it's easier to find tires that are not wafer-thin and prone to pinch flats.  Yesterday I rode through what I felt was an inordinate amount of broken glass for a ride of less than fifteen miles, and yet I was not worried about flats. I suppose I should check my tires for cuts, but still, I'm much less worried than I would be on skinny racing tires.

It also seems that straight handlebars are gaining larger acceptance. Even the iconic Surly Cross-Check is available in a flat bar model. It seems that just a few years ago the only bikes that didn't have drop bars were beach cruisers, mountain bikes, and children's bikes. Now we have the ubiquitous hybrids with flat bars. I believe this is largely due to the rise in the use of bikes for simple transportation and recreation; or at least that many of us have given up the idea that bikes are for racing.

You may have noticed that this post is not trying to make a point; I'm merely expressing my opinion about what seems to be a few current fashions in bicycling. Either of my two regular readers should feel free to express their opinions.

Another thing that is gaining wider acceptance is the idea that streets are not exclusively for cars. Yesterday the city where I work shut off about twelve blocks of a main street, making those blocks for pedestrians and bicycles only. It was very crowded, and part of it turned into a test of how slowly I could ride a bike. I'd really like to see this more, though; even if a city only does this once a month, I think it makes the city more livable.

I apologize for the rambling nature of this post. Next time I'll try to have an actual main point. Or, if not, I'll just start modeling myself more after BikeSnobNYC. Yeah, that's it...I'll start calling myself BikeSchlubCA (CA for California, not Canada).  Then I'll start making a quasi-living at this. And bike manufacturers will start sending me samples for review. Yeah, yeah...that'll happen.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Test ride Saturday - Slight Reprise

This post should probably be called "Test Ride Saturday Redux" or something like that, but the title I used is a nod to Jimi Hendrix, one of my childhood idols.

Between the last set of test rides and this Saturday, I talked to a colleague who asked what the tire pressure was on the Sutra LTD when I rode it. So I went in for another test ride, this time lowering the tire pressure on the Sutra a bit.  The pressure was even lowered a bit more on the rear tire per the recommendation of the clerk at the LBS.

The route I took with the Sutra LTD was my normal work commute. In terms of repair, it's one of the worst roads in the neighborhood it goes through. Potholes, cracks, and just general bumps. For my test ride, I rode over some of the worst parts of this route.

And...only minuscule differences from the last time I rode it. The Sutra LTD is still a zippy ride. Under good road conditions, it seems to "get out of the way" better than most bikes. The bikes I know that come the closest to doing this are the Surly Cross Check and Straggler. The major difference between the Surly bikes and the Sutra LTD is that both of the Surly bikes insulate the driver from washboard roads; the Sutra LTD communicates those bumps to the rider. With a lower tire pressure, the ride was better than previously, but still...I felt most of the bumps. A different saddle might help with this, but as is, I couldn't like the bike as much as I wanted to.

I was also able to ride a 2017 Vaya Deore. Not sure why it's called a Deore, unless the convention is to name it after the rear derailleur; the majority of the drivetrain components are SRAM. That's not a complaint -- every SRAM-equipped bike I've ridden has been great in terms of shifting.

I was told that there were some changes in the frame geometry for the 2017 Vaya, and I can believe it. The 2015 Vaya is a nice ride, but the 2017 is the most comfortable drop-bar bike I've ever ridden. The reach was just right for me, and the frame absorbed the bumps from our local washboard streets.

I wasn't that fond of the brakes on the Vaya Deore. They're Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes, and they felt a tiny bit spongy. That could be something that's easily adjusted; or it could be the difference between hydraulic (which I'm used to) and mechanical.

The one thing that felt wrong about the bike was the saddle, a WTB Pure V. It wasn't that it was outright uncomfortable. It's just that I could see it becoming uncomfortable on a long ride. If I were to purchase a Vaya Deore, I would change the saddle before I left the bike shop.  There are a lot of people who like this saddle, but I'm not one of them.

However, if I needed a bike today, it would definitely be the Vaya Deore. That's how much I liked it.

Sometime in the future, I'll be riding both the Surly Straggler and the Vaya Deore again. In my imaginary bike sweepstakes, the Vaya is the leading contender right now, if only because I know it would get a lot more use than the Straggler.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Where are we going in such a hurry?

This is in the nature of an editorial.

I often go out on our local multi-use path (MUP) for a nice leisurely ride. I am, of course, riding my incredibly stylish Big Rove AL. It's perhaps the most stylish bike on the path. I attribute that largely to the matte purple color and the incredibly cool BMX-style pedals. Oh, yeah, the Planet Bike fenders contribute their share of pizzaz as well. As do the Metropolis North Road style handle bars. Cap that off with my cycling uniform of jeans, t-shirt, and tennis shoes and, well, you can imagine the picture of ultimate cool that my bike and I show the world.

But for all my cool, I'm not a fast rider.  I ride at a casual, unhurried pace. And that means I get passed by many, many riders.  But even if were riding three times as fast as I do, I would still get passed by some riders. And those would be the guys "training" for...well, whatever they imagine they're training for.

When this happens, when I'm passed by someone who is riding on the MUP at over fifteen miles per hour, I think: what is the hurry? You're on a path with families, with little children and sometimes infants. Isn't there some place you can "train" where you're not endangering other people? Or are you more concerned with people seeing you?

On my local MUP where there are many pedestrians, someone put up a sign saying "Would you ride that fast past your granny?"

What was the point I was attempting to make? Oh, yeah...slow down you guys! No imaginary race or elusive Strava goal is worth endangering other people. If you're really training, do it somewhere where you can train under real racing conditions. The people on the MUP who see you racing aren't thinking "That guy is with his carbon bike and faux-racing-team-styled spandex sure is cool!" They're thinking "Hey, that incredible jerk came really close to my baby stroller!"

I'll repeat myself here, because I think I have a point worth repeating: if you were really training, you wouldn't do it where there are vulnerable, fragile obstacles like someone's aged parents or someone's small children. You want to do something really cool?  Then practice slowing down to walking pace and saying "excuse me" to the people you're attempting to pass. When you can do that, you'll be truly cool.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Test ride Sunday: bikes rehashed

This last Sunday, I was able to get out and look at bikes that I've looked at before: the Surly Straggler and the Salsa Vaya 2.

The first thing that struck me about these bikes was how similar they are. Neither of them are lightweights; if you're looking for a fast, light bike, you should probably look elsewhere. Both of them have very stable handling. And both of them eat road bumps as well as any bike I've ever ridden.

On that last point: I've ridden some bikes that seem to transfer every bump to the undercarriage of the rider; many of those were light, fast bikes. And I've ridden heavier bikes that seem to do the same thing. I've also ridden bikes that were designed with wide shock-absorbing tires to keep vibrations away from the rider; my Kona Big Rove AL is a good example of this.

But with both the Straggler and the Vaya 2, it seems that the frames eat most of the vibrations. Both of them use fairly wide tires (42mm and 41mm respectively), but  I have ridden other contemporary bikes with wider tires that did not do half as good a job of  keeping road vibration away from the rider. This leads me to believe that the frames of these bikes play a huge part in keeping the rider comfortable.

As for the differences:

The drivetrains are totally different. The Vaya 2 runs a Shimano 105 groupset with a road triple. The Straggler runs a groupset that is mostly SRAM Apex; the cassette is from Microshift.

Despite the fact that the Vaya 2 has a road triple and the Straggler has a compact crankset, I found the Straggler to be the better climber.  I've always thought that triple cranksets allowed the rider to tackle climbs more easily; in this case, even though I was in the lowest gear on the crankset,  I didn't find that to be true. However, most of the triples I've ridden before this have been mountain triples, so it may be my lack of experience with road triples that led me to believe this. But the relative ease of climbing with the Straggler led me to believe that the Straggler frame might be lighter, despite the reputation that Surly has for producing heavy frames.

Note: The copy on the Vaya 2 from the Salsa website claims that it's drivetrain is compatible with "any road compact or touring triple crankset." I'd love to put a different triple crankset on the Vaya 2 and see how that affects its ability to climb easily.

The saddles on each bike are different as well. The WTB on the Vaya 2 seems to be almost overly padded. The Velo saddle on the Straggler, while less padded, was at least as comfortable as the WTB, if not a little more so.

I believe that the Vaya 2 might have more braze-ons. Not quite sure.

Could I make a choice between these two bikes? Not at this point. I would have to take both of them on far longer rides than the distances I was able to go today.

I'm also going to check out the 2017 Vaya Deore at some point; my current bike has Deore components in the drivetrain and I've been fairly impressed with them.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Test Ride Saturday

One of my favorite Saturday activities has become a short ride around our downtown area. There's a beautiful lake, some relaxing places to stop, and interesting architecture to look at.

I didn't get any pictures of the lake on this Saturday ride, but I hope I make up for it with this shot:

As you can see, it was a beautiful day. The temperature reached 83 degrees fahrenheit (28 celsius) and though it was quite warm, it was still very pleasant.

Even on my recreational rides, I like to have a goal in mind. Around the lake, to the coffee shop, what have you. In the afternoon I got the itch to ride some more, but had no specific goal in mind. When that happens, I think the best thing to do is to hit the local bike shop for some test rides. Those of you who aren't bike nerds can stop reading now.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Looking for the perfect roll

My bike, the Kona Big Rove AL, came stock with Schwalbe Big Apple tires. The Big Apples are lined with Kevlar for puncture resistance, and they weigh about two pounds apiece. For the least rolling resistance, Schwalbe recommends about 50 PSI, but about 45 PSI for protection, durability, and grip.

Collective wisdom, not to mention many people on group rides I've been on, says that wider tires = more rolling resistance. Schwalbe refutes this with this quote:

"The wider the tire, the lower the rolling resistance. Because a wide tire has a shorter footprint in the driving direction, the tire bounces less and the flattening of the footprint on the road is smaller", explained Frank Bohle. Result: The tire deforms less, remains "rounder" and rolls more easily.

Frank Bohle, the guy they're quoting here, is one of the company's founders. If that makes you take his statement with a grain of salt, so be it.

Jan Heine, the editor of Bicycle Quarterly, has a somewhat different take on the "wider tires roll better" viewpoint. He believes (I'm paraphrasing) that "wide, supple tires" roll better. Mr. Heine is also one of the owners of Compass Cycles, who sell tires; so he has, as they say, a dog in this fight.

Well, the Big Apples are wide, but supple they are not. Probably something to do with the Kevlar lining. They're great for bike commuting through refuse-laden city streets. But for faster group rides, not so much. So for the sake of a fast group ride I went with thinner tires; Panaracer Paselas. At 75 PSI/35mm they rolled really well. But for comfort...well, I could've done better. Even dropping them to 70 PSI didn't noticeably increase the comfort level.

The Big Apples go back on. The comfort level goes back up.

And the search for the perfect roll goes on.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

First post

As a first post, a picture from today's "rehab" ride (recovering from injury). Yes, it was beautiful.