Friday, December 30, 2016

Waters muddied

Being a somewhat acquisitive sort, I am always looking for a new bike to add to my hypothetical stable. Lately, though, it's been the process more than the goal; I'm riding all sorts of bikes. And I had, almost settled on a drop bar road bike.

But then I rode here:

This was a short trail that I ran into while attempting to find another trail. Riding this trail for even a short distance, I was glad that I didn't have a skinny-tired road bike. The Schwalbe Big Apples on my bike navigated the dirt and mulch just fine.

But it did start me thinking about how nice it would be to have a mountain bike.  Which muddies the waters somewhat as far as the decision making process...but it does mean that I'll now have more fun in the process by test riding mountain bikes as well as road bikes.

Or I'll go crazy trying to come to a decision. I'll let you know.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

My (almost) year of biking

Make no mistake -- riding a bicycle can improve your life. There are the obvious benefits such as better cardiovascular health and endurance. When I started biking, I couldn't walk two blocks up a hill near my house without getting winded; now I walk up that hill without thinking about it. In February I could barely handle a 1% grade that was a third of a mile long. A few weekends ago, I rode over thirty miles with a friend one Saturday.

But there have been other benefits for me. I watch less television. This is partly because it's impossible to watch television when you're outside and traveling between ten and fifteen miles an hour. But it's also because I don't need the television to relax; I'm already relaxed after a bike ride.

I've met more people this year as well. They're mostly bike nerds, but not all. Sometimes people will just talk to me when I'm stopped at a corner. Possibly it's that being on a bicycle makes me more approachable.

There's also the benefit of being able to eat more and weigh less. Well, perhaps I don't weigh less, but less of my weight is flab and more of it is muscle. Through bicycling I've been able to change my physique (if you can call it that) in a positive way. I've gone from a pot-bellied, slouching, sullen introvert to a slightly pudgy introvert with much better posture and a much better outlook.

Apropos of the better outlook: exercise is simply good for your mental health. It's sort of a cycle: tackle a physical challenge, succeed, gain more self-esteem, repeat.

Then there have been the benefits of not having to drive everywhere. For one thing, I just don't like to drive. For another, it's sometimes easier to navigate the urban environment without a car. I sometimes like to go to a nearby farmers' market on Saturdays. If I drive, I have to get there as early as possible just to find parking; if I take the bike, I can go when I feel like it and always find parking.

Bicycling has also given me goals. Granted, these goals are largely related to bicycling, but then, what would you expect? Next year's goal is to ride anytime despite the weather. I need to be able to ride in the rain; otherwise I'm not using my cool waterproof panniers to their full potential. Or something...

And finally, there's the sightseeing advantage. It's simply easier to stop and look at things when you're on a bicycle than when you're in a car. When was the last time you stopped your car in the middle of a bridge just to look at a river? Or to look at a building or an interesting mural in the middle of a block? On a bike, you get to do some of these things multiple times per ride.

See? A river!
And an interesting mural!

The sightseeing is related to part of cycling that I hardly ever think about: getting lost. I usually start out a ride with only a vague idea of what my goal is ("go downtown...get coffee...").  I often have no planned route or mileage. This gives me the freedom to turn any direction without worrying about  my exact location. does help that ninety percent of my cycling is the city -- it's hard to get truly lost, but I enjoy not knowing exactly where I am or exactly how to get home. I might not enjoy being lost  as much if I were on a long-distance tour and out in the country past sunset...

And the best part of all this? It's fun.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas ride

These are  a couple of photos I took on my Christmas morning ride.

Christmas in California. I moved here from the Midwest thirty-nine years ago. While I sometimes think I would like the challenge of riding a fat bike in the snow, that's not enough to make me return to the Midwest.

And an abstract piece of bike art...

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy, Merry, however you want to do it

I've written a short but extremely cranky post about the obsession with minutiae that many cyclists have. I realize that that's all been said before. And it's probably been said better. Not that that will stop me from publishing it later.

But right now I want to say these things:

Whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year, I hope that your celebration is extremely happy.

If you celebrate a holiday that involves gift-giving, I hope you get what you want.

And if you don't celebrate at all, I hope you're still extremely happy.

And I wish that the next year will see you happier than this year.

And because a post without a picture is less interesting, I leave you with this picture of what happiness looks like around my house:

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Serious training for the frivolous cyclist

Today I did my first serious ride in a while; that is, "serious" by my standards. I and a friend of mine rode about thirty miles, with the requisite stops for taking pictures. I also lost my biker gang cred by getting off the bike to allow some pedestrians to pass on a tight pathway.

But I didn't lose my frivolous cred. I led the ride in the most haphazard way possible. When asked my plans for the next segment of the ride, I was at a loss for words.  Plans? I don't never have no stinkin' plans. So I came up with this: "We're going to do a u-turn up at the next intersection. We're going to go back to that little market that has the grand opening sign. I'm going to buy a lottery ticket, win the lottery and quit my job. Don't worry, you'll get a new bike out of it." That pretty much satisfied my friend as far as plans went.

And here's the only interesting picture I got out of the ride:

You can make up your own story about this.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Curmudgeonly on Carbon

I admit I have an unreasonable prejudice against carbon parts. Some of is based on things like this six-year-old article, which was answered to almost nobody's satisfaction in this similarly dated article. Some of it is based on the advice of more experienced cyclists who have told me cautionary tales of broken carbon forks and worse tales of broken carbon seat posts.

I also find anecdotal evidence of the virtues/evils of carbon all over the interwebs. If you google "fragility of carbon fiber bicycle parts", you'll find pages and pages of articles espousing the virtues of carbon fiber frames. You'll even find videos like this one where aluminum and carbon are (sort of) subjected to the same stresses; though if you're one of those who believes in using rigidly controlled scientific experimentation to obtain proof, you'll probably just be entertained.

Or you could watch this video, which demonstrates that carbon breaks, but steel deforms. Come to think of it, most of the videos I've seen from searching the phrase "fragility of carbon fiber bicycle parts" demonstrate something like that.

So...this is the spot where I would put a picture of a broken carbon fork, but no, it's too sad. So instead, a nice steel bike:
Picture owned by Rodriguez Bicycles
Given the evidence, anecdotal or not, I wouldn't pass up a nice ride just because it had a carbon fork. But I wouldn't seek out a bike simply because it had carbon parts. I'm still undecided. Or agnostic. 

But I'm not going to blindly believe any opinions on either side of the issue until I have a chance to see for myself. Empirical evidence is the future, baby.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Test riding, and how I Felt

What follows is a monsoon of uninformed opinion. But:

  • I am stuck inside with a bad cold, and besides
  • It's raining
So here's another post for bike nerds who may or may not care about my opinions, but who like reading about bikes anyway. And with no segue...

The interwebs have brainwashed me. Or I've brainwashed myself because of my reading of the interwebs.

It is easy, I believe, to form opinions based on the experience of others. We all do it. "On the You Need A More Expensive Bike Forum, five out of six posts state unequivocally that you need to lube your dynamo hub with real Italian extra virgin olive anyone who settles for any other kind is deluded!"

So of course I need a steel bike. And it has to be all steel. No carbon fiber parts at all. And no skinny tires. Because the guys on the You Need A More Expensive Bike Forum told me so.

This idea was stood on its head the other day when the owner of my favorite LBS talked me into test riding a Felt V85; an aluminum frame bike with a carbon fiber fork and seat post. And 28mm tires, which I've always thought would make the ride uncomfortable. I surprised myself by liking it a great deal. It ranked with the Salsa Vaya Deore for ride comfort, but it was lighter and in terms of ease of shifting, I liked the drivetrain (Shimano 105) more than than the SRAM/Shimano drivetrain on the Vaya.

Of course, this post wouldn't be complete without a picture of the bike under discussion.
This picture belongs to Felt Bicycles and I only hope that their lawyers don't come after me for using it.
In the past, I've always felt that the rider should be happy with the looks of the bike; that that would contribute to the enjoyment of riding it. That's another idea that got turned around when I rode the V85. I don't find the frame particularly attractive. I don't like that the paint job is ninety-nine percent black. But when I rode the bike, I just didn't care what it looked like. I've also read that Felt bikes are geared largely towards racing. I would find this off-putting except that riding the V85 showed me that it would be a great bike for many purposes. I could easily see using it as my main commute bike, for one.

Was there a downside to this bike? Well, one big's no longer in production. I wrote to Felt Bicycles to ask if the spec was changing for the 2017 V85, and was told that the V series was being replaced by the VR series. Of, if you prefer the marketing terms, the "Adventure" bikes were being replaced by the "Endurance" bikes.

Monday, December 5, 2016

First training rides


It's Saturday afternoon. I've just finished my first training ride ever; that is, I went on this ride with the intention of pushing my limits. At twenty miles this wasn't the longest ride I'd ever done, but it was one of the roughest. I rode on the local equivalent of cobblestones for a while, and I even took some dirt roads.
Where the pavement turned to dirt
Oddly, the most difficult part of this ride was the result of me trying to make the ride a little easier. Part of getting to the area I was intending to ride involves taking an overpass to get over some railroad tracks. A few blocks before the overpass, I turned right to see if I could find some roads not meant for cars that I would be able to negotiate.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Combined challenges

Imagine a life without challenge. You wake up. You do the same thing you've done every day for the last...well, for as long as you can remember. You come home, eat, relax, go to bed. Repeat ad infinitum. Boring, right?

We can agree, I think, that challenges are good. They don't have to be large. You don't have to climb Kilimanjaro. You don't have to write a symphony or open a Michelin-starred restaurant. You just have to step out of your comfort zone a little.

What is your comfort zone as relates to bikes? Do you just run errands? Do you commute? Do you ride centuries every weekend? Do you stay out of the rain?

My comfort zone is variable, but it's not wide-ranging. Various injuries have kept me off the bicycle for months at a time. I've only ridden in the rain once. I've only ridden more than twenty miles two or three times recently; and I've always stopped to take pictures on those rides. I commute by bike two to three times a week. My average mileage is about forty miles a week, and I take it easy for most of those miles. And in my adult life, I've been riding a bike for less than a year.
Gratuitous photo, but it was taken on a bike ride

I've decided to challenge myself a little. I registered for a charity ride to benefit local schools. It's forty-five miles on a largely flat route. There are some unknowns to this ride, though. The most worrying is: can I actually ride forty-five miles at a steady pace? I don't really know. What if I get a flat? I've never changed a flat while on a ride. It's likely that it wouldn't be a problem, but who knows? Also, can I keep up with the group? Again, I don't know.

To be honest, I'm somewhat fearing taking this on. And looking forward to it. There will be training rides before it happens, and I do have until the end of April to get ready. But will that be enough?

There are also the logistics of the bike. When I first started thinking about doing this ride almost half a year ago, I envisioned doing it on a sportier and lighter bike than the one I have. That's not going to happen, and that's both good and bad. I will have to train harder while at the same time training sensibly. I'll have to work against my tendency to overdo; I don't want to be sidelined by another injury. I'll have to get better at pacing myself.

There is a secondary challenge to this ride, though, and it's something I truly hate. I have to ask people to sponsor me. In uncertain economic times, I have to ask friends and acquaintances for money.  I'm uncertain how to best approach this; feel free to advise me in the comments section if you've ever been in this situation.