Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cross-Training

   
I love riding to the harbor, especially at this time of year.  It's beginning to fill with activity, since Summer is on its way ... but it's still not yet crowded, so one can enjoy the beauty and happenings without worry of obstacles like traffic and people ... not that there's anything wrong with either.

The only thing I DON'T like about riding to the harbor is that, as I mentioned in a previous post, the return ride is always ... ALWAYS an uphill ride.  Hills are okay, but there are two main roads back home, and both of them are fairly steep ... like THIS one:


The photo doesn't do justice, even with the tall ship views from the bottom and top for perspective, but suffice it to say this hill is about an 18% grade and runs for over a quarter mile.  It's almost as though every ride becomes a "training" ride because of hills like this one.  Now don't go assuming I think there's something wrong with training ... I have great admiration for those who do it.  For me, however, the word "training" conjures up images of something that isn't as much FUN and RELAXING as it is WORK ... and cycling isn't something I want to view as WORK.  I already do enough of that.  But since Summer is on its way ... and that often means getting in shape for beach outings and BBQ events ... I felt it was time today to begin a different kind of training regimen.

People often speak of "cross-training", using different forms of exercise to work (there's that word again) different muscle groups or to work the same groups in different ways.  You might think that means doing something WITHOUT your bike ... but that's not always true.  Today, I have developed a cross-training event that uses the bicycle throughout the entire process.  Truth be told, it happened by accident, when I really needed a different route home from the harbor.  Instead of taking one of the two road routes, I decided to enter the local park across from the harbor area.  I've never gone that way before because I've seen the posted signs asking for "no bicycling" on the park sidewalks ... however, I see many people doing it every day, so I thought I'd be bold and give it a whirl.  Geography dictates that going home WILL involve going uphill, so I knew there would be some kind of hill action ... but at least it was off the road and through some new territory.  What I found was a veritable plethora of cross-training possibilities.  Here's how it works:

Upon entering the park, one immediately encounters the first uphill path, followed by another, and another ... and then a series of "switchback" paths that lead ... you guessed it ... uphill through the park.  Here's a look:


And here's a graphic depiction of the switchbacks:


Once again, a photo cannot do this justice ... it's a very long, winding path up through that pretty green grass.

Now ... here's where the cross-training fun begins.  If trying to pedal up these paths becomes difficult, one can simply walk the bike ... and walking uphill with a bike works different leg and foot muscles, as well as working the riding muscles in different ways.  This can be especially effective if done near the end of what has already been a good long ride, when your legs are "pre-fatigued".  You can also skip the switchback paths altogether and push your bike uphill through the grass ... cyclocross style ... for a more invigorating workout.  If you want to add some strength training to your day, there are three sets of concrete stairs ... one VERY long (#1 in the photo), one medium long (#2), and one normal (#3).  You could carry your bike up them for added intensity and upper body work.  Here's a look:


I did not opt for the added stair workout today ... as holding the camera in one hand and the bike in the other presented a problem that could not be easily resolved at the moment.  Next time ...

I was a bit disappointed that I was obviously not the first cyclist to think of this cross-training plan.  I noticed several others performing the same workout:


Workout or not, I couldn't help but stop and enjoy the amazing scenery this particular park has to offer:


And the best view is the one at the top of all the switchbacks ... looking down over the climb just made with superhuman strength:


It really is a LONG way down to the bottom ... you'll just have to take my word for it!  Now get out of your computer chair and go explore some new territory of your own!!
   

Thursday, June 3, 2010

WORK, WORK, WORK, bike, WORK, WORK, WORK, bike

  
Ah ... it's time once again to discuss balance.  Balance is one of those essential skills that we, as people who ride bikes, get to experience in both physical and mental planes.  Although it's easy to grasp the concept of balance while riding, it's often NOT so easy to get a grip on when it comes to maintaining the equilibrium of work, family, AND riding.



This year is both a very welcome and frustrating time for me in terms of work.  Since last year was so horrible in the financial world, work was also less plentiful.  This year, however, it seems work is mysteriously MORE than plentiful.  Of course, in my field of Multimedia Production and Technical Writing, when clients call, they need something NOW.  They're not "considering" a new project, or "planning" a new educational or training tool ... no, they've already decided they need it ... and they need it YESTERDAY.  I'm generally happy to help and create whatever is needed ... but at the moment, the transformation to Summer (yes, there is an actual transformation in Southern California ... temperatures climb from the 60's to the 80's) is calling me for longer rides and relaxation in the sun.  Not just that, but I have multiple projects that I'm already frantically trying to complete.  And in my line of work (see above explanation), if one says "no" to a client request, the client looks elsewhere for work, and that isn't always a good thing.  In short, the work is now piling up, and I am feeling quite buried ... to the point that I sometimes feel that the selfish pleasure of heading out for a ride is time that could be spent working on client projects.  Not a good feeling ... I'm sure many of you have been there many times.

This scenario is exactly the place where balance becomes imbalance ... where yin has no yan (or is it "yang"?) ... where the scale is too far tipped in one direction ... and where Sir LanceI'mNot becomes Sir LeaveMeAloneI'mBusyAndAngry.  It is always a quandry for me.  Be busy and be happy to be busy ... be glad to be making a plentiful income this year ... but feel unfulfilled and unhealthy because all of my time is eaten up with the very things I'm supposed to be happy and grateful for, leaving little or none for what makes my body feel good and clears my mind (riding) ... and begin to not enjoy what I do for a living.  A slippery slope, indeed.

Today, I have come to an agreement with the three conflicting forces within my being ... the one who wants to be successful and productive, the one who wants to be with and take care of my family and dogs, and the one who needs to be a part of the natural world while riding a bike.  It happened after I got up and made our morning coffee ... after I took the dogs for their morning walk ... after I made breakfast (the ultra-secret-high-efficiency-blended-breakfast-drink-of-champions) for the other over-active worker in the house ... after making this same person her lunch (because she won't otherwise eat during the long day) ... after showering and shaving and getting dressed for a client appointment ... after driving for an hour to meet with my client ... after the three-hour appointment ... after the hour-long drive back home (can you believe I had to sit in a CAR for TWO HOURS?) ... and after making my list of "to-do"items for the remainder of the day, which includes finalizing a preview clip for a recently finished client DVD, downloading files for a client graphic design job, dinner and another walk for the dogs, making dinner for me and the other over-active worker in the house, washing the dishes, etc.  Notice there wasn't a bike ride anywhere in that long list?  That's what finally made me sit back in my chair and say ... "Hey!!  Something's wrong here!"

I realized that there is no balance in my non-schedule.  As the work has piled up, my time for riding has virtually disappeared over the past couple of weeks ... and though I've viewed it as a necessary personal sacrifice in order to keep everything else in line, the result is that it leaves me feeling just plain irritable.  So I have made an agreement with my riding and non-riding selves that I must ... MUST ... allow a window of time each day for a bike ride.  No matter what else my day holds, it will also hold time for a ride ... and I won't allow myself to feel that I'm neglecting other "more important" things.  Riding makes me feel good, clears my head, lets me see things in a different way, and actually puts me in a better frame of consciousness for doing better work.  I know that ... and therefore, I must follow what I know.  An hour of riding ... even 30 minutes ... is ESSENTIAL to both my physical and mental well-being.  Without it, I am unconnected to the world around me and bogged down in a list of tasks that become heavy to my soul.  I don't want to resent the work I'm grateful for, just because I allow it to keep me from riding ... that's MY fault, not the job's.  And so I will give equal weight to both, while not allowing either to affect my family life.

How will I make it happen?  Not so sure about the mechanics of it all ... but I do know that there IS a place in each day, no matter how crazy, where I can hop on a bike and go for a ride.  It might be in the early morning, before coffee, dogs, and so on ... it might be in the middle of the day, while a project is rendering ... it might be at the end of the day ... but there is always time.  My plan is to have the bikes ready to roll ... so all I have to do is get on and go.  That means wiping the chain down and checking tire pressure AFTER the ride ... not before the next one ... and setting out some clothes before bed that I can easily throw on and head out the door.  It also means perhaps doing a little planning for tomorrow to see where I have the greatest opportunity for a block of time.  I've never been very good at planning, but if it means I'll get to ride more, I'll give it a shot!

So there you have it ... my rant for today and plan for tomorrow!  Anyone care to share some wisdom on the subject?
   

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How To Know When It's "Right" ... and New Shoes!!

 
Back when I was growing up (when the Brady Bunch and Partridge Family were NOT re-runs), I loved to ride my bike.  First it was the Schwinn Sting-Ray 3-speed with the huge stick-shifter in the middle of the top tube, which would now be banned for being dangerous to a young boy's "special parts".  That was my brother's hand-me-down bike, but I loved it anyway.  Then, the first bike of my very own, a metallic blue Schwinn Collegiate 5-speed with drop bars and a single stem-mounted friction shifter.  I dreamed of that bike for a long time before it became my 12th birthday present.  When I rode, I never thought about whether or not the saddle was the right one.  There was never a thought about whether the handlebars were the perfect fit.  I didn't own "cycling" shoes, and simply rode the rubber block pedals that came with the bike.  Tires?  I don't even know what they were, only inflated them when they looked flat, and had no idea what a tube was.  Helmets didn't even exist for bicycling at that time.  Yep, I just hopped on and rode ... in whatever clothes were appropriate for the weather ... on the completely stock bike with no question of modification.  The thing is, I was very happy riding my stock bike with no special options.  It was what it was, and didn't need anything else.  Was it simply youthful innocence or just the way times were way back then?  I'm not really sure ... but things seem to have changed quite a bit in my old age.

Flash forward to the present day.  The media and current culture demands wearing a helmet, which is actually a good idea, and tells us we need special clothing for riding a bike.  Special shoes, special padded tight shorts, form-fitting shirts to reduce wind drag, aerodynamic sunglasses ... and that's only the beginning.  Then there's the bike itself.  So many choices ... and so many options.  To make things worse, my older body now tells me quite explicitly that it's very picky about EVERYTHING.  Most saddles are medieval torture devices.  Very few are right for me, and it took a long time to figure it out.  The same is true for handlebars, grips, pedals, shorts, shirts, underwear ... and especially shoes.  My feet are incredibly sensitive.  The smallest grain of sand in my shoe feels like a huge sharp rock.  And they tend to go numb if I don't have adequate toe room, proper shape, good arch and metatarsal support, and the perfect ratio of stiffness in the right places to flexibility in the others.  Oh, and they must have enough room (but not too much) for a few favorite sock types, and no interior edges that might irritate my feet, too.  It's maddening.  What happened?

Well ... I could spend all day trying to figure that one out ... but instead, I'll accept it and move on to how I determine if something, be it a bike component or article of clothing, is "right" for me.  It's a simple procedure, but it does require a bit of effort to adjust one's thinking.  Here's the secret:

When it's "right", you won't think about it when you ride.

That's it ... that's all.  It applies to everything ... saddles, pedals, handlebars, grips, as well as placement and position of components for your fit preference.  When you have the right saddle, in the right position, you won't think about it at all when you ride.  Why?  Because it's not a distraction in any way.  You shouldn't be thinking about your saddle when you ride ... you should be thinking about the ride, where you're going, what's in front of you, the outdoor air, and so on.  The same applies to every other part of your bike.  And don't ever let anyone tell you that you need to "adjust" to it if it doesn't feel right.  While some "breaking in" may be required for some things (leather saddles, for example), by and large, there shouldn't be any major discomfort, or ANY discomfort for that matter, after a few minutes of initial use.  If you've ridden a saddle for more than a few rides, and it's still uncomfortable, it's the wrong saddle for you.  Take it back and try another one.  If your local shop won't allow that (within reason, of course), then find a different shop to deal with.  They should be willing to work with you to make your ride the best it can be.  After all, if you're happy riding, then you'll be buying more stuff.

This practical, yet simple secret brings me to the reason I'm writing this post ... I have new shoes!  Now I know that may not be a big deal to most people, but as I mentioned earlier, I have sensitive feet, and getting new shoes is an event of large proportions.  Not as large as a new bike, perhaps, but still quite important.  Many questions arise through the anticipation period.  Will they be everything I hope for?  Will they be smooth on the inside and tough on the outside?  Will they support my feet without being painful?  Will they look good or will they look ridiculous?  I realize these are questions generally only asked by women when shopping for the perfect shoe for the most important day of their life (not intended as sexist), and not generally asked by men shopping for athletic apparel.  However ... once again, I have sensitive feet (have I made my point yet?).

I have purchased more shoes than any man should ever admit to, so I won't attempt to calculate the number.  Suffice it to say there have been many.  For cycling and general applications, I've found great success with Teva sandals.  I do live in Southern California, after all, so good sandals are just part of the culture.  They fit well, even with socks (yes, I often wear socks with sandals when cycling ... no tourist jokes, please).  They grip the pedals well.  They keep my feet cool, which is important if your feet tend to sweat, and mine do ... hence the socks.  However ... they don't work for all situations, and aren't really a "shoe" in the classic sense of the word.  Most cycling-specific shoes I've tried are quite narrow, with little room for toe wiggle, and really aren't built for comfort ... they're all about "performance" and "power transfer" and usually have some kind of recess on the sole for a cleat, which I have now abandoned in favor of more comfortable pedals that don't use clips or other retention hardware.  Most non-cycling shoes are just bad for me when cycling ... and I have a hard time fitting in general ... so when I stumbled upon this new shoe, I was quite taken.



Enough with the suspense ... the new shoe is the Keen Coronado Cruiser ... yay!  It's a fairly "retro" sneaker design (not important, but nice), and made in part from some recycled materials (green is good!).  The top is a combination of canvas and soft leather (mine are the Dark Earth/Brindle colorway), and seems to work well with shorts, jeans, or other casual attire.  The very coolest part about this shoe is that it's designed for cycling ... and for cyclists, like me, who use non-clip, non-"clipless", platform pedals (that's where the "Cruiser" name comes from, I think). What makes it a "cycling" shoe is that it has a stiff nylon plate that runs through most of the sole, which helps with the "performance" and "power transfer" aspects of its design.  Whatever ... the result is that when I ride with them on, I don't feel my shoe bending over or around the edges of the pedal, just a nice solid platform to push on.  Cool.  Also cool is the simple, yet clever, tread design of different materials and pattern that really grips the pedal well.  My feet don't slip, but it's still easy to move them around on the pedal when I need a new position.  The fit is great, with lots of toe-wiggle room, room for socks up to a medium heavy type, and a fairly seam-free interior that doesn't irritate my toes.  I made one modification by swapping the insoles, which are pretty generic, with a pair I had from other shoes.  They're from New Balance, and are called the "Ultra Arch" insole, and have the extra arch and metatarsal support I prefer.  It isn't that the stock Keen insoles are bad ... they're actually very good for a standard insole ... I just prefer something different.  With the swapped insoles, these shoes are a really nice fit.


Although I've only used them for a few rides, I can tell you they're great, both on and off the bike ... at least for my feet.  What tells me they're so great?  Yep ... you guessed it ... I have never once even thought about them during the ride.  My feet feel good in them, even when pedaling hard ... therefore, I don't think about my feet, and that means the shoes are "right".  See how that works?  Genius ...

       

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dollars, Sense, & Feeling Good!

 
While it's no secret that riding your bike more helps you to feel good, it's still nice to reflect on it sometimes.  As I was riding home from the grocery store today, I was thinking about how good it felt.  Here I was, both front and rear panniers fully loaded with stuff for the weekend ... which included heavier items like Guinness, Silk Milk, apples, etc. ... the equivalent of about 7 plastic grocery bags ... and the bike handled so well that I was smiling.  It was, as I often like to say when describing the music of the artist formerly-known-as-then-called-something-you-can't-pronounce-but-now-once-again-known-as Prince, "smoov".  There was no weird steering or anything, as one might expect with such a heavy load ... just a very stable ride with some extra push on the pedals.  It's nothing new, really, just something I noticed while riding that brought a smile to my face.

As I continued the short ride home, I remembered how I used to always drive to buy groceries, thinking that it would be far too much effort to do it by bike, and that I would be too limited in what I could carry.  I've now found that isn't true at all.  Granted, I do consider available pannier room for bulky items, and I do now tend to not buy as many impulse things, but in the long run, that's good ... because it saves money and forces me to think more about what's really important when I shop.  Even so, I've never had a time when I bought too much and had no place to pack it for the ride home. 

Each time I shop by bike, it becomes easier and more relaxed.  I remember the first time I tried it.  I expected it to take a lot longer than if I had driven to the store.  I felt awkward as I locked up my bike, worrying that I might leave the store to find my beloved LHT gone.  I felt self-conscious in the store with my strange bags in the cart as I carefully placed items in them to make sure I didn't overshop.  I felt funny at the checkout when asking the bagger to NOT use plastic bags and try to distribute heavy items evenly in my panniers.  I felt as though everyone thought I must be crazy as I left the store and loaded so much stuff on my bike, possibly resembling a homeless person who could not afford a car.  Now ... I feel confident about my locking strategy.  I know that if someone really wants to steal my bike, they could, but it would sure be a lot of work, and they'd have to work pretty fast to get it done before I finish shopping ... and since any other bikes at the store would be much easier to steal, I'm guessing they'd go there first.  I feel much more at home when putting things into my cart, and I now know that it's doubtful I'll overshop.  I feel good about my funny shopping bags, especially when I hear the grocery store loudspeakers blasting a message about going green by using reusable shopping bags ... hey, I do that!  I no longer worry about the baggers ... although they continue to give me the blank stare when I explain the concept of "balance" when loading my bags.  When I leave the store now, it seems inevitable that someone will either give me a nod of "way to go" as I load up, or make some kind of comment about how they like the bike or admire the "no car" effort ... and I have no more feelings of self-consciousness.  I actually enjoy the time in the sunny parking lot while transferring the bags from the cart to my bike, making sure it's all tight and secure.  Oh, and to my happy amazement, riding to the store only takes a couple of minutes longer than if I drive.  It's all good stuff!!

One especially nice result of shopping by bike is that I very rarely drive anywhere now.  It's late May, and I've only filled up my tank once this entire year ... that's right, ONCE!!  Granted, I didn't exactly drive a lot before, but even if I only filled up every two weeks, that's a lot of gas money saved, not to mention the carbon footprint reduction.  I estimate that if I had filled my tank every two weeks, I would have filled up 8 more times this year than I have.  At approximately $45 per tank, that's $360 I've saved through shopping by bike.  That's a pretty big chunk off my grocery bill ... plus, by minimizing the impulse buying, I'm guessing I've saved a fair bit more.

I'm sure my experience is not unique, but I felt that I should share it with all of you just the same.  It is my hope that perhaps it will inspire some of you to try doing more of your shopping or other errands by bike.  It's not as difficult or time consuming as it may first appear ... trust me, I'm the world's foremost expert on considering all of the possible negatives before trying something new, and I had quite a list of reasons to NOT try this ... but to my great joy, they have all been proven wrong.

Yes, it helps to have all of the right gear ... but that doesn't necessarily mean "expensive", just "practical.  Considering I've saved over $350 in gas money, the investment in racks and bags was more than covered.

Get out there and do some bike shopping ... you'll save money, have fun, and feel good!!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Here's LOOKing At You!

  
I realize I've posted a lot about my Surly LHT, but there is another ... one that hasn't received nearly enough of my attention lately ... so here is a look at my Look:

Back in 2007, I was inspired to start riding again after several years of focusing more on other less important life factors ... work, housing, work, etc.  At that time, I knew little about bicycle technology, and even less about what my "perfect" bike would look (no pun intended) like.  Virtually all of the media, magazines, websites, and so on really pointed me to the conclusion that if I was "serious" about cycling, I seriously needed to get a good road bike.  I now know that "road bike" really should be called "race bike".  In any event, I did lots of research and talked with the guys at the local shops ... and then did a few test rides ... and settled on a Look 555 carbon frame road bike.  Here's what it "look"ed like back then:


I began to ride ... SLOWLY at first ... then picking up speed and greater distance.  It took a little while, since I hadn't been riding for a long time ... plus I had a lot of learning to do about those fancy clip-in pedal thingies.  Yes, I had to get the stiff shoes and proper wardrobe, too.  Hey, all the people riding road bikes in the magazines were wearing that stuff, and I wasn't about to break protocol!  After I got more familiar with the basic riding procedures, I started to go for the longer distances ... you know, "training".  That was when I began to notice that my body and drop handlebars don't get along well together, and the battle was waged with painful neck and hands that increased proportionally with my distance, and no amount of stretching really helped much.  I also noticed that my feet didn't care too much for being locked into one position for so long.  What to do ... what to do ...

It was about that time that I began to read articles from "alternative" sources on the subject of bike fitting.  One of them was a series of articles by Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycle Works.  His philosophies on parts and fit really hit home with me, and I felt it was worth a shot to make a few changes to my ride ... in hopes that the long ride would become within my reach without the discomfort I was experiencing.

I changed out the drop bars for some that were more upright, and with a bit of rearward sweep.  That made a huge difference for my neck and hands ... so I continued with ditching the clip-in (also known, oddly, as "clipless") pedals for some MKS "Grip King" platform pedals.  Wow ... that was an eye opener!  How cool it was to be able to shift my feet around when they got tingly!!  And the large platform just felt good to my feet.  I also changed out the ultra-skinny race saddle for one that's a bit wider to compensate for the higher handlebars ... and it was then that I became a life-long fan of classic leather saddles.  Somehow, they just work ... and isn't that how things should be, Mr. Dyson?

 In any case ... many modifications were made over time, including better/stronger wheels, different shift controls, better tires, and so on ... all to better fit the kind of riding I do.  It has been a great learning experience, resulting in a bike I love to ride ... not for racing, but for fast and fun recreational rides.

 Here's what it "look"s like now:





There were several component modifications made over time to get to the final state you see here.  Here's the list, not in any particular project or photographic accompaniment order:


Shimano Dura-Ace Bar End Shifters mounted on Paul Thumbies.  They're set to friction mode, my personal preference.




Shimano LX rear derailleur to accomodate a larger 11-32 cogset for a better gear range.



Shimano Compact Crankset with 50/34 tooth chainrings.  The bike originally came with 53/39, too high for my riding needs.



Civia Colfax Handlebars with 50-degree sweep ... upright and comfortable, yet "aggressive" enough for those rare occasions when speed is desired.



Brooks Team Pro Saddle.  Slim enough for fast riding and wide enough for comfort on long cruises.  I'd ride it even if it wasn't so gorgeous ... but I'm glad it is!




Custom wheelset with Velocity Fusion rims and Shimano 105 hubs.  They're laced with 36 heavy-duty straight gauge spokes in a 3-cross pattern.  I'm told that makes for a very strong wheel that still has some "give" for smooth rolling ... and it sounds right on the money.  The hubs are virtually silent and very smooth rolling.  Huge difference over the stock Mavic Aksium wheels that came with the bike ... HUGE!!



Acorn Small Front and rear Roll bags.  A great tiny company that makes great bags ... hard to get, but affordable and worth waiting for.  The front bag is just big enough for my cell phone, wallet, keys, gloves, and Click-Stand.  The rear bag holds the essential tools for minor road repairs and a spare tube, and it unrolls for easy access when needed.



Velo Orange Seatpost.  It has better setback to help with the short Brooks rails and steep seatpost angle of the race bike geometry.



Schwalbe Marathon Plus 700x25 tires.  These are the best skinny tires I've used.  Granted, I'm not a racer-type guy, but for durability, puncture-proof-edness, and smooth ride, they just can't be beat.



Ergon GP-1 grips.  This cool design is pure comfort for flat bars.  There's a wider area that sits under the heel of my hands and gives a great support.  Plus, the end plugs have Yin-Yang symbols ... a little Zen for my Look!







I have learned a lot from all the modifications ... enough that when I decided to get the Surly, I felt confident in building it up myself.  It's nice to know that I can fix almost anything on my bikes now ... it adds to the "relationship" with riding.  I have also been fortunate to have the support of my fiance to let me do all of this ... otherwise, I'd probably never have gotten back into cycling in the first place!  Thank you, T!!!!



What began as a pre-packaged race-oriented bike has ended with a fast and fun road bike that is custom trimmed to my personal needs.  I encourage you all to experiment ... you'll learn a ton and become better equipped to perform your own maintenance and repairs ... and you may just end up with a one-of-a-kind piece of art, which is what I consider this unique bike.

I love the end result ... the Look of love!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Take A Stand ... Or Two!



As we've discussed in a previous post, the pursuit of balance can take many forms, both mental and physical, when applied to cycling.  Today's post is regarding balance of the physical nature.
 
To ride like the wind and be free ... yes, this is the longing we share.  But what does one do in the midst of such a ride when one must stop and step off one's bike to meditate whilst consuming mass quantities of caffienated beverage?  One must, of course, lean, lay down, or otherwise "park" one's beloved steed.  Provided there exists such amenities to safely support the bike, leaning it or laying it down may suffice.  For me, that is most often not the case, and I cannot bear the thought of adding scratches or other debris to my frame that is not the result of some epic ride that I can replay in my head or tell as a short story to others.  No, no ... there has to be a better way ... and there is!  The solution is a kickstand!  Equipped with such a clever device, one may easily park one's bike almost anywhere, almost any time, and step back to admire the beauty of your ride while resting, refueling, texting, chatting, or yes, drinking coffee.

For those of you who already have a kickstand mounted to your bike, you're already experiencing the convenience ... but you will still appreciate the following information, and may even find a desire to upgrade.  If you don't have a kickstand, it is time, my friend, to consider it.

Many of the new breed of commuter and urban bikes on the market are now being equipped with kickstands.  That's great news, and a very welcome addition that shows the manufacturers are actually listening.  However, many of the road-oriented bikes out there do not have kickstands, as they do certainly add a bit of weight, which is something most roadies do not care to have.  I happen to believe the benefits far outweigh (pun intended) the weight.

There are many options for adding a kickstand.  I have recently added a Pletscher Twin-Leg stand to my Surly LHT.  This highly-regarded and long-tested model is quite stout, like a Guinness made in Ireland.  But every ounce is an ounce of strong metal, and the design is great.  Both legs swing up together behind the bottom bracket and to the left of the rear wheel, tucking away nicely and never in the way of pedaling. 



When opening, the legs swing down and separate to their respective sides under the bike.  The bike then balances with the two legs and either front or rear wheel, depending on whether your bike is front or rear weighted.  The other wheel is lifted slightly off the ground.  This can be quite helpful for minor maintenance, by the way.

Installing the Pletscher was not an easy thing.  Although a fairly straight-forward process, my particluar frame has chainstays that are shaped in an oval, and at an angle that isn't ideal for kickstand mounting.  Having a kickstand mounting plate would have made it very simple, but alas, my LHT has one minor shortcoming.  No worries.  I also purchased the Deluxe Top Plate kit, which has two plastic inserts for the top of the chainstays, a replacement top plate, and a longer mounting bolt.  This also was not as simple as it first appeared.  The plastic inserts are just wide enough that the inner chainring came into contact, due to my small frame size.  I had to use my handy Dremel tool to grind away some of the material until it would fit with enough clearance for comfort.  I also added a wrap of cotton tape around the chainstays to protect the paint from the metal-to-metal contact.  Once this was all done, installation was pretty simple ... except for one last thing.  The legs on this stand are long.  Let me repeat that ... the legs on this kickstand are LONG.  So long, in fact, that they absolutely had to be cut down to be functional for my small bike.  Larger bikes may not have this problem, but mine does.  To their credit, Pletscher is aware that this may be necessary, and has measured markings on both legs to help make sure the cuts are even and at the proper angle.  Thank you!  After looking for an hour for my hacksaw, which I never found (where do those things disappear to?), I again turned to my handy Dremel tool with a cutoff wheel, and began cutting the legs.  It worked just fine, and left a fairly neat edge, which I ground to be even smoother.  I put on the pair of rubber feet, and mounted the stand. 

After all was said and done, I love this kickstand.  It's very strong, works perfectly, and makes stopping anywhere easy.  At the grocery store, the double legs really help with loading the bags onto the racks, keeping the bike stable in the process.  The Pletscher Twin Leg stand is available from lots of different places, and comes in both silver and black.  The rubber feet are usually sold separately.





Some of you may be saying "Well, that's nice, but my bike doesn't have room to mount a kickstand."  For you ... and for me ... there is an ingenious product called the Click-Stand.  It is perfect for road bikes that have no place to mount a kickstand, or for those of you who just don't want the extra weight on your bike.  They are custom made to order for your bike's frame size and tube dimensions. 






It weighs almost nothing, and amazingly folds up so it can fit into a jersey pocket or bag.









When you need to use it, a quick flick unfolds it and turns it into a "third leg" for your bike. 













The soft rubber cradle at the top hooks under your top tube near your saddle, place the other end about ten inches to the side, and simply lean your bike on the stand. 




















Elastic bands are provided to "lock" your brake levers, thus preventing your wheels from turning and your bike rolling away.  Brilliant!  A third elastic band is provided with your order as a spare.

So ... take a stand with your bike!! Or take two!  Aren't you glad today's technology provides lots of choices?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Have Some Fun and Win A Bike!

  
The ladies over at "Let's Go Ride A Bike" are having a Summer Games contest.  It looks like a great way to do some extra riding and explore some new activities ... plus there are some very cool prizes, including a Batavus BuB bike!  Check out the contest ... and their great cycling blog of the stylish kind!



Click Here to view the contest post. Good luck to everyone!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bike to Work Week Plan

 
Not only is it Bike Month, but next week, May 17-21, is Bike to Work Week.  Not only that, but Friday, May 21 is Bike to Work Day.  So you have choices ... you can bike to work for the whole month, one week, or just one day.  That is, of course, if you don't already bike to work, in which case you get to make others feel guilty that they only do it when they're told to for a special occasion.

I'm feeling rather left out in this whole bike to work thing.  That's because I work from a home office.  So I really can't bike to work ... I'm already there.  But I do want to take part in the celebration of transportational pedalitudedness.  So I have formulated a plan, and here it is:

Each day during Bike to Work Week, I will pack my work clothes (T-shirt & shorts) in a bag, put some coffee in an insulated bottle, get on my bike, and ride away somewhere that's a reasonable commuting distance ... say two miles.  Once there, I will get off my bike and lock it to some sturdy object, drink my coffee, and change into my work clothes (in a private place, of course).  Then, I'll go back to my bike, unlock it, get on and ride back to my office (the house), lock my bike in my employer-provided parking space (the garage), go inside to my office, comb my hair to eliminate helmet head appearance, greet the rest of the staff (the dogs), clock in (sit down) and begin working.

Since this is Bike TO Work Week, I am not required to ride FROM work back home, so there will be no end-of-day hoops to jump through in order to fulfill the celebration guidelines and parameters. 

For Bike to Work Day, which is an even BIGGER event, I will perform the same activity, except for the following:

Instead of my normal "work" clothes, I'll change into something more "business-like".  Perhaps a pair of actual pants and a dress shirt?  Gasp.  And I'll put my laptop in it's case and carry it in my front basket in order to be more legitimate.  I'll even pack a lunch that day.  When I get to the "office", I'll not only comb my hair, but I'll spritz with some kind of designer men's fragrance and wear a watch or something else that says "professional". 

Frivolous, you say?  Possibly ... but being that I feel strongly about supporting Bike Month events, and feel even more strongly about supporting biking to work for everyone, it seems my duty to somehow take part in the experience.  And somehow, merely grocery shopping by bike next week does not seem enough.  Besides, it's another wonderful excuse to spend more time riding ... and that's always a good thing!

What are YOUR plans for Bike to Work Week and Bike to Work Day?
 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

California Bicycle Museum

  
The bicycle-friendly town of Davis, California is now the home of the California Bicycle Museum!  If you love bicycles, you'll love their collection.

From the website:


"Davis has a long history as bicycle friendly town and with the University of California, Davis, the community has emerged as one of the leading bicycle communities in the United States. The California Bicycle Museum was created to educate the public about the history of bicycles and the important role they play in our society.

The museum serves as an educational and research center for all aspects of cycling and bicycle history. With the Pierce Miller antique bicycle collection serving as the nucleus of the future bicycle museum, the City of Davis, UC Davis, and the California Bicycle Museum have been quietly securing additional bicycle donations that represent the entire timeline of bicycle history.

We invite you to browse around and explore our collection. We also hope you will send us your feedback and we welcome your involvement in our effort."




The gallery includes some truly amazing photos that span the history of wheeled self-powered transportation.  Please take some time to check them out ... make a donation ...or visit in person!


   

Monday, May 10, 2010

It's About Time For Action!

  
This post isn't about cycling, although getting more people on bikes does help the cause.

I was just watching the news ... I do that now and then ... and saw another report on the massive oil leak in the Gulf.  It's such a sad waste ... and such a tragedy ... one that is unbelievably devastating to the environment.  And for what?  For OIL?  Yes, we have become quite dependent on oil ... but only because we've been somewhat forced to be so.  The technology for other energy sources has been available for years ... for DECADES ... and because the greedy, money-hungry, careless oil companies have gained the extreme power over our government, the application of these green technologies has been pushed far away from the people.  And by "the people", I mean all of us.  Their powerful lobbyists and financial games have made it too costly for the average person to afford a car that's not fueled by oil or a home that's not powered by company-supplied electricity.  This has to change ... and if the recent oil leak in the Gulf isn't a sign, then I don't know what it will take.

There have now been MILLIONS of barrels of oil spilled into the water, and all attempts to contain it have failed ... each one taking days to even try ... meanwhile, the oil continues to spill, contaminating the water where a multitude of sea life USED to thrive.  What happens next?  Well, I'm guessing the fishing industry is shot down there ... another casualty of the oil tycoons.  Haven't the people in our southern states had enough with hurricanes and such?  Even if they can stop the leak, it will take YEARS to clean the water, and it may never be the same.  Fish and other sea life will die.  People who make their living from that sea life will lose their business, jobs, homes ... as if the financial meltdown wasn't enough.

To think there was such a huge push recently to establish more offshore drilling here in Southern California is now unimaginable.  Of course the oil companies all told us how safe it is ... I wonder what they say now?  While the risk of a leak such as this current tragedy may be low in the long run, the fact that such a risk exists should make the choice easy ... NO MORE DRILLING!

Technology for sustainable, green energy is available.  There is plenty of sunshine for everyone ... plants, trees, and humans.  It's good for us, it doesn't harm the planet, and it's free!  When the sun isn't shining, there's likely enough wind available to power turbines ... once again ... no environmental impact, and free!  Solar and wind power technology has been around for a very long time ... and it's time it became available to the average home, at a price that's affordable for everyone.  A solar and wind powered home can produce enough energy to be completely self-sustaining, even recharging an electric car each day, and possibly even send some back to the electric company for someone else to use.  And speaking of electric cars, we have had the technology to build them for a long time ... so why isn't it happening faster?  Once again, because the all-powerful oil companies won't allow it ... and when they do, it's in the form of "hybrid" vehicles that are beyond the price range of the people who really need them, and even so, they still use gas (the "hybrid" part).  It's more like a vehicle that makes people "feel" like they're helping the environment ... making people feel good about themselves is what marketing is all about, right?  Our auto manufacturers can certainly make all-electric cars that work ... and they can make them in all price levels from ultra-affordable to full-on luxury.  Saying they can't is an outright lie.

It's time to make some changes.  The question is ... how do we make it happen?  How do we send the message to our government that we need them to stop allowing the oil and power companies to decide what technology is affordable and available?  How do we get our government to hold them accountable for everything that happens when they screw up?  BP should not only pay for the cleanup in the Gulf ... they should pay for the lost wages of the people who can't work in the fishing industry down there ... they should pay for wildlife rescue operations for as long as they're needed ... they should absorb the higher cost of gas for the public and LOSE money for a while, not just pass the loss on to us in higher prices ... there should be a sizable fine for every day that the leak continues, which should go directly to green technology ... and they should be forced to shut down their offshore drilling sites to prevent any future catastrophes.  I, for one, am tired of rising gas prices blamed on increased costs while the oil companies simultaneously post record profits and defend them by saying their profit "percentage" isn't higher, only the dollar amount due to the higher gas prices.  True and logical ... but still criminal in my mind.  Combined with the largest tax breaks and loopholes of any industry, it becomes pure evil.  And no Bail-Out for them, either, even if it means bankrupcy.  We don't need oil ... we need development of safe, sustainable, green technology at an affordable price for everyone.

Anyone have any thoughts how to get some action?  For me ... for now ... I'm very sad for the people, the wildlife, and the environment that will be hurting for a very, very long time.  And I will be shopping by bike ... refusing to drive and support the oil companies by buying gas.  I know it's not much, but if everyone does a little, it might make a collective impact.

Public Bikes

Just a quick note that a new company, Public Bikes, is now fully launched and has their new website ready to go.  They offer only a few bike models, which are simple and elegant, designed for city commutes, recreation, and utility riding.  All models are 4130 chromoly steel, and are available with single speed (diamond frame only), and 3-speed or 8-speed internal gear drivetrains.  Both step-through and traditional diamond frames are available in a nice selection of colors.  They are reasonably priced, and appear to be well thought out.  A good selection of accessories are also available for apparel, bags, safety, bike components, even stylish shoes.  It's nice to see new companies coming along who are dedicated to the everyday application of bicycles.  Check out the new website!!


Happy Riding!!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Why Are There Always Hills?

Okay ... here's a secret that only anyone who knows me or has ever ridden with me knows:  I'm not in love with hills.  Actually, I really don't like them at all.  Truth be told, I often HATE hills.  Maybe you've surmised that I'm not a good climber.  It's true, although I'm sure it's more mental than physical.  In the pursuit of higher consciousness, I have tried to see them as challenges, rather than enemies.  I have tried to see them as good ... good in the way that studying a subject you have no interest in whatsoever is good ... because you're supposed to learn something valuable from them and become a better person in the process.  Climbing hills makes one stronger, yes?  Climbing hills brings one a sense of confidence, yes?  Conquering hills brings one the experience of overcoming ones weaknesses, yes?

Yes, all of those things are true ... and yes, I've learned and grew stronger and became more confident and overcame weaknesses.  Is that all grammatically correct?  But still ... I don't like hills.  And here's the real issue I have:  there are ALWAYS hills.  I live in a place where I have a choice.  Either start the ride up a biggish hill and return coasting back down ... or start out descending and finish with a big hill near the ride's end.  Easy right?  Take the hill first and finish easy.  Not so fast ...

If I start out descending, I'm heading toward the beach, where the scenery is beautiful ... lots of nice smooth bike lanes along the coast ... breathtaking views of the ocean ... the perfect environment for riding ... but I always know I have a very long climb back home, and need to reserve some energy for it.  If I start out climbing, I'm heading inland ... away from the beach ... away from the beautiful scenery ... but an easy finish to my ride.  It's always a struggle to decide.

So ... what would YOU do?

I've often dreamed of living in a place where the earth is flat and only has wind and rain when I'm not riding. It would be perfect, right?  Then again, where I live is a truly beautiful place, and I am constantly amazed that I'm just looking out my window or down the road at what I see, and not in a photograph or piece of museum artwork.  If the terrain were flat, it just wouldn't be the same.  It would be rather ... well, flat.  I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

So, rather than continue to complain, which I'm certain I'll return to at some point in the not-too-distant future, I'm trying a new approach this month.  If I ride to the beach, I'll force myself to forget the hill on the ride back, and essentially consider the ride to be complete when I've toured the coastline of my community.  The ride back, including the hills, is merely my commute home ... not really part of the actual ride itself.  I can pause before leaving the beach and say "Ahhhhh ... that was a great ride ... now it's time to go home."  And if I ride inland, I'll make the ride about finding something new and different in the surrounding area.  A pair of crazy squirrels, perhaps, who are, in reality, terrorists planted among us to leap out at the exact split second we ride by, thus causing us to crash and reconsider our capitalist way of life.  Or maybe there's a new Starbucks or Peet's somewhere along the way ... yeah, coffee is always good!  Then, when I'm coasting downhill on my crashed bike with a stomach full of coffee, I'll have new things to think about and not wish I'd ridden to the beach instead.

Think it will help?  In the mean time ... if you enjoy humorous looks at people and bicycles, I understand there's a new book from none other than the Bike Snob, of BikeSnobNYC blog fame.  I haven't read it, but I can imagine it's worth a look.  He always has an interesting take on "normal" life.

 Hope you're all having a great Bike Month!!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

You Don't Need A Reason ...But Sometimes It Helps

   
Yesterday was a long day ... an EXTRA long day.  So long, in fact, that the 9pm closing time at Trader Joe's was passed up before the shopping trip could even start.  What to do, what to do ... well, we ended up going out for dinner at 9:30, rather than start making dinner at such a late hour.  The fish tacos and two beers were a welcome addition to my then empty stomach, but as is generally the result, I awoke this morning feeling sluggish, as well as somewhat stiff from a combination of aging body and extra muscle use from yesterday's activity.

Being National Bike Month and all, I made it my goal to spend some time with a bike every day ... not necessarily a major long ride or anything ... not necessarily even a ride ... it could be cleaning and performing routine maintenance ... or installing the new kickstand I mentioned in yesterday's post.  So far, so good ... until this morning.  As I mentioned, I was already feeling sluggish from late dinner and beer, and a little old and stiff from a long day.  After getting up and making coffee, taking the dogs out for the morning walk, feeding them, making breakfast and lunch for my better half, and getting her off to her day at the office, I was just not feeling like getting out for a ride.  It was one of those mornings when a good reason was required to push me over the edge and get me out the door and on the bike.

Then I remembered that I needed to go and get a few things from the grocery store.  At first, it wasn't an attractive thought, but I realized my bags were already on the bike, tires full of air, chain freshly lubed, and all I had to do was put my shoes on and head out.  And still, it was one of those mornings that made even doing that seem like a chore ... but I thought "Hey ... it's Bike Month ... and you need groceries ... it's just a short ride ... you'll accomplish something ... and you'll feel better".  So I put on my shoes and I went out the door.

I was right in what I told myself.  As soon as the garage door opened and I felt the sun, I felt better.  When I got on the bike and started rolling down the street, I felt even better.  When I got to the first stoplight, I felt even better still.  When I arrived at the grocery store parking lot, locked up my bike, grabbed my bags and noticed how nice my Surly LHT looks in the sun, I felt way better.  When I found some really-good-and-not-over-ripe avocados, I felt way-way better.  When I got to teach the bagger how he should try to balance the two bags by putting one carton of Silk Milk in each, rather than loading everything into only one bag, I felt like I imparted some valuable wisdom to a person younger than myself (although he simply gave me a blank stare as I took over and packed my own panniers).  When I secured my panniers to my bike, packed with just-purchased groceries, I felt great, knowing that I can shop by bike and save the entire planet single-handedly by not driving a car.  And when I rolled home on a fully-loaded beautiful blue touring bike, I felt humble and very grateful for all the nice things I have.  As I wheeled into the garage and unpacked my haul, I remembered how I didn't feel like going for a ride earlier ... and made myself a promise that whenever I find it difficult to get out the door, I'll remember how good today's short ride was and how great it felt both during and after.

Riding a bike doesn't require a reason ... but sometimes having one will get you out the door ... where you'll discover (again and again) why you love riding in the first place.  Funny how that works, huh?  Find a reason ... or none at all ... and get out there today!

Monday, May 3, 2010

National Bike Month ... and other Celebrations!!

  
It's National Bike Month!  Yay!!!

How will you celebrate?  Haven't decided?  Here's a link to get you started and perhaps find some events near you:



If Spring hasn't already enticed you, get that bike out of the garage, give it a good cleaning, pump up the tires, lube the chain, add some new shiny bits if you want, and get out there and ride!!

Speaking of riding, I have some riding of my own to do ... but I'll try to keep it balanced with work and family.  And speaking of "balance", I've decided to add a kickstand to my Surly LHT, as loading panniers at the grocery store can be tricky whilst simultaneously attempting to hold the bike upright.  The box arrived today ... in it, a shiny new Pletscher Two-Leg Kickstand, Deluxe Top Plate (to protect the chainstays), and a pair of plastic/rubber feet.



 
I'll get some shots of the installation procedure and post a review soon.

Also ... I had a birthday last month ... woohoo!   Here's my cake ... baked by my one and only!  Yes, she calls me "BooBoo".  Many of her colleagues, friends, and family don't even know my real name, and simply refer to me also as "BooBoo", because they've never heard me referred to as anything else.  Back to the cake ... it was tasty AND healthy ... really!!



I have to admit, I got spoiled this year.  Among the many gifts are a couple I'll share with you here.  I love soft organic T-shirts, especially when they have something inspiring to say ... like this one from Life Is Good:


Their Creamy T's are incredibly soft, really well made, and comfortable beyond measure ... try one or several!!  I also got a pair of MUSA Riding Shorts from Rivendell to try.  The design looks great for us non-racing type cyclists, and the material looks to be cool and nice to the skin.  I'll post a review after a few rides in them.


My apologies for the lack of substance in the post today ... many eggs in many pans ... but as each one is flipped, cooked, and promptly served with toast, oatmeal, and fresh fruit, there will be more time for more riding, more thoughts, more reviews, more stories, and ... more ....

May you all be well and find yourself celebrating this month of the bicycle!!

Friday, April 30, 2010

When Fat is Good

  
We all know that fat is not exactly healthy.  It leads to all kinds of illness, disease, and a shorter life expectancy.  But there is one place where some extra girth can actually be quite beneficial.  It's in your tires!  No, I'm not speaking of your own physical "spare tire", but in your bike tires.

For many years there's been a trend toward ultra-narrow road tires ... brought on by an industry marketing of racing bikes to the general masses.  Three years ago, I truly believed that if I wanted to be a "serious" cyclist, I needed to have a carbon frame race bike with skinny tires.  That may be true if I was interested in racing ... but for recreational, transportation, and general fitness applications, adding some "fat" rubber to your rims can be quite beneficial to both enjoyment and safety.

I won't get into the physics of tire width, air pressure, rider weight, rolling resistance, and so on ... as there are many resources for that if you really want to research the technical side.  Visit Schwalbe's website for one such study, and while reading it, remember that this manufacturer makes ALL kinds of tires, including skinny ones.  All I can say is that fatter tires are more fun ... at least for me.

My Surly LHT has been fitted with Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tires in the 26"x2" size.  That's a pretty huge tire for a road-oriented bike.  Take a look at the photos and see for yourself:



They fill up the frame nicely, no?  What they provide is a very large volume of air at lower pressure ... which translates to cushion ... which translates to comfort.  Many of the roads here are chip sealed, and not exactly smooth.  These tires really float over all the ragged surfaces.  I like that.  When rolling over bumps, the extra cushion also flexes more like a set of shock absorbers, rather than jarring the bike (and me!) up and over it.  It's for these very reasons that Schwalbe and others maintain that wider tires actually have lower rolling resistance than skinny tires.  I tend to agree with them, having bikes with both fat and skinny tires.

I've also found that bigger tires also tend to flat less than their thinner counterparts.  I'm guessing this is due in part to their lower pressure and ability to flex over objects, but that may not be the science behind it.  The Marathon Supremes do have excellent puncture protection, as well, but I speak from experience with other tires in addition to them.  I have almost never had a flat on fatter tires, both in 26" and 29" varieties, but have had plenty on 700x23 or 700x25 tires (prior to finding Schwalbe Marathon Plus, that is ... but that's another post altogether ... patience, my friends ...).

Another benefit to rubber of the rotund variety is load capacity.  I do some grocery shopping on my bike, and often carry multiple cartons of Silk Milk (the unsweetened organic kind, of course) along with canned goods and other heavier items.  Groceries combined with my own weight can be a lot for a bike to handle ... so a set of tires rated for hauling cargo is a nice thing for peace of mind.  The Schwalbe Marathon Supremes in my size are rated to carry 140kg per tire at maximum inflation.  That's 280kg for the pair, or a total of 616 pounds!!  Now, I doubt that I could ever manage to put that much weight on my bike, but at least I know that the combined weight of the bike, me, and whatever I carry will NEVER exceed the rated capacity of my tires. 

The last benefit to fat tires is lower effort to inflate them.  Yes, that's right, LOWER effort.  High pressure tires may require fewer strokes from a large pump, but those strokes are much harder.  I used CO2 cartridges for flats on the road bike because I could never get the tire up to 100psi with a mini pump.  Getting a fat tire up to 50psi out on the road takes some extra strokes of the pump, but I can always reach the pressure I need with free air and no CO2.  To me, that's important.

Is there a down side to fat?  It depends on your point of view.  If you're all about having the lightest bike possible, then you probably don't want big tires ... they do indeed add some weight.  In the case of the Marathon Supreme, however, they are actually quite light in comparison to other similar tires ... but still not as light as skinny race models.  Some may feel that the additional weight makes the bike slower.  I suppose that may be true, depending on your comparison.  My experience is that I get to my destination in about the same amount of time, whether I'm riding my Surly LHT with big fat tires or my Look 555 with skinny tires ... give or take a few minutes.  The few minutes may matter to you, and that's perfectly fine.  For me, I'm not interested in making the ride as short as possible ... a few minutes more makes for a few minutes more fun!

I've also found that the extra-wide tires don't slide out from my released/opened brake pads when fully inflated on the rim ... they're just a tiny bit too wide.  I have to let a bit of air out so I can squeeze the tire thinner where it passes between the pads.  At first, I was rather irritated by this, but then I realized that the only time I'm removing the wheel from the bike is when A) I have a flat, in which case the tire is not inflated, or B) when truing the wheel or performing some other kind of maintenance, in which case I can let some air out for removal and re-installation.  So, when I really think about it, it's a very minor inconvenience in contrast to all of the wonderful benefits.  But if that bothers you, or if you routinely need to take your front wheel off for bike rack mounting, you may want to consider the clearance between your brake pads before purchasing.

Whatever tires you ride, check them often for proper air pressure, look for any puncture-causing debris that may be clinging to the tread, keep them clean, and then go ride!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Zen and the Bicycle

   
According to Wikipedia, Zen “is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism notable for its emphasis on practice and experiential wisdom.”  Many people associate Zen with the pursuit of greater awareness to achieve perfect balance in their life.  This “balance” is the idea behind VeloZen … and here’s why:

Balance is essential to maintaining all life.  When things are out of balance, something must happen to restore it or else really bad things will happen.  For example, earthquakes are a result of imbalanced pressure at a fault line.  When the imbalance becomes too great, the earth moves to reset itself.  Although we don’t like earthquakes, they serve a necessary purpose, which prevents our planet from completely exploding under pressure (a really bad thing). 

The very act of riding a bicycle is a demonstration of balance.  After all, if we don’t balance, we simply fall over.  Of course, we must remember that balancing on two wheels is something we all learn through … yes, you guessed it … practice and experience … Zen!!   Do you remember how it felt the very first time you rode your two-wheeler without help or training wheels?  Nirvana, anyone?

The Zen corollaries do not end with the physical act of riding alone, though.  No, grasshopper, there is more to ponder and meditate upon.  Think about riding … and how your awareness becomes heightened … you become one with your bicycle … one with your environment … you feel the wind and sun (or rain) on your skin … you are moving under your own power, magically balanced and moving forward, experiencing the world around you.  If you’re like me, you’ve put forth a great deal of effort in selecting the perfect bike, components, clothing, shoes, socks, sunglasses, helmet, and so on.  Research can be a great help, and there are many resources of great teaching to guide one in narrowing the list.  Even so, nothing replaces the Zen principles of practice and experience in determining what is right for one’s own needs.  It hasn’t been easy, but your Zen balance of practice and experience has led you to the perfect combination to make each ride … well, perfectly balanced Nirvana.  If nothing else existed but this ride, we would live forever in this balanced state.   But, alas, we are adults, and must lead adult lives, being responsible to our jobs, families, friends, neighbors, dogs, cats, hamsters, and so on … another state of being that requires balance within itself.  Therefore, we must pursue yet another balance … the balance between our balanced-bicycle-state-of-being and our balanced-everyday-life-state-of-being.  

This is a complex pursuit of multiple balanced states.  And yet, I find that one balancing act often leads to the self-balancing of the other.  My fiancé tells me over and over that she knows when I’ve been out for a ride, because I’m more centered and productive.  She’s right about that.  Even when my ride is brief and less than spectacular, I return with a peaceful energy that makes the rest of the day easy, and I find it much easier to focus on my task list.

This blog is born out of knowing that I am not the only being in this world to experience this often convoluted path.  I hope that sharing my own observations will provide some enlightened light-hearted views of simultaneously balancing two balancing acts … of course, with a focus on the two-wheeled side of the scale!

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Surly LHT SUV

Having moved to a new house, where it is now possible to do virtually all of my shopping and errands via bicycle, it became evident that I needed a bicycle that’s up to the task. After all, my carbon road bike isn’t exactly suited for racks and panniers … and I wouldn’t feel good about leaving it locked up in front of the store, either. I wanted a bike that’s strong, well-designed, flexible for other purposes (maybe some light trail or gravel road riding, carrying a small camera kit for photo hobby stuff), and one that would accept a variety of optional hardware for modification down the road. So the research began … actually, it began a long time ago … I just had no justification for another bike, and certainly not one of this type, where I previously lived. I read all the blogs … I read all the reviews … really … ALL of them. And I settled on a model that would fit the bill, along with the right racks, bags, bars, pedals, and so on. I then got the approval from the person in the house who maintains a sense of intelligence regarding extravagant purchases … after explaining that I could dramatically lower our monthly expenses by selling the pickup truck and doing our shopping by bike. The green light given, I ordered everything … learned a lot about bike assembly … and here is the result – a 2010 Surly Long Haul Trucker, modified for multiple applications:




It is a stock build, with the following modifications/additions:

Velo Orange Headset
Velo Orange Stem
Paul Components Moto-Lite Brakes
Kool-Stop Mountain Brake Pads
Paul Components Love Lever 2.5 Brake Levers
Nitto B825 Touring Handlebars
Paul Components Thumbies for handlebar mounting of the Dura-Ace shifters
Surly Nice Racks front and rear
Wald Basket zip-tied to the front rack
Kona Wah-Wah pedals
PitLock locking wheel skewers
Velo Orange braided stainless steel brake/derailleur cables
Brooks B-17 Aged saddle
Nitto S-84 “Wayback” lugged steel seatpost
Schwalbe Marathon Supreme 26”x2” tires
Cinelli “Corky” bar tape, finished with natural twine and amber shellac
Rivendell Sackville Shopsack – front basket bag (check them out!!)
Rivendell Sackville Trunksack Large (perfectly fits a Domke F-5XB with DSLR camera kit)
Banjo Brothers Market Panniers for grocery shopping (plastic or paper? NEITHER!!)


The ride is incredibly smooth and stable, via the combination of steel frame and big cushy tires. Even though the Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tires are huge by road standards, they roll fast, grip well, and are surprisingly light. They float over bumpy and cracked pavement, and simply fly on smoother surfaces.

The LHT is a great bike for … well, for almost anything! It’s designed for loaded touring, which also makes it a great bike for carrying a fairly large grocery haul. It’s also a wonderful commuter bike … stable, solid, and able to carry your briefcase, laptop, change of clothes, and lunch without missing a pedal stroke. And it’s just a seriously fun bike to ride … there’s no worry of where you go, roads, trails, whatever … no problem! The design is such that customizing it is easy with unlimited options for drivetrain, controls, racks, baskets, etc. Commute and shop during the week … go bike camping on the weekend!

Is the bike heavy? Well, compared to my Look 555, yes, it certainly is. But then again, one doesn’t buy a Surly bike if weight is a concern. No, one buys a Surly when one wants to haul cargo, go touring, ride the rough stuff, or have all-day adventures. Is it slow? Again, it isn’t a race bike … but it isn’t a beach cruiser, either. Although not fast off the starting block, it does get up to speed well, even when loaded up with groceries, and never feels like a tank.

As many have said before me, if you decide to buy a Surly LHT, you’ll never regret it. I love all of my bikes … but after riding it for only a couple of months, I can also agree that if I had to choose only one bike, it would be this one.