Sunday, December 16, 2012

Orange County Bicycle Service and Garage!!

I recently stumbled upon a local business that deserves a little "shout-out".  It's Orange County Bicycle Service and Garage, located in Laguna Hills, CA.  They've been around for only a couple of years, but seem to be gaining a reputation for themselves by offering a set of unique services for Southern Orange County.

First off, the mechanical service is top notch, coming from expert mechanic and owner Corey Clayton.  In my brief conversation with him, it became clear that he loves bikes, and cares about his customers, having a strong desire to keep their rides in good working order so they can stay on the road or trail.  While in the shop, someone came in with a mountain bike that had a brake issue.  Corey quickly put the bike up on the stand, diagnosed the problem, fixed it, and explained to the customer how to prevent the problem in the future ... and with a minimal service charge, the customer was back out the door within about 15 minutes, his brakes working better than they ever had before.  That seems to be the consensus about Corey's work ... the bikes are returned to the owner working better than when they were new.  Next-day and Same-day turn-around service is available.

I also noticed that there's none of the usual condescending attitude that's prevalent in most bike shops.  You've all experienced the LBS staffer who appears loathe to talk with anyone about anything not related to high-end race/performance bikes or products.  This shop has a great sense of broad knowledge and love of all bike types.  In for service was a range of bikes that included top-of-the-line mountain and road bikes, commuter rigs, and even a very old Raleigh frameset that appeared to be in the process of full overhaul.  You'll also find a good selection of parts ... including more UN-common things like 8-speed cassettes and chains.

So far, this is all great, but not necessarily unique.  HOWEVER ... there are some offerings that make this place quite cool.  Things like bike pick-up and delivery service, emergency roadside assistance within a 30-mile radius, even mobile service for those times when you just can't make it to the shop but need something fixed.

One of the MOST unique things about this shop is that they are one of only two Park Tool Certified Schools in Southern California, offering classes in bike repair and maintenance.  To go along with this, they have several fully-equipped workstations that are available for rent ... so you can work on your own bike in a proper environment with professional tools and an expert mechanic within earshot if you find yourself stuck.

Beyond all of this, they're one of very few places in Southern Orange County where you can buy quality used bicycles.  They don't really stock new bikes, but do offer consignment sales of bikes that pass the test.  This is truly great for both buyers and people who have nice bikes to sell.  While you can certainly go the CL route to sell your bike, that requires you to be available to meet with potential buyers and answer a lot of silly questions, not to mention the whole haggling issue.  Not my personal preference.  Having your bike for sale at OCBG means it's always available for customers to see and test ride, and you don't have to deal with the price negotiation.  Yes, there's a fee for consignment sales, but it's worth it for the savings in time and effort.

Here's the promo video for OCBG:

If you're in South OC, take a little time and go check this place out.  You'll be glad you did!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why I Wear A Helmet

If you want to start a fight in the cycling community, simply bring up the topic of helmets, and then offer an opinion regarding whether or not you believe they should be worn at all times when riding a bike.  It doesn't really matter on which side of the fence you choose to sit.  Those from the other side will immediately and fiercely attack your beliefs and inform you that you are the biggest idiot alive.

If you believe helmets SHOULD be worn, you'll get people who tell you the scientific studies in favor of helmet use are politically skewed and part of a massive helmet industry conspiracy to make us all buy them, and that helmets don't really protect you, and that helmet laws only serve to dissuade potential cyclists from riding.

If you believe in NOT wearing a helmet, people will scream at you for setting a poor example for the kids, and tell you how irresponsible and selfish you are, and they'll tell you all about the time they fell over in the driveway and lived to tell the story because they were wearing a helmet.

It also seems the media world loves to propagate the fight by always letting you know the cyclist wasn't wearing a helmet when they were killed by a motorist ... as though they might have lived through being hit by that pickup truck whose driver was both drunk and texting at 50mph, if only they'd been more responsible and worn their helmet.  The media would have you believe the vehicle driver was the real victim, and that the cyclist's demise was obviously their own fault, not that of the driver who "never saw them".  The media will imply that the helmet would have not only protected their entire body from the high-speed collision with a multi-ton vehicle, but it would likely have made them completely visible to the driver, therefore helping to avoid the accident altogether.

Personally, I'm not sure where the line should be drawn.  I can relate to arguments on both sides.  I've actually fallen in the driveway while attempting to unclip from my pedal (back when I used clipless pedals) and felt my helmeted head smack the pavement.  I've often wondered whether or not I would have experienced some kind of injury if it was my bare noggin, rather than a helmet-covered one ... but then I realize the helmet adds some size to my head, and it very well may have been just the helmet to hit the pavement, and a bare head might have never touched it.  At the same time, I've tripped over things many times in my life while simply walking from one place to another, and have suffered no real head trauma.  That being said, I've never crashed at high speed, and have no experience with what happens there.  Also ... if I understand it correctly, the official testing for bicycle helmet certification is basically only good for low-speed incidents that involve something hitting your head from the top ... which seems a rather unlikely scenario.  And even if it does offer some protection for a portion of your head, it certainly won't protect the rest of your body from a high-speed auto collision.  The odds of surviving that are low, helmet or not.

So .... my official position is that it should be optional, but perhaps recommended, depending on the environment and type of riding taking place.  I don't think they should be required, because there are many circumstances where they just don't make any sense for casual riding ... but I do think they serve an important function, and should be used when there's a potential risk.  How's that for taking a firm stance?

Nevertheless, I do choose to wear a helmet when riding.  Even if I'm not entirely convinced it will save my life, it does give me a little added mental security, as well as giving my quite significant other a sense that I'm being safe.  But most importantly, it gives me something I can only get from wearing a helmet.  You know what I'm talking about ... it's that special thing that tells everyone "Why, yes, I did just finish an epic bout of cycling."

Post-Ride Helmet Hair ... the BEST reason to wear a helmet!

Yes ... there it is ... the REAL reason to wear a helmet.  Helmet hair.  It saves hundreds of dollars every year by giving you a hairstyle that you could only otherwise get from a stylist.  Forget the politics ... do it for the style!!

Friday, November 2, 2012

New Shoes ... For My Brakes!

Wow ... is it really November already?  It feels like summer just began. Let the updates begin ...

In my last post, I showed you some new shoes ... well "new" was a relative term since I'd been wearing them for quite some time before writing about them.  In any case, while we're still on the topic (over a month later, since I haven't written about anything else since then), let's talk about more new shoes ... this time for my brakes!

I ordered my Hunqapillar (a.k.a. Funqapillar) with the new-at-the-time Shimano CX-70 cantilever brakes, and have been very happy with them ... but always felt the pads were a bit lacking in the "grabby-ness" department.  I wanted to give the system plenty of time before making any changes, though ... for two reasons.  First, brake pads always have a bit of a break-in period as they lose the shiny surface, after which they tend to perform better.  Second, the Velocity Synergy rims on my wheels do not have machined brake surfaces, which means they aren't perfectly smooth initially ... but become smooth with regular braking over time as the pads work like light sanding blocks to even out the rough spots.  I'm not exactly heavy-handed on the brakes, so for me, it takes a little time to break in the rims.  So I left the factory pads on the brakes and let them do their job until such time as they needed replacement.

Well, after several months of riding, I realized it was time for a thorough bike cleaning and full routine maintenance checkup.  Bikes get dirty, especially if you explore dirt roads and trails, and ride in salty air along the coast.  The "not being shiny like new" part isn't a big deal for me.  I just see it as a sign of a bike that's well-loved and well-used.  But what I do care about is making sure everything is kept in proper working order, which means looking at everything from top to bottom, cleaning, lubricating, making adjustments, tightening anything that might need it, and replacing anything that shows signs of excessive wear, breakage, or malfunction.  I decided I'd change out the brake pads, even though they were still in good condition, since I wanted to see if different pads would improve the performance.  I removed the black factory pads (remove the little retaining screw and slide the pad out of the holder), and replaced them (slide the new pad in and replace the screw) with new Kool-Stop Salmon-colored road pads (had an extra set in the tool box).  These are my favorites, at least from past experience, and seem to be the preferred pad of many shop people I've talked with.  The salmon pads are actually designed as one of Kool-Stop's "most aggressive compounds for extreme all weather conditions especially in the wet, but still superb in the dry."  I've found them to be very effective on any rim brake system I've used.

Kool-Stop Salmon pad installed on Shimano CX-70 brake

So did they improve the performance of the Shimano CX-70 brakes?  Why, yes, they certainly did!  As always with these pads on cantilever or V-brakes, the first ride included a couple of miles of extremely poor braking accompanied by the loudest screeching known to man.  But a quick stop for minor alignment and toe-in adjustment, and the noise is gone, replaced by a solid grip on the rim when squeezing the lever.  Even when new, these pads work better than the factory Shimano pads.  After a month of riding and wearing them in, they perform WAAAAAAYYYYY better.

Kool-Stop continues to perform for me.  I've now used them on road calipers, V-brakes, center pulls, and cantilevers, and they have been great in every system.  Give them a try ... but go easy when you squeeze the lever the first time.  You don't want to be learning to fly while riding your bike ...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: Teva Joyride Mid Shoes!!

Yes, I know ... it's been a while since my last post ... again.  The continued battle of balance has found me focusing on many things that don't include writing ... although I actually have been riding a lot over the summer, which is part of the reason there hasn't been a lot of time left for writing.  Excuses aside ... I'd like to share a recent discovery with you that has brought a great deal of happiness to my feet.

In case you haven't heard, I'm quite particular about what goes on my feet.  They're fairly wide-ish and strongly built, but at the same time, they're sensitive and have a tendency to get uncomfortable on long rides. If I'm walking or riding in sandals, I'll occasionally feel what I swear is a giant jagged rock under my foot, only to find it's the tiniest single grain of sand.  Lots of "normal" shoes don't work for me because they're just too narrow and tight ... and yet a lot of the "wide" width shoes are too sloppy and clunky.  Basically, it's pretty hard to find shoes that really work for my feet ... so when I trip and stumble across something that works, I get pretty excited.

Enter a new series of shoes from Teva.

Here's my disclaimer: None of the products reviewed here were provided to me by the manufacturer or any retailer for evaluation. Nope. I'm not one of those famous bloggers who gets stuff for free. I purchased everything with my own money, and without any sort of special interweb journalist discount, so you can rest assured that the opinions expressed here are unbiased and come purely through my own experience ... good, bad, or otherwise. That being said, should any manufacturers out there wish to provide some cool bike-related products for ... ummm ... testing and evaluation ... I would likely be open to offering my honest review. 

Teva has been well-known for many years for their adventure and water shoes and sandals, as well as their Mush flip-flops, and has experimented with lots of other casual styles.  I've been a fan of their sandals, and wear them daily, but to be honest, the shoes just haven't been a good fit for my feet.  Over the past year, they've been introducing shoes for bike people, which seems a natural progression for the company, given their reputation for adventure and outdoor sports, and the sandals are worn by many cyclists.  The shoe line was initially geared toward BMX and the more hardcore mountain bike style, the first two models looking like beefed up skate shoes with heavy padding and a stiffer outsole.  Nice, but not quite the ideal for me ... nevertheless, I tried a pair of the Pinner model to see if they might work.  They didn't.  The tongue is so heavily padded that the entire shoe is very tight.  Plus, the whole shoe just seems very small, both in length and width ... but going to a larger size would not have made the fit better, just clunkier.  I understand this kind of shoe may be just the ticket for a BMX rider ... but not for me as a general-purpose wherever rider.

Other models began to appear, however, and my interest was again drawn to the line.  The new models didn't have the heavy padding, nor were they all of the same skate styling.  Some of them even looked like retro sneakers, made with leather.  Hmmm.  But still ... I hadn't had much luck with their shoes fitting well, and I wasn't sure the styling was quite right for a man of my age.  After all, I'm not exactly a hipster.  I browsed the line many times as they sent email messages of announcement, gazing with happiness that a company like Teva would offer focus to bike shoes that can be walked in and worn all day, and that don't require (or offer) physical attachment to lock the shoe to the pedal.  Just good, all-around shoes designed with bike-riding in mind.  I always ended the browsing being confident they probably wouldn't fit my "special" feet, and would probably make me look silly.

One model continued to catch my eye, though, and was relentless in its subliminal question of "what if".  Teva calls it the Joyride.  It's offered in both a standard low cut (Joyride) and a mid-ankle height (Joyride Mid).  In a moment of weakness, I ordered a pair of the Mids, assuring myself that if they didn't fit, I could promptly return them.  That was months ago.  They are now almost the only shoes I wear when I ride.

Here they are:

They're offered in the dark brown shown here, as well as black.  You can't really go wrong with either color, so I flipped a coin and the brown won.  The uppers are made of waterproof leather, and are very soft.  I did get caught in the rain on one occasion, getting soaked from head to toe, and the shoes are absolutely no worse from the experience.  While the leather did get wet, it dried quickly and was not affected by the water.

I did add a set of DIY LaceKeepers, shown in the photos.  Out of the box, there is no provided means for securing the laces.  This really isn't a big deal, since the laces aren't really long enough to get caught in the chainring when tied.  However, the lacekeepers I added make sure the laces STAY tied.  An untied lace is not a good thing on a bike.

The shoes wipe clean easily and don't look abused from scuffs.  I'm not exactly thrilled about the creamy white trim on the sole and toe bumper (would have preferred something darker), but it's very much in line with the retro styling, and has actually grown on me with time.  They have a sole that Teva designed specifically for mating with the surface of a bike pedal, which they dubbed PedalLink.

Inside the shoe is a light, but very comfortable "Mush-Infused" insole that seems to mold well to my feet.  It's also removable, in case you want to replace them with a different insole.  The shoe lining is soft and quite "breathable" (my feet don't seem to get hot in them).  It's treated with some kind of anti-microbial stuff that's supposed to keep them from getting smelly ... and so far it seems to be working.

Here's what Teva has to say about them:

Riding your bike to work is the perfect way to start your day off on the right foot. But it’s really hard to find a shoe that has the appropriate level of sneaker-ness for biking along with enough seriousness for work. Solving that problem is the Joyride Mid. Hiding beneath the classy leather upper is our PedalLINK Outsole technology, which was developed with Teva Tribe professional riders for grip and feel. So if you’re looking for shoes that work on the pedal or off, the Joyride Mid is for you.
  • Our Spider365 Rubber sole will hold its grip in all kinds of environments
  • Our PedalLINK outsole was designed specifically to interface with the unique platform of a bike pedal
  • Aggressive tread designs at the toe and heel will grip the dirt when you’re hoofin’ it
  • Waterproof upper materials can handle getting wet
  • The gusseted tongue keeps water out
  • A Mush® Infused Insole brings the absurd comfort of our flip flops into a shoe
  • A rubber bumper will protect your toes
  • Waterproof leather upper

Part of what held me back the most was wondering if the style of the shoe was a bit too "young" for me.  I imagined people would think I was going through some strange sort of mid-life hipster crisis, wearing shoes inappropriate for my age ... and in my mind, I saw that guy from the Sprint commercial:

It is I ... your subconscious style insecurity 

However ... I actually do like the retro style very much, regardless of its potential for age-inappropriateness, and when I took them out of the box, I was very pleased.  The material felt great and they appeared to be solidly built.  Even better, they fit great ... even on my wide-ish sensitive feet.  There's decent room in the toe box, and the leather is soft, so it adapts and shapes nicely.  Walking is as comfortable as any good sneaker, and the combination of Spider Rubber and tread pattern provides good grip on all surfaces.

The true test, however, is in how they work on the bike.  I can ride in almost any shoe for a few miles, but not so many of them get past 15-20 miles without causing some kind of discomfort or even numbness, especially if I'm pushing harder in a headwind or up a hill.  The Joyride has been great from the first ride ... like a favorite broken in pair of sneakers that feels great no matter what you're doing in them.  They stick to the pedals extremely well, but are easy to re-position when desired.  While the shoe has plenty of room for my feet, it's also designed with no extra stuff sticking out, so it's easy to keep my feet tucked in close to the cranks, where the power and efficiency is much better for me.  Most wide-ish shoes tend to force my feet out a bit on the pedals.  And here's a puzzling thing for me ... the sole is pretty flexible, which generally doesn't make for a comfortable long-distance riding shoe, but somehow these feel great on the pedals and don't cause any kind of fatigue.  They're also surprisingly light, considering the leather upper.  Not a bit of clunkiness here ...

The "on-the-bike" performance of the Joyride quickly made me forget any insecurity I may have had with the style.  They work so well, I'd wear them no matter what they looked like.  That said, they do look nice, and they coordinate well with everything I own.  It's even better that they're so comfortable for "off-the-bike" applications.  They are truly an all-day shoe.  I can't speak yet for durability, but so far, they've been great ... and I don't exactly coddle them while riding.  They've been through salty ocean spray, dusty dirt trails, rain, and assorted road debris, not to mention a sizable dose of sweaty feet.  They don't stink yet, and the pictures above are what they currently look like.

I'm considering getting another pair in black ... and maybe some of the low cut version, too ... now if I could only find a way to justify the purchase, because the last thing I "need" is another pair of shoes (or three) ... any suggestions?

If you're looking for a pair of comfortable sneakers with style, check the Joyride out, or any of the other shoes in Teva's Bike line.  I think you'll like them ... and if lots of people buy them, maybe Teva will keep making them!  Great shoes for regular pedals and regular bike people!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Old Dudes Roll!!

It was pretty cool that an older guy, Alexandre Vinokourov, won the gold medal in the London Olympic Road Cycling event.  Granted, 38 isn't exactly OLD, but it's 11 years older than the average Olympic athlete, who's 26.8 years old.  For professional athletes, it's quite a feat for anyone in any sport to achieve the pinnacle of greatness at such an age.

"Get outta my way, punks"
Likewise, Kristin Armstrong won the women's Time Trial (for the second time, mind you) ... and she's also 38 years old ... the oldest person to ever win the gold in that event.

"Don't hate me because I'm STILL much faster than you"
The rest of the competitors were younger ... and yet somehow these "aging" athletes proved that riding a bike isn't just for kids.  To have both men AND women's events won by people who are almost 40 is pretty cool.

And ... I think it's inspired a lot of people to get out there and ride.  If two near-40-year-olds can win Olympic gold riding a bike, then certainly those in their 50's, 60', 70's and beyond can at least have some fun doing it, right?  True 'dat.

I'm all for people riding and having fun, and I've noticed a greatly increased number of riders who appear to be at least as old as I am (48, as of this writing), and many who are much older.  And there seems to be another "inspired" side effect of the Olympics.  Many of these new post-30's riders have decided that it's "GO" time ... imagining themselves in pursuit of Olympic Gold ... and anyone on the road is their competition.

They got themselves a race bike, race clothes, race helmet, race shoes, race computer, and carry at least two water bottles at all times.  They may not yet understand how everything works, but they're ready to race.  They'll race anyone ... other old dudes on bikes, kids on cruisers, skateboarders, in-line skaters, dog-walkers, pedestrians ... I've even seen a dude racing someone in an electric wheelchair.  And, of course, they race ME ... an aging dude on a non-racing bike, wearing non-racing clothes, and obviously not in a hurry for anything, which I assume makes me appear to be the weak member of the herd, and therefore easy to take down.  This is quite entertaining to me, as well as a little frustrating, since I worked very hard to overcome my desire to race anyone who might pass me, just to prove that I'm not getting old.

Today's race was "brung" by a man who began his approach at the first of three stoplights in the last five miles of today's Ocean Institute Decade-And-A-Half Everyday Epic ride.  I was stopped at the light when he rolled up, gave me and my bike a once-over scan, and continued on, coming to a stop well into the crosswalk and nearly into the intersection to capture the very best possible sprint starting position, as he struggled to unclip his shoe from the pedal.  When the light turned green, he jumped on the pedal, fumbled while attempting to clip in the second shoe, and then proceeded in a wobbly standing sprint as fast as possible away from the intersection.  A quick look back was given to ensure that his breakaway was successful, then he sat down hard on his saddle and began his somewhat slower, rather bow-legged seated pedaling style, which was necessary to circumvent the large round protrusion in the lower half of his jersey, no doubt a reward for the years of beer consumption (I have one of my own that I swear will one day disappear).  I pedaled on at my usual slower-than-most pace, and found myself gaining on him, then passing him within about half a mile.  I rode on to the next stoplight, where it began again ... in exactly the same manner.  And then AGAIN at the third stoplight.  It might have continued, but at the fourth stoplight, he turned into a coffee shop, and I rode the last mile home to likewise drink some coffee.

Perhaps it will be "ON" again tomorrow ...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Rivendell Question

Owning a Rivendell bicycle is a wonderful experience, not only because it's a great bike to ride, but also because it seems to draw the attention of ... well, everyone.  While my other bikes would occasionally get a "nice bike" or a wave, there's rarely a ride on the Hunqapillar during which someone doesn't stop to look at it and ask about it.  It is, indeed, a beautiful bike, and I certainly have no problem in talking about it with people.

People generally have very nice things to say.  Since everyone's different, it's fun for me to hear the different things that catch different eyes.  Sometimes it's the colors in the frame.  Sometimes it's the cool woolly mammoth headbadge.  Other times it's the bags and racks, or the fenders, or the handlebars and cork grips, etc.

There's one question, though, that seems universal whenever someone who is unfamiliar with Rivendell asks about my bike.  You Riv owners out there already know this question, and are already laughing.  It usually goes something like this:

"Wow ... cool bike.  How old is it?"

I get it ... really, I do.  You see, in our world filled with modern high-tech thick-tubed molded carbon fiber and aluminum bicycle frames, it's a rare sight to see one with skinny steel tubes connected with artistic lugs.  A classically-styled bicycle is ASSUMED to be old, especially one with fat tires, fenders, racks, and bags, ridden by a dude who's obviously not dressed for any kind of training or racing.

"It was built way back in November of 2011."  That's what I tell them.  They're always shocked, having expected me to tell them about how it was passed down to me by my great grandfather who brought it back from Austria during the war, loved it more than life itself, and kept it in perfect condition for the past 75 years ... or something like that.

Sometimes I sense a slight disappointment because I didn't have a better back story of the bike's special history.  More often, though, I find that people are happy to hear bikes like this are not only still being made, but also offered with the perfect mix of classic style and modern technology.

"That looks like pure joy to ride", said one man after looking it over.  

Exactly ... that's the whole point.  It was built to be enjoyed.  Great classic style never truly gets "old", especially when there's as much quality in the workmanship as in the style.  I'm looking forward to the day when someone asks me how old it is, and I can tell them this:

"It was built way back in 2011 ... that was more than 30 years ago now, but I've been riding it ever since ... and it's still going strong ... somebody else will be riding it after I'm gone, I'll bet ..."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Finding the Right Saddle

One of the most difficult tasks for a cyclist is finding the right saddle.  Every butt is different ... they come in many shapes and sizes.  Some are barely there, some are chiseled works of art, and some are ... well, I could make a joke about having a unique zip code, but that would be mean, and I think you get the point.  To go along with the infinite shapes and sizes, there is an equally infinite number of ways a bicycle can be set up .. different handlebar shapes and height, very aggressive to very relaxed frame geometry, and so on.  In addition, one needs to look at the intended use of the bicycle to help select an appropriate saddle style.  Will it be used for racing or training?  Will it be used for long-distance touring or endurance events?  Is it a bike used for short errand rides?  Cruisin' at the beach?  It's no wonder there are so many saddle manufacturers and models on the market.  It can be a daunting task to find the right one.

Yeah, yeah ... I know.  What's the big deal?  It's just a saddle, right?  When I was a kid, there was no question of which saddle to choose.  I had a bike ... it had a saddle ... I rode it ... I didn't complain.  However, since I've grown older, my southern region has become a bit more sensitive and selective.  Perhaps it's the aging body ... perhaps it's the additional "cargo" my body has acquired that places greater stress on that portion of my anatomy.  Whatever the reason, it's hard to really enjoy a long bike ride if my butt turns numb or starts to hurt ... so putting the time and effort into finding the proper cushion for my tush'n is rather important.

What I've found is that there's really only one way to know, and that's to ride a saddle for a fairly long period of time in a wide variety of circumstances that will reveal the best and worst of its character.  Feeling the saddle surface by hand won't tell you anything.  Sitting on it in the shop won't work ... and neither will a short test ride.  Nope.  If you plan on riding your bike on the road/trails for 2 or more hours at a time, then you'll need to test ride a saddle on those roads/trails for a few multi-hour hour rides before you can truly make an informed decision.  You can't really know what a saddle feels like until you've been sitting on it for an extended period of time.  If you take nothing else away from this post, remember that.  The first few miles tell you nothing.  The miles beyond tell you everything.  That's when the uncomfortable qualities, if there are any,  begin to show up ... those things that will make finishing your favorite long ride unbearable.

Of course, it's not always possible to try a saddle for an extended period of time, but there are some bike shops who understand the need, and have a selection of demo units available for their customers to try.  In addition, there are some online retailers who offer as long as 6 months to return certain saddles if they don't work out (some rules and regulations do apply).  It is wise for one who seeks posterior enlightenment to do their homework and find a local shop and/or online retailer who will work with them and develop a respectful relationship of trust.

It's also a really, REALLY good idea to do a lot of research and narrow down the field of saddle prospects to a manageable list.  Research is abundant on saddles ... just do an online search for "best bicycle saddle" and you'll see what I mean.  You should also ask a lot of people who enjoy the same kind of riding as you do.  Ask people at your local bike shop what they recommend for your riding needs (buy something small while you're there so they don't think you're just milking them for free info).  While you do all of this, keep in mind that what works for others may not work for you. Even though your friend uses saddle X and rides 4,000 miles every week on the exact same model bike as you, you may find saddle X to feel as though you're sitting on the well-maintained edge of a large Japanese Santoku knife.  However, when you've done enough research, you may begin to see certain models appearing often as the "best" or "worst".  Pay attention to what people DON'T like about a saddle as much as what they DO like.  These are very important things to know and some of those dislikes may sound familiar.

When you've put together a list of 5 or 6 saddles that seem like good choices, find one of each to try for a while (a week or two is perfect).  Start with friends who may have a spare, then local shops who have demos, then retailers with liberal return policies.  Then, one at a time, test the saddles you think may work for your needs.  Make detailed notes as you go, and take photos of the saddles, so you have an increasingly better idea of what you do and don't like along the way.

For the sake of simplicity, let's assume you already have your preferred saddle position dialed in.  That's a closely-related topic that won't fit into the space of this post ... another time, perhaps.  Replace your existing saddle with the new model, making sure the height and setback are in the same position, and start with the saddle surface level, unless otherwise advised by the manufacturer.  Some minor adjustments may need to be made on a per saddle basis, but always start from your known good reference point.

Ride each saddle over a variety of terrain and distances on several occasions until you know how it feels for short and long rides, as well as smooth and bumpy surfaces.  When you find a saddle that feels good all the time (thinking positively here), your search is done.  Leave that saddle on the bike and ride it until it, the bike, or you falls apart and needs to be replaced.  Of course, you could continue testing saddles, even after finding one that's perfect.  We cyclers tend to do that, you know ... since there's always the chance that there's something even better than perfect.

As a sample of the process, here's a selection of saddles I've tried, while seeking a great perch for all-around adventure type mixed road and trail riding, which many would say is essentially a "touring" saddle.  Please keep in mind that my results do not imply my recommendation for YOU, since you may have completely different findings within the same set of test models.

The saddles I selected to test are shown below.  They were not free, and I have no affiliation with any of their manufacturers.  They are simply saddles I've purchased and tried over a period of a few years.  From left to right, they are:  WTB SST (stock model on the Surly LHT bike), Specialized BG Avatar (155mm width), Brooks B-17 Imperial, Terry Liberator Y Gel, and Phorm S 430 Gel Max.

All of these saddles were described as approriate for long distance riding or touring, each offering their own special features for added comfort.  The next photo shows the underside of the saddles, side by side, to reference the mounting rail position and length.  They are arranged in the photo with the front of the rails all at the same basic position, since I tend to prefer the saddle pushed back on the seatpost, especially on a bike with a steeper seat tube (like the Surly LHT).  Some saddles make this easier with longer rails, like the Specialized Avatar (2nd from left).  The photo reveals the amount of setback each saddle potentially has, when mounted on the same seatpost in the same position.

First up and at your left is the WTB (Wilderness Trail Bicycles) model SST.  The SST was a favorite among mountain bike riders  many years ago, and was recently re-introduced for 2010.  When it became available, Surly immediately added it to the stock component list for the Long Haul Trucker complete bike (see my post here), which is how I came to acquire it.

The saddle is nice in shape, with a fairly flat rear section and smooth transition to the sides and front.  The nose is hooked downward to help prevent snagging baggy shorts, and provides a decent front perch for those heavy-duty sprints.

Although it does have a good feel, it's rather narrow for my taste (about 143mm at the widest point).  Since I ride with more upright handlebars, I feel better-supported with something wider.

If I chose to ride with drop bars, it might work better for me ... but I doubt at this point that I'll be converting any time soon.  Been there, done that, not for me ... maybe for you, though?

Next and to the right is the Specialized Avatar.  This is a mid-level model that incorporates the manufacturer's Body Geometry features in the form of a deep cut-out middle section that's designed to relieve pressure and improve blood flow to the ... um ... delicate bits.

This model comes in multiple widths, and I chose the larger 155mm version.  This may sound narrow, but its usable seating area is virtually identical to the Brooks B-17, considered by most to be the premium touring saddle. The saddle shape is nice and flat in the back and narrow in the nose, which helps to prevent any thigh chafing.

One very nice feature of this saddle is its long mounting rails and forward placement.  This makes it possible to push the saddle back farther on the seatpost for a more comfortable position on a bike with a steep seat tube angle.

I like this saddle a lot, and found it quite comfortable for all kinds of riding.  There are only 2 things I don't care for:  1) the fairly "racy" appearance, which is just a personal preference in coordinating with my more classically-styled bikes, and  2) the lack of bag loops on the rails for mounting a tool roll or larger seat bag. Again, just a personal preference.

Pictured to the left is the Brooks B-17.  The photo is of the Imperial model, which has the center slot for the same reasons as the Specialized Avatar.  The B-17 series (all of them) are the preferred saddle of touring cyclists, as well as most vintage bike aficionados, both for their beautiful appearance and comfortable/durable/functional performance.

The top is constructed of a single piece of heavy leather, which naturally provides a bit of suspension as it flexes and forms over a period of time to the riders bottom, for a "custom" fit.  It is the flex and suspension of the leather that also provides great comfort on long rides, where the B-17 really shines.

There are several versions of the B-17, some with special trimmings or even organic leather, some with a cut-out section as shown on the Imperial here, but they all share the same shape.  At its widest point it measures 170mm, but has a usable sitting space of a little less, due to the metal rivets and frame supporting the leather.  The metal bits wouldn't be much fun to sit directly on.

Having ridden the B-17 saddles almost exclusively for a couple of years  now, they have, for me,  become the saddle to measure up to.  I have tried other saddles recently ... just to feel I'm still in touch with that modern technology stuff ... and I still come back to the good old leather.  It looks right, and it feels right on my classically-styled bikes.  They do take a little time to break in, along with some minor maintenance, but it is well worth the effort for the comfort on long rides (short ones, too!).  Bag loops, too ... yay!!

The next saddle on the list is the Liberator Y Gel from Terry.  Although primarily a women's bicycle/component/apparel manufacturer, Terry also offers several saddles for men.  The Liberator Y is described as their most comfortable touring model, designed for a slightly more upright position.  It is 6.8 inches wide (172mm), and has a perforated leather top, firm padding, and a layer of supportive gel.  Like the Specialized Avatar, the center is cut out for pressure relief.

The description and reviews of this saddle sounded like a great fit for the kind of cycling I do, so I gave it a shot.  What I found was that the padding and gel layers, though fairly firm, were still a little too much for comfort after riding for about an hour.  Up until that point, it felt very good, but after that, it was just painful.  The shape and cutout area are okay, but really didn't seem to offer any additional comfort, likely since the padding compressed into and around my backside, creating pressure where it wasn't desired.

In contrast, the Specialized Avatar has less padding and a flatter shape, which (at least for me) resulted in a more consistent ride that didn't fatigue my butt after an hour or so.  The Brooks B17 is the same in that sense ... no "padding fatigue".

The last saddle tested for comparison is from a German company called Phorm.  The word on the street is that the Phorm people are some kind of subsidiary of the Ergon company (don't quote me on that, though), who's been making some of the coolest handlebar grips in the industry for several years.  Their grips have been true game-changers. If that rumor is true, then there's some serious engineering talent behind this saddle design, which is why I felt the need to at least try it.

The model is a Phorm S 430 Gel Max, and is offered as an ultra-comfortable long-distance touring saddle.  Right on, dude!!  That's exactly what I want in a saddle.  It's a little wider at 185mm.  It has a weatherproof covering, multi-density padding for proper support where it's needed in different places, and a central cut-out with a mesh splash guard.  It also has a damping system on the rails made from Cellasto, which has been used extensively in the auto industry for its durable yet sensitive compression quality.

Cool, right? Well ... it was very comfortable for the first 10 miles ... after which it seemed to lose its comfort quickly, just as the Terry Liberator.  Too cushy .. and perhaps a hair too wide for my riding style, as well.  It is also noticeably heavier than any of the other saddles in the list (not that I'm a weight weenie or anything ... just sayin').  However, I will say it may be one of the best general purpose city bike saddles I've seen so far ... for shorter rides, commuting, shopping, and so on.

So ... there you have it ... five different saddles I've tried over a long-ish period of time in search of the perfect perch.  What did I learn?  Well, I learned that padded saddles may look more comfortable on the surface, but actually create more fatigue and pain on longer rides.  I also learned that I prefer the look and feel of classic leather saddles, at least the B-17 shaped models from Brooks.  Oddly enough, the only non-Brooks saddle I really liked is shaped very much like the B-17, only with more modern design.  I also learned that you don't know how a saddle really feels until you've been on it for at least an hour, preferably two or more.  Almost any saddle will feel fine, even great, for a few miles, but what felt great for the first ten miles can feel utterly painful at mile 11 and beyond.  All of this information has taken some time to gather, but it is incredibly valuable, since I now have a pretty good about idea what shape and style works best for me.  Future purchases will be less "hopeful guess" and more "educated logical selection".  Of course, there will always be the new and better product that needs to be tried ... perhaps the manufacturers will send some for proper testing and review?

I hope the long telling of my saddle search process is helpful to some of you.  Again, I can't say my choice will be the best for you ... but maybe the reasons for my choice will help in your own search process.

May your bum be pleasantly supported!!

Monday, July 16, 2012

DIY Lace-Keepers!!

If you ride with normal shoes of the non-clipping-in/non-mechanically-attached-to-the-pedal variety, you've no doubt had occasion to question the safety of a shoe with laces.  Laces can easily get caught in your chainring, especially if they come untied from all of your furious pedaling.  This can be very dangerous, bringing the ride to an abrupt halt, and potentially causing injury if you can't find a way to stop yourself from falling over.  This presents a problem, since there are lots of great shoes that would be great bike shoes if the darn laces didn't get in the way.  Fortunately, I haven't caught a lace in my chainring since I was a very young lad ... but the memory of the resulting tumble of humility still haunts me whenever selecting a shoe for a ride.

Some shoes that are designed with bike riding in mind come with some kind of built-in lace keeper, in the form of an elastic loop to tuck the laces in, or a Velcro strap that covers the tied laces.  But what about all the great shoes that don't have that option, since the designer really hadn't thought about bicycling as a priority for the design?  You can buy aftermarket elastic laces similar to the Keen sandal style that have an adjustable clip.  They seem to work pretty well on shoes they were designed for, but I've tried them on regular shoes and found them to be less than perfect for comfort and adjust-ability on good ol' regular shoes.  So ... what else can one do?  Well ... there's a cheap and incredibly easy way to solve the problem.

I present to you ... DIY Lace-Keepers!!!  Yay!!

Start with a normal lace-up type shoe, preferably a matching pair, unless you have a "unique" style requirement.  Here's a pair of light hiking shoes as an example (great for all-around adventure riding/exploring, or whenever you might want to both ride and walk in one pair of shoes):

See how the laces are a bit on the long side?  They're great laces, though ... the kind that stay tied ... so I don't want to change them, but even when tied, they're a little long, and I don't have the patience to double-tie or find a way to shorten them.

I was thinking it would be great if these shoes had some loops to tuck the tied laces into, and thought perhaps some Velcro strips would work.  I happened to have some extra Velcro ... it comes in a roll that can be cut into pieces of any length, and is available at almost any hardware store.  So I cut two strips about four inches long and placed them under the laces where they cross below the top tie location.

Velcro strips cut to length

Strips placed under laces ... second crossing point from top

 After tying the laces as usual, I grabbed all of the tied portion, placed it over the Velcro pointing toward the toe, and wrapped the Velcro around the whole thing.

Velcro strip wrapped around tied laces

 I found this system to be very secure, keeping the laces out of the way while also helping to keep them tied.  I was a little concerned that it might look strange ... but looking at the finished product, I think it looks perfectly fine, although something a little narrower might look nicer.  Of course, you could also get some color-coordinated Velcro, if you prefer ... which I might just do, now that I know it works so well.

It's amazingly simple ... it's incredibly inexpensive ... and it makes any lace-up shoe a million times safer for bike riding.  Try it for yourself and let me know what you think.  And if you have any other genius lace-keeping tricks, please share them!

Back again soon ... be safe out there!!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Surf-O-Lounger Epic Ride!!

When you mention Southern California, many stereotypes come to mind ... beaches, bikinis, surfers, skateboarders, and the fact that when you register with the DMV, your first name is automatically officially changed to either "Dude" or "Bro" (you may or may not have an option, depending on the mood of the clerk).  A laid-back atmosphere is almost always envisioned, along with the cross-culturally-approved attire of board shorts, t-shirt (or alternative Hawaiian-style shirt), sunglasses, and flip-flops (and if you live in San Clemente, the flip-flops MUST be Rainbow brand).  These components are required for SoCal non-workplace clothing code compliance for all dudes and bros.  Only those engaged in more serious sport activities may be exempt from the code, provided they wear either a wetsuit or something similarly form-fitting (spandex).  For all other activities, the standard clothing code applies, and all components are required at all times, both day and night.  Some variation is allowed, however.  For example, you don't have to actually be WEARING all of the approved attire components, as long as you have them with you.  One variation, shown below by a member of the Southern California Beach Cycling Team during a training ride, depicts the sunglasses, flip-flops, and board shorts being worn as usual, with the t-shirt displayed on the bike handlebars.

Approved SoCal attire while training for the Pier-To-Pier Epic Half Decade Trail Ride

Although, I'm not a California native, I've now been here for over ten years, which earned me a special discount at the "Dude, Who Cares?" store.  Nevertheless, I do feel that I've learned just enough about the small region of Southern California in which I reside to truly call it "home".  And when I say "just enough", I mean that I generally don't get too surprised at what I see on a daily basis.

For example, to see a Chihuahua with bright red painted toenails wearing a dress, hat, and sunglasses running from its doorstep to chase and bark at my much larger dog, who doesn't know whether to roll on his back and laugh or throw up, I'm not that surprised.  (In case you're wondering, yes, this actually happened.)

However, when I saw the genius creativity in the following photos taken on the very street where I now live, I must say it took the whole Southern California laid-back surf/skate theme to an entirely new level.  Check it out ... he's got the t-shirt, sunglasses, board shorts, and flip-flops ... but he's not cruisin' on a skateboard or bike ... no, he's cruisin' on a Surf-O-Lounger!

It looks to me like a lounge chair attached to a base with four skateboard trucks.  Awesome!!  He's rigged some steering apparatus via handles on each side, which appears to work very well, since he rode true and straight down the hill.  He just pushes it up to the top, hops in the chair, and rides.  Too cool!!!

I don't know this dude ... but next time he's cruisin' the Surf-O-Lounger, I'll talk with him and see about getting some video for you to see.

I know this post didn't have much to do with bicycles ... but the images were just to cool to not share.  The things you see on the neighborhood streets in San Clemente ...

More bike stuff soon ... hope it's not too hot where you are!  I'm headed out for a little ride that looks kinda like this ...

San Clemente Beach Trail heading North

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A "Moving" Experience...

Wow.  It's hard to believe it's been 4 months since the last post here.  At the same time, when I think about then and now, and the changes that have taken place in that time period, it's hard to believe it's been ONLY 4 months.  Needless to say, life has gotten in the way of writing.  My apologies to anyone who's checked in during my absence only to find nothing new here.  I've heard a rumor that there's one or two people out there who read this thing once in a while ... I may be mistaken, though, and it may only be the blog-bots.

I could tell you all about the past four months in such great detail that you'd bookmark the page for whenever you have a bout of insomnia ... but rather than put forth such effort where it would be certainly wasted, I'll TRY to make it brief ... and then get on with the business of returning to bicycle-themed word stuff.

Okay ... back in March, while in the midst of the 8-day weeks and 28-hour days of preparation for the annual mega-spectacular business event of the year for my Better-And-More-Attractive-Half (BAMAH), we discovered a major problem with the house we were then living in.  Although we loved the convenient location and "vintage charm" of the house, it had many issues.  And although we chose to be content and accept those issues, this new problem was the moldy dripping frosting on the insect-covered cupcake ... and thus we had to move ... but only after the afore-mentioned annual mega-spectacular business event of the year.

So ... in April, we searched for a new place that had no issues.  We found just such an issue-less place.  We put in our application and were accepted.  We gave notice to move.  We furiously packed and moved our stuff.  We purged other stuff that we wanted to neither pack nor move. (By the way, if you're about to move a box that you never unpacked from the previous move, I recommend NOT taking it to your new destination ... you'll never miss it, I promise!)  We fought with the previous landlord over deposit return ... and mostly won.  I completed two large client projects in the middle of the moving process.  By the end of May, we were done with the move.

The month of June consisted of recovery and unpacking (where in the world did I put that box with my favorite coffee mug?), along with finding our way around the new digs (only 6 miles south of where we were before, but still a new town for us) and developing the strategic plan for the daily routine (where to take the dogs for walks, drive time for work, where to get food, groceries, and so on).  Once the basic daily necessities were handled, I was then able to begin exploring the new and different bicycle-riding amenities offered within our new community.

And that brings me to the here and now ... and back to the notion that I may actually have something to say about bikes and stuff.

It's interesting how life places you in different positions, forcing you to view the world around you from a new perspective, both mentally and physically.  Riding from point A to point B over a period of time builds a certain image in one's mind.  When you then suddenly start riding from point C to point A, the whole landscape looks very different.  And point B, which you've seen hundreds of times from the previous perspective at the end of the ride, but is now crossed in the middle, looks absolutely alien and quite insignificant. (More on that in an upcoming post)  If you'd told me 5 months ago that today I'd be walking down and then climbing back up a set of 109 stairs twice a day just to take the dogs out for their "business" trips, I would have said you were crazy ... and yet, that's what I now do (more on that later, too!).  By the way, these are good things ... just to be clear!

As a creature who appreciates a certain degree of routine in order to feel "normal", it can be difficult for me to accept large changes that affect how I do everything in the course of a "normal" day.  I do always adapt, however, and everything works out in the end.  This time, though ...I have to say there's something different ... it just feels a whole lot more "right" to me after having a little time to settle into the new environment and daily process here.  Almost everything feels better here ... more "normal", despite the many changes and life modifications that were required to make the move.  It's not ALL perfect ... but then the world around us never is ... which is why we continue to seek balance with the imperfections on a daily basis.

I hope all is well in your world!  Summer is here ... enjoy the ride!  More news and reviews coming very soon ...

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Little Climbing Music, Please ...

As much as I love riding a bike, I've never been great at climbing hills. Okay ... I've never even been GOOD at it. But I've come to appreciate them for what they do ... which is to make me stronger and a better all-around rider. In my current abode, it is impossible for me to go for a ride of any substantial distance without encountering at least one substantial hill ... and by "substantial", I mean LONG and STEEP ...and so I've been getting better at it, having accepted that it's a fact of life if I want to ride.

I've been working to rid my head of the thoughts which always enter just prior to the hill. They go something like this: 
"Oh, crap ... here comes the hill ... I hate hills ... I hope I can make it all the way this time without having to go back for my lungs."
Those kinds of thoughts only serve to make the hill experience much worse than it actually is, so I've been re-training my brain to think differently ... like this:
"Okay ... this set of hills is getting easier, because I'm getting better at climbing ... last time was much easier than the time before, and this time will be even better."
I've also been offering myself some positive reinforcement ... like this:
"You are strong like bull ... you have legs like ox ... if you were a bowler, you would do it overhand ... hills will flatten at the threat of your approach ... you are the most interesting cycler in the world ... you don't always drink beer, but when you do, you prefer Guinness Black Lager ... stay thirsty, my friend."
It works ... sometimes ... sort of. 

I'm also now learning that I really need to be relaxed in order to control my breathing and get into a good groove on a long steep hill. Sitting back and making sure every limb isn't tense makes a huge difference in the level of perceived effort.

I noticed a funny thing the other day while climbing one of my usual hills toward home. My brain was working hard to make my body relax, and the way it was doing that was to start singing. Not actually out loud, since heavy breathing and singing don't generally combine well .. no, this was mental singing. And not just singing any old song ... but adapting the current thought into revised lyrics for popular tunes ... you know, Weird Al style.

As I approached the first part of the climb, I remembered that it's the steepest portion ... and my brain began to sing to the tune of a song you may remember from Sheryl Crow ...

Cartoon Sheryl Crow
However ... the song was originally written and performed by this guy: 

This Cat can sing ... and write songs and stuff
Yes, that's Cat Stevens ... who was born with the name Steven Demetre Georgiou ... but is now known as Yusuf Islam, although performances may advertise a combination: 

Steven Cat Demetre Yusuf Georgiou Stevens Islam, circa 2011
Anyway ... in case you haven't already guessed, the tune to which my mental singing was adhering itself is "The First Cut Is The Deepest".  Cat Stevens wrote and first recorded the song in the mid 1960's and put it on his first album in 1967. That first album that was a complete failure, after which he sold the song for 30 British pounds to another artist who made it a huge hit ... and it was later recorded by four other artists, for whom it was also a hit, including the aforementioned Sheryl Crow. Forty years after he recorded the first demo of the song, Cat received back to back ASCAP Songwriter of the Year Awards for it in 2005 and 2006. Just a little trivia for you ... 

Back to the ride ... my revised lyrics went something like this:

"The first hill is the steepest ... baby, I know ... the first hill is the steepest ...
If you're breathing really heavy, just curse ... 'cuz gettin' off and walkin' is worse ...."

Oddly enough ... by the time the new lyrics had solidified, the steepest portion of the hill was over ... and I was pleasantly surprised at the seemingly smaller effort expended. Hmmm ... could that be the answer? Don't think about the hill ... just make up corny lyrics to pop songs while climbing ... and the hills will pass like a flat road?  

So ... the next day, I tried it again. This time, I enlisted the help of a more aggressive musical force .... yes, I mean Metallica:

If these guys can't get you up the hill, you should turn around and ride the other way ...
I chose the most perfect Metallica song for my climb ... "Enter Sandman". Of course, the words were changed just a little ... into this:

"Climb .. like a goat ................. not .. like a boat ............
Heeeeeeyyyy, Old Man ....... Climb that freakin' hill again!"

And with a good dose of metal head bobbing thrown in for good measure, the hill was thus conquered.

What can I say ... as an aging music dude, I'm shocked I never thought of this sooner! Hills will never be the same again ...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Review: Boeshield T9

There's a price to pay for owning a bicycle beyond the dough you eagerly fork over to the people from whom you purchased it. You have to perform some basic maintenance in order to keep it working properly. Some people simply take their bike to the shop periodically for such details. That's perfectly fine, as long as you don't mind the associated fees and personal time that accompanies the task ... and as long as you have a local mechanic person in whom you have complete faith to treat your ride with care.

I prefer to tackle the majority of my own bicycle-related work ... at least until such time as I finally realize I either A) don't have a clue about what I'm doing, or B) don't have the proper very expensive tool that I'll use only one time for a specific job and would cost more than having the shop do the work. In most cases, I find it very rewarding to learn how to fix my bikes. The more I know about how everything works, the more "in-tune" I am with the bike as a whole ... and it's much easier to diagnose problems and/or prevent them from happening. Over the past few years, I've learned a lot ... not enough to go and get a job as a bike mechanic, mind you ... but enough to feel very confident that if anything breaks, I can find the problem and fix it or replace the part as needed. The real truth is ... a bicycle isn't all that complicated, at least for the standard component fare. If your bike has hydraulic disc brakes and electronic shifting, however, it might be another story altogether, so proceed at your own risk. For the basics, there are lots of great books and a ton of web information to draw from, although it does help to read multiple authors to get a true sense of what's "correct", since the web also has a lot of clueless individuals who fancy themselves bicycle mechanics and their "instructions" could very well ruin your components. Start small with simple general maintenance stuff ... things that really any cycler can do ... and go from there if you have the desire to learn more.

The basics would include filling your tires with the proper amount of air, learning how to change a tire and tube, keeping the bike generally clean, and performing routine cleaning and lubrication of your chain. That last item is one that's really easy, but is also one of my least favorites. It's a messy job, and if you don't stay on top of it, it only gets messier. It's also a balancing act ... apply too much lube and you get all kinds of dirt in your drivetrain ... apply too little, and you get sluggish shifting, a noisy drivetrain, and premature wear of your cogs and chainrings.

For all of those reasons, there are numerous chain lubrication products on the market, each promising to do a better, and often cleaner, job of keeping your chain moving freely. So which one is the best? That's not always so easy to answer. A lot of that answer depends on your riding conditions ... whether you ride in a dry climate or a wet one ... if you ride in snow and slush or sandy trails ... and whether it's hot or cold. There are products designated as "dry" lubes and "wet" lubes for dry and wet conditions, as well as products claiming to clean and lubricate simultaneously. Simply said, they all work pretty well. You could close your eyes and grab a bottle, and if you follow the directions and use the right amount, and keep it clean ... any of them will work just fine for most cyclers. Where you live and the conditions in which you ride might require more or less frequent maintenance, but I've tried lots of different chain lubes, and they have all worked reasonably well. I haven't really noticed that any product worked noticeably better than another ... that is, until recently.

That recent discovery is the purpose of this post, which I will now finally get around to writing.

Here's my disclaimer: None of the products reviewed here were provided to me by the manufacturer or any retailer for evaluation. Nope. I'm not one of those famous bloggers who gets stuff for free. I purchased everything with my own money, and without any sort of special interweb journalist discount, so you can rest assured that the opinions expressed here are unbiased and come purely through my own experience ... good, bad, or otherwise. That being said, should any manufacturers out there wish to provide some cool bike-related products for ... ummm ... testing and evaluation ... I would likely be open to offering my honest review.

I ride in a Southern California Pacific coastal area, which means we don't see much in the way of rain and snow, but one thing we have plenty of is sand. Sand really loves to stick to stuff that's wet, which is why your feet and legs are completely covered in it after a brief jaunt in the ocean waves as you walk across the beach. Imagine that same sand being constantly flung at a moving chain that's coated with a greasy lubrication product. Yep ... it sticks. Not a huge problem, but it does require wiping the chain clean after every ride, and frequent cleaning of the cogs and chainrings, because sand is very abrasive. I've tried a few of the "dry" lubes that are some kind of waxy base that are supposed to help keep sand from sticking, but never really saw any improvement ... but I did notice the need for more frequent application. For that reason, I never tried Boeshield T9, which is also described as kind of a waxy-dry lube. I thought it would yield the same results as the others, so I basically ignored it. When my usual bottle of lube started to run low, however, I thought it might be time to try something different, so I consulted the folks at Rivendell who built my Hunqapillar. I figured they would have a pretty good idea about what works in sandy conditions, since they're in Northern California and ride a whole lot of trails. Their recommendation was to try the T9, so I did.

Boeshield T-9 spray can ... no fluorocarbons!
T-9 was developed by the Boeing Company for use on high-tech stuff ... like airplane parts. That's a pretty good design spec ... if it's good enough for airplanes, it's probably good for my bike. It's waterproof, and protects against not just rust, but corrosion, too. In fact, lots of people use this product to treat the inside of their steel bike frames for that very purpose. The claim, much like many of the "dry" type lubes, is that since it forms a dry waterproof coating, sand and dirt do not stick ... therefore, the chain will stay cleaner and there will be less wear on the cogs and chainrings. Sounds good in theory, but I was not yet convinced it would be any better than the others I've tried. It comes in a general purpose spray can like the one in the photo, as well as smaller drip bottles like a typical chain lube. I opted for the spray can, which I normally wouldn't do, but in this case it seemed like a good option for an all-around lube. The spray version actually turned out to be a good choice, as it covers a lot more chain in less time than the usual one-drop-per-link method, and as it's applied directly to the chain, it seems to penetrate a little better.

Although they don't specifically state this in the instructions, it's always a good idea to completely clean your chain before switching lubrication types. Getting rid of the old lube will allow the new to work at its best. I recommend removing the chain and cleaning it thoroughly with a degreaser of some kind, like Simple Green. If you don't want to take the chain off, just spray it on a rag and clean the chain until it's shiny and no more black comes off on the rag. With a clean chain, the spray application is fast and easy ... hold a clean rag under the chain where you're spraying, turn the crank to move the chain to the next section and repeat ... wipe the chain with the rag as you turn the crank to remove the excess ... then let it dry for at least 2 hours. The last part is important, because the lube needs a little time to work into all of the rollers and pins on your chain, and as the lube dries, it forms a waxy waterproof coating over everything.

Once it's dry, you can gently wipe the chain again ... and you're ready to roll. It sounds like a lot of work, but you only need to do the heavy cleaning before the first application, and the rest only takes a couple of minutes on the evening before your next ride.

How does it perform? In a word ... fantastic! On the first ride after initial application, I noticed a quieter drivetrain and very smooth shifting. When I got home after a long ride through a fair bit of sandy area, I looked at the chain and, to my delight, saw no sand or grit anywhere on the chain or cogs. No need to wipe down the chain! The really cool part was that when I reached down to inspect, the chain was dry and left no grease on my hand. How awesome is that? I've never had a bike chain that didn't leave a greasy black mark when I touch it. If it lasted, I would be totally sold.

So does it hold up? Yep. I rode for almost a month, nearly every day, after that first application. No wiping the chain down after every ride ... no reapplication of lube. It was only when the chain started to get a tiny bit stiff and began to shift with less ease that I reapplied. The second application was quick and easy ... spray and wipe, then let dry. Shiny, clean, smooth-running chain ... and no greasy marks!

I have to say, I'm very impressed and very pleased. And once again ... the folks at Rivendell gave me great advice. I have now changed my opinion on chain lubes: there IS a difference, and there IS one that's best ... at least for my riding conditions. I can't speak for how it works in snowy wet places, but it sure holds up well for me, stays clean, and the sand and dirt don't stick. I did get caught in the rain on one ride, though, and didn't notice any lube washing away as a result.

As a little bonus, T-9 isn't offered merely as a bicycle lube ... the can lists lots of other household and workshop applications. It is used to coat shop tool surfaces to keep them smooth and free of oxidation. It can also be used around the house for many things. I have a set of vertical blinds that were sticking in the track ... no longer with the T-9. A very useful product, indeed. Give it a try ...