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 ...

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Everyday Epic Ride

It's been a few days since my last post ... mainly because the weather's been great, and accompanying the great weather has been a week of great rides. Nothing spectacular or "epic" for any particular reason ... just great rides. However, spending a little more time riding has taken a little more time away from non-work-related writing ... hence the lack of blogular postage. My apologies for anyone who waits with great anticipation for each of my posts (last I checked there is actually one person who reads them).

In thinking about the great rides that are great for no particular reason, I was trying to come up with some wonderful bit of prose to share the experience with you ... but nothing came to mind, apart from the small group of gray squirrels who were intent on taunting me by waiting just at the edge of the road and then jumping up to make me think I'd hit them, then laughing as they ran away because they made me stop. Of course, there are no photos to document this ... but it really did happen ... twice.

At the same time, I was thinking about the bike-related blogs out there. One of my favorite daily reads, EcoVelo, has gone away. It's sad, because there was always something interesting to read there that had nothing to do with any sort of competitive, training, or epic riding ... just great photos and articles about everyday riding and gear. There is another (for which I won't mention the name) that had a similar focus ... but now seems to be more about getting into race bikes, group training rides, and entering epic long-distance events. Not interesting to me. Don't get me wrong ... I have nothing against sport/competitive cycling. I have an enormous amount of respect for the sport and for those who are involved in it. It's really hard work, and really rewarding to complete some of the events out there ... pushing yourself to the limit to achieve big goals is a wonderful way to spend some healthy effort. For me ... it's just not why I ride ... and, with all due respect to the many people who write about it, it's not something I want to read about every day.

Bombing down a steep hill on a race bike training ride ... great for many ... not for me

I suppose the reason there isn't more reading material available for "everyday" cycling is that it's pretty bland. I mean, in comparison to the ride report of climbing near-vertical mountain roads until you vomit and descending at 70mph, nearly sliding off a cliff and breaking your collarbone, a description of riding to the beach, eating some lunch, and picking up a few things at the grocery store on the way home sounds pretty tame. Nevertheless, there are probably more people who participate in the tame than in the epic ... and I am making it my mission to bring excitement to the world of the everyday cycler.

With this in mind, I propose a new naming protocol for our everyday rides. Here's the scoop:

Have you noticed that all of the "epic" rides have some kind of special moniker that describes its length? For example, a ride of 100 miles is called a "century", which makes it sound a lot more "epic" than simply saying it's a 100-mile ride. After all, when we hear the word "century", we think about a span of time greater than most of us will live ... so using it to describe a bike ride is like saying "this ride is so long and so difficult, you may not survive", which is somehow attractive to the thrill seekers. A "metric century" sounds even more "epic", even though it's technically much shorter, being only 100 kilometers. The REALLY epic rides are the "double century" rides ... 200 miles (or kilometers for the metric version). Well ... the everyday cycler's version of the epic ride could be called a "decade". Think about it. If a century is 100 miles, a "decade" would be 10 miles. That's enough for an everyday ride, right? If you need more, you could do a "double decade" for 20 miles ... or even a "triple decade" for 30 miles. It sure makes the normal bland everyday ride sound more exciting, doesn't it?

Of course, every big epic ride has some kind of additional verbiage attached to describe where the ride is, or who sponsors it, or to make it sound more torturous ... like the "Hell's Gate 100" ... or the "SoCal Double Century". Well that's easy to incorporate into the everyday epic ride title. How about The Doheny Double Decade?

Scene from the Epic "Doheny Double Decade"

We could have "The Heritage Park Hill Climb Half Decade" ... and "The Aliso Creek Trail Triple Decade".

How is this NOT an epic ride?

Trail-side scenery is not always appreciated during a competitive "event" ride.

And let's not forget "The Wind Tunnel From Hell". Of course, almost any everyday ride could be turned into an event ... like the "Starbucks Grab & Go Epic Double-Latte Half Decade With Whipped Cream".

First leg of the "Starbucks Grab & Go Epic Double-Latte Half Decade With Whipped Cream" ride.

The beauty of these EveryDay Epics is that they aren't competitive ... unless you want them to be. They don't cost anything to enter ... aside from your time. They don't require any special training. You don't have to wear any special clothing ... unless you want to. You're always the winner of the event, and the prize is whatever you reward yourself with after the ride. And you can participate at any time, since there's no schedule. You can even stop halfway for lunch and continue later ... with no time penalty. If you don't go as far as you planned, you can simply rename the ride ... a decade is then just a half-decade, but no less "epic" in nature. You can ride alone or with others ... and everyone wins, unless you decide to make it competitive, in which case I suggest the person who has the most fun (determined by best "woohoohoo" when crossing the finish line) is declared the winner. Take a camera and start building a photo album to remember your epic events. Put on a helmet video camera, speed up the video, and add a heavy metal soundtrack for posting on YouTube ... just remember to not giggle like a little girl on camera (or at least mute the audio track).

Yes, it's very exciting to think about those big epic cycling events ... and if you're truly into doing it, then my helmet is off to you. But if you're new to cycling ... or feel somehow that you're not a "real" cyclist because that's all you see in the media ... don't worry. As Forrest Gump's mom used to say ... "Epic is as Epic does". In other words ... make your own epic ... every day. Go have fun. Give your 10-mile ride an epic name ... call it the Decade of Death, even if you're just riding to the grocery store and back (traffic can be dangerous, right?). Remember ... you're not a "cyclist" ... you're a "cycler" ... and "cyclers" make their own adventures in the everyday ride!

So let's start a new trend ... Everyday Epic Rides. Healthy, happy, fun. Where is your epic ride today?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Review: Schwalbe Marathon Dureme Tires!

The subject of tires can bring about a gigantic can of wormy debate.

Most of the debate exists around how one defines "great performance". For some, that means extra light, high-pressure, skinny tires with great grip and low rolling resistance for fast riding. For others, it means low-pressure fat tires with aggressive tread for dirt and rock navigation without slipping. For others, it means no flats EVER, and nothing else matters. Still others might define performance as being the cushiest, smoothest ride ever, without any major concerns of weight or speed. Your definition of tire performance may be en-"tire"-ly different. That's just fine ... and that's why there are so many different tires on the market ... to suit the many different needs of many different riders.

I've had just enough time riding a bike to finally form an opinion of my own regarding tire performance. It goes something like this (not necessarily in order):

  • Lots of air for comfort. 
  • Enough tread for mild trails and fire roads, but not too much for paved surfaces. 
  • High puncture resistance. 
  • Durable. 
  • Folding bead preferred.

Notice I didn't use the word "fast" anywhere. I guess I'm over that. I figure any tire that fits the other criteria will be plenty "fast" enough for me. I also didn't use the words "light weight". With the same logic, I think any tire that fits the other criteria will be light enough. Also, I've never actually had a tire so heavy that I said to myself "wow, that tire feels heavy when I'm riding on it". I generally assume that if I'm slow, it's because it's ME ... not the bike or the tires. Besides, I'm not in a hurry, and a little extra effort won't kill me.

All that aside, I pretty much adhere to the theory that when something's right, I'll basically never notice it or give it any thought. It just sort of blends in and does its job so well that it doesn't draw attention to itself. It's a bit like adding reverb to a track in a music mix ... the right type and amount should not be actually "heard" by the listener, only a noticeable difference when removed. Well, at least that's my take on it ...

Back to the purpose of this post ... it was a beautiful day today, and I was out riding on a trail that had some rough spots from horse hooves, mixed with some soft sandy spots ... and for whatever reason, I realized how nicely my tires were handling it all.

Nice day for a ride on the trails ... how nicely my tires are handling this!
Seven miles or so on pavement to the trail ... and a few miles of mixed trail surface ... and throughout the ride, there was no thought about how my tires were working ... that is until the moment it popped into my head that my tires rolled so well everywhere. This wasn't the first time I'd taken this route, so I'm not sure why I thought about it this time ... maybe because it was so nice to never NEED to think about it. So I thought it might be a good idea to pass on the experience of the tires that I haven't thought about ... thus, in the event you're looking for a tire you won't ever think about, here's a review:

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. 

The Schwalbe Marathon Dureme is described by the manufacturer as follows:

This new Marathon is a dream. Incorporated in it is all of Schwalbe’s Evolution

  • HD Ceramic Guard. The safest protection belt for light weight tires.
  • SnakeSkin. Much lighter than a rubber sidewall, but just as robust.
  • Triple Nano Compound. Our best rubber compound for outstanding grip,
  • easy rolling and long life.
We combined this high quality technology with a classic, versatile tread, which feels at home on any road: The Dureme is a breeze on tracks and rolls phenomenally easily on the road.

Schwalbe Marathon Dureme 26" x 2" on Velocity Synergy rim
I've been a Schwalbe fan for a few years now, since installing my first set of Marathon Plus tires on my Look carbon road bike after getting "tired" of flats. Everyone talked about how "heavy" they are, but at the same time, never had a flat. I tried them ... never got a flat ... and actually found them to be very comfortable for a high-pressure tire. When I got my Surly LHT, I put a set of Marathon Supremes on it ... and was very happy with those, as well (see previous review here). So, when putting together the component list for my Rivendell Hunqapillar, I was pretty sure it would be Schwalbe again, just not certain about the particular model.

If you look at my list above for my definition of "performance", then look at Schwalbe's description of the Marathon Dureme, it's easy to see why I chose that model. It has great puncture protection, good tread for mixed riding conditions, a "robust" sidewall construction, and a "long life" durable design. Plus ... it comes in a 26" x 2" size ... plenty of air for a comfortable ride. And ... a folding bead for easier installation and (in my opinion) better rim attachment.

The price for these tires was a bit of a shock at first. Actually, it's still a shock. They're expensive tires. Even for high-quality tires, they're expensive. But my experience with Schwalbe told me they would be worth the price, and when I thought about it, $150 for a pair of tires that will probably last for two years of great riding isn't really that much to spend. I spend that much EVERY MONTH for cable TV and Internet! Breaking the cost down, if they do last two years, it's only $6.25 per month and only 21 cents per day! I can't even buy a cup of coffee for 21 cents ... so for something that really makes a difference, it's quite a bargain. In the end, I really felt the Hunqapillar deserved a great set of tires, so I added them to the build list without hesitation.

Fat tires and fenders ... appropriate style elements of a Woolly Mammoth bike!
Keven at Rivendell concurred, saying this tire would be one of the best all-around tires available. They fit nicely in the Hunqapillar frame, with plenty of room for big fenders. We don't get a lot of rain where I live, but the fenders sure do help to keep the sand and dirt out of the drivetrain and off the frame.

Bright ... BRIGHT ... reflective stripe on the sidewall!
I've been riding them since I got the bike about three months ago, and they have "performed" perfectly for my needs ... which is to say I haven't given them much thought during any ride. That's a great thing, considering I've taken them on a variety of paved surfaces, trails, and gravel fire roads. The ride has always been smooth and comfortable, regardless of the surface, and the tread seems to be just right ... rolling well on pavement, digging in just enough on the trail. I looked at the tread today after three months of almost-everyday use, and it shows virtually no signs of wear, except for being a little dirtier than when it was new.

Marathon Dureme Tread: sure-footed on trails, smooth on pavement
In contrast to the Marathon Supremes mounted on my Surly LHT, I find the Marathon Dureme to roll just as well on the road (for the riding I do), but much better on trails, where the Supremes tend to slide a bit in loose or sandy conditions. The Supremes also make a bit of noticable noise on smooth roads, like a medium-pitched hum. This doesn't happen with the Duremes, which is odd, since there's more tread ... so I'd think the road noise would be greater. As far as comfort, I find them both to be about the same ... nice and smooth, very forgiving of bumps and cracks in the road. They are both rated for the same load, which is 140kg per tire, or 280kg for the pair. That's 616 pounds of load capacity ... more than I could ever carry ... so they're certainly strong enough for whatever I'll do with them. They're also both rated for the same air volume, which is 30-70psi. I generally inflate them to 50psi and ride without worrying about it. I like it that way, and don't really find a need to modulate air pressure for different terrain, although I'm sure the traction would be better for more off-road riding with lower pressure, adding more air back for speedier pavement riding. With these tires and a good set of tubes, I find that I only need to add air about once every 2 weeks, and even then it's just to top them off ... a nice benefit of lower pressure tire systems. As a side note, Schwalbe tubes really do hold air better ... just sayin' ... try them for yourself and find out.

30-70psi for the 26" x 2" model ... 50psi works for just about everything!
To say I like these tires because I haven't thought about them sounds awfully lackluster as a review, but the truth is, that's why I really LOVE them! To have a tire that always rolls well, regardless of the terrain, never gets a flat, and holds a lot of cushy air means I never really HAVE to think or worry about them at all ... and that's a truly beautiful thing!

Have a great weekend!!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The 40-Minute Weather Wheel

I try to keep an eye on the weather forecast during the Winter months, as it seems to change a lot from day to day. It's not uncommon for the local weather guys and girls to disagree on what's coming later in the week, and there may not be a consensus until the day before a planned event. And by "event", I mean "tomorrow's ride".

The forecast for today was supposed to be partly-to-mostly cloudy in the morning, followed by thickening cloud cover in the early afternoon, developing into light occasional rain showers later in the day ... windy all day long with strong gusts at times ... and chilly (for us, anyway). That worked for me. I figured I could go out for a nice long-ish ride in the morning and be home long before any showers started. I'm not exactly fond of strong wind, but I can handle it, so no big deal ... and I can just dress a little warmer when it's chilly ... but windy AND rainy AND chilly isn't my idea of good riding weather. Riding into a cold headwind with blowing cold rain? Nope.

Okay ... so this morning appeared to be as predicted. Mostly cloudy with the sun poking through here and there, and a little chilly. I got dressed and got out the door. As I rode down to the Harbor, I definitely felt the wind pushing back at me, which was nice in a way, because the direction meant I'd have a tailwind on the ride home ... but it made the 50-degree air temperature feel more like the mid-30's, and my fingers were getting very cold. No matter, though ... I always warm up as I ride on. I noticed some darker clouds beginning to roll in, but didn't think too much about it because there was also some blue sky showing:

Dark low clouds AND blue sky over the Harbor
As I began to leave the Harbor and head down past the beach to the trail, I started to feel a few drops of rain. My head told me it wasn't actually going to rain ... because how could ALL of the weather people be wrong? Well ... they were wrong. The few drops quickly became actual rain. Cold ... windy ... and now RAIN. I turned into  a small covered area at Doheny Beach to see if it would pass before I continued on. It did pass ... rather quickly, and treated me to some interesting sky images.

Doheny Beach sky
When the rain stopped, I decided I wasn't having a lot of fun ... and since I was now cold and wet, it might be a good idea to head home. I rode back past the beach and up the hills toward the house, stopping to look at the sky again. It was quite a sight, almost like two completely different skies split down the middle over the Harbor. To the left, it was dark, thick, gloomy clouds. To the right, bright blue, sunny, clear sky.

View to the left ... dark clouds

View to the right ... bright, sunny, clear blue
As I continued toward home, the clouds went away, and the sky became completely clear and sunny.

This all took place in a 40-minute time period. It was cloudy when I started ... then turned dark and started to rain ... and then became completely clear and sunny. How strange this Winter weather can be!

Had I thought there was any chance of rain, I could have prepared better and put on some rain-worthy clothing ... and I would have then continued on with the ride. But three weather people AND the weather dot com folks ALL said no rain until late afternoon. Their collective score for today: FAIL.

As I write this post, an hour after getting home, the weather wheel has turned again ... the sky has gone from sunny, blue, and clear to dark and cloudy, and it is starting to rain. I guess it can't be sunny and warm EVERY day ... even in Southern California!

Here's to a better tomorrow ... hope your Winter weather hasn't hindered your riding! More reviews in the works!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Review: Fyxation Mesa Pedals!

This is going to be brief ... or at least brief for me, in comparison with my other reviews. I'd just like to offer my experience with a set of pedals that I purchased for my Hunqapillar in hopes they would be the "right" ones. I'll save the whole clipless vs. toe-clip vs. flat pedal topic for another time. It's worth discussing, but perhaps not in this context.

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.

When I ordered my Hunqapillar, I had some pedals that I intended to install ... ones that had worked reasonably well for me in the past ... and I was content with that choice. While I was waiting for the bike to be assembled and shipped, however, I stumbled across a newer pedal that seemed like it might be a really good model to try ... and the spontaneous splurge soothed my impatience in waiting for the Woolly Mammoth Bike.

The new pedal is from Fyxation, called the Mesa, which isn't really "new" anymore, but was relatively so at the time of purchase. Here's a photo:

I'm not exactly the primary demographic for this pedal, as you might guess from the manufacturer's description:

The Fyxation Mesa Pedal is ideal for freeride, BMX and urban riders that want a hard hitting pedal built to withstand abuse and provide a solid platform for any style of riding. Made out of a high impact nylon the Mesa is wide platform pedal with a super thin profile that will work with most of today’s popular foot retention systems.
- High impact nylon body built to take abuse
- Smooth running sealed bearings with a cro-moly spindle
- Molded surface pegs for a super grippy ride
- Compatible with most foot retention systems

Well ... although I'm not into BMX or Freeride, and I'm not exactly what you'd call an "urban" rider, this pedal still had a lot of appeal to me. The platform is very large ... bigger than any of my other pedals. The bearings are sealed, which maybe doesn't make much difference, but does reduce the maintenance. The body and pegs are made from "high impact nylon", which means it's pretty durable and won't rip up the soles of my shoes. The spindle is "cro-moly" steel, which should make for a strong axle to spin on. Plus, the "built to withstand abuse" part gave me the impression it would be a heavy-duty, durable pedal. All of this sounded like just the right stuff for what I do with a bike.

The only concern I had is that they're only available in black, bright red, and white. None of these colors are quite the right fit for a classic lugged steel frame with silver components. I worried that they would stick out like a pair of neon striped socks on an all black tuxedo. Nevertheless, I ordered a pair of the black pedals to try.

The pedals arrived long before the bike ... and I had time to look at them and have endless debates with myself  about whether or not they would look okay with the Hunqapillar. When the bike arrived, I put them on ... and finally decided they could stay. Here's what they look like on the bike:

It turns out they weren't as hideous as I'd imagined, rather just blending in ... and they match the tires. Okay ... so it's not really a plus to have your pedal match your tires when they're black ... but it helps somehow in my mind.

So how do they work? In a word ... FANTASTIC.

The pedals I originally intended to use are the MKS Lambda, also known as the Rivendell Grip King. I'd used these pedals for quite a while on other bikes and always considered them my favorite, but felt they were lacking just a tiny bit in three areas. First, they're a little narrower than I ultimately would prefer, and with some shoes I feel as though half of my foot is hanging off the side. Second, the grip is very good and lets me re-position my feet easily, but can sometimes be just a tiny bit less grip than I'd like. I put some metal pedal spikes on a pair as recommended by Rivendell, and it does help, however, it also takes away a little bit of the full contact of the pedal surface. Third, the middle of the pedal body has no real support, so my foot is really only supported by the front and rear of the pedal, which also makes use with some of my preferred shoes less than optimal. Shoes with flat soles are great, but if there's a curved forefoot or a relief in the arch area, not so great. They also seem to promote a more "foot forward" position, which I like, but is not always preferred, as it can occasionally result in a minor collision between toe and fender.

Back to the Fyxation Mesa. This pedal answers all of the tiny issues I had with the Grip Kings. The platform of the Mesa is just a hair shorter, but substantially wider, and my feet always feel well supported in any of my shoes. The nylon pins provide a truly great grip, regardless of my shoe choice ... and yet they don't take away from full contact with the pedal. And my thought was correct that the non-metal pins don't seem to eat my shoes (or my shins) like the ones on other BMX style pedals. Finally, there's a nice solid support beam across the center of the pedal body, so no matter how I position my foot, it always feels like there's something under it ... once again, with any of my shoes. I've used them with everything from Birkenstock sandals to hiking shoes, and they all work very well.

Being the continual skeptic that I am, I swapped them out for the Grip Kings a couple of weeks ago, just to see if my assessment was accurate. Scientifically, I used them for three rides, with three different pairs of shoes. Sure enough, I immediately felt less supported in those little ways. So, without hesitation, I put the Mesa's back on.

I love that no matter where my feet are on the pedal, they feel solidly supported. This is a wonderful thing, since I do tend to move my feet around a lot on longer rides to prevent that little toe numbness that sometimes creeps in (this is one of the reasons I no longer use clip-in type pedals). I believe it's because of the nice broad support that I also feel more strength on longer hills.

They appear to be very rugged, although I've only used them for the past three months. There is no sign of any deterioration or sloppiness in the spindle, and all of the nylon pins are still intact.

And if it matters to you, they're incredibly light and very thin. Some say the thin profile brings your feet closer to the spindle, thereby lowering your center of gravity. Well ... okay, if a couple of millimeters makes a difference, then yep, they do it. I can't tell, myself ... but that's just me. They are also supposed to be compatible with the newer breed of pedal straps that help keep your feet in place. My feet stay on just fine without them, so I don't find any need for that sort of thing ... and as I mentioned, I like to move my feet around. But if you like them, this pedal might be a good design for you.

Are there any negatives? Well ... other than they don't come in a matching gray for my Hunqapillar, it's difficult to think of any. I suppose the extra wide platform might be prone to striking the ground if you ride really fast and lean hard into turns while pedaling, but that's not my style, so I've not experienced it. Also, the grip is so good that re-positioning my feet sometimes takes a little more effort, but not enough to be a concern.

I really like the Fyxation Mesa pedals. If money were no object, I'd certainly not hesitate to put them on all of my other bikes. If only I was one of those famous professional bloggers who gets stuff for free ...

So much for being "brief" ..... Happy riding!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Review: Rivendell Sackville Bags Part 2!

It's time for Part 2 of the Rivendell Sackville Bags Review! WooHoo! In Part 1, I showed you the bags I'm using most often, the Medium SaddleSack and the SlickerSack/Platrack combo. In this second installment, I'd like to cover some of the other incredibly useful products from this great line. These are the ones I use slightly less often, which means not EVERY day, but frequently enough that I consider them to be invaluable tools.

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.

First, let's take a look at the Sackville ShopSacks. These handy bags are intended (and designed specifically) for use with Wald model 137 and 139 wire baskets. The Medium ShopSack fits the 15" model 137 basket, and the Large ShopSack fits the 18" model 139 basket.

Medium ShopSack & Wald 137 left - Large ShopSack & Wald 139 right
ShopSacks & Wald Baskets ... Brass Snap Hook attachment
The baskets can be purchased through Rivendell, as well as the Soma Fabrications Store (available here in both black and silver), and I'm guessing lots of other places for $20-$23. The ShopSacks will cost a bit more, but are well worth the price, as they are quite versatile both on and off the bike.

Either of the Wald baskets can be mounted to a front or rear rack with simple plastic zip ties, or with any number of creative applications of wire, Velcro straps, etc.  Once mounted to your rack, the appropriately-sized ShopSack just slips in and clips to the basket with two heavy-duty brass snap-hooks to keep it from moving about.

Heavy-Duty Brass Snap Hooks for attachment

Medium ShopSack & 137 Basket on my Surly LHT
This combination of bag and basket lets you carry all kinds of stuff. Although it was designed primarily as a grocery type tote bag, it comes in handy for carrying whatever you need for your daily commute ... clothes, books, lunch, personal items, and so on. It's made from Scottish all-cotton fabric and U.S. made military-spec webbing for the handles (per the Rivendell website). It goes on and off the bike in seconds, and stays put while it's there, keeping the contents secure with a nice strong zipper that has sturdy brass pulls. There's a strip of bright reflective material on one side that will be quite visible in headlights. The handles are sturdy, and long enough for a good grip or even to carry on your shoulder ... or if you prefer, you could attach another strap to the hooks.

Size-wise, the Medium ShopSack is a little bigger than a standard grocery bag, in that it is wider than it is tall, which makes putting stuff in and carrying it easier ... plus you can pack it more with heavier items, having no fear of a "bag failure". In practice, I find that I can usually put almost twice what I'd attempt in a standard grocery bag.

ShopSacks with standard grocery bag for reference ... but they actually hold  much more than it appears!
The Large ShopSack should really be called the "Huge" ShopSack, because that's just what it is. If you fill this bag with canned goods, you might need some help carrying it ... yes, it holds that much. It will hold an entire box of fire logs and a package of toilet paper. I know, I know ... why would I do that? Good question ... but one day I needed fire logs, the box was a great buy, and I had panniers and the huge ShopSack, so I bought them and loaded up with the rest of my groceries in the panniers. It all fit ... but I wouldn't recommend it unless your ride home is a short one.

Simple interior and WIDE opening for easy loading/unloading
While the cost may seem a bit high for what appears to be a basic shopping tote, I can tell you that it is much more than basic, and much more than just a shopping tote. I've been using one of the Medium ShopSacks for almost two years now, and it shows very little signs of wear. The zipper is still smooth and secure, the handles are strong as ever, the brass snap-hooks are still shiny and sturdy, and the fabric has only become softer with a bit of normal wear from scuffs and scrapes during regular use.

Sturdy zipper and heavy-duty brass pulls ... quality materials throughout
I've used this bag for grocery runs, carrying odd items on the bike, carrying miscellaneous audio/video gear to job locations, and as a carry-on bag for airline travel. It has performed so well that it is my "go-to" bag for ... well, for whenever I need a bag! We use one of the Large ShopSacks as a general purpose tool bag ... and beach-stuff bag ... and suitcase substitute. They're incredibly versatile, great-looking, and very durable. They will outlast any other bag of their kind, without doubt. When used for shopping by bike, they make life very easy, as you can take the bag in with you as your reusable grocery bag. No more extra plastic in the landfill, and no more flimsy store-brand reusable bags that break and wear out. Filled with stuff you buy, it then goes back in the basket for the ride home, then right into the house to unload ... and it is then ready for the next task.

Next up is a set of two bags that are possibly the most stylish of the whole line; the TrunkSacks. There are two sizes, Small and Large.

Sackville TrunkSacks: Small (left) and Large (right)

The Small TrunkSack is designed to be carried on a small front rack such as the Nitto Mark's Rack or Mini Front. The Large TrunkSack is designed to be carried on a rear rack, and will work with almost any type ... however, it is most perfectly mounted on a Nitto R-14 Top Rack. Attachment is simple, with a riveted leather panel that slips over the rack loop, and four brass snaps on leather straps that wrap around the rack rails. If your rack doesn't have a loop, don't worry ... the four snap straps are enough to keep it in place.

Riveted leather panel slips over the rack loop

Leather straps wrap around rack rails and attach with heavy brass snaps
The bags are closed with nice zippers and brass pulls, with leather storm flaps running along the sides to help keep water out in the event of rain. Although it's not technically waterproof, the fabric is quite water-repellent, and unless it's raining heavy, the inside should stay pretty dry. Keep in mind that I live in Southern California, though, so my expertise in rain gear might be the equivalent of an Eskimo instructing you on how to select summer beach attire.

There's some nice reflective material running all around the outside of the bag, which is very bright in nighttime conditions, as well as in the sunshine. The Large TrunkSack also has a leather loop for a rear light attachment ... a very nice little feature if you happen to ride after dark.

Leather light loop and reflective material for safety!
On the top of each bag are four brass "D" rings, secured with heavily stitched cotton. These can be helpful if you need a place to secure your jacket when you get too hot, or any other light-ish item that could be strapped on with a bungee cord. I've often clipped a shoulder strap on them as a way to carry the bag, since there's no built-in handle.

Sturdy brass "D" rings for strapping stuff on!
The inside of the TrunkSacks is very simple ... just an open space for whatever you want to put in. This is good, because it's not pre-configured with pockets or dividers that may not fit your particular needs. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that there is no padding to protect anything fragile. If you just drop in your keys and cell phone, they'll be free to roll around, rattle, and scratch each other at will. I have devised a couple of small modifications to help with this, and to make them custom fit for my application.

My small TrunkSack is generally used for any personal items I need for a ride ... phone, keys, wallet, garage door opener, handkerchief, small pad of paper and pen. To keep things from rattling around and give it all a little padding, I cut a piece from a bargain bin yoga mat to perfectly fit the interior space. The dense material adds some structure to maintain the box shape of the bag, and gives some padding for the contents. One yoga mat goes a long way for useful padding in lots of applications!

Small TrunkSack with Bargain Bin Yoga Mat Interior ... simple, effective, and cheap!
My Large TrunkSack was purchased to carry my Nikon DSLR, so it was an absolute necessity to add some protection for the camera. Sure, I could have just put some towels or an old sweatshirt in there, but that just isn't stylish enough ... and putting the camera in another bag inside this bag seemed tedious when I needed quick access. So after doing some measuring ... and experimenting with a few ideas ... going back to the drawing board and doing some research ... I stumbled across something that happens to work amazingly well and seems perfectly designed for this bag. Another bike bag company, Zimbale, makes a product called the Camera Protect Case that is designed for their saddle bag line ... and the 7/11 liter size fits the Large TrunkSack like a glove!

Large TrunkSack with Zimbale 7/11 liter Camera Protect Case insert.

The Zimbale insert nicely holds my Nikon with extra lens and extras.
With the modifications I've made, the TrunkSacks have been quite useful, and they are very stylish on the bike. They have a compact appearance, in spite of their interior capacity, and in my opinion, are the nicest looking rack-top bags available. They are quick to attach and even quicker to remove, and they are easily customized to fit a wide variety of applications.

Small TrunkSack in use!

Large TrunkSack in use!
Small and Large TrunkSacks ... stylish matching luggage for your bike!!

Well ... there you have it ... Rivendell Sackville Bags Part 2! Thanks for reading!!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Happy February!!

This year is already moving fast. It's difficult to believe we've already entered the second month of 2012 ... and even more difficult to think that it's the year 2012. Wow. Aren't we supposed to be driving cars that fly and perform self-navigation so we simply sit and await arrival at our destination like the Jetsons? Maybe that's still a bit down the road.

In any case, being that it's now the beginning of February, this is the time of year when the holidays are all over, but it's still not yet Spring. And, although this Winter has been awfully mild here in the good ol' USA, the sun still sets early, and we aren't getting quite enough of the natural vitamin D we need to feel good. In addition, the bills from our extravagant holiday expenditures have now arrived, we're looking at the decorations that still haven't been put away, and  that overgrown chipmunk in that famous town has apparently seen his own shadow and given us the royal groundhog middle finger of a longer winter ahead as he crawls back into his den, where he has a comfortable supply of pizza and beer. So, with all of that happening, unless you live for the Super Bowl (did I mention pizza and beer?), this week can be downright "blah". FYI, I do turn on the Super Bowl, but my watching may be a bit blasphemous. You see, I watch ONLY the commercials, which are the very best part of the whole thing, and go about my normal day in between. I do, however, have pizza and beer ... to celebrate those incredibly clever and extremely expensive commercials.

Back to the point ... February, especially the first week of it, can sometimes leave us (and by "us", I basically mean "me") feeling a little bit "gray" ... like this little fellow I saw a few days ago:

Don't be sad ... your chubby cousin said it would only be six more weeks of Winter!
I don't like feeling gray ... which is why I like to ride a bike. Heck, just looking at my Hunqapillar begins to bring a little color into my otherwise gray day:

Bring on the color ... Bring on the Funq(apillar)!!
Although it might be tempting to go sit at the bar ... what makes me feel better is the view from my "bars":

This winter thing isn't so bad after all ... in fact, it's pretty nice today!
It always works, and I always feel better after a good ride. I come home with the energy to do the things I didn't want to do earlier, like the major office and house cleaning at the top of my list ... and putting away the last of the holiday decorations. And it seems that while I'm riding, the plan comes together in my head for getting done what I thought impossible before I left the house.

Maybe riding a bike does the same for you? If not, just get outside for a bit. Since the weather has been so mild, there are plenty of things you could do:

You could go surfing!!!
If you don't want to get wet, you could just go and watch the waves!
You could even learn to fly ... (or maybe just watch the birds)
Okay ... maybe you don't live near a large body of water. The point is ... get some fresh air. It will do good things for your spirit!

Back with more soon, including some reviews of stuff. But first ... I have to finish the cleaning and organizing of the house and office. Good thing I went for a nice ride this morning ...