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 ...