Friday, August 16, 2019

My Bike Flew Down to Puerto Rico- Racing Las 100 de La Parguera Mountain Bike race

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At the start line of "Las 100 De La Parguera"

If you are a passionate cyclist, be it road biker or mountain biker, you may have wondered what it is like to travel with your bike and ride in a distant land. To go out of one's comfort zone and do something that you've never done before is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have as a person. While I have ridden bikes abroad I have never done an event outside of where I live in Texas. 

The first time I heard of Las 100 de La Parguera mountain bike race was eight years ago, to be exact. I just so happened to be visiting family in Puerto Rico and was spending the day in the quiet little coastal town known as La Parguera. I stumble across the official starting line with a guy in a registration booth next to it. I ask what all of the commotion is about and he tells me it is a mountain bike race, the first of it's kind in Puerto Rico. I get really excited and ask if there was any way that I could rent a mountain bike, but neither him nor I knew how to get a hold of one. The race was only a few days away and a couple of days before I had to go back home, so I concluded that I was not prepared to undertake the race on such short notice.  The winner of the race won a new bike and that year 300 people participated in the event. 

Fast forward eight years later. This event is now one of the premiere races of the Caribbean with over 2,000 participants and racing teams coming from as far as Dominican Republic. The kinds of bikes that I saw were almost all top of the line racing bikes, some which I had not seen even stateside . It seemed like everybody was riding some kind of carbon fiber wonder. I saw Treks and Specialized S-Works all over the field, many of these bikes costing up to 10 grand. Needless to say, the participants took their riding very seriously.

I wanted to do this ride before I got any older, before any kind of life change or health change prevented me from ever doing it. It may sound like I worry too much about that in my blog posts, but let me explain. I'm currently dealing with some kind of knee tendinitis on both knees, injuries brought about from getting back into skateboarding for the last two years. Also, as time goes by, it gets harder to find the time to train for events like this. Knowing both of these things, I did not want to keep putting it off any longer. I wasn't in it to win it, as I knew I neither had the fitness level, correct bike for the race or home field advantage like the locals that knew the route well.

I opted for the 50 kilometer route, which ended up being 57 kilometers or 35 miles when it was all said and done. I finished in a time of 3 hours and 10 minutes, with a moving pace of 2 hours and 54 minutes. I was 155th out of 313 in my age category (30-39) and 758 overall out of the 2017 participants, so not first, not last.  

I believe in being a life time athlete, as long as health and physical limitations allow it. I also believe you don't have to be a professional to have lifetime achievements in the sport you practice. Making memories such as these will last longer than any win I could ever have. Hopefully my kids will grow up knowing that their dad wasn't just some couch potato. Its important to have all kinds of goals in life. My goal is to stay active for as long as I can.

The last hill of the race, just before the finish line

Marin Pine Mountain 1, Long term Review

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"A bike you can throw anything at, but it's heavy"

The Marin Pine Mountain 1 in the mountains of Puerto Rico

I'm a big fan of this bike. In fact, I'm such a fan of the Marin Pine Mountain rigid plus bike that I own two of the exact model. This bike was sold at Performance Bike stores before they went out of business and liquidated their assets. I was able to purchase both bikes for well under store MSRP. 

Every once in a while, in an industry that is becoming ever more proprietary in their design, more prone to all sorts of recalls and bikes that break within a couple of years usage, manufacturers make something admirable and truly bulletproof. Case and point the 2018 Marin Pine Mountain 1 rigid mountain bike. This bike is the Jeep Commanche, the Suzuki Samurai, the Toyota 4runner of mountain bikes. It just keeps on going. Low geared, with a strong frame, wheelset and crankset, this bike is capable of anything that any other bike is capable of. Flat roads, mountain climbs, singletrack, jumps are no obstacle for this beast. Is this a race bike? By all means, no it isn't. This bike will have you finishing in the middle of the pack on XC endurance events. There are much better choices of mountain bikes for cross country racing. However, this is a bike you can stick in your travel case resting assured that nothing will break on it during travel and is foolproof enough to handle any TSA inspections. The bike is very stable on descents and eats up fireroads with ease. A front suspension might be desired on really technical rock gardens, however the bike performs well even though the ride might be jarring. 

The beauty of this bike is in it's simplicity. No suspension on the bike means less moving parts and less maintenance overall. The 1x10 drivetrain means that the user will only have to adjust a single rear derailleur. The clutch system on the Shimano Deore derailleur allows for less missed shifts or skipping gears. The low gear ratio on the bike compensates for the heft of the frame and rotational weight of the wheels, which weigh in at about 8-9 pounds each.

I recently took my Marin Pine Mountain 1 to Puerto Rico for a mountain bike race that I've had my eye on for years, Las 100 de la Parguera. I'll post another article detailing how I did on the race. While the bike performed well on sand pits, rocky pitches and descents both on pavement and dirt, it was slow going on long, sustained climbs. I was 3 minutes and 19 seconds slower a sustained climb I had done on a road bike a few years before. Manhandling the bike around in a racing situation was more tiring that if I had been on a lighter carbon or aluminum mountain bike. While I finished the race around the time I had anticipated, I felt I was punished more for my effort and speed. 

The thing is, I can't personally fault this bike for being heavy. It's weight plays a big role in this durability. Over time, I could get used to the heaviness of this bike, even in extreme mountain environments such as is the case riding in Puerto Rico. At 33 pounds for a size medium frame, this bike is in the same weight class as some entry level full suspension bikes. Tubeless tires, carbon wheels and a carbon or air suspension fork will make this bike a quiver killer. However, I'm of the belief that if it isn't broken you shouldn't fix it and if you don't need it then you shouldn't buy it. In the case of the Marin Pine Mountain, it might be a really long time before anything on this bike breaks. 

This is a great bike for rolling terrain, but it pays to pace yourself on it up those long climbs.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

How Mountain Biking has changed in the last 20 years

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Dropper Posts, Attitudes and Full Face Helmets...
Is This A New Sport?

The truth is, mountain biking is barely recognizable from what it was in 1998. Back then, bikes had 3 chainrings up front, bar ends, grip shifters, 26 inch wheels with the widest tire width being 1.95. Most people still did not ride with suspension, elbow or knee pads or any mountain bike specific clothing. People did thankfully wear helmets back then but these were poorly designed and made the wearer look like a bobble head doll. 

It was an easier sport to get into 20 years ago. Sure, there were still premium bicycles back then too, as there have always been since people started riding bikes. However. there were more bikes priced for the masses. $400 was a serious chunk of change that could buy a decent and durable bicycle from an LBS. Most people did not even splurge that much on a bike. The average person had a $75 to $100 bike that they bought at Sears. The limiting factor back then was technology. Bicycles today are far more capable of handling rough terrain without the same set of skills needed to ride the same terrain 20 years ago. In fact, trails are being designed with more jumps, drop offs and other technical features that most people had to walk around back in the old days. So the trade off is that now bikes are more capable, but they are no longer as affordable as they were back then .

The image of the stereotypical mountain biker has also changed. 20 years ago mountain bikers were daredevils or unconventional hippie types left over from the seventies. Make no mistake, these guys could still shred on their old bikes and they were sending their bikes off of big obstacles before "sending it" was even a thing. Since technology was so primitive back then they knew there were no shortcuts to being a good mountain biker. Popping a wheelie and being able to lift up a front wheel, as well as using your body as the suspension where essential skills that had to be learned before taking any serious risks on the trail. As a result, people in general weren't going as fast on the trails or "sending it" off  big jumps like they are now, at least not without extensive amounts of practice and skill building. 

People that are getting into mountain biking today have a big expectation on their bikes and equipment to bail them out of sketchy situations or error-correct a lot of their skill deficiencies. That's because many people are coughing up some big bucks to get into the sport. Some mountain bikes can cost as much as $5000 and even upwards of that. A lot more people are buying bikes at this price than they were in the 90's (as a point of reference, a new car in the early 90's cost the same as a new bike does today). The ensuing carnage due to lack of skills on the trail has opened a new opportunity for the bike industry to make more mountain bike specific apparel. However mountain bike specific apparel today looks like a typical motocross outfit; full face helmet, pads and sometimes body armor, full fingered gloves and goggles.  In addition to that, a lot of riders strap at least 3 GoPro cameras on their bike so that they can record themselves "sending it" whenever they can. While I can appreciate that the fun factor hasn't left mountain biking, there is an underlying corporate culture and emphasis on branding that has been creeping into the sport in order to make it more exclusive, premium pastime. 

Recently it dawned on me how clueless some new mountain bikers were when riding a section of my favorite trail, Northshore. Experienced riders know the safest line of passage when weaving through rock gardens or going down drops and rock beds. I had approached a rider planted dead center of the trail, with a full face helmet, pads and a full suspension bike, contemplating whether is was going to roll of a giant boulder to land on the other side. "Take the drop to the left, that's the best line" I said, trying to alert his attention as a was getting closer to the drop myself. "Says who?" the guy retorted. "Says the guy not wearing a full face" I snapped back. We were on the notorious "West side" of the trail, known for it's rock gardens and technical terrain. I grew up riding this trail and there are still sections of it that I am not ashamed to walk. Sometimes there can be a problem when someone overly relies on their bike or their gear to cover for their lack of experience. Case in point the guy at Northshore.

In another instance I heard a guy referring to a mountain bike ride as "A no drop group ride". I nearly fell of my chair. Group rides are roadie (road biker) events where everybody rides together in a paceline (also known as a pelotón) and people get dropped when they can no longer hold the pace of the group. Not only would riding in a paceline on a mountain bike trail be impossible, no one would or should be getting dropped. If some riders are faster than others, they are simply faster. Discuss this in your group and determine where on the trail the group needs to stop and wait for the others to catch up. Mountain biking is awesome fun to do with a group of your friends, but keep in mind that there is more individual effort involved and speed and skills come eventually. Don't get mad if you're the slowest in the group. Be humble enough to admit it and ask the group to re-group at certain junctions along the trail. 

These are my observations (and my latest beef) on how mountain biking has changed in the last 20 years.  

Friday, November 16, 2018

My 2018 Marin Pine Mountain-Initial thoughts

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The 2018 Marin Pine Mountain- A Classic Rigid MTB with all of the Modern Benefits

The Marin Pine Mountiain 1, pictured on the right

In the past few years, there have been a few modern cult classic bicycles that have held or even exceeded their original retail value. The Salsa El Mariachi, GT Peace 9er, Vassago Jabberwocky, Redline Monocog and Kona Unit are all names that come to mind. All of these bikes are reasonably light, bombproof built, steel framed, modern mountain bikes that will take any beating on the trail and will come back asking for more. Well, I'm excited to say that I too now own a cult classic that most people are not even aware of. It made such a low key entrance into the market that it has been able to safety hide away from view, tucked between the full suspension 27.5+ bikes and the 29er hardtail carbon rockets on offer. It is on it's second year into production and possibly going into a third. However, my prediction is that it will be eclipsed by all of the other choices on the market, making it a short lived one-hit wonder. It is such an underrated, quality bicycle that it is on par with boutique level brands such as Surly and Jones. I'm talking about the Marin Pine Mountain 1, a modern, rigid, steel mountain bike.

I don't really do product reviews anymore, so to choose this bike to review is a big deal for me. This may very well be the last time we see such a well packaged offering at such an affordable price from Marin, or from any bike manufacturer for the foreseeable future. Having a durable bike with no suspension to worry about was a deliberate, long term investment that I had been planning on making for a while now. Knowing about a possible market-wide price hike on bicycles I decided the time was now or never to get into a Surly Krampus-esque styled bicycle with a 1x10 drivetrain and hydraulic Shimano disc brakes. 

Let's get down to the knitty gritty. The ride quality of this bike is amazing. The ability to run the tires at low pressures means floating above mud and rocks where a normal, non plus size tire would normally sink into. The 42t low gear is as massive as the 160mm brake rotor on the rear tire. There is little this bike can't climb. At 33 pounds out of the box the bike is no lightweight, but when considering the bike is a steel framed fat bike, 33 pounds seems very reasonable. The weight is on par with my mid-range full suspension 29er. 

This bike comes with a extra thick, tapered rigid front fork that has a double reinforcement to ensure stiffness. That being said, the front end of this bike feels amazingly light and easy to pop off of the ground. The extra wide handlebars and short stem make this bike exceptionally nimble and easy to throw around switchbacks and rock gardens. 

I will eventually write a long term review of this bike, but I'm loving this bike so far. It's one of the best bike purchases I have made so far.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Bike-terialism, N+1 and how many bikes are too many?

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How Many Bikes Do you Have? How Many is enough?

Let me start off by asking the reader "Are you a cyclist or a collector?" If you are a cyclist, chances are you at least own one bike, or a few bikes for the different types of riding you do. If you are a collector on the other hand, you either specialize in a type of bicycle or in a period of time when bicycles were designed in a specific way.

I am both a cyclist and a collector. My collection comes from years of being into cycling. Some bikes I would like to sell, but either can't procure a buyer for or I am offered way less than my asking price. Some bikes I bought, rode for a few years and was never able to move them on when I upgraded or changed preferences. Some bikes are loaner bikes that I let friends borrow when they visit. The truth is I dare not mention how many bikes I have. Some people think they have too many bikes when all they own are maybe 3 or 4 bikes. I'm just going to say that it's more than 4 bikes. 

My family has gotten used to the bike furniture and I am fortunate enough to have a wife that doesn't freak out about things like that. My bikes are all bought and paid for and I would actually feel guilty buying a brand new bike these days with all the other bikes that I already own. In the last couple of years I have added a few 90's mountain bikes to my collection, because that is the era where it all started for me. Most of these bikes I get on Craigslist or some other buy/sell online group page. They are never super expensive and seldom ever cost more than $100. 

Recently I have come to the realization that just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. Sure, I can have a large collection of bikes, which I already do. It doesn't break the bank, it's financed mainly by bicycles that are sold, spare parts that I already own or my disposable income. However it's not the best use of my time or my space. In fact, sometimes it can be like being the custodian of my own museum. It goes against the grain of my life's motto of living simply. It also gives off the idea that I'm an affluent individual, which would be far from the truth. 

Lately I have been getting into the practice of letting things go. Literally giving away bikes to friends who I feel could use them. This year alone I have given away 5 or 6 bikes. I am getting to the point where soon I will be giving things away at quite a lost. I guess sometimes it cost money to simplify. Some bikes are harder to let go of than others, because they represent years worth of searching or an iconic and rare example of something that I might never again run into. The truth is I need to sell some of these things, but finding other collectors that will appreciate things and are willing to pay the asking price takes time. 

So this is why you should never get into owning too many bikes. If I could do it over again I would buy three bikes. One road bike, one mountain bike and one fixed gear bike. I would ride the fixed gear bike most of the time to avoid wear and tear on an expensive road bike, which I would race on and then only use the mountain bike on the trails. That's it. I would figure out my frame size, likely buy all three bikes used and spend no more than $600 on all 3 bikes. 

The smug engineer cyclist who came up with the whole N+1 theory is a stupid bike hoarder. An eternally and hopelessly single, dork of a man.When you start calling your garage a bike "stable" and your bikes "steeds" you know you've gone too far.  The formula that should of been come up with is a formula of contentment based on the number of bikes already owned. To me that number is three. Why three? Bicycle a triangle is the strongest geometric shape and has three sides. Three bikes used in rotation will still put light use on each one and will get maximum longevity out of  each bicycle. Any more than three and that can easily turn into bike-terialism. Materialism is the practice of valuing material things over human relationships and spiritual pursuits. Bike-terialism is materialism with bikes. We can't let bikes get in the way or physically or emotionally hide from view the more important things. 

I hope to one day be one of those normal people who has 3 bikes

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Why We Will Never Be Bike Friendly Like Europe

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Why we will never be able to "Copenhagenize" Ourselves

Ah yes, another bicycle commuting blog post. There are many countless blog posts about bicycle commuting already out there. Bloggers like Bike Snob NYC and others have made a name for themselves narrating, oftentimes hilariously, about the daily life of bicycle commuters. People who are really passionate about bicycle commuting and a location's bike friendliness will never stop talking about it. That is, until they have more than one child and then realize that they will have to permanently park their Yuba in favor of a more practical minivan. About 8 years ago, youthful optimism drove a small movement to revive bicycle commuting in many parts of the country. Some millenials, then in their 20's and 30's would wax poetic about places like Berlin, Copenhagen and Amsterdam and tout them as model cities for pedestrian and bicycle road sharing (I should know, as I was one of those young millenials). Local initiatives were started to make "complete streets" and "transit oriented development". If cities didn't act fast enough some zealous advocates would spray paint bike lanes and do the job themselves. City council meetings started getting younger audiences, Critical Mass started to actually become a thing in Dallas and bike lanes were eventually painted in downtown. A small victory for some, but alas we did not win the battle. It can be argued that some city centers like downtown Dallas benefited and saw slightly improved conditions for cyclists. On the other hand, cycling fatalities in the area have also gone up. All that hoopla did nothing for the suburbs outside of Dallas. Bike trails don't really go anywhere, rather they are just glorified jogging paths. People don't really ride in to work unless they live within reasonable distance of a rail station or can access their work off a cycling path, which is the case for less than 1% of 1% of the people that live in the area. "Transit Oriented Development" became a catchphrase when developing overpriced mixed used retail projects that gentrified neighborhoods and priced out many from their homes. The whole movement fell flat on it's face and in my honest opinion, left a lot of it's supporters looking stupid.  

The number one reason why we will never see bike friendliness on the level that exists in other parts of the world is that the existing infrastructure of those old European cities was created a long, long time ago on a cultural mindset that placed emphasis on walking and having places for people to gather. In many cities in Europe there are promenades, or roads completely dedicated to pedestrian use. These roads are long and can sometimes span the length of the entire city. There are also plazas in abundance were people can walk to that also serve as natural barriers to slow down traffic that would otherwise be too fast for cyclists.  People in city centers usually live there and don't commute from the suburbs to get there. Those who do live there oftentimes use public transportation when they are not walking, such as taking a cab, train or bus ride. Many people in these cities do not own vehicles. Even those who do own vehicles opt for a small car that doesn't take much space on the road. Lifted trucks, Ford Excursions, Cadillac Escalades and Hummers need not apply in Europe.

On a recent visit to Europe, in Barcelona Spain. Las Ramblas is one of the most famous promenades in the world.
 This picture was taken in the morning before the hustle and bustle of the day started.
Very cleverly designed bikes are used as part of a city sponsored bike share program.

There is bicycle parking everywhere

Taxis and other public transportation are the primary way people get around.

"The emphasis is placed on pedestrian use, with everything else like cars, kept small".
Case and point this red Fiat 500 on the left of the picture.

On a recent visit to Europe, I was reminded why things can not be the same in the United States. They have been putting people before expansion for hundreds of years, modeling their infrastructure in a way that best suits the needs of their citizens. Every town in every country in Europe no matter how small, has a proud cultural identity and is reflected on how each city is distinct from the other. In addition to placing the emphasis on pedestrians, everything else from cars, roads, housing, ecetera is kept small. The united states in contrast, has a larger land mass that it is still expanding on. The cultural mindset of expanding is so deeply rooted even in the way people view their personal space. Spacial bubbles are larger, waistlines are larger, roads are larger, cars are larger. Everything is focused on expanding one's personal space. The more space a person takes up, the better. That is why we will never have what exists over there in the way of bike friendliness. All we will have is a romanticized view of  how things should be. A commuting bike should be some post apocalyptic-looking piece of metal that we use to get around, not a shiny status symbol that costs a couple of thousand dollars. An E-bike shouldn't be a deal breaker for bicycle commuting, unless someone is elderly or has special needs. Excuses for not riding a bike need to go out the window. For people to make that paradigm shift in their social collective consciousness, well let me just put it this way, it will never happen here. Hipsters can keep dreaming, but I doubt they are anymore. As millenials get older and start families, there is very little time to keep dreaming and keeping hopes alive. Oh well, maybe the next generation can pick up where we left off. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"When I grow up, I want to be a kid"

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Tom Hanks had the right idea when he played the character in the movie BIG. For those of you who haven't watched that movie, it's about a boy who wishes to become a grown up only to realize that being a grown up is full of awkward situations and general unhappiness. After having spent the last 30 plus years growing up into the adult that I need to be, I would like to be placed in a time machine, and go back, stat. I would like to go back to a more innocent, less complicated time free of the stresses that managing adult relationships involves. Here are a few reasons why I would like to grow up to be a kid.

1. Grown ups are always talking about money: Grown ups are infatuated, obsessed, with always talking about their jobs, their income or how to acquire more money. When your friends grow up, even those you knew from childhood, expect fun conversations about cars, movies, jokes, etc. to be replaced by conversations about money, business at work, investing, expanding, yada-yada-yada. This conversation usually follows the other predictable conversation about the weather, usually followed by a complaint of how hot or cold it will be that given day.

2. Grown ups don't play sports, they only watch their kids: This is a trend that I have been seeing for a while now. Parents put their kids in team sports, but don't actually play with their children. Very few kids are learning how to ride a bicycle. Something that can be taught in as little as a week with the right parenting skills seems to be a hurdle most modern parents, with the short attention span and patience that they have themselves, are not able to master. I see parents just sitting there watching, delegating to a coach or a swim instructor what they could be teaching the kid themselves.

3. Relationships are complicated: Adults hold more grudges and are prone to have more hurt feelings than kids are. Back in the day it was easy. We would say sorry and stay friends, forgetting within a few hours what we were angry about. Adults can hold grudges for years for even the smallest offense.

4. Adults think they are important: When we grow up, we start valuing positions, titles, ranks, promotions, wealth, material things and think that these things are important and that they define our success. Adults also use these things to measure themselves against other adults so that they can prop themselves up if they have more of these things than someone else. Pride and a belief of self-importance are often the false narrative that adults subscribe to.

5.Adults don't share: Very few adults share. While there are many people out there who are generous with their material things, most people are stingy with their time. People are always busy, and whatever free time they have they spend on selfish pursuits such as web surfing on their phone. "Phubbing" is an actual word in the dictionary now. It combines the words "phone" and "snubbing" into one adjective.  While most people don't phub on purpose, this practice usually takes time away from their spouse, their kids and the real life that is happening around them. It's such a time waster that it's the equivalent of when our parents would spend five hours a day on their cable TVs watching the news and other sitcoms.

Here are my top five reasons why I would like to grow up to be a kid. Being an adult is overrated, boring and all of your friends become bitter old curmudgeons later in life. My friends in real life are starting to fall off the map. I relate more to young people than I do with people my own age. I honestly feel like a man-child, but I guess I rather be a man-child than a self loathing adult. Real talk.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Mobile Bicycle Repair By The Numbers

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This article discusses the earning potential, market research and operating costs involved in starting your own mobile bicycle repair business

Ever thought about starting your own mobile bicycle repair business? Tired of working a dead end job at a bike shop and looking for something that will grow your experience and industry knowledge? Are you a competent bike mechanic and a self taught learner? Are you self managed at the workplace? Then maybe it's time to consider owning your own mobile repair business. This article discusses the real numbers in terms of profit, operating costs and the customer base you will most likely be dealing with. The purpose behind this article is to either convince someone to take the first steps into launching their own business or consider whether a career in mobile repair will really suit them. This article discusses how to start a non-franchised, non-incorporated sole proprietorship.

Start Up Costs:

The first thing you will need to work mobile is a vehicle. There are many ways that you can go about this, but the best vehicle for the job is going to be a cargo van. That is because a cargo van has plenty of room to install shelves for parts and tools as well as room to haul bicycles. There are many good options out there for a cargo van. The Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Econoline, Ford Transit, Nissan NV200 and Dodge Pro Master are all good options. I personally own a Ford Transit Connect I purchased lightly used from a dealer. With only 20,000 miles on the odometer, I was able to purchase this vehicle for a little over 15k. Van Shelving cost another 500-800 dollars. Vinyl lettering cost around $450. Tools cost around $2,000, although I had quite a few tools already purchased when I went into business. Let's add up our start up costs.

Tools: $2,000

Total: $19,300

This is what you will need to start a mobile repair business. I am not going to discuss inventory, but it helps to have plenty of inner tubes in all sizes, cables and housing, cable crimps and housing ferrules, linear pull brake pads, grips and bar tape, and 7-8-9-10 and 11 speed chains in stock for any situation. Most everything else can be ordered as needed. Until you understand your market, only carry the essentials so as to not have inventory sitting without being sold. 

A bicycle mechanic on a shoe string budget will have to make priority based choices depending on how funds for the business are procured. For the first year, most of what will be earned will go back to paying start up costs and putting the business in the black. It is imperative as both an entrepreneur and a sole proprietor to have assets paid for. Do not expand while in debt. We are bike mechanics and we cannot leverage that kind of debt. This is a seasonal occupation that will have busy and slow periods and we will not always have a continual revenue stream like other types of businesses. So have all your startup costs bought and paid for by your first year of business. 


This is the part most of you have been waiting for. What is the earning potential as a mobile mechanic? I was fortunate to land a contract for developing and maintaining rental bike shares for a company very soon after I went into business. That along with customer house calls brought me a take home pay of about $22k for my first year of business. I did not put in the hours most entrepreneurs put in and worked the business on a semi part time schedule. Had I been more ambitious that figure would have easily exceeded $30k. In case you were wondering, you will not get rich repairing bikes for a living. You will, however have the independence to work the schedule you want, schedule appointments based on your availability and need and work as much or as little as you desire. This job is simply a means to an end and hopefully an avenue for more bike riding and living a simple life. 

If you want to make more money, go to law school. If you want to live more, be a mobile bike mechanic. The choice is yours.

Your Market:

Depending on the area that you live in, the median age and demographics of your market will vary. Also worth noting this will vary on the prices you charge. If you are undercutting your competition by a lot you will only get customers who do not want to spend money. If you are on par with your competition then you will get their customers. There is nothing wrong with testing the market, playing around with pricing, or cold calling other competitors and requesting a quote for services. There is an arbitrary number for how much to charge for certain services that the market will bear. You may choose to cover a larger service area and offer a broad selection of services, thereby charging at or slightly above your competition. You may also choose to cover a smaller service radius and offer 3 or 4 main services, thereby charging slightly less than your competitors. The price you charge can also be based on your experience. The more experience you acquire the more you can charge. 

In my personal experience, about 95% of my customers are homeowners. Most are over 40 years of age and live in middle to upper middle class neighborhoods. About 60% are men and 40% are women. Most of my customers have bikes for the rest of their family members, so most of my customers are actually couples with families. This is a good target market because they seem to have the best circumstances to have disposable income for bicycle repair. A younger audience will not want to spend money to get their bikes fixed. I have only had one young customer in the past two years that was a college student. This is the market that chose me based on the services and the prices I charge. Others might have a different experience based on their pricing and willingness to expand to other markets.

There are no suspension fork oil changes and electronic shifting repairs in mobile bike repair. You will do yourself a favor and pass on complicated jobs like these to a local bike shop. While you can learn how to do these things and while they are useful skills to have in your resume, you will never use them outside a shop environment. The only way to offer such services successfully is to be directly affiliated with a brick and mortar store. 

The number one repair that I get calls for is a basic tune up. The number one bicycle that I work on is a 7 speed mountain bike or hybrid bike. As plain and as simple as that sounds, this is where actual money is made in mobile bicycle repair. Parts can be bought for cheap and marked up at a profit, while labor is charged the same as if it were a more complicated bike. What bike mechanics must realize is that most people are happy with their 90's 3x7 speed mountain bikes. Most will continue to fix them forever, and ever and ever. So have no illusions of fixing exotic Colnagos as a mobile repair mechanic. The Trek Antelope is your friend in the business.

So are you ready to cut your teeth in the industry and become a mobile bicycle repair mechanic? This calling isn't for everyone, but maybe its for you. If you work to live and not live to work, if you are not defined by a title, if you value experiences over possessions then I would say you have found the right career to be in. Hopefully this article will convince the reader one way or the other. Stay tuned to my blog for more informative articles. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

How to Find and Keep Good Bike Mechanics

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How the industry is losing it's best mechanics, and things they can do to keep them.

These days a bike purchase can be a great financial commitment. When a customer purchases a bike from a store, they are at times spending upwards of thousands of dollars. Their expectation is that their hard earned money serves as an investment for great service down the road. However, when it comes time to fix something complicated on their bike, there isn't a skilled mechanic around to address their issue. Warranties on bicycles have a lot of fine print on them that will cover only very specific types of situations. So when a customer's bicycle breaks down after five years, they are the ones left holding the bag.

There are a few reasons why this is happening. First of all, there is a severe lack of disposition to train every employee at the shop. This stems from the competitive nature some people have to not train their replacement. They are not thinking in terms of what is best for the company, rather they are trying to safeguard their own employment. Unfortunately, in many cases the one journeyman at the shop has already earned the trust and respect of the shop owner, who is usually too busy with the shop operations to train their employees or even know what is going on at their store. So this usually results in one knowledgeable employee and an untrained staff who cannot assist with the workload when the shop gets backed up. In addition, that misplaced trust and lack of oversight usually leads to time and monetary theft when such employees feel that they can do whatever they want and get away with it. I have seen this play out at small LBS's I have helped out in the past, over, and over again.

The other scenario that occurs is that an experienced mechanic oftentimes cannot find a gig that pays according to the experience that mechanic has. When trying to get back into a bike shop gig, I once  experienced negging* from a shop owner who looked at the things that I couldn't do rather than the years of experience I had providing excellent customer service. He then proceeded to belittle my experience because I wasn't up to par with the latest technologies. He offered me one day of work a week at entry level pay while I gained the experience he said that I didn't have. Needless to say the opportunity to work in a professional level bike shop, with wholesale distributor access, online training modules and other industry access was too much to resist so I bit my lip and tried it out for two weeks. After two weeks of not even being in their payroll system or even being brought in as a formal employee of the company, in addition to not receiving the training I was promised I then could no longer continue to work for that company. I had potentially lost about 5 times more in personal revenue than I was making at the shop in the two days that I worked there. 

If my experience speaks for other experienced mechanics out there, it's no wonder many of us are becoming entrepreneurs. When you are good at something, you know your worth despite what others may say so that they can buy your talents out for a bargain. Many of us just don't want to do anything else, having come from other industries and even professional backgrounds. And, to be honest, a cargo van, some vinyl lettering and a basic set of tools is relatively cheap to acquire or finance. So as time goes by, more and more mobile bike shops will be popping  up, this being in direct response to the hiring and training practices of the established LBS. It's too bad wholesale distributors or manufacturers usually won't work with standalone mechanics, because there are many good ones out there and it really shouldn't matter as long as the money is green.

How to find and keep good bike mechanics? I think the issue comes down to respect. It's a very fundamental thing. This unfortunately will continue to be a problem for as long as bike shops and the systems that keep them in place continue to exist. The loss of talent in the bike industry will lead to some unanticipated consequences. Only time will tell what those damages will be.

*Negging is a word used by millenials to describe an action when one person starts to dissect and demean the value of another individual. This word comes from the dating scene when an inferior guy tries to get a girl out of his league by jokingly demeaning her. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How to Survive as a Local Bike Shop in the Digital Age

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How to Retail in the modern age:
What most LBS still don't understand about online retail

The local bike shop, or LBS, has been a long standing staple of the cycling community ever since bicycles have been around. It can be argued that they were some of the first service centers of any kind, since the automobile came after the bicycle and it was probably sometime afterwards that the concept of a auto shop became established. Since it's inception, the modus operandi for shops has been the same. The focus has been on retail and service, with retail slowly becoming the emphasis of where a bike shop tries to profit. Service has been steadily ignored, even though most shops continue to operate almost solely on profit that is made from their service. Because shops are managed by passionate cyclists and not objective businessmen, many times a bike shop can become a showroom for bikes that may not actually sell to the public. Every time I walk into an LBS, the store layout is almost identical. Three quarters or more of the store space is dedicated to retail, with the most expensive bikes being showcased at the front while the more inexpensive or middle of the range bikes are towards the rear.  There are unnecessary products on display that take much needed inventory space because they are aftermarket accessories that can easily be purchased through a store catalog if that arrangement were to exist.  Shop employees are mostly a sales team looking to steer the customer away from fixing the bike they already own and selling them on the next year's model, all in an attempt to clear their inventory off of their shelves. The small service center in the back of the shop is usually run by a skeleton crew that becomes backed up on repairs during the peak summer months. Bike shops like these have a well known reputation of treating customers like they were shopping at a jewelry store or looking to buy a Mercedes. Aloofness and lack of basic customer service skills are a common experience, unless someone is looking to buy and has the means of obtaining that 15,000 dollar Colnago that is sitting on their shelf. 

The average lifespan of a bike shop like this in a given area is about 5 years. While there are some cases of shops thriving on this business model, those cases are far in between and those shops have been around for many decades. Even in this case these shops may only appear to be thriving and expanding to cover their profit losses. Some shops deliberately locate themselves in well heeled areas, because they know that their customer base will cater to them instead of adapting to their customer base. For those shops that continue to operate on the same old, tired out business model; I have news for you. There's a tidal wave that has been building at sea for some time now, some would say it's a tsunami, and it's going to wipe you guys off of the map if you don't change. "What is it?" You may ask. It's called online retail. With a discreet click of a button, customers can get exactly what they want, without being judged, pre-qualified or coerced into buying a product that is more expensive and that may not suit their needs. "But what about service?" There are mobile bicycle repair guys for that now. Bike shops everywhere have been put on notice. Some are adapting, some are resisting change, some are badmouthing the new competitors and some are running scared. Those who adapt from the same old business model will live on to introduce cycling to a new generation of cyclists and consumers. Those who are set in their ways are doomed to failure. So the question remains, how does a bike shop survive in this digital age?


Service. That's right, rolling up the sleeves and getting dirty. Being a shop mechanic, not a salesman. Having a service focused and dedicated shop is the key to long term survival in the new digital age. The current service model has to change. The repair shop cannot be understaffed, underpaid or under talented anymore. Mechanics have to be trained and certified, especially in lieu of all of the new technologies that have come out in recent years. A capable mechanic needs to now know to to bleed hydraulic disc brakes, convert and service di2 technology, update hardware and software on a Bosch electric motor and so on. These are skills that need to be taught by the industry across the table and made available to anyone who wishes to learn them. 

Some more established shops may want to consider running pick up and repair shuttle services for their customers. This will provide the same convenience of mobile bicycle repair even though it may not provide same day service. Some shops in my area already have a mobile service shuttle as part of their overall outfit. While still more expensive than an individual mobile bicycle mechanic, they are at least on the right track to meeting the demand in their area.

Eliminating Inventory

When a new customer walks into a bike shop, there is more than a good chance that the customer has already done some online perusing and has a basic idea of what he or she is looking for. Therefore, it isn't necessary or cost effective to have a bike of every kind and every size on the shelves. Why not display one bike model in one size, fit the customer on a jig and order the model that they are looking for? Maybe to make it more enticing include home delivery if they spend over a certain price? Mattress shops and furniture stores do it, why not bike shops? That would cut the inventory room needed by over 60%. A bike shop could therefore require less square footage and could be located in a variety of places. That would also reduce the amount of sales people needed on the showroom floor. That payroll savings could go into hiring qualified bike mechanics.  If I leased overhead I would carry no more than ten types of bikes and have each model on display in a neutral size, like a medium. The rest of my shop would be focused on service. 

Bike shops need to eliminate the practice of buying large purchase orders from suppliers with a conditional manufacturer discount. Most of these suppliers require a six month repayment on their purchase orders, meaning that the store needs to sell through their supply in six months or less, otherwise pay a full MSRP price back to the supplier. What this has done is led many local bike shops into a perpetual cycle of debt. According to the book Leading out Retail, after all store operating expenses are covered a there is only a 10% profit margin to be made on a single bike purchase. If that same bike goes on sale for under MSRP price, then the store will sell that bike at a loss. If a store stocks items that do not sell or always sell at a discounted price, that store is taking on massive amounts of debt. In time that store will no longer be able to operate if all it's customers just window shop and do not buy anything. Let that sink in for a moment. Most bike shops, especially the ones with the 15,000 dollar shiny Colnagos, are hemorrhaging in debt. 

Change that Attitude

99% of the things that happen to us are a result of our attitude. Successful people are responsive to suggestions and willing to learn. A successful business will put their customers first. They will listen to their customers and make changes according to what the needs and demands of their customers are. It is not the customers' responsibility to keep bike shops in business. It is the bike shops responsibility to gain the loyalty and trust of their customers. The success or failure of a local bike shop falls solely on their shoulders. While online retailers may eventually takeover the retail market, bike shops can still excel in services. That is one thing that the online world will never be able to do. Becoming service providers for online bike manufacturers is also key. Knowing how to repair a Canyon or a Haibike E-bike is going to be paramount in the near future, and is something that I have personally discussed with shop owners. They need to be open to the new arrivals. The world wide web, the free market and the global economy are actually a good thing for the bike industry. It takes a half-glass full and innovative approach to see things that way.   

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Vanlifing: What is #Vanlife and why is it so popular?

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This Article will talk about the pros and cons of camper van ownership, and how this applies to bicycle adventures.

Meet Ruby, our new Volkswagen Vanagon, and latest family addition

If you haven't been living under a rock for the past year or so, you have probably heard of the term van life. Van lifing is essentially living or traveling for an extended period of time from within your van. Let me give a disclaimer; neither my job nor my wife's job allow for us to actually live in our van. We bought the van for the sole purpose of all weather camping trips where we could in theory sleep in the car if we had to and maybe the occasional road trip out of state. So some self proclaimed van life experts might say that "we're not doing it right". That's okay, we are doing it our own way.

On that note we can start discussing the pros and cons of actually living in a van, or any vehicle for that matter. First off, the illusion to being part of  van life is saving money by living in your vehicle and not having to pay rent. I'm going to burst that bubble real quick. It takes money to set yourself up for van lifing. First you will need a van. Depending on how new or practical the van is (ours is not, as we bought a 35 year old van, even though it is in good condition) you will incur maintenance and repair expenses. Right at the onset, be prepared to shell out $5-8k for a vehicle that is decent and in running condition. Be prepared to spend another grand right off the bat getting it roadworthy if it is an older, vintage vehicle.  In the specific case of Ruby, our VW Vanagon, we will in the long run look to spend another small fortune on a modern engine retrofit. For right now, the van runs fine, although it is cranky to get off and moving and needs a few tries to get it cold started. In the specific case of our VW, regular inspection of the engine is required and fuel lines and ground wires need to be checked regularly for leaks or tears. This requires a willingness to get to know the car mechanically and oftentimes do our own repair work. If this isn't your cup of tea, I would recommend starting with a cheap Chevy panel van or a late 90's/early 00's conversion van. If money is no object then $40-$60k will get you a new Sprinter or just an RV. A starter van in good mechanical condition, no matter what you decide on getting, will be equally hard to come by. That is because very few full size vans were made after the end of the 90's. Fuel efficiency and smaller families have popularized SUVs and mini vans to the point that they are most of the large vehicles seen on the roads today.

Having a vehicle that is large enough to carry all of our camping equipment, bikes and ourselves in it is the main draw for our recent van purchase. I always thought of vans as the ultimate dork mobile. That is because my first daily driver was a Ford Aerostar, during a time in my teenage years where friends drove in mustangs, pick up trucks, Toyota Celicas and Honda Civics. Now, my view has changed somewhat. I don't see owning a van as the ultimate compromise anymore. Rather, I just see it as the right tool for the job. Especially if said van can be used as a bike hauler, interim camper and comes in metallic red with a manual transmission. I'm sure that the honeymoon will wear off as soon as I roll up my sleeves and get under the engine of this thing. But for now, we love our newest addition to the family.

We can conclude that unless you already had a van and lost your job or got evicted out of your home, living in your van as a way to save money and try to live the simple life is oftentimes a false narrative. People who live in their cars do so out of necessity, not choice. I know this first hand because I have a brother who lived in his van for almost a year (remember the Ford Aerostar?). He was one stinky hippie when someone finally decided on giving him room and boarding. He was also one step away from being homeless; a starving musician that would eye people at restaurants so he could swoop in on their leftovers once they were done eating. Not exactly what is pictured on Instagram nowadays under the hashtag #vanlife. The true vehicle for traveling around the country and living in is an RV. That doesn't mean that you can't live in your van and be a telecommuter or just someone who works from their laptop and travels, the question more or less is would you really want to if you had the choice not to? An old, full size van is the perfect vehicle for a weekend mountain biking trip or out of state adventure. For more permanent, on the road living situations there are better vehicle options out there to choose from. No matter how many adventure blogs I read and YouTube videos I watch, I can't wrap my head around the thought of ending a camping trip with my van in the back of a flat bad tow truck. It very well could happen being that I have an old vehicle but it would most certainly happen if I lived in it full time. Of course, sometimes hasty decisions reap unforgettable experiences. Sometimes risks pay off with dividends. Case in point we took Ruby on a 10 hour drive all the way to South Texas. The van had a broken fuel gauge and odometer, so we were guesstimating on when to stop for gas. We made it all the way to South Padre Island and repaired the van on the way back. We ran into some unforeseen expenses, but we spent our winter break traveling instead of being cooped up at home feeling sorry for ourselves. That is what the Vanlife movement means to us.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Op Ed: Chris Froome Should Win 5 and Go Home

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"It's hard to leave the table when you're winning"

The 2018 cycling season is already being discussed with a tremendous announcement that Chris Froome, the current winner of the Tour De France in recent years has decided to take on the two most hardest bicycle races back to back, The Giro D' Italia and the Tour De France in a single year. This is coming off his success as having won the Tour/Vuelta double last year, also a difficult feat in of itself. The last person to do that was Marco Pantani in 1998, a good 20 years ago. Back then Pantani was loaded to the gills with an experimental drug that later became known to the world as EPO, the same drug that Lance Armstrong took during all of his tour victories. Marco Pantani was 28 at the time of his Giro-Tour victory year, a good 5 years younger than Froome will be by the time he starts the Giro next year. There is one fundamental difference between these two riders and I'm not referring or alluding to EPO use. Marco Pantani was a talent at a very young age. He had always been an accomplished rider even before he won his first Tour De France. Chris Froome blossomed later into his career. Chris Froome and I are a few months apart in age. It doesn't matter if you are the best athlete in the world, at a certain point age will catch up to anybody. Falls start to hurt more, recovery times slow down and a person may never fully recover from some injuries. So I'm not speaking as a world class athlete, I'm speaking as someone who is the same age as Chris Froome. It's time to rake it in, cash the chips and go home. It's hard to leave the table when you're winning, but that's the smart thing to do. It's not about matching records with the greats in the sport, because people will never know to what lengths those greats went to so that they could achieve those records. Stick around any longer and you will risk losing it all; your money, your success, your accomplishments, your credibility and your reputation.

Hubris sometimes doesn't allow people to know when to quit in a high risk game such as gambling, or in this case, professional cycling. They might as well be the same thing, because both require a poker face. If you call someone's bluff, then the game is over. So the question remains, if Chris Froome goes for one more Tour De France, will someone call his bluff? Unlike the last person that this happened to, Chris Froome is a likeable character that lays low and stays down to earth even when success comes his way. This has calmed any negative press that might be said of him to the point that even David Walsh, a famous reporter and Lance Armstrong whistle blower has come to his defense. Once in while, we will hear the suggestive mutterings of Greg Le Mond or Bob Roll implying that something fishy is afoot, but without the conviction or condemning language used against Lance Armstrong. Can Chris Froome manage to keep them silent for two more back to back grand tour victories? 

I hope Chris Froome takes a lesson from the Miguel Indurain playbook. Win 5, cash in and go home. Indurain wasn't trying to one up Bernard Hinault, Jacques Anquetil or any previous 5 time Tour De France champs. He knew better, and was long gone by the time Marco Pantani, Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstong day-viewed with their superhuman cycling feats. He didn't try to rationalize a reason to go for number 6; he was confident that the world would remember him for his 5 victory contribution. He left with his money, his legacy and his reputation intact. He is the Michael Jordan of cycling, nothing negative or controversial can be said of him. Let's hope Froome follows in his footsteps. I really like the way Froome treats his teammates, the press and his rivals. At the end of the day that counts for a lot and even protects his career to some extent. Counting on that, let's see if Froome has it in him for a Giro-Tour double as well as a fifth Tour De France victory.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Bike Mechanic Confidential- Money saving tips, mechanical advice and the inside scoop that the industry won't tell you

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Thinking about a new upgrade to your bike? Not sure if you need the latest gadget? Thinking about replacing your 5 year old bike with a carbon fiber wonder? Have you already looked at next year's bike catalogs? If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, you are on the consumer end of the bike industry. The customer, the end user, the money tree that keeps on giving and keeping the bike shops, online retailers and the whole entourage afloat. Need a fat bike? Just rationalize the purchase by saying "why yes, I need a bike for the one week out of the year when it snows, or to go frolic on the beach". Bike shops love you and are eager to take your money to have the privilege of working on your Colnago, oogling the bike over because it's a bike that a $9/hour bike mechanic employee will never be able to save up for. You make it rain dollar bills like Lil' Wayne in a purple drank video...

Or do you? Are you getting tired of spending an arm and a leg every time you walk into a bike shop? Not an independently wealthy trust fund kid?  Wondering if some things are unnecessary, or are things you can do yourself? Then there is hope for you, my friend. Welcome to the club of bike aficionados of the non-corporate, non doctorate inclination. Welcome to the club of do-it-yourselfers. Let me share with you some insider tips that the industry doesn't want to share.

Never use the lockout on your suspension mountain bike:  

The first rule to proper mountain biking, to getting longevity out of your suspension and to not blow out your fork seals, is to NEVER under any circumstances ride with the lockout engaged while you ride off road. Some people may argue with this notion but I maintain that unless your first name is Nino and your last name is Shurter then you have no business trying to fiddle with your lockout mechanism on your mountain bike. Set sag, pre-load and have the right air pressure in the fork if the fork has an air chamber. Those things are more important than locking out the fork for climbs and forgetting to disengage it on the descents. No suspension fork, no matter how expensive, will stand up to that kind of abuse. A good fork should last a number of years if the lockout is never used. Forget 30 hour maintenance oil changes, forget overhauling the fork and having all of the internals replaced. No lockout, no worries. You will, however, need to do is if you are a remote lockout, trigger happy fool. My advice? Take that remote lockout straight off the handlebars and chuck that thing as far as you can throw it. This leads into another suspension related, money saving tip.

Your Suntour coil shocks work just fine:

I rode a set of Suntour XCM shocks hard for over 5 years before they finally died. They came on my first full suspension bike which went through some of the local hard trails in the area and even went off road in Georgia and North Carolina. The failure of my shocks was due to leaving them locked out and taking them through a technical descent. Otherwise I don't think I would have had any problems with them. I currently have another set of Suntour XCR 32's  on my full suspension 29er. These shocks are super value coil shocks with oil dampening rebound adjustment. True to their reputation they have given me excellent performance and have taken everything I have thrown at them so far, from technical rock gardens to 3 foot drops. The only upgrade that would make sense, if only to save a little weight and add a little stiffness, would be a set of Fox 32's.

Why the emphasis on Suntour? Rockshox seems to be leaving the coil suspension game to try to be a more premium brand the way Fox is. Rockshox at one time made some of the best coil forks that could be found on the market, such as the Judy, Tora, Dart and XC28 models. These had the ability to be self serviced and fine tuned depending on what kind of suspension coil they had. They seem to be exiting the entry level price point and their products are usually found on bikes starting at around a grand. So that leaves Suntour with the $400 to $800 market, the target which most beginners or new kids to the sport would be able to afford.

Was there anything wrong with coil shocks in the first place? No, in fact once the industry got it right and built a bombproof, indestructible coil shock like the Rockshox Judy, they realized that they weren't going to sell any more bikes, because the thing would just not break. They needed to find a graceful way to sell us another bike so they gave us longer travel options, tapered head tubes and a more affordable mid-range solo air option. Also counting on user error, they gave us the lockout feature on our forks, because that's how they guarantee repeat business.

The moral of this story? As we say in Texas, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Ride your bike to the ground and o-nly upgrade things to add comfort to your ride, like your grips and your saddle. Shocks are a part of the bike and represent about a third of it's overall value, so it's a big ticket item to upgrade just for the sake of upgradeditis. 

Unless you park your bike outside, never replace cable housing: 

Cable housing becomes damaged only if it is cut, severely bent or exposed to the elements and becomes rusted from the inside out. Ride a lot, but leave your bike stored indoors in a dry place? You will never have to change cable housing, no matter how many times a mechanic brings it up as part of a performance tune. Not necessary.

Dawn or Simple Green cleans better than that bike wash stuff they sell at the shops: 

Forget buying bike specific cleaning products. All you need is a bucket with water, a rag, a brush, some dish washing soap or an environmentally friendly cleaner like Simple Green to get the job done. It will cost less and give a better clean than the stuff the store sells.

Stop shaving, using chamois butt-r and slurping gels:

The pro's are the people you see on TV. They are not you and I. We are but mere mortals that have to work for a living and must carry on with dignity and self-respect. We will neither see or appreciate the aerodynamic gains of having our legs shaved or our rear ends slathered in chamois butt-r. Hair stubble hurts, no joke. Not even Peter Sagan shaves his legs anymore.

Emphasize needs and wants, and pick the right tool for the job: 

Looking for a new bike but already have 20 bikes in the garage? Let me stop you right there. You don't need a new bike. Maybe a kid in Malawi needs a new bike, but you certainly don't. Chances are that you already have the tool needed for the job required. With  a little modification, an old mountain bike can become a drop bar gravel grinder or a commuter with some street slicks. Don't have a road bike but want a road bike? Take a rigid mountain bike and put drop bars on it. That bike will hold you over until you are averaging 18-19mph with the fast guys in the club. Looking for your first bike? Think about all realistic scenarios that you will be riding your bike. These days there are many good options in the "one bike that does it all" category. They might be heavier, have knobby tires or made of steel, but one good bike can last a lifetime.

Mid-range is the best range: 

Not sure if your 9 speed Shimano Sora or Shimano Alivio groupset is up to par with that of your friend's Dura Ace or XTR groupsets? Have you found yourself being talked out of your triple chainring crankset to go to a 1x? Have a solid set of wheels but saving up for some carbon ENVE's? Do you find yourself blaming your bike more than your time off the bike for performance loses?

My go to road bikes for group rides lately are a 1988 Schwinn Tempo with downtube shifters, a 6 speed freewheel, 32 spoke count wheels and a steel frame. My other is a 2012 Cannondale Caad 8 with an aluminum frame and Shimano Tiagra shifting. I can average 20mph or more on the fast rides in my area and stay with the rest of the pack, on both bikes. My go to mountain bike is a Fuji Outland 29er full suspension mountain bike that I bought new. I have less than $1,400 invested between all three of these bikes. So while I'm not saying that my bikes are cheap by any means, all three of those bikes might equal the price of what the industry advertises as a "performance" or "race specific" bicycle. The difference between the bikes that I own and a $1,400 bike ends at the price tag. For $500-$800, or about half the price, the same kind of bike can be had. I don't mean a dumb down version of the $1,400 bike. I mean oftentimes, the same performance can be had out of a mid-range bike. The mid-range package might be less flashy, less desirable and less advertised. However, it might have parts that are more durable and have less proprietary technology on it that makes it easier to maintain. What if I told you that 9 speed groupsets were the sweet spot? 9 speed groupsets for road and mountain have the best price point, best durability, best functionality, best reliability and oftentimes the best design. There are also the staple groupsets of mid-range bikes. Something to consider whether you are a beginner cyclist or a seasoned rider eyeing their next bike purchase.

Don't be a poser: 

There are other cyclists besides Chris Froome. Don't be that guy that shows up to the club rides in full Team SKY jersey kit. Not only does that reek for noob behavior, but you will be on the wrong side of history later and will look back on how much of a tool you were for being such a bandwagon Team SKY fan-fan.

When in doubt, Youtube it: 

You can learn literally anything on Youtube, even bicycle repair. Don't want to learn? That's fine too. We in the bike industry appreciate your dollars. However, I will suggest at least learning how to do basic maintenance on your bike. Because when all of the shops in the area are a month out on repairs, you don't want to drop your bike off at the shop because of a flat tire. 

These are some insider tips that the bike industry isn't talking about. Hopefully this has been a helpful article for some of my readers out there. Till next time!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Vintage Mountain Bike Racing

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Tales of the rigid mountain bike
The vintage mountain bike race

Vintage Mountain Bike Race on my 1990 GT Karakoram

Mountain bikes have been around since the late 70's and mass produced since the mid 80's. Therefore, it's fair to say that some of those early mountain bikes can now be considered classics. Lately, people are reminiscing about all things 90's. Even mom jeans tried to make a short lived comeback. What's next, acid washed jeans, neon and the like? One cool trend that I have been noticing, at least in the world of mountain biking, is an appreciation for old school mountain bikes, like the ones I grew up riding as a kid.

It was probably 1997 or 1998 when I first got my Huffy rigid mountain bike, with grip shifters and cheap brakes that imitated a much earlier but more functional U-brake design. It was about 98' or 99' when that bike hit dirt for the first time at a flat trail then known to the locals as California Crossing. By then, good suspension systems were just being developed and we dreamed about doing the things that we can do today on our modern suspension 29ers. We lacked the skill and the equipment to be good at mountain biking, but the motivation was definitely there. 

Mountain biking was on experimental territory back then and so were mountain bikers. It wasn't unusual to see people riding in cut off jeans, flannel shirts and gardening gloves. Lycra as common as it now is wasn't the norm back in those days. Sure, some people wore Lycra in mountain bike racing. Most people however didn't buy their clothes from a bike shop and wore whatever exercise clothing they could find or make themselves. That's right, even exercise clothing had to some extent, be made because no one really wore exercise specific clothing aside from Richard Simmons and a bunch of suburban Mom's doing aerobic workout routines in front of a TV.   

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to relive that old 90's feeling to a certain extent. The local mountain bike racing association decided to host an exibition vintage mountain bike race, only accepting bikes that were made before 1999 with no modern modifications. I had found this 1990 GT Karakoram on Craigslist that I'm sure I only paid 20 bucks for. The bike needed to be stripped down to the frame, cleaned, re-greased and needed a couple of new parts. All in all I think I added around $100 to that original $20 purchase price. I lined up against guys with some pretty iconic 90's bikes that where real contenders in their day. The winner of the race had a Schwinn Homegrown with a Rockshox SID fork and lightweight Mavic Crossmax wheels. The guy with the Schwinn posted a lap time that could have easily put him in a top ten position in the regular races. The guy in second place had a titanium Merlin mountain bike that probably weighed nothing, as he ended up modifying it with carbon cranks ( I seriously don't know how he didn't get DQ'ed from a 90's themed mountain bike race).  I came in fourth, with my friend Nathan taking third on his 90's Ironhorse with Rockshox Quadra forks that he engineered to turn them into rigid forks. There were other cool bikes that were way lighter and more responsive than mine, so 4th place out of 11th was a good ride for me. I received a cool participation award for most vintage bike, and a lot of kudos from other riders for having the guts to show up and narrowly miss the podium on a nearly 30 year old, rigid bike with a front shifter that dropped the chain. I did, in fact have a mechanical which caused me to fall 3 places back and I had to overtake 3 guys to get back in 4th position.

Here's a couple of more pictures of the vintage mountain bike race...

Nathan on his Ironhorse with modified shocks.

The only other rider who had a bike older than mine

I hope to see more races like these as time goes on. I appreciate the nod DORBA gave to us former 90's kids and mountain bikers. In a world that is ever more serious and focused on tech, nutrition and other nuances, it's nice to get back to our lighthearted roots and more innocent times. I will still continue to ride my modern mountain bikes because I'm not a curmudgeon or a retro grouch. I will nevertheless look forward to the next event like this and hopefully this one won't be the last!

Possibly to come on my blog; I will try if time allows to showcase some of my recent vintage mountain bike findings, write more point of view articles and try to revive this blog a little bit. My goal is to go from a roadie to a mountain biker and come full circle with myself. Let's see if changing the format up a little bit will bring life into a bike blog that is nearly a decade old.