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.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Are Cyclists Selfish?

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Taking The "Me" Out of Cycling:
A Look at how to be a cyclist without making it all about us

Self-centered people are often the ones making onlookers and would-be cyclists refer to all cyclists as "douchebags". Of course, selfish people and self-centered people are not limited to the confines of the bicycle riding, Lycra wearing types. Someone who exhibits these traits doesn't just have to be a cyclist. In fact, these attitudes in cycling are just a symptom of the bigger problem of where we have come to as a society. Smart phones, selfie sticks, status updates, targeted advertising; everything is geared to put our own interests ahead of everything else. We come to see ourselves not as contributors to society. Rather, we at many times expect the rest of the world to wait on us and attend to our needs. The more I pay attention to this, the more obvious it becomes. 

I'm going to preface this by saying that this is my first blog post in well over a year. I have been busy with life since my last blog post. If  I'm honest I have also lost interest in trying to write about the same cycling topics that have been already extensively discussed in online forums and around the cycling inter-webs. I don't want the articles that I write about to be aimless content filler that just gets lost in the void of useless information. Since I have very little time to write anymore, I want my content to matter somewhat and to make a positive impact. Having said that I'm writing this article with the intent of looking inward and becoming better cyclists from the inside out, not relying on the latest gadget or the newest bicycle to do it for us. 

Like all bad habits, a selfish attitude is a bad habit that goes from being a mere tendency to a lifestyle once it is left unchecked. Cycling is a sport which can be as expensive or as inexpensive as we want it to be. Most of the time, the guys and gals you see participating in clubs where there is organized riding or racing have opted to make it as expensive as they can make it for themselves. On that side of the spectrum, the industry that retails the sport is one that highly discourages contentment. The aim of the game is no longer about fitness, recreation or the personal enjoyment of being in the outdoors. The motivation for spending is not getting "dropped". That is why bikes these days are marketed as lighter and faster. That is why people often times end up spending ten times the amount for a delicate carbon fiber paper bike rather than a durable, steel touring bike that can last a lifetime. And let's face it, once we are no longer happy with the current bike we own we see buying another bike as the solution. It doesn't help that most cyclists have a morbid fear of getting dropped. Well, someone who is always buying without regard to price and can never be satisfied with what they own is already making it about themselves. So in that regard cyclists can be selfish, to the point of narcissism even.

So how can you be a cyclist without becoming selfish? You have to look at the greater picture. Getting dropped is a part of life, and every ride is a learning and training opportunity that will make us stronger so that eventually we will no longer get dropped. No bike no matter how expensive is going to teach that lesson for us, only lots of humbling experiences will. You might find after a while that group riding really isn't your thing. That's okay, you don't need to ride at race pace to enjoy cycling. Maybe you are more suited to riding by yourself, adventure riding, mountain biking or simply riding with a different social group of people who are not interested in racing. You can still become a very fit individual doing it this way if that is what you are aiming for. 

My Mom once told me that 99% of the things that happen to us are as a result of our attitude. So if we have an "attitude of gratitude", that can go a long way. I have seen ungrateful people in all levels of society so this is not really based on our upbringing or where we are from. We can have a humble beginning only to get spoiled later in life. We could also have everything given to us but still have humility and accept things that might be a little lower than the standards set for us. Being grateful will also allow us to get out of the rat race, live within our means and have more time for riding. It will also prevent us from getting "upgraditis" and replace our bikes every few years. Buying an expensive bike doesn't make us a contributing member to society as some would portray it,  on the contrary that's just being a wasteful consumer and in some cases, a hoarder.

There is another aspect of cycling where most people act really selfishly towards one another. In a group ride setting, it's common courtesy to wait for an individual that has a mechanical, call out gaps in the pack and start and finish rides as a group. More and more even on social, non-competitive rides these kind gestures are disappearing as people become more selfish. More and more group rides in my area are becoming "drop" rides, meaning the group doesn't wait up, on purpose. Blowing through traffic lights and not calling out to pedestrians is another selfish way for cyclists to behave on the roads, since they are posing a danger to themselves and others. Reckless cycling is just as bad as reckless driving and it's inconsiderate to the family members of those cyclists who already worry about them being on the roads.  

After many years of riding to be one of the fastest, riding not to get dropped and paying attention to all of the market trends, I'm just about done with it. It has become the ultimate game of chasing the rabbit for me. That still doesn't mean that don't love riding my bike. The difference now is that I'm going to forgo my pride and there will be times where I will get dropped. There will also be times where I'm slower. That's okay, I've earned it. I'm no stranger to the fast guys in my area. They know who I am and who I can be with the right amount of time and training. It's time I put things in their proper place. My rides from here on out will be done between family obligations or with my family and for my personal enjoyment and well-being. I don't see myself going to the bike shop and shelling out a few grand on a new bike anymore. The bikes that I currently have are just going to have to last for the long haul. Besides, there are other things and people in life that are more important. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

High Cadence Vs. High Power. How Do You Climb?

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Which is the best way to climb?

This might surprise you, but there really is no right or wrong way to climb hills on a bike. Well, there are bad gearing choices and wrong positioning that can hinder a cyclist from climbing at their best. But this article relates to climbing efficiency based on proven techniques that many professionals use. There are two camps that have come out of this debate on which is better. High cadence (ie: Chris Froome, Lance Armstrong, Miguel Indurain) versus high power (ie: Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana, Marco Pantani). So which is better, dancing or spinning on the bike? Both skills are equally important, as a well rounded and successful climber must be able to do both. This article will describe the best scenarios where it would be most beneficial to use one skill or the other.

Dancing On The Pedals: "Dancing" on the bike usually refers to pedaling off the saddle for a sustained period of time, kind of like a really long sprint uphill, but riding at tempo instead of all out. When the rider dances on the pedals, it should look like the are on a StairMaster instead of on a bike. The back should be straight, the arms relaxed and slightly bent, hands resting on the brake hoods. The arms and legs should be parallel to each other, nothing sticking out the sides or bowing out. The bike should sway from side to side with each turn of the cranks, the rider shouldn't have to rock their hips for propulsion. If you climb out of the saddle this way, you are doing it right. This is a technique worth practicing, as it is used by some of the best climbers in the world. Alberto Contador regularly goes on training rides where he will ride off the saddle for more than an hour, just to hone this technique. Keep in mind that this technique requires good endurance and power. It is good for uphill accelerations or for breaking away from a pack on sustained climbs. It also trains the legs to put more power down on a lower cadence.

Keep in mind when doing this technique that it is impossible to ride off the saddle for an entire climb. At a certain point, the legs will lose the ability to propel this way, especially as the grade gets steeper and the climb gets longer. The legs will eventually need to recharge and to flush the lactic acid that they have been accumulating. That is where the high spinning technique comes into play.

Spinning On The Bike: Two time Tour De France champion Chris Froome has used the high spin, high cadence climb to an art form. His ability to sprint from 90 to over 100rpm on very steep gradients of a given climb have gone unmatched and unrivaled by no other in the sport. The only rider in the past few years who can trade blows with him on the mountains is Nairo Quintana, the light framed climber from Colombia. Chris Froome's climb is his signature trademark. He never lets his cadence drop below 90rpm while he is climbing, no matter how steep the grade. He makes full use of the lower range of  his gearing, in order to keep spinning no matter what. His climbing style is reminiscent to that of Miguel Indurain, as it is mostly on the saddle as opposed to off the saddle. He doesn't freak out when his opponents attack him, rather he raises his cadence and closes the gap quickly. In addition, Chris Froome uses a power meter, so he knows when he is reaching his red line and hardly ever pedals beyond his power wattage threshold. He is exacting and calculating in the way he rides, which has become a point of contention with some cycling fans which want to see more spontaneity in cycling. Nevertheless it's a style he has been proven to be very effective for him, regardless of his critics.

The key to successful climbing is knowing when to use each of these techniques. It helps to know the climb and ride it beforehand. If it is a climb featured on one of your regular club rides, then you will have the upper hand on your friends if you can practice on it regularly. Some climbs are gradual ascents that get steeper towards the crest of the hill. Other climbs are broken up into sections where the climb will level off and then pitch up again. Other climbs are monsters that go continually upward without letup while the road winds up the mountain. If you have those kind of climbs in your area then consider yourself lucky; you have what you need to become a very good climber.

For rolling terrain I recommend an off the saddle, on the saddle approach. For sustained gradients it is best to stay on the saddle and only come off the saddle towards the crest of the climb. For climbs with switchbacks I recommend riding the switchbacks off the saddle towards the outside of the turn. Never attack on the climb early. Your speed should gradually increase as you ascend on the climb. Save your energy for the steepest sections. Climb at your rhythm, even if that means getting dropped the first few times. Stick to your game plan, refine it as you see necessary, but don't chase the wheel of a guy who attacks early. You can pace yourself back but you will end up blowing up if you give chase. Those are my tips on how to be a better climber.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Thoughts And Ponderings- April 2016

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Man, I haven't written a blog post in a while...

Today is the first day in weeks that I actually have a little bit of downtime to collect my thoughts and put something down in print. I have been so busy as of late and will most likely continue to be busy throughout this year. There is a lot of things that I am currently planning for ( selling my rental home, planing vacations, repairing bicycles as a business, etc., etc). I have basically had to decide where to place my time best. Writing has taken a back seat behind repairing bicycles at this point. So rather than try to write a blog post with a specific subject in mind, I'm just going to write a collection of thoughts and ideas that I have had lately.

There should be a "L'Eroica" style race here in Texas: I have been thinking for years that this would be a great idea. It would be a bicycle race for vintage road bikes, with an added twist. All bikes must be bike boom bikes from the seventies and eighties, with stem shifters, platform pedals and center pull brakes. Bikes could also have downtube shifters and side pull brakes, but nothing ridiculously  high end from that period (ie: Cinelli, Masi, etc.). Just a race for the low to mid range bikes that the majority of people bought and rode back then (I'm thinking Schwinn bikes, Centurions, Peugeots, Nishiki and other Japanese brands). Also, no spandex allowed. This would be a great way to get a bunch of bike flippers, college kids and old, curmudgeon retro-grouches to do some exercise with  the bikes they already own. If anyone is interested in getting an event like this going, contact me and let's set something up.

I can't seem to sell my vintage bikes anymore: I can't seem to command a good price for my vintage bikes anymore. It seems that if a vintage bike is worth more than $200, people are hesistant to buy or will try and talk me down to the $200 price range. As with everything else, sometimes the price is the price. There are some bikes that I can't take less than $300 for because I would then be giving them away and taking a huge loss on the money that I invested on them. Yet because newer bikes are getting less and less expensive, people in general do not see the value of vintage bikes anymore. This is a trend that I predicted would happen and it has finally occurred. The vintage bicycle has become to the modern cyclist what Tulips are to Amsterdam. The flipping of old bikes is a bubble that has busted. To all my fellow bike flippers, we had a good run from 2007-2011. By 2014, bicycle reselling was on life support. By 2015, it had already keeled over and died. Oh well, I guess I'll be stuck with a few vintage bikes to donate to a museum one day.

Housing in North Texas is getting expensive: Texas was always the cheapest place to live for many years. Ever since I moved here in 1990, Texas has beat all other states in terms of affordability in housing, taxes, goods, services, etc. There is a rapid growth occurring in the number of people moving into DFW, so much so that some houses have appraised for 30% more than what they were worth only a year ago. I'm in the process of fixing up and selling my rental, but know that I won't even be able to buy a foreclosure in the area once I sell my property. Meanwhile, it's a great time to buy up beach front property in Puerto Rico, as the housing market has collapsed due to Puerto Rico defaulting on it's national debt and many Puerto Ricans selling their homes to move to the mainland U.S. 

Riding bikes is way more fun than fixing them: Since I have been so busy lately, I have had to prioritize the things that I do on my free time. If stuck between having time to ride my bike and finding another  project to work on, I always go with a bike ride. These days riding my bike is way more beneficial for me because it is an escape from the stresses of the day and is getting me in shape. I currently weigh what I weighed when I was 20 and single, which is a feat of it's own as a married 31 year old. This is because I have given exercising and eating healthy a priority over all the other stuff that I could be doing. There is very little time to sit around and think anymore. Every once in a while I will take a break to find my muse, draw something or play the piano. The truth is however, that I will neither host an art gallery exibition or be a concert pianist, because I will be too busy riding to do what it takes to become a professional artist or musician. I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything either, because I rather be a healthy adult than anything else at this point of my life.

It feels good to stay current: It feels good to stay current with all the trends that are occurring and all of the changes that are going on as I get older. Staying current not only applies to faddish things like music, pop-culture and hairstyles, it also applies to making life changes such as selling a rental property and simplifying my life. It applies to losing weight, becoming "mostly" a vegetarian and finding what I'm really good at and sticking with it. When I was younger I wanted to be in a hundred different places at once. Getting other people's approval was more important for me. Now I see things differently. Staying current to me also means to adjust my point of view when necessary and to not have such a hard-lined, staunch interpretation of things that I don't really know much about. I used to look down on fixed geared bikes, now I own one. I used to not like 29ers, now I also have a 29er. Sometimes our ideas and perceptions of things come down to our experience. No one should ever form a judgement on something if their experience in that given area is limited. As long as it is not illegal, unhealthy or immoral, people should be open to trying new things. That way we do not become old before our time and a burden on the younger generations that follow with our expired logic and outdated thinking. Sometimes we are quick to criticize the next tech advancement in cycling as a passing fad, such as new wheel sizes, electronic shifting and carbon fiber frames. If we are honest with ourselves, we realize that much of these criticisms stem from the fact that these technologies may be out of our reach, financially speaking or otherwise. It used to be everytime I walked into a bike shop and looked at a 29er or a carbon fiber road bike, I would walk out with sticker shock. Now, within reason, I entertain the idea of being able to walk into a bike shop and walk out with a brand new bike. There is nothing wrong with being able to keep up with friends on an old, beat up, mended up 26er. There is also nothing wrong with being able to keep up with friends on a 29er or whatever other wheel sizes are out there. The important thing is to have fun on a solid bike that won't unexpectedly break down on the trail. Bikes do wear out over time and when they do, there is nothing wrong with replacing them with the latest technology. Just like there is nothing wrong with getting a high fade pompadour, waxing your mustache and wearing V-neck T-shirts and RayBan sunglasses while drinking a craft beer. If you are that one guy still wearing a Smashing Pumpkins tee shirt under a plaid layer with a chili bowl hair cut, that's cool too. Just know that you are in the wrong decade and will stand out like a sore thumb. It's better to stay current, age with grace and be relatable to your kids when they become teenagers. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

E-Bikes: The Future of Cycling? Why I Think So

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E-Bikes are the future of cycling, here are some reasons why

The Lapierre Overvolt full suspension mountain bike. Picture courtesy of Lapierre Bicycles and Big-Bike Magazine

I'll be the first one to admit that I wasn't a fan of the idea of electric assisted bicycles being used on the trail or on the roads by recreational cyclists. The purist in me wants all my effort to come 100% from me and feels that anything less than that would be cheating. However I have come to the conclusion that this point of view is very narrow minded. E-bikes, although still in their developmental phase, are the future of cycling and will eventually become a popular choice for all cyclists once the trickle down economics come into play and once there is enough R&D in place to make a good product at an affordable price for most people. Let me explain why.

E-bikes appeal to both the competitive and the commuter-recreational cyclist communities. While a commuter might use an e-bike to get around town and keep up with the pace of traffic, a competitive cyclist may have more devious reasons. For example, there are now stealth electric motors that can fit inside the seat tube of the bicycle and connect to the crankset directly, producing as much as 250 watts anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, allowing an otherwise novice climber to summit hills like Chris Froome. To put into perspective what 200 watts is on a bicycle, If I held 200 watts for an hour, according to my weight I would average 20 or more miles an hour over varied terrain. 250 watts combined with a rider that can produce around 200 watts is a combined 450 watts of energy, which is what top level athletes can produce on climbs in the Tour De France. It would be enough to summit a 10 kilometer climb in the 30 minute time window that the motor has before it runs out of battery. Here is a demonstration by Greg Lemond of what these stealth motors can do.

Vivax Assist, a German based company sells these motors for a little over $2,000 as well as complete bikes for about four grand. Carrera bicycle company in Italy is also working on an electric assist road bike with the same capabilities. If a competitive cyclist wants a serious advantage over their competition, speed can now be bought for a price and it won't involve taking drugs or doping. This technology would suit the road racer more than the time trialist or the criterium racer, being as the motor can only be engaged for short periods of time when climbing punchy gradients. Minutes can be taken out of competitors with the same fitness level or fitter, as a result.

So would it be cheating if a professional road racer used an electric motor on their bicycle? As long as doping is allowed in professional cycling than the answer, at least in my opinion, is no. The UCI is still turning a blind eye to dopers, such as team Astana which is still allowed to compete even though 5 guys tested positive for banned substances this year. Then there are riders from doping teams moving into teams with a "squeaky clean" reputation. One of Team Sky's claims is that they would never work with a professional if they had a doping past. How about if they have a doping present, or come from a team of dopers? Just throwing that out there, because I personally do not think anyone is absolved of guilt on the professional level. Clean riders shouldn't be subjected to getting dropped in every single race because the competition is dirty. The law of omerta should now be "don't say what I have under my hood, and I won't tell anyone what you have running in your veins, okay?".

Now that we covered competitive cyclists, how about the rest of us? How are E-bikes appealing to the mass population? The answer is simple. The majority of people are inclined to laziness. If there is a more efficient, less physically exerting way of getting the same results or better without putting in as much effort, people generally always choose the easiest route. Why would it be any different when it comes to riding a bike? Another reason that E-Bikes are appealing to the majority of us is because we don't have to go out of our way to ride one. We don't need special clothing, an aerodynamically efficient yet uncomfortable riding position or a 15 pound, $5,000 bicycle. Someone on 50 pound E-bike can be doing the same speeds if not faster than a "serious" cyclist while riding on their bike in their baggy clothing with their kids and a load of groceries in tow and not even breaking a sweat. Who wouldn't want that convenience?

Picture courtesy of

Electric assist bicycles are the great equalizer, not just among cyclists but among all vehicles. One common complaint about cyclists is that they can't keep up with the speed of traffic. The E-bike eliminates this concern and takes the pressure and the perceived responsibility off of the cyclist. While one couldn't pedal one on the freeway yet, an E-bike works well for neighborhood, suburban and country roads, basically anywhere where there are 20 to 35 mile an hour speed limits. 

If I could afford an E-bike like the LaPierre Overvolt pictured at the beginning of the article, I would be setting Strava KOMs all over the place and probably matching or exceeding speeds of the local racers where I live. I would be enjoying the bewildered looks on their faces as I zoom by them up hills. I would definitely be having fun on an E-bike and that is the reason why I think they are the future of cycling.

On a side note, I also wanted to say that this blog is almost six years old. I'm not running out of material to write about, I just don't have the same enthusiasm as I did when I started writing about cycling, restoring old bicycles and other related topics. Starting next year I might update this blog maybe once a month or so. I want to make it a point to focus my mind on other things. I hope this blog has left an imprint on some of my readers and has served for inspiration. I'm no Sheldon Brown, but I have given my 10 cents worth into the small online cycling community.