Thursday, April 17, 2014

I Keep On Rolling

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Why my tires keep rolling after seven years of active cycling


Sometimes I quit on things. Somethings I give up on. Some people eventually quit and give up on me. Sometimes no matter how much I try to please others, I may at times end up alone. The people who quit on their dreams make me feel like there is something wrong with me for not quitting as well and for not accepting mediocrity in my life. But I can't stop and I won't stop riding my bike.


Even if I wanted to stop, I'm already being carried along by the momentum of my wheels, and I enjoy the feeling of movement too much to slam on my brakes. Even if I sold every bike in my possession, I will still end up buying a bicycle at some point or another and start riding again. This can't be said about other things that I have started, achieved a measure of short lived success on, and then eventually moved on to something else once I started to get bored. In addition to being a cyclist I enjoy painting, skateboarding, drawing, playing guitar and photography. Some of these things I am talented in and have even made a little money off of. But none of these things are things that I am consistently pursuing on a daily basis, that form a part of my routine. I ride my bike almost every day now that the weather is improving.  I have no self-rightous motives for this other that it makes me feel good and I am addicted to the Vitamin D of the sun's rays and the endorphin rush to my brain. 


I can't even say that I ride to stay fit anymore. I haven't lost any weight since picking up my cycling and I am not pretending that I will, although after a few months I always drop a couple of pounds. Within  my reasoning doing a short bike ride is better, in fact anything would be better than spending the evening planted on the couch, watching what is probably bad television and whatever pap the media wants to serve to the masses. This is the routine that many people are addicted to. They watch other people play sports on TV and they like to talk about sports, however they won't even go outside to toss the football around. They like to see other people become famous because of how well they can sing karaoke, but they themselves never bother to learn an instrument. People live their lives vicariously through the celebrities and Youtube sensations that are on display in their electronic devices. As I think about this I have to ask myself, "is that even a life at all?". 


Cycling is freedom, enlightenment and exercise all rolled into one beautiful package. Freedom from other's expectations that you too should be sitting down at work and sitting down at home. That eating out is supposed to be a form of socializing and entertainment rather than providing the body with basic sustenance. Enlightenment that there is a whole world out there beyond the realms of television that is unexplored. Why should we be labeled as weird, strange and crazy for trying to explore it? I think it is more crazy for people to be led to and fro from one cage at work to another at home, like dumb cattle from the corral to the slaughterhouse. The craziest part of it all is that no one complains or puts up a fight, in fact they are as happy as can be until they see someone who is different and does not share their insular view. Then like the stampeding cattle that they are they try to trample the more morally elevated health conscious individual down, whether by words or even by using their SUV on the road.


No one was born this way. No one starts off life saying "I'm cool just sitting on my butt all the time". Most people come out of the womb active, kicking and screaming. In the beginning we were all young and free children riding our bikes down our neighborhood blocks. Then we grow up. Some people along the way achieve titles and credentials and start to think of themselves as "important". Important people can't be seen idling in non-important activities, such as bike riding. That time has to be better spent working overtime to afford that new car payment. The car becomes everything at that point, a status symbol as well as the transporting cage from the cage at work to the cage at home. Some people don't shut up about their cars either. You'll see old men in shiny Corvettes or small men in giant Hummers. Sometimes people are classified by the cars they drive, regardless of who they really are. There is no such classification system that can be made for a bicyclist. At speed, all bicycles look the same, regardless of whether the bike cost $100 or $1000. This turns off "important" types from riding a bicycle having any respect or admiration for anyone who rides them. Little do they know that they are the ones with the mismatched priorities and that they are missing out on all the fun.


I have always been part of the not so silent minority. Rejection, alienation and social isolation are not things that are new to me. At different points of my life I have had to swim against the current and go against the grain of what the majority of the people were doing and thinking at that moment in time. Almost always I have been thankful that I did. Riding a bike is no different. It is not an activity that sits well with a lot of people or one that will grant me instant success, fame, money or popularity among my peers. But it is an investment I have made for my long term health and well being, one that I hope I can cash in on, even when most of the people that I know will be diabetic, dead, frumpy or morbidly obese.  


As I turn 30, I am already looking forward to seeing the first phase of my investment pay off. My Dad had really high cholesterol at my age, something I have been able to regulate with exercise thus far. Hopefully I can fend that off for a few more years as well as high blood pressure and diabetes. Hopefully I can also avoid the obesity my mom had from not taking care of herself during my childhood. If I can do even a little better than my parents did in this respect I will feel like I made a difference in my health. 


I am a cyclist. I may not look the part or be competitively fast, but I feel this is sticking with me wherever I go from now on. I might go back to drawing and painting (which I should) or photography later on in life, but I plan to always be riding my bike.  Like the song that was made in the 70's (who sung it, REO Speedwagon?) I keep on rolling, rollin' on despite the changes.



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Moto Moto!

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My 1985 Motobecane Grand Record

Here it is in all it's pomp and Glory. My 1985 Motobecane Grand Record.
It seems someone phoned the 80's and brought me this Motobecane Grand Record from the past and into my possesion. Actually, I got this bike on a very fair trade from a fellow blogger at Vintage Restorations. He is a really nice guy to deal with, I recommend him for those of you looking for a vintage bike in the Denton area. A few weeks ago, in the middle of an ice storm, I drove out to meet him, the ice blowing sideways by a howling wind. Only a bike nut as obsessed as I am would have gone out on a day like that. Greg, who runs Vintage Restorations and is as obsessed as I am about bicycles, agreed to meet with me for the exchange. I traded a 1940's Korean roaster, equipped with rod brakes and a rear drum brake, for this Motobecane. In the end I think we both got what we wanted, with Greg being more of a pre-war bicycle guy and me being a vintage road bike kind of guy.

Greg on the left holding the roadster. Author on the right.


I spent the next few weeks ordering up some period correct parts and basic replacement parts such as the seat post binder. I took every piece of this bike apart and re-greased all the headset and bottom bracket bearings. I took the old, hardened and burnt grease off using Simple Green degreaser bath. Greg was kind enough to include the Campagnolo hubs laced to Rigida rims that are pictured above. I bought some tubulars on Ebay that are more period correct and could take my seven speed freewheel. In the future, I might go back to these rims if the tubulars fail under duress. They are indeed a great backup wheelset and I am glad to have them in my possession.

Today I took the bike out of a spin around the suburbs and bike paths for about 15 to 20 miles. How does it ride? This bike is a little too small for me to ride aggressively. It is not the type of bike someone my size can do long, sustained efforts on. At the same time, I am used to riding bikes in the 56 and 57cm range, usually with my legs just short of being fully extended on the downstroke. However, once I got a rhythm  going the bike is quite comfortable to ride and cruise around with. For basic exercise and transportation purposes, this bike fits the bill and then some. Here's a few more pictures of some of the bike's details.


You can barely make it out from the sticker, but the frame is made of Columbus tubing,
the good stuff back in the day.

The iconic dove logo decorates the Columbus made and very lively fork.

Campagnolo Triumph derailleurs shift on a dime and are very reliable.

Are those toe clips? Yes they are! Campy ones in fact.
I can see why people made such a big deal about bikes made with Columbus tubing. Together with the best components of it's time, this bike doesn't ride, it hums and sings. It's a feel good kind of bike, kind of like listening to one of Steve Winwood's good 80's songs, and drinking iced tea on your porch in the middle of a cloudless afternoon. There is a very innocent, uncorrupted feeling associated with riding this bike, and that's probably because this bike really is as old as I am. Almost 30 years old, yet the perspective I get riding this bike takes me back to the past, before people got all serious about riding. Just to give the reader a idea of how relaxed I was, I rode in tennis shoes, cargo shorts, a sleeveless tee and a backwards facing barrette.

This bike is definitely a keeper, and I plan on keeping it when my son gets big enough to ride it, as well as to lend it to some of my shorter 5'8" friends so that they can really ride the wheels off of it. Eventually the collector's value of this bike will appreciate to the point I might be tempted or forced to sell it, if I fall on hard financial times. One never knows what the future will bring. But for the moment I am happy I found it. I will ride it, love it just like I do with the rest of my bikes. Stay tuned for more articles like this and subscribe to my posts.

Some interesting facts about this Motobecane:

-It comes with an english threaded bottom bracket, however it comes with a french threaded 25x1 headset, not interchangeable with other forks, headsets, bearings or stems. Thankfully the bearings on this bike were well made and salvageable.

-This bike is one of the first attempts at making a more aero frame, hence the lug-less design, recessed rear brake cable and awkward seat post binder location.

-This bike is very serviceable, even the toe clips can be re-greased by removing the dust caps from the ends of the pedals. 

-If you run across one of these bikes for sale, chances are it was owned by someone well off in the 80's or an amateur bicycle racer. This bike was one step below what the pro's were actually racing back then. My bike came with a water bottle memento of a bicycle tour company that hosted bicycle tours in Tuscany, Italy back in the day.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Riding the Backcountry: The Journey To Becoming a Complete Cyclist

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How exploring by bike has made me into a complete cyclist


I recently moved to an area where getting to the countryside by bicycle takes longer than where I lived before. The back roads of the country aren't usually named; they are usually just given an FM (farm to market) designation followed by a number. As I ride away from the smooth, well kept concrete roads of the suburbs, a raw, untamed and uncivilized world seems to open up to me. It's a place where you can sometimes hear the sound of someone's hunting rifle go off,  encounter stray goats, chickens and even packs of dogs on the road, and sometimes there can be an uneasy co-existence on the roads with rural dwellers in their large pickup trucks and cyclists. 

Smooth roads turn into bumpy, potholed roads. These give way to loose gravel roads, and before I know it, I'm riding my road bike on hard packed dirt paths, winding up and down fields or densely tree-lined areas. Before, when I used to think that I was riding in the country, the roads had names, were paved over with black tar, and most dogs stayed behind a fence or on a leash. Not here. Out here there is real adventure riding, where anyone who rides out here has to be ready to encounter a wide variety of scenarios. So far, on good days I have averaged about 15 miles an hour on my bike, according to my online tracking app on my phone. That's not bad when I consider I have had rides with almost 800 feet of total elevation gain and 19 mile and hour headwinds to contend with. It's a different kind of riding then what I am used to. One has to learn to adapt to the lay of the land and sometimes ignore the data that the cycling computer or the tracking app is saying. Its more important to stay mentally alert, being constantly on the look out for potholes or dogs, conserving energy to ride against strong headwinds and making sure that both bike and rider make it back in one piece. 

Around four years ago, I left kicking and screaming from a centrally located suburban area to a part of the a city on the borders of the Dallas county line. It seemed like the very edge of civilization of for me back then. The countryside was my only option for local bike riding unless I wanted to load up my bike in my car and go ride somewhere else. At first I did do that, a lot. Then I realized that the twenty to forty minutes I spent in my car getting to and from a riding destination was time I could have spent doing a ride around where I lived. I also realized that I just didn't have the same amount of time that I used to have to go to these far away places to go ride for an hour and then take another forty minutes getting home. I started to get on Google Maps and plot my own routes around the countryside where I could take low traffic and scenic roads for a good twenty to thirty miles. If I wanted a shorter ride I could just shorten the loop so that I would be riding sixteen miles or less on days when my time was really constrained. After three years of riding in the countryside, I have found that I enjoy it more than riding in the suburbs, and I don't freak out if my bike rolls off smooth pavement or hits a small pot hole. 

Rather than staying in the suburbs, doing small cafe racer loops and constantly having to stop and go at traffic lights, my bicycle and I tend to naturally gravitate toward the countryside, no matter where I start riding from. I used to love riding in the suburbs and avoid rural areas like the plague, now I am finding it hard to stay away from the countryside. I don't enjoy riding in the suburbs like I used to and let's face it, farmers in beat up pickup trucks make better company on the roads than distracted soccer moms in their large Land Rovers do. I also find that riding out in the countryside is like a form of fast mountain biking, and my general fitness tends to improve as a result of having to employ both speed and bike handling skills into my workout. 

The carbon fiber wonder-bike, spandex-clad in team kit wannabe racer concept is ingrained and hard boiled into almost every cyclist I see riding out on the roads where I now live. Occasionally I will run into an older gentleman riding helmet-less on a Wal-Mart special with a bag of groceries tied to the front of his handlebars. He's the only guy that I have seen that is that comfortable on a bike and I know he rides a lot, because I have seen him more than once. Everyone else seems to be speeding away, trying to get their ride over with as fast as they can so that they can brag about it to their friends immediately afterwords. These guys have the same three loops that they'll do religiously, without any deviation whatsoever. I have been guilty to doing the same thing myself, but at least I don't do it all the time. I have learned to let go of that pre-ride anxiety I used to get thinking about how I needed to record my miles, carry a spare tube, and wear my ceremonial garb of spandex and special shoes. I don't get angry if another cyclist passes me and I fail to catch up while they run through a red light. Now I have different bikes and different approaches depending on the levity or severity of how serious I want my ride to be. My rides are no longer all serious, half century ride expeditions anymore. Sometimes I'll do a fifteen miler or even eight miles just to warm up the legs and say that I worked out that day. I have even done four mile rides to the grocery store and back. It doesn't take a lot to be consistent. Consistency is more important than bragging points on a Strava app and it's what makes a person a fitter and more livelier rider in all sorts of conditions. 

Complete cyclists are ones who are always exploring, always adapting and know how to dress for the occasion. They are ones who do it all; long rides, short rides, on and off road rides and value all rides equally. They are people who know the risks and prepare for the risks, rather than allowing those risks to scare them from doing what they love. They are the kinds of riders who do not get worked up over-thinking a bike ride, instead they can just get on a bike and go. A truly complete rider does not have routes, they have destinations, even if unknown to them. To a complete rider, the journey is more important than the end result on a tracking module. Strava can't tell a story of the billy goat you saw in the middle of the road, or that cool looking dilapidated  red barn, or that ghost town that you passed through that made you think of a wild west movie. If there is something interesting on the road that makes you want to get off of your bike to check it out, you should check it out. A complete rider does that, without fear of having to pause their workout on their phone for them to do so, or that their average speed will drop as a result of stopping for a moment. A complete rider also knows their limits. You will not see them riding in cold, rainy, pneumonia inducing weather, just because the group ride didn't cancel that Saturday. However, on nice days during the week a complete rider will take to the streets when most wanna be riders have to work to make that payment on their carbon fiber wonder-bike, as well as their Land Rover, which they use more than their bike. 

By employing this methodology into one's riding, fitness will improve, cycling skills will improve and overall quality of life will improve as a result. One will learn the essential things that they need to ride a bike and the things that are baggage in their lives and that they can do without. Remember, the more things you have to pay for, the more a slave you become to those things. Some people are even a slave to their bicycles, if their bikes are ridiculously expensive. So by simplifying our lives as well as our approach to cycling, we can make cycling a more wholesome activity. Never stop exploring, or taking the road less traveled.  Stay tuned for more perspective from A Bicycle's Point of View. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Just Ride: A Book to Better Understand Ourselves By

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Just Ride:
Reviewing one of the best cycling books out there




Just like the cover of the book suggests, this is a guide on how to just get out and enjoy riding our bicycles, without all of the ceremonial gear and accessories that exist in the racing world today. This book provides the reader with a back to basics approach on practical bike riding for the average person who isn't competing in the Tour De France or the BORAF ( Big Old Race Around France) as the author likes to phrase it. 

Grant Petersen is a bicycle engineer that started his career making bikes for Bridgestone Cycles in the 80's and then started his own company, Rivendell Bicycle Works in the mid 90's.  His bicycles nowadays have a cult following among those who simply seek an elegantly made, non-competitive touring bicycle that can be ridden on  and off roads in varying terrain. The bikes he makes for his current customers are made of steel, with intricate lug work and awesome paint schemes. They echo back to simpler times in cycling before carbon fiber became the rage and the standard for everyone else to follow by. 

Surprisingly, his book does not completely bash carbon fiber bikes like one would expect from an author like this to do. Instead, the author takes an objective approach in describing carbon fiber as a material that hasn't reached the level of development to be considered free of defects or not prone to catastrophic failure. He makes a comparison between different frame materials and makes a justifiably arguable case for steel bikes for the average person, something which I have been saying on this blog for at least a couple of years now. 

Being an engineer himself, Petersen dedicates several pages explaining the different dimensions on a bicycle and how different angles of these dimensions can have an effect on a bicycle's ride qualities. He also describes the advantages of having a steel fork with fork rake as opposed to having a carbon fiber fork or a straight bladed fork. The author notes that as we consider all these things, most bicycles today are designed for 150 pound skinny racers, not with the rest of us in mind. They are not designed for long term use, and are not designed practically for utilitarian use. They are modeled after professional athletes that can go through as many as 12 bikes in one season, with several component changes in between. 

There are a lot of things that I agree with the author on. The dieting advice in this book is great. I had already started a diet free of carbohydrates when I picked up this book at the bookstore a couple of days ago. The author mentions that carbs are actually harmful for cycling and that elite cyclists will eat carbs because their bodies genetically do not produce the same insulin as the rest of us. If we tried to eat as the pros do and have the same workout regimen, we would end up being strong legged and potbellied diabetics. The author also brings out that bicycling is generally not an ideal exercise for weight loss and is not load impact bearing; it will not fend off bone density loss and osteoporosis. As fun as cycling can be, there are other forms of exercise that need to complement it. 

I personally felt other aspects of the book, such as the bicycle maintenance section, could have been written better. The author himself puts a disclaimer in the book saying that there are better guides for bike maintenance than his book. Fair enough. But saying you do not have to clean your bike and just let the mud and crud fall off with the road vibration implies just being a filthy bike rider. I believe that when my bikes are parked and not being used, they should be clean. Like my mom used to tell me, even dirt poor people can have clean dirt floors. Leaving dirt on a bike for more than one ride is just negligent in my opinion. The author talks about Beausage, a word he makes up to describe how imperfections on aging vintage bikes bring out their character more and make them beautiful in an antique sort of way. I also agree with that, and generally speaking I won't repaint a frame that has a few chips and scratches because it brings out the character of the bike and the bicycle's life experience, if it were a living thing, of course. But Beausage is not something someone goes about trying to replicate, whether intentionally or by negligence, on bicycles that are not vintage or that haven't withstood the test of time.

Another point that I couldn't agree with was his advice on fitting and use of platform pedals over clip-less ones. On the latter point I somewhat agree not to use clip-less pedals if you are new to cycling. I would recommend platforms or even toe-clips for awhile before going clip-less. But once someone learns how to ride with clip-less pedals, there is no need to go back to platforms, unless it is on a different bike with platform pedals on it. Even then, I recommend clip-less pedals on long rides because of the tendency to become flat footed if a rider vigorously applies pressure to the wrong part of the foot. On most of his advice regarding fitting, I felt it was targeted at older riders with back problems instead of a general fitting guide for everybody. One example of this is the author's recommendation to ride with the handlebars at even height to the saddle. On frames that are too big for me I will usually employ this method. However, most of the time my handlebars are about an inch lower than my saddle, because I can handle that position and I am more comfortable on it. When making these recommendations, I felt that the author made them taking his own aging body into account, something that I can't blame him for, however a little open mindedness goes a long way.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed this book. It reminded me of everything that got me into riding bikes in the first place. It also reminded me of the poor maintenance my neighbor used to give his clunky mountain bikes growing up but how he would always smoke me up and down the mountain bike trail. There are other topics the author talks about, or rather "velosophizes". Topics in his book such as "racing ruins the breed" and "how to get your family to hate cycling" are good for analyzing whether one has adopted the elitist attitude of an entitled, self absorbed wanna be bike racer and how that can ruin good relationships with other people. 

I recommend any deep thinker and passionate cyclist to pick up a copy of this book. If someone is new to cycling, they should go ahead and pick up this book immediately. It has a lot of good advice that will help develop a love for cycling and a passive interest into a lifelong passion.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Enlightened Cyclist: A Book Review

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The Enlightened Cyclist: Eben Weiss's failed followup to Bike Snob NYC


Okay, so I'm a little late to the party in reviewing this book that has been out since 2011. I am recently in book reading mode since all of this cold weather has kept me indoors with little else to do besides making vegetarian recipes due to the fact that I'm trying to get in shape for the summer. I picked up this book a little over a year ago and started reading it briefly before putting it down and losing it in my bookshelf until I found it again during my recent move. As a huge fan of Weiss's first book, Bike Snob NYC, I bought this book with great expectations that it would be as entertaining and as humorous as the first novel. Nevertheless, it was a complete disappointment that torpedoed any further success he could have had and ultimately became his undoing as a publisher that could relate to most cyclists and people in general.

The message of the book, in short, is that all commuters should treat each other with compassion and consideration, treating each other in an ethical manner the same way we would like to be treated. The author raises the question as to why this isn't the case between bicyclists and motorists, and tries to dissect the situation by getting into the environmental factors between the two. Being a resident New Yorker at the time, Weiss describes the collaborative unity between New Yorkers after 911 but how New Yorkers have once again become insular over time, getting into confrontations over petty things like being in the bike lane or cutting a vehicle off on the road. 

While attempting to find a solution, the author makes this book a soapbox for his atheistic views, discrediting the Bible as a fictional reference piece while at the same time quoting from the Sermon on the Mount when it was convenient for him to do so. This is what really irritated me most about the book and why I really don't recommend it to anyone, even as an easy reading piece. Here you have this guy trying to give moral advice who is obviously without a moral compass himself, denying belief in God but at the same time quoting from his word. 

What further discredits the author was his use of strong language and vulgarity that wasn't at all like the first novel he wrote. Weiss's first book, Bike Snob NYC, was a funny, down-to-earth satire of cyclists that made us laugh out loud about ourselves. The first book was rated G and this book, by comparison, is rated R. It must have been a dark period for the author when he wrote it, and I could only feel pity for him as I struggled to read through the pages, knowing that this will probably be the book he will be remembered by. I begrudgingly read the rest of this book so that I could give a fair and overall review of what I had read. But seriously, it was probably the worst 20 bucks with some change that I have ever spent. If I would had known what was in the book before buying it, I would have never bought it.

It was almost as if the author took the success of his first book, which was a well thought out masterpiece, and then created this 200 page rant thinking that it would have the same reception. Was he hoping that people would be forgiving or ignorant of his liberalism and profanity just because of his new found celebrity? As with many who achieve a sense of fame, I wouldn't doubt that the success of his first book went straight  to his head. In his mind he felt he could write whatever he wanted, regardless of whom he offended. That's sad, really, because he could have been a credible voice in the bike community, like a Sheldon Brown of sorts. Instead he attempts to score political points with the liberal, self pleasing crowd and narrows down his reader demographic as well as anyone who has any respect for him. Whatever good intentions or message of goodwill the author might have had became undone when he attacked people's belief in God and most people's tolerance for number of bad words in a single book.

This book is will make a great overpriced doorjamb or paperweight, or a good projectile for defending oneself against a stray dog while out on a bicycle. Other than that, save yourself the trouble and don't buy this book. I'm throwing away mine, as it was a complete waste of my spare time.




Monday, February 24, 2014

Land Of Second Chances- The Story of Team Rwanda

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I picked this book up at Barnes And Noble a couple of days ago on a whim, and about 300 pages later, have just finished reading this book. So I will do my best to give a book review on it while everything is still fresh in my mind. 


This book was written in a documentary style which I believe will one day facilitate in making this story into a short documentary or Indie film. The premise of this story takes place in modern day Rwanda, twenty years after a genocidal war that killed hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of 100 days. Unlike most people who have never heard of Burundi or Rwanda, I am well studied on the subject and count Rwandans among a few of my personal friends that I have made over the years. Therefore this book prompted my immediate interest when I saw it sitting on the bookshelf at the store. The author does his best to describe the current state of affairs in the country, giving readers a glimpse of how much has changed since those tumultuous years in the 90's. The modern day Rwanda has gone from being a poorest war-torn country in the 90's to be one of the most stable regions in the African continent. There are still problems with economic disparity and infighting between classes, and the country as a whole uses a cash driven economy to pay for their day to day expenses. The author goes on to describe the Rwandan people as hard working but satisfied with having their basic necessities met. By the author's account, he presents Rwandans as defining success in being able to provide for their families modestly, without the need to make incredible sums of money or have fame in the process.

This book is mainly about one Rwandan in particular, Adrian Niyonshuti, who went above and beyond what his other teammates were able to achieve and what cultural and societal expectations others might have had of him. Given an introduction to cycling in Team Rwanda by Jonathan Boyer, a former professional cyclist turned philanthropist, he was able to make it into a Professional South African team and went on to compete in the London Olympic games. His other teammates rode their bikes until they felt they could cash in their earnings and live what was considered "making it" in Rwandan society; A house with concrete floors and running water and electricity, a cow and maybe a goat, and a wife and about five to six kids. Nothing more and nothing less. Every man has his price, in Rwanda this is what most of the population in poverty can only hope to achieve. With the average person living off a dollar a day, there are no ambitions for fame and fortune or any wanting of the commodities that are enjoyed in western society. 

This book crams the history of the genocide, Project Rwanda, Rwandan customs, politics and tribal and religious beliefs into one book in an attempt to explain the logic, thinking and obstacles behind developing a professional cycling team in Africa. Project Rwanda was started by Tom Ritchey in an attempt of empower Rwandan farmers in their coffee development. At around the turn of the millennium, coffee prices increased worldwide and Rwandans were not benefiting from it. Tom Ritchey invented a bicycle which allowed local farmers to transport their coffee beans to their destinations faster, improving the harvest time and overall quality of the coffee and giving Rwanda an advantage in the coffee market. Although interesting at times, the character development was overly extensive and I personally felt that the book veered off the subject many times due to all the additional facts that were added to the story. The book related a story from the third person and the first person of the actual author writing it rather than giving the reader actual firsthand accounts from the characters themselves. It was easy to get lost in the storyline, however the overall message of the book is what kept it captivating for me. I personally enjoyed it as a cultural education about Rwandan people and it has also helped answer personal questions that I have had about the absence of many Africans or third world peoples in the sport of cycling. As was suggested in the book, cycling could grow more popular in this part of the world if the sport wasn't institutionalized by American or European standards and if Africans were able to develop the sport in a uniquely African style. This book also helps me to appreciate that you don't need to have the $10,000.00 bikes and equipment that the pros have if you want to be a serious cyclist. These guys did it on second hand bicycles, many of them on an old steel Benotto or an Eddy Merckx that was handed down to them with weld repairs and non-functioning gears. 


The book suggests that the cutoff age for a cyclist in their peak is in their late 20's. However, I have to disagree. Evidence proves the contrary in athletes like Chris Horner and Jans Voigt, both in their 40's and still winning races. I for one am in my late 20's and feel like I haven't been riding a bike long enough to be at my peak yet. This was an interesting read, it wasn't the underdog story that I was hoping for, rather an objective narrative about Team Rwanda with lots of additional facts in between. This book is a good read for any cyclist, but the non-cyclist types may find it difficult to follow along. Retrospectively, this would have been a good E-book buy or even a Half Price Books find. These are my two cents about Land of Second Chances.Stay tuned for more reviews like these from my blog.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Introducing Bike-boarding

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Riding a bike to the skate park, Bike-boarding, I guess?

Is it skateboarding, bicycling, or Bike-boarding? Why shouldn't riding a bike to the public skate park, then ride to the local mountain bike trail and then riding home not be considered a multi-level sport, just like all of these biathlons, triathlons and decathlons people are always talking about? So there, I henceforth have invented a new multi-level event that I think I'll call Skate-bikethalon, or bike-boarding, for short.


I have only been to a real skate park a few times since taking up skateboarding as a teenager and I haven't been on my board in years. To say I am a bit rusty is putting it real gently. Nevertheless I had fun, got a good workout and even dropped in the bowl in the kiddie section a few times. Being the oldest guy there I probably got a lot of silent respect from the younger crowd, even if I was skateboarding with a bicycle helmet on.



After skateboarding for a little while I rode 11 miles out into the rural part of Mckinney near the city limits. There I met my friend Abdias at Erwin Park trail for 11 more miles of rigid, off road mountain biking. I was able to find the park by putting my cell phone on a phone mount attached to the handlebar of my bike and using Google navigation by bicycle to get there. I have to say for the most part Google has a great database on how to arrive at destinations by bicycle. 


Arriving at Erwin Park in Mckinney. 

Me, on the left. My friend Abdias on the right.


By the time we were done mountain biking the sun was beginning to set and a light breeze was blowing in from the southwest. Abdias let me ride his draft on the back of his car until we reached a less rural  and more open road. As hard as I tried I could not bring the skateboard back with me. The wind was pushing it like a sail and it nearly fell off of my saddlebag before I had to give it to Abdias for him to take home for awhile. As I rode home in the sunset I was taken aback by the red, fiery clouds that cut like ribbons in the sky against the green, freshly planted fields as I was heading back into the suburbs. It was a cool experience that gave me a chance to relive my youth a little bit and gave me a small weekend adventure to talk about. 


Was that a cool story, brah? Stay tuned for more cool stories like these and subscribe to my page for more insightful articles from a Bicycle's Point of View.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Week's Forecast...And I'm Freezin!

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What do you do when your'e a cyclist blogger and the weather has you indoors when you rather be outside riding your bike? Blog about the weather, of course! The weather for riding has not been great around here lately. A few days ago I took off on my bike for seven miles in the cold and light drizzle and felt as if I would have come down with pneumonia had I stayed out in the elements any longer. As I look at other blogs I realize that it's not just me wimping out at this colder than usual February for Texas. The temperatures forecasted for Wednesday onward are the temperatures we are used to having here during this time, 50 to 60's on average and as low as the 40's when a cold front blows through. Instead the temperatures have stayed in the 20's and 30's for almost two weeks now, and I can't wait for another day off and some respite from the cold to de-stress on my bicycle for a few miles.

When I get cabin fever I feel like I'm becoming the Hulk. Not only do I feel like I am gaining more girth in mass from being sedentary but my stress builds like a pressure cooker from the lack of physical activity. The only thing that hasn't happened to me is turning green after two weeks of this weather charade. I try to keep the big guy inside of me by riding on my trainer, learning guitar, drawing and catching up on a few novels still unread in my bookshelf. But as the days wear on the pneumonia inducing cold starts to seep into my optimism and good nature. It's really hard to be in any kind of cheerful mood and suddenly I start looking like the Hulk and acting like the Grinch. I get very touchy during this time, as if it were that special time of the month for me. But I will bite my lip and wait it out until Thursday for Friday, surely then I'll have some time off I can go outside and enjoy the 60 degree weather. 

Yep, this picture sums up the way I feel right about now.


Stay tuned for when the weather warms up. I'll be on my bike riding and writing about my adventures when it's safe to do so. Until then stay warm, catch up on a few books and subscribe to A Bicycle's Point Of View.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The New Digs, Some Bike Riding & Burr...It's Cold Outside!

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After almost three weeks of moving, organizing and fixing my broken down car I can finally say I'm settled with my family at our new place. My wife and son and I have the upstairs living area with a nice balcony and and a wonderful view to the neighborhood, since the house is built on a hill top. My in-laws have the downstairs section and so far this house has proven to have enough  space for all of us to live comfortably. There are a couple of things that will make this move even more official, like finding a renter for my old house, which I am on the verge of doing.

It can be said that everything is within walking or bike riding distance from my house, from the parks to the grocery stores and restaurants. It is not practical to ride during all times of day here, though. I received a few honks once when riding my bicycle during rush hour, and I was riding on the designated bike paths. People in the neighborhood seem to roll their stop signs or not stop all together, something that worries me if I ever want to ride my bike at night. Having said all that this area has been great to ride on the weekends and during off hours and generally speaking drivers are pretty respectful here if they see cyclists on the roads.

I have already ridden my bike around most of the bike paths in my area and I am pretty impressed with how well made these paths are for recreational cyclists. These paths are pretty full of people on the weekends so it's pretty hard to go at a respectable speed with all the other joggers and children present. The paths here connect to other neighborhoods and parks. They could be used as part of a commuting route along with neighborhood roads to get to destinations within the city. Here's a couple of pictures I took on one of my rides through these trails recently.

With the Schwinn, Exploring the nearby trail system

Riding bikes to the park with the family
 

I have already ridden some respectable distances since moving here. A couple of weeks ago I rode the Woodrup from my house into the historic downtown center, meeting up with two random strangers as I continued north out into the countryside. They were both middle aged men riding on expensive Wilier bicycles. Despite that I was surprised by their lack of bike snobbery, one of the guys seemed especially nice and inclusive, inviting me to tag along. As we rode through hilly roads, many which were in disrepair in long stretches of road, I almost felt like I had an advantage on these guys with my road dampening steel bike. We stopped at this remote gas station and corner store out in the middle of nowhere. The nicer one of the two stepped inside the corner store and came out with a Dublin Dr. Pepper he bought for me, sweetened with real sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup. We finished the ride and parted ways as good acquaintances.

Pretty bad selfie here but here's the guys that I ran into the other day on my ride.


Random Corner store we stopped at during our ride. Check out the rigs these guys were riding!


The next week I tried riding this route by myself but got lost and added an additional 10 miles to my journey trying to find my way back home. The wind was gusting about 24 miles an hour so I felt great going out but was struggling severely on my way back. I was climbing hills about 8 miles an hour and was doing everything that I could not to come grinding to a halt and to make it back home. There was a cold wind chill factor as well as allergens in the air that resulted in me being sick for the next week afterwords.  Will I do it again? Yes, but it will definitely have to wait until it gets warmer.

Speaking of the weather, all I have to say is burr.... . I can't remember the last time I used the weather as an excuse to stay inside and not go riding, but this winter and especially the latest artic chill has sent a rush of cold air through the plains and yes, even down into Texas where I live. The weather here has been nothing like the weather the northerners have had, but it has at least been as cold as Chicago on a normal winter day. As I am sitting here typing this it is about 15 degrees outside. The high will be in the low 40's, and there is a chance of snow for next week as well. This isn't weather that we are used to down here in Texas, just like a lot of people are not used to our 115 degree summers.

This is what I have been up to lately since the move. Subscribed and stay tuned for more updates from A Bicycle's Point Of View.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Aww Yeeaah! What A Beautiful Day to Ride a Bike!

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Riding in the country on my 1988 Schwinn Le Tour


I don't photograph my rides as much as I should and I really need to start taking my cameras on my rides more. I have seen some breathtaking landscapes that a cell phone picture just can't justify, and in the future I will try to get into the habit of lugging around my real cameras again. This picture, however, did a good job of summing up today's bike ride through the countryside on my old 80's Schwinn Le Tour road bike, the latest edition to my stable of vintage bikes. Today the weather was awesome, 65 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. I rode about 17 miles out to the country and back from my house on this trusty old steel bike with toeclips. This isn't the fastest bike that I own by far, but it is one of the most comfortable bikes that I have. It handled descents that normally feel twitchy on my other bikes with stability and grace. It absorbed all the road imperfections and I didn't feel any soreness despite not riding with gloves or padded shorts today. I felt I got a great workout despite riding in my Vans tennis shoes, jeans, T-shirt and pullover sweater. I definitely did not look like a typical roadie.

I wasn't looking for another bike when this bike came along, In fact, this bike found me through a friend of mine trying to sell the bike that once belonged to her dad. All the bike needed was some new tires, shifter cables and bar wrap and she was ready to go. The chain and freewheel will probably need to be replaced in the near future, but for now I am content to ride it the way it is, despite it's minor imperfections. The squeaky freewheel and the extra weight actually give the bike some character.  I have already dragged my child stroller on it, and it is officially the go to bike for rides with the kid in tow. 

The Schwinn is now the trailer puller, commuter and general workhorse bike.


Pretty soon I will no longer be living near these nice country roads which have offered some captivating scenery over the past three years. From glowing sunrises and rays of light beaming through the trees in the early mornings, to golden and auburn autumns where the monotony of crimson reds and canary yellows is only broken by the deep blue sky and the lake nearby that mirrors it. From dogs chasing me as I ride along fields of wheat and old red barns, to diving into foggy descents on overcast and chilly mornings. These are some of the memories I will treasure from this place, and, who knows, I may come back just to ride out here again. I am more excited about where I will be riding in the future as it holds a good mix of urban cycling with the countryside not that far away. Hopefully the roads will be as hospitable as the ones I am used to riding and hopefully I will be riding more, exploring more. Stay tuned and subscribe for more posts from a Bicycle's Point Of View.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Is Steel Coming Back to the Peloton? Yes it is..yes it is

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The Steel Renaissance is Finally Here! Well, sort of...


It appears someone's ears must have been hurting when I wrote my last few articles about steel bicycles. Apparently a few people in the bike industry finally had the common sense to make a bicycle that I actually want, let alone one that is practical when the tires roll off the smooth tarmac and out into the countryside. Condor and Genesis, companies both based in Britain, have introduced a line of pro-quality steel bicycles that have already made their way into this year's UCI cycling program. 

Picture courtesy of Genesis Bicycles


When watching the Tour Of Britain this year, I noticed what appeared to be steel bikes ridden by the Madison-Genesis team, a wild card team in the tour this year with a lot of young talent. Since my eyes did not believe what I was seeing I figured they were just carbon bicycles that looked like they were made of steel tubing. Months later I have recently discovered that this team was riding on their Reynolds 953 steel equipped flagship model, the Genesis Volare 953 Team. The Madison Genesis team did not win the Tour of Britain this year, however one of their riders did walk away with the jersey for most combative rider. The team has already had victories on this bike in a couple of under 23 events. Genesis has been innovative and forward thinking in designing a bike that can stand the rigors of the spring classics and the Belgian and French cobblestones. 

The Condor Super Acciaio.


Condor has also made strides in introducing their own competitive model, the Super Acciaio. Already ridden my the amateur team Rapha-Conor JLT, this bike is expected to be seen more next year in pro-tour events. 

Are these bikes affordable to the average person? No, these bikes still come at a premium price. However, compare them to a $10k carbon Trek or Specialized and the price of these bikes starts to look much more reasonable. Keep an eye out for these two bike manufacturers which are bringing back to cycling something it has long been missing and in need of, the feel of steel.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Saying Goodbye to a few things for now, and new changes to come

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Saying Goodbye to the Bike Shop, Relocating and Looking at Cycling...Differently



After six months of gainful employment, it is time to say goodbye to my job as a bike mechanic. With a move coming up and a few life's changes to follow, I feel like I have reached the end of the road as regards working at this particular bike shop. I can attribute this feeling to several things, but mainly due to the fact that I have reached a point where I am content just being the cyclist I am. I own all the bikes I would ever want or need and I have all my own tools to do maintenance on them when they break down. I have also reached a critical point where I have hit the glass ceiling at my current place of employment. Because of the push to be a retail shop more than an actual bicycle shop, I feel like I am wasting my potential and am not using  my skill sets as a mechanic to the fullest. I also feel that the shop where I am currently working pushes the carbon fiber, spandex clad roadie image to all of it's customers by not selling a good variety of mid range to upper end road bikes. Being that our bike shop caters to many first time consumers, many customers walk away on bicycles that don't suit them, only to return them a year later, causing the store a huge profit loss because their return policy is so lenient. 

To me the realization came as I was selling a customer on purchasing a bicycle he was interested in. Although he really liked the bicycle, I knew that because the way the bicycle was designed it would not give him the comfort that he was looking for. It was a bicycle that I myself would never own or ride, but since I was in the position that I had to sell him something, I tried to pitch the sale as best as I could but failed to sound genuine about it. That is when I stopped and asked myself "What am I doing here. working a part time gig at a bike shop, barely making back my gas money and toll fees to get here and then pretending like customers actually need bikes like these?"


Had the customer been me, I would have sold him on a steel touring bike with braze-ons for racks which is that this customer in reality really needed. Instead he was considering an unforgivably rigid carbon fiber road bike that was going to aggravate all of the back and wrist pains he was already complaining to me about. The problem is, my store doesn't sell steel road bikes. How am I supposed to steer someone to make the right purchasing decision for them if the bike shop doesn't even carry the bicycle that they need?


Once the job is no longer fun and there is no opportunity for advancement, financially or otherwise, it's really time to move on. That's where I am at.  I am ready for a new start, doing something different. I would love to continue to work as a bike mechanic, but I can't work somewhere where I can't make a living doing it. And to me I'm at a point where if that is the case I'm fine with that, in fact I prefer it that way. Business should be business and pleasure should be pleasure.


Coming up is a new move into a really nice, bike friendly community, and a chance at a new start there. Hopefully the move brings new friends and new experiences that I am looking forward to having with my in-laws in our soon to be shared residence. Hopefully the cost of living savings will allow us to put funds aside for traveling and having more bicycling experiences abroad. Hopefully I will have a rental property up and running soon which will bring in some income to compensate for my not working at a bike shop. There are a lot of new things going on in my life as of the moment, these are exciting times for me right now. Cycling is taking a smaller window in the whole scenario, I no longer feel it deserves the same level of importance to the point where I have to work at a bike shop, unless it's a professional shop with respectable pay. I need to start pedaling more slowly, letting my wife catch up as I pull along a child trailer and spend more time on the bike with my family. Either way, I'm too slow for pace-lining roadies and I am too fast for the Grant Petersen or Jan Heine touring types. I'm stuck somewhere in the middle, riding on what a lot of people consider ancient technology, ripping up and down country roads with no agenda, no training schedule in mind. Riding a bike because I feel like it, because it makes me happy. I ride a bike because I like the way my legs look when I wear shorts, because after every ride I have dumped my stress load on the side of the road, and my mind is focused. Few people will ever understand the commitment I have to riding and the relationship I have with my bicycle. I know few people that are as passionate about cycling as I am, even fewer among are my friends. As long as I am mobile, I believe cycling will always be a part of me. For now, I say goodbye to working in the industry, reading cycling magazines, and trying to keep up with the latest trends. I'm not going to write off working in the bicycle industry again and I already have some job leads that I am following up on. I am also saying goodbye to continuously buying, trading, reselling or restoring bicycles. I have a couple of restorations left that I haven't sold off yet, I will restore those and perhaps motorize a bicycle.  I really don't have the time to keep doing restorations as frequently as I used to. I honestly don't have very much more time for blogging. But never fear, my beloved readers, if I am not blogging about something on my computer, it's usually because I am enjoying myself in real life, so take comfort in that. My plan is from here on out to enjoy the bikes I already own, to make new adventures with my family, and to let my readers in on what I am doing, every once in a while. Keep subscribing to my posts, but keep the rubber side down in between my articles, as I will be doing the same.





Thursday, November 14, 2013

John's 1983 Schwinn Varsity Deluxe Refurbishment

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My 1983 Schwinn Varsity Deluxe Project, putting
the bike up to date.


After and full overhaul and regreasing and replacing some parts, John now has a great little bicycle his daughter will enjoy.  Alot of parts were brought up to date and some parts were even replaced with parts I had extra from other Schwinn restorations I have done. Here's a couple of before and after photos.

 New brake pads and tires...



New cables


 New chain and and a re greased crankset


The bike now looks better and rides a lot better too. If you have a bicycle that is in need of repair, and live in the Dallas metro area, drop me an email and I will see what I can do. Thanks again for subscribing to A Bicycle's Point Of View.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Atala on a Budget

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My new Bicycle, My Atala Build

After having sold my Raleigh Sport road bike along with a few other bikes and things to clear out the garage and supplement some much needed income at the time, I started to miss having a bicycle that was fairly new ( meaning less than 10 years old). I wanted a bicycle where I could start anew, something upgradable and something in the steel variety.

I had a few parts lying around in the garage and saw no need to buy a whole new bike with all the components already on it.  So I went on eBay and purchased this new old stock Atala bicycle frame which I then built up myself.

By the way, I love eBay and I love PayPal. The bill the later feature allowed me to finance this frame over the course of six months, not bad to pay off a frame a little over $300.

The wheelset, brakes, saddle, stem, handlebars and headset were all items that I either had from other bikes or that were given to me on trades and other small parts purchases. On a previous post I said I would not be going back to brifters, but every man has his price. When a coworker offered to sell me his brifters, crankset and rear derailleur for $25 I went for it. I ended up replacing the crankset with an ISIS drive crankset from eBay due to bottom bracket compatibility issues. I could not get a JIS crankset to work with the Italian bottom bracket I already had, so I went full ISIS drive. The rear cassette had to be adapted with a spacer to work with the 7 speed shifting. I purchased the chain, tires, tubes, rim liner, handlebar wrap and shifter boss adapters from the bike shop were I work at. Nearly $200 in parts later, I now have a complete bicycle.

So how does it ride, $500 later? The bike is very smooth and pedaling and shifting is effortless. On my usual 20 mile, hilly ride I hardly had to get out of my 53 tooth font chainring, and felt like I could have done the whole ride on my large chainring. The shorter chain stays allowed me to pedal up hill with a higher gear ratio than I would normally do otherwise. Despite their reputation for failure, the Shimano RSX shifters shifted on a dime making the bike ride like a champ. 

But how does this bike compare, to say, My Woodrup? The Woodrup is definitely the nicer riding bicycle. The steel is more springy and I hardly feel the road under my feet. For a steel frame, the Atala is very stiff. Not jarring stiff, but noticeably stiffer than my Woodrup. The frame is made from Dedacciai Zero Tre tubing, so one would expect a really nice ride quality from this bike, Italian tubing and all. The ride quality is comparable to 4130 Cromoly steel. The frame was so stiff that I did a magnet test to see if it indeed was a steel frame. The bike feels solid, but the fork hardly has any give and doesn't shock absorb as well as my Woodrup. I'm glad I decided on using 700x25 tires on this bike, otherwise I would feel the road imperfections even more so.  This is my only beef with the bike, that I could have bought a used Reynolds 531 frame for the same price or even a complete Fuji Connoisseur bike, also with Reynolds tubing.

I plan to make this bike work for me. Even if I don't do anything more than ride around for recreation, it is a good bike to cross train on. I feel the frame supports by body well and that I can keep it around for a long time and come out even if I ever want to sell it. Soon I plan on commuting on my bicycle more and it will be a nice bike to have around for that purpose. I can ride the Atala hard on the weekdays and relegate the Woodrup as my Sunday bike.

I feel like overall I really got a good deal out of this bike. $500 isn't chump change, but there is nothing out there at the moment cycling wise that can compare at that price point. Hundreds more could have been spent if I didn't have all those parts to build up the bike with. Therefore, I still feel like I built this on a budget, since I only had to come up with $200 up front. $500 all at once would have put a real dent in my finances, so I'm glad I went this route, even though I had other alternatives to choose from. Hopefully this is the beginning of many new and happy memories on my Atala.

Check out some more pictures for eye candy and subscribe to get more informative posts from a Bicycle's Point of View.  

Shimano RSX 7 Speed drivetrain and Vuelta ISIS drive crankset



Cinelli Handlebars and Stem. Shimano RSX Brifters, probably from the 90's

I didn't compromise on the saddle, it's Brooks or nothing

Sunday, November 3, 2013

John's 1983 Schwinn Varsity Deluxe Restoration

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I recently started a restoration project for a customer of mine named John. This bike will be a present for his little girl, who will soon be big enough to ride it. This restoration involves a good detailing and regreasing of all the parts, so it is more like refurbishing to like new condition than a full restoration that would involve repainting or re-decaling.


John's bike is unique in that it has 24 inch tires and a freewheeling crankset and a fixed freewheel. This bike is also equipped with Shimano Positron shifting,  which uses an indexed rear derailleur. The purpose of Shimano Positron was to be able to shift gears without pedaling. The idea was soon abandoned in 1984, when Shimano revolutionized the bike industry with indexed shifters.

This will be a nice little project and I will post updates on my progress. Here's a couple of pictures of what I have done so far.
Freewheeling crankset actually uses a freewheel inside the crankset rather than on the rear wheel of the bike.
24 inch tires were common with youth's lightweight bikes of the 70's and 80's

Shimano Positron shifting came with a solid shifting cable and an indexed rear derailleur.


Repacking: Crankset and bearings are removed and ready to be degreased

Crankset and hardware before degreasing

Degreasing using Simple Green solution, an all natural degreaser that is free of harmful chemicals


I use chrome polish on all chrome parts to clean out the grime and surface rust on the bike.
  
Some more notes on this restoration: by 1983 Schwinn had apparently abandoned the S-5 rim as the Schwinn 547 rim diameter tires that I purchased for this wheel did not fit well on the rim and popped off. I will have to reorder some standard 24 inch tires with the 540 rim diameter, similar to what some wheelchairs use. This is an important observation as I could not find any information online about this previously.

Thanks to Hugh's Bike Blog about the tip for using chrome polish to clean and restore chrome finishes. Stay tuned and subscribe for more posts from a bicycle's point of view.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Why I will never go back to brifters

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My Move away from Brifters, and why I won't be coming back to them.


At first glance, this title might sound retro-grouchy, even draconian towards the use of new technology. I might make readers assume that I refuse to see the benefits and performance gains that new components, such as brifters are offering cyclists. In part, that is true, and I won't deny my personal preference on the matter. However, I have found that after almost a year of riding a bike without brifters, or integrated shifters and brakes, I am now ready to leave them behind altogether. I have seen my riding technique improve dramatically since riding my new-old Woodrup steel bike, this summer attaining an average speed of 18 miles an hour, something I haven't done in a really long time since previous years past.



Riding in a modern day group ride or a criterium race, and you will constantly hear the clicking of gears, even going up or down the slightest elevation change. The ever increasing number of speeds on a rear cassette means riders really don't know what to set their gear ratios to. Riding with downtube shifters has made me realize how much of a handicap brifters are in covering up errors in one's riding and shifting technique. There are several component changes that have come up in recent years, such as the compact crankset, where riders don't even have to shift to the small chainring when climbing with the gear range they have on their rear cassettes. Most cyclists here in my area will not shift to the lower chainring for climbing, and I find that many of them churning their pedals slowly up hills, standing off of their saddles as they ungracefully climb to the tops of them. 

Prior to this year I was one of those cyclists that could sprint well but could be overtaken over a long distance by others who knew how to conserve their energy. Cycling is all about energy conservation and efficiency, and how to outperform other cyclists while using less effort. Through owning a bike with downtube shifters my pedal stroke while climbing has improved, I am able to pedal smoothly and efficiently up hills while passing other struggling cyclists, and my times have improved by almost two miles an hour. By not falling back on a wide range rear cassette ( I am currently riding a 7 speed 12-21 freewheel) and not having brifters, I have learned how to push through harder gears that I would have normally shifted down from, as well as to use my smaller chainring while climbing and calculating the terrain changes and adjusting my gear ratios accordingly.

I would compare the learning experience of riding a bike with downtube shifters with my experience in photography. My first photography class was a black and white photography class where we used traditional film cameras and developed our own prints. If it weren't for that class, I would have never developed an interest in photography. Just like a traditional photography class taught me the principles of lighting, shutter speed and lens aperture, the traditional downtube shifter bicycle has taught me the principles of shifting on a bike. It makes me want to ride my bike all the more, at a time when my interest in cycling in general waned a little bit, because of no longer having aspirations to do any serious racing (you can thank the Lance Armstrong culture for that). I might show up to a few races in the future, but it will be on my retro bike with downtubes. I will still try to place if I race again, though I am not realistically expecting to do so. So the serious intent isn't there anymore. Neither is the obsession with carbon fiber groupsets or $10,000.00 bikes.

By the way, did I mention that riding a bike with downtube shifters is way more fun than riding one with brifters? Learning how to coordinate a shift with one hand on the handlebar and another one on the shifter will be a challenge at first, but then it becomes one fluid, natural movement. Since downtube shifters are less accessible than brifters, the need to shift will be less and the rider will learn the gear that they will need to be in before they shift. 

I am now selling the very first road bike that I purchased new, my 2007 Raleigh Sport road bike with brifters. Anyone living in the Dallas metro area is welcome to it for 250 bucks.  Any takers?



Editor's note: Since I wrote this article, I acquired a lovely, new-old-stock steel Atala frame and equipped it with a pair of Shimano RSX brifters a co-worker sold to me for 25 bucks. Being the most economical option at the time to use brifters instead of downtube shifters, the brifters have stayed on the bike and I now once again have a bike with brifters, only that it is steel and that it is my size as well. Whatever you ride, love it because you use it, not because it cost you a lot of money.