Saturday, May 25, 2013

Fixed Gear Versus Geared Bikes Part II

Single Speed Vs. Geared Bikes

In response to my original Article

One year ago, I wrote an article about the differences of single speed and geared bikes and the advantages and disadvantages of each one. I received some great feedback from readers about their thoughts on using single speed bikes (no one mentioned fixed gear bikes or "fixies"). In this review of my own previous article, I'll discuss this subject a little more, as well as clarify some previous observations.

Single speed bikes in competition: The most common event that features single speed bikes are track events where the bikes are used in their fixed gear form. But that is recently changing, as new events, both on road and off, are emerging that don't follow the traditional format of bicycle racing. Some of these events are cyclocross racing, Gravel Grinders, and mountain bike long distance endurance events. In all these categories there have been instances where riders on single speed bicycles have dominated over a field of other racers on geared bicycles. Single speed bicycles are yet to leave the amateur scene and move up to the professional ranks of the sport. It would be marvelous to see these bikes in actual road races or in any UCI sponsored event. So far, this has yet to happen. There are little known or publicized victories of single speed bicycles, even in amateur racing. Not to say that it doesn't happen, but there is little or no video, articles, and other information that goes in favor of using single speed bicycles in competition.

Fixies for Fashion:  It is an undeniable fact that over the recent years fixed geared bicycles have been the rave among the ironic hipster crowd. Although some track bicycles are wonderful works of art, Cinelli bicycles being the prime example of that, the hipster crowd misuses these bicycles from their original purpose. They do that by altering the handlebars from drop bars to tiny flat bars that can barely be controlled when steering. Sometimes classic road bikes are not exempt from this either, as many hipsters will hack off the rear derailleur dropout in an attempt to make the frame appear like a track frame. Many collectible bicycles have met their end at the hands of these misguided fashion felons.

Tip for first time buyers: My previous article contained some purchasing tips for those who wished to buy a bicycle for the first time, and was not targeted at advanced riders. Advanced riders will find that a single speed bike suits them due to a gear ratio they found works best for them. Inexperienced riders do not have the benefit of riding experience to know which single gear ratio will suit their needs. Therefore, if a first time buyer buys a fixed gear bicycle living in a hilly area, they may not enjoy their purchase. My recommendation for first time buyers who are looking for a single speed bike is to consider the lay of the land in the area they live in. A single speed bicycle will most certainly suit an area with flat terrain.

My last article provoked a response, somewhat non-favorable, from a few slighted single speedsters who believe that riding with one cog does not affect and actually improves their speed. These riders were usually comparing the difference between a geared and a single speed mountain bike, which actually makes sense to say that the weight difference of gears plus the use of lightweight materials like carbon and titanium might actually make climbing faster, thus improving average speed. Mountain biking is one of the styles of cycling that is seeing a benefit from the use of single speed bikes. However, I have personally bested a few individuals on the trail who were riding on their single speed bicycles using my full suspension geared bike with 3.25 inch mud tires.  In the end, its the engine, and not be bike, that will determine performance. Geared bicycles, however, have proven their worth and are still the standard in professional racing, even in cross country mountain bike racing. When that changes, single speed bicycles will gain more notoriety and credibility for use in competition.

The important thing is that single speed bikes as well as geared bikes offer a source of enjoyment and physical fitness. I was not trying to create any distinctions from riders who choose to ride geared bikes from those who ride single speed bikes. For the first time consumer, the geared bike will be the best value for their dollar and will serve as a stepping stone for if they would like to purchase a single speed bike in the future. My reference to hipsters does not extend itself to all people who ride single speed bikes, either. When I say "hipsters" I am usually referring to the modern meaning of the term. This term refers to a younger generation of individuals, usually between the ages of 18-25, usually in college and usually living off of their parent's dime. Individuals with lots of borrowed credit or disposable income, who do not know the value of a classic road bike and therefore destroy one at the first opportunity. I am not referring to trail riders and commuters who use single speed bicycles or anyone else for that matter. This subculture will probably last a few more years, then will go the way of the Emo kid and the soft core punk rocker. But while it lasts, let's not fail to mention that this is currently the only youth group that embraces cycling in any way shape or form. My hope is once the bicycle is no longer seen as a fashion accessory, that it can truly be embraced by former hipsters for what it truly is. 

I hope I shed some light on my previous article about single speed versus geared bicycles.  Keep subscribing to my blog to stay current with new releases as I tend to discuss many subjects like these. Stay tuned for more articles from A Bicycle's Point of View.

On a side note, this marks my 100th post on my blog. Happily blogging since 2009!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Discussing the MAMILS, Cycling the New Golf, among other stereotypes.

What's a MAMIL? 
Middle Aged Men In Lycra Spandex, or MAMILS, is a very recent term coined by an overseas marketing firm.

At first glance, this word looks like the word "mammal" misspelled. But no, we're not talking about walruses here, although some MAMILS might look like walruses, but that's an altogether different subject. We're talking about middle-aged men in Lycra spandex, a marketing term used to classify an emerging demographic of cycling consumers. According to a Bristish news source, the term was originated by a retailing marketing firm called Mintel. 

So what makes someone a MAMIL? Besides the obvious acronym, market research suggests this age category to be between 35-44 years of age, with disposable income, and the ones most likely to purchase a brand new carbon fiber bike and ride around in a team kit. They're likely to be middle class, high grossing individuals in upper management positions, and take on cycling as a leisurely activity at a premium price point. It's comparable to buying a sports car when in a mid-life crisis and driving it on the weekends, only that sports car is now a shiny new bike.

Am I offended by this term? Actually I find it hilarious. I am neither middle-aged nor do I have disposable income. I ride bicycles that are sometimes as old as I am, and it's been years since I spent over $50 on a cycling jersey or spandex. I do ride in my spandex often, especially in the summertime. But I leave spandex at home when the weather is not favorable or when it's the wrong occasion to be using them, like a trip to the grocery store or pulling the kid trailer behind me. I also make sure that the clothes I buy actually fit me and look cool (note, in contrast, the guy's jersey in the picture above).  Abroad this term has been somewhat embraced even by the demographic that its referring to. Middle-aged men see that although at first glance they will look like out of shape marshmallows climbing hills at a snail's pace, cycling will turn them into studs in the long run as long as they continue do it. So the term is sometimes worn as a badge of honor, mostly by old, fat Englishmen overseas.  

The danger of stereotyping is that uneducated people depend on labels to come to their conclusions in life. In the United States, cyclists are stereotyped as Lance Armstrong wannabes who obstruct the road from angry motorists who drive Land Rovers or Hummer vehicles. And although a lot of cycling fatalities are purely accidental, there has been a recent surge in vehicular homicides or attempted homicides on cyclists. Interesting to note, most cycling related deaths in the U.S have involved men in their 40's riding their bikes during rush hour. This is where stereotyping is dangerous, it fuels the anger of people who have entitlement issues and homicidal tendencies. 

What about cycling as the "new" golf? The Economist made this claim in a recent article that suggests cycling can help establish business relationships. I'm sorry, but there is no comparison between these two activities. There might be a sector of society that likes cycling as well as golf and even some MAMILS might reside among them. This stereotype, however, takes a quantum leap and gives the impression that cycling, just like golf, is an activity for the business elite. In my mind, the two can mix less than oil and water. Cycling is an activity I enjoy because it doesn't cost any money after the initial investment of buying a bike. A trip to a golf range or golf course can cost between $30 and $50 just for the entry fee. 

When compared to cycling, golf is a very stupid sport. I mean, why would I want to play a sport wearing what the business world considers dress attire on casual Friday's? There is no other sport that screams conformity, dork, old man and brown noser like golf does. You can be a portly little fellow and still be a great golf player. Cycling requires real man effort, blood, sweat and tears in order to excel above the others at. To me golf is a sport played by old, out of shape men that are holding on to my job by not retiring and love throwing their weight around when they are swinging a golf club. Comparing cycling to golf, even suggesting that there is anything similar between the two, offends me. I have yet to land a job through cycling. The day I do, I'll consider cycling as a great way to network but I will never, ever say that cycling is the new golf. That would be stepping into the darkside and completely negating everything I stood for in my punk rock youth.

In conclusion, anyone can get into the sport of cycling. There are no age or income requirements to do so. In this modern internet age consumers are more connected than ever before, and can spend infinitely less on the start up costs of cycling than in the past. There is no need to buy something new from a store anymore and paying full retail price on anything. Educated consumers on a shoestring budget (like myself) can now pick up a decent road bike second hand and rock it like Alberto Contador. The same can not be said about golf, a sport that will forever remain tucked away neatly in the country clubs and col-de-sacs of suburbia. Although a lot of well off people ride bicycles for recreation or sport, lets remember that most champions of the sport of cycling came from poor families who were of little means. Talent, and not money, is what made them successful. Stereotypes are hurdles to success. They alienate people who would excel at cycling if they took up the sport. They elevate the already inflated egos of businessmen and corporate fat cats. Cycling marketers need to think younger, fitter and less conservative in their marketing campaigns. A change in the market will mean a change in the stereotypes, and will also save us from the ire of someone's road rage.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

I Want to Win A Bicycle Race

I Wanna Win!


Sometimes I feel like Nacho does in this clip. If I ever had past regrets, not winning would be one of them. And while some might be used to winning in a manner that comes almost second nature,  some of us have to work really hard at it, and even still many of us don't get the results we were hoping for. 

I wanna win a bicycle race (insert nacho's "hueen" here).  Even if it's just one lousy criterium with a bunch of guys in their 40's and all I get is a little medal at the end of the race, I'll be happy with just that. I would like something to show for my years of serious cycling and the skills that I have developed. Not that it is necessary for me to win a bicycle race in order to enjoy cycling. Its just the burning desire of "what if I am capable of winning?" that makes me want to compete. Will one win in a local criterium race be a game changer and make a big difference in my life? Probably not. Then again, it might psychologically be the morale boost that I need, to be competent in cycling as well as other aspects of life. 

Winners take charge, they chart their own courses in life and are able to successfully meet their goals and ambitions. Winners win at multiple things, since their drive to win pushes them in every aspect of their lives. I feel like we all need to win at something at least once in our lives, to not settle for second or for runner up. Giving someone an honorable mention is equivalent to saying "nice try, but you didn't win". Winning validates the effort, the time and the costs of the goal one is pursuing. Sometimes people can win as a team, but it's not as rewarding as an individual win. The triumph over the field, the acknowledgement that you were the best one of the day.

Bicycle racing is hard. Staying with the pack is a feat on it's own. Many criteriums can average between 21 to 22 miles per hour. If this is a speed that a rider is incapable of producing and holding for at least 30 minutes, then they might as well not compete. While holding this pace there are also surges when the pack will ride up to 30 miles an hour for brief points to drop all the weak riders. Then there is the tightness of the pack. Crashes are common when riders ride just inches apart and someone fails to hold their line, crashing into the wheel of the person next to them. It can also get expensive. Bicycle racing in the U.S requires the payment of licenses and fees in order to race, not to mention the travel expenses involved. This doesn't change the fact that I would like to try it out and win. Truthfully I picked a hard sport to win at, and I could of probably had a better chance at winning playing basketball or soccer, but there's no prize money or medals awarded for those wins. I want a chance to walk away from a win with something clutched in my hands. 

So there you have it, these are my feelings about winning. I hope this did not make for a completely nonsensical argument about winning and my personal feelings about it, but then again this is why you chose to read my blog. We can all win at something, and I believe the world would be a better place if we all did. I just hope bicycle racing can be one of those things that I can win at.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Slaying The Badger- Book review

Slaying The Badger:

A Must Read For Cyclists Looking for Inspiration

Bernard Hinault, also known as the badger, tearing down the competition. Cycling Art Blog

The year was 1986. As I was taking my first steps, Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault were crossing the finish line of the Champs Elysees, cementing the first Tour De France win for the young Lemond and retiring the older Hinault, a five time Tour De France winner. What went down at this tour was epic. This was a tour full of mountain attacks and solo breakaways that have been unmatched since in the professional cycling scene. It was the last time that a tour would claim to have  a true leader, one that couldn't be challenged and one that would never lose, unless it was on his own terms. Thus Slaying The Badger is a window into 1986 and the stories of each of these two men leading up to that fateful 1986 tour. 

So, the first question my readers might have is, why do I care? I mean, I was barely born when this happened so how is this relevant to me? It's simple. Growing up, society treated the 80's like they never happened. No textbooks contained any historical events nor did the media and entertainment industry make any cultural references about that time. I guess my parent's generation were past their formative years when this decade came along, disregarding it as having been too recent to consider it history. It wasn't until later in life, and with the globalization of the internet, that I independently researched a lot of what went down during the decade that my parents rarely if ever talked to me about. I'm glad I have been able to add to my cultural knowledge of this time period when I was introduced to the world. 

Another reason why it matters to me is because I now own at least two bicycles that are as old as I am, and I ride them hard. Before being slammed by headwind on the way back, I rode my custom made 1986 Woodrup averaging 19mph for the first fifteen or so miles of my ride. So not only did the 80's do something right by bringing me into the world, the bikes made during this time are very fast, even by today's standards. 

So let's talk about the book, shall we? The book introduces both characters in their modern day setting, Hinault on his farm in Brittany, Lemond in his spacious house in Minnesota.While the author describes Hinault in a pastural setting, his home at the end of a seemingly endless and unpaved driveway, reminiscent of the way homes are in my native Puerto Rico, Lemond's home is slightly less modest, with an elaborate garden in the front entrance and a seemingly larger house than Hinault's. Why these details matter is a mystery to me, but it does give insight to the type of personalities each cyclist has.

Bernard Hinault, if I could pick only two words to describe him after reading this book, they would be "The Boss". Everyone knew better than to cross Bernard Hinault, if anyone dared cross him they would feel the wrath of his beating, whether on the bike or even physically. During the 1984 Paris-Niece race, Bernard  got off his bike and dispersed a crowd of about 25 labor union workers protesting in the middle of the road, scattering them off with his fists. Although he suffered a broken rib from that incident, it just shows you how boss Bernard Hinault was. His physical feats and ability to withstand pain are even more astounding. Just like Gino Bartali before him, he endured a freak snow storm in the 1980 Liege-Bastogne-Leige, winning over the rest of the field by over ten minutes, suffering permanent frostbite at the ends of the finger tips. Bernard Hinault cranked a huge gear, a common practice of a lot of the greats from that era. This may be the reason why he was constantly getting knee injuries during his time as a professional cyclist. Even with that setback, he won many races were he wasn't at his best due to knee injury, a broken nose, or even falling of a precipice. Bernard Hinault, in short, was hardcore. He inspired a fear and a respect in the peloton that has yet to be matched by any modern day cyclist. His competitors even had posters of him in  their rooms, that's how much he was revered. Even with that level of admiration, Bernard Hinault knew his limits. He was never a braggart about his victories, and was very selective about what he set out to win and what he would allow other team members to win. As a team leader, sometimes he would play domestique to allow his teammates to win stage victories or even one day races. He was a leader that knew how to lead.

Greg Lemond, was cool. I'm not going to go into any depth describing Lemond's greatness, that's what the rest of the book is for, so definitely pick up a copy and read it. Maybe that's being biased, but that's also why you're reading this review from my blog. Greg Lemond was a very gifted cyclist. He could drop his teammates almost at will, choosing on many occasions not to do the same to Hinault as a show of respect. In contrast to Hinault's self confidence and self reliance, Greg Lemond appears insecure and at times even paranoid in his account of what happened at the 1986 Tour, claiming everything from foul play to keeping his bicycle in his room over fear of sabotage. His insecurities showed even further years afterword in his criticism of Lance Armstrong, although as we later find out, Lemond was right about Armstrong not racing clean. The way Lemond went about this, though, undermined his own achievements and left a very negative first impression about him in my mind. As an athlete Lemond had the goods and delivered them, every time. And he is the only American that won the Tour De France fair and square, and reading this account there was no way I think he could have cheated.

This book also brings to light other great cyclists of the mid eighties that I knew nothing about, such as Laurent Fignon, Urs Zimmerman, Lucho Herrera, Andy Hampsten, and Sean Kelly just to name a few. I didn't even know Colombians reigned supreme on the mountain stages before the 90's came along and they became outperformed by others doping their way up the mountain passes. Reading this book, I spent hours of additional research on each of the riders and details of that era that the book described. 

Slaying The Badger is a good read, and I recommend any cycling fan to pick it up and read it. It's better than It's Not About The Bike, because it's actually non-fiction and gives the reader something to really cheer about. This has been my ten cents about this autobiography. Stay tuned for more book reviews from a Bicycle's Point of View.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

When Bad Things Happen...

Looking at the glass half full, sometimes bad things happen.

Today I went out for a long, well deserved bike ride. It was a beautiful day to take the Guerciotti out for a spin, one of the bikes that I own with a collector's value of about $1,200. The bike frame is bonded aluminum tubing with glue that is screwed into the lugs, and it's really a reliable bike, despite the reputation for failure these frames have. I had a great ride, and felt fast despite not having a bicycle computer to tell me my average speed. 

I have a trunk mounted bike rack that I use to carry around my bikes. I could never justify the expense of owning a roof rack that would be worth about 20% of what my car is worth (for the record, I don't drive a fancy car, just fancy bikes). After my ride I loaded up my bike on my bike rack and took the scenic route home, which goes through a residental area with multiple speed bumps. These speed bumps are not marked and are difficult to see sometimes. I approached a speed bump at around 25 miles an hour an hit it on full force, the non-existent shocks on my car being no help whatsoever. The bike rack snapped off the car and flew in mid air with the bike attached to it.  I stopped in the middle of the road to pick it up, and noticed that the bicycle was fine except for the rear wheel, which was really wobbly  and out of true and dish. I will probably have to take it to the shop to get it rebuilt, since I am the one who rebuilt it originally and it was only a passable job.

This is not the first time that the Guerciotti takes a beating under my ownership. A few months ago, I backed into a Porto-potty with my bike on the end of my bike rack. Besides the stem shifting to the side there was no damage to the bike then either. Thankfully I have been able to not have any frame/component damage on these two occasions, though I am starting to rethink my logic about putting my bike on my car rack rather than just riding it on the street.

The city is repaving a lot of the local roads in my area that are notorious for their potholes and cracks. I have been taking my Guerciotti in the car to White Rock Lake trail to avoid having to ride through these roads, and possibly messing up my bike. I think from now on I still stick mostly to riding around my neighborhood route. 

Sometimes bad things happen, but sometimes its necessary to imagine how much worse a situation could have been.  My bike could have been totaled, instead of only a $50 charge at the bike shop to rebuild the wheel. I thought about how it had been the first time in a while since I got to fit in a long bike ride in my schedule, and how much better I felt after my ride. I also thought about all of the cool bikes that have landed in my lap recently, and how the Guerciotti came to being mine for $160 bucks. I can take my time putting the money aside to fix the wheel, and ride some of my other bikes in the meantime. Not all is lost, and there is no need to be a nihilist about it.  Once I get over my initial freaked out stage, I'm ready to look at things from a glass half full.

My Guerciotti is a lovely bike, but in the end it's just a thing. Things are replaceable, but people, time and experiences are not. I'm still simmering over the fact that its going to cost me at least $50 bucks to fix the wheel, because it feels like $50 with interest with the budget I am now facing these days. But it is what it is, as they say here in Dallas. Like I said before, no need to gloom and doom over it.

Overall, today's circumstances are what they are. Tomorrow lies the opportunity to get up, clean up the mess, and right the wrongs of yesterday. Without trying to get all philosophical about it, sometimes bad things happen: our bikes fall off our cars, we gain weight, we get tired. But as long as we are alive and kicking we can always fight back.  

Speaking of Alive and Kicking, enjoy this cool 80's song that always makes me feel better when I'm having a bad day.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

"Here's what Americans get about Cycling, and why it's not a problem"

Here's what Americans get (or are starting to get) about cycling: In Response
to a recent article by Business Insider Australia

Recently an article has been circulating around the web so much it has finally gotten my attention. Business Insider Australia wrote an article about what Americans don't get about cycling,  somehow attesting that they have a clue as to why Americans bicycle even though they are based in Australia, clear on the opposite side of the world. Although the article brings up some good points, such as the need to broaden infrastructure in an intelligent way for cyclists in the U.S, the article has to tread on some cultural differences people living in the U.S might have with the rest of the world, portraying those differences in a negative light. This article is in response to some of those negative suggestions.

First off, here in the U.S people ride their bicycle for exercise. Even if on a commute, the commute serves as exercise during the time it takes to get from one destination to another. That is not a negative thing such as the article is suggesting. The truth of the matter is that more and more Americans are recognizing the importance of exercising and taking care of their health, in light of increasing health costs and health problems. In addition, the U.S is the fattest country in the world. So any effort by people living here to take care of their health is valued and should not be criticized by outside sources. In short, compared to the rest of the world "We're fat, we know it, and we are trying to do something about it. Don't criticize."

To suggest that cycling should be just another form of "fast pedestrianism" as  the article suggests is borderline offensive. The pedestrian on wheels, or "chic cyclist" concept doesn't appeal and won't sell to most people living in the U.S. People in the U.S will not ride a bicycle just to go faster than "walking" speed. To an average American, that is what buses, trains, and taxis are for. When a person here rides a bike, it's because they have to go fast without using a car and they have to arrive on time. Americans usually work forty hour a week jobs where they get only two weeks paid vacation a year, unlike most Europeans who work thirty hour or less a week jobs with a two month paid vacation. 

I will from time to time take a jab at the spandex crowd for looking like complete tools even when they are hauling their kid trailers on the backs of their bikes. There is a time and place for everything, and that includes spandex. I will admit however, that spandex and Lycra are not bad ideas when commuters have to cover long distances. For cycling to be a viable option or commuting in the U.S, sometimes one must cover many miles on a bicycle. For instance, has anyone personally tried to ride more than thirty miles without spandex on? At the end of the day, chaffing and hemorrhoid inflammation are simply something most people do not want to come home with. I'm sure Copenhagenize would argue that if we all rode dutch-style, cushy padded seat bicycles we would not have this problem. The point here is, that in the U.S people will ride what they want to, whether it's a road bike, cruiser, mountain bike, etc.  And most people who commute are not riding to your neighborhood corner store, because that corner store simply does not exist in most towns across the U.S. Most people are physically too far removed from their jobs and destinations for a Dutch-style or "townie" bike to be useful or applicable. Road bikes and the gear that comes with them seem a better alternative for commuting around U.S streets. Sometimes looking like a tool can actually be comfortable, and make sitting down later much easier. (I will admit, however, I usually wear T-shirts or sweaters over jerseys when I ride, even though I still wear the spandex shorts, TMI?).

Another attack this article made was on having too much of an emphasis on hygiene and therefore implying that businesses need to offer showers for employees to use if they are cycling. The fact is that a lot of companies are already offering locker rooms with showers for their employees. It is not an uncommon business practice to do so. Americans on average do not supplement their showers for the heavy perfumes and layers of clothing that a lot of Europeans use. There are no water shortages that would justify most people living in the U.S not to shower at least once a day.  It is perceived as unhygienic to go for more than a couple of days without showering, and believe me, others will take notice when someone does. There is nothing wrong with holding ourselves to high standards of hygiene as long as we have the means to do so.   This does not mean that cycling requires special accommodations at every job, just the jobs that require suits and ties in air conditioned buildings.

To whoever in Business Insider of Australia that wrote this article, if you want to talk about what Americans do and don't get about cycling, you have to understand the American psyche. Americans want to be rewarded for their efforts, whether it's to improve their image, save money, feel better, get stronger. You cannot entertain to win over an American audience to cycling by saying that cycling is just "transport". You have to understand the audience you are are talking to.  People in the U.S love to identify themselves by their status or their individual personalities. For a long time the automobile has been used as the tool to self promote in the U.S. One cannot expect this to all the sudden change just because a person is on a bicycle. Although I don't necessarily agree with the "look at me!" attitudes most Americans display as a result of this, that's the situation and that's what we have to deal with.

In the end, it's not about what Americans don't get about cycling, it's what a lot of people don't get about Americans. Americans ride their bicycles because they want to look good, lose weight, get healthy, save money on gas, and be uniquely "American" whilst they are doing it. They are not ashamed of the reasons, however shallow they might appear to everyone else. Now, Americans need a lot of advice on how to organize successful road bike races, instead of the criteriums which are so prevalent here. Americans still need a lot of dieting advice, so please give it tactfully, knowing most Americans already know they are fat. These are matters we usually turn to outside sources to give us their opinion on, so please, indulge us in your expertise.