Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Know Your Author

Who is "Johnny"?

First off I want to say that I'm not the type of person to go off on a tangent about my life's story, especially to people I don't know on a blog. So even with this little insight into who I am there is nothing more personal about me than what's already available online. I don't want to be at the center of my own writing material, because that would seem self serving. However, I do think readers should know a little bit about me, how I came to enjoying cycling so much and why I started this blog. 

My real name is Jonathan. Johnny is a version of my name friends and family would call me when I was growing up, so that is also my alias I go by for my blog. I'm almost 30 years old and I have been living in North Texas for most of my life. I am originally from a small mountain town in Puerto Rico, full of historic charm, friendly people and an old school approach about doing things. I moved to Texas when I was a little boy and had to assimilate to the English language quickly. My first language is actually Spanish, even though I can't speak it as well as I used to. I am also fluent in Portuguese.

My love for bicycling started at around the age of 5. I used to ride a big wheeler down the hillside of my grandparent's farm and would spend hours walking the bike uphill then coasting down it. When I came to Texas in 1990, my parents bought my brother and I our first bikes. Our bikes were blue, Murray BMX bikes with coaster brakes. I did not learn how to ride my bike with training wheels, rather my dad took us to a field and let us coast down a hill there, letting let the trees break our fall. It was a tough way to learn how to ride a bike, however I am thankful for my Dad for taking the time to teach me and not making me a wuss by overprotecting me the way some parents do with their kids nowadays. 

 I got my first mountain bike in 1997-98. By the age of 14 my Dad, my brother and I would ride all around the cities of Euless and Arlington, sometimes even going as far as Bedford, another town nearby.  We all rode rigid Huffy mountain bikes with either thumb shifters or grip shifters. My Dad had a neon green and marble gray Huffy Stone Mountain that he bought new in 1990. Mine was a gold Huffy with grip shifters and my brother's bike was a red and black huffy with cantilever brakes ( I always thought my brother's cantilever brakes looked cool and that he had the "real" bike). My dad actually gave me my first real experience at road riding. Thanks in large part to him I have always seen cycling on the street as a natural thing to do. 

I was around 15 when I rode at a mountain bike trail for the first time. A kid in the neighborhood, Stephen Ritter and his eccentric dad Doug were the first people to get me into using my mountain bike on the trails. I remember how good Steve was at riding as well as how much I sucked back then. The bike didn't do me any favors either, as it was a 40 pound Huffy with a single piece crankset and inadequate gearing. Either way I rode the crap out that bike, on and off the mountain bike trail. It ultimately met it's doom on a rocky trail after I had been chased by a bull that had come loose off someone's farm.  

2007 to Present

After I wrecked my first mountain bike while mountain biking, I bought another mountain bike a few years later. It was a Mongoose DH 2.5 full suspension bike from Sports Authority. I was 16 to 17 at the time and worked at a grocery store. Sports Authority used to do a once a year sale where they marked their bikes at 99 dollars, which was just what I could afford then. It wasn't the most quality bicycle to say the least. The shocks bounced around like a trampoline and one night it ended up throwing me over my handlebars, resulting in 3 broken teeth. A few years later it was stolen from outside my apartment ( I was tired of it and sort of left it outside in front of my apartment for too long).  

After I turned 22 I was looking for an exercise that I could do without having to join a gym and that was going to keep me in good shape for a long time. It would have to be an activity that I could do alone, something that I could do on days when I was bored of running (yes, I was a runner back then, a good one at that). Running tended to leave me with knee pain and I was also looking for something that would not aggravate my knee any further. Then I read "It's not about the bike" by Lance Armstrong. I also started to pay close attention to the Tour De France and saw the kind of shape the guys riding their bikes where in. They seemed boyish to me even though they were grown men and the extra weight that would have normally been around their abdomen and shoulders was absent. I decided that road cycling was the sport that I wanted to do and that summer I bought my first road bike. 

Since 2007 I have been actively riding a bike, whether a road bike or a mountain bike on the trail. What started with one bike became a hobby and even at one point a job, as I have worked at several bike shops. In between that I got married and had a family and yet I still find a way to stay active with cycling despite my life's changes. Around 2009 I started buying, fixing and selling used bicycles. That is where the idea of writing a blog came from. I wanted to share tips on how to repair used bikes for people who were either tired of being overcharged at the bike shop for a flat tire or were also flipping bikes for profit. I also found that there were vintage bicycles that were completely different from anything that is made today. I have always had a draw to vintage and classic things, from cars to motorcycles to clothing. It seemed like a natural progression for me to get into vintage bicycles as well. For a time I was involved in restoring old bicycles, but that has since faded out with time constraints and other obligations. I will still refurbish vintage bicycles as long as they are "mostly there" meaning only needing the most basic services to get them running again. 

Some of my cycling milestones include two metric centuries and one real one of 102 miles this year. In addition to that I have also done long rides with friends from 50 to 70 miles at a time. I have averaged as fast as 18 to 19.5 miles an hour over the course of 20 to 30 miles on a 1980's steel road bike with downtube shifters. Since I don't really use Strava I don't have any real data to share,  so sorry Stravaphiles. Among my friends I am the fast guy, the guy that will pull someone back up to the pack if they fall behind, the guy that sprints uphill on a breakaway, yeah that's me.

Some other things that I'll share about myself are that I have always enjoyed art and photography. I had a stint as a wedding and event photographer and have held pretty much every kind of manual job out there with the exception of Alaskan crab fishing. I like all sorts of music, however the music that I can relate to the most was made in the early 2000's by bands like U2, the Dave Matthews Band, Five for Fighting, The Script; pretty much this was the soundtrack of my young adulthood, as well as Reggae music. I can ollie a skateboard and can still do a pop shove it, although I am out of practice. I once swam across a lake in Germany and saw an old, fat lady get naked (just throwing that out there). I am very health conscious and I see living a healthy lifestyle not as a burden but as an obligation I have to myself and others. To me there is nothing more burdensome than sick individuals who put themselves in that situation and leave it up to their families to take care of them. Although I do not have a stellar diet or sport a six pack, I watch what I eat and try to make healthy choices if I see myself eating too much junk food. It's something that I try to practice and encourage other loved ones to do as well.  I also have personal views on things that I don't share about on this blog and not all my blog posts reflect my personal views. I hate being politically correct but I do it a lot on this blog as well as in my personal life. I like my coffee strong in the mornings and mid-afternoons. Yep, that pretty much about sums it up.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Single Speed Mountain Biking: My New Favorite Thing

The Picture does not do the gradient of the climb any justice, however it was a beautiful autumn day here in Texas.

No shocks, no gears, no clipless pedals, no carbon. "What are you thinking..." some might say, bewildered that I would find such enjoyment out of this bike setup. As backwards and pain inflicting as it seems to want to ride a single speed mountain bike, it really isn't, my single speed has actually become one of my favorite bikes. Despite not having the benefit of granny gears and suspension, after a month of riding this way I honestly do not miss those perceived advantages. Today I did an 18 mile mountain bike ride and experienced no pain whatsoever afterwards. I chose Northshore Trail, located in Grapevine, Texas which is the hardest trail in my surrounding area. I wanted to see if a single speed bicycle could stack up to the most monstrous climbs and rock gardens that I could throw at it. Surprisingly, I did a lot less walking than I was planning on doing. This bike could climb straight up a rock face with enough inertia and was only impeded by the most impassible boulders on the trail. When my friend Levi warned me about the obstacle trail simply known as "the wall" and hoped that I could get up it, I was able to roll up and over the 8 foot plus precipice when I came across it (Levi did not make it up "the wall" as he later told me).

My friend Levi
I was a cold morning when we started out on our ride. When I got out of bed, the temperature read 35 degrees Fahrenheit on my phone and when we got to the trail it must have been just about 10 degrees warmer. Despite being conditioned to the cold through mountain biking during the week as I normally do,  we were both short of breath and had to stop for some breaks during the first few miles of the ride, until our bodies and lungs acclimated to the cold temperature.

The west side of the trail is notorious for having an expert level of difficulty with the last 3 miles being a one way track and basically a playground for trials riders. We were able to complete most of the loop with the exception of those 3 miles and our total came to about 18 miles for the ride. The eastward side of the trail is smooth, winding and sloping singletrack with creek crossings, bridges and small rock gardens scattered throughout. At the end of the trail going east is Rockledge Park, a once public park that has now become a campsite. It lines the shore of the lake and the view is fantastic. Out of all Dallas and Fort Worth area trails, this is the most beautiful trail as well as the most challenging. 

At the easternmost end of the trail, at the campsite known as Rockledge Park.

Will this be the only mountain bike that I ride? No, and I will still use my geared mountain bikes whenever I can. However, for my needs I foresee my single speed being my go to, main mountain bike that I will be doing most of my riding on. With the high maintenance my suspension bikes demand a single speed bike is a welcome change. I added a few videos of me riding my single speed mountain bike through this trail from Levi's Helmet cam. They're not the best quality and are only 30 second clips, so my apologies in advance. Check them out, and stay tuned for more adventurous riding!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Mountain Biking in Texas: Erwin Park, Mckinney

Erwin Park Trail: The place where locals ride.

The trail isn't the most technical trail in north Texas, but is challenging enough on my 90's rigid
mountain bike.

Past the northern suburbs of the city of Dallas and Tarrant county, mountain biking options are few and far in between. Erwin Park has been around since the 90's and it's the go to place for local Collin county mountain biking scene.  About 8 miles long, this trail is known to have lots of tree roots that can frustrate many  a newcomer who come and ride it. It is not the fastest flowing trail in DFW, nor is it the most challenging. In spite of this it is challenging enough to keep intermediate riders on their toes and boasts a variety of obstacles that are both natural and manmade. There are no rock gardens at Erwin and only one huge drop that would require a bicycle with suspension (there is a detour on the trail for this drop, so it's not necessary to cross it and can be avoided all together). A rigid bicycle of good quality should be able to handle anything this trail throws at it, although a front suspension will take the edge off the bumpy surfaces and the many tree roots that are scattered along it.

Erwin Park is a short distance from home and can be ridden in about one hour. It's not an all day sort of trail, but it's short enough where I can now go mountain biking a few times during the week in between the things that I have to do. As winter draws near, the days get shorter and daylight runs out. It can be frustrating and dangerous riding at night on the roads in this cold weather. Although not as cold as many states in the Northeast, Texas is a very windy state. When cold fronts come through, 20 and even 30 mile an hour winds can be expected, which will drop the wind chill factor by over 10 degrees. A bright sunny day can be freezing and a cloudy day can be much warmer. It's one of the few places that I know of where someone can freeze while getting a tan. It's nice to have a local trail in the woods where I can escape of the chilly plains winds that are so common around this time of year. The tradeoff of course is riding shorter distances and a slight loss of form during the winter months, but anything beats being on the stationary bike or trainer. 

I recently purchased a Nikon S32 point and shoot camera for my off road bike rides. I wanted something other than my phone where I could take pictures and video of  the things that I saw on my mountain biking trips. Here's a few snapshots and videos from my ride at Erwin Park.

The area around the trail still reminds me that I'm still in Texas.

If you're new into mountain biking, or just new to the DFW area, you should definitely give Erwin Park a try. Stay tune for more video clips and photography articles of places to ride that make North Texas a great destination for any kind of cyclist. Please subscribe to my posts for future write ups.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cycling Home From Siberia: A Book Review of a Great Adventure

Photo courtesy of goodreads.com

With an Arctic cold front blasting through Texas right about now, what better time than now to do a book review about riding a bicycle through really cold places such as Siberia and Tibet. This book will motivate it's readers to grab their winter gear and harden up on their bicycles as they read the account of riding through sub-zero temperatures and rugged landscapes. This has to be one of my all time favorite reads, as it combines my love for cycling and travel into one ultimate adventure. In the following review I will do my best to summarize this book as objectively and accurately as I can.

The book begins in Magadan, a coastal town on the edge of Russia around September of 2004. Ten years the author's junior, at the time I had graduated high school that year and I was on my first fall semester in college. Rob Lilwall was already a college professor and an accomplished book salesman when he began his journey. What was originally planned as a one year journey through Siberia ended up in a three year tour of southeast Asia, the Pacific, Australia, India and the Middle East. The author goes into vivid detail describing the weather, majestic climbs and descending valleys as well as the hospitality of strangers, many of little means living in the developing world. What makes this book so great is the vivid imagery that the author uses to describe the people and landscapes. The author also makes us aware that although performing an incredible feat by cycling through most of the world, he is also human and at times struggles with inner conflicts. At the start of the journey his lack of confidence and insecurities glaringly show, but in the end his travels have made him a braver, experienced and more self-reliant person. The key to his success in his travels was that wherever he went, he made himself a likable guy. Every time he would go into a different country for example, he would translate a letter in the language of that country explaining why he was cycling around the world. Most people who read the letter were all too happy to give him a place to stay. 

The author also includes some short essays about religion in his book. He expresses his own views at times about his faith and has made an effort throughout his life to develop a moral compass, something that is severely lacking in today's society. Although he found a girlfriend throughout his journey, he strongly believed that relations before marriage were wrong and was able to keep the relationship going for the next two years until he returned to England and married her. That mirrors my own views that I personally have had about this subject throughout my life. The author also makes a distinction between those to practice the faith and those who give it a bad name. The author gives the example of how much of the debased entertainment made by hollywood is seen by foreigners to be coming from Christian people, under the assumption that all Westerners are religious and Christian and would practice what is on TV. Although a man of strong convictions, the author gives the impression that even he does not have a complete picture of everything involving his faith. Through his own account, he describes how rival churches in Papua New Guinea, although each professing to believe in the Bible, have intimidated and even killed each other seeing the other as competition for recruiting members. The bible defines Jesus's disciples as having love for one another (John 13:35). That means true Christians will not go to war against one another and will treat each other the same everywhere in the world.

Although the author credits and to some extent emphasizes the hospitality of Churches for giving him a place to stay, he was also taken in by many people who did not share his beliefs as many believed in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or whatever the predominant religion of the region was. It may have been the regional customs of hospitality and a sense of doing the right thing or simply human decency that motivated many of the author's hosts to take him in for the night rather than a shared religious belief. The author also recurrently mentions the church-backed aid organization that he is raising funds for to help needy children throughout the world. Although  there is no doubt the author has a strong and sincere desire to help others, that is not the be all end all expression of the Christian faith. Jesus also gave us the commandment to preach the good news and to make disciples of people of all nations (Matthew 24:14, 28:19). Those who go from door to door the way Jesus did and observing this commandment can be considered among those who practice true Christianity. Rather than focusing on the door to door ministry, many mainstream religions that call themselves Christian think they can achieve this by converting members through aid in developing countries, hence coining the phrase "Rice Christians". However, those who study the Bible know that the desire to serve God comes from the heart and not for personal gain. Those would be the talking points that I would engage the author with if I were to meet him in person. The author's efforts to practice Christianity are laudable and are better than most, however I have to respectfully disagree on more than one of the subjects he brought up in his book. I will have to say he took an objective approach in expressing his views and I was neither offended nor uncomfortable in reading his book. The mention of his faith and beliefs were inconsequential to the rest of the story. However, as a man of faith myself, I have to clear the air about this subject since I am recommending this book by reviewing it and would like to share the discrepancies that I found with readers of my blog. In conclusion, the religious views expressed in the book should be looked at as reference material only.*

The author makes us aware that his journey by bicycle wasn't some idyllic, stroll around a bucolic world, rather there were some nitty gritty and dangerous aspects about it as well. He was robbed twice, once at gunpoint and had to dodge border crossings while crossing Tibet, a country that he couldn't get a Visa to travel in and was therefore in the country illegally. He was chased by a mob of machete wielding bandits in Papua New Guinea and contracted malaria after his stay there. For those of you who like an adventure story, this book has that as well. 

In conclusion, this is a well rounded account of a world travel by bicycle and the obstacles and challenges faced by such a journey. This book answered a lot of my questions about bikepacking, world travel and what gear to carry with me if I were to go on such an expedition. I don't think that this type of adventuring is for me. Not everyone has the time or the resources that Rob Lilwall had when he made this journey. In ten years the world has also changed, and some of the countries he rode through have become more dangerous to outsiders. I would like to plan a weekend trip to a state park on bicycle one day. That is the only type of bikepacking that I can see myself doing in the near future. Maybe when my son is older we can do a father son bike tour, but definitely not on the scale of Lilwall's journey.

This was a good read and a remedy for my cabin fever. If the cold weather is bringing you down and you need some motivation to ride, definitely pick up a copy at a book store near you. 

Stay tuned for more reviews and posts and subscribe to my blog for more updates.

*Ten years ago, when I was in school, it was very common to have student theologians (Southern Baptists, never any other type of religion) visit our campus and have discussions about religion with anyone who would listen to them. The nearby church would host events in the school auditorium, often times with religious rock music inviting people to their church parties and I had to excuse myself from going to such events on many occasions. Back then school districts blurred the line between separation of church and state, something that is no longer heard of these days.  It was 2004, it was the Bush Era, and it was a bible-thumping under the guise of piety kind of time to be living in. Rob Lilwall is from that generation of theologians, that's why it doesn't bother me as much. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fat Bikes...It's what's hot right now.

Fat bikes point to the future of mountain biking

Courtesy of fat-bike.com

After years of racing bikes being the predominant style of bicycle that has been constantly promoted to consumers, regardless of whether or not people had intentions to race, a new type of bike is making big waves in the mountain bike scene. Enter the fat bike, a bicycle that can go anywhere, do anything. We embrace it's arrival with open arms as we attempt to wrap around it's massive girth.

What makes fat bikes so special? The 4 to 5 inch tires leave a wider footprint that allows the bicycle to float over soft terrain such as snow and sand where regular tires would simply sink and become bogged down. This makes fat bikes capable of being taken off the trail to places once inaccessible to bicycles. Ever thought about riding a bicycle down the Oregon coastline? This bike can do that, and much more. The bicycle pictured above has a Rockshox Bluto fork, however a front shock is overkill for what most people will be using the bike for. The plush, wide tires offer plenty of shock absorption without the addition of a front fork. With the addition of a front fork, this bike can probably ride straight off a cliff without any problems whatsoever. 

Department stores have caught on early to the trend while most bike shops have not. You can now buy a department store, steel fat bike such as the Mongoose Beast or Mongoose Dolomite for around $200. Bike shop quality fat bikes start around $500 and up and are mostly found through online retailers. 

Since the invention of the mountain bike, people have wanted a bicycle that could test the limits of what is possible. However, the industry focused more on how to ride over terrain faster than seeking to test the limits of where a bicycle could be ridden. This bicycle may finally be the answer to that long awaited expectation. This is the biggest trend, as well as the only trend, happening in the world of bicycles at this time. Brick and mortar retailers need to zero in on this opportunity and stock as many of these bikes on their shelves as they can possibly fit in their stores. Forget 27.5 bikes, forget fixies. There is a downward trend of new bicycles being sold because there is simply no new interest to buy the same kinds of bikes that have always been around, maybe with a few tweaks but nonetheless the same candy with a different wrapper. This bike is a different thing altogether. I'm going to save up to buy one of these soon, and the sticker shock isn't going to deter me this time. I have personally not been as excited about a new type of bicycle hitting the market as I have been about the fat bike.  This bike, when purchased will complete my stable and may end up replacing my full suspension mountain bike. So stay tuned for a future review and keep subscribing to my blog for more posts.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The 29er becomes a teenager

Are 29er's now "new school"?

According to self proclaimed bicycle historians and fad bloggers, the concept of a 29er bicycle had existed for a really long time. Apparently since the 80's, some custom builders and European bicycle manufacturers wanted to get away from 26" wheels as the standard for mountain bikes. Prior to 2007, I don't remember ever seeing a 29er mountain bike. It was that year that I walked into an independently owned bicycle store (otherwise known as local bike shop, or LBS) for the first time and picked up Gary Fisher's catalog of bicycles for that year. That is when I learned that such a thing as 29ers even existed. Gary Fisher claimed that the "Genesis geometry" on these new bicycles improved riding characteristics such as handling, rolling resistance and overall speed. I was intrigued and always wanted to try one out but the sticker shock always turned me away from committing to buying one until very recently.  

Lately I have been writing articles on mountain biking with an emphasis on 26 inch "old school" mountain bikes. But it recently dawned on me that the 29er mountain bike isn't the new kid on the block anymore. It has been around for a while now, seven years since I first came across one and thirteen years since Gary Fisher made the first commercially available 29er in 2001.  From the standpoint of someone who got into mountain biking in the Aughts it is now understandable why 29 inch mountain bikes and not 26 inch mountain bikes have become the new norm. It stands to reason that if 29ers have been around for about thirteen years that replacement parts and tires could and should be found anywhere in the world, at least in westernized countries. It would be interesting to find out if anyone has ever toured around the world on a 29er and has had their bicycle break down on them in order to prove this theory. 

Last week I bought my first 29er mountain bike. It's an awesome steel, single speed and rigid beast of a bike. I took it to my local mountain bike trail and now it is the funnest off road bicycle that I own. I believe that the claims of speed and stability that 29er bikes are alleged to have are true. On the rooty parts of the trails, my wheels did not sink in between the gaps of the roots. Rather my wheels seem to hover over everything; roots, log piles, bridges, rock gardens, etc. The bottom bracket clearance on this bike is insane. I smash my pedals hard, and frequently damage my pedals mountain biking when I take sharp turns or don't go over obstacles with the right foot technique. This bike allows me to pedal straight through anything without stopping.

So are there any disadvantages to 29er bicycles? There are disadvantages, many which are well documented, about having a bicycle with a larger wheel size. First of all, turning is not as fast as on a 26" mountain bike. A skilled rider can still turn around obstacles fast while riding a 29er but the rider loses the ability to take tight corners at speed like on a 26er. Being that my 29er is a single speed, popping a wheelie takes massive amounts of effort, whereas it only takes a flick of the wrist to lift up the front wheel on the 26 inch bike. These are the only two disadvantages of 29er bikes to 26 inch bicycles that are worth noting. The rest is pure preference and aesthetics. Riding a 29er bike is simply "different" than riding a 26er. There is no better or worse riding style. The two can't be compared against each other properly because they are simply not the same kind of bike. It's like trying to compare a cyclocross bike to a fat bike. 

My conclusion about the 29er to 26er debate, after having ridden a 29er, is this: For trick riding, trials riding, downhill, freeride or anything that involves doing wheelies, jumps, or having precision control, go 26. For riding fast off road, plowing through otherwise technical sections of the trail and for overall efficiency, go 29. For cross country, enduro and all traditional mountain biking racing events, do both. The 29er may be "just another wheel size". It may, if people allow it to, mark the end of the 26" wheeled mountain bike. Some people will always have to bunny hop over something on their bike. They will always go for the bike that suits their riding style best. Whatever your riding style is, pick the bike that works the best for you. There is no wrong choice.

Stay tuned for more informative posts. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Riding Skills 101: Ebb and Flow

Ebb and flow, and why its important stay calm and just ride

Cycling, just like any other sport, should be an exercise in calming our  nerves and stress levels with the added benefit of movement and sightseeing. The benefit of reducing stress in our lives is that it balances us emotionally and physically, and our bodies react positively by metabolizing better and feeling less fatigued. In no way should an activity like cycling become a cause for stress, so knowing what outlook to have when riding is important so that we get the most out of the exercise we put in. I'm going to be discussing what I refer to as the "ebb and flow", in cycling, particularly when it comes to mountain biking. However, anyone who rides a bicycle can benefit from the points that I will  bring out to help develop riding skills in both the road and the mountain.

What do I mean when I say, ebb and flow? Like an ocean tide or a calm stream, riding a bike should be a natural movement, complementing the environment around it and adapting to the contours of the land. This can be evident in one's ability to maneuver the bicycle, as well as one's pedaling efficiency and ability to spot obstacles on the trail. Although I can focus on just these aspects of riding there is a lot more to it than just good technique and balance. There is also an emotional element to riding that can accelerate or impede one's progress as a cyclist. Let me give a few examples of what I mean.

Some people drink Red Bull, listen to loud music and rev up their Jeep Wrangler's for everyone to see as they make their way to the mountain bike trail. Once there, they pull off their uber-expensive, full suspension mountain bikes off of their racks and attack the trail at high speed, ignoring the dryness of the soil or the abrupt turns, roots or drop-offs that they might encounter. The end result? Many people brake their frames, bottom out their shocks or hit a tree that they were not looking out for. It happens all the time, just look up the YouTube videos. In addition to injury, many riders exert enormous amounts of effort only to not make a personal best or the fastest time on the trail. 

Ebb and flow starts before the rubber hits the road. We need to check our state of mind before we set foot out the door for a ride. Are we calm? Are we focused? Are we aware? It is actually more beneficial to listen to relaxing music before a ride than to listen to something that will pump up our adrenaline (and stress levels) as a result.  If we are already aggressive before a ride, we are already depleting our energy levels even before the first pedal stroke. We are also not focused, instead we are looking over our shoulder to see who we dropped or who is gaining on us. By not being focused we are thus not aware of the obstacles that lay ahead. A good mountain biker will train his peripheral vision to see six to ten feet ahead of them at all times. This can make the difference between gearing down for a hill, crossing a rock garden or doing an endo over a ledge. We have to know when to adjust our body mechanics when something changes in the terrain. If we already expect the change, we have given our bodies time to react to it. A novice mountain biker only needs to learn a few basic skills and the rest is mostly awareness and focus. As long as a rider can lean their weight back when going downhill and can lift up their front wheel, that is almost all someone would need to know to ride basic singletrack.

On the road or on the mountain, hammerfests* should be avoided. Once somebody is riding at speed, their is no need to be continually sprinting, attacking and dropping other cyclists  in a non-race situation. Not only is it a big waste of energy, the person who does this sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the environment. They become a stressful pain in the rear in a otherwise idyllic setting. A calm cyclist holds a steady tempo and rides in a predictable nature. Someone who is naturally fast  usually glides past others rather than goes full sprint just to pass. Their movement, even when passing, seems natural and to be expected. A cheery hello or hand wave also removes any competitive feelings from the person getting passed.

A calm state of mind when riding, as well as mental focus will allow us to get the most out of our experience. We will make progress in our speed, our fitness and our bike handling skills logging the same amount of miles or less than a stressed out cyclist would. So pratice that ebb and flow!

Stay tuned for more informative posts.

*For those of you who don't know the meaning of this word, it refers to non-verbal challenges that cyclists usually make to one another, whether by rudely passing someone abruptly and intentionally not acknowledging them or by catching up to another cyclist for the sole purpose of sprinting past them. We have all done it at one time or another, however it is not acceptable behavior and should be avoided.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Condition is Everything

When it comes to old bicycles, condition is everything

Why am I posting this? Because over the years, I have bought many old bicycles. I overpaid for some bicycles based on their brand name and country of origin. In addition to the price I paid for some of my bicycles, I spent to have them restored, in some instances twice as much as I paid originally. While some restorations have been worth it, others left me with a mediocre and somewhat decent bike at best. That is why when deciding on buying a bicycle, it's a good idea to look at the overall condition of the bike before making a decision.

Case and point, I recently got a late 70's to early 80's(ish) Concord Selecta Freedom Deluxe 12 speed road bike on trade. At the time of production, this was a mid-range bicycle made with Kuwahara tubing instead of the plain gauge, hi tensile steel so commonly found in bikes of that same era. This bike features a really cool, super smooth crankset that is a combination of the press fit and Octalink drive technologies seen today on modern bicycles. This crank also features self-extracting crank bolts which unscrew with a 6mm allen key, no special crank puller tool required. The Shimano Selecta crankset appeared around the same time as positron shifting, which was the first attempt at indexed shifting.

My Concord Selecta "Freedom Deluxe" 12 speed road bike.

The decals on this bike are painted, and the lugs have been ornately pinstriped.

The decals on this bike are in great shape. 

At first glance, there seems to be nothing special about this bicycle. It has a bolted on rear wheel, bolted on saddle, stem shifters, no rear derailleur hanger and no water bottle braze ons. The bike snob "connoisseur" types would quickly pass on this bike, assuming it is a cheap, low end model. What this bike doesn't show on the outside it reveals as soon as I mount on the saddle. 

This is the smoothest, most compliant bike of all my ten speed bike-boom era bicycles. The foam grips and the alloy wheels give it a comfortable and plush ride, and the steel frame does it's job of absorbing the road vibrations. The stem shifters shift effortlessly and I have just the right amount of climbing and sprinting gear ratios. What a climber this bike is! Seriously, I did not have to get off the saddle at all, not even on the steepest climbs of my routes the last time I rode it. The stamped, Selecta crankset spun smoothly up hills and I found myself spinning where I would normally be mashing. The saddle was firm enough but not super stiff in the crotch area, and the steel frame absorbed a lot of the impact to the groin region. Japanese road bikes of the 70's and 80's have a reputation for being well made and having better quality than the Peugeots and Merciers that were being made during the same period. However, the thing that sets this bike apart from my other bikes was the condition that I received it in.

This bike was received in time capsule, almost air-sealed, new-old-stock condition compared to other vintage bicycles that I have restored over the years. This bicycle needs no restoration, therefore there is nothing I have to put into it after making the initial investment. When I say nothing, not even the tires need replacing. The rubber on the tires is still new with the little stubbies sticking out the sides. Sometimes its better to get a lightly used, mass produced Japanese bicycle that is in good condition rather than buying a high end bicycle parts project. A middle of the road, not so prestigious bicycle in good condition will be ridden more, enjoyed more and it will be easier to keep up with in the future. A high end bicycle will be stored and collected after restoration, hardly getting any ride time over fears that if it breaks down it will be expensive to fix. These days, the better the condition and the better the fit, the more valuable a bicycle is to me. The Concord Selecta wins on both counts. I get freedom from riding it, just as the name on the frame suggests. It's a bicycle I can use to go exploring downtown or the trails around my area. I feel comfortable riding it helmet-less and in my regular clothing. A 20 mile ride on this bike wouldn't be out of the question, because I know that I received it in good cosmetic and mechanical condition. So I can't stress this enough. I have paid way too much in the past for bicycles that I never got running off the ground. So condition is everything...CONDITION-CONDITION-CONDITION!!!

Stay tuned and subscribe for more informative posts.

***Here's a checklist to go over when looking over a bicycle for purchase***

  1. Does the frame have cracks, dents, rust or feel off balance when ridden?
  2. Does the fork on the frame look bent?
  3. Does the chain have rust?
  4. Are the tires dry-rotted?
  5. Are there any missing bolts on the bicycle?
  6. Are the cables worn or rusted?
  7. Are the brake pads worn?
  8. Is there any rust pitting on the chrome components?
  9. Are the wheels severely bent or missing spokes?
  10. Does the freewheel or the rear cassette engage when pedaled?

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Guide to Understanding a Bike Shed

Understanding Bike Shed Terms and Why there's no such thing as a free bike

Many bicycle enthusiasts own more than one bike. In fact many people who are dedicated bike riders have a whole shed full of bikes, with each bike serving a distinct purpose for a specific cycling activity. Some people have "beater bikes", grocery bikes, loaner bikes, tweed ride bikes and the list goes on and on. Understanding all of these bike terms can be a little confusing for the fellow spouse of a bike nerd or someone who doesn't get the point of having so many bikes. In this article I'll try to "shed" some light on the subject, no pun intended.

"Beater Bikes":  A beater bike is referred to as the bike that gets no maintenance or money thrown at it whatsoever. Also called a rainy day bike, It is used to get around when the weather is bad or when all other bikes have been cleaned up and polished. It is usually an inexpensive department store bicycle like a Huffy or a Murray. It's a bicycle that the owner can keep locked outside without fear or care of it getting rained on, lost or stolen.

For a dedicated bicycle commuter, a beater bike is the only option of transportation and can double as a grocery bike at times. It can also be used by college kids for scooting around campus. You will not see many bicycle enthusiasts or recreational cyclists on beater bikes. This is because these kinds of bikes offer no value in terms of speed and enjoyability. Also, most enthusiasts take pride in their bicycles, even in the cheapest ones that they own. That being said, even the beater bikes will be repaired and tuned up, no longer qualifying them as such. Beater bikes are mostly owned by joggers, city dwellers, students and some triathletes that like to run and swim more than they like to ride a bike.

"Grocery Bike": Some beater bikes are grocery bikes, but not all grocery bikes are beater bikes. A "grocery bike" is a bike that has been equipped with the means to haul groceries. Candidates for grocery bikes usually include vintage touring bikes and mountain bikes. The steel frames and mounting holes are very useful for carrying heavy loads and adding accessories for carrying items such racks, baskets and fenders. My grocery bike is an old rigid mountain bike that I added a rear rack to. Whenever I do groceries, I hang my panniers on my rear bicycle rack and take off. I can usually get a couple of days worth of groceries in one trip. 

The dedicated grocery bike is more of a suburban phenomenon, with companies even making cargo bikes specifically desgined for hauling kids, groceries and stay at home soccer moms. That being said, a grocery bike can be nicer than a typical beater bike and since it lives in the suburbs it isn't exposed to the same risk environment as a bike in the big city.

"Loaner Bike": A loaner bike is an extra bicycle you have lying around for whenever a friend comes over for a visit. It could be either a road bike or a mountain bike, depending on which activity they enjoy the most. In the past I have been able to successfully employ the idea of a loaner bike. Whenever my friend from Germany came over, for example, I had a bicycle that he could use to go mountain biking with. I have also loaned bikes to other friends from out of town and friends who didn't own bicycles. 

I haven't loaned anyone a bicycle in a few years. Hopefully there will come a time where I run into someone with a like minded enthusiasm for cycling that needs to borrow a bicycle for a ride.

"The Wife's Bike": The wife's bike is actually like a second loaner bike. It could actually be the wife's bike...some people actually have spouses that will go riding with them. Most bicycle fanatics enjoy the idea of having their spouses share in their passion. Many bend over backwards finding the right bike and making it as comfortable to ride on for their spouses as possible. Unfortunately, the ultimate fate of these bikes is to gather dust, or be ridden once every three months. The wife's bike could be a smaller bicycle with a longer seatpost that is ridable by both sexes, or it can also be a women's specific bicycle. A non-specific bicycle can be a good loaner bike for a shorter guy friend as well. 

The "Tweed Bike": This term usually refers to one of the prettiest , most vintage and also most useless bicycle that somebody can own. It's the bike that gets ridden maybe once a year at a retro-ride event or tweed ride. A tweed ride usually mixes up different bicycles from the Victorian era to the 1980's. Its like a comic con for bike nerds, mixing period correct attire to bicycles with a "Steampunk" vibe thrown in. 

Tweed bikes often include Dutch style roadsters, High Wheeler or Penny Farthing bicycles and even "Dandyhorses". I own a tweed bike, and I can't wait to sell it or get rid of it somehow.

"Projects": Incomplete bicycles and parts in the shed. I try not to have too many project bikes, and honestly one project bike is one too many. A shed full of project bikes is like having a driveway full of non-running vehicles. It could become one of those "You might be a redneck if..." scenarios. However, having an abundance of extra parts means less trips to the bike shop when something breaks down and can be an inexpensive or free way of doing maintenance on bicycles.

Other Terms: A "Roadie" is usually a term describing  a new and modern carbon fiber road bike. A "vintage" bicycle is the widely accepted term for any bicycle made before 1990. "Old school" can be used to describe 80's and 90's mountain bikes, "mid-school" can be used for some bikes made in the early 2000's. If someone is more of a mountain bike guy, their bicycle for road riding will be a mountain bike with "slicks" or city tires without tread. "Knobbies" refer to treaded tires for off road use. Mountain bike enthusiasts will usually have rigid, hard-tail and "full squish" versions of their mountain bikes. A "rigid" mountain bike is a bike with no shocks or suspension. A "hard-tail" is a mountain bike with a front shock only and a "full squish" is a full suspension mountain bike with front and rear shocks. Mountain biking includes various disciplines such as trials riding, cross country, Enduro, down-hill and free-riding. It's possible (although highly unlikely, unless they're a professional) that a mountain bike fanatic owns one bike for each of these events.

Road cyclists also participate in a variety of disciplines. These include road racing, criteriums, centuries, track racing, cyclocross and gravel grinder events. It's possible that a road cyclist can own at least three different types of road bikes; the cyclocross bike can be used in both cyclocross and gravel grinder events and the "Roadie" can be used in road racing, criteriums and centuries. In addition to these bikes, there will also be loaner bikes, wife's bikes and obscure bikes such as "fat bikes" and recumbents that have no specific designation. Such is the order of the Pantheon in the bike shed. 

The Free Bike Myth Debunked: Some people say that they get their bikes for free. They find it sitting next to a dumpster or answer an ad for free stuff on the classifieds. However, in my experience there is no such thing. Once a bicycle gets to a point where it has to be given away, it has been ridden to the ground or has something fundamentally wrong with it. Only a few people will throw a bike on a curb because it has a flat tire. Even if the bike is picked up for free, there will still be things that will need to be addressed. New tubes, new tires and even overhauling the whole bicycle can be required at times. So to me there are no free bikes, however there are $5.00 bikes, $20.00 bikes or expensive bikes depending on whatever it costs to fix it up.

Hopefully this helps explain that crazy bike-obsessed friend a little better or describe the current condition of one's shed. The best way to deal with a bike person like this is to go on a ride with them. Whether you're the friend or the spouse of a bike nerd, your significant other needs your friendship and association. They will be more than happy to provide you with a bicycle, all you have to do is turn the pedals and try to keep up. Stay tuned for more articles from A Bicycle's Point of View.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Vintage Mountain Bike: My 1984 Schwinn Sierra

Rockin' those bull moose handlebars....80's style.

I rarely take self portraits, but this one seems very period correct, Star Wars tee shirt and all.
As a followup to my last few articles about vintage mountain biking, I wanted to introduce some of my readers to what a first generation mountain bike looks like. I recently acquired this 1984 Schwinn Sierra for 70 bucks a few days ago. This was the first mountain bike made by Schwinn and 1984 was the first year of production. This model was a mid-level option at the time, with the High Sierra being the top of the line mountain bike in the lineup.

My first impression of this bike is how indestructible it feels while riding. This bike comes with really beefy Araya 26x1.75 alloy wheels with high flange sealed hubs that are bolted onto the frame. The wheels alone probably have a combined weight of  over 10 pounds, including the tires and tubes. Although this was a bit of a drawback while climbing, I feel that these wheels can rollover and mow down anything in their path. I don't think there is anything that I can do to easily taco these rims. 

This bicycle features the highly coveted bull moose handlebars. Bull moose handlebars have a unique design that combines the stem and handlebars into a single welded piece. Adding to the uniqueness of this design, this bike comes with old school friction thumb shifters as well. 

"Bull Moose" handlebars and thumb shifters, also known as "thumbies".
The brakes on this bike are truly unique. They are not the disc brakes seen on mountain bikes today or even the V-brakes seen on most 90's mid-school mountain bikes. These are first generation cantilevers, made of all steel with a winged shaped design.When adjusted, these brakes have incredibly good stopping power, although the front brake pads on this bike are starting to squeak and show their age.

Dia Compe cantilever brakes were one of the first braking systems used on mountain bikes.
When I got this bike, it was covered in silt over years of not being cleaned or maintained. The grease was 30 years old and never changed out throughout it's existence. I took this bike apart, regreased all the bearings and dunked most of the drivetrain parts in Simple Green to get the years of dirt and grime buildup off of them. I re-lubricated the chain as a temporary solution but will end up replacing the chain and freewheel in the future to make it ride just a little smoother. 

So, how does it ride? Let me start off by saying that this bike isn't for everyone. Its an old bike, there should be no illusions of it riding like a modern mountain bike or better. For one thing, climbing hills on this bike is more difficult because of the bigger front chainrings, the longer wheelbase and the overall weight of this steel bike. I made all of the hills I normally make on this bike, but found myself climbing on my largest rear sprocket most of the time. Granted, I had a backpack full of my camera gear when I took these photos on my last ride.  What this bike lacks going uphill it makes up for on the way back down.  This bike rides like a beast on flat singletrack and  takes downhills with speed. Its important to keep in mind that people were not thinking of riding their bikes over rock gardens or getting massive air off of jumps when these bikes were made. In the early years of mountain biking there was a big focus on trekking rather than racing like there is nowadays. Having a durable bike that could take a beating was key, but people also had the common sense to get off their bikes when the terrain became too gnarly. The mountain bike was originally designed to take people where a road bike couldn't go. In it's humble beginnings, it was purposed as a tool for exploration rather than an off road racing machine. Although this bike is heavy, there is no compromise to it's durability and this mountain bike rides like a tank. These are how the first mountain bikes that rolled off the assembly line were built.

This bike marks the start of a new focus for my blog, as well as a shift in the type of bikes that I will be collecting, riding on and talking about. I'll still do a couple of articles on vintage road bike riding, however the preservation of old-school mountain biking culture has taken precedent. One might assume that I'll be going off on a tangent of all things 90's mountain bike related, like talking about John Tomac's drop bar riding position or Tinker Juarez. Not at all; I'll be talking about mountain bike culture from the way I grew up seeing it, not from a nostalgic ex-racer's point of view. Some very interesting articles to come. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Vintage Bikes of the future, 26 inch wheel mountain bikes?

Why you should start collecting 80's and 90's mountain bikes

They say 30 years makes a classic. So pretty much, judging by my time here on this earth, I'm pretty much a classic myself. Classics enjoy the respect of enthusiasts and turn heads when being showed off in a modern environment. The mountain bike as it originally was has also become a classic. 

Crested Butte, 1980. There was a repack mountain bike race that day-viewed the first generation of mountain bikes, a far cry from what we would consider to be a mountain bike today. Cantilever or drum brakes, bull moose bmx-style handlebars, and heavy frames with long rear triangles were on the forefront of technology back then. Many of these bikes have sadly not made it into collector's hands after decades of rigorous thrashings on the mountain bike trail. The ones that have made it will soon be as valuable as the most expensive vintage Italian road bikes.

With the recent popularity of vintage road bikes and fixies, old ten speeds have enjoyed a vast number of avenues for replacement parts and upgrades. Most tire manufacturers still make 27" tires, for example. 27" and 700c wheel replacements are still to be found for many of these bikes, even replacements for rear wheels that require a freewheel instead of a cassette. In fact, ever since 700c became the popular wheel size on road bikes, they have been able to co-exist with 27" bikes until this day. I'm guessing back then bicycle companies respected the consumer's wallet, that or 27" wheel touring bikes were seen as benign and not a threat to 700c wheel racing bikes. 

Never in all of bicycle history has there been an attempt so blatant to eradicate a wheel size option than what the bicycle industry is doing with regards to the 26 inch mountain bike. A year ago, I wrote an article saying this would happen, based on market trends and feedback from working at a bike shop. It seems that overnight, all of the good, mid-school wheels and components have either been bought up or priced up at a 300% inflation rate. This is an unexpected outcome to the 650b and 29er wheel craze of the last few years. I can't seem to find anyone who sells good 26" freewheel threaded wheels anymore, unless they are heavy bolt ons for cruisers. The only wheelsets I find available are cassette compatible and top end brands like Mavic. What ever happened to the Zac 19's?

I can only compare what is happening to the 26", unsuspended, steel mountain bike to what happened to film photography. All the powers that be in the photography industry got together , and in less than a decade, film photography was gone. I saw my first digital camera around 2001, a box-like object that used a floppy disc and could only take five pictures at a time. By 2004, 3 mega pixel cameras where starting to become common among most people. In 2009 when I took my film camera to Germany, I received a few impressed looks and one person even told me that they had forgotten what a film rewind sounded like. I had to take my film to a specialty camera store to get it developed, and that was 5 years ago. I still have my film cameras (good ones, at that) but seldom use them because I don't know where I'll develop the little film that I have left in my refrigerator. Were film cameras that much more inferior than digital cameras? No, in fact a 35mm camera with a really sharp lens could get the equivalent of 64 mega pixels in image resolution. My medium format camera could get an even much higher resolution still. So why did the industry have to force film into obsolescence?

For the same reason why the bike industry is forcing out the 26" wheeled mountain bike: to make money. By forcing everyone to upgrade across the board, the bicycle industry is forcing consumers to buy their product, because all other options have been eliminated. As much as I loved my film camera, once all of the one hour photo labs started closing down, I really could not use it anymore. So let's say I were to break a wheel or a 7 speed shifter on my mountain bike. There may soon come a time where that will mean the end of that bike's lifespan as a mountain bike. It will from that point forward have to become a beach cruiser, because those will be the only wheel and tire options that will come in 26 inches. As a desperate measure, I may just have to buy a Wally World bike or a Magna bike from Target with 26 inch wheels, just to swap parts onto my old mountain bike. 

As consumers, we can choose with our wallets whether or not we like what the bicycle industry is doing. When I say bicycle industry, I am not including bicycles found at department stores, many of which still come in 26 inches. I'm including The two big American owned companies in the industry and the one big but still emerging Taiwanese "giant" who are driving the change. "The Big Three" currently own most of the patents in the industry and are known to buy out other companies just for the sake of eliminating the competition. If we don't like what they're doing, then we don't need to buy their mountain bikes, it's that simple. When we start seeing more aftermarket parts available for our old-school rigs, then we can entertain the idea of buying their products again. 

In conclusion, forced obsolescence is never a good thing. Look what that did to letter writing, no one writes hand written letters anymore. Fewer people read the printed page, now you see people reading on their tablets and "eBooks". People don't invite other people over to look at their photo albums anymore, everything is shared online and invitations are kept to a minimum. When something becomes obsolete, our values and manners suffer. Some people will say that it's just a wheel size, that it's just a hobby and that truth be told all bikes were meant to be disposable anyway. But it's much more personal than that. Pricing out the consumer or forcing an expensive change on them is taking advantage of their long time integrity and the fact that they're cyclists. It's telling them that there's a cost of entry and a economical barrier to doing what they love to do. It's telling the consumer either pay up or quit riding a bike. It's an underhanded and indirect way of pre-qualifying people to do something that everyone should have the right to do; ride a bike. Straight up class warfare, if you ask me. 

Here's my answer to what the bicycle industry is doing. I'm going to start collecting vintage mountain bikes and components. I hope to accumulate enough parts to do my own maintenance without ever having to step foot in a boutique, hipster-owned bike shop. Once I can no longer do maintenance on my bikes, all future mountain bikes will come from Target. That's how I'm going to choose with my wallet and I'm sure others will follow suit. The modern bike boom is over, it's been over for about 3 years now. With this forced change the specialty bicycle market will not keep enjoying it's temporary run of sales for very long. Once the bicycle demands of the upper echelon of society are met, they will not derive any more profit from the rest of us. Until another Lance Armstrong comes along and gets people into Tour De France fever, most people will no longer see the need to buy an expensive bicycle again. 

End of rant.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What If Lance Rode an old 10 speed bike?

Would Lance Armstrong still be fast on a 10 speed?

When people talk about Lance Armstrong, is isn't without reservations, resentments, or any love lost for the recently dethroned athlete. Lance Armstrong, however, has done nothing to rectify his public image, besides showing us how to change a bicycle tire on an old Peugeot (We're glad you finally learned how to do that, Lance).

It's been almost two years since the USADA cleaned his figurative clock of all of his fraudulent Tour De France victories, Olympic medals and world records. Someone who has been raked through the coals the way Lance has should by now have attained a certain amount of humility. There are many things that Lance can do that will put him in a positive light again, maybe even reinstate his status as an athlete. Who better than Lance to set up cycling programs for the underprivileged youth of America, for example? There are good cyclists everywhere from all walks of life, but the sport doesn't follow them, it follows the money. Apparently so does Lance. Someone like Lance could turn the status-quo, like Jonathan Boyer did for team Rwanda or John Candy did in Cool Runnings. If Lance weren't so self centered, he would make a great coach.

The other thing Lance Armstrong created was the stereotype of the American cyclist. The Strava obsessed, weight weenie, goo slurping, middle aged jerk in a mid life crisis who makes it rain money every time he walks into a bike shop. Readers of my last article will see the illustration of how cyclists used to dress. Blue jeans, casual clothes, tee shirts and sneakers was the dress attire until the late 1990's. Now everyone who rides their bicycles on the roads or even on the trails is wearing full team kit, perhaps subconsciously thinking that is what they have to wear to be like Lance. The uniform serves it's purpose in the hot summer months, however its not a year round requirement to ride a bike. What Lance needs to do for his public image is to change the way that he is seen riding a bike. Trek no longer sponsors Lance, he needs to trade in his carbon fiber Madone for an old ten speed. He needs to  wear regular clothes on his training rides. He needs to show the world that it really isn't about the bike, because his whole career and the aftermath of it he has shown the opposite.

If Lance were to say, race me in an unsanctioned event like an alleycat, riding on a Schwinn Varsity or a Huffy Aerowind and still beat me, an avid recreational cyclist, then my level of respect would be much higher for him. That would turn the bike industry on it's head, since they could no longer sell people on the performance gains of high end bikes. If the average person knew that they could enjoy cycling on what they already own, instead of looking at cycling like a specialized equipment sport that requires endless upgrades, there would be more cyclists around the world and money would be trading hands hand over fist. After all, I'm just quoting Lance here. He was the one who wrote the book "It's not about the bike". Only somebody of his celebrity or infamy could pull it off, too.

Would you like to see Lance on one of these for a change?

Talking about Lance Armstrong is beating a dead horse to many people. I wanted to write this article because even though Lance isn't around racing his bicycle anymore, the damage he did to the sport still remains. On the local and national level, many riders are still juicing up to win races. Strava obsessed cyclists clip pedestrians on multi-use paths. I'm sure even though it hasn't been discovered yet, new methods of doping have already made their way into the professional ranks. I don't believe for a minute that a certain recent grand tour in Spain was raced cleanly, without drugs or sabotage. Lance can show redemption by condemning his own past actions as well as not letting anyone else get away with what he did, whether it be on a local, national or international field. Who better than Lance to point out the cheaters?

The truth is we don't owe Lance anything and neither does he. He will go down as the biggest loser of the 21st century. His public life has gone to tatters, and there is little he is willing to do about it. His example serves as a warning of the consequences of big headedness, arrogance and dishonesty.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rules of Old School Mountain Biking

Top 20 Rules of Old School Mountain Biking

If you grew up in the 90's or were already into the mountain bike scene back then, then this article will make sense to you. Long before consumers were priced out by carbon fiber, metric wheel sizes, electronic shifting and "E-bikes", there was mountain biking. Real mountain biking. The kind of mountain biking that required skill and a little bit of recklessness. Back then there were no cycling computers, no phone apps to track Strava or even cell phones for that matter. The most travel available on a suspension fork was 80mm, not 120mm or more like today's bikes. If you are a 90's survivor, or riding a 90's survivor mountain bike, here are the top 20 rules of old school mountain biking you will need to be aware of. Welcome to the club.

1. Trail etiquette is becoming rarer than 4130 Chro-Mo and neon fade color patterns. Respect others on the trail and assist any fallen rider.

2.Always lift the front wheel to clear obstacles on the trail. A steel fork is a beautiful thing to waste.

3. Suspension? Your body is the suspension. Form your body into a spring by bending your arms and your knees.

4. E-bikes are not mountain bikes. They're off road mopeds. Now repeat this line ten times in your head before moving on, until it becomes natural.

5. If the jump is too high, or the climb is too steep, a real man walks it. 

6. It's okay to wear blue jeans and flannel on your mountain bike. 

7. Goos, pre-workout drinks and legal steroids are for wusses. Do you get hungry on the trail? Eat some trail mix, a Powerbar, or a banana. Real food, you wussy!

8. Upgraditis is not a condition we suffer from. Don't fix it if it ain't broken. If it is broken, buy it New-Old-Stock off of eBay.

9. Always shift your weight behind the saddle when bombing a descent or flying off a ledge. Use the rear brake, only feather the front one.

10. You only need seven gears to shift on your rear wheel. A real old-school pro does it with six.

11. If you ride with thumb shifters, that's boss.

12. V-brakes earn you respect on the trail. Cantilevers earn you instant free beers, facial hair and overall success in life.

13. Never make fun of the hippie old guy that looks like ZZ Top and rides a Walmart bike while smoking a cigar in his cutoff blue jeans and tie dye tee shirt. That guy can smoke you on the trail and drop you like a bad habit.

14. Not sure which wheel size to get? There is only one, and it comes in 26 inches. Now pick a size, any one you like, as long as its 26.

15. Yetis are real. So are Klein bikes. But seriously......they're out there.

16. If gram counting is your occupation, I'm sorry, someone didn't love you enough. Give that man a sandwich and a heavy steel bike, pronto!

17. A scar tells a story better than Strava does.

18. Never, under any circumstances, is it okay to show up to a trail with your legs shaved (unless you're a woman, then feel free to do your thang).

19. The bike should always cost less than the car, even if the car cost $800.

20. Clip-less shoes are for roadies that ride mountain bikes. Platform pedals and hiking shoes are all you need.

These are rules for the off-road retro grouch to live by. Its time to take back what was once ours from the roadies who got bored, crossed over into mountain biking and sanctioned every tree stump on the trail. Next time you go mountain biking, bring that retro bike that has been sitting in a garage for a while. Take an old pair of blue jeans, rip them in half if its hot or cuff them at the heel if its cold. Wear a tee shirt, not a jersey. Turn off your cell phone. Wear a wrist watch if you have to. Keep it old school.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Tale of Two Peugeots: The PGN-10 and the PSN-10

Discussing my two favorite Peugeots from 1985

1985 was indeed a great year for a lot of things. Back To the Future came out, as well as one of my favorite movies of all time, The Goonies. I was born that year so that is probably the best thing that ever happened! All joking aside, that year also introduced two very unique models from the Peugeot bicycle factory. 

Second and Bottom: The PSN-10 and PGN-10. Image courtesy of cyclespeugeot.com

At first glance the PGN-10 and the model above it, the PSN-10, look like your typical 1980's road bikes. But look closer, and the differences start to become clear. These bikes have quill seatposts that adjust from the inside of the post rather than from a seatpost binder bolt. Plastic Stronglight headsets would now seem like a quirky idea but were the rave on many 80's french bikes. Even Bernard Hinault promoted his line of plastic headsets. As strange and as prone to catastrophic failure as these design features seem to be, they are highly functional and have been free from any defect over the past 30 years. I'm sure that the seatpost has a weight limit, however riding these bikes it's clear to me that I haven't reached it. The Sachs Huret shifters and derailleurs on my PGN-10 are the cleanest and smoothest shifting of all the bikes that I own. In the following article I'm going to do my best to give a concise review of both bikes.

Kitt From Knight Rider, my PSN-10

Meet Kitt, My Campagnolo equipped PSN-10.

This is easily one of the most comfortable steel bikes that I own, only below "La Poderosa" in it's ride quality and handling. It took a lot of work to get this bike to ride the way it should. Even after having taken it all apart and greasing every single bearing the bike felt whippy and noodly. I researched this and it turns out that its a pretty common issue with this Peugeot model. To counteract the "whippiness" I replaced the 40cm handlebars with some 43cm Sakae FX handlebars I had lying around. The Modolo Speedy brakes that originally came on the bike were not centering correctly, so I replaced those with some Tektro takeoffs from another bike, purchased from a seller on eBay. The original Vetta saddle that came on the bike was dried out and as hard as a brick. I had an extra Brooks saddle that I was saving for a very special bike. I decided now it was the time to use it on my new bike, which I will refer to as Kitt.

The Ride:

Today I took Kitt for a 40 mile spin around the countryside, just to see if I like the bike enough to use it in my next bike rally. This bike definitely has it's talking points. For one thing, I have never ridden this far on a bike without clip-less pedals. The fact that I was able to ride 40 miles in the 97 degree heat and still come out okay means that this bike was mostly comfortable on all it's points of contact.

There is a bounciness to the Super Vitus tubing that resembles titanium or carbon in it's ride quality. Compared to other steel bikes that I own, this Peugeot can absorb road shock without compromising energy transfer through the frame. All this makes for a lively, springy ride, especially when the roads start to get gravelly.  

One might assume that a stiffer yet springier steel frame makes for a faster ride. I did not have a cycling computer to see how fast I was going. Furthermore, I felt I could have lowered the stem a little bit more to assume my usual aero position. The fact is that the speed of this bike still remains unknown. It certainly felt fast, however I know from experience that feeling and reality are two different things.

There was more stiffness in the front fork on this bike than on my other bikes. I  can attribute this to the Stronglight headset being made of Derlin plastic and therefore not transfering vibrations as efficiently as a steel one would. I will have to make sure to wear padded gloves the next time I take this bike on a long ride. 

One thing that helped the ride on this bike tremendously was switching out the stock saddle for the Brooks. I find that any bike with a Brooks saddle rides way better than a bike without one. Despite the odd seatpost and plastic headset, when all the pieces come together this bike works magnificently.

My PGN-10

I was fortunate enough to get this bike with very little use on it and very low miles on the frame and components. The only thing that I had to change out was the wheelset, because the seller put 27" wheels on the bike that didn't fit. I had some 700c wheels with Shimano 600 hubs lying around my garage that I replaced them with. 

This bike rides great with all of it's stock components. Not even the saddle needs replacing. This bike shifts well even while climbing, and I can hardly feel the transition from the large to the small chainrings when I shift. The Reynolds 501 tubing absorbs road vibrations well and in my opinion is more compliant than the Super Vitus as it isn't as bouncy. Since I have owned it I have not had to take it apart and overhaul it like I did with Kitt (My PSN-10 or the black bike, for those of you just tuning in). 

Reynolds 501 tubing makes for a light but strong frame on the PGN-10

The only thing that this bike needs is better handlebar wrap. Again, I can probably work around this by wearing padded gloves when I ride. I haven't done super long distances on this bike yet, however I have done 14 to 20 mile rides on it. From what I have ridden on it I can say so far its a great bike. I may go with this bike for my next rally, I don't know, I haven't decided yet. What do you think? Which one should I choose?

These bikes are somewhat rare finds but are common enough that I decided to do an article about them. If someone comes across a bike like one of these Peugeots, they are keepers, especially if they are the right size. For a long time I couldn't get my hands on a Peugeot, now they seem to be coming out of nowhere. I have been involved in buying and restoring old vintage bikes for a while now, and I am just starting to get some really cool bikes into my collection. Now that I have worked out all the kinks on mine I am definitely not getting rid of them.  I hope to hold on to mine as long as I can and maybe one day my son will enjoy them as much as I do now. Stay tuned for more articles like these and subscribe to my posts for more updates.

Some Notes on maintenance and care:

Do not overtighten the quill seatpost. It may lead to a bulge in the seat tube or failure of the seatpost. Get it snug tight until the seatpost no longer moves.

Derlin plastic can decompose if exposed to bleach or anything that has chlorine. Do not store this bicycle near pool chemicals as this will deteriorate the headset and cause it to crack. Do not clean the bike with hot water or mineral spirits and rather use a biodegradable cleaner like Simple Green. 

To be fair, many road bikes of this era had quirky features, such as odd seatpost binders, Italian and French bottom brackets and headsets, plastic derailleurs, etc. These were even more evident on higher end bikes than others made during that period. With proper care, I believe these bikes can last another 30 years without problems. However, once something breaks it can't be replaced. Keep that in mind when looking to purchase any vintage bicycle.