Thursday, March 20, 2014

Moto Moto!

My 1985 Motobecane Grand Record

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some interesting facts about this Motobecane:

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Riding the Backcountry: The Journey To Becoming a Complete Cyclist

How exploring by bike has made me into a complete cyclist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 10, 2014

Just Ride: A Book to Better Understand Ourselves By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Enlightened Cyclist: A Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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