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.