Sunday, May 10, 2020

COVID-19: The good, the bad and the unintended revival of the everyday cyclist

Here in the U.S, we are about two months into giving the COVID-19 pandemic the seriousness it deserves. Even as I write this article, however, most stay at home restrictions have already been lifted and many businesses have reopened. Restaurants are once again reopening their dining rooms and parks are crowded with large groups of people. The warning for continued caution has largely fallen on deaf ears as people blatantly disregard warnings about social distancing and are no longer wearing masks. To be clear, there is no green light to go back to normal. Out of 320,000,000 people, about 1% of the U.S population has actually been tested. To date there has yet to be a vaccine or proven remedy that will work against this virus. Tests are not mandatory to the public and quarantines are no longer being enforced. 

I have to preface my article with a statement of both disappointment and disbelief of how people have reacted to the virus on a national level. There seems to be more concern for the almighty dollar than for saving human lives. Something as fundamental as the value of human life should be an issue we should all stand behind in solidarity. Instead misinformation and political bias has turned our common enemy, COVID-19 into a political issue. Instead of receiving a consistent message from the people that we turn to inform us of current events, some news media outlets have been giving us a mixed bag of opinions and conspiracy theories that are not grounded in reality. It seems that it is up to every person and business individually as to how they are going to protect themselves and their families during this time. There is no guidance or leadership from any of the programs and entities that are supposed to be qualified to guide us through a situation like this. 

There will be consequences for irresponsible actions and disregard for life and personal safety. Those who err on the side of caution now are likely to fare better in the times to come. This is not over and it will likely take on a new dimension pretty soon. Skeptical? Wait and see. Feel free to bookmark this article for historical reference. ;)

On a different and very positive note (shifting gears, I had to get my nihilism, or factual reporting, out of the way) this pandemic has had a very positive impact on the environment as well as many people who were once overworked but now have found the leisure time for exercise and self-improvement. With the reduced greenhouse gases from people staying at home instead of driving, the weather in Texas has never been better. We are having an actual Spring for the first time in years. The cooler weather has also brought many people out on their bicycles. People of all types are taking to cycling now, not just the competitive athlete types but people with kids and dogs who want to enjoy the outdoors, maybe for the first time in their lives. Bike shops and mobile bicycle repair operations are seeing their business model shift to cater to commuters and casual cyclists over those who ride for sport. If this trend continues we can hope to see a revival of sorts in the way of infrastructure improvements for cyclists along with real transit oriented development initiatives. TOD improvements in my area have been a joke and have missed the mark of their original purpose. Many are glorified high end retail outlets that don't incorporate or support community businesses. High end retail and high end housing have gentrified the former communities that were once here. Hopefully as local governments look to meet the increased demand for cyclists, real strides can be made to connect people to the places they need to go via their bicycles. 

What can you do now in this time of social distancing and reduced work hours? Start by riding your bike (of course, you knew I'd say that). Familiarize yourself with your local bike paths and low traffic roads in your area. Create routes to and from places. Figure out the ins and outs of your town or city, the back roads and the neighborhood roads. Grow a garden. Find a wooded area to social isolate, take in the nature around you. See all of the animals that have come out of hiding thanks to our reduced carbon footprint. Stay positive and take comfort in the fact that there are a few people that still take this seriously, that are preparing for the worst to come. Read the Bible. Read Matthew Chapter 24. Read Luke Chapter 21. Take note that these things that we are seeing now were already foretold to happen. "The shrewd one sees the danger and conceals himself, but the inexperienced must suffer the consequences"-Proverbs 22:3. Pick up a new hobby of your choice. Keep your mind busy. Connect with friends via face time or Zoom. Stay busy, stay active and don't be fooled into complacency. That's about all I have for now. Stay safe and stay tuned for more articles from my blog.

Monday, February 3, 2020

If you're cycling over age 30, then please read this blog

Of all of my blog posts, this one is the most important...

Chances are, if  you're reading this blog, or any blogs at all these days, you are well over the age of 30. That's okay, you've come to the right place. This blog will address topics related directly to our health and safety as pre-middle aged men and women on our post young adulthood. To put it frankly, there are things that are simply not discussed enough among our cycling demographic. While the internet is full of "Look at me!" video vlogs, dietary advice, action camera footage and bike bling, barely any content is practical to cyclists our age. Brand and lifestyle influencers, as well as industry marketers have given us a false illusion that our fountain of youth will last forever and that it's okay to still be young, wild and reckless. After all of the injuries I had in 2019, some of which I am still reeling from, I'm here to set the record straight as to what exactly is it like to be a cyclist in your 30's.

To start with, why is our age so important? Because we are in an age where many in life have found a good footing financially and have acquired some disposable income for a hobby of our choice. Long gone are the days in our twenties when we would survive on ramen noodles, spaghetti with tuna, mac and cheese and little Vienna sausages ( I still eat that stuff sometimes, these days by choice). With that newly acquired disposable income, some choose a hobby that is both fun and good for our well-being. Others choose a hobby to keep them in a state of feeling young. Some of us choose cycling, a hobby that when done with moderation and modesty can actually prolong our youthful state as well as physical fitness levels. The problem is that when we roll into our 30's from our 20's some of us don't feel the clock change. Even if only of a little while, it seems that we entered our 30's and nothing actually happened. Our fitness levels didn't decline, our energy was the same and we were still going big and sending it on jumps on our mountain bikes. We naively go about taking risk after risk until the day our bike goes sideways on the trail or we decide to go George of the Jungle on a tree. We fall, something breaks, gets sprained or torn and we immediately realize that we are no longer in our 20's anymore. We learn new words like "Orthopedist" and get acquainted really well with our physical therapists. After 4 or 5 injuries  of the same nature our abilities start to decline. Our time on the bike is suddenly regulated on how long we can ride without pain. Daily movements that we used to not give a second thought to are now debated endlessly in our minds. Bending over to pick something up now becomes a chore for our knees. The ground seems a lot higher and our legs don't want to lower us there anymore. Injuries that used to take days to heal are now taking months. Our tendons bulge from our joints as they become scarred and thickened. This is the part of the story nobody seems to be parading on social media. This is what being a cyclist in your 30's is really like. 

I'm currently in this dark place as we speak. Despite my optimism that things will get better or that I will at least reach a new "normal", uncertainty about my ability to recover hides underneath the surface. I find myself deliberately holding back my efforts to ride at the pace I usually enjoy as to not injure myself further and stop the healing process. Since my injuries by body has generously added over 10 pounds on my bathroom scale. I start weighing the cost/benefit relationship that I have with cycling, something I have never done before. I picture myself pursuing other hobbies and accepting a newer, "fatter" me as hypothetical scenario that is slowly becoming reality. I start to think about how cycling helps me adapt and adjust to other changes in life and how stressful life would be without it. I go back in my mind and ask what I would have done different to avoid being in the spot that I'm currently in.  I repent, over and over for being so stupid and not wearing knee pads on the mountain bike trail and not realizing that my body was no longer in it's 20's, even though my mind was. 

I put an old, 90's mountain bike with slick tires on my trainer, because the road bike is just too uncomfortable. 10 to 20 minutes in, I stop as soon as I break a sweat. Gone it seems are the times I could ride the trainer for an hour straight. Even though my sessions are really short, I tell myself that I got my heart rate up and I achieved something. The warm up then turns into a stretching session, a process which I have been repeating for the past several months. 

I go on short rides with my son. Then I go on short rides by myself. I try to increase the distance little by little. Right now I can manage 30 miles at about 16-17mph average speed. Even then, I am at my limit and need to promptly ice my knees afterwords. After 5 months from my last injury, I'm left wondering if I will ever be the same again.

If you are a cyclist or mountain biker in your 30's, please be aware of the following. Jumps, transitions, doubles and table tops are words that shouldn't be a part of your vocabulary. If you don't know what a double is, too bad, you're too old to do it anyway. Instead, familiarize yourself with the words "knee pads", "elbow pads" and "insurance deductible". Trust me, you'll go a lot farther knowing those words instead.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Marin Four Corners: Honest Review

The Marin Four Corners: What is it, exactly?

A robust and well built bicycle, the Four Corners struggles to find it's footing in a specific bike category

I really like this bike, I just need an excuse to use it. Is it a mountain bike? Not exactly. Is it a road bike? Definitely not. Is it a "gravel" bike? Maybe. The bike rides really planted on gravel and soaks up the potholes with ease. But is it a fast, race specific gravel bike? It's not even moderately fast. In fact, I'm about 2-3 mph slower on average when I ride it. So what is the Marin Four Corners? What, exactly, was it designed for? Let me attempt to shed some light on a bicycle that was heavily marketed by the Marin brand and see if it lived up to the hype. 

Marin promised us the possibility of a do it all bike that is stable enough for touring but nimble enough for singletrack use and even getting a bit of air on the trail. I've searched all over the internet in hopes of seeing any actual reviews from real people using their bikes this way. Sure, the people in the promotional video (see video shown above) are skilled professionals who can probably bunny hop a beach cruiser and sell it to us as the next progressive travel enduro bike. But are people actually using the Four Corners as intended?

The answer from an extensive search is a resounding no. To begin with, most people who reviewed the bike online are actually from Poland and Russia, so I had to go on context clues to try to understand the YouTube reviews. From what it appeared most people were riding this bike similar to the way most people ride hybrid or path and pavement bikes. Granted most reviewers seemed like they had many positive things to say about the bike, however the gnar factor was definitely missing from their videos. Nobody was sending this bike off jumps or careening into drops and no one seemed to be popping wheelies. 

So what has my experience been with the Marin Four Corners? What, in my opinion can and can't this bike actually do? After a year of ownership, I think I have my verdict. I will eventually attempt a ride on my local mountain bike trail with this bike, so this is still a preliminary review based on all the other forms of riding that I have done with it. 

The Marin Four Corners Is: 

Comfortable- This is a very comfortable bike. It's upright for a drop bar bike, and riding the drops doesn't leave you gasping for air. The bike soaks up a lot of road vibrations and the ride is very forgiving overall. 

Stable: Even unloaded (I have never loaded mine up for bikepacking or touring) this bike is very much planted on the ground. On loose, gravel descents it doesn't feel twitchy or off balance. The back wheel grips well on dirt climbs. 

Durable: Everything on this bike is built to last. This bike is made from quality parts including what is basically a 29er rigid fork and wheelset to compliment the already robust steel frame. Nothing flexes where it shouldn't. The drivetrain shifts under load and doesn't skip gears. The chain doesn't bounce off the bike on big bumps or potholes. Like a Toyota Land Cruiser, everything on this bike looks made to stand 25 years of abuse. 

The Marin Four Corners Is Not:

Light: Weighing in at just shy of 30 pounds, this bike is not light, not by road bike standards, gravel bike standards, touring bike standards,  not even by hardtail mountain bike standards. This bike is heavy, everything about it from the frame and wheelset makes it so. There are no punchy accelerations that can be done on this bike. Rather, it encourages the rider to ride at a consistent pace throughout the whole ride. A day of climbing on this bike will usually result in an evening icing the knees. 

Fast: I have done all of my riding with the stock wheelset and tires that originally came on the bike. So my assessment of the bike's speed comes from the original equipment it came with. Why shouldn't it? It's designed to be a mountain bike with drop bars and road bike gearing. With that in mind, this bike is not fast pointing any direction that is not downhill. Could it be fast with narrower tires and a lighter wheelset? Likely but that is not the point. If you have nowhere to be in a hurry then I highly recommend this bike. This bike will have you finishing your usual routes 20-30 minutes later than you normally would. The rotational weight of the wheels is the biggest cause of all of this and in my opinion the bike is not optimally geared to accommodate for such a heavy wheelset, thereby reducing acceleration and speed.

A lot of marketing dollars went into making the Marin Four Corners. The Pine Mountain, a much more versatile and capable bikepacking bike, did not receive nearly the same amount of marketing. To be fair, the Four Corners seems to sell very well overseas and in areas where the roads are bad or non-existent. Where paved roads and mountain bike trails abound this bike seems to struggle to find it's footing. While there are gravel roads near me, I have to ride my bike 10 miles to the edge of town to get to them. If I lived in Iowa and had gravel roads out my front porch I would see the usefulness and utility of such a ruggedly designed bike. However, being in a densely populated North Texas suburb I have to admit that there is little need for such an overbuilt bicycle. While I appreciate the durability and comfort that this bike can offer I find myself struggling to find an opportunity to use it. This may have to do with the fact that I'm a recreational cyclist living in a well developed area. If I relied solely on my bike for transportation or lived out in a rural village this bike would be a priceless commodity to have. 

In a post-apocalyptic world where the Tour De France is held in Mad Max-type conditions, this bike would reign supreme. For every other scenario, this bike seems a little bit of an overkill. Having said all of that, I really enjoy the bike so I plan to keep riding it for the time being. I will one day write a review on it that does it justice, as soon as I can figure out what it really excels at.