Ear buds — do you use them?

earbud2Every organized ride has them — warnings that riders are not allowed to wear headphones during the ride.  The rationale can’t be faulted — if your ears are full of blaring music, you might not hear cars coming up behind you, and could get into an unsafe situation.

But there’s a different take on that issue.  My friend Jared claims that earbuds make you more aware of your surroundings.  They cut the wind noise, and actually make it easier to hear other vehicles.

I’ve had an iPod for a couple of years, but never listened to it on a ride.  I took to heart those warnings about safety.  But this evening, I decided to bring the iPod along and test Jared’s idea.

I mixed up my riding.  Some of it was on the shoulder of a four lane divided highway, where cars and trucks routinely go 65 mph or faster.  Then, I turned onto suburban neighborhood streets with very little traffic.  I took a few laps on the Veloway, where the only other traffic was bikers and rollerbladers.  Finally, I rode an arterial street through the neighborhood — one with heavy traffic during the evening rush hour, but with much lower speeds than the highway.

Earbuds cut the wind noise? The prevailing wind in Central Texas is from the southeast, as it was today. And when you’re pedaling into the wind, the earbuds do nothing to cut wind noise.  If anything, the airflow swirls around the earpieces and amplifies the wind noise.

But when you’re riding with the wind, or even across it, the earbuds do seem to have that magical effect.  The music certainly comes through more clearly.

Earbuds make it easier to hear approaching vehicles? Well, yes and no. I had no trouble hearing cars and trucks coming up behind me on the highway. What I couldn’t figure out was whether I was hearing them later than I would if I rode without the earbuds. On the Veloway, I did not hear other bikers come up to pass me until they were right next to me.

One other earbud effect I noticed: I didn’t feel as connected to my bike as I am on a typical ride. The earbuds blocked out the little noises that the bike makes — the noises that remind you to feather the front derailleur, or to take a look at the bottom bracket, because it might need cleaning and maybe lubing.

Does riding with only one earbud in make a difference? You bet. You can’t hear the music as well. And if it’s a song with distinctive stereo separation, that means you’re not getting the sensory experience of the song. Doesn’t matter if it’s quieter stuff like Diana Krall’s “Let’s Fall In Love” and Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” (Man, am I dating myself!) or raucous stuff like Little Richard’s “Lucille” or LouAnn Barton’s “Tee-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu.”  I’ve gotta have both earbuds in, or it’s not worth it for me. Oh, was I supposed to talk about whether the one bud makes it easier to hear traffic? I didn’t notice a difference.

As far as the safety concerns, In My Humble Opinion, they are overblown. I heard surrounding sounds quite well. The earbuds did not block out those noises.

Will I ride with earbuds again? Probably. But it’s not something I’ll do on a regular basis. I’ve never felt it necessary to add to the sensory enjoyment of biking when I can take in the sights and sounds all around me. For me, it’s the biking experience that counts.

A newbie’s first road bike (guest post)

Ramon H.
Ramon H.

Bike Noob reader Ramon H. recently decided to make the move from an old mountain bike to a new road bike. Ramon, who lives in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, has been emailing me back and forth about the new purchase, and after a slight delay to wait for the right color, he took delivery on a Trek 1.2. I asked Ramon to describe the experience of adapting to a road bike.

My wife bought a bicycle on ebay. I made as many adjustments as I could. Naturally, I had tried adjusting the brakes, but the true of the wheels was way off on both wheels. There was no amount of adjusting that could be done that could rectify the situation. I did not want to bother adjusting for the true, so off to the local bike shop we were.

Once we were there, I decided to try getting on a road bike and trying it for posture. I had been to the shop a couple of weeks ago and had asked them to try a 50cm frame, but that day they did not have any available. I already had done some preliminary research and had heard excellent things about the Trek 1.2, being especially an excellent entry level road bike. I asked them if they had any frames available and they had a 50cm, a 52cm and a 54cm. I actually got in the 50cm and they let me take it for a spin around the parking lot. It was a perfect match. I tried the 52cm, but it was not a good fit. After several adjustments and several measurements to get a better idea of my true fit, I decided (with the OK from the wife) that I would buy the bike.

I did ask them if they carried another color since this one was white and red and they said they did not know. I also bought a frame pump, cage holders, tire liners, and a seat bag which they kindly installed before I took it home. Unfortunately, as soon as I got home, I went online to the Trek site and noticed that Trek sells the same model in blue (blue is my favorite color). So we called the shop back to see if we could bring it back to) get the blue one instead. The guy we dealt with said to bring it back on Monday (he needed to get the OK from his manager and he was gone already). He said that he should be able to make the exchange and that they should be able to special order the blue one.

I picked up my road bike on Friday from the LBS pretty late in the day, so I did not get to ride that day. I decided that I would go to a dedicated bike trail for the bike’s “maiden voyage” about half hour from where I live. Once on the trail, I became accustomed to the shifting, the posture and the dropped handlebars. I also did not wanted to bother with traffic and road debris. I was able to put in a relaxed 10 miles and was able to get the bike up to a max speed of 22.6 mph. I noticed an increase of 3-6 mph over my regular speed. I also noticed that I was a lot less tired than when using the mountain bike.

This morning, I decided to head out for a 15-miler on bike lanes around town. I caught a lot of headwind, but even with that decided to do an additional 5 miles; I ended up with about 22 miles altogether. During one of the segments of the ride, I caught some tailwind. I decided to get down on the dropped handlebars and took off like a scalded dog: 25.4mph max speed (yea baby). It was exhilarating and scary at the same time. I also noticed that the bike became much less stable and that BOTH hands (no fiddling with the odometer or waving at other cyclists) are required once you drop on the handlebars as you are holding on for dear life :lol:.

The only down side to the 20+ mile ride were: lots of road debris, I actually got off the bike at least 3 times to toss nails off the bike lanes; and the stock saddle did a number on my derriere. It was not that bad, but I did have to get off the saddle (and bike) every couple of miles after the 10+ mile mark. I was a little bit sore after the ride, but I can see that it would get quite annoying to have to get off the bike when doing a group ride.

I did further research on the whole wearing chamois or padded shorts and I just cannot get used to the idea of wearing it. I actually gag thinking about wearing wet chamois after a long ride *gag*. So after checking some entries under your blog and many other cycling sites, I will bite the bullet and order a Brooks B17 standard saddle. I am encouraged by the many posts talking that chamois/padding is optional once the saddle is broken-in. I will also take advantage of the stores’ (Wallingford Bikes) 6-month return policy in case I run into issues with it. I need to get on the breaking-in period rather quick since I will be signing up for a local 25-mile bike tour a month from now. I will let you know how the Brooks saddle behaves.

It’s my guess that a lot of Bike Noob readers have had similar experiences as Ramon. When to switch from mountain bikes to something else? Should I go all the way to a road bike, or get some kind of hybrid? What about those crazy bike clothes? And those clipless pedals? Welcome to the road, Ramon. You might be interested to note that Bicycling Magazine names the Trek 1.2 as one of the best bikes under $1,000.

Pumps vs. CO2 — something new

First of all, thanks for checking in over the past few days, even though I had no new posts. I was out of town — in Las Vegas for three days. At an academic convention. Now, there’s an anomaly. Picture professors presenting arcane academic research to other professors, and you get the idea. Now picture it with all the lights and sounds and commotion of Las Vegas. Weird.

Anyhow, I’m back. Haven’t been on the bike since Tuesday. Didn’t do my usual Sunday morning ride. The neglected yard has caught up with me, and I put in lots of time trimming back untamed bushes, cleaning gutters, and patching browned-out sod.  Maybe someday soon I’ll have another post about my riding

But I do have something today. People continue to have a lot of interest in the CO2 vs. pump issue. You know my preference — I’ve landed in the pump camp. The folks who like the cartridges cite convenience. It’s fast, the tire can be inflated in about one second, and you’re on the road again. But CO2 is only a temporary measure. It’s a good idea to deflate the tire and pump it up with good ol’ air as soon as possible. Why? Because CO2 is soluble in the butyl rubber used in tire tubes, and the tube will lose pressure quickly. Lennard Zinn explained the technical reasons why in a Velonews q & a.

But that argument against CO2 may not stand for much longer. One company now makes cartridges with a proprietary gas that last much longer in a tire than CO2. picture-3It’s called Stayfill, and the manufacturer claims it will last for over a year in a bike tire. Now, Bike Noob is not in a habit of endorsing products, and this is not an endorsement. I’ve never used the stuff, so I have no idea if it works or not. I’m sticking to my pump. If you’re one of the cartridge types, this might bear checking out. It seems to be more expensive than CO2 — but for some people, it might be worth it.