Saddle Pads

A friend was complaining to me last week about soreness on his bottom after long bike rides. Yep, saddle trouble again.

It’s happened to him before. He’s gotten saddle sores that have kept him from the weekend ride. He’s felt an ache that feels like bruising in the soft tissue area.

I’ve been there, and my problems seem to have been solved by the right saddle.

He took a different route.  He got a saddle pad for his bike.

This doesn't belong to the friend I'm talking about -- but it's much the same.

It cost him less than $20, and added an extra layer of padding to the saddle. He’s ridden it a few times, all on distances of less than 20 miles. But he’s happy with the results so far. For him, the extra cushioning works.

The saddle pad pictured above belongs to a guy in my club. He likes his for a different reason.

“I’ve got the Big H,” he told me.

“And does this help?” I asked.

“Yeah. It’s good.”

I’ve ridden with another guy on club rides who uses a saddle pad. He took some good-natured ribbing about it, but said it suits him.

Clearly, for some people, under some circumstances, a saddle pad might be the solution.

What are the disadvantages, then?

The first would seem to be the fit. Most of the saddle pads I’ve seen are held in place by a drawstring set into an elastic hem. Some online reviews I’ve read for various saddle pads say it’s hard to get them to stay put once they’re on the saddle, and that can lead to discomfort.

The second is harder to pin down. Pads add another layer between you and the seat, but do they really add comfort? And do they work on long rides? Or, are they favored by exercisers on stationary bikes rather than road or mountain bikers?

Do you have any experience with these? Would a cyclist benefit from them, or would they be better off following the advice of one online reviewer — “It is better to get a comfortable saddle and forget the pad.”

Age Is Only a Number

A couple of notable biking stories have come to my attention over the past week. Nothing to do with the Tour de France — these concern more “ordinary” folks.

But their stories are extraordinary, and inspirational.

From British Columbia, Canada: Dave Gillanders, 78, set a new age group record in the VanIsle (Vancouver Island) 1200k brevet, July 21-25, put on by the BC Randonneurs Cycling Club.  Dave completed the 747-mile trek in 88 hours, 54 minutes.

Dave Gillanders, 78, looking good on the Van Isle 1200k. (Click to enlarge.)

He wasn’t the only senior on the ride. Ken Bonner, 67, finished in 82:24.

Ken Bonner, left, and Dave Gillanders.

One thing I enjoy about cycling is the feeling that it is a lifetime activity. I’m already no spring chicken (I’m 59 — shh!) but I’m in better shape than I was 15 years ago. Guys like Dave and Ken inspire me to keep on keeping on.

Sister Madonna Buder

But then, an item like this comes along. Sister Madonna Buder, an 80-year-old nun from Spokane, Wash., will compete in the Ironman Canada triathlon next month. She’s already the oldest woman to finish an Ironman, so if she’s successful, she’ll set a new age record.  There’s no reason to believe she won’t be successful — she’s already competed in more than 300 triathlons.  At her age, “It’s not easy to do an Ironman anymore,” she says.  But she seems to still be able to find the motivation to get out there.

To read Sister Madonna’s whole story, take a look at this article on Tonic.com.

So the next time it’s a little too hot or humid outside, or you can’t seem to motivate yourself to get outdoors for an easy 25-miler in the neighborhood, remember Dave and Ken and Sister Madonna. And get going!

Gillanders and Bonner photos via “More Bike Lanes Please” page on Flickr.  Buder photo via Facebook.

Troubles With My Cateye

A while back, I had to change the batteries on my cyclocomputer, a Cateye V2C.  I changed the one in the bike-mounted speed sensor, then changed the one in the detachable handlebar unit.

The Cateye V2C. It's wireless--speed and cadence sensor shown at right.

Cateye’s manual says that when a battery is changed, all you have to do is hit a tiny AC (all clear) button on the back.

So, I did that. But it didn’t work the way it was supposed to. I get the current speed reading — in fact, I get all my currents, including elapsed time and cadence. But currents are all I get.

I don’t get average speed, or maximum speed, or average cadence.

Now, mostly, I’m only concerned with how far I went and how long it took. I’ve got another way to compute average speed. But it sure would be nice to do that on the computer, and have it when I wanted it. Likewise, maximum speed. I have to be watching the thing to get it, and sometimes, I’m just too busy watching the road ahead to look down at the computer and see how fast I’m going.

Cateye’s online site isn’t any help. It features a “Knowledge Base” — a collection of frquently-asked questions and their answers. Of course, they don’t have the answer to the question that I’m asking, which is how do you restore data when you change batteries, and how do you restore the “average” and “maximum” functions — not just the “current?” And they don’t have an email form to ask a questions that’s not in the Knowledge Base.

Does anyone have any experience with this cyclocomputer — or with Cateye generally — that can help me answer my questions?

Hug the Curb or Take the Lane?

Riding with my wife last weekend, we approached a stoplight. The road was four lanes, and a right turn lane bended off just before the light. I was leading my wife by several lengths. I scanned back, signaled that I was moving left, and crossed the right turn lane to merge into the farthest right straight ahead lane.

My wife dutifully followed, but she didn’t like it.

“Ooh, I’m not comfortable here,” she said.

“This is the safest place you can be,” I replied. “The right turners have to go behind you to turn, and you’ve got a clear shot across the road onto the shoulder on the other side.”

“I know,” she said. “But I still don’t like being here.”

The light changed, and we moved ahead. We could immediately point at the shoulder. All the cars that came up behind us moved to the far left lane anyway, so we were by ourselves in the right traffic lane at the light.

About two miles later, we came to another light. This time, a hatch-marked triangle filled the space between the right lane and the right turn lane. Once again, I crossed from the shoulder into the right lane. Once again, my wife followed, but I pointed her to the triangle.

“Feel better there?” I asked.

“This is way better,” she said.

Taking the lane. From bikecommute.com.

When I took my Road I course (now Traffic Skills 101) two years ago, the notion of “taking the lane” was foreign to me. Bikes stayed on the right, period. I had no idea a cyclist could use the road like a car, and do it safely. The class was an eye-opener.

Now, I routinely practice “vehicular cycling,” considering my bike another vehicle on the road. When you ride predictably like that, cars are more likely to give you a break, because they understand what you’re about to do. I’m happy to take the lane, because I know that’s often the safest place I can be on the road.

Pat has not taken any kind of a bike handling class, and hasn’t been exposed to the practice of vehicular cycling. Being in the middle of traffic is not her thing. She’s comfortable hugging the curb. If a right turn lane looms, she’ll often stop before she gets to it. It’s a cautious kind of riding, but it’s not as predictable as riding like a car would be.

Unfortunately, I can’t show her that she’s wrong. Despite the stance of classes like Traffic Skills 101, there are no scientific studies that support the contention that vehicular cycling is safer than hugging the curb.

Infrastructure gets studied, and those studies have shown that segregated biking facilities, like bike lanes, are safer than having to share the road with motor vehicles. But the United States isn’t Holland, and we don’t have the well-developed cycling lanes they do. We must ride on the road, so we must learn to coexist with our motorized brethren. I encourage everyone to take a bike handling course like Traffic Skills 101.

Now, if I could just convince my wife…

Recovery Rides Can Be Tough

Cyclists in training are urged to alternate hard and easy days. If you have a hill workout, take it easy the next day. If you ride 50 miles at a quick pace, ride a much shorter distance at a much slower pace the next day.

Over the weekend, I had a chance to put that to the test. On Saturday, I rode 50 miles. A co-rider was strong enough to challenge me on the hilly parts, and we made good time. I finished with a 15.6 mph average, not bad when you throw in a couple of long hills,  broiling summer sun and temperatures around 94ºF (34ºC).

On Sunday, my wife wanted to do a training ride for the Mamma Jamma ride against breast cancer, which comes up in September. Her recent bike issues have kept her from building up much of a mileage base, and she said she wanted to take the 30-mile option on this ride. It was the same route that I rode Saturday, just turning around 10 miles earlier.

Again, she asked me to stay with her. Now that her bike is performing well, she thought I might be able to do some in-saddle coaching. I figured it would give me a good chance to get in a recovery ride.

It did. I pedaled along easily at about a 12 mph average, going slower on the long easy uphills that were hard for Pat. I stopped several times to wait for her to catch up. But despite the slow, easy riding, I was having trouble maintaining a Zone 1 pace.

Pat, leading her friend Cynthia, catches up to me.

What I really wanted to do was push myself a bit. The hills on this route aren’t difficult, but they are longer than the ones I ride near my house. But I knew I couldn’t. First, I had to stay with Pat. Second, I knew deep down that I needed to take it very easy today. I’d get in a decent number of miles, but would not knock myself out.

I could let the bike go on the downhills. Coasting along, I watched the speed inch past the 30 mph mark. At the bottom of each long hill, I stopped to wait for Pat and her friend to catch up to me.

The day before, we had cruised along on the return route at a pretty good clip. This time, it felt like I was beach riding in the sand on a wide-tired cruiser. With 25 miles down, I still felt pretty good, although the hot sun was beating down and we were pushing into a headwind.

With two miles to go, we pulled into a gas station, and Pat let out a yelp. She was already bonking, and needed a break, but suddenly she cramped up in her thighs. She was just able to get off her bike and start massaging her muscles. I decided to ride back to the starting point and bring the car back to pick her up.

At the end of the ride, I had covered 30.6 miles, but unlike Saturday’s 15.6 mph pace, this time I averaged 11.8.

I think Joe Friel would approve.

The General Store

One of the delights of cycling in the country is being able to take a break at an old-fashioned general store.

Convenience stores at gas stations are plentiful, and cyclists use them a lot to take rest breaks, buy Gatorade and munchies, and take a nature break. A general store offers those services, (usually without gas) but also much more.

The “more” is the atmosphere.

The other day, I joined a 400-person group ride that offered distances up to 50 miles. The turnaround point for the 50-mile ride was Andice, Texas, a crossroads hamlet about 30 miles northwest of Austin. Those riders that made it all the way to Andice were treated to a break at the Andice General Store.

Cyclists converge on the Andice General Store during a group ride.

Biking has brought these old stores a new lease on life.  Andice is on the route of several well-known rides in the area, and cyclists can be found in abundance on the weekends.  To cater to their needs, the Andice General Store has made some alterations.

For example, the store no longer features two or three small aisles of groceries.  Groceries line the walls.  In the middle of the room, on a well-worn wood floor, are a few tables and chairs for people to sit and rest after a tough ride. The store also sells a pretty mean burger — another reason for the tables.

I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade, and took it to the counter.

“That’ll be $2.12,” said the lady. “I got the 12.”  Wow.

She looked at the Gatorade. “That hasn’t been in there long enough to cool off,” she said. “Over there, take a cup and some ice. It’s free.”

“Over there” was the soda dispenser. Not only did it have Coke and the other usual soft drinks, but one of the spigots was plain water. I waited in line as several cyclists added ice to their water bottles and then refilled for the trip back.

Local biking celebrities Mike Gaudion and Oleta take a break in the store.

I sat down with my Gatorade, and found myself across from two bikers who are favorites with everyone who sees them — Mike Gaudion and his poodle, Oleta.  Oleta rides on a special platform on Mike’s bike. She’ll tolerate breaks like this one, but she really wants to get back out and hit the road.

While we sat there, some locals came in. Dressed like the farmers they were, they seemed out of place surrounded by lycra and spandex. We would have been the oddballs just a few years ago.

Outside and around back, the store has built a modern “two holer,” one side for men, one for women. Cyclists waited patiently in short lines. Nearby, more tables sit under a canopy so bikers can enjoy their break under the hot Texas sun.

It’s tempting to hang around at the store too long. Take care of business, get rehydrated, maybe a small bite to eat, and get back to the ride. But the general store harkens back to another time, and for a lot of riders, that slower, simpler time has its attractions. Mix that with cycler-oriented amenities, and these places are not just stops — but must stops.

That Pesky Wobble

Mrs. Noob has been complaining about her bike lately. She says it feels like she’s wobbling, especially when going downhill. This phenomenon first surfaced last month, when she was having trouble on a Saturday morning group ride. It turned out her rear hub was shot.

That was fixed by getting a new wheel. Everything should be fine now, right?

“I still feel a wobble,” she said, as we were taking an easy morning ride through the neighborhood.

“Let me ride behind you and see if I can see anything,” I said. But that rear wheel and tire looked solid to me.

She went out by herself the next day. “It’s still there,” she said, when she got back.

“Are you sure it’s the rear again?” I asked.

“No, it could be the front. But there’s definitely something there.”

I rode her bike around the block a time or two.

“The only thing wrong with this bike is that it needs new tires,” I said. She’s had the tires for three years.  They’re a bit chewed up, and the rubber has gotten soft.

I picked up new tires at the LBS two days later. After getting them mounted, I took the bike around the block again.

“It’s smooooth now,” I told her.

Last weekend, we were out on another group ride. She insisted on doing the 28-mile option, because she wants to build up her mileage. She asked me to stay with her. That meant I would be riding at the back of the group all day, even though there were sweeps from a local bike club to watch out for slower riders.

Even going slow, I found myself way out in front of her. On one section of moderate hills, the sweep and I both waited at the top for Pat to catch up.

“I don’t know why she’s that far behind,” said the sweep, an experienced rider. “With her heavy bike [a steel hybrid] she should be passing me on the downhills. But she’s actually slowing down. It turned out that she was braking on the downhills.”

Now, Pat doesn’t bomb downhills, but she’s no chicken. When she caught up to us, we asked if she was okay, and she urged us to push on.

But two or three miles later, I found myself waiting at the bottom of another long, easy downhill. This time when she caught up to me, she had a concerned look.

“This front end is wobbling like crazy,” she said. “I’m really uncomfortable going downhill. It’s not safe.”

Luckily, the ride provided sag, and we opted to stop and sag in.

The ride started and ended at Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop in downtown Austin. We took the bike right inside. The mechanic grabbed the handlebars and yanked on them a bit.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “We’ve got trouble.”

Headsets should be checked once a year. Pat's 1992 bike had never been checked.

A half hour later, everything was hunky-dory. The next day, Pat took the bike out for a ride again.

“How is it?” I asked.

“Fantastic!” she replied. “It’s like a whole new bike.”

She rolled the bike to its spot in the garage, put her helmet and shoes away, and headed for the door.

“But it’s not shifting smoothly in the middle gears,” she tossed back over her shoulder.

“The Bicyclist Was Not Wearing a Helmet”

It’s a little story.

A short item in the police blotter section of the Austin American-Statesman newspaper tells of a collision between an SUV and a bicycle.

After reporting that the northbound cyclist was in the righthand lane, and was hit by the SUV, the reporter included the line, “The bicyclist was not wearing a helmet.”

So what?

That line implies that the cyclist was at fault. But the information about the crash said the SUV was coming from the opposite direction, and turning into a business. So it should have yielded to oncoming traffic, including the cyclist. The item did not point out that the SUV failed to yield to the cyclist. Instead, we learn that the cyclist was not wearing a helmet. There is no mandatory helmet law for adults in the state of Texas or the city of Austin. The information is irrelevant.

What would be relevant is whether the police ticketed the CRV driver for failure to yield. After all, the cyclist had to be taken to a nearby hospital with minor injuries.

This is the kind of little thing that can have negative repercussions. Bike-hating drivers who see the item will shake their heads and cluck their tongues, and mutter about those no-good cyclists.

Why didn’t the paper include a line about the driver being at fault in this case?

“We do not assign blame in straight news stories unless quoting/citing a police report or spokesman,” tweeted the Statesman’s social media editor, in reply to an outraged cyclist’s inquiry.

The Bike Noob worked in the news media for 16 years before becoming a journalism professor. I can explain a little about how this sort of thing happens, although I don’t defend it.

Newsrooms, like all organizations, operate on a set of routines. Collecting items from the police blotter is a matter of routine, handled by one of several reporters assigned to the police beat. Most blotter stories are short, because by newsroom standards, they don’t affect many people. That’s the situation here.

Once the reporter gets the information from the police, she writes it up, and moves on to the next story. Since only minor injuries were involved, it isn’t worth the reporter’s time and effort to get more details from the police. So she misses the chance to dig deeper and find out if the police are blaming the driver for the collision.

But the helmet info was probably included in the incident report filed by the police, so she dutifully made note of that.

I once worked in a TV newsroom with a policy of stating whether a cyclist wore a helmet whenever we reported on a cycling crash. Most of us weren’t cyclists. It seemed reasonable to include that information. We didn’t consider that we were making the cyclist appear to be at fault for not wearing a helmet.

But that’s just what happened here. While the paper did not “assign” blame to the cyclist, by reporting that she wasn’t wearing a helmet, and not reporting any action against the motorist, only the cyclist was put in a bad light.

What will it take to correct this prevailing attitude? Keep calling it to the attention of editors. Things aren’t really going to change, though, until more reporters and editors join the ranks of cyclists, and are alert to implications that such a seemingly innocuous line could have.

Hemmel’s Ride (In Real Life)

Today’s ride was nothing to brag about in terms of my performance, but it was one that I will remember for a long time because of the company.

Jeff Hemmel

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel was in Austin this weekend, and joined me for 33 miles in the Texas Hill Country.  Jeff posts here under the label, “Hemmel’s Ride.” Product reviews are his forte. He’s evaluated saddles, water bottles, and chamois cream, among other things. He also wrote about a ride he took with Bob Roll last year, and the unease he experienced when riding in an all-white kit.

In his non-blogging life, Jeff is a magazine writer, and was in town to cover “Aquapalooza” for Boating magazine. But while here, he made arrangements to rent a bike from Mellow Johnny’s, and I met him there Sunday morning.

We headed out for my favorite riding area — Dripping Springs. I thought that a Florida guy like Jeff would enjoy some hill riding. What I forgot was that Jeff’s family has a summer place in the Adirondacks, so he probably rides hills — big ones — a lot more than I do. On the route’s most challenging hill, Jeff kept it in the big ring and rolled easily up the grade.

Jeff smiles before pulling away.

Meanwhile, the summer sun was taking its toll on me. We started the ride at 11 a.m. — much later than I like to get going during the hot summer months — and I was glad to take the occasional break, like stopping to photograph Jeff with some Texas longhorn cattle.

The obligatory longhorn shot.

He didn’t push me too hard, though. His unfamiliarity with the roads kept him from leaving me too far back. After two-and-a-half hours in the saddle, we were glad to head back to Austin with the air conditioning at full blast, and put down massive quantities of Mountain Dew and glasses of water at a local deli.

Then back to Mellow Johnny’s (if you don’t already know it, it’s the bike store partly owned by Lance Armstrong) to buy some souvenirs for family members back home, catch a few minutes of the Tour de France on TV (Ooh! Bad day for Lance) and pose for pictures.

It’s funny how easily online friendships convert to face-to-face friendships. From our first greeting, I had the sense that we were simply continuing a conversation that started through email over a year ago. We talked about our writing endeavors — Jeff writes his own blog, “Ride Liquid,” on personal watercraft — and swapped ideas for posts. Bike Noob readers can expect some good stuff from him in the future. And as for me, I’m glad to have in Jeff a contributor who adds to the value we offer here.

Aero Bars – Do You Use Them?

I’ve got a time trial coming up next week, and I’m feeling pretty good about my chances at beating my personal best – if it doesn’t rain. And if the wind stays down. And if I don’t get a stitch from drinking too much water before my run.

A friend suggested another way for me to beat my PB. He said I should get a set of aero bars for my bike. That’s something I had never considered. I’m considering it now, but doubt that I’ll do anything about it just yet.

One guy in my club says the aero bars on his bike are good for an extra 2 mph. There’s got to be some support for that, or all the hardcore TT riders wouldn’t be using them. But what about regular riding?

The aero bars on Bob's bike.

My friend Bob, who I rode with on the MS 150, has aero bars on his bike. When he was ahead of me on straightaways, he would get down into sort of an aero tuck. Not only did he start to slowly pull away from me that way, but they also gave him another position on that long ride. Getting down on the bars from time to time helped keep him fresh.

But while it’s a different position, it’s also an unstable position. If you watched the Tour de France opening time trial, you probably noticed that the riders stayed in their aero crouch as long as possible, but when they came to turns, they had to get on the handlebars.

That’s why a lot of organized group rides prohibit aero bars. They want to prevent crashes that can happen if someone on aero bars gets too close to another bike, and accidentally bumps it, or even if they hit a bad piece of pavement and get knocked off their line. It’s not easy to get instantly from elbows on pads to hands on bars and regain control before the bike goes over.  Besides, if you’re riding in a group, you don’t even need aero bars. The peloton will pull you along.

What’s your take? Have you used them? Do you like them? Will you try them? Or have you decided they’re just not worth the bother?