n + 1

How many bikes should a cyclist own? According to the old joke, the answer is: n + 1.  Where n is the number of bikes he currently owns. He can always use one more.

Monday was bulk trash pickup day in our neighborhood, and as Mrs. Noob and I returned from our morning ride, it seemed every house had some junk piled on the curb. Our neighbors across the street had a bike mixed in with their stuff.

“Hey,” I called out to Pat.  “A bike!  I’m going to check it out.”

A few minutes later, I was the proud owner of a new (to me), free bike.

It’s a beauty.

It's red. (Click to embiggen.)

If I get nothing from this bike but the rack, I'm still ahead.

The previous owner had a novel handlebar setup -- one bar extension. I think I can do a better taping job than he did.

It’s an old Schwinn Moab mountain bike, unsuspended.  A little cleanup and fixup, and the possibilities are endless.  It can become an errand bike, or just something to cruise the neighborhood on, or I can put on some fenders, drop bars, and 28 mm tires, and go out to see the world.

Realistically though, it’ll probably contribute some parts to my growing stock.  Watch this space for further details.

Having to Clip Out Is No Excuse

Our friend Jeff Hemmel sent this story about another crackdown on bicyclists — this one in St. Petersburg, Fla., where police ticketed 16 cyclists in one day for failure to stop at a stop sign.

We’ve covered stop sign issues here before — and police crackdowns on stop sign scofflaws — so this isn’t really anything new.  What interested me on reading the article was this sentence: “Petrak said she knows she should obey stop signs, but clipping and unclipping her bike shoes slows her down and can make it dangerous when crossing intersections.”

Roll eyes here.

When I took the League of American Bicyclists Road I course — now Traffic Skills 101 — I got points deducted during our ride through the city because I didn’t put a foot on the ground at a stop sign. Their attitude is that stop means stop.  That’s the attitude the Austin Police took last year when they ticketed several members of my club for not stopping at a stop sign. But to them, a full stop means the cyclist should put a foot on the ground.

Okay, I’ll come clean.  I still don’t put a foot down at every stop sign.  Certainly, if there’s no traffic at an intersection, I’ll slow, then go.  If there is traffic at the stop sign, I’ll slow to a track stand, kind of — I’m not very good at them, but I can hold my position for a few seconds, anyway. But unless I get a signal from the driver right away that I can go, I clip out and stop. That’s a very unmistakable signal that I want the driver to go before me.  It’s also one reason I have my pedals set to very light tension.

But I think that comments about the burden of having to unclip at stop signs do nothing to mitigate the antagonism between motorists and cyclists.  We come across as whiners who want everything our way.

If it’s too much of a hassle to clip out, I suggest a little practice is in order.  Do it while supporting yourself against a wall, or a tree, or a light pole.  Keep doing it until it becomes second nature.  Tip: I have found that I clip in faster and easier if I just do it by feel.  It’s when I sneak a look down at my foot that I have to try two or three or more times to get clipped in.

And as far as the safety issue of crossing intersections, I learned long ago that the cyclist’s first job is to get across.  More often than not, I just rest my foot on the pedal and pedal across the intersection, then I worry about getting clipped in.  Sorry, but it’s not a big deal.

What’s your take?

Extra Tire Protection?

I’ve been lucky lately – no flats in the last two months, after a whole raft of them earlier this summer.  But a friend of mine has been plagued by the flat monster.  it seems every time we talk biking, he’s had another flat.

From the Mr. Tuffy website.

He thinks he might have his problem solved, however.  He bought some tire liners for his tires.  He thinks the extra layer will give him the protection he needs from the tiny shards of glass and bits of metal shavings that seem to cause most of his flats.

If that doesn’t work, he says he’s got his eye on some Slime inner tubes.  They come coated with a thin layer of Slime to prevent flats.

I’ve heard two different sides of the tire liner story.  On the one hand, testimonials I’ve read say they work.  Others say the extra protection comes at a price – and the price is poorer ride quality than you would get without the liners.  “You lose some of the suppleness of the tire,” said one forum commenter.  Another chimed in, ‘You lose some of the suppleness of the tire, and after a year or so, the ends of the tire liners eventually slice the tube wide open.”

But if you install the Mr. Tuffies, “problem solved,” said another.

I told my friend tire liners might work, but wouldn’t he be better off just spending a little more on good tires?  Or even shopping around a little to get good tires, but at a good sale price?

I have no experience with either tire liners or the Slime tubes.  My Gatorskins are holding up pretty well (They’ve taken a lot of abuse from being ridden on some crummy roads around here), so I’m not going to dash out and spend money on preventive measures when I don’t feel it’s necessary.

Have you had experience with either tire liners or the Slime tubes? Any recommendations about which way to go?

Mr. Tuffy: http://mrtuffy.com/index.php

Slime: http://www.slime.com/index.php

Updating the Bike Fit

After his crash and broken bones earlier this summer, Don Blount decided it was time to update his bike fit.

Being comfortable on the bike is important to being able to spend time on the bike. That is one of the reasons I went in recently for another bike fit. My last real fit by a certified fitter was about 18 months ago.

This time I went in to see Jon Tallerico, owner of The Bicycle Café (lodibicyclecafe.com), an eight-month old local high-end bike shop that specializes in bike, equipment, service and coffee. The shop has a few Orbea bikes on display, Sidi shoes and the ceiling is decorated with racing jerseys. I have not tried the coffee yet but I am told that it is good.

In addition to my bike, Jon told me to bring cycling shorts and a helmet. Instead of packing my car, I rode 11 miles from my home to the shop so I was warmed up when I arrived.

As Jon put my bike on the wind trainer he explained that bike geometry is built around cyclists with long arms and legs and a short torso. That in part describes me as I am 5’9” with a 35-inch sleeve length and 32-inch inseam.

A proper bike fit is akin to wearing a good pair of shoes. Just as you put on the shoes and feel your feet go “aaah,” you should settle on the bike instead of trying to get comfortable on the bike.

I got on my bike and pedaled and Jon watched and measured. He measured the bike, he measured me. I got off the bike and he made an adjustment. After several adjustments I took the bike out and rode around the block. Jon joined me and watched to see how my position looked.

Jon Tallerico makes adjustments to Don's bike.

In the end the changes appeared to be small in size but they were huge in effect.

  • Handlebars raised 1 cm.
  • Seat moved back 0.5 cm and down 1 cm.
  • Cleats moved back and adjusted so my feet toe out a smidge while in the pedals so my feet, knees and legs track better.

The adjustments relieved pressure on my hands and low back and placed me more on my saddle in that “C” riding position.

I have seen and heard that we should get periodic bike fits because our bodies change over time. We can become more or less limber, more muscular or stronger.

The accidents I have had in the past year may have affected my bike fit. Jon did not say my old fit was wrong; however, my new fit is better. I took a different route home to get in an additional 17 miles and took note of how much more comfortable I was on the bike and mentally calculating the rides I would be getting in later.

I Think I Bonked – Almost

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel is back in Florida after summer in cool upstate New York — and he finds that reacclimating to hot, humid weather can be tricky.

I like to think I’m in pretty good cycling shape. But today I think I bonked…almost.

In hindsight, I probably should have expected it. Today’s ride was my first since returning home (just last night) to Florida. For the last three days, I’ve been off one kind of saddle and in another – the seat of my car, driving my two young children solo on a nearly 1,500-mile road trip. Sure, we stopped at Hershey for a diversion, but other than that it’s been three days of basically sitting in the car. I ate lousy fast food, indulged in a Mountain Dew every day to keep me awake following a post-lunch desire to take a nap, and drank way too little water. I also slept lousy, one night sharing a bed with my restless young ones while spending the next battling a cantankerous hotel air conditioner.

Then this morning, after just arriving home about 12 hours earlier, I ate a mediocre breakfast, threw on my cycling gear, and expected to knock out a quick 30-miles in the oppressive Florida humidity…after two months in the cooler, lower humidity of the Upstate NY mountains…without a problem.

Stupid? I’m starting to think so. My reasoning, of course, is that I was in really good shape. I’ve been riding steadily for years, and climbing big hills all summer long. A measly 30 miles on flat roads would be easy. But in the end, it wasn’t.

I started out strong. My bike computer’s battery had died, and I think I ended up pushing it a little harder than normal. Then I stumbled across a triathlon wrapping up, and fell in with a guy churning out some post-race miles on his TT bike. When I ultimately turned off to head home, I suddenly found myself battling a strong headwind, with no support in sight, and the beginnings of a weird tingly feeling I’ve rarely, if ever, felt on the bike.

I’ve never bonked, so to be honest, don’t really know the feeling. I recognized something was amiss, however, and tried to react. I downed a couple Clif Shot Blocks, and tried to drink some more of my Gatorade mix. But I never really significantly backed it down, reasoning that I would only if I started to feel dizzy or something. Of course, I was also somewhat vain. Passing me was by now an endless line of triathlon types in their cars heading home. I’m not sure I wanted the indignity of being the guy stopping by the side of the road just because he felt a little heat.

Toward the end I got unexpectedly passed by two triathlon competitors, then sped up to join them at a traffic light. Stopping for a moment, as well as starting a conversation with the pair, seemed to distract me from the weird sensation I was flirting with. When the light turned green I fell in with them and churned the pedals till I got home.

The afternoon, however, has been pretty much of a waste. I’ve got a headache, haven’t accomplished much of anything, and just feel really weird. Another thing? I’m not that thirsty, though I know I’m way behind on my water intake compared to normal.

Obviously, I staved off the bonk on my ride, by how much I’m not sure. But I’m certain I flirted with it, and perhaps continue to do more so as the day wears on.

What about you, any bonk-related close calls? And perhaps more important at this point, any good suggestions for recovery? I’ll read any and all…but first, I’m seriously thinking about taking a nap.

Where to Place Your Hands

Recently, I was on a longer-than-usual ride, and after awhile, things started aching. Since the group I was with had already gone 35 miles without stopping, I thought a break was in order, and picked a shady spot under a bridge to rest a bit.

“All my contact points are sore,” I told one of my co-riders.  “My feet, my butt, and my hands.”

The feet weren’t a problem. A few minutes rest would take care of the hot spot, and I would make sure to pull up rather than push down the rest of the way in.  My butt wasn’t a problem, either, because the rest would help that, too.  But the hands — I’ve had sore hands before, and they don’t go away so easily.

The wrong way. My weight is centered between thumb and forefinger.

I stumbled across the answer several days later. My hands hurt because I’ve been putting them on the bar in the wrong place.  I spend 90 percent of my time on the hoods, and the web between thumb and forefinger naturally wraps around the hood.

That’s not what you want to do.

A post on Bike Forums suggested that your hands should bear all the weight on their heels.  That takes pressure off the tender webbing, and allows you to ride in comfort for hours on end.  The forum poster even asserted that you could ride without gloves and still be comfortable, if you kept the weight on the heels of the hands.

The right way. Weight to the outside.

I decided to try it.  The next weekend, I took a club ride about the same distance as when I had the soreness.  Several miles into the ride, I remembered that I was going to try the new hand position (I learn slowly, sometimes). I shifted the hands slightly to the sides, to where I could feel the heels absorb the weight.

It was pretty good.

This really works.  Problem is, I shift my hands a bit when I have to brake, and then forget to put them back in their new positions.  “Move your hands!” I kept reminding myself.

The weight-on-the-heel position doesn’t work only when your hands are on the hoods.  It’ll work anytime, anywhere. Want to rest your hands on top of the bar, near the stem?  Pay attention to where you put the heel.  Want to move the hands around just for some variety? Try putting them on the tall part of the shifter enclosure.  The heel naturally falls on the hood that way.  Again, you might have to shift the hands quickly if you have to brake, but that’s not an issue.

And I can vouch for the claim that the heel will support your weight regardless of the amount of padding.  On another day, I wore my backup gloves, with only a piece of synthetic leather over the heel of the hand — no cushioning inside.  I rode for over an hour with no discomfort.

These pictures show local crit racers who position their hands correctly. The guy on the left points his forearms in.  So does the guy on the right, who also shows that you don’t need gloves to ride comfortably.

With heels supporting your weight, you aren’t going to put a death grip on the bars.  In fact, you ought to be able to wiggle your fingers and wrap them lightly around the bars.  That will eliminate tension from your hands, and you’ll ride comfortably for hours.

Criterium pictures via Facebook.

Passing on the Right

Lots of cyclists were on the road Saturday morning. Pat and I had hop-scotched with several beginners who were being led along the Mopac route by an experienced cyclist.

I had just passed them again, and was settling into an easy pace, when suddenly, a young woman zipped by me on the right!

I had no idea she was there.  I never heard her.  She never announced herself.

I was just on the verge of moving to the right side of the shoulder when she passed.  If I had made my move a second or two earlier, we would have crashed.

Uh oh. He's passing on the right!

One of the most basic rules of cycling you learn early on: Never pass on the right. Most organized rides specifically address that in their instructions to riders, e.g. the MS 150. Ride to the right and pass on the left.  It’s kinda like vehicular cycling. A car wouldn’t pass on the right (okay, it shouldn’t), so you shouldn’t, either.

You should never hear the call, “On your Right.”  However, there are many cyclists with varying experience.  Be on the lookout for those that will pass on your right.  If someone does this, kindly remind him or her that they should pass on the left.  Also, it is common courtesy to say “Thank You” to the person yelling “on your left.” This indicates to them that you’ve heard them.

Now, there are some sites that indicate that passing on the right is OK, but only in emergencies.  But that would be a rare situation. So rare, that if you must pass on the right be sure to give plenty of notice to the “passee.”

I’ve been kicking myself since that Saturday morning ride, because when she passed me on the right, I was so surprised, I said nothing.  In the past, I have complained to cyclists who pass me on the left without letting me know they’re there — I’m not sure why I let it go this time. It won’t happen again.