Compact Double or Triple? You Have Alternatives

My posts comparing triple cranksets with compact doubles continue to get a lot of views on an almost daily basis.  Clearly, riders are interested in comparing the two versions to try to determine which is best for them.

Now, I’ll offer some further confusion.

The choice doesn’t have to be between a triple — usually a 52-39-30 tooth crankset and a compact double — usually a 50-34.

SRAM came out with its Apex drivetrain this summer.  It’s a double crankset — you can’t get a triple from SRAM.  But what you can get is an 11-32 cassette, that will give you the range of a triple with the narrowness of a double.

The SRAM Apex 11-32 cassette and 50/34 crankset.

SRAM claims the wider range of gears offered on the ten-speed, 11-32 cassette give less redundancy between chainrings and smoother transitions between gears.  The chainrings come in three variations: 53/39, 50/34, and 48/34.  Couple a 34-tooth chainring with a 32-tooth cog and even the Bike Noob  ought to be able to climb most any hill he comes across.

Velo Orange, which caters to the long-distance cycling crowd, takes a different approach: they have a new Polyvalent crank with 46 and 30-tooth chainrings.  They suggest these would be great on city bikes and utility bikes, but I’ve seen randonneurs drool over it on their online forums.  Obviously, a 46-tooth big ring won’t let you get to the top end speed of a typical road bike, but for people who spend 12 or more hours in the saddle at a time, ease of pedaling counts for a lot.

The Velo Orange 46/30 crankset.

Either of these would be worth considering if you need help getting up the big hills on your cycling routes.  The VO Polyvalent is listed at $105.00 on the Velo Orange website; The Apex 50/34 crankset can be had at for $118, and the 11-32 cassette for $78.

Wire or Folding?

I was exchanging emails with a friend the other day, when he told me, “My Armadillo  came in today. I love the fact that it is already shaped and much easier to install.”

Already shaped?  Oh, he means he bought a wire bead tire, instead of a folding bead.

Folding bead tires.

What’s the difference?

Well, folding bead tires can be folded.  Wire beads, not so much.  The bead is where the tire contacts the rim.  Wire beads — formed by a thin steel wire — are old school.  They’ve been in use for decades.  The folding beads are usually made of Kevlar.  Wire bead tires are usually heavier, but they’re also usually cheaper than folding beads.

A lot of people think wire bead tires are lower quality than folding, but from what I’ve seen, that’s not necessarily the case.  Some tire companies make their wire beads to a lower spec than the folding ones, but some make exactly the same tire with two different types of bead.

There is also a common feeling that wire bead tires are harder to mount than folding beads.  Again, it depends on the tire.  Plenty of cyclists tell of headaches trying to mount folding bead tires.

So, which is better?

There’s no one right answer.  Wire bead tires are a little heavier, so you’re adding rolling weight to your bike.  Folding bead tires can be carried in a saddle bag or handlebar bag, in case you need to replace an entire tire on the road.  But except for hard core distance cyclists, I’m not aware of anyone who goes out for a ride with a whole spare tire.  Just a tube.

I look at the bike store’s collection of wire bead tires with envy — not because I aspire to own one, but because of their lower prices.  But I will continue to buy folders.  I get them via mail order since they’re cheaper than paying retail at a bike shop, and they ship more easily.  Otherwise, I don’t see a lot of difference.

By  the way, you can fold wire bead tires, as is demonstrated here.

Do You Need Chamois Cream?

After cycling seriously for three years now, I like to think that my bottom has HTFU’d with the best of ‘em.  But that isn’t always the case.

Earlier this month, I got rides in on Friday, Saturday, AND Sunday — a rare occurrence for me.  And as I was getting dressed for the rides, I noticed that our trusty tin of Bag Balm was empty.  What the heck — I’ve HTFU’d — I’ll just ride without lubing my bottom.

The results were great.  Never had any rubbing while on the bike.  In fact, I never thought about my posterior contact point.  I figured I’d now be able to ride all the time without any kind of chamois cream, or bottom lube, or whatever you prefer to call it.

Three days later, things changed.

I woke up with a saddle sore.  Yes, one of those pimple-like things in the crotchal zone.  Irritating beyond belief.  Jeff Hemmel discussed them about a year ago.

I’ve had these things before, and they’re no fun.  But this time, I was lucky.  I put on some bike clothes and went for a ride, and it didn’t bother me at all.  So, it wasn’t the result of rubbing against the saddle itself.  When I got home, however, I sure knew it was there.

So for several days, I had this weird situation.  I could ride and not be bothered, but in street clothes — zing!

It went away in a few more days, and — knock wood — hasn’t been back.

And I still haven’t replaced the empty tin of Bag Balm.

How about you?  Are you tough enough to ride without lube?

Falling Into Fall

Guest poster Don Blount recalls a year-old incident.

The first day of fall brings back memories of the day I first fell. At least the day I fell badly enough to suffer a significant injury. It was Sept. 22, 2009 and I was halfway through a 46-mile ride. The turnaround point was at an area nature preserve and I had gone to the visitors center to look for a trashcan to throw away a banana peel.

A long driveway and sidewalk leads to and from the visitors’ center, and as I was on my way out, a car was on its way in. The driveway is just wide enough for two oncoming cars to pass each other if they go slowly. As the car approached, I moved to get over and onto the sidewalk to be completely out the driver’s way.

I vaguely remember the feeling of falling. I clearly remember the pain of being slammed to the ground. And then the next thing I remembered was someone, the driver of the car, asking me if I was alright.

It took me a bit to collect myself, check my bike and then ride the remaining 23 miles home – with a fractured left wrist.

The gap shown in the photos is what caught my front tire. The sidewalk is about an inch higher than the road surface and that gap is just wide enough to trap a tire.

I watch out for these little road inconsistencies more closely now and work hard at keeping the rubber side down.

Close Encounters of the Furry Kind

It seems everyone has a story about a nasty dog. Lately, I’ve been having more encounters on my bike with the smaller critters of the animal kingdom.

The squirrels I’m getting used to. I frequently ride a paved rail trail through my county, and the little buggers seem to enjoy hanging out at the side of the trail and then making a break for it once you’re right on top of them. Sure, go ahead and laugh, but I swear they’re playing chicken. Most have just been close calls, but this past Spring one darted between my friend’s tires…and right under my front wheel. There, he somehow got picked up by my wheel and flung into my left shin, before shaking himself off and running away. Since then, numerous friends of his seem to be taunting me on nearly every ride.

Hey, just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me…

Today’s encounter, however, takes the cake. This morning I was out at a local state park, churning down a flat road empty of traffic. On the opposite side of the pavement I spotted two raccoons, busily dealing with something at the edge of the blacktop. I saw them at the last second, but quickly rationalized I was fine. I was almost past them, moving at about 20 mph, and they were on the other side of the road, distracted. I’d be gone before they had a chance to flinch. But that’s when one of the pair suddenly decided to channel Usain Bolt and sprint at world-record pace across the entire width of the road…and right into my path.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m an animal lover. But I’ve heard many a story of people flipping their cars, or yes, crashing their bikes, trying to avoid an animal at the last possible second. And long ago I decided that in these unfortunate, but unavoidable situations, I’m looking out for my best interests. That’s why I didn’t try any crazy last-second swerve that would have left me skidding across the road, or didn’t slam the brakes and eat it over the handlebars. Instead, I just kept my bars pointed straight, held on for dear life…and ran right over him.

Let me tell you, hitting a large raccoon at 20 mph…with your front tire…is a thrill I don’t care to repeat. It left me briefly careening out of control, swearing up a storm…but miraculously able to keep upright and ride away. Sure, I feel bad. No one, at least no one normal, wants to harm an animal. But I would have felt worse had I gotten seriously injured trying to avoid him. I turned back to see the raccoon make his way off the road and into the tree line, but he was obviously hurt. I stopped at the park office to report what happened in the hopes a ranger might find him. But as I walked out, those bad feelings were tempered by the comments from the woman behind the desk: “I’m glad you weren’t seriously hurt.”

Believe me, so was I.

The Mystery of the Disappearing Slow Leak

Last week, I discovered that my front tire was way down in pressure.  This struck me as odd, because it hadn’t been that many days since I had last ridden, and the tire shouldn’t have lost that much air.  Must have developed a slow leak.

I pumped it up and went out on my usual Saturday ride, which turned out to be the bad ride.  When I put the bike away after only 10 miles, the tire was still firm.

The next morning, I put the bike in the back of the SUV to drive to San Marcos for what I hoped would be a 68-mile ride.  But when I went to pump up the tire at the ride start, pressure was down again — to only 60 pounds.  I decided to go the 41-mile route instead, just to be on the safe side.  The tire performed well.

Then Tuesday, it was the time trial.  Oddly, the tire pressure was just a little under the 100 pounds I’d pumped it up to on Sunday.  I topped it off, headed out to the time trial, and had a great run (22:17 unofficial time for eight miles – previous best had been an official 23:02).

I didn’t ride again until Friday morning. Pressure had dropped to about 80 pounds over the three days since the TT – not unusual.  I pumped it up and rode.  Then rode another 25 miles Saturday.  The tire barely needed pumping at all.

This morning, I had planned a fairly long ride – about 60 miles round trip.  When I squeezed the tire in the garage, it felt firm.  I put the pump on it, and only had to add about 10 pounds.

I rode to San Marcos and back.  Total mileage 58. Just for fun, I checked the tire before writing this post at suppertime.  Still at 100 pounds.  Whatever slow leak is, or was, in the tire seems to be sealing itself.

I pulled the wheel, took off the tire, and put in a replacement tube.  I think one can press his luck only so far.

What’s Your Favorite Drink Mix?

I was riding out in the country recently, and noticed one of the riders in my group take a drink from his bottle.  The bottle was clear, and the liquid inside was an unappealing yellow (yes, that color of yellow).

I asked him what he was drinking.

“It’s Accelerade,” he said, “with one scoop of lemon lime R4, and one Nuun lemon lime tablet.  It’s the best drink mix I’ve come across.”

Wow.  I carry two water bottles.  One is plain water, and one is water with one Nuun tablet.  Nothing fancy.  But it turns out I’ve heard from lots of people who have their own ideas of what kind of drink mix to concoct for their rides.  Here’s a sample:

As a certified Cheap Bastard, I put the following into a 28 ounce water bottle on rides that will last two hours or more:

  • enough Gatorade powder to reconstitute a quart of Gatorade
  • 1 tbsp unflavored whey powder
  • 4-6 ice cubes

Works for me, and it leaves me feeling much stronger at the end of a ride than Gatorade alone.  It costs a metric buttload less than Endurox, Cytomax, etc., too.

When I used to race on the pro duathalon circuit, my water bottle was always filled with defizzed Coke for shorter bike stages (say, 40K or less).  If longer than 40K, I’d carry two bottles – one with Coke, one with water.

Hammer Perpetuem works for me…along with Thermolyte buffered sodium supplements (capsule).

From Bicycling magazine: “Sipping a sports drink with carbohydrate, rather than plain water, from the start of a long ride can help spare your precious muscle glycogen stores by about 50 percent in the first hour alone, according to a study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. This means you’ll have more energy for the long haul.”

I’ve used Accelerade before — by itself, not mixed with anything else.  It seems to work.  That is, I’ve never had any issues while using it.  But the taste takes some getting used to.  After my first jar of Accelerade was gone, I didn’t go back for another.

I did try Hammer Heed, on the advice of a friend.  I thought it worked about as well as Accelerade, with its own funky taste.  I haven’t gone back for a second container of that stuff, either.

The guy in the first example here said he thought the Accelerade was fine, until it warmed up.  “Then the flavor is enough to make you sick,” he said.  He used lots of ice in his bottle, but in the Texas summertime heat, it doesn’t last long.  “I drink it pretty quick,” he said.

I have bought bottles of G2 — the low-sugar Gatorade — from convenience stores when out on a ride.  That stuff seems to help, too, without the crazy taste.  However, some serious athletes don’t use bottled energy drinks of that ilk.

If I can keep hydrated, and take the occasional food, I’m good on rides up to 100 miles.  I’ve never felt the need to develop a personal energy mix of my own.

How about you?  We’re nearing the end of the warm weather riding season, so a discussion along these lines might be superfluous, but it’s fun to hear different ideas kicked around. Do you have a special drink mix that you rely on?

Downgrading: A Tough Decision

I’ve written about my recent efforts to upgrade my bike.  So have my guest posters, Don Blount and Jeff Hemmel.  So after my problems Saturday, I faced a difficult decision.

As you’ll recall, I broke my right shifter — the one that controls the rear derailleur.

I took the bike into the LBS, and the guy looked over the shifter.  He had bad news: The shift cable had broken off inside the shifter, and he couldn’t get it out.  “These things aren’t really made to be serviced,” he said.  “You’ll have to replace it.”

Ouch. I didn’t want to hear that.  Shifters are expensive.

The Sora shifter, with its characteristic thumb trigger for upshifts.

“Lemme see what’s in stock,” he said.  He came back with a Shimano Sora shifter.  My bike has Tiagra shifters — one level up in the Shimano hierarchy.  The Sora is at the low end of Shimano’s lineup.

I asked about getting another Tiagra.  He said it would have to be ordered.  On top of that, it would cost 50 percent more than the Sora.  Another ouch.

I hemmed and hawed.  If I ordered the Tiagra, it would be several days before I had a bike.  If I had him put on the Sora, I would be downgrading my bike.

On the other hand, I recalled my only previous experience with Sora equipment: On a rental bike two summers ago.  It worked fine.  I thought about the price.  I thought about making the ride the next day that I had been wanting to do.

“Go ahead and put on the Sora,” I told him.  “And while you’re at it, the headset needs adjusting, and I need a new chain.”

An hour later, it was all ready.  I made my ride the next day.

The shifter performed well.  Not flawlessly.  It’s less precise than the Tiagra, which is not in itself the most precise shifter.  I learned on the ride that it helped  to plan my shifts more than I’d been used to, and to click the little thumb trigger very definitely — no flicking the thumb at it and expecting a clean shift.

This evening, I took the bike out to our local time trial.  I had to turn the barrel adjusters to tighten the derailleur cable, because it was jumping cogs, popping off the cog when I applied force, and being generally cranky.  I went out on the eight-mile course, and it appears from my unofficial time that I set a personal best, beating my old mark by at least 30 seconds.  I was very careful and deliberate with my shifts out there.

I think it will take several more rides before I’m used to it.  There will be lots more time spent adjusting the cables in the coming week.  But after my experience with it over the past couple of days, I intend to make it work.

The Good Ride

After my bad ride yesterday, I was anxious to get out on the road again.  This week, the Mamma Jamma training ride was in San Marcos, Texas, 30 miles south of Austin.  The distances were a little longer than they’ve been, and since my wife was playing in a golf tournament today, I was determined to get up really early to drive down there for the ride.

I had gotten the bike serviced after my mishap yesterday, and had a new shifter installed (more on that in the next post). The shop also adjusted my headset and put on a new chain.  I patched two tubes and was ready to go.

The ride had options of 68 and 41 miles. I began to top off my front tire, and the gauge read 60 pounds.  I pumped up the tire to 100 pounds when I put in the patched tube last night, so this wasn’t a good sign.  I opted for the 41-miler even though I had hoped to do the 68.

Once you’re east of I-35 in San Marcos, you’re pretty much out in the country.  Even though I work in San Marcos, I’m not familiar with much of the surrounding area.  We were on two-lane country roads with almost no motor traffic.  The ride was organized this week by a women’s cycling/triathlon club, the “Tough Cookies,” and they provided us with detailed cue sheets and maps.

Still, people got confused about directions.  Early in the ride, our ride leader stopped at an intersection to wait for riders to catch up.  He told me to go another three miles, then turn left.  I headed out, but something didn’t seem right.  I stopped and turned back to him.

“We don’t go straight here,” I said.  “We turn left on this road.”

He double-checked his cue sheet against the map.  “You’re right,” he said.  Like a cowboy turning a stampeding herd of cattle, he rode into the cyclists coming up behind us and sent them in the right direction.

Another ten miles on, the cue sheet said to turn right onto Friedens Church Road.  A young lady stopped at the intersection, right under the street sign for the road.  “We go straight here, don’t we?” she asked.  Oh, well.

One reason I enjoyed the ride was that it took us on roads most of us had never ridden — and they turned out to be great for cycling.  Good condition, mostly — some bad chip seal, but not too much — and the hills were not killers.

At about the halfway point in the ride, we arrived at the hamlet of Geronimo, where a stop was designated.  It was at a convenience store, but we also found a pickup truck packed with cold water, fruit, energy bars — everything you would need and more.  Not only did this ride have sag support — volunteers had stocked their truck with goodies.  We loitered at the stop a little longer than we might have under other circumstances.

This old gas station in Geronimo now appears to be a residence. Maybe.

I was glad to pick the 41-mile distance, because the day heated up quickly.  The humidity was ferocious, and sapped a body’s energy.  But little things kept us moving along, like the shetland ponies in the front yard of a house.  When one saw us riding up the road, it ran like a dog to greet us.  (The ponies were fenced in.  The only dog that got into road just wanted to say hi, and stood wagging his tail at us as we rode by him.)

Back at the starting point, volunteers again pressed food and drink on us.  Bagels with a shmear, energy bars, more cold apple slices, cold water.  As I sat at a curb eating, a young woman dropped a cold towel over the back of my neck.

“I’m giving free massages,” she said.  I signed up immediately.

This would have been a great ride anytime.  After yesterday, it was as good as it gets.

The Bad Ride

I really enjoy riding. Even a quick half-hour jaunt through the neighborhood leaves me feeling good.  So I was looking forward to my Saturday morning 25-miler.

About four miles into the ride, I had to stop for a red light.  I moved the bike out of the right turn lane, unclipped my right shoe, and made the fatal mistake: I turned the handlebars to the right.

That caused the bike to lean left, and I was still clipped in on that side.  I frantically tried to wrench my foot loose, but I went down on the left side.  If this has ever happened to you (come on, now — I know it has!), you know your only concern is to get upright again, so all those people at the intersection don’t laugh and point fingers.  In this case, there was only one cyclist who had just crossed in front of me.  When she heard me go down, she immediately stopped and asked if I needed help.

I grinned and said, “No, I just didn’t clip out in time.”

“Oh, that’s happened to me,” she said.

I got moving again, glad that the bike seemed all right.  But in a little while, I felt an odd sensation at the back of my leg.  Blood was pooling in my sock from a puncture wound left by the chainring when I fell.

The blood and the chainring tattoo made an interesting pattern.

It didn’t seem as bad as it was, so I kept going.

Several miles later, I turned onto a four-lane divided street that runs through my neighborhood.  It has a bike lane, but as usual, the lane was littered with debris.  It wasn’t long before I sensed that my rear tire was going flat.

I pulled off onto a side street, in the shade, took off the wheel, and found the problem. A tiny nail, a brad no more than a half-inch long, had made a neat puncture in the tire.  I yanked the nail out with my teeth, and changed the tube.

One move I have always had trouble with is remounting the rear tire after a flat.  I can’t seem to get the cassette and chain to mesh properly, even though I have it shifted into the smallest cog.  I must have done something stupid, because suddenly, my shifter cable popped out of the brake hood on the handlebar.

I fiddled with it and fiddled with it, but couldn’t get it to reattach.  I was a little more than a mile from home, and rode in the big ring and smallest cog all the way.

In the bathroom, I cleaned the wound and put a Band-Aid on it — but in a few minutes, I was back in the bathroom again, when the Band-Aid became saturated with blood.  After putting on several gauze pads and applying pressure, the bleeding stopped.  Sort of.

Then I tried to sop up all the blood spots from the bathroom carpet.  The results are less than stellar.

I like to think that every time I’m on the bike, it’s a good ride.  Not today.