We’re at the end of another year.  Bike-wise, it was a good year for me.  Among my personal highlights:

  • A new yearly mileage record: 4,100 miles.
  • Two century rides
  • Completion of the full two-day MS 150 from Houston to Austin
  • Improved fitness – lost girth, if not much weight – I like wearing smaller pants
  • Improved hill climbing.  Not where I want to be yet, but I can now climb my personal nemesis – as long as I rest to catch my breath at the top

Happy New Year, y'all!

I’m undecided about where my biking will go in 2011.  Both distance riding and more training appeal to me.  Right now, I’m leaning toward doing more long rides – rides of over 60 miles.

I’m also debating whether to back away somewhat from the social aspect of cycling.  I enjoy riding with friends, and one of the highlights of 2010 was meeting and riding with folks I’d only known online.  But I do most of my riding alone, and I think I enjoy that more.  I look forward to our Sunday morning club rides, but it doesn’t kill me to pass one up.

I do enjoy organized rides, and will probably do more in the new year than I did this year.  I’ve missed lots of good ones in this area, and I’d like to try them out.

But I think the emphasis will be on biking as fun, rather than biking as work.  Best of everything to each of you.

Shoes – Tight or Loose?

Okay, here’s one for you.  I have a dilemma.  It’s about shoes.

When I got my shoes two years ago (is it that long already?), I made sure to get size 44s, instead of the 42s I normally wear on the street (Yes, speaking metrically makes me feel veddy continental).  The theory is that since my feet swell up during exercise, the extra room in the shoes would keep them from squeezing my feet too tightly, causing hot spots, numbness, and a whole plethora of other bad things that happen to feet on a long bike ride.

My wife has been complaining about her shoes, too.  She’s had hers even longer than I’ve had mine, and they seem to have served her very well.  Both of use have Specialized shoes, which aren’t cheap.  They have carbon soles, so we get no flex when pedaling hard.  But in warm weather, her feet get pinched, and cause her a lot of discomfort (I’m bringing up warm weather in December, because our winters are pretty mild compared to the rest of you folks, and her most recent complaint about her foot was within the last two weeks).

I bring this up now, because recently I was reading an article — I forget if it was in print or online, but as I recall, it came from a source I regard as reliable — that said you don’t need to allow for extra room.  In fact, it said biking shoes should fit snugly.

About five or six years ago, when I bought my last pair of running shoes (before I stopped running), the sales clerk told me to get a larger than normal size to allow for the swelling my feet would do while exercising.  I did, and they worked out great.  I’ve even started buying street shoes a half size larger than normal.  But since seeing that article, I’m confused.  Should she stick with the shoes she has, and look for other means of relief?  Or should we go shopping for new shoes, and do what I did — get a couple of metric sizes larger?

Readers — what’s your take on this?

To See Or Be Seen?

My wife tells the story of shopping for the headlight I wanted for Christmas (she couldn’t miss — I left some pretty obvious clues).  She went to the big LBS and told one of the sales guys that she wanted a headlight for me.

“Well, let me ask this,” he said. “Does he want to see or be seen?”

“Oh, I don’t know!” she answered.  It was a concept she wasn’t aware of, and we had never discussed.

She called from the car, and asked me.

“I want to be seen,” I replied.

“Oh, that’s good,” she said, “because the ones to be seen are $40-$50, and the ones to see are over $100.” She wanted to avoid the big-ticket item, because we had agreed to go easy on presents this Christmas.

Some impressive light sets can be had for cyclists who really want to light up the night.  Committed nighttime riders often mount two headlights.  The powerful ones can be run by a dyno hub, so just riding the bike will supply power to the light.  Or they’ll have a battery pack that fastens to the bike frame.

But I don’t ride long distances out in the country after dark.  My need for lights is because I get caught in dusk before I can get home from a late afternoon ride.  I want cars to see me on lighted city streets and less well-lighted residential streets.

When the salesman realized what I needed, he recommended a Planet Bike Blaze.  She got me the 1-watt model; a 2-watt model is also available.  While she was at it, she added a bright Serfas light that attaches to the bike’s seat stay.  It has more flash patterns than the cheap taillight I have now, and its steady beam is more prominent, too.

It was our turn to entertain guests for Christmas this year.  They’ve all headed home now.  I’m looking forward to trying out the new lights during the upcoming week.

Merry Christmas!

As I did some Veloway laps the other day, I was cheered by all the decorated trees – like the one at right – that popped up this year.  In a 3.1-mile lap, I counted 11 different decorated trees.  Last year, the inline skating club that uses the Veloway decorated several trees, but I don’t know if they just increased their efforts this year or if others jumped in with their own decorated versions.  Doesn’t matter, really.  Just passing by them puts a smile on your face.  To get a full-size view of these trees, just click on them.

In some cases, it appears there’s a bit of a contest going on – to see who can decorate the nicest tree.  Lights are out of the question, since there’s no easy access to power around the track, but lots of folks manage to do just fine without them.

An old, and now disused, outhouse is all dolled up as a gingerbread house.

One of the trees is decorated with feathers – a touch that makes it look like the tree is covered in tropical birds.

In the spirit of the season, it’s nice to see that none of the trees has been vandalized – at this writing.

I probably won’t post again until Sunday at the earliest, while we entertain family for Christmas.  From Bike Noob and Mrs. Noob, have the happiest of holidays!

Four Grand

My wife said, “Hey, let’s go out for a bike ride.  I don’t want to go long – I have to get back and do some cleaning.”

“Fine,” I said. “I’m not up for a long ride today, anyway.”

We set off on one of her favorite neighborhood routes.  It’s got some easy hills, and I can get in a quick workout, then wait for her at the tops and bottoms.  On a mid-December 54-degree day (12ºC), we had a good ride.  And when we got home, I was able to confirm what I had expected:

I had 4,002 miles for the year.

Three years ago, when I was just getting into riding, a new riding friend told me he had ridden 2,200 miles the year before.  Based on the riding I was doing at the time, I projected I’d end the year with 1200-1500 miles.  The mileage he was talking about seemed out of reach.

But that year, I wound up with over 2,500 miles.  Last year, I topped 3,000.  Now this.

It wasn’t hard.

I have never set out expecting to ride a certain number of miles in a year.  Based on my experience, I could project what I might end with, but each time I’ve done that, I’ve been off.  The miles accumulate at a faster rate than I can imagine.

I’m a record-keeping type of person, and I have records of my rides going back to my first year on the bike: 2007.  That year, I averaged just over 17 miles per ride.  The next year, it jumped to 21, then 21.5.  This year, I’m averaging 23.6 miles per ride.

My usual weekly riding goes something like this: I’ll get in a quick 15-18 miles on a weekday.  During the summer, it might be more, but most often, not.  On Saturday, I have a 26-mile route in my neighborhood, and on Sunday, I’ll either do a club ride or another longer ride in the area, anything from 30-60 miles.

Keep doing that week after week, and take advantage of nice weather during those temperate months, and the miles pile up in no time.  You don’t need to constantly strive for 100-plus mile weeks to hit 4,000.

I have a feeling that in the coming year, I’ll be concentrating a lot more on improving my cycling skills than building my mileage.  But it’s nice to know that I’ve hit a number that most non-cyclers – and even some who do bike – have trouble imagining.


Saddle Review – Bontrager Affinity

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel is still trying to find the perfect perch.

Saddle reviews seem to be a popular item on the web. Obviously, a lot of us are still searching for the ideal interface between butt and bike. This year Bontrager introduced a new saddle for your consideration — the Affinity. I’ve been quietly evaluating one for several months this fall, and after plenty of miles I’m ready to offer my impressions.

The Affinity RL. Click to enlarge.

Like the InForm saddles introduced the year before, Bontrager’s Affinity line has the requisite science behind it. It uses the InForm “Science of Comfort” design, which basically means it was designed using a lot of data like pressure mapping and 3-D motion capture. That info was used to create a seat that comes in three different sizes and curvatures to match a rider’s skeletal structure. The InForm theory is basically that riders don’t really sit on their sit bones, but instead their pubic arch. Support that arch properly and you take some of the pressure off the pudendal nerve and artery, alleviating the numbness and pain that makes many of us squirm after a few miles have passed under our tires.

The original InForm neglected to feature a cutout, but rather featured two densities of foam, stiffer in areas that supported the skeletal structure and softer in those areas that came into contact with the more tender parts of a rider’s anatomy. The Affinity also uses that dual-density foam, but it adds a gender-specific Contour Relief Zone, essentially a subtle lengthwise divot at the saddle’s midpoint to provide a little more pressure relief.

Like the previous InForm, riders get sized in a local shop by sitting on a simple bench with a gel top. The indentations of your buttisimo reveal a color-coded indicator below the gel that corresponds to the correct size. In the previous InForm I was sized for the “medium” saddle in the three-size lineup. Bontrager reps indicate the same sizing applies to the Affinity, although the corresponding metric measurements of the Affinity line are a bit smaller.

I used to think I could find the perfect saddle by reading reviews. I now know that everyone is different, and one person’s holy grail of a saddle is another person’s unholy nightmare. But I can pass along some details that might help you decide whether the Affinity might be a saddle you’ll want to try.

For starters, Bontrager alludes to the fact that the original InForm was designed for a race-like riding position, rather low and aggressive. The Affinity targets a wider audience, riders who according to Bontrager “prefer a slightly higher hand position.” In other words, if you ride bent over like an elite pro, the original model should work best; if you ride like the rest of us, a little more upright, the Affinity should be more to your liking.

As I mentioned, I dedicated myself to riding with this saddle for an extended period before giving my impressions. At first I wasn’t immediately thrilled with it. As time wore on and the saddle broke into my butt (or vice versa) I began to find it rather comfortable. I haven’t experienced any significant numbness (an occasional problem with my previous InForm), and the saddle has proved more than tolerable on extended rides. The only times I’ve found it uncomfortable is when I’ve really pushed the pace for extended periods. That probably makes sense; it’s at these moments that I’m typically more bent over in an aggressive riding position.

If you’re tempted to try the Affinity, keep several things in mind. For starters, Bontrager offers an Unconditional Comfort Guarantee. If you don’t like the saddle, you have 30 days to return it. The catch? It’s not a money-back deal, but rather an exchange.

It’s also important to position the seat properly. The tried-and-true method is to measure the distance from the center of your crank to the top of the seat, as well as the distance from the nose of the saddle to the stem bolt. The Affinity rails are “taller” than the original InForm, however, so I had to lower my seat post to achieve the best position. The Affinity’s rails also are positioned further forward than the Affinity. To duplicate my fore-aft measurement I had to push the seat as far forward as possible. A Bontrager rep suggested that I consider running a 5mm offset seatpost rather than the more common 20mm, as it would likely better fit my body no matter what saddle I chose.

Final verdict? It’s not the perfect saddle, but I’m beginning to think nothing is. I’m still riding it, however, after almost 90 days and 1,700 miles.

That must say something…

Activation Energy

Guest poster Don Blount discusses how to deal with cold weather riding.

I feel it this time of the year. For that matter, I think we all do. When the temperatures fall, the wind howls and the days get shorter, we find it takes a bit more “oomph” or work to get out and ride.

The weather, which is much more dreary than in the spring and summer, surely plays a part in it. But so do a few other things.

For example, I have to keep a closer look at the weather. Instead of sunny and warm or sunny and hot, I have to monitor if it is going to be rainy, foggy or overcast or how low the temperatures will go. Thank goodness snow is not a concern for where I live in Northern California.

And instead of just putting on light base layer, jersey, bibs, gloves, socks, gloves, helmet and going, I have to decide what I am going to wear. Do today’s conditions require long sleeve or short sleeve base layer? What about warmers or thermal jersey and tights? Toe covers or shoe covers, medium or heavy gloves? After going through all of this, it takes longer to get dressed and out the door. And on some days there is additional time to clean the bike after a ride.

Spring and summer riding is fun. Most often my biggest concerns are getting out before it gets too hot and making sure I have enough food and water.

Preparing for fall and winter rides turn into work.

A New York Times story described it best as that exercise this time of the year requires more “activation energy.” That’s a chemistry term describing the amount of energy needed to start a reaction.

For cyclists and others trying to exercise it means the amount of effort needed to begin our activity. It takes more during these months. Some people crosstrain, others train less and still some just keep going no matter how much “oomph” it takes just to get out the door. I try to be in the last category, no matter how much work it takes.