The Handmade Bike Show – I Wasn’t There. Here’s My Report.

What’s that old saw about living somewhere, but never taking advantage of its attractions? That was me this weekend. Austin, Texas hosted the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) and I didn’t go.

However, it was hard to miss, even away from the Convention Center venue. Saturday night, Bicycle Sport Shop hosted a little party (hundreds came) in conjunction with the show. They encouraged people to ride their bikes to the party, and those who owned handmade bikes were allowed to bring them inside the store and exhibit them. I turned out for that event, although I wondered if the big crowd was there for the bikes, or for the free beer and ice cream.

These are just some of the bikes people rode to the party. The 70-degree evening was perfect for a night ride. Only a few cars got to use the shop’s parking lot.

Inside, one attendee puts his own handmade bike on a rack while others travel the aisles to look the bikes over.

Some of the exhibitors at the show were at the store too, displaying some of their bikes. Co-Motion had a nice corner of the store, perhaps because Bicycle Sports Shop carries Co-Motion bikes.

A Co-Motion Nor’Wester touring bike fitted out as a commuter. Note the wooden fenders.

This road bike by Austin-based Alchemy Bicycles attracted a lot of attention.

So, after seeing all these bikes and people, am I sorry I didn’t swing by the Convention Center and take in the real show? Not really. Handmade bikes are beautiful pieces of craftsmanship, but for me, they’re out of my league. I doubt I’ll ever own a handmade bike, both because of their cost (although some seem to be priced in line with the higher-end offerings of the mass production bike companies), and because of what I consider my relative lack of sophistication about bikes. I’m perfectly happy with the Specialized Allez I own, and I see myself making upgrades to it before I pop for a whole new bike, and a custom built one at that. But I guess I can always dream.

Mountain Bike Shoes for Road Biking?

Here’s an idea I’ve been rolling around in my head for awhile…

I’ve been riding my current shoe/pedal setup for over two years now. But I’m wondering if there’s a more comfortable arrangement. Now, I’m not having any major foot problems. In the heat of summer, I get the occasional hot spot on my foot, usually if I’m putting in more miles than usual on a hot day. But those don’t occur during most of the year.

It’s just something I’ve seen, really. Bikers who wear a less aggressive cycling shoe — a touring style or mountain bike shoe, and who use pedals that fit those shoes but offer a flat platform as well

Lots of long distance cyclists and touring cyclists seem to use these, like the ones in the picture. I see those shoes, and I think “comfort.”

Only problem is, they’re SPD-style cleats, which have a fairly small area, and I’ve seen anecdotal accounts of people getting hot spots more often with SPDs than a delta-shaped cleat. I figure if the SPD cleats were coupled with a flat platform, it might make a good combination for comfort over distances.

The pedal I have in mind is both SPD-compatible, but offers a wider flat surface for the foot. It’s the Shimano A520, and is described as a “road touring” pedal with a “practical” platform. It looks like it has the width I would want on a longer ride. It comes at a reasonable price.

What’s the big advantage an SPD-compatible shoe offers? It’s supposed to be that you can walk more easily in these shoes, since the cleats are recessed into the sole. But you know, I don’t really care about walking all that much. I can get from my bike to a convenience store counter just fine with the shoes and cleats I have.

So, why am I even thinking about changing shoes and pedals? No reason in particular. I have mentioned before that I expect my riding to evolve into something more laid back than it has been. And it strikes me that a more laid back shoe would help foster that kind of riding.

I don’t suppose I’ll act on this idea anytime soon — it’s just, as I said, something I’m rolling around in my head. I’d like to get your input, though. What do you think? Do you use a touring shoe, or a mountain biking shoe, on road bike rides? What pedals do you couple with them? Or is it not a big enough deal to bother with?

Cassettes – Wide or Tight?

I met up with my biking friend John T after work today. He was excited because he made a major change on his bike: he got a new cassette.

He’s excited about it because the largest cog on the cassette has 27 teeth. It replaces the original cassette that came with the bike, that had a 23t large cog. Last summer, he managed to climb “Heart Attack Hill” west of Austin with the 23, but he’s sure he couldn’t do it now, after several months of low-mile riding. He thinks the 27 will make it easier for him to climb.

I’m sure it will. When I got a new cassette more than a year ago, the bike shop found one with a 28t cog. A 26 was the largest that came with my bike. I couldn’t climb Heart Attack Hill with the 26, but I can with the 28 (and better conditioning).

In fact, my cassette has a wide range. Its smallest cog is an 11, so its progression is 11-13-15-17-19-21-23-26-28. Yes, nine speeds. I like it, because I can really fly in the big ring with the 11t cog, and the 28 gets me up the hills. But lots of bikers hate wide range cassettes.

Their concern is with the gaps between some shifts. I have two-tooth jumps in most gears. A lot of cyclists will tell you they prefer one-tooth jumps — that wider gaps like I have make it hard to figure out just what gear you should be in, and that means more shifting between the big ring and small ring up front.

So, the more gears you’re running in back, the tighter your cassette will be. Another option would be a triple up front with a tight range in back. The small front ring will get you the granny combination you’ll need for climbing.

Both John T and I run 50/34 compact cranksets up front. We’re not racers. We’re not climbers. We both need help on the hills. For us, a wide range cassette works.

What do you run on your bike? What do you see as the pros and cons of wide range versus tight range cassettes?