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?

 

That Wind Effect

My wife and I headed out for a relatively short ride this afternoon. The wind blew briskly from the south, between 10-15 mph. We decided to head for the Veloway, which is partially shielded from the wind by trees.

But it was shielded only some of the time. On one straightaway stretch, we rode directly into the wind. “Wow!” exclaimed my wife. “It’s like someone put the brakes on.”

It was challenging to pedal into the wind. In some spots, I coasted to let Pat catch up to me, and when I came out from behind a sheltering clump of trees, I could feel the resistance. Speed dropped immediately by couple miles an hour.

“This has gotta be good for me,” said Pat, trying to find the bright spot. “I bet I’m burning more calories fighting this wind.”

Well, as it turns out, there is a plethora of material online concerning cycling and wind. One of the cooler tools I ran into is a calculator that can tell you how much power you need to put out to maintain a constant speed if the wind and other variables change. Here’s a look:

Let’s say you want to maintain a speed of 15 mph on a flat course. That pesky wind is blowing at 15 mph also, and you weigh 200 pounds (I wish!). You need to put out 317 watts to maintain your speed, which will burn 4.5 calories per minute.

If only one of those figures changes – let’s say the wind falls to 10 mph, the change is remarkable:

Now you only need to pump out 183 watts, and burn 2.6 calories per minute.

Now these conditions are very artificial. If I added in a grade of any kind, that would have an effect, too. But I just wanted to see what the wind would do to a rider – not hills. We already know hills are tough.

Pat has trouble with hills. But even though the wind today was challenging for her, she accepted it more readily than climbing. By the way, one figure I’ve seen says each 5 mph of wind is equivalent to a 1 percent grade. So a 20 mph wind is like riding up a 4 percent hill.

“Man, I feel good!” she said when we pulled up to the house. She always feels better at the end of a ride, but today she felt like she had really had a workout. And she had.

(Calculator from Science of Cycling: Aerodynamics and Wind Resistance. http://www.exploratorium.edu/cycling/aerodynamics1.html

The Cycling Performance Tips site also has a nice page on “Riding Into a Headwind.” http://www.cptips.com/windrde.htm)

A Three-Year-Old Noob?

February 18. That’s the day I put up my first post on Bike Noob.  Three years ago.

Unbelievable. A blog I started just to get a feel for writing a blog has turned into something that I would be hard pressed to do without. The greatest reward for me in writing this thing is how much I have learned — about blogging, about biking, and about other seemingly unrelated topics.

Certainly, my cycling horizons have broadened in the last three years. I started by just taking bike rides that were a little longer than most of my acquaintances took, and what happened? I started riding with a club (which showed me how much room for improvement there was), I bought a new bike (which is now a not-so-new bike — it’s three years old, too, and I’m looking enviously at other velocipedes — I just have no idea what I want), I started doing organized rides and eventually worked my way up to a century, I did organized time trials (but haven’t gotten into actual bike racing, and don’t plan to), I devoured every book, article, magazine, blog, online forum, Twitter feed, etc.,  I could find about biking (and I’m still hungry for more).

I’m seeing a lot more biking blogs out there than there were when I started. A lot of them are better than this one, and I’m wondering if I can maintain the freshness of my posts with all the “competition.”  But as long as I can stay interested, I’ll keep trying to be interesting.

The best part about Bike Noob, as far as this noob is concerned, is you — the reader. I’ve enjoyed the feedback I get in the comments. I promise to do my part to make this place more two-way than it has been, and try to engage you in online conversations via the comments. I know your time is precious, so when you take a few minutes to add your thoughts to my posts, I truly appreciate it. I’ve already made some virtual friends as a result of this venture — I hope to make more in the coming year.

In the meantime, get out and ride! (And keep the rubber side down.)

Contador and My Interest in Cycling

My interest in pro bike racing is pretty much confined to the Tour de France. I’ve been watching the Tour for the last four years, attracted mainly by the scenic shots of France – the chateaus, the medieval walled towns, the modern and old  parts of the cities. I’ve even posted brief descriptions of the team jerseys for the Tour, to explain who those sponsors are that no one’s ever heard of.

But I’ve never been able to psych myself up to watch the Giro d’Italia or the Vuelta a Espana.  Or the one-day classics at the beginning of the season. Or the lesser stage races in other countries. So take my opinions here for what they’re worth, coming from an uninformed cyclist.

The news that Alberto Contador has been exculpated in his doping case isn’t all that surprising. The Spanish Cycling Federation ruled that the trace amount of clenbuterol found in his system during a rest day at the 2010 Tour de France was ingested unintentionally.

Both the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ban the use of clenbuterol by athletes; it increases muscle mass and reduces fat. The Drug Enforcement Administration says athletes typically take 60-120 micrograms per day. Contador is accused of having 50 picograms of the drug in his system. A picogram is about half the size of a microgram.

Now, you might dislike Contador, going back to his feud with Lance when they were both on the Astana team. But to me, his story is plausible. Although the European Union prohibits the use of clenbuterol in food-producing animals, it is known to be illicitly used to increase the leanness of meat in livestock. The US Dept. of Agriculture says people in Spain, France, Italy and elsewhere have become sick after eating meat tainted with clenbuterol.

You might also demand that a zero-tolerance drug policy be rigorously enforced by the powers that be in cycling – that if anyone is found with any concentration of illicit drugs in their system, they’re out. But hot on the heels of the Contador decision comes the news that the British Sky cycling team is backing off from its zero-tolerance drug policy. It seems that all the best coaches in the sport have some involvement with illegal doping in their past. Sky is apparently hoping these folks will be clean when they come to work for Sky, but that cloud will always hang over their heads.

Oh, and if Contador is not going to be penalized for clenbuterol, what about Chinese rider Li Fuyu, who rides for Radioshack? He is also under suspension for testing positive for “clen” in a race.

It’s just too hard to keep up with it all. And keeping up with it isn’t very rewarding. My conclusion: The whole system is corrupt. And as such, it does not deserve my support, or my interest. I won’t be watching the Tour this summer, or any other bike race. One of the reasons I ride is to be healthy. When cycling tolerates the use of banned substances, it is undermining the health benefits, and sending a disturbing message to fans and non-fans all over the world.

It’s Amazing How Fast You Get Out of Shape

Rode this afternoon with my wife. It was my first ride in a week. In fact, it seems that the only riding I’ve been doing for the last month has been on the weekends, and this week, I didn’t even ride Saturday, because of a day trip out of town.

All that time off the bike is finally catching up with me. Man, am I out of shape! The out of town trip was to visit some relatives, and four of my cousins were there – so we took the obligatory cousins pic.

I’m not running it on the blog, out of deference to them. Suffice to say, it shows five American males in their mid to late 50s, all with substantial girth. In a couple of cases, the gut hangs over the belt buckle.

My wife looked at it, and said, “Well, you have the skinniest gut of them all.” Her definition of skinny differs from mine. I ain’t skinny. I suppose I am the least rotund.

My weight, which usually goes up in winter anyway, is true to form.  I’m about 10 pounds over my good summer biking weight.

That contributed to the way I felt on today’s ride. Oh, I felt good enough – but it seemed that I was putting much more effort into the ride than I normally would.

Disirregardless, the ride served as a needed wake up call.  I know I can get back on track by doing two simple things:

Riding more.

Eating less (junk).

All the nifty organized rides that I want to be on have opened registration. Time to start signing up. Time to get back in shape.

Tighten Your Cleats!

On a recent ride, I turned into the parking lot of one of those stand-alone Walgreen’s drug stores that seem to have cropped up on every other corner, when something didn’t feel right.  My right foot was looser than it usually is.

I stopped at the edge of the lot, used the opportunity to drink from my water bottle, and then I sat on the curb to take a look at my shoes.

The cleat on the right shoe had come loose.  Not catastrophically – I could move it a little with my hand – but the constant pressure in the pedal had loosened it up.  A few quick turns of the screws with my 4 mm Allen wrench, and it was solidly back in place.

I hadn’t been experiencing the same feeling on the left shoe, but decided to take a look anyway.  Sure enough, I could tighten those screws about a half-turn each as well.

I do periodic checks of the bike between rides, making sure the tires are in good shape, that everything moves smoothly.  I guess I’ll have to add a non-bike equipment check, too, and look at those cleats every couple of months.  It could save some headaches down the road.

Triggering Green Lights

When I wrote my last post about getting stuck at red lights, a couple of commenters noted that the bike should be able to trip the green light.  The problem is, a lot of us don’t seem to know exactly how to do it – and I guess I’ll have to count myself as part of that group, since I’ve never been able to trip a green light while on my bike.

Andrew in New Hampshire says bikes just don’t have the weight required to trip the signal.  That’s true, Andrew, and it’s too bad if that’s the way they work in New Hampshire.  In Austin, Texas, they’re supposed to be tripped by metal – the metal on a car, and even the metal on a bike.  But some of us Austinites can ‘t make that work, either.  Steve says he sat through a red light cycle three times before finally waving a car ahead to trip the sensor.

Alice in Louisville has the solution – at least in her town.  “The sensor plates under the pavement show a “T” shaped seam in the road,” she writes. “By placing your front bike wheel at the top part of the T, that’s supposed to trigger the sensor as I understand it. Seems to work most of the time, although there are some intersections where it just doesn’t work.”

Yeah, that’s the way it’s supposed to work here, too.  In fact, Nadia Barrera, the project coordinator for the city’s pedestrian and bicycle program, posted an item on the Austin Cycling Association’s web site explaining how to trip the light:

“To trigger a traffic signal, simply place your bicycle over or within three inches of the ‘saw cut’ of thedetector loop (pictured). The signal detects metal, so your pedal or even the metal in your shoes should trigger the signal. Once you have situated yourself over the loop, stay put. The signal works in such a way that if you leave, it thinks that you were a right-turning vehicle, and the trigger process to change the light is aborted.”

I’ve tried. Lord knows, I’ve tried. An intersection I cross on three out of four bike rides stymies me. I think I can figure out where the cut is that she refers to, and I park the bike right over it. I have never triggered the light. I assume I’m doing something wrong.

And looking at the diagram supplied with her information … uh, I don’t know what it’s supposed to show. What’s that diagonal off to the upper right? Part of the loop? I assume the T at the top center of the top diagram is the part that Alice uses to get her green light. I will continue to try for the magic solution.

In the meantime, I’ll just inch forward into the pedestrian crosswalk so that cars behind me in the left turn lane will be able to get far enough forward that their metal content will trigger the green and get us going.

Jumping Red Lights

So, I’m on a longer-than-usual weekend ride, and I come to a “T” intersection.  I’m going to turn left, off a narrow two-lane road onto a busy, four-lane arterial.  But I’ve got a red light.

I stop, and wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Geez, this is a long light!  Maybe I can goose it up a bit.  I walk the bike over to the stop light, and push the button to display the “Walk” signal.  And wait.  And wait.  And wait.

Finally, the cross traffic gets a red light.  But my light doesn’t turn green.  The traffic moving from my right to my left has a left turn arrow, but no one is turning left.  So everyone is stopped at the intersection.

I’ve got two cars waiting behind me.  They’re both going to turn left with me.  I want to get out in front of them.  Oh, the hell with it.

I push out into the intersection and make my left turn.  I’m a good fifty yards down the road before the light where I was waiting turns green.  By the time those cars catch me, I’m safely in the right lane, and signaling a right turn for the next corner.

About an hour later, much the same thing.  Another “T” intersection.  I’m planning another left turn, and once again the light isn’t changing.  So once again, I pull out into the intersection, complete my turn, and I’m well down the road before any cars can catch up to me.

Proponents of vehicular cycling urge cyclists to ride as they would if they were behind the wheel of a car.  That means I’d have to stay in my place until the light goes green.

But from a personal safety standpoint, it made more sense to me to get a jump on the cars.  And both times, it worked just the way I had hoped.  I put distance between myself and them, and I think the drivers behind me might have appreciated that I wasn’t in their way, either.

And notice, I did not jump ahead at a red light where I was traveling in the same direction as the rest of the cars.  I would never do that.  I made these moves only at “T” intersections.

Was I wrong?