Storing Your Bike Stuff

Okay, noobies. It’s time once again to chime in on an important noob topic. This time: Where and how do you organize your bike stuff?

When I was truly a noob biker, I attended a bike skills class where the instructor displayed her equipment. She kept it in what she called her “bike bag.” Actually, it was just a big ol’ duffel bag that she kept near her bike in her garage. In it, she kept her helmet, gloves, shoes, arm and leg warmers, vest, jacket, and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t remember now.

For her, it made sense because it was all in one place. Whenever she found the need to travel to get to a biking event, she put her bike on the rack, tossed the bag in the back seat, and knew she would have everything she needed once she got to the event.

Me, I’m not that organized. But I’m getting better. During previous garage cleanings, I’ve been able to clear out part of a countertop and reserve it for our helmets, shoes, and gloves.

Both Mr. & Mrs. Noob store their helmets and shoes here.

Since I don’t play much golf anymore (cycling is the new golf, after all, right?), I moved most of the golf stuff out of a cabinet over the counter into a harder-to-get-to drawer. Now that cabinet is for bike stuff.

The top shelf is still full of golf stuff — mostly towels and head covers.

I keep older saddles, a spare seat bag or two, some ride goodies I have no room for elsewhere, spare lights, and a Camelbak in the cabinet.

Smaller stuff like  extra gloves, headbands, sundry small parts like screws and washers for cleats, CO2 cartridges, spare tubes, patch kits, et cetera and so forth and whatnot go into a plastic container that I snarfed out of our fridge (Mrs. Noob hasn’t missed it yet — or else she’s got so many other storage containers that she doesn’t need it, which is more likely).

You can see that overflow items from our bi-weekly trips to Costco (bag of onions) are starting to invade my bike stuff space. I’m doing what I can to ward off the creeping incursion, but I may have to come up with a new bike stuff storage plan soon.

So, readers — how do YOU store your bike stuff? Send me a picture or two and a brief description (here’s the link), so I can use them in future posts right here on this very blog.

Captain Slow

James May ("Captain Slow")

Last week, I rode with my friend David. It was a standard Saturday morning ride in our area, but with one difference: I’ve gotten faster than him over the last year or so.

“You really should ride with the A group,” he said, referring to our Sunday morning club rides. “Challenge yourself.”

I was sure I wasn’t ready for that yet. The A group consistently leaves me in the dust after several miles into the ride. But this weekend, there was no scheduled B ride. And although I wasn’t crazy about the proposed route, I knew I could break away from the group at a convenient intersection and go my own way. That’s what I told the ride leader I would do.

It’s always fun to start off with a big group. There’s a lot of chatter, and the pace is moderate as we get our legs warmed up. Today’s route took us up a longish hill, a turn onto a street of apartments and condos, then out to Southwest Parkway — a six-lane, divided highway with a wide shoulder.

Before we got to Southwest Parkway, I was off the back. Once I turned onto the highway, the group was out of sight around a bend. When I got up to that bend, they were out of sight for good.

The route turns onto Barton Creek Blvd., a favorite of mine. It’s a wide, smooth road through an upscale residential area. It rises and falls, with lots of curves. I’ve hit my highest speed ever here, and even today I easily cranked it up to 35 right off the bat. But a ferocious wind from the southeast — at my right rear quarter — made me keep my speed in check.

The monster we call Hail Mary Hill was just ahead. I finally got to the point last year where I could pedal all the way up it. It was slow going, in my 34 x 28 gear, but I always finished. Not today. I walked the bike up the hill. When I reached the church parking lot at the top for the usual rest and recover stop, the group was already gone.

I made my way home against a 20 mph headwind.

What’s changed? Last year, I built up mileage early, because I was training for the MS 150. I wasn’t in it this year, so I haven’t been piling on the miles. I do hill work, but my neighborhood hills — as much as they have helped — haven’t prepared me for the bigger grades. I’ve only recently started riding with the club again. Most of my riding up until about mid-May was on my own, or with maybe one other person.

Finally, I turned 60 this year. I know, that’s not an excuse. In fact, there were at least two guys over 60 on today’s ride. They had no trouble keeping up with the pack.

But for me to get back to where I was last year, I’m going to have to work a lot harder. And frankly, I don’t think I want to. The riding I do is keeping me reasonably fit. When I’m out of the club milieu, I can hold my own against most other riders I come across. If I decide to continue riding with the club, it will be on B rides, with slower riders. I’ve never been able to keep up with the A’s — even last year — and I’ve concluded it’s not worth it to me to put in the effort to do it.

The British TV show “Top Gear” has a co-host named James May, who is always getting ribbed by the other co-hosts for his slow driving. They call him “Captain Slow.” If that becomes my new nickname too, well — I’m OK with that.

Replacing Your Chain and Cassette

Guest poster Don Blount tackles a daunting task — and finds out it’s not so bad.

Never in my life did I think I would be using whips and chains on a Saturday evening, but I had put it off long enough. It was time.

That is, it was time to replace the chain and cassette on my bike.

And this time I was going to change the cassette myself.

I try to replace my bike chain about every 1,500 miles. The cassette is replaced annually unless it shows excessive wear or the gears begin skipping. Skipping is one sign of chain and cassette wear. Cassettes also wear down so the sprockets get that shark-teeth look.

This would be the first time I had changed a cassette. This seemed like the type of maintenance I could do, saving me both money and the time of going to the bike shop.

I was as prepared as I could be. The last time the cassette was replaced the mechanics at my LBS showed me how it was done, I also looked up information online. The entire procedure seemed simple enough.

I only needed a few tools for this job: chain whip, cassette lockring tool and socket wrench.

Removal was actually fairly simple: remove the skewer from the wheel, place the lockring there in its place. The chain of the chain whip goes over one of the sprockets to hold the cassette in place. Then use the socket wrench to loosen the cassette for removal.

Slide it off…

Old cassette (Yes, quite dirty), new cassette

Wheel after cassette removal

slide on the new cassette…and then use the lockring tool and sprocket wrench to lock it in place. Spin it to make it sure it spins freely and then put the wheel, and chain, back on the bike.

I was done within 20 minutes, and I was moving slowly, double-checking my work. I have seen bike mechanics do it in less than 5 minutes.

New cassette

I was surprised at how easy it all went. And I was pleased to add another item to the repairs and regular maintenance services I can perform on my bike.

Catching Some Z’s

I’ve never considered myself a napper. I’ve always gotten up fairly early, and stayed up until midnight. But as I get older, I’ve been noticing a change. When I go for a ride, I usually follow it up with a nap.

Sometimes, I just drop off in my easy chair, and I wake up when my iPad slips from my hands and falls to the floor. Sunday, it was 90 minutes, and I woke up when my dog jumped on the bed and licked my face. Once in a while, I can be out for as long as three hours.

I must be turning into a lazy bum.

But that turns out not to be the case. (Are you listening, Mrs. Noob?)

It turns out that we’re hard wired to sleep deeply twice each day. Once between 2-4 a.m. and the other between 1-3 p.m. That latter time corresponds with most of my post-ride naps. Our bodies just slow down about that time each day, so our reaction time slows, we’re less alert, our coordination suffers, and our memory isn’t as sharp.

So napping is a natural act, with some worthwhile benefits. After a snooze, we see better productivity, creativity, alertness. On the physical side, naps reduce stress, as well as risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, excessive weight gain.

What I have yet to master is controlling the length of my naps. We get different benefits when we sleep for different lengths of time. For example, a 20-minute catnap will improve concentration, alertness, and motor skills. If you have to do something after you wake up, try drinking coffee just before the nap. The caffeine will kick in after about a half hour. You’ll be rested and rarin’ to go. But you might also want to set an alarm to keep from sleeping too long. Anything over 45 minutes will leave you feeling groggy.

I suspect my longer 90-minute to three-hour naps are my body’s way of telling me I need more sleep at night. I’ve always been able to function fine with just six hours, but my body seems to be telling me different.

Anyway, after pounding the pedals for a three-hour (or longer) weekend ride, I won’t be embarrassed about sneaking in a little sack time from now on.

The Noob Helps a Noob

Today, the club was planning a 52-mile ride east of the city. I haven’t been doing enough base miles to handle a 52-miler, especially with the recent humid weather that has hit our area, so I volunteered to lead a “B” ride to a nearby town. Distance would be about 36 miles round trip.

I must have publicized my decision too late, because only two people were interested in doing the B ride, and one of them set off with the A group. They were going down a four-lane divided road with no shoulder and fast traffic. I told the other B rider – someone new to the group – that we would take a safer route.

I had met the young lady – Tina – once before, at a meetup organized by another biking acquaintance. We follow each other on Twitter, but had never ridden together. She indicated she was up for 20 miles, and when I told her how far we’d go, she agreed.

It wasn’t long before I realized she was not used to club rides. She fell behind almost immediately. I slowed down to keep a reasonable gap between us, and waited for her at lights. This was going to be all right. I had ridden hard the previous day, and didn’t mind taking it easy on the Sunday ride.

Three miles out, we reached our first major challenge: a pretty good hill. I’ve ridden it many times and am used to it now, but it still makes me work. I stayed seated as I climbed, figuring it would keep me closer to her. Once I crested the hill, I coasted down the backside. I looked back – and no Tina. I pulled over and waited. No Tina. I reversed course to find out what the problem was. She was pulled over at a turnoff, hunched over her bike. I thought she had a mechanical.

“Need any help?” I called. By now I could see she was just taking a breather.

“That hill really took it out of me,” she said.

We waited a few more minutes, then set off again. I soft pedaled, and averaged about 9 mph, but she still fell behind. This was our pattern for the rest of the trip. She did a great job of staying with me through a dicey section, as we had to brave heavy traffic and cross under an Interstate highway bridge. But once we were out on a semi-country road, she had trouble keeping up.

I pulled into the entrance to a mobile home park and waited. “This is where I usually make a rest stop,” I lied, as she pulled even with me. “Grab some water, walk around a little, or sit.”

“I think my rear tire is soft,” she said.

Soft, nothing. It was flat. We moved her bike to a shady spot and took off the rear wheel. She had a fancy tire lever that hooked under the bead then attached to the axle. The bead was supposed to come off easily. It didn’t. I got my stuff from my bike and took off the tire, then put in her fresh tube and pumped it up. While I worked, she was busy texting on her phone. I finished, and she said, “My roommate is coming to pick me up.”

As we waited, we chatted about biking and her new venture: a triathlon. “I still have to swim and run today,” she said. “This is the fastest I’ve ever ridden.”

It took us over an hour to cover 10 miles.

Her roommate showed up, and I rolled the bike to the SUV. On the way, I squeezed the front tire. It was very soft, too. Clearly, she couldn’t have continued the ride.

I went on to Creedmoor by myself, and headed back to the ride’s start. Everyone from the 52-mile ride was already there.

“Sorry it didn’t work out for you,” said the A ride leader, after I told my story.

“On the contrary,” I replied. “It was fine. When I started biking, you and others did the same thing for me. I’m happy to help out others now.”

Snot Rockets

A couple of weekends ago, I was out on a ride with an old friend. Before we started, she pulled out a bandana and tied it around her handlebars.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

“Oh, I have terrible allergies,” she said. “I have to keep this close so I can blow my nose.”

Yeah, allergies are bad this year. The latest National Allergy Forecast shows medium-high levels across the northern tier of states, and much of the rest of the country has medium levels. So cyclists – and lots of others – might have to contend with runny or clogged noses. That’s tough to do when you’re putting miles behind you.

Gather ’round, noobs. It’s time to learn another new biking skill: the Snot Rocket.

That rather uncouth term describes clearing the nose without using a handkerchief or tissue. It’s fairly simple.

1. Move your left hand to the top of the bars.

2. Place a finger of your right hand over your right nostril. Try for an air-tight seal.

3. Turn your head. You want to make sure you don’t hit yourself.

4. Check for other cyclists. You really want to make sure you don’t hit them, either.

5. Blow. Hard and short. There should be enough force behind the blow to push the detritus away from your body, so the speed of your bike will carry you past it.

6. Switch hands. Repeat the process on the other side.

7. Clean up. This is where those terry cloth “sweat pads” (yeah, right – we know what they’re really for!) on your gloves come in handy.

It’s not a good idea to let fly if you’re in the middle or front of a group ride. Drop to the back so you don’t accidentally catch other cyclists with your projectile.

My friend has to wait until we stop for a rest before she can undo her bandana and use it. If she learns to blow a snot rocket, she can ride through allergy season breathing deeply.


When I bought my road bike three years ago, I was getting the cursory fitting common to bike stores. The salesperson doing the fitting stepped back, and with a scowl, said, “Relax! Your shoulders are hunched. Your arms are locked. That’s not the position you want to be in.”

She was right, of course. “Relax” is probably the best advice you’ll ever get about cycling. Not only does it apply to your position on the bike, but just about any other aspect of riding.

Let’s take the basic riding position — the one I was having trouble with in the shop. If a rider adopts that position on a long ride, it’s likely to end badly. Your neck will be sore. So will your arms. You’ll be tiring out your muscles when you don’t have to. Your upper body — neck, shoulders, and arms — don’t move the bike forward, so you want to take them out of the equation. No side-to-side motion. No up and down motion.

This road bike rider has been fitted to ride in a relaxed position.

The relax advice applies to other riding moves, too. You’re climbing a hill? Relax. Be still from the waist up. Cycling coach Andy Applegate says you don’t want even an ounce of unnecessary tension. You want whoever is watching you to be unaware of the effort you’re putting into the climb.

Descending? Relax, too. It’s easy to tense up when the bike points downhill. Sometimes those runs can be pretty scary. Tenseness can affect your ability to control the bike. Drop your shoulders, loosen the death grip on the handlebars, bend your elbows. Tilt your eyes upward to look forward instead of craning your neck.

Here comes a corner. Relax. Coach Carl Cantrell says tensing up causes the bike to pull to the outside. You can lose control, and might have to brake to get control back. And we all know how jumpy a bike feels when you brake in the middle of a turn. Relaxing while cornering should become instinctive, says Cantrell. “It is the single most important thing most people can do to improve their cornering.”

Are you falling? Relax. “As you hit the ground,” said one commenter on a biking forum, “try to stay as loose as possible. If you’re tense or stiff, it’s easier to get hurt.”

Starting that first century? Or a big race? You’re probably tense with anticipation. Relax. Smile to relax your facial muscles. Breathe. Calm yourself by thinking positively. Then maintain that relaxed attitude once the ride begins.

For me, a relaxed position isn’t easy to come by. I catch myself from time to time with hunched up shoulders. But I’m getting better. I remind myself every so often to relax. I shift my riding position. I shake out my shoulders. I shift my hands on the bars.

We recently featured several guest posts on the most important thing the posters learned about biking. I’ll add my two cents to the mix. The Most Important Thing: Relax.

One Reader’s Rivendell – Guest Post

Mel Hughes

Back in March, I wrote about Rivendell Bicycle Works, and their different approach to building bikes. Bike Noob reader Mel Hughes, who comments here occasionally, recently pulled the trigger and ordered one. He went for the A. Homer Hilsen model, their top-of-the-line bike. In this guest post, Mel gives his impressions of owning and riding a Rivendell.

When I started thinking about doing more with my bicycling than just training, I started looking for a bike that would be comfortable to ride but versatile. I wanted a more upright position, more braze-ons for accessories, and wheel and tire combinations that did more than just roll fast. I wanted a bike I could use as a daily commuter for my 20 mile round trip to work. But I also wanted a bike that would also work well for long weekend rides. The more I looked around and read, the more I kept coming back to Rivendell.

Rivendell’s approach to frame sizing is a bit different. They use pubic bone height (PBH) as a starting place. Using this measurement generally puts people on a bike an inch or more taller than they had been riding before. The stand-over clearance is narrower. But the increased height allows an overall more upright position (if desired.) The frame is also built to easily allow using wider, fatter tires, fenders, racks, and even a kickstand. The frames are steel, joined with brazed lugs. The front forks are traditional, lugged crown forks.

If this sounds like a formula for a touring bike of the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, it does have that lineage. But a closer look at the head tube and some of the other frame conventions will show that Grant Petersen has taken those ideas and used the best of them only as a starting point. Rivendell frames are currently made by Waterford for Rivendell, here in the U.S.

Mel’s A. Homer Hilsen. Click to enlarge.

I ordered a Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen this past January. The bike was delivered mid-April. I have had some good opportunities to ride in between the crazy weather we have had this spring in Tennessee. The 33mm tires run at 85psi smooth out the harshest cracked pavement we have. I placed my handlebars just above the seat height and have to report that my lower back pain has almost completely disappeared. The Dura-Ace bar-end shifters run the 9-speed cassette and triple ring crank flawlessly using a Campy front derailleur and a Shimano Deore XT rear. While the 36 spoke Velocity Synergy rims will never win a weight contest, they are extremely durable. The rear rim is off-set so that there is a minimal amount of dish on the cassette side. This allows spoke tensions on either side to be much closer to each other, making for a stronger wheel. The Phil Woods hubs are more than bike jewelry. Their bearings are like silk!

I have been riding using MKS touring pedals. They allow me to wear sneakers when commuting to work. They also remove any question about clearing my foot from the pedal in an emergency. My knees have also been very happy with them. In truth, I haven’t missed my clipless pedals. It also promotes just hopping on the bike for a quick run up the road anytime.

All in all, I love this bike! It is beautifully made, reminding me of bikes I used to dream about years ago. It is very well thought out, classically designed, and wonderfully executed. It rides like a dream. I am a couple of miles an hour slower than on the more race/speed oriented Litespeed. But I find I am much more comfortable. I have had more fun than should be allowed dressing it up a bit with racks, bells, leather bar tape and other things. Rivendells aren’t everyones’ cup of tea. But if you are looking for a bicycle that can do many, many things very well, they might just have a model that has your name on it.

For more pictures of Mel’s bike, go to his Flickr page.

One Year Later: The WTB Saddle

One year ago, I reported that I had put a new saddle on my bike. After less-than-stellar experiences with hard racing-style saddles, I decided to go a different direction, and get something that offered more cushioning. I settled on the WTB Speed V.

It’s time for an update.

After riding the saddle for a year, I can report that it has done what I expected. The added cushioning  makes for a more comfortable saddle (for me, anyway — I know that saddles are very personal things, and what works for one person might not work for another).

I have come to a conclusion about saddles, though. I think they all start to get uncomfortable after a couple of hours. I noticed when I did the LBJ 100 ride in March that no matter what saddle people were riding, many of them stood on the pedals while coasting — often switching the foot at the bottom of the pedal stroke. They were obviously doing what I have been doing — shaking out the mild soreness that takes over after sitting in the same position for awhile.

Fair enough. Otherwise, what I like about the saddle is its wider profile. It offers the platform for my bottom that had been lacking with my earlier choices.

What are the downsides to the Speed V? Take a look at this picture from today.

I took a fall back in September, and while it didn’t do any major damage to the bike or the saddle, it did cause some cracks in the vinyl cover. Those cracks have grown in number and spread a bit since then. In addition, the vinyl is starting to pull away from the embossed “Speed V” logo on the saddle’s nose. Neither of these problems affect the saddle’s comfort at all. They just don’t look good, and I can see that I might need to replace the saddle down the road sooner rather than later if they get much worse.

I’m not able to say if the surface cracking is the cause of my recent rash of saddle sores, since I get them on both sides, and the cracking is only on the left.

But it’s also important to remember that this saddle set me back a whopping $25 last year. I believe the advertised price at Performance is now up to $28. In any case, it’s a cheap saddle, and by that, I mean inexpensive — not shoddy.

Would I buy another WTB Speed V?

It depends. My friend David was intrigued by my original review, so he went out and bought the WTB Rocket V — what WTB calls an “enthusiast” saddle rather than a “recreational” saddle like the Speed V. He likes it. I might consider going that route, although it’s narrower than the Speed V, and I don’t seem to get on with narrow saddles. WTB saddles have gotten good ink in other venues, too, like Kent Peterson’s popular blog. So if I have to replace my saddle sooner rather than later, it will probably be with another WTB.

But if this one holds together for a little longer, and I can save a few more pennies, I might consider trying a Brooks B-17.

Phantom Knee Pain

My knee was sore Tuesday, but I went for my usual Tuesday evening after-work ride anyway.  Made it worse.

Besides my saddle sore issues, I had another weird one last week. I noticed while climbing stairs during the day that my left knee hurt. Nothing big, but it was bothersome.

I didn’t think much of it, and I went out as I usually do on a Tuesday evening to take my small ring ride at the Veloway. While riding, the pain disappeared, so I figured it was just a temporary ache.

When I got home after an hour’s ride, the knee was quite sore. It ached with every step I took, and it was hard for me to get comfortable for any length of time in my easy chair that evening. I worried that I had stupidly done some serious damage to the knee.

While getting ready for bed, I applied pressure with my thumb to the edge of the kneecap. Hm, that was some noticeable soreness. I stared at the ceiling for awhile that night, rolling over in my mind all the dire medical problems I might have aggravated by riding the bike that day.

In the morning, the pain was gone. The night after, I rode again (the night when I aggravated the saddle sore – the fates were going to get me one way or the other!).

I was baffled. I had thought that somehow I had been riding out of position. Maybe the saddle slipped down a bit (No). Maybe I had loose cleats that caused my knee to be out of alignment when I pedaled (No, cleats are nice and tight). Maybe I had ridden with my knees pointed out, which I sometimes catch myself doing. But I haven’t really done that in two years, so I was confident that couldn’t be it.

Here I am a week later, and I have no knee pain. Still trying to figure out how it was able to come and go so quickly.