Noseless Saddles – My Two Cents Worth

Caveat:  I do not own a noseless saddle, and I don’t know anyone who does. I did do some research to determine whether they’re the kind of thing road bikers would like. These are my conclusions based on that research. Take what I say here with a grain of salt.

A recent New York Times article extolls the virtues of noseless saddles. They mostly eliminate pressure on the perineum (the soft tissues down below) and make for a more comfortable ride. They also prevent erectile dysfunction in men that can result from repeatedly squishing your naughty bits against a saddle’s nose.

Nexride - it pivots.

I was intrigued by the article, and followed its links to different saddle makers to learn more about what’s out there. There are a lot more of them — by more different makers — than I thought.

Some offer what amounts to a bench. The Nexride is one of these, but pivots 15 degrees left to right as your butt flexes with each pedal stroke.

Others make a special effort to cushion the sit bones. The Hobson Easy Seat is one such example. Two padded cushions cradle the sit bones, and there is no saddle nose to squish the perineum.

Easyseat

Or, the seat could be shaped like a crescent, to cushion the sit bones in a slightly different way. The ISM Sport model exemplifies these types.

One recurring theme soon became apparent:

Noseless saddles are mostly for upright riding.

The saddle websites say so. Here’s just a sample of what you can find:

The ISM Sport.

The Hobson Easy Seat: “NOTE: The best position for the seat is sitting upright with handle bars positioned upward.”

Comfort Saddle: “The Comfort Saddle is best suited for cyclists who prefer to sit upright.”

ISM Sport: “Designed for more upright types of riding such as hybrids or light trail riding.”

But most readers of this blog are roadies. We don’t sit upright on our bikes, except to take a few minutes rest during a long ride. So as good as these saddles sound, they might not be the solution for us.

However, one of the companies in the noseless saddle business — ISM — might have the answer. They make the upright kinds of saddles just as their competitors do, but they also make oddly-shaped saddles with a split nose that is supposed to accomplish the same thing — take pressure off the perineum.

ISM Adamo Road.

ISM produces a range of different saddles, geared for riders from time trialists to recreational road riders. The saddle pictured here is the ISM Adamo Road. It has two “arms” in front with a relatively wide gap between them — and the arms do not meet at the front. The design is supposed to prevent blood loss from compression of the soft tissue, as well as keep weight off the perineum and on the sit bones.

A check of various equipment review sites finds anecdotal support for the benefits of the ISM saddle. It boils down to this: The wide cutout between the two nose parts eases pressure on the soft tissues. The fact that there is still a “nose” of sorts to the saddle allows riders to have a similar sensation as a nosed saddle.

ISM saddles retail for a low of $119 to a high of $224, depending on the model. I’ve said before that I’m happy with my $25 WTB saddle. But when it’s time to replace it, I’ll be looking closely at an ISM.

Sunblock – Don’t Leave Home Without It

When the Bike Noob goes in for his annual physical exam each September, the doctor looks at his biker’s tan and asks if he uses sunblock. “SPF 30 or better,” he says. “Good. Be sure you do,” the doc answers. But today, guest poster Don Blount looks at sunblock from a different perspective.

Like many cyclists, my pre-ride preparation changes with the weather. In the fall and winter I check my warmers, long-fingered gloves and pack a rain jacket, just in case.

During the summer, instead of donning a wool cycling cap, one of the things I do before heading out on a ride is put on sunblock.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. And about 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB) from the sun.

Now the truth is that African Americans are less likely than whites to develop skin cancer thanks to the additional pigment in dark skin. Skin cancer represents only about two percent of all cancers in African Americans.

Sunblocks, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, protect against the UV rays that cause sunburn and skin cancer.

I wear sunblock because the odds are not in my favor if I were to come down with skin cancer. The survival rate among African Americans stricken with the disease is 77 percent compared to a 91 percent survival rate among whites.

A large reason for that unfavorable figure is because skin cancer is more difficult to detect in people with dark skin. And if it is found, it is often at a much more advanced stage.

I have known plenty of people who have had moles or some other type of lesions burned off because the doctors said they were the effects of sun damage.

It seems simple enough to not take a risk.

So I slather on the skin protectant before heading out for a ride. Whether the brand is Aveeno, Neutrogena, Banana Boat or some other type of sunblock — you should do so too.

B Rides Are the Best

After last week’s rant about giving up on club rides, I got an email from someone who suggested that if I were to lead a B ride, which I hinted at in the post, he and a friend would join in. Since neither of them had been on a club ride before, I was happy to encourage them — so I announced on the club’s group site that I would be leading a B ride to Buda, Texas today.

It’s an easy 30-miler. I figured the ride would attract others who hadn’t been doing club rides. But I wasn’t prepared for the number that came out. We had eight in all. Debra and her husband Russ, who usually ride in Dripping Springs; Jerry, who is really an A-level rider but seems to prefer the laid back approach of the B rides; Barbara, whom I’ve met before when riding with Debra; and the newcomers — Denise, Mike, and Patrick, who instigated the whole thing.

As and Bs intermingle before the start of today’s ride.

I think we outnumbered the A group this morning. It didn’t matter, because soon after the start, some of us got caught at a stoplight, so the As were able to break away and were soon gone.

We Bs settled into a steady pace, and quickly put down the first several miles. Mike, who rode a hybrid, caught up to me on a wide, smooth downhill.

“Howya doin’?” I asked.

“Fine,” he said. “When we [he and Patrick] ride together, we average about 13. So this is at the outside edge of my ability.”

We were probably averaging about 15 mph.

“But I think that’s always just been a mental barrier, and I think I can crack it today,” he added.

He had no trouble keeping up for the rest of the ride.

New riders. From left to right: Patrick, Mike, Denise.

Barbara arrives at the convenience store.

 

We got to Buda (pronounced BYOO-duh), a small town just south of Austin, in about an hour. First stop was a convenience store, where Patrick bought a gallon of cold water and refilled everyone’s water bottles. But the convenience store offered no shelter from the bright sun, so we headed back a few blocks to the town’s gazebo, in a little park along Main Street.

Patrick tops off Denise’s water bottle.

Bikers are common in Buda on weekends, because it’s either a destination or a pass-through on several area bike routes. The gazebo is popular among more than bikers, though. We knew it was time to leave when a bride walked up to have her picture taken.

Bikes and brides — just another Sunday morning in Buda, Texas.

The route back was equally uneventful. No flats, no mechanicals, no dogs (although one of our club members suffered mild injuries when a dog went after him on this route the previous day). As we worked our way back into Austin, Patrick and Mike peeled off from the group when we got to their neighborhood. We hope to see them again on future rides. The remainder made it back to our starting place, and several of us stuck around for brunch and chatter.

The brunch bunch, left to right: Jerry, Barbara, Russ, Debra.

We didn’t set any speed records — I wound up with a 14.9 mph average — but we had a ride that everyone seemed to like, and most said they’d like to do things like this again. I’ll bet we do.

Biking 1964

I call this blog “Bike Noob” with tongue firmly in cheek, because I doubt many of us are truly noobs on the bike. We had them as kids, didn’t we?

When I was growing up, my best friend  was a guy named Steve. He lived up at the end of our block. We did everything together, including bike riding. He recently sent me a picture he’d dug out of an old photo album. Suburban Chicago, we think about 1964.

Click to embiggen.

Yep, that’s the Noob on the left, in all of his 13-year-old geekiness. I’m perched atop a Royce-Union three-speed, what we used to call a “racer” bike, because they were so sleek and light and fast compared to…well, compared to the Huffy my friend Steve is on.

Cable routing seems to be an issue for me, although I was blithely unaware of it at the time. The prominent white cable that swoops down and back leads from the headlight to a rear wheel-mounted generator — the kind that spins against the tire sidewall to power the light. It worked great, too. That light threw a nice bright beam. The shifters were twist grip. It would be a fun bike to have today, for toodling around town.

You’ll notice Steve is no slouch either when it comes to lighting. His Huffy has dual headlamps mounted at the end of his frame tank. Very stylish, in a 1960s Detroit Iron kind of way.

Two highlights of our bicycling occur to me.

We raced. Oh, yes. We’d go over to an elementary school a couple of blocks away, and race our bikes on the asphalt playground, using the borders of the two basketball courts as our “track.” Because the space around and between the courts was pretty narrow, we had a special rule: The lead bike picks the route. You could take a Figure-8 around the courts, or a big circle. You could go clockwise or counterclockwise. This made it imperative to pass whenever possible, or you wouldn’t have any idea which way the other guy was going to turn. At least once every race, one of us would lose control and crash. Helmets? Never heard of ‘em.

About this time, we also got adventurous and made regular trips to a discount department store that always had good prices on model cars and such. The store was two towns away from ours, and we charted a route through back streets and side streets, until finally coming out on a busy thorofare about a mile from the store. The trip was about five miles one way. I even recall a challenging hill on our route. We’d fly down it on the way out, but have to struggle up it, carrying our purchases, on the way back.

I never really stopped biking. Sure, there was the hiatus after getting my drivers’ license. But I had two bikes during my college years (both of which were stolen from me) that I rode to class and took on excursions out into the country on weekends. My wife got me a Raleigh ten-speed for my 30th birthday, and we did some riding on bike trails throughout our adult lives. It was only with the purchase of my current bike that I threw myself into “serious” cycling. But I’m still learning.

Falling Into Bad Habits

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a ride in the country on my own. I wasn’t worried about speed, although I maintained a nice average pace. I was just out to enjoy the ride before the day became oppressively hot.

As I rode, I started noticing something about the way I was piloting the bike. I felt like I was mashing the pedals going up hills. Every so often, the gears would crunch when I shifted — and it didn’t matter if I was shifting up or down. Hm, I thought — that’s odd. I haven’t been getting that on the bike lately.

And then it occurred to me: Sure I have. It seems like every ride I’ve done lately has had its share of crunching gears and mashed pedals. I know better. But I’ve let myself lapse into bad habits.

It didn’t used to be this way. I used to regularly do a ride where all I concentrated on was my cycling technique. But I haven’t done that for a while now, and I can tell.

So, what should I be doing?

Well, on the hills,I like to keep up my forward momentum by “pedaling in a circle.” That means applying even pressure to the pedal throughout the stroke. It’s a more efficient, and more powerful, way to ride. I know I’m doing it right when I feel a burn in both my calves and my quadriceps. Maybe that’s why I don’t concentrate on doing it as often as I should. I am pain averse.

But because pedaling in a circle stresses the big leg muscles, it makes you a better rider. You get up the hills a tad quicker, and you have the strength to power through tough spots on rides — even if they’re on the flats.

It’s something I have to remind myself about. I resolved (once again) to pay attention to my pedaling technique and make sure I pedaled in a circle more often.

The shifting thing is an easy fix, too. I knew the problem didn’t lie with my chain. I replaced the chain not too long ago. No, this had to do with something I learned way back when I was young.

Ease up on the pedals when you shift.

It’s tough when you shift while you’re stomping on the pedals. The chain makes a nasty noise as it scrapes across the cogs. When I was a kid and got my first English three-speed “racer” bike, I was told to pedal backwards while shifting gears. I think that was my father’s way of telling me to let up on pedal pressure.

From that point on, I concentrated on each shift. I kicked myself (figuratively) when I forgot to ease up on shifts, and congratulated myself (literally) when I shifted smoothly and noiselessly.

That was two weekends ago.

On today’s ride, there was the “crunch” again. And I caught myself mashing up a short, sharp hill again.

What’s the rule? You have to perform a new action for 21 days straight to break a bad habit?

I think I have several weeks of habit-breaking ahead of me.

I’m Through Riding With the Club — Unless…

The club ride posted for this morning would take us west of town into the Texas Hill Country. The hills aren’t killers — they’re mostly rollers — and the road doesn’t have too much traffic. I figured that on Father’s Day, traffic would be even less than usual.

I told the ride leader that I would turn back at Ranch Road 12, which makes for a nice 30-mile round trip. The rest of the group would go another eight miles before turning around.

“Good,” he said. “You can wait for me there.”

He always jokes about being a slow ride leader — even hangs a tiny red lantern from his saddle.

About 13 of us started. Father’s Day held down the turnout, too. Most were A riders, although I was happy to see “Big Steve” turn into the parking lot. (We call him “Big Steve” to differentiate him from “Little Steve” — a former state champion in the time trial and road race in the 60-64 year-old class.) “Big Steve” is younger, taller, and a hefty 240 pounds.

As usual, a pleasant rollout. Less than a mile into the ride, a tiny fawn — not much bigger than a dog — darted across the road in front of the lead riders. We got a good dose of warmup hills going through a nearby neighborhood.

Out of the city, speed picked up as we got closer to Fitzhugh Road, which would be our main route of the day. I noticed that the gap between the group and me was starting to widen. But I caught and passed Big Steve, who seemed to be having trouble with the rolling hills.

Usually, when we turn onto Fitzhugh Road, the peloton regroups to wait for laggards. I made the turn, and no group. I looked back, and no Steve. Hm. He must have abandoned the ride. The wind was fierce, and I started up Fitizhugh by myself.

Church Vacation Bible School sign at RR 12 promotes "Hometown Nazareth -- Where Jesus Was a Kid"

The run up to Ranch Road 12 is about six miles. I was alone for the entire six. Crosswinds threatened to knock me off the bike. The ride was more of a slog than I like.

I got to Ranch Road 12, and the group wasn’t waiting there, either. They’d moved on. I turned around and moved the bike off the road into the shade of some trees. The temperature was well into the 90s by now. Time for a break.

And who do I see coming up the road but Big Steve!

“Man, I’ve been off the bike for two weeks,” he said. “It really catches up to you fast.”

We chatted a bit while munching on energy bars and drinking water. Then it was time to head home. Steve took the lead, and it was fun for me to draft the big guy. He pedaled like crazy, while I coasted. But it wasn’t long before the hills got him. I passed, and pulled him most of the rest of the way home.

Under a flapping umbrella at Starbucks, we talked about the ride. Both of us agreed the Sunday club rides had lost their allure for us.

“The group is getting smaller,” Steve said. “We used to have lots more come out.”

“A process of self-selection seems to be going on here,” I said. “The fast riders turn out, and when slower riders show up, they’re scared off because they get dropped just like we were today.”

I mulled it over a bit, then made my decision. I won’t be doing any more Sunday club rides.

Unless…a couple of years ago, we had a small, but reliable, cadre of B-level riders who would come out on Sundays, if they knew there would be a ride for them with people of their ability.

Maybe it’s time to revive the Bs.

The World’s Worst Bike Lanes

An English example of how not to do it.

I consider myself pretty lucky. My town, Austin, Texas, has a lot of cyclists and therefore has paid some attention to cycling routes. Many streets (not enough) have bike lanes.

For the most part, I like bike lanes. Yes, you’re segregated from motor traffic, which might prevent bikes from being acknowledged as equals to cars on the road. I prefer to stick to my lane and let cars and trucks stick to theirs.

Problem is, bike lanes sometimes aren’t what we’d like. In my neighborhood we have bike lanes on some nice suburban streets. But those lanes seem to be grit magnets. There’s so much gravel, dirt, debris, crud and broken glass in the lanes they become hazards — or at the least, tire killers.

But after taking a look at some of these bike lanes from other parts of the globe, I think I’ll be happy with what I have.If you’d like a good chuckle — or maybe just a slow, wondering head shake, visit this Flickr pool of bad bike lanes.

http://www.flickr.com/groups/cyclelanes/pool/

Review: CamelBak Podium Ice Bottle

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel is determined to keep his liquids cold during summer riding.

It seems like the cycling media has had a lot to say in the last year or so about the advantages of a truly cold drink to keep you performing your best. And while I know there is no shortage of physiological reasons to back up that claim, I also know that, from a purely practical standpoint, when it’s 95 degrees out and I reach for my bottle I’d much rather be rewarded with something still a little icy rather than discover liquid with the temperature of bath water.

The catch? In serious summer heat, after more than an hour of riding, not many bottles seem to be up to that task.

That’s why I was eager to test Camelbak’s Podium Ice bottle, which promised to keep things chill. Like many insulated bottles, the Ice features a double-wall construction. Camelbak fills the resulting void with Zero-loft insulation, claiming it keeps the contents cold up to four times longer than a standard bottle, and yet retains the soft feel that allows for a quick squeeze out on the road. I can verify the latter claim immediately. I’ve tried other insulated brands and found them stiff and difficult to use when you may only have seconds at a stoplight during a group ride. In contrast, the Ice is very soft and is easy to squeeze on the fly. I can also even somewhat support Camelbak’s typically heftier price tags, as I’m a big fan of their Jet Valve, which keeps the contents of your bottle where it belongs until you need it, and doesn’t require me to wrestle with a push-pull top when out on the road. Camelbaks are also made from BPA-free polypropylene, and don’t retain tastes or odors.

But does the Ice really keep things cool enough to verify yet another price bump over the Camelbak’s already premium price tag?

If I freeze some water or Gatorade before a ride, I can still find some cold refreshment in the Ice even after two hours in the saddle during a Florida summer. At that stage of the game, my normal water bottle is disgusting. But that’s not too scientific a shootout so I decided to stage my own little duel. In one corner was my plain, non-insulated Camelbak Podium and in the other was the Ice. Knowing that not everyone is a fan of freezing a bottle, I simply threw four ice cubes into both, filled them with water, and then set them outside in the sun on an 85-90 degree day. After 30 minutes, the temp measured 68 degrees in the non-insulated bottle, and 50 in the Ice. After 90 minutes, the non-insulated bottle had risen to 76 degrees, while the Ice sat at 60.

Is that enough of a difference for the cost? Given the combination of the Jet Valve, the soft, easy-to-squeeze plastic, and the insulation, I’ll say yes…although I cringe knowing plenty of you will now tell me how silly I am for spending $20 on a water bottle.

Still, I’ve yet to find anything better in our brutal Florida summer heat.

Bike Comparison Tool

If you’re shopping for a new bike, the choices can be overwhelming. Even knowledgeable bikers can get tangled up trying to call up different bike manufacturers’ websites. There always seems to be one nifty model that gets missed — and it might have been just the one you were looking for.

There is a tool that can help. It’s a website called “Find the Best,” which describes itself as “an objective, socially curated comparison engine that allows you to find a topic, compare your options and decide what’s best for you.” It’s not solely limited to bicycle comparisons — you can compare all manner of things, from universities, to laptop computers, to investments. So I was somewhat skeptical when I clicked on the link to their road bike tool.

Just a sample of the comparison page for entry-level bikes.

I was pleasantly surprised. Users can customize their search to match some broad criteria. Under road bikes, you can search for “Racing,” “Sport,” “Entry-level,” “Triathlon/TT,” “Track,” “Fixie/Single Speed,” “Touring/Commuting,” “Women’s,” and “Kids.” Let’s say you want to compare entry-level road bikes. You can specify frame material — carbon, steel, or aluminum. You can limit the price range, the gearing, the manufacturer — and even limit the finds to those top-rated by either Bicycling magazine or Bike Radar, the British biking website.

If we limit the entry-level price to a top of $2,000, the tool still turns up 53 different makes and models. From there, you can select specific models and run a comparison on them — similar to the kind of comparison available on some bike retailers’ websites. The difference is that on those sites, you’re stuck with just the brands the store carries. Here, you’ve got them all.

I’m not in the market for a new bike now, but it’s still a fun way to kill a little time late in the evening. You can find the road bike comparison tool at http://road-bikes.findthebest.com/. Oh, and if you’re interested in mountain bikes, there’s a tool for those, too: http://mountain-bikes.findthebest.com/

Disclaimer: Although I was introduced to this site by an email from their business development director, I received no compensation or other perks for posting this information.

Watch Out For Pedal Wear!

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel says if you’re having trouble with your cleats — the trouble might not be with your cleats.

I’ve been having a little trouble clicking in and out of my pedals as of late. I thought the likely culprit was my cleats. Upon inspection, they were certainly quite worn, but what surprised me most was the condition of my pedals, a pair of Shimano road-style 540s. On both, the body cover plate — a replaceable piece of plastic (metal on higher-end models) that spans the width of the pedal — was completely worn away at the tips. Compounding matters was that where the tips were gone, my cleats had actually worn rather significantly into the aluminum, leaving a pronounced dip, especially on the outside of each pedal. The end result is that my foot was likely sitting quite canted in the pedals…and my pedals were permanently damaged.

The Shimano 540. (Click to embiggen.)

In hindsight, I spotted a clue in a recent photo. I had done one of the MS150 rides, and the event photographer had captured me at various times throughout the course. In several of the photos, I noticed a strange, inward angle to my foot. Now I know why.

I’ve seen plenty of coverage on when to replace your cleats, but very little on when to replace a pedal. If you ride Shimanos, look closely on the instructions. You’ll note that the cover in question is actually considered a “consumable” part, and that the cover should be replaced before “any part of the body cover becomes flush with the pedal.” Yikes — I was way past that stage. If I had kept a closer eye on things, I probably could have simply replaced a cheap (about $6) piece of plastic. Replacing them as they showed wear would have saved the more expensive pedal body from permanent damage.

A little more food for thought: In many ways, you do get what you pay for. When I first made the switch from a mountain bike and hybrid to a road bike, I reasoned that the cheaper products were good enough for me. Hence the 540s, which are Shimano’s entry-level road pedal. With time, however, I’ve come to appreciate the extra quality that can be found in some of the pricier equipment. The Shimano 105 pedals I’ve stepped up to certainly aren’t top of the line by any means. I found them new on eBay for only $55. The 105s, however, are far closer to the higher-end Ultegra pedals. The shape itself flares at the axle, giving the rider a wider, more solid platform underfoot. The 105s also feature a metal cover plate, secured with two small screws. It’s still considered consumable, but certainly it won’t wear at the rate of the 540’s plastic.

Shimano 105. (Click to make larger.)

 I doubt very many people have actually replaced the part in question. On this morning’s ride, I asked a friend if I could see his pedals, which are the same as my previous model. Unclipping one foot, he seemed surprised as he looked down to see the plastic cover almost completely gone…and a pronounced chunk worn out of the pedal’s aluminum body.