A Bike Video From Turkey

Earlier this year, I posted some bike-related videos. Here’s another one — called “On the Wheels” — from Ozan Yildirim in Turkey.  Just click the link and enjoy.


On the Wheels from ozan yildirim on Vimeo.

From time to time, I’ll be happy to feature cycling-related videos on this blog, so let me know about the ones you’ve been making.

Adjusting to Cool Weather Riding

As I write this, the wind is whipping around my home office window. I left work this evening with 74 degrees showing on my car thermometer. When I got home, it had fallen to 63. I just got back from walking the dog, and it’s now 53. We’ll be in the 40s overnight, and it looks like the weekend will be a cool one.

Riders elsewhere in the country and other parts of the globe are probably snickering. They’ve already gone through bigger temperature drops than this — and are already feeling the onset of winter temperatures.

But what happens to your bike riding when the weather changes like that?

My natural reaction is to throw on a sweater and cozy up to the TV — or maybe snuggle up with a book. I should be figuring out how I’m going to adapt my bike riding to colder conditions.

The answer is simple: Keep riding.

Some riders handle cool temps better than others. The guy left front has a windbreaker vest over a long-sleeved jersey, the woman has a cool weather jacket. The guy in black is wearing warmer winter gear, but the guy in center background still thinks it’s summer.

The daily temperature drop isn’t that drastic, to begin with. So if you ride one day in summer kit, maybe all you have to do when the weather turns chilly is put on a long-sleeved jersey and a base layer. That’s not a big change.

“If you keep on riding each day as the temperatures slowly decrease, you’ll be more acclimated to the weather each day,” says Emilia Crotty, the Education Manager of Bike New York. She says you kind of trick yourself into believing that there’s not that much difference from day to day.

“Personally,” she adds, “when I’m feeling lazy or am in the middle of a good book, getting back on my bike on a cold winter morning is difficult!  The more frequently I ride in the colder months, though, the less dramatic the temperatures feel.”

There’s an added benefit to continued riding. “The more frequently I ride in the fall and winter,” says Crotty, “the better I am at gauging how many layers I’ll need, what type of gloves will do the trick, if I need a balaclava, etc. each morning (when I check the morning temperature and wind chill, that is).”

So resist the urge to roll over and pull up the covers when the fall mornings are cool. Get out there and ride. You know it’s good for you on several levels — but you’ll also build up your tolerance for cold weather.


Bicycle Touring

After reading an article by a New York Times reporter who had just finished a bike tour across the United States, I started daydreaming. Traveling cross-country on a bike has an undeniable appeal. While I had read the occasional article about bike touring, and had pored through catalogs some years ago that featured touring bikes, I never seriously considered doing a multi-day two-wheeled trip myself.

But it’s something worth considering. You don’t have to go from the Pacific to the Atlantic — a bike tour can be in your immediate area. Maybe target a town you’d like to ride to, or a body of water, or a state park. In my neck of the woods, a nice starter tour could be a trip from Austin to the Gulf Coast.

One thing I’ve learned from all my reading: You don’t need a special bike to tour. Oh sure, most bicycle companies make a touring model, and I’m sure they make travel a lot easier. But you could just as easily throw some gear on the bike you’re already riding and just go.

But if you want a bike tricked out for touring, you could try something like a Trek 520. That’s their touring bike, and it’s been available for years. At first blush, it looks like a road bike, but it’s got a steel frame, and braze-ons for racks and fenders. A particularly popular touring bike is the Surly Long Haul Trucker, which can handle wide tires. Some reviewers say it’s sluggish and heavy when unloaded, but a touring load gives it stability. Other tourists prefer lighter bikes, and suggest a cyclocross bike is a good choice for touring.

Lots of bike tourists camp overnight. Some have perfected the art of “stealth” camping — which involved pitching your tent on private property, but lying low to avoid discovery. The prospect of camping is one aspect of bike touring that doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve done plenty of camping over the years, and I just never fell in love with it.

But there is a form of bike touring that’s geared to guys like me, too. It’s called “credit card touring,” and it’s pretty much what it sounds like. You pack a change of clothes or two, hop on your bike, and ride until you reach your destination for the night. Then, instead of finding a campsite, you check into a motel. Instead of firing up the camp stove for an evening meal, you go out to a restaurant. I could do that — if I’ve budgeted for it over the year.

As far as routes go, the options are unlimited. Just get on the road and pedal. Of course, you might want to research your trip first, and see if any other touring cyclists have ridden it before you. The Adventure Cycling Association is a great resource for researching your rides, and the website crazyguyonabike.com is chock full of accounts from hard core and newbie tourists about routes and what works. One option for newer tourers is to find a dedicated bike trail that will keep you out of traffic. The Katy Trail in Missouri crosses the entire state. It’s crushed stone, so you might want to leave that road bike at home and bring something with wider tires. The Great Allegheny Passage, or GAP, trail runs from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland, and if you’re more adventurous, you can continue on the C & O Canal trail all the way to Washington, DC.

I won’t be bike touring anytime soon. But I expect to have several weeks of vacation next summer. Hmm…that will give me plenty of time to research some touring ideas.


An Urban Bike For the Road

Way back in 1992, we decided we’d like to do some biking. There was one hitch: My wife, Pat, had a 10-speed Schwinn road bike, but hated it. Her back hurt when she bent over the bars, she never did get the hang of shifting the gears, and it was clear that doing anything over a couple miles would end badly. The answer, of course, was to buy a new bike.

We hit several bike shops in the area, and came up with a hybrid — a Trek 700. It served her well for its intended purpose. We didn’t ride much in town, but did throw our bikes in the trunk of the car and drove to the paved bike trails in southeastern Minnesota. Here, we could ride for miles — safely — and Pat did just fine on the hybrid.

The Trek 700. Pat still rides this three times a week. (Click to enlarge.)

Fast forward 15 years. Pat was president of a local professional organization that sponsored one of the big organized rides around Austin: the Hill Country Ride for AIDS. It was a 50-mile ride, but Pat figured that as president, she should step up, so she started going on training rides with a group of AIDS ride organizers. Her bike-savvy friends pointed out all manner of problems with her bike: The 38mm tires were too wide to go fast (a popular misconception), she needed clipless pedals to add power to her pedal stroke, she really needed a road bike, etc., etc.

Pat rejected the road bike idea, but went to the LBS on a shopping spree. She got Look Keo pedals, 28mm tires, and had them put on a taller stem that put her in an even more upright riding position to take pressure off her arthritic hip. She completed the 50-miler on that bike, and when I saw that, I figured I could do it too. That’s when the Bike Noob really started biking.

The six-speed freewheel (brand new this week) works with a triple chainring and twist grip shifters. The tall stem is evident in the picture at right.

We just had the six-speed freewheel replaced and a new chain put on. “It’s like a brand new bike,” Pat said. Earlier this year, I replaced her worn tires with a brand I’d never heard of before — fyxation. They bill themselves as a company that caters to urban bikers, and their Sessions model of tire has a puncture-resistant diamond tread. Pat’s flatted only once on these — they’re terrific tires.

The distinctive diamond tread of the fyxation tires is visible here, as are the cantilever brakes.

The Look Keo pedals ("I've never seen these on a hybrid before," said our bike mechanic) and the Specialized Dolce gel saddle ("It's okay," says Pat).

Pat is still on the same bike. She’s got a repertoire of neighborhood rides of nine, 12, and 16 miles, and will occasionally join me on an organized ride where she can do 30 miles or so.  It’s her main form of exercise, and exercise is the main reason she rides.

Pat reaches the top on a ride in the Texas Hill Country.

For people who are leery of taking up biking because of the bent-over riding position, this could be the answer. As you get more experience, a few tweaks will let you stretch your riding limits. Who knows? You might even decide to take the plunge and upgrade to a road bike anyway. The next bike purchase in this house will not be for me — it’ll be for Pat.

“If You’re Just a Courteous Rider…”

One of the rides I took this past summer got me thinking. It was in an area close to where I work, but since I work 30 miles from where I live, I don’t often make the trip there just to ride my bike.

But this was an informal group ride. We broke into several smallish groups, depending upon the distance we planned to ride. I was in the 41-mile group. We left the parking lot behind a large outlet shopping center and reached country roads almost immediately. I was reminded how much I enjoy riding in the area as we were pedaling down a narrow road under a canopy of trees. In our record hot and dry summer, it was nice to ride in the shade for several miles.

The roads snaked in and out of forest and farmland. The hills added interest without adding pain. I was out in front of the small group I was with, when one of the guys on the ride caught me at a turn. We pedaled side by side for a bit, then he started a conversation.

“Are you from Austin?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I really enjoy riding here. You get in the country so quickly.”

“Yep,” he said. “The roads are good, the traffic is light, and I never get the finger or get honked at by drivers.” It turned out he was from that area, and rode these roads often.

“One person told me once that there’s a difference between the farmers east of the interstate and the ranchers to the west,” I said. “The farmers are nicer to bikers.”

“That could very well be,” he replied. “But I also think that if you’re just a courteous rider, that goes a long way toward keeping drivers friendly.”

Now there’s a short and simple biking philosophy. Just be courteous. I thought about it for awhile. I would have pursued the conversation, but by this time, the other rider was well ahead of me.

We talk a lot about the rights of cyclists, especially when we read news accounts of cyclists who have been seriously hurt, or even killed, in mishaps with motor vehicles. We ask for things like three-foot passing distances, designated bike lanes in town, the right to ride in traffic without worrying that we’ll get clipped from behind by an impatient driver.

But what if we just rode courteously?

And how is courteously different from vehicular cycling?

I think it’s a combination of things. It’s riding like you’re a vehicle, obeying all the traffic laws such as stopping at red lights and stop signs (I said stopping at stop signs — not looking both ways and barreling through). It’s signaling turning, slowing, and stopping.

But it’s also using common sense. If a car is coming from behind, ease over a little more to the right so he doesn’t have to endanger himself by crossing a double yellow line into oncoming traffic. That’s provided you have room to do so with endangering yourself, of course. It’s making yourself visible — we’ve talked about this just recently — by sitting tall in the saddle and wearing bright colors. It’s riding without antagonizing drivers.

What the other biker said out on that country road during a glorious ride was right on the money, I thought. Courtesy goes a long way. I’m going to do my part to spread it further.



I Missed the Turn

I looked forward to our Sunday club ride, because it went to Creedmoor — one of my favorite turnaround spots. It’s just a nice 39-mile jaunt, much of it through countryside. I probably do that route twice a month.

This time, the club president and A-ride leader said he would do a “reverse” Creedmoor route. Okay, fine by me — although I wasn’t exactly sure which roads he would travel on a “reverse” route, since I usually do Creedmoor as an out-and-back.

Only one other B rider checked in at the start, although two A riders told me they would turn around when I did. We set off.

The good hill about three miles into the ride is where we tend to break into groups. This time, I stayed with the pack. Either I’m getting better, or they were riding a little slower. I don’t think I’m getting better. Several miles later, we turn onto a four-lane city street that is a long uphill. A gentle grade, but I don’t do long grades well. I rapidly fell into my customary ride position: off the back.

We were into semi-suburban neighborhoods. It wouldn’t be too long before we left the city behind. But everybody was leaving me behind. On yet another long, easy incline, I lost more ground to the pack. The route turned, and we had to cross Interstate 35. This involved getting into the left lane for two left turns — not my favorite place to ride. But traffic was still light at 8:45 a.m., and I set out in pursuit of the peloton.

Now, we were on the shoulder of a farm-to-market road — Route 1327. In Texas, these are pretty good roads, and this shoulder was nice and wide. The landscape was rolling hills. I saw the group on the hill ahead of me, and then lost them as they crested a hill and started down the other side.

When I got to the top of the hill, I was astounded. Those guys (and three women) must really be pouring on the steam today. They were nowhere in sight. I sighed, and settled into a steady pace, knowing that I would catch the group at the convenience store. They’d take a rest stop there, and the Bs would turn back while the As would continue on.

Still, I couldn’t figure out what had happened. I know the peloton pulls everyone along, but they couldn’t have been going that much faster than me. Then it occurred to me. They had turned on one of the country roads that feed into this road from the right.

This was the “reverse” route the A leader had picked. Of course! They turn onto the first country road after the interstate. I, in my oblivious state, had sailed right by it. I could always stop and go back, and try to catch them. But that would be hopeless. I would just stay on the farm-to-market road and head for the store.

After several miles of rollers I got there, and no one from the club had showed up yet — although about 25 riders from a local shop ride pulled in a few minutes later. Then, here came Buddy. He was the other B rider this morning.

“You turned on Turnersville Road, didn’t you?” I called out to him.

“Yeah,” he said. “I looked back because you weren’t there, and then I saw you continue on 1327. I yelled and waved, but you didn’t look my way.” He turned around and followed me, but was too far back to catch up.

The two other A riders who said they would come with us stayed with the group for their entire 50-mile ride. Buddy and I headed back to town, swapping the lead, and I enjoyed finishing the ride relatively fresh. In mid-summer, this ride beats me up.

A few months ago, I griped about people in a group ride not bothering to familiarize themselves with the route beforehand. This day, our ride leader had posted a turn-by-turn cue sheet online, but I hadn’t downloaded it. I just assumed it would go where I went. Well, we all know what assuming can do. Shame on me.

The Cheapo Bike Computer

After the recent demise of my Cateye V2C cyclocomputer, I had a decision to make. I have its predecessor, a Cateye Strada Cadence, and I could put that back on — or, I could go a different route completely.

I got out the Strada, but whatever I did to get it on the bike the first time around wasn’t working this time. I couldn’t make the wiring fit. There’s a lot more wire than I need to cover the distance from the chainstay up the downtube to the bars. Not being a very patient person, I tried a few times to get it mounted, and then gave up.

The different route I decided to take involved buying a new computer, but not a high-end one. I had read of some cyclists’ experiences with the cheapo beginner computers, and in most cases, they were satisfied. I rolled over to Wal-Mart and found one.

Showing the distance for today's ride: 38.403 miles (!).

It’s a Schwinn 12-function computer. The 12 functions are inflated, I think, because several of them aren’t of much use. However, it does provide the main numbers you expect: current speed, distance traveled, average speed, maximum speed, time of ride. A “scan” mode displays each of these items for five seconds, then advances to the next one. It also shows you whether you’re traveling above or below your average, and what your “trend” is — whether you’re speeding up or slowing down. An odometer keeps track of your total mileage.

Mounting it on the bike was relatively easy. The magnet goes on the front wheel, and the sensor unit on the fork. A wire snakes up the fork and a brake cable to the handlebar mount. Click the computer into the mount, and you’re ready to use it. As you might guess, all attachments are via zip ties.

I must say, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by its performance in the several weeks I’ve been using it. One of the big advantages over the Cateye is that it starts immediately once the wheel turns. The Cateye would go into a sleep mode after several minutes, and you had click a button to get it working again. Many times, I would leave a rest stop — or even the beginning of the ride — only to realize  that I’d forgotten to start it and I’d miss as much as two miles worth of data. Another advantage is that it runs on triple-A batteries, which you’re more likely to have around the house than the disc batteries used in other computers.

Early on, I took the bike out to the Veloway where I know the distance around the track. One lap is 3.1 miles. I had punched in the correct wheel circumference earlier, and sure enough, it registered 3.1 miles per lap for three laps. Good enough for me.

Are there any disadvantages? For a $12 unit, of course there are. It’s a two-button computer, with the left side for odo, distance, max speed, avg. speed, and trip time. Click the right button, and you get only the current speed and current time. Not a problem, until it’s time to zero the computer for a new ride. Theoretically, pressing the left button for two seconds will zero distance, avg. speed, and trip time. However, you have to make sure you’re out of scan mode, and off the clock time setting. I’ve learned to set it to distance, then zero it from there. It took me several days to get the hang of that, and I inadvertently zeroed the odo two or three times until I figured it out.

One quirk is that it measures distance in thousandths of a mile. Why, I have no idea. It’s not useful information. I think anything over a tenth of a mile is unnecessary, and it can be a little confusing to glance down during a ride and see the thousandths tick off faster than the wheel rotates.

It also doesn’t have cadence. I’ve gotten accustomed to seeing cadence during my rides, but frankly, I’ve never done much with that information. Sometimes I’ll do a Veloway lap where I keep the cadence at 90 rpm or above, or I’ll do hill repeats and try to maintain the same cadence for each repeat. But that’s about it. Since I’m not training for any kind of speed event, cadence is something I can easily live without.

So I’m pretty happy with my cheapo computer. It does what it’s supposed to do, and does it dependably, so far. We’ll see if I feel the same way in a year or so. But for now, what more do I need?

Another New Saddle

After being reasonably happy with my WTB Speed V for about a year, it went and fell apart on me. I decided the quick and easy way to repair it was to wrap it with duct tape. Great in theory, but it fell short in practice. The pumping motion of my pedaling legs caused the tape to bunch up. I took one 30-mile ride on the taped saddle, and really felt it afterwards. I figured I’d have to shop for a new saddle.

But then, pulling into the garage, I saw the answer right in front of my eyes. My old Raleigh had a saddle that was almost new. I took pilfered it from the unused 10-speed and put it on the Specialized.

The saddle is a F0rte Classic. Forte, of course, is the house brand of Performance Bicycle, the nationwide chain. I had bought it back in 2007, when the saddle I had on the Raleigh proved to be too uncomfortable. But after riding the Forte on my first metric century, it was evident I’d made a bad move. My bottom suffered during that ride. A few months after, I bought my current bike and forgot about the Forte.

At first blush, it might prove to be a good replacement for the WTB. Performance bills the Classic as “ideal” for long rides. After my metric experience, I was skeptical at best. But I’ve ridden it several times, rides of 15-20 miles, and it seems to be pretty good.

Why the difference?  I believe it all has to do with bike fit. That Raleigh’s frame is a bit too large for me, and I had never been fitted for that bike, anyway. But I did get a professional fitting for the Specialized, and I kept the key dimensions handy just in case I did have to make adjustments to the saddle. It’s amazing how different a perch can feel when the rest of your body is in a comfortable position.

The Classic has semi-soft padding all around, which I like. I don’t do well with the hard, skinny, racing-style saddles. It also has a center cutout, which I can take or leave. I’ve ridden with and without cutouts, and in my case, they don’t seem to make much difference. I think it has only about 250 miles on it, so it’s just like new.

With the weekend coming up, I’ll be getting out for some longer rides than I’ve subjected the saddle to so far. We’ll see if it lives up to its billing as a long-distance saddle. However it turns out, you can be sure I’ll let you know in a future post.

Review: The Jersey Bin

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel likes to review things, and he’s found something he likes.

Noob or not, cyclists like their baggies. I’m a little nutty about losing one particular worn, zip-style bag that’s just a little bigger than my iPhone. Inside I tuck my phone, a credit card, ID, and some cash. The small bag fits perfectly in my jersey pocket and keeps things — namely my phone — safe and dry.

Or at least, kept things safe and dry in the past tense. As handy as baggies are, they’re ridiculously thin. After repeated use, mine features multiple tears that no longer allow it to get the job done. And while I’m sure there are people who will now jump in and remind me that baggies are cheap (a whole box for a few dollars!), I like my small, pocket-sized baggie, not some oversize sandwich bag that I have to fold up in my pocket. And even if I didn’t mind the excess, it just seems kind of silly to keep going through sandwich bags repeatedly, let alone trust them to save your pricey smart phone from rain and sweat.

What I’ve really wanted is a heavier duty zip-lock bag little bigger than the contents I wanted to carry in it. That’s when I spotted a tweet from pro rider Ted King featuring that exact thing — a thick, tough, phone-sized, zip-style bag with a Strava logo. Turns out it was a privately labeled “Jersey Bin.”

Like a Ziploc on steroids, the Jersey Bin (www.jerseybin.com) is made from a 10-gauge vinyl that resists the pokes or tears that would bring a standard baggie to its knees. A sturdy zip closure seals everything up inside. Better yet, that “zipper” runs lengthwise. No more trying to cram my phone, and its grippy rubber case, down through the slim widthwise opening of the bag or struggling to extract some cash at a convenience store. The sideways zipper provides easy access. Sizes include mini, trim, and big. The mini nicely fits my iPhone, cash and cards, without excess. Go bigger if you’re the type who wants to carry more.

I’ve ridden with the Jersey Bin for about a week now. Positive marks include the fact that everything within has stayed absolutely dry. You can also easily use a touchscreen phone interface right through the vinyl (in fact, it seems to work better than my old thin baggie), you can make and receive calls with the phone still in the bag, and the bins — available in three sizes — all seem to fit comfortably in a jersey pocket. An unexpected side benefit is that the stiffer bag lays flat against your lower back; my old-school baggie often let items “sag” to the bottom of my pocket.

Downsides? They’re few. Personally I like the suppler feel of the frosted vinyl version, but the clear is easier when you want to view your phone’s screen. And yes, critics will bring up that whole “box o’ baggies” cost issue, but at only about $6 (including First Class or Priority Mail shipping), that’s kind of a silly argument.

A simple idea? Certainly. But one I’ve been looking for a long time…

The 5 a.m. Ride

Most bikers I know are always trying to find time to ride. I certainly am. Lately, I’ve been limited to riding on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday only — my Tuesday evening ride just hasn’t happened in the past two months because I wind up staying later than planned at work.

But one group of cyclists has found a way to make time for their rides. My friend Ramon H. in the Rio Grande Valley of far south Texas and a group of his riding buddies meet for a morning ride. A 5 O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING ride! And astonishingly, the number of riders at that hour is growing.

It all started in 2004 when Ramon’s friend Eddie wanted to train for an upcoming ride, but couldn’t do it in the evening. He did 5 a.m. rides until his event came and went, then stopped. But in 2009 Ramon had started riding and wanted to get in more miles. Eddie invited him to come out at 5 a.m.

For awhile, it was just the two of them. But word of mouth spread, and people started asking to join.

Starting out.

“Nowadays, the 5 a.m. ride has become a staple with the local cycling clubs and bicycle shops,” Ramon said. “They send folks our way when a certain rider asks about early morning rides.”

The ride attracts an average of eight to 10 bikers, and what started as a Tuesday and Thursday event has now spread to the rest of the week. Eddie leads the Monday, Wednesday and Friday rides; Ramon Tuesday and Thursday. Eddie said as many as 18 have shown up a few times. In that case, the ride splits into two or three groups — hammerheads and slower riders. Ramon said if people are feeling poorly and don’t want to ride, they come out anyway and drive a SAG vehicle.

“In their eyes, their biological clocks are already used to being up and about at that time, so they might as well come out,” he said.

Waiting at a stoplight.

Of course, safety is a concern to riders and their families. One cyclist (not part of the group) was killed when struck by a car at 6 a.m. near their route.

“When you first ride in the dark, your eyes play tricks on you. You see all sorts of shadows,” said Ramon.

Eddie added, “I find it amazing how many times I did not notice a car coming behind me.” He emphasized the importance of using good lights and reflective gear, and riding defensively.

The rides started out with a 22-mile loop. That’s been extended to 24 miles, but some of the newer riders were not comfortable with that distance, so shorter loops of 10 and 14 miles were added.

“Interestingly enough,” Ramon noted, “24 miles seems to be the ‘magical number’ in that the fast group can finish the distance in about an hour and half, while the beginner group can finish the distance in two hours.  The rides are done by 7 a.m.”

“Plus,” added Eddie, “I get to say to my coworkers, ‘Yeah…I did 30 miles this morning.'”

For Eddie, the quiet and the lack of traffic are highlights of riding that early. Ramon likes the sunrises.

“There is something magical about coming back from ‘the long loop,’ turning to the east and watching some of the most beautiful skies,” he said.  “You definitely are reminded how infinitesimal you, with all of your problems, really are.  It is during these rides that I am most thankful to be alive and to be able to do this.”

Heading home.

You know, I can see the possibilities of a ride like this. There’s really nothing to keep me from getting out at the crack of dawn and putting in some miles. Except, perhaps, my wife. Eddie allowed that there could be a problem. His wife actually comes out for the Tuesday and Thursday rides, but he added…

“Every now and then she says, ‘For once can the alarm not go off at 4 a.m?'”