How Badly Do You Want to Watch Yourself Ride?

Over the last couple of years, it seems that drones have become the go-to tool for all manner of applications. Now, drones are invading the biking world.

A French make, Hexo Plus, is touting its drone’s ability to get Hollywood-style action shots of not just bikers, but athletes generally. The drones are small, as the photo shows, and a GoPro camera is easily attached.

It's actually a pretty small unit.

It’s actually a pretty small unit.

It’s also easily controlled, by swiping a simple iPhone app. The drone can do a 360 overhead, and keep up with a rider while doing it. It can zoom up on a rider from behind, and soar past.

The footage can be dramatic.

The footage can be dramatic.

If you have a GoPro of your own that you take on bike rides, you might be open to putting it on a drone. It would sure supply a new variety of shots, and put you in them, rather than having a helmet-mounted camera shoot the approaching road.

On the other hand, to me, the drone seems like overkill. I know how my rides went. If I’m desperate to remember them, I can snap a photo or two, and that will be enough. Besides, I’m kind of a minimalist biker, and although I did give in to the Strava craze last year, I can easily pass up a drone. The Hexo Plus, for those of you who can’t, can be pre-ordered on their website for $1,200.

The Well-Equipped (Colorado) Cyclist

C_catalog_13Had a chance today to spend some time with one of my favorite items of cycling literature — the Colorado Cyclist catalog. I’d been missing it — after getting it regularly for a couple of years, it stopped coming. I’m not sure why it started up again, but I’m glad it did. It gives me the opportunity to see just what kind of gear I, who considers himself one of the top B-level riders in the country, should be sporting on club rides (or any other ride, for that matter).

For those of you not in the know, Colorado Cyclist is an online (and brick and mortar) cycling shop based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Its large (80-page), full-color catalog is full of gear to drool over — both hardware such as bikes and components, and soft goods, such as clothing. Here’s what the well-dressed cyclist is wearing this year.

Oakley sunglasses. The XL Black Plaid are particularly cool. They come with a G30 lens for bright days, and a VR50 lens for low light. A steal at $279.00.

Sidi Wire Carbon shoes. They have a new closure system “utilizing low-friction line material that doesn’t bind.” In white or yellow (which is really screaming hi-visibility green). $499.99.

The Kask Vertigo helmet. This can be adjusted for fit by using either a dial or a finger push system. I guess you pay extra for two systems. This goes for $299.99.

I’ve always liked the European flair of Assos cycling gear. This year, their SS Mille jersey has two types of breathable fabric, and the three traditional pockets across the back are placed in an “innovative” manner — but they don’t have a picture of them so we can see the innovation. This, and several other Assos jersey models, goes for $199.99. But their “intermediate” long-sleeved S7 jersey will set you back $369.99.

To further deck yourself out like the pro cyclist you could be, pair the jersey with a pair of Assos tk.607_S5 Bib Knickers. $339.99.

Now that you look the part, be sure to saddle up the appropriate mount. I see that Colorado Cyclist is selling Focus bikes now. The Izalco pro 1.0 goes for $4,800.00 — not bad, by premium bike standards. And what do I find on the back cover? A Focus Cayo 1.0 for a mere $1,699.00. Okay, it’s the 2012 model, but still…

I do like the way the catalog displays shorts. They have large color pictures of the chamois pads for all their shorts, and you can get a sense of how the padding might work for you. It’s something I wish all sellers would do for this crucial piece of equipment.

But really, for the kind of riding I do, and my level of ability, this catalog is simply a compendium of high-end stuff I either can’t afford, don’t need, or am unworthy of. But it’s fun to go through it — kind of like my wife poring over the jewels in the Ross-Simons catalog. Those aren’t going to see the inside of this house either — but it’s fun to dream.

Editor’s Choice — Essential Cycling Gear

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel is back, and he’s got the results of an informal survey.

HemmelsRide2Let’s face it, the title of this blog may be Bike Noob, but it’s a description that no longer really fits Ray, its creator. Nor does it really describe occasional contributors Don Blount or myself. Between the three of us, we’ve logged tens of thousands of miles, including multiple centuries, big charity rides, serious mountain ascents, races…and even changed a cassette or two. And along the way we’ve learned, often through trial and error, what kind of stuff helped us to better enjoy the ride.

So I emailed both Ray and Don and posed this question: What five items were your best purchases, or do you consider most valuable? My thinking is that the answers just may improve the ride for both noobs and experienced riders alike…not to mention save the expense of a drawer full of unused gear. (Don’t ask me how I know about that last one.)

As you might expect, there were several shared answers. Both Ray and I gave the nod to quality tires, specifically Continentals. “I run 25 mm, because I like the extra little bit of cushioning they give,” notes Ray of his favored Gatorskins. “They’re 100 psi instead of the 120 I had run on my 23s. Earlier this week, a club ride had a whole mess of flats rolling over grit left after a rainfall. Me, no problems.”

I wholeheartedly agree, although my favorite style is the GP4000S in the 23mm version. Before I switched to the Continentals, flats were a little too common. In the years since, they’re a rare occurrence. Hope I didn’t just jinx myself.

Ray and I also agreed on the merits of a good base layer in cooler weather. Base layers provide some warmth, but perhaps more importantly, wick away sweat so it doesn’t stay against your skin and chill your core. “Let me sing the praises of a base layer t-shirt I got last year,” comments Ray. “It’s a polyester T from Performance that fits loosely, and I think the air that gets trapped in the folds helps insulate me. It’s never as soaked with sweat as my clingy base layers.” Me, I like clingy, but agree most “polyester-feel” shirts leave me soggy. My runaway favorite is the Pro Zero from Craft. It’s pricey (I waited till I had a credit at Performance and the shirt went on sale), but I can honestly say it’s worth every penny. Something about the material feels more like a cozy cotton, or maybe even a nice, non-scratchy wool. It does a fantastic job of wicking away the moisture, keeping me feeling dry on those cold days.

Ray recommended two more pieces of clothing — a long-sleeved jersey from Performance, and a pair of wool socks, specifically Wooleators by D-Feet. “I’ve had the jersey for years, and I still look forward to wearing it,” says Ray, noting the lightly brushed fleece lining. “Great by itself in the 60s, with a base layer in the 50s, and under a windbreaker in the 40s.” As to the socks, he notes they do what wool does best — keep his feet warm in cold weather and cool in the heat.

Don and I agreed upon the benefits of a professional bike fit. “I rode my bike for a few months with the setup I received at the bike shop before going to a professional fitter,” says Don, who has had a fine-tuning since and plans on getting checked again before Spring. “A good fit goes along with a good ride.” I, too, received an initial fit with the purchase of my bike, but later fine-tuned it with a professional fitting. My fitter put me into a far more comfortable, efficient, and dare I say faster position on the bike. Fitters can also take into account previous injuries or limitations.

Don and I also tout the merits of a comfortable saddle. “Ever ride with a sore bum?” asks Don. “Enough said.” Don favors the Selle Italia SLR Gel Flow saddle. I’m still looking for my preferred perch. Along the same lines, Don and I both recommend a quality pair of cycling shorts or bibs. If you ride a lot, this isn’t a place to scrimp. Cheap alternatives are available, but pricier shorts typically feature far better chamois pads and more comfortable materials and cuts. Well worth the investment.

Don also suggests choosing the correct gearing. “I did an all-time high of more than 90,000 feet of climbing in 2012,” he says. “I rode with a 50-34 compact chainring and an 11-28 cassette. I know folks who switch out their rear cassette depending on the terrain. I am too lazy to do that, but this combo works pretty well for me for the riding I do.” I stick with my stock 11-28 when I get the chance to go into the mountains, but have added a 12-25 for the everyday flat conditions here in Florida as I feel it gives me more choices in my typical range. Truth be told, a cassette is actually a pretty simple thing to swap, although you’ll need a couple inexpensive tools. It’s also a good idea to match a chain to each cassette to prolong the life of both.

Other personal favorites? Don pegs comfortable shoes. His Bont ctt3 shoes are heat moldable, better to accommodate his “platypus” (wide across the ball, narrow at the heel) feet. He also likes to wear something under his helmet. “Even with padding, a bicycle helmet can feel like sandpaper on my shaved head,” says Don. He has proper headwear for every season — a breathable, sweat-absorbing skullcap for hot weather, a wind-blocking style for cool to cold temps, and a Walz wool cap (with earflaps) for really cold days.

Me, I’ve grown pretty attached to a sports drink, Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix. Adequate fluids are essential while riding, but I’m sick of syrupy Gatorade and hate those fizzy tablet drinks. All-natural Skratch (formerly Secret Drink Mix) tastes great, is flavored by real fruit, and has some sharp, science-minded bike nerds behind it. It’s pricey, but hey, I don’t drink that other bicycling staple — coffee — so guess that’s how I justify the expense.

One last item? Don suggested a bike computer, specifically his Garmin Edge. “It helps me keep track of time, distance and vitals such as heart rate, elevation, cadence and speed. In short, it provides great feedback for my riding.”

If there’s one common thread throughout all our picks, it’s comfort. “I believe comfort goes a long way in helping a rider’s performance,” suggests Don. “If one is not comfortable on the bike, then you won’t spend time on the bike.” Ray also notes that, with perhaps the exception of his tires, most of his must-haves are pretty reasonable in terms of price. “Not a lot of expensive stuff (on my list),” he says. “But I’m not the gearhead some of my fellow riders are. You can have a great cycling experience for a modest outlay.”

Agree, disagree, or have a few suggestions of your own? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Testing Some More Sunglasses

When I posted awhile ago about my switch to sunglasses that are worn over eyeglasses, Bike Noob reader Nate Schrader noticed that I had a mild concern about their stylishness — or lack thereof. Nate works for, and said he wears a pair that may offer a more contemporary look. He sent them over, along with a second pair of glasses similar to the ones I currently use, and asked me to see if they work for me.

The glasses are quite different. One pair has the flared out lenses favored by bike racers and other fast riders. They wraparound the face, and theoretically deflect wind. In terms of style, they’re a more “with it” look than ordinary glasses. The other pair is traditionally shaped, a medium size, with copper-colored lenses for better edge definition in overcast conditions. I’ve been able to try out both pairs, and I have a definite preference.

Last weekend, I wore the “Overcast” glasses on my trip to San Marcos. They slide easily over my biking eyeglasses — a pair several years old that I no longer wear for daily use, but that work well when I ride. The copper lenses did just what they advertised. When I left the house on a cloudy morning, they made everything sharp. When the sun came out later in the day, the glasses cut the glare. After a ride of more than four hours, I was unaware the glasses were there, they were that comfortable.

Sunglasses with copper lenses. Medium size. Good stuff.

Size matters

The Overcast glasses came in medium size.

“What’s different about those glasses?” asked my wife.

“They’re not as large as my other ones,” I replied.

“I knew there was something about them that made them look better,” she said. “They don’t look as dorky — like old man glasses — as your other pair.”

Uh, thanks…I guess. The lenses were a little bit smaller than the over-the-eyeglass sunglasses I wear every day for driving and cycling. For her, it made a big difference in looks.

For me, the size issue had less to do with looks than with comfort. They just felt good. I think I might have to adopt these as my regular biking sunglasses.

So does build

Contrast that experience with the other pair, the so-called “sports shield” sunglasses. I’m afraid I can’t say much good about them. While they might be slightly oversized, compared with glasses of that style that are not made to be worn over eyeglasses, they simply don’t get the job done.

The Sports Shields. I think I’ll skip these.

The problem seems to be their shape. The wraparound style doesn’t lend itself to wearing over eyeglasses. The lenses catch on the point where the eyeglass lenses meet the temples, so the sunglasses stick out a bit from the face. The nose bridge doesn’t quite sit on the nose. I experimented by wearing these over different pairs of prescription glasses, each one smaller than the previous one. Finally, I dug out a pair of eyeglasses that I haven’t worn in at least a couple of years. They have lenses much smaller than the rest of my glasses, because they’re for distance vision only, and not bifocals. The wraparounds fit a little better over these. But they’re not really designed to be worn over eyeglasses — it’s just that their size and shape made them possible candidates.

I took my usual Tuesday evening laps around the Veloway. It’s a ride that I can finish is less than an hour. I certainly wouldn’t want to wear these sunglasses any longer than that, not only because they’re not at all comfortable, but because the poor fit leads to other problems — most notably glare from the sun getting in between the sunglass lenses and the prescription lenses. It almost negates the purpose of sunglasses to begin with.

In addition, they’re not well built. The sunglasses have an overall cheap feel about them. The frames, glossy black plastic, seem almost brittle. They didn’t crack or break while I wore them, but they do make creaking noises, as though the plastic is being stressed in some way. If I didn’t already have alternatives, I might consider wearing these, but they are really an unsatisfactory solution.

To be fair, SunglassWarehouse is in the business of selling inexpensive sunglasses. Everything retails for under $20, and the sports shields are priced at $13.56 during a “Tax Week Special.” The copper-lensed overcast glasses are on sale for $15.96.

If you’re a cyclist of a certain age like me, these types of sunglasses might be worth considering — if not for biking, then maybe for other purposes, like driving. But get the ones specifically designed for the purpose, and don’t try to make do with something just because it “might” work.

My Equipment

After four years of riding my bike, a 2008 Specialized Allez Elite Compact, it hasn’t changed, but some of the accessories have. I got to thinking on yesterday’s ride about what’s different on the bike than when I bought it. Just a few items:

Drive train: I started with a Shimano Tiagra compact double, then switched to a Truvativ Roleur because it had 172.5 mm crank arms instead of the 175s that came with the Shimano. But I ruined the Truvativ and had the Shimano put back on. So I’m back to where I started, and I’m just fine with that.

Shifters: I popped the cable out of my Tiagra shifter — the right hand one that controls the rear cassette. Bike shop said you can’t service Shimano shifters (I have run into conflicting opinions on that — apparently you can, if you have the time and patience to do it), but all they had on hand was a Shimano Sora shifter. I bought it. It’s okay, but only okay.

Saddle: The stock saddle on my bike was a Specialized Alias, which I liked to start out, but which caused me much discomfort after a while. I switched to  Selle San Marco Ponza, a narrow racing style saddle, which turned out to be good for one hour before it became unbearable. (I rode an MS 150 from Houston to Austin on the thing.) So I opted for something with a little more cushioning — a WTB Speed V — and it was better for my old guy butt. But it lasted for only a year before the vinyl cover ripped apart so badly it was hurting. As a stopgap measure, I took a Performance Forte Classic off my old steel Raleigh to use until I found something permanent. That was in October. I’m still riding the Forte, and it’s working out fine.

Bar tape: Well, we’re going to change bar tape periodically anyway, aren’t we? It’s easy to do, but it takes a little patience and practice the first time. My bike came with blue. I went through two rolls of black, and now I’m back to blue again. I don’t think white is in my future, however.

Headlight, taillight: I don’t ride at night, not because I don’t want to, but because I’ve never had a reason to. However, I do get caught at dusk often during the standard time months, and lights help. My headlight is the one-watt version of the Planet Bike Blaze. As the bike shop guy said, this light is to be seen. If I wanted to see at night, I would have gotten something brighter. I like the strobe setting if I’m riding at dusk — no way oncoming traffic will miss seeing that. I’ve also got a Serfas taillight that wraps around a seat stay. It’s a pretty good light, but the soft rubbery wraps break easily. When the last two go, which may be soon, the light will be unusable.

Tires: I’ve probably gone through more different brands of tires than any other accessory on the bike. It came with the Specialized Mondo, which flatted a lot. I got rid of them in just a few months, and replaced them with Specialized All-Condition. I had a scary blowout while on a fast descent, and was happy to change those. The replacements were Vittoria Rubinos, which developed a flat tread area after less than 1,000 miles. Then I decided to try 25 mm tires, and got Hutchinson Top Speeds. These were flat-prone, too. Continental Gatorskins worked well. They’re not flat proof, but they were darn near. However, when I finally wore out two sets of them, I bought some Vredestein Fortezza SEs. Their flat resistance is as good as the Gatorskins, at least in my experience, but I wish they came in 25 mm. Two millimeters might not seem like much, but my confidence is higher riding on wider tires. I might go back to Gatorskins again for that reason, but I don’t think I’ll wear out the Vredesteins for a while.

Wheels: The stock wheels on that model year of my bike were Jalco Dynamics 270s. I’ve never heard of them, before or since. They’re a little on the heavy side, but they’re also bomb proof. I’ve never had a broken spoke, never needed to have them trued. Our club mechanic isn’t crazy about the hubs, which are by Specialized, but I’m not sophisticated enough a rider — and I haven’t ridden that many different bikes — to know the difference between  these and a top-notch hub. I suspect if I wanted to make one upgrade to the bike that would make a real difference, it would be to buy better wheels.

Pedals: The bike came without pedals. My previous bike had entry-level Nashbar Look-style pedals, which were okay. For this one, I opted for Shimno SPD-SLs. They have the delta shape, but a somewhat wider platform. They’re good pedals. The cleats need to be replaced every year or so.

Water bottles: Hardly worth mentioning, except that I use whatever cheapie bottles I get as favors at organized rides. I’ve never bought a fancy insulated bottle, and I’ve never used a Camelbak hydration pack. I have one bottle cage on the down tube, and a dual cage setup on my saddle above the seat bag.

Seat bag: I got a run of the mill Inertia Designs bag when I bought the bike, and it looks like it’s been around for four years. Unlike many riders who like really small bags, I think the next one I get will be somewhat larger.

Pump: After fumbling with CO2 cartridges for several months, I got a mini frame pump. It’s a Topeak Road Morph, and I think it’s terrific. So do other cyclists who have borrowed it when they’ve had flats. Certainly more dependable than CO2 cartridges, although nowhere near as fast.

Well, that’s my experience with bike stuff. Lots of cyclists seem to love swapping stories about their gear, and why they bought this or that model, and how well they perform — or don’t. Just thought I’d give you a sample of equipment, Noob-style.


How Much CO2?

One of the A riders in the club posted on the Yahoo group that he was making the move to CO2 cartridges, after many years of resisting them. That started online discussions that took two separate tracks.

12g threaded

Another member asked, “How many pounds of pressure does a 12 gram cartridge impart to a 700×23 tire? I use 16g cans and still have trouble getting home with the optimum 92-94 lbs onboard.”

The Internet is a wonderful thing. It doesn’t take long before answers start rolling in. Multiple answers.

“I’ve never checked the actual pressure,” answered a fast rider, “but my 23’s are quite firm after using a 12 gm cartridge. I just did a bit of research and it appears that you get about 100 psi in a 23mm tire from a 12 gm cartridge and about 125 from a 16 gm.”

But that doesn’t allow for individual differences. The fellow who posted that probably doesn’t weight more than 130 pounds soaking wet. The original poster followed up:

“Am I the only one who rides 25 mm tires? What did your research say about the pressures in the larger road tire?”

Cripes. We haven’t answered the cartridge size question yet, and now we’re introducing tire size variations? It’s gonna get confusing.

“I ride 25s too,” chimed in another member, “and am somewhat heaver than Steve so you probably will not be surprised to hear that I only roll with the 16s on the road bike.  However, I also put some Gatorskins on the wheels so I don’t get flats very often any longer [although I just jinxed it and am sure to get a flat on my next ride] so the extra cheese spent on the threaded 16 gram cartridges isn’t a big deal.  If you use less than 6 of these a year, it’s not a major expense.” But he also had a practical suggestion.

“Go buy a 12 gram and a 16 gram cartridge.  Let all of the air out of your rear tire, fill it up with the 12 gram cartridge, and go for a ride.  Repeat with the 16 gram.  Which did you like better?”

I imagined pffffft! sounds coming from garages all over the neighborhood as cyclists took him up on that idea.

16g unthreaded

Then, of course, there’s that complication you get with CO2:

“Bear in mind that CO2 bleeds out of a tire much faster than pumped air,” wrote the 130-pounder, “so if you fix the flat in the early part of a three-hour ride, you will find a lower pressure when you get home. This is why, after fixing a flat on the road with CO2, I always deflate the tire and refill it with a pump at home. However, unless it gets down in the low 80 lbs range, you shouldn’t have any problems short of a pinch flat if you hit a big pothole or rock.”

Okay, this is all good information. But one member had a great idea: Go right to the source. The Genuine Innovations website has a link to an inflation chart.

“Unfortunately there isn’t a measure for the 25mm tire,” said the guy who suggested experimenting. “But there is one for 23 and 28. You should be right in the middle. It looks like a 12gm will get you 90psi in the 23mm tire and 62psi in the 28mm tire or about 80psi in the 25mm. If you want a higher pressure, go with the 16.”

What was the second discussion track? Cost, of course.

The original poster wrote: “If you buy cartridges from a bike shop they can be pretty expensive. I just checked online and it appears that you can get them reasonably cheap if you get a bunch of them. For example you can get a box of 50 16 gram non-threaded cartidges for $50 including shipping. And different prices for different amounts. but 50 for $50 seems about the best.”

Another replied, “Buy a box of 12 gram cartridges at Walmart in the BB/paintball gun section. 15 for $7.97.”

“+1 on that recommendation,” said a third.  “I buy mine in bulk from a discount sporting goods store.  The only thing is that these do not have the threads to screw into some of the smaller nozzles.  I had to use it this weekend and a single Crossmark CO2 cartridge inflated my tire in one shot.”

Well, that was settled pretty quickly. Looks like a bunch of my club pals are headed for Wal-Mart to get their CO2. But one of the previous commenters signed off with some wise advice:

“Even though I’ve had good luck with cartridges, I still have a frame pump attached to my bike just in case Mr. Murphy is drafting.”




Old Man Shades

My prescription shades. At the MS150, 2009.

Ever since I began biking, I’ve worn my prescription sunglasses. For the most part, they’ve been fine. But they’re my distance prescription only, and I need a bifocal for reading. So whenever I looked down at my bike computer, the numbers were blurry. And lately, the distance prescription has been getting a little fuzzy. I even asked readers of this blog for advice about replacing them.

Last summer, Pat and I were on a group ride together. At a rest stop, I noticed the ride leader Kathleen’s sunglasses. They were the big plastic kind that you slip on over your prescription glasses. Maybe not the most attractive eyewear, but effective. I asked her about them.

“I broke my prescription sunglasses,” Kathleen said. “With these, I can wear my regular glasses, and put these right over ’em. And if I ever break ’em, for just 20 bucks at Wal-Mart, I can get a new pair.”

I actually had some experience with those kind of sunglasses. But I always associated them with old people. My late father had several pair. His were the solid dark green kind that made him look like the subject of a satirical cartoon about Florida retirees. He was constantly offering to give me a pair. I vowed to avoid them in the interest of personal dignity.

But two summers ago, while we were on a driving vacation, my prescription sunglasses really started to bother me. When I left our hotel one evening to drop my wife off for some shopping, I realized I had left my sunglasses in the room. Rather than go back to the hotel to retrieve them, I went to a nearby Wal-Mart and checked out my options. The old man shades were there, but they were better than the ones my dad had worn. These made an attempt at style, with black rims and shaped lenses. I bought a pair.

Pat thought it was pretty funny that I would wear them, and for a long time, I only wore them while driving, where they wouldn’t be obvious. If anyone noticed that I was wearing old man shades, who cared? They were past me and out of my life in a second or two anyway.

After the episode with Kathleen, I thought about wearing those shades myself while on the bike. My first couple of experiences with them weren’t good. They sat on top of my regular glasses, and pressed them down into my nose. The bridge of my nose was sore after riding for an hour or two.

But I’ve since gotten new prescription eyeglasses, and although they are almost the same as the ones they replaced, the old man shades sit more easily on them. No nose pinch anymore. Two weeks ago, I decided this would be the way I would go.

Sleek and stylish. Yeah, right.

So I guess I’m officially an old man now. But I don’t care. They work. And, I can even read the small lettered information on my cyclocomputer. I wore them on the club ride last weekend, and no one said anything — at least to my face — although I recognize they could have been chuckling to themselves on the inside. I’m going to keep wearing them.

I do, however, make one concession to style. At the university where I work, they stay in the car and I wear my old prescription shades around campus. Can’t have my students thinking I’m more of a codger than they already do.