The Kinda, Sorta Garmin Edge Review

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel is back, with a look at an item the Bike Noob has so far successfully avoided.

HemmelsRide2Judging by the stems and handlebars of an increasing number of riders, Garmin is taking over the cycling world. Or at least, the bike computer part of it. Seemingly everyone has, or wants, one of the brand’s pricey little, GPS-equipped Edge units. Ray confirms he’s about the only one in his group who doesn’t use one. Fellow guest blogger Don Blount is a longtime user. I’m not immune to the little gadget’s allure. When I got the chance to test ride an Edge 500 for myself (I have a relationship with Garmin through my real-world job in the boating industry), I jumped at the chance. Normally, that would result in a standard-issue review, but considering that by now endless other outlets have already done that job quite well, I decided to take a different approach.

Jeff's Garmin Edge. Yeah, he recently did a century. But he says he's not bragging. (Click to embiggen.)

Jeff’s Garmin Edge. Yeah, he recently did a century. But he says he’s not bragging. (Click to embiggen.)

To be blunt, I decided to look at why so many riders had happily purchased a computer that costs several hundred dollars, when far cheaper alternatives — that do the basics quite well — could be had for much less.

For my friend John Matthews, part of the answer was the unit’s multitude of features. “It goes so far beyond the standard wired or wireless bicycle computer that there really isn’t any comparison,” he says of his compact Edge 500, referencing the computer’s ability to display not only speed, time and distance, but up to 61 other pieces of data including cadence, heart rate, elevation, lap times, and grade. Don agrees. “Lots of data,” he notes, while also pointing out the Edge’s accuracy, long battery life (12-18 hours), and auto shutoff feature. “That saves me from putting my bike away, forgetting to shut it off and discovering before my next ride that it is not charged.”

John also points out the unit’s ability to be easily transferred and configured to multiple bikes, and the Edge’s extensive customization potential. On the 500, up to five separate screens can be individually configured, with as little as one — or as many as eight — information fields per page. John also found the customization process, and the unit’s overall operation, highly intuitive and “ridiculously” easy to learn.

It seems to me that an equal part of that answer, however, is that a lot of us take our riding pretty seriously. As the Edge units are ANT+ compatible, they work seamlessly with any number of external add-ons, including wireless heart rate monitors, cadence sensors, even power meters. They can also record and store all sorts of stats from multiple rides for those who like to upload the information to sites like Garmin Connect or Strava. Don notes Garmin’s online log allows him to “download my data and compute totals and compare as far back as when I first began using a Garmin.”

Stats recording was a compelling reason for another friend, Tim Robinson, who purchased a touchscreen Edge 800, a larger device that includes color maps and can display turn-by-turn directions. Tim likes to track his rides, but found fault with the current slate of smartphone apps. “I had been using MapMyRide and Strava on my cellphone, but it would die part way through a big ride,” says Tim. “I wanted something that would do the same thing, but keep my cellphone fully charged for emergencies.” As part of our local group had recently taken to heading out of town for hillier rides in preparation for Georgia’s Six Gap Century, he also wanted a unit that would show his position and a route map so he wouldn’t get lost if he got dropped from the group.

As to Edge model’s high price points, all seemed willing to make the investment. John contends his 500 is actually a great deal. “I have not found anything else that comes close to this functionality,” he says.

Initially, I thought I’d go back to my previous computer after my test period with the Edge 500 ended, but now I, too, have grown pretty attached. Why? All of the above. Like Tim, I also got frustrated with the Strava iPhone app killing my phone battery. That same app also seemed to not accurately record my elevation, a minor detail but something I like to track when I get the chance to do some serious climbing. I also like the Edge’s ability to be recharged via the same USB cable that uploads its data to my computer. My old computer’s battery indicator was woefully inaccurate, and batteries died unexpectedly several times.

What’s not to like? Don notes the somewhat flimsy, rubber O-ring mounting system. He’s opted for a stiffer mount from BarFly that also puts the computer ahead of the handlebars. I’ve tried a similar mount from K Edge that I would recommend. Don also adds the 500’s side-mounted buttons can be cumbersome to use if you’ve also got a light close by on your handlebars.

Still, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives…but is that enough to justify the expense? I guess the answer will depend on how serious you are about your cycling, how obsessive you are about your stats, and maybe just whether or not you think there’s better stuff to spend your money on.

Clearly a lot of people, however, are living on the Edge…pun intended.

What’s In Your Saddle Bag?

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel opens a discussion of one of biking’s most common items.

HemmelsRide2Recently I came across a discussion of what people carried in their saddle bags. It piqued my interest, because over many years I feel like I’ve really streamlined mine to the true essentials, while still allowing for a few items I’ve come to appreciate from experience…and some people might overlook.

What do I bring along for the ride? I dumped the contents out to jog my memory. Chime in to add anything you think I’ve missed.

bag

A Spare Tube — This one is obvious. A spare tube is there to save the day should you flat on any of the detritus that lines the roads, and as such should be the key item in any saddle bag. Tip? Bicycling magazine recently suggested to wrap a spare in plastic wrap. I guess the idea is to keep it “fresh,” but it also keeps the tube as compact as possible, as well as protects it from some abrasion by other items in your bag.

Perhaps the real question should be one tube…or two? I try to keep things as minimal as possible, so I go with one, reasoning that I can call someone for a ride should things go really haywire. If I’m venturing out into some unknown area, however, I sometimes squeeze a second one into my bag…just in case.

Patch Kit — One reason I often go with just the single tube is that I carry a patch kit. You can find them in tiny little packages that are easy to add to your bag. That way if you ruin your spare, you can do a quickie repair.

Tire Levers — I usually just use my hands to remove a tire, but I still keep a pair of tire levers in my bag. They’re helpful for getting a tire off the rim, especially if the tire is new and not very pliable.

CO2 Inflator — My brother gets on me about this one, noting that all of us quick-fix types aren’t doing the environment any favor. But a small CO2 inflator is the simplest, quickest way to get you back up and riding, especially if a group may be waiting for you…or you don’t want to lose them. CO2 inflators, however, are notorious for misfiring. After a little trial and error, I’ve settled on a Genuine Innovations Air Chuck Elite. It’s a tiny, spring-loaded, inexpensive inflator head that’s got a great reputation. There are flashier solutions, but I’m not sure any really better.

CO2 Cartridges — I have a mini frame pump that tucks behind a bottle cage, so I stick with just one CO2 cartridge in my streamlined bag. For the typical road bike tire, one 16 gram cartridge should get you back up to about 110-115 pounds. Theoretically it should fill to 130 psi, but I’ve never quite seen that happen.

Presta Valve Adapter — This summer I had what I’ll call the “flat change from hell.” Suffice it to say my old CO2 inflator leaked, my frame pump broke, and I was eaten alive by mosquitoes on the side of a steep country road. I was finally able to walk to a convenience store, only to find I had to do a little surgery on their air hose just to get a little bit of air into my tire. Then and there I vowed to get one of these little adapters (about $1.50) and throw it in my bag. I may never need it again, but if I do, it’s cheap insurance.

Multi-Tool — I’ve seen better (and bigger) alternatives, but I think most people can get by with just a simple tool, like Park’s tiny IB-2. It’s got a multitude of hex wrenches, a flat-blade screwdriver, and an I-beam handle for strength.

Grease Monkey Wipe — I scoffed at this when a friend gave me one, but these little foil-wrapped wipes really do clean up your hands after a chain issue, or even a dirty tire change. I just used the one I was given. Time to find some more.

Oh, a side note…the makers were funded by one of the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank.

As to the actual bag I keep this stuff in, I’ve found one — again, a small one — that works perfect for me, the Serfas EV-2. I like the bag’s durability, but I primarily appreciate that it’s not just one wide-open bag. Instead, there’s a mesh pocket in the zippered entry flap (a great spot to stow that little inflator and Presta valve adapter), a pocket on one side to hold my multi-tool, and a strap on the other to tuck in my CO2 cartridge and tire levers. Best of all it’s even got a strap with a clip to securely hold a house key…something you definitely don’t want to lose out of your saddle bag when changing a tire on the side of a hill while being attacked my mosquitoes.

Not that I would know about that sort of thing.

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.

Misplaced Loyalty To The Local Bike Shop?

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel liked his local bike shop — until he realized he didn’t.

 We hear a lot about doing business with the LBS, or local bike shop. For the most part, I agree. These are businesses in our community, supporting our sport. Sure, I’ll get something online if it’s truly a fantastic deal. But for the most part, I try to keep things close to home.

Lately, however, I’ve been having second thoughts about which of those community shops deserves my support.

This isn’t about calling anyone out. Suffice it to say one bike shop is where I have bought two bikes, some semi-expensive wheels, numerous parts and accessories, and a decent amount of service over the years. They’re close and convenient. The other is where I have bought a few things at best, and gotten the occasional service. They’re neither close nor convenient, especially if I have to leave my bike or get there by car.

Seemingly it would be a no-brainer to keep going to Shop #1, except for one significant detail. With a couple notable exceptions, the staff is just not that friendly. And it’s not just me who thinks so. I’ve had both neighbors and friends share similar experiences. I don’t expect them to roll out the red carpet. But as a polite, friendly customer who has spent a lot of money in that shop, I do expect to feel valued when I go in there. Heck, at one time I figured I’d probably end up friends with some of these guys. Instead, I sometimes feel like I’ve annoyed them just by coming in the door. As I said, there are a couple exceptions, including one mechanic who always has a great attitude. The overall vibe, however, is just downright weird. Friendly conversation, beyond the basics, is rare. The quickest tweak usually results in a charge. The “friendly” wrench went out of his way and taught me how to do something several months back; the next time I came in one of the others made a snide comment about how much time I had wasted.

It would be easy to dismiss these negative encounters as the occasional misunderstanding or bad day. But sadly, I’ve come to expect it as the norm.

Contrast that experience with Shop #2. On the whole, I haven’t spent much money at all there. I’ve bought no bikes, and few parts. Most of my visits have been when I’m riding by and stop in for something simple. But when I walk in their door, I’m always greeted with a friendly, sincere hello. They ask how I’m doing, how’s my riding going, etc. On the occasion that I’ve mentioned a problem, they’ve immediately thrown my bike on a stand and given it a tweak. Simple, quick adjustments are never followed with a charge (I typically respond with a tip for their generosity). The one time they did do a more extensive repair — a bottom bracket replacement — they compensated for a delayed part by temporarily putting a completely different crank and bottom bracket on my bike, just so that I could keep riding rather than be left on the sidelines for a week. They’ve never asked for my long-term business. But their actions, and their friendly nature, show they deserve it.

For some reason I’ve felt some kind of strange loyalty to Shop #1. I’ve even gone so far as to defend them when others have criticized. But finally, I’ve stopped to ask myself why. Why do I support a shop that I almost dread going into? Why do I ignore a shop that always makes me feel welcome?

I urge you to support your local bike shop. But just because a shop is local doesn’t mean it deserves your business. You’ve got to feel good about where you spend your money…and they’ve got to earn it.

—————-

By the way, here’s a special offer for Bike Noob readers. The concoction called Secret Drink Mix, which Jeff profiled awhile ago, now has a new name. It’s called Skratch Labs. And they’re offering a 15% discount. Visit their website, go to Products, and place your order. Enter Bike Noob in the discount spot.

Comedy of (Mechanical) Errors

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel finds that sometimes, rides just don’t go as they’re planned.

Just as in life, some days on the bike go smoothly…while others make you wish you had just stayed home. Proof? I offer a glimpse into today’s ride…or as I’m calling it, the comedy of mechanical errors.

7:45

Text friends (or at least the short list of friends who also work from home and thus can ride on a weekday morning), see who’s ready to ride. One’s out, one’s not responding. Begin mindless wandering on Internet.

9:00

Still no response, so come up with a solo plan. Just for grins, I’m going to tackle several Strava segments in the area and see if I can post some ridiculously fast times so everyone will think I’m a cool cyclist. Haven’t heard of Strava? It’s a GPS-based, mileage-tracking app with a social-media component…but let’s face it, it’s really just a way for people to compare themselves to others and convince themselves they’re cool cyclists.

9:15

Finally leave the house, heading toward the downtown route favored by the local cycling club. Approach the first segment I’m targeting, bordering a local country club. Pop a caffeinated energy gel into my mouth and get ready to hammer. Instead, realize I have a flat and curse the loss of precious, Strava-busting momentum. That makes two flats in about three days in the same tire…or two more than I’ve gotten in about the entire last year.

9:29

Remove the tire, lay my bike on the grass, and begin my inspection. Yes, I know that guy on YouTube does this process in 45 seconds, but I’m actually trying to find out what caused the flat…not just have it repeated another couple miles down the road. After two minutes of tentative feeling around inside the tire (does anybody really want to discover the cause with their bare fingers?) I find a tiny piece of glass. It’s buried, so I spend the next several minutes trying to dig it out.

9:35

Overcome the revulsion I have about putting something in my mouth that has been produced in a factory and attempt to blow a little bit of air into the tube to give it some shape. Nothing’s happening. Un-strap my Lezyne mini pump (hey, like a Boy Scout I’m prepared), then spend the next several minutes in frustration trying to unscrew the air hose which is housed within the pump body for storage. Curse myself for not greasing the threads.

9:38

Finally pump a little air into the tube, then start wrestling with the tire. After thousands of miles it’s decided to snap itself back into a kinked, twisting figure eight that my frazzled brain simply cannot decipher. Nice elderly lady stops by to offer assistance…obviously she’s never seen an experienced cyclist change a tire before.

9:40

Grab CO2 cartridge and let ‘er rip, anxious to get on with my ride. The tube begins to fill, then quickly the gizmo fails, adding a few greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and causing me to whine like a baby about my now-frozen hands. No spare cartridge, so go back to the mini pump.

9:50

One thousand, three-hundred-and-twelve pumps later and I’m exhausted. My tire is just on the firmer side of mushy. I’m obsessed with this Strava thing so I soldier on, ignoring the fact that I’ll soon be passing through a little rougher side of town with no spare, no patch kit, and no other tough-looking guys in badass Lycra. Okay, I do ponder for a moment who I can call should I have another problem…and wonder how long my puny self and expensive road bike will sit unnoticed while said person comes to pick me up.

9:52

Start to roll once again and realize my tire is mush. Stop, un-strap pump once again, and pump another thousand times (give or take). Tire pressure is now maybe an optimistic 70-psi.

10:00

Once again get underway, but aft water bottle is jumping wildly with every pedal stroke. Inspect and discover the cadence magnet on my crank arm is now inexplicably colliding with the remounted mini pump, which in turn is springing the bottle in question. Pedal in weird, half-arcs until I find a park bench…where I proceed to stare at the situation with all the knowledge and experience of a guy who just took 30 minutes to change a single flat tire.

10:10

Give serious consideration to the theory that a crank arm that can handle all the force generated by a Tour de France winner just bent under the weight of a 16-pound bike frame sitting on a well-manicured fairway. Un-strap pump, put it in my jersey pocket, give up on being king of the GPS-tracking-app mountain, and head home, completing a whopping 16 miles…in 1 hour and 37 minutes.

I did finally solve the mystery, or at least the part of it that didn’t involve my own incompetence. The pump bracket has mounting slots, rather than boltholes. Though the bolts seemed tight, the bracket had somehow slid to the left…just enough to derail my best-laid plans.

Hmm…maybe those Strava guys did it.

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…

A Noob Goes To The Races

The Bike Noob has never contemplated racing, but guest poster Jeff Hemmel has — and he did more than contemplate. Jeff tells about his first race, during his vacation this summer in upstate New York.

So there I was, sandwiched between a breakaway pack of 12 riders, pedaling nearly as fast as I thought humanly possible, looking at the last 90-degree corner of what had been 30 of the fastest, most hardcore miles I had ever ridden. All around me faces were dead serious, jerseys were filled with sponsor logos…legs were shaved. And then there was me, a noob, riding my very first race, jersey a plain and unassuming blue…and no real game plan what to do next.

What the hell was I thinking?

To get to that answer you need to backtrack to late July, 2010. That was when I first came up with the idea of actually trying to contest a race while vacationing in Upstate NY. Long story short I chickened out, but vowed to try again in 2011. After all, this race was perfect…it started in a picturesque riverside town, it had some of the hills that I love (and hopefully most riders would hate), and was a fundraiser for a good cause.

Most important, no one knew me. If I choked, I could fade into the background, my pride shielded by my outsider’s anonymity.

I can’t really say why I did it. Most likely it’s because, like it or not, I’m somewhat of a competitive person. While two years ago I was simply content to hang with the Sunday morning group ride, lately I had been trying to actually contest the end-of-ride sprint. I have no aspirations of signing up for every race that comes along, but I wanted to test myself, if only this once.

Which is why, this July upon arriving in New York, I not only began to rack up my usual mileage in the hills, but frequently found myself visiting the race website…mapping out the route…even watching it fly by on Google Earth. And yes, a few days before the event, traveling about 90 minutes north to plop my bike on those roads and actually riding the course. That I made about 10 wrong turns and ended up turning a 30-miler into a nearly 50-mile reconnaissance isn’t the point. The point is I took it seriously and prepared. If you looked closely at my bike at the start, you would have even seen a little piece of masking tape on the stem, labeled with various mileage points and whether the race was turning left or right.

As I said, competitive…and yes, maybe just a little bit anal.

My race day plan was simple — to spot the guys who looked like they were the most serious, and not let them get out of my sight. I figured I’d either burn out and limp to the finish at the back of the pack, or maybe, just maybe, surprise everyone (including myself) and hang on to the finish.

Well, this looks daunting.

At the start, the latter option didn’t look too promising. A well-organized team jumped away from the 100-plus rider field only a mile into the race, and I fought to stay with them, watching my speedo settle in about 26 mph. Their intent seemed to be to drop as many people as possible right off the bat, and I was almost certain I would be next. Somehow I stayed close, even joining their paceline so I could say I did my share of the work and at least earn their respect before my flameout. Miraculously, however, that moment never came. As I survived mile after mile my confidence grew and I knew I could hang with them till the finish, especially as their speed settled down slightly. As to any pipe dreams of actually dropping the pack on a climb and soloing to victory a la Andy Schleck, however, I knew I didn’t have a chance. This group was strong, and even if I found myself with an advantage on a climb, I knew they’d reel me in with ease once things flattened out.

I'm in there somewhere.

So, I I fought my impetuous instincts, rode smart, and just tried to fit in…a guy with hairy legs in a generic jersey in the midst of a bunch of logoed-up team members looking clean and mean. With about three miles to go, a three-man breakaway leapt ahead, but somehow we reeled them in about a mile from the finish. Still together at mile 29, all that remained was a bunch sprint — a scenario I had really hoped to avoid given my utter lack of racing skills. Heading into that 90-degree lefthand turn about 100 yards from the finish, I took the inside line, only to be cut off by the rest who kept up their speed and swept through the corner. I hit my brakes, lost momentum, and watched as that team led their leader out to the finish. It was actually pretty impressive.

And I still managed to finish first in my age group.

The best news for me? I did okay. I triumphed over the nerves of 2010, finished upright (the primary goal of any first-time racer a friend reminded me before the race), and was greeted at the finish line by my daughters and wife…three people in town who did recognize me.

Finish line greeting.

That’s a victory in any noob’s book.

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.

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.

Avoiding the Right Hook

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel encounters the most dangerous situation for cyclists.

So there I was, cruising along in one of the widest, most well-designated bike lanes in the county, when the car that had been alongside me for the last 30 seconds or so suddenly eased ever so slightly ahead…then abruptly turned right into a parking lot. No brake light, no turn signal, just a quick right-hander directly across my path.

Like most bikers, I’ve got my share of traffic stories, but this was my first close-call with the dreaded “right hook.” Named because it pretty much describes the overhead view of the action taken by a motorist turning to the right across the path of a bike in a parallel lane, the right hook has been described as one of the most dangerous threats to a cyclist. It often happens at intersections, but also virtually anywhere there’s a parking lot or driveway. All it takes is a distracted driver, and you’ve got all the makings of a serious accident.

Safety experts say to avoid the right hook by keeping traffic behind you. At a busy intersection with lots of potential right-turning cars, that means riding farther to the left of the lane, encouraging, almost forcing the motorist behind to wait to turn. Likewise, don’t pass a line of slow-moving cars on the right if you can avoid it; if you do, use extreme caution. As I discovered firsthand, you can’t count on a brake light or turn signal as a visual. If you’re moving the speed of traffic, take the lane, rather than stay far to the right, which might encourage cars to try to squeeze by. If you’re approaching an intersection, merge left into the lane of traffic in order to pass a car turning right on its left-hand side.

While my situation had obvious similarities, it didn’t perfectly fit any of the above scenarios. I had actually noticed the car for a while, as it alternately eased ahead of me, then dropped back throughout a 25mph zone, while I maintained a steady 20 mph in the bike lane. Because of the back and forth (and the passenger looking out the window directly at me), I reasoned the driver was well aware of my presence. Still, I was being cautious. I live in a beach community, and this was a well-trafficked road during peak tourist season. I guessed he was probably looking for an address or business, hence the on-and-off the gas behavior. As the end result proved, however, I wasn’t cautious enough. Intent on a good training ride, I maintained my speed and trusted I’d see that blinker or brake light before any right turn.

Obviously, those visual clues never came, and that driver I thought couldn’t have possibly forgotten about me turned directly across my path.

Fortunately for me the driver was just slightly ahead of me. As he turned, and I locked up the brakes, I skidded but stayed upright. It could have been a lot worse. Just a few feet ahead and I would have hit the car at speed. As it was, I still worried I’d lose control and go down between his front and rear wheels. Instead, I ended up literally skidding up against his back door.

And, as much as I hate to admit it, filled with rage. Normally a pretty easy-going guy, I countered his apology with a verbal assault that probably had parents for miles around reaching for the earmuffs.

Lessons learned? Always be aware of the traffic that may be turning right whenever you’re riding, even if you’re within the safe-feeling confines of a generous, marked bike lane. Watch for a car’s brake lights and turn signals, but don’t count on them. Always look ahead for intersections, turns, and driveways that could pose a threat. If a car gets slightly ahead of you, slow down and be prepared to take action, even if it means ruining that nice average speed you’ve been targeting for the last 10 miles.

And should a close call happen, watch your temper. Though that seemed impossible in the heat of the moment, the valid points I was making about using turn signals and watching for bikes in the bike lane were probably lost on the driver as I added so many expletives to the mix.

But then again, maybe not…