Riding My Age

It’s an article of faith for every cyclist: On your birthday, you have to ride your age. (I don’t know how my friends north of the Red River of Texas manage that during winter months — I recall that snow was usually on the ground for my March 4th birthday before I moved down here.)

So, I warned the club after last week’s B ride that I would be doing a birthday ride today, and that everyone was welcome to join. Well, the A riders had their route all mapped out — a variation of one of our popular rides that included some roads we seldom use on our club rides. The B riders decided to tackle some rollers nearby. No one was enthusiastic about attempting 61 miles, so it looked like I would be left on my own.

Then I heard from Bike Noob reader Dan Colvin. He and I had exchanged emails several times over the past few months. It turns out that he discovered Bike Noob and, like some others out there, decided to read backwards through the entire blog — four years’ worth of posts. If nothing else, he should get some kind of medal for that. But Dan was commenting this time on the recent post about favorite websites, and noted that while he’s still trying to figure out his riding style, the idea of going longer distances without trying to set new speed records appealed to him. I suggested if he wanted to get in more miles, he should come along with me. And he did!

We left Starbucks a little before the advertised 8:15 departure time, bundled up against the 48-degree (9C) chill. The morning was glorious — clear, sunny, and very little wind. We made our way east along city streets, then turned south. The pace was comfortable, about 15 mph. We didn’t chat much — the traffic was too heavy to ride side-by-side.

We made it through Buda, then Kyle. Seven miles south of Kyle, Old Stagecoach Road comes to Five-Mile Dam Park, a nice county park on the north edge of San Marcos. We could have gone a little farther, and reached the apartment ghetto for students at nearby Texas State University (Where I am on the faculty), but I opted to turn around at the park. Distance-wise, we’d be fine.

Dan rides past the soccer fields at 5-Mile Dam Park.

But on the return leg, Dan sensed a problem. He stopped to check his rear tire. “I thought I felt something,” he said, but the tire seemed all right. Several miles later, he said we’d have to stop so he could change his tube. The tire was going down. We stopped. He’s one of those 10-minute tire change guys, so we were almost ready to roll in a short time. But his mini pump wasn’t cooperating. He couldn’t get enough pressure in the tire. I lent him my Topeak Road Morph (the best mini pump going!) and we took turns trying to get the tire pumped up to where it should be. Finally, it showed 7 bar on the tiny pressure gauge. We were rolling again.

Making short work of a flat.

By now, the temperature was rising nicely. The chilly temps we had begun the ride with had morphed into nearly summer-like conditions. Dan had shed his vest and arm warmers on the downleg, and I had taken the sleeves off my windbreaker, but now I was uncomfortable. We stopped between Buda and Austin so I could get rid of the wind vest and my leg warmers. It was now about 65 degrees (18C).

The Bike Noob stops to shed some layers.

The final miles to our starting point were uneventful. Even the traffic was less than usual — a dicey left turn off a busy road into a neighborhood went off without a hitch, because we had no cars bearing down from behind, and nothing oncoming — really unusual for that intersection. We made it back at about 12:30, and I think we both had miles left in us (although Dan had done 70 miles the previous day, so I’m not entirely sure).

It turned out I needed those miles. Our little round trip jaunt gave us 58.1, according to my cyclocomputer. That left me three miles short of riding my age. Dan and I said our goodbyes, and I headed home — but took the long way around to rack up those missing three miles. Total for the day: 61.4. Happy birthday to me.

CO2 vs. Pump – Hincapie Chooses a Pump

Sharp-eyed guest poster Don Blount came across an interesting tidbit, and offers it up for discussion:

This image was on the VeloNews Web site in a photo gallery of George Hincapie’s new training bike. In this closeup you can see what appears to be a Blackburn air pump attached to the frame beneath the water bottle cage.


After investigating further it appears to be the Blackburn Air Stik 2stage. (If my guess is off, please correct.) According to the Blackburn Web site, the Air Stik 2stage pumps to a maximum 160 psi. That would certainly take care of my tires.

Now if one of the top racing pros carries an air pump on his training bike, why wouldn’t everyone else? Given that, I’m sticking with CO2, at least until I run out of cartridges.

CO2 or a pump? — It never ends

I was chatting with a friend the other day who’s just getting into biking. He was telling me of his experience with his first flat. No pump, no CO2. He had a patch kit in his seatbag, but realized it was worthless unless he could fill his tire with air, so he wound up walking the bike home — three miles.

CO2

Do you prefer these?

“I saw these canisters of CO2 at the bike store,” he said. “Are they any good?”

Here we go again — the endless debate between CO2 and a pump.

Well, I told him, each has its advantages. CO2 takes up just a little space in your seatbag, and you don’t have to carry a pump. Just attach the inflator, stick it on the valve, and whoosh! you’re back in business. He liked that. He thought he’d try it.

But wait a minute, I said. There’s a problem with CO2, too. Sometimes, you misfire it and waste all the gas in the canister. Then, you can find yourself in the same predicament you were in last week.

Pump

Or this?

I told him of a recent A ride from our club, where a guy flatted along a major highway. One of the other guys had several CO2 cartridges — and managed to depressurize all of them. Without inflating the tire. Luckily, another rider in the group carried a pump, and stood by to watch the antics — then stepped in and saved the day.

“It took me probably 10 minutes to pump up a tire to 70 psi,” said guest poster Don Blount in an email awhile ago. “That’s longer than it took to change the tube.”

I’ve been there. It doesn’t take me that long to pump a tire up to 70, or even 90 psi. But those last 10 pounds to 100, to make it roadworthy again — I should be doing some strength work at the gym.

But Don also said he blew a tube with one cartridge, and when he went to use another one on another tube — it was a dud. He thinks he might just suck it up and go back to the frame pump.

At least that’ll get the tire inflated. With a cartridge — I’m guessing 50-50 odds.

My friend went back to the bike store and got a frame pump.

Pumps vs. CO2 — something new

First of all, thanks for checking in over the past few days, even though I had no new posts. I was out of town — in Las Vegas for three days. At an academic convention. Now, there’s an anomaly. Picture professors presenting arcane academic research to other professors, and you get the idea. Now picture it with all the lights and sounds and commotion of Las Vegas. Weird.

Anyhow, I’m back. Haven’t been on the bike since Tuesday. Didn’t do my usual Sunday morning ride. The neglected yard has caught up with me, and I put in lots of time trimming back untamed bushes, cleaning gutters, and patching browned-out sod.  Maybe someday soon I’ll have another post about my riding

But I do have something today. People continue to have a lot of interest in the CO2 vs. pump issue. You know my preference — I’ve landed in the pump camp. The folks who like the cartridges cite convenience. It’s fast, the tire can be inflated in about one second, and you’re on the road again. But CO2 is only a temporary measure. It’s a good idea to deflate the tire and pump it up with good ol’ air as soon as possible. Why? Because CO2 is soluble in the butyl rubber used in tire tubes, and the tube will lose pressure quickly. Lennard Zinn explained the technical reasons why in a Velonews q & a.

But that argument against CO2 may not stand for much longer. One company now makes cartridges with a proprietary gas that last much longer in a tire than CO2. picture-3It’s called Stayfill, and the manufacturer claims it will last for over a year in a bike tire. Now, Bike Noob is not in a habit of endorsing products, and this is not an endorsement. I’ve never used the stuff, so I have no idea if it works or not. I’m sticking to my pump. If you’re one of the cartridge types, this might bear checking out. It seems to be more expensive than CO2 — but for some people, it might be worth it.

CO2 — A new top post

co2Here’s a minor milestone for the Bike Noob blog — there’s a new King of All Posts. “CO2 cartridges or a pump?” from July 29, 2008 has overtaken “Smoked by an Old Guy” from April 16.

“CO2″ has racked up 1,082 page views, passing Smoked’s total of 1,078. Both posts got a little added push after I created the Favorite Posts tab at the top of the blog, but lately, I’ve watched CO2’s visits jump by as much as 30 a day to rapidly close the gap.

“Smoked By An Old Guy” has some sentimental value for me, because it was this post that made this blog catch on. Kent Peterson, the author of the popular “Kent’s Bike Blog,” spotlighted this story on his blog, and my daily number of page views surged. So once again, thanks Kent.

I appreciate the attention both posts continue to get, and I wonder: Are there still some unresolved issues about using CO2 cartridges as opposed to pumps? Let me know — I’m interested in what you have to say on the matter, and I’ll be happy to update everyone on where the sentiment lies.

CO2 cartridges or a pump? I’ve decided.

After my fumbling experience with a flat tire last month, I decided to rethink my practice of carrying CO2 cartridges for dealing with flats on the road. I still think the cartridges are a neat solution to the space and weight challenge bikers face. But I’ve never felt that they worked the way they’re supposed to — that the tire inflated as much as it needed to (Yes, I know — it’s not the tool, it’s the carpenter). So I decided to go in the other direction. I bought a mini pump.

Actually, it’s kind of a hybrid between a frame mounted pump and a mini pump. It’s a Topeak Road Morph. And sharp-eyed readers will recognize that it’s not exactly new. On my first ride carrying the pump, it was the indirect cause of my fall.

The switch to the pump was not without some adjustments. Fall aside, I had to deal with two other problems: mounting it to the frame and a quality deficiency.

The Road Morph is not really a mini-pump, which some riders carry in their jersey pockets. It’s a little too big for that. So it must be mounted on the frame. Topeak gives the owner two options for that: fastening it to the top tube with zip ties, or attaching to the seat tube using the water bottle braze-ons.

I opted to zip tie it to the top tube. That turned out not to be the best solution, at least for me. The zip ties kept catching on the inside of my thighs when I dismounted, even after trimming the ties back as far as possible. I was concerned they would tear my riding shorts. Then, the hose popped out of its cradle when I rode on a rough stretch of road.

The second deficiency was a quality issue. The bezel that attaches to the tire valve was missing. It’s not an obvious thing, because the end of the hose looks pretty normal even without it. I didn’t discover it was missing until the morning of my century, when I had to scramble to find a floor pump to top off my tires. I rode the century with the pump zip tied to the frame, but pulled it off as soon as I got home after the ride.

pumpThe LBS was happy to exchange the pump for a new one — one that had the bezel. I decided I didn’t like the zip tie attachment, so I took off one of the water bottle brackets and mounted the pump there. Now it not only works the way it’s supposed to — it looks better, too. I think.

Yeah, I know, I’m down to one water bottle per ride now. Not a problem. One bottle is good for about 20 miles for me, and when I run low, I look for a gas station or some other place where I can fill it up. Since I’m not planning on riding another century anytime soon, I can get along fine with one bottle. And if I really need a second one, I can put it in one of my jersey pockets.

So far, I’m happy with my decision. The little pump has several features that make it act like the big guys. It has a little flange that flips out so you can hold it under your foot, just like a floor pump. Its handle can flip sideways to resemble a t-shaped handle for pumping. It even has a rudimentary pressure gauge.

I have yet to try the pump under battlefield conditions. It’s only been used to pump up some spare tubes in my garage. But it worked just fine on them, got them to full pressure without a hassle, and when my next flat comes (knock wood) I’ll be ready.

Phwfffffssssst! Duh…

I think I’ve had a very fortunate summer and fall. My last flat tire was on May 31st, during the Real Ale Ride. Since then, I’ve ridden lots of miles over some pretty rough patches, but the tires have held up beautifully.

Tonight, I had just completed a Mopac loop, and turned into the Veloway to knock off a few quick laps before heading home for supper. I crossed the gravel and dirt parking lot, jumped on the asphalt track, and pedaled easily, taking time to grab a swig from my water bottle.

When I reached the first curve, I immediately sensed that something was wrong. The rear wheel wobbled. It lost stability. !@%&*#! A flat.

I pulled over to the side and took off the wheel. Couldn’t find the tire levers! It had been so long since I poked around in my seat bag, I forgot that I had tucked them into a nifty little wallet that I keep my patch kit in. I got the tire off, and another rider came along.

“Got everything?” he asked.

“Yep,” I said. He nodded, and kept going.

Once I got the tube out of the tire, I inspected the inside of the tire for the culprit. There it was — a tiny sliver of sharp metal, about a quarter-inch long. I had to pull it out of the tread with my teeth.

“You okay?” asked a female rider as she passed.

“Yep, I can change this myself,” I replied. “Good,” she said, and pedaled off.

I always carry a spare tube. I got it into the tire, mounted both onto the wheel, and dug around for my CO2 cartridges.

WTF? Why am I carrying around a CO2 cartridge that’s already been used, and has a puncture?

Oh, there’s another good one in here. Let’s just stick it into the inflator and screw the top down…

Pop! Phwffffsssst! Oh no! I punctured the cartridge! Quick! Get it on the presta valve before…

I screwed down the top of the inflator, and stopped the leaking — but not before a cold white residue covered the cartridge, my fingers, and my gloves.

“!@%&*#!,” I shouted. I got the rest of the CO2 into the tire. There was enough to give the tire some shape, but not enough to make it rideable. I wasn’t far from the parking lot, so I started walking the bike back.

At the beginning of the path, a biker was taking it easy next to the water fountain. I leaned my bike against the bench nearby, and asked if he had a tire pump.

“No, but I have one of these things,” he said, holding up a CO2 cartridge. “I don’t know much about them. Can you use it?”

“You betcha,” I said (I’m originally from the Midwest). “Hey, it’s the threaded kind. That’s better.”

I screwed it onto the inflator, and fitted the end over the presta valve. Pulled the trigger. Whoosh! In about one second, the tire was inflated. I tested it with my fingers. It was firm to the touch. Let’s see…if I give it one more shot, it’ll probably inflate to the pressure I like…

Bang!

“Aww,” said the guy.

I said something stronger.

I inspected the flat tire. Dummy! The tube had gotten caught between the tire and the rim. One of those things they teach you to check for when you first learn how to change a flat tire.

I got out my cell phone.

“Honey? I’m at the Veloway. Can you come pick me up?”

CO2 cartridges or a pump?

I’m probably flirting with danger here, but it’s been awhile since I’ve flatted.

Even so, I try to be ready if it should happen. My seat bag has a spare tube, a patch kit, and what I would most likely use in the event of a flat — a CO2 inflator and several CO2 cartridges.

The CO2 is convenient, but it’s not a panacea. When I have flatted in the past, I’ve found it’s not easy to get the right amount of air into the tire. I’ve resorted to a series of short bursts on the inflator trigger, and try to determine by feeling the tire whether it’s got enough pressure. When I first started using it, at a time when flats were much more frequent, I sometimes wasted a cartridge and needed two to fill the tire. And sometimes, I only managed to inflate the tire enough to make it home.

Another concern is the cost. The cartridges run about $3.50 each, so if one or two are wasted by fumbling around, the tire repair is suddenly costly. I usually carry four in my seat bag, so I can give one or two to another biker who might be flatted with no air.

Then there’s the environmental issue. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Do I really need to contribute to the Earth’s problems?

What’s the alternative? A pump. The choice is between a frame-mounted pump and a mini-pump that can mount to a frame or even fit in your jersey pocket.

A Zefal frame-mounted pump.

A Zefal frame-mounted pump.

A Blackburn mini pump.

A Blackburn mini pump. It's actually less than one-half the length of the Zefal.

The issue with the pumps is also one of convenience, and efficiency, too. I’ve had occasion to use a mini-pump, and I’m not crazy about them. They have trouble supplying enough air pressure, especially to a road tire that may take over 125 psi. But I like the convenience of the CO2 inflator, and I’m not sure if another gizmo fastened to my bike frame would be worth the bother.

For now, I’ll continue to go with the cartridges and inflator. I’ve had enough experience with them that I’m confident I won’t waste them in future situations. And for every day that I go without a flat, cost becomes less of an issue. But I’d sure like to hear your opinion. Inflator or pump?

(Since this post last July, I’ve resolved the issue to my satisfaction.  Here’s what I decided.)