Sunday, January 26, 2014

Indoor Trainer Follies

So you say you're spinning away the winter miles inside, and you're a mileage-obsessed freak, but you don't have a cyclometer with a rear-wheel mount (or, shudder, rollers)? Is that what's troubling you, pardner?

Well, have I got a bodge for you: The Regular Front-Wheel Cyclometer Repurposed for Rear-Wheel Use, Albeit Out of Sight (or RFWCRRWUAOS):

Just slap a magnet on your rear wheel where it will pass closest to you left chainstay (probably right up  near the rim), and then get creative installing the pickup magnet on the inside of the stay. In this case, my old Sigma mounts on a piece that's chunky enough to pick up a signal with no additional bodging, but I've tried others that required some kind of spacer under the magnet and some electrical tape artistry to work. The nice thing is, as an indoor fix, this doesn't have to be particularly durable, as it won't be seeing the vibration or weather that an outdoor fix would.

Next, the top end:

Obviously, since the head unit is on a short wire designed for front-wheel use, you can't get it all the way into the normal handlebar-mounted position, so you have to get a little creative. The old Sigma mounts with a rubber band, so it really lends itself to a lot of locations. I started with it on the top tube just ahead of the seat cluster, but my chubby thighs kept rubbing against it. Now, I've gone with the "guy behind you can see how fast you're going" location shown above. I can't see this while riding, obviously, but my whole intention is to just capture the miles on the bike so I can track service intervals (and yes, keep a vaguely accurate total for the year). As with the lower mounting, you don't have to be too tidy with your wire routing since this bodge will never see the real world (hence the sloppy, droopy wire that my OCD tendencies wouldn't otherwise tolerate). In the past, I've had good luck running the wire up the downtube and mounting it ahead of my bottle cage, too.

So there you have it: Ugly, but effective, like yours truly.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Who Was That Masked Idiot?

Here's photographic evidence that I've lost my mind and continue to ride through a winter that can only be described as ridiculous. Though I guess the fact that you're looking at a garage ceiling behind me rather than a frigid hellscape could be taken to mean that I'm a big faker. Nice work there, Oliver Stone.

I share because there might be others out there with mildly deranged tendencies, and I have some layers that are working quite nicely despite the miserable conditions. On the hands, I'm rocking some cheap stretchy liner gloves (not shown, but the sort you can buy for a couple bucks just about everywhere) underneath massive Fox River wool mittens (an Iowa company! go Iowa!) The mitts are way too bulky for STI, but any shifter that can be operated with a thumb is fine. The cheap liner gloves just give me a little protection when I have to pop off a mitten to get some dexterity for locking up the bike.

I've talked about the jacket before -- it's a fairly light softshell with thin waffle-pattern fleece on the inside. The thing is amazing. Super versatile through several seasons, and way warmer than its weight would suggest. Sadly, it was made by the people with the swoosh, for golf (GOLF, of all things). I found it deeply discounted somewhere, probably because it was from a prior season and was thus way too out of date to wear at the country club.

Finally, the noggin: Thin wool stocking hat up top, and the new addition for this season: A merino wool Buff over the face. Long-time readers will remember that I was using a couple snazzy custom-made helmet liners crafted for my large melon by my wonderful wife. As nice as those are, they don't play well with a hemet chinstrap (ironic, considering that the pattern was designed to go under a helmet, albeit a military one rather than bicycle) -- the strap causes the bottom of the liner to gap at the neck. The Buff mitigates this by going over the straps rather than under. It does collect a lot of condensation from my breath, but it still holds warmth when wet as wool is wont to do.

If there's a moral/point to all this, I think it's that you can find perfectly serviceable things for biking at places other than the bike shop. In my winter kit, the only thing that could be considered vaguely specialized (the friggin' WORD, not the registered trademark -- call off the lawyers, Sinyard!) is the Buff. The rest of it is either just regular winter wear or something I cherry-picked from other sports. I didn't mention the feet, but down there, I get by just fine with wool socks, hiking boots, and flat pedals. Sure, you can spend a lot more on stuff with bike company logos on it, but you don't have to. People have been dressing for winter long before the bicycle was invented, after all.

(Full disclosure, as always: The links to the mittens and Buff go to Amazon, and if you use those links to buy something, I'll get a tiny kickback. However, I wasn't bribed by The Great Wool Cabal to write any of this.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

And Lo! Yet Another Prophecy Fulfilled!

Just call me Nostradumbass...

Remember when I got all bent out of shape about cheating pro cyclists and predicted (with astounding clarity) that we were entering a bizarre period of historical revisionism regarding former "winners"?

Well, my Magic 8 Ball has again been proven right. This time, it's my rant about the "gravel-specific" marketing hooey. See, per Mark at (who was gravel before gravel was cool), Panaracer's coming out with their (wait for it, wait for it) GRAVEL KING tire! 

Don't get me wrong. I like Panaracer tires. In fact, had I not gotten blog-lazy at the end of 2013, their good ol' fashioned Pasela would have made my Tried and Liked list for last year. But Gravel King? Really? Seriously? Like, no fooling? A file-tread clincher that comes in only 700x23, 700x26, or 700x28?

Granted, I don't have the tires in hand. Maybe Panaracer's come up with some kind of miracle casing or tread compound that really does make some kind of difference on rough surfaces compared to every other skinny file-tread 700c clincher out there (being a real blog unlike this hack operation, gravelbike got some to test, so we'll see what they say after a few miles). But my dark, chewy, cynical center says that what Panaracer has really done is put "gravel" on the label so that road-Freds can feel like they're getting in on the trend without having to replace their zero-clearance race bikes.

The funny thing is, with the false confidence of a tire that says "gravel" on it, I'm sure plenty of these gravelfied Freds will head off the paved path and do just fine -- because they would have done just fine on their old tires, too. But who am I to point out that the emperor -- excuse me, king -- has no clothes?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Great Bike Moments In Non-Bike Movies: The Way Way Back

I'm not much of a movie reviewer, but sometimes, a film just gets it right when it comes to bikes, even when the bike isn't really what the film is all about. The Way Way Back is one of those films.

Start with one of those modern, built-from-the-ashes-of-two-divorces families, with an introverted, awkward teen boy in the middle. Pile them all into an old station wagon. Put Steve Carrell in there (playing way against type as a total jerk stepdad), add in Toni Collette as the mom, and just for good measure, a bit of Allison Janney as the wacky neighbor. Oh, and our central family is on vacation at a beach timeshare sort of thing, just to flavor things with that family-on-vacation-forcing-fun dynamic. Getting the sense of this movie yet? You either love this kind of stuff (I do) or can't stand it and wonder why they left out the car chase.

So there's our introverted, awkward protagonist (I could fill months of therapy on why I relate to this kind of character, but I'll spare you), a stranger in a strange land, stuck in this beach house. Except what's this? The beach house has a garage! And when he slides back its stubborn old door, he finds... a bike!

Of course, by any normal standards of teenage boy cool, it's pretty lame: Too small. A girl's bike. Pink banana seat. White tires. Lime green rims. And -- the final insult -- handlebar streamers. But (other than ripping out the streamers), he doesn't seem to notice. He just hops on and rides. And with that bike, he's able to ride away from the beach house, away from the family drama, away from the walls closing in. Eventually, the bike will take him to the water park that marks the big turning point of the film, but without that bike? He'd never get there. He'd never get anywhere.

Besides being a former awkward teen introvert (hey, at least I grew out of one of the three), I get that kid and his silly looking bike. I remember visiting my grandparents not long after I learned to ride and realizing that I could fit on grandma's blue cruiser with the big chrome basket. Pretty soon, I was GONE. All over town. Once I made it past the end of the block, no one could see me and no one could stop me. When my grandparents got rid of their single bikes and stuck exclusively to the tandem, I'd take that out, a dorky kid cruising around by himself on a two-ton two-seater blasting its ridiculous three-note horn, running the generator lights in broad daylight, and trying to see how fast the speedometer could spin. It was the first time that I was truly (albeit temporarily) out there on my own, without a net, and it was intoxicating.

Any movie that can help me remember that feeling is a good one as far as I'm concerned.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Gravity And Ice Versus Studded Tires And Hubris

Place yer bets! Place yer bets!

Actually, don't bother. As any regular reader of this blog will already know, my hubris loses to gravity every time. I may spout off about how to ride in winter, but I still learn the hard way every time.

Case in point: Last Thursday, we got a freak evening commute blizzard. Totally out of nowhere. I had the right bike and tires, but hadn't layered for 30-40mph winds blowing snow in my face. So, letting discretion be the better part of not losing a nose (or -- shudder -- other protuberance) to frostbite, I called The Best Wife Ever for a pick up in the four-wheeled vehicle. Of course, traffic getting out of the bustling metropolis of Des Moines was snarled beyond recognition thanks to the unexpected weather, so it took us 40 minutes to cover a mile -- or as Chicagoans call it, Tuesday. Adding even more insult, we were passed by a guy on a bike about a block from our house. Being thusly shamed, I knew immediately that I would be riding the bike to work on Friday, dammit.

Friday morning, the sun was shining, and all seemed right with the world. I layered properly for a change and headed out. Short, steep, icy hill out of my driveway? No worries. Just used those weight distribution tips from the link above. Ice rink at the end of my street? Pshaw! I'm an expert, remember?

Then I made the turn onto the major street at the end of my block and headed downhill both literally and figuratively. All was going just hunky and dory until my speed started to build up and I hit a badly pockmarked patch of ice... which set off a bit of a tank-slapper... which dumped me hard on my left side so fast, I think my legs were still stupidly trying to pedal as I skidded down the street like a fat, flailing hockey puck. Thankfully, the car behind me was giving me a lot of room (I think she assumed -- correctly -- that I might be insane).

I managed to pick myself up, but somehow, the force of the fall had knocked my chain off the chainring (which I expected) and wedged both chain and rear derailleur behind the largest rear cog in the back (huh, didn't see that coming). All I could do was throw the bike on my shoulder and scamper across three lanes of traffic to the sidewalk, where I faced the classic dilemma: Try to fix this thing, or just go home (a home I could still see from where I'd crashed) and say "screw it." More stubborn than smart as always, I wrestled the drivetrain back to a functional state and pedaled on in my sopping wet jeans.

It really wasn't a bad crash, though sitting motionless at a desk for eight hours afterwards didn't do me any favors. By the end of the workday, I was as stiff as first-generation Cannondale.

So let this be a lesson to you, kids (or geezers who should know better): Always bet on gravity.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Off The Back Isn't So Bad

There's been much to-do in the real cycling press lately about SRAM's quasi-aborted attempt at hydraulic brakes (both disc and rim) for road and 'cross bikes. First they were an amazing leap forward that was going to change everything. Then all of a sudden, they were all recalled (the seals apparently couldn't hack it in the cold), and SRAM was rushing to provide cable-actuated replacements, including an all-hands-on-deck effort at the U.S. 'cross nationals to get racers switched over from the now-unsafe-at-any-speed hydraulics.

As a raving Luddite, this is probably where I should bask in the smug glory of schadenfreude, flaunting the impressive service record and low failure rate of 1890s penny-farthing spoon brakes. But I won't. After all, it's not like hydraulic bicycle brakes are anything new. I learned to bleed Magura rim hydraulics in 1999 and they weren't new then. Hydraulic discs are old hat among mountain bikers, about as proven as a technology can be. Sometimes, there's an easy "new stuff bad, old stuff good" angle, but not this time.

The lesson I take from SRAM's road hydraulics (besides another example of The Kryptonite PR Principle) is this: The best place to be on the bike-tech spectrum is just a couple steps back from the bleeding (no hydraulic pun intended) edge. Unless you're a sponsored pro, skip the just-released Skunk Works stuff and stick with Ultegra (not trying to favor Shimano here -- just flinging out an example of a reliable second-tier group). At that level, what you're really buying is the cutting edge from about two years ago, stuff that's still high-performance but has been worked over by ordinary folks who pay their own way, not just racers who have a staff of professional mechanics and a bottomless pile of replacements. The bad ideas have already shaken out, because at the volume those parts sell, a mistake (and recall) would be a disaster.

Based on SRAM's track record, I'm sure they'll wind up with a good product. Shimano will then figure out how to shoehorn a master cylinder into an STI lever and pair it up with their already-tested MTB discs. And finally, Campy will come out with a Super-Duper-Record full-hydraulic setup that uses the sweat of Eddy Merckx as fluid. Road Freds the world over will embrace hydraulics, and this whole kerfuffle will be forgotten.

Me? Call me when the technology trickles down (again, no hydraulic pun intended) to Tiagra. Then I'll trust it.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

2014 Started, And I Almost Missed It

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Believe me, I've been hearing it from Sarcasmo the Wonder Wife: "That guy at The Cycle hasn't blogged in FOREVER!"

So, here's your reward/punishment: The annual January cliche "I'm a fat man, and here are some things I'll pretend I'm going to do in the next year to become a less-fat man" post.

My incentive? I'm now 41 years old. My dad was 44 when he had his first heart attack. From that day on, he lived looking over his shoulder, afraid that The Big One was sneaking up on him. It caught up ten years later, when he was only 54, long before he had a chance to walk my sister down the aisle or meet his grandsons. That, my friends, is no way to go.

I certainly don't want to turn this blog into one of those self-indulgent "my fitness and health journey" things. That's been done, and done way better than I could hope to do it. But in the hope of publicly shaming myself into better habits, I will be checking in from time to time with some vital stats, namely 200 pounds, and a paltry 85 miles logged on the indoor hamster wheel (no cyclometer on the commuter bike, but when the commute is a mile each way, it doesn't add up fast).

The other plus of getting healthier and living longer? More time to torment Sarcasmo with my attempts at humor. You're welcome, dear.