Sunday, July 20, 2014

Saturday’s Ride: Biking To See More Bikes

The routine should look very familiar to many a cyclist: Set out on a ride and end up back where they started from.  Occasionally, it can even be a point-to-point jaunt, and, sometimes, the destination is the point of the adventure, with the ride itself just the icing on the proverbial cake.  Well, that is exactly what a recent Saturday ride had in store when a friend and I set out to attend a motorcycle show.  Yes, you read that right: A motorcycle show.  See, I was riding motorcycles long before I even had a car, and before I got seriously into road biking. 

The route itself was a semi-short, hilly ride over to Southern California Ducati/Royal Enfield/Triumph/Suzuki/Victory (I call it SoCal Ducati, for short) in Brea, California.  Run by a gentleman named Tom Hicks, it really is a destination unto itself.  And, in addition to all of the fine bikes for sale, they hold an Open House every summer to welcome back old friends, and to make new ones.  So, looking to break out of the regular training ride routine, a trip to a motorcycle shop/bike contest seemed like a pretty good idea to us.  And, we were not disappointed.  

After tearing up and down a few climbs, and a spirited ride down Brea Canyon Road, we arrived at SoCal Ducati.  I immediately ran into some old motorcycle riding friends, and the owner, Tom Hicks.  Keen to meander around the dealership, the Parts Department staff was kind enough to put our road bikes in the warehouse for safe keeping whilst we enjoyed all the festivities.  While Tom’s “P-51 Band” played some great music, there was a complimentary BBQ, test rides of new motorcycles, great schwag raffles ever hour, and of course, the aforementioned “Bike Contest.”  We even tried to later sneak into said “Bike Contest,” but alas, we were both disqualified for obvious reasons.  Dang you, Judges!
Overall, the ride there and back was awesome, and Mr. Hicks, plus the entire SoCal Ducati/Royal Enfield/Triumph/Suzuki/Victory staff put on a first-rate Open House.  The food and music were great, the raffles were a hit with attendee’s, and all of the motorcycles, from the one’s for sale, to the bikes customers rode in on, to the rides entered into the Bike Contest were all a joy to be a part of.  We even managed to win some raffle prizes ourselves, and we will definitely be back to the next Open House at the SoCal Dealership.

And, finally, in regards to this ride adventure, there really is quite a connection between cyclists and  motorcyclists.  In addition to my riding partner and I both being caught red-handed owning motorcycles ourselves, there are a lot of members of the bicycling industry which are motorcyclists or were professional racers before turning from throttles to pedals.  I myself have been riding motorcycles for over thirty-years, have worked in the motorcycle industry, and did not even have my first car until seven years after purchasing my first motorcycle, a Honda MB5.  That first motorcycle was followed by a Suzuki GS450L, a Honda CB450T, a Suzuki GS500E, a Honda CBR600F4i, a Ducati 750 SS, and now a Honda Goldwing. 

Seems the “N+1 Rule” applies to motorcycles, too.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Sensible “Wide-Ratio” Gearing

My leap back into road cycling, after way to long of an absence, began with fitting fat, road slicks onto my old Trek 4500 mountain bike.  It was a boatload of fun, I rode the snot out of the thing, and it was only when I was began to out-run the gearing that I felt the need for “Something more.”  So, I told myself it was time to seriously venture back into a bike shop for the first time in 14-years to seek out a proper road bike.  And, venture, I did. 

Armed with some online knowledge, money, and many, many questions, I approached the bike I was interested in at the very same dealership I had purchased my mountain bike from in 1996; Southern California’s, Pasadena Cyclery.  As the initial inquiry about bikes began, the subject of gearing came up, as the salesman recommended I go with what he called “Compact Gearing.”  Being I had never heard that term before, I asked him to elaborate on the subject.  He queried if were a racer, and looking down at the size of my then stomach, I said “No.”  That was when he told me how gearing on road bikes had changed from the one-size-fits-all, to a much wider-range to make cycling a lot for fun for more people.  Smart guy, he was.  Decision made, bike purchased.

So, with a new bike in hand (2010 Trek 2.3), I set out wheezing all over town in an attempt to get back into some semblance of physical shape, being I was not riding my mountain bike as much due to the gearing and work constraints.  I even remember climbing Glendora Mountain Road for the very first time with a 12-27 cassette, and my physic at the time left me asking for a whole lot more from my gruppo (as well as my legs).  Then, I began to hear a lot of talk in various circles about mountain bike-style gearing, 11-32 cassettes’, “WiFLi,” and the claimed imminent death of the triple.  People were looking for more out of their road gearing, which I agreed with at the time (and still do), so I personally took the plunge into wide-ratio gearing in early 2011. 

However, let me not get too far ahead of the story.

Truth be told, while a 53-39 big ring combo, along with an 11-23 cassette, may be good enough for the professional, us mere mortals require all of the help we can get.  Enter the afore mentioned wide-ratio gear set (wide, as in not only more gears in the range, but also larger steps between gears for more useable speeds.  The ratio part you will read about in a minute).  And, there is nothing wrong with some “Extra” help, either.  From 50-34 “Compact” gearing, up to 11-32 cassette’s, anything which helps someone enjoy riding more, over a wider range of terrain, versus dreading it, is a really good thing for both rider and the industry as a whole.   

After reading an article in Road Bike Acton Magazine, penned by the illustrious “Kansas Bob” on the subject of building the ultimate climbing bike (“Apex Project Bike,” March 2011), I was very intrigued.  So, I set out to make my own efficient climber, i.e., more useable gears, and it was one of the best leaps of faith I have ever taken.  And, why not?  In the four-years since I rediscovered road cycling, while I may have indeed become stronger, I have not gotten any younger. 

A brief historical note: My trusty Trek 2.3 came stock with a Shimano 105 gruppo, including the previously mentioned 12-27 cassette.  While that was fine, I was a brand new (though, returning) cyclist, and truth be told, I sucked.  I simply wanted more gears for the hills than the bike had available.  That was when I came across that article in Road Bike Action Magazine, and I set out gather as much information as I could before jumping into what was to me at the time, a major modification.  Answers were then gleaned from many on-line forums and by simply asking shops if this could be done with the parts I had chosen to use. 

I chose a SRAM PG-1050, 11-32 cassettes from their then new Apex gruppo, and then I procured a Shimano 105 GS (long-cage) rear derailleur (plus a new, longer chain), and BINGO, an instant climber.  I had all of the ratios I needed for any condition, even that 32-cog in case I needed that oft-discussed, yet many are reluctant to actually try, “Bail-Out” gear.  And, it has made all the difference in my overall riding enjoyment.  Since that time, I have now “Upgraded” to an Ultegra 6700GS, long-cage, derailleur, and it has been continued sweet, climbing bliss for me.  What I ended up with, in total, was a Shimano Ultegra 6700, 50-34 crankset, and the SRAM PG-1050 with 11,12,14,16,18,20,22,25,28,32-tooth cogs to pretty much go anywhere I liked.  I mean, with the 34-32 combination, I dang near have a 1:1 ratio, and you can about climb walls with that.  I mounted the cassette to a set of Mavic Ksyrium’s, and wow, does this bike want to go vertical!  Additionally, if I get the urge to save a few more grams (approximately 80 in this case), I could even go with a SRAM PG-1070 cassette.  However, now I hear Shimano has finally released an Ultegra 11-32 cassette, themselves.  Welcome to the party, Shimano!

So, while porn stars live by the rule of “Bigger is Better,” cyclists seem to think a smaller cassette is the true measure of a rider.  I have suffered the slings and arrows of arrogant cyclists about my gearing choices, such as “Is that a pie plate on the back,” and truth be told, I could not care less.  I am actually having a whole lot of fun. 

And on a final note, in regards to those still mocking my gearing, physical talents, and questioning my sanity, I quote the brilliant World War II Commander, General Anthony McAuliffe;


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Emonda: It's A French Word, But in English It Means A New, Light, Stiff Line Of Bikes From The Minds At Trek.

In the "Well, this is cool news" Department, Trek Bicycles just realeased details on a new line of road bikes called the Emonda.  While the new name is a take on the French word for "To trim," it looks like that is excatly what Trek has done: Trim weight, while increasing stiffness via integrated parts and Ride-Tuned Performance for a "Perfect balance of stiffness and weight."  The lightest, and most expensive model, the SLR, apparently weighs in at a "Screw you, UCI" complete weight of 10.25 pounds!  However, all of that goodness, which Trek says is the "Lighest production road bike, ever" will set you back a jaw-dropping $15,750!

Neither Madone nor Domane, the Emonda name looks set to redefine the term light-weight across the entire build offering of 18-bicyles, with the top-of-the-line SLR claiming a frame weight of only 690 grams.  Other feature include direct-mount brakes, internal cable/Di2 routing, a tuned seat mast, BB90 bottom bracket, carbon dropouts, a lifetime warranty, and unfortunately (in this bloggers opinion), NO DISC BRAKES!

All models will be be made in varying grades of OCLV carbon fiber, with the aforementioned Ride-Tuned Performance, which means no matter what the frame size, the ride should not differ from the smallest to the largest.

At Press time, the frames are UCI legal, and the SLR is set to be raced by the Trek Factory Team in the up-coming Tour de France. 

Read more at Trek Bicycles.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Infrastructure’s Not The Problem. It’s The People!

I just finished reading the comment section on an article over at the blog, “One Woman Many Bicycles.” The article was about cyclists basically throwing in the towel, and considering parking their bikes, after having the crap scared out of them for the umpteenth time by a motorist.  The comments ranged from the pointed and logical, to the amusing, but one epideictic theme kept leaping to the forefront of the discussion: “We need more, and better, cycling infrastructure.”  “We have too many cars.”  Sure, as if all of the terrors of our minds could be eliminated with more bike lanes/paths and fewer motor vehicles.  Dream on.    

However, it got me thinking.

Amid the calls for “Better infrastructure,” “More Bike Lanes,” “Traffic Calming,” and “Road Diets,” it dawned on me that even if every cycling plan ever conceived by humans were implemented, absolutely nothing would actually change until people themselves began to change.  I mean, c’mon, we basically already have a pretty decent road network to begin with, we all just have to learn to get along on that network.  More to the point, if motorists and cyclists were both considerate users of the road, and everyone obeyed the law, we would not even need to be discussing “Cycling Infrastructure” in the first place.  We all would, simply, just get along.   

In traffic congested areas motorists want more roads, and rightfully so.  In Los Angeles, for example, the freeway system is woefully inadequate, and horribly outdated.  And, like streets, more, and logical, capacity was needed yesterday.  All the wishing in the world for the opposite is completely foolish, as the traffic of tomorrow is already here today.  Removing available traffic lanes/roads via any method only exacerbates the existing problems.  Additionally, efforts to take away “Their” infrastructure will, of course, be met with firm resistance to “Us,” the us being cyclists.  It is not rocket science, people.  For someone to gain, someone has to lose, and that is not how harmony and understanding are promoted.  We need better integration of road users, not segregation, which creates the “Us versus Them” mentality in the first place.

It was once said land was valuable because they are not making any more of it.  This is especially true when it comes to a finite amount of space in which to make roads.  Drivers want more roads, cyclists want more exclusive lanes - Is there any wonder we conflict on how best to use the limited real estate we have?  While adding lanes in already built-up areas is not impossible, taking away available road space in already crowded areas, solely for bicycles, is not going to win us any friends in the long run. 

So, what does this all mean?

First, no one should have to fear for their life so much that they are actually considering parking their bicycles.  How would motorists feel if they were “Constantly harassed by 18-Wheelers all day, everyday,” as was suggested in the comment section following an article in the Orange County Register about a cyclist recently killed on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Laguna Beach, California.  While that may sound like an immature idea, the commenter backed up their point with, “…So that drivers understand the position cyclists are in when they ride the roads they are legally entitled to use.”  Good point.    

Additionally, and factually, society today operates at the speed of commerce, and like it or not, methods such as the horse and buggy are not the most effective, anymore.  Motor vehicles, airplanes, and massive ships are the ways the world does business and how people move around freely and efficiently.  All of the wishing and praying at the alter of “The Church of The Holy Bicycle” will not bring about the extinction of the internal combustion engine, and it never should.  And, since “They” are not going away anytime soon, and since “We” are not going away anytime soon, either, it just makes plain sense to pursue massive, dedicated efforts to get along, and quit trying to “Out-Lane” each other.

OK, so what do we all do? 

While I don’t have the magic, ready answer, ponder the following: The best, first step, would be driver and rider education programs beginning at the State level, filtering down to the local municipalities, being taught as a component of every driver’s education program, and even in the schools.  Heck, if we can teach kids how to do their taxes in schools, why can’t we begin to teach them what the real meaning of what a “Shared Road” is?  This idea would also require serious attention from Law Enforcement to drive home the point of shared road safety, no matter what conveyance one is utilizing at any given moment.  The results would not come over night, but it would be one heck of a good start.

This, then, also leads to us to the concept of capacities and finite spaces.  We limit capacities all over society, from the number of seats in theatres, airliners, buses, trains, our automobiles, the number of souls on an elevator, all the way to how many people can sit at the counter of your local Denny’s.  These capacity protocols were established, and are enforced, for our own safety.  Why, therefore, do cities not follow the logical protocols of capacity limits?  I hate to sound like a Loon, but at what point do we just flat-out, and logically, have to say, “Sorry, no vacancy.”  Congestion need not be a bitter pill we are all forced to swallow.

So, as I wrap this up, we may be better served if the following societal axioms were taken to heart by all parties involved in the battle (which should not even be a battle) for road-based relevancy:

  • To the people in Motor Vehicles: Bicycles are never going to go away.

  • To the people on Bicycles: Motor Vehicles are never going to go away.

And finally, to Law Enforcement and Law Makers: The penalties for harming another on the road must be immediate and huge, lest people think they can “Get Away” with breaking the law without any consequences.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Well, It’s Racing Season Again.

As seems to happen every year about this time, I am overcome with a renewed sense of both cynicism and sarcasm which wells up in me, and I just have to write about it.  In all truthfulness, who am I to even question, let alone ridicule, the professional racer, anyway?  Well, I’ll tell you.  I am a fan.  I am a consumer.  And, I am a cyclist.  Plus, I really, really like the truth and despise hypocrisy.  Well, Professional Cycling is really, really full of the latter, and way too short on the former.

For starters, just who the heck is the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), anyway?  This collection of out of touch, pompous, creeps not only runs a rolling, worldwide, medicated circus, but they also get to decide what kind of bikes we ride, their shapes, their components, their minimum weight, and even if they can have disc brakes or not via an ambiguous set of immature “Rules.”  Seriously, when did this Micro-One-World-Government style mafia get so much control of our beloved activity, anyway?  Is it any wonder nobody likes them.

Additionally, what really got me going on a bender were this year's Giro d’Italia and the Amgen Tour of California.  Both of these races were basically decided by a discipline that really should not have even been featured in a road race to begin with.  The Giro, for example, was a grueling, multi-stage race consisting of many mountains too far, over way too many days, punctuated by a curious event known as the Time Trial (TT).  Why was there even a TT in a road race in the first place?  If anyone is going to hold a real road race, make it one complete with uphills, downhills, flats, and many, many twists and curves, all being conducted on an actual ROAD BIKE.  Leave the TT bikes where they truly belong: In Triathlon’s with real Triathletes.  I mean, even the Indianapolis 500 has the good sense to not require everyone get out of their cars on lap-100, race buses for 50 laps, and then jump back into their cars for a grueling finish.  Why should cycling be any different?  It should be one, single, discipline from start to finish.  The best racer should win, not the best Time Trialer. 

But wait, there’s more!  Just to make sure the racing is even more over-the-top nonsensical, there were two kinds of TT’s at the Giro: The Individual Time Trial (ITT), and the even bigger, more foolish waste of time, the Team Time Trail (TTT).  And, if  you don’t think these discipline’s can affect the outcome of a race, well, check out the following two paragraphs from a recent on-line article over at VeloNews. 

“Time trials are where grand tours are typically decided, and that’s become especially true at the Tour de France, where even an extraordinary climber who cannot perform well against the clock has almost no realistic chance to win the maillot jaune.”

“As cycling has evolved to become more controlled and more scientific (and boring, Editor), especially with the application of power meters in training and racing, the overall level at the top of the peloton is relatively equal. The winning differences are now being made in time trials.”

If that is truly the case, why not just have a one-day TT, with no road stages at all?  I mean, just think of how simple the logistics would be, with all of the savings in time, money, effort, not to mention how happy the planet would be with all of those transport motor vehicles no longer being utilized for travel over multiple stages.  Call it an Environmentalists wet-dream, if you must.  Seriously, why should there be all of those days of racing when the winner can be determined by a single TT?  Sprinting stages?  Ah, who needs ‘em!  And, as for the mountain stages, hah!  We don’t need no stinkin’ mountain stages!  We have a TT to run, lads!

As for the Tour of California, it was basically over on the second day, all due again to that activity usually reserved for Triathlons: The ITT.  After Sir Bradley Wiggins was injected and ran away with the stage, it was pretty much a boring affair from there on (Brad was so pumped up with Happy Juice, he is probably still going on that TT bike).  Again, why are they mixing disciplines at a road race?

So, in winding up my reasonably astute opinion, while I will indeed continue living with a casual eye on the racing scene, and with the Tour de France right around the corner, I would still rather ride myself than sit in front of the TV watching it. 

This is especially true on the days they run TT's.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Distant Early Warning: Approaching Vehicle Radar System For Cyclists.

In war, it was the artillery shell you never heard that got you.  While driving, it was the police car you never saw that pulled you over for speeding.  Similarly, while cycling, it was the car you never knew was there that plowed into you from behind.

Well, the clever minds over at Stellenbosch, South Africa, are actually doing something about the latter.  With their new vehicle detection system, they seek to give an added margin of safety out on the road by using radar to alert the rider of vehicles approaching from the rear.

The two piece system utilizes a bar mounted threat display and a rear facing red light.  The display alerts the rider to the presence of a vehicle and calibrates it's approach speed into a series of colored lights indicating the severity of the threat.  At the same time, the rear LED flashing light reacts by increasing its flash rate, again, depending on the perceived level of the threat.  Neat stuff. 

I think this device can have some real-world success, and they may indeed have a winner on their hands.  In addition to my question about the price, I wonder if it has an aural warning, as well?  One cannot spend their entire time staring at the light display, you know.

Read more at Bike Rumor.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Bear & Tiger.


All of us on this planet are waking around with biases within us.  Some people pay no heed to them, some people struggle with them, and other people like to see themselves proved wrong.  Not only do the latter types of people bring all of us together, it is also the group to which I subscribe to and make an honest, daily effort to remain a member of. 

On an adventure ride this last weekend to San Clemente with my partner Catrina, we ran across what I initially thought was just a homeless man and his dog on a bike.  I mean he certainly looked the part: A rough, sun-baked looking fellow, complete with dirty clothes, a beard and bandana, a beater bike loaded down with every conceivable piece of junk, plus a trailer with an old hound dog riding along on top of a blanket and a bag of dog food. 

Boy, was I wrong, and I felt all the better for it.

We first spied this odd-looking pair heading south on Pacific Coast Highway (HWY 1) in Newport Beach.  A few more miles down the road in Laguna Beach, we saw them stopped at the side of the road, and we pulled over to see if the man needed any assistance.  Turns out “They” were both OK, were extremely friendly, and were just catching a quick breather, as the bike was completely weighed down with stuff.  We introduced ourselves, and he told us his name was Bear, and the very well-behaved, friendly dog’s name was Tiger.  They had both left San Luis Obispo (SLO) three days earlier, and were on the way to Escondido to visit Bear’s mother, whom was terminally ill.  This was the only way he could get to her, so he loaded up the bike, Tiger and all, to make the journey to visit his dying mother.  Wow!

You just have to admire the size of this man’s character to do what he was doing, and how he was doing it.  Not only was he being loyal to his mother, but to ride that distance on an old Motobecane mountain bike, loaded down with full gear, plus a sixty-pound Pit Bull, camping along the way at various beach campsites, was nothing short of an amazing feat of humanity.  It was a classic case of accomplishing what you can with what you have.  There was no whining about the lack of a car, money, or a working iPhone, just honest, human grit and determination.


Bear also told us about Tiger, himself.  Tiger was a rescue-dog, but not in the sense of a regular shelter dog.  Tiger, as was his father, was bred for fighting, and Bear took him from the owner whom was breeding Bulls to fight.  Not only has Bear since trained Tiger to be voice-command obedient, he has also trained the aggression out of him, and followed that up with reporting the breeder to the authorities. 

In summation, I am reminded of a line by Tommy Lee Jones in the movie Men in Black: “Most people like to think they’ve got a good bead on things.”  Well, guess what?  A lot of what we make up in our own minds to be true is often not so.  I, for one, am certainly glad that I am not so hard-wired as to dismiss others as being less than myself. 

It would keep me from meeting people like Bear.