Monday, October 29, 2012

SRAM Titanium Wheel Skewer Review

                                                                      Image Courtesy SRAM

To paraphrase the movie Blazing Saddles - “Mongo like Titanium.”

The Quick Release/Wheel Skewer is a very important, not too-often thought of piece of equipment on a bicycle.  They come in many different shapes, materials, and some darn near qualify as art.  However, they all share one function in common – Keeping the wheels safely, and securely, attached to a bicycle, while allowing for the quick and efficient removal/replacement of said wheels. 

I have been using the SRAM Titanium’s (alloy lever and a Ti shaft) for close to six months now, and they have been basically invisible to me (except for the pre-ride safety check).  While there have been some on-line reports of these skewers coming loose, and possessing insufficient clamping force, well, that certainly not been the case with this mild-mannered evaluator. 

                                       Titanium Should Last A Lifetime On My Trek 2.3 "Frankenbike."

I have used them on SRAM S40’s and Mavic Ksyrium’s, and these are truly set-and-forget skewers, with the confidence, light weight, sex-appeal and durability of Titanium.  
M.S.R.P. is $76.00, and the published weight is 85 grams per pair. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Eureka, I found it! My Solution To Erroneous Heart Rate Monitor Readings Can Also Save Your Ass.

In a previous article (The Garmin “Premium” Heart RateMonitor and Super-False Heart Rate Readings, 08-31-2012), I wrote about super-erroneous readings from my Garmin heart rate monitor.  So, being I am the extremely curious type, I set out in search of a workable solution to the problem.  Well, I have found a workable solution.  And, the answer came from a most unexpected place. 

The answer came from a website article on creative solutions to problems in the medical field.  A nursing blog recommended if you find yourself in a pinch, Aloe Vera gel can be used as a defibrillator conductivity gel.  It just so happens that our heart rate monitors utilize conductivity sensors.  Well, if it is good enough for the medical establishment, it should darn well be good enough for us cyclists, too.

And the really good news – It is!  Instead of using spit or waiting until you have built up enough sweat to register a reading, just put a dab of gel on both sensors after putting on the HR strap.  The numbers being returned on my Edge 500 uploads are now back within believable parameters.  Hallelujah! 

Also, knowing the healing properties of Aloe Vera, I conducted a very-unscientific study of the gels’ feasibility as a chamois cream.  Don’t laugh.  It worked out great.  It has been almost two months since I began using it, and my bottom has never been happier.  Another plus, the gel washes out of the chamois easily with no residue of any kind left on the pad.

There is an old saying that some people cannot “Tell their asses from their elbows.”  This is true, however, there is now clear-cut evidence the heart just may be a lot closer to our butts than we previously thought.

And the best part - The bottle in the photo only cost me .99 cents.  Why spend more, I say.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ritchey WCS Carbon Streem Saddle Long Term Review.

The bicycle saddle.  It’s that thing you are sitting on.  Some people blissfully don’t give it a second thought, and some folks think about it often in a most unpleasant, painful way.  In other words, the saddle can be your best friend or one of your fiercest enemies – All depending on your choices, of course.  And, it can be quite a battle just to find that elusive, oh-so-hard-to-find “Sweet Spot.”  Well, after a year and a half, I am still enjoying that sweet-spot, however, it just took me a little while to find it.

The Ritchey Carbon Streem saddle was designed for maximum comfort, combined with light weight and good looks, all in an effort to help cyclists find that sweet-spot.  They got two out of three right, save for comfort which is solely the objective opinion of each riders’ bum (that’s how the British eloquently say “Ass”).  This is just the nature of the beast called saddle selection.  This, however, does not imply the Carbon Streem is a beautiful torture rack – Far from it, actually.

A lot of reviews on anything are brief, very subjective musings on a donated product purely for evaluating purposes.  However, in the real world of cycling, we all have to plunk down our hard earned cash and must live with the consequences of those decisions.  This describes the Ritchey Carbon Streem saddle perfectly in my case (It also describes how this blog works and evaluates products).  Thus, before we get much further, here are the specs:
  • Patented Vector Wing design dissipates pressure more evenly (It actually works! Editor’s comment)
  • Low profile design and narrow carbon fiber injected shell for stiffness and lightweight
  • Micro fiber cover and super light foam
  • Rails: Carbon Fiber, Rail Dimensions: 8x8.5mm
  • Saddle dimensions: 270x130mm
  • Weight: 145 grams
  • Available in Red, White or Black
  • Retail $189.95
If you have been around the proverbial block more than a few times, you understand saddle placement is far more important than any other factor.  Yes, this includes, style, color, and even price.  To paraphrase the Bible, you can give a man any saddle and he’ll be happy for a day, but teach him how to properly shop for the correct saddle, and he’ll be happy for a lifetime.  Well, I finally got it right, however, it took six months of breaking-in and fiddling with position before my behind gave the Carbon Streem two-butt-cheeks-up. 

The Carbon Streem’s strengths are it ability to dampen road shocks, its light weight, and its outright durability - It looks as good as the day I bought it.  Also, if used with a Ritchey one-bolt seatpost, mounting and adjustments are so easy, it is almost ridiculous.  The price is competitive, the weight light, but not so light it cannot endure day-in, day-out use, and the looks are, well, flat-out sexy.

Final Notes

Bottom line, it took a long time to break-in (about six months), and once it did, combined with proper positioning, I have found a saddle, which for the most part, completely disappears under me. 

I know Ritchey is not the first name when one goes saddle hunting, but I strongly suggest you give them a try.

As stated in the Ritchey catalog, if using this saddle, be mindful of the rail dimensions, which are 8X8.5mm.  They are “Ovalized” rails, so if used with a RitcheyWCS one-bolt seatpost, use their Carbon Clamp Kit to properly fit the carbon rails to the post without crushing them.

In addition, I have also tried the Ritchey carbon clamp with Selle Italia oval, carbon railed saddles, and it worked out perfectly.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bicycle Racing: Born 1868 A.D. – Died 2012 A.D.

I have to share a horrible skill I possess.  It was something I discovered at a young age, and it goes by the scientific name of “I hate it when I am right.”  Allow me to expound.

When I began to get serious about road cycling it was plain to this mild-mannered, concerned on-looker that not only was cycling fun, but it was full of a bunch of friggin’ loons.  And not just the garden variety loons like those you find at an Area 51 convention, but the real nasty kind which think nothing about hurting someone if it makes them feel better about themselves.

I knew for sometime there were those who hated Lance Armstrong so bad they would stop at nothing to bring about his downfall.  And, I was right.  However, hatred runs deep in cycling, and it consumes everything in the path of those suffering from clinical rage.

See, this is not an article about whether he cheated or not, as that point is moot.  No, I mean to highlight the sick, rabid way people who sought to go about the whole exposure thing do not intend to stop there (as I wrote in a previous article – The Circular Shooting Gallery - This quest for “Justice” is being fought with nuclear bombs, and the issue of Mutually Assured Destruction is not even on the conscience of those waging the war).  Talk about a feeding frenzy!

It reminds me of something Rodney Dangerfield said in the movie “Back to School.”  In a scene explaining how tough his high school football team was, he exclaimed “At my high school they were tough.  After they sacked the quarterback, they went after his family.”  Well, that is what is happening to cycling right now.  They sacked the all-time Tour winner, and now they are after anyone (or thing) that can be associated with him.

And, the thin veil of flat-out hatred was there all along.  And not just for doping, cheaters, or somebody who dared to leave their dork disk on the bike, but the hatred of Lance himself and also his ride of choice – Trek.  I mean seriously, there are calls now for boycotting the type of  bike he rode.  Are you kidding me!  Has it finally gone down to that level?  And, this is not my view simply because I own a Trek, either.  If this is to be the standard of commercial jihad, then the list of sponsors getting ready to jettison from cycling is going to be as large as it will be distinguished.  

But wait!  There’s more!  Now there are cries for the wheels of “Justice” to be leveled upon George Hincapie Sportswear, Chris Carmichael Training systems, and Alan Lim’s Skratch Labs.  Shall we also find out the maker of Armstrong’s underwear, or boycott his favorite TV shows, and kick his dog while we are at it?  I mean, justice is as justice does, right?

If mere innuendo is enough get a rider into the realm of being a doper – You know, just because somebody said so – Then how far of a stretch would it be to suppose rival bicycle manufacturerS themselves had a hand in the whole Armstrong witch-hunt?  I mean using the same method of reasoning(?) used by the hordes of haters, I wonder how big the underwriting to USADA was from rival manufacturerS?  And, don’t forget rival competitors, component makers, tire makers and nutrition companies.  Remember, there is a whole lot of money in play, and with so much more to be made, it really is not that big of a stretch, now is it?

In total, how low are those suffering from Lanceophobia going to go before a cure to their satisfaction is found?  First his career, then his bike maker, then his sponsors, then his foundation, and what’s next?  Do Nike, Radio Shack, Nissan, Giro, Oakley, Power Bar, FRS, Honey Stinger, et al need look over their respective shoulders before Armstrong’s head is paraded through Paris on a stick? 

Cycling, in all actuality, has brought about its own demise, however, it was helped along by a lot of sick, sanctimonious weirdo’s out for blood – Anyone’s blood.  And, with casualties piling up everyday, the death-toll is sure to rise and the collateral damage will be felt for years to come. 

Where cycling goes from here is anyone’s neurosis, and I, for one, do not see a smooth road for whatever manages to pry itself from the proverbial ashes.

I cannot help but think of the line Major Clipton spoke at the end of the movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai” in regards to this whole cycling fiasco, because it certainly does indeed sum up the entire situation: 

“Madness!  Madness!”

I hate it when I am right.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Being More Visible – It’s Not Just About Bright Colored Clothing, Anymore.

Axiom of the Road: If Motorcyclists receive no respect at all - Road Cyclists receive even less.

It used to be sufficient to insure one’s personal safety merely by sticking to the correct side of the road and obeying the traffic laws.  As any person whom has ridden either a bicycle or motorcycle can attest to, the days of courteous drivers has flown the way of the Do-Do Bird.  Sadly, even bright clothing and defensive riding are not enough to insure you will cycle another day. 

Basically, we are all at the mercy of the lowest common denominator behind a steering wheel. 

So, just how (and why) am I tying motorcycles and bicycles together?  Well, staying alive on both are quite similar endeavors, actually.  I used to ride a motorcycle almost exclusively since I was sixteen-years old.  While a senior in High School, armed with money from my part-time job, I went to a local Honda dealer and plunked down $526.00 in cash, and I taught myself how to shift a five-speed transmission on the way home aboard a brand new, 1982 MB5 motorcycle.  I went everywhere on that bike, and I did not get my first car until I was twenty-three years old.  I swore I would ride a motorcycle until the day I died. 

Road cycling has changed all that.  And, this is not as tragic as it may sound.  See, I still love motorcycles (the MB5 long gone, successively replaced by another Honda, a Suzuki, still another Honda, and now a Ducati), however, every turn of the wheels gave me no physical fitness benefit.  Also, the operational costs were getting to be a bit much, and that was not including the proper protective clothing expenses. 

The complete lack of skills exhibited by vehicular drivers, countered by the euphoric fitness I get from my road bike, was enough to get me to park the motorcycle for good.   Yes, bicycles can be dangerous too, but I would rather fall over at 25 miles per hour than get run over by a vehicle doing 75 MPH on the freeway while on the motorcycle.

          Violated Right-Of-Way. This, Sadly, Has Become An All-Too-Common Experience For Road Cyclists.

Additionally, after recently, nearly becoming a hood ornament after a driver turned left in front of me, I have now resorted to full lighting (headlight and taillight) even during the day in an attempt to give myself as much of an edge as possible.  I already wear bright red colored riding kits, and the lights were just a logical addition to my “Be-Seen” regimen.  As with my former motorcycle riding days, I try to be as visible as possible, and I still trust absolutely no one.  Never! 

I now ride my road bike at least three days a week (and sometime five), and I find the skill level of the vehicle-set to be horribly lacking even more-so now than when I began riding a motorcycle in High School.  People used to ask me how I could ride a motorcycle and not get hit by motorists.  It was simple, I told them.  I rode like I was invisible, because if people will not see a tanker truck barreling towards them, they definitely will not see a motorcyclist. 

Translate this into cycling, and you see how this all works.

Be safe out there.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Road Bike Disc Brakes – A Clear Case Of The “No-Brainer”

           Colnago C59 Hydraulic Operated, Radially Mounted Caliper - Image Courtesy Roadbikereview

From the conversations I have engaged in with manufacturers, shops, mechanics and riders, it looks like the lines have been clearly drawn - Rim brake vs. disc brake.  The rim brake has been around a long time, is simple and reliable, however, it is not the most efficient method of stopping a bicycle wheel.  The disc brake has all of these qualities of reliability and simplicity as well, but it is an incredibly efficient way to stop a bicycle wheel.

For the record, I hate to call the rim brake a caliper brake (as many people do), as disc brakes have a caliper, too.  I always knew discs were the way to go, and I have been a vocal proponent for a long time.  What really got me to put fingers to keyboard on the subject was an article on the Colnago C59 in the November 2012 edition of Bicycling Magazine.  The article makes a good case for road discs, and it also made a good read of the C59, as well.

However, where the article went off the proverbial rails a little bit were in the areas of the UCI “Evaluating the benefits of road discs,” and the perceived issue of “Boiling brake fluid.”  While the former is preposterous, the latter is complete nonsense. 

                Brembo Radially Mounted Caliper, With Carbon Pad-Carbon Disc Setup On A Honda RC212V

Case in point: If MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner can haul his Honda RC212V, 1000cc motorcycle down from 200 MPH, with Carbon rotors utilizing carbon brake pads, all without burning up his brakes or boiling the fluid, then how on God’s Green-Earth can even a 200 pound bicyclist produce enough energy to induce the opposite?  Whether a hydraulic or cable-actuated bicycle disc system, there simply is not enough energy to completely fry your brakes – In my opinion.

As for the UCI, if safety is so paramount (as the article stated), then why in the heck have discs not yet been thoroughly evaluated and standardized?  In this regard, I completely concur with Ernesto Colnago that this is, above and beyond all, a safety issue.  And, who would know better than Mr. Colnago?

The article also alludes to some kind of mythical “Learning Curve” with this new, never-before seen technology (heavy sarcasm intended).  Please, are riders really that dumb?  In fairness to the articles author, well if someone is, then they best not be riding a bicycle outdoors without a helmet and an airbag.

Almost everyday now, one can read about a new road-going disc brake technology leap.  It is clear they work, the know-how is there, and they are a need waiting to met by road riders world-wide.  When viable disc systems can meet, or slightly exceed, weights of equivalent rim brake systems, well, the proverbial writing is on the wall.

And now for the really good part.  Not only will safety be improved by stepping into the modern era, but so will the issues of “Exploding” carbon clinchers and unreliable braking be solved forever.  However, safety rarely trumps economics.  Don’t think so?  I have spent a fare share of my career in aviation, and the only way an improvement became adopted was through some sort of tragedy.  This is not to foolishly claim wheel manufacturers are evil, diabolical murderers.  It is just they have so much money and time invested in rim brake research, which disc brake technology will completely wipe out.  So, do not expect wheel manufacturers to go oh-so boldly into thy disc-laden good night.

To add a bit of relevance, I have been riding motorcycles for over thirty-two years.  A few of those years were spent racing, thus I have a pretty go handle on the dynamics of braking (more on this in a bit).  Meanwhile, on my road bike on long descents, I have noticed I often end up alone out front rather quickly.  Upon polling fellow ride participants, and evaluating my own riding, I have discovered a few interesting things.  One, most people are terrified of descents, compounded with a definite fear of the front brake.  This, in turn, leads to a near constant application of both brakes, which is very hard on wheels, especially carbon clinchers.  And finally, some old habits are hard to break (no pun intended).  I tend to use the brakes on my bike the same as I do on a motorcycle – The less braking the better, and when I do need to brake, it is a last second, hard, modulated application to set my corner entrance speed.  And contrary to popular belief - You can indeed brake all the way to the corners’ apex.

                                           SRAM Red-Black Rim Brake Mounted On A 2010 Trek 2.3

I believe the rim brake had long ago reached its potential, and the disc will offer a lot more than the obvious superior braking power.  And, the debate over weight and complexity will eventually sort itself out.  Clever folks are already adapting new technologies and will apply it to yield light, powerful braking systems, allowing at long last, wheels with lighter rims, negating the heat and poor braking issues with carbon. 

In regards to application engineering, radially mounting the calipers will yield exceptional strength and balanced braking forces, plus more even pad wear.  Of course, forks and chain/seat stays will all have to be beefed up as the additional forces in these areas will have to be dealt with.  The weight and balance of the bike and braking forces will all become homogenous with the benefits of centralized mass, and improvement in the moment of inertia.  In plain English, these are all good things.

I used to think the people most resistant to change were pilots and novice computer users.  Well, if cyclists are indeed resistant to change to disc brakes as the article suggests (and my informal rider polling indicates), they will indeed be left behind.  

Especially going down hills.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Circular Shooting Gallery

I have been watching the whole Lance Armstrong “Did he, or didn’t he?” doping theater with a bit of shock and awe.  Wow, what a spectacle. 

From all major media sources, to world cycling organizations, to on-line enthusiast websites and forums almost everywhere, cycling is in a vapid spiral, eating itself with misdirected anger and foolish partisanship. 

Cycling is imploding before our eyes, and many are thrilled to death about it.
Call it arguing over whose fault it was the ship hit the iceberg while all on board are neck deep in icy, cold water.  If you wanted to see the results of an actual nuclear war, this would be it.  The losses are going to be far greater than the gains, and some will still have the nerve to declare a victory.

In a sick effort to bring down one man (deserved or otherwise), many in the “Cycling Community” are destroying cycling itself.  Look at it as killing the patient and then boasting you cured their cancer.  Yes, this is complete madness on parade.

In an attempt to appear ever-more serious, cycling has made itself the butt of world-wide jokes.  Finger pointing is everywhere, all are now suspect, and in reality, cycling has only itself to blame.

Keep watching, folks.  It is going to be an extremely nasty, bumpy, and sad ride.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Truly Enjoying The Ride.

I truly enjoy riding my bike.  I really do.  It is therapy, freedom, peace and a spiritual experience all rolled into one.  I make time for it.  I don’t want to be bothered while doing it.  It is truly, “Me time.” 

However, it is sad to see how many people cannot truly enjoy the ride.  I can understand the responsibilities of family, work, etc., however, if everything does not have a time and a place, mitigating circumstances will soon come to dominate your schedule.  Riding is supposed to cure all of this.  Exercising the mind and body cannot take place if one or the other is elsewhere.  I call these distractions Ride Killers, and I have ridden with enough people to begin to notice some discernable patterns.

Ride Killers I have come to notice from the passing scene:

  • Cell phones (nothing kills a ride faster)
  • Demanding spouse
  • Whiney kids (see cell phones)
  • Pushover parents (see whiny kids)
  • Trying to cram in a ride
  • The Ride Nazi
  • The Bomb Dropper
  • The Wanna-be Racer

All of the categories fall more in less in line with the curse of modern technology – The Cell Phone.  Now, instead of being free to liberate mind and body and be one-with-the-bike, spouses, children, family and friends are free to harass the rider at will - All day, everyday.  In full-disclosure, I carry a phone when I ride.  However, it is purely for emergencies, and people know not to call me while I am riding unless it is extremely important, not a “Hey, whatcha’ doin’?” call.  And, it gets worse.  I have ridden with people that pull over simply to text something!  I avoid these kinds of riders.

On the subject of cramming in rides, some folks will do this while trying to get as big a group together as possible to join in on this special kind of misery.  This is what I call the “Afraid to Eat Alone” syndrome.  Yes, a lot of people are afraid to ride alone, so they con as many victims as they can for a ride, even if it is for thirty minutes.  Yes, it happens, and I now avoid these kinds of riders, too.

The Ride Nazi – This one is pretty self-explanatory, however, for the uninitiated, here is the low-down on this pest.  This person is the one whom expects everyone else on the group ride to go where they say, when they say, or they will whine none-stop until they get their way.  Comply or it is “No ride for you!”  Avoid this person like the plague.

The Bomb Dropper is a subset of the Ride Crammer and Ride Nazi, yet it is almost a separate and unique class unto itself.  This is the person (or persons) which sooner or later on the ride announce they have to be back by a certain time.  That can be understandable.  However, the announcement never comes before the ride but during it.  The result is a shortened ride, or an increased pace (thus spitting slower riders out the back like chum) or both.  You learn to avoid the Bomb Dropper only after having a few dropped on yourself.

The Wanna-be Racer.  Ahhh, we have all run into this person in our cycling travels.  They give themselves away with way too tight riding kits, are overly-competitive, rude, unhelpful, and see the group ride as the only opportunity in their lives to feel like a Somebody.  They usually ride a custom framed bike.

I made an effort to un-complicate my life and make time for riding.  Yes, this is my choice, and I believe it is a choice we can all take a sincere look at.  See, modern technology was supposed to make tasks more efficient, thus creating more “Free Time.”  However, all it seems to have done is create more time to fill up with additional activities to ever-more complicate our lives.

If we can free the mind, we can free the body.

For riding, of course.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The In’s & Out’s Of Cycling Clubs – Choose Wisely, The Fun And Time You Lose May Just Be Your Own.

Cycling Clubs, those rolling masses of personalities all mashed together for better or worse.  Kind of sounds like a marriage, doesn’t it?  However, in the case of a cycling club, if things do not work out, this divorce is not as costly as the actual affair.  On the other hand, if it does indeed work out, count your lucky stars and embrace the bliss.

Why join a club?

As humans we seek belonging, whether it is with family, friends, or a like-minded group sharing an activity we cherish.  Thus, the cycling club was born, and, like children, they are not all created equal. 

Some truly are clubs in the classic sense of the word.  The organization exists for the members’ benefit, not for the benefit of the leadership.  These are benevolent organizations where all of the members thrive.  This is where your cycling experience will grow.  The leadership is friendly and supportive, the membership is unified and helpful, and the rides are varied, thus challenging to all skill levels, without boring the fast and killing off the beginners.  There is a social interaction built around the common nucleus of cycling.  There is actual community interaction.  You can learn, grow as a rider and make friends here.  This club will prosper and thrive.

And now for the Dark Side.  These kinds of clubs are shanghaied by the leadership, for the leadership.  The membership has neither input, nor any rewards.  The members still participating follow like sheep, and the lack of members on rides has no effect on the leadership’s conscience the organization is in trouble.  There is no growth, no camaraderie, and certainly no joy – Except among the clique.  The leadership is selfish and aggressive, the membership distant and insincere, the scheduled rides a “Take-it-or-leave-it” affair (all favorites of the dominant clique), and new riders be damned.  The club is closed off from all external influence, as this would disturb the power structure of the clique.  Your cycling experience will be drained here.  This club will shrink and fail.
I just came from one of these clubs.  The divorce was a liberating experience.

Types of clubs

There are different kinds of clubs out there, and seek with an open mind which type you feel you want to join: 

  • True racing clubs
  • Wanna-be racing clubs
  • Fast, drop you for dead “No we are not a racing club,” racing clubs
  • Shop clubs
  • Enthusiast clubs  
  • Recreational clubs

Finding a good fit will make all the difference in your group cycling experience.  This is not to put forth that all riding must be done in groups (90% of my riding is done solo – And I like it that way).  Group riding is just another way to get out, get fit, and in addition, meet new, like-minded people.

Clubs, however, can indeed take on an unintended life of their own if not properly nourished.  I have ridden with clubs that were downright unfriendly, and I have ridden with clubs that were the nicest, most helpful people out there.  Seek out the latter when shopping for a club to hook up with.  To assist in the search, seek out a club with the following attributes.

Axioms of a membership organization (If not, they ought to be)

1)      The organization must exist for the benefit of the membership
2)      Show the benefits of membership
3)      Membership is a transaction.  If you receive no benefits, leave the organization

Cycling, like golf, contains many rules of conduct, some written, some implied, and some no one can fathom, but we are expected to follow, anyway.  The odd part is the expectation of stellar adherence to group dogma, while decorum gets forgotten in regards to courtesy, kindness, respect and empathy.

Is it all bad?  No, not always.

We live in a time of vast rudeness.  Integrity and kindness are almost dead in most people.  If you commit to a ride or ask others to ride with you, stick to it.  We, unfortunately, have proven many times over to not be people of our word, and it shows.  We have become so used to not taking the word of others seriously that we don’t even take our own word seriously, anymore.  We need to break free from this.  Cycling can provide an antidote.
So, what do we do now?

Cycling has proven to be one of the healthiest and liberating activities I have ever engaged in.  It has also proved to contain more than its fair share of selfish, petty, and immature weirdo’s.  Sure, there are the good and the bad anywhere humans are involved, however, this in no way should preclude anyone from seeking out the experience of the group ride.   

* Stay tuned for the upcoming companion article – “Truly Enjoying The Ride”

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The “Skinny” On Riding Food.

                                                             Image courtesy Red Kite Prayer

I recently read a very good article at Red Kite Prayer about riding food and what we get out of it.  If you have the chance (and you should make the effort), get on over there and check out an excellent site on all-things-cycling.  As for this article, I have used a lot of different products looking for the definitive “Ride Food,” alas, this has thus far proved an elusive process.

While the Red Kite article clearly states the author receives sample products from manufacturers, I do not get the same privilege.  I have to pay for my nutrition, thus I am very specific on what I purchase.  Hey, it’s my own cash we’re dealing with here. 

I do have to agree with the article that Power Bar’s do almost nothing for me.  The nutrition may be sound, but the delivery leaves a lot to be desired.  Basically flavored and fortified Play-Do, it is sticky as heck, and not all that easy on the stomach after awhile (something for us riders north of 40 years-old to consider).

A quick note about sticky, messy fingers.  In ride food, the one thing I do not understand is the use of chocolate in various forms.  Don’t get me wrong, it is good stuff, and just the thing the body needs whilst on a good work out. However, I have yet to reach into my jersey pocket and retrieve a product laced with chocolate which was not a melted mess of goo upon opening.

Bars, bars, and more bars.

We have indeed come a long way, baby, from vitamin and mineral infused play-do, and cellulose based granola bars to actual, edible food bars.  A lot of people swear by Clif Bars, which can indeed be good, however, they may as well be a prime-rib dinner on the bike for me – Just too darn dense.  I reserve these for before and after rides, and as snacks on the go off of the bike.  However, their Builder’s bars completely rock!  Good before, on, and after the ride, and no chocolate in sight.

Another bar I have fallen in love with (again, no chocolate), are Larabar’s.  The Cashew Cookie is the best, and while easy to chew, they are also easy on the stomach, taste great, however, they can be a bit pricey.

Other bars of note: Honey Stinger Protein – Good stuff, but can be a bit hard to chew when in the heat of battle, and can get a little pricey, as well. 

Honey Stinger Waffles - Damn good flavor, rotten travel partner.  While I see the beauty and the science behind the honey-infused goodness, they just do not work well out on the road.  Don’t believe me?  Put some in your jersey/seatbag/Bento Box, and behold all of the crumbled goodness left of your beloved waffle upon opening the package.  I now use them exclusively in the morning with coffee before I leave the house.

Gel blocks - I see these as the manufacturers intended – A bridge between sold bars and semi-liquid gels.  To date, I have tried GU Chomps and Clif Shot Bloks.  Both are very tasty (I love the GU watermelon flavor), and they do the job when a gel just won’t cut it, and sold food is not at hand.

Logical alternatives - A secret weapon I have discovered is so simple, I cannot believe it has been ignored up till now – The Payday Bar.  It is something substantial for your stomach, has sugars and peanuts for protein, tastes good, and the best part, it will not melt even after hours of carrying in your jersey pocket.  I have also heard of personal favorites like various other candy bars, and yes, even the famous Little Debbie Brownie Bar works for some people.

So, what does this all mean?  Well, the body runs on and desires what the body runs on and desires.  Carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and proteins are carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and proteins.  It all boils down to how they are delivered and how they are packaged.  The key is to find something that works for you nutritionally and does not upset your system. 

The rest is just good ‘ol fashioned marketing. 

Don’t believe me?  Nature still makes and packages the best ride food around – The banana.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Times To Ride – Breaking All The Rules.

                                                                Cruising Down The Avenue.

There seems to be a hard and fast rule about the definitive time to ride your bike.  I am not alluding to a time in our lives, but a time of day.  Most people I know swear by the early morning, and while that is all well and good, a lot of us cannot do the same.  Be it work, family, or in my case, just plain ‘ol laziness, rides at other times of the day become almost necessary.

There are 24-hours in a day, so to limit oneself to a small window of time in the early morning just seems so, well, limiting.  If you can open up your mind to other opportunities, then a whole new world of riding arises.

Case in point.  I have recently gotten into twilight riding with a group of hard-core thrill seekers.  With daylight savings time upon us, it will soon be dark by 5:00 PM.  Being we cannot get out at the crack of dawn, we have made a commitment to ride regardless of the sun’s position on the Earth to get our fun and fitness. 

                             Headlight: 160 Lumen Rechargeable Flashlight - Cost: $20.00
Armed with heavy duty lighting (the “See,” not “Be-Seen” type), bright clothing, the will to ride, a strict adherence to traffic laws, hand signals and call-outs, we have been getting our exercise in without messing up our routines with the proverbial early morning get up.  And, it has been working out really, really well.  It was by this method we made it through a particularly brutal Summer, and Fall will only require warm clothing to adjust to the season’s change.  Plus, it is a whole lot of fun.  Did I mention it was fun?

                          Seatbag With Large Reflective Swatch: $9.00.  Taillight by Planet Bike: $10.00

In short, morning is an excellent time to ride.  However, do not let the fact the sun goes down lock you out of some incredible riding time. 

Besides, you meet some of the nicest people in the dark. 

Just watch out for the potholes.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ritchey WCS C260 Carbon And WCS Alloy 4-Axis Review - A Tale Of Two Stems.

The stem.  It’s that thing right out in front of you.  Some are short, some are long, some point upward, and some point downward.  They are as varied as riders, yet, somehow, we find one we can live with – Eventually.  My Trek 2.3 “Frankenbike” came with a Bontrager 100mm alloy stem and Race Blade Alloy bar.  When I switched to Ritchey WCS Logic II bars, I also tried one of their WCS 4-Axis, 100mm stems.  Whilst it was indeed nice, I eventually tried a 110mm, and finally after screwing around with my fit some more, settled on a 120mm job, which not only looked cool, but just seemed to feel right. 

WCS C260 Carbon

This was an exciting stem to try out, however, be warned it is a semi-bitch to install.  Yes, she wraps herself 260 degrees around the bar for stiffness, however, that also means you can no longer simply mount it up to a bar as usual.  In my case, I had to unwrap the bar tape a few inches, slip the face-plateless unit on the small diameter portion of the bar, move the stem over, then thread four (4) 3mm, hex-head bolts from the back of the stem.  This can be a hassle due to the head tube being in your way on the lower bolts. T-handled tools need not apply. 

While not being a “True” carbon stem, it is none-the-less a beautiful Uni-Directional (UD) weave over an alloy 7050 core.  There are also three (3) 3mm hex-head steer tube bolts, with a curved clamp slot to reduce weight and steer tube stress.  Weight is approximately 113 grams.

My first ride with the C260 was quite a revelation.  Tom Ritchey was right – It is stiffer.  A whole lot stiffer.  About 30% stiffer than the 4-Axis.  And, keep in mind, I had the WCS 4-Axis as a direct comparison, so I can back up Ritchey’s claims about the new stems’ attributes.

WCS 4-Axis Alloy

As I previously stated, the 120mm version was settled upon for its comfort, better aerodynamics and killer looks in the “Wet Red” color.  Combined with the WCS Logic II bars, the feel of the front end was remarkably superior to the stock Bontrager bar and stem setup.  The WCS bar gives just enough compliance to keep the Trek aluminum frame from shaking my teeth loose, while the WCS stem kept the front end firm enough for bombing descents and out of the seat climbs and sprints. 

Made from 2014 alloy, the face plate is a simple four (4) bolt affair (4mm hex-heads), with two (2) 4mm hex head steer tube bolts (with an angled steer tube slot to reduce stress), and the “Wet” color cannot be beat.  I mounted up a 110mm initially, however, I discovered 120mm was the ticket.  Weight is approximately 130 grams.

In conclusion, you cannot go wrong with either the C260 or the 4-Axis.  Yes, they are that good.