North by Northeast

Iditarod By Bike
7 March, 2008, 11:03 pm
Filed under: bike

My friend Jill has completed the 2008 Iditarod Trail Invitational. Congratulations, Jill! OK, I’ve never met Jill, but after reading someone’s blog for such a long time, you kinda fool yourself into thinking you actually know them.

Either way, she can sure ride her bike in some cold-ass conditions (*inside joke). And she’s a good writer, so you can enjoy her accomplishment. Start here with her entry recapping Day 1.


Mosquitoes with West Nile found in Medford
2 August, 2007, 10:05 pm
Filed under: bike, Local, outdoors

Mosquitoes with West Nile found in Medford-

Traditionally, West Nile begins circulating widely in mosquitoes in August, increasing the threat of infections in people. No human cases of West Nile have been reported this year in Massachusetts; last year, three people contracted the illness in Massachusetts; all survived.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one of every 150 people infected with West Nile develops severe symptoms.

…the Massachusetts Department of Public Health recommends limiting outdoor activities from dusk to dawn, peak biting times for mosquitoes. Otherwise, wear as much clothing as comfortable and apply insect repellent such as DEET, permethrin, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.

Be careful out there. (via NEMBA boards)

Colorado gets Cycling "Share the Road” License Plates
10 July, 2007, 10:55 pm
Filed under: bike, politics

Governor Ritter signed the Share the Road license plate bill (Senate Bill 67- Brophy, Carroll) into law at the Elephant Rock Cycling Festival on June 3!

– Bicycle Colorado

Watching the TdF?
10 July, 2007, 10:39 pm
Filed under: bike, sport

I have to admit that I haven’t watched more than twenty minutes of Le Tour de France this year. Ten of those minutes were actually broadcast in French while I was in another country, so in my estimation that translates into roughly an entire stage watched in English?

This year, I actually have to go to work every morning which is making my watching more difficult. Last year, I didn’t have to work every morning. But at least I work at home on Wednesdays, so I’ll be watching tomorrow morning.

ESPN is running a Jim Caple story on Page 2 with reasons we should all still be tuning into LeTdF.

4. U-S-A! U-S-A! Remember how much fun it was rooting against the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries during the Cold War? Now that Russia is our friend (well, sort of, sometimes), we’ve lost that drama at the Olympics. But you can recapture it at the Tour de France by rooting against those damn French, who keep implicating our guys in doping scandals. And we know it’s all sour grapes because Americans have won the past eight Tours and 11 of the past 21, while a French rider hasn’t won since Wham! was big.

But the biggest reason to watch it or at least TiVo it* would be to keep it on the air for more interesting years. *=don’t TiVo if you have a Neilsen box, it won’t count toward ratings. But otherwise, if you have a TiVo controling a cable box, the box can’t tell the difference. I’m certain that modern cable systems are telling the cable companies everything we’re watching since these boxes are now mot much more than networked computers.

OLN cum VS. is already moving further from standard competition programming and towards all sorts of other sketchy things like mixed-martial arts. Let’s try to encourage them to keep one thing from the old days.

Worst Ride Ever
14 June, 2007, 10:46 pm
Filed under: bike

Atteneded the Thursday night weekly GBNEMBA social ride at the Fells tonight, and everything that could go wrong did.

It really started several hours before the ride, had a touch of hayfever, had a tasty lunch, but it didn’t really agree with me, so I let it go early. So when I got to the ride, I had minimal fuel on board. Ironically, the gas light in my car was also lit up. I also wouldn’t have time to grab anything and still make it to the ride before it left

When we finally got riding (a bit later than usual – maybe I could have grabbed a power bar) the first big downhill I hit one of the abundant, wickedly sharp, dagger-shaped rocks I got a massive pinch flat on my rear tire. I had the generous help of James, the sweeper, and a nice guy I’ve met before (I’m awful with names) who was the second man drop, who helped me speed up the change process. It was a good thing, too. In my pack I had two tubes: both for my wife’s Shraeder-valve rims. Mine use prestas. Mr. Second-Man drop generously offered me one of his tubes.

A few minutes later, with the help of some other, super-patient second-man-drops we caught back near to the group. Just in time to roll through some of the more technical sections of the mountain bike loop. I let some of the other guys go by because technical in a ‘got to climb over lots of uneven rocks’ sense is not my forte. The section is complicated by some young trees that line the rocky trail… and my bar is too wide for me. It tends to catch on–WHAP!!! Yup caught another. Of course, it happened to be on the section where the trail was very off camber, left to right, and I fell to the right, landed on my elbow–on the funny bone section– and my hip, kept rolling, and the bike followed me. James managed to pull my bike off of me and I got up and repaired my pride.

I walked for a little bit and then hopped backed on and caught back up to the group. But then the lack of fuel in the system caught up to me, and I bonked. Felt dizzy, nauseous. I told James, the ever patient sweep, that I was packing it in. The pack started to pull away and I needed to sit down. I pulled off my gear, sat down, put my head between my legs and fought the urge to hurl.

Five minutes later I get my second wind, and pulled myself together. I actually felt pretty good. I hopped on the bike and started pedaling. I realized at this point that I was as far from my car as possible. No problem. I had plenty of time to get there, could ride my own pace and could enjoy the peaceful forest.

Ten minutes father down the trail I was descending down another rocky section, wider, but with lots of loose stone, baby heads, and a handful of those daggers. Then lightning struck twice. I feel one of those daggers (that I was desperately trying to avoid, but there aren’t many great lines there) bounce off my rim, through my tire and tube. I knew at that moment.

Approximately two minutes later, I had climbed that multiple switchback section by the green water tower and South Border Road, and by the time I hit the crest the front is completely flat. I decide it’s time to see if my rims are truly drilled for only presta.

A couple riders go by and ask if I’m OK. I should have begged for a tube or a patch, because I’m gonna kill whoever thought it would be a cool idea to have prestas and Schraeders be different diameters. You are on my shit list. Of course, once I’ve definitely concluded that my rims will only accept a Presta valve, I don’t see another rider the entire night. In fact I didn’t see anyone. It’s the longest I’d ever been in the Fells and not seen another human. Figures.

Lucky for me, my frame still resembles the traditional diamond shape, so I can portage over my shoulder, and I appreciate the light weight of my pretty affordable Cannondale. Of course, I’m not too happy with their choice to place their cable routing on the bottom of the top tube, and especially unhappy that one of the cable stops was brazed on right next to the seat post–right where my shoulder needed to be. Ouch.

My Camelbak did I decent job padding the issue, but only good enough to use occasionally, like an uphill. I started the long walk. The long, lonely walk.

I had a map with me, and I determined the fastest route back to Flynn Rink. Most of it I was plenty familiar with. Continue with the loop, switch off Middle Road fireroad, than on to Brooks Road, then onto Cross Fells, cross the road and you’re almost home. Cross Fells quickly becomes a no-bikes trail on the other side of the road, so I follow the route I’m familiar with: Pickerel Path. It’s getting pretty dim at this point but the map tells me that the Cross Fells, the non-bike section that I’ll meet at the end of Pickerel Path, will take me right to the lot. So I decide to take that.

When I get to the marker, I look up, straight up. This of course was not going to be easy. Time to portage. I am a pretty experienced hiker, so I had the advantage of good balance on uneven and rocky terrain, and it’s just that, up and down very technical.

Five minutes of this, up a big hill and down and I spot a street light. I gain a boost of confidence, I am going to get out of here still able to see my hand in front of my face! I bound down to the road… to find its the street I crossed 10+ minutes ago. I had taken the Cross Fells in the wrong direction. Shit.

I decide to head back down Pickerel Path again, and when I get to the end, if I don’t see an obvious marker for the Cross Fells in the opposite direction that I took last time, that I’ll take the long way on the fire road. The road had the advantage of being next to the reservoir, so it was easier to see and I had ridden it many times in the past. The downside is that it added significant distance to the trek, since it paralleled the road for some distance before cutting over. I never seen the other side of the Cross Fells. It’s too dark to see any blazes and the trails I see are small and rough. And really dark.

Once I passed the water supply building, I could see and here the road the lot is on. I am close. I know there are trails that cross between the fire road and the street, and I know there’s a long fishing hole, too, that separated them.

I notice what looks like a fire road-width road cutting towards the road. I break with my pledge to stick with the trails I know. Dumb. The road quickly narrows down, and runs into that fishing pond. The good news is that there is a little bit of a trail along the shore. Time to put the bike back on the shoulder. The trail quickly deteriorated. It was clear it only existed because people with fishing poles and been there before me. I was wondering if I was going to encounter any fishermen, or anyone else for that matter. As many of you know, the Fells are known to be a little sketchy in parts.

The one thing that worked out lucky for me tonight was that I didn’t run into any sketchy people. I guess there was an upside to be entirely by myself.

Several minutes of near-bushwacking and one stream crossing later the trail terminated at the lot. The entirely empty and dark lot. It was 9pm.

I loaded that bike fast and glided on fumes to the gas station nearby (which also punished me by being 10¢/gallong more than my usual place… which I probably couldn’t have reached).

So learn from my misadventure. Feel good before riding (maybe bring some backup food). Make sure you have the right tubes in your pack. Make sure you have a patch kit in case you go through your tubes (or if you don’t have the right ones to begin with). Know the name of the guy to whom you owe a tube. Have your map. Maybe a flashlight. Cell phone in case none of the other prep, or luck, works out. Luckily I didn’t have to fall back on this.

Was it the worst ride ever? For me, yes. But so much more could have gone wrong, though (broken bones, etc.), I’m pretty lucky. I’ll keep telling myself that tomorrow when this elbow feels worse than it does now…

The Northeast MTB Report
13 June, 2007, 5:07 pm
Filed under: bike

This totally rocks. A Public Access TV show on mountain biking, fully viewable on line (digging the iWeb website and QuickTime!)

Check it out. Very well made. It’s going to be a big boost to the Northeast riding scene.

So You Want to Buy a Nice Bike… part 2.5 – More Fit
30 May, 2007, 10:49 pm
Filed under: bike, buyer’s guide to bikes

Let me start by saying there’s much more to fit that what I’m discussing here, though, I’m writing this because I think the information I’m presenting here is a good start to educating yourself on bicycle fit, good enough to help you purchase a bike. This information should never take the place of that from trained professionals like Doctors, physical therapists, sports trainers, etc.

A little more fit detail is available here, at Sheldon Brown’s bicycling cornucopia.

Today will pick up where we left off yesterday – at stem length. The stem is what holds the handlebar to the bike.

Stem length by itself is useless. I could tell you “You need a 75mm stem” and that would be useless advice. The idea of having a certain stem length is in direct response to how far you want to reach forward from your saddle. Once you’ve set your saddle to position you properly over the pedals (see the previous post) then you need to lean forward to reach those handlebars. The biggest determining factor of how far you’ll stretch is “effective top tube length” which is the fully-level horizontal distance from the headset (where the stem attaches to the bike) to the seat post. In the old days, top tubes where actually in this position, but now a days, it’s more likely – especially with mountain bikes and comfort bikes – that the top tube itself will slope. In reality, it doesn’t matter for this discussion where the tube is, all we care about is the distance between the seat tube and the headset.

This distance should be relative to your torso length. There’s no formula, it’s more what you’re comfortable with. If you want an aggressive, stretched out cockpit with fast steering mostly by leaning the bike, then you’d want a bike with a long effective top tube length. If you want to sit more casually, very straight up, steer more with your hands, and your head up, then a shorter effective length is better. On stock bikes, you won’t have a choice of this length, but it will help you find a model or manufacturer that suits your style. It’s a way that bike designers can change the way the bike handles. Also, this length also contributes to the overall wheelbase of the bike (horizontal distance between wheel axles). Short wheelbases handle tighter, longer are a little more comfortable. A short wheelbase brings the possibility of toe overlap with the front wheel, when your front pedal is at the 3 o’clock position. If you’re buying a mountain bike, this is a big no-no. You won’t be able to maneuver around obstacles in slow speed situations. Toe overlap is less of a concern on road bike (my own has some). Consult your bike shop professional.

Finding the reach that’s best for you is very important to your continued comfort. Not for two mile rides, but for 10 and up, comfort is really important. For example, if you’re too stretched out, your upper body will tire prematurely, since it’ll be supporting more of your weight. You can also experience numbness in your hands and back problems (especially if you wear a bag) if you’re too stretched out. If you’re too upright, you’ll have trouble climbing well (your front end will lift up and the steering will get squirrelly), and your bottom could get sore from supporting too much of your weight on that little stretch of your crotch the seat interfaces with. If your knees come very close to your wrists when pedaling, you really need to get bike with a longer top tube.

Once you’ve found a bike with the right reach, you then can fine tune by selecting a longer or shorter stem, if necessary. Stems also come at different angles. If you want to be just a little more upright, select a stem with more rise. If you want to be more aggressive, get a stem with less rise, no rise, or even negative rise. The last is really only something you’d want if you had a bike with a really high front end, like a mountain bike with a lot of front suspension travel.

Next part in this chain is the handlebar. Mountain bikes and comfort bikes tend to have straight or flat bars, whereas your speedier road bikes tend to have what are called “drop bars” which are the curly style with lots of hand positions.

On flat bars (I’ll use this term for all styles of bars that aren’t racing-style drop bars), some are not flat at all. Very popular on comfort and hybrid bikes are “riser bars” which angle up and back a little, not unlike a mustache (these aren’t mustache bars, though. See below). If you need just a little more height, a riser might be ideal. Often a saddle height and bar height that are very close to even will prove the most comfortable. Your milage may very. A totally flat bar will steer faster, as will shorter bars. Bars that are too wide will feel squirrelly, or like you’re trying to steer a longhorn. Also, they may catch on trail foliage, or cars if you’re bravely weaving through traffic. So pick a bar that fits your style, but it shouldn’t be much wider (if any) than your shoulders. The angle of the bar is how much the bar is swept back at the ends, to give your handles a more natural grip. Ignore “bar ends” until you’ve become comfortable with your bike, then decide if they would benefit you.

There are variations on drop bars, but less than flat bars. Mostly width, again, pick one compatible with your shoulder width. To confuse things, you could also consider “mustache bars” which look as if a set of drop bars where run over and flattened by a truck.

Most people just take whatever comes on the bike for stem and handlebar. Really good shops will make sure yours fit you, and allow you to swap them if they do not. Many will do this at no charge, which is to be lauded.

Your hands make contact with the bar via grips (most bikes) or bar tape (drop bars). Most grips that come on a bike are nothing to write home about, but there are some really nice after-market grips available if you don’t like yours. Padding comfort and circumference are the two main characteristics you’d be evaluating. But before you think you should toss your grips or tape, make sure you’re wearing a good pair of bike gloves.

Aside from making us all look a little silly, gloves are as near necessity as a bike component can get. Get a pair, here’s why. First, they add padding, helping to alleviate pain and numbness. They help assist your grip on the bar when your hands are sweaty (and they will be) and they help wick the sweat away. They prevent blisters and calluses on your hands, and they save your skin if you hit the deck. If you’re riding in the dirt, you will fall. Also, when you ride in the woods, prickers and other foliage will scrape over your hands, gloves will help prevent cuts. If you’re riding the road and you do fall, you’ll be very happy to not pick asphalt from your skin. I have a nice Specialized pair that have gel pads strategically placed to alleviate pressure on to major veins in your hands. So far, I like them very much.

Lastly tonight, we’ll touch upon saddles. Notice I haven’t called them seats. There’s a difference. Seats are in cars, on buses, even recumbent bicycles. Saddles for upright bikes and horses. Get it? I guess the difference is back support.

Support is key here. The saddle that will come on your new bike will likely suck. The good news is that there are advanced and comfortable saddles out there, and they don’t cost much. My bike shop actually allowed me to swap mine out for a very nice saddle for no up-charge. I bought a Specialized Avatar, and I think it’s fabulous.

How can you tell a saddle is fabulous? First, you can’t judge a seat by touch. A soft, comfy saddle on the show room floor will not be comfortable on the road or trail after two miles. You want a saddle with firmer padding that doesn’t compress a ton under your weight. That’s because compression leads to more pressure pushing back up on your soft and tender bits. This will make riding very unpleasant.

Commonly, bikes will either come with ultra-cushy saddles for people in showrooms to push in with their thumbs and think “ooh, cushy!” or they’ll come with some harsh, unpadded, light plastic thing that will help keep the overall weight of the bike down. Neither are so great for your bum.

Recently, there’s been a boon of ergonomically designed saddles for both men and women. You should find a saddle that properly supports your weight on your sit bones. Have a seat on the floor with your legs in front of you. Feel those two bones pressing into the hard floor? Those are the bones designed to support your body’s weight when seated. In between those bones are several soft bits that need to be respected. Besides your anatomical, gender specific needs, there are veins that flow through there, too. Sit poorly and things will go numb. Many new seats have gender-specific cut outs so alleviate pressure on those parts. But they’ll only work if the parts supporting your sit bones are the proper width. Too narrow, soft bits squished anyhow, too wide, not enough sit bone support, and possible chaffing. Good seats will come in a selection of widths. My aforementioned Specialized seat, which was designed with input from a urologist, came in three widths. I was a medium.

Once you have a seat that fits, I highly suggest buying a pair of bike-specific shorts to go with that seat. These shorts should have a cycling pad in them, often called a chamois (it’s French – say “SHAM-mee”). Yeah, you could go all Spandex and be aerodynamic. But most likely, you’ll want to wear more normal looking clothes. I do this too. What your do is buy a set of bike shorts that are designed to go under other shorts, or buy a pair of shorts that have a removable padded liner.

Bike shorts (or at least the padded liner) should be worn without underwear. The pad is the underwear: it’s designed to pull sweat off those parts (which will be sweating) to cool them and to help prevent chaffing in this sensitive area. Also, all seams are strategically placed and flat to also prevent chaffing. Add underwear and you’ll up the chance for chaffing and lower the cooling efficiency greatly. It’ll take some getting used to, there’s a slight diaper sensation at first, but you’ll realize this is a comfortable way to ride a bike. Sadly, these are not cheap. You’ll probably spend at least $50 here.

If you wear baggy shorts over your bike shorts, be sure not to wear anything that would impede your ability to move around on the saddle, and most importantly, get off the saddle. Function before fashion. Also, if you’re going to mountain bike, remember you’ll need to slide off the back of the saddle (with your but hanging over the rear wheel) when the going get steep downhill. You don’t want to get your shorts caught on the nose of the saddle.

Alright, unless I forgot something, you should be set with the basics of fit, comfort and safety for buying your new bike. If you’re still riding a bike you already have, you might be able to make some adjustments to make your last while a little more comfortable and efficient.

Next time we’ll talk about all he different kinds of bikes you’ll have to choose from, and where you can ride them.