Category Archives: Tips

Tips on riding, mechanical stuff and anything else cycling related

Avoiding saddle sores

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, but never quite got around to it.  I’ve not been out on the bike as much in the last couple of weeks and the the area I’ll notice this the most is where you sit on your saddle.  There are really 3 things that significantly influence your ride comfort when you’re sitting in the saddle:

  1. chamois in your cycling shorts or bibs
  2. your saddle geometry
  3. your seat post

I recently wrote a review about some cycling shorts I received for Christmas.  After some time in the saddle,  I have to say I like the Performance Elite bib shorts the best, especially in colder weather.  The Hincapie shorts are pretty nice too, but they’re much lighter weight and I’m sure I’ll appreciate them more when the temperatures go above 90 here in Texas.

Your saddle is also pretty important when it comes to ride comfort.  Contrary to what seems intuitive, it’s not really about the amount of padding in the saddle.  In order to understand why you get sore on a ride, you’ll need to think about the contact points when you’re seated on the saddle.  While there’s a significant amount of weight on the top of the saddle, there’s also a fair amount of force exerted on the side of your saddle as you pedal and it’s this movement that usually causes the soreness.  If you’re riding a road bike like I do most of the time, your saddle’s up pretty high and this makes a difference too because you’re not going to want a wide, cushy saddle.  A wider saddle will put added pressure on the insides of your legs where they meet your pelvis.  Not everyone’s the same so a saddle that works for me in terms of width might not work for you.  Also, mens and women’s saddles are very different.  So how do you know what saddle will work best for you?  The best thing to do is take your bike down to your local bike shop and try a few of them.  Most bike shops have an exchange policy so if you discover your new saddle gives sores after 50 miles on longer rides, you can swap it out for another one that works best for you.  Make sure you check the flexibility of the saddle on the sides where it meets the insides of your legs near your pelvis.

Last, but not least, your seat post will have a significant influence on your ride comfort.  Last year, I upgraded my ride to a 2008 Trek Madone 5 series and I immediately noticed a huge difference in ride comfort over longer distances.  I’d been riding a Lemond Buenos Aires bike for many years and really liked the smooth ride the Reynolds 853 steel frame afforded me over longer distances.  Apparently, my raves about my new ride prompted my friend Jeff to go out and get a Madone as well and we rode together on the Wurst Ride.  While I was riding behind him I noticed something quite remarkable.  His entire seat post flexed from side-to-side while he was pedaling, and not just a little.  I asked him if mine did the same thing and he said he noticed the same thing on my bike.  I’ve not seen other bikes exhibit this degree of flexibility.  Of course, one look at the Madone’s seat post and you’ll see it’s totally different from most other bikes.  The seat post actually goes over the bike frame instead of sliding into it.  I don’t understand all the physics involved, but my observations indicate it has a big impact on my overall ride comfort.  Different bike manufacturers use different techniques to smooth out your rides and it’s important to understand what their doing before you drop some serious coin on a bike.  If you’re in the market for a new bike, do some research and ask lots of questions.  A good bike shop will know about these features and be able to explain them to you.

I managed to rack up about 4K miles on my new bike in a little over 6 months of riding.  That’s almost double what I did the previous year on my old bike.  I’ve got a Selle Italia Trans Am Flite saddle on my Lemond and the Bontrager Affinity saddle that came with my Madone.  Both are very comfortable over long distances.  Saddles have changed dramatically over the last couple of years, so if your saddle is more than 2 or 3 years old, it’s worth checking out what’s available now.

The cool gear channel

You won’t find it on the array of channels offered by your local cable company. If you’re a regular reader or follow me on twitter/facebook you know I spend a fair amount of time on my bike, much of it riding solo.  It’s not that I’m anti-social or don’t like riding with others, it just works out that way.  It’s hard to find a group of riding buddies that ride at exactly the same pace as you do and have exactly the same training needs or goals.  Even when I ride with a group, we often ride at apart for a portion of the ride.  The larger the group, the more likely it is that I’ll find someone who rides at my pace, or reasonably close to it.  That’s one of the reasons I like organized rides.   Other reasons include seeing friends I don’t get to ride with very often, meeting new friends and getting the opportunity to check out the gear other cyclists use.  The last reason is pretty important because there are many options for cyclists and limited local channels where you can find gear.  This isn’t a knock on the local bike shop (I’m a huge fan), it’s simply a matter of economics.  The shops can really only afford to stock items that most people will buy, which limits the number of specialty items they can carry.

The internet has created the channel for these specialty items.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine how a product will work on your bike by just looking at a picture.  Sure, Youtube videos have enhanced the ability of the makers of specialty items to demonstrate their wares, but there’s never a substitute for being able to see the product up close or, better yet, see  it being used on the road by a cyclist.  That’s where a large organized ride provides vendors and riders to experience these specialty products first hand.  There’s lots of time to check stuff out as you’re riding in a group for miles and miles and miles.  Sure, the scenery is nice, but after a while, your mind wanders and that’s when I use this time to see what gear others are using.  Here’s a couple of things I saw on the Austin Cycle Camp / Bicycle Sportshop Resolution Ride a few days ago.

Tim and I at the start of the Resolution Ride

It should no secret that I like unique and somewhat outlandish jerseys, after all, many of my cycling friends find me wearing a jersey that looks like something from the movie Close Encounters of the 3rd kind.  But that’s exactly the point. Unless you’re part of a team, why wear the same jersey or kit everyone else has? It’s important to me that my jersey is easily visible and that it stands out.  I ran into my twitter friend Tim and he was sporting his Test Dummy jersey.  I love this jersey.  I can also relate to the sense of humor that resulted in him getting this jersey.  We both recently experienced crashes that required a visit to the emergency room.  However, this jersey is probably more appropriate for my youngest son, who’s got preprinted forms at the local ER.

Velovie Vitesse SE

On the ride I spent a fair amount of time riding behind a bike I’d never seen before.  While many bikes look alike to most folks, I’ve come to appreciate their subtle differences and this one caught my eye.  It was a Velovie Vitesse and I’d never seen one of these before.  I asked the rider about their bike and she described it as a Cervelo competitor.  I’ve always thought Cervelo bikes were cool, but some of that probably had  to do with the fact that their designer’s name, Gerard Vroomen, just makes them sound fast.  Anyway, I checked out Velovie and found out that they only sell their bikes online.  In fact, they have a rather interesting program where you can purchase a previously owned Velovie at a discounted price to make it more reasonable to try one of their bikes.  These bikes are all less than 2 years old and are often bikes that other Velovie owners have traded in for different Velovie models.  I like this concept because it’s a smart business decision.  It allows the company to build up brand loyalty and differentiate themselves.  It works because the rider I spoke with was very passionate about how much she liked her ride.  Although it sounds French, Velovie is a US company based in Arizona.

The Italian Road Bike Mirror

On the way back from Andice, I rode with a group of riders for a few miles until they dropped me.  I like to ride fast, but this group kicked it into another gear about 5 miles in and I decided I wasn’t willing to hurt myself to hang with them. It’s always a bit unnerving to ride in a tight bunch at speed when we’re 3 or 4 abreast.  One thing I’d noticed on the way out was that the group tended to decelerate rapidly at the base of every climb.  If you’re not paying attention, this can be a disaster because invariably, someone will clip a wheel and all of a sudden it’s mass carnage.  Sure enough, this happened just after we passed FM 3405 on our way back.  Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. Shortly thereafter I passed a rider who had one of these mirrors that was apparently part of his handlebars.  I slowed to ask him about it and he told me it was The Italian Road Bike Mirror.  What’s cool about this mirror is that its barely larger than your bar end and doesn’t get in the way.  Yet it provides you critical visibility to what’s in your blind spot on that side of the bike.  This is crucial when there’s a crash in the group you’re riding with because you won’t have time to turn around to see if you have room to go left or right.  That’s why you often see a bunch of riders go down in a race after one of them falls.  The results are never pretty.  I really like this product and will probably get one.  I thought I’d wait until I need some new bar tape because you have to wrap your bar tape around the mirror to fasten it to your handlebars.  Very cool!

I think if I owned a local bike shop, I’d give riders an opportunity to suggest products they liked on a ride that I sponsored.  What a great opportunity to find out what my prospective customers would buy.

Have you found an cool gear on any of your rides that you’d like to share?  Let me know.

P.S.  Thanks Ray for that great picture you snapped of Tim & I.

What to consider when planning your route

I ran into my town’s police chief and his wife yesterday at a  local coffee shop while waiting for my ride partners to meet up for the ride we had planned for that day.  I chose to ride my bike to the coffee shop and got there a little early so I could enjoy some coffee.  Our police chief is an avid runner and his wife is a triathelete.  We were chatting a bit and she expressed surprise that I had ridden my bike to the coffee shop.    She asked what route I took and was again surprised by my answer because the route was a 4 lane divided road with no shoulder.  She asked me if I was worried about motorists.  I told her that I wasn’t too worried, especially at that time of day and I was riding with my lights flashing.

I thought about our conversation later in the day and some of the excellent posts by my twitter friend, Tim on the subject of bicycle safety while out on the road.  If you’ve not read any of Tim’s posts, you’re really missing out.  He spends a fair amount of time commuting around Austin on his bike along with volunteering his time for the Yellow Bike Project.  You gotta love a guy like that! Anyway, back to the subject of route planning.  I’m pretty comfortable riding in traffic and would consider myself a pretty experienced rider.  So here are some of the things I consider when I decide to ride a route from my house.

Traffic Density

I try to avoid riding in heavy traffic when there is no bike lane or shoulder.  There are several reasons for this.  First, it’s no secret that heavy traffic increases the stress level of motorists.  This stress level leads to frustration and sometimes even aggressive behavior.  I worry a lot about aggressive behavior because as a cyclist, I know I will lose against a several thousand pound vehicle. Second, the last thing a cyclist needs to do is impede traffic any further because it’s unlikely motorists will find room to get around me if I’m going slower than they are.  This only adds to their frustration.

Road Construction

I try to avoid roads under construction for several reasons.   One of the most important reasons is that drivers will be distracted by workers, equipment, flashing lights and other obstacles.  This reduces the likelihood that they will see me and that’s not something I want to chance.  One of the other big issues are the barriers you often find that are there to protect the workers.  Unfortunately, these barriers literally put a cyclist between a rock and a hard place.  Not some place I want to be when there’s a lot of traffic.  Last, but not least, construction zones often have a lot of debris that I then have to avoid or, worse, gets kicked up into my path.

Speed Limits

As a cyclist, it’s really important to pay attention to the speed differential between yourself and motorists.  The higher the differential, the bigger the buffer I will want to have between motorists and myself.    Combine a high differential with either of the other two conditions I mentioned and you end up with a lethal combination for a cyclist.    That’s why I prefer routes where the speed limit is 40 Mph or less if there’s no shoulder.  I also look for routes where there’s more than one lane in a particular direction.  This gives motorists a clear path to get around me and give me the space I need.

Overall Visibility

I can’t stress enough how important visibility is.  There’s  couple of things you can do to improve your odds of being seen.  First, wear bright clothing.   Consider your surroundings when choosing your colors.  Colors such as yellow, orange or white are always good choices.   If it’s cloudy, I’d avoid white also.  In low light conditions or at night, be sure that your clothing has reflective patterns.  Second, consider using one of those red flashing LED lights.  I’m partial to the Serfas TL-ST rear light because it is easily mounted on a variety of places on my bike, including on the road side of the rear triangle.  It has several light flash patterns that are all very visible.

You can’t always count on bike lanes and wide shoulders, so hopefully you’ll find these tips useful when planning your next route.  With a little forethought, it’s easier than you think to find a route that gets you where you need to go even if there are no bike lanes.

What to wear, what to wear?

Choosing what to wear is not something I spend a lot of time thinking about most of the year.  That’s because I’m usually wearing a bib shorts and a short sleeve cycling jersey.  I’ve got some light weight socks that keep my feet from getting too hot.  However, now we’re getting to the tricky part of the year because it’s not uncommon to see 30 or even 40 degree temperature swings in a day and 20-30 degree temperatures during a longer ride.  For example, it was about 35 degrees at the beginning of the Wurst Ride and 70 by the time I finished.  So, how do you dress for that?

The answer is carefully selected layers.  I’ll also under dress a bit so I’m not overheating or carrying too much clothing with me later on in the ride.  The first thing I start with is a base layer underneath my cycling jersey.  This is equivalent to some of the higher end thermal undershirts you could also use for skiing, snowboarding or any other winter sport.  It’s important to find an undershirt that wicks moisture, so I’ll generally go with a synthetic blend or silk.  Whatever you do, don’t use that old-school cotton.  As long as the temperature is above 52 degrees, I’ll go with this as a base layer, my bib shorts and a short sleeve cycling jersey.  I’ll also switch to some warmer socks.

If the temperature drops below that, I’ll add a wind jacket.  There’s a couple of things you want to look for in a jacket that will add to its versatility.  The first feature that’s important are sleeves that are removable.  This allows you to remove them once it warms up, yet keep out the wind when it’s cold.  The other feature that’s pretty important are vents under the arms and across the shoulder area of your back.  This will allow the heat and moisture you generate to dissipate.  I got a transformer jacket from Performance Bike that I’m extremely happy with.  The sleeves are removable and when removed, there’s mesh opening across my upper back that allows heat and moisture to escape.  It’s also got a nifty back pocket with a strap on the inside that allows you to reverse it so that the entire jacket will fit in that pocket.  You can then strap it around your waste.  I give this jacket an ‘A’ for versatility.  It’s wind proof and moisture resistant so if you’re caught out in the rain it will keep most of the rain out as well.  Adding the jacket allows me to ride in temperatures down to about 40 degrees for long periods of time.

If I’m donning the jacket, I’m also going to switch from my regular cycling gloves to my wind gloves.  These are light weight full finger gloves that protect my hands and fingers from the wind.  I’m partial to my Zonda’s from Performance Bike. If it’s below 40, I’ll consider switching to my Pearl Izumi winter gloves.  I’ve had these for years and they’re very warm.  I’ll also be donning some shoe covers.  Like the name implies, they go over the outside of your regular cycling shoes and are designed to retain heat so your toes stay warm and toasty.  There’s a variety of options out there, but if you look for neoprene, you’ll be pretty safe with whatever brand you get.  At this point I’ll also consider a skullcap to keep my head and ears warm.  You lose a lot of heat through your head area, so this is a good way to retain heat and avoid the chills.

Once the temperature drops below freezing, I’ll add another layer underneath my jacket.  This layer is a jacket, but it’s more like wearing a sweater.  I’ll also add some cycling tights to go over my bib shorts.  It’s important not to let your legs get too cold, so I’ll usually add the tights once the temperature drops below 40 and will be staying there.  I’ll also consider a wearing a bandana over my face or some sort of face mask to keep my face from getting hypothermia.

If all those clothes don’t keep warm enough, then it’s too cold to ride.  In general, I will try to wear as little as possible if I know the temperature will be rising later in the ride.  That way I don’t have to carry all the clothes I peel off during the ride.  Cold weather doesn’t bother me too much, so your temperature thresholds will probably be different from mine.  It’s important to have a strategy and to keep track of your thresholds so you’re well prepared.  I often bring more clothes than I need to the start of a ride and then make it a ride time decision.  My friends have occasionally benefited from my over-prepared attire selections.  What’s your strategy?

Ride like a Texan, give others a friendly wave!

I’m not a native Texan.  I moved here from New York a little over 25 years ago.  At the time I worked for a Ft. Worth Texas based company.  I remember thinking how different the executives were that they sent up from Ft. Worth to work with us.  I’d lived just outside of New York City for most of my life, so these guys were different, very different.  Now I had a pretty diverse background already because I immigrated with my family to New York from Germany.   And, while New York is a pretty diverse city, I was clearly different from most of my friends growing up.  So I get different.  But these guys were really different and I didn’t understand them at first.  Then I visited Texas and everything changed.

Sure, I’d heard stories about Texas and as a New Yorker, you are almost obligated to poke fun at cow pokes from Texas.  But now, I was a New Yorker in Texas…it was a bit intimidating because you always hear stories about how they feel about Yankees.  However, what struck me the most about my first visit to Texas was how friendly everyone was.  In fact, they were almost as friendly as the folks in North Carolina, where my sister went to college.  I had fun.    So much fun that I thought about moving to Ft. Worth, Texas.  A colleague of mine had already transferred to corporate headquarters so I tried to do the same.  I couldn’t quite swing it, but I ended up in Austin.  Austin was much different from Ft. Worth.  Where else do they celebrate Eeyore’s birthday?

Austin was also a very friendly place and I love it here.  People waved when you were driving down the road.  Over the years, Austin grew and acquired lots of transplants from other congested parts of the country.  Along with it came traffic and more aggressive driving.  As a cyclist, aggressive driving really bothers me because I’m no match for a motorcycle, car or truck.   I’ve noticed that this appears to be a problem only in very congested cities, such as Austin, Houston and Dallas.  People still drive friendly in the smaller towns in Texas.  They also still wave as you pass them.

As a cyclist, I follow the rules of the road religiously.  I don’t want to be one of those cyclists that antagonizes other people on the road by blowing through red lights and stop signs.  I usually ride with my lights flashing (even during the day) to improve my visibility to my fellow motorists.  I also wave at motorists who stop to let me ride by.  I appreciate this behavior because they are being considerate by not making me brake to slow down as they pull out into the road or make a turn.  I’m usually rewarded with a wave back or a smile.  Regardless, I want to acknowledge their decision with a positive action and let them know that I, as a cyclist, really appreciate their consideration.  I secretly hope that by riding like a friendly Texan, that they will continue to offer this consideration to other cyclists on the road.   You often hear the words, “Share the road!”.  In my own way, I feel like I’m sharing the road when I wave because I’m letting them know that I recognize their decision to share the road.  In return, I make a point of not blocking a turn lane at a red light, waving motorists on at a stop sign and generally making sure I’m not obstructing traffic whenever possible.  When I’m driving my car, I try to do the same thing.  I may get frustrated once in a while with an inattentive driver, but I never act out my frustration using my car.  It’s dangerous and has no business on the road.

I hope my actions will rub off on other cyclists and motorists.  I don’t much in return.  Just a little thought and consideration.  If we all took our time and offered our consideration to other users of the road, our roads would be a much safer place.  So help me out here, ride like a Texan.  The next time you a driver waiting patiently until you pass by, give them a friendly wave and a smile.  It’ll make their day and hopefully they will want to do it again.  While you’re at it, wave at the other cyclists and runners on the road as well.  It’s fun and will bring a smile to that person’s face.  If you’re like me, it’ll make you smile on the inside as well.

Things you should never be without while riding

I went out for a ride yesterday and forgot a very important piece of equipment:  my Road ID.  A few months back I probably wouldn’t have worried about this, but today it unsettled me.  About 2 months ago I had a bad wreck on my bike and ended up needing my Road ID.  I started thinking about some of the other critical equipment that would prevent me from riding.

helmentThe first is my helmet.  I was wearing my helmet when I crashed.  The EMT who worked on me told me I would not be alive had I not been wearing that helmet.  All you have to do is look at what’s left of my helmet to know that this is true.  Aside from the obvious damage you see, the helmet was cracked bad enough that I can no longer use it.  What you don’t see is the dent in the back which I suspect is the part of my head that hit first, most likely knocking me out.  I then flipped again and landed face first with such force I still have numbness in several areas of my face.  To make matters worse, I appeared to have slid on my face almost 20 yards.

This leads me to the next thing I don’t like riding without, sunglasses.  I happened to be wearing a pair of Oakley Straight Jackets with Iridium lenses.  I prefer the Iridium lenses because they work in a variety of light conditions, especially in limited light conditions.   I was sad when my Oakley glasses were scratched beyond repair.  It’s hard to see, but the frames took a real beating along with the one lens, but the frame didn’t crack and the lens didn’t shatter.  I am very grateful because I most likely would have had some serious damage to my eye and eye socket.  I was in pretty rough shape when the EMT started working on me, so much so that they initially thought they would need to transport me to a trauma center.  Only after I started coming around did they decide to take me to the nearest ER.

One of my friends sent me this video after the fact.  I have to admit, I’m even more impressed now with Oakley’s products.  My own experience taught me a valuable lesson: never skimp on eye protection.  It’s more than protecting against sunlight, too.  It’s about protecting your eyes from physical damage while riding or in case of an accident.  I have some replacement glasses, but they aren’t the same and I worry that I might not be as lucky next time.

I’m hoping to get another pair of Oakleys because I think they are something I shouldn’t be riding without, just like my Road ID and my helmet.  Aside from your bike and some water, what items won’t you ride without?

Avoiding a CO2 blowout

I was chatting over lunch today with Bike Noob and Loving the Bike about fixing flats.  Loving the Bike indicated he had just picked up a couple of CO2 cartridges to carry instead of a pump and Bike Noob made a comment about experiencing a CO2 blowout.  I recommended he practice before getting caught out on the road, which is the same advice I got from the LBS, who convinced me to make the switch.

I also shared with them a little tip I learned through experience.  Every time you fill up a tire with a CO2 cartridge to maximum pressure, there’s always a little bit of CO2 left in the cartridge.  This little bit is useful for fixing your next flat because it allows you to fill up your tire to some pressure, but not so much pressure that if your tire wasn’t seated, it would blow your tube out the side.  You can then inspect the tire to make sure it’s clinching properly before blowing it up to maximum pressure with your fresh CO2 cartridge.

So, I hope this helps you the next time you’re on the side of the road with a flat. Don’t forget to take your spent cartridges and tubes with you and recycle them if you can.