Saturday, January 31, 2009

Beginner's Page #5 Fixing a Flat

Back when I was a kid, bicycles had big tires and tubes. Flats from goat heads were so frequent that to save money, we would just use a tire patch on the tube. Take the wheel off with a pair of pliers, use a screw driver to pry the tire off the wheel, and pull the tube out. You would pump up the tube and dip it in a pail of water, rotating it until you would see little air bubbles escaping from the tube. You have found the hole. Mark the hole by poking a match stick in the hole. After drying off the tube, you would scrape the tube with the top of the tire patch can (looked like a carrot grater) to roughen the surface, apply the glue, strip off the protecting strip from the patch, and hold the patch on tightly until the glue dried. If you were smart, you would test the tube again in the pail of water to see if it still leaked. If you were not smart, you would put the tube back in the tire; mash the tire into the wheel and air up the tube; then ride it for a few miles to see if the tire would retain air or go flat again. To save money, this routine was repeated each flat until the tube had so many patches on it that it would feel as if you were constantly riding over a cattle guard. When it would get that bumpy, or you were putting patches over patches, you’d buy a new tube. Funny…I don’t ever remember buying a new tube.

Man, have times changed. Patch a road bike tube? Unthinkable. Throw the thing away and put on a new one. But wait, that is what the bike shops do. What if you are riding in the country and have a flat? Now, I’ve grown up, at least in size, have gone brain dead, and am suddenly scared to death of changing a tube. Why? Among other things, I heard that you needed special tools instead of a screw driver. That means it’s tricky and technical, right? What if you get the tire off and then can’t get it back on? What if you don’t know what you are doing and look like a dope? So if you have a flat, take it to the bike shop, and let them fix it.

Taking the flat to the bike shop worked for a good six months. In the meantime, I watched in fascination when a biker got a flat and just fixed it right there on the side of the road! He would do something to get the tire off. It seemed that the front tire was a little easier than the back because the back had all those gadgets for the chain plus the gears. Then he would pull out his special tools, strip out the tube, put in a new one, and air up the tire. Sometimes a person would have a little hand-pump or a hand-held canister to air up the tire. It all was mystical and looked like a magic show with slight of hands. I was in awe but still afraid to try it myself. So I did the next best thing and went to the internet and watched videos on how to change the tubes. I don’t know how many times I watched “experts” change their tubes, but it seems that when they would get to a tricky part or technical part, they would go real fast and mumble. After hours and hours of watching and reading how to change a flat, I think I finally understood the basics, but wasn’t ready to try it myself.

After about six months of riding, we finally broke down and bought some of those tire changing special tools. Put them in the saddle bag, and there they stayed. It dawned on us that the hand pump would not be available if we had a flat on the road, so we bought one of those baby hand pumps. Put it in the saddle bag and there it stayed. Oh yes, we bought a spare tube. Put it in the saddle bag, and there it stayed. We were into touring in different cities and in constant fear that we would have a flat. Just about before every tour, we would take our bikes to the bike shop and have them checked over----please no flats. And as luck would have it, no flats on the tours.

Somewhere along the line, I overheard a person say that it took a lot of strength to air a tire with the hand held small pump. So, when we got to HHH we took advantage of the wholesale prices and bought us a fancy hand held CO2 canister dispenser. We bought extra canisters and some extra tubes. We were ready for a flat and knew if we just stood on the side of the road and looked helpless that some biker would take pity on us and change our flat---we had all the tools and paraphernalia required---just not the skill. As luck would have it; no flat on that ride either. Eight months of riding and still no flats away from home.

Fast forward to our eleventh month of riding. We were in our hotel room the morning of "May be Hot, Maybe Not" at Port Aransas. As I was airing up the tires a loud rush of air come from the stem. Remember back when we were talking about airing up the tires and I said don’t wiggle the nozzle to get it off the stem? I can reveal now that you can break the little air flow blocker by wiggling the nozzle off. Swoosh, all the air goes out.

We had a little extra time before the start of the ride, so I was forced into attempting to change a flat for the first time. It was on Christine’s bike and we had just put on new tires. So? The tire was tight on the wheel. I could just barely get that gouger between the wheel and tire but it was so tight that I couldn’t get the tire started off the wheel. I pried so hard I broke off the tip of the tool. Only one thing left to do. Go to the ride location and find a bike repair support person. At the registration desk, we learned that there were no bike shops represented nor support personnel for maintenance. A lady standing by the desk said if we just needed to change a tube, she could do it for us and would meet us outside. We never saw her again unless she was the lady doubled over laughing with her buddies.

We went back to the truck and pulled the bikes off and stared at the flat tire. That didn’t help, so as luck would have it, two guys were right beside us and I got up the nerve to ask if they knew how to change a flat. One of them said he did and that he would help. Although it was early morning in November, our Good Samaritan worked up a healthy sweat getting the tire off. I didn’t feel quite so bad--instead of standing two inches tall I rose to three when he had trouble. Finally he got it fixed, and it was still before start time. I shook the guy’s hand and pressed two beers of money into his hand. Although he protested, I convinced him that I would like for him to have a beer on me.

Back at home, we bought another set of tire changing tools to replace my broken one...and dreaded the day we would have a flat that we could not just take to the bike shop to get fixed. Needless to say, my confidence was not boosted by the Port Aransas event.

Lo and behold. One day we had a flat right in our garage. I had plenty of time, all the recommended tools, and no one to see me perform. I unlocked the brake (all that watching the videos finally paid off), and took the front wheel off. It was a struggle but with two sets of tools (I didn’t throw the broken one away) I finally got the tire off the wheel, pulled out the tube, followed the video instructions to a tee, aired the tire up with my hand held CO2 canister, got the wheel back on the bike, and did an NFL hot dog dance of victory.

Fame, success, and fortune are fleeting wisps of smoke. The tire was flat again the next day so had to take it to the bike shop after all. I must have forgotten about making sure you don’t pinch the tube while airing up the tire or had one of those little wheel faults that need a protector strip between the wheel and tube or something or another…anyway it was flat.

But since that time and my new found confidence, I have been able to change a few more flats. So if any of the beginners are reluctant to ride too far out of their neighborhood for fear of a flat, come on and ride with Christine and me. I can guarantee you a good long rest period while I struggle to do something simpler than what I did as a kid.

Note: Since the time I wrote the above Christine and I have attended the Pink Wrench class offered by the YMCA, Randy Rangel, and volunteers (hey: real men wear pink!).
Now we both know how to properly change a front and back tire.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Beginner's Page #4 Bicycle Seats and the Quest for Comfort

In past beginners’ pages, it has been easy to laugh at oneself over not knowing how to air up a tire or the initial trauma of wearing spandex shorts. But the current topic is a serious matter. Since a 130mm gel and air cushion combination chamois in bicycle shorts hasn't yet been developed, we have to search for comfort elsewhere. And where would you search for seat comfort other than a bicycle seat. Keeping comfortable on the seat or keeping the seat comfortable is an on-going quest. To prove my point, raise your hand if you have more than one saddle per bike in the garage. If you raised your hand, this article probably isn’t for you as you have already ridden for more than an hour on a torture device that feels like a narrow concrete brick designed in secret by mad scientists working for Wyeth Pharmaceutical. (For the younger generation, Wyeth makes Preparation H)

Before we get too far into the quest, it is time to bore you with trivia. I titled the article as being about bicycle seats. This was so I could communicate with the masses about the subject. Remember the confusion of a clipless pedal having clips and the clip pedal didn’t have clip capability? Well, a bicycle seat is not a seat; technically, the bicycle seat is called a saddle. A “seat” is something you sit on, and is designed to bear essentially your entire weight For example, recumbent bicycles have "seats," but conventional upright bicycles have saddles. A saddle is intended to carry some, but not all of your weight. The rest of your weight is mainly carried by your legs, and some by your hands and arms. So, purists insist that a bicycle has a saddle--not a seat.

Historically, the first bicycles had "saddles" probably by analogy to horses. A horse has a saddle, thus a bicycle has a saddle. But that was long ago. A reasonable distinction is that one sits on a seat but straddles a saddle. From this, the racing bicycle seat should be called a saddle but most of the alternative seats should be called seats. I don’t know who is on first, but I sit on a saddle since there is no way I would put all my weight on that concrete block.

The quest for comfort is not gender specific. I call it a quest as a quest is a journey towards a goal used in mythology and literature as a plot. The objects of a quest require great exertion by the hero and the overcoming of many obstacles. The quest for bicycle saddle comfort is not gender specific so both the hero and heroine are looking for relief. Only if one hasn’t sat in the saddle for hours at a time will one be wondering, "Relief from what?"

Both men and women suffer from a “num bum”. There are many, many, many problems that can be experienced from sitting in the saddle for long periods, but since this series is really to interest the beginner in riding more frequently and longer distances, to dwell on soreness, chafing, numbness, circulation impairment, medical problems for men, bruising, rawness, and such perhaps is counterproductive.

So how do you avoid the problems, obtain the perfect saddle, and live happily ever after? If there were an easy answer, this would be two sentences long. “Men, buy Perfecto Brand saddle. Women, buy Perfecta Brand saddle.” But the perfect saddle is a quest, a mythological story, a literary goal.

As Paul Harvey would say, “Page Two--Begin the Quest”. Since there is no such thing as a perfect saddle, the best one can do is to try to make an informed search. Every person is different; and a friend may swear by a certain saddle; and you get it and swear at it. So unfortunately you can not just buy the same thing your friend or hero/heroine uses and live happily ever after.

So here are some pointers to make an informed guess as to which saddle is going to hurt the least. Experts say (to me an expert is someone who is able to sit on a saddle for over five hours and can go above a 15 MPH average) first make sure your bicycle is a correct fit for you. If the top tube is too long and you have to bend over to the point that your chest is on the top tube and only your finger nails are latched onto the handlebar, you will never be comfortable in a saddle. So make sure you have the correctly sized bike.

Thank goodness most saddles are black so we do not have to worry about color coordinating our saddles, but they do come in different widths. Yep, some are more narrow or wide than others so you have to know your butt size. Experts--not I--say that generally women need a wider seat than men. They quickly explain that it has to do with child bearing capabilities more than anything else. What I am talking about is the width of your SIT BONES, not our relative butt width. The science of determining what size of saddle you need is to lie on your back with your knees bent and feel your sit bones. Preferably you do this alone unless required to do it during a Truth or Dare game, and then an audience is OK. But (no pun intended) seriously, feel for the outside edges of the bony prominences in your rear end. Then measure the distance between your sit bones starting at the outside edge of one and measuring to the outside edge of the other. (See what I was talking about with women needing a wider seat?) Write this number down and bring it with you when you go shopping. Then see if Randy or Justin can keep a straight face when you tell them you have a 5-8 inch butt. But if you want to impress them, convert the measurement into millimeters. A saddle will frequently show the width such as 155 mm or 175 mm.
Now that you have the correct bike size and correct saddle width, you can start showing out, like looking down a gun barrel when deciding to buy a rifle or not. You hold the saddle in you hands and look down upon it. From the nose to the rear the saddle shouldn’t flair too gradually or it will cause chafing. The nose should be narrow and abruptly widen at the back. This is called saddle transition. Then look at it from the side. Saddles may be concave or flat. Concave saddles may cause increased pressure of the sit bones when riding in an aero position whereas flatter saddles allow more adjustment without drastic changes in pressure. All this is looking at the saddle profile. Throw these terms around while shopping and act like you know what you are doing. You are still going to have a 50/50 chance of getting a comfortable saddle without regard to its being concave, convex, or flat. Why am I negative? Watch the riders on the Tour de France. They are the best riders, have the best equipment, have expert trainers, yet they too rise out of the saddle letting circulation get back into their “bottoms.” If there were a perfect saddle, they would be using it.

But wait, there are more considerations. While you are looking at the saddle transition and saddle profile, see if the saddle has a groove down the center. If so, you snap your finger and say “Groovy, man”. Meaning, in the late 1990’s, manufacturers began producing saddles with holes or channels in the middle of the saddle to reduce pressure in areas besides the sit bones. Note that the position of the cutout is different in men’s and women’s saddle, so make sure you get the right one. Now for the good news and bad news. Good news: Some studies have shown that saddle cutouts can improve oxygen supply to the genitals. Bad news: Some studies have shown little difference between saddles with or without cutouts.

I can attest to the above findings. I have used concave, convex, flat, grooved, gelled and high name recognition saddles, and my bottom has slept right through some tours with beautiful country sides and scenery. Problem is it is not a blissful sleep. There is the tossing and turning, rolling to one side or the other--just a miserable sleep. I am waiting for the Sleep Number Mattress Company to go into bike saddle production and manufacture a Sit Number Saddle. Then if my bottom continues to go to sleep, I can just turn the saddle to a “54” and enjoy my bike ride.
So, Beginners, come on out and join us on the rides even if it hurts. Remember, it only hurts for a little while--then you go numb.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tour de Burma Weekend

Pedal Through The Pines

Pedal Through The Pines
Bastrop, Texas
March 2, 2008

Pedal thru the Pines is a must for recreational as well as serious riders. For the recreational riders, to see the scenery going through the Lost Pines of Central Texas makes the trip worth while. For the serious rider, the ride lives up to its reputation as being a climbing event. The first 15 to 20 miles will tell you where you are in your fitness. Both Bastrop and Buescher State Parks have extremely steep hills that will test the mettle of any cyclist.

For the recreational rider, the third chain ring is a must. Almost everyone who was pushing his bike up the hills had only two chain rings and would stall out. There are lots of steep rollers in the parks, and after leaving Buescher State Park there is a 1.5 mile climb up Rocky Hill which is the highest point in the area. Rocky Hill is a turn around point, or turn right to continue the long ride. The rest of the ride has long climbs and rolling hills. It's challenging but not to the point of panting and the tongue hanging out.

The estimated 1300 riders had the choice of 15, 27, 50, or 65-mile routes. Even though we had staggered starts the narrow roads in the intensely hilly state park made avoiding folks of varying skill-levels a real challenge. We rode the 65 mile course. The roads and shoulders were in great shape. The temperature hit 78, and wind was out of the SW at 10 miles per hour. The wildflowers were beginning to bloom. The ranches were green and peaceful. The course was safe and well organized. There was a lot of sag support with great food/drink selection at the rest stops including chocolate chip cookies. The volunteers went out of their way to be friendly and good natured. It was the first time we’d seen Ride Marshals who rode their bicycles along the courses always attentive to participants’ needs or any safety concerns.

One rest stop in a little town called Serbin was really great. There was the Wendish museum, one of the oldest Lutheran churches in Texas, a little Lutheran elementary school by the church, and an old cemetery.

On down the road was another rest stop that was outside a small general store. We were deep in rural Texas.

The last part of the ride was on Highway 71 with a lot of traffic. The shoulders were wide and well maintained, however. The turn off from 71 in Bastrop to the finish area was tricky but wasn’t quite as dangerous as the finish of Steam N Wheels in Abilene---but that is another story.

Note: Pedal Through the Pines will be March 7, 2009 this year. Information may be obtained at Registration is $30 until Tues Feb 24 and then it goes to $40. On-line registration will be available until Mar 5 at 7pm.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Beginners Page 3 Style, Spandex, Helmets and Stuff

Style, Spandex,Helmets, and Stuff
By Roy Jones

Some people are very fashion oriented right at the start of their biking adventure, and some people just let things evolve. I am an evolver.

I am not sure if I have mentioned that my first bike was a $69 hill bike special from Wal-Mart. I know it was a hill bike because I was never able to climb a mountain on the bike so it wasn’t a mountain bike. I just needed something to tag along with Christine as she rode around the neighborhood as part of her exercise routine. So I didn’t need a fancy bike, nor did I need any special equipment. Baseball hat, T-shirt, Bermuda shorts, tennis shoes and white socks was as stylish as I needed. Helmet? I wasn’t going to look like a little league baseball player in front of my neighbors. T-shirt was fine unless we were going to ride across Knickerbocker and into the Bentwood area and then I might put on a polo shirt with a collar to look nice.

But as spring passed and it got warmer (and we could pedal for more than 5 miles) my T-shirt or polo would get sweaty. So one day Chris presented me with a blue (otherwise she knew I wouldn’t wear it) wicking T-shirt. Now, a wicking T-shirt is supposed to wick the sweat away from the skin and put it on the outside of the shirt so that the 8 mph wind could evaporate it. I was so impressed by the manufacturer’s claim that I wore that shirt for months. It didn’t matter that I still sweat, I was stylish.

As soon as we were able to pedal more than 10 miles, my Bermuda shorts were not working out well. (Been there, done that?) Christine of course had the solution. YOU WANT ME TO WEAR WHAT? The only way you will get me into those is if I have a kilt around my waist. But she slipped into a sporting store and bought me one of those things that look like a spandex swim suit. So it was time to wear those rubberized shorts that hug you so tightly that it squeezes all the fat cells up so that it makes the stomach flow over the waist band. The first time I wore them I would ride only in the alley ways in the neighborhood. What if I were seen by someone I know? Then I was forced into the public by joining the club and starting to ride on Mondays at Mary E. Lee Park. Guess what? All the guys and gals had on those black tights. To my relief I just blended in. As soon as we started riding, nobody saw me anyway as I was at the back of the pack.

By the time I was squeezed into some riding shorts, I already had a helmet. As soon as I could go over 10 miles per hour I was willing to protect my head. I had glanced at some of the high-end prices for helmets and fainted. But we were at Wal-Mart one day and they had some reasonably priced helmets. I have mentioned over the past how nice the club members are. All their helmets said things like Giro, Bell, Garneau, Trek or such. Not one person pointed to my head giggling that my helmet had TRAILBLAZER plastered on the side. Thank goodness I never had to test if the crash protection on a Trailblazer was as good as a Giro, etc. I mentioned I was an evolver; I now strut around with Trek plastered on my helmet and still nobody notices (probably too aghast at my squeezed out cellulose hanging over my waist band).

And why can you see my squashed cells? Real jerseys--I had evolved from the blue wicking T-shirt to a real jersey with THREE pockets in the back--are notorious for being small. They are form fitting--cuts wind resistance, don'tcha know. Some of the catalogs warn you that if you think you wear a large, order an X-Large. Well I am a medium so we bought large. Didn’t work. If you see me from a side profile, a large "b" will come to mind. That’s when I wear one of my first real biking shirts—I mean jersey. Being an evolver, I now wear XXX-Large. The chest hangs loosely enough that it blends with my stomach, covering it somewhat. The over-sized shirts will not “wick” as well as the tight shirts, but I still look stylish.

Back to the shorts. A book could be written about shorts, but I will try to keep it to one more paragraph. The first shorts were just plain shorts. That means no padding to speak of. I thought the padding was just for sweat protection, I’m not sure. (OK teckies, the chamois is designed to cover the inside seams of the shorts.) But I do know that for me, my bottom goes to sleep after five miles. So, being an evolver, I wanted a radical evolution and asked for the softest bottom there is. It seems that the bottom thickness is measured in mm. I think my first shorts were 0 mm. And it seems that they can go to 13 mm. So I got a 13 mm and can now go 10 miles before my bottom goes to sleep. Being an evolver, I want a 130 mm bottom and will be first in line when they go on sale.

Why was most of the space dedicated to male clothing and equipment? Women are from a different planet. Christine from the start made sure her jerseys, shorts, socks, and helmet colors coordinated. As she built her wardrobe, some jerseys didn’t go as well with her first helmet color so she bought a different color helmet. Finally she settled on a neutral color helmet that works pretty well. All those helmets--while I was wearing Trailblazer. Oh, did I mention that all the jerseys, helmets, shorts, and socks had to color coordinate with the color of her bike? And this was while I was riding my $69 hill bike.

After all that, to my knowledge, only one person ever noticed. We were riding in the neighborhood one day and stopped at a stop sign. Our neighbor drove up beside us and yelled out “Christine, you look so color coordinated. Sorry Roy, you look…“.
So if folks out there are holding back from riding with us because their uniforms are mis-matched, come ride with me and no one will notice.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Lake Colorado City Bike Ride

May 3, 2008
Colorado City, Texas

Lake Colorado City Bike Tour
By Roy and Christine Jones

Saturday May 3 was a chilly and windy day as participants in San Angelo’s Spillway Duathlon can attest. Colorado City was in the low 60’s with a 14 mile an hour wind coming at us from the usual three different directions. When the guys and gals with matching shirts and shorts are wearing their cold weather leg warmers we should have taken the hint and worn ours. We didn’t warm up until the drive home.

Other than the weather, one could not ask for a better ride. It had a 9, 22, and 42 mile ride. The 22 was from town, around Lake Colorado City, and back into town. The 42 was twice around the lake. The ride is a great one for beginner riders and provides a fast “race” for the other riders. Cyclists from the Midland/Odessa and Abilene areas composed most of the riders.

The ride has only two challenging hills. Most of the course is gently rolling or flatish. There were no small-chain-ring hills so beginner/intermediate riders need not be intimidated by this ride. The challenge for the racers (isn’t it always) is who comes in first. There was no traffic to speak of until the last leg along business 20, but it was patient and polite. Support was sparse as there were several activities going on at the same time as the ride this year--among the events was the dedication and opening of Colorado City's new fire house. (Don’t you just love small Texas towns?)

There were plenty of yellow and white wild flowers but only one patch of bluebonnets. The lake was muddy from run-off of recent rains. Roads were good.

Now for the part that is worth the trip even if you don’t ride, like to travel, or experience a small community with a lot of spirit--the BBQ brisket and sausage lunch (part of the registration fee)rivals any BBQ restaurant you can think of. The meal was just as good as we remembered from last year. You can’t ask for a better way to end a pleasant ride.

Lake Colorado City Bike Tour is the first Saturday in May each year so mark your calendar if you are a beginner/intermediate, or if you want to see if you can beat the Midland/Odessa/Abilene crews.