Monday, March 29, 2010

Size Matters

One of the things that is confusing in the bike world is the fact that while bicycles come in different sizes, the way in which the sizes of bicycles are described is not very logical or consistent. For example, when talking about children's bikes, we tend to refer to wheel size. So we say things like "Suzy is riding a 16 inch bike now, but next year she'll move up to a 20 incher." In adult bikes, folks in bike shops refer to bikes by their frame sizes, where frame size is the traditionally refers to the length of the seat tube. In the case of the two bikes pictured above, while they both have 26" wheels, the black bike on the left has a 24" frame

While the much smaller white bike has a 13" frame.

And while a quality manufacturer and a good bike dealer will give you good guidance about sizing a bike, the big stores that try to sell everything fall back on just specifying wheel size when they sell their cheap Bike Shaped Objects. Poor fit, poor assembly, poor components and poor manufacturing all make the Bike Shaped Object something to be avoided. A good used bike is always a better deal than a new Bike Shaped Object. (My friends at Dirt Rag did a great article on BSOs a few years ago. You can read it here.)

But sizing of quality bikes is confusing. While we specify bikes based on seat tube length, wheel sizes and frame geometries factor in. Some manufacturers have longer top tubes and some kinds of bikes may have top tubes that are level while others may have sloping top tubes. Some bikes, like those designed for cyclocross, may have higher bottom brackets. Just because you ride a 52 cm bike from manufacturer A doesn't mean you'll be comfortable on a 52 cm bike from manufacturer B. And by the way, the US bike business is still schizophrenic with regards to the metric system. Road bikes usually have their frame sizes specified in centimeters, while mountain bike sizes are usually expressed in inches. And no, you can't just do a simple metric conversion to figure out your mountain bike size from your road bike size. That would be too easy. As the late, great Sheldon Brown noted, "Anarchy reigns!" But Sheldon's article here is a good guide map to some of the issues involved in sizing a bike.

With bikes, like shoes, fit is the most important thing. As a rider you are really only going to be happy if your butt, your hands and your feet wind up in the right spots. That means making sure the distance from the saddle to the bars is not too long and not too short. You want to have just the slightest bend in your knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke and have the position of the saddle relative to the cranks be such that you make the most of the power your legs can generate. (This can vary somewhat depending on the type of bike and style of riding; triathletes tend to have their saddles farther forward than folks riding beach cruisers, for example.) Peter White has an excellent fit article here.

At the top of this article I showed two 26" wheeled bikes. The larger bike would comfortably fit someone well over 6 feet tall and a five foot person would probably be comfortable on the smaller bike. Wheel size alone doesn't really tell you much about the bike, it is only one factor in the sizing.

Below I've included a picture of two of my own bikes, my Monocog Flight 29er and my Dahon D3. I'm 5'6" tall and I ride the smallest (15") frame that Redline makes for the Flight. I don't know if anybody much smaller than me could fit on a 29er but I'm perfectly comfy on my Flight. And despite a more upright position (the handlebars are closer to the seat) I also am completely comfy on my Dahon D3. The bikes feel very different but I ride them in very different environments. The 29" wheels take a bit to get rolling and then tend to roll over everything, so the Flight is a machine that just eats up the back country trails. The Dahon, on the other hand, has very little inertia in those tiny wheels, so it's quick off the line and is perfect for zipping around town. Both bikes fit me and fit into the environments where I ride them.

Size matters and so does fit. If you find a bike that is the right size for you and the right fit for you, you'll have fun riding and you'll ride more.

Keep 'em rolling,


Friday, March 26, 2010

Wondering My Way to Carbon River

I lead a blessed life. Some days it is very easy to remember that. Today is one of those days. The forecast is for clear weather and I don't have to be inside working, so I load some food on my bike, some water in my pack and point my bike wheels south. My bike is called a mountain bike and I am sometimes called the Mountain Turtle and both of us, man and machine, are drawn to the high country. In the fullness of time it seems that gravity must ultimately win, pulling down man, machine and even mountain. But there is something in the earth makes the mountains rise and something that makes men rise from sleep, raise their eyes in wonder and follow the rocky path upward. The hardness of the mountain, the steepness of the trail, chips away at what is fat and soft. And riding in the wilderness is far more fun than going to the gym.

I have this day to do what my friend Seth calls "wondering around" and I make the most of it. I see a little trail heading into the woods by Ravensdale and I check it out. Back on pavement, I take pictures of sheep and goats and wood carvings. (Thanks Mark for giving me your "extra" camera!) I wonder where the people who live in Carbonado work and buy groceries. I wonder up the road that I know dead-ends at the Carbon River entrance to Mount Rainier.

I knew that the road past the entrance was washed out, the internet and the signs had told me this, but I wanted to see what the land was like past the gate, past the point I'd been before.

This is no small washout, something the park service will fix this year or the next. The river has shifted, obliterating a long section of the old road. In many places trees have fallen. The path overlays the road where it can, deviates where it must. Small gaps cut through massive fallen tree trunks. Somewhere, someone persevered with saws and logs and stones to make a tiny trail, something that can only be traversed by human power. You can walk here and you can ride here if your bicycle is rugged, but I doubt that anyone will ever drive here again.

The campground is sixty-three miles from my home in Issaquah and fifty-eight of those miles can be completely simple, civilized and paved. The final five are wonderful.

The trees are green and heavy with moss. The sounds are those of water and wind. I hear my own breath, the scurry of a chipmunk, the croak of the raven.

The campground, which I'm only visiting today, is being reclaimed by the forest. Signs warn which sites are closed by fallen trees. A faucet still gleams in the sun, but no piped water has flowed here for quite a while.

On my way back toward pavement, I chat with hikers headed up. "You'll have the campground to yourselves," I assure them. I tell them the campground is only another mile up. This day, on this trail, the Mountain Turtle is the swiftest creature in the forest.

My day has been fueled by a big breakfast at home and granola and PayDay bars enroute. Gravity gets me back to Wilkeson, a town where it seems everyone fuels up, so I linger over a latte before rolling on.

Mount Rainier rises above the fields outside of Enumclaw. At South Prairie I turn on my lights, turn my bike towards the Green River and ride through Black Diamond, Ravensdale, Hobart and back to home.

I lead a blessed life. Some days it is very easy to remember that.

Keep 'em rolling,


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Joe Parietti, Fashion Model!

So I'm browsing the BikeHugger Blog, minding my own business when who do I see staring out of the corner of my laptop screen? Joe Perietti, my buddy and former Bike Works co-worker. Sure Joe, going to work for Traitor Cycles. Yeah right. Good cover story there.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Trek Demo Day at Duthie Hill Park

The only bad thing I can say about today is that it happened to be the day my camera died. Hanging with me is tough on cameras, in the past few years I've managed to kill an HP, a Kodak and now a Nikon. If you know of a tough digital camera (ideally one that will take NiMH AA batteries and store to an SD card) please drop me a note. And if you happen to work for a camera company and you want somebody to test the hell out of your camera, definitely get in touch with me.

Anyhow, my camera's display crapped out, so I was shooting blind today. Pretty much none of the forest shots turned out. Which is a damn shame because my nice boss Mike told Hughie, Chris and me that he'd watch the store so the rest of us could go up to Duthie Hill to and ride various Trek and Fisher bikes. Today was Trek's Dealer Demo day at Duthie Hill, a world-class mountain bike park that the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance has been been busy building over the past few years. I've written a bit about Duthie Hill before and the park is just about ready for it's grand opening.

I got a few shots of bikes and people but I'll let Walter Yi's amazing video capture the feel of Duthie Hill. One of the Trek guys commented that it's like riding through the set of Avatar. Actually, it's better than that and it's pretty much in my back yard.

It's super fun to ride bikes in the woods. All the bikes I rode today had more gears than my Moncog Flight and more boingy bits as well. I have to admit I can see the appeal of some of these machines. The first bike I grabbed was a Fisher Rumblefish II. Gary Fisher has done more to promote 29ers than anybody and the man knows what he's doing when it comes to bike design. 29ers strengths lie in their tendency to keep rolling but the big wheels tend to take more effort to wind up to speed and whip through turns. Duthie hill is all twists and turns and ups and downs and it throws a lot of stuff at a bike.

I'm not the fastest guy, nor the most skilled (most of my miles are on fire roads and broad, sweeping trails) but that made me a good guy to test the Rumblefish II. The bike handles really well at low speed in twisty little turns. Fishers use a custom fork offset and a shorter cockpit to keep the steering predictable no matter what your speed and the more I rode the bike, the more confident I became. And while I wouldn't take something with so many moving parts on a long slog like the Great Divide, for bouncing off roots, ramps and rocks that suspension stuff is pretty darn cool

Next up, I tried a Trek Fuel EX 9.9. What the heck, I'd just gotten off a $4K bike, I might as well see what a few thousand more dollars would buy me. Actually, I'll never be seeing the money to buy one of these and it's not really my style, but I was happy to speed date this bike. I'm enough of a 29er guy now that the 26" wheels seem little, and the carbon frame makes the whole bike seems light. Though quick off the line and very comfy on the trail, the bike didn't seem to hold its speed as well as the Fisher. Overall though, the bike was quicker to flit through tight turns but the front end seemed light to me. In fact, I popped a couple of wheelies on some steep climbs, something the Trek guys chocked up to my single-speed tendency to charge the climbs and hammer. Maybe I'm just not cut out for a $6,800 carbon bike.

For my final bike of the day I grabbed something way outside my comfort zone, a $3,800 Trek Scratch 7. This is one of those bikes optimized for going downhill fast but unlike those engineless motorcycles that have to be dragged up the mountain on a ski lift, you can pedal a Scratch uphill. While climbing on this bike is certainly possible, it's not what I would call optimal. On downhills, though, this bike is pretty darn optimal. It just sucks up bumps, dips, holes, all that stuff. This bike is mentally relaxing. I found myself zoning out and grinding up the climbs and it kind of took the worry out of descending. I think with more time on the bike, I'd go hunting for rougher stuff to roll down.

I do wish Trek/Fisher had brought some more small bikes and some singlespeeds. I did a very quick spin on a slightly too big Fisher Super Fly. I would've really liked to try the smaller version of that bike, especially the single speed version that Fatty raves about. A Fisher Rig is probably more suited to my style and budget, however.

Enough words for now. Here are my lousy pictures and Walter Yi's great video of Duthie Hill.

Keep 'em rolling,


Duthie Hill from Walter Yi on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

How My Training is Going

As of the first of March, I am no longer a bike commuter. My new job, working at the Bicycle Center of Issaquah, is four blocks from my apartment. The commute is so short I walk to work instead of biking. Christine works in the mornings and most days our schedules sync up in such a way that she and I can have lunch together at home. And while we both work weekends, we now have the same days off, Wednesdays and Thursdays. While this schedule is basically wonderful (I get more sleep and I get to spend more time with my lovely wife), now that I no longer get my automatic commute miles, I have to consciously work cycling into my day.

I've been adjusting to the new routine. Most mornings I head out the door after Christine heads off to work and get some trail miles in before work. While some mornings those miles feel obligatory, I've got so many options once I'm out the door that I always find some fun somewhere when I'm on the bike. I think the key to fitness is making sure that fun is involved somehow.

Yesterday was a day off from work, a day when Christine had her own things she was doing. I spent a bit of the morning playing with the new Google Maps Bike Option and then rolled out the door for a fifty mile loop incorporating some of the many non-technical trails around here. Not an epic ride, just a fun ride.

Of course I took pictures. "Have gadgets, will travel" is my motto. I took pictures of trees and pictures of pictures. When my camera told me "low battery" I felt smart for having a couple of solar charged replacements hanging on my pack.

Someone living alongside the Lake Sammamish Trail makes and sells these fence art pictures. The green eyes of the Starbucks coffee woman is the exact same color as the green in the cup logo. It's kinda creepy.

For mixed surface riding I really like WTB Nano Raptor tires and they are what I'll be racing in June. The WTB tires aren't cheap and I log a lot of training miles, so when I saw a pair of these Serfas Krest 9'er tires at REI (Return Everything Incorporated) for the fluke price of 83 cents each, I snapped them up. Actually the tags said $2.83 each but when the guy rang them up they showed as $0.83 on the computer and you know you just can't argue with computers. The Krest 9'ers don't roll as well as the WTBs and they buzz like angry bees on pavement, but at 83 cents a piece, they are fine for training.

These trails all exist because something else was here before and that was enough to prevent the land from being turned into farms or yards. An old rail line, a powerline or a pipeline cut these original paths through the trees and now people jog on them with their dogs or ride horses or bikes on them.

In a bit of perfect timing, I pull into Sandy's Espresso in Carnation a couple of minutes before a quick hailstorm blows through. I sit on Sandy's porch, sipping my coffee and reading a Cory Doctorow novel while the hail whitens the yard and deck. In ten minutes the storm passes and I'm back on my way.

I roll back along the Snoqualmie Valley Trail noting how nice it is to live in such a green part of the world.

Now that I'm not commuting, various friends ask how my training is going. I'm never quite sure how to answer that question, I don't have a power meter or charts of my resting heartrate. I've got some pictures and a good idea of where some pretty nice trails go. I think that's enough for now.

Keep 'em rolling,


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Commuter Dreams: Best Bike Commute Video Ever!

Portland bicycle commuter Merritt Raitt and his family have made a wonderful video of Merritt's commute. The editing is superb. I think a lot of folks have Phil and Paul in their heads, narrating their rides and Merritt captures that spirit in this video. Allez, Merritt, Allez!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Review: Amazon Kindle

First off, I'm going to start off with my standard disclaimer: I make money off of Amazon. Not a lot, but it's what keeps this blog going and it's where the bulk of my adventure budget comes from. When readers like you click on any Amazon link here and buy anything from Amazon in the next 24 hours, a percentage of your purchase dollars go to me. It doesn't cost you anything more but Amazon pays me for the referral. So if you buy stuff that way, thanks.

If you are thinking, "hey, he's just talking about X because he wants me to buy it!" (and in this case X is a Kindle), well, yes, I certainly do have an incentive to sell you stuff. But I bet you don't come here to be sold stuff. I bet you come here to find something that might be interesting, useful or of some relevance to bike riders. The Kindle scores well on all three counts.

I've written briefly about my first big bike tour back in 1982, when I was fresh out of college. I rode solo from Minnesota to California. For company at night in camp, I read paperback books I picked up along the way. Books are heavy, so I'd only carry one. When I'd finish the book I had, I'd give it away and buy something else. Of course the trick was picking the right book, one that would match my mood. And while it would have been nice to carry a whole library with me, there was no practical way to do it at the time.

Now there is. Now we have things like iPhones, Androids, Nooks and Kindles. The Internet has a wealth of stuff ready to be grabbed and read. I'll let other people rave about how cool their iPhone is and tell me how I should have waited for an iPad. That's OK. I understand gadget enthusiasm. It is the enthusiasm that has inspired me to write this post.

The Kindle is an electronic book reader. It's not the first ebook reader and it certainly won't be the last, but it is the one that made me hit the "Buy Now" button last week. It's not a move I made lightly, it's a pricey little gadget after all, and it is something I'd dismissed long ago as being to limited, restricted and intentionally crippled to be of use to me. I not only dismissed the Kindle, I pretty much echoed Cory Doctorow's negative impressions of the device that he posted on Boing Boing back in 2007.

Some people think the three words "I love you" are the hardest to say, but I find saying "I was wrong" is much harder. I spent a couple of years bashing the device without revisiting my assumptions or checking out the revised Kindle. When I finally did re-examine the world of ebooks, gadgets, and the status of creative content in our evolving digital age, I found that I had to utter those three words. I was wrong about the Kindle.

I've long been a believer in things like Open Source and the Creative Commons but I'm also a believer in checking out at least some of the more reasoned opposing views, so I bought a copy of Jaron Lanier's book You Are Not a Gadget. Jaron makes some interesting points in favor of the value of closed systems and the need for methods to compensate those who create the art and products that enrich our lives. We can't all give everything away or support ourselves with advertising. Of course, it is a bit ironic that a paper book called You Are Not a Gadget may turn out to be one of the last paper books I buy and that it served at least as a partial inspiration for me to buy yet another gadget!

Steve Jobs also ironically helped me push the Buy Now button for the Kindle. Everyone knows Steve is the driving force behind the Mac, the iPod and the iPhone. And soon we'll have the iPad. But Apple really likes to lock things down, to control what can and can't go on their devices. That's their right and they make wonderful products that people love, but I like that there are companies competing and that we as consumers get to vote with our dollars. I'm glad that Google Android devices are out there competing with the iPhone and that the iPad is going to be competing with the Kindle. Competition will improve these devices over time.

Which brings me back to the Kindle. When I looked at the iPad what I said to myself was what I really wanted was a light device with great battery life, that would let me read books and web pages. It would be great if it could connect wirelessly to the web (not just at wifi hotspots, but via 3G) but I didn't want to be paying a bunch every month for web access I might not use that often.

I found out that while the Nook may get a web browser at some point, the Kindle has one right now. It's not great and it's labeled "Experimental" but it's built-in and it works. It connects to the web wirelessly, for free, via what Amazon calls Whispernet. Once I found that out, plus the fact that I wasn't just limited to getting books from Amazon, I ordered my Kindle.

The Kindle is really thin. The protective case I ordered is much bulkier than the device itself, but even with the case the Kindle is smaller and lighter than a slim hardback book. And the readability of the screen is amazing. The screen looks like a page, not a screen and the Kindle draws damn near zero power from it's internal battery except when you "turn" a page. You can pick from various font sizes and rotate the screen to display your books in either portrait or landscape mode. Dedicated buttons let you page back and forth and a tiny joypad and keyboard let you take notes, place bookmarks, navigate menus and things like that. If you want, the Kindle can read to you in your choice of a male or female robotic voice.

Amazon claims that the Kindle can go for a week without a charge and longer than that if you shut off the Whispernet. The charger is very compact, an AC plug that connects to a USB cable.

The cable lets you connect the Kindle to a computer for file transfers. The Kindle side of the cable is a micro-USB, so the charger works with my Peek. The modular cable also works great with my Solar Charger, so my entire email/web-browsing/book reading kit can run off the sun.

An eReader needs eBooks and obviously Amazon is betting that folks will fill their Kindles with eBooks from Amazon. The first eBook I bought was one that I passed on in hardcover because it was just too big. Really. Stephen King's latest novel, Under the Dome, weighs about three pounds. I just couldn't see myself hauling that around on my bike. The Kindle edition adds no weight to my pack and Amazon sells it for half of what they sell the hardcover for. So a heavyweight author like Stephen King just made one more sale because his book is digital.

My second Kindle purchase supports a woman who I'm sure is not making a stephenkingload of money. Amy Stewart's The Last Bookstore in America is a wonderful grass-roots novel with wonderful characters and a great plot revolving around the changes wrought by gizmos and etexts. See her website at for more details.

While Amazon makes it incredibly easy to buy books with just a click on your Kindle or computer, they also have over 20,000 public domain classics for free.

I've long been getting free eBooks from and I was happy to find out that their 26,000 titles can all be easily searched and downloaded at the Kindle-friendly mobile version of their site at:

And if you want even more Kindle books, this great tip from A Kindle World Blog tells you how to directly load eBooks from Project Gutenberg to your Kindle.

I've been amazed at how quickly I've taken to the Kindle. I've become as annoying as those iPhone zealots. I bet Sherman Alexie wants to punch me. But I can carry a library on my bike. I can read a bunch of books at the same time and the Kindle keeps track of my place in each one. I can search for that cool quote I half remember. I can scribble e-notes and not feel guilty.

My wife, for one, is glad I've become a Kindle convert. "I've wanted one for a while," she confessed, "but I figured you'd give me crap about it". I told her I was sorry. I told her I was wrong. We're waiting for one more check to clear and then ordering her Kindle this Friday.

BTW, long suffering blog-fans, I've just wrapped up my old job, just started my new job and am amping up the Tour Divide Training. And I had to get a couple of articles out for some old-fashioned paper publications. And I've been reading about a dozen books on my Kindle. Which all is a lame way of explaining the lack of blog posts here. But fear not, trail adventures are in the works as are some more blog post where I wont try to sell you a damn thing except for the idea that you should be out on your bike having fun!

Keep 'em rolling,