Thursday, September 30, 2010

Brooks Saddles and Saddle Position

I've often said that if there was one perfect bicycle saddle we'd all be riding it. The truth of the matter is bikes are different, riders are different, riding positions are different, riding styles are different and guess what? Different saddles work better or worse for various folks. That said, if you hang out with high mileage folks you'll find a lot of them who swear by Brooks saddle. You'll probably find some that swear at Brooks saddles as well. As near as I can tell, neither group is 100% right or wrong.

Brooks are tensioned leather saddles. Sheldon Brown has a great article describing the great comfort virtues of leather saddles here. Sheldon notes, "A leather saddle, like a good pair of shoes or a baseball glove, softens with use, and molds itself to fit a particular person's shape." The unique comfort factor is what makes the saddle worth the expense, weight and break-in period. However, if you're a vegan, that dead cow thing may be a deal breaker for you. I totally expect some entrepreneurial vegan to start a company making a Brooks-style saddle made of tensioned rattan (or some other sustainable, eco-vegan substance) any day now. It's an untapped market.

What prompted me to write this piece, despite Sheldon's excellent article on leather saddles and his wise words on saddles in general, is that I wanted to call attention to the issue of saddle set-back. One of the virtues of Brooks saddles is their classic design, they have basically remained unchanged for decades. And there, my friends, literally, is the rub.

Brooks saddles were designed when bikes had much slacker seat tube angles than what is common today. My 1972 Peugeot PX-10 was considered "racy" in its day and it had a 72 degree seat tube angle. It was easy to get a Brooks saddle back far enough in relation to the bottom bracket for comfortable riding. A modern bike, say a Surly Long Haul Trucker, in the same 52 cm size as my PX-10 has a 73.5 seat tube angle. Basic trigonometry tells us that given the same seat post but a steeper seat tube angle, the clamp area is going to be further forward on the modern bike. Modern saddles have longer rails to address this issue but the classic design of the Brooks keeps it from moving back. And if the saddle is too far forward, you'll tend to sit on the metal frame rather than the tensioned leather and wonder why anyone could ever think a Brooks saddle is comfortable.

There are some solutions out there. Velo Orange makes the Grand Cru Seat Post specifically with this problem in mind. A Brompton Saddle Adapter Pin used with a straight post and a seat clamp allows even more adjustment but it's a more complex solution. Sella Anatomica makes a couple of changes to the classic Brooks design, adding a cutout to the leather and longer rails to address the set-back issue. Like Brooks saddles themselves, the Sella Anatomica saddles have received mixed reviews.

A comfortable saddle is key to enjoying your bicycle riding and a Brooks or other leather saddle might be just right for you. If you can get it on the right spot on your bike.

BTW, I've logged thousands of miles on Brooks saddles, having ridden them on PBP, BMB and various other brevets and tours. These days, my butt is totally happy on WTB saddles but your mileage may vary.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What We Wear Is What We Say

I normally don't think much about fashion, but William Gibson's brilliant novel Zero History has got me thinking about the functions of clothing and how it influences our experiences. When asked in a WIRED interview if he had ever wanted to wear a uniform, Gibson notes:
“When was I last out of one?” Gibson wrote. “The extent to which we are all of us usually in uniform brings to mind [Brian] Eno’s definition of culture: Everything we do that we don’t really need to. Pajama bottoms beneath a raincoat? Out of uniform. Jeans with one leg cut off? Out of uniform. Contracultural apparel disturbs us. Countercultures are intensely cultural. Bohemias have dress codes as rigid as those of merchant banks. We all read uniforms, constantly, whether we’re aware of it or not.
People who ride bicycles generally wear clothes and those clothes, for better or worse, are read constantly. Our clothes make statements and if you chose not to wear clothes you're really making a statement. Even when we think we're not making a statement ("I dress for function, not fashion") we're stating something. The people behind Momentum Magazine think a lot about fashion because they understand something of the power of fashion in our lives. "Normal" looking clothes can make cycling appear normal, fun clothes highlight fun, and so on.

My family and friends can attest to the fact that I'm not exactly the guy people look to for fashion advice. My main criteria for clothing selection has to do with how many pockets an item has and how well the fabric hides grease stains. My clothes project a certain Red Green aesthetic ("if the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy") and strangers have been know to pick me out of a crowd when they are looking for someone who might be carrying a metric allen wrench.

On the Tour Divide this past summer, my local college jerseys (courtesy of Adrenaline Promotions) proved to be great conversation starters and I think the real cowboys in Wyoming (the ones who drive pickup trucks) were more inclined to think kindly of a biker in a Wyoming Cowboys jersey than if I'd been wearing the latest Euro-team kit. On my 2002 tour to Minnesota I crossed paths with a couple who credited their USA garb with making their trip much safer and more pleasant. There's probably some truth in their belief that even the worst bike-hating driver would think twice before honking at, buzzing by, or running down Old Glory.

This is probably about as much as I'll post on fashion, but there are many sites devoted entirely to what people wear while riding. A couple of interesting bike fashion sites are Velocouture and Copenhagen Cycle Chic.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Burley Travoy Trailer: A Review

"Clever!" "Neat!" "I want one!" These are the kind of things people say when they first encounter the Burley Travoy. First off, let me get the disclaimer stuff out of the way. I get no kickback from Burley for this review and they didn't give me the trailer or anything. We have them for sale at the shop where I work, the Bicycle Center in Issaquah, and if we didn't think it was a good product we wouldn't bother having it in our store. And if you buy it from us, yep that does help keep me employed. Similarly, if you buy it from your local bike shop, you're helping keep those folks employed. And if you can't find one locally and buy it from Amazon using one of the links on this blog, a small percentage of your purchase price goes to me. We all clear on that? Good! On with the review.

When we got the Burley Travoy in the shop, I was one of those people saying "Clever, neat, I want one!" Burley describes the Travoy as a commuter trailer but I think it's better described as an errand trailer. While most bike commuters probably don't need to carry a trailer load of stuff on a daily basis, almost every cyclist encounters situations where the ability to carry large or awkward things would come in handy. While something like an XtraCycle, a Big Dummy or a Trek Transport can carry huge loads, many cyclists don't have the space or cash to devote to such large and lovely machines. If I was regularly hauling things like cylinders full of welding gas (hi Matt!) and didn't live in a second floor walk-up apartment, I'd totally be one of those cargo cult cyclists hauling hundreds of pounds of stuff on my big, long bike.

The Burley Travoy is designed to carry loads of up to 60 lbs (27 kg) and it's designed to carry stuff, not people. The Travoy is light (just under 10 lbs) and it folds up for storage. Folded, the Travoy fits in it's own cargo bag. Folding and unfolding is a very quick process -- the Travoy folds in thirds with a twist of the handle/latches and the wheels pop on and off with a push of a button. The Travoy can also function as a hand cart and it is narrow enough to roll through doorways.

The Travoy has many nice, clever touches. The small hitch mounts securely to the bike and a simple latch mechanism connects the trailer to the hitch. Spare hitches may be purchased for $30 so you can easily share the trailer between multiple bikes. Burley also makes a variety of bags that can be used with the Travoy and the trailer has many tie-down points. As a test, I strapped my folded Dahon D3 to the trailer as cargo and it worked fine. I also used the Dahon as the towing bike for the trailer. The stock hitch isn't sized for the large diameter seatpost of the Dahon but replacing the stock bolts with longer ones solved that problem. With a pair of folding bikes and this trailer you could, for example, meet a friend some place and then you both could ride off into the sunset. (Maybe I'm the only one who does things like that, but a trailer like this opens up interesting car-free possibilites. If I was younger and single that would totally be how I would date!)

The Travoy tows wonderfully. It tracks nicely behind the bike and handles well both empty and loaded. On the trip to the Trader Joe's a few miles from my house I get a mix of paved and gravel riding and if I'm in the mood I can get a bit of trail riding in as well. The Travoy handled the bumps and rough stuff well. 12" pneumatic tires and a flexy material near the hitch do a good job of damping vibration. What I think of as a big load of groceries fits easily into the Travoy bag.

There's a lot of plastic on the Travoy, but the trailer seems very solid. The latches all work smoothly and for it's intended use as an urban errand trailer, I can't really come up with anything I'd change about the design. If I was going to go on a cross country or round the world tour, I'd probably want something with beefier wheels, more metal and less plastic. Burley, if you're reading this and need a field tester for an adventure trailer with a design like the Travoy, let me know.

This isn't a long term test, we just got this trailer into the shop. So far, I'm very impressed. I've included some videos Burley made showing the Travoy in action and the link to Amazon includes some reviews there. If anybody out there has anything they wan't to add about the Burley, feel free to use the comment form here. If you're in Issaquah, stop by the Bicycle Center and check out the Travoy for yourself.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah, WA USA

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Gift of What You Notice More

Dar Williams writes about "the gift of what you notice more" in her song The Blessings. I've been thinking of blessings, the gifts we notice more, in relation to time and the pace at which we live our lives. It's a theme I've often revisited on this blog, from Bogart's observation that the world is three drinks behind to my own appreciation of life at twelve miles per hour. As time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' into the past (Steve Miller writes a catchy song, but he's wrong about time) I'm learning to slow even more. Sometimes twelve miles per hour is too hasty.

For estimating purposes, while biking in the city, I use the figure of ten miles per hour and then add my fifteen minute flat tire buffer. In a vast majority of the cases, I wind up going faster than ten miles per hour and I don't have a puncture enroute and thus I give myself the greatest luxury, the thing money can't buy. Time.

The benefits of slack time manifest in myriad ways. Traffic is thicker than usual? No worries, I've got time. At the coffee shop a half hour before I told my buddy I'd be here? Great, that's why I have a novel and notebook in my pack. Wonder where this side road leads? I'll check it out, I've got time.

My favorite thing about the time I gain by going slow (think about that one for a bit) is the gift of what I'm free to notice. What prompted me to write this was the Leatherman Mini Tool I found on yesterday's ride to Seattle. Like Thoreau with his arrowheads, I often find things. My wife has often expressed the opinion that "you are the findingest fellow I know." She also sarcastically observed as I showed here the little Leatherman "yeah, 'cause you don't have enough tools!" It's true, over the years I've found what I need and much, much more.

While sometimes these gifts are things I hold in my hand, as solid and strong as a real steel tool made in Portland, OR or Duluth, MN (my favorite found 6-inch wrench was forged at the Diamond Tool and Horseshoe plant that I used to bike commute past back in Duluth), often the blessing is a stranger I have the time to meet, a view I have the time to notice, or a tiny creature scurrying across the trail. It's a beautiful world and the time we spend here is a blessing. It's a lesson I keep relearning, very slowly.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Mark Ronson: The Bike Song

This song and video are very well done and the refrain "I'm going to ride my bike until I get home" has completely embedded itself in my skull.

Keep 'em rolling,


Monday, September 06, 2010

DIY: Inner Tube Rack Strap

I enjoy Roy Doty's Wordless Workshop cartoons. Roy is a master of explaining a problem and a solution without using words. I'm way more wordy than Roy and anyone who doubts that can look at this post as proof. I can't even post a super simple Do-It-Yourself project without having some kind of wordy intro!

I patch my own tubes but I still wind up with a surplus of used tubes. A lot of bike shops have the same problem and although many tubes in the Seattle area wind up getting recycled into cool Alchemy Goods products, you can probably get used tubes just for asking. And, unfortunately, I manage to find discarded bike tubes along the roadside and bike paths around here.

So here's a quick, easy and cheap way to re-purpose a bike tube. One 700c tube plus a couple of buckles from REI or a craft store and a couple of zip ties (total cost, less than two bucks) will yield a pair of strong and stretchy rack straps or a belt or what have you. The pictures tell the story.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "The Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA