Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Wow, that's really something!

Back around Christmas time Christine and I were walking through our local Target store when we saw a very colorful bike on display. At the time I made a comment along the lines of "Wow, that's really something!" and Christine said, "Don't get me that for Christmas. Really." There wasn't any danger of that happening, Christine and I favor bikes that are less, uh, eye-catching. At the time I did think that it was a shame that Target was such a cluttered visual environment because while I was in no way tempted to purchase the bike with the floral paint-job, I did think it was worth a picture or two.

One of the many things I like about my job is that I never know what is going to come in the door. Yesterday, one of the Target bikes came in the door. It was still in the packing box and the customer wanted to know if we'd put it together. While some places have policies of not working on certain brands (my favorite is Seattle's Wright Brothers who are happy to tell you that they "are not an authorized Huffy or Murray service center") our policy is to tell the customer what some particular service will cost and offer up our honest assessment as to whether a bike is worth sinking money into. The customer then decides whether or not we do the work. This customer decided it was well worth our service charge for us to assemble this bike.

The bike came in a very big box and it was very well packed, with all the colorful bits wrapped in paper and plastic to keep them from getting scratched up in shipping. All the little bolts and screws are painted to go with the color scheme of the bike. The bike features a basket, a 3-speed Shimano hub controlled by a twist shifter, V-style brakes, a wide seat, and a double-legged kick stand. The wheels needed truing and tensioning and the brakes and shifting needed adjusting, things that I doubt would have been done at the local Target store. While I'm a bike shop guy and can go on at length about why bike shop bikes are better than bikes from places like Target, I will say that if you do want to get the most from your inexpensive Target bike it is worthwhile to have it assembled and adjusted as best as possible from the outset.

Despite the fenders, this is not a bike that will be very good for wet weather. Painted rims don't have much grip in the wet and with use the brake pads are going to wear through the paint. Once the paint wears off the rims, the wet weather stopping may be better but those rims aren't going to look be so red.

The purple on the chain and the white on the chainwheel are going to wear off as the bike gets used as well.

The bike is quite comfortable for cruising around and the basket is handy and solid. The big green ribbon is going to be hard to keep clean. Also those white tires are going to show off every bit of dirt after just a few miles.

The bike is pretty much all heavy, low-grade steel and it's a very heavy bike. While the Shimano 3-speed gearing worked fine once properly adjusted, this is not a bike I'd want to be on when the terrain starts going up. It's also not a bike I'd like to carry up stairs or lift on to a bike rack.

This very flowery bike is really not my kind of thing but it was interesting to get to spend some time with the bike. The one thing I can honestly say about it is "Wow, that's really something!"

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Monday, January 14, 2013

Review -- The Obree Way

In his book, The Obree Way, Graeme Obree has created a text that not only details the techniques he used to become a record-breaking cyclist, he's given us a glimpse into the focused mind of a champion. Even those having no interest in racing or cycling at speed will find that The Obree Way provides fascinating and valuable insights into how analyze a problem, gather data, focus the mind, train the body and achieve real results.

Though my current favorite form of riding (visiting scenic sites at a take lots of pictures and visit lots of coffee shops pace) is far removed from Mr. Obree's specialty of covering more ground in an hour on a bicycle than any other human on the planet, I found myself fascinated, charmed and informed by this compact book.

It becomes clear in a very few pages that Mr. Obree pays attention to the small details. His style of writing is like his riding, simple, direct and to the point. Whether he is writing of trainers, time management, pedal technique, breathing, stretching or nutrition, all his chapters follow a basic "here is the problem, here is what I've observed, this is what I do and this is why" format. He has clear opinions, based on years of experience, and he states them clearly.

Obree cuts through a lot of the marketing hype, pseudo-science and flat-out mythology that might be great for selling the latest cycle magazine or frame design by looking at his own data and drawing his own conclusions. It is refreshing to find a data-driven fellow like Obree to be somewhat skeptical of gadgets. He writes of power meters that they are:

"another distraction from the path of true self-improvement. I have the same opinion of computers for road use and heart-rate monitors, but for one exception. The heart-rate monitor can be useful when going out on a proper recovery ride to not let team-mates force you to ruin your recovery by going too fast. The reason is simply that these appliances complicate the job of training on the road and they are hard to use as instant feed-back training aids in that training environment."

One of the great services Obree does in his book is to point out important but often neglected truths of riding. While much has been written about training, breathing and eating, Obree looks at the full cycle, so to speak. Resting is recognized and explained at least as fully as his training excercises. He has an entire chapter detailing his three-phase "Obree Method" of breathing. When he talks of nutrition you can tell he's not saying things based on whatever company is sponsoring his race. For example, he writes:

"My preferred food is sardines on toast with side servings of broccoli and carrots. I prepare this before leaving since the effort of mashing up the sardines can seem like a mammoth task if I do the ride as I described. It may not seem appetising on departure but on return it appears to be a culinary delight! The secret is to put a bit of tomato sauce in the mix. This gives the perfect balance of carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and essential oils such as omega3."


"There are loads of post-ride commercial mixtures available, but none that I have seen can match the nutritional content of this meal. Remember the human body is designed to chew and digest REAL food and chewing and forming small balls of food is a very important part of the digestive process that commercial drinks disregard. Be cynical; think it through for yourself, there is no profit in telling you that sardines, toast and veggies is one of the best meals you can eat."

My sense from reading this book is very much that Obree is his own man although the following passage made me think for a fraction of a second that maybe he's been bought off by the global marzipan cartel:

"After a quest taking years I discovered that the best long distance food is marzipan. This has the advantage not only in that it doesn’t produce crumbs but also it has perfect consistency to be pushed to the outside of the mouth on either side almost like a hamster. This means it can be chewed on while breathing heavily even on high output stretches such as climbs. The other benefit is that energy content is incredibly high. Commercial energy bars also have a high energy content but these must be tested on training ride to monitor your personal affinity with them."

(Just kidding there!)

Obree does not own a car, a fact he briefly notes in the book's introduction, and while he does describe various aspects of his time-trial bikes, I found his comments on his training bike to be interesting and wise:

"Depending on where you live in the world it would be highly recommended that you have full length mud-guards. The most important thing is that when you want and need to train you are not constrained by weather or darkness. Lights will be a must of course and the choice of wheel and tyre is important as well. Your training bike should have reliable cheaper wheels with full spoking normally 32 spokes. The choice of tyre is important since the last thing you want in the middle of a good effort is a puncture. Not only does it destroy a good effort but there is the problem of getting cold in the middle of nowhere sorting a puncture that could be avoided. I choose the widest possible tyre that will fit into my bike."


"With good care your training bike will be a vehicle of effort you can rely on. I personally, living on the west coast of Scotland, would not feel safe unless I had at least 2 spare tubes and a patch repair kit. I also carry an emergency kit of tools but if you are not mechanically minded then the fully charged mobile phone has to be your fallback position." 


"One very important issue in any frame or bike that you buy is tyre clearance. A lot of frames leave little clearance for wider tyres and carbon frames are bad for this in general. It would be easy to believe that a narrower tyre will be faster than a wider one but this is most certainly not the case. The narrower a tyre is then the longer the footprint on the road and this causes more resistance than a shorter, wider footprint from a wider tyre. Not only this but a wider tyre will puncture less easily and give a smooth ride."

Obree's chapters describing how to select, set up and use a bike trainer are hype-free and results oriented. Looking at Mr. Obree's results and after having read his whole book, I would certainly follow his guidance if I was looking to train for competition. His voice of experience rises clear and true above the marketing noise.

The chapter on stretching is compact an clear. Obree writes:

"In my whole career I did a routine of just 4 stretches and trust me, if I had not, I would never have been the rider I was. You would never accept having a stiff bottom bracket so don’t accept having a stiff body! The benefits are remarkable when you consider also that it has been shown that a suppleness programme reduces sports injuries considerably."

Obree does not advocate stretching before an event, but rather that it be a simple evening exercise taking 10 or 15 minutes. Suppleness is the goal and stretching is a means to that end. Again, Obree writes:

"The last word on all of this is that gaining this suppleness is a lot more work than maintaining it. Persevere with it and the accumulation of tiny gains makes a real difference. To be honest, maintaining the suppleness I had in my racing career would take as little as five minutes – but only if I stuck to the schedule every night!"

Obree concludes his book with his thanks and this note to the reader:

"Please trust me that this body of honest work is given in the best of spirit, I have been the guinea–pig in the quest to refine my training on every level and I can commend it really does work. Knowledge and understanding is a constant quest. This book is not definitive and keeping an open mind on new findings and developments is not only a good thing but essential if you are serious in your search for new and better ways to improve your cycling and athletic performance."

Like the rest of The Obree Way, those words are true.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Chain and Cog Wear

Bicycles are wonderful, efficient machines but like any mechanical device with moving parts, those parts are subject to wear. In some cases, like when you pull on the brake levers and notice that it is taking longer to stop than it used to, you get a clear signal that something needs attention. Even the least mechanically empathetic rider tends to notice when they can't stop, so worn brake pads are things that call attention to themselves as they wear. The brake pads aren't the only part of the braking system that wears and elsewhere I've called attention to the problem of brake rim wear.

The bicycle chain is often ignored unless it's squeaking or refusing to shift into the proper gear but in the case of your bike chain, ignorance is not bliss. A worn chain may shift fine and not squeak but as the individual links wear, the chain becomes slightly longer. While this is commonly called "chain stretch" the additional length is not the result of any metal stretching, it's the consequence of accumulated wear of the bushings in each chain link.

Chain wear isn't measured in miles or months. Three thousand miles ridden over the course of sunny summer by a rider who spins in low gears and who cleans her drivetrain weekly is a very different situation than a thousand miles ground out by a commuter on the gritty, rain-soaked Seattle hills. The tool for measuring chain wear isn't an odometer or a calendar, it's the common ruler.

On a brand new chain there is 1/2 inch between each pin so twenty half-links should measure 10 inches (254 mm). If those 20 half-links sum up to 10 1/16 inches or more, it's time to replace your chain. While you can measure this with a ruler, a tool like the Park CC-2 Chain Checker makes checking even easier.

Modern derailleur drive trains have narrower chains and cogs (something I ranted about a few years ago), and the newer stuff really does wear faster than and cost more than the old stuff. So checking your chain is important.

If you let your chain go too long, what happens is that the old chain wears your rear cogs and maybe your front sprockets to match up with with its worn profile. Dirt on the chain works to wear the metal cogs. The pressure is most concentrated on the small cogs, so the smaller cogs and the ones you most use see the most wear. The insidious thing is that you don't notice it until your chain has worn to the point where finally your shifting gets sloppy or the chain breaks. And if you wait until then to replace your chain, you'll find the new chain won't mate with the old cogs (or at least all of your old cogs). The symptom you'll feel is a skipping or popping under load as the new chain tries to settle into peaks and valleys of the worn cogs.

Chains are cheaper than cassettes or chain rings and if you do your own maintenance, a chain checker is a good investment. And the mechanic down at your local bike shop who tells you that you should replace your chain even though your bike seems to be behaving fine probably isn't trying to rip you off. He's probably trying to save you money in the long run.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA