Thursday, July 26, 2012

Be the Change: A way to safer riding

I’m not that old.  It wouldn’t surprise me if 85% of you are older than I am—so I don’t have an amazing wealth of wisdom to draw on when writing of cycling’s enigmatic topics.  But there are a few topics that, from my perspective, seem pretty unambiguous, yet still draw fervent debate from the two-wheeled (and in this case 4-wheeled) masses.  Cyclists’ safety is one of those common sense issues that in our world of extreme polarization, weasels its way into controversy.  

I don’t even feel like I’m going out on a limb when I say that safety—whether it pertains to cyclist-motorist relations, cyclist-cyclist relations, or cyclist-pavement relations—should not be a controversial issue.  Unfortunately it is, and we only have ourselves to blame.  More accurately, EVERYONE, cyclists, and motorists, and while we’re at it, pedestrians alike, have only themselves to blame. 

Unfortunately for everyone, human nature dictates that we have a pretty narrow scope when it comes to perspective.  We tend to see things from only our own point of view and try as we might; it is difficult to truly empathize with someone else’s perspective.  Because of this, issues like this fall victim to an “us vs. them” mentality.  Let’s face it people: humans are a pretty selfish breed.  Selfishness and our own inability to step outside of ourselves for even the smallest moment lead to simple issues—like safety—becoming controversial ones.  As a cyclist, I want measures to protect my rights as a cyclist.  As a motorist, Billy wants measures that protect his rights as a motorist.  And poof, a recipe for controversy is born.  

At their core, these opposing perspectives are not the problem.  Cyclists advocating for cyclists and motorists advocating for motorists should lead to fruitful compromise.  The problem is born out of either side’s selfish inability to consider the other’s point of view.  Controversy begets misunderstanding.  Misunderstanding begets animosity.  Animosity begets this.

At the beginning of this miniature rant I’ve embarked upon here, I said that this issue is a simple one.  So what do I propose to solve it?  We as cyclists have to start with ourselves.  I’ve seen so many articles that like to put all the blame on the other side.  “Annoying cyclists always ride in the middle of the street!  They always run red lights!” “Motorists are so careless.  They run us cyclists off the road!  They almost killed me!”

To be honest, both of those statements are absolutely true.  My problem with them though, is that they lay the blame squarely on the other side—while not even considering that both sides should share the responsibility.  I’m not the first to say it:  a whole bunch of cyclists ride like jerks.  But there are also plenty of motorists who give little to no respect to cyclists out there.  Confronting this lack of respect with hostility and even more disrespect only confirms the kinds of misconceptions each side bares towards the other.  So instead of trying to change motorists’ behavior—cyclists should try to change the way they themselves behave.  This will change the way that they are perceived.  Ipso facto, drivers won’t hate us so much—and maybe we can all just get a long a bit better.  

There are some simple things—things that wouldn’t even inconvenience you terribly on a ride—that will make us seem a bit less hypocritical when we wave our fingers at our four-wheeled friends. 

Though I don't recommend this, this video is pretty funny.  Watch out for stuff in the bike lanes.

Don’t recklessly blow through stop signs and red lights.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it is the end of the world to cautiously roll through either lights or signs when you can plainly see there is no traffic, but cyclists generally don’t do this—and it makes us look like assholes.  It also gives motorists the impression that we think we are better than them.  I could probably make a reasonable case that we are, in fact, better, but we are trying to make friends here.  

Helmets are cool these days.  I promise.  This kid looks super cool right?

For the love of all things that are good in this world: Wear a freakin’ helmet.  I can’t believe it, but I still see cyclists—of all types (not just hipsters)—rolling without a helmet.  How do you expect a motorist to value your life when you clearly don’t?  And don’t give me this “It’s a personal decision” argument.  I don’t buy it.  You not wearing a helmet has more to do with those around you than it does with yourself.  To be blunt, if you are in a serious accident without a helmet on, it’s likely that you won’t be around to have to deal with the consequences.  Plus nowadays helmets look pretty cool.  Get one.  Wear it. 

Be predictable.  Know your surroundings.  I could go on and on about little rules that will keep us both safer and in the better graces of motorists.  Let me be clear, I’m not trying to say that motorists are in the right here—and that we must only change ourselves to fit into their world.  That is not at all what I think.  There was a wise man who once said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”  And I’m pretty sure that man was Ghandi.  And I’m pretty sure Ghandi knows what he is talking about.  

This guy knows cycling.

The real way forward here is to simply be careful.  What we do is extremely dangerous.  So often when you are confronted with an annoyance—like a car, when cycling, or a bike, when driving—we simply see the other side as just a motorist or just a cyclist.  We fail to see them as a husband or wife, brother or sister.  I think seeing people as other humans—with family and friends and a job and a home—make it a lot harder to be a complete jerk to them and endanger their lives.  At least I would hope that people have at least that much decency. 

Now I know that I may sound a bit optimistic here.  I am aware of the fact that it will take a lot more than just people not running red lights to stop the conflicts between cyclists and motorists.  And at the end of the day, only one of the sides is piloting a 3,500lbs hunk of metal—so we need to do whatever we can to protect ourselves.  I just wish we did it without simultaneously giving drivers unlimited fodder for their “take back our roads” fire. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Race Day: Control the Chaos

What if I told you that I could make your race day more successful without buying any new components or even training for a minute?  You would probably take heed.  Well let’s take that hypothetical and make it into a reality.  I can make your race day more successful without telling you to buy new wheels or aerobars, or do hill repeats or over gears—despite the fact that I think you should actually do those things.  The thing is, many of you already do those things.  You have made the investment—both monetary and otherwise—in order to prevail on race day.  But there are still so many variables that can trip you up. 

Hill repeats: You should still do them.

Years ago, as an aspiring young classical musician, I would (and still sometimes do) attend masterclasses with some of the greatest players around.  They would all preach different approaches to music making, but when it came to audition day they always had the same advice when it came to the big audition.  Auditioning—or for our purposes today, racing—is all about controlling the things that you can control.  Eliminating variables that are within your reach leaves room for you to focus on the task at hand.  You want, nay, need to be focused on your race.  This means being prepared—in every sense of the word.  Not only in your training, but in every small detail that is so often overlooked. 

So the first step in any race preparation is identifying what is under your control and what is out of your control.  When setting out to prepare for an audition, I like to start with the things I cannot control.  Believe it or not it is a bit therapeutic to literally sit down and write these out.  Things like course design, climate, random mechanical failures, and disastrous acts of God would top this list.  Write out everything that is out of your control.  Now take a look at that list.  It may be pretty long, but here is the thing: you can’t do a thing about anything on that list.  Don’t waste another moment thinking about anything on that list.  If you find yourself worrying over something that you find there, then you are wasting your time and energy.  Don’t do that. 

Sometimes there can be gain without pain.

So now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about all the little details that you can control, but if left unchecked can derail your race day.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, just enough to get your mind flowing in the right direction. 

Check your fit

The points of contact for any triathlete.  

Fit is one of the most important aspects of riding a bike, yet so many people overlook it.  I won’t even get into the “how-tos” of bike fitting.  That is another topic for another time.  It’s also something that takes a long time to master, so I would highly recommend getting a fit done by a professional.  Come to think of it, I know a pretty good bike shop where they do that kind of thing. 

So now that you’re fit on your bike, it’s crucial that your fit stays where it should.  Your prerace checklist should include checking to make sure that your fit is where it is supposed to be.  Make sure your saddle has not slipped or started to point downwards.  Make sure your handlebars have not been moved or changed. 

Bike fitting can be complicated.  Once you have your pro fit done, make sure it stays where it should.

This is especially important when you have to travel to your race.  Travelling with your bike is not only notoriously difficult and expensive, but it is also ripe for mishaps when it comes to your two wheeled friend.  If you had to pack your bike make sure everything is marked before you disassemble it.  Wrap a piece of electrical tape around your seatpost to mark your saddle height, and if you have to move your handlebars, be sure to mark them so they go back into the exact same spot. Always use a torque wrench if you have any carbon components, and they aren’t a bad idea for aluminum either.  For travel we like these handy CDI wrenches that have present sizes and torque specs.  No adjustment necessary. 

CDI wrenches:  Now available at Cadence

Check your bike

It goes without saying that you should bring your bike in for a pre-race tune up.  DO NOT wait until just before the big day to take care of this.  Give yourself at least a full week between picking up your bike from the shop and race day.  Most shops operate at least 5-10 days out.  Don’t wait until the last moment to schedule your race check—you may be left out of luck.  Make sure that your tires are in immaculate condition.  Worn tires are much more likely to flat.  Check for major gouges or cuts anywhere along the tire.  Make sure your drive train is clean, lubed and adjusted correctly—replace any worn parts—chains, cassettes, etc. 

This tire would not survive a race.

So that is the obvious stuff, but what about immediately prior to your race? Some triathlons require that you put your bike in transition the night before.  Your tires will lose air overnight, so be sure you have the means to re-check those tires prior to your start in the morning.  Tire pressure is vitally important.  Don’t let something as easy as pumping up your tires lead to a flat or a crash.  This is even more important if you race tubulars.  They lose air pressure faster than clinchers, so by morning they could be at a significantly lower psi than where you left them the night before. 

Check yourself

I have a rather embarrassing story to accompany this section.  My first race ever was a local criterium put on by one of our teams, Philadelphia Ciclismo.  Like an idiot, I decided that I needed to stay super hydrated for the race—which is a good thought to have, but how I went about it was, well, not so good.  I proceeded to drink a large bottle of Gatorade before the race even started.  Going into the last corner I was in really good position.  I was thinking, “Wow, I could do okay here.”  Then my stomach—along with that bottle of Gatorade, decided otherwise.  I vomited in the final corner, finishing dead last. 

Race Day is not a day to experiment when it comes to what you eat.  

Other than being brutally embarrassing, but also quite funny, what does this story teach us about race day preparation?  Well race day should not be the day you adopt some kind of drink or meal plan that you haven’t ever had before.  Make sure you sit down with your coach (if you have one) and put together your race day menu to satisfy the calories for whatever race you are doing.  Make sure you try the menu before race day! You want to know exactly how your body will feel after drinking and eating that food. 

So do you feel better now?  Is your mind more at ease?  Thinking about all of the variables of race day shouldn’t make you feel more anxious, it should calm those anxieties.  The more variables you can check off your list, the less you have to stress out about and the more you can concentrate on the task at hand: Not puking in the last corner.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Certain Shade of Gray: How to Rise Above Industry Hype

The human brain loves to classify things.  It loves to simplify everything into easily definable, black and white categories.  Black and white is easy.  Right and wrong, good and evil, in or out—are all crutches for our brains to make digesting complex ideas much simpler.  The problem is, life is rarely an issue of black and white.  Our world operates on a much murkier level. 

Cycling is no exception.  The choices we make for what bike, wheels, shoes, or clothing are all decisions that should be driven by context—who, what, when, and where you are—but we, as consumers, constantly try to make these into objective decisions.  Manufacturers know this and cater to it.  They would be stupid not to—their business model depends on convincing people that their product is best.  The data that manufacturers present is not necessarily incorrect—in fact it is almost always scientifically dependable, but it is rarely put into any kind of context. 

That is our responsibility.  A good bike shop will always help you take what industry marketing tells you is scientific fact and put it in the appropriate context.  It takes more fingers than I have to count the brands that claim to have the fastest frame or wheelset on the market—and pretty much everyone of them have some kind of data—wind tunnel testing or otherwise—to support their claims.  Your easy black and white situation just turned to a certain shade of gray. 

What which shade of gray goes best with your outfit?  How do you decipher this information to get what’s best for you?  Well honestly, it is best to treat each situation on a case by case basis—and that is where having a good relationship with your LBS (Local Bike Shop) is so crucial.  But to give you a little better understanding of how we would do that, let’s partake in a short case study.  Shall we?

Let’s take a quick look at aero wheels.  There is a myriad of data out there about which wheel is fastest, and we won’t have to consider the even murkier area of bike fit (which, by the way, should absolutely be considered on a case by case basis, specific to each and every customer—be leery of anyone who tells you they are selling the fastest bike available without considering you as an individual first). 

So to start our case study, I want you to go to any major wheel manufacturers’ website and look for their wind tunnel data graph.  They all have them.  You will find something like this:

From Zipp's website.

Or this:
From HED's website.

Or This:
From ENVE Composites' website.

So each of these manufacturers take this data and make the same pitch to you: “Our wheels are faster than anyone else’s.”  And in very specific situations, none of them are wrong.  Each of those graphs support that claim.  The thing about it is, they aren’t really comparing apples to apples.  Each company controls their own testing—and I’m not trying to say they don’t give honest results, but the conditions are different in every case. 

Two of these graphs show the drag measured in grams, with no mention of how fast the wheels were tested at, or whether they were on a bike or by themselves.  The other is very specific about how the wheels were tested, but then converts the drag into watts.  Two graphs test to 20 degrees yaw, while the other stops at 15 degrees.  The Hed data does not even include any competitors’ wheelsets.  See where I’m going with this?

I’m not trying to say that these wheels are not tested correctly or even that this data is incorrect or unreliable.  I’m not even qualified to make those claims.  I’m certainly no expert in aerodynamics or lab testing.  I’m just trying to say that there is more to the story than these graphs might suggest.

A wheel that performs well in one frameset, may not in another—and it may have been tested or developed without a frame around it at all.  A wheel that tests well at one angle of yaw, may not fare as well as others in more of a crosswind.  And so it goes.  The list of variables here is lengthy. 

So how do you go about choosing wheels?  Well you need to do some soul searching I suppose.  Ask yourself those really difficult questions.   What kind of rider am I?  What am I looking for my wheels to be good at?  What kind of bike do I ride?  Am I big or little?  Then seek out the data that illuminates these questions. 

For example, a triathlete who is 5’2” and weighs 97 lbs should look for a wheel that performs well in crosswinds because of the lack of stability of aero bars and his or her small stature.  A small climbing road cyclist, on the other hand, will want a light and responsive aero wheel that does well on hills.  You get where I’m going here.

The great news for everybody in this story, is that you have a wealth of expertise in these types of questions at your fingertips—and I’m not talking about Google.   Find a local independent bike shop that you trust and support them.  These exact situations are what give these shops their value.  We deal with these exact questions on a daily basis and have a wealth of experience in getting people matched with the correct equipment.  That is something you just can’t get from a website. 

Computers, science, the internet—they are good at black and white.  They will give you all the objective information you need about the latest and greatest.  But people—specifically people that you trust—are better when trying to decipher your own certain shade of gray. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Get Off Your Computer = Get On Your Bike

It’s summer time people.  Though it happens today to be unreasonably hot, this is the time to get out and enjoy the world—preferably on your bike.  So in an effort to give you ample time to engage in some two-wheeled tomfoolery, I’m keeping today’s post succinct.  The tour is in full swing and here are the story lines you need to be following:


One of the sillier victory salutes I've seen, but hey if you can back it up... Photo: © Bettini 

The big story of the first week of the tour is, without a doubt, Peter Sagan.  He has been touted as a rising star for a couple years now, but this is his Tour de France debut.  So how do you celebrate your first Tour ride?  Well you win the first stage you take part in…of course.  Impressive. 


Cav took stage two with no lead-out whatsoever. Photo: © Bettini   

Though we have seen Sagan rack up a couple stage wins quickly, it is still unclear whether he can hang with the pure sprinters on the biggest stage.  Cavendish was impressive in his freelancing in stage 2—taking a big victory with no lead-out train to speak of.  Sagan got a bit manhandled in this pure bunch sprint, so we will wait and see if he is a true sprint contender, or more of an all around/uphill sprint kinda guy. 


Vaughters' face when he heard the news...
Today’s big news dredges up more alleged, unconfirmed details in the already tired story about a cyclist who retired several years ago.  What’s his name again?  Oh well.  The real story for—for me anyway—is that Hincapie, Leipheimer, Vande Velde, Zabriske, and Vaughters are all listed as witnesses and may have admitted to doping themselves, but in exchange for testifying against unnamed Texan cyclist, will receive shortened bans that don’t start until later this year.  All of this is still very unconfirmed though, so I’m waiting for the real hammer to come down before I make any judgments. 


Wiggins was knocked out with a brocken collar bone last year.  Which favorite will be taken out this year?
Last year’s tour was particularly crash filled in the beginning of the race.  But I’m not actually sure this year is any better, with major crashes happening in pretty much every stage so far.  The only difference this year is that no major contenders—like Wiggins last year—have been knocked out.  Keep your fingers crossed that your rooting interest doesn’t hit the deck though, as there are still a couple nervous flat finishes remaining in the first week.  Fresh legs, nervous energy, and the big lights of the biggest race of the year makes everyone think they can and should be at the front kicking for the stage—except that they can’t all fit at the front.  Look for more close calls in the next couple days until the group settles in.


Did you see our rockin’ commercial on NBCSports?  In case you were wondering, I ride Cadence too.  Aside from the awesome production, put together by none other than one, Brady Gibney, notice the plug for our Cannondale Demo Day at the end of the commercial.  Come out on July 28th to test some rocking Cannondales.  You won’t be disappointed. 

Now get off your computer, and go ride your bike.