Thursday, February 23, 2012

Poem Without Words

People often say that a picture is worth a thousand words.  I always thought that was a load of garbage.  Pictures are worth no words.  So often what a picture says cannot be expressed in words.  Failing to really get at the true essence of what the picture is saying, they muddle the page and get in the way of an image.  So this week I am getting out of the way.  After thinking about how to effectively do a post about what motivates me to ride, I found that words weren't really cutting it.  

So we packed up a couple cameras and headed for the Wissahickon to bring you a photo gallery that does more than volumes of words could in explaining why I love to ride.  Click the photo below to see the full gallery.  

Send us your photos that show your passion for cycling.  We'd love to see you do what you do!

Photo Credit: Jim Brower
All photos were taken by Nick Khan, Scott Devereaux, and Jim Brower

Thursday, February 16, 2012

In the Weeds

My common maintenance missteps to avoid in the 2012 season.


If there is only one thing in this article of which you take heed, this should be it.  Dirt and road grime are the kryptonite to your bike’s Superman.  They are the Clayface to your Batman, the Senator McCarthy to your independent thought, et al.  Dirty bikes never run well—or at least they never run as well as they could if they were clean.  Dirt finds its way into bearings, cables and really any other nook or pigeonhole that it can.  Like termites, it enters, makes its home unbeknownst to you, and sets about ruining your stuff.  Stuff that you probably spent hard earned money on; stuff you needn’t replace if you kept your bike clean. 

Soap and water is the name of the game here.  Get down and dirty with it and wipe it down by hand.  Find your inner Van Gogh—get a soft paintbrush measuring two or three inches wide and really get into all the small spaces around your components and drivetrain.  Wipe off the soapy water with a soft, lint-free rag or use compressed air to expel any excess water.  Always, Always, ALWAYS relubricate any pivot points, pulley wheels, and your chain after washing your bike.

Don't let a dirty bike sit! Get that stuff off of there within 24 hours.

Washing Woes

Bike washing isn’t all fun and games though.  There are several pitfalls that can make your bike washing adventure a wallet sapping problem down the road.  Unlike your hometown “save the high school” charity carwash, air dry is not an option here.  Unlike cars, water can become a blister on the foot of your bike’s ability to run.  Rust and corrosion can become a serious problem if a wet bike goes unnoticed.  Water—from rain, hose, or powerwasher—can blast much needed grease from the major bearing sets throughout your bike.  Even if you use the thickest waterproof grease, high powered hoses and powerwashers are a no-no when it comes to bike washing.  I know you see pro tour mechanics powerwashing all the team bikes after each stage or race, but unless you have a professional tending to your bike’s every want and need after every time you ride, I wouldn’t recommend it. 

Like I said before, compressed air does a fantastic job getting all excess water out of pivots and other small crannies and ALWAYS relubricate after you wash.  It’s mandatory. 

There are many different lubes out there.  Make sure your using the one best suited for your specific needs.  

Underlubrication/ Overlubrication

Now that I have convinced you of the value of lubing your chain and pivot points, let’s talk about how to actually execute said lubrication.  Unfortunately, it is not as simple as the “spray every time you play” technique many people use when it comes to chain lube.  But on the other hand, it is not an every 3,000 or 6 months (whichever comes first) oil change option that other people prefer.  Bikes need lubrication to work correctly, but too much can attract dirt and cause premature component fatigue.  No one likes premature fatigue.  Find that happy medium with your lubrication technique.  Apply lube every 100-200 miles or a week to 10 days—whichever comes first. 

As you rotate the cranks, drip the lube into each link until there is a thin and even coat ont he chain.  Pause—reflect on your life so far; give the lube a minute or so to make its way inside the rollers or pivot points.  Here is the all important step that most overlubricaters skip: Wipe the chain off!  Keep wiping.  The chain should look clean on the outside.  Grease or lube on the outside of your chain is a dirt magnet and we have all been familiarized with the baggage that dirt brings to the party.  This simple step will save your chain and all your other components from being grossly over-lubricated. 

If your cleaning up after yourself, your chain should look clean after lubrication

Post Race Preservation

So now you will be able to show up to all of your races with your bike sparkling and lubed up and ready to go.  But what about after the race?  I understand that after a hard race for which you have been training, you might hate even the sight of your bike, but this is the moment where champions are made—or at least this is where they save a couple bucks in replacement parts down the road.  Right now, as you are reading this, close your eyes and think back upon the experience of your last race...

Well….scratch that.  Don’t actually close your eyes.  It tends to make it difficult to read a computer screen.  Let’s try this: 

As you are reading this, close your mind’s eye and think back upon your last race.  Think about all the sweat, the dirt, the drool, and all of the hammer gel that didn’t quite make it down the hatch in the heat of the moment.  Guess where that unmentionably disgusting elixir lands? Your bike.  It finds its way into all of your important moving parts and gunks them up.  Ignoring your bike at this time is costly.  Headset bearings and cables are ripe for the ruining.  Giving your bike a good bath when you get home from your race can go a long way towards saving you money. 

Don't let flat spots on your rear tire leave you stranded.  Stay on top if it!

Rubber Neglect

Tires wear.  Flats happen.  Glass is ubiquitous in a city of this size.  But that is no good reason to neglect your tires and tubes.  Other than leave you stranded 15 miles from your car, what did they ever do to you?  Think of tires like babies, they need constant attention and inspection.  Replace your tires before they develop large flat spots in the middle of the tire.  Extreme wear means an exponential increase in flat probability.  In the unfortunate event you do find yourself changing a flat, take your time to carefully inspect the tire.  Make sure there are no foreign objects or road debris lodged in the tire.  If you miss a rogue shard of glass, you could find yourself changing another flat in the very near future.  When you do find yourself needing to replace your tires, make sure you buy really fat ones like I recommended last week. 

Trainer Neglect

While we are on the topic of flat spots on worn tires, let’s move on to the arch nemesis of your rear tire: your trainer.  This winter notwithstanding, many winters have left us non-hard-as-nails softies stranded inside on our stationary trainers for extended periods.  While they may be good for your fitness level, trainers tend to be deceivingly hard on your bike.  Rear tires wear quickly on trainers—so much so that many people use tires specifically made for trainer use.  Be sure to keep an eye out for the same signs of wear that I already mentioned and get your tires replaced if need be before climbing out of your winter shelter to rejoin your fellows for a gentlemen’s ride. 

Just because your not riding outside does not mean your bike doesn't need your love.
People tend to sweat more when they workout indoors and most of that extra sweat finds its way into your headset bearings.  Certain replacement will be necessary unless you employ a towel or bike thong  to shield your bike. 

Staying on Top of it

All of my subjects so far have a common undertone—in case you haven’t noticed.  My main point here is to “get ahead of the bike maintenance ball,” as it were.  Like car, home, or even relationship maintenance for that matter, bike maintenance is about staying on top of it.  It’s about taking care of small simple problems now so they don’t become bigger problems later.  If you regularly replace your chain before it becomes really worn, you can avoid replacing cassettes, pulley wheels and chainrings.  Throwing a towel over your handlebars before a hard trainer workout can save you $50 later on new headset bearings or $150 on a new stem after your sweat literally corrodes through it (I’ve seen it!). 

Staying on top of it can save you big money in replacement bearings down the road.

In Over Your Head

There is a saying that goes, “God give me the know-how to fix my bike when I can, the good sense to take it to Cadence when I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I’m pretty sure that’s in the Bible.  If it’s not, then you should file it in your home maintenance bible.

It’s great to take care of the small stuff yourself.  It gives you a better understanding of how your bike works and undoubtedly makes you a better rider and cycling ambassador.  There is a very real value, however, to the ability to know when you’re in over your head.  Bike shops like Cadence spend a lot of money to make sure we have the highest quality and most up-to-date specialty tools so that you don’t have to.  As professional wrenches, it is our job to be trained and experienced in dealing with various problems and it is probably likely that we have seen your problem before and fixed it many times. 

Half the battle in bike maintenance is knowing whether you’ve got it well in hand, you’re on the brink, or you’re just in the weeds. 

We want to hear what you think about this blog!  Do you have questions, comments, or good ideas for future posts?  Let us know what you think in the comment section below and thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

People talk endlessly about frames.  They talk about aero wheels, bottom bracket rigidity, carbon lay-ups, internal cables, external cables, sealed pseudo-half-internal cables, and how many seconds they all will save you if you can average 50kph over a 40km ITT.  I get asked which bike is the lightest, which gloves grip the tightest, which bearings spin the fastest, and which bar tape is most aerodynamic.  I take the utmost care in answering these questions because they matter.  There is a difference to be made and an advantage to be gained through them.  But when you get down to where the rubber meets the road, most people overlook just that: where the rubber meets the road.

Tires and tire pressure are crucial to dialing the way your bike handles, rides, and responds on the road—or dirt for that matter.  These two factors are inextricably related and it is a mistake to consider one without thinking about how it will affect the other.  Often issues of rubber on a bicycle are shrouded in confusion, misinformation, and outdated theories about what is best. 

I will now commence the unshrouding.

It is my personal belief that all bicycle tires should be like your childhood dreams: they should be big.  They should be as big as your frame will allow—which for most common road bikes is 25-28c size tire.  At minimum, they should be 23c or larger.  If, for some reason, you have a tire on your road bike that is smaller than a 23c size (yes you should measure it, the labels are often dishonest), I beseech you to immediately rip them from your wheels and damn them to a musty closet, or the darkest corner of your basement.  On the other hand, you could also just replace them with a larger size when they are worn or need replacing—whichever suits your druthers. 

My Michelins are labeled as 25c, but you can see they don't quite measure that way.  I LOVE the ride of these tires.

But in a more serious sense, bigger tires can make a big difference on any bike.  The old adage that narrower tires mean less rolling resistance has been debunked.  To be honest, it was probably never bunked to begin with.  This theory falls guilty of considering tire size independently of tire pressure, which, as I said before, is a dangerous thing to do.  In a sense, it is simultaneously right and wrong, if that is possible. 
All rolling resistance is caused by the deformation of the tire as it meets the road.  In a perfect world, where all the roads were paved with perfectly polished concrete, any reduction in that deformation would theoretically decrease your rolling resistance—meaning that a narrow, highly inflated tire would roll the fastest.  In our very imperfect world, however, an over inflated, overly narrow tire does a poor job of absorbing all the imperfections of the road.  It actually rolls slower than a properly inflated wider tire.  This article provides a great diagram of why this is true.  The amount of deflection for a wide tire is less in relationship to its total volume.  This allows the tire to better absorb the imperfections of the road. 

There are other issues, like a tires flexibility (TPI), the type of inner tube used, and weight that can all affect the speed with which a tire rolls.  In an effort to avoid a endless harangue, however, I will limit this post to size and…

Pressure.  It’s what makes bicycles go.  Can you imagine riding a bike with tires of solid rubber?  It’s preposterous.  The advent of pneumatic tires changed everything.  I am not exaggerating when I say that tire pressure is one of the most important factors in cycling.  Seriously.

The key to understanding proper tire pressure is recognizing the fact that pressure is directly linked to, and affected by the volume of your tires.  Larger tires should—nay, must be run at lower pressures.  It’s physics and not debatable.  Sheldon Brown, who forgot more about bikes in his lifetime than I will ever know, does a really eloquent job of illustrating a great example of why this must be.  You can read his writings on the subject here, and I would encourage you to explore the rest of his site as well.  There is a wealth of knowledge and experience there that is unrivaled.  If you’re not in the mood for extracurricular reading, though, I will do my best to give a brief synopsis of his ideas. 

Tire pressure is measured in PSI or pounds per square inch.  Europeans (and some Canadians) use a metric called Bars, but you needn’t worry about that.  The main point here is that pressure is measured as a force distributed over a defined space.  In our case, this is pounds over inches.  In light of this, it is easy to see how closely related the volume of your tire is to the pressure you should run.  For example, (this is lifted directly from Sheldon Brown) if you have a tire that is one inch wide and you inflate it to 100psi, there is 50lbs of load on each bead of the tire.  If you double the volume of the tire to two inches and still inflate the tire to 100psi, there is now 100lbs of load on each bead.  The tire that is twice as large should be run at half the pressure.  Simple, right?

So what does all this mean for you? Well it has the potential to change the way you feel on the bike drastically.  I would venture to say that most cyclists—somewhere in the neighborhood of 85 to 90% or so—overinflate their tires, regardless of the size.  It’s common practice to pump tires up to the maximum pressure listed on the side of the tire.  The funny thing about the pressure that is printed on the side of your tire is that it is probably determined more by people in the marketing and legal department than in the technical department.  The real truth of the matter is that tire pressure is best determined on a case by case basis.  Issues like rider weight, riding conditions, tire volume, and the personal preferences of the rider all need to be accounted for.  Because the front tire bears far less of the rider weight, it should also be run at a lower pressure (about 10% lower in my personal practice). 

If you were to drive (or ride) to Cadence right now, and put some fat 25c tires on your bike and get them inflated  to the correct pressure (consult Jamie or I about what pressure is best for you), I will guarantee you will notice a difference.  When done correctly, running fat tires will reduce pinch flats and puncture flats, exponentially increase the comfort of your bike, and dramatically improve how your bike corners and handles.  All of this without making sacrifices in rolling resistance! 

My rule of thumb is "Fat as you can fit."

I know you’re thinking, “Wow Scott, you’re a magician.  You just made me faster and more comfortable.”  But I’m just a tuba-playin’, blog-writin’, music-lovin’ bike wrench that is trying to do his job.  You’re welcome. 

This really is a topic that deserves much more time and space than I have given it here.  So if you are interested, stop in, see me, and we can discuss tires in all of their wonderful fat glory.    

For additional tire reading:

Friday, February 3, 2012

More Than My Cup of Tea

 A great cappuccino is something to behold.  They’ve been known—on many an occasion—to turn a day around.  A mid-ride double shot can put life into dead legs and a great Americano can warm a soggy winter training ride.  The comings and goings of the day’s ride are often swapped—sweaty kits still donned—over a cup o’ joe at the local coffee shop.  A small conglomeration of cyclists informally gather and sip their drinks as they wind down from a few hours well spent. 

Personally, I take my coffee black.  The bitterness grows on you, like a piece of modernist art that you hate at first, but to which you slowly become addicted.  My post ride coffee is a slow ritual—my only real concern being finishing just before it gets too cold, and, of course, getting home before I get in trouble for being out too long riding bikes. 

The drink itself, however, is only a means to gather.  An excuse to bask in the afterglow of a Sunday morning ride, it affords us time to relive and chuckle about the KOMs and county line sprints.  Prolonging the great sense of camaraderie that grows out of cyclists riding en masse brings us to the café table.  The community brings us back here.

It’s interesting to note how many places in this city you can grab a cup of coffee.  Just as interesting are the sundry groups of people that fill these places.  The Dunkin’ Donuts of the world have lines out the door cued with business people needing their caffeine fix, but I can’t ever think of a time I saw a group of cyclists gathering for a pre- or post-ride break.  We always gather at the small shops, where passionate people assemble your drink with care and detail—it’s not the easiest or the cheapest option, but we’re getting more than just coffee.  A tangled assemblage of bikes leaning outside a coffee shop is as good a sign as any that good flavors and good people can be found within. 

Your bike—whether high-end racer, beach cruiser, bar crawl fixie, fat-tire snow bike, retro ten speed, recreational hybrid, or off-road unicycle—is a cup of coffee.  When you throw your leg over it, you become a part of something wonderful.  Regardless of the number of hours in the saddle, you are a cyclist.  You bought more than just a cup of coffee, you bought into a community. 

Like the small coffee shops, your local bike shop (LBS) is the place to find this community.  Bike shops—of all shapes and sizes—are the gathering spots for cyclists of all shapes and sizes.  You can find wonderful products, but more than that you can find great people who want to share cycling with you.  We’re not Dunkin’ Donuts.  We are not the cheapest or fastest option, but we can offer much more than some new components and an email order confirmation. 

Come out and see us.  Better yet, come out and ride with us! (Shameless plug alert:  Our monthly no-drop EP ride leaves Cadence at 9am tomorrow (Saturday) morning.  All riders welcome).  Riding is why we all do what we do.  It is not about the bikes themselves.  They are a means to gather. 

So stop by and say “hi” sometime.  I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.