Drive My Bike


Spring Springeth!

Our Utah weather is always a bit crazy this time of year. We had a few days of warmth, and then we got almost record amounts of snow this April, and Spring seemed like it was never going to show up. Based on my ride home today I am thinking it might finally be here!

TrekSpring3 

It was 38 degrees (F) when I left this morning. But it was sunny, and I really wanted it to be warm. I had my shorts on, and I really didn’t want to add any extra layers. Alas, sanity finally took hold as I stepped out the door, and I decided that I really needed a bit more of the uniform. So I put my Novara rain pants on, and added a microfleece pullover under my windbreaker.

The ride in was nice, and before long things had warmed up to the mid 60’s. I made it outside several times during the day, and each time I was thinking that the ride home sure was going to be nice.

I was right.

It was about 67 degrees (F) when I left the office. For the first time in a long time there was no headwind going home, and I was loving it. I felt really strong and it was the best ride home I’ve had in a long time. The hardest part of the trip was packing all my morning cold weather gear into my pannier… squish! 🙂

A couple of months ago I picked up a small rectangular pouch that fits under the front of my seat, just the perfect size for my camera. It has a wide mouth and Velcro flap that I can easily get into and out of while I’m riding. It has been too cold to use the camera since I’ve had full finger gloves on, but today I figured I’d try to take some riding pictures. A few turned out alright, so I’ll share them with you…

TrekSpring2

In this picture you can see my clipless setup that I mentioned in my last post

TrekSpring1

Hmm… probably need to clean that fender off under there…

TrekSpring4

Doing the picture taking thing, whilst pedaling mightily in rush hour traffic, whilst not crashing, seems to be an art form. I’ve seen some great bike photo blogs out there, and I’ve got a ways to go, but I’ll get it figured out.

I hope your rides are getting warmer too. Stay safe. (Even if you are a bit crazy and decide to try to take pictures while you’re riding) 🙂

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Getting Started With Clipless Pedals
April 13, 2009, 1:37 pm
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I used to wear normal running shoes for all of my rides, and I thought that clipless pedals were overkill. Recently however, between taking a spinning class, and the recommendation of a friend, I decided to give them a try. Wow, what a difference!

TrekAtOffice

I started out on my biking adventure pretty casually. In fact, I wasn’t even sure this whole biking thing would “stick”. I figured maybe it was just a phase. Obviously, if you read this blog, you know that it wasn’t just a phase, and that biking has become a regular part of my life that I really enjoy.

Part of my casual start of biking was just wearing normal shoes to ride. My Schwinn Midtown that I picked up at Costco just had normal pedals. In fact, I’m not even sure I knew what clipless pedals were. I had seen the old school pedals with straps on them, and had heard that serious bikers wore special shoes, but I had no idea how they worked. Although, as I started to learn more about modern bicycles it wasn’t long before I started encountering this strange concept called clipless pedals.

Now, for those of you that don’t know much about clipless pedals, let me say that I really think the name is confusing. I think it comes from the old school pedals with cages and straps on them that were referred to as clips, but now we have modern “clipless” pedals that you “clip into”. Yeah, go figure. I guess “clipmore pedals” really doesn’t work… but it seems like it would make more sense. 🙂

Anyway, regardless of what you think of their name, I have now become a believer in a clipless pedal system. It all started when I decided to try taking a spinning class at a local fitness center. I immediately noticed that the bikes has clipless pedals, and that most of the “regulars” in the class wore biking shoes and clipped in during their workout. I guess the peer pressure kind of got to me and I started thinking about getting some biking shoes for the class. Around this same time I talked with a friend who has been bike commuting for a number of years, and when he found out that I wore normal shoes to bike, he strongly recommended that I give clipless pedals and shoes a try.

At this point, I was convinced, but then I began to price a clipless system and quickly realized it wasn’t going to be a cheap endeavor. I also figured it was a pretty big investment if I ended up not liking them. About this same time I got my annual dividend back from REI, as well as a 20% discount coupon. REI also had some pedals on sale, so I decided to go for it.

I went to my local REI, and they had a decent selection of shoes to try on, as well as some very knowledgeable and helpful salespeople. After trying on several different styles of shoes I decided on the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Seek shoe.

One of the things that was kind of overwhelming about clipless systems is that there are many different kinds of cleats to choose from. I didn’t really know anything about the different systems, but it seemed like I had seen Shimano SPD cleats mentioned a lot. The folks at REI confirmed that most spinning cycles had SPD pedals, and that SPD was a very common system. So when it came to pedals, I decided on the Shimano M324 Combo pedal which had SPD cleats on one side and a normal pedal surface on the other. Since they are double sided I can still ride them with normal shoes if needed. Here’s a picture of the shoes with the cleats installed, and the combo pedal.

CliplessShoesPedal

The next step in the journey was getting used to riding while clipped into the pedals. I had heard a few horror stories about people not being able to get unclipped when they stopped so they fell over. Several people even went so far as saying that “you will fall over, it is just a matter of when and how many times”. The friend who had recommended going clipless encouraged me to go ride around a field for a while and practice clipping in and out a whole bunch.

Well, I was so anxious to try my new shoes and pedals that I completely ignored that advice and decided to just try them on my Monday morning commute. I started out slowly, using the non-clip side of the pedals until I got up to speed, and then clipping in. Every time I had to stop I clipped out early, and made sure I was ready to stop. That first day was great, and I figured I had this thing all figured out. Well, it didn’t take long before I was humbled. After a couple of days I decided to run over to the grocery store to pick up a couple of things, so it was a casual trip, and I wasn’t riding very seriously. I got to a big intersection that really requires me to cross in the crosswalks like a pedestrian. When I pulled onto the sidewalk to push the “walk” button for the stoplight I got off balance and couldn’t unclip in time. I fell over “in slow motion” on the sidewalk! It was Saturday afternoon, so the intersection was full of cars, and I was embarrassed. My ego was the only thing that was bruised though, so I popped back up quickly, trying to smile and laugh at myself so that everyone knew I was okay. The funny thing is, I didn’t see anyone watching me, and I’m not even sure anyone noticed.

So, after all that, what’s the big deal about a clipless pedal system? I have to say that I didn’t “get it” until I tried them, but the difference is amazing. One of the best ways I can think of to explain the difference is that it is like you mechanically “become one” with your bike. Your feet and legs become extensions of the crank arms, and just like the push rods on a real engine, you can apply power through the entire circle of your stroke. I immediately noticed that I felt a lot stronger and more efficient. It was much easier to stay in a faster gear, especially when climbing. I also noticed that all of the muscles in my legs were getting a workout, not just my quads. In fact, initially this was uncomfortable, and I’ve been a bit sore, but I think this is much better overall because my legs are getting a more balanced workout.

If you’ve never thought about it, I would encourage you to give clipless pedals a try.

UPDATE: I wrote another post with more detail about clipless pedal systems here.



Some Days Are Fast, Some Days Are Slow
February 23, 2009, 3:13 pm
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This morning I believe I had the fastest ride to the office that I’ve ever done, and it wasn’t like I set out to break any speed records…

j0438890

I had a very active weekend. I did a full day of snowboarding on Saturday, and played an hour of racquetball yesterday. I was really tired yesterday, and I was still feeling a bit tired and stiff this morning.

But someone forgot to tell my legs they were tired when I started my ride this morning.

Lately, after a half mile or so of warming up at a medium pace, I settle into a “slightly above medium” pace, and that is where I stay. There are only a few spots where I can get to my highest gear without overly straining, and even then I can only keep that up for a block or so before I have to downshift a couple of gears to find the normal pace.

But today the bike just wanted to go fast.

Same rider, same payload, same bike. The only difference was that it was about ten degrees warmer this morning… in the upper forties (F) when I left. I got to the place where I usually have to downshift, and decided that I didn’t need to yet, so I kept going. I kept telling myself “hold this pace until you get to the next corner”. I kept doing that, until the next corner, and the next corner, and the next. Then came the biggest hill that I face, where I always have to drop a gear or two to maintain my cadence. Today I got a little crazy and decided to try to do the whole hill in my top gear, and it worked. I maintained my highest gear, and dropped my cadence a good bit by the time I reached to top, but picked up the pace again right away on the downhill side. I don’t have a cycle computer on my “winter” bike (the Trek Antelope 830 that I rebuilt in the fall), so I have no idea how fast this ride really was. I had to stop for a couple of red lights, so I’m not even sure about my overall time. However, I’m sure that I’ve never been able to maintain that pace for the majority of the distance.

The funny thing is that I have no idea why it was like this today. It was great to feel strong for a change, because ever since my Christmas break I have felt like I was crawling back to the fitness level I had in early December. My strength and stamina seem to ebb and flow very unpredictably, and I’m not interested in charting things out… so I’ll just enjoy days like this and celebrate the small victories.

As to what I’ve been up to while I’ve been so quiet the last few weeks…

  • I’ve continued to ride to work on a regular basis. We’ve had quite a few “snow days” lately where my team has decided to work from home, so riding to the office hasn’t been as consistent, but I’ve ridden my bike every time I’ve gone into the office.
  • To make up for the lack of rides to the office I’ve supplemented with riding for other errands when possible. Some of the nicest rides I’ve had recently have been when I’ve taken a break mid-day and met friends for lunch.
  • I’ve had some cold rides, around 9 degrees a couple of times. I’ve got a pretty good cold weather outfit now. From the top down: Helmet, Novara beanie, 360s ear warmers, Fleece facemask, Cheap gloves of a wool/thinsulate blend, Glove liners, Pullover windbreaker, Fleece pullover, Novara water/wind proof pants, Fleece sweats, Wicking base layer top and bottom, Neos Overshoes, Running shoes, Wool blend socks. This mix works pretty well. On the coldest days I start chilled but by mile three I am unzipping a bit to get some ventilation due to overheating.
  • I’ve had some beautiful rides on several days when the temps have climbed into the upper 40’s and lower 50’s. Nice to put away the colder weather gear and relax the dress code a bit.
  • I’ve had up days and down days. On one of the bad days my wife asked me “So are you still enjoying this?” I answered “No, but I’m going to keep going because I kind of made a commitment to myself to do this.” On the good days I remember why I made that commitment.

Keep riding, enjoy the fast days when you can ride like the wind, and stay safe.



Trek Antelope 830: A New Steed In The Corral
October 20, 2008, 9:39 pm
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I finally got that old Trek Antelope 830 rebuilt and have ridden it on a couple of commutes!

Trek830

If you read my previous post about the used Trek 830 I picked up from the classifieds, then you know that I got a lot more (or less) than I bargained for. I was looking for a used mountain bike that was still solid enough that I could clean it up a bit and use it for my winter bike commuting. I thought I had found a great deal when I located the Trek for $65, and my buyer’s excitement got the best of me. When I got home that excitement quickly went away as I realized that most of the major drivetrain components were beat up and worn beyond repair. Well, some more $$ later, with a good bit of learning and elbow grease thrown in, and I actually do have a usable commuting bike.

I’ve put almost 30 miles on it, and so far I am happy with the results. One of the first things that I like, but that has taken a lot of getting used to, is the more horizontal riding position due to the lower handlebars. Riding this bike is much more like riding a road bike, which is something I was used to in college, but I’m definitely not used to anymore. Although it felt awkward at first, I have come to enjoy the more aggressive feeling that comes from leaning forward while riding. The bike also feels much faster than I expected. I ended up changing out the entire crankset, instead of just the front chainrings, and the replacement set is not quite as big as the ones that were on there. I figured this would slow things down quite a bit, but it actually ends up being a very workable mix of gears, good for both speed and hills.

All in all, this has been a good experience, especially now that I am able to enjoy the fruits of my labor. At this point the only thing I’m still considering adding is a set of studded tires to deal with the snow and ice that is part of a Utah winter. I’m not sure about that, but it definitely sounds like it would lead to a more solid ride. I’ll keep you posted.

BTW, Thanks to all of you that voted in the poll from my last post that asked the question about wearing headphones while riding. The results were very interesting and surprising! I’ve got some ideas for some more polls, so stay tuned.

UPDATE: The Trek 830 has become my main ride, and I’ve put a lot of miles on it. Look here to read about the Trek 830’s snow adventure. I even updated it with clipless pedals, and you can read about that here.



My Latest Project: Rebuilding a Tired Old Bike
October 7, 2008, 11:03 am
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I really didn’t go looking for another project. Really. I went looking for a “beater” mountain bike that I could turn into my winter commuter bike. I found one.

Bike Tools On Floor

Yes, those are bike guts all over the floor. Will the patient live? A better question might be… “Should we admit the patient is really, really dead and move on with our lives?” Allow me to bring you up to speed…

For a few months I’ve been on the lookout for a couple of bikes. I would like to get something a bit more “serious” for my daily good weather commuting, and I would like to get a mountain bike that I can outfit for winter commuting. Winter is almost upon us here in Utah, and it won’t be long before the roads are snowy and icy, so a winter commuting bike is becoming an urgency if I’m going to keep riding. Last Saturday I thought I found what I was looking for… a used Trek Antelope 830 for $65. I called the seller, immediately drove over to take a look, took the bike for a 30 second ride up the block, had a pleasant 10 minute conversation about how he fixes up bikes and resells them, paid for the bike, and drove home with a big victory smile on my face. I then picked up a rack and a fender from a local bike shop (LBS), figured out how I was going to adjust things to get them installed, and then smiled proudly once again as I set eyes upon my new prize. I decided that I should probably lube the chain since it looked a bit tired… and that was when the fun really began. Here’s a picture of my new prize:

Trek Antelope 830

No, this picture is not upside down… the bike is upside down. That is the current state of its existence while I perform major surgery. When I started to lube the chain I noticed that it seemed to weave back and forth as I moved the pedals. Oh wow! The front chainrings were bent! (When I was a kid we called the things the chain went on “sprockets”… but somewhere in the last 30 years they have become “chainrings”… so in the interest of biker correctness I will henceforth use chainrings to refer to the poky metal circles that drive the chain.) Upon closer inspection, I saw that both the front and back chainrings were hammered! (Yes, I now also know that the rear chainrings are called a “cassette”, but we’ll get to that in a bit…) Teeth were worn and bent, and the chain itself was worn and had stretched so that it was not making proper contact. In my buyer’s exuberance over the “deal” that I had found, I had neglected to take a good look at the drivetrain components, and now I realized I had a tired old bike that needed some major surgery before it was going to be of much use to me.

Well, at this point I had to make a decision. I guess I could have tried to take it back to the seller, but he was a nice fellow and I really don’t think he was maliciously trying to sell me a bad bike, so I didn’t feel like it was his fault. I could have given the bike away, but that would mean that I just completely wasted my $65, and I still wouldn’t have a winter commuter. So I decided to go for door number three, which meant that I was going to learn to rebuild this thing and make it work. Oh, what a journey that has been over the last few days…!

When I was a kid (in the 1970’s… yeah, I guess I’m actually that old now) I used to work on my bikes all the time. I had a couple of bikes back then. I had a JCPenney special that I had completely stripped down and repainted black so that it looked cool, and I rode that like it was a BMX bike until I cracked the frame and rims trying to jump things that I had no business jumping. Then I saved up my lawn mowing money all summer and I got a “real” BMX bike, (for those that might remember… Webco frame, Webco chromoly forks, Astabula cranks, Oakley grips… oh yeah it was sweet) and I rode that thing every day for a few years. Those bikes were easy to work on, and I had no fear, so I did all the maintenance on them.

Fast forward to today. Now we have things called chainrings, cassettes, sealed bearings, bottom brackets, drivetrains, rapidfire shifters, downtubes, clipless pedals, and the list goes on. What used to be simple now sometimes seems so complex.

In spite of all of this “new” stuff, I decided to go for it with the repairs, and I dove headfirst into learning what I needed to know to get this done. I started reading everything that Google could find about bike repair, and watching lots of videos on YouTube and other places. (BicycleTutor.com is definitely your best friend) In the last few days I feel like I have learned more about modern bikes and bike repair than I thought was possible. I learned that this model of the Trek Antelope 830 was originally sold in 1992, and was only a mediocre bike back then. I now know that my Trek originally came with funky chainrings that Shimano introduced that are actually elliptical, not round, as a way to try to get more power on the entire stroke circle as you pedal, and these chainrings are not readily available today. I now know the difference between a freewheel and a cassette, and yes, the Trek has a cassette. I now know how to remove all of the drivetrain components on my Trek, and have actually done so. I now know the local bike shop owner on a first name basis, and he definitely knows me. I now also know that I did not save any money by buying that used Trek, in fact I’m not going to tell you how much I have spent at this point on parts and tools. (You can ask my wife, because she gets this nice smile on her face now whenever I come home from my latest trip to the bike shop. “But honey, the tools don’t count because they are an investment for the future.” At least that makes me feel a bit better when I say it.)

So… did I really blow it with this purchase? Well, I’m going to be positive and look beyond the financial part, and say that I think the experience I’m getting, and even the fun that I’m having (yes, I think I’m actually enjoying this) has made this whole thing worth it.

The bike is not ready yet. (Prepare for bike technical jargon) At this point I am in need of new chainrings that will fit the existing crank arms. I bought a complete crankset, but it will not work because the bottom bracket spindle on this old bike is longer than modern ones, so the front chainrings would be out of alignment. I’ve decided I’m going to use the existing crank arms and just get new chainrings. I’ve determined I need 5 arm 110/74 BCD front chainrings, and am currently deciding where I’ll get them. I replaced the cassette, and have a new chain waiting in the wings. I think I can get away without replacing any of the shifter or brake linkage, and I think my derailleurs are salvageable. I went ahead and bought a new saddle also, because I figured I was already in it this deep, so why not have a comfortable butt.

So that’s the lowdown on my latest project. I’m still choosing to be optimistic at this point, and I’m looking forward to riding this thing once I get it done. I’ll keep you posted as the adventure continues.

UPDATE: This story has a happy ending… take a look here.