Drive My Bike


Just For Fun
June 11, 2009, 8:55 pm
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The other day my friend Jake said, “Don’t you ever ride just for fun?”

I thought… “Well yeah, sure… I guess. Okay, so I usually ride to get somewhere.”

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Yes, I was actually talking to Jake while he is in Africa, live, via Skype. Honestly, it is amazing to be able to do that. Jake says that the internet access there is really good. To quote him, “You can’t drink the water, but I can download the latest Eminem mp3 in a flash.” Sounds like we get our technology priorities messed up sometimes.

Anyway, last week I did decide to take a ride “just for fun”. I had a fairly stressful day and was ready for a break, so I decided to take a ride in the evening to clear my head. I started out planning my route, and then stopped myself. Instead I decided to just “go”, no real plan, no destination.

I took Jake’s bike, which is a really nice modern road bike. I’ve been riding that bike a lot more recently ever since I swapped out the Look pedals with a set of SPD pedals so that I can use my SPD shoes and sandals. The frame is aluminum and carbon fiber, and the whole bike is incredibly light, with all the new high tech features. It is a real joy to ride, and I’m getting spoiled. I told Jake that I’m not sure what I’m going to do when he comes home and wants it back.

It was a great ride. I ended up covering a little over twenty miles, and going places I’d never ridden before. I had a tough ride up a steep section, and that was a little exciting because the front derailleur stuck for some reason, so I couldn’t shift down from the large chainring. This meant that I had to work extra hard to get up that stretch, but I was able to make it, and the speedy ride down the other side was exhilarating.

I was good and tired when I got home, but my mind was clear and fresh. It was a great feeling.

Riding just for fun… yeah, I need to do that more often.



I Forgot My Anniversary

(No, not that anniversary. If that was the case I wouldn’t be celebrating.)

Yesterday, June 1, 2009, was my one year anniversary as a bike commuter.

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I had been looking forward to my one year bike commuting anniversary, but the day came and went, and I completely forgot. I had a good commute and didn’t think twice about it until this morning.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I started on this adventure. In some ways it seems like just yesterday, and in other ways it seems like I’ve been doing it all of my life.

A lot of things have changed in a year:

  • I hadn’t ridden a bike in at least 20 years, but now it drives me crazy if I don’t ride a bike every day or two.
  • I went from zero bikes to three bikes. I didn’t know much about modern bikes, so I started with a simple comfort bike from Costco, a Schwinn Midtown. I don’t ride that bike much anymore. Instead I also have a mountain bike that is my main ride, which I rebuilt by myself. I have tried to learn as much as I can about modern bike technology, and I have continued to upgrade that bike, my Trek Antelope 830. Currently I am also babysitting a really nice high-tech road bike for a friend, and I ride it on a regular basis. (Hey, Jake told me I needed to ride it, so I just have to.)
  • I was so out of shape that I thought my first few rides were going to kill me, but now the 5 mile ride to the office is barely a warm up. I have lost about 15 pounds, and I’m in the best shape I’ve been in years. I also usually take an intense spinning class at our gym once a week, and I’ve even been pondering riding a century (100 mile) charity ride this summer.
  • I used to think those bicycle riders on the side of the road were a bit weird. Maybe we are, but now I’m one of those guys on the side of the road. I even own a couple of pairs of spandex shorts. Yikes! (My kids still aren’t comfortable with the concept of dad in spandex shorts.)
  • When I first told people of my plans to ride my bicycle to work, they usually told me I was crazy. Now most of those same people tell me how much they respect that I bike commute everywhere. Most of them say they wish there was a way they could do it, but then they offer up the standard list of excuses. A few seem like they might be thinking about it though, so we’ll see what this next year brings.
  • And on, and on, and on… the changes are too numerous to note them all.

What a difference a year with a bike can make. This has been a wonderful, life-changing experience. One of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time.

If you are thinking about starting to ride a bike again… go for it!

Maybe next year we can celebrate our anniversaries together.



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…

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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.



Another Poll: Do You Use A Bicycle Mirror?

One of the first accessories I bought when I started bike commuting was a mirror, and I immediately became dependent on it…

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When I bought my first bike, a simple Schwinn Midtown comfort bike from Costco, it was not setup for commuting, and I went to a local bike shop for some advice. One of the first things he recommended was a Blackburn Handlebar Mirror. I bought it, and within a couple of rides I was immediately used to it being there. If you drive a car, and regularly check your side mirrors, then using a handlebar mounted bike mirror is very natural.

When I finished rebuilding my latest bike, it dawned on me that I didn’t have a mirror. The Trek came with end bars on the handlebars, and metal plugs on the ends of the handlebar tubes, so it would take some work to install the same Blackburn mirror I have on my Midtown. I was at the store looking at options, and I decided to try an inexpensive helmet mounted mirror. Installation was a snap, as it just fastens to your helmet with some double stick tape. I had heard that helmet mirrors are nice because you can get a wide field of view by turning your head to aim the mirror at what you need to see, so I was anxious to try this new mirror out. My first ride with the helmet mirror was on my Midtown, and I really had to fight the urge to just look at the handlebar mirror. It was kind of tricky to get the helmet mirror adjusted and aimed right, and it felt really strange to look up and to the left to see what was behind me. I’m happy to say that as I’ve ridden the Trek more I have gotten used to the helmet mirror, and it works reasonably well. I wouldn’t say I have a favorite at this point, because the experience with the two kinds of mirrors is very different, and I think they both have their positives and negatives.

So, that brings me to another opportunity to ask you what your preferences are when it comes to bicycle mirrors. As before, I’d love your comments as well as your votes.

Thanks for your feedback!



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.