Drive My Bike


Warmer Weather Means Less Stuff!
May 14, 2009, 8:58 am
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With the warmer weather I recently hit two milestones in my Spring commuting. First, last week I started wearing shorts for the ride to work in the morning. Second, warmer weather means less outerwear needed, so this week I made the transition back to a single pannier. Both of those things sure are nice!

RollingShadow

It sure is nice to be able to leave the cold weather gear at home. I found myself struggling with that a bit, thinking paranoid “what if” thoughts…

“What if it gets really cold and you don’t have a fleece layer?” "What if it rains?” “What if… What if…What if… Oh stop it!”

One of the reasons I started riding my bike was to simplify my life, and now here I was stressing over what I was going to bring with me. I took a look at the weather report, reminded myself how warm it really was, and remembered how cold it was NOT… and decided to relax and leave stuff at home. The only cold weather thing I’ve taken for the last week or so has been my pullover windbreaker that I always bring. I find that it will keep me warm enough down into the low 50’s, especially once I get huffing and puffing a bit. I’ve been plenty warm, and it has been wonderful to enjoy the breeze.

So, in celebration of the warmer weather (and fingerless gloves that I can hold a camera with) I bring you some more riding pictures that I shot on the way home the other day…

Shadow in the crosswalk, stopped at a light

CrosswalkShadow 

Same light, almost green…

FrontWheelCrosswalk

Green… and go… (I was leaning way down, holding the camera to the side of the forks. I think the motorists were probably trying to figure out what I was doing)

ThruFrontSpokes

Just think, I could be waiting in that line of cars.

LineOfCars

There was a bicyclist coming up behind me. If you look in the distance you can see him over my shoulder. I noticed him in my mirror, and decided to put the camera away and get to riding. He didn’t catch me. 🙂

PursuitOverShoulder

I think this is my favorite picture of the set. These are so “accidental” because I can’t see a thing I’m shooting. It’s just “hold the camera in the air and push the button”. I really liked how the shadow fit in the wheel, and the spokes were blurred with motion.

SpinningSpokesShadow 

I hope that you’re able to enjoy this warmer weather and have some great rides!

Note: In case any of you care, I’m working on that next post about shoes for clipless pedals, and I’ll probably be putting it up in the next couple of days.



Understanding Clipless Pedals – Two Common Systems

It seems like a lot of people are searching for information on clipless pedals these days, so I thought I’d write a bit more about what I’ve learned recently. For this post, I’m going to explain two of the most common clipless systems available: “Look” and “SPD”.

Clipless Cleat Comparison (Look and SPD)

When I started shopping for clipless pedals I really had no idea what I wanted or needed, I just knew that I wanted some shoes that I could use both on my bike and on the spinning machines at our gym. I have learned a lot since then, and I settled on Shimano’s SPD system for my Trek mountain bike, which I use for commuting. At the same time I’m also watching over my friend Jake’s sweet road bike while he’s in Africa for a year, and his bike and shoes are based on the Look system, so I’ve also had a little experience with that lately.

Let’s talk about these two common clipless systems, Look (primarily for road bikes), and Shimano SPD (originally for mountain bikes, but now also found on road bikes).

In the picture above the Look system is on the left, and the SPD system is on the right. You can see that one of the biggest differences is that the Look cleat is much larger, probably three times the size of the SPD cleat.

Here’s what the Look pedal looks like:

LookPedal

Here’s a close up of the Look cleat and Look pedal next to each other:

LookCleatPedal

And here’s a side view of the Look system when it is clipped in:

LookClippedSide

Both of these systems operate almost the same when it comes to clipping in and out of the pedals. You begin to engage the pedal by hooking the front (toe side) of the cleat in the front of the pedal, and then you press down with your heel to make the cleat “clip in” to the pedal. To remove your shoe from the pedal, you push your heel to the side, rotating your entire foot away from the bike, which causes the pedal clamp to disengage from the cleat and “unclip”.

Here’s what the SPD pedal looks like:

SpdPedal

You’ll notice that this pedal looks similar to a non-clipless pedal. That is because it has a standard pedal on the other side, which allows you to use regular shoes as well. I chose this because I wasn’t sure how committed I was to riding clipless all the time, and I figured that in bad weather I would still be wearing my Neos overshoes and would need a regular pedal. I have to say that I like my clipless system so much that I’m not sure I would buy these double sided pedals again if I had it to do over. The “clip only” pedals are smaller, lighter, and double sided, so you don’t have to fumble around getting the clip right side up when clipping in. Of course clip only pedals would mean that I’d have to find some serious cold weather overshoes to fit over my clipless shoes, and those get expensive. The weather is pretty nice for now, so I’m figuring that I’ll cross that bridge later when the weather gets nasty.

Here’s a close up of the SPD cleat and SPD pedal next to each other:

SpdCleatPedal

And here’s a side view of the SPD system when it is clipped in:

SpdClippedSide

Again, unclipping the SPD system is done in the same manner as the Look system, by rotating your heel sideways, away from the bike.

So which system is better?

Unfortunately I can’t answer that for you, but the kind of bike you’re riding can help narrow your decision.

If you are primarily riding a road bike, then you might choose to use either system, although you’re probably more likely to come across a road bike with a Look system.

If you are primarily riding a mountain bike, then you’re probably going to choose Shimano’s SPD system. There are other mountain bike systems out there, but from what I’ve seen SPD is the most common.

If you find yourself riding both road and mountain bikes, and you’d like to have a system that can be used with both, then you probably want to go with the SPD system. That way you can buy a single pair of shoes, and use them with all your bikes.

There are other clipless systems out there, but I’ve focused on two of the most common systems. When I go to the spinning class at my gym the machines have double sided pedals, with Look clips on one side, and SPD clips on the other. While that works in the gym, a pedal like that would be too large and heavy, so it wouldn’t be very practical on a real bicycle.

Shimano makes a system for road bikes they call SPD-SL, and it is very similar to a Look system. Crank Brothers make their unique “Eggbeater” system (named for the way the pedals look) which is primarily aimed at mountain bikes. There are numerous other clipless systems available, but you’ll have to do your own research to decide what’s best for you.

When you purchase a clipless system, you’ll buy at least two things:

1) The pedals, which usually come with a set of matching cleats

2) The shoes, which will have a drilled panel on the sole designed to accommodate a certain kind of cleats. Some shoes can accommodate multiple types of cleats. Be sure they’ll work with the pedals you choose.

One of the best things to do would probably be to go to your local bike shop and spend some time with one of the knowledgeable staff members discussing your needs, and seeing what they recommend. I bought my pedals at REI, and the folks there were very helpful.

This post described the different systems, so next time I’m going to get into more detail about the different pedals and shoes that are available.

As I’m sure you can tell, I really like riding clipless now. I rode with normal shoes the other day, and it felt just plain weird, and I really missed the added power from clipping in. I’m sold on clipless pedals, and if you’re thinking about making the switch I hope this information will be helpful.

UPDATE: You can read more about clipless shoes in the next post here. You can read about installing cleats on your shoes here.



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) 🙂



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.



Snow Ride…
March 9, 2009, 4:16 pm
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“Snow ride… Take it easy…”, with props to Foghat.

(For the uninformed, a Foghat is not a helmet with a yellow light mounted on top… go here if you’re confused.)

SnowHelmet

Yes, it snowed today. Yes, I rode home in it. Yes, it was probably the most fun I’ve had on my commute… ever.

Why?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s that little kid playing in the rain kind of thing where you are just out there in the elements and it’s crazy fun. Maybe it’s the awesome looks you get from people as you ride by… with the snow caking on your bike, legs, and helmet. Maybe it’s the feeling of the cold wind and snow on your face… similar to the rush you get when you’re flying down a mountain on a snowboard.

Either way… it was fun!

Here’s what the Trek 830 looked like when I got home…

SnowyTrek830

It was caked with all kinds of snowy stuff, and so was I. My cold weather wet gear did the trick though, because I was warm and dry underneath.

It was great. I highly recommend it!



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.