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Like riding a bicycle February 18, 2012

Posted by Bill in Equipment, Reflection.
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After a too long hiatus, the freakishly excellent weather of February got me back onto the trail, and it hasn’t disappointed.

Usually the weather is too wet to enjoy the migratory birds this time of year, but they’re here in huge numbers. Mergansers, shore birds of all kinds, pre-nesting GB herons, the works.

And maybe it’s the luck of the day and this particular crowd, but I’m seeing an interesting flip in the bike equipment sociology/gearology. Lots of (very) gray heads on excellent road gear; an unusually high percentage. Conversely, lots of 40-somethings on their teenagers’ abandoned grunge bikes. You can tell. This is the opposite condition from when I started this blog.

My explanation for this is based on nothing scientific other than the fact that the late-boomer surge is now entering that time of life in which our bodies are dissolving out of neglect, and we have more resources to take care of ourselves than our x-gen counterparts who have been hit hardest by the recession.

At any rate, there’s nothing like a bike to keep this body alive, and it feels no less good after too many weeks away. The deer and squirrels may not be so thrilled with us, but they can share.



Why bicycling is like sex July 3, 2010

Posted by Bill in Conditioning, Equipment, Reflection, Uncategorized.
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1890 nude on bicycle with glass of wineThis blog originated from my observations about getting older, and efforts to return to a level of fitness from before my lifestyle became anti-exercise.   How to sustain something that would benefit my body over the long haul, to allow me to have a long haul in the first place.  As a educator of humans for many decades, one thought has held true for all: nothing is sustained that isn’t fun or immediately beneficial.  How many NordicTrack machines are taking up space in garages, piled on top of college textbooks we haven’t yet had the nerve to give away?

I also knew I was a slave to chemistry… fun or not, I had to cope with the fact that my body had some cardiovascular growing to do, and that didn’t sound fun.  Here’s the deal:  fitness is a question of how well your body can turn oxygen into useful energy.  The more oxygen you can convert into energy, the fitter you are.  The good news is this: regardless of your age, your body can increase its fitness as a result of your efforts.  The bad news is this: you have to give it a reason to do so.  You have to stress it, make your heart pump faster and harder, to engage the chemical machinery and tissue growth required to make you better able to use oxygen and deliver it to muscle tissue.

The word “effort” in our culture has negative connotations.  “To get good grades, you have to put in effort.”  “Politicians must make an effort to avoid corruption.”  I’d like to shift the paradigm a bit here, hence the title of this post.  Sex requires effort, at least good sex does.  It may even require a bit of planning and careful orchestration of circumstances (right, parents?). Bad sex does not encourage a return to the scene, so most of us put a good deal of energy, effort, into making sure the experience is a good one for all parties involved.

Well, the same thing goes for bicycling.  If you do it well and pay attention to details, it will feel good and you will ache for more.  If you ignore the details or assume someone else (a bike builder, for instance) will take care of them for you, it’s not going to work out and you’ll wind up with a two-wheeled paperweight.  So, think of your conditioning regimen as an act of love-making. Just like with sex, a partner can make your bicycling experience far more rewarding, but a partner is not required for a quality experience.  Regard the following list, and keep the metaphor running:

  • Decide what kind of bicycling feels good to you, but leave yourself open to an evolving/changing sense of what that is.  Quality bike shops such as The Bicycle Business rent performance bikes for test rides.  If you are tentative about dropping the Big Nickle, a few rentals will help you narrow your interests.  Also, top shops also employ very experienced people who have much wisdom in these things.  However, none of those folks would have guided me to my Madone, so don’t take their word as gospel.  Test various rides, get opinions of other riders, and let your imagination be your guide.
  • Find the right setting. Doing it in high traffic areas is not generally satisfying, so find a place to ride where you feel safe and you can pay closer attention to the act of bicycling, to your body’s attempts to communicate its needs to you, and to your surroundings beyond finding the texting driver before he/she finds you.
  • Pace yourself. Listen to your body’s attempts to determine what feels good.  If your body says “go faster!”, do that.  If after riding a half mile your body says “I’m pooped!”, give it a rest.  If the inside of your legs feel tight, get off the bike and rest them and gently massage.  Whether bicycling or lovemaking, pushing into some crazy performance ideal ruins the entire experience.  Setting goals in either activity is certainly useful, but it isn’t the goal that determines the joy you will derive.  It is the journey that will determine the quality of your experience, and it is the quality of the journey that will determine whether you want to embark on another.
  • Pay attention to your attire. Just yesterday I was riding in 90 degree morning air, passing rider after miserable rider (all men) wearing their favorite cotton weekend t-shirt.  They were red in the face, visibly sweating.  Other riders (those clearly not dismayed by those who sneer at the “spandex crowd”) had prepared themselves with moisture-wicking, highly evaporative synthetic clothing, and were obviously comfy.  Also, you are much more attached to your crotch than you think.  Heavily padded riding shorts may feel odd, but if you are riding more than a couple blocks, they are well worth the effort and weirdness.  1890s cyclingI once had someone say, “Oh, you’re one of them,” when she found out I was part of the spandex crowd of bicyclists.  Yep, guilty as charged, and happy with my lot.  120 years ago people were clothed head to toe in cotton or wool from neck to ankle for both cycling and sex.  Let us aspire to more modern expressions of attire in both.
  • Hydrate aggressively. This does not mean stop every half hour at a drinking fountain.  This means drink when you are thirsty, and on a bike this will be every few minutes during a moderate workout.  Not only do you sweat it out, you exhale a great deal of your body’s water.  When your throat feels parched, you are dehydrated, and blood will not move to your extremities and muscles as effectively.  If you are not secure about reaching for a water bottle from a rack in your frame (or if you’re vain about frame appearance like I am), invest in a backpack hydration system such as a bike-specific Camelbak.  Narrow, as your back is part of your cooling system, so the more of your back that’s exposed the cooler you’ll stay.  If you don’t hydrate sufficiently, you will cramp sooner, you will feel artificially fatigued, and your recovery period will be far longer.
  • Focus on the moment. OK, this sounds kind of new-agey, but it’s for real.  Your life is a collection of experiences, and as humans we seek to repeat those experiences that give us pleasure and we avoid those that don’t, despite our best “adult” intentions.  If you think for half a second about addiction, you’ll get my drift.  As you ride, stay in touch with how you feel, and give yourself permission to stop that which doesn’t feel good.  Do not “push through the pain.”  That’s high school football coach bs, and it is a very destructive orientation.  Especially as you are beginning a conditioning regimen and you are learning how your body responds to exercise, experiment with periods of exertion and rest.  While it feels good to exert, it also feels good to rest.  Over time, your periods of exertion will grow and your rest periods will shrink, but it should all continue to feel good.  In time you’ll find the balance of exertion & rest that works for you, and which feels good over an extended period.
  • Check in with your doctor. This is particularly true if you have not exercised for decades, if you have other health issues that would be negatively impacted by sudden exertion, or if you’re at all nervous about beginning exercise.   Older (and not-so-older) riders will feel a bit on the creaky side coming off a period of non-exercise, and  there may be momentary aches and pains as you extend into ranges of motion unfamiliar to your body.  Mostly those little annoyances will pass, but do respond to those that don’t with a little personal TLC.

Too little time – June 12, 2010

Posted by Bill in Equipment, Photography.
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My intention has been to regularly post the photography generated by the request from the kind people at the California State Fair for the benefit of the Pedaling to Adventure bicycle exhibit, and my blogging time has been overridden (pun intended) by the balance of life.  My apologies to friends who have been looking for promised posts.

Quite apart from this photo assignment has been the infrastructure of my ride, the ways and means by which it can happen.  Without the ride, there is no blog.  As mentioned before, my wife has joined me in this interest such that our life includes the bicycle, in in a form that gives me enormous pleasure.  She is the true foundation & rebar of my bicycle infrastructure.

Earlier posts have detailed the process of the ’08 Madone 6.9 coming into existence, with its debut last February.  bicycle madone 6.9I built this thing up from parts acquired through a number of sources – see those posts – but the combining of parts alone, without the finesse of experience, does not let one of these lovely bikes sing.  I have thrown together kids’ bikes from scrounged parts, and they worked fine.  What I did not understand was that the tolerances of adjustments in bikes designed to go fast with little mass were well beyond the instincts of a newbie.  A half degree on the angle of a derailleur hanger is critical.  Whodathunk?

So meet Brendan:

Brendan, at City Bikes Citrus Heights

Brendan not only did the final tune and handle bar wrap for my Madone, when the bike turned up with an annoying tick coming from the rear wheel, he cheerfully rechecked the tune, finding (and repairing) a very slightly out-of-true hanger.  This photo collection for the state fair could not be complete without due credit.  I already have a link to City Bicycles on this blog, as they have brought me great pleasure and security that someone in this town knows what they’re doing with bikes, and does it cheerfully and with passion in what has to be a very competitive business.  If you know City Bicycles, don’t feel you need to schlep into downtown Sac to get the job done.  Go see Brendan in Citrus Heights, on Greenback just west of Sunrise.

I don’t care what they say February 15, 2010

Posted by Bill in Equipment, Reflection.
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After today’s inaugural 20 miles on my “new” build Madone, nobody can ever tell me that a non-racer geezer doesn’t belong on a race bike.  Well, they can tell me, but now I have no reason to listen, without a moment’s doubt.

madone 6.9 inaugural run Why should the pleasure of easy climbs followed by acceleration off the crest unlike anything a heavy bike can produce be reserved for young team and pro riders?

There is no practical and age-appropriate machine for any particular individual or age group.  If you want to feel a snappy turn and you want your bike to shift effortlessly, without hesitation or grumble, you find a way to make that happen for you.

After this build, giving me a truly awesome ride at 15 pounds 2 ounces (with pedals, without water & tools), I have something that tells me in uncomfortably unforgiving terms that the only limitation is the rider and the condition thereof.  This bike screams “Come on!” as I think about how to spend my time.  Do I take advanced training in Tivo programming, or do I divert into the garage and spin for awhile?

Posts to come will have more to do with returning to a higher level of conditioning at a certain age.  WIsh me luck.  Or better yet, join me.

I’d like to thank the Academy… January 31, 2010

Posted by Bill in Equipment.
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madone almost finished

When I stepped back after the laying on of WTB Vigo saddle and Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels, the message I had to suppress was, no joke, “Nobody’s going to let you get on that, you know.”

Still missing bar tape, a chain, pedals, and tuning, but this puppy knocks me out.

This Geezer’s 2008 Trek Madone 6.9 Pro…

Thank you, Danielle…

Closing in on the thrill January 31, 2010

Posted by Bill in Equipment.
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The one part of this project that offered me any heartburn at all, save the international flavor and “how the hell can all this stuff actually go together?” anxieties (previous post), was the thought of starting cabling from scratch.  I’ve had a sufficient number of binding cable runs, etc., to know that it’s not automatically successful, and I was less than happy about learning on this build.  Fortunately, I stumbled into my nearest (almost nearest) Trek dealer, City Bicycle Works in Citrus Heights.  There the neighborly mechanic not only sold me some of his personal stock of hard-to-find (in Sacramento at any rate) SRAM white cable housing, he gave me the quick tour of which fittings go with which kind of housing, the difference between brake and derailleur housing, how to cut it, the works.  madone with cablesHis significantly younger helper, not to be outdone, demonstrated skills with hand motions and eyebrows in thumbs-up expressions of support and good will.

The Citrus Heights City Bicycle Works store is the corner hardware store version of the City Bicycle Works kingdom.  You want people who’ll take the time to bring you to understanding, this is the place.

If you look closely at the lever positions, no, they are not quite in the right spot, but everything works like a champ.

Oh, and brakes… why does Campy sell front brakes with backing inset nuts that are too short for 90% of all forks out there?  Is that to keep their advertised weight down?

Campagnolo, I had translated what I have to say to you about that:

Ciò è una strategia stupida.

Brilliant engineering… January 31, 2010

Posted by Bill in Equipment.
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madone frame with cranksetThis build began with a modest degree of fear.  I have built a number of machines in my time, and I have repaired that which was built by its builder, with all the parts coming from the same source.  Or, at least the parts at one time started out fitting together, and leaving in completed form from the same place.

This build, however, was anything but that.

Frame: American; Waterloo, Wisconsin; used, via Ebay.

Drivetrain: Italy (pretty, but have you seen that tower in Pisa?)

Other parts: China (very glad there’s no dog food in this bike)

Installing the Campagnolo Record Ultra Torque bottom bracket was nothing less than an affirmation of my faith in international community of engineers.  OK, maybe the European Space Agency and NASA can’t keep their feet and meters straight when they jointly send something to Mars, but when Campy and Trek put their heads together in this revolutionary bottom bracket design, they totally got it spectacularly right.  Once the hard-to-find Loctite products arrived (primer from San Diego, adhesive from butt-nowhere), the BB went together in about five minutes.  I had to stand and wipe grease from my hands multiple times just to slow down the experience.  It’s beautiful, it’s light… I pity the poor slobs who pay someone else for the pleasure of installing it.

You can take the speed out of the geezer, but… January 28, 2010

Posted by Bill in Equipment.
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Yes, in biking terms, I’m am such a geezer. But that’s not my fault.

Still looking to two wheels for a speed fix, I have begun a build, and I’m bringing you with me. It all started with stumbling across this lovely frame: Trek Madone 6.9

This 2008 Trek Madone 6.9 Pro called to me and just moved on in, as you see here.

Carefully and perfectly repainted by Russ Pickett of Air Art in Chico, CA, this frame awaits that which will make it the lightest thing to roll beneath me, and you will be witness to its transformation.

And two wheels became four… May 7, 2008

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The parkway has attracted yet another bicyclist, yet rather than blast past me going the other way or push past me down the trail, this one is sticking with me. My partner, in a fit of passion and devotion, gulping hard, conceded to putting herself atop a used (albeit very lightly) light blue aluminum Trek 1500 WSD road bike, with a thoughtfully upgraded Ultegra rear derailleur, for the sole purpose of getting out on the trail with me.

Trek 1500 WSD road bike

I was never very far from the thought she might hate it, until, that is, she kicked my butt while I was in hot pursuit. For a small frame, her 31” inseam legs with elite skater thighs were more than ready for that short top tube frame. Hell hath no fury than a woman on a bike that fits her.

Watch this space for pictures of the partnership.

Wheels for All September 16, 2007

Posted by Bill in Conditioning, Equipment.
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On this blog I’ve written a bit around the edges of the topic of accessibility, as the focus has been more about conditioning and returning to cycling as older riders. Honestly though, life’s unkind cuts aren’t reserved for those who have been fortunate enough to attain a stage of life with the word “age” attached to it… middle-aged, old-aged, etc. Bleah.

I admit to this omission as one of those belonging to that group I know as the Temporarily Able-Bodied, a group to which most of us belong, a group for which none of us carry a card. However, thanks to the demand by all riders that they be given access to speed produced by action of muscle and bone, the techno-gods of bikedom have created a fascinating and beautiful array of machines designed to accommodate virtually any mode of mobility we humans can bring to the roadways.

This post will begin with a couple featured machines and links to resources, and my intention is to add more over time. My hope is that other contributors will offer their links, images and experiences with these machines so this post can grow into a page of descriptive resources. The American River Parkway bike trail carries a fascinating array of these machines, and the opportunity to understand more about them, for the benefit of Geezers and non-Geezers alike, is most appealing. The bike trail calls to all of us equally… find your place.

Empty parkway

Probably most common among the alternative machines is the recumbent foot-pedal bike. That configuration is mentioned elsewhere on this site as a way to deal with spinal issues created by the head-first racing tuck or even the stress on joints and derrières produced by easy chair postures on comfort bikes. Steering controls, wheel sizes, fairings, and frame configurations vary widely between manufacturers, the possible options mind-numbing. Click on the photo below for a link to an outfit that can help out…

recumbent bikes

Always with an eye for pretty curves, the next category of bikes completely grabs my attention whether it’s at a triathlon or just cruising the parkway. The gentleman shown below gave me a generous tour of his handcycle, describing them as ideal for those riders with lower extremity, balance, knee or hip issues. These production bicycles come in various sizes and are further adjustable to the size of the rider. They also seem to come with the secret to the best upper-body physiques to grace the parkway. The rider below also suggested a great handcycle resource, linked to his picture. It’ll take you to the index page of bike-on.com:


If you’ve been infected with race passion, you won’t want to miss a good drool over this machine, also available through the bike-on.com website. It’s the Schmicking S3 Race Tour Ultralight Handcycle, available on a custom basis, configured to your specific seating/power-production specs. From what I’ve seen at the triathlons, they can be equipped with the usual wallet-sucking performance gear such as carbon race wheels. Click on the image to go to its page on the bike-on.com website:

Schmicking Ultralight