Review: Complete Book of Road Cycling Skills 

   The full title is actually “BICYCLING Magazine’s Complete Book of Road Cycling Skills – Your Guide to Riding Faster, Stronger, Longer, and Safer” which is pretty self explanatory, and I probably shouldn’t have to even do a review, but here goes anyway.  

   This appears to be a compilation of articles from Bicycling Magazine on various subjects particular to the art of road riding and road racing. In all honesty, I picked this up thinking that it would either be a bunch of tips and tricks I’d already read elsewhere or else a bunch of information about blood oxygen levels and intervals and other things that, while they might be interesting scientifically speaking, do not interest me subjectively speaking. But I was pleasantly surprised at what I found. 

   The first few chapters were super basic, but well written and focused on preventing bad habits from forming early on, one could assume. A great deal of what followed was a good mix of stuff I’ve heard before, but written by professional cyclists (Davis Phinney authored several of these chapters, which is noteworthy since he is the husband of one of the authors of the first book I reviewed, Connie Carpenter-Phinney) with specific, thoughtful tips, and stuff which I’d not heard or long forgotten.  

   There’s a good chapter on breathing. It may sound odd, but I’m a big fan of focusing on my breath when I ride. I try to turn some rides into a kind of pseudo meditation. Or maybe it’s more like yoga.  Either way it’s rarely discussed in the other books I’ve read about cycling. There are chapters on climbing and the benefits thereof, which I appreciate because I primarily notice my fitness level based on how I handle the hills in and around my home town of Portland, Maine.  They actually covered a wide variety of subjects that apply to any fan of riding bikes, from beginners to commuters. There are a few chapters that are mostly directed at road racers, but even many of these also pertain to long distance riding and touring.  

   The book was published in 1998, so there are some small elements that might seem dated, but overall it holds up really well. Good advice is good advice. There is a chapter toward the end titled “For Men Only” that was a lot about impotence and not being able to feel one’s penis for a month or more. It seems like much of this has been shown to be incredibly rare or just generally debunked. Which isn’t to say there aren’t risks. But still…  

   The following chapter was titled “For Women Only” so I skipped it. I try to respect the wishes of the books that I read. Plus it allows me to imagine all sorts of bizarre stuff that could be in that chapter. Kind of a Schrödinger’s cat of vulva mythology. But there was one thing that I read in this book that I will never forget. 

   In one chapter they explain how stop lights detect cars using metal detectors under the pavement, which was awesome because I didn’t know that. They also explained what to look for if you want to roll over the detectors to increase the odds that your bike will actually ping the thing and make the light change for you without any cars having to come up in the lane right behind you. Which I greatly appreciated. But then the guy goes a lot overboard by suggesting that cyclists should go so far toward obeying the vehicular rules of the road that, when you find yourself waiting at a light that just won’t change, rather than waiting for an opportune moment to just ride through the red light they could dismount and lay their bike down on the detector to help it detect the steel (this is assuming your bike is made of steel) and change the light. I feel that this would do so much more to confuse and disrupt any potential traffic that might witness such a scene than it would to actually make said cyslist safe. But of course I also really want to see someone try it. 

Or get one of these doohickeys

   I enjoyed this book. I recommend it to anyone who has been riding for a little while and who feels like they could ride a little smoother and a little better. Or really anyone at all interested. Don’t hold back just because I failed to properly pigeonhole you. 


Book review: Ride the Revolution 

   Since I became a cycling convert five or so years ago I have done a lot of online research, especially when trying to learn how to fix things on my bikes. But I also discovered several great cycling blogs out there that I eventually read in their entireties. When I made the switch to a full-on commuter I was working at a bookstore in Portland, ME. I don’t know if folks are aware, but when you work in a cool, indie book shop there are people from different publishing houses who visit from time to time, and they love getting to know what topics and authors you enjoy so they can bring you advanced copies to read. I only worked there for a year, but I got to read some great books on cycling, bike culture, and repair. And since then I have become quite familiar with the bicycle section of my local library. Since I’ve been reading all these great books, and since I’ve been doing this whole blog thing, it struck me that I should try writing some reviews now and then. 

   I’m on vacation in Canada (or at least I was when I began writing this review), so I brought along some reading material that I checked out ahead of time. One of those was Ride the Revolution – The Inside Stories from Women in Cycling, edited by Suze Clemitson. What better place to start!?

   I really enjoyed this book.  Each chapter is either written by a woman from the world of cycling, and Clemitson did a fantastic job of finding people who are associated with cycling in a wide variety of ways. I have to admit that I’d only ever heard of a tiny handful of these very interesting women, and even then I mainly knew the names but not the specifics. But that’s a point that this book makes over and over without really having to say it explicitly. There are so many women who are amazing athletes, commentators, and administrators in the sport of cycling, and yet there is very little coverage that might otherwise make them household names. Cycling as sport has been male-centric for most of its history, even though women have been there all along doing all of the same things. 

   This book does focus almost exclusively on the sporting aspect of cycling, which might make it less interesting to anyone who isn’t at all familiar with the various tours and races that have been running for decades. I have only been interested in cycling as a sport for about a year now, but I have read a few books about the Tour de France and some other classic races. I also read The Rider by Tim Krabbe and Gironimo by Tim Moore early in my “research” into bicycles, so I had some idea of how the sport works and how it has evolved over time. Prior to that I had mainly read about the history of bicycles and how new inventions and innovations have brought us from unwieldy penny farthings to the sleek, sexy cycles of the modern age. But even in those books there is a great deal to learn about how sport drove many of those innovations. It is difficult to learn much about bikes without also learning at least something about competitive cycling.  So if you have any interest in bicycles, and you also have any feelings at all about sexual (in)equality, this book will have much in it that you will find interesting. 

   It is well organized into sections with similar narratives, like “The Pioneers”, “The Riders”, “The Media”, etc. The first chapter covers Beryl Burton, whom I’d never heard of, and who was quite clearly an unmitigated badass. She was setting records alongside (and sometimes ahead of) the men around her while also dealing with all of the responsibilities of a wife and mother in the 60’s and 70’s. Her chapter ended in the same way as so many others in this book, with me asking myself “how is it possible that in all of my reading I’ve never heard of this person?”  I have read about a few women from the early days of cycling who are not mentioned in this book, but most were not involved in any sort of cycling sport. However, I imagine that if I mentioned Beryl to any ladies who follow the sport of cycling (and especially any who themselves compete) they would know who I was talking about. But maybe not!

   I also discovered fascinating tales of women like Sarah Connolly whose voice is known as a commentator of cycling events, or the two outstanding Australians, Rochelle Gilmore and Tracey Gaudry, a team owner and the first female VP of the UCI respectively. Some of the chapters are actually interviews, and in those cases the questions are always insightful (perhaps because they come from women as well) and follow one another deeper into the subject than you might find in a regular magazine article with its need to cover a wider range of subjects and experiences. 

   There was never a chapter that I found boring or was antsy to skip. Even the one on Hannah Grant, the chef for the Tinkoff-Saxo team was interesting, although I do work in the food industry and I was a pastry chef in my former life, so I do have more of a built in buy-in for something like that. Overall I think this would be a good book to suggest (or just purchase) for any cyclists in your life whom you consider deserving of such a thing. 


Dirty Secrets of the Cycling World Episode 1

   There are some stark realities for commuters that are rarely discussed. If you just ride a bike and don’t often have access to a car then you are generally going to do just fine. But then occasionally you have a night where you are, let’s say, too busy at work to do more than snack on mostly sweets, even though you brought delicious leftover soup. Then you meet a friend for dinner at a burger joint and eat a ton of greasy fries and a burger. Then you walk around chatting just long enough to realize that there’s trouble brewing in your belly bits.

   So now let’s pretend (because this is all a hypothetical, purely imagined scenario that definitely did not happen to me last night) that you also noticed you have a flat rear tire just before your dinner.  So now you’re downtown, miles from home, walking along with your bike and your friend, trying to look casual as your discomfort slowly mounts.  Maybe your friend offers to let you use their restroom since it’s only a mile and a half from you at this point. And perhaps you say ok and make your way there. For argument’s sake let’s even agree that you make it there without incident.

   You arrive and head directly into the bathroom, at which point you realize several things.  First, the incredibly flimsy sliding door is not going to do much for staying closed on its own, much less keeping out the sound of a demon crawling out of your ass.  Second, the walls of the bathroom do not go all the way to the ceiling.  There’s a gap of several inches where they have clearly just built a basically permanent partition around the bathroom area when creating this particular apartment.  Thirdly, there’s a bottle of Tums on the shelve near the toilet.  What do you do with this sudden influx of information?  Well I’ll tell you what you do.  You make a valiant effort at trying to relax the muscles around your bladder without letting go of your sphincter proper.  This results in a sad trickle of urine that might ease your suffering imperceptibly, but it’s hard to tell.  Then you slam two Tums and resolve yourself to change that tube out in record time so that you can ride the remaining mile home to your own proper, safely defileable bathroom.

   Now you have to actually fix that flat, which isn’t too hard since you have all the tools in your saddlebag.  Your friend is there to keep you company and to (probably) smell the smells that have begun to eek out of your body.  All the bending over involved in the process does seem to help, oddly enough, though that could also just be the Tums.

   You say your awkward goodbyes, and now comes the fun part!  You get to ride home, only about a mile, while doing the bizarre internal yoga necessary to keep your legs moving smoothly while also clenching your buttcheeks together firmly, all while hunched forward onto your handlebars. This is what separates the men from the…men who smell like literal shit. Climbing that last hill gets a little dicey, but you manage it, and it really is all downhill after that. You roll to a stop at your front door, rush inside, and do what needs to be done, grateful for your own willpower and intestinal fortitude. And impressive sphincter control.  

   And that is just a thing that happens from time to time when your only vehicle is a bicycle. Of course, other folks might deal with this same situation differently, but those folks don’t have the same childhood-based bathroom issues that you do (or that I do for that matter). But it happens. Does it suck?  Yes, but not much more than regular old stomach distress sucks. And it’s usually manageable.  But even though I know a lot of bike commuters I don’t recall ever hearing any of their similar stories. Which is why I felt that this purely fictional tale was one that needed to be told. 

A Long-Overdue Chain Replacement

   I have been experiencing some strange, occasional issues with my primary bike, Mizz Judith over the past year. Sometimes it’s an odd sound. Sometimes it feels like a looseness in the freewheel. Other times I’m certain it’s a BB issue. You know what I never took the time to check, or even consider?  “How long has this chain been on here?”  Turns out the answer was close to 3000 miles. That’s about 2000 miles more than it probably should have been on there. 

   I checked her over as I cleaned up all her filthy teeth, and none were noticeably worn. I was still worried when I put the chain on and took off for my first test ride. But everything shifted smoothly and, at least for that brief ride, there was no popping nor clicking nor feelings of looseness. I will have to be more mindful of this sort of thing in the future since I love my drivetrain and have been unable to find a NOS replacement with the same gearing. And even if I did I can’t bring myself to pay more for the freewheel than I paid for the bike, so there’d have to be some serious luck involved. 

   I also replaced the rear brake cable and housing since it’s been a bit sticky lately and I haven’t replaced either in three years. 

   After all that I got the tandem set up for a taller rider than my ten year old and took a friend out to meet yet another friend for lunch. We all commiserated about the horrible place where two of us used to work, and one of us still does work. It was cathartic for everyone involved, all in our own ways. It was a nice day for a ride!

   When I got back I was trying to adjust the rear saddle height for my wife so that I could finally try to coax her gently onto the bike and either awaken something powerful deep inside her or completely ruin her day. But the bolt snapped off as I was loosening and tightening it. Luckily I had a quick release lever for that sort of thing in a drawer in the ol’ attic workshop. So I switched it out and now I have the perfect set up. I can measure the best height for my wife and get the saddle just right in the new seatpost. Then I’ll keep Ezzie’s saddle on it own seatpost, adjusted just right for him.  I know his seat post height, so I can just switch the whole set-up over when I’m changing stokers. And I also have to change the pedals, at least until the wife decides she wants a pair of SPD cleats. 

In a bikey mood 

I’ve been busy lately since my son got back from a three week stint at my mom’s in Oklahoma. It’s been non-stop play dates and summer fun when I’m not working. There’ve been a few little rides with the kid here and there, once to the Gear Hub for volunteer night on Wednesday.  Ez and I organized and restocked their inner tubes, and he got to test ride kids’ bikes as they were coming off the work stands. There was quite a turnout that evening, too!  At least ten people all pitching in, so a lot got done. The ride home that night was especially fun. I told Ez that it wouldn’t be long before he’d be able to beat me in a race, so of course as we turned into Payson Park he decided we would race from stop sign to stop sign, and he was sure that my sprint in the last few yards constituted cheating. But he was really killing it the whole way home. 

   I also sold a couple of bikes in the past week. The yellow Schwinn Continental that got a new freewheel went to a young man that’s about to head off to college in Pittsburgh. He came with his parents to test ride it, and his dad took it for a spin as well. He told me that he’d had a bike just like it back in the day, and I think he liked it even more than his son. But the son bought it and I presume he’ll be keeping it for himself. 

   The Panasonic went to a fellow pastry chef (did you know I used to be a pastry chef?) from Eventide, so it stayed in the Portland restaurant/food family and that makes me happy.  Now I need to get one of my three-speeds reassembled so I can trade it for some professional photography work from a co-worker with whom I made an…agreement. The ellipses implies something sordid or illicit, but it was actually just a pretty straightforward trade. 

   I also finally spent a little time getting Frank the Tank ready for some rainy weather riding. He hasn’t seen any action since I put him away this past winter (without even giving him a proper cleaning; such poor child rearing for my li’l 65 year old man) so the first thing I did was switch out his homemade spiked tires for something a little more season appropriate. Then I took him outside and gave him a proper cleaning. I put the wheels back on then brought him inside and finally did something I’ve been meaning to do for two years. I got my dremel tool out and put on one of those fuzzy brass tips and I thoroughly removed any rust from the top of the gear case and any especially rough spots on the frame (there weren’t many). After that I touched up the paint, including the white at the bottom of the rear fender. The bottom bracket is a little loose, but also a giant pain in the ass with those cotter pins. I have to deal with it eventually, but I am not doing that right away. Otherwise, though, Frank is looking pretty fly at the moment. 

   Oh, and the landlord dropped off another bike In need of a tune up. I think this one if meant for a lady who’s recently moved in with him. It was a Schwinn comfort bike, so heavy and squishy, but it was in good shape. Even the front shocks worked smoothly. The left grip shifter was coming apart, so I replaced that and gave it a cleaning and tuning. The brakes were all askew in the wrong way, but I got them sorted out.  Other than that the bike just required some basic maintenance. I left it on his porch ready to go. 

   I’ve got a few more bikes to finish up that are fairly close and then several more that I haven’t even started yet. But I’ve been in a bikey mood lately, so I’m thinking progress will be forthcoming. Plus good riding weather!

Fall #3

   I took a nasty spill on my bike recently during a ride with some friends.  This was the third time in my life I’ve fallen off a bike, and it was a pretty good one so far as they go.  I was riding down a pretty wide bike lane and I began to look back and to my right without first scanning ahead down the lane like I always do.  I had just begun to look when suddenly I was airborne, out of nowhere it would seem. It was so quick and so violent that I had no idea what was really happening until I felt my helmet smack hard against the ground a few times. 

The helmet cracked in three places, but it did its job marvelously

   Now I obviously didn’t get to see the accident take place. But from what I can ascertain from others, from my random snatches of memory, and from the placement of my wounds it seems that, since I was pivoting my body slightly to the right when I hit what turned out to be the discarded lid of a Coleman ice cooler, the bike and I both went flying sideways, my feet still gently grasped by the toe-clips. While I was in the air my body continued to spiral around to my right, so that, what felt like a nanosecond after I struck the lid, I landed mainly on the left side of my body, with most of the damage being done to my back and shoulder. A good bit of flesh was scraped off of my elbow and knee, too, just for good measure. And here’s how I know my yoga classes have been working: I also got a bit of road rash on my right inner thigh. I don’t even know how that’s possible. 

   My only real memory that I retained during the crash went something like, “holy shit!  Am I in mid air?!  I have no sense of where I am right now.”  I closed my eyes instinctively.  I felt like I was floating with no idea where my corporeal bits existed in space for the moment. When I hit the ground my mind, which had expanded outward in my spatial disorientation as it attempted to locate some point of reference, seemed to snap tightly into place right behind my left temple. It watched closely as my helmeted head knocked thrice on the road to make sure no actual damage was done. It ignored the feeling of my skin being dragged across rough, filthy pavement. 

   When I came to a stop and felt certain that I was mostly fine I opened my eyes to see my friend Jeremy hove into view with a very concerned look on his face. I stayed there for a minute and carefully moved around to make sure I hadn’t broken or dislodged anything. To my astonishment that seemed to be the case, though I was sure that I had still hurt myself pretty seriously, all things considered.  I think that my having been taken completely by surprise helped my luck; that and going full rag doll.  But none of that actually mattered because as soon as I knew I wasn’t going to the hospital I began to worry much more about my bicycle. Jeremy had pulled it away from me and set it aside, so I didn’t know what shape the old girl would be in. 

   I got up and located Judi off to the side of the road. The leather handlebar wraps were pretty torn up on the left side, but I didn’t see anything else really wrong otherwise. The front wheel had a very slight wobble so I’ll have to true that back up.  It was rideable and I was still full of  shock hormones, so I hopped on and finished the ride, albeit a shortened version. I made it back to Jeremy’s with about eight minutes of biochemical pain-dampening left, then it started to kick in. 

We both lost some skin, but mine grows back

   I cleaned up my bloody wounds as best I could and checked out my body in the mirror. I took some ibuprofen and drank a bunch of water and chilled out while Jeremy kindly loaded my bike into his vehicle and drove me home. 

   I woke up in the middle of the night to pee and take another fistful of pills, but I was able to get in and out of bed by myself, so there’s that.  The next morning I woke up feeling like the left half of my body was 25 years older than the right half. But again, I managed to make coffee and take the dog out and feed myself.  I made a large ice pack from a bundle of Mr Freezy ice pops wrapped in a dish towel and that helped a lot.  I will heal and I’ll be fine. I’ll have a bitchin’ scar on my elbow. I’ll definitely be more careful and more mindful when I’m riding around. Constant vigilance!

   In the end the upper left half of my body was bruised and battered, but I was mostly alright. The pain that first day was the worst, but it got noticeably better each morning. I took it really easy since my left side was so much weaker than my right. Today I finally went for a ride around town, just over ten miles, no real issues to speak of. Which is great because tomorrow is looking like perfect bike riding weather. 

This snack doubles as an ice pack…which is whack.

The Landlord’s Nishiki

   My landlord lives downstairs from me, and a few days ago he sent me a text stating that he had locked his bike up out front and that he’d be willing to pay me to fix it up for him. I had mentioned that it’s something I do on the side, so it came as no real surprise, and I’m always happy to help get my fellow Portlanders on bicycles.

   I went down to find a black Nishiki Blazer mountain bike. He had given me the code to his lock, so I took it upstairs and gave it a once over before heading off to work. The left shift lever had snapped off and would need replacing, along with both shift cables. The front hub had some play in it. The drivetrain was dirty and the freewheel seemed to stick a bit. So it needed some work, but it seemed to be mostly in order.

   The following day I removed the broken shift lever and ran down to the Gear Hub with ten minutes until closing time, as is my way.  Kyle dumped out a bucket of old shifters and I sat on the floor sifting through them until I found a perfect match just waiting to come home with me and get back to doing what it does best.  I paid my three dollars and went home to install the lever and cables and test that part out.  Turns out it worked perfectly.

   The day after that I came home from work and made it my goal to finish the bike first thing.  I took it outside and put it in the bike stand for a thorough scrubbing.  I cleaned up the drivetrain first since that always makes such a mess of the rest of the bike (not a lesson I learned properly on my first, or even second time cleaning a bicycle), then gave it a good head-tube-to-toe-clip washing.  The rear derailleur was definitely gunked up a bit, but it was far from the worst I’ve come across.  There was some surface rust on many parts of the drivetrain, so I hit it with a brass brush, also making sure to spot-scrub any nuts and bolts that bore tarnish elsewhere.  I finished up, dried the bike off, and got it into the attic workshop just as it started raining.

   I put on some podcasts (mainly running through the Civics 101 shows from the beginning; highly recommended to my American readers) and got to work on the wheel issues.  I started by removing the freewheel from the rear and flushing it with WD-40.  While gravity was doing its thing I set that aside and overhauled the front hub.  I cleaned it all up and packed it with fresh grease and bearings.  Next I put a medium weight oil into the freewheel and took my time working it in, adding more, working it in, until it was spinning pretty smoothly.  I feel like one of the pawls was still catching just a tiny bit, but only every once in a while, and less so with each addition of oil.  By the time I was ready to grease the threads on the hub and reattach the freewheel it had sorted itself out.    After everything was back together I gave it a quick tune up and moved on to the last job I had to do.

   The rear wheel had a wide-ranging wobble that saw it bumping against the brake pads, first on one side then the other.  I put a drop of oil on each of the spoke nipples and made myself as comfortable as possible since I knew I’d be there for a while.  One of the tools that I have yet to purchase is a truing stand.  The Gear Hub has them available to use during their open bench time hours, but those are limited and I hate the idea of strapping a wheel to my back so I can ride over to the shop just to true it when I could do it almost as well (if perhaps a little slower) in the attic.  I actually just put the wheel on the bike, opened the brakes up wide enough that the rim never touched it, and then started with the most wide ranging adjustments.  Once it started to come into true and I had to do more fine tuning among a smaller range of spokes I would lean my head at a particular angle and watch the reflection of the brake pad in the rim as I slowly spun the wheel.  When the reflection would momentarily grow larger I would mark those few spokes and make my adjustments.  If instead it grew smaller I would make the opposite adjustments.  Eventually I got a consistent reflection and thus trued the wheel.

   And that was it!  I wrote out a note detailing all of the work I had done and I used my wax seal with a bicycle imprint to close up the envelope.  Nerdy?  Yes.  Overkill?  Probably.  But it’s all part of the unique brand of service that I offer!  Am I using the word “unique” in that sweetly derogatory way that some southern ladies might?  Yup.