Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The price of back pockets

I have been looking for a new cycling jersey recently. It was supposed to be a short sleeve one, made in 100% of lightweight wool. And also one that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. It turned out to be a nearly impossible task.

First, I looked at Rapha. They make some pretty nice jerseys! I really like the colors and styling - they don't try to look too much retro but also they don't have team logos and brand names all over the place. They are made of 100% Merino wool. Great! Unfortunately, at $200 and more a piece, they are ridiculously expensive. I gave up on Rapha.

Then I checked what Ibex sells. Much smaller selection here. A few wool jerseys, starting at $120. Still not cheap, although I like the green Indie Freeride. I decided to look further.

Then I found Swvre. Not many wool products there. Plus, from the pictures on their website I figured that since I am not a hipster and I am not planning on growing a full-face beard, I don't deserve Swrve products.

I looked at a couple more websites but I couldn't find anything that would look relatively plain, be made of 100% wool and be reasonably priced. Then, I ended up ordering Minus33 703 Lightweight Crew Neck Top. It was a no-brainer at $47. Especially that I already have their 705 Midweight Crew Neck Top and I really like it. Now I have a lighter, short-sleeve version of it. Of course, it is not a cycling jersey. Maybe that's why it costs so much less. But I have hard time noticing any significant differences between those tops and real jerseys. They are equally comfortable and compared to a jersey they lack a zipper (I don't need one anyway) and... back pockets. Seriously, from the functional standpoint, those back pockets are the only feature I am missing here. Hmm... it seems that attaching back pockets to Merino wool shirt costs between $70 and $150. At these prices, I am going to pass on pockets and use simple wool shirts for cycling.
What pockets are used for? (Source: SoCalTrialRiders.org)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Impatient cyclists

I had to drive to work this morning since I had some errands to run and bicycling was unfortunately not the best option. On my way there, I met a cyclist on the road. She was dressed in style and was riding her electrically-assisted city bike with confidence. This view put a smile on my face and I thought to myself "We really need more cyclists like her".

And then, she ruined it. All the positive impression she made was gone in split second. We got to the intersection and stopped at red light. All of us, drivers. But she decided that waiting for the lights to change is unnecessary and continued straight through the intersection. Why?! How much time are you going to save this way? Can't you just wait 10 sec. for the green light (It actually took less than than)?
Running red "meme" (Source: QuickMeme)

I know that in certain situations (totally empty intersections) and some places (Paris, France) such behavior may be acceptable, even legal. But since our law is different here in Massachusetts, bicyclists like her should obey it. Seriously. Otherwise, they are just putting one more argument into motorists' basket named "We will accept cyclists on roads once they start obeying the law!"

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Seven Mudhoney SL - test ride

 Seven Mudhoney SL in tested configuration

Riding back home from work yesterday, I decided to stop by at Riding Studio Cafe in Lexington to test ride one of their demo bikes - a titanium Seven Mudhoney SL. It is a mid-range cyclocross bike built locally by Seven Cycles from Watertown, MA. Prices start at $3598 for frame only and $4140 for a frame+fork set. The SL version is built from double butted Ti tubing, which apparently saves about 250g of weight compared to the straight gauge tubing. Whether it is worth extra $800 compared to the basic S version - it's up to you to decide.

After the very helpful staff at the Cafe spent a few minutes setting up the bike (installing pedals, adjusting the saddle height, etc.), I was good to go. Unfortunately, I didn't have much time since October days are short and I could spend only about half and hour riding. Not enough for a full test, but certainly enough to give me some sort of feeling on how it handles, and to be able to compare Mudhoney SL with my own Lemond Poprad. Plus, I don't mean to judge this beautiful machine on its suitability to cyclocross as I don't race, so my test would be meaningless to those who do anyway.
The bike arrived with a road-like crankset. The small chainring had 34 teeth, which would indicate its cyclocross origin. But the larger one had 50 teeth and gave the bike more of a on-road than off-road feeling. My Poprad has a 46T chainring and even though it makes the bike slower than all regular road bikes, I am very happy with it. Arlington, MA is a hilly place and having a smaller chainring helps me avoiding unnecessary gear changes. In fact, I noticed that I never really have a chance to ride fast enough to use the tiniest 11T sprocket in my cassette (I don't race). That makes me use the top 3-4 sprockets much more often than any others.

But Mudhoney was different. Because of its 50T chainring it was a fast bike but at the same time I was quickly running out of gears despite the 10 speed cassette. Sure, I could just drop the chain on a smaller chainring but then I had to make some serious adjustments with the rear derailleur too. Otherwise the 34T front chainring would change the gear ratio too much. Overall, these are details since chainrings are easy replaceable, but I think that for me more than 46-48T for daily riding may be unnecessary.
 Mudhoney's front brakes and mud clearance with 38mm tire (WTB Interwolf).

Mudhoney had Avid Shorty 6 cantilever brakes installed and I have to say that they worked too well. It's likely either the pads or rims (Ksyrium Elite) that made a huge difference but their setup was also quite different than on my Poprad. They were very powerful and could stop the bike very quickly. Too quickly, I think. Plus, it was quite difficult to feel what the right dose on the brake levers was since even at a moderate speed brakes (especially the front one) were easily vibrating and I thought that bike had a stutter. Or maybe it was just a new kind of ABS system I never heard about...
Clearance with 38mm tire. Still enough space for something slightly wider.

One thing I couldn't complain about was the frame. It was beautifully made, with clean welds, smooth lines, great color (bare titanium) and plenty of clearance for even 40mm tires. It was also very visually appealing with its stainless Seven crest bolted to the head tube and subtle decals.
One interesting detail I noticed was that the right (chainring) side of the bike had a white Seven decal on the downtube (see the first photo on top) but the other, left side had a much more stealth one without the white contour (see photo above). I don't know if that was intentional but I definitely like the stealth look of the left side much more.
Toe overlap is still there. Barely.

The bike I tested turned out to have a 52cm seat tube (measured center to center). That surprised me at first, since my Poprad has a 55cm seat tube (measured the same way) and I always thought that it was maybe slightly undersized for my height (6ft). However, Seven's top tube is sloped a bit so the effective frame size is larger - probably about the same as my own bike. On the other hand, Mudhoney's top tube was 1cm longer than on my Poprad. Even though, there was still a tiny bit of toe overlap.

The biggest surprise came when I compared the handlebars height on both bikes. I have absolutely no idea why but the first impression I had after mounting the Seven was that its handlebars (made also by Seven) were positioned higher than on my bike. This made them more comfortable as I didn't have to bend down that much. That turned out to be exactly the opposite - my Poprad's bars were about 2cm higher (due to a different stem) than on Mudhoney and both bikes had the same bottom bracket drop. Now I think that this feeling came from the handlebars themselves. The bars were just more comfortable than what I have on my bike. Their bends were more square, leaving more space for hands on flat sections. And at the same time they were shorter, placing the brake hoods closer to rider.
Mudhoney I tested, had SRAM Rival shifters and derailleurs. As far as I know, this is just a mid-range groupset and I wasn't awed by it. There was nothing wrong with it but I had a feeling that gear change was not as easy and smooth as with my Shimano 105 shifters. I am definitely biased, since I have never really used SRAM shifters before and have no experience with them. Even though, I didn't really feel like their Double Tap way of shifting gears is in any way superior to Shimano's and I didn't like that upshifting required a long travel of the shifter lever. Once I returned the bike and hopped on my Poprad I felt like home again. It is definitely a matter of taste but since I am perfectly happy with Shimano STI shifters, I see no reason to switch to anything else.
The Fi'zi:k Arione brick... err, I mean... saddle.

The saddle attached to this bike was Arione. Fi'zi:k states that it is a "high performance saddle" that weighs 225 grams. My Selle An-Atomica Titanico weighs double that and feels like riding on a comfy couch while Arione feels like sitting on a brick. Or a log of firewood. Well, I guess it is still better than sitting on a bare seatpost. Since me and Elka are planning on having one more child some time in the future I would never install Arione on my bike. Those 250g of saved weight are just not worth it.

I really like the Mudhoney I tested. Surely, I would select different components but overall, the ride quality is really high. It is a beautiful bike that I may consider buying at some point in the future. Then, I would rather go with the basic S version and since Seven offers a very good custom program, I would also like to add rack and fender mounts to the frame.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Smelly mornings (cont.)

Beautiful weather this morning. It's sunny, cool and all the trees tell me it's a full-blown fall season. Then something disturbed my picture-perfect commute. It wasn't a smelly truck this time but an animal. A dead one. Ever had a chance to ride your bike next to a freshly-flattened skunk? Sure, I had such encounters in the past when I was driving my car but this doesn't count. When you drive you move faster than on a bike and you are protected by the metal cage around you.

Riding my bike, I am much more exposed to these things. I can't say that I enjoy it but it makes me more aware of the world around me. So I tried to pass the poor creature as fast as I could and I could only hope not to mess my bike with its guts.

This is one thing I remember well when I took Elka to Poland the very first time. We were walking through the city and passed a local zoo when I said: "You see, the big difference between this country and the U.S. is that the only skunk in a several hundred miles radius is in this zoo".

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Chatham Light Trial

A long weekend, finally. The last warm one this year. And since the weather forecast looked good we are spending this weekend with the rest of the family at the Cape.

This means that I had a rare opportunity to sneak out early on the Saturday morning, leaving Elka and Dr. J sleeping, and go bike riding. I quickly got my bike ready, snacked something and by 6:30 AM I was on the road. I was actually planning to leave even earlier as I woke up at 6:00 AM, but it was still completely dark at that time and I didn't feel like riding in darkness.

My goal was to reach Chatham, which is over 40km (25mi) away from Osterville, where we stayed. In fact, the full route there and back would be close to 60 miles, hence the early start was necessary.
My Chatham Light Trial

At this point sun was barely above the horizon and roads were completely empty. I didn't see a single car before I merged onto Rt 28 East towards Hyannis. It is a busy road and normally I would avoid biking there as people drive fast and aggressively. However, this section of Rt 28 has a bike path going eastbound ending close to the Hyannis airport.
Sun was just rising above the airport when I took Iyannough Rd towards Yarmouth Rd and eventually found the bike path off Higgins Crowell Rd. The path was surprisingly comfortable, nicely graded and paved with asphalt. I quickly realized that it was cutting through the golf course and was also used by golf carts. That would explain its surface finish.
 Sun over Hyannis Airport.
I continued through Yarmouth, passing the Bass River Golf Club on my way and crossing the bridge on Highbank Rd.
 Bass River Golf Club.

Finally, I turned into Rt 134 and found the Cape Cod Rail Trial (CCRT). At this point I thought that I could have cheated and simply drive my car up to there, as the entrance to the trial has a nice parking lot just off Rt 134. It would save me a few hours but on the other hand, where is the challenge?
I entered the trial and kept going east. I passed a few people walking their dogs and 2 other cyclists. Quickly, I got the point where the CCRT splits - its eastern part goes to Chatham, my destination, while its northern part ends in Wellfleet. The split is not just a simple fork in the road but a roundabout (!) - the first bicycle roundabout I have ever seen in the U.S. I had a chance to bike in Denmark before, and roundabouts for cyclists are as common there as bike racks, but seeing one on this side of the ocean is quite surprising. Anyway, this roundabout had well-marked signs pointing cyclists into right directions, bike racks, and some benches (all still wet from the morning dew).
 CCRT roundabout.
 Chatham? This way!
Chatham Airport.

After a few more miles I finally entered Chatham. I had to go around the Chatham airport and eventually I got to Main St, which looked very sleepy at this hour (it was shortly before 9:00 AM), with only a few cars on the road and a few businesses opened. Then, I reached the Chatham Light. Normally, this place can be chilly since it is elevated and exposed, but that morning was different. The ocean was quiet and peaceful. Not even a single breeze. Warm, sunny but not hot, as you would expect on October mornings. Just beautiful. I stayed there a few minutes, snacked on some chocolate, finished the first bottle of water and started riding back.
 Chatham Light.
Beach in Chatham.

There were many more cyclists on the trial at that time and I pretty much rode back exactly the same way I came to Chatham. I kept wondering if the grinding noise I heard at that point was coming from my knees or pedals. It turned out that my SPDs got a bit sandy even though my knees started to hurt.
I arrived home at 11:30 AM so the entire route took me 5 hours to complete. I rode 93km (57.7mi). It's a distance I haven't ridden in a long time - my last rides were much, much shorter. And probably because of this, I was really tired. However, I think that maybe it wasn't because of the distance, since I did 100km rides before, but the time I took to ride this route. When I used to go on 100km rides it was taking me more time than 5 hours to complete them. Usually, I wasn't rushing, I was taking it easy, making multiple short stops on the way. I think I pushed myself a little too hard this time. Once I got back home I showered, ate 4 eggs with toast and took a short nap. Me knees were sore for the remainder of the day. I think I deserved a good beer...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

To encourage biking - lose helmets

Helmets again. Yes, it is an old issue, discussed multiple times. However, since the recent article in NY Times has been already discussed many times around the web, maybe finally those who think that mandatory helmet law is THE solution, will change their minds.
Cycling. Helmet-free (Drawing by Eric Hanson)

I wrote about this issue months ago. But since the problem still exists - it is not a bad idea to discuss it again.