Saddles and Pedals and Bars, Oh My!

You make contact with your bike in three places. The saddle, the handlebar, and the pedals. And I’m stuck on all three of them.

Brooks Saddle: An Appreciation
Image courtesy of Mobil’Homme via Flickr

I mentioned my saddle woes a post or two back. Elton’s saddle has got to go. Soon. I can’t decide what to replace it with to save my life. I like the idea of a Brooks, but I can’t figure out which one. The B-17 Narrow is closest in dimensions to the Fizik saddle I’m used to riding, but my saddle and bars are fairly level. With that setup, everyone recommends the regular B-17. K thinks that putting a heavy saddle on my light bike is the most ridiculous thing ever, and I do worry a bit about the aesthetics of it. The black would look the least conspicuous on my mostly black and silver bike, but the brown would be a nice way to warm the bike up a bit.

Celeste Green
Image courtesy of Competitive Cyclist

The handlebar is actually fine. It just isn’t pretty. Standard black bar tape, when I’d rather have Celeste Green. (Or maybe brown, if I went with the brown saddle.) It could possibly be an ootch narrower, but that depends on who you ask. It’s certainly in the range. No “need” to replace the bar tape for a good long time, though.

Crank Brothers Eggbeater Pedals
Image courtesy of erickkellison, via Flickr

The pedals are the messiest mess of all. I’m riding cheap flats now. I would, in all honesty, be happy riding flats probably forever. I’m funny about having my limbs restrained. The truth of the matter is that my bottom bracket is very low. Twice now I’ve hit either the edge of my pedal or my shoe on the pavement. If I accidentally coast around a corner the wrong way, I’m going down. My pedals are already as narrow as can be ridden with conventional shoes. Which means clipless. I’m thinking of going mountain clipless for two reasons. 1) Mountain compatible shoes have more tread for walking. They can also be fairly normal looking, like my Keen bike sandals. Road shoes always look like crazy bike shoes, and are frequently silly colors, like blindingly pearl white. 2) Easier access. The particular Crank Brothers pedals I’m looking at are identical on all four sides, eliminating the need to flip the pedal over to clip in. I don’t need this to be harder than it already is. I know what to do here; I’m just hesitant to switch.

So I guess it’s really only the saddle that’s a problem. And what a problem!

A Bike Shop-y Weekend

This weekend we were in Vermont, on a little last-gasp vacation. Trying to get away from the moving stress, etc. It was freezing, so we were fairly limited in our activities. Like good cyclists, we took the opportunity to visit every bike shop we could get our hands on.

The star of the show wasn’t even a dedicated bike shop. In one of Vermont’s plethora of “Bike and Ski” shops, most of which are sad places for bikers, I ran across a heart-stopping display.

Two green Sam Hillbornes (orange, as in the photo, is the current color), and a Velo-Orange Rando.

Sam Hillborne, orange
image courtesy of Rivendell Bikes.


image courtesy of Velo Orange.

The Rando is a much prettier bike in person. The color, especially, which looks a little flat online, was very nice. I would have loved to talk classic bike with the store staff, especially about their many lovely accessories, but they were, true to shop type, busy fitting someone with ski boots. It would also have been nice to confirm my suspicion that Rivendell bikes are mostly too big for me–I just can’t get comfortable that stretched out over a road frame.

I managed to nab Elton a nifty Minnehaha Barrel Bag from the ever-delightful Old Spokes Home in Burlington. The really neat thing about the Old Spokes Home is the vast array of used and vintage bikes. I, alas, did not venture into that part of the store on this trip, since we just squeaked in before closing. I’ll give the bag a thorough review a little later on–for now all I can say is holey-moley those buckles are stiff. I’m waiting until after the move to mount the bag, because I don’t think I want to be taking it off and on.

Our last notable bike shop was Five Hills Bikes, also known as George, who owns the shop, is a good egg and a good hand with wheels. He hand-built my road wheels about this time last year, even though the shop is mostly focused on mountain biking.

It would have been nice to, you know, do some actual biking, but I guess we managed the next best thing.

Bike Wishlist

Lately I’ve been wondering about what would happen if I decided to upgrade Florence. I seem to want a bike that doesn’t exist, though.

The non-negotiables:

Rack and fender mounts, front and rear
Long enough chain stays that the rear rack is useful
Steel, with steel fork
Aesthetically pleasing
Not diamond-framed
Small enough to fit someone 5’3″
Not more than 30 or 35 pounds, built
Pleasant to ride, with good-quality parts (or available frame-only)

At nearly 50 pounds, traditional city bikes are just too heavy. A compact geometry touring bike would work, but they tend to be very over-built to take the loads. I’m not going to run 75 pounds of gear on a regular basis, which means the bike would probably ride like a log wagon. The modern mixte market is very underwhelming, with most of the offerings being at best a similar quality to what I already have.

The “would-likes”:
Yellow. The exact color of a stick of organic butter.
Less than $2500, built. More than that is too hard to lock up and leave. (Significantly less has its own problems.)
Very nice steel
Clearance for wide tires
Girly enough, but not hearts and flowers girly

The price is, as so often happens with bikes, the stickler. I’m sure I could be quite happy with a Co-Motion Nor’Wester Tour, but $3200 is a lot for a grocery-getting bike even if you believe in owning nice bikes. Same is true for a SweetPea A-Line, which is in the same price range, or any number of custom bikes. One price solution is to buy a vintage bike, but my husband (who is my primary bike mechanic) would rather eat our coffee table than do vintage restorations. They also often don’t meet the “must-have” specs with regards to weight.

I’m glad I don’t need this bike for a while. In the meantime I’ll be keeping my eyes open.

First Ride of the Spring

We’ve been hither and yon this spring, which means our “first” spring ride happened twice. For two months we were much further south, which gave us two months with some biking. Then we came back to cold, dreary New England. (I am a Southerner by birth, and after two years here I still wear sweaters through June.) After being back for several weeks, we finally went on our “first” Spring ride a few days ago.

I was itching to hit our default summer ride, the Blackstone River Bikeway. Since I bought Elton, the road bike, long after our summer riding ended, I really wanted to see how he stacked up against my more commuter-style bike. The route as we ride it is a smidge over 20 miles, almost double the length of anything I’ve ridden on the new bike. Also, my total mileage for the year thus far was about 50 miles.

You can see where this is going, right?


Moral of this story: just because you did something three times a week in October does not mean you can do it in April.

There are a few things about Elton that still need some dialing in. And we all know that any kind of bike problem is only magnified by distance. That thing that bothers you a little at mile five will be the only thing you can possibly think about by mile twenty.

For starters, I did all of my riding last season with padded gloves. Not mega-padded, but some. My cool weather gloves are excellent, but unpadded. After 15 miles, this was a problem. I’m also struggling a little bit with the transition to “real” road bike posture. Most importantly, Elton’s saddle is awful. Before this ride, I thought is was just a little uncomfortable. Now the truth is out–it’s unbearable.

The whole thing is my fault, I think. Elton came from small bike shop, in the winter. Their stock of accessories and components was running pretty low. After a ten minute ride with no padded shorts, I decided that I didn’t really care for the saddle that was already on the bike, which (sob) was a probably quite expensive Selle San Marco of some sort. (I at least could have resold it! The value exchange I was making did not cross my mind.) Since their stocks were pretty low, I had to pick from some not-very-desirable options.

I wound up with this one:

awful saddle

It’s bad. I thought, “Oh, it looks like the Terry Butterfly, and everybody loves those.” It isn’t that it’s over-padded, which is what I would expect the problem to be with a lower-end saddle. It’s that stupid cut out. To make room for the cut out, the saddle is wider in the center. Wide enough that it digs ruthlessly into my very-uppermost thigh. It’s also, because of the cut out, higher on the edges than in the center, which is really not what I’m used to. I’m still feeling bruised, after two days. My other bike has a Fizik saddle. I always thought (after 30 miles or so) that it was maybe not quite right. Now I’m kicking myself that I can’t trade them, because I left the other bike with my parents while we move.

On the plus side, even out of shape from my serious lack of off-season exercise, I beat my best time from last year by a minute. I also learned that Elton is a blast around curves and down hills. That bike flies. Sometimes more than this tentative cyclist really wants, in fact. I was sprinting for our snack stop at 20mph when I realized that there was a sharp curve. No time to slow down. Nothing to do except get the pedals right and lean. And ZOOM. It was the scariest thing I think I’ve ever done on a bike.

Product Review: Novara Commuter Rack Trunk

Novara bike bag

Novara is REI’s house brand of bicycles and bicycle accessories. I bought this bag about this time last year. While I don’t use it every day, it is holding up remarkably well. Since it’s a thoroughly functional, all-around kind of bag, I thought I’d give it a little review here.

This is your basic rack-top “trunk style” bag. It attaches securely to the rack with velcro straps at each end. The straps are a bit short for my Topeak-brand rack, but it’s easily solved with a different strap routing. I’ve had trouble with some rack-top bags, because I’m short. This means my saddle and my rack aren’t all that far apart. The tapered edges of this bag allow the bag to fit properly with no adjustment. It’s still a bit tight, as you can see in the blog header, but it fits.

Inside bag

The bag has one large main compartment. I’ve pictured it here with some fairly representative contents to give a sense of scale. That’s an inner tube, still in the cardboard box, a pair of gloves, and a large sunglasses case. And, for all I know, a few other items underneath. As you can see, the bag still has considerable space available. The black mesh you can see along the side is an interior pocket; there is a similar pocket on the other side. These pockets are subdivided into smaller compartments. These are excellent for keeping the smaller things you might want to carry from getting lost in the main area. At the front of the bag is a key clip.

Fold down pannier

At each side a compartment holds a fold down pannier. These have a simple bungee clip to attach at the bottom of your rack. I’ve found them secure enough for my purposes, and I imagine that the simplicity of the attachment makes it viable on a variety of rack styles. The panniers aren’t as large as purpose-built bags, but they are a useful size. I’ve used them most frequently for bringing home produce from the farmer’s market, and I’ve always been able to fit as much as I could carry. On my particular bike (small, but with long chain-stays) there is ample heel clearance.

Bike Bag, Covered

The top zipper of the bag holds a removable rain cover. I’ve only used the bag in the rain once, but my contents were still dry after at least a half hour. I will admit that it looks a little odd with the rain cover on. If you removed the rain cover you could stash a few small items here, but the pocket is fairly small. (You can also see here that I was taking advantage of the nice weather to get all my photographs at once. I just finished knitting that tea cozy.)

The strongest negative of this bag is the aesthetics. The high-visibiliy yellow may not be ideal of every cyclist, and the bag only comes in one color. I, myself, would have preferred another color if I hadn’t found the bag on a phenomenal sale.

(Note: My version of this bag is an older version, hence the sale. I believe the current version is similar in all the features, with the only change being the fabric. The newer version is a brighter yellow with a darker grey.)