The Saddle Shuffle

I have three bikes.

1) A titanium road bike, with fairly moderate geometry.
2) A mountain bike, front suspension only
3) A flat-bar commuter-type road bike.

I have three saddles.

1) An expensive Selle Italia Diva, which is a lot like the Terry Butterfly. This one came in the build kit for my mountain bike.
2) A Brooks B-17. I bought this one from Harris Cyclery, back when they were still my semi-local shop, to go on the titanium bike. I wanted to soften the over-sporty look a little.
3) A powder blue Fizik Vitesse, which you can see in the header. I bought this unridden for a screaming deal (Maybe $25?) back before I knew what I was doing. It was cheap, it was a famous brand, and the stock saddle on the flat-bar bike was excruciating.

That Vitesse saddle is like a parody of bad bike seats. It is narrow. It is hard. But I just can’t escape it. The geometry is, apparently, just perfect for me. I didn’t want it on the TI bike, mostly because it’s powder blue. My road bike fantasy involved Cinelli’s Celeste Green bar tape.

So, I mounted the Brooks on the road bike, in accordance with my fantasy aesthetics. This left the Vitesse on the commuter and the Selle Italia on the mountain bike. The Brooks turned out to be too wide for the road bike. So I switched with the mountain bike, and put the Selle Italia on the road bike. The Selle Italia kills me. I rode it for weeks, hoping that I would get used to it. It’s a very similar width to the Fizik, but because of the cutout it is wider in the center. This made the edges of the saddle dig in to my upper-inner thighs.

Finally, I realized that I was being a stupid. I pulled the Fizik off the flat-barred bike, where it had been for probably 2000 happy miles, and put it on the road bike. Perfect. I left the Brooks on the mountain bike and threw the Selle Italia on the commuter, until I had time to switch them both.

And now everybody is happy. The Brooks would be a more logical choice on the commuter, but it seems to benefit from the mountain bike’s most-upright posture. The commuter bike gets ridden for shorter distances, where the slight-wideness of the Selle Italia isn’t a problem.

Moral: pick the saddle that fits, not the one that “looks right.”

Coffeeneuring Ride #1

The coffeeneuring challenge from Chasing Mailboxes came along at a good time for me. On the one hand, I’m a terrible urban cyclist. I live within biking distance of a lot of things. Finding a safe route to those things isn’t impossible, now that we’ve lived here long enough to know the back streets, but it does take me out of my safety zone.

I’ve also spent all summer doing basically the same ride both days of most weekends. I’m trying to extend my long ride mileage, though. That means shortening the other day, which means that it isn’t worth driving all the way out of town.

Enter coffeeneuring!

I missed the first weekend, because I wasn’t paying attention.

Saturday was Kolache Saturday at our favorite local coffee shop/grocery store, though. They have almost no parking, and it’s easy to connect with a separated bike path for part of the route home. A perfect candidate for biking.

I had to (literally) dust off the mountain bike for the ride. My “townie” bike has some kind of serious drivetrain problem. I’m so afraid to shift that I might as well be riding the world’s only 3×8 single speed. With my minimal bike handling skills, I’m not a fan of skinny tires and drop bars (not to mention clipless, which I’m still learning) for city biking. That leave the mountain bike. I don’t know why I own a mountain bike. I think I imagined myself riding along through meadows or something. I am, like I said, a terrible bike handler AND I have a strong instinct for self preservation. Not only do I own a mountain bike, it has nicer components than my real road bike.

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It’s also, in a twist of total weirdness, where my Brooks saddle wound up. I’ll have to post sometime about the lively game of musical saddles I played at the beginning of the summer. It was mostly a holding place, but it turns out to work quite well with that bike geometry.

The ride itself was uneventful–a little over 8.5 miles round trip to have kolaches and lattes. I did panic and walk over the very narrow bike/pedestrian bridge. No picture of the latte. I forgot until after it was in my belly.

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Ahem.

That was a longer break than I meant. And, honestly, I’m not sure if being a cycling blogger is really my thing. (I do blog a lot about that puppy in the previous post, over at My Imperfect Dog.) See, blogging depends on variety. I don’t have the cash lying around to create content by buying things, nor the influence to finagle new things to review for free. On the other side, I’ve manage to come to terms with biking in this town, and those terms are “do all my long rides in exactly the same place.”

I’ve learned how to start from my house and bike to a few select places, but if you want to do anything except moderate density urban riding you have to drive out to the ‘burbs. I finally found a long stretch of bikeway that isn’t stuffed to the gills with horrible people (although I did get run off the trail last week by a woman who was too busy glaring at the person she passed to get back over to her side), and mostly I ride it every weekend. Sometimes both days.

For me, this came down to a choice: what do you love about biking? Would you pick varied routes on roads that are neither designed for nor welcoming to cyclists? Keep in mind, if you pick choice one, that it is over 20 miles in a straight line from my house to the closest open road. Oh, and it isn’t pretty biking, either–just urban sprawl. Or would you pick a scenic but monotonous route where you can just pedal along to your hearts’ content? The thing I love about cycling is the zen, so I picked the latter.

In any event, I’ve been riding consistently for the last two months, which would make it the *only* two months I’ve ridden consistently since we moved away from New England. If that takes boring boring boring, I’m okay with it.

So, why dust off the blog at all? Coffeeneuring! Which I’ll post more about in a bit. Also, I’ve formulated this crazy plan to bike a century on New Year’s Day, which means building up a lot of mileage in the intervening months. My longest ride ever is 45, I think, and that was years ago. I’d like to keep track of my training.

Whoa.

That was unexpected!

Just after my last post we left on a vacation. The second we came back home, my dad was hospitalized. One week away from the blog turned into three, and then came:

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Silas Wegg. Someone abandoned Silas outside my parents’ house while I was back home. He seemed unable to hear, as happens with some white dogs, so someone kicked him out. They probably thought they were doing the right thing–my parents have a fence for their dogs, a great rarity in the area. I brought him home with me, because my parents didn’t have the ability to care for a very young, frail dog. Funnily enough, he hears fine, and is (obviously) blossoming with some care. Somewhat alarmingly, his kibble seems to be going directly into his legs. At seven weeks old, he can already go up and down all of our stairs, even though he only weighs five pounds. I’m immensely curious to see what he becomes.

In any event, I still haven’t managed to fit together cycling+recovering from an exhausting trip+a new puppy. But, I’ll be back with something fun to show you in the next few days!

Setback

This week we’re away from home, on a business trip for K/vacation near our family. It’s a fairly bike-y trip. My road bike came along, as did K’s mountain bike. We’re also trying to nail down the details of the next bicycle by visiting some shops we don’t usually see.

Which is why it was particularly disappointing that I woke up Saturday morning with some kind of bizarre knee thing. I can’t even self-diagnose it. I mean, who just wakes up one morning with a painful (but not swollen) knee? I’ve never had joint problems in my life. Sunday was much better, until suddenly it wasn’t. Monday was a long drive, which left my knee feeling just generally icky.

I guess the good thing is that my activities don’t seem to bother it. Climbing stairs, walking, squatting down, everything seems fine. I test-rode my bike for a few parking lot laps, and it also doesn’t seem to hurt. Good news, all, although not as good as it being healthy all the time.

Self-Reinforcing Bad Behavior

Today I read a terrible news story about a cyclist being hit by a truck while in a crosswalk. The comments to the article were grimly fascinating. Many of the cyclists, in classic victim-blaming, pointed out that this is the problem with cycling on the sidewalk. You move faster than pedestrians, and thus vehicles don’t look for you at intersections. (Although, they often don’t look for pedestrians, either. I swore never to walk to my bank again, after a car stepped on it to beat me across the crosswalk as the light changed. The driver and I had already made eye contact. Yesterday while walking I was nearly hit by someone who wanted to block the sidewalk to make a right-hand turn out of the grocery store. Except I was *on* that piece of sidewalk.)

While the victim-blaming is uncalled for, however psychologically necessary–i.e. “she did something wrong, which I don’t do, therefore I am safe on my bike”–there’s certainly a valid point here. The other danger of sidewalk riding is accidents caused by the sidewalk itself. That is, an unexpected bump or an unramped curb could cause you to crash into traffic. In both of these cases, you would have been safer riding in traffic, forcing annoyed drivers to pass you in other lanes.

I’ve been mulling this over, because I have never seen a cyclist take the lane in this town. What few of us exist seem to 1) stick to residential streets or 2) ride the sidewalk. (There are no shoulders, so you don’t see cyclists trying to slink around the edges.) Residential streets can’t get you everywhere, however, and the sidewalks are often dangerously uneven. So, what does one do in a heavily-trafficked town where the drivers really, truly, may not have ever seen a cyclist on a main road? Avoiding the busier roads, in effect, has perpetuated the idea that we don’t belong on them. And as long as the cars believe that, can one or two, or even ten, cyclists safely change their mind?

Conversation from the Bike Path

There were a few amusing things that happened while we were on the bike path terror ride. This is my favorite:

We cycled past a male runner. He was the rippling muscle type, and he was moving fast. He wasn’t a big guy. You could tell that he was mostly a runner who did the gym thing on his off days, but he did it seriously when he was there.

Later, when we stopped for water, there was a female runner. She was in one of those tiny running outfits that you can only wear if you have serious running-cred to back it up. She wasn’t too thin, in that painful “I run too much” way that some women get, but there wasn’t a pudge to be seen.

As we cycled away, the male runner caught up, revealing that they were a couple. Back at the car I said, “Did you see that running couple? The woman in the tiny shorts and the man in orange?”
K: “Yeah, they were in good shape.”
Me: “I think they spend half their time in the gym, and the other half drinking protein shakes.”
K: “We could do more of that, right?”
Me: “So I could look like her, or so you could look like him?”
K: …. “Well, he had really nice muscle tone.”

Weekend on the Multi-Use Trail

This weekend K and I tried something different. We woke up at 5:30, packed up the road bikes, and drove over to the longest of the local multi-use trails.

It was a terrible idea.

I’ve ridden this trail before, while we were still thinking about moving here. I found it a little frustrating, because the path can be herky-jerky. Random, short, steep hills, and at almost every intersection you need to make an unrideable (for me) corner. Between those things, though, it was decent pavement, and I’m starting to feel really bike deprived. The trail was just as I remembered it. We beat the heat. It was really pleasant just to be out.

You’re waiting for the “terrible idea” part, right?

We live in, I’m guessing, one of the country’s least bikeable cities. While I can piece together an awkward kind of route as a transportation cyclist, sport cyclists are, as far as I can tell, out of luck. To compound the inherent problems of doing “real” road riding in an urban area, this city has a huge footprint. Even if you recognize that you need to get out of town to find smooth, low-traffic roads, it can be a 45 minute drive or more.

Add all these things together and you get some phenomenally inappropriate bike behavior. Things like fast group rides on the multi-use trail on a busy Sunday. I understand the thrill of going fast on the trail–I’ve done it. On quiet days, when I’m not going to run over anyone. On crowded days, I chill out. I enjoy riding my bicycle. I go 12 mph, or even less. I call out when I need to pass someone, even when there’s a 97% chance that they won’t hear me over their headphones.

The first sign that we were out of our element was a crash. Mr. Roadie, one of the group riders going 20 mph on the multi-use trail, was a fair distance back. I was in front, K was behind. K says, “Mr. Roadie is coming up, he’ll pass in a minute.” I looked over, saw how far away he was, and passed a jogger. K passed the jogger. We get on a bit, and I hear a terrible noise. Mr. Roadie was off the pavement, wheels up. I don’t think this was from anything we did, given both how far in front of the crash we were and how far ahead of Mr. Roadie I was when I passed the jogger, but I do wonder if Mr. Roadie somehow did this trying to cut us off. (Later, Mr. Roadie passed us again, without calling out. Next time we saw him, he had pulled off the trail. He re-entered right in front of me without looking.) After that we started to notice things like cyclists in full team kits passing between pedestrians while still riding two abreast. I called the ride off early, because it was getting dangerous out there.

The last straw was that someone yelled at me. The exit to the park was at a very acute angle to the trail, and going up a hill. I was in the wrong gear to both turn and climb, so I went past, changed gears, and turned around. To execute this turn, I pulled off the path to the right. I looked carefully, both ways, and then quickly turned across the path. As I was straightening back up, an oncoming cyclist, whom I was absolutely not putting in danger or even inconveniencing, yelled at me for being in the middle of the path. I could see him calling out if I had been, you know, actually stopped, or if he had been within six bike lengths, which he wasn’t.

Apparently, in the eyes of the most aggressive and unpleasant riders, the bike path is for “real” road cyclists, and everyone else is just an inconvenience.

Buying, Not Riding

Do you buy more cycling gear when you can’t ride?

I’m too much of a chicken prudent to ride alone in this big new city, and K has been on business travel for practically forever. (Two weeks.)

I seem to be compensating for this by shopping for bike things. Mercifully I’ve confined myself to window shopping, but in the last two days I’ve considered buying

–new pedals
–new shoes
–a new jersey
–bar tape
–a saddle
–water bottle cages
–and an entire new bicycle.

This last one is both hilarious and worrisome. It’s K’s turn for the next bike, you see, but he can’t make up his mind. He wants a new hard-tail mountain bike, but his current full-suspension mountain bike could also use replacing. It’s a little excessive for this terrain, and his riding style would be better on a slightly smaller frame. When he plotted out the cost for the hard-tail, I almost choked, and told him to replace the suspension bike first. That would be a straight parts transfer from the (not very) old bike, so the out-of-pocket is just the frame. If we’d had the time for it in March, when he demo’d the Santa Cruz Tallboy, he would have done it right then. Now that the demo is fading from his mind, he is back to indecision.

He’s trying to prolong his indecision definitely, by foisting the decision off onto me. Which has me looking at mountain bikes. The problem with mountain biking is that I will almost certainly dislike it. My bike buying is thus in a delicate position. I don’t want the bike to be so cheap that I hate it even more, but it’s also a silly waste to spend a lot on something I will most assuredly not love. Except, it’s hard to buy something that you know isn’t as good, even if you also know that you don’t *need* something as good. My city bike came with such frustratingly inferior parts that I’m skittish of not being within a certain distance of top-of-the-line. (Not top-of-the-line itself, because the difference is mostly weight, not functionality.)

It’s all academic right now, at least. I’m going to try hard to make K take his own turn. Maybe, at most, I’ll get those pedals/shoes/bottle cages/bar tape. In the meantime, maybe window shopping through this heat wave isn’t so bad.

Saddle Maintenance

Today I realized with a jolt that my practically brand-new Brooks saddle needed a little TLC. You see, I went so far as to buy Proofide, but never applied it. Meanwhile, my poor bike is sitting in our detached, unairconditioned garage, where the temperature is probably hitting 110 on hot afternoons. Of which there are a lot lately. Time to quit thinking about saddle treatment, and actually treat the saddle.

Before:
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During:
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After, with my Minnehaha bag installed:
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Which, surely, I must have done wrong, because it was incredibly irritating.

Gratuitous shot of full bike (some non-black bar tape is on the docket, and I promise that carbon-fiber water bottle cage was not purchased by me):

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Application was straightforward. I followed the instructions, and I used the cloth that came with my kit. Drying time was in the realm of 30 minutes, in weather that’s somewhere between “warm-ish” and “eye-searing,” with a healthy dose of humidity. As per instructions, I put Proofide top and bottom, since there are no fenders on this bike. Next up: finding somewhere to really ride this bike, rather than poking around on my city bike.