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Tuesday
Aug202013

Group Riding

I saw an online question posed, “When is a group ride too big.” The answer I would give is that it is not the size of the group that is the issue, it is the makeup of the group and their collective bike riding experience and skills.

A group of 20 or even 30 professional riders, or even top experienced amateurs, might not be too big, whereas a group of six complete novices might be.

I stopped riding with my local group, because the experienced guys are just too fast for me, and the slower group has just enough people in the mix that don’t have a clue about the basic group riding skills. At best it makes the group not fun to ride with, and at worst, downright dangerous.

Probably the single most important thing in group riding is the ability to ‘Follow a Wheel.’ To draft effectively a rider must maintain a distance of no more than 18 inches from the rider ahead. Once the gap opens up to half a bike length then the following rider has no benefit from drafting.

The ideal minimum distance to follow a wheel is 6 to 8 inches. Many do not have the confidence or the skill to ride that close, so they leave a bike length, or two, or three, between each rider, as a result a group of 20 or so is strung out over a quarter of a mile, making it impossible for cars to pass the whole group without cutting in front of someone somewhere.

Others are trying to get from the back to the front of this long strung out line, the result being that there are riders two abreast in several places. Okay, so it is legal for a cyclist to pass another cyclist, but to an outsider it just appears to be an unorganized rabble all over the road. Which is pretty much what it is.

Then if the group does manage to form something that resembles a pace line, there is the rider who can’t ride smoothly, and is constantly pedal, pedal, coast. Pedal, pedal, coast. Or worse still is constantly on the brakes.

A newcomer should aim to maintain a gap of about 12 inches to start with. That way the distance can fluctuate from 6 inches to 18 inches. Try to avoid using the brakes to regulate speed, if one should find themselves getting too close to the wheel they are following, ease off on the pedaling, and pull off to one side or the other. That way the rider pulls out of the lead rider's slipstream and catches a little head wind that it will slow him down, naturally and gently.

Applying the brakes will slow the rider too quickly, and he will start to yoyo on and off. Braking opens a gap, the rider then sprints to catch up, finds himself running into the rider ahead, then has to use the brakes again and the whole cycle starts over.

This also becomes uncomfortable and dangerous for others following. Even a gentle touch of the brakes, and with the delay in reaction before the rider behind realizes what is happening. He has to slam on his brakes a little harder, and the whole effect gets magnified as it goes from one rider to the next. Often the result is someone runs into the rider ahead and brings down several riders behind him.

Don’t even stop pedaling and freewheel. This can be annoying for the following rider, better to just ease of the pressure, and keep the pedals turning at slightly less revs, just partially freewheeling.

Try to avoid overlapping the wheel in front, but if a rider should find the gap between wheels getting to be 6 inches or less, just pull off slightly to one side. Better that wheels overlap briefly than to have them actually touch.

Don’t panic, don’t use the brakes, just ease off on the pedals and let the wind the rider is catching slow him gently so he can drop back in behind the leader. The rider next in line will follow not even aware that the rider ahead changed his line slightly.

Smoothness is the key to riding in a pace line. That includes smoothness when going to the front to take your turn. Don’t sprint through and increase the speed. Gaps will open up, and cause a chain reaction down the pace line in the same way braking did, with each rider having to sprint harder and harder to close the gap ahead.

Cycling is one of the few athletic activities where one can socialize while participating. But in order to socialize one must ride in a group. With more and more new people coming into the sport all the time the situation will get worse before it gets better.

What are your pet peeves with inexperienced riders on group rides?

 

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Tuesday
Aug132013

Climbing out of the saddle

Climbing a hill out of the saddle, standing on the pedals is very tiring and a rider can soon burn himself out. But used sparingly at the right time, an experienced rider can save energy in the long run.

When deciding how to climb a hill on a bicycle, think of it as a work load. Imagine two men, each moving 100lbs. of sand from A to B in five minutes. One man hoists the 100lb. bag of sand on his shoulder, moves it from A to B in one minute, then sits down and rests for four minutes. The other man divides the sand into five, 20lb. loads and takes a minute to move each 20lb. for a total of five minutes.

Now imagine that the two men have to immediately repeat the same task over and over. Who is the fresher? The one who makes a big effort to start with, but then rests, or the man who spreads the work load over the full five minutes? A lot depends on the makeup of each individual.

Often if a road is an undulating series of short steep hills, it is often in the interest of a rider to use the speed and momentum of the descent to carry him half way up the next climb, then without shifting down, he gets out of the saddle and puts in a super human effort to keep the momentum going to carry himself over the crest of the next hill, knowing that even if this effort takes him to the point of exhaustion, he can recover on the following descent.

On a long steep climb it is different, even a long gradual climb. One must still try to keep momentum, and must occasionally get out of the saddle to boost that momentum, but a rider cannot put in those super efforts, when there are no downhill respites where he can recover.

A rider climbs out of the saddle not only to get his full weight over the pedals, but to get his body nearer his hands so he has a direct pull on the handlebars in opposition the downward thrust of his legs. Think of using an elliptical treadmill in a gym. One has to constantly move their body from left to right, so the user’s full weight is directly over the downward stroke of the paddles.

On a bike, instead of moving the body, move the bike. As the rider thrusts down on the right pedal, he pulls upwards on the right side of the handlebar. This not only puts an opposing thrust on the pedals but it moves the bike to the left, effectively using the bike as a lever.

As the right leg pushes down on the right pedal, power is transferred through the crank, chainwheel, and chain to the rear wheel. Meanwhile the bike’s frame is moving to the left and the bottom bracket, is moving upwards on the right side. 

There is not just the leverage of the crank arm, but the leverage of the whole bike frame working in the opposite direction. As the pedal moves down towards the bottom of its stroke, the right side of the crank axle is moving towards the top.

When the right pedal gets to the bottom, the rider pulls up on the left side of the handlebars, while pushing downwards on the left pedal. The rider’s body stays vertical, and the bike moves from side to side. (See top picture.) Also as the rider pushes down on one pedal, he pulls upward with his other foot on the opposing pedal. 

Obviously climbing out of the saddle like this is very tiring, one is using the whole body. But used sparingly, to increase momentum, it can be very effective. For example if the gradient of a climb starts to level out, a strong rider can shift up a gear, then get out of the saddle to get the cadence back up to a level where he can sit down a pedal again.

It is all a matter of a rider knowing his fitness level, and his recovery time. Knowing his strengths and limitations, and that only comes with hard work, training and experience.

 

For a large selection of Sun Glasses like those worn in the picture at the top of this article, click on the link below:    

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Thursday
Aug082013

Campagnolo Athena: A joy to work with, a joy to ride

Some ten weeks ago I bought my wife Kathy a 1985 1st. Generation 49cm. Fuso frame in really nice condition. I built it up with parts I had laying around and bought a few items on eBay. My wife had expressed for some time that she would like a frame that I had built.

We are neither that much into material things, we like the possessions we do own to have some special meaning, so naturally a frame I built would fall into that category. Kathy immediately took to the Fuso, and she put several hundred miles on it. However, the limited gear range of a straight up 6 speed freewheel, and friction shifters left a lot to be desired.

So after I sold her previous bike, (A carbon fiber Schwinn Peloton.) I took that money a bought a Campagnolo Athena 11 speed group. I have a black Athena group on my new Russ Denny built Fuso, for Kathy’s Fuso I got a silver group. There are other Campagnolo groups that are lower in price, but the Athena group is the lowest price 11 speed group. It is also available with carbon fiber components, which is more expensive of course.

I thought readers might like step by step account of how the bike went together. Any home mechanic who has worked regularly with vintage Campagnolo and Shimano equipment, would have absolutely no problem building a bike with this group.

In many ways I find the modern stuff is easier to work with than the vintage equipment. The only special tools I needed was a special wrench to screw in the outboard cups into the English threaded bottom bracket. And a set of Star (Torx.) wrenches. If you are not familiar with these, they work like Allen wrenches, but are star shaped rather than hexagonal. I already had both these items in my tool kit.

The combined brake/shifter levers may look intimidating but could not be easier to fit and set up. First peel back the rubber hood from the front end of the lever. I becomes apparent that there are special parts molded into the inside edge of the rubber hood, that fit into little slots and holes in the metal housing to hold it in place.

Peel back the hood from the front and turn it inside-out. About half way back in the top of the lever hood is a screw hole, (Picture left.)

Insert the star wrench into the screw head. Loosen the screw and slide the lever on the handlebar until the top of the lever hood is level with the top of the bars. Tighten the screw.

When satisfied with the lever’s position, repeat with the second lever, laying a straight edge across the top of the two levers and sight up with the top edge of the bars to see if the levers are level.

As a double check set the handlebars on a level table top, resting on the tips of the brake levers. If the levers are not level the assembly will rock like a four legged table with one leg short. Adjust one lever until level, and when satisfied, pull the rubber hoods back in place making sure all the little holding tabs are where they should be. The bars are now ready to attach to the handlebar stem.

The brake and gear cables are also easy to install, which makes it nice, not only when assembling the bike, but for routine maintenance when re-greasing or replacing brake and gear wires. The rubber hoods need to be peeled back, this time from the rear end nearest the handlebars.

First I fitted the outer cable housing. (Brake and gear cable.) I cut back the plastic sheathing about 1/4 inch to ensure in went all the way into the lever and sat firmly against its stop. The gear cable exits at the top of the hood, where there are two channels the wire can run in.

This gives the option for the cable housing to run along the rear edge of the bars, or the one I chose, to run it along the front edge next to the brake housing. The brake cable exits inside, just below the gear cable.

I placed two pieces of electricians tape on either side round the bars to temporarily hold the cable housing in place. (Handlebar tape was later placed over this.) Next I cut the housing to length at the down tube cable stops and at the brakes, and all that was left was to grease and feed the inner wire through.

I placed a rubber band around the handlebars to hold the brake lever open, this allows both hands free to feed in the wire, possibly hold a flashlight because the inside hole where the cable enters can be a little hard to find. Make sure the roller that holds the pear shaped nipple on the end of the brake wire is facing the right way.

Once you poke the wire through the hole in the roller, aim slightly downwards and keep fishing until the wire goes through the tunnel and into the cable housing. The hole for the gear cable is underneath the hood, push the wire up through this hole. When it exits at the top of the hood the wire needs to be fed along the channel and into the cable housing.

Campagnolo’s gear shift lever design is so simple. When holding on the lever hood, the rider’s fingers are on the outside, the thumb on the inside. The fingers work the lever to shift down, the thumb clicks the little lever on the inside to shift up.

Once the gear cables are installed, pull on the wire with one hand while clicking the down shift lever two or three times with the other. Feel it pull on the wire, then click the small thumb lever until is stops clicking and the mechanism is in top gear position.

The rear derailleur needs the star wrench again to attach it to the gear hanger. Adjust both limit stops so the jockey wheels line up with the small sprocket, and the large bottom sprocket when the derailleur is pushed by hand all the way across against the spring. (Assuming wheels are in place with a cassette. There is no chain fitted yet.)

Cut a piece of cable housing to go from the chainstay stop to the adjustable stop on the derailleur. Don’t make the loop too big or too tight, but let the inner wire follow a natural line at the entry and exit points.

Thread the inner wire through, remembering to grease it, and pulling the wire tight, attach it to the clamp just below the adjuster.

Operate the downshift lever one click at a time and see if the rear derailleur jockey wheels line up with each sprocket on each click. If they don’t adjust the cable stop until they do.  Fit the front derailleur in the normal way, this frame had a braze-on fitting.

Adjust the inner and outer limit stops so the derailleur yoke centers on the inner and outer chainrings. Operate the up and down shift levers to check they are working correctly. After fitting the chain and test riding the bike, I found the front and rear derailleurs shifted perfectly and no further adjustment was necessary.

The frame is the heart and soul of a bicycle, it determines how the bike fits and how it will ride. Naturally I am prejudiced towards my own frame, and it is natural my wife would want a frame I built.

Building it up with modern equipment, especially Campagnolo, makes a bike that is a joy to ride. It will last for years, and should someone in the future want to rebuild the bike again with period correct equipment, the frame has not been compromised.  

 

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Tuesday
Jul302013

High Point

I got back from High Point, North Carolina, on Sunday evening. I had been there since Thursday, July 25 for The Bicycle: Art meets Form event. I heard so many people remark that this was one of the best such events they had ever attended, and I had to wholeheartedly agree.

The whole event was centered around the USA Cycling Professional Criterium Men’s and Women’s Championships. The races with preliminary events took place on Saturday afternoon and evening. The start and finish was outside the High Point Theater, and there were bleachers and large screen monitors set up to watch the race round the entire course.

There was so much going on, mainly in three different venues, all within a city block, easy walking distance. The event hotel was the High Point Plaza, right in the city center, an older building that had been recently renovated. The rooms were comfortable, clean, and the staff were great. Prices were reasonable, like the hotel restaurant that served a good breakfast at prices one would expect in a chain restaurant.

There was a Vintage Bike Show downstairs in the hotel ballroom, I felt privileged to have three of my custom bikes on display. (Above.)

If you walked out of the hotel back door and across the street, there was a Mini Hand built Bicycle Show going on. Across the street again was the High Point Theater and Art Gallery, where there were more hand built bikes on display, and paintings and other art objects that featured bicycles.

In the theater there were talks and cycling movies shown. I spoke at 3 pm. on Friday, (Top picture.) I talked about my past work and history, an hour went by very quickly. I was back later to be part of a panel discussion with current framebuilders Peter Weigle, Mark DiNucci, Dario Pegoretti, Nick Crumpton, Dave Wages.

Sitting there listening to these other framebuilders, who it seems manage to cater to a small niche market of people who appreciate something hand built as opposed to something carbon that pops out of a mold.

It struck me that I was indeed fortunate to have had my career in the 1980s when hand built frames were the norm before the big corporations took over.

It must have been like the difference between a jazz musician playing in the Jazz Era of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, and a jazz musician playing today. Neither is any more or less of a musician, it is just the size of the audience one is playing to.

Just as in the Jazz Era there were many more musicians, but there was more work available. I built frames in an era when the entire Tour de France field rode on hand built steel frames.

I had to compete with the likes of Colnago, Pinerello, and Cinelli, who were larger companies and with more advertising clout than I had. However, the market was big enough that I could grab a small piece of it, and make a decent living.

I had never been to High Point before, a nice little city with a small town feel. (Population just over 100,000.) It was once known as the “Furniture Capital of the World.” There were furniture factories all around, along with many textile mills.

These furniture companies still have showrooms in High Point and there is a huge furniture business trade show there every year, but sadly the furniture is all made in China now. The same way the bike business has gone. Oh well, you can’t fight progress.

 

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Thursday
Jul252013

The Bicycle: Art Meets Form

My apologies if my postings here have been a little sparse of late, but I have been really busy. This is my third month into writing as a “Bicycle Expert” for Answers.com, where I am committed to writing 10 articles per month.

This weekend I am attending “The Bicycle: Art Meets Form” event in High Point, North Carolina. Much of my time this past week has been taken up in preparation.

The four day event is centered around the US Professional Criterium National Championships. There will be a Handmade Bicycle Show featuring the work of Peter Weigle, Mark DiNucci, Dario Pegoretti, Nick Crumpton and Dave Wages. There will also be a Vintage Bike Festival, and Bicycle Swapmeet. I will be there as one of the guest speakers.

I always enjoy attending these kind of events because it gives me the opportunity to meet old friends, and make new ones. I’ll be back with pictures and a report next week.

 

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