Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Becoming my own bike fitter

I haven't posted in a while, I know, but things have been busy, I've been riding a lot, travel for Thanksgiving, then I got sick, etc....

In a follow up to the last post, I earned a little extra cash by doing some editing work and decided to investment in a Salsa Size-O-Matic II fitting stem, to work towards that process of refining my fit.  I also figured it would be a good tool to have if I keep up with this fitting thing and go on to help other people with their fit.  It came it late last week and after getting over a cold this weekend, I decided to start playing around with it a couple of days ago.

However, I wanted to be systematic about any changes I was going to make, and to make sure that I recorded setups before I started changing them.  So, my first step was set the bike up on a borrowed trainer, level out the axles (turns out my old archaeology textbook was the perfect size to prop up the front wheel), and go about accurately measuring my current position.  I used the technique laid out by Steve Hogg in this article, and these were the results of my measurements:

Seat Height:   820mm
Seat Angle: +1 degree
Seat Setback (measured to nose of saddle):  13cm
Seat Nose to Handlebar: 60cm
Seat to Bar Drop:   0cm
Bar Angle: +16 degrees
Brake Lever Height:  13mm
Just for good measure, I recorded the components for future reference:

Seatpost Setback: 40mm (Nitto S-84)
Saddle: Specialized Comp Road (Riva?)
Stem: 100mm, minus 10 degrees (Felt w/ adj. shim)
Bars: Felt "2.2" (44cm width at hoods)
Cranks: Sugino XD2 double, 170mm, 107mm BB

There were a couple of suprises here, such as the fact that my handlebars were level with my saddle (when measured directly above the midpoint of the rails, as Hogg recommends).  I had never really measured before but visually, it had always seemed like my handlebars were slightly below my saddle, perhaps because I have my saddle nose angled up a couple of degrees.

After taking and double checking my measurements a couple of times (some of them definitely require some technique, especially the setback measurement), I went about starting to give myself a fitting session, at least how I would start to go about one.  I changed into my riding shorts and shoes.  The first test I did was to test my saddle position through a balance test.  This type of test is recommend by a few different fitters (Peter White and Dave Kirk, among others) but I followed a detailed procedure, again recommended by Steve Hogg in this article (scroll down to the section marked "point of balance").  The procedure is to warm up well, then to start a hard-ish effort (I don't use power meters or heart rate, so I just went by feel).  Move your hands down into the drops (on road bikes), and then, when you're ready, take your hands off the bars and swing them back towards your hips.  The theory of the test is that if you are balanced properly, you should be able to hold this position without using your arms, without a marked effort from your torso muscles, and without feeling like you're sliding forward off the seat.

My second surprise came when I discovered myself falling forward during the balance test with my current position.   I guess this surprised me because I am surprised by how much setback it turns out I really need.  The Casseroll has a fairly slack seat tube angle--72.5 degrees (not super slack by any means, but no track bike either)--and is fitted with the seatpost which features, in my searches, the greatest amount of setback available in a conventional seatpost: the Nitto S-84 at 40mm.  My seat is fairly centered on the rails, maybe slid a touch towards the rear.  So in terms of commonly available equipment, my seating position, it would seem, falls in the super-setback, Greg Lemond territory of things.  And yet I was finding myself still falling forward, suggesting that more setback is in order.

So in the interest of experimentation, and having confidence that I could return to my original position if need be, I slid the saddle back on the rails by a centimeter--basically to the forward limit of the seat rails--and re-attempted the balance test.  The test was much more successful with this position, although I can see where practice and developing an eye and feel for this comes into play.  I was basicallly able to hold position without real effort with the new saddle setting, but I could definitely feel *something* happening in my torso as I swung my hands from the drops back to my hips.  After trying it a number of times, I concluded that it was probably just my body adjusting to the new hand position and slightly re-balancing.  Not what I would call a large effort from the torso muscles to hold balance.   So it seems like the sweet spot is somewhere around 14cm of setback for me, at least with my current saddle.

All of this makes me wonder what puts me out there on the bell curve when it comes to setback.  I definitely have long legs for my height (~96cm pubic bone height, last time I was measured at Riv), but the relationship between leg length and setback is iffy at best, and my legs aren't that long.   The one dimension that is outside of the bell curve for me is foot length--I have ginormous feet: size 15US/ 50 Euro.  It makes sense that large feet would push my balance point back, since if they were too under me they could be pushing me up and forward.  So maybe that's it.

However, with the saddle slid back, it was readily apparent that my reach to the handlebars was now far too long--it was a strain to reach anything but the tops of the bars.  So, I popped off the stem (yay for removable faceplates) and popped on the new Size-0-Matic, and began trying shorter stem lengths--70mm, 60mm, and 55mm (the minimum stem length possible with the Size-O-Matic, and probably a minimum for commonly available stems).  Off the bat, nothing popped out as being "right," but it was getting late and I wanted to wrap up so I didn't try anything for super long.  Nothing felt as comfortable as some bikes I can remember, specifically ones with shorter top tubes, a feeling I've been seeking in some of my bike fit experiments.  So I'm beginning to think that that particular feeling might not be achievable on the Casseroll, between the longish top tube (61cm) and the extra reach from the seatpost offset needed.

Where does that leave me?  Well, still pining after a frame that is large enough to get the bars at a decent height, a seat angle that allows me to get enough setback with commonly available seatposts, and a short top tube--definitely 59cm or less, preferably in the 57 range.

At the same time, I probably won't give up on the Casseroll just yet.  After all, I can ride it fairly comfortably as is.  I'd like to do another longer session on the trainer with the seatpost moved back to around 14cm of offset and something like a 70mm stem.  In doing so, I would evaluate the position using some of the functionality criteria Hogg describes in his article on bar positioning--namely, the ability to extend my neck, the ability to ride in the drops for extended periods of time, etc. It may not feel like some of the shorter top tube bikes I've ridden, but is it good enough for long rides?  Shorter than that, and I'd be concerned about weird handling on the bicycle.  I'm reminded of one bike I saw in my old shop, a woman's lightweight aluminum road bike with a 40mm stem intended for downhillers fitted!  I also wonder if a different set of bars with less reach would make a significant difference.  Once again, I am tempted to try the Soma Highway One, with 75mm of reach.  

All of this brings up the difficulty of trying to learn bike fit.  Obviously, I'm beginning to see there's a lot of judgement and learned feel involved.  I'm using myself as my first test subject, and I have precious little to go on as to what the feeling is that I'm looking for--the memories of certain bikes (ridden at times when I was in a much different place, perceptually and physically), and the descriptions of a cagey Aussie who obviously knows what he's talking about.  I'd love to get a set of professional eyes to help me out, and perhaps to go on and learn some of the finer points of bike fitting from, but I find it hard to gain enough confidence in a fitter from their website.  Nobody around the Bay Area has as much info online as Hogg does, especially about their overall fitting philosophy, and that makes me reluctant to drop a couple of hundred dollars on any of them.

Has anybody out there had a good bike fitting in the Bay Area, especially one focused on balance and functionality?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Autumn Redwood-Wildcat/ Thoughts towards refining my road bike fit

Instead of just descriptions of bikes (which will probably be a focus, since I'm a gear head), I thought I'd write a ride report today, of the ride I did yesterday.  I do want to apologize for the lack of pictures, other than bike shots, on the blog so far.  Unlike a lot of the bike blogging world, taking pictures, especially ones that are pleasant to look at, is not second nature for me, and I almost never remember to take my camera with me.  Furthermore, my camera has some memory card issues at the moment, so I would have had to borrow the wife's.  In any case, what I lack in visuals I'll try to make up in description.

Mondays are usually a day off for me, and my wife also had the day off for Veteran's day, so we slept in and generally had a lazy morning.  Finally kitted up and headed out the door mid-morning or so.

Late fall/early winter has definitely descended on the Bay Area.  After many weeks alternating rains with days of warm Indian Summer weather, last week the cold weather stuck around even after the rain and feels like it's here to stay.  I headed out the door wearing heavy layers and knee warmers, both of which stayed on for the duration of the ride.  I may have even been more comfortable with an extra base layer on top and full leg warmers.  In any case, this was my first longer ride in such weather, and as usual around the transition of the seasons, it took a little extra effort for my body to adjust to exerting itself in the new climate.  The cold air made my lungs burn during the steep warm-up climbs leading to Tunnel Rd.

Aside from that, though, I thoroughly enjoyed being out on a beautifully clear Fall day.  The low angle of sunlight lent that "perpetual afternoon" feeling to the whole day, and meant that many of the canyons I was riding in were shaded even at midday.  Small patches of sunlight were a definite treat.  Furthermore, the roads were pretty quiet--despite being a Federal holiday, I think a lot of people were still at work--so the entire ride had a peaceful quality that I like to associate with the colder months.  It reminded me of the cold fall days in New England, where I grew up.  I rolled along just enjoying the sound of my breathing, the quietness the chain smoothly meshing with the gears, and the angle of the light on the road.

Heading up Tunnel Rd, my intention was to do the Redwood-Wildcat ride, something I hadn't done in a while, a good 4-ish hour ride with plenty of climbing and fun descents.  There were only a few other cyclists out as I pushed my way up Tunnel at a steady pace and then enjoyed the fast miles on Skyline Blvd along the top of the ridge.  Low traffic meant that I could take the turns at speed very easily, focusing on having a good line to maintain momentum, rather than maintaining good traffic spacing and letting cars pass.  As the road turned up again past the upper entrance to Redwood Regional Park, the air was filled with the pleasant odor of wood burning, and looking out over the park I noted a large amount of smoke rising from a stand of trees.  Not seeing any emergency vehicles, I assumed it was a controlled burn to clear out the underbrush.  A couple cyclists on carbon fiber racing rigs passed me as I went by the Chabot Center, but I caught up with them as the road pointed down again and we were all caught behind some automobile traffic.  It was interesting to ride behind them and compare the lines they took through the corners.  One of them was wearing a USPS jersey, which now seems funny in light of the scandal surrounding Lance Armstrong, the USPS/Discovery cycling team, and the UCI.  I wonder if more people will wear USPS jerseys as an ironic statement?

In any case, those riders turned back towards Oakland on Joaquin Miller Rd while I proceeded left towards Redwood Rd.  I remembered how great that stretch of road is for working on your aero tuck.  While I like to get aero on descents, I don't go to the extremes, like cantilevering my torso out over the bars to get minimum frontal area.  I prefer to keep my weight between the wheels and my hands near the brake levers in case manuevering is needed, and work to tuck my head down low to the bars and my knees in against the top tube.

Turning onto Redwood, I shifted up into my highest gear (48x13) so I could keep the cranks turning and the blood flowing down the long, gradual descent to the intersection with Pinehurst Rd, since it was cold in the shaded bottom of the canyon.  After turning onto Pinehurst, I attacked the climb, and felt surprisingly good to do so--I dispatched it relatively quickly.  Being heavily forested and right in the middle of protected watersheds and state land, this stretch of road feels quite remote, despite being only a few miles from Oakland and Berkeley.  I enjoyed this feeling while working my way up the climb.  My reward was the twisty, fun descent down to the intersection with Canyon Rd, which is great for the way it teaches you speed control while stringing together tight left- and right-handers in quick succession.  During all of these descents, the bike felt really good, very controllable with my hands in the drops, and my body was comfortable in the low-down position.

After Canyon Rd was the long, suburban drag north along Moraga Way through Moraga and Orinda to the base of climb back up Wildcat Canyon.  I took this opportunity to sit up a bit, enjoy the warmth of the sunlight, and eat the Clif Bar I keep stashed in my seat bag for mid-ride refueling, since I felt like I had burned plenty of calories already between the climbing and keeping myself warm.  That part of the ride is really nothing to write home about, and the best thing I can say is that is passed relatively quickly.

Turning up Wildcat, I still felt good, although I was definitely feeling the exertion of the long, cold ride so far.  The light was particularly beautiful on this stretch, just barely peeking over the ridge and down into the cold corners of the winding ascent.  Again, low traffic made climbing relatively stress-free, and I was just able to listen to my breathing and my tires beneath me.   I paused briefly at the top of the climb to check out the view north and east from Inspirtation Point, before pointing the bike for home.  The stretch of Wildcat back from Inspirtation Point to the top of Spruce St in Berkeley is always fun with it's down grade, rough pavement, and corners. 

The descent down Spruce into Berkeley and then back home down Virginia St was where I felt my most discomfort, and since this was the last stretch of the ride, this discomfort stuck with me a bit, despite being really happy with the rest of the ride.  My back felt stiff and my hands were numbing up a bit.  Why did this happen on this descent and not really on the others?  Of course, it was the last descent of the day, also the longest, and I had been riding without a real break for a couple of hours.  But I think there was something more.  Being the most trafficked (basically all on city streets) and with the most stop signs and lights, the descent down Spruce and Virginia requires the most braking of all of the descents I had done that day.  

Salsa Casseroll

As you can see from this picture from the last post, I have my handlebars and brake levers on this bike (the Casseroll) rotated up a bit.  This flattens out the ramps some and provides a nice, balanced position on top of the brake hoods, but its downside is that the grip angle in the drops, especially in the portion just below the brake levers, ends up canted downwards at quite an angle.  I feel okay when I'm rolling in the drops with my hands back towards the end of the bars, but in order to brake a lot I have to move my hands a bit further up the drop.  In an effect described by pro bike fitter Steve Hogg in his article on bar shapes, this pulls my torso lower than is comfortable for a long time when braking:

"A steep grip angle (30-50 degrees) causes the rider to have their closed hands much closer to vertical than a shallow grip angle.  In turn this means that a steep grip angle causes the elbows to be bent more and the upper body lowered more than would be the case for a bar with a shallower grip angle set at the same height."
This effect feels like exactly what was happening on the Spruce descent.  With all of the braking required for traffic and stop signs, I was spending more time in the most-angled portion of the drops, which it turn required a deeper bend in my elbows, shoulders, and back.  Hence the stiffness, etc.

This shortcoming is something I'd like to work on in refining my position on this bike, since descents--especially techy ones which require braking for sharp curves--are one of my favorite parts of riding.  The fact that I need to the brake levers rotated back for a balanced position on the hoods, as well as the fact that sometimes I find myself shifting forward under load, suggests that overall, my reach to the bars might be too long on this bike.  Empirically, this works out as well, since, with a 61cm effective top tube, the Casseroll is definitely my longest bike.  Add to this the added reach from the setback seatpost and a 100mm stem, and it makes sense that I find myself on the edge of being to stretched out.  So I think a shorter stem is in order, since my position feels nicely balanced with the current seat position (i.e. I don't want to reduce reach by moving the seat forward).

But how short a stem?  90mm? 80mm?  Shorter?  I think that before I invest in any more stems, it might be time to invest in something like the Salsa Size-O-Matic II adjustable fitting stem.  Not to mention the fact that it would help not only with this fit but any bike fit going forward, since it is compatible with pretty much every steerer and bar standard out there. 

I also think that while the generic Felt-branded bar on the Casseroll might be in the right ballpark dimension-wise, something with better angles, that allows both a flat ramp/hoods position while also maintaining a shallow grip angle might be best.  Something like the Soma Hwy One or the Salsa Pro Road Medium, although the Hwy One's silvery shiny goodness wins out everytime in my book.

What about you guys?  Anybody out there have particular fit issues that only crop up under certain riding conditions?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Quickbeam Update 2/ Bikes: Salsa Casseroll

A few things today.

First off, yet another Quickbeam update in the ongoing process of dialing it.

Quickbeam Update 2
 I had ongoing problems with the Civia Aldrich bars rotating in the stem, even with a four-bolt removable face plate stem, especially when i was standing up and leaning forward.  I measured their clamp area and found that they were undersized--around 25.1mm when they were spec'ed as 25.4mm.  Plus, as I hinted in my last post, I wasn't totally satisfied with the fit on them.  I'll probably contact Civia about them, but for now, I wanted to try something different.

Quickbeam Update 2
So, I swapped back in a NOS 120mm Nitto Dynamic 37 steel MTB stem which I had originally bought to try with the Civia Bars, and used some Masi-branded swept back flat bars I had kicking around.  So far, this setup has been working the best.  Using a proper quill stem allows me to get the bars as low as possible, and their flat-ness provides a little bit of extra reach.  Being a long time roadie and generally liking bars that put your palms more parallel to the bike than perpendicular to it, I was skeptical that I would like the flat bars, especially after not really liking the Bullmoose bars that much.  But, it turns out that hand position aside, this setup provides the best-feeling fit of anything so far, and I think I'll be sticking with it, for a while at least.

Some might feel that the matte black cheapo bars have no place on a Rivendell, but I actually kind of like the look, and I love the overall proportions of the bike with this setup.

For those that are wondering, I acquired the bars from a co-worker at the shop where I used to work.  They had come stock on his Masi Soulville commuter and he had swapped them out for some less-flared low-rise bars. They're definitely the narrowest bars I've tried on this bike, and with the high-trail Riv geometry, it feels really stable.  Almost too stable. 

Also swapped the tires for some 700x37c WTB "Slickasaurus."  Smooth street tires to better fit it's role as city bike, also in anticipation of fenders for the rainy season. 

Secondly, I wanted to post up another one of the bikes in my stable, the one which, along with the Quickbeam, gets the most miles these days: my Salsa Casseroll road bike, built up on a 2008 Frame/Fork.

Casseroll front 1/4
The story on this bike is that it was my first new bike purchase after college, as a gift to myself for finding gainful employment.  At the time, I was seriously into fixed gear and singlespeed riding, even doing long and hilly rides on my Trek 520, setup fixed/SS with a White ENO eccentric hub.  Despite its generous clearances and beefy frame, I rarely rode that bike with anything fatter than a 32mm tires, and its v-brakes were kind of a pain to adjust.  Plus, while it was well designed and beautifully made, the eccentric hub was still a kludge to adjust chain tension, especially if you were flip-flopping a lot like me between fixed gear and freewheel.  So, I wanted a bike that was more optimized for the setups I was using, with long-reach caliper brakes for simplicity and horizontal dropouts.

Enter the Casseroll, which was just then entering its second year of production, and fit these specifications to a T.  It even had long, slanted, Campy 1010-style dropouts that allowed gear changes without brake readjustment.  Plus, even though it was a relatively affordable, Taiwanese TIG welded frame, it had really nice detailing and aesthetically, it just worked for me.  So, it's original build was as a fixed gear road bike for long road-ish rides, but within that general category it went through many different iterations, as I was never fully satisfied with it.  Originally it had On-One Midge bars, then a couple of different versions of classic road bars.  It had a brief trial with the ever-problematic Mustache bars (during which time I was photographed here), before settling on the more straightforward road drop bar setup it's sported for the past couple of years.

Around the same time that I started thinking about the Quickbeam, I also was pining after a geared bike for fast-ish, lightly loaded rides, so I decided to finally take advantage of the Casseroll's derailleur hanger to set it up a traditional geared roadie.  I gathered the parts together and did the swap around my birthday, back in February.  Added motivation was the fact that I signed up with a few friends to do the Solvang Century in March, and wanted to do it with gears.

I have to say, the bike has really come into its own with this setup.  I use it mostly for fun rides with a lot of climbing in the Berkeley/Oakland hills, and it's great for that.  I have a few ideas of how to refine the setup a bit, but I think this is the general configuration that works best for this bike.

Salsa Casseroll
Casseroll rear dropouts
The details:

Frame/Fork: 2008 Salsa Casseroll. 59cm with "semi-compact" geometry, fits like a traditional 62cm.  Color is "Ginger Beer Metallic."
Headset: Ritchey
Handlebar/Stem: Generic Felt-branded 31.18mm short reach drop bars with matching stem, out of a takeoff bin.  Stem has an asymmetric shim in the steerer clamp to allow for some angle adjustability, which prevents running the stem down the steerer with spacers on top, since the upper spacers would be catiwompous (sp?)--hence the flipped-down stem with lots of spacers under it.
Brake Levers: Tektro R200.  The original Campy Ergopower copies.  Love these things, shame you can't find them anymore.
Brakes: Mismatched 47-57mm reach pair--Shimano A550 dual-pivot front, old Dia-Compe single pivot rear.  Just like the old Campy "skeleton" brakes!
Shifters: Shimano 600 8spd downtubers--from the "tricolor" era.
Crankset/BB: Sugino XD2 double, 48/36, on Shimano UN54 107mm BB. SRAM 8spd chain.
Derailleurs: Both Shimano 600, i think the front is from the 6spd era and the rear is late 7 or early 8spd.  I love old Shimano 600 stuff, you can but it all day for cheap and it looks and works great.
Rear Wheel: 32h Campy 8spd (think it's early 1990's Athena) hub, Mavic CXP14 rims, 15g spokes, 13-28 cassette.  This wheelset was a bike swap find, super cheap.  The 8spd Campy indexes just fine with the Shimano 8spd shifters--their cog spacings were only .2mm off at this point.  However, new cassettes might be an issue--they're available, but they cost more than I paid for the wheelset!
Front Wheel: 28h Specialized-branded sealed bearing hub with oversized 9mm QR (kind of weird-the axle doesn't protrude beyond the locknuts, so the hub sits on the QR in the dropouts), Mavic Open Pro rim, 14g spokes.  This was a spare I swapped in when the matching front wheel to the rear had some axle issues.  It was the second wheel I ever built, so excuse the amateur mistake of crossing the spokes over the valve hole!
Tires: Rivendell Ruffy-Tuffy 700x28c.  Love these things, especially their round profile which makes cornering super predictable.  Haven't had the sidewall issues I've encountered with other Panaracer-made tires.  They easily fit under SKS P35 fenders for the rainy season, which I'll be fitting soon.  May try something fatter (Jack Browns?) when/if the fenders come off next spring.
Seat/Seatpost: Specialized BG saddle on Nitto S84 "Wayback" seatpost.

As I said, the bike's really come into it's own with this setup, and I think from here I'll just be refining, not majorily changing the configuration.  The S84 seatpost really me helped to feel more balanced on the bike, but the additional setback, combined with the long top tube (61cm--geometry chart here), definitely makes this my most "stretched out" bike.  I'm contemplating a super short (70mm) stem with some long reach bars I've got lying around, to give myself broader ramps behind the brake levers and bring the bars in a bit closer.

Also, having moved back to Berkeley with its orgy of great climbs, I find myself wanting lower gears while still preserving tightly spaced gears in the cruising range, and i don't want to go to 9 or 10spd, so I'm thinking about a half step + granny triple setup, but that would require some crank and derailleur swapping. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Quickbeam Update/Bike Fit Musings: Is smaller better?

First, a quick Quickbeam update: 

Quickbeam updates

Got a Selle Anatomica Titanico X saddle, and mounted that.  The X is their new saddle designed with extra laminates to prevent sagging under big riders.  Also switched out the Nitto Bullmoose Bars for Civia Aldrich 70 degree bars.  At first, I tried the bars with Nitto Technomic (aluminum) and Dynamic 37 (tigged steel) quill stems, but neither had enough clamping force for the amount of leverage I could put on these swept-back bars.  After scratching up the bars in failed attempts to get enough clamping force through beer can shims, I went for a Civia Midtown 4-bolt faceplate stem, mounted via a Zoom-branded quill-to-threadless adapter. 

Civia Aldrich 70 degree bars and Midtown 120mm stem

Riding around on this setup, I’ve been thinking a lot the past couple of days about bike fit. Part of it is feeling like I'm still not dialed with this setup.  This rumination is also fueled by riding a Yuba Mundo longtail cargo bike at work for some test rides, and loving the feel of its cockpit.  It has a one-size-fits-all frame, with a 580mm top tube, a pretty short (for me) head tube, and angles listed at 71 degrees parallel.  Bars are North-Road style on a short (80 or 90mm) stem.  Part of the reason for the slack seat tube is that it helps the sizing be more flexible for a wide range of rider sizes, since the cockpit gets longer as you raise the seat to accommodate taller riders. 

Curious as to why I liked the feel of the Yuba so much, at lunch on Saturday I measured the setback, which is a fit variable I’ve been focusing on a lot in my recent bike fit experiments, on both bikes.  I measured horizontally from BB center to a plumb line below the seating area (widest point of saddle, basically) on both the Yuba (with the saddle set at my height) and the Quickbeam.  The Quickbeam has more setback, if anything (I measured ~34cm on it vs ~33cm on the Yuba), but it is possible that the SAA saddle doesn't let me ride as far back as the generic plasticky foamy one on the Yuba—this is my main complaint about most of the leather saddles I’ve tried so far. But, the negligible difference in setback got me thinking that there might be more to this all than overall setback. 

If anything, the Yuba could be said to be "too small" for me, especially by Rivendell standards, but it reminds me of many other frames that were "too small" for me, that nonetheless felt pretty good in the times that I rode them—my old beater that I described in the Quickbeam post is one.  It was something like 62cm with a 56cm top tube! My Takara with the original 100mm Technomic and Nitto 115 bars, set really low, was another one. The Specialized Secteur--pretty sure it was a 58--that I rode for my birthday ride this year, when the Casseroll was undergoing its gearie makeover, was another.  I also loved the feel of a smallish K2 MTB I did a townie bar retrofit on a few weeks back.  

In any case, I think that the next step, moving beyond thinking mainly about setback—only reading the "seat tube angle" column of geometry charts—is to think about TT length and saddle-bar drop(!). Combining my now-established preference for way-back seating, with the acknowledgement that even with a way-back CG position, during times of low pedaling force, the arms and torso must take the load of holding up the upper body, which is otherwise suspended by countering pedaling forces (see Keith Bontrager’s seminal piece “The Myth of KOPS,” hosted on the late Sheldon Brown’s site).  It could be that by lowering my upper body some, by lowering the bars (while keeping a short TT in order to reduce angle between upper torso and arms) brings some of my torso muscles into play to help support that weight during these times.  I think I feel better when I’m supporting myself through my torso rather than on the arms.  Maybe I would actually be more comfortable on shorter bikes. 

I’m trying to save up money for possible future framebuilding pursuits, so in order to explore this possibility, I’m going to try these things with my existing bikes:

One: rebuild the Trek in the manner of original 2005 Fixed/SS (re)build, but with gears. So: On-One Midge bars on Delta hi-rise stem, set low on the short steerer tube with no stem extender. Saddle way back. Will free up my Nitto 115's. 

Two: Nitto 115's go back onto Takara (which will be donating it's rear rack, and perhaps its fenders, to the QB) with 100mm technomic, and it may get its gears back (half step plus granny!) to reproduce the original configuration that felt so good. May try a few longer road rides on this thing to be able to compare better to my Casseroll. 

Looking at the QB, i may want to try the bars a bit lower. But that is hard--the quill adapter I've got pushes the stem about 3/4" above the top nut with its taper. I also have an inch or so of spacers between the top nut and threaded cup in the headset. So maybe if i cut down the fork (heresy on a Rivendell, i know!) and find a lower-profile quill adapter, I can get them somewhere around 2 inches lower. Or, the nuclear solution is do a complete threadless conversion--probably a new fork-- and slam that stem!

All of this will give me a lot more data to crunch on, maybe something to try to go for in my first custom frames. 

What do you think?  The Rivendell sizing philosophy is generally "bigger is better," but I think I may be an exception to that.  What have you found?  Have smaller bikes (in any particular dimension) sometimes felt better to you?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bikes: Rivendell Quickbeam

Figured I'd follow the bicycle blogging conventions and post one of my bikes, my most recent build.  As you may have gleaned (or already known, if you know me), I'm a big fan of Rivendell bicycles and their philosophy of what makes good bikes.  Having been a fan for years, though, I haven't really been able to afford more than a few of their parts and accessories, and even a few of those I got at heavy discount from their garage sales (for instance, I was one of the lucky few that got one of the $35 slightly mis-manufactured Nigel Smythe Country Bags).  However, late last year I decided to take the plunge, and, aided by their layaway program, I acquired one of their beautiful frames to build up myself, and I'm really happy with what I came up with.

Some pre-history on this bike: for most of college years in Berkeley and my post-college years living in San Francisco, I had a "beater" fixed gear built up from an old Schwinn World Sport Frame, an old bent-then-straigthened 1" threadless  fork off my touring bike (which, with a long axle-crown measurement, slackened the angles of the whole bike somewhat), the first wheel I had ever built in the rear, and Nitto "North Road" swept-back (3 spd style) bars.  It was a real mongrel with a badly flaking rattle-can paint job, but man, that bike rode well, and it was my main form of transportation for many years.  I would ride it all over the city, to my job, to late nights at the bar.  The relaxed-yet-efficient position from the slack angles and upright bars made it easy to ride, and I never worried about locking it up anywhere. 

Then I moved up to Sacramento, got a longer commute which I normally did on my road or touring bike, and the beater fell into disuse.  For a while, I kept it at my then-girlfriend-now-wife's house in SF to ride on the weekends there.  Then, a deal came up on a cool classic bike (an old Takara "Overland" touring bike in a massive 66cm size), and the beater was sold to help finance that purchase.  My thinking was that I'd trade my beater for a slightly nicer and maybe better-fitting ride.

For a number of reasons, the Takara ended up not really meeting my expectations (more on that later), and late last year, I found myself pining after my old townie, how it was so easy to hop on and "just ride" for whatever purpose.  I even went so far as to email the guy that I sold it to, but he was enjoying it and didn't really want to sell it.  So, one evening over dinner I was discussing my wants with my (by that time) fiance.  The conversation went something like this:

Her: "So what do you really want?"
Me: "I want a comfortable fixed gear, probably with upright bars, for everyday riding, something I can just jump on and go."
Her: "It sounds like you want a Rivendell."
Me: "Yeah, I guess I do."  (Translation: "Well, duh--why hadn't I thought of that?"  Yes, I have an awesome wife). 

At the time, Rivendell was having a deal to blow out the last of the SimpleOne, the Made-in-Taiwan successor to the Quickbeam (which had been made in Japan, by Toyo).   So, we made a trip down to Walnut Creek one weekend with the intention of seeing about a 62cm SimpleOne, the largest size they made.  However, after measuring my fairly large PBH (somewhere around 96cm, if I remember correctly), Vince at Rivendell wasn't convinced that I'd fit well on the 62cm SO, even with Albatross or similar bars.  He said, somewhat mischievously, "Lemme check what I have up in the attic" and disappeared into some unseen part of the Rivendell complex.  He returned with an Orange 64cm Quickbeam frame.  My jaw hit the floor.  The Quickbeam had long been one of my favorite Rivendells, and Orange was my favorite color of the three production runs--after all, it had been the color of all my favorite Grant Peterson designs (XO-1, Rambouillet, and Quickbeam).  I had thought that my chance to own a Quickbeam, much less one of the orange ones, was long gone, so when Vince pulled out this beauty, I was sold.  It was basically NOS--I guess the story was that it had been partially built up for another customer (there were marks on the dropouts where wheels had been put on, for instance) but the customer had pulled out, so it never got sold, until I came along.  I put down a layaway deposit and four months later, it was mine!

It took me another four months after that (my life got busy with a move and a marriage) to acquire all the parts and get it built up, but here it is, in all of its glory.  I've been riding it for about a month, and it's perfect for exactly what I wanted it for--everyday, hop-on-and-go riding.  I still have further changes planned, and some of the parts are temporary, but this is what it looks like for now.

64cm Rivendell Quickbeam

Quickbeam front 1/4

Quickbeam Front End

Quickbeam Drivetrain

Quickbeam Rear 1/4

Quickbeam Rear Wheel

Quickbeam Cockpit

Frame/Fork: Rivendell Quickbeam 64cm, Orange
Headset: Tange (Levin?)- stock, came with the bike from Rivendell. Repacked with Phil Wood Waterproof Grease.
Handlebars/Stem: Nitto Bullmoose, 200mm extension, unpainted.  I treated them with some cheapo hardware store spray-on clear coat, but it didn't work--they're rusting underneath.  I'm thinking about trying some different bars anyways (Civia Adlrich 70 degree), so these may be coming off.
Brake Levers: Tektro FL 750.  Simple, minimalist, cool-looking.
Brakes: Tektro Oryx cantilevers.  Front setup with TRP fork-crown mounted cable stop.
Cranks: Sugino AT (175mm).  Came off an old Specialized Sequoia.  Surly 42T stainless steel singlespeed chainring.
BB: Shimano UN-55, 118mm (gives good 42mm chainline with the AT's).  Replaced the stock, shouldered aluminum NDS cup with a plastic cup from a UN-26 after the original was loosening on me.  More on that later.
Chain: SRAM 8spd.
Pedals: MKS Touring Lite with XL Power Grips, "custom fit" with the Matt Chester Method.  These are great for fixed gear townie riding!  All of the advantages of toe clips without any of the drawbacks (i.e., I can still center the balls of my giant feet over the pedals).
Seatpost: Nitto S-84 Lugged Steel "Wayback" post.  I like setback.
Seat: WTB Speed V (with Nitto Saddlebag grip).  Pulled off another bike, this is temporary--I've got a Selle Anatomica Titanico X coming.
Wheels: Surly "Ultra New" Hubs, Rear 120mm Fixed/Free (these are great!); H+Son TB14 rims, Wheelsmith 14/15g DB spokes, Continental "Cyclocross Speed" tires in 700cx42mm (listed).  Surly 17t 3/32" fixed cog, All-City track lockring.

Possible changes include the aforementioned Civia bars with a Technomic stem, a lower-geared freewheel for the flop side of the hub for hillier rides, fenders and slightly narrower and slicker tires for the winter (probably Jack Browns or Schwalbe Kojaks, if I can get my hands on them).

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Learning from "Captain Slow": Towards a Calculus of Fun for Road Bicycles

As an introduction for this post, I'm going to use a couple of articles from what might be considered different worlds, but that are dealing with very similar issues in my book:

Both of these guys, in their own way, aren't struggling with the bleeding edge of the envelope. It's also not a question of usefulness: both would probably have separate (albeit related) ideas of what a vehicle needs to be useful as an everyday mode of transportation.  Instead, they're struggling with the question of building a vehicle (car or bicycle) that fits the need of a person that heads out on his or her bicycle or in his or her car to have some.  Instead of asking about the calculus of speed or the calculus of everyday usefulness, they're both attempting to develop a calculus of fun.

In May's case, it's pretty straightforward: acceleration and cornering are fun. But not acceleration from a standstill up to 200 mph (i.e., not a drag race), but acceleration on the road, out of a tight corner or passing slower moving traffic--acceleration from 30-60mph. So: a lightweight car with a smallish engine that loves to rev. I'm inclined to agree: my lightweight Honda, on a mountain road, is enormous fun with it's 4-cyl, 127hp engine, especially if you keep the revs high enough that the variable valve timing is working. My friend's Toyota MR-2, which in my mind is pretty close to what May is talking about, is even more fun in the same situation. Any more power, speed, and attendant bulk would likely exponentially increase the amount of terror, and not necessarily increase the fun. Keep things small, simple, and zippy. Done.

With Heine, however, the calculus of fun in bicycles is a bit harder to articulate, it seems like. Unlike May, he doesn't (necessarily) start out by articulating specific behaviors that are fun (like acceleration and cornering). He mentions the ability of the frame to help the rider "generate more power with less fatigue." In my mind, the ability to produce power without fatigue is mostly about fit: properly arranging bars, seat, and pedals such that the body is in a comfortable position to use its legs, pelvis, and lower back to lay down some watts, and at the same time be comfortable enough to ride for a while without pain. However, fit isn't everything. Heine also discusses how frames materials should be carefully selected to match the rider and their pedaling, to create a frame that feels "lively" and "eager to go" under the rider. However, we don't necessarily get a specific sense of what "liveliness" is. And this, in think, is where we run into the limits of cycling terminology and the ability to describe the bicycling behaviors that we find "fun."

What is “fun” when in comes to bicycles?

Of course, that’s almost a too-broad question to ask, dependent entirely on the type of riding you’re doing.  If you need to haul heavy load of groceries or a drill press, a cargo bike is going to be enormous amounts of fun, but probably not so fun if you’re trying to ride techy singletrack with lots of rocks, roots, and whoop-de-doos.  Unless, of course, you get a kick out of riding with the “wrong” bike for the job, which is entirely valid as well.  But the point is, I’m willing to admit that for some riders, a bike is fun because it does exactly what they need it to do and nothing more: it carries what they want/need to carry, it keeps relatively dry and comfortable, it soaks up the bumps pretty well, and maybe it lights up the road ahead when it gets dark.  Lord knows, finding a bike that will do all of these things capably is hard enough, and if you are lucky enough to have one, you can well appreciate the enjoyment of riding it.  Indeed, much of Heine’s writing is focused on exactly these elements of bicycle design, because they are the elements required by his preferred type of riding (long distance randonneuring), and after his short discussion of liveliness he spends the rest of the article talking about tire and fender clearances. 

But, let’s narrow it down to a particular type of riding, say recreational road riding on hilly terrain on rides from 1-5hrs.  Not competitive racing, nor timed brevet events.  Basically, the vast majority if my own recreational riding, riding just to get out for a few hours, enjoy yourself, and stay reasonably fit.  And, since I don’t really want to talk about wheels, I’ll just say that let’s assume the frame has appropriate clearances and brakes for whatever type of wheels you find appropriate to that riding (in my case, it’s light-ish road wheels with alloy rims, 32 spokes, and light-ish tires in the 28-38mm range).  What other qualities can we instill in a bicycle frame and components to make the riding more fun and rewarding?

Some might say, once you’ve nailed the appropriate wheels and other components, your 90% there, not much more to talk about.  But I would disagree.  My Takara and my Quickbeam are set up close enough, but the Takara, with is straight gauge, standard-diameter, 4130 frame is a complete, energy sucking dog compared to the nice, “lively” feel of the Quickbeam with its double butted, oversized, nicer-steel (Ishiwata?) tubing.  I’ve ridden road bikes that are definitely more responsive than my Casseroll.  What makes them better?

One simple answer, which has dominated the bicycle industry for the last 25+ years, is “stiffness.”  It goes like this: some of the energy of pedaling a bicycle frame goes into flexing the frame, not rotating the wheels.  The less energy we can lose in flexing the frame, the more energy will be transferred directly to the wheels, the faster the bicycle will respond to pedaling input and accelerate.  So, steel frames went from standard-diameter to oversize, resulting in stiffer tubes (all other things being equal).  Oversize, thin wall aluminum tubing (joined by TIG welding) became popular.   But, as anybody who rode an early 1990’s Cannondale will tell you, things also got less comfortable out on the road.  So, along comes carbon fiber.  The ability to mold material by hand, free of the difficulties of forging and welding, allows us to put material exactly where it’s needed.  We’re able to make bikes that are super-stiff in the drivetrain while absorbing more shock than the super-stiff bikes of old.  They can accelerate with the best of them while still being comfortable to ride over real-world, potholed roads.  And indeed, maximizing stiffness while retaining comfort seems to have become the only criteria by which bikes are evaluated in the mainstream cycling media.  Each new model of bike, as a matter of course, has to be stiffer than its predecessor by some quantifiable degree.  And the hardest part of being a bike reviewer, it seems, is figuring out new ways to say that now hackneyed phrase: “Laterally stiff and vertically compliant.”

But is acceleration—and its related frame quality, stiffness—what it comes down to in the calculus of fun, as it is for cars?  I’m not so sure.  And judging by the resurgence in popularity of steel frames among recreational riders, lead by figures such as Heine and Grant Peterson of Rivendell, it seems like others might feel the same way.  Heine, for one, has been one of the most outspoken advocates against frame stiffness, saying that his experience and testing have shown that more flexible frames will feel and respond the best for some (all?) riders, an effect he ascribes to the elastic qualities of frame tubing and its ability to flex “in synch” with the pedaling of the rider and describes as “planing,” a term borrowed from sailing.  This is perhaps his most controversial viewpoint, and it seems difficult to pin down the exact calculus of it.  He advocates for more flexible bikes through the usage of non-oversize, lightweight steel tubing, but hasn’t said much about how a framebuilder can tune these characteristics to particular riders and riding styles.  Is a large (200lbs+) rider going to benefit from the same lightweight tubes, or might some riders experience “planing” even with oversize tubing?  Furthermore, it’s hard to say, but it sounds like Heine basically also believes that acceleration is the overall calculus here, but that it can be arrived at in a much different way than the “stiffness” obsession of mainstream bicycle manufacturers. 

Acceleration is certainly important, and if you like track racing, road sprinting, BMX, etc., it is an important thing to optimize for.  For my type of road riding, however, I’m not so sure about the whole acceleration thing.  Certainly, it can be nice to feel a bike squirt forward when you shift up and go for the top of the hill or the town line sign.   But it’s also been my experience that such bikes lose momentum just as quickly as they gain it, which can be more fatiguing as you try to find a rhythm on a climb.  This also may come down to riding style, again: I’m a big guy, much more of a Jan Ulrich in my climbing style than an Alberto Contador.  But I think for me, for a bike to feel “fun,” it should not only get up to speed reasonably quickly, but balance that with the ability to carry momentum, be it up hills, around corners, or over potholes. 

Personally, I like a bike that responds well to my pedaling inputs—that gets to speed fairly quickly—while at the same time, not losing momentum through the “dead” spots in pedaling input or over potholes.  Of course, this has a lot to do with wheel size and gearing, the cadence at which you climb.  For people who climb with much faster cadences, the dead spot is only a fraction of a second, so any lost momentum there is minimal.  However, if you’re like me and diesel away up climbs, you may find that losing momentum through the dead spot is pretty annoying, as your speed starts to resemble a sin wave.  So, I’m of the opinion that there is something to steel frames that, aside from just having more mass and thus more momentum, have some drivetrain “springiness” to them, giving back some energy as you let off the pedal force slightly through the “dead spots.”  Conversely, it makes sense to think about how gearing can be matched to frame characteristics.  My Salsa Casseroll doesn’t have a lot of the type of springiness that gives something back through the dead spot, so I’ve taken climbing in a lower gear with a higher cadence, and have even considering going to a mountain cassette in the back, although the current 8spd Campagnolo wheelset (hey, it was cheap at a bike swap) doesn’t provide a lot of choice when it comes to cassette compatibility. 

Thinking about flexiness brings me to another idea about fun frames: perceived durability.  For a frame really to be fun, it has to feel like whatever abuse we’re dishing out at it, be it rough or dirt roads, heavy braking, or out of the saddle pedaling, is well within the margin of error for what the frame (and components) can handle.  If I feel like my bike can’t take my pedaling power or the shock of rolling over broken pavement at 40mph carrying my mass, I’m going to back off a little, and that’s not really fun.  And I think this is the feeling that most people associate with “stiffness”: the ability for a bicycle frame to feel like it can carry them without worrying about it breaking.  So while flexiness may feel good to people like Jan Heine, I’m willing to bet that others are disconcerted by their bottom bracket swaying about when they get out of the saddle to give it the beans.  It can also lead to other problems—such as derailleur rub and ghost shifting—which, while not necessarily safety issues, definitely don’t instill confidence in the rider.  Furthermore, while I think overall, lighter weight bicycles are good thing, there is a limit for me. No matter how many videos you show me of people banging carbon fiber frames with hammers to show their durability, I’m just not going to trust a 15lb carbon bike as much as a 25lb steel bike over rough roads or down the occasional single track that I like to take my road bike.

I say “perceived” because I think most contemporary bicycles are built by liability-minded manufacturers that build a pretty big margin of error into most of the products they sell, and most bicycle frames out there can take a fair amount of abuse above and beyond their intended purpose without breaking.  Furthermore, it is obvious that people’s perceptions vary: Jan Heine isn’t as concerned about BB flex as Jan Ulrich might be.  So while it may not actually be a problem in terms of real durability, perceived durability is something we all experience while riding, and so it can be an important thing to think about while thinking about how you want a frame to behave and feel.  Of course, with enough work and critical reflection, we can also start to change our subconscious perceptions, but people may find this more or less difficult than being aware of what they like to perceive and seeking out those characteristics. 

So looking back, and comparing calculus of fun when it comes to bicycles to that of cars, we see that things are bit more complicated in our world than they are for Mr. May.  Stiffness and acceleration can be good, but so can some springiness and the ability to carry momentum.  Lightweight is good, but so is some bulk that helps you have confidence in your bicycle.  As I’ve written, it’s also become clear some of the behaviors that I might start to associate with fun, in the same way that mid-range acceleration and cornering are fun for James May.  Those behaviors are: climbing; getting out of the saddle for efforts; riding at speed over rough (aka real-world) roads, with the occasional foray away from pavement.  But there’s still a lot to discuss.  How do we design frames, wheels, and components together thinking about these variables?  What about handling, and its relationship to fit?

As the “towards” in this title suggests, I didn’t intend to have a fully-fleshed out theory in this post, but simply to lay out some ideas I had and start a discussion; hopefully we can add to this and flesh out the theory more going forward.  So, dear readers, what do you think?  What are the variables in your “calculus of fun?”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Commitment and why I've never really given mountain bikes a shot.

Still struggling with motivation.  But today I worked at the shop, and I feel like it went well.  A tune up on an early 1980's MTB that had challenged me yesterday ended up coming together really nicely today.  It was an interesting machine-- TIG welded frame, but with Mountain Bikes branded Bullmoose bars, Shimano Deerhead parts (including cantilever brakes and moto-style brake levers that came with oversized cabling).  I had left it last night with the back brake cabled but not behaving correctly.  Today, I was able to get everything tuned up nicely, especially once I discovered that the brakes actually have a proper pinch bolt for the straddle cable where the cable runs through the pinch bolt rather than just being clamped under it.  And, applying all of my experience with cantilever brakes, I was really happy with how the brakes turned out.  Set the straddle cables just so, so that they produced a nice, light but firm feeling at the lever, and could lock up the wheels with just a light grip.  I definitely enjoyed the test rides around the parking lot.  The friction thumb shifters proved a little finicky with the narrow Deerhead front derailleur, but nothing that a little trimming couldn't take care of--the advantage of friction. And the shifters felt nice and light. 

The geometry of the bike definitely affirmed my current taste in slack seating position, despite its oft being written off as an early design flaw of MTB's; maybe there really was something to it, especially in Northern California?  It had a 69 or 70 degree seat tube angle, by my iffy Android app measurement.  Interesting today, because I was also reading about Jeff Jones' bikes this morning, and they seem to have some similarities, in thinking about rotating the riding farther back on the bike than the current road or XC-oriented MTB position.  And interesting that they were both focused on optimizing a rigid bike for off-road riding.  What are the connections between aggressive positioning and suspension? I know that more aggressive positions were starting to become common before suspension came in, but maybe they stayed around more thanks to the comfort compensations of suspension? 

In any case, I've been thinking a lot the past few days about MTB'ing, and I think it should be something to try.  Connected to my search for motivation and tiredness with the road rides around Sacramento, in general a loss of feeling adventure around road rides--even the century I did last month, or the rainy ride to the top of Mt. Tam the month before that.  I'm generally becoming more accepting of the idea that my enjoyment of bicycling isn't just about getting the machine right, it is about infrastructure, where I'm riding, and a sense of adventure that machine, landscape, and path together can create.  MTB riding, in some ways, is the epitome of adventure seeking, of matching a machine to the type of landscape and path that you are seeking.  It is about committing to certain types of rides, certain types of paths, and the associated commitment to a type of machine: XC races or 24 hours in large but bounded state parks with lightweight carbon hardtails.  Great divide rides on steel hardtail 29’ers.  Snow biking or the new "freeride" on bikes with 3.5”+ tires.  And of course, traditional freeriding, dirt jumping, and downhilling.  It is having exactly the right machine for the job, the job being certain trails and certain landscapes, being confident in that commitment. 

In the past, my approach to off-road riding has always focused around "all-rounder" type bicycles that would have some type of off-road capability but wouldn't be limited to that: mostly touring bikes, cyclocross setups, or fat-tired road bikes.  Of course, there is a natural limitation in the type of off-roading that you could do with such a machine; I always thought of it as a range; yes, you couldn't take it over really rocky terrain, and were limited to fire roads or smooth singletrack, but it's greater versatility on the road made up for that.  But thinking about the above commitment aspect of mountainbiking, in some ways you could read my aversion to mountainbiking as having to do with an inability to commit to the terrain that I was riding.  Moving between Berkeley, SF/Marin, Sacramento, I naturally gravitated towards "all-rounders" because they didn't involve a commitment to a place, to a type of riding attached to the specific places. 

Of course, the other thing here is the mediation of other modes of transportation, namely the car.  It becomes easier to commit to a certain bike and type of riding when, even if you don't have the trails close by, you know that they could be shuttled to with a motor vehicle.  This is something that I've never liked about MTB'ing; having my cycling roots in transportation, I've never liked having to drive to the beginning of rides, and I've done tons of riding on "boring" roads just to get to the interesting ones.  The same is doubly true of mountain biking; urban centers with easy access to full on mountain biking are few and far between, although an argument could be made that you might find many of them in the Bay Area, or Santa Cruz.  Even so, the farther you have to ride to the trailhead, the more, I think, you are going to gravitate towards rigid frames, middling tires size and tread, gearing, etc. 

But what if?  What if I did find a place where more technical singletrack was available to me?  Taking up MTB, to a certain extent, would involve committing to that place.  Am I buying a hardtail 29er or a downhill bike?  Do i live near ski lifts or in Santa Cruz?  To answer these questions, I think I do have to do a bit of shuttling, to try these terrains.  But thinking about bikes will also be thinking about terrains, about the places I live and ride.  And that'll be a difference. 

There is also a reflection of this in urban transportation.  Committing to bicycle transportation means committing to places.  What if were to commit more to a place, become more involved not just in the machines that I ride but the roads, bike lanes, and paths that I ride on?  To think of these commitments equally, as all involving my interface with the world. 

Where does the Quickbeam fit in? It will be the 700c fixed gear version of that MTB I was tuning up today; high quality, with all of the parts that I liked.  Event the seat position, hopefully, with the way-back post.  In some ways, it is my commitment to Sacramento (flat, everyday urban riding) even as I am leaving it. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Difference:Repetition...the inverse

Saw this shortly after penning the last post:

"One Thing" by Robot on Red Kite Prayer.

 Don't want to say that I disagree, or launch into an analysis of the nuances of both points.  Just an interesting counter to my own discussion, I thought.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Difference, repetition, and encountering the bicycle

Thinking today about the problems of difference and repetition as I rode.  A similar Westerly loop to the one I did last week, except shorter, on South River Road instead of looping all the way out to Jefferson.  The bike felt great on the way north along the river, fast and comfy even over the broken pavement.  It was sunny and clear, and one of the warmer rides I've taken recently--knee warmers, no shoe covers or gloves, and a regular cycling cap instead of the warm beanie.  In general I was out enjoying the brightness and the chance to ride. 

Coming back south from downtown along the river, things started to cloud up--chance of rain tomorrow--and along with them, a bit of discomfort for me; buzzy hands, felt a bit more like I was holding myself up with my arms.  I thought about how I was pedaling; did I have a tailwind, and was I soft pedaling?  How was I sitting on the seat? Could I move my weight back?  Would things be different with gears?  Different handlebars with a broader platform behind the hoods?  These were the questions as I rode home. 

Reading Harman yesterday, in his synthesis of DeLanda, touching on the problem of difference and repetition being one of the key features of a speculative philosophy for him.  Also thinking back to Steven Shaviro's reading of Whitehead.  Without delving into detail on each of these thinker's particular approach to the problem, in general they all help me to ask to use the example of today's ride: was the bike I was riding back down the river the same bike I had ridden north?  Was it the same bike that I had ridden last week? 

This is not to say that some nefarious party had somehow switched bikes on me in the middle of my ride; I did stop to put some air in my rear tire near the turn around point, but I'm pretty sure my bike didn't leave my sight as I did so.  Nor am I saying that somehow something got out of whack and components shifted on me enough to notice, although my seatpost has slipped a couple of millimeters.  No, instead, thinking about my riding through object-oriented realism, it helps to remember that I cannot simply encounter the bicycle as the same each and every time I ride it, no matter how much I make sure that its components are secure and its setup remains constant. 

Most concretely, asking the question of the northbound bike being different than the southbound bike helps to draw my attention to the fact that I no matter how much I obsess about the bicycle and little else, I cannot but experience the bicycle as a member of a complex assemblage.  It is most basically an assemblage of me, the bicycle, and the road; more complexly, as Donna Haraway would be quick to point out, I myself am a cyborg assemblage of brain, skeleton, muscle tissues, gut bacteria, the meat of the turkey I ate for lunch, lycra and polyester clothing, with a head encased in protective sytrofoam and plastic.  The road is not simply an empty, featureless background container--no matter how boring the riding can be on the flat roads around here--but a constantly varying surface, a non-direct path between infinite points that is constantly changing direction, blown by winds of varying direction and intensity.  I can only experience the bicycle as a part of the assemblage of all of these things and more--I haven't even touched on the pyschological, social, and historical assemblages that are also part of the riding experience for me. 

So of course, the bicycle that I rode south is a different bicycle (for me) than the bicycle I rode north.  No matter what consistency it appeared to have to me, it was a part of a different assemblage as I rode, and since I can only experience it through these assemblages, I must let go of the idea that I can have a bicycle that feels like the same thing always in every assemblage of road, wind, and physio-mental state.  Following Harman, if I approach riding as a speculative realist, a ride is always a question, always a becoming-moving of me and the bicycle in ways that I may think that I can can anticipate but may, as I said previously, surprise me. 

I guess this isn't that different than what I said in my previous post but it helps me to think about my approaches to bike fit.  Bike fit can't be about finding the one assemblage of handlebar, saddle, and pedal position that "works" for one, because one is always many (to pull from Deleuze and Guattari).  Instead, I find myself drawn to setups that acknowledge the multiplicity of pedaling; that sometimes I'll be weighting my hands and soft pedaling (esp. on a fixed gear), sometimes I'll be pedaling hard but riding lightly on my hands.  Sometimes I'll want to sit up, sometimes I'll want to stretch out.  In the one case, I like the fact that the parallel-bend drop bars I plan to fit on the Casseroll road bike anticipates this with a larger number of positions where I can support my whole palm than the more contemporary "ergo" bend bars I have on there now.  In another case, I think of the bike I'm planning to build up that will focus mostly on comfort, with high bars and probably the thick, cushy BMX grips I like on upright bars, such that comfort becomes a greater possibility in a higher number of the possible assemblages, esp. the assemblages that I encounter, embody, enact in my everyday riding.