Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I love daylight savings! More fit pondering.

Tilden Rambling
Well, almost halfway through March and I'm not keeping up with doing this everyday, but clarity continues and I think that doing this writing is essential for that, so I'm going to try to keep in the habit. 

Recent changes: measured the latest setups on the Quickbeam and Casseroll , just to keep track.  Installed MKS Touring Lite Pedals w/ Power Grips, same as the Quickbeam, on the Casseroll, for two main reasons: facilitate quick riding before and after work by removing the necessity for bike shoes, and to give more flexibility with regards to foot positioning on the pedals, after liking a more midfoot position on the Quickbeam, and feeling like the more forward cleat placement on my Sidi's makes me more unstable on the Casseroll. 

The couple of short ride's I've taken on the Casseroll since installing the pedals (Marina rides) suggest that the newer foot position is good for balance, but the greater leg/torso angle has me feeling stretched out again, almost as much as I was before switching bars+stem for a shorter reach back in January.  So, that's got me thinking.  May try moving the bars back up the steerer tube some, after removing some spacers in a fit of creativity a few weeks ago.  But, my experience is that bar height (within a certain range) has relatively little effect on effective reach--it is much more effected by horizontal reach, i.e. bar reach+stem reach+effective top tube length. 

The measurements I took on monday are telling in this regard.  For one thing, the straight-line distance measured from seat nose to top of bar clamp on the Casseroll stayed pretty much the same even with dropping the bars ~15mm or so.  The steep head tube angle on the Casseroll probably contributes to this. 

Salsa Size-O-Matic II fitting stem.
Secondly, measuring the Quickbeam (the bike I feel most comfortable on nowadays), and comparing it to the Casseroll numbers, shows why the reach feeling so different between the two bikes.  Measuring to the stem clamp, things aren't that different.  The Quickbeam, with 120mm stem, has a reach of 605mm.  The Casseroll, with a 80mm stem, has a reach of 592mm.  But now consider that in tandem with bar reach: the Quickbeam has a swept back bar, and a quick 'n dirty measurement puts the reach to the grip area at around 555mm.  The Cowbell drop handlebars on the Casseroll have a reach of 70mm, so the minimum reach to one of the primary grip areas on that bar (the brake hoods) is something on the order of 592mm+70mm=662mm.  That's more than 100mm of difference between the two primary hand positions.  The Casseroll would need a 40mm stem (is that even possible with a 31.8mm bar clamp?) in order to even have the flats of its bars in the same place horizontally as the grips on the Quickbeam.
Saddle position close to dialed.
Or would it?  I've largely neglected this line of thinking, but thinking physically, the less angled your back is, i.e. the more upright you are, the less setback you need in order to balance the portion of your weight that is forward of your hips. I think there are limits to this--even with a bolt upright position, there is still probably some setback that is needed in order to keep your legs and feet at a good angle, to keep from throwing your torso off balance.  But theoretically, if I were to try to achieve a back angle closer to that on the Quickbeam on the Casseroll, some of the reach reduction could come from having less setback on the seat.  This holds up in my measurements too--the Quickbeam measured out at 12.5cm of setback with a fairly standard (i.e., not a lot of built-in setback) while the Casseroll has something more like a 13.3cm with the SMP Dynamic, which has a lot more "effective" setback. 

All of this is leading me towards some type of bike modeling software that allows rider modeling (hopefully taking into account body measurements) as well.  Does BikeCAD do this?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Inspiration: Bedrock & Paradox

If I had to choose a favorite blog, Dave Chenault's Bedrock & Paradox would definitely be on the short list.  Reading the blog would be worth it only for the photography--Dave spends his most of days in the breathtakingly beautiful mountains in and around Glacier NP--but the eye candy belies the strength of the writing it illustrates.  Dave is a masterful writer with a keen sense of genre, and if the random streams of consciousness that I post on here ever come close to being one tenth as good as what he puts out week after week, I'll consider myself accomplished.

I first found Dave's blog in 2007, when we were both pondering over flared drop bar setups (namely, utilizing the On-One Midge) for our respective bicycles.  Dave published some awesome comparison shots and I always liked the look of his old Karate Monkey singlespeed with Midges.  That may have been where I first got the idea to pad the drop area of the midges with Oury Grips.  He also had awesome trip reports, mostly involving endurance MTB riding and racing around the Four Corners states. 

Since then, our interests have diverged as he moved to the north (Montana) and shifted his focus to lightweight backpacking and ski touring, while I have come to be less influenced by the endurance MTB crowd in my own thinking about cycling.  But I have kept reading his blog and have never failed to be interested by whatever he is writing about.  His blog, and the experiences it describes, combine the many of the elements that I aspire to include in my own writing:
  • High level, detail-oriented tech geekery about whatever activity is being pursued, with a high degree of self-sufficiency and creativity--Dave is a MYOG (Make Your Own Gear) master.
  • Well written and interesting trip reports, attempting to share the quasi-mystic quality of human-powered travel over great distances and challenging terrain.
  • A knowledge of and ability to use his academic background in continental philosophy and social theory to make sense of the experiences he describes in his trip reports, as well as to connect his own experience and pursuits to a broader understanding of the worlds presented to him.
In sum, Dave's writing is never just about mountain biking or skiing or hiking, but how our mode of travel, the way that we choose to use our bodies, helps us to relate to the environment we inhabit.  Today's post is just another example:

 "Why" on Bedrock & Paradox

Thanks, Dave.  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Late February: Highlights

i heart Sacramento

The Quickbeam felt very good, riding in the environment in which it was conceived, the flat streets and trails of Sacramento. The riding position was entirely comfortable in street clothes, not requiring bike clothes like the old stretched-out position on the Casseroll did. The gearing felt a little bit on the high side, but that I think was mostly because we were heading into the wind for the first part of the ride. Ah, the wind--Sacramento's substitute for hills.  However, I felt like I finally ran up against the Quickbeam's limitations for long, steady riding. My feet, in my Adidas on the MKS Touring Lite pedals with Power Grips, started to feel a bit numb. Riding in jeans definitely isn't as comfortable as bike clothes. My hands, my arms, and my torso never hurt, but definitely were feeling tired from being limited to basically one position, one arrangement. As we rolled up to our very pleasant stop in Midtown and I got off, my hands felt a little bit numb as the pressure on my palms was relieved.

Normally--even if I had been in a different mind state today--I would have worried about this, thinking about things to change about my bike fit to "fix" the little problems I had. But I feel like I was able to step back and realize that on the whole, the Quickbeam was basically performing as it should. I never felt unbalanced, like I had excessive pressure on my hands. Yes, I felt some discomfort a fatigue, but I think most of them were from doing a long, steady ride (which basically describes all of the riding in Sacramento, and very little of the riding in Berkeley) without much change in position--not from something being "wrong" with the bicycle.

Sure, the lack of variety of hand and torso positions had me thinking about different bars that would give more variety, and I've been even thinking over in my head what a drop bar configuration for the Quickbeam would look like. But then I realized that I do have a bicycle with good, multi-position drop bars, and multiple gears for maximizing efficiency for terrain and wind condition--my road bike, the Casseroll. The new position tweaks for it mean that bikes clothes aren't required for riding it comfortably, and flat pedals would even obviate the need for bike shoes.

Long steady rides aren't necessarily what the Quickbeam is for. It's for short blasts across town, running errands with lots of stop and start, short climbs. Or, maybe now with starting to think about using it for longer, hilly rides, it will do longer stuff, but still things which by their varied terrain also vary how I'm sitting on the bike. The limitations of flat bars aren't really a limitation, for now.

In its conception, the Quickbeam has a philosophical or aesthetic function in my bicycle quiver: it's a fixed gear. Fixed gears for me are about accepting the limitations of the bicycle, asking yourself to do more with less things, in return for mechanical robustness and simplicity. In this configuration, it makes sense to have not just a single gear but also simple, flat handlebars. Yes, riding a single gear bicycle with only one real hand position quickly makes you aware of the limitations of such as setup, but perhaps being aware of and accepting the limitations of the machine is a good thing.

All too often, especially when they are constructed and acquired with significant expense and effort, I can come to expect too much of my bicycles. I want them to make pedaling effortless, to smooth the path in front of me, to comfort my weary and fallible body and mind. And while riding a well designed and constructed bicycle is truly a joy, it's good for me to remember that at the end of the day it is just an arrangement, an assemblage of steel tubes, aluminum bars, and rubber tires. Sometimes it can be comfortable, sometimes it can be uncomfortable, but as long as I keep pedaling, it will move forward. Riding a simple bike helps me remember that.


What is a partially connected cyborg approach to bike fit? To begin with, I think it has to recognize bike fit as a form of situated knowledge. No matter how much I ride, my knowledge is enacted through my situation as a bloody bundle of nerves and neuroses, connected physically, mentally, and emotionally to an existing assemblage of steel, aluminum, and rubber tubes. It can only know what is is possible to experience, to embody as part of this assemblage. Like scientists wishing to transcend the embodied practice of observation, I have been wishing to transcend the embodied practice of riding, controlling a bicycle. But what if if I give up the idea of transcendence?

Then I've learned a lot already. Everything is where it should be. My nerves being sore from a long ride on flat bars is no longer a cause for concern, a challenge that my knowledge and engineering isn't sufficient to have achieved transcendence, but rather a gentle reminder of my embodiment, my close relationship with my bicycle.