Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Support Your Local Bike Shop! If You Have Stacks... of Money.

I want to shop locally, really I do. We try to do this in our family as often as is reasonable. When we refinished our bathroom, we went to a local vendor for tile and fixturex, rather than heading over to our local big box hardware store. When I get to hankerin' for a sandwhich or a burger, I'll generally head to one of the local joints when I can, rather than hitting one of the chains.

But my local bike shops are just killing me. A perfect example occurred just yesterday. I was out running errands and decided to stop in at a local shop. I have been shopping for tires for the Moab on line recently, but I've stopped short of actually pulling the trigger on a purchase because I have fully intended to give my money to one of the local shops. So, after a quick cruise of the shop to check out the bikes, I find the tires. As expected, selection is fairly limited, but I find a couple brands that I recognize and even a couple of styles that I like - I'm ready to buy! I begin this routine where I try to make it appear as if I'm checking out the item I'm considering purchasing more closely, but in reality I'm trying to locate the price tag. I'm tipping the box this way, and then that way - over and over trying to find the price. Now, it might just be my imagination, but I'm fairly convinced that the shop guys deliberately try to hide the price tags in order to encourage impulse buying. I mean, the tires are all in boxes which have big tabs on top of them that allow them to be hung from pegs. Wouldn't that tab be a perfectly logical place to put the price sticker? But instead, they are generally on the bottom of the box, or on the back of the box up-side-down, forcing me to completely remove the box from the hook in order to find and decipher it. Once I finally located the hidden price tag, I was completely deflated. The prices were all about 3 times greater then the prices I was able to find the same tires for on line. What gives? I know, I know, I know! I know a store front costs more to maintain than a website. I know there are electric bills to pay and insurance premiums and employees and business licenses, and whatever else. I know. I fully expect to pay more for things at my local shop than I would on the internet. But triple the price? Literally, had I purchased those two tires from my local bike shop it would have cost me $120, before the extra 10.25% I get to tack on for living in Chicago. I can get the exact same two tires from nashbar.com for just about $40, shipped.

I'm sorry. I love my local bike shops. There are few things more enjoyable than walking into the shop smelling all that new bikeness. The smell of tires and chain lube and fresh paint, drooling over all the shiney new bikes lined up so nicely on the shop floor. Or actually getting to hold and inspect the items I am intending to buy before I buy them. But triple the price? I'm sorry. Once the price difference becomes that significant, the foolishness I'd feel for paying it outweighs the guilt I feel when I make that purchase on-line.

COME ON, local bike shop owner. Help me, help you.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Toast to Ed, Farrah and Michlael

Yes. I'm still riding. I bumped that 26 mile mountain bike ride up to 30 miles a week later. More water and snacks made it a little easier, but I was still in pretty bad shape near the end. I'm just riding beyond my capabilities. I guess that's not quite the correct way to say it, because I did survive, and I did make it back to the car. I figure if it doesn't hurt, I'm not making any progress, or breaking any new ground, right? I'm out to do some cycling, not to just take a bike ride. The pain and the exhauston and the feeling that I'm doing something just a bit stupid is supposed to be the point. To top the 30 mile mountain bike ride, I did another 40 mile ride on the road bike this week when the temps were well above the 90 degree mark. I drank a LOT of water but still found myself getting some chills as I had run out of sweat near the end of the ride. It was just crazy, and I couldn't wait to get off that darn bike. But now I find myself looking forward to the day I have time to go again. Maybe a quick ride tomorrow morning...

But, to my point of checking in today.

Ed, Farrah, and then Michael.

All three were a little crazy, and had struggled with substance abuse. Two of them ended up pretty much broke. But all three were push pins marking significant memories on the timeline of my life. Never really occurred to me until I sat here reading about them.

Ed - When I was even younger than my beautiful daughter, I would often spend the night with my Grandma on my Dad's side. My "Mamaw". She would kick "Papaw" out of the room for the night, or he would be working at the steel mill and I would get to sleep in her room. That was pretty much the only time I was allowed to stay up late enough to watch Carson. We'd be playing cards in bed, she'd be smoking her Pall Malls and Johnny would come on. I can remember hoping and praying that Burt Reynolds would be on, or a comedian, or one of the guys, like Jack Hanna that brought the wild animals on. The first time I ever saw Steve Martin was on his show, and I was never the same.

Farrah - Well, of course, the famous poster of her in the red once piece bathing suit. 1976. I was 9 years old. It was the first time that I remember experiencing those curious sensations that would one day grow to be desire while looking at a girl. And then of course Lee Majors, the bionic man, went and married her. This act winning him the crown as the coolest guy in the world to me, dethroning The Fonz. Later, after I had become a greasy, gangly teenager, he would surrender his crown to Eddie Van Halen when he not only married Vallery Bertinelly, but also got himself a Lamborghini Countach.

And then Micheal. High school. MTV. Friday Night Music Videos. Getting to drive the car over to a friends house, hang out late watching music videos, ordering pizzas, and drinking far too much caffeinated soda. (it would be a couple more years before the beers began making the scene) And encountering the redoubling of those sensations that Farrah had started years ago. Unfailingly the girls would insist on popping in a video taped recording of the Thriller video and watching it ad nauseum, making every boy quietly ponder the idea of taking dance lessons.

It all just has me wondering who or what will leave push pins on my kids timeline.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ohhhh... So THAT is what "bonking" is

So, I decided to hit the Des Plaines river trail on the mountain bike again.  'Cept I decided that I wanted to complete the whole southern section of the trail.  So rather than jump on the bike here at the house and head over to the path at Irving Park, I loaded the bike onto the Subaru and drove over to the forest preserve parking lot at Algonquin.  My plan was to ride south to North Av, and then turn around and head back.  Well, first of all it was a great day.  At one point, not long after I had set out, I happened onto a group of kids who were out on a nature walk with their teacher.  The cool thing was that this paticular group of kids happened to include my own beautiful daughter.  She was very excited to see me, and I think that for just a moment there, she may have actually thought that her old man was kind of cool, although she didn't come right out and say so...

After a quick chat with her and her classmates I continued on and made it to North Av. it pretty decent time.  I was feeling good and the weather was perfect, so I decided to continue south from North Av. on a surface street that paralelles the river just to see if I could pick up the trail again, which I did pretty quickly.  It was a pretty tight single track, but it was a trail.  I came to a rail road bridge that was still too muddy to pass underneath so I carried the bike up and over and then continued riding.  Then I crossed Chicago Av and continued south but not very far past that point I just completely lost the trail.  The river has been well over its banks during the winter and either I was following the wrong path to begin with, or the trail has just been washed clear.  I didn't feel right blazing a new trail, the ground was still fairly soft, and it occurred to me that had a pretty good distance to go to get back to the car.  So I felt it was a good time to turn back.  I hadn't brought any snacks (mistake #1) and I had finished off about 1/2 my water bottle by this time.  I only carry one bottle on the mountain bike, but it is a big honkin' thing so I thought I still had enough to get by (mistake #2).  Back at North Av, it occurred to me that I could stop at the drug store that is right nearby, and grab a snack and refill the water bottle, but as I was still feeling pretty good, I just continued on (mistake #3).  By the time I was about half way back to the car I was getting really tired.  And at about 3/4ths of the way I was really, really tired and out of water.  A whole new kind of ache had started in my legs.  Rather than just one or two paticular muscle groups being sore, my whole legs were aching.  I have never wanted to just lay down on the ground and take a little siesta so badly in my life.  I had tossed an apple in the car when I left the house that morning, so I just kept thinking about how delicious it was going to taste, and I just kept pedalling.  Many explitives were uttered along the way, but I made it back to the car.  And that apple was amazing.  I sat in the car and devoured it like a ravenous ferrel dog and while I did so, my legs cramped up like nobody's business.  I managed to waddle around well enough to get the bike loaded back onto the Subaru and headed for home.  Back at the house I constructed, and feasted on, a most prodigious sandwich and then went ahead and grabbed that siesta I had been fantasizing about earlier.  The whole ride only ended up being 26 miles, but I was far more tired than I had been after my longest road bike ride last season.  Poor preparation.

Here are a couple pictures I've taken with my cell phone while riding this trail:

Nifty old mountain bike near a nifty old railroad bridge

Spring on the Des Plaines River

Monday, June 1, 2009

Forgive my Inattentiveness

The volume of e-mail coming from 40 year old cyclists worldwide demanding that I post an update to this blog has been so overwhelming that I can simply no longer continue my laxness.

OK, maybe not.

But I recently finished reading a book from my favorite author and it got me in the mood to sit down and type a few lines again.

The good news is that although I have not been writing, I have been riding.  However, I have to admit that the road bike has not seen nearly as much use as the mountain bike has this season. For a couple of reasons, I just find myself enjoying the mountain bike more than the road bike this year.  I did take the road bike out a couple of days ago for a nice 20 miler.   I had every intention of going twice that distance, but the wind picked up, the temperature began dropping and it began raining ever so slightly. The clouds were ahead of me, and it was sunny back over my shoulder, so I turned the bike astern and headed for home. Aside from that ride and one other of about the same length, the road bike has not seen much use. My farthest ride so far this season has been 28 miles and that was done on the mountain bike with only 8 of those miles being pedaled across tarmac.  The other 20 was ridden in the dirt, which is a bit of a task I must say.

Faithful readers will recall that last season when I was riding to work, I often took the mountain bike because it allowed me to ride along a bike path that follows the Des Plaines river.  This path was quiet, scenic and kept me away from the morning traffic which does tend to be slightly agressive.  Well, I read somewhere on the Internet that if I were to take that trail in the opposite direction, south bound from Irving Park Road rather than north bound, I would find that it becomes a slightly tighter, more technical, honest-to-goodness mountain bike path.  So I started exploring that route awhile back and for awhile I was unable to finish the path due to muddy conditions along the route.   The Des Plaines has a nasty habit of overflowing every spring and covering the bike path.  This does a nice job of cleaning the path and smoothing the previous seasons ruts, but does leave it soggy for quite some time.  But I have since ridden the path to where I think it terminates at North Avenue and what a fun path it is.

The second issue I have been having has been with my neck. I know I probably sound like a creaky, tumble-down pensioner, but back at my old job (Oh yeah, I'm now currently unemployed thanks to the closing of the company that I used to ride my bike to, but that is another story) I spent a good deal of time sitting at a massive old steel desk with my computer monitor, that was too small to begin with, positioned too far from my face.  This caused me to essentially lean in at my monitor all day long which began causing some neck pain over time. Lately, riding the road bike has exacerbated this problem.   Being pitched forward on the bike and having to basically look up while riding has really caused me some neck pain on the last couple of rides. To the point where it is difficult to look back over my shoulders for traffic or other bikes.   On the mountain bike I am positioned slightly more upright and thus, the ol' neck does not get fatigued nearly as much, or as rapidly.

And then there is still the whole aspect of being away from traffic and people and whatever. Especially now that I do most of my riding on the weekdays, it is not unusual for me to not see another soul during my whole ride.   Finally, the sheer quantity of quality dirt paths around here has just drawn my attention away from the roadie this season a bit.

But I am riding and I think that is what really counts here.  I'm still working toward riding a century at some point later this season, but I haven't picked one yet, and I'm not entirely sure which bike I'll ride it on.  It kind of depends on this neck business a bit. I'm hoping now that I'm no longer at that wicked old green desk, it will begin to improve. Stay tuned there.

Oh, I also changed riding shoes recently. My charming and delightful bride and beautiful daughter gave me a nice gift certificate for a local bike shop for my birthday (42!). So I picked up a new computer for the road bike that keeps track of my cadence in addition to the other usual data points, and a new pair of Shimano riding shoes. I switched from the non-recessed, arduous to stroll in style of shoes to an SPD style touring shoe that I can actually walk in when I'm not on the bike. I was digging around in some old boxes in the garage rafters one afternoon and happened upon the pair of 12 year old, unused SPD style pedals that originally came on my mountain bike. So those are now on the road bike and I'm planning to pick up a pair of single sided units for the mountain bike. I've only worn the shoes once, and some adjustments are still needed, but they did not seem any better or worse feeling on the bike.   A little easier to clip out of and much easier to walk in.  Aside from that my toes still fall asleep.  But this phenomena even occurs when I'm riding on the rusty old platform pedals on the mountain bike.   Eh, who needs feeling in their feet anyway.

More to come. But I hope this is enough to becalm the anxious masses who have been filling my inbox to its capacity almost daily.

Or something like that.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spring Has Sprung!

The weather has finally decided to play nice in Chicago.  So, I found myself with a little time today, so I jumped on the Fuji and headed out.  I knocked out 20 miles and it felt pretty good.  Did try to push or anything.  Just a nice ride.  A little bit of back pain, a little bit of neck pain, but no big deal.  The bike path looked pretty good and there were plenty of folks out taking advantage of the break in the weather.  The weather is supposed to finally hold out for a couple of days, so I'm hoping to ride pretty frequently.  Tomorrow, I may get the Moab down and go see how the trail along the DesPlaines river faired over the winter.  Stay tuned.  I stopped at a park bench just before I left the bike path and moved the seat back just a touch more.  We'll see if that helps this new back stiffness I am feeling since changing the handle bar stem.

Oh, and I had to stop once because when I clicked down from that large front chain ring to the small one, the Fuji tossed its chain.  Got it all jammed up between the chain ring and frame.  That took a couple of minutes to resolve and basically sucked.  Note to self - take a  look at the front derailure and remember to lube the chain before the next ride.  I keep forgetting to and it is getting a bit noisy.

Time for a shower.

20.07 miles
1h 29m
13.6 mph avg
24.7 mph max

Sunday, March 22, 2009

First Ride (sort of) - What is Working and What isn't

Well alright.  I got back on Mr. Fuji today and took off to enjoy this great day a little bit.  I should mention here that I actually did ride a couple weeks ago when we had an unusually warm spell.  A single day of it, in fact.  I did not have enough air in the new tires and it was as windy as all get out.  I made it all of 5 miles before the cold wind got to me.  But it was a ride, I guess.  It made me realize that all the time I spent over the winter doing absolutely nothing, put me right back at square one.  I am a fool.

But on to today.  It was a beautiful day here in our fine city, but I thought I was going to be too busy to ride. However, this afternoon I found myself with about an hour to spare, so I jumped on the bike and took off for another quick ride.  I got the new tires aired up all proper like and headed out.  I made it all of a mile before I ran into a snag.  I came to an intersection and applied the brakes, and heard an odd thwap-thwap-thwap-thwap, coming from the back wheel.  I thought I had gotten a leaf or something stuck to the rear wheel.  I touch the brakes again, and the sound was still there.  I stopped and inspected the rear wheel and discovered a bulge in my brand new back tire with a flappy piece of rubber torn loose.  I thought I had damaged the tire when I was mounting it.  For a moment I thought I might just take my chances and keep going.  It was just too nice to turn back.  I started off again and noticed that I could actually feel a wobble in the back wheel now.  And it occurred to me that I hadn't brought the cell phone.  If the tire decided to let go completely, it would be a long walk back in the goofy shoes.  So I turned back and headed for home, but not before letting just a little bit of air out of the tire, just to take a little bit of load off the bad spot.

I got back to the garage, and pulled the wheel off the bike and began to dismount the tire.  That is when I figured out what that flappy little piece of rubber was.  It wasn't the tire at all; it was the inner tube!  It had gotten pinched between the wheel and tire when I mounted it a couple weeks ago.  When I finally inflated the tire all the way, some of the pressure must have caused the tube to actually bubble outside the tire, and then when I applied the brakes it tore about a 1" section of the tube right off.  And yet, the tube was pinched between the tire and wheel so well, that it actually continued to hold air!  Crazy.  So I grabbed another tube quick like and had the bike all back together in no time.  So I decided to head back out once again.  This time I took the phone.

I rode up to my usual spot, the North Branch trail  I rode the same short route that I used to ride when I first started last season.  This made for a bit of a short ride, but my time was limited, and I didn't really want to jump into a "big" ride on my first time out.  I ended up with 11 miles on the odometer.  eh...

The Conti 4000's feel nice on the bike and the new stem seems to be pretty nice.  I had no hand pains, no wrist pain, and found that I could ride with very little weight on my arms at all.  However, on the way home I started to feel a little bit of lower back pain.  I'm wondering if moving the bars up and towards me has caused me to be a little too cramped on the bike.  At this point it is really too early on to try adjusting the bike.  It could just be the fact that I've been off the bike for too darn long.  Recollect, that my intention was to move the bars back on the bike a bit, and then move the seat back as well, so that I would essentially end up in the same position on the bike as far as my reach to the bars, but to end up back behind the crank center slightly.  So I may just need to move the seat back a bit more.  But like I said, I'll need to log some more quality seat time before I start moving things around on the bike.

But I came across something on my ride that is seriously NOT working.  Chicago's recycling program is needing some serious work.

For many years Chicago had what they called the Blue Bag Program.  With this program, Chicago residents were to take any recyclable trash and bag it up in blue trash bags.  These trash bags could be thrown in with your regular trash and it would be dumped into the same truck on trash day.  The story was that once the truck unloaded at the dump, the blue bags could be plucked out, torn open and their contents sorted.  Right.  How this was possible once the bags had been repeatedly compacted in the back of dump truck was beyond me, but I just went with it.  It was all the city had to offer, so we did the best we could.  We went so far as to actually sort our recyclables here at home, but at the end of the week, all the blue bags went into the same can and into the same truck.

Well, this year Chicago began rolling out a Blue Can program.  With this program, residents place their recyclables into a blue can that gets picked up on trash day, but they have actually now segregated the truck.  2/3rd's of the truck is for regular land fill trash and 1/3rd is for the blue cans to get dumped into.  This seems like a step in the right direction however, they program is being rolled out slowly, neighborhood by neighborhood.  And ours is down pretty far on the list.  In the meantime, the blue bag program has been discontinued.  The holdover solution is for us to take our recyclables to central locations and drop them off.  One of those central locations is the parking lot where the North Branch trail begins.

Here is a photo of the container where people are to drop off their recyclables:

Not too cool, I've got to say.  Not long ago, when I took our recycling to the collection center closest to our house, I found a similar situation.  I sent an e-mail to our alderman and our site now has two dumpsters.  So, I guess I'll try to figure out who the alderman is up that way and drop them a note as well.  But if Chicago is going to continue to be the world class city that Daley wants it to be, he is going to have to seriously step up efforts to "green" this joint up.  This is just lame.

But I digress.  It was a great day, and it felt GREAT to get back in the saddle again.   Time to start working for that century again.  Cross your fingers. 

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Last post November 5, 2008

November 5, 2008.  That is how long it has been.  And, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that it has been just as long since I have turned a pedal.  I had fully intended to put the bike on a trainer over the winter, if for no other reason than to continue tweaking my riding position on the bike in an attempt to get more comfortable.  But alas, that didn't happen.

This isn't to say that I have lost interest.  Actually, as the weather in Chicago has begun hinting around at getting less awful, I have been getting pretty anxious to ride again.  In fact, I brought the road bike into the house last week and dusted it off.  I also installed some new equipment, and re-installed some old equipment which has made me even more antsy to ride.

First, I decided to install yet another handlebar stem.  I had already gone from the OE 110mm stem to a 90mm stem last season.  That made the ride a bit more comfortable for me, but I still ended up with the seat as far forward as I could get it.  On a couple of my last rides, I noticed that if I pushed myself back on my seat a bit with my arms I felt as if I could generate a stronger pedal stroke.  That got me to thinking that maybe having my seat all the way forward, while comfortable for my arms, back and hands, might have me positioned a too far head of the cranks.  So I decided to go down to a 70mm stem and move the seat back a just a bit.  I hope that I will end up in essentially the same position on the bike as far as my reach from the seat to the handle bars, but move my overall position on the bike back a bit.  I also went to a stem with a steep 30 degree rise.  My thinking here is that the slightly more upright position on the bike will be a little more comfortable still for the long rides.  I am definitely getting that century ride done in 2009, so I'm setting the bike up more as a tourer and less as a speed demon.

Along those same lines, I felt that the tires were due for a change.  The bike was wearing the original 700 x 23c Continental Ultra Sports that came on the bike.  I don't think they had many miles put on them by the original owner, and I put less then 400 on them last season, but I thought I could see some cracking in the sidewalls near the beads.  Since tires aren't terribly expensive and can vastly change the bikes handling characteristics, I decided to go ahead and make a swap.  I read tire reviews and opinions until I was blue in the face, and finally settled on a new set of Continental 4000's.  Based on some other things I had read, I decided to go from a 23c tire size to a 25c.  The tires are just slightly more "plump" then the 23c's.  From what I have read, I will probably not notice any significant drag due their increased size, but the ride may be smoothed a bit.  This will be nice for these nasty Chicago streets and will hopefully fend off fatigue to some degree as my distances increase.  I half wished I had taken a few rides on the old tires prior to switching, just to get a better feel, but when they arrived, I just got too excited and mounted them up.

Finally, I re-installed the aerobars that were on the bike when I bought it.  This also goes back to my planning for longer rides.  Especially now that I have raised the bars a bit with the new stem, I thought I might actually make use of the aerobars now and then, just to have another position to ride in from time to time.  And what the heck - they look cool too.

Aside from adding a small top tube mounted bag for snacks, that is about the extent of changes I've made to the bike.  It is leaning against the wall near me right now, calling out to me to be ridden...

Soon we will ride, Mr. Fuji...  Soon we will ride.