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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

bicycling tough on pants

I've just worn though another pair of shorts. Pants, shorts, whatever - they're all doomed to a short life on the seat of a bicycle. I'd patch them but somehow walking around with patches on my ass doesn't seem like something that would help me fit in to this world any more than I already don't. So I'm off to get a new pair of pants (winter is coming!) and shorts tomorrow at the hardware store. Isn't that where you buy your pants? Where else is there? Well, maybe Sears but that's too far to ride. At least "hardware store" has Carhart. Hecho en Mexico!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

sexy tires

I've been reading and believing Jan Heine's (Editor of Bicycle Quarterly) opinions about tires and tire pressure and rolling resistance and such for some time now. And I've been experimenting with lower and lower air pressure in all my tires - as in, on all my bikes. It takes a lot of time to peel yourself away from what seems to be standard thinking on the topic - essentially, higher air pressure is better and/or faster. I used to always pump up my road bike tires (23 - 25mm wide) to 120psi - the max listed on many tires of this size. And that worked fine and great for me even giving me the sense that I was riding really fast. But part of what Heine has argued is that things are not always as they seem and that just because it feels like you and your bike are hammering along and your bones are chattering over every slight disturbance in the road doesn't actually imply that you're going faster - you really have to time it to know. So he's done a lot of timing and testing. And based on his tests, it turns out that it's only less comfortable to ride high pressure tires and not faster. 

He's even got a chart, a rule of thumb to shoot for based on your tire size and weight to help you determine a more appropriate psi for your own needs. I started with that chart and dropped my road bike tire pressure by about 25psi. Then over a few months gradually dropped even further - an additional 15psi - for the current personal preference for road bike tire psi (get ready to gasp) of 80psi! 

I ride with a regular group of people that I'm calling my control in this experiment. While I cut my psi by 33% they changed nothing as this was all done in secret - until now. And there was no obvious change in our speeds or finishing order at the top of hills or end of rides. Not much of a scientific method employed here I know but it's good enough for me and mostly, more comfortable. 

As for The Mule, well, she runs on fatter tires (50mm wide), but we also enjoyed a similar percentage drop in air pressure and similar "performance" benefits. She's running around 40psi now compared to 65 before. 

Again, back to Heine, it's not just the lower pressure that promotes a better ride but the quality of the tire - it's suppleness. Hard, solid tires, even with little air in them are going to bang all over the place and transmit a lot of that up to the rider. Supple, sexy tires will slip smoothly over the road surface - allowing you to feel the road but not FEEL the road. 

So I took Heine's advice and even bought some tires from him for "Totally 80's" - he sells them in 26mm width (other widths, too) which is just a hair wider than what's generally available out there and adding just that much more cushion of air - they don't call them pneumatic tires for nothing… 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The worst street in LA

I've been riding the sidewalk a lot more over the past few weeks. I rarely do because I like to keep up the proper bicycle presence in everyones' minds but there are a few roads out there that are "unsafe at any speed." One of these is Los Feliz Blvd in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles that follows the southern boundary of Griffith Park (that big park of the west). 

Actually, there are two quite different faces to Los Feliz Blvd. One during rush hour, the other not - parking restrictions in the third lane being the key to the difference. When cars are allowed to park on the side of the road they block the third lane but leave a nice make-shift bike lane which can really be great to ride and especially fun when passing auto congestion. But during rush hours there are no parked cars to block that lane from use and that's when it gets really sketchy. 

The road surface along the shoulder in either direction is terrible - bumps and holes and wobbles. Actually, there really is no shoulder to speak of. There's space for a car and then there's the gutter. And the cars drive like bats-out-of-hell-fast through there.

My sidewalk time started on Friday the 13th of last month. I've been riding out that direction several times since then. But that day was particularly bad. And I didn't want to push the buttons of superstition so I steered far clear of that gauntlet and rode the sidewalk.

Unfortunately, that sidewalk is no great ride, either - 2 miles of blind driveways exiting from apartment complexes, cracked pavers, and only about half of the street crossings have ramps to roll smoothly across the transitions. 

The nice thing about sidewalk riding, though, and what I've been reminded of because of my recent experiences with it, is that it slows you down again to really see how the bicycle is different from the car - or more importantly, how bicycle-life is different from car-life. It can be nice to go pedestrianly slow and not be concerned with any rush, to take one's time and still enjoy the ride, the travel, the life that we are living here and now, even as we commute…

the new shoes

Well, here they are. They're not quite as blue as they seem in the picture. But they're light and low (heel) and make your feet do a little extra work in the practice of natural human running form. My ankles and calves were sore after our first run - a few miles. I've still not gone beyond that distance in them although I've taken them out on several of those. I think my feet/legs are probably ready for something a little longer in them. 

The quest for 1000 miles in the old shoes has slowed considerably as all my short runs have been in the new ones and I've been sick/resting/tired/etc. But there'll be a great before-and-after photo and celebratory post when we reach that milestone…