Road Bike Post #1

Posted in Uncategorized by antisociology on December 28, 2008

A few friends have recently asked me about cycling. What makes a commuter bike different from a race bike? Why drop bars? What gears should I use? Taken as a whole, this can all be overwhelming, especially on top of thousand dollar “entry level” road bikes and “fit sessions” costing hundreds of dollars.   There are, of course, lots of opinions about cycling. I am in no sense the most knowledgeable person. So, take what I say with a grain of salt.

Let’s start with the various types of bikes and what they’re used for. Isn’t a bike a bike? While it’s true that there are physical differences and common themes (mountain bikes have suspension, hybrids have flat bars, road bikes have drop bars), I prefer to differentiate bikes by how they support the rider. A cyclist riding for hours on the road needs a different position (and therefore bike) than someone bombing down a mountainside trail.

Road racing bikes are what I know best and am most comfortable with. They are all I’ve been riding for the past four years (three years?). Whenever I try and use my road bikes for something else other than spirited long distance riding, it just becomes painfully obvious that they were made for something else. In the end, it all comes down to position.

What’s a proper road bike position, and why is it the right one for going long (but probably not epically long) distances fast? I am talking about rides that go from 1.5 hours to a few hours, but probably less than a full day (6-8 hours) in the saddle. The effort is akin to what a long-distance runner might put out in a long, fast training run. Something starting easy, and maybe working down to, say, marathon race pace. Slower than a tempo run, faster than a jog. Here’s what I recommend for those sorts of efforts:

  1. leaned over from the waist
  2. arms slightly extended
  3. elbows bent
  4. head up
  5. saddle high enough to make full use of the leg’s range of motion without rocking the hips
  6. back neutral to very slightly bowed upwards

This sort of position distributes weight between the hands, butt, and feet. It seems counter-intuitive and odd at first, but once you try it and a few other positions while trying to keep the same effort, it becomes more natural. Beginning riders might confuse discomfort and the newness of it all for bad fit or bad position. While it might be those things, it might also just be unfamiliarity. My advice is to just try different positions at various effort levels. Get comfortable being on the bike (if you haven’t ridden regularly for some time), then figure out what your effort limits are (i.e., what’s hard and what’s easy), and then practice practice practice good form.

The road race position I described above has other benefits. It is more aerodynamic. When you sit bolt upright, your torso catches a lot of air. Leaning forward reduces the amount of area you present to the wind. IIRC, leaning forward also allows your body to more effectively engage the glute muscles. Finally, the position balances your body over the middle of the bike for better handling and climbing.

Now, it does take some practice and maybe a bit of fitness to become comfortable with such a position. Perhaps your flexibility could use some work, or neglected core muscles need to be bolstered. Maybe it just feels plain funny. In the end, though, I think the rewards are well worth it. Like running, working on your stride, turnover, core strength, and flexibility pay dividends. You might be slower for a few weeks or months, but you’ll come out faster on the other side.



Posted in Uncategorized by antisociology on December 18, 2008

Raleigh One-Way

After yesterday’s sad-sack post, it’s time for something a little more uplifting. A few weeks ago I put a deposit down on a Raleigh One-Way to commute on. It has almost everything I want in a commuter bike:

  • A full set of braze-ons for racks and fenders.
  • Cantilever brakes.
  • Clearance for fat cushy tires.
  • A steel frame and sweet lugged fork.
  • Brooks leather saddle.
  • My favorite brake levers (the Tektros, modeled after my real favorite, the last generation Campagnolo Ergopower brake/shift levers).
  • It even includes a bell and a (very) nice minipump.


It’s a singlespeed/fixed gear which means that there are no gears; you just have to muscle up any hills you come across. On the plus side, there’s hardly anything to keep clean and barely anything to break. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have cablestops or a derailleur hanger, so if I eventually want to run multiple gears on it, I’ll have to build up a wheel with an internally geared hub. The really bad news, though, is that the bike won’t be here until the first or second week of February. Boo.


Paul Components Flatbed

Of course, the best part of getting a bike is accessories! I’ve been trolling around for front and rear racks. I’m pretty sure that I want to run with a front basket and a rear rack with panniers. The front basket is good for going to and from work. A rear rack with panniers is handy if you have more cargo. My favorite rack is the Paul Components Flatbed. It’s the beautiful chrome and wood rack you see above. At a similar pricepoint are the more robust CETMA racks — but they don’t look quite as nice as the Flatbed. Oh, the decisions we make.


Speaking of bikes, I think bike companies are finally coming out with some totally bitchin’ product. Masi has some really cool things going with their Soulville and Speciale lines (I almost got a Speciale Commuter). Both Schwinn (!!!) and Raleigh (!!) have introduced cool steel roadbikes (check out the Raleigh Clubman and the 70th Anniversary Schwinn Paramount). Gary Fisher has a really cool bike in the form of the Simple City series. I took a look at the Simple City while talking with the salesman about the Raleigh I ordered. They are neat bikes, and I could see having one as a third bike of sorts. I’m just not comfy in the super upright position they put you in (and I’m not a huge fan of the aluminum frame). 


I really think that bike commuting will help me get up earlier in the morning. I’d rather get up to pedal to work than stuff myself in a train and wait on subway platforms. There is, of course, also the savings from not having to buy an $81 Metrocard every 30 days. If you’re interested in alternative transportation, you should definitely watch this interview with Janette Sadik-Khan, the NYC DOT commissioner.


Please Send Holiday Cheer

Posted in Uncategorized by antisociology on December 17, 2008

I don’t like being a Debbie-downer. If you’d like to be spared self-loathing and other emo-ness, move along. I just don’t know where else to put this.


The holiday season is upon us. I actually didn’t realize until late yesterday that Christmas is next week. Most people I know have a lot of fun around this time, but it’s always been kind of a sad time for me. I love fall and winter weather, but things just always seem to go pear-shaped around this time of year. I have a lot to be thankful for. There are a lot of people in situations that are far worse than mine. I’m not in danger of losing my housing, and the employment situation looks uncertain but okay. I have heat, and I can afford to eat well.


Still, I can’t help but wish I had someone close. I know I’m supposed to be a complete person, fully happy with my accomplishments and my own good character. Right now, though, I just feel plain alone. Unloveable because I never learned to (show) love. I am not super-wealthy, but I’m not doing too poorly either. People at work seem to think well of what I do. To my knowledge, nobody actively hates me. What I want most, though, is to love and be loved.


Things didn’t work out with the girl from a few posts ago. It may have been for the best. No, it was definitely for the best. While we had a lot going for each other, I dunno that we would ever see ourselves as equals. Perhaps more importantly, the way I tried to show I cared didn’t quite mesh with her expectations as to how people care about each other. The way she tells it, things fizzled out and I never gave her any indication that I wanted to have a romantic relationship with her. To me, it was a series of unfortunate situations and complications, not to mention my own shyness and inexperience at these things.


I know some of these feelings are coming from seeing vague but suggestive status updates from this girl (one of the dangers of social networking sites…knowing way too much about what’s going on without you). Being in the state of mind I’m in, I can’t but help thinking she found someone else. I could be wrong. Either way, I don’t resent her for it. She works hard and deserves someone to be happy with. I won’t begrudge anyone their happiness.


So why not just pick up and go find someone else? Well, to be honest, people I like that much don’t come around so often. The going rate seems to be about one every three to five years. More often than not, these feelings grow out of close friendships and people seem to be skittish about going a bit further. It really does take me a while to warm up to people though. Maybe I’m too much of an engineer, but it’s shared experiences and shared tastes that draw me closer to others. Sure, there’s lust at first sight, but never love.


I’m not looking for someone to complete me, so much as someone to share myself with. Frankly, I’m tired of living for myself. I want that sense of connection and togetherness back. I’ve heard a lot of people say I’m a good guy or that I’d be a great catch. I don’t disagree. I like my character and don’t regret my decisions, but that doesn’t seem to be enough. I don’t usually count the chickens until they’ve hatched, but I’m nearing thirty years old and, really, there’s only been two times I’ve felt the sense of belonging and acceptance that I’m looking for. 


Maybe things would be better if I had a sense of direction. The last year certainly hasn’t been easy. I made the decision to take a leave of absence from my Ph.D. program, and that leave will most likely lead to an official withdrawal next year. At the same time, I’m not sure where I want my career to go. Heck, I’m not even sure how far I can go. I have a sense of not fitting well into too many different places. I don’t have the skills or experience to do hard, cutting edge computer science research, but I feel unchallenged by most of the production work that goes on out there. I mean, how many accounting systems does the world really need (no offense meant to accountants — it’s just not what I enjoy developing).


In high school, I wanted to be a graphic designer. This didn’t sit well with my parents, and I decided to do something else instead. They probably would have paid for a graphic arts education, but it would have made our relationship even testier than it is now (and believe me, it’s not a great relationship). Ever since then, I’ve been trying to find my own, new way through the world. It hasn’t gone like I planned. Or has it? I often forget that one of the reasons I decided to go to grad school was to have a path that I more or less owned, that I chose without regard to what other people wanted me to be. It’s paid off well, if not quite as handsomely as I would have liked. 


The point of that, really, is just to say that I could really use someone to be there in their whole self for me. I feel as fragile as a willow. Rooted, but buffeted by the wind. I’m not sure what I want to come out of this post. Certainly not pity. I suppose I just wanted to write it down and send it out into the ether. It needed to be written. I’ll likely dwell on these feelings for the next few weeks, but it needed to be written anyhow.


I hope you’re having a fine holiday season with your loved ones. Cherish them. Adore them. These days, it is easy to be ambivalent or to hate. While there is so much in the world to be angry over, don’t forget that it’s okay to be happy and to love.