Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Cracked Up Again"

Just so it is understood - the young friend I mentioned in my last blog is in his mid to late twenties (not the age of 10 that is the demographic that "Cracked" is aiming for).

There's the seat
The web article pokes fun at bicycle seats and there is a grain of truth in what they say.  I look at my own favourite seat - a hornless bike seat made by Spiderflex.  I believe these seats are made in Manitoba which alone endears them to me (my twin lives in Manituba).

Like many cyclists, finding a comfortable seat is a challenge and like someone told me last year "You sit on anything for 8 hours and it's going to hurt!".  Although sitting on the Spiderflex has been the most agreeable sitting arrangement I have ever found for biking.  When the "Cracked" article correctly points out veins, tubes and nerves that shouldn't be squished, then a hornless bike seat looks very appealing.

I'll admit that it took some time to break in the Spiderflex and once I did, it works like a charm and keeps all the "Special parts" undisturbed. My cycling buddy Roy didn't like the Spiderflex - he said it felt like sitting on a piece of plywood.  The company even offers a 30 day money-back guarantee - so you really have nothing to lose (except discomfort). Roy got his money back.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Cracked Up"

A young friend pointed out a web article that he found on the internet entitled "Five Reasons Riding A Bike Is A Most Humiliating Exercise".  It is supposed to be funny (if you're a ten year old male) but it does give one pause for thought.  A lot of things that cyclists take for granted are kind of weird.

Take for example attaching your feet to the bike pedals.  Now there is a very logical reason for doing so.  It increases pedalling efficiency.  You not only push down on the pedal but you can pull up as well.  I remember my first year of using "clipless" pedals and I had quite a few wipeouts when I wasn't able to unfasten my feet from my pedals fast enough when stopping.  Turns out my adjustment was too tight.  Since switching to higher quality Shimanos and loosening the "clips", I've had no problems.

The Cracked article makes fun of cycling shoes and when you look at them, they are rather specialized.  Let's face it, they aren't meant for walking.  They don't flex and they make a hell of a racket when walking on a hard surface.I do like walking into Timmy Ho's after my morning commute and I enjoy the looks I get from early morning coffee addicts startled my the loud clapping the soles of my biking shoes make on the tiled floor.

And the fun Cracked pokes at cycling shorts.  They're right.  When you really examine cycling shorts (especially the insides), they are strange as well.  Can you think of any other situation that you would wear these garments?  My wife says that the bright orange padding on my shorts looks like a babboons butt. I would agree with her if I wore the shorts inside out!

Cracked suggests that these shorts be worn "commando".  That doesn't work for me.  I was unhappy with my comfort level until I noticed on the MS Tour that women were wearing underclothing beneath their spandex shorts.  I tried it and liked it. (Wearing the male version).  Boxers are out of the question but you might want to try jockeys if you're a dude.

In my next blog I'll investigate some other aspects of the Cracked web article.....

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ready Already?

Whenever I'm stymied by indecision about my bike, I go and seek professional advice.  Usually, I seek out Merko or Doug, two experienced mechanics at United Cycle.  This time Doug was available and the problem to be solved involved my as yet un-named red road bike.

In a previous blog it was mentioned that I had lots of trouble climbing out of the river valley at 149 Street and Doug and I considered the option of a "Granny" gear for the front chainring.  But we decided that putting on a third ring would present shifting problems by putting the chain line out of whack.

Doug suggested that we put a new rear wheel on that had more cogs on the cassette and that wouldn't screw around with keeping the chain line straight.  Another option was to buy another bike and since I haven't even broken this baby in, I didn't want to consider that possibility.

So I gave Doug the go-ahead and he did a fine job replacing the rear wheel and the mechanics at United Cycle always go that extra mile for me by doing a little more than what is expected of them.  Doug set up the Modolo brakes and put more air in the front tire.  Touches that I very much appreciated.

What prompted me to bring in the road bike was an email from the MS Society reminding me that the tour is not far away.  The reminder about the tour also prompted me to book a room at the Marada Hotel - the hotel closest to to the finish line of day one and the start line of day two.  As much as I like camping, when I do the tour, I want to shower in my own bathroom and have a nice bed to sleep in and I get to keep my bike in my room which means I don't have to scramble on the morning of day two looking for my bike in the bike barn.

I make all this sound well planned and controlled.  In fact, when I got the email, I kind of woke up from my mid-winter slumber and went "Holy S**t!  I've got things to do!  I've got to raise $1,250.00 to get my jersey and qualify at the same time for the Mountain Tour!"

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Riding Conditions

What with all our melt/freeze/melt cycles, winter riding has become more like chancy spring riding. In fact, I promised my wife that with the slippery conditions I wouldn't ride to the bike co-op today. We had been out earlier for a walk and could hardly manage the slick sidewalks. Just other day, commuting to work, I lost my front wheel on the icy sidewalk in front of my old cycling buddy's house, just two doors down from my place.

Studded tires will only do so much and it is easy to become over-confident after many successful commutes. And there is every type of condition out there right now. From dry pavement to large snowy humps to series of frozen ridges. Slush too.

I ran into my winter cycling friend Rob the other day on my way home and after comparing the size of our (let's keep it clean) studs, we discussed riding conditions. When it came to slush - as Rob put it so well: "People complain about riding in slush. To me it means hope!". Hope springs eternal as they say. I'm getting pretty excited about the soon - to - come fair weather cycling season and starting to think about getting my two fair weather bikes ready for the season. The mountain bike (Furry Lewis) has a strange knock emanating from somewhere near the bottom bracket and after replacing the whole front cranks/chainrings/bottom bracket last year in preparation for the MS Mountain Tour, I'm praying that it doesn't need replacing. I wanted a sealed bottom bracket for the very reason that it is supposed to be maintenance-free.

My red road bike which I have yet to name, needs a granny gear. Climbing out of the river valley at 149 Street is well nigh impossible. And I don't think it is my conditioning. Last season, after nearly 3,000 km. of varied riding conditions, I still couldn't make it up that very steep incline at the western edge of the river valley trail system.

I realize that changing the front cranks/chainrings will affect everything else involved in the transmission but I'm willing to grind my way through the necessary adjustments to be able to climb steep slopes and besides, the MS Bike Tour is in June which is only 4 months away. There's training to be done!

Tricky stuff

But there I go, getting way ahead of myself. Given our northern location, we still have months of "winter" riding to do and lots of excitement negotiating our frozen highways and bi-ways.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Critical Mess

We had just come up to ground level from the Westbahnhof underground station when a few hundred protesters rounded the corner and began to march down both lanes of traffic on Mariahilfer Strabe on a busy Friday night.  We had no idea what they were shouting let alone what their cause may have been.  Moments later, a dozen police vans, their blue lights flashing and filled to the brim with riot police pulled up right beside us.  We stopped a couple of people to ask if they spoke English and if so, could they explain to us what was going on?

A young lady stepped forward and said that she was a university student and could speak English. January and February are the time of the year for balls in Vienna and this particular night the Neo Nazis were having a ball in one of the numerous palaces that dot this imperial city.  The protesters had applied for a permit to demonstrate  against this particular ball, but had been denied by the city.  The protesters were angry and had decided to protest anyway.

The young student asked if she could join us in our walk to make it look as though she was our daughter/granddaughter.  I suspected that she was part of the demonstration and didn't want to be arrested.  Within moments, the riot police were swinging their clubs in the middle of the protesters and much to our shock the crowd of demonstrators and riot police were headed towards us. People began running in every direction to avoid being apprehended.  Protesters were being thrown to the ground and cord cuffed while others were being frisked up against a wall not 3 meters from where we were cowering - hoping to be invisible.

It was at that point that we made a hasty retreat and removed ourselves from a situation that had threatening potential.  Once it was safe, the girl left us and we put some distance between us and the fracas on the street.  We hadn't gone more than two blocks when we could hear another disturbance behind us and we discovered a large group with signs on their backs taking over the street with their bikes.  My first thought was that this was the Vienna chapter of CRITICAL MASS since it was the last Friday of the month.  Not being able to decipher the message on their signs I was left wondering if these cyclists were protesting the Neo-Nazi ball in their own pedal powered way or if this was typical street theater in Vienna on a Friday night.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Bike Rental

All the guidebooks suggested that it was possible to rent a bike in Vienna and had I googled my interest I'm sure that a lot of options would have appeared.  As it was, I managed to figure it out and enjoy a ride in "downtown" Vienna.

We had taken a "Yellow Tram Tour" of the center of this fine city and looking out the tram windows I spotted several kiosks of bikes labelled "City Bike" and thought to myself that this may be the answer I was looking for.  I had to wait a couple of days for when I was exploring the city on mine own to be able to check out these "City Bikes".

Upon approaching the kiosk, it is a simple matter of registering using a credit card and then choosing the bike you wish to ride and when prompted, type in the number of the bike and remove it from where it is locked to the stationary rack.

One of the great things about this system is that you can return the bike to any "City Bike" kiosk throughout the city and as an extra bonus - if you return the bike within an hour it is free of charge!  All you have to do is wait 15 minutes and you reregister and take a bike from the rack for another hour free!  My kind of rental.

Never having visited a European city before, I was hesitant to get right into traffic and ride.  And it turns out that my worries were needless in that Vienna has a whole system of paved, well marked bike routes.  And as I mentioned in my previous blog, there are even traffic lights just for cyclists.

On the Yellow Tram tour I noticed a large park with a golden statue of Strauss at its center called Stadtpark and that is where I decided I could best ride around and not have to worry too much about pedestrians or traffic.  Being the off season for tourism, the park was bare of crowds and I only saw the odd couple strolling about its grounds.  A few people had gathered to take photos of the Strauss monument but otherwise I had the whole park to myself.

Once I got comfortable on the bike (a fixie), I managed to ride the whole park, crossing bridges and winding through narrow paths.  I guess I could have taken a picture of the Strauss statue but quite honestly I was having enough of a job positioning my camera on any horizontal surface, setting the self timer, running to the bike, hopping on and then hoping to cross my carefully composed frame at just the right moment when the camera's timer went off.  It was cold enough to kill the batteries and luckily I had carried some extra AA's in my MEC packsack otherwise my attempt at capturing myself renting and riding a bike in Vienna would have been thwarted.

Being the cheap bugger that I am, I dutifully returned the bike before the one hour period was up and I'm still wondering a week later if I stowed the bike properly otherwise when I open my Mastercard statement in the near future I may find a 600 Euro charge for not having returned the bike at all (that's like 900 beans).  Although Vienna is not noted for its crime, I couldn't help but wonder if unscrupulous persons tug on each bike in hopes of finding one that isn't properly locked in and then making off with the free two wheel conveyance.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

European Vacation Bike Thoughts

Everywhere you looked, you would see bikes.  Hundreds of them parked near the train platform at Paddington Station, locked in front of subway stations, left unlocked in front of coffee shops.  Never having been to Europe, it was a pleasant surprise to experience bike friendly cultures.

 I think the top sign says "One Way"

There are even traffic lights just for bikes

In my next blog I'll tell you about renting a bike in Vienna....