Monday, February 22, 2010

First climb of the year

In the European bike racing lingo, there are 4 types of riders that I know of. The Rouler is a rider who can keep fast pace over distance and excels at time trials. The sprinter can sprint and contest the win from a large group. The puncher has explosive acceleration and can break away from groups. The grimpeur is the climber who can climb hills fast. If I had to choose which type I am, I would say that I'm a grimpeur. Sweetpea Bicycles had an interesting blog post last week about climbing too. I didn't know that she was a climber too. When I say that I'm a climber, I don't mean that I can ride away from everyone on the hill, but that it's one area of cycling that I might be better than average. When you go up a hill, the thing called strength to weight ratio comes into play. I guess when you go against the pull of gravity, the heavier you are the more power you need to use to move forward, so if you are relatively lightweight you have an advantage when going uphill. I guess it's one of the things that attracted me to cycling initially. I used to be super skinny as a teenager and there aren't many sports that favor that build. There was cross country running which I did a bit, but I ended up having a knee problem. I didn't have any competitive goals in mind when I got into cycling, but I found that you didn't need to be big and muscular to go fast. After I got into college, I joined the collegiate team and started doing some collegiate and USCF (predecessor of USA Cycling) races. In racing and training with people, I found that I was more of a climber than anything else.

Rocky Butte
(top of Rocky Butte)

Anyway, so even now, I think of myself a bit that way. I am not as skinny and I don't have a training schedule to keep, but I like to think that with some regular riding, I can get myself into a decent climbing shape. With that in mind, I went for a ride this past Saturday. Not a super long ride, but one with a decent climb at the end. This was really the first substantial climb since before Winter. Through Winter, I mostly rode in close vicinity and with Portland being fairly flat (there are lots of false flats though), so I hadn't really been using my climbing legs for quite some time. I decided to ride to Rocky Butte in North East Portland. It's almost all straight from where I live and there is a steady climb to the top of the butte at the end.

View Larger Map

As is often the case when I ride there, there was constant headwind, so just getting to the bottom of the butte was quite a work out. As I started to climb the hill though, I can immediately tell that it wasn't going well. I put it into a very low gear and tried to just spin, but even that was not working too well. I can think of 2 reasons why this was. One is that my position on the bike is not quite right. The other is that I'm simply out of shape. I'm sure I was out of shape, but I think with a low gear, I could have spinned with much more ease. The weird thing is that before I had this road bike, I'd done the same climb on my mountain bike with relatively little training and had been able to ride with more ease. I think if I just keep riding regularly, I will be able to climb better like I was doing last Summer, but I'm wondering if it would be better to change the position. I think I will try moving the saddle back, but to do that I will need a shorter stem. I feel I'm already a bit stretched out, so moving the seat will make it even more without adjusting the handlebar position.

At the top of Rocky Butte, there is a sort of a for like structure of a park. And from there, there is a nice view of Mt. Hood in the distance.

Mt. Hood from Rocky Butte

Mt. Hood

It's a nice place to sit and rest after the climb although I hardly ever see fellow cyclists resting there. I guess most people riding there don't carry U-locks like I do to park their bikes. Most people there are families that drive up with cars with big cups of soft drinks in their hands. The ride back was so much easier with the tail wind.

The next day on Sunday, I rode past downtown and climbed a bit of Burnside. I wanted to climb a bit to see how I should adjust my position, but I didn't want to ride too far. The grade of Burnside is pretty steep and my muscles were hurting after the effort of the day before, so I turned back quickly, but I felt my body was already starting to adjust to climbing in the position. So, I think if I just keep riding I will just get used to it, but I think maybe it's a good time to adjust things before the body builds up to fit the position.

I might be sounding like I'm seriously thinking about training, but not really. I don't plan on doing any competitions or even century rides. I just like to ride and enjoy the experience. I think it's all relative anyway. Whether you are racing in the Alps in the Tour de France or just riding by yourself up a local hill, there is a will to pedal and the experience of your effort is all yours.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

May your wheels be true

(Duchamp's "Wheel")

The weather has been much better this week and I have been riding my bike further and more often. The other day, I was riding around North Portland on some bumpy roads and I heard the Special K (my bike) make some noise. The bike had been making mysterious noises ever since I'd gotten it, but now there was some new noises as well. I wasn't sure what it was at first, but it turned out to be the saddle. You may recall that I had gotten the Selle Anatomica saddle last year. It's the first leather saddle I've had and I'd never had saddles that made noise before so this was a bit of a surprise. Afterwards, I tightened the bolt on the saddle and then the noise was no more. While I was at it, I decided to give the bike a check up. I'm not really an expert mechanic or anything, but I find that giving your bike some TLC once in a while does seem to make it ride smoother.

What I usually do is, I take a damp cloth and wipe all the surface area of the bike other than the chain. Then I flip the bike over and take the wheels off (which may be harder to do with heavy city bikes) and wipe the parts that were hard to reach with the wheels in place. I also wipe the wheels as well. You can wipe the tires too and check the wear of the tread too. Then I put the wheels back on, wipe the chain with a dry rag and apply clean lube. Then I take an allen wrench and check all the allen bolts to make sure nothing is loose. All of that is pretty easy and does not require any expert knowledge, but the last thing I usually do which is truing the wheels does take a bit of know-how, so I thought I'd write about that. Again, I'm no expert, so some of you may know much more about this than me, but I thought maybe this could be helpful for those who's never done it.

Just in case you don't know, truing a wheel is what you do when a wheel gets out of alignment. Wheels do sometimes can get out of alignment and become untrue after hitting a pothole or if you crash your bike. Major damage may need expert help or replacement, but for minor misalignment, you can fix it fairly easily.

The proper way to true wheels is to use a truing stand and a spoke wrench. I used to own a truing stand and with it you can definitely true wheels better, but even without it, you can do it with just a spoke wrench using the same method.

a spoke wrench looks like this:
for blog use

or this:
for blog use

A spoke wrench is a wrench for the nipple (yes, that's what it's called) that connects the spoke to the rim.

With a truing stand (like one below), you have the two metal pieces (calipers) which look like they are pinching the rim. You can control their distance to the rim by turning the knob. With a true wheel, you can bring them very close without touching the rim, however if it's untrue, the wheel will touch as you turn the wheel. What you want to do then is pinpoint where the wheel is touching. If it's touching on the left side at one point, then you take the spoke wrench to a nipple for the spoke going to the other side (to the right) on the hub and turn it counter clockwise. What that will do is tighten the nipple and pull the rim to the right and thus making it straighter. You can also tighten the nipples on the other spokes around the area. Unless the nipple was really loose, it's best not to over tighten them. Maybe give them a quarter turn at a time. As you tighten one part of the wheel, it may affect the tension of other parts of the wheel, so you can turn it and see if you notice other areas of misalignment. Also, after you think you've got it perfectly true and put them back on and ride, your weight might affect the tension, so it's a good idea to check it again.

for blog use

Since I don't have a truing stand on hand, I make due without one.
What I do is I flip the bike over and use the brakes instead of the calipers. You can't really move the brake shoes like you can with the truing stand calipers, so you just have to kind of eye it to see if a part of a wheel is coming closer to the shoes as you turn them. If you notice a misalignment, then you just tighten the nipples as you would on the truing stand.

for blog use

You can't really get it perfectly true this way, but I think it's better than nothing as I tend to find loose spokes while doing this. If you don't do it, chances are the wheel will go out of alignment to the point of no return much sooner than if you regularly checked them. Also, even with damaged wheels, you may not be able to make them perfectly true, but you can get them true enough that they are usable, so you will prolong their usefulness.

Some bike shops also have truing stands that you can use. I think it's a good skill to learn and I kind of like doing it. It's kind of similar to oiling my work boots in a way. With proper care, wheels will keep turning and taking you places for a long time.

p.s. I found some how to videos on the YouTube. I won't link them here, but you can find them quickly by searching with keywords "truing bicycle wheel". Maybe more helpful than what I wrote here.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sun bathing by bike

Fernhill Park

I'm not a fan of sun bathing really. In the Summer, I don't like to be in direct sunlight too much and when I go on bike rides, I prefer roads with tree shades. However, direct sunlight during Winter in Portland can be a rarity at times and I am missing it much more. This week had been particularly dreary with gray skies and raining almost everyday. So, when I noticed sun beams shining through the window yesterday, I dropped everything and went out for a ride.

I'm fortunate that I work at home and I can just go for a ride on weekday afternoon if I wanted. I was in middle of work, but I thought if I waited too long the Sun might go away. So, out I went and just being out and basking in the sun really "brightened" my day. There were some errands I could run, but it wasn't pressing, it was enough just to be out and feel the sunshine. I'm not one to sit or lay out somewhere to sun bath, but riding my bike really slowly and just absorbing the sun rays was enough for me. There were some people running and biking at a fast pace, but for me I'd rather ride slow and enjoy the rare sunshine. As I had predicted, by the time I was on my way home, it was cloudy again and starting to sprinkle. I'm glad that I didn't hesitate to go out or I would have missed the sunshine as the window of opportunity was rather slim.

I forgot to bring my camera though. Otherwise, I would have taken a picture of the shining river which looked particularly beautiful. Instead, the picture above is one I took last Spring at one of many Portland public parks. It's a different setting, but I think it conveys a similar feeling of the warmth of the sun.

It looks like we have a few more cloudy and rainy days before finally having some consecutive sunny days. I've been noticing some new plants and leaves are stating to sprout here and there, so the coming sunny days might really be the beginning of Spring here.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Big plan, little plans

It seems to be getting warmer bit by bit around here. I have started doing rides that are slightly longer than just riding around town. Nothing heavy duty, but still I can feel my body is quite out of shape. I don't have any pictures though as these rides have been around already familiar places. I think weather permitting, I will start doing more substantial rides within a week or two.

Normally on this blog, we usually write about things we experience first hand, but today I thought I'd write about couple of things I noticed online.

riding ze bike

The first is the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030. I think that's the official name. I don't know how much coverage this has been getting outside of Portland, but for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, it's a plan for the city of Portland to build some 680 miles of bikeways in the next 20 years that they are trying to pass. It was initially to be voted on this past week, but the vote has been postponed until next week. Mayor Adams who is supportive of the plan is confident that it will pass. I haven't followed it that closely myself other than reading articles over at Bike Portland, but while it seems a lot of people who are supportive of the plan, there's also people who are against it. To me, it's a no brainer. I have no problems with a plan that calls for building more and better infrastructure for bikes in Portland. I can only think of good things that could result from this. I think the issue for people who are against it is mainly the cost which will be some $613 million over the 20 years. That is a lot of money, but I think it's very low sum when you compare it with budgets for other modes of transportation. Anyway, I think while Portland may seem like a bicycle haven from the outside, the reality is that people who ride bikes are still a minority. One thing though that I don't quite understand is the scope of the plan. Why 20 years? Why not 10 or 5? 20 years seems like an awfully long time. I think they must have a good reason, but I don't get it. Anyway, I hope that it will pass next week. I think other Portlanders might have been more actively involved with this like going to a rally at the city hall, but my time here in Portland is limited and I will probably not be here to see the plan actually taking effect. My interest in the plan is more that it will set a precedence and maybe start a new trend for other cities to follow. Cities all over US desperately need a plan like this.

The other thing that sparked my interest this past week was this nice post over at Lovely Bicycle. It's about being able to afford things you love (bicycles!) by prioritizing what you really need in life. I'm quite similar in a way that I don't own a TV or a car and I rarely go out to eat at restaurants, etc. I spent years from when I was in high school to college being quite obsessed with sport cycling, but when I got into art school and moved to the other side of the country, I decided to give it up and concentrate on my studies. It wasn't long before I started missing the road bike I sold, but it wasn't until last year that I finally decided to get myself a road bike again. It was really the theft of my mountain bike that prompted me to buy the road bike, but until then I couldn't seem to justify the spending. I got a used bike and not a new bike. It's not my ultimate dream bike, but I'm glad to have it and glad that I didn't go all out on a dream bike then. After having had this bike, I think I know better what my dream bike would be. I had been thinking of having a road bike for so many years while living in NYC where I had my mountain bike and I often went for a ride in the city (riding around Central Park and stuff) and it took a move to Portland and losing the mountain bike to get it, but I think it would've happened sooner or later. I think what I'm getting at is that you can have what you want. Sometimes it takes circumstances for it to happen or you can manage your life and make it happen. I think people who say that they wish they could afford a nice bike in casual conversation probably don't really want one badly enough.

I was thinking before I started writing that these 2 things: the Portland bike plan and planning life to get what you want, sort of related to each other. Maybe they do, maybe not so much. Well, I think in both cases, careful thinking and planning can lead to good things whether it's a more healthy & pleasant environment or having something you truly wanted.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Pictures by Kao

Me and Kao both have accounts at flickr. Mine is quite a mess with everything from daily snaps to artworks. Though I have taken classes in photography, I must admit that I am a poor photographer. Kao on the other hand is a much better photographer and so, I have often thought this blog can benefit more with her photography than mine. I've used her pictures in the past in my posts, but it was a bit of a hassle as I had to ask her to give me the html code each time. We noticed recently that now flickr has a "share this" feature for each picture, and with that I can grab the code myself without having to bother Kao about it.

Anyway, I thought I'd do a post with some of her recent pictures.

This is me on my Dahon riding along Tsurumi river.

Me again riding a mamachari on the path around Kitaura lake near Kao's parents house in Ibaraki prefecture.

A tin bike toy Kao found in a window in Nezu (old Tokyo neighborhood).

Me sitting and flipping through a bike magazine at the old Cycle Square Kitasando.

We stopped by F.I.G Bike after our visit to the Cycle Square. It not only has road bikes and fixies like so many other biks shops, but more utilitarian bikes and a whole section of causal bike clothing by brands like the Rin Project. The staff was very vocal about the merits of regular looking clothing that you can bike in.

Nice card on the wall!

Close-up of the entrance. The two bikes on the right, I think are a Globe and maybe a Velorbis. Not sure.

Also some of you readers who are fellow bloggers are also welcome to use our photos from our flickr pages; Mine and Kao's. You don't need to tell us beforehand, but drop us a line afterward if you can. I doubt that any of you will do so, but please don't use it in a negative way like being negative about bikes.

We may not have a lot of exciting things to write about in the near future as we have to deal with real life things and also it's not warm enough yet to really ride a lot, but we'll try and update regularly anyway.