How to Turn Your Carbon Road Bike Into A Touring Bike (Or Why I Am Not Cool: Part 7 In A Continuing Series)

Carriage ford rd

Global warming continues to disappoint.  With one week remaining before my 200k ride, I threw on my cold weather gear and shoved off into the teeth of a brisk northwest wind, making the 37 degree temperature feel decidedly colder.  In addition to cold and wind, I was treated to some light snow flurries along the way.  What joy.  After 36.5 miles, I was happy to be done.  This was my longest ride of the year, which leaves me slightly concerned about the 126 miles I’ll be riding next Saturday.

A home from a bygone era, near Nokesville.

A home from a bygone era, near Nokesville.

I’m sure everything will be fine.

In related news, I wanted to share with you my exciting attempts to rig the Trek Madone for long-distance randonneuring rides.  The problem with self-supported rides of 200k or longer is you kinda need to bring a few things with you – things that won’t fit into the fist-sized saddle bag I normally use to hold a spare tube, CO2 cartridge, tire tools, and a $5 bill.  I’ve used a cheap handlebar bag in the past with good success, but I wanted something more substantial to hold a rain jacket, spare gloves, or other items which can come into (or out of) use over a 15 hour event.  The result is this handsome seat bag.

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As you can see, it is quite a bit bigger than a typical roadie saddle bag (and it should be noted that using seat bags AT ALL is looked at with some disappointment by hardcore roadies).  I like its traditional look and it will hold the stuff I want it to hold.  Its biggest feature is that it is held to the bike by a leather strap through the rails underneath the seat.  This is important as many seat bags rely on a clamp around the seat post to bear most of the weight.  The Madone’s seat post is carbon and wouldn’t hold up well with that arrangement.  It would be very unfortunate to have my seat post break 80 miles into a ride and this bag will make that event very unlikely.

Loyal readers will immediately recognize the afore-mentioned handlebar bag as well as my night light.  The light is a requirement for most randonneuring events, as are reflective vests and ankle bracelets.  I can now store these items in my seat bag during daylight hours.  Another small item to point out is that my reflectors remain stubbornly affixed to my wheels and rear seat post.  No reasonable roadie would be caught in public with these, but because I have a very strong urge to let passing motorists know I am present, I leave mine on.  The sum total of seat bag, handle bar bag, light, and reflectors is the cycling equivalent of using your corvette to tow a camper.  Until I break down and buy a proper touring bike, I’m afraid this is the best I can do.

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All the gear tested out well.  I may not be ready for the ride, but I believe my bike is!

“The Rules” (Or Why I Am Not Cool: Part 6 In A Continuing Series)

If you haven’t already done so, swing by The Velominati’s website.  It’s a great reference for uber-cyclists and those aspiring to be one.   There is also handy information for the not-so-serious cyclist and some entertaining reads on cycling news/culture.

The Velominati fashion themselves as keepers of cycling’s numerous traditions and etiquette.  In their own words,

“A Velominatus is a disciple of the highest order.  We spend our days poring over the very essence of what makes ours such a special sport and how that essence  fits into cycling’s colorful fabric.  This is the Velominati’s raison d’être.  This is where the Velominati can be ourselves.  This is our agony – our badge of honor – our sin.”

Heavy stuff.  While I do not have aspirations to cycling perfection such as the Velominati, there is still much to learn from themProbably the greatest contribution the Velominati have made to cycling culture is “The Rules,” 88 iron-clad dictums which can never be violated by anyone claiming to be a serious cyclist.  These are very helpful to me as they quickly point out the ways in which I am not cool.

At this moment, I am currently in violation of 15 of The Rules.  The number could be higher, except I am compliant in several rules (such as the proper way to display the number 13) simply because I haven’t had cause to violate them.  I have various reasons for failing to fall into line with The Rules, and I have conveniently grouped my violations into categories for your review and consideration.  Contemplation of The Rules helps me to figure out how and why I cycle.  Even though I don’t agree with them all, they remain a standard from which we can discuss our personal cycling preferences.  Enjoy.

Now That’s Just Silly

8.  Saddles, bars, and tires shall be carefully matched.  Why?  This isn’t a fashion show were running here (at least it shouldn’t be).  Do what you like and start pedaling!  I was only briefly in violation of this rule, when I put white tape on my Trek 2.1.  With the purchase of the Madone 3.1 and it’s stock black tape, I am once again in compliance.

24.  Speeds and distances shall be referred to and measured in kilometers.  I am an American.  This means many things, not the least of which is the fact that I measure distances in miles.  Sorry for that.  This rule is clearly an attempt to be more “French-like,” which is very important in cycling circles.  I would respect the Velominati more if they simply commanded everyone to speak French.  THAT’s  how you show you’re serious about copying the French!

30.  No frame-mounted pumps.  Sorry, but the hybrid gets one.

31.  Spare tubes, multi-tools and repair kits should be stored in jersey pockets.  These go quite nicely in the saddle bag under my seat, which is where they will stay, thank you.

33.  Shave your guns.  “Guns” is a euphemism for legs.  Violation of this rule apparently makes me susceptible to being called a “hippy douche on his way to Critical Mass.”  So be it.

47.  Drink Tripels, don’t ride triples.  I am not that big a beer connoisseur and I happen to believe there is room in our society for triple cranks.  Use of one should not be grounds for ostracism.

57.  No stickers.  I like stickers.  I have one on my hybrid, tastefully placed on the seat post.  I like it.

74.  V Meters or small computers only.  You will need to pry my Garmin from my cold, dead hand.

I Simply Am Not That Dedicated

4.  It’s All About The Bike.  Sometimes it is about my family.  Other times it is about my job.  Still other times it is about watching sitcoms.  There’s a lot going on besides my bike, is what I’m trying to say.

7.  Tan lines are to be cultivated and kept razor sharp.  While I do not go out of my way to smooth my tan lines and they are a source of amusement to my wife as the summer goes on, I must confess and report I do not “cultivate” them.  I have even been known to remove my shirt for a dip in a pool or the occasional day at the beach.  My apologies.

26.  Make your bike photogenic.  Valve stems at six o’clock and cranks at 30 degrees.  Yikes.  I’ll keep the bike clean and try to pose it nicely.  That’s as dedicated as I can get on this point despite the fact I like to take pictures.

You Are Wrong.  Period. 

1. Obey The Rules.  Some of these rules are silly.  Others are wrong.  Thus, this rule is wrong.

11.  Family Doesn’t Come First.  The Bike Does.  Of all the stupid statements about cycling ever uttered by one human being to another, this is the most stupid.

25.  The bike on top of your car should be worth more than the car.  Talk about a recipe for disaster!  Even if you’re riding a top-end carbon frame machine, I would hope your automobile was worth more.  Otherwise you probably won’t be getting to where you hope to ride very often.

32.  Humps are for camels: no hydration packs.  This one could cost someone their life one day.  When I head out into 110 degree temperatures on an unfamiliar route, I don’t want to count on being lucky enough to find a store to buy more liquids.  I bring mine with me – the liquids that is; I couldn’t carry a store on my bike.

Fall Fashions

Another nice fall day greeted me today and I enjoyed it while zipping along a 33 mile route through the countryside near Brentsville.  I got a late start and it was necessary to turn my lights on during the last ten miles as the sun began to set.

The only item of interest occurred early on as I passed a lady and her son, who were enjoying an afternoon pedal.  They were both casual cyclists, puttering along on department store bicycles and street clothes.  I slowed to pass and (as is my custom when passing any kid on a bike) said to the boy, “That’s a great bike!”

The boy – who was about ten years old – looked at me and his eyes grew wide.  He briefly tried to keep up with me on his small mountain bike and I slowed down to make it a bit of a contest.  After a few yards, he said with great admiration, “Your clothes are cool!

So there you have it – I am now officially part of the cool cycling community.  As a person who has catalogued the numerous ways in which he is not cool (please see the category section on the right of this blog), this was quite a occassion.  I may only impress the younger cyclists, but it is a start.  One can only imagine where this sort of momentum might take me.

And no, I won’t be shaving my legs anytime soon.

How to dress impressively to the younger set

Why I Am Not Cool: Part 5 In A Continuing Series

It has been some time since I discussed my lack of coolness in the cycling community.  I have chronicled my chronic use of kickstands, my refusal to shave my legs, and my insistence on the use of reflectors and saddle bags. I try not to dwell on my idiosynchracies, but I am occasionally forced to confront them.   My recent pedal in Tampa - as evidenced by the above photo – requires an explanation.  As you can see,  I was wearing a Camelbak.

And the horrible truth is that I often do.

That Camelbaks are absolutely unacceptable to serious cyclists, there can be no doubt.  Even the Velominati has taken the trouble to codify this as one of the 82 immutable rules of cycling:

“32.  Hydration packs are never to be seen on a road rider’s body.  No argument will be entered into on this.”

The type of Camelbak I use

While the rule is ironclad, the rationale for it is less so.  After all, what is the harm in carrying fluids?  Especially when the fluids are contained in a nifty pack that provides a helpful drinking tube and copious amounts of storage space for all manner of odds and ends?  I’ve been known to store cue cards, ID, money, keys, food, my GPS, and many other items in my Camelbak.  What is the harm in that?

Plenty.  There appears to be at least two main reasons why this rule is in effect for road cyclists:

1.  Mountain Bikers love hydration packs and whatever a Mountain Biker loves a Roadie must detest.  How else to maintain the ancient rivalry?  Mountain Bikers need the packs as they routinely find themselves far from civilization, whereas a proper road cyclist is supposed to nip into the local coffee shop or bistro and refill his water bottles after ordering an espresso.

2.  Road Cyclists are supposed to carry absolutely everything they need in the three pockets on the back of their jersey.  This shows how tough they are and how cycling is completely and totally about only themselves and their bikes.  If you can’t have a saddle bag that is slightly larger than a coin purse, then you certainly can’t have a monstrosity like a Camelbak slung over your shoulders.

Truth be told, I brought little shame upon myself during my ride in Tampa.  I saw no Roadies during my entire trip, therefore there was no derision or unpleasant looks sent in my direction.  Had a Roadie pedaled past me, he still would probably have cared little about this violation.  I was riding a cruiser bike and would therefore be immediately relegated to subhuman status, not worthy of even being critiqued for violating uber-cyclist etiquette.

Still, Loyal Reader, I feel compelled to inform you of whom you are dealing with in this blog space.  Your author’s violations of cycling dogma are significant and pervasive.  I encourage you to read on, but do so knowing that you are keeping company with an unsavory character and risk damage to your own reputation through association with the likes of me!

Why I Am Not Cool (Part 4 in a continuing series)

As I type these words, I am sitting on my front porch waiting to distribute Halloween candy to the trick-0r-treaters of the neighborhood.  This alone makes me uncool in some cycling circles.  Apparently, many cool riders participate in a Halloween evening ride which removes them from the “bothersome” kids .  Once again, I gladly find myself on the wrong side of a cycling tradition.

But that’s not the subject of this post.  Today’s post concerns my new road bike, the 2011 Trek 2.1, and how it makes me uncool.  One might think that a new road bike would give me many cool points amongst the uber-cyclists, especially when one considers that my previous bike was a Specialized (gasp!) hybrid.  On the whole, this is very true, but it is important to understand that cyclists have an increasingly specific set of discriminators which help them to categorize fellow cyclists.  Cycling has a long history and is full of tradition.  This tradition creates a series of rules and expected behaviors, many of which are perfectly reasonable and many others less so.  An organization called The Velominati has helpfully compiled many of these rules into a simple 82-point reference which can be found here.  Enjoy.

With my Trek, I have committed at least three faux pas which deducts cool points amongst discriminating cyclists:

Saddle Bag.  What’s wrong with a bag to carry your stuff?  Everything, if you are a fanatical cycling aficionado.  The pure cyclist has absolutely nothing on his bike with the possible exception of a cycling computer.  Everything else – pump, spare tubes, car keys, cell phone, energy bars, cue sheets, and anything else a cyclist may wish to carry is to be stowed in one of the three pockets on the back of the cycling jersey.  No exceptions.  Ever.  Sadly, I am not quite willing to part ways with my saddle bag although I will point out that my bag is a rather small one and this helps (to a degree) mitigate against the reprobation which is my due for this violation.

Reflectors.  Notice the reflectors on my bike’s wheels?  They’re shameful.  Likewise, there are reflectors on the front handlebar and the seat post.  You don’t need reflectors on the Tour de France so you certainly don’t need them on your road bike.  Additionally, each reflector weighs several grams and cyclists spend hundreds of dollars removing each and every non-necessary gram from their bike.  It’s a slap in the face to those riders to leave your reflectors on your bike.  Despite this, I find it difficult to part with them.  They hurt absolutely no one and might one day actually reflect light in the direction of a motorist/cyclist who would otherwise collide with me at an unacceptably fast speed.  I think I’ll keep them.

Valve Stem Covers.  My bike has very cool Presta inner tubes.  I’m not sure why these are cool other than the bikes you get at Wal-Mart never have them and therefore this helps set your bike apart from those bikes.  Presta valves are featured on tubes which can hold large amounts of pressure (at and above 120 PSI).  Road bikes typically require this kind of tire and therefore Presta valves are a sign of coolness.  Anyway, the valve stems on these tubes have screw-on covers.  On my bike they’re red.   I’ve read that these covers are required to meet with U.S. shipping regulations and serve no other purpose.  At least that’s what I read on the Internet so it must be true.  Still, I cannot bring myself to discard the things,  so I keep them on and somehow bear the burden of the shame they bring upon me.

I’m really enjoying the Trek 2.1.  It’s a great bike and it’s held up quite nicely over the first 500 miles.  Although there are tell-tale signs of uncoolness on this bike, it could have been MUCH worse: when I bought it I briefly considered having a kickstand installed.  Oh, the horror!!!

Why I Am Not Cool (Part 3 in a Continuing Series)

Very cool cyclists

I’ve told you about my dork disk and I’ve confessed to my irrational insistence on using a kick stand.  I believe the time is right for me to share yet another aspect of my cycling nerdiness which immediately points me out to serious cyclists as not being one of them.

I don’t shave my legs.

There, I said it.  Actually I wrote it, but you get my drift.  Although I aspire to become as good a cyclist as I possibly can be, I doggedly refuse to remove the hair from my legs.  This only adds to the list of reasons why I will not be invited to the coolest cycling parties or elected president of the local cycling club.  Serious riders will shun me in group rides due to the obvious telegraph of my inexperience.  Knowing looks are exchanged amongst others as a way of warning.  Conversations are cut short and social distancing increases.  Such is my existence.

Anyone who is not seriously into cycling must be wondering what I am going on about.  It may surprise you to learn that even though only 0.0008% of the male population of North America shaves their legs (a scientific fact which I choose not to source), the vast majority of cool male cyclists are sporting the look.

And they have their reasons.

The most common given rationale is the supposedly nasty problem of cleaning out dirt, stones, and other road debris from the “road rashes” caused in falls.  That seems like a rather specious reason, if you ask me (and I realize that none of you have).  There are any number of professions and hobbies where nasty injuries occur to lower extremities (firemen, soldiers, and porta-potty repairmen come to mind) but leg-shaving isn’t part of the culture in any of them.  Further, the cyclists who are mortified at the prospect of leg hair getting into injuries seem ambivalent about the issue of arm hair.  Cool cyclists do not shave their arms and thus expose the silliness of this reason.  Check and mate.

Another reason for leg hairlessness is that it supposedly makes you faster.  If true, it must be only by milliseconds.  If you find yourself on an oval track wearing a skin-tight suit with a futuristic helmet, I just might agree with this logic.  Otherwise, I will simply forfeit the .01 seconds/mile and move on with my life.

Massages are supposed to feel better without hair.  Cyclists often get massages, I am told.  They are reportedly helpful.  I wouldn’t know because I have managed to pass 46 years on this Earth without getting one or seeing one.  I will stipulate that massages are therapeutic and aid in recovery after a long ride.  Maybe, just maybe, the absence of hair makes the massage feel even better.  It is difficult for me to imagine a day when massages will be central to my biking existence.  Perhaps one day they will be and perhaps then I will consider the joyous effect of getting one without hair on my legs.  And perhaps I’ll win the lottery and buy a cottage on the moon.  It could happen is all I’m saying, but until then I remain unimpressed with this rationale.

Having explored these reasons, I am left with only one remaining purpose for shaving legs.  It is whispered in cycling forums and the more courageous people openly state what is surely the most significant reason for this tradition:  vanity.  Cyclists work very hard on their conditioning and they want to show off the results of their hard work.  This is difficult to do with copious amounts of leg hair obstructing their gorgeous and shapely leg curves.  Thus they shave their legs to show themselves off to fellow cyclists.  By brazenly breaking a cultural taboo, a male cyclist identifies himself to others as a serious practitioner of the hobby.   Other cyclists can then begin to judge for themselves JUST how serious he is through the studious observation of his muscle tone.

As for me, I choose to remain hairy.  I willingly flaunt cycling cultural norms and thereby routinely risk the daunting prospect of having hair in my scabs (should I ever actually get a scab from cycling – still waiting for that one after 1,200 miles) and all the while traveling microseconds slower than I might otherwise.  Should I suddenly have the opportunity and the urge to partake in a massage, I willingly accept the fact that said massage may be less fulfilling that it might otherwise have been on bald legs. 

And if you’re checking out the muscles on my legs, I can only hope the presence of hair encourages you to cease and desist in this activity immediately!

Why I Am Not Cool (Part 2 in a Continuing Series…)

 

Long ago, I learned my approach to cycling is extremely uncool.  There are many aspects of my bike, fashion, etc… that immediately point me out to serious cyclists as someone who does not belong in their inner circles.  I have already shared one such sign with you.  It is because of these clear signs that I will never be invited to the coolest cycling parties or enjoy the unabashed admiration of other cool cyclists.

Somehow I am still able to sleep at night.

I would like to share another aspect of my cycling nerdiness.  It is silver, weighs approximately 2/3 of a pound and keeps my bike out of the dirt.  I am speaking, of course, of my kickstand. 

Of all the things one might do to signal his unwillingness to conform to cycling cultural norms, installing a kickstand has to rank at or near the top of the list.  This is akin to wearing pocket protectors in the office or black socks with your flip-flops at the beach.  You might as well have a flashing red light over a sign stating, “Behold the Loser Cyclist!” dangling from your handlebars.  Much like orange safety flags, kickstands are the preserve of young children.  They identify you as someone who hasn’t a clue as to how to properly rig your bike.

“But Steve,” you point out, “the uber-cyclists have state-of-the-art bikes that cost thousands of dollars.  How do they properly take care of them?” 

Glad you asked.  There are only two acceptable ways to store a bike worth more than many peoples’ mortgage payment.  Option 1 is the “Throw It On The Ground Method,” demonstrated by this lovely couple:

You might think this is the exception, or even a rule that only applies to mountain biking.  I assure you this is perfectly normal, nay expected behavior.  Any damage to the bike is far less significant than the damage to the cyclists’ egos which would certainly result from employment of a kickstand.

Option 2 is the “Lean It On Something” method, demonstrated by this gentleman:

While still quite cool, this method is less desirable than Option 1 because it exhibits some level of regard for the bicycle.  Certainly the paint and handlebar tape will be destroyed over time, which is nice, but the main point is THERE IS NO KICKSTAND.  This is what is paramount and I cannot stress this enough.

Why the strong aversion to a device which serves a worthwhile purpose?  As is the case with dork disks and other taboo items of the cycling culture, reasons are often listed.  All of them are flimsy.  The most common rationale given for this rule is the weight of the kickstand – which weighs about the same as a pair of pedals or a tool kit.  If you’re competing in a time trial, I can see your point.  That accounts for a fraction of the folks who follow this practice.  Some cyclists will actually carry a portable stand in their jerseys, thus bringing the very weight they hoped to rid themselves of, while making their jersey less comfortable and forcing them to remember one more thing when they prepare to ride.

The reasons for this and other cycling taboos are often silly, but that is precisely the point – in order to be considered a seriously cool cyclist, you must ascribe to a series of arcane behaviors which help set you apart from the normal world.  The fact that these behaviors are counterintuitive only reinforces their importance.  It’s kind of like pledging a fraternity – by agreeing to the somewhat silly and arbitrary rules, you gain entrance to a subculture and are thus considered to be part of the group, ie., cool.

Cycling is awesome and I’m thoroughly enjoying my rides.  Sadly, I also enjoy my kickstand which – even as I type these words - is keeping my bike off my garage floor.  There’s a lot to be said for a piece of gear which can help keep your paint and tape intact and your chain out of the dirt.  If it causes some to turn up their nose, that’s ok – I still appreciate my stand.

And I’ll have to look into getting one of those orange safety flags.  They look pretty sharp!

My Dork Disk

 

See the clear disk on my rear axle?  Bet you didn’t know this particular piece of gear has a nickname.  It’s called a “dork disk.”

Bet you don’t know why.

Well, if you are a serious cyclist you probably do know why and if you’re not one, you probably don’t care.  But I’m going to tell you anyway.

The purpose of the dork disk is to prevent the chain from flying off your inside gear sprocket and slamming in between the spokes of your rear wheel.  Should this happen, several unfortunate events would occur including (but not limited to) the destruction of many of the wheel’s spokes and probably the wheel itself, and a sudden complete stoppage of forward momentum – except of course for the rider who will continue to experience whatever forward momentum he/she enjoyed prior to the destruction of the rear wheel, meaning the rider will be catapulted forward to an uncertain (but probably unpleasant) future.

This seems like a good reason to have this gear on your wheel axle, but the cycling elite will quickly point out that the only way for a chain to jump the inner sprocket as described above is for the bike’s rear derailer to be improperly adjusted.  And only a dork would allow that to happen.  Thus the name.

That all seems perfectly rational, but I’d rather keep the disk on my wheel to prevent that sort of occurance. If this means the occasional super-cyclist who flies by me at mach speed considers me to be a dork, I believe my ego can take the punishment.