Today was the first day I’ve bailed on a ride after starting. It wasn’t an easy decision as I love my really long rides in morning. Watch the video to see why.
I’ve had my current bike for about 6 years so far. It was a replacement for a Giant ATX1 that was stolen after less than two years of use, sniff.
My current Giant ATX3 carries a few components that I’ve had for almost a decade, that have moved from bike to bike over time. The bike computer being the most notable. Much of the rest is a makedo kinda effort for the meantime.
There’s something wonderfully refreshing about the dark.
I’m not talking that semi-dark in the city, where the distant glow of street lights are always visible, and the glaring stare of an LED is always close at hand.
Pitch black. Just you and the glow of the moon.
That’s how my ride on Tuesday morning was. It was dark, cold, wet, and fantastic.
Headed out just before midnight in a soft drizzle that would later turn into fully-fledged, taking a shower sized rain. I half-expected the rain to go away, that stupid hope that makes no sense and is simply used as a way of lying to myself when I don’t want to face facts. Surprise, surprise when it came pelting down and soaked through all my clothing. The only difference between the ride and going swimming being that faint warmth of stored up sweat soaking into my clothing, feebly trying to ward off the cold as the rain continually tried to push in the cold from the outside.
After an hour and a half of riding the remnants of the city started to fade away. Cars became fewer and those still on the road were clearly out with a purpose, because what other reason would there be for being out there. Street lights were spread further and further apart, their faint glow providing the guiding light to the next faint glow until, finally, the light from one was not even enough to light my way until the next.
And finally, no more.
Just me and the faint glow of my bike light. The bike light that is intended to alert other drivers to my presence, but not to cast a significant beam onto the road. In this case it was just enough to light up cateyes in the middle of the road and the warning beacons at the side for up to five meters ahead.
At first I was nervous and a little scared not having the usual lights to govern my way and warn me of anything coming up. It was like riding by touch, and although I didn’t want to touch anything my movements were governed by the proximity of those few indicators of going completely off track. Half the time was spent almost in the middle of the road, where the threat of running into a cateye beat the threat of running off the road.
The small beam of light was a tunnel trying weakly to break through the darkness ahead. And failing miserably. But it was enough and I adapted. Keeping straight with precious few visual queues, and using the little light available managed to guide myself and my bike along windy roads, long straights and finally over to the top of the mountain where the glow of the lights below were there to provide that sense of safety I’m so accustomed to.
The rain is starting to pick up and mercury is falling. Often the signal for the end of the riding season.
There is often to reason to stop riding, even when the weather gets very miserable.
Just as prevention is better than cure works for colds, so good preparation can make riding through the worst of weather pleasant or at least better.
I have to deal with the cold, with fluctuations in temperature during a ride, and rain. All suggestions revolve around these. I’ve never ridden in snow (well once and that was not heavy snow) but that is a whole other ballgame.
Bike parts for the rain
So what can you do to your bike to make it better at handling adverse conditions?
Waterproof and water-resistant parts. Sealed headsets, sealed hubs, sealed bottom bracket, sealed pedal bearing and basically all sealed bearings, which is the standard on most bikes, are good for consistent bike operation when the torrent comes.
Cables should be lubricated well, or be of the Teflon variety so the extra inner coating will keep things moving smoothly. Same applies to brakes, unless you have hydraulics.
Tires should match conditions. More tread will give more grip, if you are on full-slicks avoid riding on the white lines when turning corners. Avoid grates, manhole covers and other metal things on the road surface that are super-slippery when wet. Use a bit more caution around corners and remember you braking distance is increased, so keep your eye ahead and widen the following distance.
I wouldn’t have been caught dead with fenders a while back, but are making more and more sense. Spray from the back wheel will cover your back or whatever you’re carrying on your back with water and mud. The best are the full cover style, which stretch as far down as the bottom bracket on the one end and to almost the same level down on the other side. On the front end, the spray from the front wheel will get in your eyes, cover your front with water and mud, and aid in wetting your shoes.
I have neither of these yet. But I have ridden a bike with them and immediately noticed the difference. I’ll report back on how those go when I get a chance. Might just rip the crummy ones off my other bike and see how that goes.
Clothing for the cold and rain
No wooly sweaters needed for rides anymore, or animal skins for that matter. There is a huge range of choices for good clothing, keeping heat in, keeping cold and rain out.
- Booties: keep the rain and cold off your shoes, and if happy feet = happy rider, then cold, wet feet = ??? (well, you get the idea)
- Waterproof pants: keep the rain out. For shorter rides they’re probably unnecessary, unless commuting, on longer rides the comfort really helps. Downside is that they retain a lot of heat.
- Waterproof shell: just a jacket to keep the rain out, same applies to these in that the heat that is retained can make the inside just as wet as without it
There is a host of stuff available, but these should do for just handling a bit of cold and rainy weather. Taiwan weather is typically humid, so wearing anything creates your own personal sauna pretty quickly. For now I just use arm extensions and a T-shirt under my cycling top and that has been fine so far.
How do you prepare for what mother nature has to throw at you?
So you like riding children’s bikes?
That’s the feeling I get whenever I see these diminutive creations of the hardcore commuting crowd.
I had a foldable bike once, it was really cheap and was a prize at the company annual dinner.
It did not leave a good impression with me. The steering was twitchy, I felt like I’d pull a wheely with the slightest touch and it was just too damn small.
I don’t understand the trend here in Taiwan for people to buy these teeny tiny bikes over normal bikes. My local bike shop told me that sales of the Giant Halfway (locally produced, so cheap) are great and many people want to get them. I wouldn’t ride one for more than short-distance transport, but I have been considering one for just that purpose.
The STRIDA is my first love for foldable bikes, because it does that one thing really well. It folds bloody small.
That triangle is NOT a bike that folds, it is a folding thing made to work like a bike. They retail for around US$600 here in Taiwan for a new one. I’ve found second hand ranging from US$140 to US$300.
Quite expensive for a tiny bike, but it does include disk brakes, it only has one gear and is rated for speeds up to 20km/h according to their website.
The folded version is almost totally non-bikey and can be pushed around like a small pushcart.
Very popular but also very expensive (I think that about all these bikes).
The Dahon Vitesse D7 is pictured above and is typical of all their bikes and most other foldables. It has a few gears, 20″ wheels and folds up fairly small.
The bike still needs to be packed to be taken on trains and stuff because even when folded it is quite big, unlike the STRIDA.
Layout is more like a traditional bike, which gives it handling that is more typical and less of the penny-farthing style position of the STRIDA.
My folding bike that I had for a while (I gave it away ’cause it wasn’t too useful) was similar in layout to this. I will need to be convinced that this is a good ride if I ever get one.
Bike Friday Tikit
The Tikit is another popular, but even more expensive option. Bike Friday have a range of folding bikes going from tandems to carbon road bikes to super-folding bikes like the Tikit above.
There is a pretty strong following and community around these bikes, but at over $1000 for a tikit is it really that cool to be small?
No foldy for me
Although I had my heart set on a second hand STRIDA for around $140, I’ve actually scrapped the idea.
Because I just don’t do enough commuting to warrant it. I stay 5 minutes by bike from my office and both my office and home have somewhere I can put my bike. Any other place I’d ride to also has a place to put my bike, and if it doesn’t, I won’t ride there.
Abundance of public transport when necessary, and a scooter (motorbike kind) there is really no need.
I would definitely go for a STRIDA if I was ever to get a folder, but for now the money will go into a cool seat.
Do you have one? Would you get one?
I don’t eat during rides.
I’ve had this mental block against consuming anything but plain water for the duration of long and short rides. It’s been that way since as far back as I remember. Friends would swear by energy drinks, but not me.
Well, I’ve changed.
I’ve realized what a drastic mistake that was.
Whoow, that’s not what I think is best. But she quoted a lot of fancy numbers and names of organizations I’ve never heard of so she must be onto something.
Eating in the morning
First thing to change was my habit of not eating before morning training. I’ve always thought “no food, so I’ll use up more energy, which will burn fat.” Go figure.
So I added a sandwich, readily available at 7-11, before my morning ride. It’s about 300 calories, goes down well and doesn’t taste half bad.
I’ve pretty much stuck with this habit, which has been acceptable so far.
Occasionally I’ll have a Snickers and a sandwich, or spread the two out by half an hour or so.
During the ride
Not eating before rides was not a deal-breaker and I would eat before rides sometimes. But eating during my ride was a once in a blue moon activity.
So I started with chocolate and sandwiches.
Warning! Don’t store sandwiches in your bike bag, especially if they have egg or something else that can go bad really quick.
After a slightly upset stomach up a very long hill after 5 hours of riding I will only eat them fresh. If you love sandwiches, then get something with non-perishables, like peanut butter or jam.
Chocolate and mango
So now I’m onto chocolate and mango.
The reason for the chocolate is because it has a lot of calories. One bar has more calories than a sandwich and is not nearly as filling. But getting the energy is the main point, so that will do.
It’s also a wonderful, guilt-free way to eat chocolate without worrying about gaining weight.
I eat less mango than other stuff, but it does go down easy and have a lot of carbohydrates. However, beware of the side-effects of any dried fruit and make sure there’s a bathroom nearby if you insist on eating lots.
So that’s my current regime.
Combined with energy drinks this give me enough energy to manage 7 hours straight (maximum so far) without hitting the wall. Previously this would happen after 4 or 5 hours.
What (if anything) do you eat before/during your rides?
Happy feet equals happy rider. Through the years I’ve burned through a few pairs of decent cycling shoes. Only one pair has lasted more than two years.
Cycling shoes take quite a bit of battering, they’re exposed to the elements, they become super-filthy because of their proximity to the street, getting the biggest splashes and becoming encrusted with mud on wet offroad rides.
Wet Feet Not Good
In the South African Karkloof classic offroad ride there is a single river crossing which is about knee to waist high. The first year I was the brave man and tried to just wade through, you know the drill, I’m being tough, but the rest of the ride knocked me back down to size. The remaining 60km had my feet squishing in my shoes the whole time. The next year I had the sense to completely remove my shoes and socks and put them on after wading through the river. 5 minutes lost, but more than gained back from happy feet for the remaining 60km.
So, where am I going with this?
As much as I’d like to think that any old thing on my feet will do, snug fitting and comfortable shoes make a difference when riding. This difference becomes most apparent when riding further, and although it might not contribute huge gains in time or performance, the comfort gained during long rides is priceless.
A little shoe history
Shimano LX (can’t remember the number, circa 1995), with one strap and laces, which were comfy enough, but the sole cracked on a very tame bit of offroad. The broken sole was a major pain, but the shoes themselves were good in most other respects. They were a budget model and didn’t shine beyond that classification.
Switched brands to Gaerne. Not pleasant. The single rollerblade style clip made a single pressure point so the shoes were either too loose , with my feet swimming around, or just tight enough and cutting into my feet from the pressure on the single point.
Sidi which I got from my brother. The width of the sole was a little too narrow and I didn’t ride these for long because the size was a little too small too (not the fault of the shoes, my brothers feet were a tad smaller).
My Shimano babies
I’d heard from friends who owned Shimano shoes with 3 straps that they were comfy and reliable (no sole cracking). I decided to go one further and get the top of the range model with only 2 straps which were out of my price range a bit, but I figured to be worth it.
Best decision I ever made.
From the outset they were comfortable. The garish, bright red color did make me a bit unsure, but I’ve never had any fashion sense and favor comfort and reliability over looks any day of the week.
Initially they were paired with Shimano 747 pedals, until the bike with those was stolen, and then switched back to 525s for a while. I rode the shoes for four years in South Africa before heading off to Taiwan. After moving I bought a bike with Time A.T.A.C. pedals, and switched the cleats over. The thread was still fine after all these years. They’ve been matched with these pedals for a further 8 years now.
The two straps, despite seeming like too little, hold my feet perfectly. Laces were my favorite before, but came undone and would loosen over the course of a ride. To date, after 12 years of use, the velcro on this pair is still strong and still holds together as well as it did when I first got them.
The rubber soles of the shoes are still intact, there are signs of obvious wear and I don’t do any walking or portaging in them, but in comparison, the soles of my Gaernes starting just crumbling after a year and my older Shimanoes soles just started peeling off.
The comfort is unparalleled.
Inside the shoes my feet have everything they need. The leather is soft enough to not hurt my feet, while not being so soft that they feel like my foot is in a big inner tube. The inner sole is thin and tough, has stayed totally intact. It just feels good.
The overall construction cannot be faulted and none of the seams or gluing or any other part has been broken. The leather than is sewn onto the top of the straps has broken away quite a bit, but it appears that the leather part is only cosmetic anyway, so doesn’t affect performance.
Despite my reluctance to spend oodles of cash on the top-of-the-range products, there shoes remind me that there is huge value in just shelling out the cash for a guaranteed winner. Although costing more than double what my other shoes cost, the Shimanoes have outlasted them all by more than a decade.
Thank you Shimano. These were (and still are) real winners. And until further notice, these will remain my sole pair of riding shoes.
My butt hurts.
To put it bluntly that is the challenge I am having right now as I increase the distance of my long rides. I’ve never really had this problem before, but now it’s getting to me.
Racing vs Randonneuring
The biggest difference between these two is the speed and the time on the bike.
Racing is faster paced and only lasts, at the maximum, a few hours. Randonneuring stretches many hours or even days and is done at a much slower speed.
The pressure on the pedals and standing for speed keeps bum-to-seat time to a minimum. The downward push on the pedals also gives an upward push away from the saddle, relieving pressure on all the sensitive bits.
Randonneuring is almost all in the saddle. Hard bursts are not recommended, and neither is standing for greater speed. So the body’s full weight is planted on the seat all the time.
This creates new pressure on the sitting bones and the other bits around there.
On longer rides, in fact rides of over three hours, the greater pain for me is the pain of sitting on the seat for so long.
This is a major problem.
Going longer and harder is getting easier through changing techniques and methods, but the saddle soreness is not.
And my current seat is not going to cut it.
So I’m looking for seats.
The Brooks B17 and the Selle An-atomica both came up in this discussion on comfortable bike seats and this review of the Selle An-atomica. But this mention on the daily randonneur got me looking at the Selle An-atomica.
Selle An-atomica Titanico
The Selle An-atomica site has a long schpiel about how it has been designed for absolute comfort. And it looks quite convincing.
The seat is called the Titanico and the model designed for heavier folks (over 82kg) is the Clydesdale version. It offers extra material to cope with the extra load.
It features the Second Skin Watershed Leather which is leather that doesn’t need to be constantly treated. I’ve never owned a leather saddle, but I’m guessing they need treatment to keep the leather from going soggy in the rain.
They also have this video of it in action (not the prettiest sight, but shows a lot)
So I think I’m sold and this will quite possibly be the first thing I buy for my bike as an upgrade.
A local shop offers it for NTD5200 (US$150) which is nearly one third of the price I paid for my whole bike.
I was planning on getting a second-hand STRIDA for some commuting for a bit less than that, but I think I’ll scrap that idea as the seat should make a huge difference on my rides. That difference is far more valuable to me than the commuting advantage as I do most of my travel by public transport anyway.
So, time to start saving, although I’m choking a bit it should be a great investment and, like my other expensive purchases in the past, pay for itself through sheer longevity.
When I get it I’ll report back on how much of a difference it makes, although anything would beat out my current saddle I’m watching for the long ride comfort.
Have you got a favorite seat? And why do you like it?