my own way

Well, here it is folks. My 100th post on this blog.

If you’ve stuck around from the very beginning or you’re one of my more recent followers, I’d like to say a huge thank you (or should that be sorry?) for taking the time to read this drivel.

So, what does one do at such a milestone? I suppose I could do one of those cheesy reviews looking back at some of my favourite posts, quote some stats and show you the most looked at pictures, maybe even revisit some of the gems from ‘Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’… but, no.

For my 100th post, I have something a little bit special for you. A post that has literally been years in the making. It’s got a little bit of everything: nostalgia, celebrities, old bikes, new bikes, some guy called “Tim” (whoever he is), and even a little bit of Coffeeneuring.

I know what you’re thinking: there’s just no way anything I wrote could contain so much awesome and, you’re right. That’s why I’ve brought in a guest blogger to pen this, the 100th (and probably best) post on lifeinthecyclelane.

Take it away, Tess.

I grew up in a family of cyclists.

Two older brothers rode – one of them even made it to the US Junior Nationals one year — and eventually my dad got into it too.

Tess_Bernard_HinaultOn certain summer Sundays we would all watch the coverage of the Tour de France, complete with John Tesh’s synthesizer accompaniment.  In 1986, for our family summer vacation, we went to the World Cycling Championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Yes, that is Bernard Hinault.  We found out our hotel was right across the highway from his, and went over and talked to him and his crew one day.  (Somewhere, there is a picture of me and one of his mechanics, who, unbeknownst to my father snapping the picture, has his hand on my startled 17-year-old ass.)

RAGBRAI is a family tradition.  My dad rode it into his mid-60’s at least.  My whole family (including my husband) have ridden it together multiple times as a vacation.  I refuse to go — I think it sounds like a penance.  I can think of better things to do in a Midwestern July than cycling hundreds of miles in 110% humidity past endless fields of soybeans, showering out of a plastic bag, and sleeping on the ground.

When I was in high school, my brother and my dad had the local bike shop build me a bike, but I never really joined the cult.  There was a definite vibe that there was a right way to do it, and anything else was wrong.  I knew I couldn’t do it right (that’s older brothers for you) and so I just… didn’t do it.

Panasonic1But I kept that bike.  For thirty years, I took it with me.  And occasionally, I rode it.  A Panasonic Sport 1000 frame and probably a lot of crap components.

I took it to Golden, Colorado, when I went to college there, and one summer I did indeed ride it up Mt. Zion three times a week, in training for the annual bike race that was held for Homecoming — which I then slept through.  (But I had great legs that year.)

I took it to Minerva, Ohio, and leaned it against my apartment wall.  One of the few pictures I have of my very first cat, Koshka, was of him climbing on that bike.

I took it to Spokane, Washington, where I found out that in the summer, you could go out for a bike ride at 9:00 pm and it stayed light for at least an hour.  After a couple of years of telling people this, even I thought I was full of shit.  (After moving back to the wonderful Pacific NW, I found out I was telling the truth after all.)

I took it to Dallas, Texas, where I pretty much didn’t ride it at all, because Dallas is not built for cycling, and Texas is too damned hot for anything.

And I took it to Portland, Oregon, with my husband, who one year started riding it to work.  And rode it to the coast with a group of friends.  And rode it in his first century.  And oh yes – the cult was back.  The padded shorts, the shoes with clips.  Oh. My. God.  Here we go again.  He bought his own bike; then another.  And eventually a third, and sold the first, and a parade of bike parts and bike clothes and bike gear passed through the house and down to the man cave, and a repair station was built and bike stands installed.

And my old bike just sat there.

But.  It turns out that Portland has a way of soothing those old wounds inflicted by that Midwestern, you’re-not-good-enough way of thinking.

Portland doesn’t give a damn how you cycle.  Portland says, “Hey, cool, look at you, on a bike, that’s awesome!”

Portland doesn’t care if you have the “right” cycling gear.  Hell, Portland doesn’t care if you wear clothes.

Slowly, I began to re-think.  Maybe I could do this.

Last year, an online friend came for a visit in August and wanted to do a lot of hiking.  To get myself in shape for that, I started riding a few times a week.  Then I found out that she would be here for the Portland Bridge Pedal.  I’m not entirely sure what made me do it, but I threw the suggestion out there and YES WE DID.  My first ever organized ride.  And I wore a pink top with sparkly sequins on it.  And oh man, was it FUN.

Tess_Panasonic_bridgeLast spring, my online friend Tim told me about Chasing Mailboxes’ Errandonée Challenge, and while I didn’t really do it, the idea stuck with me.  Panasonic2I put an old milk crate (of the same vintage and from a nearby town) on the back of the old bike, and one day in April I RODE TO THE LIBRARY TO RETURN A BOOK.  Holy crap!  I CAN DO THIS!  And it’s… kind of FUN!

This summer we did the Bridge Pedal again, and I gulped and agreed to do not the shortest ride, but the next one up.  And I am proud to say I cycled 27 whole miles that day.  (I even took the old milk crate along, and believe it or not, someone recognized the town it’s from.  Small world.)

Tess_bridge_pedal1Now (thanks to Tim of course), we are Coffeeneuring!  In fellowship with cyclists all over the world.  And guess what?  IT’S FUN!

Photographic evidence, week 1:

Don_coffeeneuring1Husband is riding a Renovo, handmade right here in PDX.  Out of wood.

Renovo_PanasonicWeek 2:  I blew it by drinking orange juice instead of something hot with caffeine.  Oh, well, I say it counts.  THIS IS PORTLAND.  Rules are flexible.

Tess_Don_coffeeneuringSo.  Two weekends down, and after this weekend, we will be attempting to Coffeeneur in Europe for the next two weeks.  If you’d ever told me I would be wanting to cycle on a trip to Europe, I’d have said you were higher than a kite.  But I am looking forward to it.

Maybe it’s not what my brothers would call “real” cycling, but this time, I’m doing it my own way.  And guess what… IT’S FUN.

And there you have it, riding your bike is fun. Who knew?

HUGE thanks to Tess for the guest post and sorry to MG for the flagrant bending of the coffeeneuring rules!

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hand in my pocket

After some discussion with a fellow blogger and, having done plenty of research myself recently, I think it’s probably time to share my musings about handlebars; a topic which generates much debate amongst cyclists.

Apologies to any Alanis haters, by the way. Judge me if you will, but I like this song and it’s my blog so I’ll play it if I want to. So there, nyah.

I recently blogged about the various different types of bike and how the rules don’t necessarily have to be applied quite as rigidly as they first appear; you’ll be pleased to hear that the same is true of handlebars but, whilst you’ve got one hand in your pocket reaching for an energy bar, it is important that whatever your other hand is holding onto is the right thing for you and your bike.

Now, the choices of handlebar available are quite simply staggering these days; some are staggeringly good, some are staggeringly beautiful, some are staggeringly ugly and some are even staggeringly expensive (many of the latter are also staggeringly shite).

OK, so some basics to get us started:

  • Flat bars are very much what they sound like; a straight bar with very little or no up sweep or back sweep. Flat bars are normally found on fixed gear bikes these days but do also make the odd appearance on hybrids and (if you’re a complete lettuce) on road bikes. As a rule, you get one hand position on the grips and maybe a second if you hold the bars themselves closer to the stem which doesn’t make for a very comfortable ride so I recommend them only for short commuting trips and the like.
  • Riser bars (like these fitted to a former mountain bike of mine) are basically flat bars with personality; the name comes from the fact that they rise up from the centre and then flatten out, giving a much more comfortable riding position. Risers come in all shapes and sizes with various different widths and heights (of rise) and generally have an amount of back sweep so your hands end up a bit more ‘square’ to your body. Designed for mountain bikes, they (somewhat unsurprisingly) work really well on mountain bikes and are also very common on hybrids. Again, you really only get one hand position but many mountain bikers choose to fit bar ends which give another hand position, make climbing hills so much easier but do spoil the clean looks of a naked bar, for me.
  • Road bars (also known as drop / dropped bars) are the ones you see lycra clad Tour de France types using and are mostly associated with ‘serious’ cyclists. Available in a bewildering array of widths, heights (amount of ‘drop’), shapes (notice my drops here have an extra ergonomic… err… kink?), these are the bars that can potentially cost hundreds of pounds. No, really. Now, these bars give many, many possible hand positions, most of which help with making one’s self more aerodynamic and / or more comfortable which is why they’re really the bar of choice if you’re doing any real distance. Beware though, they’re really not for everyone and the first time you use them, they’ll feel completely alien and you may very well hate them; given some time and, like me, you’ll fall in love with them and you’ll never go back to flat bars and you may even consider (shock, horror) fitting drop bars to your mountain bike…
  • Bullhorns are an interesting approach… I believe they came about when people started flipping their road bars over and cutting the drops off; these days, there are many options available and they’re primarily designed to be a base bar for time trial bikes where getting as low down and aerodynamic as possible is the ultimate gain. However, in recent years, they have also been adopted by single speed and fixed gear riders as there’s really no way of running gear shifters and they’re great for out-of-the-saddle storming through traffic duties. I happen to love bullhorns as they give plenty of hand positions and are a really good alternative to road bars if you’re not into riding in the drops.
  • Others is probably the quickest and easiest way to describe the myriad of alternative options available; here you can see merely two in the shape of Raleigh’s excellent North Rounder bars fitted to my girlfriend’s custom built Specialized Globe and Soma’s 3 Speed II moustache bars fitted to my Coventry Eagle restoration project. The thing with many of these types of bars (and many others from the likes of Soma, Nitto, On One and others) is that they look awesome but they also each have very quirky riding positions and, sometimes, you’ll be putting your hand into your pocket to reach for lots and lots of money to get yourself a pair.
  • Dirt drops are a relatively recent idea, catering to those who want to go off road but use drop bars; as I am one of those and will shortly be building a new bike with said bars, I’ll cover the pros and cons of dirt drops in a later post.

So, what does all this mean? Well, once you’ve been riding for a few years on a variety of bikes with a variety of bars, you’ll find yourself becoming fond of one particular kind or other and you may even get a bit of brand loyalty once you find some you like.

In the meantime, get yourself down to a proper bike shop (no, not Halfords or Evans or any of those awful faceless, money grabbing, devoid of knowledge pretenders) and ask for some advice. Here are my top tips for fiding the right bar:

  1. Width – You really don’t want your hands to be in a narrower position than the width of your shoulders (we road cyclists do sometimes ride with our hands in the middle of the bars but it’s really a temporary change of hand position thing) so, measure yourself! Wider bars give more stability too (great for cargo bikes; more of that in a later post), but go too wide and you’ll think you’re riding a bus.
  2. Girth – Stop sniggering. Now, this is where the science bit comes in; the diameter of your bars greatly determines which brake and gear levers will fit on them and no, not all brake levers work with all brakes and god no, not all gear levers work with all gear systems! Again, please, please, please get some advice from your local, friendly, independent bike bike shop and they’ll tell you what your various options are. There are also a few different options size-wise for the stem that holds your handlebars (25.4mm, 26.0mm, 31.8mm to name the 3 most common) so you may need to consider whether you want to fork out on a new stem or not… I’ve just realised I could write a whole blog post about the different types of stem… Maybe some other time.
  3. Squidgability – What? That’s a real word. Sort of. Now, as a rule, flat and riser bars are suitable for handlebar grips which slide over the end of the bar (some even have little pinch bolts to grip the bars with) and come in a huge variety of colours, styles and thicknesses; generally quite cheap and easy to fit, the more squidgy, the more comfortable. Road bars and many of the ‘other’ bars above are suitable for wrapping in handlebar tape (again, see le Tour de France riders). Bar tape comes in hundreds of colours, materials and thicknesses… Try ’em all out but don’t spend much more than a tenner for it. Oh, and get somebody to teach you how to wrap it the first time out!

So, there you go – my quick guide to finding the right handlebars for you. Feel free to drop me a line for some more specific advice.