Only one thing really mattered to me this morning. I didn’t want to be the last person up each climb, a position I’ve held rather frequently for the past couple of months. I was determined to do whatever it took (meaning suffer), and since I didn’t police the tail end, I guess you can say that I was willing to suffer more than somebody else. That’s very different from saying I was stronger! Working on that. But given the way I was (not) breathing this morning, I was pretty much maxxed out, but at the same time, not caring, just pushing past it, seeing what strength I could find in my legs, too bad about anything else. I even thought a bit about Tyler Hamilton and how he used pain to obscure/mask/help ignore the protestations of his body when pushed to the limit. It’s all in your mind, or at least enough of it to make a real difference.
Pretty big group this morning; I’ll have to look at the video to see everyone, but we had Karl, Kevin, Jan, Eric, George, Eric, Todd and I think John was there for at least the Kings segment. George was doing intervals up Kings, but other than that, nobody was taking things really seriously. Nobody except me, that is. I was determined! I’m sure any of the others would have had no problem shredding me on Kings or west-side Old LaHonda, but that wasn’t their game today. The stars and planets lined up just right. Nothing really to show for it on Strava; in fact, Strava even insulted me by claiming my time was 29:01 up Kings when in reality it was a far-more-respectable 28:58!
Weather? Pretty nice! Not warm but not really cold either. And no rain. A bit of dampness here & there (enough to keep speeds down on the descents), but not enough to require rain bikes, thank goodness. What’s not going to change, regardless of weather, will be the nastiness left behind by the “maintenance” done to Skyline and west-side Old LaHonda. A legendarily-bad chip seal job, using not enough oil to allow the chips to embed properly, and chips much larger than normal for reasons unknown. The result is a terribly rough surface, and, for a while, lots of gravel. Gravel that gets picked up and pings against your bike, gravel that sometimes embeds in your chain and causes things to totally lock up, with horrifying results for your bike. I even mentioned that on the ride, as you can see in the short video below… not realizing that, not too many hours later, a woman would bring in a bike that may have been severely damaged in exactly that way!
Hate it when that happens.
Test-riding Road Bikes
So you’ve decided you want a new road bike, and plan to test-ride a couple. Here’s a few things that will help you get a fair comparison and make the right choice! Note that this article is entirely brand & material neutral, but altruism aside, we’d still like you to buy your next bike from Chain Reaction in Redwood City or Los Altos, California.
What the shop will require
First, a couple things to keep in mind. You’re going to be taking a spin on something that’s reasonably expensive, so assume the shop’s going to require you to leave something valuable that ensures your return. In our case, it’s a valid current California driver’s license and a credit card. This works because it verifies who you are and it’s something we can be reasonably sure you’ll return to get (even though some of us have some rather dreadful photos that we’d rather not see again!). We will also create a record in our computer of the bike being ridden. We used to be a bit more liberal and skip the credit card part, but we’ve had to tighten up a bit due to a string of test-ride bike thefts in the area.
Also, please note that most shops (including Chain Reaction) will not allow test rides if the pavement is damp or it’s even getting close to dark (assume you need to arrive at least one hour prior to closing or one hour prior to sundown, whichever is earlier). Your safety is more important to us than selling a bike.
What you should bring
Many shops, including ours, require helmets on test rides. We just think it’s a good idea to try and keep you alive, at least until we sell you the bike! And no, it has nothing to do with insurance. If you’ve already got a helmet, bring it with you…it’s probably already set up correctly for your head and will save some time.
If you’ve already got clipless pedals from another bike, bring your shoes with you! It’s much better to test ride a bike the way you’re used to riding. If the pedal system is something other than standard SPD (the typical mountain-style recessed-cleat pedal/shoe system), then bring along your pedals as well, and have them installed on whichever bike you ride. And if you’ve got cycling shorts (which you should, since they make cycling much more comfortable), bring those too. You want to be testing out the bike and not be distracted by uncomfortable clothing etc.
How the bikes should be set up
OK, you’ve figured out a couple bikes you’d like to ride. Remember, you want to test each bike under optimal conditions, so here are some things to make sure of-
#1: For the first bike, make sure the seat is adjusted properly…both for height and tilt. The nose of the seat should be level with the back, and even small variations here can make tremendous differences in comfort. Once you have the seat height figured out, have it measured (from center of crank to the top of the saddle) and set up each subsequent bike to exactly the same height. This is very important, as even small changes in seat height can have a dramatic effect on how a bike feels…and you’re testing a bike, not a saddle position! (For more info about saddles and bike fit, we have an article on line)
#1b: It may be possible for a skilled salesperson to take a quick look at your position on the bike, with your hands on the lever hoods (where you’ll be spending most of your time with STI levers) and notice that you’ll definitely need a shorter, or longer, stem (the part that holds the handlebars to the fork). In some cases, this change can be made very quickly, due to new stem designs that allow you to change the stem without having to remove & reinstall the brake levers and handlebar tape. It’s definitely in the best interest of the shop to make your ride as comfortable as possible, so don’t be surprised if this is done before you take your test ride.
#2: Have each bike’s tires inflated to appropriate pressure, right in front of you. This is as important, if not more so, than the saddle height. If you ride the ultimate carbon-framed bike with its tires carrying only 80psi, vs a much-less-expensive machine with its tires running at full rated pressure (120psi), can you guess which is going to have a faster ride??? I recognize that this is going to annoy a whole lot of salespeople, who will pinch a tire with their fingers and say it’s fine, but this is a really important point. A tire even 10psi low is not giving you the ride you need. Always test-ride with fully-inflated tires, period. (Exceptions? Yes, for someone under 130 pounds the pressure can be dropped a bit, as low as 100psi for a 23c tire width)
#3: Ask if the salesperson could run you through the gears on a stand, just to make sure you know how they’re supposed to work (which you probably do) and to ensure that they’re properly adjusted. There are a lot of reasons why a new bike might not have perfectly-adjusted gears (including kids playing with the levers when the bikes are in the rack), but we don’t care about the “why” for now. We just want to make sure things will work the way they’re supposed to on the test ride!
The actual test ride
Now you’re ready for your test ride. Question is, where? We have basically three types of test rides…the classic “parking lot” ride, the “around the block” ride, and the longer 4-mile “road” ride. The parking lot cruise is useful for having the salesperson check out your position on the bike and, in some cases, is as much of a ride as a customer feels comfortable with (because they don’t want to deal with traffic etc.). Usually, after graduating successfully from the parking-lot ride, you’ll want to take it on a bit longer spin around the block, getting up some speed on the straightaways, or maybe just feeling better because you don’t have a salesperson looking at you while you’re riding. [By the way, for the parking lot ride, it might be OK to use normal street shoes on clipless pedals, but for anything more, make sure the pedals are compatible with your shoes! We keep quite a few standard toe-clip pedals around for just this purpose.]
We’re still working out a “course” for our Los Altos location, but for Redwood City, we have a four-mile loop that includes good pavement, bad pavement, hills, descents and maybe even a combination of head & tailwinds. What more could you ask? We even give you a map showing the course, and ask that you stay on it. Why? Because if something were to happen to you, we need to know where to go looking! Remember, you’re on someone else’s expensive machine, and we have an interest in keeping both the bike, and you, safe.
At this point you may have fallen in love and confirmed your suspicions that this is the bike for you! But if that’s not the case and you want to test ride another bike, make sure that the seat height is set up exactly the same as it was on that first bike, and have the tires aired up, and run through the gears again. By the way, I should explain that tires in high-quality bikes have a normal tendency to lose a fair amount of air over a couple week’s time, so it should not be a surprise when they need air…it should be expected.
How to compare different bikes…what to look for
Afraid you won’t be able to tell much difference between two bikes? Even if you’re inexperienced at cycling, my guess is that the differences will be more obvious than you think!
And what should you look for? Check out for how each bikes accelerates while sitting and standing, comfort over big bumps, how it handles road buzz (vibration from “grainy” road surfaces) and any sort of emotional appeal it might have (how’s that for a vague quality?). For longer rides, we strongly recommend that you find a small hill you can charge up. Why? Because there’s nothing that separates a great bike from an also-ran like a hill. A really great bike just feels like it wants to go, even climb, even when you’re not in the right gear. An also-ran will have you constantly searching for that right gear, that sweet spot where everything comes together (hopefully). The really great bike just doesn’t care…it simply performs. If you’re in Kansas or Florida and the closest hill is 100 miles away, maybe an overpass will work…
For more info on the differences between one bike and the next, you can check out our articles on such things as whether a bicycle has a soul, how durable is carbon fiber, do you need a double or triple crankset, should you buy the cheapest bike with the best parts and many others in the menu section at the bottom of each page of this website.
You’ve found the right bike…now what?
You’ve found your bike…it’s got the right features, feels great while riding, etc. Now you need to get measured for proper fit. The frame size on what you rode might be correct… then again, it might not. At Chain Reaction, we use the New England Cycling Academy’s FitKit system, which takes a series of measurements of the rider, to make sure we have not only the correct frame size, but top-tube plus stem distance (critically important and frequently ignored!), seat-to-handlebar drop, seat height, handlebar width and more. It’s not a matter of how much clearance you have standing over the frame! That might help get you in the ballpark, but since the front-to-back distance of a frame changes with size, your arm & torso measurements might dictate a frame size different than standover height might indicate.
Please note that, in the majority of cases, the stem length on the bike will need to be changed. This isn’t a big deal if the shop sells a lot of road bikes…they’ll have the various stems in stock and ready to go. I would suggest that any shop not willing to swap the stem for proper fit on a road bike may not be a good place to buy one! In many cases there will be no charge for a stem swap, but there will be times where you have to go to a stem that might cost a bit more, or perhaps because it’s a lot higher they might need to replace several cables & housings, which definitely takes a lot of time. Or it might be a closeout bike that came with a ridiculously-long & low stem that has no value to the shop. In those cases, you could expect to pay a small amount of money to cover the difference and/or the labor involved.
Fortunately, at Chain Reaction we have such a tremendous number of road bikes in stock that there’s rarely an issue getting someone set up with exactly the right size bike, right then and there. But Chain Reaction, with over 300 road bikes in stock at any one time, is not exactly typical, so don’t be surprised if getting the proper fit involves waiting for one to come in. It will be worth the wait, especially if the alternative is a bike that doesn’t feel quite right because the fit’s wrong. If your local shop doesn’t have a zillion road bikes in stock, that’s not necessarily an indication that they’re not serious about road bikes…could be they just don’t have such a highly-developed road bike market like we do in the SF Bay Area, and can’t afford to have a huge number of bikes sitting around, waiting for you. Not a problem for us…the number of road bikes we sell would make most shops heads spin.
After you find your new dream machine, you might check out our Taking Care of your Road Bike article.
February is a bit early in the season for 100+ mile rides, but Kevin and I had a bit of, well, body work to take care of (the scale hasn’t been our friend lately). It was actually Kevin’s idea to do the Santa Cruz loop, the only real challenge being whether we could get it in during the limited number of daylight hours available, without having to get up too early.
We had a nice roll out to the coast via Old LaHonda and Haskins Grade, holding a moderate but stead pace (22 minutes up Old LaHonda, 2 minutes slower than Kevin can pull off on his own). Turning onto Cloverdale for the run south we were blessed with a mild tail wind, which nicely accompanied us all the way into Santa Cruz. Of course we stopped in Davenport on the way for lunch, and then stopped again for water in Boulder Creek before the long run up to Skyline (Saratoga Gap). It was only as we approached the top that temps started to rapidly cool; the marvelous 64 degrees on the coast were replaced by 42 degrees and substantial wind at the top. My thin full-fingered gloves, which had been perfect during the morning run to the coast, simply weren’t up to the task. Nor was my thin baselayer.
Normally, 42 degrees isn’t an issue, even dressed as I was. For our morning ride, I’m able to keep a full head of steam the entire time, but that’s only for 30 miles. When you hit such conditions 85 miles into a 112 mile ride, it’s a different story! Still, there’s enough uphill on the run north on Skyline to keep you going, just barely. I was having some issues shifting (tough for cold inflexible fingers to find the small buttons for the Di2 electric shifting), but it wasn’t until the descent into Woodside where I got really chilled and started to shiver a bit. Thank goodness it warmed up slightly on the way down, but the graph below tells the story.
How does this happen? If you ride in the rain, you pick up a mixture of road crud, water and ground brake pad that is as abrasive as sandpaper, so every time your brake is applied, you’re wet-sanding the rim. Gradually the rim becomes thinner, and eventually gets to the point that it’s no longer strong enough to hold the tire in place. That’s when it literally explodes.
It’s hard to remember what a normal winter is like; we haven’t seen rain in so long we’ve forgotten about last year! If you did ride your bike anytime between November and late May last year, chances are you rode in the rain. Many people who normally wouldn’t ride in the rain eventually gave up and did ride, because the dry days were few & far between. As a result, we’re seeing a lot more seriously rain-damaged bikes (not just wheels, but chains, cassettes and cranks too) than we’d normally expect.
We need to be really clear about the fact that riding in the rain drastically accelerates wear & tear on your bike, especially high-performance bikes. One mile in the rain damages your bike at least as much as 100 miles on a normal (dry) day. Sometimes even worse. For those of us who ride no-matter-what, the smart thing is to have your “nice” bike and a separate “rain” bike. The “rain” bike is usually the bike you rode before buying your new cool lighter/faster/smoother machine, a bike that’s not meant to be pretty but needs to be basically functional. You’re going to install fenders on it, wider tires (yes, they slow you down but you need more traction in the wet) and cheap wheels, because the rims are going to wear out pretty fast. Sorry, there’s nothing you can do about that, short of using a bike with disc brakes. You’re going to be replacing chains and cassettes and chainrings far more often, due to wear, than on your nice bike… the but price of the parts will be far cheaper, because you’re not worried about weight, you’re worried about stuff that works.
But for now, go check the rims on your bike and see what they look like. You don’t want your wheel to explode on you. For what it’s worth, I go through a set of rims every 18 months or so on my rain bike. Desending from Skyline in the rain does that; and if you want to accelerate the process absurdly, descend Kings Mtn in the rain. Why Kings Mtn? Because there’s no point where you can let off the brakes. You’re grinding away the rim the entire descent. On 84, the more-gradual grade means you use the brakes less and wind resistance helps to slow you down as well. How bad is Kings? I’ve gone through a set of brake shoes on just one descent.
Kevin and I had to get in a quick ride this morning since our Redwood City store, normally closed Sundays, would be open today for Christmas shoppers. That meant abandoning the usual Sunday-morning routine of saying we’ll get out the door by, say, 9am and not actually leaving until 10:15 or so. Today, if we needed to be out on the road by 8am to get back in time, then we had to be out by 8!
OK, 8:11am was still pretty close. Still had to come up with something that would alleviate the pain of getting on the scale and seeing something unfriendly, so we chose a fast run over 84 to the coast and back via Tunitas. Best thing about that loop is the coast part, because no matter how cold it is on our side of the hill, it’s always warmer near the ocean. Right?
Wrong. This morning saw the temps drop nastily in that little section just past the main descent on 84 (prior to LaHonda)… and say nasty. And I really do mean nasty. As in, 29 degrees nasty. That was not expected, nor was it expected that the temps would stay in the very low 30s until we were within a mile or two of the coast, where it warmed up to a toasty 40 or so. But y’know, 40 sure felt a whole lot better than 30!
Predictably, nobody else was out there on the ocean side of the hill this morning, because they knew. Thankfully, my biggest fear didn’t materialize, that being the likelihood that the parallel valley that the base of Tunitas Creeks runs up, which is only a couple miles from 84, would be similarly cold. Instead, we had near-tropical temps in the low-40s, climbing to mid-40s on our way up the hill. Totally comfortable & nice! Even better, instead of getting the usual cold blast coming down Kings back into Woodside, it actually warmed up (fortunate for the very large numbers of cyclists we saw climbing up the hill this morning).
Were we prepared for the cold? Sorta. We had our best cold-weather gloves, and within a few hours the tips of my fingers didn’t hurt anymore, so I think we did ok there. No problem for the legs, with thermal tights doing a great job. Booties for the feet so the toes were only slightly blue, no biggie. But we could have done a better job up top. Thank goodness Becky had ordered some heavy-duty Pearl Izumi base layers, over which we had a standard Chain Reaction jersey. What was missing? That all-important 3rd layer, a light windbreaker, left at home. Won’t do that again! Actually I had mine with me but Kevin forgot to bring one, and I didn’t think it would be very sporting if I put one on while he suffered. Oh, you think because I’m a parent that I should have loaned it to him? The same kid who will exploit any weakness in my cycling and run me into the ground? Well, I could have not loaned it to him due to spite, but the reality is that I thought he should be taught a lesson so he won’t forget to bring the jacket next time.
The reality of course is that I forgot it was in my seat pack.
Motivation? Don’t look for motivation. Just do it! If you’ve decided to be a rain-or-shine kind of cyclist, then you find yourself actually looking forward to “epic” winter rides. Make sure you’ve got a separate rain/utility bike, with wider tires (it’s not about speed, it’s about not slipping on paint stripes or getting flats) and possibly a bit more relaxed riding position (because if you’re heavily bundled up you might not feel comfortable in your normal riding position).
It’s quite the challenge for my group, because our Tuesday/Thursday-morning training ride includes 3300ft of climbing and, of course, 3300ft of descending. What you learn is that it’s very important to keep up a consistent pace because if you relax the cold and wet will get to you very quickly. Dress in a way that you’ll remain warm even if soaking, because there’s no truly waterproof cycling stuff out there. The high-tech stuff (including GoreTex) won’t keep up with a cyclist at high output… you end up as soaked on the inside as things are on the outside.
You could, of course, just set up a trainer in front of a TV and watch your favorite races, but there’s a small number of us who would rather ride through a hurricane than sit on a trainer. Mental defect of some sort. Or just a refusal to believe that anything can stop you and your bicycle. Do keep in mind that I’m in Northern California so the worst winter will throw at me are a few 40 degree days with driving rain, or upper-20s but dry, or once in a while, snow at the higher parts of our ride. We also rarely see ice, because it’s typically dry when it’s that cold. –Mike–
Finally, I think I’ve figured out how to do the Garmin bike computer thing right and create something that customers can download and find useful for rides.
Today we started with the classic Woodside-Pescadero-Tunitas Creek ride. As with most Chain Reaction rides, this one starts from Olive Hill & Canada Road in Woodside.
Click on the map to the left and you’ll be taken to the relevant page on BikeRouteToaster.com, the website I used to create this ride. You’ll need to create a free account on their website, or you can download the actual file needed for a Garmin Edge 50o or 800 file from our own website here- downloading the .tcx file
More on this shortly.
The easy thing would be to ignore the various fear-mongering publicity-hounding press-release-and-book-writing crowd that wants to create waves by claiming that riding a bike is bad for guys. But of course, I can’t. This is a subject that gets me pretty annoyed, because is almost-always mistakes the bicycle seat as the problem (which in some cases it might be) and ignores the issue of proper fit to the bicycle, of which the saddle is, in fact, a subset… but more the location of the saddle, as well as handlebars and pedals. So below is my response when a very good customer sent me a link to the latest such story. –Mike–
> Hey, was curious if you’ve seen this, and what you think:
From: Mike Jacoubowsky [mailto:MikeJ@ChainReaction.com]
Sent: Friday, August 26, 2011 10:32 PM
Subject: RE: Article on bicycle seats from NY Times
Before getting into this, the full text of the study may be found here-
“When I tried a no-nose model for my 16-mile daily commute, it was so much more comfortable that I promptly threw away the old saddle. But over the years I’ve had zero success persuading any other cyclists to switch, even when I quote the painfully succinct warning from Steven Schrader, the reproductive physiologist at Niosh who did the experiment with police officers.”
I have serious doubts that many, if any of the people with “problems” in the article had been properly fit to a bike or, worse, wonder how many were riding super-soft saddles that pass the “thumb test” but create serious problems because they are so soft that your weight pushes down on the front and back, causing the center of the saddle to push up, exactly where you don’t want it to. That’s the reason that softer isn’t usually better; you require a certain amount of support to keep the saddle from contacting areas that shouldn’t be stressed.
If someone wants to prove that bike saddles of a particular type are better than others, they should first make sure that the “inferior” saddles are properly set up and the rider properly fit to their bike, and perhaps do a before & after test of that, before trumpeting the marketing claims of someone wanting to sell a new type of saddle that, on the face of it, looks like maybe it would address the problem (and has a marketing campaign based upon fear).
The author says himself “Even if you didn’t feel any symptoms, even if you didn’t believe the researchers’ warnings, even if you thought it was perfectly healthy to feel numb during a ride – why not switch just for comfort’s sake? Why go on crushing your crotch?” The “comfort” reference is key here. Why isn’t someone comfortable, while someone else is? It’s a lot more than just saddle design. And it’s going to be different for different people.
And mountain bikes are, by far, going to be the worst offenders for landing sensitive parts of the anatomy where they shouldn’t land, or pressured where they shouldn’t be pressured, because of the more-upright riding position (putting nearly all the weight on the rider’s tail end rather than distributing some of the weight forward). And yes, the issues are going to be worse for people who are out of shape and jumping curbs and plowing through potholes in urban environments. Not that I’d put any officers I’ve seen in that category.
“Before the study, nearly three-quarters of the officers complained of numbness while riding. After six months, fewer than one-fifth complained.”
Let’s see here. 75% complained of numbness while riding. 75%???!!! And they kept riding? I would be interested in knowing what percentage of them filed for disability of some sort. Not that I’m cynical or anything. And for the truly-cynical, we are talking guys here, and given the opportunity, is a guy going to want to brag that his sex life has improved or that it’s in the toilet?
So no, I don’t have an opinion at all.
This is not to say that there aren’t people who would benefit from different saddle designs than the norm. But let’s see some studies that are more-intelligently done, and include the following-
#1: Study people with issues and improvement, or lack thereof, that occurs from nothing more than attention paid to their fit on the bike
#2: Take those who still had issues after being fit and see what happens with the miracle saddle change. Does that subset benefit as much as group 1?
There are definitely people with real issues that need to be addressed, but the lack of adequate controls for these studies is alarming and causes one to wonder if the tests were designed to support a belief rather than to test it. –Mike–