Friday, October 21, 2016

It’s Not the Length of Your Stem. It’s What You Do with It.

If we look at some overall trends in today’s roadbike setups, there is an undeniable preference for long stems. For most male cyclists I know, a stem length of 110-130mm seems to be the desirable range, with anything shorter considered suboptimal, if not outright weird. 

Now, if you ask a rider to explain this preference for length, chances are they will tell you it is to do with handling, as it “puts them over the front axle.” The problem with this statement, is that the location of the rider’s hands in relation to the front axle does not depend on stem length alone. Rather, it is a function of stem length and handlebar reach, which can vary greatly from one set of handlebars to another.

I am reminded of this as I mess about with the front-end setup of my DIY 650B bike, which is currently undergoing a makeover …a makeover that has made me aware that I too am far from immune to the “longer is better” stem bias.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Felled No More: Wheel Lessons in Crosswind Resistance

Firstly, a warning. This post is a product of months of obsession. As such, it is a little technical. And more than a little tedious. And of limited interest to anyone who doesn't live in a part of the world plagued with crazy, un-cyclable wind conditions. Nevertheless, crosswinds really are a big deal for some of us. And as it took me three years to stumble upon a solution, I wanted to share my recent experience.

It began when I started to ride a prototype bike for a project I'm working on with Seven Cycles. Until then I had been content to leave well enough alone. Which is to say, I had come to terms with being unable to ride my (lightweight, modern) roadbike in extremely windy conditions, when the cross-winds would get so bad they would blow me off the roads. I had mentioned this problem to several industry contacts since my move to Ireland; I have even written about it here. Over time I received a lot of advice. And while much of that advice was conflicting, two factors were mentioned again and again as potential culprits: (1) deep rims, and (2) light weight.

Since my own roadbike was not equipped with deep rim wheels (the Mavic Ksyriums I had used from 2012 onward have 22mm rims on the front, 25mm on the rear), I concluded it must be the weight - both of the wheels and the bike itself. It seemed logical enough to accept that a lightweight bike would get blown about the road more than a heavy bike. I would just have to live with not riding it on extremely windy days.

Friday, October 14, 2016

In Theory...

Having recently studied for the Irish Driving Theory test, I was impressed by how much of the material was devoted to dealing with cyclists. In fact, next to tractors, cyclists were probably the most frequently mentioned "other" in the questions involving other road users, outnumbering mentions of motorbikes, pedestrians, and horses. Every possible scenario involving an encounter with a cyclist was covered: from how to read hand signals and what sort of maneuvers to expect, to how to overtake a cyclist and what to do when passing is not safe ("be patient and wait; do not sound horn").

In theory, anyone who manages to pass the test should be well equipped to share the road with cyclists. In practice ...well, you know yourself.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Home Before Dark

Among the more delicious memories I have of childhood, are those involving rushing to get home by curfew. Like so many others of my generation, I would be let loose for hours on end, free from parental vigilance, to roam the neighbourhood on my own recognisance with just one caveat: that I was to return before dark. Or else.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Admittedly, my experience with mountain climbs is far from expansive. But the ones that are local to me seem to follow a distinct pattern. I've attempted to illustrate it for you in this highly technical drawing.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Can We Hope for "Interestingness" in Performance Road Bikes?

from the Monday Mailbox...
I have been enjoying the recent string of reviews of interesting and reasonably priced utility bikes. Any chance of something similar for the roadies out there? Seeing the same big-name brands again and again in bike shops and mainstream reviews is starting to get depressing and I was hoping LB could offer some alternatives. Obviously, you do a lot of road cycling and are drawn to fast, lightweight bikes. It would be great to see that side of things get some attention in the review section of this blog. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What Happens on Ventoux

Here is the problem with being a contemporary Dutch novelist - especially a contemporary Dutch novelist who delves into the theme of cycling: You are going to be compared to Tim Krabbé. The brilliant author of The Rider, The Vanishing, The Cave. And it’s unlikely the comparison will be in your favour.

In this alone, Bert Wagendorp's novel Ventoux was at a disadvantage before a word of it was ever written. Cycling. Dutchness. A mountain touched by tragedy. The danger of high expectations loomed large.

As if to inoculate against this, the publisher of the English-language translation chose a cover design that communicated such peppy lightheartedness as to almost suggest a how-to guide, a collection of inspirational quotes, or a humorous tale of two-wheeled hi-jinx. None of these being qualities that draw me to a book, Ventoux sat on my shelf until, under threat of an arduous train journey, I finally gave it a go - only to come full circle and discover that it was indeed a Dutch novel of the most Krabbéan (Krabbé-esque?) kind. A slow, morose psychological thriller, with cycling playing a prominent role. It was also unexpectedly sexual. In fact, if there is one thing The Rider lacks that Ventoux is chock-full of, it is "that."

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Plastic Bag Incident (Or, Why There Is Hope for Bicycles Yet)

The other day I had occasion to stop by a large supermarket in Co. Derry, where I had not been in some time. In the soft fluorescent glow, I wandered its abundantly stocked aisles and grabbed a couple of things that I needed, then headed for the till. The cashier rang me up, placing the items I bought in a pile at the corner of the register.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Meet Ellen's Urban Arrow: a Cargo Superbike in Belfast

Ellen's Urban Arrow in Belfast

When I found myself in Belfast some time ago with an hour to spare, I used that hour wisely: I met for a coffee with local cycling celebrity and trans youth advocate Ellen Murray.

As I locked up my bike in St. Anne's Square, her arrival was tremendous. The sleek, black, shark-like contraption she pedaled appeared not so much to roll, as to slice through the stately, rather Viennese, backdrop of white neoclassical buildings. Pedestrians stopped in their tracks. A passing flock of birds hovered overhead. And I, mouth ajar, nearly dropped my U-lock on my foot, as my own bicycle made a meek neighing sound in the presence of this formidable giant.

"Your new Urban Arrow!" I said, trying to play it cool and hide my awe, "How do you like it?"

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Last House

It is a road that I have climbed so often, it is really no longer a road, or a climb, but more like some inexplicably repeating drama. A play in which I find myself performing some peripheral, but necessary, role, again and again, as if caught in a dream loop.