July 26, 2012

Cycling and Technology - The product review dilemma

Early in my blogging career I did a few product reviews. These sorts of posts generally garner higher amounts of traffic, presumably from people trying to do research on products they are considering. I stopped doing them for a while because I realized that the reviews I liked reading most were the ones where someone talked about a product after using it for a long time. They tended to give an unvarnished view of the product because over time the novelty wears off, excitement wanes, and the true utility and craftsmanship of the product can be seen. I was only motivated to write about things that were brand new because I was still hyped up about them. I decided to give it a rest and think about it later.

I don't want to be some sort of corporate shill, or worse, the pawn of a corporate shill, by mindlessly touting the latest goods from some company just because they sent me a trial product. I also don't want to do reviews just to manufacture hits on a blog. But my sport is cycling and cycling is a sport based on technology. Imagine the sport of running without technology. Without shoes a runner can still run. In fact, it's the latest fad in running. Without a bike, well, there's no cycling. So, discussion about technology related to cycling is, I think, crucial for those in the sport. In fact, I think part of the reason I like cycling so much is because it is such a blend of technology and human powered sport.

What I've decided to do is to selectively discuss (not promote or market) various cycling related technologies and talk about how I've used them in the process of cycling. In fact, in some cases I may not even talk about a specific product, but rather the technology generically. I almost did a review about a pair of bike pants I love, but the manufacturer doesn't make them anymore (I knew I should have bought the store's full inventory at the time). But now I realize that I can talk about those pants and their features and what capabilities they have that can be found in other cycling pants also. A discussion about cycling pants, as mundane as it seems, is helpful for people trying to figure out cycling pants (beyond the part where you figure out where the legs go). Each of these technologies are part of an ecosystem of technologies all related to making this chub go faster on two wheels. So, I'll talk about how they've helped me achieve goals, or where they fell short. And, I'll only do this for things I've used for at least a year.

July 21, 2012

One Helluva Ride Recap

If you do the century option on this ride you get to boast that you rode to Hell (Michigan) and back. We opted for the 30 mile loop. Early in the spring me and the Wife talked my my dad ("Senior") into signing up as part of a covert plot to get the man responsible for my cycling addiction back in the saddle after a multi-decade hiatus. The scheming started little over a year ago after Senior retired when I gave him my old comfort bike (a Giant Cypress DX). The ante was upped when I started inviting him out for a few of my recovery rides in early spring. Over time he was riding ten miles, then 15, then 20. The miles just kept going up. So, we set a goal for doing the 30 mile option of the One Helluva Ride tour (OHR) in July.

About 20 years ago OHR was one of the very first rides Senior took me on. Like most kids I grew up riding a bike, but Senior put down a foundation for a lifelong hobby by taking me and my brother all over Michigan on bike tours. It was fitting that this would be the first ride we did after starting again a few decades later.

Getting ready.

Senior and the Wife.

Hey! A dollar was on the side of the road!

Some pretty typical views.

Senior crossing the finish line! We were all so proud of him.

July 16, 2012

Worn Chain Blues - Don't let this happen to you!

Took the bike in to the shop to get some work done on it. Got the bottom bracket and hubs cleaned and lubed and all sorts of other smaller stuff done. It's amazing how much faster a bike can get after such simple maintenance. I also wanted them to look at my rear derailleur because it was acting a little funky. In the smaller and larger gears it would sort of skip up and down a little bit. Not a whole lot but enough to be noticeable.

The bad news
I had worn the chain so much that it had stretched out and each of the bearings was spaced out just a little bit more than they were supposed to be. Because of that the chain had gradually worn down the gears I use the most on the cassette. The solution: replace both. Ouch. A simple tool that gauges chain length would have alerted me to this problem before it became expensive. I have learned a lesson.

The good news
Despite being stupid enough to allow it to happen, I can now feel like a hardcore cyclist. I rode so much that I literally wore my chain out. Just how much, you may be asking? 2,780 miles. Not too bad for a noob. This distance also happens to be the distance between Los Angeles and New York City. That's about 143,225 calories burned, or 241 Vito sandwiches from Jimmy Johns. MMmmmmmmm... sandwiches. Or 6,510 marshmallows! Or 5.5 gallons of Nutella! I could go on like this all day.

Having a worn out chain gave me the opportunity to practice with the chain breaker on my multi tool and make a super sweet trophy bracelet. I had to clean the holy bejeebers out of it before it was wearable (turns out that 2 years of dirt and grime don't come off all that easily).

Yes, I'm that much of a dork.

The cleanest that chain and cassette will ever be.

July 9, 2012

PALM Part 7: Final thoughts

Note from Joe: This is part of a series of posts about the Pedal Across Lower Michigan tour. If you want to start at the beginning, you can find it here.

"Did he ever make it?" I'm sure the faithful readers are asking. Yes, I did make it. And I was waiting to put the last post up until I had a little time to reflect on the journey as a whole. I'm sure the fact that I forgot to hit "publish" and then got too busy to log in and click a single button had nothing to do with it.

Ortonville to New Baltimore
The first half of this ride was a gritty slog through the outskirts of the urban sprawl of the Detroit Metro area. Traffic was thick and unforgiving. But after a while we broke through and got to relatively less busy roads. 

No more road left.

Would you do it again?
The most common question I got when talking to friends and co-workers since the ride was whether I'd do it again. The answer is 'yes', I would. But I'd do it differently than they way I did this time around. I'd bring along my whole family and treat it more like a roaming camping trip than a long bike ride. You can register a personal SAG vehicle, so for example, my wife and I could take turns riding every other day and the other would drive the car and kids to the next stop. On the days where we know there won't be excessive traffic we could drag one or both kids behind us on the bike too.

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PALM Part 6: Perry to Ortonville

Note from Joe: This is part of a series of posts about the Pedal Across Lower Michigan tour. If you want to start at the beginning, you can find it here.

The never ending roads of flat farmland gave way to the hilly outskirts of the suburban sprawl from Detroit suburbs today. Everything increased; the heat, the hills, the traffic, and the consumption of liquids.

As I type this the temperature outside is over 100 degrees. I got out for the 47 mile ride at about 7 am in order to beat as much of the heat as possible. For the most part it worked. By 10 am, however, it was already 87 degrees. Whenever I stopped sweat would stream down as if I had just dumped a water bottle over my head. This was serious stuff. I had to be careful or dehydration would set in.

If you look at the elevation chart under he map below you'll notice the first half of the ride was relatively flat and the last half featured some hills. These hills were not the sort of short but steep hills you can sprint over, but the long gradual hills that just keep on going. Without the heat or the previous four days of cycling these hills would not have been too bad. But it was over 90 and I had ridden for the previous four days. Most of the hills were actually fun. Challenging, but fun. I was chipper (gleeful, even?) as I passed people, talking with them about the weather or observing the unique challenge of the current hill. In fact, I may have been a little too happy around people genuinely struggling up a climb. Then, just a few miles before the end (see the long hill with the pointy top in the chart?) there was a long hill with a long base and then a steep peak. It's a good thing no one was around me as I attacked that hill. They would have seen a man going up a hill at a pace insane for the conditions, snarling and cursing the whole way up. It was personal. I wasn't just going to defeat this hill, I was going to destroy it. It was visceral. I bested the hill and the mad man turned chipper again. No one had to send me to the funny farm. Not yet, at least.

Pay close attention because you will probably never hear me say this again: I'm tired of eating and drinking so much. Today, just during the four hours it took me to get to Ortonville, I consumed 184 ounces of water and nuun sports drink. That's almost a gallon and a half. For the last hour of the ride I didn't even let the Camelbak tube out of my mouth, except every 20 minutes to eat something.


Salt encrusted camelbak straps. Ew. (hope you weren't eating anything)

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PALM Part 5: Leslie to Perry

Note from Joe: This is part of a series of posts about the Pedal Across Lower Michigan tour. If you want to start at the beginning, you can find it here.

Today was about getting one leg up while putting the other leg down and repeating it frequently. I kept thinking about this shirt as I pedaled on telling my legs to "shut up". Our site at Leslie was next to the highway and the traffic and constant honking (I never realized how much people honk while driving) made for lighter than normal sleeping. It took me about 10 miles to warm up and get going well. But after I was fully awake the day went very well. The 42 miles went by quite quickly.

It was pretty warm and the sun was inescapable. Sunscreen was applied several times during the day. When I got to Perry I was so tired of the sun I spent the rest of they day lounging on an exercise mat in their gym reading. Tomorrow is supposed to be nearly 100 degrees, so I'm planning on starting as early as possible to beat the noon heat.

Long flat roads in farm land. All day.


Grabbed some more soap at a little store in Webberville.

Ice cream stop.

Made it!

If you are ever in Perry I recommend visiting Tammy's Bakery and Restaurant.

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PALM Part 4: Battle Creek to Leslie

Note from Joe: This is part of a series of posts about the Pedal Across Lower Michigan tour. If you want to start at the beginning, you can find it here.

The undulating hills of Kalamazoo and Battle Creek gave way to long rolling hills through forest and farmland. The weather was, again, perfect.

Some of the small towns know how to advertise to hungry cyclists.

Food fatigue
According to my heart rate monitor I've burned about 11,000 calories in the last three days. I've been trying not to binge and eat humongous meals, but rather tons of small ones. The problem is that now I'm suffering from a type of fatigue I didn't expect. Food fatigue. I'm eating constantly and still ending the day in caloric deficit. Today I ate every 20 minutes on my bike for about four hours. I burned 4,000 calories but ate 1,200, and life with no exercise requires 2,500 calories a day just to maintain weight. That leaves 5,300 to eat off the bike. Right now I'm snacking on some nuts and dried fruit. I never thought I'd say it, but I'm tired of eating.

I met several people today including a man who lives in my neighborhood. But I also heard about a man who, unfortunately, isn't with us anymore, but is a PALM legend. Kevin Degan was born with cerebral palsy and could only use one arm and one leg. With a modified bike he not only was a regular at PALM, but held fundraisers for people with special needs and once rode across the whole country.

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PALM Part 3: Paw Paw to Battle Creek

Note from Joe: This is part of a series of posts about the Pedal Across Lower Michigan tour. If you want to start at the beginning, you can find it here.

I said I'd start later, go slow, and take many stops today and I did just that. The day started with a (real) coffee at "That Coffee Place" just before 9am. I bumped into a few PALM goers and one of them, riding alone, said they had to stop at the Verizon store before leaving. I suggested we ride together and off we went. Good thing I was with them because their pedal fell off after a few blocks. This would normally be a very odd thing to have happen, but when you ship your bike with the shuttle service PALM offers, you have to take your pedals off so they can stack a bunch of bikes together in one truck. When they got to camp the person who re-attached the pedals must have cross threaded one of them and it finally worked its way out. I discovered that my multi-tool has a pedal wrench and a few moments later we were off again.


I found a palm!

The hills
Today's ride was a little over 50 miles and there were hills. The super man induced feeling from yesterday's perfect cycling conditions gave way to mere mortal cycling. Good thing I picked today to go slower. A steady and persistent head wind helped make sure we were nice and cool. And tired.

The Places
I discovered that my Lance Armstrong impersonation yesterday caused me to miss quite a lot. Today I stopped at all the SAG (aid) stations, where, along with getting some water, people meet up and chat. Yes, there are people on this tour. I missed them yesterday. I met a fellow who is a professional rider for Kellogg's and gets five cents a mile for wearing his frosted flakes jersey. Another person has a whole pannier dedicated to collecting empty cans he finds on the side of the road. I also met an awesome blind guy who rides back seat on a tandem recumbent. And I met a few people over the age of 90. Amazing. When you stop to look around there are amazing stories everywhere.

Proof that I was there

Many of the SAGs were in a parking lot, like this one.

Some of the stations even had one of these handy portable bike shops.

The markings on the road for PALM would make a cool T-shirt design, I think.

Hey, we found some art!

Lunch was at a real nice park (called Robert Morris) that had a lake (something I would have totally blown by yesterday). Over time our group of two became three and we kept meeting familiar faces at each of the SAG stops.
We finally rolled into camp around 6pm. An entire day's worth of riding. Now that's vacation!

Tomorrow is another 50 miles to Leslie. I think I'll go slow and stop at many of the SAGs again. This time I think I'll just start a bit earlier.

PALM Part 2: St. Joseph to Paw Paw

Note from Joe: This is part of a series of posts about the Pedal Across Lower Michigan tour. If you want to start at the beginning, you can find it here.

Day one of PALM (Pedal Across Lower Michigan) and so far the tour has the vibe of being a camping trip with a little biking mixed in. I got to venture down to Lake Michigan and kicked off the tour with "Mile Zero". Struck the tent, had some dinner with the wife and then settled in for the evening.

Mile zero.

The bike chillin' at the beach

Home for the next 6 days.

The next morning I woke up at around 6am to the sound of birds chirping. I ate some food, got my tent and other stuff packed and hit the road a little before 8am.
We went through downtown St. Joseph and went north along 63, part of the Steelhead half Ironman route.
I chugged along passing several people and before I knew it I was already 1/4 of the way done and it had only been about a half hour. "I have to slow down", I thought to myself. The slight, but prevailing wind was pushing us from behind and the hills were rarely steep. The temperature was perfect. It felt good to be on a bike. It was difficult not to surrender to the siren call of the perfect cycling conditions. After a while I had passed so many people that I had to really pay attention to the street markings to make sure I didn't miss a turn. I got nervous a few times, but just as I was considering turning around or getting out the map I would find another marking on the road.

I ended up in Paw Paw at 10:30am and we weren't allowed to get our stuff or use the school facilities until noon. Mental note to self: "start late, go slow, and take many breaks tomorrow".
I went into downtown Paw Paw and found a cafe. "COFFEE!" my caffein deprived brain thought excitedly. I locked up the bike and waltzed on in high on life and ready for a latte, or cappuccino, or maybe an espresso, mmmmmmmmm... When I asked the waitress what kind of coffee they had at this cafe I felt like I was on the set of the Blues Brother's movie. "We have both kinds, regular and decaf", she replied. Maybe I'll *shudder* go to McDonalds tomorrow morning for my latte. (I'm still in denial, even though all evidence points to it, that I've become a coffee snob.)

After a very slowly consumed lunch I rode back to the middle school and found that a few more people had shown up. I surveyed the field where the tents would go and tried to come up with a strategy for tent location. Close to the restrooms, but not too close because there would probably be foot traffic throughout the night. Probably should stay away from the river and woods (mosquitos?). I picked out my spot, rested my bike and relaxed a bit.

At about noon the four moving vans with our luggage opened up and all the people who had been foolish enough to ride quickly were pressed into volunteer luggage removal. Mental note to self: "Remember the first mental note".

Tent up, shower taken, relaxation and reading commenced.

Tent city.

An ice cream truck arrives. 800 sweaty bike riders rejoice.

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