Group Rides

Join us for evening indoor training rides on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30pm at the Recycle Bicycle Shop in downtown Ellensburg.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Basics about riding

I have had a couple of conversations lately with people about cycling and how they struggle with the "gears" and figuring out how to ride effectively. In otherwords, when to shift, positions on the bike, etc.

In the days of riding (when I was 12-16 yrs. old) my early 10 speed bikes we just looked at the rear group of gears and said we were in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th gear by which one the chain was postioned on. The formal discussion of gearing is not quite as simple. To start there are some basic terms you should know regarding the gearing on your bike.

The system is comprised of the two rings in the front called chainrings attached to the arms and pedals - the whole assembly (arms and chainrings) being called the crankset. The smaller group of rings on the rear wheel are most commonly called a cassette or freehub on newer bikes. My older bikes have a system called a freewheel on the rear and the difference between it and a cassette is not important for this discussion.

You can have either a double (two chainrings) or a triple (three chainrings) up front. The ring size is determined by the number of teeth on the rings. My Bianchi has a 53-39 set up. This means the biggest ring in the front has 53 teeth on it and the smaller one as 39 teeth. The most common combination for many years was 52-42 - three of my older bikes are set up this way. I have one with a 50-45 set up and two with 52-40. Increasingly popular today is the "compact double". This is a chainring set of 50-34.

The rear cassette size is also determined by the number of teeth on each ring. My Bianchi has eight rings with the number of teeth being 13-14-15-17-19-21-23-26. You will often hear this referred to as a 13-26. I have "6 speed" bikes with freewheel gearing of 13-26, 14-24, 14-30 and 14-28.

You might hear riders say they are in their 53-17 gear. That means the chain is on the larger chainring on the front and the 17 tooth ring on the back. Each revolution of the pedals causes the bike to travel a certain distance. This distance is often referred to as gear inches and is a reflection of the rings you have selected to ride in. You can find gear ratio calculators on the Internet. As an example, in the 53-17 with my Bianchi my bike travels 81.9 inches per pedal revolution. If I "drop down" on the rear to the smaller 15 tooth cog (53-15) my gear inch ratio changes to 92.9 inches, or I'm now in a higher gear. Dropping to a 39-17 (smaller front ring) changes the gear inches to 60.9 or a lower gear. So, when someone tells you to shift into a higher gear you want to actually move to a smaller ring on the rear.

All this is confusing, right. Well, the easiest thing to do is refer to your gears by the number of teeth and then pedal with a comfortable cadence, or pedal revolutions per minute. Anywhere from 85-100 revolutions per minute should work for most people. If you start spinning too fast then shift to a smaller ring on the rear (higher gear ratio). If you find you're struggling to keep proper pedal speed then shift to a larger ring (lower gear ratio). I focus on my cadence a lot, especially now that I'm older. The speed will progress as get comfortable with the cadence, shifting and get my aerobic capacity increased.

Finally, what position should you use for your hands. For the most part the majority of your work will probably be with your hands resting on the brake hoods. Moving your hands to the drops, or lowest portion of the bars, will put you in a little more aerodynamic position and also one I find provides a little more power from the quadriceps. As I start to climb up a hill I'll move my hand to the top middle of the handlebar to allow as much oxygen as possible into my lungs. I may also scoot back on the seat a little to get some extra leverage in pulling up on the pedals at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Always, pull up with your heal as you are pedaling, it not only gets all of your leg muscles working, but it can help alleviate some of the stress on your thighs.

Again, with your hands, 85% of us are not competitive racers or triathletes. We want to ride hard and do the best we can, but common sense needs to also prevail. Ride with a cadence that feels right and a position that is comfortable. If you ever do decide to ride a time trial, do a triathlon or choose to race you can then focus on the positions that will help you for the specific activity you are doing.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Favorite ride of 2008

I have discovered MapMyRide on the internet and used it today to map my favorite route of 2008 - which was only 43 miles. One of the reasons I enjoy this ride is the 8 miles or so of climbing right in the middle of it. The first 5 miles are a 5% grade at least according to MapMyRide.

You can be assured I'm going to be playing with the mapping on this site a whole lot more.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

So why the classic bikes

I was really hoping to get one last ride in before the end of the year but the good 'ol arctic blast we had for most of December prevented that from happening. I feel like I've been living in Canada, Alaska or Siberia for the past three weeks. I value my safety too much to attempt a ride on these country roads.

Over the course of being stuck indoors for my training I've done a lot of thinking about why I like the classic bicycles. As background I have always enjoyed classic cars - mostly those of the 1960's and usually lesser known Fords - Galaxie, Fairlane and Falcon. I had a 1965 Falcon once - and then sold it just before graduating from college. I still like the older cars but the reality is I'm not very mechanically inclined with automobiles and have a large family so having one isn't in the cards.

I graduated from high school in 1984 and went to college in the mid to late 1980's when guys like Greg Lemond, Davis Phinney, Nelson Vails, Mark Gorski, Alexi Grewal, Andy Hampsten and Bobby Livingston were big names in U.S. men's cycling. I'll never forget going to the 1985 U.S. National Track Cycling Championships at Marymoor Park's velodrome in Redmond, WA. What excitement to get to watch that caliber of cyclist in the Pacific Northwest. It was exhilirating to watch Greg Lemond become the first American winner of the Tour de France (on a non-cable broadcast, even) in 1986. Then in 1989 to watch him make up a 50 second deficit to win the Tour by 8 seconds on the last stage of the race was the best sporting feat I had ever seen. Those were the best days in American cycling (until 1999.)

So the 1980's hold a special place in my heart which made it easier to begin collecting bicycles from this era, even if a lot of the manufacturers were being consolidated and sending their frame construction to the Far East. Some say the bicycles of that decade started to lose their personality. But, they hold a special place in my heart.

I absolutely loved my 1984 Peugeot and when I got my Bianchi in 1997 it took a long time to quit longing for the responsiveness of the Peugeot. The Bianchi felt as responsive as a slug. When I bought the 1984 Gitane Sprint this year and rode it for the first time I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. Some of that feel from my original Peugeot was back and I was hooked. Then came the Gitane Tour de France - now I was really addicted. What a bike! The owner of our local bike shop commented to my mother-in-law, when she was buying a gift card for me for Christmas, that I was into restoring old bikes. You bet I am and below are some reasons why:

  1. Steel is reliable, been around for a long time and pretty indestructable as long as you take care of it. Granted I'd still love a Klein Quantum aluminum bike from the late 1980's.
  2. Classic bikes are cool. It seems all the mid to high end frames today look the same - either aluminum or carbon, with some titanium sprinkled in here and there. There's no individuality. Give me an old, reliable, quality steel bike any day.
  3. Downtube, friction shifters are pretty easy to operate and really not that much of an inconvenience.
  4. I don't have to pay insurance for the bikes or fill up with gas for that matter.
  5. I'm staying in shape while I ride them.
  6. I can still keep up with guys on their higher dollar, modern 20 or 30 speed bikes, on my little old 12 speed.
  7. There is a sense of nostalgia while riding these bikes.
  8. There is a strong community of classic and vintage owners on the internet which is fun to be involved with.
  9. There are typically less mechanical headaches with a bike than a car.

I'm sure I'll end up with more bikes and I'll ride them all. It's just a matter of time.