Buying Guide

Another bike blog I read frequently recommends products. Am I remiss in failing to do so, or am I countering consumerism by not encouraging you to buy more?

I kept my first new bike for 17 years – until it was stolen. When I went to replace it, I test rode more than 30 bikes before I said “Aha! This is my bike!” I am not necessarily recommending that.

If you are thinking about buying a bike, ask yourself: 1) what do I need? 2) what do I want? 3) what can I afford? Then think about how long you will own this bike and adjust #3 as needed. During that shopping spree 30+years ago, I started with a budget of $1000. Then I rode the bike that made me say “Aha!”. I realized that my previous bike lasted 17 years and I saw no reason to keep this one for any less time. Amortized over 20 years, $1000 is not much (even 30 years ago). The bike was on sale. It cost $1800, discounted for being old stock – it didn’t have the latest technology (Hyperglide) and it had passé technology (Biopace). For $30 I swapped out the chainrings for round ones. 30 years later I’m still riding it. (While shopping, I also rode a $4000 bike. It did not make me say “Aha!” Money is not everything.)

I read in the bike press that the number of bikes to own is “N+1” (one more than you already own). I don’t know any real people who actually think that way. That saying is a way to justify selling you things you don’t need and maybe don’t even really want. I think the correct number is “just enough”. That number could be 1; it could be more. I have a bike that I wouldn’t ride in snow, sand, and salt. That kind of riding required another bike. Could I get by with just the bike that I do ride in snow, sand, and salt? Not to ride across the country. So the answer for me is >1.

Okay, so you’re ready to buy something. Next advice – do your research, shop carefully, then go with your gut. Bike and equipment (especially clothing) choices are pretty personal. What’s right for me may not be what’s right for you. If you have a local bike shop, patronize them. (I don’t mean be patronizing – that’s the next sentence.) If you find a shop that is rude or discounts you (because you’re old, because you’re a woman, because you don’t know their lingo) find another shop. Go to a bike shop, not to WalMart. Do you know what you’re doing, and what you want, or do you need someone else’s expertise? How badly (or how soon) do you need something? Can you get it on sale? You can buy online, but don’t try stuff out at the local shop and then buy it online because it’s a few dollars cheaper. That’s rude.

Back to that personal example. When I bought the bike mentioned above, I had test-ridden a used bike from the same builder. It was beautiful (but also not available). His frame painter had a style he called “superfade”. It was not your average fade from one color to another. He started with a base color (We’ll say purple, as that’s what I saw and fell in love with. He starts at the back of the bike and paints a little over 20% of it purple. (These numbers are based on my recollection of a conversation with him 30 years ago. They may not be accurate, and he may have retired.) Then he mixes it with silver – 75% purple/25% silver. He overlaps the first coat and goes just past 40% of the frame. Now he mixes 50/50 and overlaps again, going just past 60% of the frameset. 25/75 takes him just past 80%. Pure silver (overlapping with the last coat) goes on the final 20% (mostly the fork at this point). Looking at the bike, you’re not sure what color it is. From one angle it’s silver. From another angle, it’s purple. As the light hits it differently, the metallic sheen of the silver is more or less prevalent in the mixed areas.

That was the most beautiful bike I’d ever seen. But the bike on sale at the local shop was red (and I’d been riding a red bike for the past 17 years). It made me say, “This is my bike” when I rode it. I wanted that superfade paint, but did I need it? I saved a lot of money and bought the red one. Truth be told, rather than pay full price for the bike and the cost of a custom paint job, I bought a second bike. Now I had a bike to go fast and have fun, and another bike to carry loads and ride to work.

This was to be part 1 of 2. I wrote a second post, very specific about specific products, but WordPress froze while “autosaving”. The only way to get out of that was to leave the page, so I was faced with the internet version of “my dog ate my homework”. The last recoverable version was only the intro. I decided that was god’s way of saying you don’t need to hear that part. WYSIWYG.

Shorts!

Today was the first day warm enough to ride in shorts. Wednesday was the first Wednesday Night Bike ride of the season. In 26 miles I saw 12 other riders – 6 going the other way on the road I was on (scattered over the 26 miles) and 6 seen in the distance on other roads. Social distancing seemed to work here. There were those who chastised the organization for not canceling its rides. Being a rather anarchic organization, they decided to trust us to do what is right. I think we did pretty well.

On Thursday I rode with two friends. They made me ride behind them, 10 feet downwind at all times. Since I work in a hospital and they are sheltering in place, they figured they had a better chance of catching it from me than vice-versa. A reasonable thought, even if I wear a mask and face shield at work, wear scrubs that get carried home in a sealed bag and washed separately from all other clothes, and wipe down door handles, Purell dispensers, the time clock, keyboards, refrigerator and microwave doors, stair railings, flush levers on toilets…several times per day at work. A housekeeper told me we ran out of the Purell that comes in bags to go into wall dispensers. The homemade stuff from the hospital pharmacy is too thin to go in there. I suggested we thicken it with cornstarch. He was amused but didn’t think it would work. I suggested a wine reduction sauce. He didn’t think that would work, either. The trouble with alcohol without aloe or other moisturizers is that it dries your skin, leading to cracking and openings for icky stuff (that’s the broad scientific term for bacteria, viruses, molds, and fungi) to enter the body; in other words, an opportunity to make things worse instead of better.

I spent the afternoon in a recorded webinar about therapy with COVID-19 patients. It helped to convince me not to volunteer, being a frail old man with asthma and therefore susceptible to unfavorable outcomes like death. A major focus was on seeing the non-COVID patients more often than we usually would, to help them recover faster and discharge home instead of to a rehab center where they are once again at risk. Each morning I pass through a gantlet of nursing staff to show my ID and assure them that I have been self-monitoring and I have no new symptoms.

This will be my first 100+ mile week since before surgery. The coots and loons are in town, a brief stopover on their semi-annual commute. I saw an egret today. The robins and redwing blackbirds are back in large numbers. I saw 11 hammocks hanging over the lawns behind the Lakeshore Dorms this afternoon – I thought the dorms were closed and the students all gone – but this must be where they are housing the students who have nowhere else to go.

Bike by Bill Davidson, photo and 30 years of miles by Half-fast Cycling Club

In honor of my bikes turning 30 this year, I’ve been riding the old and trusty steel steeds and the carbon fiber bike has remained hanging in the basement. The Bruce Gordon is seeing heavy commuting duty and a couple of rides in the countryside. The Davidson came off the trainer and has accompanied me for the past two days and 60 or so miles.

No, really…

I decided to ride across the US many years ago. I actually made it real the day I got the approval for a leave from work. I decided to “rest”, so to speak, until January 1 and then start training. The plan was to have my employer give me a free membership to their health club to train. I chose not to ask that.

I thought I’d join a health club in my neighborhood, with the idea that I’d work on a leg press machine to build leg strength and spend hours on a spinning bike. The club at my community center didn’t have the equipment I wanted and I didn’t feel like giving my money to a for-profit health club.

So, about the same time as I started writing this blog I started to train. The first month was mostly core stretching and strengthening. I used a timer and plankgradually increased the amount of time I could spend in a plank, to the front and to each side. I did crunches. I did a lot of spine stretching. If I’m going to sit in one position for hours, my back and neck should be strong and loose. I added hamstring and quad stretches. I held those stretches for a minute each. Then I moved to the stairs and did toe raises (both as Achilles’ tendon stretches and as strengthening.)

About the time the Olympics came on TV I brought out my trainer. Years ago I bought a bike trainer while recuperating from an injury (work-related, not bike-related) that kept me off my bike (or at least off the road) for months. I rode in my living room because I could only use one arm. The trainer then sat in the basement for years, as I’d rather get somewhere when I ride. I’m riding the trainer on my Davidson, (or see here) as it was neglected all last year while I rode the new bike.

During the Olympics I would warm up spinning nice and easy, then start ramping up. I would do intervals during commercials. I’d rest, spinning easy during the next event, 20crosscountry-blog-blogSpanthen another hard interval during the next commercial. I’d mix it up, some days going hard for the duration of a downhill racer’s run, then resting. The cross-country ski marathons meant going hard and steady for a long time. Some days I would gradually ramp up – no hard intervals, just gradually harder gears and higher cadences. Then a long cool down.

When the Olympics ended, I used other long things – I watched an 8 part Grateful Dead movie on the bike. I’d watch or listen to an entire concert on the bike.

I tried a spinning class (because it was free). It was worth the price I paid, but I did work hard enough to be sore the next day.

When bike clubs started up in the spring I rode with them. My usual Wednesday Night Bike Rides and Sunday rides with the Bombay Bike Club. (I work on Saturdays.) My first WNBR was April 11 and first Bombay ride wasn’t until Sunday, April 29. April 29 and 30 I rode back-to-back days for the first time (~85 miles total). Then I remembered that the year I rode the Death Ride I had done my first century by the end of April.

On days I didn’t feel like riding (or it was raining or snowing) I went back to floor exercises to maintain core strength and flexibility. Will it be enough? (For my body? for my mind?) Stay tuned! If I go down in flames, you’ll all know!