I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship from the NBDA to attend the 2013 National Bike Summit in Washington DC. The National Bike Summit is an annual event in our nation’s capital that brings together a varied bunch of folks from the bicycle industry, from advocates to city employees, shop owners and enthusiasts. There are attendees from every state and a few from Canada. The event has several goals, one of which is to present a unified lobbying effort on Capital Hill. The League of American Bicyclists coordinates this unified effort by choosing a targeted message each year. This year’s theme was “The Business of Bicycling”. As a former board member of an advocacy group, I feel this theme was an excellent one for me personally, advocacy groups all across the country and the bicycle industry as a whole. Why? In the past, I think bicycle advocates have been lumped into a passionate yet tumultuous group oftentimes found spouting off about bicycle rights and narrow minded topics that benefit cyclists alone. It’s always been an “us” vs. “them” issue. I think this year’s summit opened the eyes of many to a new direction for the bicycle advocacy world, and that direction is showing people with factual data, that cycling is GOOD FOR EVERYONE even if you don’t ride a bike. The growing popularity of cycling is good for OUR economy, OUR environment, OUR world. It’s good for combating a growing national obesity problem that drives up EVERYONE’S healthcare costs. It’s good for bringing communities together and transforming ailing small towns into unique travel destinations. It’s good for attracting a new generation to our cities and towns that are increasingly shunning the automobile. You may never ride a bike in your life, but I would venture to say that cycling has positively impacted your life in some way, shape or form.
Several presentations focused on very sophisticated research that showed how many millions of dollars get pumped into a local economy solely by bicycle tourism. The presentations were varied and informative. One covered the economic impact of active transportation in the New Jersey. Another the economic impact of Bike Tourism in Oregon. Another tying mountain biking to conservation and preservation of public lands which we as taxpayers ALL OWN. Indianapolis’ mayor presented a compelling story on how a mission to make his city bicycle friendly brought over $60 million in Federal, state and local funds to his city. There was even a representative from the American Automobile Association that announced a new campaign stating they’re an advocate for all road users be they motorists, cyclists or pedestrians, complete with a video on sharing the road with those who bicycle. The list goes on.
What’s my point in sharing all this? I think people are finally going to start “getting it”. It will take some time, and it may see some ups and downs, but eventually the us vs. them mentality will diminish and we’ll all realize that you are me, and I am you. Let’s stop thinking of the other as motorists and cyclists and realize that all we really want is to improve our towns, cities and country which we can do simply by supporting the cycling industry and the collective good it brings to everyone. Bicycle advocacy groups and the industry as a whole need to understand and implement this thinking as soon as possible to get things moving in the right direction.
Lastly, let me relay a story as told by Howard Chang, an Ignite presenter at the summit. He described a situation with a motorist that had nearly run several riders in his group off the road. The motorist had stopped further up the road (for reasons unbeknownst) and rather than launching into a tirade, as calmly as he could, Howard simply asked the motorist to think about the fact that his group on bicycles were no different than those in the vehicle, they were brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, etc. He said after a moment the motorist began crying and apologized simply saying “I get it”. It sounds mushy but it’s amazing how our choice of vehicle, be it bicycle or automobile so easily isolates us from the fact that we’re no different from the other and often spins us 180 degrees into that dangerous “us” vs “them” mentality.
I’ve seen all types of flats and the sometimes crazy reasons that cause them. I’ve even seen a flat caused by a bullet. Most flats are obvious, some are not, and sometimes you get stuck in the “frequent flat” routine. Let me first start by saying that under inflated tires are often the cause of many flats. Low pressure makes your tire more susceptible to thorn type punctures as well as pinch/snakebite flats where the tire bottoms out against the rim thus pinching the tube. Ideally you should check your tire pressure before each ride.
If you’re getting frequent flats you really need to get methodical about discovering the cause. The first thing I suggest you do is go buy a paint pen, I like silver. Now, when you install the tube, put a big X on a specific SIDE of the tube. Anywhere you like is fine. This “keys” your tube. Now, install the tube with the X facing the DRIVE SIDE of the bicycle. The drive side is the crank side of the bike. Line the X up with some identifying feature on the tire (most tires have logos). If the tire has no identifying feature or too many logos, make one on one sidewall with the silver pen. If your tire is directional make it on the drive side of the tire. Now, with the X on the tube lined up with the identifying feature on the tire, install it so that they both line up with an identifying feature on the rim. This can be a sticker, a scratch, a mark with your paint pen, the rim seam, anything you can identify. Wheels are directional too, if your hub has a logo you should always install the wheel so that you can read the logo when sitting in the saddle, again paying attention to how you install the tire onto the rim if the tire is directional.
Now next time you get a flat you can identify the EXACT spot on the rim, tire and tube where the flat occurred. Take your tire and tube off the rim and begin an inspection. Inflate the tube to figure out where the puncture in the tube is located. If the puncture is on the tread side of the tube, line the X on the tube up with whatever identifying feature of the tire you used and inspect the area of the tire that coincides with the puncture in the tube. Run your fingers along the inside of the tire feeling for anything sharp. Push the tread inwards and use a headlight on the inside of the tire so you can get a good look. I’ve seen cases where a small metal thread (from a blown out car tire carcass) can get embedded into a tire. Those little strands are nearly invisible and can cause repeated flats. Be prepared to get your fingers pricked and have a nice pair of needle nose pliers to grab any offending objects in the tire. Inspect the entire tread area of the tire for embedded objects, remove these too as over time they can work their way through to the tube.
If the puncture is on the rim side of the tube, line everything up and start looking at the rim in the location of the puncture. Rim punctures can be caused by many things. Often times it’s a rim strip issue or a metal burr on a spoke or spoke hole. It’s important to use a quality rim strip. The cheap rubber ones are not really acceptable except for single wall rims. If your rim is double wall use a quality high pressure rim strip of the proper width. The strip should cover the spoke holes but not be so wide as to interfere with the seating of the tire at the bead. I regularly install KORE, FSA, Origin8 and Velox tapes. In rare cases poor engineering of the rim can cause flats. A few times I’ve had to install thin rubber tubing into a groove in the center of the rim and then cover it with rim tape because the tube was thinning out so much when filling into the groove that it would fail simply from friction.
If you’re just getting regular pinhole type punctures in the tread area and there’s nothing embedded in the tire it’s just dumb luck. Investing in better tires is one way to reduce flats. There are many tires on the market that have some type of built in puncture protection, some are better than others and those often come at a higher price. When it comes to tires you really get what you pay for. For puncture resistant performance road tires I often recommend Continental Gatorskins. For relaxed commuting and touring I recommend Schwalbe Marathons or Michelin Pilot Sports. There are of course other choices but I don’t have much experience with them. Vittoria’s Randonneur line, Michelin City Proteks and the uber bargain CST Selecta which are actually pretty decent albeit with limited size choices.
If you can’t afford puncture resistant tires or can’t bear to replace your perfectly good barely worn tires, consider tire liners. They work but I would avoid using them in narrow road tires. Mr. Tuffy used to hold the trophy for best liners but now I have to recommend Rhinodillos for the best protection. A tire liner goes between the tube and the inside of the tire. It deflects objects that pierce the tire. They do reduce flats but as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as “flat-proof”. Tire liners do add weight, the Rhinodillos are hefty and they do not make a “light” version like the Mr. Tuffy Ultra-Lites.
Another option is a tube sealant. Slime is JUNK. It eats away the bond between rubber and brass so eventually you get a bubble around the valve stem and you flat. I’ve seen it many times. We use an alternative at the shop. Flat Attack. It uses fibrous material versus the rubber chunks in Slime and it doesn’t cause the valve stem separation issue as far as I can tell. Personally, I use Stans NoTubes in my tubes. Stans works wonderful, the only downside is that it dries out quicker and you must add more in as little as 3 months depending on the atmospheric conditions in which the bike is used and stored. Stans is actually a latex rubber based product and when it cures it cures as a latex rubber. Slime and Flat Attack don’t cure, they just clog and dry up in the puncture. Stans is also intended for tubeless applications. The thing to remember with sealant is that it doesn’t always seal the hole the first time. With Slime and Flat Attack if you get a puncture and can hear air escaping you need to get that puncture facing the ground so the sealant can flow and be forced into the hole by air pressure. If the puncture seals and you park the bike with the puncture at the top of the tire the sealant can run away from the puncture and allow it to leak again. If this happens, re-inflate the tire and ride the bike so the sealant is distributed along the inside of the tire. Alternatively face the puncture towards the ground and let gravity get the sealant there. With Stans NoTubes you shouldn’t have this issue once the puncture is sealed as when the Stans is exposed outside the tire it will cure up to rubber.
Lastly, I feel it pertinent to include some thoughts on “airless” or “solid” tires. I would avoid these entirely unless you’re riding through something akin to a warzone and absolutely need to eliminate flats. Solid tires offer no pneumatic cush and will destroy your rims and hubs quite quickly. Your spine and kidneys may also suffer from the bone jarring ride of solid tires.
I hope I’ve covered all the situations that cause frequent flats and there are many ways to reduce flats significantly. If I’ve missed something please contribute in the comments!
If you want to ship a bike cheaply there is one thing you need to know. That is, how to avoid oversize fees by choosing the right size box. If you avoid oversize fees you should be able to ship any standard size bike from coast to coast for $75 or less (as of Oct 2012) with FedEx. The shorter the physical distance the cheaper. I’ve always found FedEx rates to be lower than UPS. To avoid oversize fees the length + girth (height x 2 + width x 2) of the box must be 130 inches or less. Most bike boxes are 8″ wide, range from 29″ to 31″ tall and 51″ to 54″ long. For a box that measures 54″ x 30″ x 8″ the equation is 54 + (30 x 2) + (8 x 2) = 130″. Once you go over 130 inches, you can expect the cost to double due to oversize fees. So, if you’re going to ship a bike and you’re looking to your local bike shop for a box, make sure to get the measurements. If you don’t know how to pack a bike leave it up to your local bike shop to do so, labor charges vary but figure at least $50. If you want to learn how to pack a bike into a box, this is a good two part video.
At minimum the tools you’ll need to box a bike up are*:
- A set of metric hex wrenches. A multi-tool, hex set or even a 3 way should suffice
- A 15mm open ended wrench or pedal wrench to remove pedals
- Zip ties, many of them!
* less modern bikes may require different tools including such things as small metric wrenches in the 8 – 10mm range.
Having attended a small kids focused community bicycle event earlier today, I must express my disbelief at the sad shape of most of the bicycles at the event. The environment takes a heavy toll on disused bicycles. UV and heat degrade all the rubber, plastic and paint. As they’re haphazardly moved from place to place in garage, shed or backyard, the components and wheels are often dinged, dented or simply broken beyond repair. Some even suffer serious damage from a misjudged car parking job. Most of the tires were one curb or pothole impact away from blowing out due to dry rot. Wheels were wobbly, chains rusted, brakes barely functional and bolts were loose. It’s mind boggling to me that parents let their children ride these klunkers, most without a helmet! Do you and your children a favor, show the family bikes some love! If possible, store your bikes inside the house, climate control will extend their service life significantly.
When I first started working at the shop we had a pair of Pedro’s Cable Cutters. They were great, until someone broke them trying to cut a cable lock off a customer’s bike. We bought a set of Park Tool Pro Cable Cutters. In less than 6 months they weren’t cutting cables perfectly clean, sometimes making it difficult to pass a cable through housing. You had to cut quickly and pull the cable taut while cutting. We had Park Tool warranty them, but eventually had same problem. We went back to Pedro’s and here’s why:
This is not a specific jab at all Park Tools. Park makes wonderful tools and we have many here in the shop, but as far as cable cutters go, go Pedro’s! And no, the warranty pair of Park cable cutters has not been mistreated, nor is the pair of Pedro’s brand new.
I spent most of the month of March away from biking, time to bring it back. April is the Valley’s Bike Month, one month before the rest of the country due to the impending hot weather. Rather than post all the events here, hop on over to Tempe Bicycle Action Group’s Bike Month Post.
In May I’ll be doing some bicycling in Santa Barbara, CA and visiting the Bike Station there. Looking forward to it. This fall I may actually make the C&O Towpath/GAPT 330 mile bike camping trip happen, we’ll see.
This topic has come up a few times recently so I figured I’ll write a blog post about it. You’ll find that I don’t talk about cycling specific clothing. There are two reasons for this. One, I consider myself a plain clothes cyclist. Aside from a few short sleeve jerseys and a pair of leg warmers I don’t own any cycling specific clothing. Two, cycling specific gear is not cheap and since I already had a lot of hiking/snow gear I simply re-purposed some of it for cycling. The first thing you want to remember about layering is: NO COTTON. Cotton, while popular, does not dry quickly nor facilitate moisture transfer away from the skin to outer layers. Another important thing to remember is you should always be a bit cold at the start of your ride, your body will warm up quickly with activity and you want the temps to be “just right” instead of “too hot” 5-10 minutes into the ride. The components of layering are:
- Base layer(s)
- Insulating layer(s)
- Protection layer
The ideal base layer is one that is form fitted (but not too tight) and wicks away moisture to the outer layers. You want either technical fabric (sold under many brand names) or wool. Your baselayer can be short sleeve, long sleeve or sleeveless. You can use multiple base layers such as a sleeveless shirt over a long sleeve shirt providing extra protection at your core. Base layer examples.
After the base layer comes one or more insulating layers. Fleece is a very popular insulating layer and is available in varying thickness and configuration. I often recommend a fleece vest (rather than long sleeves) as the vest keeps your core warm but allows some heat to escape from your armpits. Insulating layer examples.
The last layer is your outer layer that protects you from wind and water, often resistant or proof. A wind resistant outer layer on a bicycle is key, if you’ve ever watched bicycle racing events you may have witnessed riders stuffing newspaper up their jerseys as they hit a long descent after a long climb. The newspaper protects their core from wind chill on fast descents. A shell jacket is a popular choice and provides excellent protection from wind and water. Alternatively there are fleece technologies that also block wind such as Gore Windstopper. If you live in a warmer climate you may just want a windproof fleece/softshell as your outer layer. Features on an outer layer may include pit zips to allow heat to escape.
Other apparel that can be added into the mix are arm, leg or knee warmers which can be put on or stripped off quite quickly as things cool down or heat up. A thin helmet liner is an option for keeping your head warm, or simply taping your helmet vents closed can keep things warm. Gloves are important, and can be found with Gore Windstopper technology. There are also toe/shoe covers to keep your feet warm and protected from wind/water.
This past Friday I did two bicycle related things I’d not done before. First time on a single speed mountain bike and first time on a fat bike. What is a fat bike? A fat bike (or snow bike) is a bike with REALLY wide tires. 3.5″+ wide. Surly has two models in their lineup, the Pugsley and Moonlander. Salsa has one, the Mukluk. What are the benefits of really wide tires? There are several. First, the wider tire has a larger air volume. Larger air volume means the tire can act as a suspension of sorts, absorbing impacts with any number of obstalces. Second, the tire is run at lower pressure, as low as 8 psi. This allows the tire casing to deform as it encounters obstacles, again acting as a suspension but also increasing traction as more of the tire is in contact with the ground at any given time. Third, the contact patch is larger. The larger the contact patch the more float the tire has and the easier it rolls over soft surfaces like sand and snow. The larger contact patch also lessens the impact to the trail. Combine all these benefits and it equals serious FUN.
I was riding on the west side of the Estrella mountain range, where the roads are mostly sandy, occasionally as deep as beach sand. Off the roads the surface varies from hardpack to 4″ – 6″ riprap. Topography varied from flat to rollers much like those found around the buttes at Papago Park. The Pugsley I was riding rolled over all these surfaces with relative ease. While deep sand required more effort, the tires did not bog down like an ordinary 2″ wide mountain bike tire would have. I was especially impressed with the ride quality over 2″ – 3″ gravel, the aired down tires made it feel as if riding an ordinary bike on hardpack, quite smooth. Another terrain where the wide tires excelled was riding over channels in the sandy soil as much as 12″ deep and two feet wide created by rainwater draining to lower elevation. An ordinary bike tire impacting the sharp edges of the channels would have cut in like a knife slowing the bike significantly. The nearly 4″ wide tires however, rolled over and through these channels quite easily. I’m pretty sure I had a big goofy grin on most of the ride and every time new terrain was conquered I’d often laugh with amazement. I was also amazed that I really didn’t miss a geared drivetrain much, 32×19 was a pretty good ratio for a fun roll through the desert.
This is a question that gets asked quite a bit on the internet and in bike shops. There’s nothing wrong with building a bike, just know that it will almost ALWAYS be more expensive than buying a bike. I learned this first hand yesterday when I put together a spreadsheet for a mountain touring 29er build. I had an idea that I could build a “poor man’s” Salsa Fargo 2-ish clone. After about 20 minutes it became clear, that even after choosing a frame/fork that costs $300 less, and using lower spec components, that my “poor man’s” build was just as expensive as buying a complete Fargo 2 and resulted in less bike for the same price. For the record, I’m talking new builds and wholesale cost in both cases, not retail.
So what do you do if you want a semi-custom build? My recommendation would be to find the closest stock build you can, pull parts you don’t want immediately, sell them to your friends or on eBay and then buy the parts you want to customize.
Just a short post to drop some props on Bicycle Times & Dirt Rag magazine. Two great publications, the former being my favorite for plain clothes cyclists like myself. Also a thanks to both as I won a Minewt 600 light in their 2011 year end sweepstakes. My favorite 2011 article would have to be the “Touring with the Family” article in Issue 13 covering one family’s journey on the 335 mile C&O Towpath / Greater Allegheny Passage trail that runs between Pittsburgh, PA and Washington D.C. I hope to ride this trail in 2012, planning to build a mountain touring rigid 29′er for the journey.