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Posts Tagged ‘bike’

Always Keep Your Drivetrain Clean

March 1st, 2011 No comments

In the first installment of my bike maintenance series I’d like to address the most important piece of maintenance you can perform. It is also the easiest. Like the camshaft in an engine, the chain is responsible for transferring the power generated by your legs directly to the rear wheel. If you think about how much force you can apply to the pedals it’s actually pretty amazing that the chain holds up as well as it does. That being said, here’s the first hard lesson I learned about the chain: it is designed to be replaced often. How often? That depends on how well you keep it maintained.

Chains are susceptible to “stretch.” This is not the stretching of the links as one might think, but the wearing of a little grooves in the pins of the chain by the rotating “rollers.” As each pin gets a tiny groove worn in it, the sum of all the grooves over the length of the chain can be quite large. You can easily measure this with a ruler, by placing the 1st ruler mark on one of the pins and seeing where the 12″ mark of the ruler lies. If the 12″ mark is right on a pin, then your chain has not stretched. If the pin is 1/16″ over the 12″ mark, you need a new chain. If it’s over that you may even need a new cassette. I usually go around 1000 miles before replacing my chain, but I measure it regularly to be sure. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way when I was young, and I will not soon forget it.

So how do you keep a chain well maintained so that it will last as long as possible? The answer is frequent cleaning and lubrication. What I am going to say here is probably a heresy in some circles, but I learned it from a longtime bike commuter and I trust his judgement. Cleaning/oiling your chain should be the easiest thing you do, because if it’s not you won’t do it as often as you should. I do it once a week when I am riding regularly, and always do it immediately after riding in the rain or on wet roads.

Dirty Chain

Eww, Nasty!

Unfortunately, cleaning a chain the way that most people will tell you to is a pain. This usually involves a special chain cleaning tool (an expensive uni-tasker), or removing the chain to soak it in de-greaser (messy and wasteful). If you aren’t lucky enough to have a chain with a “master-link” removing a chain with a chain tool can even do more harm than good! The secret to an easy chain cleaning is to use the oil itself to clean. Remember what we are shooting for is to lubricate the junction between the pins and the rollers located inside the link, that’s where the main source of chain wear is located. The only way to get in there is with a good penetrating oil, and to work the rollers around the pins lubricating the inner surface. The oil should be thin enough to be drawn into the roller by capillary action. Don’t even think about reaching for the WD-40, that stuff will mess your ride up! Get a good chain lube from a bike store. I was recommended ProLink by my commuter friend and it has not let me down.

Apply the oil to the inside edge of the chain

Apply Oil Here

Once you have your oil of choice you want to soak a good amount of it into your chain. Apply the oil to the inside edge of the chain and run the pedals backwards to work it in. This initial application of excess oil should flush out the small grit that is inside the rollers and draw it to the outside. I usually follow this up with running a rag lightly under the bottom of the chain to get the excess off, and then I will pedal forward running the bike through all of its gears to clean the teeth. Now wipe the chain down well with a rag to get all the dirty oil off, you can run the pedals backwards for this too and hold the chain in the rag to give it a good cleaning. At this point the teeth of your chainrings and cassette are probably covered with dirty oil as well, so I go over them with the rag too, working the edge of the rag in between the rings. Wipe down the derailer cogs as well as these can get pretty dirty, I usually hold the non-chain side tightly with the rag and run the pedals backwards to clean them off.

Work the rag in between the rings to clean the cassette

Wipe off the cassette and chainrings

If this is your weekly maintenance, things should be pretty clean at this point, but you may need to repeat the soak-drive-wipe cycle again if things are really dirty. Once the oil starts coming clean you should be in pretty good shape to actually lubricate the chain. I do this by applying a drop of oil to each roller. It helps if you have a point of reference to start from like a master-link. Could you just squirt a bunch on the chain and run it around a bit? Probably, but remember once the oil goes on it starts flowing out of the chain, not into it, so you may miss some links. By oiling every roller you assure that the lubricant is where it should be right from the start. Once you’ve finished the whole length of the chain, dab the excess off the bottom of the chain with a clean rag. I also put a drop of oil on the inside of each of the derailer cogs. They are not under extreme tension, but they do make a lot of noise when dirty.

All done!

All done!

With that you should be done, and the whole process doesn’t take longer than about 15 minutes. That should be easy enough to get you doing it all the time, which is the goal. Remember, chains are cheap, but a stretched chain can ruin a $100-$200 cassette in no time at all. Don’t neglect this important task!

Feel free to respond with any suggestions or questions you might have!

Always Pack Your Own Parachute

February 28th, 2011 No comments

I feel pretty strongly about bicycle maintenance given that we are often riding our bikes on roads with other traffic, and most of the time we will ride far enough away from home that getting back without a bike is next to impossible. Also, the mechanical systems employed by a bicycle are fairly vulnerable to damage, but by that same token easily accessible for maintenance. It is my feeling that anyone who uses a bike on a fairly regular basis should be able to learn the routine tasks necessary to keep a bike in good working order. The analogy I use is to skydiving, where skydivers “always pack their own chute.” They need to know that the task has been done correctly every time they jump, and while the situation may not be as extreme on a bike I think the concept is the same. How do we know our machine is working correctly and safely if we have not taken the time to understand it ourselves?

I was lucky when I bought my bike in that I got it used, in semi-decent condition. I was able to ride it essentially right away, but it required some work to get it really running smoothly. I jumped in with both feet! Fortunately, since I hadn’t paid too much for the bike I was not in fear of messing anything up. Since then I have learned to replace/fix the tires and tubes, clean and replace the chain, replace the grip tape, replace the brake hoods, true the wheels, adjust the brakes, and pretty much disassemble/clean/lubricate the entire thing. The best part is none of these tasks were very hard, and all of them have given me a sense of satisfaction in knowing the condition of each component.

I learned most of these things through other cycling friends and internet resources (Sheldon Brown’s website for example), but a lot of these either give you too much, or not enough information. My plan over the next year or so, is to post a writeup of some of these tasks as I have to perform them on my bike. Hopefully, with helpful questions and suggestions from readers, I will be able to be a resource to the community of people just starting out on their bikes.

Please feel free to leave a comment with any things you would like to see in this series, and I will try to address these first!

Categories: bike, maintenance Tags: ,

Hitting the Open Road

February 25th, 2011 No comments
Inspiration Drive

Take me home, country roads

I couldn’t bring myself to ride on the trainer the other day, and as it was not that windy I had no excuse to not get out and hit the open roads. Since a great deal of my riding is done commuting to and from work I often forget how nice it is to get out on the bike without a bag and just ride. Now for all the difficulties that come with my place out in suburbia, there is a huge advantage for exploring on the bike. Within 3 miles of my house there lies the vast open plains of the Colorado frontrange, with country roads that stretch for miles.

Now when most people think about riding in Colorado, they probably think of climbing over mountain passes, or flying down twisting canyon roads, but it’s a fact of life for me that most of these rides are inaccessible for routine rides. Riding out here in the country offers up spectacular views as well as a great workout. There are no flat roads, everything out here is rolling plain. Unlike a mountain pass that allows you to settle into a steady rhythm as you work your way up, these hills never let you fall into a pattern. They are not quite steep enough to give you the excuse of going slowly, so you need to put in the effort of keeping up a strong pace over the top. When you do make it over, the cruise down to the next climb is never quite long enough to catch your breath.

The reward for your hard work is the escape to a different kind of Colorado. Beyond the hustle of Denver bike routes, outside the segregation of Boulder’s bike lanes and paths, here you ride with the traffic. You will pass a llama farm, offering hay for sale. You will see a rusted gas station sign, a memory of when these roads were the only way to cross the state. You may see another cyclist riding, but then again you may see no one at all.

These are my training roads, the routes that I can easily access from home. From my perspective, the idea of having to drive a car in order to ride a bike is counterintuitive. My friends may be telling stories of their rides up Flagstaff, or through the Boulder foothills. Others are mountain biking on the numerous front range trails. But my home is here, and here is where I will ride.

Denver viewed from the E470

Downtown Denver in the Distance

Categories: bike Tags: , ,

How the Bicycle Improves Our Communities

February 21st, 2011 No comments

It’s no secret that I dislike cars. Cars are a necessity in this age, unfortunately, but I believe the isolation they foster is a major contributor to the loss of community that is present in urban society. Rather than make this post about a negative, I want to view the positive: that the bicycle and “alternative” forms of transportation are the keys to restoring this.

My generation is accustomed to instant-gratification. We want something, we buy it online. We want entertainment, we turn to our instant-queues and on-demand. We want to get somewhere, we hop in our cars and are there in almost no time. It’s no surprise that the concept of riding a bike to our destination, or taking public transit, is not even a consideration. These activities take too long and we are impatient. But what is often considered to be a waste of time, is actually a huge opportunity for personal interaction with our neighbors and community members.

When I ride my bike to work I pass through many neighborhoods. I am mostly riding on side streets and bike paths, so these cut through the hearts of the communities that lie on my way to work. There are few cars, and most of the interactions I have are with people who are out walking or exercising. Many of these people I see at the same time every day, greeting them with a “good morning” after my “on your left”. I see people working in their yards, caring for their houses and proud of their neighborhoods. I see children walking to school, playing and racing each other as they go.

By the time I arrive at work I feel energized! Apart from the satisfaction of arriving at my destination under my own power, there is a sense that I have been somewhere. I have taken part in a very human thing: enjoying the presence of other people. This is why we first gathered in villages, built towns and cities, we crave these interactions and the sense of community. As more and more people jump in their cars, remaining effectively isolated for the entirety of their journies, we lose this aspect of our humanity.

While I believe that there are many ways for us to recapture this, the bicycle is by far the most efficient way of placing ourselves back into our communities. As more people choose to ride, either for commuting or for fun and exercise, more bicycle routes will be planned and built. At first these will link schools and parks, benefitting our children and allowing them to grow up more invested in their neighborhoods. This will rebuild the community that we are losing, not all at once, but one bike ride at a time. My choice is to show my kids that they can get wherever they need to go by riding their bikes, and to not be afraid of saying “hello” to people as they go. My choice is to lead them into what I hope will be a better future by example, by choosing to ride my bike to work and using public transportation.

You can foster this growth as well! Find a bike store, fix a bike yourself, find safe bike routes to the places you visit most often. By increasing your comfort level with this mode of transportation you will be more likely to choose it as an option. Invite your family to join you on your rides, ride to an ice cream store! Ride to work once a month, or even once a week! The great thing about a bicycle is that anyone can ride one. Your journey to a better community starts with a single pedal stroke!

How Hard Can Riding on Three Smooth Cylinders Be?

February 17th, 2011 4 comments

No humans were harmed in the making of these videos, only elbows and egos were bruised. If anyone has a weak stomach for crude physical humor they should stop reading now.

The other day I received an offer from a friend of mine (Ex-Cyclist)  to try out his “rollers” with my bike. Rollers are an interesting invention, they look very much like this:

A Torture Rack

The Rack

Which means that at some point, some intrepid soul must have reasoned “Hey, I bet I could ride a bike on that!” and history was changed forever. The idea is that there are a set of cylinders at the back of the frame that the back wheel of the bike sits in. One of these cylinders is connected to a cylinder at the front of the frame by a belt, which allows the front wheel to spin at the same speed as the back wheel. This effectively turns the device into a bicycle treadmill. The challenge of riding on rollers is that not only are you responsible for turning the pedals, but you are required to maintain balance as well.

Despite these potential pitfalls there is a scientific olive branch which says you should be okay. That is the concept of angular momentum which loosely states that “spinning wheels got to go round,” and in fact will apply a force (or torque) to counteract any motion perpendicular to the rotation of the wheel. Armed with this knowledge I had complete faith that my attempts to ride the rollers would be successful, as long as I could get the wheels moving.

What I did not understand is that while angular momentum seeks to keep you upright, there is almost no resistance to motion of the bike laterally on the rollers. What’s more is that the turning of the front wheel, which may be one’s intuition after riding on the road, does almost nothing to stop this side to side motion. The key is keeping your center of balance over one spot on the rollers, and I have found that this is most easily accomplished by intense concentration on a spot approximately 6 feet in front of the bike. This helps one to focus and relax, as a relaxed grip on the handlebars seems to work best. Overall, the feel is not all that dissimilar to riding on the road (in a very narrow lane), and it is a welcome change from being locked into a trainer in which I could very well prepare an omelet while riding without falling over.

As for the promised “physical humor,” here is your reward for reading this far. I recorded my first attempts and posted them to my youtube account. Enjoy!


First Ride on Rollers (Take 2)

Categories: bike, Training Tags: , ,

How to Turn a 6 Year Old into a Personal Trainer

February 16th, 2011 No comments

Today I got to take care of “Le Petit Prince” while mommy was out of the house. “A perfect opportunity for a bike ride,” I thought, but he had other plans. “I don’t want to play in the basement daddy, I want to spend time with you!” How can I deny such a request? The solution, I thought, would be to workout together.

“How would you like to play Wii Fit while I ride my bike trainer?” I said, and the deal was made. Little did I know what was in store. After riding for 15 minutes or so I realized that the games he was playing on the Wii Fit all lasted 30s-3min, a good timeframe for intervals.  When he chose timed games I decided I would drop into top gear and do standing intervals for the time that his game took. This involves standing on the pedals with fairly high leg turnover as I don’t have a lot of resistance on my trainer, in other words, a quad killer!

There was a turning point in the workout, where I ceased calling the shots and I let my son unknowingly choose my fate. That point was the “Table Tilt” game. For those of you unfamiliar with Wii Fit, the table tilt involves the user standing on the balance board and shifting their center of balance around to roll balls into holes in the virtual board. The key to this is that for every level the user passes 30 seconds are added to the countdown. I had not counted on this, and it was around level 5 that I realized I may have bitten off more than I could chew. With each passing level I exclaimed out loud my displeasure with the situation, and that only elicited laughter from my son as he tried even harder to pass the level and add another 30 seconds of pain to my workout.

Between each game there was never quite enough time to recover, and I realized that he was pushing me harder than I would have ever pushed myself! Even games like ski jump became difficult as I furiously pedaled “down the ski jump” with only brief breaks in-between. By the time he was done playing an hour had gone by and my legs had turned to jelly. Best of all, both of us had had fun exercising together!

Next up I will be trying rollers for the first time, and I hope to document the hilarity of that with some video evidence! Keep checking back, or even better subscribe to my blog via the link at the right!

Categories: bike, Training Tags: , , ,

Breaking Equilibrium

February 15th, 2011 No comments

Yesterday I attempted a new workout on the bike trainer. Most of my workouts arise from some desire to keep things interesting for the hour that I’m on the bike. My goal for this workout was to ride a tempo style pace (hard but sustainable) but keep breaking up the equilibrium. I find that when I start out in a higher gear at first I don’t think I can keep up the pace for very long, but then my body settles in to the new effort and I can continue. I wanted to see how much of this was possible during the course of a ride.

I started out with a long warmup and then dropped it into a more challenging gear to start the workout. I would ride each gear for about 10 minutes, and then when I was starting to get used to the effort, drop to the next gear.  By the time I was done with the workout I was in the highest gear, and I was able to sustain it, although it was tough.

I think this was a great workout. First of all, I would not have been able to ride the whole workout in top gear, but it was harder than I would have attempted without the gradual build up. Second, the workout finished with the most difficult effort, another important quality. The big success was the fact that each portion of the workout was easily broken into manageable 10 minute segments.  For me that is mentally easier to achieve than thinking about riding for an hour.

I’m always looking for new ideas, so if you have any workouts you like using post them here. Feel free to try this one out too, you could even do it on a stationary bike at the gym!

Categories: bike, Training Tags: , , ,

Spinning Wheels

February 12th, 2011 1 comment

You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back. – Gattacca

I’m going to come right out and say it, because I’ve been in denial for too long. I have had plantar fasciitis since May 31, 2010. I didn’t want to write any posts about it because I wanted to get better first and then discuss all of the techniques that I had used to get over it. It doesn’t look like that is happening any time soon, so it’s time to break the silence.

These past few weeks I have been making extra efforts to heal, stretching as often as I can and avoiding activities that keep me on my feet. Fortunately I have a bike trainer available. I feel a little bad immobilizing my trusty steed, it looks so helpless with it’s back wheel propped in the air and a flywheel in place of the open road. Workouts on the trainer are challenging for me. The resistance I can get out of my trainer is not great, so I am limited to high rpm workouts.  That’s a good workout, but without my weight being distributed onto my feet, spending an hour in the saddle makes for a rough transition off the bike.

The biggest advantage to being on the trainer is the same that I find for working out at a track or on a treadmill: I don’t have to save anything for the trip back. Knowing that I can just step off when I can’t take any more means that I can leave it all on there, pushing beyond what I would do in a “real” workout. I know there are a lot of athletes out there that can do that anywhere, but for me it’s a real problem.  I love getting outside and extending my boundaries, seeing how far I can go self-powered, but in the back of my mind there is always the lingering fear that I won’t be able to get back. On the trainer, there is never any doubt.

At this point I am completely out of shape, yet I still feel my potential is there.  When I kick this injury I want to be ready to start seriously training for speed, and being on the bike right now is going to get me to that point. Some seasons of our lives are transitions, where it doesn’t feel like we are going anywhere, but in reality these times are preparing us for the journey to come. Riding the trainer now feels like just spinning my wheels, but I know there will be a payoff down the road!

Categories: bike, Training Tags: ,