Archive for the 'Bikes & Cycling' Category

Apr 24 2017

Cyclists, Be Bright & Be Alert by Tamia Nelson

The recent tragic death of a popular professional racing cyclist highlights the importance to all of who ride a bike of doing what you can to improve the odds that you’ll make it home safely.

If you follow professional bike racing, no doubt you’ll have heard of the tragic death of Italian Michele Scarponi of the Astana team. On the morning of 22 April 2017, only days after winning a stage in the Tour of the Alps, Michele left on a training ride in his home town of Filottrano, Italy. A few kilometers from home, he was struck by a van turning across his lane en route to a side road. The collision killed Michele Scarponi.

So what does this untimely death mean for the rest of us? Just this: It’s a wake-up call to all of us who go forth on two wheels. So many cyclists I see on the road are dressed in dark clothing and without reflectors or blinking lights, seemingly unaware that it’s in their interest to be bright enough to be noticed by motorists. Of course, motorists bear some (most?) of the blame for collisions with cyclists. As the bigger, more powerful road users, motorists carry an extra moral (if not always enforced legal) responsibility to exercise caution. Having said this, many motorists don’t seem to realize their responsibility, nor do some seem to care. After all, in a collision—whoever is at fault—it’s the cyclist who will suffer more, and all too often the cyclist is killed.

The upshot? If you are a cyclist, do what you can to be seen and to ride defensively. It does no good to be absolutely certain that you’re in the right if the result is that you’re hit by a car. There’s no doubt you’ll be the one who suffers the most. Wear bright clothing. Light up. And keep your eyes and ears alert for what others are doing and what they may do. Stay alive and well.

One last note to the loved ones of Michele Scarponi. My heartfelt condolences. He will be sadly missed.

Further Reading


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Apr 15 2017

Be Prepared for Roadside Repairs by Tamia Nelson

Heading out for your first road ride of the season? Then don’t forget to stow basic roadside repair tools on your bike. Because stuff happens.

You’re the better part of an hour from home on your bike, enjoying the first day-long ride through the countryside that you’ve had since last autumn, and you’re on your own. But then trouble strikes. It could be a persistent knock with each revolution of the cranks. Or a front derailleur cable that gives up the ghost. Or maybe you hit a deep pothole and sheared a spoke on the drive side of your rear wheel. What do you do? Pull out your cell phone and call someone to come and pick you up? Is there cellphone coverage where you’re likely to meet with trouble?

A five-mile ride down the road brings me to a dead zone with no cell coverage, and it stays that way for another 25 miles. There are no other services to be found, either. There aren’t even many houses. Yet it’s a great place to ride, with paved roads and wide shoulders, challenging grades, little traffic, and beautiful scenery—rich woods, verdant wetlands, and rolling hills. With luck, I might also glimpse an ambling bear. But it’s not a great place to meet with mechanical trouble. So I…

Always Tool Up to Ride

Here’s a review of what’s inside my seat bag:

  • Spare tire tube
  • Self-adhesive patches
  • Tire levers
  • Hex wrenches
  • Spoke wrench
  • Chain tool
  • Multi-tool
  • Vinyl gloves
  • Cotton rags

The seat bag is all I really need for local rides. For longer trips, though, when a walk back home would take me more than an hour or two, I bring a more complete inventory of tools in a quart-sized ziplock bag. I call this my roadside repair kit, and I carry it in my handlebar bag. Is my roadside repair kit heavy? Yes, but it’s not any heavier than a large, filled water bottle. I can live with the extra weight, especially considering the peace of mind it provides. Here’s a look at what the kit contains:

Petra's Tools Photo (c) Tamia Nelson

And here’s what’s what:

  • Tire patch kit
  • Combo Phillips and slotted screwdriver
  • 8 mm Allen key
  • 8 mm and 10 mm combo open-ended wrench
  • Cone wrenches (13/15 mm and 17/18 mm)
  • Combo wrench (31 mm and 36 mm headset spanner and 13/15 mm cone/pedal wrench)
  • Lifu mini crank extractor
  • Stein cassette remover
  • Bottom bracket tool (not shown)
  • Spare brake and derailleur cables (not shown)
  • Rubber buffers cut from old inner tube (used to keep tools from clattering)
  • Vinyl gloves

Most of these will be familiar to amateur mechanics, but there are two tools which aren’t so common—The Lifu mini crank extractor is on the left, and on the right is a J. A. Stein cassette remover by J. A. Stein (this one fits a Shimano cassette).

Petra's Special Tools Photo (c) Tamia Nelson

Don’t Forget Spare Cables

I carry spare brake and derailleur cables in a pocket in my ‘bar bag. These cables are not interchangeable, and to make matters more confusing still, different makers’ components require differently configured molded heads. So-called “universal” derailleur cables have a barrel head on one end and a disk head on the other. You cut off the end that you don’t need. It’s easiest to do this at home, by the way, using a cable cutter that doesn’t fray the wire. Brake cables are available with barrel heads (the name compounds the confusion, because these look just like the disk heads on derailleur cables) or mushrooms. Some universal brake cables are available, too, and as with universal derailleur cables, it’s best to do the preliminary cutting at home.

Here are some photos to help cut through the fog of confusing terms:

Petra's Tools

The cables in the picture above are Teflon-coated. Note that the brake cable is thicker than the derailleur cable. The brake cable is intended for standard drop-bar levers. Linear-brake levers require cables that look like this:

Petra's Tools

These cables are not Teflon coated. Note the barrel head on the brake cable. (The head on the derailleur cable is nearly identical to that in the preceding photo, despite having a different code stamped on it.)

To repeat what I said earlier: If you buy universal brake or derailleur cables, it’s best to trim off the unneeded head at home using a good pair of cable cutters. If you ever have to cut a cable on the road with the wire cutter on a pair of multi-tool pliers, you’ll see why it makes sense to do the job in advance. Not only will you get blisters in places you’ve never had blisters before, but the cut end of the cable is almost sure to be badly frayed. Good luck in threading that through the housing!

Is all of this a lot of trouble to go to just to prepare for an unlikely breakdown? I don’t think so.

Be Prepared

Routine pre-ride checks and post-ride inspections help prevent nasty surprises on the road, but no preventative maintenance program is foolproof. Stuff happens, and when it does, I prefer self-sufficiency to dependency. In conjunction with the tools I carry in the saddle bag, my roadside repair kit allows me to meet almost any emergency. I can tighten loose pedals and cranks, adjust cones on pedals and wheels, tweak the threaded headset on my mountain bike, replace a spoke (I carry spares), pull a crank so I can tighten or service a bottom bracket, and remove (or snug down) any of the many fasteners on any of my bikes. The bottle opener on the combination headset wrench comes in handy, too.

But maybe you blanch at the idea of doing any repairs. Have no fear, though:

You Can Do It!

If you can change a flat tire, you can learn how to maintain and repair your bike. Believe me, it’s worth the effort. You can’t always phone home, and it’s best not to rely on the kindness of strangers. More importantly, working on your bike makes you a better cyclist. A bicycle is personal transportation in its purest form. So why not get better acquainted with yours?


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Apr 12 2017

Are Your Feets Too Big? Toe Overlap and the Cautious Cyclist by Tamia Nelson

Toe overlap seems high on the list of some cyclists’ concerns. What about it? Are your feets too big? Well, I’ve got news for you. It’s usually No Big Deal.

If you’re a cyclist with biggish feet who rides a smallish frame, you’ve probably noticed that your toes occasionally rub against your front fender when you make tight turns at low speed. This is usually No Big Deal, though if the bump comes at the wrong time—or if you (a) don’t have fenders, (b) ride a fixie, or (c) are having a really bad day—it can bring you down. The phenomenon used to be called “toe-clip overlap,” but since few riders nowadays use toe clips, it’s often shortened to “toe overlap.” And here’s how it looks from the rider’s seat:

Toe Overlap (c) Tamia Nelson

The overlap shown above is considerable. Overlap is dependent on…

  • Your bike’s frame size and geometry
  • Wheel and tire size
  • Crank length
  • Whether you’ve fitted fenders
  • Whether or not you use toe clips
  • The size of your feet

Tight, short-wheelbase racing frames are less forgiving than long, laid-back tourers, while the combination of big (700C) wheels on small frames makes for bigger problems. (Which is why some makers—Surly is one—fit smaller 26-inch wheels on smaller frames.) Fenders and toe clips further reduce clearance, as do long cranks, though at least the fenders give you an audible warning that you’re about to make contact with the wheel. Do I have to explain why big feet increase the likelihood of overlap? I didn’t think so.

OK. Toe-clip overlap is like the weather. It happens. And some people get rained on. If you’re one of the unlucky ones, you’ll want to know what you can do about it. Well, here’s some good news: You really don’t have to do much. Overlap isn’t a concern when you’re going straight. Even when you head into a turn at speed, your lean does most of the work. Your bars—and therefore your front wheel—hardly move from the straight-ahead position. So overlap becomes a problem only when you have to make tight turns at low speeds, and your first few close calls usually teach you how much to backpedal in order to avoid being brought down. Fixie riders can’t do this, of course, which is why overlap is more of a nuisance for them.

All in all, though, it just isn’t something most of us need to worry about. Of course, if you’re unlucky enough to experience a lot of overlap, and if you often need to negotiate heavily traveled roads at slow speeds, dodging and weaving around potholes and double-parked cars, you’ll want to put in some practice time in an empty parking lot before venturing out onto the mean streets. (Wear your helmet. Elbow pads might be a good idea, too. Parking-lot asphalt is unforgiving stuff.) For the rest of us, however, toe-clip overlap really is No Big Deal. It’s certainly not a good reason to reject an otherwise satisfactory frame—even if your feets are too big!

Sitting Pretty (c) Tamia Nelson

This article is an update of one originally published on 15 April 2014.

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Apr 11 2017

The Secret of Solo Shuttling: Use a Bike! by Tamia Nelson

Solo paddlers and couples who travel in the same boat often discover that the hardest part of a trip is getting themselves back to the put-in. Luckily, there’s a handy gadget that can make the job much easier. It’s called the bicycle. Tamia thinks this is a wheely good idea, and after you’ve read her latest column, you may think so, too.

Back in the days when canoes carried freight on many North American waterways, rivermen often had to go against the flow. But I doubt they ever learned to love the rigors of upstream travel. It was all in a day’s work, to be sure, but it certainly wasn’t fun. Which is why today’s recreational paddlers are no more eager to “climb the river” at the end of a trip than downhill skiers would be to sidestep and herringbone back up the mountain after each run. Of course, ski areas have long since done away with any need for such retrograde exertions. But there are few T-bars or chairlifts on rivers, so paddlers wanting an easy way back to the put-in must turn instead to that beast of all burdens: the family car.

Car shuttles are so commonplace nowadays as to require little description. But they’re a comparatively modern innovation. As recently as 1956, Lawrence Grinnell felt it necessary to devote several paragraphs in Canoeable Waterways of New York State and Vicinity to a detailed explanation of what he called “the private motor ‘planting’ system.” Notwithstanding the clumsy tag, Grinnell’s idea caught on, and for good reason: It works well. At least it does for parties of paddlers with several vehicles at their disposal and a group member who has the instincts and natural authority of a regimental military transport officer (or alternatively, a complaisant, non-paddling “shuttle bunny”). And if neither of these alternatives obtains, many outfitters are willing to step into the breach—for a price. You can also attempt to hire someone local to do the honors. Enquire at the Griner Brothers Garage first.

In other words, today’s paddlers are spoiled for choice. Nonetheless, there will always be a few independent, penurious souls who prefer to do it all themselves, yet who find car shuttles burdensome or impossible—if they have only one car at their disposal, say—and who don’t want to spend the better part of every day on the river struggling against the current. Fortunately for them, there is another way. It’s sweatier than a conventional shuttle, and it’s not without risk, but it works. And all you need to do is get on your bike… Read more…

Over the Hills -- (C) Tamia Nelson

Originally published at on April 11, 2017


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Apr 01 2017

Cyclists Rejoice! It’s Shaping Up to be a Great Spaghetti Harvest by Tamia Nelson

Is there any better reward after a spin on your bike than a plate of steaming spaghetti topped with your favorite sauce? If you love spaghetti, then you’ll be happy to learn that the spaghetti harvest looks like a good one this year.

Where would we be without spaghetti and other pastas? We’d be hungry, of course! Farwell and I each consume several pounds of spaghetti every week, so we were heartened to hear that the harvest this year is in full swing. The venerable BBC has produced a short documentary to explain the spaghetti harvest. It’s worth watching:



Now that’s good news! And if you’d like to know the story behind the report, watch this:



I’m off to the kitchen. The pot’s boiling over!


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Apr 01 2017

Outfitting Your Bike on a Budget — And No, This is NOT an April Fool’s Joke! by Tamia Nelson

Wondering how you can afford to outfit your new bike? The answer may be nearer than you think.

Bikes are cheaper than cars. Well, most bikes are cheaper than most cars. But the sticker price is just the start. Few bikes offered for sale in the States come fully equipped. Kickstand? Hell, no. Fenders? In your dreams. Rack? Maybe, but don’t hold your breath. Front rack? No way! Lights? Who rides at night? Bell (a legal requirement in many places)? Please…

There are a few exceptions, of course. But even better bikes often come up short in the essential accessory department, and few of these bikes are exactly cheap. If you’re on a tight budget, you won’t have much cash left over for things like lights and racks.

It can get pretty discouraging. And the cost mounts up in a hurry. To say nothing of the time required to fit fenders and racks. Which is probably why you often see cyclists with black streaks up their backs carrying groceries in plastic bags hanging from their handlebars. Luckily, a good bike shop can do a lot to bridge the gap. But good bike shops are as rare as fully equipped, street-ready bikes. City dwellers can often take their pick from among competent, helpful shops. The rest of us have to take what we can get. Or do without.

OK. That’s the problem. What’s the solution? You might get lucky and find an online seller who’s overstocked fenders and is letting them go dirt cheap. Then again, you might not. And if you need fenders now, you can’t wait for a sale. But there is one alternative. Call it the Walmart option. More and more Big Box stores are increasing the shelf space they give to bicycle accessories. The stuff isn’t top of the line, but a lot of the time it’s plenty good enough for most purposes. The price is usually right, too. Status-conscious cyclists won’t like it, but if it’s a choice between cheap and cheerful, on the one hand, and doing without, on the other, I know which I’ll take.

What about you? Are you tired of bringing the groceries home in a plastic bag swinging from your handlebars? Then check out what I found for sale at my local Walmart, in the depth of winter:

  • Helmets for all ages and sizes, at sensible prices
  • Headlights and taillights to help you see and be seen
  • Tires and tubes
  • Pumps to take along—and use at home
  • Pressure gauges
  • Rearview mirrors (watch your back!)
  • Bicycle computers (useful, if somewhat depressing at times)
  • Rear cargo racks (no front racks, though)
  • Bags galore for handlebars, saddles, cell phones, and snacks (but only sometimes panniers)
  • Cargo nets
  • Trailers for cargo or kids
  • Chainlube and bearing grease
  • A fair selection of basic bike tools
  • Locks
  • Kickstands
  • Bells
  • Hand grips (but not always handlebar tape)
  • Pedals
  • Saddles
  • Compact first-aid kits (but you can make your own, too)
  • Padded saddle covers
  • Cycling gloves
  • Activeware (not cycle-specific, but perfectly adequate)

There were plenty of inexpensive bikes, too, some of which even boasted fitted fenders or handlebar baskets (great for shopping trips round town). Many of these would make acceptable utility rides, even if they won’t get a second look from the gang at the local college cycle club. Farwell, returning from a hundred-mile string of errands on his bottom-of-the-line “comfort” bike late one summer afternoon, met up with one of these clubs at his last stop. The conversation went like this:

FARWELL: [Eyeing a superlight carbon confection that probably cost as much as his first car] Nice ride.

VELOMINATUS: [Taking in Farwell’s dust-caked bike-shaped-object with its bulging panniers] Hmm. You must be local, right? You couldn’t get very far on a fat-tired thing like that.

FARWELL: Nope. Not far. [Glances at cyclometer] Only 97 miles today. Of course, I’ve still got ten to go…

VELOMINATUS: Oh. [Long pause] Well, you have a nice day.

The moral of the story? If money’s tight and you see your bike as transport rather than bling, then good enough is—you guessed it—good enough. And Walmart can be your friend.

This article is an update of one originally published on 1 April 2014.


Further Reading


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