Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Love and Bicycles

A couple of years ago, a friend who was in her late 30s was preparing for her wedding day. It was the first time she would be married, and having lived many years as a single woman, she was having some anxiety.
*Image found here
As we spoke the day before her nuptials, she suddenly inquired, "How do I know that I'm making the right decision? How can I know he is the right one?"

Finding myself a little perplexed by this inquiry just 24 hours before she was to wed, I asked if something had gone wrong or if she was having second thoughts. She assured me that nothing was wrong, but just wondered how she could be sure. She then went on to share a few stories that, at least to me, were indicators that perhaps she already knew this marriage was doomed to fail.

Having been in a relationship for many years myself, I had to take a moment to think back. Was I afraid to get married? Did I have concerns? When I looked back, I remembered being excited that I would have my best friend with me until the day one of us died. We had already been through some pretty rough stuff for a young couple and even though we had nothing, I wasn't concerned about it not working out. I was very aware that many unions don't end up as life-long ventures (my own parents and Sam's included), but I also wasn't anxious about the possibility of our marriage not working out. Who wants to start off with the idea that it won't be all that we hope and believe it will?

Still, I could sense her trepidation and concern. Perhaps it was more life experience than when I got married, or that she's always been a far more cautious individual, but I wasn't entirely sure how to direct or comfort her. My reply was simply that we can never truly know that something will work, but we have to have faith based on experience. We trust that we have enough of a foundation with the other person that whatever issues come up, we will have the strength to get through. "No marriage is perfect," I recall saying. "There will be days when you feel at the end of your rope and likely vice versa, but when you have a solid foundation, it's a little easier to weather the difficult moments."

The saying, "Love is all you need," is an idea shared by those of us who like to live in our own blissful world where everything will work itself out. Maybe things aren't always sunshine and roses, but it can be nice to think that it's possible for love to bridge all the gaps. It's a beautiful thought to believe that love can see us through anything, but the reality is that we require more than love to have a lasting, meaningful relationship.

When I receive e-mails from individuals about a bicycle they'd like to purchase, I sometimes get similar feelings to the day my friend and I had this discussion. When a person has reasonable doubts and/or many concerns about a particular choice, I have to think that there is perhaps good reason. Which is not to say that using caution and asking for others input means that a choice is automatically the wrong one, but simply that it so often seems that if the person has experience and facts and is still questioning the decision, there may be good reason to proceed with caution, or perhaps not at all.

As an example, I have received numerous emails that sound nearly identical to this:
I have ridden 'X' bicycle, have researched it for months/years, and I have the funds to purchase, but I'm concerned that it won't work out. I absolutely LOVE 'X' bicycle! I can't imagine my life without it, but I don't know about A, B, and C issues that aren't working well. My shop guy says everything is fixable and I really do love 'X' bike. I think I'm going to buy it, but wondered what you thought?

Often when I reply, I never hear from the individual again, which is of little consequence on a personal level, but I always wonder if I've upset the asker with my response, which frequently (depending on the circumstances) goes something like this:
It sounds like you've had an opportunity to experience 'X' bicycle. Your A, B, and C issues, however, are entirely valid, and I would advise you to visit another bike shop and ask if they believe each of these is easily resolved. Find out the costs involved before making your purchase as well. I would highly recommend going in for another visit to test ride 'X' again and see how you feel. Wear clothes like those you'll wear when riding too, as this can sometimes alter the way a bike feels. I would also inquire with the shop to see if they will allow you to test the bike for an afternoon if you leave a deposit or credit card, or if the shop will allow you to take it home for a longer experiment. 

The problem, much like my friends unsurety or insecurity, is that we are usually, at least on some level, aware that loving a bicycle does not mean it's the right bicycle for us. Something may look beautiful and please us visually or on a superficial level, but when there are underlying issues that we refuse to address, it is less likely that it's the choice we should be making.

Speaking from experience, I have loved many a bicycle - both from near and afar - and when that love is based purely on my excitement when gazing upon it, I cannot think of one circumstance in which our time together was more than fleeting. True love requires more than superficial appreciation. There must be substance behind the fluff.

With a bicycle, the most important aspect is fit/comfort. I am not able to tell another person what will fit him/her or be comfortable, much like I cannot tell another person who to choose as a partner in life. This is an entirely personal discovery. Some riders are less particular while others will have a more difficult time finding the right combinations. The way in which we learn is simply to ride and unearth the areas that fit our needs and those that could be improved.

The more experience we get, the bigger our knowledge base becomes which helps when it comes time to make a choice. Others can offer thoughts and opinion, and this may help with final decisions, but we have to know ourselves well enough to differentiate fact from fiction, to know what works and what does not. Sometimes we just know that something is right from the start, while in other circumstances we may need more time to figure things out.

I would not be so bold as to state that marriage and bicycle choices are the same, but on some level they have similarities that could or maybe even should be considered, particularly if we are seeking a long-term companion.

As for my friend, perhaps I should have been more direct with her as she ended up in the midst of a divorce not more than a year following the wedding. She had all of the information she needed and knew what she was doing, but it was difficult to let go of the idea of a perfect life or the picture she had imagined.

Love can do strange things to us - whether that emotion is tied to a person or a bicycle. It can take away our ability to look at things clearly, to use reason and sound judgment. When we idealize someone or something, it can end in disappointment, disillusionment, or even devastation. Love may be all that we need, but only when it is based on more than the ephemeral. Nothing is perfect, and when we use discernment and experience, hopefully we make the best decision possible.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Injuries and Pain: How Do You Make the Most of It?

Since starting our house renovation in December, my hands and wrists have taken a serious hit. I hadn't thought much about it because we had a lot to do and I really wanted to get it done as quickly as possible, but we are both now feeling the ramifications of our actions (and sadly, we're still not done - though I'm not sure any house is ever "done"). It doesn't help that I started out with hand issues before the work began, but I'm trying to find ways to work through it.

Even though the work has slowed dramatically over the last couple of months and we can go days without touching anything renovation-related, I still experience the same pains and numbness that I did when we were working at a more hardcore rate. When I wake up, my hands are swollen, my fingers don't open and close, I have a couple of trigger fingers that get stuck if I can get them squeezed at all, and the problems seem to be spreading up my arms rather than healing.

We both continue to say that we just need to spend a few days doing absolutely nothing with our hands, but that's no easy task. Just about everything other than sitting somewhere staring is going to require some sort of hand movement or pressure.

One can imagine that this also takes a toll on riding a bike. It's difficult to ride a bicycle and not use hands and even though I spent a great deal of my youth attempting to ride hands-free (who knew it would come in handy later in life?), it isn't entirely practical in adulthood. Though I gravitate toward bicycles that have the ability to take a good deal of pressure off of my hands, no bicycle is hand-pressure free (perhaps a recumbent, but that's a topic of discussion for another day).

It's not the first time I've had injuries to survive during the warmer months of the year, but I think it's one of the very few times I have felt so completely handicapped. I've found myself trying to complete longer distances, only to be completely cut short by my current state of pain. It's amazing to have the will to do something, body and mind that are willing to cooperate, and then be struck down by one seemingly small issue.

As I realize we are more than half way through May, I am aware of how quickly summer is approaching. A bit of panic is setting in because I have big plans for rides this year, and although I understand the current injury isn't something I can push my way through (such as with muscle exhaustion on a long ride), I am frustrated and wanting to get through this so that I can build to longer distances.
A small sneak peek at the new bicycle in the E.V.L. home
I have a new bike that had been in research phase for some time, but a decision was finally made (more to come on this soon). It arrived a few weeks ago, but it's challenging to fully test it when the extent of riding is short distances and lots of stopping in between. In order to get through any type of ride, I've had to come to an understanding that stopping every 2-4 mi/3-6km is an absolute necessity right now and as much as I want to push my way through the pain, this is one battle my obstinance is not going to win.

Rather than completely giving up, I have accepted the reality that, at least for the time being, I will take short rides and/or adventures that require many stops along the way. It's challenging to work up strength in this manner, but when given the alternative of doing no riding at all, I think it makes far more sense to simply do what I am able to do at present.

When you've had to deal with more serious or painful injuries, how have you made it through time off or on your bike? Do your modify riding until you're healed or stay away completely? I realize this is entirely dependent on the injury as some would not allow riding at all, but I wonder how others choose to get through the times that require modification.

Ultimately, I'm glad to be able to still ride, even if it isn't exactly in the manner I had hoped for this spring/summer.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Trees by Bike

As a child, I had an interesting bond with trees and I was convinced that they were more than just willowy plant life towering above my head. Many stories were told about the trees speaking to me, and I have to admit, I spent a lot of time talking to them as well. There has always been something imposing, noble and trustworthy about the trees to me.
Having experienced my share of both friendly and sinister looking trees, I am constantly entertained by both the leafy and leafless variety, depending on the time of year. As I browse through photos, I realize how many times I stop to take longer looks. It's almost as if they call to me and I cannot help but stop and take in the experience.
Watching the trees change from their dormant state into full, green life is absolutely breathtaking each and every year.
Riding by in the dead of winter, there is something about the branches tangling and crossing, intertwining with one another, and seeing the bark fully exposed that seems to mirror human life.
I am reminded every season that beauty returns in all its different forms. From the very greenest of greens to the autumn colors and back to bare branches, the trees offer their own take on life, their own wisdom gained through the years.
More importantly perhaps, I am provided with reminders of just how very small and insignificant life can seem and still be entirely complicated and ever-changing. Although those thoughts can happen while staring out at the vast ocean or when trying to count the stars in the night sky, nothing seems to transition and morph quite like the trees.
When riding through your days, what speaks to you? Do you have a particular animal, plant or other interest that captures your attention as seasons change?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Handlebar Conundrum

In our bicycle-centered household, I have been dubbed the "Handlebar Queen." The title has come well-earned I would say, as I don't think there's a bike I've owned that hasn't had multiple handlebar changes upon arrival or after a few quick test spins. In part, I am fascinated by different handlebars and the way they can change ride quality, but on the whole most changes take place to try and alleviate hand issues.

When this handlebar switching started years ago, I started to think that there was only one type of handlebar that would work for me, but as I quickly learned, the bicycle itself was a huge factor in what actually worked and more importantly what did not. I was never really able to determine what factors led to a better position for me without changing the way the bicycle rode, but I continued to experiment with handlebars.

As handlebar queen, one would think I'd be an expert by now on what works and what doesn't for me personally, but I still struggle with finding the right fit any time a new bike arrives.  So, it shouldn't be surprising that after riding the Rodriguez for a bit, it was time to experiment with these handlebars as well. I have to say, playing with handlebars on this bike was more than just an effort to get my hands in a proper position to eliminate pain, but I'll get into that as we go along.

When the Rodriguez arrived, it came equipped with a fairly standard drop bar. The builder had recommended a compact FSA K-wing bar, but I couldn't bring myself to drop the $300 USD that it would cost. That's a lot of money to spend on a handlebar, I thought, and I just couldn't justify the expenditure at the time.
*Image from FSA
FSA K-wing Compact
Of course, this recommendation came knowing that I have a lot of hand issues when riding which stem from injuries off the bike. Over the years, these injuries seem to be getting worse instead of better, so any time something will help my hands while riding I should probably take note.

After riding on the standard drop bars for a number of rides, I was still experiencing hand pain and I wanted to attempt to figure out a way to alleviate this as much as possible. Perhaps I needed to pursue the FSA bar that had been recommended. So, I started a second-hand search to find a set that wouldn't cost so much.

As luck would have it, a set turned up on eBay for less than 1/6 the price of new, so I figured it was worth a shot. Everything was set up on the new handlebars and I set off to test these, believing that they were the answer to my pain.

I very quickly discovered that I really did not like these handlebars. After several rides of trying to get used to them, I was beyond annoyed and decided that they needed to come off. Even with the pain I was experiencing with the regular drops, it was not nearly what was happening with these new handlebars.

So, back we went to the original drops.

Then, one day as I was out on a ride, I made the realization that perhaps another recommendation that had been made by the builder was one I should pursue. It had been suggested that I outfit the bike with bar-end shifters, but I had fought this as I am not fond of using them with drop bars. Instead, I pushed for brifters, but was now coming to the realization that having bar-end shifters would likely help my hands as it would force me to move them regularly for shifting purposes. With brifters, I tend to sit in the hoods the majority of the time, but when using bar-ends, I am forced to regularly change position.

This meant another purchase of Campagnolo-compatible bar-end shifters as the bar ends we have would not work - at least not without a lot of experimentation. While the bike's drivetrain is a mix, the rear derailleur is Campagnolo and thus the shifters would have to work with this set up (unless, of course, I wanted to replace the back end of the drivetrain - which I did not).
*Image from Velo-Orange
I was happy to discover an option in Dia-Compe, at which point the brifters were replaced with bar-ends and separate brakes on the tops.

Then, a new problem arose. Being short and wide is not really a good combination for road bicycles. With a shorter top tube needed for proper riding it creates a situation in which I am crammed into a space that feels too small when standing at a stop over the bike. This isn't specific to this bike, but really any bike with a shorter top tube. Since a lot of my weight is carried in my lower body, I was struggling to mount and dismount the bike without jamming my thigh into the bar-ends.

While I can endure the pain of such happenings (after all, bruises will heal), being a less-than-coordinated individual does not combine well with abrupt shifts that were taking place while stopped.  As I'd start to pedal off at signals and stop signs, the chain would suddenly shift and throw me off balance. This really started to unnerve me. I began worrying every time I had to start or stop and that's certainly no way to encourage a person to ride.
*Image from Bike Touring News
Nitto Grand Randonneur
The next experiment was to try my old Nitto Randonneur bars from the A. Homer Hilsen. I did well with these handlebars on that bike after a ride the necessitated using them, and it had been set up with bar-end shifters, so perhaps this would be the solution. They are a bit wider at the bottom too, so it would give me more room to start and stop without having the interruption of my thighs jamming into the bar-ends.

Something just felt off about these handlebars and after a quick spin around the neighborhood on the Rodriguez, I decided to remove them. After this brief trial, another standard drop bar that was much wider overall than the originals was put on the bike. This, we assumed, would provide the thigh clearance I need but still offer the hand positions to move around.

With this alteration, the bike felt a bit twitchy on the front end, which is something I hadn't expected at all. Additionally, I felt as though my hands were too far apart and I started thinking that perhaps I needed to go to my standby or default handlebar: the Albatross bar.
Nitto Albatross bars set up on the Hillborne
So, off came those handlebars and on went a backup set of Albatross turned upside down as is the set up on the Hillborne. This configuration was even worse with the twitch-factor on the front end and they were very quickly removed.

All of the changes were beginning to send me into a tailspin. It was all too familiar as I've gone through this multiple times with bikes while attempting to find the right set up. Maybe I'm just not meant to ride a road bike, I thought. It is very difficult to maintain positivity when everything seems to go awry.
*Image from On One
On One Midge
I am not a quitter though, so I kept looking for possible solutions. One day, as I was browsing the net, I was reminded of another possibility: a set of On-One Midge handlebars. Perhaps this was the solution?

The problem was finding them in the US. The few places I could locate them were in the UK and the shipping costs alone were not worth the effort to try them. But, I soon learned that there is a somewhat close facsimile available with more ease here in the US: Origin8's Gary bar.
*Image from Origin8
Origin8 Gary 2
These handlebars seemed to be a combination of a rando bar and a drop bar, with wider ends, so perhaps they would be the combination I needed. As I quickly discovered, these handlebars had the same problem as my upside down Albatross bars (which should've been obvious had I really thought it through) in that they were too wide to keep the front end of the bike stable. I was also struggling to use the bar end shifters because every time I'd reach down to shift, the entire bike would shimmy out of control, particularly at any sort of speed.

I was giving up now. I couldn't believe that handlebars and shifters were going to be the demise of the Rodriguez in my life. I began to think that this just wasn't going to work. I love my pedaling position on the Rodriguez, but if I couldn't find something to work for the upper half of my body, we were going to have to part ways.

I started lamenting the decision to sell the A. Homer Hilsen, upset that I let it go and wondering why I had to be so concerned with the weight when it actually seemed to serve me well. Really, it had met my needs splendidly, but I had been wrapped up in the idea that I needed to travel faster and because we were in a tough spot with an unexpected and expensive ER visit, I let it go. In retrospect, it was a horrible idea.

As I sat contemplating my decisions, Sam was off thinking up another idea. When he came in holding two bar end extensions like these, I must've looked a little perplexed. His plan was to attach these to the drop bars, kind of like a mini-aero bar set up. He explained that he'd attach the extensions and put the bar end shifters at the end, keeping them away from my legs and hopefully this would make them easier to reach and eliminate the twitch that develops with wide handlebars.
This poor handlebar tape has been wrapped and unwrapped so many times.
From the photo, you can see it was a slightly odd look, but I was willing to give it a try. The set up was an interesting one, and while in some ways it made things better, I still found it an odd position to be in for shifting, since I cannot actually rest on the additional short stubs as one would with true aero bars. Additionally, wrapping the bars created its own snag, and while I would've got over the messy factor, it was very bulky and the set up was just not working properly for my needs.

Now what?

With all of the switching taking place, nothing was feeling right any longer. Even things that sort of worked initially felt strange now - and how could they not? I wasn't giving myself very long to adjust to anything and instead continued to do changes pretty quickly looking for the solution.

I decided that I had to pick something and just stick with it for awhile in order to make a true evaluation, but which one? Since I hadn't really given the Randonneur bars a fair shot, and they'd worked well in the past, these were the pick.

Now, the Randonneur's haven't been on the bike long at this point (a couple of weeks), and I've been riding other bikes because of current Seattle-like weather, so it's not really fair to make a judgment call as to whether or not these will be the answer.

However, I've realized that nothing is going to work if I don't allow time and riding to take place. Although some of the handlebars had several rides to determine whether or not they would work, I realize that there were also a number that were just quick switches without really allowing an opportunity for true testing. With some, there was good reason, but with others, perhaps they just needed a few more rides to see if I would or could adjust.

I also understand that there are other factors that could be affecting my hands (tires are one of these possibilities), and while the pedal position is great on this bike, I need to get my hands settled in order to get everything dialed in properly. Things are coming along, so hopefully the set up is on its way to being great. I'm looking forward to a summer full of long rides that are (at least relatively) pain free.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Ride What You Want to Ride

For some time, Sam has told me stories about a man who comes to ride with an organized group that meets locally. While a person coming to ride his bike with a group of people who do this activity together seems rather unimportant, the stories I've heard are what make this a bit unique.

A couple of summers ago, I was told a tale about a man who showed up for a long group ride dressed in skate-type shoes, everyday shorts and a cotton t-shirt. This gentleman proceeded to eat a large breakfast burrito two minutes before ride departure and somehow managed to not only remain upright to pedal, but actually finished the ride.

Stories very similar to the above were shared over the course of a couple of years, and included tales of his "old bike with fenders."

"Is he able to keep up with the group?" I couldn't help but inquire. The answer was always that he didn't seem to care one way or another, but he always managed to complete the distance.

Every time one of these stories was shared, I couldn't help but smile. I had created an image of this person and always wondered what he was like and if he was miserable on these long rides on what I imagined to be a rickety, two-wheeled contraption. I had an imagined picture of him pedaling along next to fully-kitted riders and couldn't help but wonder if he felt out of place?

So, when a photo of this man arrived in my inbox one morning, you can imagine my excitement. The verbal picture that had been painted was very close to the image right in front of me - even pedaling next to a team-kit-wearing rider.

What surprised me most about the photo was the giant, Cheshire-like grin across his face. He actually appeared to be enjoying himself!
I'm not entirely sure who gets photo credit for this, but I know it's someone who rides with the St Vrain Chain Gang group.
I have to admit, there's nothing overly profound or earth-shattering here. This is just a photo of someone enjoying himself with a group of other riders. However, it is rare in my experience to see a group of road club riders with a person joining them on a bicycle with upright bars and bottle-to-tire-driven headlight.

There's a part of me that wonders why there is this distinction among riders, and another part of me that realizes that most cyclists I've encountered believe that the lighter and more modern a bike, the faster they are able to travel. While I'm not at this moment trying to debate the merits of old versus new or carbon versus steel, nor a particular bikes' ability to perform a given job, I find this to be an interesting pairing that is not often spotted out in the wild.

When I look at this idea on a more personal level, I find myself believing that I don't belong in certain situations. Sometimes it's difficult for me to come to grips with the idea that I don't necessarily ride the way group riders do, or ride the type of bicycles they ride. It isn't that I can't, but that I choose not to do so most days.

I stay away from these gatherings as a general rule because I don't want to feel the need to explain why I'm riding a particular bike, or have people waiting for me when I want to stop and look at something along the way, or if I'm having an off day and don't want to travel the speeds the group is going. Cycling as a sport, even with non-professionals, seems to have unspoken rules which include pushing to be faster and riding the lightest bicycle that can be found or that is affordable to the rider.

Perhaps these are the reasons that other types of riding appeal to me. I don't mind a long distance, and in fact often enjoy it, but I don't want to feel as though I have to race through the entire route in order to feel a part of something.

Of course, I wouldn't expect someone who wants to go faster and push him/herself to want to ride the way I often choose either. It just wouldn't make sense and both parties would be miserable.

In many respects, this juxtaposition represents the part of me drawn to this image. The idea of someone making the choice to ride with a group, even if it steps outside the boundaries of what is typical, is entrancing to me. I appreciate the decision to wear what is comfortable for the rider and to not concern oneself with what everyone else is thinking or doing. Being at ease doing and being who we are without concern is difficult to find today.

This photo reminds me that we are all allowed to choose our own path. We don't have to take the pre-designated or accepted route to the end. We can choose to wear a cotton t-shirt and shorts to ride long distances. We can choose to ride our old bicycle because we are comfortable on it or because it's what we have and we want to ride. We can choose to set our own pace and not worry about who or what is waiting for us. Ultimately, we are all just looking to enjoy the ride, in whatever form that takes, I think.

I hope you enjoy your bike this weekend - however and wherever you choose to ride.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Cycling Tale: When Intuition Goes Haywire

My head is a cornucopia of bad ideas.

I suppose if I never acted on some of those ideas, I'd have no sense as to whether they were good, bad or indifferent, but fortunately (at least for the entertainment of others) I often find myself too curious to simply let those passing thoughts go.
*Image found here
A couple of months ago, I made a comment that I was working toward a goal of riding every street of the city in which I reside. Part of the plan was to make some sort of goal and determine how long it would take me to do this activity, as well as to log the happenings of each ride in some fashion. The planning portion of this goal has been horrendous so instead I decided to just start riding when I felt like meandering the streets and not worry so much about how long it would take or how many miles I'd complete on a particular ride.

One of the first outings was rather unintentional. About a month ago, I started out with the intention to ride to a local lake, circle it slowly and return home - more as a means to be outside for a bit than to really worry about what I was physically accomplishing.

As I headed in the direction of the lake, a thought popped into my head: Why not ride a few of the side streets on my way to the lake to get some of the roads crossed off my list? It seemed harmless enough, but as it would turn out, I never made it to the lake itself because I got wrapped up in the street-riding portion of the ride.

I am familiar with the neighborhood through which I rode on this trip, but I was still surprised to see just how many streets were present that I hadn't known existed at all. As I looped around and in and out of various avenues I noticed little things that are inconsequential on most days. I found myself admiring Easter decorations on homes, curious about the days' menu selection for a murder of crow, and amused by the ever-changing road conditions from one block to the next.

Now, I am not a person who is obsessed with my cell phone. As anyone who is around me in real life for any length of time soon realizes, there are many occasions on which I forget my phone at home or it is turned silent and I don't hear all of the bells and whistles announcing calls, texts, e-mails, Twitter updates, etc. In short, I cannot reliably be counted on to immediately see updates on various sources.

So, it shouldn't be horribly surprising that on this particular ride, I completely forgot my phone and left it sitting on the kitchen table. This momentary lapse left me without a photography tool, which was unfortunate as I was spotting so many interesting items along the way. Normally, my primary reason to bring the phone on rides is in case of catastrophic bike failure, but since I knew I was going to be but a few miles from home, I wasn't particularly concerned about my forgetfulness on this occasion, and I figured I could live without photos of this short adventure.

The ride was quite enjoyable, but I am amazed at how exhausting it is to ride around a neighborhood. Between the slow speed and many stop signs, it feels as though I'm covering almost no ground at all, so to get through about 20 mi/32 km of roadway, I felt it was about the most I wanted to accomplish on this particular day.

Not only was I growing weary of circling, but much time had passed with my lollygagging and I was becoming increasingly thirsty and hungry. It was definitely time to call it quits for the day.

As I headed back toward home, I decided to knock a few more streets off my list. Why not? They were on the way home and it only made sense to try to sneak in a few more. As I was approaching a stop sign, I spotted a man attempting to get a large bookcase into the back of a very small wagon.

Initially, I thought I would just pass by without saying a word, but I thought about how I'd feel if I were trying to move by myself (as I have done - and it isn't pleasant), so I changed my mind at the last second and squeezed the brakes hard, bringing me to an abrupt halt about two feet from the sidewalk where he stood.

You might be thinking that this statement is leading to an injury report, but you would be incorrect in this assumption. No, instead, I proceeded to speak to this person and inquired, "Do you need some help loading that up?"

At first, he looked a little startled, but then after a few seconds, he shook his head side to side, indicating that he did not require my assistance.

I could have let it be. I could have mozied right along and neither of us would've been interrupted or disturbed that day. I could have smiled or waved and gone on my way. But, that is not what I do, apparently. Instead, I felt the need to press the issue.

"Are you sure?" I questioned again. "I really don't mind at all."

I could see that he was not wanting my help, so I started to get back to pedaling when he said, "You kind of threw me off there." I started to say something about it not being a big deal and that I just wanted to offer a hand, but I was cut off as he then said, "Do you know what a smartphone is?"

This confused me and I'm sure it must've shown on my face. Why was he asking me this? Did he need directions or the hours of a store? I didn't have my phone with me anyway, so I was of little use to him if he did. I replied, "Yes," assuming that I'd have to inform him that I wouldn't be able to offer any help at the moment.

He then laughed and said, "All these teenagers." Wait, did he think I was a teenager out at lunch on a break from school? I smiled internally and thought Wow, I must look great for my age! It's been a long, LONG time since I've been mistaken for a teenager. I started to nod along, thinking that he was going to make some sort of statement about teenagers having unnecessary smartphones, but then he continued on.

"They think ...{He fades off, but inserts his first cackle} Coming by here, and I'm like you don't know what I am or what I can do to you. I'm just trouble, and I get into a lot of trouble. {insert another cackle}"

Honestly, I was just confused at this point. What in the world was he talking about? Suddenly, my intuitive senses (which generally trigger much earlier during these types of situations) were going off. I just needed to leave.

As he started to walk toward me, I have to admit, a tiny bit of panic set in. Fortunately, he was on foot and even though he was coming awfully close, I was still standing over my bicycle, so I figured I had a far better shot at winning a race with this opponent than most I encounter on the roads (and I thought, Thank heavens I didn't dismount the bicycle as I'd intended to do!)

"You'd better run along there {he's kind of hysterically laughing/cackling now}. You have no idea what I could do."

Well, I thought to myself, I certainly don't want to find out. "Have a good day I said, as I smiled and started to pedal off." He continued to talk, but I have no idea what he was saying as the only thought in my mind was get away from this person - now.

As I pedaled the mile home, I went over what had just happened several times in my mind. Had I missed some clue? What exactly had just taken place?

I think it shook me far more than it should have. Whether on my bicycle or in a car, I tend to be a person who offers help to those who look like they are in need, and extremely rarely has there been a case during which I felt ill-at-ease or as though my safety was in jeopardy. In fact, usually I get that same "sick" feeling before I even stop if it's a bad situation. Suddenly, I was questioning my usually very reliable senses.

It's taken me several weeks to even write about it here because I wasn't sure it was something that could be beneficial to anyone, and I never want to scare anyone out of riding a bike. However, I realized that riding my bicycle was purely the mode of transportation on a particular day, and this could easily have happened if I were out walking, in the car and had stopped, etc. So, I think it is really more of a good reminder to always be at least a little on guard when approaching an unknown individual.

Have you had any iffy or disconcerting moments with another person while out riding a bicycle? What did you do (if anything)? Do you approach strangers who appear to need assistance? If so, have you ever had it backfire?

Stay safe on the roads out there. As spring is becoming more beautiful each day, I am reminded that more people are outside with these longer and warmer days, and I have to stay aware of my surroundings and the people occupying the environment.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bicycle Discussion Topic: Does Expensive Always Equate to Quality?

Currently, I am on the hunt for a bicycle (which shouldn't be horribly surprising). I've been paring down the herd over the last year or so and it seems the time has come to replace the group that has departed with one bike. I'm not in a hurry and I'm taking my time to make a decision about what the bike will be, but in all of the checking-things-out phase, it's been interesting to ponder the idea of expensive vs inexpensive, and equally interesting (at least to me), perceived quality vs sub-par quality.
*Image can be found here and downloaded as wallpaper.
There was a Jan Heine article a few years ago, followed by a kind of rebuttal by Kent Petersen that in many ways illustrates exactly the ideas running through my mind. I think both posts are valid and each provide a slightly different perspective with Jan discussing why an expensive bicycle is worth a riders money and Kent offering his ideas on why he won't buy a more costly bike.

The comments after each post offer additional feedback and information to ponder, but I think what has struck me most is the idea that expensive = quality while inexpensive = garbage. I do realize there is good reason for this belief as it is based on something that you and I call reality. It simply costs more to build a quality product than it does to build one of inferior structure.

A lot goes into choice of tubing. Then there are those who lug bikes, which requires another addition to price. Paint choice. Drive train. For heaven's sake, even a crank can make quite an impact to what a consumer pays for a bicycle. These choices all have direct influence on the costs involved in a product. However, the materials themselves are just one piece of the puzzle.

When evaluating a bicycle, the maker - the person who physically welds the frame - is also a factor. Many mass-produced frames are made in factories overseas and are never - or minimally - touched by human hands. Some are hand-brazed; some are welded by machine. In my view, there are potential negatives for both a handmade product and one constructed by machine. Whereas a machine is not subject to human error and is more likely to produce a more consistent product, a machine is also incapable of recognizing small differences that a human is more likely to spot.

Then, there are factors such as experience. It's just a reality that the more exposure and time an individual has with a given subject matter, the easier it is for the person to recognize potential problems.

In my early days as a recruiter, I often let both good and bad candidates slip right by me because I hadn't enough time in the field to understand signs and signals. I had solid innate instincts, which was a great starting skill, but it couldn't prepare me in the ways that "practicing" would do. The longer I spent screening candidates for positions, the quicker I started recognizing potential red flags. Which isn't to say that no one ever got by me, nor that I never passed up a perfectly good choice, but I started to recognize probability of success the more time I spent interviewing people.

The same could be said for frame builders. Having a natural gift is a great start, but the more time a builder has, the more likely it is that s/he will produce a quality product. Beyond the physical building process itself, there are other attributes that I have no doubt begin to take shape, particularly when it comes to customizing geometry or creating a standard that works for most people. Perhaps this is why we start to see some builders who specialize in women's geometry, who build specifically for brevets, racing-specific, or builders who specialize in frames for tall/short people.

As with many aspects of life, not everything is black and white. The many shades of grey that flow between two extremes offer a lot to the mix. Do only the most expensive bicycles provide a quality product? Do all inexpensive bicycles exhibit qualities of an inadequate or poor choice?

It becomes fairly easy to swing ones opinion in either direction depending on what we hear or read. I could point out multiple links online to individuals who have had his/her Surly frame break at various points in its life and for varying reasons. By doing so, I may lead some to believe that all Surly frames will end up in a landfill sooner or later (*Note: I'm not picking on Surly - we could easily fill-in-the-blank with any number of manufacturers. We've owned 4 Surly's in our home at various times and have enjoyed each of them).

I could just as easily point out the number of many satisfied Surly owners who have never had a single issue with his/her frame. These individuals will praise the quality/value and state that there is no reason to purchase anything more expensive. Does it then automatically mean that every Surly or mass-produced frame is of quality that will last a lifetime?

Sometimes the price of a frame is influenced by aesthetics. For some manufacturers, the number of frames made are used as a means to play with supply and demand, which is also likely to have an affect on price.

I believe that there are benefits to spending less on a bicycle. I also believe these benefits are particularly present when a person is just starting to ride. It is incredibly difficult to know what one needs and how one will ride in early stages. Goodness knows that over time I have changed dramatically in the way I ride and what I ride. In truth, I couldn't have known from the start what would be in front of me. Spending thousands on a bike frame early on would likely have been in complete vain.

Still, others will point out that had I owned such a bicycle early on, perhaps the need to adjust and change what I rode may have been unnecessary. If the quality and geometry had been present with my early choice, perhaps I'd be riding the same today.

I tend to disagree with this latter possibility, as I needed time to figure out what I like and dislike about the way a bicycle rides and feels; and for me specifically, I hadn't the desire to ride in the manner I do today when my adult cycling began. However, there could be some truth to the idea that spending to obtain a quality, well-designed product initially may result in fewer bike switches down the road.

But, this brings me back to the initial thought regarding quality and price. Do they necessarily go hand-in-hand? In some respects, I do think quality necessitates a higher price tag. It is challenging, to say the least, to offer a product of substance when the ticket price is bare-bones. Yet, I don't think that spending the most automatically provides a bike of quality.

It is my belief that this is when thoughtful research, analytic-ability and personal preferences come into play. With so much information at our fingertips, it is challenging to determine B.S. or opinion from fact, as quite often these are equally presented as credible information. In addition, if you are someone like myself who enjoys absorbing and reading as much as possible about bicycles, it can provide a great wealth of knowledge. However, with that familiarity comes the nearly unavoidable confusion when conflict of source information arises.

What has been your experience with the cost vs quality conundrum? Has your experience led you to believe that there is no correlation, or have you found that paying more has afforded a more enjoyable riding experience and/or a higher quality product? Additionally, do you research companies or individuals before buying a frame or bicycle? Have you found conflicting information, and if so, are you able to separate fact from fiction?