Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Abiding By the Law

School just started for many students locally. It still takes some getting used to for me because I grew up in a place where no one even dreamed of being back in school until September, but I understand that weather likely plays a big part in the return-to-class reasoning here.

Like many morning travelers, I frequently find myself at intersections with children darting across roads and crossing guards attempting to keep some sort of order. There's a particular intersection that I travel through nearly daily at child-drop-off time in the morning. The intersection is set up so that the north-south bound traffic has no stop sign and only yields to the crossing guard (or someone walking through the crosswalk). The east-west bound traffic has a stop sign and waits for the traffic to clear before proceeding. There are also bike lanes that travel in all four directions, which is great.

I am no expert on traffic patterns or engineering, but I have assumed there are people far smarter than me who have determined that at this particular intersection it makes sense for traffic flow that two of the lanes of travel stop, and the other two do not. Yet, at least once a week as I approach the stop sign at this intersection on my bicycle, someone driving a motorized vehicle through the perpendicular road wants to stop where there is no stop sign and attempt to coerce me into proceeding through the intersection in front of them.
A non-perfect representation of the intersection in question.
As it happened, one day this week, this moment presented itself again. I was traveling west to the intersection where I would meet up with the stop sign. I had signaled that I was coming out of the bike lane to make a left hand turn as I was approaching the intersection. At that moment, there were no vehicles behind me as the parents were busy dropping off their children. I stopped at the stop sign as I am supposed to do, looked both ways (which is not easy at this intersection as there are always lots of large vehicle parked along the street, blocking the view) and could see that there were vehicles coming in both directions on the road to which I was planning to turn.

On the north-west side of the intersection was a crossing guard who was holding back individuals to allow some of the road traffic to get by. I was waiting for the traffic to get through (or for the crossing guard to stop the traffic to allow my left turn to the south) when suddenly a truck behind me started honking, presumably at me as I was not yet moving due to the vehicles traveling through the intersection. As I looked to the north, a woman sitting in her SUV was waving at me to travel through in front of her. I vehemently shook my head and waved for her to make her turn, to which she finally acquiesced, as I muttered about people who don't follow the laws.

I understand what this woman in the SUV was likely thinking. I "get" that she believes she is extending a nice gesture by allowing me to pedal out in front of her before she makes her turn, but the truth is that she 1) does not need to do this as traffic flow will allow me to pass within a few seconds if she just proceeded through, 2) is technically breaking the law by doing so (and forcing me to break the law if I went through as she'd wanted), and perhaps most importantly 3) is potentially causing me to have a run-in with injury or death.

When traveling on roadways, I find that there can be two extremes with people driving motorized vehicles. One side wants to continuously yield to cycling traffic, regardless of who actually has the right-of-way, instead of treating those on bikes like any other vehicular traffic; and the other side will do anything in their power to try to keep cyclists off what they view as roads meant only for motorized traffic. Both of these types of people are potentially dangerous.

On one hand, I understand why many motorists want to yield to cyclists regardless of the circumstances because I've witnessed instances when some on bicycles blow through stop signs/lights, ride on the wrong side of the street, and perform other acts as though there is no one else traveling on the road. I suppose for those who do this, it's easy to understand why a motorist could be unsure of what someone on a bicycle is going to do. However, this thought process falls apart when it is apparent and obvious that the cyclist in question is doing what should be done -- in this case, halting at a stop sign.

As the woman turned in front of me to head away from where I stood waiting to proceed, she shook her head at me, rolled down her window and told me that I "should've just gone." But, before I could respond to her, she was well on her way in the opposite direction. However, the air around me got an ear-full, despite it being an entirely useless rant.

As someone who rides a bike regularly, I understand that there are times when a person on a bicycle who breaks the law can be a safer option than following the letter of the law. Until streets are built everywhere that allow for different modes of transportation to travel with ease and safety, I think this is just a reality. I am absolutely not advocating for cyclists to break the law, but I am stating that I have found myself in situations where it made more sense for safety's sake to bend the rules a bit.

However, when a motorist is attempting to get someone on a bicycle to put him/herself in harms way, I absolutely must protest. While the intention of the motorist may be one of good will, many simply don't understand what they are doing to a vulnerable road user. While the sentiment is appreciated, the actual action has potential to cause far more harm than good.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Acceptable Prejudice

Dear Mr. Marketing-Dude [Not actual name, in case that isn't obvious],

I'm responding to an e-mail you sent a few weeks ago in which you inquired as to why my last purchase at [establishment name] took place over a year ago. I'd thought I wouldn't send anything in response, but after some time to consider further, I believe I will. Even knowing going in that nothing will likely come from this note, I do think it's important to voice opinions in order to see change, so here I go...

And so this letter, sent several weeks ago, began -- even though I started and stopped many times before actually hitting "send." I wanted to express my opinion about lack of size options for a variety of individuals, but I seemed to find myself hesitating because I know that little changes in the cycling industry when it comes to what is being supplied to those in need of non-standard sizing (smaller or larger). Additionally, I grow weary of sending similar sounding notes to various manufacturers. It's exhausting to waste my breath (key-strokes?) trying to explain something to a group of people that seem to not understand at all.

Neither of the individuals in our home have an easy time finding cycling clothing. One often can't find clothing small enough, and the other struggles to find items on the larger end of the spectrum (being a male and smaller than average is nearly as bad as being a female who extends beyond a U.S. size large), and I wanted to express this to the marketing individual who had reached out (granted, in the form of a mass e-mail that I'm sure was sent to everyone who hadn't purchased from the company in some time).

What amused me most was that there was a swift response directing me to something that doesn't exist in their inventory, and that also didn't address 75% of what I had written about in the letter. Besides that, is ONE item supposed to suffice as inventory? For once in my life, I'd been concise so as to not eat up the day of the person reading my letter, but I still felt as though I received a canned/brush-off response. I'm used to this though. No one seems to have follow through. Customer service is lacking almost anywhere. From the grocery store to big box home improvement, or brick-and-mortar retail to Amazon, I find few who are willing to actually do even the very basic necessities of their jobs.

More frustrating than anything is the internal battle/argument I have before attempting to address a situation. In the weeks prior to sending the above letter, I debated myself, trying to decide whether it was futile or not to respond to such an e-mail, but I know that if nothing is said then changes never materialize.

Over the years, I've written and called many companies expressing a desire (not only for myself, but for others as well) to expand their current size line for cycling, hiking, and other outdoor wear. While I often get some sort of response, it is almost never a response that takes any of my comments into consideration, nor will these organizations acknowledge that there is a need that isn't being met.

Another example of this was an e-mail sent to a different cycling wear company back in May of this year. I had purchased a pair of mountain biking shorts online. For those who fit into standard sizing, finding a pair of women's mountain biking shorts is not a big deal. These folks can walk into nearly any local bike shop and find something that will fit their needs. If, however, you are a female who needs shorts larger than about a U.S. size 12, you can pretty much forget about ever finding something in a shop, or even in all the vast and far reaches of the world wide web.

So, when I saw these seemingly fabulous mountain bike shorts on the company's website that stated they would fit me (per the size chart), I was ecstatic! Hurrah! Hurray! Finally!!! After searching for nearly a decade for mountain bike shorts, a company was finally creating something that would fit my body!

According to the size chart, I should have plenty of room in my usual size, but I decided to go up one size to ensure that I'd have lots of extra room, if needed.

Alas, when the shorts arrived, it was a comedic sketch-in-the-making. First, when I pulled the shorts out of their packaging, they were as flimsy a material as I've ever felt. Lighter than even the thinnest swim suit I've ever seen, thinner than the skimpiest of running shorts, I was shocked at the lack of substance to this product.

But, I still wanted to give them a chance. Even if they were lighter than I'd anticipated, finding a mountain bike short that fits has been a near-impossibility. As I unfolded the shorts and prepared to put them on they seemed small visually, but this is often typical of cycling clothing. I proceeded to pull and tug in an attempt to affix these shorts to my body with great effort. Eventually, they were on my body, but they were certainly not usable in any fashion as a mountain bike short, as I could barely button them and they were excruciatingly tight.

I cannot begin to express my disappointment. With a sigh, I packed the shorts back up and put them in a return envelope.

A level of frustration and annoyance had taken over at this point and I decided that I was not going to let this go without some kind of response. I sat down and typed out a letter, expressing my dissatisfaction with a company that I had once found to be one of the few organizations that supplied cycling clothing to women with more meat on their bodies, and in particular, I wanted to express my concerns with this particular garment.

I relayed that I have other pieces purchased a few years prior from their brand that are smaller in size and still fit fine. I expressed my disappointment with the quality of the fabric as well, and also advised that perhaps using a larger sized model might help with future iterations of clothing in larger sizes (since I'd even purchased up a size from their chart measurements and still could barely squeeze the shorts on). None of my remarks were said in anger, but were expressed in a manner that I hoped would be helpful to future lines of clothing and to assist the organization in potentially adjusting their size chart (which was definitely not accurate).

Before I sent the letter though, I decided to try ordering another pair, simply to see if I'd received a short that was a blemish or somehow cut incorrectly. Unfortunately, I had the exact same results, so off the letter went in both my return envelope and via e-mail. I wanted to make sure that the information was received, as I know that not everyone is willing to take the time to express problems directly to companies.

The response I received was shockingly argumentative and frankly, almost hostile. Instead of taking in my concerns and presenting a thoughtful response, this representative decided that she would rather have an electronic battle of wills, telling me that I was wrong and that their organization already uses a plus-size model for their larger sizes.

Her lengthy response hit on almost none of what I had addressed and she read into my words far too much, making assumptions about aspects that I hadn't even remotely thought. I could only assume that she was either having a very bad day or simply was accustomed to hearing only positive comments about their garments and therefore wasn't prepared to respond to someone who simply had a few constructive critiques to provide for the future (and, I even stated that I simply wanted to express my personal experience).

Having two such interactions with cycling companies in a relatively short amount of time is off-putting (to say the least), but it's just a surface scratch of the issue. It isn't just these two companies, nor is it limited only to cycling clothing manufacturers and businesses. Although I'd guess unintentional, over time, these types of responses from organizations direct a person to believe that s/he is alone in a battle that isn't going to produce a win or even small amounts of change, and often lead to thoughts of being unworthy of appropriate clothing for regularly engaged-in activities.

A few weeks ago, I was looking for some information on training to do a half Ironman race. It's something I've thought of doing for several years, but I've always hesitated because running is not something that agrees with my body (A messed up back/pelvis/hips, and genetically fragile knees don't make for the best runner in the world, especially carrying extra weight). Whether or not I'll actually try this is still up for debate, but I like to have information at the ready, just in case I do decide to give it a go.

As I was looking for training information, I happened upon a few-year-old thread that almost immediately sent me into fired-up mode. It started innocently enough with a person asking a question about how someone could be fat and complete an Ironman. For those unfamiliar with this type of race it consists of a 2.4 mile (3.8 km) swim, 112 mile (180.25 km) bike ride and ends with a 26.2 mile (42.16 km) run, all completed within a specified time frame (from what I've seen, usually racers have 17 hours to finish, with time cut-offs throughout the event that could end the race earlier for an individual).

The responses that the original poster received were many and varied, though most were extremely derogatory toward fat individuals. I was surprised that whomever was moderating the thread was willing to let many of the comments through, until I remembered that prejudices and these types of comments toward fat individuals are the last acceptable form of hatred (sizeism, fat phobia, etc) in the U.S. Everything from people stating that the time frame for completion needed to be lowered to "keep fatties out" of the race, to suggesting that the only foods an individual could be eating while training that hard and stay fat would have to be ice cream, pizza and cake.

You can imagine the other sort of talk that was taking place in this forum, so I won't go into it further (mostly because it just gets me worked up again). All that I could think while reading these comments was How dare you say such things about someone training to and completing a massive goal! and What business is it of yours what someone eats? I seriously doubt anyone is living on pizza and cake when training for any kind of event - Ironman or otherwise - or they'd be very sick and incapable! and So, because someone doesn't complete a goal in the same amount of time as you do, it invalidates their effort, training and accomplishment? There were other thoughts as well, but you can easily see where my mind was going as I perused the very long list of individuals who were judging those that they believed shouldn't be allowed to compete in these types of events.

While this likely sounds like a lot of ranting (and it is, at least in part), occasionally I feel the need to put something here to remind myself and others that this is not an acceptable way to treat each other. Whether an organization that doesn't want to produce product for a certain population, or an individual who is spouting off anonymously (or otherwise) online, this kind of thinking and speaking doesn't provide anything positive or constructive.

Why do we as humans feel the need to make others feel lesser in order to make ourselves feel better, stronger, faster? Why does trying to invalidate someone else's accomplishment make our completion of a goal better or cause us to feel more worthy? How does tearing someone else down improve our own idea of self?

If you haven't seen it, check out this story about a plus-size model who confronted a man on a plane who was sending comments via text to a friend about her body size before a flight to Los Angeles. It's a short video, so it's a quick watch, but it assists in illustrating my point: society at large finds it completely acceptable to body shame those who are fat; and for some reason, it seems to be more acceptable to do this to females than males. Of course, that could be an entirely extended discussion about gender bias in this country as well.

I am by no means perfect, and I understand that we are all surrounded by imperfect humans. I also accept that we are each going to do or say things that we will later regret or feel differently about than at the time a statement was said or an action was made. But, how do we change the dialogue that takes place, particularly in a web-focused, easy-to-be-anonymous world, so that attitudes begin to change and hatred for others dissipates? How is a world created where we appreciate each other's differences and embrace the reality that we excel in different areas of life?

Here in this space, we come together over a love of bicycles and riding. I have no doubt that we are all of different stature, ethnicity, and weight. We come from different upbringing and backgrounds. We have different religious and political beliefs. We have different careers. Some are single, married, have children or don't. Some are gay, straight, bisexual, or transgender. Some train for cycling events, some are happy to ride for transportation only, and others can't stay off a bicycle no matter the purpose.  Regardless, we can come together over a shared love or appreciation. I suppose I find it challenging to understand why this cannot spread to other areas of life. Maybe it can.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Blast from the Past: A Former Rivendell Returns

I've been stating for some time now that I was going to share more about the newest addition to the bike fold. It's taken a bit longer than I thought to actually get to it, but here we are and I am able to finally deliver as promised.

My first Rivendell was the Sam Hillborne (that has remained in the fold since day one), but it was not the only Riv to come into our house. It was followed a couple of years later by Rivendell's A Homer Hilsen. I felt a little silly having both of these bikes, but they really did serve different purposes. When they were both in our home originally, the Hillborne was loaded up with racks and bags and was providing more of a city bike/grocery-fetching functionality, while the Hilsen was my road bike, stripped down to barest essentials. I went through a few rounds with set up switching between drop handlebars and more upright bars, but the Hilsen's functionality remained the same while it was with me.

Unfortunately, we ran into some unexpected expenses when Sam ended up in the emergency room, and we had some bills to cover associated with that visit. In order to help with paying some of those costs, I made the decision to sell the A Homer Hilsen. At the time, I thought I was okay with the choice, but soon after the loss started to set in. It wasn't that I minded selling a bike to cover the bills, but it kind of set me off on a strange course of trying to find the perfect (at least for me) long distance road-ish bike again.

Ultimately, I was able to find a great replacement for the Hilsen in the Box Dog Bikes Pelican. As you may recall, one of the reasons I didn't get an A Homer Hilsen when obtaining the Pelican was price. I just couldn't bring myself to pay today's prices and even though I'd been looking for years trying to find a second-hand Hilsen in the proper size, it just never materialized. I had accepted that it just wasn't meant to be in my life and went about using the Pelican as a much-enjoyed replacement.

Then, one day early this year, I received one of Rivendell's mass emails. While reading the email I ended up back at Riv's website on their special's page and discovered there an unpainted NOS Rivendell A Homer Hilsen/Saluki. My insides started to jump. Could it be? Sitting here in front of my eyes was the right-sized past bicycle I'd let go -- and for almost exactly the price I'd paid several years prior. It was as though someone was playing an April Fool's joke on me in January. A New Year's joke, perhaps?

A brief discussion was had, but I knew Sam was aware of how much I would love to have this particular bike back in my life, so there really wasn't much to talk about. I wasn't entirely sure at the time how it would fit into the current bikes, but I knew that I had to get the frame and I could worry about set up and function/purpose later.

The frame was listed as a Saluki frame, but it was my understanding that the Salukis and A Homer Hilsens were virtually the same, and for the size I need, I don't think there were any differences as far as geometry is concerned.

The best part was that I would be able to pick the paint color and I was told I could choose between A Homer Hilsen and Saluki decals for the frame (which just reaffirmed my belief that these were very, very similar). While I was excited about choosing a paint color, I also know that I have a horrible time picking paint for projects, but I also didn't want to waste the opportunity to be able to pick a color different from the standard either. Decisions, decisions.

I opted to go with the Saluki stickers, though I didn't really have a reason for the choice. Perhaps, at least in some small part, it's because I have a great love of dogs, but truly I would have been okay with either set of decals.

It took longer than expected for the frame to get painted. It was supposed to be a couple of weeks as was originally quoted, but ended up taking about four times longer than my overly-excited mind was ready to wait. Then, one day I received an email that stated, "Here is your frame..."
One of the photos received from Rivendell to let me know the frame was ready to ship.
Leaving the color technicalities to the folks at Rivendell had me wondering what would ultimately end up coming to me, but I was happy to see that it was pretty and bright - though not obnoxious - just as I'd hoped. I couldn't wait for the frame to get into my hands!

As I waited for the frame's arrival, I started debating what to do with the build. We had nearly every part needed to build up the bike, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to make it more road-focused or built ready to handle daily needs around town.

Since my hands have been struggling over the last few years, I decided to stick with the Albatross handlebars (as these work well for me), but thought that I'd turn them right-side-up to make it a little different set up than the current build of the Hillborne.
The Saluki was ridden this way for several weeks as I attempted to ascertain whether the set up would work for me or not. I was enjoying the set up, but it felt a little too upright. Even as someone who likes to sit up a bit, it was feeling a little too cruiser-bike-like for my preferences. I continued to ride though, hoping that I'd adjust to this set up. We even dropped the stem low, hoping that this would be enough to help me find the comfort I was seeking on the bike.
Eventually, I knew that I needed to change the handlebar set up, so we made a small switch, turning the bars upside down to match the set up of the Hillborne and added bar tape instead of the cork grips.

Even with the change to the handlebars, there still seemed to be need to keep tweaking things mildly, and I'm sure that will continue for a time until the right combination comes together. I do have other handlebar options as well, such as the butterfly/trekking bars like those on the VO Campeur, a set of Nitto drop bars, as well as a couple of other possibilities.
What has been interesting is to compare my memories of the A Homer Hilsen with the latest arrival. It can be easy to build something up from the past and give it qualities that it didn't necessarily possess, but I have found this bike to be all that I remember.

Since the set up is slightly different than the former version, I am finding a necessary adjustment period, but the bike itself rides as smoothly as I'd recalled. It is also a bit amusing that, just as with my first round with this bicycle, I am almost unsure of what to make of the appropriately sized top tube. Having grown used to being more stretched on the Hillborne, it is as though I expect a bike to have more reach. The remedy in the past was to use drop bars, which seemed to help cure the mild feelings of smallness, but I don't know if I'll go that route this time or not.

After riding the Saluki for a handful of months, I can say that I'm happy to have it back in my life, though I still don't quite know what its exact purpose is in the fold. Oh, I use it for errands and transportation, and I've taken it on a couple of rides just for the fun of it, but having filled the road bike slot with the Pelican, and having an appropriate option for getting groceries and other needs with the Campeur, and the somewhere-in-the-middle bike slot being filled by the Hillborne, it's almost as though I'm not quite sure where the Saluki fits in - and it's an odd sensation, as I expected it would immediately find a purpose.
In some sense, I suppose the bike can hold the position of fill-in for whichever option may be in need of repairs or maintenance at a given time. It's never a bad option to have a back-up, I think.

With all of my uncertainty surrounding a specific purpose for this bike though, it may seem strange that I was anxious to get the Saluki back. Certainly, I would have lived without having it, but there's a part of me that was hoping to recapture a bit of the past; a past that had me pedaling at my best. Although I realize it's not exactly possible to go back, there is a quality I've always appreciated about this bike that I can't quite put my finger on when pressed for specifics. It's an intangible, but it's there. While none of the photos seem to do it justice, I must say that the Saluki is a beautiful thing to behold, which doesn't hurt my feelings either.

Ultimately, it has been fun to re-welcome this blast from the past, and I hope to have many enjoyable rides as we move forward together. I don't know where the road will take us, but I look forward to figuring it out as we go.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Why I Participate in Races, Even Though I Stand No Chance of Being Competitive or Winning

Mother's sometimes have a way of saying things that no one else can get away with expressing to another individual. Mine happens to have no filter when it comes to people she knows and strangers alike, so the questions she asks at times shouldn't really surprise me (though they sometimes leave me apologizing to strangers). Now in her 70s, that filter seems to be nearly non-existent, so if I thought her verbal spouts were difficult to deal with at a younger age, I am learning that the verbalization of whatever enters her mind is becoming more frequent as she gets older.

Recently though, mother dear posed a question that I thought was rather interesting (even if I was slightly offended at the asking). We were chatting about recent happenings and I mentioned that Sam and I had participated in a running race. Her response was, "You? You were in a race? Running?"

It was a mostly legitimate question as my body has taken some blows over the last couple of years that have resulted in both my hesitancy to want to participate in group activities and that often keep me from being able to run. Not to mention that I am, of course, overweight. The combination hardly makes for a good recipe for success in a race of any sort.

My response was that, yes, I participated in a race but for the most part, I didn't run because I wasn't capable when I arrived to race on the day in question. It's not as though it was the first race she thought I'd completed, so her question seemed a little out of place to me, but it still had me thinking.

The thing is, I had entered the race knowing that there was a strong possibility I wouldn't be capable of running on race day, and also well aware that I stood no chance of being competitive regardless of whether I was running or walking.
I have joked with others that I participate in races to make everyone else feel better about themselves. I say it really in half-jest because I am conscious of the reality that I stand no chance of winning any foot or wheel race, or even placing in my age division or any other category. It's just my reality. I have never been fast at anything and regardless of my training regimen, I will never be faster than the slowest individuals.

So, why participate in races at all?

I have pondered this over the years, but never really put it down on paper (or computer in this instance), so I thought I would share thoughts for anyone else who may believe him/herself to be slow or who may be hesitant for whatever reason to participate in races. My reasons may be different than others, but perhaps sharing them will be of benefit to someone who is thinking about entering a race of his/her own.

Personally, I tend to be a go-big-or-go home sort of person. My very first race ever (other than being forced into events in physical ed in school) was a marathon. Yep. My first race as an adult was running 26.1 miles. I did not run the whole event, but I did ultimately complete it. Most people start with a 5k or 10k, but not me. Nope, I headed straight for the big show. Honestly though, I did this because I was afraid that if I entered a shorter race and didn't do well or it didn't go well for me physically, it might keep me from doing the marathon, and I was determined to complete a marathon.

It was both one of the best and worst experiences of my life. I was not properly trained for the event, I didn't understand the need for fueling during an endurance race, and I had a number of obstacles to endure throughout the race including heading off in the wrong direction half way through, only to find myself about a mile off course before someone informed me that I was going the wrong way.

But there were amazing things that I will never forget about this race like having my very own unknown-to-me cheering section that followed me from mile 8 to about mile 11, and actually completing the race, which was something I wasn't sure would happen by the time I hit about mile 16.

Surprisingly, I was not the last person to finish, which I was certain was my fate. I had been very slow and added about two miles to the course, so as I watched others pass over the finish, I admired the fact that not one of them had given up... and believe me, we had plenty of opportunities.

When I reached mile 14, the race barriers, cones and water stations were all being removed. Vans for the event started to circle and ask individuals if they wanted a ride to the finish line. It was very demotivating, I must say, particularly as they seemed to come around every 5 minutes. By mile 17, I realized most participants were likely done and I felt very alone on the course. I was also in a lot of pain. My back had started to seize up, and I had no water or food with me.

I had a bright spot though. There were a group of ladies, who had finished the half marathon operating in tandem with the marathon, driving around offering water to those who were still on the course trying to finish. About every mile or so, they'd come around again asking if I needed anything. These few ladies were seriously one of the big factors allowing me to get to the finish line because by mile 20, I was seriously considering conceding and taking a ride to the finish line.

I imagine for any competitive runner there are always pains too, and that running 26+ miles isn't easy for 99% of the population, but when a person is slow it is that much more time that s/he is on their feet which creates additional aches and pains. Imagine walking or running for 4 hours versus 8 hours - it's a huge difference to any body.

The miles between 20 and 23 were some of the most painful in my life. I had to stop several times to issue out some positive self-talk and remind myself why I was doing this race.

Why was I doing the race? Completing a marathon was a bucket list item for me. It seemed so ludicrous to be able to finish that I wanted a big challenge to see if I could get it done. When I had moments of doubt, I told myself, "You never have to do this again. Just get to the finish line." Remarkably, it seemed to help. Nearing the end of the race, my legs were barely moving, and I had absolutely no idea where I was in the race because all of the markers had been removed.

At this point, there was a police officer in the road still assisting those who needed to cross a busy spot during the race. As I crossed I asked of him, "Do you happen to know what mile this is?" He responded telling me I was at mile 23, and suddenly I had a renewed pep in my step. "Really?" I couldn't help but gleefully respond. That meant I only had about 3 miles left to go. I could do three miles, I thought, even if I had to crawl over the finish line. It was also a very obvious reminder to me that our minds have so much control over our bodies.

Happily, I did not crawl at any point during the race, and Sam, who had finished hours before me, came out to meet me with about two tenths of a mile to go. It was perfect timing as I needed that push to get through that last little bit.
*Image here
After the marathon, I pretty much swore off races. If I wasn't going to do another marathon, what could ever compete with that type of distance? But, as it turned out, it would not be my last race.

Which brings me to the real point of this post. The reasons or the motivation that keep me entering races both on foot and bicycle.

Really, there can be one to several reasons I choose to enter a race. I've participated in races simply to help out a friend who was starting a new race and needed participants to sign up, or because I wanted to support a charitable organization. I've participated because the course just sounded fun, challenging, or both. I've done some races simply because I needed a kick in the rear and to have a goal to work towards. But most often, it's just the need to challenge myself and improve on the past.

The reality is most people who enter races know they aren't going to win. If the goal was simply winning, there would be only a handful of individuals who would participate in any race. For the vast majority of participants, I would say the purpose or goal is something found within themselves. Maybe they want to beat a prior time on the same course or they want to better a time from a similar distance on another course. Perhaps they just enjoy running or cycling and being in a group headed toward the same goal is helpful. It may stand to reason that a person simply wants to visit a city and participating in a race is an easy "excuse" to have a mini-vacation. It's not for me to say what, where or who motivates another person to race, but I do think that everyone finds their individual reason(s).

My point is, just because I'm not fast doesn't mean I should shy away from a race. In fact, during a race recently, I was at the very back of the pack to start. I had told Sam before we began that my only goal was not to finish last, so when I realized where I was I knew I wasn't off to the best start. However, it turned out to be the perfect spot for me. It takes me awhile to warm up and I could see where everyone was in front of me. A few had started out too fast and it became a mental game to try and overtake as many individuals as I could. As soon as I'd passed one person, I'd set my sights on the next and tell myself internally that I would not allow the person I'd just passed to get in front of me. Not only did it make the distance seem much shorter, but it was great motivation as well.

If I were to offer thoughts or tips to anyone who is considering a race and who hasn't raced previously, I don't know that I'd advise him or her to start with a marathon run or a century ride, but I suppose it would depend on the individual. For me, I thrive on the possibility that I may not finish at all (it's a bit of a twisted thought process, I do understand), but I also participate in short distances which can be just as much if not more challenging and/or fun.

Ultimately, there are some things I wish someone had told me before the first time I raced. Here are a few, in no particular order:
1. Understand that endurance races require fueling. You will "bonk" without taking in some sort of nutrition. I used to think because I'm bigger I didn't need fuel. Unfortunately, the body doesn't work that way. For me, if the race is longer than 2.5 hours, I know I need to start fueling every 30-45 minutes from the start. If it's less than 2.5 hours, usually water is sufficient. Your mileage may vary though, of course.
2. Test your food/gu/energy product prior to race day to know if your body will tolerate it or not. I've had some quite unpleasant reactions trying to test energy products on race day.
3. Invest in proper, comfortable equipment/clothing.
4. Don't test new shoes, clothing, saddle, handlebars, bike, etc for the first time on race day.
5. Take care of injuries and rest when needed; trying to push through training when injured only delays healing or intensifies the injury.
6. Recognize the difference between true injury and excuse-making to miss a training day.
7. People have always been kind to me during races, encouraging me when I needed it or offering support, and I try to return that favor whenever possible.
8. Many races have cutoff times, but if you're concerned you won't make it in the allotted time frame, look for another race that allows everyone to finish (walker-friendly events are great resources for runners who are slow), or contact the organizers to see if they'll allow finishers after the listed cutoff.
9. Don't shy away from something that seems scary simply because you don't know if you can finish. If you don't train and try, you will never know.
10. Slowing down or going slow doesn't mean you're a failure or that you should give up. We all start and end somewhere and finishing always feels better than quitting, regardless of the finish time.
11. Race/action photos are some of the worst photos I have ever seen of myself. If it's going to make you crazy to see a bad picture, just don't look at the photos at all (or have someone you trust preview them and tell you if it's safe to look).
*Image here
The saying goes, slow and steady wins the race, but that definitely hasn't been my experience. I suppose it depends on ones definition of "slow" though, and the definition of "win" as well. There are lots of moments that take place during a race, whether a person has the best overall finishing time or not, that can feel like victories. I sometimes wonder where I'd be today if I'd never tried a race at all, but I don't truly want to know what that world is like. Every race teaches me something about myself - whether I want to learn a lesson or not - and, the great thing about being slow is that there is always room for improvement.

Racing isn't everything to me, and my world doesn't come to an end if I don't participate in an event, but it's a nice, occasional practice to remind myself that there is competitiveness within me, even if it doesn't show by finish times or to anyone else who's racing. Plus, it's always fun to see if I can improve, even a small amount, from one race to the next.

Any other slow racers out there? On foot, on a bike, or any other sport? If you have words of wisdom or your own race stories to share, please do!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

How Many is Too Many?

It's a question that has been asked in various places by many, many people. How many bicycles does one person need, and how many are simply too many? In reading over the years, it has become apparent that there are two very separated sides of this question: those who believe one bicycle is more than enough, and those who follow the n+1 philosophy. There are definitely those who fall somewhere in the middle too. I suppose I fancy myself one of those people - the middle of the road sort of person. While I believe it is possible to live with just one bicycle, I understand that there are many types of terrain and distances that riders will cover, so it is less likely that one bicycle will do the job in every situation.

Still, I can't help but question how many bicycles a person truly needs. Recently, Sam and I were in conversation about such matters.  We have both (separately, but somehow around the same stretch of time) had thoughts of limiting bicycles. Sam has been in search of "the one" bicycle to rule them all. When I pointed out that he rides rough mountain roads and long paved roads as well, he agreed that he wasn't truly going to be able to limit his bicycles to one single ride.

My problem is nearly the exact opposite. While Sam's bicycles all have a different purpose, my bicycles all (for the most part) perform the same type of riding. They all cover distance fine, they all have wide-ish tires that allow for some trail riding when needed, they can all have racks/bags added or removed at will, and they're all set up with comfort at the forefront and speed as a secondary point.

However, several of my bicycles I could never own again either due to the cost-prohibitive nature of repurchasing in the future or because the size or bicycle is no longer made. This makes the idea of eliminating a bicycle (or three) very difficult! Yes, this is truly a first world problem. I have so much that I don't know what to eliminate from my life. That in itself is a bit unsettling.
Our "bike house." It is approximately 11 ft tall at its peak to allow storage in the rafters for wheels, frames that are un-built, and other miscellaneous parts.
Yet, I know what it is to go without, and I don't wish to live a life of hoarding excessive material possessions. Our bicycle obsession - and that is the only appropriate word I can think to use at this moment - even resulted in building a separate storage shed just for housing bikes. Granted, we built the shed ourselves for almost no cost from scrap pieces of wood, but one has to question how far things have turned when a separate housing structure is required for bicycle storage.

Currently, we have 12 built bicycles between the two of us. While I realize that is far from the shocking numbers often shared by other enthusiasts, in our minds, it still feels like overkill. But, when we sit down to try to figure out which bicycles should go, it becomes a far more challenging task than one might expect. It's great to have bicycles that work well, but when is it too much of a good thing?

Speaking for myself, I ride each of my bicycles. Some get more saddle time than others, but they all get used. In some ways, I know I've done this intentionally to justify owning them, and in many ways it does provide comfort to be able to say, "Well, I use them all." But, I can't help but believe that there is still a bit of sickness taking place under the surface.

Most people have some kind of hobby that s/he spends on, and those items are usually not regarded as necessary. I suppose bicycles, while utilitarian, provide a sort of hobby for each of us. Of course they are practical machines, but does that practicality reach an end point when the numbers become excessive? And how many exactly marks an excessive number? I had personally thought that it was easy for Sam to justify his bicycles because they each fulfill a unique task, as opposed to myself who simply owns similar bicycles but in greater quantity than necessary, but when our discussion came up, I quickly understood that even he feels that the justification is difficult when the numbers get higher.

To a greater or lesser extent, having "spare" bicycles can come in handy when there are repairs or maintenance that need to be completed. It's also nice when friends or family visit to be able to loan out a bike. I also particularly enjoy being able to test out different parts and not have every bicycle dismantled in order to test a change - particularly when I'm not certain how well the test will go or how long the test may drag out.

Then there's the costs involved in each build. Sam and I often take on different methods in this regard. Sam takes his time, searching for the absolute best deal on a part (or frame), waiting patiently and watching for the one that suits his pre-set budget. He is flexible (obviously within the constraints of what is needed for a particular frame) when it comes to exact part selection. In fact, there is a local secondhand seller on eBay that employs individuals who are on a first name basis with Sam. Sometimes, even if a part is currently unneeded but is too good a deal to pass up, Sam will make the leap and hope that it will get used on a future build or that someone else will need the part.

While I also want to get a deal, if there is a part I'm particularly fond of using, I will spend a little more to get the particulars that suit me. I don't like having extra parts that aren't getting used (with the exception of handlebars - this is one part for which I actually like to have options) and I prefer to resell or give away the excess unless I believe I will use it on another bike, such as newer bar tape or pedals.

Even though we approach builds differently, we have both obviously reached a point that has caused us to stop and question what we are doing and have both been wondering exactly how many bicycles we should individually own. As Sam pointed out during our discussion, even if we were to flush out the excess, we would still be looking, wondering, and pondering other bicycles though. It's as though the n+1 rule comes into play whether we want it to or not.

I don't truly think anyone can answer for another how many bicycles are too many. For one, having two bicycles may seem excessive, and for others they may extend well into double digits before having such thoughts. Perhaps for some "excessive" never enters their thoughts at all.

As for me, I don't know where this process is leading. I'm hesitant to sell off bikes as I've regretted doing so in the past, but there's still that nagging voice telling me that the number owned is simply too many. Sam's suggestion was to pull a couple of builds apart and store them to see how I feel about not using them for a stretch of time. That may be a plausible suggestion that I implement, but for now, I continue to enjoy my bicycles. I think that's the most important piece of the puzzle to me -- that I find joy each time I get to ride.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Flat Tire Protection: Test Results from Homemade and Retail Options

Keeping bicycle tires from getting punctures can be a challenge. For the most part, I've given up on having pretty, soft (comfortable) tires because I have found that they aren't low maintenance when it comes to dealing with road debris. When making a run to the grocery store or taking care of a quick errand, it can be a nuisance to have to stop to fix a flat.

There are a variety of options available for sale. Everything from putting goop in tires to thicker tubes, but last fall, I decided I wanted to try out a couple of options that I'd been curious about, and I thought I'd share what's happened to date.

Over the last several months, I have been testing a couple of fairly inexpensive flat protection possibilities. One is a homemade option, while the other is store bought. I wanted to see if either (or both) would actually provide protection from glass and other potentially poke-through-the-tire debris found commonly on roads and paths. I will say from the get-go, I have been pretty impressed thus far with both options.
Stop Flats 2 comes with a set of two liners, one for each tire.
When I picked up another bike early this year, I wanted to put cream tires on it, but the two tire options I enjoy riding have both left me wanting when it comes to flat protection. I decided to try StopFlats as liners in the tires to see if would provide the protection I need.

These liners are not new to the market, but I haven't yet had the opportunity to test them. I have had the opportunity to see and hold them close up and thought that they seemed a viable option to actually help prevent flats, but the only way to know for sure would be to put them on and get to riding.

The first challenge was deciding which size to buy. There seems to be a plethora of size options and it's supposed to be made easier by the color coded liners, but I still found it to be a bit challenging. There seems to be some overlap in sizing in a few instances and some sizes that are still missing from the line up too.
A few samples from the size line up of StopFlats
Ultimately, I settled on a size to try for my 650bx38 tires and went about installing them. The installation is pretty simple and wraps around the interior of the tire before the tube is inserted. I had installed these once before on a customer's bike while filling in at a local bike shop, but the process seemed a bit more challenging with my tires. It could be that they are simply a softer tire so keeping the liners in place while adding the tube presented a bit of a challenge, but nothing that was unmanageable.

My tests with this liner are still fairly limited as they have been in place for only a couple of months (and certainly not the most thorn-centric months), but thus far, they have not disappointed. I have ridden through glass shards, dirt paths with goatheads and other stickers, and rolled over metal and other road debris without experiencing a flat tire. To date, these liners have lived up to expectations, but I look forward to testing them over the longer term to see how they withstand longer use over roads and paths with debris.

The second liner I've been experimenting with is a homemade option. Several years ago, I read a comment on a forum about someone who was going to try lining his tires with tyvek to see if it would help prevent flats. There was never any follow up to this statement, so I always wondered if it was something that could really work. In theory, it seemed reasonable because those mailing envelopes are pretty strong and durable, but I wasn't sure if it would work in real-world use.
It has been suggested that USPS mailing envelopes can be had free of charge,which is true, but I would point out that it is illegal to use USPS envelopes for anything other than mailing a package via the post office... and I don't want to feel responsible for someone breaking the law.  
The first step was to get some tyvek mailing envelopes. These can be obtained at just about any office supply store, Amazon, or many other big box retail/discount establishments, if they aren't already somewhere in your home or office.

I decided to test this liner on my fat tire bike because it's more challenging to find flat liners for this size bike tire. To make the liner, I took a mailing envelope and folded it width-wise so that it would be narrow and long. Depending on the width of the tire and the envelope in question, the envelope may need to be cut down a bit so that it isn't too wide.
Then, I repeated the folding step with the next envelope and used packing tape to attach one end of the first folded piece to one end of the second envelope. This process continues until there is enough of the envelope length to make a circle to fit inside the tire.

The worst part about this homemade creation is fitting the "liner" into the tire. I may have left a bit too much on the width, creating a bigger headache than it needed to be. The secret seems to be getting the envelopes to lay flat against the tire. Once that happens, it's much easier to get the tube in place.

I have had these tyvek liners in the bike tires for about seven months now and I have not had to deal with a flat tire. While I have ridden through the same types of debris as on the other bike with its liners, I have not yet had a goathead or any debris physically stick and stay in the tires, so I don't know if I've just been fortunate enough to not run directly over any goatheads (unlikely, but possible), or if they have simply been pushed out prior to my seeing them. The same is true for glass. I have definitely run over pieces, but nothing has stayed long enough for me to inspect at the end of a ride.

Both of these options add a small amount of weight to the bike, but both are fairly light and for the bikes in question, the added weight is not significant enough to cause issues. They are both bikes that are heavier than a race bike and are used for transportation and/or dirt riding, so a few extra ounces is not noticeable when pedaling. The ease of knowing I won't get a flat (or at least, am far less likely to get one) is worth it, certainly, to me.

I'll be continuing to test these options and look forward to updating after more long-term use is had, but in the meantime, I thought perhaps one of these might be an option for anyone looking for flat protection.

What do you use as flat protection, if anything? Have you tried retail or homemade options that worked well? I would certainly be interested in hearing about other experiences with preventing flat tires.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Frame Bag for the Surly Wednesday: ATM Handmade Goods (aka Andrew the Maker)

When I first wrote about the Surly Wednesday making its way into my life, I mentioned that I was in search of a frame bag. I was offered some suggestions here, by email, and had done my own research to see what might work.

Specifically, I wanted a frame bag because I knew, even with the frames' very small triangle, a frame bag would allow me to carry more than what I could shove into a tiny saddlebag. I've become used to being able to carry things on my bike, and even though I knew this bike probably wouldn't be used very frequently for fetching items, I still needed to carry things with me sometimes beyond a multi-tool and extra small pump.

My initial searches quickly illustrated that frame bags are not something easily found for extra small frames. Like bicycles themselves, it seems that smalls and talls often get left out of the manufacturing equation. There are a few makers who do span the range, so I shouldn't lump every company together, but as a household of less than standard height individuals, we know how hard it is to find something off the shelf in an appropriate size.

When it comes to the Wednesday, at the time of my searching, there really weren't a lot of non-custom options for the frame. There was a chance that Relevate's frame bag may have worked, but it was still a bit too long (or rather too wide at the longest point) and I had concerns that it wouldn't quite fit into the wee-sized frame triangle without some customizing of my own.  I had some money stashed from some side jobs and figured, if I wanted it to be right, I should probably look at a custom bag.

I was surprised to discover how many custom bag manufacturers exist, and that they are made in a multitude of fabrics and at various price points. Some makers seem more particular about measurements, while others are a little looser with their requests for templates of an individual's frame. After quite a bit of looking and reading, I decided on a manufacturer: ATM Handmade Goods, otherwise known as Andrew the Maker.

Why ATM? Well, that's perhaps a little more difficult to pinpoint. One reason is that I had seen his work prior, making it easy for me to know what the quality would likely be on my own custom bag. I'd read and seen photos of his work, such as here and here, so I felt a certain level of confidence going this route. It was neither the least expensive nor the fastest option, but sometimes good things are worth the wait and even extra funds.
*Image from ATM Handmade Goods Instagram feed
I also liked that Andrew makes different types of bags. I've considered a handlebar bag for this bike as well and wanted the option to have it coordinate, if I chose to go this route. From top tube bags to snack sacks and even hip packs (or fanny packs, if you prefer), the options are plentiful from ATM.

The getting started process was fairly simple. As with many custom-made goods, payment is required up front in order to get started on the project. This always unnerves me just a tad. It's not that I mind paying up front, but there's always that small amount of concern that the product could be paid for and then never arrive. But, having seen that Andrew has made bags for a few years now and has many satisfied users, I forged ahead.

After payment is received, the customer is asked to make a template of his/her frame and send it to ATM. This was a little more challenging than I would have expected, but perhaps it's because I chose to attempt it on my own, rather than asking for some assistance and an extra set of hands. It took a couple of tries to get it (close to) right, and off it went to Andrew.

Since I was going the custom route, I figured I should pick a color that wouldn't be found on every bicycle. I had to keep in mind that this bike sees time in less than ideal conditions. Snow, rain, dirt, mud, gravel are all possibilities (and probabilities) on this bike and if I chose too light a color, I knew I'd pay for that decision in the end. Still, I didn't want a boring bag that could've been picked up off the shelf in most bike shops. I knew that a brown, tan, olive, or gray fabric was probably the best way to go, but still it just seemed a little dull and the bike's frame color alone is not horribly exciting, so I had to throw something in to give it a little bit of personality.

The compromise with myself was to have the bottom, larger portion made in gray and have a print for the upper portion of the bag. That way, when the bag had mud or dirt slung on it, I wouldn't have regrets about fabric color choices - or so I hoped.

I started the process of this bag in early January. Foolishly, I believed it would be a slow time of year for Andrew and that the 6-8 week timeline that is typical for his work would perhaps be shortened. In reality, he was busy with several projects and I wouldn't see the bag for about 11 weeks.

Fortunately, our winter was - oddly - almost entirely devoid of snow, so I was riding other bikes many days. When the bag arrived it didn't disappoint in the least. I tore into the package, anxious to see it for myself and was taken aback by the brightness of the pattern I'd chosen. It wasn't a bad reaction, just a bit of shock. I loved that Andrew chose to use a bright pink for the threading and the zipper pulls. It gave the bag a near-obnoxious quality -- something that I enjoy in bicycles (see this photo for reference to my love of bright color combinations).
The bag seems rather subdued on the bike, but the color, I think, gave it a little personality - even if  the colors are clashing.
What truly mattered though was the functionality of the frame bag. The fit was great for the size of the frame, and it went on easily and without issue. The big zippers (there are compartments on each side of the bag) work well and allow for easy access. Best of all, there is a decent amount of carrying capacity, even for this rather small sized bag.
A closer look at the print with gray solid. Perhaps not everyone's favorite combo, but it makes me smile. 
I can fit quite a bit, surprisingly. One might think the bag couldn't carry much, but having the open space pockets are perfect for rolled up sweaters or other clothing, bike lock, a multi-tool, spare tube, patch kit, pump, wallet, keys, phone, camera, banana (or other food), a bottle of water, and although I haven't tried it yet, I'm pretty sure I can get a small hydration bladder in one side too (which would be great given that I have use of only one water bottle cage now).

The fabric itself is fantastic, allowing for easy cleaning with a damp towel (or at least that has been the case thus far) and often shows little sign of use. On the particular day the photo just above was taken, I'd been through several mud and water puddles and the bag looks no worse for the wear.

Speaking of water, the bag does a pretty decent job of keeping water out - at least when the zipper is closed (I had a minor incident in rain because I failed to close the zipper - which is, of course, entirely user error and not the fault of the bag or zipper). I've ridden in some average rain storms and everything inside remained dry (sans the incident just mentioned). While Andrew recommends a dry bag for items that absolutely must remain dry, I have not found water to be an issue as of yet.

My only complaint about this bag thus far is that it has caused a want for one on every bike. It's truly a great use of space in between the frame's triangle and allows for so much carrying capacity. I understand that perhaps it's impractical to put these on every bike (particularly road bikes that one really needs the water bottle cages available - though perhaps if one went in this direction, it could still work), but I could see it being practical on the commuter/around town/gravel/camping/shorter ride sorts of bicycles.

Having this frame bag also makes it far more practical to use this bike on snow days as a commuter/errand bike. That wasn't really the bike's intended purpose, but when it's the one that can get me where I need to go in less-than-sunny weather, at least I know I have the ability to carry a few items with me... perhaps not quite the same capacity as having giant panniers or baskets, but something is always better than nothing...and, for average to tall humans, the capacity would be even better.

As for a coordinating handlebar bag, I'm still thinking about it. Having just a bit more capacity for this bike could be a great thing. But, I also know it's easier to find a handlebar bag than a frame bag for a small bike. And, I am seriously contemplating a frame bag for another bicycle that sees some gravel/dirt time as well.

Overall, I couldn't have had a better experience with my first custom made bike bag, and it has become the perfect accessory for keeping those need-to-have-handy items at the ready. While I can't quite comment yet on long-term quality, I can see and feel that the bag is solidly made, and I look forward to many years of use out of it.

Have you had a custom bag made for a bicycle? How and what was your experience? Has the bag held up to its intended use? If you haven't had a custom bag made, is it a route you would consider for a bike, or is the availability of off-the-rack options better suited to your needs?