Monday, July 27, 2015

The Trekking/Butterfly Handlebar

When posting about the newer addition to the bike stable, the Velo Orange Campeur, I noted that I had opted to try out a set of handlebars that have awaited placement on a bike for some time. The right bike had not come along, but when the Campeur landed, the trekking handlebars seemed entirely appropriate.
*Image from Bike Touring News
While browsing, I've noted that there are a variety of manufacturers and retailers that sell their own sets of trekking handlebars. Nashbar, Dimension, NittoDajia Cycle Works, Modolo are just a handful of the companies that have a version available. Since I haven't tried every style of these, I will state up front that the version I have are the Dajia Cycle Works variety. I've been told that the same handlebar sells under a variety of manufacturer names, but I don't have much to prove this as a statement of absolute truth. Most of the handlebars I've seen appear to have very similar positioning and bends (the exception being the Nitto version which appear more squared at the corners), so I'm not entirely certain that the exact manufacturer is of great importance if the products themselves are so similar.
I still haven't settled on a bar tape color... but I will, eventually. 
These handlebars are made of an aluminium composition. The 25.4mm stem clamp diameter may make them a challenge for some setups, but I've found if the diameter is too small, using a shim is helpful (and necessary) to get them to work with a variety of stem diameters. Since the bike these are set on has a 26.0mm clamp diameter, the shim works perfectly to make them snug.

This particular set measures 57 cm at the widest point, providing a broad stance. However, there are also lots of positions on the bars that are much narrower. For a mountain biker, the distance may not seem very wide at all, but for someone used to drops or more standard upright bars, there is a definite difference.  If a rider prefers a narrow position in a handlebar, there are positions on this bar that fit that need, but the widest points of the handlebars would likely go unused perhaps making them not an ideal option.
I'll admit, at first I was a little put off by how wide the bars ride, but over a relatively short time, I came to appreciate this quality. It's nice to get some leverage once in awhile and I feel a bit more in control of steering as well. Whether this is the handlebars themselves or a quality of the bike is up for debate. There are many positioning options available on these bars though and a rider doesn't have to live at the extreme outreaches of the bar.

While there are technically four hand positions, I find that I use a broad spectrum of space in between each of these, depending on the day and/or task. It seems a natural place to put my hands at the sides (the widest point) of the bar, much as one would with a northroad style or albatross handlebar, and I do spend a fair amount of time here depending on where I'm riding.
In traffic, it's a little more difficult to rely on that position as the brakes have been placed at the furthest position on the bars directly in front of me. So, while riding in higher traffic areas, I have found it more comfortable to be in the most outstretched positions with my fingers at the ready when braking becomes necessary.

If I have a little more space in traffic or I'm out on back roads, I find that my hands naturally tend to want to move around the corners/bends of the bars. When I feel the need to sit more directly upright, I use the portion of the bar directly in front of and closest to me.

As someone who needs to move her hands frequently when riding, having so many possibilities is really ideal. Even for those who don't have injuries or ailments that require position changes, it's a good idea not to stay in one position for too long to prevent strain, injuries, and just simply pain.
When these handlebars were set up, I wasn't entirely sure how to place them. They can be flipped over to ride on either side (neither side is really considered upside down), and they can be changed so that the opening point is closest to the rider (as in the first photo above) or flipped so that the opening is at the farthest point in front of the rider. I have seen these set up in each of these possibilities and they appear to work well, regardless of set up for the individual riders. I think it's more a matter of preference or what feels natural to the rider more than anything else.

I will note that I have tried these bars on a couple of different road bikes too. Both of these bikes were quite stable using a drop bar set up, but I didn't necessarily appreciate the trekking bars on both of these bikes the way I do on the Campeur. More specifically, the set up with the trekking bars worked decently on one of the road bikes, but the other seemed to make the bikes' handling more squirrelly. This could be a result of different body positioning on each bike, however.

Sitting more upright on a bike intended for speed doesn't seem to be a good combination with these handlebars - at least during my limited testing.  Granted, these are handlebars meant for long distance, multi-day cycling, so using them on a bike meant for faster rides is perhaps not ideal, depending on the situation and again on the riders preferences.

There are a lot of handlebars on the market to choose from for a variety of riding purposes, so I often find myself wondering what the benefit is of one type over another. As pointed out earlier, I think the biggest asset with these is the number of hand position possibilities. Beyond that, it becomes a matter of likes and dislikes as well as aesthetics. If a drop bar set up is working well for the rider, I see no true advantage to these handlebars. However, if the rider struggles with utilizing all the positions available or if one additional position may do the trick, these may be a set to try out.
After several months of near-daily use, I am really appreciating the qualities of these handlebars and finding them to be quite useful. I have not been able to take them on trips of great distances (yet), but for commuter/errand purposes and rides under 40mi/64km, they have worked well. They may not be a handlebar that meets every riders needs, but they are a nice alternative for those looking for multiple hand positions and perhaps even a wider handlebar.

If you tried these on your own bike, I'd love to get your feedback in regard to what you've liked or haven't with this style of handlebar. Likewise, if you have questions, I will do my best to answer, or perhaps others can offer their expertise.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Taking Back the Bike

Several nights ago, as I was attempting to drift off to sleep, there were many things running through my mind. I suppose, the purpose of sleeping - or at least dreaming - is to work through the happenings of the day to come to some kind of resolution. It wasn't horribly surprising that a chunk of thought-filtering this particular evening centered on bicycles. It's not uncommon for me to go to bed pondering some type of bike topic, but on this day, I was particularly troubled. I am both watching and living as I try to sort out where I went awry.
*Image found here
First, I need to go back a short bit in time.

I believe that 2013 was the pinnacle year of cycling for me. Not only did the summer bring more hours in the saddle, but I rode the entire year, regardless of weather, more than I had any year prior. It wasn't just time in the saddle that made me believe it was my peak though. I enjoyed every ride I took with rare exception throughout that year.

Sometimes enjoyment came from what I learned on the ride, other times it just permitted me an opportunity to understand something about myself. I took on longer distances than I ever had prior, I tried my legs at climbing rather than avoiding it like the plague, I intentionally traveled through snow storms, and I pedaled through what were arguably the most dramatic rains Colorado has seen. It was a fantastic year - warts, so to speak, and all.

As the year drew to a close, I started wondering if I could bring about even better results in 2014. Perhaps I could make a plan that would allow for fewer mistakes and greater returns. I started to plan and attempt to figure out what would make for progress in the year to follow.

Part of those plans included the possibility of a custom bicycle. It was something I'd considered for some time, and, as my presumptions went, if I'd had pretty decent results with something off the bike shop floor, surely creating something made just for my measurements and peculiarities would be even better. A true bike utopia, I imagined.

As you may recall, the results were far from the blissful ideal I'd thought they would be. I rode through the summer on the new custom, assuming that I was to blame for the problems. My body was not in the shape it had been in the summers prior, I hadn't been riding the same distances either, and I just felt off for lack of a better way of stating it.

While the failure of my attempt sunk in, I began trying to figure out how to get myself back on course. My thinking was that if I tried again with a custom and it ended up being a good fit, I could get myself righted and the good feelings and fitness would resume once again.

There were lots of reasons to try again with another custom, despite the fact that there were possibilities to be found without going through the unknowns a second time. Still, I wanted desperately for something I seemed unable to find, and as hindsight always seems to provide a much clearer view, I was determined to right a wrong.

During my second attempt, I was sure I knew what I was asking for in a bicycle. I had learned my lessons and was certain that after the not-so-great first round during which I had requested a fast, light road bike, perhaps I needed to take a step back. Maybe my request was part of what had steered the ship in a wrong direction and the best sort of road bike for me would combine some speed with the ability to do really long distances? So, as I moved forward, I kept these thoughts in mind as I planned to combine two separate needs into one. What could go wrong?

While riding during my "epic" year of cycling, I had come to the conclusion that multiple bikes (or at least as many multiples as I owned) were not the answer for me. I wanted to figure out a way to combine many types of riding into as few bicycles as possible. Throughout that year (and the year to follow) I sold off bikes as they seemed at the time superfluous.

For example, why would I need two road bikes? I had one that was a bit heavier but was perfect for carrying a little extra stuff and great at getting me over the really long distances in comfort. I also had one that was quite light and fast and though it caused a few physical issues when covering long distances, it was the right choice for speed.

As I started to sell off bikes, the heavier option was the first to go. In retrospect, it was a horrible decision because it was a fairly ideal choice for those days when I want to cover distance, but don't have it in me to deal with the fatigue of a light road bike. It was comfortable, it was (or I was) fast enough when needed, and it gave me the opportunity to reflect as I rode rather than being entirely focused on picking up the pace.

Eventually, the lighter bike was sold as well in an effort to trade up to something even better, or so I thought, which in turn provided the impetus to begin truly looking toward the possibility of a custom bike. I had a bit of the grass is always greener thought process going on and I believed that if one thing was good, something else, this fictitious creation I was making in my mind, could be even better.

Theoretically speaking, it would be better. It would combine the best worlds into one machine and I would have - finally - achieved the perfect bike.

The problem with theory is that it is just that. Sure, it is at least partially based on practice, but the entire premise of the theoretical is that one is supposing an outcome based on current knowledge, perhaps some research of others work or findings, and a bit of the unknown.

Ah, the unknown. The undiscovered is what motivates me to try out the ridiculousness that is often in my head. The lure of making something that seems unlikely or even impossible come to fruition. I cannot seem to help myself. There is something about the possibilities with the yet-to-be-discovered that is entirely seductive. Like a Siren calling to me, I seem to follow the hypnotic song, unaware that my demise is just around the corner.

So, as I planned out the second attempt at a custom road bike, I was sure that I knew where I was headed and while there is always the possibility of things going wrong, I felt confident and sure in trying out this new possibility. Two bikes in one; what could be be better?

While the bike itself is precisely what I asked for, I'm not sure I was in the right head space to make a proper decision or to truly understand what was needed in a second attempt. After first round faltering, I believed I was well aware of my needs, only to be smacked in the face with reality as I continued to ride. It's difficult to ignore a failure when it's entirely of my own doing.

This year has been an abysmal attempt at improvement. I thought things were headed down the right path when fairly early in the year we had a good stretch of somewhat clear weather and I was already out on the bike, racking up miles. Most of the rides were simply for transportation, but it was a good start, I thought, at heading in the direction I wished to go.  I was anxious for clear roads so that I could begin adding to my distances. I was ready, I thought, to start breaking personal records and setting new goals.

The thing is, riding never really picked up any sort of momentum. There are various reasons for it. I could blame injuries. I could find fault with bikes. I could look at situations, or work, or any number of possibilities for scapegoating. I ride, but it's not the sort of riding I'd hoped to do.

The amusing part is that it's not really lack of momentum that seems to be the trouble. It's relatively simple to keep propulsion going once getting started, but I've lost something along the way that has brought in self-doubt. All of the supposing and thinking and theorizing - it's all created a situation in which I hesitate with decisions. I vacillate with whether to ride because I know longer distances aren't possible. Instead of appreciating and savoring what is doable for now, I concern myself with the whys of being unable to accomplish an arbitrary goal that can easily wait; I think on the many things that have gone wrong instead of focusing on what is very right.

I believe part of the problem is that I feel the need to repair a situation that I myself started, when in reality, I believe everything that has transpired is part of a process of discovery. I've spent too many hours thinking if-only sort of thoughts, when in reality that time could've been spent utilizing what I have, riding whatever short distances are possible, and accepting that not every week, month, season, or year is going to provide the same outcome. As in life, if I never experience the lows how can I truly appreciate the highs? This may not be my greatest season of cycling, but it doesn't mean that everything needs to come to a screeching halt either.

With that idea, I know that I have to reclaim a piece of me that seems to have nearly vanished. I have to salvage something that was taken by another part of me. It's a strange situation to be in a tug-of-war with myself, but I have to accept that there are certain limitations on me at the present and little is ideal at the moment. However, it doesn't mean some things are not possible. I can enjoy the riding in moderation that is possible and understand that it is perfectly acceptable, perfectly imperfect.

We are passing the midway point in July and as much as I can feel summer fading away, all is not lost. Summer is not the end of riding and every day presents an opportunity and a choice. I can choose to wallow in failed theory and injury, or I can learn from mistakes and cut myself some slack, which seems the healthier - physically and mentally - option. I'm prepared to enjoy the time I do have on a bicycle, allowing my body, along with its two wheeled friend, to take me where it will, where it is able. I may have needed a bit of time to realize what I was doing to myself, but I'm ready now; I'm taking back the bike. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

VP-001 Thin Gripster Pedals Thoughts and a Quick Review

In my seemingly never-ending quest to find a platform pedal for all purposes, I come across a variety of options to try. Some seem like better possibilities than others, but I'm always up for testing out a new prospect. As someone who prefers to ride in any shoes I'm wearing on any bike, I've just found platforms to be the easiest option for me. About a year ago, I decided to try out a pedal I'd been eyeing for awhile: the VP-001. Honestly, the appeal initially was the cheaper price tag than the MX80 Saint pedals I'd been using on my road bike, but after using the VP's for a bit, I found other aspects to appreciate as well.
*Image from VP found here
But, first, let's take a step back and review a bit about these pedals. One of the things I've noticed is that these same pedals seem to go by a couple of different names. Rivendell calls them the "Thin Gripster" pedal, and I've seen them simply as the VP-001 or "All Purpose" pedal. Regardless of the name used, this platform pedal is a nice alternative to thicker, bulkier options on the market.

The VP pedals measure approximately 112 x 97 mm, being slightly more wide than long. They are also thin compared to many other options, measuring 13mm thick and making it easier to avoid pedal strike in turns or over bumpier/rockier terrain. Weighing in at about 350g for the set, they are lighter than some (even many) platforms, but definitely heavier than the average clipless sets found on many bikes. Of course, if weight is a huge issue to the rider, s/he likely wouldn't choose this sort of pedal at all. The axle is made of forged chromoly, and a foot strap can be used with these, if it is to the riders preference.
One of the really cool things (to me) about these pedals is the variety of colors in which they are available. As someone who appreciates a bit of color accenting and personalization on a bicycle, having nine colors to choose from is great. I'll admit I haven't quite ventured out into the color exploration possibilities with this pedal, but that has been more due to the fact that at the times of purchase, I was seeking the lowest possible price from retailers, which meant sticking with a basic color option.
*Image from VP found here
The first set of these of VPs purchased was about 10 months ago. I bought them as a replacement for some worn out pedals on my Rivendell. I was thrilled that they were much wider than what I'd been using and the first thing I thought on my initial test was that it was fantastic to have support under my foot again (I'd been using the aforementioned and very similarly sized Saints on my road bike).

Thirteen replaceable pins on each side of the foot bed offer traction in both wet and dry conditions, and they are spread out evenly/appropriately across the pedal so as to not have slippage in any area. In fact, they are almost too grippy, if that's possible, especially when they are new. On one of my early rides out with these I was surprised to find my shoe attached more completely to the pedal than I'd expected, which caused a brief and very minor hiccup when stopping. Today, almost a year later, this feature is actually quite welcomed, and I haven't had any incidents with having my shoe too stuck to the pedal.

As stated earlier, my first purchase of these pedals went on the Rivendell. At first, they were outstanding and I was thrilled to have made the purchase, but as time went on, I started noticing a clicking sound emanating from the right pedal. I thought little of it, and assumed it had to do with my bike being dirty and needing a good cleaning, but as time wore on and it was cleaned, the clicking sound remained. It grew more constant and predictable as well, which was not at all to my liking.
I assumed that I had simply purchased a blem in the bunch and a few months ago, purchased another set because I liked them so much. On they went to the Velo Orange only to quickly discover that the right pedal had a clunking feeling with each rotation. It was different than the original sound noticed on the initial set in that there was no audible noise, but there was definitely the sensation of the pedal moving with each stroke made.

Of course, I assumed that the pedal simply wasn't attached properly or tight enough, but after a thorough check and inspection, there was nothing found to be wrong. Frustrated, the pedals were removed and checked again. These are self-lubricating, sealed bearing pedals, so there shouldn't be an issue - particularly as neither set of pedals have seen enough mileage to justify bearing replacement. But, after reattachment, the problems on both sets have remained.

There are bearing replacement sets available, and even a titanium option for some of VPs pedals, but trying to figure out if it is a worthwhile investment to do the work and spend the money is something I have questioned. If the company cannot manufacture the pedals correctly the first time, how can I be sure that the bearing replacement will resolve the issues? It's a bit frustrating, as the rest of the pedal is fantastic for my purposes.

My use thus far with these pedals have been on bikes that get me around town, travel longer distances, and rides on dirt and gravel roads in all types of weather. I ride flatter terrain and hillier, and they provide a nice balance of weight and comfort under foot. I am not a "rough" rider, so for me pedals should last quite some time.

At the date of this writing, I am still using one of these sets, but I don't know if I will continue to do so, which is a shame because theoretically they are all that I'd hoped to find in a platform.

Overall, I would love to give these a high star rating, but I'm just not prepared to do so. The strangest thing is that if a search is made for reviews on these pedals, it's difficult to find anything negative. I don't know if the reviewers speak too soon before problems develop, or if I just so happened to be the unlucky recipient of two bad sets.

My frustration with completely recommending these comes in the reality of having received two different sets of pedals at different times that both have a mechanical problem that developed quite early in their use. If the idea of a constant clicking or having a clunk with each pedal revolution doesn't bother the rider, these may be an option to consider; otherwise, I stand by my fondness of the MX80 Saint pedals. They don't have sealed bearings and do require some looking after, but they just haven't created the headache these VP Thin Gripsters have caused - and at the present date they can be found for the same price.

If you've tried these pedals, I'd appreciate hearing your experience. I still want to believe that these are the pedals I've searched for, so anything positive over longer term use would be great to hear. Have you replaced bearings or axles in a pedal in the past? Did that work out well? Did you use another manufacturers replacement parts, or the same manufacturer?

**Update** I wanted to add a quick update to this post because after more fiddling and disassembly of one of the bikes, I believe that the second set of pedals that were making the clunking noise may have been due to the bottom bracket on the bike and not the pedals themselves. The original set of pedals continues to make the clicking sound, however. If the clunking sound returns to the pedals after some time, I'll be sure to come back and re-update the post.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Weighty Matters

Just a quick update on personal matters. I wanted to thank you all for your thoughts and comments regarding my injury. I've already been to a specialist (chiropractor, specifically) a couple of times and have another appointment scheduled for later this week. I'm happy to report that I think it's going to get me headed in the right direction. Whether or not I'll ever be what I should remains to be seen, as these are nearly life-long problems I've tried to deal with, but I'm happy to have some relief and am looking forward to hopefully getting back to something normal soon. In the meantime, I'm enjoying shorter rides and thankful that there haven't been too many doctor restrictions placed on me. :)
Every now and again, I receive an email from someone who's happened upon the blog and who is curious why I don't focus more on size, or more exactly why I rarely discuss issues that come up for those who are larger than the average person on a bicycle. By larger, I don't mean taller - I mean wider.

My response is generally that I have touched on these subjects in the past (and likely will at some point in the future), and I am happy to offer any thoughts that a person might find useful, but the reality is that finding our way as individuals has more to do with our personal strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, experiences, preferences, and so on. In my mind, the beauty of riding a bike is that it is one of the few activities people of many different sizes and shapes can participate in without needing to *lose weight first.

Additionally, it's simply not how I choose to focus this particular space. Sure, once in awhile I go on a rant, but I think those moments come up in times of frustration with the way the general or even a specific portion of the population is treating another segment of the population. It's not that I don't have thoughts or opinions on such matters, but simply that I generally have other things on my mind.

Today is not one of those days. Today also isn't a rant, but just more of (hopefully) a discussion point that I hope others will offer personal opinions and thoughts on.

To be fair, I suppose I should provide some personal background (because of course everyone has bias) So, for those who haven't heard it before, I'll offer some information that definitely forms my opinions today.

I have never been a normal weight at any point in my life past the age of about 3-4 years old. I am the product of two (both formerly - as they've each returned to normal weight ranges in their aging years) obese parents whose idea of helping their children not grow up to be like them meant weighing them in each morning and telling them not to gain any more weight. Daily.
I was about 2.5 yrs old here - already with the chubby face.
I was given freshly squeezed carrot juice with echinacea drops from the local herbalist for breakfast (the most revolting thing I can recall drinking as a child - hello... would it be so bad to add in a piece of fruit to make it taste better??) and then shown that sitting down in the evening to a meal followed by an entire family sized bag of Doritos and a huge chocolate bar was perfectly acceptable.  It was what was considered healthy and balanced by my parental figures.

When I was about 8 years old, my mother decided that I needed to be involved with a sport or activity of some kind. After lots of searching, I decided I wanted to take tap lessons. But, tap classes didn't start for a few weeks and being the impetuous child I was, I decided instead on ballet because it started immediately.

You can imagine the horrors for a chubby kid in a ballet class. Most of the time I didn't realize that I was much bigger than the rest of the girls in class (thank goodness I had a kind teacher), but I recall my mother telling me to "cover up" after class when we'd stop at the grocery store, which only fed my insecurities. Other kids were walking around in leotards and tights. Why did I have to be wear clothing over my clothes?

There were the pre-teen and teen years that found me trying to figure out how to get all of the fat off of my body. I went through eating disorders (including starving myself and binge/purging), I attempted to work all the weight off with hours of exercise, and I read countless Shape Magazines in an attempt to figure out what I was doing wrong. I was so obsessed with working out and losing weight that I literally did exercise in my sleep.

I recall the first time my mother came across my nocturnal workouts. One morning, she commented that I really needed to go to sleep at night and not be so concerned with sit ups and jumping jacks at midnight. Confused, I asked what she was talking about and we quickly realized that I was doing all of this in my sleep. Some people walk, some people talk, but for me, I was a sleep-exerciser. I actually do talk in my sleep occasionally too - but that is entirely off topic.
Just at the start of high school in this photo. I recall my mother telling me not to wear this particular top, but I was definitely in the rebellious stage and didn't care.
At the start of my freshman year of high school, my mother took me to the local Jenny Craig in attempt to get the fat off of me. It was a new craze and I was "too large" and needed to "get it together" if I was going to have any kind of normal life. I tried. I really, really tried to make it on this program. I lost a few pounds, but when the weight didn't come off as expected, I started "fixing" the way I worked the system. I wouldn't eat the day before a weigh in and then gorged immediately after I saw the scale drop a bit. Eventually, my mother said the program wasn't working and she wasn't going to pay for it any more.

In high school, I found a friend with similar body issues and I drug her in to my ridiculousness. We ate baby food in an attempt to control portions. We met up at the track to run off the excess - though I'm not sure how much was leftover from a small jar intended to nourish an infant, not a growing teen. I tried desperately never to eat unless I absolutely had to do so, which inevitably led to eating too much and then feeling guilty or as though I had no self-control.

Through all of this, it should be noted that I was never an athlete. I was always picked last or nearly last (occasionally, a friend took pity on me) any time we played team sports. It didn't help that I am uncoordinated and a bit of a klutz. But, I knew that wasn't why I wasn't being chosen last as there were plenty of klutzy youths on the field. I was being judged for my size. Even teachers encouraged students to put me in a position that didn't require much of me. It was as though I was expected to do nothing.

As I moved through my young years, I recall my parents telling me that I would always be judged in anything I did because of my size. I would likely be turned down for jobs, men would find me unattractive, I wouldn't be able to do anything physical, and the likelihood of ever finding a partner in life was highly implausible. In short, I learned that if I was going to survive life, I either had to lose all of what society deemed excess weight or start to hide.

I don't recall a point in my life that I didn't feel that others where judging me by my weight. I suppose it's why I felt the need to prove myself as I grew into adulthood. I became more stubborn and determined to prove that my weight was not limiting my accomplishments.

My first attempt at kickboxing actually wasn't in the last few years. My first kickboxing round took place just after the end of high school. The friend that I'd conned into my bizarre diet plans talked me into going to a class with her. As it turned out, I actually liked it. I enjoyed the fact that I couldn't move my arms for days after. I loved that I was able to push myself to a point of near-break. I had never in my life felt so sore - and I absolutely loved it.

But, I was young, working two jobs and going to college, so I really couldn't afford (nor did I have the time) to continue going. After a short time, I had to give it up. In fact, I gave up all activity. All I had time to do was focus on work and school. It was all about survival.

One of my jobs was working at a restaurant, so I had easy access to food. It wasn't so much that I was eating all the time, but what I was eating that did me in. I packed on the pounds and even though I tried to get in the occasional workout, it was tough because I was already sleeping less than 4 hours a night.
On a ride to Carter Lake not too long ago.
As adulthood carried on, I started to find my own truths. I realized that it's okay to eat like a normal human, meaning that starving myself did nothing but push the scale in a direction opposite of my intentions. I also came to understand that it's just as important to find something active that I enjoy. I knew that I would never be the picture of perfection that so often graces the cover of magazines, but on some level I truly believed that it was possible to be something that genetically I simply am not.

I share all of this not because I feel a need to explain myself or for some sort of sympathy, but because it forms my thoughts today. While I have a more balanced viewpoint of all things body-related today, these formative times stay with a person. I have worked hard (and continue to do so) in adulthood to overcome the seeds planted in my youth. It is why when I was sent a link to this **article about Amanda Bingson I thought I'd love to delve into this topic a bit.
Amanda Bingson
*Image from ABC
If you haven't heard of her, Ms. Bingson is a hammer thrower for the 2016 Olympic team. She is also not the typical body type the public has grown used to seeing as a representative of Olympic athletes. At 5'5" (1.67m) and 210 lbs (95.25kg) most of the population would consider her fat or overweight. There have been other Olympians who have held extra pounds (such as Holley Mangold), as well as other athletes (see this article for great examples) who are representatives for those who work hard at their sport(s), but simply don't fit the stereotypical mold. But, alas, they are few and far between when it comes to seeing these faces gracing the pages of magazines.

Most of us are taught from a young age to never judge a book by its cover, yet we all have done it at some point in our lives. I also have belief that a 210 pound athlete is a far cry from a 210 pound couch potato. Bingson describes herself as "dense," and I definitely understand those thoughts. I've noticed in myself that weight itself seems to change very little, but the composition of my body can change dramatically, depending on what I'm doing and how hard I'm doing said activity.

One of the things Bingson said struck me as unusual in today's world. She states, "I'll be honest, I like everything about my body." How rare it is to come across anyone, particularly a female, of any size or shape who says she actually likes her body. She notes that she didn't really know what "fat" meant until middle school, stating that it was a school yard boy who pointed out that she was larger than others. Thankfully, she had enough sense to realize that there was nothing wrong with her body. That she is athletic and strong.

If you haven't yet read the interview with Bingson, please go and give it a read. It's short, but a perfect representation of who I would hope young people are aspiring to be. I'm not holding her as an example because she happens to be bigger than some athletes, but rather because she's using the body she has to accomplish her goals and doesn't fit the typical mold for an athlete. What better message to be sent to our nation's youth than to tell them they don't have to look like air-brushed super models to achieve great things?

She's a great representative for adults as well. It's easy to want to force our bodies into becoming something they were never meant to be. As someone who's struggled her entire life trying to make my body conform to what I'm told it should be, I appreciate women like Bingson who remind us that, "You might be prettier or skinnier than me, but I'll kick your ass in a game of one-on-one." We all have our strengths and abilities and I look forward to a day when we aren't judging each other based on what the scale says or what we look like, but because of who we are and what we are capable of doing and achieving.

Do you have any favorite athletes who you think represent where we should be heading? What do you think about the images we typically see in media regarding size, weight, ability and so on? I'd love to hear what you think about anything this topic touches on.
*For the record, I think anyone of any size can do whatever s/he is capable of doing. However, I've definitely seen doctors who insist I shouldn't run because of my size. If my body is cooperative and not giving signs that I'm doing damage, I think running, climbing, kayaking, or whatever activity a person chooses is one s/he should do.

**Thanks to Sam for sending the link to this article my way.

Monday, June 29, 2015

An Injury & What is to Come

I can be a very tenacious individual. When I want something, I go after it - full throttle. It's hard to derail me when I'm on a mission, and although I am very much a go-with-the-flow person, and try to let everyone live their own life (as long as it doesn't harm others), when I want something bad enough or believe in something passionately, it's quite difficult to deter me.

Sometimes this trait comes across as absolute stubbornness, other times it is viewed as craziness, and still others may have just accepted that I simply am who I am. I suppose the perspective is completely dependent upon who one is asking or their own life circumstances and beliefs.

This little tidbit is important because I think it's essential to know that I don't give up easily on the things that are important to me.

It hasn't been something I've hidden, but this year (or the last six months of what will be this year) has been a very trying and frustrating time on a bike for me, and I can't help but feel a bit like a fraud as I write posts about various happenings, parts, or bicycles. Not that anything I've written has been falsified in any way, but I'm not exactly feeling like the person I think I should be and it's causing conflict within.
*Image found here
It started with lack of time to ride due to renovations, which turned into extreme bodily pain because of the work being done, resulting in ongoing trauma to various parts of my body which never seem to go away.

All of these things have definitely shortened or eliminated many rides I would normally take this time of year. I've had to take a step back and realize that I have to modify and adjust, and as someone who always wants to do more or be "better," it's an entirely discouraging proposition to realize that this may not be the time for such aspirations.

Last week, as I was participating in a non-cycling activity, my back was injured. It was the sort of injury that left me barely able to walk or stand upright. I'm not entirely sure how I made it home on my bike, but I did. When I finally limped through the door, I let out a wail, "Why now?!" It was all I could think to cry to the skies. I have a history of back injury, but over the last several years I've been able to, at least for the most part, keep severe injury at bay with regular exercise and strength training. It just seemed unfair that one false move had now crippled me.

The morning following the injury, I went to the walk-in Urgent Care office to see if there was anything that would help ease the pain. I've went through this before many years ago and until the muscles decide to relax, it's challenging to get everything back in place. In addition, I'd been asked to shoot some photos of an outdoor wedding in the mountains the following day, and knowing that I am not a photographer by any stretch of the imagination, the added pressure of now being injured wasn't helping my stress levels.

The doctor was sympathetic, but informed me that all activity is out the window until I'm on the mend. No kickboxing, no running, no walking the dogs, no picking anything up, and no riding a bike. Pretty much, she wanted me to sit on a firm surface and wait for the injury to heal.

Not exactly what I wanted to hear. I had just started a running schedule again over the last few weeks and was working toward a goal before mid-August. Kickboxing is my go-to exercise and happens several times a week. Riding a bicycle? That one hurt most of all. How can I not ride a bike? It's not just a form of exercise for me, it's transportation.

Of course, I've never been one to exactly follow what anyone tells me, even doctors. I view it as more of a suggestion, a guideline, if you will. The next day, I decided to take a short trip by bike up the road and while it certainly wasn't the easiest thing I've done recently, as long as I didn't push too hard, I seemed to be okay.

Riding a bike - even short trips - has been my reflection time. It's the opportunity to clear out everything in my head and attempt to find new strategies for whatever is in front of me. With all of the previously existing injury frustration, this set back wasn't helping matters.
*Image found here
Dealing with the ongoing issues from early in the year and then adding in this injury, I was starting to question everything. It's easy to start feeling like a victim. The "why me" questions take over and it's all too easy to find myself spinning downward and out of control. Later, I went through the usual - though necessary - self-pity type of thoughts: It seems unfair, why am I being punished, where did I go wrong, will I ever be able to reach the goals I've set?

In reality, this is a temporary setback. All of the injuries will be relatively short-lived (at least I hope), and while I may not be healing from the earlier injuries and strains as swiftly as I'd hoped, we have found ways to modify my bikes and I've tried to come to grips with the idea that long rides are just not as likely until everything heals and/or works itself out.

I've attempted to look at this time as an opportunity to find solutions rather than focusing on what I cannot do. I'm missing out on some things, yes, but perhaps there is reason for it. Maybe I need this time to learn something about myself or to understand that not everything goes exactly as we plan it. Sometimes, I think I've learned a lesson, only to find myself in the midst of a similar situation, at which point I start to question whether I truly learned what I was supposed to or not.

At the moment, I am on a search for balance in all things, trying to accept that I have (what I hope are) temporary restrictions, and within these limitations still set goals and strive to be a better me. It's not an easy task for someone who dreams big, and who doesn't take no as an answer to something truly desired. Fortunately, I don't give up easily.

In all of this, I ask as a reader for your patience as I fight through demons and attempt to jump over hurdles [screw what the doc says - I can still fight and jump :O)]. I have no intention of focusing on my personal injury issues (unless they somehow relate to the topic being discussed), but know that I am trying to find ways to work around current bumps in the road which may result in periods of silence or an occasional slightly off-normal-topics post.

I have no plans to stay off my bike, but I also understand that there are constraints to what is currently possible. I am anxious for healing to take place (and it is already happening) and looking forward to resuming what would be regular rides sooner than later. In the meantime, I may take this opportunity to do more reviews of parts that I've neglected to talk about thus far, or to write about past events that managed to go by without acknowledgement.
*Image found here
We are presented with challenges every day. Some are easier to contend with than others, but I hope that whatever you face in your today, you meet it with determination and a belief that you are capable of solving any dilemma and overcoming any obstacle.

Happy riding, my friends. I look forward to being back in the saddle for extended periods of time in the near future.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summertime Riding: Let the Games Begin

Often, I spend the winter longing for warmer months, so as we dip our toes officially into summer, I am finding that there is a true mix of emotions and reactions from others traveling on the roadways. My personal run-in's on the road often come into full bloom about this time of year, and much as I prefer to live and let live, there are some incidents that cause the fire inside to grow and I find myself living moments that seem entirely avoidable.

Yesterday, Cyclelicious posted about a "suicide wave" he experienced given by a motorist as Richard waited to make a left hand turn on a 4-lane road. If you're unfamiliar with this terminology, it's the idea that a person in a car stops the traffic behind him/her and waves the cyclist to cross in front of their stopped vehicle. The problem with this seemingly nice gesture being that when traffic is coming up behind the stopped car, those approaching may opt instead to go around and the cyclist ends up as road splatter. Not exactly what anyone wants.

The post was interesting timing for me as I've had a great deal of this going on lately. Perhaps it's the warmer temperatures and more motorists realizing that more than the usual number of bicycles are out on the roads, or perhaps some motorists are making a concerted effort to not appear discourteous. Regardless, it can be challenging to deal with these types of situations.

My most recent moment was about a week ago. Sam and I were pedaling back home from goodness knows where and we were approaching a stop sign. The traffic perpendicular to us had no stop signs or signals and so we waited for traffic to clear before crossing.

Right after this stop sign is a short hill (not exactly anyone's favorite on a bike - to lose momentum completely and then have to climb), but I've made my peace with it as I climb it regularly throughout the week.
Sam came to a stop, put his foot down briefly and then continued up the hill. I was a bit spaced out and have been suffering some back issues, so I wasn't confident I would make it across in time to out run the approaching vehicle. So, I sat, staring off in the other direction, waiting for the truck to pass.

It seemed to be taking an inordinately long time, so I turned to look back in the direction of the truck, only to see that the driver had stopped in the road and was waving me across. I smiled, but waved at him to continue forward. He still sat waiting, insisting that I cross in front of him, but I remained in place and continued to wave him on.

I understand that the driver was probably aware that my riding partner had already crossed, leaving me alone on the opposite side and was simply attempting to be courteous to allow me to get across, but I find this to be an incredibly dangerous thing to do as a cyclist -- to accept a motorists "wave" to cross the road.

One problem with accepting this wave is in fact the reasoning mentioned at the start. Another motorist might just as easily decide that they aren't going to stop (because they do have the right of way) and as I make my way across, there is potentially a dangerous situation for all involved. Additionally, in this particular instance, there is traffic coming from two other directions (the parallel traffic to the stopped truck traveling in the opposite direction, and those stopping on the other side of the road making a left hand turn).

I have yet to figure out the best way to deal with these situations. I appreciate motorists who attempt to stop traffic (especially in very busy areas) to allow me to cross on my bike, but at the same time, I know better than to do this because it has the possibility of ending very badly. I often wish I had the means to communicate with the driver to explain that while I appreciate the motive, it is really putting me in a horrible situation. Often, if s/he would just continue on as they should, things would go far more smoothly.

Interestingly enough, I had another incident at this same point of travel a few weeks prior.  I was approaching the stop sign, preparing to stop, as a motorist coming on the perpendicular road was preparing to make a left hand turn in front of me.
The building to the left of the picture (and usually the items sitting outside) block the view of the road from behind the stop sign at this intersection.
Now, I have developed a somewhat routine habit with this junction because the stop sign is set back a bit far to get a proper view. If I stop behind the sign, I cannot see the traffic approaching from my left, so I generally don't stop until I'm about two feet in front of the stop sign, putting me in a position to see approaching traffic from all ways/paths of travel.

On this occasion, as I slowed and prepared to put my foot down, the vehicle turning in front of me shouted out his window, "That IS a stop sign! You don't get to just roll through."

I had no intention of running the stop sign, and I was clearly slowing down, so yelling this in my direction did nothing, except perhaps make the driver feel as though he was somehow superior? I did stop - I just didn't stop where he would've liked. Of course, had he not been severely cutting the corner, this wouldn't have been an issue at all.

What I realize is that generally what I wish from others on the roads is to be treated as traffic. There's no need for a motorist to stop when s/he has the right of way. Generally, traffic and road patterns are well-studied and roads are set up to be as functional as possible. I appreciate the motorists who are trying to be kind and courteous, but they are often putting me in greater danger trying to be nice than they would if they just continued as they should.

Even with that, I also understand that bicycles cannot always function as motorists do. Sometimes, I need to stop in a different location than the posted signs. There are also rare instances when it's actually safer for me not to stop than it is to continue forward momentum. These are fewer and much more far between, but those rare circumstances do arise. While traffic flow is often highly studied, many roads are not set up for regular cycling traffic and what works in a car or truck does not necessarily always work while on a bicycle.

For example, as a motorist, I would never cut in front of all the other cars at a red light to try and be in front; but on my bicycle, I often find it far more dangerous to wait behind other traffic than to place myself at the front, next to the first stopped vehicle. This allows traffic from the opposite direction to see me more easily so they don't attempt to make their left turn behind the last car and end up hitting me (which has actually nearly happened in the last week as well when I waited behind all of the traffic).

So, I'm feeling my summer time riding armor being put on a piece at a time. I'm attempting to find new strategies for dealing with awkward road situations... and I'm kind of wishing that every time a driver's license is up for renewal, part of that test would require a person to take a ride on a bike in their city. I think we'd all have a lot more patience with each other if we knew what it was like to be in each others shoes.

Have you noticed any changes in your city now that the weather has warmed up? What strategies do you implement when dealing with motorists who are attempting to be courteous, but are actually putting you in potential danger? Are there times when you wish that the rules of the road were written differently for those on a bicycle versus driving a motorized vehicle?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sounds of a Bicycle

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
*Photo credit/found here
The sound was absolutely rhythmic, but driving me nearly insane as I couldn't seem to locate the source of the clatter. I'd stop pedaling, lean my head closer to the drivetrain and the noise would cease. I'd start to pedal again and the clicking resumed.

"Do you hear that?" I continually asked anyone riding along side me. Most often I received blank stares or the shake of my companion's head, but I was determined to find the source. "It's driving me crazy!" would inevitably blurt out of me, and then I'd proceed down the road, knowing full well there wasn't anything to be done about it in the moment.

After several rides like this, I purchased a new crank. It was time for a new one anyway as the crank I'd been utilizing had come off an older bike that had sat out in the rain with its previous owner. It had not been in the best of shape and I assumed that the noise must've been caused by rusty bits somewhere inside. But, after the installation of and riding around with the new, shiny crank, I quickly realized that the sound was still there, clicking along in unison with each revolution.

Perhaps it was the bottom bracket, I thought. But, when I inquired with the house mechanic, he mentioned that we had changed this out not long ago (a bit of information I'd completely forgotten), so it was likely not the source of this infernal clicking.

Being a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, the story of The Tell-Tale Heart was running through my mind. It is the beating of his hideous heart! Or, in this case, clicking. It was all I could hear or think about while riding. The noise seemed to get louder and become the focus of all my rides. It was impossible to not hear the clicking. Try as I did to ignore it, the sound continued.

So, I stopped riding the bike. I have others, so there's no reason to torture myself. I figured over time we would deal with the issue and riding would resume.

One sunny day several weeks later, I stood in the bike holding area staring at the bike. Now why haven't I ridden you, I thought to myself. It seemed odd that I would go so long without riding a particular bike, so I decided that I'd take it as my transport around town that day - completely oblivious to the reality that I'd forgotten to follow up about the aforementioned clicking.

At first, I was happy to be back on this bike. I had missed it and didn't understand why I'd let it sit for an extended time unridden. Then, as I continued down the road I was quickly greeted by that methodical click, click, click. Argh. I pressed my palm to my head, realizing the issue had never been addressed. I could turn around and fetch another ride, but why? I didn't have far to go and I should be able to tolerate a little noise for a few miles.

The following day, I opted not to take this bike and instead chose another. I had no level of tolerance to deal with the clicking and I was still not entirely sure what the source of the noise could be. Hopping on an alternate selection, I pedaled down the street - only to be greeted by a new noise on this bike too.

The noise was much more faint on this bike, but I could feel a sort of clunk or bump with each spin of the crank. What in the world is going on with my bikes, I thought.

Fortunately, Sam was along for this ride and offered to check pedals and crank to make sure everything was tight. After a quick turn of a few bolts/screws, we continued on, but the clunking was still present.

With this, I now had one bike with clicking pedals (or crank, bottom bracket, or some other unknown part), one that was clunking with each pedal revolution, and another that had no pedals at all (they were removed for a test ride on another bike and never reattached).

Several days later, Sam was rained out on a ride and decided it was as good a time as any to check things out. As was soon discovered, both sets of pedals (the clicking and the clunking variety) had loose bearings which was causing the incessant noise or sensation when riding. Why they were different problems for the same exact issue, I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps it's just the universe trying to teach me some sort of lesson - or, maybe I just need to be better about routine checks and maintenance. Either way, I was happy to have some relief from the clicking and clunking.

It reminds me, however, that there are certain noises we grow used to hearing and tend to ignore, and others that can be the sort that drive a person to madness. I know for a time I had a squeaking noise due to a slightly too tight bolt on a set of handlebars that had a way of irritating me on long rides as I grew tired. However, I enjoy the variety of sounds that come from different free-wheels spinning. Some are loud, some are softer, and others I have difficulty hearing at all.

Have you ever experienced a noise on your bike that drove you crazy until a remedy was in place? Do you have a system for determining where a sound is originating? Feel free to share your tips and tricks, if you have experience in this area. I do know that some sounds shouldn't be ignored as they can cause wear to parts and necessitate early replacement, but when the cause or origination point is unknown, it can be tricky to know what to do or where to start.