Cycling the Riviera – and Europe

Author: fraise

Sunday 8 September 2013, in Cycling, La France, Travel

Saturday morning the bike shop called and said my road bike had arrived… with one small hitch. The 2014 geometries are slightly different than on the 2013 display model I had tried out. All things considered, the 2014 models are a bit larger than their 2013 sisters, despite looking basically identical on their website. It’s only once you see two size M bikes in person, the 2014 next to the 2013, that you realize the tubes are larger and that, presumably to accommodate that and keep proportions, they spaced things out a touch more. Also, to our mutual surprise, the photograph on BH’s website for the 2014 model with the 2013 name was not a mistake. The 2013 name was Zaphire, which was changed to Sphene in 2014, except that it’s still called Zaphire on the actual bike. I actually prefer the name Zaphire for its association with Zephyrus, the gentle west wind, harbinger of spring, who fell in love with the athletic Hyakinthos.

This is what she looks like, except my saddle is white. The shop wanted me to come for another preliminary fitting, this time on my bike, to ensure it wasn’t too large. Otherwise a smaller model could be ordered. When I arrived and saw her in person, I was impressed – it’s a beautiful bike, but then most are! The excitement of seeing your very own makes it special. During the fitting, the guy at the shop pointed out that the handlebars were too wide for me, which, when he said it, I realized, “oh, you’re right!” as I held out my arms an inch or two wider than my shoulder width, as they had been on the bar. He nodded and said, “we’ll look at other handlebars, because you can’t ride for very long on bars that much wider than you need.” I nodded in agreement. He looked through his stock of similar handlebars (compact drops) and pulled out one he eyed as the right size, held it up to my shoulders, and it was immediately obvious it was a good fit. “Not bad eh! First try!” he grinned, then read the size: “42 centimetres instead of 46.” “Ouf!” I said, “a whole 4 centimeters!” Nearly two inches. And that replacement is free – one reason they have handlebars in stock is because they change them out from bikes like mine. My 46cm bars will likely be given to someone else who can use them. If you’re curious about related fit issues, using handlebars too big for you causes upper back and shoulder pain. You can sense the difference: do a pushup with your hands shoulder-width, and when at the top of the pushup, stop, and put your hands a bit wider. You no longer have the same balance of muscles throughout the body being used to support your weight.

Then came the handlebar tape. I didn’t really want the white tape that came with the bike, because it gets dirty quickly. The guy nodded, and I vacillated on red or black, then he said, “I thought you might. Check it out, we have plastified white. The reason the tape you saw gets dirty is because it’s porous – this tape isn’t! All you need is a soapy sponge and dirt wipes right off. They last a long time.” Sweet. All that and pedals in the space of a second, 15-minute stationary try of the bike.

Once you get above basic bikes, they don’t come with pedals, just as shown in the photo on BH’s site, because everyone has their own pedal preference. To simplify: there are platform-type pedals where you can use regular shoes, then two main types of clipless pedals: SPD and three-hole, also known as road. (From my Pacific NW part of the world, REI has a nice overview if you’re curious to learn more.) Yet again, this is a huge reason I’m so happy to go to a bike shop. I never would have tried clipless pedals had it not been at their insistence. Why, because as much of a risk-taker as I am, I’m pretty risk-averse when it comes to having a part of my body locked into something. Thankfully, they did insist with my mountain bike, and I got SPD pedals with it. After a few falls off the bike (it looks worse than it ends up feeling, though you get scared the first time you fall and your foot’s stuck in the stinking pedal), I got the hang of clipping in and flicking out, and have never looked back. I can’t imagine riding any other way now, although I do, of course, because sometimes you don’t have your cleated cycling shoes with you. It makes as huge of a difference as everyone says. It’s actually safer, too, because often enough, you’re in a position where your foot might slip off the pedal, but when it’s clipped in, of course it stays put. You also get a lot more power for pedalling easier and more smoothly.

Normally, for a road bike, I would get road pedals, except that would mean an investment in road shoes. Decent ones start at 200 euros, with a good mid-range at 300, when I already have a pair of nice carbon-sole MTB shoes with SPD cleats. (They do last for several years, some even averaging a decade, since they aren’t subject to the stresses of running or walking.) You can put any type of pedal you want on a bike, meaning for my case, I can put on road-MTB hybrid pedals. The model I chose are called “cyclo” pedals, meant for cyclocross or touring: Shimano A600. They don’t take road cleats, but they do take SPD cleats, and have a “road feel” to them thanks to a road-similar platform that fits under the shoe. So I’ll get used to a feel similar to wider, more stable road pedals, while being able to use my MTB shoes. It’s perfect, because it will take several hundred kilometres for me to get the hang of road riding again, and the transition will be easier with a familiar pedal system. Once I’m feeling confident in the saddle and have built up strength (I’m not in the best shape now) as well as finances, then I can change to road pedals.

But that’s not all! The cyclo pedals aren’t a wasted purchase! The other big difference between SPD and road is that SPD cleats can be recessed into a shoe, meaning you can walk in them. You can’t, and don’t want to, walk far with road cleats. They’re huge and stick out. If you’ve ever seen a road cyclist walk on their cycling shoes with their toes in the air, that’s why. The cleats are pushing up their toes. With MTB (SPD) shoes, you only hear a bit of “clack” when the metal hits the ground, otherwise you walk just like in tennis shoes. Having read that, you’re probably able to predict what I’m going to say next: I can keep the cyclo SPD pedals for my daily commute, and switch them out for road pedals when I want to do serious weekend rides! Or even race! I’m seriously considering it. At least once in my life, it would be fun to try a race.

My biggest motivation is our natural surroundings in this part of the world. Our regional government, the CG06 as it’s known for short, has several cycling guides for all levels: short family rides, discovery rides into the Préalpes (foothills of the Alps, though they’re not really “hills” but actual mountains, they just look small with the full-grown Alps behind them), athletic rides, and multi-day tours. Then there is the excellent EuroVelo, which is nothing less than a network of cycling routes that cross Europe, from Greece, Romania and the south of Italy to the north of Norway; from Portugal and Spain to Poland, Ukraine, and Russia.

Tuesday I have my appointment at the shop for the final fitting (takes 45min to an hour) and delivery. I’ll have five days of vacation left to ride! Looking forward to trying out some of the CG06 routes.

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