Archive for the 'Cycling' Category

Vélo time

Posted in Cycling at 19:24

New road bike

Here she is, home at last! Ready for some bike geekery?

Handlebars: the shop put on a 42cm deda elementi RHM 02 with deda “white carbon” tape (washable, it really is nice compared to porous tapes). The bar is in a double-butted 6061 alloy (aluminum, magnesium and silicone). For size comparison, these bars come in 42, 44, and 46 centimetres. The difference was clear when I got on my bike with the 42cm bars today. There’s no way the original 46cm bars shipped by BH would have been comfortable for my shoulder width.

Stem: the shop also changed this out since I have shorter arms, for a 90mm deda elementi Zero1, another 6061 alloy. For an idea of scale/comparison, this stem comes in multiples of 10 millimetres, from 60 to 130 mm. I also felt the difference here, in my back and arms when in the drops. It felt “right” as opposed to slightly too stretched out.

Saddle: San Marco Ponza Power, which wasn’t listed on BH’s specs for the 2014 model, but the Ponza was used on their 2013 model. In any case, the listed San Marco Era and the Ponza are closely related. As far as I’ve been able to tell while stationary, it supports my sit bones comfortably, that’s what matters. Indeed, you may have noticed that sporty bikes have what look like tiny, hard saddles, as opposed to the larger, softer ones you can see on city bikes. When you ride for longer distances, and are riding physically, you really want a solid saddle that supports your sit bones. It makes a huge difference. They do take time to get used to; I can relate to Sheldon Brown’s article on saddles because I also get a sore bottom when I’ve stopped cycling for too long. It gets better in just a few rides!

Everything else is to spec with BH’s description:
Gruppo: Shimano 105 except the crankset, an FSA Omega compact double (50/34), and the front derailleur and cassette, which are Tiagra. The cassette is an 11/25.
Wheels: Shimano WHR501, which are 28″ aluminum.
Pedals: The Shimano A600 that are SPD compatible, as I mentioned in my last post.
Brakes: BH RC481, they’re single-pivot side-pull caliper rim brakes. The guy at the shop showed me how they work, they have a rather ingenious release system, although I’m kind of puzzled why since caliper brakes are easy to release. Normally you just pinch them at the corners. These BH brakes have a little plastic lever (attached to metal) that you flip, that essentially does the pinch for you. It is a bit more reliable that way, just hope the lever holds up over time.

The biggest change for me will be shifting! My mountain bike has thumb shifters, meaning you press a lever on the handlebar with your thumb to shift up, and flick a lever down with your index finger to shift down. All the road bikes I’ve ridden in my life have, funnily enough, had downtube lever shifters, e.g. ones like this:
Simplex gear shift lever

Even a few years ago when a friend let me borrow his road bike, it had downtube lever shifters. As a result, I have never ridden with modern road bike shifters, which function quite differently: the brake lever is also the shifter. To brake, you pull it in towards you (front towards back). To shift down, you push the brake handle sideways, towards the center of the bike. To shift up, there are smaller plastic levers under (and sort of inside) the brake lever that you also flick inside, with a finger.

Why haven’t I ridden yet?? First, it was rush hour when I got my bike, and is now dark out. Second, while I had planned to ride tomorrow morning, the plumber got back to me and will come tomorrow morning (normally) to remove the cable auger he got stuck in my pipes. This thanks to my insurance expert, who is also a legal expert in building issues: he told me in no uncertain terms that it was the original plumber’s responsibility to get his stuck cable out of my walls, and restore my place to the state it was in before that work. At his expense. (This is not the trusted plumber I usually call, but one our building management had during their August holidays.) I’m just hoping it will go smoothly. With any luck, I’ll have working pipes in my kitchen tomorrow.

Last but not least, I can haz bikes?!
Bike bike bike

Cycling the Riviera – and Europe

Posted in Cycling, La France, Travel at 19:38

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.

Vieil Antibes

Posted in Cycling, La France, Photography, Travel at 17:46

 
Cottard, Antibes by Anna Stevenson on 500px.com

Keeping with the cycling theme of late – this was the first photo I took on a Thursday visit to Antibes’ old town. I needed to go to my company’s offices in Sophia Antipolis, and since Sophia is a hop, skip and a jump from Antibes, or more precisely an express bus ride, I went to the original Antipolis afterwards. Antibes takes its name from the Greek for the village, Antipolis, meaning “the city opposite” or “the city across”. Likewise, Sophia Antipolis can mean “the city of the wisdom of opposites”, as well as having a double meaning in that its founder’s wife was named Sophie, and, naturally, it’s near Antibes/Antipolis.

While putting the pictures onto 500px, I discovered that an appreciative visitor had actually purchased one of my photos! It reminded me to mention it here: on 500px you can buy high-resolution downloads, as well as prints. Feel free to browse my photography store, and, naturally, it goes without saying that I’m always happy to see others enjoy the pictures. As you well imagine, you’ll also know where any profits go! More photography, funds towards a new kitchen (which will also be photographed), sewing projects, and cycling goods (still moar photos!!), among others.

Although it’s September, the weather has stayed hot, so I ambled through the old town and its Marché Provençal until noon came around. Then I hopped on a train back to Nice for a refreshing lunch at home with the cats. We have a new train reduction card in France, called la carte Zou! (exclamation point included), that has been a real boon for hopping around the area. It’s free, and a flexible subscription: you can fill the card with a set of 10 trips, or a week-long or month-long subscription. Any of the choices has to be for a single route, for instance, you can’t go from Nice to Monaco with the card if you’ve chosen the Nice-Antibes route; you would have to buy a separate ticket. Reductions are great, 75%! A round-trip ticket from Nice Ville to Antibes currently costs 8.80€, whereas a ten-trip set with la carte Zou! will only cost you 11€. Two euros more, for four more round trips. It’s less expensive than taking a car, and only one euro more than ten bus trips would cost on a ten-trip bus ticket (currently 10€).

Indeed, even if I could afford a car, I doubt I would ever buy one. My bike will take me to backcountry villages (will be taking it home early next week!), and paired with our train network, the possibilities are nearly as endless as with a car, but much less expensive. We’re spoiled here when it comes to public transportation, and it is really nice.

Flowery street, Antibes by Anna Stevenson on 500px.com

Doorways, Antibes by Anna Stevenson on 500px.com

Epices, Marché Provençal d'Antibes by Anna Stevenson on 500px.com

Huiles et confitures, Marché Provençal d'Antibes by Anna Stevenson on 500px.com

Vélocipède motivée

Posted in Cycling, Journal at 14:35

 
My GT at the office

Photo soon to be updated with a road sister

Following up on my Vélo Bleu and mountain bike commutes to the office, I prioritized getting a solid road bike for regular commuting and escapades into our beautiful back country. I say “prioritized” because, as you may recall, I’m also dealing with plumbing issues in my kitchen. However, the problems it has caused aren’t urgent, don’t affect anyone else, and since my insurance has already been notified, I’m fine to wait until my finances are where I can afford the repairs. I do still need to call my trusted plumber to confirm what needs to be done, but that quote won’t cost anything. Meanwhile, riding on the Promenade to work, re-experiencing my old love of road cycling, a long-dormant dream was reawakened: to have my own road bike. It’s the perfect time in road cycling at large, too, because established manufacturers are making entry-level and intermediate frames out of aluminum, using components that are worthy sisters to their pro-grade siblings, at prices you could hardly imagine ten years ago. It used to be you had to shell out about two grand for a quality setup that would last for years; nowadays solid, speed-capable aluminum road bikes worth their salt start at around 800, with 1000-1200 being a sweet spot in terms of value. It’s not a small amount of money, but nor is it all that much when you consider use and maintenance.

Cheaper bikes of any type tend to sacrifice on frame and component quality. I’ve seen this with mountain bikes: I’ve had my GT since 2006, and have yet to even replace the disc brake pads on it (I do go lightly on them). The chain, shifters, derailleurs, shocks, crankset and cassette, even the cables, are still all original and working beautifully. This with an investment of about 30-40 euros per year in bike shop maintenance. Meanwhile, some other mountain bikers (only some, most are enthusiastic and friendly), who bought much less expensive bikes and scoffed at me for spending 1800 on my GT, ended up singing a different tune after failures. The worst type is a frame failure, which I’ve seen twice now in French off-brand bikes less than four years old (those sold by big-name sports stores with the store brand). When a frame breaks, it can kill you, as it nearly did one guy who barely avoided a broken seat tube through his abdomen. The good news is that mountain bikes get more frame stress than other types of bike, so it’s more rare to see frame failure on non-MTBs. As for components, the cheapest entry-level components don’t often last more than a few years of regular use. In terms of overall cost, paying more for better quality is worth it: I paid 1800 for my GT seven years ago. I’ve only put 240 euros of maintenance into it (40 x 6 years to be generous, some years were only 30 euros), and about 400 euros’ worth of tires and inner tubes. That works out to just over 2400 euros total, over 7 years, which is 340 euros per year, or less than 30 euros per month. And it’s still going strong. In terms of utility, that’s less expensive than most gym subscriptions. In terms of enjoyment, it’s priceless… I love cycling and the outdoors, can hardly imagine a better way to spend time.

After a couple weeks getting up to speed on modern road bikes, I dropped by my trusted bike shop, Vélo Concept on Boulevard Raimbaldi in Nice. (Their website has been down, so I don’t link to it here. It’s best to go in person anyway, they’re great.) Sure enough, within five minutes I was shown a bike that seemed it would be perfect, and true to this bike shop, they encouraged me to look at it online at home and think about it. I did that, and was seriously impressed. It’s a BH Sphene 105, the top model in the entry-level Sphene line, which is still “only” 1100 euros. It’s more expensive than the others because it has components that are related to professional-grade ones, in this particular case, Shimano 105 with an FSA Omega compact double crankset. If you’re going “what”, no worries, a couple weeks ago I was too. I rode a 1970s Japanese steel road bike as a kid. That was the last road bike I used regularly. My vocabulary had basically been “front gears”, “back gears”, and “shifters”. The translation is easy: a crankset, les plateaux in French, are the front gears and crank arms, to which pedals are attached. Back gears are the cassette, also cassette or pignons in French. Component lines change regularly, so it’s natural to have to look into them in order to find your bearings. Shimano’s 105 groupset/gruppo, as a set of shifters, derailleurs (the mechanical bits that actually perform the shifting), brakes, crankset, cassette, and chain are called, is Shimano’s everyman offering that’s known for being smooth and solid, and thus a bit heavier than other, pricier gruppos, but performance is so good that the guy at the bike shop said he races in 105. Now. You may have noticed that a groupset includes a crankset, when the crankset on my bike is an FSA compact double… not a Shimano 105. FSA makes nice cranksets, and a compact double is a relatively new invention that is gradually making triple cranksets (three front gears) obsolete, because with 10-speed cassettes (most had been 9-speed in the past), there’s not much of a gearing difference between a compact double paired with a 10-speed cassette, and a triple paired with a 9-speed cassette. (It does also depend on the cassette, but going into that would complicate things for this blog post.) Additionally, having only two gears in front makes a difference in size and mechanical capabilities. Chain lines, meaning the angles a chain can take depending on gears used, are more acute on a triple crankset than on a double. Also, having a third gear up front makes the pedals spaced slightly wider, and shifting a bit clunkier. Small differences, but they do add up when you ride regularly.

As for bike size, this is the most important reason I went to my bike shop, second only to the fact that they’re awesome and I’m happy to give them business. While you can order a bike online, in general you’ll be better off ordering from a bike shop, for fit and price. Why price? Well, when you get a bike from a shop, usually a free fitting is part of the price, whereas if you order online, a fitting will be extra. A fitting takes 45 minutes to an hour. Why get a bike professionally fit? If you’ve ever ridden a city share bike, or borrowed a friend’s bike, and ridden it more than half an hour, you’ve probably gotten sore. You’ve probably also blamed that soreness on being out of shape. In reality, if you had sore tendons (knees especially), joints (wrists and shoulders), or a sore back, it was not because you’re out of shape, it was because the bike didn’t fit you. This is hard-earned experience talking: when you ride a bike that fits you, with proper posture: arch your back (don’t ride with a straight back) and flex your elbows, and you’re out of shape, your muscles are sore. Never joints. I want to repeat that, because it’s important: I have never had sore tendons or joints from mountain biking. On the other hand, the Vélo Bleu I rode for an hour and a half did a real number on my knees and wrists. If you want to ride regularly, and more than a half-hour at a time, a bike fitting is worth every penny for the physical benefits alone. It also helps you go faster, but that’s mainly important if you’re the type who likes to ride fast (I am).

Doing it yourself has pitfalls: looking at the BH Sphene online, their site said someone my height, 180cm would take an L, which starts at people who are 175cm. The usual caveat for women’s morphology doesn’t apply to me – I have a long torso for a woman, shorter legs, and so am rather close to a man’s body type. However. When I went back to the bike shop yesterday to order my Sphene, he took some preliminary measurements, and put me on the display model M just in case. It turns out that my short arms make up for my long torso… and I need an M to ensure that I can flex my elbows properly. And that’s just the preliminary fitting. I never would have guessed; my mountain bike is the equivalent of a men’s large and fits great, but road geometry vs. MTB geometry (frame shapes, essentially) makes a big difference.

So! If some of what I said was as new for you as it was for me a couple weeks ago, now you too have what it takes to go out and look at bikes with new eyes. One last tip: there’s a warning I’ve always heeded and feel I have to pass on out of courtesy. If you are the sort who enjoys bikes, never try a bike you can’t afford. Because if you like it, and chances are you would… you WILL find a way to pay for it. As soon as I got on the shop’s display model, I knew it was a good thing I hadn’t tried any others, and hadn’t looked into road bikes any earlier, because even stationary, it felt like one sweet ride. Look what happened: I’m postponing plumbing repairs for two rubber wheels on an aluminum frame. And I’m excited about it!

Vélo promenade

Posted in Cycling, Nice at 21:25

Due to electrical problems on the train lines this morning, several commuter trains were canceled, while others had delays of an hour to an hour and a half. Sensing our 40-minute delay might indeed turn into a longer one (as it did indeed!), a colleague and I risked taking Nice city bikes, Vélo Bleu, to the office. While it did mean getting there sweaty and late, it was a gorgeous ride.

The Promenade des Anglais got bicycle lanes several years ago. More recently, bicycle paths were added all the way to Cagnes sur Mer. While I haven’t tried further than Cagnes personally, they do apparently go all the way to Cannes now. In any case, the ride to Cagnes is a very pleasant one, with views of the sea, mountains, and local architecture overlooking the Mediterranean. It takes about five minutes to interpret all the steps to rent a Vélo Bleu for the first time, but once your information is stored, it is saved, and so subsequent rentals go much more quickly. Plus it only costs one euro per hour. The ride to Cagnes from the Promenade near Nice city center (just after Place Masséna) is about 11 kilometers / 7 miles, and there are bike share racks all along the way, so you can stop at beaches and pick up another bike later.

If you’re able to ride a bike, I recommend it highly! It’s a beautiful way to see the seaside Promenade, explore the cities and beaches, and take in fresh air, all while unbothered by the cohue-bohue of stressed-out motor vehicles. Completely at your own pace, on your own schedule! I’m looking forward to my morning commute tomorrow, for which I’ll be using my mountain bike as a temporary commuter. Temporary because it can’t take paniers, which I would definitely need in cooler weather, since I’ll need to take a change of clothes as well as packed lunch. It’s best to avoid heavy backpacks when commuting, since they can affect your balance; paniers keep the center of gravity lower, which is safer. As a new bicycle commuter, I trust my mountain bike much more than my not-yet-renovated Peugeot mixte, so we’ll see how things go, and whether a city bike like the mixte would work for my commute in particular, which has steep hills, or whether I’ll decide to get a secondhand road bike that can take paniers.

If you plan to ride just the Promenade, you won’t have any worries about hills! It’s flat as can be, with just one dip and rise at the airport. And our city bikes have front paniers on them; you can secure anything you put in the panier with the bike chain (the one that unlocks from the computers). They do only have three speeds, however, and you’ll want to double-check the tires, pedals, brakes, and shifting mechanism. The biggest problems I’ve run into with our Vélo Bleu have been the shifters… some of them look fine and yet there are speeds that won’t “take”, and you can’t really tell until you’ve already got the bike. I once rode through the city entirely in third gear, which isn’t much fun when you’re trying to start a hefty steel bike from a dead stop! But if you’re on vacation, do feel free to stop at another station, return the bike, and check out a different one.

100ème Tour de France

Posted in Cycling, La France, Photography at 21:45

Garmin team by Anna Stevenson (fraise)) on 500px.com

Have you been following the Tour de France? It started out in gorgeous Corsica this year, went through Nice yesterday (2 July), then on from Cagnes-sur-Mer to Marseille today, passing through Biot and Valbonne, not far from where I work. These first two photos are from the team time trials in Nice yesterday, where I walked to the Buffa-Gambetta corner to watch the riders in a turn.

Sojasun team by Anna Stevenson (fraise)) on 500px.com

This morning, I took the bus to work as usual, but had used a half day off so I could ride to a roundabout that stage 5 would be going through. I didn’t get any shots of racers, since I wanted my hands to be free to cheer them on, but I did get a souvenir shot of my bike under a tour traffic sign and in front of the gathering crowd. This was my fourth Tour de France, which is even hard for me to believe; I only ever imagined being able to see it… maybe… one day! Now I’ve seen it several times. Today was the first I’ve gone on my own bike, though. It was a real treat, as a kid who used to pedal around her countryside home, who then grew up to pedal around the countryside of her new home on the other side of the world.

More people as the racers arrived

Sunny autumn

Posted in Cats, Cycling at 20:21

2004 GT i-drive XC 2.0

We’re having gorgeous weather here in southeastern France this autumn, with noon temperatures so balmy that I need neither a coat nor a long-sleeved top! It’s been beautiful for mountain biking. I still have the GT I bought almost 6 years ago. Here you see it in my entry, set against the bedroom door, also showing off those floors I worked so hard to restore! Recently I bought new shoes, a pair of Mavic ‘Chasm’, which were recommended by the same shop where I found my bike. The two guys there have always been great. They don’t know I have a website, so this plug for their shop is entirely my own decision: drop by Vélo Concept if you’re ever in Nice and need anything road- or mountain-bike-related, even if it’s “just” for a city bike (they carry those too!). They’ve always listened to me, their recommendations have always been reliable, and they have great senses of humor, to boot.

I love my new shoes. It’s like having a new bike. The difference with my previous mid-range lace-up shoes truly surprised me. When I stand on my (clipless) pedals, it feels like I’m standing on solid ground. I already loved climbs before; now they’re even better, because there’s no loss of muscle power in any corrections due to unstable shoes – my feet stay where I put them, moving the pedals.

In other news, I haven’t updated recently because I started a new project at work a few weeks ago. It’s enjoyable as well – all in all, life is good. Kanoko and Susu are still like two peas in a pod (very bouncy peas in a constantly-moving pod), and Susu is as much of a sweetheart as Kanoko, so I’ve been feeling very spoiled by two adorable, well-behaved cats who gleefully share their time together and with me.

Susu, 3 months old

Ready to roll

Posted in Cycling at 14:06

Peugeot ready to roll

My last few weekends have been spent taking off wheels, pulling off old tires, scrubbing rubber and rust off rims, getting new rim tape put on, cleaning and oiling the derailleur and chain, then figuring out the old Simplex derailleur and adjusting it so it now shifts properly (the cable was a tad slack and one limit stop was too tight, which prevented shifting into the lowest gear). As always, the bike shop I’ve gone to for nearly five years now, Vélo Concept on boulevard Raimbaldi in Nice (if the Flash entrance doesn’t work, try this link instead), has been great. They gave my bike a quick look-over three weeks ago, pointing out a few things I hadn’t noticed, and yesterday they kindly put on new rim tape for me, for the same price as buying rim tape would have cost (plus, I wouldn’t have been able to put it on as well as they did).

Although my bike still needs a few more repairs — new brake and derailleur cables, as well as new brake pads — they’re not urgent. The 30-year-old Simplex derailleur works like a charm. I still remember the old lever shifter on the road bike I used twenty-odd years ago. It was a royal pain since it was very finicky. A millimeter off and it would throw a fit — with so little tolerance, it would often drift into a different speed while you were pedalling. While I haven’t yet tested my Peugeot on the road, it’s already clear that this Simplex shifter is a different beast: it’s solid, has definite stops with plenty of tolerance, and once you’ve memorized its stops, it sets into the new speed in less than a single pedal turn. On my old road bike, I had to pedal several times while fiddling with the lever until it finally decided it wasn’t going to be cranky any more.

We’ve been dealing with a heat and humidity wave for the last month here, so I’m waiting until this evening, when it will (hopefully) be a bit cooler, to take out my Peugeot for my maiden ride on it. I’ll probably take it down the tram tracks (as long as you pay attention to the trams and watch out at intersections, it’s much safer than the so-called “bike lanes” on roads here, which are more like “we painted on some new lines without changing the streets”) to the Promenade des Anglais, which has safer dedicated bike paths where I’ll be able to fiddle to my heart’s content without having to worry too much if I run into any problems.

Pleasant surprises

Posted in Cycling, Journal, La France at 17:00

I wanna ride too!
The last few weeks, I’ve been busy scraping off the textured paint in my living room to make way for a new color (of regular, non-textured paint). Luckily the textured paint had been put over white paint, which I then had to wash. That last photo may look relatively white, but in reality, it’s quite yellowish — the cleaned walls look much better. This means I won’t have to use primer, which is nice.

About a year ago, Nice started a “city bike” program called Vélo Bleu. I took a 15-euro yearly subscription, which lets you borrow bikes as you want, with the first 30 minutes free on each bike. While it is very cheap, it’s not so practical when, in reality, I’ve only been able to find a bike to use about 10% of the time, plus they’re very heavy and only have 3 speeds. I enjoyed riding them anyway, which helped me realize that I’d be happy with a cheap bike of my own for riding around town. I wouldn’t have to lose any time looking for a Vélo Bleu, and would save the money spent all those times I ended up paying for a bus or tram ticket when a bike couldn’t be found. The downsides are the probability it could be stolen, and having to maintain it myself. But even needing to do maintenance has its upsides: you know what you’re getting into with your own bike.

I didn’t plan on shopping for one until my yearly subscription ran out. I visited one of my favorite secondhand shops today, as I often do because they’re so much fun to browse, then went upstairs to check their used bikes, just in case. I’d seen decent ones in their store over the years, but nothing that ever caught my eye… until today. A charming old Peugeot in orange, with bright green decals, touring handlebars, a chrome rack on the back, front and rear lights, and a mixte (unisex) frame. I could hardly believe my eyes, and figured something must be wrong with it. I spun the wheels to check for wobble: they turned straight and true. I looked at the rims: no divots, cracks, or any other problems. I checked the rear derailleur: a bit gunky, but in fine working condition, which surprised me for a bike its age. The teeth on the chain wheels looked good; the bike pedalled smoothly. I sat on it: surprisingly, the seat was already at the right height for me, and the frame a comfortable fit for head-up city riding, though I would need to turn up the handlebars to level. There was no rust around the bike’s various bolts, which meant adjustments would be feasible. “If the brakes still work, it’s mine,” I thought — not only did the caliper brakes still clamp onto the rims, the pads were in good enough shape that the bike braked without a problem. The only reservations I had were for the shifter and number of speeds: it’s an old lever shifter, and there’s no front derailleur, so the bike’s 5 rear chain wheels meant it only had 5 speeds. “It is just for riding around town, and 5 speeds are still better than 3, plus this is a lot lighter than the city bikes,” I pondered. Then I bought it. 50 euros, and all I need to replace are the tires and inner tubes.

According to its decal styles and serial number, which starts with Y904, it’s a 1979 touring model. Everything on it but the seat and tires is original. 1979 Peugeot Cyclotourisme set with all the photos I took today. As a kid my brother and I would ride steel-frame Takara road bikes, which also had lever shifters. We often had to finagle their caliper brakes and derailleurs, so having another bike with a lever shifter brings back fond childhood memories. I’ll have to re-learn how to ride with one hand while shifting, and memorize the sweet spots for each of the 5 speeds! It will also be fun to have a mechanically simple bike to work on again. I do love my mountain bike, but with disc brakes, and front and rear suspension, it’s not one I can repair entirely on my own.