Petite promenade

Posted in Cats, Cycling, Nice at 17:04

Prom, looking east

This morning I rode down to the Promenade, following two veteran cyclists. It wasn’t planned that I ride behind them, but it was nice to be able to watch experienced cyclists, since I was able to see how they managed traffic. They had a very similar approach to my own, namely assertiveness in the name of safety, as opposed to a more reckless aggressivity. Drivers have become much more aware of cyclists in Nice since the bikeshare programme began a few years ago; I have yet to run into any scary situations in traffic. So far drivers have always been more or less aware of my presence, and taken hand signals into account. I could hardly ask for better conditions to ease into road cycling.

I took these photos with my handheld Kodak, which isn’t as nice as my Nikon DSLR. However, the handheld fits into a back jersey pocket, where the Nikon definitely wouldn’t! I probably won’t take any photos on my weekday commutes, but do hope to enjoy some weekend rides with photo stops, like today’s.

Prom, looking west

Two weeks ago, Susu wanted to show off her matte black coat in front of my glossy bike. This one is with my Nikon, you can tell the difference in color range and quality!

Matte and gloss black

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.

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!