Bikes

Buying A Bicycle

I ride bicycles a lot. Not winning-the-tour-de-france a lot, but some-people-think-its-all-I-do a lot. The bikes page on here says more, but to keep a long story short, people that don't have bicycles tend to as me what kind of bike they should get and where they should get it from. The TL;DR version: Pick how much you want to spend, go somewhere where people treat you nicely and tell them exactly what kind of riding you want to do, and buy what they recommend. Here are the most common questions and the answers I've given over and over.

What kind of bicycle should I get?

This depends on the type of riding you will be doing most of the time. Not every type of riding you have seen on youtube and think might be cool. This also depends on how much time you want to put in and how fast you want to go. Brands like Surly and Salsa makes bicycles as specific as

"Moonlander, like its name implies, is meant to go beyond where normal bikes, even normal fat bikes, can go. It is designed from the ground up to ride where there are no roads, no trails, no people."

and

"The Colossal Ti is for riders that like going fast, but don't believe fast is everything. That dream of riding through the Alps, but recognize that beauty can be found by riding right from their own front door. That enjoy pro racing, but aren't disillusioned enough to believe their bike is keeping them from joining those ranks. That understand a heart rate monitor and power meter will never be as valuable as the discoveries made from turning onto an unknown road, and seeing where it leads."

so there is a bike out there for exactly what you plan on doing. Personally, I'm eyeing one of those Salsa Colossal Tis, but if you'll always be riding the rough streets of Atlanta 4 miles each way to work, you should ask yourself if you'll ride in all weather (if the rain is ok you'll want a bike with fenders), if you don't mind a backpack (racks and waterproof panniers), where you'll be storing it (more expensive bikes will be safer indoors), etc.

Don't just go buy a full-suspension mountain bike. Do you even like mountain biking? Not everyone does! Have you ever ridden a cheap full-suspension mountain bike on the road? They are slow! Will you ever even go mountain biking? That said, if this bike is just going to be used on technical downhills in the mountains with a mix of pedal-up and shuttle-up, it may be a good fit. If you'll always be shuttling, or if you'll really only be doing flow trails, there are different kinds of mountain bikes to get instead.

Don't just go buy a fancy drop-bar road racing bike. Have you ever ridden in drop handlebars? Most non-serious-cyclists people stay on the 'flats' (Hint: they make flat-bar road bikes without the drops). There are parts that require maintenance, they can be harsh on bumpy roads due to their geometry and design, and aren't engineered to be comfortable. If you're looking to get faster and faster and find the biggest hills to climb, a speedy road bike may be for you. Depending on the roads that you'll ride on, the company you'll keep, and the hills you'll climb, you now get to decide between 'compact' and 'road' cranks, and 'roubaix' or 'endurance' or 'race' geometry.

Don't buy a 'track bike' unless you are racing at a velodrome. Want a simple bike for getting around town on? You can still get a 'fixie' that is a lot more comfortable and safe to ride that one that is meant for racing on a track. If you're actually going to a track though, you may want to try that out before buying a bike.

The place you buy your bicycle can help you decide!

What about High Modulus Carbon Frames? Campagnolo EPS Components? Blended Compound tires?

See "Where should I buy a bicycle? What brand should I buy?" and "How much should I spend?". Anything on a bike from a local bike shop that meets your price range is going to be the same as anything else in your price range from any local bike shop. Enjoy!

Where should I buy a bicycle? What brand should I buy?

Step 1: Go to the closest bike shop to your home/office/school.
Step 2: Do they treat you in a way that makes you feel comfortable? If yes: buy one of the brands they sell from them! If no: cross it off the list and repeat Step 1.

Local bike shops have people working there that are knowledgeable, and they provide service, often for free with a new bicycle. Walmart/Target don't count because they don't have knowledgable staff or provide service, and I'll leave comparing the 'Big Box' brands like Performance Bike to local bike shops like Loose Nuts Cycles to you based on how you feel about supporting local small businesses (you should probably support local small businesses).

Sure you can buy a bike from bikesdirect.com but you're on the hook for picking the right one (there are 1000s of choices) and putting it together. If you are looking for a cheap non-name carbon race frame from Taiwan that you'll race for a year, you probably haven't made it this far through this post and bought it on e-bay already. You can also get a gently or harshly used bike from Craigslist and there are good deals if you know exactly what you are looking for. But if you knew that, why are you reading this again?

Your local bike shop will carry a small variety of brands, and can help you pick a bike. Any brand they sell you will be fine, and the people you buy the bicycle from matter far more than the stickers on the frame. They should give you a free water bottle too! Tell them I sent you.

How much should I spend?

First, know that a few things are not included:

  • You'll need a helmet. $30 can get you one, but it seems like most are in the $50-$100 range these days.
  • A basic flat-fixing-kit and multitool will run another $30 or so.
  • Riding at night on dark streets? You'll want to spend $100 on a light to 'see' with. The $20 lights that let you 'be seen' won't show you the pothole you are about to run into.
  • Riding to get to work? You may want some bike-specific clothes to wear on your commute, $50 for socks/shorts/shirt is probably as cheap as you can go.
  • Riding 'seriously'? Those fancy spandex clothes sure look weird, but once you wear them you'll find they make riding long distances a lot more comfortable. There are backpacks that hold water for mountain biking, color-changing sunglasses, fancy lights, fancy shoes and pedals, etc. Helmet-cameras are pretty cool too. Don't get any of those yet, you'll know when you need to. Everyone gets one "showing up for a ride completely unprepared" ride, and usually (if you talk beforehand) the people you're with have things you can use a time or few to see if something is your style.

And now the easy part. Just pick how much you want to spend.

  • Don't spend less than $500 on a new bike. Anything less than this will be frustrating. (Unless this not something you need to depend on. $150 on a every-other-week-coffee-shop run is just fine)
  • $500 will get you a bike that lets you find out if you like the kind of bike riding you are doing (commuting, fitness riding, exploring, etc). If you do like it, you'll want a new bike next year.
  • $1000 will get you a nice bike. If you like it, you'll be happy with it for a year or two and may start to think about upgrading parts.
  • $1500-$2500 will get you a pretty nice bike that can last quite a while. Bicycles in this range can go 10s of 1000s of miles before 'wearing' out assuming you take them by the local bike shop you bought them from for a free tune-up every now and then.
  • $3000 and up will buy you something fancy that while possibly impractical, may be the lightest/quietest/fastest/etc of the bunch. It's easy to find $14,000 bikes. Ouch.

So pick how much you want to spend, go somewhere where people treat you nicely and tell them exactly what kind of riding you want to do, and buy what they recommend.

Singletracks.com has a good How To Choose Your First Mountain Bike article too.

Riding Bikes in 2011

Lots of time on 2 wheels, no broken bones, and lots of good times. 2011 has been a good year of riding, and after a crazy event this weekend, it seems like a good time to summarize a few things.

Velodrome

At the track, FM:Race held our own, even as people got injured, moved out of the country, and were just slacking. We were able to snag 2nd place team out of 28 teams, and our top A racer Brian Tester won Rider of the Year, getting more points than anyone else at the Dick Lane Velodrome in 2011. I finished in 19th place, and we had a few other people scattered through the top 30 placings.

This year, Jason Atwood and I raced in almost all of the "Madison" events and did pretty well. Winning one on April 20, and not getting lapped too many times in 7 others. Jason is out of state at grad school now, so we weren't able to do the last few.

Track racing has been a lot of fun, but it's also a huge time sink for the amount of 'saddle time' (4 hours every wednesday with 1 hour on the bike) and I got hurt due to actions of other people a bit too much for my taste. Mountain biking is what I enjoy doing the most, so track racing is going to take a back seat next year for other things.

Cyclocross

New for this year, I've done a handful of cyclocross races. Cyclocross bikes are basically road bikes with weird geometries, less effective brakes, and slightly knobbier tires used for riding around in grass and parking lots. Pretty ridiculous, but there was a great deal on a bike on the internet so I figured I would give it a shot. After a handful of races, I'm still not sure if it's fun, but I figure I should give something super crazy like Southern Cross a try before deciding if this bike is a keeper or not.

So far I'm 29th out of 170 for the season, and FM:Race is in 7th of 139 teams.

Roads

The vast majority of my road biking this year was the weekly FM:Race Training Ride, a terrible hill climbing ride that I try and add a few more hills to every year. This will continue in 2012 with a few small changes. I also did a few 100 mile rides, and I'll probably do a few more of those in 2012.

But then, sometime last week, Strava announced the Turkey Takeoff: Ride 250 miles in a 5-day period over Thanksgiving weekend. For some reason, I decided that this was a good idea to do and came up with a plan of attack. After my ~7 mile commute on Wednesday, I was running a little behind schedule. Thanksgiving morning, with perfect weather, I rode to Stone Mountain and did 2 laps. I've done this route more times than I can count and it get's pretty boring, but it was an easy way to grab 41 miles. Then it was off to Thanksgiving dinner.

Friday morning at 6:30am, full of turkey, I picked up Stafford and we headed to the start of the Silver Comet to head towards Anniston, AL. It was supposed to be 48F as the sun barely rose above the horizon, but ended up being 33F to start, and as we rolled westward we struggled to keep warm and stay positive. 2 hours in it finally passed 40F and we started to have a better time. We crossed the Georgia/Alabama border and started down the Chief Ladiga trail, and at Piedmont, AL we'd been riding for close to 5 hours. Based on some rough math, we figured that if we turned back, we could make it back to Smyrna, GA and the car by the time the sun went down.

Our original goal was to get all the way to Anniston, but that would have us riding for 2+ hours after sunset in the freezing cold which neither of us was really prepared for. I scarfed down a bag of Doritos from a gas station and we headed back. Once back in Georgia, the mile markers slowly ticked down, and we made it back as the sun was setting with 149 miles and 9 hours of riding time behind us. (more photos)

I was planning to take Saturday off and finish up the 250 miles on Sunday, but the forcast for Sunday called for rain so Jim, Bob, Federico, and I met up at 9:30 am on Saturday to squeeze in the last 50+ miles. I led the way, doing a combination of routes pretty familiar to me and making some random turns as well. It's touch to fit in 53 miles without a plan, but we pulled it of in one of the craziest intown routes that I've done.

250.9 miles in 4 days. Not bad! I was the 10th person to finish the Turkey Takeoff, and it looks like more people will be finishing throughout the day today.

Mountains

Per my plan, 2011 was full of mountain biking. I spent a week mountain biking in Colorado with Jason, and Jason and I did the entire Chainbuster Racing 6-hour 2-person race series. More details about that on the FM:Race blog: Chainbuster Series Finale.

Much more important than racing is just mountain biking with friends, and this year was pretty successful. I took my college friend Dave up to Stanley Gap for his first ride in the North Georgia mountains; Bob and I continued to boldly go and explore new places like Rock Hawk and Tanasi; I got CBQ and Mike from Highgroove on mountain bikes, quickly moving up from Atlanta Beach to Blankets Creek to Mulberry Gap; And it's looking like I will have done over 30 tuesday night "Dirty Mustache" mountain bike rides this year with anywhere from 4 to 15 people.

Track Season 2009 Report

This was the last week of track racing season at the Dick Lane Velodrome, and the end of my first year of track racing. This was supposed to happen last year, but a pesky broken collarbone got in the way so my first race wasn't until the beginner races this year on April 7th. This was 2 days after a mountain bike race, and this would be pretty consistent for a while: racing mountain bikes on Sunday and track bikes a few days later. My only goal for year 1 was to move up from the D beginner category (which races on Tuesdays) to the C category which races on wednesdays, and to be slightly competitive in the Cs. After 4 days of beginner racing, I'd collected enough points to move up to the Cs just in time for the first of 3 Need For Speed events that preclude the 3 pro racing series events each year. My 200m sprint that Friday was the first one I've ever had timed, and I pulled a 13.03s which, while not a world record by any stretch of the imagination, did place me smack in the middle of a field of familiar names. That night, I got to race with some Cs and Bs for the first time, and had a blast.

Because I wasn't a B, I couldn't race in the Pro series on Saturday, but the following week I started up racing with the Cs and continued to improve over the summer. I'd occasionally get a 1st place in a single event, but never for the points total for the evening because there was always someone really fast (Cat 1 roadies for example) that was quickly moving through the Ds, Cs, and Bs, up to the As. However, I consistently was in the top 3 by the end of the evening and on September 2nd, none of those crazy fast people showed up, so I got first place in the C 8 lap scratch, the C miss-n-out, and the C tempo race (what all these mean) which placed me 1st out of 11 that night and I figured that meant it was time for me to move up to the Bs. I'd sat down and taken off my helmet, but heard Hoppy call out my name "Chris Kelly, you're up!" and after a bit of heckling from the B field, I geared back up and climbed onto the back of the B tempo race.

I wasn't at all prepared for this, but the field was very slow to get going and I knew I wouldn't have a chance to get any points later in the race so I headed up to the boards in turn 2 and took off the front. As I came around turn 4, the field was pretty far back, Jason Atwood was right behind me yelling "GO GO GO it's just us!" and I got points on the first lap of my first B race! Right before crossing the finish line on lap 2, twotone inched by me on the outside and said something along the lines of "in your face!" but I managed to stay at the back of the pack for the rest of the 20 lap race and got to do the same thing to him on the last lap. Lots of fun, and I ended up in 5th place out of 11 which got me 8th place overall for the evening for Bs points on top of my 1st place for Cs.

It was close to the end of the season and due to weather complications, there were only 2 more nights of B racing. The first one, I didn't get any points but played a part in setting the 8 mile scratch record by pulling for 4 or 5 laps, and at the second one (this past Wednesday) I managed to get 3rd place in a win-n-in which got me 6th place overall for the evening. Not too bad for just planning on being in the Cs all year. I was 1st of 28 for points overall in Ds when I moved up, 2nd of 53 in the Cs when I moved up, and with my tiny venture in to B racing, I managed to get 38th of 55 in the Bs. Using some crazy formulas, this got me 25th overall in Mens for the year of atleast 75 but probably around 120 people that raced at the track in 2009.

Next year I'll continue racing in the Bs and will be able to participate in all of the pro events now that I'm out of the Cs, and we'll see what happens! I've met a lot of people including a few that may be on FM:Race for next year, and even if I don't get too much better I'll definitely have a good time. Check dicklanevelodrome.com for the next beginner class, take it, and come out for some races next year! And heres my full results.

Bike Cleaning and Grease Monkey Wipes

It's Bike Month this month in the United States and that means all kinds of crazy bike related things are going on. However, for someone with no commute (working from home) that rides a whole lot, there just isn't that much to change. However, I've been having some issues with shifting on my road bike and while looking at my ride log I realized that I've had it exactly one year, have put 3189.6 miles on it, and the only drivetrain maintenance (aside from replacing the shifters after a wreck) I've done was replacing the chain at 2000 miles. This combined with a super sweet donation of ~20 cleaning wipes that Tim from Grease Monkey Wipes sent over to FM:Race, meant that I would celebrate bike month by actually doing a detailed clean of my drive train. It's not a terribly exciting story, but the pictures are fun:

Parts come off (and not just sort of off, all the way off)

Hands get dirty

Things finally are clean again (the front too)

This was a somewhat long process with part removing, degreasing, rinsing, scrubbing, more degreasing, reinstalling, greasing, and my hands had to be cleaned several times throughout the process. I used a Grease Monkey Wipe on the big chainring on the front the first time around, but it started out pretty dirty and before all the grease was removed, the wipe was pretty much all used up. Much more successfully, I used a fresh one on my hands at one point and it got them from relatively dirty to pretty clean. The wipes held up admirably and did a pretty good job getting grease off, and are perfect for carrying around in a saddle bag, but if you're going to be getting seriously greasy you'll need slightly tougher ammunition. I know people that keep rubber gloves with their bike tools and in their bike bags, but I seem to have less than my share of mechanicals so I only get greasy working at home and Fast Orange does an amazing job getting rid of crazy amounts of grease. I bought that container a few years ago and have barely put a dent in it. Both Fast Orange and Grease Monkey Wipes use all natural solvents, both leave your hands smelling citrus fresh, and form a great pair for degreasing your hands in all situations.

headset repacking

Typically as people learn to fix things about their bike, a few things still usually mean a trip to the bike shop: bottom brackets, headsets, hydraulic disk brakes. Every bike has the first two of those, and my mountain bike happens to have the later. (Thankfully, they've yet to need to be serviced.) There are two reasons that people stay away from fixing bottom brackets and headsets: One, they are scary and important parts of the bike and doing something wrong with them can cause you bodily harm while riding or damage to your frame. Two, they need their own special tools.

I've need to do a lot of bottom bracket replacement on my bikes, both replacing old ones and moving ones between frames so I picked up a Park Tool BBT-22 and stick to bottom brackets that this tool will work with. Everything I ride is square taper, and the only bottom bracket that won't work with this tool is the on in my track bike due to it's adjustable chainline (this BB needs it's own special $50 tool but it should stay in that bike for a while). The BBT-22 is only about $20 and gets the job done pretty easily.

Headsets however, are a lot more trouble. There is one kind of tool to remove them, and another kind of tool to install them. Neither of which I had or wanted to pay for because I almost never need to do this kind of work, and buying tools for these things is just silly. This was fine until the headset on my mountain bike started to feel sticky. I pulled the fork out and found out that unfortunately, the headset was a semi-cartridge headset. These are better than cup and cone headsets because they don't require adjusting to work correctly, but worse than cartridge headsets because grit and water can still get into the bearings pretty easily and to repack the bearings, you really have to remove the entire headset and soak things in degreaser first instead of just popping out the bearings. This meant it was headset tool time!

I didn't want to buy big expensive tools when other things would do... For removing headsets I used a piece of copper pipe and a hacksaw per this example. $5 for the copper, and with a few smacks with a hammer my headset was out. I cleaned things out with WD-40 until both the top and bottom bearings spun smoothly with no gritty sounds, and repacked them with grease. Then for re-installation, a rubber hammer was all I needed! I put the opposite side of the frame on a wooden block outside, put in the headset, and just gave it a good smacking and that was it. Some people say that this is not enough to get a headset fully seated, but it's close enough for me. With a press like the park tools one, it is possible to over-tighten a headset and damage it or your frame, so usually even with these it remains too loose and takes a few miles on the trail to get fully seated anyways. Hopefully I'll go riding tomorrow and will get to test it all out!

Bikes and customer service

Customer support is almost always awful, or so has been my experience but I've come across something somewhat surprising.. bike related support tends to be awesome. Not just getting my friends that work in local bike shops, but pretty much everything. Some examples:

  • CrankBrothers - first thing was with these guys some time this summer. A piece on one of my pedals snapped on a weld, I called them, and for the $2 that it cost to ship the broken pedal to them, my pedals got a trip to the "pedal spa" and came back completely rebuilt with mostly new parts. Cool
  • Performance Bike - Warehouse in the sky, and what do you know, they do some awesome things. See this post for more.
  • Sigma Sport - I called them because the little plastic mount that holds my wireless bike computer went missing and I couldn't find a way to buy a replacement. They sent me a new one free of charge.
  • Redline via Seattle Bike Supply and Free Flite Bicycles - truly a tag team effort. A new frame I got from a bike shop in Seattle via eBay had a manufacturing defect. That bike shop's supplier sent a replacement frame to Free Flite, the closes bike shop to me that works with Redline. Two companies, neither of which I'd paid any money to, were willing to ship a new frame and ship the old frame back. It doesn't get much better than that! I paid Free Flite to move my headset from the old frame to the new one. $30 ain't bad for something that could have basically been $200 lost due to getting something on eBay.

So bike related things = awesome customer service. That's something I can live with!