Thursday, July 5, 2007

It's All in the Details: Plush Toys

Like it or not, cycling sometimes involves discomfort. More and more people seem to be coming to the sport with the misapprehension that cycling should be a completely pain-free activity. But whether you’re racing, touring, or commuting, it just isn’t. It is difficult physically, it exposes the rider to the elements, and the fundamental design of the machine can only offer so much in the way of comfort.

There’s a pill or a product to soften the sharp edges of just about every aspect of life, so naturally people assume that it is their birthright to be pain-free. The cycling industry has been more than happy to validate this assumption and offers an array of products and services for the rider who wants to buy his way to bliss.

But I’m here to tell you that cycling hurts. Sure, you can and should mitigate the discomfort, but riding a bicycle just isn’t driving a Cadillac. Here are some areas where I think we’re just going too far:



Professional Bike Fitting
Proper fit is the most important consideration when buying a bicycle. It’s more important that frame material, component choice, brand, color, or warranty. And given the low margins on bicycles for bike shops, it benefits both the rider and the shop to offer bike fitting services.

But come on, you don’t always have to take the day off work and spend it riding a fit cycle while a shop employee aims a laser pointer at you. Not everybody needs to play Johan and Levi in the wind tunnel. A decent shop will get you well in the ballpark in fairly short order, and you’ll learn a lot more spending a leisurely Saturday morning riding around the local loop with an allen key, having an open and earnest dialogue with your soft-and-delicates.



Custom Frames


Cyclists love to convince themselves that they need things. When titanium bikes came out people rationalized buying them by saying, “Titanium lasts forever. This is the last bike I’ll ever buy.” Oh, yeah, right. How many roadies are still out there pushing their old Litespeeds? Some of those things had one-inch headtubes, for chrissakes! You can’t be competitive on anything less than 1 1/8th!

There’s a similar rationale for ordering a custom frame. In addition to “It’s the last bike I’ll ever buy,” there’s also “It fits me perfectly—nothing beats a custom frame,” and “I need custom geometry to be completely comfortable.”

Hey, who doesn’t want a custom frame? But at least be honest. Unless you have the physique of something that should be behind glass at the Museum of Natural History, you can probably obtain a perfect fit pretty easily with a stock bike. So when you roll up on that new Seven, at least be honest and say, “I want to look and feel special and be envied by my fellow riders.” Not, “Yeah, I just couldn’t get comfortable without a 56.67892 centimeter top tube.”



Saddles

If you’ve ever spent any time in a bike shop, you’ve probably seen a lot of people come in and complain about saddle discomfort—especially after all that publicity about cycling and impotence a few years back, which convinced the public that so much as looking at a bicycle saddle was tantamount to castration.

Yes, you should not be experiencing severe pain or numbness. But instead of running right out and buying a $200 saddle with all kinds of exotic materials, cutouts, nylon bushings, and vents to cool your crotch (my personal favorite)--or, even worse, going the other direction and bolting a toilet seat to your post--take the time to experiment with saddle position.

And more importantly, understand that a saddle is not a desk chair. Your hands and feet should also be supporting some of your weight. And—I cannot stress this enough—move occasionally! Stand up once in awhile! It’s a bike, not a car! You don’t just plop your ass down on it and sit there in perfect comfort. If it helps, don’t think of it as a saddle—think of it as more of a butt rest. Kind of like a lectern—something to lean on, but not meant for reclining.

And yes, believe it or not, back when there were only a few models of saddles to choose from cyclists were actually able to procreate. Somehow the pros still manage to have children, and I’ve never seen one using one of those horrendous porta-potty things.



Suspension

Suspension on mountain bikes has come a long way, and there is definitely certain terrain where a good front (and even rear) suspension will give you better performance.

But—and this is hard for a lot of people to believe—it is still actually possible to ride a rigid bicycle on an unpaved surface. In fact, there are a lot of places where it’s actually preferable. If you’ve ever watched somebody on silky-smooth, flowing singletrack bobbing up and down on a long-travel bicycle like a kid on one of those horse-on-a-spring things they have in front of the supermarket, you know what I mean. I’m talking about the type of rider that spins up a tiny incline in the granny gear and then falls over onto his camelbak like an overworked mule.

I’m not saying suspension doesn’t have its place. I’m just saying think about where you’re going to be doing most of your riding. If the biggest drop you’re going to encounter on your ride is the one from the running board of your SUV, you may not need the long-travel double-boinger.


Suspension on Road Bikes

Never. Never, never, never. Have we learned nothing?



Vibration-Damping Gew-Gaws and Doo-Dads





I mentioned the $20 Bontrager bar plugs in a previous post. A similar product is Specialized’s Zertz. Do they work? I don’t know, maybe they do. Or maybe it’s the fact that the bike has a longer wheelbase and more relaxed geometry.

Before you get taken in by miracle polymers, consider that some bikes actually have comfort inherent in their design. Learn a little bit about geometry. Also learn about tires. Lowing your pressure or going up in width is often all you need.

If those don’t work, though, I can think of a place to stick those Bontrager plugs that will really smooth out that ride. Hint—it’s the same place they pulled the design out from in the first place.

Freakish Kludges





Not only do people think they should be able to buy a pain-free ride—they also think they should be able to ride a bike completely ill-suited to their physique or riding style because they like the way it looks.

Take the middle-aged guy I saw in the park the other day riding a Fuji Track Pro in sneakers with one of those heads-up stem adapter things. Uh, perhaps the aluminum purpose-built race bike with the really low head-tube is not for you. Yes, road and track bikes are cool, but they’re not for everyone. Three words: http://www.rivbike.com/. The same goes for every guy riding a Madone with a vertical stem and about 500 spacers under it.

I mean, if I want a family car, I can’t buy a Porsche, right? Oh, yeah, I guess I can. Oh, well, I guess nobody should ever have to compromise.

14 comments:

Brock Tice said...

www.rivbike.com, not rivebikes.com! The latter (to which you link) is a nasty parking page!

BikeSnobNYC said...

Brock--

Thank you! Corrected.

--BSNYC

schaughvn said...

remember the days when Salsa made a stem of any dimension you could ever want at a reasonable price? ahh, the walk down memory lane

Anonymous said...

maybe in the spirit of this post you should have some type of contest for us to send in pictures of our ass sores. or not...
i had a real doozy last year but this year i'm moisturizing. thought i'd share.
j

Jim said...

Saddles - it ain't the money, it's the fit. Cheap ain't necessarily bad, expensive ain't necessarily good. The FiZik Arione is the only one that really feels perfect to me, but if it's perfect for me then it probably feels like a ten penny nail to you.

As for leather saddles and 'relief channels' cut down the middle of saddles... the only thing I've found them good for is wearing an extra hole or two in my ass, y'know, just in case the original gets fused shut. Any thoughts on the retrogrouch / poseur leather [saddle] fetish?

BikeSnobNYC said...

Jim,

Retrougrouch=good, retro chic=bad.

It's all about the motivation behind the component choice.

--BSNYC

IB Rich said...

"Retrougrouch=good, retro chic=bad.

It's all about the motivation behind the component choice.

--BSNYC"

P-E-R-F-E-C-T!

I think this sums up your entire blog. Love reading it. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

"Saddles - it ain't the money, it's the fit...Any thoughts on the retrogrouch / poseur leather [saddle] fetish?"


That said, I really enjoy my Brooks. I had stopped riding my bike a couple of years ago because of such severe ass pain, after several saddles and lots of adjusting. A few months ago I decided to give bike commuting a try (need to lose some weight and get some exercise), and found a store that sells Brooks with a 6-month take-back guarantee. (I decided to go with Brooks after a bit of research.) I gotta say, the saddle rocks. It's comfy and solid, and has a really substantial feel that I love. The fact that it looks great is a nice point, as well. The bike I'm riding is a single-speed w/freewheel, and I love it as well. My commute is a about 9 miles of reasonably flat path, and not needing to worry about my shifting, gruppo, alignment, etc. has really freed me and allows me to enjoy the ride.

The whole retro/ss thing may be obnoxious for aesthetic reasons, but simpler gear can sometimes be a real benefit for people who aim to use their bike as a vehicle, and not as a "lifestyle extension." But then again, I'd never ride fixed coz I like coasting... hmmm...maybe shellaced handlebars will be the next big thing...

poor in money but rich in spirit inventor said...

I guess I need to thank you for your link to and referral of my saddle design as a toilet seat......If you would have looked a little further you could have found the guy selling what looks like a real toilet seat as a saddle.

I always wonder about people like you that disparage an alternative design rather than educating yourself about the reason for the design differences and then arguing the pros and cons of the differences. I find it even more interesting that you picked my site which, unlike any other bike saddle web site that I am aware of, goes into extensive detail about male and female human anatomy and the potential detrimental impact of the architecture of the standard saddle design on some riders.

You sound to me like one of those folk that when they are forced to confront reality that doesn't agree with their predisposed assumptions sticks their fingers in their ears and yells NAH,NA,NAH,NA, NAH until they "change the channel".

Have a nice life.

daos said...

poor in money but rich in spirit inventor-

none of which detracts from the fact that it looks like a toilet seat.

try changing the design to something that someone with an iota of aesthetic sensibility would actually want to put on their bike.

oh, and get a sense of humour.

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Mark said...

I love toys very much. Especially the Plush Toys.

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