Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cycling and traffic problems in Brussels

Excellent video. Brussels seems to have a lot in common with New York City. We have gridlock that expands to huge areas. Motor vehicle drivers don't know that you shouldn't enter an intersection unless there is room for you at the other side. Or they know but they don't care. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Commissioner of Department of Transportation Janette Sadik-Khan understood the problems and worked at improving things. They've done a good job. There is a lot more bike infrastructure now. There are more people on bikes. The bike share started in May of this year. All of the problems with the bike share are problems of success. It is being used more than anyone expected. People who don't love bikes or cycling are using it because it makes sense for them. This is the best kind of trend we could hope for. Now I hope we start working on lawfulness and courtesy. They are improving, but we need to improve more. It is now safer to cycle here than it was. Motor vehicle drivers are more courteous to cyclists, though not perfect. Now we need pedestrians and cyclists to move in a more orderly and predictable manner. Cyclists are improving, but too many cyclists still ride against the direction of traffic. They think it's OK. Some think it's the proper way. Others know it's not right but do it anyway. I hope things continue. Our new mayor starts in January.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Chain maintenance

Keep your chain clean and lubricated, especially if your bike has derailleurs.

There are two reasons to lube a chain: to make pedaling easier and to preserve the life of the chain. There are various approaches, and there is no perfect way to do it. I use a simple technique. Lean the bike upright (or have someone hold it up, or suspend it on a bike work stand). Make sure that the pedals have enough room to spin the cranks. Sit or stand in front of the right (drive-side) of the bike. Turn the cranks backwards with your right hand and squirt oil in a continuous stream on the chain with your left hand as the chain passes by your left hand. Do this for several turns of the crank. Then hold a rag in your left hand and wrap it around the chain. Grasp the chain in the rag firmly enough that you'll be wiping the chain but loosely enough to let the chain slide through the grasp. Again, do several turns with the crank. Turn the rag to a clean spot and wipe again. Repeat this until the dirt spot created on the rag becomes a bit cleaner. This can take five turns of the rag or so. If the chain is still dirty, start again with a new application of oil. This way, the oil is washing the dirt and grime. Wipe again, about five times. This whole process usually takes me less than a minute, sometimes two.

There are various types of oil, each with its advantages. The thinner it is, the more frequently you have to use it. Some oils attract more dirt than others. Sometimes I use oil that bike shops sell, because it's handy, but generally, I prefer automatic transmission fluid, available at an auto parts store. It's inexpensive and does a very good job. Lately, I've been using chainsaw oil, because it is thicker (more viscous) and therefore requires less frequent application. I use a squeeze bottle with a very thin nozzle so I can apply small amounts at a time.

I could spend more time on it to get more dirt out, and doing so would preserve the life of the chain. Some would argue that I'm pushing dirt into the tiny invisible places where it counts the most. They could be right. But I replace my chains frequently. Some would call it prematurely. I don't enjoy cleaning chains, so my approach, while arguably wasteful, is gentle on my bike. A worn chain will wear the sprockets, which are much more expensive than the chain. If my chain shows the slightest sign of elongation, I replace it.

And since I replace chains frequently, I don't need to buy expensive chains. I've been happy with KMC chains, which are the least expensive of the good chains. I've occasionally bought SRAM or Shimano chains on sale, but only because the price is good. If KMC chains are not as durable as other brands, I substitute quality with vigilant replacement. Since I am preserving my sprockets this way, and since I keep it clean enough to reduce friction, this plan works for me.

If you prefer to buy expensive chains and go through the trouble to soak them in solvent to remove every bit of grit, that's fine, too. My days of soaking and scrubbing are done.

Saddle comfort

Some who are new to cycling or who are returning to cycling report various kinds of discomfort, especially on their saddles. Often, they believe the saddle is wrong, when the real problem to solve is fit and position on the bike.

When you experience genital numbness, it is an urgent problem. Seek an expert in bike fit, which is the art of determining if your position on your bike. Many bike shops have such an expert. If you can't find one there, find an experienced cyclist who can help. This is a serious matter, and you should not stop seeking expert advice until you solve it. Do not continue to ride without seeking help.

Some expect that padded shorts will solve their problem. Padded shorts are misguided. Customers saw the old chamois and thought the intention was padding. The sewn in crotch was for absorption and wicking, not padding. When the makers switched to synthetic, it was necessary to use more material, which made it thicker. Now bike shorts feel like diapers. If you like that, it's fine, but it can cause as any problems as it solves. It really should be possible to ride your bike without all that padding, even if you use the padding from time to time. If you rely on your shorts to be comfortable, your bike does not fit you properly!

Another problem for men is achy testicles. For a while, I was getting achy testicles a day after my ride. It took me a while to correlate the pain with the riding, since I wasn't feeling pain on the bike. It turned out that my saddle was too padded. It put pressure on my perineum, but the padding hid that fact. Like some other riders, I discovered that a harder saddle can actually help and that soft saddles often cause problems. Soft saddles avoid the problems. Hard saddles make you confront the problems of fit and position. I don't mean it should be as hard as a rock, and it's hard to say how hard is acceptable and how soft is bad. Generally, as you gain experience in the saddle, you want your saddle harder. A friend of mine suffered from numbness, and a sports doctor recommended 
a harder saddle for him, and that turned out to be the solution for him.

If the discomfort is in the tiny muscles around your two sit bones, that's a good thing. That soreness goes away after about three rides if you do them within a week. That's the only kind of soreness worth toughing out. I get this occasionally, especially after a long break from riding or after I increase my riding frequency.

Bike fit is another topic. It involves adjustments to your position. There are many parameters:

  • fore-aft position of foot on pedal
  • angle of foot on pedal
  • fore-aft position of saddle on bike
  • angle (tilt) of saddle on bike
  • height of saddle
  • shape of saddle (each person's anatomy requires a different shape)
  • fore-aft position of handlebar
  • height of handlebar
  • width of handlebar
  • hand position on handlebar

Sometimes subtle changes in these parameters make big difference in comfort, fatigue, and efficiency. Also, each parameter is related to others, so sometimes adjusting one will require an adjustment in another. A subtle fact is that you may think you need to adjust one thing but sometimes you will be misled and adjust the wrong thing. This is why you sometimes need the expertise of someone (or some people) with expertise. Seek help in person, but start by finding some articles on the web or in print. There is a lot of literature on the subject.