Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"tried & liked": the obligatory annual review of bike stuff

Taking a cue from fellow blogger Jason I decided to compile my annual "tried and liked" list of bike stuff for 2010. Problem was, there wasn't a whole lot of new stuff that was worth trying in the first place. That said, here's a fumbling, stumbling and doubtless incomplete list:

1. MUSA "Splats" from Rivendell Bicycle Works. A waxed cotton canvas shoe cover designed for folks who ride with flat pedals, this is a shoe cover that actually works pretty well. Is it watertight and impermeable? No. Designed in California by Californians, this shoe cover just covers your shoe and not much more. It's not a bootie, so it doesn't cover your ankles and won't keep water from running off your rainpants into your socks. That said, it works more than well enough for all but the most downpouring commutes, and I use it almost anytime I'm riding a flat-pedaled bike in the rain.

Like many clothing items from Rivendell it is klunky-looking and tries a little too hard to be charmingly rumpled in an Orvis/Filson/Duluth Bag sort of way that it doesn't quite achieve. Still, it does work well enough for the sub-$30 price tag that I would recommend it to friends.

2. BMX flat pedals are winding up on more and more of my bikes, and before 2011 is over every bike may make the transition away from toe clips and straps for good. Any flat pedal that uses traction pins (ideally the replaceable kind) is great for commuting, touring, even racing (yes, I've raced on BMX pedals since I started up in 2009, with no regrets). Pedaling "free", as some like to call it, allows your ankle to wobble and rotate elliptically (as many do) instead of being forced into a position that is inflexible and which could cause more harm than good. Flat pedals are what we all rode when we were kids, and as far as I know I've never heard of an injury caused by using them. (The number of injuries caused by improper use of clipless pedals, OTOH, could fill a book.)

3. Upright handlebars. These are now on every bike in the stable except the original Rivvy. And there's a reason for this: they're comfortable. Uprights aren't a new thing for me, but realizing that they may become my only option on a bicycle is. The original Rivvy's top tube has grown longer for me as my spine has compressed and I've grown shorter in the torso [with age]. As a result, I fear that NO drop handle bar will work for me on this bike anymore. I am trying one more stem option; if that doesn't work I will have to consider either moustache bars, uprights, or moving this frame along to someone who will fit it better. I could keep this bike and ride it in discomfort, if only to reconnect with my Breaking Away road bike fantasies.

(I admit I have these fantasies. Many riders do. Mine are a direct result of having seen this movie when it was released in 1979 and I was a high school sophomore. Went home from the movie theater, broke open the piggybank, mowed a bunch of lawns, picked strawberries at Ouchida Farms, babysat dozens of the neighbors' evil spawn and saved up all summer for upgraded alloy wheels, new brake pads, cloth bar tape, and some of those uber-cool crocheted cycling gloves. I stopped dreaming of getting a drivers' license and never looked back. For all of that, Breaking Away is, for me, the best cycling movie of all time.)

Such fantasies are, for many bicyclists, part of what influences us to keep riding drop bars long after they make sense for our particular bodies. Lots of folks can ride drops forever, and that's great; but the truth is that past a certain point in our lives, some of us really can't anymore. And that's okay. Because in the end it is all about being comfortable. If you cannot be comfortable on your bike you won't ride it. That would be tragic. So rather than live in an uncomfortable state of denial I am opting to try and make my bike more comfortable. If I can't, I'll probably have to find a new home for it.

As a result of the conclusions I've come to, I find that there are relatively few new and exciting things I tried this year. Like Jason, much of what I rely on is tried-and-true, the stuff that's been around for a long time because it has always worked reliably. So perhaps this will be my last "Tried-and-Liked" listing for some time. It seems I may become destined to shop less and ride more, not a bad thing at all.

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