Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

23 May 2016

OTEC Will Keep You Going In Circles, But Not In The Way You Expected

Back when I was racing--and even when I wanted to stay in (or pretend that I was) in the same kind of shape I was when I was racing--one of the goals of training could be summed up in three letters:  RPM.

In other words, we believed that spinning at the highest cadences possible would make us go our fastest.  That meant riding, at least at first, in a lower gear and working up to higher gears.  The one who could spin the highest gear would win the race.

Now, of course, nobody is going to turn cranks with a 54X11 gear (which I actually had on my road bike for a time) at the same rate as, say, a 42X15.  But all of the trainers and training manuals told us that it was better to do 120 rpms on the latter (or a higher gear later in the season) than to mash the former.  If nothing else, it gives you a better cardio workout and is easier on your knees.

Apparently, there are some folks who don't agree.  Ever since the invention of the "safety" bicycle (two wheels of more or less equal size driven by sprockets and a chain), someone or another has tried to "improve" on circular pedaling motion.  Examples of such endeavors include the oval and elliptical chainrings that seem to reappear in one form or another every generation or so. Shimano's Biopace is probably the most famous example; currently Osymetric rings have a following among some members of the peloton.  There have been all sorts of other ways to make pedaling more efficient by eliminating the "dead" spots so that power is transferred all through the arc of pedaling.

Just recently, I came across something I saw in the bike magazines some years ago but never actually saw in person.  It seemed like one of the most bizarre, Rube Goldberg-ian contraptions I'd ever seen on a bicycle.  But, apparently, the idea has stuck around:  The organization that patented it in 2007 was founded in 1998.

At the risk of offending anyone with any sense of political correctness, I will say that the idea is so high-tech and so complex (complicated?) that it could have come from one of only two countries:  France or Japan.   

If you chose the Land of the Rising Sun, enjoy your sake.  OTEC, the company that patented and produces the SDV system, says "The direction of a motion of a pedal in its power phase is designed to coincide with the direction in which the rider can most easily apply force on the pedal while stretching his or her legs."  The result is that its geometry  "makes riders use larger muscles, resulting in lower cadences than expected".  

That is exactly the opposite of what we were all trying to achieve all of those years!  But, in looking at it in motion, I can see how it would make sense for, say, someone like a climber or, perhaps, an individual time trialist.  It also seems to me that it also might be better suited to a recumbent bike, on which the rider pedals from behind, than on a diamond frame, on which the cyclist pedals from above.

I am curious enough to try an OTEC if given the opportunity.  What differences, if any, would I notice in my pedal stroke or my ride?

22 May 2016

My Real Motivation (!)

You've probably heard, by now, about the "bathroom bill" passed in North Carolina.  In essence, it says that people have to use public bathrooms in accordance with the gender indicated on their birth certificates.

Since this a blog about cycling (well, mostly), I'm not going to get into what the law means for transgenders, or people in general.  I am fortunate, I guess, in that it's been a long time since I've been hassled about being in the "wrong" bathroom.  One thing I wonder, though, is whether or not I need to carry a copy of my birth certificate with me if I ever have to change flights in Charlotte, or go to the Tar Heel State for any other reason. In case you're wondering:  Yes, my birth certificate says I'm female.

Anyway, in fairness, I'll point out that North Carolina isn't the only jurisdiction that has such a regulation, whether in the letter of the law or in effect.  The probable reason why the law has made gotten so much publicity is that the state legislature voted for it, and the governor signed it, the day after the city of Charlotte passed its own law saying that LGBT people would be protected in "public accomodations", including bathrooms. 

Also, this is a Presidential election year and although North Carolina voted for Mitt Romney four years ago and for every Republican candidate since 1980--with one exception--the margins of victory have been slim.  (That exception came in 2008, when Barack Obama took the state from John McCain.)  Also, there are pockets of the state, such as the "Research Triangle" and much of Charlotte, where Democratic support is almost as strong as it is in most Northeastern states and coastal metropoli.

But about the bathrooms:  I hope that no place where I cycle will ever pass its version of a "bathroom bill", and that no ride organizer will institute such a rule.  After all, organized bike rides are among the few arenae in which the lines for the women's rooms are actually shorter than those for the men's rooms.  

Now you know the real reason why I "changed" my gender! ;-)


21 May 2016

The Long And Short Of Women's Bikes: Terry

Smaller and cuter, preferably in pink.

I can remember when that was a pretty fair summation of bicycles and other sports equipment made for women.  It was assumed that girls wouldn't pedal, swim, run, climb or whatever as hard or as long as men did--and, most likely, would do so in the (possibly grudging) company of a husband, boyfriend or other male in her life.   Thus, she wanted to look good, or at least cute, by his side--or so the thinking of manufacturers and marketers seemed to be.  

Most bike manufacturers offered "ladies'" versions of one or two models in their lineups.  At first glance, they seemed the same as their men's counterparts, except for the dropped top tube on the frame.  This makes a "ladies'" bike less stiff and stable than its male peer, though how much less is a matter of debate.

1898 Cygnet "Swan" 

Anyway, some bike makers seemed to use this trait as an excuse for making sluggish machines with imprecise handling.  Granted, a bike with less torsional stiffness will not respond as quickly or efficiently to a rider's pedal strokes.  Still, there have been any number of diamond-frame (a.k.a. "men's") bikes with relatively slack angles and long wheelbases that nonetheless offered a sprightly ride.  So, it seemed disingenous--at least to me--to, in essence, say that someone who buys a women's bike shouldn't expect much.

Mind you, for most of my life I wasn't interested in having a really nice women's bike.  I did own a couple of inexpensive women's bikes that I got for little or nothing and  used as commuters and "beaters".  But on such bikes, which I didn't ride long distances, I wasn't as concerened with performance as I was on my "good" bikes.  If it fit well enough (which wasn't always to say "well"), or could be made to do so for little or no money, I was happy.

Perhaps it was working in bike shops and for American Youth Hostels, and thus having the opportunity to meet discerning female riders and try a number of bikes, that made me aware of what I've described.  Also, even though I was of average height for a male (which makes me taller than 90% of other women), I have a few abnormalities, namely somewhat longer-than-average legs and considerably shorter-than-average arms for a man (or even a woman) of my height.  

So, while I had little trouble finding a bike that was the "right" size (i.e., height or seat tube length) for me, it wasn't until I got a custom frame that I would ride something that truly fit me.  For years, I rode bikes with 55 or 56 cm (depending on whether they were measured center-to-center or center-to-top) seat tubes--and top tubes of the same length, or longer.  That meant riding stems with short extensions--sometimes as little as 8 cm--which made racing bikes handle (at least for me) like shopping carts.

Even though I had a harder time than most other men I knew in obtaining a good fit, I knew the situation was much worse for most women, a few of whom I rode with. For example, Tammy, who was about 8 cm (a little more than three inches) taller than me, had shorter arms and smaller hands than mine!

During the past couple of decades, various bike companies have tried equally varying methods of tailoring their offerings to women, particularly those who are more petite than the likes of Tammy or me.  Some tweak their geometries to make shorter top tubes; others have tried varying the shapes of both traditional diamond as well as mixte and step-through frames to accomodate the proportions of smaller women.  A few have even offered bikes with smaller wheels.  For extremely small women (and men) this could make sense; after all, it's hard to build a bike with 700 C wheels on which someone who's less than five feet tall can clear the frame while standing.

Perhaps one of the most interesting solutions was tried by one of the first bike-makers to really try to re-configure women's bikes.  From about thirty to about twenty years ago, I would see one of those bikes--usually ridden by someone on a club ride--during one of my weekend road rides.    You've probably seen at least one:

Terry road bicycle, circa 1990

From 1985 until 1994, Terry Bicycles offered road bikes with 700C rear and 24 inch front wheels.  Their quality was actually quite good:  During the first few years they were made in Japan.  I am guessing that Panasonic or Bridgestone made them, as their lugwork and finishes, as well as other details, looked much like those of bikes from those companies, or companies (like Schwinn and Bianchi) that had bikes made for them by those companies.  Likewise, the details on later models, which were made in Taiwan, lead me to believe they were made by Giant, who also made bikes for Schwinn and other companies.

I have never tried one of those Terry bikes with the small front wheels.  The accounts I heard about them varied:  Some women said that their Terrys were the first bikes that felt "right" to them, while others thought the bikes' handling was "weird" or unresponsive.  There were claims--which I suspect were exaggerated-- that the front wheel slowed the bike down, as was the inconvenience of having to carry more than one spare inner tube on a ride (or tire on a long tour).

In time, I saw fewer and fewer of those early Terry bikes.  Ironically, one of the last people I saw riding one was a man:  a very short (for a man, anyway) Latino.  These days, those bikes can be found relatively inexpensively on eBay and in other venues.