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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Do You Have That Purple One in a 57?

A recreational cyclist friend asked me for a quick way to gauge if a bike frame is the right size.  Few topics provoke more debate amongst cyclists than how to determine the correct bike fit.  A Google search for “bike fit” generated about 73,900,000 results.  Almost seventy four million items devoted to comfort and efficiency while riding a bicycle!

There seems to be a direct correlation between how serious cyclists are about their riding and the complexity of their bike fit process.  At the complex end of the spectrum are tools like goniometers, forefoot measuring devices and plumb bobs, and a variety of systems that include complete bike fitting rigs and 3D motion capture.  I would have been very happy to know just the following basics when I bought my Trek hybrid.

There are two related things to consider.  The first is the size of the bike’s frame.  The second is to get the five connection points between you and your bike:  pelvis, hands and feet, in the ideal places.

Photo courtesy of bikerowave.org

Having the correct size frame is a good start, although it is not essential to getting a reasonable bike fit.  Witness my too-small hybrid bike that Daniel M. adjusted to fit me quite well.  The simplest measure of a bike frame is the standover height.  For road, mountain and hybrid bikes just step over the top tube (the usually horizontal tube that runs from the seat to the handlebars) and stand with both feet flat on the ground.  Ideally you want 2.5 cm / 1 in clearance between your body and the top tube for a road bike.  If you have a hybrid or mountain bike expect to have 5 cm / 2 in of clearance.  If your road bike has a sloping top tube you will have a clearance similar to that of a hybrid bike.  If the top tube touches your body the frame is too big.  Conversely if you have more than 5 cm / 2 in clearance the frame is too small.

You can also use your height to determine the correct frame size for you.  There are many bicycle sizing tables available online to help you translate height into frame sizes.  For example I am 180 cm / 5’11” tall.  That translates to a large hybrid bike frame size of of 55 or 57 cm and a large road bike frame size of 56 cm, 57 cm or 58 cm.  The mountain bike frame size for my height is a large frame of either 19 in or 20 in.  Why are mountain bike frames measured in inches while road bike frames are measured in centimeters?  Apparently because mountain bikes were invented in America where imperial units still rule.  Road bikes have more of a European heritage, hence the metric units.

Note that a slightly too-small frame is preferable to one that is too big.  Adjustments can be made to the five connection points – see below – to make a too-small frame fit reasonably well.  This cannot be done with a too-big frame.

The second step is to adjust the saddle and handlebars so that you are comfortable on the bike and can pedal it efficiently.  Again you can get very technical about, for example, saddle position.  I would again suggest a more basic approach for the casual cyclist.

Here are some simple steps to set a saddle height that is comfortable and allows you to pedal efficiently.  Turn the pedals backwards until the cranks are vertical with one pedal at it highest point (12 o’clock) and the other at its lowest point (6 o’clock).  Ask someone to hold the bike while you sit on the saddle.  Keep your pelvis level, so no tilting one hip higher than the other.  Hang your leg free on the side where the pedal is at its lowest point (6 o’clock).  Your heel should just touch that pedal.

If this is not the case adjust the saddle height until your heel just touches the pedal as described above.  For most people this provides a saddle height that gives a slight bend in the knee (see picture above) when you move the ball of your foot to the center of the pedal.  Your legs should not straighten out completely at the bottom of the pedal stroke and your hips should not rock from side to side while you are riding.  Note that setting your saddle height this way means that you will not be able to remain seated and easily touch the ground with your feet when you come to a stop.  You should always dismount when you come to a stop.

As for the tilt of the saddle, generally speaking level is best.  However you may feel more comfortable with a slightly downward or slightly upward tilt.  Ride with what feels best to you.

Once you have set your saddle height you can check if you can comfortably reach your handlebars.  Again ask someone to hold the bike while you sit in the saddle.  You should be able to easily reach the brakes and gear shifters.  You should be able to rest your hands lightly on the handlebars.  Your back and neck should be at a comfortable angle.  If you have to lean forward and lock your elbows to reach the handlebars then the handlebars are too low and / or the stem is too long.  The stem is the component that connects the handlebars to the front fork of the bike.  Unfortunately raising handlebars and changing stems is a job for a bicycle shop.

This is just about the full extent of my bike fitting knowledge.  But have no fear.  Seventy four million hits are just a Google search away.

Reality Bites

Reality Bites is a 1994 film about the tough transition from the idyllic and unreal world of college to the harsh world of everyday life.  The film is set in Houston.  Coincidentally the city where I had my own “Reality Bites” moments as a cyclist.

After a few months of riding around downtown Houston I decided I needed some padded biking shorts.  After all I was putting in the miles; a hefty ten at a time mind you.  I was starting to feel the inadequacies of cycling in gym shorts.  A Google search gave me a link to West End Bicycles.  I liked what I read and saw on the website so one Saturday I rode to the shop.

Photo courtesy of West End Bicycles

As soon as I walked in Blaine G. asked if I needed any help.  Blaine is second from the right in the photo above.  tHe must have seen “Neophyte” in capital letters across my forehead.  After a lengthy chat and some recommendation from Blaine I came away with two pairs of Endura Singletrack shorts and liners.  The Lycra aesthetic was not for me.  Not then anyway.

More importantly I met Daniel M. who is the owner and is a very nice man.  He is standing on the far left above.  As we chatted Daniel gave me the once over and then looked at my bike.  “Your bike is too small for you” he said.  I blinked bemusedly a few times in response.  I hadn’t given the size of my bike a single thought since I bought it.  So while my new shorts played a part in making my riding more comfortable, the major improvement came from having the saddle raised by a good twenty centimetres and from adding bar ends to my handle bars.

My ride home from the bike shop marked transition number one.  It was my first ride on a bike that fit me reasonably well.  Transition number two was to come in a few days.  While adjusting my bike Daniel told me about the Tuesday and Thursday evening rides that start outside the shop.  He suggested that I send an email to Alisa K, a regular on the rides who could give me some more information.  Which I duly did.  Alicia quickly replied with information as promised.

So it was that I rolled up to the shop on the following Tuesday evening on my hybrid bike, resplendent in my new baggy shorts.  To be greeted by thirty or so people, each astride a road bike and many sporting matching custom jerseys.  I divined who Alisa was and introduced myself.  Right away she made me feel welcome and made introductions.  It was many moons later when she revealed that she had taken one look at me in my t-shirt, shorts and tennis shoes, and at my bike that evening and thought to herself “This is not going to go well.”  She is a perceptive one, that Alisa.

“Two minutes!”  Juan R. barked out the signal that our departure was imminent.  Immediately the clicking of cleats into pedals arose all around me.  I positioned myself toward the back of the group and silently placed one foot on a platform pedal.  The group started to roll down Blossom Street and across Durham Drive and Shepherd Drive.  The pace picked up as we approached the left turn onto Jackson Hill Street.  I was pleased that I was able to stay with the group.  Famous last words.

Everyone seemed to bolt down Washington Avenue.  I caught up to the group at the red light at Heights Boulevard.  The group surged away from me as soon as the light turned green.  And they did it so effortlessly too.  The gap between us closed again at the next red light at Studemont Street.  I could see this was going to be the recurring theme of the evening.

An evening which didn’t last much longer.  A few minutes later everyone else was so far ahead of me that I didn’t see them make the right turn onto Fannin Street.  I found myself at a dead end and facing Minute Maid Park.  I didn’t know the route so the only option was to ride home.  Wondering to myself if I would ever be able to ride at the pace I had just witnessed.

R R Go Away, Come Again Another Day

The weather had looked threatening all afternoon.  The heavens finally opened in spectacular fashion at 6.30pm.  Thunder, lightning, and lots of water.  This was the view from our hotel room at 7.00pm.  Droplets still running down the window, but the main show was over.

Emails about the weather were a common feature of ride days in Houston.  A number of online weather sites were consulted.  Screen shots of radar images went out.  Six Thirty riders looked out of their office windows and reported about the state of the roads along the ride route.  If the roads were going to be wet at 6.30pm the ride would be canceled.  The Six Thirty group never rode in the wet if it could be avoided.  I remember just one occasion where we got caught in a deluge about halfway through the ride.  Somewhere in the vicinity of the old Masonic Lodge on the corner of Brompton Road and North Braeswood Boulevard.  Whatever the weather there was one constant.  The words “rain” and “wind” were never used.  It was always just R and W.  One of those cyclists’ superstitions.  Which I will disregard for the rest of this post.

The weather featured large in Den Haag too.  Saturday morning Not Possibles rides and all other rides were preceded by a look at various weather forecasts.  The concern was less about the rain though.  It rains much less in Den Haag – 25 cm / 10 in annually than in Houston at 122 cm / 48 in per year.  Plus everyone in the Netherlands seems to be very comfortable with riding in the wet.  We often rode on wet bike paths and in the rain.  A waterproof jacket and SKS Raceblade Long fenders were essential items.

For The Not Possibles it was more about the direction of the wind.  The average windspeed in Den Haag is 28.6 kph / 17.8 mph compared to 13.3 kph / 8.3 mph in Houston.  The decision to be made prior to the start of every ride was which way to head out so that there would be a tail wind on the return leg.  The wind in Den Haag is a fickle beast though.  We had many rides where the wind seemed to be in our faces no matter which heading we were on.  On some particularly windy days we chose to sail along with the wind, spinning at an effortless 50 kph for an hour or more.  Then we would ride the train back home.

The amount of rain in Kuala Lumpur is double that in Houston.  We get 240 cm / 94.5 in a year here.  This evening’s downpour dumped a significant amount of water onto the streets.  Enough water for Albert K to call at 7.15pm to say that the Racun Cycling Gang evening ride had been called off.  The fall during last week’s ride is still fresh in the memory.  That no doubt contributed to the decision to cancel this evening.  I shall have to get used to the R getting in the way of riding here.

It Started With a Loud Pop

And a crunch.  Those were the noises my right knee made as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tore.  Whatever self-preservation reflex existed in my brain, it didn’t extend to keeping my 50 year-old knees and I off the futsal court that lunchtime.  And so it was that I ended up in the capable hands of Dr. Chan Kin Yuen at the Gleneagles Hospital.  An initial manipulation of my knee and a follow-up MRI confirmed Dr. Chan’s diagnosis of a Grade III tear, where the ligament is completely ruptured.  To literally add insult to injury I had also torn the anterior and posterior menisci.

Imagine an empty space where the ACL is in the picture below and you have a good approximation of what the MRI of my knee looked like.

Illustration courtesy of uabsportsmedicine.com

Fast-forward eighteen months or so.  I will spare you the painful details.  Suffice to say that in that time Dr. Chan has rebuilt my knee.  The physiotherapists had restored my knee’s full range of motion.  Despite their best efforts I had moved to Houston with one leg significantly skinnier than the other.  I had lost a lot of upper leg muscle mass after months on crutches while my knee healed.  I needed regular exercise to build up the muscles again.  The limiting factor was that my knee hurt whenever I jogged or ran.

I don’t know what prompted the thought but one day I decided to buy a bicycle.  I did a bit of online research and decided that a hybrid bike was what I needed.  A comfort bike in other words.  More specifically a Trek 7.5 FX.  I went to Bike Barn and looked at what they had in stock.  I hardly knew anything at all about bicycles so my decision-making process was rudimentary at best.  The bike had good online reviews.  Bike Barn had one in my size (more on this to come!)  It felt okay as I rode it once around the parking lot.  I liked the colour.  While I was in the shop I did look at road bikes.  Trek Madones and various Specialized bikes.  I remember my eyes watering at the prices.  If only I knew then what I was getting myself into that day.

I rode home on one of these:

Photo courtesy of Viaciclante.com

My initial forays onto the streets of downtown Houston were exciting.  One of my favorite routes was the Columbia Tap Rail toTrail.  This was a paved trail that had been created along the path of a disused railroad route.  The trail runs through the campus of Texas Southern University and through the Third Ward to Brays Bayou.

Photo courtesy of Raj Mankad at offcite.org

I would come home exhilarated at the fact that I had managed to ride 16 kilometers in only an hour.  Sometimes I would ride along Brays Bayou to add a three or four more kilometres to my ride.  I was a cyclist!

A rude shock was to come.

“Toto, I Have a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore.” *

My last urban night ride was in Houston in April 2010.  The Six Thirty West End group still does a Tuesday evening and a Thursday evening ride through downtown Houston.  I can still hear Juan R’s “Two Minutes” call at 6.28pm.  And I can still taste the Tex-Mex at Jax Grill where we had regular post-Thursday ride meals.

I was delighted to hear that Van’s hosts urban night rides in KL.  They start at 9pm so lights are essential.  Of course when I was packing up my riding stuff in Den Haag I didn’t think I would need lights right away.  My Niterider MiNewt Mini and Planet Bike Super Flash are in the sea freight, not to be seen until November sometime.  So if I was going to ride on Tuesday evening I needed lights.  When I was at Van’s on Monday, creak hunting with YC, I bought a Cateye Rapid 5 tail light.  Raymond T at Van’s kindly lent me a headlamp.  Good to go!

The Racun Cycling Gang met at the Decanter restaurant on Jalan Setiabakti in Bukit Damansara at 8.45pm for a 9pm start.  We were a mixed group of nine riders.  As was the case with the Genting Sempah ride the majority were on folding bikes, although Wan A was on a rather tasty looking yellow Specialized  S Works Tarmac SL3.  We headed out onto quiet residential streets with YC following behind in a car.  The roads were still a bit damp from the afternoon rain.  And my bike was still creaking!

Those were the least of my concerns though.  Here is the elevation profile for the first twelve kilometres from my last ride in Den Haag:

Here is the elevation profile for the first twelve kilometers from the Tuesday night ride:

We weren’t even two kilometres into the ride and my heart rate was pushing 150 bpm.  Which is not far short of my maximum heart rate.  The rest of the ride was more of the same.  A series of  7% to 9% gradients packed fairly together.  Those low-geared folding bikes were starting to look good.

We were fortunate to have YC in a car following behind us.  At the 4km mark we were all descending at some speed.  I heard the unmistakeable sound of a bike hitting the pavement behind me.  The damp road surface, wet leaves and speed had brought down one of our group.  Fortunately he came away with only scrapes and bruises.  YC took our unlucky rider to get his road rash cleaned up.  The rest of us looked around for my headlight, which had fallen out of its handlebar mount at about the same time the accident happened behind me.  We found the batteries and the light, less the battery cover and lens cover.  The LED was still working so I stuck it back in its mount and rode on.

We made it safely up and down the rest of the climbs that made up this ride.  We regrouped at the Decanter, loaded our bikes into our cars and drove down to a roadside stall for a lime juice and cycling chat.  Which stretched to another lime juice and more chat.  And a third lime juice and yet more chat.  I’m not sure that “I was just out for a bike ride” worked as an excuse for why I got home at almost 1am.

* Title courtesy of The Wizard of Oz.

Creak (verb): To Make a Harsh, Grating Sound When Pressure or Weight is Applied

To quote the late, great Sheldon Brown:

Aside from the whoosh of the tires on the road, and the clicking of the freewheel, a bicycle should be silent.

I subjected YC to a continuous cacaphony as I rode beside him toward Genting Sempah.  A rasping noise accompanied each and every pedal stroke.  YC was the guy I called from the McDonald’s parking lot for directions to the meeting point for this, my maiden ride in KL.  More pertinently given the noise my drivetrain was making, he is also is the technical expert at Van’s Urban Bicycle Co.

We chatted about what the cause or causes could be.  In the back of my mind I worried that my bike had taken a hard knock during shipping.  We did what little diagnosing by eye was possible whilst spinning up a 6 degree slope.  My wheels looked true.  My chainrings weren’t bent.  There wasn’t any play in my cranks.  All the while the creaking seemed to get worse.  Perhaps the boost in volume was just in my mind but I was getting increasingly embarrassed by all the racket my bike was making.

I stopped and looked over my bike.  I had to at least give the impression that I was doing something about the noise.  I checked my chain ring bolts.  I loosened and retightened the quick release skewers on my wheels.  I gave my saddle a twist.  I ran through the gears.  I poked at my cleats.  Then I remounted my bike and grated the rest of the way up the hill.  At the top of the climb YC and I, hex wrenches in hand, made another attempt to find the source of the creak.  Unsuccessfully.

The next morning my bike was on the work stand at Van’s.  YC and I took the cranks off the bike, disassembled the chain rings and cleaned all the parts.  We checked the torque on the bottom bracket cups.  We put Loctite on the bolts when we reassembled the chain rings.  We reinstalled the cranks.  I went for a spin outside the shop.

My bike went back onto the work stand.  This time we removed the rear wheel and checked the hub for play.  We lubed the spoke heads where they exited the hub flange.  We checked the spoke tension.  We greased the dropouts and axle.  I went for another spin outside the shop.

There was an improvement.  However not enough to have impressed.  But was time for lunch.  Everything stops for lunch in Malaysia.  So with the hope that lubricant would continue to work its silencing way between the various parts on my bike, YC and I went to the cafeteria next door for a rice and curry feast.

Step One: Find the Meeting Point

The instructions for the Sunday morning ride with the Racun Cycling Gang seemed simple enough:

Meet at the McDonald’s – Middle Ring Road 2 @ 7.45am

I was familiar with the road if not that particular McDonald’s outlet.  I fired up the Tom Tom and selected my destination.  I pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot on the MRR2 at 7.40am, pleased that I was right on time.  I walked into the restaurant and looked around for anyone clad in stretchy fabrics.  The first warning bell rang in my head.  I was the only one sporting bib shorts.  Fortunately I wasn’t fluorescent as well.  I looked outside.  The second warning bell rang.  There were no bikes to be seen.

A hurried phone call revealed that there is more than one McDonald’s on that section of the MRR2.  I wasn’t on time after all.  But not to worry.  This was Malaysia; the land of the never-on-time,  and not the Netherlands; the land of the fastidiously punctual.  Ten minutes later I was amidst a group of new-found fellow Lycra-wearers.

I hadn’t hauled my bike out of the back of the car upon my arrival.  Which was a good thing as the ride didn’t start there.  We all piled back into our cars and drove for another six kilometers or so to Kampung Batu Dua Belas, Gombak.  That translates literally as Twelfth Mile Village, in Gombak.  Naturally enough the village is at mile 12 on the Gombak Road.  And it wasn’t renamed after the country went metric.

The Gombak road used to be part of the main route from KL up over the spine of the Malaysian peninsula and down again to towns and cities on the east coast.  It has been superseded by the Karak Highway.  Which means that there is now hardly any motorised traffic on the old road.  Bicycles were another matter entirely.  I hadn’t expected so many and such a variety of bikes on the road.  I saw between eighty and one hundred cyclists during my ride that morning.

We found parking spots and got our bikes ready.  Three of us had road bikes; I had my purple steel bike, but the rest of the guys in the group pulled folding bikes out of their cars.  I quickly learned that folding bikes are very popular here.  At least for the distance we planned to ride that morning.  Which was about sixteen kilometers – straight up.  I did say that the road goes up over the spine of the peninsula.  Here’s the route:

Genting Sempah

We regrouped at the top of the climb to catch our breath, and in my case to also wipe the sweat out of my eyes and off my face.  Here are some of the Racun Cycling Gang:

Christine D saw this photo and sent me the following sweat control advice – which I definitely needed:

Using unflavored, uncoloured (no mint!) lip balm, draw a line on your skin, above your eyebrow, extending down past the side of your eye, to make a “hydro barrier” – do this over each eye. don’t put it on too thick or smear it. this channels the sweat away from your eyes.

Here’s some of the competition we had for the shade at the top of the climb.

Once our pulse rates stopped hammering in our ears we rolled down the other side of this slope to the McDonald’s that is a rest stop on the Karak Highway for coffee and Cokes.  Then it was a sharp one kilometer climb back up to the point in the photo above, followed by a long sweeping descent back to our cars.

What a fabulous first ride!  The road runs through the rain forest that covers much of the country.  So while it was rabbits, ducks and geese on the bike paths in Den Haag, here I had to watch out for monkeys on the road, in this case long-tailed macaques.  The road surface is generally very good and there was very little traffic to contend with.  On my way down I passed perhaps three cars coming the other way, all driven by learner-drivers with instructors at their sides.  Presumably practicing hill stops and starts.  So I was able to descend with some speed.

The only niggle in my morning was a creak that developed at the start of the climb.  All creaks seem to emanate from the bottom bracket, but I am fairly sure that wasn’t the source.  A bit of a mystery to solve in the next few days.