Archive for the Bike Snob NYC Category


09/25/2021 0:02

Mere words cannot convey the many delights of cycling in and around New York City. Even when supplemented by photographs, any attempts to convey the wondrous nature of these environs as experienced via bicycle falls short, like a crumpled-up Post-it® Note [NYSE: MMM181.53 USD −0.025 (0.014%) today] impotently hurled towards a distant wastepaper basket. Granted, the reason for this is that I don’t make the pictures and words good; nevertheless, as another week comes to an end I sit here agog, slobbering stupidly upon myself as I reflect upon the splendors I’ve experienced.

Consider for example the thrill of approaching Manhattan from the Bronx via the High Bridge, a pointy water tower thingy standing sentinel upon high ground once held by General George Washington and his army of patriots, or something*:

*[Note to intern: look up some cool history shit to put in here.]

Or, should you choose instead to turn tail and flee northward, as the revolutionaries were forced to do, you can vanish into the forbidding Trails Behind The Mall, less than an hour’s leisurely pedaling from the New York City line:

Granted, to fully appreciate the richness of cycling in this region, it helps not to be unduly constrained by traditional employment. Certainly not everybody can scamper off into the woods whenever it suits them–let alone in exquisite hand-drawn clown shoes curated by fellow bike bums:

I’ve noticed that, when wearing these, people addressing me speak more slowly and take greater pains to enunciate, similar to when Kramer wore those jumping shoes:

What I’ve also noticed is that years of clipless pedal use have completely destroyed my ability to handle a bike with flat pedals on challenging terrain, particularly when climbing. On this occasion I rode some of the more technical sections of trail, and when presented with a rocky incline I noticed my feet would immediately creep forward on the pedals, literally putting me back on my heels when most I needed to shift my weight forward. So I’d try to slide my feet back into position, only for the insane shin-gouging set screws to prevent me from doing so–but where were they when my feet were sliding forward in the first place, huh!?!

All of this wold suggest that I should just stick to clipless for “real” mountain biking, but having dedicated my life to relentless self-improvement I’ve concluded that what I really need to do is learn how to ride a bike again.

Fortunately, my clown shoes prevented me from taking any of this too seriously. They also made me feel like I was a character in a video game, which was further enhanced by the presence of giant Nintendo-esque fungi:

The shoes really do go well with mushrooms:

Speaking of mushrooms, I felt like I was on them during my road ride yesterday. There I was on the South County Trailway, a pleasant (if somewhat boring) multi-use path that runs along what was once a railway line. The South County is mostly flat, and it’s paved for its entire length, which is what makes it so boring–though incredibly a section of it has magically turned into Instagram-worthy gravel!

At first I was delighted, but then I began to panic. I was on a road bike! How would I survive?!? So I dismounted, lay face down on the gravel, and crawled along it like they tell you to do when you’re on thin ice. Eventually I reached one of those public work stations, where I hung my bike safely out of reach and called 911:

By the way, not only was there a public work stand, but there was also this dystopian workout cage that looks like something they’d use to torture John Hurt in the movie version of “1984:”

It also has a “screen” that tells you what to do, like some sort of analog Peloton:

As I stood in there, I became overwhelmed by the sensation that I was trapped in a metaphor for life in the 21st century. Just look at that poor figure, ostensibly “exercising” but in fact straining vainly to free itself like a lab rat in the shadow of an approaching hypodermic. Horrifying.

Somehow I found the courage to press on, eventually reaching the bucolic area where, if you squint hard enough, you can pretend you’re in Vermont or something:

I then availed myself of a portable restroom:

And when the door slammed shut I was confronted with this message:

Here’s the Wikipedia entry for Extinction Rebellion:

Citing inspiration from grassroots movements such as Occupy, the suffragettes,[12] and the civil rights movement,[12] Extinction Rebellion wants to rally support worldwide around a common sense of urgency to tackle climate breakdown[12][13] and the ongoing sixth mass extinction.[14] A number of activists in the movement accept arrest and imprisonment,[15] similar to the mass arrest tactics of the Committee of 100 in 1961.

And some of them vandalize porta-potties in Westchester while they’re taking a dump.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m not one of those people who lies awake at night worrying about the fate of the planet. But it’s incredible to consider that there are people who are convinced we’re on the brink of doom, and this is what they’re doing about it…scribbling in pink paint-pen on plastic shit-boxes.

It’s not often you find yourself trapped in two claustrophobia-inducing metaphors in the same day!

On the way back, I stopped for a fending machine snack at the Tappan Zee Mario Cuomo Bridge landing:

Where I admired the manner in which the fashionably rusted design elements complemented my patinaed head badge:

Then, a little later, I noticed this plaza-in-progress:

Hudson Valley: Land Of Cool History Shit.

Categories:Bike Snob NYC

Going Electric: Checking Out The New E-Bikes From Specialized

09/23/2021 0:02

Awhile back a PR company representing Specialized invited me to the following event, which I’m only writing about now because it was under embargo until yesterday:

I don’t have to tell you that, when it comes to the bike industry at large, I’m pretty out of it:

And while I do happen to own a Specialized, it has little in common with any of their latest offerings:

Moreover, my experience with ebikes is pretty limited, consisting almost entirely of messing around with them at bike shows, and that one time I tried a Jump bike for the five minutes they were available in the Bronx. In fact, I haven’t even ridden an electric Citi Bike yet! So I figured I should take an opportunity to sample the state of the art in pedal-assist technology, since apparently they’re the future of the bike industry or something.

The event was in Brooklyn, because of course it was, and it took place in a space with perplexingly rustic signage in accordance with New York City gentrification zoning regulations:

Specialized say their ebikes are you, only faster, and I say my Platypus is me, only more pretentious:

Incidentally, “It’s you, only faster” is what Lance Armstrong used to remind himself when he hooked himself up to a fresh bloodbag.

After signing like 19 waivers, I made straight for the free booze, where I requested a glass of white wine from the attending physician:

In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes, I was absolutely wearing a merino jersey with “Tax The Rich” scrawled across it.

As I sipped, I perused the bikes and learned a little bit about them from the Specialized team:

As for you poor saps who don’t get to have stuff explained to you in person by bike industry big shots while you quaff free alcoholic beverages, you’ll just have to make do with this sign:

As everybody knows, and as the Specialized crew reminded me, and as I reminded them everybody knows already because they’re always bragging about it, Specialized has its own wind tunnel. I mean they even put Jeff Goldblum in it!

That’s how he wound up with all that fly DNA:

The reason they reminded me about their fancy wind tunnel was that, in addition to all that fancy Fred gear, they also use it to develop “regular” stuff. Here’s their new Mode helmet:

And here’s a sign about it:

Read it while drinking wine, and you’ll know how incredible it is to be me.

Not only that, but they’ve also got panniers that act as fairings:

Here’s why aerodynamics are important for ebikes:

The Tailwind aerodynamic panniers blend form with function, reducing drag and battery consumption by up to 6% when tested against competitors. Their low-bulk, clean-lined design delivers increased stability with a sleek aesthetic, creating a modern storage solution that lets you go further, faster, without compromising on what you carry.

I pay no attention to aerodynamics when riding around town on my Platypus, since all I’m squandering is calories I’ll replace with alcohol as soon as I get home. However, on an ebike it makes total sense you’d want to choose equipment that helps you get the most out of your battery, though we’ll just have to see if ebikes transform urban fashion the same way fixies did back in the aughts. If so, expect the return of the casual bodysuit:

Works with or without pants.

Specialized have various styles of “Turbo” ebikes. For example, in addition to the Vado type pictured above, there’s also the Tero, which is obviously a mountain bike but also has more practical features such as rack mounts and so forth so you can set it up for urban riding:

The bike I rode was a Como, which is more comfort-oriented than the Vado (and obviously the Tero), and that was just fine with me:

It comes with various derailleur and internal hub drivetrain options, including an AUTOMATiQ transmission:

Which is exactly what it sounds like:

The bike I rode most of the time had an internally geared hub, but I also tried the auto version, albeit briefly. It’s pretty damn cool. I realize I’m not supposed to say an automatic bicycle transmission is cool, but relax, we’re talking about transport bikes here. Nobody’s trying to make you put it on your road bike, okay? I’ve been in plenty of grocery-getting, child-hauling, phone-checking situations in which I’d be more than happy to let the bike shift for me. And yes, I do check my phone while I ride, what are you gonna do about it?

Before we headed out, they presented me with a helmet. “Oh, what the hell? When in Rome…,” I figured, and put it on. “You know, you can take the sticker off,” they suggested, but since 95% of consumers probably won’t I figured I wouldn’t either:

With that, we hit the mean streets of brownstone Brooklyn:

The Turbo bikes have various drive modes depending on how much assist you want and when you want it to kick in. Maybe you want to get the most out of your battery charge so you opt for the ECO setting…or maybe you want to put it in TURBO and blow the fucking doors off everyone:

[The number in the diamond, if I recall correctly, is your cadence. Also if I recall correctly, there’s red behind it because I’m not in the optimal cadence for maximum battery efficiency. But I may be getting that wrong, it’s been a few weeks.]

Actually, that’s a mischaracterization. Even in its most “aggressive” mode, the power comes on smooth, akin to a timely tailwind or one of those days when you’re on the road bike and everything just seems to come easy for some reason. (Though that’s also usually due to a tailwind.) The assist doesn’t necessarily make you want to go fast Just Because, but it does make it easy to ride at the speed of traffic (at least on a narrow urban side street), so on a busy street you’re inclined to ride more “vehicularly” for that reason. It certainly doesn’t make you aggressive or reckless, but it does make you more assured and less deferential. Please note when I say “you” I mean regular people; hardened riders such as myself fear no one regardless of what we’re riding, right? Right.

Here are the specs on the assist:

Speaking of drivers, see those dots on the left of the display?

[See? My cadence is in green now! Good dog!]

That’s the “Garmin Rear-Facing Radar,” and the dots indicate whether there’s a vehicle behind you. So this is the onboard computer telling me, “Iceman, there’s an SUV on your tail!”

Too bad it can’t also warn me that a raccoon has died on my face.

We continued on towards Prospect Park, diligently stopping for red lights, where I got to admire typically Brooklyn-esqe shoaling formations:

All that’s missing is a newly-minted Gravel Goober with flared bars and a handlebar bag, and a bakfiets full of children all wearing Nutcase helmets.

Arriving at the park, I immediately felt a kinship with my motorized brethren:

Though I was also easily able to attach myself to a Fred on the “hill” without undue exertion:

Again, it’s not that the Como makes you want to chase Freds around the park. It’s a comfortable, upright bicycle. What it does do is let you cruise around the park at a brisk 15mph while simultaneously holding a conversation:

Though obviously it’s a shame the full potential of my powerful, sculpted legs was going to waste:

In the e-bike era, “Wake up, legs!” is the new “Shut up, legs!”

As for the “feel” of the bike, it was comfortable, and it was stable. I found myself wondering if a bicycle that you can get up to over 20mph with minimal effort might create a dangerous situation for someone unaccustomed to traveling at such a speed, so I made sure to hit some rough pavement patches, potholes, and speed bumps at full speed, and in every case the bike felt perfectly composed. Of course whether its e-scooters, or electrified Citi Bikes, or what have you, there are always “concerned” people who predict mass carnage when the untrained masses gain access to them, and of course these concerns are largely unfounded. We’re not talking Hayabusa here–it’s just a bike you can ride for a long time without getting tired.

Upon our return to the storefront, I learned about the bike’s integrated security system:

They also showed me how to remove the battery, which you can take with you for charging if you need to store the bike somewhere such as a bike room:

Here it is:

To be perfectly honest, I can’t remember how much it costs to replace the battery, other than that it’s expensive. But it should last you quite a few years, and there are people out there spending a thousand buck for a smartphone anyway, so there you go.

Finally, I loaded up my basket with my freebies (yes, they gave me the helmet) and I headed home:

As I rode, I thought about the new Specialized e-bikes, and ebikes in general. Personally, for urban transport, I’m more than content with my analog Platypus and would not trade it for one of these. However, as I’ve addressed recently in other posts about electronic shifting and all the rest of it, I’m also a bike enthusiast (and by “enthusiast” I mean “weenie”) who prefers tactile stuff over tech, and who derives satisfaction from moving levers, bolting stuff together, rummaging around in my parts bin when something needs fixing and replacing, and even experiencing the perspiration and exertion that comes with operating a bike under your own power. I also have a relatively easy life, and don’t have to go to an office, or even shuttle the kids anymore, since they both get schoolbuses now.

Objectively, however, when riding around on these ebikes I felt the same way I did when I saw my first iPhone: this is the future. I don’t mean this in a “Mike Sinyard is a genius!” kind of way, and no doubt there are other e-bikes out there that would have evoked a similar response. No, what I mean is, a bike that pretty much anybody can ride comfortably and easily even over steep hills and long distances–while carrying stuff, and even kids–is clearly something that will be desirable to a lot of people. Simply put, bikes like this make doing bike stuff really easy–easier than it’s ever been in the history of the bicycle. The bike asks absolutely nothing of you. (Apart from charging it..and paying it for the first place, obvioiusly.) For those of us who thrive on the nuances of the bicycle that’s not a particularly attractive proposition, but for people who just want to get on and go I’d argue it’s a prerequisite. It’s comfy, it’s futuristic, it works with your phone, it’s got lights and all that stuff, and it’s easy to configure for practical use:

Of course, bikes like this aren’t cheap–it looks like they start at around $4,000, and of course the deluxe one with the automatic transmission is a lot more than that. (By way of comparison, the ebike headphone guy is riding in the park appears to go for around $2,000.) You’re also not going to store it on the street overnight, or carry it up four flights of stairs on a regular basis, so you’ll need to have somewhere to keep it.

At the same time, it’s worth noting how we’ve always got to apologize for bikes being “expensive.” We accept it to a degree from “sporting” bikes since those are optional lifestyle accessories, but we decry expensive utility bikes as prohibitive for regular people, even though a fully-optioned e-bike will still cost less than a new Chevy Spark–a car I weirdly want right now, though that’s a whole other topic. I can’t speak to the Specialized’s long-term durability, or the potential for obsolescence, but if you’ve got a need for it and a place to keep it I suspect you’d probably use the shit out of this bike, even if you do have a Chevy Spark. I love being the motor when I’m riding my bike, but I also schlepped my kids back and forth to preschool for years, and in that context I’d have been more than happy to surrender to an assist while still not having to worry about parking, and traffic, and parking, and all the other crap that comes along with owning a Chevy Spark. And if there’s one thing that’s true about Specialized, it’s that they know how to put together a clean package. The bike looks and feels great, and is clearly the result of thoughtful design.

We’re living through interesting times when it comes to transport, and my ride home reminded me of that:

As batteries and tech become increasingly pervasive, people are getting around in all kinds of ways:

Some stick with the tried-and-true approach:

While others are more…forward-looking:

As for me, I’m more of a traditionalist:

But I was grateful to be able to experience the other end of the velocipedal spectrum firsthand…and I even came away rather impressed.

Categories:Bike Snob NYC

Padding My Account

09/21/2021 0:02

Today I will be saying farewell to the father-son track bikes I received from Classic Cycle this past spring, for they are packed and ready for their long journey westward:

I always carefully document the unpacking of these bicycles so I remember how to put them back in the case when the time comes to return them to Bainbridge Island. This time it was especially crucial since it was a two-piece shipment and I never would have remembered what went where. Fortunately I had photos, so everything would up nice and tidy:

As a semi-professional bike blogger, packing up bicycles and bringing them to shipping centers is about as close as I get to doing actual work. However, you should not confuse my casual lifestyle with sloth; in fact, since I work on my bicycles in the basement right near where the washing machines are, I always maximize my productivity by putting in a few loads of laundry at the same time. This means that, while I’m a-wrenchin’, the soiled underwear’s a-tumblin’. Of course, it also means that by the time I take the clothes out of the dryer my hands are filthy and I have to wash everything all over again, but I pay myself by the hour so it all works out in the end.

While I eagerly await the next vintage bicycle from Classic Cycle for my delectation, these were particularly meaningful since they inspired me to enroll my son in the Star Track program at Kissena Velodrome, which has been absolutely fantastic. (You can donate to the program here, moneybags, they truly deserve it.) The return of these bikes in no way means his track-ventures are at an end; in fact, he officially began the fall session this past weekend. However, he’s already outgrown the Frejus in the short time he’s had it, so he’s using the program’s bikes until I get him one of these:

Just kidding:

Though I must say I do occasionally see people riding Cipollini bicycles, and I’m always amazed they’re able to do so with a straight face.

Once I’d packed up the bikes, I then moved on to my Jones, which was in need of new brake pads. First I locked the rear derailleur open with that little button everyone makes such a big deal about:

Then I removed the wheel and utilized a proprietary tool to extract the high-tech fastener that keeps the pads secure in the caliper:

I forget what you call it, but I understand it’s named after its inventor:

When prepping the Jones for my vacation, I noted the rear pads were getting worn, but I estimated that they’d at least last for the duration of the trip. It turns out I was right, but there wasn’t much left to work with:

A little more mud and I’d have heard metal on metal:

Naturally the fronts were in better shape:

If you’re confused about when to replace disc brake pads, here’s how it works. See, when you’ve got a turkey slice worth of pads left you’re fine:

But once you get down to prosciutto it’s time for replacement:

There are few concepts that can’t be explained with sliced meats–though when it comes gauging rotor wear, cheddar slices are a better indicator of minimum thickness:

Anyway, I changed both sets of pads, replacing them with organic ones:

Organic means they don’t have any hormones, and I got these at Whole Foods, the same place where I got my Reference Meats™. They also come in quite handy if you need to pumice your heels:

That’s a thick brake pad!

Once I finished installing the new pads, I discarded the rears, but I took some packing tape and made a little “blister pack” for the old front set:

Then I put it in my handlebar bag in case I run out of brake pads on my next vacation.

A few quick adjustments and my deli slicers were complete:

So I headed out for a short ride to bed in the cold cuts:

The brakes now feel terrific, despite being lowly Tektro mechanicals.

I must have done something wrong.

Categories:Bike Snob NYC

Great Shifters Of The Past Who Are Now Deceased

09/18/2021 0:02

Everybody knows the famous like from “Casablanca” that goes, “Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in:”

Wait, no, that wasn’t from “Casablanca.” I think it was from “Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult:”

Either way, I always think of that line whenever I ride a road bike. Basically I’ll spend a bunch of time riding around in jorts and sneakers, during which I’ll convince myself I’ll never ride a road bike again. But just when I think I’m out, I stuff myself back in…to a jersey made out of recycled water bottles:

I should probably admit to myself I need both a larger jersey and a haircut, but for the time being I prefer to bathe in the soothing schmaltz of denial.

Not only are road bikes relatively impractical, but there are few sights more pathetic than that of a middle-aged man astride one. Nevertheless, if your priority is bagging a bunch of miles efficiently, you can’t do much better than a road bike. In this sense, road bikes can be extremely liberating, like going to a Chinese restaurant and announcing to the table, “You know what? Fuck it, I’m just gonna use a fork.”

Also, I just really, really like this bike:

Now that we’re on the cusp of the demise of the high-performance mechanical road transmission, I find myself looking back at the groups of yore, and when it comes to integrated bike/shifter levers this one might be my favorite:

10-speed is about where I stop being able to notice the addition of any more cogs in a drivetrain. Moreover, you can shift a whole bunch of gears at once both up and down, theyclickety-clackety ker-THUNK of the action reminds you that you’re actually doing something, and somehow they manage to seem both modern and classic at the same time, thanks to the crabon and the aforementioned ker-THUNK-iness.

I will say that I’ve always found Shimano’s levers to be objectively better (both smoother and more tolerant of drivetrain wear and grime, which is important when you’re a slob like me), but few things are more satisfying than getting into the drops on a descent and dumping a bunch of cogs at once with your thumb, and the Record lever is the only one I want to look at when I’m not using it. In fact, if I ever retire this one, I’ll probably keep it on the coffee table and fondle it absent-mindedly while I watch TV. I wanted this iteration of Record very badly when it came out, then I got it–only to eventually sell it–so I’m glad to have had a second chance.

I also bloviated about brakes the other day, and I’ve always been similarly enchanted with these:

Also not quite as good as the Shimano equivalents (that quick-release lever on the Shimanos sure comes in handy, and it’s much easier to change the brake pads), but still excellent, and that single–pivot rear is a knowing wink that says, “Fuck safety and fuck clearance, it’s nine grams lighter:”

Never trust anyone with a clean rear brake.

Categories:Bike Snob NYC

End Of An Era

09/16/2021 0:03

Wow, so this is it, mechanical road shifting is basically over:

Shimano’s recent launch of its next-generation Dura-Ace Di2 R9200 and Ultegra Di2 R8100 electronic road groupsets was bundled with a rather unexpected and especially bitter pill: the news that the much-beloved Ultegra mechanical was being discontinued.

This is a big, big deal! For years, we’ve all taken mechanical Ultegra for granted. Whatever iteration, it was always the most boring transmission on earth, lacking both the “Whoa, Dura Ace!” effect of its more costly and slightly lighter sibling, and the, “Hey, good for him, he’s still crushing it on 105” sympathetic admiration engendered by its cheaper and slightly portlier one–and that’s saying nothing of Campagnolo, which was always intrinsically interesting even in its cheapest incarnations. Mechanical Ultegra simultaneously sold countless people on shitty frames (“Well, it comes with an Ultegra groups, so…”) while also helping many others complete their dream bikes–you know, those exotic custom frames hung with Ultegra groups because they ran out of money and crossed the finish line of their build on fumes. And whatever the bike, so bereft of both excess and demerit is Ultegra that your eye basically just passes right over it. “Ultegra: An Inoffensive Blank Spot Where A More Exciting Transmission Might Be,” the tagline might read.

So if mechanical Ultegra is going away, mechanical road shifting is most assuredly doomed.

Of course, none of the above is an indictment of Ultegra; rather, it’s the very highest form of praise. Mechanical Ultegra was always excellent, with only occasional missteps such as those rattly plastic shifter caps during the early 9-speed era. Indeed, a world without mechanical Ultegra is like a world without Breyers ice cream, or the Subway chain of sandwich restaurants, or actors who you’re always confusing with other actors. For this reason, its disappearance will no doubt be profoundly paradoxical, since despite being ubiquitous, when it’s gone you’ll hardly notice.

Also, somehow people aren’t buying it anymore, which seemed incredible to me…at first:

No one can deny that mechanical shifting has a sizeable advantage over electronic shifting in terms of serviceability and often weight (particularly at anything other than flagship price points). However, in conversations with countless product managers from various bicycle brands in recent months about consumer preferences, the answer is always the same: when given the option, so few people are actually buying the cable-actuated stuff that it’s impossible to justify keeping it around from a financial point of view.

But then you think about it, and you realize that people like me who can’t imagine a world without mechanical shifting and who don’t really see the point of electronic are a tiny, smug, and irritating minority who don’t even put our money where our mouths are. The last “new” bike I bought was this, and I dug all the shifty bits out of my parts bin:

Ergo, my personal predilections don’t even register in the fast ledger of supply and demand, or factor into the calculus of anybody determining the specifications of modern mass-market bicycles.

Does this mean I’m bitter? Hardly. Vast used parts reserves around the world as well as dangerous extremists such as Grant Petersen will no doubt ensure that I have access to a wide variety of high quality cable-actuated shifty bits for the foreseeable future. Also, technology is merely another facet of human evolution; today’s cutting edge componentry is tomorrow’s vintage affectation, and one day some space retrogrouch will decry the discontinuation of simple electronic push-button shifting because everyone insists on using Shimano’s new brain implant. And so it goes.

105 Di2 though? That’s just lame.

Categories:Bike Snob NYC

Fan Letters And Fanny Packs

09/15/2021 0:02

This morning I headed out for a quick ride to the forbidding Trails Behind The Mall:

I was clad head-to-toe in fancy clothing from Vulpine

…right down to my socks:

This sort of merino extravagance is the semi-professional bike blogger equivalent of attending the Met Gala in a dress bearing the phrase “Tax The Rich,” though unlike the aforementioned politician I did not have a phalanx of masked staffers to carry my fanny pack for me:

That’s the Spurcycle Hip Pack, which I no longer see on their site, so maybe they’ve discontinued it–though after seeing it straining valiantly against my midriff they may want to consider rebranding it as the “Love Handle” and marketing it to an older demographic, because it works quite well both as a carry-all and a girdle.

Before hitting the forbidding Trails Behind The Mall, I utilized the mall itself by popping into a minimalist retailer of electronics named for a piece of fruit in order to overpay for something that even the employee who assisted me tried to convince me to purchase on Amazon. (He should have known from all the merino in which I was swaddled that, for me, money was not an issue.) As you can see, the bike parking facilities are top shelf:

Speaking of that company, little did I know that as I shopped they were announcing all their latest gewgaws, including a new watch with even more bikey features:

The emphasis on catching spills by cyclists adds to the existing fall-detection feature of Apple Watch that’s been around for a while. If the Apple Watch doesn’t detect movement for about a minute, the watch will send an alert and call emergency services if you don’t respond.

If the new Apple Watch calls 911 every time it doesn’t detect movement for a minute I’d have more choppers following me on my rides than Ray Liotta on Rockaway Turnpike towards the end of “Goodfellas.”

Though I’m guessing it works better than that smart helmet I tested:

Hey, at least I got a viral video out of it:

Why indeed.

From there I proceeded to the trails, where I tried not to consider that, should I fall and crack my head open, my inferior smartwatch would ensure that I bleed out and die. (Though I do use Strava Beacon, so at least they’d have a pretty easy time finding my merino-shrouded carcass.) As usual, I relished the nimble nature of my profoundly obsolete artisanal singlespeed:

Then, when I got home, I learned Norm Macdonald had died.

Something like 25 years ago, when I was a lowly editorial assistant at a publishing company, I thought it would be great if Norm Macdonald wrote a book. So I sent him a letter, probably in care of “Saturday Night Live.” Some time later, to my surprise, I received a call from his agent. Apparently Norm was interested, or at least his agent was, and they agreed to a meeting at our offices. I felt like a kid with a toy fishing rod who’d just hooked a striped bass. We set a time, and I arranged for the company higher-ups to attend, few if any of whom knew who the hell I even was. (They probably didn’t know who Norm was, either. You’d be amazed how out of touch publishing people were with popular culture in those days…or maybe you wouldn’t.)

Alas, before the appointed day, Norm’s agent informed me we’d have to reschedule, though despite trading a few calls we never did manage to do so. “Norm’s not much of a self-starter,” the agent eventually admitted, and that was that. While disappointed, I was also secretly relieved, since the truth was I was scared shitless and there’s no way I could have pulled it off–which, in retrospect, his high-powered agent no doubt gleaned after forty-five seconds of talking to me.

Anyway, thank you Norm Macdonald for the laughs, and for saving me from a career in book publishing. It couldn’t have worked out any better.

Categories:Bike Snob NYC

There’s No Such Thing As A Free Herb

09/14/2021 12:02

We all know what happened 20 years ago last Saturday. However, not everybody knows that just two months later, Flight 587 crashed in the Rockaways, killing all 260 people on board. Here is the memorial, where I happened to find myself this past weekend:

As fraught as things sometimes seem these days, for a time back then it felt as though the sky could deliver yet another horrific conflagration at any moment. While the Internet may leave you feeling afraid, disquieted, or downright enraged on a daily basis, the fact is we’re all incredibly fortunate to be here 20 years later, in the time and place that we are–unless of course you happen to be in a porta-potty at a charity ride on a hot day, which I wouldn’t wish on anybody.

One thing I would wish upon everybody is the joy of Rivendell ownership:

I love my titanium Fred sled, and in fact it was the first one I rode upon my return after two solid weeks of Jones-ing. However, it wasn’t until I got back on the Homer that I really felt at home, and I realize now that my default “road bike” is no longer a road bike but this sumptuous upright lugged fop chariot with flat pedals and swept-back bars. So I pedaled it happily for several days in a row, though I admit after awhile I did feel inclined to start leaning forward again, and so I switched to the RockCombo:

Astride this, I loped across the roads, paths, and trails of the bucolic suburbs north of the city, and along the Old Croton Aqueduct in the well-heeled village of Irvington I came across this tableau:

While I appreciated the sentiment, I deeply resented the condition that I sauté green beans with it. What business is it of theirs what I do with the basil?!? Being the iconoclast I am I rode off outraged and left the fragrant herb behind, though shortly after I came across this greenmarket and realized I could have sold it as locally grown and sustainably harvested and made myself a tidy profit:

I continued on dejectedly, bereft of both money and basil. At this point the trail was thick with the local denizens toting their greenmarket purchases in reusable bags, and so I rode slowly and mindfully, gently ringing my trigger bell every so often to alert them to my presence:

At one point I passed a woman who said conspicuously to her young daughter, presumably for my benefit:

“Did you hear that? Somebody finally used their bell!”

I resented the backhanded compliment almost as much as the offer of free basil, yet at the same time I sympathized because this trail is increasingly popular with Gravel Goobers from the city in search of dirt and I’m sure these yoga-panted perambulators are getting sick of dodging all the flared crabon bars and handlebar bags. Indeed, as I swished the woman’s words around in my brain like a wine I wasn’t sure if I liked or disliked, one such Goober came whooshing by, slaloming his way through the populace, which ultimately helped the comment go down a little easier. All of this is by way of saying I’ve finally become an old fussbudget who rides around on a Rivendell wrinkling his nose at anybody who’s faster than me, which is pretty much everybody.

20 years sure goes by quickly, doesn’t it?

Categories:Bike Snob NYC

Brake On Through To The Other Side

09/11/2021 0:03

By way of concluding my tedious post-mortem on my Jones-themed vacation, I feel it is recumbent upon me to address the controversial subject of disc brakes–or, as Craigslist sellers call them, “dick breaks:”

Yeah, yeah, I realize that says “Disk breaks” but the seller obviously made a typo.

While disc brakes have only recently become ubiquitous on performance bicycles, the fact is they’ve been in use since at least 400 BC, as evidenced by this ancient sculpture of a naked man about to install a rotor:

The ancient Greeks always performed bicycle maintenance in the nude as the visible flexing of their muscles and tendons was a reliable indicator of torque, which is why the human body is often referred to as “nature’s torque wrench,” and also why “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance” is not suitable for children.

We’re living in a digital world, and as we gradually transform ourselves into social media avatars who think only in binary it’s important that we not only take a firm stance on every issue but also dismiss anyone who disagrees with us as an existential threat to humanity. Disc brakes are no exception, and in Internet World there are only two ways to feel about them:

  • They’re stupid and unnecessary
  • They’re the only viable way to stop a bicycle, and anything less might as well be a spoon brake

I should note that the latter view is rapidly subsuming the former.

Being hopelessly old-fashioned, whatever the issue, I try to remind myself not to think in binary and to consider that different stuff works for different people. With regard to disc brakes on bicycles, as far as I’m concerned, that shakes out as follows:

  • High-performance road racing bicycles with wheels made from cutting-edge materials and design–sure, move the braking surface from the rim to a rotor, makes sense
  • Road bikes as ridden by the average schmuck–whatever you prefer, I’m not particularly interested in road bikes with disc brakes myself but can see why other people might be
  • Mountain bikes–certainly an excellent use of disc brakes, though you may also be well-served by rim brakes depending on what you’re doing, even though the retractable seatpost set will insist either you’re a delusional retrogrouch or a wuss who doesn’t ride hard enough
  • Gravel bikes–see the first three bullet points
  • Cyclocross racing bikes–why do these even have brakes at all?
  • Track bikes–these don’t have brakes at all
  • Cargo bikes–excellent use of disc brakes, not only for stopping power, but more importantly because you can run long hydraulic lines every which way without compromising it (see: automobiles)
  • Every other kind of bike–who gives a shit?

There’s even more nuance when it comes to disc brakes, since there are also different kinds of disc brakes. For example, as a non-extreme rider with non-extreme opinions, I’m a big fan of mechanical disc brakes, which offer many advantages of both disc and rim brake systems:

This is the style of brake that came on my Jones:

Now, I’d include the sort of riding I did over the past two weeks as the sort that doesn’t necessarily require disc brakes, muddy patches notwithstanding. No doubt I’d have fared just as well on a Gus Boots Willsen with 2.8 tires and v-brakes:

[Photo: Rivendell]

At the same time, the Jones goes a little further than the Gus in terms of tire clearance, mounting points, etc., and the disc brakes are one aspect of the design that make this possible. I may not push the Jones to its limits in terms of what it can do, but others will, and to that end discs make total sense.

With regard to my tweet above, I dounderstand why one might consider hydraulic brakes superior to mechanical ones, including but not limited to the following reasons:

  • Nicer feel (people usually call this “better modulation,” but more often than not I suspect they just mean they feel nicer)
  • Less lever effort (which one could argue also goes against the “better modulation” thing, since a brake that requires very little effort may be just as undesirable as a brake that requires a lot of effort, depending on what you’re using it for)
  • Self-adjusting*
  • Low maintenance**
  • Much more flexibility in cable routing, as mentioned earlier

As for the *asterisks, those are qualifiers, as follows:

*[Self-adjusting is good, though the periodic pad adjustment mechanicals require can also be good, since it keeps you on top of your pad wear–unlike rim brakes you’re not looking at your disc brake pads while you ride, and being super thin the pad wear isn’t always obvious]

**[They’re low maintenance until they’re not, and for some riders occasional cable replacement may be preferable to occasional bleeding and brake line replacement.]

A perhaps too-simple way of summarizing all this is that mechanical disc brakes are the simple option and hydraulic disc brakes are the performance option. That’s not to say mechanical brakes can’t perform or that hydraulic brakes can’t be simple, but in certain scenarios it’s possible you might find one lacking those attributes more than the other.

As a fan of mechanical disc brakes, and of inexpensive components, I do think mechanical brakes have a bad reputation not because their inherent qualities but rather because they tend to come on cheaper bikes and are therefore not considered worthy of attention. Any online query along the lines of, “Why don’t my mechanical disc brakes work well?” seems to elicit replies of, “Because they’re crap, that’s why! Get rid of them immediately.” And yes, they may indeed be crap–or, they may just need some tweaking. In yesterday’s post, a commenter mentioned he was getting poor performance out of the Tektro mechanicals on his Jones–and I was too, until I realized (after an embarrassingly long amount of time) that the brake cable was merely in the wrong position at the lever:

Basically, the cable’s supposed to be in the “V” position and not the “C” one, but they must have been set up wrong at the point of assembly. (A brake lever that works with cantis and v-brakes as well as mechanical discs is pretty cool, by the way, and another neat thing about cable-actuated systems.) Once I changed that the brakes worked perfectly, and it sounds like the commenter is also enjoying the same results. And while I’m certainly not accusing the commenter of this, I do think there’s a notion out there that Tektro brakes suck, and that this preempts people from taking the time to perform proper set-up. In fact, Tektro make a shitload of brakes (including the high-end TRP stuff, which I suspect plenty of people don’t realize is Tektro), and I’d imagine at this point they know their way around a brake in the same way Shimano knows how to crank out dependable derailleurs.

Brakes aside, a lot of us bike dorks are on a hair trigger just looking for an excuse to upgrade stuff. The bad news is that today’s bike stuff works pretty damn well, though you might need to carve out a little time in order to understand how it works. So if you’re like me and your time is as limited as your brain power, consider joining Team Simple. No fluids, no electronics…just cables and levers. (Okay, maybe some tire sealant, but that’s another conversation.)

Categories:Bike Snob NYC

Going Deep

09/9/2021 0:03

Ah yes, it’s good to be back…

I’m going to go ahead and assume the vehicle operator parked on the sidewalk because the charging port is on the driver’s side, and I’m also going to posit three possible explanations for this:

  • Years of gas station conditioning led him (or her, but we all know it’s a him) to assume the lead wouldn’t reach the other side of the car, even though it looks like it easily can
  • The lead actually can’t reach, and as I type this the city is installing a charging network that is useless if your car’s charging port happens to be opposite the curb
  • The driver is not very bright
  • The driver is an asshole

I’d say each of these scenarios is equally probable.

Fun fact! Back in the early days of telephones, New York City was a cable-strewn shitshow:

So I guess we can look forward to the same process as, like a certain Mr. Zimmerman, cars go electric.

Anyway, further to yesterday’s post, in addition to exploring my local environs while on vacation I also made a brief foray into a neighboring state:

Vermont is indeed famous for three things: green mountains; rusty Subarus; and gravel roads. Here’s a picture featuring two out of three:

Also, here’s a wedding I didn’t crash:

When you see a low-budget sign like that you figure, “Why bother?,” though in retrospect it was probably a cunning ploy designed to fool city-slickers such as myself. There I was scoffing at the spray-painted particleboard; meanwhile the wedding guests were probably all drunk on Dom Perignon and having a caviar food fight.

Gravel notwithstanding, much of the ride to Vermont was paved. This means over the course of my two weeks with the Jones I used it for everything from road riding to gravel to wilderness exploration (and by “wilderness exploration” I mean any ride where you’ve got no cell service and are more than five miles from a bodega):

In the two years since I first took delivery of the Jones Plus LWB complete, Jeff Jones has since introduced a “v2,” though it’s essentially the same bike in spirit. Here’s the Jones line on what these bikes are about:

What is a Jones?

A Jones bicycle is great for all kinds of riding, on-road and off, touring, commuting, bikepacking, technical trails, loaded or unloaded. The frames and forks are designed together (a frameset) so they work together to deliver a great handling bike. Jones Geometry. You are perfectly positioned (balanced) between the wheels. You sit back and upright, with less weight on your arms and your head up – the position is natural and very comfortable. They don’t ‘fit’ like ‘normal bikes’ – they really fit!

The Jones bike is a bike for riding fast, slow, the rough with the smooth; safely, aggressively, laid-back or raging; with a big load or stripped to the bare essentials; on road, dirt, mud, snow; in the mountains, on the flat lands, around town or across the county; around the world or your local loop; for getting rad or just getting away. The high performance bicycle that is efficient and comfortable.

While I’ve spent plenty of time on this bike I’d never quite put the above to the test, for the simple reason that I have a bike for pretty much every mood and whim. The Jones may ostensibly be good for road rides, but if I feel like a road ride, I get dressed up in Lycra and hop on a road bike, or else prance about on my Rivendell like the dandy that I am. Therefore, as much as I’ve always loved the Jones for all-terrain rambling, if I knew there wasn’t going to be any dirt involved, I’d always looked at it like this:

But now for the first time I was spending two solid weeks with the Jones, the whole Jones, and nothing but the Jones–road riding included:

Furthermore, here in my city abode my bikes all live in the basement, whereas when I’m on vacation my bike sits on the porch and I can futz with it idly while I’m lounging. All of this is to say that over my vacation I became intimately acquainted with this bike in a way I never had before–and no, I am not saying that I had sex with it, so you can save your clever comments. Therefore, this being a bike blog, here are some observations on this bicycle and its place in the velocipedal firmament:

The Tires

The Jones LWB takes what are generally called “29+” tires, meaning they’re fatter than “regular” 29er tires, but not as fat as fat bike tires. Also, plus-sized tires are like totally dead as of over a year ago:

Because, you know, they “dumb down” the trail:

According to mountain biker logic, somehow a tire that’s a quarter-inch fatter is “dumbing down” the trail, but a bike with front and rear suspension, a retractable seatpost, a single front chainring, and an electronic derailleur shifting across a 12-speed cassette with a “granny” the size of a Frisbee is not.

But the Jones isn’t a mountain bike; rather, it’s a bike that can do mountain-bikey stuff. Given this, the beauty of the plus-sized tire is you’ve got a rigid chassis for when you’re doing non-mountain bike stuff, yet you’ve got the traction and compliance of a high-volume tire when you’re on a rugged trail. I suppose maybe they are dead for the highly specialized and ever-changing contraptions the bike industry calls “mountain bikes,” but in the larger sense I suspect they’re merely dead in the way stuff like 26-inch and 27.5-inch wheels were once dead–that is to say temporarily out of fashion pending the rediscovery of their positive attributes.

Of course, three-inch knobby tires filled with audibly sloshing sealant may be great for picking your way along a forgotten 19th century wagon trail in the Adirondacks, and for inspiring confidence when you’re descending a twisty gravel road, but at times they can be a bit ponderous for road riding. The heavy knobbies were a worthwhile trade-off given that I wanted to be ready for anything and everything, but if I were using the Jones strictly for road, gravel, and “soft-roading” I’d try a lighter and smoother tire. There aren’t too many 29+ tires that fit that description, but Jeff Jones does have this to say about his crabon plus rim:

While the Jones C-Rim is designed to be the best Plus rim around, it also works great with tires down to about 2.3” wide, where it will spread the beads apart to maximize air volume and tire stability.

Therefore, given the preponderance of “regular” 29er tires, and gravel tires, and so on, it seems like there’s huge potential to optimize the Jones for pretty much any type of riding, and once I finally wear out these slabs I’ll have to do some experimenting.

The Gears

I haven’t really been keeping track of the Drivetrain Arms Race in recent years, so I spent some time catching up over my vacation. Basically, on the mountain bike front, SRAM and Shimano are in a figurative race to the bottom as they keep adding increasingly lower gears to their single-ring drivetrains. First SRAM came out with a 50-tooth cog, then Shimano indroduced a 51, now I guess SRAM’s down to 52. This silliness notwithstanding, I do think we may be in something of a golden age when it comes to offroad transmissions. For one thing, while it’s never good to believe what you read on the Internet, it sounds like you can probably get away with mixing and matching SRAM and Shimano in a way neither company would ever acknowledge. For another, you’ve also got companies like microSHIFT, who offer all sorts of cool stuff. For example, if I were building an off-roader from scratch, it’s hard to imagine not going with this:

Also, check out all these shifters! I am this close [indicates tiny distance with fingers] to updating my RockCombo with a 12-speed single-ring friction drivetrain:

As for the Jones, it came with SRAM NX Eagle, which at the time was the “entry level” Eagle group. (There’s now one below it called SX Eagle, which is what comes on the current Jones complete.) Apart from the fact that I secretly hope the shifter will die so I can replace it with one of these, I don’t have a single complaint. According to the sorts of people who think plus-sized tires are “dumbing down” the trails, NX is like total garbage, and the derailleurs blow up in a week. However, for the past two years I’ve found it boringly reliable, and barring concrete evidence to the contrary I’m going to assume it’ll keep working fine with proper attention–though if it doesn’t I’ll be happy for an excuse to experiment with some new drivetrain components, inasmuch as we’re living in the Golden Age of Mountain Bike Transmissions.

The Ride

I knew I’d appreciate the Jones’s omnivorousness with regard to terrain; what I also found I appreciated was how confidence-inspiring it was when descending. Of all the bikes I’ve taken up there, the Jones is the one on which I felt by far the most secure when coming off a mountain at speed. I don’t know if this is due to the geometry, the wide handlebars, the plump tires, or some combination thereof. (I also haven’t compared my top speeds with previous years’ rides; maybe I was just going slower–though that’s hard to imagine given the bike’s mass.) Regardless, if you’ll forgive the jargon, this bike is stable as fuck.

Some bikes are great because they do one thing extremely well (road bikes, track bikes); others aim to be versatile but can be boring in their competence (hybrids, probably plenty of gravel bikes). The Jones is something else–it’s a bike you can go deep with, both in terms of how you ride it and how you configure it. If you’re a weenie like me with too many bikes you can certainly relegate it to a specific use, but there’s absolutely no reason to do so, and spending some uninterrupted time with it made me realize how much I’d been missing out on as a result. Jones aside, I suppose that’s why having too many bikes is reprehensible in a certain way–even if you ride every day you’re still hoarding untapped resources. Then again, as I’ve learned, it’s almost impossible to go back to a one-bike lifestyle. So I guess choosing one bike for an annual romantic getaway is the next best thing.

Categories:Bike Snob NYC

“I’m Sooo Happy To Be Back,” He Uttered Sarcastically

09/8/2021 0:03

While many people may be content to plow the same furrow day in and day out, there are those among us who simply refuse to be constrained, and who push relentlessly against any and all boundaries, whether they be physical, mental, or even geographical in nature. I, of course, am a member of the latter group, and over my end-of-summer vacation I undertook several wilderness explorations astride my trusty–and profoundly capable–Jones LWB bicycle:

Not only that, but I also dug deep within myself and found the strength to ride the same bicycle for two (2) whole weeks, which is an incredible accomplishment considering: A) As a semi-professional bike blogger I have many exquisite bicycles at my disposal and rarely ride the same one twice in a row; II) I once tried to commit to riding the same bike for a year as a gimmick and failed dismally.

In years past I’ve taken more road-oriented bicycles with me on my vacation, but as I ventured deeper into the woods I realized I needed something more sure-footed in order to uncover some of the more succulent routes I’d been missing. Furthermore, after bringing the A. Homer Hislen with me last year and discovering how liberating it was to travel without Lycra and special shoes and all that other crap, I wanted a bike with an upright position and flat pedals. So I outfitted the Jones accordingly prior to departure, and it served me extraordinarily well for the duration of my sojourn:

This being a family vacation, I mostly stuck to my sustenance loop, a short yet satisfying affair which involves climbing a ridiculously steep road with pitches of up to 28% that eventually turns to rolling gravel and then riding back down it again. However, I also managed some longer rides, including a wilderness loop I’d been meaning to complete for some time:

The dirt sections of this ride are mostly old roads now used primarily by snowmobiles and 4x4s:

They’re not “mountain bike” trails and so they don’t have mountain-bikey features, but they do present everything from grass to mud to rocks to stream crossings, which means they present the perfect use case for the Jones:

Then once you make your way through all that you’re rewarded with some of that super trendy gravel stuff:

In addition to being highly satisfying to ride, these roads offer an opportunity to contemplate the sheer hardiness of the people for whom they were once the only thoroughfares:

To wit:

People carried water from wells or springs, used out houses, and cooked and heated with wood. They hunted and fished for some of their food, but had to be wary of rattle snakes, wolves, and panthers.

Imagine having to climb a mountain and fend off panthers just to go bowling:

But while the panthers today are pretty scarce, apparently there are still plenty of rattlesnakes:

Perhaps I should have chosen more robust footwear:

Fortunately I didn’t encounter any rattlesnakes, though I did come across a bear. There I was, riding along the gravel portion of my sustenance route, when a large branch fell out of a tree and onto the road in front of me. So I looked up into the tree, whereupon I discovered that the branch had been dislodged by a small bear, which was now making its way down the tree’s trunk. Being the semi-professional bike blogger and avid cellular telephone nature photographer that I am, my first instinct was to take a picture of the bear. However, in my excited state, I couldn’t manage to open my camera app; moreover, the bear was picking up speed, and it began to dawn on me that maybe it was coming down from the tree in order to tear my face off with its mighty claws. So I started to turn around in order to bomb back down the hill to safety, though this proved unnecessary, as once the bear made landfall it bounded off into the woods. In retrospect it was probably just a cub, and likely far more frightened of me than I was of it–and can you blame it really?

Between the wildlife, and the treacherous trails, and my minimalist footwear, and the weathered monuments to people long deceased, and the “We Don’t Call 911” signs with actual bullets for the 1s, I was constantly reminded not only of my own mortality, but also of the fact that me that as a citydweller I’m a total “woosie” who’s not only overly reliant on emergency services but also completely unable to determine the age, sex, and species of a bear.

Sometimes you need a little perspective.

Categories:Bike Snob NYC

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