Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Return of the Tank

My Tank came back to me! The road bike was a nice change–and indispensable for the long weekend ride, but I’m glad to have my own bike back. Especially nice was not having to wear my stupid bike gloves anymore. Less nice was lugging Tank up to the third floor.

I expected Tank to feel super-slow and heavy after riding the road bike for so many miles–but it didn’t. Tank actually felt pretty peppy and he handles like a dream. Since I am uncoordinated and a huge coward, I felt nervous turning to look behind me on the twitchy road bike, but Tank makes it easy. Best of all was that I didn’t feel obligated to avoid the potholes. Like his name suggests, Tank happily plows through them–I perversely road on the super-crappy parts of Milwaukee just because I could.

Strangely, my road bike lust has cooled off quite a bit–completely opposite of what I expected to happen after riding one again. I don’t think I would use a road bike as my regular commuting bike–because the ride just isn’t as fun. The road bike is just too easy to move. My commutes haven’t presented any real challenge–every bike I saw I passed without really any effort. Basically, the road bike felt like I was cheating.

Probably more importantly is the fact that riding Tank will keep me in better riding condition. Riding a heavier, slower bike will just make me faster and improve my endurance when I need a road bike. Besides, I’ve never really felt like Tank made me go too slowly–on the 50 mile Botanical Garden ride in November, Tank completely kept up with clipless road bikes. Sara (road bike) and I broke away from the rest of the group because we wanted to ride faster. Besides all-out races or really long rides, Tank does just fine.

So, I will probably postpone a road bike purchase until closer to bikepacking season. This will also delay my sure to be terrifying and humiliating introduction to clipless shoes. I foresee a ridiculous amount of whimpering and scaredy-cat actions when the inevitable clipless lesson finally arrives. But until then, I will be happy with my good ol’ Tank.

Potholes here we come!


At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

To hell with clipless pedals and all that other racing stuff. Some people think there is some big advantage to such gimmicks for regular riding. Don't believe it. You can use the regular flat pedals, the fun kind you used as a kid, even on a road bike. Then you can get off the bike once in awhile and walk around like a normal person. Plus, you can just hop on and go whenever you feel like it without having to get all geared up.

It is my opinion that most modern road bikes are poorly designed (in the frame, mostly, but also in things like short-reach brakes that won't accommodate fenders or decent-sized tires, low handlebars, etc), and marketed to regular Joes and Jojoes who want to be like Lance, but never will be in a million years. Incorrect frame geometry (in my opinion) is part of the reason for the squirreliness you experienced (and also that any unfamiliar bike will feel weird for awhile). Look into a nice steel road bike from the early 80's or 70's. Those bikes were made for people who ride, rather than for those who want a macho status symbol disguised as a bike. You can put nice fat tires on them (like 28s or 32s or even 35s), and still fit fenders. Plus the lugged steel bikes will never wear out under normal riding conditions.

At 10:57 PM, Blogger jojo said...

J: I think you know in general that I am not a racing, gearhead sort of rider. I have no delusions of stealing the yellow jersey from Lance.

However, I know that a good fast bike with skinny tires and skinny fenders will make touring immensely more fun for me. It will allow me to go 100 miles a day instead of 80, or at least get me to my destination faster or less tired.

Weight is also going to be an issue, because the weight of camping gear is going to drag me down enough.

As for clipless shoes, I at least want to give them a shot--not for everyday, but for long or fast rides when efficient pedaling is really important. So many people who are sensible about bikes/gear love these shoes for me to discount them.

On a toally different note, I think I will get barefoot pedals for Tank so I can ride him more comfortably without shoes in the summer--or maybe I should just grind down the claws on one side of each pedal. Those nasty claws brutalize my poor feet.

So anyway Jim--the right tool for the job: Tank for winter, commuting, errand-running and everyday biking. Road bike/clipless for touring, long rides and anytime I want to go fast or far.

At 1:14 AM, Anonymous Jim said...

You do what you want, none of my business, but I will tell you where I'm coming from here. Then I'll shut up on the subject (which is my favorite subject).

There's an interesting book called Bicycling Science where they show the added power from the leg on the upstroke, where having your foot connected to the pedal is supposed to be an advantage. For people who are really well-trained at consciously pulling up on the upstroke, there is a very small advantage to being connected (like a 5% increase in power maybe, probably a bit more for the pros). For the vast majority of us however, we don't pull up at all. In fact, the downward thrusting foot is actually doing the work of lifting the upward "pulling" foot. Therefore, clipless pedals offer no advantage for most of us and only a marginal advantage for the few who use them correctly. Moreover, they prevent you from moving your foot around on the pedal when you want to give certain muscle groups a rest. On a long tour, that might be meaningful. Some of the RAAM riders use flat pedals in the flats. That tells me something about pedals for long touring.

On skinny tires: You're a smaller person than I am so you can get away with skinnier tires than the ones I ride. Nonetheless, there is a hugely popular myth out there that skinny tires roll better than fat ones. Not true. The rolling friction of any tire is a function of tire deformation. Big tires actually deform less than little skinny ones and therefore, the rolling friction of big tires is less than that of small tires. Small tires have the advantage of being lighter than bigger tires. But this is only an advantage when you're pedaling uphill. Fat tires have the advantage of acting as low-tech shock absorbers. I don't know about Chicago, but Minnesota roads have lots of bumps, and the cushion of a big soft tire does a lot to make me feel good after a long day tour (or even my 10 mile commute). The skinny tire riders I ride with are always amazed that I can keep up with them. But they don't know tire physics like I do (as I laugh maniacally).

On weight: Weight of tires, bike, etc, will only affect your riding speed when you're climbing hills. On the flats, it may take you a couple seconds longer to accelerate a heavier bike than a lighter one (F = ma, F being the constant thrust of your legs), but once you're moving, momentum is on your side. On the uphills, you have to pull whatever weight you're carrying up the hill with you, against gravity. On the downhills, the extra weight will help you overcome wind resistance for faster descents. If you're like most people, you weigh much more than your bike does. If you could shave 5 pounds off your bike, which would be a lot, you'd be losing just a couple per cent of your total mass (you + bike + gear). The bike manufacturers have focused on weight, because every customer can relate to it. But you put a 150 pound rider on a 17 pound bike instead of a 20 pound bike, you've gone from a 170 pound package to a 167 pound package, and the difference seems less profound. And it is. Any meaningful increases in speed in such cases have more to do with the rider than the bike.

Otherwise, I'm all for your system of using "Tank" during winter (my winter bike is a heavy, slow hybrid also) and a road bike for other trips. But I am also a retro-grouch who believes that the physics does not always support the claims made by overhyped bicycle media or manufacturers of new age equipment. The older steel road bikes that I suggested before are prettier, stronger, and better designed for real riding than the new race-inspired road bikes. The old ones might be 2 pounds heavier, but you won't notice.

I like the idea of the barefoot pedals. Might do that myself.


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