Monday, April 5, 2010

New Wheeling Suit and New Adventures

Looking at Velo-Vogue's spring selection of "bike wardrobe remixes," I realised just how drab and unspring-like I looked compared to the others.

My "spring wardrobe" when I rode Marianne on April 1st. Sure, gray on gray is my signature look, but spring is all about rejuvenation. So over the weekend I put together a new Wheeling Suit.

Floral shirt, slate-blue leggings, sky-blue cardigan, and navy shorts with white buttons. No black or gray in sight. Even the saddle shoes are cream and brown, with red soles and brown laces.

These shoes are actually a God-send and I recommend them if you are looking for a stiff-soled, comfortable cycling shoe with a vintage look. They are Bass, very reasonably priced, and come in several different colours - including the more classic black-and-white saddle shoe scheme.

The soles are textured, springy and stiff- a rare and wonderful combination. The leather is thick and structured, but didn't rub or pinch even the first time I wore the shoes. And the brown matches the darker shades of my Flyer.

Lest you be alarmed that my ensemble consists of shorts and such practical shoes, I will explain that the Wheeling Suit is specifically for sporty rides and light touring - something I hope to do a lot of this year.

A couple of days ago I raised the saddle on Marianne as far as it could possibly be raised so that I could still just barely touch the ground with one toe "en pointe" and the other foot on the pedal. Last year, this would have been impossible for me and I needed to at least touch the ground with a full toe in order to stop safely on the bike. But my balance is much better now, and I felt ready to go further. I still find it impossible to mount and dismount the bike "properly", but the "one toe en pointe" method is good enough, as even on the steep-tubed Motobecane my legs are almost 100% extended on the pedals now.

Amazingly, raising the saddle in this manner amounted to almost 2 extra inches of seatpost. And this little adjustment completely changed my relationship with the bicycle. The combination of my improved skills and this more aggressive riding position, has made me appreciate Marianne's steep geometry and extreme responsiveness. Rather than trying to reduce and "tame" these characteristics, for the past week I have been enjoying them - for the first time since owning this bicycle.

In addition, I have had a major "skill breakthrough": I have finally learned how to balance properly - including "steering with my hips" and riding hands-free (yes, even on this bike!). I'd read about how to do this countless times, but that didn't help me learn it viscerally. I think what finally helped me learn, was watching the velodrome cyclists doing laps hands-free when they were taking a rest. Something in the "imitation" areas of my brain must have clicked at that moment, and my body finally got it. And I didn't even realise that I had gotten this, until I noticed myself turning at an intersection by tilting my hips rather than using the handlebars - my body did it on its own, and the "Aha!" moment followed. I will stop myself from being too self-congratulatory about something most normal cyclists have been probably doing since age 10, but I am nonetheless excited. Clearly, there are many new things to learn ahead. Hope springs eternal!

25 comments:

  1. :) How dare you wear clothing appropriate to your riding!?!? Don't you know, one side says you should wear lycra and helmet for your 3 mile pleasure ride, and the other says you should wear your best opera dress for touring! This reasonable thought just will not do! :)

    I know how you feel about this bike, as my Raleigh Sports was a similar experience for me. I had been used to an Electra Amsterdam, with 28" wheels, upright, laid-back posture, long wheelbase, etc. The Raleigh is even a more forward sitting posture than that Motobecane, I think (as I have it adjusted, the seat is slightly higher than the bars). It has small wheels, a short wheelbase, and the experience of riding it is totally different. After riding the Raleigh for some time, the Electra felt like it took so much effort to get moving, though it isn't really any heavier than the Raleigh, despite the larger frame. It steers totally differently too, and I find it much easier to turn corners as you mentioned without using the handlebars to steer. Even compared to my wife's DL-1, the ride is very very different.

    In the end, they all have their advantages/drawbacks, but it's fun to experience them and enjoy them for the things that are their strengths.

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  2. Hurrah for hands-free riding. Didn't do that for a while now (well, a few months), but shall practice it soon :-).

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  3. I like the classics, be they Bass saddle oxfords or Pashley bicycles. You might enjoy a look at http://stylefilter.blogspot.com/ Monica alternates between schemes somber and exuberant.

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  4. I love LOVE your Spring riding outfit and you'll have to fully pardon me if I rip it off somewhat;) Most of time I live in dark colours and I love Gray on Gray.

    I'm going to check out the Bass shoes as I need some shopping therapy this month

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  5. oh, Veloria! congratulate yourself!! i average around 100 miles a week and have been riding for years... I absolutely CANNOT ride hands-free! I can't figure out how people do it? I'm applaud your accomplishment. I'm going to try again with your description tomorrow...

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  6. "I realised just how drab and unspring-like I looked..."

    You're delusional, in a good way. ;)

    "...riding hands-free..."

    See? See? I told you you could do it!

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  7. The outfit is awesome. I think leggings are the best things ever for the stylish biking girl. And I am determined to get those shoes.

    I am still pretty new to cycling myself. I would love to master the skills that seem to come so naturally to people, like hands-free riding, as well as the proper starting and stopping technique. I just can't quite get it all yet. Oh well.

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  8. I loved your april 1 outfit by the way. I like the springier version as well.

    I used to be able to ride hands free as a kid. I loved putting my hands on my knees as I pedaled along and too a break. However now I cannot ride hands free to save my life ( unless of course I'm riding the sorte. On the Sorte I can take my jacket off while riding- which I often need to do)

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  9. Kara - The only "advice" I can give, based entirely on my own experience of course, is to just keep cycling and it will come to you. Any time I have tried to intentionally learn a technique, it hasn't worked. But by taking it easy and just letting the skill-building happen organically, I have improved.

    Still, my starting technique is far from what it should be! The saddle is positioned too high for me to just sit on. So I tilt the bike to the side until the saddle is low enough to go under my butt, slide the aforementioned butt onto it, and then heave the bike and myself back into the upright position. Those who have seen me do this maneuver can't believe that I actually find it easier than the "proper way" (stepping on the pedal and then lifting yourself onto the saddle), but for me it really is.

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  10. An important PS: I didn't mean to suggest that I actually go around riding hands-free now, only that I can do it. The important thing is the feeling that you are able to do it - that the control of the bike comes not from the hands and handlebar area, but from the hip and thigh area. The hands are mostly there to keep the bars stable.

    I recommend against literally cycling hands free (i.e. with your hands far from the handlebars) even after you have learned, because often there is debris or pot holes in the road that can make your front wheel turn unexpectedly if your hands are not on the handlebars, and you will fall off your bike.

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  11. congrats on such a long ride, i'll bet it was exhilarating!

    as for riding "hands free", it has to do partly with experience and confidence of the rider, but also with the bike geometry. some bikes have a very strong "centering" feel to the steering, whereby the bike wants to go straight, and also follow your body queues as you lean one way or the other. most of these bikes have "high trail" geometry designed into the forks (sport and racing bikes typically have this). other bikes simply won't follow your body's inputs, and will steer randomly without you physically holding the handlebar. this is a characteristic of "low trail" geometry, characteristic of bikes designed to handle heavy loads over the front wheel. my dutch bike has very low trail and i can't for the life of me let go of the handlebars for a second; i would undoubtedly fall. by contract, my raleigh competition has high trail and i was riding hands-free my first time riding it.

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  12. It's time to go do some serious parking lot bike handling drills!

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  13. Hooray-- I love saddle shoes! I have far more pairs than anyone over the age of 7 truly needs; but maybe now I can classify some of them as "cycling shoes"?

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  14. I think that riding hands free has almost more to do with the bike than the skills. I used to ride hands free all the time as a kid, Something about Robert's geometry makes it almost impossible, but I can quite easily ride without hands on Minerva.
    I see a lot of people (mostly guys, mostly fixie hipsters) riding hands free so that they can be messing with their cell phones. I have to shake my head and try not to think of the Darwin Awards.

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  15. So pretty! As always :) I like your black and gray European look, but springy colors are lovely. Those saddle shoes are fabulous. How perfect with Marianne and the leather Brooks saddle.

    Congrats on the hands-free riding! I can't ride hands free, although someone told me that if I had a bike without a basket, it would be possible. I don't see a basket-free bike anywhere in my future, though :)

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  16. That's interesting info about different bikes and the possibility of hands-free cycling. Initially it was very difficult for me to keep the Motobecane well-balanced even with both hands on the handlebars and it was terrifying to take even just the left hand off - but this probably had to do with me more than the bike.

    Steve A - That's what the Co-Habitant thinks. But sadly, it doesn't work on me; just makes me nervous and liable to falter.

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  17. Sometime when youre feeling brave, find a nice strait quiet stretch,get up a little speed, let go and...close your eyes. Just for a little.

    The girl that showed me this a long time ago called it "flying the bike" and said it was as good as a good martini. I don't find it as scarey as a job interview or a dental appointment and I don't think you could make yourself crash doing it sober.

    It sure makes the world sparkle when you open your eyes.Maybe you should'nt post this, my judgement on this issue is probably dangerously flawed.

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  18. spindizzy - Oh, I've been doing this since I started cycling again : )) The Danube cycle path in Austria is perfect for that sort of thing, so that's where I began.

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  19. Since you are a frequent rider your bike (whichever you choose to use) would, as I've stated previously, become 'an extension of your body' ... that is, balance (at various angles of ride) and motion could be guided physically and (to some extent) by the mind.
    Happy riding. ;)
    Lemony

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  20. I'll have to copy you and start wearing leggings, now that the weather is warmer....love the oxfords too. Will keep a look-out for some vintage ones on Etsy.... :)

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  21. So lovely to see so much spring! Marianna and you look so dashing!! :D L x

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  22. Congratulations on your improved skills. :) I use the "hip steering" technique all the time and I think it lets you take turns faster.
    I would love to read more about what you mean with (dis-)mounting properly.

    Nico

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  23. Those shoes are lovely - I really like Brouges like those.

    I wouldn't say that you are drab in our pictures featured - that seems a bit harsh :)

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  24. You're a great role/'roll' model.

    As for dismounting, I think you would first need to be comfortable standing up in the pedals (pedaling or coasting). Then it would be a small step, literally, to put your foot down from a standing position as you came to a stop.

    I still haven't gotten the hands-free thing!

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