Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Road is Calling

Despite those innocent-looking cherry blossoms, Marianne is gradually turning into a lean, mean, cycling machine - albeit in the loveliest way possible.

My upside-down Albatross bars are considerably lower than my saddle, which I hope will gradually prepare me for the drop bars on my (soon to be ready!) Sam Hillborne. I want to make sure that by the time I get the drop bars, I am able to use them properly (with my hands either in the drops or on the hoods of the brake levers, but not on the straight top portion of the bars).

But I guess the big question here is "why?". Why the desire for speed and aggressive riding positions, why this sudden appearance of shorts? Well, because I like it - Not instead of relaxed cycling on a nice heavy loop frame - but in parallel to it. It's like someone enjoying both strolling and jogging - but not at the same time and not wearing the same clothes. I have discovered that I like pedaling fast and traveling far, I like learning how to maneuver a road-bike, and I like using those muscles in the back of the upper thighs that only get engaged when riding in this position. I am a remarkably un-athletic person with some long-standing health problems, and yet I can handle cycling. So I suppose I want to see how far I might go if I put my mind to it. Can someone as "frail" as me really hope to do century rides? Multi-day touring? Race at the velodrome? I guess we shall see!

Meanwhile, meet my latest addition to Marianne's fearsome accoutrements: these vintage Atom 700 French road pedals. Harris Cyclery had some used ones in the shop, and now they are mine!

To describe these pedals in an uneducated manner: The metal surface is toothy and grippy, more so than that of touring pedals I've tried. In addition, there is a raised notch on the side, that keeps your foot in place - At least I am guessing that this is what it is for, since that is the effect it has on my foot.

See the raised notch? Once the shoe is firmly placed on the pedal, the toothy surface and the outer notch make it feel glued in place. It is the closest thing to a foot retention system I have been able to handle so far. The benefit of feeling your foot "attached" to the pedal became clear to me once I switched Marianne's previous pedals to these, and returned to the rolling hills of Concord. I know that there are conflicting opinions regarding whether retention systems are useful, so I speak solely for myself: These pedals made a difference to me when cycling long-distance, especially on hills.

The downside, is that these are a pain to use in the city where one has to make frequent stops and starts. Unlike other pedals, there is a "right" and a "wrong" side to them: The correct side has the grippy surface and the outer notches. The wrong side is slippery and pretty much impossible to keep your foot on. The problem is that the pedals naturally want to hang wrong-side up when left alone, and so, when starting from a stop, you first plant your foot correctly onto the starting pedal, then push off and begin searching with your other foot (without looking at your toe! - remember, you're in traffic) for the correct side of the other pedal. Sounds horrifying, but actually it's not so bad once I got used to it. I've got the toe-searching down to only a few seconds now. For long sporty rides, it is worth it. I will keep cycling with these as they are for a while, and add "half-clips" when I feel ready... I need to get myself used to foot retention systems gradually if I plan to try cycling at the velodrome in the future!

29 comments:

  1. Although the "slow bicycling" movement has been refreshing, there is something to be said for lightweight, fast machines. They've developed over the years for good reasons, reasons that transcend racing and lycra and all the paraphernalia some "slowbies" eschew. I've done fifty miles on a forty pound machine, sitting up straight. And I've done fifty miles on a twenty pound machine, hunched over. I much prefer the lighter weight and a racing-style posture, thank you very much. The design really does work to even out stress points and make the ride more pleasant.

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  2. You might be interested in the MKS pedal flips that Velo-Orange carries. Most one-sided road pedals have those built into them and they make it much easier to flip.

    Also, adding half clips will make your pedals hang 90 degrees (sideways) instead of upside down. They should make also make flipping the pedal much easier.

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  3. WOW! What wonderful & great leap you have made in such a short time!
    Now I'm getting impatient waiting for a 'Marianne' of my own! :p
    Lem

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  4. Matthew - Thanks! Wish I'd known about the pedal flips before I placed my latest VO order. I just received the VO half-clips in the mail today, and given what you wrote, will try them sooner rather than later. It sounds as if they might actually make the pedals easier to use. My fear, of course, is that I will fall when trying to extract my foot - but the half-clips seem like they may be pretty tame in this respect.

    Lem - You need a mixte and you know it!

    Brent - I enjoy both types of cycling on different occasions... as long as the frames are lugged I am pretty open at this point!

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  5. Marianne lost that non-French Pletscher rack and now sports the bag hanging the traditional slanted way. She looks beautiful with more of the fender exposed. Being a "sporty" bike, she'll have to go rackless. :)

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  6. Half clips are my go to for most of my bikes. They help me keep my foot placed on the pedal and do help a bit on the power transfer. On my one remaining drop bar bike I have the full toe clips and I usually wear a stiff soled touring bike shoe on those. I have considered a "clipless" pedal on that bike, but don't ride it enough to really justify the swap at this point in time.

    Nothing wrong with different styles of riding and different bikes. I think the issue is that too many people believe that the lycra go fast is the "only" way. Which it is obviously not.

    Aaron

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  7. Leave the clips fairly loose until using the gets natural and then experiment. I hadn't seen Atom pedals before. Lyotard seem a lot more common.

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  8. I find I wish I had wider bars on my road bike, especially when I have not ridden it in a while and am switching from one of the other bikes with a setup similar to yours. I do get used to it, but still want wider. That may be a consideration for the Sam build.

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  9. I think you're progression to more aggresive riding is natural. Like you, I am also in the mood at times to tour in the upright position, especially while riding with my wife, and sometimes I like to ride in the more natural feeling racing posture. Luckily, I am fortunate enough to have different bikes to fit my whim. Like Brent said, this deffinantly transcends the lycra look, and as your example shows, can be done in a most vogue and stylish manner. Good taste is a trait that can't be hidden. Kudos to you!

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  10. Yeah, half clips are a breeze. I don't think there will be much of a learning curve at all.

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  11. Love my touring bike, love my city bike, love my (shhhh!) non-lugged mountain bike. They all have a place and a purpose and they're all wonderful!

    So glad to hear how cycling is opening up for you!

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  12. Matthew beat me to it, but I think the reason that your pedals (and they are lovely) are hanging upside down is because they're designed to balance with the weight of the toeclips. Toeclips are not nearly as scary as clip in pedals. I find that when you're taking off, you can easily just step on the clip and push the whole thing until you're moving and have a chance to get your foot put in.

    On the other hand, that kind of stuff is why I don't like riding a road bike in the city. And I feel definitely unsafe on drops in the city- I just can't see around me nearly as well.

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  13. "Well, because I like it - Not instead of relaxed cycling on a nice heavy loop frame - but in parallel to it.............."

    yeah, thats the mind of a real bicycle enthusiast, the different bike types has a lot to offer.
    go for it :-)

    all the best, your bikecollection grows :-)

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  14. By all means, different types of cycling require different types of bicycles and different types of clothing/equipment.

    I totally see the point of clips or even clipless pedals for racing or touring, but it just boggles my mind that people put them on their daily-use in-the-city bikes. In fact, I've had a few times people have nearly caused accidents because they've been busy trying to clip their foot onto their pedal after a stoplight, and once someone just tottered over at a stop sign, because they couldn't get their foot un-clipped.

    You just have to think about what makes sense for what usage and proceed accordingly :)

    Cheers!

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  15. cycler - I have heard so much conflicting info re clips vs clipless, but the dominant opinion seems to be that clipless is actually much safer, as with clips you have to use your hand to extract the foot when they are properly fastened. What do the clip-wearers think?

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  16. if the clips tight, you can free the feet (thats how normal biker do), but if they are extreem tight (necessary for extreem speed, sprint) you need the fingers.
    its not bad to learn to stand with the bike on a spot without giving foot down.
    if you can do that there isnt important anymore to come out, doesnt matter if freewhel or fixi, but thats need practice.

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  17. Until recently, I always had toe clips on my city bikes. Clips just feel more secure and I never had to worry about my foot slipping off the pedal in wet or icy weather.

    I always kept my clips loose enough in the city so I could slip my shoes into the clips without the need for any adjustment. It's still second nature to me to flip the pedal over with my foot and slide my foot into the clip, all in one motion, as I start up from a stop.

    However, clips don't work well with boots in the winter. Works fine with my regular street shoes.

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  18. Thanks for the clarifications re clips. And Hoefi - I think trackstands are just a little too advanced for me, for now : )

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  19. I've seen those pedals before, and I always thought they looked pretty cool. Those red dustcaps give them that touch of Gallic flair.

    When I started riding, there were no clipless pedals. So tourists, racers and almost any long-distance or hard-riding cyclist used toe clips, as I did.

    Then I rode clipless for about twenty years. Now I've gone back to clipped pedals, mainly because I want to have the option of cycling in regular shoes.

    You shouldn't need to use your hands to get out of your toe clips and straps. You'll need to use your hand only to loosen the straps if you wear taller shoes than the ones you rode on your previous ride, or to pull the straps tighter. If you use straps, end buttons will make things easier. (Harris or any other good shop will know what they are.)

    And, as for different types of riding: People who ride longer usually want to ride faster, at least up to a point. There's no need to abandon your loop frame just because you get a nice road bike. Every kind of riding is different; as long as you respect the differences between each kind, you can enjoy any kind you choose. I say that as someone who's done every kind of riding except BMX. (By the time BMX came along, I was a bit too old for it.)

    You certainly have learned a lot in the past year!

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  20. I am so intrigued by those pedals! I want, for Le Peug. :) Really enjoying your documentation of the slow evolution of Marianne. Recently I've been doing some faster riding on the Peugeot; your example is making me wonder about making changes.

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  21. Trisha - How exciting! My advice would be to have someone measure the geometry of the Peug and tell you the seat tube angles, wheelbase, etc. - this will determine whether it makes sense to turn it into a more aggressive bike. Mixtes can have wildly different geometries - from road, to touring, to relaxed city bike. My "new" Mercier, for instance, is a very different bike from the Motobecane and it would not make sense to ride it athletically. Either way, I am curious about Le Peug's destiny!

    Justine - Thanks for this comment; you know how I respect your experience and opinion as a cyclist. Am feeling less apprehensive about clips now; I just need to take the time and figure out on my own how they work.

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  22. I love this side of your cycling life. Great old school touring vibe to the whole thing, and these outfits are the best. Not that it's all about the outfits, but it is a little. Especially the saddle shoes :)

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  23. As you have so eloquently expressed over the past year your experiences with rejoining the bicycling world, I too, have also had my own adventures. I purchased two steel framed bicycles within the last year: one with drops and one with upright bars. I ride in an area that is mostly hilly, neighborhood streets. I have used each bicycle equally. My experience has been a great disappointment with drop bars. The brakes are located, as one would expect, on the hood of the bar. After almost 900 miles of riding with drops, I do not find this braking position to be comfortable. I also do not enjoy the gear shifters embedded in the brake levers. I seem less in control on the drop handlebars than with the upright bars. Drops also put me in a position that distracts me from the constant diligence that I need when riding on neighborhood streets with automobile traffic, walkers, runners, other children on bicycles, you get the idea...

    With that said, drops have worked for me (excluding the brake issue) when I am riding in a relatively flat area with little traffic and other distractions. Otherwise, you will find me riding with upright handlebars!!!

    As you have already expressed, it pays to have a bounty of quality bicycles. Just make sure you are using the proper bicycle for the proper occasion.

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  24. i am also firmly in the "different bikes for different purposes" camp.

    roadsters are great for comfortable, upright, leisurely riding and city riding, road bikes are great for fast, sporty rides on country roads with little traffic, touring bikes are great for carrying stuff with you on long distance rides over all different types of road surfaces, and french porteur-style bikes are great for mixing utilitarian city riding and package hauling with faster, sportier riding. and although i haven't done any true "touring", i have to say that i appreciate the differences between my city bikes and my road bikes; they each have a flavor which i enjoy at different times.

    right now i'm working on having my "dream" versions of each of these... of course, once i arrive there i'm sure i'll be able to add more categories to satisfy my need to collect even more! :-)

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  25. There's a bike for every mood and season. One just have to find/discover them! ;)
    Lem

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  26. ooops again 'have' = has
    ..back to rowdy crowd here(@home).
    See you!
    Lem

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  27. like it like it
    mixtes are very awesome mean machines <3
    not sure how mine conquers all thes mad hill in sf
    mean with a sweet monster face GgrgrgrgGRGRGRG
    greetings from sf <3333

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  28. The muscles you are engaging at the back top of your legs are called your ass;^) When bent forward at the hips you are engaging the maximus muscle group for locomotion: the gluteus.
    Jim

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  29. I stalk your blog as much for your fine taste in footwear as your fine taste in bicycles! Love those saddles shoes!

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