Friday, April 3, 2015

Springing Forward

Swan's Way
I have only heard of this experience before, but have never gone through it myself until this Spring: That feeling of getting on a lighter, faster bicycle for the first time - after riding a heftier steed all winter.

For many roadies of prior generations the ritual of this seasonal change was standard practice. When winter came, cyclists would switch to heavier, fatter-tired, befendered "beater" roadbikes - in part as a training technique, and in part to save their nice (i.e. racing) bicycles from winter's ravages. Then, once Spring would arrive, the "nice" bicycle would re-emerge  - making the rider feel faster, lighter, freer.

Today, fewer cyclists adhere to this practice. To some extent, this is because materials such as carbon fiber, aluminum and titanium - of which contemporary roadbikes tend to be made - are more suitable for year-round use. But also, roadcycling today has increasingly distanced itself from its racing heritage. The idea of the "racing season" is not as meaningful or relevant to the average road cyclist as it once might have been.

As I do not race myself, the distinction between "race season" and "off season" has never existed. Furthermore, my main roadbike is built around a titanium frame and carbon fiber fork, making it more resistant to winter weather and salt than my other two (steel) road bikes.

That said, the conditions of my current environment made me opt for my heftier DIY bike over this past winter.  In case I haven't complained about this enough already, we have horrendous winds in the winter here - winds that often exceed 20mph, with 40mph+ gusts. Now, I am not an exceptionally light rider. But I am fairly light. And the combination of the lightweight me and my lightweight bike, in such windy conditions, is not a comfortable one. There have been times when I have been nearly toppled, or moved sideways by strong gusts of wind, making me feel unsafe on the road. While my steel, fat tire 650B mixed terrain bike is not all that much heavier than my lightweight skinny-tire roadbike, it handles noticeably better in extreme wind conditions. Add a bit of ice into the mix, and it's a winner for sure. So that is the bicycle I have been doing most of my sporty cycling on from mid-December or so until just a couple of weeks ago.

Untitled
A funny thing happens when we ride the same bicycle for some duration: Little by little, our body awareness starts to incorporate the sensations of being on that specific machine. What we come to think of as "our" weight, bulk, strength, agility and speed are really the weight, bulk, strength, agility and speed of ourselves and this bicycle combined. As these sensations get stored up in our bodies, solidifying with familiarity, even subtle changes feel exaggerated. By merely switching from the bicycle we've grown thus accustomed to, to one with different characteristics, we then  feel as if it's we ourselves who've changed - with an almost magical abruptness.

In the time my lightweight bike enjoyed its winter hibernation, I had almost managed to convince myself that really there probably wasn't much difference between it and the bulkier machine: I was doing some of the same rides, climbing the same hills, keeping up with the same cycling buddies after all. My riding partners colluded in this convincing, assuring me there was no difference in my speed. And then, one spring day - the fun of realising this was untrue was priceless.

Out on my lightweight bike for the first time in months, I felt as if I'd been released from a slingshot. Exaggerated sensations of being weightless in motion, of floating up hills, of having shed my winter weight (if only in terms of tire acreage and handlebar bag content!) were certainly out of all proportion to the actual difference between the two bicycles. It was a feeling of emerging out of hibernation, unfurling my velocipedian powers, and launching myself out into the great big world of endless open roads with a fresh energy.

I wouldn't go so far as to recommend switching to a bulkier winter bike deliberately for no other reason than to later enjoy this experience. But when things do work out this way, the feeling of Springing forward is wonderful!

34 comments:

  1. I too experienced the Spring Forward this year, much more noticeably than in previous years. I ride my Surly Cross Check year round for commuting. In the winter, it's nearly the only bike I ride, as I don't get out for "leisure/pleasure" road cycling on winter weekends as I do all summer. This year there has been virtually no weekend cycling due to my studies.

    The Cross Check is heavy and I'm usually carrying a loaded pannier, but I get used to it and continue to marvel at how wonderfully suited to winter road riding it is.

    But now -- I've been out on the titanium bike twice in the past two weeks and feel like I'm 3x as strong, 5x as fast and have 10x as much energy! :) Even though mine's a touring bike and not nearly as light as your Seven, the contrast with the Surly is tremendous. And of course, that natural flowing feeling -- as if you and your bike move as one -- due in no small measure to good FIT -- is priceless.

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  2. Make that another Spring Forward. While the Texas winters do not match those of Ireland for ice and snow, we do have plenty of wind and wet. My commuting, training and winter bike is a Pashley three speed. When I pulled out my aluminium and titanium road bikes a few weeks ago my first few rides were a welcome and exciting experience. Thanks for your insights and observations.

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  3. I've got one bike, well, two counting the fixie, but one I ride for commuting and randonneuring and everything else. The biggest spring forward effect is when I get to take off the snow tires, which I did about a month ago. What a relief. They are great in terms of protecting me from slipping, but nothing slows me down more. There's also the fenders, which I also have a love-hate relationship with, and would like to see go, but given that this is Pittsburgh that may not be advisable.
    The one thing that bothers me is any bike components that use regular chromed steel. What is the point? Is stainless really that expensive? I would pay extra for extra-long reach brakes with a stainless cable fixing bolt. It bothers the hell out of me that bolt on my IRD B76's is covered with rust.

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    1. I think you would tire of stainless steel bolts stretching and shearing from the forces required to properly secure a brake cable. Stainless Steel fasteners, if one of the actually Non-Rusting alloys and not simply Rust-Resisting versions, are too prone to stretching and cracking for that purpose and why in a marketplace mad for SS you still don't find them on brakes and stems and that sort of thing.

      The bloom is sort of gone from the Polished-Stainless-Steel-Frame Rose in these parts for some of the same reasons. People have a little freakout the first time they see the red scabs on the welds and behind the headbadge of their nice new ride and grieve for their dreams of a maintenance free winter-bike whenever they pull out the bristle brush (stainless steel of course) and the wax... You really wouldn't want a frame made from one of the truly rust-less stainless steel alloys. It would have to be so much heavier to be strong enough you'd likely just hang it up and join a curling league till spring...

      Spindizzy

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    2. My sister's a metallurgist, and she says stainless steel comes in all different strengths. It's used all over the place in nuclear power plants. I'm pretty sure they can find a grade of stainless steel that's strong enough to crimp and hold in place a brake cable.

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  4. I once met a serene old fellow who was out riding back and forth over the small mountain range that bisects Los Angeles (where winter hardly counts). He was riding a massive steel fat-tire mountain bike, but was not hitting any trails. I asked him why, and he said he was training for a double century, and the heavy bike he was on now would make his road bike feel so light and easy when he rode the double later on.

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  5. Interesting that your 650b bike handles better in wind-I'm guessing not only the fat tires but the trail too. One more reason for me to consider one. On my Seven Axiom the other day, the wind buffeting the front wheel was a little scary. Whether, the construction of the wheels on that bike contributed, I don't know. But, yeah, I'm flyweight and on a titanium fast road bike can really notice the difference in gusty winds between it and one of my classic steel road bikes in that the latter seems more planted. Your experience is a good reminder for me to consider what bike to use in windy conditions.

    BTW, my very early impression of Compass Bicycle's new Extralight casing (Chinook Pass 700x28) tire on my Axiom shows it's as fast or faster on paved roads (haven't tried non-paved yet) than my very good Clement Strada LGG in 25mm but with considerable cush and grip. YMMV. Thanks and congrats on six years of making cyclists happy! Jim Duncan

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    1. Not sure to what extent trail plays a role in this. My best handling 'wind bike' is actually the heavy deep-drop 1930s Claud Butler TT/commuter (seriously) mixte I have on loan from a friend, which I'm pretty sure is mid trail.

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    2. Oh re tires: I love Compass and Grand Bois, but my local roads don't seem to share the sentiment (see my latest Instagram for example - 2 punctures in 1 day on rear Hetre). Strada LGGs, on 2 bikes now, have so far been bulletproof unlike anything else I've tried. Wish they'd make them in 650B x40mm.

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    3. Velouria, could you post a photo of your Claud Butler. I have a 1939 and a 1951 which I am in the process of rebuilding/restoring. Thanks.

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    4. Here is a picture of it - though, to a remarkable degree this bike resists being photographed in a way that does it justice. I shall try harder.

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  6. I remember having this sensation when I bought my new "fancy" bike about 5 years ago. I ditched the car and started riding a hybrid, off the shelf, not fitted to me, Trek bike around town until I saved to build up my Gunnar Sport, which is my current everyday bike. I still remember the first climb up the hill from my house to the main road. I felt absurdly light, quick and as if my body and bike were in perfect harmony. What a feeling! I love the sunshine and lush greens in your photos; springtime for sure!
    -Teri S

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    1. For a good 5 minutes of every day (usually just before sunset) we do have that beautiful sunshine :)

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  7. You mean weight matters?!

    Oh, cowardice for deleting the April Fools post. Like, it's a joke, people. Farce, anyone? Bueller?

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    1. What April Fools post?

      Joking. It's tradition not cowardice; they get deleted every year on the 2nd.

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    2. Potato, Potahtoe. Traditonally apprehensive that some current/future readers don't have a sense of humor?

      Judging from some of the comments the answer is clear.

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    3. I want Чудный Велик back! ;p

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    4. Don’t speak to me of prátaí. I just figure people are putting me on when they reply seriously, can't wrap my mind around the alternative. Biggest number of concerned reactions may have been in the inaugural AF post, when my cat was getting fitted for a custom bike. That and maybe 2 years ago, when the entire site was redone in Russian.

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    5. Чудный велик продолжает весело разъезжать, Рома, в параллельном мире. Передает привет.

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    6. You can't wrap your mind around the alternative - ha! Unfortunately, I can.

      For example, when I said weight matters years ago - you'd think I'd have kicked their toddler in the shins and said they was ugly. The shins.

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  8. My bikes are much more low-end than yours, but I have experienced this a bit. While I don't quite have a winter-only beater, I have what I generally refer to as my "fast bike" (1984 Bridgestone 400 road bike), which gets ridden only in clean, dry conditions, and my "beater" or "foul-weather bike" (cheap steel mountain-style BSO with full fenders). My beater bike is basically my exclusive ride in winter, but also used anytime the roads are wet. In addition to the contrast between the machine performance, I think the weather directly plays a considerable factor as well. Here in Worcester, MA winters have plenty of snow, ice, and wind. Even with studded tires, I ride far more cautiously in bad weather, and the added layers for warmth don't help with going fast. Obviously, headwinds and crosswinds are directly physically challenging as well. In support of this theory, I have ridden my commute on my aluminum folder several times in a wide range of weather conditions and noticed that my times in good weather are typically very close to my fast bike, while in inclement weather they drop to similar to my beater.

    Sadly, the snow and melt-water are still lingering here and I haven't had a chance to break out the fast bike for the season, but I cleaned and lubed the drive train in preparation and now I'm really looking forward to it!

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  9. "Exaggerated sensations ... were certainly out of all proportion to the actual difference between the two bicycles."

    YES! I have noticed this too and laughed at myself. But really I am just glad it's plunking spring already! Sheesh.

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  10. I'm still in love with that beautiful titanium machine!! I did a admittedly not-very-in-depth search for the build components and didn't find anything, and didn't see you list or answer any questions in the previous post. I've been searching for purple bar tape for-ev-er, and well... today is my birthday... and I'm doing it today... regarldess, no more excuses. And back to the point! Besides, and including, the superstupendousradicularly awesomesauce bar tape, what is the rest of the build? Wheelset, Groupset, etc.?

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    1. SRAM Rival and Campy Shifters I found. Do you prefer those Campy shifters? Have you ridden Shimano extensively before? And how is the saddle working out for you still? Nevermind, totally just found the bar tape. Thanks for the gorgeous pics to give me a heads up!!

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    2. I am pretty sure I have several posts that describe the build. But this site is so badly organised since its redesign, I'll be damned if I can find anything. Hopefully the editor will get around to fixing that one of these days.

      I've had my Seven for just over 3 years now and love it more than ever. The purple bar tape is Brooks leather tape. It has faded in places, but otherwise remains fully intact despite heavy fondling and frequent exposure to rain. My hands prefer the feel of Campy levers, but this is purely subjective. I've changed saddles a few times - from Berthoud to Selle Anatomica and back, and then to Rivet a year ago, which I'm still on. I will try to find a link to the full build description.

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  11. I must admit, I tend to favour my Bakfiets in winter, although it isn't an either/or situation. Mind you, it shows the weight of a Bakfiets that I have the experience you mentioned when changing to an Xtracycle, the Xtracycle feels lighter...

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  12. You know, you don't have to wait for winter to turn to spring to experience the magic that is changing bikes(of course you know this, but I'm going to pretend that I'm saying something clever here in a minute and would appreciate everyone acting like everything I'm about to say isn't 100% self evident)...

    I have a thousand bikes and 996 of them suck. Some of them suck because they're 75 years old and I'm too cheap to buy tires so have just lashed twisted bedsheets to the rims with coathanger wire, some of them suck because they're just weird, like they started out to be lawn chairs and somehow ended up as bikes, and some of them suck because they were simply dumb bikes designed for teenage boys to hoon around doing wheelies and jumping over crap on, but they ALL also suck because they weigh like a ton each. And I love them(or I would have turned them into lawn chairs by now). Some of the worst of them are bikes I don't ever want to be very far from so they hang out by the back door, at the bottom of the basement stairs so I can do trackstands when I should be finishing somebodies rack, or leaning against the air compressor at work so I can ride down to 7-11 at 2 for elevensies. So I'm riding crap bikes ALL THE TIME. And when it's time to ride home I get on my nifty Mercian and it feels like a Lotus 7, or when I get on my 'Cross Bike, it truly feels like something built for racing even though it's really not that exotic. If I ever get my new SEVEN put together I hope it feels like the bazillion dollar bike I'm hoping for, but if it doesn't, I shall always first take a spin on the (ugly) old Schwinn I turned into a Mtn. Bike in 1979. That bike that I will never attempt to lift into a repair stand ever again. That (ugly) bike only get's operated on while on it's (ugly) back resting on it's grips and (ugly)saddle. It's so incredibly heavy(and ugly), only a 14 year old boy could have felt like they had something worth throwing a leg over and taking for a ride. But it's fun so I still take it out and bang around on it and enjoy the horrible modulation from the not very effective (but ugly) cantilever brakes I made myself after only seeing cantilever brakes in a magazine and it makes my regular run of the mill Mtn. Bike feel AMAZING and together they don't cost as much as the 2 sets of tires we need to get for the cars my wife and daughter drive before the inspections run out in June.

    It's kind of neat (but sad) that to be happy with my bikes, I don't need to get ever nicer ones to enjoy riding, I just have to get ever crappier bikes to endure riding before getting on my NICE (slightly nicer than off the rack at the LBS), bike. And I can always find some crappier bike to stick behind the fridge to ride while I make breakfast if my NICE bike starts to feel like it needs an upgrade. I think more people should try this approach, they'd appreciate the nice bike they already have more, they'd build up some muscle tone from wrestling the ugly bike into the closet whenever company comes over and I might be able to sell a few of my worst old sheds and buy some tires for the Subaru.

    I think you just need a real piece of whatever the word is they use over there to keep on hand so's riding your nice bike always feel like the first day of spring... You might also fall in love and have another (ugly) lifelong friend.

    Spindizzy

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    1. It can also happen with a single bike. Mine is no racer, I'm no racer, but we both enjoy feeling light and fresh from time to time. I've got a decent machine, hand made for me, but it's always burdened down with fenders, rear rack and panniers that always have something in them. On windy midwestern days (which there are many) it takes a lot of effort to keep it moving when one is going in the wrong direction. BUT, when I've the urge I'll strip it down (takes only five minutes), off with the fenders, off with the rack and panniers and my thirty mile loop is a piece of cake.

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    2. I also have only one bike which is used daily for commuting and shopping - on the weekend when I don't have anything to carry I have a lighter, faster bike to enjoy some recreational riding.

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  13. Interesting that you come forward with this post just now. I have been using four bikes for the past few years: two Raleigh Sports 3-speeds ('73 and '78), a Performance mountain bike inherited from my kids (ca. 1997) and a Surly LHT which I use on the road. Over the winter I decided to rehabilitate one of two 40+-year-old Ron Kitching time trial frames we used for all kinds of riding in the '70s (including touring through Europe in '75-'76), converting the frame to a city bike with upright Soma bars and a 40-26 crankset from Rivendell (I think.) This crankset is to get up the big hills in my town in western PA.) The crankset is paired with a ca. 1970 Regina 14-24 freewheel (five speed) of which I have a collection from racing days in the '70s. Lots of issues with merging old parts and new, but it works pretty well.

    Now to get to the point: the Kitching TT frame is exceptionally light. How they held up on a tour with front and rear panniers from Le Havre to Firenze and back and then the south of England in '75-'76, plus several years of racing on either frame in the late '70s I can't say, except that the workmanship must be first class. So, riding this very light bike, a frame I have ridden thousands of miles, (but with an interregnum of over 20 years,) is a revelation. I have found the experience of beginning the season on the lightest bike with the lowest gearing not just fun, as a gesture to my age (I am 66 years old) but also as a spur to getting outdoors every day for exercise and as a kind of muscle-memory dope to get me tuned to the task at hand: get riding, get fit, get back into the daily groove, and stay healthy. The light bicycle has a salubrious effect in the early season no doubt about it. I thank Velouria for bringing up the topic upon which I have reflected many an hour.

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  14. A friend and I put in about 25 road miles Saturday. He commented that it was nice to get back on his "fast" bike for a change after winter. "My mountain bike (used for foul-weather commuting) is made from lead," he said. "Fast" can be a relative term, however. I dropped into my bailout gear on the steepest hill. Granted, I'm just getting over a cold. But after a couple more trips along this route, I'm hoping that my fitness/climbing will improve.

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  15. When I'm touring, I get that sprightly-steed feeling every evening when I take off the panniers, shower, and ride off in search of dinner. No matter how long the day has been, if I can move at all, I move with wings on my heels!

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  16. I love getting on my road bike after not riding it for a while. The feeling of my pedal strokes turning into instant movement of my bike is always amazing and my commuter doesn't come close to that feeling.

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  17. The buds are blossoming and the sun strobes through the branches for us rural riders. I can only dream of the joy of changing bikes with the seasons, but south of the border the yoyos stretch as far as new tyres but its enough. Its been a long hard winter and the joys of springtime spins are the reward for foul weather grinds with a face full of sleet and hail.... oh wait hang on, nooooo

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