When it comes to micro-beauty, it's hard to beat a feather, and when it comes to feathers, it's hard to beat a duck's. All feathers are extremely fancy, even this one. This, in fly-tying circles, is known as "bronze Mallard."
About a thousand words, or a four-minute read. It's about bicycles.
Riding for me is the best it’s ever been, and I’m glad about that, because it means I don’t have to feel like a phony, like I have to keep pedaling around because I own a bike business and wrote a bike book. Conveniently for me, I love riding my bike more than ever, and plan to charge on.
One thing about riding that I never used to think about but think about now a lot, is the human-mechanical interaction with my bicycle. ( I say “my” bicycle because it seems forward to comment on your relationship to your bicycle, but I know it’s likely similar...and I want to acknowledge that because I don't want to say I'm unique.)
That relationship (MINE!) is an interaction between loosey goosey flesh-and-boney imperfection on top of the metal-rubber-steel-and leather perfection below it. I make my bicycle move with my legs (gross motor skills), and control the mechanisms with my fingers (fine motor skills). A juggling clown on a skyscraper unicycle has the same relationship with feet and hands, but doesn’t screw up as often as I do; maybe because with an audience and danger and all, the stakes are higher. But basically, it’s not a world apart.
For example, I am really good at shifting, but I still overshift and then correct the flub on probably ten percent of my shifts. No, that sounds like a lot. Probably closer to eight percent. I don't count, but it happens every ride.
I understand shifting better than 99 percent of all bicycle riders, which means that when my chain chunks or I hit a gear a little easier or harder than I was hoping for, I know what I did wrong. This is part of the fun of “low-stakes, optional bicycle riding” that falls under the recreational umbrella. When I muff a shift, the bike reminds me that it’s perfect and I’m not, and it keeps me on my toes. It says, “nice try, but fix it and try again.” I could buy my way to perfect shifts, but I don’t want to. Screwing up shifts makes any ride more interesting. I start the ride with a blank piece of paper, and I try my best, but trying for perfection and caring about it are two different things. In my case, I don’t care about a perfect score. I am NOT suggesting you shouldn’t, either, but I am suggesting that it’s nice to be able to laugh off a basically inconsequential flub. That’s the gigantic benefit of low-stakes riding.
The bicycle manufacturing and marketing machinery has a different message. You read and look and listen and get the message that perfection is a worthy pursuit that will help us along the way to being the best physical us that we can be. Bicycle and parts designers won’t be satisfied until human and bicycle interactions are seamless and democratic and perfect for all riders, regardless of skill, experience, or the cost of the part. Manufacturers compete with one another, and they’re all shooting for that seamless perfection, to smooth the seam and make your input less necessary, make effort pointless. We kind of do the same, but there's a difference. We hit STOP just before that point, because your involvement always matters. It is extremely satisfying to get the most out of the mechanism, but not as much when the mechanism prevents all flubs. Guitar players and ye olde flautists don’t seek out “solutions” to their flubs. How about a slight musicianal approach to riding? The industry won’t allow it. It’d package it as “retro” and charming, but basically backwards. It’s forwards!
Let me interrupt: I just got a note from a reader that puts a finer point on the music comment:
(Good to know, but from somebody who can't play anything, but has a piercing analog whistle, which comes in handy more frequently than you might imagine on bicycle rides and casual indoor events, or weddings when the tableware against the glass tapping isn't working.)
I suppose a piano is indexed, too, but then there are keyboards and player pianos to consider. A mix of everything, but the core point still stands, and it's that although some instruments may be like heaving a ball at a backstop, I can't thrum anything on a guitar or play a piano, and yes, I've tried. We have a Yamaha studio upright in the house.
It’s sappy to try to romanticize riding a bike that allows flubs, but honestly, it makes riding more interesting for sure, and more fun, maybe. It depends on how big of a role you want your gear to play in your sport. In the bicycle industry and so many others, marketers and cutting edge manufacturers want you to buy your way out of all fussing, fiddling, learning. The attitude seems to be: You’re smart, you’re accomplished, you’re no-nonsense, your time is valuable, and you want pure, simple performance now. Buy this and you’ll have it.
Here's a bit of a farfetched question that, be honest, how farfetched is it, really? I present it as farfetched as sort of a defense against criticism. But really: Is there going to be a Dura-Ace AI in the future? Is SRAM working on it, too? The bike will shift when it senses the pedal pressure is a little too high or low. Is "closefetched" a word?
I think the best widgets allow the perfect result but don't guarantee it. You can pick how much help you want it to provide, but leave a gap to fill in with skill.
I don't think technology that devalues skill and so, makes skills disappear, is fantastic technology. It's easily packaged as democratic or as something that give you more family-cuddling time, or frees up your time or brain for headier pursuits, but I'm suspicious. Case by case, OK? And it's different for things like surgery and planetary clean-up. If technology contribute humanitarily, go team go, but when it barges into optional recreational inconsequential activities and elbows out basic stuff and makes us dependent upon it because we've lost the skills we had before it came, then that's a different deal.
Partly it’s different strokes for different folks, but it’s also because, for bicycle riders, these are extra-interesting times along the lines of interesting times in the famous and ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” That may derive from something 17th century Chinese writer, Feng Menglong, wrote: “Better to be a dog in times of tranquility than a human in times of chaos.” They’re similar, at least.
Then, in 1898, British politician Joseph "Africanus" Chamberlain gave a speech and spun off another variant of the original “interesting times” quote. He said, “I never remember myself a time in which our history was so full, in which day by day brought us new objects of interest, and, let me say also, new objects for anxiety.” The last part is how I feel about bicycles, and how funny that is! I’m anxious (not to be confused with “eager”) about the trends, hence our latest t-shirt.
There are so many ways to do bicycles and to ride. It’s a smorgasbord (I grew up saying “smorgasborg,” as did many of you, I’d guess) of bicyles and riding styles. Pile your plate up with stuff you like, and it doesn’t have to all be from us. I hope enough of it is to keep this show on the road. Thanks so much for your support so far. You and not us are keeping it going, seriously, and that should be obvious to anybody who thinks about it. I understand our role, but we couldn’t have a role based only on ideals.
Flat v Clipless
This is interesting and the non-advantages of clipless pedals have been well-known but under wraps for decades. I'm glad to see this, but they still kind of bend over forwards trying to make the point that not just any shoes will do. That specific cycling shoes made for pedaling flat pedals are required.
I sweat to God I hate to plug my book under the guise of a public service announcement, but I said this eleven years ago in Just Ride and it was old news (but under the radar for the most part) before that:
(We still sell the book, which is good news, since bike shops, for the most part, won't go near it. They like books that glorify racing and reveal drug scandals. And photo books of the golden age, something like that. Memoirs now and then.
Yes, that's about "the size of it," as we used to say. (I've never said that.) The odd thing now, still, is that so many riders think this is bad news. I suppose one might if one had a closet full of $250-$300 clipless shoes, each dedicated to a particular bike with the matching compatible pair of pedals on it.
Let me talk about the video with the thin English blokes. Again, I appreciate it. But the numbers at the end weren't hard numbers. Numbers always have that sense of hardness, and this test was as fair as they could make it, but it wasn't the kind of "test" that lets you conclude anything without a doubt. Sometimes the rubber shoes won, sometimes the fancy shoes won. It was always by a little, either way. BUT LET'S SAY the fancy shoes consistently made a 15 percent or even 20 percent or 25 percent difference. That's at a racing effort. At a normal effort they'd overlap. On a ride where speed isn't the THING, who cares? In downtown traffic where there are stop lights or stop signs all over the place, AND you're cruising along, a barefoot pedaler might go 95 percent as fast (if he missed the red lights) as racer.
One of the best positives that has come about in the last twenty years is the huge number of BMX-y type flat pedals that anybody can ride with any shoes on any bike.
Here's an interesting "new" topic. Breathing. Nose breathing.
I know it sounds spooky and weird, new-agey or charlatanesque, but I sweat to God again that it's not.
I've been experimenting, and yes--it's only one person, it's not a rigorous study, but guess what?—I don't have a lab and this is just a blahg.. Aside from what ever longterm health advantages there are, I wonder and am still wondering about riding whilst sucking in and blowing out air thru the nostrils.
And, one of the fun deals about not racing or caring about that stuff, is that I can experiment without risking not getting my contract renewed next racing season.
I may not "care" about speed, but I ride the same rides all the time, and based on my effort level, I can tell how long it a variety of one-to-five minute climbs is going to take. On a one-minute climb, I can tell within 2 seconds. On a five-minute climb, within ten seconds, usually six. Nose breathing is new to my internal Olympic games, so after 20 years of mouth-breathing these same climbs, I started nose-breathing them just for fun.
Today, Groundhog Day, a sprint up a gradual hill that usually takes me 37 seconds, and my fastest is 35, took only 34, nose-breathing on my Atlantis with wing-widened pedals, and fully racked and bagged. I'm nose-breathing all the time now, except when I lapse. Try that book.
Final Nose-breathing stuff:
About 25 years ago, coming back from an S240 (bike camping overnight) it was super hot and we were all out of water with a long way to go. We breathed through the ol' nostrils so as not to exhale moisture through gaping mouths. I think there's an old survival tip: Suck on a pebble. Not to extract juice, but as a way to keep your mouth closed. Apparently, when you SOAP, you're more likely to keep your mouth shut, and not fall into the death trap of mouth-breathing.
Long skinny noses with small nostrils evolved in northern europe. Those noses warm air on the inhale, kind of like how snugger clothes and narrower sleeping bags and smaller tents are warmer than big old roomy ones. Broad noses....
....evolved in Africa, famous for hot air. The large holes and somewhat shorter warming channels minimize the warming. They must be better for nose-breathing, too. I know when I nose-breath on huffy-puffy sections, go to extreme lengths and effort to open the old nostrils. It's not a new movement, just an interesting thing. I wonder if, when you "get good at it," there's some physiological change inside, like maybe your body uses more of the oxygen you inhale, so you don't have to open your mouth and suck in air like a vaccuum cleaner.
Derailer news: Soon. These things take foruckingever.
New cheap good saddle news: Same
Brooks B.68 good news and bad: Same.
I'm fishing more this year...going to, at least. I fished some last year, and it used to be all I did, it seemed. I'm re-getting together with old fishing friends, who are indeed old, and year and three older than me, and anyway, I'm really happy about it. But I will, absolutely, miss my bicycle. Tons. It's never a relief or a welcome respite or anything like that, when I can't ride, and I'm just not used to it.