Bikes

On Commuting

I developed the taste for road biking from commuting.  During one summer around ten years ago when the gas prices were higher than they had ever been, I started commuting with my Mt. Bike.  I figured out how much money I was saving on a daily basis and started to save up to buy a commuting bike.  I was naive and trusting during the first week as I didn’t even lock my bike up as I left it in the car pool parking lot before getting a ride to work.  Since then I have learned a lot about making commuting more economical, safe, convenient, etc.  Here are just a few ideas or lessons learned over the years.

Minimalism

If you buy a large house, you will eventually buy enough furniture to fill that house.  This is the same idea with commuting.  Because you won’t always be wearing the same clothes during the commute as you would at work, the transport of clothes is where the idea of minimalism makes sense.  If you buy a large backpack or panniers, you will start bringing items that are unnecessary.  I find ways to actually ride without any bags as often as possible.  On Monday I might drive my car and take in 2 or 3 different changes of clothes, and leave them in my office with all the necessary sink and shower items.  Doing so allows me to ride my road bike or triathlon bike to work and not always use the commuter.  I also stock up the break room fridge on Monday with the lunches for the coming week, and that alleviates the need to carry in a lunch daily.  Sometimes that Monday transport includes enough supplies for two weeks.  If this option isn’t available, other methods can be used to decrease the stuff you have with you while on the bike.  Less stuff on the bike decreases weight and increases speed which decreases the time you take getting to and from work.  Those three issues are big deterrents to more people not commuting.

Proper Gear?

I listed what my ideal for a commuting bike was in a post awhile back.  One of the key features for a commuting bike is a rear rack.  If you can get a rear rack and get the backpack off the back and all your stuff into panniers, it makes life much better for commuting.  This is for a few reasons.  It creates a lower center of gravity, and reduces sweating, reduces drag, creates less stress on your back and shoulders, and increases security of things being transferred.  Some people swear by riding with a backpack or messenger bag, and I do that at times too when I ride my road bike, but I stay away from it as much as possible.  Clothing is also a very important part of the commuting gear list.  Light, reflective, breathable, waterproof, and packable.  Basically the perfect holy grail of clothing articles cannot be found, but over the years and iterations you soon find out what works for you.  I have found that simple pure-wool running gloves are great for most cold temperatures I have experienced.  In fact Merino wool is a great material for commuting because it can also look good off the bike if necessary.

Transportation vs. Sport

Here in Germany there is a clear distinction between individuals that ride bikes for transportation and those that ride for sport. It is very common to see a 70 year old woman riding a bike that she has owned for 30 years to pick up some bread from the bakery. It is less common to see someone all decked out in spandex on an expensive road bike. Consequently, my ideas on commuting have changed a little while living here. I use commuting often to supplement my training, but rarely as a substitute. This means that I commute at a leisurely pace. Slow, Z1, No Sweat is basically the goal for my commute. This style takes longer, and sometimes I disregard this when my training plan and commuting need to have overlap, but for the most part if I keep my commute in the No Sweat range, I am then more willing and able to do it for 5 workdays in a row.

Security

Forethought on security is a good idea before changing your preferred commuting vehicle to a bike. For example, the questions of where you can park the bike and what other details or security issues that will include are important. I have gone through iterations of upgrading locks to the point that the lock I use now could only be removed during a robbery with power tools. In fact this lock cost me half the price of what my commuter bike did. Having had 1 bike stolen, and 1 lock ruined in an attempt, I no longer mess around buying inexpensive locks. Other methods exist for security, but no matter how much your commuter bike costs, the invasive feeling of having a bike stolen is extremely annoying and unpleasant. There is a special place in the afterlife reserved for bike thieves. Regardless, my practice is to error on the side of excessive security.

The Route

The most bike friendly route for your commute might sometimes be 20% longer than the shortest route. Bike lanes, large road shoulders, hard-pack dirt roads, alleyways, side streets etc. should all be explored as possibilities to include in your route. Having a stress free ride with minimal traffic is extremely important for me, and increases safety. I used to enjoy the rush of riding in between traffic lanes and sprinting to beat a light, but with kids at home now that rush is no longer justifiable. When seeking out a new route, I also look for the ones with the least stop lights unless crossing a busy road is required. Basically, after trying numerous different routes, your favorite route will eventually present itself. Don’t be afraid to try a new route.

Weather

I commute in all types of weather, with the only caveat being icy conditions (for obvious reasons). Some people use studded tires to minimalize slippery conditions, but I have yet to purchase such tires. Over the years I have accumulated the proper clothing for all weather scenarios. I have even improvised with ski goggles when necessary during a whiteout snowstorm a few winters back. During the winter your panniers will become fuller with weather appropriate possibility items. There are few more depressing feelings than coming back to your bike without the proper gear after a work day when the weather changed from summer to winter. It is best to have the weather gear available during the months of possibility rather than wanting it and not having it. Along with clothing adaptations it is necessary that your attention to everything else increase during poor weather. The visibility of automobile drivers decreases significantly, and they aren’t expecting a cyclist on the road during a snow or rain storm, so they aren’t accounting for your presence as readily as they would in the summer. Consequently my winter time speed average is always considerably slower to account for increased dangers.

Community

As a final point, I am amazed with the tight community that bike commuters form no matter where I have lived. As soon as you let another commuter know that you ride your bike to work, you are immediately admitted into a tight circle. The stories you possess and things you experience on your bike are shared and compared quickly and knowingly between bike commuters. Here in Germany there are 4 others that commute by bike in my office, and we all know each other and keep tabs on who rode today. My father in law commutes by bike, and I am positive it helped my approval rating while I was dating his daughter that I did too. In fact, nearly 6 years ago when I went to ask him for his daughter’s hand in marriage, it was in the middle of my commute home. We spent more time looking at my 1983 Peugot that I had converted to a single speed than we did discussing the matter at hand. “Oh yeah, by the way can I marry your daughter?”

Commuting is a wonderful way to spend time on your bike. Unless you work from home, some length of a commute is necessary. I look forward to it before and after every work day.  If you are also a commuter and willing to comment, let me know about your commute including daily miles (kilometers), location, and the months of the year you are able to commute.  Thanks for reading.

Advertisements

A New Saddle (Cobb JOF Randee)

So I am fully aware that saddles are probably the most personal part of the bike and subject to the greatest range of opinions, but here is my opinion:  The saddle I recently purchased is awesome!  I have found a new saddle and company with which each ride is causing me to become a loyal customer.  The company is Cobb Cycling whose founder is John Cobb.  Up front I will mention that I also have a few leather saddles and know why they (leather saddles) have such a loyal customer base.  As a triathlete and a distance cyclist, I will hopefully bring to light why I like this new saddle.

Background

I have been getting by with the cheapest triathlon specific saddle I could find on the interwebs for the past two seasons. I think I really just convinced myself that being in the aero position required a little discomfort (no pains no gains right?). After all, such a position doesn’t seem very natural for either gender’s anatomy. So during this season although my old saddle was just fine, I started doing research on a new saddle that I could eventually upgrade to. I spent time on blogs, forums, reviews, company websites, and ultimately narrowed it down to 4 different saddles. These were the ISM Adamo Attack, The Bontrager Hilo RXL, The Fizik Tritone, and the Cobb Fifty-Five JOF. Of all these companies I knew the least about Cobb. I read somewhere that the company was started by a man who helped Greg Lemond with his transition to the aero position way back when, but otherwise the company was new to me. So I did more research and eventually just ended up on the Cobb Cycling site. As I triathlete and a distance rider, I wondered why I hadn’t found his site and videos sooner. His site is a vast resource of knowledge. The thing I like the most about it is that he is giving most of his knowledge and information away for free in an easy to follow video format. My interest as a customer ramped upwards. I then did more research for reviews from those that had Cobb saddles, and could not find one negative review regarding customer service or overall comfort. Amidst other internet consumer research I had narrowed the field with the ISM Adamo Attack being the only other candidate for me. Then I noticed a saddle on the Cobb site that I hadn’t seen before named the JOF Randee. JOF stood for ‘Just Off Front’ and Randee is a clever shortened nomer for that difficult to say French word, “Randonneur”. Was this saddle developed to cover long distance triathlons as well as other types of long distance bike rides? Sure enough the description touted it as exactly that. With a billing like that, could this saddle possibly become my “one saddle to rule them all”? At the introductory rate, I saw the price being a deal less than the ISM Adamo Attack, so another plus. Having just enough money in my dedicated bike part bank account, I pulled the trigger and got the Randee on order.  Maybe a slight gamble on a new product, but I felt I had done my due diligence in consumer research, and plastered big on each page of the Cobb site was a 90 day comfort guarantee.  If my sit-bones rejected it they would do so faster than within 90 days.

Design

After opening the box upon arrival, I immediately noticed the high quality in the Randee. I liked that from until looking at it up close, it might be mistaken for a traditional saddle without a cutout. It looked sleek and smooth and well made. One difference with this design and both the ISM Adamo Attack and the Fifty-Five JOF is the continuity of the nose transversely. Meaning the nose is one solid piece and not split in two down the middle as the other two are.  The rails seemed to be of sufficient length which in my case is needed due to my road bike to aero postion conversion during tri-season.  I don’t like how big the logo’s are, but I am a minimalist when it comes to logos and branding, and they won’t really be seen while in use, so not a deal breaker.

Close up of nose area.  More comfortable than it might look.

Close up of nose area. More comfortable than it might look.

Comfort

Without the split theoretically the front end would have less deflection, and to me I was concerned about actually being able to ride for an extended amount of time Just Off the Front due to this decreased ability to deflect. Pressing around with my fingers I noticed the nose also to be quite a deal harder than my old Tri-Saddle. This also gave me reason for concern. I pressed around the entirety of the saddle and noticed the areas that were soft and those that were not. Then I put it on my bike. During the beginning of the first ride I was worried that I would have to take them up on the 90 Day Guarantee. I could not find a comfortable spot the way I had ridden my old saddle. There in lied the problem. I was riding this saddle how I had learned to ride that saddle in its only comfortable position. That comfortable position was not comfortable on the Randee. When I realized this I stopped, adjusted the saddle more forward, and then began to vary positions to determine the comfortable zones. By sheer dumb luck, I think I found the only uncomfortable position for this saddle. All other sit positions I tried during that first ride were amazingly comfortable. So much so, that I ended up forgetting most of the time about the saddle and more on things like HR Zones and my training schedule for that workout. Awesome! Around ten rides in, and I am still in awe with how comfortable this saddle is in the aero position. When I switch to the hoods, I don’t notice it either. On the drops, it is just as comfortable as in the aero. I even took it through a 90 minute Zone 3 tempo ride and due to comfort alone I am confident in saying the faster speeds for that specific ride can be attributed to the saddle itself (2 KPH increase on the overall average). On comfort alone I would rate it a 5 out of 5.

View of saddle cut-out.

View of saddle cut-out.

 

Usability and Longevity

I was pleasantly surprised to find high quality tools included in the box with the saddle. They are nothing special, but it is nice to have right there when you open the box for immediate installation. I was also very pleased with the included tape measure with the seat height formula written on the backside. Very nice in the event you forget both your inseam and the 0.889 multiplying factor necessary to set your seat height. Little inclusions like that are small enough, but go a long way in affecting my satisfaction as a customer. Another positive making the saddle more useable were the added threaded holes for hydration system attachment. Of course you have to buy their bracket, but I like the integral design instead of clamping down a bracket onto the rails (ie. less parts). For overall usability, I would give the Randee a 4 out of 5. As per longevity, I cannot officially speak as of yet. I don’t think anyone can as it just came out, but I will update this post when I have over 1,000 kilometers on the saddle. By then I should have a really good idea where this saddle shines and where it doesn’t.

Threaded holes for hydration system attachment.

Threaded holes for hydration system attachment.

Tools included with purchase.  Sweet!

Tools included with purchase. Sweet!