Alterations! Please!

When it comes to fashion, women know all about alterations. Hemming pants, letting out a seam, or taking in a little at the waist or hips. Gathering, ruching, stitching are all part of tailoring an outfit to certain measurements and specifications.


Why wouldn’t we do something similar with a bike? Last week I met with a frame builder. I will talk more about that experience in an upcoming post. While meeting with him I asked what I could do right now with my current bike to make it more comfortable. I have been riding this bike, the Kona Roundabout, since 2012 and I always experience some measure of neck and shoulder pain. My instinct was to correct the saddle, but in a moment he said the handlebar stem looked too low, my suspicions were confirmed.

Too low? I have always wondered about that but frankly I didn’t want to spend the time or money on a full blown fitting. I suspected as much, but lacked the confidence to say, “Hey, I need a different stem.” My frame builder suggested we go next door to the bike shop and see if they had a stem a little shorter and higher. A slight rise might help alleviate the problem.

The floppy handlebars was one sign I should have paid attention to. Another was that I couldn’t balance without both hands. I kick myself for not talking about it, but there’s always the danger of being upsold something I didn’t need. I did not need new handlebars. I suspected something was amiss, but I lacked the confidence to talk about it and I didn’t think it was significant. For three years I haven’t had the alterations.

The frame builder could see it because he’s seen it before. He lives in the world of alterations and modifications. I think about my mother and her mother and how they could eyeball a suit jacket on my father and say it was too big in the shoulders. It looked fine to me, but after years of watching how they would tailer something to the frame of the wearer, I could see it too. The difference was millimeters, but it fit ever so slightly better which meant it fit like is should, for me.
Kona Stem

This elusive detail might escape the local bike shop.But for the most part it could be that one little adjustment to make the difference between someone riding and someone saying their bike isn’t comfortable. Something may look good, it may look close, but it still may not be the right fit. Does a millimeter make a difference? Short answer is a resounding Yes. This one adjustment means I can ride my bike like it was made for me.

Wish you were riding more? One step is to think about what hurts when you ride? Where and why? Talk with someone about what bugs you about your bike. Maybe you really do need a new one, but maybe there are some alternations to be made to help you and your bike fit together better. The stem change on my Kona was $35. Less than hemming a pair of pants. Probably not, but close. Like the flower? Someone actually left than on the road. It has a home now on my basket!

Happy riding!

Clubs & Group Riding

Luna's RoadIMG_2739

Summer 2015 I stretched myself a bit on the social front and decided to go on a group ride. The Vancouver Bicycle Club is a great organization and I often see groups out and about while I’m commuting to and from work. This was my summer to seize the moment and give it a whirl. I checked out the site and found the Tuesday Friend ride was a good fit. A nice place to start. Clay is the leader.  I didn’t know what to expect. Group riding is the place to learn how to riding with others. You are in a situation where you need to point out road’s infinite imperfections to the riders behind you. Plus you signal left and right and call out “Car back” and help your fellow riders pay attention. It’s a nice change of pace and you get to socialize. Plus, someone else drives and you fall in behind. Also a fantastic way to learn new routes.

My first group ride with VBC was about 10 riders strong and I was one of three women. I found this surprising. Exciting that other women were present, but they didn’t socialize much with me. They were friends, so they talked with one another.  Once of the women was new to cycling. She bought a bike about a year ago and she was going on her first 40 mile ride on the upcoming Saturday. She was extremely nervous about it. The men were telling her how to eat and when to drink. The common advice about drinking before you’re thirsty and eat before you’re hungry. They talked about energy bars and goos.

I had forgotten the tendency cyclists have to bloviate and brag about rides of yore. My sage advice was simply to ride as your own pace. If the ride isn’t a competition, then dial it back and enjoy the day. You have to decide when you want to push it and when you need to pull back. I waxed on about a Seattle to Portland ride of some years gone by when I tried to ride in a group that was going about 18 mph. I was holding my own for 25 minutes and then I bonked. Bonked big!  I waved them on and I pulled over. I staggered to a stop and sat down with my bike on my knees. Everything got black. My eyes were open and I could not see. It was 90 degree out and I was shivering.  I stuck my head between my knees and ate a Power Bar while hearing a chorus of people ask me if I was okay. I thought I was going to die. As my vision returned and I guzzled the water I realized I suffered a classic bonk. I learned a valuable lesson that hot July day about hydration and energy. Not everyone’s pace is the same. You have to take care of yourself and know your limits.

“You did the STP?” A member asked. “We probably saw one another. Back in the day when that ride was only 4000 riders.” We swapped food suggestions. Listening to the banter reminded me on a big family reunion where everyone remembers something. “Those red potatoes. Boil those up with a little salt. That’s better than an energy bar.” Another suggested.

“Peanut butter on apples.”

Another said, “Bananas, always bananas!”

Three summer rides with the guys and a few gals of the VBC and I’m hooked. Group rides, especially with the right group, are highly recommended. Group rides remind you that you’re not alone out there; strength in numbers when you’re out on the main roads and navigating the backroads. There’s a sense of camaraderie and friendship even if you just met everyone. Someone has your back and there’s an energy that helps you keep up and motivates you to ride strong. As is often the case with me, I overdo it. I wanted to try the other weekly rides, like the Earthquake ride, but instead I became a card carrying member and stick to the friendly Tuesday ride. I couldn’t go with them today. I took off earlier and did the route but without the group. How odd it was! I got a few things wrong in the route and I missed Tony, Dave and Steve, plus there’s a guy who smokes a pipe as a rest stop. At first I was slightly shocked by this and now it doesn’t faze me.

Not every group will be the right fit. Nor will every ride. But you should try. When it’s good, it’s great and you make friends and learn about life outside your bubble.

When you miss the group, that’s when you know a group ride is working for you.

Go Public!

My bike took me places today!  Quick stops at Bike Gallery, then REI, followed by Public and top it off at Western Bike Works. If the temps were a tad lower, I would have tried for a few more visits, but summer days have a mind of their own.

I visited the new Public Bike shop in NW Portland today. You know Public, right? If not, take a look at their site. I have always been curious about their bikes, but I’ve never tried one out. What an adorable shop! At first glance it feels like it could be in Europe, but check your GPS because you’re on NW 23rd and Kearney. The location is good; high foot traffic and there’s Salt and Straw at the corner, so you know that’s a good thing. There’s a bike parked at the public racks with information about test rides. Bikes are situated like breadcrumbs to help you find your way. I felt like Gretel following the crumbs to the shop. Cute accessories like baskets and bags outfit the bikes as well. I parked in front of Salt and Straw and tried to steel my nerves and refrain from getting a scoop. My mission was to check out the shop.

When I entered the shop I thought it was two stories, but Public is down the stairs and another shop entirely in upstairs. I felt a tiny wave of disappointment since I really wanted to look at gear.

It’s compact but there are loads of bikes for you to try. I talked with an eager guy who asked what prompted my visit. He really had to twist my arm (not) to take a bike for a spin. The usual protocol, ID and fill out a brief questionnaire and then he selected a step through 8 speed for me. I am researching (wink, wink) and wonder about the step through versus the mixte frame I currently use for my daily commute.

Why didn’t I take pictures? I blame the heat.

The bike I took for a test ride was fine, but not quite what I’m after. It wasn’t love at first spin. It lacked that feeling of possibility. It will be the perfect bike for someone, but not me. It’s a cute shop and they have bags, helmets and bikes for everyone to try. Their price point is reasonable and the bikes come in candy colors. A Public store in the neighborhood is great news because it means more bikes.

Go try one out!

(Note: This was written 7/8/15)

Custom Ride or Not?

Let’s talk about custom bikes. I have been riding bikes for most of my adult life and before that I had three bikes: a tricycle, a nondescript bike with training wheels, and a bodacious, freedom loving, adventure hunting banana seat. Then I recall a cheap Firenze my Dad got free somehow, and a Raleigh then a Schwinn and so on and so on. I rode a Schwinn Passages across the USA back in 1986. I digress. I have had more than a few bicycles and yet I still do not have the perfect bike.

Currently in the bike corral there’s a 2006 Trek Portland, a 2012 Kona Mixte Roundabout (the daily commuter bike) a Specialized Globe, and a Cannonade Carbon Synapse Road bike. Also, in the spirit of full disclosure: there’s a Specialized Rock Hopper circa 1987 hanging from the ceiling. It was a birthday present from my husband.

But what is the perfect bike. I have been thinking about this quite a bit. I think some bikes fit a certain purpose. I have no intention on weighing down my road bike with racks and panniers. I bike and I have bikes. There it is. I ride three of the four most weeks. The Specialized Globe has a giant basket rack on the front and my dog likes to ride up front. That’s his bike. Don’t judge.

However, when it comes to the custom build, I always thought it was just for people who were either too tall or too short for what was in the bike shops. I have learned there’s certainly a market there, but what about someone who simply wants a better more custom rig?

Here’s an article about custom bikes.

Point numero uno:

1. Know what you want, and find someone who specializes in it.

I am working on it. You know when you see it. I saw a bike by this builder and it has a belt drive. I think I want a belt drive for my new commuter bike. I have always liked the technology and I think my next bike needs it. It’s ultra quiet, like a Prius for bikes. It’s also lower maintenance. Not to brag, but I am replacing chains regularly.

2. Know what you like and don’t like about your current bike.

I have a list. I am meeting with a bike builder in two days and I have a list of all my bikes and what I like and what isn’t working. But this new bike is my commuter. It’s the bike that needs to take me through all weather conditions and still be cute and sassy.

3. Be a partner, not just a customer.

Definitely! I can’t wait for this meeting. I am giddy about going into his shop and talking about my bikey needs. I have another list. I also have background.

4. Know your budget, and be upfront about it.

This point in very important. It’s hard though. I went to the Shinola store in Detroit a few weeks ago and I almost, just about, nearly bought a bike. But the bottom line is that for $2,900, it still wasn’t quite it. I took the Scott Sub 8, belt drive for a spin and it’s really pretty and super quiet and I loved the feel, but still, not quite it. I even took a Public bike for a spin. It was okay, so I know I have some sort of standard. I love the look of the Shinola Bixby, but at $3500 and still needing modifications, I figure it’s time to have the custom bike conversation.

5. Know exactly what you’re getting.

Well, sure! Duh! But how is this possible? I love steel. I love carbon. I love aluminum… what’s a Bike Goddess to do? I have rented bikes, ridden bikes, bought and sold bikes. I’m not sure how to Know exactly what you’re getting, but this is an step, a first conversation, a start in the right direction.


Let’s Get Going

IMG_2734 3The whole point to a blog is to share. I’m organized and ready to roll. I had a bit of a hiatus trying to decide which blogging site to use and then I let myself get intimidated by all the awesome blogs out there already. This has been a summer to exceed my expectations and I have been asked more and more about biking and commuting, so here goes. Let’s try this again.