The Shape of Things to Come

Details to follow.


A Farewell to Arms.


While browsing Ye Olde Twitter Feed this morning, I saw this tweet from @outsidemagazine:

The link leads to an article that gives good, albeit unoriginal, practical advice to: 1) be predictable; 2) be visible; and, 3) be cautious.  Brief content criticism: this would have been an excellent opportunity to talk about advocacy and efforts that one can undertake to be proactive in changing the culture in your area, rather than being reactive and wearing bright vests.  So another quasi-lame, regurgitated article on “bike safety”.

That’s not why I’m upset.

I’m upset because Outside, undoubtedly trying to drum up clicks from their twitter feed, talks about “the war between bikes and cars.”  Outside is a voice for many things relating to the great outdoors.  They’re often in a position of advocacy for environmentalism and outdoor recreation, and cover outdoors related subjects in a positive light.  For them to talk about a “war” between cars and bikes cheapens their editorial position.

First off, it’s not a war.  Anyone who would call a conflict between cars and cyclists a war clearly doesn’t understand what a war is.  A “car versus bike battle” isn’t a fight–it’s a slaughter.  The force dynamics so overwhelmingly favor the car that it’s a ridiculous analogy.  Car ends up scuffed, cyclist ends up dead.  Does that sound like a war?  More often than not, car versus cyclist “battles” sound more like murders.  To play this off as a “war” cheapens the deaths of so many cyclists.

Second, the war analogy brings with it a ton of negative baggage.  It implies that cyclists and motorists should be adversarial–should be violent–should be fighting.  It implies that all is fair in a conflict between motorists and cyclists, just as “all is fair in love and war.”  It implies that motorists have to watch out for warring cyclists, and have to defend themselves.  Who goes “into battle” against a 6,000 pound SUV, armored with a thin layer of lycra?  Do we have to start thinking about the road as a battlefield?  Should we be talking less about responsible riding and more about tactics?

This one slip of the editorial tongue continues to allow the dialogue and the discussion of motorist/cyclist interaction to escalate in violence.  It continues to nurture the seed of perception that this is a fight–and a fair fight at that.

If we are going to effect meaningful change, we have to change how we are perceived.  Using terminology of war or conflict perpetuates negative connotations, at best, and worsens the way society perceives cyclists, at worst.  It was a cheap shot for Outside, and one that I’m ashamed to see.  What bothers me the most about this tweet is that it shows whomever is writing the social media feed for Outside totally doesn’t get it.  They don’t see that they’re reinforcing harmful stereotypes that put cyclists’ (and Outside subscribers’) lives in danger.

Are the roads more or less safe than they were a year or two ago?  I don’t know.  I haven’t seen any legitimate studies talking about accurate statistics describing injuries or fatalities per vehicle miles travelled–something that would account for the increasing popularity of cycling in a truly representative fashion.  I know that I’m more aware of car versus cyclist incidents because of the work I do with Axletree, but simply because I’m aware of more incidents doesn’t mean that, on the whole, more incidents are occurring.  Even if there is a “war”, is it escalating, or is this just Outside’s hyperbole?  Of course, this is a hypothetical question as Outside provides no basis in their article to conclude that the “war” is “escalating.”

It’s about getting clicks, not about being accurate or socially responsible.

Outside, you can should do better.

Quick and Dirty Guide to Gluten Allergies

I have a friend who was recently diagnosed with a gluten allergy, and he asked for some pointers on living with it.  I get this question a lot, and decided to memorialize an answer here.  I’ll try to update this post periodically as I have more thoughts.  This is quick and dirty at the outset.

  1. Never just order something as gluten free.  Always tell your host that you have a gluten allergy.  If they look at you skeptically, explain that if they serve you gluten you will get very sick.  In their restaurant.  Places that prepare gluten free food as a lifestyle thing do not always pay attention to cross contamination.  When you explain the allergy issue, it makes people be a little more careful.
  2. Don’t be embarrassed to speak up.  It is painful having to repeat the same spiel everywhere you go, explaining the allergy.  You have to commit to doing this, if you want to commit to being healthy.  Avoiding the explanation is not worth the subsequent pain of begin glutened.  You’re not being an ass–you’re explaining a medical condition.  This medical condition is not your fault, and is not something to be ashamed or embarrassed of.  It is a disability.  Get used to explaining it.  (Also, get used to smiling and nodding politely when people tell you about their fantastic gluten free fad diet).
  3. For me, oats are just as bad as gluten.  The proteins are similar, and this is not an uncommon reaction.
  4. Many chain restaurants have nothing that you can eat.  There’s nothing I can eat at McDonalds; even a plain hamburger has wheat in it (as a binder).
  5. Some restaurants are fantastic.  Chipotle saves my life on a regular basis.  It is reliably good, gluten free, and safe to eat.  Do watch when they prepare your bowl though…sometimes the cheese will migrate into the salsas.  If I see a piece of cheese in the salsa, I ask for fresh salsa.  See #2.
  6. Panera also has some good options.
  7. Noodles has gluten free noodles (two kinds) that they will make any dish with.
  8. Most “mom and pop” breakfast places/diners can accommodate you if you order carefully.  Explain the issue.  They’ll listen.
  9. Don’t be afraid to explain the issue.  I’m allergic to dairy too, and you have no idea how often I say that I have a dairy allergy, then follow up with, “please cook the eggs in oil, not butter,” and have the server say something like, “oh—butter is dairy.”  Butter is dairy.  So are sour cream, cheese, and a myriad of other things.  Talk about common things that you need removed or kept away from your food.  People associate dairy with milk–not necessarily everything else.
  10. On that note, don’t just order gluten free.  Make sure you place the order with clear indications.  If I’m ordering breakfast, I’ll order it gluten free, and then ask for it with no toast.  If I’m ordering a salad, I’ll order it gluten free, and ask for no croutons.  Don’t worry about repeating yourself.  A surprising amount of the time, restaurants will prepare a “gluten free” food, and then serve it with a healthy dose of gluten…unless you give clear indications to the contrary.
  11. If you get food that isn’t how you ordered it, send it back.  When I order a salad and it gets served with a slice of bread on it, I send it back.  See #2.
  12. Learn to find gluten in weird places.  Soy sauce almost universally has wheat in it.  Look for gluten free soy (Tamari).
  13. If you go to Bea’s Wok and Roll and tell Bea that you have an allergy, she will remember it forever, and will never let you order again.  She will always say, “Oh, Mr. ________, I’ll make something special for you.”  This is fantastic, and highly encouraged.
  14. Surround yourself with people who are supportive.  Friends that are willing to accommodate your disability are friends.  People who are not willing to do so are indicating their true feelings.  It’s a life lesson.
  15. Pay attention, and have others pay attention.  You have no idea how often someone will make something “gluten free”, and then inadvertently add gluten to it.  Just because you used a gluten free cookie mix doesn’t mean that you can use flour to roll out the dough.  There are some places I can’t eat, because I know that well-intentioned people just don’t pay enough attention.
  16. Learn to read ingredients before eating foods.  This is actually a good life lesson, regardless of food allergies.
  17. Learn to ask questions about your foods.  This is also a good life lesson.
  18. Try to marry someone who is an amazing, fantastic person, who is much, much too good for you.  It is also helpful if this person is an inspired chef, capable of researching and preparing amazing GF meals for/with you.  Even if they aren’t a chef, the balance of this remains good advice.
  19. Get and read gluten-free cookbooks.  They will give you ideas on what to cook, ideas on what to look for regarding foods to avoid, and will give you thoughts on how to order food when you go out.
  20. Plan your calories.  Life is different.  You cannot go hammer on the bike and then stop at a Casey’s for a piece of pizza to refuel.  Often, this means that you have to pack your food with you.
  21. If you’re caught without food, are hungry, and are in a location where all available food has gluten in it, unless you are truly starving and dying of malnutrition, it is better to just go hungry than it is to eat something with gluten in it.  The calories you take in will be more than offset by the calories that you lose through the resulting poisoning.
  22. Poisoning is not an exaggeration.  Accept the seriousness of your condition.  See #3 above.
  23. Realize that someone has it worse.  I’m allergic to gluten, dairy and oats.  But hey, I can eat eggs.
  24. Blood tests are your friend.  When you have a restricted diet, you may start having weird deficiencies.  You will start feeling crappy over time, and you may not immediately appreciate it.  Doing regular blood tests will help detect these issues and allow you to get treatment before it’s too bad.  I take a myriad of vitamins to try to keep my various levels in check.
  25. If you’re not comfortable with a given food or meal, don’t eat it.
  26. People are surprisingly helpful when you share your problem with them.  But even helpful people, in conscientious restaurants, make mistakes.  It happens.  When it happens, tell them.  Don’t be rude, but tell them–and make sure they understand exactly what happens to you as a result.
  27. Be patient.  Be elegant.  But see #2, above.

Shimano Di2 Hydro Update

I’ve had a chance to put a few miles on the Moots of late.  One of the most important parts of the bike, from my perspective, is the drivetrain choice.

The drivetrain is Shimano Ultegra Di2 shifters, hydro brakes, XT 6 bolt rotors, Ultegra derailleurs, and Dura-Ace Cranks and cassette…so Dura Ace where there was a weight difference, and Ultegra elsewhere.

The brakes are amazing.  That’s the initial review.  Lever feedback, engagement and precision is GREATLY improved over the SRAM Red 22 hydros I used to have.  The Ultegras have a useful range of motion…as you move the lever, you get great, perceptible feedback on how the brakes are performing.  Controlling modulation and lockup is incredibly easy.  I had expected the brakes to perform similarly to the SRAM, and I’m blown away by how much better they are.  The only downside is that I have a very minor, almost imperceptible wave in my front rotor…and I can tell because under light braking, the brake lever pulses…they’re that tactile/sensitive.

How’s the drivetrain, you ask?  Well, 50/34 cranks and 11-28 cassette.  It works, perfectly, under all conditions.  Shift under power?  Absolutely.  Cross-chain?  It’ll self-trim and avoid any chain rub.  Want to fire off a bunch of shifts?  No problem.  Shift with gloves on?  Absolutely.  Shift and hit every gear, every time, even when churning through mud?  Yes, yes, yes.

One of my favorite part about the shifters is that the brake levers do not move laterally.  On mechanical Shimano, there is a small trigger to shift one way, and the brake levers move laterally (inboard) to shift the other way.  I never liked that, as it felt like the brake levers were trying to move away from me when grabbing brakes, particularly with gloves on.  The Di2 levers are fantastic in every regard–and reassuring to grab under all conditions.

I’ve put the Moots through its paces just a little bit.  I’ll give feedback on the geometry changes over the coming days…today’s just about drivetrain.  And what a drivetrain it is.  This is the best shifting, easiest to use drivetrain I’ve ever ridden, bar none.  It is perceptibly better than the last Di2 I rode.  And again, I cannot overemphasize how amazing the brakes are.  I firmly believe that Hydro is the way to go.  The high-profile failure of the SRAM hydros (which I loved until they failed) made me question my beliefs a bit…but the Shimanos have restored my faith in hydraulics.  More importantly, the Shimanos have shown me just how good hydros can be.  They are head and shoulders above the SRAM hydros in terms of modulation (which themselves are head and shoulders above any mechanical brake).  We’ll see, over time, how durability is.  For now, I am smitten.

Initial Moots impression: This is as good as it gets.  I look at this bike, and have no idea how one could ever hope to “upgrade”.

Fatbikes–The Next 29er.

Unlike many of my counterparts, I’m not a lifelong biker.  I’ve been serious only for a few years.  I haven’t had the chance to live through a ton of bike trends, and see the product life cycles develop.  It’s with a keen sense of interest that I watch developments in the fatbike world.

I’m not at NAHBS, so I don’t have any new or original reporting from there.  I’ll send you over to Bikeradar to see some of the pretty bikes coming out, or over to Bike Rumor for talk of new carbon rims or similar news.  I see two really interesting trends coming out of this.

First, I continue to think that the most important fatbike breakthrough will be a hard tail fatbike with a commercially viable, mass-market suspension fork.  Yes, I know there are some forks out there–both commercial products and adaptations.  I don’t think any of the current offerings are true, mass-market parts.  I do think we will have a mass market fork this calendar year.  I do think that will be a game changer for getting even more people to look at fat bikes as another all-purpose mountain bike option.

Second, I’m struck by how little “newness” there is.  There are pretty tubing designs.  There are some new tires coming out.  There are peripheral products coming out (fatbike racks, etc.).  That said, the vast majority of bikes I’m seeing are very narrowly clustered around a few different geometries.  I don’t see anything coming out that makes me think, “Wow…I’d look at that instead of a Beargrease.”  I’m waiting to see what the next real innovation will be.  Given the amount of unsprung weight at issue, I’m not sure that full-suspension fat bikes are necessarily a great idea.  We’ll see, I suppose.  On my end, my fatbike aspirations are more incremental…lighter rims, etc.  I want to see what’s holding up before I plunk down an investment in upgrades, though.

Just about every issue of Mountain Bike Action has a shootout between 26, 27.5 and 29er bikes.  How will we know when fat bikes have jumped the shark?  I’m waiting for the Fat versus Skinny cover story.  It’s coming.  It’s coming.

1x Drivetrain for the Road or Gravel?

In the “worst kept secret” realm, Bike Radar is running a story today about SRAM’s “reveal” of their 1x cyclocross drivetrain, the CX1.

Photo from Bike Radar:

One question posed in the article is whether companies are going to move to 1x drivetrains for road and triathlons.  Being a lover of weight reduction, you might think I’d be enthused about this potential.  I’m not.

1x for CX races makes a lot of sense.  There’s so much off the bike/on the bike, and so much maneuvering and changes in cadence that you don’t really need 2 chainrings.  There are rarely opportunities to fine tune your cadence.  In fact, in the first ever CX race I did, I dropped my chain when I tried to shift the front chainring.  Thereafter, I never touched the front derailleur during a race.  (It was well adjusted, but I shifted at an incredibly inopportune time).  I can see the benefit of 1×11 for CX.

I can potentially see the benefit for crits as well…depending on gearing.  Going with a single chainring and an 11-42 cassette, or 11-36 cassette, or even an 11-32 cassette for a crit seems like a bad idea.  But for a relatively flat crit, going to a 1×11 with a large chainring (52/53T) and a narrow-range, close-ratio 11 speed cassette (11-23 or 11-25) makes sense.  You’re not using the little chainring anyhow, and the gears would be close enough to be useful.

I won’t comment on tri-bikes, as I’m not a tri-athlete.  I’m a do-athlete.  (huh-huh).

For general road or gravel use, it strikes me as a terrible idea.  I love the XX1 on my Beargrease the vast majority of the time…the wide-range cassette gives me a lot of gearing options.  Where I don’t love it is when riding in a group on the road/gravel/path.  You simply lack enough ‘close’ gears in the working range to be able to make critical adjustments in cadence.  You’re often just a little bit over or under-geared.  The problem isn’t in having only 11 gears; the problem is having 11 gears covering a wide range.  For our road rides around here, the vast majority of your time is spent in the big chainring.  Having a 1x setup with a large chainring and a narrow-ratio cassette would work for much of what we do…if you’re willing to give up the lower gears.  Trying to hang on the group rides with a wide-ratio, 11 speed cassette will put you in a condition where you don’t have the right ratios for the speed of the pack.

In fact, even with a 20-22 speed drivetrain, I find myself wanting to narrow my gear range. I’ve always had an 11-28 cassette on my road bike, believing that I need that low gear (even with a 53/39 crankset).  As I refine my bike specs through greater experience, I’m going to an 11-25 cassette, to get my gears closer together, and to give myself the ability to fine-tune my cadence more on a road ride.  I’m not ditching the 2 chainring setup anytime soon, as a 53-25 low gear is not low enough, even for Illinois, unless you confine yourself to sucking on every incline.  (Similarly, on my Moots, I’ve gone from an 11-32 cassette as I used to have on the Vaya to an 11-28 cassette…now 11 speed.  34/28 is low enough for me, and having more gears in the useful mid-range is worth the loss in ultimate low gearing).  The CX1 drivetrain has an 11-32 cassette.  A similar cassette on a road or gravel bike, with a larger chainring, would have too big of jumps between gears for my taste…and a narrower-range cassette would not have enough gear spread to accommodate changing conditions / climbs.

So: 1x drivetrain for the road?  I’m not going that direction.  I’m enthused about 11 speed cassettes on road and gravel, only when combined with a traditional 2 chainring setup.  For me, even the benefit of losing some weight up front and gaining simplicity in the drivetrain is greatly offset by the loss in versatility and the reduced ability to fine-tune gearing to match challenging situations on the road or on the gravel.

What’s the over/under on when SRAM releases their electronic drivetrain?

Quickie: Making a Cycling Destination

Two totally uncool confessions:  1) I rode the trainer this morning; and, 2) while doing so, I watched Fixation on Netflix.

Fixation, if you aren’t familiar, is all about the single speed / fixed lifestyle.  (I was unaware that a specific drivetrain was a lifestyle choice, but am now in the know).

In any event, there were some interesting parts of the psuedo-documentary…but one of the most interesting was a part focused on this young fixie rider named Sean.  He lived in LA, and looked much like Sean White.  He rode a track bike, very aggressively, and talked about how he wanted to make LA a cycling destination…that when people moved to the US, they would say, “I want to move to LA, not Portland, or San Francisco.”  That people would identify LA as a cycling mecca.

Right after this statement, we cut to clips of him riding all over LA.  Making right turns in front of cars from the left lane.  Blowing through red lights.  Nearly clipping pedestrians.  Weaving all over.  Riding totally unpredictably, and in a fashion that most certainly inspired ire from fellow road users.

What truly shocked me about this behavior wasn’t the behavior…it was that he didn’t see the inherent hypocrisy in his actions.  We cannot create a cycling destination or build a cycling community by being irresponsible, unsafe users of the road.  We cannot create a cycling community by making drivers and pedestrians hate us.  We cannot protest when drivers violate the laws and hit a cyclist, and then go out and violate all of the traffic laws ourselves, in a highly visible way.

Thinking about our behavior in an intentional way, modeling good behavior, building a good environment for cycling–these can all be hard things to do.  But a community built on fundamental mistrust between people using the same infrastructure simply won’t work.