Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Prodcut Review -- Allay Racing 2.1 (by Topeak) Saddle



I can't get it out of my head that I am back in 1991, when I was NOT one of the cool kids with Air Jordan Pumps, or even the equivalent Reeboks. You know the kind, with the pump on the tongue?

Topeak has decided to give that route a go, but for saddles, instead of shoes. They've created the Allay line of air-cushion saddles, which feature normally padded sit-bone aft joined with an air bladder in the middle. Saddle makers try all sorts of things with the goal of relieving pressure on the perineal nerve. Feel free to Google that if you'd like the anatomical details; I won't get too involved with it here.

Yours Truly is in an odd position to review this saddle, as I am not in the position of finding a great deal of discomfort with current offerings. I personally feel that saddle comfort is more an issue of position and fit than it is of saddle material. Also, your muscles support a great deal of your weight while riding, and they get more accustomed to doing so as I put in more miles.

I wasn't surprised to see the idea of an air-cushion saddle for the recreational and comfort market, but the Allay line is weighted towards the sport and racer crowd. How does it stack up?

Allay's Racing is available in a variety of widths along its model range, from 130 to 160mm for men, and a wider 150 to 170mm for women, who tend to have wider sit bones. Dealers are provided with a memory foam cushion upon which the customer sits, and this helps them select the proper saddle width. Caveat lector: Yours Truly picked out the narrower 130mm saddle without this fit step. Still, I think I have a pretty good sense of what saddle size is appropriate for me.

The Racing 2.1 features an integrated, adjustable pump and pressure relief valve to tune the air bladder, while the more affordable 1.1 features an external, removable pump, which is supplied with the saddle. While the integrated valve allows on-the-fly adjustment, I inadvertently depressed the release valve on a number of occasions as I moved my bike out of racks, or carried it up the stairs to my apartment. Not a crippling flaw, but certainly annoying.



As I ride on the Allay, in normal, commuting conditions on my Raleigh Sojourn touring bike, for the most part I don't notice it. No news is definitely good news for a saddle! I will point out that in my long-distance riding position I don't put a whole lot of pressure on my perineal area -- a properly fitted bike and saddle places the "wings" of the rear of the saddle directly below the riders' sit bones. Still, the Allay is well shaped and comfortable for general riding.

As I slid forward into a more aggressive position, I nearly fell off my bike. It felt like going from walking on solid ground to a floating dock on a lake -- while I didn't feel pressure or discomfort, I felt uncertain feedback beneath me. If you've ever watched a cyclist riding a time trial, they slide far forward onto the very end of their saddles. It looks terrible, but for shorter distances it's okay, since most of the weight is on one's legs and arms!

The Allay doesn't make this kind of riding easy. Another struggle I had with the Allay was cornering at speed. While I don't do a lot of this with my Sojourn, it's even harder with the Allay. To corner with confidence, you press the inside of your thigh against the nose of your saddle to help transition your weight through the turn -- this is also why those novel "noseless" saddles are a non-starter. With the Allay, I was pressing my thigh against an inflatable bladder, and felt less than confident about the feedback I received.

Finally, during fairly aggressive riding, I noticed myself armed with fewer positions, as I had to be careful to avoid weight on the part of the saddle where the air bladder transitioned into the normal padding -- it didn't have any flex, and was easy to make uncomfortable. This was the only place I felt discomfort or pressure with the Allay.

Overall? I think the Allay "Nomad" saddles, meant for comfort and hybrid bikes, could be a nice thing for day to day riders. I'm not sure why, other than cost, Topeak does not offer a Nomad saddle in anything other than a base model, with a pre-set, non-adjustble cushion, but I think there might be a market there.

Also, if you're a rider that suffers from pereneal discomfort or numbness, and those wretched "cutout" saddles haven't done you any good, you might try the Allay line before giving up the ghost on riding altogether. As for Yours Truly, I'm comfortable with my San Marco Concour Lite Aspide.

Monday, December 29, 2008

In Portland this weekend, there was an unusual bout of pre-Yuletide snow, and it remained throughout most of my visit there. It kept me from bringing a bike to ride in ptown, and cancelled all but presumable the silliest of group rides. This was the closest to a Raleigh I came:



But, I did get a chance to check out Custom Bicycles of Portland on Northwest 23'rd, where I spoke to owner Adam about the nature of the bike business, and how the current recession was affecting the market. Raleigh sells towards the upper end of six figures in units per year, so it was interesting to compare and contrast. Adam is clearly knowledgeable about the workings of bike industry, though I did not interrogate his previous industry experience.

Adam is mostly into the Triathlon scene, something I'll probably never be personally interested in (why run when you've got a perfectly good bike?), but his business model is pretty cool. They are a dealer for Canadian semi-custom manufacturer Guru bicycles, and they are more akin to a tailor than a department store. Walk in, make a plan, get fitted, discuss options, and wait. You'll have a bike a few weeks later, built to spec just for you.

Yes, it's expensive.

Still, the shop is cool, and while your humble narrator is a long way off from affording such a bicycle, I appreciate the market for them, at least more than I can that for high end shoe and handbag boutiques! The interior is minimalist Apple-store chic, with a few glistening frames on the walls, a single counter in one corner, and a mirror and fitting station in another.




Where are the disorderly piles of tubes? Where is the clearance clothing? Where are the juvenile bikes?




None of that will you find here. All of the wrenching goes on behind closed doors.

I heard another browser examine the frames, ooh and ahh a bit, and then ask the owner "where are the prices for these?"

While I did not hear Adam's verbatim reply, the essence of it is, if you have to ask...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pet Peeve of the Day -- garbage fees and arbitrary Sorry Daves

Six or so years ago via an application linked through PayPal's website, I somewhat disingenuously acquired a credit card with "Paypal" on the front. I didn't read enough of the fine print, but I mistakenly believed that the card would have something to do with eBay and Paypal -- perhaps some kind of reward point system, or an easier way to facilitate receipt of payments, something like that.

It turns out it was nothing but a normal card with a sticker, high interest rates, and fairly high fees. Since Providian was bought out by Washington Mutual, who was in turn bought out by Chase, I've received several replacement cards with different logos to replace the original, most recently a WaMu "Platinum Protect" card, which I full expect to be replaced by a

Anyway, I keep the thing running because it's a no-fee card that helps build my credit. Since I don't carry a balance, the limit had been raised automatically every so often, and they also include a Trans-Union only credit monitoring service with online account access. There's a lag of a couple of weeks but I am provided with my credit profile and my single-bureau credit score free, which is nice.

I charge little on it, since it offers no cash back, but AmEx isn't accepted everywhere. I went to pay my last bill, and got irritated, again, at their stupid fees which essentially attempt to part lower-income people from money that they don't have. I pay the bill as soon as it arrives, but I am obliged to set up a payment for the next day at the earliest. I can pay on the same day, but this requires a $14.95 express payment fee.

This fee is simply a junk fee, designed just to earn money from people who are broke, cutting it close, or just plain absent-minded. Now, I know there are no technical limitations that prevent them from immediately processing payments, and I know it doesn't cost them any more money. It's not even a late payment fee -- those, while sometimes excessive, are INTENDED to be punitive.

This is just junk.

"I'm sorry, Dave. I can't do that."

Then there's the way in which the payment can be scheduled up to 180 days in advance. The side effect of this is that it's possible, by flipping the wrong switch, to schedule a payment for a day in which you completely did not intend, like a Saturday, in which case your payment will be processed on Monday. Contrast this with my American Express, which prohibits me from screwing up as you see below:

See the part where it says "Payments received after 8:00 PM MST may not be credited until the next day." And, I can schedule a payment ahead of time for the due date, and have it all go down like clockwork.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Product Review : Avenir Rain City Panniers



Bike commuting is de rigueur in my native Portland, and a growing force in Seattle. I've been a dedicated cycle commuter for the past few years, but my commute has now stretched to a 35-mile round trip, and I do a fair bit of grocery shopping on the bike to boot. My Chrome messenger bag is great, but when on the half hour’s ride from downtown to my folks' place in suburbia, the weight on my back became uncomfortable and I'd end the ride with a stiff neck and a headache.

The obvious solution, then, is to move the weight off of my body and onto the bike. Racks make your bike look unhip, I suppose, if you are a big hipster, but they are awesome. Your bike can fit one, even if it hasn’t got eyelets, ask your bike shop!

Onto that rack goes panniers, and whether you pronounce them with our without the English "R," most look a lot like a basic daypack or briefcase that connects to your bike.

In the Pacific Northwest, this is not going to cut it. You need more than “water resistant,” and you’ll need something better than the pull-out rain fly that some so-called waterproof panniers deploy.

Enter the dry bag. Starting in water sports like kayaking, these keep contents dry by a disarmingly simple principle: take essentially a sack made out of a totally waterproof, treated material like rubberized nylon or polyester tarp material, and close it by rolling down the top. Think a lunch sack. Use a simple buckle closure to keep this rolled top closed, and as long as the opening is rolled under at least twice, there’s no way water is getting in.

So long as your bike isn’t meant to go all Doctor Claw and turn into a submarine, you’re set. In downpours and drizzles, not a thing I carried got wet, so they're true to the name.

Yours Truly owns a pair of Vaude panniers, which work quite well but are among other things unavailable in the United States. The best known name in the US market for bags like this is Ortlieb’s Back Rollers, and the Avenir Rain Cities make a solid alternative that should slot in below Ortlieb’s price point.

Ortlieb and Vaude both equip their panniers with bells-and-whistles mounting systems that are quite secure but fiddly: hex wrenches and occasionally frustration are required to mount them to your bike, and I cannot switch them quickly from one of my bikes to another.

Another nice thing about the Rain City bags is that they make for excellent grocery shopping. Their waterproof nylon is surprisingly lightweight, and they are “soft” on all sides, so when you attach the shoulder strap to carry them into the store, they are comfortable and easy to carry. The Vaude panniers have a heavy, hard plastic backing which makes them super secure with heavy loads on the bike. This makes them also cumbersome and unwieldy to handle off of the bike.

The Rain City mounts with a fairly universal pair of hooks and a spring-loaded clamp, and locates to the bottom of the rack with a bungee cord and hook. It’s simple, but it works. I’m not sure if I’d need to pack a spare part if I were going on a longer tour, but this mounting system allows me to swap rapidly between a variety of rack dimensions. I tried to load a very heavy load of cans in the Rain City, and it stayed more stable than I expected, but still deformed and bumped more than the heavier Vaude panniers. This was while carrying in excess of twenty per side, though.

Fit and finish is good – they have a reflective strip on the rear, and reflective tabs that you can mount a light to for additional visibility. The plastic buckle seems durable and well made, though there is only the single securing strap as opposed to the three of Ortlieb and Vaude. Velcro strips inside and tabs outside to keep the opening well sealed are probably unnecessary and occasionally interfere with putting “Velcro-sensitive” cycling wear in the bags.

In conclusion, if you’re a dedicated cycling commuter and grocery getter in potentially nasty weather, these are a good bet. Ease of access, lighter weight, and better all around portability make these a preferred choice for daily use, and they are not prohibitively expensive. I used the smaller 910 cubic-inch version – also available in the Rain City line are 1171cu in large panniers, 560 cu in handlebar bags, and an undersat wedge. Available anywhere Avenir products are sold in early 2009.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rode it in yesterday. 16 degrees when I left home. You probably cannot tell, but my facial hair is frozen solid here. It's like one of those movies.




My fingers also got cold. I mean, REALLY cold. My gloves have lived out their effective lifespan, I think.

Anyone know what makes my left index finger HURT a lot when it gets cold? Just that finger felt that way, even though all were quite chilly, and it has tingled a bit ever since.

Today I rode in, it's impressive how much of a difference 15 degrees or so makes, it was about 30 and snowy. Riding in that was a lot of fun, but it's turned to rain again and that means black ice once it gets sub-zero. Hooray!

Monday, December 15, 2008

I ran at lunch, for about 45 minutes.




I hate running.





The trail was pretty, though, I liked the feel of the snow on my shoes, and I have spent precious little time in the sun the past few weeks -- and probably will not do until March -- so it was a happy thing to hate.

We get maybe one week per year where it's like this, and every year, people go nuts and stop showing up to work, closing schools, crashing their cars, and generally behaving like a hilly area where it snows one week a year, if that.

I didn't commute on my bike to work, you see. There are three possible roads that I would have to ride on to get to work: Peasley Canyon Rd, Jovita Blvd, and what I believe is 58th but everyone calls the "Col D'Algona" or "Little Italy." All share the qualities of being completely lacking in streetlights, without sidewalks, and with trees covering the road. If there's black ice anywhere, it's going to be there. Good times.

Deep breath.

I MIGHT try Jovita tomorrow. I just don't like the idea of the one corner.

I don't like it at all.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pet Peeve of the Day: Social Networking Goes Downhill --

Yours Truly doesn't make extensive use of most of the "Web 2.0" out there, but I'm not completely absent, either. The simple weblog allows for everyone to be his or her own editor-in-chief, about whatever subjects they please, and I'm in favor of anything that makes folks read more. Okay, not entirely, but it is nice to be able to share experiences and opinions with a diverse group of people too spread out to regularly keep in contact with otherwise.

Only begrudgingly has your humble narrator created "profiles" on sites such as Myspace and Facebook, the complexities of and purpose behind which elude him. Sometimes they have served to connect with a long-lost friend: I recently heard from a childhood neighbor, for instance.

However, today I was the recipient of a series of messages that make me seriously consider deleting or inactivating those profiles. It went like this:

I got a message from Person X, who I have never met. X even lives in a state that I have never visited.

Person X is friends with Person Y.

Person Y is married to Person Z.

According to X, Z is having intimate relations with person A, with whom I am acquainted.

Therefore: ( null )

No recommendation or proposition is made by X, and the message is a bit of a form letter. It seems X simply took the time to copy this message to every member of A's friends list, in attempt to cause them some sort of social inconvienience.

--

X, I would like to suggest that you find something productive to do with your time.

Like writing an exciting and dynamic weblog about your interests and philosophies.

No, wait.

I said productive.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Science of a Day Without:

Riders refer to "un jour sans," or, "a day without." Some days, whatever horsepower you've usually got on the bike, you've got half of it, and nothing you can do makes it better. Yesterday's ride home was like that for Yours Truly -- I felt a little bit tired at the end of the day at the office, but as soon as I got on the road, my legs turned into useless wet noodles. There's no particularly good reason for this: I slept okay the night before, I'd eaten enough, and, crap, it's a one-hour ride, there's nothing dramatic about it. It's not as though I was totally worn out!

I'm curious about the science of this happening. What is it, biologically or chemically, that makes us break sometimes? Last night, I slept a bunch, and this morning, it was as though nothing happened. These days, I do the same commute, one hour each way, twice a day, five days a week, and add in usually one more two-or-three-hour ride over the weekends. Not a lot of mixing it up. I'll admit that the part of me that's a cycling fanatic pines for those weekend hundred-mile days, but those will come again.

Anyhow, what the heck broke in my legs? What fixed it?

Can I get a mult-spectrum lightbulb to put into my helmet to shine pseudo-sunlight on my face?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Amusing.

Over the past few weeks I've had the opportunity to test out a selection of lights from Taiwanese manufacturer Infini, who makes lights for a lot more companies than you might expect. I ride on a multiuse trail on my daily commute, and only the foul weather has decreased the army of dark-clad ninjas patrolling the trails. Yikes! Time to break out the safety lights. What the heck did people do before LEDs?

Infini have recently released their "amuse" line of lights. Though they look confusing on the website, they start to make a lot more sense in person.

Check it out:



This style of light was first popularized by Australian manufacturer Knog,, who has a super cool and totally off-the-wall website, I might add. Their "frog" light is similar to the Amuse, but the Amuse has two LED's and one mounting strap, instead of the other way round. Both are available in a bunch of different colors of silicone, if you want.

The part that makes Amuse lights so useful is that there is no mount -- the light is it. No worrying about swapping mounts to switch bikes, no "what diameter is my handlebar? Will I have to back off my bar tape?" It's made out of flexible, durable silicone, so you essentially just stretch the little tail around whatever you feel like mounting the thing to -- it fits perfectly on essentially any handlebar or seatpost, and most fork legs or seatstays. They're too small to mount on many frame tubes, and unfortunately there's no convenient way for a walker or jogger to use one. Also, if you have the light in a horizontal position, like on a seatpost, be careful it's secure -- I bounced one off that way.

To save space, they come with a pair of CR2032 lithium ("watch") batteries, and last pratcically forever -- well, at least a couple of months, if I used the flash mode for every hour of every ride I did. They are brighter than you'd expect from such a tiny device. Most of the space in the common style of blinkie is the AA batteries, and the reflector for the bulb. While the twin diodes are quite bright, without any kind of shroud, the light isn't really directed. This means that, when it was quite dark and I had the Amuse mounted on my handlebars, the light distractingly flickered into my eyes. With a typical, cylindrical headlight, I've never noticed this.

I found the absolute best place for the Amuse lights was my helmet. They are so light I don't notice them up there, they mount easily to any of the vents in any of my helmets, and turning them on and off just takes punching yourself in the head. You could probably mount 847 Amuse lights on your head if you wanted, or at least one white "head" light and one red "tail" light. I had some concerns about their durability in rain-soaked Seattle, since the batter compartment is accessed by flipping up the backside of the light, but I've been in several big rains and my amuse lights still work fine.

While part of me feels like these things must cost a quarter to turn out in Taiwan, I found them selling online for only about $13, which isn't so bad. Available at your local bike shop now.