A Brief Meditation on Clipless Pedals

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Last year, while riding in Watchung Reservation, a cyclist passed me on WR Tracy Drive. “On your left,” he shouted as he whizzed by me as if I were standing still. There was no shame in being passed. WR Tracy Drive is a steep incline. The cyclist who passed me was training for hills, and I was just out for a pleasant ride in the park. Nevertheless, as is my habit, whenever someone shouts “on your left” (asshole for “I’m faster than you”) and puts a significant amount of distance between himself and me in a short period of time, I always try to close the gap, or even pass the offending showoff. Usually I have little trouble. I’m a fairly strong cyclist and there are few people I can’t catch if I’m genuinely determined. This guy, however, moved like a grey ghost through the mist. By the time I downshifted and started to pedal in earnest he had already rounded the circle on Summit Lane and was nearly out of sight. Try as I might I couldn’t catch up. I never even came close.

I went home that evening demoralized, feeling weak and old. What was it about the demon cyclist that I lacked? I suppose it could have been age. He appeared to be in his prime cycling years. I’m well into middle age. It could have been conditioning, but it wasn’t being winded that held me back. It was a simple lack of speed. I suppose it could have also been physical strength, but then again, cycling isn’t a sport that involves brute strength. Nobody trains for the Tour de France doing squats. I decided it was form, technique. He was getting more of out his bike than I was. He was younger, stronger, and better conditioned than I was, but he also employed what he had more effectively than I did. I looked down and noticed I was still using my ancient platform pedals with toe clips. I needed something to force me to keep the balls of my feet firmly in the center of the pedal. I also needed to tighten my straps and my toe clips to the point where I’d be using the upward stroke as well as the downward stroke.

I decided it was finally time to switch to clipless pedals.

The term clipless pedals is highly misleading. Even though you literally “clip in” the way you do on a pair of skis, we still use the name invented back in the 1980s to describe pedals without straps or toe clips. They’ve been standard on high end mountain bikes and road bikes for a long time, and they’re starting to trickle down to the masses. The only reason I had put off making the switch for so long was, oddly enough, the Internet. The idea of “clipping into” pedals on crowded suburban roads had always made me nervous. It’s one thing to have your feet bound to your pedals on a group ride out in the countryside. It’s another thing altogether when you have to stop for a red light every few blocks. What’s more, there is a generally accepted truism on the Internet that clipless pedals have a learning curve, that for the first few weeks that you use them you have a tendency to get your feet stuck and fall off your bike. The idea that falling off your bike while learning how to use clipless pedals is so well-accepted on every cycling forum and discussion board and stated with so much confidence I never thought to doubt it. That fall just seemed like something you’d have to go through. It was kind of like losing your virginity, something I didn’t want to experience on a crowded city street.

I’ve never fallen off my bike while using clipless pedals. I’ve never even come close. In fact, they’re so easy to use, I can clip in and clip out so fast, I’m baffled as to where the idea came from. I’ve even tried to get my feel stuck in my Shimano SPD clipless pedals, and take that obligatory fall, but I can’t seem to manage it. My feet always come out effortlessly, and I have a hard time believing that anybody else has had a different experience. So how did it become such a truism on the Internet that getting your feet stuck and falling off your bike is part of the process of learning how to use clipless pedals? I suppose maybe somewhere, sometimes, one person did. Perhaps it was the ghost of Buster Keaton rehearsing for a new silent film somewhere in cinematic heaven. Then he posted it on a cycling forum. Somebody else reposted it, then someone else reposted it again. Eventually it became conventional wisdom. People started to believe it happened to other people even though it never happened to them. Then maybe they made up stories about getting their feet stuck in their clipless pedals (even though they never did) just to feel like part of the crowd.

I’ve away from my ongoing experience with clipless pedals sure of only two things. They work. I’ll never take a long ride without them again. But above all this. People on the Internet are full of shit.

Feeling Anglophilic

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Last year I cycled 500 miles through New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut on my road bike. I traveled as lightly as possible, bringing only a very small backpack and a handlebar bag. On the whole it was a good experience, but there was one thing I couldn’t stand, walking around in cycling shoes (I used clipless pedals).

So I bought a Carradice “College” saddlebag from Carradice of Nelson, handmade (and signed) by a genuine British person named “Emma.” It seems well made and has a ton of room, enough for a heavy texbook, my raingear, and a pair of running shoes. I may regret not buying one of the smaller bags. I only bought the huge one because it was on clearance, 31 pounds plus shipping, about 65 bucks overall, but then again, I probably won’t. My bike is a “large” and fits someone between 6’0″ and 6’3.” So I don’t raise the saddle that high. But the bag still seems to have plenty of clearance. I’m a little surprised at just how well engineered this thing is. I test road carrying at least 10 pounds and barely knew it was there.

So why not just buy a touring bike with a rack? Well, they’re expensive and hard to find, for one. But they’re also heavy and slow. Doing 100 miles a day requires you to travel as light as possible, and what I’ll mostly be taking on long trips are clothes and spare shoes (not particularly heavy). This bag seems to fit the bill.

So why don’t Americans make more stuff like this? Who knows. American bike stores seem mostly interested in selling you carbon road bikes that weigh 12 pounds or full suspension mountain bikes. This saddlebag is a product of an English cycling (and touring) culture that goes back 100 years. Young Franklin Roosevelt probably used something very much like it on his long cycling tour of Germany.

Images of my suburban dreamworld: 10

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This is my 2013 Jamis Commuter 1 propped up on its seat and handlebars for its monthly chain cleaning. Don’t ask my why I love this bike so much. It’s cheap, heavy, slow, and has required a lot of maintenance over the past few years. Nevertheless it gets me 7 miles to work in the morning, and 7 miles back home in the evening. It’s got a rack for panniers and a chain guard so I don’t have to roll my pants up. It’s so cheap I really don’t have to worry about it being stolen. It’s my bad weather bad neighborhood, leave it at the train station all day and ride it through the rain any time I want bike. When it breaks I’ll get a new one.

I sometimes wonder why people buy mountain bikes for commuting, especially full suspension mountain bikes, especially poorly made, and quite frankly dangerous full suspension mountain bikes from department stores. The Jamis Commuter 1 is cheap and heavy but it’s also simple and well-made. Front shocks are meaningless on suburban streets. A rear suspension on a bike that costs under $2000 is absurd. I suppose it’s all about the “cool factor.” Department stores like Walmart sell dangerous, $200 dollar full suspension mountain bikes because kids like to pretend they’re riding state of the art $2000 dollar full suspension mountain bikes. Then these bikes don’t get used and get sold to very poor people for $25 dollars. I’ve seen Hispanic restaurant workers riding $25 dollar used mountain bikes in January through snow packed roads. They put me to shame, but they’re something to aspire to as worthy in their own way as Chris Froome or Peter Sagan.

The Jamis Commuter 1 will get me through snow-packed salt and brine covered roads this Winter.

Going Carless

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Back in 2008, right after the beginning of the “great recession” I moved back into the basement of my childhood home. It was only supposed to be for a few months until I found another apartment in the city, but we all know how that goes. Getting a lease in Michael Bloomberg’s hyper-gentrified New York was much easier said than done. So I stayed in my hometown of Roselle, a suburb of Elizabeth, about fifteen miles from downtown Manhattan. For years, like everybody else in New York City, I had been carless. Why bother finding a place to park when you can just take the subway? New Jersey is another story. Nevertheless, I never bought my own car. Not only did I have access to both my parents’ cars, since my mother and father were declining — they were already in their 30s when I was born — I was expected to do most of the driving. After my father died in 2011 and my mother broke her hip the next year, leaving became out of the question. There was no way she could have done her own grocery shopping or functioned without my help.

I’m still in the same basement. Both my parents are gone. My mother, who broke her hip for the second time this March, died slowly and painfully over the course of the Spring. A second broken hip in less than five years would have been difficult, not only for an 81-year-old woman, but for a 30-year-old woman, but it was much more. After the doctors operated on her hip, she developed intestinal problems so severe that she had to go back to the hospital for a second round of surgery. The second surgery, or, to be more specific, the anesthesia for the second surgery, killed her mind. It was so excruciatingly painful for so long that she spent most of the time calling for painkillers, almost as if she had been a wounded soldier in film about the Second World War. “Medic. Corpsman. Morphine.” Then her lungs went, then her heart. In the final weeks of her life, my mother probably weighed sixty five or seventy pounds. It was painful to look at her. Only later did I realize that she had in fact been close to death for almost a year, her bodily functions carefully regulated by a veritable pharmaceutical company of prescription drugs, her life’s energy slowly but surely draining away.

My brother and I inherited the house, a gigantic, dilapidated old colonial dating from the Nineteenth Century that’s essentially worthless because of the town’s shitty schools and ruinous property taxes. If I wind up pocketing $20,000 dollars, I’ll be happy. I also inherited the two cars, either of which I could have kept, but I decided to sell both. Why? I suppose the most important reason is money. The cars brought in a badly needed $3000 dollars. There was also the cost of insurance, and repair. One car needed a new front windshield. The other needed four new tires. There was the price of gas but none of it was really decisive. I could have probably swung the price of the insurance and the repairs had I really wanted to, but I didn’t want to. I have a shitty menial job in a warehouse six miles away from where I live. Driving to work feels like an embalming process. You shit, shower, shave, put your clothes on, and then get into your 3000 pound metal death box. You turn on the radio and the air-conditioning to separate yourself from the outside world, to give yourself the illusion that you are in control of your environment. You are not. The songs on the radio have been chosen for you by corporate America. As aggressively as you drive, you’re still part of traffic. Weaving from lane to lane will not get you to where you are going any faster. You stop when the traffic lights tell you to stop. You start when they tell you to start. You are, essentially, a piece of a machine.

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Cycling is different. Sure the bike I ride was made in a factory somewhere in Taiwan. I ride on the same roads as I did when I drove my mother’s SUV. I stop for red lights. I resume pedaling at green lights, but I don’t really have to. On a bike, I retain some portion of my individual identity. I’m a statistical error. No cop is going to arrest a cyclist for running a red light, if only because he’d have no idea how to fill out the paperwork. I move with the overall flow of traffic, and yet, I move around inside the overall flow of traffic at my will. Sometimes it’s dangerous. New Jersey is not Amsterdam. There are places on the roads in between my house and my job where a cyclist simply cannot obey the rules of the road without getting killed, where you must, for example, ride in the “right turn only” lane even if you’re going straight. The traffic in the other lanes is too heavy and too fast. At other times its liberating. I’ve never felt so arrogant as I did the week after Hurricane Sandy swerving into the middle of usually busy, now empty roads past long lines of cars waiting in gas lines. Hurricane Sandy had stopped America in its tracks. It hadn’t affected me at all. Most importantly of all, however, riding to and from my job transforms the job itself. It’s no longer a destination. Even though it’s demanding physically, it becomes a rest stop between rides.  I ride the day’s tension off in the evening. I come to work relaxed. That bridge in the woods, I get to see it every day.

There are of course difficulties. There are flats. Two weeks ago, I got two pinch flats in one day. I wound up destroying my spare tube, and walking 3 miles to a bike store in the humid, 98 degree weather. I’m not exactly sure why it’s so easy to fix a flat at home and so tough on the road, but I’m sure other cyclists will agree with me that it’s more than just the relative ease of using a floor pump compared to using a mini-pump. It’s an art, not a science. You need to be able to isolate yourself from the outside world to the point where you feel as if you’re sitting at home in your garage. Getting a flat coming home from work is frustrating. Getting a flat on the way to work might mean being late and getting fired. There’s traffic. Cars are bad enough. But I ride almost a mile through an industrial area of Woodbridge, where I not only have to dodge huge 18-wheelers, I have to dodge huge 18-wheelers driven by trainee drivers. There’s a “Get Your CDL” school not far from where I work. There are gigantic potholes. There’s dirt. There’s debris. There’s inclement weather.

Inclement weather has turned out almost to be a pleasant surprise. In the Spring, I bought a good set of rain gear. Every Friday this Summer, it seems, we get heavy rainfall. Last week it rained so hard it came through my rain jacket and soaked me to the bone. I brought an extra shirt and an extra pair of socks, but not an extra pair of shoes. I was miserable and wet all day. This week I was better prepared. I tied my rain jacket down properly. I brought spare shoes. It didn’t rain as hard. As I road home through the misty drizzle, I began to feel myself getting back in touch with my body after the long, hellish Spring of my mother’s death. The oppressive heat of the previous day had dissipated. The moisture on my cheeks reminded me of my early 20s when I used to hitch hike through northern British Columbia on my way to work in Southeast Alaska. I was young again. I was free again. Death no longer hovered over me like a dark cloud. It was rain, simply rain, nothing more.

The Giant Contend 1: The Preliminary Review

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The Basics

The Giant Contend 1 is cheap ($810 dollars) aluminum road bike sold by the Taiwanese bicycle company Giant. Giant, which runs a massive complex in Taichung, not only makes its own line of bikes. It also makes frames for more prestigious brands like Trek and Specialized. If you’ve purchased a bike that’s not a $10,000 dollar Italian Pinarello or Cinelli, there’s a good chance the frame was made in Taichung by Giant. There’s an even better chance that most of the parts were made by the Japanese company Shimano.

You could do worse than to think of road bikes the way you think of your desktop computer. A modern road bike is modular. Bicycle companies, like computer companies, are basically design companies. Your computer might have been designed by HP or Dell, but the CPU was made by Intel or AMD, and the hard drive was made by Western Digital or Seagate. Think of Shimano as Intel and SRAM as AMD and think of the bike’s groupset the way you’d think of a computer’s CPU. Similar to the way Intel makes the low-end Celeron and Core i3 and the high-end Core i5 and Core i7, Shimano makes the entry-level Claris and Sora, the mid-range Tiagra and 105, and the high-end Ultegra and Dura-Ace. The winner of the Tour de France is probably using Dura-Ace, but most cyclists no more need Dura-Ace than you need an 8-core supercomputer to use Photoshop.

The Giant Contend 1, which has a Sora groupset is similar to a computer with an i3 and 8 gigs of RAM. If you’re not a professional bike racer, it’s probably all you really need. Tiagra or 105 are reasonably priced and might be more appropriate for an enthusiast level cyclist, but if you want to spend no more than $1000 dollars on a bike, you’ll probably end up with Claris or Sora, and that’s OK. The groupset, of course, isn’t the only part of a bike. Since the Contend 1’s predecessor, the Defy 3, cost $960 dollars to the Contend 1’s $810, you can reasonably assume that Giant cut a few corners here and there to keep the price down. The stock tires that come with the Contend 1 are paper thin. They’re fine for riding around town (if the town has good roads) but if you’re anything more than the most casual rider, you should probably toss them and get a pair of Continental Gatorskins or Schwalb Marathons. Giant also cheaped out on the brakes, the chain and the cassette. The Contend 1 uses Tektro R312 brakes instead of Shimano Sora brakes, an SRAM PG-950 instead of a Shimano cassette and a KMC X9 instead of a Shimano chain. More on all this later.

The Good

Overall: I just completed a 500 mile, unsupported ride through upstate New York and the Berkshires (including a 30 mile terror ride through a driving rain storm) with no mechanical breakdowns.

The Giant SR-2 wheels:  I’m medium large (6 feet and 180 pounds). I ride my bike hard and for long distances over horrible roads, and I’ve ridden over 1500 miles so far without a single (that’s not even one) flat. I’ve hit potholes the size of ditches and haven’t been able to knock the wheels out of true. Even with a pair of expensive Gatorskin tires, the Alex Rims on my old Specialized Allez seemed to bring out all the flaws in each and every tube I used. I got pinch flats every few weeks. On the Giant Contend 1, even on an extended ride where I didn’t always have access to a floor pump and would often let the tires — which should be at 120psi — go down to 90 psi, I was getting so confident towards the end that I would never get a pinch flat or knock my spokes out of true I forgot where I put my spoke wrench and my 4 CO2 cartridges and 3 extra tubes almost felt like just so much extra weight.

The geometry: The Contend 1 has what’s known as an “endurance frame.” It’s built for long periods in the saddle, not for bursts of speed. Make sure you test ride it before you buy. I’m barely 6 feet tall and the Giant website indicated I’d need a “Medium/Large,” but the mechanic at my local bike store insisted that because I have a long torso and the Contend 1 has a slightly more upright position than my old Specialized Allez that I’d need a “Large.” He was right. The Large fits perfectly. Something about the bike’s geometry just feels right, not too racy, but racy enough to let me get down into the drops and build up speed. The Contend 1 is fast enough for me to dodge SUVs and 18-wheelers in city traffic and comfortable enough to ride for 100 miles on country roads without another soul in sight. I’m 51 years old and haven’t had a single upper body ache since I’ve been riding it, even after 100 mile rides.

The brakes: I came down out of the Berkshires in a driving rain storm and lived to write about it. The Tektro R312s seem just as good as the Shimanos would have been. Who needs hydraulic disc brakes?

The cassette: The Contend 1 has a SRAM PG-950 cassette with a wide range of gears. The lower gears in fact are almost like a mountain bike’s lower gears. If you live in San Francisco or Seattle and want a bike that can handle steep inclines, the Contend 1 is your bike.

The Bad

The chain: Only 1500 miles and I’ve already worn out the cheap KMC X9 chain. My bike mechanic blames it on the 30 mile ride through the rain and my less than graceful shifting habits, but be that as it may, the KMC X9 was perilously close to snapping when I hauled the bike into the shop. Had my chain snapped up in the Berkshires or in upstate New York I probably would have had to leave the bike locked up to a tree, and just walked the rest of the way into the nearest town to look for the Greyhound station.

The cassette: While the SRAM PG-950 may have a wide range of gears, it’s tricky to keep in tune. The first week I owned the Contend 1, I had to take it back into the shop twice to get them adjusted. What use is a wide range of gears if they keep going out of adjustment? What’s more, in addition to wearing out the KMC X9 chain, I’ve also worn out the SRAM PG-950 cassette. That wide range of gears also accentuates my bad shifting habits, so much so that my bike mechanic was able to pick out which gear I used the most, the third gear. I don’t really need those two lower ones. So I’ve replaced the SRAM PG-950 with a Shimano branded 11-25.

To Be Determined

The bottom bracket and hubs: I’ve already begun to notice an intermittent clunk in the bottom bracket when I take the Contend 1 up steep hills. This might be that the cheap aluminum frame doesn’t hold up to the kind of stress I can put on it. It might also just mean that the cups and bearings need adjustment and a layer of grease.

(update: The clunk was the rear hub, which I eventually had to get repacked for $36 dollars.)

The saddle: I immediately swapped out the Contend 1’s stock saddle for my leather Brooks Swift. So I haven’t used it.

The Conclusion

The Giant Contend 1 is a serious bike at the incredibly low-price of $810 dollars. It’s fast enough for hellish city traffic and comfortable enough for 100-mile rides through the country. It took me 500 miles through upstate New York and the Berkshires, 30 of those through steady rain, without breaking down once.  Just make sure to swap out the paper thin tires and get ready to replace the stock chain and the stock cassette sooner than you would have otherwise thought.

Addendum

A man in a bike store in Old Saybrook Connecticut (where I stopped to pump up my tires) told me that he’d never spend $810 dollars on a bike, that he still owned the cheap mountain bike he got in college. After another few minutes of conversation, he also told me he owned a boat. We all have our priorities I guess.

Cycling New England

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Because I am an old man with one foot in the grave, more interested in the location of the bathroom than in the attentions of the fairer sex, I have decided to spend a week or two trying to deny the effects of my advanced age on my body. I will cycle New England. To be more specific, I will cycle the Hudson Valley, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and the North Shore of Long Island, about 600 miles in all. There’s nothing particularly challenging about the course for a good cyclist. One of the earliest bike races, the Paris–Brest–Paris, involved cycling 1200 kilometers in under 90 hours. I have the luxury of taking all the time I want, the main constraint being the amount of money I can, or cannot, spend on hotels. The weather will be close to perfect, in the 60s and 70s with a hint of drizzle. I have a new bike, which has been newly tuned up, and a new set of tires, both of which should help me avoid annoying inconveniences like flats or broken spokes. Unlike the cyclists in the Paris–Brest–Paris I will not be riding at night and I will be sleeping at regular intervals. So my trip will be something between a “tour” (where you pack heavily and camp out) and a “brevet”  (where the goal is basically to see how long and how far you can ride until you drop). For me the goal is mainly to take photos and enjoy the Autumn weather. That about “denying my advanced age” was mainly a joke to get your attention, although if I fade away and die like Tom Joad’s grandfather in The Grapes of Wrath, please bury me on the side of the road, write a quick note to let people know I died of natural causes, and find an eloquent preacher like Jim Casy to say a few words over my body.

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Because I am staying in motels and buying food from local supermarkets, I will be traveling as light as possible. Weight not only means more difficulty getting over steep hills, it means broken spokes, and there are only three things I fear more than broken spokes, creepy clowns, distracted soccer moms in SUVs, and bears with hand grenades. Flat tires are a pain in the ass, but easily fixed. Broken chains are fairly rare. Clunks, squeaks, rattles, and other odd sounds are annoying, but easily ignored until you can get to a bike shop. Broken spokes are very common, difficult to fix, and stop you cold. Please Lord if you must torment on this trip, send creepy clowns and bears with hand grenades, but spare me the horror of broken spokes. I have a spoke wrench but fuck me if I’ve ever learned how to true a wheel. So I will be going light, bringing only the following.

1.) An entry-level road bike, a Giant Contend 1. Weight about 20 pounds. Cost, $810 dollars plus tax.

2.) Myself. Height about 6 feet. Weight about 180 pounds. Price? Part of the “unnecessariat” so basically free to any salvage company that can haul me away to the scrap heap.

3.) A folding tire, 4 CO2 cartridges, a CO2 pump, a pair of Pedro’s tire levers, 3 spare tubes, a Topeak Road Morph Frame Pump, 4 “Grease Monkey Wipes,” 4 spare batteries for my light set, a Topeak multi tool, a pair of Shimano SPD clipless (or clip in) pedals, and a 6mm Allen Wrench.  I’m running Continental Ultra Gatorskins, which are heavy tires even in the 700 x 23 version, but they are remarkably resistant to flats. Flats can be fixed, still suck. With any luck, the tool kit will just sit in my saddle bag, unused. Total weight, about 5 pounds.

4.) Two changes of clothes, two pairs of “jogging trousers” purchased at an Aeropostale going out of business sale, two T-shirts, two pairs of briefs, two pair wool socks, two cycling hats, a Giro Foray road helmet, a pair of Shimano SPD cycling shoes, and a flannel shirt purchased at Walmart (I know I know but it was only 8 bucks). Total weight about 4 pounds.

5.) A Sony RX-100 point and shoot camera. Weight. About 12 ounces.

6.) A Samsung Tab E 9.6 Inch Android tablet with a 32 Gigabyte MicroSD card added on. I almost wish I had purchased the 7 inch version instead. The 9.6 tablet is light, but I would have been able to keep the 7 inch tablet in my handlebar bag and not my backpack. Weight, less than a pound.

7.) A 10-Liter Deuter Speedlite backpack. Weight, almost nothing.

8.) A water bottle, a liter of water, 5 granola bars, and a very light cable lock (don’t get your hopes up thieves. My bike will rarely be out out sight.

I believe that brings everything, myself and all my gear, in at under 200 pounds. My bike is a happy accident. I bought it mainly because it was cheap and because they were selling it at the local bike store (the store you buy your bike from is more important than the bike itself, trust me) but it turned out to be a rare stroke of good luck. Most road bikes have an 11-27 cassette with a compact 50/34 crank. The Giant Contend 1 has a 50/34 compact crank but an 11-32 cassette. That means the lower gears are almost as good for climbing hills as the lower gears on a hybrid or a mountain bike, but the higher gears still have the speed of a road bike. It’s a tricky combination to keep in tune. I had to go back to my bike mechanic the day after I bought it and have him adjust the gearing in between repeated test rides. But it’s the perfect combination for long distance rides with a lot of steep hills. Professional racing bikes have 54/30 cranks and 11-24 cassettes, both of which let you go incredibly fast, but are also overkill if you’re not riding in the Tour de France. The Sora groupset on the Giant Contend 1 is fairly modest and wouldn’t satisfy many gear heads, but it’s robust, cheap, and ubiquitous. Every bike store has spare parts.

So that’s about it. With any luck the long ride will keep me out of trouble and off of Twitter for a few weeks. Updates will be frequent but will consist mainly of photos. Off I go. Next Stop, New Paltz New York and the Walkway over the Hudson.

 

Giant Escape City (2015): First Impressions

This is the now most viewed post on my blog, surpassing my post On Being a Failed Writer (which got “Freshly Pressed” on the WordPress front page), my use of the John List murders to frame my review of The Omen (which got linked by the biggest newspaper in New Jersey) and my review of Saturday Night Fever (which was one of the first things I wrote for this blog, way back when it was called “Pair of Outsiders,” and which consistently gets hits on Google).

I suppose what it proves is that the Internet is still a practical place. The Giant Escape City is a useful, cheap hybrid with a good drive train and an already installed rack. You can find it on the Giant Bikes website, but there aren’t many reviews. In fact, it’s difficult to find a good review of almost any bike that costs under $2000 dollars. Cycling magazines tend to prefer the exotic, custom titanium bikes with breakaway frames, $10,000 dollar carbon road bikes that weight less than my foot (I was going to say “less than my dick” but carbon fiber engineering still hasn’t gotten to that advanced state), touring bikes from obscure, earthy crunchy hippie manufacturers in the Pacific Northwest. A good cheap, Taiwanese hybrid? Forget about it.

Local bike stores are often high-end local bike stores, at least in New Jersey. I suppose it’s different in Seattle or NYC. Trying to buy a good $1000 dollar road bike or a decent $1200 dollar touring bike is a bit like walking into your local Ferrari dealer and trying to buy a Honda. Part of the reason I bought the Giant Escape City was that it already had the rack. That doesn’t sound like much, but add the cost of labor to the cost of buying a third party rack and you’re looking at spending about another $100 dollars. What’s more, bike mechanics hate little jobs like that. People who ride touring bicycles often tend to be bike mechanics, and usually just order a rack from the Internet and install it themselves. Getting a Topeak Explorer rack put on my late, totaled Raleigh Clubman (I survived a catastrophic crash. it did not.) took what seemed to be forever. It was a great deal at REI back in 2011. The rack ate up all the savings.

On the whole, the Giant Escape City has served me well. I broke one of the fenders changing a tire and decided just to take the other one off. The gearing can be complex and the chain used to slip a bit before I got the most recent tuneup. But if you want a hybrid with a rack, touring bike gearing, and nice clean looks, I’d recommend it over something like a Trek FX. In any event, I’m planning to do a lot of long distance riding over the Summer and will report back extensively.

Writers Without Money

I’ve been through quite a few bikes over the past few years. I wore out the drive train on my Trek 7.2. I wrecked my Raleigh Clubman (and wound up spending 3 days in intensive care). I currently have an entry-level road bike, an aluminum Specialized Allez, and a cheap city bike, a Jamis Commuter 1.

Neither the Specialized nor the Jamis is suitable for light touring, the 200 and 300 mile rides I want to do this spring. You can’t mount a rack on a Specialized Allez. The Jamis is made of high-tensile steel. It only has 7 gears, and it weighs a ton.

Last month, I bought a Giant Escape City.

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My requirements were the following.

  1. Cheap. As much as I would like to buy a Trek Madone with full Dura Ace, it’s out of my price range.
  2. My tires of choice are 700 x 28s or…

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