Spring is here. New bike time?

Bamboo bike NAHBS. Photo courtesy of J Ferris.

Bamboo bike NAHBS. Photo courtesy of J Ferris.

Spring is different things in different parts of the country. Could be snowy, cold, cool, windy, sunny, warm, hot, rainy, or flooding. Depends on where you are. One constant is that it is at this time of year that the new bikes are paraded out for all of us to drool over. Bicycling, VeloNews, Dirt Rag, Mountain Bike and the others all start devoting a lot of space to the new bikes.

How new can they be, really? Frame, wheels, brakes, seat, handle bars. That about sums it up. Not even close really. The new bikes all have some sort of tweak that separates them from whatever came before. It’s not the paint job or any other cosmetic bling. The bikes have different angles, vibration dampers, frames, stems, brakes, cables. It may not seem like much when you look at it, but it does add up to a different feel for the new ones. Check out Razik Bicycles if you want to see what’s really different in a frame.  They really are different.

Adds up is a very appropriate term. Most of the manufacturers have very good bikes in the lower end of the price range, between $1,000-$2,500 or maybe a tad more. For most of us that’s the price range that’s comfortable. If you’re on the front tip of the Boomer range you’ll be 70 this year, and your retirement income has to be taken into consideration when looking at the bikes. When the price gets north of $3,000 my interest plummets. Actually, when it gets anywhere close to $3K my interest plummets.

When the price hikes up into that area the target audience isn’t ordinary riders. If you are in the top end of your club, a rated rider, or a very competitive type, those bikes up into the well over $4,000 range might make a difference in where you place at the end of the day. They are rather nice bikes. I’m not sure I’d notice the difference though.

I just ride, for the sheer fun of it and to stay healthy. That’s it. I would like to have a set of gears that make the climbs easier though. I live in the Sierra Nevada and nothing is flat. It’s a relative term up here.

Enjoy exploring the new crop of two wheeled wonders. It’s always fun, even if your wallet is bit light. No drooling on the bikes. It’s frowned on.

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Razik Bicycles stuns at North American Handmade Bike Show

Amazing technology.

Amazing technology.
Photo courtesy of Razik Bicycles

OK Boomers, sit up and pay attention. Bicycle technology sometimes seems stuck in low gear. Either that or it’s so esoteric that only the elite, the real ones, not the faux strutters, either appreciate it or have use for it. However, light weight and uber strong is something that all of us, regardless of age, easily understand. That’s especially true when you’re hauling your bones uphill.

The North American Handmade Bicycle Show that was held in Sacramento the last weekend of February brought an amazing array of handmade bicycles, bicycle gear, and cyclists to the Sacramento Convention Center. The variety of bikes easily covered just about everything anyone who has an interest in bikes could possibly imagine. Judging from the crowds over the three days of the show the success level was over the top.

While we wandered about the Convention Center we came upon a really different bike. You could see through the tubes. The guy at the booth, who turned out to be the head of Razik bikes, handed me a frame. It was like lifting air. Read on.

Razik Bicycles easily had the standout, and most interesting, bikes in the show. On any other bike the top tube, seat tube and down tube are formed tubes of steel, aluminum, titanium or carbon fiber. Razik has stepped out of that mold and into something entirely different. Those parts very different on their bikes.

Ryun Noble, who is the co-founder and president of the company, was on hand at the show, letting the curious know what Razik had done. The frames are very light. The top tube, seat tube, and down tube are an open tubular lattice. It’s known as IsoTruss technology. It looks like a woven tube. Noble said that this technology uses carbon fiber and takes advantage of the strength of reinforcing pyramids and triangles. You see this type of construction all over the place in all kinds of towers, beams, bridges and support structures.

His frames are very light. According to Noble, they are also extremely strong, and very responsive, more than “any other bike.” When asked about wind resistance, Noble said that the technology works just like the dimples on a golf ball, which is to say it helps reduce drag on the frame. Less resistance to wind is always a plus, on any kind of bike. Razik seems to have nailed it quite well.

This technology is available only on Razik bikes. Additionally, the bikes are handmade in the United States, “…Not part of it… the whole thing.” That in itself is noteworthy.

Your next chance to see these bikes out here in California will be at the Sea Otter Classic, April 14 to 17. The Sea Otter Classic is held in Monterey, and Razik Bicycles will be in the Loaded Precision booth at this iconic bike race. It’s well worth the trip. You’ll have to contact Razik to see if they will be anywhere close to where you live so you can see one of these beauties.

Do yourself a favor if you’re going to the Sea Otter, and stop by their booth. Talk to the Razik folks, pick up one of the frames, then a whole bike. They really are light, and really do look pretty amazing. This may be the next bike in your line up of bikes.

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North America Handmade Bike Show

stainless steel bike, car

Tune it up, then ride/photo J Ferris

The NAHBS will be in Sacramento this year at the end of February, from the 26th to the 28th. If you are anywhere near Sacramento, are a cyclist of any kind, make plans to see this. It is, in a word, fantastic.

The Sacramento Convention Center will be filled with all things bicycle, and all handmade. Some of the tools that make parts and frames will be on display too.  There are bike accessory makers all around, including clothing, hats, and all kinds of gear. Handmade, by the people standing there at their booth. It’s more than just a little interesting. Even if you don’t ride, the art of bikes, and the art of making bikes, is stunning.

The last time the NAHBS was in Sacramento I urged parents to take their children out of school for the day and go to the show instead. Bear in mind that I am a retired teacher. I simply saw more value at this show than could be had in a classroom for the day.

If you want to encourage your child’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math, the much spoken about STEM component of school, you have to see this collection of bikes, artists, and makers. It encompasses all of STEM, plus art, in a very real world setting.

The people at the booths, and there are a lot of booths, are there because they made what ever is displayed in the booth. These are some extremely competent builders. Bikes aren’t just bikes, even the mass produced kind. The amount of science that goes into the design is massive. The technological aspects, combined with the engineering to make it work, requires very bright minds. Along with that, the angles, the stresses, the strength of the materials, are all math based.

On top of that, the bikes are simply works of art. From fantastical to very functional, these bikes are rolling examples of how function, form, and art work together with the STEM processes to produce bikes that will make you smile. You’ll see very futuristic bikes, along with memory jogging retro designs, and everything in between.

NAHBS rotates between cities each year. The last time it was here was in 2012. You’ll want to come to this, as the wait for a return could be a few years. Bring your camera and make sure you have plenty of space on your memory card. You’ll need it.

Mt. Bike at NAHBS/photo: J Ferris

Mt. Bike at NAHBS/photo: J Ferris

Bamboo bike, NAHBS, 2012/photo J Ferris

Bamboo bike, NAHBS, 2012/photo J Ferris

The future is here: internal hubs/photo J Ferris

The future is here: internal hubs/photo J Ferris

retro style bike, 2012, Sacramento, CA

Retro style at NAHBS 2012/photo: J Ferris

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Fat bikes on snow

Fat tire bike in the snow

Riding in the snow!
Photo courtesy of Hope Valley Outdoors

The recent uptick in the popularity of fat bikes riding on the snow is pretty amazing. These bikes have wider tires that are typically inflated with not much air. This allows the tires to spread out on the snow and allow for riding. Most of the time anyway. Deep snow doesn’t really lend itself to human powered bikes.

Along with the popularity of these bikes comes some need for reminding everyone that out there on the snow there’s etiquette to consider. Cross country skiers and snowshoer’s, generally, stay out of each others tracks. It makes it easier on everyone. The fat tire riders need to do the same, which is to stay out of tracks laid down by the xc crowd and snowshoe enthusiasts. It’s just polite, and you never know when one of those people on another form of human powered snow play may come to your aid.

In the back county, especially in hilly or mountain terrain, giving the right of way to others on the snow isn’t very complicated either. Anyone headed up hill has the right of way. Downhill travelers, on skis or bikes, need to check their speed to avoid crashing into others. What generally happens is that whoever has the most space to give way does so. It’s common sense. No one should assume the right to just blast downhill without regard for those coming up. In skiing, the basic rule that governs the slopes is to maintain control. The other really basic one is that you are required to avoid anyone in front of you.

Since we are all outdoor enthusiasts, all of this should avoid either hurt feelings or bodies. Being polite is free. In the snowy woods, it’s also simply the right thing to do. Ride on!

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Winter road crud

Fat bike in snow

Riding in the snow, fat bike style (Photo courtesy of Hope Valley Outdoors)

Winter conditions bring rain, snow, and wind. All of it is good. Along with all of that your gear tends to get gunked up pretty quickly. What ever it is you are using while enjoying the winter outdoors, maintenance time goes up.

No more simply riding your bike on the trails for a couple of hours then parking it in the garage. Skiing, alpine or Nordic, or snowshoeing? When you’re done for the day and back home, putting your gear away and heading inside for coffee and crumpets is not the best move.

When it gets cold enough and the snow starts falling, where I live, the county sends out the plows. When the plows are done, they are followed by trucks that spread sand on the roads. The plows don’t usually get all the way down to the asphalt. The night temps drop and everything freezes, and the sand trucks make it possible to get some traction on the roads.

Even if it doesn’t snow or freeze where you ride, the rain tends to create run off, and all kinds of things end up on the roads and paths. Most cyclists, as soon as conditions permit, hit the pedals. All of the small gritty treasures on the road gets kicked up by your tires and presto! Your chain, derailleur, and brakes get that fine assortment of crud coating them. Not good. You get it too, but you’re likely to clean up every time.

That crud acts like sandpaper on those parts, and over time will shorten their usable life span. Before you head to the couch, or at least before you ride again, take the time to clean that stuff off those bike parts.

Either use water and a cloth, or a soft brush and get the chain, derailleur, and your tire rims cleaned off, or if you have disk brakes, clean the disk and pads. When you’re done with the cleaning, oil the chain and moving parts on the derailleur. Use bike chain lube only. Carefully wipe off the excess oil. It should be obvious that you keep oil away from your brakes. This small investment of your time will save you money, which is always good. You have more for good coffee, chocolate, and crumpets.

Your skis and snowshoes also need some care when you’re done for the day. Wipe the water off them, both sides. Use a soft cloth, and make sure everything is dry. Your skis ride on the snow, which all by itself is abrasive. There’s probably some fine bits of tree trash, or even dirt mixed in the snow, and if left on your skis can grind down the wax next time you hit the slopes.

The metal edges, if left wet, will rust. Ignore them long enough and you’ll spend money on new skis. Making sure your skis or boards are dry before you put them to bed prevents that. Not only that, but rusty edges don’t cut the snow like good clean ones do. Instead of craving through the turns, you’ll start sliding. This is true with alpine and Nordic metal edged skis.

Your snowshoes should be dry when you put them away. While they are made of pretty high grade aluminum and other metals, you want any parts that are subject to rust to be dry when you’re done for the day. Get any dirt or grit off them and the bindings.

What it comes down to is simple. Clean your gear. Take care of all of it and you’ll enjoy years of use, year round.

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Sierra snow brings avalanche danger

Good gear, stay warm photo/J Ferris

Good gear, stay warm,stay safe.  Photo/J Ferris

You may not be on your bike if you live in the snow country of the Sierra. This winter is bringing what has been missing for the last 4 winters: snow. The storms are continuing to line up and blow through the mountains. Skiers of all types, xc and alpine, snowshoers, snowboarders, anyone who enjoys the snow, is heavily on the happy side right now.

The resorts check their terrain every morning for avalanche signs. The Ski Patrol heads out before things open up, and if anything seems a bit dicey to them, they do what they can to trigger an avalanche. While no avalanche is controlled, the ones they trigger roar downslope without any people in the way. When everything safe, the resorts open.

Resorts in the Tahoe region, and other in snow country in other states, have closed trails this year due to the avalanche dangers that they weren’t able to eliminate. It’s a very important part of what the resorts do. The first rule at all of them is safety for their guests.

In the back country you’re on you own when it comes to avalanche awareness and safety. No one is out there prior to your arrival tossing explosives down the mountain to trigger avalanches. If you haven’t taken the time to at least check the avalanche conditions in your area, stay home.

In most mountain areas there is an outfit that tracks snow and avalanche conditions during the snow season. In the Tahoe area it’s the Sierra Avalanche Center. They are the experts and it is wise to check their site anytime a back country snow trip is planned. No matter where you live in snow country, find out who does the avalanche reports, and pay attention to what’s on their site.

Avalanches, big or small, are extremely powerful. Survival rates aren’t very good for anyone swept away in one. We didn’t get this old by being clueless. Stay smart, stay safe, pay attention when you head to the snowy mountains, no matter what you’re riding on.

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Layers count

Good gear, stay warm photo/J Ferris

Good gear, stay warm photo/J Ferris

Winter brings colder weather, at least in our part of the world. In the Sierra it means consistent cold, especially this year. In mid-America and back east, it’s really cold. Staying warm is critical if you’re to continue enjoying riding, hiking, xc skiing, snowshoeing, skiing and so on.

First rule is this: leave all your cotton gear at home. Cotton will not keep you warm, and if it gets wet, can be a big detriment to your health. Depending on where you are, it could lead to very serious consequences, like death. Hypothermia really is a killer.

Wear either wool, smart wool, or synthetics when you venture out in the cold. These fabrics not only keep you warm, they dry quickly and will wick moisture away from your skin. Layer everything. You’ll be able to shed a layer if you start to feel too warm, or add a layer if the cold starts to settle in. Gen

erally speaking, if you are too comfortable when you start out, you’ve got too many layers on. Ideally you will be just a bit on the cool side.

When you start whatever activity it is that you’ve chosen, you’ll start to generate heat. That’s good, and the reason you don’t need to be completely over layered when you start out.

If you’re headed out into a cloudy day, or into the back country, always take rain gear with you. If your top layer keeps you dry, it’s a much better day. Worst combo is cold and wet. Bad, very bad.

Knowing the weather forecast is especially important if you’re out in the mountains. or out there quite a ways on a trail. In town, you still need to know if there is rain heading your way. Stay warm, stay dry and your day will be much more enjoyable.

You’d think Boomers would know all this. We’ve had plenty of time to learn it. It bears repeating though. Mother Nature doesn’t care whether you’re dressed for the prevailing conditions. You’re on your own, so stay smart out there.

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Fat bikes on the snow

Riding in the snow, fat bike style

Riding in the snow, fat bike style

Added to the gear that snow hounds of a certain age may want to take a look at are fat bikes. These are not bikes that have been munching on chips and dip since last winter. They aren’t even particularly fat. It’s the rims and tires that carry the extra bulk.

I spoke with Andrew Molinari at the Placerville Bike Shop about the bikes. He said the tires are around 3 1/2 inches wide, and some are even wider. They’re knobby, and made differently from typical mountain or road bike tires. The rims are wider to accommodate the wide tires.

He also said that the tires are made to run on 5 to 15 pounds of air. Mountain and road bike tires take anywhere from 45 to 100 pounds of air. The reason for the difference is what the tires are ridden on. Anyone who has taken their road or mountain bike out into the snow knows what a trudge that can be. Skinny road bike tires just sink and slide, and mountain bike tires don’t do much better, even if you let some air out of them, which can damage the tire.

Most fat bike tires are specifically made for low tire pressure. They are made for snow, and if you’re at the beach, sand. The tires have more surface contact with the snow which allows them to either stay on top or at least not sink up to the forks.

The fat bikes have disc brakes, and probably front shocks, but are hard tails, which is to say there is no suspension on the back wheels. Andrew said that the frames accommodate the wider tires. Typically there is one front chain ring, with 11 or so gears in the rear. Carbon fiber or aluminum frames carry the whole thing. Buying one could set you back somewhere around $2,000.

Buying just the rims and tires won’t work. They won’t fit on your mountain bike, although mountain bikes were the starting point for these, which are sometimes referred to as blimp tire mountain bikes.

For a winter on-the-snow riding thrill, one of these may be what you’re looking for. They are increasingly being used on trails year round. Best advice: rent one first. New they can set you back $2,000 or so.

If you do ride where there are snowshoe and cross country tracks, stay out of those tracks. Etiquette in the back country is simple. Snowshoers and cross country skiers stay off of each others tracks. That same etiquette applies to fat bikes respecting the other tracks too.

Yes, you still need to wear your helmet. It is a bike after all. Common sense generally works well.

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Winter is here

Winter is here

The snows started to fall in the Sierra early this year. It hasn’t stopped, and everyone in California is grinning. The biggest grins are on the faces of anyone who enjoys snow sports of any kind.

Boomers around the Sierra in California, from 4,000 feet up, may have to park their bikes for a few days. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows reported 4 feet of new snow over the last day and a half. Christmas Eve will bring in a robust and cold storm, with snow levels dropping to 2,500 feet.

This doesn’t mean that the more mature generation will head for the couch. Hot chocolate maybe, but the lure of keeping active simply means that we’ll head out into the snow. For hard core cyclists there are fat bikes to explore. These bikes have very wide tires, knobby for gripping the snow, and apparently are great for pedaling about in the slippery white stuff. If you are at a spot where they are available for rent, it’s probably worth it to climb on one and find out how they do. Could be fun.

There’s also Alpine and Nordic skiing. In the Sierra around Lake Tahoe there’s a boatload of places to do both. If strapping waxed boards to your feet and launching yourself down a steep hill is too much for you, snowshoes could be what you’re looking for.

Snowshoes simply allow you to hike in the snow without sinking in up to your ears. You’ll need poles along with the snow shoes. What you’ll get is a wonderful experience in the quiet winter woods. Sounds good to me.

The whole point is that winter is here, and there’s still plenty to do, where ever you are. Do it. Get outside!

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Outside with the Boomers

DSCN0838While this blog is named Boomers on Bicycles, and certainly covers the older crowd on bikes, that’s not all we do. BoomerGen, which is us, in younger people speak, is an active and diverse bunch of people. Right now, it’s cold outside in most places, and anyone within range of a mountain probably has a set of skis, a snowboard, xc skis, or snowshoes in addition to the two wheeled steed.

Some things cut across all cold weather outside sports. Staying warm and dry is critical not only to your comfort, it’s critical to your continued existence. The first caveat is that all the cool cotton clothing that you trot about town in needs to stay home when you head out to the forest, the trails, or the bike paths, in cold weather.

The layers that you wear need should be either wool, smart wool, or synthetics of some kind. These fabrics have the ability to wick moisture away from your skin. When wet they retain some ability to trap whatever heat you are generating, and they dry quickly while doing so.

Layers are important because you can easily take off one if you are too warm, or add something when you start to get chilly. Most of them are lightweight but have the ability to keep you comfortable. If they have a wind blocking fabric built in, so much the better.

If you are too comfortable when you first start out on your trek you’ve probably got one too many layers on. As soon as you start hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and so on, your body will heat up. If you’re overdressed to begin with, you’ll have to stop and shed a layer. Starting out with the right mix simply means you get to hoof for a longer and more comfortable period of time before shedding that layer.

While this is a bit of repeat of the last post, it bears repeating. There are stories every year about back country travelers who, while wearing cotton clothing, got caught in the wet and cold and died. It really is critical.

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