Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What's a Company Picnic without a Bike Care Class?

I recently had the opportunity through Team LUNA Chix San Diego Cycle to conduct a Bike Care Class at the URS Corp company picnic. It was a great experience, and the second year Team LUNA Chix has been invited to participate.

I was to present a 20-minute Basic Bike Care presentation followed by a Hands-on Flat-changing Clinic. But with all the distractions of a company picnic like hamburgers, the shade tree, and jumpy houses (seriously, there was jumpy that looked like a small version of American Gladiator), I knew I needed something to generate interest in my clinic. So I devised a contest for anyone to enter, and announced that the first correct answer drawn at random would win a new multi-tool, courtesy of Steve Richey at 2wheelogic.com (thanks for everything you taught me, Steve!).

I put two similar road bikes side-by-side with a sign:

You are commuting to work and expect to arrive home just before dusk. 

Which bike is ready to ride?

Submit your name and answer (Bike 1 or Bike 2)
along with a brief description of why you made the choice you did. 

We announced the contest, and stated that the drawing would take place just before the Basic Bike Care presentation. It worked like a charm, as people began coming over to look at the bikes, feel the tires, test out the lights, feel the brakes, etc. 

checking over the two road bikes

filling out an entry card to win the mulit-tool

When it came time to draw, there was a crowd of about 15-20 people. A woman who had answered correctly, "Bike 2 is ready because Bike 1 has no rear light" won the multi-tool. I asked the crowd what else they had noticed that might render Bike 1 not ready to ride. I was surprised that none of them, not even the seasoned riders in the crowd, noticed that the front brake caliper of Bike 1 was wide open. With steam from the drawing, I was able to segway immediately into the Basic Bike Care presentation, and the A-B-C's of riding.

A - Air. Always make sure your tires have sufficient air before you ride. On a road bike, if you can put any dent with your fingertips into the sidewall of the tire, the tire needs air. 
Before group rides, I will always go around and feel the tires. It's remarkable the number of people who think they have 100 psi when they have no more than 75 psi. Riding under-inflated tires is a quick way to get a pinch flat. Road tires should be pumped up almost every time you ride.

B - Brakes. Always spin the wheel to make sure it is not rubbing, and then grab the brake lever to make sure the brake is working properly. 

C - Chain and Cables. Make sure the chain runs smoothly across the teeth of the front rings and rear cassette. If you touch the chain and get blackened fingers from grease, it's probably you are using too much chain lube. Wipe off the excess. If you tough the chain and it feels dry, you may need to use a bit more chain lube. 
Cables are the lifelines to smooth shifting. If your cables are starting to get rusty from exposure, or you notice an end that is starting to fray, it's probably time to get a new cable installed. If you need your bike seen by a professional, do your mechanic a favor and clean up your bike before taking it in for repairs. It's a courtesy that will be greatly appreciated.

Before every ride, take 30 seconds to check your bike's A-B-C's. 

how to clean a chain

I took a moment during the presentation to show the crowd how easy it is to clean a chain, and quizzed them on the things I had just told them. Anyone who got a correct answer got a cassette brush, courtesy of Pedro's Bike Care Products

The Basic Bike Care presentation was followed by the Hands-on Flat-Changing Clinic. Although I only had three takers for this portion, they were eager to learn, and very excited that they could learn to remove and replace a rear wheel so easily. As a thank-you for attending, they each got either a multi-tool or a chin tool. 

Big thanks go to my "Janie-on-the-spot" LUNA teammate Cindy, who has helped me with several clinics and is always a great support! Thanks, Cindy!

Team LUNA Chix San Diego Cycle presented the Bike Care Clinic as part of an ongoing fundraising effort for the Breast Cancer Fund. I'd like to thank URS Corp, on behalf of Team LUNA Chix San Diego, for their generous donation to the cause. If you would like to make a donation to the Breast Cancer Fund, please see our donation page

Friday, June 22, 2012

Learning to Ride a Bike (from Tales from the Bike Shop)

When I worked at UC Cyclery, I had the great fortune of being able to help newer riders work through their fears of getting on a bike. Here's Jake's story - one of my favorites - from June 2008.

Jake - My Customer of the Day
Jake came in today with his grandparents. Jake is eleven, and has not yet had his growth spurt. He's a good-natured, kind, loving kid, witnessed by his encouragement and support of his younger sister who also learned to ride a bike tonight, and his respect and love for his father. Jake is my customer of the day.

When he first came in with his grandparents and they told me that he needed a new bike, I turned and talked directly to Jake, and asked if he would like try an XS adult bike rather than a 24"-wheeled kid's bike. He was certainly big enough.

"No," he insisted, "I like this one better," he said as he moved timidly to the smaller bike that was clearly too small for him. Jake is a little pudgy, and probably not very active. I found out later that his grandfather, who is here on vacation from Montreal, rides a bike every day. I create an image in my mind of the grandfather who comes into town, discovers his sedentary overweight grandson, and determines to do something about it. So he drags him to the bike shop determined to get the boy on a bike. This is where come in.

"Well, if you like this [smaller] bike, let me take it to the mechanic so he can get it ready for a testride. How about that?" I ask Jake.
"Oh, no. I don't need to ride it. It'll be fine," he tells me.

He's afraid of riding the bike.

"What's the thing that's keeping you from riding the bike?" I ask.
He hesitates, then confesses, "Um, I have the wrong shoes."

I look at his shoes. He's wearing Crocs.
"OK, so if you had better shoes, would that be OK?"

"Well... not really. I don't need to ride the bike..."
I drag his main hesitation out of him.
"I might fall," he says.
"Well, what will happen if you fall?" I ask.
"I dunno, I get hurt a little," he says.
"And then what?" I ask.
"Um, maybe I bleed..." he says, almost as a question.
"Then what?" I ask, prodding him to look further.
"I dunno..." he shrugs.
"Do you get back on the bike?" I ask.
"I dunno... I guess," he says, confused.

"So, the worst that can happen is that you fall, you get hurt, but then you get back on the bike. Right? Has that happened before?" I ask.

"Well, yeah, and it was really um, kinda scary," he confesses.

"OK," I tell him. "Well, that sounds really normal. Lots of people who fall and get hurt are afraid. I think everybody is. But, you know how that chocolate cream cake in the window of the bakery looks soooo good, but it never really tastes as good as we think it will?"
"Um, yeah..." he says.
"Well, things are always exaggerated in our minds. The desserts always taste better, and the falls always seem more painful, but it's never as intense in reality as it is in our minds. Right?"
"Wow. I guess so," he says.

"So, if I gave you some elbow and knee pads that I have in my car, so it wouldn't hurt if you fall, and if you came back here in better shoes, would you take a test ride?"

He searches for a flaw in my argument, but can find none. I assure him that with elbow and knee pads, he will not get hurt, that I fall all the time and I'm OK. He agrees to come back later in the day with his father.

Meanwhile, his grandmother has stood and listened to this exchange in something akin to awe. She asks me how long I will be at the shop today. I tell her till 8pm.

I help Jake choose a helmet, one with colors he likes, and set it aside for him. He and his grandparents leave, and I all but forget about them until almost 7pm, when they return to the shop, this time with Dad, Grandad, and the younger sister Abby, who is about seven.

Jake is ready for the ride now. He readily dons the elbow pads and knee pads that I retrieve from my trunk. I show him how to put his pedal at 2 o'clock for maximum impetus. But despite all my coaxing and coaching, he begins to get discouraged, has almost half a dozen false starts and suddenly cries in frustration, "I can't!" I ask him for one more good effort, and this time, I hold him steady as he pedals a few strokes in the parking lot. He comes to a stop, his eyes wide.

"Wow. I almost did it," he says, amazed.
"Yes! You did! Do it again!" I tell him.

He starts again, and this time, I let go, allowing him to ride by himself. He does it. He comes to a stop triumphant in front of his father. "Dad!! I did it!!" he calls.

This kid has not been on a bike since he was five years old. His dad is really trying to contain himself, while I hold nothing back and literally jump up and down and give Jake a high-five. It is now that I tell him he should try the XS adult bike.

"You think I can?" he asks.

"Dude! You looked so good on the 24"-bike, I think it's really going to be a better fit..." I tell him. I glance at the father, who takes a deep breath and purses his lips. He really wants his son on the bigger bike, but knows he can't push him.

Jake gets on the XS Hardrock and rides it like a champ. "I'm doing it!! I'm doing it!!"

These are the moments that make my job sweet. My day can hardly get any better at this point. A boy who was afraid of bikes now can't wait to go ride the new one he will be getting.

The father looks at me and says, "So, Abby here has never ridden a bike. Can you teach her too?"

I prepare a 20-inch girls bike with coaster brakes for Abby. She is fearless, and although she has several false starts, she takes instruction well and is soon riding well, as long as she doesn't have to turn or brake... which will come in time.

Amusingly, Jake has been attempting to coach her with his new-found knowledge as one who has *ahem* been riding longer than her. His dad quiets him, telling him, "Let Laura tell her..."

After Abby has mastered starting and stopping, and Jake tells her what a fine job she's done, I turn to Jake and say, "Your sister has learned very well from your example." He smiles.

"She probably learns a lot from you, right?" I ask.
"Well, sure," he admits.
"Do you know what you can learn from her?" I ask him.
"What?" he asks.
"She had a number of false starts, and messed up a lot of times..." I say.
"Haha... yeah," he laughs.
"But she never got discouraged, did she?" I ask him.
His smile fades, as he realizes this.
"She knows it's OK to make mistakes. You could try to learn that from her," I tell him with an encouraging smile.
He casts his eyes down, then looks back at me and nods with a tight-lipped smile.

God bless him, I too am a first-born who has to get everything RIGHT the first time!! My younger brother was always messing up, but it never mattered for him. If only I had been able to learn from him early on, and see his flexibility to get it wrong as a strength...

Haha... somewhere along the way I developed this compulsive need to make it easier on subsequent generations, seeking out first-borns and letting them know it's OK NOT to get it right the first time.

Today, Jake was my customer of the day, for his spirit, courage, and intellectual fortitude.

Update - I ran into Jake's father at UC Cyclery one Sunday afternoon in 2011 when I happened to stop by the shop. He said Jake was riding his bike often, and Jake's sister commented that he was "really good, too."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Flat-changing Clinic part 3 - What's in your Camelbak?

This is Part 3 of the 3-part series on Bicycle Maintenance: Tires and Flat-changing.

One of the most frequent questions I get from attendees at my clinics is: 

What should I carry when I ride?

Five things you should absolutely have when you ride. 

  1. Mobile phone
  2. Copy of your picture ID, emergency contact info, blood type, known allergies
  3. Spare tube, Tire levers
  4. Pump and/or CO2 inflater head and 2 cartridges
  5. Emergency cash
In addition to these things, I carry a few more items. Here's my road saddlebag.
Laura's saddlebag, clockwise from the top: KINeSYS sunscreen, Purell mini, tire levers, mechanic gloves, photo ID, emergency contact card, pocket knife, Elete electrolyte concentrate single, $20, spare tube, 2 CO2 cartridges, MicroFlate Nano CO2 inflater head, patch kit, Allen wrenches, small bottle of  Elete TablytesClif Chocolate Cherry turbo shots.
List of additional items you might carry, that I do carry on the road, in addition to the 5 basics:
  • hex wrenches
  • nutrition (gel, bar, etc.)
  • electrolyte tablets (e.g., Elete Tablytes)
  • tube patch kit
  • pocketknife - helpful to remove glass from a tire among other things
  • mechanic gloves - when it's a grimy job and you still have hours to go
  • sunscreen mini bottle - to re-apply as needed
  • Purell mini bottle 

Mountain bike rides are different, because you can me in remote areas without access to emergency assistance. I carry quite a bit in my CamelBak when I'm mountain biking. Here are the additional items you might carry, that I do carry on the trail. The only things I've never had to use are the space blanket, photo ID and medical info card.

Laura's CamelBak contents: medical bag (bandages, medical tape, alcohol, maxi pad - a great sterile dressing for a deep cut or a large scrape, anti-bacterial ointment, Benedryl, etc.), photo ID, emergency cash, spare tube, bag of many-sized nuts and bolts, chain break tool, space blanket, spare cleats and screws, electrical tape, duct tape, shock pump, SRAM quick link, energy towel (to cool off someone suffering from heat exhaustion), CO2 cartridges, tire levers, tube patches, CO2 MicroFlate Nano inflater head, hex wrenches, knife, nail clippers, Sharpie, chain lube, Elete electrolyte supplement, spare derailleur hanger, Sportlegs (prevents lactic acid buildup), sports nutrition, tweezers to remove cactus needles, 2 small combs to remove cactus bulbs, large bandage, personal medical and emergency contact info.

In addition to the 5 basic items, here are the things I carry in my CamelBak.
For the bike:
  • hex wrenches
  • tube patch kit
  • chain lube
  • SRAM quick link
  • bag of many-sized nuts and bolts 
  • chain break tool 
  • shock pump 
  • spare derailleur hanger
For the body
  • sports nutrition (gel, bar, etc.)
  • electrolyte tablets (e.g., Elete Tablytes)
  • Sportlegs
  • energy towel (to cool off someone suffering from heat exhaustion)
For random emergencies
  • folding knife
  • Sharpie
  • spare cleats and screws
  • electrical tape, duct tape 
  • medical bag - bandages, large bandage, medical tape, alcohol, mechanic gloves, maxi pad - a great starile dressing for a deep cut or a large scrape, anti-bacterial ointment, Benedryl, sunscreen, nail clippers, etc. 
  • tweezers to remove cactus needles, 2 small combs to remove cactus bulbs (we are in the desert)
  • emergency cash
  • photo ID, medical information card with emergency contact info, blood type, known allergies
  • space blanket

While you don't necessarily need to carry items for any emergency, if you know how to use these things, they really come in handy when you need them. 

Have a great ride!

Please feel free to leave comments about thing you find useful, things you carry on the trail, or helpful suggestions for riders.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Flat-changing Clinic part 2

This is Part 2 of the 3-part series on Bicycle Maintenance: Tires and Flat-changing.

In Part 1, I talked about what to expect in my flat-changing clinics, held monthly and hosted by B+L Bike and Sport. Here are some of the questions that come up in my flat-changing clinics. Please feel free to add your own questions in the comments. :)


Do I need to take the whole tire off?

No. You only need to take one side of the tire off so that you can remove and replace the tube.

What are the advantages to removing the whole tire?
Facilitates finding the thing that made you flat.
Removing the tire entirely will make it easier to find the glass, thorn, piece of wire, etc. Sometimes the object will remain in the rubber of the tire, slightly poking through the inside, just waiting to flat your new tube. With the tire removed, you can practically turn it inside-out.

Is there any disadvantage to removing the whole tire?
Remounting it in the wrong direction. 
Tires are often designed to roll best in one direction. Unless you know the direction of rotation, which is sometimes stamped into the sidewall of the tire, you need to either
a) pay close attention to decals and logos when you removed the tire, i.e., logos match up to the cassette /skewer nut side or the skewer lever side, or
b) know how to read the directional tread of a tire.

"<= ROTATION" is stamped into the sidewall of many tires.


What do all those numbers on the tube box mean?

Example: 700 x 18-28, 48mm  (road tube)
  • 700 = roughly 700mm rim diameter
  • 18-28   Number of mm wide the tube will comfortably inflate. If the tire is narrower than 18mm, there will be too much flabby tube inside it. If the tire is wider than 28mm, the tube will be stretched too thin.
  • 48mm  length of the presta valve on a road tube. Deeper rims require longer valve stems. A short valve stem inside the rim may not allow you to attach the pump to inflate it.
Example: 26 x 1.9-2.125  (mountain bike tube)
  • 26 = 26" diameter rim
  • 1.9 - 2.125  Number of inches wide that the tube will comfortable inflate.
How do I know I have the right size tube?
Easiest way: take your tire to the bike shop and tell them you need a spare tube. When you remove the tube from the box and put it in a plastic bag, tear off the end of the box with all the numbers and put it inside the bag with the spare tube.

Are bike measurements in inches or metric?
Road bikes are most commonly measured in metric, mountain bikes in inches.

What is the "bead" of the tire?
The bead is the edge that hooks into the rim and holds the tire onto the rim. Tire beads are either wire or kevlar.

What is the difference between wire or kevlar bead tires?

Wire bead
  • often less expensive 
  • harder to mount onto rims 
  • better for 230+ lbs riders (because the bead stays in place and won't blow off the rim) 
  • adds 50-75g in rotational weight, which is fine for flat terrain, but more work in hilly terrain.
Kevlar bead 
  • often more expensive than wire bead 
  • easy to mount into rims
  • fold-able (you can carry one in your back pocket if you need to)
  • reduced rotational weight
How much air do my tires need?
Every tire is stamped with a recommended inflation. Road bike tires are high pressure, low volume, and are generally inflated between 95-125 psi. 
Road bike tire recommended inflation: 115 PSI / 125 PSI

Mountain bike tires are low pressure, high volume, and are generally inflated between 30-50 psi.

Mountain bike tire recommended inflation: 36-65 PSI 

Why are some road tires perfectly slick and others have ridges (tread)?
Perfectly slick road tires are most often used by racers, having the least friction and drag. Tires with more tread provide better grip and are better for directing water or mud away from the center of the tire. Ask at your local bike shop which tire is best for your riding style and goals.
Is the rim and the wheel the same thing?
No. The rim is only the hoop part with the holes in it. The wheel is made up of the rim, spokes, hub, etc.

What is presta and schrader?
Tube valve stems are either presta or schrader (looks like the car tire).

presta valve in a mountain bike wheel
Unscrew the top (little gold piece) to inflate. Be sure to tighten it back down.

How often do I need to pump up my tires?
Check tires before every ride. 

Properly inflated road tires should feel completely solid. If you can make any depression with your fingers in the sidewall at all, you need air. Use a good floor pump and knew for certain how much pressure is in your tires. 

If road tires are to be harder than an apple, mountain tires should be a bit softer than an orange. You should be able to depress the sidewall slightly. 

If you have additional questions or are curious about tubes or tires, please see Sheldon Brown's website. Although Sheldon is no longer with us, his site is maintained by volunteers and remains a great resource for cyclists.

Next week I'll have Part 3: What's in your saddlebag? Items you should have with you when you ride.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Flat Changing Clinic - Part 1

This is Part 1 of the 3-part series on Bicycle Maintenance: Tires and Flat-changing.

When I first started cycling, my mechanic in New Jersey encouraged me to attend a flat-changing and bike maintenance clinic put on by the parks department. I remember following all the steps the instructor told me, but still being so confused, and feeling like I only got through the flat-changing part because someone more knowledgeable than me was there to help.

Since that clinic in Feb 2003, I've tried to learn as much as I could about bikes and bike maintenance. Being something of a compulsive teacher, I naturally have to pass on what I've learned, so I started teaching flat-changing clinics with women as the target audience.

Now I teach a flat-changing clinic at B+L Bike and Sports once a month. This past Sunday afternoon, I taught at the Solana Beach store where we had nine women attend. It was a great afternoon!

Jenny and Robbin watch as Monica pulls the tube out of the tire in a simulated flat.

Team LUNA Chix San Diego will be teaming up with B+L Bike and Sports to bring you flat-changing clinics once a month throughout the season at one of the two B+L locations. Please check our website or Facebook for dates, location, and details.


HANDS-ON LEARNING. It's important that everyone actually work on a bike and not just spectate. Doing it yourself boosts your confidence, and reinforces the notion that you can, in fact, do this yourself. 

MASTERY OF REAR WHEEL REMOVAL-REPLACEMENT. We always work on rear wheels, with at least ten minutes spent removing and replacing the rear wheel, until everyone is comfortable doing so. As with most things, there are tricks to making removing/replacing a rear wheel easy. And just to get that thought out of your head - no, you won't hurt the bike.

 Monica continues working on her tire as Bev (background) looks up from her work.

CAMARADERIE. Depending on space, there will be 4-6 bikes to work on. Attendees will work singly, in pairs, or even in groups of three to get the job done. No matter how many of us there are, we work together to make sure everyone is comfortable and no one is getting stressed out. :)
Taking turns, everyone gets a chance to practice removing and replacing the rear wheel, removing the tire, getting the tire back onto the rim, and inflating the tube with CO2.

Heather and Megan (left) and Patti and Jennifer (right) work in pairs  to install the tube.

CO2 PRACTICE. Everyone gets a chance to practice using CO2, thanks to support by Genuine Innovations. I remember being somewhat skeptical myself (read: afraid of it) at first. But once I realized how easy it is to use, and how I could eliminate ten minutes or more of exhausting frame pump arm work on the side of the road by using a CO2 cartridge that costs as little as a vanilla latte, I was sold.

Jan and Bev line up the CO2 to inflate the tire. Special shout-out to Genuine Innovations for providing MicroFlate Nano heads and CO2 cartridges for the women to practice with.

In part 2 of the blog Bicycle Maintenance: Tires and Flat-changing, I'll answer 
frequently asked questions, including:
  • What do all those numbers on the tube box mean? 
  • How do I know I have the right size tube?
  • Do I need to take the whole tire off?
  • Why are some tires perfectly slick and others have ridges (tread)?
  • Is the rim and the wheel the same thing?
Please feel free to post your questions below! If I can't answer it, I'll find the answer from someone more knowledgeable than me.

Patti checks to make sure the MicroFlate head in lined up square to the rim for best air flow.

Thank yous are in order to all the attendees of my most recent clinic in Solana Beach: Monica and her friends Robbin and Jenny, Bev, Jan, Heather, Megan, Patti, and Jennifer. Thanks to the guys at B+L Bike and Sports Solana Beach: Tom, Scott, Gisan, and especially Kevin who stayed late for us. Thanks to Mark of B+L Bike and Sports who invited me into his shop and is hosting these events. And big thanks to Genuine Innovations, who supplies the MicroFlate Nano heads and the CO2 cartridges we use in class. These San Diego Flat-changing clinics exist because of your efforts.

Next clinic:
Sunday, 5/20/12, 3:45 PM

B+L Bike and Sports in San Diego (Rosecrans).
RSVP on Meetup.com