Helmets: To Wear or Not To Wear?

Two approaches to riding a bike: helmeted and helmetless

At the risk of setting the internet on fire, this is an article about wearing helmets. We’ve seen a few articles lately that seem to have reignited this timeless debate, and thought we’d jump into the fray.

Before you get all fired up, know a few things

  • We believe in the studies that show helmets save lives, and always wear one when we ride
  • This author personally had his life saved, or at least avoided having to relearn the alphabet, by wearing a helmet
  • We haven’t always been stringent helmet wearers, and spent years going lidless (in fact the day I had my accident was almost a lucky chance, at the last minute I completely randomly decided to grab my helmet for my ride to the grocery store)
  • Ultimately the choice whether or not to wear one is up to you

Like politics, helmet wearing tends to be super divisive. The two most vocal camps (though maybe not the most numerous) tend to be:

  1. Helmets are totally unnecessary for the everyday cyclist, and just make cycling seem more unappealing
  2. Helmets offer critical protection, and should be mandatory for everyone.

But in the middle are a huge number of riders who just go out and ride their bikes, do what they do, and don’t really get too worked up about stuff like this.

But for the sake of argument, let’s break down the two opposing views:

 Anti-Helmet:

This mom and daughter in Hasselt, Belgium are just going about their business-- no helmets needed

This mom and daughter in Hasselt, Belgium are just going about their business– no helmets needed

This camp tends to be more the urban/transportation type of rider, who usually bikes at slower speeds, and in slower moving traffic. To these riders, the helmet is simply an impediment to getting people on bikes. There are some valid arguments to be made here, including studies that show that mandatory helmet laws decrease participation, which actually makes riding more dangerous since there are fewer bikes on the road. Others dislike them because they think it makes cycling seem excessively dangerous, or that they do little to prevent injury. These are also valid points—most cyclists will never need the protection a helmet provides, and in the event of an accident, there really is only so much a helmet can do.

Let’s look at some other positives here:

  • Your hair will always look fantastic (unless it’s windy)
  • It’s one less thing to worry about buying
  • Riding helmetless feels more relaxing
  • You won’t get as hot when you ride
Helmet or no, we kind of hope we look like this guy on a bike when we're older. Major steez, for sure

Helmet or no, we kind of hope we look like this guy on a bike when we’re older. Major steez.

Another point that is often cited is that helmet use is relatively uncommon in other industrialized countries, such as in Europe.

When we were in Belgium a few weeks ago, we saw countless people on bicycles in the city going about their commuting and errand-running business without helmets…similar to what we have seen when we’ve visited and ridden in Norway, Denmark, France and Italy (although in all those places we always noticed road and MTB riders wearing helmets). And before you get up in arms about better infrastructure, allow us to say that riding in a city in Europe, even ones with protected bike lanes, can often be more terrifying than riding along a divided highway in the U.S. The roads are tiny, the drivers are unpredictable, and the traffic patterns are utterly incomprehensible. If a car can fit somewhere, then that’s where that car is going—pedestrians, cyclists and legally-binding signage or not.

The point is that people choose to ride bikes, and don’t worry too much about the details.

Couple just out for a ride on a rare warm Belgian evening

Couple just out for a ride on a rare warm Belgian evening

Pro Helmet:

For many, wearing a helmet is a basic safety precaution

For many, wearing a helmet is a basic safety precaution

For others riders, the helmet is a necessary safety precaution, and one that they wouldn’t leave the house without, akin to wearing a seatbelt. Personally, this is the camp we fall into. We freely admit that if you’re struck by one ton of metal at 35mph, there’s only so much some foam and plastic can do, but that simple barrier can, and often does, mean the difference between a traumatic brain injury and a mild headache—as it did for us.

Study after study has shown that helmets can and do reduce the risk of both minor and serious head injury. Many take the view that there is little to be gained and much to be lost by not wearing a helmet. You only get one brain, and the brain is the only part of the body that can’t repair itself, so you better protect it.

Study after study has shown that helmets save lives and can prevent more serious injuries

Study after study has shown that helmets save lives and can prevent more serious injuries

The counter argument to the European philosophy is that you have to be realistic. We might all work toward and strive for that hopefully-near future when North American roads and politics will permit two-wheeled travel the way that some European cities do, but in the here-and-now that is simply not the case, and wishing will not make it so. Drivers here are inattentive, in many communities it’s still uncommon to see people using bicycles for transportation or recreation, and in many cities the roads were simply not designed for pedestrian or bicycle travel. Cycling on many American roads can be dangerous, and while you can’t live in fear, it’s best to take reasonable precautions.

Anecdotally, I was struck by a car in Chicago in a 25mph zone. While this might not seem fast, try riding 25mph on your bicycle and it sure seems fast enough. Even at that slow speed, with an oblique strike, it was powerful enough to throw me to the ground, break my collar bone in two places, fracture my scapula, and smash my helmet. At the ER I was told, verbatim, by the doctor holding my destroyed helmet: “if you hadn’t been wearing this, you would probably be upstairs in intensive care and we’d be calling your family”.

We won’t go so far as to advocate for mandatory helmet laws—at some point personal choice and personal responsibility become factors—but to us wearing a helmet is a smart personal choice.

Every year more and more styles of non-technical helmets become available

Every year more and more styles of non-technical helmets become available

So now that we’ve examined—at least in cursory detail—both sides of the argument, let’s hear your thoughts.

Ridden and Reviewed: Currie Tech iZip E-Bikes

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Who wants to take an e-bike ramble to get BBQ? We saddled up on the last day of our test to go get some lunch

A LITTLE ABOUT E-BIKES

E-bikes are kind of the hot new emerging technology of the bike world. They first emerged as a kind of in-between, living in the space between bicycle and motorscooter, but have since evolved into some pretty exciting vehicles in their own right. Here in the US, e-bikes are generally restricted by law to a max assisted speed of 20mph.

Not to be confused with electronic drivetrains, such as Di2 and EPS, which only use electronics to shift gears, e-bikes actually incorporate a propulsion motor into the hub of the wheel, and use an electrical motor to assist the rider while pedaling. The bikes usually do have a throttle mode to help you get things going, but generally the motor only assists you in the pedaling, it doesn’t do all the work for you. This makes e-bikes ideal for occasional riders, urban commuters, or those who don’t necessarily want a car, but want something more efficient than a standard bicycles for transportation.

I had a chance to test out the Currie E3 IZIP Path+ e-bike during bike to work week, and definitely put the bike through its paces, and my coworker did the same with the Currie IZIP E3 Zuma e-bike. These e-bikes definitely attracted a few looks from passers-by while we rode along at cruising speed, but read on below to find out how our test-rides worked out.

THE BIKES

Currie E3 IZIP Path+ e-bike is basically a standard city-style bike with a battery pack, electronics package and rear motor hub wheel. It has an 8-speed Shimano derailleur in the rear, which allows you to select how hard you want to pedal. Also upfront on the handlebars are a digital display that can display speed, distance traveled, battery charge remaining, and more. On the left hand, instead a front derailleur shifter, there is a digital control unit that lets you select the level of pedal assist, switch through the information screens, and turn the system on and off.

The bike comes with an included rear rack with an integrated battery pack.  It does weigh a fair amount—a bit over 50 pounds, depending on the size (our bike scale did actually go up that high, surprisingly), almost all of it in the battery and motor. Because of the weight, we found it necessary to keep the pedal assist on pretty much all the time.

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The Currie IZIP E3 Zuma e-bike featured more of a beach cruiser style frame design, with an upright riding position and a battery integrated into the seat tube of the bike (so you barely even notice that it’s there). The E3 Zuma uses Currie’s 500 watt rear hub motor, mated to a Shimano 7-speed rear derailleur and a simple LED control unit mounted to the handlebar (which allows you to select the level of assist that you would like, along with pedal-assist or throttle-control mode).

Maxxis 26×2.3″ tires provided a comfortable ride while also giving the versatility to be able to tackle some light gravel or packed dirt paths. The swept-back handlebars will give you a nice and comfortable upright riding position and the Avid BB5 mechanical disc brakes let us easily control speed.

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THE RIDE

While not really designed for the low-density rural area I live in, riding the Path+ e-bike was probably the most fun I’ve had on a bike in a long time. The Path+ e-bike is not your everyday townie bike, that’s for sure, and it takes some getting used to. But once I got the hang of riding it, I came to love to feeling of the gentle assist nudge from the rear wheel with every pedal stroke. It made running errands and getting places by bike way easier. The joke at my house is that we’re at least 20 minutes from anywhere—including work. The commute, the primary route I took the bike on, is about 12 miles each way and includes a long, grinding climb that is locally notoriously difficult even on a road bike.

Even riding into a stiff headwind feels delightful on an e-bike

Even riding into a stiff headwind feels like no big deal on an e-bike

The Path+ e-bike definitely made the commute much easier, and while I do love my commute, the Path+ e-bike introduced a level of enjoyment I haven’t felt since I moved to NC from Chicago years ago. On the mornings I rode the bike to work, instead of wearing my usual lycra, I just reached for the jeans and t-shirt I wear at work. It was a weird feeling to ride a bike in street clothes—something I admit I haven’t done in a long, long time—years even, but I really enjoyed it. I don’t think I broke a sweat at all, and even enjoyed a nice cup of coffee while riding. I was definitely still pedaling, but the motor took almost all of the strain out of it, so I arrived at work feeling refreshed instead of like I’d had a good workout. Even fully loaded with groceries, panniers, and everything needed to ride to work, the Path+ e-bike handled it all, and made even tough grocery runs feel fun, novel, and enjoyable.

I know that most people buy bikes because they want to work out, but that’s not really what the e-bikes were designed for. E-bikes are designed as a transportation solution for urban-dwellers and others who don’t feel they need- or want- a car to go everywhere. On these counts, it hits all the marks.

On a personal note: My wife and I are planning on moving into Chapel Hill proper (where the Performance offices are located) at the end of this year, and we kind of regret that we didn’t find the Path+ e-bike sooner. We bought a second car in October of last year to replace our college-era hoopty. Already having an SUV, we wanted a smaller, more efficient car for around-town and local trips. But after our test-week on the e-bike we both agreed that we may have reconsidered if we’d had a chance to try out the e-bike sooner—especially in light of our impending move. The Path+ e-bike would have easily solved many of the issues we were looking to address with a second car: reliable, powered transportation; an easy, fuel efficient around-town vehicle; and a fast way for my wife to get to work.

The e-bikes really excelled in around-town trips

The e-bikes really excelled in around-town trips

My coworker had a similar experience while test-riding the E3 Zuma e-bike - he used it every day to commute to work over a 5 mile mixed urban/rural route with a few tough hills, and he was able to tackle it with no problems in his regular work clothes. In fact he even shaved time off of his commute using the E3 Zuma e-bike on full pedal-assist mode, with much less perceived effort than his normal cyclocross commuter rig. He also left the bike in max-assist mode all the time – and it was remarkable how big a difference it made while climbing hills. Even when it didn’t feel that fast, once we looked at ride data later we could see that the motor-assist helped him keep a consistently high speed over tough climbs in town.

BATTERIES

Ah yes, what you’re all really wondering about. How long does the battery last? Good question. Like a car, it’s really going to depend on where you’re riding it and how you ride it. According to Currie, the Path+ e-bike should have gotten about 40 miles per charge. If you leave it on throttle mode and treat it like a scooter, you’re going to get less battery life. If you ride it with minimal pedal assist, you’ll get probably more than the advertised battery life.  Because of the distance and terrain I had to take the Path+ e-bike over to get to work, I got more like 25 miles per charge.  It was enough to get me to work and home again, but I had to recharge it every night. I also left it in max pedal assist, which probably didn’t help battery life either.

How much mileage you get out of your battery will really depend on where and how you ride it

How much mileage you get out of your battery will really depend on where and how you ride it

My coworker, who tested an E3 Zuma e-bike, actually got more than the 40 miles per charge—but he used his for more urban-style riding and rode it over shorter distances.

For most people, I don’t think battery life is going to be much of an issue. The on-board computer will give you plenty of warning that your battery is running low, just like your cell phone. If you just remember to charge it regularly, you won’t have any problems.

BBQ tastes better when you have to ride to get there

BBQ tastes better when you have to ride to get there. Though we didn’t quite fit in with the Harley bikers who also rode there…

VERDICT

E-bikes are definitely a fun, pragmatic machines, and something I find myself really wanting. Normally when I express a desire for a new bike, it leads to  eye-rolling and a family meeting, but on the Path+ e-bike my wife and I were much more in agreement. We both think e-bike would have been (when compared with a car) a very affordable, very practical solution to some of our transportation needs.

E-bikes are great for anyone in an urban area who wants a way to get around quickly, easily, and want to expand the capabilities of a normal bicycle (especially in a hilly area). But it’s also ideal for people who don’t ride as often, or want a bike that’s more about having fun and relaxing than pushing themselves to the limit.

Amazing machines and amazing food

This is what an ideal day on an e-bike should look like

But that’s just our take – what do you think about E-bikes?

Performance Rides the Zolder Circuit

On our trip to Belgium we got to do a lot of cool stuff. Touring the Ridley factory was really interesting, and riding the Ronde van Vlaanderen Sportif was awe-inspiring. But the most fun we had on the trip was the hammering the pace line at Circuit Zolder. This legendary F1 track is normally used to car racing, but a few nights a week it opens up for cyclists for a mere 3 Euro entry fee.

So what made it so fun? One word: Speed.

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Crossing the finish line at Zolder

Imagine having a wide open, immaculately paved road, free from cars and without any speed restrictions. The track was teeming with groups riding at different levels and different speeds. You just jump on with a group that feels good to you, give a friendly nod to the people around you, and hold on for dear life. Our home offices have plenty of Cat 1 and 2 road riders who can put some hurt on, but the level many of the Belgians ride at was beyond compare.

zolder_corner

You had to fight to hold your line in the S-bends!

At Zolder we saw cyclists of all stripes. From middle aged folks just out to ride some laps on flat bar road bikes, to pro’s from United Healthcare and Liv Pro Cycling putting in some speed work, to juniors learning how to ride in a group. We saw carbon super bikes, TT speed machines, older steel Pinarello’s and De Rosa’s hung with vintage Campagnolo, and more Ridley‘s than you could shake a stick at (seriously, it seemed like every third rider was on a Ridley).

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Don’t lose the pace heading up the hill on the backstretch!

It was fast, it was exhausting, and we still fantasize about going back. And lest you think you have to go all the way to Belgium to get to experience something like this, take heart. There are plenty of places like this around the world. Here in America, you can check out the Mazda Speedway in Laguna, CA; Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX; and Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal, Canada.

 

Check out our galleries below to see more.

 

Heading In

Make Way For The Pain Train…

Young Guns

Calling It A Day

Shop for Ridley Bikes

 

See more about our trip to Belgium Here

 

National Bike Month: Meet The Alliance For Biking & Walking

 

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As National Bike Month winds down, we bring you the last of our Advocacy Interviews. We had a chance to catch up with the folks from the Alliance For Biking & Walking– an advocacy group that strives to improve our communities by helping to recraft them into more livable spaces.

By lobbying local, state and Federal government organizations, collecting data for governments and groups to use, and helping to found grassroots organizations all over the country, the Alliance has done a lot to help riders and walkers everywhere.

Read on to find out more.

1. What’s the goal of your organization?

Communities are better places when it’s comfortable and safe to get around by bike. And the people who affect change for better biking are the grassroots advocates who make sure that bicyclists’ interests are represented in state and local government. We give advocates tools to win campaigns that transform communities into great places to bike and walk.

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The Alliance for Biking & Walking believes that communities are better places to live when it’s easier to get around

2. What projects are you working on currently?

We’re currently organizing a training for city-based advocacy groups who want to build protected bike lane networks in their cities. Advocates are increasingly in positions to push their cities to build awesome protected bike lanes so that everybody can feel comfortable biking around town. We’re going to train about 25 advocates on how to launch campaigns similar to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Connecting the City initiative, which was a total game-changer for SF.

We’re also organizing our biennial Leadership Retreat, a big pow wow for state and local biking and walking advocates. It’s the homecoming ball of bike/ped advocacy.

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Events large and small are important for increasing visibility for biking

3. What actions can I take locally to make the experience of cycling better in my community?

Get involved at the local level through being a member, volunteering, donating, and encouraging others to get involved. Local advocates are the folks who are responsible for getting bike lanes on the ground, passing pro-bike legislation, and building bike share systems.

If there isn’t yet a bike advocacy group in your area, consider starting one. Contact us at the Alliance for Biking & Walking for tips and coaching.

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If you’re not involved in a local advocacy organization, consider joining one to help improve cycling infrastructure in your city

4. What are you doing to get more people on bikes?

The Alliance is uniting, supporting, and funding the people who teach local biking classes, start Safe Routes to School programs, make bike maps, lobby your government to make biking better, and tons of other pro-bike stuff.

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Networks of “green lanes” are a major project for the Alliance for Biking and Walking

5. How can your message resonate with non-bike riders?

More and more people are recognizing that better biking isn’t just about better biking – it’s also about building the types of places where people want to live and work and shop.

 

Ride Inspiration

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A few weeks ago we gave our Facebook fans the chance to win a great Bike to Work Day package by telling us what inspired them to ride.

While the winners have already been notified, we were overwhelmed by the responses we got. Everyone gave us some great reasons for riding, but a few of our favorites really inspired us to get out and ride ourselves. From a wish to be healthier, to the freedom of the ride, to rediscovering your inner child, we hope you find your fellow cyclist’s thoughts as great as we do.

Thanks to everyone who entered, and if you haven’t already, go ahead and like us on Facebook to keep up on the latest at Performance, and the chance to enter for more great give-aways.

Check out some of our favorite comments…

Karen H.

I ride my bike to work every day. I am a much happier person when I ride… Burn of stress, have a little quiet time. I feel like I know a secret that other people are completely missing out on!

Matt B.

I love the freedom of a bike and being to get away from the world for a few hours.  Everything looks different from a bike.

Mike P.

It’s just me, the bike, my thoughts and the road.

Jackie V.

For exercise and fresh air. It’s a fun way to switch things up

Kevin P.

Built in triathlon training. .outdoors. .save gas..wind in my face..destress time..justify bike cost..health..exciting roads alongside deer..

Bill J.

My 3 year old yelling “go daddy go” from the Burley behind me.

Scott W.

Freedom and peace of mind on the open road!

Bob K.

Because it makes me feel like I’m still 12.

Steven T.

Peter Sagan inspires me to ride; ripped calves inspire me to ride; the feeling of fresh air rushing in my lungs; the feeling of flying when I’m on a mountain descent; and reducing my carbon footprint on bike to work day. Biking = Inspiration!

Darren D.

My wife, kids, and career as a firefighter.  Riding keeps me fit so I can do my job and make it home to my family.

John B.

Joy of being under my own power,  and for my health.

Jane B.

Adventure!  You never know what is around the corner!

Terry K.

The burn

Raymond J.

My kids get a chance to see their dad workings towards living healthier….plus there isn’t much better then riding a trail you’ve never been on what an adventure

Jennifer B.

My Husband!  I started riding for Bike MS as he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis

Carl S.

My 9 year old son wants to ride every day with me and its great for inspiration.

Jason R.

To be healthier after beating cancer twice.

Read all the entries here

 

 

Ridley Factory Tour

ridley_officeOne of the many highlights of our trip to Belgium was an opportunity to visit the Ridley Factory.

The cool thing about Ridley, and what really sets them apart from the crowd, is the fact that many of their frames are finished by hand in Belgium. The final frame prep, painting, clear coat, and assembly are all done by a small team at Ridley’s facility in Hasselt, near the heart of Flemish cycling.

We got to see the whole process from start to finish, and it was definitely pretty cool. The best part though was getting to check out all the eye candy at the end :).

Check out the photo galleries below to see more

Frame Prep

Painting and Decals

Clear Coat

Assembly

Eye Candy

Hear more from Ridley Founder Joachim Aerts

 

See more about our trip to Belgium Here

6 Must-Have Tips For Tackling An Event Ride

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If you’re looking for a fun way to spice up your riding routine, you might consider signing up for an organized  event ride.

Organized rides, like gran fondos, fun rides, and charity events can be a good way to motivate you to ride more, help you meet other riders, and give you a goal to ride towards.

Earlier this year, we had the chance to participate in the organized ride of a lifetime: The Ronde van Vlaanderen Sportif. The Ronde van Vlaanderen is one of the most important bike races of the year, and the Sportif gives every day riders an opportunity to ride the route that the pro’s take.

The ride is tough, with long distances, cobbles, and some of the hardest climbs around.

It was one of the toughest rides we’ve ever done, but read on to find out how we prepared for it, and some tricks and tips for getting ready for your next ride.

1. Pick Your Ride

A simple Google search can help you find a ride you would like to do in your area. From challenging gran fondos (timed non-competitive rides) to local charity events, there are plenty to choose from, and most offer multiple distances for riders of different levels. Most do charge an entry fee or require you to raise donations, but don’t worry—it goes to a good cause and helps fund the ride for next year.

It’s important to pick one that suits your fitness and experience level though. Check the route map to see if there are any difficult hills or tough sections. Be realistic about what you can tackle.

For us, we knew we would need to deal with 4 cobbled sectors, 4 cobbled climbs (the Koppenberg, the Steenbeekdreijs, the Kwarmonte and the Paterberg), plus one ugly cobbled descent. This was a big part in our pre-ride training and equipment choices.

The addition of some tough climbs, like the Kanarieberg, influenced our training and equipment choices

The addition of some tough climbs, like the Kanarieberg, influenced our training and equipment choices

2. Train Up

Don’t be put off by the word training. Think of it more as getting out, riding your bike, and challenging yourself. Even charity rides or fun runs can be difficult if you’re not used to spending time on the bike. Prepare by riding several times a week, and slowly increasing the total distance ridden by 10-30% each week (depending on your fitness level). If you will have to tackle any hills, then introduce some gentle hill work into your riding routine (check out our article on climbing here). If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll want to start preparing 6-8 weeks before your event.

If you’ve never ridden with a group before, now is the time to start. You need to get the hang of the etiquette and nuances required to ride with a group before showing up on the start line. Try visiting your local Performance store and going on our Great Rides group rides to get some practice.

Before your ride, it's essential you get some practice riding with a group, so you can be safe and feel comfortable

Before your ride, it’s essential you get some practice riding with a group, so you can be safe and feel comfortable

When we were preparing for the Ronde Sportif, our biggest concern was the cobbles. We’re pretty experienced cyclists and decent climbers, so the distance and the hills didn’t worry us as much as riding on the unfamiliar cobbled roads with cyclists of varying skill levels. To prepare, we spent several afternoons on Flemish farm roads riding up and down the worst cobbles we could find until we learned the tricks to finding a line, negotiating the transition areas, and how to hold your body so you can ride and still see (the shaking from the cobbles can make it difficult to see where you’re going).

We spent several afternoons riding cobbled farm roads to get ready for the Sportif

We spent several afternoons riding cobbled farm roads to get ready for the Sportif

3. Tune It Up

As you do your preparation rides, pay attention to what feels good and what doesn’t. If you’re having chaffing or saddle sore issues, it may be time for a new pair of shorts or a different saddle (you might also try some chamois cream). If your back, neck or knees feel sore, you may need to address your bike fit (check out our article on addressing knee pain). Use this time to test out new equipment and fine tune everything. The last thing you want to do is throw a new piece of equipment on your bike right before the big ride.

The weekend before the ride, it might also be a good time to take your bike to your local Spin Doctor for a quick check and tune up.

We rode the Ronde Sportif on a pair of borrowed Ridley Heliums. Every evening, after the work day was done, we took the bikes out for a ride to fine tune the fit. It took 3-4 rides to get the saddle height, saddle fore/aft position, and bar height right. We carried tools with us during our rides, and would stop a few times during the ride to make a quick adjustment until it was dialed in perfectly. Check out our guide to fitting a road bike for more detailed instructions.

During our training rides, we stopped frequently to adjust saddle height, handlebar height, and more

During our training rides, we stopped frequently to adjust saddle height, handlebar height, and more

4. Gear Up

Make sure you have the right clothing, equipment and gearing for your ride. A good pair of cycling shorts, a jersey, packable jacket, repair tools and tubes, and food are all a must for every ride. If you ride clipless pedals, you may also want to check out how worn your cleats are. If there’s plastic hanging off them, might be time for some replacements. Depending on the course, you might also want to visit your local Performance shop to discuss gearing choices. If the route is very hilly, you might want to consider choosing a different cassette for the back.

Food is usually provided on organized rides, but you’ll want to make sure you have some emergency gels, chews and anything else you think you’ll need. Depending on the distance, you should aim to consume about 1 bottle of fluid and 100-200 calories of food every hour.

If you’re doing a long distance ride (62+ miles), you should bring all your own gels and hydration mixes. Even though stuff might be provided for free, it might not agree with your system. Stick with what you know to avoid GI distress that can derail a ride. Go ahead and eat any real food provided though—that stuff usually won’t affect you as much as some unknown gel or chew.

The Ultra SL shorts and Ultra jersey were the perfect tools for the job

The Ultra SL shorts and Ultra jersey (rider on right) were the perfect tools for the job

For the Ronde we chose to use the Ultra SL bib shorts and Ultra jersey. The chamois pad in the shorts and the features on the jersey were perfect for the weather conditions and cobbled roads. We also asked Ridley to adjust the gearing on our bikes. Normally we ride a 52/36 with an 11-25 cassette, but for the Ronde Sportif we opted for a compact 50/34 crankset with an 11-27 to make handling the steep hills (some in excess of 22%) and cobbles a little easier.

We fueled our ride with Skratch Labs Exercise hydration mix, Clif Shot gels, and the delicious, delicious stroop waffles that were provided.

Make sure you avail yourself of the rest stops, where food, drinks, and bathrooms are provided

Make sure you avail yourself of the rest stops, where food, drinks, and bathrooms are provided

5. The Day Before

There are five important things to do before every big ride:

  1. Make sure your stuff is ready the night before
  2. Eat a good dinner
    • Aim for plenty of carbs, some veggies, and lean protein. Good ideas are chicken fried rice, pasta with chicken or turkey meatballs, etc… Avoid heavy or greasy foods that can weigh you down and tax your system.
  3. Hydrate
    • Drink plenty of fluids the night before. Alternate 8 oz of water with 8 oz of fruit juice or some everyday hydration mix like Nuun or Skratch Labs every hour to top up electrolyte and water levels in your body. But remember, there’s a fine line between properly hydrating and overhydrating (which can be very dangerous). A good guideline is to drink as you feel thirsty and your urine is clear. If you reach a point where drinking more seems unpleasant, then stop—your body is telling you you’ve had enough. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  4. Sleep
    • Get to bed early, and aim to get at least 8-10 hours of sleep. You’ll wake up feeling better, and you’ll ride better too. Stay up all night playing poker, and this could be you.
  5. Breakfast
    • We know, the morning is going to be rushed. You’ve got to get dressed, pack up your stuff and your bike, drive or ride to the start line, get registered, etc… There’s a lot to do. So make it easy for yourself. The night before, make a breakfast like a bagel with some peanut butter and banana or some granola with yogurt. Make it something quick, with plenty of carbs and some protein. Things will not go well if you start the ride with an empty stomach.

Before the Ronde Sportif we did none of these, and paid for it the next day. We were out late on a photo shoot the night before, basically skipped dinner, went to bed late, woke up early with only about 5 hours of sleep, and ate a sad little hotel breakfast before hopping in the car. The result was that we didn’t ride our best, and took forever to really get going. After finally being forced to do a shorter distance than we hoped, we went back to the hotel and proceeded to feel terrible the rest of the day. Don’t make our mistake.

Thanks to a late night, no dinner, no sleep, and no breakfast, we were not exactly feeling our best the morning of the ride

Thanks to a late night, no dinner, no sleep, and no breakfast, we were not exactly feeling our best the morning of the ride

6. Recovery

Most of us don’t have a professional soigneur to massage us out at the end of a long day, but there are some things you can do to help yourself. Before you head out, it’s probably a good idea to pack a “recovery bag” to keep in the car, or some events let you check them at the start line.

Here’s what we put in ours for the Ronde Sportif:

To prevent soreness and make sure you adequately recover, you should eat a mix of carbs and protein within half an hour of finishing your ride so you can begin to replenish the glycogen in your muscles. We start by going with the Coke and stroop waffle to replenish blood sugar, then mixing and drinking down the Recovery drink to get protein and some more substantial nutrients.

Next we wrap up in the towel and use wipes to try and clean up as best we can, and then get dressed in our regular clothes. After we’re changed, we eat the chips and some water. We also always make sure to eat a meal of real food no more than 1 hour after finishing the ride, even if it’s just a turkey sandwich or something.

There are few better feelings than finishing a ride and enjoying a good meal

There are few better feelings than finishing a ride and enjoying a good meal

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments section.

Throw Down: Electronic vs. Mechanical Shifting

mech-vs-elec

 

With SRAM finally getting ready to launch their long awaited electronic drivetrain system, all three major manufacturers will now offer electronic shifting. This got us thinking about how far these systems have come in just the last few years (never mind how far since Mavic Mektronic, if any of you guys remember that), and also wondering if electronic will ever fully replace mechanical shifting.

SRAM prototype units (or maybe full production, hard to tell since some units had clearly covered up logos) were spotted on the bikes of the Bissel Pro Cycling team at the Tour of California. SRAM is keeping such a tight lid on them that even Belgian superstar Tom Boonen and Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra were chased way when they came to investigate.

If the pro’s are racing them, then that means that they must be in the final stages of getting ready to launch. With the unveiling, SRAM will join Shimano Di2 and Campagnolo EPS in the electronic drivetrain market. The race now is not to be first to market, but who can add new features and make the technology economical enough to appeal to every cyclist– but will this justify an upgrade for most riders?

We take a look at the pro’s and con’s of both electronic and mechanical shifting to see who comes out ahead when we looked at a few key features.

Click here to shop for Shimano Di2 Bikes
Click here to shop for Campagnolo EPS bikes
Click here to shop for all road bikes

 

Electronic shifting systems, once reserved for the highest-end race bikes, are starting to appear on more and more bikes every year, like this Fuji Gran Fondo with Ultegra Di2

1. Shifting Performance

Hands down electronic wins this one—especially when it comes to front shifting. We were skeptical at first too, but trust us, after one ride you’ll understand.

While the power and feel of mechanical shifting has been refined to an art-form these days, it’s just tough for cable-actuated spring mechanisms to match the power and precision of electronic computer-controlled servo motors.

Because the motors are so powerful, it’s now possible to shift the drivetrain, even while under load, without fear of damaging components (though it’s still possible to snap a chain). Many systems also include novel features, like Shimano’s add-on climbing and sprinting remotes, or Campagnolo’s ability to sweep the entire cassette with one shift.

Winner: Electronic

 

2. Ease of Maintenance

This one goes to mechanical. Electronic shifting is pretty straight forward to get adjusted. You simply use the shift levers as barrel adjusters, and once you have it set, you don’t have to worry about adjusting it again unless you switch bikes or crash.

Mechanical shifting on the other hand can be finicky to set up—especially with some of the newer 11-speed designs. It also requires fairly frequent adjusting since the springs and cables eventually lose tension.

The upshot though is that problems with mechanical shifting are very easy to diagnose, and seldom require anything more complicated than replacing a cable or some housing. It can seem complex, but it’s one of those things that after you’ve done it once, you kind of have it figured out.

Electronic shifting…not so much. Beyond fine tuning adjustment, any real issues with your components will require them to be serviced by a trained technician. Which is probably good, since not too many of us have the engineering expertise to a) realize what’s gone wrong, or b) even know where to begin to fix it.

Winner: Mechanical

 

Newer mechanical drivetrains, like the Ultegra 6800 found on the Ridley Fenix CR1, can be easier to maintain than most electronic systems

 

3. Reliability

Electronic. We know, we know. Its battery operated. But take it from us…most people will have to recharge their batteries maybe twice a year. And the battery will give you plenty of warning that it needs to be recharged—but in the meantime each charge will be good for about 1100 miles or more.  And besides… you remember to charge your laptop and your phone, so surely you can remember to charge your bike every now and again too.

But all that aside…in our experience we’ve had fewer of the weird quirks and random mid-ride issues with electronic than mechanical. We’ve never seen anyone drop a chain on an electronic system, and the automated front derailleur trim means that you can cross-chain without really having to worry about anything (not that you should worry about cross chaining anyway, it’s not as bad as it’s hyped up to be).

Plus, you don’t have to worry about snapping derailleur cables, having to fine tune barrel adjusters or any of that nonsense. It just works without any of the finicky-ness of mechanical, and seldom goes out of adjustment.

 Winner: Electronic

 

4. Compatibility

Draw. Once, many years ago in the dark ages, few frames were electronic compatible. And even if they were, you had to choose between a mechanical- or electronic-specific frame. So if you ended up upgrading, you needed to get a whole new bike. All that has changed now, and most frames are dual compatible.

Electronic shift systems still have some wonkiness with compatibility (10-speed 7970 Di2 can’t be used with 10-speed 6770 Di2 for example, and Super Record and Record EPS systems are not compatible with Athena), but these days so do mechanical systems. With the increasing complexity of 11-speed mechanical systems and redesigned front derailleurs, fewer mechanical groupsets are cross-compatible, even within brands.

Winner: Draw

 

Campagnolo’s EPS system, like the Campy Athena 11 EPS gruppo on this Kestrel RT-1000 bike, has the ability to shift the entire cassette in a single shift

 

5. Upgradability

Electronic. Obviously, the digital nature of these systems means that the possibilities are wide open. In a world of apps and smartphone integration, engineers are only just beginning to play with what electronic shifting systems can do. Currently Shimano offers the ability to custom program some features of Di2 systems, for instance to allow for customized shifting combos. But there’s even more in the pipeline. From systems that talk to your compatible Garmin or cycling computer and tell them what gear you’re in, how much battery is left and more, to API’s that integrate with power meters to automatically shift to maintain a consistent power output, there’s no telling what the future holds for electronic shifting.

Plus…if rumors are to be believed (and please don’t quote us on this…), it appears that SRAM’s new electronic drivetrain will be completely wireless, which only makes it even more upgradable. This effectively makes each of the levers and derailleurs a standalone computer, which operates solely on software. They could in theory be wirelessly updated in the future for more speeds or improved functionality, or whatever else the boys in Chicago decide to dream up.

Winner: Electronic

 

Verdict

Ultimately, choosing which drivetrain to select for your bike is a personal choice. At our offices and stores we have lots of folks on electronic shift systems…but we also have plenty who have opted to stay with mechanical for the time being.

Electronic shift systems are definitely more expensive, but the benefits are pretty clear. More powerful, precise, and dependable shifting performance, with almost unlimited upgrade potential.

For many though, the tactile feel and cost-benefit aspect of mechanical makes it a still worthy choice. Especially with new approaches to engineering things like front derailleurs and shift levers, some of the very best mechanical systems are beginning to approach the performance of electronic.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you. So tell us: for your next bike, which would you prefer? Tell us in the comments section.

Click here to shop for Shimano Di2 Bikes
Click here to shop for Campagnolo EPS bikes
Click here to shop for all road bikes

 

Skratch Labs Neutral Human Support at the Amgen Tour of California

Who hasn’t dreamed of having a support staff to feed you before, during, and after every bike ride? Our friends at Skratch Labs have turned that dream into reality, at least at the AMGEN Tour of California! In what marks a first for the cycling world, Skratch Labs will be supporting the human element of racing as the Official Hydration and Real Food Sponsor of the AMGEN Tour of California.

Skratch Labs will be directing their efforts toward supporting the actual humans involved in the race (both riders and staff) by providing real food and hydration products throughout the weeklong event. During each road stage Skratch will have a support car and moto inside the caravan to distribute needed items to riders on every team.

Chef Biju and his team will be cooking up delicious and nutritious recipes from The Feed Zone Cookbook every day from their mobile kitchen – everything is all natural and made from scratch (of course).

skratch_neutral_human_support_1

Tasty real food is cooked up daily for racers and support staff.

A Skratch Labs motorcycle and car will even deliver their healthy food options during the race. How would you like this nutrition delivery vehicle for your next ride?

skratch_neutral_human_support_2

Skratch Labs Neutral Human Support moto

Because when guys are racing this hard, they need some real food to recover:

Performance Bicycle Visits Ridley Bikes: Talking to Ridley Founder Joachim Aerts

ridley_factory_2

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Belgium to visit Ridley bikes was our opportunity to tour the factory and meet founder Joachim Aerts. Joachim had plenty of interesting stories to tell us about why he started Ridley, his work with pro teams, and what the Ridley design philosophy is.

Watch the video below to hear more about Ridley from the man himself:

Of course some of the more interesting tidbits about Ridley came not from the filmed interview, but during more casual conversations. Some of our favorite Ridley facts that didn’t make it into the video include:

  • Ridley got it’s name because Joachim loved the movie Alien. This is completely true. When he was starting the company, he was searching for a name that would be easy to pronounce for speakers of both Flemish and French (Belgium’s two official languages). His favorite movie at the time was Alien, directed by Ridley Scott. Scott was already taken, so he settled on Ridley.
  • Ridley is very much a family business. Joachim’s brother helped him get started in frame building, and his father is a regular fixture at the company, where he brings some old-school Flanders cycling knowledge, know-how and attitude to the halls of Ridley’s headquarters.
  • The Noah, Dean, Liz, and other Ridley models are named after Joachim’s children. Sadly, he does not have a child named Helium.
  • Ridley is a key partner in the soon-to-be-built Flanders Bike Valley. Bike Valley is a collaboration between the Flemish government, Ridley, Bio-Racer clothing, Lazer Helmets, two universities, and some composites manufacturing companies. The idea is that by pooling resources they can do more advanced and technical R&D than they could individually. The first project the group is undertaking is building an advanced wind tunnel in Ridley’s backyard. Literally. It’s being built in the empty lot behind their warehouse. And you thought the Noah was fast now…just wait a few years.
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