July 22, 2010

Bike Mechanics: Finding a good one!

Finding a good bike mechanic isn't easy, I should know, I spent the first 6 months of 2009 trying to find someone who would understand what I meant when something went wrong.

When I speak mechanic it’s not exactly English and in everyday life I don't normally use words like, cranks, bottom bracket and head stem; heaven forbid I use the word cassette or derailleur.

I prefer to explain my mechanical issues in a much simpler manner, for example, "the thingamajig in the back round thing is making the front round thing squeak when I pedal."

I can already see the look of shock on your face, how on earth is a mechanic meant to translate that? Seriously, I really don't think it’s too much to ask. I point at things whilst I'm explaining it and of course I also add sound effects to reproduce the sound as accurately as possible...

Just the other day when I explained a bike problem to one of the boys, (I should say men, because they are men); he looked at me, took the bike and made it perrrfect!

Why aren’t all mechanics born with such efficiency and brilliance… I probably should mention that the look I received after explaining my problem was a look of, "damn you Row, and you know the words, why can't you use them?"

My theory on this is that mechanics like to know that they are needed. Regardless of our profession, we like to be appreciated. We like it when people know that we can do that one thing really well. This gives us all a sense of pride, so why not stroke someone's ego occasionally if the end result is going to be gold!

Let’s be honest, there are plenty of men out there who don't know the parts of their bike. As women, this journey to find the best mechanic isn't just our problem; the word from my mechanic is that the men also need to take the same difficult path. Some of us will walk away after spending a little or a lot feeling totally dissatisfied, but I don't think it’s just the mechanic that's at fault; you have a part to play in this as well.

We need to be better customers in order to get better service!

Just like when you pat your loved ones on the back for doing a good job, make sure your mechanic knows that you appreciate everything he's/she's done. Don't just take your bike and walk out, do learn his/her name, make eye contact and say thank you.

Knowing the names of the staff is important, when someone starts to look after you, stop them and ask their name. When you leave do make sure that you say, "thanks [insert name of awesome bike shop guy/girl here], you where really helpful, I'll see you again soon."

If you can show a genuine interest and are friendly, the chances are that it will pay off; your mechanic becomes part of the equipment that you need to ride and takes an interest in looking after you and your needs.

Only then will you begin to wonder how he knows that you need a new drive train before you do.

If you’re as bike obsessive as I am, you'll be in your LBS at least three times a week and you'll be following up doing research for family and friends as well.

My essentials for finding a good mechanic:

• It actually helps if you bought your bike from the same shop, though if you need to switch to another store, do it. I did and I've never been happier.

• If you don't know anything about your bike, be honest about it. This then gives you the advantage of being able to use sound effects to describe the part that has malfunctioned.

• The bike mechanics should be able to understand/translate something you have explained in order to fix it without any hesitations.

• The mechanic should be able to tell you what they did in an easy to understand language; sound effects are optional.

• The shop should have a checklist to explain to you what you get in that service and how much it will cost. If they don’t, you should ask, ask them to explain it (keep in mind I’ve never asked my shop what’s on the list, but I know they have one).

• I commonly say to the boys (men), "any more than $300.00 give me a call". Make sure you set a cost limit as a mechanic may feel that they have a responsibility in replacing your brake pads when they are down to the metal however need to be slowed down when they also think you need a new $5000 wheelset.

• My mechanic shows me how to do ‘stuff’ all the time, sure I don’t remember, but he always makes an effort and I appreciate that.

• They should be bike obsessed and eventually when you're all happy and comfortable with each other, you may make jokes at each other’s expense.

Do not underestimate the power of a good smile though and remember, a little bit of cheekiness never goes astray. It is important that you build this relationship over time, don't assume just because you are hot that they will bend over backwards for you... I'm not at all saying I'm hot, but I do have the cheeky attitude thing sorted!

I can recommend a good mechanic in Melbourne, email me at rscott@bicycles.net.au, or for more specific state to state information ask our members for details on the Australian Cycling Forums.

July 18, 2010

What’s the big deal? Women’s Specific Design

Women’s Specific Design (WSD) hasn’t always existed; it is here with us now, but what does it all mean? WSD has been introduced onto the market by companies like Trek, Cannondale, Scott and Giant (among others) to cater for the growing numbers of female cyclists and our different needs. The theory is that women have shorter torsos and longer legs than men, which means they require a bike with different geometry and different parts.

The bike companies have isolated four key points that they believe define a women’s specific bike. Let’s take a look at each one:

1. Handle bar width

The logic is that women require a narrower handle bar width as women have narrower shoulders.

Whilst I agree that the majority of women have narrower shoulders, the theory is that a narrower handle bar will keep the hands in a more natural position for greater control and less shoulder pain.

In actual fact, handle bars are unique to each and every rider; the handle bars should run the width of your shoulders and as a woman, you can also have very wide or narrow shoulders, or you may be somewhere in between.

2. Women’s Specific Design Seats

There are a lot of WSD seats on the market, and a lot of companies have different fit systems to figure out which saddle is going to work for you. Usually you won’t be advised to struggle with a saddle that hurts for too long; nobody really wants to have pain in those areas. From my experience I can confidently say that there will be some slight discomfort on your sit bones if you haven’t ridden a bike in a long time, and are simply not used to it, however there should not be considerable pain that it stops you from riding.

Getting the right saddle can be an expensive experiment; the experience will be worthwhile when you find that perfect fit. Some companies have trial saddles in store, so you can try it before you buy it, and Selle Italia is one of these companies. Specialized are also on board and they’ve developed a system that measures your sit bones to determine which sized saddle you need, not surprising people are calling this device the ass-o-meter.

3. Shorter-Reach Levers

The third key point that the industry has introduced is that women need shorter-reach levers and smaller diameter grips, i.e. sized for the smaller hands of a women. Whilst I think this is important, I’m aware that it’s not an issue that is specific to women, there are many men that also experience this issue.

4. Shorter Cranks

Last but not least are shorter crank arms which apparently improve leverage for a more effective pedal stroke. I discussed this with a mathematician who informed me that this is not the case. It is basic physics; the shorter the lever the less leverage there is, regardless of whether you’re a man or women.

WSD: Science or Hype?

Whilst I can’t deny that there is room for women’s specific designed bikes in the market, I find the rationale behind the WSD concept to be flimsy. You only have to read through the bike forums or chat amongst your cycling friends to know that the problems that are being labeled as WSD are also applicable to men as well.

When purchasing your first bike, its best to talk to as many bike shops as possible. If you need to, take a list of questions with you and write down the answers. When you think of more, return and ask them again, it’s the best way to find out what will work for you.

Go back to the bike shop that answers your questions properly and the shop that avoids rushing you into a purchase. If they remember you when you come back in to ask more questions it’s a good sign that you’re going to build a good relationship with them. Even when faced with special deals and offers - usually a more considered purchase will give you a lasting benefit.

When you have your bike fitted, if something feels ‘funny’ explain that feeling. A good bike fit is paramount to your riding experience and a good and attentive bike shop knows this. They should also try and translate that feeling that you have into an answer and solution so that you can understand more about the fit and feel.

Female cyclists have to be aware that they are not only a women, they are also very individual, they need to look for their own personalized bike, professional cyclists get their bikes made for them, have yours made for you, choose the parts that fit you and make you comfortable, a good bike shop will help you.

Women Specific Design is not necessarily bad because of the marketing behind it - in fact, ergonomically; WSD is an attempt to match equipment to women’s body, it’s all about what works for you, don’t think that if the label doesn’t say ‘for her’ that you can’t have it or that it won’t work for you.

Coming up, Bicycles Network Australia will be taking a closer look at women’s geometry and the benefits. Stay tuned.

July 3, 2010

Après Vélo… For the cycling obsessed!

Most of us wouldn’t ride unless there was coffee stop at some time before, during or after the ride. Thankfully Après Vélo has come up with a unique way for cyclists or even just regular coffee lovers to celebrate the main ingredient that keeps us going and going and going and going.

The clothing at Après Vélo has been created by, “cycling obsessed crankers”

This short sleeved tee, aptly named, “Fuel III,” is an acid wash aqua green, its got a pure vintage feel to it, even the stitching is a little ‘off’ to enhance the aged look of the tee.

The 100% cotton tee is soft to touch and fits well, it’s great for the coffee shop, a walk or run with the kids.

If you take you’re cycling more relaxed than a Melbourne Beach Road Cyclist then you should be wearing this tee.

For only $49.95 AUD this tee has it's place in every woman’s wardrobe!

Après Vélo also has a men’s range and they’ve also designed a cycling kit, you can view this by going to their website www.apresvelo.com.au.

July 2, 2010

Interview: Mark Renshaw "The Leadout Man"

This is a joint effort between myself and Christopher Jones, owner of Bicycles Network Australia, final write up by Christopher Jones.

Mark Renshaw is Cav's main man in Team HTC-Columbia, responsible for leading him out to the finishing and putting him into position to take the victory. Mark Cavendish knows that when he takes a sprint finish win, he can celebrate a team victory. The Mark Renshaw/Mark Cavendish combination is set to continue in this years Tour de France.

Just one day before the 2010 Tour de France begins in Rotterdam, Christopher Jones and Rowena Scott from Bicycles Network Australia (BNA) touched base with Mark Renshaw to find out about his expectations this year.

BNA: You missed the start of the season due to illness and didn't start as planned, how are you feeling right now with the Tour de France and UCI World Cup in Melbourne coming up.

Renshaw: This year didn't really start to plan with the EBV (Epstein-Barr) virus, so it's kind of hard to get going but eventually I started my season over here in April with a few races, some one day races and then gradually worked up but at the moment I believe that I am at peak form. I think I have prepared myself to be 100% here (TDF) and I would go as far to say I am in as good form, or if not better form than last year. I am really happy about where I am at the moment.

The tour does start tomorrow so obviously there is enormous pressure on us to emulate last season results so it's going to be hard but I think we should be ok.

BNA: Your preparations have been going well, we have seen you in a the 2010 tours making a big mark this year already, particularly the Giro d'Italia. Are you happy with your preparations in the leadup to the Tour de France.

Renshaw: This season was good. Since being sick I have had a good race plan laid out until the tour so am gradually building up from race to race. The races I have done bofore like the Tour fo California and the Tour of Romandie was a gradual build up of harder races so it has worked out really well and I was happy how I was going in all of those races considering that is was really a pushed, squeezed together race program to pick me up.

BNA: You’re consider to be the fastest and the best lead out man in the world, will you be in a similar role for the Tour in 2010?

Renshaw: Yes, pretty much exactly the same role, like I just said before, if I can emulate last seasons job I will be really happy with that. So obviously that means dropping Cav off as close to the line as possible with nobody in front of him. If I can get him with 200 metres to go and he's got no riders in front of him I am pretty much sure that he will win 100% of the time. That will be my role again this tour.

BNA: Who do you think will be your biggest competitors when bring Mark up to the finish line?

Renshaw: This year is looking more difficult than last year maybe with a few teams that have sent more specialised lead out men for their sprinters like Garmin. The have Robbie Hunter and Julian Dean. Thor Hushovd has brought in a couple more guys in, Jeremy Hunt and Brett Lancaster obviously. Theres also Petacchi at Lampre, he's brought in Lorenzetto and a few other riders so I think that between us and three or four teams there's going to be some really tight battles for the finish.

BNA: Last year’s stage 21 on the Champs d'Elysee, the cameraman got a perfect shot of you leading Cavendish to the finish line with an amazing finish, what does this achievement feel like?

Renshaw: I still get goosebumps when I see the footage. It still sends a bit of a shiver down my spine and I daresay that this will stay with me forever. Although it wasn't a victory for myself, it was a good victory for the team to dominate with one, two on the last stage of the Tour de France. It was amazing. It really capped off our perfect view.

BNA: The 2010 Tour de France is starting tomorrow. How are you feeling right now? Are you exicted, are you nervous? What is going through your mind?

Renshaw: Yes, I am excited because I am just happy to get it underway. For the last six months we have been training for this race. To get to the doorstep of it, I am just ready to get into it now and start racing but there are no nerves yet though I daresay that in the next few days there will be some nerves on the bus until we find our feet and the race settles down a little bit.

BNA: Your team just announced a partnership with Google in which your speed, heart rate, power output and SRM data will be delivered in real-time to various Google applications (like My Tracks) - what does this mean for you? Does it change anything?

Renshaw: It is a new partnership that the team and Bob Stapleton has set up with Google and HTC where you guys are going to be able to see our real data. I think its good for cycling, it's definately a new level, a new insight into cycling. I think it will probably shock a few people and the data will be amazing for people at home. It is definately a new insight and I think it is a great initiative to work with Google and if we have caught the eye of such a big company, hopefully cycling is getting a bigger and better image.

I can see that the companies now that are coming on board, like Skype, these are big companies. Hopefully for the future of cycling it is a really good advantage.

BNA: What about your competitors, they can now pull up this real time data in the team car. Do you see this as an issue or advantage for your competitors?

Renshaw: Maybe in the start it is going to be a bit of an advantage for them. I see in the future most teams going to this type of data. It wouldn't surprise me in the future if I saw half the peloton using this type of data. In the end of the day if the team manager thinks it would be detrimental to our results then we wouldn't show it but now I think it will be interesting and hopefully we can still keep winning as many stages (laughs).

BNA: Australia has a very strong representation in the tour this year. Looking back at the recent performance of the Australian riders in the Giro d'Italia, they took out all major classifications except the Maglia Rossa. Can we expect the same kind of performance and showing of Australian riders in this years Tour de France?

Renshaw: Yes, definately. I think Australian riders will be really strong here overall. We've got Cadel Evans again, there's a few sprinters and then there will be a few guys that will be working. I think that we will see a really stong presence of Australians. I think every year they step up and this year wont be different.

Let the fun begin

BNA: What one thing would you change in the Tour de France if you could change anything?

Renshaw: I would probably cut out a few mountain days (laughs). That would probably be the first thing I would do. I hate the mountains so if I could pull a couple of those stages out, I would be more than happy to do that.

BNA: Who’s your roommate for the Tour?

Renshaw: I room with Mark Cavendish.

BNA: Are there any bad habits that we should know about or be concerned about?

Renshaw: I think when you live in each others pockets for four weeks, anything becomes a bad habit and annoying so by the end of four weeks if he looks at me sideways… (laughs) give me a funny look it upsets me (laughs) but I am pretty much the same with him. Generally you don't room with a guy that you have any troubles with.

BNA: You have a pretty good relationship with Mark. When you are racing up to the finish line do you have a kind of like ESP, you have communication that you both know exactly what is going on, you can judge one another because you have been working together so long. Are you in automatic when you are racing to the finish and pulling him up to the front?

Renshaw: Yes, you can say that. It is pretty much an automatic feeling, I know where I have to be and Cav has confidence that I put him where he needs to be. We all know each others jobs. Generally it works, there's obviously times when it doesn't. You can say that we have have an automatic feeling for where we should be and shouldn't be.

Thank you for talking the time to chat with us, we wish you and your team all the best for the Tour de France this year and look forward to seeing you race.

You can follow Marks Tweets during the Tour on Twitter

Thanks to Alex of AEJ for organising the Interview.
AEJ also run an online shop for sport wear and gear: www.all1sport.com

Star Gazir Kit… Reaching for the stars!

It can be hard to find womens jerseys and knicks in Australia that look good and feel good. Australian Professional Cyclist Tiffany Cromwell has seen a gap in the market and designed a Women’s Specific Kit that covers all the bases. Tiffany has worked closely with Australian company Triple Play to create the Star Gazer collection which is Australian made and was released early 2010.

Tiffany’s main focus of this design has been with the graphics, that’s not to say that the kit isn’t world class. Tiffany used her experience in the saddle to work with Triple Play to ensure that the most comfortable garment was produced. The jersey comes in two designs I received the black/purple/blue, the other option available is white/two toned pink.

The Jersey:
The pockets in the jersey are generous, I was able to fit the entire contents of my saddle bag in them and I still had space available for who knows what!

The fabric of the jersey is excellent, it is called Tri Flow and incorporates an advanced microfiber which means the moisture will be drawn away from the skin to maximize moisture evaporation, keeping you as dry and as cool as possible… and yes it does work.

The sizing of the Jersey was perfect; the arms don’t have elastic in them, which means they don’t pull or make you feel uncomfortable, they sit just like a t-shirt, which is what I like.

Tiffany Jane Jersey and Knicks

The Bib Knick’s:
I wasn’t sure at first, I knew they were going to be short, I could tell from the pictures from Tiffany’s website, www.tiffanyjane.com.au, that they would be short, I put them on and I was surprised at how comfortable I felt in them. I don’t have the best legs around and I was comfortable.

Even though the Bib Knicks where shorter than what I was used to, the legs of the knick’s weren’t too tight and they didn’t pull my thighs in or make them look unsightly.

It can be trial and error to find a pair of knick’s with a chemise that works for you, the chemise in these bibs is a lot thinner than what I was used to, at first I thought, ‘dear me.’ My first impressions where wrong, the chemise in these knick’s is quality. The real test for me is the trainer, if my bibs are comfortable for an hour on the trainer, I know they’re going to last the distance on any ride from 50 - 200km… success!

Tiffany Jane Jersey and Knicks

I’ve worn the jersey and knick’s consistently for 2 weeks and they have been enjoyable to wear on long and short rides.

Tiffany Cromwell spends more time in the saddle than most of us and knows what she’s talking about, these cycling garments give female cyclists a good opportunity to take advantage of that knowledge and experience

This kit is cool, the fit of the garment is great and the design looks nice and it will give you a real boost in the saddle.

Put it on the birthday list or the Christmas list or even if you need a treat, the Jersey’s are $149.00 and the Bib knick’s are $189.00. Don’t be afraid to purchase this product online, I chose my size from the online guide and it was spot on!

Tiffany tells me there are plans for a new line and new design, I can’t wait! You can get the latest on Tiffany’s label at www.tiffanyjane.com.au

Photos © CJT Design www.cjtdesign.com. Tiffany Cromwell is pictured modeling her line of cycling wear.