Friday, November 22, 2013

Saddle Fit: How Do You Measure Up?

Road cyclists can be very particular about gear. Sure, some folks truly can't tell you the range of their cassette, what kind of wheels they're are riding, or whether they have a compact crank, but most serious riders are very much in tune with their bike.That knowledge is often accompanied by strong preferences, and few of those preferences exceed those associated with the saddle. New riders usually just ride whatever is on the bike, but long hours in the wrong saddle will drive most folks to find a better fit.

We touch our bikes with our hands, feet, and seat, and for all of those contact points, comfort is important. While we can easily change or even do without gloves, tighten or loosen shoes, or select different socks, once we've selected a saddle, it becomes a part of the bike. Gloves and shoes have long-standing sizing standards that allow us to measure our hands or feet and come up with a pretty sure bet when buying gloves or shoes, and what feels right in the local bike shop will likely be OK out on the road. This has not been the case with saddles. Many shops had a few loaners or our buddies might have something laying around that we could borrow, but it has been a trial-and-error endeavor. With quality saddles often in the $100-350.00 price range, buying the wrong saddle can be an expensive experiment, but the right saddle is worth pretty much whatever it costs.

Now, saddle makers have stepped up their game with some methods that at least smack of a scientific approach. The first saddle fit tool I was aware of came from Specialized.

Specialized came up with a system in which you sat on a pad in order to make an impression of your sit bones.The resulting measurement gave you some direction as to which saddle would best  meet your needs.
Selle Italia has taken the process a step further with their idMatch saddle fit system. After hearing about this tool from a ride partner who had been saddle shopping, I dropped by Spokes to check it out.
After getting some basic information like height, weight and age, Burke Jolly of Spokes used these calipers to measure the my pelvic width.
After measuring the width of my pelvis, Burke got a little more personal as he measured the circumference of my thighs just below the hips. He then used a pelvic inclinometer (no, that term was not previously in my vocabulary) to get a measure of my degree of flexibility.
With the measuring done, Burke plugged my data into the software tool.
The results narrowed the range of my selections, though the process is still far from precise. The saddle that I have been riding for years, a Selle Italia Flite Genuine Gel, has the same width and similar dimensions some of the recommendations, so I have no doubt that it would have been on the list if it was still being offered.
No, I'm not going for the Lady Gel Flow, but the idFit tool serves to narrow the range of options within the Selle Italia line.
A key component of the Selle Italia idFit program is a demo kit so that after the fitting, cyclists can try out saddles within the recommended range before buying.
 Fizik, another popular high quality saddle maker, also has a fit system called the Spine Concept. They classify  riders as  "snake", "bull", or "chameleon" based in large part on their degree of flexibility. Peter Sagan and Team Cannondale ride Fizik saddles and I spent part of my summer wondering why those guys had adopted such critter names.
The most frustrating thing about buying saddles for me has been that after going through the process of finding a saddle that worked well for me, when I attempt to replace it or to buy one for another bike, I find that the favored model has been discontinued or "improved". I had that experience with Selle San Marco before I settled on the Flite and it was again the case with the Selle Italia Flite Genuine Gel. After wearing one out, went to buy another and found it to be discontinued, so I tried an updated version. I rode the new Flite for a month or so before I gave it up and started searching on-line for some "old new" stock, Fortunately, I found a couple of the discontinued models on sale at a SF Bay area shop. I bought them both and would have bought a couple of more if they'd had them.
Saddles are a very personal choice and any discussion with knowledgeable riders or bike shop folks will likely end with , "...but you've just got to try some." Systems like idMatch and Spine Concept can help narrow your choices but, well, you'll just have to try some.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Another Fall Milestone: Back To Camp Robinson

When I describe the level of my mountain biking experience, I borrow a line that I once heard from a less-than-confident kayaking friend who started boating about the same time that I did. At a put-in, he commented on my level of experience by saying, "You have 5 years of experience and I have 1 year of experience 5 times."
That pretty well sums up my mountain biking experience, though I'm now up to one year of experience 6 or 7 times.
Willie loves to see the mountain bike come out, as it often means a run in the woods of Camp Robinson for him.

I enjoy the change of pace that the mountain bike offers up to this road rider, but I'm a firm believer that riding in the woods of Arkansas is best reserved for the cooler months when the presence of chiggers, ticks, and poison ivy has somewhat abated. My mountain biking season started this year with a couple of rides at Burns Park and the Pfeifer Loop, both of which I enjoy, especially since the Burns Park trails were renovated a year or two ago. Those trails now flow nicely. What Burns Park lacks in my opinion is variety, and that is where the pull of Camp Robinson comes in. Where Burns Park offers Red, Yellow, White, and Green trails, Camp has more many more miles, more technical variety, more trail sections, and certainly more creative names. Here are some of the trails that Camp deals up:

Advanced Trig
Airport Loop
Ball of Nails
Can of Corn
Center Road
Christmas Tree
Dead Elvis
Dogwood Trail
El Stupido
Helter Skelter
Outside Loop
Porta Potty
Ten Bridges
Turn, Turn, Turn
Yucca Trail
Zig Zag

Level of difficulty ranges from beginner-friendly and accessible trails like Yucca, Airport, and Porta Potty to "damned if I've ever done it without putting a foot down" Advanced Trig and Helter Skelter, with a whole lot of in between stuff. Among my favorites are Buddha, Ball of Nails and Merlin, each of which challenges my 7 x 1 year skill level but that can usually be completed with few foot dabs or falls.
Buddha is a favorite. Willie is a front-running trail dog. His self-assigned job is to see that squirrels are off the trail and up the trees where they belong. The trails at Camp are in great shape.
Give thanks
For what had been given to you,
However little.
Be pure, never falter.


Riding at Camp Robinson does require just a little planning, as riders are required to obtain a Sportsman Pass at the Visitor Center near the front gate. Passes cost $25.00, are good for a year, and may be had between the hours of  10:00AM and 6:00PM, Tuesday-Friday. It is a good idea to call ahead to verify that the clerk is on duty, as the job seems to entail fairly frequent absences, and the security folks on duty cannot issue the passes. Call 501-212-5100  and ask for the Visitor Center. You will need cash or a check, along with a driver's license, and auto registration and proof-of-insurance. The process takes 5-10 minutes. After obtaining a pass, you simply sign in and out at the Visitor Center and show your pass and ID at the gate.

Credit goes to C.A.R.P.

The trails at Camp Robinson came into being in the earliest days of mountain biking, back long before 9-11. Camp Robinson was historically pretty wide open and had long been popular with hunters, local dirt bike riders, wanderers of the woods, and partiers. As mountain biking caught on, riders gravitated to the trails they knew at Camp and they were soon making improvements and building new loops. 9-11 caused an increase in security and unfettered access became a thing of the past. Folks like Basil Hicks and Jim Holsted lobbied for access to Training Area 2 where the trail system was located. As a result Central Arkansas Recreational Pedalers, or C.A.R.P., was born to serve as a vehicle to regain access to the Camp Robinson trails. The bureaucracy that brought about that agreement has gone through some evolution, but the folks of CARP deserve ongoing credit for the quality mountain biking experience that is available to us.

With support from Camp Robinson, new directional signs are going up throughout the trail system. 
A logging project cleared some areas a couple of years ago destroyed some stretches of single track and seriously disrupted trail use, but time does indeed heal out in the woods and things are back to the "new normal". Adding to the hand of nature have been the hands of Basil Hicks, Jr. and III, Darin Webb, Mike and Jason McGhee, Bryan and Melissa Shipman, Rodney Small, Justin Ray, and others who regularly pack in saws, loppers, leaf blowers and weed eaters to maintain one of the best local trail systems that you likely never rode!

It's not a race, but...

Ride by the numbers: Game On!
Riding is always competitive to many folks. I had noticed some numbered hi-vis signs along the trail, then I checked out this challenge at the trailhead bulletin board. The best time posted as of  November 8 was 1:10:14 by Richard Macychek, followed closely by Daniel Halpain at 1:10:30.  Go get some if you want it, and good luck beating Richard.
Riders Needed
The thing that the trails of Camp Robinson needs the most is more riders! I'm glad to hear that ridership is up and steady, but there are a lot of trail miles out there and the best way to keep the single track in top shape is to ride it!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Fall Ritual: The Ceremonial Taping of the Shoes

One of my annual rituals is "The Taping Of the Shoes". Road cycling shoes are designed for maximum ventilation, with mesh panels and vent holes maximized to help prevent complaints of "hot foot". "Hot foot" is often followed by the dreaded "stink foot", so the copious venting is a very positive attribute, and is appreciated by riders and members of their households alike. This is especially true in climates like ours where summer days on the pavement can range from "jungle hot" to "volcano hot".
The benefits of breezy shoes hit the shitter at some point in time each fall, as toe covers or shoe covers become the norm, and the constant stream of air entering through the vents in carbon soles transitions from unnoticed to painful. That is when it is time for the Taping Of The Shoes.

Totems and 3M electrical tape assure a successful taping.
Last year's taping of the shoes came late, and coincided with the winter solstice. I'm sure that in ancient times, Druids marked the occasion by adding an extra strip of the skin of a stag to their primitive foot wrappings. Here in the 21st century, 3M electrical tape works best. Duct tape is favored by an unenlightened few, but it will leave a nasty residue when removed in the spring, so is to be avoided. These are, after all, road shoes. They are not to be subjected to cyclecross or muddy mountain biking, so keep it clean.
A note to you penny-pinchers: Yes, you can buy much cheaper tape, but unless you are an electrician, a roll of tape will likely last for a couple of years of shoe tapings and bar tape finishing. Buy the good stuff, and the good stuff is 3M.
JBar Cycling recieves no compensation from 3M for this endorsement, but if a case of tape shows up at the door, we will share with our friends. Really. I promise.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Day Is Done: Veterans' Remembrance On The River

On Monday evening, while taking advantage of the last day of warm weather for a while and of the last minutes of daylight, my ride companions and I heard the haunting strain of Taps as we rode from the parking lot near the USS Razorback. The Razorback is the WWII era submarine docked the the North Little Rock Maritime Museum. As we edged closer to the river, we saw a group of veterans standing at attention, saluting our flag, remembering their service and the service of others as the trumpeter marked the end of the day.

Gentlemen, thank you.
Judging by their age, I would guess that many of these vets were from the Vietnam era. That would mean that many of them were drafted, shipped out to fight, and then returned to a nation torn by controversy and questions over their mission. A moment of silence along the river may not be enough.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Small Steps Forward

Most of the items coming out of the various committees and work groups are incremental; no major new announcements, but progress on many fronts.

Here are a few bits:

The resurfacing/redesign of South Main in Little Rock is underway. As you will recall, the project will reduce the number of traffic lanes, add bike lanes, and enhance the safe use of the area for cyclists and pedestrians.
Traffic calming measures and better bike and pedestrian accommodations will make South Main a friendlier place to live and work.
North Little Rock Parks is working with IMBA to become a Destination Partner. After all, we have many miles of quality single-track right in town!

Ranger Ian Hope has brought a cyclist's insight to his job. Check out and like Explore The North Trails page on Facebook. Jeff Caplinger has done a very good job of keeping the community aware of issues affecting cyclist in the NLR Parks system. Ian carries that idea on and then some, as he is an active rider and regularly uses the trails.
A Park Ranger Ambassador program is being set up to recruit and train volunteers to inform and assist NLR Parks users.
A Levy Trail Planning Group has been formed for the Levy Spur Trail. A Neighborhood Group could be formed that could apply for grants and make suggestions on landscaping, security, maintenance, etc. The Levy Spur will eventually become a northern feeder to the River Trail.

North Little Rock continues to add bike racks at both public and private facilities around town. We've been taking advantage of one at Blue Yoga Nila on JFK. I'm primarily a recreational cyclist, but there is something especially rewarding about using the bike for transportation, and the City of NLR is helping to make cycling a practical alternative.
Diane Barton shared this photo of her bike locked to the rack at Blue Yoga Nyla on JFK. There's another rack at Andre's Coffee a few blocks south.
Willa Williams reported to the NLR Bike Friendly Community Committee that 11 new bike racks have been installed recently. They are distributed around the city, but there are two on JFK that we certainly will use.
Pulaski County is evaluating the possibility of extending bike lanes along Pinnacle Valley Road. Underground utilities would likely make this an expensive endeavor, but the fact that it is under study is progress. 

Let's get together
Drivers who use Pinnacle Valley Road and Highway 300 complain loud and long about cyclists on the roadway, often expressing themselves by way of rude and dangerous behavior out on the road. I think that their pressure on Pulaski County judge Buddy Villines has taken away some of his appetite for continued development of bike infrastructure in the area.

In my opinion, that is all the more reason to move forward with efforts to expand shoulders or add bike lanes or routes. Riders and local drivers both have an interest in providing cyclists with alternatives that will allow them to get out of the busy traffic lanes. Rather than expressing their hostility and wishing we'd just go away, those drivers should join with cyclists to pressure the county to help us both. And then we'll all join hands and sing Kumbaya. In the meantime, riders can help by being aware of when they are holding up traffic and moving to the right. Aggressive drivers can help by slowing down to something near the posted speed and by passing safely as prescribed by state law.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Along The Trail: Colorful Foliage and Runners, Plentiful Pups, Cornbread

Time To Relax
I've determined that it is time to relax and just enjoy my rides for a couple of months. Unfortunately, not all of my ride partners have received that memo, but I have nonetheless enjoyed some laid back rides accented by beautiful weather, fabulous fall colors, and interaction with a lot of folks out enjoying the Arkansas River Trail and its surrounds.
It seems that we ran across some heady scene or an event at every turn on a recent Saturday.
It may be the only good thing about poison ivy...

While riding through Burns Park at the end of a loop past Two Rivers Park, my buddy and I were struck by the colors in a stand of cottonwoods along the trail near the soccer fields.

There was nothing special about the leaves of the trees themselves, but the invasive poison ivy and Virginia creeper draped the trunks and limbs in spectacular reds and yellows.

The reds were compliments of the Virginia creeper, while the poison ivy contributed  yellow and orange.
The brilliant blue sky made a perfect backdrop.
 Painted (mostly) Ladies: Color Run 5K
For some reason, fall is also the season for some zany 5K's, including the recent Mud Run and last weekend's Color Run.
Tutus were the order of the day as runners were dowsed with powdered pigments at stations along the course. The result is a lot of human tie dye. You just never know what you'll see.....
Arkansas Times Cornbread Festival
Cornbread deserves to be celebrated and the Arkansas Times sponsored Cornbread festival saw a big turnout on South Main.
The lines were long to sample cornbread, but the weather was perfect and the music was good! I was on the outside looking in, so I didn't get to taste. 
Diane and I crossed wires on our plans to attend the cornbread festival together and she was a little put out with me; though she was still generous enough to allow that I still make the best cornbread! We decided that it would be hard for me to make enough 6" cast iron skillet sized batches to feed the masses, so I won't be competing anywhere but at our house, where I am the champion. I owe my cornbread making prowess to Adrian Ledbetter of Fordyce, Arkansas, who generously shared her never-fail recipe with me many years ago.
Since she was kind enough to share, I will be, too. This is pretty much word-for-word as it was related to me by Mrs. Ledbetter:
"Heat your oven to 400. Put a little grease in a cast iron skillet and put it in the oven.
Take a cup of cornmeal. Add a teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, a teaspoon of salt, and blend it together. Add enough milk to make a batter. Stir in an egg. Some people add a little flour. I don't*.
Pour the batter in the hot skillet (it should bubble around the edges) and put it back in the oven for about 20 minutes or until it starts to get a little brown on top."
*I will confess that I have taken to adding a little flour...just a couple of tablespoons, maybe. I felt a little guilty about it at first, but figured Adrian wouldn't have given me the option if it was a sin.
I didn't write that down for many years, taking it as a point of pride that I could whip out consistently good cornbread without a written recipe and with a couple of ingredients added by instinct and experience rather than by measure, like any good southern cook.
Puppy Up!
I ran across this event at about this time last year, as I came upon a huge mass of folks with their dogs strolling out onto the the River Trail near Victory Lake in Burns Park.
As a result, I was a little more in tune when I saw the "Puppy Up!" signs in the park over the weekend. The event is to raise funds and awareness of cancer as it afflicts both dogs and people.
From their website:
2 Million Dogs was formed on the belief that if 2 dogs can walk 2000 miles to bring awareness to cancer surely 2 million dogs can walk 2 miles. Through The Puppy Up! Walk, we are building the largest pet and people cancer community in the world; from business people to artists to scientists and humanitarians, a partnership forged with the singular purpose of ridding the world of its deadliest disease.
- See more at:
Puppy Up!, I Say!
We are dog people, so I enjoyed mingling with this big pack of mixed mutts.
Fall is in the air, but it is still a very busy time along the trail. Slow down and enjoy it all!