Friday, November 1, 2019

Answering an Unrelated Question

I had a question from an emailer, rather than a comment, to my post two weeks ago about getting back to cycling after long break.  In it's essence: what's different about cycling after being away a long time? 

I answered by email, but thought there might be someone else in the wild world of the internet that cares, so I thought I'd re-post it here. 

The short answer is: not much.  If you're not on the bleeding edge of technology trying to get every last gram out of your racing bike and willing to spend thousands of bucks to do that. 

The single biggest thing, and the only thing I've actually bought (other than replacements for some gear that just wore out) is one simple idea: daytime running lights.  The same high-capacity, rechargeable, lithium ion batteries that have pushed into our phones, tablets, laptops and so many other things have pushed into cycling headlights and taillights.  Most of them are sold with a USB charger cable to plug into your laptop or other USB charger. 

For my headlight, I bought a Cygolite Dash 460 headlight.  These are more for being seen than seeing; at least from my use.  With 460 lumens, though, they'll make a good headlight at night, too.  Here's mine on my everyday ride - the weird background is a tire on my garden cart standing up in the shop.

Similarly, I got a Cygolite Hotshot Pro taillight, with 200 lumen output.  In this case, though, I had originally bought a light recommended on a bike forum that I also got from Amazon, a Blitzu.  This one gave me troubles and the USB charging port broke off the printed circuit board in the unit, leading to replacing it with this Cygolite.  I would recommend the Cygolite over the Blitzu. 

I have more experience with Cygolite as a brand.  Back in the days when Mrs. Graybeard and I used to ride in the evening after work, I had a couple of Cygolite headlights and they still work (although the 10 year old NiCd and NiMH batteries have long since gone belly up). 

Both my head and taillights are set to flash and they incorporate a pattern that isn't metronome steady.  There are tests that say the irregular flashes are more noticeable and a regular flash.  That said, I'm not aware of any studies that demonstrate riders with daytime running lights are safer than those without them, it just seems to be a reasonable bet.  They should give me something like six hours on a charge, but I recharge them after each hour ride.  I'll try long tests someday.

Let me just list throw out some of the other changes in the things I know
  • Disk brakes and especially hydraulic disk brakes really took off.  They're starting to make inroads into road racing, slowly, but the big growth has been for the two off-road style bikes: mountain bikes and:
  • Gravel bikes.  The last time I was riding a lot ('11 or '12?  Before that?), the big thing was cyclocross - essentially road bikes with wider tires, and a more relaxed geometry.  The idea was to race on dirt and gravel roads.  Now the word appears to be gravel bikes for the same basic kinds of riding. 
  • Recumbent bikes and especially recumbent tricycles have continued to grow in popularity, although not as quickly as proponents have been saying since I started hearing it in about 1994.  Recumbents are bikes that are ridden in a sitting position.  Both two and three wheeled designs are popular; like everything else, they have good points and bad.   
  • The substitution of smartphones for all sorts of other devices on the bike.  To the right of the headlight in my photo is a plastic case marked "CATEYE".  That's my bike's speedometer and odometer.  There are models on the market now that just have pickups near the back tire and display on the phone by Bluetooth.  The same idea goes for heart rate monitors, GPS, route planners and any electronic gadget people might like to ride with. 
Finally, it seems as if titanium bikes, like my Airborne, didn't really take over the market as the true believers thought back in 2000 or 2005.  Carbon fiber has become the material for lightweight racing bikes and the choices are still largely carbon fiber vs. aluminum or high-end steel.  There are still titanium bikes made in the US (Litespeed in Tennessee and Habanero down the coast in south Florida to name two).  I would think titanium would have the advantage due to the frame being weldable, but I guess carbon fiber has gotten less mysterious to repair.


  1. Thanks for the lesson. I'd been seeing a lot of a new (to me) type of bicycle out here, kind of a cross between a 'beach cruiser' and an off-road bike. The frame was different, and they all had these big old knobby tires on them.

    I guess it's the Colorado version of a "Gravel Bike"!

  2. I recently reactivated our aluminum framed Treks, and found that things that were the "last word" in biking are long obsolete today.

    I did manage to get the replacement brake lever and shifters unit that I needed, but in hindsight it would have been much easier to change to modern V brakes.

    1. Thankfully, I haven't had to repair/replace any hardware, although I'm a little less than confident about my shifter and brake cables. "That should be routine," he said with mock-confidence.

  3. Just bought an airborne from about 03 myself. been riding cannondales since forever, took one across the US fully loaded and turned it into a noodle over the summer of '90. the replacement cannondale aluminum was lighter, but still beat me up - damn harsh ride, combined with mushy feel - worst of both worlds.

    getting on the airborne about 2 months ago - thought to myself - *this* is why i like riding.

    around here, we had a summer where 6 riders were killed on the road by stupid / intoxicated / both drivers - thought then that it would be woods only from there on in. but now everybody around here has flashing lights, and it seems like the carnage has abated.

    i can only imagine florida is worse, what with masses of humanity, touristas, idiots - same as here, just more dense.

    got my wife one too, and we've been riding together, thought the season up here is now more bambi and twigs - her innovation was to get a fit bit with the heart rate monitor. she works out staying in the target heart rate range - and i cannot say enough about the way those little things can add up to a pile of motivation by way of tracking accumulating fitness and accomplishments. turns out she's coachable (i used to race some) too - so she and i can get to some better level riding together.

    1. Coincidence of the day is that I upgraded to the Airborne from a Cannondale R500, probably model year 2000 or thereabouts.

      The Airborne was sold as a touring bike, although it had very light wheels, 20 spokes instead of 32. Supposedly, Airborne had made some under contract from one of the bike touring companies and had a few left over that they sold on eBay - I got that in '05. I don't remember the price, but it was less than I paid for the Cannondale. I put on 32 spoke Mavic wheels and converted it to a drop bar with Shimano 105 STI shifters. It has an Ultegra rear and the touring bike Deore LX front.

      Not too long after that, Airborne apparently moved over to the EU somewhere. There's still a website, but I'm not sure if it's the same outfit. Most of it appears to be MTBs.

      Retiree privilege is that I get to ride at 9 or 10 AM, usually on weekdays. That's after the morning rush, pretty much midway between morning rush and lunch, which allows me to be in as low traffic as we get. There are days I don't get passed by a car for the full hour - admittedly not many such days.

  4. IIRC, the Airborne trade name has some history. The story here appears pretty complete.

    What are your thoughts on fit bit or the like?

    1. That's a good story on the two iterations of Airborne.

      A story I had heard back around the time I got mine was that when the Soviet Union dissolved they sold off a lot a titanium tubing from submarine building. That 3AL 2.5V Ti tubing eventually became a lot of bikes - not just from Airborne but several other makers. Is it a true story? I don't know, but it's a fun story.

      I've looked at FitBits but ultimately never pulled the trigger. I mostly ride by perceived exertion; I've used a heart rate monitor in the past but not since I got back to riding. I'm interested in heart rate variability (HRV) and the higher end FitBits, Apple Watches and Polar HRMs do it, but the HRM I have doesn't. The new Polar HRMs are just the strap you wear that talks to your phone by Bluetooth. I'm reluctant to chance losing my phone in the rain.

    2. you know, that's funny, i recall the russia airborne connection too - apparently the frames were welded in china *damn*. i searched and searched, but no info on the Ti being connected with russia. glad to know my memory still works - sorta.

  5. would add - not familiar with heart rate variability - thanks for the tip, think i'll search it a bit.