You Can Do It! (Brake Edition)

In my last post I touched on how my front brake has given up the ghost.  I put it off for a little while but was getting really itchy when I couldn’t get out and ride my bike.  True, I did one trip out and used Ryan’s hardtail and then swapped it for our friend’s full suspension downhill monster bike (talk about opposite ends of the spectrum!).  Both were fun but I was on new trails and I was missing poor Jenny.  It was time to take the matter into my own hands!

I decided that I had enough money to replace just the front brake.  I would’ve loved to do both at the same time but I’ll have to wait a bit on that I think.  I was also super keen to put my new mechanic skills to the test and actually take it home and install it myself.

This journey starts with a bit of research but I decided which kind of brake I wanted and headed into the shop.  My history with bike shops has been pretty good, actually, but I’ve found that I spent a lot of time beforehand studying what to say and how to say it to make it seem like I have some idea of what I’m talking about.  Mostly I’ve just given up on that endeavour as it’s always better to just admit when you don’t know something and ask for help, but I still get a bit nervous that I’ll be looked down upon for my ignorance.  I headed into Dunbar Cycles and, luckily, was mostly just tired having come from work and didn’t have time to feel nervous.  I walked up to the service desk and, astoundingly, found myself saying words like I knew what I was talking about…. wait a minute… I DID know what I was talking about!  There wasn’t a panicked text to someone about a question I didn’t know how to answer or even much of a pause in the conversation for me to think!  Honestly, it felt so good to be asked a question and know exactly what the answer is.  It’s quite the turning point in my biking career and I loved the feeling of it!  Hell yeah I can tell you about my bike and its parts!

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So I get the brake home and look at it.  It looks familiar.  There’s nothing too foreign about it in comparison to the brake I had already.  I can do this!  I must say without help of Ryan OR Youtube I changed the pads (swapped organic for metallic), changed out my rotor for a gently used one, installed the brake, routed the cable properly, and got the lever on in the right spot.

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I must say the moment I put the wheel back on I was holding my breath a little bit, worried it would somehow not fit… or explode… or something dramatic that ruins my entire bike. But it slid right in, fit like a glove and I felt so proud that I used what I’ve learned and that I have the confidence to just tackle it without second guessing myself (too much)!

I’ve already taken it out for a ride and had a blast.  It took about half a lap for me to get used to it but after that it felt totally fine.  I think it may need a bleed so I’m going to get a kit and do it myself rather than go to the shop.  I’ve got this!

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I know sometimes these things can feel incredibly daunting and intricate.  It feels like somehow you’re going to do one little thing that will absolutely ruin the entire mechanism or even bike itself.  My only advice for people like me who get nervous about this stuff to seek out and take a bike maintenance course.  If you’re in BC and can make it to Abbotsford, I really do recommend taking the UFV Bicycle Mechanic course like I did.  I feel so much more confident because I got to play with bikes, screw up, realize it wasn’t a big deal, and learned how to fix what I’d done.  That alone is worth so, so much.

What about you folks?  What are your home mechanic victories?

Conclusions: The Smell

This tale starts off in a romantic whirlwind. I had just finished riding and, after dropping my bike off at home, went straight to Ryan’s house. I hadn’t changed yet and was sporting my usual shorts and whatever shirt I had clean at the moment. He pulled me in close for an embrace… looked deeply into my eyes and said something I’ll always remember:

“You should write about how all your riding clothes stink all the time now.”

Ah, young love…

While not exactly tactful, he did have a point. I had a grand total of two sports bras and two pairs of shorts and I definitely did not have time to be washing them every day or every other day. Let alone how wasteful that would be water-wise just to wash those items. That led to a kind of.. well you could call it a build up. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I couldn’t wash my pads because they needed to hang to dry and where I live is too damp for them to dry within a day.

So I embarked on a journey of de-stinkifying myself. Of course I was showering like crazy and I, personally, was not smelly but the minute my gear went on you could smell me from a mile away. Eyes watered and dogs scattered.

I googled how to get rid of permasmells on clothing and came across several things saying I should soak my clothes in white vinegar. I did this with my beloved Sombrio jersey and then soaked it in detergent and then washed it in more. The result: a now vinegarry perma-BO. It was even more glorious than before! This was definitely a side effect that I didn’t even consider when starting my 45 day journey and it ended up being one that really got to me. Even my CamelBak backpack stank! It was an olfactory awakening and a clear indication that perhaps I should buy some more gear if I’m going to ride that often.

Luckily, I can report, that since then I have managed to de-stinkify my clothing. It took numerous washings with long pre-wash soaking periods in detergent to get them back to normal but at least I didn’t lose any of my favourite pieces to such an unworthy cause.

What about you? Anyone else have smell problems? Any amazing solutions out there?

Days 29-31 – Knowing the Dangers

There’s certain risks we accept in any sport. Hell, there are risks we accept just getting up in the morning and leaving the house. This doesn’t stop us from doing the things we love. What can increase your safety in anything is knowing the dangers and being prepared. I learned this, as with everything I do, the hard way.

For a little weekend getaway, Ryan and I headed up to Okanagan Falls to visit his parents. While we were there, and as it was still part of my 45 days, we took in some of the local trails in Penticton and Naramata. The first day there we headed out to a trail called Rock Oven. As you can tell by the name, there are lots of rocks and it’s in the sun. On this day it was particularly hot (around 40-45 degrees) and we were still covered in a haze of smoke from the BC wildfires. While I’m aware of general “ourdoorsy in BC” dangers like bears and cougars and poison ivy (not that I could identify it if my life depended on it) I didn’t take the time to research what new hazards to look out for in this new riding area. Luckily for us, Ryan’s parents (and a giant sign on the trail) gave us a warning to look out for snakes – including rattlesnakes. While I had my bear spray on me, it seemed a bit overkill for a thread from a snake. Either way, we headed out with eyes on the bushes and started our long, long, long climb up to the trail.

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After some terrified peeing in the bush (while calmly talking to the potential snakes: “I’m just going to walk right here. I don’t want to hurt you. I’m just going to do my thing and leave you alone”) we made it to the trail and lo and behold…. a snake.

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Now, I wish I’d taken the time to research snakes before leaving so I could figure out how terrified to be. Turns out this guy isn’t venomous but we weren’t taking any chances. We made plenty of noise from a distance until it slithered back into the bush. Having the confirmation that snakes were out and about definitely put a new spin on the day, but we headed forward.

Partway through the trail (a trail which I did not care for at all but I’ll reserve my rant on why I hated it so much) I didn’t feel so good. I was dizzy. Hot. Sweaty. I had my Camelbak on me with 3L of water in it and was drinking it like crazy and yet I couldn’t quite get it together. The dizziness was leading to a general lack of balance and I wound up crashing… a lot. Luckily I got away with just a bruised tailbone but there were more pressing matters at hand.

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I knew it was bad when Ryan took a look at me and said, “okay so let’s just keep going quickly and carefully and get down to the car.” After some pressing about why we were in a rush he admitted I didn’t look so good. With good reason! It would appear that no matter what I tried doing, my body was hell bent on getting heat stroke that day and we both knew it was only going to get worse.

The scariest part about the whole situation was just how out of my mind I was without realizing it. It was almost like being drunk but thinking you’re sober. I came up with a perfectly logical plan to close my eyes for a quick nap on a big rock slab in the sun. I couldn’t concentrate. I had a total meltdown for 15 minutes because I had to ride through a mud puddle with wasps swarming in it (for the record I consider freaking out about that quite reasonable). At any rate, I only thought I felt a little woozy and tired. Until I felt better when I realized just how far gone I had been. I am grateful that Ryan noticed early on, pressed me to keep drinking water, and encouraged me down the mountain. Between the snakes, the miserable trail, and the heat stroke it was not my best day.

What we can learn from this is to be prepared. I know everyone’s heard this a million times but it’s incredibly important and worth emphasizing. So much more could have gone wrong and if it did we could’ve both been in serious trouble.

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Research the dangers in the area you’re headed out in. If there’s animals you need to worry about, what are you supposed to do when you encounter them? Is there anything you can bring to keep yourself safer? Do people know where you are and when you’re coming back? Even a quick rip out on trails you’re very familiar with warrant at least texting one person where you’ll be.

Do you have some food and plenty of water? Not just to last you the ride but what if you get lost or stuck for a while? Do you know any first aid? Do you have any first aid supplies on you? I carry a small first aid kit that you can get at any outdoorsy store. It may not be perfect, but in an emergency it’s helpful to have anything you’ve got.

My lesson in preparedness was challenging but, luckily, had no lasting consequences. Hopefully after reading this you all will take a quick look in your pack to see what you could add and do some quick research on local dangers in order to keep yourself a little bit safer on the trails. Happy shredding, and be safe out there.

A New Place to Rest my Rear

I have had some pretty bad times with saddles that don’t fit. I won’t get into exactly which areas were bruised and swollen but I don’t think that I’m the only person to have experienced this. So far, at least as far as I’ve noticed, unisex saddles tend to be male-butt-oriented. It was really important for me to get a better fitting saddle right off the bat to put on Jenny. At the time I just grabbed whatever looked good on the wall, not really knowing what I was looking for. While it’s okay, I’m finding that the more time I’m spending on my bike on this 45 day challenge it’s highlighting the sore spots and shortcomings of my saddle.

On my commuter bike, Jimmy, I have a great saddle. Because I spend so much time sitting on it (compared to downhill riding) it was important to get a great saddle right away. I heard great things about Sidesaddle in Vancouver and headed in there to get fitted. It was a great experience. They actually have a ton of saddles to choose from and you can demo them all.

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After talking to you about your riding style, the lovely staff will recommend some saddles, put them onto your bike, and have you ride around the block to test it out.

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Once you’ve found the perfect one, you can take it out for a bit of a longer ride to make sure it’s the right fit for you. They happily adjusted angles and back and forth to make sure it was as comfortable as possible and I rode out of there a happy camper with an even happier set of ladybits.

I think this is an issue that a lot of female riders have. Everyone’s body is different and it’s important to find the right fit for you. To that end, I’ve reached out to Andrea from Sidesaddle to give some advice on how to find the right saddle for you.

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Andrea’s passion for bikes – and patience for bloggers asking questions – knows no bounds!

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Q: How do I recognize that my saddle doesn’t fit me well?

A: Any pain, discomfort, numbness, or even just a desire to continually shift your hips around is a cue that something’s not right. Many people, women especially, have never been comfortable on a bike so they accept discomfort as part of the experience. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Your bike should be comfortable. Not comfortable like a hammock or sweatpants, but comfortable in the sense that it feels good to ride the way you want. Whether you’re riding hard and fast or sitting up and cruising, your muscles may complain but your crotch should be quiet and happy.

Q: Do I need a different type of saddle depending on riding style?

A: You need a different type of saddle depending on how your body is positioned on a particular bike. Commuting cyclists sit more upright, which rotates the pelvis backward, requiring more support for the bones in the rear of the pelvis. Road racers lean forward over the bike, which rotates the hips forward and drives the front of the pelvis down, requiring more pressure relief at the front of the saddle. For mountain biking it can be nice to have a bit of upsweep at the back of the saddle to aid in climbing, and riders sometimes need to actually get behind the saddle which will be awkward if it’s too wide.

You should also consider what you’ll be wearing. If your shorts are padded your saddle needn’t be – you just need firm support in the right places. For commuting you’re likely wearing jeans or dresses so some padding might be nice.

There are also some practical considerations unrelated to fit. Mountain biking saddles should be abrasion resistant. If you’re commuting year round a water resistant saddle is much nicer than one that soaks up water like a sponge. Leather topped saddles are more breathable and are therefore nice for long days of riding.

Q: How do I know when a saddle fits well? What should I look for?

A: A properly fitted saddle is comfortable in a more or less level position – it doesn’t need to be tipped excessively forward or back. It carries most of your weight on the bones to the rear of your pelvis, directly under your butt cheeks. It relieves pressure on the soft tissue at the front of your crotch, and has a narrow enough nose to avoid chafing your thighs.

There’s no one saddle that ticks all these boxes for every rider – it’s about finding a company whose saddle shape works nicely for your unique snowflake bottom. It takes some trial and error, but once you find a manufacturer whose saddles work well for you it’s likely that various different saddles from their range will work for your various styles of riding.

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Q: What is the proper positioning for myself on the saddle and the saddle
on the bike? What should my body position be?

A: The question of saddle position is hard to answer succinctly – your saddle can be moved up and down, as well as forward and back, and the answer can get very technical quickly. All riders can benefit from a professional bike fit and serious cyclists, riding frequently and far, should certainly have their saddle position set by a trained bike fitter. If your saddle is in the wrong position your knees will hurt. How and where they hurt will give clues as to where the saddle needs to be moved, so make mental notes and share them with your bike fitter.

Casual riders should set their saddle so that their leg is almost straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke. On most bikes this will mean you can only touch the ground with your toes, which is why most casual riders keep their saddles too low. But try it higher! You’ll be faster and more comfortable. Note that if you start to hyperextend your knees or rock in the saddle to reach the pedals, you’ve gone too high.

Forward/back position is harder to adjust yourself but it’s basically about deciding where you want your body weight to be – forward over the pedals or back and relaxed? A secret tip is that moving your saddle back can take pressure off your hands because it moves your body weight back, like a skier going into a tuck.

Note that some fit problems are due to ‘point discomfort’ – do you have the wrong saddle, the wrong grips or handlebars, the wrong shoes? Some problems are due to ‘bike fit’ – where are the saddle and bars located in space, and how is your body weight distributed on the bike? Point discomfort is usually (but not always) fairly localized, whereas fit issues can cause radiating discomfort through your joints, limbs, and back.

Q: Anything you’d like to add?

A: Riding a bike is a feast for the senses – wind in your face, heart pumping, the world sweeping by – and pelvic discomfort is not on the menu. It is well worth the time and effort to make sure you have the right saddle in the right position.

If you’re not feeling good on your bike find a good bike shop with supportive, knowledgeable staff or a good bike fitter who also offers a comprehensive selection of saddles. Sidesaddle offers affordable, accessible fitting services for all kinds of cyclists from beginners to dedicated athletes, as well as a Saddle Library that allows you to try saddles before you buy. But there are many competent, caring people working in bike fit, and some physiotherapists even offer bike fitting as an insurable service which can be covered if you have benefits.

All of the points I’ve raised can be complemented by generally taking good care of your crotch. Wear clean bike shorts, avoid sitting around all day in the sweaty underwear your wore on your ride to work, use chamois butter to reduce chafing, and rest when you’re sore. Most importantly, trust your body and listen to it.

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Great thanks to Andrea from Sidesaddle for answering these questions for me. Hopefully this will help some of you out there who maybe aren’t sure if your saddle is working for you or not. I, for one, am so happy to have gotten a new saddle for Jenny to get me out riding for longer and in more comfort.

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Already my butt feels better, I don’t get pain or numbness, and even the knee pain I was experiencing is gone. If you are anywhere even remotely close to Vancouver, I recommend taking the time and going in to Sidesaddle to get properly fitted. Shred on, ladies!