Friday, February 27, 2009

Finding a Purpose

That's pretty heady title, eh?

Don't worry, though -- this is less about finding my raison d'etre, and more about finding a role for a bike.

I have three perfectly rideable bikes -- the Kestrel, the Schwinn and the Paramount. And I've spun out others that I just didn't ride very much. The Trek 950 sitting in my parents' den is in my Dad's hands because he claimed to want to ride, but also because I wasn't using it. The Shogun Katana at my sister's house is there because I never rode it -- it was too similar in purpose to the Kestrel, but far less enjoyable to ride.

My three bikes are pretty specialized. There's some overlap, sure -- they're all bikes, and they are all suitable for road use or just kicking around. Beyond that, though, they're very different. The Paramount is a classic old-school rigid MTB, and it's happiest being threaded around trails or bombing down mountainsides, even without suspension. It's a rush in that mode, but not at all a rush around town. At the other end of the spectrum, the Kestrel is happiest logging fast miles. It's twitchy and notably unhappy on unpaved surfaces, but when you pour on the power, it feels like it just wants to go. It practically begs you to put more into it, and it's an exhilarating bike when you're going hard at it. Somewhere in the middle in terms of its versatility, but along a different axis in application is the Schwinn. It steers with confidence, rides pretty well, and is a great bike to load up, hop on and grind away for hours. It's not perfect, by any means (I've noticed some impact harshness in the front end that I'm hoping larger tires will help with), but it's a bike I'm really enjoying.

Just wanted to set all that as some context, because it's with the bikes in my stable in mind (particularly the Schwinn) that I've been thinking about what to do with the Motobecane Grand Touring I now have.

From a mechanical perspective, I've given the bike a pretty close inspection, figured out what it needs to be rebuilt as-is, and started its overhaul. I've removed the rusty chain, cleaned up the wheels and lubed the spoke nipples and rim eyelets (the latter were rusty, so I felt that was needed). I still have to get the freewheel off (can't find my two-prong remover, so will have to buy a new one) so I can soak it in solvent and get it lubed up again from there. I've taken off the crankset and cleaned that up, torn down and rebuilt the pretty MKS pedals, and need to pull apart the bottom bracket, which feels lousy. My hope is the cups and spindle are OK, but I have a set of French threaded cups in my parts box, just in case. I've pulled open the hubs (sort of) and found that they're cartridge bearing hubs -- still spinning just fine -- and just put them back together, unserviced. I've cracked open the headset and found that the fork was cut roughly and too short (perhaps when it shifted from centerpull to sidepull brakes, and lost the cable hanger in the process). In any case, the locknut doesn't have enough intact threads to engage securely, so the fork will ultimately need replacement (and a whole can of worms comes with that).

My initial rebuild will be with its original components, as I said, so I can get a feel for the bike as it is. I don't want to put a lot of money into that first step, because once I ride it, I'll learn a lot more about it than I know now. Most of this will focus on replacement of your typical wear items -- ball bearings, cables and housings, pads, saddle, chain, etc... Going deeper than that as the next step is going to require me to have first made some use-case conclusions.

For example: The fork needs replacement, as I mentioned above, and that comes with a can of worms. The can of worms is that when I replace the fork, I'll need a new headset, handlebar stem, and bars, because I'm going to toss the French-spec stuff and go to an English-spec setup -- that only makes sense in terms of long-term availability of components. Those are simple swaps, but require some decisions as to how I want the bike to behave and look, and how I want to build it. Should the fork be black or chrome? Should I target 27" or 700c wheels? Do I want to build the bike with a matching set of sidepull brakes or switch the front to cantilevers? Should I stick with a threaded headset or go threadless, since I have to replace the stem anyway? Should I shoot for flat bars, drop bars, or city bars? Each of these will impact the ultimate feel and potential uses of the bike, so before I bite on any of these, I need a firmer sense of what I want out of the bike.

Which gets me back to the main point of this post; what will be the Motobecane's role in my stable? Having an extra bike hanging around that you never use is sort of pointless. I've been there before -- the Shogun sat for years, unused. Why? Because the Kestrel did everything it could do, but better. So when I look at the Motobecane and think about how to rebuild it, I'm keeping in mind not just what I could do with it, but also what I likely would do with it.

I mentioned last time I was thinking about the Motobecane as a city bike. That's still true, but unfortunately the bike has some characteristics that will compromise its utility for that role. It can support a front rack today, and it's easy enough to make sure the replacement fork will allow it to continue to do so. And of course it can handle a saddlebag support like the Viva bag support or Rivendell Hupe like most any other bike. But the lack of eyelets on the rear dropouts means I'd have to settle for P-clamps on the seat stays to support a rack, and I'm not sure how I feel about that mounting system for a bike that would be intended to carry a load of groceries around.

As a variant on the city bike theme, I've also been wondering how it'd do as a commuter bike. I could get a biggish saddlebag like the new Sackville bags from Rivendell. These bags are not inexpensive -- they cost waaaay more than a nylon bag would cost. But they're in-line with other premium bag prices (like this smaller Ostrich bag from Velo-Orange), and appear to be stylish, nicely made and roomy. A bag like that, supported by a saddlebag support and paired with a handlebar bag to hold my toiletries, wallet, keys and the like, would be great for riding to work from time to time. My ride would be a little long right now (Google maps tells me my ride to Lowell would be under 35 miles) -- that's too far for me for daily commuting, but within reach for a once-a-week workout commute.

For that kind of distance, a city bike setup (city bars, upright riding position, wider saddle) wouldn't work. And in using a drop bar configuration, I'd end up with a bike very similar in form factor to my Schwinn, but a little smaller and with different rear luggage. Is there enough of a distinction, there, that both bikes would get used? The truth is, I could easily use the Schwinn for commuting, though I'd have to find a set of panniers with suspension inside for a laptop. In any case, it's not abundantly clear that having two bikes in very similar configurations makes a lot of sense.

At the same time, the arrival of the Motobecane has gotten me thinking about the Schwinn, what it needs, and whether some cross-pollination with the Motobecane wouldn't be a bad thing. More specifically, I've mentioned before that I could use a smidge more reach in the rear calipers (it was a 27" bike and it's set up with 700c wheels that tax the reach of the Mafac Racer on the back of the bike today), and I've been watching for some Mafac RAID brakes on eBay. A RAID on the back would coordinate nicely with the Racer front brake (which has plenty of reach for the fork, even running a 700C wheelset), and that would leave me with another set of RAID/Racer brakes for a similar build-out downstream. But I'm finding that RAID brakesets are relatively rare and sell for over $100 per pair on eBay, when you can find them.

One thought was that sliding the 27" wheelset that came with the Motobecane over to the Schwinn might be a good thing to do. I'd need to see how the 27" wheelset is, first, of course, and how well the 700c wheelset would work with the existing rear brakes on the Motobecane. If it all fits, there's the potential to eliminate the need for a new rear brake for the Schwinn. But that decision will cast ripples, both anticipated and unforeseen (I'll get into those some other time), and I'll need to be deliberate about decisions like that.

The nice thing about all of this is that the possibilities are nearly endless, and it'll be a lot of fun getting to the ultimate build state of the Motobecane. Once I get it rolling again and see how it feels, I'll be able to develop a better sense for what's next.

All for now,


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Puppydogs and Motobecanes

A good day for bike stuff, today.

Last night, I picked up Ava's puppydog-themed Specialized Hotrock from the house and brought it to the apartment for the weekend. I'd left it pretty much alone since I bought it for Juliana for her birthday four years ago. Actually, that's not entirely true. I cut the seatpost down just over an inch, last year, so I could insert it all the way down into the seat tube. And then I flipped over the side plates of the seatpost clamp to drop the saddle a little further down on the straight seatpost. This all in trying to make the saddle height low enough for Ava to feel comfortable without training wheels. Didn't work, really -- her legs were still pretty short last summer, and she wasn't comfortable. But no harm done -- I'll just replace that cut-down seatpost before I hand it off to the next owner, so there's no risk of them unknowingly raising it past a safe point (the min insertion line no longer being accurate).

Today, after I got home from my friend Steven's place (more on that visit in a sec), I took the wheels off the Hotrock, and pulled apart both the hubs and the one-piece Ashtabula crankset. As I suspected, all three contained only trace amounts of yellow, waxy grease. They turned, but with a gritty, uneven feel. I assumed that'd be the case, having repacked the hub on the trailer bike two years ago, and I'm a little embarrassed that it took me this long to redo this bike.

Ava's Hotrock has two brakes, though it came with only one, originally (I complemented the rear coaster brake with an Odyssey 1999 sidepull front brake and lever a few years back). It's been years since I so much as looked at a coaster brake, and I was curious to see what was inside hers as I pulled it apart. The guts were pretty simple, and kind of interesting, and I was surprised to find three distinct cages of ball bearings in the hub. But as interesting as it was too look at, I am astonished at how much drag is in that rear wheel -- it spins down after only a handful of turns, even after I repacked it. Still, I cleaned it up well, put new Grade 25 balls in it, and filled the races and the brake mechanism up with Pedro's synthetic grease.

The front hub is pretty standard front hub stuff, with the exception that it's of a lower grade than I'm used to -- not a surprise at all, given that it's on a child's bike. Even so, it spins pretty well, now that it's packed with new balls and fresh grease -- puts the rear hub to shame, really. I've read a blog post out there somewhere written by someone who'd built up a bike for himself with a coaster rear brake. Sounded fun, being able to skid the rear tire at will, but I'm wary of all that drag.

Finally, the crankset. It was a bit of a pain because I forgot to take off the chainguard and because for some reason I'd reinstalled the rear wheel (and thus snugged down the chain) before servicing it, but once I got those behind me, it came apart reasonably well, cleaned up quickly, and went back together with fresh bearings and grease in only a few minutes. I'm not a big fan of Ashtabula cranks, because they're heavy and inelegant and not well sealed. But they're ridiculously simple and very strong, and can be serviced with little more than a rag, a big adjustable wrench and a screwdriver (though I chose a pin spanner to set the adjustable cone).

I left the headset alone. It's got a decent-looking Cane Creek Aheadset on it, and I've never serviced one and didn't really want to mess with it. I could probably have figured it out easily enough, but it's turning just fine, with no apparent grittiness, so I think it was put together properly in the first place. The whole job took less than two hours. More like 90 minutes, I think. I left the training wheels in my parts box -- it's time for Ava to leave those behind.

So that's the puppydog. The Motobecane, now.

I picked up the second Motobecane of my life, today. The first Motobecane I owned was an old one I bought from a neighbor whose lawn I cut when I was a kid. More accurately, I admired the old bike in his barn for a number of years, and ultimately he agreed to sell it to me for what seemed like a pretty hefty sum at the time, but the figure escapes me. It was a Mirage or Super Mirage, in a dark blue. It had Huret derailleurs, quick release hubs, alloy rims, a leather saddle (like a Brooks, but it was deformed from improper storage), and its frame was far too large for me. So I started taking parts off of it and swapping them onto my Raleigh. I stopped and went in a different direction whenever I bumped into something that didn't work on my bike, usually because of the whole French threading thing.

So in essence, I completely trashed a classic old Motobecane in favor of a comparatively crappy Raleigh because I didn't know any better. I hope to do better by this new one. New to me, at least.

My friend Steven, whose apartment I was at yesterday noon, is an audiophile, autophile and velophile. He raced bikes in high school and college, and his first "real" bike was a mid-197o's Motobecane Grand Touring that's now sitting in in my hallway. The Motobecane has a Vitus chromoly main triangle, forged rear dropouts with no rack eyelets (which seems odd, given the bike's moniker), and a somewhat more pedestrian front fork with stamped dropouts (it's actually very similar to the fork on my Schwinn, down to the untapped eyelets). The finish is old, but in decent shape -- a nice champagne color with chrome fork tips, black accents and logos, and subtle gold lug lining. Not unlike my old 1986 Toyota MR-2, in theme, actually. The frame has only a single braze-on (for the rearmost bit of cable housing for the rear derailleur), relying mostly on clamp-on mounts and cable guides. The components are a mix of Japanese and European bits. There's some Suntour Superbe (brakes and levers) and Suntour Cyclone (derailleurs), Campagnolo Grand Sport (downtube shifters and cable guides), and a Wheelsmith-built Specialized/Mavic 27" wheelset. The bottom bracket and headset are Tange, and and the crankset is an SR Apex dual with I think 42/52 chainrings -- all three are original to the bike. It has pretty Campagnolo-clone MKS touring pedals, with no toe clips. The original bar and stem are both Pivo.

It's a classic mid-range Continental 10-speed, in other words. Nicer than my Raleigh was, but not as nice as an old Paramount. Not far from my Sports Tourer in spirit, but with French sensibilities and fewer braze-ons.

The Motobecane is a road bike, not a racing bike, and Steven discovered not long after getting it new that it wasn't the hot ticket for racing. He upgraded the components anyway, but ultimately moved to a Team Miyata frameset, aligned and built with Shimano's early New Dura-Ace groupset and a tubular wheelset. It's still in that configuration, and it's a lovely bike. The Motobecane passed first to his brother, then to his parents, and now to me (and I'm excited to have it!).

It needs some love. The steel eyelets on the polished Mavic rims are rusty, the rim tape needs to be replaced, the chain is a throwaway, there's a bit of surface rust on all of the guides and clamps, the rear derailleur pulleys are stiff, the rear derailleur adjustment bolt doesn't sit quite right on the dropout, and the saddle speaks volumes to the progress made in saddle design since the 1980's. The Pivo bars have some scoring at the clamp, so I'm probably not going to use them. And the quill and bolt on the Pivo stem are AWOL, and will need replacement. Not a big deal to rectify, in either case. The Superbe levers will need new boots, as you might expect.

In other words, the bike is a project. But it's one that I can largely tackle with parts I already have on-hand. Will need to get some tires, some tubes, some brake pads, some rim strips, and a new chain, and that's probably all I'll need to get it rolling (which is not to say finished). I have enough cable housing, spare cables (I think), bar tape, ball bearings and grease to handle bearings and controls. I suspect the bottom bracket and headset are French threaded, so replacing those might take some searching for replacements, and I'll stick with repacking them for now. I have a spare set of bars and a stem whose parts I can cannibalize to get that end of things back in order. I'll put the red San Marco saddle that was on Juli's Fuji onto the Paramount and put that brown crippler Brooks onto this bike as a trial. And I'll look forward to supplying plenty of elbow grease to polish everything up and do the work in question.

Once I get it back together, I can figure out how it fits (the seat tube measures 22" center-to-center, which is on the small end of what I can ride), what it needs and how I want to use it and accessorize it. I've had this hankering for a city bike to take to the grocery store and the like. Not because I live in the city (I don't), or because I couldn't use the Schwinn for that (I could), but because I want something different from what I already have, I think. And because it'll give me more to tinker with. All kinds of possibilities in this old French bike.

A good day for bike stuff, yes.

All for now,


Friday, February 13, 2009

Commuting by Bike

For the past 9-plus years, I've worked a long way from where I've lived. It's 43 miles each way, today. Until this month (when my company crossed the border from NH to MA), I spent over five years driving more than 115 miles per day commuting. I bought my car three years ago, next Tuesday, and it'll hit 88,000 miles sometime tomorrow. Before my current company, my commute was something like 28 miles -- not bad, but still pretty far, and not on the friendliest roads for a bicycle.

Back when I worked at Lotus, I was living in Waltham, MA. The car ride from Waltham to Cambridge was something like 15 miles, and it took about 45 minutes to fight my way there or back with all the lights and traffic, notably along the Charles River. Even getting out of the garages of the two main buildings could be an ordeal.

So one summer day, I decided to try riding in. I left my laptop in my office the night before, packed some clothes and shower stuff in one of my college backpacks, and set off the next morning for the office, riding my Shogun Katana, which by then was sitting largely idle.

I learned a bunch of things that day:

  1. Riding in rush hour traffic is different from riding either on a weekend or early in the morning before the traffic really hits.
  2. A racing bike can be a little high-strung for commute-time riding.
  3. A backpack isn't really ideal for riding -- your shirt sticks to your back, and carrying the extra weight gets hard on your shoulders and upper back after a while.
But all that aside, it was a pretty cool experience. I got in nearly 30 miles that day, for starters. And that was achieved without setting aside a couple of hours extra to get them in. Riding to work added only 10-15 minutes to my normal one-way commute time, which is pretty amazing. I used no gas (but did shower one extra time that day). And as you may have guessed, I managed not to get killed by a car. I also walked around all day, smugly telling anyone who'd listen how I'd gotten to work that morning. There were a handful of bike commuters at Lotus, but not nearly as many as you'd expect, given the company's progressive culture and Cambridge headquarters.

Having enjoyed the experience, I set out almost immediately to make my Paramount into a commuter bike (as you may have suspected, if you know me at all). And this was no small feat. I had to outfit the Paramount with new tires (Continental Goliaths, initially), a rack (just a cheap Performance Trans-it MTB), a pair of panniers (stiff red and black Blackburns) and a handlebar bag with QR mount, a used road bar (Nitto 115), a new stem (just a no-name steel hybrid stem to locate the bars closer to me and up a bit), new shifters (Shimano Ultegra 8-speed bar end shifters, and I've never really liked them), a blinky light for the rear and headlight for the front, a new rear wheel (Shimano Deore LX 8-speed hub and a Sun rim), an 8-speed cassette, road brake levers (105 SC), a cable lock, and finally, a set of shoes and pedals better suited to commuting than (SPD-style pedals paired with rubber-soled MTB shoes).

In truth, for just commuting I could have gotten the job done with a rack, the bags, the lights and a set of road tires. But while I was building a bike to schlep stuff around on, I wanted it to be able to serve in a light touring role as well. That, plus, well... you understand.

It took a few weeks to pull all this together and swap it all onto the Paramount. It wasn't perfect for the commuter role, but it wasn't bad. It steered well, was plenty rugged, rolled over pretty much anything, never got a flat, and never broke a spoke or anything like that. The not-perfect part was that the short chainstays led to some heel strike with the panniers, and the rig felt decidedly inefficient, relative to my road bikes. I don't know how to quantify that, really. The Paramount has a little flex in the bottom bracket, so that didn't help. The tires were fatter and smaller, so were probably making more friction. There was weight, of course. And the riding position was pretty hard to get right -- had to have the post waaaay up to get the right leg extension for road riding, which meant the saddle had to also be all the way forward on its rails to put me far enough forward. In any case, I always got the sense I was losing 10% more of what I put into it, relative to my other bikes.

I probably didn't commute on it more than a dozen times that summer. They weren't the kind of fast-paced/low-stress miles I normally rode, and I've since wondered if riding like that more often would have killed the joy of riding for me. But the conclusion I drew is that it wouldn't, any more than commuting has killed the joy of driving. I wasn't able to find out, though -- I moved out of Waltham to Metrowest the following June, which pretty much put paid to my commuting to Cambridge by bike, and my commutes have only gotten longer, since.

But the desire to commute by bike has stayed with me (as has the desire to be in a situation where that's a practical possibility), and has gained some social urgency for me in the past couple of years. I bought the car I am driving now (a Mazda3 with the bigger engine), specifically to burn up in my commute to NH. I love the car -- it's quick enough to keep me entertained, handles well, has all the toys I care about (and a few I don't), and returns 30 MPG most tanks, running the cheap stuff. But think about how terrible it is to buy a new car for something like $17,000, drive it into the ground in 5-6 years, and have to start over again. It's expensive, but it's also wasteful in terms of the energy and resources that went into both the car and the commute. I'd really like my next job, whenever the time comes, to be much closer to home, so I can both cut way back on that consumption and also shift some of my commuting to a bicycle. That seems to be hard to achieve, though. We're a country of car commuters, it seems, and at least in New England, weather makes choosing another mode of transport difficult half the time.

My Schwinn Sports Tourer would be perfect for commuting. I'd just need to put lights on it, which I plan to do anyway. I've discovered that Axiom panniers would fit on my rear rack, so I'm going to pick up a set of those at some point in the spring (and will bring the bike to the LBS before I buy, to make sure). And my rear rack has a fitting for bolting on a rear blinky. A headlight will be more difficult -- I'm out of space on the bars, don't have any light fittings on the fork, and I'm not sure my little Mafac rack is strong enough for a light of any heft. But if I find a light that's not too heavy, I can cobble together some sort of clamp for the front rack easily enough.

And I'm trying to encourage my wife to try commuting by bike as well. She spoke of signing up for a gym the other day, and IMO that's just a big old waste of money. Neither of us has ever been a zealot about going to the gym, even when we were doing spinning classes together. She has a bike (the Bianchi with 650B rims you see, here), and she works maybe 7 miles from the house right now, and that's a perfect combo for commuting by bike.

Before this weekend, her Bianchi didn't have an appropriate rack, but in talking with her about it a week ago, I proposed swapping out the Viva bag support, adding a carrier rack, and putting her V-O Baguette bag on the front instead of the rear. I could even add fenders (a set of V-O 650B Zeppelins, for example), but I don't think that's really necessary, since she's never going to ride in the rain anyway. For recreational riding, a bigger rack wouldn't add much weight, so the bike would still be fine for that use. I also offered up my Blackburn panniers, since they're not doing me any good with the rack I have on the Schwinn, and a headlight is a cheap add (she has a bar-end blinky light already).

I tend to try to enable people to do stuff I'm interested in, whether they are or not. So true to form, and as you can see in the pics, I've set all this up. The other day I ordered a Nitto R-15 and today I installed it on her Bianchi. Her handlebars are quite narrow, so contrary to the original suggestion, I left the V-O bag on the rear where it was, and plopped my old commuting panniers on it (they're in great shape for their age -- never ridden in the rain). The R-15 doesn't have loops for the lower pannier hooks down at the bottom of the struts, so I'm going to try to find or make some, and that'll be that. It'll be interesting to see if she actually uses it to commute or not. We're going to be changing up how we split time with the kids, so she'll have alternate weeks to put it to work, if she wishes.

And in the mean time, I'll keep telling myself that someday I'll work no more than 15 miles from home, again...

All for now,


Saturday, February 7, 2009


I don't ski.

I used to ski, though. And I enjoy the rush of flying down a mountain on skis just as much as the one that comes from flying down a mountain road on a bike. But I stopped skiing a decade ago because my feet cramp up. A lot of the blame for that lies in my form, or lack thereof, in that I don't lean forward enough when I ski, some of it has to do with injuring my feet as a kid, and some with having never found just the right set of boots.

Regardless of the drivers, though, the key point is that at the main point of interface between my body and the sport of skiing, I have generally been miserably uncomfortable. So I stopped, though it looks as though I'll be starting again, since my wife has been bringing my girls to the local training hill.

In cycling, you have five main touch points with a bike. Your hands, your feet, and your bum. Hands get grips and controls, feet get pedals and shoes, and your bum gets a saddle. The equipment at each of these touch points is interesting in its own right (and worthy of exploration), but today I'm interested in saddles.

I've had lots of saddles, mostly ones that didn't work for me, and I wanted to share what I think I've learned in trying to find something that fits.

The first thing I've learned is that vanity is generally a pretty counter-productive contributor to a decision making process. Vanity drives cyclists interested in speed and the style of perceived speed (typically young guys, let's face it) to do things like move to the skinniest tires they can find, or ride without a seat bag, or ride with just one water bottle, or choose a saddle with the surface area of a dollar bill. It's ironic that guys who often snicker silently at their wives or girlfriends for wearing uncomfortable shoes in the name of fashion will happily engage in equivalent madness with their bike.

Skinny tires look fast, but they are uncomfortable and fragile, which makes them a wrong-headed solution to speed -- nothing slows down your average speed like a flat tire. Having only one water bottle may save a couple of pounds, but so will skipping that third beer or bag of chips, and staying hydrated is very important to both athletic performance and general health. And having to stop to refill slows you down more than schlepping a second bottle. Riding without the supplies and equipment to fix a flat tire is just irresponsible, not to mention inconsiderate of whomever you're going to rely on to get you out of that particular jam, whether a stranger or a loved one. And riding a saddle that looks good but feels awful is not just unnecessary, it may also be damaging to parts of your body you just don't want damaged.

I'll leave the medical stuff to professionals, and stick to the basics, here -- if a long ride (20 miles plus) consistently leaves you sore in the bum or numb in the crotch, it's time to make a change to your saddle.

If you have these symptoms, the first thing to check is your saddle's position. Saddles can be adjusted three ways, and all three can have an impact on how comfortable you are. First is height, though you'll feel the wrong saddle height more in your legs and knees than in your bum. The second is fore/aft positioning, though you'll feel that more in your knees as well. The third is the angle of the saddle in the clamp, which is a straight-up crotch numbness issue.

When you're riding, the angle of the saddle should ideally achieve two things. First, you should feel like the rear of the saddle is supporting you and keeping you in the right position, and second the middle and nose of the saddle should not be creating pressure points on your crotch. To the support question, if you angle the nose of the saddle down too much, you'll find yourself sliding forward on the saddle, which puts more pressure on your hands and arms, as you push yourself back on the saddle. If you angle the nose of the saddle too high, you may find that your crotch goes numb. If in fine-tuning your saddle position, you can't find an angle that gives you support but avoids numbness, it's time for a new saddle that won't press into your perineal area.

Bum soreness comes from the pressure between your perch bones and the saddle. This tends to ease up as you ride more, as your body toughens up those touch-points. But allowing for that toughening to happen, if your bum is consistently sore after a ride of any significance, the saddle probably isn't right for your body. This might be a problem with the shape, the materials, the width, or any number of other things (for example, the amount of impact transmitted to the rider as the result of tire choices, frame materials, frame geometry, suspension, etc). But if the saddle doesn't fit you, there's not a lot you can do to fix that particular saddle. Resist the temptation to go get a gel seat cover in the name of comfort -- your money is better spent on finding the right saddle for your body.

Whether to save your crotch or your bum, if you conclude you need a new saddle, it may take some experiementation to figure out what works for you. In fact, you should be ready to experiment and to be deliberate in your experimentation. For example, try to qualify how your current saddle bothers you, and identify what the problem with it is. Is it too narrow for your perch bones, for example, so you're not really perching on the saddle the way you should be? Or is the saddle rounded too much, dropping your perineal tissues down onto the nose section? Once you have a sense of how the saddle is fitting on your body, you can try saddles that might change up the fit in a meaningful way. You can experiment with different widths, or flatter or rounder rear sections, or nose cut-outs, or different padding, or different construction. And some trial and error is unavoidable. But you can maximize your learning by paying attention to what you're feeling and comparing the shapes that feel better or worse.

I've personally found that a firmer, flatter saddle works best for my body. For my sporty bikes, I've had luck with the classic Selle San Marco Regal. It's skinny, but not so skinny that it sits inside my perch bones, and the flattish rear section supports my pelvis in a way that keeps the saddle's nose out of my business. For me, it's as comfortable a racing saddle as I've found. It took the vain part of me a while to warm up to the rivets on the back for a racing bike. But I did, and I'm now on my second of these saddles on the Kestrel.

For my tourey bikes, I'm a reasonably enthusiastic fan of the Brooks B-17. The first hour in the saddle isn't always great, but after that I pretty much stop thinking about it, which is about the highest compliment a saddle can be paid. I have a green one with the big hammered copper rivets, which you can see at the top. Doesn't look very green anymore, unfortunately.

In contrast, I haven't had much luck with the Brooks Team Professional. I tried a new, black one on the Kestrel last winter, and just couldn't get comfortable. The rear section is too round for my body, which drops me too low onto the nose of the saddle. With the saddle angled so as to keep the nose from causing numbness, I slide towards the bars. And when angled so I don't slide towards the bars, I started getting numbness in short order, which is a sure sign of a bad fit.

I have an old, old, old Brooks Team Professional in Brown on the Paramount, and it has a substantially different shape to it than the new one I tried last year. It's flatter in the rear and middle than the current Team Professionals, but not quite as flat as a B-17. I have had high hopes for it, but it dried out almost completely over the years, and has been very uncomfortable to ride. But the discomfort is relative to my perch bones, so I think the shape is right, it's just punishingly hard. Last season I tried saddle soap and Brooks Proofide leather treatment and that didn't acheive much. So I soaked it repeatedly with neatsfoot oil this fall, and we'll see if that does anything to soften it up for the spring. If it doesn't, I'll find something else.

I've tried various saddles with cut-outs and other shaping gimmicks designed to keep the perineal area safe, and I have to say they just don't work for me. I can feel the cut-out under me, and it's distracting. Again, the biggest compliment I can pay a saddle is that it goes unnoticed, so these aren't a good fit.

Juliana doesn't have much experience with saddles, but she professes to love her B-17S, which is the woman's version of the B-17. It's about the same size and shape as the saddle that came on her mountain bike, but less poofy because it's unpadded (where her MTB saddle is overly padded). As I said recently, I'll probably pick one of these up for Ava as well, but that probably won't be necessary for another season or so -- she's still very small.

My wife claims her current Brooks Team Professional S a vast improvement over the Selle San Marco Rolls that was last on her Bianchi. That was a very uncomfortable saddle for me, too (I tried it for exactly one ride on the Paramount, after I picked up her Brooks, and was amazed she had ridden at all with that thing). I can't speak to what her body needs, but for my part it was way too rounded in the rear. She hasn't tried a B-17 S, to my knowledge, but the added width of the Team Professional S appears to be working for her.

The last thing I wanted to add is that in terms of experimenting, I've found eBay can be a valuable tool. If you buy a crap saddle at retail mark-up, it'll have absolutely no resale value, and you'll take a bath on it when you do sell it. But pick up a decent saddle well-bought and you won't lose much value if you try it for a week and don't like it. Watching saddles on eBay can give you a good feel for what's a good deal or a bad deal on a model you want to try, which can help minimize the financial sting of experimenting with saddles. For example, I bought that new black Brooks Team Professional I mentioned for like $145 plus shipping on eBay. It was clamped to a bike for 36 hours, in which I determined that it wouldn't work and why, and I sold it on eBay with an honest story of its history and reason for sale for maybe $135. By trying that saddle, and studying its shape as compared to saddles that were known to work well for me, I was able to figure out a lot about what does and doesn't fit my body. Not bad for $10 plus shipping!

Having a comfortable saddle is really important, and comfortable saddles are definitely out there. Finding one may take some time, some experimentation and may cost some money. But the payoff in terms of comfort and preventing health problems is well worth it. Pay attention to your body, do your research, and don't be a slave to a particular idea of fashion, and you'll find something that works for you.

All for now,