Thursday, February 19, 2009

Installing a Bike Rack on an MTB

My MTB now has a sturdy aluminum bike rack firmly in place.

I am pleased to say that I have finally bought and installed a sturdy bike rack on the back of my new mountain bike. This means that I can now buy appropriate pannier bags to hold all the things I would need for long-distance traveling, both in Taiwan and overseas.

Buying a rack was quite troublesome as when I visited a few of the many bike shops in Kaohsiung, I was constantly told that my bike could not hold a rack (as there were no special holes for it in the frame near the middle of the back wheel). I almost got to the point of ordering a rack from the US which would have cost significantly more than twice as much as what I ended up paying here (US$28 which included the bits necessary to attach it firmly to the bike). In my opinion, while the US version is a good invention designed to deal with the problem faced by many MTB's with rear wheel disk brakes or no holes for screwing on racks, I believe my rack is a lot sturdier and although it says "Max 25 kgs", I bet I could probably sit on it without it breaking, although I won't do so just in case, which would just create unnecessary work.
Tin plate "plastic pipe" clips, bolts, washers and nuts, duck tape and strips of old inner tube rubber were combined together to securely attach the rack to the frame where there were no previously built-in bike rack holes.

After seeing someone else's bike where a rack had been fitted with a little improvisation, I first went to a few stores to find a rack that would fit well, given a few "extras". The "extras" essentially turned out to be two 3/4" "Omega" shaped clips (pictured) made of tin plate or galvanized iron (白鐵) bought in any hardware store that are usually used by plumbers to secure plastic piping to the wall. I ended up using the 3/4" size because I estimated that my rear "forks" on my bike are roughly 3/4" in diameter. I wrapped one of these clips on each side of the bike and put the long rod of the bike rack which had a hole near the bottom in between the two ends of the clip (it so happens that the weight of the rack almost rests directly above the bike frame and is not that much dependent on the clip - there is a small gap that could be stuffed with rubber as a precaution in case a gorilla tries sitting on the rack), and passed an appropriately sized bolt through the three holes which I secured with a washer and nut. To protect my precious bike frame, I wrapped (blue) duck tape around the affected area and placed a strip of rubber cut out of an old inner tube on the inside of the clip to make a snug, rattle-proof and shockproof fit. Being a novice in this area, I spent quite a lot of time adjusting the various places where adjustments could be made to the positioning of the rack to ensure that the rack was perfectly horizontal when the bike was in the upright position (I used a split level to test this), and that, as far as possible, the back wheel was centered in the middle of the rack. I also loosened the bike stand to accommodate the clip on the left side and retightened it, which was not a problem, despite being told before that I would have to remove the stand completely. One area where I was a little lucky was that, I only narrowly missed intefering with the V-brake mechanism due to one of the rods at the front of the bike rack. Some adjustment is possible here, but not a lot.

The bike rack I bought is made of aluminum, just like the bike frame. I forgot to check its weight, but it was somewhat lighter than some of the cheaper models despite its relatively intricate design. It is certainly less than one kilo.

The bike feels a little heavier now, because I have also added a "tool" bag under the back seat which has an inner tube, a multi-function tool, a front light if and when needed, tire levers, patches and glue and a few other loose tools as deemed necessary. The CD reflector is quite a common sight here, and I just bored a small hole into it and used a nut and bolt and washer to hold it in place as there are holes built into the back end of the rack.

The bike shop (one of the many "Giant" retail stores) where I purchased the rack also has several varieties of panniers, including a relatively expensive set that is "plastic coated". Something 100% waterproof will be essential. It may not rain much here, but when it does, it pours, and some parts of the island have little cover.

Before venturing on a trip, in particular one requiring airline travel, I need to learn how to get the bike into a cardboard bike box. While I have fixed bikes a lot in the past, I have yet to take off the handlebars, and need a good pedal-removing tool. I don't know if I will need to take the forks off. The less I take off, the better. I will also have to decide what to do with the bike box at the other end. For instance, if I ride in Japan I will still need a cardboard bike box when I return home. So, as yet, I don't know if I can just pick one up for free that is being discarded by a bike shop (as you can in Taiwan), or whether I have to "hide" it somewhere near the airport to use again later, or whether the airline will take care of providing a box for the return journey for a fee. Anyway, I certainly don't want to carry a hard case, for I want to get on the bike in the airport and start riding there.

Long rides will, however, be on hold for now, as my work is particularly busy at this time of year, and with the economic recession looming and currency depreciation, etc., I want to make hay while the sun shines. Still, I will try to plan trips in the meantime, by studying maps and finding out where the interesting places are.
The CD provides an effective reflector at little or no cost. However, it also is symbolic of the times in which we live. In future, when I go on long trips, I will carry a notebook computer, a flash drive (to use for printing files in 7-ELEVEN stores), a digital camera (to prepare .jpg files of any documents needing to be sent as well as maintain a travel log/blog), and a cell phone (at least in Taiwan). I won't attach a navigator on the handlebars, but I will research the next day's journey, ideally with the use of the Internet, wherever I stay in the evening.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Have Bike, Will Travel

Not a particularly fancy looking bike, but that may make it a little less easy to catch the eye of a potential thief. The main reason I bought this bike was that it was the only one more or less my size that I could find. The reflectors in the wheels is actually a legal requirement here in Taiwan, although you rarely ever see them used.

It may not be the most expensive bike on the market (cost a little over $400 new), but at least it is more or less my size, and besides being able to get to the swimming pool and back a little more comfortably, I will also be able to go for longer rides. The bike is a GT Avalanche 2.0 "hardtail" with an aluminum frame. For the technically minded, it has a seat tube measuring 21.4 inches, the effective top tube length is 24.33 inches (fairly generous for a tall person), and the standover height is 31.41 inches, high enough but without having to slant the bike when dismounting. A little like my training shoes, it is not suitable for the average-sized person, and also not very easy to ride off on unless you are at least six feet tall.
The rear derailleur is the Shimano Deore variety. This is a fairly "basic model". I would have preferred to buy a similar GT bike with a more expensive set of gears. However, I am not using this for racing (yet, anyway) and maybe one day in the future I will be able to find something better (like a good road bike).

The bike is "designed in California, USA". This is what in many ways gives the bike its value. While Taiwan is very good at making things, the perception at least locally is that things made (or at least designed) in Japan or the United States are better (and usually a lot more expensive, too). A bike is actually just a collection of different parts, and the more one pays for a bike, the more that these parts are designed or manufactured in places like the U.S., Italy, Japan, etc.

I am not particularly up-to-date with modern gadgets (except for my new Macbook), and so it may be a surprise to some to say that this is the first bike I have ridden where you can actually see what gear you are in. In the past, it was always a matter of glancing towards the back wheel. I have no idea how good the wheels are. At least, being black, I won't see the rust too quickly. The dealer who sold me the bike put a thick front tire on it. If I go on a long trip I will probably put a thinner, smoother one on. Anyway, it's just a tire. I don't know if the stem or whatever it is that connects the handlebars to the frame is the longest available. Anyway, it seems pretty good as it is. Maybe there is a little room to lengthen it or push the seat a wee bit back. The bike's brakes are just the "V" kind. The modern fashion in Taiwan is to use disk brakes. However, as long as they work, then that's fine. In Kona I did not use brakes a lot, as I tried to keep moving.

The seat pictured separately is a fi'zi:k "Vitesse". It was a gift that came with the bike. I am not sure what it is worth. Usually any old seat has worked fine with me. Maybe this is the seat I need for long rides.

Until I unwrapped the bike after it was delivered (I got it via the Internet from Taipei!), I was still worried that they would send me the wrong size, even though the ad clearly said it was XL and I specifically asked for that. So you can imagine my relief when I found the "XL" sticker on it. Still, I did get a tape measure out to measure the seat tube length just to make sure.

The Ironman helmet did not come with the bike. It is one I bought at Costco in Kaohsiung a few months ago, but still haven't worn (I just wear an older one). Now I will be able to get my bike clothing out and put on my new helmet and I'll be ready to go.

Not pictured are the various gadgets that I will consider getting to make the bike appropriate for long-distance riding. First and foremost is a bike rack which can be attached at the back. Then I will be able to get various bags, like panniers, etc., drink bottle holders, quality lights, and so on. Maybe I'll end up spending a few hundred dollars just on those things.

If any of you want to bike Taiwan in the summer (beaches, mountains, gorges, etc.), you could come over, buy a bike here (as long as you are not my height), travel around, and then take the bike home where you can use it to do X-terra, Maui in the fall. I could be your guide....

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Review of Freestyle Technique

This is a simple clip, but at least enough to give me something to think about. This may not be how I always swim, as I did this rather hurriedly after a fairly hard 2,100 meters. Still, the camera is a very good way in which we can see what we are doing.

In spite of swimming a lot of meters much of last year, my swimming slackened in December and January as I grappled with water temperatures sometimes in the low 60s together with the fact that I was very busy with work - the recession has not hit me yet.

I was swimming at my best around early October last year, and for distances around 100m and 200m I appeared to set my best times perhaps ever. However, I switched pools in late October (from an indoor 25m pool to an outdoor lane-divider-less 50m pool) and I started studying the freestyle swimming technique taught by Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen of Aquatic Edge.

Everything felt strange at first, and I balked at the idea of doing a flip turn where I would have to lie on my back underwater - a sure recipe for a lot of water up your nose or, worse, a crash into the bottom of the shallow pool! However, I persevered and things started to look good, although I became a lot slower.

Then the cold weather came followed by a cold a little before Christmas that decimated me. I literally lost about 10 percent of whatever muscle mass I had built up in the space of a few days. I still have not got it back.

Anyway, hopefully the winter is over now and I can increase the yardage and not feel all weakish from the effects of the cold for most of the morning after the swim. I will also pay attention to doing a little weightbearing exercise at home, and use the Stretchcordz, etc. Hopefully, I will get my times down somewhat over the next few months. Never give up, it is never to late to learn!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Bike Predicament

The Fuji Tahoe SL hardtail MTB is made in Taiwan with its 21-inch aluminum frame size (with an effective top tube length of 24.8 inches) would apparently cost about US$2,100 in the U.S., but at least 15% less in Taiwan if it were made available here. This is the bike I would use to tour Taiwan and Japan.

I sold my Kestrel before I left Kona 19 months ago, and since returning to Taiwan, I have been riding an old MTB that is somewhat small for me. When still in Taipei, I occasionally visited bike shops after being informed that at such and such a place they could sell me a tri-bike or something like that.

However, it was easy to get a little disillusioned, as road bikes in stores seldom were over 50cm, and parts and things imported from overseas were very expensive. At the same time, most of the money I was getting was being used to pay for fairly extensive repairs to our former apartment, and I was so busy I did not have any time to ride, no were there many places to ride anyway.

Having moved to Kaohsiung in Southern Taiwan one year ago, I realize that if I had the time, I could bike and train, too. The roads are relatively flat, it seldom rains, and if you ride about 20 minutes away from here you are very much in the countryside. Of course, there are bound to be quite a lot of 35-ton trucks hauling dirt or other cargo, but at least they are fairly easy to see.

Recently, I have been thinking of getting a mountain bike, the idea being that I could carry necessary things for extended travel (with overnight stays elsewhere) and venture on to more isolated roads where the surface may not be very good (to visit the indigenous "mountain" peoples, for instance).

So about two weeks ago, I started visiting various bike shops in Kaohsiung that stock Taiwan-made brands, like Giant, Merida and GT (which apparently is American, although the bikes are made here). By trying to learn about how to determine what is an appropriate bike size from reading articles on the Internet and also asking salesmen and looking on the Internet websites, it appeared there was a fairly good range of bikes for taller people. However, none of the shops actually stock these large (actually XL in my case) bikes, for obvious reasons. In addition, when I ask them if they can get hold of a bike my size made in Taiwan that I could buy were I to visit a bike store in the UK, I am told either the large bikes are now manufactured in Europe or the company (which makes them here) hasn't got any in stock and is not planning to make any for the foreseeable future, or that the export department is like a separate company, etc. It makes me wonder whether I should just wait until I go overseas and buy one there and bring it back.

Today, I visited another bike shop that sells the Fuji brand of bikes. I like the name (since it sounds Japanese to me), and from reading the catalogue I noticed that the bikes are generally longer than other brands with comparable seat tube lengths (which is good for someone like me with longish arms). The store manager even went so far as to say he would phone the head office to see if he could get the larger sizes that appear in the US catalogues and are made in Taiwan. So maybe there is a glimmer of hope, and maybe with some arm-twisting I might be successful.

Another thing that interested me was that Fuji has a tri-bike called the Aloha. I think that it has that name because it is a way of being friendly when you whizz past someone and leave them in the dust. And, guess what, they sponsored Matt Reed, at least in the past as I don't know who he is with now. Matt is 6' 5", so a little taller than me, and he would need a larger bike than someone like Lance or Macca.

The Fuji Aloha road bike (up to 60 cm), a cheaper model to that which Matt Reed was apparently sponsored to ride. To justify having a bike like this (if I could get one), I would need to spend a lot more time training than I am now, time that I don't really have, and I would need to spend more time in places like Kona where I would have people to train and race with. So maybe something to dream about for the future.

So I don't really know if I will eventually be told that I can get an appropriate bike through them or whether I will just be riding a 17" MTB indefinitely. Money is of course an issue in the case of a tri-bike. Not that I don't have any, but this year the focus is on one of our son's first year college expenses, and so I would be wiser to just think about a relatively cheaper MTB for now.

One thing is that I don't really want to compromise and end up either buying something too small (like the Kestrel was (57 cm?), which is why I did not bring it back) or something too cheap that is poorly designed and built. Only the other day, I almost in desperation bought an MTB for US$550 that was almost big enough, etc., but which actually felt pretty awful. The Kestrel in Kona at least taught me how something good should feel.

Should my present inquiries lead nowhere, I guess the next step will be to try to locate the factories where some of the good frames are made - they surely must be on this island somewhere. Maybe the bike in the end won't have any brand name, but if it is big enough and feels good, it should at least be able to do its job on the Queen K.