Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Upright Citizen

This fall I've ridden the mountain bike commuter exclusively for several weeks.
I consider this an upright bike. (stock photo)
With each ride I have discovered more things about the riding position that make me adjust my reflexes to make sure I have my weight in the right place to get the most out of the bike and avoid stuffing it into a tree. 

When I raced my mountain bike it was set up in the fashion of the early and mid 1990s, with a long, low-angle stem and flat bars cut down to 20 inches or less. I had transferred the position from my old Stumpjumper. The Gary Fisher had a longer fork because the builders were not offering suspension on most models but they were compensating for it so a rider could add a suspension fork without changing the geometry of the bike. The higher front end, combined with the longer top tube, made the bike feel a bit sluggish to me after the Stumpjumper, but that bike had been just a hair too small. Because the choice in  the Specialized line was slightly too small and slightly too big, I went to the Gary Fisher because their 16.5-inch frame split the difference. But the long fork made it ride bigger than it looked.

My colleague Ralph, who dominated the Sport class and survived in Expert, encouraged me to modernize my position on the bike with a shorter stem and rise bars. I did this just before I got the Cross Check and basically quit mountain biking completely. So my commuting rides have been my first extensive use of the bike in this form.

In a low position with a long stem I had plenty of weight over the front tire. I've had to learn to put myself forward in my new position to keep adequate weight on the front tire. It was really easy to end up too far back so the front tire didn't bite into the trail.

After a couple of weeks I've gotten really comfortable on the bike. I can definitely fling it around on the trail more confidently than I did with the 'cross bike. No surprise there, given the geometry of the 'cross bike and the fact that I run smooth tires. I push those near their limit on the dirt, but never far enough to wash out. With the aggressive tread on my old mountain biking tires I can lay the bike over much farther. Of course on pavement I feel every knob as a separate bump. You have to choose what you want your bike to do best. I would ride a less aggressive tread, but I already own these tires and they'll just dry rot if I don't use them. The path route involves almost no pavement, so I can enjoy the overkill on the unpaved majority of it.

There's a huge difference between sporty riding and racing. I'm having fun, but I know where I rank against real competitors. But racing is the process of turning something fun into a neurosis. If I tried to race these days I would probably puke up a ventricle.

Preparing for a trip to visit my parents I had to decide which bike to bring, the Cross Check or the MTB commuter. Both have lights, a necessity for this time of year. My brother would be bringing his Dahon folder, with 20-inch wheels and wide, smooth tires, so the upright bike with wide tires would be appropriate. I ended up bringing the Cross Check because most of our potential riding areas would be on pavement and because I had not ridden it in a while. Then we never got a chance to ride, but that's just how it goes. It was hardly the first time I'd taken my bike for a car ride just in case I got to use it.

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