Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Zen and the art of bicycle maintainance

As this sticker spotted in a local bike shop shows, Madrid is not very bike friendly
I want the t-shirt!
The best thing about Madrid in August is that it is a ghost town and that means that the roads are almost safe to cycle on. I had to go into town to pick up a piece of carbon for my triathlon bike (more on this later) so I had the slightly crazy idea of going there on my road bike from work. There may be less traffic but it is still not a good idea (quite apart from being illegal) to go on any of the motorways which are the obvious connections between where I work (Boadilla del Monte) and the Local Bike Shop (Ciclos Delicias) in town. I've wondered for a long time whether it is possible to get past the mess of spaghetti below:

Google Maps helps a great deal, of course, but this area has been heavily redeveloped recently so a lot of the maps are hopelessly out of date as you can see just by looking at the difference between the aerial shot and the roads, which I'm not even 100% sure are the actual ones. The other difficulty is that it can be very hard to spot fences or security gates on an aerial map. Finding a route is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle that you solve piece by piece. Every so often I work out a new section and the pieces start to join up. I was very pleased when I was able to finally put all the pieces together and get to the other side of the road - even though it meant sneaking through a gap in a fence and then crossing a deserted University Campus. This is the solution I came up with:

The piece of carbon I needed is a kind of "stem" or "nose cone" which effectively raises the handlebars on my tri bike by 3 cm. Although I feel as though I am gradually getting used to the very low and aggressive position I currently have dialled in, I should probably admit to myself that I would struggle to maintain it for 2 and a half hours and the whole point of getting the tri bike was to feel more comfortable in the aero position. Of course, the temptation is to push the envelope and try to get as aero as possible but I have to take into account that (a) I am not pedalling fast enough for it to make as much as a difference as it would make to a pro triathlete and (b) I may lose more minutes on the run than I save on the bike. In any case, the sensible thing to do is to try it out and see how much difference it makes. If it is noticeably more comfortable then I'll stick with it until a few months before the race and try lowering it progressively (which you can do with a combination of nose cones and arm rest spacers - annoyingly, the screws are not provided and I'll have to try to source them from a hardware store).

It's actually surprisingly heavy considering how light the bike is overall
Lastly, I've finally got around to doing a bit of an M.O.T. on my mountain bike. The brakes were rubbing a little on the back so I took it to Mr Schmit in Pozuelo, near where I live. One look at the chain and the mechanic said it had stretched to the point of being off the scale and so needed replacing. A bit like an old married couple that grows old together, the chain and the sprockets get used to each other so that - even if they are working well - if you replace the chain then you need to replace the sprockets otherwise the chain will skip. Then, of course, I found that the chain jumped every time I started off because the middle chain ring was also worn down. So, in the end, I had to have pretty much the whole drive chain replaced! I was impressed that the mechanic noted the ever so slight rubbing of the brakes and a bit of give in the pedals after riding it for just 100 metres. (And I don't think this was the equivalent of the plumber who maintains your boiler finding all kinds of things to replace.) Now the bike rides like it was brand new.

Today I did something I have never done before. I came to work on the bike, changed behind a bush and started work without having a shower! Shock horror! With the time saved going down to the gym and back up again, as well as the optimized route based on intelligence from last night's reconnaissance mission, I was at my desk at the same time I would have been (if not before) had I come in by car.

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