Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

HiFi ... from a computer

The biggest dis-service to music fidelity in the last twenty years has been the development of the all conquering iPod, or virtually any other .mp3 player and nasty, cheap earbuds.

It's a pity because the digital domain holds the key to the finest musical playback. True, some players can handle more accurate codecs such as .flac and .ogg, but the norm means people don't know how real music sounds through nice yet not necessarily very expensive equipment.

Anyway, I have been playing with digital reproduction from my computer to my hifi, producing quality at the very least comparable to CD, and often very much better.

D-Link DNS-323
All of my music is now stored - mostly in lossless format - on my home network using a Network Attached Storage - NAS - device, in my case a D-Link DNS-323 with 2x1Tb in a RAID1 configuration. I'll deal with how to run a NAS device and how to prepare music files in another article.

The device is used to serve music to my laptop via WiFi. So far I've found WiFi to be perfectly adequate to serve audio files. It may be better to use a wired network connection if you intend to use video files.

Media Monkey
Currently, I am using Media Monkey Gold to handle my music files. It seems to sort and organise thousands of files well and it can also handle my PodCasts fairly efficiently. The main problem with MM is that it doesn't handle Internet Radio very well. In fact although it can handle IR streams it has no functionality to organise or store IR stations.
Media Monkey audio settings
MM can be set up to output digital audio data in a fairly flexible way. At the moment I am experimenting with two means of exporting digital data.

USB soundcard/S-PDIF output and
direct USB output from laptop
Firstly, direct from a USB port into the DacMagic which shows up as a soundcard when it's connected via a USB cable. I am also using a Turtle Beach Audio  Advantage USB soundcard to stream data to the DacMagic using S-PDIF via a toslink cable, basically optical fibre.

Rear of DacMagic
The back of the DacMagic shows the interconnects - from top to bottom - power / USB input / toslink S-PDIF input / CD S-PDIF input / RCA line out to amplifier.

I am also trying to get this laptop to output S-PDIF directly. I understand it's possible to do this by tapping the audio output of the S-Video connection. I have a cable adapter which should be able to do this, but despite being able to configure the laptop to produce an S-PDIF stream - it shows in the windows sound configuration complete with working sound level graphic I haven't managed to find out where it comes out of the computer, to use a technical term ...

Options I have which work consist of the following:

Media Monkey digital output : ASIO and waveOUT. I think the ASIO output codec is the superior, but waveOUT handles gapless playback. I haven't found a means of delivering gapless through ASIO. I'm not certain it's even possible. Anyway, the difference between ASIO and waveOUT is miniscule, if it even exists, so currently I'm sticking with waveOUT.

Output device : I currently have the choice of two. Direct USB output to the DacMagic or S-PDIF via the Turtle Beach soundcard. Direct output gives a sampling rate of 44.1kbps, identical to a CD. Using S-PDIF the output rises to 48kbps. I'm not certain if this is a true rate or whether the Turtle Beach upsamples from 44.1kbps to 48kbps. These rates are, as I understand it, the maximum which can be achieved via a USB port, hence my interest in direct S-PDIF. The DacMagic should be able to handle up to 96kbps, but it's feasible to double even that for near perfect reproduction.

Optical output on USB
To be honest, it is very difficult to discern any difference whichever combination of codecs and devices are used up to the point of the DacMagic. Far greater differences result by adjusting the digital filters - not at all like tone controls on an amplifier - and the phase of the digital signal. Nor can I give any individual characteristic to interconnecting cables whether they are optical fibre, USB or digital audio. Sorry expensive hifi cable manufacturers.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Keeping Warm pt2 - Core Warmth
Having previously covered extremities - hands and feet - I'm going to take a moment looking at how to keep your body warm. Actually, not so much keeping warm, because cycling at a reasonable rate is going to warm you up, but more accurately, stopping getting cold.

Any garment needs to maintain a careful balance between insulating you from the elements and stopping you becoming too hot, or at least too sweaty and thus reducing the effectiveness of the insulation.

Again, one of the most important properties of any garment, apart from breathability, is the ability to stop wind passing through the fabric and taking away heat. There are a number of fabrics which will do this to some degree or another, so make wind-stopping ability high on your agenda when making a purchase.

Currently, I wear a Gore Tool jacket. It has a few nice features; the breast pocket is mesh lined so it's possible to let a controlled amount of cool air enter if things do start to warm up on those hills. Similarly, there are zipable vents under the armpits which also allow cooling without a howling gale blasting into your chest.

I have a jacket from Assos which has similar properties. When worn with a thermal base layer it's hard to believe such a thin covering can be so warm and comfortable.

Almost all the properties which apply to your torso also apply to your legs with the added criterion of mobility. Some riders wear knickers - as they are known in the US - or plusses elsewhere, with long socks to cover the gap between the shoe and the cuff of the garment.

If you are tall, plusses often terminate just below the knee so are to a large extent not practical, at least to the extent of keeping you warm. Most riders go with full-length tights. Whichever you choose, winter is what bibs were made for, keeping the area around the lower back and kidneys warm.

The best tights comprise of a wind-stopper layer as well as a thermal lining. Make sure they're not too snug. You need to maintain a layer of air to maintain warmth.

Lastly, don't forget your head and ears. Most modern cycling helmets are designed to let the wind whistle through and keep your head cool ... fine for the summer. However, you can lose a substantial amount of heat through your head as well as risk nipping your ears if they're not protected, due to wind-chill.

I use a couple of items, depending on the weather; a fine fleece cap which also covers my ears, and a wind-stopper skull cap if it looks like rain.

Most helmets will accommodate a cap worn underneath, although my most expensive helmet will not, because higher-end helmets tend to be more accurately sized, as opposed to the universal fit. I tend to use a universal helmet in the winter to be more comfortable. It also means I don't feel so bad about strapping lights and sticking conspicuity stuff on it. leaving my super-cool summer helmet pristine ... If you insist on cycling through blizzards and sub-zero temperatures - degrees C that is - consider a balaclava or bandit mask to protect your face.

Cycling makes particular demands on winter apparel. There's a world of difference between stuff that's suitable for, say, running and cycling ... about 15mph of wind-chill for a start. So get down to your LBS - local bike shop - get some advice and get the right stuff. It's not cheap, but believe me, when push comes to shove you'll not regret a single penny spent on top-class gear.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Prick Up Your Ears ...

... as Joe Orton once said, or, I think that's what he said.

Anyway, here are a few links to stuff that have caught my ears lately:

The Music Parlour - - links to mostly old, mostly out of copyright music which has been transferred to .flac or .wav for free.

This only applies to music which has never been issued digitally, but rather transcribed from LP, tape and FM. There's also a 78rpm archive.

Everybody knows the BBC is quite possibly the greatest broadcasting/news/media organisation in the world, right? And so it should be for what it costs.

Yet, lurking within the US' National Public Radio - NPR - which shamefully has to beg for money every few weeks or so, are three of the best radio programmes in the world. Follow links below to download podcasts from these shows;

This American Life - podcast - this show features anything, from a kid preparing for their first day at school to travelling with a National Guardsman on patrol in Afghanistan, all contained in the richest aural landscape and the minimum of commentary. Probably the highest production values of any documentary radio show in the world.

A Prairie Home Companion - podcast - A genuine old-fashioned radio variety show, recorded live, on stage, around the USA, featuring comedy, drama, music, chat and just about anything else that could possibly come across on radio, all held together by Garrison Keillor, a gentleman who could truely be said to have a great face for radio ...

Radiolab - podcast - two geeky sort of guys shooting the breeze about science and technology ... yes ... that's it? Well, then it all starts ... Who needs pictures???
Enhanced by Zemanta

My Ideal Retail Emporium ...

... existed about 100 years ago.

Bicycles and hifi ... all that's missing is a Bass hand-pump.
click on image

Monday, December 06, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

... Or at least a topic I haven't touched on for quite a while. But the nasty cold weather is back so once again I get the urge to listen to music.

Most of the hifi equipment I've collected over the years has been in the cellar, in boxes, gathering dust when it really needs to be listened to and cherished.

So with a view to setting up some sort of permanent set up, I've bird's nested up the essential components - minus the record turntable - on the coffee table. And it works ... and how. Okay, it's not "audiophile", whatever that is, and thank goodness for that, but a means of making nice music sound nice. Of course, by nice music, I mean music I like, and by sounding nice I mean, sounding like I think it ought to sound. What's wrong with that?

This is the hub of it. At the moment the system consists of two digital audio input devices, a Little Dot CDP_I disc transport - not a CD player - and my Dell Inspiron 1420 laptop. These are switched through a Cambridge DacMagic through to a Marantz PM6003 integrated amp which handles the Quad 11L2 speakers. Sennheiser HD580 headphones are driven by a Little Dot MkIII valve amp.
Here you can see the resulting cable matrix. The CDP_1 (centre) outputs raw numbers only to the DacMagic (right) via a ChunkyCables' s-pdif cable (grey). You can also see a toslink cable running from my laptop into the back of the DacMagic. I'm playing with the laptop output at the moment.

I am also trying a direct usb connection, but the toslink enables me to try a s-pdif connection from the computer using a TurtleBeach USB sound card which produces the maximum bitrate from a USB source - 48kbps - as opposed to the 44.1kbps rate from a vanilla usb socket. The Inspiron can also be persuaded to produce a true s-pdif output via its S-Video socket, but I need to investigate pin-outs and stuff before I can either source or make my own adaptor,

The analogue output from the DacMagic is taken care of by a pair of ChunkyCables' phono cables (black).

The Marantz handles output from the DacMagic, directing the power amp to the Quads via Chord Carnival speaker connects and tapping the line source through to the Little Dot head amp for headphone listening via QED Silver Spiral connects.

Virtually all my music collection has been ripped via a lossless codec to my music server. I also have a few very high bitrate files but until I figure out true s-pdif from the laptop it will be hard to tell if it's of any benefit.

Access and delivery is via my laptop using MediaMonkey. Currently, I'm playing with output methods, including waveOut and ASIO. ASIO seems superior, but can't handle gapless and since a lot of my music has this demand I'm currently using waveOut.
In the next few updates I'll cover some of this stuff in greater detail and in addition how to rip CDs perfectly using Exact Audio Copy and run a music file server.

Lastly, a quick word about cables or, if you like, audio interconnects. There is a load of rubbish spoken/written on this topic, and you could spend more than the cost of all the components in this system on just one pair of wires - and then some ... IMHO so long as you get well made connects made from good components you'll never hear any difference from mega-expensive "audiophile" cords. If you can hear the difference, then I'm delighted for you, the more so since there is a million dollar prize available for anyone who can tell an exotic connect from a mundane plain and simple cable ... go get ;-)

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Still on Warm Feet ...

I recently read an article in some old codgers' bike forum which mentioned in passing a plausible contributor to cold feet; cleats, and in particular the mountain bike SPD type cleat which is all metal and thus a good conductor of heat, unfortunately, away from your already thermally challenged tootsies.

Road cleats tend to be made of better insulated plastic material, but more especially don't have a built-in heat-sink, technically known as the nut, placed just under the ball of your foot just soaking away that precious warmth, through the cleat bolts to the outside. You can see the nut in the component diagram to the right. It's that plate of metal, placed inside the shoe, that the cleats bolt into.

So, as well as sealing up all those purposeful air ducts in your shoe for the winter, you might want to consider a thin layer of insulating material over the cleat nut in your shoe. Just don't pack your shoe out too much ...
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Season's Greetings ...

From Linda and myself ... oh, and a special friend ...

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Keeping Warm pt.1 - pinkies and piggies

It's the cold that gets me.

I can handle heat on a bike, but once autumn and winter starts to draw nigh the thought of cold hands and feet becomes an excuse for me not to ride.

Winter Cycling Gloves
The main principle of dressing for the cold starts, not so much with insulation, though that is vital, but with stopping the wind and the chill which results. Even on a still day cycling will mean you're pedalling around in 15-20mph winds which will induce a Chill Factor resulting in the perceived temperature feeling several degrees lower than the air temperature.

Fortunately there are garments which can shield you from the wind and keep you warm, however, because they're usually made from technical fabrics and require sophisticated manufacturing techniques they tend to be expensive. However, you only need to be caught out once in unpleasantly cold and/or wet weather to think they're worth every penny.

I have a little arthritis in my hands, which adds to the misery of being cold so my thoughts always start with gloves and mittens. As I mentioned, look for wind-stopping characteristics as well as insulation and don't buy gloves that are too tight. You need some air around your fingers, and I also need room for my fall-back option for really cold days, silk glove liners - you can get these from Lands' End. Some cycling gloves include a liner.

Lobster Claws
Other options are mittens which enable your fingers to share warmth, but have control implications. Or you can compromise with "lobster-claw" type gloves which bunch your fingers in various combinations to give you the best of both worlds.

Feet also suffer greatly in the cold. I prefer merino wool socks, plus silk liners - Lands' End. You can purchase specific cycling socks, but I tend to use Marks & Spencers' merino socks which work pretty well when it's cold.

Toe Covers
The problem with using regular cycling shoes when it's cold is that they're designed to keep your feet cool, often having mesh built into the uppers and vents in the sole of the shoe. You can pull out the insole of the shoe and tape up any vents for the winter. There are also toe-covers which attach to the outside of the shoe to stop wind whistling through the mesh.

When it's really cold consider bootees which often have a degree of insulation as well wind-stopper material, but enclose the whole shoe.

Winter Shoes
Winterised shoes are also a consideration. I have a pair of Diadora Chilli road shoes without the tread shown in the picture. I bought them some time ago in the UK. I'm probably wrong, but I think most winter shoes available in the US tend to be MTB orientated, but that might be wiser than wearing road shoes on a wet slippery pavement. The Diadoras are sealed at the ankle and are insulated and lined with neoprene. Even my feet stay warm in them.

Whatever you choose to do, get down to your local bike store and see what they have on offer. There are several manufacturers making excellent winter gear, so even I have no excuse for not getting out when it's cold.

Coming soon; core warmth and conspicuity ...

Monday, November 22, 2010

cHilly Sunday Outing

Winter drawers on ... Well, it wasn't that cold, but a taste of things to come, and I really am not a cold weather rider.

It's been several weeks since I have ridden regularly, but it was time to give my creaking knees a test, so I headed out on a fairly short, but rather hilly ride to Lambertville, 20 or so miles and 1000ft of climbing.

Bike route 760738 - powered by Bikemap 

I planned this via and loaded the route into the Garmin and set off. For the first couple of miles my legs groaned and creaked. This wasn't helped by the first climb up Mine Road which was really a bit too soon into the ride - nb: this should really be on the return route for me. However, the legs did survive and it really warmed me up nicely.

The route to Lambertville turned out to be pretty hilly, but not impossible even after some time off the bike. However, the descent down Goat Hill into the town was very steep with plenty of potholes, driveways and residential streets leading off it, plus an absolute stop at the T at the bottom of the hill strewn with fallen leaves ... ride with care.

After a coffee and coconut macaroon I embarked on the ascent out of Lambertville up the Rocktown Road. This is a long climb, but not that steep. It just requires that you plod away at it until you reach the plateau. For some reason I missed my cue from the Garmin and ended up heading east on 518 when I had intended to head for Mountain Road and Lindale for the descent to Marshall's Corner.  So instead I cut back down Stony Brook to return to a nice warm home.

The knees and legs survived.

Like I said, not that far, but hard enough work.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Okay ... this time I am back in the saddle ...

Apart from a short ride last week this was my first time back on my bike for about six weeks, so it was with a little trepidation I set out this morning on Gary's 42+ mile route to Allentown.
Actually, it turned out to be not so bad. A little cool to start with, but I soon warmed up. Allentown turned out to be pretty busy. There were three bike club rides arrived while we were there, as well as assorted chapters of Harley riders.

The hilliest bits were towards the end of the ride, and while I didn't climb them with my usual panache (!) my knee held out rather well and apart from a little stiffness seems to have done quite well.

Thanks to all who took part.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Time Out

It's been a bit busy lately; moving house and all that entails, and I've had a swelling on the back of my knee called a Baker's Cyst.

For me the swelling isn't actually painful, although it has the capacity to be so and only really amounts to an inconvenience and minor discomfort. There is a video about it here ...

So circumstances mean I've missed a few rides lately - especially the Pumpkin Patch Century - but I hope to be back in the saddle this weekend.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Old Cranks

You might remember the first appearance of the Old Cranks at the 2010 Tour de Cure at Brielle, NJ. It was Gary's, Gene's and my first Century Ride.

Well, now, not only do we have the Old Cranks' jersey, which made its first outing on last Friday's Sourlands' ride I have also inaugurated a discussion forum here.

Old Cranks' cycling community is primarily for cyclists of a certain age, but all are welcome to register and share experiences, ask questions, seek advice, post routes or generally just pontificate. Whether you're a late starter, road warrior or just an interested spectator.

All that is required is that you love cycling. Become one of the first to sign up ... no obligation ... click here ...

Sunday, September 05, 2010

PFW : Etra Lake to Clarksburg 20100905

It was little chilly as we set off, and I was wearing full-finger gloves and arm-warmers. I hate being cold. But still, it's a sign of the immanent arrival of the fall/autumn and working out how a cold morsel like me can continue to cycle comfortably.

Anyway, Gary set a cracking pace ... maybe we need to reconsider at what level this ride is set ... sociable "B" suits me.

The deli at Clarksburg was inundated with various rides; I saw three or four groups arrive while we were there. Club rides seem to be a thriving  feature of central New Jersey.

PFW : Sourlands Friday 20100903

Posting this a bit late because I had browser/blog interface problems over the weekend.

However, we rode a very pleasant circuit from a new starting point and around the southwest edges of the Sourlands with one or two roads which somehow have hidden themselves from me ... until now.

The evenings are now drawing in. It was almost dark by 7.30pm/19.30 even with a clear sky. Blinky lights told the tale and led us back to our cars.

Down Time

The blog has got behind recently. It just would not load correctly using Chrome.

In the end there seemed to be an issue between Chrome and Quicktime. Quicktime enables the .mp3 under "Today I Am Mostly Listening To ..." to stream correctly, ie: on request from the viewer and not automatically as the page opens.

So with helpful advice from eBlogger - clear cache and update Quicktime - the page seems to load correctly again.

Please let me know if there are still issues via the Comments box below.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

PFW : Griggstown Grinder : 20100831

Time passes so quickly ... it was the last Grinder of the season.

Fortunately we descended Springhill Road rather than repeat last week's climb ...

Thanks to Diane for planning this year's rides and for hosting a soirée after the ride.

See you all next year!!!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

PFW : Pennington Y : 20100827

I managed to make the last ride of the season on this Friday evening. And what a fine evening it was ...

But this was to be no easy finale. Poor Farm Road and the upper stages of Pleasant Valley Road kept us either spinning out grannie gears or stood on the pedals. Not too taxing for hardened Griggstown Grinders, but challenge enough.

No ride for me this Sunday. I'm off to Windham Mountain for a rare visit to the US for the UCI Mountainbike World Cup.

Unfortunately, I'll miss the cross-country on Saturday, but will catch the pro downhill finals.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

PFW : Griggstown Grinder : 20100824

What happened? Only a few days ago it seemed that never a day went by without the temperatures soaring into the 90s - F that is ... not C. So Tuesday evening, having heard that the ride was going ahead if the roads started drying after a day's rain, I set off complete with arm-warmers, because, believe me, it was cold!

An intrepid group of riders assembled at our new meeting point, although by that time Diane had turned up assuming no-one else would. 

So this select group set off with every expectation of being rained on again, but as it happened, it didn't.

This evening's torture ended up being a climb of Springhill Road, which was at its worst about 13.3 miles into the ride. 

By the time we returned the overcast sky ensured it was very gloomy indeed. In the event, the roads hardly dried, but we didn't get rained on bar a couple of spots as we arrived back at the start.

So get this, August, wet, cold ... but a great ride anyway.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

PFW : Rainy Day at Etra Lake : 20100822

Let's face it ... if you don't like getting wet you'll never ride a bike in England.

Anyway, four intrepid riders did meet up at Etra and decided to go anyway ... sans leader, sans ride register, sans everything.

The gamble paid off for 10 miles, but a steady drizzle set in for the next 12 or so miles back to Etra. By the time we got back the rain had eased off, so we stuck in a couple of loops to make the ride up to 30 miles.

In the end, we made good time in the B Ride category, minimal stops and a sense of soggy satisfaction.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back ... Back on the Blog ...

Just had a busy few weeks with family visiting from The Old Country. Managed a few rides, but now, haven't ridden for nearly two weeks. But I'll be back in the saddle soon, just as fall/autumn rolls on ... next target ... The Pumpkin Patch Ride Century.

Watch out Old Cranks!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

PFW : Etra Park to Battleview Orchards : 20100808

A small, but perfectly formed collection of riders - in the Tour de France we'd be known as The Select Group - set off from Etra Park to enjoy the delights of Battleview Orchards. In my case, 2xBlueberry Strudels - $1.98 ...

As usual, thanks to Gary ... we only got lost once ...

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

PFW : Etra Park to Allentown : 20100801

A bit late for this ride; family in from the UK, massive laptop failure problems ... excuses, excuses ...

This Sunday's ride was a fast 42-miler which left people tired but exhilarated. Thanks to Gary and trusty lieutenant Donna.

Bike route 624888 - powered by Bikemap 

Monday, July 26, 2010

PFW : Etra Lake to Six Flags WaWa : 20100725

Everyone was having a lie-in, so I headed out for Sunday's ride from Etra Park, this week led by Cliff.

A bridge down on Cedarville Road meant a brief attempt at cyclocross. Fortunately we didn't disturb the troll this time.

We opted for a shorter, more shaded ride, and although I felt pretty good the 33miles was probably enough on yet another very hot day.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pedals and Shoes

Noobies to cycling often comment on the fact that higher end bicycles, particularly road bikes, are usually offered without pedals. I mean, those bikes are a lot of money so why don't you get any pedals?

The thing is that most people who are purchasing bikes at this level will already have a favourite pedal/shoe system which they prefer and people new to serious cycling will be advised of their options.

But what's wrong with a pair of sneakers? You can use straps and cages if you want to be a bit more serious, can't you?

Well yes ... and every cyclist knows of some guy who regularly rides Centuries on his dad's old Schwinn with  pair of Hush Puppies. But modern, clipless pedal/shoe systems are an aid to security, efficiency and safety for most riders.

The most common preconception is that your feet are clamped onto the bike and it's hard to release them. Most pedal systems are adjustable so that it is easy to get your feet out with a little practise. In fact, it's rather easier than getting out of the old cage and strap systems.

But these systems will improve contact between you and the bike, enabling better control and greater pedalling efficiency and comfort.

There are basically two families of cycling pedal/shoe systems; mountain bike and road.

Mountain bike systems usually have a cleat which is up inside the shoes sole, which also has a deep tread for coping with mud an giving a degree of grip. The pedals are double-sided and designed to clear mud and debris to prevent them clogging up.

Road pedals usually have a much larger cleat which protrudes from the bottom of the shoe and a single-sided pedal which spreads the load on the foot more widely.

Mountain bike pedals are frequently used by road riders because they have one significant advantage; it's possible to walk reasonably normally in the shoes. Road shoes make you walk a bit like a duck because of the large cleat which sticks out from the sole. So why use road pedals at all? Well the larger size means the sole of the shoe can be much stiffer so spreads the load on your foot better and the shoe flexes less.

More expensive road shoes tend to have more rigid soles made of carbon fibre or other advanced composites. Mountain bike shoes, by their nature, tend to be more flexible.

Why is a more rigid sole more efficient on a road ride? Imagine spending a couple of hours flexing a bike shoe with your hands ... maybe 80-100 times a minute. That's how much energy which will be absorbed by your shoes instead of being transmitted direct to the pedals.

So the advantage of using a MTB pedal/shoe combination; it's easier to walk, and you can also use the shoes on your mountain bike.

Road pedal/shoes; pressure is spread over a wider area and soles tend to be much stiffer, making the combination more efficient, but walking is not really an option, other than into the coffee stop ...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

PFW : Etra Lake to Clarksburg : 20100711

Another very warm day, although maybe not quite in the same league as the past week, but warm nevertheless.

We set off a half hour before our usual time in Gary's capable hands. I rode it fairly leisurely, although I did press it on most of the ascents. One or two drivers still insisted on overtaking cyclists signalling left. What can I say?

Still, a good time was had by all ... nice way to spend a Sunday morning.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Down to Basics : Cycling Shorts

Undoubtedly, you know you're a really a cyclist, not when you first spend a four figure sum on a bicycle, but when you buy your first cycle shorts.

Some people have the talent to be able to ride a Century in damp denim jeans and flip-flops but most of us need aids to comfort on a bicycle. Apart from ensuring you are a good fit on your bike and your saddle/seat position is optimised, cycle shorts or bibs make the greatest contribution to comfort in, let's face it, a rather delicate area of the human anatomy.

Okay, they're not the most elegant of attire for most of us, but they look a lot better when you're actually riding the bike, although not necessarily stood in line at the coffee stop. However, on the bike they provide support and compression and keep everything in its place as well as a fairly streamlined and flutter-free outline for efficient pedalling. Also important, the nature of the fabric also means that movement around the saddle is friction and chafe-free.

Good shorts can be had from about usd60 up to as much as you want. But you pretty much get what you pay for. Things to look for; quality of the fabric - stretch and compression, the design of the cuffs of the legs - elastic and grippers, and most important, the quality of the pad. It's important that you buy shorts appropriate to your gender for physiological reasons which I'm sure I don't need to go into, although for a long time women had to manage with shorts designed for men.

Most fabrics are based on Lycra/Spandex/elastene type materials.

Cheap shorts have a low elastic content, poor cuff finish which will not grip your legs and a basic and often thick and bulky pad which you might think would make for a more padded ride but in reality will bunch and chafe over a long ride. They are often cut short on the waist which means they will not cover your back adequately when in a cycling position.

Good shorts will have a high elastic content giving support and a degree of compression and leg cuffs which will stretch to accommodate most legs without feeling that your circulation is about to be cut off. The pad will be appropriate to your gender and often a sophisticated construction of friction-free fabrics, variable gel layers and anti-bacterial agents.

Further, the cut of the panels which make up the shorts will be more tailored and make the most efficient use of the fabric's properties and will be most likely cut higher on your waist to make allowance bending forward on the bike.

Now for something you have to know about cycle shorts ... you go commando ... that's right. No panties, boxers, jockeys, skivvies ... nada. Nothing says newbie cyclist more than a VPL under your cycling shorts.

Cycling short designers spend an awful lot of time developing expensive solutions to your cycling comfort without introducing the variable of your chosen underpinnings whether they're from M&S, Target or Victoria's Secret. Try it ... you'll like it ...

I'm sure I don't need to tell you this, but shorts need washing after every use. Cold cycle and non-aggressive detergents in the washer and natural drying will maximise their useful life.

You may also find chamois cream useful, particularly on longer rides. Some people find those glide-type roll-ons for getting into wet-suits help. Ladies, make sure whichever you choose is recommended for you. Some preparations designed specifically for men have ingredients which will irritate.

Now, the question of bib-shorts. Most riders find bib-shorts far more comfortable than shorts. This is mostly  because pressure and the demand to hold the shorts up is taken off the waist which makes them more comfortable. They say once you wear bibs you'll never go back.

Women often ask about bib-shorts because of their reputation for comfort, but think carefully before committing. Bathroom stops mean complete disrobing. That's okay in the bathroom of your favourite coffee stop, more of a problem if you need to pop behind a tree or hedge ... However, women's designs do exist. You'll need to decide if the adaptions to women's requirements meet your needs.

One last thing ... bicycle shorts do not last for ever. Unfortunately, over a period of time the fabric - particularly less expensive ones - can acquire a degree of transparency. I think we can all tell a story about that one ... So you might want a good friend  to check and advise you occasionally.

PFW : Pennington Y : 20100709

Another fine Friday evening from Pennington ... As we were about to start off the Garmin announced it was closing down because it was out of charge. I must have left it on for the last few days. So this route has been traced from memory. If you know better, please let me know if I went wrong.

Incidentally, the Garmin seemed to forget all my settings after its total loss of power. Maybe I reset it when I was trying to get it to switch on? I don't know. But it made a change to ride blind, ie; no telemetry, no speed/time/distance, no map unfurling. It was actually quite liberating ... must do it again sometime.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

PFW : Griggstown Grinder : 20100706

Well, this turned out to be a very hot day. Indications were that it was over 100F/40C.

As I started out for the ride - I usually ride up to the rendezvous - it was if someone was blowing an unusually hot hair-dryer into my face. When it's just hot, once you're moving along there is enough of a breeze to induce some degree of cooling effect. But not this day. It was very hot.

Fortunately, Diane chose discretion and we set out on a gentle, flat and rather short tour of the Millstone river valley.

It was definitely a day to look after your hydration. I drank two 24oz bottles.

I have used insulated bottles for a while now and if you fill them with ice and water or your favourite sports drink they'll stay cool for a couple of hours. If you are really organised, fill them and leave them in the freezer overnight.

Thanks to today's especially intrepid Griggstown Grinders ...

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Fourth of July : Old Cranks Rule ...

So, on the anniversary (more or less) of when those freedom loving English (largely) guys (totally), signed the Declaration of Independence, two Old Cranks, Gene and myself rode our own independent route across the Sourlands towards Lambertville, north along the Delaware to Stockton and then return across the Sourlands.

I'd sort of planned a route, but despite the Garmin bleeping at me to take a right turn - it looked like someone's driveway to me - we took a little detour after stopping for coffee and blueberry scones in Lambertville and ended up with a knee-cracking ascent of County 523 out of Stockton.

There was some relief when we turned into Grafton Road although that was tempered when the descent towards Brookville Hollow Road became a steep, loose gravel track for half a mile around mile marker 24.5. This put us pretty much back on course on a moderate climb alongside the stream towards Sandy Ridge/Mt Airy Road.

Bike route 574167 - powered by Bikemap 

The only other incident was that a couple of bridges are out for rebuilding on the Wertsville Road. We felt a little like cyclo-crossers as we negotiated the first bridge, but obviously the troll who normally lives under the bridge had taken temporary accommodation in a house beside the road and proceeded to complain about law-breakers ignoring traffic signs and what the Queen could do with her country, etc ... seemed somehow appropriate on this day of all days ...

The second bridge looked more of an obstacle and we also didn't want the troll to prove his NRA membership, so we took a diversion north and then parallel to the Wertsville Road rejoining it just before we took Rileyville Road back up into the Sourlands on the basis that it's an easier hill than Lindberg, which it is, but not in the blazing hot sun ... but we made it back; a very nice 47 miles before noon.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

PFW : Pennington to Titusville : 20100702

Another fine evening out of Pennington, heading for the Delaware towards Titusville plus a couple of loops around the neighbourhoods. Spotted a garage with two Model Ts (at least, that's what they looked like to me).

Once again, nice ride. Thanks Andy.

Bike route 572143 - powered by Bikemap 

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Garmin Edge 605 Update

GPS has been one of the biggest contributors to my recent enjoyment of cycling.

No longer do I get home and tell Linda about the quiet roads and picturesque scenery which surprisingly abounds in central New Jersey, and not know where I've been. I can now plot every yard/metre I cycle.

I use a Garmin Edge 605. I resisted the 705's facility for heart-rate and cadence monitoring because, basically, if I feel good then that's alright with me.

However, the unit isn't without its idiosyncrasies although in this case I think it may just be an issue with GPS itself. When riding with heavy tree cover, the unit has difficulty calculating speed over the ground. This shows up particularly with last evening's ride which included the Ridge Road/Mountain Road section, at about mile11, where the trace begins to divert from the road and, I suspect, because the unit caught up with itself by the end of the road, shows a speed of nearly 80mph towards the end of that section.

I suspect heavy tree cover caused this, although it's possible there are powerlines or radio/micro-wave transmitters causing problems.

Anyone else found this?