Empowering The Bicycle Traveler

Dear Bike Hermit™

Dear Bike Hermit®,

I need help deciding what size touring bike is best for me.

Glad you found Bike Touring News.  We have several articles about how to determine the correct bike size for bike touring.  A touring bike will have a different geometry than the standard “road” bike or “racing” bike so taking the time to do proper measurements will go a long way in helping you find the bike that works for you.  Start by reading this series of posts on What Size Touring Bike.



Dear Bike Hermit®,

With all the options for saddles, why are you such a fan of leather saddles?

Simply put, leather will mold to the contours of you body.  Leather doesn’t develop friction points, doesn’t tear when you have the inevitable bike crash and when cared for, will last for years.  Contrary to some of the negative press about leather, your leather saddle can endure the weather as long as you take care of it and condition it correctly.  Leather saddles come in all shapes and sizes and can work for all types of bike riding.  Many people think a padded saddle relieves soreness but it can actually cause soreness because the saddle won’t always have the proper support.  Leather saddles don’t always cost more but should last longer than many of the non leather options available.

Dear Bike HermitV,

If leather saddles are so great why don’t I see bike racers using them?

High level professional bike racing is not about comfort and long term use.  Currently the racing community is obsessed with weight, not durability or comfort.  Thus you see carbon fiber in just about everything on a race bike, which makes for a light weight bike that takes an experienced bike handler to control.  Leather saddles could probably be designed lighter but again, lasting a long time and riding in comfort are not on the must have list in racing accessories so the leather saddle makers have chosen to focus on the markets that are looking for good design, comfort and durability.  (Plus IMO they look really cool)

Dear Bike Hermit®,

I really want to start riding a bike more but am not comfortable wearing such tight clothing.

This is a concern I hear often and my response is – you don’t need to wear special clothes to enjoy riding your bike.  Don’t hesitate to try out different types of clothing. In addition to the standard lycra, many of my customers ride in both wool and cotton and now bamboo.   Wool is great because it breathes, keeps you  warm when wet and is comfortable.  Look for merino wool, yes all the rage, but it makes sense and will last forever.  The downside of cotton is when wet it can be uncomfortable, the upside is it can be fairly light so you can carry two of something and change out easily.  Bamboo is getting quite of bit of attention for being green, an added bonus.  In choosing pants, tights and shorts do pay attention to seams,  I prefer shorts and pants that have a “gusseted” crotch.  When I am riding a longer distance I do wear something with a chamois crotch which reduces friction, absorbs moisture and adds comfort to my ride.   In addition to the commonly seen bike shorts,  I also own pairs of shorts with chamois that are lightweight and fit comfortably under my regular shorts or pants.

In essence I encourage you to keep an open mind and give yourself permission to ride in what works for you.

Dear Bike Hermit®,

How can I keep my hands from  falling asleep when I ride farther than a few miles.  I own cycling gloves but they don’t seem to help.

Sky King used to have this problem and the issue had nothing to do with bike gloves and everything to do with a bike that didn’t fit her well.  Once I fit her to the right size bike, with the correct saddle and handlebar height the problem disappeared.  In fact she rarely uses bike gloves any more, even on seventy five mile rides.  So before you invest in yet another pair of bike gloves, read my article on sizing and fitting your bike If you can’t make the adjustments yourself, visit your local bike shop and have them assist.

Dear Bike Hermit®,

How do I keep my neck, back and shoulders from getting so sore?

Neck, back and shoulder problems can most often be traced to a poor fit.  If you are riding a bike that is too big for you, the reach can put your neck and shoulders in an awkward position.  If your handlebars are too low that can create an uncomfortable position for your neck and head.
If your bike fit checks out, have someone watch you ride.  Are you holding your shoulders up to your ears?  Remember to relax your shoulders, keep them level as opposed to scrunched up. Are your elbows locked?  Your arms should be in a position where your elbows are slightly bent and you aren’t putting weight onto your hands.  What are you doing with your back?  If it is hunched or swayed that will cause discomfort.  Keep your back as straight/flat as possible.
On longer rides, stop, get off your bike, stretch and enjoy the view.  After all, biking is about having fun and enjoying yourself.

Dear Bike Hermit®,

Being clipped-in to pedals scares me to death yet all my biking friends make fun of me when I ride with regular pedals.

To clip or not to clip, a discussion that has been around since the “clipless” pedal came out. The name is even humorous as the rider is “clipped” into the pedal as opposed to using a toe clip cage that the front of the foot slides into, which is why they are referred to as “clipless”.  As a recovering racer, I have used the clip-in style pedal for years and continue to use the system on my road/touring bike. When touring I wear a “Mountain Bike shoe” with the clip set deeper into the sole for easy walking.   I do feel like I am able to take advantage of the entire pedal stroke and delay pedaling fatigue by using the clipped in arrangement.

I do not use a clip-in pedal for commuting, I prefer the Power Grip, a nice strap that secures my foot and is wide enough to accommodate my street shoes.  I can start and stop with ease and never have to fear tipping over because I can’t get my shoe disengaged from my pedal.  I have been known to use this system when biking on trails as well, especially ones that aren’t strewn with boulders and involve steep climbs.

A great compromise is the versatile 2-way platform pedal by Shimano.  This pedal has the spd feature on one side but the flip side is a platform for riding with any style of shoe.  A great solution for bike riders who use the same bike for riding around town and for touring.  It is also wonderful for the novice “clip-in” user as the spd side is very easy to clip in and out of and the platform feature actually gives your foot a bit more support. You can clip out and ride the flat pedal in areas where you are concerned about clipping in and out or falling over.

Finally, don’t be afraid to use the good old fashioned flat pedal if that gets you out on your bike and brings a smile to your face.  What is important is that you are comfortable and confident on your bike and look forward to riding whenever you can.

Dear Bike Hermit®,

I am ready to buy a road bike, my friends tell me lightweight bike is important, yet in your photos, none of your bikes look light.

If your goal is to join the professional racing circuit then a lightweight bike would be something to consider.  If you plan on riding to enjoy biking…. be it ten miles or one hundred miles I would argue that the bike you want needs to be comfortable and to fit correctly for the experience you want.  I am a huge believer in steel frames, wider tires and a slightly more upright position than you tend to see in many bike shops.
A bike with a racing geometry is designed for racing, not necessarily for enjoyment.  The handling is completely different and carrying anything other than a spare tube can be challenging.  A steel bike is durable, and can be just as “fast” as the lightweight bikes your friends may be on.  I have no problem keeping pace with the groups I tend to ride with. When you do want to add a saddlebag or perhaps a rack and or fenders, you can without any modifications.
When choosing a bike it is very important to find the proper fit and size and to ride all of the bikes you are interested in farther than just a spin around the block.  If you aren’t at ease and can’t maintain a comfortable position then the bike isn’t going to make you happy in the long run no matter how lightweight it may be.

Dear Bike Hermit®,

Aren’t skinny tires faster?

There are some very good articles and scientific surveys on this one.  A detailed explanation appears in the Schwalbe Technical information. The basic answer boils down to rolling resistance.  A narrow tire feels faster because on the onset it accelerates quicker, in addition they provide less air resistance at higher speeds so that is why you see professional bike racers on narrow tires. That’s the only reason for a narrow tire.

Wider tires actually roll better than a narrower tire and at a constant speed of around 20 km/h. The ride is better with wider tires.  In practice, the energy savings is even greater than in theory, as the elasticity of the tires absorbs road shocks, which would otherwise be transferred to the rider and so saves energy.  Save your body, ride farther with less fatigue, enjoy your riding, choose awider tire.