Living in Kelowna is like living in Bike Heaven. I grew up in Edmonton and started riding my bike seriously around the age of 15. There were no bike lanes, no extra wide sidewalks. My Mom often said that she was worried that I was going to hit by a car. I was lucky enough that I never did. Jump ahead to Kelowna, with bike lanes on most roads and all new roads being built as well as East Kelowna riding loops with minimal cars. It is pretty awesome.
My first major trip to Banff back in 1988, for a week, riding every day for 2-3 hours to some cool back country places. There were very few rules back then about where to ride in Banff. It was a great time in my life and I still have many fond memories of that trip.
I wanted to do a blog post on bikes, to share one of my passions with you. However, I have not ridden as much as I did in the past few years, so i decided to head over to Fresh Air Concept and talk with Marty. He started riding around the same time I did, 20+ years ago. Marty was very approachable, knowledgeable and we were suffering from the same affliction… a cold.
Marty set out on educating me and you on the different types of bikes and what they are made out of. Here is what I got out of our session:
Road bikes – these are great all around bikes. Most people have this type of bike as their primary bicycle. They are light and strong. This style of bike is more laid back and less aerodynamically positioned than triathlon bikes (see below). They will climb hills well, corner hard and make your ride more enjoyable. This style of bike has skinny tires, a drop (curled) handlebar and some new road bikes have disc brakes (Marty states that road bikes with disc brakes seem to work best with bigger riders, as they offer more stopping power). The other advantage of disc brakes is that they stop your bike the same in all conditions, think of stopping a bike in heavy wet mud, or rain.
Triathlon bikes – this breed of bicycle is made for one thing… SPEED! Triathlon bikes are definitely a specialty bicycle, that is most people ride their road bike to train and on certain rides/races do they use the triathlon bike, tri bike. The advantage is that tri bikes are set up to be more aerodynamic, longer wheelbase (more stable/better ride the faster you ride it) and the rider is stretched out on the bike. For example, there are arm pads to rest your forearms on the handlebars. This lowers your position to decrease the amount of air resistance, i.e. go faster! Well you can go faster, there are some drawbacks of the tri bike. They do not ride up hills as easy as a road bike because the position of the rider on the bicycle is more forward. Turning corners is more difficult on a tri bike, especially if you are stretched out maximally on your aero bars. I have personally witnessed a number of crashes with people on their tri bikes going around corners. In addition, being bent over so much can put a strain on the rider’s back and neck. In fact, I read a review, a number of years ago, about chronic neck pain and it stated that the bicycle riding/racing was the only sport involved with chronic neck pain.
Flat bar road bike/ hybrid – this is a newish breed of bicycle. They have been improving over the past number of years. Think of a road bike but with flat handlebars, not the traditional curved handlebars. This puts the rider in a more upright, comfortable position. There is much less neck and back strain. This type of bike someone would use for cruising around with the kids, commuting to work or simply going for a bike ride. The tires are slightly thicker than a road bike. This adds a little bit more cushioning over the bumps in the road. People can add racks and bags to this bikes quite easily to carry items, i.e. clothes, if they are commuting to work. This means no wearing backpacks and getting tired carrying items to work.
Junior road bikes – this style of bicycle is similar to a regular road bike, only smaller. They have smaller wheel sizes to match the bike. These bikes get kids/teenagers on adult feeling bikes. If they are interested in bike racing, this can be a great introduction. The downside is that these bikes cost the same as entry level road bikes, very expensive for a kids bike. Marty recommended looking for a used junior road bike to save some cash.
Mountain bikes – what can I say about mountain bikes? I grew up riding them, my first was a BRC Gonzo in ‘87 or ‘88. It was hot pink with white stem and handlebars. I definitely got noticed riding it. But now things have changed with mountain bikes big time.
One of the newer developments over the past couple of years are the new tire sizes for mountain bikes. The traditional mountain bike tire was 26”. Now there are 26”, 27.5” and 29” (29er). The basic rule of thumb with getting a bike and tire size, according to Marty is that the size of the rider determines the size of the tire. The larger the rider, the larger the mountain bike frame size and the larger the tire. It makes sense. A rider that is 6’4” is going to have a larger frame, a larger wheel will fit that frame better. A rider that is 5’4” with a smaller frame and the large 29” really looks like something is wrong, the wheels are too big for the bike.
There are hardtail (no suspension) mountain bikes. These type is a rare find these days.
Front suspension (front fork has some suspension built in) mountain bikes. Far and away the most popular style of mountain bike. From $99 to more than you can imagine spending on a mountain bike this the price range for a front suspension mountain bike.
Full suspension (front suspension fork and rear suspension) mountain bike. This is also very popular but this also makes the price, and the weight, of the bike go up. There are a large amount of subcategories of full suspension mountain bikes from cross-country to full downhill, least to most amount of travel/suspension, respectively. Very, VERY cool stuff indeed.
Simply talking about bikes we can talk about some of the improvements in components and what the bike frames are made out of.
Components are the things on the bicycle shift gears = gear shifter, brake levers, rear derailleur = thingy on the back wheel that changes gears, front derailleur…
One of the largest changes is the electronic shifting on bikes now and that it opens up a new world of possibilities. Basically, there is a little battery pack on the bike that you plug your shifters into and that is it. Once the derailleurs are set up at the shop, unless you have a major crash, they never need to be adjusted again! The shifting is very precise. But here is the cool thing. The battery pack has 5 ports to plug things into. On your bike you have two shifters, one for the front and one for the rear derailleur. What could you use the other three ports for? Plugging in a GPS device, I personally love my Garmin, the bike and the Garmin talk to one another and you can really get a TON of data. Lots of it interesting but some is downright crazy, for example you know how many shifts you did on your ride, where you shifted, what your speed was, what your cadence was, possibly your power output, what gear you were in when you climbed the hill… The possibilities are almost endless. Data is always interesting to look at, I think. But if you want to train for an event and you get a coach that likes to look at your data. They can use it to really create a very specific training program. It is crazy! I am getting excited just thinking about it as I type out this blog post (can you tell I am a data hound?). Crazy Rob…
Yet there is another possibility with the electronic shifting. Say you have a road bike and you want to do a triathlon. You put your aero bars on your regular handlebars and plug in your new shifters! You are done! Now you could shift gears while being in the aero position. That is slick! It was a major job to rearrange everything to get shifting on strap on aero bars before the electronic shifting.
The other thing that I was going to chat about was what the bikes, themselves, are made of. Basically now, you have two choices. Aluminum (or alloy) and carbon.
Aluminum – back when I was riding in the late 1980’s, a weird company called Cannondale came out with an Aluminum over sized tube bicycle. We all thought it looked ridiculous. But man, those bikes were light and strong. However, your teeth would rattle out of your mouth on bumpy/washboardy sections of the trail. The bike frames were so stiff. Fast forward 25+ years to 2016, Marty states that no other frame material has stood the test of time like the alloy bikes. There have been lots of changes, lots of technology put into the bikes. The bike makers know how to make the aluminum absorb the vibrations in one direction and be very stiff and responsive to pedal strokes in another direction. It is pretty amazing how far it has come.
Carbon – This is a little more technical but I will do what I can to not make this the last line you read before you fall asleep. Carbon fiber is basically a weave of carbon thread. In itself it is not very special. However, add some epoxy and put it in a vacuum mold to get out all the air bubbles (air bubbles in carbon fiber make is very weak) and after it hardens it is bulletproof. Super strong, super light. Amazing material! If you can build a mold, line it with layers of carbon fiber, inject the epoxy and suck the air out. You will make an incredibly strong and light bike frame. The REALLY COOL thing about carbon fiber, because it is a piece of material, you can make it very rigid, no flex, in one direction and lots of flex in another direction. On top of that you can place the carbon fiber material in different directions in the mould. So they can truly customize a bike frame.
On an aside note, Kenneth from Augustine Kitesurf, out of Kelowna, uses carbon fiber on his kitesurf boards, I have watched him build. Carbon material before the epoxy is like a piece of any material, floppy with minimal strength. You add epoxy to it and let it cure and oh my. It is like the piece of material took 2-3 Viagra! It is crazy how stiff and strong it becomes.
There are 2 types of carbon fiber, Pitch and Pan. Pan is much more expensive and only used on really high end bikes, in certain spots to reinforce high stress areas. Although, with one layer of Pan carbon, you get rid of 3 layers of Pitch carbon.
With all that said, carbon comes in different weaves and thicknesses. I am not going there. However, Marty keeps it simple. He explained it to me like this. Carbon fiber is like bed sheets. The more expensive ones have more thread counts, made out of better materials, cost more…
Bikes have come along way in the technology put into them. If you are looking for a bike, I would talk with Marty at Fresh Air Concept, on Groves Avenue in Kelowna. He is a very bright young man and knows his bikes!
If you have any questions on bikes, bicycling injuries or bike fitting questions, please drop New Leaf Physiotherapy a message and we can chat.