Basic Tech Stuff

Technical what? Just get a bike with two wheels and handle bars and ride! Right?

Well, I wish. Bikes are more ornate than they use to be, but with good reason.
There are essentially three types these days:
A) road bikes
B) mountain bikes
C) hybrid bikes

Road bikes are made for straight forward, get on down, get aerodynamic, cruise along the nice smooth pavement, “look out for that road kill!” riding. They have handlebars which allow the rider to bend down and ride more aerodynamically. They have high gearing; and they have skinny tires which provide for lower rolling resistance and more responsiveness.

Mountain bikes are made for off-road riding - that is, they are made for riding over grass, dirt, gravel, sand, potholes, trees, pizza delivery vehicles, other mountain bikers, and yes, road kill. They have several shock absorbing thingamajigs to keep your butt and brains from getting rattled. They have very low gearing. The tires are fat and “knobby” for traction and stability.

Nobody is sure what hybrid bikes are made for. They are not as sleek or fast as a road bike and not as rugged as a mountain bike. You could say they are for people who don’t like to commit; but in fact they are great for people who just want to ride a little without breaking a land speed record or riding up the side of El Capitan. They are good for pavement and well groomed biking trails such as the Rails-to-Trails converted railroad beds.

What kind of bikes Are Mike, Hans and Eric riding?

We are all riding road bikes. Why are we riding road bikes? Because that’s all we’ve got. However, it’s not a bad choice. Road bikes can be used for either touring or racing, depending on how they are set up. Though we each got our bikes with racing in mind we can tour with them too. However it can mean changing some things.

What are M, H & E gonna do to those poor bikes?

First of all I should make clear that when I say we are "touring", we not doing pure touring. Pure touring would involve carrying all of life’s necessities on the bikes, including food, tents, sleeping bags, blow dryers, etc.. Enter Karyn who carries all that for us in a van. Second of all, we are not camping along the way. Much as we might like to, there is no way. Carrying all our stuff on the bikes and camping too means traveling much more slowly, traveling fewer miles per day, sleeping less, and smelling worse. We’ve got one week. Mike and Karyn gotta get back to the Guvment. Hans has to get back to Y2K compliance. And I am self-employed so if I don’t get back I may have to live on my bike in perpetuity. We are traveling light and staying in hotels. All you purists can sign off now. By traveling light, we can concentrate more on the biking itself and how badly it makes us hurt. Then we can boast wildly of what we could do if we really trained.

So answer the question already...


Ok, ok. Mike and Eric each replaced their seat with one that was designed to be sat on a little longer. It was also designed to prevent, um, nerve damage and we really wouldn’t want that to happen now would we no we wouldn’t.


Hans has converted from toe clips to clipless pedals. A toe clip is a little cage on a pedal that you put your toe into so that the foot doesn’t slip off. A clipless pedal is designed to accept a cleat, which is attached to the bottom of a biking shoe. The cleat snaps onto the pedal in a sort of modified tongue-in-groove fashion. Clipless pedals, along with biking shoes, increase the foot to pedal power transfer ratio. In other words - they're better. Mike and Eric already have‘em.


Aerobars are a special add-on attachment to handlebars which allow the rider to lean forward and rest his/her forearms on pads while extending the arms out in front of the bike. Being designed to allow the biker to ride more aerodynamically, they are only effective at higher speeds when there is more wind resistance. But they also are important in reducing fatigue by giving the biker more positions to choose from, which makes a difference at any speed. Mike has upgraded his aerobars to a model that allows the pads to be pushed up and out of the way when he doesn’t need them. This keeps them from restricting access to the top part of the handlebar, which many bikers like to grab on to for leverage during an up hill ride. Eric has an older style aerobar with armrests that do not flip up. Hans does not have aerobars.


Off the shelf racing bikes do not have the right gears for big time hill climbing. “What,” you say, “those bikes must have must have at least ten speeds if not more. Why can’t you go up hill with them?”

If fact, each of our bikes has 14 speeds. But the number of gears is not as important as the range of the gears. Touring road bikes have gears which operate in a broad range. A few of their gears will be good for flatter surfaces and a few good for steeper climbs. Racing road bikes have gears which operate in a narrow range, tailored to flatter surfaces and shorter hills. Thus, a couple of us (Mike and Eric) decided to change our gears. Eric decided to change his gears radically enough that it required a rear derailleur change as well. (The rear derailleur is responsible for moving the chain from one gear to another on the rear wheel as you move the gear shift lever.)

Mike made an executive decision. He changed his gears somewhat, but decided to also bring along Karyn’s bike, which has a very low gear, or “granny gear”, for the very steep climbs. Hans fears change. He’s sticking with what he’s got.

So whoever has the lowest gears wins, right?

Not necessarily. Eric’s and Hans’ respective gearing illustrates a classic trade off between power and endurance. Hans’ bike has higher, or “bigger”gears, which means that when he cranks the pedals around one time (one revolution) while in his lowest gear, the bike will travel farther than Eric’s when Eric is in his lowest gear. Hans can get to the top of a climb with less RPMs (revolutions per minute), but he will have to use more power to do so; and he will not be turning his crank as fast. Eric will have to turn the crank faster to keep up with Hans, but each crank will not have to be so powerful. (More on gearing...)

So who has the advantage? We shall see. Mountain climbing is a slow process. Studies have shown that a slower cadence (fewer RPM’s) is somewhat more efficient in when using a lower gear, and a higher cadence is somewhat more efficient when using a higher gear (I'll tell you where I read that when I can find the book). Studies also show that when a body has to generate more power it fatigues more quickly. Hans is betting that his body can stand the fatigue and recover from it well enough to keep ahead of Eric. Eric’s money says that Hans may out muscle him in the early going, but Hans will be on crutches by the end of the week. [Note: One of the most noticeable changes in Lance Armstrong’s time trial technique during the 1999 Tour de France was his use of lower gears and a higher cadence than his competitors. It may be that this resulted in a reduced fatigue factor. In any case, he dominated the time trials and the whole tour. Is Eric blatantly trying to copy the Lance Armstrong style in order to get the best of Hans? You bet.]

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