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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fight Cancer... Ride A bike!

This morning I received the sad news that one of our good friends has been diagnosed with testicular cancer. The cancer has metastasized into his abdomen and lungs. Needless to say we were devastated by this news and especially feel for his family.

"D" is only 31 years old and has been married for just a couple years. He will immediately start treatment and we wish him the best and will be there for he and his family should they need anything. My second thought upon hearing the news was that he is fortunate he is in Taiwan and does not have to worry about how they are going to pay for his chemotherapy.

Testicular cancer strikes 1 in 250 men and usually occurs in men between the ages of 15 and 40. It is detectable and has one of the highest cure rates of all cancers; almost 100% if it has not metastasized. Furthermore, it is relatively easy to detect and I recommend all men regularly examine your junk for any abnormalities, swelling, tender spots or lumps.

Although many cyclists eschew Lance Armstrong for several reasons, primarily because he was too successful and became the ONLY name in cycling for every "Fred" and "poseur", Armstrong still deserves tremendous credit for the magnificent job he has done in raising awareness for the fight against cancer.

As most people know, Armstrong is also a cancer survivor, having survived a battle with testicular cancer that rendered him a shadow of the athlete he had once been with only a 40% chance of survival. Upon his recovery and following his 7 successive Tour de France victories, Armstrong founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a non-profit organization designed to increase cancer awareness, raise funding, offer support networks for cancer patients and their families, and help local groups promote activities to help fight in the battle against cancer. Team Livestrong has become a visible symbol in the cancer fight for cyclists and non-cyclists alike.

Not only has Armstrong used his personal fame to battle cancer, but he has also contributed to cancer prevention by raising the profile of cycling as a means to greater fitness and health.

Studies show a correlation between cancer and weight gain. According to studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, weight gain can raise your cancer risk by as much as 50%. Cycling, combined with a healthy diet, is a great way to reduce the risk of developing a myriad of cancers as well as a means to achieving overall good health. We owe it to our loved ones to be there for them when they need us and staying fit certainly helps.

If you know someone who is on the fence about buying a bike, it is time to take them riding.

My thoughts go out to "D" and "C" and their family during this difficult time and to other families going through a fight with this disease.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ba Gua Shan--139 (大彰路)

Often, when a person first starts cycling, they go through a complex and passive aggressive relationship with hills. You start out realizing that hills were so easy to climb when you were an eight-year-old and now, as an adult, the mild rollers are laboriously difficult. We all harbor our secret shames on hills we failed at that now seem to melt away beneath us. I know my shames and elevation failures. I have to pass them all the time. It is not uncommon to start out avoiding hill climbs to avoid the pain and the shame of walking a bike up a climb as cars pass. No 加油s and garlands from passing cars. You so badly want to climb, and dream about going to the far-off hilly places, but you know you would just fail and hobble home. As you get a little stronger you start attacking hills with more success and rather than avoiding the hill climbs, you look for every opportunity to make a climb. Every ride must have a hill or there is an empty feeling for the lack of accomplishment. Then, once this phase passes and you gain confidence that you can take ANY climb, you become more at ease with any type of ride with more mixed terrain. One such even route around Changhua is the 139 over Ba Gua Shan 八卦山.

Changhua Bank

With this ride I always start at the base in Changhua city near the banking district of Japanese Era Changhua. There is an old Kendo dojo near the start of the climb which has recently been restored. During the latter part of the Japanese colonial period, Japanese and Taiwanese boys were often trained in Kendo to learn how to better incorporate themselves into the militarist vision of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Kendo Dojo

The climb starts out steep, but it doesn't last too long. You can ride past the gaudy temple at the top with the gigantic buddha. This was formerly a major Shinto shrine that, like most Shinto shrines, was transformed under the Chinese Nationalists into something far less threatening. Also along the route for a true Sunday In Hell, is the Taoist Hell amusement park; a funhouse-like walk through the horrors of Taoist Hell.

Sprawling Family Farm

The road crests and there is a nice descent past scrapped military surplus and scenic lookout stations. At the bottom take the left turn and it leads to a long, straight, sustained climb that goes past a home for geriatric soldiers who followed the Kuomintang to Taiwan. Be careful because ambulances rush in and out of that place on a regular basis.

A Strange Taiwanese Insect

At the top of the hill there is an intersection that either heads Right, to Changhua, or Left to the crest of Ba Gua Shan. The left turn has a nice descent along a shady road and up another hill where you can take a left or right down the 74甲 , which is a great descent if you like speed. It is straight and steep. Left goes right back to Taichung and left empties out into the Changhua plain. I like to go straight.

A Pineapple

The Changhua-139 undulates along the ridge top past scenic tea and pineapple farms. This is road has been designated as a recreational cycling road and there are bike supply stores that pop up infrequently along the route.

Bike Route

There are a couple places to abandon the ride early, but the road continues until it empties out into Nantou from Song Bo Ling (松柏嶺). The right turn down Feng bai Rd. (豐柏路). A gorgeous treelined descent into some little tea village where they like to come out and gawk at foreigners. Don't stop. Keep going down the hill. This is a speedy gem of switchback heaven.

Tea Farms of Songboling

At the bottom of the hill you can turn right and trace the base of the hill all the way back to Changhua. Another option is to go straight to Yuan lin and take the Highway 1 back.

Either way it is easy to make this a substantial ride. Easily over 120km if you go all the way. It can also make a quick route if you have other things to do later. You can abandon the ride at several points along the way and come back on the Highway 3 through Wufeng or Caotun.
The Spanish Inquisition!!!

The whole ride on top of the hill offers scenery galore and enough variation to mix things up. The return is flat and speedy for a little bit of everything.

Historical Revisionism

Ahhhh! According to many Chinese nationalist-minded historians you will learn that China "discovered" America, visited the moon 2000 years ago, evolved from a separate species of hominid, discovered human powered flight, invented golf, football and baseball... and now... they are staking claim to the bicycle.

Follow the Link:

Tomb Sweeping Weekend

Just a little reminder:

It looks like a nice three day biking weekend coming up with Tomb Sweeping Day, a day many Taiwanese observe to clean the tombs of their ancestors and work a little geomancy to ensure luck and prosperity.

If you plan on riding this weekend remember to avoid areas near graveyards. There will be hundreds of people jostling their cars for parking and criss-crossing the roads with spirit money and incense. Passing graveyards at this time can be tedious, slow, dangerous, and not much fun.

I hope to get in one century ride and maybe a shorter recovery ride.

Any plans?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

From Far And Away--Miaoli 130

Normally we don't get new folks visiting these parts to ride, and it is no wonder. Most people's experience with Taiwan centers around the metropoles, which they deem to be crowded, chaotic and deadly for cyclists. As a cycling destination Taiwan could really become a blip on the map if law and order was established in the cities and if visitors on bikes could figure out how to get out to the countryside, which is ideal. Screw Tuscany and Napa Valley... I want Rift Valley, Wuling and Taroko.

Nathan Poses By Reservoir

This Saturday Michael T. and I were joined by Nathan M. from Taipei. For some reason folks from Taipei forget to come to Taichung, so it was really great to have him come down. Nathan is an excellent rider and a student of the sport.

Patrick and Nathan See The Sights

We were also joined by Patrick M., an established mountain bike racer from San Francisco, California. Patrick is an engineer who is working on a device that will allow people who want to take nicotine, to inhale it without the carcinogenic smoke; a device that will change the area behind high school tennis courts forever. Patrick in only in Taiwan for a few days, but managed to make it for a ride with us.

Contemplating The Surroundings

We thought an introductory trip through Miaoli County and over the Miaoli 130 hill-climb would be perfect. It was sunny and warm so we hit the rolling hills of Miaoli.
Climbs Like A Goat

As usual, we chatted our way along the Highway 3 with a 7-11 stop for coffee and then hit the road for the climbing.
Patrick Sares Out Over Miaoli County

The Miaoli 130 is a good climb with grades between 11% and 13% in most parts. The hill peaks at just under 2600ft. We hit the hill and made good time climbing. Michael set a personal record.
Elevation Gain

At the top we stopped for lunch at the Mile High Cafe, which is a "Hakka" restaurant with scenic views and bowls of fat.
Coffee Stop (Well... he IS from San Francisco)

We made our way off the hill at a good clip. My fastest speed of the day was posted on this descent: 39mph. (62.7kph).
Michael T. and Patrick Storm The Bridge

On the way back we took some back roads and passed the old Broken Bridge before heading out for Feng Yuan. It was a really nice ride and even better to ride with new faces.

Thanks guys!

On a final note:

I had been feeling a little sick all day. The kind of sick where you feel your eyes and lips are dry and there's nothing you can do. By last night that had developed into a head cold. So I need to take a couple days off the bike and recover. I am just glad we did this all Saturday before I really knew I was sick.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Double DIgit Growth in Taiwanese Cycling

Despite the recent drop in interest, Taiwan expects double digit growth in cycling.
It is only a matter of time before the current administration will find a way to erode Taiwanese dominance in high-end cycles. Just a hunch.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Quote of the Day: Frame Materials

Quote of the Day:

On Frame Materials:

"I have at least one of each, except Ti. My carbon bike is awesome. So is my 1970s steel bike. So is my aluminum road bike. I'm not any faster on one than I am the other.

Cyclists are lemmings. If the pros started riding wooden bikes, there'd be 5000 morons on RBR (and Bicycling Magazine would join in) talking about how remarkable wood bikes are....laterally stiff, yet vertically compliant!...and how all you need to go faster longer is a $10,000 wooden bike. And the morons would run out and buy them."

"Taste? I have no taste..."

When I am out on my long rides I commit the sin of listening to music with headphones. I guess in Taiwan you get to a certain risk saturation point and you just can't add any more. Drivers are going to be nuts no matter what you do. I can still hear with headphones on... it just takes some common sense and awareness of your surroundings.

I have a biking folder of about 500 songs in iTunes and Autofill to make a random playlist. Music lets the mind wander to far off places and still focus on riding. It can be a welcome distraction at the right moment too. A little Journey can make the difference on a sustained 7% grade. I can do the music, but I can't do podcasts. Podcasts are just as bad as talking on a phone. They take my attention off the road. I sometimes just ride and laugh at some song or another that suits my taste. The thing is... I have no taste.

Anyone else do the same?

Here's the last 25 songs from Sunday's century. Just thought I'd share. :)
  1. Sheena Is A Punk Rocker--The Ramones
  2. No More Heroes--The Stranglers
  3. Nirvana--The Cult
  4. Nobody Is Innocent--The Sex Pistols (with Ronnie Biggs)
  5. Walk On By--The Stranglers
  6. Spinal Tap--Big Bottom
  7. Pour Some Sugar On Me--Def Lepard
  8. Arthur Theme--Christopher Cross
  9. Pictures of You--The Cure
  10. Particle Man--TMBG
  11. Knock Three Times--Tony Orlando
  12. Pistol Packin' Mama--Bing Crosby
  13. The Captain Of Her Heart--Double
  14. Mad Donna--T-Rex
  15. Sri Lanka Sex Hotel--Dead Milkmen
  16. Love Plus One--Haircut 100
  17. Seventeen--Winger
  18. Magic--The Cars
  19. My Hooptie--Sir Mix A-Lot
  20. Thunderstruck--AC/DC
  21. Dear God--XTC
  22. A Dozen Girls--The Damned
  23. Lady Luck--The Proclaimers
  24. Dance Hall Days--Wang Chung
  25. Bridge Over Troubled Water--Elvis Presley

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Miaoli #22 Century

Sometimes you eat the bike.... Sometimes the bike eats you.

Gone Fishin'

On Sunday as one plan after another fell by the wayside, I realized I would be going it alone and made plans accordingly. I am planning a Paris-Roubaix Tribute ride on April 24, which will be 260km of flats (just like the race) along Taiwan's western coast and figured a long hilly ride would start getting my legs ready for a long ride. One important thing to remember when doing these all day rides it the pacing. Sometimes it takes a little effort to know when to hold back. Complicating things was a massive sand storm from our selectively hostile neighbors to the west (Friendly Neighbors to the North sounds so much better).

Staged Shot

I headed out early and left Taichung on the Highway 3, which is one of the great biking corridors along Taiwan's hilly interior. The road is wide, smooth and pretty; especially compared to the scab known as the Highway 1.

Climbing the 22

I was riding solo, but wanted to record some of this ride for posting, and so I posed some of these photos like a Marty Stouffer documentary. I promise no lemmings were harmed in the completion of this ride. You'll notice in all these self shots by awkward body position.... The camera was set for the ten second timer and I could't figure out how to change it. I just had to push the button and run.

Taste The Baddassness!!!

There was a bike event going on and hundreds of cyclists were passing in the oncoming lane. I would nod at a few, but wasn't going to do that for 30km. A lot of the guys out were unfriendly jerks. I stopped to get some more water at a favorite convenience store and tried to ask a couple of other cyclists what their event was about. I got lots of grunts and posturing. Showing off, but not a lot of info. Too cool for school. I guess it was a loop from Guan Gong around the reservoir and back.
Fanliao Mountain

The Highway 3 covers rolling hills with a few early annoying climbs, the kind that don't look too intimidating, but you just don't have the right gear. Just annoying. I then took a turn on the Miaoli Local Road #22.

Looking Down at the 22

The Number 22 heads up a narrow valley over Fanliao Shan (Barbarian House Mountain) and leads to Towu. With all the haze from the dust storm I missed out on some spectacular views.

Half-way up the mountain the grades get a little steeper and I just wasn't feeling it. I have done longer centuries with harder hills, but on this day I didn't feel like I was at my best. I mashed my way up the mountain and then down into Towu.
The descent was a lot of fun... until I got behind an old man who was totally oblivious to my presence and was going just fast enough to keep me from passing him. He only noticed me when he almost lost control of the scooter while reaching for something in the front basket from over the handlebars. He finally heard me shout and got out of my way.
The Towu Side

I finally made it off the mountain and was feeling a half-step off from how I had done a similar ride earlier. I passed through Miaoli city and climbed another hill to the top of the Highway 13. Once you crest the Highway 13 there is a great hill to cruise down until you get to Sanyi.

On my way out to Sanyi I steadily kept my pace and made ground, then passed, a group of road-mountain bikers. I casually waved and moved on. Not twenty seconds later the lead guy took off and was sucking my rear wheel. I took my headphones off and positioned to chat with him about their ride, but instead he blew past at speed. Although passing within an arms length, he coldly looked off into the distance as if I wasn't there. A ha! His manhood had been questioned by getting passed. What would all the others in his gang think of him? He remained just up ahead and the rest of his group was left in the dust. I didn't give chase or anything stupid like that as I still had quite a long way to go and had to stick with my plan.

I stopped in Sanyi for a water and a final snack to push me on home. Sanyi is murder on weekends. Every other shop is a kitsch wood carving shop and everyone wants to go look at "Hakka Culture" (more on that in another post). A few minutes after the hill climb out of Sanyi I saw the mountain biker and another one of his group on the side of the road. The hot-head was puking in the grass and his friend was giving him water. (I wasn't going that fast either). Tortoise and the Hare. Lesson: On long rides don't get over emotional and piss yourself out 30km from home.

From that point there is a great wide hill grade that begs to be taken at full speed. Unfortunately a headwind kept me at 65kph. All day the wind was blowing around. I just continued into Feng Yuan and then took a Daya side route to make sure I could get a full century. I felt I could have ridden better, but not too bad. I felt terrible afterwards and I am pretty sore today. Actually, I didn't perform as well on my return; not as well as I have in the past. Eh!

It took me 7 hours. to complete. The worst part was a puncture that I changed on the way to Shi-tan. I used a CO2 inflation device, which is really convenient for carrying around in in my tool bag, but it inflates to the maximum tire pressure. For me my ideal pressure is about 100psi. That thing was way above that. I let a little air out, but I didn't want to risk going under. At first it felt great.. but I was pretty uncomfortable for the last 60km.

This route is ok, but I prefer the Miaoli Local #126 to the Mingde Reservoir better. A great option instead of the Highway 13 is the Miaoli Local # 119 to the Highway 1. That is a beautiful road out of the area.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cyclists As Equals?

A Change Is Gonna Come...

According to an article by Jason Kambitsis in Wired Magazine, The U.S. Department of Transportation is finally catching up with some other parts of the world in shifting from an automobile-centric approach to city planning, to a policy which puts cars, cyclists and pedestrians on equal footing... or at least if governments would like to receive a federal funding for transportation related projects. This is good news for those who are sick of seeing federal funding largely wasted the unsustainable dream of communities centered around the personal automobile. This dream was the dream of my grandfather who was known as one of the fathers of the Interstate 5 and former head of the Washington State Highway Dept. before the creation of the DOT. His generation believed the answer to congestion was to simply build more roads. This type of thinking has formed the core of DOT policy since its inception in 1966. During the campaign Barack Obama promised to seek significant changes in transportation policy and we are just beginning to see the results.

The policy statement reads, in part:
"Walking and bicycling foster safer, more livable, family-friendly communities; promote physical activity and health; and reduce vehicle emissions and fuel use,”
The Republican response can be read here:

"To laughter, Republican House members suggested LaHood was taking drugs, dismissed the very idea of bike lanes and derided any change to a car-dependent society."

Some American cities have already gotten on board. Portland Oregon is often rated the most bike friendly city in the United States, while other municipalities have crafted long term development plans focusing on bicycle transportation. The Seattle Bicycle Master Plan serves as an excellent blue print for other cities aiming to integrate cycling into their transportation infrastructure.

This is a fantastic development, but most parts of the United States have a long way to go to becoming more environmentally and cycling friendly. Whenever I go to the United States to visit, I am always amazed at how far everything is from home. When Americans want pet food or ice cream, they get in the car for five minutes to get to the strip mall. From an environmental standpoint, this is far from ideal.

If humans are going to make the most of their natural environment and leave a livable world for many more generations of people and creatures we need to learn to accept alternative models for living. Period!

This is where Taiwan comes in. As shocking and ridiculous as it may sound, Taiwan has the potential to become a leader in creating and promoting a more environmentally sound model of living. Crazy, I know.

Unlike the United States, Taiwanese life is concentrated in the urban centers. Everything a family needs can be found within walking distance from home. Rather than one mega-supermarket supplying huge blocks of the population, the corner 7-11 supplies many of our daily needs. There are really no suburbs. You are either in town or in the country. This is a huge advantage to building an infrastructure that is not centered around the automobile. If people can live and work within a walk or bike ride from home it greatly reduces our reliance on fossil fuels and becomes a highly efficient model for living. Ahhhh... the idealized future.

Unfortunately, Taiwanese localities remain aloof to the needs of cyclists. The infrastructure just does not exist in any reliable, interconnected form, to integrate cycling into the urban transportation system. There have been some efforts to make space on some trains and the High Speed Rail for mostly folding bikes and there are a few designated bike trails, but most of these are for weekend recreational riders and do not reliably connect to areas where people work. They often don't reliably connect to anything. The city streets are a scrum against scooters and dangerous drivers without bike lanes or reliable law enforcement and busses are not equipped to carry bicycles. These drawbacks keep many potential riders from choosing the bicycle for commuting. Simply, the plan is... there is no plan.

Taiwan's government really needs to take a coordinated and centralized approach to making cycling a positive alternative to motorized vehicles. I don't think this can be achieved on just the local level as political rivalries and special interests often influence the outcome of urban planning projects. Projects like bike paths and lanes are, more often than not, the victims of election year promises and not very well thought through but look nice on the campaign trail and in a stump speech. A long term, integrated transportation plan that realistically incorporates cycling into the project would be a major improvement for a more sustainable future and I hope the new U.S. policy can spark Taiwan's politicians to make the same paradigm shift.

Taiwan has the potential, but is there a will?

We're on an island after all.

Giant SCR Review

Giant SCR First Look:

Michael Cannon gives his excellent and balanced review of the Giant SCR road bike as his current Taiwan Bike.

"Overall, the Giant SCR is a great value for a road bike. It’s somewhat lightweight at 9.4 kg, has a stiff rear triangle, has very smooth working Sora shifters and deraillers and rides comfortably on Taiwan county roads.

Gearing wise, I’m very surprised at how well I’m adapting to the compact double 50/34 in front with an 8-gear 12-26 in back. I’ve been used to spinning a 48/38/26 front and 10-31 back for the past year.

For now, I’d prefer a rear 11-27 and later, a 10-26 when back in shape. That rear cassette change would make going even faster and climbing easier.

In the flats, between the gearing changes and bike stiffness, my casual riding pace and in spite of not being in riding shape, is 4 kph faster. I’m finally realizing how much pedaling energy my Giant LTD shocks have soaked up. On hill climbs, the SCR is grinding up than spinning, but I’m at the same pace and more energetic at the top."

Read the full review here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Taichung County #129 to #136

The Wilds of Taiping:

Crack Kills!

This route is one of my favorite short routes around Taichung. It includes a whole variety of road types. There are sustained climbs, soaring flats, tight descents into deep valleys, ridge-top cruises and urban work. Best of all it is just outside the city. Within a short period of time you can suddenly be among hilly farms and flowing streams. Best of all, the whole ride can be done in a couple/three hours depending upon your fitness.
Tight Farm Roads

From Taichung City's Bei tun area take Dong Shan Rd. all the way out to Da Keng and follow the Local Highway 129 all the way up the "death spiral" to Hsin She. The climb up to Hsin She can be rough. Not only is it a 250 meter (820ft.) climb for a warm up, but sometimes traffic can be unforgiving. Holiday makers and large trucks both love this road up to Hsin She. The best thing is to just stay close to the shoulder and ride predictably. The most annoying part is when you are in a good gear hammering up the hill and some jerk waits, waits, waits at a side street... and then pulls out in front of you.

In The Valley

From the top of Hsin She you can go right and it takes you directly to the road down to Taiping (see map). I prefer going through Hsin She, which was once part of the satellite villages of the Anli Pazih (Pazeh) group of plains indigenes. From Hsin She proper you can take a right and gain speed on the flat, straight road that passes Hakka style farms and a helicopter base. When you get to a little crossroads in a mushroom growing town... stay right.

I just don't like this climb

The road snakes through some pretty farms and up a sustained grade that, while not steep, can be a real pain in the ass. I can't explain it. As you crest the hill you will see a steep valley below.

The descent plummets down a set of switchbacks. Manage your speed through the descent as there is one particular stretch of concrete that feels like it was laid by monkeys. It will rattle your eyeballs out. Once this patch is over the road narrows and I always get the feeling like a "Battle Star Galactica Colonial Viper launching". It's just great!

Michael T. Tames the Hill on The Red Bomber

You finally empty out into a wide, empty road. You can get some speed through here to get past the eco-tourism disaster of a sprawling "hostel".

Japanese Era Agriculture Station

Eventually, you will get to a fork in the road. Take the high road. It is is a good climb with some steep section, but it leads to a ridge top that is just a rewarding ride to take a little fast.

Choose Up!

The Wrong Road

If you choose to go straight there is another hill climb out to Taiyuan Rd. The main road leads to a dead end, as I discovered.

In Deep Doo Doo

I thought maybe I could shoulder the bike to the other side. I ended up knee deep in mud with visions of making the evening news as another "stupid foreigner" story.

End Of The Road

You finally keep taking rights until you plop down onto the Local Highway 136 that goes to either the Taichung or Puli sides of the mountain.

Route map

This route is great if you are stretched for time or if you are a beginning cyclist looking for a way to improve your skills outside the city. The road had been cleaned up a bit since I took these pictures, so it is a bit smoother for road tires.

Bits and Pieces from the Interwebs:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Frame Materials

Material World

Part of my idea for this blog is to provide helpful information for people biking in Taiwan or people who are interested in biking in Taiwan, including routes and tips. I hope to discuss Taiwan related issues through bicycle metaphors and share historical, cultural and ethnographic information that can help turn the next ride into something beyond simply a route past concrete and rice fields.

Another goal is to touch upon cycling as a sport. I really didn’t care as much about professional cycling until I started spending some time in the saddle trying to improve. All of a sudden, as I evaluated my own improvement, did I gain a newfound respect and understanding for the skills of those gifted enough to make the pro-tour. The amount of guts, grit and finesse is truly worthy of respect.

Lastly, I hope to discuss hardware and all those things that make us figure out complex algorithms to justify spending NT15,000 on 100 grams less bike.

Most of all I hope the information here can be useful in some way to help make cycling in Taiwan more fun and help strengthen our community, which has a tendency to lean toward the petty elitist if we let it. Lots of folks are interested in joining and are afraid to jump in because they lack the information they need to feel good about getting a bike.

I have covered types of bikes and bike geometry, so now I should probably add something about frame materials.

The basic bicycle frame has remained largely unchanged for over 100 years. It is still, essentially, two triangles back to back, creating a diamond shape; triangles being the strongest geometric shape. And for over 100 years bicycle companies have been refining and sculpting these shapes to better take advantage of new developments in materials, production techniques and shaping to create ever better bikes… and largely to convince the consumer that somehow the newest generation is ultimately better than the last and more money needs to be thrown at the latest technology. This is what bike companies do… they sell bikes. Key word SELL. They play on our fantasies and try to convince us that the engine is fine, but with the right, high-tech chassis, we could take L'Alpe d'Huez with the best. Now, I am not a luddite. I love new tech. I just think there is a lot of marketing junk out there that we oh so want to believe. “If I only had X then I could do Y and Z.” Material is not necessarily the best way to accomplish this.

In essence… a frame builder can make a bike feel (fill in your favorite adjective) with the proper geometry and design. A carbon fiber bike can be flexy or harsh. An aluminum bike can feel smooth and forgiving. A steel bike can feel stiff and light. A titanium bike can ride like a noodle or a rocket. If the material is used with its properties in mind… it could be a great bike for anyone. The argument of “identical frames” with different materials is just silly. Anyone who’d copy a design for a steel bike with aluminum should be beaten soundly. There are some great bikes out there for almost every purpose made from each of the major materials. Just because aluminum or steel are not the material de jure, does not mean they are in any way inferior. Still, each material deserves some individual attention for what it can and can’t offer.

Carbon Fiber

“So… carbon bikes are the best… right?"

Willier Monococque Frame

Carbon fiber frames now occupy just about every position of the pro peloton. There is a very good reason for this. Carbon fiber can make some very good bikes… and bicycle companies have brought the cost of producing carbon fiber frames down to the point where the mark up at sale is often many, many times greater than cost. Bike companies know that the consumer will want whatever is under Armstrong’s ass… even if there are no tangible benefits in performance. There are lots of examples of this, like low profile forks and shorter stays.

A carbon fiber or “composite” frame is made from molding different weaves of carbon fiber molded in a matrix that can determine how the frame performs. The engineers can adjust the matrix of carbon fiber types to adjust the characteristics of a given frame. Identical frames can perform in fundamentally different ways based on the weave of the carbon fiber. Carbon fiber offers new frame shapes that could not be achieved with metal tubing. Most builders use either lugged carbon techniques, where the individual carbon fiber tubes are bonded into carbon lugs, and monocoque molding (single shell).

Look 585 lugged carbon fiber

The down side of carbon is that, although it can be light, stiff, smooth or whatever you want… carbon tubing has very poor elongation qualities and thus it can not bend, and when it fails, it fails catastrophically. There have been several instances where unseen damage led to mid-ride catastrophic failure. Another problem is in the bonding. Metal filaments are wrapped up in the carbon fiber matrix at the points of rider interface i.e. bottom bracket, headset etc… There is a potential for the bonding to separate. There are reasons why there are still no carbon fiber touring bikes that need to negotiate the worst roads under stress.

Another down side of carbon fiber is that it does not biodegrade and can’t be smelted anew. There are some programs for recycling carbon fiber components, but the scope and uses for recycled carbon fiber are limited.


“So… carbon fiber is light and stiff and smooth, but not as dependable as titanium?”

Kish Custom Titanium

Titanium is a fantastic metal. I would like my next bike to be titanium. Titanium frames can also be crafted to perform in a variety of ways. They can be built stiff and harsh, they can be springy and forgiving. You can have a titanium frame to ride like it is on a cloud or tuned to feel more of the road.

Titanium is twice as dense as aluminum and yet 56% as dense as steel. Titanium is only half as stiff as steel and thus engineers of titanium frames must take this into account to manage the desired stiffness. When designers try to thin titanium frames out too much they run into the problem of frames getting too flexy. The real advantage of choosing a well-engineered titanium frame is that the elongation of titanium is much greater than the other metals. Titanium can have twice the elongation of steel and three times that of aluminum. Stronger steels and aluminums sacrifice even more elongation for strength.

Titanium and steel both are both great for resisting fatigue. Titanium can undergo repeated flex and the high modulus properties allow it to snap right back so that a titanium frame can feel brand new after 30 years. With carbon fiber, the jury is still out. Nobody has ridden a carbon frame long enough to test the long-term effects. We just don’t what happens after a couple dozen years. Some riders claim their carbon frames feel “dead” after a couple years of riding, or that could be just bike lust. Titanium is a proven winner for longevity.

On the down side, titanium is welded with argon gas and fabricators must be careful during the welding process or risk brittle welds. Machining is also difficult, so the price to produce high quality frames is relatively high. Another factor is the environment. Titanium takes greater energy to extract and process. Environmentally minded people may consider this a problem. Then again, a bike that lasts 30 years may make up for that over the environmental cost of buying one bike every 3 years, like the big bike corporations would like you to do.


“So aluminum is an obsolete frame material that will just wear out in a couple years.”

Cannondale CAAD9 Aluminum

Aluminum frames really hit the scene in the mid-80’s when Cannondale started selling their notoriously stiff frames with oversized tubes and a thickness that was overcompensating. I remember riding around on these things. Tooth chatteringly rigid.

The aluminum frames on the market are alloys, usually 6061, 7005, 7000, 7075 and others.

Aluminum is has 1/3 the density of steel, which means it is really light and yet some alloys are just as strong as steel. SO a strong, low density metal, but a low modulus, so it can be light and stiff. The oversized tubing allows for a good, light bike with plenty of stiffness. Sounds like a climber. As the diameter of the tubes increases, so does the stiffness.

Unlike titanium and steel, aluminum’s elongation isn’t as great. This means that under load, stressed enough times, aluminum will fail.

Merckx Team SC Scandium Aluminum Alloy

This does not mean aluminum frames are throwaways. Engineers design aluminum frames with these factors in mind and butt the tubing to ensure there is enough aluminum in the spots that are put under stress to take advantage of its properties. This type of well thought out engineering, shaping and design can produce an aluminum bike that can last a very long time and ride like a dream. Some of the best bikes ever produced are aluminum. It can be argued that the Merckx Team SC, scandium alloyed aluminum is one of the greats. Best of all… aluminum can be inexpensive. Why pay an unnecessary amount of money if you can get an aluminum bike that rides like a dream. Just because it is AL does not mean it is not as good as any other material.

Scandium and other alloys are often added to aluminum to achieve better results and lighter bikes. When scandium is added to 7000 series aluminum it changes the structure of the aluminum grains to be smaller and more refined. This adds strength and allows thinner tubes to be drawn for a smoother feel. It also helps strengthen the welds for frames that often rival carbon in weight.

The ecological downside is that aluminum is costly to refine and recycling is not very energy efficient.


“So steel is an ancient frame material that weighs a ton and was retired long ago except by artisans and romantics. You can’t make a fast steel bike”

Speedvagen Steel Road Bike

The obituary for steel has been written many times over the years at yet it keeps sticking around like a bad rash after a college party.

The steel crowd loves to repeat the maxim, “steel is real”. I don’t buy that it is any more real than titanium, aluminum or Swiss cheese. A lot of steel’s big proponents can come across as elitist hipsters who like to imagine their bikes forged by magic elves in the furnaces of Mordor, like a scene from some fantasy rock song of the 70’s. But there is a reason why steel has its die hards (ouch…the puns!)

Bikes have been made of steel for 100 years, and despite the age of the technology, steel has continues to evolve to remain competitive with other frame making materials. Now, a frame maker can choose from CrMo, Reynolds 851, 951, Tru Temper OX Platinum, S3, Spirit, Life, Zona etc… these are all great steel tubes with some approaching titanium’s strength to weight ratio.

Steel is more dense and therefore the same amount of material weighs much more. Despite this, steel is very stiff. Steel holds twice the stiffness of titanium. This means steel tubes can be drawn smaller to compensate for the weight.

Steels used in bike frames can hold vastly different properties and therefore each should be looked into (not here, not now).

Basically, steels have pretty good elongation numbers and can withstand a lifetime of pedaling.

Steel can be repaired, welded, and cold set. It is durable and with proper care, it can last forever. Steel can be made light and many companies still sell fast racing bikes.


“So, which frame material is the best?”

Despite what marketing departments will tell you… they are all great materials that each have a lot to offer and each can be designed to deliver a whole variety of characteristics. The weight differences between quality frames from each material is so insignificant to most riders it can mean as much as a 20 second difference in a hill climb, but then the next 5 hours can be a tooth-shaking, back aching hell. The best thing is to try them all as equals and choose the one that works with you. The speed and performance will not come as much from the frame materials as from how those materials are used and the geometries they are designed with. A fast climber can be smooth and does not have to be too stiff. Long stays and space for 28c tires does not make a slower bike. Comfort will not come from the frame as much as it will come from a good set of wheels.

Bike companies pull a slight of hand. They want to move bikes and they offer some good looking deals. High zoot frames with recognized names on the gruppo, but upon closer inspection the wheels are crap. In almost every complete bike… the wheels are going to be crap. Pardon my caveman metaphor, but customers are quick to get distracted by the tits and the ass… the frame and the gruppo… and don’t notice the personality, which largely comes from the wheels. Shops are aware of this and will often adjust tire pressure to provide a desired ride. The pricier bikes will ride better and smoother with proper inflation and the lower end they will over inflate to create harshness. The saddle should also be comfortable. Brooks makes nice saddles, but Selle Italia and Fizik and others are great too. Saddles are like shoes… some just don’t fit. Geometry determines the handling characteristic… and lastly… fit. If the rider doesn’t fit the bike it’ll never feel great. Speed can come as much from comfort as stiffness. If a bike is too stiff a rider can’t take advantage of the properties. I know I go slower when overinflated. This is similar to a stiff bike with short stays.

The best thing any rider can do is to get a more efficient and stronger engine. The material can often be an excuse for one's own failings in training and conditioning. It is too easy to just blame the bike.

So go don’t discriminate and try ‘em all. Find the one that sings to you. You may be surprised what works for you.