Cycle Centric

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My Bianchi Pista enjoying a beautiful Carolina sunset

I used to have a 10 mile round trip commute from apt to school.  I was in great shape, I mashed up and spun down hills all with a single speed with a ratio of 47×15, which was a pretty tall gear.

It built my calves, my quads and my glutes without the need for really going to gym and kept me in trim shape.  I miss those days.  My studio is too far for me to bike to and Charlotte just doesn’t have the infrastructure to support it at the moment.

Writing it down enables action.  Writing down that I will begin to bike again will jump start it.  Not to work or school, but around town, on purposeless trips from point A to point B just to soak up the views of the city and gain inspiration.  Your brain is working faster, your adrenaline is going and you’ll see things that wouldn’t have been seen otherwise without having to find a parking spot.  You can just go directly to it.  I for see discovering a lot of new locations for test shoots using this method.

 

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Fast Rubber: The Continental Grand Prix 4000s II

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The Quickest and Stickiest Rubber You Can Buy for the Road

You can just keep moving on, we’ve seen all the reviews about how great this tire is, but hey, if you have a couple minutes, stay on my page and read my experiences with it too.  This is coming from an avid commuter and lay-man bicyclist that just enjoys going as fast as I can or as slow as I want.  I’m a city cyclist with an occasional taste for the finer things in life, sometimes I like to use what the pros use and the Continental GP4000s ii is one of those items.  Now that they supposedly fixed the “1000 mile blow out” problem of the version I, this is even more reason for me to use them.  The version 2’s are exactly the same the version 1’s.  The only difference now are the new color options and sizes.  With the version 1’s, the tires had to be all black.  It was the only way Continental could get the black chili compound in there.  But now they’ve figured out how to include Black Chili and make the tires in different colored trims.  This isn’t a big deal for me, but for people who wanted a 700×28 tire, they have that option now.

Is this tire overkill for my needs? Probably, but if I’m going to be biking over a thousand miles on my bike a year, I think safety and comfort are worth the $100.  I’d rather buy the best that I can afford when it comes to tires.  Like cars, you can’t skimp on tires because they’re the only things touching the road.

The GP4000s ii is the 2nd version of the acclaimed GP4000s I.  Both tires have the special black chili compound mixed in which gives the rubber a really soft and tacky feel to it.  This tire throws up all sorts of debris when it goes over small rocks or when I’m riding in the gutter, the rubber just latches onto whatever touches.  I have ridden through heavy rains without fail for over 800 miles so far except for a flat in the rear tire.  That was mainly my fault caused by riding through an awfully large mound of broken glass just to see how well these tires would hold up in wet conditions.  As great as the GP4000s II is, it’s not quite up to snuff as the Gatorskins or 4Seasons when it comes to rear puncture protection.  Because of that I changed my rear tire to a Gatorskin Ultra to withstand the extra weight since I usually ride with about 15 lbs of stuff on my back.

I have leaned heavily into corners on slick cement (as far as a Bianchi Pista can let me lean, which is a a lot since it has a really high bottom bracket) without fail or feeling skiddish in the rear.  The tires roll very smoothly and I can definitely feel a difference when starting from a stop.  As far as the bike feeling faster overall, I doubt there is much difference.  You’d have to get much lighter wheels or just work up your cadence and muscles if you want to go faster.

The GP4000s ii on the front holds up very through extremely poor road conditions, light pavement gravel, small rocks, pebbles, craters, bumps and the occasional piece of glass and metal.  I would be extra careful on the rear if you using these.  There’s a nice amount of protection in the middle of the tire with Conti’s Vectran belt and I’ve ridden 800 miles before i got a flat in the rear, but still this tire should last a lot more than 800 miles.  I am also quite light at only 155lbs.  If you’re over 200lbs and riding with back full of gear than perhaps some 700x28s would be in order instead or at least a tire with a bit more protection.  If you’re heavier and want to stay with the 23 or 25s, then you should be a a litte cautious going over too much debris and try to the stay on the smoother parts of the road.  If you’re using this mainly on bike trails then you should be ok either way.

People have complained that the rubber is softer and that it wears a bit faster in the GP4000s i & ii, but for the performance, it’s something that I can live with.  If you’re a “i don’t need your opinion, I need hard facts” kind of guy, than check out Slowtwitch’s in depth data analysis of the GP4000s ii’s rolling resistance and power needed to propel, compared to other tires.

GP4000s ii Data

The Truth about Bicycle Commuting

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I’m not quite sure if bicycle commuting was ever about saving money on gas.  Not really.  It’s merely a net transfer of costs from one thing, gas, to another, food.  Let’s be real, everything needs energy to move.  Your car needs gasoline, your body needs food and lots of it if you’re going to be biking 14 miles a day between work/school/home.  All bicycle commuting is, is a net transfer of cost, in the end you’ll be spending money, regardless of what it’s on.  The positive externalities that result from you biking though, that’s what matters.  You’re making yourself less reliant on a scarce resource. You’re saving the environment, you’re being a lot healthier, and you’ll be saving some money on car upkeep.  So in a way, you’re indirectly saving quite a bit of money on other things.  I’m not a gungho bicyclist where I would ever get rid of my car though.  Hell no.  I love driving, the individuality my car gives me and road trips on the weekends way too much for that, but by cutting down on city stop n’ go miles, you’re actually prolonging the life of your engine and transmission with less wear and tear.  Just by bicycling 3-4 days out of the week, you’ll notice that how many miles you’re not racking up on the odometer.  If you’re getting rid of your car all together and don’t have to pay parking cost, then yes, you’d be saving a ton of money.  If you live in Boston, bike and don’t need a car, then yes you’re saving a ton of money but if you’re living in Boston, you have a much higher cost of living anyways.  Sigh, there really is no free lunch except saving the environment and exercise.  Those are definitely things you get for free, if you bike.

There are downsides that I’ve realized.  Some places where it’s always cold and windy as hell such as San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Maine, Vermont are good for bicycle commuting.  I’m in the South where it’s horrifically humid up to December…well then, I think bicycle commuting only works for a select few.  You’re either a student, where you can just arrive to class sweating your ass off and looking like a wet turd or you’re the boss, and have your own private shower to refresh yourself.  Commuting just doesn’t work in weather like this if you need to arrive somewhere presentable because I guarantee you by the 2nd mile, you will be drenched.  I don’t care if you’re riding fixed gear, single speed, 25 gear etc, you’re gonna get soaked in sweat.  I can do it because I don’t really care how I look when I arrive to class but I guarantee you if I have anyone to meet for an interview, I’ll be driving.  Over the summer while i was interning full time, I was still able to get away with biking because there was a pretty relaxed dress code.  But if I had a full time office job, than commuting would not be a possibility unless I lived a couple blocks away from work.

These are all things that you must decide upon if you decide to commute.  Plan to eat at least 2 extra hearty meals a day if you commute via bike.  Eat breakfast and always get a good night sleep.  When you commute, you really need a routine to stick to and you need to plan very carefully how you will go about your day’s objectives.  Random trips that go out of the way are no longer possible since every extra trip will take longer on a bicycle.

Bicycle commuting isn’t for everyone.  A lot of cities in the United States still don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate bicycle commuters so it’s important to map out routes in potentially dangerous or hilly areas in order to maximize and efficiently use your body’s energy.

The Bianchi Pista in Chrome

Is it really the hipster’s fixed gear?

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It really just depends on how much you paid for it.  I paid $350 for mine, which is a rather beat up version with gunked up wheels and peeling clear coat.  Once you get over the hype and didn’t overpay and realize what the Bianchi Pista is ( an Italian designed bike made in Taiwan, a poor man’s foray into a world of finer bicycles,), there really is no shame in using one.  I bought one because I’ve always immensely enjoyed the look of the bike.  Hell even if this bike was made out of crap hi-tensile steel, I would probably would have still bought it.  I mean, look how beautiful this bicycle looks.   Shiny Chrome, classic track geometry, 1/8 silver chain on a brushed aluminum Shimano crank that was infinitely stiffer than whatever came on my old Gravity.  Look at those drops, this bike really just calls to the elegance of Italian design.

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Due to it’s Chromo 4130 steel construction, this bike is BUTTERY smooth on pavement and absorbs bumps very well on more jarring surfaces such as cracked/dented concrete, pebbly surfaces and gravel.  Yes, I’ve ridden this bike on extended gravel paths and it handles it with aplomb.  It has a pretty short head set so the bike is also very nimble and maneuverable  with a very small turning radius.

It’s a simple bicycle, but very solid in its construction.  There isn’t anything too special about it as far as details.  It’s your basic track bike.  One gear, fixed and power grip straps to keep me connected to the ground.  Crank is very smooth and ultra responsive.  The Pista has your standard track drop outs so adjusting for larger gear ratios is a cinch.  I enjoy skid stopping, but I value the wear of my tires so I put a front brake on it for those long descents and emergency stops.  I’ve got 25mm Continental rubber on the wheels, a GP4000s ii on the front and a Gatorskin Ultra folding on the rear.  I’d say it can fit up to 28mm, but save the 32s for your wide tire bike.  The Bianchi Pista akin to a sleek and sexy race car.

It doesn’t pick up speed quite that well though.  It is a heavier bike with all that steel.  The stem and handlebars, despite looking so good, are grotesquely heavy.  I think if I swapped them out for aluminum bars and stem, the bike would easily shed 3 lbs!.  Not to mention the old school brooks saddle on the rear, this bicycle really doesn’t pick speed as quickly as my old aluminum track bike.  But speed isn’t the most important thing here.  It really is the look of the bike.  If you’re really important, people will wait and trust me, you’re going to want to ride a bit slower because this bike is a head turner.

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Traversing difficult terrain, sometimes this bike is a little overbearing on the shoulders especially when I’m carrying a backpack full of my every day carry and the bike over dirt and rail road tracks.  Don’t even ask me why I have to do that.  Road closures till December can be a bitch, so I had to find a slight detour through some foliage and backroads in order to get to my destination now.  Perhaps in the future I will change out the handle bars, stem and get some lighter wheels.  Doing that alone would shed at least 5 lbs off the bike and make for an easier commute.  But for now, the looks of the bike is honestly enough to keep me from complaining.  Besides, I’ll just look at it as exercise, my legs have gotten stronger and more muscular already just by riding this bike.  All i have to do is look at it, even with its semi peeling clear coat and faded wheels, and realize that I’m owning a piece of gorgeous piece of machinery.

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What a beaut and it rides wonderfully too.  Until next time!

*RIP* Gravity Swift2 in Aluminum with Carbon Fork

A great starter bike…

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I didn’t see many reviews for this bike when I was making my decision on Bikes Direct so I’m going to post my thoughts in order to better help anyone who might decide to purchase this as their beginner fixed gear.  I was looking for something in the $300-$500 price range. It has been a really long time since I’ve ridden a bike (about 10 years) but last year, I decided to bike to school instead of drive in order save some gas and incorporate cardio into my daily routine.  I didn’t realize how expensive bikes have become!  I figure that they’ve always been this expensive and I’ve just been accustomed to bikes from bargain stores as a kid.

The Gravity Swift2 AL with a carbon fork retails for $309 at Bikes Direct which is a very good price for a brand new beginners bike.  It’s extremely light coming in at only 16 lbs, I can carry this on my shoulder over difficult terrain all day if needed.  Because of its aluminum construction, the bike is extremely bumpy and very twitchy on the road.  The carbon fork helps ease out some of the vibrations, but due to the poor seat that came with it, my butt was in a constant state of soreness and my thighs got numb after rides that lasted more than 40 minutes.  Aluminum bikes can be very unforgiving and absorb very little of the shocks from the road compared to a smoother steel bicycle. It took quite a bit of getting use to on the school commute as the ride was always very jarring over less than ideal urban pavement.  75% of the commuting road on North Tryon does not possess bicycle lanes.

The components are bare basics and cheap.  The crank and pedals creak quite a bit when mashing up hills but never did anything actually break or come loose.  It’s a good bike, just rough around the edges.  The Alex R500 rims that come on the bike are decent and not that heavy.  The tires that come with the bike are garbage though, I got 2 flats in the first week and decided to upgrade to a pair of Bontrager R1’s for slightly better protection and eventually a pair of Continental GP4000s which gave even more protection along with a slightly smoother ride.  The top tube slopes down so you don’t get that classic track bike geometry, aesthetically, the Gravity Swift isn’t the prettiest bike on the planet compared to its Mercier Kilo TT and Windsor Hour counterparts.

Being a mere hobby bicyclist and not knowing too much about bicycles in general, I was ready to keep this bicycle for a couple years.  I enjoyed its clean black paint, the fact that I didn’t have to worry about rust due to its aluminum frame, and its outright speed.  This bike can easily pick of some very good speed on the straights and downhill.  With a 46/16 gear ratio, it’s perfect for the level ground, easy enough to climb hills and won’t spin out too quickly on the descents.  But mainly it picks up speed because it’s so damn light!  I just wish the crank and arms were stronger such that it didn’t flex when under stress.

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Sadly, my Gravity Swift2 was stolen after I decided to take the bus and lock in a sketchy part of town during a snow storm.  The next day I went back and the bike was gone 😦  That taught me to get a stronger U-lock instead and to also look into nicer bikes in existence 😉  Stay tuned for my newest bicycle…