Thoughts on Critical Mass.

For those not in the know, Critical Mass is a sort of non-organized (that’s what they say) event where large groups of cyclists convene into a single large group and reach a stage where they are a force of their own–that people and cars must yield to. It started out in San Francisco in the early ’90’s I think.

There has been a recent pushback within the ranks of people that participate, calling for better behavior and manners–obeying traffic laws and general politeness, insofar as one can be in a large group.

Still I question whether or not this is a beneficial activity, when it generates so much hatred. People already seem to dislike cyclists for ‘hogging the road’ (although they have a legal right to be there), and Critical Mass does little to dissuade the majority of people in this country that are car owners and drivers.

I’m sort of on the fence about the whole thing, but I’m sort of leaning towards it as a negative thing.

Works Cited

“Critical Miss or Critical Mass?” 22, Novenber 2007. Web. 9, October 2013.

Bicycle helmets and their (lack of) effectiveness.

You would think that wearing a bicycle helmet is a prudent thing to do, but statistics show that over a wide distribution in general (non-sporting) activity, there is little impact to bicycle fatality rates. Most bicycle injuries do not seem to produce severe head injuries, but body injuries. Unquestionably helmets do offer significant protection, but for the percentage of people affected, there is the question of if it is worth the effort and expense of enacting and enforcing helmet laws.

No one has a clear answer for this, but there is one thing that helmet laws for bikes do–decrease ridership, and the health benefits of bicycle activity.

So there has been a long standing battle between people on both sides of the helmet debate, with no clear answer.

Normally I don’t quote wikipedia, but it is actually a good summary on a very large topic that is for most parts, too voluminous to read for anyone not highly motivated.

Works Cited

“Do Bicycle Helmet Laws Really Make Riders Safer?” The Atlantic. 29, May 2013. Web. 9, October 2013.

Biking heath benefit outweigh risks.

It’s not always practical, given infrastructure, climate, weather, and other factors, but when it is, and used regularly for something not necessarily a sporting extreme, it has benefits to the person.

“The health benefits to a commuter who shifts from a car to a bicycle are greater than the risks, according to a study published online June 30 in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Researchers summarized literature for air pollution, traffic accidents and physical activity and quantified the impact on mortality when 500,000 people transitioned from car to bicycle for short trips on a daily basis in the Netherlands. They found the benefits of increased physical activity far outweighed the potential effect of increased exposure to air pollution and increased traffic accidents. The benefits to society are even greater, the study’s authors said, “due to a modest reduction in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and traffic accidents.”

“Policies stimulating cycling are likely to have net beneficial effects on public health, especially if accompanied by suitable transport planning and safety measures,” the study’s authors wrote.


They said previous studies have shown the perceptions that walking and cycling are dangerous ways to get around “are an important barrier to the promotion of active transport.”

Currie, Donya”

 Works Cited

Currie, Donya. “Swapping car for bike reaps health benefits.” The Nation’s Health Sept. 2010: 27. General OneFile. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

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Link to article on slow biking.

Ok, not really serious, but it shows that there’s at least more than a few people out there that don’t care about cycling as a competitive sport. Spandex always being a source of amusement.

Works Cited

“These Bikers Race for Last Place.” The Wall Street Journal. Web. 7, October 2013.

Link to the fixie debate.

If you don’t know what a fixie is, it’s a bike with a single speed (no changeable gears), with the gears directly meshed to the pedals (you can’t coast, you have to keep pedaling). Usually built atop a track bike frame, but repurposed by hipster types for non-track riding purposes. They usually have weak… or… non-existant brakes, aside from trying to slow the bike down through the directly linked pedals.

The whole concept is really quite questionable for real world riding, where it was not meant to be used.

Here’s a link to an article I found debating two sides, pro fixie, and anti fixie.

Personally I’m anti fixie. I guess that’s hardly surprising.

Works Cited

“The Fixie Debate.” The Wake. Web. 7, October 2013.

Grant Petersen on lightweight bikes.

Quoted in full, since all of it is important.


In a cycling scene awash in equipment hype and fads, Grant Petersen champions quiet qualities like reliability and simplicity. He’s gained a small but fiercely loyal following of riders, first as product manager for industry maverick Bridgestone USA and now as owner of Rivendell Bicycle Works (a mail-order company for classical bikes and accessories, 510/933-7304; CA).

Bicycling once dubbed Petersen a “retro-grouch,” a name he adopted with pride. He even ordered T-shirts emblazoned with R.O.N.A. (Retro-grouches Of North America). ButPetersen, 43, is no cultist crank railing against any bike that doesn’t come with friction shift levers or toeclips and straps. Thoughtful, soft-spoken and articulate, he’s a principled guy who loves bikes and hates to think they’re being turned into disposable, trendy toys. As a counterpoint to last month’s special section on lightweight bikes and equipment, here are his thoughts on the current lightweight craze.

Being asked to write a brief contrary piece to an issue that more or less encourages you to ride lighter bikes is almost a setup. I have enough words to get me into trouble but not out of it, and there’s the danger I’ll be branded as one who actually likes heavy bikes. So, for the record: I like light bikes, but I like them to be robust, too. Below a certain point, they can’t be both.

For instance, if you take a 38-pound bicycle deep into the heart of the Belgian Congo and let locals ride it, as I am fond of doing once a fortnight, you’ll see them having a great time on a 38-pound bike. It was the same for all of us on our first ride on a 38-pounder. We learn to dislike it later, after we know more.

Like the first time we ride a 23-pounder. Then we shun the 38-pounder or relegate it to beater-bike status because we have a new standard. Ironically, we shortly get used to the 23-pounder, and it becomes no more fun to pedal than the 38-pounder was after we’d gotten used to it.

So we go looking for the same revelation we experienced going from 38 to 23 pounds. But it was easy to strip 15 pounds off the 38-pounder and still end up with a bike that’s plenty strong and a lot more zippy. Taking 3 more pounds off a 23-pounder isn’t so easy. You’ve already gotten rid of the cheap, heavy, bad stuff. You’ll need to take off some of the good stuff, making a healthy, no-worries bike into something less. That’s a 13% weight loss. Could you lose 13% of your weight without risking your health? If the answer’s “yes,” a 23-pound bike isn’t the anchor dragging you down.

Before you start chipping away at your bike and bank account, ask yourself why you’re doing it in the first place. If you race and want every actual and psychological advantage you can get, OK. Just keep in mind, though, that the best racers in the world regularly ride bikes in the 21- to 21.5-pound range. Sure, they ride them hard – but they get them free, they aren’t expected to last for years and someone else maintains them.

Suppose you just ride hard for fitness and you like to keep track of your PRs. If you do your local lake loop in 1:00:49 on your 23-pounder, and honestly want to monitor your fitness, it makes sense to keep using the same bike. If you get a 20-pounder and break an hour – even if just barely – the hour barrier would have been bought. If you ride in groups, a few pounds less will never make a speed difference. It’s like riding with a wind fairing in a pack. Why? You ride the group’s pace, not the fastest you can extract from your body and bike.

I’m not questioning that light bikes are fun to ride, nor anyone’s motives for buying and riding the lightest bike they possibly can. I’m just suggesting that an obsession with light weight is expensive at best, dangerous at worst and can’t by itself sustain a long-term interest in bicycles.

A good bike weighs what it ought to weigh. Get a bike that feels good, get set up on it properly, and make sure you aren’t lugging around any cheap heavy parts. And if you want to cut the weight, do it in the places where, if the parts do fail, you’ll still be able to finish the ride.

And never forget the joy of the 38-pounder.”

Works Cited

Martin, Scott. “Grant Petersen: why light isn’t always right.” Bicycling Nov.-Dec. 1997: 112. General OneFile. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

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Bike frame sizing. You’re probably riding something too small.

Grant explains some bits to sports writer about bicycles, fit, and racing’s questionable influences on the perceived norms of bicycles.

“Grant Petersen is on the phone, and he insists that he really, really does need to know the distance from the floor to the mid-point of my pubic bone.

“You’re in bare feet, right?” he asks.

I assure him that I am and wonder what he’s going on about. * Petersen is the founder of Rivendell Bicycle Works (800/345-3918;, a small company dedicated to the proposition that 98 percent of us ride bikes that are too small. And wear the wrong kind of cycling clothing. And sit on the wrong kind of saddles. Grant’s thinking is so old school that you halfway expect him to tell you to get rid of your clipless pedals. *

“You should get rid of your clipless pedals,” he tells me, referencing page 68 of his company’s summer/fall ’03 catalogue, on which it says that having your foot attached to the pedal may be more efficient, but so what?

And those small bikes we’re all riding, well, that’s just because we’re letting racers tell us what kind of bikes we should ride. Most of us don’t race, so why use racing geometry, Petersen asks. * I’ve reported on and written about a lot of sports, from minor league hockey to baseball to NASCAR to mountain climbing. And I’m here to tell you that no sport attracts more freethinkers than cycling. True, there is an orthodoxy about bike materials and training methods and gear and fit, but for some reason, our sport draws an unusual number of Grant Petersens, who are convinced they can do things better than the rest of the pack. Tilting at windmills? Maybe. But we need guys like Petersen.”

Works Cited

“Not framed in.” Bicycling Apr. 2004: 20. General OneFile. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

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A blurb on practical cycling from a little whiles back.

Grant Petersen hasn’t only been talking about making more moderate bikes for normal people in the short term, but has had that vision for quite some time.

“Racing has influenced general road bike design and spec to the point where it’s hard to find a high-end bike that makes sense for people who don’t race.

The high-end road frame has gone beyond “racy” to borderline dysfunctional. If you break a spoke on a typical high-end road bike, the wheel jams against the frame or fork. If you want to mount a larger tire, you max out at 700×25 for half of them, and 700×28 for the rest. They’re unsuitable for riding in the rain because you can’t fit fenders. The handlebars are too low, and the 52×12 and 53×11 gears are too high.

Customers buy them not because they want such an extreme bike, but because they don’t know what to look for and put too much faith in others to look out for their needs.

We need road bikes for real, normal people.”


Works Cited

Petersen, Grant. “We need road bikes that make sense for the rest of us.” Bicycle Retailer and Industry News 15 Apr. 2005: 38. General OneFile. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

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