Monday, January 30, 2012

Why the Beautiful Game (and other sports) Matter

Yup, thats right.
Football is the best sport in the world.

Let me translate that into North American, "Soccer is the best sport in the world".

The simple fact of the matter is that soccer is an accessible, universal sport that only requires one piece of equipment, a ball, which can be fashioned out of just about anything.  And while I love the humanity and heartbreak of other sports like triathlon or cycling, and the pace and grit of other sports like hockey or American Football, I can't bring myself to say that any of that can outweigh the simplicity and universality of soccer.

Side Note:  One of the common gripes about soccer by North Americans is that its "boring".  But if you've ever played soccer, or been to a match, you'll develop a greater appreciation for the skill and athleticism these athletes hold.  Its not an easy sport, and its amazing what the feet of the greats like Zidane, and Pele can do with a ball.  I'd urge anyone that has ever complained about the game being boring, to find a ball and play some pick up.

For millions of children growing up around the world the dream of one day playing for a professional club represents a far reaching ticket from the ordinary, it represents a path to fame and fortune.  In spite of the politics that exist in the upper echelons of any sport, soccer remains a meritocracy that rewards skill with no prerequisites such as family income.  To succeed in hockey, triathlon, American football, the entry ticket for a kid is thousands of dollars of equipment and fees that many families can't afford.  But with soccer, scouts and development systems in countries that are serious about the sport, will make sure that talent is identified and cultivated from a young age if you've got the skill, not necessarily the money.  You can't buy your way into success in the sport, but if you're good enough, and only if you're good enough, you'll get somewhere.

What I find frustrating as a Canadian is the lack of funding that soccer, and of course other sports receive. As a nation we've become perfectly content to be really truly exceptional at hockey, but nothing else really.  That's not to marginalize the achievements of our other athletes, but rather highlight that we're okay with landing where we land with other sports, but God forbid we not win the hockey game.  This does a great disservice to our youth.

For just one second, imagine a "parallel universe Canada".  Imagine that our women losing 4-0 to the US at the CONCACAF final was met with sport section front page inquiries as to "What happened?".  In this parallel universe imagine that our achievements in speed skating are as celebrated (or even almost as celebrated) as our achievements in hockey.  Imagine that development programs were in place that allowed up and coming triathletes funding to travel to qualifier races so they didn't have to pay out of their own pocket to try and make the national team.

Now imagine the trickle down effect this would have in youth athletics and fitness.  If we placed more funding and emphasis on sports other than hockey it would give more kids an opportunity to find sports and activities they enjoy.  Development programs recognizing talent in kids participating other sports would provide encouragement to participate and even excel with the hopes and dreams of one day playing for a professional club, or being able to stand on the podium while representing your country.  This would promote greater participation rates in youth activities.

Imagine the possibilities now!  Lower childhood obesity rates, reversing the trend in heart disease among younger and younger demographics, fewer kids sitting in front of the TV playing on the PS3 instead choosing to play some pick up soccer, people growing up more fit, more people riding their bikes to work, more attractive people walking down the street, lower GHG emissions, the hole in the ozone gets fixed, famines will end, the world is saved! And it goes on, and on, and on.

Soccer is the best example of how a sport that can bridge age, race, gender, and income.  It matters because for so many youths around the world it represents so much more than a game, it represents hope and opportunity.  Recognizing that soccer and other sports are more than just games we watch on TV is one of the most important things we can do towards bringing sport to our youths.  And in turn making Canada a very fit, proud, sport powerhouse.

Soccer matters.  Sport matters.

It all starts here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Shit Cyclists Say and Shit Yogis Say

Just thought I'd post a couple good videos on this Monday morning that are good for a laugh while you sip a coffee, or wheatgrass drink or whatever.  Most of you have probably seen one or both by now, but in case you haven't/

First of all, Shit Cyclists Say,

Secondly, Shit Yogis Say

Have a happy Monday everyone!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Buying Your First Road or Triathlon Bike- Part II

Buying a bicycle can be a fairly intimidating process.  Whether you are buying a road bike or a triathlon bike, it seems there is an endless amount of options when it comes to brands, components, and materials.  Before you go looking for a new bike at your local bike shop, or start phoning up and emailing people on Kijiji about used bikes, here are two things to know about that you should consider in the purchase process.

Frame Material

Say hello to my little friend, I just got an S5 Rival
This is as good a place as any to start when considering which bike to buy.  For better or worse, frame material is probably the best indicator to determining how far your dollars are going to go.  You basically have three options when looking for a bike when it comes to bike frame materials (in ascending order of cost);

  •  Steel- If you're planning on buying a bike for triathlon or any sort of group riding. You probably won't be looking at steel bikes.  Steel bikes are generally of a 1990s or earlier vintage, and today you mostly see them being ridden around by coffee drinking hipsters with too-tight pants and a messenger bag.  I feel I should mention them though because steel frames are durable, compliant, and can be great bikes for locking up to a lamp post and grabbing a beer after work on.  (For the record, I have nothing wrong with these bikes, as a matter of fact I own one, but they're often converted to single speed bikes or fixies. Fixies are to bike riding what vegetarianism is to eating, you're going through the same motions, but its not near as fun).  Price point for steel bikes- if its more than $100 its probably a "vintage" rip off.
  • Aluminium- Aluminium bikes are the most affordable and popular frames you'll find out there today.  Aluminium bikes have greater lateral stiffness than steel bikes, meaning they transfer power to the road more effectively than their steel counterparts, however this comes at the expense of ride quality.  Aluminium bikes generally tend to ride harsher and you can feel vibrations and bumps in the road more easily than with carbon or steel.  That being said, aluminium is going to be your frame material of choice if you're on any sort of budget.  They're far more durable than carbon bikes, and significantly lighter than steel bikes, and since there's in greater supply than the other two materials, these will be the most sensible choice for your wallet.  For a new aluminium bike with decent components, you're looking at around $1000 and up, and for used you generally start in the ballpark of $500.
  • Carbon Fibre- It just sounds so cool to say that your bike is made of the same material as a Formula 1 car.  Carbon Fibre is the best of every world when it comes to bike frame materials.  Carbon fibre is lighter than any other bike frame material, has greater lateral stiffness than aluminium, and is more vertically compliant than steel.  In sum, carbon is lighter, more comfortable, and stiffer than any other material.  Its achilles heal is that it tends to be less crash resistant than metal frames, for instance, if you ever over-tighten a clamp around a carbon tube, you'll need a new carbon tube since it is very difficult to repair.  That's changing however as bike manufacturers start using the ballistic carbon that riot shields are made of to make bike frames.  Even some mountain bikes today are made of carbon and can withstand the beating of  crashes and tough terrain.  Used carbon bikes will generally start around $1000-$1500, and new carbon bikes can be had around $1800.  Be careful of buying carbon used though, a carbon frame can easily be cracked yet the damage may not be visible through the paint.

Bike Components

Depending on who you ask, components can actually be a more important factor in the bike purchase process than frame material.  I generally dispute this because its easier to upgrade components than frames, but I'll play along.  The major players when it comes to components are Shimano, and SRAM, and if you want to get exotic, Campognolo. Here are the a few price points for bike components, and where the brand models fall in;

  • Junk Level- I'm really not sure where the bottom is when it comes to entry level bike components but let me say one thing, if you're planning on keeping your bike for more than one season, as far as you're concerned, anything from Wal-Mart, Zellers, Canadian Tire, Superstore, etc etc, is below entry level. If all the shifters say on them is "Shimano", then you're looking at mushy, unresponsive, and possibly dangerously poor quality (Seriously, the brakes stretch far too much for what can be considered safe) components. Go to a real bike shop.
  • Entry Level-  Shimano has their Sora and Tiagra components, and SRAM has their APEX level components in this price category.  You'll generally find these on the lower end aluminium bikes and they'll get the job done for a season or two.  What you'll find though is that shifting and braking response will generally be a little soft, and your components might fall out of adjustment quite frequently.  If you can spend the extra $200 to get the next level up, I strongly recommend it.
  • Recreational Level- For Shimano this is their Shimano 105 component line, and for SRAM this is their SRAM Rival line.  These are solid, reliable components that are well suited for the needs of someone who rides 50km per a week and up.  In this category I actually prefer SRAM Rival to Shimano 105 but I can't really say anything bad about either.  Thanks to the trickle down effect, these components were top of the line about 6 or 7 years so the biggest differences are in weight and probably shift quality. But they'll sure get the job done.  You'll find them on a lot of the new mid price range carbon or aluminium bikes.
  • Enthusiast Level- Shimano Ultegra and SRAM Force.  I have one of these on each of my bikes and at this level the debate is becoming more like Nike or Adidas, Backstreet Boys or N Sync, Star Trek  or Star Wars.  Both component sets are exceptional today and the only difference between this stuff and what they ride in the tour is about $1000, 300 grams, and a year's R&D budget.  You won't really find these groupsets on new aluminium bikes these days because they're definitely targeted towards more upmarket bikes, but if you find a used aluminium bike with either group in your price range, you can be rest assured that its an awesome component spec.
  • Pro Level- Dura Ace and SRAM Red.  I won't talk much about these because they're incredible and expensive.  And if you're seriously considering buying one of these group sets and reading a blog post on buying your first bike, you simply have too much money. 
So there you have it.  The two biggest factors that are going to dictate the price of your bike are frame material and bike components.  Now when you visit the bike shop or check out that used bike you saw on Pinkbike you'll be better equipped to make your decision.

In the next post I'll talk about all the fancy bike gear your can blow your money on.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Buying Your First Road or Triathlon Bike- Part I

Its no secret in my social circles that I'm a bit of a bike geek.  Right now I own and actively use no less than four bikes.  In ascending order of how much I value them they are;

  • a 1980-something beater Apollo Road bike 
  • A bombproof crit-ready Cervelo S1 with Ultegra components
  • A Cervelo P2C Triathlon/TT Bike with SRAM Force components
  • And the newest addition a Cervelo S5 SRAM Rival compoenents

So when it comes to bike shopping usually I'm the person people ask to tag along. A win-win situation since it allows me to spend vicariously through my friends, and in return they get a piece of my expansive knowledge of bikes, some of which I'm about to share with you.

In the first of three blog posts regarding bike buying, I'll talk about important considerations when buying your first bike.
The Cervelo P2C remains the standard for entry level tri bikes
  • Budget- You definitely don't have to blow the bank to get a good entry level bike.  You should decide early on a range of how much you'd like to spend.  Typically, even with used bikes you're not going to get a whole lot for under about $500 so that should be your starting point.  If you're looking for a new bike, you can raise that minimum spend to about $1000.  You should think about your budget carefully but don't be afraid to spend a little more than you planned if there's a bike out there that gets you excited about riding.  At the end of the day, if you purchase a bike that you're excited about, you'll ride it more and I really think you're health and fitness are more important than the extra $200 you'll shell out if it means you get to feel like Lance Armstrong.
  • Fit with your bike and fit with your dealer-  Nothing is more important when it comes to bikes than fit.  A bike that is too small will not allow you to ride efficiently or comfortably, while a bike that is too big will leave you stretched out with little control over the bike to the point where it can actually be dangerous.  I strongly recommend you go to your local bike shop ("LBS") and have the staff size you up so you can get an idea of how big a bike you should be riding.  Its really important that you have a good relationship with your LBS and this will also give you an opportunity to visit a shop or two and see who you like.  If the staff is intimidating or don't give you the time of day simply because you aren't ready to buy just yet, go on to the next shop.
  • Accessories- Figure this in to your budget early on. Recognize that beyond the bike there are a few things you'll need to purchase.  You should be able to pick up some pedals, shoes, gloves, shorts, water bottles and cage, and a helmet all for under about $250 if you're frugal.  Note that mountain bike pedal/shoe systems are not generally cross compatible with road pedal/shoe systems.  Also note that the biggest practical difference between helmets sold at any reputable bike shop is weight, ventilation, and coolness-- safety wise they'll all protect you as well as the next one so less expensive doesn't mean it won't protect your noggin.  Gloves are a must, if you don't believe me, if when you crash you'll know why.  Bike shorts are also a must, spend half an hour on a road saddle sans proper shorts and something won't feel right... something really important down there.
  • Road bike?- If you plan to do lots of riding in groups or want to get into the road riding scene as well as race triathlon, I strongly recommend you get a road bike.  With group rides typically only road bikes are allowed to participate unless you're training with a specific triathlon training group.  This isn't because of some elitist roadie rule, its because road bikes handle better, allow you a more upright position to see what's going on and interact with others, and are generally far more responsive than their triathlon cousins. Also, since there is greater supply, you'll usually find road bikes are a bit cheaper than even used triathlon bikes.  For anything short of  Ironman distance triathlons, if this is to be your only bike, I'd recommend a roadie.  Plus, you can always slap some clip on aero bars to a road bike to get you 90% of the benefits of a tri bike.
  • Triathlon bike?- If you already have a road bike, or a hybrid, maybe you'll want to consider a dedicated triathlon/time trial bike.  They allow you a more aggressive aerodynamic position, and if set up properly they can even be fairly comfortable for the long haul.  The geometry of a triathlon bike is also designed to "save" the muscles you use for the run, so you get off the bike feeling a bit fresher when your foot finally hits the pavement.  This comes at a small price though as handling isn't quite as good, and if you aren't flexible enough to be in that aero position for long you'll lose some of those aerodynamic benefits by having to sit up frequently.  Additionally typically the aero benefit of a triathlon bike doesn't come into effect until about 30km/hr so until you have some more time in the saddle you may not be taking full advantage of the utility of a tri bike.  That being said, if you're only interested in triathlon, or have the budget for more than one bike over the long run, go for a triathlon rig.
In the next post I'll talk about some more specifics about different bike frames materials, components, and costs.  In the meantime some good places to look for used bikes include;