Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Q&A: Indoor trainers, Cliff House tandem

Q: Hi Jim - I have an indoor trainer question that I always wanted to ask. How tight should you crank the roller against the tire? I think that I probably have it too tight.

A: That's a good question because it's easy to get it too loose or too tight and how you set it effects traction and tire wear. Ideally you want to get it just tight enough so that the roller doesn't lose traction when you pedal hard. If you get squeaking it's because it's not tight enough and the tire is slipping. (Be sure to first fully inflate your tire.)

Of course, whether it squeaks or not during pedaling depends on how hard you ride on your trainer. If you apply steady pressure on the pedals the roller usually won't slip even if it's not overly tight. But, if you're doing repeats (intervals) on the trainer, where you ride easy then accelerate hard, and repeat, you will need it tighter against the tire so it doesn't slip.

I usually make sure my tires are fully inflated, mount the bike on the trainer and then screw the roller against the tire (I ride a Kurt Kinetic Rock & Roll Trainer). I then grab the wheel and pull it up and down, and tighten the roller until there's no slipping at all. At this setting you'll have the traction needed without pressing the roller so tighly against the tire that you wear it out too soon.

Keep in mind that all trainers wear tires more quickly so I now use a special tire made only for trainer use, Continental's Home Trainer. It's made of a harder rubber designed to hold up to the trainer roller so that you can save your good tires for road riding (the Home Trainer is not for outdoor use). Some people simply install inexpensive tires on their bike for use on the trainer instead.

You didn't ask me about something else that's also important, and that's how tightly you mount your bike in the trainer. Most have adjustable mounts that hold the rear end of the bicycle off the ground by clamping the rear wheel quick release. It's important not to set this clamp too tight too. The way to get it right is to check how easily the wheel spins once you've mounted your bike in the trainer but before you've tightened the roller against the tire. Just give the wheel a push and make sure it spins freely. If it moves 1/2 turn and stops, it's probably because you have your bike clamped in the trainer too tightly.

It's pretty easy on most of them to set the clamp so that it puts so much pressure on your bike that it actually tightens the hub bearings on your rear wheel. That will make it harder to pedal and it can also cause bearing damage, so check for that and fine-tune your trainer clamp until it holds the bicycle securely but doesn't compress the bearings.

Lastly, people sometimes ask me if trainers can hurt bicycles. They worry that the bike is held in such a way that you might put forces on the bike on the trainer that could weaken or damage the frame or parts. It's a good question because there are all kinds of different trainer designs, but I've never seen one that could hurt your bike as long as you follow the instructions and mount your bike correctly. As I mentioned, you can wear tires more quickly and put too much pressure on the rear wheel bearings, but the frame and components aren't at risk from the trainer. You should take one precaution, though. Be sure to drape a towel over your bike if you're riding hard enough to start sweating because that can drip on your frame and components and over time, damage things via corrosion.

To great indoor rides!

Q: Hi Jim,

I maintain a website about the famous Cliff House and I found a bicycle photo I was wondering if you could help me with. I'm curious what's with the double handlebar? FYI: This photo was definitely taken between 1896 and 1907 (based on the building).

Thanks for any help you can provide. I'll add it to the photo.

A: Cool photo, Gary. There are 2 handlebars on that bike because it's a tandem bike, a bicycle built for two. It's hard to see because it blends in with the man's clothes, but there's also a second seat on the bike. So, I would call that a circa 1900 men's tandem bicycles. One of the interesting features of tandems of this era is that they are steered by the person in back.
Today's tandem bikes are almost always steered from the front. To steer it from the back, the one in your photo has a linkage that lets the rear handlebars move the front wheel. You can see the linkage bar on the side of the frame. The person in front just goes along for the ride as the person in back steers. The people that rode this tandem had to be pretty darn fit because it only has one sprocket on the back and it's pretty small meaning a hard-to-pedal gear, especially if they were to have to ride up any of San Francisco's steep hills.
Those are a few notes that I hope are helpful. I'm afraid I can't see anything on the bike that tips me off to the brand or model. I would say that the man is dressed very nicely in cycling knickers, knee socks, leather shoes, gloves and a tidy cap. He appears to have the latest cycling fashions and may have been fairly well-to-do since the tandem and the cycling gear was expensive even in 1900, and a way to show off your stature in society. I suspect he was riding with another man, though, not a woman, since the front of the bike is a man's frame. If he was with a woman, the front of the bike would have had a sloping frame for the woman to get on and off easily.

If anyone sees this and can identify the make of the bike I'll keep you posted,


Yokota Fritz said...

Here's a modern, stoker-steered tandem. The creator, Chris Brown, generally brings these to Sea Otter if you want to check it out. My daughter absolutely LOVES it.

Jim Langley said...

Nice! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips! You were one of the first links that came up when I googled "how tight bike trainer," BTW. Now I've got mine working swimmingly.