Call it my wine-and-baguette fetish if you will, but there is something appealing of that French country bike with leather saddle and wing-like handlebars, a loaf of bread and bottle of Merlot poking out of canvas panniers.
The RANS Xstream is a bike with a pedigree. Designed by one of recumbent cycling's pioneers, Randy Schlitter, the Xstream was a bicycle born, I suspect, with a single purpose: To, for once and for all, bury the myth that long wheelbase (LWB) recumbents are heavy, slow, and poor climbers.
I can state with a fair degree of certainty that Mr. Schlitter achieved his objectives.
Before I get into the meat of this review, however, permit me to note a few things. Though I knew of the Xstream through reputation, and had actually taken one out for a spin at Basically Bicycles prior to purchasing mine, there were few cogent reviews of this recumbent bicycle to be found on the internet. There is one review at bentrideronline.com, and a couple of "happy new buyer" notes on the cycling fora, but thorough reviews were notably absent.
I feel somewhat justified in taking on the task, as I have been riding recumbents almost exclusively since the mid-1980s, and in fact, my first recumbent bicycle was the first one designed and produced by RANS -- the RANS Stratus Model A. Though I'm no racer, I commute and tour on bikes, and have been known to complete a couple of 200k randos. I pretty much live on my bikes and I do my own wrenching. So, yes, I feel very comfortable around bikes in general, and recumbent bikes in particular.
My interest was drawn to the Xstream during the 2009 Ride Across America (RAAM). RAAM is a grueling, non-stop race beginning in southern California and grinding on, shedding the weak like Darwin on steroids, until the riders that are left reach Annapolis, MD. With many other recumbent bike riders, I watched with pleasure as the 4-man recumbent team, all riding the Xstream, crushed the competition and won their division by more than four hours, taking their steeds across the continent at an average speed exceeding 20 mph. Mr. Schlitter himself said that "The Xstream was designed for this race."
Unsurprisingly, the RAAM win pumped sales of this bike. Oddly, though, after the initial buzz, talk about the Xstream died down considerably. Though I was favorably impressed by my brief test ride at the time, the performance of this bike was matched by the price tag, and I never could justify the expense. And so the thing sat, at least until this spring, when, with a nudge from a friend, I stumbled on a great deal from a rider who couldn't make the Xstream work for him after his back surgery. He had only ridden the bike around the block a few times, so for all intents and purposes, it was a brand-new bike at a garage sale price. I jumped at the chance.
My Xstream sports a cool gray aluminum frame. Handlebar and stem were stock RANS. Up front is a RANS Apex 165mm compact double (50/34) and Ultegra derailleur. A SRAM 970 chain drives a SRAM 971 cassette (11-34) through an X-9 rear derailleur. That gives a gearing range of approx. 26-118 gear inches. On the bars are SRAM X-9 twist shifters and Avid 7 Speed Dial brake levers. Wheels are Avid XM317 (559) turning on Deore hubs. Continental Sport Contact tires complete the package. Brakes are Avid 7 Single Digit linear-pull and the cables and housings are by Alligator.
The front brake is worthy of comment as brake interference with the crankset is a chronic problem with the Xstream. The front calipers are specced with KwickStop low profile pads. These allow the calipers to run in a slightly more closed position. Using a Travel Agent instead of a noodle narrowed the profile more.
I was initially concerned with the gearing. For starters, I have never had a recumbent with less than triple chainrings, and I was worried that the slightly higher low end of the compact double would be insufficient for this slow old guy who lives in the foothills of the Berkshire mountain range. I was also concerned about the slightly higher bottom bracket than what I am used to. I'm at the short end of normal height, and the leg drop required by a high racer recumbent is thoroughly out of my league. With fingers crossed, I hoped I would adapt.
After 300 miles on the Xstream, including the omnipresent hills as well as rolling terrain and flats, and with a couple of metric centuries under my belt, I think I have a handle on this bike. It's worthy to note that during this 300 miles, I set two personal bests, not an easy feat for a man who has been riding for 38 years.
Getting the Xstream dialed in is not a task for the impatient. Seat angle affects longitudinal seat position, which in turn affects handlebar height and stem distance, as well as handlebar angle...you get the idea. That, coupled with the fact that knee interference with cornering is a very real consequence of poor setup on the Xstream had me riding with bloodied left knee and allen wrench gripped tightly in the right hand for the first 50 miles or so. Interestingly, it was at about mile 100 that I finally hit the sweet spot. I popped over a friendly New England pothole, which torqued the handlebars down ever so slightly, and voilà, it all clicked into place. I tightened up the nuts a squidge and let it be.
Though the frame accommodates a wide range of heights and X-seams, I'm a touch shorter than average height. I found that to keep the handlebars correctly place for my north-of-normal seat position, I had to cut away a good 3 inches of stem.
The Xstream also suffers from the RANS shifting seat clamp problem, so that the seat imperceptibly slides backwards under heavy pedal pressure until, after 30 miles or so, you realize that you are stretching a bit too much to reach the pedals. This is a well-known problem with the RANS clamp, and there are various ways to fix it -- the easiest being a piece of innertube situated between clamp and frame.
Surprisingly, I found that I was very comfortable with a fairly extreme reclined position on the Hoagie seat. On my other recumbents, with more standard mesh seats, a highly reclined position makes my neck very sore after 10 or so miles. It was nice to find that the intersection of aero and comfort exists.
That long wheelbase builds in a lot of suspension, so even with the fairly tight Conti tires, the Xstream runs sweetly on the chipseal and over the potholes of my riding range. Not once did I feel my teeth chattering as it has on other bikes. The LWB design also makes for very stable high-speed handling, and for the first time on a 'bent, I really felt like I was carving the curves at 60 kph.
At the other end of the scale, like any other LWB, the Xstream is not a fan of low speeds. Keeping a line at 9 kph is dicey, though it can be done, and I didn't really feel that I would be easily toppled until I dropped below 7 kph. I had read about people's complaints of the Xstream's low speed handling, but frankly, this is pretty typical for a LWB. If you want to go that slow up the hills, get a trike.
At any speed, though, the Xstream requires your attention. This is a thoroughbred you're riding here, not your typical stable nag, and it's not going to let you get away with sloppy handling. And there's no chance of a low-speed sharp turn. This bike is designed for the open road, not city traffic.
The best way to handle the Xstream, I found, is with a combination of attention and relaxation. Actually, 38 Special put it better than I.
What the Xstream gives in spades, however, is speed. This bike simply leaps at the hills, begging me with its efficient power transfer to bound up them. Once I learned to respond to the Xstream's clarion call, my concern for the lack of an extra-strength granny gear disappeared. Because, quite frankly, it won't let me go slow up the hills, and I don't need the lower gear inches.
This is really the first bike that I found I could appreciably accelerate up hills. It has been a unique experience for me, passing other riders like they were standing still in the middle of a climb. More often than not, in my experience, it has been the other way around, but the Xstream puts the power to the wheel very expeditiously, even when I am deeply reclined, a position traditionally weak for climbing.
The Xstream also wants its own head on the downhills. Because of the extremely aero position I can achieve, my downhill runs have increased by several kph, without me even trying. Since the bicycle feels like its running on rails, I can also corner with greater assurance, and I can lean into a curve at 57+ kph. On rolling hills this is a killer combination, allowing me to outdistance far stronger engines, because I don't even feel the hill until I'm halfway up it, and can relatively easily maintain speed over the crests. On the flats, I've found that I can maintain an average speed of 30 kph comfortably. Let's face it, that's pretty fast for a slow guy.
The brakes work as you would expect from a pair of reasonable Avid V-brakes. They have more than sufficient stopping power, and I've experienced no fade on longer descents.
The Whole Package
What all of this translates into is the perfect long-distance bike. Both centuries I've ridden on the Xstream have been fast pleasures, in one case setting a long-distance personal best. I can hop on the bike with the intent of rolling for miles and not be dissatisfied.
At the same time, I think I understand better the more recent silence on the part of Xstream owners. The Xstream is a demanding ride. It's not a commuter, it's not an around-town bike, it's not a mosey-down-the-bike-path bike. It is a get on, go fast and go far bike, which isn't everybody's cup of tea. You aren't going to get away with napping in the saddle on an Xstream, and that makes for a lively and fun ride.
Perhaps the best way I can describe it is that riding the Xstream is like riding a stallion. You have to pay attention and realize that while your steed will demand much of you, it will deliver so much more performance than any other kind of ride.
For me, the Xstream filled a perfect niche in my stable. I have the all-rounder, the tourer, the utility bike and the French country bike that carries wine and baguette to the picnic. What I needed was a bike built for eating miles on the open road, a bike that challenges me to greater performance with performance of its own. The Xstream is all that and more.
Note: There have been some design changes on the Xstream since my model came out. Nothing radical, but you can see the latest specs at the RANS website.
For decades, cycling in America has struggled to roll beyond the pitifully small number of cyclists who ride on a regular basis. Despite the facts that regular riding can slash your transportation costs, improve your health and longevity (cyclists live 2-5 years longer than non-cyclists) and reduce infrastructure expenses for cities and towns, cycling remains a backseat activity for most people.
There are many reasons cyclists want to see more of us on the road. Some for perceived safety reasons -- citing studies showing that the more cyclists there are on the road, the safer it becomes for all cyclists. Some because a larger cycling population means that more funding will be allocated to cycling-specific infrastructure. Some wish to see cycling increase because of its undeniable environmental, economic, and health benefits.
Certainly, there are areas showing cycling growth. New York, San Francisco, Portland, Denver and a few other cities have seen a rather dramatic upsurge in the use of bicycles on a daily basis for commuting and running errands. But outside of the urban environment's hip pocket, there's not a lot happening.
Take Litchfield, for example. I can count on one hand the number of people I've seen in Litchfield using their bicycle as anything more than a recreational device. There are maybe 2-3 people, in a town of 8,000 who commute by bike, and I have never, ever seen another bicycle parked in front of Stop and Shop, CVS, or along West Street.
Is it unfeasible to use a bicycle for transportation in Litchfield's suburban/rural environment? Certainly not. If you live in much of Litchfield, you are, by definition, within only a few miles of the town's center. The town's facilities and shops are also within easy cycling distance of parts of Bantam. I am quite willing to concede that cycling from Northfield, however, may be an uphill slog that fewer are willing to do.
Geography is not the problem. So what is?
There's certainly interest in the state of cycling in Litchfield. There is an active group shepherding a recalcitrant multi-use path into existence. Once completed, this path would connect the center of Litchfield with Bantam, allowing cyclists to avoid Route 202 .
And I confess to being both surprised and dismayed at a few bicycle advocacy meetings I attended in the past couple of years. I was surprised in that the turnout for both meetings, to discuss ways to improve the state of cycling in Litchfield, was significantly higher than I thought it would be . My dismay stemmed from the fact in that I was the only attendee who actually rode a bicycle to the meetings.
Just so that it doesn't slide by, let me repeat that: I was the only person to ride a bicycle to attend two bicycle advocacy meetings.
There's something so dismally wrong with that fact that I have been a little bit afraid to do anything but squint at it sideways for fear of what I might find. At least I was, until I realized that this problem isn't a local one. It's a national one. It's a problem that has infected every cycling advocacy program in the U.S., and it has remained largely ignored:
The problem with cycle advocacy lies at the feet of cyclists themselves and the cycling industry in North America.
The problem is that cyclists need to grow up.
I have been involved deeply in cycling since my teens, when I built my first "10-speed" from junked parts at age 17, to my twenties, when I discovered the joys of recumbent bicycles, to today, as one of the League of American Bicyclist's 3,000+ certified cycling instructors. But while I have grown up with cycling culture, the cycling culture hasn't grown up with me.
Looking back to the cycling renaissance of the 70s, even though it was stirred by gasoline shortages and skyrocketing prices, the appearance and culture of cycling was completely built around the sport of cycling. Movies such as Breaking Away personified the cycling zeitgeist of the 70s.
Fast forward with me through the next 25 years. The next current that dragged cycling again into the public eye was a man by the name of Lance Armstrong. America loves a winner, particularly a winner in a sport dominated by Europeans, who even after 200+ years of independence from the UK, still make us insecure. Armstrong's winning streak, it was thought by many in the cycling community, would bring a flood of riders onto the road. This, of course, was long before we discovered that Armstrong was drugged to the gills and winning more by pharmaceutical fiat than by true talent.
Regardless, the projected jump in numbers never materialized. Sure, there were a few more cyclists on the road than there were before, but hardly enough to make a statistical difference.
Jump to today, and once again, economic conditions have conspired to make cycling a potentially valuable mode of transportation. In fact, it just makes raw common sense to hop on a bike instead of in a car. Without even trying, I saved $3,000 last year by riding a bike a lot of places instead of taking an automobile. Do you have enough spare change to throw away a cool three grand for no reason? I don't. And it's not like I'm some sort of athlete. I'm just a guy on a bike going to work or the store.
And while a few isolated parts of the country have seen a substantial uptick, the seeds of cycling elsewhere in the country have not only failed to blossom, they haven't even taken root (e.g., Litchfield). In many countries of Europe, everyday cycling is becoming a reality as it did long ago for the citizens of the Netherlands, where 86% of the residents hop on their bikes daily to run errands or go to work.
The difference between there and here, and then and now, is the behaviour of the cyclists themselves. Watch, for a few seconds, the cyclists of Copenhagen:
What do you see? The first thing I'll bet most people saw was the lack of helmets. Then there is the clothing -- everybody seems to be wearing everyday work or casual clothing. Then there is the behavior, on the part of both motorists and cyclists. The bikes look comfortable, and nobody is bent double in an uncomfortable, pseudo-aerodynamic position. Racks for groceries, briefcases, kids. Everything in that video speaks to what it is like to cycle in a mature cycling culture. Safe. Family-friendly. Gentle.
Compare that to what you've seen of cyclists in the U.S.: Cycling helmets, hi-viz gear, running red lights, running stop signs, making left turns from the right-hand side of the road, riding on sidewalks. Crouched down on uncomfortable-looking bikes stripped down to virtually nothing. Pounding their way to the next stop light. Cycling in the U.S. is almost the converse of cycling in a bicycle-rich environment.
In a cycling-rich environment, the cyclists behave as if cycling is a normal activity. They wear normal clothes. They don't bother with unnecessary safety gear, like hi-viz jackets or helmets. They don't ride like they are pretending to be racing. They ride like -- well, they ride like normal people on a bike. Cycling is the normal way of life.
American cycling, unfortunately, is stuck in the unprofitable, dead-end rut of promoting cycling only as a sport, not as a lifestyle. From manufacturers to advocacy groups, the vision of cycling in the U.S. is still built around the young, macho cyclist forging his way through danger and adversity.
But if you really want cycling to grow, you have to abandon that shrinking demographic. You have to attract different people to the activity, and in particular, you need to make it appealing to women. The percentage of female cyclists is closely correlated with the growth of cycling in a number of countries, to the extent where women cyclists are considered the canaries in the coal mine. When their numbers drop, cycling dies.
So here are the steps cyclists need to take to ensure the growth of the activity.
1. Stop selling fear. Selling an activity as risky and adventurous works very well on the 14-28 male demographic. It doesn't work so well with women, whose number one reason for not cycling more is that they feel it is unsafe. And why wouldn't they? All of this special safety gear that you allegedly need to ride a bike practically screams DANGER!
The fact of the matter is, cycling is one of the safest activities you can engage in. Injuries requiring medical intervention are relatively rare for cyclists, and those who do suffer injury are not infrequently riding unsafely. The alleged danger of cycling has been highlighted by the focus on racing and exaggerated by an industry focused on selling to their slender demographic.
So, for crying out loud, quit preaching helmets. They aren't necessary and you won't die riding without one. Anyone who has thoroughly examined the literature will reach the conclusion that helmets can do little to protect you against serious injury. So if you want to wear one, wear one. If you don't, don't.
On virtually any ride that I encounter a large number of other cyclists, I am bound to get at least one comment about my lack of helmet. And, invariably -- I know, because I have made it a point to track them -- the people who castigate my bareheadedness proceed to run the next red light or blow through the next stop sign. Which brings me to point number 2:
2. Start riding like adults. Motorists don't respect cyclists, in part, because most cyclists ride like children. The majority of cyclists treat the rules of the road as if compliance was voluntary, not mandatory. It ends up making cyclists look like self-absorbed children, and who wants to be like that? If cyclists start to behave in a manner that makes them look like adults, then it is much more likely that other adults will find the activity interesting. And while we're talking about looks...
3. Save the spandex for when you need it. I agree that when I'm on a long ride on a hot day, cycling-specific clothing makes cycling more pleasurable. But that same apparel drives potential cyclists away in droves. There is nobody on the planet Earth who has not looked at a pair of Lycra shorts and said to themselves "There's no way in hell I'm gonna look good in that."
Trust me, I don't. So, unless it's a longer ride or the weather forces my hand, I don't wear cycling-specific clothing. When I'm going to work in favorable weather, I'm in dress slacks, shirt and often my tie. To the grocery store? It's shorts or jeans and a comfortable shirt and jacket. Remember those Copenhagen cyclists in the video? They're looking pretty fly. In fact, there's a whole website, called Copenhagen Chic, dedicated to the classy men and women cyclists of that city.
4. Be nice to others. In pursuit of the macho road warrior image, most cyclists speed down the road, looks of determination set on their faces, ignoring walkers and runners alike. You want more people to ride bikes? Say hi to the runner that you pass. Wave to the kid on the sidewalk. Slow down to just a few miles per hour when you're on the path and passing pedestrians. It's called being nice, and it works phenomenally well, if you want to encourage others to join you.
5. Tell industry leaders to embrace the reality of a mature, cycling rich culture. I've been a member of the League of American Bicyclists for years. As part of that membership, I receive a complimentary subscription to Bicycling magazine. It is the largest cycling magazine in the country. It is also one of the worst. It depicts cycling in all of the immature stereotypes that restrict its growth. Far better would be a complimentary subscription to a magazine like Bicycle Times, which is a far more adult publication.
Similarly, what few audio/video media outlets that cover cycling need to change their focus. Podcasts such as David Bernstein's The Fredcast need to shift gears into a format less racing-centered and more about the cycling lifestyle. While I admire David and his revolving crew of participants on both The Fredcast and The Spokesmen, I began to lose interest when his coverage of Armstrong's fall and its effect on cycling dominated episode after episode, while topics of real meaning to cyclists, such as funding, politics and other news was virtually ignored.
It all comes down to this. If we want cycling to grow beyond its small, homogeneous niche, all of us cyclists need to change our behavior to reflect the cycling culture that we want to bring about. In other words, if you want an environment where most of the population rides a bike -- then you should ride your bike as you would in that environment.
This is the most common reason I hear from people who otherwise might take my advice, dust off their bikes, and go for a spin.
While it might seem dangerous -- being on the road next to the 2,000-lb behemoths that can crush us like a bug on tile -- in fact, the opposite is true. Cycling is *so* safe that the average cyclist actually lives several years longer than a non-cyclist.
Let me repeat that, with flair: Cycling is so safe that the average cyclist lives several years longer than a non-cyclist.
Sure, lots of cyclists (in this country, at least) wear those silly foam hats, and talk about all of their close calls with motorists, potholes and dogs, but these should be viewed for what they are -- campfire goosebump stories. The fact that the cyclist in question is around to tell the story should give you a clue that perhaps, just perhaps, the danger value has been cranked up a notch or two.
So let's look at some cold, hard (and rather pleasant) facts about cycling:
- According to several studies, cyclists live longer than non-cyclists; in one study, the cycling lifespan advantage was almost 10 years.
- Motorists are *far* more likely than cyclists to suffer from serious head injuries.
- Cycling is safer than: Fishing, horseback riding, swimming, athletic training, football and tennis.
- Cycling is safer than riding in an automobile.
Let's compare lifetime risks. Your risk of dying from:
- Heart disease 1 in 5
- Automobile accident 1 in 84
- Pedestrian accident 1 in 626
- Bicycle accident 1 in 4,919
The simple fact is this: Cycling is a very safe activity. It is safer than every other form of transportation except flying, and orders of magnitude safer than riding in a car.
The problem with cycling safety is one of perception, not reality, so fear not, hop on your freedom machine and roll down the road.
Don't forget to wave at the folks in the gas station. I always do.
Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 860-567-5727.
In today's installment of Bicycle Month posts, I am going to ever-so-briefly mutate from being a physician and bon vivant to (very) amateur historian.
You know that road out in front of your house? The (probably) paved road that takes you and your resource-hogging, squirrel-killing automobile to work, to school, and to the grocery store?
Well, you can thank this country's cyclists for that road.
You see, back during the turn of the century, cycling was an enormously popular activity. By the 1880s, the "safety bicycle" design, essentially the same shape as the modern bicycle, had replaced the dangerous penny-farthing, and John Dunlop had invented the air-filled tire. These two advances converted the bicycle from a silly toy for the young, adventurous and rich, to a useful transportation and recreational device for the masses. The use of the bicycle exploded among the middle class, and what is now known as the Golden Age of Cycling began.
(I cannot go further without noting that the bicycle was an enabler of the nascent feminist and suffrage movement in the U.S. In fact, Susan B. Anthony called the modern bicycle the "freedom machine." But we'll get back to that later this month).
As the American populace became truly mobile for the first time, they found the conditions of our dirt roads somewhat less than adequate for their speedy new machines. And, as Americans tend to do, they banded together to advocate for improved cycling conditions. The most prominent face of this social force was the League of American Wheelmen (which continues to be the largest voice for cyclists today as the updated League of American Bicyclists). The League successfully lobbied both local, state and federal government to engage in a massive upgrade of the nation's rutted roads.
Thus, the paving of American roads began long before the mass-produced automobile was even a gleam in Henry Ford's eye. The paved road that you drive on today exists because the cyclists of the early 20th century demanded the infrastructure needed for middle-class mobility.
Next time you get angry at some bicycle who is blocking "your" road, remember this. It was originally his road. And in law, custom and practice, the cyclist has the same rights to use the road as you do.
In fact, instead of honking at him, you should thank him, for making your passage possible.
Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 860-567-5727.
Welcome to National Bike Month! To celebrate this most worthy steed and its versatility, economy and pure fun as a transportation device, I will, each day in the month of May, post a useful tip or fun fact about biking.
Here's today's tip: We all know that bike riding saves money and improves health. But all too often, we find it difficult to find a way to work cycling into our daily routine.
So try doing this. Pull out a map of where you live. draw a one mile diameter circle with your house at the center. Then, just one day per week, use your bike to run any errand that falls within that circle.
For me, that circle will include the grocery market, post office, library and several stores where I regularly purchase goods. You'll be surprised at the number of places that will fall within your circle. Try it and see!
If you follow this program while we have comfortable cycling weather -- just one day per week for 4 months -- you will have saved about $60 simply by leaving your car in the driveway for those trips.
If you want to, you can use that $60 to take yourself out to dinner. Your waistline can certainly afford it, because you will have burned an extra 2,000 kcal.
Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 860-567-5727.
Every patient who walks into my exam room receives -- at no extra charge! -- a critical evaluation of their exercise regimen, or lack thereof. At this point, regular exercise has been proven so critical in the prevention and treatment of so many disorders, from depression to cancer to heart disease to the cold and flu, that in my not-very-humble opinion, any primary care doctor who does not investigate, evaluate and manipulate their patient's exercise program is committing malpractice. Yes, it's that important. It's like not taking a patient's blood pressure or pulse. A person's participation in exercise is one of the vital signs of wellness. Frequently, my job is to find exercises that will work within the boundaries set by a patient's existing disorder while at the same time optimizing it to reduce or eliminate the effects of that same disorder.
Among the chronic diseases, one of the most problematic in the exercise prescription department is Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Because of this cruel disease's frequently erratic behavior, coupled with its prediliction for shaving away a small slice of one's competence with each renewed assault, it is hard to find and develop good exercises for my patients suffering from this disease. What was possible last week becomes impossible the next. Problems in balance or sudden weakness can make many standard exercises impossible or dangerous. And the fear of such occurrences can negate even the most committed patient's determination and my craftiest motivation strategies.
Being a recidivist transportation cyclist, an environmentalist, and a man with a grip on the purse that would make a Scotsman proud, it has rarely come as a surprise to my patients when I suggest cycling as a good all-round exercise. Bicycles are cheap, and every time you ride it to the grocery store, you save money, while at the same time becoming healthier and increasing your longevity. As the great Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer once said:
"Let's have a moment of silence for all those Americans who are stuck in traffic on their way to the gym to ride the stationary bicycle."
Cycling would be an excellent activity for my MS patients as well, were it not for the unpredictable and troubling manifestations that could make it downright dangerous.
Which is why I suggest a fun, albeit unusual, alternative: Trikes.
No, these aren't your average 4-year-old's Big Wheel. I'm talking about performance trikes, trikes that have been ridden to the furthest reaches of the Himalayas, in the fastest bicycle races in the world, and on the road. They are trikes that can be ridden every day, as fast or as slow as you want, without concern for the types of crashes that can befall you on a two-wheeler.
For that reason, I think trikes are an excellent source of rich cardiovascular exercise for my patients with MS. And here's how many have taken me up on my suggestion: 0. None. Nada.
Well, all of my patients with MS, and all of you reading this blog who have MS or have friends or relatives who are suffering from the effects of MS, I want you to take note of this name: Denise Lanier. Denise is a writing professor at Broward College. Her poetry has appeared in Bloomsbury Review, Cake, Luna, Best American Poetry blog, and various anthologies. And she has MS.
In her blog, Wonky Woman on a Bent Trike, Denise writes about her two most powerful tools for fighting this disorder (in addition to her undeniable intelligence and phenomenal willpower): A mobility dog and her trike.
This weekend, after much training, Denise will be riding her trike in the New York City Marathon, as a disabled entrant in this world-famous race, and the first entrant to do it on a tricycle.
But is she doing it for herself? For an MS charity? Certainly not - that would be too self-serving for a woman as generous in spirit as her. Denise has chosen the Leary Firefighters Association as the beneficiary of the dollars she has raised. Go here to read what Denise has to say about the foundation. Then go here and donate.
But more important than any of that, read the words this woman has written, about herself, her MS, and her fight toward health. For anyone with a chronic disorder, she is an inspiration.
And I hope everyone reading this blog (all 6 of you) will join me this weekend in following her progress and cheering her on. In her most recent post, she suggests some ways to do it:
Here’re some ways for you to follow my progress in the marathon on race day, this Sunday, November 7th:
Online Athlete Tracker: free race-day service, visit ingnycmarathon.org on November 7th
Text Message Athlete Alert: sign up at ingnycmarathon.org to receive on-demand updates, one-time setup fee of $2.99
Tune In: NBC4 New York offers live coverage of the entire race; after the race catch the 2-hour highlight special on NBC Sports
Marathon App: for iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, download it today!"
Then go out and buy a trike. And ride it.
This app was not on my original list of must-haves. However, when planning a training ride the other day, I realized that none of the apps I had reviewed for cycling actually had the ability to import a gpx (route or track) file, and instead of recording where you had been, could tell you where to go. Well, ok. I have enough people telling me where to go without really wanting to add to the list. But not infrequently, I will spend some time on a site like ridewithgps.com, or gmap-pedometer.com, creating a "custom" training loop. The varied topography of Litchfield and northwest Connecticut makes it possible to design a route with the amount and type of climbing you want, depending on your climbing goals.
Unfortunately, routing apps don't work very well for creating loops, nor do they take into account your training desires in point-to-point route design. Thus the use of sites like those mentioned above to create the ride of my dreams -- or at least my dreams for that day.
And on those occasions when you are riding on a pre-planned group ride, having your route in your GPS (or in this case, smartphone) saves you from fumbling with cue sheets in the wind, rain, and at busy intersections while you try to figure out which way you are supposed to turn on Reallybighill Road. Or, better yet, prevent you from riding those extra "bonus miles" that you get awarded for veering off course. (My worst day involved 15 bonus miles, but that's another story).
Which is where Must-Have App I(a) fits in. Called OsmAnd, this app allows you to import a .gpx file, either a track or a route, and will give you on-screen or verbal directions as you move down the road.
OsmAnd is free and open source, which means a number of developers are welcome to add their coordinated input to the project. It is also intentionally designed to minimize resource use, both on your phone and in terms of internet access -- a big bonus now that unlimited service plans have gone the way of Vioxx.
Another big bonus is that OsmAnd itself is not only open source, but employs open source maps as well, from the Open Street Maps project. Which means the maps are more accurate, as a larger number of people are available to evaluate the data and make corrections. There is also the OpenCycleMap project which, while currently largely UK-based, holds the promise of creating cycling-specific maps worldwide. OpenCycleMap currently has maps for part of Litchfield County here in Connecticuty. It's an effort worth keeping tabs on, if not actively supporting.
This app does exactly what I wanted it to do. Using ridewithgps, I mapped out a short 20-mile route that would end by taking me past the farm, where I could pick up some milk and eggs on the last few miles and get them home before they spoiled (a route that also, I might add, require me to carry the groceries up a minimum of hills).
Ridewithgps created the .gpx file, which I then downloaded to my Android. I fired up OsmAnd, which on command immediately found my file and created the route. The program worked almost flawlessly, guiding me through the unfamiliar stretches and turns. The screen updated my location on the map, and an icon in the upper left hand corner told me how far to the next turn and which direction I was headed.
As I noted in the previous review, satellite coverage in my area can safely be graded as somewhere between "less than spectacular" and "I get better satellite coverage in caves." So there were a few spots were the app wasn't quite up to speed on my current position. But it handled the confusion with aplomb, updating itself as soon as it got reacquainted with its satellites. And the constant turn reminder permitted me to estimate the location of the turn, even if the app itself was behind me.
If there are any hiccups in this app, it is only in the installation. It does not automatically create the file folder where you need to place the gpx files, though it does tell you exactly where the folder should be and what it should be named. Similarly, the voice configuration data has to be downloaded separately, from the OsmAnd website. Those sorts of issues are of little consequence, though, compared to the value of the application.
But once those two tasks are accomplished, you're ready to go. This app is not resource intensive, downloading map tiles only as needed and working offline as much as possible; nor did it seem to draw down the battery power any more than any other application using the gps features.
If you are a cyclist or runner that likes to design their own routes, then OsmAnd is the application for you. You can download it from the Android Marketplace or from the website.