7 Random Observations About Helmets

11.16.2006 | 7:38 pm

A Note from Fatty: Thanks to everyone–more than 50 of you–who participated in yesterday’s contest to win a very cool Vicious Cycles Jersey. Lots of great ideas. You can continue to add entries to that contest through 11/17/06, by the way. I’ll choose a winner over the weekend, and will post it on Monday.

This Has Never Happened Before
I recently had a completely new (at least for me) experience: I wore out a helmet. Or at least I think I wore it out: there’s a crack in the front of my trusty white Giro Atmos that I can’t account for. The helmet’s four years old, so I’m just putting this crack down to accumulated wear and tear.

So how is this new? Well, it’s the first time I’ve ever replaced a helmet before catastrophically destroying it through the medium of an epic crash. In other words, I’ve finally had a helmet die of old age.

Who would have even thought such a thing possible? Seriously. Until now, I thought there was only one way for a helmet to go, and that was with a bang.

So lately I’ve been doing some helmet shopping, during which I have thought a lot—too much, perhaps—about helmets. Here are some of my random helmet-related observations.

1. Helmets Are Not Exciting
I’m having a very difficult time getting excited about buying a helmet. This is peculiar, because I usually get excited about buying just about anything bike-related. I’ve gotten excited about buying bike shoes. I’ve gotten excited about buying a new kind of energy food. I’ve gotten excited about buying socks, for crying out loud.

So why am I blasé about getting a helmet?

I think it’s because of what the helmet represents. Every other item I buy for biking contributes to the pleasure of biking itself. The helmet, on the other hand, is an insurance policy you strap to the top of your head. No matter how many vents it has, no matter what kind of ratcheting gizmo it uses to keep it snug on your noggin, no matter what exciting racing colors it uses, it’s still a Styrofoam hat that develops a permanent stink after you use it a few times.

It’s not easy to get excited about that.

2. Helmets (or Rather, Lack Thereof) Make Me Act Schoolmarmish
In spite of their decided lack of sexiness, I’m a helmet zealot. The fact that I’ve crushed several and have never had a serious bike injury is evidence enough that they’re worth wearing. So when I see anyone without a helmet, I have to fight the urge to go tell the offender off. And if I see an adult and a child riding—neither wearing helmets—I’m likely to fail to resist that urge. At least a couple times, I’ve gone and told parents they have a responsibility to make their kids wear helmets, and a further responsibility to set a good example by wearing one themselves.

Nobody has ever thanked me for giving them this advice. And every time I have done this, I have immediately regretted it. Do I stop people in traffic if they’re not wearing seatbelts? No. Do I walk up to people who are smoking and tell them about lung cancer? No. Do I point out to strangers that listening to their iPods at maximum volume is going to cause hearing loss? No.

And yet, I have this strange, embarrassing compulsion to occasionally play the bike helmet vigilante.

Am I alone in this?

3. Genius Helmet Marketing Idea
I have an old helmet, on which I keep a helmet-mounted light. This helps me avoid having to attach the light each time I go night riding. I used the Velcro straps as well as double-sided tape to fix the light in place, and my setup works well.

Or, perhaps I should say that it works well except for when I’m using it. No helmet in the world—that I know of—is made to stay on snugly when the weight of a light (coupled with the drag of a battery cable) is added. The helmet either slides forward or backward. And then there’s the question of whether a helmet with a metal-and-glass contraption up top is going to do you any good whatsoever if you superman into a tree.

I suspect not.

So, if I were a helmet-mounted bike light manufacturer, I’d team up with a helmet manufacturer to design a bike light/helmet combo that doesn’t slide back and forth all over your head. It would be a bonus if it doesn’t require a MacGuyver-esque combination of Velcro, tape, and glue to hold the light in place.

Note to Giro and NiteRider: You can thank me for my brilliant idea by sending me a helmet/light setup as soon as you finish developing it. Size Medium.

4. Fit
I have a perfectly-formed, evenly-shaped cranium with no irregularities whatsoever, so this helmet-related observation is strictly hypothetical. But just say, for the sake of argument, that one’s head were shaped in such a way that no matter what you do, the helmet always seems to tip back so the front is high on the forehead? I assume that person would constantly be hearing from other riders who want to offer helpful advice, along the lines of, “Hey, your helmet’s tipped pretty far back there, Fatty.”

I’m assuming, here, that this person with the irregular-shaped head also has the nickname “Fatty,” just by coincidence.

So anyway, I imagine that this person with the funny-shaped head would answer, “Yeah, show me how to make my helmet fit,” and then would stand there smugly, arms crossed, while letting other riders discover to their satisfaction that the helmet is on the only way it’s going to go on.

Boy, I’ll bet that such a person—hypothetical though he may be—wishes you could get helmets that are custom molded to your skull.

So I’m sure glad that I have, as I already mentioned, a perfectly typical, symmetrical, smooth, non-lumpy skull.

5. Color
Here’s a nice, practical tip: get a dark-colored helmet only if you like the idea of your helmet doubling as a passive solar heater. Otherwise, go for a light color.

And don’t, for the love of all that’s good in the world, get a helmet with an outrageous pattern. It’s like wearing a loud tie. You may think it gives you a devil-may-care swagger, but it really just makes you look like a dope.

You know what a good color for a helmet is? White.

6. You Know, I’d Buy Locally if I Could
I have, in the past three weeks, gone to five different local bike shops. Not a single one of them had a Giro Atmos. Or a Giro Pneumo. They did, however, have lots of helmets with bright colors that scream, “I ride my bike between two and three times per year, and this one was on clearance!”

If you’re a bike shop employee, please answer this simple set of questions:

  1. Do you currently have any medium-to-high-end helmets in stock?
  2. Why not?
  3. Do you really think that if I’m shopping for a high-end helmet, I don’t need it ‘til next week, which is when you’d get it if you special order it?

So—even though I want to support my locally-owned bike shop, I’m looking online.

7. What Helmets are Really Good For
I’ve whacked my helmet into trees, rocks, dirt, and (once) a pedal, so I’ve been convinced of their life-saving value multiple times. Many more times than that, though, I’ve been grateful to my helmet for doing something much more mundane: taking a branch for me.

I really don’t remember how many times—more than 100, I’m certain—I’ve been riding along when I suddenly see a branch right at eye level. I duck my head and immediately hear and feel a solid *thwack* of the branch hitting the shell of my helmet. It’s the sound of disaster averted.

I love that sound.

It may be, in fact, the second best sound in the world.

PS: The first-best sound, in case you were wondering, is the sound of an airborne fist-sized rock bouncing harmlessly against your downtube, instead of hitting you on the shinbone.


Win a Vicious Cycles Jersey (Yep, the Weekly Giveaways Are Back!)

11.15.2006 | 10:12 pm

A Note from Fatty: I’m really busy right now getting the infrastructure of my new site set up, not to mention trying to write something for the blog each day. Which means that I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to participate in my own forum. So I asked BotchedExperiment to act as administrator/moderator of the forum, figuring that since he’s just working full-time, finishing his doctorate, and taking care of an infant and 4-year-old kid, he has plenty of spare time. Botched said he’d help me out, and has already done some great things with the forum. Go over and see what he’s done with the place. And be sure to pay Botched his due respect; he says he’s itching to ban someone…just to prove he can.

Fatty is Selfish
In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to confess that I almost always act out of self-interest. When, for example, I set up the Ads-for-Schwag program, I wasn’t simply thinking, “Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if I could give companies I like a cheap way to advertise to their target audience, while simultaneously giving my readers something cool for free?” Instead, I was thinking, “Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if I could convince both my readers and potential advertisers that it was to their benefit to advertise on my site, so that I could simultaneously get free stuff and make it look like my advertising space is in high demand?”

In other words, while I definitely intend to use the Ads-for-Schwag program to give companies I like a place to get the word out and to give readers cool stuff, I also plan to keep some of that cool stuff for myself.

I did not, however, expect to be so sorely tempted to keep the giveaway for myself on the first go-round.

What You Can Win
Normally, I’d talk about what the contest is before describing what you can win, but I dig this jersey so much, I want you to get a good look at it right away:Vicious Cycles Jersey

How cool are the Vicious Cycles guys for giving away this jersey? Very cool, that’s how cool. My thinking on this kind of coolness goes as follows: If a company is going to be so cool as to give away this kind of jersey, they’re cool enough that you might want to give their website a look when you’re thinking about a new frame. Or when you’re thinking about getting the most awesome paint job ever for your bike.

Here’s the thing about this jersey, though: it’s size medium. Which means that even at my lightest, it will not fit me. Which is good for you, because if it did fit me, I would be wearing it right now.

The Contest: What Do You Love?
A few days ago, I talked about something I really love: my Smartwool socks. I’m pretty confident that any cyclist would find a pair of Smartwool socks an excellent gift.

What I’d like to know is, what other bike-related stuff do you love? It’s got to be something that can be given as a gift, because I’m going to compile all the good answers into my annual “Cyclists’ Christmas Wish List,” which you can then point your friends and family toward.

And how do you enter the contest? Just leave a comment with a suggestion for what should go in the list. I’ll choose a winner—at random—from all the responses I consider good enough to go in the list.

Good luck. I’m sure you’ll win.

News Flash! Levi Leipheimer “Totally OK” With Ivan Basso Joining Team Discovery

11.14.2006 | 12:58 pm

AUSTIN, Texas (Fat Cyclist Fake News Service) - Top-tier professional road cyclist Levi Leipheimer is “totally OK” with Ivan Basso signing with Team Discovery, according to a company spokesperson.

“Levi is very excited about this development,” said Johan Bruyneel, team director. “This is, after all, the team where Levi really launched his professional career as a domestique for Lance Armstrong. So of course it’s a very exciting prospect for him to return, years later, now as one of the top cyclists in the world and as a bona fide Grand Tour contender and team leader…and do exactly the same thing he did last time he was on this team.”

“Oh, except now he’ll be working for a different guy,” clarified the directeur sportif. “So that’s new, anyway. And, um, very exciting for Levi.”

Asked to comment, Levi Leipheimer verified that he is, in fact, eager to move from de facto team leader to super domestique before he ever raced for Team Discovery. “Ivan Basso’s a huge talent, you know, and I’m very happy to have him on the team,” said Leipheimer. “I can hardly wait to fetch water bottles for him as he tries to get a double grand tour win.”

“After all,” continued the 34-year-old Leipheimer, “I’m still really in the early part of my career. I’ve got another three, maybe four years left in me. Why wouldn’t I be excited to put my own goals on hold in order to facilitate securing Basso a couple big wins? I mean, a Basso really inspires me to work hard; I’m extra enthused to race for someone who may or may not have been doping, but refuses to take the steps that would clear his name. If he’s innocent.”

Leipheimer paused for a moment, then continued: “Which, I’m sure, he is.”

Not Considering a Different Team
Asked whether he is considering leaving Team Discovery in order to go to a team that will make him the team leader he perhaps deserves to be, Leipheimer was quick to respond. “Yeah, you know what would happen if I did that? I’ll tell you what would happen. Say I went to team CSC. I’ll bet you anything that fifteen minutes later they’d hire Ullrich. And then they’d hire Landis, who I’m sure would magically be cleared all of a sudden.”

“And Hamilton,” finished Leipheimer. “They’d probably hire him, too.”

New Perks
Team Discovery, aware of the possibility–no matter how trivial–that Leipheimer might experience some frustration at being replaced as the team’s main GC racer before doing a single grand tour, has prepared a special set of incentives for the racer.

“We haven’t forgotten Levi,” said the Discovery spokesperson. In exchange for the hard work he’ll be doing on behalf of Ivan Basso, we’re going to give him a number of very nice prizes. For example, we are giving him a signed 8 x 10 photograph of Lance Armstrong, which would sell for $80 or more on eBay. We’re letting him pick out any bike from the Trek catalog he’d like for his own use, and we’re giving it to him at cost. That represents significant savings!”

“I should clarify, perhaps,” continued the spokesperson, “that this offer does not extend to the Lemond bike line.”

“Perhaps the most exciting perk, however,” said the spokesperson, “is that Levi will get to share a hotel room with Ivan Basso when they’re racing! Just think what valuable advice Levi will be able to collect from Ivan during their ‘together time.’”

Concluded the spokesperson: “Levi must consider himself very fortunate indeed.”


11.13.2006 | 12:59 pm

A Note from Fatty: I’m really pleased to have my good friend Kenny advertising on my site. Rather than doing an ad-for-schwag, however, Kenny’s offering 20% off to everyone who reads my blog. That’s an awesome deal. And let me point out that Kenny is not just a great rider; his photo lab turns out the very highest-quality photos I have ever seen. Yes, your pictures are actually going to look better if you have Kenny print them than if you go with some megadeveloper. No matter where you live (as long as you’re in the US, that is), I definitely recommend having Kenny print your photos. Plus, if you do, he’ll have enough money to race more often. And that would be good.

Last weekend, I did something truly altruistic. Something which, I daresay, proves that I am a genuinely good human being. It is, I suspect, one of the top three things I’ll use to make my case to St. Peter (or whoever it turns out to be) at the pearly gates.

Specifically, last weekend I let my Dad have a pair of my Smartwool socks on permanent loan.

You see, my Dad’s in the hospital right now, recovering from prostate cancer surgery. So I drove down to Grand Junction to spend the weekend with him (I also brought one of my mountain bikes — the Rig — so I could go riding with my sister, but that’s beside the point).

While I’m sitting with my Dad, he mentions that his feet have been cold ever since he got to the hospital, and that he hates the socks the hospital provides: the polyesther just feels gross.

I sympathize, observing that my feet are nice and warm, because once the weather turns cold, I wear my calf-length Smartwool socks full-time, whether I’m biking, working, snowshoeing, at church, or lounging at home.

My Dad — who in all other ways is a much superior outdoorsman to me — has never worn Smartwool socks. He therefore believes these socks will be scratchy and uncomfortable.

“Nay,” I reply, sagely. “These socks are the most comfortable socks in the world.” And then — even though I brought only two pair with me for the weekend, I go down to my car and get a pair of Smartwool socks.

Those of you who are familiar with Smartwool socks know what a sacrifice that was. But I did it anyway, because — as I believe I’ve made clear — I am a good and generous human being, not to mention the best son that has ever lived.

Of course, within a few minutes my dad is comfortable. Or at least his feet are, anyway.

Smartwool for Biking
During the Summer, I can’t think of a better sock to wear than the ubiquitous DeFeet Aireator socks. The light mesh breathes nicely, they last a reasonable period of time — they usually make it through a couple seasons before i wear a hole in the big toe — and, as near as I can tell, they’re free. I have never purchased a pair of Aireator socks, but have dozens from different bike shops, races, events, and other promotions.

I do not make any effort match these socks when I ride. As far as I’m concerned, the ”Carnac” sock I got free with a pair of shoes I bought years ago goes nicely with the lone “Cascade Creampuff” sock I’m able to find.

But once Autumn begins, it’s Smartwool, all the way. My feet stay warm when it’s cold, without getting hot when I luck into a nice day. They’re an order of magnitude better than any other cold-weather sock for cycling.

So, the questions are: what length of Smartwool socks should one wear, and what color(s)? Well, you might expect the answer to be, “whatever you like,” but that answer would be wrong. The correct answers are:

  • Color: Any dark color, but choose carefully. Once you make your choice, you should stick with it forever. That way, as you lose the occasional sock, you’re not left with an orphan. Instead, you now have a spare. Huzzah! For myself, I chose dark green, but I sometimes wish I would have gone with black, because black goes better with non-biking clothes. Which is important to me, because I am all about fashion.
  • Length: Calf-length. Nothing feels so nice as a pair of socks that stay up, and the calf-length Smartwool socks definitely stay up. And they do it without cutting into your legs. And you know what really looks dapper? Dark, calf-length socks on a cyclist who’s wearing shorts, as demonstrated below:

 Nice socks! 

PS: This has been an uncompensated endorsement. Though I wouldn’t mind some compensation, should it come my way. (Attention Smartwool people who are no doubt curious why you’re suddenly getting a lot of hits from the fatcyclist.com domain: I wear size Large, and would like Adrenaline Lt Crew, Larch Green).

PPS: Family and friends: Christmas is coming, and some Smartwool socks would make an excellent and affordable gift.

Fall Moab ‘06, Part IV: Redemption on Slickrock

11.10.2006 | 10:52 am

A note from Fatty: Before I get started today, I want to call your attention to the shiny new Vicious Cycles ad over there in the sidebar area. Vicious Cycles has very cool bikes and the most exquisitely outrageous paint jobs in the world. I’m excited to have them in the Fat Cyclist Ads-for-Schwag program — we’ll be running the first weekly schwag contest giveaway next week. Meanwhile, take a moment to check out the Vicious Cycles site and see what they’ve got, would you?

Dug’s Video, Part II
Dug’s uploaded part 2 of his Fall Moab ‘06 video. I highly recommend you watch it, for the following reasons:

  1. It gives you and idea of how long we’re willing to stick around and try a move. The video shows at least twenty attempts on what we call the Gold Bar Crux Move. And you can bet that’s only a small fraction of the actual number of attempts made.
  2. The video has a few really great falls in it (one by Bob, two by Tom), including one which I cannot believe he didn’t break his wrist.
  3. It shows me cleaning some moves, though it’s hard to tell it’s me. I swear, though: it’s me.
  4. It shows Kenny’s bare butt.

Really, what more could you want?


Last-Day-of-the-Ride Resolution
As I mentioned yesterday, I was a little bit disappointed in my sissiness on Gold Bar Rim. For the final day, I decided, I would ride the Paragon so I’d have the advantage of gears. And I would try every move.

When I got to the trailhead, though, my geared bike just didn’t look like the bike to ride. I wanted to ride my singlespeed again. There’s no rational reason why singlespeed riding is so much fun, or why people who start riding them start to ride them exclusively. There’s no argument to be made for why riding a singlespeed is better or more fun than a geared bike. There really isn’t. And besides, I love my Paragon — it’s light, fast, it fits, and it works great. But I like riding that singlespeed even more.

And then we got to the first move — a zigzag, off-camber, climbing move with a U-turn that requires you to duck your head at the top to avoid hitting the overhanging rock. I’ve done this move dozens of times. It’s not easy on a geared bike, but it’s do-able. Nobody had every cleaned it on a single, though.

Until I blasted straight up the thing, eliminating the U-turn through sheer power.

Just kidding. It was actually Kenny who did that. But that set the tone for the day.

If there’s one thing at the Slickrock trail I look forward to most, it’s a naturally-formed halfpipe. It has a lip at the top, making it so you can’t quite see what it looks like at the bottom. As long as you stay to the left of a painted line, though, it curves out nicely, then turns vertical up the other side.

Doing this drop means you have to have a certain amount of commitment, because you’ve got to let go of your brakes to have enough speed to coast up to the top. And there’s a brief moment of what feels like freefall as you begin. Then, before you know it, you’re flying up the other side, as if gravity no longer applies to you.

It’s terrifying and thrilling in much the same way a rollercoaster is, except for two things:

  • You’re the pilot instead of a passenger
  • There’s a much better chance you’ll crash.

For what it’s worth, I have never crashed on the halfpipe. I’ve seen someone crash on it, though. He went too far right of the white painted line, where the rock formation stops being a nicely shaped parabola and starts being a slope that terminates in an uphill wall. When the guy hit that wall, his front wheel taco’d unlike any wheel I have ever seen. It was like the way the front of a car crumples when it hits a telephone pole.

Here’s me riding the halfpipe. It looks (and feels) much steeper in real life — ask anyone who’s ridden it. Look for the white line in the video; you can see how nasty it might be to crash if you’re on the right side of it.


And, just for fun, here’s a good photo of me dropping down that halfpipe. This photo gives you a better feel for how steep it is:

Fatty on the Halfpipe

Kenny had a very close call, by the way, on the halfpipe this year. As he got to the bottom, his tire compressed down to the rim, nearly folding off, and burping out the Stan’s Tube Sealant. The back of his bike slid sideways and I thought Kenny was going to do a high-speed, downhill high-side. Kenny kept his head though, corrected, and rode away. Whew.

The Wall
Right after doing the halfpipe, there’s an off-trail move that just scares everyone. It’s a 30-foot (I’m guessing) near-vertical sandstone wall that terminates in a bed of sand and cactus.

The trick for this move is to stay waaaay back, keep your speed down, but don’t lock up your tires. And don’t endo at the bottom. 

Last year I tried this move and supermanned right into a cactus, which left me little prizes I’d be picking out of my hand for the next six weeks.

This year, like every year, people stood at the top of the move, looking at each other, trying to get enough courage to make the drop.

And that’s when I had a strange out-of-body experience. Without saying anything to anyone, without thinking about the consequences, without giving myself time to freak myself out about it, I just clipped in and rode down it.

Clean as can be.

You can see it on Dug’s video — though, again, for some reason video makes stuff look not-as-steep as it does in real life. Right afterward, thinking something along the lines of, “Well, if Fatty can do it, it must be easy,” Bob headed down.

Then he slid out sideways and crashed hard in the sand. Sadly, Dug doesn’t catch what happens immediately after: Bob picks up his bike and walks away, head down, to spend some time by himself.

You have no idea how happy it makes me to be able to say that not everyone in our group would try that move this day. Including people who are by far my technical superiors.

There’s probably a lesson in there for me: when it’s time to do a move, I need to just turn off my brain and do the move, not thinking about consequences.

But that’s usually not an easy thing (for me) to do.

Into the Sandpit
The Slickrock trail has a series of uneven ledges that drop into a sandpit; Dug’s video has shots of several people trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to climb out. Before you do that, though, you’ve got to drop in. Until last weekend, I have never managed to drop those ledges without doing an endo at the bottom.

This time, though, I got it on my first try. On a fully rigid bike, mind you. And furthermore, I rode through the whole sandpit, a not-minor thing (though I credit the big wheels for getting me through the sand).

Yay for me.

Wedge Move
Up next, there’s a sandy ledge move, with exposure on the right and a wall on the left. To clean the ledge without scraping on one side or falling off the other, you’ve got to ride up not just with power, but with control.

I tried that move half a dozen times before I almost got it. One more pedal stroke and I would have been up at the top, ready for the freaky drop that is on the other side.

So on the (approximately) seventh try, I put a little more juice into it. And I got it!


Right at the top, I could feel myself stall out. I tried to turn the cranks over, but just couldn’t get one more.

And that’s when I started sliding backward. I fell against the wall, still clipped in and sliding, then kept sliding back down, tangled with my bike, eventually arriving at the bottom of the move in a twisted crumple.

Observers say my fall lasted 15 seconds. I do not doubt it. I didn’t resent the crash, though, because — finally – I had irrefutable evidence that I had been pushing my limits. Here’s the bruise I got just below my right butt-cheek (even now, I sit awkwardly):

Just below the butt-cheek

And here’s my left arm:


It’s official: the trip was a success!

Penultimate Move
On the way back to the car, you’ve got to go through the sandtrap one more time. I usually don’t even try this move, and have never come close to it — if I couldn’t drop down those ledges, what chance did I have of climbing up them?

But I was having a good day.

Let me say this: I am lucky to have patient friends. By the time I had tried this move ten times, they had every right to say it was time to move on. But they didn’t. They let me plug away at it until I had satisfied myself.

And, finally, I got it right. I climbed that ledge.

I was having a banner day.

Big Finish
Having cleaned stuff I never have before, on the way back to the parking lot I decided to try the wedge move a couple more times.

My second attempt, I got it. From far away, Dug even got it on video tape — it’s the last move you’ll see in his video.

You know, it’s nice to have a good day.

What Now?
I’m going to spend some time getting this site up to speed, doing all the things I said I was going to do. And I’m going to gain weight (I have already made significant progress on that front, actually). And I’m going to think about getting my shoulder fixed.

The season’s over.

And what a great finish it was.

Fall Moab 2006 Group Photo

« Previous Page« Previous Entries     Next Entries »Next Page »