Change your Flat

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The AIDS/LifeCycle is a fully supported ride. So, I don’t need to know how to change a flat, right? The Training Ride Leaders will do that for me, won’t they? Besides, I live in a city. There’s always some kind cyclist willing to lend a hand.

The answer is no. Just no. There’s so much wrong with that logic that the discussion has to start out from the basics. Before I help you learn to change a flat, lets learn about what goes into a road tire. (Skip to TL;DR for steps and a video.)

Hot guy changing tire. (Source.)

A. Components

Just to get terminology straight: The big roundy thinks with the spokes is called a “wheel.” The rubber part that touches the road as you ride is called a “tire.” Inside the tire is a flimsy inflatable torus called a “tube.” When you “fix” a flat or “change” a flat, you’re most likely not changing the tire, but the tube.

Road bicycle tires are never solid. All of them have tubes. (Yes, there are tubeless kinds, but I don’t discuss those here. Tubeless are not a good choice for most cyclists.) Even the best tires (those with Kevlar linings and beads, such as the ubiquitous Gatorskins) can and will get punctured. And when the tire gets punctured, the tube is usually toast.

B. Mechanics

The wheels are attached to the bicycle at the “hub.” As you ride your bike, the hub bears the weight of the bike-body system. The tire, being a torus (doughnut-shaped thing) with the hub running though it, must be fully removed from the bike before a flat can be changed.

You may laugh or have skipped the above paragraph as obvious, but it is not. I have seen many stranded riders, their tire and tube dislodged from the wheel, looking perplexed about how to get the tube out to be changed. (Read my posts about bonking and eating for more on how a rational person could get to that point.)

C. Types of Flats

There are three broad categories of flats: puncture flats, pinch flats, and herniated flats (I have no idea if these are official names, but the names are instructive). Puncture flats mean that something (glass, a nail, a staple, a tiny shard of metal, a thorn) has embedded itself into the tire and put a hole in the tube. Avoid these by getting better tires, such as Gatorskins.

Pinch flats generally occur when there is insufficient tire inflation for the tire, and the cyclist has hit a rut or hole in the road causing the tube to wedge between the tire and the wheel’s rim causing a hole. Pinch flats can also result from improper tire installation (user error). Avoid these by learning how to install the tire and always re-inflate the tire when starting a ride.

Herniated flats occur from damaged or old tires. When the tire material rubs through or is cut in some way, the inflatable tube can poke out (herniate) through the opening due to tire inflation pressure. Avoid these by visually inspecting the tires before riding and replacing the tires often.

Flats may also occur if there is damage (either manufacturing or otherwise) to the inflation stem (the thingy on the tube that lets you put air into the tube).

D. Types of Tubes

Road tires are determined by two metrics: size and valve type. Typical tires are 700 cm in diameter and about 18 to 27 cm in thickness. You can tell what size tube to buy by reading the tire size off the sidewall of your tire. Most road wheels have holes for Presta values (the thin, pointy kind you have to unscrew to open up, while other kinds of wheels have Schrader valves (the kind used in automobile tires).

The only other thing you might want to know is the depth of the valve itself, if you’re using Presta. Do NOT get the shortest possible valve stem. If you do, there’s a chance your pump will not be able to connect to the value end and you won’t be able to inflate the tube. (Here’s a link to a tube buyer’s guide.)

E. What you need

To fix your flat, you will need the following:

Tire Levers
  • Tire levers,
  • An un-damaged tube (either new or patched),
  • A pump or CO2 cartridge system.

Most wheels have quick release pins holding the wheel onto the bike by the hub. If your bike does not have quick release, you’ll also need a wrench.

These things you will need to carry with you at all times. Choose wisely. You should also

Quick Release. Also show wheel, tire, and hub!

invest in a floor pump for your car or home. You’ll get better tire pressure with the floor pump.

F. Proper Tire Inflation

The proper inflation will be listed on the tire’s sidewall. Typical road tires need to be inflated from 90 to 120 psi. You don’t necessarily need to inflate to the full level for good riding. Try different inflation levels, but always stay within the manufacturer’s range.

It is important that you check tire inflation before every ride. So get a good floor pump for home or your car that has a gauge on it. If the inflation is low, put more air. If its too high, let some air out and check again.

G. Changing the Actual Tube (TL;DR)

Here are the steps you need to take to fix your tube. This post is already too long, so I’m only listing the steps and not going into excruciating detail. But you should watch the video which follows and then search YouTube for additional videos.

  1. Front or back tire? If you’re lucky, it was the front tire. If not…doh!
  2. If it was the rear tire, shift into the big chain ring in the front; small cog in the back. You’ll have to lift the rear tire to accomplish this. This will make the wheel much easier to install after you’ve removed it.
  3. Take the wheel off the bike. Lay the bike, chain side UP, on the ground in a safe location. If it was the rear wheel, be careful not to get dirt on the cassette!
  4. Visually inspect the wheel before proceeding. Is there any obvious damage? Can you see the pin or thorn which caused the flat? Is the tire severely damaged? If you can find the culprit, you can remove it easily and possibly patch the tube.
  5. Unscrew the valve and let out any remaining air.
  6. Using the tire levers, remove one side of the tire from the wheel. (If you remove the tire entirely, note that road tires are generally directional. So when you reinstall it, make sure its facing the right way.)
  7. Remove the tube from inside the tire. You may have to remove a small silver nut from the valve stem. That is used to make inflation easier, so if your new tube doesn’t have one, save it.
  8. If your visual inspection did not reveal the culprit, run your hands gently inside the tire, feeling for sharp objects. Be careful that you don’t get cut. If you find it, remove it and keep looking. If you don’t find it, keep looking until you get bored…it might have dislodged itself or you might have had a pinch flat.
  9. Unfurl the new tube. Open the valve and blow a little air into it with your mouth. Close the valve stem. This makes it easier to install.
  10. Put the new tube’s valve stem through the hole in the wheel, then nest the new tube inside the wheel.
  11. If you took the whole tire off, align the tire in the correct direction with the wheel. Holding the wheel and tire with one hand, lever the inside edge of the tire onto the wheel’s rim.
  12. Then, starting at the valve stem, using only your fingers and palms (not the levers), lever the outside edge of the tire onto the wheel. Make sure the tube does not get pinched between the tire and wheel (hence the air).
  13. When you get to having only a few inches left to lever on, you may want to let a little air out of the tube. That may help. But any way you slice it, those last few inches can be grueling. Using your palms, kneed each side of the remaining few inches until it pops on. Keep checking that the tube is not pinching!!
  14. Only if you absolutely cannot do it with your hands, lever ONLY the last couple inches onto the wheel. If you use the levers too early, you will certainly pinch the tube and have to do it all over again.
  15. Check that the tube is not sticking out anywhere by squeezing the tire and looking down into the wheel well. if you see any tube, it might pinch when you add air.
  16. Open the valve and using your pump or CO2 cartridge, put a little air into the tube until it is much firmer, but not hard. Close the valve. Check that none of the tube is poking out between the wheel and the tire. If it is, quickly deflate and try again.
  17. Once you are satisfied, put as much air into the tube as you can. If you’re using CO2, use the remaining bit of cartridge. If your pump as a meter, put the full amount of pressure you can, up to the pressure listed on your side wall. If your pump doesn’t have a meter, put as much air into the tire as you can…you probably cannot over fill it. If the ride is bouncy, stop and put more.
  18. Once you get back to civilization, find a floor pump. If you used CO2, remove it and put air. CO2 molecules are smaller than the pores in the tube and will deflate over time.

Watch this video, then Google more and watch them, too.

H. For the Love of the Goddess, Why do I need to know all this?

You need to know how to do this because some day you may find that your TRL’s are helping another rider elsewhere along the route. You’ll either have to wait, call an Uber Extreme (or whatever that’s called), or do it yourself. You’ll find that doing it yourself is faster, easier, and more gratifying. Then, when you see someone stranded on the side of the road, you can say, “Hey, let me help you with that.”

I. Final Word

Practice. That’s it. You won’t know how to do it, so do it. Take your tire off your bike and go for it. If you’ve never done it before, give yourself two whole hours. You can do it. I know you can. Plus, if you do it now, you’ll have the safety of being able to go the bike shop if you abjectly fail! 🙂

Your Bear

PS: Writing these posts takes a lot of time and effort. If you found this useful, consider donating to my ride at: Bear’s Donation Page.


Never Cross the Yellow Line

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The title says it all. Ride in the right hand lane as far to the right as is safely possible. There are times when you need to move out into the lane. For instance, when cornering, when passing cyclists, to avoid obstructions, or if road conditions in the curb are too poor for safety. As a vehicle, you are entitled to take the full lane. Look behind you, make sure it is safe, and take the lane.

Gratuitous sexy cyclist. Image source.

But it is never safe for a cyclist to move so far left as to enter on coming traffic. Repeat that to yourself: yellow line bad. The simple fact is cars barely pay attention to cyclists traveling in the same direction. They have no attention for the slim profile of an un-illuminated cyclist heading straight for them.

I’m sure you’re thinking: I get it. In heavy, urban traffic, or on blind corners, that is wise advice, Bear. But there are times when it is safe. For instance on a deserted, straight, country road. No traffic, tree lined beauty, no one is coming, and I can see for miles ahead. I hear you. You want to ride side-by-side, chatting and laughing, enjoying a respite from the hard climb you just did. But this is exactly when you are most distracted. You don’t know when a car is going to enter the roadway from an unseen driveway. And you can be sure, the driver is not expecting you in his lane…going the wrong way.

You know who wins that fight? The driver every time. The cops are going to blame you. The insurance company is going to blame you. The driver is going to blame you. The sheer weight of metal and death are going to blame you. Your fellow cyclists will commiserate with you, but in the end they’re going to understand you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Don’t be that example. Ride on your side of the road. Ride as far to the right as is safely possible. Ride defensively, predictably and stay alert. Pass only when it is safe to do so, and pass only on the left. When passing call out loudly: “ON YOUR LEFT!”

Here is an excellent blog post on lane positioning for cyclists. I haven’t fully vetted it, so I don’t yet know if I agree with all the points the author makes. Do you? Comment to let me know.

Your Bear

P.S.: It takes me a long time to write these posts. If you find them valuable, feel free to donate a couple bucks to my 2018 AIDS/LifeCycle ride.

Man Bites Dog: Escaping Canine Roughhousing

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Eventually you’ll likely find yourself face to face with a dog while you’re cycling. They’re everywhere. Not all owners are properly trained. That means the dog may view you as a threat. You can probably tell: ears up, tail erect, attention fixed. You ride up to him, and the dog doesn’t move. You say, “good doggie, then,” but the tail doesn’t start wagging. You’ve got to pass, but you just know the dog is going to get aggressive, give chase, and possibly bite! What do you do?


There are lots of answers out there (for instance, here and here). I’m going to give you the one that works when you approach the dog head on or if the dog is coming at you from the side. Saved me a couple times, most recently when a homeless guy’s unleashed dog tried to bite me on the bike trail.

  1. As you approach the dog, slow down a bit, making sure you’re in a sprinting gear.
  2. Let the dog approach, but not too close.
  3. Give it some auditory encouragement, “good boy” or “sweet dog” in soothing tones.
  4. Just as it gets to you, take off in a sprint as fast as you can.

The dog will likely give up, feeling it has chased you off. I definitely encourage you to read the links and be prepared. Little would ruin a ride more than a dog bite or an altercation with a recalcitrant owner.

Your Bear

Efficient Riding: Cadence and Exhaustion

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iStock_000041000650_FullbOne of the many new things you may need to relearn about cycling is where your power comes from. Your thighs pump your legs to turn the pedals; your core acts like a wall for the thighs to push against. So at first glance it seems pushing your muscles to the limit is the best way to move those pedals faster. But the food you’ve eaten powers those muscles. So, pushing them too hard will exhaust your energy which will inevitably slow you down. How do you ride, then, without constantly exhausting yourself?

The answer is cadence. Cadence is the rhythm of your feet as they turn to push the pedals. A good rider will balance cadence power output. Given a flat smooth road and a windless, generally, a very fast cadence (say 120 revolutions per minute) may help to avoid exhaustion, but won’t move your bike very far forward for the effort you’re putting out. A very slow cadence (say 50 rpm) will likely involve pushing hard on the pedals with each downstroke, and pulling up hard on the upstroke — it might move your bike forward faster, but it will definitely exhaust you. (Read my prior article on why higher cadence is better.) The answer is to modulate your cadence based on road conditions and your fitness level. How do you modulate your cadence?

And that answer is effective use of gearing and fitness. The first and easiest step is to learn to use your gears. Assuming you have a road bike with two front cogs (together, “the chainring”) and ten or eleven rear cogs (together “the cassette”) — a very common set —  practice using  your front gear as a macro adjustment and your rear gear as a micro adjustment:

  1. When descending, be sure the front gear is in the large chain ring.
  2. When on flat or rolling hills, use large front chain ring if you have a tailwind (wind aiding you by pushing you in the direction of travel).
  3. When on flat or rolling hills, use the small front chain ring if you have a headwind (wind hindering your by pushing you backwards).
  4. When climbing, be sure the front gear is in the small chain ring.

How you do this is dependent on what kind of components your bike has. (See REI’s article explaining gears.) But the front controls on most road bikes are on the left side. Usually, you have to force the derailleur to push the gear UP onto the large ring, so the “faster” gears are achieved with a bit more effort on the gear lever, while to gear DOWN you are releasing the pressure, so the shift is more like a click.

Once you’re in the correct front cog, use the rear cogs to micro adjust your performance. If you find yourself sweating, huffing, and using too much muscle power, you may want to push the rear gear UP into a larger (higher) cog. If you find your legs spinning like mad while all the world passes you, you may want to RAISE the gear by pushing the rear gear DOWN into a smaller cog.

Gaining a basic understanding of the mechanics is important, but the only way to do it is to try it out. (See this article for an explanation of how to shift.) Don’t be shy to play with your gears. Try riding on flats first in the big chain ring (front gear). Then try the same ride later in the small chain ring. Then micro adjust with the rear to keep your legs spinning.

You may notice a subtle difference in how you ride and the difficulty. This is, in part, because there is a big overlap in the “gearing ratio” (see prior link) — some of the same gears are represented by different combinations of chain ring/cassette gearing.

Here’s a quick list of common gear combinations which may help gel the whole thing in your brain:

  • The “easiest” gear combination for climbing is the chain is all the way TOWARD the bike (small chain ring, largest cassette cog);
  • The “hardest” gear for descending is the chain all the way AWAY FROM the bike (large chain ring, smallest cassette cog).

There are two combinations which you should avoid: largest chain ring and largest cog; smallest chain ring and smallest cog. This is called cross chaining. In these configurations, you put the most stress on the chain. Better components can do this no problem, but if you’re dropping your chain a lot, check to see if you’re doing this.

The takeaways are this:

  1. Big front chain ring: climbing — Small front, descending.
  2. Large rear cassette: easier — Small rear, more power.
  3. Maintain a cadence which does not exhaust you, but moves you forward at the desired pace.
  4. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Next week, I’m going to write about fitness and cadence and give you some target cadences which should help with your understanding. Also, you can get a good cadence meter for your  bike pretty cheap — apart from your speed, cadence is a good metric to help gauge your cycling (though I’d invest in a heart rate monitor first).

Your Bear

Pace Yourself

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Training ride number 10. You’re out on the road, feeling pretty good. The cause is right, the friends are right, and at mile 2, the pace is right. At some point, you notice the conversation dies down, and the guy who was right front of you is suddenly a couple hundred feet in front. Then you turn a corner, and he’s gone!

Image courtesy: Jeff Meyers

You think: he’s my height, age, and build. He was helpful, compared his bike to mine, and he was impressed that they were largely equivalent. As you go through the factors that made you eat his dust, you conclude: It must be me. How do I improve?

Addressing that question has taken years. This blog is full of researched and cited tips on safety, performance, nutrition, hydration, sleep, clothing, and dragons. Please search, browse, and enjoy.

New and experienced riders can feel this way. So, you are not alone. To answer the first part first: it is you. You are the rider who got up at 5 am to make the 7:30 am meet up time. You are the rider who stayed up late cleaning his bike. You are the rider who carved out 7 hours on a Sunday to ride 70 miles. You are the rider committed to schlepping his ass 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles. You are already strong.

So the real question is: how could it be that that other guy is so much faster than I am? That question I will try to answer in a short series of posts which will help you to understand issues affecting performance. You’ll be surprised how subtle changes can affect your cycling.

But, if you want to start answering the question, you have to make me two promises. First, try to think: I’ve already won just by getting out of bed and onto my bike. Second, try to minimize comparing your performance to others. These are big asks, so I’m only asking that you try.

All promised? Good.

Here’s an outline of upcoming posts:

  • Maintaining a good spin to avoid muscle fatigue.
  • Climbing, descending, and flats.
  • Eating and drinking for performance.
  • Keeping your bike clean.
  • Working through your doubts and fears.
  • Riding in poor weather.
  • Setting a workable training schedule.

I will commit to writing one entry a week. That brings us up to about mid-April. Please message me and let me know what additional topics you’d like to talk about. And comment, below!

Your Bear

Insane in the Membrane: Recovering from Head Injuries

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Minor falls happen and most of the injuries you may get are apparent from the bruised knees and knuckles and ripped garments they leave behind. But there’s one injury you might not even know you have which is far more serious: concussion. When you fall, there’s always a chance that your brain has hit the side of your skull, bruising it. Obviously, we cannot see people’s brains. And it appears impossible to see these bruises even with an MRI or CAT scan. So its important to look for the signs.

CJ and Brendan demonstrating proper helmet fit. (Image Credit, Brendan Patrick.)

First, I know you were wearing your helmet. (If not, read my blog entries on the important of helmets.)

Second, if the helmet is cracked or seriously scratched, it means that you hit your head.

Third, If you face or head is bruised or bleeding, it means you hit your head.

Fourth, if you have any lapse in memory, for however short a time, it means you hit your head. (And if your helmet is cracked or you have injuries to your face or head and can’t remember them, you definitely hit your head.)

Fifth, if you feel disoriented, confused, or just plain weird, you probably hit your head.

You can also test yourself, if you want to purchase expensive software of iPhone apps, or you can and should see your doctor as soon after the incident as possible. If you’re on an organized ride, go to the medical tent at the next rest stop!

This stuff happens to us regular riders and to pros. Here’s professional cyclist Jade Wilcoxson’s description of her crash:

A girl in front of me decided to ride into a space that didn’t exist, then hit a car and ricocheted into the peloton in front of me. I don’t remember the next five minutes. I’d gone down hard and took the brunt of the fall on the back of my head. My helmet did its job and shattered in the process. I can’t imagine what my skull would look like if I didn’t have a helmet on. I suspect it would have been a life-changing (or life-ending) crash.

My mechanic found me and held my bike while I tried to get back on it. I apparently fell down three times in the process, but when director Jack drove up I told him I could still race (adrenaline = bad decision making). He took one look at me and told me to get in the car. I think my eyes may have been pointing in different directions.

(Bicycling Magazine, “To Ride or Not Ride.”)

She goes on to describe her symptoms and how they prevented her form exercise, “I spent the next 48 hours feeling like I was rocking on a small boat….” She tried to get back on her bike, but even moderate exercise left her, “foggy, exhausted, and ready for a two-hour nap.”

Worse than just affecting your workout, exercise after concussion can slow recovery:

[R]esearchers tracked the medical records and activity levels of 95 student athletes … who had suffered concussions in school sports. The students were evaluated using cognitive tests immediately after the concussion and in follow-up visits. The data showed that athletes who engaged in the highest level of activity soon after the initial injury tended to demonstrate the worst neurocognitive scores and slowest reaction times. Students fared better if they didn’t return immediately to their sport but instead simply engaged in normal school and home activities.

(New York Time Sports blog, “Sports Activity after Concussion Slows Recovery.”)

There’s no bandaid you can put on your brain. Recovery takes time and rest. Doctors have developed a recovery plan for after brain injuries:

  1. Become symptom-free at rest;
  2. Become symptom-free with light activity — meaning walking, jogging, or training on a stationary bike;
  3. Become symptom-free with “light practice” — meaning for cyclists, short, flat, semi-strenuous rides;
  4. Become symptom-free during regular practice with no contact or while being “yellow-shirted” — meaning for cyclists, a regular training ride but at a reduced pace;
  5. Become symptom-free during regular practice — meaning a regular training ride at a nearly regular pace;
  6. Become symptom-free while participating in an event — meaning regular riding at full pace.

Once you reach one stage, you get to move on to the next stage. If you fail the next stage, you have to drop back until you’re ready to move on. This process takes 4 to 6 weeks, for most people. See the video, below, for an explanation:

But make sure you’re doing this under the supervision of a doctor. The take away is: give yourself time to recover. Your heath is much more important, and besides, overtraining will only delay your recovery.

Your Bear

Absolute Beginners: Late-season Training

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Believe it or not, there are only nine more weekends to train for the AIDS/LifeCycle. And while you’ve noticed the rides getting longer, the start-time getting earlier, and your body getting more sore, you may also have noticed that the whole process hasn’t really gotten easier. (You may also have noticed that your thighs aren’t as big as Robert Förstemann’s.) The issue isn’t you, but a matter of training: a once-a-week cycling plan is not enough to ride every one of the 545 miles over seven days. So, here are some ideas to help your training as we enter the height of the season.

robert forstemann3
Robert Förstemann: click for image credit and more photos.
  1. Eat, Drink.  If you dread training, you have low energy, you feel irritable or out of sorts during rides, then you are very likely not eating enough or properly hydrating during rides. If these suggestions do not help, consider a consultation with your doctor or a nutritional consultant. (Click the link to read my articles about nutrition.)
  2. Get your bike fit, new kit, or shoes now. Changing up your kit at the last minute is a recipe for unexpected pains. But it’s not too late to dial in a fit if you’re having numbness, joint or back pain, or other discomforts which affect your ride. (Click the link for references on how bike fits integrate with your ride.)
  3. A century is not required, but you should feel comfortable with 60 miles. In order to be comfortable doing all 545 miles, you don’t necessarily have to complete a century ride before the event. If you can do a 60 mile ride and feel comfortable with your fitness level, then you will probably be able to do all 545 miles. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try a century if the opportunity presents itself. There are lots of organized century rides throughout California. (Click the link for articles on training.)
  4. Back-to-Back rides of at least 30 miles each are essential. Since the ride is 7 consecutive days, you will be much more comfortable if you can regularly do two back-to-back rides. I recommend that every week until the weekend before the ride you try to get in back to back rides. (Click the link for articles on fitness.)
  5. Dawdling at the rest stops is a no-no. Socializing before or during the ride is a vital part of why the AIDS/LifeCycle is such a special event. But keep it to a minimum. Rest for no more than 20 minutes at rest stops. Hanging out for too long will tire you, will make you sweat more, and will make your muscles cramp. Oh, and avoid stopping between rest stops unless it is necessary. (Click link for an article on how to keep up if you’re a slower rider.)
  6. Ride at least 3 days per week. You’ll be riding 7 days in a row. Prepare by riding at least 3 — preferably 4 or 5 minimum — per week. (Click link for articles on creating a training plan.)
  7. Hill climbing is essential. If your goal is to complete all the miles on the ALC, you’ll need to prepare by climbing those hills. Don’t be afraid! We’re right behind you the whole way! And for many of us, climbing it the reason we ride. (Click link for articles on climbing (there’s only one as of the time I’m posting this; I clearly need to write more on the topic.)
  8. Become more comfortable on descents. Steep descents can be scary. Remember to control your speed by applying both brakes evenly, only when you’re not turning, and do not “feather” or “ride” your brakes (which causes overheating). (Click link for article on cornering.)
  9. Set a target return time for all rides. I’ve not written about this, but when you go out, a huge psychological barrier is the sheer swaths of time cycling takes up. If you’re new and somewhat slow, a 60 mile ride (which typically takes me 3.5 to 4 hours) may take you 6 to 8 hours. You have to be prepared for that (and you may want to try to minimize that time with training and preparation). (Click the link for articles on psychology.)
  10. Sleep. Rest. All the training in the world is useless if you don’t rest enough. Be gentle with yourself and take the time you need to sleep. There are tons of studies that tell us: sleep deprivation negatively affects all aspects of our lives. Don’t give in to stress. (Click link for articles about sleep.)

That’s a lot of material for one article! Just remember the basic points: eat, rest, train, and enjoy the process. Some corollaries (and topics for past and future articles): See your doctor if you’re new to cycling or are having unusual chest pains, wheezing, or fatigue. Make sure your bike is in good working condition. Be kind to your Training Ride Leaders; they are novices and volunteers there to help you. And remember: AIDS/LifeCycle is fully supported, so don’t necessarily have to ride every mile, only those miles that you can.

Your Bear