20 Questions Every Cyclist Should Ask: Part I

<strong>When it comes to cycling fashion, Lance is the one to emulate.</strong><br>Julien Behal/PA Wire URN:7742372 (Press Association via AP Images)

1. Do I really need to do intervals to get faster?

Brute strength can get you over the first climb and close gaps for the first 45 minutes of a race, but after that, it is the condition of your cardiovascular system that determines your fate.

Road riding is about sustained efforts at near-maximum output and about how fast your body can recover. Both of these situations are maximized by interval training. You will ride like you train. As much as intervals hurt, as ill as you feel as you struggle to recover from each successive effort, this will be the measure of pain and suffering that you will be able to inflict upon your rivals come race day or the next club ride.

Think about intervals as storing suffering in a can—the more you store, the more whoop you'll have later to dump on your rivals.

2. How does a tubeless tire work? What do you do if you flat?

Tubeless tires and rims are similar to standard clincher types in all but a few details. Tubeless rims must be sealed where there are spoke holes and at the joint area and use a special valve stem with O-ring seals on either side.

Most tubeless rim makers, like Shimano and Campagnolo, eliminate the rim's inner spoke holes completely, thus the need for a rim strip. Stan's NoTubes makes a retrofit rim strip which converts conventional wheelsets to tubeless in conjunction with their latex-based sealant.

Tubeless tires have an inner coating of rubber to seal the carcass (standard clincher tires are too porous to hold air for any length of time) and the reinforcing cords molded into the beads must be stronger to prevent the tire from blowing off of the rim when inflated at high pressures. At present, only Hutchinson makes tubeless tires for the road—under its own brand and for Specialized. Hutchinson's tubeless tires use a carbon fiber bead.

The way tubeless tires and rims inflate is that the rim and tire are designed to contact each other just tightly enough to make a reasonably airtight seal when the tire is loose on the rim and uninflated (automotive tires operate exactly like this). A quick burst of air pressure spreads the tire beads outwards towards the rim flanges. The inner rim profile is tapered to fit the tire beads more snugly as they spread outward, so once the tubeless tire is "started," easy hand pumping is all that is required to finish the job. When enough air pressure is achieved, the beads "pop" into place audibly and are sealed.

There are three strategies to fix a punctured tubeless tire. The first is to remove it exactly as you would a standard clincher: Unscrew the valve stem with finger pressure and then install a conventional tube—this is the preferred method because it is a no-brainer. The second is to patch the inside of the tire carcass with a glueless patch from Innovations in Cycling, and the third is to inject a one-ounce bottle of Stan's NoTubes into the tire (usually, by removing the valve core and squeezing the fluid into the stem—re-inflate it and go).

3. Why don't more riders use triples?

Triple cranksets provide a comfortably low gear range for climbing while retaining a closely spaced racing-type cogset to enhance riding on the flats and rollers. The alternative to a triple is a widely spaced cogset (12 x 28), which is still not low enough to make a huge improvement on excruciatingly long climbs, and creates big jumps between gears—which makes riding on the flats quite annoying.

Foolish pride is the main reason that most roadies will not resort to a triple chainring setup. Pro racers don't use triples, and they set the fashion for rank-and-file riders. We don't want to be seen riding a triple because it screams out that we are unwilling (or unable) to suffer profusely on climbs—like the "real men" in the peloton.

Another reason is that most rear derailleurs cannot handle the capacity (take up enough chain) of a three-ring crankset, nor can many front derailleurs swing wide enough to correctly shift three chainrings. Now that Shimano Dura-Ace and Campagnolo Record groups feature triples, that is a moot point.

Any less-than-Sastre rider who spends a lot of time in the mountains or plans on following the hilly stages of the Tour de France should consider this wonder of drivetrain technology.

4. People talk about 53/11's or describe what gearing they use on a certain climb. Please explain the basics.

Most cyclists call out their gearing by making reference to the number of teeth on the chainring and cog selection that they are using. Thus, a "53/11" would be the big chainring and the smallest cog—a selection that you might use on a fast descent or the downwind leg of a time trial.

Climbers like to talk gearing, such as: "I busted out Tragic Mountain in my 39/15 yesterday." Picking up or slipping down one gear on a familiar climb or time trial course is big news. The difference between early-season fitness and peak-season form may only be one gear, but learn the number of teeth on each cog on your cassette before you boast, because most riders will call you out if you are off by a single one.

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