Sunday, March 1, 2009

NBS, Is It Real?

Only a few short days ago, I posted an account of a bicycle commute into work. It was about one of those lucky situations that just happen. Fortunately, we sometimes are able to recognize our blessings and pause to count them.

This post is also about a bicycle commute to work, but the circumstances are quite different. For one thing, the days have grown longer and this ride included the benefit of more sunlight. This trip also included the excitement of a brand new bicycle. Weather conditions, so liberally praised the last time, were a bit more adversarial this time. Even the purpose of this post is different from the one previous.

While celebration was the intent last time, the purpose of this post is to document research. There is a curious phenomenon called New Bike Syndrome (NBS) that has been reported by cyclists. For the uninitiated, NBS is an alleged performance increase experienced during those first few hours on the new bicycle. It is common to hear riders describe this. They might say something like, “Now that I've got my new XYZ, I’ve increased the average speed on my 12-mile loop by 0.6 mph” or “I’ve never been able to stay with the lead group on our club rides, but last Saturday with my new XYZ, I finally did it!”

With a 20-mile commute into a 20-mph (gusts to 30-mph) headwind, I was hoping for a little NBS to kick in. I wasn’t looking to set any speed records, or even any personal best times. I just wanted to arrive at work on time and still be able to walk. Well, to be honest, I wanted the NBS to make it EASY to ride into a direct 20-30 mph headwind. So did it work?

I am happy to report that I did experience NBS. New bikes are clean and their drivetrains are quiet. A brand new chain running on brand new chain rings, rear cogs, and derailleur pulleys makes a soft, mechanical whirring sound that stirs the bicyclists’ soul. The new Rivendell also fits very well and handles delightfully. I’m not sure why, but the AHH is noticeably smoother than the Kogswell. Both have the same comfy 650B tires. Both have a similar wheelbase and similar length chainstays. The point is that the ride quality was a joy and I was grateful to take Homer for a ride longer than a 5-minute, post-build test ride. Still, I had a tinge of dissatisfaction.

I am very sorry to report that NBS did not make it easy to ride into that headwind. I did arrive at work on time. I was even able to walk, although not easily. Even with the new, shiny, bike. Even with the whirring, stirring chain. Even with the multitude of gears. Riding into a 20-30 mph headwind is HARD. I suppose I could have geared-down dramatically, but arriving at work on time was a pretty major objective.

I have concluded, therefore, based on exhaustive (exhausting?) research, that (1) NBS is real and an experience I recommend for all my cycling buddies, and (2) the NBS experience does have its limits. Oh yeah, one more thing…(3) riding into a 20-30-mph headwind is still more fun than driving a car (at least with a good dose of NBS, it is).


  1. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! What better a combo than NBS and a commute. Bliss extract, just choked full o' flavor. Keep watching my joint this spring. News is coming.

  2. AND I really like the downtube action. It gets me thinking.

  3. I'm looking forward to testing out your NBS Theory when I get my new bike on the road in the next month or so.

  4. Theory? Oh, please. This was pure science and you know it. Still, I suspect there is more research to be done on this subject.

    I'll be following both of you guys, looking forward to something new. Just don't drag this stuff out. No one likes a tease.

    Oh, yeah, downtube action. It's so simple and works so well. You could do something more complicated, but why?

  5. I'm familiar with NBS and a lesser but similar feeling you get when you tack on certain new bike parts. I also agree with you about downtube shifters. I'm glad to see that you got the bar tape situation handled. Great color choice by the way.

  6. Bar tape resolved. Thanks for the color support. I like green, but might add one coat of amber shellac to darken it slightly.