Thursday, July 31, 2008

Orange County Residents Fixing Up Their Old Bikes

Orange County (OC), California is known for planned communities and homeowners' associations. The area glitters with shiny new BMWs and SUVs. So, it is somewhat surprising to hear that OC residents are turning to bicycles as a means save money in this time of spiking gasoline prices. It is even more surprising to learn that they are taking their old bicycles to shops to have them overhauled or tuned up rather than buying the most stylish new bicycles they can find.

Katherine Nguyen of the OC Register reports on this phenomenon in a recent article. In this article, one shop owner reports that, "So many people are bringing their bikes in that it now takes roughly 10 days for repair work to be done at Bicycle Discovery, up from what used to be a 24-hour turnaround."

Dare to Repair!!

Are OC folks fixing up their old rides because they appreciate the beauty and functionality of an older bicycle? Do they understand that refurbishing and reusing old bicycles is the "greenest" transportation option available to most people? Are they hoping that gas prices will come back down and looking to cyclo-commuting as a temporary plan until they can afford to drive again? Whatever the reason, I hope the trend continues!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Proposed Tax Break for Canadian Cyclists

Canadian legislators are currently considering a proposal which would eliminate the goods and service tax (GST) "from bicycles and cycling-related goods and services including panniers, helmets, locks, repairs and bike safety courses."

Joyce Murray, the liberal MP from Vancouver Quadra, introduced the legislation specifically "to encourage cycling."

Joyce Murray, the Canadian MP who is proposing to eliminate the GST on bicycles and bicycle-related products

Bravo MP Murray! Now, once you've convinced the Canadian Parliament that this makes sense, could you come south and pitch your idea to Washington, please?

See Cheryl Rossi's full story in the Vancouver Courier here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sky Yaeger on Integrated Design and Derailleur-Free Riding

Sky Yaeger has been leaving her mark on the bicycle world since the 1970s. Her years at Bianchi brought us such industry-shaking models as the “Milano,” the "Pista" and the “San Jose.” She also introduced the world to the first production single-speed ATBs (the Bianchi BOSS, BASS, BUSS, MUSS, DISS ,SISS, SASS, WUSS, GUSS, MUSS and LEWIS). Since she joined Swobo in 2006, it appears that she has been given the freedom to let her imagination and her design sense run wild. The results are wonderful. Swobo’s bikes are unlike anything the world has ever seen. Who would have imagined a galvanized bicycle frame until Yaeger made it happen?

I wanted to understand Yaeger’s design philosophies and motivations, so I asked her to do an interview. I was overjoyed when she agreed.

Sky Yaeger getting silly on a Swobo Otis
Photo Courtesy of Richard Masoner and
with some rights reserved

Q: You've been in the industry for a number of years now. Could you tell us a bit about your history with bicycles and bicycle companies?

A: My first 10-speed, as we called them, was a used bike I bought in 1970 for $60.00. I was in sophomore in high school and there was a senior who I didn't really know who had the only other bike in school. Riding a bike was not cool, but I loved the freedom. All my friends had the use of a car, so I didn't get a driver's license until I was in college and didn't get a car until I was 30 years old. I worked in a Schwinn shop in the early 70's and then worked in the famous Yellow Jersey bike shop in Madison during and after college. In the late 80's I was the marketing manager for Suntour USA and when the Japanese closed the company I went to Bianchi USA. I was there for 17 years and made the move to Swobo 2 years ago.

Yaeger's famous "100% Chick Designed" decal

Q: The Swobo bicycle product line seems to be almost Shimano-free. Why so?

A: It wasn't the goal, but more a result of the model mix, as we have no bikes with derailleurs. We have 3 single-speed bikes and 3 internal hub bikes in the line now. The Folsom has a Shimano coaster brake hub that Shimano Japan is customizing for us, with a longer axle. I like all internal hubs, but the lead times for Shimano are much longer than with SRAM now. The new SRAM i-Motion 9 hub is the only internal hub offered with 9 speeds. The SRAM internal hubs have a more user-friendly cable attachment at the hub, as well as being serviceable, by swapping out the guts, which negates a wheel re-build if there is a problem. Spec'ing high-quality German-made hubs also differentiates our bikes from everything else out there, as we are the only company in the North American market using the i-Motion 9 hub.

Swobo Dixon

Q: Do you think that derailleurs are a thing of the past? Do you think you will ever spec another bicycle with derailleurs?

A: Until we can bring an infinitely variable internal drivetrain to market at a weight the roadies could live with, derailleurs are very much not a thing of the past. I have nothing against derailleurs! I can imagine spec'ing a bike with derailleurs, yes. For most urban riding, however, an internal hub bike just makes more sense considering all the benefits. There's a reason why bikes with internal hubs are the most common type of bikes in Europe, where the primary use of bikes is for transportation.

Swobo Del Norte

Q: How many speeds does as average "urban cyclist" need?

A: For most cities with flat terrain, I think 3 speeds is enough. Certainly there are thousands of people riding one-speed fixies in hilly cities like SF, so a lot depends on the rider and the intended use. We're seeing some people who have been riding fixies wanting a 3-speed now, for more utility.

Q: Your bicycle designs are so very different from the offerings of any other company. What inspires them? Is there a design thread which ties all your Swobo bikes together?

A: My education is in fine arts and design, and I get inspiration from everything, but I look to cars and architecture a lot. In most bike companies there are many people involved in bringing a bike to market and it is very rare to have the luxury of conceptualizing a model, designing it from a blank sheet of paper and seeing it through to production. I think of them as a complete, integrated statement.

Swobo Novak

Q: I get the feeling you own quite a bicycle collection. Please tell us about some of your favorites.

A: I have a new lugged steel Pegoretti that is quite lovely and rides like a dream. My commute bike is built around an alloy/carbon-fiber cyclo-cross frame that I designed that also rides like a dream, with 700 x 28C tires. The Continental tires on that bike have almost 3000 miles on them without one flat. Another favorite is a steel Dedacciai frame with carbon rear triangle. The important thing is the ride and my favorite is whatever bike I just got finished riding. I like all frame materials, with steel and Ti being right up there. I ride Campy, Shimano and SRAM.

Yaeger with Dario Pegoretti (left) and an unidentified admirer

Q: If you did not have to worry about cost, marketability or any other mundane concerns, what would be your version of "the perfect bicycle?"

A: There is no one "perfect bicycle," but I guess it would have to be whatever inspires someone to get out and ride. One person's perfect bicycle would be another person's nightmare. There are few things in life that are as varied and personal as bicycles and the opportunity to personalize your ride is part of the appeal. I love looking at all the pimped out bikes on the Fixed Gear Gallery site. They have almost 8,000 bikes posted now. If you are talking about what I would design if a million bucks landed in my lap, it would have to be a light-weight belt-driven internal hub urban bike with integrated features like lights and locks and carrying capability integral to the frame.

Swobo Folsom

Q: Where do you see the US bicycle market/industry going over the next decade or so?

A: If gas prices continue upward, we're going to see bike sales and ridership continue to increase. Hopefully, the component companies will recognize that more engineering and R&D dollars need to get directed to internal hub technology. I'd like to see real puncture-resistant tires that ride as nice as 120 tpi clinchers and disc brakes that don't rub. I'd like to see all the technology invisible, like a car or a computer, so casual cyclists are not intimidated by suspension components, multiple chainrings and shifters with 4 levers.

Q: Electric bicycle sales are surging throughout the world, even in the USA. Have you considered designing and releasing a Swobo e-bike?

A: No.

Swobo Sanchez

Q: What else would you like to say?

A: All categories of bikes are good. Every company makes fine bikes. All styles of bikes and all riders are equal. If somebody waves or says “Hi” on the road, say “Hi” back. Don't ride the time trial of your life on the bike path.

Q: What do you like for breakfast?

A: During the week I love yogurt and fruit with some Grape-Nuts thrown in. On the weekend eggs and bacon, or eggs and sausage.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bicycles Making a Big Comeback in Pakistan

Who knew that bicycles have come to be considered, "the outmoded but cost-free means of transportation" in Pakistan? Certainly not me! However, in an eye-opening article in Pakistan's Daily Times, Daud Khattak describes how high bus fares are driving Pakistan's citizenry back to "the 19th century invention [that] is considered the most efficient self-powered means of transportation."

Cyclo-commuters in Pakistan
Photo courtesy of Jawad Zakariya with some rights reserved

Will high fuel pricing stem the wave of people in India, China, Pakistan, etc. who are clamoring to buy gasoline-powered automobiles? Will bicycles become, once again, the default commuter vehicle across the world? Will electric bicycles be the compromise that keeps everyone content? No one can say with certainty at this point, but this article gives us a revealing look at the "silver lining" associated with high oil prices.

Full text here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Rochester's Bicycle Recyclers

There was an interesting story by Kris Dreessenon yesterday. It was about a group of people who call themselves "R Community Bikes." The group has fixed up and distributed, free of charge, more than 5000 bicycles since it was founded in 2001. Volunteer mechanics get the bicycles in working order, then Dan Lill, director of R Community Bikes works with his volunteers to give the bikes to low-income residents of Rochester, New York. Lill explains, "We’re trying to level the playing field a bit."

Dan Lill, director of R Community Bikes in Rochester
Photo courtesy of

Community-based bicycle repair is almost always a good idea. It is even better when the bicycles are going to people who really need them as their only form of reliable transportation. And "community" is what this group is all about. Lill talks about the origin of the group's name, "'R' is a big part of the name. The R is for Rochester, and the idea of it being 'our' community bikes... It is part of the community, we are part of the community."

Kudos to Mr. Lill and the rest of the group. Cycloculture wishes you the best of luck. You have given others something to emulate.

Full story here:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Product Review – Shimano Nexus “Red Band” 8-Speed Hub

“Internal gear hubs are more reliable than derailer systems, and require much less maintenance. Unlike derailers, they may be shifted even when the bicycle is stopped, a valuable feature for the cyclist who rides in stop-and-go urban traffic.” – Sheldon Brown, 1944 - 2008

The Shimano Nexus "Red Band" Hub

There were three main reasons why I wanted to try an internally geared hub. First, it fit with the character of “the Plummer,” a bike I have built up as a modern(ish) version of an old English roadster. For those of you who need to know, it is named after a character who rides a beautiful old Raleigh on a children’s TV show. Secondly, I look very dorky when I ride with my pant legs rolled up, and I have a nice chain guard I have been wanting to install on the Plummer, but it would not work with a multi-cog freewheel. Finally, Sheldon Brown said that internally geared hubs are better, and when Sheldon spoke, I generally listened.

I did a bit of research and chose the Shimano Nexus “Red Band” 8-speed internal hub. This is Shimano’s premium product in their Nexus line. It has a good reputation for being sturdy and reliable, which is important to me because I am 250 pounds and I haul lots of extra weight (groceries, supplies and my children) up the very steep hills in my home town of Santa Clarita, California. I tend to “mash” the rubber block pedals on the Plummer. My pedal cadence is generally low and I tend to stand up and push very hard, a pedaling style that can destroy a wimpy geared hub pretty darn quickly. Another nice feature of the Nexus Red Band hub was its wide gear range which could come in quite handy in the hilly terrain around my home.

Another view of the Nexus hub

I chose master wheel-builder Anthony King, of Longleaf Bicycles, to build my wheel for me. King is well known for building strong wheels for use in the real world. He also has good expertise in setting up old bikes with new equipment, and he has lots of experience with internally geared hubs. King described the different 27” rim options I could use, focusing on the excellent selection of 27” rims offered by Velocity. I chose the double-walled Velocity “Synergy” rim to get the most strength possible. King laced the 36-hole wheel up with double butted stainless spokes. Finally, King listed the shifter options from Shimano, which include twist shifters and trigger shifters. I chose the twist shifter without the integrated brake lever. Once King had all my requirements, he gave me a very fair price on the parts and delivered them quickly.

My new drivetrain in all its glory

Setting up the bicycle with the Nexus equipment was simple and easy, for the most part. Shimano’s printed instruction sheets are pretty good. Make sure to keep them and read them as you do the installation. Unfortunately, when Shimano instructs the user to “Install the retaining ring” that holds the cog to the hub, they do not give any further details. That ring is STOUT! I wrestled with it for thirty minutes or so, using flathead screwdrivers, needle nose pliers, and anything else I could get my hands on before I finally got it to snap into place. Of course, I waited until I was finished before I e-mailed King at Longleaf Cycles for advice. He responded promptly and wisely,

“When installing or removing the snap ring, start at one the end of the ring, not the middle, and work your way around. I can usually install the ring with my hands and removal should only take a small flat head screw driver. If you start from the middle of the snap ring you'll have a very difficult time.”

The twist shifter unit is designed for handlebars with an outside tube diameter of 22.2mm at the installation point, so my upside-down Nashbar moustache bars were too big. Luckily, I had a set of very groovy “North Road” handlebars sitting on a shelf. Made from good, old fashioned chromed steel, they fit the character of the bicycle perfectly, and they were the right size as well.

The only other “hitch” in the assembly process was due to the fact that the shifter cable and housing provided by Shimano were a bit too short for my massive 67cm frame with its long top tube, long stem, and upright bars. I could just get the cable and housing installed, and they actually worked, but I thought the bend radius of the housing was too tight in places, and the cable housing kept pushing my wicker basket to one side. Absolutely unacceptable! The cable housing had printing that read “SEALED” on the side, so I was not sure what I should use for a replacement. Once again, King came to the rescue, saying,

“There is nothing special about the derailleur housing or cable. I'm not sure what the ‘sealed’ on the housing is meant to refer to – perhaps the inner liner (which all good housing has) or that the housing is continuous. If you want to run split housing you can. In theory this adds entry points for water, dirt, etc but in practice the shifting will remain extremely low maintenance.”

The Nexus twist shifter, with the "too short" cable housing

Once everything was installed, adjustment was almost trivial. I rotated the barrel adjuster on the shifter until the system shifted properly, and off I rode. Over the first few days of riding, I gave the barrel adjuster very minor tweaks as things settled into place, but I never had a major skip or any other sort of problem. To get the official instructions, I asked King about proper adjustment and routing maintenance. He responded,

“The only routine maintenance is to check if your shifting is adjusted properly – just shift to gear four and make sure the two yellow lines on the hub are aligned. If they aren't, use the barrel adjuster on your shifter to align them. Of course, cleaning your cog and chain periodically will extend the life of both, but they'll last a very long time even if you don't. Most people get an internal gear hub because they don't want any fuss, and these hubs deliver.

Overhauls aren't routine maintenance but you can overhaul the hub after a break-in period and at regular intervals to extend its life. You'll need some special tools from Shimano (see parts 34-40 here). Consult the hubstripping website for more information. Shimano doesn't have a recommended overhaul schedule, and particular riding conditions will greatly influence how often the hub needs to be serviced."

On the road, the system works just about perfectly. It is far easier to operate than any derailleur setup I have ever used. It shifts flawlessly whether the bike is in motion or at rest (and I have to keep reminding myself that I can shift when I am stopped). I tend to “let off” a bit on pedal pressure when I shift while pedaling. The shifts are smoother and more quiet when I do so, and I have to believe that it is better for the internal mechanics. The Nexus hub came with one 19 and one 21 tooth cog. I set my bicycle up with the 19 tooth cog mated to a 42 tooth chainring. This seems to be a good compromise. Although I do spin out at lower speeds than I am used to, the easy gear on this setup is just adequate for hauling fifty pounds worth of kids and groceries up the hill to my house. If this were a bike set up for high-RPM spinning, I probably would have used the 21 tooth cog. If I lived in a flat area and was not using the bike as a cargo/passenger hauler, I probably would set it up with a 46X19 combination.

"The Plummer," as she is now configured. Fenders and chain guard to be installed sometime between now and the first rain storm in Southern California this fall

In conclusion, I would recommend the Shimano Nexus Red Band hub to people who:

  • Are not weight weenies; the hub is fairly heavy
  • Do not need thirty gears; you will be limited in both overall range and increments between gears versus a derailleur system
  • Don’t want chain gunk on their legs or pants
  • Like things to be simple and functional

Now, if you will excuse me, it is time for me to hook up the cargo trailer, strap my baby boy into the child seat, and head for Trader Joe’s. And I shall enjoy my ride tremendously. I loved my bike before I put the Nexus hub on it, but I love it even more now!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jordan Hufnagel on Building Frames and the Portland Bike Scene

I stumbled upon Jordan Hufnagel’s flickr photo stream a few weeks ago, and I immediately knew I wanted to interview him. His bikes are lovely. He obviously builds them to very high quality standards. But they look immensely practical, too. He shows lots of frames built with track dropouts for assembly as fixies, and he shows lots of bikes built up with flat bars for urban riding.

Hufnagel builds in Portland, Oregon, which is experiencing a bicycle boom of epic proportions. So I asked him about the bike scene in Stumptown, as well as about the bicycles he builds. He gave me great answers to all questions.

Hufnagel, the hairy-chested he-man frame builder (photos from his website

Q: Portland has always had a very active cycling community, but it seems to have exploded in the last few years. Is that accurate? What is the bicycle scene like in Portland these days? Where do you think it is going? What are some of the important elements of bike culture in Portland?

A: I have been in Portland for almost 4 years now and I could instantly feel the serious presence of bikes. No type of cycling is left out here. There is heavy participation in everything from mountain biking to track racing, and you can't deny the amazing cyclocross scene here, but at the heart of it for every cycling enthusiast in Portland is commuting. There is a defiant effort on behalf of the people here to do all they can by bike, and the city government is behind it too! I see more porteur racks, panniers, and cargo bikes than ever. I think that Portland culture breeds this mentality. This is a city designed to support local businesses and develop self-supporting neighborhoods. To find a big box store you have to go well out of the city center, and there is no reason to. You can find most things you desire within 20 blocks.


Q: What can other US cities do to develop a cycling mindset similar to what we see in Portland?

A: Make the roads safer for cyclists. This means educating drivers and cyclists, and developing functional bike routes. Focus on a local economy. Shop locally owned neighborhood businesses. I think this plays a huge role in Portland culture and the cycling community. Plus, it makes it easier for people to live in their neighborhoods and not feel like they have to make massive shopping trips by car to big box stores. And also have a fun race scene. The Cross Crusade has been a great example of how to make competition fun and accepting to all interested!

Q: You make a lot of frames for fixies, from the look of your website. How many frames with track dropouts do you make for each frame you build with road dropouts? Any thoughts as to why so many of your frames go derailleur-free?

A: That was definitely the deal this past year. I built about 1 geared bike to every 3 single speeds. However, when I look at my build queue now, there are only 2 track bikes in the next 6 months of builds. Cyclocross has taken over my shop! I think the number of track bikes I build has a lot to do with their popularity in general, and the simple classic look I give them. I also love making the clearance super tight and I think that speaks to a lot of people looking for an awesome track bike.

Mmmm... Shiny track dropout goodness!

Q: You seem to use a combination of lugs and fillet brazing. Why did you choose these frame building methods? Have you thought about TIG welding frames? Why or why not?

A: Aesthetics. I just love the way a smooth fillet looks and feels, and the elegance of a well done lug. They get me really excited. The first bike I made was TIG'd but I think I have always had my heart in brazed bikes. With that being said, the TIG work of guys like Jim Kish at Kish Fabrication, Mike DeSalvo at Desalvo Cycles, and Sean Chaney at Veritgo Cycles is really something to love!

That's what a filed fillet braze should look like.

Q: Please tell us a bit about your shop. I know you are a one-person operation. What kind of tools do you use? What kind of building are you in?

A: My shop is in SE Portland right on a major bike avenue. I occupy a 500 square foot box in the corner of a warehouse with some big windows. The tools I use on each build are your usual shop selection ranging from a large selection of files to a 2000 lb vertical mill. I have a lug vise from Efficient Velo Tools as well as a bunch of odds and ends that I have made over time that have made my work a lot easier too. You can usually hear some Tom Petty or Neil Young blasting while you ride by, or see me drinking massive amounts of peach tea and eating cookies!

Craftsmanship? Yup.

Q: Please describe your ideal bike.

A: Any bike I'm having fun on, but right now it would have to be the new cyclocross bike I'm making myself in a couple weeks!

Q: Do you travel more by car or by bicycle?

A: Locally it's the bike for sure. Long distance travel has been by plane mostly, with my bike as my checked baggage.

Urban machine.

Q: Which off-the-shelf bikes do you like?

A: As far as the big companies go I’ve been into the steel Lemonds. They seem like a good deal with a classy look.

A lovely Hufnagel mixte

Q: What do you like for breakfast?

A: Breakfast food plays a serious role in my life. Brunch is the meal that brings most of my friends together. A tofu scramble with lots of veggies and vegan sausage would be my favorite I think.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Copenhagenized Cycleliciousness

Mikael Colville-Andersen is known by his pen name, Zakkaliciousness. His fans around the world flock to his blog, Copenhagen Cycle Chic, to see photos of beautiful, fashionable women on glorious bicycles. However, these women are not lycra-clad models posing to help sell the latest carbon fiber wonderbike. They are typical commuters transporting themselves through their daily lives (and he does include plenty of shots of men and children as well). Colville-Andersen has a remarkable talent for framing candid shots which not only make the subjects look good, but also demonstrate just how easy and accepted it is to travel by bicycle in Copenhagen. Colville-Andersen’s other blog, Copenhagenize, features more bicycle-related political and social commentary with less emphasis on “fashion photos.” In both blogs, he is a tireless evangelist, preaching the gospel of practical cycling to all who will listen. His photos and his words should be an inspiration to real-world cyclists across the globe.

Zakkaliciousness, a.k.a Mikael Colville-Andersen

Photo Courtesy of Mikael Colville-Anderson of Copenhagen Cycle Chic (all rights reserved)

Q: You take so many wonderful photos of stunning, stylish women on wonderful bicycles. Can you tell me which is lovelier, a beautiful woman or a beautiful bike?

A: Definitely a beautiful woman, or just a beautiful person, really. I don't have a bike fetish at all, so the bikes are secondary to the cyclists. With that said, a bicycle makes anyone look good. It's an odd but pleasurable contradiction.

Q: How does your wife, a.k.a. Wifealiciousness, feel about your passion for photographing beautiful women?

A: Many of my best shots were pointed out to me by my wife while we were out riding somewhere. A nudge on the elbow or a muttered, "get your camera out...". So she is a big part of it, as she is a big part of everything I do.

Q: How do you set up your shots of the Copenhagen cycling scene? Does it take lots of work and patience? Or is it mostly a matter of luck and making sure you always have a camera ready?

A: The main point with my blog is that I only take photos while going about my daily life. Usually from my bike. Me going to work, to the supermarket, to meetings, to the cinema, etc. It has taken some time to perfect the technique of pulling out my camera and shooting on the fly, but that is just a classic "practice makes perfect" fable. Luck is often a part of it, but I always have two cameras at the ready. A Canon IXUS 75 for the quick shots and a Canon G9 for the ones where I have more time.

Photo by Mikael Colville-Anderson of Copenhagen Cycle Chic (all rights reserved)

Q: How have Copenhagen and other European cities made travel by bicycle so easy, accepted, and fashionable? What can cities in the USA and other parts of the world do to emulate the best elements of Copenhagen's cycling culture?

A: Copenhagen has been dedicated to creating 'liveable spaces for living people' for the better part of four decades. Bicycle infrastructure is a big part of it, but not the only part. It is a classic tale of 'if you build it, they will come.' If you give your citizens the opportunity to ride, by providing separated bike lanes and facilities, they will ride. If you help present cycling as easy and fast and accessible, branding it as an acceptable form of transport, they will ride. Less focus on safety - people aren't stupid - more focus on the benefits of cycling - personal and societal - and you are planting the seeds of bicycle culture. In North America, the sports industry have worked hard for decades to sell cycling as a sport or a hobby. Now we need to get people to realise it doesn't have to be only a sport. It is transport for people in normal clothes. 54% of Copenhageners ride their bikes because it's easy and fast. Using your bike is a given here. It's second nature. It's not something you think about. You just do it.

Q: Do you have a favorite bicycle? If so, please describe it.

A: I like my Velorbis Scrap Deluxe. It's smooth, cool and made for urban cycling. None of that bending over the handlebars - I'm not in Stage 12 of the Tour de France, I'm going to a café - I like sitting up and enjoying my beautiful city.

Colville-Andersen's Velorbis Scrap Deluxe. Now THAT'S a pretty bike!

Photo by Mikael Colville-Anderson of Copenhagen Cycle Chic (all rights reserved)

Q: Is it fair to say that you are an enthusiastic opponent of bicycle helmets? If so, please explain your position. If not, please describe your stance on helmets.

A: I'm opposed to helmet promotion and legislation and a proponent of personal choice. After having actually read the reams and reams of scientific research from the past decades, I've learned that they do two dangerous things; they give the impression that cycling is a dangerous activity and they effectively kill off bike culture by scaring people. In North America the big bike helmet manufacturers remain silent about the science and instead finance lobby groups who do the finger-wagging and who distribute questionable statistics. European legislators, in countries with a strong bike culture, actually do their homework. As a result, you won't find legislators who will pass laws forcing people to wear helmets. Then you have the simple scientific fact that helmets are designed to protect your head from cuts and concussions in solo accidents under 20 kph. It's amazing to me that people have been convinced by lobby groups that helmets will prevent brain injury and death. Sad and amazing. Basically, in my eyes, helmet advocates wish to sell fear and, by extension, helmets for profit. Bicycle advocates wish to sell cycling and, by extension, all the health and societal benefits that entails. And it's all not for profit.

Photo by Mikael Colville-Anderson of Copenhagen Cycle Chic (all rights reserved)

Q: What do you say to Americans who tell me that they absolutely cannot commute by bicycle unless there is a shower available to them at work?

A: I think I just roll my eyes. There are 100 million Europeans who ride their bike daily and they get on fine without this strange 'shower at work' angle. It's just another ridiculous way to keep branding cycling as sporty, sweaty and difficult, when the opposite is true.

Q: Do you own a car? If so, what percentage of your trips are taken in the car versus on bicycles versus using public transportation? If not, how do you get around when you need to go further or haul more than is practical with a bicycle?

A: I don't own a car, no. We are in a car share programme if we need one a couple of times a year. In Copenhagen, only 30% of the population owns a car. This is in one of the richest countries in the world, so it's not a question of cost. The minimum wage is $20 dollars an hour, for heavens sake. It's merely because it's easier to ride or take public transport.

Photo by Mikael Colville-Anderson of Copenhagen Cycle Chic (all rights reserved)

Q: What do you like for breakfast?

A: We eat müsli with fresh fruit and maybe a toasted roll. And coffee. The kids, like most Danish kids, eat their hot porridge. :-)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Joseph Ahearne and the Bikes He Builds

Joseph Ahearne won the prize for “Best City Bike” at the North American Handmade Bicycle Shows (NAHBS) in 2007 and 2008. In my book, this qualifies him as a maker of bicycle frames for the real world. Some may point out that most people could not or would not pay the prices Ahearne charges for a frame, but I do not think that his prices disqualify him from “real world” status. He is clearly designing and building bicycles meant to be used hard in practical applications, and from what he told me, most of his customers do just that. His designs that involve a “unified bike and rack” push the practicality envelope even further, creating machines that can haul passengers and large amounts of cargo. Finally, I got the distinct impression that Ahearne is a perfectionist. Like virtually all frame builders in this country, he charges the dollars required to build frames to his standards while being able to eek out a modest living. His status as an independent frame builder allows him to create and build designs that no large bicycle company would dare attempt at any price. Considering the two-year waiting list for his creations, lots of people understand that his genius is worth every penny.

Joseph Ahearne

Q: How did you start building frames? What has kept you in the business?

A: I learned frame building from Tim Paterek. For anyone building bicycle frames he's somewhat of a legend because he wrote the definitive guide for frame construction, "The Paterek Manual." He's an old-school frame builder who, at the time I took his class, lived in Vancouver, Washington. He started building frames in the '70s and for the last ten or so years of his career he taught frame building out of his shop. While taking the class he told me he was retiring from frame building and offered to sell me his equipment and tooling, and I went for it. I've stayed with it for this long because I really enjoy it and I don't want to work for anyone else. Also, because I've got so many things I want to make there's never been a lull, it's just grown and grown to the point that I'm now at, which is about a two-year wait time for bikes.

Q: Is there one type of frame you build more than others?

A: I started out building a lot of 29ers and commuters. I still build both of these, but now I definitely build more commuters and touring bikes and a variety of hybrid styles. The custom racks are really important. Racks can be really difficult to make, but the unified bike and rack, if executed well, is such an awesome thing, both functionally and aesthetically. A lot of people want that.

Ahearne's Mixte which won "Best City Bike" at NAHBS, 2007
Photo Courtesy of Ahearne Cycles and Dirt Rag Magazine

Q: Describe your version of the "ideal bike," please.

A: There's no such thing, at least not universally. Everyone has different wants and needs and people live in all sorts of places where the terrain is vastly different. No one bike can cover all the possibilities. I guess, if I were only allowed to have one bike for myself, it would be a touring rig with racks front and rear that were easily removable, clearance for fatter tires and fenders, a comfortable, more upright geometry. Kind of like the bike I have that I ride most every day. But, it's even better to have two bikes, or maybe three. That way you can get more specific, and each bike will do its job better.

Q: What is your favorite type of bicycle to build?

A: Usually the one I'm building. Or the one I built last. Or maybe the next one. I really like commuters because they push my skills, make me envision how I want everything to come together and then to come up with the best way to execute it. I learn a lot from each one. But I really like building the simple bikes, too, like fixed gears and single speeds. That way I don't have to think so much about the design and can focus on the perfection of every detail.

Q: I absolutely love this bike: Is there a story behind it? Is it one of your personal bikes? Tell us a bit about it, please.

The bike I absolutely love.
Photo courtesy of Bike Portland with some rights reserved

A: This was a big experiment. I started the bike with the idea that I wanted to be able to carry my u-lock on the bike, no rattling. I hate that sound. That's where the twin top tubes came from. From there evolved the crazy seat binder idea, to sandwich the seat tube between the twin tubes and then slot it front and back and put a binder on either side, kind of hidden. I wanted a 5 - piece seat stay configuration, and I stole the bullet-capped stays off an old frame that I broke, but that didn't work out. So I tried a little different configuration, didn't like it, built another style, but didn't like that either. By this time I was getting frustrated and the project was taking far too long, so I built the crazy stays that are now on there. They looked just weird enough, and they fit the way I wanted them to, so I used them. When I first built the frame it didn't have the mixte stays running back from the head tube to the rear dropouts. It just had the twin top tubes. Unfortunately I sent it off to the painter before building the bike up and riding it. When experimenting like this, I should know better. When the bike came back from paint I assembled it with parts and got on to ride and it was terrible. There was way too much flex in the twin top tubes. Talk about a noodle. So then almost immediately I burned off the paint and installed the two mixte stays. This time, after the mixte stays were put in, I built it back up with all the parts and rode it. It felt great, not too much flex. And the mixte stays made the bike all the more strange, but somehow it seems appropriate. The first paint job was white. I wasn't sold on it, and didn't really like it, and with the two extra tubes the bike really wasn't meant to be white. When I sent it back to the painter I knew the bike needed to be blood red.

Another beautiful Ahearne commuter

Q: Your website tells us that a customer should expect to wait 18 months from ordering until delivery. Is that because you have a long waiting list? How long does it typically take you to build a bike? Any plans on expanding your operation so you could build more frames in shorter periods of time?

A: My wait is actually about two years now. Yes, that's because I have a lot of orders, at least for me it seems like a lot. A basic frame build may take a week or week and a half frame and fork. It all depends. But some of the more elaborate projects, like the commuters with everything – frame, fork, stem, racks, fenders parts -- can take quite a long time, maybe three weeks to a month. It really depends on a lot of things. Also, polished stainless steel projects are very time and labor intensive. I've got some ideas about how to speed things up, and am always thinking of ways to refine my processes. I'm certainly able to build more quickly now than I was even a year ago. But some things just take time.

Wow! That's nice...

Q: We hear from different sources that small frame building shops struggle to survive, financially speaking. How do you make ends meet?

A: Yes, money is always a struggle. I don't think people realize how much goes into building a bike. Bikes for sale in bike shops have people believing that that's what a bike should cost. Which is frustrating. It's kind of like going to the supermarket and buying a pretty package of meat. If you don't educate yourself a little you have no idea the blood required to get it in the package. I think Sacha of Vanilla Bikes has it right when he compares what frame builders make to what plumbers make. If you think about it, we're both (bike builders and plumbers) utilizing some similar techniques. We're putting tubes together, albeit for very different purposes. How much do plumbers make? Something like $75 per hour. There are maybe two frame builders in the history of frame building that make that much on a consistent basis. That's what's frustrating. You can't go buy your pre-fab plumbing at the store at a 10th of the cost, so you've got to pay the $75 or whatever per hour. Not so with bikes. And like I said, both plumbers and frame builders are putting tubes together to make something useful, but what frame builders are doing is infinitely more beautiful. But we are all struggling to make a living. If I weren't so mindlessly stubborn, and willing to live without buying typical American luxuries, I wouldn't be able to do this. For example, I really wouldn't be able to afford to buy a new car. Not unless I wanted to live in it an push it around. Lucky for me, I don't want a new car.

Q: Are there any exciting new projects you are working on? Care to share the details (please, oh please!)?

A: I just sent a bike to the powder coater that, once finished, should be one of the most eye-catching and almost shockingly beautiful bikes I've built. It has a lot of polished stainless steel, all the way around, and is getting a really fancy paint job. A real piece of jewelry for a guy who's called this his "mid-life crisis bike." I put a lot of time into it and am really excited to see it once the powder coater’s magic has happened. Fortunately, I'm certain that this guy is going to ride the bike hard instead of hanging it on a wall and looking at it. I fear that some people do that, but not this one. There will be pictures posted when it's built. It's a crazy machine.

Made with "love and fury." What more could you ask?

Q: What else would you like to say?

A: Not now, I've got to get to work.

Q: What do you like for breakfast?

A: Almost every day I make a giant smoothie. It's great this time of year because I can ride out to one of the local farms and pick the berries myself. I just went yesterday and picked a whole flat of raspberries. Next week or the week after starts the first wave of early blueberries. There's nothing better in the morning.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

It's Larz Anderson Showtime Again!

Photo courtesy of Mike Schmidt,

All you New England-based fans of vintage bicycles should consider heading out to the Larz Anderson Vintage Bicycle Show and Swap on Sunday, July 20, 2008. The show takes place at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, Massachusetts from 10AM - 2PM.

Photo courtesy of Mike Schmidt,

Splendid bicycles, splendid swapmeet, splendid cycling folks. What more could you want out of life?

The Larz Anderson Auto Museum
15 Newton Street, Brookline, Massachusetts, 02445

Photo courtesy of Mike Schmidt,

More details at:

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Most Beautiful Roads in the World?

One thing I remember especially well about my time working at Moots Cycles is the incredible beauty of Steamboat Springs, Colorado and environs. Now everyone has a chance to ride the roads in that area. Kent Eriksen, the founder of Moots, will be leading his annual Tour de Steamboat on Saturday, July 26. I know this is late notice, but the rides would definitely be worth an unplanned road trip.

Downtown Steamboat Springs

There will be a 40 mile ride and a 100 mile ride which will have some very, very significant climbs. What would you expect in a town that sits deep in the Rockies, roughly a stone's throw from the continental divide?

Details here:

The ride is sponsored by Kent's bicycle company, Kent Eriksen Cycles. Kent makes some staggeringly nice titanium bikes, and he is one of the nicest guys in the bicycle business.

So drop what you are doing, head for Steamboat, and ride the Rockies!

Be a continental-divide-conquering stud or studette;
Ride the Eriksen Cycles Tour de Steamboat!
Photo courtesy of TGV with some rights reserved

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Short Chat with Steve Garro of Coconino Cycles

I certainly have not heard of every framebuilder in the USA, not even close. So I was not surprised when one whom I did not recognize contacted me after I posted a note on the framebuilders forum at Steve Garro sent me a nice response, telling me about his framebuilding business, Coconino Cycles, named after the Coconino region in northern Arizona. I did not recognize his name, but I followed the link to his website and was delighted by what I saw there. Steve builds beautiful bicycles of various shapes and sizes, with graceful curves where many bikes have straight lines. He builds lots and lots of ATBs, which is not surprising considering that he lives in Flagstaff Arizona, where millions of acres of mountainous open space beckon in every direction. He also builds road bikes, all-rounders, etc., but I will let him tell the rest of the story.

Steve Garro, hard at work

Q: Your website looks like you build mostly mountain bike frames. Is that true? Do you prefer either ATBs, commuter bikes or road bikes, or do you love 'em all?

A: I LOVE EM' ALL, but my following mostly wants MTBs, 29ers, heavy-duty touring bikes, and the occasional 700c all-rounder/road/commuter type bike.

Is it a cruiser? A 29er? Does it matter on a bike this lovely?

Q: Your frames tend to involve lots of curved tubing. I love that. What are your reasons for incorporating so many curves? How much extra work does it add?

A: Curved tubing just has a cool look that sets my work apart from most but not all builders. It does add time, but I've become so accustomed to it that it doesn't really take me much longer. About 7/8th-ish of my frames have a curved toptube now. I did a straight one the other day and botched the miter; I was so used to doing curved ones. My segmented s-bend seatstays, now those are time sinks! I figure if it cinches the deal it's worth it. Plus, if it's not visually pleasing to me then I'm not into it, and if I'm not into it, why do it?

Segmented s-bend seatstays by Coconino

Q: How do your bikes fit into the "real world?"

A: Just fine, I guess. They get ridden all over the world. People love their bikes!

Q. Your frames start at $1500. This is certainly not an astronomically high price, and many custom builders charge much more, but neither is it at the low end of the custom frame price scale. How did you arrive at your pricing structure? Does someone buying a Coconino frame get something which is missing from a lower-priced custom frame? Do your frames lack anything that a buyer might get from a builder charging twice as much?

A: I do a cost analysis on my materials, add my time, and look at the prices of builders I consider my peers. Every Coconino is built to as high of a standard as I can build it, and that's really high.

That is some good looking fillet brazing!

Q: What's the cycling community like in Flagstaff? Is it practical for a person to use a bicycle as his/her primary mode of transportation in the wide-open, mountainous areas in northern Arizona?

A: Flagstaff is a wonderful place to live and not own a car. There is a great network of urban trails, and the mountain biking just doesn't get any better.

Q: What do you see as the bicycle's role in the overall transportation picture in the USA?

A: A growing one, hopefully!

A curved top tube cross bike

Q: Do you work alone, or does Coconino have other employees? How many frames do you build each year? Would you like Coconino to grow, or do you like it at its current size and production rate?

A: Coconino is just me. It's always going to be that way. It gives me ultimate quality control. I do between 30-40 frames a year, and a lot are complete bikes.

Q: What bike(s) do you recommend for someone who cannot afford a new, custom bike?

A: Something old with style and fresh grease in all the bearings.

A bike built to take on the mountains, sans shifting

Q: What else would you like to say?

A: Rock on!

Q: What do you like for breakfast?

A: Mexican food and coffee, coffee, coffee.