Monday, September 22, 2008

Voice of America Reports on Rising Cyclo-Commuting Numbers

No one is going to accuse the "Voice of America" (VOA) of being part of the liberal media, so it is especially encouraging to see this type of media outlet reporting on more Americans bicycling to work. The article starts by stating, "Rising gas prices and a slowing economy are forcing many Americans to leave their cars at home and find alternative methods of transportation."

A quintessentially American cyclo-commuter

Whether Americans are "forced" onto bicycles or choose them as clean, healthy transportation options, the mainstreaming of bicycle commuting is a very good thing. After the somewhat negative introduction, the article turns positive as it delves into the environmental benefits of commuting by bicycles. Gary Gardner, a senior researcher with the environmental research organization WorldWatch Institute, is quoted as saying "All of the impacts that we would associate with car use: the pollution impacts, the climate impacts, don't apply to a bicycle so there's not that kind of environmental downside."

Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar

Not surprisingly, VOA also outlines some of the ways in which the US government is supporting bicycle riders. Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar, Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in the U.S. House of Representatives, states, "We're transforming the landscape. Cities, counties, state governments, state highway transportation agencies are planning the roadways of the future and planning for bicycle facilities in dense urban areas creating bicycle lanes along with bus lanes and setting aside well marked, well protected paths for bicycling in urban centers and between communities and establishing off-road bicycle paths"

VOA, Cycloculture salutes you!

Full article here. Photos from on-line article.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Bicycle for a Day" Comes to New York City

Matthew Modine is not just another pretty face on a movie screen. He is also founder of the organization "Bicycle for a Day" (BFAD), an group dedicated to demonstrating the benefits of cyclo-commuting and other alternative forms of transportation with low carbon emissions. The group just sponsored its first major event, "Bike for a Day," on September 10 in New York City.

"Bicycle for a Day" logo

"Bicycle for a Day was founded in an effort to raise awareness of the ease and health benefits of carbon-emission-free transportation alternatives such as walking and biking, but also on a much broader level, to inspire and inform the public of the simple practices they can implement in their every day lives that would collectively have a huge impact in our fight against global warming," said Modine.

Matthew Modine

Bicycle for a day? That sounds good, but if it leads to people bicycling EVERY day, that will be even better.

See a press release for the event here.

See a related video at

Monday, September 8, 2008

Bicycle Use Still Increasing in the Netherlands

South Africa's IOL Motoring website just reported on newly released data showing that bicycle use in the Netherlands continues to increase.

"The average Hollander cycled 902km in 2006, up 16 more than 15 years earlier, according to official statistics, and annual new bike sales rose by 80,000 in 2007 to 1.4-million."

For those readers who are metrically challenged, 902 km is 560 miles! Almost 50 miles per month! I am guessing that is... roughly... almost 50 miles per month more than the average American. Furthermore, this figure is dominated by people who use their bicycles as practical vehicles in the real world, not as recreational toys.

According to the article, this trend is driven by rising fuel prices, increasing health awareness, and mounting frustrations over traffic. "Traffic jams in the Netherlands are a major irritation. Dutch commuters travelled a combined 14.7-billion kilometres on bicycles in 2006 compared to 22-billion by public transport and 95.8-billion in cars."

Are wooden-soled biking shoes also making a comeback in Holland?
Image: AFP, from

The article also mentions the surge in popularity of electric bicycles. "The models are becoming more attractive and the technology better. People want to avoid traffic jams and save fuel petrol and cycling 10km to work seems less intimidating with an electric bike."

I am not sure what else to add here, other than "Go Dutch!"

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Huffy? Yes, Huffy!

So, you are looking for a practical, reliable bicycle for the real world. You want to use your car as little as possible, so your new bicycle will need fenders and a rack so you can ride in the rain and carry groceries. Let’s take a look at your options. You could spend three to five thousand dollars on a custom bicycle from Rivendell, ANT, Bilenky, etc.. Oh, and you’d have to wait months, at a minimum. Undoubtedly, your bicycle would be wonderful, but not everyone can afford the funds or the time involved. Alternatively, you could spend less than $2000, if you were prudent and cost-conscious, in building up a frame from Kogswell, Surly or Soma. Still, not everyone has $2000 burning a hole in his/her pocket. Fortunately, you can also walk into any decent bicycle shop and ride out on a great bicycle for the real world. Even with the added expenses of fenders and rack, you could buy a wonderful bicycle for $500 or less.

The Magellan step-through model

Photo from

But what if $500 is still too much? If this is the case, you might consider visiting your local Wal*Mart and investing $200 in a Huffy Magellan. That’s right, the Huffy Magellan looks like a real bicycle for the real world. From five feet away, even a hard-core bicycle enthusiast would have a hard time finding major differences between this bicycle and similar offerings from companies such as Specialized and Trek.

Good Things About the Magellan:

There are plenty of things to like about the Magellan. The bike has an aluminum frame with what appear to be very good welds. Plastic fenders are included in the purchase price. These look similar to products from Planet Bike. The Magellan also comes with a rear rack which looks like it came right out of the Blackburn catalog. The low-end Shimano and SRAM drivetrain components in the 21-speed setup look perfectly functional The wheels are composed of sturdy-looking 700C aluminum rims, aluminum hubs, tires that remind me of the tires on roadster-style bicycles from India, and stainless steel spokes. The pedals have metal cages and bodies.

The Magellan comes equipped with a rear rack and fenders

Debatable Component Choices:

Some folks will like the adjustable handlebar stem, others will not. There is a steel kickstand mounted to a kickstand plate near the bottom bracket, where many frames have a chainstay bridge. The kickstand will be convenient, but it is not as nice as an alloy model from Greenfield.

The clear plastic chain guard that covers all three chainrings is intriguing. If it works well, it would provide a huge benefit to people who want to keep their pants clean. If it gets in the way of the chain, on the other hand, it could be worse than useless.

If the chainguard works without interfering with the chain, then it could be a very good thing!

I was disappointed by the suspension-style fork by Zoom. I would have preferred to see a rigid steel fork, preferably cro-moly. A nice unicrown fork would be far cheaper than the suspension fork on the bicycle, and it would improve the performance as well. However, I understand that I am not the “target customer” for this bicycle and that some market research team told those responsible for specifying components on the Magellan that they must include a suspension fork. This is unfortunate, but not the end of the world. The suspension fork will probably be viewed as a benefit to most of the people who consider buying this bicycle. If it gets them out of their cars and onto a bike, then it is ultimately a good thing.

The Bad News:

This bike has some design elements and components which scream “Cheap!” Most importantly, this is a “one size fits all” model,” and that size is “SMALL.” Both the diamond (“men’s”) and step-through (“women’s”) frames measure 16” (41cm) from the center of the bottom bracket (BB) to the top of the top tube. The measurement from the center of the BB to the top of the seat collar is 18” (46cm). The effective top tube length on both models measured out at roughly 21.7” (55cm). The adjustable stem will allow for a bit of flexibility in terms of both vertical and horizontal handlebar position, and the sloping top tube could make somewhat taller people a bit more comfortable, but the Magellan will not be a good fit for anyone over 6 feet tall.

Frame size and geometry on the step-through and diamond frames seem to be identical

Typical of bicycles sold in “big box” stores, this model comes with cheap, old-fashioned headsets and bottom brackets. The crankset had a coat of silver paint on it, making me think it was probably steel. But all the other components seemed decent.

Another real issue for consumers who are not mechanically inclined is the lack of professional assembly, and I do not consider a seventeen-year-old Wal*Mart employee with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers to be a bicycle professional. As is the case for all bicycles, if the Magellan is not assembled properly, it will not work properly. If you are intrigued by the bicycle but you do not have experience putting bicycles together, make sure to call a few of your local bicycle shops to find out how much they would charge for assembly. In all likelihood, buying a new bicycle from your local bike shop will cost about as much as buying the Magellan at Wal*Mart and having it assembled by someone who knows what he/she is doing. Plus, if you buy a bicycle from your local shop, it will come with a good warranty and one or more free tune-ups. So, if you are not familiar with bicycle mechanics, I strongly recommend you visit a reputable bicycle store and look at your alternatives.

My Discussion with a Magellan Owner:

I met a gentleman riding a Magellan outside of Trader Joe’s one day. I asked him how he liked the bicycle. He replied that he thought it was great, although a bit hard to get on and off due to the top tube on the diamond frame. When I asked him why he did not buy the step-through frame, he told me that he would be too embarrassed to ride a “woman’s” bike.

The Magellan diamond frame model

Photo from

He also told me that the salesperson at Wal*Mart had said that the Magellan was being discontinued. I contacted Huffy corporate headquarters multiple times to find out if this is the case, but I got no response. I noticed that the Magellan is not listed on Huffy’s website, so I fear that the gentleman I talked to might be correct. If that is the case, let us all hope that Huffy has other “urban bike” models in the pipeline.

It would have been nice to see a "Greenfield"-type kickstand, but at least the Magellan comes with metal pedals


I did not ride a Magellan. If I did, my 6’6” frame would not have been able to get a good feel for how this small bike performs. Given the “down sides” I listed above, buying a Magellan would certainly involve risk, but the risk would be low. After all, the full purchase price of a Magellan is less than millions of Americans spend on gasoline in a month. Yes, the cheap headset and bottom bracket might wear out quickly, but the frame looks to be well-built, so the heart of the bicycle is likely to be sound. I do not know which factory in China built this bike, but quality control in most Chinese bicycle factories is quite good these days (see my story, “Fifteen Days in the Belly of the Beast,” for details). Decent headsets and bottom brackets are cheap, so if you have to replace the original units after a year or two, the price would not be intolerable.

The bottom line: If you have some mechanical skills and you fit the smallish frame, the Huffy Magellan could be a great bike for you at a very low cost.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dublin's Ecocabs are Pedal Powered

"Mother Proof" just ran a story by Emily Hansen on a "new twist on bicycle rickshaws." Dubbed Ecocabs, these are being used in the most congested parts of Dublin. The rickshaws are three-wheeled recumbents with a plastic or fiberglass body to protect the cabbie and passengers from the elements. These cabs can carry up to three passengers.

An Ecocab, ready for action

The body panels also serve a second purpose; they turn the Ecocabs into rolling billboards. The money paid by advertisers fully funds the Ecocab program, which allows passengers to use these vehicles free of charge.

While I shudder at the thought of yet another form of corporate marketing forcing its way into my life, I would make an exception in this case. If Ecocabs came to my home town, I would welcome them with or without ads.

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Tribute to "Forever" Bicycles

Shanghai is embracing "modern life" with what seems to be reckless enthusiasm to an outsider such as myself. Everywhere one looks in that city, one sees new buildings, new cars and a citizenry passionately embracing a new way of life.

So, I took some comfort in seeing an article by Nie Xin in the Shanghai Daily which looked back fondly to the days when "old fashioned" bicycles ruled the roads of this city.

A lovely roadster by the Shanghai Forever Bicycle Company

"For decades, China has been associated with bicycles. Even today, for most foreigners, the image of hundreds of cyclists in the streets still symbolizes the country."

Products made by the "Forever" played a key role in raising the bicycle to the position of dominance it has held for so long in China. The article quotes 57-year-old Gao Guozheng as saying, "About 30 years ago, during the 1970-80s, a Forever men's bike or a Phoenix ladies' bike was one of the must-haves when you wanted to get married. They were regarded as one of the 'old four articles.'" The article goes on to explain, "The other three were a Red Light radio, a Shanghai watch and a Butterfly sewing machine."

The original Forever bicycle model was named "The Iron Anchor." Ah, to live in a society that valued the solidity of a bicycle over such petty concerns as weight...