Monday, September 22, 2008
Voice of America Reports on Rising Cyclo-Commuting Numbers
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."
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
"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.
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 Amsterdamize.com.
Monday, September 8, 2008
Bicycle Use Still Increasing in the Netherlands
"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."
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!
The Magellan step-through model
Photo from Walmart.com
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
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
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.
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 Walmart.com
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.
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
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
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
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.
"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...
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Does This House Come with Bike Lanes?
"With gas prices high, bicycles flying out of stores and a buyer's market for houses, a handful of real estate agents around the country are touting the two-wheeled appeal of their listings."
Photo from a related story on ABC News,
courtesy of Pedal To Properties
Kirsten Kaufman, a Portland real estate agent, takes this concept very seriously. She gives clients the option of visiting houses by bicycle. "The mother of three started hosting bike tours earlier this summer, doling out energy bars and apricots to a growing tail of clients whose passion for pedaling weighs heavily in their choice of homes."
Once again, it appears that Portland is at the forefront a bicycle-friendly trend. Real estate agents in Colorado and other areas have also started showing houses by bicycle recently. Let us all hope that the rest of the country picks up on this concept.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Taiwan Exporting More Bicycles
That trend may be reversing itself, or at least stabilizing. Taiwan has been successful in establishing itself as a relatively low-cost source for mid-to-high end bicycles. Quality controls in certain Taiwanese factories meet or exceed those of factories anywhere else on the planet. The quality of Chinese-made bicycles has improved dramatically over the last several years, and mainland China is increasingly proving that its factories can accomplish relatively complex manufacturing processes. However, most experts in the bicycle industry still believe that Taiwan has more capabilities in terms of building top-tier bicycles.
The recent surge in commuter bicycle sales in the USA and Canada may have contributed to the 19% increase in Taiwan's bicycle exports to North America during the first 6 months of 2008. Sales numbers grew from 325,745 during the first half of 2007 to 386,671 during the same period this year. As consumers look for bicycles to replace their gas-guzzling automobiles, many are willing to pay higher prices to purchase bikes that are attractive, efficient and accessorized to meet their commuting needs.
This trend is described in detail in a recent press release by the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA).
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Pedicab Companies Use the DNC to Test the Market
"Ice cream cones and X-ray machines were popularized at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Will 'pedicabs' – those passenger carts pulled by bicycle riders – be mainstreamed by the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver?"
A large element of the current "Democratic message" revolves around environmental issues, so the DNC should provide pedicab operators with a very friendly customer base. Photo opportunities of delegates spurning gasoline-burning cabs in favor of pedal-powered transportation could be valuable to those seeking to enhance their "green" image. If pedicabs can operate profitably at this venue, entrepreneurs may be encouraged to open pedicab businesses at other locations.
After yesterday's rant about the recent WSJ article on the lack of recreational bicycling in China, I was glad to see them redeem themselves with this positive coverage of bicycles (okay... tricycles in this case) as a practical mode of transportation.
Stephanie Simon, also working for the WSJ, wrote a related article.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
WSJ News Flash! Chinese People Ride Bikes to Work!
Have no fear! Companies such as Trek are coming to China's rescue! The big bicycle companies are organizing recreational bike rides and other events designed to show the local people the light. The Olympics also served as a widely viewed showcase for road, track, mountain and BMX racing. Despite soaring gasoline prices, we Westerners may be able to convince China that bicycles are for playing while cars and trucks are for commuting.
Alright... I suppose I should get my tongue out of my cheek, but this article really got on my nerves. Tabuchi's position was probably not as demeaning to real-world bicycle riders as I might have suggested. Still, in a world in which bicycles are rapidly gaining popularity as a serious transportation alternative, the Wall Street Journal should wake up and smell the coffee. Bicycles... They're not just for lycra-clad fashionistas anymore.
Monday, August 25, 2008
NPR Does a Nice Piece on Electric Bicycles
The piece also pokes a bit of fun at bicycle shop employees with shaved legs who "Look at us in pity and say 'No, we don't have anything like that,'" when asked about electric bicycles.
This is another good example of the positive media coverage bicycles and e-bike are receiving these days. Bravo NPR!
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Cyclo-Commuting Numbers Continue to Rise
Jane Whitehead's recent article in the Boston Globe demonstrates both of these trends. In this piece, she chronicles the commutes of several Boston-area cyclists while touching on some of the numbers indicating a substantial increase cyclo-commuting over the last few years. She also talks to various people in the bicycle industry about sales increases in bicycles and accessories, increased demand for training in bicycle maintenance, advocacy efforts, etc. It is an informative, well-written article.
Photo by Pat Greenhouse/Boston Globe Staff
But the article is also important above and beyond its specific content. The more positive media coverage is given to increases in cyclo-commuting, the more acceptance bicycles could gain within the American commuting population. Whitehead's article presents cyclo-commuting as healthy, safe and fun. It may act as a wonderfully inspiring piece to someone who has been considering ditching his/her car, but needed an extra shove to turn intentions into actions.
Bravo Ms. Whitehead! Keep up the good work!
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Bikes Being Bumped Off Bay Area Trains!
"Incentives are also driving more commuters out of their cars and into the trains, causing a logjam inside to rival the gridlock on nearby Highway 101... And when push comes to shove, it's the bicyclists who get left behind - or, in Caltrain parlance, 'bumped.'"
When the trains are full, the number of bicycles allowed on each train is reduced. Caltrain is starting to consider building bicycle lockers or starting a bicycle sharing program, but the commuting population is demanding a simpler answer - more trains! However, tight budgets and governmental bureaucracy are likely to make any of these options difficult to implement.
It is a difficult situation. On one hand, increased train ridership is a very, very good thing. On the other hand, anything that discourages dual-mode commuting with bicycles and public transportation should be viewed as a significant problem. Perhaps this scenario gives us a glimpse at some of the difficulties our society will face as personal automobile use decreases over the next decades.
Monday, August 18, 2008
An Interview with Grant Petersen
After Bridgestone closed its bicycle operation in the USA, Petersen founded Rivendell Bicycle Works in 1994. Since then, they have been designing and selling wonderful bicycles, made with lugged-steel frames and equipped with components that make sense. The company also sells a wide variety of practical parts and accessories designed for use in the real world.
I asked Petersen for an interview, and he accepted. I sent him questions and he e-mailed back thorough, extensive answers within two days. I was impressed, but perhaps I should have expected this; Petersen loves what he does, and he has developed a wide range of ideas about bicycle design, the bicycle industry, and other aspects of practical riding. I am grateful that he shared his thoughts with Cycloculture with such enthusiasm.
Petersen on his version of a “Recreational Vehicle”
Q: What are the fundamental design elements of a bicycle that performs well?
A: In any vehicle the performance is in the engine, and that’s up to the rider, not the bike designer. Is a 16-pound bike that can’t take a 28mm tire or a fender or a gouge without being dangerous a “high performance bike?” It’s light and severely limited, that’s it. It won’t perform well on a rough road, or on a wet road, and it isn’t designed or expected to last ten years under the weight of a 180-pounder. Yet that’s what people think of when they hear “high performance,” which is why I’m not a fan of “high performance bikes.”
If the question was “What are the fundamental design elements of a useful, comfortable bike?” I’d say things like a good fit to the rider, the ability to get the handlebar at least as high as the saddle, and “saddle height” shouldn’t be the ceiling.
If it’s a mostly-road bike, it should fit a tire 38mm wide, and with a fender. Most racy-style riders consider 28s fat, but that’s ridiculous. Air is light, free, and wonderful, and the current rage of 23mm tires pumped up to 125psi misses the original point of the pneumatic tire. They’re like light rocks.
A Rivendell Mixte
The frame should be steel, because steel is the safest and best material for bike frames, and the joints are lugged, because lugs are the best way to join tubes. Steel always ages well, even paint ages well. Titanium is a good material, too, but it stays the ghosty same forever, and to some people that’s good, and to others it’s creepy. Anyway, you can’t just take a good material – steel or Ti or whatever, and make a skinny-tire, low-handlebar frame and call it “good.” What’s it good for? If it doesn’t fit, it if isn’t useful beyond racing or some weekend warrior’s fantasy racing and if the buyer doesn’t race, then it’s a nice bag without a bottom to hold anything.
Some of this is just personal preference, and talking about preferences like this comes off as snobby, or trying to impose your values on others, as though they’re the right values. That’s not my intention. I can impose those things on the Rivendell bikes, and I do. I like forks that bend low and tight, with a constant radius, and it’s hard to get that. At certain price points, you can’t. It can’t be done in
For the rest of the bike, my preference is for an overall appearance that’s spindly and bird-like, and the decals should be easy to read and basically plain, with some fanciness but not too much, and simple paint jobs. It’s not “high performance,” or “sexy” in the way that revs up the 20-something bike magazine editors, but it’s a useful bike that’ll be safe for many years, and will age well.
Q: Do you have a favorite bicycle in your collection? If so, please describe it.
A: I like all my bikes, or I wouldn’t have bought them. I do buy them, by the way, and I’m not rich, so I can’t buy indiscriminately. I don’t think I have a favorite. I’m riding an A. Homer Hilsen a lot, and a Bombadil prototype, and my old custom with the 71.5-degree seat and 85mm of drop. I experimented with it, and found out some limitations of Shimano front derailleurs from it, but – well, I also love my Atlantis, with Albatross bars, and my Mercian tandem. They each have a specialty, but they all work well for lots of things.
Q: My favorite bicycle is my old Kabuki/Bridgestone Skyway 12, which I have set up as a commuter/shopping bike. The frame is made from high tensile steel tubing with bulge-formed lugs, but the geometry is wonderful. It is a 67cm frame with a 61.5cm top tube, so someone put some thought into the frame design. This bicycle proves to me that a bike can be both inexpensive and wonderful. I think that model was released before you joined Bridgestone, but please correct me if I am wrong. In any case, while you worked for Bridgestone, you designed some remarkably great bicycles with low price tags, such as the BUB and the MB6. Is there any chance that you will design and market Rivendells which are even less expensive than the $750 (for frame and fork) Bleriot?
A: Yes, before my time, but I’m familiar with the bike and the bulge-formed lugs and all. I’m shocked that you got a 67, because I didn’t know you were that tall – 6’4” at least – and I didn’t know B’stone made them that big. [Editors note: I am 6’6” and extremely grateful that B’stone made some large road bikes “back in the day.”]
A bike or frame’s cost is mostly in the labor, not the design. The dollar is weak, and labor rates all over are going up, and transportation costs and other boring things affect bike prices just the way they affect everything-prices, and in 2009, bike prices are going to either jump up 25 percent, or the manufacturers are going to look for more ways to cut costs.
In our case, the cost of Japanese-built frames rules out selling them wholesale to dealers. We could sell at our cost and the dealer margins still wouldn’t be satisfactory. Everybody wants to be the last guy to buy at the old low prices, but these days, a bargain on a bike means that somebody along the way lost money on it. If bikes are your deal, pay what it takes.
A Rivendell Bleriot
Q: Imagine a world in which you could build bicycle wheels of any size at the push of a button. Is there a formula or a process by which someone could calculate the perfect wheel size to match any given frame size and intended purpose for each bicycle?
A: Well, the “perfect wheel size” implies some kind of sweet-spot performance boost that’ll come of it… or maybe I’m inferring that. Wheels go like this: Smaller is stronger, bigger rolls over bumps easier. Smaller tread gets more wear because the tires roll around more often. In the end, I’d say “the perfect size” would be the one that allowed the most pleasing bike proportions – for instance. I don’t mean to say aesthetics should drive everything, but the actual performance differences between 650B and 700C, for instance, are hard to nail down. You may prefer one or another for emotional or romantic or traditional reasons, or because you swear to God you can detect a favorable nuance in one and not the other, but chances are you’ve had some wonderful rides on both, and so you actually could defer to the super-subjective area of aesthetics.
Right now, if you get a 51cm 700c bike, the head tube is dinky. The frame is well-triangulated, which is good, but the head tube is too dinky. And on your Kabuki, the head tube is really long, and you lose triangulation and gain some kind of funny look there. And, if the bike is in the high-60s, it seems the wheels should be bigger than 700c, maybe even three inches bigger across. Big bikes grow in height way more than they grow in length and wheel size, so the proportions are completely different than they are for small-to-medium bikes. If I were rich, I’d get those wheels made and design big bikes, and I mean bikes in the super high 60s and low 70s, with lengths in proportion to their heights, and arrange for the wheels to match.
You know, things get wacky on small bikes, too. On a small, low-to-the-ground bike with small wheels, you have to counter the tendency of the bike to fall fast, which is what small bikes do, like a short pencil stub trying to balance on your finger, compared to a long rod. Plus, they react more dramatically to wind and road influences, and the usual result is a snappy little pinball on wheels. The best way, I think, to fix that is with a long wheelbase, usually in the back half of the bike. You can’t create a long front-center without making the bike nutty forward of the bottom bracket, but you can absolutely just lengthen the chainstays and make the bike less jerky that way. There are no drawbacks, either. We did this on a 48cm custom bike with 26-inch wheels and 46cm chainstays, and it works great.
A really large A. Homer Hilsen frame with twin top tubes
There’s also a more practical side to it that most riders who don’t design bikes aren’t aware of, and that’s the angle formed by the seat tube and down tube. Like, on your monster Kabuki, it has a 61.5cm top tube, for instance. Well, if you need a bike that big and you have three-speed style bars that sweep back, you could probably survive even better with a 65cm top tube. I’m not saying your bike doesn’t fit, I’m just using it as an example. But, with a 65cm top tube, the seat-tube to down-tube angle would open and would have ruled out any bottom bracket Bridgestone had access to. Or it may have required it’s own special box, or something. Sixty one and a half on a 67 seeeems a little out of proportion, just a hair. I’m guessing. But the bike speaks for itself, and I’m being the way I don’t like others to be –letting the numbers define the bike. I’m sorry! [Editor’s note: Petersen is, not surprisingly, “right on the money” in this response. The top tube on my Kabuki is too short, but it is far better than the old 67cm Fuji frames which had 59cm top tubes. I even had a 67cm “Terranaut” with a 56cm top tube at one point! When I designed my own frame, I spec’d a 63.5cm top tube and I certainly could have gone a bit longer.]
Q: Do you have a long-term plan for Rivendell? How do you see Rivendell progressing over the next 5, 10 or 20 years?
A: There are certain things that I want to accomplish while I’m here, and I’ve done some of them. It seems like lugged steel bikes have become art objects, and I’d like to make some that medium people can afford and ride. But as I said, that’s hard to do, and it’s especially hard to do Not in China, and the only thing we sell from China is a measuring tape. But – I want to have more Taiwan-made bikes, three or four models, so you don’t have to be rich to buy one. And I’d like to have a lugged tandem. I want to introduce a new wheel size that’ll be misunderstood from the start and raise a ruckus among those who don’t understand it.
I feel most strongly about racing’s influence on bikes and on riding, and the perception of riding among non-riders who might want to start, and somehow, I don’t know how, I want to influence a trend toward just riding. Not putzing around, necessarily, but a kind of riding that’s acceptable to most people, that isn’t redlining your heart rate and keeping it there long, and going faster than comfortable and longer than comfortable. Just riding like kids ride, but as adults; wearing clothes that work but don’t look the racing part. I want that to happen, and Rivendell doesn’t have to lead the charge, but I want us to play a role.
I would like to retire in 2018 or so. I’ll be 64 then, and that’ll be enough. I may not be able to afford to, but if I can, I’d do it, and Rivendell would keep going. It’s hard to talk about ten years from now, because you know, every month is a struggle. Not every day, but every month.
There’s a lot of work to do, and I’m not all that organized. I want to do a nice lugged tandem, and I want to establish some solid vendors, so when I’m not here, whoever is working on the bikes will have an easier time of it.
We have a good group here, and I want them to continue to want to work here, and I’d be sad if I thought my leaving would kill the company. I don’t manage the day-to-day, but I work here and do some stuff that everybody else does, and some things that only I do, and I want to shift the ratio. We have people here who could take over, easily, and if that’s what they want to do, that’s what I’d like to happen.
Eventually, Sara Lee or Beatrice Foods buys everything and turns it into a women’s clothing supplier, but not while I’m alive, anyway, and I plan to live to 85.
Rivendell’s LogoQ: What is your favorite part of running a bicycle company?
A: "Running" would get a laugh from anybody who works with me, but I know what you’re asking, and the answer is developing the bikes and getting happy people on them. I like getting somebody who loves to ride but has been uncomfortable on a 56 onto a 61, or whatever size here fits him.
And I like the Reader, but I hate laying it out, but we just got a new guy here, Dave, to help with that. I like the people I work with. There’s no politics, no backstabbing, no nervousness. We have a vast range of personalities and histories, but everybody is really, really good at what they do – at what their main job is, anyway. We all do many things, but everybody has a specialty.
Q: What is your least favorite?
A: I don’t like the fame and the fallout from being semi-famous and stating a point of view that inadvertently but inevitably steps on somebody’s toes or challenges their long-held beliefs, and the next thing you know they think I’m a jerk. It makes me want to die, or at least quit, and it happens a lot. I don’t like people talking about me behind my back, but it happens constantly, and I hear about it from well-meaning people who “think I should know” that somebody on some chat group is mad at me or something. I’d much prefer to be anonymous, which is why my photo hardly ever shows up, except when it has to.
And I don’t like being misrepresented or misunderstood. I feel like I’m stuck because the business (and the Rivendell Reader) depend on me being public with these points-of-view, but they’re points-of-views that make people not like me, and that is a drag. They don’t know me, but they know they don’t like me because I like lugs and steel and they think that means I think they’re dumb for riding something else…or something.
My friends know I’m scared to death of carbon forks, because they fail so suddenly and so frequently, but if I say that on some kind of stage, then everybody who makes them for living or sells them or just bought a bike with one will – well, they’ll all gang up on me and call me names, and that hurts.
A stock Rivendell frame being brazed in
Q: Do you have any favorite frame builders, other than those used by Rivendell? Which other people in the bicycle industry do you respect to an especially high degree?
A: I don’t like the question much, because if I name names but leave one off, that guy gets bummed. I got bummed when a friend and famous builder posted a link on his site to other frames, and we weren’t listed. I know he didn’t mean anything by it, but it hurt my feelings, and I don’t want to do that.
I like that there are more lugged steel frames out there. I would like to see more steel bikes of any kind sold in normal bike shops, but “steel” means “death” to a typical modern bike retailer. All people know is they don’t want steel, and carbon is cool.
One company I like that doesn’t make lugged frames, is Surly. I like that they’re making useful bikes affordable for anybody. They’re plain and smart, down-n-dirty or at least frill-less, and there’s nothing stupid about them. These days, that’s saying a lot. Soma is less well-known, but has done the same in a smaller way. The Fuji Touring bike has certain things going for it that are good and surprising, for being a big company bike in the year 2008.
Q: You were one of the world’s biggest proponents of moustache handlebars for many years. I have not heard you say much about them lately, nor have I seen as many moustache-bar-equipped Rivendells as I would have expected. What are your current thoughts on moustache bars and handlebar types in general?
A: I love the bar, and I have it on one bike. When I get a Bombadil, it’s going on that. You’ve got to get it high enough and close enough, but when you do, I think it’s as good as any bar out there. Drop-bar fans felt threatened by it, as though it was trying to lure them away from drops, and it’s not. It pretty much is a drop bar, just one that’s been run over by a truck. You still get the curves that give you the hand positions. We sell a few hundred a year, maybe almost 300. That’s not bad. That style of bar has been around since 1907; I didn’t invent it. But the one we sell – the one I designed for the Bridgestone XO-1 – is a really nice variant.
Nitto “Moustache” handlebar
I like drops, Moustache h’bars, and Albatross-style bars, with a sweep-back and a rise. If I had one bar to ride forever, it would be an Albatross bar. I have it on two bikes now, including a tandem, and I imagine it’ll be the only bar I’ll be comfortable on when I’m old. Also, I’ve been saved by Albatross bars two or three times when I’ve had injuries, so I will never forsake that bar.
Nitto “Albatross” handlebar, CrMo (Rivendell also sells an aluminum version)
I’m not a fan of straight handlebars, like normal mountain bike bars. I think they’re fine, but the wrist position isn’t normal. I like flat ramps on drop bars – the ramp being the part just behind the brake lever.
Q: Do you see any newly developed bicycle parts or components which are catching your eye?
A: Tektro is coming out with wide-opening sidepulls that open wide and clear huge road tires – up to 37mm – and these brakes are totally underappreciated. The Silver brakes started it, and then without any provocation (that part’s a guess) they redesigned some of their other brakes and put on the same kind of quick-release, and I think it’s just fantastic.
Panaracer got behind the 650B resurrection, and now others are doing them, too. Velocity made rims when nobody else would, and now there are plenty. It’s a good time for leather saddles. Chris at Velo-Orange is doing great things, interesting and helpful things. Jan Heine continues to make his mark. Kogswell has some neat bikes. Kirk Pacenti is making progress with knobby 650Bs, and whether you agree with that or not (I do, I like it), it’s doing something, it’s contributing. Schwalbe tires are killer. Nitto is still around, making the best of everything. I like the major cargo-hauler bikes, like the Xtra Cycle and the bikes that followed it – Surly’s Big Dummy, and the Ritchey Africa coffee bike, that kind of thing. They’re extreme in a way that makes them not most people’s first choice, but they expand the bike’s potential to new, non-racing ways, and I am all for that.
The “traditional” or classical or snooty or nose-in-the-air bike market or whatever you want to call it, with the burnished wood and wool and fleur-de-lis this and that can get testy and territorial, because there’s this false notion out there that we’re in a niche market, some kind of weird fringe. I don’t see it that way at all. I think the normal bikes are the weird fringe, and these are the bikes that appeal to most people, but they have to be exposed to it, and that’s not happening in the normal bike shops and the normal media. The slicks cover these bikes now and then, when they want to dwell on some nostalgic aspect of them, or the “art” involved, but turn the page and it’s back to carbon fiber, 15.9 pound reality. [Editor’s note: The “slicks” are the major commercial bicycle magazines]
A well-designed and well made, properly fitted and rigged-up lugged steel bike is nearly perfect, but perfection or 'near perfection' or anything like that still can't compete with the endorsement of pro racers and the other things that make single-purpose ridiculous bikes so popular – national distribution, advertising, glowing reviews in the big bike magazines who are supported by the manufacturer's advertisements, and so on.
Tektro “Big Mouth” brake, with 73mm of reach
Q: Any disappointments, parts-wise?
A: I’d like to see Shimano make bike parts that are less extreme. They’re all fringe, everything they do. Extreme fringe racing, extreme fringe downhill, extreme fringe commuting, with the Coasting group and stuff. I’d like to see Shimano make a nice touring or useful road group, based on old things they’ve already done (like the Deore XT crank of 1987 or so), and then add some useful sidepulls or even centerpulls, with reaches in the mid-60s. Market it as a group, and the big makes would design bikes around it, and those bikes would be useful, really nice. Shimano makes wonderful parts, but most of the parts are based on racing or wannabe-racing, or some ultra-techno futuristic commuting fantasy.
Q: Rivendell has been selling the Atlantis for a long time. Are sales on this model rising, falling or staying steady? To what do you attribute this model’s longevity? Any upcoming changes proposed for the Atlantis?
A: It’s a durable bike in our line because it’s useful and we keep it around. It’s hard to not like it – it rides fine, it can fit a huge range of tires, and you can rack and fender it with ease. A bike like that deserves to live, so I don’t kill it. Sales are steady, hardly changing year to year. If we always had them in stock we’d be able to sell 230 of them a year, but it’s often out of stock, so we sell around 150, I think.
The new Bombadil may take some sales away, but as long as I’m here we’ll have an Atlantis, and the stock color will stay the same. We may be selling more A. Homer Hilsens now, though. Just by a little.
Q: Do you have something against the letter “e?” But seriously, are there any plans for new contests in the “Rivendell Reader” once we have gotten rid of all those dreadful “e”s in The Raven?
A: I’m a huge fan of the fifth letter, but I’m also a huge fan of writing around it, and I used to think I was good at it, until our customers started submitting their e-free Raven verses, and they put me at the back of the class.
I don’t use “very,” though. I’m not against it, I don’t hate or condemn it, but I don’t think I’ve used it publicly in writing in the past 14 years. Maybe I have, but I don’t think so. It’s a good word to write around. Now it’s a habit and I don’t think about it.
I’m not a mathematician or a scientist, and I’m not a good writer, but I’m comfortable with words, and I like goofing around with them some. I love poetry, certain kinds. I like Poe, Kipling, Wordsworth, Byron, Coleridge, Elizabeth Barret Browning, Emily Dickenson. I’m always memorizing one poem or another, even long ones. Certain poems, or certain parts of them just make me so happy I want to scream, and it’s especially neat when it’s a poem from 1799 or 1816 or 1848, and you think, “That poet would like to know that the words are sticking, still.” If you don’t like Kubla Khan, The Idiot Boy, The Prisoner of Chillon, and To a Young Ass, and Christabel, then – well, that’s OK, but how can you not? They’re so, so beautiful, and it is neat to think that they’re all written with just 26 letters, and the letters are just curved lines on a page that make us utter this or that, and communicate through the years and centuries.
Cycling apparel, Rivendell-style
Q: What else would you like to say?
A: I’m 54 and looking back. My oldest daughter is a sophomore in college, my young one is an eighth grader. My marriage is terrific. I’m undereducated and am lucky that I can make a living. There are so many things I can’t do that I wish I could, and things I wish I knew more about. I wish I’d paid more attention in school, and I’m glad my girls do. I wish I could read 2 hours a day, but I’m lucky to get in an hour. I love books and bikes, and thank goodness for Rivendell, because I have a family I need to support, and without it, I’d be spec’ing comfort bikes for some market-driven bike maker somewhere, and it would make me really sad.
Q: What do you like for breakfast?
A: Today I had red snapper and blueberries, but my favorite is fried salmon, walnuts, and blueberries, and I eat that at least twice a week, and often three. My daughters don’t eat that way and don’t like the smell of fish, so I fry it in the backyard on my small camping stove. My dog always gets some. I’m trying to get her off of normal dog food, with all the cereal. Dogs are modern wolves, but they have the same needs and physiology of the cave-wolves, and they seem to prefer meat.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Electric Bicycles Taking Over Europe!
To some extent, the surge in popularity is due to the availability of less expensive e-bikes manufactured in China. "The Chinese bikes are less than half the price of Italian ones, and clearly that makes a difference to a lot of people," explains Alberto Antonelli, a bike shop owner in Italy.
Per the article, China exported three million electric bicycles in 2006, and numbers have grown substantially since then.
The article also states that roughly 10,000 e-bikes were sold in the USA in 2007. However, I have heard from other sources that Currie Technologies alone sold 40,000 e-bikes, mostly through "big box" stores such as Walmart, in the USA last year.
The article concludes by quoting a shop owner who states that e-bikes are only the beginning of the revolution and that people are waiting for electric cars. Fiddlesticks! E-bikes are far more efficient as well as being better for people and the planet. Let the revolution center on them!
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Washington D.C. Launches Bicycle Sharing Program
The bicycles are rugged-looking three-speeds with fenders, bells and a chain cover that provides good protection. They have integrated front racks which look as though they could carry a large briefcase or a small suitcase.
Compared to Paris, which has 20,000 bicycles available through its own bike-sharing program, D.C.'s pilot program seems modest, but such programs must start somewhere. Cycloculture will be watching this effort carefully. Will it be the start of a new trend? Or will the shared bicycles disappear over the first few weeks? Bicycle advocates across the nation will be keeping our fingers crossed.
Full story here.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Accident Insurance for Cyclo-Commuters?
The article states, "Cyclists have been marginalized from insurance coverage.... Bicycles are categorized as cars according to traffic law, and are subject to the same regulations as cars in case of accidents. If a cyclist collides with a pedestrian on a sidewalk or bicycle path, for example, the cyclist is liable. Cyclists might face criminal charges as they are not insured. Consequently, an increasing number of cyclists have been calling for insurance products."
There are many problems with insuring cyclists. "There is also skepticism whether bicycle insurance would work. Insurers may be reluctant to sell the policies due to a relatively high loss ratio. Samsung Fire and Marine Insurance, for example, launched a product for bicycle riders in 1997, but suspended it after a few years due to growing insurance money payouts... Though bicycles are more vulnerable to accidents, ascertaining who is responsible for an accident isn't always clear. Since bicycles are not registered, the potential for fraudulent claims is high."
The thought of "cycling insurance" leaves me feeling conflicted. On the one hand, it would be nice to be covered for damage I might do in an accident. On the other hand, one of the wonderful things about riding is getting away from the whole automotive bureaucracy that squeezes so much cash out of so many people. Furthermore, I strongly suspect that if cyclists CAN buy accident insurance in the USA, it will not be long before some lobbyist pushes for a law that requires cyclists to do so.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Pittsburgh Trying to Make Cycling Safer
"Specific measures include designated and marked bike routes around the city, a volunteer bike registry to help with the recovery of stolen bikes, and reinvestment in the city’s steps and stairways, according to the mayor’s office."
Additionally, Pittsburgh has hired a "bicycle and pedestrian coordinator" whose specific job will be to help implement these changes.
Keep up the good work, Pittsburgh!
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Product Reviews: Offspring Haulers
As the father of a seven-year-old and a nineteen-month-old, I have been wrestling with these issues for several years now. I have recently developed a combined approach that seems to work well. I own a child seat that snaps onto a rear bicycle rack and a trailer designed to hold two children comfortably. With both of these items at my disposal, I can carry my infant (or is he a toddler already?) without towing the trailer, or I can carry both kids in the trailer, or I can carry the baby in the seat and fill the trailer with groceries and/or other children.
My main bicycle in full child-toting regalia
My bicycle trailer is the Nashbar Kid Karriage. I bought it several years ago, and I have come to think of it as one of the best investments I have ever made. Its “normal” price is $159.99, but I have seen it on sale as low as $79.99, with additional discounts available through Nashbar’s frequent coupon offers. The trailer holds two children securely and comfortably. It is a bit smaller than some other trailers I have seen, and my children tend to rub elbows while they ride in it. My daughter is 46.5” tall, and her helmet now pushes up against the cloth roof when it is in place, but we generally ride with the top down these days, so height restrictions are not an issue.
The trailer is great for carrying groceries as well, with plenty of space for one child and two full-sized grocery bags or six bags and no passengers. Unlike BOB trailers, this one does not require a special rear wheel quick-release mechanism, so it can be attached to any bike. Be warned, however, that the plastic-coated attachment clamp can rub away paint on a frame’s chainstay. Anyone worried about their bicycle’s finish should wrap the contact area with cloth tape before attaching the trailer for the first time.
Safety-wise, the Kid Karriage leaves me feeling confident and secure. The attachment clamp is supplemented by a nylon strap which acts as a “fail safe” device. If the clamp ever came off, the strap would still hold the trailer securely (note that the clamp has never failed while I have used my trailer). There is a thick coil spring between the attachment clamp and the main frame. This spring twists as the bike leans, so if the bicycle falls over, the trailer stays upright. Consider also the wide track and the low center of gravity. This trailer is designed to keep the rubber side down under extremely adverse conditions.
The Kid Karriage in the real world
Inside the passenger area, children are held by both three-point shoulder harnesses and a lap belt which stretches across one or two occupants. The harnesses can be configured for two children sitting side by side or one child sitting in the middle of the seat. There are nylon storage pockets on either side of the interior, and there is also room under and behind the seat for stowing toys, tool kits, etc.
The trailer’s frame is made from high-tensile steel tubing. It is very sturdy and much heavier than fancier models with aluminum frames. It folds up flat with by pulling a few spring pins, and it stows easily in relatively small spaces.
After I owned the Kid Karriage for a few years, I bought the “Stroller Attachment” which sells for $24.99. This kit provides everything needed to turn the trailer into a stroller which can hold two children. As an added benefit, the converted stroller can still be used as a trailer without having to remove the conversion pieces.
Topless Kid Karriage, great for bigger kids
After several years and several hundred miles, I am completely satisfied with this trailer. I recommend it highly to anyone looking for a sturdy, albeit heavy, solution to carrying any combination of kids and groceries.
Nashbar Kid Karriage Overall Grade: A
I also own a Topeak BabySeat, a.k.a. the “Suspension Child Carrier.” I bought this from my local bicycle shop at the full retail price of $129.99, minus the 10% discount I get for being a member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. The price was surprisingly high, but it looked like a quality product, so I bit the bullet and made the purchase.
Installing the seat assembly was as simple as installing a standard rear rack. In fact, that is all that is involved. I installed the heavy-duty rear rack which came with the package, snapped the seat in and, “Presto,” all was accomplished. When the seat is off the bike, the aluminum rack works well with standard panniers. Taking the seat on and off is quick and remarkably easy.
Topeak BabySeat detail
With shoulder straps, a padded snap-down crossbar and foot straps which keep the passenger from kicking, the child seat seems quite secure. While I am sometimes nervous that a fall on my part would take my passenger down with me, I also acknowledge that my bicycle is much more maneuverable without a trailer in tow. Furthermore, I am less nervous about riding on busy streets with narrow shoulders when I do not have the wheels of the trailer sticking out into traffic.
My son seems very comfortable in the seat. The seat pad is adequately cushy, and the crossbar is at just the right height for him to lay his helmeted head down on it and go to sleep. Frequently, he is out cold within ten minutes after we start riding. There must be something about the rhythmic swaying motion of the bicycle…
There are a few downsides to this product, however. The Velcro foot straps are a bit awkward to secure, especially when one is trying to balance the bicycle and passenger during the loading process. It is not horribly difficult to strap a youngster’s feet down, but it is tricky enough that I am considering looking for some wheel skirts to install when I install fenders on the host bicycle. With wheel skirts keeping kicking feet out of the spokes, I would forgo the foot straps entirely.
Glossy marketing shot of the Topeak BabySeat from Topeak.com
The shoulder straps have two positions. One of them is a bit too low for my child, the other a bit too high. Still, with the straps in the higher position, he seems safe and fairly comfortable, so maybe I am complaining about a non-issue. My final gripe has to do with the adhesive-backed Velcro strips which are supposed to hold the seat pad in place. They are worthless. The adhesive does not stick to the plastic shell, and the pad settles wherever it wants to go. Fortunately, there are enough straps and buckles going through the pad to hold it in more-or-less the right place. Topeak should save a few manufacturing dollars and get rid of all these Velcro strips. Perhaps they could pass the savings on to the customers by lowering the price a bit.
Despite the high price and quirky problems, I am glad I bought the child seat. None of the issues effect overall performance significantly, and the price was not high enough to make me balk.
Topeak BabySeat Overall Grade: B
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Tired of Smog-Belching Tourists? Rent them E-Bikes!
This sentence opens a recent article in Japan's Daily Yomiuri Online about an e-bike rental program. The piece goes on to describe the government-sponsored program aimed at "killing two birds with one stone, reducing traffic jams and pollution."
Just imagine tourists parking their RVs at the gates of our national parks and proceeding into the natural settings on clean, quiet electric bicycles. It makes me smile just to think of it.
Friday, August 8, 2008
27" Tires in Abundance!
Last time I checked, my local Wal-Mart also stocked some 27" tires by Bell Sports for $9.95/each, and Nashbar.com frequently has 27" tires on sale for less than $10 as well. The bottom line is that anyone can walk into a neighborhood bicycle shop these days and buy some very nice tires in this size, although some shops might have to order them from a distributor.
All of this is great news for people fixing up older road bikes, arguably the best bicycle type for someone looking for a real-world bicycle. They are cheap, sturdy and efficient. And most of the road bikes sold in the USA from 1970 through 1987 or so had 27" tires.
So blow the dust off that old Univega, Nishiki, Schwinn, etc., put on a new pair of tires, and leave your car at home!
Full story here.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Government Workers in Tainan Ordered to Cyclo-Commute
The city of Tainan is doing its part to change this situation by requiring city workers to ride their bicycles, walk or take public transportation to work every Friday. A story in the China Post states that this is "an effort to conserve energy and cut carbon emissions."
The measure is meeting some resistance from city workers. "Those who said they will have difficulty cited reasons such as frequent bicycle thefts, lack of bus stops near their homes, the need to use cars to transport their children to and from school, long distances to the city government offices and the inability to ride a bicycle."
Some female workers also expressed concern regarding their personal safety.
Requiring people to stop driving gasoline-powered vehicles may seem to be a drastic measure. In doing so, the city government in Tainan is recognizing that the problems caused by our dependence on fossil fuels need to be addressed before they cause an irreversible crisis. Cycloculture applauds the bravery of the government officials who made this decision.