Sunday, December 23, 2012

Joe Murray's Special Voodoo (and Other Work)

Joe Murray is both a legendary ATB racer and a really nice guy.  I have met him a few times, at races and shows, and he is one of those guys who stands out as someone I would like to get to know better.  He is also highly accomplished as a bicycle and bicycle component designer.  The best ATB tires I have ridden were designed by Murray, and the bikes he designed for Kona were always among my favorites at the bike shop where I worked in the 90s.  Throughout the years, I knew that many people used the ATBs he designed as commuters, so I wanted to get his take on real-world bicycles and bicycling.  He was kind enough to let me interview him.  Enjoy.

Joe Murray, Back in the day...  Photo courtesy of the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Museum
Q: What are you up to these days?

A: Still riding 3-5 days a week. Working for Shimano, mostly. Some VooDoo Cycles. A bit of frame design yet not that much these days, unfortunately. The VooDoo brand is doing very well in the UK though. I also work Tioga for design and testing consultant for tires.

When we get snow, and I hope soon, I ski XC skate and alpine DH. Working on our old house also takes plenty of my time. I renovated an old "barn" and now it's my dream shop and office. It came out really nice. Married no kids. We like to travel and bike touring we like the most. My wife Kim is totally into roller derby these days. Less riding yet it's a great workout, she is getting really fit. I worry about her getting injured yet that's just part of girls hitting themselves while skating as hard as they can. 

Joe Murray now.  Photo courtesy of Colin Meagher

Q: How long have you been working for Shimano? I know that much of what you do for them is confidential, but can you tell us about any projects you have done with them in the past? 

A: Officially since 1995. Also I've been testing parts for them since I worked for Gary Fisher in 1986 when some Shimano people left a freehub prototype with Gary to test, yet he didn't have time so he gave it to me to use. 

Q: Currently, is your design focus more on commuter bikes or ATBs (or something else entirely)? 

A: Mostly mountain bikes. VooDoo is less work than in the past so that means less new bikes, although I've been riding a 130MM rear travel 29er. Great bike for the technical riding in Sedona... which is the best places to ride on the planet or one of the best at least. I think that anyone who has ridden there could agree with such a statement. 

Q: Please tell us about some cool commuter/utility bikes you have designed, whether or not they actually got manufactured. 

A: One that stands out was a "monster cross" that fit fat 29er tires. It turned out to be a great commuter as well as a dirt road cruiser. It has a traditional horizontal top tube, dedicated rigid fork and "scorcher" bars kinda like what Wes Williams did with the original Ibis Scorcher. It's good for light touring. The big wheels are really fast... an all around bike. 

Voodoo Nakisi in commuter form.  Photo courtesy of Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution

Also have designed many road and cross bikes in the past. VooDoo was the first to use Scandium on a cross bike and the year we introduced it Mark Gullickson in 1999 won the cyclocross worlds on it. 

Recently introduced a larger tire geared, fixed etc. street frame with plain gage cro-mo tubes. 

Q: What new components are getting you excited? 

A: Most of the most exciting stuff I'm developing with Shimano is confidential, yet currently I'm liking a close ratio double chainring crank. I have a custom 38 X 30 on the front and works great with an 11-36 cassette. 

Dropper posts, really don't like riding without one. 

27.5 wheels with big tires. 

Voodoo Nakisi "Monster Cross" bike in cross form.  Photo courtesy of Voodoo Bicycles

Q: Tell us a bit more about "dropper posts," please. Would it be fair to call them a modern incarnation of those old seat springs we all used to have back in 1987? 

A: I agree that the Hite Rite and another made by IRC way back over 20 years ago were precursors to dropper posts. Now they are smoother and have better remote levers. Also much more travel. Same basic purpose yet there were fully rigid bikes when the first spring types came out. Now they are much more effective. One thing is that $200-$400 is keeping some from buying into it, I think. 

Q: Just to make sure we are on the same page, 27.5 is the same tire size as 650B, right? Is there a reason people are going away from the "650B" designation? 

A: It seems to be some use 27.5 and some 650B. 27.5 is related to the tire height like 26 and 29 yet 650B is related to the road tire height so makes no sense to me. With that same thinking we would be calling 29ers 700C. I think C and B refer to the width of the of tire... I think, yet even so it is meaningless. 

It would be better to use the ETRTO which is the European Type and Rim Technical Organization. Fortunately all tires have this number on them which refers to the rim bead seat diameter and the tire width. For instance a 29 X 2.3 tire is 62-622. 622 being the bead seat diameter. So it would be better if we referred to 26, 27.5 and 29 instead as 559, 584 and 622. Also tire manufacturers can call any tire 2.2 tire, even if it is not close to that. So the ETRTO width number is more useful. Maybe more on this than you need, yet I just looked up some of this which is interesting. 

Voodoo Scorcher handlebars.  Photo courtesy of Voodoo Bicycles
 Q: Where is Voodoo Cycles headed? 

A: It's very small these days and still doing some of the same steel, aluminum and titanium hard tails, especially 29ers so probably will be going this way for the foreseeable future. 

Q: Any interesting new products "in the works?" 

A: 27.5" wide tire 150 X 150 travel full suspension is being worked on. 

Q: Where are Voodoo bikes manufactured? Do you plan to keep manufacturing where it is? 

A: Taiwan and China like most everyone else these days. I think that few consumers realize that most carbon frames are made in China. 

Q: Are you still riding? If so, how much and what kind of riding are you doing? 

Bug Springs Trail, Photo courtesy of Jeff Howard
A: 3-5 Days a week. Desert riding is what I've been doing now that it's Fall. In addition to Sedona, been riding in Tucson. Very rough awesome trails. One great ride is Bug Springs, Arizona Trail to Milagrosa Trail. Big and rough. 

Q: I remember meeting you at a race, the "Rage in the Sage," 1988. You made a great pasta dish at a potluck. Do you still like to cook? If so, what do you like to cook? 

A: I like grilling meat. (I was a vegetarian a long time ago when I raced full time.) We try to eat free range meat as much as possible. One of these days I'll deep-fry a turkey. Kale salad is my latest favorite dish. 

Q: What else would you like to say? 

A: Attitude is everything. 

Q: What do you like for breakfast? 

A: Prob my favorite is French toast made with whole grain bread and real maple syrup.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Nan the Bicycle Tailor

Nan Eastep, Pedaling In Style!  Photo Courtesy of Jody Cox
Nan Eastep is the owner of B. Spoke Tailor, a modern-day company that designs and creates custom clothing the old-fashioned way, one customer at a time.  To some readers, this approach may seem inconsistent with Cycloculture’s claims to cover bicycling in the real world.  Perhaps I shared a bit of your skepticism at first, but then I read Eastep’s answers to my questions on the practicality of custom-made clothing, and I became a convert.  Her thoughts on beauty, creativity and the dignity of work certainly hint at the wonders of her own creations, but her ideas also resonated with me on a level beyond bicycle tailoring, or even bicycles in general.  This is a person who understands why easier is not always better and what living in a community is all about.

Cycloculture readers in the Bay Area should note that B. Spoke Tailor is having a Grand Opening Gala this Sunday, September 29, from 2PM until 10PM.  If you like the clothes you see here, or like the ideas Eastep expresses, I encourage you to take a peek.
Looks like fun to me!

Q:  (Editor’s Note:  This question was originally buried in the middle of the interview, but I moved it to the top so that, if you read anything in this interview, you read this.  Eastep’s answer is wonderful)  Would the world be better off if everyone had their clothing custom made?  If so, how?

A:  Yup. Certainly.  That would mess up globalization for sure.  And add beauty, expression, quality to our world. If everyone had their clothing made by someone nearby that they knew, there would be more people doing dignified work, working with their hands, continuing a beautiful lineage, passing down the skills.  There would need to be support to make it happen, mills and suppliers. This would be great for the economy.  Simple exchanges over the everyday stuff of life help to build relationships, community.  And, if made by skilled hands, the clothing would be better.  It would fit better, last longer, be more suited to our individual tastes and expression.

It is not so long ago that that was the case.  Mass production of clothing changed everything.  Used to be one went to a tailor, or to the fabric store to get their fabric, and to their seamstress to have it sewn up.  Before ready-to-wear, your old suit was your workwear.  Clothing lived longer.  Bespoke suits are made so that the trouser pockets and lining can be replaced every few years.  The system was smart.  And, in a word, sustainable.

A very lovely example of Eastep's handiwork
Photo by Ralph Granich
Q:  You design and create custom bicycle clothing.  What inspired you to choose this career?

A:  I love making clothing, and I love wool.  As I continue to develop my skills as a clothing maker, tailoring is a natural course for me, as opposed to other possible paths, like couture ball gowns, which would also certainly challenge me.  Natural in that I am attracted to tailored clothing.  Well made, it is so beautiful.  And it is perfectly suited for most any activity, short of Olympic swimming.  Or sleeping.  As bicycling is the most common of urban active activities, tailoring for  the bicyclists puts the clothing in service to movement, breath-ability, durability, all of which are great whether or not you are riding. 

The story I tell about beginning along this path, is that a dear friend handed me a stack of his pants that had been chewed up in his bicycle chain, and that stack of alterations changed my course forever.  I began making wool bike knickers.

Knicker Ninjas, ATTACK!
Photo by Ralph Granich
Q:  Why have you chosen to creating individual clothes for each customer, rather than designing and creating various lines of clothing to sell to retailers?

A:  There are a number of reasons why.  One is that there is no ready wholesale market for tailored bike clothing.  Bike shops are in the business of selling bikes, not expensive clothing, so that has proven not to work.  The fashion industry has no niche for tailored bike clothing, either.  Though cycling is gaining in popularity, and that may change. 

Personally, I would rather cut and sew B. Spoke Tailor clothing myself, for my interest in the finished result.  If I tried, and I have, to be a manufacturer, I would not be tailoring, but managing others to do something less than beautiful tailoring. 

There are no facilities that are capable of manufacturing the type of clothing I make.  There simply is not an industry domestically anymore.  Small-scale brands have always had it tough in an economy of scale, and that sense, none of this is news.

Due to the amount of labor involved, (cost of materials aside) the clothing is expensive.  If I do the same work to sell wholesale for a lower price, I cannot make a living.  There are very few boutiques and clothing stores that can sell clothing at the prices it would need to exact.  And of these, which ones are interested in bicycling attire?  Tell me!

I love the direct connection I have to my customers.  Delightful.

Wow.  Just... wow...

Q:  What are some of your most popular items?

A:  My cycling breeches AKA bike knickers are still the most popular item.  I also sell a good number of trousers.  More and more people are ordering vests, a great cycling accessory.  My arm warmers are also very popular.  My women’s waxed cotton raincoats are well-loved, but I am on hiatus from making them, as I need to keep my product offerings within a manageable range.  I tend to spread myself thin.

Soft, cozy goodness
Photo by Carrie Cizauska
Q:  Who buys your clothes?

A:  Men and women who live in cities and bike for transport who like style and wool and are willing to pay for custom tailored clothing. Sartorial types. Randonneurs. Bike messengers, mountain bikers, road and cyclocross racers. Non-cyclists who just like the clothing.  My family. Most tend to be older, say 34-60.  They want to own less clothing and really love it.  Some wear it to commute in and change at work.  Some wear lycra to commute, and change at work!  My customers tell their friends about the clothing, or are seen wearing it on the streets or trails, at work or in a cafe.  It is almost all word of mouth, though having promoted my line via Momentum and Bicycle Times mags has helped.  Facebook.  The internet.

Sounds impressive, but I really don't make that many clothes.  If I am lucky, I average four garments per week.

The fashion runway redefined
Photo courtesy of Richard Masoner of bike blog
Q:  Can you really survive on the money you make as a bicycle tailor, or do you have another side gig to help make ends meet?

A:  I can and do survive.  Barely I might add.  No side gigs, though I sometimes muse on possibilities.  Any ideas? 

I am very frugal, don't require much to be happy.  I love to cook!  Don’t own a car!  My son is not a teenager.

Q:  Are you a bicyclist?  If so, what kind of riding do you do? What kind of bike(s) do you have?

A:  I do bicycle every day.  It is how I get around.  And Jason is my tailoring mate and we have been taking morning B. Spoke Tailor "training rides" up to the hills.  This involves about a half an hour if riding up an easy slope, he on his Bianchi cross bike, me on my clunker, an old, heavy, lugged, steel frame Raleigh that was supposed to sit in as a loaner after an accident I had a year ago.  I bought an old, lugged Bianchi frame that fits me perfectly, and is in the hands of Davey Archard of Brazen Bicycles.  He upcyles old frames.  That is more my style.  Maybe one day I'll be able to afford a new bike.  Not sure what that would be.  I'll have Adam Shapiro to guide me.  I have an Xtracycle Radish for when I need to haul things, and kids. 

I love to tour, though I rarely find the time.  I once road tandem down the coast to Santa Barbara.  I like to ride around Marin county, on the other side of the Golden Gate bridge.

More knickers
Photo courtesty of David Niddrie of Momentum Magazine

Q:  You live and work in one of America's bicycling centers, the Bay Area.  Do you feel like your business is a part of the local cycloculture?  Are most of your customers local?

A:  I think most of my customers at this point are local to me.  

I have felt very well received by local bike culture.  Much of what is bike culture, as seen in the media and even on the streets (like Bike Party and Critical Mass) is a young culture.  If I were younger, not a parent, not running a business, I might feel more a part of all that, though I am not a stranger to it.  I love to pop in and out as I have the leisure for it.  And to collaborate with it, like showing up to events, putting pieces in bike fashion shows, sponsoring races and rides. 

Q:  I am desperately allergic to even the very softest wool.  If I wear any kind of wool, even if I have a layer of cotton underneath it, I break out in a nasty eczema rash.  What are you recommendations for fine bicycle clothing for someone in my situation?

A:  There are many other possibilities, what matters to me is durability. Cotton can be nice, though if you sweat a lot, it takes a while to dry. Hemp holds less water. I would recommend a heavy twill. The synthetics designed to emulate wool can be good, though the treatments for wicking have a short life.

Soft, smooth merino wool underwear
Photo by Ralph Granich
Q:  Are all the clothes you make reminiscent of designs from 50-100 years ago?  Or do you design and create anything that is obviously contemporary?

A:  I like to say I make modern clothing, because I am not trying to replicate the past.  Whether you are building a house or a meal, you are drawing upon tradition, and the best designs usually have history.  So I would say all of my clothing is modern, even though at a glance people sometimes assume it is vintage.  The techniques and cloth I am drawn to are old; manufactured (modern) clothing has bypassed both in most cases for profitability.  And of course, spandex is another thing altogether!

Q:  What else would you like to say?

A:  I hope to see merino sheep and a wool mill in Northern California before I die. 

Q:  What do you like for breakfast?

A:  Eggs!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Just Read

A Review of Grant Petersen’s Book, Just Ride, A Radically Practical Guide toRiding Your Bike

I have always appreciated Grant Petersen’s pragmatic, down-to-earth approach to cycling.  When I read his new book, Just Ride, this appreciation took a step up.  I now regard Petersen as the bicycling “big brother” I never had.  I know the term “Big Brother” has acquired negative connotations since 1984, so I want to make sure readers understand that I am talking about my REAL big brother, not some authoritarian, Orwellian nightmare.  When I was a kid, I could ask my big brother anything, and I knew that he would draw from his huge stores of knowledge and wisdom (he had, after all, been fueling these stores for two whole years longer than I had) and provide me with a simple, straightforward answer geared toward my interests.

Question: “Which would be grosser, eating a handful or lima beans or a handful of worms?”

Answer (after furrowing his brow and rubbing his chin thoughtfully): “Well, they’d both be extremely gross, but at least you could brag about the worms at school the next day, so I‘d go with the worms.”

That is how I view the advice in Petersen’s book.  The cycling world asks him questions, such as “What should I wear when I ride my bike?”  He thinks about is (for decades, in this case) and answers, “Just wear normal clothes, but wear comfortable ones that keep you cool.”  Please note that I am paraphrasing his response, but I think it is a pretty good summation.  In general, Petersen draws up his vast experience with bicycles and bicycling to give us answers that are straightforward, honest and simple.  Readers do not have to agree with everything he says.  I know that I certainly do not, but I respect his integrity and his experience.  He has discovered many bicycle-related things that work well for him, and Just Ride is the soapbox he stands upon to tell the rest of the world what he has learned.

A nicely set up Rivendell,  Photo by Jim Edgar /
 Here are some of Petersen’s pearls of wisdom (paraphrased again):
-         Racing bicycles are not the right bikes for most riders
-         Tire clearance is important
-         Helmets do not make riders invincible
-         Your bicycle should have both a bell and a kickstand
-         You should dress like a desert dweller when riding your bicycle
-         Bicycle saddles do not, in general, cause impotence

Petersen’s wisdom does not stop there, not by a long shot.  He discusses many more topics and explains his opinions in great detail, but I do not want to give too much away and spoil the book for those who have not yet read it.  The only extra point I want to add here is in regards to Petersen’s search for good, long-sleeved seersucker shirts.  I have found that LL Bean ( carries wonderful seersucker shirts in the Spring and Summer.  They are not cheap, especially in tall sizes, but they do have long sleeves, they are light and extremely comfortable, and they make fantastic cycling apparel when worn over a T-shirt or just by themselves.
LL Bean Seersucker
Of course, I did not agree with everything my real big brother said when we were kids, and some of Petersen’s advice in Just Ride does not seem like it would work for me either.  For instance, Petersen is a proponent of a “low carb” diet.  I have seen low carb diets come and go for many decades, starting with my father’s attempt at going low carb back in the early 1970s.  In every case that I have witnessed, the low carb dieter loses lots of weight in the first few weeks, begins to look and feel weak and listless as time progresses, and eventually gives up on the effort after a month or two.  I remember my mother, who is a registered nurse, was so alarmed by my father’s appearance and lack of energy, that she put him on a regime of nutritional supplements before he eventually gave up on the whole ordeal.

Another nice Rivendell.  Photo by John Philip (CNYRIV! on Flickr)
Don’t get me wrong, here.  Petersen has found a diet that works for him, and by all accounts he is a very healthy, extremely active person.  I applaud him for his diligence and wish him the best.  I also imagine that there will be readers for whom his dietary advice works perfectly.  I am just not one of them.  Petersen and I had a good discussion about diet, exercise and other issues.  See my recent interview with him for more details.

Another disconnect I have with the book is Petersen’s suggestion that cycling may not be the best way to lose weight and keep it off.  My personal experience is that, if I ride at least four days per week, even if I average less than twenty miles per day, my weight goes down and stays down.  I talked to Petersen about this as well, and his answer was, essentially, “Do what works for you,” which always strikes me as the best answer to most questions.  See my interview withPetersen for elaboration.

A Rivendell, yearning for the road.  Photo by rivendoctrinated on Flickr
Nitpicking aside, I agree with almost everything Petersen says in his book.  Just Ride is a compendium of common sense meeting up with decades of real-world experience.  However, it is not for everyone.  If you want your bicycle to be a symbol of your technological superiority over everyone you know, you will hate Petersen’s practical advice about simple, low-tech steel bicycles.  If you think that only racers are “serious” bicyclers, you will hate Petersen’s assertions that racing is “ruining the breed.”  If you want to use bicycling as an excuse to get an entirely new, expensive wardrobe, you will not want to read Petersen’s recommendations that you ride in clothes that you could wear anywhere without being embarrassed.  Finally and most importantly, if you want bicycling to be complicated, punishing work, you will hate Petersen’s  advice that we all ride for the sheer joy of riding.  If, on the other hand, you are looking for advice on how to make bicycling an enjoyable pastime that will make you happy well into your sunset years, then just read.

Grant Petersen on "Just Ride"

The following is my interview with Grant Petersen on his new book, Just Ride.  To read my review of the book, click here.

Q: A few years back, I got a job that was within biking distance from my house.  I went from riding 25-40 miles on Saturdays to commuting 12 miles per day, three or four days per week, plus the normal Saturday ride.  As you suggest, my appetite increased when I was riding to work, and I definitely ate more.  Since I really love baked goods, I ate many more carbs.  Despite my increased eating, I lost about 30 pounds in three months!  Without trying!  Then, when I quit that awful job and went back to car commuting, I put all that weight back on in a few months.  In your book, you warn that cycling is not the best way to lose weight.  Does my experience surprise you?  Or does it fit in with your experience?

A: experience is no more proof of the science than yours is, which is why we have science in the first place. Personal experiences tend to trump science, at least in what any one person comes to believe, and I think that's natural. It's the "after this, therefore because of this" trap, I think---though.

I believe with every semester of my undegreed education, that exercise increases appetite, and that you can hold off for a while, but eventually your body's going to find the balance point between calories eaten and burned; and that's why I don't believe going out and burning up a bunch of calories is a good way to lose fat. I think (and the science that is beyond my ability to explain it) that the way to lose fat is to mobilize it as a source for gettin' around fuel---to become a fat-burner rather than a sugar burner. The only way to do that is to keep the  insulin low in your blood by means of keeping the glucose low, and the way to do that is to lower your carb intake. Some people--who are insulin-sensitive (the opposite of diabetic) can eat a bowl of cereal and drink a glass of orange juice, and kill off the resulting glucose with a relatively low dose of insulin. But most people aren't so genetically lucky, and over time, the constant barrage of carbohydrates leads to increasing insulin resistance, which means more and more insulin is required to kill off X amount of glucose. That's why old guys get fat easily.

When people lose weight concurrent with a mileage increase, it's probably because they are more careful with their diet, and may be eating and drinking fewer carbs.  I don't think my own experience trumps the science, but since you asked: I ride my bike every day, but fewer miles. I limit my carbs to maybe 30g a day, I check my glucose levels as though I were a diabetic, so I'm keenly aware of which foods and what kind of exercise affect my glucose, and therefore my insulin. I eat way less than I used to---a combination of not refilling calories burned, and burning more body fat. By 58-year old male standards, I am in decent shape. My blood scores--cholesterol, triglycerides, CRP, and so on---are off-the-charts good, and eighty percent of my calories come from fat, a lot of it saturated.

Q:  Have your recommendations regarding the relative height of the handlebars and saddle changed over recent years.  A few years ago, I seem to remember reading something you wrote suggesting that the handlebars should be even with or less than an inch below the seat.  "Just Ride" states pretty emphatically that the handlebars should be above the seat.  Have your views changes, or is my memory fading?

A:  Yeah, they probably have changed, but that doesn't rule out your memory fading! When I was topping out at saddle level, I was probably overvaluing the look an undervaluing the comfort of having the bars higher. It's important (in this discussion, only) to realize that I'm not one way stuck for life. Even writing the book changed me. Be careful what you say or write, because you'll end up believing it! For me and for most people who aren't racers, bars above saddle feels better than bars level with it or below, for the same reason that a table above the chair feels better than a table below it. Upright isn't cool or racerly, but it feels pretty good. Ultimately you have to balance your emotional comfort with your physical comfort, and when you come to the point where your physical comfort matters more...then higher bars tend to win out. For a certain kind of riding, anyway.

Q:  (Introductory Note:  In Just Ride, Petersen describes his idea of the perfect bicycle helmet, which he dubs the “Moe Howard” helmet, in honor of the actor on the Three Stooges.  I won’t give too much away; suffice to say that the helmet is strong, comfortable, and values function over styling)  If someone started building the "Moe Howard" helmet, would Rivendell sell it?

My son's helmet, which resembles the "Moe Howard" design in some ways, but needs more ventilation
 A:  I don't know. We don't sell everything I like. Helmets are complicated. First, it couldn't be made in China. Second, I don't like to stock commodities, so if it were available all the heck over the place, including on the internet for a dollar over our cost, it wouldn't be worth it. If you changed the question to "would I buy and wear it?" the answer is heck yes. It would be light, it would be cool, it would allow me to scratch my head without a bent wire coat hanger, and I wouldn't feel like I was trying to look fast by  putting it on my head. I hope somebody does make it, and for me, it wouldn't matter if it didn't pass the ANSI tests for impact protection. As I said in the book, those standards are designed for helmet makers, not for head protection. The fact that they CAN save heads is incidental. A bulletproof vest with four-inches of real bullet protection can save you if the bullet hits that small bit of real estate, but is that a good vest to wear? Also, there's something fishy about selling helmets that pass tests and don't protect heads under realistic, common crash conditions. A Moe-helmet that was presented as less  protective might make you ride more carefully, and by means of that, could make you less likely to depend on it. And if it had that effect, it would be a safe helmet. This is a counterintuitive possibility that some people can't grasp, but if you're one of those who can, it makes some sense.

Q:  Do your children like to ride bicycles?

A:  I'll answer for them individually. Neither rides recreationally. It's not the time of life for them to do that. My 17-year-old, a high-school senior, has ridden her bike to school and downtown shopping a lot, when she had a school that wasn't 15 miles by freeway away. She can throw a leg over a bike and pedal away as naturally as she can sit on a sofa and read a book. But she gets a ride to school with a driving friend these days, and she never grabs the bike and says, "Hey folks, I'm goin' for a ride." She still rides downtown to the bookstore now and then, although I have to say I'd jus as soon she get her driving skils down so she can learn to be as safe in the car as she is on the bike. No doubt she is more careful driving for having ridden a bike, though.

My 23-year-old rode to school all through high school, and it was by any standards a brutal ride. I rode with her, and we did it because it took way less time than driving did. Now she's living in Minnesota, she doesn't ride for the heck of it, but she rides her bike every day to get  places--to school, work, downtown. I visited her not long ago, on the book tour, and it was thrilling to ride with her and see her comfort on the bike, her competency and naturallness---although, of course, "naturallness" really just means her apparent comfort and control. It's not natural, and it came from all the riding she has done.
If neither daughter aspires to long tours, that's fine with me. If either wanted to race, I'd be shocked but supportive in the same way I support any direction they go with some forethought. But, I am proud of how my oldest daughter uses her bike daily, and when my youngest one goes away to school, I hope she does, too.

Q:  Should I take the training wheels, pedals and chain off my son's little 16" wheel bike and make a balance bike out of it? 

A:  Yes... lower the saddle, let him paddle. You could even do it with one of your bikes, too--I mean, if he feels emasculated by being stripped of pedals.  Grass and slight downhills are idea, but flat works great, too. How fun! Remember every moment. You'll be seeing learning happening, and it is so wonderful.

Q:  (Introductory Note:  At this point, our interview becomes much more of a conversation.  As noted above, I do not take everything that Petersen says about carbs and salt as gospel.  That said, I was quite impressed with his depth of knowledge on the subject.  He taught me a great deal in his book and in this ensuing conversation)  In your book, you discuss replacing the salt one loses through sweating.  I've had high blood pressure since I was a highly-fit twenty-something-year-old.  Hypertension is just written into my genes.  When I lose salt from my system, I tend to think, "Woohoo!"  My doctor's stress the importance of a low salt diet to me, and my relatives have been living much longer, healthier lives since low-salt diets have become standard for people with high blood pressure.  I assume you are not an expert on the dietary needs of people with high blood pressure (please correct me if I am wrong), but do you have any advice for us in terms of electrolyte and other mineral replacement?

A: I know...all that "inside the body" stuff I wrote about led the pub to include the disclaimer in the opening pages. My editor referred to it as my "bloodletting" advice---

Did you see this a few weeks ago in the NYT?

and...there's evidence that a low-carb diet helps high bp, too. There are a few dissenters, but mostly...well, here:

If you've been low-salting it for years or decades and still have high bp, then either it isn't working (and something else might), and maybe you're in the same trap that overweight high-mileage cyclists are. They're ignoring the evidence that it's not working in exchange for believing that if they cut back the miles, they'll gain weight hand-over-fist. (won't happen, but that's another story). So they think it IS working.

Health worries are a pain, and there's so much contradictory  information out there. Maybe your relatives are giving low-salt more credit than it is due? Usually when people are concerned enough about a health issue to do ONE thing, they also change some other things.

Hmmm. I don't know (obviously), but if I had to bet, I'd bet sugar's the culprit. Are you diabetic? Do you know your glucose levels?

Q:  Thanks for the input!  I've tried to keep up with the salt/no salt debate over the years.  I guess the bottom line is that, two generations ago, everyone on my mom's side of the family died of heart and blood pressure-related diseases in their thirties through early sixties.  Now, she is 79 and her brother is 82 or so, and they are both doing really well.  Was it the low-salt diet that helped them?  I'm not sure, but I'm not going to take any chances, either.

My blood sugar has always been under control, generally speaking.  At times, it got close to pre-diabetic levels, but when I adjusted my diet to be mostly vegetarian and very low in fats, all bloodwork numbers got much better.

A:  That's unusual, Forbes. Glucose rises with carb intake, and carbs are the ONLY thing that increase triglycerides, too. It would be quite unusual, also, if your HDL increased on a vegetarian diet.Your LDL may decrease, but the ratio of dense (bad) LDL to fluffy (harmless) LDL will increase. A normal lipid panel doesn't test for those, but a VAP test will...and not all labs test for it.

When I went from low-fat/high carb to the opposite, my triglycerides dropped 75 percent, my HDL nearly doubled. You test your own glucose? It's it tells you absolutely how diet and exercise affect it.

Hmm...  Maybe I could survive on a low-carb diet after all!
Photo by Patsy Kreitman,
Q:  And, don't get me wrong, I don't gorge on carbs on a regular basis.  I generally try to maintain moderation in all things.  The key word in that sentence is "try."

A:  The first two weeks of low-carb are challenging. Moderation is fine, but if by means of unlucky genetics or decades of carbs you have increased your insulin resistance, then your body is producing a lot more insulin for a given amount of carbs than it used to; so "moderate" at this stage of your life is a lot less than "moderate" was when you were fifteen. The problem with carbs is that they make you crave more of them.That's because carbs (by spiking insulin) prevent you from using body fat to fuel your exercise. The insulin diverts the calories into fat, and since you're not using them for fuel, you stay hungry. "Hunger" is your muscles saying "feed me." If your muscles are being fed by stored body fat, it's almost hard to get hungry.

If what you're doing is working, no need to change. But if you're always hungry and your scores are getting worse, give up all grains and corn and beer for a month, and you'll drop ten pounds. After four months, you'll be down another 15 pounds. Then get your blood scores again, and see the improvement. Well--that's enough meddling for a month, on my part!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On "On Bicycles"

I hope Amy Walker will not mind my saying so, but the book she recently edited, On Bicycles, 50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can ChangeYour Life, may be the perfect bathroom reader for bicycle riders.  The book is made up of fifty short essays on various aspects of bicycles, bicycle advocacy and bicycle infrastructure.  Walker was one of the founders of Momentum, a magazine devoted to promoting practical bicycling.  In creating her book, she used the network of writers she developed during her time at Momentum to collect a diverse group of articles from different authors, all of whom are real-world bicycle enthusiasts.  The result is a book made up of quick, easy-to-digest articles that are perfect for those times when a reader has a few minutes to sit and relax.

A few of the essays were especially enjoyable:

-         “Because It’s Fun,” by Terry Lowe, is a wonderful descriptions of the reasons why riding a bicycle makes you feel like a kid again.  When bicycle riding is approached from the proper perspective, it gives the rider a thrilling sense of elation as the bicycle becomes an extension of the rider’s body.
-        “A Rough Guide to the City Bike,” by Wendell Challenger provides a simple, practical overview of the benefits of modern city bicycles, as well as a guide to setting them up to be safe, reliable and useful.
-        “E-bikes offer an Extra Push,” by Sarah Ripplinger, offers an introduction to electric bicycles without any of the snobbery that some cyclists show toward electric bicycles.
-        “A History of Bike Advocacy,” by Jeff Mapes, chronicles the tireless efforts of many people and organizations that have advocated for bicyclists’ rights over the years.
Amy Walker
There are many other great pieces in the book as well.  Different readers will be compelled by different articles, and the short essay format is great because it allows readers to skip the essays that do not interest them.  Also, when a reader reaches “bicycle advocacy overload,” he/she can ignore the book for weeks on end, until he/she is ready to absorb more bicycle information.

There were a few times when articles made statements that rubbed me the wrong way.  In her piece, “Women and the Benefit of Biking,” Elly Blue may be technically correct when she writes, “Even in households where both a male and a female partner work full-time, child care and unpaid labor like running errands, cooking and cleaning tend to fall to the woman.”  However, when such language is read by a father who has always been the primary caregiver to his children and has always made sure to be a full partner in the “unpaid labor” aspects of his relationships, he tends to feel alienated and unappreciated.

John Pucher’s article, “Cycling Rights-of-Way” is, generally speaking, informative and worth reading.  However, I must respectfully disagree with contention that separate bicycle paths are of primary importance for “safe and stress-free cycling.”  Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of bike paths and I usually use them when they are available.  However, multiple studies (e.g. Clarke & Tracy, 1995, p. 85; Williams & McLaughlin, 1992, p. 7) have concluded that cyclists on separated bicycle paths are more likely to be seriously injured than those riding in bicycle lanes painted onto roadways.  While inexperienced riders may feel safer on separated bicycle path, such feelings could be alleviated by educational campaigns demonstrating the safety benefits of integrated bicycle lanes.

Nitpicking aside, On Bicycles is a great book.  I would recommend it to anyone from a novice rider who just picked up an old Schwinn Varsity at a garage sale, to a seasoned bicycle advocate with decades of experience, and everyone in between.  If you are excited about using your bicycle for transportation, you will find many essays in On Bicycles that inspire you and increase your passion for bikes.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Save Big Money by Bicycling to Work - As in $4.6B!

Sure, you knew that riding your bike to worked saved money, but I bet you didn't know just how much.  According to this article in Forbes, bicycle commuters in the USA save a whopping 4.6 billion dollars per year compared to their car-commuting counterparts.  Of course, the article is referring to the total amount saved by all US cyclo-commuters combined, but the number is still impressive.
Biking on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan
Photo by Todd Scott

The $4.6B number was based on an annual operating cost of $308 for a bicycle, versus $8220 for a car.  The findings were published by the League of American Bicyclists, the Sierra Club and the National Counsel of La Rasa.  Thanks to all three of these organizations for bringing this eye-opening cost savings to light!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

John Cutter and the Art of the Utility Bicycle

John Cutter and I go "way back," back to the early 90s, just after I stopped working at Moots Cycles.  John was building custom frames in San Luis Obispo, California, where I had just started engineering school.  While I look back on my framebuilding days with a great deal of nostalgia, John took a different route.  He never stopped building bicycles.  What's more, his designs have become increasingly interesting as his experience grows, culminating in the "Honorable Mention" he received at the 2011 Oregon Manifest Constructor's Design Challenge.  The "utility bike" (and do not make the mistake of calling it a cargo bike, as I did) he built for that competition stands out as a rolling testament to the fact that an exceptional design can make a bike practical, useful, and a joy to ride.

When I saw photo's of John's Manifest bicycle, I knew I had to interview him about it.  He was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
John Cutter
John Cutter's Introductory Statement:  First off, I would want to touch on the term "cargo". At the Oregon Manifest there were numerous entries that I would term as being cargo bicycles, yet the contest guidelines called for a "utility bicycle". What is a utility bicycle? My design was driven by the fifty mile trials ride that we were required to complete. So for me in this case the "utility bicycle" was not going to be a cargo bicycle. It needed to be light and efficient as well as have the capacity to carry a load. So I went with the proven touring concept of distributing the weight and bulk of caring cargo between the front and rear of the bicycle. I also saw the need to be able to handle cargo that would not fit in the grocery pannier, so I incorporated the head tube rack as I wanted another load point on the front of the bicycle that would least effect the steering.

Q:  Please give us a quick description of the important design features of your cargo bike.

  • Multiple loading points for even cargo weight distribution.
  • One-key locking system for panniers, cable lock, pump, wheels and lights.
  • Center stand with integrated front wheel brace.
  • Head tube mounted rack with integrated cable lock.
  • Modified grocery panniers for improved weight distribution and reduced wind resistance.
  • Handlebar design that blends urban and road riding positions.
  • Low stand-over frame design with “up-tube” for enhanced load stress resistance.
Q:  Is there any single feature that made your Manifest entry stand out from the other designs?

A:   I would say that the center stand with the front wheel brace drew the most attention of any feature on my entry. Considering that one of the requirements was a "Freestanding Under Load (while parked) System", I was surprised to see that there were only a hand full of bikes that had custom made stands. Mine was a reversed design that incorporated an additional leg that attaches to the back of the front fender brace/low rider rack to fix the front wheel while the bicycle is being loaded or unloaded. When you want to take the bike off of the stand, you back up the bicycle a few inches and the center stand retracts, catching the front wheel brace along with it. 

Cutter's entry in the 2011 Oregon Manifest Constructors Design Challenge
Q:  I first talked to you about cargo bike designs several years ago, so it is clear you have been thinking about this for a long time.  Please tell us about the evolution of your design ideas and how you arrived at your current design.

A:  The cargo bicycle that I constructed a few years ago (aka the "Loadie") was designed for a friend to replace his ExtraCycle. It was intended for hauling loads around town. It differs from similar rear load cargo bicycles in that it has several pairs of triangulated tubes that brace the rear rack zone of the bicycle frame. The design is not very production friendly, but it is reasonably lightweight and it rides very nicely. To my surprise, the owner has taken it on several extender tours on the pacific coast. It has also done service as a UPS holiday season delivery vehicle.
Detail of "The Loadie"
The bicycle for the Manifest borrowed some of my thinking from the Loadie project and from building another friend an "Amsterdam" bicycle. The Manifest is a collection of ideas that began with other projects and ideas from what I would do differently after completing those projects. I would say that I had as much inspiration from what I have learned from building touring bicycles as I did from building cargo and urban bicycles. Describing my design process as evolution would be fairly accurate. Also, some of the details were from sketches that I made years ago and had saved for the right project. Some of the ideas appeared as I was building the bicycle. I had ordered a box of tamper-proof #25 Torx screws to use for a locking latch on the panniers. After I had the screws in hand, I kept seeing other uses for the screws. That eventually became the "one key" security system on the design.
Cutter's Amsterdam Bicycle
Q:  What design ideas are you thinking about now?  Where do you see your designs going in the future?
A:  The process of designing and building the Manifest entry used all of my spare time and resources for most of last Summer. By the time we arrived in Portland I was very tired and was wondering how I would hold up during the event. The interaction with the other builders was energizing and I found that energy carrying me through the Manifest. To my surprise, I returned home very inspired and ready to get on with the next project. If anything, the Manifest has focused my thoughts on where I would like to take my designs for touring bicycles. It's mostly a matter of refinement, but it's also about having a more complete and integrated package. If I have a signature style of bicycle, it is a 26" wheel format touring travel coupler with integrated racks and fenders. For the future I see myself refining this type of bicycle as well as working with randonneuring and urban/commuter designs. In reality I enjoy building all types of bicycles, as a builder of steel bicycle it appears to make sense to focus on the types of bicycles that lend themselves to a custom fitting and steel construction.

26" Travel Coupler.  The coupling points are subtle.  Can you find them?
Q:  Electric-assist cargo bikes are getting a lot of attention these days, but I was amazed at what people in China carry using only human power.  Would you consider incorporating an electric motor into your design?  If so, what performance characteristics would you hope to gain from the electric assist?

A:  This question really hits a chord. On one hand I am impressed with the performance of an electric assist and the benefits of expanding the number of people that might use a bicycle. On the other hand I look at the added weight of the motor and battery and think that it defeats the simplicity and efficiency of the bicycle. I cannot help but think that if people had lighter weight, higher quality bicycles, they might not see the need for an assist. 

Q:  Your bike has a head tube-mounted front rack, as opposed to a Porteur-style rack that pivots with the handlebars and fork.  Why did you go with this design?  Are you happy with the result?  Have you tried any Porteur-style cargo bikes?  If so, what did you like and dislike about them?
A:  I am not a fan of porteur racks. I have built one and I really did not like giving people the option of loading so much weight onto the steering element of the bicycle. I prefer a system that as a first priority will carry grocery bags and I don't see the porter rack as being the best design for this. I opted for a head tube mounted rack on the Manifest bicycle because I wanted to have cargo capacity beyond the four grocery panniers without having a negative effect on the steering. Yes, I was happy with the result.

Cutter's one and only Porteur rack to date
Q:  Last time I talked to you, you were taking a break from building custom frames for customers and focusing more on "soft goods" like bags.  Are you back in the framebuilding business, or are you still focused on other things?  If you are focused on other things, what are they?

A:  I have never really totally stopped building bicycles. I have been sidetracked for extended periods of time working on other projects, mainly packs, tents and other odd projects. I like the diversity of working in different mediums and occasionally combining metal and fabric work into one project. I also prefer to build bikes for people that I know or for people with a specific need, either from fit or by function requirements. I really see framebuilding as a local service to the cycling community. For now I am content to only build a few frames a year.

Q:  Would you like to see your cargo bike design adopted on a large-scale basis?  If Trek came to you tomorrow and asked to license your design, how would you respond?

A:  Yes, it would be great to see some or all of my Manifest entry end up in production. I will be disappointed if a bicycle manufacture does not at least "borrow" something from the design. I would welcome the opportunity to work with a company like Trek. I see it as a chance to be exposed to all of the technology and materials that a small builder would normally not have access to use. Who knows what that might lead too? 

Q:  Are there any "Off-the-Shelf" bikes you think work especially well for cargo hauling?  If so, which bikes and why do you like them?

A:  I really like older steel fully rigid mountain bikes as cargo bicycles. Add front and rear racks, fenders, lights and some grocery panniers and you have a reasonably inexpensive, versatile tool that can do what most people require a car to accomplish. I also like the idea of giving an older, out of service bicycle a second life.

An older steel fully rigid mountain bike, built by Cutter in 1990

Q:  What do you like for breakfast?

A:  My favorite breakfast would be cornmeal buttermilk pancakes, but I usually have oatmeal, cooked with an apple and raisins and topped with toasted almonds and maple syrup.