Monday, December 9, 2013

Pledge to Boycott Specialized Bicycles Until They Stop Asserting Ownership Over the Word "Roubaix"

"Roubaix" is a town in France, not a trademark owned by Specialized Bicycle Components (SBC) or any other entity.  SBC's scare tactics and other heavy-handed attempts to exert ownership over this word are appalling.  For these reasons, the undersigned people pledge to boycott all SBC products until the company abandons its attempts to coerce other businesses into giving up the use of this or any other word that is clearly in the public domain.

Sign the petition here: 

Roubaix City Hall, Photo by Nicolas von Kospoth

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Forbes Magazine Recognizes Bicycle Delivery Entrepreneurs

A South African business that specializes in delivering medications by bicycle was just named to Forbes Magazine's "30 under-30 Africa’s Best Boung Entrepreneurs List."

Medicine Delivery Bike

Sizwe Nzima is a 21-year-old South African who considered the overcrowding in local health care facilities and the abundance of able-bodied people looking for work.  Putting these two concepts together, he hired people to deliver medications to those in need, thereby eliminating the need for them to brave the chaotic health care facilities.  He charges a modest fee of ten Rand, equal in value to one US dollar, for the service.  His client list has grown from two people (his grandparents), to more than 250 people.

Bravo Mr. Nzima!

For the full story, please see:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

It's a Zinn Thing

I have always thought of Anybody’s Bike Book as the best bicycle repair book out there, or at least I always did until I read Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance. I love the 4th edition of Lennard Zinn’s road bike manual for the same reasons I have always loved Anybody’s Bike Book; it is simple, easy to follow and the illustrations are magnificent. Add to that the comprehensive coverage of every aspect of road bike repair, and you have my new favorite bicycle maintenance bible.

Everyone in my household thought Zinn’s book was fabulous, from my thirteen-year-old stepson who is just starting to dabble in bicycle repair, to yours truly, who started working as a professional bicycle mechanic in 1982. From chapters on “Basic Stuff” and “Emergency Repairs” to 33 highly detailed, exquisitely illustrated pages on wheel building, and everything in between, this book has you covered. Whether you are looking to fix up your 1978 Specialized Expedition or are trying to keep your carbon wunderbike with electronic shifting and disc brakes running perfectly, you can find complete instructions in Zinn’s book.

Yes, I have mentioned the illustrations more than once already, but their impact cannot be overstated. This book may be Zinn’s brainchild, and he is clearly the architect that put all these ideas and images together, but the work of illustrators Todd Telander and Mike Reisel take the book from being very good to being entirely superior. As an engineer and a visually-oriented person in general, I have come to appreciate the benefits of good pictures and diagrams. This book is FILLED with such; almost every page contains at least one illustration. I also appreciate the huge amount of effort that went into creating these finely-detailed ink drawings. In our age of computer aided design and Photoshop, I thought such work was a thing of the past. This book reminded me how wonderful such drawings are, and it made me glad that there are artists out there who are keeping this form alive.

If you are looking for a bicycle repair manual, get this book. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned pro, this book has information that will help you. Think of it as an exhaustive encyclopedia for all things related to road bike maintenance.

Of course, I asked Zinn for an interview to get more insight into the creation of this manual. He was kind enough to agree to my request. Enjoy!

Lennard Zinn

Q: Please tell us a bit about the development of your maintenance manuals. You are on your 4th Edition of your road bike manual and the 5th edition of your mountain bike manual. How have they evolved over the years?

A: In every edition, I have always tried to clearly and concisely explain everything I think someone would need to or want to do in the way of maintenance on a road, mountain or cyclocross bike. The books have evolved as bike technology has evolved. Things were much simpler in 1995, when I wrote my first book, Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance. Since then, suspension, disc brakes, electric shifting, tubeless tires, all sorts of unthreaded bottom bracket and headset standards have appeared, and I have included all of them as they appear in the market. I only remove things when they really cease to be used out in the field anymore, like Mavic Zap and Mektronic, and Softride suspension seat beams and stems. As long as there are lots of old bikes out there being used with equipment from previous editions, I'll keep it in the subsequent edition.

Q: Your illustrations are fantastic! How did you partner up with your illustrators? 

A: Todd Telander lived in Boulder through the first few books, and then I communicated with him remotely, as he lives in Spokane. He is a great illustrator of wildlife, primarily, and he stepped up to do these things outside of his normal repertoire. Mike Reisel is so talented; I've been amazed at his creativity for years. He is the art director at Velo, and we've worked together on the magazine for a long time. When Todd was unavailable for this edition, Mike stepped in and did a fantastic job. Both of them ride, and both understand and appreciate bikes as well as art. Most importantly, both are committed to getting the illustrations the way I want them to illustrate the critical things and leave out the distracting things. I'm very appreciative to have been able to work with both of them.

Q: How does the process of developing illustrations work between you and them?

A: With Todd, I sent him the parts and the instructions from the book related to them.  With Mike, we sometimes did it that way, and sometimes I performed the tasks to be illustrated while he photographed them.

Q: For riders with both mountain and road bikes, would it be possible for them to survive on one of your manuals or the other? What "gaps" would exist if they only bought one of the two books?

A: Now with disc brakes on road bikes. there is a lot of overlap. If they were to get only the mountain book, they wouldn't get information on drop-bar levers (or aero-bar shifters) or road brake calipers. They would get about everything else. If they were to get only the road book, they wouldn't get information on hydraulic flat-bar levers, flat-bar shifters, multiple-piston hydraulic disc calipers, or front or rear suspension systems. They would get about everything else.

Q: Some of my readers are proud retrogrouches. If they wanted to do maintenance on a 1972 Cinelli with a Campagnolo Super Record gruppo, would your book cover everything they needed to know?

A: Yes. That's why it's so thick. Because it covers all of the old technology as well as the new.

Q: Electric bicycles are growing in popularity. They will certainly need a new breed of maintenance manuals to deal with the new systems. Have you thought about expanding your manuals to cover them?

A: No, I have not. There are too many variations, each with lots of complexity. The book would become 1000 pages!

Q: What else would you like to say?

A: I love communicating in such a way that people find themselves able to do something they had originally thought was beyond them. It warms my heart when people tell me what a difference one of my books has made for them. Many people have told me they became professional mechanics after using my book, and I love hearing that I inspired someone's career!

Q: Have you read any good books lately, on subjects other than bicycles and bicycle maintenance?

A: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

If any readers are interested in hearing more from Lennard Zinn, please read my previous interview with him, focused on the bicycles and components he makes for tall cyclists.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Wooden Wonders

I love good woodworking.  I love bicycles.  Can good woodworking go hand-in-hand with cycling?  I discovered two gentlemen who are trying to answer that question in the affirmative.  Their company, Surname Cycling Goods, is making beautiful wooden bicycle components.  They were kind enough to grant me an interview.

All photos are courtesy of Surname Cycling Goods.
Steven Bukowski and Timothy Skehan (Tim is wearing the hat)
 Q:  Who is Surname Cycling Goods?

A:  Surname Cycling Goods is Steven Bukowski and Timothy Skehan.
Tim grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and Steve in Buffalo, New York. We met in Cleveland while both attending the Cleveland Institute of Art, graduating in 2010. Tim studied photography and Steve studied industrial design. After graduating, we both hit the road for New York, searching for new opportunities to pursue our individual interests. It wasn't until one warm, summer night, drinking beer on Tim's stoop, that we had the idea to start making wooden bicycle parts in his dingy basement, which flooded regularly. Brilliant. We've come a long way since then, moving into a real workshop with real tools and, most importantly, sunlight, and really trying to nail what our brand is and flesh out our product line.

Surname Fastback Fender

Q:  What gave you the idea to start a business building bicycle components out of wood?

A:  We would say that it came from a ­­merging of interests. Both of us have backgrounds in art and design, and we also both grew up in the rust belt (Cleveland and Buffalo), places where the need for reuse and creative repurposing of materials is much more visible. Combine this with a mutual love for bicycles and we have a spark. We think it was really the merging of all these interests more than a singular idea that produced Surname Cycling Goods.

Q:  Do you have plans to expand your offerings?  If so, what other parts or components are you considering?

A:  We're working on things all the time. It’s one of the best parts of being small and handmade, that you get to play around with different designs and materials all the time. Our selection of woods will definitely be seeing additions and some of our designs will have special limited runs. We're working on a few different basket designs, and maybe partnering with a secret someone on a outfitting a complete bike project this spring with our accessories. Some people have made requests for our fenders to fit Dutch-style bikes so we're working on those too.

Q: Tell us about the sustainability of your products.  What types of wood are you using?  Are you using them in a sustainable manner?

A:  All of the wood Surname uses is sourced from NYC and some parts upstate. We have been working with Build it Green NYC as a supplier so it's all currently material reclaimed from deconstruction. Some of it comes from old water towers, old warehouse floors and joists, some even from the Coney Island boardwalk when parts need to be replaced. We've usually got Douglas Fir and Spruce on hand because it was so widely used 100 years ago, but sometimes we come across something special, like the Ipé used for the Coney Island boardwalk.

Surname Sixer Basket

Also just recently we’ve started working with Roger Benton who runs a local sawmill called Re-Co Brooklyn ( They’re picking up felled trees that the city would normally throw straight into the chipper, and milling it into furniture grade lumber. Right in Brooklyn, how awesome! This gives us a lot more options and varieties of reclaimed wood, also saves us the headache of having to dig out nails from our stock.

Our design process also is a vehicle for sustainable practices in that we try to use as many of our offcuts as possible for other products, like our baskets. Also for any services we need, we stick to local people and businesses, which is one of the major advantages of being in New York, not having to outsource.

Q:  Is the wooden bicycle frame a pipe dream for us crazy wood lovers?  Or is it something that is within reach?

A:  The wood bicycle is something that gets tried out every once and again by designers, engineers, and frame builders alike. There are some pretty slick examples out there (check out Andy Martin’s Thonet track cycle:  It’s unique of course but it’s not something we’re interested in doing personally. I think we’re both more about the simplicity of a steel bike and an attention to detail. What we are interested in making are the details, and I think there is enough to explore in that realm to keep us busy for a while.

Q:  I love the look of your wooden handlebars, but they scare the bujeezis out of me.  Are they really strong enough so that someone of my 250lb bulk would not break them?  What assurances do you have that they will not break?  What kind of testing have you done?

Surname Straight Handlebar - Ipé goodness straight from Coney Island (before Hurricane Sandy)

A:  These really scared us at first too, even as the makers of them. We only sell them as the Ipé version currently because it's so dense and extremely strong without being brittle. Also we'd like to point out that the bars are made of laminated plies, which is much, much stronger in contrast to solid wood. We're doing some research into possible reinforcements to allow us to make them out of other woods as well. We've both ridden them a decent amount, and we of course wouldn't want to put something out there that might get people hurt, but the next plan is to give a few pairs to our courier friends and let them really put them through the ringer.

Q:  If you were put in charge of America's transportation infrastructure, what would it look like?

A:  That’s a loaded question over here. The Netherlands perhaps; it’s kind of a cliché answer, I know, but they really have a good model in practice over there. In that form though it probably wouldn’t even work in New York; people are too hectic, need too much of their own space.  You can’t impose a willingness to share.  Bike and pedestrian dedicated zones are a must, and some people need to drive of course, but right now cars are given way too much priority. 

Q:  What other bicycle and/or component companies do you like?  Why?

A:  A few of the big companies we look up to are Paul, Phil, Brooks, and there are a ton of local custom frame builders such as Horse, Ceremony, Fast Boy, and there’s really a ton out there if we get into people outside of NYC; Swift Industries, Geekhouse, StanRidge Speed; the list just goes on. Just looking at the spectrum we have these days of small producers is impressive to say the least.  You can find an amazing bespoke bicycle builder working in every style of frame imaginable. What we really like about them is that they make beautiful and rad shit - they're really doing what they love - and they're all small(ish) and follow respectable practices. They all stand by what they make, and they make their goods well.

Q:  Describe a viable complete bicycle made from sustainable materials and manufactured in a sustainable manner, please.

A:  This is obviously a topic that runs pretty deep, but to keep it relatively simple it all starts with sourcing. We try to work within our local sphere as much as possible, and when we need to go outside of it we try to weigh our options carefully. This is why we're so excited to be working with Horse Cycles on their Urban Tour Project, it's a whole bike that is relying on the local economy as much as possible. This idea of local is of course only a jumping off point; the issue of sustainability goes all the way up the supply chain, and in our opinion deals with myriad issues, not only environmental impact, but also ethical and economic issues. Though there are some manufacturers out there cleaning up their practices it's our job as makers to demand a higher standard from those companies we source from.

Surname Bottle Whip, because you never know when a bottle of beer will appear!

Q:  What do you like for breakfast?

A:  I'm not sure what Tim usually eats, though it's safe to say that there is coffee involved. As for myself, a big cup of black coffee and either yogurt and fruit or toast and almond butter usually suffices.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Coupler Thoughts

For the last two decades, S&S Couplings have gained popularity as a way to allow travelers to pack their bicycles into the smallest space possible.  Steve Smilanick invented these couplers for himself, but many others soon found out about them.  As more and more riders asked framebuilders to install S&S Couplings on their frames, more and more framebuilders started to take notice and offer framesets with the couplers already installed.  Now, the popularity of S&S Couplings can legitimately be called a phenomenon.  I wanted to find out more about them, so I contacted Smilanick.  He was kind enough to answer my questions.  Enjoy!

Steve and Shirley Smilanick, ready to ride

 Q:  Who originally designed the S&S Couplings?  How did he/she come up with the idea?

A:  I designed, built and installed the first set of couplings myself. I came up with the idea in the summer of 1992.  I was about to go on a Mediterranean cruise and was disappointed that I wouldn't have a chance to ride my bike for two weeks. I called my travel agent and had him check with the cruise line regarding bringing a bicycle aboard. He learned that there wouldn't be a problem with the bike but they do limit the size of the luggage that they will accept. The largest case they would allow is 62" combined length + width + thickness which is the same maximum standard used by airlines. I began looking at the folding travel bikes that were on the market and found either small wheel bikes or full size bikes that were heavy and not very suitable for high mileage riding. What I really wanted to do was to take my own Bianchi road bike with me.

S&S Couplings

I took some quick measurements and determined that I could fit my wheels in a case as small as 26"x26" and that would leave me with a case that was 10" deep to be within the legal 62" combined L+W+T measurement. To fit the frame in the 26x26" case, I would need a connector to be able to separate the frame into two smaller pieces. Since I own an industrial machine shop, I decided to make my own coupling to do the job. I proceeded to design and build the first BTCs which I installed on my Bianchi road bike by cutting the bike in half and silver brazing the coupling in place. I test rode it for about one week or about 200 miles over rough roads and it worked perfectly. I packed the bike in a 26x26x10" duffel bag surrounded with clothes and then I was off to the airport bound for Spain.

 When  I boarded our Princess Cruises ship, the "Star Princess," in Barcelona, Spain, my bike was in the cabin with the rest of my luggage. I assembled it and went for a ride that very afternoon. I rode 50 to 90 miles per day over the two week period which also included rides in Italy and Greece.

 Q:  What is the most interesting bicycle coupling project you have heard about?
Rodriguez 8-Ball, singular.  Photo Courtesy of Rodriguez Bicycles

A:  My favorite is The Rodriquez "Eight-Ball" tandem/single convertible bicycle. It was built for Willie Weir and his wife Kate. Willie tours all over the world, often by himself, however with this bike, when his wife joins him for a portion of the tour, she brings along a seat, pedals, handlebars, chain and a small frame section allowing Willie to convert his single bike into a tandem. Willie said, “The first time I tried, I was able to convert it from a single bike to a tandem in less than twenty minutes!”

Rodriguez 8-Ball, as a tandem.  Photo Courtesy of Rodriguez Bicycles

Q:  Do you have ideas for new bicycle products?  If so, please give my readers some hints.

A:  We don’t have any new products on the horizon.

Q:  Do your couplings only work on steel bikes?

A:  We inventory couplings that work in steel, stainless steel, and titanium. We also do custom runs of couplings for carbon fiber and aluminum.

Q:  Does your machine shop do any other bicycle-related work?
A:  Not right now.

Q:  What is the smallest package you have ever seen a full-sized bicycle frame packed into?  I am imagining a frame with multiple couplers on the main frame tubes, although I don't know if such a creature exists.

A:  26” x 26” x 10”

Co-Motion Americano Co-Pilot Touring Bike

Q:  Do you have specific recommendations for framebuilders who install S&S Couplings or build new frames with couplers installed?

A:  Other than the normal techniques used by framebuilders for joining frame elements like lugs and tubes by welding or brazing, we have very specific recommendations regarding coupling placement. If a coupling is placed too low in the down tube, it makes access to the nut difficult and too high interferes with the water bottle. In the top tube, if the coupling is located outside the "sweet spot", it can make packing the bike more difficult.

Bilenky Deluxe Travel Nor'easter, packed and ready to travel

Q:  Do you know which framebuilder has built or modified the most frames with S&S Couplings?

A:  For new builds, I think it would be Co-Motion Cycles in Eugene Oregon. They were one of the first builders to embrace S and S Couplings for both single and tandem bicycles and they build incredible bikes. They were also the ones that encouraged us to build couplings large enough for a tandem boom tube.  I have owned three of their tandems myself and they have all been great.

For modified frames, I think Bilenky Cycle Works in Philadelphia, PA is the leader. They retrofit steel and titanium frames and in some situations, they even reshape oval tubes to round in order to install couplings.  They were also one of the first framebuilders to use couplings and they can retrofit just about any single or tandem bike. They also build new bikes.  Bilenky Cycle Works has more overall experience with S and S Couplings and packing methods than any other bicycle framebuilder I know of.
Bilenky Eco Travel Nor’Easter, ready to roll.  Photo courtesy of Bilenky Cycle Works, Ltd.
 Q:  What else would you like to say?

A:  Most people buy a coupled bike to avoid airline fees. Once they have traveled with a coupled bike, that benefit becomes secondary to how easy it is to travel with a bike in a small case instead a huge case required for an uncoupled bike. Our cases are easily transported by car, bus, train or taxi, so travel with a bike becomes hassle- free.

A composite frame from Calfee Design with S&S Couplings
 Q:  What do you like for breakfast?

A:  I eat one cup of old fashion raw oats seasoned with cinnamon that has soaked overnight in the refrigerator in ½ cup of apple juice and ½ cup of unsweetened almond milk. I eat them cold but my wife warms hers in the microwave.