By Andrew Crumpler
Space is tight in Japan, so much that they’ve even engineered a watermelon to grow in the shape of a square to store it more efficiently. A similar conundrum confounds the typical Japanese commuter traveling to work using a combination of biking and trains. Unfortunately, these commuters face a daily challenge of how and where to store their bikes once they arrive at the train station.
The large number of bikes needing a resting place whilst their owners jet off to work for the day creates a rather cluttered view along surrounding sidewalks. Even along sidewalks where no bike parking is posted, you find hundred of bicycles lining the streets.
This is the typical sight outside/inside a Japanese train station. A culture known for its strict adherence to rules and procedures outwardly disregards signs warning cyclist not to park their bikes.
To solve this problem the Japanese has figured out a pretty neat solution. Imagine a vending machine underground; however, instead of getting your favorite treat out of it you put in your bicycle into it and the robotic system swiftly transports your ride to a resting spot for the day. All you see above ground is the elevator style door and kiosk where you check your bike in/out. According to the video, it appears that the typical customer will have to wait less than 30 seconds to retrieve their bike.
Wouldn’t it be cool if we had this problem in the United States?Tweet
A few years ago I visited the Shimano funded bicycle museum in Japan. During my visit, I saw a bunch of bikes that looked unlike any bikes I had seen before.
The bike above is a Artisic cycling bike. The best way to describe Artisic cycling is its kinda like gymnastics meets flatland BMX. Artisic cycling is a form of competitive indoor cycling in which riders perform tricks for points. The competitions are held in gyms and are performed before judges in six minute rounds by singles, pairs, four, or six-man teams.
The Bikes are fixed geared and the gearing is very low with a one to one ratio. The handlebars can spin 360 degrees and are lined up with the steer tube, so they will remain in the same axis when spinning.
The drivetrain above is from a Cycle Ball bike. Think indoor soccer on bikes. The German name for Cycle Ball is Radball and I agree with the name. The bikes are fixed gear and feature a set of handlebars that look at home on the local rail-trails.
Cycle ball and artistic cycling made its introduction to the USA back in 1984. Check out this vintage video filmed in Colardo during the Coors Classic.
Also, check out a Stayers racing bike I saw at the museum.
The realization of spring is finally settling in. The sunshine and dry streets in a quiet Pittsburgh neighborhood made for a memorable day for my nephew who took his first spring ride on the Strider kick bike we gave him last year on his second birthday. Here he is as we got his seat adjusted. His little legs have grown a lot since last year. We also had to spend a few moments adjusting the straps on his helmet as his head had grown too.
Owen eagerly awaits his first ride.
Shortly after, he jumped on and was zooming down the street, kicking along the pavement as he negotiated the available terrain as he bumped up on the curbs and over rocks on the side of the road. His little hands grasped tightly onto the handlebars and his eyes were fixed on the path ahead. It took all of his effort to coordinate his balance and steering.
He was really rather pleased with himself as you can see by the look on his face.
He was feeling really good and wanted more of a thrill as he tried to take a fast ride down a very steep driveway. Luckily, his dad was quick to redirect him back on the street of the quite culdesac. Although we didn’t want to leave, we had to hit the road and leave Owen and his dad to enjoy the ride without us.
Later that night, we get an email from my sister-in-law with a photo attached.
He spent a long day out on his bike and was a little cranky. He also didn’t want to take off his helmet before leaving for a dinner out.
He kept his helmet on through dinner. Finally, when he got sleepy enough, my sister-in-law managed to get the helmet off the little guy’s head just in time for bed.
As they started a new day the next morning, Owen soon found his helmet and strapped it on for eating a breakfast banana. He said, “I want to go for a bike ride!”
Unfortunately, spring rains had taken over the day, showing no resemblance to the previous day’s glory. This didn’t faze Owen though. He had that joyful ride embedded in his memory.
Later in the afternoon, he continued to adorn his helmet at the grocery store. Awaiting the possibility of a possible glimpse of sunshine and the chance to put the tires on the pavement.
The rain persisted, but Owen still held on the possibility of one more ride for the weekend. As I sit here and write this on Sunday night, I wonder if Owen will wear his helmet to school tomorrow.
Kids always remind us of truths, just as how exciting that spring ride is…the sun in the sky, the birds singing, and the prospect of many great rides ahead.Tweet
The Shweeb, the world’s first pedal powered monorail system, was invented by New Zealander Geoff Barnett almost ten years ago. Although the Sweeb is currently set up as an adventure park ride, Barnett’s original inspiration came from a class he was teaching about transport solutions.
Having lived in Tokyo for a number of years, Barnett endeavored to find a method of travel that would not only be green but also provide an aerobic workout. His vision also was driven by the need for people to get safely to their destination in a heavily congested city such as Tokyo. Barnett envisioned a series of elevated rails above the city where commuters would sit in a recumbent position and pedal along.
The monorail’s design involves a see through enclosed ventilated capsule, adjustable seat, and handlebars. It has seven speeds and in a urban setting it designed to top out around 15 mph, but on the tight track in Rotorua speeds of 31 mph have reached with ease. The Shweeb uses half the energy of a road bike and about a third of a mountain bike. It interests me to see how this would look in bustling city.
For now, you can get a sense of their ingenuity by checking out these photos and video. Also, check out the website.Tweet
In a recent Bicycle Times mini-review, I wrote about a Brompton S6L folding bike. in the review I breifly mentioned the Brompton World Championship (BWC). If you are not familiar with the Championship, it is a bike race with some unique rules. Not only are you racing on a folding bike, but there is a strict formal dress code. All of the racers must wear a suit jacket, collared shirt and tie. Short are allowed, but no lyra. Darn Brits, always outclassing us!
This year the BWC was held on October 4th at the birth place of Sir Winston Churchill, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshie, England. The race attracted 550+ racers to compete the 8-mile loop around some of the most beautiful scenery in England. For more information and results checkout Bromptons website.Tweet
Andrew Ritchie, the inventor of the Brompton folding bicycle, is a smart fella who graduated from the University of Cambridge with a degree in engineering. After college, Andrew worked as a computer programmer, but after a while he realized that corporate life was not for him. He decided to work as a self-employed landscaper in London. During that time, his father introduced him to Bill Ingram, a funder from the Bickerton Folding Bike Company. After looking at the Bickerton’s design, Andrew thought he could design a better folding bike of his own. Andrew designed and built the prototypes in his bedroom of his apartment that overlooked a large church called the Brompton Oratory, hence the company name.
Fast-forward a couple of decades; now Brompton is the largest producer of bicycles in the UK. Andrew has received many awards for his design. Most recently, he was awarded the Prince Philip Designers Prize for his outstanding contribution to his industry – and it was presented by the man himself, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace on October 15. All Bromptons are handmade in their west London factory. Each bike consists of some 1,200 parts, over three-quarters of which are unique to Brompton; 80% of the componentry on their bikes is specifically designed and made for Brompton.
My introduction to Brompton bicyles was at this year’s Dirt Demo at Interbike. This is where I met Emerson Roberts and Andrew Finkill, who presented me with a nice clean Brompton to borrow for my remaining week in Vegas. They demonstrated how the bike folded, then tested me to make sure I was paying attention. After I passed the test, I was sent on my way to explore my new wheels.
The model that I was loaned was a Turkish Green Brompton S6L which retails on this side of the pond for $1178. The breakdown of the Brompton’s model number was S= Straight bars, 6= Number of gears, L= Fenders, and no rack. Brompton offers three different types of handlebars, four gearing options, and then you pick if you want no fenders, fenders or fenders with a rear rack. Once you have chosen those three main options, you can customize your ride with tons of accessories including titanium bits to lighten up the bike. The S6L is one of Brompton’s sportier models with the lowest and narrowest handlebars of the line-up. The 6-speed is an interesting set-up; it’s a combination of a proprietary 2-speed rear derailleur and a 3-speed hub. By using this combination they have managed to achieve a wide range of gear ratios. Even through I only tested in the flat desert, it felt like it had a vast gear range that could conquer a good-sized hill.
When we got back from Dirt Demo and we lined up all the loaner bikes in the backyard of our rental house, I started to worry. I was having wheel-size envy. When I saw the Brompton’s 16” wheels next all those big-wheeled bikes, I had visions of being dropped on rides and crashing on every curb and pothole I could find in Vegas. But after the first ride, I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was wrong. The Brompton is very stable, feels very nimble, and the rear suspension soaked up the small bumps providing a smooth ride. Thanks to the small wheels, I had the hole shot on every green light and the high pressure tires helped me maintain a nice fast speed. I did not have any problems hanging with the large wheel crowd. No wonder there is the Brompton world championship race: these are mini race bikes.
So how does it fold into a tiny 22.2" x 21.5" x 10.6" package? First you swing the rear-end of the bike underneath the mainframe, then undo the clamp on the mainframe and fold the front-end of the bike backwards, fold down the bars, drop the saddle and fold up the pedal and you’re done. Takes about 20 seconds with some practice. The bike locks into a nice tight folded bundle for safe storage and transportation (8 seconds when you get good). After returning the S6L to the Brompton guys after the show, I realized that I was going to miss the little bike. I could see myself owning one or two of these pocket rockets.
During a trip to Japan last year, I decided to visit the Shimano funded Bicycle Museum in Sakai city. Up to that point in my life, I thought I had a pretty good idea of all the different types of bikes that existed in the world. But it wasn’t until I saw a strange looking Panasonic track bike on display that I realized I had no idea.
At a quick glance the Panasonic looked like a regular track bike until I noticed the fork was on backwards. At first I thought the museum staff must have quickly slapped the bike together when they were putting it on display, and they didn’t noticed it was reversed. And then I discovered an oddity on the bike, the stem. It had a rod going from the end of the stem to the crown of the fork. By then I had figured that the bike was some kind of specialty racing machine, but what kind of racing? I had no clue. I decided to see what else was unusual on this strange machine. There was a brace connecting the saddle to the top tube, a monster 60 plus tooth chainring, and a smaller front wheel.
It wasn’t until I returned home that I decided to do some exploring to see what the bike was all about. After some research, I found out the bike was a Stayer racing bike. This form of racing is a motor-paced track race where a cyclist partners with a motorcyclist to compete as a team. Stayer racing has been around as long as bicycles and motorcycles have shared the roads. It is popular in Europe, where they race outside on a paved track or inside on a wooden track.
During the race, the cyclist closely follows behind the motorcycle in order to reduce wind resistance. The motorcyclist stands the whole time during the race to produce a larger slipstream. Mounted to the back of the motorcycle on a steel frame is a roller. The idea behind the roller is when the cyclist gets to close the motorcycle, he hits the roller and it rotates preventing the rider from losing control of the bike.
Stayer racing bikes are heavily modified to get the rider as close as possible to the motorcycle: the adjustable stem, which helps riders tweak its length to different racing conditions, is very long; the handlebars are in front of the axle of the bike; the reinforcement rod, used to keep that long stem nice and stiff at high speeds, also stops the stem from flexing when the bicycle collides with the rear of the motorcycle at speeds of 60 mph. Since I didn’t find any information regarding the purpose of the saddle brace, I assume the brace allows the rider to slide forward to the tip of saddle; therefore, the racer won’t have to worry about the saddle flexing and snapping off. As for the fork, it is installed backwards to get the bike up close to the draft in addition to its ability to flex backwards after impacting the roller, assuring the cyclists stability.
Although many have not heard of Stayer bike racing, it was an interesting find at the Shimano Museum. I had fun making sense of all of its bits and pieces. And who knows what other forms of racing are still out there undiscovered by this bike geek.
Check out the Stayer bike racing video below (sorry no sound).Tweet
May is bike to work Month. Although I am not a daily bike commuter, I try to squeeze in the 21 mile ride from my home out in a heavily wooded part of the city, through downtown, then out to the office in the sticks whenever I can. Despite the handful of reasons for not commuting everyday, I am proud of myself when I do suit up and decide to ride my touring bike to work.
My drive to work in my car is 15 miles each way along busy roads which takes me about 40 minutes. When I ride my bike, I choose to go a completely different route, to avoid all the hectic, multi-lane roads. Riding the direct traffic congested route would definitely get me there faster; however, having spent three and a half years wrestling with cars and busses working as bike messenger, I am done with the stress and aggravation of bike versus car. When I ride, I am looking to clear my head and have a nice serene, peaceful ride. I don’t want to get to work all angry and have a crappy day because some guy flicked me off and then proceeded to try to run me off the road.
With my bike commute being a little over 21 miles each way (a grand total of 12 more miles compared to when my drive), the ride takes me about one and half-hours each way. The route to Bicycle Times HQ begins through sleepy neighborhoods. After a few miles, I wake up as I enter three miles of fun, tooth chattering yellow brick roads. This road eventually takes me down past an old penitentiary with a collection of feral cats that dash across my path. For the next 10 miles I get to enjoy stress free river-front trail riding. When I am riding the trail, I am amazed by the views. One of my favorite sights to take in is the mist rolling across the river in the early morning. Having to slow down for a family of geese or ducks waddling down the trail is traffic I don’t mind running into. I follow the paved trail towards downtown, past the Pirate’s and Steeler’s stadiums, and then out of the city onto a rough railroad access road. After yet another few miles of tooth-chattering riding, I eventually jump back onto pavement for a stretch. Once again I enter winding countryside roads until I roll into the office. Once I get there, I think to myself, “I need to do this everyday!”
My commute is a great way for me to squeeze in three hours of riding on a weekday. I just wish I had that time and daylight to dedicate every day, but every once in awhile is better than never.
Why am I writing about a simple, boring thing like kickstand? Well this isn’t just any kickstand, this is a two-legged Pletscher kickstand! In my option, this is the Rolls-Royce of bicycle parking accessories.
My Father-in-law, Bill, first made me aware of this kickstand. He had recently installed a Pletscher on his Arvon touring bike, and he touted the miracles of the stand’s ability to keep his heavy machine upright. I was sold on the stand but after he told me the price, around $50.00, I thought I would hold off. At over four times the cost of an ordinary kickstand, I was sold on the idea but not on the price.
It took a trip to the bagel shop for me to finally decide to lay down the cash. I was carefully leaning my loaded bike against the wall getting ready to lock it up when the weight of the front bags caused the handlebars to swing around. The bike quickly slammed to the ground while the chainring dug a valley into my shin. I promptly ordered the kickstand the next day.
I always thought that kickstands were kinda dorky. I was a little apprehensive to install one thinking it would dampen my imaginary cool factor, but this kickstand is different; it’s Swiss-made, finely engineered, and looks unlike any kickstand on the market. The neat thing about this stand is when the legs are extended, they flare apart just a little wider than the bottom bracket shell. And when the stand is folded up, both legs go to one side and look like a sweet pair of drag pipes from a Harley. Badass, not dorky!
The kickstand not only keeps your bike upright, but it can be used as a mini built-in workstand. When the kickstand is flipped down, I can work on the front or rear wheel of the bike. I just have to pivot the bike on the stand so one of the wheels is off the ground. I have used this method to change flats, adjust brakes, true wheels, and the list just goes on. If my bike had a longer wheelbase, I could make on-the-road derailleur adjustments, but my crank arms hit the legs.
So for these reasons, I decided to blog about the Pletcher. I don’t see it as just any kickstand; I see it as an essential part of a loaded touring bike.Tweet