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An interview with Ines Brunn, bicycle acrobat

By Joshua Samuel Brown

Hailing from Bavaria by way of Beijing, Ines Brunn has performed track bike gymnastics at bike shows and events around the globe. Our Corospondent in Asia caught up with Brunn following one of her performances at this year’s Taipei International Cycle Show.

How long have you been doing bicycle acrobatics, and how did you get started?

23 years. I was a competitive gymnast and wasn’t getting along with the Barvarian state coach and decided to leave the team. By coincidence I saw a lady who did tricks on a bike, and just got hooked.

What brought you to Beijing?

I’d been working a high paying job in telecommunications based in China and doing bicycle shows on the side. I found that working a full-time gig made scheduling performances difficult, so in 2008 I quit to open up a bike store in Beijing. My co-workers thought I was crazy! Now I sell bicycles from my shop in Beijing and perform whenever I want.

What’s your weapon of choice for the streets of Beijing?

A track bike with 48-14 gearing; one brake. What can I say, I like to ride fast. Road racing is kind of new in China, and it’s fun to ride a road bike race on a fixed gear. The road bike riders try to pedal into corners after watching me and hit their pedals on the ground.

Is Beijing a good city for track bikes?

It’s great. Flat as a pancake and bike lanes everywhere. Also, people are used to seeing bicyclists, so as chaotic as things get people are looking out for you. And the weather is completely dry for three quarters of the year!

What’s the fixed gear scene like in Beijing?

They’re catching on. I started a fixed gear club in 2007, the first in China. We had two members to start, and we grew to seven after I put the word out to all the bike shops to call me if they saw anyone riding a fixed gear. Now there are at least 800 fixed gear riders in Beijing.

Tell me a bit about bicycle acrobatics.

Well, I started doing bicycle acrobatics in Germany, where it is a rather technical sport. You need to tell the judges exactly what you plan to do in advance. It’s very precise over there, very…German! What I do at shows is more what I like to call artistic cycling, more of a free-form choreography which is a pretty new thing. The sport doesn’t exist in Taiwan or Mainland China, so people tend to be quite amazed here.

What’s it like performing in the States?

When I perform in San Fran and NYC I get a lot of bike messengers in the crowd, and they just go wild. Sometimes I think they’d be less impressed if I were a man.And the woman love that fact that some of the badass hard core male riders can’t even do the majority of my tricks.

What’s the overall vibe at bicycle shows?

People can sometimes be rather serious at bicycle shows. I mean, cycling is supposed to be fun, right? Yet at the business level it can be all so somber. I try to use my performances to inject some festivity into what rightly should be a very festive atmosphere. It makes me happy that people watching me perform have smiles on their faces, even if the smiles only last until it’s time for them to get back to business.

Is there anyplace else you’d like to perform?

I’d love to perform at Interbike, and I haven’t performed at Eurobike yet.

Final Words?

I believe that only things that give happiness are self sustaining, and I’m convinced that cycling is definitely one of these things. Cycling is not only good for the environment, but good for the world because it makes those who do it happy. This is basically the philosophy at the heart of everything I do.

In Beijing? Visit Natooke, Ines’s fixed gear shop at Wudaoying Hutong 19-1 (near Lama Temple subway) Dongcheng District, Beijing 100007, China.
 

 

 

Highlights from the Taipei Bicycle Show

Correspondent Joshua Samuel Brown was in Taipei, Taiwan, last week to bring us the highlights from the Taipei Cycle Show. Since so much of the cycling industry is based in Asia these days, Taipei is often the first look the world gets at new and emerging technologies and products. Here’s what we saw:

RemoteStar alarm

Weighing in at 350 grams, RemoteStar Technology’s Two-in-One Bicycle alarm looks like an ordinary water bottle, but only the top two-thirds functions as such. The bottom third, which locks into the attached cage, is a motion sensitive alarm that shrieks like a banshee when the bike is touched. Slated to hit the US market later this year, the device will retail for around $36.

Kali Protectives

Kali Protectives displayed its super-light line of helmets ranging from motocross and downhill to standard touring models. Weighing in at 780g and featuring a full carbon shell and composite fusion technology, the Avatar Two offers full face protection for the hardcore rider and retails for $320. The more casual Chakra is a full PC shell molded helmet with bug-net padding; it retails for $49.

Airsound

Samui Corp’s Airsound is a low-tech high concept device that emits a boat-horn style blast, useful on the road for stunning drivers and on the trail for scaring off dogs and bears (and being found when lost). Airsound weighs 300g and fits on the handlebar and requires no batteries or chemicals. The horn is pumped up to 80psi (good for 50 blasts) with any standard Schrader pump. Airsound retails for around $35.

Foss EFT tubes

Ride-stopping punctures may be a thing of the past with Foss EFT (Environmentally Friendly Tubes). The inner tubes are made of recycled Thermoplastic Elastomer Compounds (TPE), which close around most punctures long enough to get you home. A standard mountain bike tube (26” x 1.95) weighs in at 165g and retails for around $15.

ART stems

Taiwanese brand ART (Advanced & Reliable Technology) introduced a series of nearly horizontal aluminum mountain bike stems with ART’s distinctive anteater logo. The MS-79 90mm comes in two angles (73 and 84) and weighs 121g . The 80mm version is slightly more heavy duty, weighing in at 128g.

Good Hand gloves

Good Hand displayed a series of colorful 100 percent made-in-Taiwan riding gloves (including the Darth Vader-esqe padded black-on-black off-road glove pictured here). However, most impressive was the Back Eye, a gel-palm mesh glove with a nifty adjustable 3-inch circular mirror attached to the back via Velcro. What cyclist hasn’t wanted eyes on the back of their hands? Good Hand is hoping to bring their products to the American market this year, and expect the Back Eye to retail for under $25.

Never Endo

I was intrigued when I saw a sign reading “Anti Falling Device” on a mountain bike and needed to learn more. The sign should have read “Never Endo Again”, since it’s a genius little device connects to any cantilever brake system, automatically activating the rear brake a microsecond before the front for quicker stopping power and a reduced chance of collarbone-breaking end-over-end falls. The company is looking to market in America, and say the price will be a mere $10.

Corratec X-Bow

Looking for a high-end mountain bike? Look no further. The carbon fiber Corratec X-Bow incorporates a split top tube “biometric bow system” and comes fully loaded with Shimano XTR parts, carbon fork and carbon 29er wheels. The total weight is 8.5kg, and it’ll lighten your wallet by around 8,500…Euros. In Dollars it’s definitely more.

Satori

Born in Taiwan and still proudly producing on the island, the Satori company had a prominent booth close to the entrance, from which it displayed new and recently developed aluminum alloy products for 2012, including addition to their Deviant series mountain bike bars and their tool-less adjustable stems. Among the more eye-catching Satori products were:

The Easy-up ET (for easy turn, not extra terrestrial), a height adjustable stem adapter that allows for an adjustable height of between 110mm and 210mm. The unit weighs in at 370g.

Those preferring to swing in the other direction might like the EZ-3, an adjustable tool-less stem that lets riders adjust between a zero to ninety degree handlebar position with a handy quick release. At 475g, the EZ-3 will add a bit of weight.

In addition to the Deviant series, Satori has introduced the 275g Noirette Plus MTB bar; similar to its predecessor the Noirette, the plus has a slightly flattened shape, presumably making it more aerodynamic.

Giant

Taiwanese industry heavyweight Giant flew the flag for it’s Liv / Giant series, whose smaller frames and geometry are made to fit what a lovely Giant Rep called “the female cycling lifestyle”.

The very fetching Wander features a black alloy frame, purple tires and a purple Shimano drive train. Weighing in at 10.5 kg and retailing for about $699 in Asia, plans are underway to begin test marketing the series in America at comparable prices.

The OBO (One Bike One) ARX features a Shimano Acera drivetrain and a light aluminum frame with long seat stay, integrated handlebar and stem and invisible seat clamp. Weighing in at 10.3kg, plans are underway to market the OBO in America later in 2012.

Featured prominently at the front of the Giant tent was its flagship downhill model, the Glory O; which has a dual suspension aluminum frame (Rockshox front and back) and an Sram XO drivetrain. This heavy-duty bike weighs 17.4kg and will set you back a mere $5,700.

Surly

Perhaps it’s their name that drove American bicycle company Surly to set their tent up outside. Or maybe it was just the overall aggressiveness of their products. Either way, Surly may well be my favorite company of Taipei 2012, and for two reasons:

First, Surly’s outdoor setup allowed me to actually take all four of their demo models, from the Long Haul Trucker, an old-school cromoly steel tig-welded touring bike designed for serious bicycle tourists—of which I am one—and the way-longer Big Dummy, an extended-frame cruiser with exceptional handling belied the fact that the Big Dummy is designed to haul up to 400 pounds of combined stuff and rider. In the seriously fun but perhaps not meant for everyday use department were two of Surly’s obese-tired omni-terra bikes, the Pugsley (whose double-wide rims hold front and rear tires a whopping 3.8” and 3.7” wide, respectively), and the Moonlander, whose triple-wide rims and tires make the Pugsley look downright svelte by comparison.

But the second reason I’m so enamored with Surly is purely personal; I got so wrapped up in test riding their bikes that I left the booth in haze, forgetting my camera bag at their booth, and was blissfully unaware of its absence until Surly rep Jack Chen called me my mobile to ask if I missed it yet.

So, go Surly! For full product details, blog updates and more, check out their very excellent website at surlybikes.com

Giatex

Though it isn’t yet available in America, Taiwanese company Giatex’s new line of “stretching” bike seem likely to be a worthy import. Company engineers have taken a new approach to the concept of making bicycles portable, producing a series of frames equipped to take standard mountain bike parts and wheels from 14 to 26 inches. Typical ends here, however; the line’s method of compression is radically different, stretching and compressing using a dual interior/exterior tubes rather than folding. Portability is just part of the equation: the bicycle’s wheelbase can expand and contract based on riders needs and desires, and in my all-too-brief test ride I found the bikes to be comfortable fully extended and reasonably so (and certainly rideable) fully compressed.

Currently available in Taiwan and Canada, The alloy version (including parts and carbon fork) goes for about $1,700. The steel version is a mere $275.

Pacific Bicycles

New for 2012, the 26-inch wheel Pacific iF urban (Integrated Folding) incorporates a swivel-head technology (designed by Mark Sanders) and an adjustable tension bar that largely eliminates the flex so often associated with folding bikes. The iF Urban comes with standard components including an SRAM 18-speed drive train, weighs in at 12kg and retails for $1,800.

Offering 700c wheels, their full-sized folder the iF Urban 700 incorporates the same flex-eliminating designs, has an eight-speed Sturmey Archer hub, weighs 12.5kg and retails for about the same price.

Both bicycles are engineered to allow rolling while folded, eliminating the cumbersome “carrying” that greatly reduces the convenience of a folding bicycle in the first place.

Tern

Tern Bicycle brought out a host of new folding bicycles. Being interested in more traditionally sized wheels, I was especially interested in their new Joe series (launched August 2011). The entry level Joe C21 (MSRP $499) is made of 6061 aluminum alloy and features a Shimano Altus drive train and weighs 30.6 pounds. The Joe P24 weighs slightly less but delivers much more, incorporating a SRAM X7 drivetrain, an NVO adjustable Axis stem that allows for a massive amount of riding positions and easy storage, and even has a hidden built-in T-tool nestled into the handlebar. It retails for $899.

Charge Up

Unable to find food specifically made to suit the needs of hikers and cyclists in Taiwan, American transplant Tyler Rosso started his own company. “I figured out a few good recipes by combining nuts and dried fruits, came up with a good business plan, and there you have it,” says Rosso. The bars–which are deliciously moist, lacking the horse food dryness of many energy bars–are preservative free. Plans are underway to begin marketing Charge Up bars in America by the end of 2012.

 


Climbing Mont Ventoux on a fixed gear, four times

Editor’s note: Paul Rozelle is an endurance cyclist who completed the 1,200km Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur in 2011 and writes about his experience in Issue #16. While he was in France, he decided to climb all four ascents of Mont Ventoux on his fixed-gear, only days before PBP. He shares that story here.

Why?

By Paul Rozelle

A lot of people asked me why I was climbing Mont Ventoux four times on a fixed-gear bike in one day, just three days before starting Paris-Brest Paris. Most inquired with some degree of bewilderment, like, "Why ever would you do something like that?" by which they meant, I think, that what I was going to do wouldn’t be any fun, I’d likely not succeed, and in the process I’d seriously jeopardize the likelihood of completing PBP.

I have a greatly over-developed sense of adventure. How do you explain that?

There’s a nice medal for climbing Mont Ventoux by all three paved routes in one day, and an even more elite recognition from conquering those climbs plus the unpaved forest road. That’s 116 miles and more than 19,000 feet of climbing (and descending), including two Hors Categorie climbs plus an unpaved route on a mountain known for its bad weather. As far as I know, this had never been done on a fixed-gear bike.

Fame and glory (and masochism) aside, I believe that just about anything that can be done on a geared bike can be done on a fixed- gear. Ventoux has been climbed by fixed-gear riders before. It was probably the usual means of ascent for a long time, but that was so long ago that most people have forgotten. I wanted to restore some of that memory and perhaps inspire people to push their own limits in cycling. Doing both Ventoux and PBP in the same week would help make the point in a more extreme fashion: if this can be done on a fixed-gear bicycle, then tell me what, exactly, cannot?

Ventoux: Final Preparations

It turns out that driving from Paris to Provence — a mere 400 miles — takes all day. What I thought would be a mid-afternoon arrival after a leisurely drive through the countryside turned into a 12-hour, stressful slog through traffic. We picked up the official route card (similar to a brevet card) at a bike shop in Malaucene and then drove up Ventoux using the Malaucene route and down the Bedoin route so I could see those aspects, at least from the car, before riding them just a few hours later. Driving those two climbs focused my mind on the enormity and difficulty of the project. Our rental car needed second gear to clear several of the pitches and both climbs were "as advertised": hardly a meter of road that didn’t go straight up the enormous mountain.

My wife and I barely made the 8 p.m. check-in time at our B&B in Saint Columbe, just a few miles up the road from Bedoin. Checked in, we ditched our stuff and ran into Bedoin for dinner and to get my route card stamped at the first checkpoint. Because I would leave so early in the morning, I was permitted to have the card pre-stamped the night before. With that stamp, I was now committed to climbing the Bedoin route — the most difficult — first.

Well fed, stamped, and now back at the B&B, we sorted gear and readied the bike. I gave the weather a final study. There is no better person to have on hand than my wife when you need to get a lot of stuff done quickly and correctly and by 11:30 p.m. the bike and I were ready to go.

I’d be lucky with the weather. It was forecast to be sunny, hot, and not very windy. I could travel light. I would be able to carry all my stuff in jersey pockets, the largest item being a light jacket to keep me warm on the descents. I could fill bottles and buy food in the towns and at the summit. I made the final call to try 48×18 (70.2 gear inches) for the gearing. All set and ready to go, I made the decision to push my start time back to get a little more sleep due to the late hour and the travel delays. I’d get up at 5:30 and plan to roll by 6 a.m., several hours behind the schedule I’d originally planned.

Ventoux: The Bedoin Route

A little after 3:30 a.m., though, I was awake and it was clear I wasn’t going to fall back to sleep again. I got up and ate breakfast — some fruit, bread, and peanut butter crackers — and tended to a few final issues with the bike. I walked out into the totally still, moon-lit night and looked at the clock: 4:20 a.m. I had 24 hours to return to this spot with four summits in the bag.

The first order of business was to descend the hundred meters or so from Saint Columbe to Bedoin. There is a marble line embedded in the road in Bedoin that marks the official start of the climb. I paused to snap a few photos and was off.

The first 6km of the Bedoin climb are variously described as "easy" or "flat." They are neither. There is perhaps 100 meters of road in the town of Saint Esteve that is flat riding, but the rest of it heads up, and some of it significantly so. Even before returning to Saint Columbe, I was out of the saddle and focused on maintaining a pace that would not make me anaerobic. If I taxed myself here, I would never make it, a reality that inspired some dark thoughts and doubts. This climb was already tough, and I hadn’t seen anything yet. I paused in Saint Esteve to top off a bottle in the natural spring in front of someone’s house and the sound of trickling water got me calmed down and focused.

Immediately after leaving Saint Esteve, the road from Bedoin turns sharply left, enters the cedar forest, and goes straight up for 10km without a single flat section. It’s utterly relentless. Even the long lines through the switchbacks are steep. I did the best I could to ride the longest (and hence, the flattest) line I could up the mountain and even tacked to keep from bogging down in what I now realized was a ridiculous gear. I knew I would be out of the saddle without a single break for this entire pitch. The grade isn’t that bad — it’s mostly nine to 11 percent — but what hurts is that there is so much of it, with no rest whatsoever.

Despite my best preventative efforts, I was quickly anaerobic. I stopped a few kilometers into the pitch and rested on a guardrail until by heart rate recovered and then I set back to work. I completed the 10km climb with only one more brief stop.

As I rounded a turn toward the top of this section, I saw the first rays of sun strike the mountain’s summit cone. Down below, the countryside was still enshrouded in total darkness and the lights of Avignon twinkled in the distance.

Soon after, I came to Chalet Reynard, a ski lodge that sits at the tree line and that marks the start of the final, 1,800-foot push to the summit through a lunar and barren landscape. The Chalet wasn’t open yet, so I rode on. This section of the Bedloin climb is the scene of the Armstrong-Pantani duel and of many other achievements, and tragedies, before that.

I won’t say it’s easy, but the grade moderating to a mere eight percent was noticeable to my heart and legs. There were even a few sections where I could climb seated, though there was, again, not a single flat spot on the climb. I distracted myself from the pain by reading the now constant stream of inspiring and encouraging words painted on the road and left over from previous Tours de France. A giant drawing of a snail, though, brought me back to the reality of my situation.

I kept a lookout for the Tom Simpson memorial on the right and was afraid I had somehow missed it. It’s closer to the summit, only 1km, than I had thought. I spent some time there resting and reflecting. It’s an oddly moving tribute and shrine.

The final push to the summit met with some 40mph crosswinds courtesy of the aptly named Col de Tempêtes. Surviving that, you then climb the final, very steep pitch to the summit and you are there — on top of The Giant of Provence. At 7 a.m., I had it entirely to myself. I’d made the climb in 2:32, including all stops. Hardly a record pace, but I was very happy with it under the circumstances. I had three climbs left. Having cleared the toughest one, I thought I could manage the other two paved routes. The real trick would be the forest road. I knew I’d suffer like a beast to get up that. These were my thoughts as I snapped a few photos, validated my card in the punch clock, put on my jacket, and began to descend to Malaucene.

Above left: Stopped at the Tom Simpson memorial. Right: At the summit.

Ventoux: Malaucene

The descent off the Ventoux required full concentration, a lot of braking, and a huge amount of upper-body strength. Frankly, on a fixed- gear bike, you just want it to be over with. There are spectacular views all around you, but you’re not looking at any of them. This would have been a joy on a bike with a freewheel. On a fixed-gear, it was an exercise in extreme focus: focus on the road, on your line, on your speed, and on anything else other than how much pain you were in and how quickly your legs were moving.

The last few kilometers I began to see cyclists ascending the route. The sun was out and with was going to be a gorgeous, and hot, day.

In Malacuene, I stopped at the Blueberry Café and gorged on breads, jams, croissants, O.J., and two cafés au lait. I filled my bottles in the natural spring in front of the café and was off at 8:15 a.m. for climb number two. With the toughest climb behind me and still feeling fresh, I had little doubt that I’d finish all the paved routes. I had concerns about the time (this was clearly going to take all day) and about the unknown forest road. All the way up Malaucene, I thought about whether to attempt the forest road third or save it for last, which was the original plan. Part of me wanted to get it over with and to face it when I was fresher. Another part thought that it would break my will and that if I failed, I’d only have completed half the climbs. I thought that if I had three climbs in me, and if the only thing that stood between me and success was that forest road, then I’d find some way to get up it. But I also thought about what a beast it must be. Think about it: if the grade were better than the Bedoin route, then the “forest road” wouldn’t be the friggin’ “forest road,” It would be THE road. The fact that it was a crappy, unpaved, rarely used road meant that it must truly suck.

Unlike my solitary ascent of Bedoin, Malaucene was filled with cyclists, which added a nice distraction both from my present work and my fears of the future. Most riders seemed to be fairly serious, middle-aged roadies, the majority of them French. In fact, I would not encounter a single American on the mountain that day.

Once guy I passed shouted out, “What gear?” (in French), as I rode past and accelerated to match my pace. I backed off so we could chat. Recognizing the bike – a “pignon fixe” – this exchange was the first of several of the day that went something like this: “You have strong legs!” “No,” I’d reply in French, “I have a small brain.” Before I departed, the rider asked me to move farther left so he could shoot a photo of me and the bike from the drive-train side. The French are awesome.

About halfway up, I passed the first of two people on the mountain that day who blew me away with what they were doing. This guy was running up the mountain, and he was moving fast. I was barely faster than he was, and he was faster than a good many cyclists. We had a little mutual admiration society going as we leapfrogged each other. I’d have to stop to catch my breath and he’d just keep flogging it up the mountain.

Malaucene is easier than Bedoin, but it is still an HC climb. What makes it easier is that it has a few kilometers that average “only” 5 percent or 6 percent, but it makes up for it with one especially ugly kilometer where the average pitch is a whopping 12 percent. There are parts of the climb where you ascend 600 feet in a mile. One part of the road is, in the winter, marked as a black-diamond ski trail.

By the time I reached the ski lodge on the Malaucene side (different from Chalet Reynard, on the Bedoin side of the mountain), I badly needed some rest. Forty minutes and two more cafés au lait later, I was back at it.

I think the summit cone from the Malaucene side is tougher than from the Bedoin/Sault side. There’s a long, murderous stretch that I had to rest on twice. And, as with the rest of it, there’s not a meter of ground that’s flat. The Malaucene side is also more scenic than the (admittedly stunning!) Bedoin side. The views of the valley 6,000 feet below are sweeping and the summit cone from the north side looks more dramatic. It’s a wall.

I rode the last pitch from Malaucene with two Englishmen who were at the same pace. The difference was that there were seated, spinning away, and chattering while I was out of the saddle, totally out of breath, and nearly cracked. At the top, the Brits introduced me to their wives, who had driven up to meet them. We talked and took photos. The summit was now crowded with people, including a few older French guys who were there to watch the cyclists. I spoke with one guy briefly who then summoned his friends and explained to them what I was doing. I got a chorus of “Courage!” and “Chapeau!” from everyone. Neither word is administered lightly by the French, so I began my descent to Sault feeling honored.

Dawn on the climb.

Ventoux: Sault

Descending the route to Sault is the same as the route to Bedoin until you reach Chalet Reynard. There, instead of turning right and descending into the cedar forest, you bear left, leaving the main drag, and head to the south-east toward Sault. The descent of the summit cone this time was trickier than earlier. Now, the narrow road was filled with cyclists, both ascending and descending, and with autos. I let it rip on the descent because I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way. On a geared bike, the descent would have been epic and fast and I didn’t want to block anyone who had earned such a sweet reward. I was surprised that I overtook more riders on the descent than who overtook me.

I took the left fork to Sault, having finally decided after much deliberation to do the forest road last. I’d just have to find some way to get up it. The Sault descent is, relatively speaking, gradual and leisurely but the road surface is in poor condition and the road is in places quite a bit narrower than either the Bedoin or the Malaucene routes. Sault is not a popular climb and so it had little auto or cycle traffic on it.

Nearing the bottom of the descent, I witnessed an awesome feat of cycling. A couple was headed up the mountain: The guy was riding a hybrid bike and towing their kid, who had to be four or five years old, in one of those Burley-like trailers. I’d see them a few hours later at the summit. Now that’s tough!

Another especially memorable moment occurred as I approached the valley floor. There are endless fields of lavender growing on the Sault side, and you can smell them long before you can see them. The smell was just sweet and divine.

Unlike Bedoin and Malaucene, the town of Sault is built on a hill. A big hill. After descending to the valley, you then have to climb a very steep, 300-foot hill to get into town. It was one of the more difficult pitches of the day, and not just because it stood between me and lunch. Finally there, I got my stamp and had a rest at a café with ample water, Coke, and jambon et fromage. I was refreshed, but it was now officially hot. The temperature would rise into the 90s before the day was over.

The Sault climb back to Chalet Reynard is easy and it was good recovery. I was glad to have chosen this route over the forest road for my third ascent. I was riding fast and strong, and felt good. There were many pitches I could handle from the seated position, which provided some much-needed rest and recovery.

I made good time to Chalet Reynard where I stopped briefly to fill bottles before tackling the summit cone from this side for the second time. It was much harder now, with two other ascents in my legs and in the full heat of the day. By reputation, there is the “windy” Ventoux and the “hot” Ventoux. I got the hot one, and I’m probably lucky that I did. As a Florida boy, I can deal with hot.

The route was now choked with cyclists from every conceivable background, from pro-looking guys on bling carbon bikes to young girls in tank tops on rental mountain bikes. Climbing Ventoux seems to be a rite of passage for cycling fans visiting the south of France, and with the good weather, there were many people making the pilgrimage that day. Many people were hoofing it and looking positively worn out.

I made the top in 2:10 total time, and repeated the scene of interacting with impressed French spectators. I didn’t linger long. I had a date with the forest road. I quickly set off to descend to Bedoin. I made quick work of the familiar summit cone, but the descent into the cedar forest was new terrain. It was steep! The 10km pitch below the Chalet was, in a word, insane. I stopped mid-way down to cool my rims with what water I had remaining, a necessary task. My upper body and hands were in agony from the braking, and I was very glad once I got off that pitch safely.

I stopped at the B&B in Saint Columbe. On the descent, I had decided to put on the lowest gear I had to tackle the forest road. I simply could not believe I had made it up the paved route earlier that day and, with three climbs in my legs, I doubted my ability to clear it again in 70 gear inches, especially this time on an unpaved route. The lowest I could go was 48×19, but it would have to do. (Yes, I was very much regretting leaving the 45T chain ring and the 20T cog on my work bench at home….) I changed the gear, changed clothes to feel a bit more fresh (which always works!), and then set back out on the road to complete the descent to Bedoin, obtain my final town checkpoint stamp, and to begin the fourth and final ascent. It was about 5:15 p.m.. I’d been at it for almost 13 hours.

At the summit once again.

Ventoux: La route forestere

The forest road is the same as the Bedoin route for 8km. It climbs out of town through Saint Columbe and Saint Esteve, and then turns straight up through the cedars for two brutal kilometers before turning off the Bedoin route onto an unmarked dirt road. The paved bits were definitely easier in 48×19 than with the 18T cog on, but it was still a mighty effort to power the bike past Saint Esteve. I kept thinking, “When is this ‘forest road’ going to appear?” I really wanted to get on it and get it on!

Soon enough, my request was granted. For the first kilometer, the forest road actually had some pieces of old pavement visible. It was seriously degraded, though, and was covered with loose stone and debris – sticks, rocks – that made good line choice critical. Still, I made it up the first pitch and thought, “That wasn’t so bad!” I even entertained delusions of descending the forest road, which I thought would be more “pure” than taking the paved Bedoin descent, although taking the paved descent is permitted under the rules.

After an initial steep kilometer, the forest road begins a climbing traverse. What little pavement there was disappeared and was replaced by two ruts packed with dirt, stone, gravel, and all manner of forest debris. Mostly I was out of the saddle but at times I could remain seated and handle the grade. Daylight was fading. Clouds were moving in. The temperature cooled significantly. In the forest, there was no sound other than my breathing and the crunch of my wheels on the ground. The smell of the cedars was strong.

As the climb went on, the road-to-gravel ratio decreased significantly. Picking a line that would let me keep the rear wheel from spinning out became increasingly challenging. In places, the road was washed out entirely, which meant traversing loose sand and some mud.

I was still making forward progress on the bike, though, until I fell victim to good intentions. Suddenly, huge amounts of loose stone appeared. A road crew had decided to remedy the washed-out and eroded bits by filling them with gravel. I was good for a short while, as long as I could stay seated. But when the pitch kicked up significantly and I pushed the crank all the way down without the bike advancing one centimeter, I knew it was time to hop off and start walking.

I walked for a bit until it looked like I might be able to get purchase. I’d re-start and get maybe 50 or 100 meters up the road and then I’d have to dismount again, lest I eat gravel. I repeated this exercise a few times before I looked up the road and the reality of my situation set in: the road remained very steep, uniformly covered in loose stone, and there was no end in sight. I was about to go for a very, very long walk.

Soon the flies found me. Remember those old guys photographed in National Geographic, sitting in their remote African villages totally covered in flies? That was me. I was all Zen about it – just like those old wise-looking dudes – until the flies wanted in my ears and nose and mouth. I didn’t want to spend precious energy yelling and swatting. I tried negotiating with God: “Please. Anything but the flies.” When the mosquitoes showed up, I asked for the flies back.

Then I fell victim to French energy bars. I’d picked up a few at the bike shop in Bedoin I’d used as my final town checkpoint. They looked like chewy fruit bars. I cracked one open. Inside the wrapper, the bar had two little, dainty wax paper bits that that covered the bar, as if you cared about getting your fingers sticky. I tried to peel this off. No-can-do. I ended up with little bits of paper in my fingers and more little bits of paper stuck to the bar. I gave up trying to peel off the wrappers and ate all three of them, which was all I had left for calories until I completed the “ride.” I figured my stomach wouldn’t react negatively until this project was complete, one way or the other. At least I’d been distracted from the flies for a few minutes.

After 90 minutes or so, the “road” leveled to a degree (meaning, it probably dropped below 10 percent) that I could ride it without standing. I’d covered barely more than a mile in that time. I hoped back on and as long as I remained seated, I could get enough purchase with the rear wheel that I could move more quickly on the bike than off it.

Now some of you may be thinking, why not ride the margins, Paris- Roubaix style? Not possible, mes amis. There was no road shoulder. The “road” at this point was five feet wide. One side was a cliff going up. The other side is a cliff going down. Instead of the little annoying rocks that I could not ride on the “road,” what little margins there were covered in boulders and logs and all kinds of ridiculous crap that was not rideable on a road bike with 23c tires. My problem wasn’t the “road,” it was the bike. A much lower gear and I’ve have been loving this stuff. In 48×19, though, I was trying to pound a square peg into a round hole.

Back on the bike, I was at least faster than the flies. I made good time up to where the road hits a plateau and forks, with one branch going to Chalet Reynard and the other topping out on the southwest ridge and heading over to rejoin the Malacuene route. My directions called for the Malacuene ascent, so I turned left.

Soon after this junction, I came upon a cyclotourist who was illegally camping by the side of the road. He was as surprised to see me as I was him. I took his presence as a good sign that I was near the road junction and that I didn’t have much climbing left. This guy wasn’t going to ride far or descend much (only to have to reclimb it in the morning) from the paved road on a fully-loaded touring bike. I was pushing hard now. I wanted to summit before sunset.

The forest road rejoins civilization just above the ski lodge on the Malacuene side. Real pavement combined with the lower gear, plus knowing I was on the home stretch, had me totally pumped up and I hammered on the pedals. At this hour I had the road entirely to myself, just like I’d begun. It was now raining, but I didn’t stop to add the jacket. As long as I hammered, I’d stay warm.

Toward the top, I encountered a local who had driven up to photograph the sunset. He was just packing up when I passed him. He was pretty excited to see me and cheered enthusiastically as I went by, with all manner of arm waving, jumping around, and shouts of “Allez!” He hopped in his car, drove up the road a few hundred meters, and repeated the serenade. He did this all the way up the summit, where all the vendors, cyclists, and tourists had long since departed for the day. At the top, the French guy drove on and I was greeted by a Dutch couple, who were equally surprised and enthusiastic to see me there at that hour. We chatted briefly and I punched my card in the time clock for the final time: 9:18 p.m.

It had been a very long day, but it wasn’t over yet. I had to descend more than 5,000 feet in the dark. I was tired and the road was wet. Needless to say, I took it really easy. After a few kilometers, I rode out of the rain and I could see all of the lights in the valley shining below me. It was gorgeous, and I permitted myself a few glances of something other than the steep, twisty road in front of me. The second descent through the cedars was less terrifying than the first, only because I could not see far enough down the road to be scared of what lay ahead.

At 10:05 p.m., I was back in Saint Columbe, my mission complete. I am certain that I now hold the record for the slowest descent of the Ventoux. Iban Mayo went up it to set his record in nearly the time it took me to come down it!

Paul’s stamped brevet card, with all four routes completed.

Ventoux: The Damage Done

Back at the B&B, Susan rounded up dinner (God bless the French and their late dinner hour!) while I soaked in the tub. I had bits of crushed gravel embedded in every place imaginable. I’d be picking the stuff out of my hair and ears for a day. And my poor bike! I’d never seen a granite-colored chain before: It was encased in dust and bits of stone.

Clean and fed, I could assess the damage. My hands were very bruised. My upper body felt like I had worked every muscle to failure. My triceps were especially fried. My lower back was the worst. Turns out that hours out of the saddle, wrenching on the hoods for leverage, really does a number on your lower back. Who knew? Surprisingly, my legs felt pretty good. Tired and sore, sure. But they didn’t even rate compared to any of these other maladies. My real fear was my hands – in addition to being very sore, it looked like I’d have a few blisters to remember this adventure by (despite wearing gloves and changing them out mid-ride for a fresh pair). They were really, really sore. I could manage PBP with all these other deficits, but you can’t ride 1,230km without touching the bars.

As I cleaned up, ate, and began to heal, I thought about how I didn’t succeed in doing all the climbs in one gear. I’m a bit comforted by believing that there’s no one, single combination of cogs and chain rings I own that would have gotten me up—and down—Ventoux fixed in one day. And, had I not changed to 48×19 for the forest road, my walk might have been a lot longer, which might have put me on the mountain in more rain and more dark and cold, all of which might have jeopardized my safety or a finish. I don’t get a fixed-gear purity award for my ride, but so be it. I’ll leave doing all four routes in one single gear to another rider in the future. Still, I was pleased that I didn’t walk a single meter of any of the paved routes. Especially in 48×18, that’s more than I thought myself capable of.

The one statistic from the ride that I’m most happy about is that I took no pain relievers before, during, or after it. I’ve been trying to get away from using that stuff for years and getting up and down, and recovering from, Ventoux without any drugs (liberal amounts of caffeine aside) is an accomplishment I’m proud of. It sounds a bit foo-foo, but I think by listening to my body and what it was capable of, I was able to select an effort that made the climbs successful but that also let me recover quickly and be in shape to start PBP just three days later. There’s no doubt I could have done this faster, and that some Vitamin I would have produced a faster pace. A faster pace, though, might have wrecked my PBP. Pain was good: it slowed me down to something sustainable. And it would have alerted me to any kind of issue that wasn’t just muscle pain. Tweaking a knee or an Achilles would have ended the ride. Had I been doped up, I wouldn’t have felt that until it was too late to do anything about it. And, what’s the point of a faster ride, anyway? The goal was to do it, period, and to give everyone who told me — even during the ride! — that what I was doing was "impossible" something to think about. No one cares whether it took me 18 hours or if I did it in half of that. I’ll leave a faster fixed-gear ride to another rider in the future, too.

In the end, I had fun—even while doing it and even while wondering if I had the strength to lift myself out of the bathtub after my post-ride soak. I made it up and down. And up and down and up and down and up and down. Although I had some serious recovery to do, I thought as I drifted off to sleep that I’d probably be ok for PBP. I’d be fortunate to wake up the next morning and see my blisters looked more like calluses. I’d be ok. And I’d definitely given some folks something to think about when it comes to what’s possible on a fixed-gear bicycle.
 

 

 

Review – Specialized Tricross Comp

By Michael Tierney, Photos by Justin Steiner

The Specialized Tricross has evolved over the years from the company’s primary cyclocross offering to more of an all-arounder, as their newer Crux cyclocross line is more race-oriented. Now the mission for the Tricross is to be a single bike that can do it all, or at least nearly all—including touring, commuting, and a touch of trail riding—within a moderate budget. This bike got many aspects of the equation correct.

Over the years, I had eyed the Tricross bikes of my friends with envy, and eagerly waited for mine to arrive. Much of my impatience stemmed from an annual ride on the C&O Canal rail-trail that was on the immediate horizon; my first goal was to test the Tricross in that cauldron of gravel, dirt, water and constant vibration.

My Tricross Sport arrived with a Shimano Tiagra triple crank, front derailleur and STI shifters, and a Shimano LX rear derailleur on the Specialized A1 Aluminum frame with their FACT carbon fork. Tektro cantilever brakes, along with top bar levers, provided stopping power. The rest of the parts carried the Specialized brand, including the stem, carbon seat post, handlebar, and the incredibly comfy Riva saddle. New to the 2011 model year is attractive and functional internal cable housing.

Fire Road Touring – The C&O Canal Ride

The Tricross arrived in a box the day before I left for the 200-mile C&O ride with 75lbs. of equipment loaded in four panniers, plus a dry sack. Short of a few pedal strokes in the neighborhood to ensure proper adjustment, it was a classic baptism by fire for both of us. I was initially concerned about the frame’s fit, as many bike manufacturers’ largest sizes are just a tad too small for my height. While some riders with me mentioned I looked “scrunched up” during this outing, I felt very comfortable, having no interest in a lower, more aerodynamic position. Since there is no such thing as gliding during this long, flat ride, body parts falling asleep is a problem.

Remarkably, on the Tricross I had far fewer troubles with my hands snoozing than previous years on a mountain bike with front suspension. Another fear was the unfamiliar saddle, and once again not only did Specialized come through with remarkable comfort, the saddle also proved stellar in keeping the blood flowing where it needed to flow. So the fit and comfort was spot-on for this application. Less so was the lack of front fork braze-ons for racks—the type seen halfway up the fork that allow the rider to skip use of O-rings around the fork legs to mount a rack. Seen on previous models, they were removed from the fork for this model year. I spoke to Specialized about the problem and, in a moment of candor, they admitted this mistake and assured me the braze-ons would return in 2012. Their honesty was refreshing. The front fork does have eyelets for attaching fenders, however.

I had initial concerns about the more road-oriented 700x32mm Specialized Borough Sport tires, but they proved resilient yet smooth-rolling on the hardpack. I was frankly a bit apprehensive about the Mavic CXP23 rims, as I have had difficulty with them in the past, and while they proved worthy for most of the ride under the stress of my weight and equipment, the rear wheel needed truing just as I approached my house, à la the Blues Brothers’ well-driven vehicle. Yet, many of my co-riders asked me during the four-day outing how the bike was faring, and my response was universally “great!”

Daily Commuting

I rode the Tricross on my nine-mile urban commute (with about one mile of crushed gravel) approximately 30 times. The Tricross proved to be rugged and reliable, handling curb jumps, asphalt cracks, and small potholes without difficulty. The rear rim did not need a second truing, and the tires rolled fast but were wide enough to feel secure. I was now climbing hills, and while the weight of the bike was appropriate for its price range, getting out of the saddle still felt natural. I found the top-bar brake levers to be comfortable, well-placed, and more powerful than the regular levers; they were one of the most enjoyable aspects of riding this bike, and I immediately noticed their absence when I got on another bike. However, standard barrel adjustment was available for the front brake only (via the cable hanger). The top-bar levers themselves had barrel adjustment, but not the STI levers. So at times the top-bar lever would feel relatively tight and the STI lever would not.

On the Trail

My plan on the trail was to keep it simple, keep it easy. I wasn’t looking to tackle rock-strewn steeps, but did expect to capably ride a few miles of creek-side dirt when in the mood. The occasional log jump was not a problem, and the fork stayed true and provided good tracking. The Borough tires left a little to be desired in this application— more tread would be necessary for the slightest increase in technical riding. But there is plenty of room for a wider tire, perhaps up to 42mm width with more significant knobbies, for more regular trail riders. The biggest issue on the trail is that my feet hit the front wheel when turned. This makes trail riding a greater challenge than should be necessary, and, in fact, may make trail riding for some riders a no-go proposition.

I didn’t have a chance to complete any long road touring rides, but my sense is that the Tricross will shine in this area due to its slightly more upright position, comfort, and, of course, beloved top-bar brake levers.

All Tricross models come with a triple crankset, although at times I wished for a double, which is better oriented to my personal type of riding and commuting. Obviously, the more climbing you plan on completing, whether on a fire road or trail, the more you will appreciate the triple.

I loved the brisk handling, styling and especially the comfort of the Specialized Tricross Sport, and it is a good value in its price range. There is a lot of versatility here, especially if you switch to lighter, thinner tires for more consistent road use, or slightly knobbier tires to regularly hit the trail. I highly recommend it as a mid-level ride that can do many things well.

Tester stats

Age: 47

Height: 6’ 4”

Weight: 220lbs.

Inseam: 35”

Bike stats

Country of Origin: Taiwan

Price: $1,400

Weight: 24.6lbs.

Sizes Available: 46, 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61cm (tested)

Online: www.specialized.com

Another opinion

In 2006 our sister magazine, Dirt Rag, reviewed an earlier version of the Tricross Comp. See what we wrote at the time.

 

 

Readers Write: DIY Walmart snow bike

By Scott Berelson

My family and I have been living in Lake Tahoe, known for its great skiing for more than twenty years now. My wife and I met in San Francisco where I was a bike messenger for many years and she was an avid bicycle commuter. Lake Tahoe is about a three-hour drive from San Francisco where we have many friends. We often have friends visiting us to ski or on their way to Burning Man and such. This was how I ended up with two cheap Walmart bikes in my garage as some friends bought the bikes for Burning Man and then conveniently left them at my house instead of bringing them backed to cramped city quarters.

I have been riding snow bikes for a while now and had just upgraded my Surly with 80mm Fat Sheba rims and new 3.7" Endomorphs. I have been building all different kinds of alternative fun bikes for about five years now, ever since New Belgium’s Tour de Fat started coming to our town. All of their crazy bikes and trikes inspired me to break out the welder again and start building.

Snowbiking is great fun, but I was starting to feel like a hermit as me and my dog would go out on these epic adventures and we never had anyone to ride with, as none of my friends have invested in a fat bike yet. So came the inspiration to break out the sawsall, pipe bender, the ol’ joint jigger, and welder.

When building a snow bike from a regular bike it helps to have the wheel and tire set up before fabrication and welding. There are some parts that will need to be purchased. These bikes use 100mm bottom brackets to clear fat tires. You can purchase 100mm bottom bracket shells but I just cut a 73mm shell in half, installed a bb in the cut shell, slipped inside American bb cavity and welded her in place by tacking, removed bb, finished welding and reinserted. I used a Truvative downhill bb and cheaper isis crankset. I also changed a Pusley fork to have a one-inch steerer, but if the frame you are using has 1 1/8” headset you could just buy a Pugsley fork.

While I still recommend buying a snowbike if you can afford it, I just wanted to show a cheaper alternative for all us poor folks.

Share your story

Got a bike or project you think other readers would like to know about? Send it to editor@bicycletimesmag.com and we’d love to hear about it.
 

 

 

Chris Bornstein is pedaling for peace

By Chris Bornstein

Buenas Dias, and Aloha from Ensenada, Mexico! My name is Chris and I am currently the solo rider for Pedaling for Peace, a project I started a year ago now to help raise awareness for peace and the environment by being the change I most wish to see in the world and hopefully being an inspiration to those I meet and speak with to make changes in their own life for the good of all, especially the children of the world.

I have crossed the United States and am now on the international portion of my trip which will last the next 7-12 years, taking me across the world through Mexico, Central and South America, Africa, throughout Europe, the Middle East, India, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and ultimately back to Hawaii where I spent the last 5 years studying Chinese Medicine, permaculture farming, Kung Fu, Yoga and of course, surfing, and learning to love the Earth that sustains us.

I am currently in Ensenada, my second stop on the international portion of my journey which began upon my arrival in Tijuana, Mexico. As a side note, Tijuana I have found to be one of the most heart pounding rides on my journey thus far, for ninja’s only!

Ensenada has turned out to be my first major project that I am fortunate enough to work on. The project, Vamos a Limpiar La Ciudad, aims at maintaining a clean and environmentally healthy Ensenada. The main focus of this organization currently is saving the last lagoon in Ensenada city, home to more than 140 species of birds, of which 17 are on the endangered species list.

Every rainy season, the lagoon swells and the surrounding land becomes a marsh/wetlands, home to some many creatures great and small. The current landowners are doing everything in thier power to fill and then literally pave over the lagoon in order to build ocean front housing as there is a great demand from America and Canada for "cheap" ocean front housing (condos, mansions, etc.)

The government had declared the land a protected area, since that law was passed, through bribes and government contacts, the landowners have managed to put the law on hold and it is now under review for change. During this time, there is a constant back and forth between the environmental groups and the landowners who are going as far as paying men to bulldoze the lagoon in the middle of the night in an attempt to drain it and allowing packs of off-road enthusiasts to use the dunes as a track. In turn, the environmental groups then counter balance by rebuilding the lagoon and getting the off-road enthusiasts chased off by the police.

My purpose now as explained to me by all the groups involved is to raise awareness and bring about cooperation between the groups involved: a more unified front. Also, I will invite people from north of the border down to Ensenada in order to help out with the clean up and media day in an effort to put ever increasing pressure on the government, and help raise funds for the legal battle which is underway to re-assert the law protecting the land. I will be working with Surfrider groups in Ensenada and San Diego, and bicycling groups/organizations in combination with couchsurfing.org and Wildcoast/Cosatsalvaje to bring more people to Ensenada and to have them housed and given guides for the city to have some fun after the clean up day – biking (on/off road, surfing, hotsprings etc.). The bike ride from San Diego to Ensenada is fantastic, giving all kinds of terrain, and views. It ends with a very serious climb that gives you a fantastic downhill for miles right to the ocean.

Lastly I am bringing the local schools together with the ecology and bicycling groups in the city to help raise awareness when it comes to protecting the cities true treasures which are never missed until they are gone.

Peace, Love and Aloha!

Chris Bornstein

Keep reading

You can follow along with Chris and his work on his blog, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube channel.

 


Inside Line equipment: A one-man workshop

By Justin Huang

While preparing for a local crit in 2009, Eric Fischer wanted to carry his tubular racing wheels in a backpack. So he sewed a pair of shoulder straps onto a wheel carrying case, creating his first bag.

The wheel backpack sparked a fascination within Fisher. He started researching cycling backpacks, paying close attention to their assembly and ergonomics. Soon, he crafted his own designs.

Now the 22-year-old spends eight hours a day sewing backpacks in his workshop at Berkeley, California. Fischer is the sole founder, owner and worker of Inside Line Equipment.

Inside Line Equipment specializes in bicycle commuter backpacks. Fischer’s bags have a rectangular utilitarian design and are constructed out of sturdy cordura and waterproof vinyl. Inside line Equipment backpacks are available at ilequipment.com and select retailers, prices range from $180 to $360.

Fischer said he receives enough orders to stay in business, he recently sold backpacks to customers in Japan, Australia and Belgium, but not enough orders to hire additional employees.

“I can’t sew for more than 10 hours a day,” said Fischer. “I start hallucinating after 10 hours.”

I visited his workshop to see the one-man-factory in action.

When there is a wheel, there is a way

Fischer is 6’4’’ tall and his limbs are as thin as baseball bats. His physique reflects his cycling background: he was a Category II cyclist racing for Team Clif Bar Cycling in 2010 and Team Safeway Bicycle Plus in 2009.

Fischer said he always liked building things. He constructed a two-story tree house during middle school and an elephant sized BMX half pipe during high school, but he had no handicraft experience.

“There are sewing and fashion classes out there but I like making my own patterns, doing my own research and figuring out how things work by myself,” said Fischer.

For all of 2010, he drew hundreds of sketches, tested dozens of prototypes and practiced sewing until operating a sewing machine was as easy as riding a bike.

Out of the nest

Fischer originally worked in his parent’s house but eventually the business needed a space of its own.

“It takes an awful a lot of space to run a sewing production facility,” said Howard Fischer, Eric’s father. “There are all sorts of material and machines, it’s not something you can do in a space of a small bedroom.”

When Fischer expanded production from his bedroom to the dining room, Howard repelled him back like a warring general. Howard didn’t want the house to turn into a factory.

To have adequate working space, Fischer moved to a 900 square ft. studio in Berkeley. Bundles of fabric, a large cutting table and two sewing machines transformed the studio into a workshop.

The workshop also doubles as Fischer’s home, his bed is just a few feet away from his sewing machines. Fischer joked the best part of working at home is sewing immediately after he wakes up.

Howard said he is proud of his son’s independence. Fischer didn’t borrow any money from his parents. He purchased all the equipment, including a $1,600 sewing machine, with the money he earned as a bicycle mechanic.

An artisan in an industrial world

Fischer said it’s hard being a small company in an industry geared toward mass production.

“No one wants to sale you ten buckles, you got to buy 200 of them,” said Fischer, pointing to a black buckle on his backpack.

Fischer sells only 10 to 20 backpacks a month, so buying large quantities of fabric and parts is costly for him.
Acquiring equipment for heavy duty sewing is also difficult.

“This is not used by the majority of people that sew,” said Fischer, referring to a small metal cutter. “So it’s not something you can buy at a crafts store. I found it in a sailing shop.”

Fischer said he spends extra time and money on quality materials and machinery because he wants to make a durable product.

“This could sit in someone’s back for 15 years,” said Fischer, holding up one of his backpacks. “Or sit in someone’s closet, that hurts me.”

Handmade in the Bay

Without money to hire additional workers, Fischer, who still works as a bike mechanic to supplement his income, spends most of his time sewing. He said his girlfriend is frustrated by his long working hours, but Fischer said his hands-on production insures high quality.

“You can definitely tell they are handmade,” said Tobeano O’Neil, an owner of two Inside Line Equipment backpacks. “It’s not a mass produced thing, where lots of times, you get little threads that come undone.”

Being a small company also gives Fischer the flexibility to create custom bags. He built a backpack designed specifically to carry a model lightsaber for a Star Wars enthusiast.

Most importantly, Fischer likes his job.

“I’m doing it because I really like making bags, I really like making things, I like packing things and sending them out,” said Fischer. “Not because I want to make lots of money.”

A major in cycling

Fischer, who dropped out of college after one year, credited competitive cycling for preparing him to run a small business. He said following a training plan, having racing goals and being accountable to his teammates taught him discipline, long term planning and responsibility. Fischer is riding recreationally this year but intends to race again in 2012.

If business picks up, Fischer plans to hire employees and expand into cycling apparel, such as jackets and jeans tailored for cyclists. In the meantime, he says he enjoys making backpacks for people.

“I love seeing people ride around wearing my bag,” said Fischer. “I haven’t sold that many yet, so it’s rare but very exciting.”

ILE Ultimate Photographers Bag from Inside Line Equipment on Vimeo.

 


Behind the scenes at Velo Orange

The Velo Orange Polyvalent, built up as a porteur bike.

By Marie Autrey

Those of us past a certain age have a love-hate relationship with French bicycles. The rider part of us loves their relaxed handling and all day comfort. Even pure race bikes invite you to sit up and stretch, or pull that extra jersey off over your head. But the mechanic part of us despises their oddball seatposts, and stems a silly fifth of a millimeter too small. If you’ve never ruined a set of cranks screwing English-threaded pedals into French arms (or visa-versa), you’re either under forty or lucky.

Velo-Orange strives to recreate the qualities that led French bicycles to market domination in the ’60s, while leaving the incompatibility issues and erratic quality in the bad old days.

Chris Kulczyck, the big orange at Velo-Orange, has a knack for niches. A civil engineer by training, he moonlighted selling his own kayak design. The business expanded into boat kits and a full time job. After a few years, with the choice of cash out or burn out, Chris took the cash and reconnected to his cycling past. “I grew up cycling,” he remembers. “My first race bike was a Motobecane.” After a summer pedaling around France, he came back bitten again with the entrepreneurial bug. “Some of this neat stuff we saw in Europe, some of this stuff from my youth, was no longer available. I thought we’d have one or two employees, and a little part time business.”

It hasn’t worked out quite like that. From its first product—a headset spacer with a bell mount—interest exceeded Chris and company’s expectations. Stocks of NOS French parts flew off the shelves at V-O, as more riders discovered the pleasures of resurrecting and riding the Gallic classics. Eventually the old stuff petered out, and V-O started a new chapter.

“We develop a lot of products,” says Chris. “ We’ll see a hub shell, for example, and we’ll say, the bearings are all wrong and it needs a better cassette body. And we end up with a V-O hub. The shell is used by other manufacturers, but the internals are to our spec.”

Most of the manufacturing happens in Taiwan. “We do business with a couple of small US manufacturers. It’s sad, but once you get beyond the custom level, we deal with Taiwan not because stuff is cheaper than US producers, but it’s often better."

“A lot these guys I’ve been dealing with for years. I go to lunch with them, I hang out at the factory. Taiwan is a very family oriented. These are little factories, most of them have less than fifty employees. You get to know the secretary, the QC guys, and if they know you, they don’t let quality slide.”

Testing stays in-house. “The people who work for us are really amazing; they’ll ride a double century to get ice cream. We’ll design a new saddle, and a year later the prototype’s got 8 or 10 thousand miles on it. I started out designing all our stuff myself. But I know a lot of people in Japan and Taiwan and we’ll see something cool and ask why isn’t it available in the US.” Parts often receive incremental upgrades as feedback trickles in. Chris maintains a V-O blog, (Velo-Orange.blogspot.com) where news and products are presented. The discussion is unusually well-mannered.

Not content as a mere mail order house, V-O has recently partnered with distributor Quality Bicycle Products. About 70 V-O parts appear in the QBP catalog that shops order from, and Chris promises the number will rise next year. Through V-O Imports, all that orange-tinted goodness goes to shops outside the US. “Some people think that dealing with a shop in Japan or the UK is a terrible hassle. We don’t limit out overseas market.”

Velo-Orange products include almost every bicycle part, from frames and wheels to kickstands. The next step seems inevitable. “I’d like to do finished bikes. We’ve looked at assembly in Taiwan, but I think we’re going to do it in-house.” The line will likely include urban bikes and randonneurs.

Oh, and the name? It’s got nothing to do with citrus. “This shows how casual we were. A couple of us were sitting around talking about this company we were going to start, and my orange Ebisu [road bike] was leaning against the table. I said, let’s call it The Orange Bike. She said we should make it sound French. So I said let’s call it Velo-Orange.”

Velo-Orange sells most of what you need for city bikes, randoneurring and light touring.


Two men, four wheels and a sustainable vision

Edited by Rachel Lapp Whitt. Photographs by Aaron H. Johnston.

When professional musicians Trent Wagler and Jay Lapp—The Steel Wheel Duo—decided to try to commute to work by bicycle for a week, a unique tour of Virginia was born. In September 2009, the two played seven shows in seven days all under their own power, traveling 293 miles with no support vehicle. Before the tour, Lapp went to Tree Fort Bikes of Ypsilanti, Michigan, for guidance, and found an enthusiastic group of avid cyclists who love to get people inspired to ride. Thus the band and shop developed a partnership.

Up and down the hills of Virginia, through the windy days and music-filled nights, Wagler and Lapp kept journals, which have been combined here to tell their story.

Day One

Anticipation is high for our first-ever bike tour. Like the Americana roots music we play, cycling has a long history that is being reinvented and made relevant to new audiences. Take an old traditional song, like “Red Wing,” the one that my grandpa used to sing, and that ended up as the title track for our latest album. He sang that song the way he knew it; we took it and applied our own sound. A tradition becomes new again—a living, breathing thing.

It’s a specific creative process for our music, and now we’re applying it to our transportation. We can all choose how we respond to the various factors that push us to find new ways to travel— the cost to us, our communities and our environment. We won’t change the world with a bike tour, but we can, as [singer-songwriter] Peter Mulvey said about his own bike tour, be proud to be a “pebble in the avalanche.”

In the hot, hot sun of the Virginia summer, I rode fully loaded up and down the hills of the Shenandoah Valley and the mountains beyond to prepare. Jay has less training, in part, because the bunny slopes of Michigan aren’t exactly the Blue Ridge Mountains. But Jay loves cycling and was up for the adventure as soon as I started talking about the idea. He knew what he was in for—born in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where I live, he first learned to ride a bike just three blocks from where I recently taught my daughter to balance on two wheels.

Jay and I have traveled together a good bit, both with a full band and as a duo. And we’ve worked out tricky logistics since we live about 500 miles apart. But the question is whether the daily ride will leave us with the energy to play a show in the evening. My transportation is an older GT hybrid frame converted to a long-tail bicycle with the help of an Xtracycle FreeRadical. It’s loaded with two full-sized acoustic guitars, a bag of CDs and microphones, a sleeping bag and mat; in the two front panniers are my clothes and shoes for the trip.

Sunday, the first day of the tour, we have two gigs and 38 miles of riding. It’s our shortest day of travel, but with a two-set gig this evening it will be an early test.

A key detail here is that Jay had bookings with another band in Indiana this weekend. That’s right—he ended one gig at 10 p.m. on Saturday in Indiana, then is set to start biking at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday in Virginia. Luckily, Jay’s father and sister said, “We’ll drive you through the night to Virginia.” With his bicycle, instruments and provisions in their van, Jay could sleep in the back while his amazing family drove him across five states. The 11-hour drive should’ve easily had Jay at my house by 10 a.m. on Sunday, but just before midnight Jay phoned to say they came upon a bad drunk driving accident. They were first on the scene, and gave police their statements. Jay is bummed: they’ll have to meet us at the first gig.

But when I head out from my house in Harrisonburg on Sunday morning, I don’t travel alone. Enter Adam, Becky, and Aaron—good friends and avid cyclists who decided to join us for the first day. The four of us set off for a show at the last day of Spaghettifest at Chimney Rocks State Park. The route is part state road, part back roads, which allows us to ride two-wide at times. A cool, overcast morning turns into a sunny autumn day, and we shed outer layers.

The town of Bridgewater is sleepy as we cross the North River, then breeze past poultry farms and cornfields. We’ve covered half the distance to Chimney Rocks when we’re flanked by a red van with Indiana license plates. It’s Jay!

Jay’s ride is a Specialized Allez. He had told fellow musician and friend Alan Barnosky of Tree Fort Bikes about the trip we were planning. You can tell they’re a business that was started “by cyclists, for cyclists” because they got really excited about this tour and got on board to help Jay get his bike ready. With their advice, he bought a Burley Nomad trailer, and they set the gearing and figured out what tires he should use. Alan even let Jay borrow the rear wheel off his own bike! Tree Fort also supplied equipment for the modern commuter: water bottles, raingear and clothing.

“If two regular guys can ride on modified bikes while carrying multiple instruments and still make it to their shows on deadline, it makes a 1-, 5- or 10-mile commute—or even just getting out and enjoying a ride—a much less daunting task for the rest of us,” said Alan.

After a good set in the shadow of Chimney Rocks—a marvelous set, considering Jay just woke up after sleeping in the back of a van—we get the entourage underway. I’ve been planning and waiting for this day for quite some time, and it’s exciting to finally be on the journey.

Today, we take on hills that roll us through the Shenandoah Valley. Jay said that starting the ride felt great, though admitted later to secretly thinking, “Good Lord, what did I get myself into?” But he pushes through. There’s also a definite morale boost to riding five bikes strong, yet we feel the difference in pace between Jay and I, with all our gear, and that of the others. We put 38 miles behind us and arrive at the Baja Bean in Staunton.

After a shower, coffee and food, our show is great. There’s a nice-sized crowd, good sound, and a fun atmosphere. Although we feel the ride in our legs, our voices are strong and our instruments are in tune. Later, sleep comes quickly.

Day Two

We’re up a little too early. We stayed the night in the apartment of a traveling friend who left a key for us. It’s nice to be quiet and un-entertaining, off the bikes and the stage.

Like many towns in this part of the state, Staunton is built on some serious hills, and we’re at the top of one of the toughest in town. We struggled to reach the top after the show last night, but we’ll enjoy coasting downtown to find food.

When you’re carrying 100 pounds of cargo on your bike, it’s no simple thing to find an appropriate place to park non-motorized, but well-loaded, vehicles. We stare longingly into a café and wonder what to do with our bikes when a business owner comes by and says we can park them in his real estate office. On our plates soon enough: tasty corned beef hash, eggs, sausage, and cinnamon rolls. If we hold back at mealtime we’ll be low on fuel later, right?

After Sunday’s double booking, we aren’t scheduled to play tonight, but we have more than 90 miles to cover in the next two days. We set a goal of 60 today so the trip to Roanoke tomorrow is shorter, but the weather seems not to agree with our plans. We face 20-mile-per-hour headwinds on some terribly long hills, and then a storm comes up in the early afternoon.

Rain is an issue when traveling by bike. Keeping yourself, your clothes and other valuables dry is a big concern. We wear not-so-attractive, but highly effective, bright yellow rain suits from Tree Fort. But our instruments are the number-one priority. One guitar is in a waterproof flight case while the other is heavily tarped on the Xtracycle; the mandolin is beneath the waterproof cover of Jay’s Nomad. The downpour is torrential, but blessedly short. The instruments are OK.

We get to Lexington by mid-afternoon to eat and rest. We’re feeling a little defeated by not meeting our mileage goal for the day. Is it insane to do this again tomorrow? By mile 42, the sun is starting to go down with 6 miles to our campground. Jay is feeling deep pain in his leg—nerve pain, he thinks. Adjustments to the handlebars and saddle seem to help.

As we’re pushing up another long hill, huffing and puffing, a pickup truck pulls alongside Jay. The truck slows to our pace—about 4 miles per hour— and Jay sees the smiling face of a boy in the passenger’s seat. The driver of the truck hands Jay a card. At the top of the hill Jay says, “That guy said they have a place for us to stay tonight. We’ll call them when we get up to the gas station ahead a few miles.”

Twice today we were surprised by the kindness of not-so-strangers. I’ve written songs about this kind of thing, and here it is, piled with wonderful spaghetti from our hosts who then show us to our warm and cozy beds for the night. People we’ve met are making us think about old ideas like hospitality and kindness—undead traditions.

Day Three

Our new friends get us on the road early the next morning. We surprise ourselves by quickly clearing 15 miles; the blowing wind is not so fierce as yesterday. We ride south of Natural Bridge State Park, reminded that we’re also moving on two wheels through a part of the state where alternative transportation comes with four legs. Has anyone done a music tour on horseback?

We arrive in Roanoke ahead of schedule after navigating some hectic urban traffic patterns in our commute to Fork In The City. A local cycling group comes out to the show—they want to see our bikes, of course! Standing to play our instruments for two hours creates a different kind of stress on our tired quads and calves. When we get to our host’s home, we crash.

Day Four

Today is a day of routing questions. Do we take the direct route on a hightraffic highway, or try the less-direct, lower-trafficked secondary roads that will also feature more hills? After hearing opinions from locals, we decide on the main artery, hoping for wide, smooth shoulders to ride on.

We are up and cycling before most of the city is awake. We stop to put air in the tires. Somewhere between that and what Jay calls “a guilty breakfast” of Egg McMuffins, he feels like he is into the “cycling groove.”

Lynchburg definitely lives up to its nickname, the “City of Seven Hills.” We’re less than 10 miles out, conquering a severe hill, when Jay shreds his rear derailleur. We’re shocked that something actually went wrong since we haven’t had so much as a flat. He isn’t going anywhere—the pedals won’t move. But wait—simultaneously, our hosts from Lynchburg College are biking toward us down the hill!

“Help arrived like magic; I couldn’t believe it,” Jay says. Our hosts had been planning to meet us so we could ride into town together. Little did they know they’d help with our first equipment malfunction of the trip. In minutes, Kevin and Mike have called Bikes Unlimited in Lynchburg. A bike mechanic meets us with a new derailleur, which gets us to the show.

We perform at the college as a part of a sustainability awareness initiative on campus—we’re glad to be part of the discussion. We also relay the heroic story of the professors who saved the day.

Day Five

This is the most beautiful day of biking by far. Beauty can be brutal— evidenced by mountain cycling—but we appreciate the scenery along back roads. We have wonderful peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruit to eat, thanks to our hosts.

We start into a few songs while trucking up some hills—a great moment, to be singing at the top of our lungs, surrounded by all this beauty, as we pedal to the next gig.

Toward the end of the day’s ride we face a long climb over several miles to get to the top of a mountain—not the biggest of the climbs, but the fastest downhill descent we’d make. My odometer clocks in at more than 43 miles per hour. Jay has to be cautious; going downhill can be a chore with a trailer. We coast to Devil’s Backbone Brewery.

We have a great meal and we attempt to nap. Our energy is still low, and the result is a tired show. Something had to give, today.

Our first chance to use our camping gear! We listen to coyotes wailing in the distance. We can’t compete with that tonight.

Day Six

Afton Mountain—which rises to 2,418 feet—is the challenge of the day, and we come to it at mile 10. Jay writes, “My leg pain was bad at the start of the day, though it subsided gradually. But my energy wasn’t climbing like the day before, and I was starting to get worked up about Afton Mountain. We got to the base and stopped to drink water and eat a massive protein bar we’d tucked away for just this occasion. When we started cycling up and up, I was pleasantly surprised. We had built up this idea it was really tough, so when we easily powered our way up, my spirits soared. We still had a ways to go after that, and I felt good and tired pulling into town, but I think we both also felt such a sense of accomplishment that it renewed energy for the night to come.”

As we reach the final destination show at Clementine Café in Harrisonburg, a large crowd and lots of friends are waiting. We surprise ourselves with our reserves and play for a good two and a half hours. When audiences are supportive, we play like we could go all night long, and this is one of those times.

Day Seven

After a night’s rest at home we pedal across town to a morning bicycle event for the One Mile Challenge, which asks people to pledge to bike or walk if they have less than a mile to travel. Great idea! The benefits are personal health and lessening environmental impact. We provide the music for this event, which also has games, displays, a bikepowered blender and other cycle-supportive activities. Again, we’re happy to be part of this effort.

When Tree Fort saw how our first tour went, they told us to bring it to Michigan so they could help. Scott Mulder, president of Tree Fort Bikes, said, “Though we are in the business of selling bikes, we are really in the business of creating cyclists. Our hopes are to strengthen the local cycling community, spread the biking lifestyle, and promote the use of the bike as a viable transportation vehicle.” In May, we’re taking what we learned from the last SpokeSongs Tour and applying it in Michigan.

We’ve found community where there are literally no doors. And that’s part of sustainability, too—collaborating with the original renewable resource: the energy of people excited to do things differently, moving forward more consciously, creatively, yet with a certain freedom. And hopefully on two wheels.

The second SpokeSongs Tour began May 5 in Ann Arbor, Mich., and took The Steel Wheel Duo to Marshall, Kalamazoo, Three Rivers, Benton Harbor, South Haven, Fennville, and East Lansing. The tour ended on May 15 with a festival with Tree Fort Bikes in Ypsilanti—a fun-filled day of riding, music, bicycling camaraderie and advocacy that finished with a concert. For the first time in the area, Tree Fort brought together all of the local cycling organizations to promote a number of rides that took place throughout the day, including an alley-cat race with Bike Ypsi, a traditional road ride with the Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society, and a trail ride with the Michigan Mountain Biking Association.

See them live

The Steel Wheel Duo’s latest tour kicks off August 4 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This time around the quartet will travel more than 400 miles to ten shows in three states. If that wasn’t enough, this time they’ll be toting an upright bass. Follow along their progress on their blog, SpokeSongs.

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This piece originally appeared in Issue #6. You can order a copy of this, or any other issue, in our online store. Or you can order a subscription for just $16.96.

 


The elegance of simplicity: Wald Baskets

By Eric Baxter

There is a certain elegance to a Wald bicycle basket— steel wire and bands formed to create a usable rectangular space. Not much, really, just a utilitarian carryall.

But talk to a Wald basket owner and they will tell you differently. To them the simple affair is a rugged bicycling partner paired down to its essence and balancing on the needle-fine point between form and function.

“We use them because they work, we don’t see any need to experiment with other companies,” said Grant Petersen, president and founder of California-based Rivendell Bicycle Works. Petersen’s company is geared towards riders who see bicycling as more than simply a way to keep fit; the bicycle is an intrinsic part of their life. To this end Rivendell offers top-of-line products with a reliable reputation, and sometimes a price tag to match.

Yet among the pearls of utilitarian cycling is the company’s selection of Wald baskets, relatively dirt-cheap and nigh-on indestructible.

“We use the baskets, and they’ve proven themselves every time,” Petersen said. “I can’t remember when one was returned.”

Thousands of commuters and utilitarian bicyclists would agree. The rugged Wald was, and remains, a favorite of the two-wheel grocery-getter, the errand-runner, the bike-to-work grinder pumping away the miles. Yet few of these people realize they tapped into a long heritage of workhorse reliability, and likely their father, or grandfather, used a Wald as well.

The Wald basket seen today is essentially the same one seen when the company moved from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, to Maysville, Kentucky, in the 1920s after making their name selling a bicycle repair tool beginning in 1905. Bicycle sales were booming and the country was growing. It was a perfect proving ground for making an enduring product. During the years running up to the Great Depression, as well as during and after that trying time, companies relied on bicycles for product deliveries, as couriers, and sometimes even as the business base itself.

This time also spawned the iconic giant delivery basket, the Wald 157. The front-mounted basket is a simple rectangle, wider than it is deep, smaller at the bottom than the top. Straps and brackets enhance weight-carrying capability. This basket was used by paperboys, urban grocery delivery services, and bicycle-based businesses like knife grinders and window washers. It was simple, utilitarian, inexpensive and tough. Without the basket, their companies may not have thrived. Those same attributes that helped the businesses and Wald prosper are the same ones keeping the business going today.

Wald spokesman Dan Crum said the baskets appeal to a wide range of bicyclist ages and levels of experience. “We have customers in their 20s, and we have customers in their 70s and older,” he said. “These are just everyday people, and they love the baskets.”

Peter Donovan, a Manchester, New Hampshire-based commuter has been using a Wald rear-folding basket for his ride for the past 35 years—the same basket.

“I’ve tried to kill it,” Donovan, a cook and sometime bicycle mechanic, said. “I’ve waited for it to die, and it just keeps going.” The basket transports everything from weekly grocery runs weighing in at a hefty 70 to 100lbs., to his bike tools, to serving as a base for lumber runs for his home improvement projects.

“The basket outlasted three bikes and five rear racks,” Donovan said. “The only thing that happened (to the basket) in all those years was a little rust.” The rust was sanded off and painted over with rustproof paint. During his three decades on the road, Donovan experimented with a few other companies, including baskets specifically made for the bike he was riding at the time.

“They were rugged, and worked, but I always went back to the Wald,” he said. While Wald’s level of quality has remained consistent, their products have evolved. Smaller versions of the delivery basket now unclip from the handlebars to become a shopping basket. Rear baskets fold fl at when not being used. Nothing is designed to fit a specific bike model. The products are just designed to work, and the customer is responsible for fitting them to the bike.

“We’ve always tried to make products that fit bicycles in general,” said Dan Crum, a Wald spokesman and 40-year company employee. “We just can’t keep up with changes in the market, not that we would want to.”

But some changes were called for. Several of the smaller-sized front baskets, which use the front fork as a structural element, can now accommodate quick-release axles. Headsets and stems have gradually increased in diameter, so Wald has taken that into account.

“We are a business, and we do change,” Crum said. “At the same time we don’t see a need to change a good thing. The baskets work.” Indeed, Crum said he and the other people at Wald take pride in continuing a century-plus heritage where adjectives like “loyalty” and “quality” are not just words on a page but built into the product. But it’s the work part that’s most important.

“We started out helping tradesmen,” Crum said. “Now we’re just helping a different type of tradesman. Whether you worked at a factory or work at an office, you still need a place to put your lunch.”

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This piece originally appeared in Issue #8. You can order a copy of this, or any other issue, in our online store. Or you can order a subscription for just $16.96.
 

 


How to talk about cycling to a conservative

By Tom Bowden

Illustration by David D’Incau, Jr.

I’m a registered Republican and I consider myself pretty conservative—so what the heck am I doing, you may wonder, writing about bike advocacy? Simple— I’m a bike commuter, and I chair the Advocacy Committee of BikeWalk Virginia. What I am going to share is essentially the same approach I use to try to make sure our elected officials—federal, state and local—do right by cyclists and pedestrians, and give us our fair share of the transportation outlays that always seem so car-centric.

So, speaking as a right-wing cyclist, here are some thoughts on how to talk to Republicans, Conservatives, Tea Party types, and even Libertarians about the benefits of cycling.

First and foremost: Don’t assume they’re all hostile to the cause!

What makes you think cycling isn’t conservative? Of course it is! It conserves energy, it’s individualistic, and it’s anything but new-fangled. So true conservatives should be receptive. Don’t let campaign posturing turn you away—all elected representatives have cyclists in their districts, and all of them would probably like to claim they brought dollars to their district or state. Remember, “pork barrel” projects and “earmarks” are the words they use to describe the money that goes to the other guy’s district instead of their own. When the dollars flow to their district, it’s “I’m just doing my part to see that the good taxpayers of Cahoolawassee get their fair share of federal tax dollars!” (Translation: I got more federal money returned to my constituents than they paid in taxes). “This bike trail/bike lane/bike factory/whatever, will bring hundreds of jobs to our fine state/city/county!” You’d be amazed how fast a politician from either side of the aisle can smell a parade and immediately get out in front of it, and just how flexible their logic can be.

Key points to keep in mind, and use as needed

Cycling is an exercise (literally) of a fundamental freedom—freedom of movement. in the Constitution, it derives from the “privileges and immunities clause” as interpreted by the Supreme Court in United States v. Wheeler, 254 U.S. 281 (1920). (Fair warning: I am in fact a lawyer). This is why you don’t need a passport to enter New Jersey.

Cycling is efficient. True Conservatives love efficiency! It has been said that a cyclist is more efficient than a bird in flight. Cycling has a glorious history of entrepreneurism! Think: Wright Brothers, Schwinn, and Trek. Lots of senators and representatives probably had paper routes. America invented the mountain bike, BMX and freestyle.

Cycling is patriotic. Americans have won twice as many “Tour-day-Frances” in the last 30 years as the French themselves. The score is 10 to 5—and that’s not even counting Floyd Landis, or subtracting the late Laurent Fignon (who confessed to doping shortly before he died; take him out and it’s 10-3).

Cycling can make a serious dent in our dependence on foreign oil. A huge portion of all petroleum fuels go to automobile transportation, of which only 15% is related to getting to work, while 90% of all trips are less than two miles. Enabling even 10% of those short trips to be on a bike or on foot can make a real reduction in demand for oil imports.

Here is what turns off conservatives

Over-the-top rhetoric. Don’t marginalize your arguments with pronouncements such as: Everyone should ride a bike, give up their car, live green, etc.

Conservatives don’t like other people telling them what they should do. And when you stop and think about it, you probably don’t either—that’s why you ride a bike, right? (To be fair, conservatives have done their fair share of telling other people how to live their lives, but pointing that out will not win you their support.)

Calling drivers “cagers.” Remember: their moms, husbands and wives probably drive cars.

Ranting that oil companies are evil. Maybe so, or maybe they’re just incompetent. But what the heck does that have to do with it?

Anti-car arguments in general. Face it: cars exist and most Americans love them. You’ll get nowhere with a conservative if your explicit agenda (or suspected hidden agenda) is an attack on American “car culture.”

Global warming, climate change or climate disruption. If it’s as bad as Al Gore says it is, it will take more than a few bike lanes to fix it. But more importantly, you don’t need to win that fight (or even engage in it) to make your point. Cycling has plenty of merit without dragging in tangential and controversial issues like Global…whatever the heck they call it this week.

Gushing praise of European cycling culture, e.g. the Dutch, the Danes, or whoever. Conservatives are not inclined to emulate pre-colonial imperialist has-beens—at least not consciously.

Here are some positive things you can do and say

If you must meet a conservative faceto- face, wear a suit! It won’t kill you. Think of it as camouflage—you may find them nodding their heads in agreement even before you open your mouth. Note: some business suits actually contain trace amounts of Lycra and spandex.

Remind them that cycling is cheaper than building more roads. The more cyclists, the more room for cars on existing roads. The more cyclists, the less concrete we need to pour. The less concrete, the more money for deficit reduction, tax cuts—or for bike projects in their home districts. Use numbers. Here are some I find persuasive:

  • A study in one community showed that properties located near bike paths increased in value by 11% more than similar properties not near such facilities.
  • The Outdoor Industry Foundation estimates that the bicycling industry supports 1.1 million jobs and generates $17.7 billion in tax revenue each year.
  • A 3% reduction in traffic can result in a 30% reduction in traffic congestion.
  • Cycling reduces heart disease and other costly health problems—blunting the need for expensive health care, regardless of who pays for it.
  • The total maximum annual cost of bike commuter credit: less than $75 million, even if every existing bicycle commuter got it. Total subsidies to drivers and transit users: $4.4 billion.
  • Cycling generates $133 billion annually in economic activity.
  • We spend $76 billion a year on health care costs related to physical inactivity— bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure can reduce this.
  • Another $164 billion a year goes to health care costs associated with traffic injuries and deaths—caused by vehicles.
  • And another $64 billion a year goes to health care costs of asthma and air pollution.

When you do talk to conservatives, make it clear that you are not suggesting that everyone should, or even can, ditch their cars and ride bikes; you just think that people who choose to ride should be able to do so safely, as taxpaying citizens worthy of full protection of their individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of that special kind of happiness one gets from riding a bike.

These Points in Practice

I was fortunate to attend the National Bike Summit earlier this month in Washington, D.C., representing Bike- Walk Virginia. I was impressed by the diligence, sincerity and openness of all of the staffers I met in my meetings on “The Hill.” It makes it a little harder to lob clever one-liners at them from a distance when you’ve sat across the table and talked face-to-face while they took copious notes.

One troublesome argument that seems to be gaining traction is along the lines of, “Why should cycling be a federal issue? Shouldn’t it be a state and local issue?” Of course that is conservative code talk for, “We don’t want to fund it, because we will get more votes with bigger projects.”

My response would be: True, it should be a local issue, and when all of you earmarking politicians stop paving every square inch of our local communities with federal highway subsidies, we’ll be happy to take responsibility at a local level. But for now, we just want to level the playing field a little. And after all, for every federal dollar you spend on properly designed cycling infrastructure (and I don’t mean multi-use paths to nowhere), you can ultimately de-fund $10 worth of auto infrastructure. De-fund is a good word to use with Republicans and conservatives.

An “Aha!” moment for me was the address by Congressman Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, at the Thursday evening reception. He got a great response by announcing with great fanfare that he had just gotten an offer from a hard-core Republican anti-cyclist to guarantee hundreds of millions of federal dollars for cycling projects—with one condition: Blumenauer and his cohort would only have to drop their opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

There was raucous applause when he proclaimed that he turned the offer down flat. Red meat for the howling liberal wolves, I thought to myself. But over the cheering and whooping, I was surprised at what he did not say, and impressed by what he did say. He didn’t say that drilling would destroy ancient moose migration routes, or that cars were evil, or that the planet was about to evaporate from global warming. If I understood correctly, he simply said that the oil will still be there when/if we really need it. And in his opinion, we really don’t need it now.

When you step back a little from the staged ideological food fight portrayed in the media, there is not much difference between the mainstream Democrats and Republicans on many issues— Although not explicitly defined cycling included. Both sides pander to the extremes, seeking easy victories in the battle of sound bites. But when the lights go off and the cameras are turned away, they often sidle up to the bar and hoist a few cold ones together.

Both sides have their extreme wings. Still, the magnifying glass of the media enlarges and distorts our differences and the politicians play along, to stay relevant and capture their share of the eyeball market.

The strategy for the whole summit was to approach Congress with the pitch that cycling is fiscally responsible, and grounded in conservative values of self-sufficiency, thrift and independence. I can’t recall hearing any hostile comments throughout the whole event about Republicans, conservatives or even Tea Partiers. Instead I heard strategies and themes designed to appeal to common values: efficient use of public funds; preservation of individual choices; creation of traditional “Leave It to Beaver” neighborhoods where kids ride their bikes safely to neighborhood schools.

Riding on Friday morning with an Arizona state flag wrapped around my handlebars was the perfect capstone to an amazing experience. Kristi Felts Moore brought several dozen at her own expense to honor Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona. Kristi handed them out before the start of the ride. For that magical ten-mile ride around the Capital, we were all Arizonians, and Gabby was with us in spirit if not in person. No Republicans or Democrats, no liberals or conservatives rode with us that morning— we were all just cyclists, riding in honor of a common friend.

So did the National Bike Summit convert me from conservative curmudgeon to bleeding heart liberal? Dream on.

More importantly, I came away with renewed optimism and belief in the strength of our political process. I experienced firsthand how quickly Americans of diverse political beliefs can find common ground when the atmosphere is not choked with rhetoric and ego, and when all concerned can truly say that they share a fundamental and transcendent reality—a belief in the utterly incontestable goodness of that most elegant of human contraptions: the bicycle.

So. Bottom line (and that is what conservatives like to think they are all about): cycling saves money, saves lives and makes us stronger as individuals and as a nation. Spending money to support cycling is like putting money in the bank—it pays big dividends at low risk. It’s as All-American as Mom’s apple pie. How much more conservative can you get?

Editor’s note

This article originally appeared as two separate blog posts by Tom Bowden on CommuteByBike.com. Statistics such as the ones presented here, and many more, can be found on the website for the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.

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This article originally appeared back in Issue #11. You can order a copy of this issue in our online store, or order a subscription for just $16.95 and get Bicycle Times content as soon as it’s available.

 


Portland is not a different planet

Their farsighted bike policies can be adapted and even improved upon in other cities.

By Jay Walljasper, photos by Jonathan Maus

It’s become a cliché that Portland is America’s most livable city, a hotbed of innovations when it comes to green policies, public spaces, pedestrian amenities, transit, public spaces, and, of course, bicycles. In fact, some people are growing weary (and the rest of us envious) of hearing about how great things are in Oregon’s largest city.

But clichés often turn out to be true. After spending several days exploring Portland as part of a Bikes Belong Foundation transportation workshop for city officials from across the country, I must admit that Portland offers a wealth of inspiration and practical tips for how we can make our towns more bikeable, vital and fun.

Yet, as the delegation of transportation leaders from Chicago, Houston, Seattle, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City discovered while biking across the city, Portland is no Ecotopia. Local bikers still contend with roaring traffic on crowded streets and motorists who park illegally in bike lanes or honk for no apparent reason.

As Laura Spanjian, Sustainability Director in the Houston Mayor’s Office, observes, “I was surprised there’s so much traffic. Actually that made me hopeful— that we can do some of the same things in Houston, even with all our traffic.”

“Portland is still an American city,” explains Roger Geller, the city’s Bicycle Coordinator. “But since the 1990s, we’ve tried to make biking safer and more comfortable, and good things have happened. What you see are the results of a 20-year effort to promote biking.”

The accomplishments are impressive. Today, Portland sports the highest share of bicycle commuters (6-8%) of any large U.S. city. It’s also the only large city to earn The League of American Bicyclists’ coveted Platinum status as a bicyclefriendly city. (Smaller cities to earn that designation are Boulder, Colorado, and Davis, California.)

“We don’t see the bicycle as simply an end in itself,” notes Catherine Ciarlo, Transportation Director for Portland Mayor Sam Adams, “but the means to a clean, green, vital city.”

Biking is healthy for the economy as well as people

The city is undertaking ambitious new plans to boost biking even more over the next 20 years. Calculated to cost $600 million between now and 2030—a price tag that’s drawn some criticism in this era of tight municipal budgets—Ciarlo lauds the 2030 Bicycle Master Plan vision as “a good investment” that accounts for no more than 5% of the city’s overall transportation budget.

“The progress we’ve made in increasing biking came at a very low cost compared to other transportation funding,” she explains. Geller adds that between 2001 and 2007, bike facilities comprised less than 1% of Portland’s overall capital expenditures for transportation despite carrying between 3% and 7% of all trips.

Bikes actually pump a surprising amount of money into the local economy, according to Ciarlo. It’s a selling point for attracting tourists, and a recent study from urban leader network CEOs for Cities shows that Portland keeps $800 million that would drain out of town if local residents drove cars at the same rate as an average U.S. city. The conclusion is that by spending less money on gas and less time on the highway, Portlanders have more of both to spend at local businesses.

Mia Birk, Portland’s Bicycle Coordinator from 1993-1999 and now CEO of Alta Planning + Design, points to a study showing that bikes now account for $100 million in local economic activity each year (including retail sales, national firms based here, and proceeds from bike events and rides), and are directly responsible for almost 1000 jobs in the region. She notes that a similar study in Wisconsin found a $1.5 billion boost for the state economy.

Promoting biking beyond the young and the fearless

Portland’s 2030 Bicycle Master Plan, unanimously adopted by the city council early in 2010, envisions Portland as “a world class bicycling city” by tripling the overall mileage of bikeways in the hopes of encouraging even more people to ride.

Meanwhile, Metro, a government body elected by the entire metropolitan area, is enacting a plan to triple the number of people biking throughout the region over the next 30 years. Their target goal is that 40% of all trips of three miles or less in the city and suburbs would be done atop a bike by 2040.

“In some neighborhoods in Portland, 10-15% of people already bike each day,” notes Lake McTighe, manager of Metro’s Active Transportation Partnership, “which means that we could be making parts of Portland into a mini-Amsterdam or Copenhagen.”

For those who say that people living in outlying suburbs will never bike in large numbers, McTighe answers by quoting from a study by the National Association of Realtors showing that the second most desired amenity homebuyers want today is access to biking and walking trails. (Access to a freeway is first, proving that it’s not a question of bikes vs. cars in most people’s minds.)

Both the city’s and Metro’s plans signal a strategic shift in bicycle planning—a new push to serve more than the 8-10% of people who feel at ease biking today. Portland is now focusing on meeting the needs of the 60% of people who report in surveys that they’re interested in biking more, but feel nervous doing it on streets with cars zooming past.

This means reaching beyond the young, macho, ultra-fit white men we typically think of as urban bikers to broaden the appeal for women, families, middleaged and non-white riders. In the Netherlands, for instance, where 27% of all trips nationally are made on two wheels (and up to 50% or more of all trips are pedal-powered in some urban centers), more women ride than men. Even among people over 75, a quarter of all trips are by bike.

The best way to get more people on bikes, according to Portland officials, is to make biking seem less scary.

Actually, the number of bicycle fatalities is decreasing in cities across the United States, Ciarlo says, and declining even faster in Portland—which shows that the more bicyclists there are on the roads, the safer biking becomes.

But even in Portland, many people feel that biking on city streets is a risky proposition. That’s why the new Bicycle Master Plan will augment the city’s established network of bike lanes—where a white line divides riders from cars and trucks—with new facility types where people can ride on less-traveled streets optimized for bike speeds or roads with physical protection between bikes and motorized traffic.

Portland’s plans also involve ways to increase the safety and comfort of bicyclists when they do come face-to-face with traffic at intersections. Among these innovations, most of which have been proven to work elsewhere in the world, are:

• Bike boxes, a designated area in busy intersections where bicyclists can gather in plain view of cars at the stoplight, increasing visibility, and reducing the risk of being struck by right-turning cars and trucks.

• Colorized bike lanes, which offer a clear visual reminder to motorists and bicyclists that they share space on the roadway. These can be particularly helpful for bicyclists making left turns at an intersection or to command extra attention at key locations.

• Traffic signals for bikes, which better inform cyclists of the safest time to cross, and sometimes give them a head start to reduce turning conflicts with motorized traffic.

• Traffic calming, an entire toolkit of roadway techniques that remind drivers to heed speed limits and look out for bikers and pedestrians on the streets. These include everything from the familiar traffic humps and median strips to elevated crosswalks and traffic diverters, which give bicycles priority on some streets.

What place is the next Portland?

What about the folks who want other examples of great biking cities in addition to Portland?

When I asked that question of Mia Birk, she quickly drew up a list on the back of an envelope. Minneapolis, New York, Chicago, Seattle, and D.C. are leaders among large U.S. cities, she explains. (Minneapolis, in fact, recently unseated Portland for the title of America’s Most Bike-Friendly city in Bicycling magazine— a decision that was disputed by many in Portland.)

Birk also points to other places beginning to do “cool stuff” around biking: St. Louis, Boston, Dallas, Des Moines, Long Beach, Philadelphia, Fayetteville (Arkansas), Tacoma (Washington), Greenville (South Carolina), and Jackson Hole (Wyoming).

So who knows? Some day, not too far off in the future, city officials seeking great new ideas about biking may be traveling to Iowa or Houston, as well as Portland.

After all, “No one in the 1970s or ‘80s would have singled out Portland as a great town for biking,” admits city Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller.
 

 


Cool products for four-legged cyclists

Bike Tow Leash

By Matt Kasprzyk

There are a handful of products on the market that help facilitate riding with your four-legged friend. However, most cycling dog leashes create several potential risks for you and your companion while riding—tipping or crashing, jerking, tangling, interference with pedals, and the risk of running over the dog. There’s also the problem of installation.

Upon receiving the $146 Bike Tow Leash, I was pretty skeptical. My dog is on the lower side of the 20-185lb. recommended size range (Royal Zero the Zombie Killer is a 1-1/2-year-old, 25lb. Shiba Inu), and having no experience riding with him yet, I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea. But it seemed like a good gateway since I have aspirations of eventually mountain biking with him. Unlike other popular bike dog leashes, the Bike Tow Leash mounts near your rear axle and dropouts. This low mounting point helps prevent tipping or lateral pulling from the dog. I noticed no tugging while riding, but results may vary given a larger dog and/or smaller rider. The leash installed easily without tools on almost all of the bikes taking over my dining room, including hardtail mountain bikes, road and cyclocross bikes. Full suspension mountain bikes are the only ones that created any conflict.

What I found most impressive is the ability of the leash to keep the dog away from the bike, with enough flexibility to avoid small obstacles and adjust position. There’s a flexible joint between the mounting bracket and the rigid arm. The arm extends away from the bike far enough to prevent the dog from getting tangled, both to the side and rear. The leash end is a few inches of braided nylon, and combined with the flexible joint, allowed enough pliancy to adjust to my dog’s height. Using a wide cinchstyle training collar, the leash worked just as intended. It safely kept my dog in a proper heel position to the side of the bike. I was able to easily observe his condition and position while riding, and even after Zero abruptly stopped a few times to relieve himself, he didn’t get tangled with the bike or injured. With a larger dog you may even notice some pedal assist. Most importantly, my dog loves it. I have safely used the Bike Tow Leash on a variety of bike paths, cinder trails, and wide gravel roads, but I can’t recommend it for narrow singletrack trails. For your safety and your dog’s, use discretion. Made in U.S.A.

Cycle Dog Latch Lock Collar

By Josh Patterson

Cycle Dog is the brainchild of Lanette Fidrych and her two yellow labs. As a cyclist, Fidrych was looking for ways to reuse old inner tubes. She found a second life for them as leashes and collars. Since rubber stretches, and tubes only come in boring black, a colorful non-stretch nylon is sewn on the outside. As the name implies, the $25 Latch-Lock collar uses an easy-to-use airline-style buckle. It comes in medium and large sizes; the medium is adjustable from 12” to 21” and the large from 17” to 27”. (Sorry, no option for pocket-sized pooches.) The medium was a perfect fit for Toby, my 50lb. border collie/pointer mix. In addition to keeping inner tubes out of landfills, the rubber construction keeps odor to a minimum. On top of that, this is the only collar my dog will happily wear and not scratch at. But the pièce de résistance is the D-ring for attaching the leash and tags. It doubles as a bottle opener! Pretty nifty. Now if I could teach him to fetch me a beer… Handmade in Portland, Oregon by a lady who loves dogs and bikes.
 

 


A Week of Biking Joyously

On a fact-finding mission to the Netherlands, a delegation of California public officials marvel at the promise of bicycles for 21st century transportation.

by Jay Walljasper

photos by Zach Vanderkooy

I joined a team of latter-day explorers in the Netherlands in September on a quest to discover what American communities can learn from the Dutch about transforming bicycling in the United States from a largely recreational pastime to an integral part of our transportation system.

Patrick Seidler, vice-chairman of the Bikes Belong Foundation, and the sponsor of this fact-finding mission for key decision-makers from the San Francisco Bay Area, announced we were in search of the “27% solution”—the health, environmental, economic and community benefits gained in a nation where more than a quarter of all daily trips are made on bicycle.

Of course, the bicycle enjoys certain advantages in the Netherlands, notably a flat landscape and a long cycling tradition. But the idea of learning from the success of the Dutch is not far-fetched. The Netherlands resembles the United States as a prosperous, technologically advanced nation where a huge share of the population owns automobiles. The Dutch simply don’t drive them each and every time they leave home, thanks to commonsense transportation policies where biking and public transit are promoted as an attractive alternative to the car. Indeed, millions of Dutch commuters combine bike and train trips, which offers the point-to-point convenience of the automobile and the speed of mass transit.

Seidler noted that a delegation of public officials from Madison, Wisconsin returned home from a similar tour of the Netherlands last spring, and within three weeks was implementing what they learned on the streets of the city. Bikes Belong, a non-profit group dedicated to getting more people on bikes more often, regularly takes public officials on tours of cities where cycling is popular.

My fellow explorers on this journey included the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (city council), director of public works, chief traffic engineer, and director of the Livable Streets program. From San Jose came a city council member, the chief traffic engineer, and representatives of the business community. A transit project director along with city council members from the cities of San Rafael, Mill Valley and Corte Madera represented suburban Marin County.

Here is what we discovered in the world capital of cycling.

Kids just wanna ride bikes

The trip started in Utrecht, where our group marveled at the parade of bicyclists whizzing past us all over town. This raised an immediate question: Why is biking a way of life in the Netherlands and only a tiny portion of the transportation picture in United States?

We uncovered a large part of the answer that afternoon at a suburban primary school, where Principal Peter Kooy told us that 95% of older students—children in the 10-12 age range— bike to school at least some of the time. Compare that to the 15% who walk or bike to school in the United States, down from 50% in 1970, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School program.

“I came to the Netherlands to have my mind blown about biking,” declared Damon Connolly, vicemayor of San Rafael, California. “And that sure happened when I heard that 95% of kids bike to school.”

This helps explain the childhood obesity epidemic in the U.S., but also why so few adult Americans ride a bike to work or to do errands—a mere 1% of trips compared to 12% in Germany, 18% in Denmark, and 27% in the Netherlands.

A commitment to cycling is not uniquely imprinted in the Dutch DNA. It is the result of a conscious push to promote cycling that has resulted in a surge of cycle use since the 1970s, and a large part of that success can be attributed to what happens in school. Kids learn how to bike safely as part of their education, said Ronald Tamse, a Utrecht city planner who led our group on a two-wheel tour of the city and its suburbs.

A municipal program sends special teachers into the schools to conduct bike classes, and students go to Trafficgarden, a miniature city complete with roads, sidewalks and busy intersections where students hone their pedestrian, biking and driving skills (in non-motorized pedal cars). At age 11, most kids in town are tested on their cycling skills on a course throughout the city, earning a certificate of accomplishment that ends up framed on many bedroom walls.

“To make safer roads, we focus on the children,” Tamse explained. “Because it not only helps them bike and walk more safely, but it helps them to become safer drivers who will look out for pedestrians and bicyclists in the future.”

These kinds of programs would make a huge difference in the United States, where 60% of people surveyed report they would like to bike regularly if they felt safer—but only 8% actually do.

Bike safety and theft

Next stop was The Hague, where bikes account for 27% of all trips around the city of 500,000—exactly the average for the Netherlands as a whole. But not content with being merely average, The Hague is spending 10 million euros a year (roughly $14 million) to improve those statistics.

Hidde van der Bijl, a policy officer for cycling in The Hague’s city government, outlined their strategy about improving bicycle speed and safety: separating bike paths as much as possible from city streets, and when that is not possible, designating certain streets as bike boulevards where two-wheelers gain priority over cars and trucks. The latter are known as bike boulevards in the U.S., and are being used in Portland, Berkeley, Minneapolis and other cities. These are practical innovations that could make a dramatic difference in nearly every American town; research on this side of the Atlantic shows that physical separation from motorized traffic on busy streets is the single most effective policy that gets more people to bike.

But officials in The Hague realized that fear about safety isn’t the only thing that discourages people from riding bikes more frequently; that’s why they are tackling the problems of bike parking. This might seem a minor point to American cyclists who seldom find it hard to park bikes just a few steps from their destinations. But upon closer inspection, parking emerges as a significant issue for cyclists in any large city.

“The car is parked out in front of the house on the street, while the bike is stuffed away out back in a shed or they have to carry it up and down the stairs in their buildings,” van der Bijl explained. “So people choose the car because it is easier.”

“It’s an issue for me personally,” agreed Ed Reiskin, San Francisco’s director of public works, “because I always have to carry my bicycle down to the street.”

People also worry about their bike being stolen off the street at their home or job. That’s why creating more secure bike parking in residential neighborhoods, commercial districts and workplaces is a priority for The Hague’s transportation planners.

The city is busy building parking facilities in the basement of new office developments and at strategic outdoor locations throughout the center city, many of them staffed by attendants like at a parking garage. You can park your favorite bike there for a nominal fee, confident that it will still be there when you return. (Groningen, the Netherlands biking capital with 59% of urban trips made on two wheels, debuted the first guarded parking facility in 1982 and now sports more than 30 in a town of 180,000.)

Meanwhile, in high-density residential neighborhoods, the city is installing bike racks and special bike sheds to make life easier for two-wheeled commuters, sometimes taking over auto parking spaces to do it. One parking space can be converted to 10 bike spaces, according to van der Bijl.

Something hopeful in Rotterdam

On our third day in the Netherlands, we cycled across the Atlantic—at least it felt that way in Rotterdam, a city whose streets seemed almost American. We came face-to-face with familiar road conditions: heavy traffic on four-lane roads with aggressive drivers.

Bob Ravasio, a Marin County realtor and city council member in the town of Corte Madera, quipped, “Utrecht seems like a fantasy land now. This is what we’re up against at home.”

Rotterdam heightened our optimism about boosting cycling in the U.S. when we learned that 22% of trips around town each day are made on bicycles—below average among Dutch cities, but more than double the rate of any major American city. If they could do it, so could we.

“Rotterdam could be San Francisco or Oakland with more bikes,” observed Damon Connolly.

Even more encouraging was the news from Tom Boot of the city’s planning department that Rotterdam has been increasing its share of bike traffic by 3% annually for the last several years. They’ve achieved this phenomenal growth by expanding and improving the network of bikeways—separating them from car traffic whenever possible and coloring the asphalt bright red everywhere else to clearly mark bike lanes for motorists to see.

“Good things are happening here,” observed Bruno Maier, vice-president of Bikes Belong, “and you can really envision it happening back home.”

Amsterdam’s New Neighborhood, Where Bikes are the King of the Road

The experience of biking through four Dutch cities provided our team of Bay Area transportation leaders with plenty of examples of what they can do to make cycling more safe, popular and pleasurable back home. For instance, Bridget Smith, director of San Francisco’s Livable Streets Program, is excited about using more color on the roadways as an inexpensive but dramatic way of making sure everyone can tell bike lanes from car lanes.

But the experience also fueled our imaginations about the future of cities. We saw one glimpse of what’s possible on Java Island, a cluster of neighborhoods constructed over the past 10 years in what was once the city’s harbor. It’s a scenic waterfront location with strikingly handsome modern architecture in a pleasing variety of styles that is linked to the rest of the city by tram, road, and bike paths. Although brand new, it exudes a charm reminiscent of the city’s famous canal neighborhoods— which for my money are one of the most vibrant and downright pleasing urban quarters on earth.

Like old Amsterdam, Java Island enjoys a picturesque waterfront setting. But it shares another trait with the city’s medieval districts that you would never expect in a newly built housing development—it accommodates bicycles more easily than cars. Motorized traffic is shunted to the side of each cluster of apartment buildings in underground parking garages, while pedestrians and bicyclists have free reign of the courtyards that link people’s homes like a green commons.

The result of this visionary planning is more than just lovely— Java Island represents a bold new version of urban life where people matter more than motor vehicles. You feel a liberating sense of ease moving about these new neighborhoods—and so do the residents. I’ve never seen kids— even really young ones—who look so completely comfortable running around their neighborhoods, not even during my own childhood in the days before autos completely ruled the road. We passed two sets of young girls staging tea parties, one of them taking place on a blanket just inches from the joint biking/walking trail that served as the neighborhood’s main street.

Pascal van den Noort, executive director of the transportation organization Velo Mondial, while leading our tour through the city, urged the group to “imitate this in California, please.”

Amsterdam city council member Fjodor Molenaar, who met up with us on Java Island, explained that the Dutch call this an “Auto Luw” development, which translates as “car light” or “car sparse,” adding that this planning idea is now the official policy of the city.

Bringing it all back home

After five days of biking around Dutch cities, the Bay Area delegation was fired up about the potential of bicycling to improve life in American cities. On our last day, after a lengthy jaunt through Amsterdam— covering medieval and modern neighborhoods, rich and poor ones, all full of cyclists—we dismounted for one last discussion at an outdoor café overlooking the waterfront. The next day most of us would be headed back to our homes and jobs and cars in the U.S., where most people would dismiss the idea of bikes making up a quarter of urban traffic as “science fiction.”

One question popping up all over the group: how to reconcile our amazing experience of cycling in the Netherlands with the autochoked streets of San Francisco, San Jose and Marin County? But as Hillie Talens of C.R.O.W. (a transportation organization focusing on infrastructure and public space) reminded us, it took the Dutch 35 years to construct the ambitious bicycle system we were now enjoying. In the mid-1970s, biking was at a low point in the country and declining fast. Even Amsterdam turned to an American for a plan to rip an expressway through its beautiful central city. But the oil crises of that time convinced the country that they needed to lessen their dependence on imported oil.

The Dutch gradually turned things around by embracing a different vision for their cities. While the country’s wealth, population and levels of car ownership have continued to grow through the decades, the share of trips made by cars has not. We could accomplish something similar in the United States, by enacting new plans to make urban cycling safer, easier and more convenient.

Following the Dutch model will make cycling mainstream in America. The morning and evening rush hour of cyclists you see on the streets in the Netherlands are not all the young, white, male, ultra-fit athletes in Spandex we are accustomed to seeing in the U.S.—people of all ages and income levels use bikes for everyday transportation, with women cycling more than men.

Of course, we won’t do everything the same as the Dutch— there are considerable differences between the two countries geographically, politically and culturally. This was reflected in the questions our team posed to the numerous transportation experts we met during the week. Where did you find the money to do that? How did you overcome the opposition of motorists, merchants, developers etc.?

And, inevitably, American ingenuity will envision solutions the Dutch, the Danish, the Germans or the Chinese never thought of.

But the Netherlands does offer plenty of practical ideas to get started, as well as the inspiration of seeing a place where bikes have gained their rightful role as a form of transportation. Sitting in the sunshine with a chilly breeze blowing off the harbor (this was the first day we were not rained upon at least once while biking—one advantage most American cities have over Dutch ones), each member of the group shared thoughts of what they’d learned. Here is a selection of the comments:

David Chiu, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (city council): “It’s one thing to read statistics about the Dutch biking at ten times the rate we do in the U.S. It’s another thing to see it happening; not just for hard-core bicyclists but as an everyday way of life for the majority of citizens. “There is actually a road map of do-able public policies we can adopt to get us where the Dutch are today.”

Sam Liccardo, San Jose City Council: “We can start by identifying a few corridors that serve many workplaces and have a high transit-dependent population and build them out with bicycle infrastructure. “We can brand biking as cool, make it hip—and get the bicycling community coming out to meetings to support these improvements.”

Shiloh Ballard, vice-president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (a business and civic organization): “What we can immediately take back home is their general planning for bikes; for instance, all the visual clues that tell motorists to look for bicycles.”

Ricardo Olea, chief traffic engineer, city of San Francisco: “I understand better all the passion people have about biking—people who want to see a bike system like the Netherlands in their lifetime.”

Manuel Pineda, deputy director for the San Jose Department of Transportation: “I realized that politics is the same everywhere you go; they faced some of the same issues here that we do. “We can concentrate on two or three corridors that can be a showcase that gets people excited, to get things going, to show what’s possible.”

Ed Reiskin, director of public works, City of San Francisco: “They don’t just think about bikes, every presentation we heard tied things together—public transit, parking, cars, streets. The Dutch sense that people are going to do what’s easiest. If we think about how to improve the quality of biking, more people will bike.”

Bridget Smith, director of Livable Streets Program, city of San Francisco: “I see what can be accomplished with a vision. All I’ve learned here will infuse my work for a long time.”

Damon Connolly, vice-mayor of San Rafael: “What I will be thinking about when I get home is how closely related land use planning is to transportation planning—they are almost the same thing.”

Bob Ravasio, city council member in Corte Madera: “The low-hanging fruit is getting people to start with short trips—to the store, not commuting all the way from Marin County to San Francisco.“

Bill Gamlen, senior rail engineer, Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit: “We need to build the infrastructure, get quality bike routes going like the Star Routes in Rotterdam.”

Ian Dewar, advocacy manager for Specialized Bicycles, based in San Jose: “I was really, really surprised by the low number of bike accidents they have here. The education they do really pays off.”

Zach Vanderkooy, program coordinator for Bikes Belong: “The Dutch are not somehow exceptional people when it comes to biking. Everything we see here is the result of a deliberate decision to improve biking here. Even little things, like paint on the street, add up.”

Kate Scheider, research analyst and communications coordinator for Bikes Belong: “I see the importance of more investment in research and data on bicycling at the national level.”

Bruno Maier, vice-president of Bikes Belong: “Imagine if all the bikes we saw in the Netherlands were single-occupancy vehicles. It would not be the same place.”

To get a sense of how it feels to bike in the Netherlands, here is a video that Amsterdam city council member Fjodor Molenaar recommended to us at a meeting with city transportation officials at the mayor’s residence. It’s a trailer for a new movie called “Riding Bikes With the Dutch” in which filmmaker Michael W. Bauch chronicles his family’s adventure swapping homes with a family in Amsterdam.

 


An outfit for all seasons

By the Bicycle Times staff

How do you dress for a ride? This question is more complex than it may seem at first. But with the aim of helping you answer it for yourself, here we present a collection of clothing reviews, along with some advice on how to combine pieces for different outfits to match different conditions. The reviews are loosely arranged in outfits according to the weather in which you’d wear them, going from warmer to cooler. We also present some “Extras to Consider” with each outfit, things you may want to bring along in a bag to be prepared for changes in temperature or to accommodate different needs.

First off, it must be said that dressing to ride, even aside from taste in fashion, is a highly personal matter. Your comfort zone in terms of temperature can vary quite a bit. You also may have certain preferences that others don’t share. For instance, anytime it gets below 60°, Justin likes to protect his knees from getting chilled, while for me, it’s my ears that need to be covered to prevent a headache. Some prefer padded shorts anytime they sit on a saddle, while for others, padding is optional for shorter rides.

These preferences can take quite a while to sort out, and can change as your riding style changes. Your best bet is to experiment and see what works for you. In any case, one bit of advice that holds true for most people is that it’s a good idea to dress to be slightly on the chilly side when you start out (if possible), as you’ll warm up some once you get going. How much you warm up depends greatly on how hard you’ll be working and how far you’ll be traveling. It’s also generally a good idea to dress in layers to allow for adjustments—it may get warmer as the sun rises, or you may find yourself climbing up into colder altitudes, or you might catch up to a much faster buddy and sweat more than you intended.

One thing you’ll notice is that wool is featured prominently in these reviews. As we’ve gained experience dressing for different riding situations, so too have we gained an appreciation for this natural wonder material in all conditions. Why? There are a multitude of reasons: wool is naturally anti-bacterial, so that it doesn’t hold stink as much as synthetics, and in fact can go quite a while between washings. The crinkly structure of wool fiber holds heat in better than most materials, even when wet, yet wool breathes well and wicks sweat away from your skin, keeping you comfortable in a wide range of temperatures. Wool used to have an itchy, scratchy reputation, but modern fabrics, in particular those using wool from the Merino variety of sheep, have a fine fiber structure that feels soft against your skin. Sheep know—they can wear their wool from the hot, dry desert to the wet, cold mountains and stay comfortable. Just be sure to care for your wool garments according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and they should last you for many happy years of pedaling.

Above all, the next time you look out your window and see weather that makes you think twice before getting on your bike, remember the Scandinavian proverb: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”

What we’re wearing

Click on each outfit to read about it as it becomes available.

Outfit #1

For the ladies

Outfit #2

Lookin’ sharp

Outfit #3

Cool and comfortable

Outfit #4

Cool days, hot looks

Outfit #5

Warm and dry

Outfit #6

Winter Wonderland

Keep reading

This article originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #10. You can purchase a copy of this issue in our online store, or order a subscription and never miss an issue.


BORP supports mobility for the disabled

By Adam Hunt, photos by Scot Goodman

I’m lying on my back. Everything I think I know about bikes is wrong. For one thing, the bike has too many wheels—in fact, it’s a tricycle. There aren’t any pedals, so my feet sit in front of me and are strapped into so me stirrups as if I had mistakenly signed up for an OB/GYN examination. The majority of the bike’s controls are operated by one hand; there’s a SRAM mountain bike trigger shifter and a single brake lever for my right, while the left operates a frame-mounted lever that moves the front derailleur between the three roadbike-sized chainrings.

The front wheel sits so close to my face that I can smell the pads melt when I engage the bike’s only brake. The bike doesn’t turn like I expect due to the extra-long wheelbase. I can’t unweight my body when I come to a bump or a dip. It’s difficult to see behind me even with a mirror. With my legs strapped in front of me, the only way to move the bike forward is to turn the cranks by hand. And those are the just the easy things.

Founded in 1976 as a small student program at UC Berkeley, the Bay Area Outreach and Recreational Program (BORP) is a California-based non-profit that offers year-round sports and recreational programs to both non-disabled and disabled participants. Programs include adaptive cycling, adaptive skiing trips, kayaking and rafting, goalball (a soccerlike game developed by World War II veterans for the blind and visually impaired), power soccer (soccer played with powered wheelchairs), and wheelchair basketball.

BORP’s broad-based approach enables it to address the needs of a wide range of clients. Programs are designed to meet the needs of people with: paraplegia, quadriplegia, cerebral palsy, head injuries, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, strokes, and visual impairments. Disabled and non-disabled volunteers run BORP’s activites, which are offered on a low-cost, no-cost, or sliding-scale basis as appropriate.

Since transportation is a critical barrier to participation for many people, BORP provides it for many of its program activities. I asked BORP’s cycling program director, Greg Milano, how the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has changed the funding of BORP.

“BORP is funded through a combination of federal and local government grants, private foundation grants, and individual donors,” Milano said. “Our annual fundraising ride, ‘The Revolution,’ is essential to our funding. BORP’s adaptive cycle fleet has been built up through a combination of private donations, grant funded purchases, and support from some of the cycle manufacturers and retailers. As we have become more visible, many people have donated to us their private cycles when they upgrade or no longer need them. BORP’s programs are free for youth under 18; and for adults we have an annual membership fee of $100. We offer scholarships and won’t turn anyone away for financial need.”

According to Andrew Leibs’ recent article for the website Suite101.com, “Disabled students are twice as likely to drop out of school, become pregnant or abuse drugs as their non-disabled peers, and 73% of disabled American adults are unemployed.”

While Milano said students enrolled in BORP did not have to maintain a specific GPA, BORP’s Youth Program Coordinator meets with parents and teachers to monitor their performance in school. Over the past ten years, 98% of BORP’s youth alumni have graduated from high school with more than 80% going on to college. During my first ride with BORP’s youth handcycle program, Jesus (last name withheld due to his status as a minor) cheerfully told me that he was in the process of applying to UCLA.

My first ride with BORP takes place on a chilly summer morning. A steel gray canopy covers the sky. Located adjacent to Berkeley’s Aquatic Park, BORP’s adaptive cycling center is part storage area, park workshop, and part marina. The weekend sun can barely shine through the haze and a wintry breeze blows across the San Francisco Bay. Cars passing on the nearby freeway add to the chilly wind as a group of young handcylists get ready to go for an early morning training ride.

Most of this group’s handcyclists are part of BORP’s programs, and participants range in age from seven on up. Due to the cost of handcycles, most of the kids make use of one of BORP’s fifty on-site loaner cycles. They come in a variety of different configurations: some are sleek racing machines that are low to the ground in order to decrease drag and increase stability; others are upright cruisers for comfort. There are even off-road handcycles and handcycle tandems. Many have three wheels, but some off-road models have four. As with regular cycles, these categories are simply broad generalities. Despite some difference in posture and purpose, the unifying commonality is that handcycles use a hand crank somewhere in their drivetrains. Oftentimes, handcycles are modified by Milano, also the resident gadget guy.

Have a mobility issue with your hands but need a way to shift a handcycle? Greg can make it happen. There’s a tandem couple— one rider pedals with legs and the other with arms—but it’s not a problem. Greg will get you going.
“All of our cycles are manufactured by professional companies,” said Milano, “but myself and the BORP volunteers make small changes and adjustments to things like the hand and foot pedals, crank sizes, shift levers, and seating arrangements to make them work for specific individuals.”

“Because almost everybody has different needs and body types,” continued Milano, “we generally spend over an hour with a first-time rider to figure out the best bike and adaptations needed. Once we figure things out, it usually takes less than 15 minutes to get them set up and readjusted the next time they come. Many of our riders learn to do all of the adjustments themselves.”

Not only does Milano work as BORP’s sure-handed bike tech, he is also working hard to set up BORP’s adaptive boating program in the near future. Prior to coming on board with BORP, Milano was the kayaking program coordinator for the San Francisco-based Environmental Traveling Companions (ETC). Eventually Milano wants to be able to take advantage of BORP’s proximity to Aquatic Park’s man-made lake and have a fleet of adaptive kayaks, sailboats, and canoes at the ready.

“BORP is an organization driven by its users. We were founded by people with disabilities and have developed our program based on local interest and demand. Our cycling center is totally unique because our goal is to provide as much independent use as possible. We recently added an accessible dock on the lake at our cycling center and intend to develop boating programs with the same objective—totally independent use,” said Milano.

Finally, after a series of minor delays, I set off with Milano and the crew for my first BORP ride. Milano uses a handcycle for the ride while I take my Surly Steamroller. He drifts back and forth amongst the riders, checking up on them, giving them gentle words of encouragement, while I take up the back as the “Lanterne Rouge.”

The only other regular cyclist is Bohnett Bohnett, who is riding a singlespeed beach cruiser because he feels it gives him a better workout than when he brings his mountain bike to ride with his son James. The ride takes us up and over the I-580 pedestrian flyover, then drops us onto a multi-use pathway that runs parallel to the freeway’s frontage road. We head north towards Golden Gate Fields racetrack, up the grinding hill towards the track’s parking lot, then drop down its backside near one of the parking areas for the Albany Bulb.

Bohnett’s son, James, who was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, joins the group getting underway.
“Essentially, this was a natural amputation of his lower legs in the womb. That said, he would most accurately be described as a bi-lateral, below knee, amputee…at least in disability terms,” Bohnett said.

James Bohnett is a high-energy teenager who says he’s gotten a lot out of his experience with BORP. “I believe I have become a more social, confident person than I ever was before, and because of that, I find it easier to dream big.”

I asked another handcyclist, Zach, what he got out of BORP:

“BORP has made me physically active and stronger. I didn’t play any sports until I was ten years old and now I love it. I also have friends from all around because we travel to different events,” he said.

The group begins to spread out with the stronger riders taking the lead as we make our way to the Point Isabel dog park. Occasionally, a cyclist has trouble weaving through the traffic pylons at intersections due to the width of the handcycles. Eventually, the multi-use path winds its way into a waterfront residential district, at which point Milano stops, waits for all the riders to catch up, then after everyone is rested, turns his handcycle around and tells everyone to head back to BORP for basketball practice.

On the way back, James loses a cotter pin assembly that holds his leg brace onto his handcycle. He laughs it off like it’s not a big deal. And it isn’t— the handcycle is still functional. Bohnett turns his beach cruiser around and embarks on a seemingly impossible task, finding a small metal cotter pin that is somewhere on a hillside littered with rubble, potholes, bits of crumbling asphalt, and shards of broken glass. Cars and trucks roll by. James and I chew the fat as Bohnett climbs up the hill on his cruiser in search of the missing pieces. Minutes later, Bohnett reappears triumphant. Somehow, some way, he’s found the missing cotter pin. While the ride’s pace was brisk, the members of the youth cycling program still have a long day ahead of them.

After they get back to the Aquatic Park facility, it’s off to a three-hour basketball practice and a wheelchair truck-pulling contest:

Back at the Aquatic Park garage, Milano tells me that I had only gotten part of the BORP experience, and advises me that I should come back and try a handcycle.

One of the big developments is that BORP will move its headquarters to the easily accessible Ed Roberts Campus near Berkeley’s Ashby BART station. The adaptive cycling program, however, will remain at Aquatic Park. The new headquarters will also provide adaptive yoga, core conditioning, and mat Pilates for folks with, and without, disabilities. The Ed Roberts Campus will also become home to eight other non-profit organizations that work with the disabled: the Center for Accessible Technology, Computer Technologies Program, Center for Independent Living, Disability Rights Advocates, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, World Institute on Disability, Through the Looking Glass, and Whirlwind Wheelchair International (makers of wheelchairs for third world countries).

A few days later I’m back at BORP, and in accordance to Milano’s wishes, I borrow a handcycle. During my outing I cruise up the multi-use path that parallels the frontage road of I-580. Somehow or another, the sun finally breaks free from the bonds of cloud cover and lights the path ahead of me. Unlike riding a regular bike, the wind doesn’t cool me. This is a particular problem for people with spinal cord injuries because of the often-resulting inability to accurately regulate core temperature. In a rare flash of forethought, I actually brought a hydration pack with me so I don’t overheat, but I can easily see how someone could.

Eventually, I get to a nice turn-around point near Powell Street in Emeryville and have to use a combination of pushing the handcycle backwards with hands on the ground, then maneuvering myself with the hand pedals, and repeating the process until I can make a multi-point U-turn. Finally, I make my way back to my nemesis, the flyover. This time, I am somehow able to drop the chain into the small chainring. It’s not much better. I still sweat and grunt. While it doesn’t quite feel as if a Wookiee had pulled my arm off and beaten me with it, I know I’ve had a workout.
I get back to BORP’s parking area and Milano is there to meet me and ask how I liked the handcycle. I told him that I had really gained a new level of respect for the kids I rode with the other day. I work my way out of the confines of the handcycle, stand up, and walk the cycle back to the garage. I’m a total phony.

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Melons, mountains and Turkish delights

Photos and words by Alastair Bland

The towering mosque stood ahead of me, marking the town square, as I crossed the bridge and entered the village, famished, sunburned, and unaware that federal agents were after me. In the plaza, the men stared with interest as I eyed the storefronts for a fruit market, looking for a melon and willing to hold out if I didn’t find one—for I wasn’t going to squander my building appetite on anything less than the best of Turkish delights.

I detected a scent trail of tropical perfume on the air, followed it around a corner, and found a four-foot heap of yellow-and-green melons in the bed of a pickup. One Turkish lira per kilo, the vendor told me—roughly 40 cents per pound—and as I sniffed the fruits for quality, another man appeared out of a hardware store. He yelled something my way about the Jandarma, the military police. The gathering cluster of men and boys looked to him, then back to me, and began murmuring in tones of gossip. I understood only that authorities had seen me pass by on my bike some miles back, along the river, and had called ahead to ask about me. I deciphered nothing more, and I asked the fruit vendor, who spoke a trace of English, what was up. He shook his head and told me, “Just go.”

I bought my melon, some white cheese for dinner, and some almonds to get me through the afternoon. Seeing a mountain pass ahead on my map, I asked for directions from the men crowded around me. Predictably, they were eager to help and described the way—a bad dirt road through the forest—and I pedaled on. I took a wrong turn, discovered my error after a mile, rolled back downhill, and found what seemed to be the right track.

The road led steeply up jungle slopes of wild chestnut and cherry trees and plantings of tea shrubs, the local agricultural mainstay. The day grew late, and I could see that I would find no level place to lay out my tarp unless I reached the pass. I also had a feeling that the Jandarma incident was still in progress. I wondered just how and when the authorities would materialize and why they cared about me.

A truck rumbled down the road ahead and passed with a friendly honk. A moment later another vehicle came around a bend and into view—a shiny gray sedan. It turned sharply into my path to block the road, and three men in clean urban dress stepped out. They wore guns at their hips.

One showed his identification and said firmly, “Police.” The three surrounded me as one asked, “Israel?” They leaned in darkly, ready to pounce. “No, America,” I answered, sensing a misunderstanding. “U.S.A.” “Passport?” I produced the document and saw their excitement fade. “Ah, U.S.A.,” said one meekly before showing the others and handing it back. As his partners returned quietly to the car, the driver explained to me in a blend of our languages that Israelis were prohibited from travel in Turkey ever since Israel’s military police attacked an aid flotilla headed for the Gaza Strip in late May, killing nine Turkish activists. He mimed having his hands cuffed and said, “Ka-chink.”

We shook hands as he wished me luck on this mountain. Tilting his head up the slope at the dark forest, he said, “You have a big ride.” He hardly knew. I had this hill plus a thousand more over the next nine weeks. I kept on that evening, tires spinning on the steep gravel, sweat running down my legs, aiming for the summit and racing the fall of night. I arrived at a magnificent vista to see the sun sinking into the Black Sea as a brilliant full moon rose into the August sky. I spread out my tarp and sleeping bag and cut into my juicy melon. The evening’s prayer call meandered up the mountain, the same tune arriving in echoes and rounds from different villages around me. It was an aimless melody of quarter tones and a billion listeners—for this was the land of Islam.

I had flown to Istanbul last summer with my bike in a box, but that time I went west. This year I went east. I arrived on August 10th, slept in the airport, and immediately embarked on an 18-hour bus ride, a hellish test of endurance after a 20-hour stint of airplanes and layovers. I stepped off the bus in Trabzon, an ugly industrial town on the eastern Black Sea coast, and from there I climbed into the green peaks of the Kaçkar Mountains. The cloudy sky threatened rain that afternoon, and higher along the winding mountain road, I entered a drizzle; though dusk was hours away, it grew gloomy and dark.

I was traveling with no tent—an old habit of mine, meant to simplify life but which sometimes bit me in the butt—and rain would be a logistical consideration each night when the time to set up camp arrived. I had been told that over the pass, on the south slope of the Kaçkars, it was bone-dry, and I was determined to get there. At the mile-high pass on top, I found a frightening highway tunnel with no shoulder leading through the mountain, which continued up another 500 feet into the wet mists. I flipped on my headlight and rear blinker, prepped myself with a deep breath, looked over my shoulder, and charged through at a sprint. A breeze caught me and shot me along at 30 miles per hour, and I exited the other end into the brilliant warm sun.

Amazed, I stopped to look back at the peaks above me; fingers of clouds born in the Black Sea reached over the crags, clawing at the rocks, but withered in the dry air. They couldn’t touch me on the south side. I slept by a stream under a ceiling of stars, and the next day, at last, after three days of grueling travel, I finally fell into the familiar rhythm of the good life: bike touring.

For a week in these Kaçkar Mountains I pedaled my Surly CrossCheck dawn to dusk among alpine peaks and dry valleys. Each night I slept where I pleased, in pine groves and meadows, and in the mornings I bathed at the village fountains before daylight, then rode on in my aimless meandering way.

In a life so unmarred by agendas, the traveler must invent his or her own worthy pursuits— and I had several goals. I wanted to see a brown bear, and on a dirt road near Yusufeli, above a valley of rice paddies and apricot orchards, I followed a set of tracks for a quarter-mile but never saw their maker. I also hunted each afternoon for homemade dairy products and occasionally found my way into a village house where cheese, milk, or yogurt was made.  Melons, too, were a top-notch priority, and every day I prowled the bazaars and fruit stands in search of the perfect specimens—melons so sweet and perfumy that, even when packed in my saddlebag and moving against a headwind, I could smell them as I pedaled.

Life went spinning from blissful to bizarre when I entered the Republic of Georgia. I won’t dwell upon the old-fashioned treatment of women here, or the superstitions, or the appalling litter dumped along the roads—but the nation’s terrifying highway ethics need a word. Sensible, educated, socially agreeable Georgians turn mad when they sit behind the wheel of a car. They lose all sense of courtesy and will honk impatiently at little boys kicking soccer balls in the street, old ladies hauling home the groceries, and slower vehicles— which they pass without caution.

On the highway, drivers will often force oncoming cars onto the shoulder, and for 20 days here I never forgot what would happen to me if I got caught in such a sandwich of steel and spinning tires. Take a Georgian out of the car, though, and the traveler may never find a more hospitable person. In the villages, shouts of “Hello!” and “Come! Come! Sit!” often followed me as I pedaled, and almost every day I was coerced into sitting with jobless men by the road and drinking chacha, the local booze. Several times, well-meaning folks nearly dragged me into their homes for the night. I appreciated their good intentions, but didn’t care for the fuss of beds, sheets and blankets when camping under clear skies was an option. Nor did I enjoy having to stumble in the dark over a gauntlet of sleeping cousins and uncles on my way outside the house to pee.

After one such night, in the town of Roxi, while my host family and I ate melons and grapes for breakfast on the porch and drank homemade wine (it was noon in China, not that it matters in Georgia), I mentioned that I had been camping out each night, with just a sleeping bag. “No, no, no!” said my host adamantly, a man of 32 years appalled at the thought of sleeping out of the house. His niece, who spoke English, explained that wild animals were a considerable hazard here. “It is too dangerous outside,” she said. She told me that a village in eastern Georgia had recently been seized by wolves. I doubted it, and asked for details, which weren’t available. I said, “I think that bears and wolves make the world a more beautiful place.” The family exploded in laughter, and so I left, a homeless American on a bicycle who sought the companionship of predatory mammals. Crazy.

I returned, rather gladly, to Turkey after three weeks in Georgia. I put my bike on the first bus I found going south, to the Mediterranean—and no, I didn’t go for the beaches. I generally scorn beaches, and the day I spend a vacation in a plastic chair in the sand is the day I’ve died. Instead, I stuck to the high country of the Toros Mountains, an east-west range that skirts the entire Turkish Mediterranean coast. Periodically, I dropped to sea level for a day, but almost always, before night, I found a mountain road back into the summits.

One afternoon, I tackled a 6,000-foot ascent over 25 miles, starting at the beach town of Anamur. The roadside springs and fountains, usually a reliable source of clean water, were inexplicably all dry, and my bottles ran empty 2,000 feet below the pass. I flagged down a car to score a refill and wound up camping in a rock quarry after just several apples and some peanuts for dinner. Still ravenous, still thirsty, I knew nonetheless that somehow, I was living the good life.

September passed quickly in these Toros Mountains. I pedaled all day, every day, averaging 50 to 80 miles and usually climbing at least a vertical mile by sundown. The mountain scenery was often more beautiful than words can describe, but I’ll try: Late one evening as I rolled through a comfortable, level pine forest about a mile above sea level, I arrived abruptly at a sheer drop of 2,000 vertical feet, the small highway veering sharply left to skirt the cliff’s face. Thirty miles distant, through the canyons and cloud, I saw the sea and the resort town of Alanya. Mists swirled in the void before me, fingers of fog curled around me, and the shafts of golden sunlight that broke through the clouds looked sturdy enough to walk on.

I’ve heard it said a hundred times—and so have you—that Holland is a cyclist’s paradise because of its unremitting flatness. But what would that make of the Toros Mountains? The summer ran late. By October there were still peaches on the trees in some canyons, the fig crop was in full force, and I hadn’t worn long sleeves or pants for seven weeks. Nights were almost balmy, but on the morning of October 1st I woke up at 4,000 feet of elevation in the apple orchard hills above Lake E─čirdir—and it was downright chilly. I put on my gloves for the first time in two months. The next morning was even colder, and I cut holes in my clean socks and pulled them on as knee- and arm-warmers. Two days later, I began wearing my rain jacket to cut the morning wind chill. And on October 7th the storm hit me.

That night, in the pines along a mountain creek not far from Sariveliler, I cinched my tarp up between the trees as a rain shelter, for there had been squalls in the afternoon. I awoke at midnight to a pat-pat-pat on the tarp overhead: raindrops. I felt proudly untouchable, a resourceful homesteader, dry and comfortable under my makeshift shelter. I snuggled deeper into my dry sleeping bag as the drops continued to fall, growing heavier.

As the water drained off my tarp, a trickle began to creep into my sleeping zone. It swelled into a steady stream as the rain intensified, and water began to pool beneath me, seeping into my bag. I sat up, thinking fast of how I might stay dry. Lightning flashed and lit the trees, and claps of thunder followed instantly. The icy wind whipped the edges of my tarp, the rain entered from the side, and the storm still grew stronger. I leapt from my bag to cut the tarp down and wrap it around me like a shawl, and in several seconds of exposure my clothes were soaked.

Freezing in the mountain air, I slipped back into my wet sleeping bag and shimmied over to a cluster of tall pines where I sat in a heap, tarp over my head. Rainwater leaked through and down my back, and I shivered away the hours. Miraculously, I floated away to that wonderful land called sleep, where I had vivid dreams of dryness and of morning. My dinner melon made its way through me, waking me several times to use the woods, and each time it was still dark and raining as I slipped out of and then back into my cold, clammy sleeping bag to resume the most miserable night of my life.

Time seemed to crawl painfully slowly that night, but its ceaseless flow would nonetheless bring an end to this exhausting ordeal, and the moment would arrive when I finally awoke to see sunlight. Time also would land me in Cyprus three days later, and a week after that, in San Francisco. Months would go by eventually, and years, and eventually all of this—Georgia, Turkey, the Toros Mountains— would be a dusty relic of the past, forgotten among memories. On these thoughts, from the damp depths of my sleeping bag, I determined that I would return to Turkey someday, to resume this aimless life of exploring strange lands, alone, on a bicycle, sleeping outside.

Perhaps I would see a bear. And I might bring a tent.

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This piece originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #10. To purchase a copy of this issue, please visit our online store, and to make sure you never miss an issue, order a subscription and help us keep this great content rolling.


First Impressions: Giant Rapid 2

I must admit I have never given road bikes a fair chance up to this point. The few I have ridden where either the wrong size, or were grotesque Franken-bikes pieced together from old parts. I never warmed up to drop bars because of previous neck and shoulder injuries, so the opportunity to ride the flat bar Giant Rapid 2 has shed new light on my road riding future.

My first thought was that the Rapid was simply an entry-level road bike with a flat bar slapped on. I’m glad to say this is not the case. Giant has specifically built this bike from scratch, stretching out the cockpit to better accommodate the flat bar. The combination produces a more stable ride than I had ever imagined. One of my main problems on the road has always been traffic, and this bike instills confidence while maneuvering around cars. The bike is also equipped with an adjustable stem height. You would be hard pressed to be uncomfortable on the Rapid 2.

The ALUXX SL Aluminum-tubed frame is butted, extruded and manipulated in all the right places to offer a firm platform, while retaining a somewhat subtle ride. The first thing I noticed when building up the bike where the cool frame lines and tube shapes. It is a very streamlined looking machine. The smooth lines also blend perfectly through the integrated headset and into the composite fork, a welcome feature for the price point of $925.00 MSRP.

Seconds into my first ride I realized I couldn’t go back to riding caged pedals. They had to go. I swapped them for SPDs, and made a few other minor tweaks. This left me with a very fast and efficient commuter bike beneath me. My commute to work is definitely much quicker on the Rapid 2. The 27-speed drivetrain makes it easy to find the right gear, and the Tektro brakes do an adequate job of stopping the Giant.

My future plans for the bike include utilizing the fender eyelets and a few higher-mileage, long weekend trips. Watch for a full print review in the near future.


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