By Gary J. Boulanger
Northern California has been the epicenter of bicycle innovation and manufacturing for decades, with the surrounding terrain and ideal climate providing a near-perfect fusion for saddle time with friends and strangers. As a result, Soulcraft Cycles owner Sean Walling organized the ‘Meet Your Maker’ Tour, a series of Saturday group rides designed to bring frame builders and parts makers together with friends, customers, and like-minded riders.
“Sometimes we lose sight of what our industry is all about,” Walling, pictured above, said. “Handbuilt bike shows are good, but sharing a ride with friends and customers brings it all together. The Meet Your Maker Tour is about providing access to the people who make great bikes and parts. This Tour makes it easy for riders to meet the NorCal builders who they hope to do business with locally. Our goal is to see as many local brands under riders as possible.”
The second MYM Tour was hosted and organized by Mark Norstad, owner of Paragon Machine Works in Richmond, Calif., on July 21. Paragon designs and manufactures dropouts, bottom bracket shells, seat stay caps and other components used by Walling and his manufacturing brethren.
The 26-mile ride route was designed as a historic tour of a region known for its World War II manufacturing output, with several stops planned by Norstad, including one at the Rosie the Riveter museum in Richmond, Calif.
By 9:15 a.m., 36 people had assembled in Paragon’s parking lot. Framebuilders joining Walling and Norstad included Steve Rex (Rex Cycles – Sacramento), Josh Muir (Frances Cycles – Santa Cruz), Mauricio Rebolledo (Rebolledo Cycles – Sonoma), Bruce Gordon (Bruce Gordon Cycles – Petaluma), and Robert Ives (Blue Collar Bikes – Sacramento).
The sky was a crisp blue and the wind was minimal, with temperatures in the high 60s when we rolled out of the Paragon Machine Works parking lot. Riders came from Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Mountain View, Oakland, San Francisco, Sonoma, Petaluma, and San Bruno, and the collection of bikes included Soulcraft, Hunter, Retrotec, Rex, Bruce Gordon, Charlie Cunningham, Gianni Motta, Frances, Engin, Peugeot, Rivendell, Ibis, Bianchi, Pashley, Blue Collar, and Rebolledo. The tribe was almost equally split male and female, with Walling’s young daughter Lucy keeping us company in her dad’s Burley trailer.
Richmond is an industrial, gritty town of 93,000-plus, with brightly colored homes with low fences and cars galore lining the streets. Norstad designed a route using the Bay Trail and connector bike paths, linking us to Shimada Park, Vincent Park, and Marina Bay Park, home of the Rosie the Riveter memorial. Richmond’s ‘Rosies’ played a significant and nationally recognized part in the World War II home front. The four Richmond shipyards, with their combined 27 shipways, produced 747 ships, more than any other shipyard complex in the country. Richmond was home to 56 different war industries, more than any other city of its size in the United States.
From there, we pedaled to the former Ford Motor Company Assembly plant, a 500,000-square-foot architectural marvel of Albert Kahn’s ‘daylight factory’ design. President Franklin D. Roosevelt banned the production of civilian automobiles during World War II, so the Richmond Ford Assembly Plant switched to assembling jeeps and putting the finishing touches on tanks, half-tracked armored personnel carriers, armored cars, and other military vehicles destined for the Pacific Theater. By July of 1942, military combat vehicles began flowing into the Richmond Ford plant to get final processing before being transported out the deep-water channel to the war zones. The adjacent Craneway Pavilion hosts the Bay Area Derby Girls Championships on August 4.
Cruising through the port, we made our way to the S.S. Red Oak Victory shipyard, where Walling’s grandparents met decades ago.
We continued along Highway 580, then dropped onto Western Drive for nearly four miles, rising past a rifle range that paralleled the San Pablo Bay north of the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge before climbing the uber-steep Point San Pablo Marina Road, which Norstad referred to simply as a ‘grunt’. The more than 20-percent grade had several in the group grunting…
Norstad’s plan was the reward of ripe blackberries on the backside of the hill near the marina, which several in our posse enjoyed before we reversed course and returned to Paragon, passing brightly-painted graffiti and more industrial building along the bike path.
Highlights of the ride include:
- Watching Josh Muir coast down a steep grade no-handed on his custom cargo bike as he made adjustments to his helmet, then climb the grunt while most of us walked.
- Chatting with Bruce Gordon about his relaunch of the popular Rock ‘N’ Road tires.
- Getting to know folks from the Bay Area who are relatively new to the area and are excited to talk bikes with professionals.
- Drinking in the antics of Stevil Smith.
- Listening to Sean Walling, Steve Rex, and Bruce Gordon talk casually about their craft – they have nearly 90 years combined experience.
- Watching the guy with the full-face helmet pilot his 40-year-old Peugeot through dirt, gravel, and grass, with one cargo pant leg unzipped.
- Sweating one-third my body weight on the grunt.
- Watching Bruce Gordon patiently answer ‘no’ to a well-intentioned older woman in a car ask if we were part of a club, Meet Up, or race.
- Riding down the bumpy backside of Point San Pablo Marina Road, the second worst road in the world after the one in front of Steve Jobs’ Palo Alto house, which looks like it came from the “Lord of the Rings” movie set.
- Laughing with Stevil and his cohorts while Lanie Walling tried her best to calm a rather unhappy Lucy after Sean scarred her for life riding down Point San Pablo Marina Road.
Want to get in on the action? The 3rd Meet Your Maker Ride is scheduled for early October, hosted by Paul Components in Chico, CA.
By Gary J. Boulanger,
The governing body for international bicycle racing gave the nod for disc brakes to be used on cyclocross bikes a couple years ago, but the development process to bring a carbon machine to market takes a while. Felt responded quickly, and now offers two carbon models, the F1X and F3X, to compliment its aluminum F65X model, carried over from 2012.
Frame and fork technology
The 2013 Felt FX3 frame is made with Ultra Hybrid Carbon (UHC) Performance Modular Monocoque Construction (MMC) carbon fiber with a 3K protective weave for added durability against errant rocks and chain slap. According to Felt engineers, the UHC Performance carbon has a tensile strength 7.9 times greater than 3Al/2.5V titanium, with a stiffness rating 3.34 times greater than 6061 aluminum.
Using the same InsideOut internal molding process as the Z2 road bike I test rode in Irvine, Felt still feels strongly about using an aluminum insert for its BB30 bottom bracket shell for a more precise fit and less squeaking, and provides an electronic or mechanical cable routing option. Carbon dropouts with IS-mount disc tabs and a smart replaceable dérailleur hanger come standard.
The fork also is made with the same UHC Advanced material and process as the Z2 fork I tested, with 100 percent monocoque construction and full co-molded carbon fiber dropouts, also with disc tabs. Felt’s Control Taper design improves front-end stiffness and steering precision without adding weight, relying on a tapered carbon steer from 1.125 inches down to a 1.5-inch lower. Reliable handling isn’t just for roadies; control is paramount on the dirt and sand, especially in sketchy, technical sections where adventure riders are likely to tread on a bike like this.
The affordable performance SRAM Force gruppo handles drivetrain and shifters duties, while custom Ashima stainless rotors (140mm rear/160mm front) and Avid BB-7 mechanical disc brakes handle speed modulation. Felt’s engineers cooked up several house-brand components, including stem, bars, seat post and wheels, all labelled CxR. A Prologo Nago Evo saddle rounds out the cockpit. The 46/36-tooth BB30 crankset is matched with an 11-to-26 tooth, 10-speed cassette for all terrain use, with an emphasis on ‘cross racing.
“We found areas for improvement on our ‘cross bikes for 2013, especially mud clearance,” Felt road manager Dave Koesel told me. “Disc brakes make this attainable without sacrificing performance. We designed our own road tubeless wheelset, with a sub 300g rear hub, and 135g front hub. We chose the Geax tubeless-ready ‘cross tires so riders could use lower tire pressure.”
The 2013 Felt F3X will be available in matte carbon with lime green highlights, in 47, 50, 53, 55, 57, 60 and 63cm sizes for a targeted retail price of $3,829. According to Koesel, a 57cm F3X weighs a shade over 18lbs with inner tubes and uncut steerer tube. "The bike is tubeless ready which would save nearly 100g once set up with sealant," he added.
The flagship F1X carbon disc ‘cross frame is made with Felt’s UHC Advanced MMC carbon fiber with 1.5K protective weave, and upspecced with the latest SRAM Red with custom WickWërks chainrings. A custom 3T carbon fork, handlebars and seat post, plus Mavic CrossMax SLR wheels, round out the component spec, with a target retail price of $7,249. The frame is made with Felt’s UHC Advanced MMC carbon fiber with 1.5K protective weave.Tweet
By Gary J. Boulanger,
Felt pioneered the aerodynamic road bike concept in 2007, and while that category is expanding across the bike industry, the non-racers seeking high performance in gran fondos and other long distance rides will be excited to try Felt’s revamped Z2 model. A longer wheelbase, slightly taller head tube, more efficient carbon layups, and improved tube shapes have all been addressed for 2013, which, according to Felt’s engineers, have shed 50g and stiffened the ride 25 percent over last year.
Sounds like my kind of bike. I also had the advantage of attending the recent Felt media launch in Irvine, California, so I decided to find out if the actual ride matched the paper spec. It helped that the roads around Irvine rise mightily, providing our group with some 20-percent climbs and ripping descents to put the Z2 through its paces to see if the weight savings and subtle stiffening would be noticed.
The frame material is made from Felt’s Endurance Road Ultra Hybrid Carbon (UHC) Advanced Modular Monocoque Construction (MMC) carbon fiber with a 3K protective weave, which Felt says is 20 percent lighter than its UHC Performance carbon. Felt says its InsideOut internally optimized molding process eliminates excess material. How? Felt achieves this by placing polyurethane inserts inside the frame during the molding process, especially at the head tube and bottom bracket areas, then applies a precise amount of pressure and heat, resulting in the desired tube shapes and diameters.
Felt also modified the seat stays with smaller and rounder constant-diameter cross sections that intersect low on the seat tube to increase comfort and dampen ride quality without sacrificing torsional stiffness or vertical compliance, the usual performance-robbing suspects. The new Z frame also has a "kick-up" in the chain stay, a subtle modification to smoothen out the ride.
My 56cm tester was built with Shimano Ultegra Di2 electronic shifting, with a secondary climbing shifter pod on the top of the handlebars. Felt has specced a 3T Ergonova Team HM carbon handlebar, 3T AR Team 7075 aluminum stem, 3T Dorico Team UD carbon seatpost and Prologo Scratch pro titanium railed saddle. Shimano RS20 wheels rounded out the component selection.
I began the ride a novice on the Shimano Ultegra Di2 shifting. Already having ridden the Campagnolo Record EPS a month ago, my learning curve was short and sweet. Shifting was crisp and immediate, and I was also thankful for the 28-tooth cassette cog on the climbs. I was able to stay in the 50-tooth large chainring while cross-chaining up the cassette on the gradual climbs without any interference, and the 34-tooth small chainring was low enough to tackle Koesel’s lung-bursting ascent of Modjeska Grade.
Our small band of journalists clipped in to our demo bikes, following Felt road product manager Dave Koesel and engineer Nick Ducharme for a 90-minute jaunt. They led us on part of the section of a famous Sunday morning group ride called “Como Street”. We started up El Toro Road past Live Oak Canyon onto Santiago Canyon Road, and onto the motorcyclist hot-spot “Cooks’ Corner”.
The gradual climb was interrupted with a right turn onto Modjeska Grade, which Koesel refers to as the “mini L’Alpe” of Southern Orange County, where thousands of cyclists test their legs (and lungs and machines) up the nearly 20-percent grades.
The twisting descent allowed me to test out the stability of the Z2. With my hands in the drops and my butt shoved back in the saddle, I carved the turns with confidence, skirting a few busted rocks and sand strewn across parts of the road. Riding with strangers on strange roads is usually a little unsettling, but the company I kept was reliable and smooth, just like the Z2.
Our quick descent back to Santiago Canyon Road and back through Foothill Ranch (past Oakley) to Felt headquarters in Irvine was slightly wind-aided and blistering. We strung out in a single line to let ‘er rip, pro peloton style, and I was actually wishing I had a more pro 53-tooth large chainring to keep up. The 10-speed cassette starts with a 12 tooth, so I was spinning out a bit in the 50/12 gear combination. Ducharme saw to it that I was brought back to the paceline.
At a hair under 16.8lbs for my 56cm tester with bottle cage without pedals, the Felt Z2 is competitively light, considering the Ultegra Di2 gruppo with remote buttons. I never felt nervous or skittish on the ride, and was impressed by the handling and responsiveness compared to other similar models I’ve tested from other companies. The sloping top tube allowed for some welcome flex in the longer seat post, but nothing that inhibited performance. This is an ideal machine for the performance-seeking unracer.
Available in matte carbon with red highlights, the Felt Z2 will be available in 51, 54, 56, 58 and 61cm sizes, and will retail for $5,999.Tweet
By Gary J. Boulanger
Most grab-and-go townie bikes are over-designed and over burdened with frilly extras to cater to the beginner crowd, but Felt decided to develop something inspired from the 1950s French delivery bikes. Starting with a TIG-welded chromoly steel frame with traditional double-diamond design, the Felt York features a Sturmey-Archer 2-speed kickback hub, based on the old Bendix design used by millions of American paperboys.
The kickback hub allows the rider to shift gears with a slight rearward push of the cranks, engaging the internal mechanism without the use of a handlebar-mounted gear shifter. It looks like a coaster brake because it is; the guts of the rear hub are just designed to accommodate another cruising gear, keeping the lines of the frame clean without the need for cable guides. This is more like your grandfather’s fixed gear bike, but one with practicality, thanks to the swept-back bars, full fenders, and front rack.
Complimenting the custom-butted frame is a steel tapered fork with a windowed fork crown, a nice touch for an affordable bike. Compared to Felt’s other fixed-gear models, the York’s wheelbase is 18-plus millimeters longer, with a 47 versus a 43mm fork rake for more stable handling. Open-ended track dropouts are wisely used to allow simply chain tensioning; remember to loosen, then tighten, the non-drive clamp band when adjusting.
Component spec includes a Campagnolo-inspired cold forged polished crankset, Tektro front brake caliper, riveted vintage-shaped saddle, and polished steel fenders. The shiny, high-flange, sealed-bearing front hub looks nice with the Sturmey-Archer rear.
Available in Duke Blue, the Felt York comes in 51, 54, 56, 58 and 61cm sizes. Weight is TBA, and retail will be $829.
By Paul Rozelle
Randonneuring is long-distance, unsupported, noncompetitive cycling within prescribed time limits. The events—called brevets—are 200km (13.5 hour time cut-off ), 300km (20 hours), 400km (27 hours), 600km (40 hours), and 1000km (75 hours). Grand Randonnées are 1200km and riders must finish in 90 hours or less. The original Grand Randonnée, Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP), was first held in 1891 and inspired the modern Olympic Games and the Tour de France. There are also populaires, rides longer than 100km but less than 200km, and the flèche, a 24-hour team event.
Brevets are sometimes called randonnées, a word that has no precise English translation, but which is evocative of touring, adventuring, and wandering or rambling. One may also see the word audax in reference to randonneuring. Technically, audax rides are commonpace events where cyclists ride, rest, and finish together at a pace established by a route captain. Audax is roughly translated as “audacious,” which certainly describes riding a bicycle 750 miles!
Randonneuring began in Italy and flourished in France at the end of the 19th century. Professional road racing, cycle touring, and equipment trials trace their early roots to randonneuring.
Randonneurs (women, who participate on equal footing with men, are called randonneusses) are hardy, resourceful cyclists. Once a brevet begins, the clock runs until the rider crosses the finish line. There are no allowances for inclement weather or mechanical or bodily breakdowns. Eating, resting, navigation, bike repairs, and of course, cycling, must be done efficiently enough that the rider finishes within the time limit. In keeping with the noncompetitive nature of randonneuring, official finishers are listed alphabetically, without reference to or recognition of finishing time or order.
Self-reliance is critical to a randonneur’s success. Non-neutral support may only be taken at a contrôle (“control” in English), or checkpoint, which are typically about 50km apart and are designed to keep riders on the prescribed route, which must be followed exactly. At a control, some of which may be secret, the rider has his or her brevet card stamped to show passage though the control within the prescribed time limit. In addition to a cut-off time for the event, each control has an “opening” and “closing” time and a rider must pass through the control between those times.
Brevets typically use tertiary roads through rural areas. Routes are hillier than most club rides or centuries. For example, PBP has about 30,000 feet of climbing on it and is considered to be of average difficulty for a 1200K. The ominously named Endless Mountains 1200K in eastern Pennsylvania has twice as much climbing.
There are as many approaches to train- ing for brevets as there are randonneurs. Most randonneurs do not ride huge volume, nor do they do great numbers of long rides. Rather, each brevet helps build the fitness and experience necessary to undertake the next one: i.e., the “training” for a 300K is completing a 200K.
Although the time limits are generous (a rider must maintain about 8mph to finish within time), training to improve rolling speed will enable a randonneur to obtain more rest, deal with the unexpected, or just finish a brevet more quickly. That said, randonneuring favors the efficient, determined, steady rider more than the “fast” one. Using time off the bicycle wisely, figuring out and maintaining an appropriate pace, and maximizing comfort, both on the bike and off it, are at least as critical to success as fitness.
Cyclists considering a brevet should not be deterred from participating by thinking that they need specialized equipment or a “randonneuring bicycle.” For a 200K, most riders travel pretty light. Supplies necessary to fix basic problems (a flat repair kit and good multi-tool), a variety of clothing items if the temperature might vary widely or rain is expected, and a couple of bottles are the basics. I don’t carry much more for a 200K than I would for a club ride and I can fit it all in jersey pockets and a small seatpost bag.
For rides longer than 200km, lights are required. Riders also must wear reflective ankle bands and a vest when riding at night. Some of my most memorable randonneuring moments are from night riding, especially climbing the Feather River Canyon in the Sierra Nevada by the light of a full moon on the Gold Rush 1200K. Whether to use a hub generator lighting system or a battery-powered light is as personal as the wool/ synthetics clothing debate. Both have zealous advocates, but no one approach offers any substantial performance benefit over the other. I use a battery-powered system to enable easy transfer between bicycles, but many prefer generator systems for their aesthetics and to avoid charging or replacing batteries en route.
A “good randonneuring bicycle” is any bicycle that fits and on which the rider is comfortable. On Paris-Brest-Paris, one will find every conceivable human-powered machine on the road. I have completed brevets on bicycles as diverse as a full-carbon racing bike, a cyclocross bike with 32mm knobby tires, a tandem, a fixed-gear pursuit bike, and a fixed-gear bicycle designed for urban riding. While many randonneurs gravitate to classic bicycles in the tradition of René Herse or other constructeurs with steel frames, relaxed geometry, and ample clearances for racks, fenders, and wide tires, such a bicycle is by no means a requirement nor is there any evidence that riders on “randonneuring” bicycles achieve any better results or somehow have more fun. Randonneurs describe their sport as a “big tent,” and one will find riders of every age and ability—and bicycles of every age and design—under the roof.
The 600K and longer events present randonneurs with the issue of how to manage sleep and rest. Some ride without sleep. Some take catnaps where and when the need arises. Park benches, churches, post offices, and 24- hour convenience stores are havens for the tired randonneur. I even saw a rider on PBP ’07 stuffed into a phone booth, fast asleep. On the other comfort extreme, some will check into a hotel and shower up, change clothing, and get a full night’s sleep before setting off the next day. If you tend toward roughing it, carry a bivy sack or foil emergency blanket. If you like your beauty sleep, remember your credit card.
Randonneurs also need to address nutrition and hydration. Some riders carry all their own food, but most will provision themselves along the route. Many brevets provide food at the contrôles, included in the entry fee. Riders who require particular sport drinks or gels, or have dietary needs that might not be addressed in the countryside, will carry those items with them.
Try to enjoy the trial-and-error process of figuring out what you like to eat and drink on long rides. I’ve fueled brevets with homemade GORP and surf-and-turf and just about everything edible in between. What tastes good in your kitchen may be unappealing after you’ve been riding all day. Many find sport drinks to be too sweet later in rides. Ibuprofen and acidic foods can upset even the most iron stomachs on Day 2 of a 1200K.
By now you may be thinking, “What’s this PBP thing all about, and how do I go about doing it?” You’ve got time to plan: the 18th Paris-Brest-Paris will not occur until August 2015. Originally, PBP was held only once a decade because the thinking at the time was that to ride it more frequently would be too harmful to one’s health. Today, some randonneurs do several 1200Ks in a season, but PBP remains a quadrennial offering to permit planning a quality event (moving 5,000 riders and organizing volunteers across rural northern France is no simple task) and, perhaps, to add to its allure and mystique.
To ride PBP (and most other 1200Ks), one must first qualify by completing a full brevet series (200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K) in the same calendar year as PBP. Qualifying helps to ensure that randonneurs are prepared to meet the challenge and that their experience will be not only successful, but enjoyable. Historically, between 70 percent and 90 percent of those who start PBP finish within time. RBAs—regional brevet administrators—design their brevets to ensure that their riders have the greatest preparation and chance for success on PBP. Complete PBP, and you’ll forever be known as an ancien (ancienne, for the ladies), a distinction bestowed by the French with pride, gravity, and honor.
Resources and links
- Randonneurs USA (RUSA) organizes brevets in the United States. RUSA’s website, www.rusa.org, contains a wealth of information on upcoming events, advice, and history of the sport.
- PBP is put on by l’Audax Club Parisien. See www. paris-brest-paris.org for more information.
- There are many excellent randonneuring blogs. Among my favorites is The Daily Randonneur (thedailyrandonneur.wordpress.com), which contains diverse stories, interviews and information from the randonneuring world.
- - There is a randonneuring list-serv, groups.google.com/group/randon, covering all things randonneuring including ride reports, advice and information on events.
- Perhaps the best way to learn more about randonneuring is to participate. Register for the next local 100km populaire or 200K and chat up someone with an interesting bike or ride jersey. You’ll find we’re a friendly bunch, and especially eager to help new riders avoid the many mistakes we made when starting out. Bon route!
Purchase the cover art
If you liked the cover of Issue #16, you can purchase a copy of the print from our online store.Tweet
By Robin Jenkins,
I thought that chasing the Tour de France might be a challenge but I was very sure I might not survive the chasing of my mother, a fan of all things Tour related.
When I told my mother, Karen, I was invited to the wedding of a college roommate in the south of France early in July 2010, it did not escape her that the wedding would occur just after the start of the Tour. She suggested joining me after the wedding in a city where we could see either the start or finish of a stage and then spend time in Paris.
Memories of recent summers started to surface: daily phone calls relating endless Tour information about stage locations, updates on specific riders, and requests to join silly, fruitless, online contests. All of this information came from one Tour de France fan – my mother – and it came whether I wanted to hear it or not. So being an adventurous person and a thoughtful daughter, I agreed to her suggestion. This would be her chance to see a Tour stage in person and I always enjoy spending time with her, especially when travelling. During Thanksgiving, we got a large Michelin map of France and started to plan.
As it turns out the Tour routes are not made public until about six months before the race, so we definitely needed help with picking a city, finding a hotel, renting bikes, and general Tour information. Fortunately and not surprisingly, my mother worked her contacts to find someone who specializes in bike tours for cyclists to follow portions of the Tour. Joe Tonon, owner of Destination Cycling, offered generous and invaluable advice and assistance. By March, Joe helped us confirm our destination to be Reims, in the Champagne region of Northern France for the end of Stage 4. We got our airline and French train tickets and Joe made our hotel and bicycle reservations in Reims. The rest was up to patience and fate.
My mother arrived in Reims a day before I did and was standing in front of the Grand Hotel des Templiers, our charming and affordable hotel, when I alighted from the cab from the train station. Getting advice from Joe to rent bicycles in Reims was one of the best decisions—that plus the hotel he booked for us which was two blocks from the Tour route into Reims and six blocks from the finish line and the center of downtown.
The next morning we had a pleasant 15-minute walk to the bike rental agency at the train station that also rented cars. When my mother asked about renting bike helmets, the agent insisted no one wears helmets, that we would look silly. My mother, who is a League Cycling Instructor, and never without a helmet when riding a bike, sighed along with the agent as he dolefully said it was better that we did not look like “helmet heads”. We quickly learned that in Reims, bike riders are expected to be on the sidewalks. After several motorists stopped to yell at us for riding in the streets, my mother sighed again as we pulled the bikes onto the sidewalk to ride.
A beautiful city, Reims proved to be a splendid size to explore by bicycle while waiting several days for the arrival of the Tour. We visited majestic townhouses, fascinating museums, interesting historical sites, and enjoyed delicious inexpensive meals. Surprising was the role of Reims in World War II as the headquarters for General Dwight Eisenhower and the Allied Command.
We were awed by the exquisite public library built with a donation from Andrew Carnegie after World War I and still lending books. Perhaps most memorable was the chapel of Our Lady of Peace which was the work of Japanese artist Tsuguharu Foujita who painted the stunning and mystical interior frescos. The spectacular Cathedral of Notre Dame, which looks beautiful at all times of the day, but especially at sunset, was breath-taking every time we crossed the large cathedral square. While my being in Reims to see the end of a Tour stage was very much for my mother, I found myself enjoying sightseeing and spending time together. Soon, I too was getting excited about the coming of the Tour de France.
Amazingly, the day before the Tour, we could only get a whisper of the route – nobody really knew for sure which roads it would take into Reims. The owner of our hotel did not know and neither did anyone at the local tourist office across the square from the Cathedral.
To Americans, this seemed very strange—shouldn’t the whole town be turned upside down for such a world- class event? None of the shops were selling Tour paraphernalia—T-shirts, postcards, caps, jerseys—anything to indicate that within a day, the Tour de France would roar into Reims. We took the little information we had and hopped on our bikes, intent on finding a good location from which to watch the cyclists pass by. Our criteria was very simple—a cafe along the route far enough from the crowds at the finish line and, most importantly, easy access to restrooms.
We decided to ride our bikes away from Reims and use as markers the handful of barriers along the way, which we figured would be set up to hold back the crowds. We found a small cafe where we had lunch and became acquainted with the owners. They too thought the Tour would go past their establishment and assured us we would be very welcome to return the next day. Everything was set. Or so we thought!
Early on the morning Stage 4 was to finish in Reims there was not a cloud in the sky. The weather was hot but fortunately, not humid. As we left our hotel, we were surprised that overnight the nearby streets had been transformed into a long stretch of barriers with police stationed every 20 feet. We decided to ride first to the finish line about six blocks away and then follow the barriers out of the center of town to our carefully chosen cafe.
The area for the finish had a great energy and excitement. Souvenir stands had appeared in the same streets where the night before we strolled and had dinner. Most impressive were the large gleaming double decker broadcast booths. We could look down the street past the VIP stand and see the finish line being painted. By 9 a.m. the crowd was growing. We spoke to a number of dedicated fans that had claimed their spots while holding large national flags. They would be waiting for six or seven hours for a chance to see their heroes finish—true dedication.
We started to ride away from Reims, following the barriers, to get to the cafe we had chosen the day before… and surprise… the route was different than we anticipated. Our cafe was now an eighth of a mile away from the route into Reims putting our view and access to restrooms in jeopardy.
Fortunately, my ears heard a wonderful sound—American Soul music coming from a cafe with empty tables right on the route just at a corner. Fate had intervened and helped us find an even better location. We would be able to see the cyclists as they approached the corner and as they made the turn to race into Reims. Since this was France relaxing at a cafe for many hours at a table is never an issue, it’s a requirement. So we introduced ourselves to the owners and settled in to wait. My mother was thrilled and the music was rocking!
By about 1 p.m., it seemed the entire neighbourhood was going to turn out for the passing of the Tour De France and we were among them—families, teenagers, seniors, shop owners, postal workers, delivery people—all filling the sidewalks with children pressed against the barriers for the long wait, while chatting with each other and the police.
We spent the next few hours talking to our fellow onlookers while drinking sodas and water, eating lunch, reading newspapers, taking turns sitting in the chairs, and being part of the growing excitement. At one point, I was even able to apply a fresh coat of nail polish. Then the long parade began. There were local groups that rode their bikes or marched past. It was not a typical parade, but rather many community groups that went past in no particular order, some had one or two instruments to accompany them and great gaps of time between each.
In between were small vendor trucks with all the Tour souvenirs unavailable in the shops. People would jump off the trucks and dash to the barriers to sell t-shirts, musettes, caps, balloons, pens and other assorted Tour items. We joined in the shouting for the desired items, quickly shoving euros at the vendors and miraculously getting back the correct change.
Then, the Tour de France caravan (or parade of floats) slowly passed by. Sponsored by French banks, businesses, and bicycle-related companies, the floats were colorful but small in comparison to floats in American parades. People on the floats and walking along the sides energetically threw free merchandise to the crowd—everything from candy, small toys, packets of laundry detergent, cycling caps, small bagged desserts, and the prized large green foam hands.
Kids scrambled to grab candy and toys while the police and adults obligingly moved out the way or gave away what they had caught. Caps were generously given to the elderly who did not have hats to shield them from the sun. We happily gave away the laundry detergent we grabbed in the scramble. I gave away one of the two polka dot (King of the Mountain) hats I caught while my mother clutched the big green hand she managed to secure. Amazingly, it seemed that everyone got something.
Meanwhile markers for the benefit of the cyclists were being put in place. A large white and red polka dot balloon jersey was blown up and secured at the corner where we were positioned to indicate it was 3km to the finish line. Then, a different kind of caravan rolled past, this time the huge brightly painted team busses; the equally colorful cars, each loaded with bikes on top; and a small army of support vehicles and photographers sitting precariously on the back of countless motorcycles. The crowd clapped, waved and shouted as the parade of busses, cars, and support vehicles went past. But after nearly six hours of waiting, where were the cyclists?
All of a sudden my mother shouted she could hear a helicopter, which soon was overhead. The cyclists must be near. We joined in the cheering with the crowd. The air was electric—and then it was over in less than 15 seconds, maybe 20! We knew it would be over fast, and I must admit it is still a blur of color and movement, but one of the greatest blurs I have experienced. I thought I had joined my mother so she could see the end of a stage of the most famous bicycle race in the world. Instead, we both found ourselves in the middle of long, boisterous, colourful, and generous community party to which everyone was welcome!
I’m sure some of you have been lucky enough to participate in something after dreaming and perhaps seeing it for so long on television. If so, you might appreciate and understand the happiness and enjoyment of my mother. Because I came to the adventure with no agenda and ready to absorb whatever craziness might occur, I had a great time and can now easily report that if it is your dream, it is very possible to see part of the Tour de France up close and personal.
My mother wants to see a stage of the Tour de France next year, but she wants to be a Podium Girl—one of the lovely women who each day hand awards and offer kisses to the stage winners. PLEASE drop me a line if you have any ideas on how to pull this one off… anything is possible, right?
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Editor’s note: Riders Write is an occasional column where we feature reader-submitted stories. This edition tells the story of the Trans-Iowa, a 330-mile gravel race that traverses some of the most difficult terrain imaginable. Author Jeremy Kershaw knows his gravel, too. He is the creator and director of the Heck of the North, a similar event in Minnesota.
By Jeremy Kershaw
Jay Barre and I looked back 100 yards at the figure of Bill Graves hunched over his bike. He waves us on. His front rack had broken. Jay and I spoke almost incoherently about what we should do. We had to go. We had another 50 miles to go. Time was all of a sudden a very valuable commodity. Our hearts sank leaving a very strong rider on the side of the road. We both hoped that he would just kick the damn thing off his bike and keep going. Just keep riding damnit!
Twenty miles to go. Eighty. 130 miles to go still. It just never seemed to end. The last 60 miles were without a doubt the most difficult miles of my life. Jay kept crunching the numbers and we had no time to waste. But the roads just went from bad to worse. Yes, we all "love to ride gravel" and all that, but fresh limestone (golf to tennis ball size rock) with no packed track made us almost sick to our stomachs. And the hills just kept coming. One after another.
There were so many times that we just asked, "how do my legs keep going?!" Ironically, our legs felt OK. But hands, lower backs and butts were all just wasted. Jay didn’t want to look down south any more in fear of what he might see. I was chafed for sure, but what concerned me the most was just the pure soreness, the pain of trauma on my inner butt cheeks. It felt better to stand and pedal. I worried I had ulcers forming. I worried I would turn into one of my patients that you have to turn every two hours. I shut out the thought and took two more ibu’s.
I had a second of doubt trying to follow Jay’s wheel toward the end. He was a pure motor. I mean he just didn’t seem to falter. Youth? Maybe. Natural toughness. Yes.
Somewhere I found another store of energy. How? How does the body keep going? This is what I came for at the Trans Iowa. This is the marrow of these endurance events. I needed another pure dose of this insanity. Another swim in the deep end. I put my head down and passed Jay so that I could take another pull at the front. He had done a lion’s share of the work this morning. But I scraped together a few more watts and broke the relentless headwind for him. At least for a couple of minutes.
Up ahead, we saw riders that had let us go earlier in the day. All were strong, great gravel cyclists. Good guys. But I stood and attacked and wanted them behind us. We slowly bridged to the five and just kept riding. I seriously felt like Jay and I were riding to the storied velodrome in Roubaix, France. Overcast, windy, rain threatening. Bodies absolutely hammered. For only maybe the second time in my cycling life, I found a reserve of energy that allowed me to go faster than I thought I could. It was a highlight of the race. Not passing those guys. But just feeling that strong when it mattered most.
I usually pride myself in my navigational skills. I love to lead and I swore that I would follow my cue cards religiously. I always do. I have done many solo nights successfully. But the sleep monsters were particularly mean this race. I don’t know how many times I looked down at my cue sheet only to go blurry eyed and feign some knowledge of our current where-abouts. I was lucky to be with a savvy and generous bunch of guys through the dark times of the T.I. I don’t think they missed a beat all night. So impressive.
And never will I go with such a miserable lighting system again. It was anemic at best. But again, lucky to be with guys who had enough combined lumins to do major surgery by. Thank you gentleman for your firepower, both brain and headlamp.
There must have been a legislative mandate to make all farm dogs in Iowa under 20 pounds. I have never been chased by so many Yorkies, Korgies, and other yippers. Where were the big, mean old guys of yore? In their place were the new Mig fighter planes. By the time you saw them it was too late. So much yipping. So many ankle biters.
And no, this is not RAGBRAI. We were not just riding out in the ditch. We are not lost, which is what must we look like to any rational Iowa rural resident.
Three AM. Raining hard and windy. Farmer hears their dog barking and happens to look out his window. A string of guys riding their damn bikes on a dirt road in the middle of the night. All wearing headlamps. Damn fools. Same pack of guys shows up at convenient store in absolutely the darkest part of the night. Guy at register stands there with dumb founded look. Headlamps still on. Click clack and muddied cycling shoes slipping on polished floor. Dumbly and I mean dumbly looking for something salty to eat. How hard is it to pick out something to eat after 230 miles? Really hard. Guy at register must think we are insane. But a curious question? Not one. Not one comment from register guy.
I slump down on floor by the cash machine and numbly eat a very white looking ham and cheese sandwich. I spill Chex Mix on the floor and sweep it up with my muddy, gloved fingers. I feel like a homeless guy at a Grey Hound station. Someone says we gotta roll. I say something like "thanks" to the guy at the register. Not a peep. We saddle up and head back into the darkness.
I feel pretty good. It’s dark but I know it will be getting light soon. I’ve lucked out and hooked onto a group of guys riding the pace I want to go. We are making miles into the headwind. I think I have a good chance of actually making the first checkpoint this year. I know I’m not going to give up this year. I hear the first robins chirping their morning song. The kildeer are barking their usual orders as they glide by right in front of our bikes. I love riding these rural roads.
I have never ridden my bicycle so hard or for so long.
Jay and I ride down the paved block to the park and finish line. It is just how I imagine it. Farrow is there. So are Ari and Giggles. We stop riding after 33 hours and 330 miles. Someone takes our bikes. I hug Jay. Guitar Ted and others congratulate us. I sit down and feel absolute and total relief. Someone gives me a Budweiser and it is the best beer I have ever tasted.
It is finally over.
I can finally stop pedaling.
By Gary Boulanger,
Grant Petersen is a hard man to define. His views on bicycling have run counter to conventional industry wisdom for nearly 30 years, which shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who really knows the California native. Call it survival, cunning or instinct; either way, his latest book, ‘Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike’ (Workman Publishing, 212 pages, $13.95) is consistent with the belief system of a man I’ve known since digesting the indelible prose from the Bridgestone Cycles catalogs he developed during his 10 years as both marketing director and product manager for the small but influential company, located a mere 26 miles from Petersen’s Walnut Creek homebase.
Bridgestone Cycles closed its doors permanently for multiple reasons in late 1994, but only after Petersen developed a fiercely loyal customer base with his Bridgestone Owners Bunch (B.O.B.). Club membership was open to Bridgestone bicycle owners, and discounts were playfully offered to members with "Bob" derivatives (Robert, Rob, Roberta, Roberto, Robin, etc.). The B.O.B. Gazette was an extension of the well-written Bridgestone catalogs, where Petersen and other contributors openly communicated their views on what made cycling wonderful. Much of what the gang wrote about focused on fun and health, with a light dose of technical jargon about bicycle design, componentry, and competition. He was (and is) transparent about every aspect of bicycle development, sourcing, marketing and racing, and it struck a chord with many.
A page from the 1993 Bridgestone catalog.
Petersen discovered his voice at Bridgestone, and his style of sprinkling opinion with experience often planted seeds of joyous discovery for those seeking a unique and sublime cycling experience. At the same time, though, his writing confounded and angered some journalists, Bridgestone salespeople, and independent bicycle dealers who didn’t appreciate Petersen’s upstream swimming approach to get more people riding bikes. The B.O.B. Gazette allowed him to speak directly to a devoted audience, which formed the foundation of Petersen’s new company in late 1994, Rivendell Bicycle Works, and whose database he was able to inherit after Bridgestone shuttered for good.
Rivendell was the perfect transition for Petersen, which allowed him to publish catalogs in his own style and voice, plus continue to offer the unique products he felt strongly about at Bridgestone, with no corporate strings attached. He pioneered many things in the early Rivendell days: consumer-direct sales, membership and its privileges, and diaries/blogs (in small print form in his Rivendell Reader, an offshoot of the B.O.B. Gazette). Some say he kept Brooks leather saddles afloat, and ushered in the current handmade bicycle movement by keeping the home fires burning with his singular focus on lugged steel bikes during the steel-to-aluminum-to-carbon phase. Ditto saddle bags and wool clothing.
Northern California has been a hotbed for road racing for decades, and Petersen was part of that scene. There’s a photo of him beating former 7-Eleven/Motorola pro Norm Alvis up the popular Mt. Diablo hill climb event, proving he was no slouch on the bike. But Petersen understood early on that for a company like Bridgestone to survive and thrive in the United States against Schwinn, Trek and Specialized, a different approach was necessary, and it was a battle not be be won on the podium. This meant a focus on the rider and his or her needs. In other words, Petersen was quick to key in on the ‘why’ factor for Bridgestone (then Rivendell), providing compelling reasons why consumers would choose his products over the multiple competitors on the market. His straight-talk approach cut to the heart of what makes cycling so attractive to kids in the first place: adventure and freedom.
In many ways, Petersen has been peddling adventure and freedom since his early days working at REI in Berkeley before hitching a ride with Bridgestone in 1984. His new book encapsulates a lifetime of what that adventure and freedom has meant to him and the thousands of people he’s influenced through his writing, marketing and product development.
The 212 pages include counter-intuitive advice culled from years of practical use (leather saddles versus gel, lugged steel frames versus carbon, larger tires versus skinny, wool and cotton clothing versus Lycra, platform versus clipless pedals, etc.). He provides advice on proper diet, riding techniques, clothing, gear for bike camping, and bike fit and positioning. He practices what he preaches, and there’s plenty in the book that might prove unpopular with conventional thinkers (helmet use, blinky lights, charity rides, etc.).
Mind you, the nearly 58-year-old Petersen has been working with bicycles and bicyclists his entire adult life, so he’s perched solidly on a legitimate platform. Some dismiss him as a retro-grouch and a Luddite, but my observation has been that Petersen is more of a romantic, harkening back to the days when fendered British three-speeds with waxed-cotton saddle bags ruled the land. He’s an encourager, and he astutely debunks many misconceptions fostered by an industry quick to hitch its marketing wagon to racing, only to repeatedly see its heroes crash and burn amid this month’s doping scandals.
‘Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike’ is refreshing in its content and belongs in every library and school across the country, to be discovered by young cyclists looking for an alternative view. Buy it if you need a reminder of what it felt like the first time you rode a bike, or buy it for a friend who’s been blinded by the carnal racerboy tendency to tear his pedals off with every ride. Either way, Petersen offers a peek into a different insight that’s worth digesting. He’s the Pied Piper for the Un-racer.Tweet
Editor’s note: Today I’m excited to share the work of one of my favorite industry insiders. Jill Missal is the founder of GearGals.com, a site dedicated to the (sadly) often marginalized population of women who love the outdoors. The site is essential reading for women, and guys, you might learn a thing or two. Hopefully this will be the first of many of her contributions to Bicycle Times.
The venerable Rick Vosper wrote about the elephant in the industry – the cycling industry that is. You know what it’s like having an elephant around; it’s that thing that is glaringly obvious yet has no immediate solution so everyone just ignores it. The cycling industry’s elephant is that the industry has undergone essentially zero net growth in the last twenty years.
Zero. Small ups, small downs, but essentially has stayed exactly the same. It was a 6 billion dollar industry in 1990 and it’s a 6 billion dollar industry today. That’s right, every company out there is just fighting for a share of the same dollars. No blue oceans, no new markets, no innovation, nada, nothing.
Depressing, eh? If you’re a bike retailer or bike shop owner or have any ambition to make it big in the bike industry, you bet it’s depressing. You’d have to steal market share from either another small retailer, or battle it out with the Big Guns of which there are only a few. You’d have to beat out an enormous juggernaut of a company like Specialized to get any of their market. Good luck with that.
The reasons behind this lack of growth seem mystifying to some. To me, they are fairly obvious. The bike industry never changes, never evolves, never involves new markets or offers anything different than what it’s got. Consider the outdoor industry, which has grown and expanded to provide something for just about everyone. Not the bike industry – it struggles to change the consumer, not offer the consumer what she wants. So it doesn’t grow.
What, specifically, do I mean? Here are the biggest factors in the bike industry’s stunning lack of growth in my opinion:
1. The bike seat problem. I’ve been riding seriously for about seven years now and recreationally for a while before that. I have yet to find one bike saddle that doesn’t cause severe chafing, pressure, numbness, or flat out horrible pain. When I try to get help for this problem I’m met with the same old set of worn, useless pieces of bike shop advice: “Get good shorts.” (Done.) “Use chamois cream.” (Done.) “Get a bike fit.” (Done.) “You just have to get used to it.” (Done, and served up with a healthy dose of STFU. Are men told “get used to it” when they complain of saddle sores? I have to wonder. Any men out there care to report?)
It just doesn’t work. Bike seats are terrible and bike seats for women are inexcuseably bad. It takes a very dedicated person to keep doing something that causes pain, chronic issues, and potential disfigurement. For normal people, if it hurts, they stop. And cycling hurts the most sensitive parts of our bodies. So they stop. And the bike industry just keep churning out the same old seats. Any innovation in bicycle saddle technology is met with some variation of “oh my god, that won’t possibly work, and it looks different so we want nothing to do with it.” Which brings me to the next issue with the bike industry:
2. Form over function AND fashion. The cycling industry keeps telling me I want to wear garish, skin tight, unflattering and horrendously ugly spandex clothing covered in company logos. It tells me I want tall socks and shirts with insane pocket configurations and zero sex appeal. It tries to convince me that arm condoms make more sense than long sleeves.
It tells me that full-length bib pants are practical and I shouldn’t mind stripping naked on the side of the road to pee because my cycling pants are basically overalls. It tells me that the very things that can make riding easier and more convenient are so hopelessly uncool that I should be snubbed, made fun of, ignored, or practically shot dead for using them. Think hydration packs, flat pedals, non-spandex pants, loose-fitting clothing, shoes that can be walked in; you name it. If it improves the experience, you’re a shameless nerd and the cycling industry doesn’t want you.
Again, if it sucks to ride a bike because it’s uncomfortable, and, say, you don’t like dislocating your shoulder trying to get a snack out of the pocket inexplicably located at the small of your back, you won’t continue. If you are snubbed by other participants in the sport and urged to do things that make your experience not as enjoyable, you’ll find something else to do.
The cycling industry just cannot accept that the bulk of the potential market does not want to look like they’re wearing a sponsored sausage casing. They want easy access to food and water. They want to wear what they’re comfortable in. They want to do it the way they want to do it. Instead of finding ways to embrace that market, the cycling industry keeps churning out ugly and nonfunctional clothing and actively ridiculing those who would dare to alter the “look” of cycling. There are only so many people who will wear stuff that looks like that, and that’s the current limit of the cycling industry. The industry puts more energy into convincing me that I want to wear long socks than it is in making the socks I would want to buy. It’s backwards. You can’t control the consumer, you have to give the consumer what she wants.
3. Women. Oh, the legion of ways the industry excludes women. My recent favorite example is this article published by Canadian MTB powerhouse web site pinkbike.com, in which the writer manages to alienate female riders everywhere by at once disregarding them (did you know that NO women ride mountain bikes? None at all?
If you do happen to ride a bike, you evidently don’t count, because there are none of you in the sport), objectifying them (using a highly airbrushed, pouty glamour shot of a rider NOT riding a bike to illustrate the article), and displaying a forehead-slappingly appalling lack of knowledge of chromosomes (“Why No Y?” Oh my god. And it was published with that name. Shameful). The article wraps up with a condescending “To all the girls, sorry a guy had to write this” as if women like me haven’t been writing about this very issue for years (also, to author Mitchell Scott: We are not “girls.” We are women. If you want “girls” in your sport maybe you should target your article to kindergartens everywhere).
Naturally, the article was followed by a barrage of revoltingly sexist and demeaning comments, which are par for the course on mountain biking sites and events and seemingly not subjected to silly things like “moderation” from the site admins and event organizers. Go to a bike industry event and you see women all over the place – stuck out in front of booths like 3-D billboards in thongs and lucite stripper heels. Is that the way to sell women with money on the industry? (Hint: No.)
Well guys, there are plenty of women riding, we’re just not riding with YOU. Go read a forum or look around at a bicycle trade show to figure out why not. Professional women over thirty are a fast-growing consumer market because we have money to spend on ourselves. Lots of us ride bikes and have great careers so why would we spend time with idiots who talk down to us, demean us, and condescend to us? Which brings me to the next factor in bike industry non-growth:
4. Catering to the wrong base. I love this humor piece about types of riders, especially the part about The Racer who “works part time.” Amateurs do get obsessed with bike racing and basically give everything up to do it to try to get sponsored to get free stuff. They even give up their jobs and then they don’t have money to buy cycling stuff. One prominent cycling industry CEO told me bluntly “racers just want free stuff.” Yet the industry falls all over itself making things for racing types while ignoring a huge potential base of customers practically waving cash around and trying to spend it on bike stuff. Meanwhile the industry is kissing the ass of racer types who don’t want to spend money on anything. Again. Backwards.
5. Back to women. Like I said, we have money and we want to spend it. But the bike industry seems to really just not want our money. Go to a bike shop and you’ll see tons of dude stuff and a tiny selection of women stuff. Two saddles for women, one of which is bound to be the Terry Butterfly because bike shop dudes figure that’s the one we all want (no!). Most of the time, zero demo bikes in women’s sizes – usually shops stock M and L frames and that’s pretty much it.
So, what, we’re supposed to drop two grand on something we can’t even ride around the parking lot? We have to “special order” our frame size and sit around for six to eight weeks waiting for the mystery bike to arrive and hope that we like it? We’re supposed to be happy with one of the two options for bike seats you give us, or the single pair of shorts you have hanging on the rack? Even if a shop has more than that, it’s all gonna be in the same style and go re-read item 2 if you don’t know why that’s a problem.
6. Buy before you try. I’m pretty gear savvy but even I glaze over after thirty seconds of monologue about the details of component groups. When I buy a bike, I want to go try a bunch of bikes to see what I like, and then pick one and buy it and the bike industry just does not have things set up that way. The buy before you try thing is really damaging to potential market growth. Most people simply cannot and will not (and SHOULD NOT in my opinion) drop thousands of dollars on bikes they can’t try first. You’d never buy a car without a good test drive. Why should you buy a bike without a good few test rides? But since bike shops are just barely scraping by trying to make a living, they can’t afford to keep a fleet of demos. So you can’t try before you buy. So a lot of people don’t buy. Hello! Backwards!
7. Lack of innovation in marketing. The bike industry keeps marketing to itself in a fantastically nonsensical endless loop. Ads and marketing are focused on people who already ride bikes. Companies buy ads in bike magazines and go to bike events. That’s great, but it’s completely ignoring a huge number of potential markets.
A few years ago I was negotiating with a high-end boutique bike manufacturer for some consulting work. I tried to convince them of some marketing strategies that would open up new markets and sell more bikes. Instead the company opted to stick with standard bike advertising strategy: a dramatically shadowy studio shot of the bike, placed in a few bike-specific publications. And that’s it. People who already want that bike might like that ad, but people who have never heard of that bike or are just getting into bikes just see a picture of a bike. Or they don’t see it at all, because if they’re not already into bikes they’re not going to buy a bike magazine. Backwards!
There are so many untapped markets out there for the bike industry. I’m not going to list them because, frankly, as a consultant that’s what I get paid to do. If you’re interested in hearing my strategies, hire me to create one for you. It’s so frustrating, though, because when I point out a lucrative market for cycling companies that NO ONE is marketing to, it’s a golden opportunity: fresh meat, free money, no competition – but the bike industry says “no, no, that might set us APART!” And the LAST thing anyone in the bike industry wants to do is to set oneself apart from the norm. Sigh. Backwards.
One client turned down my marketing strategy because, though it demonstrated increased profits, the company was afraid of looking uncool to their current base, even though said current base is not buying more bikes from them. A base which, by the way, consists of internet forum-type douchebags. The company turned down a way to make actual money because they wanted to look cool to the crowd that doesn’t spend money. Needless to say this company has not increased its profits in several years.
There’s a reason bike shops are barely scraping by trying to make a living. Seven reasons, actually, so far, if you have a look above. I’m sure there are more. But I think it comes down to an absolute lack of innovation and a culture of exclusion. The bike industry would rather make fun of someone in a backpack than make a backpack that person would buy. It’s the worst business model ever and if the cycling industry keeps on like this, it deserves to not grow.Tweet
By Jay Walljasper, photos by Zach Vanderkooy
People across the country were surprised last year when Bicycling Magazine named Minneapolis America’s “#1 Bike City,” beating out Portland, Oregon, which had claimed the honor for many years. Shock that a place in the heartland could outperform cities on the coasts was matched by widespread disbelief that cycling was even possible in a state famous for its ferocious winters.
But this skepticism fades with a closer look at the facts. Nearly four percent of Minneapolis residents bike to work according to census data. That’s an increase of 33 percent since 2007, and 500 percent since 1980.
At least one-third of those commuters ride some days during the winter, according to federally funded research conducted by Bike Walk Twin Cities. Even on the coldest days about one-fifth of them are out on their bikes.
In 2010, Minneapolis also launched the first large-scale bikesharing system in U.S.—called Nice Ride—and boasts arguably the nation’s finest network of off-street bicycle trails. The city was chosen as one of four pilot projects (along with Marin County, California; Columbia, Missouri; and Sheboygan County, Wisconsin) for the federal Non-Motorized Transportation Program, which aims to shift a share of commuters out of cars and onto bikes or foot.
Bikes also figure prominently in the local economy with firms such as Quality Bicycle Products (bikes and parts wholesaler), Dero (bike racks), and Park Tools (bike tools), based out of the Twin Cities.
A delegation of transportation leaders from Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, came to Minneapolis for a tour sponsored by the Bikes Belong Foundation.
“Biking has become a huge part of what we are,” Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak declared to the delegation. “It’s an economical way to get around town, and many times it’s the fastest. I frequently take a bike from city hall across downtown to meetings.”
This is what a bike town looks like
In a city where bicyclists of all ages and backgrounds already ride recreational trails regularly, the goal is to make two-wheelers a central component of the transportation system by encouraging everyone to hop on their bikes for commuting or short trips around town. This is not a far-fetched dream, since nationally half of all automobile trips are three miles or less—a distance easily covered on a bike.
This year Minneapolis is adding 57 new miles of bikeways to the 127 miles already built. An additional 183 miles are planned over the next twenty years. By 2020, almost every city resident will live within a mile of an off-street bikeway and within a half-mile of a bike lane, vows city transportation planner Donald Pflaum.
“Places famous for biking, like Copenhagen and even Portland, feel very far away,” remarked Jeff Stephens, executive director of the Columbus advocacy organization Consider Biking. Stephens came to Minneapolis looking for ideas he could apply back home. “It was exciting to see what they’ve accomplished in Minneapolis, which is a city that seems a lot like Columbus.
“Our mayor has said that he wants Columbus to become a ‘bike town’,” Stephens added, “and seeing what’s been done here gives us a clearer sense of what that means.”
A world-class network of bike trails
Over three days in mid-July, the visiting group of city officials, planners, and citizen advocates pedaled all over Minneapolis in conditions more typical of Copenhagen or Portland—a constant threat of rain—than Minnesota’s usual warm, sunny summers.
They inspected America’s “first bike freeway,” Cedar Lake Trail, running along an uninterrupted rail corridor from the western suburbs through downtown Minneapolis to the Mississippi River. They also rode the Midtown Greenway, another converted rail line cutting through the city’s south side that carries as many as 3,500 bicyclists a day.
Both the Cedar Lake Trail and the Midtown Greenway connect to numerous other trails, creating an off-road network that reaches deep into St. Paul and surrounding suburbs. Intersections are infrequent along these routes, which boosts riders’ speed along with their sense of safety and comfort.
The crown jewel of the Midtown Greenway is the Martin Olav Sabo Bridge, a striking modernist structure that loops bike and foot traffic high above a formidable seven-lane highway. It’s named for a former Minneapolis congressman who became an early champion of bike riders in the 1990s.
Another sight along the Midtown Greenway is less dazzling but bodes well for cycling’s acceptance as a legitimate form of transportation. City engineers recently reversed a stop sign to give bikes priority over cars where the trail meets 5th Avenue South. The reason: more bike riders move through the intersection on a typical day than motorists.
Women, children, and seniors on bikes
Minneapolis is committed to creating separate rights-of-way for bikes wherever feasible, which helps explain why the city defies trends of bicyclists as overwhelmingly male. While only a quarter of riders nationally are women, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reports the number as high as 37 percent in Minneapolis. Research shows that most people—including many women, families and older citizens—are wary of riding alongside motor vehicles on busy streets.
Having the option to ride apart from heavy traffic encourages more people to try out cycling as a form of transportation. Since the 1970s, Dutch planners have separated bicyclists from motor vehicles on most arterial streets, with impressive results. The rate of cycling has doubled throughout the country, now accounting for 27 percent of all trips. Women make up 55 percent of two-wheel traffic and citizens over 55 ride in numbers slightly higher than the national average. (These stats are from CROW, a Dutch organization that conducts research on traffic, transportation, and infrastructure.)
Nearly every Dutch schoolyard is filled with kids’ bikes parked at racks and lampposts. The Dutch also know that as the number of riders rises, their safety increases. Statistics in Minneapolis show the same results. Shaun Murphy, Non-Motorized Transportation Program Coordinator in the Public Works Department, notes that your chances of being in a car/bike crash in the city are 75 percent less than in 1993.
Taking it to the streets
Murphy led the Pittsburgh and Columbus visitors through the streets of Minneapolis on Nice Ride bikes, showcasing efforts to foster bike riding in a city that until recently accommodated automobiles in every possible way. About half of local bikeways are on the streets, with many more to come soon.
“We’re known for being pretty innovative about bikes,” he explained. “We like to explore creative solutions. We’re seeing what new ideas work.” The group pedaled downtown along Minneapolis’s first “cycle track,” First Avenue North—a bike lane separated from motorized traffic by parked cars. The configuration provides a better experience for both people on bikes and in cars by creating a buffer between them.
Murphy noted that the project was quite controversial when it opened last year, but now everyone is getting used to it. The Columbus delegation paid particularly close attention to this project, tapping one another on the arm and scrutinizing how the paint was applied to the pavement, because the street resembles one in their own downtown.
On the next block, everyone experienced another innovation designed to make bicycling on major streets more appealing. Shared-lane (“sharrow”) markers were painted on Hennepin Avenue within a continuous green stripe running down the street to send a clear message to both bicyclists and motorists that road space is used by everyone.
The group then pedaled out of downtown, crossing another bike- and-pedestrian bridge over a busy street before landing on Bryant Avenue, which has been transformed into a “bicycle boulevard”—a residential street where pedestrians and bicyclists are given preferential priority over cars. The city’s first bicycle boulevard, the River Lake greenway, had also opened to great fanfare in June.
How bike projects save money
Mayor R.T. Rybak stressed that in these lean economic times, cities across the country need to be creative about how they spend transportation dollars. Big-ticket road engineering projects to move ever more cars must give way to more efficient projects that move people by a variety of means—including foot, bike, and public transit.
“We need to get more use from all the streets we already have,” Rybak said. “It really is the idea that bikes belong.”
Bike projects in the Twin Cities are not limited to Minneapolis. St. Paul and many nearby suburbs are also making it easier for people to travel on two wheels and two feet. Steve Elkins, Transportation Chair of the Metropolitan Council, a government body that guides development throughout the region, highlighted his efforts as city council member in suburban Bloomington (home of the Mall of America) to push the idea of Complete Streets—meaning that roadways should serve walkers and bikers as well as cars.
He extolled the virtue of “road diets,” conversion of four-lane streets into three-lane configurations with alternating center turn lanes—which create opportunities to add bike lanes or widen side- walks without diminishing capacity for cars.
“When done in the course of regular road repair projects, they cost nothing more than what it takes for a community outreach campaign,” he noted.
Road diets have become common throughout the Twin Cities.
“The biggest obstacle to Complete Streets right now are traffic engineers who don’t want to reduce the width of traffic lanes, but we are beginning to wear them down,” Elkins laughed. “There’s nothing in the literature that suggests wider lanes are safer; indeed, if there’s any evidence, it’s that narrow streets are safer.”
One theme recurring through the entire tour was that better bike facilities benefit not just bicyclists, but everyone. Bike lanes improve safety for motorists too, by slowing the speed of traffic, explained Mayor Rybak: “We’ve found they’re the best traffic calming device around.”
Joan Pasiuk, Program Director for Bike Walk Twin Cities, distributed materials documenting how new bike facilities get bicyclists off the sidewalks, a major breakthrough for pedestrians’ safety and peace of mind.
Have a nice ride
The nation’s first major bikesharing program hit the streets in Minneapolis in June 2010, quickly followed by Denver, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Toronto—with Seattle, Chicago, Portland and other cities now readying plans.
Bill Dossett, executive director of Nice Ride Minnesota—the non-profit organization that runs the bikeshare program—recounted the widespread skepticism that greeted the new system. Would bikesharing work outside Europe? Would it work in a city where a high percentage of people already own bikes? In a city that is low-density? Wouldn’t inexperienced riders hurt themselves? Won’t most of the bikes be stolen or vandalized?
But when the signature lime-green bikes were put away for the winter in November 2010, those questions had all been answered. Only one bike was stolen, only one accident was reported, no major injuries were suffered, and less than $5,000 in vandalism occurred, which was far lower than the organization’s projections.
More than 100,000 rides were taken from June to November last year, and Nice Ride operated in the black. Capital costs were covered by a combination of funding from the Non-Motorized Pilot Program and the health insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield, with smaller grants from beneficiaries like the Minneapolis Convention Center.
In summer 2011 the system added 500 more bikes and 51 more stations, expanding outward from the center of Minneapolis and moving into St. Paul. From April to late September 2011, Nice Ride had logged 172,000 rides, with still more than a month to go.
Dossett believes the project’s greatest accomplishment is not the numbers, but the success in getting people to ride. Amy Duncan had not been on a bike since the 1970s but joined Nice Ride to do errands around downtown.
“I learned to ride a bike again and one hundred percent of my success belongs to Nice Ride,” she said.
The system is free for the first half-hour, $1.50 for the next, and rises steeply after that. The idea is to encourage short trips that might otherwise be made by car. You can get access to a bike for a yearly ($60), monthly ($30), or daily ($5) pass. Passes can be purchased with the swipe of a credit or debit card at any Nice Ride station.
The bikes themselves—elegant in design with an eye-popping lime green color— feature adjustable seats, lights, and a rack for carrying a briefcase or shopping bag. The system is particularly popular with out- of-town tourists, downtown office workers, university students, and residents of apartment buildings and condos. Many local users may actually own bikes, but find Nice Ride easy to use in certain circum- stances, such as when they take transit downtown or to the university. Every Nice Ride bike you see likely represents one less car on the road.
Winter wonderland on two wheels
“We’re colder than Montreal or Moscow,” Steve Clark, Program Manager of Bike Walk Twin Cities, confessed to the Pittsburgh and Columbus visitors, “but that doesn’t stop people from riding their bikes in even the coldest, snowiest, darkest conditions.”
Former bicycle/pedestrian coordinator of Boulder, Colorado, Clark pointed to research his group conducted finding that one in three summer-time bike commuters will also ride on warmer, sunny winter days. One in four rides at least once a week from November to March, and one in five will be out on their bikes through snowstorms and temperatures below zero.
City workers clear snow from the off-road bikeways just the same as streets, sometimes doing them first. Studded snow tires and cold-weather clothing make year-round riding easier than it looks, Clark said. And while Minnesotans are reluctant to dispel the notion they are hardier than anyone else, he revealed that even in the depths of winter, many days are above 20 degrees with streets free of snow and ice. A few tips for would-be winter bikers: install fenders, ride slower, lower your seat so you can use your boots as an emergency brake, and enjoy the Christmas-card scenery.
He emphasizes the importance of doing bike counts throughout the coldest months.
“Actual data legitimizes winter biking as transportation, and debunks the idea that bike projects are frivolous be- cause they are used only in the summer.”
Gary Sjoquist, Bike Belong’s Government Affairs Director who lives in suburban Minneapolis, added that gathering data is essential to promote bicycling. “We now understand that if there aren’t stats to show how many people actually bike, then nothing happens.”
Bike Walk Twin Cities pioneered new methodology for bike counts in its role as the local administrator for the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Project.
A continuing concern for social justice
The notion that only upper-middle class white folks ride bikes is being challenged on all fronts across Minneapolis. The Major Taylor Bicycle Club, named for the African-American racer who claimed world records in the 1890s, organizes rides and bike events in minority communities.
Jon Wertjes, the city’s Director of Traffic and Parking Services, mentioned that a half- dozen bike rodeos to excite kids about cycling would take place in inner-city neighborhoods over the summer of 2011. In St. Paul, the Sibley Bike Depot offers a wide range of programs to introduce cycling to immigrants and low-income families, including a shop that sells low-cost bikes and lets people work on their own bikes for free. They also run pro- grams where kids can earn free bikes by taking bike repair classes and a bike library where low-income families can borrow bikes.
At a time when gasoline prices are high and transit service is being cut across the country, bikes can help fill the transportation gaps in poor communities. Nice Ride, with support from the McKnight Foundation, has extended service to lower-income areas of both Minneapolis and St. Paul this summer. Dosset says the initiative aims to overcome cultural attitudes in some communities that bikes are only for kids or people who can’t afford any other way to get around.
Bike Walk Twin Cities launched a social marketing campaign to promote cycling in the lower-income neighborhoods of Minneapolis’s north side, where this year a new Bike Walk Center opens along with an extensive network of new bikeways.
A tradition of civic involvement
Dorian Grilley, Executive Director of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, credited a “150-year tradition of civic involvement” as a major reason for Minneapolis’ emergence as a bike capital. In the late 19th century, city fathers wisely preserved land along lakes, creeks and the Mississippi for the public use. These became popular places to bike in the 1890s and again, 80 years later, when the second bike boom hit town. The Cedar Lake Trail and Midtown Greenway were initiated by grassroots groups, which convinced political leaders to take the bold step of developing abandoned rail lines as bike trails rather than as condos or industrial zones. That marked a major step for trans- forming transportation in the community.
Minneapolis was not always a good place to ride. What changed?
It just so happens that I live and bike in Minneapolis, although I was on the tour in my capacity as a writer and editor for Bikes Belong, not as a local expert. But I offered some background to out-of-town visitors on the first day of the tour.
I told them that local bicyclists would have howled at the idea of Minneapolis being named America’s best city 30 years ago. It was a frustrating and dangerous place to bike, crisscrossed by freeways and arterial streets that felt like freeways. Drivers were openly hostile to bike riders, some of them going the extra step to scare the daylights out of us as they roared past. Bike lanes were practically non-existent at that time. What changed in Minneapolis was that local bike riders patiently lobbied for better conditions, slowly winning over elected officials and city staff. Also, as the number of bike riders steadily rose, motorists became accustomed to sharing the streets with us.
Other factors that boosted Minneapolis as a bike town include:
- A large number of students at the University of Minnesota and smaller local colleges.
- Minneapolis was originally laid out for streetcars—like most cities outside the Sun Belt—which is a scale that works very well for bike riders.
- The high number of recreational bike riders here eventually translates into bike commuters. Fifty one percent of all Minnesotans rode a bike last year, and the numbers for the Twin Cities are much higher than that. Even folks who will never ride their bikes anywhere except around a lake can still identify with a person on two wheels, which reminds them to drive more respectfully.
- As a mid-American city far from the glamour capitals of the coasts, cycling has become part of our positive self-image. Even people who haven’t ridden a bike in years cheered when Minneapolis was named America’s #1 cycling city. It’s become part of our “brand.”
What Other Cities Can Learn from Minneapolis
At the end of the tour, the group gathered at a fire station transformed into a sports bar with Bikes Belong staff members Zach Vanderkooy and Zoe Kircos to discuss what they learned in Minneapolis. Here are the new ideas they were taking home.
Stephen Patchan, Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, City of Pittsburgh
"To increase mode share for bikes you need more than people who strongly identify as bicyclists. You also need to reach people who simply ride bikes. I also noticed how well Minneapolis uses parks and trails as the springboard for a bike system. Pittsburgh has a lot of trails that we can use to form a bike network by filling in the gaps."
Nick Popa, Bikeways and Community Mobility Manager, City of Columbus
"I realized how much bike lanes promote traffic calming; which means everyone benefits, not just the bikers. And when I saw the cycle tracks (bikes lanes separated from motorized traffic –ed.) I thought: we have places in Columbus where we can do that."
Yarone Zober, Chief of Staff for Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl
"The bike facilities here are not all big, expensive infrastructure. You can do a lot to make biking safer just with paint on the streets. And the Nice Ride bikeshare system works really well."
Alan McKnight, Director of Recreation and Parks, City of Columbus
"You see right away how bikes are accepted as a mode of transportation. And the bike trails connect very well with the street system of bike lanes."
Darla Cravotta, Special Projects Coordinator for Allegheny County (PA) Executive Dan Onorato
"The trip reenergized me in thinking about biking. We have a lot of what we call recreational trails, which we should call bikeways. Some could be great commuter routes."
Greg Bachman, City Engineer, Pickering, Ohio
"They bike in the winter here! It can be done and it is. And I was impressed with the amount and diversity of facilities and trails they have, and how many people use them."
Scott Bricker, Executive Director, Bike Pittsburgh
"This helps me understand that a good bike system is not a cookie-cutter approach; you adapt and improve based on local conditions. And I learned a lot of the nitty-gritty about running a successful bikeshare program."
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
Height: 6’ 4”
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Sizes Available: 46, 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61cm (tested)
In 2006 our sister magazine, Dirt Rag, reviewed an earlier version of the Tricross Comp. See what we wrote at the time.
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.
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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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”