Eric McKeegan

Eric McKeegan

Title

Tech Editor

Yeah, but what do you ACTUALLY do around here?

Wrangle review products, wear wool, ranting, winning messiest desk competition.

What do you think about when you're riding your bike?

Often, and blissfully, nothing at all.

How would you rate your coffee consumption on a scale of 8-10?

No cream, no sugar.

Complete this sentence: "My other bike is …"

1988 KLR

What are you eating, drinking, reading, or fearing these days?

Eating: Tacos. Drinking: Porter.

Elvis or the Beatles?

Elvis

Say something profound and meaningful in exactly seven words…

The Beatles, most overrated band in history.

I like your answers. How can I get in touch with you?

Email me

Trek Transport: Last Impression

By Eric McKeegan

I was in such a hurry to get on this bike and get riding I neglected to get a first impression post written and published. Now that the review is wrapped up and printed, seems like it would proper to write a follow up post about it.

Quick intro to the bike for those of you who haven’t read the review (get your subscription here): The Transport+ is a longtail cargo bike from Trek (check it out on Trek’s website). The + part of the name denotes an electric assist motor in the rear hub. Regardless of some crotchety folks’ opinion on the matter this does not make it a motorcycle, any more than the pedals on moped make it a bicycle. The motor is only an assist, there is no throttle and power is only added when the rider is pedaling. The motor is a great help in hilly areas, running out of steam on a steep hill, on a cargo bike in traffic is pretty scary. You’ve got to get your feet down, keep your bike upright and figure out whether it makes more sense to try to push up the hill or turn around and coast down and find another way around.

One of the most common larger loads I carried on the transport was a second bike. The lower rack supports made it pretty easy to get a bike strapped down and secure, although a bit of padding wouldn’t hurt to keep paint from getting scratched.

Best accessory for this bike you won’t find in a bike shop? Six foot bungee cord. I’ve strapped flat out ridiculous stuff to the Transport, and you can make it out in the picture above holding the frame and wheels to rack. I’ve always got one stashed on my personal Xtracycle longtail, and usually one in my motorcycle top box.

What were we talking about? The Transport! The market for cargo bikes continues to grow which a great sign for the future of transportation and utility cycling in the U.S.A. I’m not here to preach to people about going car-free, with two kids I realize how difficult that would be. But bike like this can replace the car in shorter trips, or maybe even replace a second car altogether for some households. With better cycling infrastructure being created everyday I often feel we are on the cusp of a sea change in car dominated transportation system.

Worst part about reviewing this bike? I’ve got to box it up and send it back. It’s a BIG box.


Review: Swobo Crosby

By Eric McKeegan

Swobo started life as a clothing company years ago, out to push wool on the masses before the masses realized wool was the bomb. After going incommunicado for a few years, Swobo returned somewhat recently; now more than just a clothing company, they offer a full line of bikes aimed at the urban rider. Poking around the Internet for a singlespeed to test, the Crosby caught my eye and Swobo dispatched one from Santa Cruz just in time for a cold and wet East Coast winter to arrive. The Crosby falls into the do-it-all cyclocross bike category with commuting, racing, trails, light touring, and road rides all within its purview.

Unlike most other bikes in this category, such as the venerable Surly Cross-Check or Soma Double Cross, the Crosby uses an aluminum rather than steel frame. The fluid forming process (also called “hydroforming”) is used to create tube shapes said to provide a stiff yet resilient ride, and the frame is paired with a carbon fork, painted to match. A set of sliding dropouts tensions the chain; derailleurs are an option, and a geared dropout is available for $25. On the frame and fork, provisions are made for cantilever and disc brakes, along with rack and fender mounts. Cable stops all around for brakes and shift cables. Got your own stash of parts to use, or ready to build up a bike from scratch? The frameset is available separately for $550.

I got right to riding, glad to have the knobby WTB Cross Wolf tires on the slush-filled streets. I swapped the stem for a shorter one after a few rides, and thought about swapping bars and levers too, but in the end my disagreements with the bends and hood shape weren’t enough to ruin our relationship. Stock gearing is 42/17, which is just slightly lower than what I usually run, but it worked out just fine. The saddle is well padded but still supportive, great for riding in street clothes.

The real component standout was the SRAM Torpedo hub. Stick a petite flathead screwdriver through a hole in the hub, turn seven times—ka-pow, freewheeling. Turn the other way—fixed. In theory, I really like this idea. Ride fixed most of the time, switch to free for trails or casual rides around town. In practice, I never had a small enough screwdriver around (the one on your multi-tool ain’t gonna fit), so I rode it fixed most of the time, including some character-building forays on snowy singletrack.

Fortunately, the Crosby is set up well for flailing around in the woods, or riding to the store, or riding to the next state, or maybe even getting your race on. The geometry and handling are very much middle-of-the-road, but that is a high compliment for a bike like this. Whether it is bombing rough road descents, dodging trees on singletrack, or commuting to work, I never felt like the Crosby was out of its element. My last aluminum ‘cross bike was a bit on the harsh side, but not this Swobo. It could be a combination of tires, saddle and frame, but I never felt beat up on bad pavement, although the fork could start to feel a little harsh on rougher dirt roads.

At their core, Swobo bikes are designed for urban use, and some of the small details show attention to urban riders’ needs: bolt-on (theft resistant) wheels, a neutral paint job with minimal flashy logos, a bottle opener under the seat, and a chainring guard to keep those ‘80s legwarmers grease-free. My attempts to gain some street cred with sweet stoplight trackstands were made a bit difficult by the play in the rear hub in fixed mode; it took a bit of practice to stay feet-up and clipped-in at a standstill.

Unfortunately, the local cyclocross race season was over before the arrival of the Crosby, but for someone who is a weekday commuter and weekend racer, this bike could be a very good option. The aluminum frame is noticeably lighter than its steel-framed competition, and the stable handling is my idea of a good time for ‘cross racing. You racers can keep those evil twitchy race bikes for yourselves— I want something that is happy drifting feet-up through muddy turns.

A few other things stood out to me, both good and bad. First, the new Avid Shorty brakes are brilliant. The previous design was impossible to keep quiet, but the new ones went about their work with nary a squeal or shudder. I’m sure some credit goes to the frame and fork too, but a tip of the chapeau to Avid anyway. As well as the Shorties work, I couldn’t help but want to install at least a front disc brake for all the crap I’ve been riding through, but the front hub has no disc mounts, so I’d need a new wheel for that upgrade. Bummer. Fortunately, the frame and fork have plenty of room for 32mm tires and full fenders. Without fenders, the fork might fit up to a 42mm tire; the rear looks like 38mm would max out the clearance, Clarence.

Swobo has a real winner here in the utilitarian ‘cross bike category. Super versatile, understated design and aesthetics, substantially lighter than most of its competitors, but still affordable. I’d be glad to start a long-term relationship with the Crosby; with my basement full of bits, I could see lots of parts-swapping fun in my future.

Tester stats

Age: 37

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 155lbs.

Inseam: 32”

Bike stats

Country of Origin: Taiwan

Price: $1,000 (frameset: $550)

Weight: 22lbs.

Sizes Available: 53, 55, 57 (tested), 59, 61cm

Keep reading

This review originally appeared in Issue #10. You can purchase a copy of this issue in our online store, or pick up a subscription for just $16.95 and never miss an issue.


Testing Shimano’s new 105 group

By Eric McKeegan

Fast bikes are fun, no doubt about it. Fast bikes are made more fun with a good drivetrain. Being sick of slow bikes, I wanted fast, and at precisely the right time, the new Shimano 105 group showed up at Bicycle Times HQ, followed soon after that by a test bike equipped with it, too. Egads, two fast bikes—what was I to do?

Ride them, lots. To work, on long road rides, on trails, in the woods. What did I find? Well, 105 works, and works well, is the terse answer. To be more verbose…

Shift/Brake Levers

The major visual change is the full aero/under-the-bar tape routing for both shift and brake cables. Not only does this clean things up visually, it makes the use of a big handlebar bag much easier; tourists the world over will rejoice. The hood shape is about as close to perfect for my L/XL hands as I’ve ever found: flattish across the top, smooth transition to the bar, and skinny enough to get a grip on, with a nice lip in the front to wrap my index fingers around. The brake levers are ergonomically pretty sweet, but I can’t help but be visually bothered by the slight dogleg bends in the levers. Picky, picky, picky.

Fortunately I can’t see them while riding. The shift levers are well placed, although I felt like the inner lever had a lot of throw where nothing happened. The guts of shift mechanisms seem pretty exposed; I never had any trouble with them, but as an all-weather rider it would be nice to see some shielding from the salt, sand and dirt. None of these things prevented me from making thousands of perfect shifts. Click, click, click… One note: don’t use the word “brifters” around me, unless you want punched. Thanks.

Cranks

I’m going to bet these cranks are lighter and stiffer than the previous generation; Shimano doesn’t usually go for heavier and less stiff. The thing more people will notice is the slight increase in space between chainrings, which means less chain rub when running the smaller cogs with the inner rings.

As expected from Shimano, the front shifting was stellar. I rode both the triple and compact double, and both were quickly forgotten as they shifted with no issues, even under load. The triple in particular stood out; I’ve seen plenty of issues with road triples, but Shimano seems to always get it right. The chain never hung up during shifts and never tossed itself over the smallest chainring on the triple, a problem I remember from my not-so-long-ago days as a mechanic. The part-shiny/part-matte finish has some fans, but I can’t count myself among them. I am glad to see the black or silver options, since putting silver parts on most new carbon fiber bikes is like wearing brown shoes with a black belt.

Brakes

Shimano tweaked the pivot location for more power while riding on the hoods and I’m impressed with the improvement, which is a high compliment from someone spoiled with high-end hydraulic discs on most of my personal bikes. The brakes return a nice solid feel with enough modulation to deal with unpredictable traction. New pads are said to improve power and wet weather performance as well. When paired with Shimano R450 long-reach calipers on one of my test bikes, I was less impressed with the braking power and modulation. I’m not sure if it was due to less expensive pads, or perhaps the long-reach caliper was a bit less stiff. I didn’t think the brakes were bad; they seemed on par with most road brakes I’ve used, but the full 105 combo was noticeably better.

Cassette and Chain

With the addition of a tenth cog, the cassettes now start with a 25-tooth large cog (up form 23 teeth previously) and stop at 28. (See "Update" note below, ed.) I was about to complain about the lack of bigger-cog compatibility, but a recent press release revealed a tweaked derailleur for 2012, capable of handling up to 30 teeth. Those needing more range can opt for a mountain bike derailleur and cassette. The chain has a new profile this year to go with its narrower width. There is now a front and back to the chain with inner and outer plates designed to either shift up on the cassette (inner) or up to a larger chainring (outer). All this newness and engineering results in some fine shifting, fine enough to pretty much ignore it and concentrate on riding.

Other Bits

Not much to say about the rest of the group. The derailleurs played well with the shifters, chain, chainrings and cogs. The bottom bracket isn’t grindy or noisy. I didn’t test wheels or hubs. I did get a set of the new road pedals to test, but I am still looking for my old Sidi shoes to get them set up, as I’m pretty stuck on the two-bolt SPD mountain bike system; it seems like most of my rides include some walking, or hiking, or climbing. Worth mentioning are the 5 and 10mm shim options to adjust the reach of the levers, a boon to those with small hands and thick gloves.

In Conclusion

Slotted right in the middle of Shimano’s road component line-up, depending on your perspective the 105 collection is either a budget racing group or a high-end recreational set-up. I found very little to complain about during my time riding the parts, and probably thought about it less than I should have. It worked well enough for me to ignore it and think about more important things like “When is this Brooks saddle going to break in?” and “Why aren’t anatomic bars anatomic?”.

I’m not sure if there are many road racers out there in the Bicycle Times audience, but if you have a 105-level bike and you are losing races, you can’t blame your drivetrain—it works much too well. It is also 30g lighter than last year’s group, so your massive wattage will surely propel you to the top step on the podium, where you can be smug knowing you bested the boys or girls with the fancy electronic shifting. And to top it off, it looks like all parts are compatible with the previous generation of 105 parts.

Those of you with less racy bikes will also be well served. With the impending release of Shimano cyclocross-specific cranks, front derailleurs and brakes, I can see 105 gaining more spec on pricepoint cyclocross race bikes, fat-tire road bikes, and general 700c-wheeled knockaround bikes, and with good reason. Besides reduced weight and the bling factor, there is little reason to spend more money on drivetrain parts. This stuff just plain works.

Pricing

  • Shift/brake levers: $340
  • Cranks: $250
  • Rear derailleur: $85
  • Front derailleur: $50
  • Brake caliper: $65
  • Cassette: $75
  • Chain: $45
  • Pedals: $110

Update

In the 105 review in issue #11, I said: “With the addition of a tenth cog, the cassettes now start with a 25-tooth large cog (up from 23 teeth previously) and stop at 28. I was about to complain about the lack of bigger-cog compatibility, but a recent press release revealed a tweaked derailleur for 2012, capable of up to 30 teeth. Those needing more range can opt for a mountain bike derailleur and cassette.” While this statement is somewhat correct, the recent redesign of the mountain bike derailluers to 10-speed rendered them incompatible with the cable pull of road shifters. While not an officially sanctioned pairing, 9-speed mountain derailleurs will shift acceptability using 10-speed road shifters on a 10-speed mountain cassette. Still confused? Get ye to ye olde bike shoppe, and they will sort you out.

– Eric McKeegan

Keep reading

This review originally appeared in Issue #11. You can order a copy of this issue in our online store, or order a subscription and you’ll get all our reviews delivered right to your door long before they appear online.
 

 


What to carry on a 400-mile ride?

A few weeks ago I finished my 5th year of Crush the Commonwealth, a 400-mile cross-Pennsylvania ride/race. It is unsupported, so gear selection is a big part of preparing for the ride. Clothing is probably the easiest place to save weight, but also the easiest to get wrong and be miserable. I carried a bit more than I needed, but I never got cold.

Photo by fxdwhl

On my body

  • Swobo 753 wool/poly jersey (both days)
  • Dirt Rag Lycra shorts (fresh pair on day 2)
  • Swobo P. Coltrane knickers
  • Drunk Cyclist Socks
  • Dirt Rag/Fox Incline gloves
  • Native Sunglasses
  • Continental cycling cap
  • Specialized helmet
  • Specialized MTB racing shoes

On the bike

In a Carousel Design Works Escape Pod

  • REI bivy sack shoved in the bottom (could have left home, but wanted some hypothermia protectin in case things went lopsided at night in the middle of nowhere).
  • Bicycle Times/EWR wool Jersey
  • Dirt Rag wool knee warmers (didn’t use)
  • Sock Guy arm warmers
  • Thick wool socks (put on the morning of the first day, cold feet, left them on for the rest of the trip)
  • Pearl Izumi rain jacket (very lightweight, left the rain paints at home)
  • Dirt Rag Buff

In a Jandd Frame bag

  • Tool kit
  • multitool with chain tool
  • tire lever
  • zip ties
  • spare cleat and bolts
  • patch kit
  • Princeton Tech EOS back up light
  • 2 tubes
  • Okele Stuff Chamois cream (best stuff I used for all day rides)

In a Jandd Handlebar bag

  • bulk energy chews from the co-op
  • half pound peanut M+Ms
  • 3 various gels
  • peanut butter and honey sandwich
  • NUUN electrolite tablets kona cola flavor
  • sunscreen stick
  • wallet
  • cell phone
  • didn’t bother with maps this year, route is memorized

This was by far my smallest load, but I looked beast of burden like compared to some folks. Not really a lot of stuff I’d cut out of this other than the knee warms and bivy sack, which aren’t very heavy, but they are bulk.

This was all attached to a right swell Rock Lobster road bike, which I’ll be talking about in an upcoming blog post.

 


Brain Fart: This is awesome

I’m terribly late with a lot of web content, and our illustrious web editor is probably rightfully miffed at me. I am sorry and I am not awesome with deadlines.

But you know what is awesome? This is awesome. My four-year-old son, first ride on a bike with pedals. Was it wrong that I wanted to offer him a celebratory beer when we got home?


Save the Date! Philadelphia Bicycle Expo October 30-31 2010

The northeast United States has long been in need of a consumer bike show, but that will soon be remedied with Bilenky Cycle Works teaming up with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia to bring all manner of cyclists together under the roof of the 23rd St. Armory in downtown Philly.

Attendees will have plenty to see and do, with panels, seminars, demos, a swap meet,  and a fashion show in addition to the growing list of exhibitors.

Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times will be there too, this is a wonderful chance for the northeast cycling community to get together, and we wouldn’t miss it.

For more info see the website at www.phillybikeexpo.com.


Be Careful Out There

Word travels fast in the local bike community, and within a few hours the virtual watercooler had spread the news of a cyclist hit and killed by a truck just a few miles from the Bicycle Times office.

Coverage from local news source, KDKA.

7 o’clock in the morning…52 years old…3 kids and a wife. Driver of the truck hasn’t been charged. Police say he “may have been distracted.” I can bet the words “i didn’t see him” were used by the driver.

When I was hit years ago, the driver was charged with nothing. When my co-worker Justin was hit from behind, the driver was not charged. Both drivers “didn’t see” the other road users, and this seems to be a good enough excuse to not take responsiblity for the huge peice of machinery they were driving.

What a shame. My heart goes out to Don’s family. I can’t imagine what they are feeling right now.

Stay safe out there everyone.


Bicycle Times #6 Preview: Jamis Xenith Endura 1

I’ve had the Endura for a good bit of time now, evidenced as I looked through my folder of images for this blog. The first shots show evidence of the the huge snow storm we had at the end of winter, and the latest are all sunshine and green.

Anyway, the words have been written and the magzine is off to the printers. Thought i’d talk about a few things I didn’t have room to discuss in the review.

First the saddle, a Selle San Marco Ponza Power.

I didn’t even think about this saddle until my third ride…it was that comfortable for me. In fact the only time I thought about it was when I was carrying a good bit of weight on my back. Great choice for a bike like this—light but still supportive, and not a floppy gel saddle.

Second, perhaps a BB30 explination is in order.

BB30 is a new bottom bracket standard that is being adapted by more and more manufacturers. It eliminates the threaded shell and replaces it with oversize bearings pressed into the frame, eliminating the need for the now-common exteral cups. it also creates a larger diameter shell for more surface area for joining frame tubes. These changes should lead to the the ever-sought pairing of a frame that is both lighter and stiffer.

What did I think of the rest of the bike? Check it out in upcoming issue #6 of Bicycle Times. Look on the newsstand starting June 8th. Bicycle Times is avaliable in national chains such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, local book sellers, grociery stores and bike shops.


Trek District

A quick glance around just about any metro area in the U.S. now reveals a spate of color-coordinated, simple-looking singlespeed bikes. It’s obvious Trek has noticed this trend, and the District steps up to the fashion plate with more than just good looks an a single gear ratio.

An aluminum frame, carbon fork and deep-section rims add up to a stiff ride, tempered a bit with the flat-resistant 700x25c Bontrager Hard Case tires. Geometry is on the quick side, similar to a road racing bike, and combined with the narrow bar, threatened to bring out my inner traffic scofflaw. On the practical side of things, the frame has clearance and mounts for full-coverage fenders and a rear rack, and even includes a bell for pleasant interactions with pedestrians. All in all, a fun bike to zip around the urban landscape.

A Gates Carbon belt drive stands in for the typical chain. Advantages? No lubrication, long life, no mess.  Very quiet drivetrain, too. A functional, yet minimalist chainguard, or more accurately, belt guard kept my cords out of the drivetrain works. Gearing can be adjusted up or down two teeth—changes larger than that will require a spendy new belt. Personally, the 55×22-tooth gear ratio was just fine for me.  As of now, there is no option to convert the belt drive to fixed gear, but Trek hinted at some possibility for this to change in the future.

The track-style platform pedals are a bit on the slippery side without toe clips, and can only be comfortably ridden on one side with them. I swapped them out for clipless pedals—can’t stand toe clips. The outer locking ring on the grips hurt my hands on longer rides. This might have something to do with the narrow bars, as I’ve ridden many miles on mountain bikes with locking grips with little complaint. For those not into the gray and orange, a more subdued olive green and brown option is available. The bike came stock with the stem in a negative-rise position. I flipped it over for a more upright position for the first few rides, but swapped it back over soon after. I liked the stretched-out feeling and zippiness of the lower position.
 
Trek has three other District models for 2010. Looking to get your fixed itch scratched? Check out the 2nd or 3rd District ($710) for chains and fixed cogs. Aluminum frame not high-tech or blingy enough for you? The District Carbon ($3360) hits all the buzzwords with a carbon fiber frame, belt drive, singlespeed gearing and drop bars.

 

This bike looks good, and that’s coming from a grumpy earth toner. Who thought all that orange could still look classy?  Aimed at the heart of the urban commuting market, the District is not only good-looking, but a solidly thought-out tool for transportation.


Melon Slice

Melon Slice
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Price: $600
Weight: 25.5lbs.
Sizes Available: One Size
Contact: www.melonbicycles.com

Melon is a new company, started in 2008, dedicated to 20"-wheeled bikes for recreation and transportation. The folding Slice is their first product. Currently bikes are available direct from Melon, and from a growing nationwide dealer base.

The Slice’s aluminum frame and fork are outfitted with quality components—no corners cut with no-name parts. Shimano supplies the rear derailleur, cassette and brakes; SRAM supplies the shifter and crankset. The 8-speed gearing (53-tooth chainring mated to a 12-25-tooth cassette) yields gear ratios approximately in the middle of a typical 24-speed drivetrain on a bigger-wheeled bike. In laypersons’ terms, the gearing is adequate to keep up with bigger-wheeled bikes, no problem. The single size option is designed to fit riders from 4’8" to 6’3" and is rated for riders up to 240lbs.

The 20" wheels and short wheelbase translated into a fast, nimble bike that felt great zipping around town. The few times I got it up above 25mph it could feel a little nervous, but a gentle squeeze on the very effective brakes would get it back to a more comfortable speed easily. I was perfectly happy with this bike on shorter rides, but the narrow bar and short top tube left me feeling cramped on rides over three or four miles. I am used to a stretched-out position on road and mountain bikes, so more recreational and/or shorter cyclists may not find this to be the case for them.

Melon claims that a 15-second folding time is easily do-able with practice. Release the safety catch on the stem, fold it down, fold pedals up, release catch on the frame, fold and go. Pretty simple. Grab the back of the seat to carry. Unfolding is just as quick, and once locked down, the ride remained quiet and tight throughout the test. Since there isn’t a catch to keep it together in the folded position, a strap while loading it in and out of trains, planes or automobiles would be a helpful thing to have around.

Who rides a Melon? I assumed it was mostly urban-dwelling commuters, but I was wrong. Pilots, people with limited storage and folks wanting a bike always at the ready in a car trunk are all Melon customers. The folding bike idea, and really the small-wheeled adult bike idea, is an interesting concept, and one that I think will continue to attract new riders in the future.


On Test: Jamis Xenith Endura 1

After much poking around on the internet for a fast and comfortable carbon road bike I set my sights on a Jamis Xenith Endura 1. Jamis was game for sending us a bke to test, and less than a week later a bike box with my name on it darkened the doortep of Bicycle Times HQ.

The Xenith family of road bikes comes in 2 flavors, the race/competion Xenith siblings and their cousins the fitness oriented Xenith Enduras. Jamis has a huge family of road oriented bikes. See the whole family tree here.

A few things set the Endura bikes apart from the race bikes and most other carbon road bkes on the market.

Eyelets for one:

And rack mounts, along with mid-reach brakes which should prove to have room for at least 28mm tires with fenders, 32mm without.

Other features of note:

BB30 bottom bracket and compact 50-34 crank:

A long head tube for taller bar height with a tapered 1.5 to 1 1/8 headset and matching full carbon fork.

This will be my first long term exposure to a carbon fiber road bike. I expect to put plenty of miles in commuting, recreating, and maybe some long distance endurance type stuff too. I’ve already made some parts swaps to get my postion dialed in, namely a 90mm stem in place of the stock 120mm, and a 42cm width handlebar in place of the stock 44cm.

More info, full specs and geometry here. I’m riding the 58cm size should anyone care.

Spring has sprung, I’ve got a fancy new bike to ride, and no rain is forecast for the next few days. Time to ride!


Spring Time Camera Cleaning

I’ve got two new test bikes in the stable, and in preperation on an introdutoctory blog I took some photos. My poor old point and shoot has a cracked lcd screen from too many trips floating around loose in my bag while riding. This means I can’t really see what is going on until I download everything, kind of like shooting film…you remember that stuff.

I download the entire memory card and found a few things I didn’t know I had.

A bunch of photos from the Magura press camp last year:

Also some pictures of my kids at some friends’ "Make Your Own Instruments" party.

What does this have to do with bikes? Nothing really, other than the fact it is looking like spring around these parts finally. February brought us 50" of snow, a new record for our area. I hope March will bring us maximum sunshine, and minimum flooding.

Oh yes, test bikes. More on those later, a couple pictures for now.

Notice that odd light in the last phot? It is Sunlight. It makes me happy. It will melt that bike pile of snow in the picture. Spring!


Trek District – On Test

trek district

Most of the bikes I own are quite understated aesthetically. Which makes my affection for the District a bit of an oddity to me.

Seriously, look at all that orange. I love it, but I feel like I should be all grouchy about it.

Hiding under that natty pants guard is a Gates Caron Belt Drive. The future of commuter bicycle drivetrains? Too soon to tell, but the lack of mess and maintance is nothing to complain about.

Looking for more info? Trek’s website is the place to be with spec’s, MSRP, and info about their impressive urban lineup, including the Eco Design, Portland, Allant, valencia, PDX, Soho, and District lines.

Want to hear more about my time riding it? Look for Issue #5 on your local newsstand March 9th. But you are proably already subscribing and will have the issue deleivered by the fearless postal service weeks sooner than that, right?

trek district


On Test: Melon Slice

I’m a curious person by nature, and when the little box enclosing the Melon Slice showed up on the Bicycle Times doorstep I was interested to see what was inside. I’ve had little to no saddle time on folders, other than a short fling in Indianapolis aboard the Dahon Mu Uno from BT #2. To remedy that I built up the 20” wheeled Slice and took it home.

The small size was immediately appreciated. My basement is already full of bikes, and even unfolded the Slice took up much less space than a full size bike, leaving more rooms for piles of dirty laundry and unfinished home improvement projects.

Folded the bike easily fit into the unused space under the stairs, or the trunk of a mid-size sedan with a 16” kids bike with room to spare.

I’m putting the finishing touches on the full review for publication in Bicycle Times #5. Want some more info right now? Check out the Melon website: www.melonbicycles.com.


One More Staff Commuter: Steelwool Tweed

steelwool tweedAfter a few failed attempts at an end of the first year blog, I decided my level of holiday spirit was not sufficient to do justice to a "hey we made it through our 1st year" blog posting. So instead I’ll talk about a bike, because grumpy or not, I can always write about bikes.

On any given day the outside rack and/or basement of Bicycle Times HQ will have an assortment of commuters. for the most part they are all of similar ilk, cyclocross-y type mounts with drop bars and fenders. Karen talked about her maltreated Mountain Cycle Stumptown a few weeks ago, and Karl posted up info about his LeMond Proprad last week. Following their lead, I present my Steelwool Tweed.

I reviewed this bike in Dirt Rag #138, and liked enough to buy it from the fine fellows at Steelwool. Having a parts with enough bits to build up at least two full 700c drop bar bikes, I elected to send the build kit back across the border to Canada, keeping the frame and fork.

A closer shot of the Tweed in winter mode:

Taking advantage of the eccentric bottom bracket, I’m set up fixed for the winter 42×16. Personally I like brakes, so up front I’ve got a Avid BB7 disc brake. Fenders of course, and a Princeton Tec tail light and Cygolight TridenX headlight keep me safe during the inevitable dark rides home.

So many reason to like this set up. A weekly spritz of chain lube and a few strokes of the floor pump keeps things rolling. The single cable is sealed off from precipitation and road spray and the disc brake provides reliable and predictable stopping in the wet and cold. The full fenders keep me and the bike clean and dry, and there is plenty of room for my studded tires should things get really dicy on the road.

Check out the Tweed at Steelwool’s website.

I’m feeling better now. A good bike will do that for you. Time to wrap this up to finish loading kids and dogs into the car and head off the see relatives for the holidays. Hope you all get some time with loved ones over the next few weeks. Thanks for reading!


Review: Torker Cargo T

torker cargo tTester: Eric McKeegan
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Price: $600
Weight: 45lbs.
Sizes Available: One
Color: Green or Gray
Contact: www.torkerusa.com

It isn’t often that practical bikes get a second glance. The Cargo T elicited a wide range of comments from seasoned riders (How heavy is it? How much can it carry?) to casual observers (Man, that bike is bright, does it have a motor?). It is an odd-looking bike, part cruiser, part Dutch city bike, and part mini-truck with a ladder rack. The Dutch connection is not surprising; a very similar bike is sold by Batavus, a Dutch company also owned by Torker’s parent company Accell. Regardless of the observers’ background, everyone seems to intuitively understand the beast of burden nature of the Cargo T.

Let’s start with the racks. The front rack is rated to 25lbs., and I’m sure I exceeded that a few times. The rearward tilt to the platform and tall rear support made loading and securing boxes a snap. I was able to carry a case of beverages with a single strong bungee cord, and found the handling to be quite acceptable when loaded. The steering response was spot on at anything above walking speed. At lower speed the front end had a tendency to fall into turns. Not really a big problem, just something to pay attention to when loaded. The rack will soon be available separately for $50.

torker cargo t

The extra-long rear rack is rated to 40lbs. and uses oversize (M6 versus the standard M5) mounting bolts at the dropouts. I honestly expected the very sturdy-looking rack to be rated to carry more weight, although in personal experience, loads much over 40lbs. are not much fun to carry on a rear rack. I used an older Jandd pannier to carry stuff, and had to add a loop of wire to the lower part of the rack, as there is no mounting point for the bottom hook on the bag. Torker knows about this issue and is working on a redesign. Overall, the racks work very well to carry a bunch of stuff, and with the addition of a few straps or bungees and a basket or bags, make for a super-versatile errand runner.

The riding position is decidedly upright, and combined with the flat pedals, chainguard and fenders, it’s very easy to hop on with whatever you are wearing. The seat is wide and soft—I found it fine for shorter rides, but my wife hated it. The step-through frame makes it easy to, well, step through when the rear rack is piled high, and also made modest riding while wearing a skirt possible, according to my significant other. The oversized steel frame was surprisingly stiff; the lack of a top tube made me think it would wind up a bit when loaded, but it showed no signs of flexing. I expected a harsh ride to accompany the stiffness, but the coil springs on the saddle and wide tires offer plenty of compliance. The upright position should make for a good fit on the single size for folks from about 5′ 4" to somewhere over 6′.

No two ways around it, this is a heavy bike. We (as in the collective American cycling populace) need to get over our fixation about this, particularly on bikes that will never be raced. On the Torker this weight adds up to a sturdy bike with little need for routine maintenance. The Shimano 3-speed hub was set-and-forget throughout the test, and the ability to shift while stopped or coasting was a welcome change from the derailleur-based drivetrains on my personal bikes. Gear range was just fine; once in a while I wished for a lower gear when climbing the steep hill up to my house, but other than that I thought little about it. Those looking for super-low gears to crawl up hills will be disappointed though. I did need to back off pedaling pressure a bit to downshift, but overall the internal hub experience was very positive for me. Makes me wonder why I’ve always settled for either one or 16+ speeds.

torker cargo t

The wheels use a sturdy set of Alex DM350 rims, which look as beefy as the downhill mountain bike rim I use on my personal cargo bike. Short of being run over with a car, I don’t see these needing to be trued for a long time. The 26×2.0" tires are a good mixed-surface tread; it would be nice to have a puncture-resistant belt in there, but the thick rubber has fended off all road debris so far. The steel fenders did a better job of keeping water off me than any of the fancy thermoplastic ones on my own bikes, most likely due to the mounting hardware that attaches to the outside of the fender, not inside where it can spray water out the sides and onto feet and shins.

The brakes are designed to need little maintenance, and work well in all weather. The rear coaster brake took some getting used to, and I still sometimes inadvertently apply the brake when hopping a curb. The front brake is a Shimano hub brake. It works, but it honestly reminded me of the brakes on my steel-rimmed ’80s 10-speed. They do their job, but those looking for disc brake or even V-brake power will be disappointed. In their defense, this bike is not designed to be a performance bike, and I never had a problem stopping from the relatively casual pace this bike is most suited for, even loaded up on steep hills. Plan ahead for sure.

Two nice features work together to make loading and unloading cargo much easier. The first is the two-legged "center stand" that keeps the bike perpendicular to the ground when parked, and much less apt to flop over when cargo is added or taken off. The second is the Shimano headset lock. When twisted to the "on" position, the front wheel is prevented from moving—very nice for loading a bunch of stuff on the front rack. There is an internal clutch that lets go with a series of clicks when you turn the bars sharply, a good thing to remind you to turn it off before riding. Center stands will be available soon for aftermarket sales at $30 or so.

torker cargo tIn the negative column, the inexpensive 1" threaded headset and non-cartridge bottom bracket are not on my list of low-maintenance items. Both can be replaced with a more durable unit should they go bad, but they seem out of place on a bike that is otherwise well spec’d to handle use by casual riders that have little interest in maintenance. The chainguard is great for keeping the chain from eating your pants, and offers some shielding from road spray for the chain, but a full wrap chainguard (including the backside) would really seal the chain off from the elements and greatly extend the life of whatever lubricates it. The other complaint I unearthed on the interwebs was the lack of a generator light, something that is stock on the Batavus model. The mounts are still there on the Torker, so adding one would be pretty easy. Swapping out the light for a front brake and a multi-speed hub was a wise choice for the hillier terrain that is often found in American cities.

Overall, I’d love to have a bike like this in my stable. Simple to operate, easy to ride in street clothes, low maintenance, and plain enough to not attract thieves. I found myself grabbing the Cargo T before anything else I own for trips three miles and under. I did ride it back and forth to work a few times, but the 14-mile round trip is better suited for something more speedy. At first glance the $600 price might seem a bit high for a three-speed, but the versatile cargo racks and very well-thought-out parts selection make the Torker an investment that should easily pay for itself in reduced mileage on your car, particularly when the load hauling ability is taken into the equation. For those not into the green color, a very subdued grey is available.

[Ed notes: This product review of the Torker Cargo T originally appeared in print in Bicycle Times issue #3. Photos by Justin Steiner. Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Times.]


Interbike Mini-Review: Electra Ticino 18D

Electra TicinoElectra has a new line of bikes for 2010. Ticino joins the family with seven men’s models and five women’s models, from the basic singlespeed Ticino 1 to the top-of-the-line Ticino 20D with a Shimano 105 grouppo. All models are equipped with fenders, and while the Ticino’s seatube angle is very relaxed, it is not as laidback as the "foot-forward" geometry found on the rest of the Electra line-up.

I rode a Ticino 18D, which is just one model down from the top. The $1500 price tag sounds a bit steep, but this is bike has a level of detail rarely seen outside a handmade bike show.

I could go on an on about the small details of this bike, but that would take way too long, so I’ll hit some highlights.

The crank is a modern interpretation of the famous French TA crank, but with modern shift ramps and pins on the chainrings. Hammered aluminum fenders cover the skinwall tires, which are mounted to a wheelset with high flange cut-out hubs complete with grease ports. Skinny steel racks are mounted front and rear (my tester didn’t have these) and leather is used for the grips, toe straps, and shoe guards on the chrome toe clips. These shiny chrome and alloy bits are hung on a Pistachio-painted aluminum frame. The only part that looks slightly out of place are the trigger shifters.

Electra Ticino

While hefting the Ticino into the back of the van for the trip back from Outdoor Demo I was impressed with how little it weighed. No scales were included with our Vegas rental house, but I’d estimate the weight to be in the low 20’s. The low weight combined with a relaxed upright position made for a fun and fast ride in traffic and around town. Handling was surprisingly quick, and combined with the road bike-like acceleration, made it easy to slice and dice my way through traffic. This quick handling (probably the result of a highly raked fork) might make it a bit of a handful at high speeds, but I doubt this bike will see many mountain descents.

So, is this bike a classic interpretation of a flat-bar road bike, or a modern interpretation of a classic upright touring bike? Does it matter? I certainly didn’t worry that much about how to classify this bike. You shouldn’t either. It is ideally suited for those looking for an upright position and classy looks, but who want to avoid the sluggish nature that usually accompanies this style of bike.

Find out more at www.electrabike.com.


Interbike 2009

Once again Interbike is nigh. The entire staff of Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times will be headed out west to the desert to cover the show from a multitude of angles. Expect social media posts, blog entries on both web sites, photo galleries and even video!

So what do I expect to be hot this year? I’ll break it down for you.

On the Dirt Rag side of the coin I expect a multitude of 5-6” travel bikes, in various configurations. On the lightweight front, there are carbon frames showing from many companies, and with continued weight reduction of components, 25 pound 150mm travel bikes are going to be more and more common on the trails. At the other end of the spectrum, I’m anticipating some more burly all-mountain bikes, at home on the trail, but slack and sturdy enough for a day on the lifts or even some DH racing on non-gnar courses. The rising popularity of these bikes, combined with more Super D type races, should keep the category super-competitive. This is a great thing for consumers.

I’m also excited to check out the return of Breezer mountain bikes. Unlike some of the other recently resurrected brands, Joe seems to be sticking to his roots, which are steel hardtails, which is fine by me.

The 29er market will continue to march along with lots of new full suspension bikes between 100-120mm of travel. Marzocchi has a 140mm fork on the market, which coincides with the release (finally) of the Niner WFO, one the longest travel (140mm) 29ers to date. Devon Lenz (Lenz bikes owner and builder of some of the first long travel 29ers) is rumored to have an as yet unnamed, Manitou XXXXX equipped 29er DH bike at Dirt Demo, I am rumored to be stashing some body armor in the van for a shuttle run. Hardtails are not forgotten here, with a few new carbon frames ready for 2010. Quite a few new tires too.

The third way wheel size; 650B, is not just staying alive, but growing, something a bit unexpected due to the economy and the continued argument over the need or functionality of this tweener size. At least 2 more companies will test the waters with full suspension bikes (Jamis and 650B stalwart Haro, Ventana was on board with a full-suspension bike last year) and KHS will have at least one hardtail joining Haro, Soma, Rawland and a few others I’m probably missing. Plenty of tires and rims out there, frames are getting plentiful too. Additional fork choices could push 650B to the next level. I’m a fan, and would like to see more development for this promising wheel size.

Parts and accessories are always a great place to be surprised, both pleasantly and not so much. I’m hoping for more adventure type gear, things like packs, lights and clothes designed for the long haul. Lots of cool smaller details to be seen with parts, often small design tweaks that give me a “ah ha! Why didn’t I think of that” moment.

Switching gears to Bicycle Times, we’ve got tons of things to cover too.

Cargo. As the resident cargo-bike aficionado I’ll be keeping a close eye on the show floor for any and all load carrying devices. Xtracycle just released news of a new kid seat for their long tail cargo bike, the Pea Pod LT. Rans will display their long tail again this year, the Hammer Truck. I’m hoping to score a loaner for commuting duties to and from the show. I’m positive other goodies will be easy to find.

City bikes continue to grow, in both popularity and diversity. There is sure to be more completely equipped commuters, with lights, racks and fenders, and more stripped down custom-look fixies. Plenty of bikes in between too.

The practical road bike seems to be returning, with bikes like the Raleigh Clubman I tested in BT #2 leading the way. I predict more non-racing road bikes to be all over the show, with room for fenders, bigger tires and perhaps a rack to partner with more relaxed geometry to make a fine all-purpose steed.

Riding clothes that function well both on and off the bike should be easy to find here too. As more people use their bikes for transportation the demand for less geeky clothing has grown. Clothing manufactures will meet the needs of this emerging market with non-flashy garments cut for riding and walking made from materials that are sturdy and stylish.

Touring bikes seem to be coming back too, we’ll keep out eyes peeled.Let’s see, what else? Maybe some electric bikes? Blasphemy or the wave of the future? Recumbents? Cyclocross? What do you want us to cover?

Feel free to contact us, we’re always glad to hear from readers. We can be phoned, emailed, contacted in the forums, postal mailed, commented below, Facebooked, My Spaced, or Twitted. Are we missing anything?


Bike Pittsburgh’s BikeFest!

We are less than two weeks away from the 5th annual BikeFest here in Pittsburgh. What is BikeFest? Probably best to let BikePGH explain it: “BikeFest is Pittsburgh’s biggest cycling event for cyclists by cyclists. It’s BikePGH’s annual celebration of bicycling, showcasing Pittsburgh in all of its uniqueness and beauty. It is not an organized event, but a framework for volunteers and organizations to organize bicycle-themed events. Whether you ride everyday, the weekends, or just always wanted to try, BikeFest has an event for you!”

There are some really great events planned, I’ve picked out a few to highlight below.

August 14-Friday—BikeFest Kick off and Fundraiser Party, with DJ’s , good food, and great local beer. Tickets and more info here.

August 15th-Saturday—Bicycle Times Magazine PAPA Ride—Our fearless publisher has planned a ride to PAPA’s (Professional and Amateur Pinball Association) World Pinball Championships

August 22nd-Saturday—Historic Bike Tour of Industrial Pittsburgh—Join Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area on a historic tour of industrial Pittsburgh.

August 23rd-Sunday—Tour de History—The Pittsburgh Major Taylor Cycling Club and Venture Outdoors host a casual cycling tour of historic African American sites in Pittsburgh.

Plenty more rides, hash rides, racing on the track, the streets and woods, more themed rides, mobile bike repair stations, bike polo, the list is long, with multiple events each day. A truly good time can be had by any type of cyclist.

Click here for the calendar of events, or just click the image below.


Kids and Cargo

xtracycle kids carrierI’ve always been a bit of a tinkerer, and owning something like an Xtracycle LongTail cargo bike feeds into my need to build and experiment.  More information on the LongTail idea and its open source design info can be found at this link.

I’ve struggled a bit with bringing my two kids along for rides in the city. On bike paths, our trailer is fine, but the hilly and beat up streets in the city have frustrated me while pulling the trailer. Slow handling and the tugging of the trailer over uneven pavement and limited cargo space lead me to consider other options. I’ve had this Xtracycle for a number of years, and tested the Surly Big Dummy and wrote a product review for Dirt Rag last year, so I was aware of the LongTail’s ability to haul a lot of stuff in the city with little hassle. Why not children instead of stuff?

 

xtracycle ladder

There are some plans in the works for a multiple child carrier from Xtracycle, but I didn’t want to wait.  So I started to design.  After a few measurements from my kids and the Xtracycle, I had a rough sketch. 

I started with ½” plywood, reinforced with two 1×4 pine boards. Some work with a jig saw and the rough outline of the base was done. I removed the plastic SnapHooks from the stock wooden SnapDeck and installed them in the new base after drilling and countersinking the mounting holes.

Next step, children. I put them both on and marked locations for seat back. I uncovered enough 1×4 boards in my leftover lumber pile to make the bulk of the backs and sides. A few revisions later and out to the back porch cardboard paint booth for a coat of primer, a coat of safety orange and a final coat of shellac.

Happy with the results after mounting it up with the kids, I started on the padding. The backs are padded with a couple of $2 pillows from Ikea, and the leftover scraps of a blue closed cell foam sleeping pad handle the bottom and sides. Not super pretty, but the kids are comfortable and from 20 feet looks quite nice. I may upholster the whole thing in the future, we’ll see.

xtracycle kids carrier

Last but not least, safety straps where fashioned from bits and pieces from REI, my only real expense for the whole set-up, and under $10 at that. I do need to add some sternum straps, the shoulder straps are able to slip off to the side as-is.

xtracycle kids carrier

Preliminary results are very promising, both pilot and passengers were very happy during the maiden voyage. I see adventure on the horizion!

xtracycle kids carrier


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