Karen Brooks

Karen Brooks

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

I try to think as little as possible, and listen to the birds.

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

ZERO. I drank a lifetime supply already, when I worked in a bike shop.

Complete this sentence: "My other bike is …"

Broom! Heh. No, more like a singlespeed mountain bike.

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

Eating: lots of chocolate, always. Drinking: the darkest, blackest, stoutest of beers I can find. Reading: too many magazines, not enough books. Fearing: the imminent collapse of society, the environment, Earth's magnetic field, etc. etc. It's a pleasant surprise to wake up and find things to be relatively normal!

Elvis or the Beatles?

Elvis

Say something profound and meaningful in exactly seven words…

She sells sea shells by the seashore.

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

412.767.9910 x104

Smoke signal: two big puffs, one small

Email me

Review: Cleverhood Rain Cape

Since testing a rain cape from the Center for Appropriate Transport for issue #22, I’ve become a convert. I love wearing a cape when it’s pouring, staying comfy and dry underneath but not feeling like I’m encased in a plastic bag. It’s like wearing an umbrella, but less cumbersome.

Review: Lupine Piko 4 Light

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As LED lights continue to pack more lumens in smaller packages, the line between lights for road riding and for mountain biking gets more blurred. Case in point is this diminutive powerhouse from Lupine, the Piko 4. Its 1,200 lumens are plenty to see by when traveling down a dark trail, but its small size and setting options make it a versatile choice for street use.

The Piko’s German-made high quality and precision are evident right away. They’d better be, for $335. The machined aluminum light head is finished with shot-peening and hard anodizing to toughen the surface. The LEDs, lens and circuitry are similarly top-notch.

The Piko comes packaged ready for helmet use; while it mounted to my helmet easily enough, 1,200 lumens is a lot to shine in drivers’ eyes. (For trail use, however, helmet mounting would be great.) So I opted to procure an optional quick-release handlebar mount ($40), which scores points for being the most svelte I’ve used, just 4mm wide, while also being solid as a rock. The process of switching from helmet to handlebar is quite fiddly, though, involving tiny screws and O-rings.

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Like other Lupine headlights, the settings offered by the Piko’s switch can be programmed from a multitude of choices. The beam has a brighter spot in the center transitioning smoothly to a wide halo. Runtime is at least as much as claimed (two to 58 hours, from 1,200 to 50 lumens)—one charge was good for a full week of evening commutes on the 470-lumen setting with occasional boosts up to 1200. The switch has blue and red LEDs to indicate how much juice is left, and there’s a reserve mode available after the low-battery warning blinks.

Lupine is like the BMW of lights, with a high level of design and construction, and a price to match. But it’s a great choice for those who use and abuse their lights, especially if you’d like one light to go from road to trail and back.

 


A journey to the Conch Republic

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By now you’ve read all kinds of good advice in Bicycle Times on riding your bike through harsh winter conditions, but sometimes the best strategy to deal with it is to escape. I’m not ashamed to admit that during the second of… oh what, three? four?… polar vortices, or dips in the jet stream, or whatever ridiculous weather patterns we’ve had here in the Northeast, I escaped to sunny southern Florida, courtesy of the Adventure Cycling Association. It was the second of its three annual Florida Keys tours. And it was fabulous.

Read about the trip here.


Review: Blackburn Flea 2.0 Lights and Solar Charger

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I tested and liked the original version of the Flea lights back in Bicycle Times issue #3. This diminutive light set has been updated with a new USB charging system, and Blackburn is also offering a solar charging option for space-age convenience.

Each light has four LEDs housed in a sturdy body. The front’s 40 lumens put it in the “be seen” category (rather than “to see”), and it has two steady modes plus a flash. The rear has two flash modes plus steady and is disco-bright. Both have fuel gauge LEDs in the on/off buttons. Run times were at least as good as advertised—one hour on high for the front and six hours on steady for the rear.

Read the full review here.


Review: 616 Fabrication fat frame complete build

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In the varied and ever-changing garden of bicycles, it seems that the fat bike corner is the latest area of flourishing growth, producing new ideas and iterations at a rapid pace. Two longtime mountain bike innovators—Aaron Joppe, former owner of Slingshot, and John Muenzenmeyer, former owner of Nukeproof—have been drawn into this bloom and are making interesting contributions with their relatively new company, 616 Fabrication.

The company name comes from the area code of western Michigan where they manufacture frames, forks and hubs at their own facility. They offer frames for fat bike, cyclocross and mountain builds, all made in high-end steel. Artistic touches, such as laser-cut seatstay bridges and custom-etched ID plates, further set these creations apart from the average mass-produced models, as does a classic paint job.

The first thing I and other staffers noticed about the Fat frame is its relatively steep 72 head tube angle. It also sports short-for-a-fat-bike 17.5-inch chainstays. Hub spacing is 135mm front and 170mm rear. It’s designed to ride light and nimbly over sand, snow and rock. Custom geometry is available to suit anyone’s taste, but for our tight turns and four seasons, the stock numbers suited me just fine.

Read our full review of the 616 Fat.


Cycling superfood: Kale

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By now you may have seen our page about kale in issue #27. We’ll be featuring different eats that we consider “superfoods” in future issues. (Don’t worry—we plan to cover the whole spectrum, including less goody-two-shoes candidates such as honeybuns.) Here are some tips and a couple recipes to go with the information in that column.

I’ve been growing several types of kale in my backyard garden for a few years now and can honestly say I love it. Health benefits aside, it just tastes really good, especially fresh (and organic). I eat it often as a side dish, or as a substitute for a cold salad.

Kale survives well in low temperatures. I typically start it earlier than other vegetables, in mid-March to mid-April depending on the mercurial spring weather here, and the leaves stay fresh and green into the winter. (For those who garden by the book, we’re in Zone 6B according to the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

It’s a hardy vegetable for storing, as well, if you buy your kale from the grocery store or farmer’s market. Keep it in loose, air-filled plastic bags, or better yet, a large container that allows some air circulation but doesn’t allow it to dry out.

See our recipes here


CycloMend brings mobile bike mechanics to your door

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A new company is bringing bike repair to your door. Cyclomend is a network of mobile bike mechanics, currently operating in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. (but looking to expand). Book an appointment online and you’ll be matched with a mechanic who will contact you to get more information and discuss prices, then they’ll show up and get to work. You can even leave a bike locked up outside to be fixed, then pay the bill later. Obviously a mobile mechanic can’t work the miracles that a fully-stocked shop can, but CycloMend’s fleet can do more than you may think, and their aim is to be as friendly and approachable as possible. Check it out at cyclomend.com.


Cold weather cycling tips – Physical ailments

There is a panoply of excuses we can choose from when wimping out of cold weather riding. Some of them have more validity than others—but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be overcome. I’d like to address a couple of physical limitations that can be good reasons to bow out of a cold ride, but that don’t necessarily need to stop you, especially in their milder forms.

Asthma and Raynauds are two such ailments that affect many cyclists, but become even more of an issue in the cold.

Read on to see how to protect yourself.


Interview: Veronica O. Davis of Black Women Bike D.C.

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At the Women’s Cycling Forum that was part of the National Bike Summit last March, many of us were introduced to a founder of a movement that is helping to fill a crucial gap in cycling: Veronica O. Davis of Black Women Bike. Davis and two friends started the group as a local organization in Washington, D.C., and are building the foundation to take it to the national level. Davis’ efforts are a natural outgrowth of her professional life in civil engineering, which she believes involves “using transportation as a tool to positively affect people’s lives.”

Read our interview here.


A great advocacy campaign: ‘Drive With Care’

Our own local advocacy organization, Bike Pittsburgh, has created an innovative ad campaign that we’d like to see implemented all across the nation. Called the Drive With Care Campaign, the aim is to remind automobile drivers that bicyclists are human, too.

From Bike Pittsburgh: “Bicyclists are not obstacles or targets; they could be your friend, nurse, carpenter, or even your favorite football player, Antonio Brown.” (That’s the Pittsburgh Steelers star wide receiver shown in the ad below.)

The ads feature photos of everyday people next to their bikes, with descriptive words to drive the point home. They’ve been seen on billboards and bus shelters around the city, but the organization would like to expand the campaign’s reach, and even produce television ads.

See more “Drive With Care” campaign posters and donate to the campaign here: bikepgh.org/care. And you can contact Bike Pittsburgh through their website if you’d like information on how to develop a similar public awareness effort in your own town.

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We Bike NYC raising funds to sponsor 10 ladies’ ride to National Bike Summit

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Ten intrepid women will embark on a “purposeful adventure” this March, riding 262 miles from New York City to the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C. The group is made up of advocates representing five advocacy organizations: WE Bike NYC, Black Women Bike, Gearing-Up, WABA: Women and Bicycles, and Women Bike PHL.

This is an adventure near and dear to us, as we’ve featured some of these organizations in our pages, and we’ve also ridden to the Summit from our home base of Pittsburgh. It’s also a big undertaking, so the ladies are asking for your support via an Indiegogo campaign.


First Impression: Raleigh Capri 4

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This is quite possibly the lightest bike we’ve ever tested here at Bicycle Times at just under 17lbs.—but don’t call it a race bike. We’re fond of saying that what most of the bicycle industry calls a “road bike” is, in fact, a road racing bike. Such bikes typically have skinny tires (25mm wide or less), a fairly aggressive (read: uncomfortably bent-over) position, and a ridiculously light but stiff-as-a-board frame.

Meanwhile, most roads that we get to ride on are littered with such non-racing features as potholes, gravel, traffic lights—and don’t forget the traffic. Most “road” bikes, as defined by the industry, are as unsuited to riding on actual roads as a Ferrari is to driving to the grocery store.

>But the next step over from road racing on the bike spectrum is the relatively new category of “comfort” or “endurance” road bikes. These bikes may look at first glance like typical road racing machines, but they have key differences to make them more comfortable over long rides and rougher surfaces—or to help them be simply rideable for us mere mortals. You may sometimes see the term “racing” thrown in the descriptions, but think in terms of racing on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, not the butter-smooth, fresh asphalt of the Tour de France.

Read more about how the Capri is a lot more than meets the eye…


Interbike First Impression: Shimano hydraulic disc brakes

By Karen Brooks

Like moths to a flame, we bike geeks get drawn to the bright, shiny stuff at Interbike. Our definitions of “shiny” can vary from ultra-bling to practical-chic to clever and well-made. But it is nice, sometimes, to breathe the rarified air of the top-of-the-line. Shimano’s R785 brake and Di2 shifting systems are two such examples.

As disc brakes are becoming more common on everything from adventure touring to cyclocross to commuting bikes, and even creeping their way onto road-racing style bikes, the big two component brands, Shimano and SRAM, are paying attention. The natural next step in the evolution is to follow mountain bikes and go fully hydraulic. Aftermarket hydraulic brake systems for drop bars from TRP, Formula and others have been around for a few years, but until recently there haven’t been one-stop options. SRAM debuted the Hydro R system, for disc or rim brakes, earlier this year. Shimano fired back with the artfully named R785 hydraulic brake system that integrates with Di2 electronic shifting, and I got a chance to try out both here at Interbike. Read the full story


Review: Viva Kilo

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By Karen Brooks

Dutch-style bikes have become popular as accoutrements in certain U.S. cities, allowing urban dwellers to glide along the streets with European sophistication, suits and skirts unruffled. However the history of these bikes, from English roadster to opafiets, is more about daily transportation than fashion. This style is just as popular with the Danes as with the Dutch, and Viva Bike Design represents the Danes, hailing from Copenhagen and headed by a former member of the Danish national cycling team.

The Danish version of these daily drivers is a bit lighter and sportier than the Dutch “grandpa” bike (“opafiets” in English). The Kilo model is a slight variation, with 26 inch wheels and fat tires rather than 700c and thinner rubber, basically adding pneumatic suspension to the package. Although this could never be mistaken for a lightweight, the Kilo’s chromoly steel frame is less hefty than the typical high-tensile steel of many of its tank-like counterparts.

Its frame geometry is a tad less relaxed than others as well, giving it quicker handling. Of course, its riding position is bolt upright, good for seeing and being seen in traffic and easy on the spine, if a little awkward for steeper, standing climbs. The bottom bracket is positioned high enough that the pedals were a bit far from the pavement, so that stopping required getting off the saddle to put a foot down, something I’d expect from a more performance-oriented bike. Otherwise, the bike’s overall impression is one of sturdiness and capability without being sluggish. Read the full story


First Look: New Raleigh Tamland

By Karen Brooks

One of the cooler things I’ve seen at DealerCamp is a new bike from Raleigh, the Tamland, designed for gravel racing (or just riding) and as a “killer commuter.” 

Its frame is Reynolds 631 steel, recommended for its toughness by Reynolds and custom-butted to be lighter than the standard tubeset. The chainstays are svelte and the fork has a nice rake to it for added compliance.

The geometry was developed specifically for rough roads, with a lower bottom bracket, longer wheelbase, slacker seat tube angle and slightly taller head tube as compared to their road or cyclocross models. Sounds like they got it right. 

The Tamland will come stock with TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes and Clement Xplor MSO 40mm tires, with plenty of room for even bigger ones. The rims are 24mm wide give those tires a maximum footprint. The brakes felt great just squeezing them on the stationary bike—I’ll be eager to try some in motion.

 

There are two models to start with, the 1 and the 2. Pictured here is the 2, with a Shimano Ultegra 11-speed drivetrain; it will go for $2,400. The Tamland 1 will be $1,600.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to ride this bike, as the Raleigh crew just barely got this one sample in time to bring to the show. But apparently one of their lucky employees raced it in Raleigh’s Midsummer Nights Cross race on Thursday.

If you’re wondering about the name, Raleigh has been naming its commuter bikes after characters from TV shows and movies. Do you recognize this one? 


Salsa unveils carbon fat bike and updates Fargo

By Karen Brooks

Between their excursions to “adventure by bike,” the folks at Salsa have been busy making improvements to their stable. We recently covered the 2014 Horsethief and Spearfish, which both got the Split Pivot treatment. At SaddleDrive in Snowbasin, Utah, they also unveiled a host of other changes to the 2014 model lineup.

Beargrease

First up is a bike that is truly fat, yet weighs less than its brethren: the Beargrease Carbon.

The geometry has been tweaked to essentially “feel more like a mountain bike” and also shift the rider’s weight rearward, via shorter chainstays and a new Whiteout carbon fat fork with 51mm offset. Salsa says this also serves to get a better steering response in snow, keeping the front wheel from pushing sideways and allowing it to be guided around a turn.

It will come in an XX1 or X9 versions. The XX1 is pictured here, with sweet graphics in bright green on matte black. It will also sport the Alternator dropouts (pictured below with the Fargo). The Beargrease’s path is diverging further from that of the Mukluk — becoming even more of a dedicated snow racer, while the Mukluk is for exploring at your own pace.

Mike Riemer, Salsa’s marketing manager, let it be known that the bike is suspension-corrected for a 100mm travel, 51mm offset suspension fork for fat wheels, something that doesn’t exist — yet. A full-suspension version could also possibly appear someday…

The complete bike weighs around 26lbs., pretty darn light for something that looks so… substantial. I got a chance to ride it a bit on singletrack, and really appreciated its weight savings over other fat bikes — between that and its improved handling, it felt kind of like it was filled with helium. If I had one, I’d love to set it up tubeless for ultimate float.

Fargo

Next is a bike that started with a cool concept and just keeps getting better: the Fargo. The new version looks and feels like a cohesive package.

The Alternator dropouts are a rocking type that give 17mm fore-aft adjustment. Different plates will be available to accept a standard quick-release, 142x12mm thru-axles, or Rohloff hubs, and also for dedicated singlespeeding. Note that the non-drive side has just two bolts—the top one is also one of the brake caliper bolts.

 

The fork is a new carbon one, called the Firestarter, and the frame is corrected for a 100mm suspension fork.

 

The Woodchipper handlebars felt natural and right on this bike, as did the Cane Creek Thudbuster seatpost. I didn’t get to ride it nearly as much as I wanted to (right on across the state and beyond), but the little bit of dirt and gravel I did experience left me impressed.


 


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