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?


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

First look: More details of new Surly bikes

By Karen Brooks

The first day of Saddledrive—a dealer and media-only event put on by distributor Quality Bicycle Producuts—the whistle sounded (yes, really) and eager attendees stampeded toward the line of waiting demo bikes in a grassy area at Snowbasin Resort in Utah. Among those were some surprise new models from Surly.


First off, the Surly bikes. (drumroll please…) They’ve finally put disc brake mounts on a Cross Check-style steel cyclocross bike! Cleverly enough, it’s called the Straggler.

It comes in a sparkly purple paint job to call attention to how awesome it is. It will have slightly different geometry from the Cross Check—a tad lower bottom bracket drop, and a tad longer head tube for sizes 54cm and up. The size run is also spread out evenly in 2cm increments, with a 64cm largest size added.

The dropouts have an interesting two-stage opening—an angled slot makes a bend to a horizontal run of about 17mm. This is so that the wheel will drop out normally given the disc brakes, but then can be adjusted horizontally for singlespeed use or to lengthen the wheelbase for touring. There are rear-facing set screws, and threaded holes to flip them forward for horizontal use. Here is a helpful napkin drawing by Adam Sholtes, Surly’s product manager:

The rear brake caliper is bolted to slots for corresponding horizontal adjustment.

Note the tires—those are a new 700×41 Knard tread that will come stock on complete bikes and is sure to be popular on all sorts of other multi-purpose ‘cross bikes. They did well on the loose rock and powdery soil at Snowbasin.

The bike also comes stock with the Salsa Cowbell 2 bar, a favorite of mine, and one that proved to be popular on other SaddleDrive bikes. This was a fun bike to ride all around the area— trails, gravel road and parking lot.


Next up is the ECR— something that the Surly dudes had in mind during the process of designing the Krampus. Basically, it’s a bikepacking Krampus, with more touring-friendly geometry and lots of braze-ons for all your backcountry needs.

What does “ECR” stand for? According to sales dude Trevor Clayton, there are about a hundred different iterations floating around the Surly office. A few of the shareable ones are “Enduro Camping Rig,” “Exit Cities Rapidly” and “Einstein Can’t Rap.”

It will come stock with a Jones loop bar. Jeff Jones himself worked with Surly to make the bar a little wider at the grip area, and it can be trimmed down to size. Surly also got Microshift to produce a special version of their thumbshifters that can be switched from index to friction shifting.

The dropouts are the same industrial-strength, multi-multi-purpose ones found on the Troll and Ogre, compatible with just about anything you can stick on the rear end of a bike.

Of course the bike is also festooned with tons of mounts.

It’s not a light bike, but is fun and capable on the dirt, with a more “settled-in” feeling than the Krampus and very suitable for long days spent exploring.

Stay tuned: we’ve got more coverage from Salsa Cycles coming. Check back tomorrow! 

Bicycle Times Issue #24 is on the way!

By Karen Brooks

We’ve wrapped up issue #24, and even as you read this it’s making its way to your door and to your favorite magazine retailer or you can pick up a copy in our store. Here’s a sneak peek:

A Guide to Cargo Bikes

Cargo bikes are increasingly replacing SUVs as a means to get around town with large items and family members in tow. (They’re a lot more fun for all involved!) We figured some more of you would want to know about how to bring a cargo bike into your life. Our tech editor, Eric McKeegan, has become our resident expert on cargo bikes over the years, having done the majority of our cargo bike reviews as well as riding and experimenting on his own, so here he breaks down the different types available and what situations they’re good for.

We also talked to a trio of parents who have become experts at bringing kids along via cargo bike and gleaned tips on how to stay safe, deal with weather and keep it fun, among other considerations. (Hint: snacks are key.)

Sign Sprints in Champagne

This is a lighthearted account, accompanied by some stunning photos, of a group of friends touring the Champagne region of France. Have some good snacks handy, and maybe even a glass of bubbly, when you read this one.

Portland’s Naked Bike Ride

We’ve previously featured stories from globetrotter Joshua Samuel Brown about riding in Taiwan and Los Angeles, but now he’s found his future hometown on U.S. soil: that haven of bike-friendliness, Portland, Oregon. He braved a local traditional ride to get more… um… intimate with his new neighbors.

Interview with Paul Freedman of Rock the Bike and the Bicycle Music Festival

Our fearless leader Maurice is also our de facto Bay Area correspondent. He ran across the completely pedal-powered Bicycle Music Festival, both stationary and rolling along the streets of San Francisco, and decided to find out more about it. As it turns out, one of the founders is none other than Fossil Fool, a bike rapper we first encountered on the streets of Las Vegas during the Interbike trade show.

Product reviews

  • Xtracycle EdgeRunner
  • Trek Domane 4.5
  • Norco Indie Drop 1
  • Cannondale Quick CX3
  • And more

Bicycle Times Issue #23 is on its way!

By Karen Brooks

Issue #23 is here! This time around, we’ve decided to tackle a subject that most of the rest of the bike media is somewhat obsessed with: the Tour de France. But we’re doing it in our own style, from the perspective of interested spectators, rather than from the viewpoint that racing is what road riding is all about.

We also asked our Publisher, Maurice Tierney, to further explain our feelings on the bike industry’s emphasis on pro road racing (in the Big Cheese’s uniquely outspoken style, of course). 

Letter from the Publisher

To hell with pro cycling! It’s the epitome of everything wrong with this thing we love, riding bikes! I am really sick of it. Not only does pro racing support cheating, doping primadonnas, but it’s just not what people generally do on bikes! That’s why we started Bicycle Times.

How many people have been turned off by the expensive, delicate, uncomfortable bikes that this paradigm tells us we need to ride? All bent-over, dressed in some glaringly ugly skinsuit, head down against the wind, not seeing the world around you. Aspiring to be something you’re not.

I’m sick of watching the bicycle industry keep buying into this “Race on Sunday, sell on Monday” marketing scheme. Tons of dollars spent on something that almost no one does. Yeah, some companies “get it”—you can see them in the pages of this magazine.

The right thing to do would be to spend this racing money on advocating for a bike-friendly world, thus making our lives better and curing some doper of his habit at the same time.

Have I got your attention? Any buttons pushed?

Of course we have a place in our hearts for racing. Despite the current doping debacle, the history, traditions and drama of pro cycling events like the Tour de France are worth enjoying. En-joy-ing. Joy! We enjoy it, so we’re writing about it.

But we want to change the overall narrative.

To a narrative of fun! Joy! Diversity! Comfort! Inclusion! Bikes are such a positive force in the world, and the media—that’s us—needs to reflect this.

So while you’re reading our pieces on the Tour and how to watch it, let’s think about some other things…

That bicycles are the antidote to many, if not all, of the world’s problems.

That a sustainable community is going to be a pedal-powered community, and a happy community.

That biking people are healthy people.

And that biking stands for fitness, freedom, and FUN!

– Maurice Tierney, Publisher, Rotating Mass Media

What’s inside



The 100th Tour de France, by Gary Boulanger

The Super Bowl of cycling is happening for the 100th time this July! We decided to delve into the history and the inner workings of this grand spectacle.



Your Own Tour de France Experience, By Jeff Lockwood

Want to see La Grande Boucle up close? Here are some pointers for turning it into a great bike-themed vacation.



The Secret Kings of the Cape Cod Canal, by Jonathan Wolan

A royal band of outdoorsmen use custom-rigged bikes in their hunt for striped bass and glory.



Interview: Nate Query of the Decemberists

Bass player and bike rider Nate Query tells about his favorite rides, and why he’d never want to combine bike and band touring.




  • Dahon Formula S18 folding bike
  • Raleigh Misceo Trail 2.0
  • Specialized Tricross Elite Steel Disc Triple
  • Westcomb and Showers Pass jackets
  • Giro New Road shirt
  • Geax, Challenge and Vittoria tires
  • Packs from North St. Bags, Blackburn, Boreas, Osprey and Shimano
  • And more! 

First Impression: Specialized TriCross Elite Steel Disc Triple

By Karen Brooks

Quite a long name, eh? But it tells you what you’re getting, pretty much.

This was to be the bike for my second annual trip to and/or from the National Bike Summit, along the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal trails, back in March. Alas, it was not to be. We got extremely lucky with the weather last year, but this year we got cold temps and snow before the Bike Summit, and yet more snow—heavy, wet snow, and lots of it—afterward. Bummer. Still, I’ve been having a good time on this bike just doing my normal commute plus some extra-curricular riding around.

It’s nice to see that a big company like Specialized has not totally abandoned steel as a frame material, especially for an all-rounder bike like this. Some of the other current TriCross models, as well as past versions, rely on Zertz vibration-damping inserts at key points to soften the ride of their aluminum frames. But to me, and a lot of other classic aficionados (or retro-grouches, if you prefer), steel makes sense for smoothing out the ride, in a refined and comprehensive way.

Indeed, this bike is smooth and unflappable. As you can tell from the dust and splashes in the photos, I’ve been riding it in some dirt and gravel. The Body Geometry bar tape with gel padding helps keep that smooth feeling without being too fat. I dig the integrated bell on the top brake lever. I also dig the no-nonsense graphics — the bike looks sleek and serious.

It’s been a while since I rode a bike with a triple crank, mountain or road. I had to really concentrate not to end up in the big/big gear combo. Funny how quickly we forget… But the granny ring has come in handy for traversing my local park via singletrack trails as well as the wider gravel paths.

The bike’s Avid BB5 brakes were doing a weird pulsing thing for a while. It almost felt as though the rotors were of uneven thickness, or as though I’d gotten a wad of gum stuck to one. But the pads looked fine, and so did the rotors — I went so far as to measure them with calipers. (Any excuse to get out the more esoteric tools!) After consulting with Specialized and with Avid, I’m gonna chalk it up to contamination of some sort. I swapped pads and rotors and have had no trouble since.

It looks like I’m going to go on a long ride with this bike after all, at least for a day—from our HQ in Pittsburgh to Raystown Lake for the Dirt Rag Dirt Fest, 130 miles. This is the kind of bike that encourages such impromptu adventures.

Check out the full review coming up in issue #23.

Highlights from the National Bike Summit

By Karen Brooks

Earlier this week we were on the scene at the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C. Despite the bureaucratic sound of the name, this event is one I look forward to every year. It’s a true “summit” of the bike world, a gathering of passionate, idealistic, and “bike-partisan” people—always stimulating and inspiring.

Some of my favorite parts:

  • Showing up to the very chilly ride led by Black Women Bike DC the night before the start of the Summit, to find a healthy crowd of nearly 50 people braving the cold wind to ride and socialize. 

  • The presentation by New York City DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and meeting her afterwards. She’s done a lot to make New York’s city streets more bike-friendly, and there are more than double the number of bike commuters since 2007 and has been a 50 percent increase in retail business on streets with bike lanes. I had really wanted to speak with her for the “Bikes to the Rescue” article in issue #21, but didn’t get the chance. Look for an interview in a future issue! 

  • Jacquie Phelan’s banjo playing in between sessions. Also, her assertion that to reduce obesity, Only Bikes Can Do it. (Get it?) 

  • The debut of a commercial by the American Automobile Association reminding drivers that bike riders are people too.
  • Karen Overton of Recycle-a-Bicycle comparing bike advocacy to the Brazilian dance-based martial art of capoeira: “It’s not a battle so much, but it’s coming together in a circle, building community, dancing, and engaging one another.”
  • Deciding to “sit down Oprah-style” on the comfy chair rather than stand behind the podium for the conversation with Georgena Terry and Natalie Ramsland—Terry then said, “As long as I get to say the line, ‘I don’t know, we’ve sued so many people.’ “

The only low point was the threat of heavy snow across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and into Washington, D.C. from Tuesday night through Wednesday. It caused cancellations of many of the meetings with Representatives and Senators—the main point of the Summit. It also caused me to abandon plans to ride back to Pittsburgh on the C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage trails. Harrumph. Still, it was a great event. Go if you can!

Preview: 2013 National Bike Summit

The author, left, with Natalie Ramsland and Georgena Terry at the Women’s Bicycling Forum. 

By Karen Brooks

Beginning today I’ll be attending the National Bike Summit for the third time. It’s a great opportunity each spring to meet cycling advocates from across the country and to even sit down with members of Congress.

Kicking things off this year is the National Women’s Bicycling Forum, a special day for female leaders and entrepreneurs from the cycling industry to meet and discuss owning and operating our own businesses, ways to close the gender gap in the industry, and how to encourage the cycling movement beyond the stereotype of "affluent white men."


This year I was asked to moderate the opening keynote address by Georgena Terry, above. Despite suffering from polio at an early age, Terry founded one of the first female-specific bike companies in the 1980s. She turned her basement operation into an international brand, turning out such iconic products as the Liberator saddle and the Cycling Skort, sparking more major companies to create products for women as well. She was joined by Natalie Ramsland, the founder and frame builder at Sweetpea Bicycles, a custom bike shop that focuses on women’s bikes.

Last night I joined the ladies from Black Women Bike DC for a VERY chilly ride around the nation’s capital. It was disappointing we couldn’t enjoy the weather we had last year when I rode from our office in Pittsburgh to the Summit, but I was amazed by the huge turnout.

Can’t wait to meet some more of you this week, and watch this space for more coverage from the 2013 National Bike Summit.  

NAHBS 2013: New builders Harvey Cycle Works and Littleford

By Karen Brooks,

New Builders’ Row along the wall of the NAHBS exhibition hall was home to some interesting work, from wacky to spectacular. Here are a couple bikes that did not look to be the work of beginners, from Harvey Cycle Works and Littleford Bicycles.


At the beginning of the row was this sturdy and serious-looking touring bike build by Jon Littleford. 

It’s outfitted here with 26-inch wheels, the most convenient choice for international travel, but it can accept 700c wheels (and caliper brakes instead of the cantis shown here) as well.

The meticulous fillet brazing on the frame and matching racks showed through an interesting brown finish. It’s actually rust, says builder Jon Littleford, that’s been encouraged to form with a product called Rust Brown and a laborious-sounding process. The thin but pit-free layer of oxidation protects the metal from any further decay.

The shiny bits on the rack rails, and other wear areas, are stainless steel. The stainless logo on the top tube acts as a protector.

Because you can’t cross an ocean on the bike, the racks are easily removable and it has S&S couplers. No batteries needed, either, since it has Schmidt lighting. Littleford says he may take this Expedition Model prototype to Madagascar. It looks like it could take the abuse.

Littleford exhibited in the Austin NAHBS in 2011, but due to the somewhat arcane show regulations, he still only qualified for a “new builder” spot.

Harvey Cycle Works

Kevin Harvey’s screamin’ red beauty reminded me of a classic Ferrari. 

It’s a thoroughbred randonneuring bike, with 650b wheels (and Gran Bois tires), integrated racks and Schmidt lighting, and a comfortable but aggressive cockpit. But a few modern parts make it faster: disc brakes plus Campagnolo drivetrain and shift/brake levers. Those brakes are the new HyRd mechanical/hydraulic ones from TRP—cables actuate the hydraulics contained in the caliper.

Yeah, the brakes are cool, but I was more enamored of the disc tabs:


Note that loooong point at the top, machined to match the curve of the fork. At the bottom is a dropout that Kevin Harvey machines himself, with integrated washers to work with the Schmidt connector-less front hub, and a forward-facing opening so that the disc brake’s torque doesn’t cause an unplanned front wheel removal.

At this point I had to ask Harvey—you didn’t just start building bikes, did you? Turns out he did make a brief foray into bike building in the mid-‘90s, but more than that, he’s been a machinist and metal fabricator for 28 years, and the head of Andretti Motorsports’ machine shop for the last 12. Aha!

I mean, look at these lugs:


The bike is also fully outfitted for traveling, with S&S couplers and four separate wiring harnesses to allow the whole thing to break down easily.

One last detail — the headset spacer is machined down to form an elegantly curved neck, with an integrated bell. Audrey Hepburn would be jealous.

Harvey intends to do Paris-Brest-Paris on this bike in 2015, and all of the qualifying brevets beforehand. In case it’s not obvious, he is inspired by Rene Herse, and intends to get into making his own components, just like the master.

NAHBS 2013 – Bilenky Cycle Works

By Karen Brooks,

I was dutifully cruising the convention-hall lanes here at NAHBS for city bikes and I spotted a sleek machine at the side of the Bilenky booth.

It’s a stainless steel lugged frame with a popular combo here—Gates belt drive and Rohloff internal-gear hub. Truly low-maintenance. Check out the slick matching fenders…

… and sweet lugs. 

But then my eyes were dazzled by an Amazonian superhero of a bike. The star details are hand-cut and reflective. Note the “Lasso of Truth” golden chain. 

This is an actual customer’s bike—she’ll be using it as an around-town fixie. In fact, she’s already been riding it, a common theme among some of the coolest bikes here.

Stephen Bilenky, rocking the pink vest you see above, shared some drawings of the design process:

But the truly stunning thing at the Bilenky booth was hiding in the back, at least until it won an award for Best Lugged Frame: this beauty by Isis Shiffer, member of the Bilenky crew:


Just one word: Wow!

See more from NAHBS

We got lots more coverage here, and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram or Facebook to see more behind-the-scenes photos. 

NAHBS 2013 – Breadwinner Cycles

Portland framebuilders Ira Ryan, left, and Tony Pereira joined forces to create Breadwinner cycles.

By Karen Brooks

Covering NAHBS is always tough—just about every booth has a cool story and some nice shiny bits to attract attention. This one was a bit of a surprise: a name I hadn’t heard before, but one that I think will make a big impact. Breadwinner Cycles is the secret-until-yesterday project of framebuilders Tony Pereira and Ira Ryan.

Pereira and Ryan’s business plan is to bring handmade bikes down from the rarified air they tend to inhabit and make them more accessible and affordable for the general public. They’re collaborating on a complete line of bikes, available as frame and fork for $2,000-$2,300, with just a 6-8 week turnaround time. They’ll do complete builds as well. In the next six months they aim to secure and outfit a Portland location in which they can produce 1,000 bikes a year. Since their current shops are located close to one another, they’ve been able to begin producing some bikes already.

The example that stuck out was this 650b-wheeled city bike with a front rack, dubbed “Arbor Lodge.” Aside from the usual generator lights, Honjo fenders, and disc brakes, it has a U-lock integrated into the frame in a convenient, yet unobtrusive way. The rack bag is by Blaq Bags, and that white stripe along the bottom flashes blue.


Breadwinner also displayed a road racing bike, a cyclocross model, a mountain bike, and these two: a black classic road bike with fenders and good tire clearance and a brown touring bike with front and rear racks. Both had matching pumps, naturally.

While we were chatting, another of Portland’s well-known framebuilders, Joseph Ahearne, came up and joined the conversation. We talked about why Portland boasts so many framebuilders—I haven’t added it up, but a significant portion of NAHBS exhibitors hail from there, this year and most years. So I asked these three if there was something in the water. It comes down to the city’s bike-friendliness, said Pereira. Getting around by bike is easy and common there, and so inventive types tend naturally to gravitate toward the bicycle as a good platform for experimentation and improvement. It’s cool to think that as more cities make bikes feel welcome, we’ll no doubt see more innovation and creativity surrounding the bicycle in years to come.

NAHBS 2013 – Road bikes

By Karen Brooks

Sometimes you just want to imagine yourself sailing down a silky-smooth country road, wine and cheese in the bag, and sun shining… Here at the 2013 North American Handmade Bicycle Show there are plenty of classically beautiful road bikes to inspire just such a vision. Here are a few.

Shamrock Cycles Fluid Druid

Simply a traditional road frame with fender capability. Pretty fenders, too. I love the little Brooks tool roll on the back of the saddle.

Soulcraft Grasshopper

“Sort of halfway between a road bike and a cross bike with the ability to do both.” Has clearance for 32c tires and, of course, a nice matching rack.


This more modern, stealth Ti beauty showed off Shimano 11-speed Dura Ace parts. Builder Drew Guldalian says that the front derailleur shifts so well, thanks to its extra leverage, “you could shift it with a broken finger.”



This lovely midnight-blue bike was dressed in new-old stock Campagnolo Nuvo Record parts. I asked builder Chris Bishop where he soured such things, and he said he’d found a collector that was more interested in early 1900’s stuff to him, these Campy parts were new, so he let them go. The hubs were still in a sealed box.

The rear spacing is the very old-school 120mm (BIshop’s first build with this size), and the cogset has only five speeds—the customer wanted a simple bike to ride in a relatively flat place.


This builder was a surprise—former road and track pro Rich Gängl has been building and painting custom bikes in Colorado for 34 years, but hadn’t been seen at NAHBS before. He had a full lineup of beauties, including his personal titanium road bike with carbon fiber seatstay and fork.

There was also this classic randonneuring bike, built with a generator hub and (Of course) matching pump and fenders.

This rare 1985 Gängl is built of Reynolds 753 steel and had a way cool vintage saddle.

This Gold Coast bike was waiting to be entered in the Best New Builder competition. The frame decoration is inspired by a stained-glass window made by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Coming up next

We’ll have more coming from NAHBS all weekend, and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram or Facebook to see more behind-the-scenes photos. 

NAHBS 2013 – City bikes

Karen Brooks

Building a bike to be an everyday vehicle gives a lot of opportunities for creative framebuilders to add all kinds of amenities to their NAHBS show bikes. Here’s a few that have stood out so far.


This Donkelope caught my eye right away. Builder Greg calls it a steampunk bike. It has an actual bike lamp—yes, a lamp—from the early 1900s, retrofitted with a modern LED light inside. 

You’ll notice the curly bits to the left of the light—that’s stainless steel hydraulic housing making its roundabout way into the handlebar, then back out, then inside the frame. Pretty slick.

Here you can see the front housing entering the left fork leg, and the prettiest fender mounts I’ve seen.

Here’s the back end, with that housing peeking through before joining the rear brake, and another pretty fender mount. It’s tough to see here, but the paint was a sparkly black.


This Geekhouse Brentwood had a nice big front rack, generator lights, disc brakes, and a sweet old-school chainguard.


Metrofiets participated in the Disaster Relief Trials in Portland—read about that in issue #21, “Disaster Bikes.”

This bike had a vibe like an expensive car from a 1930s movie—refined, classy, and maybe a little intimidating. The dyed and embossed saddle is by artist Carson Leigh.


Here was a rando-ish practical looking bike from Sycip that had what is turning out to be a popular combination this year: a Roholoff 14-speed internal hub with a Gates belt drive.


Ti Cycles

This was one of the most interesting bikes I saw today—a monster of a cargo bike, with a serious motor to help push an insane load, from Portland builder Ti Cycles. It has a Shimano Alfine 11-speed internal hub plus a Patterson transmission crank, for 22 speeds total, in case you feel like pedaling.

What’s going on here? That’s the exposed EcoDrive motor and drive wheels. That sucker puts out 1300 watts. Builder Dave Levy said it was awesomely fast… unless you’re testing it indoors, at a crowded bike show… anyway, EcoDrive is also from Portland. Their Velociraptor controller for the system is programmable.


The front generator hub trickle-charges a battery—the black box just behind the headlight—which then powers the lights and a USB port. The front basket also has a solar-paneled cover (forgotten in the rush to get to the show, alas).


When you’re hauling that much of a load, you might need some moral support. Check out the stack of headset spacers, in alternating colors and with logos meticulously aligned.


Renold Yip returned this year with the third version of his complete city bike. This one is on loan from the customer, an employee of Bikes Belong, who rides it daily. This one goes as well as shows.

For this iteration, Yip integrated a cable lock as well as a ring lock, and that’s a pump tucked between the twin top tubes.


And the sunflower rack is as pretty as ever.

Coming up next

We’ll have more coming from NAHBS all weekend, and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram or Facebook to see more behind-the-scenes photos. 

Join us at the Winter Bike Shop Expo

By Karen Brooks,

If you happen to be in the southern New Jersey area this weekend, the Shore Cycle Club is putting on the annual Winter Bike Shop Expo. It’s a chance to check out new models from the likes of Bianchi, Fuji, Jamis, Giant, Specialized, and Trek, and to hear a couple of speakers: David Hale Sylvester, accomplished world traveler (by bike) and author of the book “Traveling at the Speed of Life,” and yours truly, Karen Brooks, editor of Bicycle Times.

The Shore Cycle Club’s newsletter pointed out how important it is to keep riding through the winter—if you haven’t, and need some motivation, come out and visit the Expo.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Sylvester will be speaking at 12:30, and I’ll go on at 2:00.

It’s all happening at Atlanticare Lifecenter, 2500 English Creek Ave Egg Harbor Township, NJ, 08234.

Hope to meet some Bicycle Times readers there!




First Impression: Viva Kilo

By Karen Brooks

I hadn’t been familiar with the Viva brand until a representative contacted us. The company was started in Copenhagen by a former member of the Danish national cycling team. From the look of the bikes, one could definitely guess the Copenhagen connection, if not the racing pedigree.

Viva is also the name of the younger one of my dogs. She approves.

Most of Viva’s bikes are in the style of a Dutch (or Danish) city bike. I chose the Kilo model, which instead of the typical 700c wheels, has 26-inch wheels with big Schwalbe Fat Frank tires, good for our local potholes. I dearly wished for the white, step-through frame for maximum style points, but alas, not all the options shown on the website are available in the U.S. The basic black allows my domestic partner to ride it without looking too girly, at least once he takes off the flowery Basil saddlebags I like to use.


This is a bike that lends itself to casual cruising, so I’ve installed the handlebar mount for a Soundmatters speaker I’m also testing. It’s perfect for pedaling casually to work while listening to the radio—the one thing I miss when I ride rather than drive. Naturally, a bike this civilized comes with a bell, a two-tone one at that, as well as a rack, fenders, and kickstand.

The brakes are an interesting departure from my recent rides: a Sturmey-Archer drum brake in front and a Shimano Nexus rollerbrake/ 7-speed internal gear hub. They are a softer than the disc brakes I’m used to, for sure, but better than many mid-range cantilever or caliper rim brakes. They match well with the general vibe of the bike.


I generally try out any of my Bicycle Times test bikes on my 12.5-mile (each way) commute at least once, even when they are such beasts as the Ahearne Cycle Truck, because it’s a good way to quickly reveal any shortcomings. (Our web editor Adam made fun of me on one such occasion.) But I’ve found myself riding the Viva to work more than once, because the enjoyment factor outweighs the, er, weight and relative slowness of this bike compared to my lighter, drop-handlebar, 700c-wheeled daily commuter. Of course, it’s also great for trips to the store and other close destinations.

As you can see from the mud splatters, I haven’t taken it easy on this bike. There was a city ride after our company retreat that involved some railroad ballast, some muddy rides in the local park with the dogs, and other “inappropriate bicycle” moments. But the components seem to be holding up fine—no rattling, no slipping out of line, no adjustments needed to shifting or brakes. At about $1,300, this is an expensive ride, no doubt, but it seems that aside from the “Designed in Denmark” premium, durability makes it worth it.

Keep an eye out in a future issue of Bicycle Times for our long-term review. Subscribe today

Review: Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross

By Karen Brooks

I went looking for an adventure-touring bike that could handle several hundred miles of rough gravel surfaces and mercurial weather for our March trip from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. Black Mountain Cycles, a bike shop in northern California, had a bike that fit the bill. Proprietor Mike Varley has spent 14 years “behind the curtain” designing bikes for a variety of companies, so he has the know-how to bring a bike from drawing to shop floor. He offers two steel framesets: this rough-and-ready Monster Cross for multi-surface rides, and the Road for more genteel pursuits, plus a couple different build kits for each.

The Monster Cross is a bike for “roads” in the broadest sense—anything from pavement to dirt. Varley’s geometry philosophy is to produce a bike that disappears beneath the rider—a common goal, but not commonly reached. I’d say it has been in this case. This frame needs no adjustments in riding style, meets expectations, and offers encouragement to ride longer and faster on rougher terrain.


The head tube is on the long side (105mm) to get the handlebars up to a comfy position. The chainstays are not too short (432mm), again for comfort, and the bottom bracket is settled nicely down in between the wheels. The head and seat tube angles (71.5 and 73.5 degrees, respectfully) are fairly neutral, not racy-steep, and balance the rider between front and rear wheels. Steel brings it all together in a well-mannered way.

At first glance, this subtly sparkly brown frame bears a resemblance to a Surly Cross-Check, perhaps the mother of all multipurpose/cyclocross bikes. However, the Black Mountain has some refinements that set it apart. The frame is treated with an ED coating to prevent rust, and Varley added a convenient barrel adjuster at the rear brake bridge to match the one on the headset.

The frame’s double-butted chromoly steel tubes are thinner to lighten it up, both weight-wise and in ride feel. Some steel frames feel like lumps of lead to me, but this one has a light and lively personality. It also isn’t flexy when climbing or loaded down. (Of course, neither I nor my touring kit weighs as much as some, so I’m not the best pusher of those limits.)

Naturally, the frame has clearance for tires up to 45mm. It has full fender mounts and rack braze-ons at the rear axle, although you’ll need P-clamps to attach a rack up top. The brake mounts are for mountain-style cantilevers or linear-pull brakes, not road calipers, to maintain tire and fender clearance.

The custom build kit offered a wide gear range: Shimano 105 shifting, plus an XT long- cage rear derailleur to handle the 11-34-tooth cassette, paired with 50-34-tooth chainrings. (Varley swapped out the stock 36-tooth small ring to eke out a lower low gear.) This set-up worked flawlessly despite being heaped with abuse. My favorite part was the Salsa Cowbell 2 handlebar, Varley’s personal recommendation for off-road control. The drop is nice and shallow, with not too much forward reach, and the 12 degrees of flare felt natural. Avid Shorty 6 brakes stopped fairly well for cantis, although I wished for discs on occasion.

The 700x42c Continental Race King tires get a gold star for longevity, good volume with light weight, reflective stripes, and for rolling reasonably well on pavement. The whole build was obviously executed by a meticulous professional: handbuilt wheels are still true despite bike mishandling shenanigans, derailleur adjustment was flawless out of the box, and every bolt was appropriately greased and torqued.

This bike was perfectly capable of commuting, but it really came alive in tackling the rougher stuff. I could safely draft Adam on the C&O Canal rail-trail even when tired, not bothering to swerve for mudholes or branches. I could take the long way home through the park to hit up some singletrack. I could roll sweetly over cobbles and construction debris. Doing a gravel grinder on this bike seems like it might actually be enjoyable.

The only thing that prevented me from completely falling in love was the lack of disc brake mounts. A bike as capable of going hard as this deserves equal stopping capabilities. Varley says he may offer a disc brake-compatible version in the future.

If you want to purchase one bike that can more than handle a wide range of riding surfaces and styles, take a look at Black Mountain.

Bike stats

  • Country of Origin: Taiwan
  • Price: $595 frameset, $2,315 as built
  • Weight: 22.64lbs. (without pedals)
  • Sizes Available: 50, 53 (tested), 56, 59, 62cm

Tester stats

  • Age: 39
  • Height: 5’8”
  • Weight: 125lbs.
  • Inseam: 33”


Recap: the Bicycle Times Gran Fondo of the Alleghenies

By Karen Brooks, photos by Trina Haynes.

You’ve seen the ads in our magazine for a while now, and this past Saturday the day finally came for this gran(d) event. Trina and I made the trek north to the town of Warren, Pa., to check it out.

As it turned out, a good friend of mine from college days, Bonnie, was also going to be in Warren that weekend to help her parents close up their summer cabin on the bank of the Allegheny River. She found out about the Fondo and enthusiastically offered us a place to stay. We were able to offer her a bike to do the ride. And thus an excellent weekend adventure came together.

The start of the ride was frosty, in the mid-20s. Josh and Aaron from the local shop doing sag support, Allegheny Cyclery, wisely brought gloves, shoe covers, and even Bar Mitts to sell. (They got some of my business—I bought heavier gloves and was glad I did.) But the day was beautiful, with the amazing colors of fall on full display.

I opted for the Gran option, consisting of 110 miles. The route was quite pleasant—the roads were butter-smooth, the few climbs were relatively gentle, and the local car drivers were polite. The twisty, rolling roads going through the Allegheny National Forest were my favorite. Despite not having as many course markings as I’m used to, fortunately there were few turns, and I found my way without incident.

Bonnie was nervous about completing the 68-mile Medio option, but I reassured her that an organized Gran Fondo is a great way to attempt a long ride, since there would be support along the way and other riders to share the fun (and suffering). Their route choice had the benefit of crossing over the scenic Kinzua Dam. She and Trina finished and had a great time.

We all chowed down at the finish line barbecue, then unfortunately had to split before we could enjoy more homemade cherry pie, courtesy of Bonnie’s mom.

Did you do the Fondo and have feedback? Let us know in the comments!

Interbike Ride Impressions: eFlow and iZip electric-assist bikes

By Karen Brooks,

Currie Technologies has been building electric-assist bikes for longer than just about anybody in the States under the iZip brand, and it has made great strides in the last few years. I reviewed the iZip Via Rapido for Bicycle Times Issue #13, but the new crop of models better integrate the motor and battery with the bike, rather than combining an off-the-shelf bike with a bolt-on electric motor. Yet they still look and feel like bicycles, not modified scooters. (Just bicycles that allow you to go unnaturally fast.)

eFlow E3 Nitro

Currie introduced a new brand this year, eFlow, that they position as a “rider’s bike,” emphasizing high performance and good handling. I checked out the $4,000 eFlow E3 Nitro, a sleek Euro-looking machine.

Its lithium-ion battery pack is positioned inside the seat tube for optimum balance, and it can be removed easily for recharging.

The 500-watt motor switches between pedal assist mode, with three levels, or power-on-demand mode (also known as Twist-And-Go in other Currie models). Besides selecting power mode and level, the control display shows distance, time, and speed, and it is removable, so that it acts like a key—pretty darn cool.


The Tektro Auriga E-Sub hydraulic disc brakes not only cut power to the motor when applied, they activate a regenerative braking system to recharge the battery, just like with hybrid cars. The seatpost/battery clamp can be locked for security, and it also includes one whimsical touch you don’t often see in the techy world of e-bikes: a bottle opener on the end of the lever.

On the road, this was the smoothest and quietest e-bike I’ve tried; the motor was barely audible even at full throttle. It seemed almost too powerful for someone my weight, yet easily controlled. Yes, it is limited to 20mph, just like all other e-bikes sold in the States. The Europeans get all the cool stuff.

iZIP E3 Ultra and Metro

I saw these two last year at the indoor portion of the show, but they weren’t available for riding, due to a freak rainstorm in the desert.

The $2,600 Metro, with its front basket and rear rack, is particularly appealing—e-bikes are perfect for hauling cargo. 

This bike also has a 500-watt motor that can be switched between pedal-assist and power-on-demand modes. The battery is located in the down tube, with a handy port on the side for charging.

Currie got it right in attaching the porteur-style basket to the head tube rather than the fork blades, so that it won’t flop to the side when loaded. Both basket and rack use classy and durable bamboo decks.

The Ultra goes for $2,800 and uses an advanced torque sensor to regulate when and how much the power kicks in, so that the transition is ultra-smooth. It shares the 500-watt motor and mode-switching capability of the Metro, but has 700c wheels for a faster ride. This would make a quick commuter or sporty long-distance bike.

Both bikes have improved balance with their batteries in the down tube, rather than on a rear rack, and felt snappy and confident. Again, a 500-watt motor felt like almost too much power for little ol’ me, but the extra power would be great for larger riders or bigger grocery hauls.

Short Ride on a Fast Machine: the Moots Vamoots RSL

By Karen Brooks

We here at Bicycle Times like to focus on bikes that meet the needs and desires of the common rider, not so much those of a fast racer. But sometimes it’s nice to try a bike that goes beyond basic needs and desires, way beyond, and has a price to match. Like tasting a rare vintage wine. If someone handed you a glass, would you say, “No thanks, I don’t drink that expensive stuff”? No—you’d sip and enjoy. Such was the case when the fine folks at Moots handed me one of their Vamoots RSL road bikes for a spin around Bootleg Canyon at the first day of the Interbike trade show.

First off, as you might expect, this thing is light. I was so enthralled that I forgot to ask how light, but let’s just say I was easily repositioning it for photos with one hand. Next, as you would also expect, it’s fast. The little rolling hills on the paved bike path out of the demo area disappeared underneath me with barely any effort.

Rather than some flashy carbon machines I’ve swung a leg over, the Vamoots had none of the nervous, chattery feeling you can get with lightweight carbon. It was smooth as the finest silk. Instead of yelling at me in an indeterminate European accent to “Allez! Allez! Go faster, you fool!” it whispered seductively in my ear, “C’mon, shift up. Just a little farther. Over the next rise.” I began to imagine showing up to every criterium and Gran Fondo and long group ride and impromptu bike-path race to kick some butt, but in a refined, quiet manner. Yes, I’d be the silent assassin, sneaking up and clicking the SRAM Red shifters up a notch before leaving my competitors in my dust.

Oh, the details: double-butted, oversized 3/2.5 titanium alloy tubes, made in the U.S.A. A Press Fit BB30 bottom bracket joins up all the oversize tubes in the stiffest way possible for efficient pedaling. Slim, elegant seatstays maintain a refined ride. A full carbon, tapered-steerer fork is painted to match that fetching titanium grey.

What does it cost, you ask? Well, if you have to ask… $4,235 for the frame, $4,630 for a frameset including fork, seatpost, and stem. The complete bike I rode, as built, would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $9,000. Hey, still only four digits—that’s a bargain!

Sometimes it’s dangerous, being forced to ride these bikes. I’m now contemplating selling various possessions, including my Moots mountain bike, to own one.

The 2012 National Women’s Bicycling Summit

By Karen Brooks

Last Thursday, I went to the first of what will hopefully be a long line of National Women’s Bicycling Summits, hosted by the League of American Bicyclists in Long Beach, California. It was such a positive experience—just a few short hours that all who attended will remember and draw inspiration from for a long time.

The Summit was held right after the Pro Walk/Pro Bike conference, also in Long Beach, but seemed to draw a different crowd. I spoke to one participant of both events, Nern Ostendorf of Queen City Bike, who estimated that the Women’s Summit was about 80% new folks, and perhaps a more lively bunch than the mostly professional planners in attendance at PW/PB. (Not to disparage pro planners—we need them! But it’s a suit-and-tie kind of job.)
To start things off, Leah Missbach Day spoke about her work with World Bicycle Relief, the organization that she and her husband, F.K. Day, founded with the help of SRAM. Their initial mission was to aid Sri Lanka after the tsunami hit in 2004. Bicycles are an obvious solution to transport people and goods after a natural disaster. Since then, World Bicycle Relief has expanded its efforts to include distributing bikes to healthcare workers and students in Africa, especially female students. We heard some incredible stories of how girls have been able to finish out their education with the help of a bike, thus enriching not only their own lives, but the wellbeing of the whole community.
It was really tough to choose between the panels at each of the two break-out sessions that followed. I went to one called “Beyond Spandex, Toward Social Justice: Women Redefining the Movement,” on the topic of how to “erase stereotypes about bicyclists” and make absolutely everyone feel welcome to experience the joy of riding a bike. All the speakers were awesome, but the highlights for me were hearing about Kristin Gavin’s work helping women transition out of tough situations with Gearing Up, and learning the hand sign of the Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade. I’d love to come back to L.A. sometime and ride with these rad ladies.
Pictured from left to right: Elly Blue, Founder/Owner of Taking the Lane Media; Mia Kohout, Publisher of Momentum magazine; Yolanda Davis-Overstreet, Director of the movie Ride in Living Color; Susi Wunsch, Founder of Velojoy; and Maria Boustead, Founder/Owner of Po Campo.
The next session was a no-brainer for me: “Media and Marketing: Who’s Selling Cycling to Women?” My favorite part was Elly Blue of Taking The Lane explaining her Bike Test for bike media, events, organizations, and the like:
  1. Are women included?
  2. Are they playing an active role?
  3. If a guy were depicted in that role instead of a girl, would it look ridiculous?
Put the next issue of one of the more male-dominated bike magazines to the test—the results may be surprising. The examples we looked at didn’t get past #2.
After the panels, there was a fashion show at a beautifully Californian outdoor venue. Unfortunately, this was the one jarring note of the event—after hearing so many powerful messages of empowerment for women and girls, we were presented with a show that seemed to go for the typical shock-value sex appeal of runway fashion. Gold body paint and a bikini for riding a bike? Really? Especially when the guy models were in full-length pants and jackets (and actually riding, not walking)? I talked about it with other attendees afterward, both female and male, and we agreed that it was disappointing.
Nevertheless, we all had a great time and learned a lot. To keep the positive vibes going, the League has launched an initiative to equalize the rates at which women and men ride bikes for transportation, recreation, and fitness by the year 2025. I was also psyched to hear that our hometown of Pittsburgh has been chosen to host the next Pro Walk/Pro Bike in 2014. See you there!


Advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh turns 10

Riders young and old enjoyed Pedal Pittsburgh on August 5. Photo by Jennifer Reddy.

By Karen Brooks,

This is a good time to be a cyclist, or biker, or bicycle lover, or what-have-you, in Pittsburgh. We’re currently in the first week of BikeFest, an annual city-wide festival of rides and related events of all kinds, stretching a full 15 days this year. (An Olympics of bike-themed fun, if you will.) This past Sunday the Fest kicked off with Pedal Pittsburgh, a cool city tour by bike with a couple thousand of our biking buddies, and tonight is the BikeFest fundraising party, always a highlight of the social calendar.

This has also been a bad time to be a cyclist in Pittsburgh. In the last days of July, two bike riders were killed after being hit by cars on a stretch of particularly dangerous street, one of them in a hit-and-run situation. Then in the first days of August, three more people on bikes were in hit-and-run incidents with automobile drivers, including a six-year-old girl. Some blame the recent heat wave or especially exasperating construction detours, and others point to distracted or outright malicious drivers. But the recent injuries and loss of life are a sad undercurrent to our gatherings.

Through all of this, a superb group of people has been elevating our highs and supporting us in the lows: our own homegrown advocacy organization, Bike Pittsburgh. They organize the Bike Fest, and assumed organization of this year’s Pedal Pittsburgh ride to fold it into the fun. They’ve also been busy answering calls from the local media about all the accidents and are trying very hard to make sure that cyclists are portrayed in a good light, not with the typical car-centric bias.

On top of that they’ve managed to get the city to take immediate steps to help the problem, suggesting an alternate route along the dangerous stretch and stationing cops along it to discourage bad driver behavior. (Which is apparently not as easy as it should be: one police officer on motorcycle patrol was hit by an SUV.) They do it all with a friendly, cheerful demeanor. It’s obvious that they love their jobs.

This year, Bike Pittsburgh celebrates its tenth anniversary. The organization has done so much in ten years: convinced the city to hire a bike-pedestrian coordinator; hired its own traffic engineer to facilitate getting bike lanes installed, thus removing a big stalling point in the city government machine; encouraged the city’s Port Authority to install bike racks on all city buses; created and promoted Car-Free Fridays; started the process to getting us a bikeshare system; and generally had our backs. It’s no wonder that Bike Pittsburgh was honored as “Advocacy Organization of the Year” for 2011 by the Alliance for Biking and Walking.

From my own perspective, it’s easy to see the bike-positive changes in Pittsburgh. Almost half of my commuting route is now a bike lane or at least painted with sharrows. I can park my bike at an actual, functional bike rack at many local businesses. Perhaps most telling, and the point I enjoy relaying to anyone who will listen: when I see another cyclist out on the road, it’s no longer likely to be someone I know—there are so many more of them. (But I still give a friendly wave.)

Happy Birthday to the hardest-working, most dedicated, most fun-loving group of bike advocates out there!

Progress slowly made on advocacy at National Bike Summit

Sara DeShong, of the Austin Cycling Association, posed a question at the National Women Cycling Forum.

By Karen Brooks, photos by Chris Eichler, captions courtesy of Carolyn Szczepanski

One week ago, more than 800 enthusiastic bicycling advocates met in Washington, D.C., to network, learn strategy, and above all, remind Congress that bicyclists are an important part of the national transportation network. This was an exciting, if confusing, time to attend the National Bike Summit. Finally, it looks like a brand new transportation bill will make its way through Congress after years of the old bill, SAFETEA-LU, being extended again and again. Now signs are promising that dedicated funding for cycling-related projects will be preserved. For another boost, we received more news on a proposed unification between three of the nation’s largest advocacy organizations.

Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI) (center- red tie) met with a large delegation from Wisconsin — and was presented with a League Leadership Award for his strong support of bicycling in Congress.

Transportation bill

Not long before the Summit, a horrible version of the transportation bill was put forward by the House of Representatives, called, ironically, the American Infrastructure and Energy Jobs Act. This bill would have axed all dedicated funding for biking and walking enhancements. Some Representatives had come together to vote for a bipartisan amendment to preserve funding, known as the Petri amendment, but it lost by two votes in committee. However, it seems that the voices of a horde of bike-friendly voters were heard, not to mention those of pedestrian and public transit advocates and plenty of other factions who were unhappy with the bill, and support to get it passed has been hard to come by.

Now, a comprehensive transportation bill, called MAP-21, has passed the Senate. This bill has a provision to replace programs that help us most – Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails – with optional “additional activities” funding. But a bipartisan amendment, the Cardin-Cochran amendment, would increase local control over how this money is spent, so that it doesn’t end up languishing in state Departments of Transportation coffers, or being spent on more highway projects.

At the time of this writing, at the very least, the old transportation bill has been extended for 90 days with funding levels preserved. But the lack of a long-term bill creates uncertainty for many projects currently in the works, and the extension gives House Representatives time to try to build support for their own bill, rather than simply accepting a version of the Senate’s bill.

The mood on the Hill was definitely better than at last year’s Summit, with lawmakers of both parties seemingly more willing to come together to fund bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Our main argument was (and is) that this funding is by no means pork-barrel wastefulness—it gives a lot of bang for the buck. Just 1.5 percent of Federal transportation funds goes to support the 12 percent of trips made by walking and bicycle nationwide. Not to mention that non-motorized travel is clean, healthy, energy-efficient, and economical. Hearing from constituents makes all the difference to your representatives in Congress. Go to the League of American Bicyclists’ website today and find out how to join the chorus.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) chatted with constituents from her district in the back of a pedicab.

Unified advocacy organizations

Among all this talk of lawmaking was the excited buzz over a proposed unification of three of the most powerful advocacy organizations in the country. Leadership from the League of American Bicyclists (representing individual cyclists), the Alliance for Biking and Walking (a coalition of local and state bike/ped organizations), and Bikes Belong (the bike industry’s advocacy arm) met last February and tentatively agreed to merge the three into one large and powerful organization. This move has the potential to be huge—giving one strong voice to cyclists across the U.S. Right now, the goal is to finalize the decision on whether to proceed with this unification by the end of September, and to launch this new organization in January of 2013.

From left: Jeff Miller (Alliance for Biking & Walking), Andy Clarke (League of American Bicyclists), and Tim Blumenthal (Bikes Belong) announced the potential unification of the nation’s three largest bicycle advocacy organizations.




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