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

‘One Long Commute’, or, ‘It’s Supposed To Be an Adventure’

By Karen Brooks, photos by Jon Pratt

A few months ago, a great idea came to me: to ride from our HQ here in Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, for the National Bike Summit in March. The route would be almost entirely on rail-trails, the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal trails. What better way to show our support for publicly funded bicycle projects than by taking advantage of this excellent result – a car-free path all the way to our nation’s capital?

I enthusiastically revealed this idea to my coworkers, and some of them caught the bug and joined up. We came up with a plan for a faster ride out, taking three days, and a more leisurely ride back of five days or so. We’ll be camping along the way, and thus will have a great opportunity to test some bikepacking and camping gear, not to mention a few bikes that are particularly well-suited to the journey. (Look for those reviews in Issue #17, coming out around June 1.)

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and roses… especially not in March in this part of the country. The weather can be temperamental to say the least. (I’m fond of telling transplants that we don’t really have spring so much as a war between winter and summer, starting in March, and eventually summer wins.) One constant is precipitation in one form or another, which is not so terrible in itself – unless feet of snow are covering the trail, a distinct possibility – but it can make the trail surface wheel-suckingly soft. It’s already fairly rough in some areas. A quaint little paved path this is not.

Stephen, our art director, went out on a test run a couple weekends ago and came back shaking his head. “I dunno, man… it was soft. I need different tires or something.” He’s already using 26” mountain bike tires on his Surly Long Haul Trucker. Uh oh.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Linda McKenna Boxx, President of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, the coalition of organizations that came together to build the Great Allegheny Passage. Even she looked at me like I was crazy when I told her we aimed to get to DC in three days. “You’ll be lucky to be doing 8 mph at times. And it’s flat, and dull. There are no climbs or coasting downhill to break the monotony.” I nodded and smiled as I have at everyone else who expressed doubt about our plan.

But so far, the weather gods seem to be smiling on us. It’s been unseasonably warm and dry, and that trend is set to continue at least through Sunday. Good news for the ride out. That overdue snow will probably fall on our heads on the way back. But – so what. We’re going to demonstrate that rail-trails are worthy additions to our public landscape, and even useful beyond attracting tourism to local economies. After all, we’re essentially commuting to our job – 320 miles away.

We’ll have updates about how the trip went after we get back, so stay tuned. We may even send out some tweets along the way.



Highlights from NAHBS 2012 Sacramento

By Karen Brooks

This post covers two days of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show at once, not because there wasn’t that much to see – quite the contrary. It’s because with record-breaking attendance, most of what I saw on Saturday was the inside of our booth. Which was fine; it’s always nice to talk to fans of our magazines from all over.

These posts are but a small taste of our coverage to come. This year, we’re taking advantage of all the space on the World Wide Web to post lots of studio photos and full interviews with builders. We’ll be rolling those out soon, so keep your eyes peeled.


Jeremy Sycip always has something interesting going on. Here he shows off a sunny blue cargo trike that his kids were having fun riding around in when it wasn’t displaying T-shirts. Besides its overall practicality, a couple details made it really stand out: The front end has an integrated U-lock, so that you can simply ride the bike right up to a pole and lock it and the dual front hydraulic brakes use a wonderfully simple cable splitter welded right onto the frame. Jeremy says he had to use levers with a big reservoir, and that it was a pain to bleed the system, but it’s still worth it. (We’ll have more on Sycip later.)

English Cycles

This bike, aptly named “Project Righty,” from English was one of the more zany contraptions, but it does look rideable. Note the wheels entirely on the left side of the frame, and the drivetrain entirely on the right – no need for a splitter for this belt drive. It sports a custom English rear hub with a Phil Wood carrier and an eccentric bottom bracket to make it possible.


Dean displayed a full line of bikes, including a Trans-Alp adventure touring model and a randonneur.

Juding process

We got a backstage view of the judging process, of which our boss Maurice was a part. It was pretty intense at times, as the judges huddled and a nervous flock of framebuilders hovered nearby.

Outspoken Cyclist

I got to meet Diane Lees, host of the excellent Outspoken Cyclist radio show and podcast. Diane, here with her companion Brian, was excited about the latest episode, featuring Graeme Obree, the Flying Scotsman.

Bruce Gordon

I hung out at Bruce Gordon’s booth for a while, partly to ogle beautiful frames of course, but also to have some interesting (and often hilarious) conversation. We’ll have a bunch more with Bruce later, but for now, one cool thing he let me in on was that he’s going to again be producing his original Rock n’ Road knobby 700c (or 29er) tires, a tire that helped further both the 29er and adventure touring concepts. Of course it will be offered in classy skinwall. Here is the original technical drawing for the tire design from back in the day.

Peacock Groove

Eric Noren of Peacock Groove had one of the wildest finishes of any bike at the show – a blood-drenched horror movie theme. He even went so far as to chop up the badge on the down tube.

Independent Fabrication

One of the prettiest paint jobs I saw was on this mountain bike from Independent Fabrication.


Renold Yip of Yipsan Bicycles showed off an updated version of his winning city bike from 2010, with gorgeous racks and the same sunny yellow paint job. Note the shifter front derailleur on the seat tube – the location makes it easier to separate the frame with the S&S couplers.

Richard Sachs

We joked that there should be an award for the “Best Richard Sachs.”

Gallus Cycles

It was especially cool to meet and talk to Jeremy Schlachter of Gallus Cycles. Issue #16 will feature a dual account of the granddaddy of all randonneuring events – Paris-Brest-Paris – by Jeremy and another contributor, Paul Rozelle. Above is the bike Jeremy rode and below is his number plate and finisher’s medal:


I got a sneak peek of something that Shimano has been brewing: a Di2 electronic version of their Alfine internally geared hub. It’s built on the newer E2 version of the electronics, so it will have only two cables (instead of the first-gen’s four), with waterproof connectors. The final version will have the battery hidden in the seatpost.

Already this presents an easier rear wheel removal process, but it also promises significantly improved battery life over the external gear versions, since most of the power for those is spent in moving the front derailleur. Another cool twist is that a drop-bar lever version will be available.


The United Bicycle Institute had a booth, naturally, since many alums were represented at other booths. I chatted with Bob about the possibility of one of us lucky staffers getting to go out and take a framebuilding course with them.


Some booth shenanigans involving rubber band shooting happened, courtesy of our longtime friend Robert Studdiford (center) of TwoFish and his two sons, Adrian and Liam. They always come out to West Coast events to liven up the booth. Liam even advertised for us by stickering up his Mohawk.

NAHBS 2012 Sacramento: Day 1 recap

By Karen Brooks

In a word, it was great. The first day of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show was busy, interesting, and fun. Despite prepping coverage from this show for a number of years, I’ve never actually been to it myself, so it was especially cool to get to see everything in person.

Here’s the front of the convention center, which is gorgeous.

The first builder I visited happened to be the only female at the show. Megan Dean makes track and street frames under the (intriguing) name Moth Attack. She does this not just because track frames are cool to ride on the street, but because she’s heavily involved in track racing herself, in actual velodromes – a refreshing change. Note the large, tapered head tube, something that makes a lot of sense for the short, powerful sprints that happen on the track; Megan seems to be one of few who’s figured this out, and had to search far and wide for a carbon fork with a tapered steerer. She also works at the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition for a nice melding of advocacy and artistry.

One of the coolest things by far was the simple but effective Naked booth. Sam Whittingham and employee Aran rode their show bikes from Eureka to Sacramento and right on in to the show floor, proving that their bikes weren’t for show only. The booth consisted of just the two bikes, road dirt and all, and a backdrop of photos they took along the way. Aran’s bike is a long, low, and gorgeous thing with mounting points for six (count ‘em, six) panniers, and built-in head- and taillights.

Here Sam talks to an admirer of his more traditional tourer. Check out the story of their trip at their website.

Josh Boisclair is a new builder looking to establish himself at the show with this keg bike. Good choice, Josh. He rode in to the show in Sacramento from Oakland, proving that it’s functional – another smart move, especially for a heavy-duty cargo bike.

His inspiration came from an old photo of a beer-delivery bike hauling three small kegs and a case of bottles. It was the first time he’d seen such a big load on a cargo bike with only two wheels, and set out to interpret the idea for himself. Josh works for an importer, My Dutch Bike, that specializes, naturally, in bakfiets and Dutch city bikes.

A view of the show floor. This was actually a fairly quiet moment – it was quite busy for a weekday.

The bike parking area was an interesting cross-section of local transportation. Note the tall bike. The “lot” was mostly full by the mid-afternoon. There might be no spots left tomorrow.

NAHBS is definitely the show for ogling fine handmade tools just as much as fine handmade bikes. I visited a purveyor of total bike-geek fetish items: the aptly named Wheel Fanatyk from Seattle, where I drooled over this beautifully meticulous German wheel truing stand by the brand name of P&K Lie. Among its features are a pair of non-linear gauges that have rollers you press up against the rim. Give the wheel one spin, and the dial shows the variance from true, and a sweep indicator stays at the furthest point to show exactly how far off the rim is. The non-linear part means the gauges work on rims that are darn near taco’d.

Ric Hjertberg is an original wheel fanatic. Here he shows off an ingeniously simple wooden centering gauge made by his brother John.

Those gorgeous wooden rims are from Italian maker Ghisallo. They’ve appeared on NAHBS show bikes before, and it’s no wonder…

This was one of the coolest front ends I saw, from English builder Demon Frameworks.

A liger and a DeLorean at Italian brand Sarto’s space attracted plenty of attention.

Our new booth setup looked so pro I accidentally walked right past it a few times… thanks to Andrew for hooking it up!

Joseph Ahearne (far right) shows off his wares to a small crowd. We’ll definitely have more about his bikes later.

Like all good bike shows and events, NAHBS is also somewhat of a family reunion. Here Maurice greets Elayna Caldwell and Joe Parkin’s newest family member, little Nico. You can’t see it here, but he was rocking a Mötorhead shirt.



Review: iZip Via Rapido

By Karen Brooks

Electric bikes have somewhat of a bad reputation to overcome. The first round of electric motor bikes (introduced around ten years ago) had limited range, were heavy and unwieldy, and were not easy to service. Since then, great strides have been made in all areas of electric bike construction, and they are poised to become big players in the bicycle market.

Currie Technologies, parent company of the IZip brand, has been producing electric bikes since their first emergence; they’ve made the common mistakes and learned from them admirably. IZip is their performance-oriented brand, while eZip is the moniker of their recreational-oriented offerings. IZip bikes span a range from basic budget bikes to ultra-high end, sleek, and futuristic machines. We chose to test the Via Rapido because it falls in the middle of this range, and also offers both of the main types of e-bike transmission: throttle (also called e-bike) and pedelec.

You may recall from Karl’s review of the BionX add-on electric motor system in issue #9 that throttle systems don’t require pedaling input, while pedelec systems do. IZip has models that offer both modes, in their case called TAG (Twist And Go) and PAS (Pedal Assist System). You can switch between modes with a button next to the on/ off switch. In TAG mode, the throttle ramps up to 100% power whether you’re pedaling or not. In PAS mode, 50% of available power assist kicks in when you start pedaling, and twisting the throttle adds more power, up to 100%. In either mode, sensors in the brake levers cut off the motor when the brakes are applied. There is also a sensor at the bottom bracket to detect pedaling input.

The Via Rapido’s Electro-Drive 250-watt motor is housed in the rear hub, and in fact looks like nothing more than an internally geared hub, a far cry from the bulky motors of old. The lithium-ion battery is a thin rectan- gle that fits neatly in a slot in the rear rack. It can be charged on or off the bike, and locks in place with a small key. The battery’s claimed range is 15-22 miles (given some pedaling input), and the motor’s top speed is 20mph, above which it cuts out (as mandated by law).

There’s a battery gauge at the throttle: green for full power, yellow for half, and red for low. The gauge measures the line output, not the battery’s actual life, so it tends to bounce around some as you accelerate, but it gives a fairly accurate reading when using 50% power at a steady pace. Recharging took around five hours, right in line with the claimed time. From talking to various electric bike makers at the Interbike trade show last year, it seemed as though throttle systems are offered simply to give customers what they think they want—motorcycle-style engagement. Industry wisdom suggests that as riders gain electric experience, they tend to gravitate toward pedelecs for more seamless integration of the motor’s help.

The IZip manual also says that the PAS mode saves battery life. However, my experience differed. In the highest of the external derailleur’s eight speeds, which I used frequently, I could barely feel the 50% power input from the motor. Instead, I tended to use TAG mode to give myself a boost at crucial times—starting at green lights, trying to get to a light before it turned yellow, up short but steep hills, etc.—and relied on the ol’ legs the rest of the time. This way, I got more than the claimed range out of this system. Using PAS mode only when going slow, I could get a 25-mile round trip commute and then some, and with judicious use of the TAG mode, sometimes even two trips. But I may pedal more than the average user, and a rider casually cruising in a lower gear would get more of a boost from the PAS mode.

The throttle in TAG mode engages slowly, which is good—it is possible, after all, to peel out, and tales of unintended wheelies still crop up in the electric world. At first I found having to hold down the throttle to go up extended hills kind of awkward, but I’ve gotten used to it. I did wish that the bike’s eight external gears were higher overall, but my commute involves some suburban roads and highway-ish situations that call for speed; for shorter trips around town, they’d be passable. For riders just getting into it, the gear range would be fine.

I haven’t said much about the bike’s basic platform—that’s because Currie is overhauling that aspect of the Via Rapido for 2012. Good thing, because that’s where my complaints lie. My tester was built on a hybrid, with 700c wheels and an upright position, which is good. But it’s also got an uncomfortably flat and straight handlebar, weak linear-pull brakes, and a suspension fork and seatpost that do little but add weight.

The 2012 Via Rapido will be based on a more urban style of bike, with a “retro ‘70s appearance” and a host of other improvements. Notably, the “mixte” version will be a true step-through design and not the current half-dropped top tube frame, which will make mounting this still relatively heavy bike easier. It will also sport fenders, a swept-back handlebar, disc brakes (hooray!), a lighter rigid fork, and a regular seatpost with a more comfortable seat—basically, all the changes I would have recommended. The electric drive system will be mostly the same, but will have a more intuitive toggle switch for PAS/TAG rather than the current push button version.

You can carry stuff on the Via Rapido’s rear rack, although due to the battery’s place- ment, panniers with hooks aren’t compatible. A saddlebag, however, can be strapped to it relatively easily. IZip includes Slime in- nertubes on all their bikes to prevent most routine flats—a great idea since removing that rear motorized wheel isn’t easy.
Before this test I assumed it would mostly be less-fit riders who would benefit from electric assistance—for instance, someone getting back into cycling after a long absence, or wanting to start an exercise routine. But I found that even with a good level of fitness, I had a lot to gain from riding the Via Rapido. I could arrive at work not drenched in sweat on the hottest, stickiest days. I could ride this bike on a lazy Monday instead of wimping out after a hard weekend of mountain biking. I could ride it when I was crunched for time. In short, it looks as if modern technology has made electric bikes a viable option for a wide range of cyclists.

Tester stats

Age: 38

Height: 5’8”

Weight: 120lbs.

Inseam: 33”

Bike stats

Country of Origin: China

Price: $1,300

Weight: 41.0lbs.

Sizes Available: 19”, diamond and “mixte” frames

Keep reading

Read Karen’s blog on her first impression of the iZip Via Rapido here.



Riding Pittsburgh’s Dirty Dozen

The author tackles Canton Avenue’s 37 percent grade.

By Karen Brooks, photos by Jon Pratt

Somehow I have lived and cycled in this city for 20 years without participating in one of its more famous bike events: the Dirty Dozen. This is an underground race of sorts, put on by Danny Chew, local hyper bike guy celebrity and two-time Race Across America winner who likes to dish out punishment—er, invite others to join in his idea of fun, which involves ridiculous amounts of miles or silly feats of leg strength. In this case the idea is to climb a baker’s dozen of Pittsburgh’s steepest hills in an enduro-style format, doling out points for those who make it to the tops fastest.

Before those of you from Colorado or San Francisco snort in derision, know that Pittsburgh boasts possibly the steepest paved street in the world, Canton Avenue, a cobblestone monster with a 37 percent grade. (Some town in New Zealand claims they have one steeper than that, but since it would involve an expensive plane ticket to go find out, we’ll just go ahead and call Canton the steepest.) None of the hills in the Dozen are below 20 percent grade. Sycamore Avenue, a brutal climb made famous by the Thrift Drug Classic race that used to be held in Pittsburgh (once won by a certain Mr. Armstrong) is arguably the easiest of the hills.

Two-time Race Across America winner Danny Chew, above left, has been hosting the event since 1983.

So this year I finally decided that any excuses I might have thought up would bow down to the need to experience this ride. I’d been told that despite the brutality, it was lots of fun, a great rolling tour of the city with an atmosphere of camaraderie. Non-serious bikes and outfits were welcome. I hadn’t done any specific training at all… well, aside from the fact that coming home late from the bar on Thanksgiving Day, about 30 hours before the race, I decided to ride up one extraneous steep hill. So what—as Adam, the Bicycle Times web editor, and I told ourselves at the start, we were there simply to cover it for you dear readers, not necessarily to be competitive.

The turnout this year was much bigger than in previous editions—more than 300 in all—perhaps due to entertaining exposure of the 2010 edition by local public television documentarian Rick Sebak and his broadcast on WQED. The mild weather didn’t hurt, either. Adam and I found ourselves at the back of a very big group to start, and the first hill got underway before I realized it, with no fanfare or even markers to speak of. I passed a bunch of people, but the score keeper at the top had long since moved on by the time I got there. It seemed that some road racing skills would be needed to grab a better placement before the next hill—too bad I don’t do road racing.

Above left: The ride rolls across one of Pittsburgh’s countless iconic bridges. Above right: A local cyclist best known as "Stick" was one of five supermen who completed the ride on singlespeeds.

These hills really are brutal, though, and I didn’t want to burn out before the end. I had installed a mountain bike cassette with a 34-tooth big cog on my ‘cross commuter, for a 38×34 low gear—low enough, I hoped. I had also put on 32mm tires for some extra squish for the cobblestones, and a new chain for luck. I used that low sucker for every hill, despite the fact that I hadn’t tightened the B-tension screw enough and the derailleur pulley rubbed the big cog. I also had to remember not to shift into “big-big”—and forgot once, only to have a seasoned racer-type dude yell at me: “What are you DOING to your DERAILLEUR!”.

The equipment choices paid off. I gradually worked my way toward the front of the pack, and began to catch sight of the fast racer-type chicks that were obviously winning. I even passed one of them on a longer hill. People with high-end road racing bikes sporting big gears were speeding to the front, only to struggle once the real pitches kicked in, barely turning over the pedals, while I could spin (sort of) along and even sit for some bits. (Don’t get me wrong, though—the fast people at the front were mashing their way upward with big gears like the super-human machines they are.) A kind fellow racer began giving me a briefing before each stage. I finally caught sight of the score keeper at about the fifth hill, and apparently nabbed some points.

Very few riders made it up Canton Avenue on the first try.

Then the monster loomed large: Canton was the ninth hill. I made my assault on the wall of cobbles only to be turned back by another racer falling over in front of me, a common occurrence. I shouldered my bike back down the stairs that pass for a sidewalk here to make another attempt. This time I made it up in one effort, channeling mountain bike singlespeeding skills and buoyed by the shouts from the crowd pressing in around the course, le Tour-style. At the top, the score keeper not only remembered my name, she told me I got second place!

From then on, it was on, so to speak. I even won one of the stages, the next-to-last and seemingly the most offensive, a series of turns revealing pitch after pitch, each more hellishly upright than the last. I almost cried at the top. But then I caught my breath and tried to wipe my memory clean to maintain a positive attitude for the last push.

Karen, at left, and the women’s group race to the top of Rialto Street.

Somehow I ended up in the back of the pack again before the last stage… Adam said later that the fast guys in front set a blistering pace. My fellow riders and I were so happy to be nearly done we didn’t care. The last hill snuck up on us gradually, then the last ridiculous pitch smacked us in the face. I could see the score keeper and hear the cheering fans at the top… so close, but oh, my legs were turning to rubber… so far… when will it ever end… and then it was over.

The finish was not far from my house, and I was tempted to just coast back and go straight to bed. But the nice score keeper said that according to her preliminary calculations, I had gotten third place. If I could pedal back to the start, a few miles away, I would possibly collect the accolades of those hardy souls left, plus a cash prize. That convinced me to follow the pack remnants back.

I did indeed win third place. Now I’ll have to try it again next year, armed with experience, and perhaps go for the win. Worth noting is another dominating performance by local legend Stephen "Steevo" Cummings who recorded an incredible eighth consecutive win. But the best part for me was the ride back to my neighborhood with another local hyper bike guy celebrity, Stick, and none other than Danny Chew himself. He peppered us with rapid-fire questions and entertained us with his high-pitched, frenetic delivery. That guy is something else, and so is his race.



Interbike 2011: New bikes – and bells! – from Electra

By Karen Brooks

The Electra booth at Interbike is always a refreshingly colorful oasis. This detail on a Sugar Skulls 3i cruiser, with 3-speed internal Shimano drivetrain, happens to match a tattoo sported by our newest staffer, Trina.

With their new Verse line, the company is aiming to bring some style to the typically boring genre of hybrid bikes, those bicycles that were originally intended to be a hybrid of road and mountain. The Verse bikes have hybrid characteristics: 700c wheels with sturdy-but-quick 35mm width tires, a wide gear range (24- or 21-speed), and a fairly upright position. But they also have some interesting colors and a clean look, thanks to internal cable routing, caliper brakes, and quill stems.

The 21D will be $579, and the 24D (below) will be $679.

Those caliper brakes have clearance for fenders, by the way. Nice touch.

More cool colors: this Amsterdam Girard 3i model shows off graphics that go perfectly with the Dutch-inspired mien.

The Night Owl styled 3-speed cruiser was probably my favorite. It’s part of the Fashion cruiser line, priced between $579 and $650.

The classic and functional Ticino line has seen a few tweaks since we reviewed the Ticino 8D in issue #5, most notably a drop in price for their 20D flagship model, now down to $1,500. It also has a larger aluminum rack that can handle up to 50lbs.

Did you know that no company offers more bike bells than Electra? I didn’t.



Interbike mini-review: Origin-8 Bully

Editor’s note: While in Las Vegas for Interbike this year, we were fortunate enough to benefit from the generosity of several brands that allowed us to borrow their bikes for a few days. Here’s what we found.

By Karen Brooks

The Bully is a sort of urban bike that’s very popular in space-crunched Asian countries. It’s not a folder, it just has small 20” wheels to better navigate crowded streets and fit in small apartments. But the big chainring—52 teeth, visually approaching the size of the wheels themselves—and the not-too-short wheelbase allow it to pedal like a regular bike.

This is an inexpensive but useful little bike. The frame is sturdy 4130 cro-moly steel. The funky top tubes mean it’s got lots of standover clearance for yet more nimble-ness. It has a basic Shimano 7-speed drivetrain—nothing fancy but it works. The linear-pull rim brakes stop the little wheels just fine, but the frame does have disc tabs should you want to upgrade.

The beauty of this little Bully became apparent on the Bike Hugger Mobile Social ride: a hundred or so Interbike attendees, dazed from a full day on the show floor, were let loose on Thursday evening to make our way a few miles down the Strip to waiting cocktails and snacks, in a colorful parade lap of sorts. Riding down the Strip on a bike is something that everyone should try; doing it in a big, safe group was awesome. Although this was a very casual pedal, of course not everyone was paying close attention, what with all the flashing lights and mobile boom boxes. Many times I came close to crossing wheels with fellow riders—or would have, if my wheels were a full 700c. Instead I could bob and weave among the crowd, and lapses of my own attention didn’t cause any wrecks.

At the end of the day I fit the Bully into our hotel’s undersized elevator along with Trina and her folder, then easily wheeled it into our room.

One drawback: the handlebar height isn’t adjustable, except by swapping stems. The handling could get weird for taller folks who would need the seat much higher than the bars. Since there’s just one frame size, a telescoping stem of some sort would help a lot. But then again, for $400 and change you could afford to buy a different stem to customize this bike for your needs.

Origin-8 offers all flavors of bikes, at affordable prices. We’ll be checking them out in more detail for sure.

Price: $400-$450 (not set by manufacturer)



Interbike 2011: iZip revamps e-bike lineup

By Karen Brooks

Having just finished a test on an iZip electric bike, I was eager to see the new and improved version looked like. As I said in my review in Issue #13 (available now!) the electric part of the bike worked just fine, but I was left wanting some changes in the cockpit and gearing. Well iZip delivered: the e3 Path model, above, replaces the Via Rapido and is fully equipped with fenders, disc brakes, and a chain cover, and loses the weighty suspension fork and seatpost. Should make for a more practical commuter. The colors are a lot more snazzy, too.

The e3 Zuma cruiser style bike also lost its unnecessary suspension bits and gained disc brakes, as well as a more comfortable bend to the bars.

The e3 Metro is an exciting-looking bike – it makes a whole lot of sense to add front and rear racks when you’ve got a 500-watt motor. The front basket attaches to the head tube rather than the fork so that it doesn’t flop over when loaded down. Its electric drive is still switchable between pedal assist and throttle, and now the pedal assist has three “boost” levels as well. The battery is nicely hidden in that large down tube.

The top-of-the-line e3Ultra will also get three “boost” levels to the pedal assist, to further control their sophisticated torque sensing system, called TMM4+.

The Express is still the e-bike of choice for police, as its 750-watt motor packs enough punch to catch perps.



Interbike 2011: Breezer expands line of practical city bikes

By Karen Brooks

We got to talk to Joe Breeze at the Outdoor Demo (as he handed over one of his personal bikes for Josh to ride) – an d it is always a pleasure to speak to such a visionary. Inside, we talked to JT Burke about what they’ve got brewing in the way of transportation bikes. Incidentally, Joe Breeze was years ahead of the recent upswing of interest in cycling for transportation; in fact, he used his status as a founder of mountain biking to push the concept, and has made it a mission to offer practical bikes for transportation since 2002.

So on that positive note we saw Breezer’s new line of affordable transportation bikes, called Downtown. The line consists of three steel-framed models that match their higher-end Uptown line: 8- and 3-speed internally geared and one with 7-speed external gearing, all available in both standard and dropped-top-tube frame configurations.

They’ll have custom-sized racks and fenders, naturally, along with classic steel good looks. Burke also extolled the virtues of having frames designed by a master, for a comfortable but efficient ride. They range in price from $550 to $830.

Breezer is also jumping on the belt bandwagon with the Beltway, a line of high-end commuters that use Gates belt drives. Breezer was an early proponent of fully outfitted, no-compromise commuter bikes with their Finesse models, but the market hadn’t caught up to them back in 2008. Signs are showing that the market has matured, however, and so they’re trying again with the Beltways. There are three versions: and 11-speed Shimano Alfine internal drive, a NuVinci continuously variable drive (like that on the Uptown Infinity that we tested), and a singlespeed. The dropouts on these looked particularly sleek – classic Breezer style, with the bolt at the split (to accommodate a belt) hidden up in the end of the seatstay.




Interbike 2011: Sheila Moon maternity bike jerseys

By Karen Brooks

Trina, one of our newest employees, spotted something unique and cool at the Sheila Moon booth. Unfortunately she didn’t have a camera with her, but Sheila herself sent over some shots. Presenting: maternity cycling jerseys!

Sheila has them in both short sleeves and sleeveless, all made of DriFit polyester/Lycra wicking fabric, in a variety of fabulous prints. The sleeveless is $79, with sleeves $89.

It so happens that Sheila’s DriFit bottoms (in various configurations) have a soft waistband that accommodates that belly bump nicely.

Interbike 2011: Surly gets spooky with Ogre and Troll

By Karen Brooks

It’s always fun to visit the Surly booth and hang out at their “bar” (which sometimes features actual beer). A set of rollers made of logs, for that authentic trail feel, added a hint of danger. Kind of like a mechanical bull at some bars.

At the Outdoor Demo, we saw the new complete-bike version of their Troll, a 26-inch wheeled do-it-all workhorse.

Inside, we ogled the Ogre, a 29”-wheeled version of the same sort of do-everything utility bike. Both models share the same Swiss-cheese dropouts for lots of compatibility, and keeps the canti mounts for Luddites.

Surly will be offering the steel Pacer complete as well, with Shimano Tiagra 2×10 drivetrain, in the fancy new color of “Sparkleboogie Blue.” The frame will also have more clearance for fenders, Clarence.

They’ll also be offering a disc brake-equipped version of their Long Haul Trucker, called the Disc Trucker (what else), for around $1,400. This bad boy (and others) will come in up to a 64cm size. As Pete informed me, Surly is the tallest bike brand around, so they need to offer sizes that fit to their own employees.

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Interbike 2011: Yuba further refines longtail cargo bike

By Karen Brooks

Yes, you can have a bicycle that acts like a minivan, minus the gas guzzling. Yuba has been busy expanding their line of accessories to enhance the latest V4.0 version of their Mundo large-capacity cargo bike. Currently theirs is the only bike that can fit two kid carriers on the back, and their new center kickstand, the Stand Alone, is so sturdy the kids can climb up into the seats by themselves. If you’ve got just one kid to carry, Yuba’s bags can still fit under the seat.

Here Yuba’s Steve Bode shows us their Hold On handlebars and Soft-Spot seat cushion for passengers too big for a kid seat.

Steve also showed us a new version of their Running Boards with a slot big enough for a front wheel; with this, all you’d need is a strap or two and you could tow a bike, for instance to bring a kid’s bike along with the kid to a safe place to practice balancing, or to bring your dirt jump bike to the local pump track (for kids of all ages).

We also got a sneak peak at the electric El Mundo, which Maurice will be swinging a leg over soon. It’s outfitted with an E-Z electric kit using a front wheel drive, to balance the weight of cargo and motor. Watch this space for more.

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Interbike 2011: Stromer electric bikes

At Interbike last year, Karl and I researched electric bikes and learned a lot, paving the way for future reviews. (Sorry, Vegas encourages bad puns.) This year there aren’t as many electric bikes available for demo, but we did spot a company new to us, Stromer.

This Swiss brand has apparently been the best-selling one in Europe for three years now. They offer one model in step-through and standard frame styles, both for $2850. This is one of the most “normal”-looking e-bikes, with the battery hidden in the down tube, accessed by a nifty door.

The hub motor packs a punch at 600 watts continuous—peak rating is 749w. These bikes were popular with demo-ers, so by the time we got to the booth the batteries were waning, but we were still impressed with the power they put out.

Like many electric bikes, the Stromer offers both pedal assist, with three levels, and throttle actuation. Did I mention 600 watts? That’s a lot of power, but the bike ramped it up smoothly. Too bad that the power still cuts off above 20mph, as the Feds say it should—I bet the Swiss get faster bikes.
Stromer claims their bikes are well-balanced, and my quick impression is that they’re correct—it didn’t feel as unwieldy as its 62lb. weight would lead you to believe.
This is more of what we in the U.S. would consider a hybrid than a pure city bike, since it has a front suspension fork (80mm of travel) and 26” tires. It’s closer to the European idea of “trekking,” which is more about riding smoother dirt roads. Still, it can’t hurt to have wide tires in the city, and this seems like a great bike for rail-trails.


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Interbike 2011: John Boultbee Criterium MK.1 Jacket

By Karen Brooks

The venerable saddle company Brooks has been slowly branching out into clothing the last few years, and they showed off some new pieces that carry their signature British refinement. The problem with using the brand name of Brooks with clothing is that there is already a rather famous company doing this, so they’ve had to brand their wearable items with the name John Boultbee. It was, of course, John Boultbee Brooks who founded the company.

The new jacket is called the Criterion MK.1, and it’s made of a very tightly woven cotton of the type once used for WWII flight suits, called Ventile. Cotton in a cycling jacket? It is, in fact, waterproof. After all, people have been riding bikes in bad weather for years before “technical fabrics” were invented.

The inside is lined with wool tweed treated to resist stains, and has two straps sewn in to hang it off the shoulders when not being worn, in the manner of classic hunting coats. All the metal bits are copper, to match one’s Brooks saddle, naturally. The men’s version has 10 pockets (and the women’s has 8) for all your accoutrements, including an ingenious small pocket on the sleeve with a key lanyard. Reflective stripes stay unnoticed until needed. The wool cuffs have a thumb-hole. There’s even a rear flap that snaps up out of the way when among the non-cycling public.

Sigh… all this British refinement comes at a price, and it’s a big one. This first run is limited to just 500 each of men’s and women’s. But if you’ve got a spare $1,400 laying around, and want to look dashing while cycling in inclement weather, get in touch with your local Brooks stockist. I confess I wanted to make off with this jacket. You’d think I could get some special consideration, maybe a deep discount or a castoff sample, being related and all (however distantly), but I came away empty-handed. Drat.

More Brooks products

More colors for the leather handlebar tape.

The Islington Rucksack

The Hampstead Holdall

The Barbican shoulder bag

Prototypes for new front and rear panniers. They should be available early next year.

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Interbike 2011: More bikes with Gates Carbon belt drive

By Karen Brooks

Gates Carbon Drive had a booth filled with purdy but practical bikes using their belt drives. The company is most known for making belt drives for Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and naturally progressed to people-powered vehicles. The jury is still out on how well they work for mountain bikes (keep an eye out for an upcoming review in our sister magazine, Dirt Rag), but for city bikes, they make a lot of sense as a grease-free alternative to chains.

One trend apparent at this visit was the growth of high-end commuting bikes. It seems that the market is maturing to the point where customers want a BMW-level experience.

The BMC Urban Challenge, above, was inspired by the fact that recent Tour de France winner Cadel Evans needed something to ride around town. So why not a badass matte black city bike with Shimano Alfine 11-speed shifting? It will go for around $2,500.

Schindelhauer is a German brand that I was not familiar with. This shiny beauty pictured above, the Ludwig XIV, is so named because it sports a Rohloff 14-speed hub. It won City Bike of the Year at the Eurobike trade show. The price? If you have to ask… nearly four grand.

Focus is another German brand that is perhaps a little more down-to-earth. The above Urban 8 we saw at Outdoor Demo has, you guessed it, a Shimano 8-speed hub.

Here’s another bike pairing a Gates belt drive with the NuVinci N360 hub, the Novara Gotham. It’s a fully functional city machine with generator lights as well as rack and fenders. (Most companies have “gotten it” as far as racks and fenders go; I think generator lights will be the next item that will become standard on urban bikes.)

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Interbike 2011: Volagi Cycles

By Karen Brooks

We heard about this up-and-coming brand before the show and immediately booked an appointment. Volagi offers a carbon-fiber road bike that looks racy, but is meant to be comfortable for long distances. All of their bikes are spec’d with disc brakes—a huge step forward in control and safety for fast road bikes.

Both the company’s founders, Barley Forsman and Robert Choi, are industry vets who like to do long rides, and essentially they designed their first and only model, the Liscio, for themselves. Forsman told us that he believes that 90% of the design and development effort for road bikes goes into making bikes for pros, who obviously ride differently than the rest of us, and thus want and need different things.

Aside from the disc brake upgrade (to which I say: it’s about time!), the Liscio has other ride-able features. It looks racy partly because its carbon tubes are shaped aerodynamically. No, it’s not a time-trial bike, but you will be facing a headwind at some point in a long ride, so aero-ness can help. The ovalized seatstays curve past the seat tube to give a full 5mm of vertical flex. Forsman says it also helps keep the rear wheel on the ground, like good mountain bike suspension does. The head tubes are taller than a typical road racing bike, so that you can actually use the drop portion of the drop bars. Oh yes, and these bikes have hidden fender mounts (!), and can fit tires up to 25mm with fenders. In fact the bikes come spec’d with 25mm tires, not silly 19mm rubber bands.

To go with their unique frames, Forsman and Choi are also designing their own carbon-rimmed wheels. They’ve got what they believe to be the lightest straight-pull disc brake hub on the market, and make their rims a little wider than racing wheels to accommodate wider tires. Carbon rims make a lot more sense when you don’t need to worry about a smooth braking surface; Forsman mentioned that he heard that legendary directeur sportif Johan Brunyeel attributed many of the crashes at this year’s Tour de France to problems with inconsistent braking surfaces on carbon rims. There’s no doubt that France’s TdF hero, Thomas Voeckler, would have had less trouble staying on the course with better brakes.

The Liscio will be offered with three different parts specs, from $2,900 to $4,500, and also as a frame module with frame, fork, seatpost, headset, and seat clamp.

We also saw this prototype below with a TRP Paradox hydraulic brake converter, a sure sign of things to come.

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Interbike 2011: Trek Cocoa

Another entry into the growing Dutch-style bike army… The Trek Cocoa caught my eye as a particularly pretty example, with shiny black paint adorned with a just few subtle gold decals, including an old-school Trek logo.

I guess it makes sense then that it is, in fact, a women’s bike. Sorry dudes, there isn’t a men’s version.

It may look like a typical bike on the streets of Amsterdam, but it weighs a good bit less as the frame is aluminum, not steel. A 3-speed Shimano Nexus drivetrain makes it go.

We liked the classic Schwinn-style saddle.

We also dug this big chrome plate capping the upswept top tube/head tube juncture.

The skirt guard is removable if you don’t happen to wear skirts, or if you often ride a route with a vicious crosswind. $550 seems like a reasonable price.

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Interbike 2011: Surly Troll

We’ll see more of Surly at the indoor show, but we couldn’t resist hanging out with the Troll.

Its multi-talented frame starts out as a mountain bike but has lots of little details added to make it buildable in a variety of configurations. The smorgasbord of holes in the rear dropouts allows for geared or singlespeed drivetrains, or a Rohloff 14-speed internally geared hub, with a couple extra for trailer-mounting bolts. You could turn this bike into a “utility tractor” with one of Surly’s serious trailers. Oh yeah, the frame has rack and fender mounts, too. Yes, fatties still "fit fine."

Last year the Troll was available as a frameset only, but now Surly will be offering complete bikes for $1,400. Look for Trolls and Trailers to turn up in a shop near you. Pictured here in the complete option, they have it built up in heavy-duty commuting fashion, with Kenda Kiniption “urban assault” tires and a Surly Open Bar handlebar.

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Interbike 2011: Origin-8 and Sun bikes

We saw some cool and inexpensive “niche” bikes from Origin-8. Of course, to us, these aren’t so niche-y…

Their line of folding bikes—aptly named F1, F2, and F3—ranges in price from $250 to $375, perfect for a spare bike to stash in a camper or even your car trunk. The top-end F3 has external 7-speed shifting and includes rack and fenders.

Pictured here is the Bully, a compact, urban bike with 20-inch wheels. We get to ride this guy for the rest of the week, so we’ll be brining you more on it later…

Adam, our online editor, took a lot of photos of this next bike, the CX700 steel cyclocross rig, and knew all the stats already—a sure sign of bike lust. It’s offered as a frame and fork in the range of $200-$250.

This is a utili-fun platform and not a straight cyclocross racing bike, with its derailleur- or singlespeed-friendly dropouts, room for up to 2.1”-wide 29er tires, and rack and fender mounts. The cable guides are also removable if you want to go for the clean look.

Sun, a brand from the same parent company as Origin-8, offers cruisers and utility-style bikes, such as this Atlas cargo bike. It’s also priced quite nicely in the range of $700-800. Xtracycle bags will fit on its rear cargo deck.

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Interbike 2011: Urbana offers redesigned frame, new rear rack

We were first introduced to Urbana at Interbike last year and added them to our “must-test” list. Urbana makes one simple city bike with a step-through frame. There aren’t models per se, just an à la carte list of options such as 3- or 7-speed, fenders, and a rear rack.

New for this year is a NuVinci hub option, something that is cropping up on quite a few bikes. Its simple operation goes right along with the Urbana’s hassle-free vibe. The dropouts are modular pieces that can accommodate internally geared hubs or external derailleurs, and the drive side dropout also splits to accommodate a Gates belt drive. So here we have possibly the ultimate urban set-up: belt drive for no chain grease mess and NuVinci hub for easy shifting.

Urbana also showed off a new rack, the RNR, with an interesting attachment method. Rather than the usual two metal strips, a single metal plate joins the top of the rack to the bike’s mounting points behind the seatpost. To attach to other bikes, the rack also comes with a different mounting "plate" consisting of two plates bolted together in a sort of scissors configuration. Both looked like they’d add a good bit of strength.

The rack’s frame is made of just two looped pieces of steel tubing for yet more strength. Besides the usual pannier compatibility, the rack has nifty attachment points for cloth shopping bags. Altogether it’s rated to carry 150lbs. and possibly more, although you’d certainly run into handling problems if you loaded that much on a rear rack.

Another drivetrain option that’s cropping up more is the Bionx electric system (reviewed in issue #9). Again, it’s a natural pairing for the Urbana. They use a custom version of the RNR rack to carry the battery and preserve shopping bag (and pannier) capability.

Our fearless leader Maurice is currently testing an Urbana for review. It’s the kind of bike he could call a “toaster bike,” the term he coined for the Breezer Uptown reviewed in issue #12. (A toaster is simple: push down the lever and your bread cooks. A toaster bike is similar: you push on the pedals and it goes.) He had some problems, though with the steering feel of the bike, and let the company know about it.

Turns out they’re already “on it” and have revamped their front end to fix the problem. The original head tube angle (66º) and rake (90mm) measurements resulted in a floppy front wheel that wasn’t always easy to control; the new Urbanas have a 71º head tube and 70mm of rake that gives more stable steering. Maurice tried one of the new ones at the show and remarked, “You guys fixed it.” He’ll be swapping his older ride for a new version to finish out the test. Keep an eye out for the full review in a future issue.

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