Karen Brooks

Karen Brooks

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

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

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

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

Complete this sentence: "My other bike is …"

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

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

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

Elvis or the Beatles?

Elvis

Say something profound and meaningful in exactly seven words…

She sells sea shells by the seashore.

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

412.767.9910 x104

Smoke signal: two big puffs, one small

Email me

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.

Straggler

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.

ECR

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! 

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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
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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

 

Features

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.

 

 

Reviews

  • 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! 
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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.

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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!

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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.  

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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.

Littleford

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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.


Engin

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.”

 


Bishop

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.


Gängl

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. 

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