Gravel racing: A look at my Dirty Kanza 200 weapon

Editor’s note: This story is a cross-post from our sister magazine, Dirt Rag. This weekend riders from across the country will converge on the Flint Hills of Kansas to tackle the Dirty Kanza 200, one of the premiere events in the burgeoning gravel racing scene. 

By Mike Cushionbury

Gravel road racing is filled with innovations and inventions. Bikes range from road to cyclocross to full-on Frankenbikes cobbled together from a mix of road, cross, touring and mountain bike parts. As a mountain bike racer and first-time DK200 competitor I momentarily considered setting up my 29er cross-country race bike for the task late last year but further consideration led me towards my cyclocross bike—namely a 2013 Cannondale SuperX Disc—with the goal of keeping it as simple and familiar as possible.

I knew for sure a Frankenbike was not the answer. I didn’t want to gamble with a cumbersome bike I wasn’t used to. I also wanted something I could consistently train on, making sure my position was completely dialed. In February, after ‘cross season, I set up my SuperX with the exact same measurements as my road bike, a professionally fitted position I’ve had for as long as I can remember. My saddle height, reach and stem length are all exactly the same on both bikes.

I also chose the same model Fizik Areone saddle (that’s well broken in by now) and same crank arm lengths (being a mountain biker I use long-ish 175mm on the road for consistency.) Once everything was set I put road tires on and used this rig as my road bike, compiling as many miles as I could to make sure the bike and my position was deeply burned into my muscle memory and as comfortable as possible.

Frame

The SuperX’s carbon frame is lighter than many road bike frames and with SAVE seat and chain stays it’s compliant and forgiving over rough terrain. It is truly an elite level ‘cross bike that performs like a refined road bike with snappy acceleration and geometry suited to longer road races opposed to crit-style racing—just the ticket for DK. Front and rear disc brakes insure precise stopping will never be an issue.

 

Build

Nothing too radical for parts save for some drivetrain adjustments. I choose a short reach Ritchey WCS Curve carbon fiber handlebar and WCS 4-Axis stem for ultra lightweight and reliability. I also went with a bump absorbing Ritchey WCS Carbon Flexlogic Link seatpost. The post’s carbon layup provides a claimed 15-percent increase in vertical compliancy compared to standard posts without giving up any lateral or torsional stiffness. For a little extra comfort I double wrapped the top of the bars since this is where I will mostly be, not down in the drops.

Shifters and front derailleur are standard SRAM Force. For the road I used a Force rear derailleur, SRAM Red 11/26 cassette and Cannondale Si 53/39 crankset. Because 200 miles is, well, 200 miles, I wanted extra low gearing for the later hours of the race. I switched out the rear derailleur for a SRAM XX mountain unit and matched that to an XX 11/32 cassette. I also geared down the front with an FSA K-Force compact crank and 50/34-chainring combo.

This is a set-up I successfully used at last year’s Iron Cross race so I’m already comfortable with it. I’ll be using Shimano XTR Race pedals and mountain bike shoes because I believe top-level mountain bike shoes, though they do have very stiff carbon soles, vibrate less over such harsh roads. Super stiff road shoes could lead to early foot numbness and fatigue.

Wheels and tires

Wheel selection was simple; I’m using the same NoTubes Alpha 340 Team road wheelset I’ve been on all winter—simple, light and ultra reliable. Initially I was going to use a NoTubes ZTR Crest mountain bike wheelset to widen the tire’s contact patch but tire installation proved difficult due to the increased rim width (something I didn’t want to deal with in Kansas.)

My tire choice was simple as well: Challenge Almanzo’s. These super-durable, 360-gram, 700x30mm tires are specifically designed for gravel road racing. They roll very fast and utilize a special Puncture Protection System belt between the casing and belt—perfect for the spiky rocks on the roads around the Flint Hills.

Accessories

Since I’m not much of a water pack wearer, I plan on going with two bottles on the bike and one in my pocket—three bottles per 50 miles to each checkpoint where I’ll have a drop bag loaded with supplies including real food like sardines, pepperoni sandwiches, black licorice and of course drink mix and bottles. If I stay on point of not using a water pack I’ll add a large seat bag with three tubes, a multi tool with a chain breaker, two quick links, a few links of chain, electrical tape and a tire boot. I also have a Lezyne mini-pump secured to the bike. As a precaution, I’ll have a full water pack in my drop bag at the midpoint checkpoint.

Veterans of the race may think I’m gambling by going minimalist but when I built up my bike for this mammoth event I went with what I know and am comfortable with. It’s a roll of the dice I’m willing to take.

Dirty Kanza is Saturday, June 1 in the Flint Hills region of east-central Kansas. Go to dirtykanza200.com for more info.

Keep reading

For more on the Dirty Kanza 200, check out our race report from last year, and see how other riders set up their rigs

 

 

 

 


Stop by the Rivendell pop-up store in San Francisco next week

Rivendell Bicycle Works is opening a pop-up in San Francisco’s Mission District near Shotwell and just three blocks from the 24th and Mission BART Station.

There will be several Rivendell bikes to see and touch, art from the Rivendell showroom in Walnut Creek, plus bags and handlebars, some free schwag, brochures, coupons, a secret ‘have-to-be-there-to-get-it’ super deal, small items for sale, and discounted posters.

No test rides, sorry. Although the big honkin’ 71cm Homer will be there for riders in the ‘Century Club’ only (if your pubic bone height is 100cm or higher).

Word is there’s an espresso machine, and Rich Lesnik himself will be building wheels while you watch!

Opening day is noon on Saturday, June 1. At 5 p.m. Saturday there will be something special—a giveaway perhaps? Hmm….

There are parking meters along the sidewalk for blocks so there’s plenty of bike parking. FYI: the road between BART and Shotwell on 24th is under construction. Good luck parking a car!

Rivendell Bicycle Works SF

Some thoughts from Grant Petersen, Rivendell founder and owner

What prompted Rivendell to open a pop-up in the Mission District?

We now have several tattoo’d staffers, and thought ‘Hey! they’d be perfect for a pop-up.’ John found it, talked to Dave; I’m just going along.

What can people expect to experience when they, visit the 24th Street location in early June?

Bikes, bags, hatchets that you can’t try out, clothing. Posters on the walls. We may get a lug mobile together by then. Background music (Swedish jazz). I’d like to have a fashion show, but.. no access to models.

Think RBW might open something permanent in SF?

Probably not right away, but we’re looking into an Alamo store, and if that isn’t a money pit, if we can work out some bugs in it, we’d look at other locations. The tough part is staffing it. We don’t want "regular" people.


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! 

Changes bring U.S. Bicycle Route System to 5,616 miles

By adding a new section of U.S. Bicycle Route 45 in Minnesota, Route 76 in Missouri, and realignments for Route 76 in Kentucky, the U.S. Bicycle Route System now encompasses 5,616 miles of official routes in 10 states. The changes were announced today by the Adventure Cycling Association and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

The routes are currently found in Alaska, Kentucky, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia. Presently, more than 40 states are working to create U.S. Bicycle Routes.

Minnesota: U.S. Bicycle Route 45

With the completion of the middle section through Minneapolis and St. Paul, U.S. Bicycle Route (USBR) 45 now runs the entire length of the Mississippi River in Minnesota from the headwaters at Itasca State Park in northwestern Minnesota to the Iowa border. Also known as the Mississippi River Trail (MRT), USBR 45 spans 700 miles, with route options on both sides of the river in certain sections.

The northern segment of USBR 45, designated in October 2012, begins in Itasca State Park, where the river originates as a small stream. The route then travels through the north woods and past numerous lakes, to Bemidji, Cass Lake, Grand Rapids, Brainerd, Little Falls, and St. Cloud. At Cass Lake, bicyclists have an off-road option to travel roughly 100 miles on the Heartland State Trail and Paul Bunyan State Trail.

These routes merge in Brainerd, where the river widens and the land opens into farmland. The newly approved middle segment passes through the Twin Cities Metropolitan area and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area — a 72-mile-long park managed by the National Park Service. Much of the route is on bike paths with scenic views. This segment of the route offers opportunities to connect with great restaurants, museums, parks, and festivals along the river.

The southern segment, which was designated in May 2012, extends from just south of the Twin Cities Metro area in Hastings to the Iowa border. Also known as the Mississippi Bluffs segment of the MRT, this section includes bicycle-friendly roads and multi-use paths that closely follow the Mississippi River through steep limestone bluffs and hardwood forests.

Detailed maps and information are available to print, or access via smart phone or GPS unit, at www.mndot.gov/bike/mrt.

Missouri: U.S. Bicycle Route 76

Missouri’s newly approved U.S. Bicycle Route 76, also known as the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, begins at the Mississippi River in Chester, Illinois, traversing 348.5 miles before exiting the state 28 miles west of Golden City. The route passes through the hilly Ozark Mountains then levels out toward the western end of the state. Considered by geologists to be one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, the Ozark Range consists of deeply eroded hills, which are blanketed by hardwoods and pines, small farms, and numerous rivers.

Farmington, a mid-sized town along the route, is a bicycle-friendly community featuring a local bike shop, TransAm Cyclery, and the TransAm Inn, a hostel known affectionately as Al’s Place. Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park on the East Fork of the Black River offers a spectacular demonstration of Mother Nature’s hydraulics in a series of rock chutes and channels — a must stop for swimming.

The route also passes through the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a national park created to protect the Current and Jacks Fork rivers, and the scenic Alley Mill, or "Old Red Mill" history museum located in Alley Spring. In western Missouri, the route intersects the 35-mile Frisco Highline Trail in the small town of Walnut Grove. Before leaving the state, cyclists should be sure to stop at Cooky’s Cafe in Golden City to sample one of their homemade pies.

The Missouri Department of Transportation will begin installing USBR 76 signs along the route later this summer.

Kentucky: U.S. Bicycle Route 76 Realignments

In Kentucky, U.S. Bike Route 76 spans 563.7 miles, entering the state near Elkhorn City and leaving at the Ohio River crossing via the Cave In Rock ferry. The route, which was originally designated in 1982, had not been documented electronically at AASHTO and was in need of some updates. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet did a thorough review of the route across the state and submitted realignments for the route based on their Bicycle Level of Service Model for rural roads. Adventure Cycling Association plans to adopt these same realignments for its TransAmerica Bicycle Trail.

Kentucky’s U.S. Bike Route 76 passes through a variety of terrain from the steep Appalachian Mountains in the east, and the hilly, wooded Cumberland Plateau to the rolling, fertile farmland of the Bluegrass Region. Berea, known as the gateway to the Appalachian Mountains and coal mining, is a notable highlight, home to Berea College as well as several museums.

On the route, cyclists will pass the Lincoln Homestead State Park, and they can access the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site by taking a short side trip off the route. Mammoth Cave National Park, the longest explored cave system in the world, is 40 miles south of the route but well worth the ride. The Rough River Dam State Park offers boat rides on the reservoir and bird watching opportunities. Once cyclists reach the Bluegrass Region, they will be treated to white-fenced horse farms and quaint towns known for their antique shops, country dining, and southern country hospitality.

About the U.S. Bicycle Route System

The U.S. Bicycle Route System is a developing national network of bicycle routes, which will serve as visible and well-planned trunk lines for connecting city, regional, and statewide cycling routes, offering transportation and tourism opportunities across the country. Adventure Cycling Association has provided dedicated staff support to the project since 2005, including research support, meeting coordination, and technical guidance for states implementing routes. Work on the U.S. Bicycle Route System is highly collaborative and involves officials and staff from state DOTs, the Federal Highway Administration, natural resource agencies, and nonprofit organizations including the East Coast Greenway Alliance and Mississippi River Trail, Inc.

AASHTO’s support for the project is crucial to earning the support of federal and state agencies and provides a major boost to bicycling and route development for non-motorized transportation. Securing approval for numbered designation from AASHTO is a required step for all U.S. Bicycle Routes. AASHTO is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association representing highway and transportation departments in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. A powerful voice in the transportation sector, AASHTO’s primary goal is to foster the development of an integrated national transportation system.

Support for the U.S. Bicycle Route System comes from Adventure Cycling members, donors, and a group of business sponsors that participate in its annual Build It. Bike It. Be a Part of It. fundraiser each May. The U.S. Bicycle Route System is also supported in part by grants from the Lazar Foundation, New Belgium Brewing, Climate Ride, and the Tawani Foundation.

When complete, the U.S. Bicycle Route System will be the largest official bike route network on the planet, encompassing more than 50,000 miles of routes. Learn more at www.adventurecycling.org/usbrs.
 


National Bike Challenge begins Wednesday

Now in its second year, the National Bike Challenge continues its mission to inspire and empower millions of Americans to ride their bikes for transportation, recreation and better health. The friendly, online competition—sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists and Kimberly-Clark Corporation—kicks off on Wednesday, May 1, and runs until September 30, 2013.

The goal: To unite 50,000 bicyclists to ride 20 million miles in communities across America.

The Challenge is simple, free and open to everyone in the United States. Sign up at Endomondo.com as an individual or as a team, log your miles, share your stories and encourage others to join you. Users can download the free, GPS-enabled Endomondo mobile app to record travel distance and automatically upload their miles. Riders will compete for prizes and awards from sponsors Sierra Nevada and Scott Natural on the local and national level.

In 2012, the Challenge engaged 30,000 individual riders, 9,000 workplaces and 500 communities to ride 12 million miles. We’re already looking at breaking those records in 2013.

Even before the official start, the Challenge has engaged thousands of participants. During the warm-up period, over 10,000 residents from more than 2,000 communities nationwide registered. Collectively, they logged more than 1 million miles and burned more than 37 million calories.

The Challenge is also spawning competition among communities and businesses, as well. Recognizing the tremendous resource to boost employee health, more than 3,100 companies and nonprofits have already signed up for the 2013 Challenge, including Kimberly Clark Corp., UPS, Target Corp., Facebook, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and Microsoft Corp.

The race for top community will likely not end at Atlantic Mine. Lincoln, Neb., is leading in the largest communities’ ranks, with more than 35,000 miles logged. Lincoln’s third place finish last year left Challenge participants wanting more.

Sign up at www.nationalbikechallenge.org.

2012 Challenge by the Numbers

30,000 individuals participated

9,000 workplaces participated

500 communities participated

12 million miles logged 


NYC 5 Boro Bike Tour steps up security

In response to the Boston Marathon bombings, Bike New York, producer of the TD Five Boro Bike Tour on May 5, is working closely with city, state and federal agencies to ensure that all necessary security measures are in place for the Tour.

Riders will not be permitted to bring backpacks, saddlebags/panniers (front and rear) or hydration packs. However, water bottles, fanny packs, (waist packs) and small bike frame bags (under seat and handlebar bags) are permitted. There will be checkpoints along the route to ensure compliance with these new regulations; confiscated items will not be returned.

This year’s Finish Festival at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island will be strictly limited to registered Tour riders and will not be open to family and friends of participants or the general public.

For more information about the security measures in place for the 36th annual TD Five Boro Bike Tour on May 5, visit www.bikenewyork.org/security.
 


Stay thirsty my friends—and hydrated too

By Adam Newman

Here at Bicycle Times our portable potables come in all shapes and sizes. We’re never on a ride without some sort of liquid nourishment, usually water, often coffee, and sometimes something even more potent.

Pictured here are three types of water bottles we often carry, and some new bottle cages designed to carry them. From left we have one of our very own stainless steel water bottles made by Kleen Kanteen and available in our online store (hint, hint), a typical 32 oz. Nalgene bottle, a standard Bicycle Times water bottle (also available), and finally an 8 oz. Stanley flask emblazoned with the logo of our sister magazine, Dirt Rag.

To go along with these I’ve gathered a group of cages from TwoFish Unlimited and King Cage. Let’s see how it goes:

First up is the TwoFish QuickCage ($25), a standard-sized bottle cage that uses a rubber bumper and a robust Velcro strap to secure it to any round surface. The latest version is made from stainless steel, and is plastic dipped with a rubber texture to prevent slipping and scratching on our nice, shiny Kleen Kanteen bottles.

The XL Quick Cage ($32) is designed for the larger water bottles on the market such as this Nalgene. It too is made from plastic dipped stainless steel and has two straps for security.

Now let’s step it up to something a little more festive, with this stainless steel flask cage from King Cage. Made by hand in Colorado like all of King Cage’s products, it is designed specifically to fit these Stanley flasks. It retails for $22.

Beverages are of course important, but when you’re touring, so is food! You can carry a camp stove along with this prototype of the King Cage Manything cage—it can’t carry anything, but it can carry many things.

What’s important to note here is that like other cargo cages, this one is designed to mount in three, equally spaced bottle cage eyelets, which we don’t have on any of our bikes. I mounted here with two bolts just to demonstrate. The old adage applies: do as I say, not as I do.

Anyway, the stove—in this case a Jetboil Flash—is secured with toe straps. Other items like large water bottles, sleeping pads, stuff sacks and more could also be used. This design isn’t finalized yet but we’re going to try it out and let you know as soon as it is.

Now you can carry ALL THE THINGS! 

Special thanks to the lovely Surly Krampus for being our model today. 


Rent a hot tub, delivered by bike

By Adam Newman. Photos courtesy of Clever Cycles.

Now, I think we can all agree that Portland is a beautiful and vibrant city, but it didn’t earn a spoof like the IFC show Portlandia for nothing. Case in point: Clever Cycles, a bike shop dedicated to practical and cargo-hauling bikes, is now offering a hot tub rental service, delivery—naturally—by bike. Specifically, they are Dutchtubs, a portable, wood-heated tub that fits four adults and can by placed on any firm, level ground. If you live within the delivery area, a tubbist (their term, not mine) will deliver it by bike, complete with fuel wood, a cover, ash tray, fill and drain hose, leveling shims, and the trailer which can be used as a hand cart. 

The rate is $400 for three nights, plus a refundable $50 fee if you make sure it’s clean before it’s returned. Clever Cycles says it takes anywhere from 2-5 hours to get the tub filled and heated. You’ll need to make sure the area is safe for a wood-fired stove to operate and that it will fit through any doors or gates to your property. The tub itself weighs about 100 pounds. 

If you live in the area and rent one, let us know how it goes. And don’t forget to invite Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen.


Philly Bike Expo moves to Pennsylvania Convention Center for 2013

The premier East Coast bicycling event will now be held at Philadelphia’s beautiful and newly expanded convention center. On November 9-10, 2013 Bilenky Cycle Works will again present the Philly Bike Expo.

Since its inception in 2010, the Philly Bike Expo has created a friendly environment that fosters relationships between the cycling community, the general public, and the companies and organizations that are the foundation of bicycles as a lifestyle.

The Philly Bike Expo is designed to inspire, and inform bicycle aficionados, weekend enthusiasts and those merely curious. Artisans and manufacturers of bikes, components, accessories and apparel will be displaying their latest products, craft and technology.

Among the event’s first 2013 sponsors are Eastern Mountain Sports, Bicycle Times, and Dirt Rag Magazine.

The show will feature an abundance of seminars, presentations, how-to’s and activities guaranteed to attract cyclists of all ages. Craig Calfee, Richard Schwinn, and Georgena Terry are among the cycling luminaries slated to appear. Rides and after-parties will round out the festivities. 


DIY: Make your own cycling knickers

By Marie Autrey. Photo by Adam Newman. Illustration by Stephen Haynes.

Clothes make the man. (Or woman.) The problem is what they make you into. A team jersey and Lycra shorts turn you into a cross between a NASCAR Chevy and some link sausages. Even if you ride like Superman on Sunday, you probably need to look like Clark Kent for the Monday commute. We’re going to show you three ways to make a pair of dress slacks into garb that will let you ride like the wind, and still climb that corporate ladder.

Materials

Start with a good pair of dress slacks. The quality you’re looking for tends to be high-dollar, so you may want to shop second-hand. You want wool fabric or a mostly-wool blend for sweat wicking and odor control. Test the fabric by taking one leg and twisting it like you’re wringing out a washrag. If it doesn’t return to shape immediately, look elsewhere. Brooks Brothers and Neiman-Marcus are reliable brands, and show up in thrift stores in the better parts of town. Dark colors and pleated fronts resist the indignities that com- muter clothes fall heir to.

I’m only addressing men’s clothing here, not to dis my own gender, but because it answers my experience. I’ve got the sort of straight up-and-down figure that fits into unaltered men’s garb. Women with more curves and fewer straightaways have an additional challenge. In general, women’s clothing exists to serve a look rather than a function, with lighter fabric, lower quality, and cut for the designer’s vision of womanhood, not for real bodies.

I lucked into some military dress slacks, dark gray, in a wool-poly blend. An online surplus house had them at two bucks a pair. (Many types of military surplus can prove useful to the cyclist. Watch for a more thorough discussion in an upcoming issue.)

Instructions

Step 1: The first step in any DIY project is to determine what you want. I wanted to turn these into a slightly long pair of knickers: short enough to stay away from the chain, and long enough not to bind my knees while pedaling.

Step 2: Try on the pants and have a helper mark the bony knob on the outside of your knee with a pin. Some acts, like riding a seesaw, just cannot be accomplished alone. With the pants off, measure down five inches from the mark, make a straight line with a T-square, and cut off the lower legs. Four inches provides range of motion, and the other inch represents a seam allowance.

Step 3: Take the amputated lowers and turn them wrong-side-out. If a cuff is already stitched in, snip it off and keep it; discard the rest. This will give you a circle of double-thickness fabric. Cut the side seam so it changes from a circle to a strip. If the pants you’re working with don’t have a cuff, cut a four-inch strip of fabric from the bottom and stitch it into a tube.

Step 4: Open up the outside seam of the pants two inches or so from where you chopped off the legs. This leaves a V-notch. Pin the tube to the bottom of the legs, starting at one edge of the V and going all the way around. Stitch over the pins, unpin it, and press the seam flat.

Step 5: Put the pants back on, and have your helper pull the cuff band up to the top of your calf. Overlap the ends, and mark the overlap. Sew on a snap, leaving enough room for two fingers between the cuff band and your leg.

Voila! Kind-of knickers. They’ll balloon a little at the knees but never bind. If you lose weight, or bulk up your legs, you can adjust the fit by moving the snap.

Variations

Let’s say you’re lucky enough to have a pair of slacks you want to ride in that is long enough. You can accomplish the same goal of keeping cuffs out of chains with the simple expedient of rolling up the cuff. Then make a loop of fabric and stitch it to the inside of the leg, so that when the cuff is rolled up, the loop can be passed under the roll and snapped to a snap on the outside seam.

You’ve undoubtedly seen this feature on safari shirts, to keep rolled-up sleeves from falling down. This will work best with fuller cuts and lighter fabrics not prone to wrinkling. This gives you a much more normal look when off the bike than knickers, and also keeps your shoes from becoming such a focal point. Any chain grease that gets on them will be on the inside.

For ultimate simplicity, stitch one half of a snap to the hem of the slacks, just behind the front crease, and the other half about three inches up from the hem, ahead of the rear crease. Snapped together, it will tighten the cuff enough to keep it out of the chain.

Sewing tips

For more thorough background, there’s plenty of info online, and Singer and Simplicity publish hardcover books with lay-flat bindings so you can look at them while you’re sewing. I’m not a seamstress: I inherited my grandmother’s 1908 Singer and was just fooling around with it when I made these. But a couple of tips will make the process easier.

Your sewing machine is like a bicycle. If it hasn’t been used in a while, some oil on the moving parts and a new drive belt will solve most problems. If it regularly breaks needles, that’ll require professional intervention.
Get a steam iron that’s clean and hot. Find the highest temperature that won’t damage your fabric, and keep the iron ready. Ironing gives the fabric its shape; the stitches hold everything together.

When joining two pieces of fabric, place the outsides facing each other, stitch down the edge, then fold back and press the seam open. This is basic, but I didn’t know it, and the first pair of knickers came out pretty goofy-looking.

Snaps do everything buttons can, and you don’t need to make buttonholes.

Knickers should be either short and snug or long and loose. Short and loose are bloomers, long and tight are Steve Urkels. Choose your shoes and socks carefully: they’re part of the ensemble.

Use plenty of pins: good, long ones with T-shaped heads. They lay flat so you can run over them with the sewing machine, and can be removed easily. Cheap pins rust and tiny heads make it hard to pull them out.

Cheap thread is no bargain.
 


Bicycle Times cover artist featured on Minnesota Public Radio

Here at Bicycle Times we’re big fans of the ArtCrank project. What was a one-off art show seven years ago has evolved into something much more. “A poster party for bike people,” the shows connect bike lovers with affordable art from local artists.

Featured in the story is artist Adam Turman, another Bicycle Times favorite, having illustrated three of our covers: Issues #13, #16, and our latest, #22.

   

Click here to read or listen to the story from MPR.
 


New Belgium announces 14th Tour de Fat

New Belgium Brewing today announced the 2013 Tour de Fat schedule. The tour, now in its 14th year, will spin into 12 cities across the U.S. Each festival celebrates the bicycle, showcases New Belgium beers, and provides eclectic and engaging entertainment for all. The event is free, yet all proceeds from food and beer go to local biking groups. Over its course, Tour de Fat has raised more than $2 million for nonprofit organizations.

Each festival kicks off with a police-escorted bicycle parade through city streets in celebration of the bike. Costumes are encouraged but not mandatory, though the truly aware come prepared. Each parade route is designed for people of all skill levels, wrapping up at the park for a day of both sensory stimulation and relaxation.

After the parade, the festival stages heat up with national musical acts, touring comedy groups, artistic ensembles and unexpected entertainment. New this year is the opportunity to heighten your beer knowledge through beer contests, providing the chance to explore new brews and revel in a unique lineup of New Belgium selections. Kids of all ages can test their bicycle prowess on art bikes, dance in the grass and explore a wide variety of games and activities, such as giant versions of telephone and Plinko.

One brave role model in each city will volunteer to trade their car for a bike and live car-free for at least one year. With a ceremonial pledge and a handing over of car keys, the celebrated figure commits to a year of human transport on the fully loaded commuter bike of their choosing. The crowd goes wild and the seed is planted: one inspired person on two wheels can make a difference in each of our communities.

Car-for-Bike Swappers are chosen after submitting an application describing why they are ready to give up their vehicle for the gift of two wheels.

Tour de Fat seeks to leave as small an environmental imprint as possible. Each stop has a solar-powered stage decked out in recycled materials and vendors who operate off the grid. In addition, the festival trucks and transport use biofuel sourced from recycled waste oils. Here is how you can do your part:

  • Please bring only what you need.
  • Compost and recycle your waste at convenient stations.
  • Ride your bike or carpool with friends and family.
  • Spread the word about bikes – we will show you how!

In 2012, Tour de Fat traveled to 15 cities, attracting a total of 74,400 festival attendees and 47,150 parade cyclists. In addition, the festival had an impressive 86 percent diversion of waste from landfills. Tempe, Ariz., raised the most money ($87,216) and New Belgium’s hometown of Ft. Collins, Colo., had the most parade riders and festival-goers with 21,000 people.

Schedule

  • Atlanta, GA, May 11, Piedmont Park *new location*
  • Washington, DC, June 1, Yards Park
  • Durham, NC, June 15, Diamond View Park
  • Nashville, TN, June 22, Centennial Park
  • Chicago, IL, July 13, Palmer Square
  • Minneapolis, MN, July 27, Loring Park
  • Boise, ID, August 17, Ann Morrison Park
  • Fort Collins, CO, August 31, Civic Center Park Area
  • Denver, CO, September 7, City Park
  • San Francisco, CA, September 21, Golden Gate Park
  • San Diego, CA, September 28, Golden Hill Park
  • Tempe, AZ, October 5, Tempe Town Beach

Race team wins epic Milan-San Remo while supporting African children

By Adam Newman

The African continent’s first professional UCI Continental team is off to a fast start, but its success will do more than just sell bikes, it is providing them to rural Africans as a way to get to school, visit a doctor, get clean water, or start a business.

The MTN-Qhubeka team (“qhubeka” is a Nguni word meaning “to progress”) has progressed straight to the podium after receiving a wildcard entry to the nearly 300-mile Milan-San Remo race in Italy and then putting its sprinter Gerald Ciolek across the finish line first.

It was a day to be remembered not only for the win, but because Ciolek’s teammate Songezo Jim was the first black South African to start a WorldTour event and because the weather conditions were so severe the race organizers were forced to reroute the racers by bus around a snowed-in mountain pass.

But the real heroes are back in Africa, where rural South Africans received Buffalo Bicycles in exchange for planting 100 saplings for a reforestation project or for removing more than 2,500 lbs. of refuse from their village. The bicycle can increase the workload of a person more than five times, and they can travel 75 percent faster or further.

The Qhubeka project isn’t new, since 2004 this volunteer-based organization has partnered with World Bicycle Relief to donate more than 40,000 bikes. It is funded by bike sales, corporate donors, events, and consulting. Since the race team rides Trek bikes, each time a Trek customer chooses a bike with the Qhubeka paint scheme, Trek will donate $200 to the Qhubeka project. You can bet there will be a big increase in sales after Ciolek’s win.

The bikes in Africa, on the other hand, are specially designed to handle the rigors of rural life. They have heavy-guage steel frames; sturdy wheels and tires; a weatherproof coaster brake; and can carry more than 200 lbs. The parts are made in Asia, and the bikes are assembled in World Bicycle Relief facilities in Africa, by Africans.

Watch for more victories by Team MTN-Qhubeka and by the Qhubeka project in Africa.
 


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!


Join us at the Seattle Bike Expo this weekend

We’re packing up the van and heading to Seattle this weekend for the largest consumer bike expo in the USA. Once again held at the deluxe, two-story Smtih Cove Cruise Terminal overlooking Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, we’ll be joining more than 200 other exhibitors of bikes, gear, travel, services, and more.

If you’re into mountain bikes, be sure to check out the Dirt Zone, a collection of exhibitors serving the fat-tire side of cycling, and the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and Sweetlines will be hosting skills clinics in the Stunt Area.  

You’ll get a chance to meet Olympic silver medalist Jennie Reed, six-time world champion as well as Paralympic gold and silver Olympic medalist Megan Fisher, professional trials and mountain bike rider Ryan Leech (above), and dominant gravity mountain biker Jill Kintner.

The Classic Lightweight Bike Show has a "drillim" theme this year, where collectors have revived the 1970s practice of drilling out parts to save weight and add some bling. As always, all classic lightweight bikes are welcome in theshow, and the more the merrier. You will see British, Italian, French, American, Belgian, Japanese and other countries’ bikes represented, in one of the most dazzling shows of fancy bikes anywhere. Also welcome are "Keepers of the Flame" – modern custom lugged steel bikes equipped with classic style components. If you think your bike belongs in this show, bring it on down.

Finally, be sure to swing by the Cascade Bicycle Club booth to enter the drawing for some great prizes. 

See you there!


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.  


Frostbike 2013 – New gear from Planet Bike, Velo Orange, Burley, and Yakima

By Eric McKeegan

Planet Bike

Planet Bike continues to develop innovative products for the practical cyclist. Out of the profits made from selling those innovative products, Planet Bike donates 25 percent to grassroots bicycle advocacy groups—more than $1 Million to date. Walking the walk, for sure. Lets check out a few of their new items.

Blaze 2 Watt Micro Light

This $40 light makes 140 Lumens from a pair of AA batteries, all while being cheaper, lighter and smaller than the previous version. Modern LED technology has been good to us cyclists.

Saddles

This new saddle has no fancy name, just two models, Pro and Comp. Designed to fill the gap between high-end race saddles and lower priced, over-stuffed saddles, the Pro and Comp share a perforated shell and cover, but little else.

The $58 Comp uses chromoly steel rails and foam and gel padding, the $75 Pro model gets Ti rails and thinner, all-gel padding. All those holes are designed to increase airflow and provide some vibration damping.

Airsmith pump

The Airsmith has a retractable hose to decrease stress on the valve stem while allowing you to get a better angle on the pumping action. The hose is Schrader valve compatible only—a Presta valve adaptor stores the handle. The composite Comp version is only $17, the alloy ALX goes for $25. Both include a water bottle boss mounting bracket.

Whispbar

  

WB200 Fork Mount Tray

Whispbar is Yakima’s more modern roof rack design, using lots of brushed aluminum and hidden hardware for better look with newer vehicles. The WB200 is a new bike tray with compatibility with both 9mm QR and 15mm axles. As someone who is constantly switching bikes, this is a very promising development.

The aluminum lever and axle for 9mm axles removes easily, the front cover flips up, a little switch is pushed down, and two 15mm axle stubs extend as the cover is closed. When not in use the tray can be removed in seconds, using a simple lever and cam system called QuickDock. A single lock secures the bike to the tray and the tray to the roof rack. This $250 tray will only work with the Whispbar system, no word yet if we’ll see a similar design compatible with Yakima’s older round bar system in the future.

Velo Orange

Grand Cru Drillium 110 Crank

This is a classy looking crank—don’t even try to argue with me about it. Utilizing 48-34 chainrings in a 110mm BCD, these cranks will provide the performance most riders need with style to spare. The Grand Cru is forged and machined to its final shape, and the chainrings will work with any 6-10 speed drivetrain. Yes, there is a square taper BB interface under those dust caps, which will make many riders (myself included) happy. The $200 price tag isn’t too shabby, either.

Dajia Accessory Mount

This is a pretty ingenious device. It is adjustable to fit almost any 4 bolt stem, weighs very little, and is only $15. The accessory bar is a 31.8 plastic tube, perfect for mounting a headlight out of the way of that big GPS unit or smart phone on your handlebars. These are in stock now.

Burley

MyKick Balance Bike

Balance bikes are absolutely the best way to get kids on two wheels. Burley has long been a trusted name is kids trailers, and this MyKick balance bikes seems to be a natural extension of the product line.

With a steel frame, lightweight spoked wheels, and zero-maintenance solid tires, the MyKick should have not trouble handling the abuse these little bikes have to endure. The rubber grips even use oversize ends to prevent poking holes in your little one during a crash. It comes in three colors (red, pink, green) and is available now for $130.

 


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.


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. 


Judge not, lest ye be judged — A guide to NAHBS

Cherubim by Shin-Ichi Konno won the President’s Choice award and Best of Show at the 2012 NAHBS.

By Gary J. Boulanger

If there’s anything my Catholic upbringing taught me (other than to fear the women in black and white), it was to withhold passing judgement on others, lest I get smitten by God Himself. As fate would have it, God Himself called upon me to pass judgement on independent frame builders at the 2012 North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Sacramento, California…and the oracle through which he chose to speak to me was show founder and organizer Don Walker, a bear of a man who knows how to command attention as well as wield a torch.

Like Moses at the burning bush, what was I to do? What would you do?

Don mentioned a few other judges’ names, and I felt more excited about the prospect of sharing responsibility with the likes of Dirt Rag publisher Maurice Tierney and Red Kite Prayer blogger Patrick Brady. As game day approached, though, I started feeling a bit more fear and trepidation about filtering through my collective knowledge of fine framebuilding and giving the backroom thumbs up or thumbs down treatment to some of the world’s finest craftsmen, Caesar style.

I contacted Paul Skilbeck, who handles communication for NAHBS. I told him I read the judging guidelines on the NAHBS website, but still felt a little in the dark about the minutiae needed to do it right. He put me in touch with Don Ferris, owner of Anvil Bike Works in Littleton, Colorado. Don not only provides fixtures and tooling to many of the world’s finest frame builders, he has also judged in the past and has a keen mind and eye for the finer points of what to look for.

His advice?

“In my humble opinion it’s best to judge a builder’s work from a builder’s perspective,” Ferris told me. “In the past judges fall primarily into two categories: fans of custom bikes and custom bike builders. They approach their tasks differently. As a builder I’m more interested in the craftsmanship displayed in the parts the builder made himself. I don’t care about how much info/pics they put on their Flickr sites, blogs, etc., about their process; I’m only interested in what I can see with my own two eyes. From there it is a process of elimination for me.

Intent

“I look first to assess whether the bike is built suitably for its intended purpose (and if a builder installed components on the bike, I assess them too. For instance, if I see items like wood handlebars, stems, seatposts, etc. on a mountain bike, I immediately dismiss it as a people’s choice category). Many are not. In my opinion, bikes are meant to be ridden and a builder who enters what would be an unrideable/unsafe bike is not worthy of my consideration.”

Symmetry

Second, he told me, was to look for symmetry, starting at the back end of the bike and moving forward. His goal is to eliminate a bike in as little time as possible to so he can focus on those he feel are truly worthy of having their craftsmanship noted as being above their peers.

“One of the hardest things to do on a frame is installing the seatstays; they should each intersect the seat tube at the exact same height and should be cotangent to the seat tube itself, i.e., they should be equally space from the centerline of the seat tube,” he added. “I then check the seat tube slot and make sure it is on centerline and the stress relief hole itself is centered on the slot. If tightened on a seat post, I check to see how parallel the sides of the slots are from top to bottom. Any sign of squeezing at the top is cause for dismissal.

“If the builder is present, have him loosen the seatpost clamp and check that the post is not too tight nor too loose. Same goes for seatpost clamp lugs that are brazed on the frame, the inside faces of the lugs should be parallel and not pinched. Stems also fall into this category. I saw one bike win an award with a builder fabricated stem clamp that was obviously deformed, pinched together, and ill-fitting. These items are very quick to check and if they’re off, I immediately dismiss the bike and spend no more time on it. If they’re good to go, I will continue on.”

Joinery

Third, Ferris looks for the craftsmanship displayed in the joinery. Sloppy shorelines, evidence of over or under filling the joint, on lug bikes are cause to stop evaluating the bike and moving on to the next. For TIG bikes, the welds should be consistent, show and even width around the joint and display an even fill (concavity/convexity) around the tubes.

“I look closely for signs of undercut or overheating (undercut is fairly obvious; overheating on a TIG-welded bike will show as a slight wave in the tube near the weld),” he said. “Pay close attention to bridge work and the seat stay intersection as that separates the true craftsmen from the rest. On fillet brazed bikes and look for smooth radii tube to tube, signs of overheating (distortion, wave as noted above) and excessive file work or file marks into the tubes itself. I give extra points to any frame/fork/etc. that is presented for judging unpainted. Paint can hide a multitude of sins.”

Alignment

Fourth, Ferris does his best to evaluate alignment. This is difficult to do on a built up bike, he added, easier on a bare frame, but again he looks for symmetry and anything obviously out of whack.

“I will look down fork crowns and see that they are on the same plane as the dropouts,” he explained. “Check down tube and top tube for how they intersect the head tube, sight down the head tube for parallelism to the seat tube, etc. During this time I also look at braze-ons to make sure they’re properly located and display the same symmetry (where applicable) as the rest of the frame.

Complexity

Fifth, if it’s made it this far, he evaluates the frame/bike as a whole and the complexity of the build (as long as that complexity has a purpose and is not just magpie bait). A modern mountain bike is much harder to build than a road or track bike so they’ll get credit for that, but that also means there’s more to screw up so it usually ends up as a wash.

Emotion

“Lastly, I check my own emotional response to it: Can I do this? Would I do this? Is it better than its peers? Is it cool? Do I want it?

“Judging is hard work because the reality is that whoever wins the various categories gets elevated above their peers and the award has a real world value well beyond the cost of the trophy,” he added. “I’ve seen bikes ‘win’ which, in my opinion, were completely unworthy of such recognition because it came down to fandom or how nice their website was or a judge was getting the bike in question, etc., etc., and not based on the quality of the bike itself.”

Gulp. We had more than 180 bikes to judge, with the lion’s share to be combed over before Saturday early afternoon.

I shared this advice with my other judges, which by the first day of the show included former Shaw’s Lightweight Cycles owner Terry Shaw and United Bicycles Institute president Ron Sutphin. I was now in the company of wise sages, and felt more prepared.

Judges going over the finer points of framebuilding at the 2012 NAHBS.

In Don Walker’s eyes my own experience must have made me uniquely qualified to share a seat with my fellow judges: a few years working with Richard Schwinn and Marc Muller at the Waterford Precision Cycles factory, where five master framebuilders churned out 1,500 lugged steel framesets each year, including those for Rivendell Bicycle Works. I learned proper frame design from Rivendell owner Grant Petersen, and spent hours on the phone with Richard Sachs, Salsa founder Ross Shafer, Reynolds tubing co-owner Keith Noronha, Henry James owner Hank Folsom, Ibis founder Scot Nicol, and Tom Ritchey, trying my best to absorb their knowledge and expertise.

Knowing that not every master framebuilder was attending NAHBS or even submitting work for consideration didn’t make our job easier. In fact, it made things really challenging; framebuilders are small business owners, machinists, welders, marketers, sales people, logistics managers, and psychologists all rolled into one. Award winners are rewarded with recognition from peers, vendors and friends, which usually results in increased business. Our objective was to peel everything away and judge each bike for what we saw in 3-D before us, nothing more, nothing less. Mix in the fact that builders from several foreign countries were also submitting work and now it becomes interesting!

Once we had our preliminary meeting to choose a scorekeeper (Ron), we agreed on the submitted guidelines and choose our approach. Judging was simplified by having exhibitors submit their entries by a specific deadline, and volunteer runners provided a schedule to exhibitors of when bikes would be picked up and returned to their booths on Friday and Saturday of the show. Our categories included:

  • Riding Discipline: City, Cyclo-Cross, Road, Mountain, Tandem, Experimental, Track.
  • Materials: Carbon, Titanium, Steel, Alternative (bamboo, aluminum, wood)
  • Construction: Lugged (any material, not just steel), TIG (ditto), Fillet brazed
  • Overall: Best Finish, Best Rookie and Best of Show.

In each category, up to three entries could be granted special merit. In some cases, we felt more than one entry garnered special recognition. In others, a builder’s interpretation of what represented their best work was nosed out of the top spot by a hair, while others fell way short of the mark. On a few occasions unpainted frames were presented as complete bikes, a very clever way to offer a true glimpse of the handiwork, much like a Michelangelo statue.

Because this was ‘best of the best’ competition, many times our decisions were based on legalistic logic, and sticking purely to the guidelines, while other times it was a unanimous decision based on being thoroughly blown away. East Coast builder Chris Bishop managed to score a hat trick, taking home awards for Best Steel, Best Fillet, and Best Lugged.

As Terry and I were scrutinizing the steel bikes, we were drawn to Bishop’s Peter Johnson-esque thinly filed lugs, the workmanship and talent clearly apparent without paint. Ron agreed with our observation, and Patrick walked over and made in unanimous. Hours later, when the awards were being presented on the show floor, I ran into Peter and mentioned Bishop’s handiwork. I sent Peter to chat with Bishop, who was already talking with Terry. Young Bishop was having so much bike-geek fun talking with two of NorCal’s finest that he didn’t hear the original announcement over the PA system that he had won an award.

Don wanted to change things up a bit for the 2012 show. Instead of all the results being made public on Sunday, the lion’s share of the results were made public and ribbons were distributed to each award-winning handlebar by early Saturday afternoon. The top awards were saved for Sunday afternoon: Best Finish, People’s Choice, President’s Choice, and Best of Show.

Epilogue

After the show, I spoke with several builders to get a feel for how they thought the awards have evolved over the years, and the reactions were mixed. Several experienced builders like Soulcraft’s Sean Walling, pictured here, didn’t submit an entry.

“I understand how winning and award makes almost an instant impact on a framebuilder’s orders, but I do everything I can to build the bikes I need to build for my current customers,” he said. “Sometimes a beauty pageant distracts from the real craftsmen who have been building solid bikes for decades.”

Redwood City, California, builder Brent Steelman didn’t exhibit in 2012. The 51-year-old struggled with depression in 2011, and recently made the decision to turn his milling machines back on after almost throwing in the towel. He told me it was the positive response and support from longtime customers that convinced him it was worth carrying on the torch.

“I can appreciate how important it is for certain builders to win awards, but NAHBS is becoming more of an art show than I care to see,” he said over coffee at his shop in early March. “I think it’s great to get orders based on awards, but some people miss the point: American-made frames are making a comeback, and sometimes they don’t need to be overbuilt and frilly to be noticed.”

Show producer Don Walker’s efforts at cultivating attention to the handmade bicycle craft has been good to nearly everyone involved. One of the things becoming a show organizer has done, in my opinion, is put Walker in a precarious position as a framebuilder entering his own work into the judging contest. The other judges and I agreed it would be best for him to reconsider putting himself in any perceived incestuous situation which may reek of favoritism. In short, Don: we love you and your vision, but please refrain from taking away much-needed attention from another talented builder who could benefit from gaining a foothold in this crazy, lovely niche that many of us love so dearly.

See you all in Denver.


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