Essay: The bicycle commute

National Bike to Work Day was last month. Reading other people’s stories and social posts about biking to work got me thinking about my own bicycle commute, one that is now defunct as my home and my office are one and the same.

While working from home has its distinct advantages (lots of time spent in sweat pants, no office gossip distractions, being able to work when it best suits me, lack of a commute means time saved to do other things), I do miss riding my bike to work. Yes, I can go ride my bike before work, and I do, but having a distinct destination is different.

For the past few years, I had a 12-mile ride if I went the short way, and 14-20 miles if I got ambitious. I live in a very rural setting and worked in the nearest town, so many of these miles were back roads and even some gravel if I so chose. It was great. Though it was hard to get out the door some mornings, especially the chilly ones or rainy ones, starting the day feeling refreshed and satisfied was always worth it.

When I first started riding to town, it seemed like a big deal. I thought it warranted a lot of extra effort – waking up earlier, packing a change of clothes, making sure to allow enough lee time in case of a mechanical or dead legs. Then when I got there, I’d have to shower, change and make myself look presentable to the world. It was so much easier to jump in the car, drive 15 minutes and be there. No change of clothes required. I liked the idea of riding, but in reality, the convenience of a motorized vehicle won out over pedaling far too often.

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Photo: Erica Quinn

Then my husband and I went through a series of car misfortunes that left us sharing one vehicle for months. We worked on the same block so we often carpooled, but I worked odd hours at a restaurant and he worked long hours at an outfitter. When the busy season hit, our hours lined up less and less often, so carpooling was no longer convenient. Riding to work became much more necessary.

The more I rode, the easier it became. I got my routine down pat. I always had my gear ready to go. I learned exactly how long it would usually take me to ride and how much time I needed to leave to change and freshen up. I was riding more, so I was getting faster and the commute seemed less and less difficult. Before too long, those 12 miles became a quick sprint rather than a daunting ride.

I realized that I actually looked better on the days that I biked to work because my skin radiated a healthy glow. I realized that showers are overrated and I actually didn’t smell as bad as I thought I did. I became known as “that girl who rides her bike everywhere” (an exaggeration, but where I live, it’s rare to see people biking for transportation at all).

I’d started passing many of the same cars, on their commutes too. The same school busses would rumble by each morning. The guys in the kitchen at work made it a point to ask me every day if I’d ridden my bike in.

We finally bought a second vehicle, but I still rode my bike to work on a fairly regular basis. By now, it was easy, a welcome beginning and end to my day, a much easier endeavor than I initially thought.

Though I don’t have a daily commute anymore, I enjoy riding to town whenever I can, or to the local tavern, or to social gatherings, or to bike rides (ride to the ride, as they say). There’s something highly satisfying about biking for transportation, using the power of your own legs to get you where you need to go. You might arrive sweaty, but it’ll be worth it, I can promise you that.

#ridemore

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How I Roll: ’79 Serotta—Ned Worthington’s Bike

Words and photos by Jeff Della Penna

Jimmy was standing out in front of his house when I arrived. Next to him, leaning against the wall, was a dusty, dirty, dark green bicycle with two flat tires.

“This is it,” Jimmy said. “Ned Worthington’s bike.”

Ned Worthington? I racked my brain and came up empty. Jimmy is one of those people who knows everybody. I’m not like that. I’m pretty good with faces, not good with names. But, I can tell you this—I never forget a bike … and I’d never seen this one before.

It was an older, classic road bike with black “Serotta” logo decals, trimmed in gold.

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“Wow, a Serotta!” I said, “Is it really a Serotta?”

The decals seemed like the wrong color. With the bike’s dark green paint job, I would have thought that the decals would have been Serotta’s white logo, trimmed in gold or black. It seemed “off.” It just didn’t match. I’ve seen a lot of bikes with phony decals before, so it was a fair question.

“Yeah,” Jimmy said. “Ned spent a ton of money on it.”

I stood and studied the bike. Definitely a diamond in the rough, but at that moment it looked sad, neglected, un-loved. Under the dust, the bike showed some signs of disrepair. It had a set of newer, cheap model Japanese brake-levers and it was missing the front derailleur. It had a little rust bubbling under the paint on the top tube. The drop bars were tilted a bit down. Its black handlebar tape was coming loose in a couple of sections. Both of its tires were completely flat and dried out. The bike, in its current state, reminded me of a bird with clipped wings, unable to fly.

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Within the racing community in the late ’70s, Serotta was always known as “Very Special.” Ben Serotta had built a high-end shop in Saratoga, New York, and produced expensive frames from the early ’70s until around 2012-2013. The shop is closed now. A buy-out and take-over ended with Ben being fired from the company he had given his name to.

Jim said his friend, Ned, had bought the bike (frame) new in ’79. That would have been a big investment for Ned.

In 1979, I was racing road bikes in Central Park for Lou Maltese and the CRCA. Most guys rode Italian, and there were lots of Gios and Colnago at the Saturday morning club rides. But there were two guys who rode Serotta, and those bikes were coveted.

In the mid 1980s, Serotta produced most of the 7-11 Professional Bicycle Racing Team’s bikes, and those bikes carried the decals from the Murray and then Huffy bicycle companies. Most people thought the decal deal was perfectly normal. People said the European teams did it all the time. I thought it was weird … and a little dishonest.

“It’s a big bike,” I said, guessing it was at least 61 cm, center-to-top. It turned out to be 63 cm.

“Yeah,” Jimmy said, “Too big for me!” He took a step back from the bike. “I want you to have it,” he said. “But I want you to know the back story.”

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Jimmy started talking like he had to get the whole story out. He needed to impress on me that this wasn’t just any old bike.

Jimmy told me that he and Ned had met while working at a restaurant in Santa Cruz, California in 1978. They became friends, although Jimmy admitted that Ned had some “personality quirks” that made him hard to be around. “Ned was an expert about anything he got into, to the point of being a snob.”

“For example,” Jimmy explained, “Ned knew everything there was to know about wine. You couldn’t tell him anything about wine. He knew it all! And Ned was like that about bikes too … kind of snobbish.”

In 1980, Jimmy, Ned, and two other friends, all 23 years old, planned a bike trip from Abiquiu, New Mexico to New York City—a little over 2,000 miles. Ned’s plan was to go further. From New York, Ned would continue on, all the way through Europe.

I thought about that trip for a second. A bike-packing trip, on this road racing bike, with the racks and handle-bar bags that most touring riders put on their bikes to carry their gear. But this bike didn’t have any braze-ons to attach a rear rack or low-riders.

“That was Ned,” Jimmy said, shrugging his shoulders, as if that explained everything. “I think I spent $300 on my bike,” Jimmy said. “The other two guys also had modest production bicycles, like mine. But Ned, he wanted something special. And he went to New York to get it.”

I looked the components over. Ned had built his bike out with a Campagnolo drivetrain and brakes, and a custom wheelset—classic Phil Wood hubs laced to beefy 36-hole Mavic rims.

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As I studied the bike, I noticed Ned ran his brakes “Moto” style, with the front brake connected to the right brake lever. When I was a kid, one of my heroes was the handsome young Frenchman, Jacques Anquetil, 5-time winner of the Tour de France. Anquetil rode Moto, so I switched my bike to Moto to be like Jacques. I’ve ridden all my bikes Moto ever since. I think it’s better! And Ned … Ned rode Moto.

Ned had been this bike’s sole owner for 37 years. This was HIS bike. I don’t have any objects—bikes, or anything—that I’ve owned for 37 years. Most of us “use” a bike, wear the components out, and then upgrade to the next “New Bike.” It’s actually cheaper to buy a totally new bike, then it is to repaint and upgrade all of the components on an old bike. Ned had kept this bicycle since he was 22 years old. How proud he must have been when people would stop him to admire the frame and the components.

It was funny trying to figure out a guy by looking at his bike. It was like going into someone’s house and looking at all the clothes in their closet. I considered how much of Ned’s life must have changed during the 37 years that he’d owned this bike. Just imagine the confidence it would have taken to be 22 and working as a waiter in Santa Cruz, and then go see Ben Serotta and buy one of his bike frames. I gathered that Ned saw himself as a “cyclist,” and if that’s what you identify as, Serotta was what you invested in. The future must have looked so bright to the 22-year-old Ned Worthington.

Jimmy handed me a newspaper clipping from their road trip to New York. Jimmy and the other two young guys all have broad grins, long hair and beards, and they are all wearing T-shirts in the picture. Ned is dressed in a wool short-sleeve jersey, a classic 6-panel cycling cap squarely on his head, and a bandana tied around his neck. No smile, just a cool look into the camera.

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Jimmy also had a photograph of Ned leaning against a bike in front of the Eiffel Tower. I studied the bike in the picture. It looked like the same bike, the same chainrings and the Phil Wood hubs, but the paint job was red.

“The bike was originally maroon,” Jimmy explained. Ned, at some point in the last decade, had repainted the bike.

That explained the decals being the wrong color. I gave the bike a closer examination. It looked like Ned had done the paint job himself, rattle-can style. This is a Serotta, damn it! Why not take the frame to a professional for repainting? A new paint job, worthy of this frame, would have been $200-$400, ten years ago. It dawned on me that maybe it was money that Ned no longer had.

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Jimmy told me that Ned’s girlfriend had joined Ned in Europe, and they bicycle-toured together, came home, got married, and had a beautiful baby boy.

“I ended up back in Santa Cruz,” Jimmy told me, “And eventually got married to Linda, and we had a beautiful baby girl. We also had another beautiful baby girl. And, eventually a beautiful baby boy,” Jimmy laughed.

Jimmy said the two families stayed close. “We used to vacation together,” he said. “I have a wonderful picture of our daughter and Ned’s son, when they were just little kids, sitting together in the back of my old VW van. They were buddies!”

Jimmy said that Ned and his wife didn’t work out, got a divorce—one of those rough, mean, ugly ones—but Ned stayed close to Jimmy and his family, and they often saw Ned’s son.

One year Jimmy and Ned organized another bike adventure, just the two of them. They flew up to Portland, and rode down the PCH together to meet the rest of the family in Santa Cruz.

“Ned rode this bike,” Jimmy said. “Ned kicked my ass on every climb.”

I wished the bike could talk. I was wishing I could have known this bike when it was kicking ass on every climb.

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Ned’s son graduated from high school and went off to college. Jimmy’s first daughter graduated from high school and ripped through college in just 3 years. She got married right out of school and moved off with her new husband. Unfortunately, that marriage didn’t work out. She was back staying with Jimmy and Linda in Santa Fe when Ned showed up for Christmas … with his son, Daniel.

The two kids had stayed loosely in touch since high school and re-united at Christmas. Both single, they did what kids do—they fell in love, and soon they were married. Jimmy and Ned couldn’t have been happier. “Especially Ned,” Jim said. “He was jubilant!”

When the kids announced that they had a baby on the way, Jimmy and Ned were ecstatic. At one point, Ned went to visit his son and daughter-in-law. And, after the trip he left a long phone message on Jimmy’s answering machine. Ned sentimentally blathered about how excited he was about the kids, and the soon-to-arrive baby, and how he and Jimmy would be “grand-dads together!”

“Sadly,” Jim explained, “Before the baby arrived, Ned died of a heart attack.”

“We had talked about doing another bike trip,” Jimmy said. “But, Ned had a stroke a while back, and both of us were having heath issues. So, it just never happened.”

I took the bike home with me. That night I sat in a chair, looking across the room at Ned’s bike. I’ve never had a bike where I knew that the original owner had passed away.

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It’s a Serotta, but it’s a simple bike. It’s not a famous bike, like one of Jacques Anquetil’s 5 Tour de France bikes. This is just a simple bike that was owned by an ordinary guy, who wore wool jerseys and cycling caps, and had big plans and bicycle dreams. But, for just a simple bike, I was amazed at how much history came with it.

The bike needs a lot of work. I don’t know if I should pull the parts, strip the paint off, clean up the rust and repaint it maroon with a white decal kit. Or, if should I just leave it green, and leave the dark Serotta stickers, and just make it rideable.

I have to say, it would sure make me feel good to clean the bike up. Show it some love again, make it shine, take it on some adventures.

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I Googled the heck out of the frame and based on its ’78 production, I’m guessing it’s probably the “Titan,” distinctive within the Serotta line by it’s beefy seatstays, finished at the sides of the seat lug with an nice concave oval cap. It concerned me that there was no serial number on the underbelly of the bottom bracket, just “Cinelli S.C., Made in Italy.”

So I sent Ben Serotta a note. Ben wrote back, “Pre-1979 (as I recall) the serial number was stamped on the inside face of the dropout (a stupid place, yes my idea) and on the steering column of the fork (also silly, but at least it didn’t get worn off) … I hope this helps! -Ben”

The headset needs to be rebuilt (it’s self-centering). The bottom bracket is completely gunked-up—needs a cleaning and new grease. The chain needs some TLC. I was surprised to find both of the wheels still spin perfectly (a tribute to the quality of the Phil Wood hubs), but the steel sleeves on the hubs are showing some rust and I’m not sure how to clean them without taking the spokes off.

The bike is missing its Campy front derailleur, but I think I have one from the same time period. The tires are holding air, but I’d rather some gum-walls that will look closer to what the bike originally had. I’ll find the appropriate brake levers to replace the Japanese currently on it. And, of course, I’ll wrap the bars with a nice 1980’s-style black handlebar tape.

When we get an old iPhone or a used computer, the previous owner has hit a few keys and all the memories are wiped away. But, I can’t help feeling that this bicycle is drenched in it’s own history and memories. I know that no matter what I do to this bike, no matter how much time I invest, no matter how much money I spend, this bike will never really be mine. It will always be Ned’s bike … and I think that’s the way it needs to be.

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Canned Ham and Sleeping in the Backyard: The Best Bikepacking Trip

Words and photos by Matthew Salvadore

Where was it? It was the last item he needed. He had spent several days looking for a place that sold it. Now, as he shuffled through the local pharmacy convenient store in his pajama pants and Pink Floyd t shirt, he still couldn’t seem to find it. He made his way to the cashier and waited in line.

That’s my father-in-law. He spent a lot of his time this way. Not necessarily waiting in line at pharmacy convenient stores, but searching. Searching for that one last item he needs. He’s a buyer and a planner. It seems that planning for something and buying the gear for it is more exciting to him than actually doing what he is planning to do. I had forgotten that when I agreed
to take a bike packing trip with him.

He loves bicycles, but not riding them, necessarily. He’s a collector. At one point he owned ten new bikes, none of which he had ridden. Not even on a test ride at the bike shop before purchasing. It seems that the dream is always bigger than the
reality. If only riding the bikes could be as effortless as looking at the bikes. He’s not much different than the vast majority of people in our society. That’s why Disneyland is such a popular place. The dream is bigger than reality. People are drunk on the dreams.

He and I really couldn’t be any different. I hate buying things. I have always thought owning a lot of things is like being slowly choked to death. I also love to ride. I am drawn to the challenges and deprivation. The pain and difficulty. The struggle. For me the reality is always better than the dream. I hate dreaming and, yes, I hate Disneyland.

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Bikepacking was something I had been wanting to do for awhile. One day, while talking about bikes (something that happened a lot with my father-in-law), I mentioned my bikepacking hopes. He wanted to go. So I said yes. That was the start of months of planning and to his enjoyment, purchasing.

Finally, the line moved and it was his turn. This was the big moment. He was about to find the last item he needed for the trip.

When the cashier invited him to step forward he asked, “Do you sell canned hams?” Aisle 4. Of course! Right next to the school supplies. How could he have missed them? This was the only store in a twenty mile radius of suburban America that carried canned hams. That’s because no one eats canned hams. However, thanks to a bikepacking tutorial on YouTube, he insisted that we needed canned hams for this trip.

After the purchase of two canned hams, the bikepacking list was complete. It was official. He finally had way too much stuff. For him, the adventure was over. It was only an overnighter, but it took months to plan. We decided on a state forest not too far away. It had a good system of gravel roads and trails. It was plenty of ground to cover, especially considering the fact that my father-in-law cannot ride much more than a mile or two without needing a break and he would be carrying enough gear to supply a small army. In the past few days, he had even joked about buying a bicycle trailer. At least I think it was a joke.

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My wife and I live four hours away from her parents. So we took a few days off and went for a long weekend to their place. We got there late on Thursday night. The “Great Adventure” would begin on Friday.

I woke up early Friday morning. I didn’t really need to pack. I fit the few items I would need, including the infamous canned ham, into a backpack and handlebar bag. I went upstairs to see how my father-in-law was doing with packing everything. He was shuffling around the house in his boxers and a t-shirt from a local bikes shop’s racing team. There’s a level of irony in that.

“How’s it going?” I asked, almost knowing the answer. There was cycling gear spread out on every piece of furniture in the room.

“It’s supposed to rain,” he said. He almost said it with a sense of relief. The forecast had called for spotty showers. Nothing to worry about. “You know,” he said as if asking for permission,”We could just go for a ride and then come back here to camp
out.”

Over the past few months I had waited for this conversation to come along and now, here it was. I was surprised that we had actually come this far and gotten this close. He had walked right up to the edge of it. But when he looked over the edge into the great chasm of the unknown world of adventure, all he could see was effort and discomfort. He had already had his adventure in the months of planning and spending. He had ridden the endless waves of dreams. Reality now stared him in the face. And it looked mean. I felt bad for him.

So that’s how it went. We drove to the state forest. Rode for a couple of miles until he needed a break. Then picked up a pizza on the way home. That night, I camped in their backyard and he slept in his warm bed. We woke up in the morning and had canned ham and eggs for breakfast. It never did rain.

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I’ve taken other trips since then. But that one was the best. Because caring about people is the greatest adventure.


We would love to hear your stories of bicycle adventure, no matter what they are. Send your submissions to [email protected]

 

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Boiling the Frog: A Boston Commuter Journal

Words by Thom Parsons

Commuting through the winter by bike is like that anecdote about boiling the frog: if you throw a frog in boiling water, it will jump out immediately. This works much better metaphorically than it does literally. You throw a frog in boiling water—it freakin’ dies. Think about it. When you throw a lobster in boiling water what happens, does it hop out? Of course not. (And I’m glad, because that would be terrifying.) The second part of the saying goes: if you put a frog in cold water and gradually raise the temperature, it will hang out until it is boiled alive. “Well, this is rather nice; the warm water is helping work out the knots in my lower back. I should really learn to stretch prior to rigorous hopping, oh my, what the…Rosebud.”

It’s the same principle with bike commuting. If you stay on the bike through the fall and make the gradual transition to winter riding, that first 23° day isn’t going to come as such a shock, but, you take three months off the bike to focus on more important things, like getting fat and depressed, and that first really cold day is going to feel like you’ve been thrown into a pot of boiling water.

I live in a town 35 miles from Boston, a town full of giant red pick-up trucks. I work in Boston… in cycling advocacy, and up until a few months ago I rode my bike, or did a bike/train/bike commute 100% of the time. Because that’s what you do when you work in cycling advocacy and you’re not a total D-bag. And you don’t own a car. But, see, that is the thing: I bought a car. Not just a car, but a miniature van (like a van, only smaller). When that happened, scientists in a lab in Nevada saw the D-bag-o-meter go right off the charts. “Good God Phil, what the hell was that? Rush Limbaugh isn’t even on right now…I think some hypocritical loser from Boston that spends all day trying to get other people to ride bicycles just bought a minivan and decided to not ride his bike, ever.”

Then I spent over four months commuting to the city by car, hating every minute of it. I’d be sitting in traffic going: “GOD DAMMIT! WHY DID I DRIVE? I AM A STUPID, STUPID MAN.” And yet, I would get up and do the same thing again the next day. I think Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same insane thing over and over again even though it makes you totally insane and expecting it not to keep making you totally insane.

I tried to be less of a loser in certain ways. When I’d stop at our local café in the morning, a quaint little place called, adorably enough, “Dunkin Donuts,” I would ask for an egg and cheese sandwich with no bag, just the wrapper. To the staff of Dunkin Donuts this was noteworthy and I quickly became known as “The No-Bag Guy.” I’m sure if there were a woman who always insisted on a bag, they would call her “The Bag Lady.”

If you’re going to drive a miniature van to work and get a cryogenically frozen puck-of-egg sandwich at a drive-through window, one way to salvage a shred of non-D-bag-ness is to ask for no bag. (You can make your own joke about taking the bag out of D-bag if you want—I ain’t goin’ there.) Of course, a better way to achieve this is to have oatmeal for breakfast and ride your damn bike to work like a man. A man in a leotard, but a man nonetheless.

After a few months of wallowing in self-loathing, one day I woke up from a dream. In the dream I was watching T.V. There was an ad on the T.V. for Weak Sauce—“Weak Sauce: Now With More Thom.” I walked down to the bathroom, looked at the reflection in the mirror and said “OH MY GOD, A VAMPIRE!” Luckily, just before I staked it with a dental pick, I realized that vampires don’t have reflections and that I was looking at a particularly sleep-deprived version of myself. That raccoon-eyed version of me looked the other me in the eye and said, “Hey, Thom, stop being a D-bag.”

I decided right then and there that I would start riding to work again. Even if I had to jump right into that boiling pot of water…that was, in reality, a freezing cold February day.

Illustration: Julia Green

Illustration: Julia Green

When I do actually commute to work by bike I have three options:

1.) Ride my Schwinn Varsity the five miles to the commuter rail during off-peak hours, throw it on the train, ride it the mile or so to work on the other end, and then repeat the process in reverse in the evening.

2.) Ride my commuter bike, a singlespeed road bike with panniers and duct tape on it that I call the “AThomination,” one way to the city, 35 miles, then take the train home in the evening.

3.) Ride my commuter bike both ways for a grand total of 70 miles.

The first one might sound nuts to members of the non-cycling world. The second one might sound nuts to some members of the cycling world. And the third one might sound nuts to all but about three people in the cycling world. Sad thing is…I used to be one of those three people. I’m not anymore, believe me. When I tell you that I once drank luminescent tequila in a national park in Utah, you don’t have to believe me, but believe me on this one.

The first day I decided to commute, I chose the 35-mile, ride-all-the-way-in-and-take-the-train-most-of-the-way-out version. My first thought when I woke up was: “I don’t want to do this.” It wasn’t a thought so much as something I said out loud and then followed with nervous-serial-killer laughter. My ride to Boston isn’t all that intimidating, really, it’s just 35 miles of mostly flat terrain. It’s not exactly like summiting Mt. Everest without oxygen while giving a piggyback ride to a Herve Villechaize impersonator you kidnapped from Vegas. (If it were exactly like that, this would be a much more interesting story.) Still, those 35 miles loomed in front of me like a fifth helping of tuna-macaroni salad at Old Country Buffet.

I’ve jumped into the boiling pot of water and I have neither hopped out nor died. Yeah, it wasn’t really a boiling pot of water, it was just a cold week in February, but hey…I wonder if we should try freezing a frog to switch up the metaphor a little, make it more applicable to this scenario. We don’t have to use frogs, necessarily; we could use anything that hops…wallabies might work. We’re gonna need a bigger freezer.

This story originally appeared in Bicycle Times #18.

Want to commute but feel like are too many roadblocks in your way? Stay tuned for tips on overcoming commuting obstacles later this week, right here on bicycletimesmag.com. 


 

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A (real) bike buyer’s guide

By Justin Steiner

Dreaming about a new bike now that spring is here? You aren’t alone. Buying a bicycle is extremely exciting, but can also be a little nerve-racking. With so many bicycles of varying designs and price points, how do you decide which bike best fits your needs? Bicycle Times is here to help you feel more confident about making a purchase. Think of this as a road map to the process of buying a bike.

With each issue of Bicycle Times, we review three or four interesting bikes to keep our experienced readers abreast of the performance and aptitude of the latest technology and trends. This article, however, is geared toward riders who are newer to our lovely sport, or re-entering the scene after a hiatus. If you know someone who’s hoping to buy a bike in the near future, pass this article along to help him or her make a more informed decision.

Needs

Buying a new bicycle is just like any other project—you first need to define your needs and the desired outcome. Start by realistically assessing your goals and ambitions for the next few seasons of riding, since this new bike will hopefully be with you for quite a while. Here is a list of questions to keep in mind; writing down the answers may help solidify your thoughts (again, be realistic):

  • How often, and for what duration, am I riding now, and what do I have in mind for the future?
  • What will be the main function of this bike?
  • Transportation and utility, fitness and recreation, looking good, racing?
  • What do I prioritize in this new bike?
  • Style, cargo capacity, all-weather capability, light weight, durability, or the ability to fold for storage or travel.
  • Where do I enjoy riding the most, and what do I enjoy about these locales?
  • Do I care about country of origin (where it’s made)?

Budget

With needs defined, it’s time to talk budget. In the bicycle world, as with most anything, you get what you pay for. Spending more will buy better performance—less weight, higher precision components, and increased durability—but not everyone really needs top-shelf stuff. Keep in mind that a new bike will set you back at least $300 regardless of its intended use. If you’d like to buy a bike made in the good ol’ U.S. of A., it will add to the cost as well, possibly by as much as an extra zero on the price tag.

So, what’s your budget? How much cash do you have to play with? Whatever number you come up with, subtract $200–$400 (even budget shoppers should set aside at least $150) to arrive at your target price point. Why? Because you now have a cushion to purchase clothing, comfort, and safety items that will enhance your riding experience. It can be argued that these clothing and comfort items are every bit as important as the bicycle itself. (More on this later.)

At the bike shop

OK, now you have a better idea of what your needs are, and you know how much money you’re comfortable spending. Time to start shopping. Make a list of all the bike shops in your area, and note the brands each store stocks, the store hours, and locations. Then devise a plan to visit all of them. Bonus points if you can shop on a weekday, as salespeople will likely have a great deal more time to spend with you. Sure, it’d be nice if the dealer you end up choosing is close to your home, but don’t place too much value on proximity. Finding a shop where you can form a trusting relationship, and maybe even a friendship, with the staff is far more important.

As you are shopping, pay attention to the vibe and feel of each store you visit. How do the employees treat you? Did someone offer you assistance, or did you have to seek help? When you’ve connected with a salesperson, relay your answers to the assessment questions. Armed with that information and your budget constraints, the salesperson will be able to recommend the bike, or bikes, that best fit your needs and budget. Be open-minded about the style of bike the salesperson might be suggesting—don’t let your preconceived notions get in the way of good advice. Do ask the salesperson to explain why he/she has recommended particular bikes. Be sure to take notes on manufacturer names, models, and pricing.

Take time to inquire about the fitting process at each store, as this will be a large part of the deciding factor for where you should make your purchase. First, how do they determine which size is best for you? And second, how do they fine-tune the fit of the chosen size? Hope- fully they will include the store’s policy, and rates, for swapping stems, saddles, and other parts as needed to personalize your fit. The answers to these questions will begin to shine light on the great stores—the people who truly care about your fit and comfort. I cannot emphasize enough how important fit is to cycling. Comfort on your bicycle will keep you riding, while pain and discomfort will likely stop you dead in your tracks.

As you shop down through your list of stores, the experiences you have will vary drastically. Some of the encounters will make you want to go back and others most certainly will not. Scratch the shops off the list where you had less than satisfactory experiences and make note of the shops where you felt comfortable and received sound advice. Now it’s time to go back for a test ride. These folks will set you up with a fitted bike for a spin. Be sure to take notes about your impressions of the bike(s) you are able to ride—it’s hard to keep track of all the subtleties of different bikes if you don’t.

Also inquire about the store’s service policies. All reputable dealers will include a post-break-in tune-up with the purchase of the bike. Additionally, some shops offer extended service and/or insurance plans that could save you money in the long run, but make sure you clearly understand the terms. Many stores will even offer a discount on gear purchased with the bike.

Thank the salesperson and explain that you’re doing some comparative shopping and will be making a decision soon. From here on the decision should be fairly easy. Most likely, one of the bikes you ride will feel markedly better than the others. Congratulations! You just found your new bike.

Shop where you can form a trusting relationship, and maybe even a friendship, with the staff is far more important.

Cross shopping

Why haven’t I even mentioned the importance of parts and specifications? I intentionally left out these details because, in my opinion, they are the least important aspect of buying a new bike. Since you’re looking at bikes made for a particular riding style and within a small price window, all of the models will offer similar parts packages. Sure, one bike will have widget X instead of widget Y, where the other has widget W instead of widget Y, but who cares? Of course, there are certain spec characteristics worth considering such as internal vs. external gearing, belt or chain drive, and handlebar type.

The salesperson you’re working with should be able to shed light on the advantages and disadvantages of each style of bike and why it might be well-suited or not to your specific needs. But the specifics of each component are not worth worrying about. The cycling marketplace is highly competitive and the overall package at any price point will be comparable. Staring cross-eyed at spec sheets will take your focus away from the overall fit and feel of the bicycle and which store has earned your money, both of which are far more important.

What about the extra $200–$400 you’ve stashed away? Now it’s time to invest in your comfort and safety. Pony up for a new helmet if you’ve had that old one for five years or lon- ger; helmet materials break down over time, rendering older helmets less effective. If you don’t have some form of protective eyewear, buy some stylin’ shades. Pick up some nice gloves to protect your hands for longer rides. If you will be riding in cold and/or wet weather, prepare yourself accordingly. Depending on your needs, a few nice pairs of cycling shorts may be in order, too. The guys and gals at the shop will be able to help you select clothing to fit your needs. (From my experience, you can’t go wrong with wool.)

You will also need a way to carry water, spare tubes, tire levers, a pump, multi tool, and patch kit. If you don’t know how to change a flat tire, ask a knowledgeable friend to show you how, offer to pay the shop to teach you, or find a local how-to class—community bike shops are a fabulous resource for knowledge. There are few things that kill the buzz of a nice ride quicker than having to call someone to pick you up, or worse yet, a 10-mile walk home, and a flat tire certainly won’t get you off the hook for being late to work.

So there you have it—bike buying made simple. Of course there are situations I simply can’t cover within the scope of this article. What I hope you take away is the general process and approach to purchasing a new bicycle. Trust yourself and your judgment; if things don’t make sense, ask questions—be analytical. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself; this might not be the last bicycle you ever buy, but rather the first step on the never-ending ladder toward cycling enlightenment. 

Key things to remember

  • Be honest about what you intend to do with your new bike.
  • Set a budget and make sure it includes $200-$400 for accessories.
  • Visit as many bike shops as you can and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.
  • Spend your money at the bike shop that you feel has earned your business.

 

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Review: Raleigh Port Townsend

By Adam Newman

Hmm… I feel like I’ve seen this bike before. The color-matched fenders and stem… the included chrome front rack… the matching (faux) leather bar tape and saddle…

That’s it! I’ve seen it at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. Well, one like it, anyway. This bike happens to say “Raleigh” on the side, and has one less zero on the end of the price tag. The big fish eats the little one, and it’s no surprise that the large bicycle manufacturers of the world have caught on to the collective gushing of bike nerds across the Internet as they pore over online galleries and message board threads overflowing with handmade bikes.

“There’s definitely an inspiration that comes from that,” said Raleigh’s Marketing Manager Brian Fornes. “It’s great to see that style and aesthetic coming back.” In fact, the style has spread across the whole of Raleigh’s steel road bike range. There is nothing revolutionary about the Port Townsend’s design or parts spec— but damn does it look good.

What’s old is new again

There are a few modern touches bolted onto the Reynolds 520 chromoly steel butted frame: a Shimano Sora 9-speed drivetrain with Shimano Dura-Ace bar-end shifters, a Sora crankset with 50/34-tooth compact chainrings, and an outboard bearing bottom bracket. Though I disdain bar-end shifters, I was pleased to see the frame included shifter bosses on the down tube —a rarity on modern frames. Why top-of-the-line Dura-Ace, you ask? Well, those are the only bar-end shifters Shimano makes.

Steel fenders earn bonus points for class, but it’s likely that they will dent or scratch with use. That’s the price you pay for authenticity, I guess. Plus they’re a little short, which means my feet got dirty, but the bike fit on my fork-mount roof rack.

Retro touches include the aforementioned bar tape and saddle, though both were eventually swapped out for my personal preferences. Also included are pedals with chrome toe clips and fauxleather straps. The threadless stem looks reat with its framematching finish, but if you want to adjust the angle you’ll have to replace it.

Just beyond the stem is the front rack, which is derivative of the classic French design that holds a randonneuring bag. When I strapped my Velo Orange bag to it, I couldn’t get it as secure as I could with the integrated-mount system I had been using, but the rack never rattled, came loose, or otherwise caused an issue. Start piling weight on the front end of any bicycle and it’s going to affect the handling, but the Port Townsend tracked straight and true with a fairly sizable load on the rack.

Oh, and about that price tag. The Port Townsend retails for just over $900. Compare that to a Surly Cross-Check or Trek 520 and you’ll have saved enough dough to tweak the parts exactly to your preference. More than just a pretty face

Raleigh seems to be positioning itself well for a new generation of customers looking for a stable platform to start logging big miles. I enjoyed the Port Townsend on rides short and long, both as my daily commuter and on 200-kilometer jaunts.

This is certainly no race bike, but at 28lbs. I never felt the weight was holding me back, and the medium-length 105.3cm wheelbase and large tires made for a stable and smooth ride, even on the crushed limestone of the Great Allegheny Passage trail. The common 73-degree seat angle and 72-degree head angle kept things straight and true. Compared to a full-size touring bike, the Port Townsend feels like a sports car, and it never felt like it was more bike than I needed. The 435mm chainstays are much shorter than on a touring bike, almost road-bike length, and kept me carving up the twisties with a smile. The longish head tube (170mm on my size large) put me in a comfortable, relaxed position without the need for a stack of spacers. My neck and arms felt great, even after a 12-hour ride—a long story, don’t ask.

I did make one significant change to the stock build. The grades of western and central Pennsylvania are notoriously steep, and the low gear provided by the 11-25-tooth cassette just wasn’t going to cut it. I installed a Shimano mountain bike rear derailleur and cassette, giving me an even lower gear range without sacrificing any top end or resorting to a triple crankset. This mod would be essential if you planned on putting the bike to use for light touring, and would make sense as a stock spec, since rival component maker SRAM offers a similar setup with its Apex and Rival components. However, Fornes convinced me that it’s impossible to build a bike that suits every possible terrain, and compromises had to be made.

One other minor gripe is the color. Raleigh has built a beautiful bike here, but the world does not need another black bike, especially when they went to the trouble of color-matching the stem and fenders. The rest of Raleigh’s steel bike range is bathed in a beautiful palette of earth tones, and I’m glad to hear the 2012 edition of the Port Townsend won’t be black. I ain’t no Johnny Cash.

Update: The 2012 Port Townsend is a lovely metallic root beer color with white and orange accents.

Looks good, feels good

Though the Raleigh Corporation of today has little in common with the factory that was building bikes in Nottingham, England a century ago, it’s certainly a name that feels right at home on the side of the Port Townsend. There are a lot of bikes on the market that offer similar features, but few offer this much style. With NAHBS influences being emulated by a major manufacturer, is this a case of the tail wagging the dog? Who cares. The Port Townsend is a beautiful and practical ride.

Tester stats

  • Age: 30
  • Height: 6’ 2”
  • Weight: 175lbs.
  • Inseam: 33”

Bike stats

  • Country of Origin: China
  • Price: $910
  • Weight: 28lbs.
  • Sizes available: 50cm (XS), 53cm (S), 55cm (S/M), 57cm (M/L), 59cm (L) (tested)
  • Online: www.RaleighUSA.com
     
 

 
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A Long Way from Home

Accounts of two ultra-endurance events, the Great Divide Race and Crush the Commonwealth, from one specialist in the genre and several regular folks with day jobs.

Editor’s note:

This story originally appeared in our sister magazine, Dirt Rag, Issue #130. You can purchase a copy of this issue in our online store.

By Karen Brooks and Eric McKeegan

What’s the longest ride you’ve ever done? For most of us, the answer is somewhere this side of one day and one hundred miles; but there are folks among us who strive to go beyond those marks, sometimes well beyond, and who measure their rides in whole days and multiple hundreds of miles. Many times these thresholds are crossed in the pursuit of completing a challenge, in the form of a race or other group event, since our fellow riders can push us to keep going and find out how far we can go.

In the past, Dirt Rag has featured such rides as oddities, distances that a few brave souls showed were possible, but that most of us wouldn’t have attempted. But ultra-endurance races (as they have become known) are gaining popularity as regular folks look for new challenges and a deeper sense of fulfillment. Perhaps this is the next stage of evolution of our relatively young sport. Here are some accounts of riders who have tested their limits and have been enriched by the experience.

The Great Divide Race

The Great Divide Race (GDR) is perhaps the granddaddy of ultra-endurance mountain bike races in this country. It follows the Great Divide Route, a mostly off-road route along the Continental Divide from the Port of Roosville, Montana, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. The Route was created by Adventure Cycling in 1998 as a completely bikeable alternative to the Continental Divide Trail, which has many sections closed to bikes (and more threatened with closure).

The Race is completely self-supported: no support crew allowed, no cell phone use unless it’s an emergency (and racers are immediately disqualified if they do need to use one), certainly no feed zones. As the race website says, "The overriding principle is simply to do it all yourself." The only official link of any kind is that racers must check in via payphone from a list of towns along the way (go to greatdividerace/blogspot.com to read transcripts of these phone calls).

We last featured this race in 2005 in Dirt Rag Issue #117, after its second running, when Kent Peterson wrote about his race experiences on a singlespeed in "The Way of the Mountain Turtle." That year Kent was one of seven riders to line up, and one of four finishers. The fact that this year Jay Petervary set a new GDR record of 15 days, 4 hours, and 18 minutes is perhaps not as significant as the fact that the field of 25 participants was more than three times that of any other year, and more than all four previous years combined. Only one person, Matthew Lee (who finished second place this year), completed the course under the time cutoff in ’06; ten people came in before the cutoff this year.

Mike Curiak

Mike Curiak is the founder and co-organizer of the GDR (along with Pete Basinger); he also held the previous record time of 16 days and 57 minutes for its first three years.

What motivated you to organize this event?

Frustration, mostly, is what motivated it. It was such a great thing that Laird [Knight of Granny Gear Productions] and others did in the mid-’90s, but doing 24-hour events solo loses its excitement really fast. 24-hour races opened people’s eyes to the fact that it’s not a big deal to ride for 24 hours at a stretch, but going around and around on the same track, particularly for solo riders, can get monotonous. I wanted something with more adventure, more self-reliance, without using a support crew.

Why do you think this race has gained popularity?

It has reached a critical mass… There’s been an explosion of 150-300 mile events, like the Kokopelli Race or the Grand Loop or the Iditabike, and people who complete these look to the GDR as the next step. Last year’s race had more audio and text coverage [available on the GDR website] and so it was on people’s radar.

With the races I’ve organized, the goal has never been to get coverage and promotion, the goal has been to make it fun. It started off strictly selfishly, with what would be fun for me.

What advice would you give to people looking to make the jump from 24-hour racing?

You need commitment. Physical attributes don’t matter as much. I sometimes hear people say, "If a pro like so-and-so showed up, they’d school the field." They might on the first day, and maybe the second, but definitely not on day 5, especially when there’s 10 days left. It’s most important to have determination and drive, and mental flexibility; you need to be able to roll with the punches and let go of any preconceived notions of what might happen. You never know what’s going to happen.

There’s a big difference between racing and just touring the Great Divide Route. The level of sacrifice and suffering is more than most people realize. A lot of participants say they’ll "see how it goes," just go out to survive, and end up doing 70 to 80 miles a day, which is 20 to 30 miles a day off the pace to finish by the cutoff. To do that you need to ride just over 100 miles a day. (My record time averaged out to about 158 miles a day.) One guy this year missed the cutoff by just eight hours, and will not be listed as a finisher.

Were there any factors like weather that contributed to the record being broken this year?

It was a combination of things… In ’04 [the first year] there was no concrete goal, but now racers know what they have to do and roughly what it takes to do it competitively. And this year there definitely was good luck with the weather. For instance Jay Petervary was only in one hailstorm, and it lasted only an hour, that was it. Mostly it was high pressure and blue skies.

It seems like in an event such as this, any small injury or illness can get worse until it stops you, since there is so little rest time.

Yes, that’s definitely true. Pete Basinger got sick with what we suspect is giardia, fought through it for days, but eventually had to drop out. Rick Hunter had some knee swelling, made it almost to New Mexico and dropped out. Small things build up over so many miles. There are so many critical minutiae involved: things like cleat position, hand position, etc. have to be absolutely perfect.

Is there a typical amount of gear that racers use?

There is a wide range of gear. Jay Petervary’s whole setup with his bike is around 35lbs. Pete Basinger and Matt Lee [who finished second this year] probably use a similar amount. There are others who go out with about 60lbs., and they probably won’t finish with it all. Sometimes people do get rid of cold weather gear as it gets hotter, but generally you’re covering miles so fast, you’re only in a snowstorm up on a pass for a short while before you drop down and start sweating. So you just kinda deal with it, knowing it’s a temporary inconvenience.

David Nice

You may remember David Nice from a Readings article in Dirt Rag #123, which told his heartbreaking (and maddening) tale of getting his bike stolen after his third day on the Great Divide Race. David is also noteworthy for trying the race on a fixed gear bike, last year and for this year’s attempt. This time he was sidelined not by no-good thieves but by a rock, which pinched his ankle between it and a hard place, namely his pedal, and the resulting pain made it impossible for David to continue putting pressure on the pedals. He traveled 837 miles in his attempt.

What’s the appeal of an event like this for you?

The difficulty—it’s something not a lot of people even think about. There is so much time to meditate on things happening in life, and it’s wonderful to get away from the normal routine for an extended period. I’m reduced to simple concerns: riding, eating, and sleeping. It’s just me. That fulfillment is hard to find in other aspects of life.

How was it being alone for so long?

The loneliness got to me more than I thought it would…I had no radio or MP3 player, and went for long stretches without seeing another human. Twenty hours was the longest stretch. Next time I’ll think about bringing something to listen to music with. I was amazed though, how many people I did see at times, as the course is mostly very remote.

Did you take the time to enjoy the scenery, or were you just pedaling?

I did see a lot of God’s wonderful creation. I used a gear low enough to spin, and stopped to take some photos.

How was it doing the race fixed? Would you consider doing it again?

I’ve been riding fixed off-road pretty much exclusively for the last four years (and singlespeed for a while before that), so I’m used to it, and I wasn’t concerned about the attempt. Now, I’m questioning whether I can do it, and considering trying it on a freewheel singlespeed or even a geared bike…but it’s still a huge carrot to be able to complete the race fixed.

So do you think you’ll try again next year?

I will keep riding and training to prepare, but I haven’t decided yet if I will actually do it.

Any advice for someone thinking of doing the GDR?

I would give yourself a year to prepare, and do the route once ahead of time to check it out, make sure you can follow the map, take pictures—know what to expect.

This has been a super cool experience, and I still consider it fun. 24-hour racing is like environmental NASCAR, going around and around on the same trail. The GDR is as grassroots as it gets with no entry fee and no waiver (and no prizes). But it’s immensely satisfying to ride all day, and look back and see the distant mountain peak I climbed earlier.


Crush the Commonwealth 

Crush the Commonwealth is another new, yet classically grassroots event: a few friends got together last year and decided to see who could ride the 400 miles from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in the shortest time. Enough fun was had by all to warrant doing it again this year, with the starting city and race direction switched. The route includes most of Pennsylvania’s Bicycle Route S, rail-trail connectors to the start and finish cities, and even an abandoned tunnel that was once part of the PA Turnpike. 2007 was the race’s second year, and of course, there was no entry fee nor support.

Chris Latterman

Bleary eyed, in the rain, after midnight, I roll into Sheetz looking for sustenance. Max and Eric seem better off than me; mentally, I’m slipping. Sheetz is empty but the guys working there are interested in our story, the others stopping in look at us skeptically. It sounds too damn weird as I’m recounting the day to the third shifters. One talkative employee seems really stoked on the idea. Coffee’d up and with food, we roll on.

Eighteen hours ago I woke up from a decent night of sleep on an abandoned highway, the Pennsylvania Turnpike to be exact. Slept on the eastbound lane where the asphalt held up to the passage of time better, the westbound was potholed and crumbly, more likely to puncture my air mattress. Slept under the stars after riding 180 miles that day, most of it in the rain too. This is what I save my vacation for.

Crushing the Commonwealth. 400 miles across the Keystone State as quick as you can follow PA Bike Route ‘S’ from the ‘Burgh to Philly. No help, no support, just a shit load of pedaling. This was my second year. Last year I learned a lot about touring, packing, eating, navigating, and what my body can handle. Rode my fixed Surly Crosscheck both years. Made the wise decision this year to put the load on the bike rather than on my back in my messenger bag like last year: small front Rivendell rack with a basket and a rear rack with stuff sack. Little stuff went in my frame bag and food in jersey pockets. Still seemed like a lot of stuff, probably about 20lbs. without buying stupid-light equipment. Even had my Esbit stove for a.m. coffee while still in my sleeping bag.

Last year it took three full days to cover the route, this year I was hoping for two long days, i.e. sub-48 hours. Ambitious—yes; doable—maybe; enjoyable—maybe. Wasn’t dead set about the sub-48, would see how I felt and adjust as needed. I did a lot more riding leading up to this year’s race/ride, even started mountain biking again after a few years of fixed road hiatus. I knew I could handle the distance, it was just a matter of how fast. Not being able to stretch out and relax is the worst thing about riding fixed so long. Rising out of the saddle to stretch out is awkward at best and spinning down the hills smoothly takes its toll as well. Get your RPMs up too high and you bounce around and are more likely to hurt yourself as your smooth form heads south. Basically you never get a break while on the bike. There are no free miles riding fixed.

Time and distance are funny things when your mileage totals can be counted in centuries. You stop worrying about distance a bit since you know your time in the saddle and amount of calories burned will take their toll before you get to your destination. You can set distance goals but it might really hurt to meet them. The first day we rode until 1 a.m. to make the Turnpike. That’s where we wanted to camp and we burned the daylight and a good bit of batteries to get there. Up early the next day, still feeling last night’s miles, we pressed on. That’s what we were here for so we might as well do it.

The next day went fairly well. The hills stung more but as the miles clicked off we knew we were closer to the finish. It’s a funny thing to want to hurry along a ride that you’ve been looking forward to for months. As the day grew long our pace slowed. Once night came we had a few camping options along the route, but the rain sealed the deal that we would push on rather than spend a wet night in the woods. Once at the Sheetz we had 50 miles to go to Philly. As I said my mind was slipping, not sleeping on the bike but not awake either. Pre-dawn roads were a nice quiet way to finish out the ride before taking the bike path into the city. Oncoming cars were confused by what we were with our lights blazing and reflectors sending back their headlights. With the worst of the hills behind us, my body relaxed into easier spinning and keeping myself awake became my biggest struggle. Conversation helped a great deal but even short lulls had my mind slipping off. Long blinks let my muscles relax and let gravity have its way, pulling the bike towards one side before I’d snap back to life and straighten things out.

2:45 a.m. at the trailhead had me wanting to sleep under the picnic table. Determination and encouragement got me back on the bike for the last 25. Max had the home field advantage and Eric and I tried to keep his taillight in sight. Seventeen miles per hour doesn’t sound like much, but holding that pace was all we could handle. Hanging on Max’s wheel was my goal. He pulled us into Philly but not before meeting up with Nick who was in his own world of hurt too. Now four of us, we pedaled the last miles into the city. Coming up on City Hall, Nick proposed the idea of a sprint to the finish at the Liberty Bell. Sure, why not? With ten blocks to go I made my attack, hoping no one would follow me blindly through the red lights. Max took off with me and we kept close until the last two blocks when I ran out off gas. No more, done. He freewheeled to the finish as I came in spinning down. Damn coasties. Eric and Nick followed soon after surprised we actually made a sprint finish.

Right around 5 a.m. Sunday was our official end. 400 miles in sub-48 hours. That’s gonna be hard to top.

Max Steinbrenner

What where your motivations to attempt this ride?

For some reason, even though it was the hardest thing I’d ever done, I liked this ride a lot after doing it last year. Doing it as fast as possible, however, presents some additional challenges to a pretty easy course. If you had four days I think this would be a really nice ride. Doing it in under two days it does get a little hectic…maybe next year I’ll bring my girlfriend and try to do it more slowly? In 4-5 days? Could be nice to not have numb hands for weeks afterward or experience mild hallucinations after riding for 20+ hours straight. I dunno, maybe I’ll try that next year.

What training did you do for the ride?

This year I trained a little harder than last year but I’d hardly call it "training" in the official sense. Chris (Latterman) and I rode a couple centuries over the winter. I ride or race singlespeed mountain bikes one day of most of my weekends. Finally, I commute 12-15 miles each way to work every day—that is definitely the bulk of my miles and seems to be surprisingly good training.

What was you longest ride before this race?

This same race last year. I’ve done a few road centuries and a couple MTB rides of 60-70 miles. This summer I hope to complete my first Shenandoah Mountain 100.

Quick rundown of bike and gear set-up.

The bike: Surly Crosscheck singlespeed with a rack, full fenders and V-brakes. It is set up that way because it is also my rainy day commuter bike. The bike is certainly nothing fancy but gets plenty of testing in the nastiest of conditions, so I know the parts are solid.

Gear: this year I put on a rear rack for my clothes, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. I also used an Ortlieb front bag (my "man basket") for all my other stuff I’d need easier access to; wallet, food, phone, etc.

Did you think about quitting?

Not this year…but definitely last year! After a sleepless night and a hard first day I called my girlfriend to come pick me up in Breezewood the morning of the second day. Luckily she didn’t get the message immediately, because by the time I got to Breezewood I felt better and called her back to tell her I was going to finish. This year I was in a little better shape (physically) and did pretty well. I definitely did feel pretty bad for a bit after finishing though (sprinting after riding over a double century is not something I’d recommend if you don’t have to do it).

Would you do this or other long rides again? What would you do differently?

Definitely! I really like this stuff. I did a lot of things differently this year than I did last year. This long distance stuff is really a learning experience in how you can effectively ride long miles with minimal effort. You learn how to ride, you learn how to eat, how to pack, how to listen to your body—it is incredible! The craziest thing is everyone finds a different way of doing things. You really have to figure out what works for you by going out there and doing it. Sure, you can read about it all day on the internet, but you’ll never know what works for you unless you go out and try it.

Did you just hammer out the miles or take time to enjoy the scenery?

This year definitely more hammering! Lots of riding at night so no real scenery for those parts. Riding at night is nice though! Riding all day you see lots of really nice stuff, especially way out in the country. The dirt path through Ohiopyle [State Park, part of the Bicycle Route S] is really pretty. One of the coolest parts was chasing a turkey for a quarter-mile down the path.

Update

Read Eric’s account of the 2011 Crush the Commonwealth here, here, here and here.

 

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Worksman Cycles

By Marie Autrey

Quick! Name America’s oldest bicycle manufacturer.

Here’s a hint: they stock frames for rider weights up to 600lbs. They have their own hubs, rims, and even tires, and maintain replacement parts for bikes forty years old. And if you work in the city, you might even eat lunch out of one of their creations. Of course you searched online, ya big cheater, but now you know the answer is Worksman Cycles, in business since 1898. (Their contemporaries Schwinn and Columbia predate Worksman by a few years, but no longer manufacture in the States.)

Begun as an alternative to the light horse carts then used for retail delivery, Works- man expanded into ice cream trikes, with the front cooler box, and industrial trikes that carried workers and tools through the vast factories of the machine age. Along the way, they made a few thousand hot dog wagons and even a trike with a piano on it. Bicycle Times chose to investigate this survivor and see if the ideas that it started with remain valid, or if Worksman is coast- ing on a century of stored momentum.

So we loaded our gear and journeyed to an exotic part of the world known as Queens, New York, two blocks from the rattle and hiss of the elevated train. I’d expected the beige pizza box that comprises most factory architecture, but Worksman Cycles stands in three stories of brown brick and tall windows, its rooftop water tank converted to a cell phone tower, in a neighborhood of tidy row houses. You can almost hear the condo developers salivating. A cargo trike, freshly painted with the logo of a commercial bakery, dominates the reception area. A lift of the lid shows that its cargo box is precisely sized for six trays of cupcakes.

I’d expected to meet some PR guy, a thirty-something with a name like Chip, wearing khakis and a company golf shirt. Instead I got Wayne Sosin. Wayne is the visible face of Worksman, a 31-year veteran of the company, and now its president. He’s maybe 5’6" with wire-rimmed glasses and a hairline that’s slipped; he could easily play the good-guy boss or teacher in any movie.

He moves fast, like most New Yorkers, and doesn’t waste time. While I fumbled with a new tape recorder, he used the 45 seconds to dispatch some email. He’s got a bright openness that goes supernova when the topic turns to American industry and Worksman Cycles, the little company that could, and did, and does, for the past 112 years.

BT: I was surprised to learn that Works- man was actually a guy’s name, not just a trademark. Is that one of those Ellis Island names?

WS: From my understanding, part of the family came in as Werksman with an “e,” and that might have been the proper spelling, and some came in as W-o-r-k- s-man.

BT: You’re on expensive real estate in a high-wage part of the country, selling something that China made 41 million of last year. How do the books balance?

WS: Actually, I’m going to dispel the myth. Yes, it’s a very expensive piece of property, but we own it. And there’s a wonderful talent of labor that’s available in walking distance from here. First genera- tion immigrants—you’ve got all different skill levels, so we beg to differ with the myth that it’s expensive to operate here.

BT: The recent economic crisis demol- ished a lot of businesses bigger than Worksman.

WS: Sometimes small is beautiful. We had the ability to adapt, retrench and tighten the belts. I think that sometimes it’s harder for a big company that has a lot of infrastructure in place.

BT: I heard that back when you first started doing the Good Humor trikes, it was because Schwinn didn’t want to take a chance on them.

WS: Well, that’s the way it’s been told to me. Good Humor called Schwinn and other companies as well, looking for some- body to make ice cream tricycles for them. We apparently had a small reputation in the New York area, and so the relationship began that way.

BT: And ice cream trikes are still part of the business?

WS: It’s more of a legacy thing for us than a big business, but it’s our philosophy that bikes should be used for more than just recreation. Somebody operating a small business from one of our ice cream trikes—it gives them a good start, it’s vis- ible, there’s nothing negative about it, so we continue to do that. We’ve expanded into much more sophisticated food vend- ing carts and trucks as a separate part of our business.

BT: In past years, Worksman supplied cargo bikes to Pratt and Whitney, General Motors, and Mead paperboard. But now your catalog has items in it like chariots and recumbents. Which of these do you see as Worksman’s core?

WS: The core is the industrial bike busi- ness. We have always made that the focus of what we do, and the other products that you’re seeing, the chariots and dual trikes and things of that nature, are mainly offshoots of the industrial bike business. But it’s growing and we see this as being really good for the future as people get older and people get greener. But it’s not an either-or thing.

BT: What part of the product line are you most excited about?

WS: That’s like asking which child you like better! I like all of it. And that’s one of the reasons I like what I do, because on any given day, I can speak to an independent pizza shop owner who needs one pizza bike, or I could speak to global purchasing at Boeing, who needs a fleet of tricycles, or to a delivery service in Germany. It’s what makes us unique and I enjoy it very much.

Having said that, we’re getting particular joy lately out of the fact that our custom cruiser line has grown and is getting sup- ported by individuals who love what we do, who support the fact we make our bikes in America. They like the durability and the uniqueness, and that’s a lot of fun. It’s really neat when someone designs their own Worksman cruiser with two-tone paint, with painted rims, and when they own that bike, it’s something they take tremendous pride in.

One new thing is a line of lighter-weight Worksman bikes, in the Dutch tradition— commuter bikes. Why not do an NYC Dutchie? That’s one of the new markets for 2011. So we’re going to work on getting a lighter-weight (not light-weight) Works- man commuter, Dutchie style. We’ll have it done this year, but we’ll start promoting it for next season.

BT: Tell me about the “design your own” cruisers. How are they different from the industrial line?

WS: Basically, it’s more of a marketing and choice situation. We didn’t want the industrial customer to think they’re buy- ing a fashion bike, and we didn’t want the individual person to think they’re just buying an industrial bike. We took the basic frames and wheels and put them in a situation where people had a choice of colors, of wheel upgrades, tires, paint jobs, forks, so we allow them to be more creative. It gives the enthusiast the op- portunity to buy something that they’ve really created themselves.

But by and large, they’re buying a Worksman industrial bike that’s been done as a cruiser. As time goes on, we’re finding people getting more and more into tricking these things out. One customer bought three bikes for their family, two-tone paint jobs, alloy rims, 7 speeds, drum brakes, and I have to tell you, the bikes were absolutely spectacu- lar. They had painted rims, pink rim in the front, black rim in the back. People really have an opportunity to make their bike, their bike. And they’re available with alloy rims.

BT: Are the alloy rims as durable as the steel ones?

WS: It’s our own alloy rim. So it’s the same heavy-duty Worksman rolled edge rim, and the 11-gauge spokes are stainless steel. As far as I know, we’re the only bike company using an 11-gauge spoke. I haven’t seen any other company using that anywhere.

BT: Speaking of the “design your own” cruiser—at the paper mill where I used to work, we used hundreds of Worksman bikes, and the guys would literally get into shoving matches over who got to ride the red bike with the chrome fenders, versus one of the black beaters.

WS: Those sorts of stories have been legendary, where the bike becomes something that’s real personal. In some companies, they assign a bike or a trike to a rider, which is a perfect situation, because people are a little more prideful of what they have and less abusive. In other companies it’s basically a bike-share program, and if you think about it, Worksman was involved in bike-share for the last 75 years. And we’ve also learned our lesson: if you don’t put your industrial-type bikes in [ownership] situations, they’ll never make it, because the riders are abusive. It’s not their bike—they don’t care. It’s a challenge to see what they can do to mess it up.

BT: It’s inspiring to watch a guy with his basket full of power drills and hammers riding through the mill building and flat- tracking the corners with one foot down.

WS: We’ve found on that note that many companies have switched over from Worksman bikes to trikes as time goes on, because you can literally move hun- dreds of pounds safely, and there are no stability issues. That’s where companies can benefit, because now they’re moving merchandise that they used to move on a golf cart, which costs five times as much to buy and ten times as much to maintain, with the added benefit of getting employ- ees in good shape. So it’s a win-win. It’s just not the easiest sell to make, because people have not witnessed what tricycles and bicycles can do. You can envision a lot of people who work in these plants are middle aged, overweight…

BT: Smoker, six-pack drinker…

WS: …they start riding their tricycle, and the first week it’s very tiring, and then all of a sudden they realize they’re not as tired anymore, and then they love it. And maybe that’s going to contribute to some better overall fitness activity. It’s reward- ing when it happens, but we hear it both ways: “Oh yeah, they make us ride those tricycles instead of using golf carts,” then you hear, “Oh, I love your tricycles, it keeps me in great shape.”

BT: One thing that really impressed me about your product line is the number of handicap-adapted bikes. The handcycles, the cerebral palsy bikes. How did that prod- uct line come about? WS: It was market driven. Customers see our tricycles, and the next thing you know they’ve got a special-needs fam- ily member riding one, or their children go to school where they have our cycles. That’s the single most rewarding thing we do: we sell a product, it ends up getting used by a special-needs rider, and you get an email saying “God bless you, you’ve made a big difference in my child’s life, in my husband’s life.” So we’d like to see that grow. Whereas most special-needs products are very, very pricy, because our products are really just extensions of what we do anyway, people consider them to be very reasonably priced.

BT: I’ve got a friend with a high performance wheelchair, and she paid more for it than I paid for my titanium mountain bike.

WS: I went to a trade event for the special-needs market, and there was a company there selling an adult tricycle. We had our tricycles that we were selling for $400, and they had a tricycle that wasn’t as good as what we had, for $1200. So at the end of the trade show, I went over to introduce myself, and I said to them, “I think I could save your company a lot of money. There’s no need to have to sell this for $1200, I could sell you a tricycle for a quarter of that price.” And he looked at me and said, “You don’t understand this market. They’ll pay it. That’s why we charge it.” That really taught me a lot about that special-needs market. There are things being sold there for ten times what they should be sold for. We look at that as an opportunity, to offer products at a reasonable price.

BT: Those enormous front hubs you use: are they buy-out items?

WS: No, some of those we make. The front hub is unique, the spoke and rim is unique, the frame is certainly unique. That’s a big portion of the bicycle—things you won’t find on any other bike, whereas any other bike manufacturer, they’re us- ing components you’ll find on virtually any bike. So the Worksman bike, you’ll find that 80% of the bicycle is completely unique. We’ve always said that if you’ve got a Worksman, we’ve got the parts. Not a week goes by that we don’t get a request for a repair part from 1970.

BT: For decades, Americans have been told that the only proper bicycle is one that’s “high performance.” What do you say to that consumer?

WS: Oh boy, it depends how you rate performance. Americans historically have used bikes for recreation more than for commuting or going to the store. I un- derstand that performance is the reason people go out on Sunday and do their 50-mile rides. That’s not what we’re about. We’re about the utility, the comfort, getting from here to there. I wouldn’t want to ride a Worksman bike on a century ride. It’s good for what it’s good for: to go to the store, to visit your friends, to ride the boardwalk. Americans are rethinking transportation op- tions. Around the country, so many people commute less than five miles to work each way, and yet they use a car. That’s silly. Regardless of what style bike you want, there’s a bike that’ll get you to work and keep you in shape.

BT: Tell me about the Atlantic Coast Cruisers. Do you feel that this dilutes the Worksman message by having an imported product?

WS: No. We really brought those in because we were losing a lot of business to low-priced imports. We generally sell those to the bicycle rental fleets, we re- ally don’t push those to the consumer at all. It doesn’t dilute the Worksman name. In fact, it doesn’t have our name on it. If it says Worksman, we make it. If it says something else, we just sell it.

BT: Some people find it ironic that bicycle production can be such a “smokestack” industry. I understand you’ve done a lot here to minimize your impact on the environment.

WS: We started our green initiative in 2005 and it came to fruition in 2008. We went solar — one of the first facilities in NYC to go solar — 35% of our electrical use now comes off our solar panels. We changed every lighting fixture in the building to high-efficiency lighting, we started a recycling program, and we resurfaced our roof with a reflective coating to fight global warming. We challenged ourselves to see what we could do to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.

BT: What kind of bikes and trikes do you use here in the factory?

WS: Unfortunately in New York City, a lot of things are vertical, and our factory really doesn’t enable us to use our own product. Even though it’s 100,000 square feet here, there’s no more than 30,000 square feet on any floor. So it’s really not conducive to riding a tricycle. It’s ironic.

BT: I’ve seen a lot of pedal rickshaws in Central Park and around the country. With Worksman’s experience in load- carrying bikes, are you competing for that niche?

WS: It’s a market that Worksman missed. Over the years we’d entered that market with our toe in the water and the timing was never right. It seemed that everywhere that rickshaws were tried, they failed or were legislated out of existence. We almost had too much history of knowing. It’s not one of the things we’re really happy about. We have gotten back into it by making what we call personal pedicabs, or chariots. Remember, the pedicabs you see on the street are really expensive, about $5,000. So we came up with what we call the Family Chariot—those things are well under $2,000, and that accomplishes some of the passenger capability on a bike.

BT: Most of your product line is eminently practical. Except for the Boneshaker highwheelers. That is a real anomaly.

WS: True. We distribute the Boneshakers for another company that’s out of California, and it’s just a fun product. I’ll tell you something fun about Boneshakers: we mostly sell them to use as restaurant decorations, but some people ride them. At the Five Borough Bike Tour in 2007, there’s a fellow there with a Boneshaker, and I say, “You’re not going to ride the whole ride on it,” and he says, “Why not?” At the end he didn’t look any more tired than any of the rest of us.

BT: What’s the maximum rid- er weight for the industrial bikes? WS: We can set ‘em up for up to 500lbs. America’s gotten very heavy, and a lot of obese people are looking for something they can ride. When we know it’s a rider who’s quite heavy, we might recommend that they put on the upgraded sealed crankset, Kevlar-reinforced tires, front drum brake. The stretch utility vehicle [recumbent trike] accommodates riders 5’6” to 6’10” and 600lbs. And it’s cool! It’s a chopper, not your grandma’s trike.

BT: Crain’s Magazine characterized Worksman as “the buggy whip manufacturer that survived.” Do you want to be a success story in buggy whip manufacturing?

WS: We’d like to be the survivors of our industry, and we’ve been that. We made a conscious decision to stay in the United States, and I know many of our peers shook their heads and wondered what we were doing. The whole world is going to China. There are a lot of reasons we didn’t go, and one reason is that we feel we have a lot more flexibility by making our own bikes. When you source things like this overseas and you’re not huge, you’re low in the pecking order and sometimes low in the quality control order too. We believe in American workers, we knew we had good structure here, so we made the decision to stay. And as the years go on, I feel better and better.

BT: What do you ride personally?

WS: I’ve got two bikes that I’m riding these days. I’ve got a Trek road bike for my longer rides, and I’ve got a tricked out Worksman cruiser, chrome-plated, drum brake in the front, 7-speed in the rear, that looks like a Harley. I definitely ride that bike more.

BT: In your photo galleries, I saw a guy with a kayak built into his recumbent. What is the deal with that?

WS: Over the years, our tricycles have been used for some pretty interesting uses, and our customers are really creative. We’ve done everything from making a tricycle with a piano on it for a Broadway show that was actually ridden on stage every night, [to] solar-operated ice cream carts. This particular one was as promotion for a resort, and they would go into cities across the country with these kayak tricycles, setting up on city blocks with what looked like a stream, to try to get people to go to their resort. I don’t remember the details but it was pretty cool.

In terms of iconic products that were launched on Worksman cycles, Snapple is a perfect example. Snapple in their early stages used a fleet of our tricycles to go to cities and do guerrilla marketing, do parades, do handouts; that was done on our bikes before Snapple was who they are today. Chipwich launched their entire product line, with zero marketing budget, on a fleet of our ice cream carts. We’ve had a little hand in some classic American products.

BT: Any last words for the recorder?

WS: I think people are taking a new look at us. It’s funny; we’ve become a great story by doing what we’ve been doing, and everyone else disappearing. When NPR did the story on us, the story was of survival, and of things made in the U.S. And it’s really sad that that’s a story.

BT: You and Steinway pianos, selling a unique product around the world, made in New York City.

WS: We’re going to promote Dutch-style bikes in the U.S., and Worksman cruisers overseas. A lot of people around the world like the U.S.A.-made products. We have to find new markets. If we sit back and wait for GM and Ford to buy our products, we’re done.

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How to pack and ship your bike

 Words and photos by Michael and Brenda Mucker

 

Anyone who has taken a cycling vacation is faced with the decision of whether to ship their own bike or to rent one at their destination. After taking many mountain bike vacations, we have come to the conclusion that is always better to ship your own bike for any vacation of five days or more. If you decide to ship your bike, the following is a list of bike packing and shipping tips to help assure that your bike will arrive safe and sound.

 

Packing

 

After checking out about five different brands of bike cases we found the Trico Ironcase to be the best. Compared to the other cases that we have had experience with, the Ironcase has thicker memory foam, a harder and sturdier case, a better closure and strapping system and a better system for wheeling it along.

 

Between the two of us, we have packed and shipped our bikes 35 times and have never had the precious contents of our Ironcase damaged, except when airline security did not re-assemble our cases properly. Make sure that your bike is clean and the drivetrain is de-greased. You do not want to contaminate the case’s foam with dirt and grease.

 

The following will need to be removed from your bike before you pack it: pedals, chain, wheels, seat post with seat attached, and rear derailleur. (The handlebars will also be removed after the frame is laid in the case–see below). Remove the quick release skewers from the wheels. The bike will fit into the case easier if you let the air out of the front fork and ball bungee the fork when compressed. Do not forget to put spacers between the brake pads on bikes with hydraulic disc brakes.

 

Depending on your brand of bike you may want to remove the derailleur dropout (“hanger”) with the derailleur still attached. Ball bungee the rear derailleur behind the drive side chain stay. There is no need to remove the cable. Lay your bike in the case on one of the three layers of the foam. You will need to position the bike in the case so that nothing on the bike contacts the plastic of the case. The handlebars can be removed by taking off the face plate of the stem by removing the 4 screws.

 

Lay a thick towel rag on your frame, rotate the handlebars 45 degrees counterclockwise and ball bungee the handlebars to the top and down tubes with the towel between. Your Ironcase will come with expanders to put in front and rear wheel dropouts. Put these in place and tighten the wing nuts by hand. Put your chain (preferably in the box it came in), pedals, stem plate and screws, quick releases in a double Ziploc bag. We also put 4, 5 and 6mm T-handle Allen wrenches and chain lube in this bag, too.

 

Once you bike is positioned in the case, you can place your seat post (with seat still attached), helmet, shoes, backpack, parts and tools strategically around the bike. We also put a small container of Cytomax, a few Cliff Bars, gel shots, and extra Stan’s in the box, too. Once you have everything carefully arranged in the case, put another layer of foam over the bike.

 

Then lay your wheels, brake rotor side down over that second layer of foam. The wheels will need to overlap enough so that they just fit inside the case. For 29” wheels with a 180mm rotor, you will need to put the front tire in the box with the rotor side up in order for the wheels to overlap enough to fit into the case.

 

For 29” wheels, you will need to let a significant amount of air out of the tires. If you have a tubeless conversion, be careful to let some air in so that you do not break the bead and end up with a “Stans-gasm” in your case. If you run a 29er with tubes you could remove the tires and tubes, fold them up and put them in the bike part of the case. Just be sure to pad the wheels where they overlap.

 

After the wheels are in the case, put the final layer of foam over them. Loosen all seven case straps on the lid. Line up the lid over the bottom half of the case and start to compress the entire bike “sandwich” down until all of the edges of the lid overlap the bottom half of the case. Starting at one end, start to attach all of the strap buckles. Do not pull them all tight until you have all of them buckled.

 

When all of the straps are buckled, tighten them with a smooth but firm pulling motion. Do not use a hard, jerking pull, or the plastic buckles could get damaged. Now stand, or have a friend stand on the case (think of the gorilla in the Samsonite luggage commercial, just do not jump up and down) and pull all of the straps tight. Go around and do this several times. Attach lock on both ends of the case.

 

 

Your bike is now ready to ship. As a courtesy, call or email the bike shop that is accepting shipment of your bike and let them know approximately when it will arrive and when you plan on picking it up.

 

Shipping

 

When flying it is best to avoid checking your bikes with your luggage. Airline security may open your bike box when you are not present. Since they will not take the care to re-pack it as carefully as you would this can result in damage to your bike. This has happened to us. UPS has been a reliable and reasonably priced way to ship bikes. Friends of ours have successfully used Fed-Ex but we have had no personal experience using them as our shipper.

 

We always call bike shops that are located near our destination to find one that will accept shipment of the bike case. Most are happy to accept shipment of your bike. You need to ask the bike shop accepting the shipment if they charge for this service. While most do not charge, some shops require you to pay a fee for them to assemble the bike. If this is the case call another shop if you do not want your bike assembled.

 

We prefer to assemble our own bikes and unpack the case at the place where we are staying. In exchange for a bike shop accepting shipment of our bikes we try to do all of our bike-related shopping there. You can ship your bike from the UPS Store nearest you.

 

 

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Tour of England part three: Moulton

While the previously reported Brooks and Pashley factory tours were amazing, the highlight of the whole journey was a hour spent with a 90 year old man by the name of Alex Moulton. I really had no idea what I was getting into as we approached his modest home in Bradford-on-Avon.

What the? Is going on here? Who the heck is Alex Moulton? Turns out Mister Alex Moulton’s great grandfather, Stephen Moulton, brought Goodyear’s vulcanizing process to England back in 1840 or so. Alex himself was also a rubber pioneer, developing the hydrolastic* suspension that, along with the smaller wheel size, allowed the original Mini Cooper to be so mini. We got a look at one such Mini at the Moulton Museum residing on the estate.

In the late 50’s, Alex turned his attention to the bicycle and pioneered a design that would become quite the rage in the early 60’s. And remain relevant 50 years later. Small wheels had not been considered seriously against the then-standard double-diamond “Safety” bicycle, but Moulton was eager to challenge the staus quo after observing the benefits of smaller wheels in automotive use.  Thinking that the lower inertia of small wheels made for faster acceleration and an easier-to-mount frame design. And while Moulton’s were not designed as folding bikes, they were easy to disassemble for travel. And if that is not enough, Moultons were fully suspended for a comfy ride. How about that for ahead of your time?

Moulton showed his bike to Raleigh in hopes of licencing the design them to manufacture. But Raleigh was not interested. So Moulton set up his own factory and went ahead anyway. The Moulton bike took off in the early 60’s; their bicycle factory became the second largest in England behind Raleigh (Who I’m told was making like 7000 bikes per day). Moulton sold 200,000 bikes before Raleigh knocked off the idea and took over the market with their RSW series. Moulton wound up selling out to Raleigh in 1967, just in time for the Raleigh Chopper to steal the limelight and rush the market.

That’s the ancient history. Much more has happened through the 70’s and 80’s, yet today the Moulton factory still sits in a former stable on the same property where it all began. Let’s take a look.

Inside the blue door on the right, the Moulton team is hard at work making bikes.

By hand.


And barely have time to stop for a photo.

With these kind of results. This New Series model is made of stainless steel, and is worth near $15,725 American. It’s called a Space Frame and there’s a whole bunch of little tubes that come together to form one. It’s no wonder they are expensive.

But Moulton, being connected with Pashley, has some more affordable offerings being made in the Pashley factory in Stratford-Upon-Avon, ranging from $19-3600.

But Alex Moulton awaits. We have been granted a one-hour audience with the man. He is 90 after all so we understand. We are led into his great room and gather around a rather large dining table to talk. Whereupon Mister Moulton share some of his exploits. The cat listens in.

Alex shared his thoughts on his first and only mountain bike ride, which left him wondering why anyone would do such a thing as ride down a mountain. Perhaps if he had bigger wheels the experience might have been better? Alex talked about how he didn’t like the crossbar on the conventional bikes of the day. He liked recumbents but found them unstable. Small wheels were the answer. We also heard about the numerous records that have been broken riding Moulton bicycles over the years. And looked through his biography, full of pictures and drawings of his designs.

I myself was in a bit of awe at this guy nearly twice my age. Pretty cool. He’s done so much.

Got to ride some bikes as well, around the test track on the property, a good time to blow off a little steam after so much travelling. And think. About all the people that have influence the bicycle through history. On and on…

* (From Wikipedia) The system replaces the separate springs and dampers of a conventional suspension system with integrated, space efficient, fluid filled, displacer units, which are interconnected between the front and rear wheels on each side of the vehicle. Each displacer unit contains a rubber spring, and damping is achieved by the displaced fluid passing through rubber valves. The displaced fluid passes to the displacer of the paired wheel, thus providing a dynamic interaction between front and rear wheels. When a front wheel encounters a bump fluid is transferred to the corresponding rear displacer then lowers the rear wheel, hence lifting the rear, minimising pitch associated with the bump. Naturally the reverse occurs when it is a rear wheel that encounters a bump. This effect is particularly good on small cars as small wheelbase vehicles are more affected by pitching than long wheelbase vehicles.

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Review: Torker Graduate

At first glance, the Torker Graduate is a nondescript, simple, even workaday bike. But its “ordinariness” is in fact one of its strengths. This is a basic, yet versatile machine that can take a lickin’ and be depended upon for transportation for many maintenance-free miles, one that won’t attract too much attention locked up outside, or need much of your attention once it’s back inside.

The Graduate’s matte gray frame is made of “Tri-Moly” steel, meaning the three main tubes (in the front triangle) are lighter, stronger chromoly, and the rear end tubes are slightly heavier (and less expensive) high-tensile steel. To balance out the bike’s swept-back handlebar, the top tube is long enough to give the bike a sportier feel than some other bikes with swept bars. My position atop this bike was nice and relaxed, but not so much that it was impossible to go at a decent pace if I wanted to. I was able to stand up to pedal without feeling like my hips were too close to the bars to get good leverage. It’s notable that this bike comes in a full range of six sizes, unlike many similarly priced bikes, so it should be possible for nearly everyone to find a comfortable fit.

 

The main attraction on the Graduate is subtle: its Sturmey-Archer 5-speed internal gear and drum brake hubs. The five speeds of the rear X-RD5(W) model hub are selected with a twist shifter. Sturmey-Archer has been making internal-gear hubs since way back in 1902, and the name has become woven into the history of racing, transportation, and leisure bicycles (as well as motorcycles). They even have a few streets named after them in the Netherlands. The brand has seen a revival in the last few years as internal hubs have gained popularity along with the resurgence of more utilitarian bicycles. Like the drum brake component of these hubs, the shifting is unaffected by weather, and needs almost no maintenance—“no routine lubrication is required,” says the manual, until such time as a “major service” is needed. Who knows how many years down the road that would be.

I needed to adjust the shifting a couple times before it settled in, which wasn’t too difficult once I looked at the instructions. Once adjusted, the bike shifted well enough, although it was never as smooth as the more expensive Nexus internal hub options from Shimano. There was a fair bit of resistance in shifting down, and some extra “pull” when shifting up, so that I’d sometimes inadvertently skip a gear. With this hub it’s possible to shift at a standstill, a nice feature at stoplights, but the other side of that coin is that it’s also necessary to ease up on pedaling to complete a shift, which robbed momentum if I didn’t remember to shift early going up a hill. I got used to these quirks. The 256% gear range was just fine for my moderately hilly grocery trips and commutes. I spent most of the time in gear #3, and I rarely used #1 or #5—the lowest gear was just low enough to ride, not walk, the steepest parts of my commute, and the highest gear was good for keeping the pedals turning on a long, gentle downward grade. This is with a front chainring of 42 teeth and a rear cog of 18 teeth; cogs from 13 to 22 teeth are available, if you should want to adjust this hub’s gearing up or down.

For those of you who’ve never encountered bicycle drum brakes before—I hadn’t either before this test—they are akin to the drum brakes on your car: the brake pads press outward against a braking surface inside the hub shells. These are operated with regular cables and mountain bike-style brake levers (Avid Speed Dial in this case). At first, the brakes felt soft enough to be scary, but they do need some time to “burn in” to get up to full power. I made a point to slam on them while going downhill with a full grocery load a few times, and that improved the brakes’ power significantly. In fact, they seemed to continue to get more powerful throughout the test. By the end, they felt nearly as powerful as the disc brakes on my regular commuter ride, but smoother and less grabby, almost like antilock brakes; they definitely had more grip than rim brakes, and like disc brakes, they were unaffected by wet weather.

The Graduate comes with basic black plastic fenders (very similar to the Planet Bike ones reviewed on page 58), and has mounts for a rear rack, which I made good use of. No rack mounts on the fork, but that may change in the future. I added a kickstand, bottle cage and lights to complete the package; can’t complain about needing to add a few things when this bike only costs $500. One nice parts choice I really appreciated was the Tioga Gritty Slicker tires in 32mm width—they offered a perfect mix of grip and smooth-rolling feel, with small but aggressive side knobs and low-profile center knobs. They handled wet pavement, gravel, and some mild dirt with ease.

The Torker Graduate is a good value for someone who plans to ride more than just casually, but who doesn’t need to spring for the higher end in performance (and price). It would be perfect for a college student. I was impressed with the bike’s range—it handled my 12+ mile commute with enough pep that it wasn’t a chore, but it was pleasant to pedal casually down to the corner store. Torker offers a limited lifetime warranty on all their bikes.

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First Impressions: Salsa Vaya

It was a beautiful, sunny July morning when I set off on my ride to work on a brand new Salsa Vaya test bike. The sun’s rays picked up tiny gold flecks of color of the rich "Upside Brown" painted frame. I felt like I could ride all day, and I wished that I could.

The Vaya is Salsa’s new adventure "road" touring bike, chock full of practical features for touring, commuting, and every day riding. Salsa calls it their "do-it-all road-riding bike." It’s got rack and fender mounts in front and back, three bottle cage mounts, disc brakes, a pump peg, and can fit up to 700c x 42mm tires. The Salsa Classico CroMoly frame, with a slightly sloping top tube, gives a comfortable ride and looks great with a light blue Salsa logo, silver accents, and brown saddle and bar tape. Yep, it sounds like it’s ready for a long ride.

Mine, unfortunately was not. I rode up a hill, legs feeling strong, nose and lungs breathing in the scents of the humid summer morning air. Pedaling up the shoulder-less winding narrow road, an unassuming stick plunged in-between my chain and rear derailleur. Seconds later, the derailleur cage was 180 degrees in the wrong direction, the hanger was twisted up and back into the cassette, and I was standing on the side of the road, wondering how I was going to get to work.

Fortunately I was able to get a ride to the office. Once there, our crack team of mechanics was able to get the Vaya up and running. I enjoyed an event-free and relaxing ride home.

Look for much more on the Vaya in a future issue of Bicycle Times. You can also find out more on the Vaya and Salsa’s other fine bikes at www.salsacycles.com.

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Bicycle Industry Insider Profile: Jeff Jones

By Jeff Lockwood

Aside from bicycles, of course, the main reason I choose to continue my futile search for fortune in the bicycle industry is because of the people I know and meet. There’s no shortage of extremely smart and passionate people who are insanely interesting, individualistic personalities. Sure it’s cool to be around famous athletes from time to time, but I much more deeply value the less publicly visible people that make the bicycle world go ’round. As such, I’ve decided to revive a special online series where we do a very brief standardized interview with some of these individuals: The Bicycle Industry Insider Profile Series. I want to share the stories of these people with the rest of the world through the Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times web sites. This week we have…

Name: Jeff Jones

Hometown: Southern California

Current location: Medford Oregon

What do you do for/with/to bicycles?  I design and build custom and production bicycles. I run Jeff Jones Custom Bicycles with my wife and partner Sheila.

What’s the best thing about your job? Working with bikes and the people involved with bikes sure is nice. The best thing is probably the bike riding, but I also really love working in the shop building the bikes.

What’s the toughest part of your job? There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do. I want to ride, I want to build bikes and develop new ideas. I’d love to build a bike for every like-minded cyclist on the planet!

The running of a business, the cost and availability of raw materials, the conflict between cycling as "a fun thing to do" and the harsh realities of the bicycle industry; fashion and hype, copycats and cynics, profit and loss. It’s not nearly as simple as I wish it was.

What was the path that led you to work with bicycles? It is all I have ever done and it is what I have wanted to do. As a young kid I’d ride with my friends. We would build jumps and go on long rides. We all worked on our own bikes and never thought of taking them to the shop for repair.

My dad taught me to stick weld when I was 13. I’d cut up old bikes and weld them back together again making side hacks, tandems  and a recumbent. I used a hack saw and grinding wheel to miter tubing. They weren’t pretty but they were fun to ride!

Hanging out at the local bike shop eventually got me a job, around 1985. I worked there and then another shop for a few years until I landed a job doing quality control at the GT bicycle factory in 1991. There I learned to build frames and all about making bikes. They sent me to Taiwan to oversee bike production for a month at a time. That was a whole new lesson in bike building there. After 6 years at GT, I left I to start a bike shop with my wife Sheila. About 5 years after that we sold the shops and moved to Oregon, and I started building bikes.

What was your first bicycle? I don’t know. I got a bike when I was about 5 and I could not ride it very well. At 6 I learned to ride on a borrowed bike. The first bike I owned and rode without training wheels was a star-spangled red, white and blue bike with a banana seat in 1976. Around 1978 I got a used Yamaha moto bicycle with full suspension. I jumped that heavy thing until the head tube separated from the down tube. Then I got a used Mongoose and rode that until I saved up enough paper route money to buy a black and gold PK Ripper. That was my first big purchase and first new bike.

What bike do you currently ride the most?
It’s a steel bike I built for myself a few months ago for longer rides and more open trails, as well as load carrying.  I’ve been using it mostly for riding into town.

Where is your favorite place to ride? I don’t have a favorite. I just like to ride where I can. I do really enjoy my rides from my shop/home up the mountain, on the forest roads. They go all over and I have different length loops I’ve found. I like that I can ride there often and I always get to finish with a ride home.

Riding on new trails in faraway places with the locals is something I like to do when I get a chance. I usually learn a thing or two.

What music goes through your head while you ride? (literally or figuratively) While I’m riding I think. I’m thinking about the bike and how it’s functioning. I just ride and think about anything, and if the riding gets technical and fast enough then my mind is cleared and I’m just on my wheels moving. It’s not really music but I like it and I am listening.

What are your interests aside from bicycles? Family, fun, the future, what is happening in and to the world.

If you weren’t working around bicycles, what do you think you’d be doing?
I have no idea and don’t want to think about it. No matter what, I’d still be riding bikes.

Please share one of your favorite stories you’ve seen or been a part of while involved with the bicycle industry: Many things have happened, but I don’t have any favorite stories to tell.

Who would you choose for the next subject for the Bicycle Industry Insider Profile Series? Scott Gibson at New Sun Productions.

Why? Every time I see Scott or get to talk with him we end up talking for while and it is always good.

More on Jeff Jones

We’ve written quite a bit about Jones and his bikes through the years. Here’s a quick recap:

Karen’s first impression of his titanium SpaceFrame

Karen’s full review of the titanium SpaceFrame (from Issue #141)

Another interview from 2004 (Issue #105)

Justin’s first impressions of the steel diamond frame in touring mode

Justin’s first impression of the fat front truss fork

A report from Jones’ visit to Dirt Rag HQ in summer 2008

A look at Jones’ Taiwanese-made steel SpaceFrame

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Bicycle Times & Dirt Rag Hiring for Online Editor Position

After nearly 14 years of involvement with Dirt Rag, and now Bicycle Times, yours truly is going to see if the grass is truly greener…though I’m not sure how much grass grows in the desert. As such, Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times are hiring an online editor. Here’s your chance to dig in the Dirt. The details:

Online Editor

Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times magazines have an immediate opening for an online editor. The right candidate will be responsible for posting content to each web site every weekday. This content can and will include posting print articles online, writing exclusive online articles, interviews, stories and coordinating other online content. Additionally, the online editor will be responsible for sending out email newsletters, engaging readers through our Facebook and Twitter properties, and working closely with office staff to maintain consistent coordination between the printed magazines and online properties.

Applicants must possess extremely strong and proven writing ability, a working understanding of basic online/internet concepts, the ability to work independently, and basic knowledge of how content management systems (such as WordPress and Drupal) function. Basic image editing skills are also required.

While this is a part-time position, there is a chance it can lead to full-time employment.

To apply, send a cover letter, resume, references and writing samples to Maurice Tierney at [email protected].

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Bicycle Times and Dirt Rag are Hiring!

So you’re interested in working for two of the world’s most awesome magazines, huh? Ok, then…We’ll just cut to the chase and list the job descriptions and contact info here. The rest is up to you…and then us, of course.

General Help Wanted
Dirt Rag LTD, publishers of Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times magazines, is looking for qualified candidates to fill a potential entry-level position. Duties may include (but are not limited to) filling Merch orders, answering the phone, handling subscription inquiries, and managing the inventory of products for sale.

Requirements: Good interpersonal and customer service skills, good communications skills, love of all things bicycle. Bicycle industry experience a plus.

To apply, send a cover letter, resume, references and writing samples to Maurice at [email protected].

Editorial Help Wanted
Dirt Rag LTD, publishers of Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times magazines, has an editorial position open. This position could range from an Editorial Assistant to an Editor of Bicycle Times depending on the candidate’s qualifications. Will work closely with current Publisher, Editor, Art Director and Graphic Designer to shape the content of one or both magazines.

Requirements: high degree of proficiency in the mechanics of the English language, excellent writing skills, good knowledge of the bicycle industry, love of all things bicycle. To apply, send a cover letter, resume, references and writing samples to Maurice at [email protected].

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Review: Kona Ute

Of all the bikes I’ve tested in my tenure at Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times, no bike has attracted as much attention as the Ute. Pedestrians may gawk and point, but everyone seems to relate to the Ute’s functionality as the bicycle version of a pickup truck.

Kona first introduced the Ute as a 2008 model with the intention of creating an affordable high-capacity commuter, large-volume city bike, or a highly capable runner of errands.

The Ute falls into the long-tail category of cargo bikes, arguably popularized by Xtracycle, which brought the idea of a long-tail cargo bike to the masses in 1998.

 

The Bike
The Ute’s 7005 series aluminum frame is available in two sizes, 18" (23.1" top tube length) and 20" (24.1" TT) to fit most within reasonable limits. Those shorter than about 5′ 4" may be out of luck, while those taller than, say, 6′ may require swapping cockpit components to ensure proper fit. Consult your local Kona dealer concerning your fit needs.

Parts spec on the Ute is all business and pretty impressive considering the $900 price tag, which remains unchanged in spite of some upgrades for 2010. One waterproof, oversized Kona vinyl pannier is included with the bike, and a second can be purchased for $100. Bite the bullet and buy a second bag straight away if you’re planning to purchase a Ute—you’ll definitely want it for the extra cargo capacity and for the ability to balance your load.

The mostly Shimano Deore drivetrain works well and doesn’t break the bank, while the Avid BB-5 disc brakes were a good choice for this bike—they’re affordable and offer adequate braking power when fully loaded. The Ute is set up stock with a 2×8 drivetrain, with 26- and 36-tooth chainings and a bash guard (to keep your pants out of the drivetrain) up front, teamed with an 8-speed cassette out back. This range of gearing proved adequate for nearly everything, but I did occasionally spin out the tallest gear on downhills. You can install a big ring should you want, as both shifter and derailleur are triple-ring compatible.

For the 2010 model year, the Ute has received a host of improvements, which addressed all of the issues I had with my 2009 test bike (pictured) in one fell swoop. The Ute now has a rear disc brake, a full-coverage rear fender, and the front fender stays will better clear the front disc brake. Frame color for the 2010 model is Metallic Dark Grey.

_In Use
The Ute’s riding position is decidedly relaxed and upright in stock trim thanks to the 45 degree rearward sweep of the handlebar, which works well for casual around-town errands, and is wide enough to provide the necessary leverage when carrying heavy loads. I swapped out the 90mm stock stem on my 20" tester for a 120mm to achieve a bit more aggressive position that worked better for me on longer rides and for powering up Pittsburgh’s hills with a full load.

Speaking of hauling stuff, Kona’s panniers are extremely convenient to install and remove from the bike. These bags hang from hooks on the Ute’s integrated cargo rack, while the bottom is fastened by hooked bungees via loops integrated into the frame. The bags sit well aft of the rider; I never had issue with my heels hitting the bags. With two Kona panniers I could easily haul four large grocery bags with room to spare. Anything larger can be lashed onto the Ute’s wooden deck. Loading is made easier thanks to the dual-leg kickstand. Just make sure you’re loading both sides equally or everything will tip over and smash your eggs—ask me how I know.

One hundred pounds is the maximum recommended load, but I’ve shuttled fully grown humans on back of the Ute that weighed nearly 50% more without complaint (from the bike, that is). When loaded to this extreme, the Ute does begin to flex a bit in protest—simply takes some adjustment on the part of the rider, as smooth handling minimizes the bike’s flexing. Not a huge deal.

The Ute’s ride reminds me of the way a school bus turns as the front end swings wide around the rear wheel. Due to the long wheelbase and 24.6" chainstays, cornering with the Ute requires less leaning and more steering than a traditional bike. At first everything feels out of the ordinary, but after some time to acclimate, your body adjusts and the Ute begins to feel natural.

The Ute certainly could be someone’s only bike, but it isn’t exactly sporting. This bike is all business in a relaxed "we’ll get there when we get there" sort of fashion.

Is it for you?
The answer to this question depends entirely on your use and needs. I see the Ute being best for folks looking for an affordable bike to pick up a week’s worth of groceries for a family of four, drop off packages at the Post Office, or generally carry anything that will fit inside the large Kona bags. If you’re looking to haul larger items such as lumber, surf boards, ladders, a second bicycle, etc., the Ute will require some DIY ingenuity to get the job done as you’ll have to engineer, construct and implement your own carrying device in order do so, which may be part of the appeal.

In the world of pickups, you have the big, heavy, large-cargo-hauling full-size trucks and the small, lighter, more efficient mid-sized trucks with less overall cargo capacity. Given that analogy, I think it’s best to look at the Ute as the mid-sized cargo bike in the line-up; it’s lighter and quicker than some of the other options out there, yet hauls much more than a traditional bike. Kona’s betting it’ll be the perfect middle ground for many folks looking for a balance of affordability, functionality, and cargo capacity.

I’m just left wishing I had had a Ute during my car-free days. Life would have been so much easier…

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Review: Surly Cross Check

If you could have only one bike to commute on, gather groceries with, tour, cyclocross race, use, abuse, and not worry about where you lock up, what would your choice be? Four years ago I purchased a Surly Cross Check frame to build up as my do-everything bike, because, as their website states, "it takes a lot of crap, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg."

Founded in 1998 and headquartered in Bloomington, Minnesota, Surly designs functional frames and components that address the needs of most riders at an affordable price. The Cross Check frame and fork are made in Taiwan from double-butted 4130 chromoly steel, and have adequate welds covered with near-indestructible powdercoat. The non-sloping top tube measures 58cm, with a 72 degree head tube and 72.5 degree seat tube that compliments the 40.6" wheelbase.

The rear triangle is what makes the Cross Check so adaptable to different builds. The 16.7" chainstays are spaced 132.5mm apart to accommodate either a road (130mm) or mountain (135mm) hub, and have long, horizontal dropouts for building the frame up as a geared bike or singlespeed. Tension adjuster screws are included with the frame and can be used to alter the wheelbase. With the rear wheel slid all the way back in the dropouts, my wheelbase is 41". There’s also enough space to mount 700x45c tires with fenders, and eyelets for a rear rack and front and rear fenders. Cantilever brake mounts, down tube shift cable routing with barrel adjuster mounts, and two bottle cage mounts round out the package.

The bottom bracket can support single, double, and triple road or mountain cranksets, while the brazed chromoly fork has an uncut 300mm steerer tube and uses a standard 1 1/8" threadless headset. So you can pretty much slap whatever random parts you have onto the frame and end up with a usable bike.

My Cross Check is built up with a Velocity Aerohead wheelset, the SRAM Rival components that I tested in Dirt Rag #127, Chris King headset, Planet Bike Cascadia Fenders, Duro Sevilla 700x35mm tires, and some stuff I had in the basement. I swap tires with the conditions and add a rear rack when I’m tired of wearing a backpack. Justin, our subscription guy, built his Cross Check in a flat-bar, fixed-gear configuration to race the Single Speed World Championships, whereas my friend Evan frequently commutes and races his Cross Check as a singlespeed or fixed-gear with moustache bars. 

The suppleness of the steel frame makes the Cross Check comfortable for all-day use, feeling smooth when rolling over railroad tracks or riding on stone trails. Steel also keeps the price low. It handles calmly through sweeping turns and tighter standstill traffic without being twitchy, and has a decent turning radius for circling and nabbing that last parking meter.

I haven’t experienced any surprises in frame behavior, whether I’m pedaling along at 15mph or spinning downhill at 35. When standing to climb steep hills or really mashing on the pedals, I notice a little frame flex, but that’s the nature of steel and why I like the bike. The only time I’ve noticed undesirable wobble is when I have the rear panniers maxed out with grocery weight, which pins the rear to the road, lightens the front and makes things feel twitchy. 

My Surly has taken the abuse of riding railroad ballast and singletrack, has plowed through snowy streets and gotten me home safe on rainy nights. My only complaint is that it’s not disc-brake-compatible and it lacks a frame pump peg. Anyone looking for a do-it-all frame, inexpensive commuter, or a cyclocross frame will appreciate the Cross Check’s diversity. It’s available as either a frameset or a complete build. There’s also a version called the Travelers Check that has S&S brand frame couplers installed for those that frequently travel with their bike. This year’s powdercoat colors are Beef Gravy Brown or Gloss Black, and a Surly Constrictor seat post clamp, stainless brake hanger, and a three-year warranty are included.

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Electra Ticinio 8D

Riding around my city neighborhood on the Electra Ticino 8D, I get looks and comments from unlikely sources. Charles is a man in his 60’s who probably hasn’t been on a bike in at least 30 years. He’s sitting on his front stoop, takes a look at me riding around on the Ticino and says, "That’s a nice bike. Is that an antique?" I tell him it’s a new bike and that I’m testing it for work. He says, "Now that’s the kind of bike I’d like to ride."

I toy with the idea of letting him take it for a spin, but keep riding. We don’t see many 60 degree days in January. I pull up to a red light by a bus stop where there’s a group of teenage "cool" girls. I look over and catch them checking out my bike. They look at me and smile. I can’t help but think, if I were wearing spandex, riding a road bike, they would be laughing at me.

The Electra Ticino 8D elicits that kind of response from people who aren’t into bikes. They see the clean, classic lines of a bike that looks comfortable to ride. They get it. Your typical "bike person," on the other hand, may not get it. They see a slow, heavy, cruiser-style bike. But they would be fooled.

The Ticino 8D may look like an antique cruiser bike, but underneath the classic paint scheme and slack (laid back) frame geometry are modern lightweight materials and components that provide a surprisingly snappy, fun ride. At the heart of the Ticino is the frame with internal top-tube cable routing. Keeping with the Euro-inspired style, the thinner frame tubing may look like steel, but is really butted 6061-T6 alloy aluminum.

The Ticino frame looks slightly different than a standard road bike frame because of the relaxed geometry. With its 68 degree head tube angle, 69 degree seat tube angle and 80mm fork offset, the Ticino is built for a more upright riding posture and relaxed arm position. The front wheel is also out in front of the rider slightly more than I am used to. For comparison purposes, a typical road bike head tube angle is between 72-73 degree with a fork offset of 43-45mm. But the Ticino is built to handle more quickly than other bikes in the Electra line and conventional hybrids with even more relaxed geometry. The Ticino fits somewhere in the middle of your standard road bike and a cruiser.

Drivetrain highlights include the Shimano 2300 8-speed derailleur, the retro-looking Ticino forged alloy crankset with 42-tooth alloy chainring and chainguard, and the Shimano 8-speed Rapidfire Plus Trigger shifter. The 1×8 drivetrain with the SRAM 12-28-tooth cassette provided an adequate range of gears for trips around town and on the local bike path.

Electra spec’d the Ticino with as much style as function, including hammered alloy fenders, bar end mounted (reverse) brake levers, steel lugged crown fork, Ticino Cyclo-Tourist saddle, and leather wrapped ergonomic grips. Electra also offers lots of retro-looking aftermarket parts and accessories to personalize your ride.

Speaking of ride, the Ticino 8D was a much more capable machine than I originally expected. Picking up the bike for the first time, I was surprised at how light it felt. While the upright and relaxed seating position took a little getting used to, before long I enjoyed sitting back and taking in the scenery. The lightweight frame and components allow for quick acceleration when you need it, but the upright riding position and stretched-out front end give the bike a smooth, predictable feeling. While I probably wouldn’t take it out on a century ride, the Ticino is perfect for a short commute, leisurely cruise, or a couple hours of exercise on a bike path.

The 700x32c CST skinwall slick tires were smooth and fast-rolling on pavement and held up well on our pothole-strewn winter roads. The stock fenders and chainguard are nice touches that allowed flexibility with weather conditions and attire.

I also discovered that although the hammered alloy fenders look great and provide good coverage, I was unable to transport the bike on my standard fork-mount roof rack tray. When the front wheel is removed, the fender extends past the dropouts and contacts the tray. This is hardly worth mentioning because there are other bike rack options out there, but it is something to consider if you already have a fork-mount rack tray.

The Electra Ticino 8D is a unique combination of Euro-classic style and affordable, lightweight, comfortable modern construction. It’s a great everyday kind of bike for riding around town, on bike paths, or around campus.

Electra has a wide range of Ticino bikes, including women-specific models, from the basic single speed Ticino 1 to the top-of-the-line Ticino 20D featuring a 20-speed Shimano 105 drivetrain. Prices range from about $500 to $2000.

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Melon Slice

Melon Slice
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Price: $600
Weight: 25.5lbs.
Sizes Available: One Size
Contact: www.melonbicycles.com

Melon is a new company, started in 2008, dedicated to 20"-wheeled bikes for recreation and transportation. The folding Slice is their first product. Currently bikes are available direct from Melon, and from a growing nationwide dealer base.

The Slice’s aluminum frame and fork are outfitted with quality components—no corners cut with no-name parts. Shimano supplies the rear derailleur, cassette and brakes; SRAM supplies the shifter and crankset. The 8-speed gearing (53-tooth chainring mated to a 12-25-tooth cassette) yields gear ratios approximately in the middle of a typical 24-speed drivetrain on a bigger-wheeled bike. In laypersons’ terms, the gearing is adequate to keep up with bigger-wheeled bikes, no problem. The single size option is designed to fit riders from 4’8" to 6’3" and is rated for riders up to 240lbs.

The 20" wheels and short wheelbase translated into a fast, nimble bike that felt great zipping around town. The few times I got it up above 25mph it could feel a little nervous, but a gentle squeeze on the very effective brakes would get it back to a more comfortable speed easily. I was perfectly happy with this bike on shorter rides, but the narrow bar and short top tube left me feeling cramped on rides over three or four miles. I am used to a stretched-out position on road and mountain bikes, so more recreational and/or shorter cyclists may not find this to be the case for them.

Melon claims that a 15-second folding time is easily do-able with practice. Release the safety catch on the stem, fold it down, fold pedals up, release catch on the frame, fold and go. Pretty simple. Grab the back of the seat to carry. Unfolding is just as quick, and once locked down, the ride remained quiet and tight throughout the test. Since there isn’t a catch to keep it together in the folded position, a strap while loading it in and out of trains, planes or automobiles would be a helpful thing to have around.

Who rides a Melon? I assumed it was mostly urban-dwelling commuters, but I was wrong. Pilots, people with limited storage and folks wanting a bike always at the ready in a car trunk are all Melon customers. The folding bike idea, and really the small-wheeled adult bike idea, is an interesting concept, and one that I think will continue to attract new riders in the future.

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NYC Century Bike Tour Registration Now Open

The NYC Century Bike Tour, the world’s only all-urban 100-mile bike tour, will take place on September 12th, 2010. As you can imagine, it’s a bike ride through, in and around New York City.

The event is put on by, and benefits, Transportation Alternatives. Their mission is "…to reclaim New York City’s streets from the automobile, and to advocate for bicycling, walking and public transit as the best transportation alternatives." The NYC Century Bike Tour started in 1990 with 200 participants, and it now draws over 6000 people.

Unlike other large benefit rides you may have done, this event is unique in that not only does it ride through NYC, the purpose of the ride is to take people through different areas of the city as an example of how cyclists can get through the city safely. As a result, there are no street closures, riders go with the flow of traffic and it’s mandatory they obey all traffic laws. Six-thousand people riding through the city without street closures might sound like a tall order, but it works well.

If riding 100 miles through the Five Boroughs might not be your cup of tea, you can get your ride on with 75, 55, 35 and 15 mile options. You also have an option of starting and finishing in Central Park or in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Though people who choose the 15-mile option must start and end in Central Park.

Rest stops along the way will provide limited support in the form of food, drinks, first aid and mechanics.

Registration is now open here. And remember: "Every registration helps fuel the fight for better bike lanes, car-free streets, faster transit and a safer more sustainable city."

Have you participated in the NYC Century Bike Tour in the past, or do you plan to attend this year? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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