Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: Playing With Your Test-Cycle

I'm not what you'd call a "social butterfly." If anything, I'm more of a "social locust" in that I come out roughly once every 17 years, and when I do nobody's particularly pleased to see me. Nevertheless, slimy things with legs do like to crawl upon the slimy sea occasionally, and so it was that I headed into the Manhattan yesterday evening in order to share my unctuousness with the rest of the world.

Now, you may recall that I am in the process of "testing" a so-called "Base Urban RD 1.0" belt-driven bicycle, which looks like this when it's not on some flashy website and some sarcastic bike blogger half-assedly points his "smarting phone" at it instead:

You may also recall that my first impression was less than favorable, owing at least in part to the fact that the ostensibly quiet belt drive instead made a disconcertingly loud and rhythmic "womp womp" sound that evoked, among other things, swamp life and humping.

Also, I find the bike to be more than a little bit ugly.

Well, it would seem that word of my tribulations made it all the way to Gates, the people who make the belt drives, and they were very eager to help me diagnose the problem so that I might, like Pootie Tang, become a believer in the belt. And so it was that I found myself communicating with--on the phone and with my voice no less!--one of the Gates people, who asked me a question that would require me to muster every tool and bit of technical know-how I had at my disposal. The question was:

"Have you checked the chainring bolts?"

No. No I hadn't.

So I checked the chainring bolts. Naturally, one of them was loose, and once I tightened it the noise was diminished considerably--not completely, mind you, but enough so that it is audible only in relative quiet and is not especially bothersome. (Though it might be if I'd actually paid for the bike.) In the spirit of good faith I will continue to examine the problem with the help of the good people at Gates, and I have no doubt the system can be made to operate totally quietly, though I am also compelled to note that whatever out-of-whackness still exists in the drivetrain would be a complete non-issue on a chain-drive bicycle. (In the final analysis, chasing down alignment issues is a lot more time-consuming than lubing your chain.)

It's also kinda noisy when I'm climbing. Maybe the bottom bracket on the Base Urban is not "beefy" enough.

Anyway, with my drivetrain now 75-80% quieter, I decided to use the Base Urban for my jaunt into the city. I know it's going to be a good ride when I spot both a recumbent rider and a rider in bib shorts with no jersey, neither of whom can be bothered to stop at the light or even use the bike lane for that matter:


Eventually I made it to the city, where I secured the Techno Express to a street sign:

I happen to believe that one of the most interesting aspects of cycling is what it can teach you about yourself, and this extends to testing bicycles. In the case of this bicycle, what it's teaching me is that my tastes apparently differ from most people's. As I said earlier, I find this bicycle aesthetically objectionable. If it were a person, it would wear Axe body spray and put its Yankees cap on sideways, and would carry an iPod full of music with Auto-Tune vocals. In fact, the company didn't send me an owner's manual, but I'm reasonably sure that while the belt drive doesn't require lubrication the rider is obliged to wear cologne. I don't wear cologne, and maybe that's why the bike is still creaking.

But while I find this bicycle's circa 2007 "tarck chic" appearance to be tremendously objectionable, apparently nobody else does, and in the short time I've had it strangers have been kvelling over it constantly. At first the compliments seemed to come mostly from recently-arrived Eastern Europeans wearing copious amounts of fragrance, so this was hardly surprising--I'm pretty sure Vladimir Karpets and Dmitry Fofonov would be all over this baby. However, last night as I loitered near it I watched in amazement as people of both genders with no discernible accent went out of their way to look at it and remark to one another how nice it was. Yes, this:

It made me feel exactly the way I used to in middle school when Bon Jovi was popular, and I just assumed there was something wrong with my ears because there's no way they could be hearing what I was hearing and like it.

But looks are looks, and what evokes a mid-aughts urban cycling fad to me is simply a shiny, matching, speedy looking bicycle to your average non-"bike culture"-immersed person. This in itself was something of a revelation to me, since it explains how year after year new cyclists continue to buy impractical and uncomfortable race-inspired (or now messenger-inspired) bikes instead of practical bikes. The simple fact is that a bicycle like this draws the eye, whereas a more utilitarian one doesn't, since people don't have the experience that tends to make utility appear attractive. Consequently, this is what they think a city bike should be. And there's your "Thruster Fixie" at Walmart.

In any case, more important than looks is how it rides. So how does it ride? Well, not all that well. The handling and fit are good, but there's a harsh quality that could maybe have something to do with the wheels and tires, but is definitely enhanced by this saddle:

I realize that saddles are highly subjective, but this is one of the most uncomfortable saddles upon which I've ever perched myself. Have you ever encountered one of those office building plaza ledges in Manhattan that have metal spiky things on them to discourage loiterers, but you're really tired from walking all day so you sit on it anyway? That's what sitting on this feels like. But then again, maybe my posterior is as out of step with the world as the rest of me apparently is, and everyone else will like it.

Obviously it's easy to try a different saddle, and I intend to do so. I'd also like to try a different set of wheels to see if that would improve things, but like most people I don't have too many disc brake internally-geared road wheels laying around. I suppose I could just change the tires and maybe put one of my mountain bike wheels on the front, and I very well may do that. I also have a perverse desire to use the bicycle in a cyclocross race, but that depends on whether knobbies will clear the sublimely unnecessary and brilliantly un-drilled rear brake bridge, which is already pretty close to the tire:

For that matter there's not much clearance up front either:

But I guess there's only one way to find out.

Anyway, here's an obligatory shot of the belt drive:


And one of the Alfine hub:

And one of the guy wearing an accordion who totally blew by me on the way back to the Manhattan Bridge:

Accordions, I should not have to remind you, are now the new messenger bags, which is why you can expect to see a lot of this at the Interbike "Urban Yard" this year.

Still, I enjoyed riding the bike last night. This is partly because it's pretty hard not to enjoy riding a bike, and also because the bike dork in me cannot help nerding out over the drivetrain. It's also nice to not have to worry about getting schmutz on your pants or about your hands getting filthy if you have to change a tube on the way to work, and I think something like this has the potential to be a good all-weather commuter if only the frame weren't so poorly designed. I also still think the $1,750 price is absurd given that this is basically a novelty bike, though you could have had it for free if you took it while I ran into the store on the way home for some eggs:

I was quite surprised when I returned to find that I had missed the top tube completely, and insofar as I was not even remotely intoxicated, I can only blame the frame's vexing design.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Exhume to Consume: Survival of the Flushest

Do you like "bi-keen?" Of course you do! It's inexpensive, healthy, and clean. When you get around your gentrified neighborhood by means of "bi-keen," you feel good--not only because it's fun, but because you know what you're doing is helping to save the Earth. Like, you know those people who go to awful countries and give vaccinations to starving children? You're as good as they are, if not better! How many CGI polar bears have they saved recently?

But you know what the best thing about "bi-keen" in Uh-merica is? It's that, when you do it, you're just a traffic cone!

You know how, when you're driving, you're theoretically not supposed to run into the traffic cones, but if you "accidentally" do anyway nobody's really going to give you a hard time about it, even if the traffic cone flies out into traffic, gets run over by a bunch of other cars too, and is mangled beyond recognition? Well, here in Canada's underbite, it's the same thing if you hit a cyclist! Somebody from the Village Voice sent me this article awhile back, and I didn't really have the stomach to look at it, but now I have and I feel compelled to share it even though it merely serves to reaffirm our collective status as road furniture:

...even though the ditched car was found within 24 hours, a 1990 Nissan Maxima abandoned two blocks southeast of the accident scene, the police would never make any arrests. And that the detective assigned to the case would tell James, as the victim has consistently recalled for months, that the vehicle owner claimed he'd lost his keys at a local bar that same night and walked home—and that without an eyewitness putting him in the driver's seat, there was nothing that could be done. When James or Michelle asked what drinking establishment the auto owner had patronized and whether the police had questioned anybody there or if there were any clues in the car, the officer would become dismissive. They eventually stopped calling. According to the official police complaint, the unidentified hit-and-run driver's highest offense would be categorized a misdemeanor, which seemed preposterous, all things considered.

See, car sales are an important economic indicator, so it's really important that we don't make it too difficult to obtain them or burden their owners and lessees with too much responsibility. That's why, when someone gets mangled by your car, you can make up a story about how you got wasted in a bar and lost your car keys and then someone else "borrowed" your car to go run down a cyclist. I wonder if I could shoot somebody and then tell the police I was drinking and accidentally left my gun on the bar. Either way, if you're a sub-Canadian like I am you should feel comfortable knowing that, provided you're a consumer of durable goods (especially durable goods like cars, which also require you to buy lots of that non-durable good known as "gasoline"), your freedom and safety are guaranteed.

If, on the other hand, you're a cyclist and you don't contribute to the robustness of the economic indicators that encourage investment in our financial markets, and you should one day find yourself lying beneath one of these economic indicators in a bloody clump, then you really should have been wearing a helment. Because if they take the car owner's license away, he won't be able to buy another one to replace the one your head so inconsiderably dented, and we'll never get out of this pesky recession.

Of course, what "the system" (which naturally I don't need, along with your "society," which is why I used to draw anarchy symbols on my desk in school) fails to realize is that cyclists are also good consumers. In fact, I'd argue that we're some of the best, and if we were actually afforded protection and allowed to live out our full lifespans we'd eventually mature into gushing revenue streams ourselves.

See, bicycles too are durable goods (at least according to Sheldon Brown, and at least the non-crabon ones anyway) and when you buy one you need all manner of soft goods such as clipless sneakers, stretchy technical jeans, complicated luggage, cycling-specific fanny packs, t-shirts with clever cycling references on them, and of course tattoos, though I'm not sure if those are technically durable goods or soft goods. Yes, "urban cycling" has truly come into its own--so much so that a reader tells me there will be a whole "Urban Yard" at this year's Interbike:

As far as I can tell, this "Urban Yard" will be a miniature indoor climate-controlled Williamsburg (or Mission District, or [insert your local trendy neighborhood here]) and with its abundance of "urban cycling and culture magazines," visiting it should be remarkably like an appointment at a hipster dentist's office. (Hipster dentists ride Serotta track bikes with riser bars.) Naturally, as the "bike culture's" answer to Abercrombie & Fitch, Chrome will also be in attendance, and I deeply regret that I will be continuing my streak of 100% Interbike non-attendance because nothing is more edifying than experiencing "an incredibly dynamic landscape of products and lifestyle identities." Actually, there should be a sign that says that when you head over the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn:

As inviting as this sounds, just remember the veneer of bike-friendliness only runs as deep as that lime green paint, and the streets beneath still belong to the cars.

Speaking of veneer, do you find yourself craving the artisanal smugness of alternative frame materials such as wood and bamboo, yet unable to break your addiction to the lateral stiffness and vertical compliance of sweet, sweet crabon? Well, now you won't have to, because another reader tells me you can buy a faux wooden crabon road frame on a popular Internet auctioning site:

It's laterally faux and vertically deciduous.

Or, if you want an inherently contradictory bike that misses the point in a more roundabout way, you could get one of these belt-driven two-speed "fixies" to which I was alerted by a reader in Denmark:



Oh, how we consumers want it all: vintage, yet reliable. Simple, yet modern. Fixed, yet geared. One speed for the fast, another for to make with the tricking. It's fascinating to see how desperately some people will cling to the notion of a fixed-gear despite their clear need and desire for qualities that fixed-gears simply don't have, and to see how ridiculous the bikes become in the process. They want to be riding regular geared bikes but they just can't let go.

Meanwhile, here in Canada's chamois, gears have been the new fixed for quite some time now, and the tide has turned so strongly against them that you can now by a "Thruster Fixie" at Walmart, as spotted by the august (like the Caesar, not the month) commenter Leroy:

Yes, we are a nation of labelers, and rebranding is our art:

To survive long enough to see your "lifestyle" become a brand name: that is Immortality 2.0.

Monday, August 29, 2011

From Suck to Blow: The Storm Before the Calm

First of all, I'd like to thank the many people who sent well-wishings and messages of support over the weekend as hurricane Irene ambled towards New York City at speeds of up to 14mph, like a cyclo-tourist with panniers full of destruction. However, as much as I'd like to thank everybody, I can't, because I didn't receive any well-wishings or messages of support at all. Instead, I was forced to stock up on a week's worth of cheese steaks with the sad knowledge that my fate meant little to anybody:

(Translation: "Hot, from having recently been grilled, steaks in the Philadelphia cheeseway.")

Fortunately, New York City didn't receive nearly as much damage as was anticipated, and I extend my sympathies to those who elsewhere who were affected far more adversely than we were. Nevertheless, I find myself dismayed by what seems to be a growing "You New Yorkers are 'woosies' when it comes natural disasters" sentiment. I noticed it first when Californians scoffed at our little earthquake last Wednesday, and it seemed to continue when we shut down the entire city and evacuated a bunch of people who, for the most part, probably could have just stayed at home eating "hot" cheese steaks.

If you're one of these people (a "New Yorkers are weather 'woosies'" person, not a "sitting at home eating 'hot' cheese steaks" person), I humbly request that you keep two (2) things in mind:

1) Life is much harder in New York City than it is in the rest of Canada's pannier, and on a daily basis we're subject to a degree of difficulty and indignity that most people will never have to experience. If you've never shared a crowded subway car with a homeless person who has recently soiled himself, been kicked in the face by an errant street performer, or shopped at Fairway supermarket on a Sunday (three people were recently trampled to death at the free olive oil sampling station), then you have no right to criticize us. We pay thousands of dollars a month to live in apartments that are worse than your crappiest storm shelters, and laying any sort of "weather event" on top of all this this creates the sort of hardship that would have even the most hardy natural disaster veteran crying to FEMA.

2) Our national image has become somewhat tarnished, so as a "real" city New York is one of very few things that keep this country from devolving into a complete laughingstock to the rest of the world. It's bad enough that our status as one of the world's great cities is already being undermined by designer beard-wearing curators of artisanal handicrafts, so therefore any additional threats to our status and well-being (or at least our distorted concept of what qualifies as well-being) should be taken very seriously. Without New York City, the United States is Los Angeles, Chicago, and a bunch of smaller towns that may or may not have a Cheesecake Factory in them. If this doesn't worry you, it should, because if New York City is washed away then America will simply become that place Canadians visit to do their bargain shopping.

This is not to say that people in other parts of the country are not culturally enlightened or well-versed in the art of creative expression. Consider Virginia Beach, where a man exposed his "pants yabbies" during the Weather Channel's hurricane coverage:

In an America Without New York, the country would effectively become a giant college town, and you'd be likely to see this sort of behavior constantly, even during the State of the Union address.

Speaking of the hurricane, most New Yorkers spent the days preceding it stocking up on provisions, which could explain why one woman in Williamsburg was "portaging" a bunch of wooden logs:

The girl on the bike with wooden logs on her back - m4w - 30 (Bedford Ave/Williamsburg)
Date: 2011-08-26, 10:53AM EDT
Reply to:

You - the sweet girl in burgundy dress with such major connfidence,

Me - the Jewish guy in car,

You looked at me and said such a lovely HEY!

I wanna see you again and say a lovely HI!


I'm not sure if she planned to burn the logs for fuel, or if she was anticipating having to "curate" a log cabin shelter by hand using her artisanal axe, but either way I find this budding cross-cultural romance tremendously inspiring, especially given the strained relations between the "hilpsters" and the Hasidim in this area.

Somewhat less inspiring is this indication that incidents of "smugness baiting" may be on the rise:

"I'm annoyed by your smugness" - m4w - 28 (dean st.)
Date: 2011-08-25, 1:31AM EDT
Reply to:

What I yelled back was, "You're so cute, I was sorry I passed". Want to have coffee or a bike ride?

As a smug cyclist myself, I urge you to refrain from hurling anti-smugness epithets such as the one above when we are out "portaging." After all, hath not a smug cyclist two wheels? Hath not a smug cyclist a load of organic groceries? If you tip us, do we not topple? If you ridicule us, do we not become unduly sensitive? If you ask us about our bicycles, do we not unfurl soporific discourses on the relative merits of frontal versus rearward weight distribution? Hath not David Byrne, the Patron Saint of Smugness, a car?

Well, actually, no, I guess he hathn't.


Evidently, the most influential cycling blog is Copenhagen Cycle Chic:


I certainly have no issues with being "dethroned" from the top spot on a meaningless list, nor do I have any illusions that I have any influence at all, though I was puzzled by their explanation:

At least 11 of the Top 50 cycling bloggers here are women. Cycling Chic Copenhagen has started a global movement — we can see many links pointing to her. This sub-community is rocking the blogosphere, or shall say women are rocking it! Women bloggers are a definite force to be reckoned with in the cycling world.

Now, I love to see women "rocking it!" and all, but I'm also pretty sure Copenhagen Cycle Chic is not a "her," since it was started by Mikael Colville-Andersen:



(Oh no, he's talking about helments! Seek shelter immediately!!!)

And while he may bear at least a stunt double's resemblance to Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, he is clearly not a woman. Yes, I do believe the site has some female contributors, but according to the site's own FAQ it all started when Colville-Andersen took a picture of a woman from behind:

HOW DID THE BLOG START?

The photos came first. One photo in particular started it all off. Mikael has been involved in street photography for some time and one day he snapped a fellow cyclist in the morning rush hour. All at once a theme, a visual style and a subject was born.

That style? Surreptitiously taking photos of hot Danish chicks:

Now, don't get me wrong--I have nothing but respect for Mikael Colville-Andersen and his "Cycle Chic" empire, and he is clearly the Hugh Hefner of bicycle advocacy. However, maybe the people that made this list should take the time to look at the actual blogs, because if Colville-Andersen is a woman blogger then I should get some acknowledgement for being one of the rare cycling bloggers with an indigenous Australian background.

Speaking of doing stuff from behind, a reader tells me a writer for British newsing paper The Guardian named Peter Walker is actually questioning whether or not Cat 6 commuter wheelsucking is acceptable:


How is this even the subject of debate? Of course it is not acceptable, for the same reasons you shouldn't draft people when you're driving to work in your car. (Unless you're David Byrne, in which case you don't have one.) How come we never see articles in the automotive sections of newspapers that ask, "Where do you stand on tailgating?" Yet, shockingly, the writer not only supports commuter drafting, but also performs domestique duties for his wheelsuckers:

My position's pretty clear: I'm happy to either draft or be drafted. With the former I don't go ludicrously close to another bike's rear wheel and I'm vigilant in case my temporary helper has to brake or swerve to avoid something. And if we reach a red light I'll often try to set off quickly so as to offer a reciprocal helping hand. When in front I indicate well in advance, and point a helpful finger towards upcoming potholes and the like.

Wow, do they also get a "happy ending" with all that? Even more amazingly, he's surprised when he drafts people and they don't like it:

These malcontents react in different ways: some turn round and scowl; others begin weaving round the lane, slowing down or speeding up. One young man's facial expression was so laughably aggrieved – you'd have thought I'd propositioned his mother – that when we stopped at a red traffic light I felt obliged to ask him, politely, why he so objected to being drafted. "Look," he hissed, "we're individuals, we're not in this together. We're cycling alone. Don't you get that?" Even by London's famously misanthropic standards this was strong stuff.

I couldn't agree more with this so-called "malcontent." You are not automatically at someone's disposal just because you are both on bikes--the normal rules of society apply. Is it OK to follow someone at a distance of two inches when you're walking just because you're both wearing sneakers? No it isn't. In reading this article it became increasingly clear to me that Peter Walker must be the most irritating cyclist in London, and it must be incredibly disconcerting not being able to ride around the city without constantly turning around and seeing this:

("Would you mind terribly if I had sex with your mother?")

It should go without saying, then, that Peter Walker's solution to all of this is completely insane:

There is, of course, an obvious answer: if someone clearly doesn't like being drafted then don't do it.

Yes, this is a great approach. Just imagine if we extended this to every other manner of rude and unacceptable human interaction, too. After all, as I always say, "If a stranger clearly doesn't like it when you fondle their buttocks on public transportation then don't do it." The only people who are allowed to just do stuff to other people until they're told to stop aren't people at all; they're dogs. Sure, a dog can get away with sticking his muzzle in your crotch or humping your leg until you register your objection, but if people start acting the same way then human society becomes little more than a dog pack and the next thing you know your dinner guests are drinking from your toilet and urinating on your carpet.

Though I do acknowledge that, in certain social circles, these are indications that the dinner party was a huge success.

Nevertheless--or perhaps because of it--I remain a firm believer in keeping your distance.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

This Just In: Off 'Til Monday!

Firstly, by way of dispensing with mundane matters of scheduling, I should mention that I will not be posting tomorrow or Friday, but that I will return on Monday, August 29th with regular updates. Therefore, you may or may not want to mark your calendars accordingly as I have:

I can't confirm that I'm going on one of those new "experiential vacations" where you get to work in a Subway franchise for four days, but I'm also in no position to deny it either.

Secondly, I want to thank everybody who came to the Manhattan Bridge early yesterday evening in order to receive free Knog products, and I also want to apologize for being a bit late. However, I do have a pretty good excuse. First, after yesterday's earthquake I immediately went to the closet to look for duct tape (as I understand it you're supposed to put duct tape on stuff in an emergency), and the contents must have shifted during flight because as soon as I opened the door I found myself trapped beneath 150 rolls of toilet paper. For three hours my cries of help went not only unheeded but also completely muffled by the patented Quilted Northern Ultra Plushness. Eventually I was able to tunnel my way out by means of a Surly Jethro Tool, but then I got stuck in slow-moving bike lane traffic:

Ordinarily I'd have passed them, but I was riding a Big Dummy and there simply wasn't enough room.

Eventually though I did make it, and people did proffer coupons in exchange for free stuff, as you can see in this photo that was taken by an attendee:

They were also kind enough not to make fun of my hair:

I was actually getting my hair cut at the time of the earthquake which caused the barber to lose control of his shears, and this was the only way he was able to correct it.

Speaking of ingenuity, while most people opted to print their coupons by means of ink jet printers that were nearly out of ink, at least one presented an artisanally hand-curated version:

It's a pretty good rendering, too:

There are even a bunch of squiggly lines representing the fine print. He must have one of those "MFAs."

But the best thing about giving away free stuff is getting free stuff, like this t-shirt:

As well as this inordinately fancy bottle of beer:

It must have been pretty strong stuff, because I don't remember much after that. All I know is I woke up in the park the next morning on a pile of coupons:

In any case, thanks again for traversing the Manhattan Bridge a few short hours after an earthquake, because I certainly wouldn't have, and I'm glad I had the foresight to arrange it on the Brooklyn side. Also, if you're the person who took my wallet, keys, and bicycle while I was passed out in the coupons, may I have them back please? Those weren't actually part of the giveaway.

Speaking of bikes, I was tempted to bring the "Base Urban" belt drive bike I'm testing to the giveaway so that everybody could gawk at its profound ugliness, but with one (1) moderately-sized box to portage I figured I should ride my enormous cargo bike instead. And while I'm still trying to figure out how the bike I'm testing is worth a whopping $1,750, I suppose it's a relative bargain when compared to this belt drive bike, which was forwarded to me by a number of readers and which "checks every box:"

As far as I can tell, this bike checks at most two boxes, those being the "I paid way too much money for a townie" box, as well as perhaps the "My name is Larry Olmsted" box. Then again, you do get that all-important belt drive:

It goes on. Instead of a dirty, noisy chain you get a Gates carbon drive belt drive and Shimano Alfine internal hub...

This confused me, because I didn't know they even sold bikes with dirty, noisy chains. Any new bike I've ever had actually came with a clean, silent chain. Then again, maybe I'm just out of the loop and the bike industry is putting dirty, noisy chains on new bikes now in a massive conspiracy to convince people to switch to belt drives.

Of course, if you really want to be cutting-edge, you should pair your belt drive with the Cateye "Urban Wireless" cycling computer, which will tell you your "carbon offset:"

Yes, the Cateye Urban Wireless will "fluff your smugness" as you ride:

In addition to basic ride data, both carbon offset and calorie consumption information will not only help you feel better from your ride, but better about your impact on the environment, too!

* This product is only available in USA.

It goes without saying that this is only available in Canada's "tramp stamp," since in no other country do people need to be coaxed, cajoled, wheedled, and rewarded in order to do ordinary, logical, everyday things in the way that Americans must be. It's also good to know that urban cyclists can now "foff off" over their crabon offsets in the same way that roadies dork out about their "wattage." Still, I would imagine this computer must be very difficult to calibrate, because it certainly can't be as simple as just entering your wheel circumference. I would think it would also need to know what your most recent meal was, and what your frame is made of, and where you're going. For example, someone who's had a locally and sustainably farmed breakfast and is riding a homemade bamboo bicycle to a shift at the local food co-op can't possibly yield the same smugness numbers as someone who's just eaten a McGriddles and is riding a Huffy to the OTB, even if they're riding side-by-side, pedal stroke for pedal stroke.

Presumably though, the Cateye Urban Wireless is an ideal training tool for the Brompton World Championship, and another reader has forwarded me this video of the latest edition, which took place last Sunday:



If you're offended by tiny wheels and men panting heavily, you may not want to watch.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Financial Cycles: Bikes is Big Business



Hi, everybody!

Do you like "bi-keen" in New York City?
Do you like receiving stuff for which you don't have to pay?
Are you proficient in the maintenance and repair of German made air-cooled automobile engines?

If you answered "Fork yes!" to two out of three of the above questions, I should remind you that later today I will be dispensing free Knogstuffs (while supplies last) at a secret time and place which is as follows:

5pm-6pm
Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge

Also, I found a few t-shirts, which I'll give away too:

The catch is they're all size XL, which means you either have to be a size XL, or else willing to wear a t-shirt that's way too big for you, or else an able seamster or seamstress who will fashion the t-shirt into a pillowcase, tapestry, or punk rock butt-flap.

I'm not sure where exactly I'll be on the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge, but just look for someone who looks slightly addled and extremely disheveled who's sitting in a folding chair next to a Surly Big Dummy with an Xtracycle PeaPod LT and loaded with Knog products.

Then give him $20 and he'll tell you where I am.

Lastly, remember, while everything's free, you must (must!) present a coupon in order to receive anything. Think of it as organized looting.

Speaking of looting, a reader informs me that, in the United Kingdom, cycling generates three billion sqiggly "L"s with lines through them for the economy:

Three billion whatevers-they-are is something like US$5 billion, which is a lot of of bike stuff, though it will only cost you $4billion if you order everything from Nashbar between now and Sunday and enter coupon code "PLUMMETING-GNP." Also, sales of bike stuff is only part of the story, since it turns out that people who ride bicycles are more productive in the workplace:

The report says that regular cyclists take 7.4 sick days per year, compared with 8.7 sick days for non-cyclists, saving around £128m through reduced absenteeism, with projected savings of £2bn over the next 10 years.

See that? Cyclists aren't shiftless non-conformists looking to subvert the system, smash capitalist greed, and undermine the status quo. We're actually good little consumers, and we also give more of ourselves than non-cyclists to the soulless corporations for whom we work. This allows them to extract that much more of our hearts and spirits, which they can then render into more profits for themselves so that their executives can receive bigger bonuses.

Yay, "bi-keen!"

So, like, maybe we can have a few more bike lanes now? Or not. Sorry, I was just asking. I'll get back to work now.

But if cycling is big business in the U of K, it's even moreso in Croatia, where a reader tells me riders are so flush with cash that they are "rubbing" Mercedes cockpits:


Not only that, but they've got matching Mercedes leg shields too:


Notice the exquisite hand-stitched artisanal curation of the Mercedes logoway:

And since cyclists the world over have such formidable buying power, this entrepreneur should have no problem whatsoever raising the quarter of a million dollars for his self-inflating bicycle tire:


Here's the pitch:

Imagine taking your bicycle out of the garage and never having to fill up the tires or even check the pressure. Or imagine yourself being able to change your tire pressure on-the-fly with a simple adjustment from the handlebars. Our project is to bring two self-inflating bicycle tires to market, the City Cruiser and City Pro. Both tires are intended for the urban cyclists and both tires incorporate the patented PumpTire technology.

Gosh, yaaah! That would like totally make bi-keen even more ahsome! Can you explain it to me in greater detail in an video?



A number of people seem to think that there's one crucial obstacle keeping people from riding bicycles, and that if they can remove it then millions more people will ride and then they will become rich. Moreover, every one of these people seems to have a different idea of what this obstacle actually is. Some people think that it's the greasy chains scaring people away, so they market bikes with belt drives, shaft drives, no drivetrains at all... Others think it's the Lycra or fixed-gears or general competitive vibe that's so off-putting, and so they sell comfy bikes in pretty colors and invent imaginary countercultures like the "slow cycling movement." For this guy, though, the big obstacle is pneumatic tire maintenance, which ironically has not prevented the entire Earth from being overrun by automobiles. Anyway, with his invention, you'll never have to go through the huge inconvenience of topping off your tires every month or so ever again:

Why Bicycle Tires Lose Pressure

Bicycle tires lose pressure due to air molecules diffusing through the rubber sidewalls. This requires cyclists to fill their tires on a fairly regular basis due to the high operating pressures (up to 120 psi) and thin sidewalls of most bicycle tires. PumpTire solves this problem by incorporating a pumping mechanism directly into the tire. And this means ... fewer pinch flats, no more pumping, hands stay clean, less time getting ready and more time on the saddle.


Of course, what he fails to take into account is that most people can figure out how to put a little air in their tires if they feel squishy (triathletes excluded, at least based on what I've seen), but what they do have trouble with is repairing punctures while they're riding--you know, the nails and pieces of glass that cause all the air to escape. When this happens, regardless of whether they're riding a regular tire or a "self-inflating" one, they're going to do the same thing they do in their cars, which is stand there looking helpless until someone comes to help them. Plus, the sorts of people who don't know how to top off their own tires are also the sorts of people who leave their bikes sitting so long that the tires go totally flat between rides, and I doubt even a "self-inflating" tire will inflate itself if the bike is unrideable to begin with.

This is not to say his invention is not clever, but it does seem to be a rather complicated solution to a highly specific and extremely minor problem. Then again, just imagine how smug you'd feel if you knew your tires were topping themselves off as you moved your neighbors by bike--especially if you were also the first Clevelanders ever to undertake a bike move (as forwarded to me by another reader):

Mazel Tov, Cleveland, on this, the occasion of your Smug Mitzvah. Perhaps PumpTire guy should create a special bike-moving tire, which would allow the mover adjust the blow-off valve depending on what he or she is hauling at any given moment. "Hold on, I think I just bottomed out! Can we stop for a minute? I need to set my valve to 'ottoman!'" Sure, stopping a smugness convoy like that can be irritating, but it does give everybody time to drool over each other's cargo trailers:

This was an obstacle for us, because as much as excitement is building around biking in Clevelandtown, there still aren’t a whole lot of carfree Clevelanders, and those are the types to have the fully-loaded drool-worthy cargo trailers.

It's a good thing the sorts of people who drool over cargo trailers also tend to have highly absorbent beards, or else they'd get saliva all over the furniture.

Speaking of body hair, yet another reader tells me that the Movistar professional bicycle cycling team has recently signed a new rider, though apparently his kit is not ready yet:


Forget low spoke counts and crabon rims; he's such a retrogrouch he thinks the entire concept of the wheel is gimmicky.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Juxtaposition: A Tale of Two Bikes

There is a bridge called the George Washington Bridge that connects the island of Manhattan to the state of New Jersey. This is the main escape route for New York City's roadies, and I would estimate that it sees the highest volume of Fred traffic of any roadway in the entire world. In fact, if one were one to seal it off completely, the city would swell and swell and swell like pimple until it exploded in an atomic blast of Lycra, crabon, and pie plates.

This past weekend, I joined the legions of cyclists who use this bridge, and just a few of the things I observed while on my ride included:

--A gentleman wearing a Bert and Ernie jersey and riding a Colnago Ferrari;
--Another gentleman wearing a sleeveless base layer with no jersey at all, complete with teardrop aero helmet;
--Yet another gentleman who proved the old adage "the bike goes where you look" when he turned to admire the scenery and rode right into the guardrail.

I of course was astride my gleaming new Ritte Fred Chariot, which I've ironically parked in front of the words "No Parking:"

(I don't need "society", your yellow letters mean nothing to me.)

Having finally maneuvered through traffic and up and down moderate hills and around wayward triathletes I'm pleased to report that the bike rides beautifully, and while I have no intention of subjecting you to incessant "foffing off" over this thing I do realize that in last Friday's post I failed to include certain images that are mandated by the American Bike Dork Society of America. Therefore, I will dispense with these Obligatory Bicycle Shots (OBS) so that I can avoid being subject to further fines and we can then move onto more pressing matters.

Firstly, here's the Obligatory Derailleur Shot:

Notice that the bicycle makes use of something called a "derailleur hanger," which is "replaceable." This is so when you "crash" because "some guy with a TT helmet and no jersey on" runs into you, the bicycle will be easily repairable--provided all the damage is limited to the derailleur hanger.

Next, here's the Obligatory Non-Drive Side Dropout Shot:

Notice it's "cowled" to provide more surface area for the oversized blahblahblah. Alas, notice that the dropouts are vertical, which is the only reason I haven't yet converted this into a sweet, sweet fixie. The wheels use "Itchey" hubs, and Itchey apparently employ a marketing technique known as the "Trifecta System." Ordinarily I prefer handbuilt wheels, but when you have 17 children like I do it's very difficult to sit around building wheels because kids like to do stuff like eat nipples and put spokes up their nose. Therefore, in the interest of time I took a gamble on "instant" wheels, and I guess I'll just see what happens.

This, of course, is the obligatory Seat Tube Junction shot:

The tubings are being made from stainless steel because I tend to wet myself when I'm excited or tired (on a good road ride you'll be both excited and tired at various times), and they are joined by a revolutionary new process known as "welding." It'll have to do for now--at least until I get those fake stick-on lugs.

This is the Obligatory Head Tube shot:

Given the collapse of the world economy, I'm putting all my resources into Chris King headsets based on the relative strength of the Chris King Headset Composite Index (CKHCI). As you can see, the stem is not "slammed." I'm not sure why a "slammed" stem is a good thing anyway; it's the equivalent of having your saddle jammed all the way forward. I'd think you'd want a bit of adjustability in either direction. But what do I know?

Here's the Obigatory Head Tube Badge shot:

The head tube badge is essential because it tells you what kind of bicycle you have in case you forget. I think it's the first head tube badge I've ever had that wasn't plastic and mounted with foam tape. There's also a spare one on the seat tube:

And lastly, the most obligatory of obligatory photos, the Beefy Bottom Bracket Shot:

The plastic band is a chain catcher anti-drop thingy, because the bottom bracket is so incredibly beefy I'm afraid its gravitational pull will overcome the strength of the derailleur cage and draw the chain to it.

And that's my road bike, big freaking deal.



Moving on to the "more pressing matters" I alerted to earlier, these matters concern a bicycle that is not mine but that I am in fact "testing." The bicycle looks like this, and it is called a "Base Urban:"

(No, I don't have any idea why the top tube is shaped like that, and no, a U-lock does not fit through it.)

Now, few things are more subjective than aesthetics, and while aesthetic considerations can sometimes overlap with practical ones, other times form and function can be mutually exclusive. In other words, sometimes something that's really ugly can work great, and sometimes something that's really beautiful can work like crap. And what's ugly to one person can be beautiful to another, and so forth.

As it happens, I think this bicycle is wildly ugly. To me, it evokes throbbing dance music, and flat brim caps with the stickers still on them, and cars with neon underneath, and the smell of cologne, and all manner of other things I find aesthetically offensive. Nevertheless, I agreed to test it for a simple reason:

It has an 8 speed Alfine hub and a belt drive.

Belt drives have been debunked to a certain extent where hard recreational offroad use is concerned, but for commuting purposes this particular combination seemed intriguing, since arguably a drivetrain with no chain grime or derailleurs that still offers you the ability to shift and coast is the commuting ideal. And never having ridden a belt drive bicycle in any application before, I was eager to try one, and I figured if it worked well I could overlook the bike's questionable aesthetics in the same way I don't really care what my toilet looks like so long as it accepts waste and flushes reliably.

Anyway, I've only just taken delivery of the bike, so what follows are first impression.

Firstly, the hub shifts by means of this STI-type lever:

This may look familiar to you as shifters in this configuration are sold variously as Microshift (I think technically it's "microSHIFT," and you should always be sure to shout the second syllable), Nashbar, Samson, and so forth. The lever body feels pretty much exactly like the last generation Shimano levers did, and you shift by means of these nubbins:

It's all fairly intuitive and comfy, but the shifting isn't anywhere as quick as with a derailleur drivetrain--though it's perfectly adequate for riding around town. I'd argue that there's little point in a riding-around-town bike that looks like a race bike but doesn't shift like one and that also weighs many many pounds, but that's more of an aesthetic quibble, and the bike does have practical features such as fender eyelets on the fork:

And both fender and rack eyelets in the rear:

Though arguably the fender eyelets are of little use since the fork crown is not drilled:

And neither is the brake bridge for that matter:

And anyway even if they were it's tough to imagine a fender strut clearing the brake caliper:

Not that I tried it, mind you, but it's pretty clear to me that this bike does not want fenders since it's guarding the integrity of those holes like a [insert bad prison joke here].

Speaking of the disc brakes, they're Avid BB7s, a brake with which I have considerable experience and which I generally find to be excellent:

On this bike, however, they feel almost disconcertingly spongy. It could be that they need to wear in a bit, or it could be a cable routing issue, but I've never experienced this with new BB7s in the past, and even my Big Dummy with it's roughly 900 foot long rear brake cable housing has never felt this vague. Though ostensibly a bad thing, the brake's sponginess was in keeping with the overall feel of the bike, which basically rides like the eponymous airplane in the movie "Airplane!":

("Sluggish...like a wet sponge.")

I suppose this is what happens when you take not particularly supple tires and very heavy wheels and spongy disc brakes and not-crisp shifting and assemble them in the shape of a road bike when they really want to be one of those department store chopper bikes. As for the belt itself, I thought the idea was that they were quiet, but as I rode it made a rhythmic creaking noise, which made me feel like I was in a cheap hotel room with thin walls and my neighbors were having a "collabo:"

Granted, I've only just taken delivery of the bike and have not had time to try to adjust it out, but from what I can see while riding, the chainring (or belt ring, or belt wheel, or whatever you would call it) has a wobble in it and as such is moving laterally in relation to the belt. It's very slight--about as much as a typical chainring wobble--but evidently with the high tension the belt requires it's enough to make a racket.

Again, this is just a first impression, but overall so far I'm pretty impressed by how poorly thought through this bicycle is, right down to the fact that the bars were wrapped backwards from the factory so the tape kept peeling under my hand:

All of this for the low price of $1,750:

Though you do get one (1) set of bottle bosses and a bottle cage.

In the coming days I will invent paces for this bike and then put it through them, but given that you could buy a pretty decent road bike and an inexpensive singlespeed commuter for this price (my Scattante rides quite nicely and is still serving me well as a commuter two and a half years later) instead of merging the two concepts into one bike, I'm sort of struggling to see the point of this.

But in the interest of science, I'll keep trying.