Tuesday, 7 April 2009
Frankly, I must admit I don't know much about Rick Smith - and only recently stumbled upon the series about Yehuda Moon and his work and life at Kickstand Cyclery.
In short: I love it. Rick Smith obliviously knows the ways of the bike shop life, and not only delivers solid artwork - he also manage to combine humour and bicycle activism in his very own way.
Besides: Any cartoon revolving around utility bicycling, cargo bikes and alternative transportation deserves a big plus in my book...
You may read the strips online, and it's up to you whether or not you want to donate or pay a monthly subscription fee to support the cartoonist's work. So far, the strips are collected in two books that can be ordered on this site.
Here's how he introduces the second book collection of his strips, published February 2009:
"Yehuda Moon lives on his bicycle. With his buddy Joe, the intrepid Moon runs the Kickstand Cyclery, a bike shop that caters to a variety of bicyclists. Together, they advocate for the bicycle as a means of transportation and fun. This is the first album of collected comic strips. You’ll meet a bevy of characters whom Yehuda and Joe encounter: the bike ninja, the bike hypochondriac, their elderly compatriot Fred, the Shakers who build the bicycle frames, neighborhood kids starting riding clubs, roadies, commuters, and many more."
Follow Yehuda Moon on Twitter
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Sunday, 5 April 2009
Top photo: Madsen bicycle by Carfreedays under a Creative Commons licence
You may wonder what is the point of this bicycles. (You may also wonder why anyone will buy bicycles this ugly). Both questions can be answered rather simply: They are useful. They can carry a lot of stuff. They allow you to use your bicycle instead of your car from time to time. That's the main points of longtail cargo bicycles. If you are too bothered by the looks, you are missing the point.
There are lots more to be said about the growing longtail cargo bicycle category, and the ever excellent Bike Hugger has already summed most of it up in these three articles:
That easily saved me a whole lot of thinking and typing, leaving only the pictures left... Well, actually, I'll for sure get back to this topic (partly because it's gonna be hot in the bicycle business soon) - but for now, here is simply an overview of who makes what.
Someone is missing, I know, the question is who?
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll put 'em up.
Surly Big Dummy
Surly has always been strong on utility, with a no-nonsene line of bicycles. The Big Dummy is built by the now open source Xtracycle Longtail Standard - meaning any of the useful Xtracycle accessories will fit directly on the rear end.
The heavy duty bicycle truck among the longtails - this robust German longtail can handle up to 440 pounds/200 kg of load on the back wheel. A very sturdy (and heavy) frame combined with a super strong, 48-spoke rear wheel is key here.
This is the 2009 version of the Kona Ute - the American/Canadian bicycle brand most known for their mountain bike lineup is among the very few mainstream companies with a longtail on the market. Not Xtracycle compatible, though.
Longtail pioneers Xtracycle deserves credit for being the driving power of the modern longtail movement, at least in the US market. After ten years of making the Free Radical longtail conversion kit, they now finally released their first complete longtail bicycle.
Gary Fisher El Ranchero
This is only a prototype, shown at the 2008 bike shows. But mountain bike pioneer Gary Fisher is a strong believer in the utility bike market, and the El Ranchero is expected to launch for 2010 in compliance with the open source Xtracycle standard:
The Madsen kg271 lends to the European box bike-tradition, with their very own twist - placing the box behind the saddle, and using a smaller reat wheel to maximize the capacity. The "bucket" can seat three childres without problems.
One-off custom build. Photo by Clever Cycles
One-off custom build.
Photo by EthanPDX at a Creative Commons licence
Hunter High Plains Drifter:
One-off custom build.
Fietsfabrik Pack Max Duo
This Dutch special model is the odd one out here, with two kiddie seats mounted and ready. The Dutch market is already stuffed with several different cargo bike models - but this one is one of a few that place most of the luggage in the back.
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Saturday, 4 April 2009
The Handsome Devil seem like just the bicycle most people would love to have ready outside their door: Understated, classy and oozing with quality details. Totally in line with the company's convincing slogan:
People are handsome. We make their bicycles.
I gently lift my hat in respect.
Photos by Handssome Cycles
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Tuesday, 31 March 2009
Weather-proof Shimano disc brakes and eight internal gears. A nice, wide handlebar securing a comfortable riding position. Light, fast-rolling tires. A steel chain case, so you don't have to worry about oily pant legs. All put onto a light, aluminium frame with a carbon fork.
Swobo released their first line of bicycles back in 2007, designed and developed by designer and product manager Sky Yeager - in the industry well known for the rather fabulous models she once designed for Bianchi USA, the American division of the legendary Italian brand.
Now she is heading Swobo further into the market of cool, functional urban bicycles - with the new Baxter, as well as the more racy Crosby model.
Yes, it's superficial - judging from the pictures alone, but I'm already a fan of the Baxter: Bikes with this attitude are usually made of pretty heavy steel tubes, forsaking light weight and efficiency for old-fashioned streed cred. With the Baxter, Swobo and Sky Yeager has come up with an very well thought-out frameset flush with sweet details for the aficionado, yet clean and simple looking for the uninitiated.
Have a look.
SLIDING DROPOUTS: If you are a bike geek, you'll appreciate this picture a lot. WIDE IS GOOD: This is the handlebar your hands would ask for if they could talk.
INTERNAL AFFAIRS: Swobo could of course have fastened the brake cable for the rear wheel to the top tube with ordinary frame stops and zip ties. But Sky Yeager don't want that stuff snagging your pants, and put it inside the frame. Clean, tidy and smooth.
LIGHT BEER: The seat post have an integrated light which look great but won't allow you to lower the saddle. The saddle itself feature an integrated beer opener which can hardly be seen, but will allow you to lower your shoulders.
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Wednesday, 25 March 2009
It's Your Ride from Cinecycle on Vimeo: I have never seen the beauty of urban bicycling captured on film like this before. Made by Cinecycle, sponsored by French tire maker Hutchinson, this short film is worth spending four minutes on.
Who are the folks who made this? Answer: Cinecycle is a film and video production company based in Brooklyn, New York.
Acccording to director Daniel Leeb, the filmmakers are all first an foremost cyclists and bicycle enthusiasts - and currently in post-production of a feature documentary of bicycle messengers. But first they let this Hutchison-sponsored short film out on on Vimeo, showing all the world the beauty of being a bicycle rider in a flat city...
Director is Daniel Leeb of Cinecycle Productions, director of photography is Bill Winters, editor is Adam Barton, and composer is Alan Wilkins. The music "The Hustle" was written specifically for this film.
Check out what Daniel Leeb himself have to say about the film, and enjoy the spring that's in the air!
"This short film features Alfred Bobe Jr. and Fatimah Durkee. The film spins a visual ballad between the two cyclists experiencing the city in their own unique ways. Both cyclists are city dwellers who amidst the chaos of the concrete jungle have created a private and peaceful psychological space as they traverse the streets. They are both alone and yet they are both very much aware of each others presence. The film speaks to the harmony with one's environment that can be found while riding a bicycle in a city and the synchronistic connection we can have with those we have not even met. The short was commissioned by Hutchinson tires".
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First of all: You can't buy this product yet. The illustrations here are a contest entry found at the social design network Design 21, whose mission is "to inspire social activism through design". According to the UNESCO-partnered project's website, they "connect people who want to explore ways design can positively impact our many worlds, and who want to create change here, now".
Following their own mantra "better design for the greater good", Design 21 announced the design contest Power To The Pedal - closing for entries in April 2008. Pepin Gelardi and his co-author Teresa Herrmann didn't make it all the way to the podium with the Contrail concept, but ended up as one of a few finalists, among a total of 221 entries.
Gelardi reports that he will be doing a working prototype before summer 2009, and have already got loads of positive response.
Check out the Contrail idea in his own words:
THE ROAD: A bicyclist on the road often feels that they are under assault by passing vehicles. Particularly in cities where bicyclists seem rare, motor vehicles aggressively dominate the road, discouraging potential bicyclists from joining in.
THE CONTRAIL: Contrail is a small bright bike accessory that allows bicyclists to color in their own space on the road. It’s like playing with sidewalk chalk, but faster.
THE WORKS: Contrail holds 200 grams of chalk, enough for about 20 miles (32km) of riding. It functions much like a carpenter’s chalk line: A small amount of powdered chalk is filtered through a brush inside the device and picked up on a felt wheel. The felt wheel transfers this chalk onto the rear tire leaving a fine layer. As chalk builds up, the tire leaves a faint line of color on the roadbed. This is you contrail. It is a colorful and ephemeral representation of your path.
JOIN IN: Making your mark is easy. (1) The device snaps onto the rear seat tube just below the seatstays with the felt wheel resting lightly on the rear tire. A custom molded rubber band holds Contrail in place. Rubber shims may be used to insure a tight fit. (2) Once you begin to ride, you’ve already started to contribute to the strength of the community and the safety of your fellow riders. Your path becomes evident and lets others know where you’ve been. (3) The more riders present, the brighter the community’s paths become. Motor vehicles become more aware of our presence and potential riders find themselves encouraged to join in.
NOTES: The housing is made from durable recycled HDPE and the felt wheel from recycled cotton. We chose chalk because it is eco-sensitive, non-toxic and temporary. Like a jet’s contrail, the lines on the road will fade with time and rain. Chalk powder refills are already available in red, white, blue and green at hardware stores world-wide. Or they could be purchased in a full rainbow of colors online.
["skittle bikes" photo by Jessi Pervola, used with permission]
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Tuesday, 24 March 2009
After only a week of testing, I'm convinced: Electric bicycles are the rising stars of urban transportation. Super fun to ride, getting you faster and further with less sweat. The quality are better than ever, but unfortunately, steep price tags and boring looks still put people off.
(Picture above) EXPERIENCED: Giant of Taiwan is already a veteran among the e-bike manufacturers. The Giant Twist range is their 2009 offering for smart cyclists.
Electric bicycles are close to a commercial breakthrough in the European bike market, even though they still fly under the radar of the general public.
No idea what this is all about?
Electric bicycles are just like ordinary bikes, except for an electric motor, delivering 250 watts of power assist up to 25 kmh. They are legally classified as bicycles, and thus do not require any registration or insurance, and can be ridden in ordinary bicycle lanes.
Most e-bikes require the rider to move the pedals while riding, though, if not, the assistance cuts off. The same goes for exceeding the speed limit of 25 kmh. Beyond that speed, the motor cuts off in order to meet the EU legal classification as a bicycle.
FAST COMMUTER: The German Kalkhoff Pro Connect is one of Europe's most sought after e-bikes at the moment. This one has the motor placed in the crank, instead of the front hub.
The e-bike should be the genius of urban transportation. You get all the advantages of a bicycle, but with much less sweat. Perfect for the hilly street or the long commute, or with a child trailer in tow. I've tested an e-bike for a week only, and loved every second of it. Incredibly fun, and a cool surprise. But most people don't know that they exist, and most bike riders don't get the point of electric assisted bicycles.
No wonder: Just looking at one is enough to make anyone with the slightest appreciation of bicycle design sick. Not only do they look bad and downright clumsy, electric bicycles have long been looked upon as transportation aid for "physically challenged" people. Bikes for those not able to ride up a hill by themselves.
And, since most bicycle shops largely are staffed up with sporty, young Duracell bunnies - the electric bicycles have been belittled for years. Of course it never helped that they cost and weighed twice as much as conventional bikes, struggled with unreliable electronics -and, as mentioned, looked like sh*t.
That is about to change. The bikes are slowly losing weight and improving looks, batteries are faster charging, longer lasting and more compact than ever - and a new e-bike standard for electronic fittings are established, as well as a business network for electric bicycle makers and lobbyists.
BATTERY CHAMP: Schwinn Tailwind feature the latest in Toshiba battery technology.
Still, lots of people find the assistance bit off-putting, as bicycling are widely known as an effective way to exercise while transporting yourself from A to B. This is no different with e-bikes: You can mash the pedals as hard as you want, the motor assistance will only help you ride faster for longer.
I've taken a heavy e-bike up a long and painful uphill traverse from downtown Oslo to my own home, pedalling like a champ, and was just as sweaty and tired on the top as usual. Except I was there several minutes earlier than usual.... Next time I didn't push all that hard, and was home at the usual time - but with no sweaty shirt. With an e-bike, you simply have more choice. If you doubt the effect, check out this rather unusual bicycle race report.
What about actual sales numbers? In European markets like the Netherlands, United Kingdom, France and Germany, the sales of e-bikes have been booming since 2006. Netherlands is taking the top spot with 120 000 e-bikes sold last year (total population 16 mill), and the German market are reported to double between 2007 and 2009.
The UK market are smaller in numbers, with a record sales figure of 15 000 e-bikes last year, but shops already provide more than 100 different models to choose from. The Asian market finds itself in another league - estimates of the annual e-bike sales in China in 2007 ranged between a whopping 20 to 30 million units. There are estimated to be 260 bicycle manufacturing companies in China making electric bikes and electric bike components, according to 2005 numbers from the Promotion Association of Electric Bicycles (PAEB), Taiwan.
In the Western world, the e-bike movement rolls at a slower pace, but nevertheless in a clear direction:
US bicycle maker Cannondale, owner of the e-bike maker Schwinn, expect their e-bike sales to jump fivefold from their upstart in August 2007 and until end of 2009. Cannondale, well known for bold and innovative product development, are doubling their investment in e-bikes in 2009 and plans to establish e-bikes as a separate product group within their company. Giant, one of the world's largest bicycle makers, have been working on e-bikes for more than years, but very few other big brands have been following suit.
Trek, best known as bike sponsor of Lance Armstrong and probably the most responsible advocate of everyday bicycling in the business, are one of the few big brands rumored to have an e-bike in the works. A Trek e-bike will probably open the eyes of both the consumers and competitors, generating a broader understanding of the concept.
NEW BREED: The british GoCycle takes a whole new approach to the electrik bike. It is designed from the ground up as a electric assisted, partially foldable urban bicycle.
While serving a small, but fast growing market, the e-bike industry are looking to the battery manufacturers for marketing push. Today, most e-bikes need at least 4 hours for a full charge, and will run between 20-40 km before needing another plug-in. '
Toshiba is one of the battery makers who are pushing these boundaries. The japanese brand has has, according to the BBC, "announced plans to build a new factory to make its new super charge ion battery (SCiB), which can be used in electric vehicles. Toshiba said it had selected a site in northwest Japan for the plant. Local media reports say it will cost up to 30bn yen ($332m; £224m)". The Schwinn Tailwind is currently using the Toshiba battery, with a record-fast charge time of only 30 minutes.
Shown in this article are e-bikes from the mainstream bicycle makers. In addition you'll find lots of models on the market, made by brands dedicated to electric bikes. I find most of those bikes utterly lacking in the design department, and wonder why they doesn't pay more attention to that aspect - knowing the importance of a well thought-out layout on the showroom floor.
There is of course difficult to achieve a clean look with a 3-5 kilo battery pack involved, but innovative designers have already proven that new thinking will find a way - look at the Gocycle for a prime example.
My bet: A few years forward, we'll se e-bikes that are cheaper, lighter, stronger, longer lasting - and way better looking, and not at least: far more people realizing the huge potential they carry for smarter transportation.
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Monday, 16 March 2009
You know it, I know it: Worn-out, brown and rusty bicycle chains are the sure sign of an ignorant, lazy bicycle owner. Anyone will know him by the creaking, squealing signals from his suffering drivetrain – leaving no doubt about this person’s non-existent level of insight and responsibility regarding bike maintenance.
But hey, I’m supposed to be a bike geek! I know all the fine details of chain, cog and lubrication technology, I have the required remedies on hand in my own home, like a true bike geek should. But I’m also a bike geek with a full time job, several kids to play with, lot of friends to meet, other passions to entertain, no particular love for wrench-related work and of course the usual shortage of sleeping hours.
That’s why I don’t love the chain drive on my own bike.
That’s also why I was very intrigued when I first heard of the belt driven bicycles that have appeared during the last years. This season they are finally entering the mainstream bike market. Have a look at it in this YouTube-clip from the Associated Press:
This polyurethane belt strengthened by small carbon fibres claims to deliver twice the lifespan of an ordinary chain, at about a third of it's weight - while requiring no cleaning, no lube, no maintenance, and will thus not decorate your pants with greasy black oil prints. It will not stretch, and promise to stay as efficient as new all the way.
On top of it all: It's silent. No creaking, no squealing. No embarrassment.
Intruiging, isn't it?
Gates Carbon Drive (mostly known for belts used in car engines) is the manufacturer who are now cooperating with several bicycle makers on the belt drivetrain. Small brands have been into belt drive for years, but the concept didn’t really catch public attention until Gates and Spot Brand launched mountain bike prototypes three years ago.
The German brand Nicolai also has a Gates belt-driven commuter bicycle on their 2009 menu, the Argon TR. A very very nice, but also a very high-end, expensive niché model:
The first major mainstream player to join the belt club is Trek Bicycles – with two urban bicycles featuring the Gates Carbon Drive belt for 2009: The single-speed hipster Trek District (with orange rims below), and the sensible, geared commuter Trek Soho.
I’m way too uncool to even consider the oh-so-trendy District, and thus fell directly for the dull grey and apparently boring Soho instead. Boring? No! It must be the perfect commuter!
Look: Eight internal gears in the rear Shimano Alfine hub, unaffected by sand, dirt or weather conditions! Internal roller brakes, steadily controlling your speed regardless of rain or snow! Trek even supply decent fenders! And topping it all off: A Gates belt, instead of last years traditional metal chain.
All nice and dandy, then?
I’m truly fascinated, but not totally convinced.
The belt itself are obviously better suited to such an exposed workplace than the good, old metal chain. It will not stretch, break or rust, and – unlike the love-demanding chain – keeps totally silent without maintenance.
But looking at the whole picture, the comparison becomes more complex:
* The belt can not be split, like the chain. And since it is trapped within the frame tubes, the frame itself has to split at the rear wheel axle in order to install or change the belt. This means that you’ll need a specially made or modificated frame, where a chain can be used on all kind of existing frames and drivetrains. On the other hand: The modification is not a huge one, and could easily become a standard feature on future bicycle frames.
* The belt can not be used on your existing drivetrain. You’ll need special cogs front and rear, specifically designed to fit the belt. This means spare parts will be hard to find, if the system should fail.
* The belt can not be used with outboard derailleur-based gear systems. It naturally can not move along a set of cogs, and thus requires a single speed setup (light, but narrow range of use) or an internally geared hub (broader range of use, but heavier than ordinary outboard drivetrains).
* This last point immediately raises another one: You can only compare the belt drive to a chain drive when both are used in a single-speed or internal hub system. In these single-cog drivetrains, the state of the chain is functionally less crucial than in outboard systems – since it only has to transfer power between two cogs, not having to shift smoothly between cogs at the same time.
* The belt drive is more expensive than chain-based systems. Last year, the 2008 Trek Soho model had an ordinary chain drive, but better and stronger disc brakes. This year, the 2009 model get you a Gates Carbon Drive system, but less effective and cheaper roller brakes as a trade-off.
In this case, I prefer better brakes, even if accompanied by an embarrassing squeal from my dry, red chain.
The Spot Highline - a commuter bike from the company that launched the belt drive way ahead of Trek, but with far less marketing power.
The Gates belt cog, designed to press dirt straight through - and keep maximum grip in all conditions (click picture to make it readable)
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Sunday, 15 March 2009
If the Seven brand doesn't ring a bell, you should know that the American company for the last decade have been at the very high end of the road and mountain bike market, specializing in individually custom tailored titanium bike frames, made-to-order in Watertown, Massachusetts.
The customers range from experienced bicycle connoisseurs to image-obsessed, overpaid male professionals without a clue, who simply want to buy whatever is on the top shelf (this latter group somehow manage to ruin the potential pleasure of owning a Seven for some of the folks in the first group...).
The Parcours have two stand-out features perfecly fitted for a long run as a trusty commuter:
1. Frame, fork and handlebars all made of titanium
In short: Titanium tubes for bicycle use do not rust, they are light and they are strong. In other words: An ideal choice of material for a bicycle challenged with daily, all-year use through rain, mud and salty winter roads. Downside: Titanium won't be shaped into this kind of tubes without a lot of trouble, hence the astronomical price. But if your bike means more to you than your car - and you're ready to put your money where your heart is, well, no problem then...
2. Rear hub with 18 internal gears by Rohloff of Germany
This is the Rolex of the bike hub world. The bike in the picture have an ordinary 9-speed Shimano drivetrain with all the gears/sprockets/whatever on the outside, just waiting to be worn down. Internal gear hubs have only one chainring on the outside, and all the gear mechanisms hidden inside. Guess who's the best bet for folks who want less maintenance? Right. There are many internally geared hubs out there, Shimano Nexus and Alfine are often mentioned as the industry standard, but translated into the watch world, those hubs are Timex.
Rohloff is Rolex (only without the sleazy "hey-look-at-me-I've-got-low-self-confidence-and-no-control-of-my-spending-whatsoever" image).
MORE TEXT COMING UP.
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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Looking at the Velorbis bicycles, I wouldn't bet on 2009 as the production year. But these striking beauties are hand made in Germany as we speak, in high-quality cromo steel, made into lugged frames with a lifetime warranty against failure. That show what kind of quality the danes put into their framework design.
The equipment are surely chosen to match: The leather saddles, fender mudflaps and leather handlebar grips are all from the legendary Brooks brand. Wheel rims are stainless steel from dutch quality maker Van Shothorst, tires from German market leader Schwalbe. The list goes on, the attention to detail will please even the most critical connoisseurs.
It's also fun to check out the practical features: Enclosed drum brakes and hub gears, working undisturbed in rain, snow and dirty winter streets. Also cool: The top-notch German Bush & Müller front and rear lights. They are both powered by the dynamo front hub, and controlled by a sensor that automatically switch on the lights as soon as you ride into a dark tunnel, or into a dark street.
Weight shouldn't be your top priority when choosing a classic european city bike like this. But despite the old-skool heavy duty, double powder-coated steel frames, the full, complete standard equipment - Velorbis try to save weight where possible, easing the burden of those having to carry the bike upstairs to a secure storage, and also contributing to an easy ride feel. The bikes weigh in between 17 and 19 kilos, no featherweight by any standard - but a little lighter than similar bikes of lower quality.
Velorbis is a rather new brand, born in 2005. Their website tells the story like this - go check them out:
"Velorbis was born from the hunt for a desirable bicycle to use in London as an alternative to public transport after the London bombings in 2005. The founders - a Dane and a Swede living in London - brought up with sit-up-and-beg style bicycles, couldn't find what they were looking for and therefore decided to design their own.
Velorbis has an exclusive new concept store in Copenhagen, Denmark to cater for their growing popularity in the Scandinavian market. They also plan to extend their network of concept stores in other major European cities in the near future. Velorbis are currently expanding their worldwide retailer base with a focus on markets such as Scandinavia, the UK, Germany, Holland, Spain, the US, Canada and Australia. For further information, please visit www.velorbis.com"
All these pictures courtesy by Velorbis - check out more on their Flickr set:
Want to know how the bikes actually ride? I haven't yet had the pleasure of riding a Velorbis, but these nice folks have:
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