Bicycle at land’s end

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No, not the merchant. No, not the place of that name in England or India, Spain or Mexico.

This is land’s end in the broader sense: Here, the kingdom of foot and pedal, there, the kingdom of fin and whale.

Here is where direction matters.

Turn back and you have a continent to cross. Turn this way and the land behind you–filled with beauty and reason, undercut by fear and destruction, paved over, patched up and rolled out–is erased by water.

You consider joining land and water with a small rock, your position not requiring great strength or aim, but the timeless lovers are clearly engaged in an embrace hundreds of miles long. Even if the rock were sharp, its projection would be pointless.

So you leave the rock. You take a photograph. You return home.

The cornfield has no end.

Posted in Report from the road | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Why you should read Bicycle Quarterly

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To understand one of the reasons you should read Bicycle Quarterly, you need to know why I quit subscribing to the New Yorker.

It wasn’t because I tired of the cartoons (I didn’t). It wasn’t because I didn’t read much of the fiction (though I didn’t). It wasn’t because I tired of long-form journalism (I love writers who believe their stories need space for a proper airing out).

I quit because the New Yorker infuriated me with its lack of self respect. I’m talking about the subscription label glued to the cover–those sometimes clever, sometimes thought-provoking and sometimes beautiful covers.

Imagine Edward Hopper bringing a big rubber stamp down on Nighthawks. COMPLETED BY ME, EDDIE “PENSIVE” HOPPER, JANUARY 21, 1942, YOU STINKERS. Why would he do that? He wouldn’t. He didn’t.

Why does the New Yorker do it? One reason could be it’s the cheap thing to do. Another is that Condé Nast might sell a few copies of the same cover for $125 a pop if the magazine defaces the version it sends to you.

Compare that to Bicycle Quarterly. The mailing label is attached to a plastic wrapper that protects the magazine from damage in handling. What’s the message here from Editor Jan Heine?

Here’s that high-quality publication you were looking for, Mr. Joslin. I wanted to make sure it arrived in good condition. I put a lot of sweat into this month’s issue, but you won’t even notice so much as a water spot. Enjoy.

Thanks, Mr Heine. I will.

And I’m really enjoying the latest, thicker-than-usual issue, or, as it states on the cover, “50th issue!”

You might, too, if…

-You like performance bicycles with steel frames.

-You like reading about centerpull brakes. (Compass Bicycles, another Heine enterprise, is introducing an updated version of the long-out-of-production Mafac Raid brakes favored by builders of randonneur bikes.)

-You like pictures of French riders from the 40s, 50s and 60s and stories about them, including that of one rider, Gilbert Bulté, who may have saved the 1200-kilometer (746-mile) Paris-Brest-Paris ride when he took charge of the event in the early 1960s. (He also wasn’t a fan of the wide tires that Heine continues to promote today–and told him so.)

-You like road tests that take place in the real world. (Jan gathered his thoughts on a $16,000 J.P. Weigle “shop bike” during a three-day, 360-mile Bicycle Quarterly “Un-Meeting.”)

-You like smart, opinionated writing.

-You’re intrigued that I’ve covered only the first third of this special, 108-page issue.

-Did I mention Bicycle Quarterly still takes steel frames seriously?

Wait a minute. You read this far? Get over to bikequarterly.com right now and subscribe.

If you’re tired of your friends going on and on about Wooden Boat magazine (and it’s a great publication, really, really), you need an overwhelming response: your very own copy of Bicycle Quarterly to slap down on the bar in front of their wet, sunburned and confused faces.

Really, what’s your other option here? A beat-up copy of the New Yorker?

Nice sticker you got there. Shame if something was to happen to it.

Posted in Read and roll | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Top nine bicycle-related phenomenons of ancient history

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You see a lot of top 10 lists this time of year: Top 10 music albums of the year, Top 10 clothing styles of the decade, Top 10 celebrity deaths by finger puzzle. So I decided to chime in with my own Top Nine list. Why nine? Because these are items that long preceded the past millennium but nonetheless made the bicycle possible–and until recently, our society wasn’t that good with zeros. Why ancient history? Because I don’t know that much about the carbon-fiber, ceramic-bearing, GPS-driven world of today’s high-tech bicycle consumers–other than the fact that the longer they stay out of the saddle, the faster they used to be.

So, what did ancient history do for the bicycle? Well, it all started with the…

IMG_0530Wheel. Obvious, right? Find a way to support a load and make it easier to move at the same time. Sure, you can put rollers under the load, but you’ll be forever feeding rollers under the front of the load and retrieving them after the load has passed. Rollers might be okay for building the pyramids, but the wheel is how you keep moving without bending over all the time. It’s the secret of the Chinese wheelbarrow. Well, the wheel and…

The axle. Without the axle, the wheel is almost exactly as useful as the practice of hoop trundling. But drill a hole in the center of the wheel and you can use an axle to attach the wheel to a wheelbarrow, a cart or eventually, a bicycle. Today, the wheel gets all the attention. The axle is still there, getting the job done without fame or fortune (unless you’re thinking about buying an axle and the other parts of a rear 40-hole Phil Wood disc brake tandem hub). Of course, neither the wheel or the axle would have gained much traction without…

Friction. In the mid-20th century, bicycle frames sported oil and grease fittings. If Charlie Cunningham’s vision had won the day, they might still. However, with tighter tolerances and the bicycle industry’s focus on replacement of parts (and bikes) rather than repair, anti-friction maintenance is largely limited to the chain. But there’s good friction, too. The friction that keeps your hands from sliding off the handlebars, the friction between brake shoe and braking surface, and the all-important friction that allows your tires to grip the road while accelerating and rolling through corners. With friction, you have something to push against, but that’s useless without…

P1090128A destination. If you lived in France centuries before A.J. Liebling, you might have lived in a cave rather than the Hotel Louvois. A cave, after all, does have its attractions: shelter from the elements, protection against unleashed animals, a place to display your art. But you have to leave the cave to find a date or food or to stare at the sun. In short, there have always been places to go and good reasons to go there. Bicycles simply make a lot of destinations more fun to reach. And that’s because of…

Distance. Walking uses the same fuel as basal metabolism. You don’t have to buy any equipment. There’s no better mode of transportation than walking. Babies know this. When you’re in the living room, you can see over the dog. When you’re on the kitchen table, you can see over the dinner guests. However, some destinations may be farther than you might like to walk. For instance, Boston when you’re in San Francisco or India when you’re in Ireland. I’m not saying you’re in a hurry, but people in a hurry aren’t in a hurry because of distance. They’re in a hurry because of…

10703551_856020004422371_157243709121472620_nTime. In our technological age, it’s easy to believe that time is something we invented. We make clocks so big they’re stored on top of buildings. We developed time zones so trains might run on time. Twice a year, the U.S. Congress indulges its oldest fantasy, that of thinking it can actually change time. But time isn’t a mechanism or the lines on a map or a roomful of humorless lawyers bent on protecting what might have been Ben Franklin’s most misunderstood joke. Time is what we used more efficiently than the wolves behind us. Time is the proof that distance exists, that some distances are too great, and some destinations, too unworthy of our presence. We hurry to make the most of time, though the fortunate among us have more than enough time to exist. We cannot run (or pedal) out of time, but time will inevitably run out of us. Which would be really depressing except for our innate sense of…

Balance. In the ancient past, before the wheel, the axle or the iPhone 6, our ancestors were practicing to ride bicycles, by which I mean they walked, practicing the art of the controlled fall from one step to the next, much as you control a bicycle by steering. The 20111109-092126.jpgbicycle falls to the left, you steer to the left–until the bicycle falls to the right and you steer to the right. Your goal, though you might not think of it as such, is to fall less to the side than you move forward. If you’re good at riding a bicycle, it may appear to an observer that you’re riding in a straight line. But the straight line is an illusion. And we know that because we have…

Vision. When Nuñez, a mountaineer in H.G. Well’s story “The Country of the Blind,” stumbled upon a valley full of blind people, he saw opportunity. As a sighted person, he imagined he would quickly become the ruler of those around him. But when he described the sense of sight to people who had never known sight, they assumed he was deranged. (They also believed that removing his eyes would cure him of his derangement.) What Nuñez thought of as his strength failed him because he misapplied it. Vision is for building and riding bicycles. We see a fallen log and imagine the wheel. We see a hinge and imagine the headset. We see the electric chair and imagine the Shimano Di2 digital shifting system. But maybe that’s not vision. Maybe that’s…

patch-kitIntelligence. Physically, the people of ancient history were the same as us, if not as heavy. Their minds worked the same way ours work. They didn’t build bicycles thousands of years ago because they were too busy coming up with the wheel and axle and bread and wine and beer. Forget the bicycle, the ancients were busy inventing time travel–transmitting their thoughts to younger minds and then to papyrus and paper for the illumination of later generations. They taught us what it means to be human–and how being a human is different from being a wolf or a rock or the lights in the sky on cloudless nights. Culturally, they did the heavy lifting. And because they disliked lifting heavy things, some of their descendants are fixated on the search for ever-lighter bicycle parts, while others are modern alchemists, transforming those shiny-new high-tech gadgets into something even more precious: cash.

 

Posted in Becoming a bicycle, Equipment, History | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rough roller: 1964 Schwinn Corvette returned to service

Peoria's Illinois Cycle sold this Schwinn Corvette in 1964. The bike probably spent most of the past 30 years rusting away in a basement.

Peoria’s Illinois Cycle sold this Schwinn Corvette in 1964. The bike probably spent most of the past 30 years rusting away in a basement.

In 2013, Erik Reader, now president of Bike Peoria, was rehabilitating a $5,000 house just off Monroe Street. That’s when he asked me whether I wanted a bicycle he had found stuffed in a corner of the basement. I said sure. And I didn’t change my mind when I saw its condition.

The original wheels were trashed (though I may eventually resurrect the rear hub). The paint was and still is largely theoretical. The saddle was gone, and the saddle clamp, a famously non-standard Schwinn part, was missing as well.

It may have been the missing clamp that led to the bicycle’s consignment to storage. The owner–or whoever had possession of the Schwinn at the time–probably couldn’t figure out a way to attach a new saddle to the old post.

I, on the other hand, decided to attach an old saddle to a new post. Economically, you can consider that to be the first of several mistakes. Because there’s no way it makes any sense to return this bike to the road.

Except for the fact that it was a lot of fun to work on.

Schwinn Corvette, Illinois Cycle

You have to work to rebuild a bicycle this obsolete. Fortunately, there always seems to be a source for 26 x 1-3/4 tires on the Internet. And no, 26 x 1.75 tires won’t fit.

Economically, it doesn't make any sense to fix a bicycle this far gone. Here's what's original to the bike: frame, fork, headset, cranks, bottom bracket, fenders, chainguard, seat post frame clamp and Peoria bicycle license.

Economically, it doesn’t make any sense to fix a bicycle that was as far gone as the Corvette. Here’s a list of the parts I kept through the rebuilding process: frame, fork, headset, cranks, bottom bracket, fenders, chainguard, seat post frame clamp, coaster brake strap and Peoria bicycle sticker.

Nothing wrong with the old handlebars and stem, but this set was a little wider and a lot shinier. No idea why I still had Schwinn handlebars in the junk box.

Nothing wrong with the old handlebars and stem, but this set was a little wider and a lot shinier. No idea why I still had Schwinn handlebars in the junk box.

Everything you've read about the SRAM Automatix 2-speed hub is correct: 1) It doesn't come with a brake strap, 2) It should come with a larger cog because high gear kicks in early, and 3) It's nifty as all get-out.

Everything you’ve read about the SRAM Automatix 2-speed hub is correct: 1) For some bizarre reason, it doesn’t come with a brake strap, 2) It should come with a larger cog because high gear kicks in early, and 3) It’s nifty as all get-out.

This bicycle originally came with a sidepull rim brake. I filed the dropout openings just a bit so the drum brake axle would fit. It was easier to adjust the front brake than to read the instructions.

This bicycle originally came with a sidepull brake. I filed the dropouts just enough to accept the drum brakes’s non-flatted axle. Note: It was easier to adjust the front brake than to interpret the instructions for it.

Chicago-built Schwinn bicycles came with super-skinny, super non-standard seat posts. The new seat post is compatible with standard saddle clamps. The Brooks B15 saddle is another junk box find.

The new seat post is compatible with standard saddle clamps. The Brooks B15 saddle is another junk box find.

Posted in Equipment, Other bicycles | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Word on the street: Al Cappello, Portapedal Bike, Tempe, Arizona

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Daughter Rosie, Al and Donna Cappello.

Say what you might about Peoria, Illinois, real estate here is relatively stable–especially compared to the Phoenix metro area. Prices there dropped more than half between 2006 and 2011. In 2009, Phoenix had more empty commercial space than anywhere else in the country.

While the home and commercial markets have bounced back, the local chaos in real estate, combined with the 2008 recession in the rest of the United States, hit the Phoenix architectural community hard, leading down-on-their luck practitioners to look for other options.

What Al Cappello found was folding bicycles, and he turned that find into Portapedal Bike in Tempe. (His former partner, Jeff Looker, turned to guitars. For a musician, walking into Acoustic Vibes Music next door must be a lot like a folding bike fan like me walking into Portapedal Bike.)

How long have you been here in Arizona?

IMG_3731I moved here from Buffalo, New York, in 1975 when I was 21 years old, so I know snow. I moved to pursue a second college degree in architecture.

I graduated and started an architectural firm in 1987 with my business partner, Jeff Looker. Donna [Al’s wife] was our office manager, and we did well until the first recession in the early 1990s. That lasted a year, year and a half.

Then we got together again, and Donna, again, became our office manager. And, again, we did pretty well until the last recession. That was a real killer for us.

The bank that funded most of our projects in the Las Vegas area went under, so we didn’t get paid. Contractors didn’t get paid. We thought after a year we’d be back into things, but year after year it got worse.

Don’t get me wrong. Architecture’s a great profession, but it’s a god-awful business. It’s rife with problems and issues and liabilities. No one was really happy in it, and during the last recession we went from 13 employees plus Donna, myself and Jeff to one employee in a matter of months.

How did you get into the business side of bicycling?

It was my sin-in-law. I can’t call him my son-in-law yet, but he’s a wonderful sin-in-law. He and my daughter live in northern California. He used to fly into a little airport that was three miles from our home but 30 miles from where we work.

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Welcome to the Brooks Nook, an alcove filled with a wide array of the English saddle maker’s offerings, including the Cambium saddle, which features a vulcanized natural rubber and organic cotton canvas construction and, as a result, immediate comfort without the break-in period associated with traditional leather saddles.

When they would fly in, they would call us to pick them up. Donna or I would leave work and drive thirty miles to drive them the three miles to our house. Once he mentioned that if they had folding bikes, they could ride from the airport to the house and pick up their stuff later.

So I started looking for used folding bikes and got to know them and appreciate them. I was amazed at what a quality ride they provided. I became fanatical about them because I had a lot of time on my hands.

I bought 10 bikes to find the right pair to refurbish and give them for Christmas. But then I thought to myself even that pair didn’t look that good, so I bought two new bikes.

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Tucked inside the Brooks Nook: a case full of MKS quick-release pedals. I run the pedal closest to the camera, the MKS Lambda, on my Bike Friday tikit and Dahon Bullhead.

That left me stuck with a lot of folding bikes, so I went down to Tucson. They have a bike fair down there. It’s quite nice. They close down the old downtown area. Out of the 10, I sold seven within an hour and a half.

I thought this could be quite a niche market. But it wasn’t until a few months later, with the recession dragging on, that I knew I had to do something,

I knew of a pair of Italian folding bikes called Amicas that had been for sale. I called the guy, and he said they hadn’t sold yet. I was with Donna that day doing what she wanted to do because she had been working really hard and taking care of her dad. So I asked her can we go look at something now–we spent the day doing your stuff. And she said sure, as long as it doesn’t have anything to do with folding bikes.

I said well, it does. And she agreed to go anyway.

So we went down to Mesa, and when the guy pulled the bikes out, Donna nudged me and said, you gotta buy these bikes. They were gorgeous, gorgeous condition, really cute. So I bought them. Later, Jeff looked at them and said you gotta open a folding bike shop, and that’s how it all it all started.

What about the lines you carry now? How did you start carrying them?

Jeff started a guitar shop called Acoustic Vibes Music. He’s right next door. That’s where our bike shop used to be. We were calling some of the major folding bike manufacturers in the world, like Bike Friday and Brompton. We’d tell them that we’d like to sell their bikes, and they’d ask where the shop was.

We’d say we don’t have it yet, but we’re going to remodel our building, and by the way we do sell guitars, and this is what our web site looks like. I don’t know how we convinced them, but we did.

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This is a 1983 Moulton AM7. Newer, lighter Moulton bicycles sport visibly smaller-diameter frame tubes and, according to Al, much improved suspensions.

I called the Moulton distributor. He was here in Phoenix. He came down to our building, and we told him what we wanted to do.

Lucky for us he started in the music business. He was a guitarist. So when he saw the guitar shop, he said we could sell the bikes, because he wanted to come down and see the guitars every once in a while. That’s how we got started.

We started with the minimum number of bikes on a credit card. We had to sell at least three bikes to buy four, then we had to sell five bikes to buy seven, and we just slowly eked it out that way. We started with Moulton, Brompton and Bike Friday. Those were our first three lines.

Everything here is for easy transport, easy stowage and a fun ride. Because when you ride a small wheel, the steering’s much more responsive than the big-wheel bikes. It’s the difference between driving your dad’s big old Buick and a Mini Cooper.

Could you tell me a bit about each line? Who buys a Moulton, for instance?

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Note to Larry D.: Here’s a belt-drive two-speed Moulton, just like the one you came oh-so-close to buying a while back. And it’s in stock for immediate delivery, too.

Moulton probably attracts the most sophisticated buyers–people who have ridden high-end bikes like Bianchis or Pinarellos. They appreciate the mechanics of the bike. Not only is the Moulton quick and agile because of the small wheels, but the front and rear suspension allows you to use high-pressure, low-rolling-resistance tires. So it’s really quick but extremely comfortable.

The Moulton is not a folding bike, it’s a separable bike. You can easily throw it into your car or disassemble it to fit into a suitcase. A faired Moulton holds the land-speed record for a rider in a normal riding position: 51.29 miles per hour. It’s almost revered in Japan. Moulton doesn’t advertise, but I think it’s the best-riding bike in the world.

Moulton is not well known here in the States, so you have to have a history in cycling. It’s usually the older crowd that buys a Moulton. I sold one to a 76-year-old gentleman in Milwaukee. He wrote me back. He said the last time he rode 40 miles without wrist, shoulder and neck pain was 25 years ago. Said he felt fantastic.

That’s the Moulton.

Brompton?

It’s like the Moulton; it’s a handmade bike out of the U.K., and like the Moulton, designed by a mechanical engineer. It is the most compact of all the folding bikes.

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Colorful line of Bromptons, and just part of Portapedal’s inventory of these London-made folders.

Brompton owners have ridden good bikes in the past and now travel quite a bit. They travel for business or pleasure, and they know how good it is to have a nice bike with them, how it enhances any travel. What a great way to explore a new area, by bike. By car you miss a lot. Walking is too slow.

It’s so easy to take with you. You can ride to a restaurant in a new town, fold it up and take it in. It’s easy to take it on a bus. If you’re in Europe, you can hop on any of the trains with it. Unfolded, the Brompton has a 41½-inch wheelbase, which is as long as a big-wheel bike. So it’s very stable.

My Brompton customers have done 300-mile and 500-mile tours in Europe. They’ve done the Seattle-to-Portland ride with it, 204 miles in two days, and the Tour de Tucson, 111 miles in one day. It’s a surprisingly capable bike that is very portable.

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Al says the Brompton C-Bag is the company’s most practical. Here, he demonstrates a C-Bag-equipped Brompton in shopping-cart mode. Just take the mostly folded bicycle into the grocery store with you, load up on supplies, pay for them, and wheel on to your next destination.

Commuters use it day in and day out to get to work. Multimodal commuters combine it with the light-rail system here in Phoenix.

One of my most interesting customers is Ryan Guzy, a young engineer. He has a great website called Brompton Mafia where he posts pictures of all the places he’s been with his bike. He just got back from a Brompton race in Chile. He did the Brompton race in Spain. He rides his Brompton to work. It’s always by his side. He’s brought many people into the fold, pun intended. It’s his favorite mode of transportation.

How about Tern?

I’ve carried Tern bicycles since that company began. The younger crowd likes them. They have a more contemporary look, and they’re super lightweight. If you’re looking for a 20-pound bike, Tern has it. Tern has some lower-end models, too. They have a $400 bike that a kid from Arizona State University could at least get started with.

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Al is a big fan of the Tern X10, which features an aluminum frame, wide-range 10-speed drivetrain, American Classic hubs, FSA cranks and an adjustable stem.

The originator of Tern is Josh Hon, who is the son of Dr. David Hon, who started Dahon, which is the oldest and probably the largest folding bike company in the world. Josh wanted to go off and do some things on his own.

He’s made some nice improvements in componentry and especially in the frame, in the hinges of the frame. The higher-end bikes feature beautiful components, including hubs by American Classic and low-spoke-count rims. The wheel design comes from Rolf Prima, which has been low spoke count for years and years. They’re just gorgeous bikes.

The people at Tern are enthusiastic. They come out with something different every year. I think they’re going to go a long way.

And Montague?

Montague is the full-sized folder. The original concept came from an architect in Boston. We primarily carry the company’s mountain bike.

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You remove the front wheel before folding a Montague. If you look closely, you’ll see a road Montague tucked behind its mountain-bike brother. (And to the right of the picture, you’ll see the back end of a Bike Friday Future tikit.) In Tempe, the Montague mountain bikes move. The road bike? It’s been there a while.

There are a lot of campers here in Arizona. We get a lot of snowbirds who come out here with their RVs and camp and then go back to Minnesota and Canada, all those cold places and so they’re big fans of the mountain bike. It has 26-inch wheels that allow them to ride the fire roads.

They choose the Montague over non-folding mountain bikes because they can store it inside their cars, which is the advantage to all folding bikes. They’re easier to store, easier to protect from thieves. You don’t have to worry about them.

We don’t stock Montague road bikes because they have too much overlap with our other folders, all of which are basically road bikes. Next year, Montague is coming out with a gravel grinder that has wider tires, and we’ll stock that.

What about Bike Friday?

We’re still a Bike Friday dealer. We don’t stock a lot, because number one, Bike Friday sells directly, and number two, they make all different sizes of frames. It’s hard to figure out what to stock. You get a particularly tall person or a heavy person or a particularly short person and the medium bike you have on the floor doesn’t work.

But we do take special orders for Bike Fridays. They’re great people and they’re good at what they do. We service a lot of Bike Friday bikes.

Where do your sales come from?

Our sales are about half walk-in, half Internet. The past few weeks it’s been more out the door, more like 60/40. Next week it could go the other way. Our most-distant customer lives in Australia. He ordered a Brompton. He was in a little isolated town and found us on the Internet. We’ve also sent bikes to Canada.

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Another look at the beautiful, but production-intensive Moulton spaceframe. Note the inventor’s signature. In the late 1950s, Alex Moulton (1920-2012) designed the suspension of the original Mini car.

We get a lot of inquiries from places like Thailand, Italy and Russia, but we can’t send bicycles to every country because many of them have protected distributors. We can’t send to Asia for instance, but we do get a lot of inquiries. We talk to people from all over the place.

Maybe I need to back up a bit. How did you get into bicycling in the first place?

I’ve been a cyclist all my life, passionate about cycling. Jeff, my old business partner, was also an avid cyclist, and we commuted to work. Originally our office was 12 miles away from our homes. We drove into work on Mondays with our bikes and four changes of clothes and rode back and forth the rest of the week on our bikes.

It was really an alternative form of transportation for us. After a hard day’s work, you ride home, and you feel great, both emotionally, physically and everything else. It’s a great way to start your day and a great way to end your day.

I rode home the day the temperature in Phoenix hit its all-time high, 122 degrees. I wasn’t aware of the record, but I should have been. Halfway through the ride I reached for my water bottle. It was like drinking tea.

You’ve started two companies. You’ve ridden the architectural roller coaster. What’s a great day for you now?

I’m 61 years old. I feel like I’m 12 years old when I’m on one of the small-wheel bikes. It just has that kind of feel to it.

The only Dahon on the floor is the Jetstream P8. Al likes it because of its front and rear shocks.

The only Dahon on the floor is the Jetstream P8. Al likes it because of its front and rear shocks.

I enjoy seeing excited customers.

Say a customer comes in for a big full-size bike, because, they know a small-wheel bike can’t be any good. I show them the Brompton for fun, or the Tern.

At first, they’re very skeptical. But I love seeing the ear-to-ear grins on their faces after that first ride. You don’t have to sell these bikes, just show them the features.

We get emails. People talk about going to Hawaii with their bikes and how it was the best trip they ever had. Some people say the bikes have changed their lives, that they’re using the bike day in and day out and that they’re losing weight and feeling better than ever. They design their trips around the bicycle.

With the majority of his customers between 50 and 81 and favoring an upright ride, Al sells a lot of Brooks B67 saddles. According to Brooks' website, this saddle was first featured in the company's 1927 catalog.

With the majority of his customers between 50 and 81 and favoring an upright ride, Al sells a lot of Brooks B67 saddles. According to Brooks’ website, this model was first featured in the company’s 1927 catalog.

That’s the joy of this business. When I get a phone call here, it’s somebody saying, hey, I love the bike, I want to order one for my wife. In architecture it’s hey, one of you guys made a mistake in the dimensions, and it’s a $25,000 mistake. Who’s going to pay for it? I don’t miss those calls at all.

We see ourselves almost as a service business, providing a service to folks. Because when you get people cycling more, you know, you just feel great. A bicycle is just a great way to experience the world, and we help make that happen.

So every day we get someone on a bicycle, that’s a great day.

Posted in Bike Friday tikit, Brompton, Business, Dahon, Montague bicycle, Tern Bicycles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Word on the street: Bill Tracy, Metro Cyclery, San Diego

Bill Tracy sells Brompton and Tern folding bikes. He commutes to work using a combination of bicycle, car and trolley.

Bill Tracy sells Brompton and Tern folding bikes. He commutes to work using a combination of bicycle, car and trolley.

Here’s how you find Bill Tracy’s two-year old bicycle shop. In the continental United States, go as far west as you can, then follow the coast south until you’re about 25 miles from the Mexican border. Look for palm trees near a tile-roofed strip mall. One of the nation’s shortest all-glass skyscrapers is probably still for lease across the street. Can’t miss it. And you shouldn’t miss talking with Bill.

So, where are we, Bill?

Cruisers and folding bikes dominate sales at Metro Cyclery.

Cruisers and folding bikes dominate sales at Metro Cyclery.

This is technically Linda Vista/Morena District, but we are near the junction of Interstate 8 and Interstate 5, which is centrally located near Mission Bay, Sea World and downtown.

And how did you get here?

Well, for most of my working life, I was in the building materials supply business, which I sold in 2000. I’ve always had a passion for bikes so I decided to go to bike mechanic school to learn how to work on my bikes. From there I ended up working at a couple of shops near Palm Springs part time and learned that I really enjoy the biking business. But then all our kids started having babies down here in San Diego and decided to move back to be near them and open my own shop.

Seems to be a strong affinity between Nutcase helmets and folding bikes.

Seems to be a strong affinity between Nutcase helmets and folding bikes.

I noticed the folders as soon as I came through the door.

Yes, we carry Brompton and Tern folding bikes. We carry Yuba cargo bikes, which we’ve been selling quite a few of lately, mostly to young families. It’s kind of a minivan replacement. The bottom one there is an electric one, the elBoda Boda, and then we also carry Electra beach cruisers and Townies.

You can pack a lot of Bromptons and Brompton bags into a small space without making it cramped.

You can pack a lot of Bromptons and Brompton bags into a small space without making it cramped.

As far as numbers of bikes, that’s the one we sell the most of for riding around the bay. Electra’s Townie is the best-selling bike in North America, so we sell a lot of them.

We also carry several more commuter-oriented bikes. The Breezer–we carry several of their commuter-type bikes. Cruiser bikes and the folding bikes are the ones we sell the most of. And the Townie.

Electra's "Flat Foot Technology" (note the forward crank location on these cruisers) gives riders decent leg extension and the ability to stop while seated with both feet flat on the ground. Perfect for nearby and ultraflat Ocean Front Walk and its eight-mile-per-hour speed limit.

Electra’s “Flat Foot Technology” (note the forward crank location on these cruisers) gives riders decent leg extension and the ability to stop while seated with both feet flat on the ground. Perfect for nearby and ultraflat Ocean Front Walk and its eight-mile-per-hour speed limit.

How did you decide on Brompton and Tern?

I think they’re the two best brands of folding bikes. I knew when I opened the shop that I wanted to carry Brompton. I also wanted to carry another brand that had a lower price point, and Tern seemed the better choice in terms of quality and value. We sell a lot of folding bikes to commuters, people who like to travel by plane, boat, or RV, and to students or people who are space conscious. We sell more Bromptons than Terns, but we sell quite a few of both.

Brompton folding bikes come in a lot more colors than red and black. Metro Cyclery carries the rainbow.

Brompton folding bikes come in a lot more colors than red and black. Metro Cyclery carries the rainbow.

The Bromptons are more portable. That’s one of the big differences between the two. They fold up smaller, so if the space thing is an important consideration, that might tip someone toward the Brompton, because it’s easier to deal with the folded bike. When the Bromptons are folded you can pull them along without carrying them. They fit into tighter spots. A guy who has a big boat bought two yesterday.

Tern has different models for different things. They have some that are like racing bikes. And they have bikes that start at about half the price of the Brompton, so that’s a consideration for some.

If you're looking at a bunch of bicycle shop pictures and you see a racy white-and-orange Tern Verge X10 suspended above a line of massive single-speed cruisers, you may have found your San Diego pictures.

If you’re looking at a bunch of bicycle shop pictures and you see a racy white-and-orange Tern Verge X10 suspended above a line of massive cruisers, you may have found your San Diego album.

You can get into a nice folding bike for less money than the Brompton with the Tern. Tern’s best-selling bike is this one here, the Link D8, and it sells for about half what the Brompton sells for.

Least terns are endangered birds in California, but when it comes to bicycle sales, the Tern Link D8 is among best of breed.

Least terns are endangered birds in California, but when it comes to bicycle sales, the Tern Link D8 is among best of breed.

What do you ride to work?

I live in the east part of San Diego County, a town called Alpine, so I drive down the hill from Alpine to El Cajon and then ride the bike in from there. My commute into work is 20 miles one way, and there are a couple-three decent hills in there.

For five months I was riding a two-speed Brompton, one of our demo bikes, and it was doable on the trip in, but I had to work pretty hard on a couple of the hills. So when I decided to get my own Brompton, I got a six speed. It’s got a wide-enough gear range to go pretty much anywhere, and so I ride it in two or three days a week.

Cruisers are great near Mission Beach, but it was a lot easier climbing the hill behind Metro Cyclery on a six-speed Brompton. This is Bill Tracy's personal commuter, complete with front generator hub and lights.

Cruisers are great near Mission Beach, but it was a lot easier climbing the hill behind Metro Cyclery on a six-speed Brompton. This is Bill Tracy’s personal commuter, complete with front generator hub and lights.

If my wife is working that day, she’ll swing by with the car after work, pick me up and take me home. Otherwise, I just ride a half mile up to the trolley station here, fold up my bike and hop on the trolley, and take it back out to my car.

There's no better way to sell parts and accessories by talking about your own experience with them. I bought the Sella Royal Mano Grips after riding Bill Tracy's very own Brompton.

There’s no better way to sell parts and accessories than by sharing your own experience with them. I bought the Sella Royal Mano Grips after riding Bill Tracy’s Brompton.

One of the options on a Brompton is a Brooks B17 saddle, so I have that on a couple of my bikes. I really like that saddle. Brompton also offers a whole bunch of bags that clip on the front of the bike. Mine is a bag called the S-Bag, but they make an open basket that’s really popular and a high-end bag called the Game Bag that’s new as of a few months ago. Lots of options to carry things on the bike.

Where do your customers come from?

They come from all over San Diego County. Many come down from Orange County and Riverside County, and we do a lot of business with people who live in Mexico, that live in Mexico City. We’ve sold a lot of folding bikes to those folks.

Business has been good and it’s been a busy summer. It’s only our second year, so we’re still getting our feet on the ground.

You’ll find Metro Cyclery at 1211 Morena Boulevard in San Diego. Look for the colorful Nutcase helmets just inside the door. Bill also sells Arkel bags, including three models I use: the Bug, the large Handlebar Bag and the TailRider Trunk Bag. If the shop were any closer to me, my budget would be in real trouble. But I limited the visit’s monetary damage to a pair of moderate-style Sella Royal Mano Grips that I want to compare to the Ergon grips on my Bike Friday tikit.

Note to Co-Motion’s Dwan Shephard: Might want to send a tandem brochure down to San Diego. Bill’s making noise about getting a new tandem with a Rohloff hub and belt drive.

Bill puts in quite a few miles each year on his S&S-coupled Santana tandem with Shimano Sweet-16 wheels. (Yep, 16 spokes a wheel: pretty wild.)

Bill puts in quite a few miles each year on his S&S-coupled Santana tandem with Shimano Sweet-16 wheels.

Posted in Brompton, Business, Other bicycles, Tern Bicycles | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bicycles on purpose in the Netherlands. Plus, car free in San Francisco

dfsdfsToday, city centers in the Netherlands attract great numbers of people on bicycles. But it wasn’t always this way. In the 1960s and 1970s, cars dominated the narrow streets. “What happened in Assen and across the Netherlands was that planning on a large scale gave streets a defined purpose rather than all of them operating in a chaotic manner as through routes by car,” writes David Hembrow. “Motor vehicles were not prioritized above all other transport but careful considerations were made of where they should go and where they should not.” Check out the before and after street scenes. (A view from the cycle path)

Brief round-up of architecture for bikes, including a Danish apartment building that allows its bicycle-riding occupants to reach ground level from their front doors even when those doors are several floors off the ground. (Guardian US)

This couple got rid of a car and picked up an electric cargo bicycle. Lower transportation expenses made it easier for the pair to buy a condominium in San Francisco. Here’s a look at the bicycle that carried the load, the BionX Bullitt. (Hum of the city)

IMG_0513I promise: I’ll catch up on product reviews soon. In the meantime, I’ll simply say I agree with this review of the versatile Fix It Sticks T-Way Wrench. “Shipping with a 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, and 6-millimeter hex bit, along with a T25 star bit, the T-Way is almost three tools in one. After a quick trip to my closest hardware store for a 1.5, an 8, and even a 10-millimeter bit, I had just about every hex and star wrench needed for my bike, all in one tool and for less than forty bucks.” (Pictured: Using the original Fix It Sticks multi tool to refold the frame of a Dahon Bullhead.) (Art’s Cyclery Blog)

 

 

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