Wednesday, December 22, 2010

This Old Bike, Extra-Festive Edition

First things first: Our ever-astute readership probably noticed that what was planned as a 12-day series of gift ideas was suddenly truncated to six. I'd like to say there's a good reason for that, but really, I just started getting bored with myself (join the club, right?) So we're moving on and forgetting that whole "12 Days" idea ever existed. We are at war with Eurasia, we have always been at war with Eurasia, we will always be at war with Eurasia...

Today, The Cycle is thrilled to present our first contribution from our roving band of crack photojournalists. Staff shutterbugs (and FOBs -- Friends Of Blog) Amy and Ross happened upon this vintage specimen at the Hancock House bed and breakfast in Dubuque, Iowa (a stay I'm sure they'll try to expense to The Cycle now that we've immortalized it):

First, major props on the props. Totally in keeping with the whole Winter Solstice thing. And then there's the brilliant homage to the BikeSnobNYC disembodied hand. Bravo!

Here we see the spoon brake (clearly, it's capability for "speed modulation" inspired a young Tullio Campagnolo), and a bag made to fit in the gap between the sweeping top and down tubes. I understand that Grant Petersen has a plaid one of these in development as soon as he can invent a cutesy name and backstory for it. Might I suggest the "Terwiliger Tweed 'Tweener"?

Snazzy cockpit setup. I really like the curve of that bar -- quite elegant.

Looks to be a bent-wood chainguard with some kind of rope lacing across it. Wood rims, too.

The wood theme carries over to the rear fender too. The rope lacing and lack of a corresponding front fender makes me think this one's just designed to keep a skirt (or kilt, for our Scottish male demographic) out of the wheel.

Show me... HEADBADGE! It says "J.T. Hancock, Iowa" -- which (per the Hancock House website linked above) was a "wholesale grocer and distributor." How that becomes a bicycle brand, I dunno. Maybe they had the clout to have a bike rebadged for their stores.

Finally, some leather. Yes, that's a saddle with a cutout from the turn of the LAST century, lest you think Georgena Terry invented them. Dig the snazzy weave across the cutout, too! I can't look at this without imagining some kind of old-timey snake oil sales pitch that went with it: "The Distinguished Doctor R. Minkow introduces his Revolutionary New Bicycle-Seat, guaranteed to provide Cooling Breezes across the Nether Regions, ensuring an Ideal Temperature for one's Delicate Humours and encouraging the Free Flow of said Delicate Humours, thus instilling Greater Vim and Vitality for the Cycler." Good thing we're too smart for that kind of hucksterism in the 21st century, right?

Anyway, major thanks again to Amy and Ross, bike-paparazzi extraordinaire, for capturing these shots and giving me something to write about. And, dear reader(s), if you've yet to celebrate your winter-centric holiday this month, have a safe and happy one.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The 12 6 Days of Festivus, Part 6

Socks. Yep, socks.

I know, I know. A holiday-themed thing that's now stretched out for six nights with no sign of stopping any time soon, and I'm recommending socks as a gift? Kinda giving away which holiday we celebrate here at The Cycle World Headquarters, right?

But hear me out: I'm talking about wool cycling socks. The O.G. of the modern sheep-derived bike sock (and the one that got me hooked) is from Smartwool:

When I was wrenching for my pal Bill circa 199ish, we had a few pairs of Cannondale-branded Smartwools in stock, and he simply would NOT shut up about these socks. In fact, I still remember his pitch: "You know how you have that one pair of socks that you like so much that you dig through the basket of clean laundry looking for them? That's what these are." So I finally gave in and bought a pair. And I'll be danged if he wasn't right... great temperature management, wicking, and none of that weird wet-plasticky feel you get from even the best synthetic socks.

Since that gateway drug, I've fed my addiction with more Smartwool, DeFeet, Sock Guy, Fox River (an Iowa company!), you name it. Yeah, I have a problem. And yeah, I do feel kind of silly getting this excited over socks. But what can I say? Wool socks are awesome.

(Our Design Director/Chief Knitwear Technician would like me to remind you that a competent knitter can make CUSTOM wool cycling socks. I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't taken her up on that offer yet... which is kind of like Sacha White's kid riding an off-the-shelf Trek instead of this amazing Vanilla.)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The 12 6 Days of Festivus, Part 5

This one's a little riskier -- I think the cyclist on your list needs to be just a bit bike-geekier for today's gift to really be a winner. Either that, or your cyclist needs to be vulnerable to bike-geek tendencies... and you have to be prepared to live with the consequences of encouraging those tendencies.

I'm talking, of course, about a subscription to the best bicycle magazine in print today (ATMO, trademark R. Sachs), Jan Heine's Bicycle Quarterly. The genius of BQ is its ability to expose a piece of cycling history you may have never seen before: the French "constructeur" bikes of the mid-20th century. While race bikes were only starting their grinding evolution toward the one-trick ponies of today, builders like Herse and Singer were crafting fully-equipped, fully-integrated, surprisingly light bikes... fenders, lighting, racks, handmade components, the works. I confess, I was entirely ignorant of these builders and their bikes before BQ came along, and now I can't get enough of them.

Not content with just doing history, BQ then tries to figure out what it is about these bikes that makes them ride so darn well... and puts their hypotheses to the test with the most rigorous attempts at bicycle science I've seen to date. I may take issue with the results from time to time (don't get me started on "planing"), but I admire the attempt to bring some objectivity to the murk. You'll never swallow another boilerplate, regurgitated-press-release bike "review" (laterally stiff yet vertically compliant!) quite the same way after a taste of BQ.

(If your cyclist has been extra-good this year, think about popping for one of the gorgeous books from Bicycle Quarterly Press: The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles or The Competition Bicycle - A Photographic History. I have the former, and I keep hoping to someday get off the naughty list and receive the latter... hint, hint.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The 12 6 Days Of Festivus, Part 4

It has suddenly dawned on me that perhaps twelve straight days of "BUY STUFF!" might not be the best use of my bloggy pulpit (it's like a bully pulpit except that no one actually pays attention to you when you're on it). So, for Day 4, I'd like to talk about some holiday ideas that even Charlie Brown himself might not brand with a "good grief!" 

First up, maybe you could donate to a local bicycle collective and/or co-op in the name of your bike-nerd friend and/or relation. They might even give you a card to present to your cyclist a la George Costanza and the Human Fund. Seeing as how this is usually a Des Moines-centric blog, I'll kick in a little plug here for the Des Moines Bike Collective. Which reminds me, I need to put my money where my blog is and bring a box o'parts down there sometime soon... 

I look at giving to a co-op/collective as a little gift for everybody who rides a bike. After all, their mission is usually to get more bikes fixed up and into the hands of more people. More people on more bikes makes bikes seem more normal, thus life gets just a little bit better for everyone who has to play in traffic on two wheels. Our own collective has been instrumental in the new Des Moines B-cycle bike sharing program, regional trail maps, and valet bike parking at a variety of downtown events... all things that are dragging the city (sometimes kicking and screaming) toward more overall bike-friendliness.

If you don't have a collective or co-op in your neck of the woods, you can still get into the bikey charitable spirit if you just have a few bucks and some basic wrenching skills. Scavenge up some inexpensive kids' bikes at garage sales, Goodwill, or what have you, get them into good running condition with those basic wrenching skills, and pass them on to local charities that provide gifts for kids who would otherwise go without. Voila, you've just warmed the frigid cockles of your heart and possibly planted the seed for a future cyclist. The bikes don't have to be that wonderful or expensive to begin with -- think back to what you probably started riding on as a kid. They just need to be functional and safe*. See if your local bike shop will cut you a deal on some inexpensive kids' helmets and/or blinkie lights to go with the bikes while you're at it.

Don't have the bucks to buy the bikes in the first place? Call up those "gifts for kids" charities and offer to tune up any bikes they receive. Most probably don't have a bike nerd on staff and would be thrilled to have someone make their bikes safer. I know that when word got out one year that (like a chimpanzee) I could use basic tools, my velo-palace was overrun with all manner of Huffies and Magnas and Roadmasters (oh my!) Again, don't apply your most rigorous standards of snobbishness... just make the things go (and stop!) and make them safe*. For the cost of only your time, you get that cockle-warming, future-cyclist-creating vibe again.

That's my public service announcement, anyway. I'll be my usual crass and cantankerous self tomorrow, lest anyone accuse me of being quasi-human...

*Sometimes, you'll get one that just can't be made safe, no matter what you do. Best you can do is salvage any usable parts for the next one. Just beware -- the idea of "parts donor" bikes sounds great at first... until they've taken over your entire garage...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Stop The e-Presses, And Be Still My Beating Heart

Pardon the interruption in our critically-abstained "12 6 Days of Festivus" series, but this seemed worth it.

There's a readable (and -- dare I say? I dare! -- enjoyable) article in this month's Bicycling magazine (henceforth to be denoted by the juvenile-yet-appropriate abbreviation BM).


Only one, mind you, but it's there. I almost did a spit-take with my latte when I was flipping through a copy (without buying it, of course) at the Local Corporate Mega-Emporium of Books and The Same Mildly Tolerable Coffee You Can Buy Every Three Blocks.

It's The Great Mechanic Within by Eben Weiss. And now I don't feel so guilty about the latte-spit on that hard copy I didn't buy, since BM has apparently entered the late-20th century and started posting their content on the magical interwebs.

If you're even the least bit savvy with the Googles, you know that Weiss is the quasi-anonymous man behind BikeSnobNYC. I feared that his foray into paper-based writing (both in book form and as a -- choke -- "journalist" for the rag in question) would ruin him, but it would seem that exposure to BM has only made him stronger.

Do you ever wonder exactly what's wrong with that guy who spends his rainy afternoons (and heck, even some of the sunny ones) in the garage tightening and pinging spokes like a demented piano tuner? Read The Great Mechanic Within. Heck, if you are that guy (guilty), print a copy and hang it on your workbench.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The 12 6 Days of Festivus, Part 3

So we've already hydrated your favorite cyclist and covered his/her noggin... next up, let's give a little something for the bike itself:

The Park "Rescue Wrench" is a simple little multi-pronged bolt tightener in the tradition of the dumbell wrenches of yore... except that it replaces most of the box-end fittings (that are only useful if your bike predates Pac Man Fever) with modern Allen wrenches. You get all the Allens you could want (3mm through 6mm plus an 8mm), 8mm/9mm/10mm box wrenches and a small flathead screwdriver. Slick. No Torx bits, though, in case you need those for your disc rotors (my large-diameter braking discs are called rims, so I worry not about such things.)

Trivial aside: Did you know that Allen wrenches weren't invented by a guy named Allen? Me neither! And it seems there's nobody named Bondhus either. Very disappointing. I'll continue to use Allen Bondhus as my "world-famous blogger checking into a hotel" pseudonym, though. It seems to work, since I've never been mobbed by adoring fans or pursued by paparazzi while using it. Brooks Ashtabula? Totally different story...

But back to the Rescue Wrench! Obviously, it's not a shop tool -- it's for roadside or trailside emergencies. Using some bits can be awkward as the others bump into (or scratch) parts around the bolt you're trying to move. The upside, though, is better-than-average leverage compared to a lot of Swiss-Army-style folding tools, and no pieces to loosen or lose. The sharp edges (especially on the screwdriver) can Swiss-cheese your tube if you let the tool rattle around loose in your bag, however. Mine rides in an old nylon tool wallet (also a Park product, though long-ago discontinued) with a few other essentials (more details on The Things I Carry post-Festivus) for just this reason.

So, bottom line, what a tool. But enough about me...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The 12 6 Days of Festivus, Part 2

File this review under, "Geez, that product looks so simple/dumb, I can't believe how well it works, and thus I am kicking myself for not inventing it." I give you... the Buff:

See, it even looks dumb in the Amazon ad! What is that, a black rectangle? Sweet, I'll totally drop thirteen bucks and change on that.

What you're actually seeing is a simple tube of thin, wicking polyester fabric, available in about a zillion colors/patterns, designed to be worn about the head/neck/face region. I was introduced to these things by pal and frequent blog-commenter Steve K. of Peoria after I'd lamented about my increasingly Pantani-esque melon and its vulnerability to STHVS: Sunburn Through Helmet Vent Syndrome. Steve said, in effect, "Get ye a Buff, oh chrome-domed one," and although I was initially skeptical, I did.

Lest you think I'm underdescribing the Buff, it really is just a fabric tube. Hot day? Pull one end over your dome, let the other hang down the back of your head covering your neck, and ride off happy. If it starts to feel sweat-soaked, swap the ends -- the one flapping around outside your helmet is probably dry. Slightly cooler weather? Double it back on itself and pull it down far enough to cover your ears. Either way, it's thin enough to fit under a helmet without even adjusting the straps. Oh, and just in case you need a snazzy cravat for a post-ride cocktail party, pull it down around  your neck and schmooze away, Mr. Fancy-Pants!

I should have some downsides here to give a veneer of critical balance, but I got nuthin. The Buff has one fairly simple job to do and does it well. I would say that it makes me look like a dork, but it's not really fair to blame the Buff for that particular pre-existing condition.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The 12 6 Days of Festivus, Part 1

The biggest complaint I get this time of year from my non-bikey friends and relations when we hold the Airing of Grievances is that they don't know what a bike geek (like yours truly) would possibly want under the Festivus Pole. Seeing as how I only review stuff on this blog that I already own and use, I can't really help my friends and relations, but maybe I can do yours a favor. Thus begins my first Generic Nondenominational Holiday Cyclist Gift-Giving Guide! (And note that, as usual, if a link kicks you over to Amazon and you make a purchase, my beak gets ever-so-slightly wet, so thanks.) On the upside, my tastes are cheap (unlike Oprah), so my list of favorite things tends to run somewhat frugal.

You may not know it from the bug-eyed glasses and bizarre outfits, but most cyclists are human. And as humans, we're mostly water, so hydration is a big concern. Assuming your cyclist isn't one of those "bladder on the back" types, there's no better water bottle than a Kleen Kanteen. Most bike-types go with the 27 ounce size, but I recommend the 18 ounce -- it's a little smaller than a regular water bottle, but it's also the size most likely to fit a bog-standard water bottle cage. I'd also go with the plain stainless just because I don't know how well the painted finishes will hold up against said bottle cages. And no matter which size you choose, the Sport Cap is the way to go, since it's the only one that's "drink on the fly" compatible.

Now I can already hear the howls of protest: "You said these gifts were CHEAP! That's a 17 dollar water bottle, for Pete's sake!" Okay, okay, okay, guilty. But amortize it. Your basic plastic water bottle is what, four or five bucks? Use it for a few months, run it through the dishwasher a couple times, and I'm guessing you have a leaky, bashed-up hunk of recycling bin fodder. Do the same to a Kleen Kanteen and it will just say, "Is that all you got?" I bought my first KK four years ago and finally had to replace it this season after I accidentally dropped it off the bike onto concrete at 20 miles per hour... and it only picked up the tiniest pinhole dribble-leak from that incident.

Some minor quibbles about the Kleen Kanteen, lest I be accused of a one-sided review. First, since it's steel, good luck squeezing it to spray water over your head on a hot day (unless you have superhuman strength thanks to a regimen of -- ahem -- "supplements" that are banned by the UCI). Second, as the water comes out, air needs to go in -- a feat accomplished by a small valve in the top that sounds like an obscene phone call from a porpoise. And finally, a steel bottle on a hot day sweats more than... well, more than a fat bike blogger on a hot day.

(Oh, and my word-nerd quibble... Kleen Kanteen with two Ks? What is this, my hometown greasy spoon, the Kountry Kitchen? And the double-E in Kleen? I know, I know, cutesy branding is memorable branding, but it still makes my head hurt. Luckily, the logos wear off.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Been There, Done That, Buying The T-Shirt

I've touted the shirts from local shop Raygun before in one of my many "much love for Des Moines" posts, and now they've finally come out with one just for cyclists. 

Dang, now I think I gotta have one. So polite. So Midwestern. "Please don't run me over." Reprinted in mirror-image on the front in case the person happens to be running you over in reverse. 

If they'd just print that sucker in reflective ink, it would be PERFECT.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bike-Shaped Objects: The Court Jester Has No Clothes

Pal Scott of fivetoedsloth has already beaten me to the punch regarding Ikea's bike-shaped object (BSO) giveaway (drat, I'm slower than a sloth!), but those bikes have me thinking.

First, I come to bury the BSO, not to praise it. As a bike person, I find these things pretty darn abhorrent, and what I've seen of Ikea's example is no different:


Just off the top of my head, I see two tons of one-piece crank, plastic pedals, a bizarrely over-designed frame (sorry, what was wrong with the double-diamond again?) and some pretty cheap parts. On the bright side, it doesn't have any cheap suspension to fail, so at least one tiny neuron in my Luddite brain is flashing out a happy signal. I certainly won't be wasting any of my precious garage space on one.

But, bike elitists of the world, let's take a good look at ourselves and our obsessions for a second. When you think about recreational pursuits other than biking (assuming you do), are the same ridiculously high standards applied?

I'll flay myself as an example. Every once in a great while, all common sense leaves my mind and I decide that maybe I should give running a chance. I know darn well that, like a bran muffin, this urge is going to pass (and like the bran muffin, the results won't smell so great). So do I go to the highly-touted local running shop Fitness Sports and get fitted for some high-quality (and pricy) pavement-pounders by a member of their experienced staff? Uh, no. I go to a generic big-box sporting goods store and buy the shoe equivalent of a Huffy. Now, the real runners out there will probably use the same arguments on me that I use on big-box bikers: The lousy shoes are contributing to the lousy experience, thus if I were to graduate up to real shoes, I might become (shudder) an enthusiastic runner. Still, knowing myself, I know the odds on that outcome versus "expensive shoes collect dust in closet", so I stick with my cheapies.

Example two in the self-flaying: Racquetball. Before I broke my leg and got even slower afoot (which didn't seem possible), I was a quasi-avid chaser of the small ball in the enclosed room. I have a darn fine racquet from an actual racquet store, but only because said store was a former employer (they sold bikes in the back), I could play a lot of high-end demo racquets for free, and I got employee pricing on the one I finally bought. But if I look at myself honestly, that racquet was a silly indulgence. My game was so lousy to begin with, I was never going to make those strings really sing. I could have walked into that same big-box sporting goods store, picked up the Magna of racquets, and got just as much enjoyment out of chasing the ball with it. 

Shoot... I started out ready to bury the Ikea bike, but now I think I might be defending the ugly bugger. After all, for most normal people (i.e., not me) the joy of bikes is turning the cranks (even if they're heavy one-piece junk) and feeling the wind on your face -- the rest is just navel-gazing and lug-licking. If the Ikea bike can give someone that rush, then more power to it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Cycle Is All Growed Up

That's a real, honest to gosh paid advertisement over there on the right. I know, big whoop, I have an ad. But it's more than that -- it's the first time in my life that I've been paid to write quasi-creatively. So, thanks to the good folks at, purveyors of wheeled, snowy and schleppy holidays, for their support of li'l ol' me and my prattle. 

More importantly, you may have noticed that The Cycle got a bit of a makeover last weekend. The new header and overall design tweakage is all thanks to Carla, Senior Art Director and All-Around Swell Spouse. Let us all heap our praise upon her... but don't mention the paid ad or she'll start expecting a salary. 

(Boring technology sidenote: A couple readers have reported a wacky post-redesign scroll-wheel glitch with Internet Exploder 7. I do too much cross-browser testing in my real job to pay it a ton of heed here, but if you see the problem and drop me a comment with OS/browser information, I'll see what I can do. I can report that we test okie-dokie on Exploder 8, Safari, and a couple different flavors of Firefox.)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Weight Weenieism, Charlie Cunningham-Style

A sickness has befallen our intrepid staff here at The Cycle, so I'm lazy-blogging today. Instead of writing something (attempting to be) cool myself, I'll point my loyal reader(s) to this post about a nifty Charlie Cunningham-modifed bike on the Black Mountain Cycles shop blog. I know absolutely ZERO about this shop (a friend pointed me to the link) but based on what I've read, they're on my must-visit-someday list.

Since I weigh approximately 1.0 Mag (where Mag is a unit of measure equal to the weight of notably large, bald and Swedish retired pro cyclist Magnus Backstedt), weight weenieism isn't really my thing. However, my obsession with retro mountain bikes makes me a major fanboy for all things Charlie Cunningham. The bike in question is a Cunningham-modified road bike, but it shows the genius-bordering-on-madness approach he brings to all things bikes. Who would graft a Campy downtube shifter into the end of the handlebar instead of just using a Campy bar-end, machine a cable stop on the lower headlug, run the bare cable straight from there (through another machined cable guide on the seat tube) back to the rear derailleur? Charlie Cunningham, that's who.

Some of the mods look a little homemade (since they are), but I find a lot of weird charm in that. It shows me a mind at work, and a set of hands turning that mind's ideas into metal. The simple (and probably quite light) chainguide even has my mental gears turning, wondering if I can craft something similar from hardware store bits for my own single-ring bikes. Yes, I could just order up the store-bought Pauls version, but where's the fun in that?

For other Charlie Cunningham fans (or those who haven't discovered him yet but want to), check out the extensive interviews in Bicycle Quarterly volume 8, number 1 and Rivendell Reader #27 (Summer 2002).

Minor disclaimer: Your humble narrator also shares blogspace with Charlie Cunningham's wife Jacquie Phelan (a.k.a. Alice B. Toeclips), an early mountain bike legend in her own right, over at Veloquent. i don't get any benefit from plugging these folks, though, other than the giddy fanboy happiness I get from writing alongside the esteemed Ms. Toeclips.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fall Down Go Boom

Just caught an article in The New York Times (yeah, an Iowan who reads stuff in The Times... and I usually read it via the iPhone app just to lock down my status as a left-leaning, latte-sipping, over-educated snobista) called "Fell Off My Bike, and Vowed Never to Get Back On".

Maybe this proves just how sick I am, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around the argument. One accident and people decide to stop riding? Huh?

I see the point that riding injuries are usually random and traumatic. Thanks to well-chosen saddles, bars, pedals and shoes, I've managed to avoid the sort of long-term repetitive stress-type injuries that seem to plague runners (in my case, running also causes emotional scars, but let's not go there). When you get hurt biking, it's usually because a) you hit something (a tree, a wall, the ground, a wayward cow) or b) something hit you (a car, another rider, a meteorite, a wayward cow). Those hits feel like the ultimate expression of entropy, forces of chaos beyond your control that slap you upside the head with a quick mortality reminder.

Still, in the two times (frantically knocking wood to keep that number low) I've suffered what I consider a major crash injury, the thought of choosing to never ride again never passed through my brain-space. The first big bang was in grad school... I was taking advantage of an unseasonably warm winter day, overcooked a corner, hit some wet leaves, and the next thing I knew, I was spitting two front teeth into the weeds. The result was a face full of (temporary) scrapes and two (permanent) fake teeth. Yet even as I bled, I contemplated whether or not the bike was in good enough condition to get me to the emergency room.

The second big smack was a bit more serious... overcooked corner (see a trend?), hit a patch of slimy mud, and all of a sudden, I'm on the trail with one leg turned 90 degrees in a direction it was never designed to go. The result? A titanium-reinforced femur, a long recovery, and a pretty bitchin' scar. There were plenty of moments during that long recovery that I wondered if I would ever be able to ride again, but I can't recall one time where I thought, "Dang, this stuff is dangerous. I should give it up." Instead, my thoughts turned to just how I was going to accommodate my injury and keep going. Mixte frame so I could get my bum leg over? Recumbent? Even when I couldn't walk, I told myself that I was going to get back up on that horse somehow.

I won't pretend that these crashes didn't change my riding style... I'm a little more alert, a little more cautious, and I corner like a grandmother on a tricycle. And maybe the fact that both my smackdowns were more-or-less self-inflicted has something to do with my stubborn persistence -- it was my stupidity, not a random or hostile driver running me down. Still, as long as modern medicine can keep fitting me with aftermarket parts, I can't see myself getting off the bike willingly.

Besides, a few more years of this, and I might be totally bionic! (insert Six Million Dollar Man sound effect...)