Friday, May 22, 2015

US-Made and Low on Hype: Check Out the Detroit B-Type

Detroit Model B Bicycle
"Wait till you see this," said John Harris, as he led me to the bicycle I just had to take a look at and try. The staff of Harris Cyclery made way as the steed was rolled out from the depths of the shop triumphantly. "Finally, a US-made city bike that people can actually afford!"

I'd been hearing about Detroit Bikes for months, and agreed their work sounded exciting. Simple, sturdy commuter bikes made from scratch in a small Detroit factory, at a reasonable pricepoint. What's not to like? But truth be told, when I looked up their bikes online initially, nothing about the "humpback" cruiser that was their flagship model inspired me to rush over and take a spin on one.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

On Club Rides and Finding the Right One for You

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With the weather getting nicer and the days growing longer (well, at least in some parts of the world),   it is around this time of the year that many cycling clubs and bicycle shops begin their seasonal programmes of group rides. Held once or perhaps even multiple times a week, these organised rides can offer opportunities to meet and ride with other local cyclists. Depending on the type of rides these are, they can also introduce us to new routes, different ways of cycling, perhaps even help us improve our fitness and bike handling skills.

For some cyclists, entering the world of organised rides is synonymous with cycling itself. No sooner do they acquire a bicycle than they join their local cycling club, re-learning how to actually ride said bicycle (seeing as they hadn't been on one since high school) on the fly, in the course of the first group ride they show up to.

Others are inherently reluctant to approach any type of organised cycling activity. In some cases this might be because they are beginners, uncertain their skills are up to par. But there are also experienced cyclists who are simply so accustomed to riding on their own that over time they come to feel altogether separate from the shared "cycling culture" they're certain all the other cyclists on these rides share, like some in-group secret language.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Better Looking At It Than From It

Ball Point at Sunset
Since my first visit to the Roe Valley in County Derry, I have been in love with its unique, beautiful view across the Lough Foyle - a saltwater inlet that separates this northwestern corner of Northern Ireland from the Inishowen Peninsula of the Republic's County Donegal. This view consists of a vast expanse of water, separated from an even vaster expanse of sky only by a thin strip of land - or, more accurately, by a strip of mountains. Their peaks irregularly shaped but similar in height, the mountains frame the water's edge like a string of freshwater pearls laid out on a piece of velvet for inspection.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Scent of Outside

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"I can tell that you cycled here!"

"Oh yeah?"

We were sitting in a cafe and my bike was parked out of sight. I was dressed in ordinary clothing. I wondered what gave it away; was I red in the face?

"It's the way you smell," the woman elaborated, leaning in and inhaling dramatically for emphasis.

For a moment, I was thoroughly mortified. Being told we smell as though we've been cycling is not exactly what any cyclist hopes to hear! It was only that morning I'd seen this Yehuda Moon strip and chuckled, blissfully unaware of just how closely to home it was about to hit. Could it be that, despite all my wool and attempts at thorough personal hygiene, I go around reeking of stale body odour, leaving hordes of townsfolk in revolted half-swoons in my wake?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Voyages Multimodaux

Bellarena Train Station
The train was moving quickly, the blues and greens and yellows of the landscape blurring and running into one another in the glare of the morning sun. The diminishing mountain in the distance resembled now a flat brown cutout, sitting dull and static beyond the shimmer of the jagged marshy shore. In the corner fold-down seat I was fenced in by my bicycle resting against me on a diagonal. This created a sense of being in a tiny private compartment - just me, the bike, and the window with its views of endless grass and water. My fingers began to tap on the handlebars to the train's rhythm, as the lyrics to that exuberant '80s gem Voyage-Voyage popped into my head. All things considered, it was not a bad start to a long day.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Monday Mailbox: Cycling Water Bottles and the Plastic-Avoidant

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I love your photos of twined stainless steel water bottles. But I also notice you use plastic bottles on your modern bikes. Is this a weight issue, or do you see another advantage to using them which outweighs concerns over plastics? 
I received this question over the weekend, just as I was going through my stock of cycling bidons. Giving a deep clean to the ones that needed it, I marveled at the residue that builds up in their crevices - a residue that is as gleefully resistant to ordinary dish soap as it is to the clumsy prodding of the sponge. So out came the baking soda and the cloth that I could wrap around my fingertip, as I probed the dankest crevices of the tortured plastic containers. "Jeez, should I just throw these out already?" I thought to myself as I scrubbed their aging surfaces. The fading logos of bike shops I am fond of shot me looks of betrayal.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Aye, Claudia! Fast Times with an Early Claud Butler Mixte

Early Claud Butler Lady Lightweight
"An unusual design of particularly rigid type and pleasing in appearance," boasts the 1936 Claud Butler Catalogue about their new mixte framed bicycle. Judging by earlier catalogues, a Lady Lightweight model had been on offer for at least three years by this time. However, its initial and rather unremarkable step-through iteration must have proven less than fully satisfying to the manufacturer. Enter this new "open-frame machine of rigid design" offering "strength in the right places, but with lightness and easy running." Indeed, this Lady’s Machine had "all the advantages of the Gent’s diamond frame type" whilst being "specially designed to be suitable for both rational costumes and skirts, absolutely rigid and comfortable." Amazingly, all of this was achieved “inside 26 lb."

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bicycle Fit, Comfort, and the Ever-Changing You

Mercian in the Field
A friend had recently returned to roadcycling after an absence of several years. He bought a very nice secondhand bicycle, which was professionally set up for him by a bike shop. The bike seemed to fit him well and felt comfortable during an initial 10 mile spin down the road. Shortly thereafter I joined him on a 30 mile ride. Everything was grand at first. Then, around the half-way point, my friend began to experience discomfort. It started with soreness in the saddle. Then back pain. Then tingling and pain in the hands. As we continued to cycle, his discomfort grew from mild to unbearable, forcing us eventually to take a shortcut and shave some miles off the route originally planned. In the end my friend was crestfallen: The bicycle that at first felt so good had turned into a torture device. He started theorising about the fit issues that could be causing his pains. Should he alter his saddle's setback? handlebar height? stem length?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Goodordering: a Simple Handlebar Bag from London

Goodordering Handlebar Bag
Browsing the collection of colourful bicycle bags from the London-based Goodordering, I couldn't shake the feeling they reminded me of something. Something from childhood perhaps? At last it came to me: They reminded me of the schoolbag I used to own in grade school. I believe it was a Czechoslovakian take on a then-popular Japanese style, and it was bright peach, with white trim ...which was all well and good, except that I'd wanted the green one - a colour the shops were sold out of. Recollecting this nostalgically I scrolled down the company's product list, and sure enough - they offered almost the exact colour my 8-year old self had coveted!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Springing Forward

Swan's Way
I have only heard of this experience before, but have never gone through it myself until this Spring: That feeling of getting on a lighter, faster bicycle for the first time - after riding a heftier steed all winter.

For many roadies of prior generations the ritual of this seasonal change was standard practice. When winter came, cyclists would switch to heavier, fatter-tired, befendered "beater" roadbikes - in part as a training technique, and in part to save their nice (i.e. racing) bicycles from winter's ravages. Then, once Spring would arrive, the "nice" bicycle would re-emerge  - making the rider feel faster, lighter, freer.