Monday, June 29, 2009

(dis)Comfort Bike Blues

Only two weeks left until I return to the US, where the Co-Habitant, our two kitties, and our small flock of bicycles await me expectantly!

That is the good news. The bad news, is that I will not be cycling for the remainder of my stay in Austria. Apparently, I have managed to mildly injure myself by cycling too fast and too much (60-80 km rides) on a bicycle that was not designed for it. I was warned that this could happen, but my enthusiasm for the trails got the best of me and I did not heed the warnings. Now I need to take a break and heal completely, if I want to be able to cycle for the rest of the summer. Grrr.

So I guess this is Good-bye to the rental comfort bike I have been riding here for the past 2 months. We've had some good times together, but she just was not made to cope with my demands.

It's not that comfort bikes are categorically "bad" bicycles. Short trips feel marvelous, and they can handle a wide range of town and country terrain. But the longer the trip and the faster you attempt to ride, the more you begin to feel the limitations of their anatomy. Whereas the road bike is built for speed, the mountain bike for off-road use, and the Dutch-style bike for utility, the comfort bike manages to combine components of all three in a way that provides the full benefits of neither.

Clever Cycles has an excellent article that compares the anatomies of different types of bicycles and explains why comfort bikes can feel the opposite of what their name suggests:
Ergonomically, I think comfort bikes ...are sort of a disaster. They have the steep-ish seat tube angle of a mountain bike, and simply bring the bars much closer and higher... This results in a very shallow torso angle so the buttocks can’t help much with pedaling. You see riders of these bikes bobbing their torsos forward with each pedal stroke trying vainly to enlist more muscles to the aid of their smoking quadriceps. The saddles are appropriately broad to support the upright rotation of the pelvis, but all that broad tragic squishiness leads to chafing because the seat tube angle puts the pedals too nearly below the hips. A common compensation is to set the saddle too low, which only makes the other problems worse.
This describes exactly the problems I was having with the rental hybrid. At first it feels quite comfortable, as it does give you a fairly upright posture. But the longer you cycle, the more you feel that the seating tube angle, the handlebars, the space between the different parts of the bike, etc., all sort of work against you rather than for you as you attempt to go long distance, climb a hill, or pick up speed. And, if like me, you keep at it despite feeling the bike's limitations, the inevitable results are pain and possible injury.

If you are shopping for a bicycle, be aware that what are called "comfort bikes" do not have the same construction as traditional relaxed frame bicycles such as the old English 3-speeds and the Dutch-style bicycles.

It will be difficult not riding a bike for 2 whole weeks now that I've gotten so used to it! But no doubt this period of velo-abstinence will make me appreciate the bicycles waiting for me at home all the more.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bicycles in Vienna, Part IV: Mixte Galore

Continuing with the theme of the previous post, I am showing off some Mixtes that I've been encountering around the neighborhood. After seeing all the amazing make-over photos on Cyclofiend and Chic Cyclist, I now find myself looking at these bikes with a predatory attitude! -- imagining what they would be like with custom paint jobs, Brooks saddles, cork grips, etc. For example, I am seeing the one above in a dark, luscious forest-green, with the head tube painted off-white to set off the lugs...

In Vienna there is a fairly heavy presence of 1970s - early 1980s roadbikes, in comparison to, say, 3-speeds and cruisers from the same era. I am guessing that this is because of the steep hills. A large portion of the roadbikes have mixte frames.

The interesting thing is, that these are not conventional mixte frames, but a special breed that I have only seen in Europe so far and not in the US: Notice that the top tubes on all the bikes posted above are curved rather than straight.

Here is a more "conventional" mixte, with straight tubes, for comparison:

And here is a curved one again:

Most of the mixtes I see here are fitted with relaxed style handlebars, rather than drop handlebars. Almost all have fenders and rear racks. These are definitely used as commuters. The one on the first photo in this post even ha a skirtguard! Personally, I do not think that a skirtguard looks good on a mixte, but it is interesting to see it nonetheless.

The curved top tubes give these mixtes a super-feminine and graceful look that I find appealing, especially in combination with the yummy vintage pastel colours they come in.

For more photos of bicycles in Vienna, see:
Bicycles in Vienna: Part I
Bicycles in Vienna: Part II
Bicycles in Vienna: Part III
Vienna City Bikes
Viennese Cyclists
Critical Mass Chic

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Magic Mixte Makeover

While looking up some information on Mixte frames, I came across a before-and-after story on Cyclofiend that took my breath away. So I'd like to share it here, and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. All images are from and are linked to the original source.

The bicycle pictured below is a 1980s Cilo mixte, discovered by Mr. Chern outside a cafe.

Hot pink frame. Awkward-looking silver fork. Overall construction seems unremarkable. And oh, that 80's-style neon lettering! I would have walked on by and not have touched this thing with a 10 foot pole.

Thankfully, Mr. Chern knew better than that.

He bought the bicycle from the owner. And then... And then he did this to it:

Yes, I believe an "OMG" would be perfectly appropriate here. Squealing too. The transformation is unbelievable. Here are some close-ups:

Notice the lugs! The lugs! The cream and bordeaux combination is mouthwatering. And that gorgeous lever on the left is a Shimano Arabesque shifter.

Mr. Chern, that is a lovely, lovely bicycle! Thank you so much for bringing such a beautiful thing into the world!

Read more about this project here and here on Cyclofiend.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Adventures with Shellac: Cork Grip Yumminess!

If you love the rich butterscotch look of shellacked cork grips, but are worried about the DIY factor, fear no more. We gave it a shot, and it really is quite easy. Here we go:

Rodney the vintage Roadster came with these original Raleigh black grips. Although they look nice and we like to keep original parts, neither of us can stand the feel of plastic grips. So we decided to experiment with cork. Rivendell makes it seem so simple and fun!

Well, here is a "naked" cork grip. So far so good! The Co-Habitant secured the grips with strong double-sided tape, but most recommend to glue the grips. He rode the bike with the unshellacked grips for a while to see what this felt like. The unfinished grips feel good, but they get dirty very easily and are not protected from the elements. We wouldn't want ratty, filthy grips. Plus the colour needs some spicing up.

Here comes the shellac. Amber. This is from the hardware store, nothing fancy. Generic 1" paintbrush.

Here the first coat of shellac is being applied. This stuff is fast drying, so the work should be done fairly quickly.

Second coat of shellac. As you apply 2-3 thin coats, you will see the colour gradually grow darker, richer, and warmer. Uneven patches on the surface get smoothed out. Three thin coats should be enough, and you can always touch it up if you notice some unevenness later.

We decided not to add twine or tape to these grips, but to keep things clean and minimalist on the vintage black Roadster. The first photo in this post is the final result!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rodney, the Distinguished Older Gentleman

Though I was very happy to reclaim the Raleigh Lady's Sports from my parents' house, doing so created a distinct velo disbalance betwen myself and the Co-Habitant. Clearly my Lady needed a Gentleman. Well, with New England being Vintage Bicycle Heaven, it did not take long for the right Gentleman to come along.

Meet Rodney, the Raleigh Roadster! According to the date on the hub, he was produced in 1972.

Rodney is a tall gentleman, with a 24" frame and 28" wheels. The Co-Habitant likes big bikes, and one of the reasons he chose the Roadster over the Sport is the larger frame size and wheels.

Original Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub. Like all Raleigh Roadsters, this one has rod brakes. They look wonderful and are simple to maintain. But rod brakes make me uneasy, because they have close to zero stopping power in the rain.

The original Raleigh grips have been replaced with cork grips, which will soon be shellacked. A Japanese bell was added.

The Brooks B72 saddle had hardened with age, but it has now been treated and laced. The bicycle itself was in great shape. No parts needed to be replaced. Cosmetically Rodney looks excellent. The vintage black saddlebag was included in the purchase. CatEye Opticube LED Bike Light have been added (see front wheel).

The Co-Habitant says that the vintage Raleigh Roadster feels considerably lighter and "sportier" than his Pashley Roadster Sovereign. The Pashley, however, is a more comfortable ride (and can be safely ridden in the rain).

What a gorgeous pair of Roasters he now has, old and new! And the velo-balance in our household has been restored.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Velo Corsetry: Rescuing Vintage Saddles

The Co-Habitant has recently acquired a gorgeous vintage Roadster. The bicycle itself was in great condition, but the B72 Brooks saddle seemed to be a goner -- hard as a rock, with cracks on the verge of forming all over the surface. Rather than give up on the saddle, he decided to try the lacing technique. Lacing can rescue saddles that have become rigid and brittle with age: It holds the shape of the saddle under pressure of the cyclist's behind, allowing the leather to slowly regain its flexibility. Here is how it is done:

A dried-out saddle should first be treated with Neatsfoot oil. If the saddle is rescuable, it will begin to soften. Take care not to use too much oil, so as not to oversaturate: Rub the saddle with a cloth or napkin, never soak.

Punch several holes on each side of the saddle, through which the laces will be threaded.

Thread the laces through the holes, overlapping them underneath and pulling the two sides of the saddle closer together -- like tying a shoe. The traditional method is to use a long strip of leather, though some use shoe-laces.

The tightness can be adjusted, like a corset, to control the shape of the saddle. Afterwards, the laces are tied in a secure knot.

This is what the saddle looks like in the end. The stiching itself can be executed in several different ways. The Co-Habitant likes the "underneath" stitch, but the side-to-side stitch is also popular.

And voila: an ancient B72 saddle rescued and happily returned to its proper place. It has not cracked after being riden on. Happy saddle, happy Roadster, and happy Co-Habitant.

More information about lacing Brooks saddles is available from Wallington Bicycle Parts.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Naked Bike Ride in Vienna

Is it possible to be naked and stylish on a bicycle? I was hoping to find the answer to this question at the Bare as You Dare ride in Vienna.

But just as people were beginning to frolic joyously in their velo-nakedness, police officers came round and asked everyone to cover up. The cyclists cooperated and there were no clashes. But neither was there much nudity.

The behaviour of the police confused me. In Vienna, public nudity is not at all uncommon: you can see women sunbathing topless in city parks and men lying on the grass with their naked behinds visible to all. So why this objection to some lovely naked cyclists? Perhaps someone Austrian can enlighten me.

Still, under the circumstances, the cyclists came through with flying colours. Red was a particlarly popular choice for accessories: it works well both with nudity and with political messages.

The edge of the monument in the background reads "Freedom to the European People," in Russian...

This lovely couple juxtaposed delicate pink underthings with industrial-yellow safety wear.

With her turquoise helmet, leopard print tie, and strappy sandals, this beauty clearly knows how to accessorise black underpants.

A gentleman and his roadbike.

A Veniaitan shade of red, looking lovely with grass-green body paint.

The most striking participant of the ride was a lovely lady in nude undergarnments who rode a stacked bicycle. She chose not to have a close-up photo displayed on the web, but trust me -- she was stunning!

Is it possible to be naked and stylish on a bicycle? I think it is. A bicycle is extremely flattering to the human figure: It tenses all the right muscles, lengthens the body, and encourages beautiful posture. It would be interesting to see a true Naked Bike Ride without police censorship.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Critical Mass Chic? -- Austria

I stopped by at the meeting point of the Critical Mass "Bare as You Dare" bike ride in Vienna today. There was a conference at work and I could not get away long enough to take part in the ride -- but I took some photos and said hello to people, then went back after the ride took off.

There was a very friendly, pleasant atmosphere at this event, which I had not been expecting after reading the negative comments about Critical Mass on several weblogs. There were also many lovely cyclists. I have so many photos, that I've decided to split this into a "clothed" post and a "naked" post. The naked will follow shortly : )

First we have our very own lovely Anna, from Cycling Is Good for you! We met briefly and I was charmed by her beautiful socks and sandals.

Here they are up close -- nice! If you don't know it already, Anna's blog is worth visiting.

This delightful woman on a unicycle stood out in her matching green outfit and pirate hat!

A ginger-haired beauty in a green satin dress with red bicycle...

Another lovely red-head, in a pink mini-dress with a vintage orange folding bike. Nice!

1920s film-star looks and a dreamy attitude...

The bicycle is integral in her lady-like, serene posture...

This dashing representative of looked lovely in black, with contrasting cream lace-ups.

And this stylish young lady relaxed in her orange cargo bike sporting a matching bandana and a happy smile.

A leggy, ethereal beauty was kind enough to pose for me by the fountain...

Of course, some lovely gentlemen graced the event with their stylish presence as well.

Notice that this one is riding one of the Citibikes discussed here.

Of course, the prize for the loveliest bicycle goes to this golden beauty! I would love to see this in the streets of Vienna during the rest of the year.