Wednesday, September 21, 2011

From Holsters to Corsets: The Cycling Accessory Fetish

Brooks Saddle-Shaped Handbag
Entering the Brooks booth at Interbike was an experience that I can only describe as "trippy." Not only did I feel as if I'd stepped into a Skittles commercial - or at least a Brooks + Skittles "collabo" (Ride the Rainbow...), but I was seeing objects that, at first glance, distinctly resembled gun holsters - in a variety of lollypop shades.

Brooks Saddle-Shaped Handbag
Upon a closer look it became apparent that these were in fact tiny handbags shaped like Brooks saddles. The representative cheerfully explained that Brooks had the idea to make leather saddle covers to class up bikes that came with plastic saddles. But the project did not work, so they turned the would-be saddle covers into handbags - and thus we have the Victoria bag. 

I am not sure what I have a harder time imagining - someone buying a leather cover for their plastic saddle, or someone carrying a neon leather saddle-shaped purse. And while at first I thought the gun holster comparison was just in my head, I soon heard others voice the same sentiment as they walked by the display. What do you think, would this match your work outfit?

Brooks Trouser Cuffs
And lest you be wearing trousers on a bike with no chaincase, a leather strap in a matching shade could be just the thing.

Brooks Handlebar Tape
As long as it all matched your handlebar tape. And your apple-green saddle.

Brooks Mens Jacket and Backpack
Of course if you're not a fan of colourful accessories, Brooks offers the subdued "paratrooper" look in tasteful shades of gray and beige.

Brooks Leather City Grips
Okay, I really don't mean to tease Brooks so much. They had "normal" stuff too, like their regular line of saddles, a promising rain cape and their new city leather grips (which I would buy if they didn't have those cold metal sections at the ends). But something just felt a little off about their booth - as if they were on the verge of losing perspective.

Leather-Clad Klean Kanteen
Taking the classic route to fetish-appeal, Klean Kanteen draped itself in caramel leather, for a look suggesting vintage flasks. I like it. But the one problem I see with this, is that the outside of these bottles tends to always get wet and the leather is bound to get discoloured and misshapen as a result over time - something that does not happen with shellacked twine, because the shellac waterproofs it.

Klean Kanteen + Brompton Wooden Cap
This particular Klean Kanteen had a wooden inlay on the lid with a Brompton logo on it, and may have been a limited edition model made especially for Brompton bicycles.

Lezyne Bicycle Pumps
Sculptural bicycle pumps from Lezyne in stainless steel and wood. People couldn't stop touching them, running their hands against the surface.

Lezyne Bicycle Pumps
A bicycle pump that makes you want to use it by appealing to your sense of touch? Okay, I admit I want these. You got to me, Lezyne.

Po Campo, Bicycle Pattern
Po Campo's new "self-referetial" print is really too lighthearted to be truly fetishistic, but deserves a mention. Obsessed with bicycles? What a better way to show it than to get a bicycle bag with pictures of, well, bicycles on it. Should leave no doubt as to your love of cycling.

Po Campo, New Style Bag
Alternatively, you could opt for the new Logan Tote - a pannier shaped like a dainty doctor's bag and designed to carry anything from diapers and formula bottles to camera equipment and the i-Pad. The myriad of belts and buckles that come with Po-Campo bags contribute to the visual curiosity factor, particularly when a tiny bag ends up capable of securing things like heavy jackets and yoga mats.

Brompton Jackets
The Brompton "Oratory" cycling jacket has gotten both praise and slack in the press for being useful/ unnecessary (pick one), sparking debate as to whether urban cycling-specific designs overcomplicate matters and undermine the whole idea of being able to ride in regular clothing.

Brompton Cycling Blazer, Detail
Not sure where I stand on that issue, but regardless - the Brompton jacket has a number of fine details that appealing regardless of whether one even needs a jacket at all.

Brompton Cycling Blazer, Detail
The jacket is corduroy, with a wicking bamboo lining depicting a drawing of the Brompton Oratory by English graffiti artist, Kid Acne (Get it? Graffiti for an urban jacket? Graffiti of a building instead of on a building? Oh the cleverness of it!..).

Gilles Berthoud Booth
But no tale of accessory fetishism is complete without a visit with Berthoud. I have an odd relationship with Berthoud bags, in that I tend to lose my mind when I see them - especially several in the same place at the same time. The shades of gray fabric and caramel leather are just right, the straps are perfectly proportioned... But when it comes down to it, I cannot bring myself to actually buy one of the bags. It's not just the price, but something about the look would make me self-conscious to have it on my own bike.

Gilles Berthoud Booth
A case of being too perfect? Maybe!

Gilles Berthoud Booth
And then there are the panniers. These are available in many sizes and use the R&K Klick-fix system, which I love. But I can't get over the "corset" look of the side expansions - which, although obviously purpose-driven, to me seem to be the ultimate symbol of our tendency to fetishise bicycle accessories. It's not a bad thing per se, if it makes us happy and makes us ride our bikes more. But we each have different comfort levels. I'll go for leather, wood and twine, but will stop short of holsters and corsetry.

48 comments:

  1. I use one of those Lezyne pumps (with the wooden handle). It does look nice, but that's not why I like it; I use it because of the screw-on chuck, which I find much easier to use than the clamp-on variety. It drastically reduces my incidence of finger injury, though they could make it even better and use a wing nut shape on the chuck for when it gets tight under pressure.

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  2. Screw on chuck!!!!!!
    I was just saying to the scientist that there must be an alternative method than the damn lever which always skins my knuckles! I think I know what I want for my birthday!

    I'd really like to see one of those capes in person. Sounds promising, but it doesn't seem terribly visible..

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  3. Okay, I'm going to check the pricing on these pumps...

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  4. cycler - I think you meant "eff you Charles!"

    A well-done tech fabric/piece of clothing simply works better at dissipating heat and wicking moisture than a natural fiber, excepting wool. That these pieces make cycling more enjoyable, look like normal clothes and are a new market for new players (as in yesterday's report on niche transpo mfgs.) I think the argument is theoretical. Or more to the point, the naysayers haven't tried a great piece of kit.

    Note to Brompton: "epic cotton" is an oxymoron.

    Brooks: What. The. Hell. Maybe you could do a suppository bandolier too.

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  5. i find the cape intriguing, as i have still not found a pleasant way to bike in the rain. i am getting tired of carrying a change of clothes around. i have never been sold on brooks, the only reason being the 300 mile break-in period. that is a long time with a sore bum. but then i saw the blue saddle and i sort of fell in love. i have only seen it online, was it there? if so is it truly navy or more bright?

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  6. Gilles Berthoud makes some very nice panniers for Gran Bois that, unfortunately, aren't available from other sources. Needless to say, they're not cheap (especially coming from Japan), but they certainly are a nice size (no corset tightners...) and would suit many cyclists needs.

    Here's a link to the Gran Bois site that show these pannier bags:
    http://www.cyclesgrandbois.com/SHOP/bag_p_.html

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  7. Here's another link to the Gran Bois site that shows the Berthoud panniers on a very nice looking "City Bike".

    http://www.cyclesgrandbois.com/cycle_type/type_m/index.html

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  8. Pimadude - Thanks for the links. That's a gorgeous bike in a gorgeous colour. I believe at least some of the panniers in your first link are available in the US - I've seen them at Harris Cyclery. However, they are quite small compared to the "corset" panniers/

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  9. What the hell is wrong with you?
    You go on aeons about lugworks that I could not give a damn about and when it comes to bicycle accessories, that's all we get?? What?? What kind of swiss cheese reporting is this???? Refund! refund! refund!!
    I am rioting alone in my living room!!

    Ok, seriously, now I am a *total* accessories whore. I *can't* get enough of cute bicyle bags and stuff, it's like cocaine so bad it is. I am currently at my 3rd Po Campo bag and I noticed that the model on your second picture is one that is *NOT* currently on their website.

    Now come on Sherlock spit it out, give us the skinny on this Po Campo bag, for which I can already feel my credit card screaming in my wallet!!

    And what about Beg and Velorbis, weren't they there or what?

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  10. @ Pimadude

    Any information on the grips in you link:
    http://www.cyclesgrandbois.com/cycle_type/type_m/index.html

    They look super hot!

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  11. V- the Berthoud panniers that are available in the U.S., from various sources, that are similar to the Gran Bois models are the GB799 bags. They're much smaller than the Gran Bois models, and really aren't especially useful (I have a pair of these, by the way - you can see them mounted on my Paramount bike on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/37964304@N05/4880400987/in/set-72157624699133170.

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  12. Ah Montrealize, so you are one of those people who scoffs at spending over $100 on a bike, but gladly covers it in $500 of accessories!

    But I joke, and you are right - I neglected to mention the new Po Campo model name. Very bad of me. Let me go find it!

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  13. Okay - It's the Logan Tote. I've added it to the text of the post and the flickr image now.

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  14. @ V

    Yep, I am one of those!! Psycho right?
    So this is the *new* Logan then, new as in "revamped", because I own 2 Logans and they look like your other Flickr image:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lovely_bicycle/6157548573/in/photostream/

    I am so excited! I have to start preparing arguments to squash my husband's rebellion.

    You know, all the lugworks, decals and leather saddles stay on the bike when I step off of it. The bag follows... Know what I mean...
    :p

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  15. Hmm. I sent Po Campo a link to the "doctor's bag" image and asked what it's called, and Maria replied "2012 Logan Tote." But odd that it should have the same name as another model. I will confirm.

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  16. "it should have the same name as another model"

    Probably phasing out the old design.

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  17. Yes, the 2012 Logan Tote is a revamp of the 2011 Logan Tote design. Both great bags, we just felt that the Logan Tote and Armitage Satchel were too similar so we gave the Logan Tote a little face lift. It has different proportions and is cushier and a little sportier.

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  18. If I were a girl... I would just have to have one of the saddle purses - those look cool to me.

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  19. Those are the panniers I like the most. Simple and very clean. Not too fancy looking. The Grand Bois look great. Thank you for the post.

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  20. @pimadude, I think your panniers are slightly different than the panniers on the Grand Bois site. I've made some like this, I think they were 12" long, or 13"? There is an SFR rider that has used your panniers on a brevet, they did indeed look very small, but very nice.

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  21. I'd buy a gun holster from Brooks, but not in neon green. Shouldn't laugh it off though, there is a pretty good market for well done leather holsters, maybe they will come out with a new product line. My wife would probably love one of those handbag thingys...in purple. I love their saddles though, I was just thinking on my ride tonight (a new to me bike not sportin' a Brooks) that the b-17 has been my favorite saddle for years, I should just change over all my bikes to that model and be done with it.

    I use a Lyzene floor pump and a hand pump with the screw on chuck, works very well. Cycler, you should try one sometime, they are great pumps.

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  22. My sentiments agree with yours complete on the Brethoud items.
    Thanks for all the great photos.

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  23. Another vote for the Lezyne pumps here! I've had one for ages and they take the misery and frustration out of keeping things inflated. Wouldn't use any other brand now. Well worth the pennies.

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  24. I've got an old Brooks vinyl mattress saddle that came with my old Raleigh. If those leather covers were available for it, I would have snapped one up instead of replacing it with a B66. But I would have preferred black or brown.

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  25. I was in love with the Berthoud saddle trunk and thought to buy one until I saw that it requires a ginormous rack system to mount and suspend it. It's so ghastly, it even requires a handlebar stem which is clamped to the seat post, and that's not even the whole rack. I sure wish it just strapped on like a Carradice; if so, I'd get one in a second.

    Note to "dc" above: "the 300 mile break-in period" for Brooks saddles is a myth! I ride them happily, right from the box. Sure, they "break in" over time, but that doesn't mean they aren't comfortable from the get-go. I think that break-in myth is just so much urban folklore, perhaps put out there by non-leather saddle makers who want everyone to choose their $300 saddle over the Brooks offerings.

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  26. Thanks Po Campo for clarifying : )

    By the way: For those who are interested in rain capes, there is a post dedicated to them on Corkgrips today.

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  27. Chris - Wait, are you sure the rack system is absolutely required for that Berthoud saddlebag? I was pretty sure that you could just strap it onto any rack, though of course they'd prefer that everyone buy theirs.

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  28. Forgot to put brooks on the rain cape post i did today.. that's ok because I think it looks kinda weird while it's being worn (from the rear at least). The backpack is also pretty strange, too steam-punky!

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  29. V, Montrealize asked about Velorbis and I'd like to second the question. Did you see any of their bags up close? The travel bag? The old-school satchel? The messenger bag? They seem to be making a big push on leather bags and I've been drooling over them online. (And hey, you gotta love that their rear racks have a special attachment just for their own bags!) So... any info?

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  30. Sorry, no info on Velorbis bags or bikes. Velorbis was not at Interbike and the last time I saw one in person was over 2 years ago when a dealer in Boston used to carry them.

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  31. "I'll go for leather, wood and twine, but will stop short of holsters and corsetry."

    Every Steampunk enthusiast on the planet just let out a sad little sigh.

    I have to say, I really kind of like the Brompton jacket.

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  32. Looks like Brooks is trying to be a bit too funky with those saddle covers turned handbags. Yeah, OK, it would work as a handbag...sort of, even if an odd shape. But the concept of the saddle covers in the first place has me scratching my head. Brooks, love you as I do, and I own two of your saddles and two lots of your grips, stick to classic and classy. It's what you do best. Oh,and sell the handbag design to Hermes, I'm sure they'll make a fortune out of it.

    I do want one of those bicycle pumps though!

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  33. With bike accessories, I love window shopping, but I'm (mostly) immune to buying because most of these things are just too fancy for my bikes. My worn-in vintage bikes just don't look right to me with shiny new stuff. Nevertheless, I've had a strange craving for that apple green Brooks saddle ever since I first learned of its existence. I don't know how much longer I can resist.

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  34. Corey - I like the men's Brompton jacket, but the women's version seems somewhat shapeless. Also, I imagine the price will be way up there.

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  35. The nicest Berthoud bags are time-tested designs that first were made by Sologne 50+ years ago. I agree that they are beautiful, but they are even more functional. I have used my Berthoud handlebar bag almost daily for 12 years now, and it's acquired a nice patina, but lost none of its function (or waterproofness). Per mile, it has been the least expensive bag I ever bought. Here is a photo of this well-used bag.

    The Berthoud underseat trunks are one of those futile attempts by the French to come up with something new and different after they have achieved perfection: a step in the wrong direction. (The infamous "Villes Nouvelles" like the one where PBP starts are another example...)

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  36. I enjoy your postings but this one really left me scratching my head. Do people realize that we are in an economic recession, and possibly moving into a depression? I think your instinct about Brooks is correct - a little too upscale and posh for most of us. That rain cape you mentioned? Three hundred bucks! I didn't pay that for my commuter bike! Like you I have made conscious decisions about how to spend my money, and some of it has been on quality, eye pleasing bicycle parts and accessories. But I would advise you, especially with the financial storm that is just beginning to roll over us, to stay connected with the average cyclist - the one who can maybe afford a Brooks saddle but not the whole leather ensemble. As for the Berthoud bags - don't bother if you live in Philadelphia. They wouldn't last ten minutes. The trick is to discover, in bikes and in most other areas, what is affordable, durable and attractive.

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  37. Anon - I have not even checked the prices on most of these items, because they do not interest me personally regardless of cost. And this is really about documenting what I saw at Interbike as opposed to passing judgment. However, my personal opinion is that the opulent bike stuff trend is not bad. It shows a transfer of the "prestige" factor in our society in an interesting direction. Evolutionarily, people are conquerors and gatherers and show-offs, we cannot change this and it's futile to accuse each other of having lavish tastes or what have you. It is only a matter of what that impulse will be geared towards.

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  38. I will try to keep this anger/frustration free. I have to agree with many of Anon's comments. I worked at a large outdoor retailer about 10 years ago and was sucked into being a gearhead by shiny trinkets and bobbles. I fail to see the difference between the "tasteful" and the "gawdy". I worry that the "posh" trend is turning city cyclists into the same Gearheads who need to suit-up in spandex and replacing it with useless or fetishized items that are harming the city cycling movement and missing the boat on the original desire to "normalize" cycling.
    Peter

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  39. "the "posh" trend is turning city cyclists into the same Gearheads who need to suit-up in spandex and replacing it with useless or fetishized items "

    That's it, you got it. The spandex-clad cyclists and the city cyclists are essentially the same, except focused on different type of stuff/accessories/trinkets. And no one is turning anyone into anything, people are naturally drawn to acquiring stuff.

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  40. Velouria,

    I think you are missing my point. Even if I had the $2500.00 plus that is takes to buy a Rivendell Atlantis, I wouldn't do it. Not when so many of my neighbors are without work. My "show off" side would love to own the Atlantis, but I am content to ride something less [a lugged Bridgestone MB4 that I got for $200.00 off Craigslist.] The choices we make are what shape us, not some irresistible instinct to show off or always have the best. Its a spiritual dimension which helps us to check our egos and lusts with reality. Not trying to be critical; just something to consider.

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  41. This is a discussion outside the scope of this blog. Materialism and spiritualism - the two things are independent and both are part of human nature. So are self righteousness, judgmental tendencies, and the desire to see one's way of life as superior to others'.

    There are many ways to look at purchasing "expensive" bikes and accessories. One of them is the way you present it. Another is to realise that such purchases support small scale economies, keep traditional craft alive, and give people jobs - for example, framebuilders and leather workers and seamstresses who work in good conditions and make decent wages. From those people's point of view, a person who buys an Atlantis and a Brooks saddle is doing something good. Just something to consider.

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  42. OK - good point! Leaves us both with something to consider. Thanks!

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  43. Hello, it's my first post. Wow, this thread has become interesting. These are questions I have also pondered. Both sides have raised excellent points. I'd like to see further discussion on this topic of materialism vs spiritualism with regards to bicycling.

    BTW, I agree with Jan's point above--leave the saddle bags to Carradice.

    And what is it exactly that the Berthoud bags wouldn't survive in Philadelphia? Theft, harsh winters?

    As for the Berthoud panniers, I think they're fabulous. Yes, I'll admit the corset thing crossed my mind, but the design is very functional and time proven. Besides, when the cords aquire a nice patina, along with the rest of the materials, the corset look will fade.

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  44. I agree that making choices about where you spend your money can have positive and negative spinoffs. I guess what I was saying is similar to the worry you shared about Brooks, "... something just felt a little off about their booth - as if they were on the verge of losing perspective." I am worried that the focus of making riding natural and everyday has begun to get lost and spun into the same trap as the "roadie/gearhead" world that may have originally turned you (and many others!) off cycling. Could the $300 Brooks rain cape or the very dialed Frank Patterson-inspired Brompton Oratorio jacket mean that this whole focus on simply getting on your bike and riding lost its focus? I am not being accusatory because your blog has always very honestly been about city riding in style. Just wondering if the style has overtaken the riding as the industry exploits this trend...if it has then we are losing perspective. I'm trying to be less and less judgemental, sorry about any tone in an earlier post, it was probably because I feel personal guilt and complicity in losing my perspective at times. I like your posts, and only comment because you and others here come back with thoughtful responses.
    Peter

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  45. In one sense my friendly adversary Velouria has the better of the argument. Her case for small builders and bike accessory firms using quality materials and supporting local crafts is a good one. My point about the spiritual side is best illustrated by an episode in the late John Seymour's book THE FORGOTTEN ARTS AND CRAFTS. Seymour tells how he wanted to buy a small boat, and inquired of a highly respected local boat builder about the cost of building a 14 foot dinghy. "Three pounds a foot," snapped the man. "But Mr. King," argued Seymour,"everyone I have talked to charges four pounds a foot. You must have made a mistake." "Three pounds a foot is my price. If you don't like it you can go somewhere else," he replied. "I don't have to build you a dinghy!" Seymour's point is that the whole world benefits when each person needs enough but not more than enough. Now I have said more than enough on this topic and will cease.

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  46. I wish Brooks would calm the ____ down! They could have put all that leather to better use than make questionable handbags. People love Brooks because of their classic quality. The new colours are fun though.

    I have a kleen kanteen bamboo top and it is so pretty and shiny. I was going to make a leather cover for it to protect it, but you are probably right about water dribbling all over it.

    Such beautiful stuff! The Berthoud stuff is so fine, but I find it a bit intimidating. Also, don't the bags have weird attachments as opposed to simple straps and buckles?

    Ah Montrealize, congratulations on Montreal being named the best cycling city in Canada. Formidable! Now if only I could believe it was safe to ride a bike in Quebec...

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  47. @ Heather

    "Ah Montrealize, congratulations on Montreal being named the best cycling city in Canada. Formidable! Now if only I could believe it was safe to ride a bike in Quebec..."

    Thank you.
    The trick is to truly understand what "Montreal" really means when talking about cycling. The city's configuration is such that we have a strict difference between "city core" and "suburbs". Once you've got that, cycling is super safe in town (i.e. not in the suburbs).
    And the province pretty safe overall for touring.

    If you are not too far aways, just give it a try, seriously, it is a nice vacation destination regardless and you'd be able to see for yourself.

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  48. a vote for the Lezyne (and the stream-of-consciousness observations), its screw-on chuck saved me from destroying more tubes on small high pressure tyres (like Bromptons) when trying to fiddle off the lever on type

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