Friday, June 8, 2012

New Beginnings

Tools and Lugs
Earlier this week I finally made it to 12 Channel Street in South Boston - the new home of Royal H. Cycles, Geekhouse Bikes, Hubway Bikeshare and a number of other local bicycle-related ventures. 

Geekhouse, New Space
Organised by the intrepid Marty Walsh of Geekhouse, HQ Boston is a new collective space in an industrial waterfront area dubbed the "Innovation District," and its acquisition has been the talk of the town among bikey people. It is big news. The space is big (24,000 sq ft), the commitment is big (10 year lease), and the scope of the project is big. The move shows there is growth in the local small scale bicycle industry, and implies a collective faith in this growth continuing.

12 Channel St, Interior
Seeing the venue for the first time - an entire second floor of a warehouse-type building, still mostly open floor space - I was overwhelmed by the sheer blank canvas potential of it. Anything could happen here. Many things will, soon.

12 Channel St, Interior
All morning long there was energy, movement. Planks scattered, walls going up. Men at work. At the same time it was oddly peaceful for a place with so much going on. The size of the space diffuses the construction noise. The light coming in from the outside casts a soft white glow over the debris. 

Geekhouse & Royal H Cycles, 12 Channel St
The floor space occupied by Geekhouse and Royal H has been set up and operational for months. There are beautiful machines, jigs, tools, frames and wheels suspended along the walls. 

Royal H, New Space
The presence of the framebuilders is there.

Royal H Lugwork
Oh yes.

12 Channel St, Interior
Walking through the space, I admit to feeling some nostalgia. The new venue lacks the personality of the old Geekhouse shack in Allston with its famous graffiti mural. It lacks the charm of the tiny old Royal H workshop in Somerville by the railroad tracks, just minutes from my house. There is no small neighbourhood feel here. Huge industrial buildings greeted me as I looked out the window, blocking the view of the Harbor. But even as I thought these things, I knew that it was the sentimentalist in me talking. Any place can become a neighbourhood once filled with neighbours, and the Innovation District is attracting new creative small businesses every day. Murals will be painted in due course. The personality of a space takes time to develop. 

Geekhouse & Royal H Cycles, 12 Channel St
This place has the potential for growth and collaboration that was not available to either of the occupants beforehand, and the excitement of this is almost tangible.

Shane, Geekhouse Bikes
The spirit of working together is in the air. Though I came to meet with Bryan of Royal H., I later encountered Shane - the man behind BostonBiker. I've corresponded with Shane in the past and I thought that we'd met before, but obviously we haven't because this was a totally different person. It took me a bit just to wrap my head around that and readjust my mental image of him, but soon we were giddy with talk of joint projects involving Shane's skillz and mine. 

Mixte Design
But back to the main purpose of my visit: I am working on a new mixte prototype with Royal H. Cycles. I sold the mixte Bryan made for me in 2009 to finance this, and although this was difficult I don't regret it. The new collaboration will be my design and Bryan's framebuilding. If the prototype works out and is cost-effective, the idea is that it would become a model available to order. I am not thinking of this as my personal bike and not getting attached to it. Very possibly I will sell the prototype, particularly if we end up having to make another. There is so much to say about what I hope this bicycle will be, but in these early stages I am too nervous and excited to talk about it too much. As far as form, I can say that it will be a low-trail 650B mixte with curved twin lateral stays. Fully lugged, with lots of modified lugwork. As far as function, my hope is to make a bike that will be suitable for both urban and long-distance transportation, including over hilly terrain, optimised for women who ride in their everyday clothing. There are lots of details regarding what this involves in my mind and why, and I look forward to sharing them.

Geekhouse & Royal H Cycles, 12 Channel St
In the meantime, it looks like I will be paying these gentlemen more visits over the summer, which is certainly not a bad thing. It will be wonderful to watch HQ Boston develop. If anyone local is interested in joining, there is space available and rent is cheap. Things are happening in Boston. Here's to new beginnings. 

51 comments:

  1. Good luck to the young industrialists. Exciting and wonderful story.

    Good luck to your effort too. A quality mixte comeback can't happen soon enough

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  2. This looks fantastic and I am very happy that it is happening.

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  3. Ahh! Good news. I read this blog this morning at 6:45 with my coffee an eggs. Soooo much better than that depressing stuff on TV and in the newspapers. Nice to hears someone positive and excited about what they're doing. Best of luck!

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  4. Looking forward to your Royal H prototype - any idea how long it will take to get through design and fabrication?

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    1. Barring unforeseen glitches, I am hoping to be test riding the bike by the end of summer.

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  5. I like the men at work photo!

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  6. I like the swoopy stay mixte already! I would love to know what made you go that route. Cost-effective sounds good, even though I have a feeling it will still be outside of my budget!

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    1. The main reason for the curved stays is to lower the step-over height. One consistent complaint women have about mixtes is that they are not as easy to step over as step-through frames, so I am hoping to at least somewhat resolve this.

      By cost-effective here, I mean competitive with other custom hand made bikes on the market. It will not be an inexpensive bike unfortunately.

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  7. I cannot wait to see the mixte prototype! I know it will be gorgeous.

    I saw lots of curvy mixtes in France and thought they were so charming and practical. The swoopy stay lowers the step-over height considerably. Plus, it evokes a feeling of femininity (while I feel the straight-stay mixtes seem sportier).

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    1. Vienna is full of curved stay mixtes as well. The handling, hopefully, will be no less sporty on this bike. It should be able to handle a 20+ mile commute over hilly terrain.

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  8. Wow, what an exciting project. However, it will take me a while to get used to the idea that you have sold your mixte. Was it a difficult decision? That bike seemed so perfectly suited to you. But I have no doubt that the new bike will be stunning and even better suited to what you wish to accomplish.
    Good luck!
    MT Cyclist

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    1. Thanks. It was very difficult, but it came down to priorities and to how serious I was about the design project. This was something I've been envisioning for some time, but it needed financing. After weighing the options, prototyping the bike on myself (as opposed to having a customer order it and finance it that way) was the only way to go; the design is too experimental at this stage.

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  9. Loved reading about their industrial creativity!

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  10. That Royal H. lug...ugh. It looks like a circuit board, with which I have some familiarity. Irregardless (sic) I hate it, but to each their own.

    Curved-stay mixtes...yes for city and for country rambles. They certainly don't say "French" but whatever. There's really not a way for this project to fail but for prospective buyers at that price point. Certainly it should hit the design requirements.

    I saw a curved stay cro-mo mixte in the shop the other day, picked it up was light. I think it was under 300 $US. At that price point I'd be tempted to put some ENVE wheels on it to: a) make it go fast and b) screw with people. Good luck competing with that price point, sans wheels of course.

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    1. Oh there were plenty of curved stay French mixtes. Peugeot made stock models even. Here is one.

      As I see it, the project can fail if the tubing doesn't feel right and/or if the bike does not handle as I envision it.

      Speaking of $300 mixtes, I will be getting a Windsor model from BikesDirect for review soon. Tempting to put Enve wheels and fork on it...

      I love the circuit board lug! But then one of my favourite lugsets ever seen is this one.

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    2. Did someone say curved stay mixte? This is one of my faces:

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/25671211@N02/5833030901/

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    3. The curved stay mixte might be one of the national vehicles of Vietnam. I think I saw more of them in Hanoi than nearly any other type. Lots of ancient French ones, too, though the humidity is not kind to steel there.
      I really need to get my comatose PC up and working so I can post a bunch of pictures...

      Looking forward to your review of the BD Mixte. I have, er, mixte feelings about the company, but they seem determined to try and deliver value.

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    4. I really dig that lugset with the zillion holes! I wonder if there are any of those left in the wild or if they were just a fantasy...

      I made some clamp on front cantilever/V-brake mounts recently for my pump track bike and drilled the mounting bands out with lots of holes(I was trying to use every bit I own smaller than 1/4" but ran out of steel before I used them all), Lot's of empty space and no filing! WOOHOO!

      The photo's of all that open warehouse space and the thought of it being a long-term creative hub is really inspiring, and the sense that there really are enough builders to fill it is encouraging. If these builders have stayed busy over the last 3 years and are confident enough to make commitments like this building things like hot-rod mixtes than maybe fine bicycles have become something firmly enough embedded in our culture that it wont go through a feast or famine cycle every generation anymore where a bunch of people set up shop only to have to go drive backhoes or go back to accounting after 3 years... That would be a positive change if it's true...

      Spindizzy

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    5. This is my fav I think- or one of them: http://www.flickr.com/photos/9180352@N06/1798357427/in/photostream/

      badmother

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    6. Post a review of the Windsor as soon as you can. That could be the perfect, no worry commuter!

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  11. I know those curved French stays exist, but they're the exception rather than the rule.

    You're using premium tubing it can not fail from a ride quality standpoint unless you grossly misjudge selection. It can be fine-tuned if you build protos. Same w/handling. I don't think you can nail it the first time as design is an iterative process.

    That lug is actually finer, has a sense of proportion and balance, has a repetitive pattern that is echoed in the larger outline, has an organic sense and is airy...kind of the opposite of the Royal one but hey you are an equal opportunity lug-lover.

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    1. "but hey you are an equal opportunity lug-lover"

      I dislike the Hetchins Magnum Opus lugs...

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  12. Oh this is great great news! I wrote you for advice about ordering a custom bike last year and you were super helpful. If this gets off the ground I may end up needing another one :)))))

    I am intrigued by the decision to go with low trail. You wrote previously that you are ambivalent about it. Are you doing it to avoid toe overlap primarily?

    Becky in Washington State

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    1. I am ambivalent about whether I necessarily prefer low trail to mid/high, not about whether I like it. It really depends on the bike. I've liked bikes with both.

      The primary decision to go with low trail here is not TCO based. That isn't necessary on an upright bike with 650B wheels. The Rivendell Betty Foy is "normal" trail and has no TCO.

      I wanted to try a low trail design here, because the two bikes I've felt most comfortable riding through tight urban spaces (Austrian vintage Steyr and the Brompton) have this in common. Also, I want this bike to be front-load optimised with relatively short chainstays and see how that works out. Interestingly, it's really the Brompton that cinched the low trail decision.

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    2. You probably have mentioned it elsewhere but I can't seem to find it: what's the trail on your Brompton?

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    3. I have not mentioned the figure previously, but I now know it to be 26mm.

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  13. Cool post! I am inspired by the innovation happening in Boston and wish I could be there to visit these guys!

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  14. Aside from the "Innovation District" moniker, which begs to be heckled, this is very good news. I'm referring primarily to the cooperation between a few different bicycle-related enterprises, but the new mixte'd be exciting, too, if I didn't immediately get bored when the terms "low-trail" and "650b" are combined in the same sentence.

    Good post, and kudos for giving a big-up to some local manufacturers...

    -rob

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    1. You first point is great. I hope they come up with a cooler name after awhile, something more organic and descriptive.

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    2. "...if I didn't immediately get bored when the terms "low-trail" and "650b" are combined in the same sentence"

      That reaction is a very good sign to me.

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  15. I'd love to check out this new space. I have seen a number of Geekhouse bikes while commuting. I have seen only a couple of Royal H bikes. The first one was a single speed I was passing on my car commute. I knew it was unique so I pulled over and asked the owner to check it out. Bryan does make amazing bikes.

    Thinking of your current project, I saw an old Astra mixte with curved stays in the wild (Cambridge, MA). I believe this is the first mixte with curved stays I have seen and I am as obsessive about checking out bikes as the author of this blog seems to be.

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    1. Neat, I see very few of the curved stay mixtes in the US. I encounter Geekhouse and ANT bikes all the time in Cambridge/Somerville. I've only seen one other Royal H in the wild so far.

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    2. I don't see all that many ANTs on the road but I did today. Have you seen any Fireflies yet? They make beautiful bikes.

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    3. Nice, you even calculated the gear inches! Never seen a Firefly bike in person yet; I need to visit them.

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    4. I looked at gear inches but I confess to preferring MPH @ a specific cadence on Sheldon Brown's gear calculator. That is an indispensable resource that I hope Harris Cyclery maintains for some time.

      A friend has a Firefly and it is an amazing bicycle. You get a hint of the welds and finish from Tyler's photos but seeing one in person is worth it. I gather that there aren't all that many Fireflies out there yet - I recall seeing #100 on their twitter feed not all that long ago.

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  16. I'm always excited to hear about custom projects from local builders. Marty at geekhouse is building me a fork for my new crosscheck to lower the trail a tad for an errand runner that I'm building up.

    I've been seeing more Circle A's out and about recently so it seems like local builders are doing pretty well.

    Just came back from Paris where there were curved stay pugeot's everywhere. The bike mix was interesting, 1/3 french bikes, 1/3 dutch style, 1/3 really old beat up entry level american mountain bikes. But most people rode velibs anyway.

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  17. I'd missed the older posts showing other curved stay mixtes. My first exposure to the concept was the new Civia Twin City ( http://civiacycles.com/bikes/twin_city_step_through/ ), which I think is a nice looking bike, though I have no idea of its performance. I'll be interested to see what you come up with.

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    1. It was one of the earliest posts here! Curious to see the Civia Twin City in person.

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  18. I am really excited about your project! I found your blog in the beginning of 2012 and I read it from beginning to end! I was looking for a "pretty" but functional bike and your blog really helped me find a list of requirements for my future bike. I ended up choosing the Creme Cafe Racer (http://www.chainreactioncycles.com/Models.aspx?ModelID=69703) even though there was very little information about it on the internet. I love it, and I started a thread about my bike on bikeforums just in case anyone else was looking for a little more information about it. (http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php/818640-Creme-Cafe-Racer?highlight=)

    Thank you for helping me indirectly, and I can't wait to see what's next!

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  19. Hi,
    what you called "curved mixte" frames are called "berceau" frames in europe. In fact, they are a special kind of a mixte.

    Best luck for your project. I like this kind of frames very much.

    Regards from germany,
    Matthias

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    1. Thanks, that is good to know;never heard that term applied to bikes before.

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  20. Quite a contrast to a traditional cycle frame builder. If I can manage the 'link', take a look at this: Google maps, enter Mercian Cycles, Pontefract St, Derby DE24 8JD, United Kingdom. Then follow street view to the left, past Kaboodle and the green building of Promex, and there is the squat little brick industrial building that gives birth to some of the finest cycle frames ever built.

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  21. Hello, I like your blog very much. It is great that you inspire people to use bikes as means of transport, especially in the city. I own a dog, a borador, who is medium sized. I recently bought a bike to move around the city. But I'd love to take my dog with me. It would be so helpful if you wrote something about bikes and pets and how to move around with them by bike. Thank you. Have a great day!

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    1. I have a post about cycling with cats here, and there are suggestions about dogs in the comments as well.

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    2. I think the golden rule is, if the dog isn't riding in or on the bike with you, don't be the person pedaling happily along while their loyal companion runs alongside, near collapse.

      Dogs are sprinters, not marathoners.

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    3. Ever since I saw a dog nearly get run over by its owner's bike as it saw a butterfly and ran out in the path of the bike, then squealed as the owner braked just barely in time and probably squished its tail, I get really nervous when I see anyone "cycle-walking" their dog : (

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    4. Peppy (dogs how do they work?)June 11, 2012 at 10:28 AM

      Feh, dog. Filthy animal. Clearly doesn't understand bicycle.

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    5. Hello, I mean taking your dog in a trailer or something. It sure is quite dangerous to ride a bike with a dog running at your side. Thanks, Velouria, I found your post, I'll read it right now. Regards.

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    6. Forgot my bike is in that post...

      As it so happens it, with dog, finished 2nd in a race last wknd.

      Boom! <--the sound of my heart exploding.

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    7. "Dogs are sprinters, not marathoners"

      Ha. Tell that to an African Wild Dog, or a Husky :)

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  22. Looks like great fun, I would love to work in a place like this!

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