Monday, April 30, 2012

Smoothies All Around!

Soma Smoothies on the Minuteman Trail
No sooner had I returned from New York over the weekend, than the Soma Smothie I'd been anticipating for review had arrived. So I took a break from the loop frame delirium of the New Amsterdam Bicycle Show and immediately took it for a spin. Soma roadbikes are not very common here on the East Coast. So imagine my surprise when on my way home I encountered another Smoothie!

650B Converts
As I stopped to snap some pictures at the end of my ride, these gentlemen recognised me and we had a nice chat about their 650B conversions - one a vintage Andre Bertin and the other a Soma Smoothie ES with a Bontrager fork. I am so happy to be back home! Where else but in Boston does one encounter this sort of thing?

Soma Smoothie
But enough about other people's bikes for now, and here is more about the one I am riding. This Soma Smoothie is on loan for review directly from the manufacturer. It is a 52cm steel frameset that was built up to accommodate my Campagnolo lever preferences, which was very nice of them. Everything shown on the bike is directly from Soma, except for my bag and pedals.

Soma Smoothie
I have not weighed the bike yet, but (without saddlebag) it feels pretty similar to my vintage Moser - so I'd say around 21lb. Described as a road/race frame, the Smoothie nonetheless has eyelets for fenders and clearances for 28mm tires.

Crankbrothers Candys, Soma Smoothie
One thing it does't have? Toe overlap! That's right: Here is a stock 52cm road/racing bike with no TCO. They exist. I wear size 37-38 shoes and with 23mm tires there is a boatload of clearance (well maybe it's a small boat, but still). I can definitely fit it with 25mms without a problem, maybe even 28mm.

Soma Smoothie
The pearly white colourscheme is adaptable to a wide range of aesthetics, from classic to colourful to stark. The TIG welded frame will not satisfy lug lovers but is solid and smooth-jointed. It is a versatile, unobtrusive frameset. A carbon fork is available in place of the standard steel one for those wishing to go that route.

Soma Smoothie
This is not a review, so I won't go over the details of the build at this stage. But as far as first impressions (and mind you this is after just 25 miles), a couple of things stand out: First, it is smooth - as advertised. And I am talking about ride quality: very comfy over bumps and I do not feel any road vibration. And second, it handles tamely and predictably. No twitchiness and very precise cornering at the moderate speeds maintained during my conservative "shake down" ride. 

Soma Smoothie ES
The Smothie ES owner I met on the road is very happy with his bicycle, which he's got outfitted with 32mm tires and fenders. I will refrain from writing more about the bike I have on loan until I ride it extensively, but at under $400 for the frame, I am impressed so far. We need more of these on the East Coast and I hope some local shops will carry floor models in the near future. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

New Amsterdam Bicycle Show 2012

Rolling Orange/ Fietsfabriek
Dominated by a sea of transportation bicycles and accessories, Dutch-style and otherwise, the New Amsterdam Bicycle Show lived up to its name and then some. Only in its second year running, the show was a lively display of trends in North American urban cycling. 

New Amsterdam Bicycle Show
Held in a contemporary ground floor space in SoHo, the rooms began to fill with visitors from the minute its doors opened at 10am on Saturday. 

New Amsterdam Bicycle Show, Beer Garden
By mid-day the crowds were impressive, with every seat in the Beer Garden annex occupied by hot dog eating and beer drinking attendees. 

Grolsch Bike/ Republic Bikes
Grolsch sponsored the show with free beer, and had a couple of bespoke bikes on display. This one with the charming backward fork is by Republic, and there was also a Fietsfabriek cargo bike nearby. 

Viva, Brooks
In a general sense, I would describe the New Amsterdam Bicycle Show as similar to Interbike, only focused predominantly on transportation cycling. 

Horse Cycles, Hand Made in Brooklyn
A secondary focus of the show was on small, independent manufacturers and craftspersons. A few local framebuilders were represented, and there were lots of bespoke and hand made accessories on display. 

Benjamin Cycles Truss Frame
My favourite handmade bicyce at the show was this truss frame by Benjamin Cycles (whose website I cannot find - help me out someone who knows them?). 

Benjamin Cycles Truss Frame
Not only is it a truss frame, but the two tone stencil paint job is spectacular.

Horse Cycles
Nearby, Horse Cycles had a nice display of beautifully lugged frames.

Horse Cycles
But what really stood out was their frame with what appeared to be silver octopus tentacles wrapped around the tubes. Not for me, but it was certainly noteworthy.

Amy Munro's Formigli Bicycle
I have been wanting to see Amy Munro's Florentia Formigli bicycle for a while, and here it was at the show - gold lugs and all. 

Bianchi Pista Classica
And catering to the bespoke/ lugged aesthetic, Bianchi showed off their newest Pista Classica model - celeste with custard yellow lugwork.

Taliah Lempert
Of course with all these bicycles, it was only fitting to have a bicycle painter at hand. Taliah Lempert was in attendance, and her bicycle paintings booth was extremely popular.

Bicycle Paintings Jersey
There were even bicycle jerseys with her paintings on them, as well as coffee cups and coloring books.

Susi Wunsch, Velo Joy
Unlike industry-only trade shows such as Interbike, the New Amsterdam Show is open to the public, which makes the atmosphere more dynamic and casual, not so corporate-feeling. It is also good for the vendors, because they can sell their goods at the show and offset the fees of attending. 

House of Talents Baskets
These House of Talents baskets - displayed at the Adeline Adeline/ Velojoy booth - were selling particularly well and it seemed like everyone was walking around with one. I am not surprised, as I've been testing them over the winter and they are are excellent; I will have a review up soon.

Clever Hoods
Another hot item were the Clever Hood capes. These sold so well on the first day, the owner had to restock overnight. The brisk trade created a happy environment of pleased vendors and attendees alike. The show had a relaxed and exciting vibe to it that I enjoyed.

We Flashy
As far as trends, the big one that was hard to miss - and I mean that literally - was reflective wear. It seemed like a dozen manufacturers were showing garments and accessories that were both fashionable and offered reflective properties. We Flashy introduced an entire line of tees and sweatshirts with reflective designs. Bicycle Habitat offered pant cuff straps with glow in the dark views of the NYC skyline. Halo Coatings brought a prototype of  spectacles that light up in the dark.

Dargelos Lightning Vest
The Dargelos Lightning Vest creates ethereal silhouettes that looked stunning during the fashion show when photographers used flash. 

Vespertine NYC
And then there was the tailored wool brocade vest by Vespertine that every passer-by oohed and aahed over. The texture, construction and quality of this vest is hard to describe without dedicating an entire post to it, and I will try to get my hands on one for review.

Vespertine NYC
With New York City being one of the fashion capitals of the world, it is only fitting that some good ideas about how to combine hi-viz and fashion should develop here, and it's interesting to see the creativity with which various designers are approaching this.

New Amsterdam Bicycle Fashion Show 2012
The fashion show held on Saturday - called Postcards from New Amsterdam - highlighted the local approach to bicycles and fashion as well. Directed by Nona Varnado and Hudson Urban Bicycles (HUB), the show was well coordinated and almost aggressively focused - leaving me with a better sense of how the outfits related to the bicycles the models were shown with than the show I watched at Interbike last year.

New Amsterdam Bicycle Fashion Show 2012
As far as transportation bicycles, a dizzying variety of brands and styles were represented. Some were displayed by the manufacturers themselves, while others were brought in by the local bike shops. I was especially excited to see the Achielle bicycle and the Viva shown earlier, neither of which I had seen in person before. I had a chance to test ride an Achielle while in New York City, and will have a review of that shortly.

Worksman Cycles
The locally made Worksman Cycles were on display, and I was excited to see some locked up around the city as well - some new and others decades old.

United Pedal Saddlebags, via Bicycle Habitat
Aside from the high-viz and the transportation bicycle trends, one final trend I noted were bags - lots and lots of bags, most of them handmade locally. My favourite was this small United Pedal saddlebag, at the Bicycle Habitat booth.

Truce Bags
Truce offered a more contemporary selection of messenger-style bags in bright colours.

Fabric Horse Bags
And Fabric Horse added funky tool bags to the mix.

Cooper Bikes
A couple of manufacturers unveiled new lines of bikes, and one of these was Cooper - yes, as in the automobile Mini Cooper!

Bobbin Bicycles
Fresh from celebrating their North American grand opening, the candy-coloured Bobbin Bicycles were on display as well.

Brooklyn Cruiser
There was much, much more at the show, and my image collections on flickr and instagram should give you an idea of just how many interesting things there were to look at.

Grumpy Old Wheelmen
The attendees were pretty intriguing also. Lots of glamorous New York fashion types - though my favourite outfit of the day was this one!

Taliah Lempert's Bicycle Paintings
I attended the New Amsterdam Bicycle Show on Saturday only and am now back in Boston. Today was likely even busier, since both Bike Snob NYC and Grant Petersen of Rivendell were giving their talks. If anyone was there for this, I would love to hear about it. My overall impression is that the New Amsterdam Show proved to be pretty good for the exhibitors. If you are a small manufacturer or an East-Coast bike shop, I feel that this show is more relevant than Interbike on a number of levels, as well as more accessible financially. And for the attendees it was a blast as well, with all sorts of cool products on display they might not see elsewhere, and special discounts on most of the merchandise sold.

New Amsterdam Bicycle Show, Beer Garden
Having attended as "media," I do have a couple of suggestions for the organisers as far as improvements for next year. The lighting conditions were inconsistent, and quite poor in some parts of the space - which I felt was unfair to those vendors who were assigned those spaces. It was also difficult to take photos without using a flash unit and getting on everyone's nerves, which I don't like to do. The other thing, is that in my experience it is customary for trade shows to provide a free wireless internet connection for media, so that we might share our impressions of the show without having to, say, go to the Starbucks around the corner every couple of hours. Some secure storage space for equipment would also have been much appreciated. Maybe next year there could be a curtained off little Media Room?

Opus Bikes, Po Campo
That said, the New Amsterdam Bicycle Show was fantastic and I hope it will be even better next year. I will certainly try to make it again, and I recommend it to anyone within reasonable traveling distance.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cycling in Lower Manhattan

Julie and Kate M.
I am in New York City for a few days, with all sorts of nice cycling people who have gathered here for the New Amsterdam Show this weekend and the Bobbin Bicycles/ Adeline Adeline party last night. One of the first familiar faces I encountered was the beautiful Julie, of the Julie blog. This lady works in the fashion industry and rides all over the city on her white and pink Linus loop frame named Kate Middleton... which I think speaks for itself: Cycling in New York has certainly become more accessible over the past few years.

Cycling in NYC
On my way down here on the train I realised that I had not been to the city since maybe 2008 - which is almost 4 years ago now. I have to confess that I don't love New York. It's not that I hate it. I just fail to see the magic and romance in it that everyone gushes about. Maybe it's because my family briefly lived in Washington Heights at a time when it was anything but romantic and my impressions are forever coloured by those childhood memories. Whatever the reason, I just see New York as a very large, very crowded city where you have to watch yourself despite all the art galleries and coffee shops and lofts and trendy boutiques that have popped up in neighbourhoods that used to be considered "dangerous." 

Cycling in NYC
And despite hearing about all the new cycling infrastructure here, I couldn't easily picture myself riding through the streets of New York, at least not right away. What about the dense traffic? The notoriously aggressive drivers? Walking from Penn Station to Tribeca it was hard to imagine myself sharing these busy streets on two wheels.

Cycling in NYC
But an hour later I was doing exactly that - on a beautiful Retrovelo, courtesy of Adeline Adeline. While my travel radius was mostly limited to lower Manhattan, it was still a surprise to experience how relatively easy riding in the city has become.

Cycling in NYC
I started out on the West Side Highway bicycle path, which is quite impressive. The 5.5 mile stretch of major road along the Hudson River has a protected greenway running through it the entire way, with somewhat frequent but well designed interruptions where bicycles even get their own green light.

Cycling in NYC
The lanes are wide, allowing bicyclists to pass pedestrians and each other if need be. Cyclists were courteous and used their bells. Pedestrians behaved predictably. With views of the city ahead and views of the river alongside, it is a great path.

Cycling in NYC
Many of the piers in this are have been renovated and developed with all sorts of little restaurants an recreational complexes. The weather was pretty terrible on Thursday afternoon - heavily overcast skies and cold temperatures - but there were lots of people strolling along the piers and enjoying their day.

Cycling in NYC
One great thing about New York City, is that no one found it strange at all when I would stop to photograph the bike. In Boston passers-by will sometimes comment how wacky it is that I am standing there and taking close-ups of a bicycle, but here no one batted an eye.

Cycling in NYC
Having had my fill of the West Side Highway, I took to the streets. Some streets have bike lanes and others don't, but honestly I found that it did not matter hugely. The bike lanes were so frequently blocked by double parked cars and delivery vehicles that a degree of comfort with vehicular cycling was necessary regardless. There was a lot of traffic, but it was slow moving and drivers seemed accustomed to cyclists. I got honked at a couple of times, but so did everyone else around me - honking just seems to be a way of communicating here. When I needed to make a left turn and didn't  change lanes early enough, a taxi driver saw my predicament and let me squeeze in ahead of him with an impatient but not unfriendly wave. Overall it was entirely manageable and not any more stressful than riding in downtown Boston. 

Cycling in NYC
I will not be in town long enough to experience riding in the city as a person living here would, but my Thursday afternoon jaunt was a nice introduction to cycling in New York. After 4 years away it was certainly the best "welcome back" I could have hoped for. I will eventually be posting about the New Amsterdam Show and all the other things I am doing here, and you can check my twitter feed for "live coverage" snapshots of all sorts of neat things. Have a good weekend!