Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Tandem Experience

this and further images: courtesy of Pamela Blalock

In conclusion to a rather unusual, entertaining and exhausting weekend, yesterday afternoon I rode on the back of a tandem - with endurance cyclist and racer John Bayley, or, as he is known in his native tongue, Fear Rothar (I'll let you figure that one out).

This was a moment I'd dreamt of for some time! Four years ago my husband and I rented an upright tandem on Cape Cod and rode it back and forth along the bike path. At the time, it had only been months since I'd started riding a bike of any kind, and neither of us had tried a tandem before. But despite initial fumblings, it was great fun. The more time passed, the more fondly I remembered it and the more I wanted to try it again - especially once I got into road cycling. With a fast and competent captain, I reasoned, I could experience a ride beyond the limit of my own meager handling skills and speed. So when John offered me to hop on the back of the tandem, I didn't need to be asked twice.

Overall, the process was far more intuitive and natural than I'd anticipated. For those unfamiliar with tandems, the person in front is called the captain, and the person in the rear the stoker. The captain steers, while the stoker goes with the flow and contributes pedaling power. The stoker's pedaling strokes are "fixed" to the captain's, which means that the captain controls the cadence, the gear changes, as well as when to pedal vs when to coast. Starting out, John mounted the bike by swinging his leg over the front and stood over the top tube holding the bike upright. I then swung my leg over the rear, and clipped my right foot in, bringing the pedals to where he wanted them to be. Then John clipped his right foot in. Then he pushed off and we both clipped in the left foot simultaneously. All of this happened fairly quickly and required minimal verbal communication. Subsequent stops and starts were even easier, because John prefers the stoker to remain on the bike with both feet clipped in. This made things pretty simple for me: At stops all I had to do was essentially act as luggage.

An important part of what made all of this work, I think, is that I had full confidence in the captain's ability to keep the bike upright. John is an extremely skilled cyclist who has been captaining tandems for 20 years. I also know him to be a responsible and considerate person. Secure in this, there was trust on my end from the get-go. We clipped in and off we went, with no tentativeness or false starts.

Now, all of this was happening in mountainous northern Vermont, where a group of us was staying over the weekend. There were no flat stretches where we were situated, only long ups and downs with steep grades and lots of dirt. We started off going downhill along a sweeping dirt road, before turning left onto the main road, which led us up a winding climb for a few miles. Once at the top, John did a nimble u-turn and we bombed down the same winding hill.

The experience of being on the back of the bike was wonderful. I was just in heaven for the entire ride. I enjoyed feeling the bike steered by another rider and accommodating to it. I imagine this is a "love it" or "hate it" sort of thing, as it does require the stoker to give up control and to trust the captain's handling. In my case, this was not a problem. Just as I'd hoped, I was able to experience things that I could not have done on my own: more extreme leans, faster speed, expert maneuverability. It was all tremendously exciting. I was only scared once, and that was when we first started descending. It was faster than my concept of "bike speed" had previously entailed and I felt lightheaded. But once I got used to it (and there was plenty of time for that, as it was a long hill!) I began to enjoy it.

Though not as thrilling as downhill, going uphill on the tandem was pretty nice. John is extremely strong and was spinning the cranks in a higher gear than I could have managed on my own. I contributed as much as I could, amazed at the sensation of spinning instead of grinding, at that grade, in that gear.

As the stoker, there is always the question of how much you're contributing as opposed to taking it easy and soft-pedaling while the captain puts in the real effort. My impression is that I was contributing when I felt myself pushing against a distinct resistance in the cranks. This is a different feeling from the resistance I feel when riding a single bike, but nonetheless there is feedback.

I found the switch from coasting to pedaling and vice-versa to be surprisingly intuitive and did not feel a need for the captain to warn me when switching; my feet would just immediately adapt. Same with switching gears. Surprisingly, I was somehow almost able to anticipate when John was about to coast, or start pedaling again, or switch gears. And the entire time, his cadence felt suspiciously perfect. I am not sure whether he was regulating his cadence to accommodate what he thought I'd be comfortable with, or whether this was his natural rhythm - but we were spinning at a decent rate the entire time, which felt great.

I know fairly little about the world of tandems, but one thing I've noticed is the difference in space allocated to the stoker. In some pictures of tandemists you see the stoker's face practically digging into the captain's back, whereas in others you see them set far apart. John and Pamela's tandem is somewhere in between. Had I wanted to, I could have leaned down to reach John's lower back with my chin when in the drops.  But it wasn't so tight as to feel claustrophobic or uncomfortable. I have seen tandems where the stoker is basically "spooning" the captain.

Since this is the only road tandem I've been on, it would not make sense to attempt a review of any kind, but the ride quality felt pretty good on the 650Bx42mm tires, and in particular I noticed that I felt less "bouncing" than I do on single bikes. While I had no control over braking power, the discs worked very well in John's hands.

We did not do anything extreme on this ride, figuring a relatively tame spin over hilly roads was enough for my first stoker experience. But John did wow me with his tandem track-standing skills at stops, as well as with his ability to maneuver the long bike through tight spaces. The way I remember it, we actually started on the front porch, at which point John steered the bike down the steps, onto the lawn, in between some parked cars, around the picnic table and over the stone fence - as I hung on for dear life and his lovely spouse snapped pictures. "You can have him for free this once," she said, "but next time I'm charging a rental fee." Fair enough!

Based on others' feedback, it is clear that stoking a tandem is not for everyone. Some riders cannot stand the loss of control (I don't mind, assuming I trust the person in front). Others complain about the limited view (I found that turning my face a bit solved that problem). Finally, there are riders who just cannot get in sync enough to make a tandem ride work. I found riding with John enormously fun and would love to ride again with such a fantastic captain.

Interested in tandem advice from experienced couples? Here is a detailed guide from the Blayleys and a "411" from Chasing Mailboxes.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

DROVES Diaries II: Loop of Defeat

DROVES Day 1 Survivor
It is Saturday night on Memorial Day weekend. We are in Vermont. And it is snowing outside. It is really starting to accumulate now. We take turns running out onto the porch to snap pictures. We do not know what to do with ourselves, other than look at each other with a helpless giddiness as if to say "This is really happening and you are my witness, right?" Surely twenty or thirty years from now we will each be telling some bored youngster in our family about that time it snowed on Memorial Day weekend. But what to do with these emotions now that it's happening? Well, there is always instagram. 

The people I am with, they drink like Europeans - lots, as a matter of course, and, seemingly without getting drunk. There is also a great deal of eating. Tray after tray is passed around. I decline second helpings. I push half of my dessert onto a neighbour's plate. And still I feel close to being sick, while the others seem to thrive. I look around the table with admiration. I cannot eat like this, despite having ridden the same miles. Not that those miles seem like much to brag about in retrospect.

I slept straight through the night and opened my eyes at 8:30am. A heavy pile of comforters. Wooden beams all around. The air smells of outdoors and feels just as crisp. At first I marvel at how quiet it is. But then I realise that I'd simply grown used to the rain beating against the metal roof as background noise. It is raining as hard as last night, and it is almost as dark. 

Downstairs, some of the others are awake already, quietly eating breakfast in different parts of the room. I step out onto the porch and see a watery mess in the dirt driveway. It is raw-cold out, and I duck back indoors. There is coffee and I pour myself some. I settle down with a bowl of cereal and listen to the rain. 

Pamela is at the table with her laptop. Extreme weather warnings are in effect. She suggests that those who want to ride wait till mid-day, when the rain might ease up. And she proposes we do a short route - one that's designed as a half-day ride and is only 30 miles long, called the Victory Loop. Pamela and John debate whether the steep descent toward the end might be washed out and could be dangerous. They decide that today the route should be ridden backwards. "It is steeper in reverse, but safer." 

I copy the route and glance at the metrics: 30 miles, 3600 feet of climbing. All dirt. I eat my cereal and don't allow the figures to register. 

"The Victory Loop in reverse... doesn't that make it the Loop of Defeat?" 

More people are awake now, but there is no talk of riding. 

"I am fine right here," someone says. "Any board games in the house?" 

The RSC boys continue to work on John Bayley's bike. They are now opening the bleed kit for the hydraulic brakes. Matt Roy - an immunologist and pro bike mechanic - is wielding the syringe picturesquely as we all take pictures. 

But finally I am restless. Am I crazy for wanting to ride on a day like this?

At noon, Mo Bruno-Roy appears in a colourfully mismatched ensemble. She is going on a short mountain bike ride in the woods. After she sets off, I can take it no longer. 

I go upstairs and put on my cycling clothes. Fleece winter tights, baselayer, long sleeve jersey, winter jacket, neck warmer, full finger gloves, shoes, and those fetishistic-looking booties I'd been too intimidated to try all winter. I walk downstairs and amuse everyone. 

Before I can change my mind, I drag my bike outdoors and set off. The rain is like a waterfall. By the time I reach the end of the dirt driveway, my glasses fog up so completely that I must take them off. At the main road I turn right. 

As it is later remarked, there is no foreplay in the routes around Burke, Vermont. "They begin to fuck with you right away." 

The first climb happens immediately and it is 3 miles long, starting out paved and turning to dirt. One of those roads with the truck-on-triangle "Steep Grade" sign. I feel like someone hit me over the head with a hammer. I see stars. Blood rushes to my face. My mouth goes dry. My head starts to pound. And my legs feel like led. I grind in my 1:1 gear. I cannot climb like this starting at mile zero, I just can't. 

The dirt roads are beige and gritty. It has been raining for days. But remarkably, it is not muddy. Streams of clay-tinted water over wet dirt, but no mud. The ground is soft though, not unlike tightly packed wet sand. It gives under the weight of me and the bike. My tires stick to it, sinking just enough to sap my energy. Crawling uphill, I feel like a caterpillar, a snail. 

At the top I stop and take out my camera. But really I stop because I am out of breath and my heart is pounding and my vision is blurry. There is nothing to photograph here. A farm surrounded by fog. Dark clouds pressing down on the soaked landscape. A cluster of sad, broken lilac bushes. Rain, rain, rain. My legs are trembling from the climb; I cannot handle an entire route like this. What am I doing here?

I get back on the bike and hope to rest on a flat stretch, but immediately I start to descend. There are some ruts and washboards now. The bike starts bouncing. I stop and lower the pressure in my tires. That helps. Letting the bike go, I steer around the bends and feather the brakes.

At the bottom, I see that another uphill stretch awaits. But I go off course and take a different road, one that looks like it might offer some rolling hills. But no, that road goes up as well. I stop when my computer registers a 20% grade, turn around and ride back down. Later I will do the same several more times, with similar results. There are no gentle roads here. Explore all you want, but expect at least 1,000 feet of elevation gain for every 10 miles.

Back on course now, the road goes up again, but at a gentler grade than before. The rain eases up. I sip my water and spin, feeling almost energetic. 

Now the directions say to turn onto Victory Road. It is a much narrower road, almost a trail, that runs though dense woods. It is gravely and rocky. The pitch steepens horrendously, almost comically. I put my water back in the bottle cage and keep pedaling, clicking through my gears until once again I run out. Then I grind. At this moment I can imagine few things more humiliating than grinding in a gear as low as mine. I don't belong here. 

I am crawling up a wall of gravel. My mind wanders. I have imaginary conversations with myself. I can't feel my legs, but somehow rotate the pedals anyway. Water and sweat stream down my face. 

Ahead, things get worse. I see that the sides of the road have caved in and are flanked by rushing streams of water.  I remember that this is the road with potentially washed-out descent that caused Pamela to reverse the route. As I climb further, ravine-like formations begin to take shape down the center, with streams of water flowing through them. I pick a line to avoid them, but this becomes progressively harder, until finally one ravine intersects the other. I ride over this in slow motion at a 16% grade. I try to keep going, but now the road is truly ravaged. Gravel starts to spill out in clumps under my front tire and I slide backwards. The grade steepens still and I get off to push my bike the rest of the way up, barely upright. My arms and shoulders hurt from the effort. I space out until I reach the top.

The descent is not much better at first and I keep walking. I can't pick out a line; it is all rutted out, or in the process of caving in. But finally I get on the bike, launch it downhill and hope for the best. There are large, sharp rocks and I steer around them. It is a 4 mile descent. I am falling and falling and falling. A free-fall. 

At the bottom I am suddenly jolted into alertness. Not by the end of the descent, but by the realisation that I am pedaling along a flat stretch. Having gotten used to vertical roads, it is downright disconcerting. And again, I feel as if my tires stick to the ground, as if I am riding in slow motion. The rain stopped. There is a lake - or maybe a flooded field - and I stop to take a break. I look at the time and see how late it is grown. I've added some extra miles to the route, but still have barely done over 20 so far, and it took me nearly 3 hours. I wonder whether the others, setting out to ride the same route later, might have passed me during one of the times I'd gone off course. I try to get a move on.

Next comes a long, winding paved climb with no end in sight. Once again I am crawling. Surely this cannot be called cycling, not at this speed. The grade steepens yet again and once again I consider walking. But just then I suddenly sense a presence beside me, and I see Ted. Pamela and Emily are not far behind. They tell me they left soon after I did, but I doubt that very much - it would not have taken them this long to catch me. 

Briefly we ride together. Nearly breaking my knees, I push myself to keep up, but they gently slip away. And when I see them disappear, it is through a veil of snowflakes. At first I think I am hallucinating, but it is unmistakable. Snowflakes on my handlebar bag, on my gloves, on the sleeves of my jacket. 

It is not a soft, fluffy snowfall, but a sharp and sleety one. When the next long descent begins, it hits me in the face like needles; it stabs me in the eyes. I try to put my glasses on, but they fog up. So I squint, resisting closing my eyes completely. My face hurts, really hurts. I can see where I am going only approximately. The road is winding and steep. It feels as if I get through it by putting my bike on autopilot. 

Finally, a quieter, gentler road, and I am on dirt again. Tall trees shelter me from the vicious snow-needles. I check my computer and see I am 6 miles from the end. I pedal hard and try to get it over with.  

Nearly home now, from the corner of my eye I notice a car slowing down beside me. There is no one else on the road but us, and for a moment I panic. A serial killer on the prowl, preying on slow cyclists. But it is John Bayley and Matt Roy. "Can we give you a lift home?" I am confused, then slightly outraged. "In the car?! Why?" They point at the sky. "We were worried!" I assure them I am doing wonderfully, and wave them away. Some minutes later I drag my bike into the cabin, to the sound of applause. 

All this for 37 miles. But they were the hardest I've ever done. My legs are shot and my upper body is aching. I cannot imagine walking tomorrow, let alone riding. Feeling dejected, elated and utterly ridiculous, I go upstairs to wash and change for dinner. Out of the bedroom window I notice the snow again. Maybe I am dreaming all of this up.

Friday, May 24, 2013

DROVES Diaries I: Que Sera Sera

DROVES: Morning 2
One of these does not belong...

That thought runs through my mind as I look at the others, scattered around the rustic living room, drinking wine and beer by the dim cabin light. Outside it is pitch black, and alarmingly noisy - the sound of heavy rain hitting the metal roof. The forecast says it will be the same over the next three days: The storm is circling in place, "tornado-like." No one talks about this out loud.

We are in Vermont for Memorial Day weekend. The group includes the Ride Studio Cafe endurance team (Matt Roy, David Wilcox and John Bayley), cyclocross racer Mo Bruno Roy, Dominique and Christine - two French Canadian women who specialise in hill climb races, randonneuring superstars Jake Kassen and Emily O'Brien, 1200K legend Ted Lapinski, and of course Pamela Blalock. A couple of others cancelled due to weather.

DROVES stands for Dirt Roads Of Vermont Epic Sojourn - an event hosted by the Blayleys, now in its fourth year. They rent a cabin near Burke, VT and invite friends for 3 days of riding beautiful, steep dirt roads. For some DROVES is a training camp before the string of summer's competitive events. For others it is a mini-vacation. As for me, I had no expectations. I could use a weekend away, that's all. When I asked Pamela if she thought I could handle the routes, I got the honest answer "I don't know" - followed up with "...but you're welcome to find out!" So I tagged along, bringing the bike "with the lowest gears" per Pamela's emphatic advice.

As the weekend approached, it became obvious that the forecast was dire. Not just a regular sort of dire, but exceptionally, obscenely, laughably dire: temperatures in the 40s and heavy rain for the entire weekend. Following the weather with morbid curiosity, I packed my winter gear.

Earlier in the afternoon...

I wait for John and Pamela on the curb outside my house. Bags in one hand, front fender in the other, bike propped up against the fence. It is a humid 70° in Somerville, the kind that makes it feel like 90°. Sweat trickles down my forehead. Finally the black Honda Fit approaches. Like a 4-year old, I jump up and down with anticipation as it rolls down the street, almost in slow motion, a tandem perched upon its roof majestically, along with a cluster of other bikes in various states of assembly. The neighbours line up to watch. Whatever is happening here, it looks important. By the time my bike is hoisted onto the roof rack, we are all drenched in sweat.

An hour into the drive, we stop for fuel and feel a drastic temperature drop. Half hour later, the skies opened up. We continue north, under increasingly heavy rain and a blanket of black clouds. Pamela drives. John entertains us with stories of cycling in Ireland and his early custom bikes. Studiously we ignore the topic of weather. In the distance I begin to see hints of mountains, shrouded in thick fog. The view looks like lumpy pea soup.

We turn onto the private dirt road not long after 7pm, but it might as well be midnight. I can vaguely see the outlines of a cabin, a tractor, and a pile of logs in a field. Everything else fades to black. Running from the car to the front porch, my teeth chatter. It is freezing. There is non-stop thunder.

But inside is a different world...

As I crack open the door, I am overwhelmed by the burst of orange - the interior is all wooden planks and beams, aglow from the light of many small lamps. An electric heater is blasting. There are couches and quilts and a heavy large table and a cozy kitchenette. A winding staircase leads upstairs.

A tall man rises from the couch, who I learn is Ted. He reminds me of someone, but not, as the other ladies start to tell him, of "that actor from The English Patient." Ted is quiet, but with a heavy, deliberate presence to him, like one of those salt of the earth male Twin Peaks characters. Within moments he and John Bayley remove all the bikes from the car roof and bring them indoors in one fell swoop. Then they shake hands and open some beers.

By the kitchen counter, two exquisitely fit women - Christine and Dominique - are opening a bottle of wine. "Ah Pamela!" they exclaim, with that charming Quebec intonation that stresses the last syllable in every sentence. Later they ask where I'm from. I am the new kid here, the object of curiosity, and a little out of my element. But at that point we have all had a drink and the story of my origins makes more sense than usually. Mo Bruno-Roy relates to my mess of an accent. She herself can sound Canadian prairie one minute, Nawth Shoah the next. She demonstrates back and forth for our amusement.

David Wilcox is keeping busy in the background. Minutes later he produces a tray of steamed potatoes and asparagus from the oven. The room is warm, garlicky. More wine is opened. No one talks about bikes, or the weather.

The bikes are everywhere though; everyone seems to have brought at least one. Soon Jake and Emily arrive and bring more. My bike is propped against the side of the staircase. I park myself on the rug beside it to re-attach the front fender. "Look, she is eager to ride!" someone teases me.

The evening is warm and familiar and endless. With a cup of tea, I sit across the couch from the Canadian hill climbers. Dominique is a brunette with a serene facial expression. Christine is blond and animated. They are about the same height. There is a ying-yang symmetry to them that is mesmerising. "Why do you climb Mt. Washington?" I ask, innocent that I am. Taking turns, they recount the history of them doing the race, which includes the story of how they met Pamela. But they don't say what compels them to do it.

This is the most relaxed evening I've had in ages...

Just when it seems to be nearing bed time, Matt Roy arrives, dripping wet. He is carrying boxes of components, a bag of tools and a work stand. The RSC Endurance Team has recently snagged a sponsorship deal (Seven Cycles, SRAM, Rapha, Zipp and Clement), which would equip the three riders with bikes for long distance mixed terrain racing. John Bayley's frame had just been welded earlier in the day. They'd dragged it up to Vermont and now planned to build it up.

At around 10pm, they set up the stand in the kitchen. I make endless cups of tea and look on with fascination. An eccentric bottom bracket. Road levers for hydraulic disc brakes. 700X40mm tires. Everyone gathers to watch and ask questions, drunk on the exoticism of the strange machine.

The rain beats against the metal roof like a chorus of tribal drums. I resist imagining the condition of the dirt roads. But then no one seems intent on forcing me to ride. Not only that, but by the group's demeanor it isn't clear whether they plan to ride themselves. Perhaps there is an unspoken agreement to write the weekend off and spend it indoors - drinking, catching up with friends and building bikes? It does not feel right to ask.

Finally I see Pamela at the far end of the room, producing her laptop and GPS unit. I walk over, and, feeling as if I'm vocalising the unspeakable, ask whether she plans to ride tomorrow. She says "Let's play it by ear and see how it goes?" - a stunning pronouncement coming from her. She shows me the updated forecast, which now threatens temperatures in the 30s, floods, and - my eyes can hardly believe it - chances of snow.

The original plan had been to set off at 8am and ride either a 90 mile or a 60 mile loop. The new plan is to sleep in and see what the road conditions are, come mid-morning. Walking upstairs, I can hear the clinks of wine glasses below, complemented by rolls of thunder and the sound of rain outside.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Honey, We Meet Again

Honey at Sunset
When a bicycle leaves you at a loss for words, is that a good thing? With hundreds of miles now on this Honey Cyclocross demo bike, I am leaning toward yes. Because I'm not exactly itching to give it back.

Last summer I was briefly without a suitable bike for dirt and gravel. When a local unpaved ride came around, a buddy lent me her Honey Cyclocross racing bike. I wrote about that bike here, then rode the Kearsarge Klassic on it successfully. And that should have been that. But months later, even as I happily rode my own bike, memories of that CX Honey kept intruding. In my first impressions write-up I described how "different" its handling felt from anything I'd tried before. As a wannabe bicycle designer, this gnawed at me. What was it about that bike? 

Diverged Start
Enter geographical luck of the draw. Honey Bikes are local to me, the project of Rob Vandermark whom I know through the Ride Studio Cafe bicycle shop and Seven Cycles. Last Fall, we had occasion to talk about the cyclocross bike I'd tried, and I struggled to articulate why I found its handling so "different." 

At this time, a batch of Honey demo bikes was being prepared for the Ride Studio Cafe, and one of them was set up for me. The idea was a long-term test ride and review: I would ride the bike until it became familiar, allowing me to articulate what I found so striking about its handling. In particular, we discussed how appropriate a bike like it might be for long unpaved rides, and how it compared to the 650B low trail model I was comfortable with.

Honey Cyclocross, Winter Lilac
The bike arrived just as a series of snow storms hit the Northeast, which made for some appropriate pictures of the "winter lilac" colour.

I should note here that the bicycle reviewed here is completely stock in everything from size and geometry to component group and finish. Honey bikes are not custom, but made-to-order stock bikes, available in a variety of sizes and option packages. This production method allows them to keep prices in the $2,400-4,000 range for complete bikes, and to offer quick turn-around. The bicycles are steel, with carbon fiber forks (though steel forks are also available). Models include road, utility, mixed terrain, mountain, cyclocross and more. All frames are handmade in the USA, the current series produced by Seven Cycles in Watertown, MA.

Honey Cyclocross, Winter Lilac
Honey bikes are offered in two types of finishes. The standard finishes are tone-on-tone, and so subtle that the logos and other markings are virtually invisible unless you stand inches from the bike or intentionally bump up the contrast in pictures to draw them out. For those who prefer a finish with visible logos, Honey also makes "team" finishes, where the panels and lettering contrast the main colour.

Honey Cyclocross, Winter Lilac
Like the bike I had borrowed last summer, this is a stock 52.5cm Honey Cyclocross race frame (they also have a utility cross model, but this is not it). The sizing figures on Honey bikes refer to the virtual top tube length. Because this bike was set up for me from the get-go, it fit me much better than the one I rode previously. The handlebar height and width, the stem length, and the saddle position were configured with my fit in mind. The brakes were routed right=front, the way I set up my own. When I got on the bike, everything immediately felt natural, and there is a lot to be said for this. With roadbike test rides, fit really matters. 

Honey Cyclocross, Winter Lilac
The Honey was set up with a SRAM Rival group and TRP mini-v brakes. The brakes work excellently (more on that here), which was a great relief from previous experiences with cantis. And while I have a Campagnolo setup on my own bikes, I am also comfortable with SRAM levers and have no problem switching back and forth between the two systems. 

Honey Cyclocross, Winter Lilac
As I see it, going with SRAM on a bicycle like this has several benefits. The main one, is that SRAM now makes it possible to use low gears with a road drivetrain and modern integrated shifters. Their new wifli system, despite the silly name, is extremely useful in that it allows for a 12-32t cassette. Paired with a 50/34t crankset, that almost gives you a 1:1 low gear, without having to do anything unconventional to the drivetrain. Unofficially, I am told that the wifli derailleur will also handle a 34t cog from a mountain or touring cassette, but I wanted to ride the bike with everything stock before trying out-of-spec configurations. As is, the SRAM Rival drivetrain has been functioning flawlessly ...which brings me to the other benefit - the value. While I love the feel of Campagnolo Chorus, I've been disappointed with their lower-end groups in the past couple of years. At the lower to mid range, I have to admit that SRAM groups feel nicer. In particular, I find Rival to be the sweet spot as far as cost to performance ratio.  

Honey Cyclocross, Winter Lilac
The bike is fitted with Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels and Continental Cyclocross Speed tires, 700Cx35mm. The tires were chosen for their versatility: The tread can handle most unpaved terrain, without slowing the bike down too much on pavement. I have found this useful. Off pavement, I feel comfortable with these tires on dirt, gravel, reasonably shallow sand and not-too-thick mud. On pavement, I do find them slower than slick road tires, but it's not too bad and I don't mind working a little harder on paved sections. These tires are also great in the rain and light snow. In bad weather, I find myself reaching for this bike.

Speaking of snow... Though I did not ride a lot over this past winter, the little riding I did was mostly on the Honey. Partly this was due to the tires: They handled unexpected patches of ice and snow on the road better than the tires on my own bikes. But partly it was also the handling. I will get more into this later, but when I got the demo Honey, fitted to my riding position, my first impression was that it felt like a toy - I was compelled to try stuff on it that I had not done on other bikes - like jumping over things and riding in snow. So I did, until eventually I crashed into a tree riding in the woods. My leg and hip were covered in bruises that took weeks to heal, but luckily the bike was fine!

Honey at Sunset
Spring took a long time arriving this year. But finally by mid-March I started putting in some proper miles. As a way of ensuring I get used to the Honey's handling, for some time I rode it exclusively: Group rides, solo rides, paved rides, dirt rides, short rides, long rides - for 3 weeks straight it was all Honey, all the time. After that, I began riding my own bikes again (skinny tire road and fat tire dirt), alternating between the Honey and them.

For some time, I marveled at the handling every time I got on this bicycle. I am going to use experiential terms here. One term that comes to mind is "hyper hip-steerable." Maybe even "rear wheel drive." That is, the bike struck me as overly sensitive to movement at the hips, to the point that it almost felt like the front end was controlled from the back. For instance, let's say I was behind a rider and wanted to pass them. On this bike, I discovered a maneuver, where I could flick my hips ever so slightly while accelerating and "slingshot" past the rider in front of me in a tight, perfectly controlled arc. Maybe that sounds crazy, or maybe this is something everyone but me has been doing all along, I can never tell. In any case, it's easy and intuitive to do on this bike. 

But unless I intentionally fling it sideways, the bike has a "tracks straight" feel to it at all speeds. Even when walking it I can feel this: Using the gentlest touch, I can easily  steer it by the back of the saddle and the front won't turn or flop to the side. Riding it at excruciatingly slow speeds is easy as well; it really "wants to stay upright" and go straight.  

Honey at Sunset
Hopping over bumps, rocks and roots is unusually easy. The first time it happened, I simply saw a huge root in front of me, and before I knew it my front wheel was sailing over it and landing on the other side. I was not conscious of having pulled up on the handlebars. I can now hop over objects on other bikes too, but it takes more effort.

On descents, initially I found that I could not easily turn and maneuver this bike using the same approach as on others I've ridden. But I quickly learned that changing my balance over the saddle made it controllable in these situations. I still do not understand this part entirely, but my subjective feel is that I almost hang off the bike to the side in order to steer it on turns. Possibly, this is my way of compensating for not being able to lean the bike itself sufficiently. 

All the characteristics described become less noticeable the more I ride the bike. But if I go even as much as a week without riding it, I immediately notice them again when switching from my own bicycles. It's not a matter of better or worse, but just a "Hey, this is different!" kind of feeling every time.

Honey at Sunset
The aesthetics of the Honey Cyclocross bike are modern and sporty: thick tubes, unabashedly sloping top tube, straight fork. This look is growing on me - or maybe a more accurate way to put it would be "I appreciate it for what it is." I do love the winter lilac finish. The welds are very smooth, more or less invisible under the paint. And the overall look has a unity and harmony to it that makes sense to me visually. 

The tubing is oversized and thin-walled. Pinging it with my fingernail, there is a distinct hollow ring. Riding the bike, it feels extremely stiff - though not in a disagreeable way. It feels light in motion, fast to accelerate, ever-ready and ever-awake. Despite the stiffness, the ride is not harsh. The jury is still out on the relationship between flex and responsiveness to pedaling effort, and I won't attempt to make any connection here. I will only say that I enjoy how stiff this bike feels.

I intentionally did not look at the geometry in advance, so as not to bias my impressions. When I did have a look later, I did not see anything too unusual. Longer chainstays and less bottom bracket drop than typical with road geometry; slightly higher trail. None of it seemed sufficiently dramatic to explain my strong reaction to the bike. Maybe it's one of those "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" things. There is, after all, a lot I don't understand about bicycle design.

Honey at Sunset
The one word I would use to describe the Honey Cyclocross bike is "fun." As in exciting, playful, toy-like. This bike really moves, and under a more skillful rider than me I am sure it would move even better. While I am obviously not evaluating it in that context, I can see how a bike like this would make a good choice for racing cyclocross. 

As far as unpaved brevets and such, I think the CX Honey could work nicely for those who want a lightweight, modern, racy bike with wide 700C tires. Although designed for short races, to me it feels great over 100K distances. The main thing, is that after hours in the saddle I find it delightfully non-fatiguing.

Not being a utility bike; this particular Honey model is not built for racks or carrying heavy loads. Riding it with a full, wide Carradice-style saddlebag in the rear, I can feel the weight (or drag - not sure which). With a smaller bag that tucks under the saddle (like the Dill Pickle shown here) this is considerably less pronounced. I have not tried a bag on the front - though I've now been lent an Ortlieb system to experiment with, and will report back.

Honey at Sunset
Riding this bike on dirt and gravel, I am as fast as I'm capable of being, and reasonably confident riding over most types of terrain I encounter. On pavement, I am slower on the Honey than on my skinny-tire roadbike. And compared to my low trail 650Bx42mm all-steel bike, the Honey is on average about the same both on pavement and dirt. One aspect where they differ, is if I try to seriously push the speed beyond my comfort zone - for instance, in order to keep up with faster riders. When doing this, I can push both bikes pretty hard, but on the Honey I feel less tired afterward. The 5lb difference in the weight of the bikes could account for this, as could the difference in frame and fork materials. On the other hand, when all is said and done I prefer my own bike's front-end handling. It is simply more intuitive to me, and on challenging terrain with twists and turns I am generally more relaxed and precise on it for that reason. Nonetheless, I appreciate the Honey's handling as well. I especially enjoy switching between the bikes and experiencing the difference, adapting to one then another.  

It fascinates me to no end how two bikes can excel at the same task, yet ride and feel so differently. I will elaborate on this shortly, but recently I began working with Rob Vandermark on a special project. My experience with the CX Honey - in conjunction with my own bike - has been particularly educational in that context.

With unpaved riding increasingly popular, it's exciting to have choices for go-fast bikes with fat tires. The Honey Cyclocross bike is certainly worth considering - fast, fun, made in Massachusetts, and reasonably priced with lots of sizing options. It's been a pleasure getting to know this bicycle, improving my handling skills and expanding my horizons in the process. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Covering Distance

Last week I did two 100 mile rides several days apart. The first I rode on my own bike, with my camera, stopping along the way. That was really nice. The second I did on an unfamiliar demo bike, riding the course straight through except for a lunch stop. That was really nice too. The rides didn't take all day and they didn't wipe me out, allowing me to work before and after. Had time been no object, I felt as if I could have kept going.

To me, it is this private moment of realisation that "I have it in me" to do this kind of distance, casually - that feels like an accomplishment. More so than, say, an official brevet finish. It is not that I don't value organised events and their objective measures of performance. It's more that when doing an event, I already know that I can do it; I would not attempt it otherwise with all the logistics involved. In that sense, it feels not unlike taking a test based on material I've already learned. It's the learning itself that's thrilling. That "A-ha!" moment. Doing well on the test? It's nice, and often necessary. But it's not the same as the learning itself.

Maybe this line of thinking just means that I am hopelessly non-competitive. Or maybe it is simply not a good analogy. In fact almost certainly not. But there's a grain of something in it, somewhere.

Covering new distance, covering new material. And along the way that feeling of having truly grasped, understood, internalised something new - something that had previously seemed unattainable.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Paul Carson Step-Through Bicycle

Paul Carson Step-Through
As I stood composing this shot, a woman passing by with grocery bags stopped beside me. Looking at the bicycle, she tilted her head to the side and smiled. "That bike!" she said, "It looks like... happiness." It was a funny outburst, no doubt inspired more by the sunny day and the quaint tree-lined street, than by the bicycle itself. But I knew what she meant. Because this particular bike fit into the idyllic backdrop perfectly. Simple, friendly and inviting, it looked like no more and no less than what it was - a yellow bicycle on a beautiful summer morning. Maybe Paul is onto something here, I thought.

Paul Carson, Artisan's Asylum
Even though Paul Carson makes bikes and teaches others how to, I do not really think of him as a framebuilder. He is more of an engineer, an experimenter, a problem-solver. Paul doesn't see what he does as a craft, but as production that he loves to simplify and optimise. You might not find him polishing frame joints for hours on end. But you will find him making ridable prototypes with speed and ingenuity ...as well as the tools, fixtures and parts to facilitate doing so. In a sense, Paul is like a magic genie who can turn wishful thinking into reality, and fast. On one occasion, I watched him make a rear rack in under 20 minutes, so that he could try out a pannier on his roadbike. Another time, I wondered how difficult it would be to make a double-plated fork crown from scratch. He asked me to elaborate. I explained and showed pictures. He thought about it, then ducked into a corner. Hack-hack-hack. File-file-file. Flames! Flames! "Like this?" 

Paul Carson Step-Through
And there it was - double-plated fork crown for oval blades, spaced for a wide tire, just as I described. "Glad you like it," he shrugged. "I'll get a batch of these machined." That's Paul Carson, in a nutshell.

Paul Carson Step-Through
Unlike most other local builders, Paul is not part of the racing scene. He isn't even really part of the local bike scene so much; he is just his own entity. Perhaps that is why he gravitates toward making city bikes. City bikes have an immediate and obvious utility. And it is fun to see them cruising around the neighbourhood, ridden by ordinary people, carrying milk and potted plants. Over the past months, we've been discussing some ideas for step-through designs. We both like the feel of old English 3-speeds and we also like low trail. Wouldn't it be great to combine these? While our ideas diverge when it comes to wheel size and exact geometry specs, overall Paul's idea of a great step-through is not dissimilar to mine. When he asked me to try his prototype, I was eager to give it a go. 

Paul Carson Step-Through
Made of touring grade cro-moly tubing, the Paul Carson Step-Through is designed around 700C wheels with up to 35mm tires and fenders. It has a gently curved top tube, and is proportioned so that the handlebars can sit at or just above saddle height. 72° head tube angle and 73° seat tube angle. Trail in the mid-40s.

These framesets will be made to order in a range of sizes and with a menu of options, with prices starting at $650 for a TIG-welded frameset with standard (lugged) fork crown, made for caliper brakes. The price includes powdercoat in a range of standard colours and a headset. Extras include the option of fillet-brazed construction, handmade double-plated fork crown, handmade stem, and cantilever/ v-brake bosses. Turn around is 4 weeks.

Paul Carson Step-Through
Paul designed this frame with versatility of build in mind. Semi-horizontal dropouts make it possible to use either derailleur or hub gearing. The bottom bracket height (300mm with 28mm tires) is sufficient to set up the bike as a fixed gear. Braze-ons include eyelets for racks and fenders. 440mm chainstays are long enough to carry panniers without heel strike. And the front-end geometry will handle a front load.

Paul Carson Step-Through
The demo bike I tried was built in size 55cm and with all the extra options. Fillet-brazed joints, smoothly finished, but not fussed over. 

Paul Carson Step-Through
Canti-lever bosses and cable hanger. Twin plate fork crown.

Paul Carson Step-Through
And fillet-brazed stem (threadless).

Paul Carson Step-Through
Paul set this bike up with 28mm tires and fenders, a single speed drivetrain,

Paul Carson Step-Through
swept-back handlebars with cork grips,

Paul Carson Step-Through
and a Brooks Flyer saddle.

Paul Carson Step-Through
Leaving my own bike at the Asylum, I rode the Step-Through around town in the course of the morning, simulating some of my regular routes. When I struggle for something to say about a bike's handling, that generally strikes me as a good thing - as it means nothing is "wrong" with it. Paul's bike felt familiar, natural, normal. It also felt casual and accessible, more like a cool, repainted vintage bike than a new handmade bike. And it really did look oddly at home in our neighbourhood.

The fit worked well for me, with a more aggressive posture than a fully upright bike. There was no toe overlap with the size 55cm frame and 28mm tires with fenders, though it was close. The steering felt responsive and intuitive. My own city bikes are low trail (under 30mm) and this bike handled like a more neutral version of them.

Paul Carson Step-Through
As far as nit-picks, the step-over height could be a bit lower for my taste. And in my view, a practical city bike (especially for a pothole-ridden neighbourhood like ours) would ideally be specced with 35mm wide tires minimum, not maximum. This is where a smaller wheel size might be worth considering, especially if toe clearance is a priority. Personally, I also prefer lower bottom brackets. But I know that some riders like to feel as if they are "sitting high in traffic" on their bike, which the higher bottom bracket accomplishes. Otherwise, not much else to criticise; I liked the bike.

Paul Carson Step-Through
Paul Carson is an exciting person to know. He has ideas about streamlining the framebuilding process to make handmade bikes more accessible, and I will be following his work with interest. Made in this vein, the Carson Step-Through is not meant to be an artisanal show-stopper. It is a cute, friendly, ridable bike, with a friendly price, handmade in Somerville MA. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Speaking of Saddles

Saddle Fit at Cycle Loft
Earlier this week I was visiting Cycle Loft - a local bicycle shop known, among other things, for its extensive fit studio. I will be test riding a few of their bikes this summer, and the staff suggested I undergo a fitting session beforehand. As we were getting started, the fitter - Joel - caught sight of the Selle Anatomica I was riding. He asked whether I wanted to use my own saddle, given how particular it was, or try something new.

Today there are lots of high quality, well thought-out saddle designs on the market, in a variety of materials. The trick is to find one that fits our particular anatomy, position and riding style. For the past two years I've been going back and forth between a Berthoud touring saddle and a Selle Anatomica on my roadbikes. These saddles are as close as I've been able to get to being truly comfortable over long distances. But neither is perfect. So I decided to keep an open mind and see what the fitter recommended.

Saddle Fit at Cycle Loft
To start with, Joel measured my sit bones. This is something I've never had done "professionally" before, so it was pretty exciting. Cycle Loft uses the Specialized "Body Fit" method, which, as I understand it, is comparatively un-intrusive (no pelvic fondling, etc.). But there is a nifty device involved. A stool was brought out with a butt-shaped pillow, upon which I sat as instructed. When I stood up, my sit bones left two clear indentations, which Joel swiftly measured.

Saddle Fit at Cycle Loft
The figure was 135mm - considerably narrower than what I thought my sit bone width was based on my DIY measurements (the figure I'd come up with was more like 150mm). But we repeated the process just to make sure and got the same number again - so looks like 135mm it is.

Joel explained that a saddle should be wider than the sit bone width itself. How much wider depends partly on the rider's position and partly on the saddle's shape. As far as the rider's position, the more leaned forward you are, the narrower area of support is needed. That much I'd known. As far as saddle shape, Joel showed me a selection or road/racing saddles and pointed out that on some the sitting surface was flat across, while on others it was rounded, like an arc. For all my careful scrutiny of saddle shapes, this was not a distinction I'd explicitly been aware of before, so I was excited to learn something new. For any given rider, on a rounded saddle the width needs to be greater than on a flat saddle.

According to the fit chart, the saddle width recommended for my sit bones was 155mm minimum. My Berthoud saddle (which is flat) measures 160mm across, and my Selle Anatomica (which is rounded) measures 170mm across. My comfort with both makes sense according to this fit method.

Saddle Fit at Cycle Loft
Next, Joel asked what I liked and disliked about the saddles I normally use. I explained that my saddles are fairly wide across the rear, yet have narrow, racing-style noses. The wide rear and narrow nose combination works for me, because this way my butt feels fully supported but I don't get thigh-rub. Other saddles I've tried tend to be either too narrow or too wide all around, which doesn't work. I also like the feel of suspended leather, compared to other surfaces I've tried.

As far as what I don't like, that is a little trickier to explain. The Berthoud feels a bit too hard, whereas the Selle Anatomica has a bit too much give. And with each, I occasionally - at random times, it seems - feel pressure or pinching in the middle of my "soft tissue." It happens rarely now compared to the problems I used to have, but it does still happen occasionally. We discussed all this in detail, as well as the other saddles I've tried. I described my dislike of gel (I sink into it and feel horrible pressure), my inability to ride Terry saddles (the slots are somehow in the wrong place), and finding the edges of many racing saddles "too sharp" as I pedal.

Saddle Fit at Cycle Loft
After taking all of this in, Joel suggested I try the Romin Evo saddle by Specialized (interesting write-up about it here). It had everything I seemed to need: a rounded wide rear (168mm across), a narrow nose, and a firm, but not rock-hard, surface. A channel down the middle and a curved nose were designed to avoid contact with exactly the pressure-prone spots I'd identified. It is not a woman-specific saddle, but then neither are my own. A synthetic saddle made by a big-name manufacturer, it was not what I would normally gravitate toward, but I'd said I would be open minded, and so I would.

The Romin Evo is now fitted on the demo bike I'm riding. I could not feel it under me on the initial 30 mile ride, but I will withhold judgment until after the follow-up, 100K ride.

But whether this particular saddle wins me over is beside the point. What I appreciated the most was the generally informative conversation with the fitter - who I felt was neutral and knowledgeable when it came to various styles, materials, aesthetics and brands of saddles. I would like to keep learning myself, and at some point to post a comprehensive guide that might be of help to those at a loss for where to start.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Breaking Away

Fruitlands, Harvard MA
A luckless morning. I had attempted to join a 100K club ride, only to get an important phone call as I pulled up to the start. By the time I got done the others were nearly an hour ahead. I would never catch up. I decided to ride the route anyway. 

The weather had been beautiful. But as I set off, it began to rain - cold, hard little drops, carried sideways by the wind, sharp against my face. 

On the road there was more traffic than usual. A mile in, a driver cut me off and I barely avoided a collision. Still fuming over this, I began to notice that my throat hurt. I was hot and cold. I felt sluggish. Maybe I was running a fever. Maybe I should count my losses.

A deep irritation over a day wasted was building up. Workdays that have no clear end or beginning. A weak constitution that has derailed my plans one time too many. If it's not one thing, it's another. 

Nagog Hill Farm
For some miles, it was angry riding. Riding a wave of frustration. But I pedaled. Mechanical motions. Round and round. Rain and chills, traffic, scratchy throat, round and round. "Oh shut up," my legs said to my throat. We would break away. 

I had the sense that once I was a certain number of miles out, it would all resolve itself, because turning back would no longer make sense. Concord, West Concord, Maynard. I pedaled harder.

But then came a moment of doubt. I had not meant to be on my own with my thoughts on this day. What would I do out there, for hours, with all these thoughts? "Oh shut up" my legs said to my brain. 

And we broke away. 

Steele Farm, Boxborough MA
20 miles in. As if someone had waved a magic wand, the cars were gone. The sun came out. The pedals lost their resistance. We floated up hills. My mind emptied. 

In Still River I passed a Benedictine monastery. It stands on top of a hill, overlooking a green and blue rolling landscape. Slowly I rode through it, not seeing a single person on its grounds. The monks must have been indoors.

In Boxborough I stopped at a farm. It had visitor hours and notices posted, but looked abandoned. With my bike, I stood in the middle of a field dotted with white barns, thinking of nothing. I heard ringing in the air. The field was full of dandelions. 

Fruitlands, Harvard MA
The climb leading up to the Fruitlands was shorter and tamer than I remembered. Today, the hill was an invisible host, gently taking me by the arm and leading me to the view. 

At the hilltop, I had the place to myself. No cars were parked at the scenic overview along the side of the road. No cyclists passed. I had made it all alone up there and the world felt far, far away. The sun flickered through thick clouds, a flood of light going on and off. I looked down at the little mountain clusters across the state line. The entire world felt close.

Harvard General Store
Descending into town, I remembered that I had not eaten for hours and stopped at the general store. When I ordered coffee and a sandwich, it felt strange to talk - as if I hadn't spoken out loud in years. Was I even saying the right words? The boy behind the counter had an inscrutably friendly face that had seen many cyclists. 

Nagog Hill Farm
Orchards and orchards on the return leg. The apple orchards have such neat rows of such crooked, erratic-looking trees. Line-dancing trees. Shaker trees.

This ride was coming to an end much too fast, I thought. I wasn't ready. And I veered off course onto another road, with more uphill floating, more orchards.

But at length, unfamiliar farms gave way to familiar ones, a gentle reminder of being homeward bound. Then finally, the bikepath, and the city - with 100 miles on the computer and frustration a faint memory. 

Sometimes if you just keep pedaling, everything else breaks away, falls away. If you keep pedaling, the mind quiets down. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

One Way Tikit: a Bike Friday Folder

Bike Friday Tikit
For some time now I've been curious to try a Bike Friday folding bike. They are pretty unusual around these parts, so an opportunity never presented itself. Imagine my delight upon discovering that someone I knew owned one. Hidden deep in her bike cave, this single speed Tikit stood mostly unridden since the owner, Pamela, stopped commuting to a downtown office. But hearing of my interest she dusted off the machine, and soon I was over to examine the rare specimen. 

Bike Friday Tikit
Made by the family-owned Green Gear Cycling in Eugene, Oregon, Bike Friday folding bikes have been handbuilt in the USA since the early 1990s. The range of models includes road, touring, mountain, commuter and tandem folding bikes - and all are highly customisable. Most of the models are designed around 20" wheels, with the fold optimised for packing the bike into a suitcase. However, the Tikit commuter models are made more compact with 16" wheels, and are designed to fold quickly for multi-modal transportation.

Bike Friday Tikit
Welded in steel, frame and fork, there are 9 Tikit models in all, offering different drivetrain and handlebar setup options. The One Way Tikit is the single speed/ fixed gear version. 

Bike Friday Tikit
It is set up with a flip-flop hub, 

Bike Friday Tikit
v-brakes, fenders, built-in chainguard,

Bike Friday Tikit
straight handlebars, 

Bike Friday Tikit
a handy carry handle (could be a bottle cage here instead),

Bike Friday Tikit
and a low-rider style front rack.

Bike Friday Tikit
Being a fan of generator lighting, Pamela had set up the bike with a dynamo hub wheel (unattached here, as it had recently been loaned out).

Bike Friday Tikit
A bike bag also comes with the Tikit, which can be stowed away into a tiny packet when not in use.

Bike Friday Tikit
Unlike most other folding bikes, Bike Fridays are available in different sizes. I am unsure what size this Tikit translates to, but its virtual top tube measures an inch or so shorter than the Brompton's (which is approximately 59cm). The seat tube is quite tall, with the saddle barely low enough to accommodate myself and the bike's owner (we are both just over 5'6"). However, as I understand it, the seat tube is modular and can be cut down or replaced with a shorter one.

Bike Friday Tikit
Bike Friday Tikits have had a couple of modifications over the past few years. The area over the bottom bracket is now made stiffer, with older models retrofitted with a stiffener bar. They have also recently made a beefier stem for the Tiket, the older one having been recalled (the bike pictured here has the new stem). 

Bike Friday Tikit
The fold is fairly quick, "less than 9-12 seconds after loosening one twist-locking fastener," according to Bike Friday.

Bike Friday Tikit
It is Bromptonesque in sequence, except for the seat tube - which gets folded over, rather than slid down.

Bike Friday Tikit
Notably, the front pannier can be kept on the low-rider rack as the bike is being folded.

Bike Friday Tikit
The folded bike can be rolled along, using the wheels themselves, with the bag still attached.

Bike Friday Tikit
It can also be carried by the handle - though Pamela notes that carrying the bike gets heavy and uncomfortable quickly, particularly when stairs are involved. Picking up the single speed Tikit, it did feel slightly heavier than an all-steel Brompton similarly equipped. And the fold is not as compact. However, the carry handle is quite comfortable compared to how a Brompton must be carried, and being able to roll the Bike Friday by its actual wheels (rather than by the tiny roller-wheels on the Brompton) is a big help. 

Bike Friday Tikit
With its hub flipped to freewheel mode, I rode the Tikit around Pamela's neighbourhood. My first impression was that the front-end handling was not dissimilar from my Brompton's. In fact, I would describe the Friday as feeling like a "less extreme" version of the Brompton in that sense. As a result of this similarity, I immediately felt familiar and comfortable with the bike. While the Tikit is Bike Friday's commuter model, with less focus on performance than the others, I certainly found it lively enough - a fun, quick, maneuverable ride. This makes me want to try a smaller size - I bet it would be even more responsive for someone of my stature. With the 16" wheels, there would be no danger of toe overlap no matter what frame size I chose. 

On pothole ridden streets, the Tikit's ride quality felt a bit harsh. Riding over torn-up pavement I felt vibrations in my hands and jolts throughout (an impression the bike's owner agrees with). However, on decently maintained roads the ride quality was smooth and pleasant. As an aside here, where we live the roads are particularly poorly maintained; just have a close look at the picture above to see what I mean - the entire street is like that. One could certainly argue that these are not "normal" commuter conditions. 

Bike Friday Tikit
After my initial spin on the Tikit, I then rode it again - this time loaded with some weight. We attached a pannier to the low-rider rack, in which Pamela placed a 10lb bottle of antifreeze. This is about the maximum weight she would typically carry on this bike, she said. The Tikit's low-rider will accommodate most standard panniers, including the one shown from Ortlieb. On a small wheel bike, it is actually not a "low" rider, since it sits above the wheel. This is also how it manages to lift the pannier high enough to keep from dragging along the ground. Little notches along the rack's tubing prevent the pannier from sliding, so it sits securely. The rack is one-sided (right side only), and rolling the bike along I could feel the weight of the pannier pulling to the side. However, once in motion no such thing was discernible. The Tikit handled great with the unilateral front load - I could not feel it at all. This system does limit how much weight one can carry on the bike, but it is handy enough for commuting. I believe that a rear rack is also available for this model. 

While I would not switch from my Brompton, I liked the Bike Friday Tikit and would feel comfortable riding it for transportation. A particularly big advantage, as I see it, is the variety in sizes and customisation options. Being able to roll the bike by its wheels is handy as well. And being able to use a standard pannier, as opposed to having to buy a proprietary front bag, could be another plus for those with multiple bikes. Careful tire, saddle and grip selection could compensate for the rough-road harshness I experienced. 

Bike Friday Tikit
When I was over to test ride this bicycle, the owner surprised me by announcing that she plans to give it away. That's right: Pamela Blalock's personal Bike Friday One Way Tikit pictured here could be yours - complete with flip-flop freewheel/fixed gear hub, fenders, front rack, spare generator hub wheel and a spare set of tires (pannier not included). For details of the give-away, please visit The Blayleys blog

And if you are in the market for a folding bike, visit the Bike Friday website and prepare to be dazzled with their myriad of stock and custom options. The history of the company is pretty interesting as well. Folding bikes of all types made in Oregon, USA, with prices starting at $1,400 and around a month lead time. Pretty neat!