Monday, September 22, 2014

New England Builders Ball - October 3rd!

Two years ago, I stopped by the first New England Builder's Ball and had a fantastic time. It was especially exciting to be there, as not only did I live nearby as a teenager, but I am pretty sure one of my high school dances was held in the very venue.

Now an annual event, this year's Builder's Ball will take place in the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center, from 7 to 11pm on Friday, October 3rd.

If you're in the area, stop by to visit local framebuilders and makers - including Richard Sachs, Royal H., ANT, Geekhouse, Circle A, Honey, Firefly, Dill Pickle, and more! Oh, and I will be there too. This year I am "official" photographer for the event, and you will know it's me, because no doubt I will be doing something like this. Feel free to poke me in the shoulder and say hello!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Unboxing an Oscar Egg

1950s Oscar Egg City Bike
For one accustomed to currently-made, constructeur-inspired machines, seeing one of the originals can be a surreal experience. All the imitated elements - from the intricate lugwork, to the fat 650B tires, to the artful chaincase and elegant rack, even to the colour of the paint - are there. And yet the bicycle looks and feels different from the modern remakes. In some ways it feels like a book illustration come to life, more than a real bike. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Machine Memory

Rawland Rolling: Battle Road Trail
In the corner of the dusty storage room the bike slumped against the wall, front wheel and fender beside it. As I knelt to attach them, I tried to remember where it was that I'd taken the bicycle last time I rode it. Whose car was it? Where did we go? I was drawing a blank. As if searching for clues, I rummaged in the handlebar bag, but it had been cleaned out with an unusual, for me, meticulousness. Empty. Then I stuck my hand in the one pocket where I hadn't yet looked and fished out four neatly folded bills: a ten, a five, and two ones. Was this discovery a surprise, or did I know the cash was there all along, looking for it without realising it? I was about to pocket the money, when a strange feeling of guilt crept over me… as if I was stealing from the bike. I placed it back in the bag and then, mentally rolling my eyes at myself, dragged the bike outside into the morning sunlight. In that dark room, I had allowed myself to feel haunted by its presence. But after all, it is only a bicycle. A machine. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

On Pedaling to the Doctor: a Rural Cyclist's Predicament

A couple of years ago I was chatting to a cyclist who lived car free in an out of the way suburb, and I asked what he found challenging about getting around by bike. Interestingly, it was not his daily 20 mile commute to work. This he happily combined with training, cycling in lycra and changing at his office building's gym and shower facilities. Neither was it his 12 mile grocery/ hardware store run. To accomplish that, he hitched a trailer to his roadbike every Saturday morning and stocked up for the week. What he did find tricky, he said, was visiting the doctor. "How do you mean?" I asked. "Oh you know," he chuckled, now slightly embarrassed, "I hate to arrive for a check-up with that not so fresh feeling..."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

These Boots Weren't Made for Cycling… But with Some DIY, They Could Be!

When we think of "cycling shoes" most likely the image that comes to mind is that of cleated athletic footwear. But increasingly, manufacturers are also producing shoes designed for plain-clothed cycling on flat pedals. Chrome Industries and DZR Shoes have been doing this for some time. Occasionally even designers outside the bicycle industry join in. I remember the Fluevog Westerly making a splash some years ago. And, more recently, English designer Tracey Neuls introduced a line of cycling-friendly footwear. So what exactly makes all of these shoes "cycling shoes?" And is there really a need for such a thing, when it comes to everyday cycling?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Can You Train for Distance Without Going the Distance?

That a Way
The longest ride I have done to date has been a 300K brevet. To train for it, I basically did a whole lot of cycling in the month preceding the event, working up to increasingly longer distances week by week. This worked well enough for me. I completed the 300K within the time allotted and with surprisingly little bicycle-related discomfort.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Saving" Your Gears: a False Economy?

SRampagnolo Drivetrain
Just as one might ration out provisions in anticipation of hard times, so will some cyclists engage in an act I will refer to as "saving gears." Allow me to explain. Say you're doing a long, unpleasant climb. Almost straight away the gradient is pretty bad, in a "hits you over the head with a shovel" sort of way. And you know there's more of that to come. So you start downshifting, clicking through the gears with manic desperation in order to cope with the steepness of the climb. But in doing so, you take care to resist the temptation to use your absolute lowest gear. Why? Well, because as the climb progresses, you don't want to run out of gears at a moment you need them most! So, mentally you set that bail-out gear aside. Hidden under your mind's floorboards, it is your emergency water supply in a drought; your last crust of bread in a famine. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Glowing Impressions: A Halo-Coated Bicycle in Action

Some time ago I wrote about a "retro-reflective" powdercoat developed by manufacturer Halo Coatings and mentioned its potential application to bicycle frames. Two years later, framesets using this technology are finally starting to become commercially available. Mission Bicycles has recently announced their $500 Lumen frameset available for pre-order, and various publications have covered the news. As far as I can tell, few have had direct experience with bikes made with this technology, so I thought this might be a good time to share my impressions.

As it happens, I know the guys behind Halo Coatings through the Boston cycling scene. And I've had the opportunity to examine a pre-production bike made with their technology up close and personal.

The bike shown belongs to Joshua Zisson of Bike Safe Boston. Initially a Halo customer, he felt so strongly about the product's possibilities he ended up joining the company. Last year I followed Josh around the city as he rode his reflective bike. As you might imagine, keeping track of him in the dark wasn't terribly difficult.

When it comes to reflective properties, the Halo-coated bike does exactly what I was led to expect. In the glare of a camera flash or vehicle headlights, the finish reflects a bright white, setting the entire machine aglow.

In the dark, it looks like a glowing, riderless bike, which is a pretty funny sight. In my previous post and elsewhere, some have expressed concern that this degree of visibility could be too much, disturbing and distracting other road users. Observing the bike as it operated in Boston night traffic, I did not get that impression. The reflective glow is not piercingly-bright in a way that hurt my eyes or made me fixate on it. If anything, I found that on busy and well-lit streets, the bike faded in prominence. You can see this in Mission's own promotional video as well: Notice that the more street lights there are, the less the bikes stand out. On the other hand, when rolling through a dark side street or through the woods, the bike is super-visible. A reflective frameset like this might be useful on my rural commutes in Ireland.

Others have wondered whether a reflective frameset would be sufficiently visible from the front and rear. According to my observations, yes, and the pictures here demonstrate this. Even if the bike were positioned as to align perfectly straight (which in reality seldom happens), the swathe of headtube and fork makes for a large reflective area head-on, and the seat stays reflect in the rear. Of course, with a bike like this you still need a headlight and tail light, as the frame's reflective properties will only activate under strong direct light. The reflective paint is a supplementary visibility feature, not intended to replace lighting.

Aside from its luminous properties, one notable aspect of the Halo coating is the distinct aesthetic. On his pre-production frame Josh opted for the matte silver finish, which, in its non-reflective state has a flat, industrial look to it.

Under certain light conditions, there is also a velvety quality that comes through, with some subtle tonal variation. It is a matte finish with a shimmery depth to it, rather than a metallic finish, if that makes sense.

The look is unusual for sure, and may not be to everyone's taste. If you like a bike with a raw, unpolished vibe, you will be delighted. But sleek and sparkly it is not. The coating on Mission's Lumen frame is a gloss charcoal gray, which will have a different look to it while incorporating some of the same elements. I have also seen swatches of other colours, and those could become available in future. And colour aside, the finish is also said to be durable: According to Halo, it is rated to withstand over 4,300 hours in the industry "salt spray" test (ASTM B117), with zero loss in reflectivity.

Currently Halo's facility is set up to handle high volume runs, which means they can only accommodate manufacturers, not individual customers or framebuilders looking to coat one frame at a time. In other words, to get your hands on a reflective bike with this technology, you have to wait until a manufacturer decides to offer it. The San Francisco-based Mission are the first to give it a try, with delivery of their Lumen framesets scheduled for December 2014. The guys at Halo are also talking to several other companies that produce city bikes in a variety of styles, including step-throughs and mixtes, so that could be on offer soon. Considering what I've seen of the pre-production bike, I think this has potential - though perhaps even more for riding in the country than in the city. And I know more than a handful of randonneurs who wrap their entire bicycle frames in reflective tape and might appreciate this technology! I continue to follow Halo's progress with interest and wish Ryan and Josh best of luck.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Cycling… for When You Can't Walk

Post-Hiking Attempt to Cycle
Like some sonorous seafloor-dwelling creature, I slide my way around the house, grasping at furniture for support. And as I squeal pathetically when descending a single stair, I can't believe that a stroll down the rocky hillside of that rainbow-spewing beast had the power to incapacitate me like this. But incapacitate me it did. And now, if I can walk at all, it is with a stiff, clipped gait, heaving my body forward like a pile of broken luggage that won't roll on its own.