Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

Up and coming Brands: Linus and All-City

October 1, 2010

Linus bikes -- affordable, reliable transportation

I’m a minimalist when it comes to bikes. I don’t need the latest and greatest, just reliable transportation and proven technology, the rallying cry of two young bike companies I came across at Interbike – Linus and All-City.

Linus, started by South Africans Adam McDermott and Chad Kushner in Venice, Calif., is a company after my heart. Their website describes their philosophy of how they see the bike in our high-tech world. It takes a page out of my cycling manifesto:

“Inspired by French bicycle design of the 50’s and 60’s we have created a bicycle that preserves the simple elegance, and pure form of that golden era but has all the benefits of modern comfort and reliability.”

In other words, bikes with relaxed geometries, steel frames, 36-spoke wheels, three speeds or single speed meant for urban riding.

Linus has a standard and Dutch frame design

Several models have the “Dutch” look minus the top tube, while the Roadster Sport and Classic have the traditional diamond frame. At this time they have two frame sizes for the Roadster Sport, and one frame size for the Dutch style bikes.

Their excellent website has all the details about their bikes, and check out all the great press they’ve been receiving: Today Show, Harper’s Bazaar, LA Times, and more. Impressive.

All-City on the right track

All-City bikes have their roots in the track bike.

All-City reflects its origins in Minneapolis, Minn., where bike racing tracks can be found nearby. It’s reflected in the design of their two frames – Big Block and Nature Boy – both of which have rear track dropouts.

This description of Nature Boy tells you where their sentiments lie: “The Nature Boy is your new best bro (or brah if you’re from Colorado, where they take cyclocross seriously). Race the crap out of it, ride singletrack, gravel, or commute until your heart’s content. Woooooooooooo!”

I was impressed by the attention to detail given the chrome moly frames. The rear dropout triangle has a nice artifact that looks like a bridge. The badge is nice too.

Big Block is meant for the track, but could be an around-town bike as well.

I met Jeff Frane, who handles Sales and Marketing for this small company. His web page is about as sincere a statement as you can get for why All-City bikes got started. He sees the day when big bike companies will turn a blind eye to track bikes, and he wants to be part of something that will be around when that happens.

Cycling is a quirky activity to be sure, with enough niches to fill the Grand Canyon. I don’t see that niche going away any time soon, thanks to people like Jeff and companies like All-City.

Something I noticed about both companies is their superb websites. The owners understand that the website is the face of a company. They shout out – “cycling is fun, cycling is hip.” Way to go. Linus Facebook.

All-City has a nice selection of components and chrome moly frames.

Timbuk2 Bags Send the Right Message

September 27, 2010

Timbuk2 at Interbike 2010. A quality product made in San Francisco.

Since I focus on the Bay Area, I’ll start my Interbike coverage with Timbuk2, based in San Francisco, and go from there.

Having owned a Timbuk2 bag for about 10 years, I have a bias for the product. Other good bags, some made in San Francisco, are sold. I can vouch for the Timbuk2 quality. It’s top-notch.

Timbuk2 is best known for its classic “messenger” single-strap shoulder bag, a concept that no doubt pre-dates recorded civilization. Greg Bass, Director of Product and Design, talks about the company history in an audio interview (2:05 m):

What I like about the single-strap bag over a backpack is that the bag sits at waist-level or below, lowering your center of gravity. In addition to improved bike handling with a lower center of gravity, your back is exposed to the air, which reduces sweating.

However, the shoulder bag has one minor drawback – the weight wants to shift to your side as you ride. A waist strap reduces but does not eliminate the weight shift. I need to shift the bag back into position on a regular basis, but for me the advantages outweigh this annoyance.

Customize colors, fabric
Timbuk2 offers a wealth of color and fabric customization with its three-panel bags, and these custom bags are made in San Francisco, so we can support the Made in USA label.

Many improvements have been made since I bought my bag. For example, there is now reflective material built into two adjustable buckle staps. The old bags have plastic buckle reflectors, which I immediately lost.

Another neat feature of the custom bags is that you can choose a lining color. I can’t tell you how many times I couldn’t find something buried inside my black bag. Now you can order a white liner. That should help.

I won’t go into detail regarding all the bags made by Timbuk2, which includes everything from messenger bags to seat packs and tour bags. You can get that on the company website, as well as place an order.

Interbike Trade Show Livens Las Vegas

September 25, 2010

Working together to put more people on bicycles more often

What I like most about the Interbike International Trade Expo, which took place in Las Vegas, Sept. 22-24, is the chance to meet and talk to fellow cyclists. It was a pleasure to meet a few of the show’s luminaries — Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford (Clif Bar/Luna owners) and Bob Roll, who needs no introduction.

What would the Interbike folks do without Clif Bar, PowerBar, GU, and the other food supplement companies? Starve! We thank them for their hospitality.

It’s also a place for companies to show their latest products and build some industry buzz. While I haven’t been to Interbike since the 1980s, my Rip Van Winkle appearance gives me some perspective on how the bike industry has changed.

Refined bike industry
I saw a refined industry spanning a more diverse cycling audience, with fewer of the Mom and Pop inventors. As one bike shop owner told me recently, the days of the hobbyist starting a shop on a lark are over. Competition is fierce. A sound business plan is required. The same goes for inventing new products.

The bike industry is weathering the economic downturn, which in some instances may even help as people look for more affordable ways to get to work, and those who are unemployed have more time for riding.

Global recession
So what better place to have a bike show than Las Vegas — the poster child for the global recession, with its enormous half-finished casino/condo projects lining The Strip, and unemployment pushing 15 percent. Instead of seeing bleary-eyed gamblers slumped over slot machines, I saw dozens of runners pounding the pavement in the early morning hours on Las Vegas Blvd., and Interbike attendees riding around on bikes. What’s the world coming to?

With the huge Sands Convention Center as the backdrop for Interbike, I zeroed in on the part of the bike industry I care about most — cycling as a way of life, down-to-earth (affordable) bikes, and my one weakness — cyclometers.

By the way, Interbike is one of 60 U.S. trade shows owned by the Nielsen company (as in Nielsen TV ratings). Nielsen has annual revenues of more than $5 billion.

Two days later, with a sore back and feet from walking the halls, I’m ready to post some of what I saw. Stay tuned.

Showroom floor. Of course, Shimano.

What Planet is This?

September 18, 2010

Imagination runs wild at the Green Prix San Jose

While I missed the parade due to an unexpected visit with bike builder Dale Saso, I saw the entries at the Green Prix Parade scattered about on S. First St. and E. San Salvador.

Zero 1 had a kind of post-apocalyptic air about it, something Dave Barry would have picked up on in a minute, until it comes to the Green Prix entries. Now we’re talking real fun.

The geodesic dome human-powered vehicle with a surfboard on top drew a crowd, as did the Golden Gate Bridge bike. We saw the white ferry cyclists and the San Jose ballerinas prancing down the street with their electric gizmos emitting strange noises. I’m not making this up.

And no human-powered gizmo parade would be complete without a tracked Mad Max car. Too fun!

Your opinion counts
Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition wants your opinion about cycling and what savings you see from bike riding, and how you spend all that money you didn’t sink into your Mercedes. It only takes a minute.

Speaking of Mad Max, have you seen the Madfiber wheels? Someone who can afford the best ($2,600 for a set) and coolest will want these carbon fiber wheels. They’re made (baked) in Seattle, Wash., in a former bakery. I’m not making this up.

Behind the innovative wheels (as if you didn’t know!) is Ric Hjertberg, past owner of Wheelsmith in Palo Alto. There’s a set at Veloro in Redwood City.

Handlebar Wrap-up

September 1, 2010

Velcro replaces traditional tape.

We’ve learned to finish wrapping drop handlebars with tape, but there are alternatives — Velcro and pull ties.

After a while, especially in hot weather, tape loosens and then you have a sticky mess. The tape may also tear the bar wrap if you have to remove it.

Velcro and pull or zip ties keep your bar wrap from unraveling as well as tape.

Zip ties aren't as elegant as Velcro, but they work great.

Pull ties need to be cut, which leaves a sharp edge. File this down. I positioned the cinch at the top of the bar, which is less desirable visually, but it keeps it away from my thumb and fingers.

Velcro costs about $5 for four feet at a fabric store, while pull or zip ties cost about 10 cents each. Most Velcro is black, but you may find white. Zip ties come in a variety of colors.

Tape still has its place, but the alternatives have some advantages, especially Velcro, which can be removed and used again. I did not see any unraveling on a long ride.

Remember Campagnolo Pump Heads?

August 29, 2010

Uber Goop dishwasher caps fit perfectly on Campagnolo pump heads

Back in the day, when Campagnolo ruled, they made a best-in-the-world steel pump head that matched up to the equally impressive Silca frame-fit pump.

While you can still buy new old stock (NOS) Campagnolo pump heads and Silca pumps on eBay, they’re mostly going to collectors who want to restore old steel bikes. That’s a pity because it was a fantastic combination, even if novices didn’t understand how to use the Silca pump.

But I digress. Look at the accompanying photo and you’ll see the Campagnolo head prongs are covered with white hoods. The Campagnolo blue hoods are about as rare as truffles now, but I like these white ones much better.

I discovered the Uber Goop caps when I was looking for something to cover our dishwasher rack, whose prongs were starting to rust. They do the job perfectly — for dishwasher and Campagnolo pump head.

They’re available on

Steel’s the Word at Steelman Cycles

August 16, 2010

Brent Steelman works on a customer's frame.

Could there be a better name for a steel-frame builder? Brent Steelman is his name and he works out of his shop in Redwood City, California. His wife, Katryn, manages office details and logistics. Her beautiful photos of Steelman frames grace the office walls.

Brent has been building frames since 1980 and over the years he has built between 3,000 and 4,000. That puts him up there with the icons of frame building in Northern California – Tom Ritchey, Albert Eisentraut (Brent shared an Oakland facility with Albert and Ed Litton), Joe Breeze, and a few others.

His bikes have been ridden by some of the best racers, including Joe Murray (NORBA National Champion), Laurence Malone (Cyclocross National Champion), and numerous other national road and track champions. The mountain bikes used by Gary Fisher’s racing team in the 1980s were built by Brent.

A true artisan
It’s not so much the number of frames Brent has built that distinguishes his business as it is quality and attention to detail. You have to see a bare steel frame to appreciate why frame builders are craftsmen. Brent’s lugged or tig-welded joints are smooth and clean. The tubing’s silver gleam offsets the golden-hued brazing.

You can see right away Brent takes pride in everything he does. He built his own jig to assemble his frames. The jig is the frame builder’s “third hand.” It holds and positions the tubes for easier access to brazing at the precise angles needed. His shop is filled with tools of the trade – drills, saws, and lathes.

Many varieties

Over his frame-building career, Brent has made road, mountain, fixed-gear, track, and cyclocross bikes. Today he says most of his customers request road bikes.

He even built carbon-fiber bikes starting in 2002. As a steel-frame builder, Brent is unique in this regard. Few frame builders have experience working with both materials. Brent says he quit building carbon-fiber bikes after a few years and went back to steel after some soul-searching. “Carbon-fiber building is nasty work,” Brent said. “The chemicals and dust are something I do not miss.”

Bike fit and assembly
What’s unique about Brent’s business is he doesn’t just build the bike. He offers a one-stop shopping experience: fit the customer, manage the painting, procure components, and assemble the bike. “It makes sense for the builder the assemble the bike,” said Brent. “I’ve been assembling bikes for decades and I can eliminate the hassles the owner might experience by taking it elsewhere.”

Brent tells his own story about frame building and his professional career on the Steelman Cycles website. It’s an honest, straightforward story of his life and love of frame building.

As a steel-frame enthusiast, I can’t say enough about the beauty, ride, and longevity of steel. If you’re a dedicated rider looking for a new bike, be sure to check out a custom steel bike, and Steelman Cycles. Find out what owners have to say on the Steelman Cycles Facebook page.

A Steelman frame hangs in the office.

Cargo Bikes are “Ram Tough”

June 1, 2010

There\’s plenty of variety in cargo bikes.

As the Age of Human-Powered Vehicles comes to pass, we are seeing more utility bikes being used for around-town errands.

Many utility bikes are tricycles. I have fond memories of going for a pedicab ride in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. The owner let me try out his pedicab. It was hard going! In the Philippines, sidecars are popular.

However, there are quite a few two-wheel cargo bikes. They’re designed to carry bulky loads that would be difficult to manage by someone riding a standard two-wheeler. Of course, we have all seen images of cyclists carrying immense loads on standard two-wheel bikes, so a cargo bike would be a luxury in some parts of the world.

Cargo bikes follow four basic styles: modified traditional, low-gravity, the Longjohn, and the Longtail.

The Royal Enfield low-gravity carrier bike was popular in the 1930s. It has a smaller front wheel and a front basket. The Longjohn also has a smaller front wheel than the rear, but it has a large basket low to the ground between the front wheel and handlebars. The Longtail is a longer bike with thicker tires and more room in the rear for a rack.

Specialized, a trendsetter in the bike industry, now offers a utility bike.

I recently rode a “performance” cargo bike similar to the Royal Enfield style, built by Dale Saso of San Jose, California. Dale has been building cargo bikes for 25 years. He makes his cargo bikes with quality, lightweight tubing. His personal bike, which I rode, has high-end components. Picasa has more photos of Dale’s bike.

The ride takes getting used to, as is true for any bike. Because the basket covers the front wheel, you lose your frame of reference. The wheel turns independently of the basket. What’s interesting is that as more weight was added to the basket, I found the ride became more stable.

Dale Saso rides his cargo bike.

Dale says that he has ridden his cargo bike to the summit of 4,200-foot Mt. Hamilton (19 miles one way) and loves the way it rides. “It’s great for maneuvering in traffic,” Dale says. “I like this bike more than any I’ve owned because it greatly reduces my need to drive a car.”

Dale’s cargo bike is in a league of its own. Most cargo bikes, such as the Longjohn, are less nimble and will give a completely different ride. What’s unique about Dale’s cargo bike is the front wheel, which has a 20-inch rim and 3-inch tires, found on electric motorbikes. It gives the bike increased stability.

Although everyone asks how much weight can be carried on a cargo bike, Dale insists this question misses the point. “The cargo bike is great for carrying groceries and large items, such as a box of oranges,” Dale says. “It’s not meant for carrying around stuff weighing hundreds of pounds.”

Dale says his cargo bike design continues to evolve. He’s working on a handy quick-release for the cantilever style carrier (bolting to the down tube and head tube) that holds the basket.

Urban Hip Take a Liking to Fixed-Gear Bikes

May 28, 2010

Bianchi's San Jose Flat Bar appeals to the urban hip rider

I’ve been noticing a lot of “fixed-gear” bikes around San Jose in recent months. In my bike racing days I set up a fixed-gear bike and tooled around town, even riding up and down Old La Honda Road. After I got over the fear of having to make a sudden stop, it turned out to be a fun way to ride.

I’ve read that the fixed-gear bike has become popular lately thanks to bike messengers, who have been known to ride fixed-gear bikes.

I think renewed popularity is also a matter of economics and simplicity. Fixed-gear or single-speed bikes are typically less expensive than geared road bikes and easier to maintain. Most of the fixed-gear bikes I’ve seen are steel frames with standard-spoke wheels.

Fixed-gear bikes are probably best suited for younger riders living on a budget who have some athletic ability. Single-speed bikes that look like fixed-gear bikes are more appropriate for a wider audience.

If you’re looking for a single-speed or fixed-gear bike, I’m impressed by what Bianchi offers. The San Jose Flat Bar single-speed looks like it would be an ideal bike for riding around town on flat roads. Bianchi also sells genuine fixed-gear bikes, and track bikes.

If you want to convert a standard 10-speed to fixed-gear, which is what I did, check out the Sheldon Brown website.

Something to Chew On: Bamboo Bicycles

May 17, 2010

Future engineer. John Xia, a Palo Alto high school graduate, made his own bamboo bike.

We’re all familiar with steel, carbon-fiber, and aluminum bike frames, and then there’s bamboo. Classified in the plant world as a grass, you’d never guess as much from its size.

Bamboo bikes have been around for a long time, probably since the first bikes were made, but even today they have a following among cycling enthusiasts.

One of the better known companies is Calfee Design in Santa Cruz, Calif. Many cycling names have come out of Santa Cruz, including Craig Calfee, Jim Gentes (Giro helmets),and Keith Bontrager (mtn bikes and equipment). Craig’s company has been building bamboo bicycles since 2005. He has also traveled to Ghana to show people how to build bamboo bicycles.

Craig was one of the original builders of carbon-fiber bikes in 1989. In 1991, Greg LeMond contracted with Craig’s business to have his team supplied with carbon-fiber frames. Craig continues to sell carbon-fiber frames today.

Equally important, he’s one of the few suppliers in the region who repairs carbon-fiber frames.

I’ve never ridden a bamboo bicycle, but I can imagine it gives a smooth ride, much as the Vitus aluminum bicycles of the 1980s.

Are these frames going to last as long as steel? I’m not going to hazard a guess, but rest assured termites won’t bother them, since the tubes are coated with polyurethane. If you want a bamboo bike, you can build your own and save some money.

Another company that has just started selling bamboo bikes is Panda Bicycles, based in Fort Collins, Colorado. I’m not sure they’re in full production, but they have a website.

Then we have wood rims, but that’s another story…


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