Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

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…

Share Your Routes in Google Maps

May 5, 2010

You can make your own route and share it with others in Google Maps.

I mentioned that you can make your own routes in Google Maps and share them with others, and here’s how.

First, you need to have an account, typically done by creating an email account. Once at Google Maps click on “My Maps,” then “Create new map.” Give it a title and description, and select whether public or unlisted. I recommend leaving it unlisted until you’re ready to share it.

You’ll work with the three icons in the upper left corner of Google Maps. Select the blue teardrop placemarker to start your route, and give it a name. Select the jaggy line for drawing the route. You can click as often as you like when drawing the route. I recommend selecting “follow roads,” if that’s your intent.

While this process works well enough, it takes forever, if you have a long route. A way to get around this is to pick a destination and then use the placemarker. The program will choose a route, typically following freeways, if nearby.

You can fine-tune the route by selecting the blue line where it diverges from its intended route and dragging it to the desired road. If you’re doing this where there are other roads, you need to be zoomed in and take care in selecting the road segment you want to move.

Another option is to click on “Get Directions,” after creating a map name and enter the start and end points. Google Maps will create a route, again using freeways where practical. If you select “Bicycling” route (in the U.S. only), Google Maps will create a route minus the freeways. Once that’s done, you can drag the end point back to a place that’s closer to where you want to go.

Sometimes it’s a hassle to make things work, but I’m no expert.

Google Maps does not always recognize paths — it’s better in bicycling mode — so you may have to create sections for places that follow paths.

There are icons you can use for points of interest. Click on the Placemark icon and you’ll see the Placemark in the upper right corner of the window. Click on that and you’ll see more icons.

If this doesn’t make sense, just watch their video.
Here are some of my public routes:

Google Man Helps You Find Your Way

April 29, 2010

Drag Google Man, in red circle, to roads highlighted in blue to see what they look like (not active).

If you’re planning a bike trip, your first stop should be Google Maps. There isn’t a better resource for finding a route.

I’ve been assembling a route starting in Barcelona, Spain, heading north to the Pyrenees, then east to the Provence region of France. If you’re like me, you want to know where you’re going to ride.

Bruce Hildenbrand reports on bike racing.

First, you should check with someone who has already been there. I found an expert in every sense of the word – Bruce Hildenbrand. He has been to Europe for bike rides so many times, he lost count. He can tell you every detail about the Tour de France – where LeMond broke away in a specific race, where Lance got tangled with a spectator and fell off his bike, on and on.

Once I had an idea of where to go, I focused on the route. I like to ride point to point, so that means finding my way out of Barcelona. Big cities can be difficult, but Google Maps helps find the best route because you can “see” the road in “Street View” – how wide it is and the amount of traffic. Here’s a nice country road on the France side of the Pyrenees.

The way to do this in Google Maps is to click on the little orange figure in the upper left-hand corner. I call it Google Man (Google calls it Pegman); like Michelin Man only a different color. Drag the man from his position (or Google Gal if you like) and the roads that have been photographed will light up in dark blue.

You can also click on Satellite, Earth (Google Earth), and Terrain. Terrain is located in “More,” which has other neat features you can select.

Most roads have been photographed in many parts of the world. Google uses cars equipped with special cameras that capture everything. It’s amazing technology.

Next time I’ll tell you how to map your route and save it for future use. You can keep it to yourself or share it with others in My Maps.

Note: A powerful PC with a high-speed Internet connection will make your Google Maps experience more enjoyable.

Google Maps for Bikes — Use with Caution

March 20, 2010

Google Maps for bike routes is live. It's a good start, but use with caution.

On March 10, Google Maps went live with its bicycling route option. Choose a destination and Google will tell you the best way to get there by bike. I give them a C-.

Some routes, like Santa Clara (where I live) to Santa Cruz are quite good. Others, like Santa Clara to Half Moon Bay, are downright wrong. Their route includes Old Cañada Road. I’ve ridden this road, but at the risk of being arrested!

Back in the day when I was young and foolish, I rode here with friends. Even then it was heavily patrolled by the San Francisco Water Department and on more than one occasion we were stopped and told to get out. Obviously, Google meant the nearby public Cañada Road. The rest of the route – Hwy 92 – is only advisable at early hours on weekends.

I checked on another difficult route – San Francisco to Calistoga. Conveniently, they include the ferry to Vallejo. Santa Clara to San Francisco, staying near Hwy 101, looks reasonable. Another puzzler was Santa Clara to Pescadero. Why they would include the hideously steep Spring Ridge Road (dirt) instead of Old La Honda Road is a mystery.

Google is trying. They have good intentions, but right now I’d call this a beta release. I’m sure they would agree. Bike routes aren’t easy to figure out. I’ve spent years refining my rides. It’s something that can be learned only through experience. The best algorithms won’t get it right.

They want your input. According to Product Manager Shannon Guymon, they plan to have a feature called Map Maker that will allow users like us to enter useful routes. Whether or not this will fix their algorithms may be another matter.

What I find interesting is, an open-source map maker’s dream. Founded in 2004, it’s slowly gaining a following. I wonder what affect it will have on Google’s strategy? Like open-source software, open-source maps (think Wikipedia), can be a real game changer. In the end, we all benefit.


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