Maybe you’ve had a look at my other articles and noticed that I’m pretty big on the utility side of things when it comes to bicycles. Maybe you’ve even thought that you should look into a bike that will open up the same sort of possibilities for you and your daily needs (by that I mean a bike that’s not marketed to magically transform you into a racing champion). Maybe you’ve even purchased one of these bikes and now you’re sort of overwhelmed by all the possibilities of using it. Well, the first step is usually to get a rack for the back, probably aluminum but hopefully steel, and a set of panniers, which are probably Ortlieb or Arkel since that’s what I see most of the time. If you’ve made it that far, congratulations! You’re way ahead of the game already and your basic commuting/grocery/errand running needs can all be done on a fun form of transportation. The world of loading up your bike is bigger still though, and the next step is front loading.
Local Maker Interview, vol. 1: Swift Industries
Though the big fish of the bicycle industry just seem to be getting bigger, more and more people are taking their own path and building their own place in the world of bicycles and bicycle accessories by designing and making their own products domestically. In answer to this, consumers are welcoming these local makers with enthusiastic appreciation and fueling what amounts to a sea change in the way manufacturing and commerce are done. This is my first installment of a series that will put a spotlight on some of these people, right here in my little local city of Seattle. These people actually design/fabricate/craft actual things themselves, and I’m very glad they do. These people are an extremely important (and growing) part of our national bicycle culture.
Who Can Carry Sheldon’s Torch?
By Scot Hinckley
For anyone who doesn’t know who Sheldon Brown is, and is fond of bicycles, you’re in for a real treat over at his website. If someone were to call Sheldon an expert or an enthusiast or an inspiration, most who know of him would agree that all are fair and deserved descriptions. However, the truth of it is that he was possibly the greatest single contributor to the cumulative bicycle technical knowledge the world has ever known. I can make this assertion without the slightest hint of hyperbole, and 15 minutes on his website will bring you to the same conclusion.
Even though Sheldon passed away in 2008, his writings have been preserved online and, with any luck, will stay there forever. It represents a lifetime of thinking and tinkering and trying and sharing. Sheldon was one of the few people who had the answer to whatever bicycle question you had. Plenty of people will tell you something is good or bad, but in a world of online forums and bike shop employees who are just as swayed by marketing as their customers, who really bothers to find the answers any more? Surely popular opinion can’t replace true understanding.
So that leaves the question of who remains in the world of bicycles who actually knows a thing or two about a thing or two. Who’s got a viewpoint that’s unswayed by marketing nonsense and has an opinion based on years or decades of experience? This is my attempt to share my list (in no particular order, and by no means complete) of trusted sources who I absolutely know I can rely on when it comes to making decisions and, of course, spending hard-earned money. After all, the only guarantee that these people will be around to help next time is if they stay in business. Don’t go talk someone’s ear off about tires and then go buy them on eBay to save $11, that’s just bad manners.
Peter White (Peter White Cycles) If there’s anything you want to know about dynamo lighting, Peter’s the guy. He’s also the guy if you want fine quality hand-built wheels. Go visit his shop in the beautiful woods of New Hampshire.
Grant Petersen (Rivendell Bicycle Works) Grant’s frame designs from his days at Bridgestone are still legendary, but his current stuff is even better. Frames, racks, bags, clothing, and more. All of the best function and finest quality.
Bruce Gordon (Bruce Gordon Cycles) Bruce does frames and racks as well as anyone out there and he knows it.
Hiroshi Iimura (Jitensa Studio) 25 years of designing some of the finest frames to ever come out of Japan. Hiroshi can make the frame of your dreams a reality.
Jim Thill (Thill Wheels, Hiawatha Cyclery) Jim does wheels, advice, and is a great advocate for bicycling. He’s also one of the few on this list who are really active in online communities.
Jan Heine (Compass Bicycles, Bicycle Quarterly) Part randonneur, part historian, part author, and part scientist.
Rich Lesnik (Hands on Wheels) Rich will make you the set of wheels you should be riding, not the set of wheels some advertiser wants you to ride.
Alex Kostelnik (2020 Cycle) You might be lucky like me and have a local shop owner like Alex who really is as good as it gets when it comes to knowledge and advice. If your shop doesn’t have someone like Alex, look around until you find one that does.
“People assume I’m going to do something stupid”
By Scot Hinckley
A couple of weeks ago I went out and met a friend for birthday drinks (his, not mine). He’s a like-minded cyclist which means he rides for fun, for utility, and when he doesn’t feel like catching the bus to work. A bunch of his work colleagues were there, which meant they were talking about work/customers/coffee/rain/etc. and since I don’t work with them I was kind of just observing the ritual of a barista after-work-unwind.
After a pint or two of Manny’s, he and I got on the subject of riding. It’s been awhile since we took a ride together, but we did manage to do the Seattle to Portland ride and that counts for at least 10 rides or so. He was talking about heading downtown to go somewhere by way of 2nd street and I interrupted him.
“2nd street is a fucking nightmare with that left-side bike lane and all the people getting dropped off. That’s where I got left hooked, I won’t ride there any more. I’d rather trudge uphill on 5th.”
“Yeah, but the whole thing is downhill and it’s way more direct for almost everything.”
“Way too many people opening doors and turning left, no thanks. The only way to ride there is to just take the entire right lane and deal with the busses honking.”
“See, my trick is that when I’m riding my fixed gear I figure most people assume I’m going to do something stupid. That way they’re more cautious around me.”
I have to admit I was struck with the possibility that he was right, which is a sad commentary on my car-going brethren and maybe an even sadder one on the state of “fixie culture” whatever that means. The reason I found it at least a little compelling is that I’ve seen a study that concludes drivers are more cautious around cyclists who ride without helmets (the same goes for cyclist who dress in normal clothing and not TRON outfits). Since I like riding without a helmet and I wear my everyday normal clothing while doing it, the study seemed like a lovely little pat on the back.
When I drive, I’m extra cautious of cyclists and give them lots of room, whether they’re on an annoying recumbent trike, an even more annoying bakfiets, or some ultra-annoying monstrosity that belongs in a velodrome. I assume they recognize me as a distant tribal relation by my bike rack and my proudly displayed Rivendell Bicycle Works sticker, and so probably give me just a tiny bit more respect on the road. Having said that, I usually assume they’re idiots and will inevitably do idiotic things. To paraphrase George Carlin, “Think about how stupid the average person is. Now try to imagine that half of all people are stupider than that”. Judging by the lack of lighting, reflective gear, signalling, or even adhering to the direction of traffic, George has a point. Even though I assume they’re stupid, most of them prove me wrong and everything works out great.
Point is, take full advantage of drivers’ assumptions; be visible, give them just a hint of stupidity, and you’ll be riding safe and sound. No one hates a slightly “special” puppy, so go out and be that puppy.
I want every single thing on this list.
By Scot Hinckley
Inexpensive: Knog Frog. Available for both front and rear, easy on and off, lots of colors.
Mid Range: Princeton Tec Remix. Goes on your head, 100 lumens, made in the USA.
The Best: Schmidt’s Original Nabedynamo. Get a hub, get a headlamp, get a second job.
Ultra Mini: Planet Bike Micromite. Super packable, even if you wear superhero clothes.
Frame Pump: Zefal HPX Classic. From the famous 130 year old French company.
Floor Pump: Lezyne CNC Floor Drive. So much better than anything else, feel extra smug.
Around Town: Soma Deco Rear. Pop on a basket or a set of small-ish panniers and you’re set.
Porter Style: VO Porteur Rack. Deliver some newspapers in 19th century France.
World Tour: Nitto Campee Racks. The best, hands down, and more expensive than your rent.
Total Bargain: Panaracer Pasela. Not heavy, but good and plush. Even comes in 27”.
650B Folder: Grand Bois Hetre. Rando perfection, or at least everyone says so. Beautiful.
Bullet Proof: Schwalbe Marathon Supreme. You go faster when you don’t change flats.
Saddle Perfection: The Brooks B17. If you don’t like these, go reevaluate your taste.
High Ender Fender: Honjo. These will make you want to sell your race bike and buy a LHT.
Artful Cranks: Rene Herse. Makes Dura-Ace look as stylish as Zubaz pants, which isn’t hard.
Water Bottle Cage: King Cage. Made in the USA of stainless steel or titanium.
Saddlebag: Sackville Saddlesack XS. Best materials, best craftsmanship, best looks, low price.
Cap: Walz Cycling Caps. Wool, cotton, or moisture wicking. Made in the USA, properly stylish.
Late November Assorted Thoughts
By Scot Hinckley
Winter’s now fully upon us in the Pacific Northwest, so things are slow and gruelling in the world of a practical utility cyclist. Not as boring or uneventful as things are for sport cyclists who’ve all just retired to their indoor rollers or trainers, but it is the time when you just put your head down and do your best to prepare well for the conditions and enjoy the looks of bewilderment drivers give you. It’s not the time for glamor, that’s for sure. Here are some assorted thoughts I’ve had swimming around my head.
DIY Surplus Store Panniers
By Scot Hinckley
It’ll be a little while until I can save up for a set of Swift Industries panniers, so I thought I’d try my hand at doing a little DIY project. It’s all well and good since the touring season is pretty far behind us at this point and the nasty weather has taken over. I’ve actually had this idea in my head for awhile, but I got discouraged with the resources I found online; all the DIY panniers I’ve seen so far use a widely available bag from the surplus store that’s too heavy and too small. It’s great from a durability standpoint, but probably a little overkill. It took a little while to find the right one, but I think I’ve kinda struck gold.
Bicycle Resurrection: Bridgestone XO-4 by Scot Hinkcley
Bicycle frame technology has been pretty much perfected for quite a long time. Sure, derailers are better now, chains last longer, and tires have become amazingly durable as of late. The frames, though, are still just triangles (most of them anyway). Steel was good, and it still is. Titanium, aluminum, carbon fiber, and bamboo seem to work pretty well too. Bicycle companies need to sell bikes, so they’ll come up with a reason for you to buy the new stuff every year, but no “good” bike has a lifespan that’s measured in months. Even if you race, I mean, come on. That’s why I thought I’d write about the build I recently did for my brother. I built his old bike up to be a really good bike, his only bike, but I think the topic is worthwhile to commuters who are getting ready to face winter and want a durable bike that’s not necessarily fast (I still think people, not bikes, are fast but maybe that’s just me), so they can leave their less hearty bike inside. In no way should this be considered a “beater” bike. It was good when its life started, but it needed some love after 18 years.