Who Can Carry Sheldon’s Torch?

 

tandem-wedding

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”

 

photo-31

“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.”

 

“Holy shit.”

 

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. Gift Guide #4

I want every single thing on this list. 

By Scot Hinckley

 

Lighting

 

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.

 

Pump

 

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.

 

Rack

 

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.

 

Tires

 

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.

 

Classic Touches

 

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.

 

Little Extras

 

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

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.

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DIY Surplus Store Panniers

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.

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Front Loading by Scot Hinckley

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.

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Bicycle Resurrection: Bridgestone XO-4

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.

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Alex Kostelnik Interview, Part II: Extra Footage

Alex Kostelnik Interview, Part II: Extra Footage

By Scot Hinckley

The interview I did with Alex seems to have gone over well, and that makes sense; he’s an interesting, unique guy with a lot to say. Here’s the stuff I didn’t put in there last week. It’s not much, but there are some interesting tid-bits in there. I was going to save it for a later date, but there’s no time like the present. I spent some of my weekend messing around with my brother’s bike, a 1994 Bridgestone XO-4 that’ll be the subject of an article sometime in the near future. It’s a budget commuter/camping style bike, but it’s great and everything works fine. Anyway, on to the stuff from the interview. Enjoy. Oh yeah, and you’ll notice I use the Sheldon Brown spelling of the word “derailer” below, don’t freak out.

 

(This is a story Alex told when we were talking about REI’s weird policy of checking employee’s bags as they entered the store)

 

A friend of mine had an asshole co-tenant in his apartment building who used the same laundry room. The guy would accuse everybody of stealing detergent from his bottle of Tide. He was a drug dealer asshole, and no one was taking his detergent. He was just high half of the time. So my friend decided to buy the same brand of detergent and keep topping the guy’s off. It drove him crazy. It was always full, right to the top. It was like the best “fuck you” ever. He hid the bottle he was using, so there was no known source. Same fragrance and everything.

 

(This next part is from when Alex and I were talking about his aspirations for the bike shop and his views about what success means)

 

I’ve always lived cheap, I’m an artist. I do things creatively, and it doesn’t cost much money. I didn’t make more than $13,000 in a year until 1998. I make more now, but not as much as you might think. In the winter, when things slow down here, we don’t try to think of more things to do. We take the time off, because life is for living.

 

(This is from when we were talking about the current big names in componenets)

 

When SRAM came out, they were called GripShift, and SRAM was a tiny company that made rotating shifters. Their big day was when they became an OEM supplier for Specialized and a bunch of other big names. Then all hell broke loose because Shimano couldn’t sell a whole gruppo to the major suppliers. The GripShift was really attractive because it was so bone-simple; two pieces of plastic and a metal spring, and it meant that suppliers could get even cheaper shifters. They put them on all the bikes and they were attractive to the consumer because they were new and different. They got so popular so fast that Shimano panicked and started making rear derailers that had extra-weak return springs because they found out that if you do that, it won’t work with GripShift. There’s a whole 5 year span where Shimano made these weak return spring derailers. SRAM retaliated with something called a bassworm, which was medical tubing that you’d allen screw to your derailer cable and it pulls the cable back and compensates for the weak spring. It pulled against the cable stop. We thought to ourselves that these guys are pretty wiley, what if we’re gonna get an American derailer finally? Well, right then they switched to Taiwan and now you have Taiwan derailers. We never got the American derailer we thought would come from SRAM. They turned into another one of the big guys and went to China. Paul makes a terrible one.

Alex Kostelnik/2020 Cycle Interview

 

Interviewed by Scot Hinckley

Alex Kostelnik/2020 Cycle Interview

When I moved to Seattle’s Central District neighborhood, I unwittingly struck gold when I stopped into the local bike shop to get a tune-up on my beloved 1998 Bontrager. Now, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the prevalence of cookie cutter shops with cookie cutter bikes and cookie cutter disgruntled employees is on the rise. They’re unwelcoming at best, and at worst they’re flat-out intimidating and unpleasant to spend any amount of time in. 2020 Cycle is not this kind of shop; what it is, is the kind of shop you’d open if you and your friends were into bikes and genuinely wanted your shop to be a haven for the average cyclist. I’ve spent hours (and hours and hours) at 2020 over the past couple of years, sometimes getting great advice and sometimes just having a chat. Alex, Chris, and Daniel handle everything between the three of them, all while making it a really fun place to be. I finally sat down with Alex to do an informal interview/conversation because I think he and 2020 Cycle’s story is the type of thing that gets far too little attention in the world of bicycling. We hunkered down with some Mexican food from the truck across the street and this is what came of it.

 

So the thing I was thinking is that we should just start at the start and cover your background. By that I mean your background with bicycles and geographically since I guess I’m trying to put the emphasis on the local thing.

 

Is that the question?

 

Unfortunately. I guess it’s more of a lead that I’m hoping inspires an answer.

 

OK, I was born and raised in Seattle, about 8 blocks from here. Well, born 8 blocks from here but I was raised in the Greenlake neighborhood. I bussed to the Central District from, like, ‘74 to ‘82. I went to T.T. Minor Elementary School, which is only 3 blocks from here. Now it’s a shitty charter school. Then I went to Kimble on Beacon Hill, and then I went to Meany just about 6 blocks from here, and then I went to Garfield…

 

Oh yeah, I’ve seen that one! It’s nice. (I still get excited when I know what someone’s talking about when it comes to seattle stuff)

 

Jimi Hendrix!

 

Is that his school?

 

Yeah

 

Oh shit

 

And Bruce Lee. Both of them, kind of exciting.

 

I thought you were going to say Bruce Springsteen, but then I remembered he’s from NJ. 

 

Yeah, Thunder Road is somewhere else. Anyway, my last year I had this fantasy of being able to walk to school so I petitioned the bussing program to let me go to my neighborhood school for the end of High School and I hated it. I went to Roosevelt at the end and I didn’t like it. I liked Garfield. My mom grew up in Everett. She and my dad met because my dad got a job at Boeing. Not the normal kind of job at Boeing; he worked for Bill Boeing personally. Bill had helicopters and my dad flew the helicopters for, like, his Cascade winter home. He’d fly them there so they could go to and fro skiing in, like, 30 minutes. Multiple helicopters. Like limos, except they’re helicopters. And then he decided that Bill and his friends were all a bunch of martini clinking freaks; they were really conservative. My dad was really outspoken and really liberal. When my dad was in his early 30s, he wrote a manifesto on his portable typewriter where he espoused his beliefs, and this was in 1962, and he said that he believed the United States should disarm immediately and let ourselves be invaded so we could just stop oppressing the whole world. He wrote, “at least there will be no ash in our mouth”.

 

That’s kind of when we were just starting to get into regime change, isn’t it?

 

Uh huh, the whole world was having a revolution until the assassinations starting coming in, along with the heroin. But that’s another story. We’re still there, worldwide revolution I say. Oh yeah, Seattle…Well, I’ve always been here and my mom’s a very Northwest woman. She was jobless forever which is probably why we never moved. I fell in love with this neighborhood because I spend my childhood years here, going to school. That’s why I wanted the shop here. Geographically, that’s where I’m coming from.

 

So you just honed in on the Central District, and that was that?

 

With good associations and some knowledge of what it was like; a good feel for the neighborhood. When I saw there was an espresso shop and that tavern had turned into a Mexican grocery corner store, and the junkies weren’t there any more, I was blown away. I saw the neighborhood was at a new point, that it was reviving, and so I was inspired to have a business here. Plus my girlfriend lived down the street. I’ve always been southern-facing as a Seattleite. When I was a kid, I had black friends. I didn’t have to pretend I did later and wonder who they were. I’ve been kind of psychologically primed for this neighborhood since way back. I just never left, really.

 

And bike-wise?

 

It’s sort of an accident; I’m not obsessed with bikes because I’m environmentally conscious or anything, I just never got a car.

 

Still?

 

Yeah, I’ve never owned a car my whole life. To this day, 44 years, no car. I’ve borrowed them, I’ve rented them, I have a license.

 

I guess when you live in a city, or here which isn’t exactly downtown, but it’s still packed in enough to where you can get around.

 

Yeah, you can easily get by without a car. It’s not bad. You can do it, I’ve done it my whole life. The thing about cars is that I don’t think they’re evil, I just think that there’s too many of them and they’re treated like appliances. They’re taken for granted and overused. The great thing about not owning a car is that everyone you know has 6 of them. They’re everywhere, you’re tripping over them, so it’s not hard to get access to one. Once you can get over that crackhead mentality of crying because you don’t have a car at your disposal and overindulging using it by taking it 3 blocks to go to the store. It just gets out of hand. My friend Carl, he has a Crown Victoria that he only uses for special occasions when he wants to have a “car” experience. It’s the way you’d say, “Oh, I’m gonna fly my light aircraft today”. It’s a gas guzzler, an ex-cop-car. But he said “I don’t care if gas is $20 per gallon, I can flex my ankle and fly up a hill at 60mph and be like god”. It’s just become mundane because it’s overused, but it’s actually this fantastic experience as long as you keep it special.

 

I guess it’s hard to keep that mindset on a commuting basis, you know. Because when you commute, the most mundane of all activities, you’re crawling along with the entire city.

 

Yeah, so I’m a non-car-owning Seattleite who owns a bike shop because I was a mechanic for so long that I finally decided to quit complaining and have the shop that I kept saying could be so cool instead of being an unsatisfied smart-ass.

 

Where did you work before? I know you were at Velo…

 

I was at Velo, U-District Cycle, then at Montlake, REI. REI was actually the last bike job I had and that was in 2005.

 

And then you just decided to do your own thing and open up 2020?

 

Yeah, that was the end of me being somebody else’s employee. (At this point Alex gets a phone call to let him know that the house he and his wife have made an offer on will be theirs. Well, almost, because they have to do an inspection. Anyway, it was a jubilant scene. Good stuff.)

 

OK, so you gave up the health insurance and steady paycheck and whatever at REI...

 

…And my bags being searched every morning as I’m going into work.

 

As you’re going into work?! Into work? Weird, OK, so REI was out the window and you just…

 

I threw caution to the wind; I took out two credit cards. I had NO money to start with.

 

Two credit cards?! Holy crap. So you just signed a lease and bought inventory with the credit cards?

 

Yeah, like 8 tubes, a Redline frame, a pile of used bikes that my neighbor had in his yard, a pot for tea, and a record player. Then I bought a fireplace. That was the next purchase. One of those fake ones with the fake flames. Most of the time we were just sitting around with the neighbors chatting, listening to records, and drinking tea. It was just a hang out. That’s how I got started; I paid my start-up expenses. I paid off the credit cards in 6 months.

 

So you signed the lease, and then you didn’t even have the money to pay next month’s rent unless you made it?

 

Yup, and I did. I started repairing bikes, I sold that whole pile of used bikes, I remember watching it shrink. I think we still sell the most used bikes of any shop I know of.

 

Do you remember the first thing you sold? Was it a repair, or an actual thing?

 

The first thing I did was, well there was this old black guy who came in and I cut him a slice of cake that my sister had made. Then we sat down and talked about religion and the neighborhood. So the first thing I sold was a friendship I guess. Then I sold an inner tube, and then a really nice Bianchi touring bike that was fairly trashed. It was old, from the 80s. Anyway, that first customer is still a friend of mine. He’s actually playing a show here in a week and a half. He’s in a band called Your Heart Breaks. He’s also the manager of a metal band. He even has his own TV show he does called “Boating With Clyde”. He takes people out on Lake Washington and interviews them in his row boat. Super cool dude.

 

When did you finally get an employee? 

 

I started out with a co-worker from REI, and I had never hired somebody in my life. I was never a boss before and I didn’t do the best job. But in all fairness, neither did she. I fired her and she threw the keys at me. We made up later to acquaintance level. So that was my first employee and that was probably 9 or 10 months in. I did everything myself at first. I was closed on weekends so I could sleep. I ran everything by myself. I had a spiral bound notebook that I kept everything in. All repairs, everyone’s phone numbers, everything.

 

Your hours seem reasonable now, but were you just open all day when you first started just to be available?

 

The days weren’t long officially, but I would stay over by myself after we were closed. I had to be closed just to breathe and catch up on repairs. That was almost every night and every morning. So after I’d been open for a year, because I’d been successful, I put a sign on my door that said “gone fishing” and I went to Hawaii. I just split and totally flipped out on the beach because I’d been working non-stop for a whole year. Just shut the shop for 8 days.

 

So now that your store’s been open for awhile, who do you think it caters to? Or do you think that it caters to anybody in particular?

 

We cater to moms with duct-taped Burley trailers with their kids inside on their way to Montessori school. People who ride in the rain, in the snow, it’s those people. Then it radiates out from there. If you were going to make a tree, the trunk of the tree is them. We’re super practical commuter people, me included. But when we started out, we were doing a TON of fixies because that was right in the middle of the fixie craze. We were building a pair of Velocity wheels every day, in all the crazy colors. We were getting all the crazy single-speed frames, we were converting bikes to single-speed. We had all those kids here. It was before people started turning them into trials trick bikes which they seem to now. It was a completely different sort of culture I think. That kind of came and went, and we moved away from it when you could buy Velocity wheels at 7/11 because it was just everywhere. It wasn’t what we wanted to make our life-bread. It would be like basing your life on wide leg pants or something.

 

Something that could just up and disappear. 

 

So we very heavily dug into putting the call out to all of our commuter people and sort of reconfigured as a commuter shop and we’ve been that way ever since.

 

It does seem like part of the vibe of the shop is “if it works, it’s good” if that makes any sense. 

 

Yeah, totally. It reflects our personalities, like I can’t sell bikes that Chris and Daniel don’t like. They won’t sell them. They’re totally stubborn. So we have to have things we understand and believe in. What we believe in is practical stuff. Wearing normal shoes, dressing in wool rather than spandex. It’s what we already do so it just reflects our personalities. The shop is very much a personal enterprise for the three of us. We’re not trying to be something else, I mean except for the crazy fixie thing that happened in 2006. We kinda got swept into that.

 

I’ve seen bikes in here for repair that are wicked expensive racing bikes on the other side of the rack from bikes that are being given a few extra years on their already long life. 

 

We’ll fix anything if it seems like a good idea, which is almost everything. Bikes are really simple; they’re fixable, there’s nothing to them. That’s what’s so great. It’s never gonna be that expensive, and it’s never gonna be impossible. You can weld it, whatever, you can fix any bike. If we size up a customer and ask ourselves, “does this person really care about this bike?”, then OK, let’s fix it if the answer’s yes. I don’t care if there’s seaweed hanging off it. We’ll quote them a price, we won’t tell them they need a new bike. I learned that from working with really mean mechanics for the last 20 years. People who would make customers cry.

 

And we’ve all either had experiences with those people or heard about them. 

 

I worked with them. I worked with a guy once who would make people beg for their bikes back. He wouldn’t let them have them back so he could finish telling them what was wrong their bike. Everyone in the store would hide, and customers would be crying. After seeing all that, I decided that there’s no such thing as a bad bike. If someone cares about it, then that’s their special ride, and I don’t need to know anything more. Torturing customers is just not something that needs to happen, there’s no reason for it.

 

So tell me about all the used bikes. My favorite at the moment is the Roberts (a beautiful hand-made lugged frame, gorgeous).

 

We like to keep the patina, always. Have you seen Antiques Roadshow? What’s the first mistake you can make with an Empire Era chair? Refinish it. Don’t do it, don’t refinish it. Leave the scratches. You want to see the history. We do that with all these bikes. We get the guts good so it won’t kill you and it won’t break. We guarantee every bike as if it’s new, and I don’t think anyone else does that. We back all of these 100%. Then you leave it funky. Why would you remove all the flavor?

 

And then the big new thing is the Sealth. You had your shop for however many years and then you had the idea that you wanted to have your own frames. I know about it, but I think it’s definitely worth talking about for the interview. 

 

The Sealth is patterned after my bike. I have a bike that was made for me by Dave Levy. He started TiCycles a long, long time ago. Dave is now onto 2 or 3 other ventures. He built me a CroMo touring bike in the 90s and it became my favorite bike. I rode it for 12 years straight. There were a couple of things about it that weren’t perfect. That’s the risk you take with a hand-made bike. With a known bike, it’s like a pair of Levi’s 501s; you know what you’re getting. With a custom bike, there are ways to go wrong, and my bike was a perfect example. He’s one of the best frame builders around, it’s not about that. It’s not about the quality of the build. He made my headtube too steep, so whenever you put bags on the front, it would flop to one side. It was a nightmare when I was using panniers in the front. He wanted to make it a sporty touring bike, and I now grit my teeth when I think of when he said that. It was too sporty. He made the bottom bracket too high, because he wanted it to be sporty. The only two things I changed for the Sealth are the bottom bracket height and a more relaxed head tube angle. Other than that, it’s a carbon copy of my bike. I’m making everyone ride my bike.

 

So it’s a classic touring bike, as interpreted by Alex?

 

Yeah, and it started with me interpreting it to Dave, who mostly got it. Then I rode the shit out of it for 12 years and worked out every quirk. Then I fixed the two things that always bothered me and that’s what everyone’s riding when they try the Sealth.

 

What’s it like when you load it up?

 

It’s amazing. It likes a load. It’s itching for a load. It’s light, stiff, strong, and has a super long wheel base to keep it stable. The bottom bracket is the lowest in the industry, lower than most people would do. Your center of gravity gets nice and low. It takes a whole chain plus 5 more links to hook up the drive train. You gotta buy two chains. That’s how long the wheelbase is.

 

How big a tire can you fit on it?

 

We’ve tried up to 45c and we haven’t found bigger ones to try yet. It’s fatter than hell. I bet you could even get a fender in without any problem.

 

And it’s made in Seattle, right?

 

Hand-made by the guys at Bombus Bikes, designed by me, and the frame tubing is from Mississippi, union made by the United Steel Workers. I like to say that it’s a fair-trade-shade-grown-gay-whale-civil-rights-stop-the-war-bike. We’re trying to sell 10 per year, I’m not trying to set the world on fire. Grant Petersen, that’s his job. To set the pace for a look, a feel, and style. He does it beautifully, and has been for several decades, and I love what he does. It’s just not my style to tell people what’s cool. I’ve spent my life running from those people, though not from Grant, but the people who’ve said “this is what’s cool”, that’s the last thing those people ever said to me because I’d just leave. I’m an outsider, but I don’t want to create a new inside from my outside. I don’t want a gang of me. And I don’t have huge needs, I don’t want gold-plated spaghetti, I just want spaghetti.

 

Tell me about the 2020/Fuel Cyclocross Team. You’ve never once told me about the team. I had to randomly find out, which I weird. 

 

We have the weirdest relationship you’ve ever seen in the bike business. My friend Dani has a beautiful series of coffee shops here and she also started High 5 Pie.

 

I’ve had that, it’s delicious. I had the chocolate cream.

 

Absolutely, the apple’s good too. Sam, our team captain, came to me and he came to Dani and he said, “you’re my two favorite things in the Central District so I want that to be the team”. He didn’t look at who could give him more money, or more exposure, or bike parts, or who was most dedicated to cyclocross. Sam is the kind of guy who comes here with a bottle of whiskey and we hang out talking Romanian politics and he loves going to Fuel to get coffee. It’s the weirdest sponsorship you’ve ever seen, and it’s just because some of us are good friends. That’s why I sponsor them. Plus they’re an amazing team, they’re really competitive. They’re not assholes; they’re the nicest group of people who will ever kick your ass on a race track. They’ll bring their families, it’s diverse, full spectrum. They don’t live in breathe cyclocross racing. They’re super fun.

 

Are there any other sort of local tie-ins that you like to do with the shop? Things you can do because you have a bike shop?

 

Music. We have shows from time to time. My life is defined by mics and bikes. Recording music, producing music, and bicycles. I put on shows here because I’ve gotten older and I’m not trying to go to a bar and get laid any more. I really don’t go to shows anymore. I have my own specific, special shows here. They’re very one-off. Every one of them is like it’s the last one. It’s only friends, and it only costs like $5 to go to one. But I’m not a venue, you can only play here if you’re a friend of mine or you’re my favorite band. It’s not a normal venue. It’s a total community activity. It ties me into all of my neighbors and everybody around me. It’s not a normal bike shop thing to do.

 

The last thing I’m going to hit you with is a two-fer. You can go whatever direction you want with this. Comparing the “olden days”, do you think bicycle culture is more diverse now? Less diverse? I seems that the range of bikes you can buy are starting to get narrowed down more and more. 

 

I think there’s more people doing the same sort of stuff that we all did. There’s just more of it.

 

Do you think there’s any lack of some new company doing something weird and new and cool for bikes?

 

When American industry re-tooled and re-found themselves in the world of bikes in the latest bike revival, which has been up and down since about 1890, China had already come along. Game over. There was no reason to make it here anymore. Now you just have frame builders.

 

I heard that Italians will buy more bikes than cars this year for the first time since World War II. 

 

Well, we’re running out of fuel and everybody wants to be back in the city again. So now they’re all happily riding through the towns and making their market stops. Housing is more dense, which also makes it great for bikes. The bike revival right now is a perfect storm of a bunch of factors. The great thing about a bike is that it’s perfect, and it’s been perfect for a long time. I like to say that a bike shows off it’s guts because it’s so proud of them, but a car hides them. The basic thing doesn’t need to change, people just need to ride them.

Prepare for Rain by Scot Hinckley

 

Prepare for Rain

Southern California people might laugh at the notion, but it’s about to get really wet up here in the PNW. Still, the percentage of riders who do it year round in Seattle and Portland is among the highest in the country. I mean, we’re not as hardcore are Minneapolis people, but we do OK in a climate that would outwardly appear to be incompatible with riding. It’s actually pretty easy to stay on the bike through the dark, cold, wet months if you spend a little time getting ready. You might be asking yourself why you’d want to bother riding all winter. Well, it’s because I’ll be the one you see in spring during those first few weeks when you’ve emerged from your winter hibernation. You’ll be in your full team kit, wondering why the pedals are so hard to push, and I’ll be passing you on the hills with a 30+ pound touring bike and a full load of groceries. Neither of us wants that, really. To avoid this scenario, take some tips from a slow guy who spent 6 days a week on the bike (outdoors, duh) last winter and learned some pretty good stuff along the way.

 

Fenders

You need these, and I mean it. This is the first, and most important, thing that you’ll need to keep you and your bicycle happy when it’s wet outside. The front fender keeps water and grit away from your feet, your chest, and your expensive drivetrain. The rear fender keeps water and grit off your ass, your back, and the guy behind you. Get the ones with the most coverage. SKS Longboards are the best, but these ones from Planet Bike are super nice too. I have both. If you only have a road racing bike, these little guys are way better than nothing. Attach some long flaps to them and you’ll be pretty well off.

 

Tires

Your life will improve dramatically if you get a strong, fat tire that is almost impossible to flat. Strong because you can’t see road debris as well when it’s dark and wet. Fat because you’ll be better off running a higher volume tire at lower pressure when you do hit something nasty (changing a tube in the rain is pretty miserable I hear). A safe bet would be the fattest Schwalbe Marathon you can fit under your new fenders. Lastly, you’re not going to hydroplane, so get that right out of your head.

 

Saddle Cover

I don’t use one, but I can bring my bike inside at the office. If you leave your bike outside while you’re working, just cough up the $12-$15 and get a cover. Or, you know, just put a plastic bag over your saddle. Either way, don’t let it soak in the rain.

 

Lights

You’re not as visible when it’s raining, and you’re certainly not particularly visible when it’s wicked dark outside. If you have lights, great. If you don’t, just go get the best ones you can afford (front and back). What “best” means is up to you and your preferences. I personally use a B&M dynamo headlamp and a 1 watt battery taillight from Planet Bike.

 

Head

The obvious choice (but the one I think it wrong) is to get a rain cover for your helmet. OK, yes it’ll keep the rain off and yes they’re usually bright yellow which is good for visibility. The problem is that they just sort of overheat your head in the winter and that isn’t fun or enjoyable. Things that make my ride less fun are things I’m against. My preference is to go with insulation rather than full-on waterproofing. I got a thin wool beanie and swapped out the big pads in my helmet for the thin ones. Wool is good because it retains its thermal insulation properties even when wet, but it’s also extremely breathable. That way you keep your head temperature regulated, your ears protected against cold, and you end up with rain in your hair instead of sweat. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s the much better option. You should also strongly consider wearing something around your neck to keep the rain from dripping down your back. Fleece works pretty good for this.

 

Body

Even though I don’t think “waterproof breathable” is really a thing, this is what the high-end rain jackets say they are and that’s fine. You’re still going to sweat unless you unzip it a little and get some air flowing. I leave my pit zips open at all times. There are numerous real features that a cycling jacket has and a regular rain coat doesn’t, so it’s tough to get cheap here. The most obvious difference is the long tail that prevents you from collecting water in your ass crack. Anyway, the choices are numerous, but a safe bet is getting something from Showers Pass. They’re based in Portland and they have a great reputation. Want something a little more up-market? Rapha is the thing for you. If you want something extra-up-market and don’t mind the idea of bankruptcy, Brooks has you covered.

 

Legs

Honestly, I just wear my regular pants and suck it up. I hate rain pants because they’re too hot, they’re wicked bulky, and I find my legs are less exposed to water than almost any other part of me. If you don’t mind changing at work, a pair of wool tights would probably work great. The tights would be for riding, not working. You’d bring regular pants for that.

 

Hands

I have three condition-dependent solutions for this; if it’s a little cold and a little rainy I use glove liners, if it’s really cold and really rainy I use glove liners and cheap wool gloves from the Army surplus store, if it’s really-really cold and horribly rainy I just wear snowboarding gloves. Easy.

 

Feet

If you don’t mind looking extra awesome, pick up your feet when you go through big puddles. As for actual footwear, I just wear old sneakers with big wool socks and put on my work shoes when I get to the office. I’m thinking about trying out gaiters this year though, because they seem like a great choice for staying a little drier and for keeping my pants cuff out of the chain.

 

Cargo

You’ve got some options when it comes to getting your stuff from point A to point B without it getting wet. I like a nice waxed canvas saddle bag. Most people go with Ortlieb panniers, though. Handlebar bags are popular as well, but they don’t have the carrying capacity some people need. If you can help it, don’t use a backpack. Nothing again backpacks; they’re great, but they have some serious drawbacks when it comes to cycling. The worst of which is the fact that you’ll end up with a sweaty back, and you will end up with a sweaty back. The combination of a waterproof jacket and a backpack pressing it against your body can only end in sweat. No way around it.

 

Basic Maintenance

Your fenders will do a lot to keep your bike running nice and smooth, but giving the drivetrain a regular light cleaning and lubing will do the rest. Keep the rim walls clean as well, because your brake pads will end up grinding that grit right into them if you don’t.