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.
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.
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.