Archive for the 'Bike Stuff' Category

Cog and Embrocation


I’ve long harboured a desire to start up a small scale touring magazine, concentrating on soulful stories backed with sumptuous pictures. Interviews with individuals who’ve undertaken epic journeys. Reportages on businesses, like framebuilders, involved in the touring world (who often do things for love rather than money). Real world product testing, whether it be in the Scottish Highlands, the Mongolian plains or the Atacama Desert. Yes, I know it’s very niche and not economically viable, but it doesn’t stop me wishing…

Anyway, while I was in Portland at the North American Handbuilt Bike Show, I came across a couple of small scale publications bucking the trend of commercial convention. I was drawn to these magazines both by their photography and the passion behind their words. Although their heart beats to a different biking rhythm than the one I know, they’re inspiring enough to make me want to experience it through their pages, and share in their biking obsession. Track and Fixed, in the case of Cog, and Cyclocross, in the case of Embrocation.

Neither are currently available in the UK – more’s the pity – but if you drop them an email, I’m sure you can get a copy sent. Or maybe you know some shops who would like to stock them? I like to get my hands on all the bike magazines I can, but putting my money towards these small, soulful publications gives me the most pleasure.

From the pages of Embrocation…


Lovely cyclocross -inspired pictures.


A piece on framebuilder Chris Igleheart, who I was fortunate enough to meet.

And from the pages of Cog…


An interview with framebuilder John Kendziera.


A photo essay on Japanese Keirin racing.


Barcelona’s Bike Hire Scheme


I just read a press release about a scheme in London to introduce bike hire parks at 300m intervals around the city, hot on the heels of Paris, which recently unveiled 10,000 bikes at 750 points around the capital to unanimous success. The aim is to have one in ten trips in London made by bike, which will tie in with a Legible London signage system to encourage people to walk – apparently fifty per cent of tube journeys in London are quicker by foot.

Barcelona has started something similar, and judging from the amount of red and white stork-like bikes flitting about, it seems to have proved just as popular. In fact, it’s so successful that they need to build more bike parks in the popular spots, as finding a parking slot to return your bike can be tricky. Another teething problem is in the electronic parking slots themselves, some of which aren’t locking the bikes properly. Still, I’m sure these niggles will be sorted out, and it’s certainly encouraging to see it being used so wholeheartedly and effectively.

In France, the bikes cost about a Euro an hour. In Barcelona, the bikes are free for the first 30 minutes – ample time to get around the city. You then have a twenty minute period before being able to pick up another bike – easily taken up by shopping, or a stroll down the Ramblas. If you go over your 30 minute allocation, there’s a small fee that’s knocked off your credit card. It would be perfect for tourists, who could mix and match their forrays around the city, but for the fact that you also need to sign up to the scheme – around 20-30 Euros a year.


Getting a bike is simple. Swipe your card, which releases one of the bikes from the pound.


Grab your wheels and go for a spin. At the end of the ride, drop it back in its plug, which locks it in place, at any of the bike parks dotted about.


The bikes are sturdy, funky, practical little things, with an adjustable saddle, mudguards, tough Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres and a simple three speed hub gear. There are LED lights for the night too, though they didn’t all seem to be working.

Barcelona is surprisingly bike friendly, with plenty of bikes lanes and some great routes around the harbour and along the beachfront for a sunset amble.


North American Handbuilt Bike Show

(below) One of my personal favourites. This Jeff Jones-inspired ti 29er is the handywork of Black Sheep Bikes from Colorado, and picked up best ti bike of the show.


The blog has fallen into a state of neglect over the last week, as I’ve been consumed with bikes, bikes and yet more bikes at the North American Handbuilt Bike Show, held in Portland, Oregon. (note that you can find all the web links to the builders below on the official site)

Now in its fourth year, it proved to be an incredible, inspiring show, host to 152 exhibitors and 7000 attendees. Perhaps it’s better to describe it as a lavish gallery of bicycle artwork. I spent the first of three days simply ricocheting round in semi-dazed confusion, eyes flitting from one fillet brazed frame to another, diverted by a fancy lug, or elaborate paintwork, or a custom rack.

The US frambuilding scene is experiencing a real renaissance. Thanks to a variety of seminars, the show’s a place where framebuilders can gather to hang out, drawing inspiration from one another, and raising the ‘fully custom’ bar yet further. Because we’re not just talking about custom tubesets and sizes here. This is taking the word custom to a completely new level, with mind boggling individuality and obsessive attention to detail. With standards so high, there’s a lot of attention grabbing antics to stand out from the ‘crowd’. Inevitably, not all bikes are to everyone’s tastes (just like art, I guess), but no denying the skill and sweat that’s gone into them.

Here’s just a few pictures of bits that caught my eye, though they’re only a snapshot of what was there.


(above) I was at the show with one of the UK’s premier bespoke builders, Robin Mather, who’s a big fan of JR Weigle (of Framesave fame). I can see why. Exquisite bikes.



(top left) The show was also rich with ‘Randonneur’ style machines, harking back to the golden era of the 1930s, when these bikes were built for unsupported long distance riders covering distances of up to 1200km. This one, by Ahearne, was amongst my favourites, with individual touches like stem mounted shifters and double chainstays. (top right) Custom racks were racks were aplenty, like the lovely ones on the Vanilla stand, which included stainless steel guides to protect paintwork. (top left) In the wake of the 29er’s acceptance by mainstream manufacturers, there were a dozen 650B wheeled bikes (roughly half way between a 29er and a 26in tyre), championed by Kirk Pacenti, they included this gorgeous singlespeed from Sycip. (bottom right) What do you get when you gene splice a ‘cyclocross frame with Panaracer’s 700x45c knobblies? Not a 29er, but a Monster ‘Cross, as these bikes are being called. This one was built by Black Cat with plain gauge tubes for serious abuse. Continue reading ‘North American Handbuilt Bike Show’

Portland: Fixie Fixation


I’ve headed over to Portland, Oregon, to visit the North American Handbuilt Bike Show (NAHBS), a gathering of the finest custom framebuilders in the land. Seeing as the show starts at the weekend, I’ve been hanging out with Trystan, who I toured with in China and Tibet when I was cycling home from Sydney. Portland’s the most progressive bike city in the States, so it’s refreshing to see bike lanes, and plenty of commuters using them. There’s also a plethora of excellent indie bike shops, like Veloshop (stunning Vanilla Bicycles Speedvagen on display), River City Cycles (very nice Ahearne 29er), Veloce (Indy Fab loveliness) and Clever Cycles (butch Big Dummy prototype). Continue reading ‘Portland: Fixie Fixation’

Bike School

Tris, Hat, Katie and Jack went to bike school today. Mike from Planet X came over to give them the lowdown on all-things-bike-maintenance, from tweaking gears to greasing bottom brackets, replacing bearings and installing headsets. It was good to see the workshop filled with bikes and stands, to the sound of whirring wheels and (ever smoother) gear shifting.

Interested in learning more about bike maintenance from the comfort of your own home/shed/garage? Get in touch with Mike (mike@planet-x-bikesDOTcom), whose well versed with teaching all levels. If you recognise him, it’s probably because he’s the man who gets stranded, mud-clumped bikes back on the trail at the Merida Marathon series, as well as working for DT Swiss at the World Championships, building wheels for the Atherton clan amongst others. So yes, he knows his stuff.


The Luxury Workshop had never looked so good. The Paduans were working hard – you could almost feel their brains heating up the cold, wintry room.


Kate gives the Stumpjumper some TLCC – Tender Loving Cable Care. Maybe Jack will now let her look after her own bike (-;

Continue reading ‘Bike School’

Hardtail, softtail, longtail…


There were those who found it a little odd that after a summer guiding tours around the Indian Himalayas, we’d choose to spend a couple more months bike touring in equally mountainous SW China. For some reason, they even thought we’d be tired of riding by then. Little did they know that not only where we very happy to have the opportunity to spend more hours in the saddle nosing around new places, but I was also thinking about what bike I was looking forward to riding when I got home. Sad, yes.

Funnily enough, of all the bikes in the shed, it was my trusty Spesh Rockhopper that I’d ‘Xtracyclatised’ (more about that here) before leaving for India that kept popping into my mind. It was the bike I’d ridden back home from Australia close to ten years ago. Pulling the aged Spesh out of retirement, and metamorphosing it into the cycling equivalent of a pickup, had given it new life and opened up the world of ‘longtails’ to me. These long wheelbase hardtails use a variety of modular loading styles to carry all manner of stuff – be it shelves, canoes, ladders, boxes, cardboard, animals, even people. They’re a bridge towards surprisingly easy car-free living, without too many of the compromises some people might associate with it.



Of course, there’ve been fully fledged cargo bikes around for years – Mike Burrow’s Eight Freight is perhaps the ultimate evolution for serious load hauling in the city. Let alone the millions of people around Asia make do with all sorts of heavy, unwieldly, bare-bone-basic trikes – in China they’re often electric assisted, in India they’re just manhandled along the road. ‘Longtails’, as they’ve been dubbed, have opted for a slightly different approach. Having taken their cue from Xtracycle, they’re closer in looks to a conventional bike, so probably appeal more to people who don’t want to look too ‘different’. They share a lot of mtb components, like wheelsize, drivetrains and disc brakes, so you can mix and match parts, cut costs and even recycle kit you already have – often the underlying drive behind these projects. Although they’re not as capable as fully fledged cargo bikes, they can easily handle what most people need to carry, with added versatility and even surprisingly good off road ability.


(picture lifted from Commute By Bike)

Surly’s much anticipated Big Dummy kickstarted a lot of renewed interest and pips all others for sheer utilitarian cool. This monster can handle 2.5in tyres, with mudguards. The curved top tube looks great and has a practical reason too, by lowering clearance for riders of different heights. I’m not sure if a bike like the Big Dummy makes complete sense for touring, though these guys, traversing the length of the Americas offroad, would certainly disagree. Or maybe it’s just that you’d need to approach touring with a different mindset: less of a beady eye on the scales and distances covered, and more on the fun stuff you could bring/buy along the way. Like solar panels and a sound system… The Big Dummy makes use of Xtracycle’s innovative modular loading system, and all the bits you can get/make for it.


But just as interesting is this far more affordable offering from Yuba, in the shape of the Mundo. Unless you get in quick and order one in the next couple of days, it’ll cost upwards of £460 in the UK, depending on build and spec. It’s rated to haul a massive 200kg – where leg power permits – thanks to a beefed up wheelset. Similar to Xtracycle’s ethical outlook (who are involved in World Bike), the whole concept is closely tied in with a model for developing regions too, and a percentage of profits goes towards Re-Cycle, who ship second hand bikes to Africa. This is a bike that aims to be strong, simple, practical and carry a message too. Like the Xtracycle gear, it’s being distributed in the UK by Loads Better.


Kona’s UTE is another contender. It will be interesting to see what accessories are available for it, or whether it’s just a stand along product – Kona say there are some in the pipeline. Cost is £580, which includes a mechanical front disc and an 8 speed drivetrain. Kona are also involved in some overseas bike-related donation projects.

Here’s my Rockhopper: the Green Machine. I ended up getting it resprayed new leaf/spring green by the guys at Argos, having a couple of dents filled in too, and some new ‘old’ decals for the finishing touch. Almost all the bits are from my spare parts box or borrowed off other bikes, including some lovely old XT thumb shifters so I can run a cheap 8 speed chain and cassette. The Xtracycle concept involves various straps and modular shelves to suit different loads, and a kickstand which makes loading much easier. I like the ‘cinch-it-all-on-somehow’ concept; it seems to suit my personality. The bolt-on Xtracycle appendage (called a Freeradical) means the frame’s a tad flexy, but that’s ok as it helps to float over bumps – thanks also to the monster 2.25 Big Apples I’ve now squeezed in, which just pop up curbs like the bike has a couple of inches of travel. Storage isn’t an issue. I hang it upways off a normal bike hook, supported by its tail, so no extra room is needed.


A bunch of specialist framebuilders in the US have also built some custom longtails, like this lovely creation from Tony Pereira and a Pugsley snow/sandbike-inspired behemoth from Traffic Cycles. The guys from Riding the Spine have written an ode to it here, and demystified all those chain lines and clearance issues that arise from running close to 4″ Endomorph tyres. Independent Fabrications also displayed a longtail at last years North American Handbuilt Bike Show, powered by a Stokemonkey. And I’ve heard of a couple of other manufacturers considering models too, so watch this space…


Please check out our main website for details on our bike trips to the Indian Himalayas.

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