Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

Get a Charge Out of Riding an E-bike

November 16, 2010

Ultra Motor is based in San Francisco. They had three versatile models.

At Interbike, the largest U.S. bike show, electric bicycles have been around for a while, even though some bike purists snub their noses and think they don’t belong. Electric bikes belong and I hope they sell well.

Any two-wheeler that pulls someone out of a car gets my vote, and that includes motorcycles.

I tried out a couple of electric bikes at Interbike 2010, where 30 electric bike companies showed up. I was blown away by how fun they are to ride! I could see myself riding to work averaging 20 mph, instead of 14 mph. By law, electric bikes have a governor limiting their speed to 20 mph (not pedaling).

Looking more closely at electric bikes, you’ll discover they’re not a panacea. Batteries don’t last forever, they need recharging, the bikes are heavy, and they’re more complicated than a regular bike.

However, they can be a lifesaver for someone just getting into cycling. Millions of Americans are so unfit that the simple act of taking a walk or a bike ride is a challenge. Even experienced cyclists may find they have a place, especially for long commutes.

Different electrics
E-bikes, as they’re nicknamed, are changing rapidly as the market matures. Companies come and go. Volkswagen has even shown a folding e-bike, although it can’t be pedaled. Trek has an e-bike line. A recent trend is toward e-bikes that look more like motorbikes than bicycles. They can be pedaled, with effort. They’re big and bulky, have wide tires, and motorcycle-style throttles.

Some e-bikes have electric-assist or “pedelec” where power kicks in only when you pedal. Personally, I would opt for power-assist and look for the lightest possible bike. If you’re a home mechanic, you can buy a kit, which runs about $400, and retrofit.

Some big box stores sell affordable e-bikes (less than $500), but you’d be better off buying through a bike shop that can give professional advice and service, and sells better bikes that cost more but last longer. Cupertino Bicycles sells Ultra Motor e-bikes. It’s one of the best bike shops in the South Bay.

Most electric bikes run off a hub – front or rear – that generates power using a big electromagnet and planetary gears. Some retain the traditional freewheel for shifting gears. There are also mid-drive hubs that can mount under the bottom bracket or elsewhere on the frame.

Batteries are improving, but they will only give you a 20-mile range, at best, more likely around 10 miles reliably. Lithium ion batteries with an iron phosphate cathode — much lighter than NiMH batteries — are available. Of course, the more you pedal, the greater your range.

E-bikes generate between 300 and 600 watts. Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France could sustain 500 watts for about 20 minutes while climbing, so you can have all the strength of Lance on an e-bike.

Range is influenced by the following: wind, rider weight and load, road gradient, tire inflation, battery capacity, and motor efficiency. Riding uphill drains a battery quickly.

Stromer, an established name in Europe, is entering the U.S. in 2011.

I tried out two bikes: the Stromer from Switzerland, new the U.S. market, and the Ultra Motor A2B Metro ($2,700). The Stromer is more bicycle, while the Metro is more motorbike. The Stromer offers in one bike both “pedelec” assist (or power assist), and a handlebar throttle. You get to choose your mode.

E-bikes cost as much as $12,000, but $1,000 is typical price for a quality entry-level electric bike. For $2,000 you buy a more elaborate e-bike with a better battery and a throttle or mixed-mode throttle and power on demand.

Recharging a bicycle battery runs about 5 cents, which sure beats the price of a gallon of gas.

Taking the ‘White Roads’ to Success

October 29, 2010

Gary mixes personal cycling adventures with business advice. Insightful.

Ask Gary Erickson – Clif Bar founder – about his favorite bike rides, and he’ll tell you it’s those “white roads” in the Alps. Those are the narrow, winding roads – usually steep – that you’ll only find on maps with a lot of detail.

It’s here that Gary has had more than enough adventures to fill a book, which he does in Raising the Bar, ably weaving in ride stories and business philosophy that explores taking the more difficult “white roads” to business success.

Perils of partners
And what an adventure it has been. Anyone considering starting a business with a partner is well advised to read Gary’s honest assessment of the perils of partners. On another level, it’s a well documented blueprint for business leaders seeking a balance between profits and social responsibility.

All too often, American companies beholden to shareholders take the “red roads” to growth, more concerned about the bottom line than the quality of their products. The red roads on Europe’s maps are the more heavily traveled.

Gary will have nothing of that. He and his wife Kit put sustainable growth at the forefront. It’s a company with “mojo,” not afraid to take chances, but equally dedicated to employee personal growth and community involvement outside the office.

Nice touch for a meeting room.

New headquarters
Recently I had the opportunity to visit their new corporate headquarters in Emeryville, an industrial enclave sandwiched between the San Francisco Bay and Berkeley.

Already rated a top company to work for by Forbes magazine a few years back, Clif Bar has raised the bar. The building – an old valve factory, unused for decades – is state of the art, upgraded to LEED standards for green building certification. Among the perks is a child care center, multiple exercise rooms, and offices bathed in natural light from spacious bay windows.

Bike art hangs above the kitchen entrance.

Clif Bar has not forgotten its roots. According to Gary, “cycling is where Clif Bar got its start. It’s still at the core of our business.” Look up in the open office area and you’ll see dozens of bikes and components, as well as other core sports paraphernalia. “We call our hanging art ‘the Comet,’ Gary says. Cool stuff. Any interest in selling that Colnago? Clif Bar on Facebook.

Gary, right, meets employees and visitors during lunch.

Showers Pass Beats the Rain

October 25, 2010

Showers Pass Double Century jacket keeps out the rain.

Leave it to a company based in rainy Portland, Oregon, to make one of the best rain jackets. The aptly named Showers Pass brand is synonymous with quality foul-weather cycling gear.

I recently purchased and used the Double Century jacket, which retails for $125. You can spend up to $255 for a jacket.

A little about my background riding in the rain. I hate it. It’s uncomfortable and dangerous. However, as a dedicated commuter in Northern California, I expect rain. I also get caught in the rain on occasion during weekend rides, so a rain jacket is a necessity.

In all my years of riding, I’ve never owned a quality rain jacket. Of course, when I started riding, Gore-Tex and other “breathable” fabrics was unheard of. Over the years, breathable fabrics have gotten better and more affordable.

Is “breathable” real?
I’ve also been a big doubter of their worth. Do they really breathe? After riding in the rain on a recent weekend, I can say breathable fabrics work as advertised. It’s still not as comfortable as dry riding, but I don’t arrive home drenched in sweat from wearing a nylon-only jacket, and I’m fairly comfortable riding in the rain.

Features to look for in a rain jacket, all present in the Double Century:

Breathability. The Gore-Tex patent for breathable fabric (basically Teflon) expired in 1996, so now we have lots of breathable clothing. The fabric’s pores allow body perspiration to escape, but keep out rain. Many breathable fabrics now have three layers, with the breathable fabric protected in the middle by more durable nylon fabrics.

Ventilation. My jacket has a vent across the back, a front zipper, and two vertical zippered vents below the arm pits.

Draw strings and Velcro. Many rain jackets have a waist draw string. Velcro wrist straps can be adjusted to keep out the rain. The Double Century has Velcro attachments around the neck for a detachable hood.

Visibility. Look for reflective material on the arms and back.

Packability. How much can a jacket be compressed? It matters if you’re riding light and you will be removing your jacket.

Of course, rain jackets made for cycling have a longer taper in the back to keep off road splash.

Showers Pass has an interesting rating matrix for durability, ventilation, packability, breathability, and waterproofness. In looking at the ratings, the Club Pro Jacket ($100) appears to have the best value.

The main advantage of the Double Century over the Club Pro is its packability. It can be compressed enough to stuff into a jersey pocket, with difficulty.

I like the Showers Pass rain jacket, but does it make me want to go out and ride in the rain? Not.

Follow-up 2017: The jacket’s white inner lining started to peel. I do not recommend this jacket. My current jacket is a Cannondale. Much better.

Bikes and Components Put to the Stress Test

October 20, 2010

Microbac's Steve Ferry, right, confers with an Interbike attendee

While trolling the booths at Interbike Las Vegas, I came across an interesting photo of a contraption that plays a vital role in bicycle industry product safety.

It’s a servo-hydraulic Universal Testing Machine (UTM) capable of performing most cyclic fatigue test protocols. Members of Microbac Laboratories, Hauser Division, located in Boulder, Colo., were on hand. Their division is a full-service chemical, mechanical, physical, and microbiological testing laboratory.

Stress cycles at maximum load
The photo showed a crank and pedals hooked up to the UTM. “We have seven tests for cranks, spindles, and pedals,” said Russ Willacker, Associate Engineer, “with stress durations ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 cycles.” By applying constant stresses at maximum expected loads, machines can provide much faster, more accurate, documented results compared with real-life road testing.

Microbac provides a valuable service for bicycle/component manufacturers desiring to document their product’s durability. While some bicycle companies do their own testing, that sounds to me like the fox guarding the hens.

Failure is not an option
When I described my experience with short-lived bike parts, Steve Ferry, Lab Director, made an important point about testing vs. real-world experience. “Even when a product passes a test, it doesn’t necessarily mean every part will have the same lifespan. There are manufacturing variances. In some instances there are defects in the manufacturing process itself. We determine if the part holds up to a given stress test as designed.”

If a part fails under test, it’s more than likely back to the drawing board for the manufacturer.

While it’s comforting to know bikes and components are tested before being sold, a company’s dedication to quality is crucial for how long parts last.

Standards bodies
So who determines how much stress to apply and for what duration? It’s up to safety and reliability standards bodies, such as ASTM — one of the largest voluntary standards development organizations in the world – and the European Committee for Standardization (CEN). While European governments require safety/durability tests, the U.S. government does not. “Most companies do the tests anyway for liability reasons,” said Willacker.

How these standards organizations work is a bit of a mystery, but they are an integral part of any industry. Most of their members are represented by a particular industry. So someone who works at Trek, Shimano, Specialized, on so on, will be a member of a particular bicycle standards committee. There will also be engineers on a committee who have no vested interest in a particular company.

In many instances, a standard specification will be strongly influenced by the dominant manufacturer. Agreeing on standards can and does lead to disagreements that need to be negotiated among standards committee members.

The U.S. bicycle industry adheres to standards set by ASTM and the International Organization for Standardization, (ISO), which has a special technical committee for bikes.

TC149 establishes: “Standardization in the field of cycles, their components and accessories with particular reference to terminology, testing methods and requirements for performance and safety, and interchangeability.”

CEN, European Committee for Standardization, also has a specific Technical Committee, TC333, that defines European standards for cycles. Some CEN bike standards were developed before ISO published their standards, leading to strong European influences in this area. European cycle standards tend to describe minimum safety requirements, while ISO standards have encouraged companies to make bike parts a particular way so they are interchangeable.

Airline safety lesson
Ferry and Willacker are both avid cyclists. When asked for if his perspective on bike part failures has changed since he started working at Microbac, Willacker said it has. “Riding my mountain bike and making a jump, I start thinking about the stresses involved.”

He believes the airline industry has the right idea. Airlines routinely schedule parts replacements, rather than chancing a catastrophic fatigue failure. It’s a good policy to keep in mind as your bike parts pile on the miles.

Bike Trailers for the Low-Tech

October 14, 2010

Maya Cycle's trailer turns into a wheelbarrow.

One of these days — when bikes rule the roads once again — we will find bike trailers indispensable, like the covered wagon. For Maya Cycle and Free Parable Design, that day can’t come too soon.

I saw their promising trailers at Interbike Las Vegas. I preface this review by saying I do not own a trailer, but wish I did. It can be useful for carrying large loads, like groceries, or for the bike camping tourist.

Maya Cycle a wheelbarrow
Maya Cycle offers a 16-inch single-wheel-style trailer. What I like about it is that it turns it into a wheelbarrow.

The trailer latches to solid or quick-release axles and weighs in at 13 pounds. The 16-inch tube tire is readily available. I’m told that a larger wheel is preferable because the tires last longer. It looks like a well-thought-out unit.

Free Parable T1
The Free Parable T1 is a cleverly designed two-wheel trailer (there’s also a single-wheel, the T2) that morphs into a piece of luggage. Its designer, Jung-Hui Weng, grew up in Taiwan and enjoyed riding his mountain bike to Chaishan Nature Park, where monkeys frolic. If you don’t believe me, just check out this website.

Jung-Hui Weng shows his low-tech trailer and water bottle cages.

Weng and co-worker Hwai Chen, based in San Jose, Calif., embrace the idea of “low-tech,” which is all about finding simple, elegant “cave man” solutions. That helps explain their whimsical logo.

Their trailer weighs in at 14 pounds and can carry about 66 pounds, same as the Maya Cycle. The Free Parable website shows how the trailer converts to a piece of luggage, complete with a bag cover. Neat.

Free Parable also has an unconventional water bottle cage, which, while solving one problem, creates another. The Monkii cage uses a Velcro strap, meaning it can accommodate any size water bottle. Clever. However, that means you need to stop to take a drink. That’s OK for some riders.

You can undo the Velcro to get to the bottle, or you can easily remove the bottle cage, which snaps into the bike frame mount. The Monkii cage can also serve as a tool bag or a waterproof bag. The Free Parable Design website has all the details.

Velcro becomes a low-tech solution for a water bottle cage.

Cateye INOU Explores On-bike Video

October 11, 2010

Cateye INOU takes video and still pics, and records the route with GPS

Cateye had a couple of neat products to preview at Interbike Las Vegas, but with the “cat eye” logo barely visible on their booth, I almost missed them.

Cateye has been a part of the cycling scene since 1946, and over the decades has been a leader in developing lights, reflectors, and bike computers. This year Cateye branches out to video cameras and a light that turns off by itself when not in use. No more burned out batteries!

Video camera & GPS
The INOU (ee-know) video camera with GPS is not available now (spring 2011), but I saw a working demo and looked at some videos produced by the camera. It’s a fairly sleek device that mounts on the handlebar. Attachments will be available for mounting on the arm, helmet, etc., at a later date.

The camera’s two AA batteries will record for about an hour, I was told. It will go for about eight hours when filming one shot per second or two (with other time intervals available). This method is not bad for getting an idea of where you rode.

There is no audio. At first I found this curious, and attributed it to battery power savings. However, after I thought about it, I realized audio is not a big deal. We’ve all heard the rumble sound wind creates while riding. Who needs it?

Of course lots of people have jury-rigged camera mounts, but if you’re serious about filming your ride and you want a turnkey solution, Cateye is the way to go. Cost: $250 retail.

GPS is an interesting wrinkle. It records your route so you can share it with your friends in a social media environment on a Cateye website. This also creates a repository of GPS routes available for download, I would assume. It’s a nice way to blend social media with bikes and electronics. Roadbikereview has a nice video interview with Ellen from Cateye.

Flashing lights
While flashing lights – rear and front – are nothing new, Cateye has added an automated turn-off feature. After 50 seconds of inactivity, the light turns off automatically. Cost: $30 retail for one light.

Bike computer
In an on-again, off-again product life cycle, the wireless Adventure brings back the altimeter and gradient function missing from the Cateye product line. The unit is small, but the drawback of being small is that the numbers are tiny. Speed is the largest number shown.

Cateye U.S. headquarters is located in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. What a great place to have a bike business.

Cateye flashing reflector turns off by itself after 30 seconds of no motion.

Classic Names & Steel Bikes at Interbike

October 5, 2010

Bianchi Campione is an affordable steel bike

What’s in a name? Apparently a lot when it comes to brands. How many gyrations has the Schwinn name, the Raleigh name, etc., gone through since inception? The brands lives on, but the owners change hands faster than you can say farfegnugen.

Bianchi celebrated 125 years in 2010, which gives pause. Let’s see, when was the bike invented? Founder Edoardo Bianchi was truly an inspiration. Left to grow up at an orphanage in Milan, the young sprite saved every penny in his youth.

Bianchi Pista Classica and Tipo Corsa steel bikes at Interbike

By the time he was 20, he had saved enough money to strike out on his own. He had a vision of building quality products and he was honest, which can get you in trouble when you run a business, but Eduardo stayed true to his values throughout.

In cycling, his claim to fame was building bikes with wheels of equal size, something of a novelty at the turn of the century. He also chose a rather unusual color for his bikes — celeste. I’ve never liked it, but when you see that color you instantly know it’s a Bianchi.

Bianchi is now owned by an Italian who immigrated to Sweden, under the company name Grimaldi Industries. I own a Bianchi Castro Valley, a smart commute bike.

Shimano down-tube shifters on the Campione!

All this history leads me to the point of the story: What I like about Bianchi is that it hasn’t given up on steel. Carbon fiber (and aluminum) has its place, but so does steel. Bianchi not only has two beautiful, high-end steel frames, it offers an affordable road bike, with down-tube shifters no less! Apparently there is a warehouse somewhere… The Bianchi sales rep at Interbike Las Vegas said the bike was spec-ed this way at the request of many bike shop owners.

This comes as no surprise. The majority of bikes are made of steel. The higher end has given way to carbon fiber in the past decade, but a lot of riders just want reliable steel bikes costing $700-$1,200, or more if they can find it.

I also ran across a steel frame from Colnago, amongst the Italian company’s many carbon-fiber bikes on display. My favorite bike was a 1980 Colnago — black frame with a gold Ofmega headset and yellow decals. Bellissima!

Colnago Master steel frame shown at Interbike

Up and coming Brands: Linus and All-City

October 1, 2010

Linus bikes -- affordable, reliable transportation

I’m a minimalist when it comes to bikes. I don’t need the latest and greatest, just reliable transportation and proven technology, the rallying cry of two young bike companies I came across at Interbike – Linus and All-City.

Linus, started by South Africans Adam McDermott and Chad Kushner in Venice, Calif., is a company after my heart. Their website describes their philosophy of how they see the bike in our high-tech world. It takes a page out of my cycling manifesto:

“Inspired by French bicycle design of the 50’s and 60’s we have created a bicycle that preserves the simple elegance, and pure form of that golden era but has all the benefits of modern comfort and reliability.”

In other words, bikes with relaxed geometries, steel frames, 36-spoke wheels, three speeds or single speed meant for urban riding.

Linus has a standard and Dutch frame design

Several models have the “Dutch” look minus the top tube, while the Roadster Sport and Classic have the traditional diamond frame. At this time they have two frame sizes for the Roadster Sport, and one frame size for the Dutch style bikes.

Their excellent website has all the details about their bikes, and check out all the great press they’ve been receiving: Today Show, Harper’s Bazaar, LA Times, and more. Impressive.

All-City on the right track

All-City bikes have their roots in the track bike.

All-City reflects its origins in Minneapolis, Minn., where bike racing tracks can be found nearby. It’s reflected in the design of their two frames – Big Block and Nature Boy – both of which have rear track dropouts.

This description of Nature Boy tells you where their sentiments lie: “The Nature Boy is your new best bro (or brah if you’re from Colorado, where they take cyclocross seriously). Race the crap out of it, ride singletrack, gravel, or commute until your heart’s content. Woooooooooooo!”

I was impressed by the attention to detail given the chrome moly frames. The rear dropout triangle has a nice artifact that looks like a bridge. The badge is nice too.

Big Block is meant for the track, but could be an around-town bike as well.

I met Jeff Frane, who handles Sales and Marketing for this small company. His web page is about as sincere a statement as you can get for why All-City bikes got started. He sees the day when big bike companies will turn a blind eye to track bikes, and he wants to be part of something that will be around when that happens.

Cycling is a quirky activity to be sure, with enough niches to fill the Grand Canyon. I don’t see that niche going away any time soon, thanks to people like Jeff and companies like All-City.

Something I noticed about both companies is their superb websites. The owners understand that the website is the face of a company. They shout out – “cycling is fun, cycling is hip.” Way to go. Linus Facebook.

All-City has a nice selection of components and chrome moly frames.

Timbuk2 Bags Send the Right Message

September 27, 2010

Timbuk2 at Interbike 2010. A quality product made in San Francisco.

Since I focus on the Bay Area, I’ll start my Interbike coverage with Timbuk2, based in San Francisco, and go from there.

Having owned a Timbuk2 bag for about 10 years, I have a bias for the product. Other good bags, some made in San Francisco, are sold. I can vouch for the Timbuk2 quality. It’s top-notch.

Timbuk2 is best known for its classic “messenger” single-strap shoulder bag, a concept that no doubt pre-dates recorded civilization. Greg Bass, Director of Product and Design, talks about the company history in an audio interview (2:05 m):

What I like about the single-strap bag over a backpack is that the bag sits at waist-level or below, lowering your center of gravity. In addition to improved bike handling with a lower center of gravity, your back is exposed to the air, which reduces sweating.

However, the shoulder bag has one minor drawback – the weight wants to shift to your side as you ride. A waist strap reduces but does not eliminate the weight shift. I need to shift the bag back into position on a regular basis, but for me the advantages outweigh this annoyance.

Customize colors, fabric
Timbuk2 offers a wealth of color and fabric customization with its three-panel bags, and these custom bags are made in San Francisco, so we can support the Made in USA label.

Many improvements have been made since I bought my bag. For example, there is now reflective material built into two adjustable buckle staps. The old bags have plastic buckle reflectors, which I immediately lost.

Another neat feature of the custom bags is that you can choose a lining color. I can’t tell you how many times I couldn’t find something buried inside my black bag. Now you can order a white liner. That should help.

I won’t go into detail regarding all the bags made by Timbuk2, which includes everything from messenger bags to seat packs and tour bags. You can get that on the company website, as well as place an order.

Interbike Trade Show Livens Las Vegas

September 25, 2010

Working together to put more people on bicycles more often

What I like most about the Interbike International Trade Expo, which took place in Las Vegas, Sept. 22-24, is the chance to meet and talk to fellow cyclists. It was a pleasure to meet a few of the show’s luminaries — Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford (Clif Bar/Luna owners) and Bob Roll, who needs no introduction.

What would the Interbike folks do without Clif Bar, PowerBar, GU, and the other food supplement companies? Starve! We thank them for their hospitality.

It’s also a place for companies to show their latest products and build some industry buzz. While I haven’t been to Interbike since the 1980s, my Rip Van Winkle appearance gives me some perspective on how the bike industry has changed.

Refined bike industry
I saw a refined industry spanning a more diverse cycling audience, with fewer of the Mom and Pop inventors. As one bike shop owner told me recently, the days of the hobbyist starting a shop on a lark are over. Competition is fierce. A sound business plan is required. The same goes for inventing new products.

The bike industry is weathering the economic downturn, which in some instances may even help as people look for more affordable ways to get to work, and those who are unemployed have more time for riding.

Global recession
So what better place to have a bike show than Las Vegas — the poster child for the global recession, with its enormous half-finished casino/condo projects lining The Strip, and unemployment pushing 15 percent. Instead of seeing bleary-eyed gamblers slumped over slot machines, I saw dozens of runners pounding the pavement in the early morning hours on Las Vegas Blvd., and Interbike attendees riding around on bikes. What’s the world coming to?

With the huge Sands Convention Center as the backdrop for Interbike, I zeroed in on the part of the bike industry I care about most — cycling as a way of life, down-to-earth (affordable) bikes, and my one weakness — cyclometers.

By the way, Interbike is one of 60 U.S. trade shows owned by the Nielsen company (as in Nielsen TV ratings). Nielsen has annual revenues of more than $5 billion.

Two days later, with a sore back and feet from walking the halls, I’m ready to post some of what I saw. Stay tuned.

Showroom floor. Of course, Shimano.