Archive for the ‘Urban Review’ Category

Steel Is Real

April 22, 2009

In 2007, Wired magazine (among others) noted the resurgence in steel bikes in an article titled Cycling Purists Rejoice: Steel is Back.  Now, two years and trade shows later, the question remains: has steel finally “arrived”?

Truth be told, steel never actually went away.  But it’s market share sure did.

What has changed in the last 20 years is the inclusion of other worthwhile framebuilding materials.  As widely discussed, and beyond the scope of this article, each frame material (or combination thereof) has a it’s own positive and negative attributes.  Make a brave stand for your preferred frame material(s) on one of the more popular online cycling forums and you’ll see what I mean.

However, there is one important thing that separates steel from the competition … it remains to be the choice of artisan framebuilders.  Here are a few visuals to emphasize the point:

  • Ellis Cycles — Dave Wages might be the “new kid”, but he’s been on the block for a while.
  • Cicli Polito — Award winning handcrafted steel by Dan Polito.
  • Vanilla Bicycles — Sacha Whites’ instant legacy.

As you may already know, none of the three builders above fit into the stereotypical “retro-grouch” archetype.  Rather, they (and others like Sam Whittingham of Naked Bicycle and Design) are young, hip, savvy, and likely to write a blog or two.  More to the point, these steel bikes are a youthful stand against the bike mass-ufacturers — a symbol of individuality and appreciation of hands-on craftsmanship.  This movement against the mainstream is what has really spurred the revival in steel … especially lugged steel bikes.

The other somewhat obvious contributor to steel’s “comeback” is the fixie (fixed gear) factor.  Prior to the development of the specialty niche fixies, like Milwaukee Bike’s Bruiser, the common fixie was a used lugged steel bike with horizontal dropouts.  In other words, the vintage steel bike made the perfect platform for an affordable urban bike that could take some abuse, provide simple transportation, and allow the Mission Hipster a platform for self expression.

Of course, the growing popularity of these handmade steel and simple transport bikes is not lost on the major manufacturers.  So in an effort to expand this “new” market niche, the manufacturers have gone back to what originally brought their success … steel bikes.  The reason for the latency into the market is the slow churning cogs of mass production.  Tim Jackson, the brand manager of Masi Bicycles recently wrote / blogged / Facebooked / Tweeted that Masi already wrapped up their 2010 model line-up specifications before the 2009’s even hit the stores.  Obviously, having to anticipate trends, production, and materials almost two years in advance is a tough task.

That said, Urban Velo recently published a brief list of commonly available steel road bikes.  When combining this list with the hundreds of a custom frame builders, and the hundreds of thousands of vintage steel bikes still on the road, it is reasonable to speculate that steel still dominates the bike industry.

Three other highlights that may, depending on who you ask, contribute to the allure of steel:

  • Early versions of carbon fiber bikes are literally “coming unglued”.  Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done about frames like this, but thankfully the industry has improved and refined the carbon frame construction process.
  • Steel is both repairable and less likely to have a catastrophic failure.  Using my personal steel commuter bike as an example, I have crashed it hard AND (I can’t believe that I am admitting this) I have driven my car into garage while the bike was still attached to the roof rack.  Sure the frame has a small ding in the top tube … but I have ridden it 1000’s of miles since.
  • Steel manufacturing techniques and materials continue to improve and evolve.  While other materials currently receive more coverage from the cycling media, the makers of steel haven’t been dormant.

Steel is a great medium for creating bicycles … it is plentiful, affordable, easily welded, stunning in the right hands, and has a handcrafted appeal like Grandma’s apple pie.  Contrary to the opening statement of this article, steel has never really been in a “comeback” position, rather it has simply lost some of the mainstream spotlight.  But like anything worthwhile, consumers will eventually eschew the latest-and-greatest in favor of the time-tested favorite.

Bryan @ Renaissance Bikes bio coming..

Jango Bikes Now Available in the US

April 16, 2009

The line of bicycles by the name of Jango are finally hitting the US market this month.  The line is brought to the market by Topeak, makers of cycling tools and accessories.  We first saw them at Interbike 2008 with the catchy colors and designs on the paint schemes. There are 6 different models ranging from 26″/700c and men’s or women’s specific.


The unique design of these bikes are the “ports” that allow plug and play off many various accessories including cages, fenders, racks and so on.  The number is sitting around 30* for all these accessories but more are being released as the months pass.

We are looking forward to the first reviews of consumers and stocking shops as the bikes are built and put on the shops floors.  The only downfall I see of these bikes are the specific oriented accessories.  You won’t be able to walk into any bike shop and purchase these accessories off the show room floor.  I’m intrigued to see how dedicated these parts will be, years ago Trek tried to have a dedicated plug and play rear racks on their Navigator (comfort hybrid) series.  The system ran for a couple years and now all their frames are standard braze on rack months.

*Here are the accessories listed on the Jango website as of date:
U-Beam Lock
Side Frame for U BeamRack
Trailer Fender
QuickTrack Tubular Rack, Front
Tubular Lowrider with Kickstand
Trailer Pole and Flag
Side Pannier Bag
Handlebar Bag
Wedge Pack
Topeak Ratchet Rocket
Topeak Mini Morph™
Topeak Mt. Rocket ALT MasterBlaster
Topeak BabySeat
Topeak Handy Phone Pack
MTX TrunkBag
MTX TrunkBag EXP
Adjustable Chain Cover

DeFender™ M3 for 26″ Bike, Rear
Panoram JV12
RedLite™ UFO, mini

Dynamo Front Light (EQ models)
Topeak RedLite™ UFO
WhiteLite™ JP 2W

WhiteLite™ HP 2W PowerPack
Easy Mount Kickstand
QuickTrack Tubular Rack, Rear

QuickTrack U BeamRack
Topeak Modula™ Cage
Fender for 700C Bike, Front

Fender for 700C bike, Rear
Topeak DeFender™ M1 for 26″ Bike, Front
Cable Lock

Velo Orange Zeppelin Fenders : On Review

March 29, 2009

There’s an assortment of Velo Orange products on review and the first one are very cool Zeppelin 52mm fenders.  These aluminum fenders are full coverage with a beautiful matte finish.  I actually prefer this matte finish over the high polish of other metal fenders.  My worry of scuffs and dings are very low due to the finish.


The setup of these guys was a bit more in depth than a standard SKS or Planet Bike fender.  Due to the shape and length of the metal fenders some fenders/bending was needed.   Using a standard set of side cutters worked well and some patience with setting up the aluminum struts.

Width : The fenders fit up to a 44mm tire, due to my frame type I can only run 32mm tires with fenders, and the brakes (Tektro R536) required some fine skilled “bending” of the fender to fit through the brake.  Every time I would brake the fender would flex, finally I fine tuned it to work with out flexing.

Length : Front fender is 80cm and the rear is 110cm long.  They give a good full coverage but could use an extra mud flap to catch things from flying on to the rider behind me.  The front fender also doesn’t allow the bike to sit on my roof rack.  Quite a bummer as I use the roof rack daily to get from home to work in the mornings.

So far in the week I’ve had these fenders installed I’ve been super excited and thrilled by them.  The looks alone catch me and others eyes, also I’m coming to like the tinging of gravel and sand on the metal as I’m riding down rough roads.

Two thumbs up for a set of $48.00 fenders with all the needed hardware, and pre drilled!!

Xtracycle Build : 10 Step Build Process

March 28, 2009

This has been a long time coming but a few snafu’s in the second week of riding the bike caused the Xtracycle to get “hung up” until I could have someone fabricate a metal bridge for me.  Without further excuses :

Step One
: Remove your rear wheel, derailleur, chain and brakes from the bike.  Put these to the side as you will need them shortly.

Step Two
:  Attach the carpet material to the Front Attachment Plate (FAP) and then gather these parts: French Nut (2), Spacer Washer (2) (if you have a 130mm rear end) 32mm bolts (2), FAP Bolt, FAP, washer and nut


Step Three : Thread 32mm bolts through Free Radical and into your French Nut and Spacer Washer (if needed.) Do not tighten as now you are going to sit the drops out of your bike in between Spacer Washer and French Nut.


Step Four :  Align and hold with left hand your Free Radical so it is sitting FAP above chainstay bridge (if you have a chainstay.)  I attached my FAP bolt through the tongue of the Free Radical, behind my chainstay bridge, through the FAP and finally into the washer bolt. Do not tighten should be only hand tight.

Step Five : Tighten FAP bolt securely. Making sure drop outs are pressed against French Bolt, tighten 32mm bolt, you may need an adjustable or cone wrench to hold the French Bolt into place.

Step Six : Reinstall Rear Wheel, I needed to purchase a larger rear rotor (203mm) as this is what the Xtracycle is set up with for more stopping power and heat displacement.

Step Seven :Reinstall Rear Derailleur and Brake with extra long cables and housing provided by Xtracycle.   I needed even more brake housing with this than Xtracycle provided as I run full length housing down my bike to my disc brake.

Step Eight : Add the chain links to your old chain, reinstall chain.  Please make sure to check the life of your chain/cassette before doing this.  If you they are worn it will cause the new segment of chain to slip. Click here if you need help adjusting your derailleur.


Step Nine : Check everything over, refer to Xtracycle and your owners manual for specific questions.


Step Ten : Go ride already!


Notes: Please grease all threads and bolts.  If there is interest of specific directions on parts please let me know.  This is a brief run down to show that building an Xtracycle is not as difficult or daunting if you have some bike mechanic skills!

Abio Folding Bikes

March 28, 2009

There is a pretty new company to the folder line up, Abio.  This company is based out of New York City and has produced two different folder models since 2007.  We will soon be previewing their belt drive, VerdionI have a soft spot in my heart for their shaft drive, Penza, bike due to the purple color.

These unique bikes are one of a kind in the United States and I hope will catch much attention as I’m riding it around or posting photos online.  The thought of a chainless, folder with no derailleurs to bother with or maybe twist up and no chains to grease up, well it feels very free to me.  As a bike mechanic I’m always worrying about my commuter bike especially while transporting it in cars, buses or flying.


A few things that really stuck out to me on the design of both their models so far:

  • Internally routed cables for less wear and tear.
  • Snappy full size folding pedals
  • Quiet!  The internal hub and belt drive provide a very quiet ride

I’ll be commuting on this bike for the next couple weeks and will be documenting the experience!

Xtracycle Build Up : Parts Bag

March 28, 2009

Arleigh is building, documenting and writing out her build up of a Salsa Ala Carte mountain bike with 650b wheels and a Xtracycle Free Radical Kit.

One thing that is a bit daunting if you aren’t mechanically inclined is the huge parts bag that comes with the Xtracycle box.  There’s bit pieces and things that simply don’t make sense.  This requires reading directions and diagrams which, let’s be honest, most folks don’t.
First I seperated all the goodies into seperate piles to make sure I had everything I needed. There’s a couple stray chainring bolts that didn’t make it to their right pile but you get the idea.

Kickstand plate, and soft, durable fabric to save your frame from being scratched.

Chainring bolts used in with screws to attach the freeloader bags to the Xtracycle frame.  This is a new design to keep the bags from having to be tied to the frame.

Avid Rollamajig. Used to help ease the bend of the derailleur cable into the derailleur.  Mostly used if the cable stop is too close to derailleur, or for older style Shimano derailleurs. (I didn’t use mine.)

French Nut. These are the parts that your frame rear dropouts sit on.  They tighten through the drop out to bolts on the outside of the Xtracycle frame.

End Caps & Spacers. These seem to have many purposes (spacers, plugs, etc), I’m still researching all the possibilities for them.

V-Rack Spacers.  Used with the above to space out your top deck.

FAP Bolt.  Used to connect Xtracycle at the FAP tab near the chainstay/bottom bracket area.

4 Shorter Bolts.  Goes with chain ring bolts to attach Freeloaders.

Washers. Big washers are used to space out 130mm frame for Xtracycle.  Small washers are used with bolts.

I’m sure that there will be more parts along the way, and uses but we will document as we go.

Xtracycle Build up : Anatomy

March 28, 2009


  • Classifieds
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    Arleigh is building, documenting and writing out her build up of a Salsa Ala Carte mountain bike with 650b wheels and a Xtracycle Free Radical Kit.  This is an on going series so stay tuned for more installments.

    Now on to explain the Xtracycle frame what all the holes, poles and brackets are for.  Going from the left to right of the picture below.  There are somethings I’m sure I left out, please refer to the diagram for exact explanations of all parts, pieces and bars.

    2935569119_5e5358b293Lovely isn’t it?

    Top & Bottom Stays with Tongue – This is the part that will bolt right behind your seat tube & bb junction, between your chainstays. Also can be used to aid you in carrying the Free Radical equipped bike upstairs.


    Front Bridge, Dropout Boss, Boss Hog, FreeLoader Boss – The Front Bridge is the piece that goes straight across and holds it all together.  The Dropout Boss is where a 32mm bolt will slide through to get to through the other side to the Boss Hog.  The Boss Hog rest against the outsides of your dropouts.  It is slightly grooved to help bite and keep everything tight. The FreeLoader Boss is threaded for a bolt and chain ring bolt and the FreeLoader attachment clips to the bolt to stay snug. The black circle you see is one of the two spaces a WideLoader attachment slides into and snaps into place.



    Kickstand Plate, Serial Number and Weight Load Table
    – Very self explanatory.  Kickstand plate is where the kickstand bolts to.  The serial number keeps track of the Xtracycle for warranty, and theft protection.  The weight load table is important when you’re carrying loads, gaining weight or lack common sense.



    Disc Brake Mount, Xtracycle Dropout and Fender Eyelets –  The disc brake mount is made for 203mm rotors.  Do not forget this, or you’ll regret it and run around for a day (like me) with out a rear brake.)  The Dropout is where your rear wheel mounts into the Xtracycle frame. Fender eyelets are key in Portland, Seattle, when carrying precious cargo like children or wives in the rain and if you plan on riding in gravel.  I’m a big fan of fenders and think you will be too.



    Rear Upright, Rear Bridge and FreeLoader BossRear uprights is the second half of what the FreeRadical kit slides into.  Rear bridge is NOT a step. FreeLoader Boss, like above is made to use a bolt and chainring bolt for the FreeRadical to snap into to tighten.


    Not pictured – Brake Post, Derailleur Hanger, Tube of Gibratter.  Please refer to diagram above for exacts

    Xtracycle Build : Getting it home

    March 28, 2009

    Arleigh is building, documenting and writing out her build up of a Salsa Ala Carte mountain bike with 650b wheels and a Xtracycle Free Radical Kit.  This is an on going series so stay tuned for more installments.

    Late this past week I took delivery of an Xtracycle Free Radical Kit at the shop.  The Xtracycle is of the 700c variety (they come in 26″ or 700c) that will be installed to my Salsa Ala Carte with 650b wheels.  The 650b wheels is why we decided to go with the 700c Free Rad Kit.  There should be enough room on the 26″ version but I’m normally running a 41.5mm tire and also would like to run Quasi Moto 2.0″ tires for light off road touring.


    Getting the Xtracycle home was a task in itself.  I was wishing I had an Xtracycle to get the Xtracycle home!  As you might know, I’m carless and work about 25 miles north of Charlotte, NC at a shop in Mooresville.  My daily commute involves a 5 mile ride from the shop to bus stop.  Here you see the Xtracycle after my 5 mile commute to the bus stop.  The Xtracycle is strapped to my rack using a bungee and a couple of tie downs.  The ride was actually pleasant, other than an unexpected deer almost running me over.  (Deer are not common on my commute.)  Unfortunately for you I had to take the Xtracycle and Freeloader bags out of the gorgeous box it came in.  The box had funny sayings all over it, telling you how to recycle or reuse it.  It saddened me to leave it at the shop but there was no way I was lugging the whole thing home safely.

    Arrive safely I did.  The bus driver thought I was on crutches and eyes were wide when I rode the last leg home through the darkness and street lights of Uptown Charlotte, NC.  I am the odd ball in our city, always carrying random things on my bike or hands.

    Next in this series is the Free Radical Anatomy.

    Knog Skink : On Review

    March 24, 2009

    Knog has become a fashion staple for many commuters with personality.  First it was their Frog lights with the snazy colors and ease of use.  Then they brought their original Aussie style for all commuter and all around cyclist to use.

    On review we have their 4 LED light, the Skink*.  In either white or red this light can be used as a headlight or a very bright taillight thanks to those 4 LEDs.  The look and feel of this light is very unique as it’s long, rubbery like their Frog lights and has an elastic band that strap around your handlebar or seatpost.


    Retailing for around $35 this light has a large punch to it.  With 5 different flashing modes you can gain attention of motorist or light your way home.  The only con is how wide the unit itself is.  On many of my handlebars I didn’t have enough space to clamp the light so it found a permanent home on the one commuter bike that I use with flat bars.

    Pros : Price for brightness.  Snazzy colors.  Unique looking
    Cons :
    Not many shops carry them.  Very wide design is not compatible with wrapped handlebars.

    I will follow up this review once I learn how long my batteries really are lasting on the unit that is under test.

    *The Knog website did not list the Skink light. This is a current light as of this articles posting date but the Knog website does not seem to be updated.

    Minnehaha Medium Canvas Saddle Bag

    March 9, 2009

    Minnehaha Canvas Saddle Bag
    Size : Medium
    Price : $69.99
    Details :

    • Max. Dimensions: 9”L x 9”H x 11”W – 650 cubic inches / 10L
    • Thick hardwood dowel inside supports heavy loads
    • Main panel of bag is a durable sandwich of 1 ½ layers of 18oz. canvas, thin padding, and an off-white canvas liner for a brighter interior.
    • Bottom reinforced with a riveted HDPE plate to keep bag from sagging under load.
    • Exterior lashing points (extra straps not included).
    • Detachable reflective tabs.
    • Interior key/wallet pocket.

    Lately there is been a trend of the retro ways. Leather and canvas are making their way back into daily cyclist life with Brooks saddles, leather grips and canvas bags.

    Canvas bags are what Minnehaha Bags are all about.  Minnehaha is run by the same sweet guys at Banjo Brothers, these two guys really understand customer service and delivery product they believe in.  Regardless of the amount of stupid emails I sent to them they always replied with an upbeat answer and sometimes even photos to explain what I was doing wrong.

    One of the best looking (in my opinion) products in the Minnehaha line is the Canvas Saddle Bag, size Medium.  The size of the bag is not too daunting when you look at it, there are some saddle bags that really are trunk bags hanging off your saddle.  Yet, the size fit everything I could want plus had some room for things I didn’t really need.

    Lots of Room : Utilizing the capacity of this bag I commuted through February with this bag strapped to the back of my Trek XO cross bike.  On a normal day I had two tubes, two tire levers, a mini pump, multi tool, spare blinky light, a rain jacket or thick thermal jersey, wallet, keys, phone and a snack.  All of this was held inside the bag with room to spare.

    Not so Idiot Proof : I’ll regret this statement but I am not a fan of Brooks saddles.  I have not been able to find one that worked for me one bit and the thought of riding one more than 10 miles makes me cringe inside.  Brooks saddles do have their benefits. Mostly the built in rings at the back of the saddle that many higher and larger saddle bags are made to hang off of.

    My saddle that I used to test the bag out with was a WTB Deva, which is considered a racing saddle by many.   Yes, they make adapters to clamp on to your rails to make it so you have these rings at the back of your saddle but the thought of clamping anything to my nice ti saddle rails felt like blasphemy to me.  I installed the saddle bag as best as possible and left it that way until I was ready to finish the review.  In an email to Mike at Minnehaha he told me the set up was all wrong.  That instead of making one large loop over the seat rails I needed to make two smaller ones.

    Incorrect strap mounting

    The leather strap provided wasn’t long enough to achieve the mounting that was recommended so I pulled out a handy toe strap from pedals I no longer use.  As you can see below the toe straps are much longer, with out the needed holes to clinch down on I was able to also get the bag much tighter to the saddle.

    Correct mounting

    When reinstalling the bag correctly I decided to move it to my Casseroll which will be seeing more commuter milage through the spring.  The new mounting style and ability to really tighten down on the strap made a huge difference on how the bag swung around on the back of the bike.  No longer did it rock back and forth or rub as much on the back of my legs.

    Overall impression and final thoughts : I really enjoy this bag.  Packing a lunch or my huge SLR camera is not difficult. The bag is not completely water proof so keep electronics and valuables in a ziplock bag.  I went through torrential downpour a couple nights and had success with things at the bottom of my bag surviving Having the weight under you instead of on the front as most people like is better for handling.  The price is right at $69.99 as it carries what I normally put in a pannier which runs about that same price.

    *Originally posted at