Thursday, June 25, 2009

6 minutes 28 seconds of guilty pleasure...

Watching guys crash bikes isn't fun - unless it's funny. Here's a clip of a Euro DH even from the early '90s with some wild wipe outs. A couple of the stair crashes are classic.

(What's playing: The Byrds Eight Miles High)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Not always a rant...

It is really easy to rant on about subjects I'm passionate about. However, I'm sure it gets a bit boring so I'll bring y'all some good news about the good guys of the bike industry who I know and who have recently been seen in the bike rags.

Bike Magazine - June 2009 issue. There are two great bits about two bike industry folks. The first is a one-pager about Sean Virnig of Rawland Cycles. Sean's a good guy who deserves all the kudos possible about his frames. He's really stepped out on a limb with his brand to create a niche bike that really wasn't being addressed - and he hit one 0ut of the park.

The second one is about Joel Smith and Tomac Bikes. This is kind of a double bonus. Not only is John Tomac one of the greatest, nicest guys of mountain biking, but Joel has resurrected the Tomac brand and put some fire and passion into it to create a great range of mountain bikes - as it deserves. Joel works his ass off for the brand. He even bared it for the camera in a classic guy reading room shot. Classic, Joel.

The third is from a recent issue of BRAIN. F.K. Day is the executive VP of SRAM and the president of World Bicycle Relief. I first met F.K. in the late '80s as he made the bike shop rounds peddling (pedaling?) a contraption called a Grip Shift. The first Grip Shift was for road bikes and it was installed on the end of the drop bar. The bar had to be drilled for the cable housing to run through it and F.K. hit up bike shops installing Grip Shift shifters on employees bikes. After I left retail for the manufacturing side, I would see F.K. at all the bike shows - Eurobike, Taipei, Interbike. He always remembered me and we caught up in those brief minute passings. He's done some really great things with World Bicycle Relief and recently finished the Solvang half-century on one of the 65 pound Africa bikes his organization distributes to aid and health-care workers in Africa (they've delivered over 50,000 bikes). His ride raised $12,230 for the organization in donations.

So, Sean, Joel, and F.K. - I salute you guys for what you have accomplished. Bravo!

(What's playing: The Flying Burrito Brothers Sin City)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

There is some good reading on the web, really...

There's a lot of drivel out there written by folks with opinions (including yours truly), but there have been a couple of nice pieces recently that are worthy of spending a few minutes of your day reading.

One is a New York Times bit called "The Case for Working With Your Hands," by Matthew B. Crawford. His story really hits home for me.

The other is a offers a bit more levity. The Death of Angry Bike Mechanics is a nice piece of satire with some truth on Outside Magazine on-line. I have been known to throw up my hands (or throw something) in desperation when something just seems stupid, but I too have mellowed. Haven't thrown anything in, well, to tell you the truth, I can't throw anything because I have something wrong with my rotator cuff on my throwing arm and I look like a girl when I throw with my left arm. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

(What's playing: The Derailers Corn Pickin')

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More bike industry rambling...

Last month, BRAIN reported that Best Buy would be selling "electric powered personal transportation products at some of our stores on the West Coast..." These electric powered personal transportation products (electric bikes for those lower on the IQ scale like me) will be available ranging from $499 to $2,000.

So why is a company like Best Buy (who I'm sure is facing tough times in this retail environment with many big retail establishments shutting down their operations) getting into electric bikes? Is it not hard enough selling a computer? How many gigahertz of internal speedy processing Ram-a-lama ding-dong do you want with that?

It seems "many IBD's have an I don't need no stinking motor culture that has really inhibited them from taking electric seriously," says "e-bike expert" Ed Benjamin. He further states that "Best Buy would be superior (on selling e-bikes) because they are about selling things and making money, rather than a lifestyle or a bike culture."

Okay, I don't have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the fact that an e-bike is not a bicycle. It's as much a bicycle as a moped is a bicycle. Sure it's got two wheels and a crankset with pedals and some of them even have derailleurs. But the dang things weigh as much as 3-4 times what a "bicycle" weighs. Who wants to pedal an 80 pound beast when you have that little switch at the ready to fire up those batteries? It's an electric vehicle that just happens to have cranks and pedals.

I also have a problem with e-bike companies expecting bike shops to carry these e-bikes (or motor bikes with pedals). Focusing on your core business is what bike shops need to be doing. It's also something Best Buy probably needs to do as well. Instead, as Mr. Benjamin states, Best Buy is interested in "selling things and making money." A very noble pursuit, but when it dilutes and strays from your company's focus, the gains are always short-term and short-lived. Best Buy will sell some units (and that's what they are to them - units), but revisit this in a year or two and I doubt e-bikes will be in Best Buy.

Further in the article, Larry Pizzi of Currie Technologies, who is providing Best Buy with Izip e-bikes (now there's an original name - put an "I" in front of anything and it's immediately hip, although it didn't work with Ron Horse) says "bike dealers are just not thoroughly embracing the category." However, once Izip e-bikes start flying out of Best Buy, "dealers will have no choice but to "get on the band wagon."" Don't hold your breath.

Again, dealers have enough going on already keeping up with the new technologies of 11-speed, new suspension system systems, hydraulic brakes...I find it hard to imagine that they have time to devote to understanding electric bikes and diagnosing potential problems. And yet again, this all comes down to focusing on your core business. Are you a bicycle shop or are you an electric bike shop? I'm a bicycle shop and I don't have the time or energy to learn about e-bikes because that's not what my focus is. I actually think e-bikes are pretty cool and a great way for folks to get from here to there without utilizing a fossil fueled vehicle. So don't blame bicycle shops for their lack of interest in e-bikes.

And even if an e-bike comes into a bike shop how in the heck is that skinny, no upper body bike geek going to lift that e-bike into the work stand to work on it? Good luck, Best Buy.

(What's playing: The Kinks Low Budget)

What's wrong with this picture...

Okay, I forgive a previous entry where I beat up on a certain brand for photographing a bike for an ad with gaps in the bar tape. This one takes the cake for absolute no attention to detail. Sometimes the ad agency owns you. In this case, the ad agency owes Road ID a freewheel.


(What's playing: re-listening to last Thursday's Bakersfield & Beyond show)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rambling industry post...

Since I’m not “in” the bike industry any more, I rely on Bicycle Retailer & Industry News (BRAIN) to keep abreast of the latest happenings within the bike industry. My little slice of the world is too small to understand what is happening with the rest of the bike world. It's also been a while since I had a good rant.

If I didn’t read BRAIN, I wouldn’t have the slightest inkling that the high-end mountain bike and road bike markets are “drying up.” Instead I would think they are ripe markets based on the development of new, fancy carbon frames found on both mountain and road bikes. If one was to pick up the latest bike magazine, one would see ads and reviews for the latest multi-thousand dollar rig.

The fact is that full-suspension mountain bike sales are down 19 percent and that’s making bike company big-wigs nervous. These companies are busy polishing their trophy bikes which account for only a small fraction of the industry and they are totally ignoring 90% of the market. Bike companies are narrow minded in their focus of the enthusiast market – those buyers who used to drop thousands of dollars on the latest and greatest and who typically throw their bike in their car to transport it to where they start their ride.

I’ve seen some reports that claim the bike industry is immune to the current financial crisis that is plaguing auto companies. Be careful. If bike companies believe this and continue on their current path of spending the majority of their dollars developing and marketing the bicycle version of the SUV, the carbon full-suspension bike and those $7,000 road bikes that riders are afraid to ride through a dirt parking lot, they may find them selves on Congress’ doorstep asking for a bailout.

My meaning of “the bicycle version of the SUV” isn’t the literal meaning as in bikes that can carry loads (although it is debatable exactly how much of a load an SUV can carry – my Passat Wagon has more cargo space behind the seats that some of those leather clad SUV monsters. Rather it relates to the product the industry produces and pushes down the throat of the consumer whether they need it or not.

There’s a monstrous gap in the availability of simple bikes that can very effectively bridge the gap between the mass-market crap that is out there and the bikes that are priced in the stratosphere. I think there’s hope on the horizon. However, the bikes being produced for this market are still too complicated and over-designed.

I commute on a 1969 Raleigh Superbe 3-speed. It’s perfect. I park it in front of the shop during the day and invariably get folks wanting to buy it because it is simple, it’s classic, it looks like a bike. Internally geared hub bikes are becoming popular, but the are typically over-priced for what the market will bear. Or they are overly designed. Case in point is the Shimano Coasting group which is centered around an automatic shifting 3-speed hub. It’s a great concept, but the package it was wrapped in is a little too “out there.” First the hubs have these big chrome domes that cover the dropouts on both frame and fork, the hubs require a 10mm hex wrench to remove the wheel, the spoke count at 24 is too low, and the Coasting bike I’ve had in the shop has no eyelets on the frame that allow simple installation of racks or fenders. In one case, I drilled and tapped the dropout faces so a rack could be installed. I’m not going to do that again without charging an appropriate amount.

The BRAIN article states that dealers are resistant to selling Coasting bikes. Yes, we are. But it’s not because we don’t like the concept. We just don’t like the packaging. There’s a quote in the article by an industry consultant, Jay Townley that goes “Shimano’s Coasting – it’s gone nowhere because of the endemic prejudice in the industry. As an industry we don’t collectively reach out and make them (entry-level cyclists) feel comfortable.” I call B.S.

First, these “entry-level cyclists” don’t want to be called “cyclists.” I don’t even think they want to be called bicyclists, let alone bikers. They just want to ride a bike. And they don’t want to have to spend $500 to get a simple bike. Bike companies are in such a mind-set to load bikes up with “features” and “selling points” that they have neglected to realize that those features aren’t useful and only serve to jack the price of the bike up and make it heavier. I’m mainly talking about suspension forks and suspension seat posts on “hybrids” and “comfort” bikes. Get rid of those things in favor of simpler parts, drop the price – or add in some real benefits such as a lighter frame/fork or upgraded bottom bracket and hubs.

There is a real opportunity in the bike industry to meet the needs of the folks who need a bike for transportation. Folks who want to ride a bike, but are intimidated of bike shops with their rows and rows of bikes that have price tags that have more zeroes that the price tag on their car. Folks who don’t want to kit up in the costume to ride their bike. Heck folks who may not even want to wear a helmet on their bike ride.

I think I’ve rambled on enough. Time to get ready to hop on my Raleigh Superbe and head to the shop. I also won’t be wearing a helmet and I’ll be wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

(What's playing: KWMR Morning Glory)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dave Alvin interview - check it out...

Tonight is Bakersfield and Beyond night on KWMR, a bi-weekly radio show I co-host with my friend Amanda. If anyone is a Dave Alvin fan, you'll want to check out tonight's show. We pre-recorded an interview with Dave last week and will be airing it tonight on our show between 6:30 - 8:30 pacific time. We'll also be spinning some tunes from bands Dave's been in or produced as well as artists who inspire him. Check it out on the air or streaming from your computer wherever you might be in the world!

(What's playing: Buck Owens Johnny B. Goode)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Group hug...

Pretty cool - bikeradar.com picked up my piece on the opening of Bill's Trail in Samuel P. Taylor State Park to bikes I wrote yesterday.

(What's playing: Lucinda Williams Concrete and Barbed Wire)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Four trails...

Recently, there has been talk about opening four single-track trails to bikes in Marin County. Yes, that's four as in 4 trails out of the hundreds in the county. You'd think that opening 4 trails would be fairly benign, but nope, it's got anti-bike folks all up in arms. I started writing the following several months ago and didn't follow up to finish it until just yesterday. I'm not an activist by any stretch of the imagination. This is probably because I'm not at any end of any spectrum. I feel that I am middle-of-the-road with regards to just about anything I do. So, without further adieu...

The conflict between bicyclists and equestrians and bicyclists and pedestrians is an odd one. All three groups enjoy being outside. All three are passionate about their activity of choice. All three spend considerable sums of money on their mode of locomotion and the bits and baubles that go along with each activity. And all three are members of the same community.

My choice of activity is a bicycle. I don’t like the term “mountain biker” or even “biker.” I am a bicyclist. Sometimes I do ride a mountain bike in the dirt. Sometimes I ride my road bike in the dirt. It’s an odd juxtaposition in that the mountain bike was arguably created on the flanks of Mount Tamalpais and yet it is outlawed on its trails.

I’ve read arguments about keeping bikes off single-track trails. They usually always point to potential conflict and potential damage to the trail. However, my personal experience is that I’ve never had a conflict with an equestrian or hiker and I’ve never pummeled a trail into fine dust or grooved one down so that it is a ten inch trough. What the studies do fail to mention, is that the other groups simply don’t want bicycles on the trails. They were there first and they want the trails to themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’d love to have something like a beautiful trail all to myself. I’d love to have the freeway all to myself when I drive into the city. I’d love to have a row of seats on a crowded airplane to myself when I fly. But those things just aren’t going to happen and I really don’t mind sharing the freeway when it becomes a parking lot or a row of seats with people on either side of me on a 14 hour flight (and I’ve taken over 70 crowded 14 hour flights). And I don’t mind sharing a trail with equestrians or hikers.

The types of conflict that may be experienced are largely self-created. Either the person not on the bike just dislikes bikes and the situation becomes confrontational when faced with a bike or the person on the bike wonders aloud why the person can’t see that they are coming and just get out of the way. In either case, education and respect is a great tool to eliminate conflicts. After all, we educate out children to be tolerant of people who are different than themselves. Why did the kids who learned tolerance forget those lessons and grow up to be intolerant of bikes?

Any time there are two sides, there will be conflict. Conflict is stressful. Why do folks create and stoke conflict in their lives. The bicycle vs. equestrian/hiker conflict is akin to the Proposition 8 yes/no conflict. One side simply doesn’t want to share what they are legally able to do with the other. That comparison is a stretch, but there are similarities. I don’t know what it is about folks that make them wake up every morning and hate something so passionately that they want to make it illegal.

Initially, almost a quarter century ago, bikes were banned from trails because of perceived environmental issues to the trail as a direct result of tires making contact with the trail. When that argument was shown the door, the next tool the anti-bike advocates use is safety, a very emotional tool. No one wants to be in an un-safe situation. Bicyclists threaten the safety of equestrians and hikers. That is a very loaded statement and one that the anti-bike folks use judiciously.

Playing to emotions is a powerful tool. A bicyclist riding and passing a hiker at reasonable speed can be an incredibly safe experience much like the fact that cars traveling in the opposite direction pass each other at combined speeds approaching 120 mph. Yet, we feel perfectly comfortable with a car hurtling toward us at a speed that would reduce both cars to rubble only to pass by less than a body length. That feeling of safety can happen on the trail with all users – folks on bicycles, folks on foot, and folks on horseback. How that happens is through education and mutual respect. I don’t have the answers as to how that education takes place or how it would be enforced (self-enforcement by user groups has been effective in some situations), but that’s how it happens – education and mutual respect.

(What's playing: John Doe Twin Brother)

Monday, June 1, 2009

He's at it again...

If there is one true hero in cycling, it is Graeme Obree. Read the book, watch the movie. They guy is definitely self-made and kicked the collective cycling establishment in the nuts when he broke the hour record on a home-made bike. And not one to rest easy, he's at it again. When companies spend millions of dollars on research to make bikes faster, Mr. Obree makes his own bikes and this one is a beauty. My favorite part of the bike is the drillium rear derailleur. Check out the full story on bikeradar.com for pictures of the bike. As they say (in full Scottish brogue), if it's not Scottish, it's crrrap.

(What's playing: Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash Silver Wings)