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Apr 11 / admin

Contour HD’s New Camera, Mayall’s Harmoinca, and NJ Singletrack

Finally got around to cutting a quick iMovie edit with some footage from a day spent with a Contour ROAM POV camera. This clips came from a day during the winter that never was, riding with Chris Dannen, Mike Ahearne and Adrian the Romanian at the ridiculsously rocky trails of Ringwood, NJ. Music is John Mayall.

Also had some issues with a camera unit spitting out technicolor footage, but all in all the ROAM unit proved rugged, easy to set up and fairly idiot-proof. Link to full review TK.

 

Feb 16 / admin

Tested: The Ultimate Beer Bike

This one’s from the archives of last winter, when I got to test a Worksman Low-Gravity model cargo bike. With miles of gritty city byways pockmarked by potholes and, on some streets, century-old bricks, Brooklyn makes a great urban testing ground. All I was lacking was cargo—lots of cargo.

Luckily, in addition to broken asphalt Brooklyn has a few pretty good breweries. After a couple of emails explaining the mission, arrangements were made for the ultimate beer run—a stop in at Brooklyn Brewery’s HQ in Willamsburg, and another at Six Point, a relatively new upstart brewer in Six Point.

The full review is at Bicycling.com, but in short – this bike dutifully hauled a full 100 pounds of beer without complaint. That’s 48 12-ounce glass bottle of Brooklyn Lager, and six full 64-ounce growlers of assorted deliciousness from Six Point. The route was about 15 miles, a good portion of which was pedaled with a full payload.

 

 

Feb 16 / admin

Country’s Oldest Bike Maker Still Going Strong

Worksman has been manufacturing bicycles in New York City for a staggering 113 years. For some historical context, that’s three years after Schwinn started in Chicago, and a few years before Henry Ford founded his car company in Detroit. But while Schwinn gave up on building bikes in the U.S. in 1991, Worksman has been steadily churning out classic recreational and industrial bikes and trikes—making it the oldest continuously running bicycle manufacturer in the country.

The company was started by a Russian immigrant named Morris Worksman, who started building bicycles and delivery carts out of a toy store near what today is the World Trade Center site. By the early 1920s the company moved to a series of larger production facilities in Brooklyn, and in 1980 it moved to its current 90,000-square-foot factory in Queens.  Today the company employs fifty workers who stay busy filling orders for factories and bikes shops across the country. Worksman president Wayne Sosin doesn’t disclose production figures, but says it’s safe to say the company makes more coaster-brake cruisers and work bicycles than any other US manufacturer.

Even if you’re not familiar with the Worksman brand, you’ve likely seen the company’s product. Those of a certain age might remember hearing the Good Humor Man coming down the street—Worksman built those carts for the better part of 40 years. Same goes for Nathan’s Hot Dog carts and the vendors at Yankees Stadium. The company’s delivery bikes in particular are ubiquitous in many U.S. cities, favored by pizza shops for their durability and stability carrying toting hot pizzas around town.

But it’s factories, which use heavy-duty trikes as a cost-effective alternative to fork-lifts to transport goods across mile-long warehouse and factory floors, that have traditionally made up most of Worksman’s sales ledger. That’s begun to change in recent years, however, as commercial clients from from Ford and GM to Boeing and Pratt & Whitney have scaled back U.S. manufacturing.

“Watching the orders from our customer list since 1980 is an unbelievable indictment of our economy,” says Sosin, who adds that another challenge the company faces is that the bikes just go on and on and on.   ”There’s no planned obsolescence in our product,” says Sosin. “We’ll get calls about bikes from factories, and when we ask how old the bikes are a lot of times they don’t even know. It’s not uncommon to hear, ‘I’ve been here for 40 years, and the bike was here when I started.’”

Consumer sales account for about a quarter of Worksman’s sales, and have been growing in recent years. As other companies revert to classic cruiser designs to appeal to the retro-chic aesthetic, Worksman bikes bring with them a certain authenticity of having never changed. Indeed, workers at the company’s nondescript production facility in Queens likely turns out more hand-brazed lugged steel bicycle frames every year than the entire annual output of the exhibitor list of the North American Handmade Bike Show.  Worksman’s cruisers start around $300, and nearly every one is built to order from a long menu of custom options—from chrome fenders and color options to drum brakes and three-speed hubs.  Below is a brief photo-tour of Worksman’s Queens factory.

 

 

 

Jan 27 / admin

The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard of the Bicycle World

Ever heard of the Dvorak simplified keyboard?’ Most haven’t. It came out a few years after the QWERTY keyboard configuration most of us use every day. It’s widely accepted to be efficient and ergonomically correct, resulting in fewer mistakes and even less incidence of debilitating carpal tunnel syndrome. But we don’t use the Dvorak system. We run QWERTY. The momentum was too great to stop.

A similar “standards” issues exists in the bicycle world, where a whole raft of wheel sizes have competed for prominence. Thing had largely settled into the European 700c standard for road bikes, and the British 26-inch-sized wheel for mountain bikes. Over the last decade or so, and especially in the last few seasons, production of so-called 29ers—mountain bikes based around 29-inch, aka 700c wheels—have really taken over as the must-have product for any mountain bike manufacturer not specializing in downhill bikes.

Recently there’s been a push in the industry to develop yet another mountain bike wheel size: 650b. This would be the third surge of the middling-bastard wheel size since it was first introduced by the French sometime in the 1920s. Kirk Pacenti re-introduced it as an auxiliary mountain bike wheel standard, but it’s been slow to catch on. Until now, it would seem, as several major manufacturers have begun ramping up 650b bike and component production.

Click through to read my recent look into the future of 650b at MountainBike/Bicycling.com.

 

Jan 20 / admin

Camera Quality Calculus

I made two camera-accessory purchases while on a recent trip that highlight just how much the stakes of digital photography have changed since I started taking pictures made of pixels less than a decade ago. One of these products produces traditional static photographs, the other, dynamic time-warps.

Purchase #1 was a wide-angle lens lens for my DSLR. Cost: $500. Even though my camera—a Canon T2i (aka EOS 550D)—is small and relatively lightweight model, it’s still something to lug around, conspicuous to use, and in the two years since I got it I haven’t used it nearly as much as I once thought I would. The rigamarole of downloading the SD card got old fast, and the files I did get from the its massive 18-MegaPixel image sensor are huge and unwieldy. Moreover, the stock 18-55mm lens was versatile, but limiting. Mose often than not I found myself simply reaching for the 5-MegaPixel iPhone camera that’s always in easy reach, if not already in-hand. Case in point, on a recent backpacking trip to Northville-Placid trail in the Adirondacks my iPhone proved perfectly adequate to document the trip.

My solution for rekindling the old flame with the Canon? Buy an expensive wide-angle lens!

I settled on a Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX that costs more than what I imagine an iPhone 4 goes for these days. The added scope of the wide-angle lens, while certainly not perfect for every situation, let me experiment with new compositions possibilities and held my attention for the whole two-week trip. I happily fell into the role of trigger-happy tourist, amortizing my investment by snapping more than 2,000 images.

 



And then there’s Purchase #2: Miniatures, the tilt-shift, time-lapse, utterly addictive camera app for iPhone and iPad. Cost: $2.

For as wide and sharp as the big Sigma lens is, it just wasn’t capturing Bangkok’s busy Chao Phraya river like I wanted. While my trusty old Canon G9 (a glorified point-and-shoot) had a nifty time-lapse feature, the big crop-sensor SLR sadly does not. A quick check of iTunes and I found my solution—yes, there’s an app for that. After some jerry-rig work involving a folding chain, a ceramic umbrella holder, a drinking glass and a hand towel, I had my tripod.

The easy-to-use app and the iPhone’s high-quality camera produce mesmerizing video vignettes. The scope and blur intensity of the “tilt-shift” that give the movie clips their Lilliputian character can be easily fine-tuned, as can the interval timing of the camera shutter.


So, what’s the verdict? In terms of sheer enjoyment-per-dollar, Miniatures runs away with it. The two dollars I spent on the app is more that what it cost to catch the Mass Rapid Transit train in Bangkok to get to the camera store—round trip.

The Sigma lens, however, opened up the world in a whole other sense. Sure, it can accidentally deliver some cartoonish distortion at its extreme focal length if you’re not careful with composition, but with a little care it can produce lasting still images. While time-lapses are entertaining, the still image format has been around for going-on two centuries. The SLR helped me the document my trip in a way I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to achieve. I don’t claim to have captured any profound photographic statements on my two week boondoggle across Thailand and Laos, but fire the shutter 2,000 times and you’re bound to net at least a few keepers.

Even if I buy an Ollo Clip wide-angle lens converter for the iPhone (which I plan on doing), the shutter speed won’t be as fast, the depth of field won’t be as forgiving and the images won’t be as well composed as is possible with the hefty, trusty old SLR.

The real verdict may lie in considering a certain Purchase #3, made on the same trip: a National Geographic special issue devoted to the 50 Best pictures the magazine has ever published. Some of the photographs were shot a lifetime ago, before digital imaging was conceived and when time-lapses were reserved for those with amateur reel-to-reel home video equipment. That Nat Geo, with its yellow perfect-bound spine and extra heavy glossy paper stock, is a testament to the power of the still image. Its compelling photographs and accompanying back-stories held my sadly shortened 21st-century attention span longer than any smart-phone time-lapse ever could.

Nat Geo 50 Best Pictures

 

 

 

 

Dec 13 / admin

America’s Largest Bike Maker Closes its Doors

Sapa Shuts Down its Bicycle Manufacturing Operations

Sapa last week confirmed that it will be exiting the contract bicycle frame manufacturing business after two decades of operation. Since it began in the early 90s as Anodizing, Inc., the Portland, Oregon, plant has put out a steady output of high-end aluminum frames for brands such as Cervelo, Cube, Santa Cruz, Knolly, Schwinn, Specialized, Titus and Turner—plus others that are not publicly known.

Rows of preformed Ellsworth top tubes await final assembly at Zen Bicycle Fabrication, which is poised to pick up some of the business being abandoned by Sapa.

Sapa’s peak production came circa 2000/2001, when sales engineer Ray Goody says the company was turning out 75,000 to 90,000 frames annually. Since then, the industry has seen the widespread adoption of Asian carbon fiber frame construction and advances in aluminum production process such as hydro-forming, which Sapa failed to keep up with. Compounded by an ailing economy and a dwindling customer list, Sapa quietly informed its customers recently that it will be winding down its frame-building operations to concentrate on more lucrative opportunities such as electric motorcycle frame and aluminum wheelchair manufacturing.

Zen Bicycle Fabrication, a new contract manufacturer created when Ellsworth’s former production manager bought out the operation this fall, is poised to pick up some of Sapa’s lost business.

Read the whole story at MountainBike/Bicycling.com

 

 

Dec 2 / admin

A few minutes with David Turner

Got to catch up with a highly caffeinated cross-racing David Turner this week in order to put together a Q&A for Bicycling/MountainBike.com. He’s got a pair of carbon bikes in the hopper and has officially given up on the RFX (for 2012, at least). Always a pleasure rapping with David “I’m not going to bullshit anyone” Turner. He’s been designing suspension bikes since 1991, when I was 11. And was racing on the NORBA circuit for a long while before that.

I’ve been on my MY09 Turner 5.Spot from very early on, and have been quite satisfied with it as an all around trail gobbler. Looking forward to trying out a ’12 model with the updated headtube, geometry and rear thru-axle.

Click through the Michael Darter photo below to read all about it—

Nov 28 / admin

Portfolio: Bicycling Magazine’s 100 Best Bike Shops*

*Saying with any authority which 100 bike shops are “the best” is like saying which 100 churches—across the whole spectrum of religions—are the holiest. With this project we set out to deliver a representative smattering of 100 different bike shops from around the United States that collectively represent what makes bike shops so great.

 

Nov 18 / admin

Tested: White Brother TCR Loop 140

Tested: White Brother TCR Loop 140. Read the whole review at MountainBike.com.

Nov 18 / admin

That Epic Time of Year Again

Epic Time of Year

It’s November, and that means that one of hardest-working non-profits has once again released its annual additions to the pantheon of so-called Epic trails. IMBA‘s latest list of inductees includes a few I’ve heard of. The trails at Indiana’s Brown County State Park, for example—25 miles of succulent singletrack winding through one of the largest contiguous hardwood forest east of the Mississippi.

Brown County Bridges; Lifted from: WereThereMan.com

I’ve also heard of the Kerr Scott Trails in North Carolina. No, this isn’t the same stupid-rocky hard-scrabble singletrack that’s earned Pisgah its well-deserved reputation for gloriously agonizing riding. Instead, the W.Kerr Scott Reservoire is on the western end of the state, tucked in between the Blue Ridge and Brushy mountains, where the trails are loved more for their roller-coaster flow than their technical traits. The three networks that make up this new IMBA Epic are Dark Mountain (7.5 miles), The Overmountain Victory Trail (9.5 miles) and Warrior Creek (17+ miles).

Video intro to another new IMBA Epic, this one by way of Wales: The W2 Trail

IMBA’s defiinition of “Epic”has changed as the sport and the trail-building ethos that help grow it have evolved. While a lower-case “epic” ride might still mean getting lost in the backcountry for hours on end, or “epic” scenery, the upper-case Epic is increasingly used to designate trail systems that exemplify large-scale sustainable trail-building practices and positive, lasting cooperation with local land managers. Epic yawn, right? Sortof. To get the Epic stamp the trail still has to meet certain criteria—not the least of which is a propensity to make grown men giggle like little girls while riding said trails.

Last year I wrote a piece for Adventure-Journal about the evolving definition of IMBA’s Epic designation that took a closer look the Epic Class of 2010. [See HERE for the official IMBA master list of Epics.] For a look at this year’s freshman class see Lou Mazzante’s write-up at Bicycling.com, where you’ll also find my run-down of a new O-fficial model trail designation from IMBA: Ride Centers, which includes the Cuyuna Lakes success story, pictured below.

Photo: Hansi Johnson