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Brantford Cyclepath Blog

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November 2015

Getting Fat While Having Fun

fat-bike-racing-2_0

Fatbikes. You’ve seen them. They’re kind of hard to miss. Big overstuffed marshmallow tires shoehorned into a widened frame. Ridiculously wide gear ratios. Mostly rigid frames and forks. If there was ever a bicycle that represented the proverbial “elephant in the room”, then the fatbike would be the clear winner. It sticks out like a very sore thumb.

The most interesting thing about fatbikes is that the people who have already taken the plunge and bought one don’t seem to want to shut up about them. They’re turned into some sort of weird bike evangelist, on a mission to preach to the rest of the cycling populace about the virtues of fat.

snow church

Maybe this is a congregation that you should become a member of? Here, let me hold the door. Go on inside and find a nice pew.

The single most interesting thing about fatbike ownership is that these bikes can take you on some grand adventures. Every other type of bicycle out there has to follow some sort of predetermined path, whether paved or dirt. Someone has always gone there before you. With a fatbike you have the liberation of being able to go literally anywhere, no matter how remote the anywhere might be. It’s the closest thing to hiking on a bike. Hidden gopher holes don’t matter much when riding across that big meadow. Those rocks and fallen branches don’t matter when bushwhacking through the woods. Neither does that stream. These bikes roll over and through everything.

“Well, that’s all good but they must be as slow as turtles.” Actually, they’re pretty darned fast. Especially when the going gets really rough. For example. I know our local mountain bike trail really well. I’ve been riding it for a couple of decades. The fastest I’ve ever cleared the trail is on my fatbike. There are reasons for this. Those big wheels are tall and large in diameter. They tend to smooth out the trail by skimming over the edges of ruts and bumps instead of falling into them. The bike is then allowed to carry a ton of forward momentum. This in turn lets the bike “monster truck” over the larger obstacles in its path, whether they be big roots and rocks, or hills. Couple this with the most traction ever found on a bicycle, and a cyclist of average ability can make it up and over some really challenging barriers and climbs. You spend far less time using your brakes as the bike rolls and flows along the trail. This all adds up to setting some really impressive personal bests.

CUPPED HANDS

And that extra traction? Talk about added control when the trail gets crazy! It feels like those big tires have you safely in the palm of their hands. You ride with far more control which makes it fun to step outside of your normal comfort zone and try some really big stuff. Freedom to let your inner bravery fly. Don’t forget your helmet.

“Okay, fine. I’m interested. But they look really heavy.” There are plenty of cycling enthusiasts that really enjoy what a lightweight bicycle has to offer. The newest crop of fatbikes weigh close to what a normal competition mountainbike does. Carbon fiber technology allows for this. The interesting thing is that many of us are riding heavier fatbikes. It’s not necessarily about the weight of the machine. What is more important in this case is the amount of grip and “float” that a tire provides, as well as the climbing potential of the available gear ratios. A heavier fatbike will climb anything in its path. Air pressure is absolutely key to riding in more extreme conditions. You’ll notice that most fatbikers carry a tire pump on their frames. Lower the tire pressure for the dirt or snow. Take a few minutes to pump it back up for the pavement. It’s as easy as that.

anchor

“But there’s no snow for most of the year.” Think of being able to ride in the winter as an added bonus to all of the fun that you’ll have on a fatbike throughout the main part of the year. If you’ve ever gotten fed up enough with cabin fever that you’ve resorted to riding in the snow with a regular bike, you’ll know how much of a concession it is. Slip sliding all over the place while trying to plow forward with at least a walking pace. On a fatbike it’s full speed ahead. Just let some air out of those big wheels. There’s plenty in there to spare. It’s the closest thing to snowshoeing on a bike!

fatbike snow DH

“Really? You’ve pretty much got me convinced. I’m starting to wish that I could afford one!” Well that’s the best part. These bikes have been around for a fair while now. Nearly fifteen years. (yes, I know. Everyone is shocked to hear that) Like most things, as they’ve gained in popularity, more companies have jumped on board. The prices have come to the point where you can now pay about the same for a fatbike as you would for a good mountainbike.

Think of it. A year round offroad grin machine that goes where no other bicycle can go, climbs with ease, allows you to ride with far more comfort, control and safety and has the added bonus of being the cure for cabin fever. This is why fatbike owners are an enthusiastic bunch. They want to share the joy with as many people as possible.

fatbike group

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Gearing Down

vintage derailleur

It so happens that, from time to time, casual people do a walk about in our shop. It usually follows that they stop in front of any given current model, give a low whistle through their teeth, and say “holy mackerel! What’s that got? Twenty one speeds?!” To which we brace ourselves and reply “nope, that one has thirty.” To which the counter reply says “THIRTY! You’re kidding! You really need all those gears?”

The general consensus among the majority of cycling enthusiasts is that carbon fiber racing bikes are sexy. It follows that if you take sexy and add lots of gears (following the well worn credo that more has GOT to be better) then it can only serve to make sexy sexier! Light, stiff, sleek and enough gears to make it fast as hell. It’s enough to make anyone swoon.

But…. a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Mountain bikes, whether anorexic or obese in tire size, started to go against the aforementioned grain. “Rip those chainrings off!”, the customers cried! (following the well worn credo that less is more). The NEW sexy flaunts a pile of gears on the back partnered with a naked single gear on the front.

Which brings us back to where we all started a few minutes ago. “Holy mackerel! What’s that got? Twenty one speeds?!” To which we NOW have to brace ourselves and reply “nope, that one has ten.”

sheldon

See him? His name is Sheldon Brown. Spend enough time hanging out in good bike shops and you’ll discover that for most of us that fall under the heading “certifiably bike-crazy, shop employee”, Sheldon Brown was THE bike mechanics bike mechanic. When he died on February 4 2008, plenty of us cried. The void is still felt.

But anyhow, Sheldon liked innovation. He loved fast bikes, but he especially loved the unsung heroes of everyday cycling. The commuter bikes. In this realm, everything is fair game. He once made a commuter bike that had (get this) TWO different handlebars with TWO stems, one mounted above the other on a fork with an uncut steerer tube. Drop bars on the bottom, and a mountain bike handlebar mounted above it. FOUR brake levers and FOUR brake cables. All in the good name of getting to and from work on a bike with “got all of the bases covered” positioning.

sheldon 2 bar bike

Talk about more is better! But…. if the new sexy is “less is more”, then Sheldon would have been the champion of it. He showed many of us how to build simple, reliable all-weather commuting bikes. He taught the virtues of single speed and fixed gear drivetrains. Take that old friend that was unceremoniously shoved into the dark corner of the garage when you replaced it with a carbon fiber sexy. Remove as many gears as necessary in order to make it a new kind of minimalist that suits your needs. Install a new higher handlebar setup (or go for complete gusto with a TWO handlebar setup!)

In all seriousness, simplifying a drivetrain and adding a carrier rack and some fenders to a perfectly useable bike makes perfectly good sense. You already own the machine. Take your beloved old lightweight bicycle and make it utilitarian. While you’re at it, add a kickstand so that it can stand outside of the grocery store while you’re inside. Expensive, lightweight bikes that are no longer used have no feelings, so go ahead and install one.

If I happen to be wrong, and they DO have feelings, then I’ll wager that they’ll soon be grinning from ear to ear as they become your new go-to errand bike.

sheldons quickbeam

If you’d like to learn what Sheldon taught many of us, then go to http://www.sheldonbrown.com. It takes a while to browse through, but the knowledge in there is timeless and well worth diving into.

 

 

 

 

The Mule

iron curtain trail

The mule stood in solitude, waiting. The others had gone before it, setting out on a journey of utmost importance, precious cargo upon their backs. Human cargo. Cargo of assorted size and shape. Cargo of assorted age. Much time had passed between the outset of this human journey from Syria and the point in time in which the cargos were introduced to the mules.

The mule stood in solitude because it was quite possibly the last. Mules had become increasingly difficult to obtain since word of their usage had become common knowledge. The mule’s value had increased, but not in monetary terms. The human cargo had given much, and had no such money left to give. It was bitter irony then that the town in which the mule stood was named Nickel.

It was early the next morning when the owner of the mule led a small group of humans to see it. Animated chatter filled the morning air as a boy in his teens attempted to hide his excitement. “It may not be pretty, but it is beautiful to me!”

The weather worn leather saddle creaked as the boy sat on the ancient bicycle. Faded red paint gave faint indication as to the brand or pedigree of the machine. No matter. This mule had a purpose to serve. It would carry it’s cargo to safety. To freedom. To a life filled with hope in Norway.

old red bike

Here on the borders of the Russian Arctic Circle, human cargo from Syria hope to use bicycles of any description to cross the Russian border into northern Norway. Crossing on foot is prohibited. Drivers that carry passengers without the required proper documentation are heavily fined. The teen is one of roughly 1,200 immigrants each year that must cross the border “with wheels”. This is the stipulation. The simple bicycle is perfect for the task.

At the Storskog border station the teen smiled. He had ridden the old, red bike from Nickel, across the border without incident. An attendant directed him to an outbuilding. He wheeled the bicycle towards it. Sliding open the heavy door, his eyes fell upon dozens and dozens of discarded bikes.

The mule stood among the crowd of others. It needed to wait no more.

bike pile

Godspeed 2

Let me just start by saying that I NEVER want to get comfortable with writing blogs of this nature.

Okay, let’s do this….

Among the people that call themselves our regular customers, and back when I first started working here, I met a small kid with a sunny disposition and a constant smile. He rode a yellow Redline BMX bike.

mitch redline

I learned that the kids name was Mitch Monahan. Back then there was a group of us that were into bicycle trials. If you don’t know what bicycle trials riding consists of, it’s an offshoot of a form of European motorcycle riding that uses a specific-usage bike to ride up and over rocks, logs, cars, and whatever else seems to stand in your way.

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

Being a young kid with financial resources equalling close to zero, Mitch proclaimed that he was ALSO into trials riding, and that he did it all on his Redline BMX bike. I was beyond floored once I went out onto the sidewalk and Mitch proceeded to gap and pedalkick all over the place, all on a machine that wasn’t really designed to do it. Apparently Mitch didn’t need no steenkin’ fancy trials bicycle. Mitch took what little he had, and made it do what he needed it to do, all with a smile. I couldn’t help but give this kid the respect that he so well deserved.

I also couldn’t help but give him my spare Norco Evolve trials bike.

evolve

The years went by and we all got older, Mitch included. Life began for him and we saw him from time to time. One day he came in, smiled in his usual way and bought THIS:

hr pro

Then a few years later he popped in, reintroducing himself after deciding that he had time enough to start riding again. He smiled his Mitch smile and picked THIS up:

224--RH_comp_dsc_CandyRed_9

Life got busier. The shop got busier. We fostered relationships with many more new regular customers. Everyone got even older than they were the last time I mentioned it.

cobweb clock

One day this summer, the door to the shop swung open, and in rode Mitch, pedalling his deep red Rockhopper. It had been what seemed like a billion years since his last visit. No matter. He smiled and I smiled and we got down to chatting as if the last visit had been only yesterday. “Whatcha been up to?” “Where you working?” “Riding much?” “Where you been?” “You’re KIDDING? Oh man, that’s HILARIOUS!” “Do you still have my old Evolve?” “You DO? That’s AWESOME!” After a time the conversation eventually wound around to “It’s been good to see you, man!” “Yeah, you too! We’ll see you around!” “Yep take care!” “Don’t be a stranger!”

And off he pedalled.

How much respect can I possibly give this guy? I honestly don’t think that I could give enough. He never ONCE gave any indication that he had been battling cancer for the past two and a half years. We smiled and laughed. We joked around. We talked about bikes past and bikes future. The “Hey, guess what…” never came up. We parted ways the same way as always. With a laugh and a smile.

Mitch passed away on October 5th. He was 27 years young. I may not know everything, but I know one thing for sure. If there are any sweet lines in heaven, Mitch will be nailing them all. Just follow the angel with the biggest smile….

sunset kid

“Do it first, ask for forgiveness later” – Mitchel Monahan

Misty Water-colored Memories

funny-retro-kid-photographs-29

I don’t think that I could name very many people lucky enough to still OWN their first bike. To be able to walk into the garage, point a finger up to a cobwebbed storage hook and say “there she is!” That would be pretty cool. I do, however, meet plenty of people that can RECALL their first bike. I also meet many that gush about the bikes they’ve had when given the opportunity. The ones that they own, the elusive “perfect” bike, the one that was remorsefully sold. These conversations are what enrich the day to day experience of working in a bike shop. Bike people relating to bike people.

8bit bike shop

Once upon a time, when I was 8, the “cycling experience” decided that it was time to make its grand entrance into my life. Being a bit of a showoff, I can still recall sitting astride one of the neighbourhood kids bikes, PRETENDING to be riding the bike. This is key, because I really had no clue as to the subtleties of ACTUALLY riding a bike. So…. kid on bike, idiotic behavior, blue 20″ wheeled sidewalk bike assuming that it is about to be ridden…. and a small grass hill directly in front of the other three ingredients. Cut to the chase. The bike rolled and so did I. Being that I’m alive enough to type this, we can assume that everything turned out okay. What DID happen was that my dad saw me riding this little bike around all afternoon (there was no way that I was going to stop once I’d started) and went out and bought me THIS:

download

I owned this trusty steed until I was about 13. In the very end it didn’t get ridden much because of a flat tire that never did get repaired. The fenders were gone and the poor thing lived out the remainder of its existence rusting against a wooden fence in all sorts of weather. My parents divorced, the house was sold and I don’t know what happened to my candy apple red 1967 Supercycle roadster after that. I owe it a lifetime of thanks.

When I was in my mid teens THIS came into my life:

peugeot

It also happened to leave my life quickly when I sold it to buy a new skateboard. Call it regret number one. You could also call it dumb thing number one, if you so choose. (or maybe not, since I skateboarded for a couple of decades)

At the same time that the skateboard scene was happening, so too was the BMX scene. I plunged in head first, landing my first bike shop gig. I absolutely loved THIS bike:

kuwa

A 1982 Kuwahara. Made in Osaka, Japan. I ended up owning quite a few of them over the years. In fact, I accidentally left one behind in Edmonton when I moved here. It was in a box ready to be loaded. Call that regret number two. Or dumb thing number two, if you so choose. God knows, I would agree to the latter.

I owned tons of BMX bikes during that time frame. They weren’t ALL great. My most sought after bike was ironically the biggest piece of crap I ever owned. The elusive, MEGA-bucks PK Ripper:

pk

Most kids would have sold their souls ten times over for it. It was way too stiff and rattled the teeth out of your head every time you landed. I didn’t hang on to it for long.

I’ve owned more than a few mountain bikes. I liked some more than others. Road bikes too. I even had one of THESE:

bent

Mega fast and drew attention like crazy. It took up a LOT of room in the shed. Another local cyclist is still enjoying it, for which I’m grateful. It would be a shame to see it sitting around doing nothing when it’s capable of warp speeds.

I still own THIS:

tricross2

It’s a keeper. So is THIS:

cx4

The coolest, most fun bike I’ve had thus far is THIS:

photo

I highly recommend owning one (or two).

I have a pile of other bikes that would take too much space to talk about. Some give me the warm fuzzies. Some are forgettable. However, just like my first acoustic guitar discovered one long ago Christmas morning, my little candy apple red 1967 Supercycle will never be forgotten. I just wish that I could walk into the garage, point a finger up to a cobwebbed storage hook and say “there she is!” That would be pretty cool.

gasmask kids

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