Monday, December 17, 2007

In the Packing Zone

When I said "light December blogging" I didn't mean "no December blogging," but that's how it is turning out. I'm packing, eating, sleeping, and packing more.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Very Light Blogging in December

I plan to post regularly as a rule, but December will be exceptional. Between moving home and business, I'll barely have time to breathe. The truck has to be loaded and the road hit on December 21st, and I already feel like I'm running out of time.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Frameset News

I spent a lot of time at the frame shop today David and I were able to work out pricing and some other details.

The semi-custom* frames will be lugged with a single color paint job. There will be a choice of six colors. Fenders and lights will be integrated. Internal wiring for dynamo powered lighting systems will be standard. This includes headlight and taillight. All frames will be made to measure and designed according to the particulars of each rider. 650B and 700C models will be available. Sidepull, centerpull, or cantilever brakes can be specified.

Framesets will be $1650. The first few orders will receive a discount, which may come at the price of limited color selection. We'll need to have an example of all six colors as soon as possible because paint swatches are pretty useless for bicycles. But we'll have three samples made before any frames are built for customers, so three colors will be taken care off the bat. Colors outside of the palette of six will be available for an upcharge--as will custom racks, stems, decaleurs, etc.

I hesitate to call these randonneur bikes, country bikes, or any other label. The framesets will be suitable for all types of road riding--club riding, brevets, transportation, credit card touring, unpaved roads and light off-road use. But the individual design process allows a lot of flexibility with regard to the final product. If you want the frame to be 700C sportif designed around 700Cx30 tires that will have the geometry to ride well unloaded or with a light front load we can do that. If you want a porteur designed around 650Bx42 tires and a massive front load we can do that. This is the reason I was geeking out about BikeCAD last week, it allows me to take a few stock designs and very efficiently tweak them to fit different riders, tire sizes, uses, etc.

I'll post more details and pictures as they become available. We'll start building bikes sometime in the middle of next week, and I'll be spending as much time as I can in the frame shop before I leave town so I can familiarize myself with the framebuilding process as much possible.

*By semi-custom I mean that a few aspects of the framesets have been standardized to streamline the production and keep the final cost down--selected tubeset choices, standard lugs, dropouts, etc. The design will be very flexible. We will offer custom framesets starting at $2200 in which all frame material choices are left wide open.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bikes for Sport and Transportation Continued . . .

. . . Or, a Convoluted Pseudo-Philosophical Argument in Which I Wander Far From the Subject and Attempt to Convince Myself That it is Acceptable to Spring for TA Pro Cyclotouriste Cranks Rather Than the Perfectly Servicable Sugino XD2's (the tread difference, the weight savings, the humanity!)

As I've mentioned before, I'm interested in bikes because they're a good mode of transport. Not that they'd be a bad thing if they were exclusively sporting equipment, but they'd be less valuable to us if they were as useful as say . . . water skis. But looking at them from a too-utilitarian perspective also misses the point for two reasons, I'd argue.

Riding bikes that are well-made makes getting to and from your destination more pleasurable. Well-made bikes are, as most of us know, completely different machines than poorly made, cheap bikes. If people ride well made bikes well designed for their intended use, then they're more likely to continue riding bicycles. Even if they at first only ride for sport, which I'd argue is a lower good (but still a good) than riding for transportation, riding for sport may lead them to one day ride bicycles for their original intended use.

The second more general argument that all human made objects are the result of human labor, and it is barbaric to expect people to labor (which is the greatest part of our waking life) in the service of making something cheap that merely works (for awhile at least). And it is barbaric to surround ourselves with such objects. It is an affront to human dignity to require people to do work that they can't be proud of, and so it goes that it is an affront to support the production of such junk.

But I'm employing a straw-man rhetorical trick there, because the decision which occasioned all this hand-wringing wasn't, "Do I buy from Wal-Mart or from a local artisan," the question is "Do I make a really nice three thousand-ish dollar bike, or do I try to see what I can put together if I'm willing to spend more?"

Because extra performance, once you get to a certain level, costs a lot. And I guess what I'm asking is how valuable--in a very broad sense--that extra last bit of performance is. Excellence is undoubtedly a good thing, and very well made human objects are beautiful and inspiring both because of the finished object and the pursuit and determination of those involved in the making. But it isn't an unconditionally good thing. The excellence of an object can be divorced from its ultimate ends (because there can be things which are excellently made but are made for evil uses), and costs can goes through the realm of luxury into that of obscenity. So I think it is lazy to end our consideration with "I'm just trying to make the best possible _____." and assume that must drive must be a good thing, or with "What's a lot of money to some isn't to others."

One nice thing about bicycles is that even the very finest bicycles aren't out of the reach of average people in countries with developed economies. If someone in the US who made an even below average wage wanted something like a custom J. P. Weigle, which I think runs about $6K complete, it would be possible to save and buy one. The same can't be said for a Bentley.

Sorry this was a little unfocused. I guess blog entries aren't held to the standard of cohesion that more formal writing is. Or at least I hope that excuses me a little.

Bicycles for Sport; Bicycles for Transportation

I was thinking a lot about the relationship between these two today as I was trying to nail down a parts list for the first Longleaf custom. Of course, many bikes combine both of these uses, and often one bike ride can be for both uses--but if we think of them as two poles of bicycle design, its a nice lens though which to see the bicycle. I'm using "sport" in its broadest sense to include not just competition, but any type of recreation.

One of the first Longleaf frames made will be built up and sent to Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly so he'll ride it and hopefully review the bike in an issue. My plan is to build the bike up for myself, but I found myself considering how certain component choices would be received by the randonneuring-centric BQ staff.

I don't have much time for randonneuring--maybe when the child and children to come are older and the business is more established I will. So I definitely don't critique bicycles through that lens, or any sporting lens, because the bicycle to me is always first and foremost a vehicle for transport. But if any sporting use of the bicycle combines well with the bicycle's utility, it is probably randonneuring. Randonneuring requires riding on varied surfaces at all hours of the day and in all conditions. I've done a brevet or two, and wouldn't call myself a randonneur but I find myself drawn to the bikes because they also make very good vehicles.

There is a kind of twin heritage of bicycles--they were made for transportation and first raced as a way to demonstrate to a (at the time skeptical) public that they could swiftly carry riders over great distances.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

BikeCAD Pro


I purchased BikeCAD Pro recently. The program is very impressive. The above picture is a very simplified image of a frame design I did today. One complaint I have is that you can't (at least to my knowledge) change is the camber of the fork curvature, which always represented visually in BikeCAD as a Continental/Italian camber. The below fork will be curved using a British camber.

I've played around with the free version of BikeCAD before, but let me tell you it is a lot more fun to use when you know that the frame you're designing will be an actual bicycle in a matter of weeks.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Suggestion Box

I'll be fine tuning the opening inventory order for Longleaf in the coming week. If there's anything that you think I should absolutely carry, stick it in the comments box or drop me an email at longleafbicycles@gmail.com. Large items, small items--anything useful that's out there and perhaps not widely available, or so useful everyone should carry it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Beyond Bicycle Commuting

I'm not a big fan of the the commuter bicycles designation. "Commuting" sets the horizon for practical cycling at getting individuals to and from work on the weekdays. If that's the most we can hope for from the bicycle, I'm not interested.

People have a lot more places to get to than work, and they need to get more than just themselves and a couple of small items there. People need to get groceries, they need to pick up things in large boxes, they need to haul around children. They need everyday transportation. And we need a more humane, sensible mode of everyday transportation than doing it in two ton vehicles that kill 1.2 million people a year.

The promise of the "mechanical horse" was that it allowed people to travel great distances who couldn't afford the purchase and upkeep of a horse. There is a popular notion that back "in the old days" everyone rode a horse, but in reality only the well-off could afford them. Most people were limited to the distances they could travel on foot. Walking is undoubtedly the most humane form of transport, but for distances too great to walk the bicycle is best. For any distance on land, the only major disadvantage of the bicycle is that the ubiquity of automobiles make bicycle riding somewhat more dangerous than riding or driving a car. But this isn't an essential feature of the bicycle. The bicycle is very, very safe. Cars are not.

When thinking about bicycles and how they can serve flourishing human life, we should always remember what the bicycle was--and is--made for. As Aristotle says, the virtue (arete, sometimes translated as "excellence") of any object has to do with the proper function of a thing. The proper function of a bicycle is transportation. Bicycles that are intended for sporting or recreational purposes should bear the burden of modifying adjectives, which is another reason we should reject the "commuting" appellation. Bicycles that perform well their proper function of transportation aren't commuting bicycles. They're just bicycles.

Monday, November 19, 2007

More Riding with Children

Reader Patrick B. sent the link to Bobike. These are the folks that make the seat Xtracycle sells. I hadn't seen the rest of their seats and am happy for the heads up. When I see any child carryin' contraption my next thought is always "How many kids can I carry with that thing?" It looks like with a Maxi and a Mini you could put easily carry two children on a bike. With a child on the snap deck of the planned Xtracycle, that's three. If mom can carry two, that'll make five. Five kids should cover most people. If you have more the older ones should be able to pedals themselves by the time they lose a seat.

Of course, I'm only thinking of those who come after us. What of those who came before? Clever Cycles has a blog post showing the way.

I have contacted the Bobike people about becoming a dealer. I will certainly be an Xtracycle dealer. When I first opened Trinity I spoke with the company who is importing the bakfiets and other Dutch cycles that Clever Cycles sells, but the buy-in was beyond what I could justify. If my shop, like Clever Cycles, was in Portland, I would have jumped all over it--but it didn't make sense for me.

p.s. Patrick also said he couldn't use the comments section to post the Bobike link. When I have the website built, I'll have the blog incorporated in the main site. I'd prefer a blog that doesn't require the user to register in order to post comments, so I'll try to have something which allows anyone to easily post.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Riding With Children

Who rides to get around with their small children, and how do you carry them? Our son is nearly eleven months old, and I haven't yet found a good way to carry him around. I think I have a solution, but I haven't yet been able to afford to put it together.

I tried a Burley trailer and pretty much hated it. Silas tolerated it. I didn't like being so far away from him and placing him in a pod-like structure all alone. I didn't like attaching and detaching the trailer. I thought about having a dedicated child trailer bike, but I realized that once the trailer is on the bike things like parking the bike, getting on the commuter train, etc. are problematic.

The trailer doesn't work for me. We have all kinds of little errands to run in our neighborhood. Most of our destinations are within a ten or fifteen minute walk, and I'll usually choose to walk rather than hitch up the trailer.

My wife and I use various baby-wearing contraptions, and I've found that wrapping him on my back or putting him in a Mei-Tei works well for short trips. I pop a helmet on him and we're off. Since he's on my back and I'm leaning forward a little on the bike this is surprisingly comfortable for both of us. He can see over my shoulder and has a good time. I believe this method is not unusual in Amsterdam or Copenhagen, but here I'm afraid I'll get CPS called on me for endangering my child. I can handle CPS, but my wife has put the keibash on said arrangement, so it isn't an option.

I am going to get an Xtracycle soon and get the child seat they sell with it. I haven't tried this myself, but I've heard good reviews from people I trust. The seat they sell isn't made by them, it's just a nice rear child seat, but a little more sturdy than most (rated for up to 50 lbs.) On most bikes, these seats make the handling very dodgy, because the child's weight is over the rear wheel. But of course the Xtracycle moves the rear wheel back 15 inches, so child's weight is in the center of the wheelbase, making the handling much improved.

I am excited to try this out, and I've come up with a Frankenbike arrangement to make the bike work for both me and my wife (6' and 5'5") which involves two handlebars and a whole lotta ugly.

If you have children and you don't want to drive, there don't seem to be many good options. If anyone knows of anything out there that fits the bill, please post it in the comments section.

Frameset News

I visited with David Cheakas, my framebuilder, today. We hammered out plans for our semi-custom frames. These will be made to measure for each rider. The default wheel size will be 650B, but 700C and 26" will be used when appropriate.

These frames will be suitable for any type of road riding except for racing and heavily loaded touring. The final design of each bike will depend on what each customer needs, but we'll be working from a template in order to keep the cost in a certain range. However, there will be a great deal of flexibility in the details. We'll work with two sets of lugs--one for standard tubing and one for oversized tubing. Brake choice, fork rake, braze-ons, etc. will be determined on a case by case basis. Internal wiring for dynamo systems will be available. We'll settle on a small selection of colors for the paintjobs (probably five or six).

Frameset cost will be in the $1500-$1600 range. The only option that will change the price is the internal wiring.

I'll post more on this later as I have more details. I forgot to take pictures of the frame David is finishing up right now, but I should have some to post next week.

Meet the New Boss, Quite Similar to the Old Boss

Since I was the contact person for most of Trinity's out of town customers, some of you might not be familiar with the other half of Trinity, Joseph Spragins. Joey and I worked together in the service department of a bicycle shop before partnering up at Trinity. Joey is a highly accomplished racer--Cat 1 on the road and Cat 2 on the velodrome. A couple of years ago he raced for Colavita on a steel Chris Kelly frame and saw the light.

While Joey and I have a similar approach to bicycles, we each brought very different customer bases to the business. This was good in many ways, but it also meant that each of us couldn't focus all of our efforts on what we knew best.

Since I'll be the sole captain (and at least for now, first-mate, boatswain, etc.) at Longleaf I'll be able to focus more on practical bicycles suitable for transportation and bicycles for recreation that sensibly steer clear of design features best suited for racing.

If you're in the North Texas area, Joey will continue running the shop in the same location. He'll be a source for everything you previously found at Trinity. He just won't be courting out of town business, he doesn't much care for messing with the internet or writing webpages so our agreement is that I inherit the out of town customer base. Of course, if you're not in the North Texas area and would prefer to deal with Joey, you know where to find him and he'll be happy to help you.

At Trinity one thing we didn't expect was the local business to dominate so much of our time. We kinda figured that being this oddball bicycle garage with zero production bikes selling only steel frames and gear for commuters, tourers, and randonneurs we wouldn't have a ton of local customers. We were wrong. The ratio of our business swung from 1:7 in-town vs. out of town to 3:1 in the first year.

This was great in many ways, but it meant that projects like the website were costantly pushed to the back of the line as we finished wheelbuilding and service orders. Many projects that I had in mind never got off the ground because we grew a little faster than we thought and we also weren't exactly the most organized managers of our own business. We've learned those lessons the hard way in the last fifteen months.

With those lessons under my belt, and with complete control of Longleaf, I'm going to get those backburner projects cookin'.

The website will feature parts and products that I believe to be the best of their kind, or high functioning and a great value. When we opened Trinity we could afford to stock very little, and as we accumulated a decent inventory of items I never had the time to augment the website.

We will immediately be taking custom and semi-custom frame orders. The first custom frame will be finished in the next couple of weeks. I should have a couple more examples by the end of the year. This will warrant its own post later. I'm meeting with my framebuilder today and I'll be able to hammer out pricing. The first ten frames will be discounted so that I can get the bikes out there and build a portfolio for potential customer.

I am working on a plans for production frames that will sell in the $600-$800 range. These are probably some time away, but they'll happen.

Lastly, I'd like to make a sub $1000 complete bike. I'd love for it to come in at around $800. This probably isn't what most of us die-hards are looking for, but the should be a very well designed all around bike available for people who want to get around by bike, and I'm not happy with what's out there right now. I want to keep the price at a level that non diehards can swallow. A whole lot more people would pick up and stick with transportation cycling if the right bikes are out there and within their reach. Unfortunately, this project will take the longest to complete, because it will require the biggest investment.

All Bikes Some of the Time

You'll find here everything you'd expect from a bicycle business' blog. Bikes and parts I'm carrying or considering carrying, technical talk, etc. But I hope that from time to time the conversation will turn to the broader questions of how bicycle riding affects human life. Thinking about these questions led me to first start riding a bicycle as an adult, and the practice of riding a bicycle as my main form of transportation led me to begin working with bicycles. How we decide to transport ourselves from A to B has an immense affect on the shape of our fashioned environment, the way in which we understand community to be formed (or not formed), our sense (or lack thereof) of being rooted to particular places and people, and on and on. I hope that readers (I guess I should first hope I'll have readers) will contribute to this discussions when they arise.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Low Down

Most of you probably know me from Trinity Bicycles, the company I started in August of 2006 with my business partner, Joseph Spragins. At the end of the year I'll be moving my family and my part of the business to Wilmington, North Carolina where my wife's family resides. Joey and I decided that he would keep the Trinity name, as I named the company for the river which runs near the shop in Irving. Joey will continue the business in the Dallas area, but will focus on local customers.

I will continue to focus on practical bicycles suitable (and hopefuly used) for transportation with my new company, Longleaf Bicycles.

While it may be a tad optimistic, the plan is to open Longleaf Bicycles on January 2. At the latest I'll be open the next week. Until December 21st, if you need anything please contact me at Trinity Bicycles.

EDIT: This date was moved up to Saturday Dec. 1. Joey and I decided it would be easier for him to go ahead and start running Trinity on his own beginning then, and I realized I had a whole lot more work to do with preparation for the move and setting up things for Longleaf than I thought and wouldn't be much use to Joey at Trinity during December, anyway. I will be fulfilling wheelbuild and parts orders during December. I won't have time for complete bike assemblies, though. If you need a complete bike finished before the first week of January, please contact Joey at Trinity, he'll be glad to help you.

My contact info is at longleafbicycles.com