Saturday, June 14, 2008

Child Carryin' Bike Perfected

Please note that the new blog and webstore are now at longleafbicycles.com. I consistently get questions about the Bobike seats generated by the two posts about them here. You can purchase Bobike seats and small parts at the new webstore.

As I noted in a post many moons ago, I was pleased with the Bobike Maxi/Xtracycle combination I built to ride with my son. But the girth of the bike hurt the grab-it-and-go-ness of the machine, which was the whole reason I ditched trailers and decided to build a dedicated two-seater.

If you're looking to grab a week's worth of groceries and take the kid along, the Xtracycle with child seat is the best thing going. And even if you don't have children, the cargo capacity, handling, and value of the Xtracycle is impressive. I served as a mobile mechanic for a group ride a couple of weeks ago, and the Xtracycle hauled all my tools and one not-very-portable workstand with ease.

But the majority of trips don't require that kind of cargo capacity, and I wanted something a little less cumbersome. I started looking around at front mounted child seats and wanted to test the Bobike Mini, which mounts to an adapter on a quill stem (there is an aftermarket adapter for 1 1/8" threadless steerers) and holds children up to 33 pounds.

After a quick check with the wife (she's the child development expert) "How long 'till Silas is over 33 pounds?" "A year at least." I started cobbling together another bike from spare parts.

Because of the position of the Mini I selected high, swept back bars and a wide, sprung saddle. Though I have not tried it out, I suspect a European style city bike with a very slack seattube angle and high stem would be ideal to minimize interference with the knees of the "driver" and the seat.
When I originally set up the bike as pictured I had to bow my legs slightly to keep my knees from smacking the seat. Besides using a bike with very different geometry as mentioned above I thought of a couple of solutions.

One would be a frame with a longer toptube--with the swept back bars a rider can use a frame with a longer than usual toptube.

Two is a higher stem, which I tried first because it was much less expensive. I ordered this beast and stuck it on the bike. Thankfully, this eliminated the knee strike on the seat.

There are many things I like about the seat. It mounts easily--the seat has a fork which slides into and adapter on the stem of the bike and is secured by a clip, it is extremely easy to take off the bike or transfer from bike to bike. Once the adapter clamp is on the bike installing the seat is a seven second job (I timed it--this includes picking up the seat) and removing the seat takes five seconds (includes putting the seat down). By buying an extra adapter the seat can easily be switched back and forth between bikes.

Common sense would say that most children will appreciate riding shotgun more than a seat in the rear. Our experience confirms this. Silas loved his old seat in the rear. But he's ecstatic about this one. The first few blocks of the ride are often accompanied by squealing delight. I enjoy it more as well. Silas is closer to me, I can see when he points at things, I can talk to him, adjust his helmet, hug him, etc. His weight is still between the wheels and the bike handles very well.

Since the picture we've added a rear rack and basket for running errands. I highly recommend the Bobike Mini. Do keep in mind the knee strike issue if you plan to get one. You'll need a longer than normal top-tube or a very high stem relative to your saddle height to eliminate this problem. If this required getting of building another bike, do it. You won't be sorry. I've gone through several options for carrying my son around, and the Mini is by far the best. Enjoyable for driver and passenger, fun, and easy to use.

The Bobike Mini is $134.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Frame Update

Some of this will be redundant from a post a few months ago, but a couple of people e-mailed me for a frame update.

I talked to David Cheakas last night. He has the first frame ready for paint. He has the tires that the bike is being built for but needs the fenders from me to make sure everything fits just right. The first frame was going to be 650B and made to fit some Trimlines I have. But when I showed up in Wilmington the roads were so bad I decided the first 650B bike would be made to fit the Hetres. This meant another fork crown would have to be used from the ones I'd already supplied David. So I told David to do a 700C frame first, which can use the Sachs fork crown. I'm leaning toward the Pacenti Bi-Plane crown for bikes using tires as wide as the Hetre (42mm). There aren't a lot of options for tires that wide. Well, there aren't a lot of un-ugly options. The fenders for that tire are 56mm, just a little too big for the Sachs or Long Shen (which is what Kogswell uses on the P/R).

Graphics are the other holdup. I have the artwork but have to have paint masks and/or decals made. I'm undecided about headbadges. Eventually, I'll have some made for people who love them and have to have 'em. I like them, and I love a good one, but I can do with a headtube decal. My graphic art guy gave me the headbadge/decal/logo and downtube graphics in several colors, so the nice thing about using a decal or paint mask for the headtube would be that the graphic color which best compliments the frame color could be used. In any case the frames will be fairly austere with one color paint, headtube logo and downtube logo. Just a simple "Longleaf" on the downtube, or nothing at all upon request.

Here's one headtube and downtube set.


Downtube


If you're interested you can look at others here. The downtube logos won't always use both colors depicted in the pictures. The shape will be as pictured, but sometimes there won't be any fill color except the paint on the bike, and in other cases the font will be solid instead of two color.

All of that is cosmetic, which isn't to say it is unimportant, but it matters little if the frames aren't well designed and well made. There are other frames that fit this bill, but they are either in very short supply or they aren't sold through dealers, which is why I decided to get my own made. In a nutshell they'll be good versatile frames that fit larger than usual tires and have steering geometry that accounts for larger tires and cargo, as well as integrating fenders, lights, and racks into the design of each bike.

Frames will be made to measure for each rider with internal wiring provisions for dynamo users standard (whether the fork will use brazed on loops or an internal guide is still up in the air--I'm leaning toward brazed on loops). Specific fenders and tires will be integrated into the design, so that even if you don't plan on using any fenders at first you can later add them and they'll fit perfectly. I won't take orders until the samples are finished, I've put some miles on one, and I'm confident all the wrinkles have been ironed out. I think mid to end of August is realistic.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Subscribe! (If, you know, you want to)

I figured out how to insert a button so visitors can subscribe to this blog if they so desire. It's over there to the right.

Long Time No See--Progress Report and History

After a few comments that I haven't updated the blog or website in some time I decided I need to drop a line. I don't want to sound like it's a hassle or bother. I'd prefer to write than do a most of what has been taking up my time lately.
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A seventy four year old cyclist stopped in the other day. He said he was too old to cycle anymore. He looked and seemed fit--in more bike friendly conditions he'd likely still be cycling, which is a shame. He had some parts he wanted to sell, which I didn't need, and I good tool (steerer tube threader with die and handle for 1") for a great price, which I bought. He also had all the Rivendell Readers ever printed, which he lent me to browse. I thumbed through the first two yesterday. I don't know if any of you have read these, but there's a section in each one that would these days be a blog. In the section Grant Petersen has entries like "Aug 12--Only two orders today. Aug. 18--Only X amount of money left in the bank and half of that is owed to people--Aug. 25 A good friend called and said he hopes Rivendell succeeds, but doesn't think it will. Aug. 31--I think I need to see if the original investors will go in for about $15,000 more." etc. etc. It isn't all doom and gloom, but there is a good bit of writing about the worry that goes on with starting most businesses, I imagine, and especially a business for which there isn't a well established model. It was frank and honest without being self-pitying. I found it interesting and encouraging.
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In any case, that feature in the Reader and comments from a few customers lately reminded me how nice it is to have a business that quite a few people seem to be rooting for. Most of these people are spread throughout the country, so they don't know much of what is going on unless they call or e-mail me.
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Some weeks I get swamped in the local side of the business. I never wanted to start a bike business that was primarily mail or internet order, because I enjoy the face to face with customer (most times) and I think that actually wrenching on bikes keeps me honest in a way that punching keys and putting things in boxes to give to the UPS man can't. So my model has been a local bike shop which could be for everybody but because of image and perception probably won't be, as well as wheelbuilding, parts, and (one day) bikes for people around the country who want something a little special.

Right now I'm pretty swamped with work that eats up a lot of hours to make sure I pay the month to month bills. I'm still working on carving out time to do the things that will help pay the bills in the future and build the business (website work, getting the made to measure frames off the ground, bringing in new products) so that I don't have to work 70 hours a week to make sure the family and business scrape by.

I started the business out of love and frustration. Love of the bike as a vehicle and more. Love of how it fosters affection and closeness to people and places that can't be cultivated at 45mph. Once I started using my bike to get around Dallas and starting working with bikes I pretty quickly knew that I wanted to make it a career and start my own business. That's the love part. The frustration part was working at the local Trekalized dealer and seeing customers get the wrong bikes, wrong parts, and incorrect technical information over and over again.

I was building wheels on the side for extra money and was getting a decent stream of orders (all out of town to avoid conflicts of interest). Just enough to make it hard to fulfill my wheelbuilding orders and go to my day job. I didn't have anywhere close to the amount of money recommend to start the business. Perhaps 12% of what was recommended. My background in finance was non-existent, but I knew there was a market for classic, high-quality, practical bikes and parts and I thought I was pretty decent with customers. It might have been a blessing that I acted in ignorance, otherwise I might not have started up at all. But being underfunded has made it tougher. So one of my big projects for the next few months is to put together a more formal business plan and round up the money to expand my inventory and get some projects off the ground. And build the website, of course.

The truth is that in August 2006 I wasn't comfortable borrowing (not would anyone have lended me) the recommended start up money (this usually includes at least twelve months of operating expenses). The year and half since then (I'm subtracting a couple months for the move) have been an excellent business education and I'm much more comfortable with what I'm doing now. The other upshot is that since I've built up enough business to (barely) cover my operating expenses and (sorta) pay myself I don't need to borrow as nearly as much.
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I promise to update more often in the future so that those who care will have some idea about what is going on. It's also a good break from building wheels and assembly work. Next installment--the European style city bike, why it is neglected in the US, and how your particular city/town affects what will be the optimal "commuting" bike for you. Not in that order. I'll also have a frame update soon and have carved out some time to work on the website, which will soon have products, prices, and pictures. No online ordering planned yet. Maybe never. We'll see. It's nice to at least talk to someone on the phone.