28 March, 2014

A Very Different Beast

Hand-crafted bicycles are like craft-brewed beers. What works for some doesn't work for others. While I may love stouts, you might prefer IPAs. That's cool. Nothing wrong with either. With that precursor out of the way, I thought I'd write a little about the new-ish Shinola bicycles.

For those not familiar with the brand, it's a Detroit-centric new company who makes fabulous bicycles, watches, and leather goods. Much of their product line is assembled in Detroit, with components sourced from other places (primarily in the US, except for watch movements from Switzerland).

I'd read about and seen the bikes in cycling magazines. Cool enough and I liked the Detroit angle, as I live in the area and my family's history is largely in this region. I am a big believer. While the bikes were interesting, the watches really grabbed me. Especially once I saw one in person. Naturally, I ended up with one. Well, actually two...

But when I stopped in the Detroit retail store to see the watches, I encountered the bicycles. In a word: Wow. Like rolling jewelry. Beautiful lines. Gorgeous colors. Impeccable construction. Really, truly impressive. The frames are made in Waterloo, Wisconsin -- I believe in the same factory that made Schwinn's top-end line of Paramount road bikes back in the day. Then the bikes are assembled in Detroit. Yes, they use Japanese components. Get over it. There are no realistic alternatives made in the US. Much like TV manufacturing, the Pacific Rim smoked us here.

To say these bikes leave an impression is a gross understatement. Even non-bike people think they're sweet (before they see the price tag). On my first visit, they even had a Filson limited edition Runwell model. Filson is owned by the same parent company as Shinola - a nice brand synergy.


As much as I love these bikes, they're not my beer of choice. In fact, much like a Porter, they're just one I don't really care to drink. I'm not sure if I lack the tweediness for them, or if I feel I'd need a hipster "Greg Norton" mustache (hey, cool, I got a Husker Du reference in here...). It's just not my bike. But if you're looking for a city bike with style, performance, and carrying capacity, I'd go have myself a look. Better still, if you find yourself in Detroit or Tribeca, but sure to hit Shinola's flagship stores. It's a rush.


27 March, 2014

Standard? What's Standard?

Last year's addition of the Giant Defy Advanced carbon frameset offered SO many advantages. And one problem. The seatpost. In a well-meaning effort to boost aerodynamics, Giant gave the Defy a proprietary aero seatpost. What's the big deal, you say? Well now I've got no way to secure it in my Park Tools workstand. The Park's clamp only handles round profiles. And the rear brake cable runs externally beneath the top tube. Crap.

I check the Park web site - no, they don't have a retrofit clamp. Too bad, IO love Park's stuff. These guys are hands-down the industry leader for bike-related tools, in my opinion. On a recent visit to my favorite local bike shop, Aberdeen Bike & Outdoors I see a Trek with an aero seatpost clamped into a Bontrager adapter. Sweetness! But, of course, the Bontrager model was made specifically for the Trek Madone - I'm guessing the bike uses a Bontrager seatpost.

So, I turn to my friend Google. And sure enough, they do make an adapter. A little eBay search and I have one on the way for around 30 bucks. Problem solved. But even this system requires four different inserts depending on the Giant model you have. Wow!

Bicycles have become fascinating beasts. While standardization was always a little sketchy, it's become even more so. A quick Google search reveals no less than four standards for bottom brackets. And this is just the current crop. Someone will invent five more new ones, plus have to support legacy standards that aren't in this current crop. The bottom line is that buying a new frameset or putting new cranks on a bike you have will require a new bottom bracket (as was the case when installing Profiles on my mountain bike.

I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to run a bike shop service department. I spent a lot of years growing up working in shops (mostly for the discounts, not for the money...). You could use a pretty standard set of tools to work on 99.9% of bike problems. I think I had two sizes of spoke wrench and maybe three freewheel pullers. A single crank puller worked for most scenarios. I can only imagine what the investment today would be.

My clients in the tool and die industry work with a pretty common set of standards - US, Metric, and JIS. The Society of Automotive Engineers was created at least in part as a standards body. ISO and NSF set standards for quality and food safety respectively. I wonder why no one has proposed this for bicycles?

Just my random musings, the result of a lifetime spent around bikes and working on them. For me, my problem is now resolved (or will be once my adapter hits US shores from somewhere in Korea).


18 March, 2014

More than Meets the Eye

During the process of selecting my Giant Defy Advanced frameset, I got a glimpse of the complexities of carbon fiber frame selection. Through the process of tuning fibers, types, layups, and other factors, a manufacturer can completely change the riding profile of a bike.

Ride, sweet ride! Giant Defy Advanced 1 (mostly).

But a recent article in Bicycling really brought it all home for me. Wow, there is WAY more to it than I'd ever realized. And it makes me glad I chose to stick with the Giant brand - the world's largest manufacturer of carbon fiber bikes. With their resources, Giant has access to a broad range of manufacturing capabilities that others wouldn't. And, as a result, I think Giant offers a stable of bikes at outstanding price points for what you get.

If you haven't seen this article, have a look. It's pretty fascinating! Now, if we could just get on with Spring so I can hit the roads!


07 March, 2014

Dear Snowboarder...

If you've been doing this for any time, you know that skiers hate you. Hate may not even be a strong enough term, actually. I have several boarder friends who are cool, conscientious, and aware. But the vast majority don't seem to know why we don't like you...
  1. You're harder than hell to pass - you swoop all over the mountain. You're totally unpredictable. I can't really figure it out exactly, but skiers are SO much easier to pass. There's something about the arc of a snowboard turn that's different. This one's not your fault, but man it adds challenge for skiers overtaking you. Oh, and for some reason no one ever taught you to look uphill. As a result, I've nearly injured more of you than you'll ever know.
  2. You just plop down wherever is most convenient for you - on the hill, at a narrow entrance to a trail. While I know this is convenient for YOU, it's not for everyone else. Look around, slide to the side a little, please?
  3. The "seagulls" trick - I got this term from a boarder friend. It's where a flock of you all just sits down on top of the run. You look like seagulls. Or a slalom course -- I have been known to run you like gates.
  4. You beat the hell out of the snow on steep slopes - this one's more the beginners among you. When you're on a hill you're not really ready for, what do you do? Yup, sideslip the whole way down. A snowboard is a perfect spatula for removing all the good snow right down to solid ice. Way better, in fact, than skis. If you're not ready for a black run, stay off it.
  5. Lift lines - I know your board has a large surface area and is harder to control in tight spaces. But geez, I am sick of you knocking me around, running over the tops of my skis, and nearly pushing me off of chairlifts as we try to get on. I've seen a lot of you who are really good at this; please teach your friends! 
I'm sure there are a million things about skiers that bug you, too. Several of my boarder friends were surprised by at least a couple of these things. And I don't truly hate boarders - I know a ton of you who are super-cool and a genuine pleasure to share the slopes with. But a bunch of you do add a real challenge to skiing, especially at resorts that are boarder-heavy.

Finally, a joke for you: "Q: How does a snowboarder say good morning?  A: Sorry, dude...". And, yes, that was told to me by a boarder...

Peace out. We can all get a long. I'll give you a wide berth, maybe you can be more aware of others around you.