This is WorkCycles’ improvised “photo studio” and a good example of how things look behind the scenes here. We’re a small and flexible firm, and everybody who works here (all seven of us!) has to wear various hats. I’m the director but can sometimes be found in the workshop wrenching bikes though more often I’m “testing products” by riding around the city with kids and cargo. Everybody here is obsessed with bikes and cycling. We get around town by bike, obsessively design bikes, tour on bikes, race bikes, collect old bikes, build cool bikes, Facebook and blog about bikes.
Our love of all things bicycle led WorkCycles to spread its efforts over a broad range of activities, far too broad really. Of course we design, build and sell WorkCycles bikes both via our dealers and directly to customers worldwide. But also we’ve… run two (well-loved) shops, rented bikes and bakfietsen (cargo bikes), repaired most any bike or trike that rolled into our shops, sold Frog kids bikes, Micro run-bikes and scooters, kids helmets and all sorts of accessories. Parts for Dutch (cargo) bikes are difficult to find elsewhere so we’ve been shipping them to customers worldwide. Then there’s also the weird stuff like building special heavy-duty wheels for most of the bicycle taxi firms in Amsterdam, repairing nice old ladies’ old E-bikes that nobody else dares to touch, or building special touring bikes for a family that cycled around the world with kids 8, 9, and 10 all on their own bicycles.
Slowly over the past couple years we’ve been focussing our efforts. First we stopped renting bikes and bakfietsen. Of course we still have a small fleet of demo WorkCycles for customers to borrow and test for a few days. Gone is the time and attention consumed by setting up groups of tourists with bikes, getting calls that they lost the keys, got a flat tire, students bickering about the prices, whatever. It was fun when there were just a half dozen bike rental shops in Amsterdam and those who rented bikes tended to be interested in cycling. Now there are hundreds of bike rental places here (even the cigar shop around the corner!) and riding a bike in Amsterdam is just a must-do item on every tourist’s bucket list.
In 2015 we closed our Veemarkt shop in Amsterdam Oost. We’d been considering this step for several years but it was where I started WorkCycles in 2003 so I couldn’t let go of it. Eventually there was just no escaping the fact that our sales were increasingly outside the Netherlands both via the dealers and end-user direct. Currently more than 75% of WorkCycles’ bikes leave the country so running multiple shops in Amsterdam made no sense, neither economically nor organizationally. It was just unfortunate to leave our many customers in the eastern part of Amsterdam without a good local shop for maintenance.
More recently we’ve been turning away most non-WorkCycles bikes from our workshop. There’s less delay for our regular customers and we can maintain a better stock of the parts needed for our own bikes, instead of for every bike in the city. Maintaining WorkCycles bikes is of course also much more predictable for us which enables the workshop to plan more accurately, making everybody happier.
The more we focus the more smoothly our business runs. Each time we forecast that the turnover will suffer but the cost reduction should compensate. In fact the turnover invariably remains constant or even increases. Why? Probably because we have more time and attention to focus on our core business activities.
What’s next? Big changes are ahead but I’ll let you extrapolate and guess for now. There are a few more minor activities to trim away but we’re also going to make some fairly serious changes to how we do business both locally and abroad. Keep posted for more news.
Pete showed me a project he’s been working on for several years and quite frankly I feel a bit stupid for never noticing this phenomenon. It seems there are bicycle bell tops (“beldoppen” in Dutch) pressed into the streets all over the city. Rattling over cobblestones and tram tracks unscrews them from their bells and eventually flings them to the ground. Most beldoppen probably end up in the gutter and get swept up by the street cleaners but some get squished into the asphalt or between cobbles where they remain as part of the road surface. There they remain, sometimes for years, getting driven over by thousands of cars, trucks and motorcycles. Eventually the road gets resurfaced and the beldoppen disappear.
Few people would ever even see the beldoppen. Even fewer, or perhaps precisely ONE person would meticulously record their locations (many hundreds of them) and vital statistics in a database and re-photograph them each year during late May and June. Why May and June you wonder? Well, that’s the only time it’s light early enough to photograph these busy, inner-city locations in daylight but without traffic.
Some beldoppen remain in place so long that the passing traffic eventually wears them down to bell fossils. Only the center, circumference and vague pattern remain. Who would even realize what they were looking at if they spotted one of those?
Pete’s beldoppen project deserves a more public exhibition space though. It’s currently displayed on the walls of his WC. Any gallery curators in the market for a fascinating piece of urban archaeology art?
UPDATE 3 Feb 2016: The WorkCycles Winter Special Edition bikes have been a great success so we’ve decided to continue offering them until the end of February… with some small changes though: The WorkCycles credit offered though January is no longer part of each package. Now it’s just the bikes which are already a great deal as they stand.
For all those patiently waiting for a special deal on a WorkCycles bike we’ve got great news: This winter we’re building supercool, “Special Edition” bikes and selling them for fantastic prices. WorkCycles very rarely has sales or special offers so this is a big deal. Our last special offer was two or three years ago.
Typical WorkCycles though, we’re doing it in our own, slightly twisted way. You wanna deal? Well, then you’ll have to buy one of these Special Edition WorkCycles models. You’ll pay considerably less for the bike than the specifications would normally cost and get a really unique WorkCycles bike.
The colors? Black and bright, froggy green! We think they look awesome and hope you do too. We haven’t actually built all of these bikes yet so for now you’ll have to work with these workshop photos of the Fr8 Straight and your vivid imagination.
You can choose from the following Special Edition Fr8, Gr8 and Kr8 models. All prices are listed with VAT so if you’re ordering from outside the EU you can deduct the VAT (Ex VAT price = price/1.21).
Fr8 Straight This is a very cool variant on our most popular Fr8 build: an NN8D (8 speed with hand brakes) Fr8 with City front carrier and Fr8 long rear carrier. It’s satin black with bright, froggy green rims, fork, Escape Hatch and pedals. This setup would normally set you back €1699 but right now you pay €1549… for you, my friend, special, today!
Fr8 Uber Deluxe Eight gears just not enough for you? You want pavement shredding braking power and a really, really special Fr8? Not content with a Fr8 like your neighbor’s? The Uber Deluxe is the machine for you! Shimano Alfine 11 speed gear hub and Magura hydraulic brakes both reduce friction and provide more range both up- and downhill. City front carrier and Fr8 Long rear carrier. Extra upgrades include a black Brooks B67 saddle, powerful B&M Eyc headlamp with standlight, B&M taillamp with brake light function and Schwalbe AlMotion tires. The Uber Deluxe is also black and green but in a slightly different combination: Fenders, Escape Hatch, fork and pedals are green. Normally all this specialness would cost €2349 but for now it’s just €2099!
Fr8 El Cheapo Your heart is set on a Fr8 but your budget somewhat limited? There’s really nothing “Cheap” about this bike at all; The quality is exactly the same as other WorkCycles. It’s a Fr8 NR3D (3 speed with hand and coaster brake) with City front and Fr8 long rear carrier. Color combo is the same as Fr8 Straight: satin black with bright, froggy green rims, fork, Escape Hatch and pedals. This setup would normally cost €1449 but right now you pay €1299.
Alotta Fr8 Just in case a regular Fr8 with Massive Rack isn’t Heavy Duty enough for you… Alotta Fr8 has special HD rims, Marathon Plus tires, big BMX pedals and a custom fitted wooden crate. It’s also satin black and bright green but more extroverted. The front and rear carriers, rear fender, Escape Hatch and pedals are green. Equipped as NR8D with the tough and handy 8 speed coaster brake hub this happy tank of a bike would normally cost you €1854 but it’s now €1699.
Gr8 Straight Kind of like the Fr8 Straight, only more compact, lighter and well, a Gr8 instead of a Fr8. Thus it’s an NN8D (8 speed with hand brakes), City front carrier and Gr8 rear carrier. It’s satin black with bright, froggy green rims, fork, Escape Hatch and pedals. This bike would normally cost €1674 to build but for now you pay €1525.
Gr8 Uber Deluxe The best just ain’t good enough for you so we’ve devised the Uber Deluxe. Like it’s Fr8 big sister this one has the smooth running and wide range Alfine 11 speed hub. Braking is by powerful Magura hydraulics. City front carrier and Gr8 rear carrier. Extra upgrades include a black Brooks B67 saddle, powerful B&M Eyc headlamp with standlight, and B&M taillamp with brake light function. The Uber Deluxe is also black with the fenders, Escape Hatch, fork and pedals in green. Normally all this specialness would cost you €2224 but for now it’s just €1999.
Gr8 El Cheapo Champagne tastes on a (quality) beer budget? No problem! Quality wise this bike is missing nothing; It’s just a simpler NR3D build with 3 speed and coaster rear brake, City front carrier and Gr8 rear carrier. Color combo is the same as Fr8 Straight: satin black with bright, froggy green rims, fork, Escape Hatch and pedals. This setup would normally cost €1424 but right now you pay €1275.
The Special Edition WorkCycles Kr8 models We’re offering two different Special Edition versions of the Kr8 bakfiets; with and without electric assist. Each comes equipped with a set of special, color-matched accessories. Check these pages for more detailed information about the Kr8:
Kr8 Straight Our most popular Kr8 bakfiets family setup in a one-stop-shopping package and some wicked colors. This is an NN8D Kr8 in satin black with bright green fenders, fork, Escape Hatch and cable tunnel along the steering tube. The box panels are black and the big BMX pedals bright green. The package includes a bright green box cover and a custom black canopy with green rear wall. As if that wasn’t enough we’re adding our super new Ventisit bench cushion for kiddie comfort. This kit would normally have a price tag of €2664 but it’s now €2399.
Kr8 V-8 This Special Edition Kr8 marks the official introduction of midmotor electric assist at WorkCycles. We’ve been building WorkCycles with hub motors for several years and tested various midmotors during 2015. Our choice: The Schachner system from Austria. It’s powerful, smooth and reliable. It reacts very naturally to your pedal input, simply making you feel bizarrely strong. Cheap it is not.
A Shimano 8sp gear hub is not at all happy behind this brute so we’ll be building all Schachner equipped WorkCycles with the infinitely variable NuVinci hub. The combination is uncannily smooth and the NuVinci is very reliable. What goes up must also come down thus the Magura hydraulic rim brakes.
Kr8 V-8 comes in the same color combination and with the same accessory set as Kr8 Straight. All this bakfiets goodness would normally cost (ouch!) €4714. Order it now and get it for €4449.
More info about the Special Edition Sale The prices are valid from 1 January through 31 January 2016 and subject to change if needed. We’ll paint and build these bikes in batches this winter so some patience will be needed; Expect a couple months lead time.
Maybe want the deal but none of the above models fits your needs? Some small exceptions are possible. If you really can’t handle the froggy green we’ll build the bike all black (for the same price), but not another color. A slightly different specification or choice of carriers should be possible (price adjusted as needed). Some changes simply won’t fit our production. Just ask!
The extras: This is WorkCycles credit to be used pretty much as you wish. You can purchase accessories together with the bike, save it to pay for maintenance, give it to somebody as gift certificates or even apply it toward the purchase of another bike. You could even buy several bikes and get one more for free!
UPDATE 2015-11-30: OK, it’s finally time to get this back-burner project rolling! We’re sorting out the orders and will have MoreColor print the clothes. Due to popular demand T-shirts and more kids hoodie options have been added. Below I’ve added the full list with prices. Just send a mail with your requests.
Back when WorkCycles was about as much hobby as business I snapped a few photos of a cool bike I’d built for a customer, played around with some Photoshop filters and made a ghostlike image that looked like it’d be cool on a t-shirt or hoodie. My friend Stella (who also created the current WorkCycles logo and graphic style in 2007) cleaned up my amateurish Photochopping and passed it on More Color, our neighbors in the Veemarkt who do really fine, durable silkscreening. They were very popular; For several years we’d have More Color make a fresh batch each autumn. Here below is the original WorkCycles Kruisframe hoodie, modelled by my lovely wife Kyoko.
Eventually we got a little tired of always making hoodies, T-shirts and shop aprons with the same design. Along came Zeptonn, über hip illustrator and new papa. We wanted some new designs and Zeptonn really needed a WorkCycles bike to carry his freshly delivered, precious cargo around Groningen, bicycle capital of the world. Done deal. We like bartering here at WorkCycles!
We were super psyched about our funny new hoodies and T-shirts with our very own family of Amsterdammetjes characters. We had LOTS of them made in anticipation of great demand. We wore them proudly. Our kids wore them proudly. Our customers?… Meh. “Do you have any more of the other kind?” they asked, “You know, the ones with the pastoorsfiets, the bike that seems to hover on your chest?” We still dig the Zeptonn kit and we did eventually sell all of them, but man, it took years to do so.
Is that not just too cute or what?
OK, fine, we’re bike builders not fashion designers. We’re good at designing bikes you love, buy, ride and rave about. Less so when it comes to clothes. I guess I got lucky once.
So now after a couple years’ hiatus it’s high time for more WorkCycles hoodies and aprons. We’ve unfortunately learned that Zeptonn’s worms are just too darn hip for our customers, yet we cannot bear to make more of the originals that everybody keeps asking for. Did I mention yet today how badly we suck at marketing? Probably we could sell the old Kruisframe accessories until the cockroaches take over the earth yet we refuse to do so. Solution to our own self-inflicted problem? Months of fettling and internal strife to create WorkCycles Crossframe Hoodie 2.0!
Introducing our new design. It’s just like the original… only better. Look carefully and you’ll see that the old one was a WorkCycles classic Kruisframe. The new one is a WorkCycles Fr8 Crossframe. Even the graphic design has been refined to help this one to really pop like a sort of neo-retro hologram in your chest.
Above the apron, though of course the new ones will have the new design.
Here’s the thing though; WorkCycles is a little bike company, not a fashion house. We’re just not into maintaining an inventory of clothes in a range of styles, sizes and colors. Displaying them, keeping them clean, folded and organized, helping customers decide which color and size is best… I guess our eyes just glaze over while we stress about the all the bikes to build and ship.
We’re keeping it simple this time. We’ll do a run of hoodie sweatshirts for adults and kids, T-shirts and shop/kitchen aprons. As always the stuff will be nice, heavy, long wearing cotton. Our previous tries with organic cotton have been disappointing; They just weren’t of the same quality as the evil cotton versions. The kids’ hoodies were a hit last time so we’ll do those again too, sizes TBD. The aprons will be, as always, long and heavy-duty, equally handy for protecting your clothes in the workshop, kitchen or behind the summer BBQ. Color options? Everything in black, black or black baby! OK, except for the kiddie hoodies which come in some colors, because they have to.
Most of the run will be sold on a pre-order basis. We’ll print a handful more for stock but if you want one I really recommend the preorder. Once these are sold out I have absolutely no idea when we’ll have more made.
Prices (all Ex VAT): – Hoodies S-XXL, black, black or black €40 – Kids’ Hoodies size 2-3, navy blue or pink €30 – Kids’ Hoodies size 4-5, black or pink €35 – Kids’ Hoodies size 6-7, black or pink €35 – T-Shirts S-XXL, black, black or black €20 – Aprons, heavy duty black €25
How to Order: Send a mail to peopleatworkcyclesdotcom. Please include… – Your name – Address, City, Postal code, Country – Phone number (we need it for shipping) – What you’d like to order in which sizes
Payment can be by PayPal, credit card or bank but please don’t mail any payment info. We’ll reply with the options and a secure link.
We’re happy to ship them anywhere in the world but unfortunately shipping small items outside Europe tends to be too expensive. Maybe you want to purchase a new WorkCycles bike have the hoodie shipped along with it?
This folks is an 8 tooth cog. These are the tiniest cogs in the bike world and probably in all of machine world too since a gear with only eight teeth is actually a pretty bad idea. The problem is that it’s not really round, it’s basically an octagon so it runs roughly as it’s effective diameter gets bigger and smaller between each tooth. In freestyle BMX though, such tiny cogs are handy because they enable making a useful gear ratio with a tiny chainring… one that won’t get bent in half when a rider smacks it onto a stairway railing or priceless sculpture.
Anyhow at times like this we at WorkCycles feel a little like that little 8 toother: Handy but basically just a minuscule cog in the giant financial machine. A handful of power brokers work the controls and we spin around, trying to do our thing. My understanding of such matters is limited but I read that the powers that be decided it would be good to turn on the presses and print a whole lot more Euro money. Of course the total real value of that money hasn’t actually increased; It’s just been divided into smaller units. In other words printing more money makes whatever money you already have worth less. I suppose the saving grace is that I don’t have any money to lose value.
Oh and then there’s that exchange rate thing, the reason I’m driveling on about this. Now with more, less valuable Euros in the world, a Euro becomes less valuable in comparison to other currencies. In our case the US Dollar is the issue because the parts of the world that make lots of stuff sell their stuff in US Dollars. WorkCycles bikes are NOT made in one of those countries but some of their most expensive parts are: gear and dynamo hubs, rollerbrakes, some frames, cranks, pedals and other smaller components.
That above is the relationship between the value of a Euro and a Dollar over the last year. One Euro is worth approximately 30% fewer Dollars than a year ago. Alternatively you could say that the roughly 25% of a WorkCycles bike’s contents purchased in Dollars now costs 30% more for us Euro money wielding Dutch folks to purchase. Being a little company competing against giants our profit margins are already pathetic. We wrestle each year with where to set our prices so that our bikes are a good value for end customers, our dealers can earn a living from their margins, and we can pay our own employees and bills. It’s been apparent that considerable price increases would be necessary and and making them suck is not an option we’ll ever entertain. We delayed the inevitable as long as possible and have finally pulled the trigger: As of April 2015 WorkCycles bike prices are increasing approximately 10% instead of the usual yearly increases of a couple percent. We’ll honor quotes with the old prices from March 2015 so if you have one of those in your hands you’ve got about three weeks to to say “YES! and get a great deal”. On bikes sold to dealers our margin is so small that the new prices unfortunately have to apply to all new orders. I’ll be mailing those out shortly.
That was the BAD news. The GOOD news is that WorkCycles bikes are now about 30% cheaper for those of you outside Euroland! We pack and ship our bikes almost everywhere (except when it competes with our active dealers). Here are a few examples of the more exotic or unexpected destinations for WorkCycles bikes in the last year or so: Bahamas, Brazil, Chile, Cyprus, Seychelle, Iceland, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Nigeria, Romania, Russia, Singapore and Texas. Of course most WorkCycles end up in more predictable locales throughout Europe and North America.
With that out of the way here’s my four year old cutie doing what she loves best: riding her bike.
Whether I’ve the time or not, or a burning topic to write about is utterly irrelevant. I just noticed that in four days it’ll be a YEAR since I last added a post to Bakfiets en Meer. Jeetje, I’m sucking at this blog thing. Fortunately the blogging conditions are ideal today; The weather is too miserable for cycling and I’ve got a cold anyway. Here we go, and we’re going to begin with some photos I took at Bike Motion the local “sporty” bike expo in October. I like bike expos. You’re always guaranteed a mix of cool new gear, tons of boring generic stuff and mind blowingly stupid shit. Bike Motion 2014 was no exception.
Even though it’s in utility cycling paradise the Netherlands Bike Motion is a show for the sporty bikes. You see we ride those here too, all kinds of them actually. After riding two kids to school on my WorkCycles Fr8 transportfiets I sometimes go the the local Velodrome to train for my hobby: track racing. I was a decent endurance trackie (the kind of racers that sprinters think are roadies and roadies think are sprinters) when I was younger. I got back into the sport a couple years ago but am just now finally getting my act together to bring in some results.
I’m the old dude in black and yellow Gaul.nl kit racing against the young studs. I do OK too.
If the weather’s OK I often spend my Fridays riding through the countryside for five or six hours. One of my favorite routes is through the dunes, sometimes from Bloemendaal aan Zee down to Scheveningen and back through the bulb fields. Other Dutchies go touring, do ride cyclosportives or race BMX, or even ride mountain bikes here. Never mind that there are no mountains. The Dutch are creative and flexible in their thinking.
This is my son P1, then five, tearing it up on his little 20″ wheeled mountain bike in Noordwijkerhout. Coach Randy is following his motivated student. We learn ’em young here!
Modern mountain bikes, though, leave me cold. I’m sure there were hundreds of them at Bike Motion but I didn’t notice or take pictures of them. I’m still happy with the old skool bike I built back around 1990. Mostly I really dig riding with my son, just getting a kick out the fact that it can actually enjoy trail riding with such a little kid. When the trail is tight he just flies, sliding that teeny bike around like he was born with it on his feet. At 19kg he climbs hills like a scalded cat too. In a few years he’ll kick my ass and badly.
Yeah, Old Skool, that’s my mountain bike!
In no particular order here’s some stuff I found worthy of taking pictures of a few months ago:
In the fairly useless but still cool department was this UNDER 2500g fixed gear bike by Carbonreparaties.nl. I hefted it with my very own fingers and felt no reason to doubt the claim. It was bizarrely lacking in mass. Exactly what one does with such a bike isn’t clear but it’s nonetheless neat that somebody built it. It’s in the same category as fully functional model-sized V12 engines and musical performances made with offshore fog horns. Guy stuff.
Moving on toward more useful developments the availability of steadily fatter, high quality road tires is a trend we’re happy to see. The 1990’s was a low point in tiredom with horrible, harsh riding, super skinny 19 and 20mm jobs. Those fortunately disappeared in favor of 23mm as a standard. Like many others in the last couple years I’ve gone from 23mm to 25mm on most of my wheels and would try 27-28mm for rougher conditions. I managed to flat in two of two cyclo sportives last year and believe that at least one of those (a pinch flat while descending at eyeball rattling speed) could have been avoided with a bigger volume tire. I’m riding 25mm Veloflex tires on the road but these 27mm Challenges look a lot more than 2mm bigger. In fact the 25mm Veloflex measures the same as a 23mm Continental and for that matter only 1mm bigger than the 22mm Veloflex Records on my track training wheels (with narrower rims no less). In other words take manufacturer’s size designations with a grain of salt and measure stuff yourself.
Another development WorkCycles has been following are toothed belt drives, with an eye toward them being practical for utility bikes. They offer some advantages over chains but for various reasons just haven’t yet been practical for WorkCycles utility bikes: mainly that they’ve been too expensive, require too much precision and that the belt preload stresses internal gear hubs. Chatting for some time with the fellow at Gates we came to the realization that we were acquaintances from way back when. It was Frank Scurlock who I knew from various bike industry firms in California. It seems Gates is aware of these issues and is busy with a new belt system for 2016 or so that should make the belt practical for bikes like ours. It’ll be more fault tolerant and a wider pitch will enable cheaper cogs and rings (i.e. molded plastic, cast metal etc). The currently available city bike cranks, chains and cogs wear disappointingly quickly, sometimes under hard use within a year for a set. We’re thus curious to see what Gates comes up with.
Gates belt drive: Promising. Mando Footloose “hybrid drive”: Stupid. I’d seen this thing getting blogged up and touted in social media but hadn’t yet seen it in the flesh. Seriously, if this is the future of cycling I’ll just walk. The Mando Footloose is dubbed the first “hybrid” electric bike, meaning that there’s no direct, mechanical connection between the cranks and the rear wheel. Like a diesel locomotive the cranks power a generator which charges a battery. The motor in the rear hub is then powered by the battery. Even using aerospace quality components (which they’re most certainly NOT using) you’d be lucky to achieve much better than 50% efficiency. Compare that to well over 90% for even a dirty chain drive. Even appalling efficiency numbers aside the system removes the feeling of a direct connection between pedaling force and forward motion. Nooooooooooo!
Sure, I understand the potential advantages of a chainless drive system. It’s clean. You could potentially use a folding geometry that wouldn’t be practical with a chain in the way. Well actually I running out of advantages right there. So basically it’s an interesting idea for a folding bike. Why then does is this beast remain enormous when folded and why is it sooooo friggin’ heavy?! I don’t mean “heavy” as in heavier than my 9kg Brompton. I mean “heavy” as in almost impossible to lift at all, and it’s not even cleverly designed to roll along on it’s own wheels when folded.
Why else is the Footloose totally stupid? It’s touted as a practical development yet there’s no provision for carrying anything, no lights and it sports only vestigial fenders. The saddle height is only minimally adjustable. And it’s fuckin’ UGLY!
The Mando’s little pedal mounted kickstand is kinda cute though even that isn’t nearly as convenient as the foot operated one it replaces. Can’t the thing just balance like a Segway?
While we’re enjoying being snarky critical let’s talk about De Rosa for a minute. Back in the day when men were men and sheep ran scared De Rosa was one of the most highly regarded Italian race bike builders. Eddy Merckx always rode De Rosas, even when he wasn’t supposed to be riding De Rosas. I rode a De Rosa too for what that’s worth, though mine seemed to be something of a Friday afternoon Chianti job. The geometry is rather strange, the cast seatstay caps have their De Rosa logos upside down and I broke one of the diamond shaped chainstays after only ten years of racing and training. It was and still is pretty though, and it’s for sale in case you’re interested.
They now build boxy carbon frames with the most hideous graphics in the business. I was planning to snark about how De Rosa just sells frames made in the far east but I just did a little last minute research and discovered that they still build all of their frames (even the boxy carbon ones) in their own workshop in Cusano Milanino, Italy. Well takes the wind out of my snarky sails. OK, never mind… good on you De Rosa for maintaining your own Italian production while your competitors sell generics sourced in China. Do please hire a better graphic designer though.
Speaking of local production the craft of custom framebuilding had almost disappeared in the Netherlands. Back in the day (see above) there were hundreds of Dutch frame builders. Hand built steel frames have had something of a revival in the US and to a lesser extent in the UK, Italy and elsewhere. In the NL though there seemed to be no emotion for the craft element of cycling. RIH, the last of the famous builders retired and closed his doors a couple years ago. RIH was legendary for building dozens of world championship winning bikes in their long history and an Amsterdam Jordaan icon. Wim van der Kaaij’s shop was around the corner from WorkCycles. Around the same time that Wim was retiring local interest in hand-built bikes was finally emerging and a number of young Dutch framebuilders were getting started. The bike above is from St. Joris Cycles in Eindhoven who builds really clean looking full custom bikes.
Many cyclists in Amsterdam lamented the loss of RIH though and just couldn’t let this iconic make disappear. There was continuous rumor and speculation of a restart, despite Wim van der Kaaij being in his late 70’s. It really happened though; A number of young Amsterdammers opened a fresh new RIH atelier in Amsterdam Noord, complete with Mr. van der Kaaij building frames and teaching them his admittedly rather archaic framebuilding methods. Their stand at Bike Motion was amongst the most popular, constantly busy. I visited them last summer and I finally learned the origins of the frame of my old winter training bike that I’d bought for 100 guilders in a Groningen 2nd hand shop. It’s a 1960’s era RIH.
Sadly Wim van der Kaaij suddenly passed away in December. R.I.P. Wim; a big chunk of cycling history passes on with you. As for the future of RIH we’re curious to see their next moves. Good luck however you guys choose to go forward!
The Kr8 handles so sweetly that even a petite mom (160cm, 47kg in this case) can easily ride with a considerable load.
Just a couple weeks ago I wrote about our mighty, new Vrachtfiets. But wait, there’s more news at WorkCycles! The WorkCycles Kr8 bike is finally here and (patting self on shoulder) it’s just fantastic! There will actually be two Kr8’s: The two wheeled version of the Cargobike/Long John type seen here, and a linkage steered three-wheeler (wheels turn, box doesn’t). The Kr8 two-wheeler is now available and the trike will be ready later this year. After ten years of selling our Cargobike (Bakfiets.nl sister bike) the Kr8 represents a considerable evolutionary step on every front; It’s much lighter, steers better, has better ergonomics, a better parking stand, more customizable and it can be packed and shipped more easily. Hundreds of important details like the bench seat and its belts have been improved as well.
Lots of details to be seen here: Flange to split frame for shipment, cables cleanly routed behind a channel…
As with other WorkCycles bikes, the frames and parts are modular. Both Kr8 bike and trike share the same rear end. It’s borrowed from the Fr8 & Gr8, complete with Adaptive Seat Tube which offers great ergonomics to fit practically everybody. Like its siblings the Kr8 will fit riders from somewhat under 160cm to well over 200cm. A huge improvement over our previous Cargobike is the Kr8’s more biomechanically efficient seat tube angle.
Both the Fr8 long rear carrier and Gr8 rear carrier fit on the Kr8. Are you (wo)man enough to ride with this many kids?
Having the Fr8/Gr8 rear end also means that the same rear carriers and accessories fit the Kr8 as well. Two kids on the rear carrier with another four in the box, and one behind the handlebar? Sure, with the Fr8 long rear carrier that’s possible. Can you actually pedal over the bridge like that? No, probably not.
WorkCycles Escape Hatch (removable left fork end) for easy tire changes
Like the Fr8 and Gr8 the Kr8 also gets WorkCycles’ handy Escape Hatch so the rear tire or inner tube can be easily changed without opening the chaincase or having to adjust drivetrain parts. Separable frames and a box that flat-packs mean that Kr8’s can be packed and shipped more cheaply, with less chance of damage. The Kr8 bike fits in two boxes, each somewhat smaller than those we use for city bikes. WorkCycles exports some 75% of its bikes so the shipping factor is critical.
The Kr8 might very well be the worst kept secret in the history of bikes. We’ve actually been working on them for three years. Why the long development period? The challenge is that Workcycles is ambitious yet small, and we had all that other stuff to do the past few years too. WorkCycles begins production of a new model not on the basis of model years or other marketing based criteria, but when it’s really ready to make customers happy. We vowed that each Kr8 version had to be both unique and better than the competitors on practically every level. So we divided the project up into several components and rolled up our sleeves.
Note that this WorkCycles classic bakfiets actually has the same rear frame as the Kr8. We take our modular concept seriously.
The modular chassis elements described above were the most straightforward part of the project. The rear end is actually a refinement of the unit we’ve been using to build our classic bakfietsen with 8sp gearing and hydraulic brakes. Powerful Magura hydraulic brakes are thus an option on Kr8’s too. These cost more than the standard rollerbrakes but they add braking power for hilly terrain, reduce friction and weight, and make it much easier to fit electric assist. Otherwise Kr8’s will be equipped with maintenance-free Shimano IM80 rollerbrakes.
The front frames are entirely new. The two-wheeled Kr8 has a box of the same length as our previous Cargobike Long, the sister of the Bakfiets.nl Cargobike. The steering geometry, though, has been refined to sharpen its handling and reduce the turning radius. We’ve sold so few short Cargobikes in the last years that we don’t see a need to build one, but we’ll add an Extra Long Delivery version if the demand is there. The new Kr8 trike front end is particularly nice. It’s linkage (ackerman) steered so the box remains fixed while the front wheels turn, car style. That endows it with really easy, stable handling and a remarkably low center of gravity. When the parking brake is engaged with a big handle a foot folds down under the front of the box to prevent tipping. The kids can climb all over this bike with impunity.
Choose your own colors from about 200 options in the RAL range.
Developing a bike chassis might actually be easier than a good passenger compartment, especially one that’s safe, light and flat-packs for shipping. After experimenting with several box concepts we settled on a unique tubular frame with thin wooden panels. It’s several kilos lighter than our current wooden box and more damage resistant too. The current WorkCycles/Clarijs cover and canopy fit the two wheeler’s box and new ones will be designed for the trike. It’s even easy to replace or customize the panels. Want a box with clear, Lexan panels? Aluminium, colored plastic, perforated metal…?
The two-wheeler’s parking stand is also a critical feature yet strangely ignored by most manufacturers. After almost fifteen years on the market Maarten van Andel’s Bakfiets.nl Stabilo stand remained the standard (pun intended) by which others are judged, and all have fallen pathetically short. In it’s current form with magnetic latch the Stabilo is quite good. The Kr8 stand had to be at least as good. It also had to be different, both because Workcycles doesn’t imitate and because the old Stabilo wouldn’t fit the Kr8 anyway. After several tries we’ve succeeded here too. The new Kr8 stand is also a super stable four legger but its simpler, welded construction is more robust. It’s no longer necessary to flip the stand up with your foot; Just roll the bike forward and a spring linkage pushes and holds it up.
Yay! A cargobike with easily adjusted harnesses for the kids. The bench has been beefed up too.
As we all know the devil is in the details and there were hundreds of details to work out: routing the cables cleanly, tough and handy benches, trimming weight, engineering the center coupling, making it pretty and actually manufacturable… Just the boxes alone were a big project. The Kr8 two-wheeler is all done and the three-wheeler will follow in a few months. They retain all the goodness of our previous Cargobike yet with improvements throughout:
– The Kr8’s are remarkably light. The two-wheeler is more than 15% lighter than our current Cargobike… and some of the competitors are unspeakably heavy. – The sitting ergonomics, steering geometry and very low center of gravity make them easy and sporty to ride. The Kr8 is a nice bike – Kr8 two-wheeler can be boxed for transport throughout the world. With some more development the trike will be as well. – They look great and can be readily customized with special colors and features.
Needless to say we’re really proud of our new babies. They’re a couple solid evolutionary steps beyond anything else on the market and suitable for a broader range of situations than our previous bikes. The only remaining challenge is to think of better names. Kr8 will stick but how to differentiate the two- and three-wheeled versions? Your suggestions are welcome!
Sinterklaas and two Zwarte Piets test the Vrachtfiets in the TU Delft wind tunnel.
The Vrachtfiets is a really big, heavy-duty cargo hauler on four wheels that can do things pretty much no other bike can. It’s sturdy like a traditional Dutch bakfiets yet thoroughly modern with an ingenious suspension system and gasp…. electric assist. Yeah, yeah I already hear you thinking “Blasphemy! Henry hates electric assist!” Actually no I really don’t. I just hate most e-bikes because most e-bikes suck ginormously. The Vrachtfiets, on the other hand, is seriously different. It’s a robust, highly engineered workhorse that can carry a two cubic meter load. That’s a bigger load than many small delivery vans. Thus the name “Vrachtfiets”, Dutch for “Freight Bike”.
Vrachtfiets evolved out of a TU Delft student project and came to WorkCycles with it’s basic engineering already sorted out. A dozen pre-production Vrachtfietsen have been built and used by various firms including Ikea. Those are the two rider versions that will not go into production. At WorkCycles we’d long been considering the possibilities for a big transport bike as a serious small truck replacement for businesses and municipalities. The Vrachtfiets guys needed a partner with bike expertise and a way to promote and sell their bike. Add a super efficient, Dutch metalworking firm to build them and the partnership is complete.
A rare, modern day Dutch hard-man… at WorkCycles
Once upon a time Dutch hard-men rode heavily loaded, single-speed, fixed-gear bakfietsen tens of kilometers a day through wind, rain and snow (uphill both ways of course) to deliver their produce, milk, fish and baked goods, rocks and whatever other good old hard-man stuff they carried. For better or worse almost nobody in 2014 is so tough anymore; No modern enterprise will find employees willing to work that hard. So accepting that we live in the modern world the Vrachtfiets’ electric assist enormously extends the range and capabilities of a bakfiets. The system is a robust, EU legal 250W pedalec. With a full complement of 48V industrial quality battery packs hidden away under the cargo bay it’ll run a full work shift without recharging. You still have to pedal to ride and occasionally even a bit hard but it’s nothing to whine about. The batteries are pricey so the bike can be outfitted with one, two or three units – more can always be added later. It can climb hills and has big, hydraulic disk brakes on all four wheels to safely descend them too. Maximum load capacity is about 300kg, similar to our classic bakfietsen.
Four wheels with suspension make Vrachtfiets super stable and easy to ride, even in situations where either delta (rickshaw style) or tadpole (bakfiets style) type trikes get sketchy. There are some firms using modified rickshaws (bike taxis) for cargo transport but the Vrachtfiets is much more stable. It’s narrower and a little shorter too, which enables the Vrachtfiets to squeeze into spaces the rickshaw cannot.
The Vrachtfiets carries its load behind the rider so it’s much less limited in volume than our classic bakfietsen. The standard load platform is a full 200cm long and 100cm wide and low to the ground. Tall loads won’t impair the rider’s vision and the platform remains fixed when turning. Note that the platform extends the full width to keep the bike as narrow as possible. While the Vrachtfiets looks really big it’s actually only 100cm wide the same as a typical three-wheeled family bakfiets; It can be ridden on bike paths.
We’ll begin with two basic load platforms: the Pick Up (open) and the Cargo (box). Accessories such as a windscreen and a range of modular box options will be added as needed. Like other Workcycles bikes customization is always an option. How can you put Vrachtfietsen to work? We’ve the following applications in mind but there are certainly many, many more:
– Local deliveries: Keep your customers’ cargo secure with a 2m3 locking box – Food vending: Espresso, crepes, sandwiches, stroopwafels, ice-cream, panini. There’s enough surface area and volume to outfit a handy little kitchen. – Maintenance: Greens-keeping, neighborhood cleanup, trash collection, recycling collection. – Zoos: Animal feeding (Yes, we’ve done this before) – School bus: How many kids will fit on a 2m x 1m platform? My sketches say that four benches of three kids wide equals 12! That’s even handier than our current 8 child KDV bike schoolbus.
– How about a Vrachtfiets hearse? Please make my last ride be on a bicycle instead of a black Mercedes or Cadillac. If we can build Vrachtfietsen for both the nursery school and mortician we’ve got the full life span covered.
Though it’s not our target market a Vrachtfiets could even be built into a great family vehicle for a fraction of the cost of a Prius and far more fun (and infinitely greener).
We’re now sorting out the production details (think programming welding robots and the likes) and the first series of production Vrachtfietsen will be available in mid 2014. They’ll be sold in the Amsterdam region in order to follow them closely. Ideally the first bikes will land in the hands of customers who can provide handy feedback and we’ll offer some nice perks in exchange. Later they’ll be sold worldwide. We’ll get the Vrachtfiets on the WorkCycles website soon and a demo example in the shop so you can visit and try it out.
As you might already expect such a robust and sophisticated vehicle won’t come cheaply. Final prices have yet to be fixed but expect about €7000-10.000 depending on how your Vrachtfiets is equipped. That’s a considerable investment but then again the operating costs will be minuscule compared to any motor vehicle and one needs no drivers license to operated it.
That’s my family and I; a “selfie” in Lego if you will
Each first of January I wish everybody a happy, healthy and productive New Year though I have to come clean that this is my least favorite holidays. To begin with it’s on the wrong day of the year. The Gregorian calendar, and the Julian calendar that preceded it, are based on the relationship of earth and sun, the year changing with the winter solstice. Being here in dark Northern Europe I’m all for celebrating the days getting longer. The solstice, however, is on December 21 ten days before New Years Eve. The day we call December 31 is nothing special. Talk about getting off to a bad start! I also have other, more practical reasons, to dislike New Years but I’ll quit whining for a moment and talk about good stuff.
WorkCycles had a great 2013 and 2014 promises be even better. For the past few years we’ve been busy restructuring to run more efficiently, help our customers better, and just have more fun doing what we do. It was a lot of work but there comes a point in the growth of many firms when the management recognizes that disruptive changes are necessary to iron out quirks that hinder the business. These quirks get built in by the founder (yes that’s me), often an expert in his field but not in running a business (that’s me too). More strangeness gets added organically through the years by the staff the founder assembles. The trick to such a process is not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Many a firm becomes generic and ultimately irrelevant at this stage, after they strip out exactly what made them unique. We’ve been extra vigilant to avoid this because, frankly, I would have stuck with my corporate career had I wanted an easy, boring way to earn a living.
Meanwhile we’re launching not one but THREE really cool new bikes in 2014.The long awaited Workcycles Kr8 cargobike and trike represent big evolutionary leaps for the family utility vehicle (FUV?) world. Hey, FUV, I just made that up and I like it! Anyhow these bikes build on the success of the popular Fr8 and Gr8. The big Vrachtfiets cargo quad marks the start of a new partnership. More about these below but first more boring business lessons since you might not read it if the fun stuff came first.
A random pretty picture I took a few weeks ago. Much nicer to look at than business stuff.
It isn’t sexy marketing to tell the world how you’ve thoroughly analyzed your business and then custom built a Enterprise Resource Planning system to help manage practically every aspect of it. Handy it is though for working faster and more accurately, for streamlining the order process, communication, work flow and bookkeeping, to help employees know what we have, what it costs and where it comes from. We looked at dozens of packages but none fit Workcycles strange needs. We’re a small firm yet we do many different things: R&D, import, export, consumer, B2B and dealer sales, assembly, repair, rentals, even occasionally consulting. Several ERP suppliers politely said “No, we can’t do that.” Mega huge SAP told us “Yes, we can do that!”… but at a price more appropriate for a firm twenty times as big as Workcycles. Once satisfied that we’d figured out what we did and didn’t need we set out to build our own system, based on a time-tested database platform. We were willing to make compromises and reconsider how we do some things but changing the nature of WorkCycles was out of the question; We enjoy doing what we do. Though it’s far from easy, it is unique and has earned us a loyal customer base.
This transformation process has been several years in the making and our home-brewed ERP system is only a part of it. Some changes were less fun. Take, for example, dumping the accountant who’d made a mess of our administration, tediously working with our new accounting firm to reorganize and re-file several years of corporate bookkeeping. As if that wasn’t enough of a time waster the Dutch tax service hassled us every step of the way because they now owed us a huge tax refund. They repeatedly demanded the most bizarre evidence to back up the reinstated administration… nonsensical wild goose chases such as all of the purchase invoices above €500 from this and this and this quarter, but only for these and these types of goods. Each time we dutifully supplied the requested hundreds of pages of info they came back with new demands, making it obvious the tax inspector knew and cared nothing about actually running a business. After half a year of this our case got passed to another inspector who looked it over, approved it and got us paid in short order. What a pain in the ass that was. But we got our money back and together with our new accountants and ERP we’ve completely streamlined our administration process. Word of advice for those starting a business: Learn enough about corporate finance and bookkeeping to structure your company appropriately from the beginning. Choose your accounting firm carefully. Yeah, I see your eyes glazing over, that you just want to make bikes or software or do whatever it is you dig doing. Really though, it’ll eventually mean the difference between running a successful business, plodding along between crises and frustration, and going bankrupt.
Here’s Dylan doing business as usual, trying to ignore the attention.
Meanwhile I think we did a pretty good job of keeping these distractions from disturbing our daily business. There wasn’t much time or energy for developing new products in 2011 and 2012 but our sales remained steady and we kept building our bikes as carefully as ever. Our ever improving organization is not only better internally; it’s reflected in how we treat our customers and ultimately that’s the point. There’s much more to come. Amongst many other functions we’re working on keeping the service histories of customers’ bikes in order to signal certain types of maintenance, to keep track of issues, to see problem patterns and so on.
I dug this old, badly scanned photo of New Year’s residue in the Amsterdam Jordaan streets to show what goes on here. Imagine an entire city setting off so much fireworks that it looks like this everywhere.
That’s enough boring business stuff. Here’s another reason I dislike New Year’s: Spending an entire day hopelessly attempting to calm a crying three year old freaked out by the fireworks. You haven’t experienced New Years in Amsterdam or another European city? The cracking, booming, flashing fireworks begins a day or two early and builds to a deafening war zone in the evening. This is not the organized, pretty fireworks of the American 4th of July. No, this is populist anarchy in explosions being set off everywhere simultaneously. At midnight all hell breaks loose for an hour or so and then it finally begins to subside.
Now that you’ve successfully waded though my holiday rant and exciting tale of business management I can give you the juicy news… New WorkCycles bikes are coming!
One of the first Vrachtfiets Cargos at work delivering groceries in Brussels, BE.
First up is the Vrachtfiets, a really big, heavy-duty cargo hauler on four wheels that can do things pretty much no other bike can. It’s tough like a traditional Dutch bakfiets yet thoroughly modern with an ingenious suspension system and industrial strength electric assist. It’s a robust, highly engineered workhorse that can carry a two cubic meter load. That’s a bigger load than many small delivery vans. Thus the name “Vrachtfiets, Dutch for “Freight Bike”.
At WorkCycles we’d long been considering the possibilities for a big transport bike for businesses and municipalities. The Vrachtfiets guys needed a partner with bike expertise and a way to promote and sell their bike. Add a super efficient, Dutch metalworking firm to build them and the partnership is complete. The first series of production Vrachtfietsen will be available in early 2014 and will be sold in the Amsterdam region in order to follow them closely. Ideally the first bikes will land in the hands of customers who can provide handy feedback and we’ll offer perks in exchange. Later they’ll be sold worldwide.
The Vrachtfiets’ electric assist enormously extends the range and capabilities of a bakfiets. It can climb hills and has hydraulic disk brakes on all four wheels to safely descend them too. Four wheels with suspension make Vrachtfiets super stable and easy to ride.
Vrachtfiets open Pick-Up version.
The Vrachtfiets carries its load behind the rider so it’s much less limited in volume than a classic bakfiets. The standard load platform is a full 200cm long and 100cm wide and low to the ground. Tall loads won’t impair the rider’s vision and the platform remains fixed when turning. We’ll begin with two basic load platforms: the Pick Up (open) and the Cargo (box). Accessories such as a windscreen and a range of modular box options will be added as needed. Like other Workcycles bikes customization is always an option. How can you put Vrachtfietsen to work?
Stay tuned. We’ll be putting up more Vrachtfiets info here and on the WorkCycles site in the coming weeks.
I’ve no good photos of finished Kr8’s yet so here’s are some of our R&D staff in action testing a prototype Kr8’s fun factor.
But wait, there’s more! After three years in the works the WorkCycles Kr8 bakfietsen are finally coming! There are actually two Kr8’s: 1. A highly evolved two wheeled version of the Cargobike/Long John type with a box the same length as our current Cargobike Long. 2. A linkage steered three-wheeler (wheels turn, box doesn’t) with really easy, stable handling. It’s a trike that’s actually pleasant to ride.
Typical WorkCycles, the frames and parts are modular. Both models use the same rear end. It’s borrowed from the Fr8 & Gr8, complete with Adaptive Seat Tube (great ergonomics for everybody) and Escape Hatch (easy tire change). Two-part frames mean that Kr8’s can be packed and shipped more cheaply and with less chance of damage.
The front frames, boxes and parking stands are all new. The boxes are unique, combining a tubular aluminium frame with lightweight wooden panels. They look great, are tough and repairable, and even flat-pack for shipping.
The Kr8 two-wheeler is all done and the first examples will be delivered in February. The three-wheeler will follow a few months later. They retain all the goodness of our current Cargobike yet with improvements throughout:
– The Kr8’s are remarkably light. The two-wheeler is almost 20% lighter than our current Cargobike. The trike is only a little heavier – very light for a three-wheeler. – The sitting ergonomics, steering geometry and very low center of gravity make them easy and sporty to ride. – Kr8 two-wheeler can be boxed for transport throughout the world. Soon the trike will be as well. – They look great and can be readily customized with special colors and features.
Needless to say we’re really proud of our new babies. They’re each a couple solid evolutionary steps beyond anything else on the market and suitable for a broader range of situations than our current bikes.
Oh wait, I almost forgot that stupid thing about New Year’s “resolutions”. Which genius came up with the idea that suddenly, ten days after the winter solstice, you’re supposed to start doing something you didn’t previously do? My humble opinion: If it’s worth doing wouldn’t you already be doing it already?
I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve been riding my racing kind of bikes steadily more in the past couple years. In fact my actually riding bikes is at least partially to blame for the lack of activity on Bakfiets en Meer. Writing is fun, but riding bikes is much more fun. Sometimes riding bikes really fast with your friends and other guys who, in turn, try to ride faster than you is even more fun. So that’s how I’ve been occupying my free time, that is aside from dressing, organically feeding, home-schooling and ferrying our seven kids kids around in the bakfiets.
About a year and a half ago I got really friggin’ nasty infection in both ears that had me first in intense pain for a week, almost totally deaf for a couple months, and finally took the better part of a half year to completely eradicate. By the end of that ordeal my fitness level had devolved to vaguely above couch potato level. So I did what any obsessive cyclist would do and began riding my way back into fitness. Nothing builds basic conditioning like long, easy rides so once a week I rode my bike for as long as I possibly could. I returned from the first few weeks’ rides dazed, hungry and wasted after two or three hours. But slowly my body developed endurance again and re-learned to run on fat reserves. Normal people would reach a certain level of fitness, observe they can ride kinda fast, maybe admire their newfound leg muscles and be satisfied. Or maybe they’d reach the point where further progress requires investing inordinate amounts of time and realize they have better things to do with their life.
I’ve never been very good about dealing with that junction. Instead of reacting sanely and accepting that I’m just one more old dude who enjoys riding bikes I start thinking about how I could get really, really fast again. What times are guys of my age turning and what can I do to develop to that level? With whom can I hone my tactics? What races would be cool to do? Never mind that I run a company and have eight little kids, that it would probably be much more logical to just enjoy being fit and healthy.
A new, somewhat modern racing bike.
So of course I just kept on training. The three hour friday morning rides gradually grew to six and seven hours. I built a new, somewhat more modern racing bike. Whenever the weather even remotely allowed it the long rides continued through the winter. Six hours on the bike in zero degrees with some snow and rain? Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it just builds character. I took out a racing license again and began riding regularly with a club, and a really nice one at that: Gaul! has no sponsors so I needn’t advertise a bike shop, a roofing company and a bank when I ride. Instead we raise money for War Child.
This ugly old road bike with full fenders makes long, wet days in the saddle infinitely more fun.
All those hours on the bike though are just to build basic fitness, essentially building the ability to train and recover because actually I’ve never been able to compete at longer distance events, nor can I climb a hill significantly faster than your average sloth. Nope, my thing is going really fast for a couple to a few minutes… on the velodrome thus. As mentioned before I ride the local velodromes once or twice a week during the fall and winter, doing both group sessions with a trainer and open training sessions following my own plan. My real goals are to kick some masters ass on the track in a couple years. Note that it’s critical for the delusional bike racer to have goals; otherwise the pointlessness of the efforts would be immediately apparent.
Henry doing what he does does considerably better than climbing mountains.
So perhaps the most realistic element of my delusional cycling plans is that I at least have a well proven sense of what I’m good at and what I suck at. The old adage, converted to bike talk, is something like “Train your weaknesses. Race with your strengths.” So in that spirit I decided to enter in a race that is absolutely, utterly outside my the realm of my “strengths”. Rather it was precisely the sum of my weaknesses. The Dutch, French and Belgians call it a “cyclosportive”. The Italians and English speakers prefer the more glamorous “gran fondo”. I call it a “long ass day in the saddle grinding over lots of big mountains”.
Course profile of Les 3 Ballons Master: Climb over them mountains as fast as you can.
“Les Trois Ballons” sounded all happy and playful with balloons and stuff while the reality described on the website seemed decidedly more brutal: 213km and 4300 vertical meters divided amongst nine climbs including several good sized mountain passes in Alsace, France. The winners somehow manage to blast through all of this in about six and half hours. That’s an average of almost 33kph which I frankly just can’t wrap my head around. 50km+ for three kilometers? Now THAT I can deal with. The benchmark time for a “gold diploma” in my age group was a vaguely more reasonable 9:40, thus 22kph avg. Yeah, that’s almost ten hours of continuous, hard cycling.
It took me a while to commit. Firstly to I had to arrange transport as well as play dates and extra daycare for all nine kids. But could I even complete such a ride? There’s a big difference between riding solo at a relaxed pace in the pannekoeken flat Netherlands for seven hours and riding hard over steep climbs for maybe ten or more hours. To test I went out one day for a 200km solo ride, atypically sometimes riding pretty fast. The batteries of my GPS died after six hours, I got totally lost and crawled home nine and half hours and about 250km later. OK, I guess finishing Les 3 Ballons isn’t totally unrealistic. We’re on.
I never thought I’d see such a big, ugly cog on my road bike. Next time it’ll be even bigger, thank you very much.
I might not be able to climb a mountain much faster than your grandmother but I can prepare meticulously in the nerdiest of ways. Being only a couple weeks before the event it was pointless to do any special training (OK aside from riding het Kopje van Bloemendaal, our local 30m climblet, ten times one afternoon). Instead I focused on the equipment and getting to know the course (virtually of course). Having read numerous reports from previous editions it was apparent that lower gears than my flatland 42×23 would be needed. The most convenient answer was to just borrow the 30T cassette from my wife’s bike. Contrary to Shimano’s admonitions that such a large cog would shatter my derailleur into a million bits it shifted perfectly.
Aren’t my course notes “pro” looking? If only they could help pedal the bike.
In order to meter out my feeble effort most wisely I printed and taped attractive course notes on my top tube, color coded and all. Team mechanics do this for the top pro riders and it’s very important to look professional. In retrospect it was actually really nice to have, though it would have been considerably more helpful had the organizers not had to modify the course at the last minute.
Some skinnier, fitter, faster, more attractive Gaul! teammates.
Team Gaul! stayed in a great “gite rural” roughly in the middle of the course. We arrived a day early to “loosen up our legs” with a couple hours cycling in the hills. Really there isn’t much choice here: all roads lead up or down. Having not climbed a real hill on a road bike in many years I must admit thinking that just maybe my body had somehow morphed, late in life, into a reasonable climbing machine. You know, like Sean Kelly or Laurent Jalabert. It seemed reasonable; I’m fairly small and light and can time-trial quite well. Such a combination should logically go well uphill too. Well… wrong: Once that road pointed uphill I struggled while my teammates gradually left me behind. So be it. I am what I am.
Race day: Everything’s prepared, we’ve eaten a ton and hit the sack early. We’re amongst the first few hundred at the start so we’ll get in a fast group for the first, flat section. A couple (very strong) Gaul! teammates have the privilege of starting 15 minutes earlier amongst the 400 priority riders. These are all tough guys and gals who’re either well-known racers or who’ve posted top results here or elsewhere recently. My own goals are necessarily modest:
1. Finish. 2. Finish within the “gold diploma” time limit of 9:40.
Have number. Will race.
The first 15km were basically flat and of course the group rode as if we’d just started a 50km criterium: Average speed well over 40kph. I was happy to just tuck in and get swept along; knocking this part out quickly would at least save a chunk of time for minimal effort. Throughout the ride we’d form little groups after the descents and work together to speed through these sections. Sometimes these were the most painful parts because the group dictates the pace. You want to stretch and relax, grab a bite to eat between the climbs but getting dropped from the group would cost too much time.
We turned a corner in some village and hit the first little climb. I bode my teammates farewell and a good race as everybody scrambled up the hill at full tilt. Me? Oh I’ll just ride my own tempo here, thanks. The day is still very, very long. Hundreds of riders rode past, mostly in little groups while I looked at my heart rate monitor and thought “Nope, don’t go harder than this yet.” The next climb was a real bitch, though. It was 10km long and the last 2km were so steep that everybody’s hearts were redlined just to keep moving. As it turned out I was quite overgeared, even with the big cassette and 38T ring. Standing didn’t work either since the narrow road was covered with slippery grit and riders stopping and falling over. I just sat and ground it out, mountain bike style.
My plan was simple: Ride conservatively over the first five mountains until the top of Grand Ballon, the biggest climb and smack in the hottest part of the day. After that descent the ride is almost 3/4 done and nothing, barring a crash, could stop me. After Grand Ballon I’d ride as hard as I could. It turned out to be a good plan. Riders were dropping like flies on Grand Ballon. It was hot, oppressively hot for northern Europeans who’ve hardly seen a day above 20 degrees this Spring. The water/food stations were also poorly considered leaving a lot of riders dry and hungry in the middle of that long ascent. I was super thankful to get an extra refill in that section from a clubmate’s girlfriend. Thanks Michiel and GF who’s name I forgot! I suffered and doubted my sanity but always had enough in the tank to continue.
Though gravitationally challenged the downhills come naturally. Yes, I’m proud to note that I’m skilled at just not touching my brakes and letting the wheels do their work. Perhaps I was too enthusiastic though. The roads were sometimes quite rough and upon getting in a group at the foot of one descent I noted that my bike steered “funny”. Flat tire. All added up I saved perhaps five minutes in the descents and then lost somewhat more swapping out the tube and mini-pumping.
By the top of Grand Ballon it was clear my plan was working. All that energy I’d been diligently saving was beginning to pay top rate interest. Each time the road pointed toward the sky i reeled in dazed, exhausted riders. After 185km there was a climb with and undulating 2km of crazy steep 14-15% walls. With fresh legs you grit your teeth and stomp over these little bastards. I was anything but fresh but I’d saved just enough to keep moving. That was enough to ride past dozens of despondent souls, either stationary or in slow motion.
I’d been watching my average speed with an eye toward that second goal. I was on target to come in under 9:40… that is until we rounded a bend and saw a sign announcing 20km to go. Hearts sank. We all looked at our hyper accurate computers and though “20km!? Fuck that, it should be 17km to go!” We attacked those last humps with a vengeance in the big ring, organized ourselves into a smooth working group and hammered out those last, mostly flat, 20km at over 40kph average. Just before racing over the timing strip at the finish I saw 9:39.59 on my Garmin’s screen.
I found my clubmates, several of whom had finished more than an hour and a half earlier, and I ate my very much needed pasta meal. On our way back to the car I returned my timing chip and checked my result at the diploma tent…. Time: 9:40.01, Argent. 🙁
Considering that the course was extended by 3km without extending the time limits I’m just granting myself a virtual gold here folks. Was it fun? Yes, aside from much of the second half of the ride. All in all it was a great weekend and fantastic training. Will I do more of these? Yes, and of course I immediately got to thinking how I could go faster: Lower gears, riding in the mountains more often, another year of training in the legs, carrying handier food and wasting less time at the water stations, just riding less conservatively… A couple kilograms lighter bike would also help but that would mean spending real money which isn’t part of the plan. After all, even adding up all of these improvements I’ll still be finishing an hour behind the leaders.
I believe Brevet d’Argent means “Jeez you’re slow!” in Alsacian.
PS: I know that almost no racers ride steel bikes anymore but I figured that I’d have a few retro-compatriots at a cyclosportive. Surely there’d be some old guys on old bikes, or perhaps some more modern ferrous fans. Well, I looked amongst hundreds of bikes at the start and didn’t see any. I checked out every bike that passed me, every bike I passed, and tons of bikes parked at the finish. No, there was not one, single other steel framed bike. Nor did I see any titanium bikes. In fact even aluminium frames were few and far between. Carbon, carbon and more carbon.