Eurobike 2009: First impressions

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This past week Richard and I made our annual mandatory pilgrimage to zeppelin land Friedrichshafen, Germany for the gargantuan European bicycle industry orgy known as Eurobike. It’s probably the thousandth such bike expo I’ve attended thus my lack of enthusiasm and low expectations. I’ve simply come to learn that it’s pretty much all been done before and for the most part all that changes are the fashion materials (titanium is out, boron is nowhere to be found and carbon nanotubes are in) and attempts to cash in on current trends and themes. More about these later. In any case 99.9999999% of the displays focus on racing bikes, mountain bikes BMX bikes and other sporting goods which, while fun to look at, are irrelevant to this blog and to WorkCycles. As expected I’ll show you some stuff you won’t find in the glossy rags.

Upon arriving at the fairground shuttle bus stop we were greeted by a motley pack of WOOF bikes from Amsterdam via China. These one-trick dogs were introduced with massive press attention a few months ago and have already become the scourge of Amsterdam. You can hardly throw a rock with hitting a fashion victim riding one. Sorry but I just fail to see the attraction to this cheaply made bike missing most of what makes a Dutch bike great, and the feeble output of the built-in LED lights doesn’t do much to sweeten the deal.

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Cheaply made you say? How’s this for attention to detail?… Coaster brake only combined with forward entry fork ends, no axle/chain tensioners and not even hard serrated washers to hold the axle in place: Good luck keeping that rear wheel in place and better luck stopping when your wheel slips forward dropping the chain. At least you won’t break the headlamp when you crash.

But that wasn’t the last we saw of WOOF. Again and again they reared their ugly headlamps.

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And just when we thought it was safe sailing we found that the WOOF had won (or perhaps purchased) a Eurobike award. The nature of the award I didn’t see nor care. We did note though that the bike displayed on the award stand was completely different from the nasty production models.

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If you’re going to make something pointless, please at least do it with a sense of humor such as these grips from OGK in Japan. For those unfamiliar with (or too young to remember) OGK, they’ve been around forever. Back in the day when yours truly rode a BMX bike, OGK made lots of BMX grips as well as helmets and other molded plastic goods.

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We’ve got Sumo wrestlers, geisha girls, bacteria and German flags.

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Of course OGK didn’t only bring grips to Eurobike. They also displayed the basket type child seats found on Japanese “Mama Chari” bikes. These fully enveloping seats for kids up to about three years old sit within a special handlebar, above a small front wheel. The mass of the child is thus low and roughly centered over the steering axis, making these bikes very easy to handle.

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OK, they’re not especially sexy but such child seats offer a lot of advantages:

  • minimal influence on steering and handling
  • high safety factor from good handling and child coverage
  • larger child can sit in front where it’s more fun
  • doubles as a basket
  • Eurobike 2009 62

    This concept of “moment of inertia” is one that the designers of the latest crop of fashion “townie” and “porteur” bikes with long, fork mounted front carriers would do well to learn; A load that steers with the handlebar and front wheel influences the steering quite seriously and the further the mass gets from the steering axis the worse the effect. With that simple fact of physics in mind let’s have a look at some bikes I saw at Eurobike:

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    Nice colors. Bad carriers.

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    Yes, you faithfully copied what you saw at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show last year. Too bad it’ll ride like crap and won’t stand upright with even a moderate load in there. Bike will fall over many times, damaging pretty paint.

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    I guess this one doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s sort of a mongrel BMX / folding / delivery bike and it’s been said a million times that mongrels make the best dogs. The handlebar integrated basket appeared at numerous stands but this iteration certainly deserves some style points.

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    Here’s another handlebar / carrier, smaller than granny’s little wicker basket. Even this fake little houseplant feels claustrophobic in there.

    In any case carrying stuff on bicycles was generally a 2009 Eurobike theme, even if it was often executed in a somewhat clumsy or clueless manner. Note that actually riding bicycles for transportation and knowing other people who also do so is very helpful for conceiving and designing utility bicycles and accessories. I realize it sounds crazy but it’s true.

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    This teeeny, one-rollerblade-wheeled trailer actually folded out of a rear carrier with no less than three hinges. I suppose it probably does what it’s supposed to but that still begs the question: Why bother? Isn’t it simpler to just carry that occasional load, as demonstrated in Holland every day:

    Bass On Bike

    This great photo by Flickr user “Kraskland” Thanks!

    But wait, there’s more… Such as this special mountain bike specifically developed to haul half pies of frozen pizza:

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    At least the pizza box is carbon fiber to make it easy to clean if the pizza defrosts before it’s delivered. It wasn’t specified whether there were any carbon nanotube molecules used in the construction.

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    Considerably less conceptual and more stylish were these lovely matched sets of leather saddles, grips and bags from Selle Monte Grappa in Italy.

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    Only in Italy.

    Not your color theme? How about this chromed Italian city bike outfitted with white everything including tires and probably the most adorable panniers I’ve ever seen. Check out the handlebar stem mounted newspaper holder. Rumor has it that the guy who put the grey kiddie seat on there has already been excommunicated from the Roman Cathocyclic Church.

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    Only in Italy can one ride such a bike without looking like a pretentious wanker.

    Speaking of bicycle child seats, there were lots of new ones to be seen at Eurobike. Those familiar with the exciting world of bike child seats knows that the current options can basically be divided into four categories:

    bike rack

  • Ugly but safe molded plastic bathtubs
  • IMG_1164

  • Minimalist Dutch seats that don’t meet “safety standards” elsewhere
  • Japanese “basket” type seats (see further up in this post)
  • home-brew-child-seat-amsterdam 2

  • Sketchy stuff dads cobble up from scraps and trash
  • But now Dutch child seat giant Bobike is going where no man has gone before with specially themed seats. This first series is apparently the Star Wars series, featuring the Imperial Storm Trooper and the Darth Vader.

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    The Storm Trooper model has a particularly ingenious built in ash-tray, perhaps in keeping with the recent Dutch obsession with smoking and the “Asbakfiets”

    Just outside was the perfect vehicle for Darth Vader, whom I really can’t picture on any regular bike:

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    This beast has LED lighting in the handlebar ends, a hubless front wheel to avoid catching long robes (fenders are still in the works), and electric drive to avoid undignified pedaling motions. A perfect way to glide around the Death Star.

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    It even folds compactly to fit into Lord Vader’s X-Wing fighter.

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    This is apparently the Storm Trooper version which also offers a pedal mode. Speaking of Vader I hope you’ve seen this Lego animation.

    I’ll be back with more great Eurobike finds ASAP.

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    22 Responses to “Eurobike 2009: First impressions”

    1. Julian Says:

      Ah, Henry, I do so enjoy your bike expo posts. I eagerly await a report on advances in Veltop technology.

      I like Mamachari’s too. How’s about you & Workcycles design a cycle-truck-ish, small front wheel, integrated child seat/basket/handlebar (’cause they’re so hot right now) kid/cargo bike that doesn’t look plastic and cheesy? Maybe reversible child position in the “mini-bak” for rear (infant) and forward (toddler) options?

      As for the Globe Live and other non-frame-mounted front rack bikes … are you saying there are no reasonable “porteur” designs to be made? I mean, I LOVE my frame-mounted rack, but I’ve heard nice things about Kogswell’s and other frenchie-french front rack geometry bikes. Do you think Globe et al. designed it wrong or that the whole concept is inferior? I agree that a headset lock would help the thing not tip over, though.

      And those new Bobike seats … ech. Now they’re building in “snack-traps”? What’s next, Big Gulp cupholders? I like Bobikes the way they’ve been – they haven’t looked like big plastic US seats, but have somewhat more coverage than the old-school GMG and other seats.

    2. henry Says:

      Hey Julian,,
      Ahhh, the dorktastique Veltop. In fact I did spot a more advanced version there. I promise to post it soon.

      A bad-ass Mamachari type bike has been a backburner project for some time. Thus the conversation with the good folks at OGK. The bike to support it is straightforward but this type of seat requires many large, expensive injection molds making it a very heavy investment. The best we could hope for in the short term would be an existing seat in nicer colors.

      We’re basically of the opinion that fork mounted front carriers are inferior to frame mounted ones in almost every regard. They’re suitable for either very light loads or professionals who are more concerned with carrying large objects than how the bike handles. It is possible to design the fork mounted rack and front end geometry to minimize the ill effects but only to a point. Most of the “porteur” bikes we’re seeing now are ill informed styling exercises.

      What’s next in the world of child seats? Branded toys (think Disney, Pixar etc) that plug into holders in the seats. The manufacturers expect to earn more from the toys than the seats. I’m serious here. Though there is actually some smart thinking in Bobike’s new seats they’ll fortunately continue with their “classic” line.

    3. Blaise Says:

      Bonjour Henry,

      I definitely love your bikes !

      About your pics “Minimalist Dutch seats that don’t meet “safety standards” elsewhere”, I’ve seen these two seats behind a lot of regular dutch bike.

      Do you sell the rear carrier which enable to get two children seats ?

      I would like to purchase one of these, unfortunately my building is too small to welcome a bakfiet, cause I want to enjoy bicycle with my 2 childs !

      Thank’s.
      Best wishes,
      Blaise

    4. henry Says:

      Bonjour Blaise,
      Thanks for your compliments. The rear carrier of the WorkCycles Fr8 is long enough for two simple GMG 911 child seats… but it only fits the Fr8.

      There are also other options for carrying two kids on a standard type bike: child seats front and rear for example, or rear child seat and a saddle behind the handlebar for a child old enough to hold on.

      It’s probably best to call WorkCycles to discuss the possibilities.

    5. John Says:

      Got to get me one of those Star Wars child seats…

    6. Jefe Says:

      It’s nice to see someone who can offer intelligent criticism of the crap the bike industry is putting out. Seems like many bikes are designed and produced without putting them through much testing. In trying to appeal to non-riders with cool colors and interesting (but mostly useless) add-ons, they turn-off the serious riders who realize how cheaply made these bikes are.

      I’m glad you’re able to run a business catering to people who use their bikes everyday. And now that WorkCycles are available in the U.S. maybe the trend of function over form will spread.

    7. John . Dublin Ireland Says:

      Interesting Display,nice Coloured Bikes. The best as usual is the Minimalist Dutch Bike the fr8.

      Was there any decent Bikes on Show like Tourers and Steel Racing Bikes ,and Novel Innovations like New style Gear changing Levers and Gadgets that you thought were good.

    8. henry Says:

      Hi John, Sure there were over 1000 exhibitors with probably 100,000 good looking racing bikes, mountain bikes and related components of all flavors on display. A couple Italian firms showed steel racing bikes both of the traditional lugged and modern TIG welded / oversized varieties. Most of the steel bikes were fixies though, and I’ll post more about that later. I just didn’t pay much attention to the displays that were both irrelevant to WorkCycles needs and not ridiculous enough to make fun of.

    9. Dave Says:

      Front racks seem to be all the rage in Portland these days too, and pretty much all the local builders who are building “city” bikes are building those exact bikes with flat, albatross handle bars or drop bars, front racks (sometimes frame-mounted, which is good), but most often with derailleurs instead of internal gears. It still seems to be a rarity to find even a chain guard (much less a full chain-case) on a locally built “city” bike here (except for Metrofiets, which builds bakfiets.nl style bikes).

      It’s good that people are actually starting to consider that people might want to carry stuff on a bike they would buy, but they have a ways to go to really make them practical for much of anything beyond a single bag of groceries. People are still doing a lot more carrying here on old mountain bikes with add-on rear racks and panniers.

    10. Fred Blasdel Says:

      Porteur racks and front loading in general can work extremely well — if the steering geometry is adjusted to match.

      With a low-trail fork (<40mm, instead of the standard 80mm), the wheel flop is diminished or non-existent, and you can ride no-handed with a 20kg load above the front wheel. I do it several times a week on my Kogswell P/R.

    11. Peter Says:

      Hi Henry,

      Thanks for the Eurobike report! I coun’t be there this year… Sorry to say I don’t agree on the WOOF report:) I ride a WOOF bike but mine is great I have to say. Quallity is not so good as your Bakfiets! But for the money I have payd is a lots of show. Last week I wanted to ask you when you will have these integrated lights on your bike but never mind, haha. Hope to read your next report soon!

    12. henry Says:

      Peter, The integrated, solar-powered lights are actually a neat feature (and perhaps the only feature of the WOOF). However I find this particular execution to be inadequate; the light is just too feeble. Perhaps solar cells, capacitors and LED lights will have to be developed further to make it practical, or a more quality oriented manufacturer will have to do it right. If we can get reliable, bright lights with a decent beam pattern from such a system I’ll be quick to build them into our bikes.

      In the meantime we use a system that, while much more expensive, is very effective: A hub dynamo, LED or halogen headlamp with light sensor and LED taillamp with standlight feature (stays on for a few minutes when stopped). All of the wiring is protected inside the frame, fork and fenders. Such a lighting system is maintenance-free and offers powerful lights with no discernible friction. For a somewhat greater investment he latest generation of LED headlamps offer amazingly powerful and precisely focused beams.

    13. patrick Says:

      Hi Henry, I can’t believe no one has said this already and am embarrassed that i even noticed, but Lord Vader doesn’t have an X wing, he has a T.I.E. fighter. Or a version of one, if I recall.

      As for the front loading stuff, I can agree with Fred that a low trail geometry works pretty well with a big front basket. I have a Kogswell like him that carries a bunch of stuff on the front (and in front panniers) with no complaints.

      Can’t wait to see production models of the Gr8, though… that might just put me on a Dutch bike.

      Thanks for the incisive, informative, and humorous post.

      Cheers

      Patrick

    14. henry Says:

      patrick,
      I was just waiting for somebody to catch that “mistake” I put in there to catch the true nerds amongst us. Nonetheless I don’t really understand why the underfunded and short-staffed Rebel Alliance got the more advanced and effective X-wings while the Imperials had to make do with such fragile TIE fighters.

      I believe that a properly designed porteur type bike can work fine but the big-name copycats have clearly missed the subtleties that make the difference between OK and handles like crap. Still, I’ll take a frame-mounted carrier any day. Larger fork mounted carriers are pretty stone age.

    15. Todd Edelman Says:

      Could you please explain the difference with loads of 10. 20 and 30kg on fork-mounted, stem/handlebar-mounted and frame-mounted racks in scientific terms? Some people have experience with low-rise front panniers or have seem and figure they are cool, etc.

      Is it really much cheaper to make a fork-mounted rack than the frame-kind? Can’t you get “safety bonus points” for a frame-mounted rack or even bribe relevant officials to make fork-mounted racks illegal?

    16. henry Says:

      Todd,
      No that’s too complicated a discussion for here nor would I even know what scientific data would be necessary to compare frame and fork mounted carriers. On the basis of what criteria anyway?

      But just for the sake of a rough comparison: A fork mounted carrier with 20kg is already very heavy and slow steering while a WorkCycles Fr8 with frame-mounted Massive Rack still steers rather normally with a 100kg load.

      Let’s not push for any regulations at all please! I’ve never said that fork mounted carriers are unsafe or that they should be banned. You’ve read that in yourself. They’re just generally inferior to frame-mounted carriers for most applications. If other companies want to keep designing and making fork mounted carriers more power to them. Some will do it well and others will do it poorly and yet others will randomly copy those who do it both well and poorly. That’s their business.

    17. Rob Says:

      For me the important thing is that folk carry loads comfortably on their bicycles.
      I ride FR8’s with a frame mounted massive rack so loaded that i find it hard to lift it yet can ride it hands free for a second or two….I ride bikes with baskets fitted to handlebars with a 6 pack, milk and bread in it…even a dog at times and its ok, not as stable but ok……a choice….!st choice for me…frame mounted rack every time…do i have a problem riding a bike with handlebar/fork mounted basket?…absolutely not…racks/baskets is where its at….where ever they are mounted.
      I am tired of seeing folk with £90 dual suspension bikes with two or more shopping bags hanging from the handlebars….
      If you want to know how different set ups affect riding then talk to your local bike shop they should have bikes you can try so that you can find out for yourself…..try it…..don’t take anyones word for it…not even henrys. Then you have your own definitive answer to your own questions.
      My opinion….rack mounted are more consistantly good, fork mounted racks can be hidiously swingy…
      Rob

    18. Nicolas Says:

      Groeten Henry,

      Thanks for the insight on Eurobike. I have a question that’s not really related to carrier cycles but since you’re trashing the Moof and you guys have opa/omafietsen on your catalog I’d like to have your opinion. I’m on the market for a couple of new city bikes (his and hers, for Paris) and my bike store carries Velorbis. Since they were at Eurobike as well and they make all sorts of city/transport bikes, I figured you probably had an opinion on them, like, do you consider them “just another retro fashion lookalike” or a serious brand that’s going to give me satisfaction for decades to come?
      Don’t want to make you badmouth colleagues, but I also don’t want to buy a bike that’s nothing but a fashion accessory. So let me know if I should just factor a Thalys ride into my budget and come buy a bike from you instead :D

    19. henry Says:

      Bonjour Nicolas,
      Trashing Moof? No, I think the bike you’re referring to is called a “Woof” like the sound a dog makes. I’ll try be diplomatic about Velorbis:The Pashleys they seem to have copied are nicer bikes and I think most of the bikes from reputable Dutch makes are of better quality and design. Of course we’d be happy to set you up with WorkCycles bikes if you want to spend a weekend in Amsterdam. But if that’s not convenient Azor (http://www.azor.nl) has a couple dealers in Paris and a pair of well-equipped Azors would keep you happily cycling for many years.

    20. Nicolas Says:

      Ow man, thanks for getting back to me all that time ago, I just didn’t notice, silly me… and my gf ended up getting us both Velorbis. Oh well… after the first tune-up, I can honestly say I’m satisfied with my ride. I’ll see how long that lasts, but the bike does feel solid, and my LBS is reputable so I don’t think I’ll be let down.
      Anyway, I was just writing to let you know that on my daily commute I see a dad with 2 kids on his beautiful Fr8 pretty much every morning, and I have a little thought for Workcycles. Cheers!

    21. Nicolas Says:

      Also, I wish I’d seen the “anonymous” trashing of Pashley bikes on the Curbside blog before I went ahead with my purchase. It’s not nice to feel like you’re buying products from people with unethical marketing principles.

    22. henry Says:

      Hi Nicolas,
      Well, as long as you’re cycling we won’t worry about which bike(s) you do it on. Those posts on the Curbside blog and a number of other blogs as well were quite distasteful, but that’s not your fault.

      We’ve sold a few Fr8’s to customers in Paris and we should soon have a dealer in Paris too so you’ll be seeing more.

      Groeten,
      Henry

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