Passing through the workshop the other morning I noticed there were four Massive Rack equipped WorkCycles Fr8’s being serviced, all from different Amsterdam customers. Each were quite unique bikes as well. Electric assist via a hub motor was being installed on the black and froggy green one. The battery will go under a false floor in the wooden crate.
The China green and green bike distributes books (can carries a bulldog) “De Wolleff en de Seve Geitjes” refers to a hilarious book he wrote and illustrated with Sacha Serano. The wolf and the seven goats is twisted version of a Grimm story told in pretty much the roughest possible “Plat Amsterdams” (Amsterdam dialect) language and style. My 8 year old son and I laugh ourselves into tears reading it aloud to each other.
The silver grey one is ridden by a local artist. The parts were actually hot dipped in zinc to galvanize them. It looks awesome and will never rust but it was such a pain in the butt to build it up afterwards that we’ll never, ever do that again.
The black and red Fr8 is just wicked cool. Just about everything on it is black… unless of course it’s red. Its owner also has a nearly identical bike in grey and orange. Just because he loves them.
Anyhow back to the Massive Rack. In principal it was designed for delivery and industrial transport but it’s just super handy so a fair number of them are being used by parents (compact bakfiets), artists, photographers and other small business owners.
The Massive Rack is securely mounted (with six bolts) to the Fr8’s frame. It doesn’t turn with the handlebars and front wheel when you steer so it has almost no influence on steering and handling. It fits either Fr8 Universal or Cross frame and can be combined with other Fr8 accessories such as the front child saddle and advertising board.
Any standard Euronorm 60x40cm crate or box fits perfectly in the Massive Rack and you can either bolt the crate down or secure it with a strap or clips to make it removable. Alternatively you can make a deeper crate to increase the volume. As for a maximum load capacity we’re not really sure. 100kg is absolutely no problem. 150kg won’t break it either but you’ll have to pump the front tire quite hard to steer well.
Maybe the most brilliant part of the Massive Rack is its integrated parking stand. At 65cm wide the bike stands as solidly as a house when parked. To deploy the stand just push it down with you foot and roll the bike back a little. Roll the bike forward and the spring-loaded stand folds up automatically behind the front wheel. It’s far enough from the pedals that you’ll never hit it with your feet and high enough from the ground that it cannot bottom out when cornering.
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!
Almost done; Just a little more Dremel action to make room in the chaincase for the Nuvinci hub’s large shifter unit.
Here is a techie tale of real world, long term product testing and what an enormous influence bike maintenance can have on your cycling pleasure. You may recall that I use my own bike to test components and accessories, usually for a couple years unless something just sucks. Then I just remove it as quickly as possible. If I really like something I just call it “mine” and leave it in place until I have a reason to do otherwise.
About a year ago during a several week cold spell I decided that my own Fr8 was deadly, painfully slow compared to others. But I hate repairing my own bikes so I just kept on riding it through the winter, spring, summer, fall and some more winter until a couple days ago. Nothing was really broken nor made even an annoying peep; I just had the feeling I was pedaling pretty hard while grandmas with flowers in their hands and moms on bakfietsen loaded with four kids glided on past. Was I just a little tired… for an entire year? Cycling on this bike just wasn’t as much fun as our others but usually I wouldn’t notice it and if I did notice I’d forget about it shortly after locking up (or not!) and walking inside.
This is exactly why we exhort you to regularly service your bike, unlike yours truly. A well maintained bike is just nice to ride and a crappy running bike is less so, even if you don’t actually notice it. Why sweat more than you need to? Why feel that click, clack or sloppy drivetrain when you can daily enjoy the pleasure of pedaling along silently and effortlessly. This must be one of the world’s cheapest pleasures.
I assumed the abundant friction in my bike had something to do with the NuVinci N360 infinitely variable hub since that’s its most unusual feature. With the bike in the lift the rear wheel required a good tug to turn and it didn’t spin at all. I was totally wrong about the hub but will get to that later. We’ve discussed the Nuvinci friction thing ad infinitum on the @Workcycles Facebook group. Unfortunately a Facebook group can’t be searched so finding those discussions again would mean hours of scrolling. No doubt Mr. Zuckerberg is snickering this very moment while he employs his own powerful FB search engine to scan the Groups for info about Nuvinci hubs and Workcycles Fr8’s.
I spoke to the folks at Fallbrook/Nuvinci. They assured us that that the cold should have little influence on the hub’s efficiency so there must be something wrong with my hub. A replacement hub was quickly dispatched. It then waited patiently for a half year, for the day that I have both the time and willpower to pull my Fr8 apart, build a new wheel and put it back together. The other day the temperature dropped well below freezing and my rear brake and shifter cables froze. After spinning madly to school and work for a few days in the tiny ratio it was stuck in I declared my bike officially “broken”. The operation could commence. I gathered several other new parts to try and stripped my bike.
With the wheel out of the bike and the rollerbrake removed I clamped the axle in the vise and spun. It spun rather well I must say. I mean this ain’t my track bike whose unsealed, oiled bearing wheels will spin for several minutes before gradually stopping, but the Nuvinci wheel did spin almost as well as most other multigear hubs do. Further, spinning axles with my fingers, I couldn’t detect any difference between the 18 month old, ridden daily and stored outdoors Nuvinci and the brand new one. As far as I can tell this hub is as good as new.
A fresh, clean Monark centerstand, aka “The Mother of All Centerstands” on the same bike when it sported skinnier tires and a single gear.
What then is dragging my ass down? Could it be the Hebie Chainglider, which “glides” along the chain instead of being attached to the frame? It and the chain running through it were both filled with a gritty, slimy paste of oil and dirt. It was vaguely audible while riding and sounds take energy to create. I decided: Away with Chainglider! I only put it on this bike because I was too lazy to cut up a real Hesling chaincase to fit around the Nuvinci’s shifter interface and the Monark “Mother of All Centerstands”. Actually I’m still kinda lazy; I removed the Monark centerstand and installed another Ursus Jumbo. I’d previously tested and broken one of these but it’s apparently been improved since then. Time to try it again, and very convenient that it just barely fits together with the chaincase.
My bike in the spring with the sludgy Hebie Chainglider still installed. I’m very happy to have a real, silent, frictionless Dutch chain case on my bike again.
Still, I couldn’t believe that either the Chainglider or the filthy (but almost new) chain were really causing so much friction. Spinning the crank backwards the friction was negligible, despite the scraping noises. So the Chainglider wasn’t helping the bike’s efficiency but it also couldn’t have been the root of the problem. Nonetheless a real Dutch chaincase is always better if it fits. After half an hour of Dremel grinding and careful adjustments to the brackets the chain ran through the Hesling case silently and with no friction whatsoever.
Shimano Rollerbrakes exposed; The IM80 rollerbrake has a much bigger, sturdier brake unit.
Next stop: Rollerbrakes. The Shimano IM80 rollerbrakes on this bike have performed admirably since I installed them. They stop the bike with authority and have good lever feel too. The braking power was confidence inspiring even while cycling in the steep hills of Brussels with two kids and baggage aboard.
Little did I realize, however, that my powerful rollerbrakes were braking ALL the time. Once the rear brake was in my hands it was obvious who the real culprit was; A fine paste of Shimano’s sacred, expensive rollerbrake grease and road dirt filled the brake unit requiring serious hand force to rotate it. The front brake was better but not much. Did I screw them up myself by putting too much grease in them? I don’t remember.
With copious quantities of brake cleaning fluid and compressed air I removed every trace of everything from the brake units. Wonder of wonders they spun almost freely now, rather like the name “Rollerbrake” would imply. No way I’m going to sludge these babies up with that stupid grease again! What else could I put in there to keep them from rusting and lubricate the innards? After a quick inventory of the dozens of little bottles and cans on the Workcycles shelves we decided that a thick, clingy OIL ought to work, even if it violates all instructions, death-warnings and warranties. After all these brakes are fairly well enclosed and don’t see any substantial heat here in cool, mostly flat Amsterdam. The most likely problem I anticipate is that they’ll have to be oiled periodically but whether that means monthly or half yearly remains to be seen. Even generously lubed with oil the rollerbrakes spun quite freely. Back in the bike the rear wheel and brake now spun totally normally.
While I was at it I adjusted the front (dynamo) hub cones: They were waaaay too tight, as delivered from the factory. Now my front wheel spins and spins as if it weren’t filled with magnets and coils. Take that, hub dynamo haters!
Of course I also had to fix the problem that pushed me to tear the bike down in the first place: All four cables were removed and given the super special Workcycles anti-freezing treatment. That was when I discovered that the Nuvinci shifter’s adjustment barrels had rusted solid. I just replaced the whole shifter, noting that the new one came with smoother, drawn cables. This is then the only problem the Nuvinci hub has had thus far, an excellent record for a first generation product.
The last update for the day was swapping the older 44T steel crank for the new Sugino 38T forged aluminium crank we’ve begun using. The 44/20 gearing had always seemed a little on the tall side so I figured 38/20 should be about right. Like the Shimano Nexus 8sp hub we fit thousands of, the Nuvinci’s 1:1 ratio is in the upper middle of the range. That is, these hubs have somewhat more undergearing than overgearing, generally quite handy for heavy duty bikes with full sized wheels.
Everything back in place, grips securely glued to the handlebars… and let’s see how it rides. I rolled out the door, pedaled along and Lijnbaansgracht and immediately found myself spinning out in the highest ratio? Huh? I did lower the gearing but not by so much and it was too high to begin with. It was dinner time so I just continued my spinning session for the kilometer home to deal with the gearing later.
That little silver thing next to the chain is the shifter interface and has to rotate most of the way around the axle – thus the cutaway.
The following morning I hung the bike up again and pulled the wheel to check that the shifter was installed correctly and reaching the full range of ratios. It was. Then I swapped the 20T cog for an 18T making the gearing almost the same as the old (too tall) 44/20. That was a considerable improvement but bizarrely the gearing is still much too low. Once up to speed on any flat road I just twist it into the highest ratio. Even the steepest bridges require shifting down to only about halfway through the range. So I’ll try 17T and 16T when I find them.
The upshot is that I’ve basically been dragging a plow around behind my bike for at least a year. Fixing the brakes, chaincase and front hub wasn’t just a “marginal gain”. It has improved the bike’s efficiency by so much that it can be ridden much faster with the same effort. I can’t be bothered to do the math but it really must be at least a 25-30% speed difference. That’s huge. Faster is funner and easier is nicer… so maintain your bikes folks! It really matters.
To be straightforward marketing just isn’t our specialty here at Workcycles. We’re great at developing lovely, handy, durable bikes, adapting them to your needs and keeping them running nicely for as long as possible. Marketing campaigns? Well, we tend to be full of great ideas that never get off the ground because we’re too busy building and selling bikes. Thus, with that as background… we introduce our winter special in the second week of February.
Actually it’s almost just in time considering that the temperature here in Amsterdam hardly dipped below freezing until last week. Then winter appeared with a vengeance bringing record low temperatures and a little snow that’s stuck around for a while already. Saturday morning we got up early with the kids to be amongst the first to enjoy sledding the fresh powder on the steep slopes of the Westerpark and try out some skating on the frozen canals! Yayyy!
Winter does make getting around by bike a little harder, thus our Winter Service Special. In particular water (even just a tiny bit) in the brake and gear cables tends to freeze, locking it in whatever position it was in while parked. You can read all about freezing cables and how to fix them here. Both our Fr8 and Cargobike have been fixed in one gear for a week and the Fr8’s rear brake is frozen solid as well. I’ve no time to fuss with my own bikes but fortunately you needn’t suffer the same inconvenience. Call us to make an appointment and we’ll give your bike a thorough winterizing.
While we’re at it we realized that we’ve accumulated a rather absurd inventory of tires, so they’re all 50% off (as long as we’re installing them). We’ve got possibly the best selection of city bike, transport bike and bakfiets tires on the planet so it’s a killer opportunity to put fresh rubber on your bike too.
In the same spirit we’ve been building nonstandard frames and parts into a collection of cool but somewhat quirky special bikes. Ride home with a great new bike for a great price and help us make space for other stuff. We’ll take photos and put more information online but here are a few examples below: (more…)
I had to read this article several times to understand exactly what was going on and what was confusing me. Namely a piece in the Belgian newspaper “Nieuwsblad” (means… “Newspaper) proclaims the bakfiets as the safest type of bike for carrying kids, safer thus than bike trailers or child seats on conventional bikes. Now that’s no great surprise for me and not a finding I have any reason to argue. I carry my own two precious ones in a bakfiets and further earn my salary making and selling them. Workcycles has thousands of bakfietsen on the roads and thus far, knock wood, we’re not aware of any notable injuries. Then again we’ve also sold thousands of conventional type bikes, many of them equipped to carry kids and ridden daily, and I’m not aware of any notable injuries there either. So that’s not a terribly conclusive comparison; It just suggests that carrying kids on bikes is a very safe thing to do.
The Nieuwsblad article refers to a recent test by the German Automobile Club (ADAC). So I searched the ADAC site (geez it’s handy to be able to understand a few languages!) as source but nowhere could I find any mention of a bakfiets, never mind a test comparing the safety of kids carried by bakfiets with anything. I did however find an ADAC test comparing child carrier trailers with child seats on conventional bikes. In this study ADAC compared one top-tested trailer (Burley Cub) against one top-tested rear child seat (Römer, model not specified). Nieuwsblad reported that they simply rammed each rig into a stationary object at 25km/hr but on the ADAC site they show each rig being rammed from the side by a VW Golf and report that the head-on collision was also tested. That covers a broader range of high-danger crash scenarios than Nieuwsblad 25km/hr head-on bike T-bone. Not surprisingly, the trailer tended to remain on two wheels while the much higher mounted child seat on regular bike was consistently knocked over.
Just for background info our German neighbors LOVE testing products and they relish putting a big “Zeer Gut” or “Gut” in red letters on advertisements and products. They’re also renowned for their rigorous testing methods. The bike tests run by German cycling magazines absolutely put to shame the fluff published by the US bikey press. The Dutch bike rags fall somewhere in between but they still bore me to death.
But how then did Nieuwsblad conclude from a test comparing trailer and rear child seat that a bakfiets is the safest?Good question! Well it seems that Roel De Cleen of the Belgian Fietsersbond (Cyclists’ Union) just made that part up. I don’t mean to imply that it’s an unreasonable conclusion. It is actually a very logical extrapolation… but it’s just not supported by the data cited in the article. Moral of the story: Be critical when reading test results, especially when not reading the original source.
Happy New Year everybody!
I hope I’ll have more time to write in 2012 since 2011 was rather sparse.
This is how stable a Workcycles Fr8 stands on the Massive Rack. Photo by Tom Resink, who also built these bikes.
UPDATE Fall 2015: Over the last few years we’ve built hundreds of bikes with electric assist, mostly Fr8’s and Kr8’s, also a few Gr8’s and classic city bikes. We’ve tried different components and developed a reliable, effective system that we now sell worldwide. These bikes are still individually built and tested in our Amsterdam workshop, thus not yet factory options that can be purchased via WorkCycles dealers. We now ship our E-bikes all over the world though. The development is ongoing and we expect to replace the current front hub motor with a mid motor in early 2016.
About the current electric assist system: The front hub motor is 36V x 225W with 30Nm torque. It is powerful enough to easily ride into Dutch winds and up moderate hills. This system would not be suitable for cranking, for example, a heavily loaded Kr8 up San Francisco hills.
The rear hub gearing with Shimano Nexus 8sp or NuVinci remains unaffected. The brakes are replaced by powerful and reliable Magura hydraulic rim brakes front and rear. The excellent standard B&M LED headlamp and taillights are powered by the motor battery.
Our system is not as sophisticated as the Bosch but it’s effective, smooth, durable and reliable, and (unlike the Bosch) it’s quite “future proof”. Parts can be replaced individually if needed and it won’t be obsoleted and unsupported in a couple years either.
E-Kr8: The 13Ah battery is under the bench in the box. Though slightly less convenient than the battery in the rear carrier it makes the “E” part of the bike almost invisible and the battery is kept warm in the winter by young occupants. A passenger can sit on the rear as well.
E-Fr8/Gr8: The 13Ah battery is custom built into a sturdy wooden crate on the front carrier making the entire system almost invisible. The rear carrier retains its full functionality.
Original artikle, as posted in 2011: Yes, we are asked constantly whether we’ll build a Fr8 or other Workcycles bike with electric assist. The answer is basically yes and no. By no means are we philosophically opposed to the idea of adding a motor to our bikes. We are however very much aware of the many downsides so we generally advise against it unless the need is clear.
For handyman firm Buurtklusser in hilly Nijmegen the need for some help was very obvious. This particular Fr8 will have its Massive Rack frequently loaded up with 100+ kg of cargo and the giant newspaper panniers filled with packages. How would you like to pedal uphill with a total weight of 250kg? In case you’re curious check out their blog at Trapkracht.nl (“Pedal Power”)
Further these bikes will be operated by professionals so we’ve a pretty good chance they’ll be used appropriately and maintained properly. That’s very different from sending special bikes out into the wild with customers who may not have the skills for (or interest in) maintaining them, nor a suitable workshop in the area to turn to when necessary. (more…)
Workcycles’ Tom Resink really does take much better pictures than I can.
Wow, I see it’s been almost three months since my last post here at BEM. I guess time just flies when you’ve two little kids running around, not to mention 15 employees, a few dozen suppliers, several thousand customers and a fleet of your own bikes begging for regular exercise. Somehow my blogging hobby just gets pushed to the back burner. I can’t even blame good weather and fun outdoor activities for my lack of writing activity, since the sun has mostly hidden behind a cold shield of clouds and rain since May. Heck, we had to go to the south of France for three weeks to find some decent weather!
But yes, we did make the annual pilgrimage to Eurobike in the famous Zeppelin City of Friedrichshafen, Germany again. And being approximately my gazillionth trade show visit I wasn’t surprised by much. Finding some cool stuff in the first few trade shows one visits is no great trick. That is, of course, assuming you’re actually at an expo for a topic you care about rather than, say, me going to the Office Furniture Expo. But that would be silly because I’m a bike nerd and not an office furniture geek, and though I have ideas for other businesses none of them have anything to do with office furniture aside from needing a place to sit and put my stuff.
But I digress. We went to Eurobike and despite searching quite thoroughly we didn’t find much that seemed “newsworthy”. In all fairness making headlines isn’t the primary goal of our visit. We go there because suppliers, dealers and other industry insiders from all over the world are also there. You get a better understanding of the people you do business with when you talk face to face. We explained to the owner of the Italian centerstand company that all of their new stands broke and he showed us improvements and asked to get some examples back. We exchanged business cards and then he ignored my emails. Over at Sun Race / Sturmey Archer we politely told them how a certain new shifter they’re selling is absolutely horrible, which we’ve since been in regular contact about and exchanging samples and vintage parts for inspiration. And sometimes your friend at A-Bikes connects you to somebody he knows at B-Bikes who knows a guy at C-Bikes who might be good to make the left-hand threaded, eleven speed spokes you need. (more…)
I’ll admit to finding the current worldwide rage for “fixies” rather amusing but then again I was stripping my friends’ and colleagues’ bikes down to minimalist, fixed-wheel, rat bikes fifteen years ago. So I do understand the aesthetic and beauty of simplicity. And I raced on the track for years and still “train” (for what goal I forget) weekly at the indoor Amsterdam Velodrome during the winter.
Besides I’d much rather see a million pretentious or wanna-be fixed-gear bikes than a million horrid, generic, silver hybrids with suspension forks… even last year’s ugly hybrids dressed up this year as considerably cuter “city bikes” with too short, plastic fenders, cosmetic racks and painted some apparently politically correct color like “sand” or teal green. Indeed if that’s the bike industry’s idea of a utilitarian bike I’d rather just ride a flat black, 20 year old steel Bianchi road bike stripped down to one gear and one brake… which in fact was my daily ride for a decade in California. I still have that bike but now it’s an extra bike since we live on the fourth floor, it’s not built for outdoor life and it’s also not a particularly practical way to carry little kids.
But I digress. Though Workcycles’ focus is heavy duty city and transport bicycles our workshops repair and modify all types of bikes. Even fixed gear bikes sometimes, and not just giant Dutch cargo trikes which also happen to have fixed wheels. We weren’t voted “Best Bike Shops in Amsterdam” (out of about 250) for nothin’. This particular fixed-gear modification I found to be interesting in a very typically Dutch (i.e. practical) way.
“Dave” visits us periodically for parts and service, almost always with dog in tow. Last week he came in with a broken chain as a result of his dog’s leash getting caught between chain and chainring. Bummer. We discussed the repair and Dave asked whether it would be possible to move the drivetrain over to the left side of the bike since his dog runs on the right side. He’d get more “fred marks” on his left leg but he and dog would be safer. I looked the bike over. It had a proper fixed-gear hub with a reverse thread lockring and a symmetrical bottom bracket axle so sure, it should work just fine assuming he’s not going to be cranking away like a track sprinter. It did turn out that the bottom bracket was trashed and had to be replaced with something shorter than what we normally use on city bikes but we found a perfect fit in my personal collection of random parts. A few hours later Dave was back on the road with a strange looking but more practical bike. I find it a down to earth example in the current rarified a-fixie-nado atmosphere of NJS track parts, collectors item keirin frames, precious colorway coordination curation and stupid wheel combinations.
An introduction to the introduction from editor Henry:
About a week has passed since this post first went online and as of this moment there are 109 comments, quite a few of them rather extensive, a couple mildly angry or at least indignant. A few people have expressed dismay that I would publish such a piece, even if I didn’t write it myself. Another has requested that I add something to the introduction to further qualify the post below. That last request seems the most appropriate approach and what I’ll try to do now.
Interestingly though the post is widely criticized and has even apparently sparked offline discussions in coffee shops (both flattering and a little scary) nobody has suggested that I remove it. This is good since that would be quite a disappointment to all those who’ve invested time in writing, editing, commenting, discussing and even writing their own blog posts about this post. So now I have to actually figure out what it is that really needs to be said to further qualify this post.
That the post is, in retrospect, a grand faux pas is an understatement. But every now and then I just do that: I make a weird misjudgment and stick my foot deeply in my mouth. As one miffed commenter noted it doesn’t matter so much that it’s a guest post; It is my blog and I determine its content. Fair enough.
But what is exactly the problem? I’ve reread the post and slogged through the comments several times. I see two basic issues:
1. Several commenters dispute Josh’s experiences and opinions about two of the bikes discussed: the Bullitt and the Metrofiets. The Metrofiets I’ve only seen in photos so for the sake of discussing the post I’ll focus on the Bullitt which I’m familiar with.
Concerning the Bullitt I had already added from the beginning an editor’s comment that Josh’s opinion about aluminium being an unsuitable frame material was unsubstantiated and probably unjustified. Nonetheless a discussion raged about whether aluminium is a suitable material for such a bike, something I found rather silly.
Yet for all the defense it’s received here the Bullitt IS, in all fairness, a quirky bike. I’ve ridden several of them, loaded and unloaded (as well as being a noted bike designer who’s ridden a LOT of bikes) so I’m not in the dark here. Aside from the still underground CETMA the Bullitt really has no competitors in the world of light, sporty Long John type bikes. Structurally and conceptually it’s brilliant: light and apparently quite tough. But come on folks, please accept that it’s got its quirks too: The steering geometry is far from ideal and the ergonomics are strange. By no means is either factor a deal killer; After a little while you get used to the handing and forget it was ever a problem. You either adapt to the bike’s sitting position or swap out a few parts to make it fit better. My own bike designs have their own quirks and I really don’t mind hearing about them either.
I suspect that any criticism of a bike with such a cult following as the Bullitt will deliver some angry fans to your doorstep but Josh unfortunately digressed too far into opinion instead of more objectively addressing the bike’s virtues, faults and eccentricities. Interestingly, Josh’s Metrofiets critique stuck more closely to his own experiences but was also met with resistance.
2. Interesting material but in the wrong place: I believe the crux of the issue is that posting critical reviews on the forum of a person or company playing in that very field is just tricky business. It isn’t impossible: I do it regularly and somehow seem to find shelter in a steadily more developed mix of obvious irony, humor, absurdity, self-reflection and hard-core objective criticism that’s just difficult to argue with honestly. And, yep, sometimes I just plain old shoot myself in the foot. That I accept as a necessary consequence of keeping Bakfiets en Meer, and by extension Workcycles honest and real. There’s no fluff here folks and I’m not a professional writer.
But that’s all much more difficult to keep straight in a guest post. Josh has a lot of experience and insights and a lot to say. I was game to let him take a crack at a post and I take full responsibility for the results. But then as he notes in one of the now 110 comments below, he’s more comfortable working with metal than with words. And I have only so many hours for blogging. I do also run a company, have a wife and two little kids and like to ride my racing bike fast with my friends when possible.
We’ve discussed this experience offline and Josh seems game for another try… ahem yes, with a somewhat different approach. We’ll see how it goes.
An introduction from editor Henry (the original introduction that is):
Over the years I’ve offered several colleagues the opportunity to do a “guest post” but maybe only once before has somebody gone for it. I’ll begin this one with an introduction and preface:
I didn’t write the post below nor do I necessarily even agree with some of the things Josh wrote. It’s an opinion piece. Nonetheless I found it an interesting and discussion provoking read and after somewhat too many hours editing chose to publish it. Even though it’s written by somebody completely independent of Workcycles, I founded Workcycles and this is my blog. So no, I can’t really avoid taking some heat for the criticism of colleagues’ bikes but I can live with that.
I’ve known Josh Boisclair for six or seven years now. He’s worked for two of our dealers, visited us in Amsterdam a couple times and spent a week or two “learning” in the Workcycles workshops. Realistically he was learning much more about Dutch culture and cycling than about building Dutch bikes because he’s one of those few, gifted mechanic types who doesn’t really need to be shown how something as simple as a bike works. With a couple hints about what to be looking for he’ll figure out the rest. Josh has spotted and solved a couple of our production irregularities from afar.
Such characters don’t generally come without their eccentricities and Josh is no exception. Perhaps Josh’s tick is that he’s brutally, sometimes painfully honest. If he sees that something’s been poorly designed or made… he’ll say it regardless of the political ramifications. If he digs something you’ll hear that too. He doesn’t kiss ass and that makes a great barometer for the thick-skinned. And I suppose that’s why you get to enjoy Josh’s take on cargo bikes ca. 2011; If he didn’t like my own bikes he’d have explained exactly why and then there wouldn’t really be any point in me publishing such unflattering stuff on my own blog.
The other tick is a rather humorous tendency toward conspiracy theory or at least a belief rooted in the misconception that everybody has innate technical understanding. Thus one who sells something that’s less than “as good as they can be reasonably expected to produce” is quickly categorized as dishonest, rather than possibly naive or disinterested.
So my dear colleagues apologies in advance for any bruised egos that result from the report below. I didn’t write it but I do trust both the technical understanding and honesty of its source. Put your hardhats on and have a fun ride!
Workcycles bikes demonstrating that they’re not spring flowers. They’re built to live like this.
This is a slightly updated repost: Winter is upon us somewhat early this year and this is highly relevant info for anybody who cycles through the winter, especially if your bike is stored outdoors.
By far the most common problem that the cyclist encounters with winter cycling is the brake or gear cables freezing. This is generally the result of water condensing or dripping into the cable housing and then freezing, effectively bonding the inner cable to the housing. It only takes a tiny bit of water to do this but we fortunately have a solution. Read below for an explanation. ………………………………………………………………………………
We arrived at work yesterday figuring that the sub-zero cold, wind and snow would keep most of the customers away, leaving us with time to work on some projects. The highest priority is reconfiguring our workshop after building a massive, floor-anchored, steel frame to hang our electric bike lifts from. It’s a great improvement but not entirely our own initiative. The lifts, you see, were bolted into the 150 or 200 year old wooden beams of our ceiling… and thus the floor of the neighbors upstairs. Though the lifts are nearly new and operate very quietly they do make some vibration. Standing on the concrete (over sand) floor we never noticed this vibration but it drove the lady upstairs crazy. Actually she’s complained very vocally and angrily about a lot of things, apparently calling and writing every possible authority on a regular basis. Most of her complaints have nothing to do with our activities (there’s another bike workshop next door and several apartments have been renovated), but the vibration was a legitimate issue according to the various city inspectors who visited to investigate. (more…)