Now for Something Completely Different: Les Trois Ballons Cyclosportive

June 17th, 2013 by henry

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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.

henry's ANT road bike on amstel
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.

henry's rainday road bike
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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

diplome
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.

Overhaul time: Why is My Bike Soooo Sloooow?

January 21st, 2013 by henry

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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.

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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.

Fr8 Henry 2012
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.

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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.

Orange Bike Days-2011 14

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!

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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.

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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.

Damn Near Lost My Fr8 Bike

December 26th, 2012 by henry

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Reenactment of the scene of the crime that could have but didn’t happen… except that P1 is happy in this photo instead of P2 going full-on tantrum boneless.

To cut to the chase I allllmost lost our beloved Workcycles Fr8 bike. In most every other alternate universe it would have been stolen.

Monday morning I couldn’t find the Fr8’s keys. I never, ever lose keys, so of course I assumed it must have been the fault of “she who misplaces keys”. We checked all the likely jacket pockets but with four year old already ambivalent about going out to play and quickly losing patience I just grabbed the Cargobike keys instead. But just before heading downstairs I looked outside to see who rode the Fr8 last. We park it in one of several racks in front of our house, usually where it is in the photo below.

bike racks outside our home in amsterdam.
Two of the five bike racks in front of our home. Fr8 is in the upper left of the image (with light blue carriers).

But wait, I could see from the window that the saddle was adjusted for me, not for “she who sometimes misplaces keys”. I was thus the last one to ride the bike so its keys are wherever I put/left them a few days ago when the Fr8 was last ridden a few days ago. The plot thickens. P1 and I go the three flights downstairs to the outside world and before unlocking the bakfiets we check the Fr8. Could he who never, ever loses keys actually have left the keys in the bike? Yep, there they were just hanging in the rear wheel lock. The (very protective when actually locked) Abus Granit City Chain was still wrapped in its bundle around the child saddle frame. It’s the perfect place to keep your chain lock by the way. So there it is: I left the keys in my €1500 bike for several days in the middle of Amsterdam, one of the bike theft capitals of the world… and nobody took it. I’m guessing nobody noticed it.

How could I pull such a boneheaded move? Well, firstly I’m just a bonehead sometimes. Just ask the trainer at our Wednesday evening track racing classes. But also anybody with young kids understands the general scenario: You’ve just arrived home with 2 year old daughter who you picked up at daycare after work. It’s the Friday before the Christmas vacation so the kids are partied and danced out. On the way home we stop at the grocery store to pick up some needed items. Maybe papa refuses to buy some strategically placed holiday item that little girl wants, or perhaps little girl is just hungry and tired. In any case little girl does just what any self respecting two year old does when they don’t get their way: Tantrum! Turn instantly into a desperate, crying, writhing, wriggling invertebrate creature. After succeeding in wrestling the writhing, now screaming invertebrate two year old into her bike seat you ride the couple minutes home in the driving rain hoping she won’t somehow manage to Houdini her way out of the five point harness. Needless to say the child saddle behind the handlebar is NOT appropriate under such conditions.

Upon arriving home you find an empty spot in the bike racks, carefully release the now frantic storm of a child from her seat, holding her securely around the middle. You grab your bag and the groceries from the bike’s bin and dash inside, out of the rain, of course carefully picking your way across the bike path thick with the evening’s bike and scooter traffic. You get inside warm home, remove wet clothes and shoes and two year old usually snaps seamlessly back into normal child mode. Family sits down for dinner and all is fine. Except that your bike is unlocked outside with the keys hanging in the lock.

I assume this sounds familiar to most every parent because I hear it all the time at Workcycles, usually while discussing the details for a new bike to replace the stolen one. People say “It was my own fault; I left the keys in the bike.” No, that’s total BS. Keys in the bike or not it was stolen. Yes, you made the job much easier but the asshole who took your bike is still a thief. An honest person would leave it alone. A good Samaritan would find a way to help you, perhaps locking the bike and leaving a note with their phone number or email.

Anyhow I’m tremendously relieved that we still have our Fr8.

Racing Bikes at Workcycles? Really?!

November 14th, 2012 by henry

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The Workcycles crew, plus and minus some at the Amsterdam Velodrome. Is it still there Johan?

Yeah really, seriously. A point I’ve been repeatedly hammering home over the years is that, in typical Dutch style, we just dig cycling in all it’s many flavors. Just because one gets around by bicycle doesn’t mean they can’t also get a kick out of cycling just for the fun of it. I write periodically (as periodically as I can manage at least) about bike touring with my family, bike racing, my weekly training at the velodrome and this is totally typical of the Workcycles crew and the Dutch in general. Amongst us we’ve one ex trackie/roadie, a couple globetrotting bike tourists, several vintage bike nuts and the tiniest, cutest little BMXer you’ve ever seen. And you can’t work here unless the bike is your daily transportation. Show up for your job interview on a scooter, no job dude. After all, how can you be an expert in bikes if you don’t ride one? All in all there’s a whole lotta bike love going on here. A bit of scooter dissing too, but for good reason. Not only do we ride all kinds of bikes, we also build, repair and restore them… more about that below.
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Amsterdam’s First Holiday Sale… @Workcycles!

November 7th, 2012 by henry

We always joke about how the Christmas sales and decorations and all that stuff come earlier every year. But now that I think about it I’ve been hearing this since my childhood so it can’t really be true. Even if the commercial exploitation of the holidays have been beginning just two days earlier each year the lights and fake snow would be going up just about as the kids head back to school, still brown from the summer holidays. So I guess it’s just one of those things we just think and talk about even though it’s total BS.

Here in the Netherlands the crass commercialization of Christmas isn’t nearly as crass and ridiculous as I remember it being in the US, partially because Sinterklaas (Santa’s grittier, politically incorrect, arguably racist Euro cousin) banished Santa long ago to the US and the North Pole. We don’t even have a Grinch here! Actually Dr. Seuss, the bestest kids’ books in the whole wide world are almost unknown here. Unfortnately for the Dutch, some things just don’t translate well.

Regardless of what and when the rest of the world is selling for Christmas we at Workcycles are having a really cool sale, starting now and running through the holidays. It’s really cool because it’s a great offer, because discounts on Workcycles bikes are as common as jet powered reindeer, and because Workcycles bikes are just plain old cool. At least we think so, even if we also crassly exploit the holidays commercially.

Here’s the deal:
Purchase a new bike from Workcycles in November or December and get up to 15%* of the value of the bike in gifts**!

You can choose gifts such as:
Crate, basket, saddle cover, kick scooter, runbike, panniers, gift certificate, maintenance, repairs, child seat, canopy, windscreen, box cover, book, LED light, helmet, special options and adaptations such as winter tires, another bike… basically, pretty much everything that’s not bolted to the bike.

* The 15% offer is valid for city bikes, Fr8’s, Gr8’s and kids’ bikes. For two-wheeled cargo bikes and three-wheeled cargo trikes (bakfietsen) 10% applies.

** Exceptions are: the bike and its components, such as front and rear carrier, the Fr8 child saddle, bike insurance and basic options such as gearing and brakes.

Here’s an example, just to be 100% clear about how the deal works:
Jan-Kees has done his research and has been plotting for a while how he can justify the purchase of a Workcycles Fr8 cross-frame with City front carrier and child saddle for his daughter (€1239 with VAT). She who wears the pants (or “trousers” for those in the UK!) in the family is skeptical. Wisely and magnanimously Jan-Kees takes (for FREE!) a pink Micro Mini scooter as Sietske’s x-mas gift, and… he secretly brings girlfriend Femke’s bike into Workcycles for a set of fresh tires, a sturdy 2-leg parking stand and a new saddle to replace the one that’s spilling its gel guts out. Jan-Kees, you see, is a romantic guy just like me! The women are happy and so is smart Jan-Kees ’cause he’s riding in style on his dream Fr8 with Sietske between his arms. We call that a win-win situation.

You can visit to buy the bike or you can order by email, by phone, or perhaps even try your luck ordering by Twitter or Facebook. We’re happy to ship just about anywhere the brown truck goes. Or visit Amsterdam for the holidays and bring a bike home…

Tell your friends and family. Get them cycling around town too and maybe some of those freebies will even find their way back to you as holiday gifts. What would we call that anyhow? “Meta-gifting?” “Me-gifting?” “Gift inducing?”

Workcycles bikes; The bike that keeps on giving! Or something like that.

Bikes on Dikes

September 12th, 2012 by henry

Aemstelhoeve bike camping trip 19

The wife and kids are back from their hot and lazy summer in Japan so we’ve been working double time the last couple weeks to get some proper Dutch summer family activities it. And we’ve been thankfully lucky enough to (finally!) have good weather too. Our favorite weekend activity is, as I’ve previously written about, bike touring with the family. Even a little two day tour within Holland gets everybody outside and is a great adventure for the kids. Sometimes we sleep in a hotel, sometimes we camp. Of course the young ‘uns totally dig sleeping in a tent… and whether it’s in verrewegistan or in a nearby park doesn’t matter at all. A tent’s a tent and that’s not a house and that’s apparently what counts.
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My Wicked New ANT “Road Bike”

July 30th, 2012 by henry

henry's ANT road bike on amstel

In and of itself me getting a new bike shouldn’t be all that interesting to you. This particular story though has connections that make it worth telling. There’s the story of why Mike Flanigan of ANT built me a bike. There’s the story of how the plan for a family touring bike became a road/time-trial race bike which later became a more versatile all-around road bike. Then there’s the bike itself which is a sort of Workcycles of the road bike world.
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Sleeping on the Bike

June 18th, 2012 by henry

There’s something about the rhythmic motion and sounds of cycling that lulls kids to sleep. My kids doze off in all manner of situations, some convenient and some rather unhandy. They’re obviously going to sleep on the way home in the evening from a long day out but climbing one handed several kilometers out of a valley in Burgundy while cradling your daughter’s head is an exercise in patience and subtle anti-cramping techniques. In a bakfiets it’s no problem at all; the bottom of our bak is actually lined with egg-crate foam for this purpose. Regardless I just can’t resist taking pictures of the tots crashed out on the bike. Below some of my favorites with commentary:

Henry P1 Amstel
We began practicing the various head supporting techniques shortly after P1 began riding in a seat (rather than in a Maxi-Cosi cot in the bakfiets). At 9 months old he would fall asleep after about half an hour of squealing glee on the road.
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Bikes, Trains, Planes and Automobiles

May 29th, 2012 by henry

Workcycles-Fr8-delivery-brussels-4

Bike transport is a constant challenge at Workcycles. People from all over the world mail, call, skype, tweet, facebook, flickr and visit to buy our special bikes but unless they live in the Netherlands actually getting that bike to them can be expensive. Customers are sometimes incredulous at what it costs to ship a utility bike or trike to their home in another country and sometimes respond with something like “But Chain Relaxion will send a crabon racing bike to me for €10.” Perhaps they will but that’s really a horse of a different color. That crabon, Campagimano equipped Pinarosa weighs less than a ciabatta and can be packed, wheels off, in a torsionally stiff, vertically compliant box the size of its compact geometry frame. Further Chain Relaxion ships about a gazillion packages per day so they get enormous discounts from the shipping firms who want them dearly as customers, and really aren’t all that flexible with high-maintenance, low turnover, little customers like Workcycles.
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Where’s Cargo?

May 15th, 2012 by henry

Where's Bakfiets?

My friend and former colleague Alex in Vancouver sent this picture of a Workcycles Cargobike buried under a tasteless display of kickballs in a Whole Foods organic grocery store. Wouldn’t it be better to just ride it, or maybe loan/rent it to customers?
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