Racing Bikes at Workcycles? Really?!

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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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P1, four years and two months old, training at the BMX track in Uithoorn. We start ’em young here.

A few weeks ago I brought the Workcycles crew and some shop friends to the Amsterdam Velodrome. I wanted to show them why, despite it sounding pathetically monotonous, I really like riding around in little ovals. In this case I really mean LITTLE ovals since our home track measures just 200m around. Short tracks though, necessitate steeply banked turns making for very exciting cycling. When you hit that wall of a turn in a group at 50-60km/hr the G-forces are amazing. For elite sprinters it’s actually more than 3g, comparable to the forces a fighter jet pilot experiences. You literally feel like you’re horizontal, and that’s not so far from the truth considering that the banking is over 48 degrees from horizontal and at those speeds you’re leaning a few degrees beyond that.

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Ruud riding the sprinter’s line.

Riding on such a steep track demands a good understanding of how it works and how to coordinate and signal your movements with the other riders to avoid painful and expensive crashes. It also requires a certain level of fitness. Polished and painted wood isn’t the grippiest surface so if you ride too slowly you’ll find yourself sliding down that banking on your ass… into the oncoming traffic. That’s not a pleasant thought but fortunately you don’t have to ride THAT fast to keep your tires stuck to the boards. But before venturing out into the open training sessions one begins with an introductory course which is exactly what we did that evening. Our instructor began the group with just getting familiar with a fixed gear bike on the infield while most of the group warily eyed the “wall of death” not believing they’d actually be riding on it. Then we practiced steadily more advanced and speedy exercises until everybody was at least semi-comfortaly riding high and low on the track, looking left and right as needed and signaling their intentions. The session concluded with flying lap challenge, handily won by Attila “the Hun”. He’s the dude in the world champion’s jersey and time-trial helmet in case there was any doubt there.

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Paceline exercises; Learning to quickly move up and down the track.

White knuckles aside everybody had a great time and several from the group are now psyched to continue riding at the velodrome. Ruud, workshop leader at Workcycles Jordaan, has already built up a sweet old track bike based on a slightly oddball but pretty in purple Weymans frame from Belgium. Attila has a set of wheels ready and is collecting parts to hang on a frame I’ll sketch up and have made for him. Marc and Marc have been exclaiming that it was one of the most exciting things they’ve ever tried and are also threatening to get in on the action.

Speaking of Marc (aka Amsterdamize) van Woudenberg we now have incontrovertible evidence of the hypocrisy of his anti-helmet rants. Never mind that we attempted in vain to assure Marc that wearing a helment for a high-speed, perhaps risky sporting activity is totally different concept from promoting helmets for civilian cyclists instead of building safe cycling conditions. Here it is for the world to see:

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Marc of Amsterdamize sporting a helment. The fixapocalypse is near!

What’s this have to do with Workcycles? Well it’s just a good example of how we just get a kick out of riding and wrenching bikes whether they be 45kg Family Trucksters or 7kg track bikes. Steadily more Amsterdam cyclists have been discovering this too, bringing their (non-utility) bikes to Workcycles for service, restoration and modifications. There are several good bike shops here specializing in modern crabon and aluminium road and mountain bikes but they don’t have much interest in building and maintaining road bikes of a more timeless nature. Several of us here have a long history building and wrenching classic road bikes so we’ve been enjoying putting these skills to use on our customers’ lovely, old bikes. A handful have been converted to fixed gear bikes (usually more classic than hipster in style… but not always). We’ve also put quite a few road bikes together from a mix of parts supplied by the customer (usually purchased 2nd hand) and the rest filled in by us. Unlike other shops where the staff foam at the mouth when one mentions mail-order prices we just accept that we sometimes can’t possibly compete with their prices and the habit of buying online is now so ingrained that some customers don’t even ask if we have it or can get it. Fine. Bring what you want, wherever you got it, and we’ll put it together perfectly and make sure it fits you. Even better: Discuss with us in advance what you’re doing and we’ll help you choose the parts so you don’t end up bringing us 8sp shifters, a 9sp chain, a 10sp cassette and worn out derailleurs. We’re willing to offer this because we simply bill for our time and we’re equally content to spend that time tapping bottom bracket threads and aligning dropouts, or discussing your needs in front of the computer screen.

Simultaneously we’ve been plotting away building our own road bikes, Workcycles style; that is great riding and fitting, versatile, no-BS, stylish today or in a decade bikes to enjoy riding pretty fast. Frankly we’re just not all that excited by many of the road bikes available here, especially not for those who fall outside the marketing bell curve. Bikes for smaller women tend to be more “shrink it and pink it” than serious efforts to meet the riders’ ergonomic needs. Bigger riders (of which we’ve no lack of here) complain about the lack of suitable bikes. Even some of those in the middle find the current crop of bikes to just not be their cup o’ tea. I suppose my kind of road bike sucks eggs from a marketing perspective but it’s logically designed to ride hard, even on cobbles and dirt without worrying about it breaking in half. It has the geometry of a real racing bike but I can screw real fenders on; Otherwise I probably won’t ride it from October to April. The wheels are fairly aero but still tough and a rim can be cheaply replaced when I wear through a brake track or damage one in a crash. The gearing is realistic; I couldn’t spin a 53/13 in my prime so the 11 and 12 are even more useless now. I could go on but I’ve already written about my own road bike and that is indeed well in the direction of what Workcycles will build in the near future.

henry's ANT road bike on amstel
My pale legs on my then new custom ANT road bike.

5 Responses to “Racing Bikes at Workcycles? Really?!”

  1. John Fracisco Says:

    Wow, what a neat looking BMX bike for a little guy. Maybe I don’t know where to look here in the USA, but generally I just see (and have bought) an overweight 16″, steel framed, Chinese built bike. Something proportionally lighter would be much better for the little guy to get around on without my concern about it falling over on him when he stops.

  2. henry Says:

    The little bike is micro mini size BMX bike, made for racers age 5-6. They’re rare and expensive creatures though. This one is a 6kg Redline Flite Micro that sells for some $700 or more. I bought it second hand last year for €175 and P1 had been riding it on the road in a different configuration. See:

  3. Peter Says:

    Completely unrelated. I do not want to spam workcycles email but had a question to you, as you might the best person who could help me. Feel free to delete once read.

    We are going to Osaka, Japan, next April and I would like to try and show our rickshaw-karaoke (it’s exactly as it sounds: a bike that carries people while they sing -> there. Obviously I cannot take my rickshaws with me, so I was wondering if you knew someone or a company that has cargobikes for rental in Osaka. Ideally a pedicab, but a bakfiets would do too. I do not seem to find anything on the web.

    I was also wondering if I would go to jail for that.

    Thanks for your help,

  4. henry Says:

    Hello Peter,
    That’s not spam but it’s more fun to share anyway. You might try posting the same question on the @Workcycles Facebook group – there’s a big and enthusiastic bunch of memebers there.

    I’ve been to Osaka several times (search japan in this blog for stories) and seriously doubt you’ll find any kind of large cargo bike to rent there.

    And it would not surprise me at all if the police don’t see it as harmless fun.

  5. Peter Says:

    Hello Henry and thanks for the reply,

    Too bad for my plans… I’m not on Facebook, so I won’t ask there for now. Thanks for the suggestion anyway, maybe I’ll ask my GF to do so.

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