Archive for the ‘Bikes in use’ Category

Creating Cyclists: Start ’em Young

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

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In promoting cycling for transportation worldwide most of the discussion and action tends to focus on getting adults on bikes, particularly for that very American concept of “commuting” a considerable distance from home to work. Here in the Netherlands cycling for transportation just means generally getting around by bicycle. It’s mostly short distances since people tend to live much closer to work or school. Few would consider cycling greater distances unless it’s just for fun; Urbanites would instead take a train and country folk would most likely drive.

Here cyclists are mostly created from birth, both by example and by teaching kids to ride bikes at a very young age. Below is our story of our son P1 who now at the tender age of 2 1/2 is quite comfortable on a real pedal bike without “training wheels”. With a sample of one it’s certainly not scientifically proven but friends and customers have also had success with the same methods. So without further ado, here’s a timeline of P1’s development as a cyclist (so far). Please note that not all of the pictures show P1 at the age the activity actually begun:

Shanghai Workcycles?

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

shanghai u lock

A couple weeks ago Matt Ransford sent me the image that inspired this post about the connection between transport bikes and colonial rulers. Accompanying the image above Matt writes:

“I’ve got another one for you, this time from Shanghai. It’s not as impressive in the photo as it was in person, but this U-lock had to have been at least 1-inch thick rebar. The removeable bar is hooked at one end and locked in the can at the other. The lock itself is a simple padlock, but it’s at the far end of that can so that you can’t get any leverage if you try to get in there with bolt cutters. Pretty impressively brute DIY solution.


I’ll add that it’s all the more impressive because such a lock can be made (and probably was made) entirely from scrap parts (the fire extinguisher can being the best part). That’s good design, as opposed to most of the pointless bike crap invented by professional designers.

shanghai workcycles transport

Just a couple days later Erwin van Doorne, also in Shanghai, sent me the above picture of his bike having a flat repaired. Translation of his Dutch explanation:

” Occasionally I get a flat tire (there is sometimes a lot of glass and metal on the road here) but for a couple kwai they patch your tire.

zài jiàn,

The bike is a Workcycles Transport 2-Tube and it’s outfitted as Dutch as can be, right down to the Bobike child seat and Dutch milk crate on the front carrier. The frame is 70cm huge so it’s a fair guess that Erwin would have trouble finding a bike to fit his 200cm or so frame in China.

Note that the bike mechanics are patching the tube with the wheel in place, just like we do in the Netherlands… but most of the western world seems to be unaware of. I particularly like their little, portable workbench to keep the tube and glue clean during the patching process.

Thanks Matt and Erwin!

Fixed Gears at Workcycles?

Monday, April 18th, 2011


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.

Thanks for the use of your photo Dave.

Bakfiets Touring with Baby and Toddler

Monday, April 11th, 2011

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There are few things more fun than cycling with your kids, especially when they’re in front of you so you can talk as you ride. A baby giggles, gurgles and squeals at all of the sights and probably the dynamics of cycling as well. With a toddler the communication is obviously more intellectually stimulating. P1 (2.5 yrs old): “Papa, papa… Taxi, blue Land Rover jeep winch, two motorcycle! Thaaaat’s funny. No helmet racing bicycle! Playground! Slide. Go to plaaaayyyyy ground!!! Plaaaaaayyyyy ground!!!!” Still, nowhere is P1 more motivated to articulate complete concepts than on the bike. I expect the same will be true for P2, except probably with girl topics instead of our current mini gearhead talk.

Safety First! Hong Kong Style

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Workcycles rider Matt Ransford sent this photo from Hong Kong. He added that there aren’t many bikes to be seen in Hong Kong but those you see look like they’ve been around for a long time and they all have rod operated brakes. Thanks for passing that along Matt!

I seem to recall Hong Kong being David Byrne’s pick for World’s Worst Cycling City.

This delivery bike, with its big basket type front carrier affixed to the frame is just like old English delivery bikes. This, of course, was way back when it was still commonplace for tradespeople and delivery boys in the UK to move their goods about by bicycle. This connection is no great surprise given that Hong Kong was a British colony until recently.

Dutch Bike Parking: There’s Never Ever Enough

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Somehow it just warms my heart to see thousands of city bikes lined up in endless rows. That requires about as much space as a supermarket or a small office building. Sometimes I wonder how big a parking facility for that many cars would be. I suppose the answer is that it would look rather like the vast sea of asphalt and cars that surrounds a big shopping mall: Occasionally full but usually mostly empty blackness… what a waste of space.

A Dutch bike parking facility, on the other hand, tends to remain remarkably full. Only after business hours does it thin out considerably. When I used to park my bike daily at the Amsterdam Fietsflat I almost always ended up walking all the way up to the upper level since I came in toward the end of the “rush hour”. The lowest level was perpetually crammed with crappy student bikes, often two or three per “official” space.

Of course there’s bike parking all over the city but most of the really big units are at train stations since lots of people ride their bikes to take a train to another town. That might be to “commute” to a job in another town, but it’s often also students who move back and forth between the university in one town and “home-home” in another. They might even keep an old bike at each end. I suppose one could say that this is a misuse of public space, but it could be easily argued that it’s really very, very little space. Any other means of transport also requires some use of public space and resources as well.

Pedal Powered Snow Plow

Friday, December 31st, 2010

While we’re on the topic of snow, here’s a rather nicely executed home-brew snowplow – pedal powered of course. I generally find such inventions rather silly but this one looks semi-useful, even in it’s simple, cobbled together in the garage state. Probably it would have a tough time with very wet snow or certainly a deep pile of any snow but then it could also be developed further. Even this prototype looks pretty good for somebody who regularly has to clear a fairly long driveway of light snowfalls… like most of rural northern Europe.

Maybe the city of Amsterdam should have a bunch made since they really aren’t doing crap to clear the streets, bike roads or sidewalks this year. Many smaller streets are still slowly melting sheets of dirty ice from the snowfall of a couple weeks ago.

Thanks to Todd Edelman for the head’s up on this one.

Snow, Amsterdam Style

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

amsterdam snow 5
Note the controlled slide with one foot as outrigger, as well as the smile and look that says “What’s the big deal?”. Dutch folks know how to ride bikes.

The coastal climate keeps it from snowing in Amsterdam as much as you’d figure for a place quite far north and with a reputation for considerable rainfall. Some winters it hardly snows at all while some winters it begins in November and snows regularly until spring. Still it almost never snows more than perhaps ten centimeters and then it usually warms up a couple days later, making a slushy, dirty mess and gradually disappearing.

This winter, however, it’s already snowed more in November and the first half of December than we usually see all year. No matter; we have our bikes to get around and today’s snowfall was just what I needed to remember that. This morning I had a plan to train at the Velodrome with my friend Toon. Yes, I still do that sort of thing and no, there is no conflict between being a cyclist for both transportation and fun/fitness. The Amsterdam Velodrome is great way to stay fit when it’s like this outside. It’s just warm enough to wear shorts and even in a snowstorm there are 30 or 40 riders in a training session paceline.

Frozen Cable Time (Again)

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

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.

Sinterklaas, the Zwarte Pieten and their Workcycles Transport Bikes

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

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The Sinterklaas “Intocht” (arrival parade) needs no introduction for the locals who began chasing Sinterklaas and his many “Zwarte Pieten”along the Amstel river and through the streets of Amsterdam as toddlers. It goes approximately as follows:

Sinterklaas is the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus. While they’re both apparently Saint Nicholas only Sint’s white beard bears any resemblance to the fat “Ho Ho Ho!” fellow in the red snowsuit who flies his reindeer driven sleigh from the North Pole. Sinterklaas is tall, skinny, serious and righteous. He comes not from the north, but by ship from Spain. Sint himself is not actually Spanish; he’s Turkish. I suppose it’s all really a lot less weird than flying a reindeer powered sleigh from the North Pole.