Archive for the ‘Funny stuff’ Category

Now for Something Completely Different: Les Trois Ballons Cyclosportive

Monday, June 17th, 2013

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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.

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.

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.

Where’s Cargo?

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

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?

Workcycles E-Fr8’s? Really?

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Electrische Fr8's-2
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.

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.

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 (“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.

Eurobike 2011: Lighter, New Decals & Screw Bikes for Normal Folks

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Eurobike 2011-298
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.

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.

Inspirations and Hypocrites

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

the bird machine poster

The other day Tom called me from our Veemarkt shop to ask about paying the import duty for a mysterious package. It was a tube marked from “The Bird Machine” and clearly addressed to Workcycles. I also knew nothing about it so I asked Tom to have the TNT hold it until we could figure out what it was. A quick search found the website of, no great surprise… The Bird Machine. And right there on the home page was the above poster (called “Portable”) of a bakfiets with a tree in the bak. OK, we might not know anything about it but it’s clearly intended for us, and it’s most probably not a letter bomb or anthrax from a Bullitt or Metrofiet owner still angry about Josh’s Guest Post or some of the 154 following comments.

The Cuddlebike (i.e. Valentine’s Day Special)

Monday, February 14th, 2011


A proposal for this bike design showed up in my email a while back and I let it hang around, figuring it’d somehow fit into a post, eventually. Just to be clear I periodically receive concepts and proposals for all sorts of bike-related stuff. Actually I get proposals for other things too but I won’t bore you with the details of how I’m going to get rich by helping out the heir of a certain deceased African despot.

Some of the bike proposals that have landed in my mail:

  • alternative drive systems since we all know how awful pedaling is
  • systems to charge all of one’s mobile devices by bike on the way to the office since electrical plugs can be so scarce at the workplace
  • Chinese made bakfietsen sold by the container-load, flatpacked. They cost about $100/bakfiets in case you’re wondering.
  • But after seeing the “Cuddlebike” a few times the idea began to grow on me. Admittedly one does have to first be able to look past the miniature size and crude construction of the yellow prototype. Wouldn’t that actually be fun to ride though (in a normal size of course)? With a long enough seat and treadles perhaps three of four people could ride it together. Perhaps it would be handy for blind or mobility challenged riders.

    Then I found the little mpeg video in the mail showing a much more developed looking version of the Cuddlebike. Kinda neat.


    Interested? Then contact its inventor who claims, incidentally, that the Cuddlebike is patented. He’s looking for a manufacturer to take the product further.

    Kristian Brömme
    ak [DOT] broemme [AT ]hotmail [DOT] com

    The Latest Dutch Bike Innovations

    Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

    A couple weeks ago I wrote about a pedal powered snow plow from the USA. Now I’ll make it clear that, as stodgy as they can be, the Dutch will not be outdone in the area of bike innovation.

    Let’s begin with the Monsterfiets. That’s “Monsterbike” for those of you who haven’t yet noticed that “fiets” = “bike” in Dutch and that the Dutch have absolutely no problem with appropriating words from other languages, especially mighty, media-friendly Engels.

    Now I’ll be the first to admit that every Burning Man and Kinetic Sculpture race features two dozen “bikes” more amazing than this one. However the Monsterfiets seems to have piqued the interest of the Dutch and the above YouTube video has been watched almost a million times. I suppose, a la South Park, builder Wouter van den Bosch must be headed to Canada to collect his You Tube popularity paycheck.

    I suppose the most remarkable thing about the video is that nobody seems to find the Monsterbike remarkable. “Sure, whatever. I see a billion bikes every day. So what if yours looks like a kid’s tricycle with a bigger front wheel.” I guess we call that “nonplussed”.

    Season’s Greetings from Holland… via Switzerland

    Friday, December 24th, 2010

    With the business, two little kids and general disinterest in things religious I’m really a slacker when it comes to the holiday wishing stuff . Fortunately for the world’s spirits not everybody is. Here in bakfiets-land the best greeting cards come from Double Dutch in Switzerland.

    Thus hereby a “reposted” or perhaps “regifted” seasons greetings from Workcycles.

    Happy holidays,
    Alex, Frits, Johan, Josh, Henry, Paer, Richard, Sascha, Stephan, Tom, & Wesley

    Sinterklaas, the Zwarte Pieten and their Workcycles Transport Bikes

    Monday, November 22nd, 2010

    sinterklaas intocht amsterdam 2010 7

    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.