Archive for the ‘Technical Stuff’ Category

E-Urobike 2010: Same stuff, new colors?

Friday, September 24th, 2010

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Richard contemplates the meaning of “tuned compliance concept” in front of a Zeppelin.

A couple weeks ago we made our annual trek to Zeppelin capitol of the world, Friedrichshafen, Germany for the Eurobike trade show. Most bike nuts would wet their pants over the idea of some 15 former zeppelin hangars full of the latest carbon fiber race wheels that weigh less than your toenail clippings, extreme downhill bikes with a meter of suspension travel, our favorite pro racers’ bikes complete with real Roubaix mud still in its nooks and crannies and more buzzwords than you can shake a stick at. I, however, am jaded by 30ish years on and off around the bicycle industry. These days I go not to ogle the latest gear but to talk to suppliers and dealers, shake some hands and meet some new people. I also like to take pictures of the dumbest stuff I see but even that’s getting difficult because it’s mostly the same dumb stuff as the past few years, maybe copied by somebody else.

Copenhagen-Amsterdam War in the VogelVrije Fietser

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Some Danish guy on a WorkCycles rental bike in Amsterdam, originally uploaded by Amsterdamize.

I usually flip through the “VogelVrije Fietser” (literal translation: “Birdfree Cyclist”) in about 30 seconds and then pass it to my toddler son for shredding but this issue (January 2010) had a few bits worth sharing… before Pascal gets his way with it. The first interesting piece is the latest salvo in the imaginary Copenhagen-Amsterdam war of cycling supremacy. The Copenhagen ambitions to achieve or already have achieved the coveted, self appointed title of World Cycling Capitol are already all over the Internet and the BirdFree Cyclist even made the trek up there to the great white north to see what all the fuss was about. In a nutshell they made the great revelation in the previous issue that the crafty Copenhageners were just as busy improving cycling facilities in their city as in most Dutch cities, and that they’re being more vocal about promoting this fact. Whoopee, the Danes also see value in a city where many people cycle!

The Mother of all Centerstands

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

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It’s ironic that some humble, dirty parts such as a parking stand actually have far more influence on your cycling experience than a beautiful frame or fancy, name-brand components. A stable, smooth working parking stand enables you (for example) to safely load up the kids and groceries, plop the bike onto the ground and cycle away uneventfully… just how you want it to be. But few people pay attention to such mundane things in the showroom so this is exactly where most manufacturers save a few bucks or euros. WorkCycles isn’t “most manufacturers” because we actually ride our bikes every day, carry our kids on/in them, move our stock between two shops on them… and listen to our customers who do the same.

Finding decent parking stands has been one of our most vexing challenges. During our quest for the perfect parking stand we’ve tried dozens. Most are so crappy that they don’t even deserve mention: All those Hebie copies from Taiwan and China fit poorly and then either bend under the weight of a loaded bike, quickly get scarily sloppy and break, or seize up from corrosion. The more sophisticated folding stands from Humpert and Spanninga (Sparta) have also failed our durability tests miserably. The cast aluminium Pletschers are light and pretty but not strong enough for bikes with child seats and heavy bags.

Frozen Cable Time

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

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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.

So the city ordered the building owner (a social housing corporation that manages tens of thousands of properties) to fix the vibration problem. It was decided that the only solution was to totally isolate the lifts from the floor beams, and the only practical way to do that was to build a steel frame all the way to the floor. We’re very fortunate and thankful that they took care of the job and paid for it. But it still requires an investment of several days of our labor to refit the lifts and lights. We took the opportunity to make them fully adjustable on both X and Y axis as well as angle, and now we’re adding more lights. I don’t think a workshop can ever have enough light.

Anyhow, this is all we were thinking about yesterday morning so I got busy with the scaffold, drills, plugs, screws and wiring to hang the fluorescent boxes on our ancient ceiling. And then the first snowy Cargobike and customer came in:

Customer: “My bike is almost impossible to ride. It’s really slow, and I think the brake lever might be broken.”

Mechanic: “I’m pretty sure your cables are frozen.”

Customer: “But I think there’s also something wrong with the brake.”

Mechanic: “The brakes are probably fine but they’re being locked by the frozen cables.”

Customer: “Oh wait, now it seems to be fine.”

Mechanic: “Sure, your bike is indoors so the cable just thawed, releasing the brake. It’ll freeze again a few moments after going outside. If you can wait 15 minutes I’ll fix it.

Henry’s Yankee Transportfiets

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

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I have to admit that I have a lot of bicycles, and I’m referring to bikes that are really just mine and not somehow part of the WorkCycles fleet or inventory. I periodically cull the flock but some have too much sentimental value to sell, even if I almost never ride them. There’s the Daedalus mountain bike from 1990, designed by me and built by Kent Ericksen of Moots in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. There were six made of which I still know the whereabouts of four. I don’t think I could ever see my lovely De Rosa go. I bought it a year or two old from a friend in about 1982 and raced and trained on it for years until breaking one of the silly diamond shaped chainstays. My friend Brian Spitz (who built some of the world’s cleanest race frames for a while) repaired it but then I hung it up and forgot about it for 15 years. A couple years ago I decided I wanted to get back on a racing bike, found it still wrapped in paper and built it up again. Now it gets ridden regularly, much closer to it’s birthplace in Italy. There are many others, in order of how long I’ve owned them:

  • Custom 60’s Schwinn Typhoon cruiser with Sachs 2-speed kickback hub
  • Bianchi Reparto Corsa road bike built (15 years ago) as a road fixie
  • Castle track bike
  • 1973 Libertas racing tandem
  • Snel touring bike, now my “papa bike” for touring with Pascal
  • 1957 Condor Swiss military bike
  • WorkCycles Secret Service city bike (the daily ride)
  • Brompton folding bike with 2 speed shifter and titanium parts
  • Those are all complete, rideable bikes. I also have a number of bikes in various states of incompleteness and a rather absurdly large collection of (mostly old enough to have no monetary value) parts. The semi-complete bikes include:

  • 1950’s Gazelle Opafiets
  • 1970’s Rih light city bike
  • 3x 1930’s Grossman transportfietsen
  • 2x Hopper (English) delivery bikes with cross-frames, perhaps 1930’s
  • 1970’s Gazelle racing bike, converted to randonneur
  • At least all of the old transport and city bikes are destined for the WorkCycles museum and a few are already on display. A few bikes including the city bike, Brompton, papa bike and racing bike are ridden regularly. Some of the others will return to service when the time is right. Amsterdam has, for example, a fantastic indoor velodrome and I’ve been itching to get back on the track, though that might have to wait until Pascal is old enough to ride too.

    Anyhow this is a long intro to noting that I got another bike. This one is a transportfiets (Dutch delivery bike) from the firm “Yankee” in Hoogeveen (where Azor is now and Union once was). I’d never heard of Yankee but that doesn’t mean much; until the 1960’s there were hundreds of small firms building bikes in the Netherlands. Lugs, tubing and components were bought in from various suppliers and the bikes were built from scratch. The quality was typically excellent but the designs were very conservative. Only experts can tell many of the bikes apart and little changed from the 1920’s through the 1960’s or even 1970’s in some cases. A few of the manufacturers were known for particularly high quality (Empo, Fongers, Gazelle, Simplex) and/or unique design (Fongers, Locomotief, Maxwell, Simplex). Yankee though has somehow disappeared into the gorges of history.

    yankee transportfiets 4

    Big, classic bakfietsen on the brain again

    Friday, August 21st, 2009


    Just the other day I was waxing philosophic about big, old skool, Dutch bakfietsen after a short rant about the theft of the rear wheel of my friend Doede’s bakfiets. Then today this blue beauty came back from Clarijs the “zeilmaker” with her new Bisonyl box cover. They did a great job getting a snug fit over the strange box shape. We’ve saved the pattern and will now offer it as a standard option for the XL Classic Bakfiets.

    Why blue? Hey, it was the customer’s choice. We were really skeptical but now that it’s done we see it was a great call. It stands out from the sea of similar bakfietsen on the roads here but is still timeless. Perhaps it’ll help deter scumbag thieves as well.

    While I’m writing about bakfietsen again here’s some more info about what makes them tick…

    Around the world 2: Sage & Cooper are somewhere else on WorkCycles bikes

    Wednesday, August 19th, 2009


    I wrote in an earlier post about the two ex-Marines riding WorkCycles Secret Service bikes around the world. They previously sent a photo anonymously from their Blackberry (that much I could read in the email) of one of them somewhere in the UK. Well now they’re apparently somewhere else, judging from the different, hilly scenery in this photo. And they’ve traded camera duty thus we see our other protagonist in this story… though I honestly can’t remember which one of the two is Sage. I think it’s the guy in this picture. Detailed descriptions are clearly not their forte.

    [UPDATE: In this photo we see Cooper while in the previous photo it’s Sage. Glad that’s cleared up.]

    Speaking of riding the Secret Service in terrain hillier than pannekoeken flat Holland and also of non-detailed descriptions, we were tinkering with Shimano roller brakes today. Shimano makes several versions of their nearly maintenance-free roller brake but their literature and website offer almost no information about the differences between them. Countless conversations with the Shimano tech support guys were fruitless. There are three basic versions of roller brakes commonly found on quality bikes:

  • IM40: Basic model with no cooling fin
  • IM50: Fancier model with small, flat cooling fin
  • IM70: Top-line model with large, cast cooling fin and longer actuation arm (more leverage)
  • For about a year or so we’ve been fitting the IM70 to all Bakfiets Cargobikes and the Secret Service, partially because they look cool but mostly because it clearly has a more consistent, snappy feel and is more powerful. This baffled us since the braking unit in the center of each rollerbrake seemed to be exactly the same unit. In theory then there shouldn’t be much difference.

    But today our chief mechanic Eric showed me something new: They’d opened up one of each type of rollerbrake to check out the guts and it turns out that the IM70 is actually special. While the IM40 and IM50 share the same flat braking surface (like a drum brake except in steel), the IM70 has a “V” shaped, or rather double conical braking surface. This gives it more braking surface area and probably makes it self-adjusting as well.

    The problem though is that the front IM70 doesn’t have it’s own cable stop, thus meaning that it only fits on front forks equipped with a little cable stop tab. Many bikes don’t have these.

    Enter the Shimano IM80 roller brake due for introduction shortly. Again the Shimano literature is just worthless marketing garble but at least it’s visible from the photos that the cable stop is built into this one. Let’s just hope that they’re using the better V-shaped brake surface.

    Oh, just to back up a little here… “What’s a roller brake” you might ask, or perhaps a little more advanced question: “how is a roller brake different from a drum brake or a disk brake?” I’ll try to explain briefly, without photos. If that doesn’t work I’ll try again later WITH photos.

    Drum brake: Two semi-cylindrical “shoes” get pressed against the inside of a cylindrical drum. The drum rotates with the wheel while the shoes are stationary in the frame or fork. The shoes are pressed outward at one end by means of a cam. More sophisticated drum brakes have been fitted to motorcycles and cars but, to my knowledge, never to bicycles.

    Disk brake: A disk rotates with the wheel and the sides of the disk get squeezed by flat pads. The pads can be either cable actuated through a helix or hydraulically actuated.

    Roller brake: The IM40 and IM50 are basically just drum brakes with a six lobed actuation cam that presses the shoes outward radially over their whole length instead of just at one point. The roller brake shoes are also steel, running in a bath of special graphite grease. Does your rollerbrake make noise? Squirt fresh grease in.

    The IM70 roller brake has the same actuation as the IM40 and IM50 but uses a special type of drum described above.

    I’m sure that’s all just totally clear for you know.