Sunday, December 20, 2009

Raleigh Sprite (c.1967)

It Lives!  The 1967 Raleigh Sprite I rescued from the scrap heap lives to ride another day.  The project is almost complete, I just need to do some cosmetic work on the fenders, and add a lighting system. The bike itself is almost all original, with the exception of the saddle, pedals, tires, and the front hub.

The rear hub is a Sturmey-Archer 5-speed -- all original.  The headset, bottom bracket, and 5-sp. hub have been completely overhauled.  The original front wheel had a bent axle, so the wheel was rebuilt (original spokes and rim) around a Sturmey-Archer dynamo hub which provides a front disc brake as well as generator power for the lighting system I'm going to install.

Detail pictures of the front and rear hub can be found on my Flickr site.  I'd also like to thank the guys at Aaron's bicycle repair in West Seattle.  Without their help, this project would never have been realized.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bontrager Wingtips

I found these stylin' kicks on Urban Velo (a very cool blog, as well as magazine, for which you should really cough up some change.).  They say it far better than I do, so I'll just re-state the obvious then send you to Urban Velo for the drill down.

These are Bontrager Wingtips, though they haven't yet made an appearance on the Bontrager site.  They're built for cycling and believe it or not, they're spd compatible.  They feature all leather uppers and a buckle to cover the laces (which you will truly appreciate it if you've ever caught laces on a fixie).  But what sets them apart from other dedicated cycling shoes is the fact that they have style.  Should they come out in black, I will most certainly sport a pair of my own.

[image via Urban Velo]

2010 Co-Motion Americano Rohloff/Gates Carbon Drive

I spotted this bike on the EcoVelo blog and my heart skipped several beats.  I absolutely adore this bike.  It's hand made by Co-Motion (though I can find no hint of it on their site).

It has an internal hub gear setup (likely 5- or 8-speed, but I couldn't glean this info from the internets), disc brakes front and rear, and it's belt, not chain drive (like the Trek District [meh.]). All this adds up to low maintenance, a very desirable trait in a utility bike.

If I were a rich man (no word on price, but I'm guessing that it's probably not going to be cheap) there is no question that this bike would be in my stable.  Until then, it will likely just remain a fantasy -- another piece of bike porn tacked up on my wall...right next to the Pashley Guv'nor.

[image via EcoVelo]

Helmet or No Helmet?

First of all, let me say right off the top, I'm not going to tell you what I think you should do.  As always, it's your choice.  As for me, I generally wear one.  I usually skip it on short local trips and on the bike path, but always wear one riding in traffic.

A little back story: I've had two accidents where wearing a helmet has saved me from...well I don't know from what, obviously...but certainly things would have been worse.  Both involved a "right cross" scenario.  Once I went over (wasn't clipped in) and landed on my head on the other side of the car.  Once I was clipped in, and my head was slammed down on top of the hood.

Yes, I know the Euro-types almost never do, but keep in mind, Europe is not America.  In Amsterdam, for example, you have bike paths that will take you anywhere -- all separated from vehicular traffic.  I likely wouldn't wear a helmet there either (and not because of peer pressure).

In America you inevitably are out there jockeying for position with 2-Ton SUV's.  Vulnerable is an understatement.  Additionally I would say drivers state-side are in general much less tolerant of cyclists, and much less prepared for sharing the road with them.

Thankfully there are helmets from companies like Nutcase (that's my helmet in the thumbnail) that don't look quite so alien.  The Nutcase motto is "I love my brain," which is something to think about.  But as always (and despite what the lawyers will tell you), the responsibility and the choice is yours alone.

I would argue that experience and awareness play much more of a role than any sort of protective equipment.  But me personally, when I'm out in traffic with the assholes, I want every advantage I can get -- however slight.

And on a lighter note, here's a cartoon that elucidates a somewhat different point of view.

[image via Nutcase]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Risky Cycling Doesn't Increase Risks

Or so hints a headline in yesterday's Guardian.

The headline goes like this: "Risky cycling rarely to blame for bike accidents, study finds." And the subhead: "Cyclists disobeying stop signal or wearing dark clothing at night [including lack of lights - ed.] rarely cited in collisions causing serious injury."

The supporting text seems to back this up, with the results from the UK Department for Transport study only finding such actions a liability in roughly 2% of the accidents they studied.

But all is not sweetness and light. Some 25% of cycling deaths were attributed to being rear-ended by a vehicle (again, not due to lack of lighting or reflectors or any of that...). Worse, the driver was found to be at fault nearly 75% of the time.

This is scary, because it implies there is little you can do to prevent yourself from being a statistic. This seems to almost contradict most of the other material I have read.

Perhaps cyclist awareness is partially to blame, but this is not suggested in any of the data. The CTC (a cyclist lobbying group) went on to make this claim:
We believe this report strongly supports our view that the biggest problem for cyclists is bad driving.
Interesting. And it runs counter to the current "wisdom" among bicycle safety specialists.


Monday, December 14, 2009

The Cyclist's Manifesto

The Cyclist's Manifesto is the second Robert Hurst book I've read, which should tell you that I like what he has to say enough to continue to buy his books. That, combined with the fact that I've been an avid cyclist my entire life will reveal my bias towards bicycles as a mode of transportation. A bias that Mr. Hurst most definitely shares.

In general I'm against continuing to read things that support what you already believe (what's the point?). It tends to lead to narrow-mindedness and intolerance of foreign ideas. But I do recommend reading this book even if you already toe the party line. He has a way of articulating ideas that really resonates and invigorates. I found it inspirational enough that I've re-dedicated myself as a soldier in the revolution. I learned some new things along the way, but in general it performed the role of a great pep talk, which is exactly what I was looking for.

However many copies of this book get sold my bet is that almost to the reader he is preaching to the choir. This is a shame because I think this book has a lot to offer the bicycle-curious. Some of his rants seem to play a little fast and loose with the facts (while staying true in a general sense). Additionally, his hard-line stance (even for a cyclist) may be repelling to some, but in the end his message is truly liberating.

The book begins with the history where cars and bicycles converge (if you didn't already know this, these histories are very much intertwined), continues on with the mess that we've created through political and personal cowardice, and ends with a bang that would likely convert even the hardened, gas guzzling SUV pilot.

Admittedly he provides no easy answers. He even claims that someone who doesn't own a car or even take the bus is still beholden to petroleum, like it or not. I'm left with the impression that if everyone went to bicycles tomorrow it would be an improvement, but still wouldn't solve the energy problem.

Anyone reading this book who converts to a bicycle way of life is unlikely to change the world, but will, however, change their own world. Dramatically. And that, comrades, is where this book truly shines.

The Torker Graduate

This is the Torker Graduate. It is a Sturmey-Archer (internal hub) 5-speed with drum brakes. Very low maintenance, and relatively inexpensive. Kind of a revamp of the Raleigh (pre-1970), but lacks Raleigh style (at least in my opinion).

Still and even so, I would consider buying one if I didn't already have two old Raleighs, one of which is a Sturmey-Archer 5-speed internal hub with drum brakes (the hub is original, the drum brake [front only] is not).

It's an interesting concept. I like the concept, but not so much the style. It looks like one of the spate of fixed/single speed bikes being built (Redline, is one example, Masi another) to quench the thirst for fixed gear cool. It seems caught between two worlds -- messenger chic and old school utilitarianism. "Pick a side, we're at war," as Stephen Colbert would say.

Still, an interesting concept. Virtually as maintenance free as a fixie (even more so, with the drum brakes), but with actual gears.

How to Tie a Scarf (part 3)

Part three in our series on the tying of scarves again lifts nearly wholesale from Valet Magazine, and just happens to be my personal favorite: The Bird's Nest.

This type of tying is less algorithmic -- the idea here is avoiding death by is secondary. Just keep wrapping to cover all exposed skin. As an added bonus you get little flapping, but the birds nest unravelling in traffic can be a hassle and a hazard. Make sure your bird's nest is road ready before pedalling onward.

[image via]

Accidents Will Happen (Part 2)

Alors, la deuxième partie in our ongoing series on accidents and safety considers the dreaded "Door Prize".

I've been in a lot of accidents, but I've never been doored. I certainly see how it could happen though. Even while I'm driving a car people fling there doors open with utter disregard for the consequences. Keep an eye out when riding in the door zone for anyone in the driver's seat. If they're there, assume that they will throw the door open at exactly the wrong time.

Robert Hurst, in the Art of Urban Cycling, considers the Door Zone (DZ) to be 3.5-4 feet from parked cars. The cruel irony is that in many cities this is exactly where the bike lane is.

The key to avoiding this type of accident is to ride further left, which is great in theory, but not always possible in practice. When not practicable, awareness is key. Scan for possible door traps constantly.

If this type of accident has to happen to you, here's hoping the driver of the car is between you and the door -- not as a buffer for you, but as a punishment for them.

For a dramatic presentation of just such an event, you should check out Doored! The Animated Feature over on

[Image via]

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I just finished reading Russell Smith's STYLE: The Thinking Man's Guide to Dress. I have to say I was duly impressed. I kept waiting for it to slip into the realm of snobbery, and it verged on it, but what started out as snobbery, came out, in the end, as honesty and insight.

I most definitely am not the market for this book. Ostensibly this is a guide to the rules of men's fashion, and it fulfils that role well, in an interesting and witty manner. But the premise is that if you're not wearing a suit, anything goes. I hardly ever wear a suit.

He does offer pointers for 'casual' dress, but feels that this is dangerous territory because most people have no sense of style, which is very true. Just take a look around. I have no real interest in the "rules" of fashion but picked the book up out of curiosity.

The real rewards for me were Mr. Smith's insight into culture, trends, and class, which transcends fashion and finds applications almost everywhere. I've cited this book dozens of times to back social insights that have nothing whatsoever to do with fashion. So my take away was that this is a great read, and maybe more aptly titled, "the thinking man's guide to culture." I found it insightful and extremely readable.

If you're looking for a "guide", but don't want some stuffy dry tome, you can't go wrong here. But even if you couldn't care less about the rules of fashion but enjoy good writing and social insights (in other words, you're like me) this book is still worth a look.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Denim Workmen's Cap

One more hat for the road. This is the Denim Workmen's cap from TrackosaurusRex. They say they, "wouldn't call it a cycling cap but it's pretty damn close." Close enough for government work. It fits under the helmet, and fits with Dapper Dan's sense of style.

Reminisce over posts from the recent past and you'll find myriad options to cap your lid through all four seasons.

Winter Hat from Fabric Horse

Fabric Horse, the makers of the original Lock Holster, have come out with a new hat and they are saying "hands down, this is the warmest winter cap I have ever come across."

As an unreasonable chill settles in on Seattle, I find myself contemplating a more substantial cap for my daily jaunts. Here is a possibility. "Say goodbye to cold air in your ears," they say. Sounds good to me. It's fairly similar to the Kucharik wool cap available from Rivendell.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Retro Raleighs

Perhaps it can go without saying, but I'm saying it anyway -- Sheldon Brown is the ultimate internet resource for the cyclist with a technical bent, especially when restoring old bikes or converting bikes to fixed-gear or single-speed.

Sheldon's Retro Raleighs site has been indispensable to me in realizing my latest project. I've been back to Sheldon Brown's fixed-gear site untold number of times while building up my fixed and ss projects.

The adjunct site, Harris Cyclery, is also an indispensable resource for information and hard to find parts.

[image via Sheldon Brown: Retro Raleighs]

My Latest Project

This isn't my bike. This isn't even my photo (it's via This is my vision for my latest acquisition -- a c.1967 Raleigh Sprite.

The bike in the photo is actually a Raleigh Sports, c.1963, but the Sprite is essentially the same bike, but with a 5-speed hub, not a 3-speed hub ( Later (and earlier) models of the Sprite had a dérailleur (boo).

My bike is also a dark burgundy, not red like this one here. The restoration is in progress. I'll upload a photo once my masterpiece is complete.

How to Tie a Scarf (part 2)

The second tutorial in our series on scarves is the "Slip", which Valet Mag quips is "seen on Sartorialist Regulars, and Italians." I would add 'Prepsters' to that list.

This is functional for cycling as it is unlikely to unravel, and the ends aren't likely to fly into your face at the worst possible moment. This variant never really worked for me stylistically, but it may work for you.

Though it seems like the illustration (via should suffice, I will also include this instructional note (also from "Bring ends of scarf together, wrap around neck and pull ends through the loop."

[image via]

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tweed Rides

Tweed rides have become the Critical Mass of the elegant cyclist. They've been chronicled in media outlets as far flung as the Sunday Times Style Magazine (pdf), and The Chap (a Velocipedist favorite).

San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, and D.C. all have tweed rides. Maybe there is one in your town. Maybe you should start one in your town. A more complete list of rides is up on the Riding Pretty blog.

What is a Tweed Ride? As the Tweed Cycling Club so eloquently puts it:

"Style not speed. Elegance not exertion."

"You will find on details of past and forthcoming rides and tips for the sartorialist awheel."

The Revolution is truly at hand.

[image via Riding Pretty]

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Swrve Windbreaker

The Swrve Windbreaker is all that and more. I love this jacket. I've had mine for nearly two-years and I'm going to get another one just in case some tragedy befalls the original. I want to forestall the grief associated with profound loss.

At the textile level there's really nothing that separates this jacket from your garden variety windbreaker: It's lightweight, wind proof, water-resistant, and can be easily stashed. It's not going to save you from a torrential downpour, and it's not going to keep you from getting hypothermia while biking the Iditarod Trail -- but it's perfect for just about all other applications.

What separates this jacket from the pretenders is style. The asymetrical zipper, the long tail, the collar, and the cut is what makes this jacket stand out. I wear this jacket all the time for non-biking applications just because I love the aesthetic so much. $70.00 from swrve.

[swrve - urban cycling apparel]

Why? Because.

I have to share this quote as I'm enamored of it:

Because we dig the calluses on the palms of our hands. Because we actually kind of like when our legs feel like Jell-O. Because we crave the brisk wind on our cheeks. Because we recall with fondness fastening Topps cards to chain stays. Because today we actually prefer the non-motor bike anyway. Because it’s the paragon of efficiency for personal transit and a perfect machine and a work of art.

There are more than 2 billion bikes in the world. Pick one up and ride it.

- The GOOD 100: Bikes (

Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Way of Explanation

La Flâneur en Vélo is the subtitle of this blog. But what exactly does it mean?

Charles Baudelaire expanded the meaning1 of flâneur (French for a saunterer or loafer) to be "a person who walks the city in order to experience it", because that's how he saw himself.

I expand the meaning of la flâneur en vélo to be "a person who bikes the city in order to experience it", because that's how I see myself.

1 Wikipedia: Flâneur

Les Vélos Sont à la Mode

The humble bicycle worms its way into a Paris fashion show. More details at Cycle Chic and Riding Pretty. Cyclisme? C'est cool.

(image via Cycle Chic from Copenhagen)

Accident's Will Happen (Part 1)

I'd like to end today's sermon with a cautionary tale for boys and girls who like to pedal the streets of the city. Even though I rely heavily on the work of others for this series, I do have (unfortunately) quite a bit of experience in this area. I've had unpleasant rendezvous with vehicles on several occasions, many of which sent me to my friendly neighborhood E.R.

But the point here is not to share war stories, but rather to help you avoid having war stories of your own. So let's begin the series with the type of accident that account for a full 60.5%1 of bike/car collions: The dreaded 'Right Cross'2.

This is where a car entering the roadway from a perpendicular street makes a right into the lane that you happen to occupy at the moment and either sends you aloft (been there), or if you're clipped to your pedals (been there too), slams your skull and all that it contains onto the hood with a resounding thud.

Thankfully, idiocy is culpable for the majority of causation in this instance -- riding against the flow of traffic. Drivers look left, not right when maneuvering onto the roadway. The remedy is simple: Don't be an idiot. Always ride with the flow of traffic.

Another leading cause in the run-up to this event can also be written off as idiocy: Going the wrong way down a one-way street. In cases of the driver being careless or inattentive (thankfully only a small number of the accidents are in this category) you can do things like: Use a light when riding at night (duh), honk or ring your bell, and ride further left.

I myself prefer to rely on awareness. With enough experience and focus you can get into the zone, and almost feel the flow and know what is going to happen before it ever does. Until then, you should slow down, and always be aware of what is happening around you. Assume that cars are unpredictable and that their pilots are erratic, because both things are true. It's no consolation to be in the right when you are dead, so be aware and assume nothing.

As is per usual, and addition to the references below, Robert Hurst has some good words on this and all subjects apropos to urban cyclists in his book "The Art of Cycling."

1Fort Collins Bicycle Accident Report (PDF)
2Bicycle Safety: How Not to Get Hit by Cars

[Image via]

NYT Talking Trousers

Never rock the bike in the pantyhose. I mean, let's face it, it looks kinda silly. When I pass fat-guys on $3,000 Litespeeds and team jerseys I can't help but feel a little embarrassed for them. More than a few times they've glanced at me and uttered the words, "just out for a spin."

Out for a spin? As opposed to what? Anyway, to be fair, even though I'm now an oldster I used to race and am no slouch on a bike. But the point is that, and science will back me up on this, all efforts at aero-dynamics (shaved legs, tight-fitting spandex, alien helmets, etc.) play no role at speeds less than 20 mph. And even then the advantage is only slight. So, if there is essentially no performance advantage -- why, then? Is it for looks? (FAIL), or is it just that American's have to wear a uniform for every endeavor?

"That's my rant, I don't expect to make a dent," as Slobberbone would say, but I am here to show you that there is a functional alternative. A good place to start is a recent review of some of the main players in the "work friendly bike fashion" world from the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times. Osloh, Cordarounds, and Swrve (♥) are all represented. So check it out and improve the aesthetics on the bike path for all concerned.

[source:nyt:fashion | photo via Osloh]

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Etymology of Vélocouture

So what exactly is vélocouture? The word itself is a portmanteau, a combination of vélo (a French word meaning 'bike'), and couture -- French for 'fashion', as in the phrase haute couture (high fashion).

Now in French this would be vélo couture, not vélocouture. But as this is a word, not a phrase, I'm gonna go with vélocouture. Maybe it will stick...then the French will lose sleep every night knowing that the word for bike fashion is American in origin and, to add insult to injury, that American word is the bastard child of two French words.

So where did the word come from? According to those in the know, the word was first coined by Patrick Barber and is used as a moniker for his Flickr group - photos of fashionably dressed cyclists doing their thing in cities the world over. Patrick also has a blog by the same name. The blog is essentially a distillation of photos from the Flickr group (a 'best of', so to speak). Patrick defines vélocouture thusly: "Vélocouture is the practice of bicycling in stylish, everyday clothes."

I tend to use vélocouture as a synonym for 'urban cycle chic' (which I can assure you does not include spandex), but Righteous (re)Style puts it this way: "Looking good while saving the world." Now what could possibly be wrong with that?

Reclaimed Wool Cycling Cap

I thought I had my hat fetish under control, but then I ran into this over at Etsy. The kicker is that all of the materials used to make it are recycled -- they come from thrifted textiles. The outer fabric comes from a scarf that was liberated from a San Francisco thrift store, and the lining from a grunge-era cast-off flannel shirt rescued from another locale.

Westarland made these by hand, but only charges 28 bucks plus shipping. Either he has a sweat shop in his garage or he plays for love of the game. Either way you win. The added bonus is that there is absolutely no chance anyone else will show up wearing the same hat on your weekend club ride, and a less than zero chance of being out-styled from the neck up.

Usually I don't like to venture too far O/T, but I have to include this from Westarland's bio on Etsy because of how cool it is:
I make new items from vintage materials: bicycle hats, bags and jewellery are my current stock products. A great deal of my fabrics are 60's and 70's stock from Sweden, and hark from the famous textile company Boras Cotton. My wools are from vintage suits for men and women thrifted locally.
Praise the God of textiles -- Jesus has returned and he's making wool cycling caps out of his garage.

Bike Polo Mallets

Bike polo is the sport of gentleman cyclists the world over, but where does one go to find the accoutrements for said athletic endeavour? Traditionally l'équipement pour polo de vélo had to materialize by your own hand. Now I have the greatest respect for the DIY ethic, but I prefer to watch it from afar. Wrestling with saws, PVC pipe, and glue isn't how I like to spend my afternoons.

Now I assume you already have the bike, but lack the mallet. You can get the shaft (no pun intended) almost anywhere, as any old ski pole will do, but the head is the crux of the matter. Now if you want, you can do it yourself -- instructions can be found here, here, and here. Or you can take the lazy man's way out (my exit strategy of choice) and order one from the gang at St. Cago Polo Works.

[St. Cago Polo Works via Urban Velo]

Hugga Swag

Brothers from another mother and fellow Seattle-ites from Bike Hugger have stitched together some custom embroidered manpris pants (knickers) and a woolen hat for your sartorial satisfaction.

The knicks are part of George Hincapie's Commute Collection and are custom embroidered with the Bike Hugger logo. Knickers are perfect for those of us committed to losing the spandex -- plus it's the winning ticket for avant, après, and au cours de cyclisme. "Four-way gusseted cargo crotch" and other such details are on the site. $129.99 and you're walking out of the store in style.

Cap your lid with an Hugga-influenced Ibex hat before rolling on your ride and laugh aloud at the cool, autumnal air. Like all good cycling apparel, the hat is 100% merino wool. There is an embroidered logo, but it's subtle -- these dome toppers are minimalist chic. Sport one on top of your noggin to keep the bats from leaving the belfry. Dapper Dan says, "doff one at the ladies and soon you'll be riding tandem." $32.00 for refined, top-story grace.

All of this and cycle bliss can be found at Bike Hugger.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Death by Irony

Times Online reported on a report by London transport bureaucrats that suggested women cyclists 'risk death' by obeying the traffic lights. The reason? Apparently they are stuck in the driver's blind spot and tend to get taken out by lorries. This is their punishment for obeying the rules of the road, I guess. Apparently men are more likely to blow the light and live to see another day.

Personally I think a philosophy of flexibility is what's needed here. Adhering to the rules in a general sense is good, as it leads to predictability and the grudging respect of motorists. But at the end of the day the only laws I adhere to are those of self-preservation and efficiency.

Robert Hurst puts it very well in his book The Art of Cycling:
Don't simply watch traffic, but watch it very closely, and try to figure out what it means. Ride constantly, and consciously try to learn from the thousands of little interactions you will have on each ride. Try to crack the code. The city moves according to laws that are more powerful and interesting than the traffic ordinances.
Eloquent and spot-on.

[source: Time's Online]

Quka Keirin Cap

If you wish to cultivate the sporty look (we try not to judge) then at least you should attempt to do so without paying for the privilege of being a spokesperson for some corporate entity.

Quka makes limited edition Keirin caps that exude minimalist style. They tend to sell out quickly, so if you covet one you better be coiled to spring. It'll set you back about €15. When and if they get to number 13, I'm in.

Dapper Dan says, "c'est cool."

(Quka Cycling Caps)