Urban Velo

Brompton M6L Folding Bike Review

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Brompton folders are born from the small quarters and extensive public transit system of their London home, a place where indoor space is at a premium and multi-modal transport is key to making it across town on time. Founder Andrew Ritchie was introduced to an Australian folding bike by chance one day, and quickly thereafter began work on what would become the Brompton bicycle, deciding upon the signature method of folding the rear wheel under the bike with the first prototype.

Bromptons all share the same main frame design, with the model numbers designating the chosen options for the bike. The pictured model has an M-type handlebar, a 6-speed drivetrain, and the “L” fender kit optionthe Brompton M6L. The frame, hinges, and many of the small parts are not only designed but fabricated in Brompton’s London factory, making for a truly unique complete bicycle benefitting from years of subtle refinements to the same basic design.

brompton_m6l_s-3Three pivots allow the bike to fold in three basic steps. Unhook the small lever on the rear suspension bumper and the rear wheel swings under the frame as the first step, leaving the bike in a freestanding, partially folded, parked position. Next, release the frame hinge and swing the front wheel back. Finally release and fold the bars down, stow the folding pedal, and lower the seatpost fully to lock the bike in the folded position. The process easily takes less than 30 seconds after a few practice runs, and thanks to the 16” wheels ends with such a compact package (23” x 21.5” x 10.6”) that some have even had success bringing it along as carry-on luggage. The chain and cables conveniently end up to the inside of the folded package.

brompton_m6l_s-2We handed off the Brompton M6L to Ngani Ndimbie, Communications Manager of Bike Pittsburgh, for feedback: “The six speed drivetrain was more than adequate to conquer all of my usual hills, and I was easily able to keep up with conventional bikes while riding in a group. It’s easy to shift gears with the Sturmey-Archer internal three speed hub and Brompton designed two speed external derailleur and shifters. The long stem flexes enough that I never felt comfortable standing while climbing, though wheelies are easy and the bike handles really well once you have time on it. I did sometimes yearn for larger wheels.”

brompton_m6l_s-1“While I’ll admit that I occasionally felt like a dweeb riding around town on the Brompton, that all changed with the Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place conference where folders proved to be the official bike of active transportation nerds on the go,” Ngani continued. “Folding was easy the first timeI watched a quick video and mimicked the motions. Without the video I folded it incorrectly at least two times, once leaving me getting on the bus with both arms wrapped around an inexpertly folded bike. With use it became easier, and with time it would be second nature.”

brompton_m6l_s-6There is no doubt that the small 16” wheels and long, unsupported stem rides differently than a traditionally constructed bicycle, but after a short adjustment period the Brompton M6L rides reasonably well at city speeds. While plenty of people have ridden a Brompton long distances or even raced them, the small wheels can be harsh with rocks and potholes becoming proportionally bigger as compared to more forgiving, larger diameter wheels. Given the wheel size and design constraints of a folder, you couldn’t ask for a much better handling bike. Expecting the ride of a conventional bike will lead to disappointment, using a folder to ride when or where you otherwise wouldn’t be able to is where a Brompton truly shines. Throw it in the trunk of a car,

brompton_m6l_s-1Brompton is single minded in trying to create the best folding bike on the market. The attention to purpose is clear from the folding action itself to the hinge quality, and on through the small details of a single folding pedal and ancillary wheels to help roll the folded machine through a crowded station. Commuters can easily click bags on and off the headtube mounted cleat, and a rear rack is available to further expand carrying capacity. The quick folding action is key to using the bike as intended on mass transit and in and out of buildings, with an open-bottom bag available to disguise the bike as just another piece of luggage in less-than-bike-friendly businesses and workplaces.

Bromptons are premium folders, but are priced competitively as compared to other UK or USA-made bicycles, with complete bikes starting around $1200, and the M6L as tested coming in at $1625.

All-City Out There

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Cities are great to live in, bicycles are great ways to escape. All-City gets out there.

Swobo Scofflaw

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The $1249 Swobo Scofflaw is meant to take you off the beaten path where some mustachioed man can question your presence. The Reynolds 531 steel frame features a tapered carbon fork, Avid BB7s disc brakes, sliding dropouts and fender mounts for the commute. Clearance for up to 42 mm tires lets you put some meaty treads on, and while the complete bike ships as a single speed it comes equipped with a cassette hub, narrow-wide chainring and derailleur hanger — ready for a 1x setup. This looks like a great bike to get lost on all day, or for a quick city lap with friends come nightfall. Great platform to ride as is, or build up and upgrade as you go. With full length housing mounts, it wouldn’t be that hard to have an alternate geared setup that only takes half an hour of wrenching to swap. Pre-order today for $50 and get one when they become available in January 2015.

Chrome WARM

chrome_warm-1 Chrome has gone into clothing hard over the past few years, making some really great product along the way. The latest Chrome WARM line looks like more good stuff – workwear looks with polyfill insulation, ripstop nylon construction and a reversible high visibility design for night time safety. Just in time for the changing seasons.

Stanridge Speed – Katie Arnold – Women’s Red Hook Crit

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Supergear Retrodirect Planetary Gear Crankset

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supergear_crank-2 Just when you thought you’ve seen it all someone puts a Supergear crankset by Ziegler-Lam Cycling on the table. At first glance it looks like any number of other small maker cranks from the ’90s mountain bike and CNC’d everthing boom, needless stress risers, chunky corners and all. Grab hold of the bottom bracket and spin it forward and it acts as per usual, pedal backwards and the rings continue rotating forwards at about half speed, doubling the number of available gears. Retrodirect systems pop up through bicycle history now and again, an old design from before effective derailleurs that allows two gears (one gear pedaling forward, a lower gear pedaling backwards). Tinkerers put together modern retrodirect bikes just to prove the concept, and it still works (1, 2). The Supergear is a three ring setup with a planetary gear system that achieves the same effect, and was marketed as the only crankset to integrate a retrodirect system. This is likely from the days of seven speed cassettes, building up as a 42 speed bicycle. Throw some 11 speed rings on there and make a 66 speed bicycle, pair it with an internally geared hub and really go nuts. Interesting, but no surprise that the design isn’t around today. If only I could go back in time and see people mountain biking with a Supergear in the wild, or find someone running one on their bike today. Someone out there has one of these and swears by it.

Dumpster Diving Cross Country Bike Tour

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Most of us living in America are responsible for throwing out a lot of food, enough that there is a whole culture of dumpster diving out there. Rob Greenfield is riding across the country subsisting on nothing but food rescued from the dumpster to shed a small bit of light on the issue of food waste. From TakePart, To Spotlight Food Waste, This Activist Is Biking Across the U.S. and Only Eating out of Dumpsters:

Greenfield is riding his bicycle across America—which to most of us would seem adventurous enough. He started his coast-to-coast ride in San Diego on June 2 and plans to finish in New York City on Sept. 26. Halfway through his journey, Greenfield decided to see if he could eat solely out of Dumpsters located behind grocery stores and convenience stores.

This year Greenfield planned his trip route so that he could take advantage of major media markets. When he arrives in a city he holds what he calls “Food Waste Fiascoes.” He’ll grab a friend with a car, and they’ll hit up some Dumpsters.

The following day, Greenfield spreads out his finds on the grass at a local park. He uses social media to invite television stations, news outlets, and regular people to come check out his formerly trashed food and get educated about the food-waste problem.

Read the entire article at www.takepart.com

The Museum of Science and Industry Bicycle Photo Prints

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The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago recently added images to its online collection available for free viewing, or for purchase for display. The early bicycle and motorcycle collection is pretty amazing, with a number of high quality images of just amazing and perhaps one of a kind bicycle examples from their collection. Hobbyhorse pre-bikes, ordinaries, long forgotten early safety designs, and turn of the 20th century bikes that aren’t far off from what we ride today. Prints start at less than $20, with large canvas wraps up to about $200.

Savannah Fast and Curious Alleycat — September 28

FastCuriousCat (1) Savannah GA is good for a few alleycats per year, with the Fast and Curious coming up on September 28th.

Motorcycles of Interbike (The E-Bikes Are Here)

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Bicycles equipped with motors have been a part of the landscape since shortly after bicycles themselves first appeared. It’s a natural leap for many that a bicycle, while fun and wonderful, would just be so much better if you didn’t have to pedal it uphill, or at all. Back in the 1890s we coined a term for overbuilt bicycles with motors — motorcycles. In the time since bicycles and motorcycles have gone in different directions based on the power disparity between the two, with bicycles gaining dedicated on-street lanes, off-street facilities, and rules and regulations that take into account the human powered scale of a bicycle as compared to the speed of mechanically powered vehicles.

Some would have you believe that human powered bicycles are going to be left behind by electric bikes. A significant amount of floor space is certainly devoted to e-bikes at the major bicycle tradeshows, even if the vibe surrounding them is more homeshow booth salesman as compared to the primarily enthusiast-driven bike industry. I’ve heard e-bikes heralded as the solution to the United States transportation problems, the way to get more people on bikes and out of cars, and the future of all things bicycle. Given the choice between seeing cars or e-bikes going past my front door I’ll choose two wheels over four every time, but let’s call a spade a spade and quit pretending that a bicycle with a motor is anything but a class of motorcycle.

Just as bicycles are primarily sold to the general public on weight, e-bikes are sold on power, pick-up and speed over distance they can go. Go into any shop and no matter what the official line is on things, people are picking up bikes to determine which is the lightest and the best choice. With e-bikes it seems to be a common theme that just after stating how it is really a bicycle at heart the pitch quickly gets into speed and power and how long you can ride without having to pedal. Current e-bikes look like an evolutionary link between bicycle and electric city scooter to me, much as early gas powered motorcycles appear to be bicycles with lawnmower engines bolted on. An 80 lb bicycle doesn’t sound like much fun to ride, and neither does a motorcycle with relatively flimsy bicycle components and tires. And from the looks of the above “bikes” that have a crankset as an afterthought or simply not at all, some manufacturer’s too see e-bikes as a stepping stone to fully electric, lightweight motorcycles.

Electric-assist bikes may be the way to get an aging population onto more human-scale vehicles and a way to facilitate moving cargo in urban areas with fewer cars, but I’m certainly not the only one who doesn’t want to see e-bikes in the bike lane or using dedicated off-street bike facilities. The speed disparity of an e-bike zooming silently uphill in the bike lane is simply unsafe to bicycle riders, and while most e-bikes don’t go significantly faster than a skilled and fit bicycle rider can achieve, there is a certain built-in safeguard of fitness and confidence before a bicycle rider can hit 30 mph that is not there when a motor is involved. Imagine novice riders upon e-bikes on sidewalks and rolling downtown redlights at speed and you can begin to see the user conflicts. And don’t even get me started on the craze for e-mountain bikes and the trail conflicts and public access issues that it will surely usher in the first time a politically connected equestrian notices a mountain bike with a motor passing them by.

Legislation needs to be drafted to draw the line between an electric-assist bicycle and a throttle twisting electric motorcycle before cycling access takes a step backwards. We’re on the precipice of big things in human powered transportation and no matter what role electric-assist bikes may play in the future, in my opinion it’s important to not allow electric motorcycles to jeopardize the political gains bicycles have made in the past decade.

Behold a selection of e-bikes below, some with throttles and some with electric assist speed/power regulators, some for the urban landscape and some for skirting dirt bike regulations. Have a different opinion on e-bikes? Leave it in the comments or submit a guest editorial to brad@urbanvelo.org.

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