In 1579 Sir Francis Drake landed in northern California and dubbed it New Albion. In 1976, Jack McAuliffe founded the now defunct New Albion brewery in Sonoma, which was regarded as the first American microbrewery. And in 2012, New Albion Cycles formed with the idea of bringing classic bicycle designs to the market. The Homebrew is their flagship model.
The Homebrew is best described as a classic roadbike with a hint of modern technology. It joins just a handful of bikes on the market with downtube shifters. The steel frameset is lugged and TIG welded, and of course readily accepts racks and fenders. The fork features a 1” quill stem and eyelets for a mini rack and fenders.
The Homebrew offers a classic cycling experience that countless cyclists have enjoyed in recent years by restoring second hand bikes from the 80’s. But not only are those old bikes becoming harder to find, their downfalls are eventually exposed, namely poor braking, a lack of hill-friendly gearing, and limited tire clearance. The Homebrew takes care of all of those things with aplomb.
If you’ve never ridden with single-pivot brakes you might not appreciate the mechanical advantage that dual-pivot side-pull caliper brakes offer. But it’s night and day, and so thankfully New Albion decided not to go that retro. The IRD B57’s have clearance for up to 32mm tires, which is good because the Homebrew can accept them. It ships with 700 x 28c Kenda Kwick tires.
The tires might be more aptly named Komfortable, as they’re rather high volume and low pressure (85 psi max) makes for an incredibly comfortable ride. The tires are mounted to 32-spoke polished aluminum rims.
The drivetrain is predominantly composed of Sun Race components. I have nothing but good things to say about this groupset, and the pairing of a 50-32 crankset with an 11-32 cassette was highly appreciated. Pittsburgh, like San Francisco, is a city known for its steep hills.
Downtube shifters aren’t for everyone. They’re not as convenient as STI or even bar-end shifters. But they get the job done. They also make for a clean looking handlebar with less cables to interfere with a front rack, should you choose to go that route.
I did, in fact, ride the Homebrew with both front and rear racks for the majority of the test. I occasionally strapped packages to the rear rack, but I rode with a handlebar bag nearly every single time. The additional weight on the bars was quite obvious at times, especially on rough roads and when locking the bike up. But for the most part it wasn’t a hindrance. And because I was usually able to fit everything I needed for the day in said bag, I was able to commute on the hottest days of the year without a backpack or messenger bag. For someone like me, who almost never rides without one, the experience is refreshing.
And that might be the essence of the Homebrew, it’s a refreshing change of pace. It’s not a technological wonder, it’s a classic. The kind of bike your parents rode, the kind that made millions of people fall in love with cycling. It’s also worth noting that the bike is simply beautiful, as countless people pointed out during my time on the Homebrew.
Detractors may point out that the frame and fork are made from high tensile steel and not chromoly, but the difference is predominantly a matter of weight, not performance or safety. The decision of course is a matter of cost, which might seem unlikely since at $999 the Homebrew doesn’t fit into the category of affordable, but I contend that it’s worth considering. You’re not going to see a million of these on the streets of your city, and some people like to have a bike that no one else has. But I digress.
At the moment I have 16 working bicycles at my disposal. Even though another one might be more appropriate for a given ride, I keep opting for the Homebrew. That pretty much sums it all up. Check out www.newalbioncycles.com
Housed in a former candle factory in Queens, New York is one of America’s oldest manufacturing traditions. Worksman Cycles is a 116-year-old, family-owned bicycle maker producing machines first designed in the 1930s and whose best-selling model, says Worksman spokesman Bruce Weinreb, is not a carbon-fiber road bike but a steel tricycle designed for carrying 500-pound loads across factory floors.
From the rugged-looking building to the decades-old machines used for bending and crimping the steel tubes for the bikes, every part of the company’s business model seems to be philosophically in line with the bicycles they produce: low maintenance, no frills, and designed to last forever. For more than a century, Worksman has survived by focusing on the niche market of manufacturers needing industrial bikes to carry people and equipment on their factory floors, and Worksman show few signs of changing.
The company itself began in 1898 in a lower Manhattan store run by Morris Worksman. Worksman started out selling Columbia bikes, says Weinreb, but began selling his own design that was purpose-built for workers carrying heavy loads around the city. Worksman’s 1915 patent shows designs for a tricycle with a removable back box.
Cyclocross bikes have long been a choice for the rider looking for a versatile machine—enjoyable on long road rides, capable on trails and light singletrack, able to handle a light tour and near perfect for the committed medium to long distance commuter. As cyclocross racing has grown the selection of bikes under the ‘cross umbrella is wider than ever, from thoroughbred race machines to traditional steel frames and performance commuters.
Trickle down tech is at the core of most any consumer industry, and the Fuji Feather CX 1.1 takes advantage of what has become the new normal at the high end of spec and brings it to a $1220 complete bike ready for the 9-5 and your next mixed surface adventure. The butted aluminum frame features a post mount disc brake, a tapered headtube with a 1 1/2” lower bearing, and a press-fit BB86 bottom bracket. The carbon blade fork has a durable aluminum steerer and dropouts, and a post mount disc brake as well. Single fender eyelets adorn both the frame and fork, with seatstay mounts for a rear rack and a pair of bottle mounts for when the miles start to rack up. Geometry wise the CX 1.1 borrows heavily from Fuji’s race bikes with a few tweaks to fit larger volume tires that ends up with an 11 mm longer wheelbase overall.
The component spec of the Feather CX 1.1 is nothing much to write home about—a 9-speed Shimano Sora drivetrain and industry standard Avid BB5r brakes with 160 mm rotors do the name brand duties, with no-name Vera wheels and house brand Oval Concepts parts otherwise finishing off the bike. The 50/34 chainrings and 11-32 cassette provide a well thought out, wide gear range and while 9-speed isn’t the newest in new it has proven a durable choice with some long time adherents. The wheels are an odd mix of bladed spokes and mountain bike width 19 mm rims — very likely to stay true over many a pothole, but sluggish feeling on a long ride. Disc brakes come with their own weight penalty, coupled with overbuilt wheels the Fuji Feather CX 1.1 weighs 23.9 lbs. Contrary to the spec sheet our 58 cm review bike came with 170 mm cranks, definitely short for the people riding this bike and something I would have asked a dealer to swap before purchase. The blacked out, gloss on matte finish on the frame and fork is hard to beat, it’s a shame the Oval components don’t match.
City streets, light trails, dirt roads—the Feather CX 1.1 has the person that can’t keep their bike clean in mind. Add a full set of fenders and it makes a solid choice for an everyday vehicle that should last the long haul, stock it is more than up for hitting that dirt road loop a dozen miles outside of town. The geometry isn’t dumbed down in the name of relaxed commuting, giving the bike the handling character so many love about cyclocross bikes.
The frameset is where you should be spending your money, and the Feather CX 1.1 gives you a platform to grow with over the years. The press fit BB86 bottom bracket makes the bike compatible with any number of high end cranksets out there, and while I had no problems throughout the test I’m not the only one still skeptical of the benefits of press fit bottom brackets. Post mount brakes are welcome, even if I had issues with the stock spacers deforming during setup. I do wish that the full-length rear brake housing had another cable stop along the top tube to curb what is an otherwise annoying rattle without a loop of electrical tape, even if it’s an easy DIY solution.
Ride it now, keep your eyes peeled for deals on the easy weight saving upgrades and pick up a racier groupset a few years down the line when the original Sora drivetrain is worn out. While neither the lightest nor the snappiest accelerating bike out there, for the non-racer the Fuji Feather CX 1.1 proves a solid disc brake ‘cross commuter and weekend explorer. The Feather CX 1.1 is available in five sizes from 48 – 60 cm, with a lower spec’d $1000 CX 1.3 also available.
Contents Include: Utilitarian Bicycles in China, City Report: Washington DC, Gallery: SF Courier Portraits, Redhook Crit Women’s Race, World Naked Bike Ride. Product Spotlight: Marin, SRAM, Detroit Cargo, Abbey Bike Tools, Product Reviews: Fuji, Knog, Hiplok, Vaya and more, Chiang Mai, Thailand, Worksman Cycles, Know Your Derailleur Limits, No Exit, and The Almanzo 100.
Photos by Kevin Dillard – www.demoncats.com
City: Washington, DC
Nickname: DC, the Nation’s Capitol, Dead City
Claim to Fame: You’ve got Obama’s House, a bunch of suits walking around Capitol Hill, Ben’s Chili Bowl, cherry blossoms, mumbo sauces, and of course chicken and waffles.
History in 100 Words or Less: The US capital was originally located in Philadelphia. But in 1790, a new location between Maryland and Virginia along the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers was chosen by George Washington and DC was officially established as the nation’s capital. The city was designed by a Frenchman to appear reminiscent of Paris. Most of the city burnt to the ground during the War of 1812. In 1963, MLK, Jr., gave his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” at the Lincoln Memorial as part of the March on Washington.
Random Fact: When John Denver was playing a two-week gig in 1970 at a venue long gone called The Cellar Door in DC, two fellow musicians told him about song they were working on while driving through winding roads of Maryland. When Denver heard what was to become “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” he just had to have it, even though it was meant for Johnny Cash. Now, Denver’s iconic folk song is a symbol of mountains and West Virginia, even though it started here in DC.
City’s Terrain: Mostly a flat city, DC does seem full of one-way streets, diagonal nightmares, and lots of traffic downtown. The small neighborhoods of DC stemming out from downtown are very bikeable, especially on side streets. The city has seen a good amount of bike infrastructure in the past few years, with a beautiful long cycletrack down Pennsylvania Ave., and two additional separated cycletracks downtown. The area east of the River, the Anacostia neighborhoods, have close to zero bike infrastructure and are extremely hilly.
Weather Forecast: We get beautiful springtime and fall weather, perfect for bike riding with Cherry blossoms and fall leaves in Rock Creek Park. But DC feels like a southern city in the summertime with high humidity and grueling heat. The winters are fairly mild and we typically only get a few good snowfalls a year (except for this winter which was record breaking cold).
Top Shop(s): DC has so many bike shops and they each offer mechanics and shop owners with different personalities so it’s hard to choose. My personal favorite shop is the Bike Rack because of their laid back and friendly vibe. I’ve always had good service at Revolution Cycles in Georgetown. And the guys and gals that work at CycleLife, Capitol Hill Bikes, CityBikes, and Bicycle Space are all stellar folks.
Best Watering Hole(s): GBD near Dupont is my favorite bar with it’s very good “stiff punch.” American Ice Company serves its beer in mason jars and has Swachos (BBQ pork nachos). Lucky Bar is where the messengers hang out after work, so there’s always someone to talk to and they’ve got cheap beer. The Pug has got hands down the best atmosphere at a bar. And Smoke and Barrel is the best for your craft beer nerds.
Authentic Local Food: Ben’s Chili Bowl with their chili cheese fries and just about any brunch spot with their chicken and waffles. Also mumbo sauce. Not sure what it is, but you can put it on pretty much anything from fries to wings to maybe even waffles.
Must See: The Old Post Office tower. It’s thought to be a tourist attraction so it took me a few years to go up and see the view, but it’s a towering view of the city you’ll never see anywhere else. And a sunset from Meridian Hill Park in the summertime is just beautiful.
Must Ride: Definitely ride down the Pennsylvania Ave. cycletrack at night heading east, with a view of the Capitol dome right in front of you. The Anacostia Riverwalk trail across the river is tree-lined. Rock Creek Park is where roadies ride on the weekends and you feel like you’re not even in a city anymore.
Best Time to Visit: Just not the summertime, or any major holiday. Too many tourists. Come for a DC bike event to see what the city is really like, such as one of our annual alleycats (Dead City for Halloween is my favorite), DC’s Eastside Thaw polo tourney in March or a monthly DC Bike Party ride.
Need For Speed: DC’s probably always had bike messengers, and a lot of the ones we still have today have been at it for years. There’s at least half a dozen alley cats per year, hosted by local couriers or bike kids, with the number growing. One of the favorites is the Presidential Inaugural alley cat—no other city can do that. DC also hosts one epic cyclocross race each year, DCCX, on a golf course at the Old Soldiers Home, which also houses President Lincoln’s Cottage.
Two Wheeled Celebrities: Older couriers like Scrooge and Bruce—everyone knows them. They’re legends. Lia who started and runs DC Bike Party somehow got 500 or so folks out on their bikes each month. And very recently, the Chocolate City Cycling crew.
Top Tourist Attraction(s): It’s DC, so of course anything that has to do with the president, Congress, and the Smithsonian. Walk along the National Mall, take your photo in front of the White House, and stand at the feet of Lincoln at his memorial.
Advocacy: The Washington Area Bicyclist Association, DC’s only bike advocacy non-profit, has been around since 1972. Over the years they have won major victories like getting the Capital Crescent Trail (an 11-mile rail trail from Georgetown to Silver Spring, MD), Beach Drive (a beautiful winding forested road in middle of the city) closed to motorists on weekends, and bike access on public transit. WABA launched an innovative workshop program, Women & Bicycles, to get more ladies on bikes. They host bike rides and social events throughout the year, monitor local trails through the Trail Rangers program, and do friendly outreach in the bike lanes with the Bike Ambassador program.
Locals Only: For those with cross bikes, Kingman Island in the Potomac is a secret and awesome spot to get some gravel and cross action in. And if you want to practice sprinting or work on your pace line skills, meet up with a group at Haines Point to do almost car-free laps. If you’re really legit, apparently there’s a superfast pace line at noon everyday called the Power Hour.
Check out www.waba.org