Urban Velo

Circles – Shop Visit

DSC_0762I first met Shinya Tanaka, the owner of Circles at a trade show years ago, and ever since that first meeting I’ve been looking forward to visiting his shop in Nagoya, Japan. Nagoya isn’t a tourist destination, it’s a hard-working city with just under 9 million people in the metro area. It’s home to Toyota motors and miso nikomi (which I’ve heard described as Japanese soul food). What makes Nagoya special are its people, and Shinya is one of the best.

At first glance you might only notice that Circles is a cool bike shop. It’s filled with many of the latest parts and accessories, and there’s a busy service area that’s also visible from the café. A closer look will reveal a carefully selected stock of merchandise that speaks to Shinya’s business philosophy. He prefers steel bike frames because they’re durable. Beginners can crash them and not worry that they’ve compromised their investment. High end bikes from the likes of Cielo, Hunter, Retrotec and Breadwinner are available, but Shinya steers first time buyers towards bikes like Surly.

Upstairs you’ll find the wearables in a separate boutique, called Circles Tailored, that looks and feels like a conventional clothing store. Not only are there amazing offerings from select, high-quality cycling brands, there are a number of items from non-cycling companies who offer suitable products. Think base-layers from Scandinavia and skiing gloves (Shinya was once a competitive mogul racer).

You probably won’t be waited on by Shinya himself if you visit, he’s typically in his third-floor office working on his components and distribution company, Sim Works. Or he’s spraying frames in the on-site paint shop. But rest assured, you’ll be helped by one of the finest employees in the world. I’ve met nearly all of them, and they’re a passionate group. Shinya’s philosophy has roots in traditional Japanese apprenticeship culture. While his employees might not have to spend three years learning to make sushi rice, they do have to be highly educated and immersed in cycling culture in order for him to achieve his goal of creating a bigger, better cycling community in Nagoya.

Check out circles-jp.com

Kato Cycle – Shop Visit

mrkatoKato Cycle was started in Nagoya in 1946. The family-owned, full-service shop features the latest and greatest on the showroom floor, from carbon road bikes to steel fat bikes. But for many people, myself included, the highlight is upstairs. There you can find bikes and accessories from what many people consider cycling’s heyday. The bikes and frames on display (and on sale) read like a history of bicycle technology. And you’ll find a smiling Mr. Kato up there, proudly presiding over his collection. If you speak Japanese, or have a translator with you, he’ll be happy to tell you about his time in Italy, riding L’Eroica and buying armloads of bicycle merchandise. Check out www.katocycle.com

Blue Lug – Shop Visit, Part 1

Blue LugUrban cyclists in Tokyo are incredibly lucky to have access to shops like Blue Lug. Founded by friends Toshi and Wakako, who shared a love of Japanese track bikes, the operation has grown to include an array of ventures including two locations in Tokyo (one in Shibuya, the other in Setagaya), production bicycle frames, custom framebuilding, custom painting, bag-making, a café and more. Every aspect of the business is carried out with precision and a keen eye for detail, as well as with a level of creativity and artistry that’s nothing short of remarkable.

Check out www.bluelug.com

Click here for more photos in Part 2.

Above Bike Store – Shop Visit

DSC_0599Above Bike Store is our friend Shinya Suzaki’s business, located in Kawasaki, Japan. The operation includes the bike shop, a custom paint shop called Swamp Things, the Starfuckers brand, and one extremely cute bulldog. To say it’s a good shop would be a gross understatement.

Shinya’s philosophy is to promote cycling, first and foremost, and to sell bikes and merchandise second. He offers a custom, personal experience for his customers, including one-on-one time where he rides with them and helps them get the most from their bike. The shop is full of smiling faces, creating a relaxed atmosphere where you can browse their unique bikes and many of the latest and greatest parts and accessories. If you’re in the Tokyo metro area, you’ll definitely want to visit the shop.

Check out www.abovebike.com

SSCXWC 2013 Photo Gallery

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Following a weekend of debauchery including some bike riding, the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships went off this past Sunday in Philadelphia. Qualifiers for spots in the men’s and women’s race categories included the previous day’s Bilenky Junkyard Cross, a locals led “feats of strength” ride, or last-chance goldsprints. The football fans in the audience may be familiar with how the weather turned in Philadelphia that afternoon, dumping some 2-3 inches of snow on the course in a couple of hours. The 11am “Everyone’s a Winner” category started with clear skies and wet trails, ending but 45 minutes later in heavy snow. By the time the men’s and women’s classes was hitting the course it was just short of a whiteout, with the women getting the worst of it. It all led to a party in the woods with some bike racing happening in between. The top competitive finishers were taking things seriously to turn the laps they did, it’s just that most everyone else on the course was more than happy to embrace the loose rules and heavy heckling in the name of a party. Adam Craig and Vikki Barclay took home the championship tattoos, everyone else went home a winner. Next year it’s Louisville.

Bilenky Junkyard Cross 2013 Photo Gallery

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Costumes encouraged, partying mandatory, rules optional. Bilenky Junkyard Cross is a less-than-formal bike race through the junkyard behind Bilenky Cycle Works in Philadelphia. The 8th annual event was held this past Saturday in conjunction with the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships, acting as a qualifier for the main event. Ripping through the aisles of the junkyard, over a car and through a van riders raced in heats of about 15 a piece to vie for spots in the men’s and women’s SSCXWC main event. A near perfect event, though you may not want to jump your ‘cross bike over the junked car.

Issue #40 – Available Online

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Contents Include: 2013 World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship, Bike Bike 2013, HD Witness, Something About Cleveland, Pedal Threading, Via Bicycle, Product Reviews and I Love Riding in the City.

Download it for free, purchase it from the Apple Store or order a printed copy online.

Coast Cycles Single Speed Road Bicycle

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Johnny Coast builds his Coast Cycles out of an unassuming garage on a Brooklyn dead-end. His bikes are traditional in look and construction, with small diameter tubes and lugged or fillet brazed joints. Both styles are used in this half-lug bike — check out that headtube junction. Call it an all-day, single speed road trainer or top-end commuter, either way this one is destined for some miles. While the bike is new, many of the parts are 4-5 decade old Campagnolo, with the surface scars of long ago rides. I wouldn’t scoff at spending some long weekends on this one.

Check out a brief tour of Johnny Coast’s shop in Urban Velo #32.

Bilenky Titanium Rando Tandem

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It’s not everyday that you see a $12,000 custom bicycle, let alone a newly constructed one with ’90s era Shimano and Dia-Compe components. The old mantra of “the customer is always right” holds true especially well in custom work, where customer preference trumps all else. In this case the customers are accomplished randonneurs with a preference towards the simple, dependable and serviceable parts atop this fully custom titanium Bilenky Cycle Works tandem. The custom racks keep the panniers riding low for stability, and provide a place to mount the dynamo lighting kit required for late-night and early-morning miles. The S+S coupled frame may technically fit in a travel box, but it’s more to make the bike manageable for air travel than to meet the standard size for checked luggage. The cantilever brakes and rear drum brake (for drag on descents) are a classic road tandem combo, even if today’s disc brakes are far more powerful. But this is a bike for customers with a specific traditional build in mind, and Paris-Brest-Paris on the calendar. A beautiful bike destined for lots of miles.

Swift Industries Pelican Porteur Bag Review

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Racks, baskets and on-the-bike bags are essential accessories for making cycling a part of everyday life, at least as far as I’m concerned. Most people start off with whatever bag they already own slung over their shoulder, gradually making their way through messenger bags and backpacks up until that epiphanic moment of realizing that the bicycle makes an ideal beast of burden and and can carry cargo directly, rather than just on the body of the passenger-engine. Rear racks and panniers are the first choosing of most if for nothing other than availability and general ease of installation, but over the years I’ve learned to love front racks and baskets for most of my cargo hauling. Full touring brings out the traditional side mount panniers, but day to day it’s a backpack for the essentials and front rack for everything else.

Enter the Swift Industries Pelican Porteur bag, an 11″ square bag made specifically to fit the CETMA 5-rail cargo rack. The bag has the classic Cordura outer and vinyl tarp interior combo to keep nature’s elements on the outside, with a set of four clips and straps to attach the bag to the rack at the corners. The square bag has a rolltop design that stands tall for overloading, with a large flap and long straps to keep everything secure. Inside there are a few side pockets for organizing pens, tools and small items with a single zippered outside pocket on the front perfect for the removable shoulder strap and a few other small bits. Besides the rack itself the bag has removeable corrugated plastic inserts in the sides to give it shape — while the rolltop is pliable, the body of the Pelican bag is rigid. Reflective strips, a light loop and a top-mounted clear map pocket round out the bag. For what it’s worth the bag weighs 3 lb 14 oz empty.

Over the course of the summer months I used this bag for daily errands and an overnight camping trip, maxing out the capacity and giving it a run at what I’d imagine most people are using it for. The capacity is more than enough for most anything I’d imagine wanting to commute with on a daily basis; my camera, laptop, lunch, and a change of clothes all fit. The weatherproofing keeps it all dry in a downpour, enough that I wouldn’t worry about electronics in anything but a deluge you shouldn’t be riding in anyway. You can haul a fair amount of groceries home in this Swift bag, especially paired with a backpack, and the rigid sides help to protect delicate fresh cargo. The bag swallowed up my weekly CSA half-share without a problem. For an overnight trip I was able to fit my lightweight tent, sleeping bag, camp kitchen, change of clothing and food for two (check the last image in the below gallery). The finer points of keeping the extra long straps out of the way of the wheels even when unloaded shows that Swift Industries is paying attention.

While the bag is easily removed and reattached to the rack, I found myself leaving the bag at home for some in-town trips as I didn’t want to fuss with it at every lockup. Not an issue with longer commutes, but for running into a few different places in short order (post office, bank, lunch, pharmacy…) I found removing and reattaching it a burden. Cough it up to me being impatient when it comes to my bike being ready to ride. It didn’t help that the carrying strap is on the top, rear corner of the bag, making it awkward to hold as it pitches forward and jostles your cargo (make sure those straps are secure). You could use the removable shoulder strap of course, but that would make the on/off process that much more involved with four clips to the rack, and a clip on either side of the shoulder strap every time you want to remove/reattach the bag. Like any front bag it can interfere with bar mounted lights, and while the bag has a front blinkie light loop, the days of riding around with nothing but an amber blinkie up front are over me. And particular to my use of a front rack I tend to be carrying small boxes here and there frequently, something anything but an empty rack and a few bungees can hurt more than help. The Swift Pelican Porteur is more for backpack replacement or all day rides than box carrying capacity, not an issue for the majority of rides.

Riding with a loaded front rack takes some getting used to, and is perhaps the main criticism of the Pelican Porteur bag. With such capacity it’s easy to overload the front end which can lead to unstable handing, especially to those not used to riding with weight over the front wheel. The unsteadiness goes away with practice — with time I’ve come to strongly prefer the feel of a front rack over that of a similar load on the top of a rear rack. If I was putting in the serious touring miles or going out for multiple days I’d certainly move the load lower to traditional panniers with a lower center of gravity and better handling, but for a quick trip or around town the accessibility of the racktop bag wins out every time.

The Swift Industries Pelican Porteur bag is a lifestyle item, as at home on the commute or the overnight tour. Everything you need for the day fits and stays dry, and the construction is up for daily abuse. The $200 asking price is on par with high quality backpacks and other bags, especially given the Seattle construction out of a small shop of dedicated makers. Choose your own colors and check out the other bags from Swift Industries at www.builtbyswift.com

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