Urban Velo

Bilenky Titanium Rando Tandem


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


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

Cultivating Conversations at BikeBike 2013

Image by Brian O'Doherty

Image by Brian O’Doherty

More than 300 individuals representing 80 organizations gathered in New Orleans for the 10th anniversary of BikeBike, revisiting the city where volunteers and organizers gathered at the first BikeBike, setting the wheels in motion for a cross-cultural exchange with biking at its center.

An opportunity to share ideas, stories, and support, the 4-day conference brought together a wide range of people and projects that represented the efforts of a collective bike community from across North America and reaching as far as Austria.

“They come from so many different areas and places,” said Vincenzo Loconte, “from places that are very religious and conservative to places that are very anarchist or liberal, very high-income to very low. You hear a lot of different experiences from everywhere.” Loconte, who volunteers at two Los Angeles coops (Bici Libre and the Bikerowave), shared his knowledge in education through a workshop on how to use the bicycle to teach concepts in science, math and other areas.

In an effort to support the broad scale phenomenon of community bike projects and promote a greater level of exchange, this year’s conference included a third day of workshops. Topics ranged from teaching the basics valuable to newer organizations such as how to acquire shop tools to knowing when to grow, to detailed presentations on how to take a volunteer who knows nothing about bikes and turn them into a confident volunteer, to creating better exchange between other organizations, from bike shops to local community groups and businesses, as well as within and among other projects.

“This year was part of a concerted effort to expand it a little bit, because the past few years it seemed like there wasn’t enough time,” said Victor Pizarro, executive director the New Orleans-based community bike project Plan B, the host organization for this year’s event.

“There’s nothing better than face to engagement,” said Momoko Saunders of Portland, Oregon’s Bike Farm. “Particularly around some of the more touchy subjects of privilege, of sexism, creating safe spaces.”

The topics addressed at BikeBike each year reflect the current goals and challenges of the various community bike projects that take on different forms in different environments. Accordingly, the focus has grown from solving internal organizational issues to building a network that can leverage shared knowledge and resources between groups.

“Global cross pollination is one of our long term goals,” said Pizarro. This theme reappeared in workshops throughout BikeBike, and built upon mutual shop-collective support, collaboration among projects, comparing notes on different cultural settings and facilitating national and cross-border exchange.
Read more →

All-City Macho Man Disc Review


Cyclocross bikes have long made great commuter bikes. Slightly overbuilt frames and parts, lower gears, stronger brakes, and clearance for larger tires and fenders as compared to most road options, cyclocross bikes make a compelling argument as the right tool for the committed commuter. Add in the ability to hit mixed surface roads and sections of single- or double-track trail and it’s easy to see why many choose ‘cross bikes for the daily grind and the weekend thrills. When I want to cover some ground and have no particular direction in mind more often than not I choose a cyclocross bike, with the All-City Macho Man Disc being my wheels of choice as the summer days turn to autumn.

With ‘cross racing booming, many bikes on the market have trended away from durable and versatile frames toward lightweight machines more suited to number plates and training rides than endless exploring. The Macho Man Disc has race-proven geometry in a full chromoly steel package, sacrificing weight in the name of disc brakes and bike lifestyle compatibility without compromising on the cyclocross heritage. The double butted frame has internal toptube cable routing for easy portage and forged dropouts with a chainstay rear disc mount. Full length housing throughout keeps the shifting and braking in order no matter the conditions. Fender mounts on the frame and lugged crown fork make it commuter friendly, and full ED coating inside and out helps to prevent corrosion when the going gets wet. An English threaded bottom bracket shell is welcome in this age of press-in bearings, and the subtle touches of a front deraileur pulley mount (for traditional bottom pull road deraileurs) and a barrel adjuster are not to be overlooked—it’s the details like this that matter and make it clear that the bike is designed by people that ride.

The stock Macho Man Disc build leaves little to be desired in terms of performance even if it lacks any particular pizzaz. The Shimano 105 shifters are finely tuned shifting machines at this point, leaving little reason besides weight and fashion to go with higher end choices. The rest of the drivetrain is a mix of Shimano with a 10-speed 12-28 cassette and an FSA crankset with 46/36 rings rounding it out. Color me impressed with the Hayes CX-5 mechanical disc brakes—they performed on-par with other mechanical versions with easy setup, plenty of power and very little fade. Wheels are easy targets for criticism with complete bikes and while the Formula hubs and v-section Alex rims perform just fine I’d prefer to see the classic looks and weight savings of shallower box-section rims and even butted spokes. The 58 cm bike as reviewed weighs 26.7 lbs—nothing that was holding me back, but it is worth noting the weight penalty that comes not only with the disc calipers but the frame bits and wheels to make them work as compared to a similarly spec’d bike with rim brakes.

On the road and on the trail I couldn’t ask for much more bike than the Macho Man Disc. It’s a predictable, comfortable ride all around but not sluggish in the least. The bike just feels fast, and makes me want to ride more miles more often. Cyclocross geometry isn’t far from road bikes these days and the Macho Man Disc is no exception, with the same bottom bracket drop as All-City’s Mr. Pink road bike but with a slightly longer wheelbase and slightly slacker head/seat angles. On pavement the bike feels more like a road bike than a slowly plodding touring bike, but those subtle geometry changes make it a capable performer for the unplanned left turn onto secret double-track trail. It’s by no means a mountain bike but I didn’t let that stop me from picking my way through rocky park trails a time or two—the stopping power of disc brakes makes riding on inappropriate trails far less daunting than underpowered cantilevers as far as I’m concerned. Sugar is sweet and so is honey, the Macho Man is on a roll.

If I had to list wishes, I could see wanting seatstay rack mounts or even a third bottle boss for the epic rides this bike is otherwise suited for. Losing some weight around the middle would be appreciated, but comes at an ever escalating cost. As it stands, a great ride—a race bike you can live with. Give me open trails or a gravel road and I’d be quite happy to rip it all day. The All-City Macho Man Disc is available complete as tested for $1795 or as a roll-your-own frameset for $650.

Urban Cycling Hall of Fame Inducts First Class at Interbike 2013

The Urban Cycling Hall of Fame (UCHOF) inducted its first class of Riders, Organizers and Makers at Interbike this year, recognizing them for their contribution to urban cycling. The induction selection committee, comprised of some of the most recognized urban cyclists today, was on hand at the Double Down to award plaques to the nine who were selected from 500 nominations, and one Rider’s Choice award determined by public votes, in UCHOF’s first year.

Nelson Vails, Kevin “Squid” Bolger, Andy White (Fyxomatosis), John Watson (Prolly Is Not Probably), Christina Peck, and Austin Horse made up the selection committee tasked with narrowing down the hundreds to the few. While the list was long, the final selection is a group of standout cyclists whose contribution is immeasurable.

The nine inductees included some names notorious and others that should be: Longtime New York messenger and originator of Cranksgiving, Antonio “Tone” Rodrigues; the godfather of global messenger culture James Moore, who was riding brakeless track bikes on the street before most of today’s fixie youth were even born; Roland Burns, maker of RELoad Bags; artist and messenger Greg Ugalde; Felipe “The King of New York” Robayo (need I say more?); Tokyo messenger Hiroyuki “Sino” Shinozuka, a two-time CMWC champion; San Francisco messenger, owner of Pushbike SF, and multi-time NACCC champion Sarah Murder; Critical Mass (an award recognizing not just the organizers but every participant in the movement); and bike repair guru Sheldon Brown.   

“He’s a fucking legend,” said White, expressing a commonly felt sentiment about the legacy Sheldon Brown has left behind. The posthumous award is to be sent to Harris Cyclery in Massachusetts where Brown worked and lived.

Read more →

Interbike 2013 Photo Gallery Day 3

Interbike 2013 is a wrap and we have this third and final gallery installment of images from the floor. Check out our galleries from day 1 and day 2, and stay tuned for posts throughout the week highlighting individual products we took note of on the show floor.

Interbike 2013 Photo Gallery Day 2

Interbike 2013 Photo Gallery Day 1

Avid BB7S Mechanical Disc Brake Review

Avid BB7SAvid first released the Ball Bearing mechanical disc brake back in 1999. Because of their power, reliability and serviceability, they were pretty much instantly deemed the industry standard for disc brakes. SRAM acquired Avid five years later and wisely continued to produce the brakes under the Avid moniker without significant changes, other than separating the line to include an entry level product, the BB5, and the flagship BB7. Once there was a demand, along came road versions of the BB5 and BB7, which were optimized for road brake levers (which pull less cable than mountain levers).

Avid recently unveiled the BB7S, a sleek, black version of the venerable BB7 with stainless steel hardware. Like its predecessor, the BB7S features tool-free inboard and outboard pad adjustment, organic compound brake pads and Avid’s “tri caliper positioning system”. This system primarily consists of a series of concave and convex washers that allow for precise alignment of the caliper. I’m sure there may be a few people who disagree, but in my opinion the BB7 makes for the easiest brake setup on the market.

The new BB7S brakes ship with the HS1 rotor, which is said to be an improvement over the classic G2 Cleansweep rotor in that it displaces heat a little better and works better in wet weather. It certainly looks the part, and likely weighs a hair less. Speaking of weight, the BB7S caliper weighs just 197 g as opposed to the classic BB7′s which eclipsed 212 g.

I have to confess, I’m totally spoiled because I have the luxury of using Avid’s Speed Dial Ultimate levers ($263 per pair) to actuate these brakes. It could be argued that such high end levers would make any brake seem better, but I prefer to think that they just don’t interfere with the inherent power and modulation of the BB7S.

The Avid BB7S brakes retail for $120 per wheel. Choose between road and mountain versions, and 140 or 160 mm rotors. Check out www.sram.com/avid

Alleycat Insights: Q & A with Billy Sinkford

billy_sinkford-1Alleycat Insights is a series of interviews about the evolution of alleycat culture that took place over the course of putting together the Urban Velo #38 feature story, Alleycat Explosion. In this installment we catch up with Billy Sinkford. Sinkford began working as a bike messenger in Boston in 1999, and spent a collective 10 years on the road between there and his time spent working for Godspeed Courier in San Francisco. In 2007 he was one of the key organizers of the North American Cycle Courier Championships in San Francisco. Today Sinkford is a partner at Echos Communication, where he works with cycling-oriented businesses, including Chrome Industries, Bern Unlimited, and Levi’s Commuter Series.

When did you first get involved with alleycat races?
I started in 1999 on the road in Boston; I was a bike messenger there off and on for 6 or 7 years and then I moved to California and worked with Godspeed—probably a collective 10 years out on the road.

What are some of the big alleycats that you’ve been involved in organizing?
The biggest one would the North American Cycle Courier Championships in San Francisco, I believe that was in 2007. And then for a couple years after that I ended up in some way either helping or advising.

What was that like?
My role was to deal with the police and the city. I went to the city council meetings and got street closures, and police detail. My main partner, Fergus Liam, who was a messenger in San Francisco for a long time—he dealt with mapping out the race course and I dealt with the logistical backend, making sure that we paid the right people the right amount of money that would get the streets closed.

NACCC’s is one of the few alleycats that was ever kind of sanctioned, or had the streets closed. Most about of the time it’s about really knowing the streets, but this one was more about what you could do.

How have things changed since NACCC’s in San Francisco?
The biggest change I saw happen would be that when I first started there was no such thing as a non-messenger showing up to an alleycat. They were smaller; there weren’t a plethora of sponsorships. It was more about folks just getting together and having a good time. People weren’t really that concerned with the financial aspect of it; the prizes were not what they are now, but it was more of a tight knit community. Read more →

Product News

City Reports