Top-mount thumbshifters are a classic design that the big players have left behind in the race to make a “better” shifter. Other designs are undeniably more ergonomic and capable of faster shifts, all without changing your grip on the bars. But some of us are hooked on thumbshifters, if for nothing else than their proven durability through simplicity. No matter the conditions, no matter the muck and cold, thick gloves and rust, thumbshifters continue to shift. In fact, I still have two pairs of 20+ year old Suntour thumbshifters in service on bikes, along with this set of Paul Thumbies that I’ve been running for over 5 years.
Paul Thumbies are the answer to those of us that want indexing beyond 8-speeds or SRAM or Campagnolo compatibility but want to run top-mounts too. These mounts transform bar end and time-trial shifters into old school thumbshifters. My poison? 9-speed Shimano bar end shifters mated to Paul Thumbies, run in friction mode on my 10-speed dirt road touring rig. Adjustable front derailleur trim and you can shift the entire cassette in one movement with the right touch. I’d go so far as to say, “It works every time!” but I’m to understand the phrase has already been taken. This is a shifter for the tinkerers and the explorers, best suited to people with a secret stash of parts and more ideas about bike setup than available rides to test it.
Paul Thumbies are available for $74 per pair in either silver or black, in either 22.2, 26.0 or 31.8 clamp sizes (mountain bars and road stem clamp sizes) and with Shimano, SRAM, Microshift or Campagnolo mounts. Current Thumbies have hinged clamps for easier installation and removal.
Compact hand pumps are a must-have item on the road; ride more than a few miles from home and you’re bound to get a flat. The $50 Lezyne Gauge Drive HP is an aluminum bodied pump meant for high pressure, low volume tires and equipped with an in-line pressure gauge meant as a step up from cheap feeling plastic bodied mini pumps. If nothing else the shiny aluminum feels good in your hand, even if I’ve never been one to tear through plastic pumps. At 230 mm long the Gauge Drive HP fits in a jersey pocket and larger seatbags, or use the provided bottle cage mount. The handle side hides a the hose and in-line gauge inflator which has a reversible Presta or Schrader chuck with a bleed valve. Screw the hose into the end of the pump body, careful to not cross-thread the plastic fitting, and go. Over the past season the Lezyne Gauge Drive HP has bailed out a few flat tires and aired up the travel bike outside the airport. The ABS Pen Gauge gives a reasonable ballpark pressure reading on the side of the road, but you’ll be hard pressed to tell a 10 psi difference with it. Be mindful of not unscrewing the gauge itself as I once did and avoid a momentary heartrate spike (I was able to put the gauge back together on the spot). The screw-on Presta chuck and small section of hose go a long way to help prevent broken valve stems out on the road, which happens to be the most common and least convenient place to break them. Like any small pump it’s going to take some effort to get to riding pressure with a road tire, but it will keep you rolling and is able to get to 100+ psi without spending all day.
The Chrome Victor Urban Utility Belt is a beyond miniature messenger bag, meant to hold the bare essentials when you don’t need a full backpack or want to deal with on-bike bags. Over the shoulder or fanny pack style, the $85 Victor is essentially a set of secure jersey pockets when you’re wearing more casual clothes that may not have pockets at all. It is just large enough to carry a phone, basic tool kit and small camera or wallet, maybe even a very compact windshell, but not much more. The small size is what keeps it useful, preventing one from stuffing it full of the clutter that collects in a larger bag, but an accordion bottom in the main pocket would hold more without making the bag much larger. As it stands, a couple of tubes, a multitool and a wallet can quickly max it out. The buckle closure on the phone pocket is great, but more overlap on the flap for protection in steady rain would be good for peace of mind. Get creative with the reflective daisy-chain mounting loopsstrap a pump to the outside, run a mini u-lock through them as a holster, attach a blinkie for night safety. The Chrome seatbelt strap is useful and secure, and heavy and made of metal, and contributes to a total bag weight of 520 g (the buckle alone is approximately 200 g). It’s a useful bag, great for short in-town trips where a full-sized bag is just excessive. For more capacity in a similar form factor check out the Chekhov Rolltop Utility Belt.
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.
Three 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.
We 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.”
“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.”
There 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 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.
Shortly after Surly introduced the Cross Check some fifteen years ago, someone chimed in that they wished for a disc brake option. After introducing a bunch of other bikes and “inventing” a category or two along the way, Surly took a sideways glance at their cyclocross bike and gave us the Straggler. It’s like the Cross Check with all of the same rack and fender braze-ons as the current generation, but different. Larger tire clearance, disc brake mounts and a new horizontal dropout design for either single speed or geared drivetrains. And it’s even heavier at 7 pounds for the frameset, give or take an ounce. This isn’t really a bike for someone counting the ounces of anything but their beverage of choice.
The Straggler excels at no single thing, but is capable of many. It’s a disc brake ‘cross bike erring towards adventure and utility rather than speed and lightweight. The Straggler has clearance for up to 44 mm wide tire with full fenders, and builds up with as standard components as you can get for a versatile bike that can evolve as your interests change. I decided on a mix of ‘cross and mountain components—a 46/36 crankset, 12-36 cassette, riser bars, top-mount shifters and hydraulic disc brakes—for an all day, all terrain city explorer capable of wherever an aimless ride may steer. It’s 26.5 lbs as pictured, but I didn’t put any thought into lightweight spec, and there are some easy places to trim.
Describing the ride isn’t full of superlatives—it’s well-worn cyclocross geometry tuned for larger tires, “monstercross” as some may have it. The chainstays remain short (430 mm on my 59 cm sample) even with the clearance for large tires, with the ride height kept in check by the 72 mm bottom bracket drop, yielding a very stable ride with smaller diameter road tires, and a bottom bracket height in the normal range with the largest tires that will fit. I’ve not had any issues with my wheel sliding forward in the dropouts even without using the included screw adjusters. It has never felt particularly fast, but it’s a stable ride—the Straggler goes where you point it and keeps at it. What it lacks in speed in makes up for in fun. Rip it through the woods today, bolt on racks and head out for a few day tour tomorrow, ride it to work again next week. About my only wish for the bike would be a third bottle mount under the downtube for when the going gets extra thirsty, and maybe a pump peg.
Over time I’m sure this build will change, and that’s part of the long term plan. Changing tires and dropping the derailleurs doesn’t take much time in the stand, and makes for an entirely different ride experience. There are a lot of parts combinations to build a super commuter or dirt road tourer or something in between on the Straggler platform. Just don’t mistake it for a cyclocross race bike or fast-guy road bike and you won’t be disappointed.
The Straggler frameset is available for $600 in a remarkable ten sizes, 42-64 cm, in either Glitter Dreams purple or Closet Black. Newly announced is the Straggler 650b, a similar flavor in the betweener wheel diameter in eight sizes including the smallest Surly yet, 38-58 cm.
Sarah Pearman rides her Surly Straggler for transportation, endurance road rides like the 375 mile Crush the Commonwealth, and occasionally on the local singletrack. She had some things to report.
Disc brakes on a road bike are a game changer, especially for me as a small-handed human who has had serious difficulties getting my past bikes to stop with road levers and cantilevers. Given the “standard” frame specs—English bottom bracket, 27.2 mm post, 135 mm rear spacing—I was able to build mine from parts I already had.
Most of my struggles with bikes are related to fit since I’m just barely tall enough to ride a 700c bike and hate toe overlap. The 46 cm Straggler manages not to have toe overlap up to a 32 mm slick tire, which is better than some tiny bikes, but anything larger and I find my frustration level rise.
That’s not to say it isn’t fun with big tires—I can fit skinny 29” mountain tires on it, but it’s even better now that I’ve realized I can fit my 650b mountain bike wheels. It fits a 2.1” up front without significant toe overlap, and 2.0” in the back, for serious monstercross activities. Surly read my mind and just announced the 650b Straggler, which seems like it might fit me even better out of the box.
The ABUS Granit Futura Mini U-Lock has been my go-to lock for almost three years now, locking up my bike on streets across the country and throughout Western Europe. Whether making my daily Post Office run or locking up in high theft cities like New York, San Francisco and London, in every instance my bike has been there when I’ve returned, which is perhaps the ultimate positive review.
One only needs a lock better than the next person to avoid theft in most cases, and the sense to only lock to sturdy immovable objects, and with this mini u-lock from ABUS I’m fairly certain that in the vast majority of cases I have the next guy down outgunned. The reputation of German engineering is well-earned, and the family-owned ABUS lock company upholds the lofty national standards. The 11 mm shackle and case are made of a custom formulated hardened steel alloy with a double locking cylinder that requires a thief to cut the shackle twice in order to free the lock without a key. The top-end lock cylinder is pick and corrosion resistant—I’d know, as an unplanned back pocket lock ejection left one of my ABUS Granit Futura locks laying out in the rain and mud for a weekend before being retrieved, and working as well as ever. Each lock ships with a pair of keys and a key code card for additional keys, or for ordering an identically keyed lock. It’s hard to explain how convenient having a pair of u-locks using the same key has proven in high-risk theft areas.
At 690 g the ABUS Granit Future mini is the lightest high security mini-shackle lock I’ve used, beating similar competition by 300 g or more. Be forewarned however that at just 2.75” wide the shackle opening can be impossible to fit around certain parking meters or large diameter signposts other locks slide over. That said, over the years I’ve yet to find myself completely frustrated by the size—quite the contrary, it easily slides into pants’ rear pockets and my backpack and I’d prefer the lighter weight to larger shackle any time. Being made in Germany by well-compensated, dedicated employees with top-end materials and testing comes at a retail price of $85. There are less expensive locks, there are higher security locks, but this one fits my needs just right.
Being a teacher carries with it many rewards, an unencumbered commute not being among them. Panniers help with this at least while on the bike, removing the overstuffed backpack and providing relief for the sweaty back and achey shoulders that can accompany. But how about when I dismount and unhook the panniers? Off the bike, most perform as well as a lopsided briefcase.
The transformer mechanism of the Banjo Brothers Convertible Waterproof Pannier Backpack is one of those so-simple-it’s-stupid concepts. A large flap provides top closure and conceals the backpack straps in pannier mode, with a simple hook and elastic strap rack attachment. Unhook the bag from the rack, flip over the flap to expose the backpack straps and hide the pannier mounts, adjust the straps and you have a backpack. The pocket on the flap remains outermost in both modes, with zipper access on both sides, which is convenient for never fumbling for wallet and phone. Though it may not be my first choice for hiking around all day, the padded straps and chest strap make it a serviceable backpack. To transform back to pannier, the straps fold back neatly and quickly, securing the ends and requiring little fuss. Flip the flap and you’re good to go. Banjo Brothers’ execution is simple, fast, and functional.
The bag has 1100 cubic inches of space—plenty of room for laptop, change of clothes, work shoes, and lunch and the roll-top closure with burly, removable welded-seam waterproof liner keeps everything dry. Two side outer pockets, one zippered, one open, are decently sized and though the zipper was mangled on our sample, Banjo Brothers has a reputation for great warranty and replacement service. This bag would have been replaced right away, but I was too busy using it to care. Light loops and reflective piping help with low-light visibility
When overstuffed with an open top the roll-top waterproofing is null and void, and unfortunately, the straps to clip the flap over the top in backpack mode when it’s this full sometimes aren’t long enough to reach. At 3 lbs it’s not the lightest, although removing that waterproof liner on dry days can save almost half a pound. At $80 it’s a total commuter bargain.
Written by Katie Horowitz, VP of Education, PPWP.
Halo is a UK-based brand founded in 1995. Their initial focus was on bikes that were designed to take flight, but they’ve expanded their line to include cross country mountain bike and road bike wheels. And with stateside distribution they’re set to make their mark on the US market.
When I set out to build my latest city bike, I knew that I didn’t want wimpy wheels, and I didn’t want anything proprietary—not even straight pull or bladed spokes. Even though I’m not known as a wheel crusher, I do like to go off road whenever possible, and my shortcuts often include some of the roughest alleys and parking lots in town. Plus, the bike in question, a Surly Straggler, is spaced for a 135 mm mountain bike rear hub. Enter the Halo Vapour wheelset.
Designed for serious mountain biking, but not necessarily racing, the Vapour wheelset features 32-hole, deep section, 26 mm wide rims. Made from heat treated T10 aluminum, they’re double walled with eyelets for durability. For the duration of this test the rims held 700 x 35c steel beaded tires. I would think the wide profile wouldn’t work well with anything smaller than a 700 x 32c.
The rims come laced to forged alloy hubs. Both front and rear feature international standard six-bolt disc rotor mounts. The rear hub uses six double-point pawls which equates to 12 points of engagement. I really can’t ask for more when it comes to responsiveness, and whir of the freehub sounds like that of a very expensive hub.
Aesthetically, these may be a bit flashy for a city bike, but I like them. The red anodized nipples offer a splash of color without looking gaudy, and the rim graphics warrent a double take. That’s neither silver ink nor faux-brushed aluminum decals—the graphics are laser etched into the rims.
As tested the wheels weighed 872 g front and 961 g rear. Retail price is $199 front and $295 rear. Check out www.halo-usa.com
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
The Especial Raider backpack was designed for people who don’t just want to ride to work, but who want to log some miles before they punch in. People like the Mission Cycling club, who collaborated with Timbuk2 to design this backpack. The main parameters were that it had to be a lightweight bag that wouldn’t impede your performance on the bike, but it also had to carry all of the essentials. And that includes not only clothes, but shoes, as well.
Timbuk2 really rose to the occasion. The Especial Raider weighs less than one pound thanks to its primarily ripstop nylon construction. It features ventilated padding on the back and shoulder straps, but not so much that it feels bulky. The shoulder straps are adjustable, and so is the sternum strap (it can slide up and down so you can adjust the height). On the outside the bag features one zippered pocket across the top and two stretch pockets on the hips. There’s a blinky light tab and a hook and loop tab to hang your helmet on once the ride is over.
Inside the bag, things get much more interesting. Though the bag has a rather trim profile (roughly 10 x 18 inches) it offers more than 1000 cubic inches of carrying capacity. The bag has two internal shoe compartments that basically keep the bottom half of each shoe in place. Then there is the back panel pocket, which includes a plastic folding board and a hook and loop strap. This system allows you to fold your clothes and keep them neatly pressed against your back. Finally, the bag has a built in metal hanging hook that allows you to conveniently suspend the bag while you change.
As someone who works a 9 to 5 and has to adhere to a business casual dress code, I truly appreciate this bag. Even when I’m not heading to work, I like the light weight and functionality of the bag. And I like the way it looks, it’s clean, simple and black (though there are now new color options). The bag fits me quite well, and unlike a lot of commuter specific bags, it’s quite appropriate for off-road riding, too.
My only real nits to pick with the bag largely revolve around wishes, not truly complaints. First, I wish the bag were more water resistant. I mitigated this by riding around with an extra-large Ziplock bag for my phone, wallet and other valuables that aren’t waterproof. I wish they had provided a convenient way to deal with the excess straps (I took care of this with rubber bands). And I wish the exterior pocket was a little deeper because once you unzip it all the way, things have a tendency to fall out.
The Especial Raider backpack retails for $79. Check out www.timbuk2.com