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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

What a tool.

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 by Mick Allan

It started millions of years ago when our ancestor first used a stick to prise the remnants of dinner from her teeth. For cyclists it starts at the moment we make our first adjustment to a bicycle.

As a young beginner cyclist I remember watching in wonder as my uncle Jack wielded his tools to make a pile of scrap  into a rideable bike for me. I got proficient at mending punctures and tightening the seat clamp every ten miles and I never looked back. Being self sufficient, having the ability to get myself home after a mechanical breakdown became a big part of the enjoyment I derived from cycling. Later I became a cycle retailer and for a while the workshop manager of a busy London shop. And when I started it was with the same sense of wonder that I watched the experienced mechanics use the pro tools – treating the boxed Campagnolo frame finishing tools with the sort of reverence and respect usually reserved for religious relics.

The line between on-the-road tools, the ones you take along for roadside repairs, and workshop tools is sometimes a blurred one. The most useful tool of all time – for everything – is, for me, The Nest, a set of Allen keys which fold out of a moulded handle in the manner of a Swiss Army knife. I don’t know if they were the first but Cannondale made the first one I remember buying. Soon others followed with similar products. It helped that the cycle industry introduced decent universal fastenings. For the road you pack the tools you’re most likely to require. And this brings us to the issue that keeps the weight weenies awake at night. You can’t pack every tool that you’re ever likely to need, your bike would weigh a ton, so you choose which tools to bring according to the results of a complex equation which takes in to account: tool weight, tool multi-functionality, the likelyhood of mechanical failure, the length of the ride and your confidence in your bike’s mechanical integrity.

This is my (now retired) weight weenie tool kit: chain pup and mini 62.5, 4, 5, 6mm Allen keys, Phillips head driver (Topeak Mini6), chain rivet extractor (Finishline Chainpup with the handle filed off), patches (glueless Park Tools patches) and tyre lever (Lezyne). I’ve had it a very long time and I’ve never had to use it, because my bikes never break down! Modern tyres don’t go flat and I’ve never broken a chain. These days, for everyday adjustments I carry a Park Tools Allen key nest in my bag. Simple.

teeny tool

Lots of companies have spent an awful lot of time and effort to give us road-side bicycle tools we want to buy. US company CoolTool were amongst the first to realise that there was a vast market for lightweight, combination tools. Topeak have gone on to dominate the market.

And in to this environment comes Full Windsor, a London England based company who started out making a rather nifty clip-on bicycle mudguard. This is one of those tools that bike nerds pick up and coo over. It’s a lovely thing, very tactile. It’s essentially a steel ring spanner and the tip of its handle has been formed to make a tyre lever (and plastic coated to protect the surface of alu rims). It comes in a fancy carrying case made of leather and recycled inner tubes. It feels good in the hand and it has a some nice angles which indicate that it’s been designed with a great deal of thought and consideration. It’s the perfect tool for the single-speed/fixed-wheel riders out there. As a simple spanner which doubles up as a tyre lever it does a fantastic job. But … I wish it stopped there, because then there’s a square cut-out in the side of it which is intended to function as a spoke wrench. It doesn’t. And the pouch is full of little compartments, each of which contains a different hex driver bit, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8mm plus a couple of screw driver heads and a driver extension. These are intended to be used with a hex socket in the side of the handle. And if you like you can rest them in couple of little magnetised nesting positions inside the handle. I don’t know why you would. You have to ask; is this tool better than a generic spanner with an Allen key set and plastic tyre lever? It looks nice enough but there’s no real functional advantage. And as a cyclist, as a bike mechanic, and as a tool geek  that irks me a bit. It’s all a bit fussy.

I admire Full Windsor for getting out there and doing it. It’s not easy to start up a new business in a saturated market and during a global economic turndown. And good luck to them. I suspect that they’ll sell a lot of these things. But. And it might be just me, I suspect that most of them will end up on the bench or in the toolbox at home. A good tool, but not one that I’d take on the road.

Book Review: Just Ride.

Thursday, August 30th, 2012 by Mick Allan

Just Ride cover

I’ve been a fan of Grant Petersen for a very long time. I first became aware of him when he was head honcho at Bridgestone bikes. I even worked for a short time in a Bridgestone Bicycles dealership;  Hollywood Bikes in LA. Petersen continued to extol the virtues of steel as a frame material when the whole industry seemed hell bent on abandoning steel for oversized aluminum. Bridgestone bikes featured lugged frame and fork construction long after everyone else had adopted tig welding. What Petersen was trying to do was retain some of the features he valued, but in the fickle trend-led world of mountain biking Bridgestone bikes eventually became thought of as old fashioned, behind the times, obselete. I don’t know if this was the reason that Bridgestone (giant Japanese manufacturing conglomerate) stopped making mountain bikes and shut down their US operation. Probably.

Thankfully Grant Petersen went on to found Rivendell Bicycle Works. Which kinda picked up where Bridgestone left off. Rivendell bikes are steel, their frame tubes brazed together using lugs of various degrees of fanciness. But this is merely the cornerstone of Rivendell’s ‘velosophy’. Rivendell Bikes are the antithesis of the super-light-weight close-clearance carbon-fibre race-bred bikes which dominate the high end of the bicycle industry. They are also the antidote.

To modern eyes these bikes look old fashiooned, and they are, but it goes way deeper. These are not superficially retro styled bikes. Petersen recognised that lots of people were riding the wrong bike. Wrong in size, but more often wrong in type. The equivalent of everybody riding around in the bicycle equivalent of a Formula 1 car.

His occasional ramblings on the excellent Rivendell website have been condensed into an excellent book; Just Ride, A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike. As someone with a pretty clear set of notions about cycling this book was a revelation. Firstly he changed my mind on a bunch of subjects. As a self proclaimed seeker after the truth this was ‘interesting’. (it’s hard to be rewired so profoundly at my age). It also put in to words a few ideas which were already coalescing in my mind – his chapter on clip-in pedals smacked my right between the eyes.

And I disagreed with him on a bunch of stuff (Woo. Big deal you say? For me, sad old bicycle anorak who finds mistakes in every bicycle magazine or book I’ve ever read that’s quite a big deal), but he’s not wrong. We simply hold different views. And I loved it. Reading a book whose subject matter is so well thought out, so thorough and resolved. A radical and serious book by a true expert. It’s just about the best bicycle book I have ever read. There is not a single word of BS in the whole thing. Not just a book to read to understand Petersen’s philosophy, I understand my cycling better having read it, and I thought I knew it all. My only criticism? It was too damn short.

If you ride a bicycle I urge you to read this book. It might just challenge everything you think you know.

I sent Grant a copy of Cyclorama, I almost wish I hadn’t because his book is so bloody brilliant I feel embarrassed to have him read mine! What I really do wish is that I’d read his book before I’d written Cyclorama. That tells you something huh?

Mr Petersen and his publishers have kindly allowed us to reproduce an extract from his book in our Bike Culture section, here – The Shoes Ruse

There are lots more book reviews in Cyclorama’s Bike Culture archive here.

Thick and Fast.

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012 by Mick Allan

I’ve got products and books piling up for for review faster than I can open the parcels! We’ve been so busy with The Book that it’s all gone pear shaped on the product review front. So.. I’m determined to get started on the task of reviewing all this stuff before the pile falls over and traps me against the keyboard. At least 90% of the stuff I’m sent is really outstanding gear. Among them some of the nicest, most innovative and interesting products and publications I’ve ever got my hands on. The other ten percent? I was brought up to believe that if you can’t say anything good about someone/something then don’t say anything. An attitude which doesn’t sit well with someone who’s set themselves up as a product reviewer! But I’ve had one or two products through which suck very much. And honesty, in relationships and product reviews is everything. Knowing what effort their creators put into designing, financing, manufacturing and bringing their creations to market I find it hard to be as honest as I want to be. One of these products, a book, is a direct competitor with our very own the Cyclorama book. I’ll gird my loins and wade in.

Anyhoo.

This:

Schwinn on the bank

… as you may already know, is my venerable Centenary Schwinn which comes out for the ’summer’, though this year’s rainfest barely qualified. The kind people at Nonusual sent me a set of their gorgeous Gropes handlebar grips recently. Black with red laces was the inevitable colour choice from the many permutations available. Now, it takes a lot for me to change the original parts on this bike. It’s ridden, regularly, which is more life than most Centenary Black Phantoms are allowed to enjoy. I swapped the tyres only because one of the originals had perished prematurely. I swapped the original steel dinner plate ring for a smaller – Profile Racing Imperial – only to save my knees from imploding. And it ‘fits‘ – this being the last (imperial) model Schwinn ever made in the US. The seat got blacked because I just don’t do brown. And that was it, until I spotted the Gropes Grips. I got the long version which, designed as they are for drop bars, has given me enough off-cut to do another two bikes. Yay! They went on easy enough. The lacing was a bit fiddly but not difficult to achieve a very professional finish following the very comprehensive instructions included. They’re finished off with some very nice cork grips with a big G. Initial concerns that these would immediately fall out were unfounded. They’re incredibly well made, straight, true, well finished and soft, thick supple leather. They suit the bike perfectly and I love them.

Gropes grips on a Schwinn

You may be aware that I never talk about prices on Cyclorama. A thing is worth what you’re prepared to spend on it. This is the kind of product, if you own the kind of bike that these would suit, that you’ll order first and ask price questions later.

If I had a 5 star points scoring system these would get a six. Highly recommended.

There’s a gallery of images on our FB page here:

Exciting new Brompton bag!

Monday, July 30th, 2012 by Mick Allan

Yes I know. The words ‘exciting’, ‘Brompton’ and ‘bag’ don’t sit comfortably in the same sentence. But bear with me. Brompton bikes are no longer the exclusive preserve of a particular kind of cycling geek. As the venerable Brompton’s domination of  the global high-end folding bike market has increased it’s come to be appreciated by a whole new generation of international urbanites. The Brompton is now, officially, cool.

This is my latest one (or at least it will be when I’ve finished paying for it…) the very coolest Brompton of all, (IMHO) a 3spd with Titanium ends. I haven’t even ridden it anywhere that isn’t carpeted yet but it’s great to once again have a Brompton in the family.

Anyway, waffle waffle. I was approached recently by Demano a Barcelona based bag maker, whose range includes a Brompton bag. Very few companies make Brompton bags, Brompton’s own are the most numerous, unsurprisingly. And then there’s offerings from tradish’ Brit’ companies like Carradice and Brooks which, though extremely high quality and desireable, seem to hanker after a ‘Tweed Run’ view of the world. They’re nice and all but, you know, I don’t wear brogues and a Barbour and a deer stalker hat.

One of the things which attracted me to the Demano bag is the very thing which attracted me to the Dutch Clarjis bags which now grace most of the families’ bikes – their recycledness. Just like Clarjis Demano use old vinyl advertising banners. The result is an attractive, tough, waterproof and durable range of bags which has strong environmental credentials. And they’re all individually unique. And a big chunk less expensive than most.

The Demano Brompton bag is available from CitiBici, Barcelona (who ship worldwide).

The one they sent me was manufacturered using a banner which once advertised a Barcelona sketeboarding event, and to my delight, features the city skyline which includes a glimpse of one of the loveliest buildings on earth, Gaudi’s Basilica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia. Wonderful.

So, I await an opportunity to test this bag with eager anticpation. Full test coming soon.

demano bag on ti brompton

brompton three quarter

Special Edition Cyclorama messenger bag by Seagull

Thursday, June 7th, 2012 by Mick Allan

Professional cycle messengers the world over use Courier bags for a bunch of good reasons. The cheap and nasty, sweaty vinyl ‘newspaper boy’ bags which were pressed into service twenty and more years ago have evolved into practical, waterproof and durable bags which are comfortable to wear all day long.  A messenger bag allows you to get off the bike and in to a building in one bound. Panniers might have a greater capacity and make the bike do the work of carrying the load, but they are a faff to get on and off, don’t come with shoulder straps so you have to actually carry the darned things. Messenger bags are hands free. The other alternative – ruck-sacs/back-packs – have two straps which obliges the user to remove the whole bag to get in it. Messenger bags can be slipped around from back to chest under the shoulder. Lots of companies make them now and they are available in a mind boggling range of sizes, colours and levels of quality.

I had my own go at designing a messenger bag nearly twenty years ago. Unhappy with the short-comings of the available bags it was based broadly on the then market leader (Fellow anoraks with long memories will remember the arrival of Timbuktu bags on these shores C.1990) but (hopefully) advanced the waterproofness and on-the-fly strap adjustment to another level. I sold a few and I kept one for myself, but beyond that I never took the big step to turn it into a business. My personal McAllan bag lasted fourteen years of almost every day use. And it looked very tatty towards the end! So when the sad day came to replace it I set very high standards for its replacement.

In the search for the perfect bag I stumbled across Seagull bags from Columbus Ohio. There are lots of good bags out there but I don’t think many come close to Seagull’s levels of excellence. But it’s not just about quality, Seagull bags are completely customisable from an enormous range of colours and special features. You can even spec the colour of the stitching. But that’s not all. They can also adorn their messenger bags in the graphics of your choice.

Mick's new bag

My new Cyclorama bag got held up for weeks in UK customs (and even though I’m not able to ride my bikes at the moment!) I’ve been desperate to get my hands on it since the day I discovered Seagull’s excellent bag configurator. Anyway, it’s here now. First impressions? It’s everything I hoped it would be. You’ll have to wait until I’m back in the saddle to find out if it’s as practical as it is good looking.

Beyond their presence on the product pages of Cyclorama.net there is no financial arrangement, we don’t make any money on sales of this bag. We just thought you might like to buy it. The Cyclorama Seagull bag, along with all their other products, is available directly from them via their excellent website.

Just tell them we sent you.
Mick

Book review: Bike Art

Monday, April 23rd, 2012 by Mick Allan

I’m very aware that bike geeks like me (and you) have a different view of the world than the vast majority of the world’s bicycle riding population. For a bike geek – as opposed to just a cyclist – the world is viewed as if through bicycle shaped spectacles. We geeks have postcards of bicycles on the fridge door, a ‘my other car is a bicycle‘ bumper sticker on the car and even when we are off the bike (a  rare occurance) wear a high-end hand-made courier bag instead of a shoulder bag. We are glared at by our partners when our neck cranes as a pretty/handsome cyclist goes by – until they realise that we were, as always, checking out the bike – not the rider.

So when this particular book arrived for review I jumped for joy. I devoured it from cover to cover and then passed it around the bicycle-mad family I’m lucky enough to share my life with so that they too could stare with wide eyed delight at the wonderful selection of images within. Before devouring it again. It’s an absolute gem of a book.

The publisher’s background is in grafitti art, so it comes as no surprise that urban, outdoor wall art features heavily, and it’s no bad thing. Fine art, sculpture, illustration, tattoo art, graphic design and even industrial design engineering are also covered in detail. Every page is a new joy.

Bike geeks like you and I will see this book as evidence of a resurgence in bicycle culture, reassured that we are not alone, that there’s a world out there of like minded obsessives, making art and riding bikes and mixing it all up in an explosion of creativity the bicycle world has never before witnessed.

Seriously. It’s fantastic.

If you ride a bike or if you like art (and who doesn’t?) you’ll like this book a lot.

But if you’re a bike geek…  you will love it. That’s a promise.

BIKE ART – Bicycles in art around the world By Kiriakos Losifidis is published by Publikat. ISBN: 978-3-939566-37-3

You can buy BIKE ART here..


This is the cover blurb…

” The bicycle is one of the most popular means of transportation around the world. It gives us the possibility to be as free as we want to be. We use it for transportation, sports, and fun. The equipment can vary from cheap to expensive, from athletic to comfortable; for each need you can find a bicycle that meets your expectations.

Within the last years more and more people have been addicted to bicycling. Some because they want to move along eco-friendly, others because they rediscovered the fun and action one experiences while riding stunning trails or tricky fun parks challenging ones fitness and competing with other riders. Or just because it is the most flexible vehicle in car-crowded cities. For those people the bicycle is not just a means of transportation. It represents their way of life and their individuality.

This deep relation inspired a lot of them to express their passion in artworks dealing with bikes or using the bicycle itself as canvas or as a source of inspiration to reinvent the bike. With this volume, author Kiriakos Iosifidis welcomes you to a panorama of all kinds of works that are inspired by the bicycle. It is a collection of colourful bicycle graffiti, paintings, remarkable bicycle designs, complex constructions, and various types of bicycles one can find on the streets around the world. More than 250 international artists, illustrators, painters, sculptors, industrial designers, photographers, organizations, and anonymous citizens present their works of art and give us insight into their personal views and relations to these charming two-wheeled vehicles.

BIKE ART includes Artists like:

ETOE, JEFF PARR, KEVIN NIERMAN, KO MASUDA, MWM, PETER J. KUDLATA, TALIAH LEMPERT, ADAM TURMAN, ALAIN DELORME, ANDY SINGER, ILOVEDUST, KEN AVIDOR, MADS BERG, MIKE GIANT, MONA CARON, PAT PERRY, WILL MANVILLE, CARO, DAVID GERSTEIN, DZINE, MARK GRIEVE & ILANA SPECTOR, OLEK, IGOR RAVBAR, KEVIN CYR, DUANE FLATMO, EL NIÑO DE LAS PINTURA, STINKFISH, SWOON, TIKA and many more.

Author Kiriakos Iosifidis is author of the MURAL ART book series. This time he managed to unite artists and people of different disciplines who all share one passion: bikes! BIKE ART is an effort to support the bicycle as a means of transportation, a statement of sustainability, as well as to celebrate it as a lifestyle that exists throughout society and across borders. “