31 October, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Aardvarks and Saddles

With winter weather coming we've had lots of requests for Aardvark neoprene saddle covers, which we've had a hard time keeping in stock. So I wanted to tell all of you who've been waiting that we just got a big shipment and have plenty in stock.

It's important to keep leather saddles reasonably dry. A little rain won't hurt, but repeated wetting can cause leather saddles to loose their shape.

Surprisingly, Brooks saddle covers are not really waterproof and their fit is rather baggy. I also don't care for the big logo that might as well say "Steal this expensive saddle". I think the tighter fitting and waterproof Aardvark covers are far superior. Note thatAardvark makes two styles of covers. The thin and inexpensive Lycra cover is not very durable, but the neoprene model (the one we stock) is very nice and longer lasting.

This is also a good time to treat your leather saddle with Proofide, which is still the best. Don't forget the under side.

Speaking of saddles, another shipment of VO model 6 saddles will be here next month and we'll have a new VO saddle specifically for city bikes.

Finally, Aardvark covers are also available wholesale to other bike shops from VO Imports, as are VO saddles.

24 October, 2008

Choosing Fenders

With today's cold rain at VO world headquarters it's time to recycle some posts about fenders. This one is about choosing fenders. The next one will be about installing them. Yes, I've written about this before, but we still get more e-mails about choosing and installing fenders than any other topic.

Fender Basics

Riding with fenders can be transformational. You'll find your bike far more useful. You won't get a wet streak up your back every time you ride through a puddle. You're feet will no longer be soaking wet just because the road is damp. And you'll stay dryer in anything but heavy rain. Your clothes will be cleaner. It's not surprising that most non-racing bikes in Europe and Asia have fenders.

We stock two brands of fenders, Honjo and Velo Orange, in 15 models. All our fender models are metal, 14 are aluminum and one is 1 stainless steel. They come in sizes for 26", 650b, and 700c/27" wheels.

Most experienced cyclists prefer metal fenders because they provide better weather protection than plastic and are very durable. They also look much nicer than plastic. In fact a nice pair of fenders can make even an ordinary bike look rather elegant.

One of the reasons that plastic fenders don't work well is that they are too short. The front fender, must come down close to the ground to keep spray off. All the fenders we sell are made to our specifications, even the Honjos, to ensure that they offer adequate coverage.

Measuring for Fenders

The basic rule in fender fitting is that the fender should be at least 8mm wider than the tire; 10-12 mm is better. So a 35mm fender will fit up to a 25-26mm tire; a 43mm will cover a 32-35mm; 45 covers 38mm, etc. The reason for this clearance is that otherwise little pebbles, sticks, and other debris that are thrown up by your tire will get lodged between the fender and tire. Of course many tires are smaller than their advertised size, so it's wise to actually measure the inflated tire.

A fender's width is measured on the outside, not inside. So to determine if a fender will fit you'll check clearance at the brakes, in the fork crown, and in between the seat stays.

To check the brakes apply them, so the pads touch the rims. Now measure the width between the arms. Also check that you have at least 9-10mm vertically from the tire to the brake. Short reach caliper brakes typically can accommodate 35-37mm fenders. Long reach brakes can usually fit 43-45mm fenders. XL reach brakes like Tektro R556 can fit 50-52mm fenders.

Next check the width and height of the fork crown. Finally check that the seat stays are far enough apart and that the brake bridge is at least 10mm above the tire. You may have noticed that I've not mentioned the chain stays. Those are easy because you can always trim the bottom of the fender to clear.

Of course metal fenders are flexible and can be bent, so if the fit is close you can always squeeze the fender in a few millimeters at the offending spot.

It's important to also get fenders of the proper radius. 27" and 700c wheels are close enough to use the same fenders. 650b and 26" fenders are close and some folks do use one size on the other, but fender line is not going to be perfect.

Fender line refers to the fender following the radius of the tire. In other words, the gap between the fender and the tire should be constant along the whole length of the fender. It's one of those things that may not matter much in practice, but it effects the bikes appearance a lot.

As for fender length, that's easy: get the longest fenders possible. Long fenders keep you a lot drier. And if you live in the Northwest, get a mudflap for the front fender too. If you ride brevets or in pacelines, your fellow riders will appreciate a rear flap as well.

Fender News

There are a few fender developments to report.

We're dropping 35mm smooth Honjo fenders and have ordered 37mm smooth polished Honjos instead. The idea is that the new 37mm size will fit 28mm tires. These should be here in a couple of weeks

The 52mm 700c VO smooth fenders will be replaced by a new model, 52mm Zeppelin profile fenders that are pre-drilled. We expect them in about 2-3 months.

A small shipment of 35mm Honjo hammered fenders has just arrived. We bought these from another importer since our own shipment won't be here for months. The specs are a little different than the VO version, but close. When these sell out we might not see more before spring.

We are also talking about three new models. The first is a VO 36mm smooth fender, a less expensive alternative to the Honjos mentioned above. We are also considering a wider 700c fender, something between 58mm and 64mm. Finally we might get a wider polished stainless steel 700c fender, maybe 50 or 55mm.

As we re-order Velo Orange fenders we will start getting them pre-drilled at the fork crown, stays, and chain bridge; the seat stay attachment is still a sliding bridge. We are hearing from our customers, and especially shops that sell VO fenders, that almost everyone prefers the pre-drilled type. In our experience they fit perfectly on 99% of bikes. This might add $2 to the price, but will save installers some work.

Any thoughts on new fender models you'd like to see?

20 October, 2008


Just an idea, but with winter coming I wonder if there would be interest in a proper fixed gear training bike from Velo Orange. Remember when fixies were primarly winter training bikes for racers? Of course you could use this bike for more than winter training, but that's where the idea comes from.

Various French constructeurs built the occasional fixed gear bike with proper mounts for fenders, long reach brakes, room for comfortable tires. This was back when racers in training still rode sensible bikes. Our thought was for a TIG welded frame, a bit like the Pass Hunter, but with a higher bottom bracket, no shifter bosses, track ends, and long reach caliper brakes. Of course it would have low-trail geometry and handle well with a handlebar bag. The track ends would make removing the wheel a hassle because of the fender. Maybe we could come up with a quick fender stay release.

Tom (VO Import's manager) is interested since he commutes on a fixie that, like so many, has no fender clearance and 23mm tires. He wants the prototype and is willing to do all the testing.

Please understand that there are no firm plans to build the VO fixie yet. We just thought we'd run the idea up the flagpole and see who salutes.

UPDATE: Thank you for all the comments and great info. We've decided to have a prototype built for Tom. If it looks good it will become a semi-custom bike and possibly a production frame.

Also, this frame by Adam Hammond is lovely, much like what we want to make. (Thanks for the link Jim)

16 October, 2008

Pass Hunter and 2CV

I had our Citroen 2CV at the VO shop today. So I snapped a few pics of the newly built-up Pass Hunter leaning against it. Not very good photos really, but I like the contrast. I'll take some proper ones soon.

It took me a long time to figure out how to build up this bike. I almost went with flat bars like this Toei Pass Hunter. Then I though about fenders, like this Alps or this one. In the end it was a compromise. The great thing being at VO is that I can always switch out the parts.

Here is a link to a post about the frame. These are the official pass hunting rules. And here is a cool Japanese site.

I think the VO Pass Hunter will do better in the hills than the 29hp, 600cc-engined Citroen.

15 October, 2008

VO on E-Bay, an Experiment

I've decided to try a little experiment. We have lots of sample parts, one-off items, and odd bits laying around the shop and I want to try to sell them on E-bay. I'm curious to see what folks think these various items are worth. It also seems that more people will find out about VO from the

In any case we have a new E-Bay identity "veloorange". I'll add lots of component and accessories listings as over the next few weeks.

Apparently it takes a few hours for the items we list to start showing up in searches or in the "Items from this seller" link, so please check back this afternoon.

14 October, 2008

Backorders and Shortages

As our longtime customers know, we often run out of certain products. There are several reasons for this.

With new products we typically place a smaller first order. I want to know if the production quality is as good as the samples we saw. It's not unheard of for a sample to be the very best example from a run. I also want to know if a new product will be popular before committing to a large inventory. For example, I thought the Grand Cru long reach brakes would sell like crazy given how well they work; they have been a good, but not phenomenal, seller. The VO Stem Adapter, on the other hand, a product that I thought would be only a modest seller, has proven very very popular. Being a new company, we have a disproportionate number of new products. Of course, there are also occasions when I blow it and simply order too few of something.

Production delays often cause items to be out of stock. Some popular items are made in small factories that that take as long as six months to make and ship orders. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as just ordering early. Our business is not static. VO continues to grow quickly so it is difficult to predict what we'll need in six months.

So why don't we simply take backorders? One of the reasons is that I try to keep this business simple and enjoyable. Another is that our software does not support backorders. But more importantly, we couldn't guarantee when, or even if, something will be back and at what price. Most people would be hard pressed to order something if they didn't know when it would arrive and how much it would cost; I wouldn't. And many folks will find a substitute in the meantime.

Our plan is to eventually have a function that will allow customers to sign up for automatic e-mails when an out of stock item they want is back.

10 October, 2008

Porteur Racks Are In Stock Again

We have a new shipment of Porteur racks, but I'll bet they won't last long. These racks usually sell out almost as soon as we get them in.

They are in short supply because shop that makes them for us can't increase production to meet demand. But we've found a couple of willing factories to supplement supply. There is one issue, however; one factory can make them at considerably lower cost, but can't polish them. They would come with a "sandblasted" finish. So the question is, would our customers prefer a rack that was $20-$30 cheaper, but not polished? Before you ask, we can't have both; the minimum production run would be too large. I'm leaning toward getting them polished.

By the way, the upper photo shows an older version of the rack (different back loop), but I thought the pumpkin was appropriate to the season.

Update: The racks are already sold out; sorry

08 October, 2008

Bicycle Commuter Act Passes House, Senate

The 700 billion dollar bailout bill that was enacted last week has it's share of detractors. In the opinion of many economists it had to be passed, but it wouldn't do much good. Events over the past couple of days seem to bear that out; of course it's still early. In the end though, this downturn, like all previous downturns, will pass.

In any case, to get the last dozen votes needed to pass the bill a lot of extensions were added, some good and some bad. One of the good ones was The Bicycle Commuter Act which will provide a $20 tax credit per month to employers of bike commuters. That's only $240 a year, but it's enough for tires and some bike of upgrades. Be sure to ask your employer to participate. Here's a link to a Wired post with more details.

I can't help but wonder if the money spent on this act might not have been better spent on bicycle infrastructure? Will getting $20 a month convince more people to commute by bike than, for instance, having a proper bike lane or good bike storage facilities at the subway stop? Hmmm....

If you want to read more about economics and the credit crisis I highly recommend (the only occasionally wonkish) Economist's View blog.

Handlebar name

A lot of folks suggested great names for the new French-style VO city bar. Thank you all! Read the comments to the last post; very clever names indeed. After polling the VO staff and thinking about it myself we came up with our three favorites:

Brian suggested Espresso bar. That's actually Italian, but still sounds great.

Kevan's suggestion Flarrow, from flat and narrow, was also a favorite.

The winner, however, is Matt's suggestion of Belleville, another Parisian neighborhood in keeping with our VO Left Bank and Montmarte bars. And, as he says, "a nod to a great bicycling movie, The Triplets of Belleville."

All three folks mentioned above will get free handlebars. Please send me an e-mail with shipping info.

I wanted to mention a few other great suggestions. Flaneur, suggested by Pavel is a super name, but we were thinking of calling the production mixte the Flaneusse, so too close. Chris' Cintre-Ville is neat and noteworthy; maybe for the next bar. As are Melvin's Bridget Bar-Deaux and Tony's Camionnette (which we are saving for a rack name). Finally, Libraridan's Madeleine, with it's link to Proust, is a wonderful suggestion.

07 October, 2008

Getting Stuff Made

Remember the vintage French bars in the photo? They were a standard bar on countless French city and utility bikes for many decades. I wrote about wanting to make them again a few weeks ago. Here's what happened; I found it interesting.

I made some measurements and drew a rough sketch that we gave to our draftsman. He made a proper set of plans that we sent to our agent in Taiwan. The agent contacted several manufacturers.

The first manufacturer was a large company whose name you are certainly familiar with. They asked a large fee for tooling and a huge first order. The second company, a medium sized handlebar manufacturer, wanted a smaller amount for tooling and required a much smaller order. The third company was a new and rather small manufacturer who would absorb the cost of tooling and required an order of only 200 bars. Their per piece cost was a bit higher, but still reasonable.

Since this bar is narrow and very simple in shape I felt we could trust this new company with it. Besides, Tom had already worked on a project with them, in his former job, with good result.

We had almost settled on the third company when our agent sent us a new drawing that was virtually identical to the one we had sent her. It varied by 2-3mm in one or two dimensions. Obviously someone else had had the same idea as us. They had copied the same bar. It seems a fourth manufacture had once made these bars for an unknown company and so already had the tooling and experience to produce them. The cost was somewhat higher as was the minimum production run. But this company has a great reputation and we could skip all the prototypes and minor revisions and inevitable tooling delays.

We should have these bars in 60-90 days. They are narrow, about 44cm (O-T-O) for slipping through traffic. There is zero rise. The bar diameter is 23.8 to accept inverse levers or bar-end shifters. Clamp diameter is 25.4mm. Cost should be around $20.

So the question is, what should we call them? I'll offer a free set of these handlebars for the best suggestion!

03 October, 2008

New Stuff

I thought I'd post a couple of photos of the final VO handlebar bag design. It's a little taller than the last prototype. The production version will be of treated canvas; this one is plain canvas. Otherwise, this is it. The projected price is around $90.

Also we received a few items that have been out of stock for some time, including:

There are also a few new items in stock: