29 May, 2009

Comment Moderation

As mentioned a few times previously, any blog that becomes even moderately popular attracts a certain number of, usually anonymous, comments that are rude or spams. The Velo Orange Blog has. I've been deleting comments like that as they come up, but that only seems to encourage some. Several regular commenters have urged me to simply ban anonymous comments. Instead I've turned on the "moderation" feature in Blogger (the blog platform we use).

What this means is that someone at VO has to read and "publish" each comment as it comes in. I've been doing that job, but because I get so many e-mails I noticed today that I've missed a number of comments (they arrive by e-mail) and not published them. Sorry. We'll start using the special "moderation" console instead so we don't miss any more.

Generally, the only comments that get rejected are those that are very rude or that are just an attempt to shill some product that's not related to the post. Critical comments are OK; even stupid comments are fine; and funny comments are most appreciated. There is a good dialog here with many experienced cyclists adding valuable information and new riders getting their questions answered. I'm proud of that and want to keep this little community growing.

The photo is of a canal in France, not a bad place for a bike ride.

27 May, 2009

Front Rack Basics

It seems that there has been a lot of interest in front racks recently, or at least a lot more questions about them have appeared in my inbox. Part of the reason for this may be that the style of bikes VO favors is attracting more and more interest. Our customers are no longer just crusty randonneurs and Francophiles cyclo-tourists. Ever more folks are switching from racing bikes and even loaded tourers to 'constructeur-style' rando and city bikes. So I thought I'd post some basics about front racks.

As you may know, and this is a generalization, bikes from the US and Britain historically were designed to carry a load on a rear rack on in rear panniers. Bikes from France split the load front/rear or were front load biased. The low trail geometry favored by the better French builders, the constructeurs, worked well with front loads. And since VO is a Franco-centric place, we put a lot of emphasis on front racks.

Small Front Racks

Cyclists generally use a front rack to support a handlebar bag, and, occasionally, a larger load. That is why most front racks have a fairly small platform, like those on the Nitto M-12 and our Rando rack. The M-12 is for bikes with canti brakes and is attached to canti brake posts. The VO Rando rack is for frames with caliper or center-pull brakes and is attached to the fork blades, via either braze-ons or p-clamps. But two racks are almost identical in size and function and they are the racks that most of us need and use.

For those who would carry a bit more there are racks that mount on the fork dropout eyelets. The VO Constructeur rack is an example of what might be termed "medium duty." It's still light enough for just a bar bag, but it can support a 12 pack of beer, or even small panniers, in a pinch.

Speaking of bar bags, there are some handlebar bags that are attached with a handlebar clamp. Those are fine for light loads, but having the weight way up high and attached directly to the handlebars is obviously not ideal. Handling is bound to suffer. So the French constructeurs placed their handlebar bags down low on a rack mounted just above the fender. In this position and with proper geometry, one could carry a sizable load in the bag. Some cyclists with smaller frames eliminated the rack altogether and had their bag resting directly on the fender.

Porteur Racks

There are those who need to carry larger loads like groceries, a case of wine, large piles of books or newspapers, etc. The Porteur rack is designed for them. The Porteurs were Parisian newspaper delivery men. They piled 50 or 100 pounds of papers on the big front racks of their special bicycles and delivered them to news stands around the city. Those with a good route made a very comfortable living indeed. And many commissioned custom built porteur bikes from Alex Singer or Goeland or other great constructeurs. Here's an interesting collection of photos of the bikes they used.

These racks are very popular and rarely in stock, but by mid-summer we should have several hundred arriving from a new factory and a steady supply from then on.

A less expensive option for bulky, but not heavy, loads is a front basket of the type made by Wald. We'll start stocking the new wood-bottomed version of these in a few weeks.

Camping Racks

Camping racks are designed primarily for front panniers and will support a heavy load for bike- based camping trips. The best of them is probably the Nitto Campee rack which has removable pannier frames so it can also serve as an everyday rack. Note that the panniers are attached low on the bike for improved handling. Like the porteur racks, these are often out of stock.

Racks with Integrated Decaleurs

Decaleurs are quick release mechanisms for handlebar bags or baskets. We stock several types which I'll write more about in the future. The important point is that they are not a substitute for racks, but rather accessories for bags. They allow you to simply lift your handlebar bag off the rack and, using the shoulder strap, stroll into the cafe or shop with it.

We make two racks, versions of the rando and of the constructeur racks, that have integrated decaleurs. These eliminate the fiddling and setup of a separate decaleur and are lighter and sturdier than having two separate components.

Mounting Racks

Probably the most common rack-related question I answer is, "Can I mount racks and fenders to the same eyelet?" Of course you can. All you need is a slightly longer 5mm screw and a few washers. Since the eyelet on forks with only a single eyelet is behind the dropout, the rack tang will rub the paint off the fork unless you space it out with a couple of washers.

The constructeur and porteur racks we now sell are undrilled and designed to fit right on top of the fender of either 700c or 650b bikes. Mounting the rack low improves handling and appearance. This is the way custom racks from the great constructeurs were designed. So the tangs at the bottom of our racks are undrilled. The installer drills them for a perfect fit for your bike. But we find that many customers are hesitant to take a drill to expensive stainless steel, so our new production racks will be pre-drilled with either two or three mounting holes. We will still offer the racks with integrated decaleurs undrilled. That may not satisfy everyone, but most should be happy.

The racks must also be attached at the fork crown. Again, the new racks will be pre-drilled, but the current versions can be custom drilled and mounted either to the brake bolt or, preferably, with a daruma bolt. We will soon have a VO brand daruma bolt so the chronic shortages of Honjo darumas will be alleviated.

Nitto M12 racks mount to the hole in the fork crown and to the canti-studs. For years most folks mounted them to the studs with regular canti bolts, but you had to check the bolts occasionally because the could loosen. And the last thing you should do is over-tighten the bolts since that deforms the brake studs and causes endless troubles. Now there are special rack mounting bolts made by Nitto and by VO. These are based on the bolts French constructeurs used to mount racks on center-pull studs. They have a stud on each end and a hex head in the middle. While not strictly necessary, they do prevent the loosening of brake bolts and they look nice.

The last mounting issue relates to the VO Rando racks. These were originally developed specifically for the VO Randonneuse frames. We found that many cyclist wanted to adapt them to other bikes with caliper and centerpull brakes. This is easy to do with a p-clamp substituted for the fork eyelet. A few custom frame builders have also used them on their frames, adding eyelets in the proper position. The question I often get is if they can be attached to lowrider bosses. Sorry, but no; they work only on forks with the VO specific eyelets or with p-clamps on other forks.

Phew! That's enough about racks for a while. And I apologize that we are out of half the stuff I just wrote about. But it's all on order or on the way. Demand has again outstripped production, but it's only a temporary problem.

22 May, 2009

Closed on Memorial Day, and Frame News

We'll be closed as of 4pm today and reopen on Tuesday, May 28.

The photo is of the VO Polyvalent (multi-purpose) frame described here. (Tom was fitting one of the new Taiwan-made racks to it.)

As soon as we get a firm delivery date from the factory we'll start taking deposits for the first production run. I'd guess that they will arrive around the end of September. The main differences from the photo are that the color will be dark gray and there will be an extended head tube. It will be available in four sizes initally, 51 x 54cm, 54 x 56cm, 57 x 59cm, and 60 x 61cm. Remember that it's designed for city bars so the top tube is longer than on a rando frame. We'll add more sizes on the next run.

The introductory price for the frame and fork will be $400, plus shipping. That price will go up on subsequent production runs.

The mixte frame is also progressing nicely. It will initially be available in 51, 54, and 57cm sizes. We don't have pricing yet.

We are also working on the lugged Rando frame and have decided that the introductory price for that frame and fork will be $750. With luck they will arrive just after the Polyvalent frames.

Anyone doing any special bike related stuff over the long weekend?

21 May, 2009

Racks at Work

David sent the photo above of his bike with a bucket of about 80 baseballs, which he regularly transports on a VO porteur rack. A baseball weighs just over 5 ounces, so that's more than 25 pounds.

He writes:

Thought this would be a good shot given that some of the blog folks have asked about the capacity of your racks. I often take this with my 12 y.o. old son to do batting practice after work. So that’s a bucket of about 80 baseballs...

The bike has tons of VO things on it. It’s from a garage sale but at this point I’ve replaced just about everything except the frame. Works really well. The fork has quite a bit of rake to it so it seems to carry heavy loads on the rack with little effect on the handling. The whole bike lives outside and has required zero maintenance or fiddling for about three years, other than just topping up the air in the tires. I do try to store it on the porch when it’s about to rain.

Anyone else have an interesting photo of stuff on a VO rack?

19 May, 2009

Happy Places

I was amused by one recent news story and angered by a recent opinion column. Both stories have just a little to do with bikes.

Numerous papers, magazines, and sites have written about a study by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development listing the world's happiest countries. This is obviously difficult to define, but their methodology seems reasonable. The top three countries are Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands. The first thing I noticed is that all three are countries that have above average bike ridership.

Here are the top ten:

  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Netherlands
  • Sweden
  • Ireland
  • Canada
  • Switzerland
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Belgium
And here is another interesting article, this one about a world map of happiness. Again, many of the top countries are very bike friendly. They also generally have strong social safety nets, pretty good environmental policies, and well developed public transport. But the main lesson we should take from this is that riding bikes makes people happy.

On a less optimistic note, did anyone read this piece by George Will where he takes new transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, to task? Here is a bit of it:
Does LaHood really think Americans were not avid drivers before a government highway program "promoted" driving? Does he think 0.01 percent of Americans will ever regularly bike to work? Intercity high-speed rail probably always will be the wave of the future, for cities more than 300 miles apart. And as for Portland ...
So even 0.01 percent of Americans riding bikes to work is unrealistic?

Let me say right off that I don't normally read George Will and I certainly have never agreed with him. But as members of the jabbering class go, I once thought he, at least, had some intellectual chops. No more.

13 May, 2009

Porteur Racks Are In Stock Again

They won't last long. So if you need one order soon. These are the USA-made stainless steel version. The small shop that makes these can't keep up with demand, which is why we usually sell out in a week.

12 May, 2009

Showroom Closed 5-13-09 & 5-14-09

The VO showroom will be closed Wednesday afternoon and all day Thursday. We're getting new carpeting.

Web orders will go out as usual; there's no carpeting in the warehouse.

Minimalist Cyclo-touring

The short summer "credit card tour" is the basis of cyclo-touring. You can take this sort of trip most any nice weekend. Stay at a nice B&B or small country hotel and take your breakfast and dinner at the local cafes or casual restaurants. Lunch is best a picnic of locally-bought treats.

The key is traveling light. I find that the more I travel the less stuff I need to take, and not just on bike trips. Even on a six-week trip to Europe, I require only a single bag that stows easily in the plane's overhead bin. The trick is to cut out anything that's not essential and to take light clothes that you can wash yourself. So here is what I'd take on a one or two-night summer bike trip

In the saddle bag:

A small saddle bag, like the VO Croissant, is perfect for everyday riding as well as overnight trips. It almost always stays on the bike and usually contains the following:

  • multi-tool
  • mini-pump (if you don't have a frame pump)
  • two tubes
  • tube patch kit
  • rain jacket or windproof vest
  • optional: tire irons, car keys, power bar
Remember that you only need one pump and one set of tools for a small group.

In the handlebar bag:

The following stuff fits in a VO Campagne bar bag with room left over.

In the rear pockets:
  • cell phone (that only gets turned on once or twice a day)
  • small camera
Tip: it's always lighter to take an extra battery rather than a battery charger.

In the main compartment:
  • light travel pants (Patagonia Gi 2 are my favorite)
  • Cool Max t-shirt (I use it as a spare jersey)
  • shirt with collar (quick dry)
  • under shorts (Ex Officio quick dry)
  • cycling socks
  • book
  • knife with corkscrew (for cutting fruit, cheese, hard sausage, and opening wine)
  • snacks (nuts, fruit, hard cheese)
  • optional: film camera, down vest or ultralight sweater, collapsible walking shoes (if you ride with cleats), small cable lock
I try to take some reasonably nice looking clothes. Looking grubby gives all cyclo-tourists a bad image. There is no need for fancy duds, but I do take a short sleeve shirt with a collar as my evening wear and try to keep it and my pants clean. All these clothes can be washed in a hotel sink with regular bar soap in just a few minutes. And they will dry overnight if hung someplace where there's a bit of air circulation.

In the front pocket :
  • toilet kit with toothbrush and travel size deodorant and toothpaste (not shown)
  • a few aspirin tablets
  • bandanna
Side pockets:
  • wallet
  • more snacks
Of course your packing list won't be exactly the same as mine, but the point I'm trying to make is that you don't need to take much.

08 May, 2009

Picture Day

I really love the above photo. The bike belongs to Christian who is a randonneur, artist, and longtime VO customer. His work bike has the cool wicker panniers we used to sell (they are no longer available). You can see some of his art on his blog, drawing off the bicycle. Here is some info about the bike and build:

..it is a 1971 Raleigh International. Ever since I was a young boy I have had a crush on fancy chromed lugs. One of the older boys up th estreet had a beautiful Schwinn Paramount. It was baby blue with chromed nervex lugs. I still don't own a Paramount, but this was easily the next best thing. I found the frameset on ebay a number of years back and it spent a couple of years as my all around city bike. At that time it was rather ad hoc in terms of the components and I followed The late great Sheldon Brown's lead for drivetrain. Meaning I used an internally geared hub, and went with a drum brake up front. This bike was used throughout the year and winter can be rather unforgiving in Milwaukee. So those elements made a lot of sense. I still have the front drum hub in use, but this bike has gone through some updates of late. I recently acquired a set of vintage Rigida wheels and will be replacing that front drum brake with a centerpull caliper. I would also like to retro fit the lights with LED technology as they are currently a bit novel as old incandescent technology. Though I do like the moustache bars, I have been thinking about going to drops so that I can fit a bag up front. The baskets tend to be pretty full with drawing gear when I am out, and my back is just getting too old for the messenger bag:)

The chocolate brown VO Passhunter belongs to Jan-Olov who lives in Sweden. I don't think the color looks right in the photos; it's more like a Hershey bar brown. Our components are gaining popularity in Europe, but this is the first VO frame to cross the pond. There are more photos here and here.

This lovely "LHT Truckaccino City Bike" was built by Bill to match his LHT touring bike. There are a number of VO components. There is more info and more pics here. Nice build!

06 May, 2009

An Economical Wide-Range Double Crank

These past few weeks I've been thinking about multi-purpose bikes, like a city bike that would be comfortable and fast enough for a long ramble in the country. This is something I hope folks will do with our new Polyvalent (formerly city bike) frame. This in turn led to some thoughts about a suitable and inexpensive crank.

I've explained previously why I'm a big fan of wider range doubles, but here it is again. With modern 8, 9, 10, and even 11 speed cassettes there is simply no need for a middle ring. On a bike with a 46/30 or 48/30 rings and, say, a 12-28 cassette, you can motor along in a pace line at close to 30mph, though perhaps not for long. And you can probably climb most any paved road. Of course I'm not considering loaded touring bikes here.

With a 9-speed cassette you'll have a wide range of reasonably closely spaced ratios. I've found that the FSA, and Campy front derailleurs have no problem shifting from the big to the little ring, though front shifting is a little slower. Fortunately you'll find that you can stay in the big ring most of the time. It's only in the mountains that you use the front derailleur frequently.

The main problem with this setup is that the TA and Sugino PX cranks best suited for wide range double duty are rather expensive and may not be made again. In trying to come up with an economical solution we're messing around with a Sugino XD triple with a chain ring guard in the outer position, a 46t in the middle, and a 28t inner.

There are a couple of issues that keep this from being a perfect solution. The Q-factor for triples is rather wide, but I think most people make too big an issue of Q-factor. There is no question that a wide Q does bother some folks, but the majority of cyclists don't seem to care. The other issue is that 30t 74bcd rings are uncommon, as are 46t middle rings, but we can get some.

On the plus side this crank would probably sell for around $100. And the chain ring guard keeps your cuff clean.

If enough folks like this we can order stock cranks configured this way. Would you try them?

BTW, if you try this at home and don't have a 46t or 48t middle ring, you can possibly use an un-pinned outer ring in the middle position, but no guarantees. We're still playing around trying to find the best rings and BB length.

04 May, 2009

VO Handlebar Bags are Here

One of the first products that I wanted VO to have made were handlebar bags. Trying to find a factory that could make them to our satisfaction proved very difficult. In fact it took over two years. So I'm really happy to say that the first production run has just arrived.

They are made from stiff dry waxed canvas. This fabric is thick and waterproof. The leather trim is actually all real leather. The only plastic on this bag is the three stiffener panels, the map pocket, and the snap link on the included shoulder strap.

The bag opens toward the rider. The size is about 20cm high x 16cm deep x 28cm wide. There are handlebar straps included, but this bag is really designed to be used with a decaleur. There is also a strap on the bottom. This means that it can be strapped to a front rack, but I might use an old toe clip strap rather than the short buckle strap that's included. With the bag strapped to the rack platform and the back loop slid over the rack's upright, the bag is quite secure even without a decaleur.

There are two pockets on the back sized for a small camera and a cell phone. There is also a pocket on the front and a flat pocket on each side (I use these for snacks). The map pocket is opened via a Velcro strip under the rear leather band.

In keeping with our "breads of France" theme, we call it the Campagne bag, that's a large rustic loaf. I like it thickly sliced with slabs of tomato, coarse black pepper, sea salt, and a drizzle of Provencal olive oil. A slice of jambon is also nice, and shredded basil, goat cheese... The price is $95 (for the bag, not the sandwich) and they are now available .