31 May, 2012

Summer Pleasures

One of life's little pleasures is a glass of wine and a bit of reading after dinner. On nice summer evenings I'll take my wine in the old Adirondack chair under a tree and beside our tiny pond. I caught a glimpse of my city bike, not yet put away for the night, along with my wine glass and book from an upstairs window. I think it makes a pleasant summer scene.

Returning to the garden I found our 12-year old son pretending to be me. Smart-Alec! Nothing profound here. It's just that we should take the time to savor long evenings, nice bikes, good books, and clever kids.

On Quality and Product Development

We just received another box of samples and prototypes from several factories. Our agent consolidates these and overnights them to us every so often. Of the four items we've received recently, only one will make into our inventory. Product development is tricky business. If we can get 70% of our new projects to the point where functionality, quality, appearance, and price are up to snuff we're thrilled. The reality is that the figure is closer to 50%. Here are some recent examples.

An aluminum bell we wanted to import just didn't look good enough. Tone and durability were fine, but not appearance, so we'll drop that idea.

A leather saddle bag we have high hopes for needs more work, The opening is too low so items could fall out if not opened carefully. And the shape is not quite right as it rubs on our thighs. Re-design time, too bad since the quality is pretty darn nice.

A new VO chain guard with a cross-check pattern on it won't be produced because there is no way to get the pattern exactly right at reasonable cost. We'll give up on that one.

Another chain guard, however, looks fantastic and will be available in a few months.

We find that we're getting more concerned with quality every year and becoming ever more picky. And we continue to make little improvements with almost every production run.  I'm really proud of the quality of our fenders, for example. I feel that they are as good or better than any made. And the quality, strength, and durability of our racks stacks up against racks that cost twice as much. The same can be said of our brakes, seat post, and stems.

But it takes time and a lot of little, often unseen, improvements to get products to the point that they really are the best. Here's an example: Casey was testing VO Moderniste water bottle cages, actually pulling them apart to see where they would fail. He figured out that if we made a small change in the location of the butt-joint in the tubing, the cages would be a lot stronger. At the same time we're increasing the wall thickness of the tubing used by 0.2mm. We're actually having custom tubing drawn just for our cages. I'll bet not one of our customers would have noticed those two minor changes.  But the cages will be much more durable.

24 May, 2012

More Arts and Crafts

Above is Igor's design for a U-lock holster. It's nicer than mine. This is one of those little things I wanted to try on my own bike. I'll run errands downtown, typically stopping at the hardware store, drug store, wine shop, and, on Sunday, the farmers market. With so many stops it seems that a quick-draw holster might be an improvement over digging through my pannier for the lock. We'll see how it works out. Igor already put one on his bike. I don't think we'll make it, but it's fun to try new ideas.

In other crafts news, the above shows Heidi's broken aluminum rear rack and her clever repair with two Allen wrenches and electrical tape. It broke on the first day of her first ever bike tour. This is why we prefer stainless steel racks. Heidi is getting a second Dajia expedition rack for this bike since the one on her son's bike has held up perfectly.

By the way, Heidi's tour is along the C&O canal, which reminded me of this old post.

23 May, 2012

Leather U-lock Holder and Croissant Bag Straps

We were kicking around the idea of making a U-lock holder to work with Velo Orange racks. This is one design I came up with. It's simply a strip of leather tied to the rail of a rear constructeur rack; it would work with a front rack too. We used the leather we make mud flaps from. There are notches to keep the twine from slipping off. You could probably make your own from an old thick leather belt. I don't think we'll make them.

On another subject. I notice that VO Croissant bags, and other similar bags, are often attached incorrectly, which allows them to sway and bounce. The strap should come out of one the holes, go around one saddle rail, go back into the bag, then come out the other hole and around the other rail. Well, you can see what I mean in the photo. A further refinement is to have the buckle inside the bag. By the way, this style of bag is still my favorite. They hold just enough for a whole day on the bike.

22 May, 2012

Motobecanes Again

Yesterday I saw nice old Motobecane in Annapolis and today noticed this one on Velospace. I was reminded of this post I wrote in 2007.  As I wrote previously, Motobecanes seem a cut above Gitanes or Peugeots of similar vintage. Classic Rendezvous has a run-down on the various models here. Finding an older high-end Motobecane to re-build is one of the least expensive ways to get a really nice riding rando or city bike.

I still own and enjoy a Motobecane Le Champion that's set us as a fast city bike. And my previous city bike was a Grand Jubilee (pictured above).

Of course the currently made Asian Motobecanes come from a  different company and share only a name with the classic French bikes.

16 May, 2012

Catching Up

Things have been pretty crazy at VO. Not only have we been busier than ever, but we've been working on a bunch of new projects. We're also scrambling to order more stuff; you guys are cleaning us out in record time. I mean as soon as we increase quantities and push for faster and more container shipments, demand rises above our most optimistic projections. Air shipments will be incoming. So given all that, I'll ask you to excuse me for not posting more often.

Here are a few of the newest things we're working on. I won't provide many details for competitive reasons, but you might make some educated guesses. Of course not every project will come to fruition, and most will take longer to finish than I anticipate. And some of these items are rather specialized and probably won't sell in huge quantities. They are a little like the porteur chain cases in that they are items that I think should be made, even though we may not make much of a profit from them.

  • We hope to have a new and very stylish Grand Cru crank by this Fall.
  • We're working on three new fender models, each will be unlike anything currently made.
  • A new and rather elegant chain guard is in the works, but it may be expensive.
  • Those top tube protectors I wrote about recently will be available soon. We just need to pick the best leather.
  • Some Grand Cru luggage is in development, but might not be ready until 2013.
I took the photo along the Canal du Midi. It has nothing to do with this post, except that it's a great place to ride a bike. Wish I could take a few days off and do just that.

09 May, 2012

Rims and Hubs are Here

We finally have all of our rims and hubs back in stock. This includes the following items that we were out of and that many of you were waiting for:
The Diagonale Rim in 700c size has made a comeback. (We'd only been making these in 650b size in 2011.) These rims have a very strong triple box-section. They will be a great match for the upcoming Campeur frames. We'll also be using them on a new touring wheel with the VO touring hub. They are available only in 36h.

We'll have some of the rims and hubs built into wheels and available in a few weeks.

04 May, 2012

Pelago Bike Shop in Finland

One of the things about VO that has, pleasantly, surprised me is our strong international sales. It's neat to see that our products have gained favor not only in those places that have long had a strong bike culture such as Britain, France, Japan, but also in places such as Finland, which I didn't know was so into cycling. Yet we have gotten many orders from Finland almost from the start. Here's a little about the history and mission of Pelago, a shop in Helsinki that sells VO products. It's written by Timo, one of the owners.

The root idea which eventually has led to work with bicycles must go back to late eighties and early nineties. Being involved with the underground, skateboarding, going to punk rock shows and getting brainwashed into the ecologism in the teenages must have lead into search for creative yet meaningful job in the adulthood.

Bicycling came along as a choice for moving around and making small trips, but then growingly as an object of intrest. When you can't find the bike you like, you end up fixing your own. After building a couple of them came the question what if we could make a living out of it.

At first we tried to rebuild and restore bikes from old and abandoned ones. There's a large recycling center in Helsinki where loads of these bike wrecks are piled up. You can also get parts there for cheap. Unfortunately most of it is crap and we learned the hard way that it was a laborsome job – especially when you try to meet your prefered aesthetic or function. The amount of hours put into rebuilding a bicycle wouldn't pay back in the price people are often ready to pay for a used bike. This lead into search for new frames, which lead us into designing our own frames which lead us into starting Pelago. (The name is short from archipelago which is a nice part of nature in our country). 

Besides making the bikes, we run a shop and service in Helsinki which offers a variety of cycling goods for day-to-day errands and alternative travelling. Velo Orange has a nice selection of goods which we've been happy to offer for the needs of local cyclists. Although rooted in the Helsinki pavement, we still look at cycling from greater context. Sustainability is a common effort. It’s not just what you buy – it’s what you make. It’s about what you do at work. Bicycles is an obvious and easy choice for us, but in everything we do, we should think what meaning it has for the society.

Running the company for three years now has thought us a lot. Building one bike is relatively quick job compared to designing a bike for production. It's a process that consumes time and money. Two years ago it felt we had barely scratched the surface of what we'd like to be doing. That feeling hasn't gone anywhere. There is a lot to do, a lot learn, but we believe we have something to give which keeps up the spirits. After all, we embarked on the journey with long term intensions.

Can you recommend any good overseas, or domestic, shops that stock VO stuff?

01 May, 2012

What about NERVAR?

Here is another blog post from 2006, slightly updated. I've been re-reading those early post; good memories. Of course many of the items we used to look for on E-bay are available new today, 50.4bcd cranks from VO, centerpull brakes from Dia Compe, etc. But it's still cool to recycle the classic parts.

Many connoisseurs and restorers of fine French bikes seek out old TA Specialties and Stronglight cranks. This is understandable as both companies made beautiful and practical cranksets that were fitted to the finest bicycles. But there is a third brand, Nervar, that also made top quality components and whose cranks were occasionally used by even the best constracteurs.

The relative anonimity of Nervar cranks makes them a bargin. I bought the 50.4bcd crankset in the first photo for about $20 on E-Bay (in 2006). Yet it is as well made and takes the same chain rings as a TA Cyclo-Tourist or a Stronglight 49D crankset, either of which usually sell for much more. As for appearance, I think the the 49D is a bit more elegant, but I find the Nervar prettier than a TA.

An additional benefit of Nervar cranks is that they use standard-taper axles and standard crank removers, no special tools required. And yes, they work fine with 9 or 10-speed drivetrains.

The great thing about this 50.4mm-bcd bolt pattern is that you can run a wide range double, say a 46 and 30. This means that with a modern 9 or 10-speed 12-27 cassette you'll have the equivalent of a triple with only two chainrings and standard cage derailleurs. And most riders will find that they stay in the big ring 90% of the time with plenty of gears on either side of a normal 15-19 mph cruising speed.

The lower photo shows what may have been the last model of crank Nervar produced. They are pretty 122-bcd cranks that makes a fine single on my Motobecane. They are very light, lighter than Campy record cranks, or so I've read. I paid $15 for them.

Do you have any favorite old component brands?