Saturday, December 14, 2013

HUTCHINSON ACROBAT TIRE REVIEW

Just wanted to post some quick notes about Hutchinson's Acrobat tires.

A few months ago I swapped out my 2" hybrid (smooth center, knobby edges) tires for some 1.35" Hutchinson Acrobats and matching tubes. I normally opt for the cheapest tires I can find but have learned the hard way that the softer mountain bike tires might be great for the off-road sections of my commute route, but they cut easily, resulting in one flat after another. Extremely frustrating. The money I was trying to save on tires was eventually spent on patches, replacement tubes and added commute time.

1.35" Hutchinson Acrobats on my loyal Schwinn Frontier.


At just under $30 each, I considered the Acrobats to be an upgrade. Compared to my 2" tires, the Acrobats had a much lower profile creating a huge gap between the tires and fenders. This lower profile also lowered the bike's ride height, allowing my to put a foot down more easily at stop signs and lighted intersections. The downside was I had to be much more careful when pedaling through turns. A few minor pedal scrapes and it doesn't take long to find your cornering limits. These are not manufacturing-related problems but it was becoming clear that I failed to match the tire to my bike, specific riding style and commute route.

A few weeks had passed before I realized I was no longer getting flats. Although the tires were not a perfect fit for the bike, they were quietly spoiling me. Before and after every commute I would lazily pinch my tires to gauge the tire pressure, never feeling the need to investigate further for embedded glass, cuts or steel belting from a random, blown-out truck tire.

Wanting to get back to a wider tire, I swapped out the Acrobats and now ride a 1.95" commuter tire. Out of curiosity, I decided to finally inspect my tires for debris. The photos below are of the back tire only. The front tire was perfect which demonstrates how much more weight the back tires must support. These tires took a beating and never let me down.

 What ever made this cut failed to find it's way to the tube.


 Same tire, about four inches from the cut. Again, the tube had no idea.


 This looks like metal but when I pulled it out it was actually brown glass. 
The gray color is the result of repeatedly grinding against the pavement.


These were all flats that should have happened but didn't. Regardless of what tires you're running, these photos make a strong case for inspecting your tires before and after every ride.

When shopping for new tires, a wider Hutchinson tire was not stocked locally so I made a purchase based on a shop tech's recommendation which I'll reveal in a future posting.

Long story short...if you find Hutchinson brand tires that fit your bike, buy them. Don't be afraid to spend a little more for the kevlar and gel varieties, it's worth it if you don't like changing flats in freezing weather, rain or any weather for that matter.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

"RUBY"


As promised on Twitter, my idea for celebrating Adventure Cycling Association’s 40th anniversary. Ask and you shall receive.

40 years is a milestone too epic to honor within the confines of 140 characters. So if you have the time and are open to a little humor, allow me to explain the creative process of coming up with a way to celebrate Adventure Cycling Association’s 40thanniversary.

Step 1: Do a little research.

Established in 1973
Bikecentennial in 1976
Headquarters in Missoula, Montana
Ruby is the 40th anniversary gemstone

Step 2: Think red, Ruby red, like the color of a bike.
Name the bike Ruby. Ah-ha! A red bike named Ruby.

Step 3: Any other Ruby connections? Easy. Kenny Rogers!

Step 4: More research. Find the “Ruby” lyrics.

Step 5: Rewrite the lyrics with a cycling theme. 


You’ve painted up your lugs so folks would stop and look and stare
Ruby are you contemplating riding off somewhere?
The shadow from the bike rack means the sun is going down
Oh Ruby, don’t take your lugs to town

It wasn’t me that opened that old crusty bag of smores
But I was proud to go and do all of our pre-trip chores
Yes, it’s true that I’m not the rider I used to be
Oh Ruby, I’m still runnin’ full Campy

It’s hard to love a man whose legs are spent and cold as ice
And the wants and the needs of a bike your age, Ruby, I realize
But it won’t be long ‘til these legs won’t be spinning ’round
Oh Ruby, don’t take your lugs to town

She’s leaving now ‘cause I just heard her brakes squeak past my door
The way I know I’ve heard them squeak one hundred times before
And if I could move, I’d get my maps and I would track her down
Oh Ruby, don’t take your lugs to town
Oh Ruby, please put your kickstand down 

*

Step 6: So what’s the big idea? Members submit videos of themselves singing the cycling version of “Ruby”. The best video wins a ruby-colored touring bike with custom lettering that reads, 40 Years of Adventure Cycling 1976-2016.

Second place gets full camping gear.

Third place gets full panniers, racks and fenders.

Fourth place gets a free Life Membership.

All winners will appear on the Adventure Cycling Association’s website and in an upcoming issue of Adventure Cycling magazine.

I took the scenic route but that’s my idea submission. The real idea was to entertain...maybe give a bike tourer somewhere something new to sing while out on the open road or hidden trails or while making camp after a long day in the saddle. 

 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

THE INTRAVIEW. DOPING EXPLAINED.

DISCLAIMER:
This story is fictional. Any similarities to actual events or individuals is purely coincidental.

*

Three major TV news organizations and FOX have been tracking the whereabouts of retired velodrome superstar Joe Fix. Copy editors for the nation’s leading newspapers have inked their front pages with articles titled, “GET JOE FIX!!!” for years, praising his ability to outrun the competition race after race, year after year, one Olympics after another. Now, after his very first defeat in his storied cycling career, Joe has not only disappeared from the lime light, he has not been in touch with family or friends since his embarrassing showing at the Tour de Ale, a cycling event limited to beer drinking, bearded cyclists riding 30-pound bikes equipped with tires no less than two inches wide.

Television crews and other media photographed Joe Fix as he arrived at the starting line clean-shaven, wearing spandex, sporting hairless legs and riding the latest high-tech, carbon fiber bike money can buy. If this was the velodrome in Frisco, Texas he would have been right at home. Not only was he disqualified from the race, he was laughed at and mocked by those who he thought were his fans and friends.

We recently received an anonymous tip that Joe might be hiding out in a loft above a framebuilder’s shop on the east coast in an attempt to get back to his cycling roots. Positioned safely across the street in a rented apartment, we were able to set up surveillance. The following was captured on tape after our intern posed as a pizza delivery person delivering to the wrong address. Joe Fix was talking to himself as if rehearsing for an upcoming interview. The recording device met an unfortunate fate, finding its way to the elbow of a drainage pipe sometime between midnight and 5:00 a.m. the next morning. We are still trying to think of way to thank our intern for retrieving it.

This is the transcript from what has become known as, The Intraview.

*

JOE: Well this is a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into. What are your plans for righting the ship?

FIX: Plans? Plans are for architects. I rely on instincts and feelings.

JOE: So how do you explain the Tour de Ale? How do you “feel” about your instincts now?

FIX: That’s why I’m here. To rediscover my passion for cycling and just be a normal person for once.

JOE: Normal? Care to expand on that?

FIX: Look. The world required me to be a hero; someone who could overcome the obstacles that they could not. When I achieve, a little piece of them feels like they achieve alongside me.

JOE: Is that how you explain the doping?

FIX: It’s not easy to explain but yes. The only way to bring attention to my foundation was to be number one. The world required me to be number one and I met that requirement.

JOE: Are you clean now?

FIX: Yes. They keep feeding me pot roast, dumplings and amber ale. I haven’t felt this good in years. So relaxed. So soft. So…normal.

JOE: But the doping. The world doesn’t see it your way.

FIX: Why is this so hard for you to understand!? If the second place rider, third, fourth and multiple other riders were doping, and I still beat all of them, would you label that as cheating? Doping did not give me an advantage over the other dopers…once the playing field was leveled I still had to rely on my skill and conditioning. Doping will not elevate a last place rider to first. It’s only good for one or two positions. If I was a second-rate rider nobody would have noticed.

JOE: Forgive my normalness but how do you justify the years of lying and cover ups?

FIX: Imagine if you could single-handedly bring attention to a cause and create a movement that grew exponentially year after year.

JOE: But you had teammates. It wasn’t all you.

FIX: It WAS all me. It was ALWAYS about me. The whole point was for ME to win.

JOE: At all costs?

FIX: Of course.

JOE: I don’t know you personally but from what I’ve heard you hurt a lot of people along the way.

FIX: Raising money required bringing attention to the foundation. Bringing attention to the foundation required me to win. I didn’t want it to get out of hand the way it did but it did. I can’t change that now.

JOE: So you admit to hurting people?

FIX: To grow the foundation the world REQUIRED me to win. Even with the doping, I had to overcome crashes and attacks from teams of riders whose sole job was to make sure that I…DID…NOT…WIN. To get in my way, on or off the track was at best, ill-advised.

JOE: So you were countering a multiplied effort?

FIX: Exactly. My team could only help me so much. At some point the decision had to be made to guarantee wins, regardless of the attacks, regardless of the crashes. I just needed that little extra and it worked.

JOE: But you never lost. Don’t you think somebody was eventually going to question that?

FIX: Of course, but until that moment presented itself, my focus remained on winning and growing the foundation.

JOE: You know it does make sense in a round about way.

FIX: It makes perfect sense. How many lives were saved and will be saved because of those wins?

JOE: Probably thousands? Maybe even millions I guess.

FIX: You’re damn right. Millions of lives. Would you sacrifice your medals, your reputation, your legacy, if it meant saving millions of lives? Would you apologize for that? To anyone?

JOE: No. I guess not if you put it that way.

FIX: No is the only answer. I can apologize for doping and hurting people’s feelings or I can apologize for losing, knowing that with every loss, my foundation would take one step closer to losing the fight.

JOE: I’m sorry but I honestly never even considered any of that.

FIX: Of course you never. I risked everything, suffering the greatest defeat so others less fortunate than me could go on winning…living a life that may not have been possible without help from my foundation.

JOE: Do you think time will ever heal this wound?

FIX: Time heals most wounds. Others just get smaller, becoming faint scars and conversation pieces. As time dilutes the negative impact of my actions, people will slowly realize that I did much more good than harm. Now if you don’t mind, this pizza is getting cold.

*

Well there it is. Maybe we’ve all misjudged Joe Fix this entire time? It really doesn’t make sense that a rider would go through all of this trouble for his own benefit. There was clearly something larger than himself, something the rest of us refused to see.

I feel ashamed as a journalist, telling the world how desperate we are for a hero, only so we could gain attention from the hero's decline. Like a vulture, waiting for an eagle to fall, then picking it apart piece by piece. Unfortunately we failed to realize how great the eagle really was until after our first swallow. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

BEAR TACO...first rough draft

Sometimes a writer just needs to lose their AP Style Guide and Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style and just type, letting their thoughts and desires flow from their brain, down into their finger tips and onto the screen. When you’re smacked in the face with inspiration, just sit down and bang it out.

If you notice that I start too many sentences with “I” or start and end them with a preposition, I chalk it up to poetic license. It’s not proper, I’m aware of it, but I’m also not getting paid to do this and don’t have the benefit of a professional copy editor. Jumping between past and present tense? Guilty as charged. It is what it is. Just push all of that aside and enjoy the story.

The mixing of fact and fiction.

Bear Taco Facts:
I was born in Winona, MN and raised in Rochester.
Snowball fights do turn into rock fights when the other side packs their snowballs with rocks.
We ate icicles all the time.
I did break my collar bone jumping a frozen gopher mound.
I currently reside in Georgetown, just north of Austin, TX.
I have made the drive up I-35 from Texas to Minnesota, both as a passenger and as a driver.
My dad does work at the Mayo Clinic and commutes on a bus from Winona.
I do owe my parents a lot of favors.
There is a “rock” overlooking Winona known as Sugar Loaf.
I was raised in a Czech household.
Barges really do make those sounds when passing in the night.
Based on internet searches, Robe Lake Lodge in Valdez, Beaver Sports Bike Shop and the Bristow Group are all real.
I am 40-something.
Based on an internet search, Bristow Group’s final contract in that area expires next May.
Brown bears can reach 1,500 pounds with four inch claws.
I have never been to Alaska but would like to visit at least once in my lifetime.
I have been known to have nightmares about bears.

Bear Taco Fiction:
Pretty much everything not mentioned above.

I got a little carried away with this one so grab a coffee and lose yourself in my rough draft of Bear Taco.

Alaska in February; what can I say? The first 10 years of my life were spent in southeast Minnesota; born in Winona…raised in Rochester, I’ve made my share of ice forts. If you want to know how a snowball fight turns into a rock fight give me a call. We ate icicles for after school snacks. I broke my first bone jumping a frozen gopher mound while sledding behind our house. Yeah, I snapped a collar bone but you should have seen the sled; shattered. It was so epic, they say the Rollingstones wrote a song about it. In short, I thought I knew cold. We’ve had some history together but nothing like I experienced in Alaska.

New product launch test riders live a charmed life. I’ll admit that things have been pretty cozy since writing my first review of The Chub, Australia’s answer to the fat bike, so I thought it was time to get back in touch with reality, fore-go the convenience of an assistant and plan my next trip all by my lonesome.

To help re-acclimate myself to cooler temps, I would need to spend some time in my home state. Splitting the continent right up the gut, I took I-35 all the way from Austin, Texas to Rochester, Minnesota. 1,100 miles later, my timing was spot on, arriving at the Mayo Clinic just in time to pick up my dad for lunch. This logistics thing isn’t so bad after all.

My dad usually takes the bus, commuting in from Winona. I would be returning many favors by being his chauffeur for once. We arrived in Winona with Sugar Loaf reliably keeping a watchful eye on the Mississippi valley below. Snaking our way up the winding driveway, we were greeted by my mother who just put the finishing touches on dinner. Dumplings, sauerkraut, brown gravy…growing up in a Czech household has its advantages.

Since this was a weekend visit, the bike stayed packed, as did my laptop and assortment of wool. For two nights I insisted on sleeping on the patio. Overlooking the Mississippi, I was lulled to sleep by the sounds of barges passing in the night. The water slapping then gently falling onto itself, the lights and the inevitable horn blast, I really miss that. My job was to convince myself that cold is just a number, a state of mind. If I was to survive Alaska, enduring a few nights on the patio in Winona was a mandatory prerequisite.

Sunday arrived in a flash. My parents surprised me by making all of my flight and rental car arrangements. We said our good-byes and before I knew it, I was boarding a flight from St. Paul to Anchorage. My bike would make the trip via UPS.

Arriving at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, the first order of business was to secure the rental and make my way to Robe Lake Lodge in Valdez. Just as planned, my custom fat bike was waiting for me at the main office.

The log cabin style accommodations, a view of Robe Lake and the Chugach Mountains all reminded me of home. I was going to be fine. It was in the teens already so I would definitely be sleeping indoors…maybe leaving the windows cracked open just for fun.

Waking around 11:00 am, I took a deep breath and exhaled…watching the vapor kiss the ceiling fan before reaching room temperature then dispersing into nothing. First stop, continental breakfast. No cheese curds? Where are the breakfast tacos? As a Texan with strong ties to Minnesota, my cravings are all over the place. The second order of business was to reserve some hot tub time…9:00 pm should do. Not too early, not too late. I have a feeling this adventure is going to push my 40-something physique to its limits.

When you travel as much as I do, it can be a challenge flopping around as the constant fish out of water, always feeling your way around unfamiliar streets and landmarks. My immediate goal was to locate Beaver Sports Bicycle Shop. They were holding the frame and fork proto-type that would eventually morph with bits and pieces from my bike. At this stage of production it was still un-named. I was honored to be involved so early in the process. There was a repair stand in the back, the carbon frame already clamped in place and poised for wrenching. I felt right at home.

“The bathroom is over there…coffee is by the cup only. We’ll keep the door closed so you won’t be disturbed.”

This is what bike dreams are made of. I was getting a red carpet treatment that I neither expected nor deserved. With my chin planted firmly in my palm, leaning on the workbench as brake cable fragments pierced my elbow, I grinned and nodded, acknowledging their hospitality with a simple yet sincere, “Thank you.” Seconds later my eyes latched on to a stack of magazines, about 10 or so, each opened to one of my articles. The magazine on top had a note attached that read, “Please autograph.” Little did they know that I felt the same way about them. Without them I would have nothing to write about.

No sooner had I removed myself from the bench, a helicopter made an appearance behind the shop, blowing snow and debris through the opened back door, flipping the magazine pages so violently, they broke the staples’ grip before the entire stack surrendered and scattered into a disorganized mess on the shop floor. I clawed my way to the threshold and caught a glimpse as the chopper faded into the mountains. It was the Bristow Group. The news had reported this morning that their last mission under contract in this area would require them to assist in tracking and locating the beast that had been terrorizing this area for the last two months. 1,500 pounds and four inch claws. They were tracking a brown bear.

The chaos created by the chopper was followed by an empty and haunting silence. I walked to the front of the shop and it was completely dark and void of anything that resembled life; like an old west saloon, abandoned right before a gun fight. That’s exactly what it felt like.

It would be awkward to continue the build in the shop all by myself, so I headed to the back to retrieve my things. Not wanting to leave the place a complete mess, I picked up one of the magazines and thought I would sign at least one copy. As I reached for my bike luggage, the remaining light was completely snuffed out. I looked up and there she was, an angry brown bear, head down and what seemed like gallons of saliva puddling on the floor. When our eyes met, I could almost hear the bear thinking out loud, “Let’s do this.” My response? “Give me something hard to do!”

As this greasy sow shuffled forward, she stood up just before reaching the repair stand, her fur was outlined with a subtle glow, compliments of the sunlight reflecting off the snow out back. A split second after going back to all fours, I could have sworn she kicked that door closed on purpose. All of that time changing flats in the dark would pay off today. With a lock ring removal tool close at hand, I slashed into the blackness with a fierce right hook, then back again, missing the first time, but snagging her jugular with the second swipe. Soaked in her blood, the thick skin and coarse fur ripped that spanner right out of my hand.

Suddenly weakened, she showed me her ivory and curled her lips in defiance. She wasn’t going down easy. I quickly introduced her to a rusty chain whip, slamming it upright between her chin and snout, putting her tongue and teeth on permanent display. With one weapon eliminated, the claws were next on the list. My left hand was already gripping a Landing Gear BMX fork just seconds before her backhand grazed my chin. I’ve always liked that Landing Gear font. “Stop day dreaming!!!” I inhaled the blast of air created by her paw, then planted that fork deep into her chest, squeezing between two ribs and finding its way into her lungs. Perfect landing. She fell limp at my feet as if to thank me for ending her pain. Exhausted from the adrenalin rush, I whispered to myself, “You’re welcome.”

Minutes later the chopper, shop owner and a few customers returned. The proto-type review would have to be rescheduled. I left through the back door but not before cutting away a sliver of bear skin as a souvenir. My bike fiction has already elevated me to legend status in cycling circles; I didn’t need this incident to add to my legacy. It just wouldn’t be fair to the other journalists.

On the way back to the lodge I stopped by a Taco Bell hoping to get a little taste of Texas before calling it a day. Arriving at the lodge just before 9:00 pm, my swollen feet carried me to my cabin and eventually to the hot tub. At last, I found myself in a human soup bowl, soaking my tendons and loosening a stiff lower back. I dug around for my tacos and discovered they forgot to throw in the salsa packs. As a master of improvisation, I reached for the slice of bear skin, squeezed it tightly in my hands until the fat succumbed to my body heat and ultimately gravity, seasoning the taco meat in the process. Bear grease is not your ordinary salsa, but this was no ordinary adventure.

I’ll return one day to complete the review. Maybe by then they’ll have a name for that proto-type.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

BEAR TACO...unedited, unfinished


I don't get any comments on here so I'm not sure if anyone is enjoying my fictional bike stories. 

Here's one I started but never finished...never been to Alaska so this will take some research to complete. 

Title: Bear Taco
Inspired by Beargrease, a fat bike offered by Salsa Cycles. Can you guess the ending based on the title?

Alaska in February; what can I say? The first 10 years of my life were spent in southeast Minnesota; born in Winona…raised in Rochester, I’ve made my share of ice forts. If you want to know how a snowball fight turns into a rock fight give me a call.
 
We ate icicles for after school snacks. I broke my first bone jumping a frozen gopher mound while sledding behind our house. Yeah, I snapped a collar bone but you should have seen the sled. In short, I thought I knew cold. We’ve had some history together but nothing like I experienced in Alaska.

Factory test riders live a charmed life. I’ll admit that things have been pretty cozy since writing my first review of The Chub, Australia’s answer to the fat bike, so I thought it was time to get back in touch with reality, forgo the convenience of an assistant and plan my next test ride all by my lonesome.

Need the following to complete…

Name of major airport in Alaska
Lodging
  1. Robe Lake Lodge, within city limits
  2. Mile 6 Richardson Hwy, Lake House Rd
  3. Log style
  4. Overlooking Robe Lake and Chugach Mountains
  5. Continental breakfast
  6. Hot tubs
Name of bike shop
  1. Beaver Sports Bicycle Shop, Valdez, AK

Name of helicopter flight service near Valdez.
Type of bears in Alaska
  1. Brown, 1500 lbs, 4 inch claws

IF IT'S NOT BROKE, "FIX" IT!

A few years ago I was bitten by the fixed gear bug. I scooped up the first old Schwinn road bike with horizontal drop-outs that I could find and built my first fixie.

If you have ever wondered what attracts riders to fixed gear bikes, hopefully these images will answer that question. It's all about taking something cluttered and complex, and making it simple and pure.

I'm not exactly Bob Osborn so please forgive the poor photography.

A 1978 Schwinn Sprint serves as the clean slate. Let the fun begin!


The only substantial purchase was the rear wheel and tire/tube combo. 
The rest of the bike is nearly all stock. Ignore the ugly seat. The idea was a low-budget build so I kept the pretty stuff to a minimum.


So much clutter...so little time.


That's better! Yes, the original handlebar was chopped and flopped. 
So clean and simple don't you think?


Gears...so over-rated.


That's the original chain ring getting a big hug from a nickel plated chain.


Cover your eyes...this stuff is nasty.


Another Schwinn saved from the trash heap.
Where have you been all my life? 
Why did it take me so long to rediscover my passion for bikes?


Again, I'm not a photographer but this pic doesn't look too bad. 
Location is downtown Georgetown, Texas.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET A JOB IN THE CYCLING INDUSTRY?

If I were to apply for a cycling industry job, say for instance a marketing position with a tool company based in my home state of Minnesota, it might go something like this. 

I would be upfront about my experience by divulging the following. 

First of all, I’m a Minnesota native living in Texas since 1980. Born in Winona, raised in Rochester. My parents returned to Winona several years ago. My father found a second career in IT at the Mayo Clinic so I definitely still have strong ties to the state.

With that being said, I’m pretty well established here in Texas, just north of Austin, the cycling capital of America, if not the world. I’ve worked in every industry EXCEPT cycling. The reality is, I absolutely live, sleep, eat and breath cycling in my personal life, more specifically as a daily bike commuter.

I don’t have the years of industry experience to impress you with, so I’m just going to put it all out there, letting the chips fall and cookies crumble as they may. If you still want a formal resume let me know, but for now, this is what I’m about.

I would then point them in the direction of my blogging and Tweeting exploits.

Social Media:
Read my Tweets! Search for @advantagebike the next time you’re on Twitter.

I would impress them with my copy writing ability.  

Copy writing examples:
Read my tribute to the Surly 1x1. Another Minnesota-based company you’re likely familiar with.
Blog title: The One

Read my recommendation for an adventure cycling brochure.
Blog title: Touching Intangibles

I would blow them away with my creativity.  

Logos? 
GETJOEFIX was a fixed gear website I created in 2009. It’s basically a Route 66 sign with the numbers chopped up to resemble a seat and handlebars.


Ms.Butler’s was a cleaning company I started about the same time period. 

Neither is currently in operation.
 


I would share my ability to think outside the bicycle mechanic's tool box. 

Mechanical knowledge:
This may or may not qualify as mechanical knowledge but it does demonstrate mechanical creativity. See attached image of a quick-release recycled and applied to a brake caliper. It works like a charm.
See attached image of a bicycle rack recycled into a handlebar.
See attached image of a remote controlled brake system. It was low on power but the calipers actually moved as planned. Not enough to stop a rider on a bike but you get the idea.






And if they're looking for a genuinely nice guy who just loves bikes, I would show them how I combined cycling with a recent fund-raising effort.  

Friendly?
See attached images of a fund raiser I hosted for local non-profits called, Pedal for Pledges. The pledge amounts were based on my commute miles. 



If that didn't work, I would demonstrate my retail insights with a proposal that never found it's way into the hands of the right person at Target. 

Target Bike Department Proposal

With the recent increase in cycling popularity and bicycle commuting, I’ve put together a few notes for Target to meet this demand by exceeding the selection and service provided by your competitors.

As a life-long cyclist and daily bike commuter (Georgetown to Austin and back covering three zip codes), I tend to pay attention to the selection and quality of cycling products offered by non-bike shop retail outlets, primarily Target, Walmart and Academy.

Target seems to offer higher quality bikes, but the selection is extremely limited, as is the variety of accessories. The bikes also appear to be hidden out of view of customers shopping in other departments.

Walmart has a much wider selection of both bikes and accessories, but the build quality is at best, below standard.

Academy currently has the best combination of selection and quality, and their bikes are in plain view when shopping in other departments.

One feature that all of the above stores have in common is the absence of a dedicated bike department mechanic and/or sales associate. This is where the bike shops have the advantage. If I get the impression that a store is not serious about selling bikes, I go to another store or bike shop.

As a consumer, this is what I would expect from a retailer who is serious about selling bikes.

Mechanic/Sales

  • Designate an area for a bicycle mechanic’s repair stand.
  • Assemble the bikes in plain view of customers.
  • Help customers with bike choice regarding intended use and fit.
  • Perform adjustments for fit as bikes are sold.
  • Suggest accessories related to the intended use and recommend helmets to all customers.
  • Responsible for cross-department staging. See below.

To justify the investment in this position, we have to get customers thinking about bikes by putting the bikes in the departments they are shopping. Bike shops don’t have the problem of making the bikes more visible in their stores since bikes and bike accessories are their specialty. My last three visits to our local Target, the bike section was moved each time. It is currently facing the back of the store, hidden from view when shopping in other departments. How do we fix this?

Cross-Department Merchandising

  • Stage a loaded commuter bike in the grocery department. Include racks, fenders and bags.
  • Stage a loaded touring bike next to books and computers.
  • Stage youth bikes in the boys or girls clothing departments.
  • Stage adult bikes with a trailer in the adult clothing departments.
  • Stage mountain bikes next to camping and or hunting gear.
  • Move the messenger bags into the bike department. These are currently sold next to backpacks for around $50. Walmart offers similar messenger bags for $18 but again, they are displayed next to other bags instead of with other bike accessories.
  • I also failed to locate any cycling magazines in our local Target. Subscribe to magazines covering BMX/dirt jump, commuting, mountain bike and touring. Display these in the bike department as well as the magazine section.
  • Display cycling-related videos and/or ads on flat screen TVs, also sold in Target.
Customers will immediately recognize and appreciate this increased focus on creating a better bicycle buying experience. Implementing these measures will quickly make Target the bike shop alternative.

Regarding parts and accessories, stores like Walmart and Target are selling 29” bikes but do not sell 29” tubes or tires. Why? If you sell a complete bike with a specific tire/tube size, you should also sell those tires/tubes as individual items. If not, these items will surely be purchased elsewhere.

Taking this one step further, offer a bicycle rental program. The bikes will have signage attached to the center of the frame identifying them to the general public as a Target rental.

Revisiting the topic of service and build quality, the following describes my last experience with a large, retail store bike department.

I spent one and a half hours making my selection with no help from a store employee. Most customers would have walked away without making a purchase. Also, most customers do not inspect their bikes before riding. When I did get the bikes home after spending over $400, this is what I found.

18” boys bike:
  • Both wheels were bent or out of true.
  • Found a small rip/tear in the seat.
  • The bolts under the seat were loose.
  • Brake levers were not secured to the handlebars.

24” girls mt. Bike:
  • Rear brake cable was missing a cable end/nipple.
  • The derailleur and front brake cable ends came off by hand…these should be secured with a crimping tool.
  • Front and rear brake pads were loose.
  • Unable to tighten the front reflector, it was too large for the handlebar tubing.

28” girls bike:
  • Rear brake cable was too long…scratched my daughter’s leg when pedaling.
  • All cable ends pulled off by hand. Again, these should be secured with a crimping tool.
  • Seat would not tighten on the seat post. The parts did not match.
  • Front wheel was installed backwards. The quick release lever is typically on the left side of the bike.
  • Rear rack and fender bolts were loose.

I would love to be a part of implementing these measures in your stores. To discuss further, I can be reached at the phone number and/or email address listed below.

Best regards,
Joe Holan


As a last resort, I would show them that I'm actually a customer of theirs and would be honored to be an employee. 


No, I'm not seeking a job with Surly, although I would consider it. Are those Park Tools hanging in the background? Probably. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

GEORGETOWN, TX. DECEMBER 2012


A relaxing ride through Georgetown, Tx. Photo taken December 2012.





Bike lanes? Hike-n-bike trails? My old stomping grounds. 
Oak Crest subdivision, Georgetown, TX. 
Where was this stuff when I was growing up? 
Better late than never. 





I vote for a sign at the bottom. It should read, Speed Up or Walk Bike Up. Care to guess the brand/model of the bike? Email me for the answer.





Every time I stopped to take a photo these two would pass me.





Same time of year, December 2012. Dry as a bone.





Probably my favorite photo taken that day.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

GET PAID TO RIDE TO WORK?

Getting paid to ride a bike to work is easier said than done. It would probably be more productive to just walk in to a business on my commute route and just ask.

If you haven't laughed yet today, these letters might do the trick. If you guessed that I received absolutely zero replies you would be correct.

You have to admit, these are some pretty awesome endorsement deals!



PO Box 1332
Georgetown, TX 78627
June 9, 2013

Chamberlain Marketing Group
12103 Delta Drive
Taylor, MI 48180

Hello,

My name is Joseph Holan, a daily bike commuter (Georgetown to Austin, TX and back) seeking a product endorsement agreement or marketing partnership with Energizer. Energizer was selected as a potential sponsor because I use Energizer batteries to power my lights when riding to and from work.

I would be a good choice to endorse Energizer because I ride in plain view of the general public, mostly in heavy traffic during peak commuting hours. My commute covers 140 miles per week and I have appeared on local and national television promoting a “sponsored bike commute” concept. Sponsoring a bike commuter demonstrates that Energizer is environmentally conscious and promotes healthy lifestyle choices.

In exchange for endorsing Energizer I am seeking compensation in the form of one year’s supply of Energizer Industrial AAA alkaline batteries. Three 24-packs at $9 per pack would be $27 in total compensation (source, www.batterymart.com). As part of the agreement the Energizer logo will appear on my bike during my commute to and from work for a period of one year.

Read more at my new blog, www.advantagebike.blogspot.com, more specifically the blog posts titled, My 30-Second Pitch on CNN and My Current Commute Route.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Joseph Holan
advantagebike@gmail.com


Enclosures



PO Box 1332
Georgetown, TX 78627
June 9, 2013

Hanes
1000 E. Hanes Mill Road
Winston-Salem, NC 27105

Hello, 


My name is Joseph Holan, a daily bike commuter (Georgetown to Austin, TX and back) seeking a product endorsement agreement or marketing partnership with Hanes. Hanes was selected as a potential sponsor because I wear Hanes tee shirts not just during my commute, but at work, home, everywhere.

I would be a good choice to endorse Hanes because I ride in plain view of the general public, mostly in heavy traffic during peak commuting hours. My commute covers 140 miles per week and I have appeared on local and national television promoting a “sponsored bike commute” concept. Sponsoring a bike commuter demonstrates that Hanes is environmentally conscious and promotes healthy lifestyle choices.

In exchange for endorsing Hanes I am seeking compensation in the form of one year’s supply of Hanes mens’ crew tee shirts. Six 5-packs at $13.46 per pack would be $80.76 in total compensation (source, www.walmart.com). As part of the agreement the Hanes logo will appear on my bike during my commute to and from work for a period of one year.

Read more at my new blog, www.advantagebike.blogspot.com, more specifically the blog posts titled, My 30-Second Pitch on CNN and My Current Commute Route.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Joseph Holan
advantagebike@gmail.com


Enclosures



PO Box 1332
Georgetown, TX 78627


June 9, 2013

Wieden & Kennedy
224 NW 13th Avenue
Portland, OR 97209

Hello,

My name is Joseph Holan, a daily bike commuter (Georgetown to Austin, TX and back) seeking a product endorsement agreement or marketing partnership with Procter & Gamble, more specifically, Old Spice. Old Spice was selected as a potential sponsor because I use Old Spice body wash before my morning commute and Old Spice deodorant when changing clothes at work.

I would be a good choice to endorse Old Spice because I ride in plain view of the general public, mostly in heavy traffic during peak commuting hours. My commute covers 140 miles per week and I have appeared on local and national television promoting a “sponsored bike commute” concept. Sponsoring a bike commuter demonstrates that Old Spice is environmentally conscious and promotes healthy lifestyle choices.

In exchange for endorsing Old Spice I am seeking compensation in the form of one year’s supply of Old Spice deodorant and body wash. $2.47 x 12 (Old Spice Pure Sport High Endurance deodorant) and $6.97 x 12 (Old Spice High Endurance Body Wash Pure Sport Twin Pack) would be $113.28 in total compensation (source, www.walmart.com). As part of the agreement the Old Spice logo will appear on my bike during my commute to and from work for a period of one year.

Read more at my new blog, www.advantagebike.blogspot.com, more specifically the blog posts titled, My 30-Second Pitch on CNN and My Current Commute Route.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Joseph Holan
advantagebike@gmail.com

Enclosures



Sunday, September 29, 2013

RIDE OR DRIVE?




Lately I've been considering hanging up the bike and getting back into a car or truck as my daily commuter. For many this would be an easy decision. If you've been successfully riding to work for a few years, the decision-making process gets a little cloudy, especially when you're trying to make a case for adding cycling infrastructure along your daily commute route. Hike and bike trails are great and it's a start, but I can't ride them to work. We need bike routes that can carry us from our front door to our jobs.

The reality is, I could pay cash for a very used car and have no car payments, but I would still have to take on the expense of insurance, $140 per month for fuel, regular maintenance and the inevitable repairs that would follow.

The bike pictured above was acquired for $60 at a local pawn shop. The accessories to make it safe and commute-worthy was close to $300. I don't stress out about gas prices, insurance, unexpected repairs or passing inspection. With the exception of the occasional flat, this bike provides reliable, predictable, trouble-free transportation. It's a real vehicle of transportation and I prove it daily. Anyone who says bikes are not real transportation should follow me on my ride to and from work.

I'm still considering a used car for bad weather days, but I would be just as happy getting a brand new bike.

ENJOY THE RIDE



A daily reminder before my morning commute.


It's been several weeks since I've posted...lots of reasons why, mostly discouraged by recent attempts to advocate for safer roads along my commute route. Maybe my emails end up in a spam folder or they don't believe that I really do commute from Georgetown to Austin on a bike. It's only 140 miles per week. This sounds like a lot to the average Joe couch potato, but in cycling circles, it's considered a tune up ride.

The longer my concerns go unheard, the more I feel like I'm in a race against time. I've been targeted by a few motorists over the past month. The most recent incident, a full-size truck accelerated passed me, blowing black exhaust in my path. Due to a traffic jam on the highway, I caught up with the driver at the next four-way stop on the frontage road. When I passed the driver, I looked back to let him know he was being kind of a jerk. I proceeded to the intersection, came to a full stop, then went about my business. He eventually passed me again, slower this time because the cars were piling up at the next intersection a little further into town. As I approached the idling traffic, he made a point to block my path with the right half of his truck. I was able to pass him on the left, this time verbalizing my displeasure, telling him exactly where he can go and what he can do once he gets there.

Was my behavior an over-reaction? At the time I didn't think so, but further into the weekend, I was kind of embarrassed and ashamed that I lost my cool.

I had forgotten that regardless of the danger involved, I can't control those around me. The best way to deal with an inconsiderate motorist is to simply enjoy the ride. The rest will take care of itself.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

OLD ACQUAINTANCES

This is a 1978 Schwinn Sprint which I quickly converted to a fixed gear a few years back. It served as a daily commuter for several months before I sold it.

The photo was taken at the old high school in Georgetown, Tx. If you're a fan of the movie Dazed and Confused, you may find it interesting that this is the same school that appeared in the movie. The emergency slides have been removed but if you ever drive by for a glance you will immediately recognize it. Coincidentally, as the movie was being filmed, my wife and I were getting married just down the road. I never made the connection until just a few years ago when I saw the deleted scenes on the DVD dated August 22, 1992, the same as our anniversary date.





Same bike...different angle, before buying a matching front wheel. This photo was also taken in Georgetown, Tx.




This is a Takara...I'm guessing 1979ish??? As you can see, it also did time as a fixed gear commuter. Unfortunately it too fell victim to a sudden need for cash. Nothing beats a lugged steel frame for riding comfort. She will be missed.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

BIKES ARE GOOD FOR THE MIND AND BODY


When commuting to and from work on a bike, I get over 120 minutes of exercise per day. Advantage Bike.

Riding a bike to work provides a distraction, allowing me to mentally prepare for the work day ahead, as well as detach and unwind on the way home. Advantage Bike.

Riding a bike to work keeps my body’s chemistry in balance. Advantage Bike.

Riding a bike to work at a brisk pace can boost your immune system. Advantage Bike.

Riding a bike to work at a brisk pace can increase your lung capacity and heart function. Advantage Bike. 

Riding a bike to work at a brisk pace can increase your endurance. Advantage Bike.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

HIKE & BIKE BETWEEN GEORGETOWN & ROUND ROCK





This map illustrates about the first half of my bicycle commute route to work. A more detailed map can be found in the May 4, 2013 post titled, MY CURRENT COMMUTE ROUTE.

I first rode to work on this route in 2009. Traffic in the morning is nearly non-existent from Georgetown to Round Rock, but the ride home on the east side of the highway is extremely dangerous. TxDOT shot down my proposal to designate the right lane of these frontage roads as bike lanes for specific time frames in the morning and afternoon hours. Their position after a "careful review of my proposal" is that it is not feasible to reduce vehicle capacity during "peak hour" when traffic volume is the highest. This is true in the afternoon when riding home on the east side of the highway, but when riding to work in the morning, between Inner Space Caverns and Rudy's, I am passed by just a handful of cars and trucks...not enough to occupy two lanes, not even during "peak hour".

TxDOT has also stated there are no plans to widen the frontage roads between Georgetown and Round Rock. After my own careful review, what does makes sense is a hike & bike trail that follows the southbound frontage road connecting Rockmoor Drive in Georgetown and the northern-most point of Chisholm Trail Road in Round Rock. I understand there are underground utilities to address, but I'm not suggesting we dig the Panama Canal. It's a hike & bike trail.

If you live in Round Rock, imagine riding your bike to Georgetown...on the west side of the highway. You could visit the caverns without ever starting your car. If you are visiting the caverns, imagine unloading your bikes and riding to Round Rock for some Rudy's BBQ, then returning to the caverns without having to cross over the highway. Imagine living in Georgetown or Round Rock and riding your bike to work on a separate route, away from multi-ton vehicles, without the fear of getting bumped into a ditch or hit from behind by a texting motorist.

Georgetown and Round Rock could work together to connect these two communities by bike. My proposal to TxDOT may have been naive, and the hike & bike trail idea could be totally unrealistic, but we'll never know until someone puts it out there.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

THE ONE

For all of you Surly 1x1 die hards out there, this one's for you. Keep in mind this is based on actual events but I am not a frame builder. That part is pure fiction.

Title: The One

As a frame builder I’ve ridden a multitude of bikes. When I first started out, the process began by frequenting the local police auctions for the best finds. With a fifty dollar budget, my goal was to bring home at least two bikes per auction. Complete or not was the least of my concerns. My interest was in the frame. Dings, dents and cracks never deterred my enthusiasm. These imperfections were not only expected, but appreciated. If I could bring an old frame back to life as a useful means of transportation, then I could probably apply that knowledge to frame building.

With so many fixed gear and single-speeds out there, I thought I would tap into my BMX roots when building my first frame. I’m obviously much bigger now so it would have to at least accept a 26” wheel and tire setup. I wanted it to be bullet proof and if fitted properly to the rider, perform adequately as a bare-bones commuter; a single-speed but not necessarily single-minded.

Unlike the majority of my frames, this one would be TIG welded. Trusting my homemade jigs, I put this one together pretty quickly, measuring once then eyeballing just once more. My goal was to get the first one on the road as quickly as possible. Number two would be a slow burn.

Unfortunately at the time, I didn’t have a whole lot of cash for new parts. Everything had to be sourced from whatever was within arm’s reach. 26” wheels and tires was a given. An old BMX cruiser bar and a hard plastic saddle from 1981 would have to do. I was just 11 when we met. My main concern was the chain ring. The only option was a 52t ring off a 1979 touring rig. I’ll make it work. That’s what torches are for.

With the bike as complete as it could be, it’s maiden voyage would follow my old commute route. To my delight, the Saturday morning traffic was extremely light, almost non-existent. Turning right at the first stop sign, my route carried me past the caverns. Seven dollar tours, seven days a week. Not too bad. Turning left after the second stop sign, I entered the highway overpass. Approaching the next intersection, a roadie blew through the stop sign. Four-spoke carbon wheels, aero helmet, the whole nine yards. I took a deep breath and made a decision to give chase. It wasn’t really a decision…more like raw animal instinct.

Starting from zero with the big ring, at least three other cyclists passed me. They were probably having a good laugh, but had no idea who they were dealing with. A fixed rider for the past three years, I was just warming up. With my cargo shorts, store-brand walking shoes and hoodie, I was somehow gaining ground. Getting closer and closer to the last rider’s back tire, they spread out as if to block me, not realizing they were actually allowing me to draft behind them. My experience in the saddle would pay off this day.

As each rider began to fade, they made a sloppy effort to reorganize. With a mere split second to react, I dropped the hammer. Feeling the bars roll back in the stem a little, this only made me feel stronger. Even with the chain ring ticking the stay, it didn’t stop me from looking to my right, planting my chin into my shoulder and grinning as I overtook them, one…by…one. I was convinced. This 26er was everything I wanted it to be; bullet proof and bare-bones; a single-speed but not necessarily single-minded.



TOUCHING INTANGIBLES

Last year I picked up a brochure for a series of adventure bikes. The photography was great but there was hardly any text describing these bikes. This inspired me to write a short piece that I thought would be right at home inside a brochure created specifically for the adventure biking crowd. It's about an overly descriptive cycling columnist who writes from the comfort of his log cabin. I'm a Minnesota native who rides a mountain bike to work so this one was easy to dream up. I hope you like it.

Title: Touching Intangibles

No snow this year, but looking out the window on this, the last day of the year, there’s a heavy drizzle stirring about. Not a single star is visible as I try in vain to peer past my overgrown right brow.

Sitting at my desk, squinting to push back the persistent beacon of pixels, it occurs to me that my optimal writing time is between 2:00 AM and 4:00 AM. No distractions. No sound other than the clicking of molded plastic against molded plastic and the subtle whir of the computer’s fan. If I stop and listen for it, I’ll allow myself to endure the monotonous ticking of our ‘AA’ powered clock hanging in the dining room. No tock. Just, tick, tick, tick. Thankfully it fades within seconds of returning to the glow, replaced by the random crackles of war echoing in the fireplace.

While writing, I‘m also partial to my wool sweater. Not only does it match my salt and pepper mug, it makes me feel like a writer. Whether I’m being paid to do this or not, it doesn’t matter. I fully embrace dressing the part. Writing in the dark, wrapped in wool and solitude, I’ve found my time and place in this world. The extra pound of fabric suits me, especially when seated with no requirement to support the added heft.

As bright as this screen is, the fat rubber and cold steel leaning against the davenport never fails to occupy my periphery. It’s too late to ride, or too early, depending on whether you’re a half full or half empty type of person. Admittedly I’m a half empty type. Technically I’ve not ridden at all today. Maybe I’m a half full type after all.

Within minutes I will find myself shuffling across these wooden floors; dusty and drafty, creaking beneath my 200-pound frame, forcing nails up, then down again. The soles of my slippers soften the blow as they wrestle with the grit and uneven planks. It’s a small trek, but a worthy commute. The half empty side of me notices my lights are too dim to ride at this hour, while the half full side of me finds the moon beams more than enough to light my way. I’ll take my chances.

Forty degrees is not only child’s play in a wool sweater, it’s down right refreshing. Breaching the threshold, the initial blast takes me by surprise. Wind chill is a funny thing. As the door closes behind me, it bumps the rear tire, forcing the chain against my left calf. Decades on a bike and I still make silly mistakes like that. I can’t help but think that if there was snow, I might have reduced the PSI for more float and avoided yet another chain-whipped boot leg.

Clumsy as I may be, I enter the trail from my driveway and head towards the spill way. Within minutes, the trail darkens, starved of light as the canopy thickens. I turn towards the cabin to see how far I’ve ridden. My vision is blurred. It’s a dull glow. My chin suddenly dives. My beard scratches as the muscles and tendons in the back of my neck snap my head upright. My eyes pop open in unison and to my surprise, I’m seated at my desk, both hands lifeless in my lap, the monitor’s power button is now amber. The clock is still ticking but it’s hidden by blackness. I bump the mouse to see that it’s not too late. Within minutes I will find myself shuffling across these wooden floors.