Or, you can get one of the new stainless steel pint glasses.
And there's always the coffee mug with the Ahearne logo. This keeps your drinks hot and fits in a standard water bottle cage.
Or, you can get one of the new stainless steel pint glasses.
And there's always the coffee mug with the Ahearne logo. This keeps your drinks hot and fits in a standard water bottle cage.
And they're fantastic. They are true pints, and what's great about them is they are vacuum sealed, so your cold beverages stay cold, and hot stays hot for much longer. Not to mention they have the Ahearne logo engraved on the side.
They arrived just in time for the holidays. It's a great gift for someone who's already got all the bike gear, and you really just don't know what else they might need. They'll be happy with this, you can believe it!
And, we now offer them in Black or Silver. It's an 18 oz. mug with a top that fully seals, so no drips or leaks while riding. Keeps hot beverages hot for up to 12 hours, and cold drinks cold for up to 24 hours. Each mug has the Ahearne head badge logo, and yes, they fit into most standard water bottle cages. If you need a cage to go with your mug, let me recommend the stainless steel King Cage.
One last note. If you plan to order a Custom Engraved Flask for the holidays, please have your order in by Sunday, 29 November, to be sure we've got enough time to get the engraving done and get it back to you before Christmas.
Jesse and I constructed the very first bicycle frame in the Surreal Foundry & Cycle Shop here in Fremantle, Western Australia. A lugged single speed road bike meant for around town riding. Jesse’s dream workshop is now a reality, and he’s even had an inaugural party to announce the completion of the workshop to the world at large. The ‘world at large’ being, mainly: Friends, family, acquaintances, neighbors, people who somehow helped out with the workshop’s construction, anyone else interested or related. And, perhaps even more importantly, by celebrating the workshop’s completion, this brings a long and somewhat trying process to a point of Closure for both Jesse and his partner Kerry.
The workshop is gorgeous. It’s behind the house, is an asymmetric design, kind of wedge-shaped, which fits well with the huge Norfolk pine and the “flow” of the back garden. The inside of the workshop is I’d guess about 7 or 800 square feet, has it’s own water-efficient toilet, two deep stainless steel sinks, a small area which will eventually be a paint booth, and is stocked with most all of the tools needed to build bikes. Jesse and I have been talking over the past couple of years about
equipment, and he’s gotten himself an Anvil frame fixture and fork fixture (your stuff is bad ass, Don!), a blasting cabinet, a couple of different belt grinders, a variety of hand tools, and this table from Germany that is kind of like the King of All Tables, in terms of what you’d want in a workshop.
The King of All Tables
…is made by a company called Seigmund, as I said, in Germany. It’s perforated and modular and has all these clamps and brackets you can buy that fit the holes so that you can set up and work on anything that needs fixturing in any way. The table weighs right at a ton (850 kilos). It’s called the Professional Extreme 850, if that tells you something, and it’s made from “special” tool steel and is “plasma-nitrided and coated.”
What this means is that the table is extremely tough, heat resistant, scratch resistant, and just generally hard. There’s this awesome video advertisement for the table showing off how tough and bad ass it is by dropping a car on it from like 40 feet up (15 meters) and burying it in gravel and dragging it out with a crane, unscathed. They even blow it up with dynamite (check out the guy in work overalls and hardhat blowing a little bugle to announce the explosion), and the table gets not even a scratch. The video is only 2 minutes long, and is well worth it, even for just the acting and heavy machinery and general absurdity of it all. And everyone in the video keeps a straight face the whole time. Those Germans are something.
Check out the video for the Seigmund Professional Extreme 850 here.
But I’m getting side-tracked. Tools & tables. Building a first bike in a brand new workshop with new tools, you’ve got to expect to run into difficulties, so-called bumps in the road. And we did. We had to make a fork blade bender before we could start the fork. We had to fill the tanks and set up the torch and we then had to replace the faulty regulators. We had to buy silver and flux. I had to learn to braze with these new types of flux, figuring out their properties and heat-windows and all that. We had to figure out the abrasive system for mitering. Oh, and yes, we had to uncrate the frame jig and set it all up. Nice job packing the crate, by the way, Don Ferris. Seems like you’ve spent some time figuring that process out. We had to design a bike around the lugs that Jesse already had in his possession. We had to guess at the lug’s actual angles, because Jesse bought them off a guy who used to build bikes quite a while ago and there was no finding the guy now, not on the internet or otherwise. Japanese track lugs, not like any I’ve seen, exactly. We made an educated guess at the angles. We had to order more bits from Ceeway in England; tubes, steerers, braze-ons, etc., and wait for them to come before we could finish off the bike.
Many hiccups and minor set backs (like right off I cut the first set of fork legs 1 cm too short, which made me feel kind of like an asshole, but not too much so, because that’s just the way it goes sometimes, especially if you let yourself get distracted), but we took the time and did the work and the first set of tubes and lugs became the first bicycle frame built in Jesse’s shop. I was pleased, Jesse was pleased, it’s all going to work out just fine.
Jesse’s got a lot of work ahead of him, learning the millions of little details and skills and the handiwork that goes into building a frame. But he loves bikes and he’s spent a good portion of his adult life making things that uses sapphires and electrons and can read things at distances with a timing that is more accurate than I can even imagine — clocks, he calls them; really high-end clocks. I didn’t study physics enough to comprehend but about 3% of what Jesse made, but whatever it was was quite a bit more complex than making a bicycle frame. A very different skill set.
But I think that one of the things Jesse likes about bikes, which is one of the things that I, too, like, is the very physical interaction with the final product, and the variability of the subjective experience of it. To conceive it, to design it, build it, and then to ride it and get feedback and take that bit of knowledge back into the workshop and refine it and do it again and again, always pushing a little closer to a level of perfection that is yours and yours alone, and sharing it with others and hoping they see what you see — that’s the art, the craft, and really that’s the fun of it, the part that really makes it all worthwhile. In my opinion, anyway.
Jesse’s off to a good start. Now he gets to spend a lot of time working with Seigmund to make his next bike.
My time here is winding down, and spring is in full bloom in Australia. The bike is built and my duties here are pretty much finished. For now. I’m headed out soon; back to the states, to Oregon, home. The past few weeks, even including the time we were working, have been eventful and easy and in many ways a lot like a vacation. I’ve learned a lot of things about Australia that I didn’t know: Natural things, cultural things, things about the economy and government and people’s attitudes toward others and some of the less obvious stuff like how people deal with conflict and what they think of the American Presidential Circus (APC).
I started writing what I thought was going to be a blog post over a week ago, but I’ve got so much material and so many things I want to talk about that it (the writing) became longer and longer and I thought, well shit this isn’t a book it’s a blog, this isn’t going to work at all. I’ve got to cut it down. Maybe put it together in pieces, post it in parts. Subjects I’ve written about include, but are not limited to:
— The timeline and historical significance of the band AC/DC, especially in regards to former front man and lead singer Bon Scott, who died from asphyxiating on his own vomit in the front seat of a car after a night of heavy drinking. This was while the band was on tour in London in 1980. And what happened to the band then. Bon Scott’s grave is here in Fremantle, Western Australia.
— Nature. Meaning plants and birds. Big birds little birds water birds pretty birds dumb birds birds of prey and so on. There are a lot of weird birds in Australia, and plants and trees unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Lizards, frogs. And the birds make these sounds, it’s almost terrifying at certain times, and then at other times the way their voices cry out you’d think they were genuinely making fun of us humans. Mocking our children. And the plants, they may walk around at night when no one is watching. And whales. And sharks (there was an attack listed in the paper within a few days of my arrival, which made the ocean seem a little menacing, despite how clear and blue-green it is). I didn't tell Maggie about the shark attack because I didn't want to talk about it. And I didn’t see any actually hopping around, but kangaroos, too. Dogs everywhere. Little snakes with legs. Writing like I'm Nature Boy.
— And speaking of birds, I found an emu egg at a market and couldn’t help myself. I bought it, cooked it up and ate it. Maggie, bless her, she helped with the process. Emus are the second largest bird on the planet, next to the ostrich. This egg was BIG. The whole process was very weird and disproportionate and disconcerting. But I did it anyway. The yolk was like the size of my fist, but softer. I scrambled it with vegetables. Catsup & hot sauce. Toast.
— Bunker Bay, Dunsborough, Yallingup, the entire Margaret River region, cape to cape, south of Perth; Towns with unbelievable beaches and olive oil and chocolate and wine and products made with fine marino wool, lazy winding roads through a canopy of trees whose palette is more on the yellow and light grey side, rather than the deep greens and browns that I’m used to. Surf towns, beach towns, very relaxed towns. Lots of nature to lose yourself in. Whales migrate past from colder arctic waters further south to wherever else they go to spawn and breed and eat. Hippies and yogis and a lot of very rich people live in these places.
— Reading the Infinite Jest in Australia. I read this book many years ago, in another foreign place, and took some things from it, but I know a lot more about the author now, his life and death and quirks and history and what he seemed to like to think and write about. It’s a big book and requires some readerly work and energy, but hot damn he’s a good writer.
— This is only a few of the bigger subjects I’ve been thinking about. Others include a discussion of the pros and cons of Airbnb; thoughts on addiction and habituation and routine and practice; the night sky (yes, I’ve seen the southern cross); a couple of weird dreams; and bike building in a new workshop, which I’ve already said a few words about…
I’ll have to come back to some of this other stuff. This is probably just enough for now. Actually, my plane is leaving soon. It's hard to believe after a trip like this that I'm actually going home. No more beach or sun or shorts and bare feet for a while to come. But I'm looking forward to getting back into my workshop.
This is like a long post card to all of you. I've written a few real post cards but I can’t seem to keep it short and do any justice to everything that’s happened on this trip so far. I feel like they’re kind of a let down. I mean, post cards are great, just like any snail-mail is these days. Your name is on it, there are a few words, maybe a pretty picture or an artful drawing, and you can hold it in your hand — it’s an actual, tangible artifact, a piece of the place, even if it's small. But what can you really say in a postcard? There's no space. I read an article a bit ago about a famous author (David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas) who prints a short story in short bursts on Twitter. The whole story is told over several days (I believe it’s happening now). Anyway, postcards trying to tell about long eventful trips would be kind of like reading a story in twittering bursts, only slower and way more expensive on my end. And anyway, twitter is twitter.
So right now it’s a little after 4 in the morning. I’ve been awake for a couple of hours, couldn’t sleep at all. Maybe because there’s good strong coffee down here that I’m not metabolizing and it’s wrecking my sleep. Maybe it’s the business of this Full Moon/Super Moon/Blue Moon/Equinox/Etc., rocking the tides, pulling at life. Whatever the case.
I’m at a small desk by a window in an old house in Auckland, New Zealand. The part of town I’m staying in is called Westmere, which is a quiet neighborhood a mile or so west of the city center. The woman who owns the house is an aging hippy with an aristocratic sounding accent, at least that’s how it sounds to me. Her name’s Judy and her face gets long when she talks and she stares at you so hard you’d think her eyes might be bad. But they’re clear, her eyes are, and she’s not looking around to find you, but right into you, which is intense. She’s got a great big warm laugh, though, which makes you feel at home. She lives off part-time work and AirBnB guests like me. The house has lots of windows and natural wood and there’s a black cat named Lucky who eats lamb meat and sleeps on the floor in rectangles of sunlight.
Today is Friday, 2 October. In Portland it’s still Thursday, which really messes with how I think about you all at home. I’m twenty hours ahead of you Cascadians, which means you’re four hours later than me, but yesterday. Got it?
The first week of this trip was a rush of busy-ness. I was in Sydney, Australia for three days helping with an event and bike give-away. Then we came to Auckland to put on a similar event. The people who organized the event, The Team, consisted mainly of people from Portland who have an interest in attracting tourism to our town. I was included because I nominally represent the “maker scene” happening in Portland — an honest-to-goodness bicycle builder. Todd from Pedal Bike Tours was here, and Samantha from the Jupiter Hotel. Amanda represented the Department of Agriculture and Heather is from Travel Portland. Several others helped put the event together and added to it their particular knowledge base and specialty. All of them great people.
Beyond the events, or “activations,” as they were called, I had little to do but make sure the bikes were assembled. So I wandered around, went to a few yoga classes and generally enjoyed the life of a patron at a 5-star hotel. The Radisson in Sydney was rad. Rad Radisson. The breakfast buffet was out of control. Or maybe it was just me around that much good food. As an individual eater there was no way to put a dent into it. The food was so good and there were so many directions you could go, like the muesli, fruit and yogurt route, or the cold salad and cheese route, or smoothies, or custom made omelets, seven or eight types of meat, four types of fresh baked bread, two types of salmon (smoked and gravlax), scrambled eggs so fluffy they could have been whipped with air, pickled things, aged and salted things, fresh things. It was hard to get out of there without eating myself sick. But whatever, when the gourmet trough is open, you eat.
One other notable thing about staying in a hotel like the Radisson are the robes. Here’s a note I took on Radisson water-mark paper with a Radisson pen while wearing a robe:
The robes are blindingly, perfectly white, made from a dense, soft cotton that has been dryer fluffed and is somehow almost crisp on the hanger. But as soon as it’s taken down and draped over naked skin — skin which has been fragranced, it might be noted, by an herbal, all-natural, shower gel — the robe feels like a massage of clouds.
The robe’s collar is like that of a double breasted suit, except it is so thick it reminds one of the comfort and support of a neck pillow. Fresh out of the shower and squeaky-clean, there is a representation of oneself in the floor to ceiling bathroom mirror; Despite one’s pallor, one looks uncommonly fashionable, like one just stepped from the pages of a magazine that advertises ungodly expensive watches, gaudy museum-grade jewelry, perfect and ageless skin. Looking at one’s reflection, one turns from left to right looking for the best and most precisely photogenic perspective -- either tipping the chin low or lifting it high, one is caught in the radiant whiteness of the robe, which acts like a good photoshop job, erasing all niggling blemishes in a pampering of cotton.
There is really so much to be found in a robe.
Anyway, and again, there are just times you have to give in and enjoy what life brings.
By all accounts the events (activations) were successful. I talked with many people about Oregon and about the bikes. The people who won the bikes bounced around with excitement, inspiring envy in other onlookers. The word about Oregon is out. After the Auckland event came to a close, most everyone on The Team went their separate ways. I gave myself an extra week in New Zealand before going on to Western Australia. Also staying for some extra days was Samantha from the Jupiter Hotel, and Amanda from the Department of Agriculture. We decided to rent a car and go check out a beach on the west coast called Piha. On this trip, Samantha had an accident. Here’s the story, translated from my notes:
The car we rent is tiny and green, shaped like a tear drop. We call it the Tin Can. The Tin Can has a manual transmission and everything but the gas/brake/clutch pedals are reversed from what I’m used to. Steering wheel on the right, rear-view mirror and stick-shift on the left. Turn signal, right; windshield wipers, left. Whether you think about it or not, driving is a symphony of activities coordinated in a more or less fluid manner. After years of doing it it feels like second nature. Which way do you look when you come to an intersection? How near or far do you as a driver place yourself in relation to the centerline on the road? The biggest challenge in this mirrored mode is city driving, and in particular, down-shifting, signaling and turning in rapid succession. I keep flipping on the wipers instead of signaling and then coasting with the clutch pressed in trying to get my right brain to instruct my left hand to find a freaking gear while I’m visually mapping my surroundings to assess my speed and intended trajectory and if my grasp of these physics is about to put me in extreme and immediate danger. When everything is “normal” there’s so much we don’t have to think about. But this is just stressful.
It’s a questionable beginning, but fortunately we make it out of town and drive to Piha without serious incident. At Piha we walk, climb rocks, watch the surfers, the waves, the sky. Samantha, Amanda and I get to know each other. We talk about work, the housing market in Portland, New Zealand agriculture, hotels, food. We wear hats and sunglasses and the sun feels very intense. People say there’s a big hole in the ozone layer down here and I believe them. The air temperature isn’t all that warm, but the sun sizzles our bare skin.
After a few hours at Piha we drive back up and out of the bay into lush green forest. We stop at a parking area beside a trailhead and walk into the forest. Trails here are called tracks, and hiking is called trekking. But we are only walking. Walking in the woods. We wind around the track looking at the weird and unfamiliar foliage. After less than a mile the track comes to a T. There’s an outhouse and a couple of directional signs. The uphill direction is restricted. The downhill track says it leads to a reservoir. None of it seems very interesting. Samantha, Amanda and I talk about what to do. We’re from Oregon, we reason, we’ve seen a million reservoirs. Samantha goes into the outhouse. Amanda and I look down the track.
Samantha squawks. Oh my god, you guys, I just dropped my phone in the toilet!
Amanda and I look at each other.
Oh no, you guys, I can’t believe this. Samantha steps out. It’s so deep, she says.
Amanda steps off the trail and tugs at a long branch.
There’s no way, Samantha says. It’s way too far down.
Are you sure? Let me look, I say. I enter the outhouse. Yes, it’s deep. A big stinking black hole. I hold my breath and use my phone as a flashlight, clutching it like it might be greased. Ten feet down perched on a pile of waste and wadded TP is an iPhone 5s, white case, screen dark, facing up at me. There is no way.
I snap a photo (not shown here, for obvious reasons. If you really must see the photo, email me).
Outside the shitter we stand in a little triangle. I’m not smiling. I'm really not smiling.
Well, shit! I say.
Exactly! says Amanda.
There’s nothing to be done.
I don’t want to see a reservoir, says Samantha. We walk back down the track to the Tin Can.
The next day Amanda left for Vietnam to help organize an event where a famous Vietnamese chef is cooking 100 pounds of potatoes with Governor Kate Brown. I forget why. Something to do with food; money; publicity; good relations. On our trip to Piha I learned from Amanda that New Zealand’s largest export is dairy products mostly headed to China. Who knew?
I picked Samantha up early the following day and we drove the Tin Can to Coromandel, a large peninsula east of Auckland. We stayed mostly along the coastline and then cut through the interior of the Coromandel Forest. We ate “world renowned” fish & chips, wandered through a butterfly sanctuary, walked the sand at Hot Water Beach and hiked down to Cathedral Cove. It was a big day of driving with many stops at many sites. We arrived back to Auckland at nearly 10 pm. The next day we met Corey and his wife Karen, both of whom were key organizers with The Team. They live here in Auckland, in Browns Bay. Corey took us down to the bay to play around on his paddle board and surf-ski. The water is still pretty cold, but the sun is hot and we had a good time trying to find our balance on these tippy vessels.
I brought a bicycle with me on this trip. So far it's just been luggage, a big box to carry around. Of course I forgot to bring a helmet, and there is a helmet law here for cyclists. Luckily I was able to borrow one from Corey. Yesterday I went on my first real bike ride of this trip. I rode down to the ferry, and went across to Devonport, then rode up and down, up and down, along the coast and through the six bays to arrive again at Browns Bay to meet Corey. We ate sushi and then rode out of town and up to a ridge into mostly rural land. It felt a lot like riding along Skyline Drive above Portland, with rolling hills, winding roads, some big houses, climbs & descents, trees and clearings that gave periodic views of the distant countryside. Between the strong winds off the sea and all the climbing, I could see how a person would get in shape if they rode here much. Corey and I did a sort of a loop and parted ways. I was pretty tired by the time I arrived back at the ferry.
Everyone says I’ve been pretty lucky with the weather, but today is very windy and rainy, so I’m taking the day off to read and write this post. Rather than scrawl out a bunch of post cards that’ll only tell bits of the story, I thought I’d go at it head on. I’ve got a couple more days here in Auckland, and then I’m off to Fremantle in Western Australia. That’ll be the beginning of the next big adventure on this trip, and will put me back to work as a bicycle frame builder. I’m looking forward to meeting Jesse Searls and sharing what knowledge I have to teach him the craft.
If you’ve made it this far in reading this post, I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself. I’ll be taking notes and writing more in the coming weeks. As they say here New Zealand, in the Maori language, kia kaha, which means “stay strong,” or “stand strong.” You've got to say it from deep in your gut. It’s meant as an affirmation, to inspire. So, farewell, and
In just over a week I leave for Australia and New Zealand. This trip is going to have a few different elements to it. I’m traveling for the sake of travel, on the one hand, but I’ve also got some work lined up that is going to occupy some of the time I’m there. The work, though, sounds almost as fun as the exploration of these new places.
All said, I’ll be out of town for about six weeks, from 17 September through 3 November. That’s a good, long trip, and if you’re interested, I’ll give you an overview of what’s happening, a quick run-down.
— September 19 - 21 I’ll be in Sydney with Travel Portland helping them to give away a couple of bikes; one of my bikes and a Breadwinner. If you’re interested in knowing more about it (and I’d say if you’re anywhere Sydney or Auckland during this time, you ought to check it out), here’s all the information you'll need.
— September 22 - October 3 I’ll be in Auckland, New Zealand. The first 4 nights of this I’ll be helping give away another 2 bikes, (1 Ahearne, 1 Breadwinner). Then I have a week to explore in and around Auckland, see the sights, meet some people, hopefully ride my bicycle (yes, I’m bringing a bicycle that I will be leaving in Perth, but that’s a story I’ll get into in a moment).
— 4 October - 2 November I’ll be in and around Fremantle and Perth on the west coast of Australia. During this time I’ll be the first “Artist in Residence” at the Surreal Foundry & Cycleworks. Jesse Searls is an aspiring bicycle frame builder and the founder of the Foundry. He is in the process of finishing the construction of his workshop as I write this. We’ve spent the past several months discussing bike making equipment, tools and jigs, etc. It sounds like he has bought a lot of the equipment needed, and so, for much of the month of October we’re planning to work together to get his workshop up and running, and to build a bicycle frame or two together. I believe we’ll be going at a fairly relaxed pace, so there should be plenty of extra time for me to explore, cycle, read & write, swim & surf, and generally get out and about and see that part of the world. Maggie will be coming for the second half of October, so she and I will be exploring as well.
I can’t say enough about how excited I’m becoming for this trip. Jesse first contacted me in March 2014, asking about a bike I had advertised for sale on my website. Yes, I told him, it’s still for sale. He was considering buying it for his son, who plans to ride from coast to coast across Australia following the most southerly roads along the Great Australian Bight. Jesse and I exchanged several emails, and he told me his story, which I found to be very interesting. Jesse is a recently retired physicist who had, quite a number of years ago, helped invent technology which enabled new capacity in digital networks and improved the sensitivities of radar systems. It was a significant enough improvement that he started a company to produce the technology, and his company was eventually bought by an international contractor. For the next bundle of years Jesse worked for his company as they did international sales, and as he explained it, the burden and stress of this work was incredible.
Now that he’s stepped away from the company, he realized that some of his most personally satisfying moments were when he was able to take concepts and designs that were theoretical and to actually fabricate them — to make them into something physical. Jesse’s love of bicycles started in 1973 when he bought a Frejus racing bike to use as his primary mode of transport. Since then he has had a yearning to learn how to build them. Transforming an idea into a “thing” by using the hands to fabricate it, then getting to test it and use it, or watch someone else do so and hopefully see a smile peel open their face — there is a great deal of joy to be found here. And this is where I come in. Having built a lot of bikes and having taught a lot of people how to build their own bikes, Jesse thought I might be a good person to hang out with for a while. Lucky for me.
In all of this, I do feel very lucky. Jesse wants the bike I had for sale, and I’m going to bring it over with me. We’re going to work together to set up his workshop, and then I’m going to help him use the equipment to learn to construct his own bicycle frames. Based on our interactions through email I think both Jesse and I are pretty mellow individuals, and I think we’re going to get along just fine. I’m really very excited to meet him in person and to see the workshop he’s constructed. What a dream come true in itself — to be able to consider every last detail of a workshop and build it from the ground up. And then to have the dream, part II, where you get to fill the workshop with great tools, and then part III, actually using them to make things. As I said, I feel really fortunate to play some part in this.
I am also looking forward to the opportunity to see some of the beaches and treks in southwestern Australia. Apparently, it has some of the best surf beaches in the world, big trees, and a broad range of vineyards and gourmet food producers. There's also the Munda Biddi Trail (which means "path through the forest" in the Noongar Aboriginal language), which is a 1000 kilometer off road cycling path. If I'm lucky I'll get to spend some time exploring this as well.
While I’m away I’ll have my computer, and plan to post photos and words about what’s happening. Please check back if you’re interested in hearing about the place, the trip, the progress, the work, the experience.
The Oregon Coast bike was found this past Saturday, the 1st of August. In case you haven't been paying attention, this was an event called 7 Bikes for 7 Wonders. Fat Bike riding on the coast or in the dunes is something special indeed. The guy who found the bike, Mark Hendrix, seemed super stoked on it. He even called me to tell me so, and to say that he’s about the biggest bike fan on the coast. He might even have said he’s a bike freak. If anyone deserves the bike, it was him. It sounds like he’s the kind of person who will ride this bike like it’s meant to be ridden, and that makes me happy.
The whole process of building the bike, watching the high level promotion of the bikes and their builders, and highlighting some of the most special places in Oregon has been interesting to witness and participate in. I got to see the whole process of advertising from, well, not exactly the inside, since I didn’t conceive of any of the ideas or do any of the video or media production. But I was a part of the video, and I did get to see some of the overall concepts evolve, mature and come to fruition. And, better still, I got to build a bike for it.
It was interesting for me to build a bike that was not for a specific customer — a human — but to build it instead with a region in mind (in my case, the coast). When my intended audience is one person, I make some build decisions based on our interactions. I may make certain aesthetic choices, or design choices, and though I might be making a type of bike I’ve made many times in the past, I will do it a certain specific way with this particular person in mind. There’s the interactions we’ve had, and then there’s my intuition about the person I’m building for. It's aesthetic, design, function, all coming together with the idea of the rider in mind.
But, when it came to building a bike for a region, or for nothing more specific than a type of terrain, there was a moment of something like vertigo because it was so open-ended. The way I look at any bike I’m planning to build is that it will need a rider. The coast isn’t going to be riding the bike. There will be a person on the bike, and without knowing who that person is, and what they might want, I had to invent someone. I thought why not invent and work with the human I know best, which is myself. Which is what I did. I built the bike to fit what I wanted, what I thought the bike ought to be to be a good bike to ride the sand, along the waves, through the dunes. I like unique things, personalized and one-of-a-kind, so I gave the bike some flair that I’ve never seen anywhere else (except maybe on other bikes that I’ve built) — the shape of it, the coins and flasks on the fork, the rack, seat stay configuration, the general style and visual aesthetic of it.
I agreed to give the bike away, but part of me was sad to see it go. I didn’t realize until the bike was actually leaving my shop for the last time how much I liked it, and that I was going to miss it. I don’t typically get sentimental about bikes. For me, for the most part, I think of bikes as tools, meant to be used and sometimes used hard, and if possible, used until broken. It makes me happy when I break one of my bikes. If I ride responsibly, but push it and push it until the bike fails, then I have discovered the limits of what my bikes can take, and I learn from it, incorporating this knowledge into the next bike I build. I’m hard on my stuff, and I always mean for bikes that I build to be used; ie. ridden. Hopefully a lot. And, even though I may have been somewhat sad to see the Oregon Coast bike leave my shop, it made me really happy to get a phone call from Mark telling me he loves the bike and is going to ride the crap out of it. Then I knew that it was OK for me to let it go. The bike’s gone to a good home.
What is this willingness to suffer on a bicycle?
The hill we’re riding up is gradual and bumpy as hell and seemingly endless. My bike is loaded with gear, food and enough water for a couple of dry days. It’s heavy, my bike, probably about eighty pounds, maybe ninety. I’m carrying about eight liters of water. A few tools, some clothes, cooking pot and camp stove. Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, inflatable pillow. Energy bars, sunblock and mosquito repellant. Some TP, soap, ibuprofen, a small set of scissors. Essentially I’ve got a miniaturized home on my bike, with enough amenities to keep me alive and in relative comfort for a week or so.
My legs are going. Round and round in a small gear. They feel strong and fatigued, searching for some sort of rhythm with my breathing. The trail is erratic, though, little rocks big rocks, ruts and washboard, patches of sludgy red pumice; there’s no rhythm in dodging obstacles at this turtle speed. The worst part is my ass screaming at me, tired of being planted on this wedge while my legs churn. Sweat pours down my face and into my eyes. My hat, shirt and shorts are already soaked. My lower back is sore from leaning into the climb, and my shoulders ache from hunching over the bars.
Smitherman is beside me. His face is grim, concentrating on the struggle up. He looks as focused, mean and uncomfortable as I feel. Sweat runs rivulets of dirt down his stubbly cheeks. He looks at me, nearly doleful, and then it happens; his face peels into a big smile. And what a winning smile it is. He growls through his white teeth.
We’re both hurting, suffering really, trying to get up this damned hill. It’s been too long that we’ve been at this, way too long, our bikes jostling through ruts and over rocks for miles. My hands are sore from gripping, pulling, pushing the bars. My right elbow has a sharp shooting pain. But then this smile sprouts and it shines out through the pain. I laugh and ask him, Why the fuck are we doing this to ourselves?
Indeed, this is the question. If I could see the faces of any of my other friends on this climb, their expressions would not have hidden the struggle they too were experiencing. Misery, brutality, pain and suffering — these were words thrown around by my friends and I while riding the Outback this year. There were other words, too, positive words, but they didn’t come during these most grueling moments. This question — Why do we do this to ourselves — was something I had a lot of time to meditate on. I don’t think there is one answer to it, and I think it’s different for everyone. I’m curious what others might say about why they put themselves through things like this. Is it for the beauty of the surroundings, the nature? The remoteness, or the escape? The sense of adventure, of exploration? For the ultimate sense of accomplishment? For the camaraderie of a shared struggle that empties you throughout the day and and fills you again while eating and talking around a campfire? Is it just so you can say you did it?
My friends and I struggled, yes, and there were fun parts, too: Screaming gravel descents, riding alongside running cattle, stream crossings (Jrdn and I both dumped into the water to great laughter), a deer that flew across our paths and leapt like a gazelle over a fence. And of course the shared time at camp. We saw regions of Oregon that are too vast and beautiful for words. And we all made it through safely. Riding back to Portland after the Deschutes campground, our trip ended up being around 450 miles total. Jrdn and Smitherman left Portland the week before a and rode down to Klamath falls to meet us, at least doubling their mileage. Because we left a week after the "official" ride, we only saw a couple of other people riding the route.
I can imagine that there are many reasons we put ourselves through ordeals like this, and I think they change, morph and evolve from moment to moment. Especially while in the thick of a difficult climb, exposed in the sun, hot, everything hurting and the whole thing seeming very far from being fun. In moments like this I watch my mind going through story after story, which is me trying to convince myself to keep pushing the left pedal down and then the right, and then the left again. Each of the reasons listed above floats through, and any number of others. Philosophies come and go; Buddhist aphorisms about life and suffering; I could practically get down on my mental knees and beg myself Please Keep Going, or, sometimes, Please Stop Now.
At some point when things get really hard the stories become laughable, obviously bullshit. Monkey mind in a frenzy, and yet I’m right there, still pushing on the pedals, one after the other. At this point, when the stories don’t help anymore, my mind is all stripped down and raw; this is when things get really interesting.
And then I keep pushing on.
Here below, in no particular chronological order, are some photos from the trip.
I'll be out of the shop from Friday 29 May through 7 June on a bike tour. We're headed down to Klamath Falls to ride back up through central Oregon on the Outback route. It'll be interesting seeing how it's different this year from last. I'll post images during and after the ride.
We're headed out a week after the official ride, so hopefully all the people who have already gone left us some water to drink, and didn't clean out the little stores of food.
This past Saturday morning at the Santa Cruz taqueria Mike and I ordered two burritos each. We ate one and packed the other, and headed out to ride the Crown Zellerbach trail. There’s nothing wrong with having a burrito for breakfast. It’s bike fuel of the best sort. And what’s even better than having a burrito for breakfast is following it with another burrito at lunch. The Santa Cruz Taqueria in St. Johns has some of the best in town, and they’ve got an avocado sauce that makes you want to hug whoever’s working at the counter.
The CZ trail starts in Scappoose, which is about 20 miles north of Portland on the west side of the river. Mike offered to drive to the trail head because he had to get back to town that evening. My plan was do go on my first overnight trip.
The CZ runs along side the Scappoose/Vernonia highway for a ways out of town, then turns and heads off into the trees. It’s gravel, converted from an old rail bed, which in my opinion ought to be done all over the state. Why not make a whole network of trails that run out to the coast, inland, up and down the state? Imagine cycling for days and days from the forest around Mt. Hood to the desert to the ocean and never having to stress about traffic. There are plenty of old unused rail beds and logging roads. But, we all know why they don’t do it. It costs money. Never mind that you or I might be certain it’s a good investment for all sorts of reasons.
This was going to be my first bike trip for the year. I don’t know how other people do it, but for me when packing for the first trip I feel a little muddy and kind of dim, like I’m not sure who I am or what I’m doing. I can never remember what all I’m supposed to bring. I tried to fix that problem a few years back by buying a big Rubbermaid tub and keeping all my touring gear together in one place. But each trip requires its own sorts of gear based on how long, where to, how cold or wet, etc. It can be hard to predict what sort of stuff you might need while out on your bike. There’s the fundamentals: You need to eat and to sleep. You’ll probably want to heat your food. You might want to brush your teeth and have coffee or tea in the morning. Maybe you like a little sugar in your coffee.
I start with the stuff I need, and then for the rest I’m packing for contingencies. I like to talk to myself, ask myself questions: What if it rains. What if I get a flat. What if my zipper blows out. What if my camera battery dies. How many books will I really read. What if they seem to be cutting all the trees down in Oregon. Who’s going to know. Or care? And what am I going to do about it?
Packing for a bike trip is a balance between economy and comfort. You want to take the lightest and most compact gear you can afford, but at some point light and compact becomes detrimental to your own private views on creature comforts. Like for example a few years back I bought a tent, the Fly Creek made by Big Agnes. At the time it was the lightest tent on the market — it may still be — and if I’d had an extra couple of hundred dollars I could have gotten it with the carbon fiber poles and it would have weighed nothing at all. And talk about packing small — I could practically have put this thing in my pocket. Cool design, too, because of how simple it is. Really it’s not much more than a bivy sack.
But for me there was one problem. It’s the kind of tent that opens at the end, the “head” end, and tapers down toward the feet. When I was inside, it felt claustrophobic and too much like a nylon coffin. If I thought too much about the walls of the tent I’d start feeling constricted and paranoid. Even exhausted after a full day of cycling I’d have trouble sleeping. If I did sleep I’d have terrible dreams, low budget terror flicks. It was like someone was slowly, very quietly wrapping my body up in plastic wrap, pinning my arms at my sides, making me into a mummy. I’d sweat cold. My breathing became restricted and short, panicked. I’d lie there and try talking myself down, but it never worked. The pressure would build and build and then I’d snap and yell and come tearing ass out of the tent gulping air, really kind of bothering the other people camping around me.
I sold that tent to Mitch and bought myself a new tent, the MSR Hubba, which has a big wide door on the side, lots of breathing room. It’s still light and compact, but it won’t come close to fitting in my pocket. That’s fine, though, I’m willing to carry a little more weight for the added peace of mind. No dreams of being slowly digested by a snake. It takes time and experience to discover the gear that works best for you.
If you’re considering riding the CZ trail all the way to Vernonia, be sure you know where you’re going. The actual CZ is only a few miles long, and at some unknown point it ends and becomes an old logging road. The network of roads back there is immense in their mileage. I, of course, didn’t do my research before leaving Portland, and even though I borrowed Mike’s GPS when we parted ways, I missed the turn. Dirt and grass covered roads regularly split off the main gravel road to the left and the right, and if you don’t know what you’re doing you could get lost for a very long time. The last time I rode this trail was last year, and I went with some people who had the maps, so I hadn’t been paying too much attention to where we were going. This time, by myself, all the side roads looked the same. At some point, though, I suspected that I’d gone past my turn. There were views over the valleys that I didn’t remember from last time. The GPS was giving me trouble because I wasn’t sure how to access some of the functions. It told me that I was on some anonymous double-dotted line on the digital cartoon map, but I couldn’t locate that in the bigger picture. Worse, I’d hit a wrong button and it kept beeping at me, insisting I turn around, which didn’t help my growing unease and the sense of feeling lost. At some point I wanted to throw the GPS in the trees. But then the trees ended. What finally convinced me to turn around was when I arrived to a massive clear cut, nothing left but stumps and dirt. It looked like a gigantic garden tiller had come and upturned the earth, destroying everything. The gravel road wound through this wasteland for a couple of miles until at a fork I had a choice of going very steeply up or very steeply down. Both options seemed bad so I gave in to the annoying beeping and turned around.
A few miles back the way I’d come and some twist of luck allowed me to find the turn on the GPS. I was convinced I was going to have to head many more miles back to the road and take that over the hills. This one bit of navigational help made having the GPS worthwhile. A mile or two down the turnoff and the road seems to end. Btu keep going. Over a mound of dirt and there’s a steep and rutted trail that takes you down to a dead end country road, paved. And in a couple more miles you’re in Vernonia.
I picked up supplies at the market (cider, food for the next day) and pedaled on to Big Eddy campground. Big Eddy is pretty much exactly the halfway point between Portland and Astoria if you’re cycling the old highways. The next day I was blessed again with perfect weather, and made good time riding on the rest of the way to Astoria. Such a gorgeous ride. I only saw one other cyclist the whole way.
That night I stayed at the hostel and took the Point bus back to Portland the next morning.
Some folks choose to get up early and ride all the way out to Astoria in one day. If you’re in shape for it, this allows you to pack light. There are enough places to pick up food and water along the way. I like to do this trip in two days. I’m not a hero, and besides, I wanted to camp overnight, kind of as a test run for future trips. The only way I can figure out what I’m doing wrong, and what I’m forgetting, is to get out there and do it. Kind of a reconnoissance mission for gear. And a trip like this has a low commitment. If I really botch it and forget to bring shoes or my sleeping bag or something, it’s not like I’m off on a multi-day adventure, or some big remote trip where my failures in packing gear will cause me great suffering or even death. It’s good to start small as a sort of practice for more intense bike trips. It boosts confidence, and reminds you who you are and how you can be. And it’s fun.
Things to remember next time: head lamp, ibuprofen, a lemon (so refreshing in water bottles), flip flops, mosquito repellent, fewer books
I don’t spend a lot of time in bike shops these days. When I do go, it’s usually to buy a part I forgot to order or to say hello to a friend.
It happened the other day that I was in a bike shop actually shopping for bikes. The last time I did that was so long ago I can hardly remember, back in a different era of human history. A good friend of mine has a soon-to-be eleven year old son, Ethan, and I was at the shop to pick out a bike for him for his birthday. Ethan and his family are moving to Bend, Oregon this coming summer. When talking to anyone who’s spent time in Bend, there are mainly two things they talk about; cycling and skiing. I don’t know how it is for the skiers, but when people talk about their experiences mountain biking around Bend, their eyes get this far off look and they perceptibly begin salivating. They talk about it like it’s something out of a dream. Anyway, my friend William plans to introduce his son to trail riding, and to do so he needs a bike. The criteria for the bike were pretty simple: Suspension, knobby tires, good brakes, room to grow.
William and I had talked about my building a bike for Ethan, but he’s just getting to the age where he (Ethan) is growing an inch or so every couple of months. Shoes come and go faster than the seasons change. We thought it might be smarter to wait on the custom bike until he’s gets to whatever height he’s going to stay at for a while.
William’s wife, Natacha, met me at the shop. She, too, will be riding some trails in Bend with the family, and so would be looking for a bike. Nothing fancy or high end for either of them. We chose an extra small adult bike for Ethan. It’s basic, satisfies the needs, colors and graphics not too offensive, ready to ride at under $400.
When looking at bikes for Natacha, who is about five-foot-eight, we looked at the “entry level” mountain bikes, i.e.. inexpensive. It still blows my mind that you can buy a perfectly good new bike for under $500. If you consider the price mark-ups at each point from the factory in Asia where the bike was made to the port and then distribution center(s) in the USA, including the paint, shipping costs, any tariffs, parts and assembly, and then there’s the mark up at the shop where the bike is being sold to the consumer — if you work backwards to the beginning of all those costs, all the way back to the factory, it means that the bike, complete and ready to ride originally cost under $50. Probably more like $20. That’s for the whole bike. For $20 I can afford one mid-quality top tube. I don’t want to bitch about the economics of bicycles, and cheap imports in general, but when I’m faced with the truth of it it’s somewhat mystifying.
But anyway, while shopping for bikes we were helped by a very friendly salesperson, I’ll call him Stephen. When picking out Natacha’s bike, one of the first things that Stephen told us was this: “All the bike companies are transitioning over to the 650b wheel size. 26 inch wheels are going to be obsolete.” I did a sort of auditory double-take. “What?” I thought. “Are you serious?”
Looking around, it seemed that he was. Serious, I mean. All the newest adult mountain bikes on the floor of the shop had 650b, or 27.5 inch wheels. I don’t read the magazines, I don’t follow market trends. I’m around bike people enough, and have plenty of friends working at shops, so I’ve heard talk about the rise in popularity of the 650b wheel size. But not on this scale, or maybe I wasn’t listening very well. We’ve been talking about this wheel for several years now. Coming to find out that this once very niche market has gone totally mainstream and now in fact has supplanted both the 29er and the 26er wheel sizes seemed a little crazy. Like, if you’ve got a friend who’s always turned up his nose at grape Kool Aid, ever since you can remember he went for either cherry or lemon-lime, ever since you were little kids. And now, suddenly he’s got the tell-tale grape mustache, and all he ever talks about anymore is how grape Kool Aid is the shit, it’s the only beverage worth drinking, he won’t let his mom buy anything else, there’s nothing else like it, etc., etc.. It makes you shake your head because there’s something kind of sad about it. And in fact it might hint at some sort of, I don’t know, instability in your friend.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with 650b as a wheel size. I personally really like it for the applications that I use it for. To my mind, and in my opinion, for most people who ride bikes as commuters, go on light tours, or for whom a bike is very part time recreation, for anyone buying “entry level,” or even “mid level” bikes, and even many versions of the “high end” bikes, wheel size ought to be proportionate to the frame size. Smaller bikes, smaller wheels; larger, larger. That’s a general rule of thumb, not a law set in stone. In this way, you can nail the frame geometry and get the best ride quality and most desirable handling characteristics. There’s some room to play in bike design, of course, and the way a bike feels is very subjective. To my mind, again, the way a bike handles is way more important than the way a distant factory is tooled, and the consequent pushing and shoving of marketers.
When the entire market shifts in this way, and broad claims are made, such as the one that “twenty-six inch wheels are on their way to obsolescence,” I immediately become suspicious. Was that just a blanket statement by a salesperson who was more concerned with selling his shop’s products? Or was his statement an example of the voice of the industry?
These industry-wide re-inventions seems to happen in regular enough cycles that it might be possible to name it. There’s a sort of herd-induced excitement whenever anything “new” catches on in the bike world. In very loose historic terms, in the 1970’s and 80’s it was BMX; in the 90’s, mountain bikes and a little later downhill bikes; in the early 2000’s, 29ers were all the rage (before hitting the main stream, that was most of what I built); mid-to-late 2000’s hand made custom bikes became very popular; and somewhere in there plastic bikes started to really take off; in the early 2010’s it was fat bikes, commuter bikes, and especially in Europe and Asia, electric bikes. And now, here we are in 2015 and our wheel size has settled into the era of the 650b. That’s great. A new trend has arrived. No judgement, I’m just noticing.
In all these words I’ve written about this I don’t offer much in the way of specific guidance. I really am just taking note. I think maybe my only real message is to keep your eyes open and think for yourself. When the market tries to push anything on you, take it with a grain of salt. Educate yourself and formulate your own conclusions. Which, in this case, is another way to say, get on a bike with 650b wheels and ride it. Your ass will tell you what it thinks.
That's right! In order to guarantee delivery before Christmas, all orders need to be in by the 25th. That's just a few days from now.
Check out a few of the awesome logos we've put onto flask.
The best method of ordering is Directly Through the Website.
When ordering, you'll have your choice of either a 6 oz. flask, or the larger 8 oz. Either size will fit the Spaceman Bicycle Flask Holster and the Mud Flask Seat Mounted Flask Holder. You'll have the option of order a flask only, or you can order with the flask holder of your choice.
Once you've placed your order for a Custom Engraved Flask you'll receive a follow up e-mail asking for your logo. Please respond to this e-mail and attach your .jpeg or .pdf file, or for text only logos, you can send a Word Document.
Please remember, we are not graphic designers, we're bike builders! So for best results send the logo exactly as you want it on the flask. Because of the curvature of the face of the flask, the logo will be sized appropriately, and may not look exactly like the logo you send. But it will be close.
This bike is an all-round work horse for touring where the roads are broken, or where there are no roads. It was tested on this years' Oregon Outback ride, 360 miles of fully self-supported touring through the back roads and rail beds of rural Oregon. The bike performed just like it ought to: Stable handling while loaded with gear, even on gravel roads at higher speeds. Comfortable riding position. Clearance for fat tires & fenders. A classic steel lugged bike that hearkens back to the early days of mountain biking. Compliant, stable, comfortable, sure handling, and most importantly, Fun.
There are a couple of versions of this bike available, the most notable difference being in the brakes; either disc brakes or linear pull (or cantilevers) are possible. A generator hub powering front and rear lights is also recommended for those considering using this bike as a year round commuter and tourer. If a person could only have one bike -- or I should say, if I could only have one bike -- this would be it.
I think I say this about just about every bike I build, but this time I really mean it: I'm very excited about this bike. I've been refining my ideas of what makes a great touring rig, and more often than not, when I'm out for longer multi-day rides I come across lesser traveled roads, and these are the roads that draw me out, that interest and excite me. When it comes to exploring new places, I don't want to be limited by what my bike can do. Let spontaneity be my guide. Rides like the Oregon Outback show that some of the most beautiful and untouched countryside is out where cars mostly won't go. It's amazing how much less stress there is when you're not constantly watching your back. The air is fresh, the scenery rolls on by, and when you stop there is silence, the sounds of birds, bugs, rustling leaves. There's nothing wrong with that.
Prepare for anything, go everywhere.
The final tally for the ride was 450 miles, give or take. Klamath Falls (Oregon-California border) to the Deschutes Recreation Area (Oregon-Washington border), and then down the Historic Columbia River highway to return to Portland.
There were seven of us riding together, which on a bike ride over several days can feel a little like herding cats. But all of us got along really well — no fist fights broke out — and, thankfully, we had no major bike mechanical problems, nobody crashed, all and all we made it through smiling, even if exhausted, sore, dirty and overheated.
Kristina did partially tear her achilles tendon during the ride, and now, after having gone to the doctor, she’s wearing “the boot.” She’s tougher than I am, I think, because she was clearly in some serious pain while riding, but we were so far out into the middle of nowhere, that, as she said, “What choice did I have but to ride?”
The route was definitely remote. I don’t think we saw a car for the first three days. Lots of cows, hawks, some deer and elk, many different kinds of rodents, several snakes and lizards, a million types of birds, all kinds of carcasses in varying poses and levels of decay. The trails and gravel roads were relatively smooth, but over hours in a day the vibration was tiring. My sore ass and sore hands. I lowered my tire pressure, which helped, but I didn’t go too low because with the but with the weight on my bike I didn't go too low for fear of getting a pinch flat.
I don’t even know what to say about the ride in general except that it was pretty awesome. Pretty and awesome. I saw parts of Oregon that I’ve never seen, and from a perspective in which I could smell it, feel it, taste it, my body had to push over it. The sky was so massive dynamic. The nights were cold, the days mostly hot. The wind was intense. It was an adventure, and every day presented a new challenge; big gravel climbs, stream crossings, unbroken heat, water scarcity, threatening storms, physical & mental exhaustion, new aches & pains, the existentialism that comes with being in big empty places. It’s interesting watching the internal dialogue that goes on while pedaling on a long, hard ride, and how the tone of optimism or negativity of what’s streaming through your head is directly linked to how your physical body feels in any given moment. When you’re tired, hungry, or in any sort of discomfort or pain, the volume of the negativity may turn up. Or, if you’re well rested, well fed, cruising with a tail wind, the voices in your head may sing with joy. You can’t listen to either voice too closely because as sure as the road rolls under you the voice will pass away and some new thread of thought will arise. Letting it go (pedal-pedal-pedal), and letting it go again. This is the meditation of cycling, watching your breathing, your body taking over where your mind leaves off.
This ride was challenging, for sure, but I felt like the route was well chosen, the maps were close enough to accurate that we didn’t have much trouble finding our way. We stopped at a few intersections, consulted each other about which route was the “right” route. There was no back-tracking, except for the time when Jrdn took us up the massive hill that he wanted to climb, the one that came to a dead end. But that was all in fun, and we’re still thanking him for that.
Donnie of Velodirt really did his homework when putting together this ride. The days where water was scarce were well noted on the cue sheet, and as a group we made sure to come prepared with plenty of water carrying capacity, and filtration systems. Whenever we came across a stream and knew that it might be our only source for some miles to come, we loaded up. And for food, each of us carried enough to feed ourselves for several days, and resupplied when the opportunity presented itself. We didn’t pack light. We had tools and patches and spare tubes, extra fasteners, first aid and gorilla tape, bug repellant and some whiskey. We didn’t have to use a lot of the extra things we brought, but what we did need we were glad we had. I don’t think this was a very good bike tour for someone with no experience — not a good learning trip because the stakes were too high, and there was not really any good way to bail out of you lacked something crucial. But, if prepared, and prepared to rough it, there’s no better way to tour than away from traffic.
As for the four Ahearne bikes on this trip, there were no complaints. We were all grateful for the fat, knobby 650b tires, for the inherent flex of steel to help take up the road shock, and the carrying capabilities these bikes offer. The handling on fast gravel descents was confident and sure, at least as much as fast gravel descents allow. They climbed well, and took the abuse of being fully loaded over days of bumps, dirt, pumice sand and stream crossings. There were no mechanical issues, and each person said they were really pleased with the overall ride of their bike. Better yet, this bike has been officially named. From here on out it’s going to be called the Outback. The off road touring bike. I’ll talk more about the bike soon.
The Outback Machines
There’s London, and then there’s Berlin. It’s the nature of travel that you find your own story wherever you go. You arrive, you breathe, maybe the air smells different. You walk around, eat the food, see the streets, the way the history pours out of the cracks and the way the people walk right over it, like it’s a stage and they’re in the play, right where they’re supposed to be. Your eyes, hopefully, are open, seeing everything for the first time. It doesn’t really matter what you do, this unfamiliar environment is going to be the backdrop through which you are forced to see yourself in a new way, beyond your habits. That’s travel, yes?
I went to London to attend the Bespoke Handmade Bicycle Show. Most of the attendee’s booths were in the center of a bank-walled cycle track at the Olympic Velodrome. People rode the track around us throughout the entirety of the show. It’s cool because people use the velodrome kind of the way we use a public pool for swimming laps. You go, take a class to certify that you are aware of the safety issues of track riding, and then you are able to come to the track during open hours and ride until your legs are on fire and your lungs are exploding in your chest. If that’s what you want to do.
The show was well attended, for sure. I took a couple of time lapse videos that show the surge of people during the peak times. The show was spread over three days from a Friday. By the afternoon of each day, as my voice started to give out from having spent the day talking over the heightened decibels from the crowd buzz, I could see in people’s eyes a spiraling glaze forming. The number of pretty bikes one person can look at in a day depends upon that person’s constitution. I’d give most averagely bike hungry individuals 2.5 hours of relatively continuous active interest before cogs, stays, tubes, angles, features and head badges begin to vibrate and swirly in an exhausted mesmeric pull toward somnambulism.
Why I liked this show: New people, new friends. Bicycle building is really taking off in the UK, and, I think, in Europe in general. People are looking at the U.S., and how the market has grown, and are very excited about this sort of re-birth of the hand made bicycle industry. England has, I think, a lot of similar issues as the U.S. in regards to its society becoming more oriented toward the service industry, and is losing (or has already lost) much of its manufacturing to overseas interests. Consequently, people aren’t being taught to use tools, how to work with their hands. But, as in America, there are a lot of people who find a great deal of satisfaction in taking raw materials and making them into functional, useful things. Now that there has been this sort of re-introduction of bicycle craft, the general hunger for it is there, and it’s taking off fast and furious.
I found it interesting talking with builders from the UK about how, forty or so years ago, people from here in the U.S. who wanted to make custom bicycles had to travel to the UK to find a builder to learn from. But then something happened, and the custom bicycle scene in Britain died nearly completely, or went mostly underground, so that only those who were paying the closest attention even knew what a custom bicycle was. In that time, some of the grumpy old guys here in the states (I say this lovingly) learned and perfected their craft. But it wasn’t until the mid to late nineties, and more-so shortly after the millennium, that the “new breed” of bike builders started to take up the torch, so to speak. This is the generation of builders with whom I’m associated. This was also the beginning of the real splash of popularity in the world of custom bikes. You could point to bike shows and the internet, both working like giant marketing campaigns. And then there was the United Bicycle Institute and a handful of private teachers who showed that you, too, could learn to build your own bicycle. I theorize that at least some of the popular desire to learn to build bicycles was a result and repercussion of the general societal trend toward desk jobs with lots of screen time. Not everyone is satisfied being sedentary and cerebral, and yet, unless you carve your own way and are looking specifically at learning a trade, children and young adults are not getting the opportunity to discover if turning a wrench would even be interesting to them. Somewhere along the way getting your hands dirty lost some of its respectability. People wanted to be managers, and they expected that their children ought to be managers, and so shop classes and home-ec classes (and so on) lost funding and support.
But wait, how did we get here? I was talking about a bike show.
Ryan from Oak Cycles is one of the UK builders whose business is there in London. His workshop was about a six minute cycle from the velodrome, about the closest of anyone’s to the venue. I think he said he’s been building for about four or five years now, and he makes some very cool bikes. One of his recent projects is a long-john style cargo bike. One thing I noticed in London was that there weren’t too many cargo bikes on the roads. I saw a couple of Bakfeits, and a Christiana box trike, and maybe a Bullit. Ryan said that cargo bikes hadn’t really caught on yet. Momentum was beginning to build, but they were still some years out.
As far as the build went, I think Ryan pretty much nailed it. And, when I asked him about it, one of the first things he discussed was the things that he did differently on this bike from the last, and the things he will do differently on the next one. That, in my opinion, is the sign of a good builder — always looking for ways to improve. Especially when building bikes that are somewhere outside of the traditional two-wheels, two-triangles, it’s like a puzzle that can go together in so many different ways, some of which function better than others. The only way to learn is to build it, ride it, revise your ideas and build it again. There’s no such thing as perfection, but you’re always trying to get a little closer to it.
Ryan’s wife, Nik, was at the show as well. She is a mechanic, and works at a bike shop and cafe called Look Mum No Hands on Old Street. Nik’s a fiery Irish woman with long red hair and a broad smile. She’s quick to laugh and loves bikes as much as anyone, probably more than most. She and Ryan make a pretty good team, and are constantly scheming where they’re going to go on their next bike tour. They live on a house boat on the canals of London. I didn’t know this, but there is a whole culture of people living on their boats. Canals run all throughout London, and out into the countryside. You can go just about anywhere. It’s pretty cool because they can move to various parts of the city depending on what’s going on in their lives on any given day. They’ll tie up near Ryan’s shop for a while, and then move closer to Nik’s work, and maybe go a little further out if they’re looking for some peace and quiet. Between the boat and their bicycles, they’ve got a fairly mobile life. The boats that people live on are all of a certain style, long and narrow. It’s a lot like living in a compact mobile home. There’s a kitchen, a bedroom and a shower, and the small living/dining room area of Ryan & Nik’s boat even had a little wood burning stove. Very cozy.
Nik and Ryan were incredibly generous and helpful with my bikes (which I’ll get more into in a moment). They made dinner for me on the boat the last night I was there, a delicious vegetable and rice curry, and then delivered me to where I needed to catch a bus back to my flat. Over dinner Ryan and I geeked-out on bike stuff and talked about the business of bike building. The bike building business is similar in many ways to that of any craftsperson, or musician, painter or sculptor, writer, and many of the arts. The end result is different, of course, but the business functions in a similar way for all of these, and demands of the artist or craftsperson a similar sort of attention. We’re all trying to learn how to survive doing what we love to do, and we’re all trying to learn how to do what we love to do in a way that won’t ultimately make us hate what we do. If you come to hate what you love to do, the organism dies, and some piece of you goes with it. Then you’re fucked and you get a job and you adapt to something else and never stop wondering if you had tried this or done that or not given up when you did, would it (ie: the business) have succeeded. And maybe this wakes you up at night and you mentally spar for restless hours and fall back asleep, dream of being trapped on a crowded bus without any pants on, not sure if the bus is the right one to take you where you need to go, and you're too embarrassed to ask. You hide at the back, just hoping that all the people will get off the bus so you can figure it out, and they never do. You wake up sweaty and parched and feel like shit but go to your job because that's your new agreement with life, and from work maybe you go to the bar, the movies, home to sit in front of the television. Every two weeks you get paid enough to drink, eat and sleep your way through the next two weeks, and this goes on for years, the same pant-less dream haunting you, shriveling into oblivion. (?)
Ryan likes to build bikes, but, he says, he hates being a salesman for his products. He doesn’t really like to call his bikes “products.” They’re not products, he thinks, they’re bikes. There’s some personal attachment there, which is understandable. Translating this attachment into business-speak (products!) takes some internal reevaluation. I wonder how many bikes one has to build and sell before the semantic transformation happens. That’s what it is, really: Semantics. I wonder how long one has to live on a barely living budget before one’s moral perceptions or personal ethics (again, semantics) evolves into something different? What we’re doing, in the end, is making a product and selling that product so that we can live. It’s hard, though, when the product we’re making is conceived of and built out of love, a desire to create, the hope to make the world a bit better place in which to live. How not to be attached to this? How does the writer write the story and put it out in the world and not feel some sense of attachment to it? There are many parallels to having a child, each bike a baby, each painting, each song from the musician. As the parent, you want the best for it, but in the end, when a bike or book goes out into the world, the one who created it has to let it go. And, in strict marketplace terms, we’re doing a job in hopes of getting paid. Thus, at the end of the day, whatever you’re making, no matter how much love and creativity are involved, if you’re making it for money, it’s a product. Sell it and watch it go out the door.
Or maybe all these words are clear evidence that I’ve sold my soul.
Lucky for Ryan, he’s got the ever-practical Nik to work the sales for him. And, as it turns out, it’s lucky for me, too. At the bike show I had a fair bit of interest in my bikes. There were a couple of people whom I thought were seriously considering taking one home with them. But in the end, neither the road bike frame set, nor the stainless steel touring bike sold. On the last day of the show, Nik came to me with an offer. Look Mum No Hands is on a street in London with a lot of foot traffic, and they have a huge front window in which they are happy to display beautiful bicycles, the more interesting the better. If ever a bike could be called “interesting,” I believe the stainless touring bike might likely qualify. Nik talked with the owner of her shop, who agreed to put this bike on display. So, if you find yourself in London, and want to visit a very cool bike shop that happens to be attached to a cafe that serves delicious food, go to Look Mum No Hands. The stainless steel touring bike will be in the front window, and yes, it is for sale. I’ll be posting a detailed description of the bike, with it’s dimensions and features, in the near future.
The road bike frame set that I showed at the Bespoke Show is also for sale. I brought this one back with me to the states. It’s available as a frame set (with rack, stem, brakes, pump and fenders), or we can help set it up as a complete bike, if that’s what you’d like. Details about this bike will also be posted on the website soon.
This is the end of the first part of my trip. Next stop: Berlin.
People I pass always double-take when I've got something large on the front of my Cycle Truck. People often point, and laugh, or nod their heads. I like the head-nodders because I think they're saying to themselves, "That makes sense. I want to do that!"
If I didn't have this bike, I'd have to drive the half mile to the shipping office, or I wouldn't be able to carry my chop saw home to work on the house. I've ridden people on the front, to take them or pick them up from the train. I even had to deliver my shop mate, Chris Igleheart, to the hospital after he was hit by a car. Cycle Truck as gurney. Fortunately, he's back in action now.
Countless times, countless uses, it's so liberating not to have to drive.
The holidays have come and gone. There was a lot of work to do, so I spent a good portion of the Frenetic Season of Shopping at the workshop, away from it all. I'm not even sure how it feels yet, to be in 2014. It's kind of like putting on a new shirt. It may look different, but it feels about the same.
I’ve got a busy few months ahead of me. This coming Monday the 6th I begin teaching a brazing class at UBI. And I'll be teaching another class in March. Between now and then I have several bikes on the build list.
One bike in particular that I need to build will be going with me to the Bespoked Bicycle Show in London. I recently bought a plane ticket to England for the show, which is from April 11 - 14.
The Bespoked Show was in Bristol the past couple of years, but because of the increasing number of builders showing their wares, and because of the increased attendance, they've had to change venues. It sounds like the popularity of hand made bicycles, and the number of builders, is really starting to take off in the UK, and in Europe in general. That’s awesome, especially since that’s where the tradition and roots of the hand made bicycle craft really began.
This years' show will be in London, at the Lee Valley Velodrome, which is where the 2012 Olympic track racing was held. I guess we’ll be showing on the floor down in the center of the track. Pretty cool. I'm very excited to go and be a part of it.
Another noteworthy subject is the bike that I’m working on right now. It’s so very close to being finished, and I’m excited about it, which maybe isn’t anything new. I get excited about most things that I build. But this one has really got me going. It’s an off road 650b bike, for touring. It’s not a new subject, but it’s a cool bike, nonetheless. Like a lot of bikes I make, I take a bunch of classic elements and put them together with my own spin and interpretation on the design. I’ll get some photos up in the next little while.
Alright, that’s it for now. I hope you all had a perfect holiday.
Happy New Year!
This bike has gotten a lot of attention so far in its short life. People seem to like shiny things, and this one does indeed shine. Beyond being blindingly bright, there are so many details that I figured I ought to lay it out for those who might be interested. The bike is mostly finished. There are a couple more bags that need to be made, and a decaleur that will mount off the stem -- in this sense it is still a work in progress. So, here's the low-down:
The bike has 26" wheels (international standard -- this is a touring bike, after all), disc brakes, a connectorless front generator hub made by Schmidt. That means that there is no plug to worry about when changing a flat tire. The wire runs from the inner face of the dropout directly into the fork leg. The front and rear lights are powered off the hub, and the wiring is all internal.
The frame is a breakaway style, with a coupler on the down tube, and a breakaway point on the seat tube. The seat post is integral to the structure of this system, which is brilliant and simple (No, I didn't invent this. Neither did Tom Ritchey -- it came from way further back than even his design). The seat stays come in below the seat tube breaking point, and the rear rack stays attach higher up on the seat tube, where seat stays would normally be. This gives the bike the appearance of having a traditional rear triangle, and serves to support the rear rack.
The front rack has an upper deck that can be used intependantly of the low riders, which are detachable. The rack supports the fender and the front light. The rear rack has an integrated u-lock holder. Notice the leather sleeve on the lock shackle. This was made by Dirt Jr., right here in Portland. I plan to put these up for sale on my website soon. They look so much nicer than what comes with the lock. We're working on a vegan option as well.
The frame uses traditional tubing dimensions (1" top tube; 1 1/8" down & seat tubes), and has a straight truss, or second, top tube. This supports the head tube and seat tube, stabilizing the ride for weight bearing, particularly when the bike is fully loaded with bags. The space between the two top tubes was an ideal place to add storage, and the frame bag was custom made by Black Star Bags here in Portland. There's enough capacity in this bag to carry a couple of tubes, maybe even a folding tire, tire levers, patches, a multi-tool, energy bars, phone, etc.
The down tube logo is also stainless steel, laser cut and brazed on. It took three of us to keep it set while brazing. Next time, I need to video record the process. I left the panel around the logo exactly as it looks right after brazing, without polish. That gives it the burnt, dirty look, which really stands out nicely.
Part of the reason I built this bike was because I hadn't yet seen a really utilitarian bicycle made from stainless steel. Stainless is expensive, and the amount of time and labor required to bring it to a mirror finish was ridiculous, but the final product is so striking that I believe it was worth it. I hope you agree. I would like to see the same style bicycle, or something worthy of commuting, made from stainless steel and with a brushed finish.
Another reason I built this bike was because I was invited by the Portland Art Museum to display a couple of bicycles along with the Cyclepedia exhibit this past summer, 2013. It was an honor to be invited, and I wanted to make something that I believed was worthy of being shown in such a prestigeous museum.
Here above is the photo series from my flickr site. There are a few repeats, but I chose to use them all, because each of them looks so good. Photo credit goes to Anthony Bareno. He took all these in the studio at Velo Cult. He said it was the most difficult bike he's ever shot. Too many reflections. If only there were some way to photograph this bike in the dark! Please check back in the future to get a full ride report.
This coming weekend, the 28th and 29th of September, is the Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show, put on by the OBCA. If you can make it out, it's at Sandbox Studios. Come show your support for local builders, both new builders and those well established.
Bradley's bike is a single speed, disc brake, "monster cross" bike. He runs it with a flat bar, and rips it up in Forest Park. Check out the unique seat stay configuration.
As Bradley puts it, "the bike shreds some serious gnar."