Complete Guide To Buying a New Bicycle

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If you’re in the market for a new bike, the available choices can be quite bewildering. This is especially true if you’re new to biking or have not bought a bike in a long time. The new widely available bike categories are proliferating so fast, we’re running out of ideas for what to call them: Hybrid? City? Urban? Asphalt? Cross? Gravel? Adventure? Whatever you call them, most contemporary bikes offer off-the-shelf utility and a versatile range at a reasonable price.

But the question "what is the best bike?" is still best answered by "it's the one that's best for you." Therefore, this guide is less about giving you advice on which type of bike to buy, and more about arming you with information so that you can make the best choice for you.

What this guide is NOT

This guide is not going to help you if you’re looking for a highly specialized bike to use for any kind of racing, competition or endurance event. Rather it is a no-nonsense compilation of our many years’ experience of helping customers find the right bike for their needs. We hope it will help you too find a lifestyle bike that you may want to use around Chicago for transportation, recreation, adventures or riding with your family.

Should you buy a new bike?

Bicycles are quite durable, so if you already own a bike, you may be trying to decide if you should really be getting a new one, or if it makes sense to keep the old one going a little longer. We have these conversations with customers all the time, and we’ve compiled the salient points into this summary:

Fix the Old or Buy the New?

Lifestyle and use considerations

Try to anticipate where and how often you will be using your bike. Think about how the bike will be used. Some questions that may help you along:

  • Will it be a dedicated urban bike, or will it double your vacation or adventure companion? If it’s a bike that has to serve multiple uses, you probably want something more versatile than a single-speed.

  • Will you ride strictly on pavement, or on unpaved trails as well? Choose a bike with tires that are suitable for a variety of surfaces.

  • Will you wear a skirt or carry children? You may consider a step-though frame that won’t force you do swing your leg over the bike to get on and off.

  • Do you plan to ride in inclement weather, or need to wear professional clothes? Consider a bike with internal gears, a chainguard, and fenders.

  • Will you have to store your bike in a small space or carry it up the stairs? Will you be combining biking with public transit? A folding bike can work very well in these situations.

Types of Bikes

Below we highlight various types of popular bikes with some insight into their best intended use. But don’t get too bogged down with bike categories. These days there is a lot of crossover between different types of bikes, and —with few exceptions— most bikes adapt very well to a variety of uses. Don't be too concerned about the brand either. Within a given price range, most manufacturers of mainstream lifestyle bikes offer comparable value, as far as the quality of the frame and components (This may not apply to specialty manufacturers of higher level, and custom bikes, but that’s not what this guide is about.)

Comfort & Fit

We’ve put together a common sense Guide to Bicycle Fit to help you understand what to look for when test-riding new bikes, and request modifications on a bike you may want to purchase.

How much will it cost?

In an era when most of our purchases are either completely disposable, or expected to become obsolete after a season of use, a quality bicycle is remarkable for its longevity. We’ve talked a lot about the relationship between bicycle price and bicycle value, and we hope these articles will give you some perspective on bike pricing, and how much you should reasonably expect to spend on a bicycle you may enjoy for decades to come.

Deciding to buy

We believe that a successful bicycle purchase is not the end, but the beginning of a relationship.

Complete Guide To Bicycle Maintenance

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There’s something solid and reassuring about the phrase “bicycle maintenance”. It maybe because, unlike most things in our increasingly digital world, bicycles remain stubbornly analog. You don’t need an engineering degree; with a little time, effort and learning, almost anyone can learn to do basic care on their bicycle regularly and well.

And then, there are a few things that are better left to a pro, with the right tools, know-how, and time to do the job well.

We’ve compiled this handy guide to help you keep track of timely maintenance tasks, get the most out of bringing your bike to a shop for repairs, and show you some simple yet vital repairs you can do at home to keep your bike running smoothly throughout the year.

Timing of recommended bicycle maintenance services:
Articles in this section will help you determine the timeframe for different types of regular bike maintenance services. Keep in mind that these are suggested intervals based on the average rider. If you’re a daily commuter, or use your bike heavily for other reasons, you’ll need to adjust the frequency or repairs to match your needs.

Hire a Pro
There are situations when it’s best to put yourself and your bike in the hands of a competent mechanic. Below are descriptions of certain services commonly requested (but often misunderstood), and suggestions for finding an great mechanic you can trust.

DIY
Here is an outline of basic bike maintenance you can do on your own to address common issues that can come up regularly, and to help you determine when it might be time to bring your bike into the shop for repairs.

5 Questions You Must Ask Before Getting a Bicycle Tune-Up

Most conversations about bicycle tune-up start with: “How much does it cost”? While this seems like a valid question, it’s actually completely meaningless until you’ve established what is included in the cost. And that’s difficult to do, because there’s no standardization whatsoever in tune-up offerings among different bicycle repair shops.

This may be a good place to emphasize that, though some still consider a bicycle to be essentially a “toy”, it is in fact a vehicle capable of carrying you with considerable speed. Therefore, it is crucial for your safety that all of its systems are working properly, can hold up to the forces they will be subjected to, and that the whole thing can stop securely, dependably and safely.

A $150 tune-up turns a beloved old bike into a dependable vehicle.

A $150 tune-up turns a beloved old bike into a dependable vehicle.

A $300 overhaul breathes new life into a commuter bike.

A $300 overhaul breathes new life into a commuter bike.

A $700 service before a 5000 mile trek through SE Asia.

A $700 service before a 5000 mile trek through SE Asia.

A $1600 restoration of a prized vintage Schwinn.

A $1600 restoration of a prized vintage Schwinn.

So before you consider the price tag of the bicycle tune-up, here are some questions you should be asking:

  1. What is included in the bicycle tune-up?
    It can be shocking to hear that a bike tune-up costs upwards of $150, especially if someone down the street is offering it for $29.99. But what one shop may call an “$29.99 Tune-Up” to get you in the door, another shop may literally offer for free as a complimentary “Air & Oil Service”. Shops may offer different tiers of tune-ups, so when you’re comparison-shopping, make sure you’re comparing services that are really comparable. At Cosmic Bikes, our tune-up prices range from $80 to $220 (here’s a link to the full menu). The specific tune-up we recommend is not based on personal preference (ours or yours), but rather dictated by the condition of the bike when it is brought to us for service. For instance, our Basic Tune-Up may not adequately address the needs of a bike that’s been ridden extensively, left outdoors, or neglected for several seasons, and offering anything other than the top-level service will not result in a safely operating vehicle, or your satisfaction.

  2. Will I know the complete cost of the repair in advance?
    Tune-up prices usually reflect only the cost of the labor. More often than not, doing a tune-up requires replacing worn or damaged parts, and these can easily add up to as much, or even more, than the tune-up labor itself. A professional bicycle repair shop should be able to provide you with a complete itemized quote based on a physical inspection of your bike before you authorize any repairs.
    If the quote exceeds your budget or expectations, it may be possible to scale back from the optimal level or service. However, keep in mind that bicycle parts work together in concert, and holding off on replacing certain parts may affect the performance of others. For example, replacing a worn chain without replacing the gear cluster may result in gears skipping; adjusting rim brakes is impossible without truing the wheels, etc.
    Of course, there are always unforeseen circumstances, or problems that emerge only after the mechanic has gotten into a project. In such cases, you should expect to be notified of any additional charges needed to complete the repair.

  3. What can I expect after the tune-up is completed?
    If you agreed to a level of service appropriate to the condition of your bicycle, you should expect it to function like new, or better. You should also expect to need some additional adjustments after a comprehensive tune-up, especially if many parts have been replaced. Any full-service tune-up should include a guarantee period during which such corrections or adjustments related to the original service can be performed free of charge.

  4. Can the repair be tailored to my specific needs?
    A tune-up can be a terrific opportunity to upgrade components on your bike, or to modify its fit or functionality to your current needs. For example, at Cosmic Bikes, our tune-ups include the labor on installation of a broad range of accessories (eg. racks, fenders, cycle computers, etc) or components to improve your comfort on a bike (eg. saddles, handlebars and grips). A mechanic should ask whether the bike is serving your current needs and comfort requirements. Attending to these modifications during a tune-up can save you very significant labor dollars.

  5. What is the level of experience of the person who’ll be repairing my bike?
    At Cosmic Bikes, we do not hire home mechanics without extensive training first in bicycle assembly, and then less complex repairs, before graduating them to complete tune-ups. While anyone can grasp the basics of bicycle repair, true expertise in this field, as in any highly specialized trade, comes only through years of work and hands-on experience. An experienced professional bicycle technician should be able to hear your concerns, recommend the most complete solution based on the consultation with you, and the physical inspection of the bike, and then perform the work with expertise and attention to detail. Whether the person performing the service is an experienced veteran or a properly trained younger mechanic, the completed repair should be double checked by a second mechanic, and signed off by a senior mechanic who oversees the service department.

Shop Talk Workshops

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Shop Talk is an informal monthly series hosted by Cosmic Bikes at our NW Side Chicago location, during which we’ll go into a selected topic at some depth in a relaxed, social atmosphere. It’s a great way to hang out with other people who share your interests, or want to learn about certain aspects of biking, in a laid-back setting, where the aim is to share information and not sell you stuff.

Below is a preliminary schedule of Shop Talk topics for the year, although many details are yet to be ironed out. Shop Talk will usually take place on the first or second Friday of the month, except May, when we’re pulling out all the stops. May is our aniversary month (we’ll be 3 this year!!), and we will do a Shop Talk EVERY WEEK.

Shop Talks will be held on Fridays from 6pm to 8:30pm. Light noshes and beverages will be on hand, but please feel free to BYOB.

So, here’s what we have planned:

  • March 8: WOMEN’S CYCLING WORKSHOP., in which a panel of women cyclists will lead a discussion on a variety of issues such as bike fit, safety, motivation, training and more. Details and FREE registration here.

  • April 5: CRAFT BUILDS: SETTING UP A BIKE FROM THE FRAME UP, in which we’ll explore the intricacies of a personalized bike build.

  • May SHOP TALK BONANZA

    • May 3: BICYCLE FIT & SELECTION

    • May 10: GETTING STARTED WITH URBAN BIKE COMMUTING

    • May 17: TOOLS—SETTING UP YOUR HOME REPAIR STAND OR TOOL BAG

    • May 24: LIVE LARGE PACK SMALL—ALL ABOUT BROMPTONS AND COMPACT ADVENTURES

    • May 31: BIKE TOURING ESSENTIALS

  • June 7: LOCAL BIKING ADVENTURES

  • July 5: OUTDOOR COOKING & EQUIPMENT (outdoor cookout included!!)

  • August 9: LAZY SUMMER MOVIE & BEER

  • September 13: BIKE SECURITY

  • October 10: TRANSITIONING TO AN INDOOR TRAINER

  • November 8: WINTER BIKING

  • December 13: SPECIAL GUEST TBA

We’re looking forward to these evening, and hope you will come out and join us. And if you have ideas about topics, or questions you’d like to see answered, please let us know.

Essential Brompton Buying Guide

A Brompton folding bike is one of the most amazing personal transportation tools ever invented. It’s equally useful in your daily multi-modal commute in Chicago, or any large city, international air travel, and even self-supported, pedal-powered globetrotting.

Although the folding mechanism of each Brompton is identical, the bikes are fully customizable and highly adaptable to a variety of applications, and are designed to integrate seamlessly with diverse lifestyles. You can personalize everything on a Brompton from handlebars, gearing, cargo carrying, lighting, tires, to colors, accessories and extras. Best of all, these options —like the bikes themselves— are well and thoughtfully designed to complement your Brompton experience.

However, it can be a little overwhelming to make sense of all the choices. Our staff at Cosmic Bikes have many years’ experience helping customers build and modify their Brompton bikes, and we’ve put together what we think is a pretty comprehensive guide to help you make the right selection. Above all, we encourage you to stop in and test-ride one of our demo models for first-hand experience. We think you’ll be hooked!

Cosmic Bikes Essential Brompton Buying Guide

NEED A REASON?

NEED A REASON?

SADDLES, TIRES & LIGHTING

SADDLES, TIRES & LIGHTING

HANDLEBARS

HANDLEBARS

COLORS & LUGGAGE

COLORS & LUGGAGE

GEARING OPTIONS

GEARING OPTIONS

COMING SOON!

COMING SOON!

FENDERS & RACK

FENDERS & RACK

COMING SOON!

COMING SOON!

Making the Brompton Your Own: Colors, Luggage & Extras

You’ve chosen your Brompton essentials for optimum functioning and fit. Now comes the fun part.

Colors

For many people, color selection is the most delightful (and frustrating!) aspect of building a custom Brompton. So many choices!

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Each year, Brompton offers a few premium finishes. The ever-popular trademark Raw Lacquer is a clear-coat over the metal frame, which shows off the the quality and craftsmanship of the hand-built frame. Each bike made with the Raw Lacquer finish has a unique appearance due to variations in the surface coloration of the metalwork and brazing. It doesn’t aim to look “flawless”, aiming instead for a more industrial finish. The Lacquer finish uses the same powder coating process as the other frame color options (with the plastic powder having no pigment), and it gives identical durability and protection from corrosion. The steel frame parts on all Brompton bicycles will age and a patina will form over time; the purpose of the raw lacquer finish is to allow the natural aging and altering of the bicycles appearance to be visible, and this will happen differently for every example. The phosphate treatment the Brompton steel undergoes prevents any cosmetic corrosion from becoming structural. For 2019, Brompton has added two gorgeous premium color options: Flame Lacquer, which is a clear-coat with a vivid, glossy copper tone, and Purple Metallic with a three-dimensional effect which seems to shift between purple, blue and even greenish hues depending on the light.

Several powder-coat colors are included as standard options without an additional charge. For 2019, these are Papyrus White, Hot Pink, Red, Racing Green, Lime Green, Lagoon Blue, Tempest Blue and Black. To make choosing even more fun, the standard colors can be combined for a two-tone effect. You can select one standard color for the main frame of the bike, and a contrasting or complementary color for the extremities (rear triangle, fork and steering column). If you are purchasing a Superlight Brompton, you will choose a single color for the main frame and steering column, with titanium extremities.

Luggage

Brompton Carrier Block with trigger release

Brompton Carrier Block with trigger release

On a Brompton, the preferred way to carry luggage is up front. All of the bikes we stock come with the optional front carrier block attached to the head tube. This carrier block can be added to any Brompton. It will allow you to carry any of the Brompton bags, and to switch easily between them, literally with a push of a button. You can choose from a wide selection of bags depending on your needs:

  • Smaller bags: waterproof Mini O-Bag, Tote Bag, Shoulder Bag, and adjustable Roll-Top Bag. These are excellent options for carrying light-weight essentials.

  • Office bags: waterproof O-Bag, S-bag with replaceable front flap, and C-Bag (not suitable for S-type handlebar). These briefcase-style bags have laptop sleeves and interior organizers, and are large enough to accommodate files, spare clothing, lunch, etc. They also come with exterior pockets that face the rider for easy access to a water bottle and other essential items.

  • The T-Bag stands alone as the largest bag that can be used for touring or carrying bigger loads. It has an adjustable roll-top closure, and those same rear-facing exterior pockets (not suitable for S-type handlebar).

  • Brompton basket is an open-top cordura bag designed for grocery shopping.

Note that the bags are mounted to the frame of the bike rather than the steering column, therefore the don’t affect the steering or balance of the bike on turns. Many of the non-waterproof bags include a high-visibility rain cover tucked into a concealed pocket.

All the bags are attractive and well-designed, and function equally well on and off the bike as lifestyle bags. With the exception of the Ortlieb-made O-bags, the Brompton bags include a removable aluminum frame, which allows each bag to attach to the mounting block and gives the bag rigidity. Although removing the frame with each use may not be practical, it is a nice option if you ever plan to use the bag off the bike for an extended period, and prefer a soft-sided shoulder bag. The bag frames come in a few sizes, and may be purchased separately. We find that some customers use that option to create their own luggage by incorporating the frame into duffels, crates or even pet carriers.

Fine-Tuning Your Custom Brompton: Saddle, Tires & Lighting

After you’ve chosen you preferred handlebar, gearing and rack/fender options, there are more decisions to be made:

  • Select your saddle and seat post height and saddle for best fit and comfort

  • Choose tires and lighting for the desired performance and functionality

SADDLE

Few things are as personal as the choice of saddle on a bicycle. Brompton offers a choice of two widths on their standard saddle: 147mm and 167mm. The wider option will work well for both men and women with the H-hadlebar option, where most of the rider’s weight is distributed to the sit-bones. Women in general may find a more favorable fit with the wider saddle, although many men do as well. With the S-handlebar, most men would likely find the narrower saddle more appropriate.

Fortunately, Brompton offers an upgrade to the Brooks B17 Special saddle, which is a gorgeous piece of craftsmanship in Antique Brown leather with copper finished rails and rivets. The same saddle is offered in men’s and women’s version, and it will conform to your unique contours with use over time, just like a pair of leather boots. It is a worthwhile and highly recommended upgrade.

A Brompton will also easily accept any other saddle you may have in mind.

Seatpost height

  1. Standard seat post will suit riders with an inseam up to 32-33”.

  2. Extended seat post is two inches longer and will accommodate inseams from 33-35”. However, the the folded configuration, this seat post will protrude two inches beyond the frame. This is fine for daily commuting and storing the bike, but it does not work well for packing the Brompton in a travel case. If you require that functionality, and have a long inseam, choose the next option.

  3. Telescopic seat post will also accommodate inseams up to 35”, but this $60 upgrade gives you the ability to completely collapse the telescoping seat post extension into the main tube of the seat post, making the bike as packable as the standard one.

Tires

Our preferred choice, and the one we order for all of our stock bikes, is the $35 Schwalbe Marathon upgrade for its time-tested durability and puncture resistance. Schwalbe Kojaks are a lightweight option that some Brompton owners prefer who are accustomed to more of a road-bike feel. The Kojaks are lighter and work well on superlight bikes if you want to save additional weight.

The standard used by Brompton in the Schwalbe Marathon Racer, which is a fine compromise, and does not add extra cost.

Although Brompton does not offer this option, we do stock Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tires at Cosmic Bikes for customers who intend to use the bike in all conditions throughout Chicago winter.

Lighting

You can purchase a Brompton with just a reflector set, and use lights you already own or purchase a set you like. Any light set will mount on a Brompton as on any other bike. However, you may find that you have to remove the lights or move them out of the way when the bike is being folded.

If you prefer more streamlined lights, Brompton offers two options:

  • A USB rechargeable battery set, consisting of a Cateye 400 lumen front LED headlight and a rear blinker. These differ from after-market lights in that they come with mounting brackets custom-made for the Brompton, and do not interfere with the folding functionality of the bike. They can easily be removed when not needed, and can be conveniently charged wherever you happen to be.

  • Integrated front and rear lights powered by Shutter Precision Dynamo Hub. This is a fantastic option for commuters, which eliminates the problem of forgetting your lights at home or running out of charge. The LED lamps go on when you start pedaling, and feature a small capacitor that allows the lights to stay on when you pull up to a red light, so that you are always visible on your Brompton.

Brompton Rack, Fenders and Rollers

After choosing your new Brompton’s handlebar and gearing, you will select the fender and/or rack option. Three versions are available:

  • Version E: no fenders or rack

  • Version L: fenders only

  • Version R: fenders and rear rack

    Note that there’s no option for getting a rack without fenders.

Normally, we think of fenders as protection from road splash, and a rack as a way to carry gear. However on a Brompton, these options have additional implications for storing and transporting the Brompton when it’s folded, that may not be obvious to someone who has not used the bike before. To make these implications more clear, we’ll go through the versions in reverse order.

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Each Brompton bike comes supplied with two firm rubber rollers attached just behind the point where the rear triangle releases from the frame. These give the bike stability when folded, and allow the bike to be rolled. How well the bike rolls depends on some additional factors.

Version R

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This configuration includes the front fender, and a rear carrying rack with the rear fender attached to it. In addition to providing extra carrying capacity, the rack is equipped with two more rollers, one on each of its outer corners. together with the two rollers attached to the frame, this becomes a stable platform on which the bike “sits” in the parking position. In the folded position with the handlebar up, the four rollers facilitate the towing of the bike, as you might do when walking through an airport concourse, for example.

Best uses: This version is great for users who need to walk with the bike regularly through train terminals and airports, or for use in grocery stores. The rack can of course be used to carry cargo, but any load must be removed prior to deploying the parking position or folding the bike. If you plan to use your Brompton on extended trips, where you’d benefit from additional cargo space, go for the rack. If you primarily use it for daily commuting, the front luggage tends to work better, and the rack is strictly optional.

Version L

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This setup has the same front fender as above, but in the absence of rear rack means that the rear fender is attached to the bike with slender steel struts. The top of the L-version rear fender sports a single small roller. When the bike is fully or partially folded, this third roller forms a triangle base with the existing frame rollers. This is stable enough for resting the bike, but because this third roller is small, and supported on a fender that has a little “give”, the rolling function is somewhat compromised in the L-version.

Best uses: All-weather commuting. You can save a little weight by forgoing the rack, but don’t skimp on the fenders. They’ll keep the bike, and your garments, cleaner.

Version E

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This is the most pared down configuration. Without either the rack or the rear fender, the bike has a slight tendency to tip when folded. It does not roll well on the two standard rollers attached to the frame.

Best uses: If you want the most light-weight option, and don’t require the rolling function, this is the way to go. If you’re getting a superlight Brompton, excluding these add-ons will definitely enhance the weight savings. This is a fine choice if you use the bike exclusively in dry weather.

switching

The three options are not easily interchangeable and at a minimum require additional hardware, or even complete new kits. For example, you can’t go from L to R simply be adding the rack. The R-version rear fender is different than the L, and must be purchased together id you are adding a rack. Conversions are possible, of course, but can be more involved and costly than you might think. Please check with us to help you determine what will be needed.

Rolling, rolling…

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The stock rollers included with the Brompton are OK, but if you find yourself wishing for smoother, more efficient rolling, you may want to upgrade to EZ Wheels. These are larger and slightly softer rubber wheels, sold in pairs, that will significantly improve your Brompton rolling experience.

Brompton Gearing Options

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While the choice of handlebar on a Brompton does not affect the price, the choice of gears does, and it’s the second most important option that will affect the user experience with your new Brompton.

Brompton bicycles are offered with 1, 2 3 or 6 speeds, and each option has its unique advantages and optimal applications.

One-Speed

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The single speed Brompton is the most affordable, lightest and least maintenance-intensive option available. It is geared similarly to a single-speed urban bike, so it is relatively easy to start from a dead stop, and capable of decent cruising speed with a reasonable pedaling cadence. The single speed lacks some versatility, and is ideally suited to relatively short trips over mostly flat terrain (and considerably less so to cross-country treks over diverse topography). However, because of its low-weight, compactness and lower assortment of moving parts, it’s also a wonderful companion for out-of-state and international travel, so you are never stranded without your own personal transport. Read more about what else is there to love about the single-speed Brompton.

Two-speed

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The two-speed drivetrain is comprised of a proprietary 2-speed derailleur which switches the chain between two cogs affixed to the rear hub, and is activated by a small left-hand shifter. This arrangement adds $80, a negligible amount of weight, and an easier gear that turns out to be very useful for going up bridges and overpasses, while retaining most of the simplicity you get with the single-speed. Brompton touts the two-speed configuration as being the most versatile option for urban commuting and multimodal travel, giving the rider a bit more versatility, while still keeping the weight of the bike low.

Three-speed

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The 3-speed option does add about 1.5lbs of weight and $140 over the cost of the single speed, but the venerable 3-speed Sturmey Archer hub is easy to operate and virtually bomb-proof. The Brompton Standard Gear Range (BSR) provides three evenly spaced gears, so you can climb hills, cruise in normal traffic or haul ass when you have a tailwind or when being chased by your neighbor’s dog.

Unlike derailleur gears, internal gears may be changed when you are at a stop, so if you forget to downshift at a stoplight, no prob — just push the shift lever down, and you’ll be good to go in gear 1 when the light turns green. I love, love, love the three-speed option for it’s versatility and simplicity, and I don’t mind the extra weight. However. I have found that on longer rides (exceeding 10-15 miles) I do miss the middle gear between the cruising one and the pushing one. It may be a small inconvenience if you take longer trips infrequently, but if you plan to do world tour on your 16” wheel steed, see below.

six-speed

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The 6-speed Brompton offers the ultimate in gearing versatility, and if you intend to take longer pedaling trips with your new folder, put away any thoughts about keeping it simple and light, and go for the full monty. Yes, it adds more money, yes, it adds more weight. Yes, the two shifters are somewhat more cumbersome and initially confusing (one will shift while you’re at a stop, the other will not). Yes, you have to think about what gear you’re in and actually look at the dang shifters. But at mile 34.3 you will be happy that you don’t have to constantly shift between your cruising gear and your pushing gear, and instead find yourself comfortably pedaling in the “+” version of one or the “-” version of the other.

The confusion over the 6-speed system may ease when you realize that the gears are not a linear arrangement of gears 1 through 6. Instead, the 6-speed system is a combination of the 2-speed and a 3-speed, resulting in two distinct sets of 3 gears. Your right hand operates the 3-speed internal hub, the left hand operated the 2-speed derailleur. In the “+” position, this shifter will allow the 3-speed hub to perform just as it does on the standard 3-speed Brompton. However, when you push the left-hand shifter into the “-” position, it brings the whole 3-speed system into a lower range, resulting in 3 lower gears that dovetail with the standard three. The effective range of all six gears is similar to the span of gears you get on a typical urban hybrid. It takes a little getting used to, but the versatility is well worth mastering the slightly steeper learning curve.

options

To make things a little more confusing, the 2, 3 and 6-speed Brompton drivetrains can be ordered with modified gearing (reduced or increased) to further customize the bike to your riding preferences. The reduced gearing options are appropriate for very hilly areas, or for riders who are less athletic, older or very petite. The increased gearing options may be appropriate for riders accustomed to pushing harder gears.

Most of our customers find that in Chicago’s flat topography standard gearing works just fine. A -12% reduction makes sense on 6-speeds, which feature Brompton Wide Range (BWR) Sturmey Archer hub on the rear wheel. The standard 6-speed comes with a 50-tooth chainring, while a reduced 6-speed comes with a 44-tooth chainring. Because of the wide gear range of the hub, the smaller chainring may give the average rider a more fully usable range of 6 gears, but it remains a matter of personal preference of the rider.

Fortunately, these modifications are accomplished by substituting different size front chainrings (in the case of the 3-speed, the rear sprocket may also be replaced), and are relatively simple to perform by a Brompton dealer after your bike purchase, should you happen to want to modify your gearing in the future.

Choosing the Brompton Handlebar

This is the first installment in our Brompton Buyers Guide, in which we will help you comb through all the different aspects of selecting a new Brompton, including handlebars, gearing, rack/fender option, frame materials, colors, luggage and other options and accessories.

The most visible variable on Brompton bicycles, and one that turns out to be the most significant for rider comfort, it the handlebar choice. It is no accident that the handlebar is the first item in the designation of various Brompton models. Four types of handlebar are offered:

  • S-type, the straight bar offering the lowest riding position

  • M-type, a medium rise bar, offering a moderately upright position

  • H-type, a rise bar with additional two inches of height at the bottom of the steering column, offering the most upright sitting position

  • P-bar, a butterfly-shaped bar, offering multiple hand rests and sitting positions

S-BAR (SPORTY POSITION)

S-BAR (SPORTY POSITION)

M-BAR (MIDDLE POSITION)

M-BAR (MIDDLE POSITION)

H-BAR (UPRIGHT POSITION)

H-BAR (UPRIGHT POSITION)

P-BAR (VARIABLE POSITION)

P-BAR (VARIABLE POSITION)

Because the Brompton handlebar cannot be height-adjusted, and retrofitting an existing bike with a new handlebar configuration is quite costly, it makes sense to give careful consideration to the choice of handlebar. Below, we’ll go over the options in a little more detail, and offer some insights from our long experience of helping customers dial in the perfect Brompton configuration.

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S-TYPE

The specifics: The S-bar itself is 55cm (21 1/2”) wide, and the complete S-bar steering column rises 40cm (15 3/4”) above the Brompton main frame. (The top of the frame at the point of contact with steering column is 55cm (21 1/2”) from the ground.)

The ride: the S-bar positions the rider in a moderately aggressive riding position, however the specific feel is of course dependent on rider proportions. Shorter riders will find the position similar to an urban hybrid bike, while taller riders may find it closer to a drop-bar road bike. In any case, the S-bar is somewhat more rigid in feel than the other Brompton handlebars, resulting in responsive and confident steering.

Recommendations: in our experience, we’ve found that customers tend to combine the S-bar with one- or two-speed gearing options. Indeed, these are the ingredients of ultimately simple, minimalist urban transportation machine. These riders prefer to keep the bike light and compact, and tend to use it for shorter distances, perhaps in combination with other forms of urban transit.

NOTE: Not all front bags are compatible with the S-bar, so it’s also important to take your gear-carrying requirements into consideration when choosing this option.

M-TYPE

The specifics: The M-bar is 53cm (20 3/4”) wide, with a 13cm (5 1/8”) rise, and the complete M-bar steering column rises 52cm (20 1/2”) above the Brompton main frame. (The top of the frame at the point of contact with steering column is 55cm (21 1/2”) from the ground.)

The ride: the M-bar position is similar to a hybrid bike with a slightly raised handlebar, with a significant percentage of body weight resting on the wrists. It’s a great option for urban cruising: upright enough for good traffic visibility, and assertive enough when you need to pick up some speed. The M-Bar can be tilted slightly toward the rider to reduce the degree of lean (Note: tilting the bar too much will stress the cables, and cause the handlebar to protrude away from the bike in the folded position, so any such adjustment needs to be done very judiciously).

Recommendations: Most of our Brompton customers select either the M or H bar, and it can be a difficult decision to make. We recommend testing the M-bar for an extended duration, if possible. If you find yourself wanting to rise up in the knuckles of your hand, you’re probably leaning too much, and may consider the H-bar.

H-TYPE

The specifics: The H-bar has the same dimensions as the M-bar, except that the complete H-bar steering column rises 57cm (22 1/2”) above the Brompton main frame, due to and additional 5cm (2”) rise below the handlebar hinge. (The top of the frame at the point of contact with steering column is 55cm (21 1/2”) from the ground.)

The ride: the H-bar position is quite upright, with most of the rider weight resting on the saddle. It’s very comfortable, but may feel somewhat awkward over longer distances for riders accustomed to a more athletic position. For riders shorter than 5’5” (but depending on proportions), the H-bar may be too extreme.

Recommendations: if you’re concerned about back pain, neck cramps or sore wrists, by all means go for the H-bar. You’ll be sitting very upright, but that alone is not likely to slow you down in any way. In fact, you may find yourself doing longer trips on your Brompton, since you won’t be distracted by any discomfort. Should you choose the H-bar, you may also wish to combine it with a slightly wider, more supportive saddle, since more of your weight will be on your sit bones. A Brooks saddle will do the trick, but remember that Bromptons will accept a wide variety of other saddles available on the market.

P-TYPE

The specifics: The P-bar is 51cm (20”) at the widest point, with the drop of about 20cm (7 3/4”) between the highest and lowest position. and the complete M-bar steering column rises 51cm (20”) above the Brompton main frame. (The top of the frame at the point of contact with steering column is 55cm (21 1/2”) from the ground.) It is approximately the equivalent of having the M-bar and the S-bar on the same bike.

The ride: this is by far the weirdest, but also the most comfortably versatile Brompton steering available. Any time your hands get fatigued, or you wish to shift your position, you have not only the top and bottom grips, but also a variety of places to rest your hands along the side curves of the bar. Note that brakes are only available on the top part of the bar, so that should be your default position in traffic, or any situations when you need quick access to brake levers. This is an excellent handlebar option if you’re planning to take longer excursions with your Brompton.

Recommendation: there is no reason not to go with the P-bar, other than its odd appearance. But you can get over that pretty quickly. If you don’t love the foam grips, you can add flair to your P-bar with Brooks leather tape, or any festive handlebar tape of your choice.

Final Thoughts

We’ve seen time and again that new Brompton owners constantly find new excuses to use their Bromptons more, and therefor the utility of the bike expands far beyond what they originally anticipated. Bromptons can, and are, ridden over great distances worldwide. We ourselves have taken our Bromptons on trips exceeding 50 miles per day. Therefore, our parting comments on the topic of handlebar selection is to go with one that you believe you can comfortably enjoy over many miles!

Roll Bicycles

When I first laid eyes on a Roll Bicycle several months ago, I could tell I was looking at something out of the ordinary. Clean design, simple lines, sensible set-up, gorgeous colors, minimal branding. Roll bikes are not about being louder, newer, edgier, trendier. They are all about you.

 
 

This does not mean that Roll Bicycles does not use the latest in component technology, but they use it less for it's own sake, or for the sake of outshouting the competition, and more to enhance the riding experience the end user prefers. Typically, to set up a custom bike, you’d have to spend several thousand dollars. Roll is not fully custom, but at a moderate price of $750, they nicely bridge the gap between a typical stock bike, and a full custom set-up.

Allow me to elaborate. For decades, the typical bicycle shopping experience looked the same. You walked into a bike shop, surveyed their in-stock offerings, and based on your budget, the results of your test-ride, and recommendations of the store personnel, you made your purchase from he selection they have on the floor. In some cases, if your size or preferred color was not in stock, the shop would order the bike for you from the vendor.

Then came the fun part. After your initial test-ride, or after having the bike for a few weeks, you’d decide you’d like to change certain things. Perhaps the handlebars were too low, too wide, or you wanted a different gearing range, or thinner (or fatter) tires, etc, etc. Your friendly neighborhood bike shop would work with you to swap out parts (sometimes at full retail, sometimes at a reduced cost) to make needed modifications.

Roll changes all that. As a retailer, we no longer have to guess which Roll bicycle the next customer is going to want. We stock enough to represent the sizes, available colors and most configurations. The rest is done by consultation, taking some key measurements, and ordering a bike in the right size, the color of your choice, with components appropriate to your style of riding, and scaled to fit your physique. No, you don’t get your bike the same day, but within 3-5 days you take delivery of a brand new bike made to your specifications, and assembled by us just for you.

We’re excited about our partnership with Roll, and this new, consultation-based selling model, which eliminates much of the stabbing in the dark for us. We’ve been selling bicycles for a long time, and we have found that, even with bike companies organized along a more traditional selling model, this collaborative approach makes for a better, more fulfilling experience for both us and the customers, and results in a more satisfying experience with the bike in the real world. Roll just makes that process easier.

We brought in the initial shipment of Roll floor model samples. Please stop in, take a look at them and let us know what you think!

Bike Shop Day

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Have you heard of Bike Shop Day?

We didn’t think so. Hardly a Hallmark holiday, Bike Shop Day was inaugurated in 2017 by a forward thinking independent bicycle store owner in Brooklyn. Joe Nocella and the staff of 718 Cyclery came up with the idea of setting aside a day to celebrate the unique culture of a local bicycle store and its connection to the local community. He’s invited other independent bikes shops around the country (and around the world) to join, and we thought this was an amazing idea, so we jumped on.

The theme for this year’s celebration is inclusiveness, and all participating shops and vendors were asked to submit a brief proposal for welcoming people who are underrepresented in the cycling industry. This was right up our alley here at Cosmic Bikes, because for us inclusion is not just an event. It's an underlying philosophy of the way we run our business. What we do day in and day out is aim to invite, not intimidate the beginner, listen, not preach to the curious, and salute, not marginalize the commuter. We meet each visitor to our shop where they are, without pre-judgment, and, to the best of our ability, we offer products and services that address a diversity of needs, whether it's a young person on a budget getting into a cycling lifestyle, or a person facing limitations (age? illness? location? budget? growing family? other challenges?) who wishes to preserve their cycling lifestyle.

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We’re looking forward to throwing our doors open to the community on first Saturday in December, and we’re busy planning a fun-filled day for everyone. Here’s a preview of the day’s festivities:

UPDATED SCHEDULE:

  • DOORS OPEN AT 9am
    FREE swag bags and Limited Edition Bike Shop Day t-shirts to first 25 guests

  • 9-11 Breakfast & Coffee.
    We’re not messing around, real hot food & great coffee from Sputnik Coffee Roasters.

  • SPECIAL PRICING ON MERCHANDISE & SERVICE

    • Bike Sale

    • 20% OFF any Service booked during Bike Shop Day

  • RAFFLE Tickets $5 for a chance to win

  • Donations Box

    We will have a donation box to benefit the Irving Park Community Food Pantry Christmas Angel Drive. If you can, please bring

    • New, unwrapped toys (specifically requested are items for kids aged 10-12, especially boys)

    • Winter hats, gloves scarves and socks

    • Canned goods

      More details are here.

  • Kids Crafts (Coloring, Make your own bike chain Xmas Ornament and more!0

  • Demo Rides: try out a Cargo Bike, a Brompton, or an eBike!

  • 12-3 Free mini-clinics: Flat fix, Safety check, Bike fit, Winter drivetrain care

  • 4:30 LIVE MUSIC with acoustic trio Uptown Boys

  • 5:30pm RAFFLE PRIZE DRAWING
    Winner need not be present, but it’s a lot more fun if you are!!

  • 6pm FAMILY-FRIENDLY MOVIE NIGHT: The Bicycle Thief
    Popcorn & BYOB

We hope you set aside time to join us in this biking community celebration!

Brompton Overnight Gear

Self-contained Brompton set-up

Self-contained Brompton set-up

Here’s a complete listing of gear brought on a sub-24-hour overnight camping trip on a Brompton folding bike. The trip took place in mid-October, with daytime temps in the low to mid 50’s and low 40’s overnight.

Luggage

  • Brompton-mounted T-Bag

  • Lightweight nylon backpack

    Comments: My original idea was to get everything in the T-Bag, and —in warmer weather— this would have been completely doable.

Essentials

  • Bike: Brompton H3E Superlight

  • Phone & charger

  • Wallet

  • Toolkit (fitted inside Brompton frame), spare tube and pump

  • Front and rear rechargeable bike lights

  • Personal items: toothbrush and toothpaste, advil (just in case)

Shelter and sleeping

  • 2-person Nemo Galaxi backpacking tent (fits neatly at the bottom of the T-Bag!)

  • Nemo Tensor Ultralight Sleeping pad (this is amazing and rolls up smaller than a beer can)

  • REI synthetic sleeping bag, nothing special

  • Thin alpaca wool blanket —this would not have been necessary in warm weather, but made a crucial difference on this trip since I knew my sleeping bag would be insufficient.

Coooking/Food

  • Pre-cooked spaghetti with meat sauce packed in plastic container

  • MSR Pocket Rocket campstove and one fuel canister

  • MSR Camp Cookware Set (more than I needed but it was the only one I had)

  • Insulated steel tumbler

  • Tea bags

  • Matches

  • Folding eating utensils

  • 32 oz bottle of water

  • MSR Trailshot Pocket water filter (I didn’t need it, but I did'n’t know what the water situation would be)

  • Pssst, don’t tell anyone! 1/2 small carton of Bandit Cab to enjoy with my spaghetti.

    Comments: I considered bringing coffee-making apparatus, but opted for tea bags for optimum simplicity. It turned out I did not miss the coffee. Similarly, I would have enjoyed having a hot breakfast at the campsite, but decided against the complications of carrying extra stuff and having extra clean-up.

Clothing

  • Thin stretch cargo pants (these were sufficient for the ride in, but were packed away once I arrived in favor of warmer gear)

  • Gym shoes (my Brompton does not have clipless pedals)

  • Thin wool long johns

  • Insulated windfront biking pants (not tights)

  • Cotton t-shirt

  • Thin LS merino wool jersey

  • Insulated synthetic jersey

  • Neck gaiter

  • Synthetic fleece hat

  • Thin packable down jacket

  • Lightweight gloves

  • 1 pair of thin merino socks

  • 2 pairs of thick merino socks

    Comments: at night I wore pretty much everything except the jacket (which I used as a pillow) and the cargo pants. I layered the cozy merino socks with air gaps between the layers, and they kept my feet warm all night.

Solo Brompton Overnight

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For months, I’ve fantasized about doing a quick, minimalist overnight on a Brompton. After all, what more perfect tool for a quick getaway than this stealthy, compact, uncluttered folding bike, with neatly fitted self-contained luggage options? What could be simpler? Pack a bag, hop a train, find a stop with good biking access to some bucolic location, get off, unfold the bike, clip on the bag and ride off on a delicious midweek escape, right?

It turned out kind of like that, only not quite. Due to circumstances outside of my control, I was not able to take this trip during the warmer part of the season, and the two days I finally chose for my adventure happened to be the coldest ones since spring. This necessitated bringing a little more gear than originally anticipated, in the form of extra clothing, sleeping gear, and food heating gear, which in warmer weather I might have dispensed with (see this post for my complete gear list).

However, I was still able to get all my belongings into a front-mounted Brompton T-Bag, and a small, not excessively stuffed backpack.

For the purists, let me state right of the bat that I was never planning to embark directly out my front door. If I had the luxury of a little more time, I might have been willing to spend a couple hours fighting city traffic to get to a decent trail. However, with the sub-24-hour schedule, I prioritized the pleasure of trail riding over cycling purity, and I — gasp! — drove out to the south-west suburbs to a convenient spot along the Tinley Creek Trail, from which I mapped an approximately 20-mile route to Camp Bullfrog Lake in Willow Springs.*

In retrospect, I realized that I had put off this adventure partly because I could not carve out a time to do it all by bike. So take my advice: forgive yourself. Do what you need to do to get yourself out of the city and maximize the time you have available to enjoy nature and adventure on your bike.

I was a little concerned about carrying an overstuffed T-Bag on the front of the Brompton, but I have to say that it handled admirably, although it was very perceptibly slower on the climbs. Oh, well. I wasn’t going for speed anyway.

Solitude on a leaf-strewn trail

Solitude on a leaf-strewn trail

Self-contained

Self-contained

My routing turned out to be pretty impeccable up to a point (see below). I parked on a neighborhood street adjacent to the trail in Oak Forest (parking overnight in Cook County Forest Preserves is not allowed). I rode up Tinley Creek Trail following the east part of its northern loop. At its northern tip, I joined the Palos Heights Bike Path to connect to the Cal Sag Trail, which I took west. That connected —seamlessly, as it turned out, despite extensive road construction— to the I&M Canal Trail at Archer and 83rd in Lemont. The sequence of bridges over the Cal-Sag Canal and the train lines have signs requiring you to walk your bike, and I would not call them luxurious or scenic trails, but they are continuous and protected.

I continued my trip along the I&M Canal wondering where the access point to the forest preserve, on the other side of the canal, train track and Archer Avenue would be. And here was the one major glitch in my routing: there IS NO ACCESS. As I rode on toward Willow Springs, my phone confirmed that I had passed the point of entry to the campground. I arrived at the trailhead parking area at Willow Springs Rd, at which point I was finally able to cross the canal, but I was considerably farther up the road than I needed to be. I gamely doubled back along a narrow sidewalk on Archer Ave. Regrettably, the sidewalk came to an abrupt halt about half a mile shy of the entry to the forest preserve.

If you are unfamiliar with Archer Avenue at that point, let me tell you that it is a high-speed road (40mph posted, 55mph actual) thick with cars and trucks, a rumble-strip along the narrow shoulder, and a scant weedy, thorny, bottle strewn strip of grass hugging scraggly woods along the side. It did not help that the time of day was approaching rush hour. Like any normal human being, I consulted my phone for a more sensible point of ingress to the forest preserve. There did not seem to be an obvious option. The other roads were unfamiliar to me, but I knew that a relatively short walk from where I was would put me at the park’s entrance.

So, I walked. This was the most hair-raising half-mile walk I’ve ever undertaken, particularly, as one of the roadside attractions were four crosses erected to the memory of victims of automobile crashes along this very strip of road. I knew that on the way back I would have to come up with different routing.

As you can imagine, I arrived at the campground with considerable relief. On the approach through the gate, the sight of the serene lake, with voices of delighted kids echoing through the woods, and rays of the late afternoon sun warming up the landscape washed over me like a soothing wave, helped me remember why I came, and made everything right again.

All tent sites are lakeside!

All tent sites are lakeside!

what a way to experience First frost …

what a way to experience First frost …

Brompton, barge and train in the distance on the Cal-Sag

Brompton, barge and train in the distance on the Cal-Sag

… and sunrise

… and sunrise

I took care setting up the tent, blowing up my sleeping pad, and making comfortable sleeping arrangements. The folded Brompton fit snugly in one of the vestibules of the tent. It was too windy to build a fire, and with temperatures quickly dropping, I was glad I brought a tiny campstove to make my spaghetti dinner piping hot. When done, I carried it (along with a paper cup of red wine I snuck in for the occasion) down to the secluded fishing dock on the lake, and enjoyed a beautiful dinner al fresco under the crescent moon.

The night was cold. Official readings were in the 40’s. I stayed reasonably warm in the tent, but I was certainly glad for the extra covers I brought along. At 6am, I woke to a a silvery, frost-covered campsite, completely quiet except for the gaggle of a flock of geese overhead. Steam rose from the lake, and the rising sun gently warmed up the meadow around it. I made hot tea, and drank it while packing up my tent and planning a safer route out of the camp.

I opted to take 95th St out of the campground, and Willow Springs Road back into town to join the I&M Trail. The 2.8 mile ride was much better than Archer Ave, but far from ideal. The shoulder is non-existent, however the traffic is more sparse and slower, with generally courteous drivers who gave me a wide berth.

After a cold night spent outdoors, I was chilled and hungry, and definitely feeling fatigued. I had really hoped to find some great breakfast place to replenish my reserves. As it turned out, I made it all the way back to Palos Park before finding anyplace to eat. I took a short detour off the trail to visit a place called The Harvest Room, where I had about four cups of hot coffee, and a dish of food that had the word “mountain” in it.

I would never wish to repeat my hike along Archer Ave. But having tried a solo camping adventure for the first time, I relish the memory of it, and plan to make time and space for many more.

*Yes, this would have been totally doable by train with a little more planning. From my location on the NW side, I could have taken the Blue Line Downtown, and boarded the train to Orland Park, and connected to the Tinley Creek Trail via the Orland Park bike path.

What's a fair price, and how do you know it's a fair price?

YIKES!!

YIKES!!

Everyone knows that the best way to find out how much something should cost is to ask Mr. Google. It doesn't matter if Nice Bikes Company tells you their Urban Steed model retails for $759. If Mr. Google can find someone advertising it for $699, that's the price you'll fix in your mind. Unless of course you repeat the search a few days later, and there's someone out there who decides to go lower yet. Now, you won't want to pay a penny over $675. You're getting the best deal. That's a good thing, right?

Maybe. It's assuming that an Urban Steed is an Urban Steed is an Urban Steed. But what if it's not? You know, kind of like when you go to your local Fresh Farms store (for those of you not from Chicago, it's like a giant United Nations of farmers' markets) and it’s August, and they have about 17 different types of peaches. A peach is a peach, right? Not so fast! These Georgia peaches are nice and round and rosy, and they're $1.29 a pound, but when you pick one up, it has the suppleness of a coconut. Yikes. However, over here are some Michigan peaches. They're small and kinda yellow. The price tag says and $1.99. What's with that? You walk closer, and gently squeeze. The fruit gives a little, and pushes back, invitingly. At the same time, peachy aroma tickles your nostrils, and before you know it, you've bagged a dozen at top dollar, and -- never mind whatever else you came here to get -- you rush for the register, because you can't wait another minute to sink your teeth into this fragrant, fuzz covered flesh. Mmm-m.

OK, but what does this all have to do with bikes, you're thinking, wiping peach juice off your chin and licking your fingers. And why is the same Urban Steed at Jane's Friendly Bike Shop around the corner $779?!

OK, since you asked.

Even though this Urban Steed pictured in your Google search looks just like the one on the floor at  Jane's store, they may be as different from each other as those peaches you were squeezing at Fresh Farms. Let me underscore the first difference right here: both peaches were there for you to, er... experience. However, while the Google bike is merely an arrangement of pixels on your computer screen, Jane has taken it upon herself to stock the bike at her friendly bike store, so that you can, in fact, touch it, size it up, even give it a test ride.

Before that bike hit the showroom floor, Jane took some trouble to educate herself about her supplier's offerings and put together a balanced purchase order, based on what she expects her potential customers will want to buy. This probably means that she also has other models for you to compare with the Urban Steed. It also probably means that she had to fork over not a small amount of her hard earned money to get this nice-sized order from her vendor. The Google bike will probably be drop-shipped from some warehouse when the faceless clerk on the receiving end of your money presses the appropriate button. You will be told the bike will arrive pre-assembled, to which I can only say: HA!

Meanwhile, to assemble the Urban Steed, Jane has hired a competent mechanic, who has trued the wheels, expertly adjusted the derailleurs and brakes (you know, so that you can safely stop), and ensured that everything is tightened to correct torque. The mechanic may even have corrected some things that the factory or the pre-assembler did improperly (minor fork and frame alignments, thread repair, etc. are not uncommon). Jane may then herself, or with the help of another senior mechanic, safety-check the bike, and correct any remaining issues. (BTW, the three paragraphs I just wrote describing all this are alone worth $25.)

The day you decide to visit Jane's Friendly Bikes Shop and kick the tires on the Urban Steed, she's ready for you. She may consult with you about your biking needs personally, or she may have a knowledgeable salesperson assist you to make sure you get the right frame size, correct saddle position, and comfortable reach to the handlebars. Either way, you're getting good advice, pal. Will your anonymous, button-pushing clerk behind the Google picture do this? NO!!!! Jane and her entire staff are taking their valuable time to circle around you like planets around the sun, and help you make the right choice, and that time is worth something. This is how they make their living.

But why can't they make their living on $675? The other guy does. Look, if you're still not convinced, go and buy the Urban Steed from that anonymous guy. Just do Jane and me a favor: don't come and test-ride it at her store first. OK? If after your purchase the crank arms fall off, or the brakes rub, or the gears skip, Jane will take care of you with a smile at her standard labor rates.

If, on the other hand, you're still with me, let's continue shopping here at Jane's. Now that you've decided to take the Urban Steed home with you, she will have some really great suggestions about other accessories or upgrades you may want to add to get the most out of your bike purchase. Sure, she wants to make more money (isn't that why you have a job too?), but she also wants to make sure you don't drive off into the sunset only to realize you have no way to lock up your bike. So trust her, for heaven's sake. She'll most likely also include follow-up maintenance service for a period of time with your bike purchase.

It turns out that Mr. Google may not have all the answers. Price comparisons are meaningless unless you also compare the full value of the item being sold. To many casual consumers, a bicycle is a bicycle, and they don’t give more than a passing thought to bicycle assembly. But bicycles are fundamentally different from any other commonly purchased retail product. Unlike jeans, books, or even Ikea furniture, they require thorough, professional assembly to function properly and safely. An internet or mass merchant bike may seem like a bargain, until you add the cost of assembling, correcting improper assembly, and follow-up maintenance. Like Jane, we have been doing this for a long time, and that’s why service and value are part of every bicycle purchase you make with us.

2018 Interbike Impressions: The Bad and the Ugly

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Last week, we summarized the best trends we saw at the annual Interbike trade show: cargo bikes, adventure bikes, bikes made-to-order, and efforts to raise professionalism standards among bicycle technicians.

Unfortunately, not everything about our industry is uniformly encouraging. There are many things that could use improvement, and a few that need an overhaul. So, without ado…

The Bad and the Ugly

Like many others, the cycling industry is in the midst of trying to adapt to a shifting marketplace. Not only have we been mired in a long period of stunted growth, we are facing a tremendous challenge in the form of new tariffs on almost all products (helmets being the notable exceptions) coming from China. We can debate all day long whether relying on Chinese imports is good or bad. Perhaps we should work to change it, but —at present— it’s simply the reality of the American marketplace. And anything that leads to increased pricing in an industry that is less than booming is a cause for grave concern.

Not enough cohesion

So, in my naivete, I was kinda hoping for the bicycle industry to come together and rally around some common causes. Personally, I was encouraged that, after decades of being staged in Vegas, Interbike finally relocated to Reno, with quicker and better access to recreational areas of unsurpassed beauty. How disappointing that the vast majority of the industry’s major players elected to sit out! Trek has long stopped attending trade shows. But absent this year were virtually ALL major bicycle companies, including our mainstay Kona.

Not enough true support for the Independent Bicycle Dealer

I can’t help but conclude that these companies simply don’t place enough value on their relationships with those of us who actually sell their products to consumers. True, a number of those companies, including Kona, host dealer events at their own facilities and on their own dime. However, such events (a) require retailers to travel to several different locations at different times, rather than having everything under one roof, and (b) are often by-invitation only, and smaller shops often get bypassed in favor of larger-volume players. We are expected to project our purchases for the upcoming season, taking considerable financial risk, without the opportunity to preview the products we’ll be selling.

Too much money being pumped into e-bikes

E-bikes are clearly a growing market that’s here to stay, but there are way too many players fighting over what is still a relatively small slice of the pie. E-assist is a terrific option in some applications, especially cargo bikes. However, the industry is making the “me-too” mistake of adding e-assist to virtually everything, which results in skyrocketing number and variety of products pumped into the marketplace, before a solid customer base to support those products is in place.

This is bewildering not only to consumers, but to bicycle store personnel as well, and makes it difficult to know which products to stock and recommend, and which of the rapidly proliferating companies are going to be around in a few years to continue to offer support for their product.

… and “enthusiast” categories.

Actually, this “me-too” approach is nothing new in the bike industry. While it makes sense that new trends (fat bikes, gravel and endurance racing, bikepacking, etc.) drive innovation, the enthusiasts who fully participate in those categories and purchase high-end products are relatively few. Nevertheless, such trends result in rapid proliferation within those enthusiast product categories, while the needs of everyday and lifestyle cyclists go largely unmet. This is why I believe cargo bikes and bikes for everyday adventures have been so well-received: they answer the needs of individuals and families who are not looking to enter races or endurance events, but simply seek to do more of their transportation and recreation locally and without a car.

Not enough emphasis on kids bikes

For an industry that’s always crying about dwindling ridership, the bicycle industry does a woefully pathetic job of developing, showcasing and promoting children’s bikes. With the exception of a handful of specialty companies, such a Cleary, Frog, Woom Bikes and the like (for whom it may be financially prohibitive to exhibit at Interbike), few bicycle manufacturers give more than passing attention to developing future riders (riders, NOT racers!). Unfortunately, partly because of economies of scale, and partly because of quality, these few specialty companies don’t deliver products that meet most parents’ expectations of what kids’ bikes should cost. On the other hand, the large established bike companies seem more interested in chasing and investing R&D dollars in the uber-enthusiasts, who arguably represent only a minuscule segment of the cycling public, rather than on fostering future generations of every-day cyclists.

We would welcome at least a portion of that investment going instead to developing lighter, and still affordable, children’s bikes with more attention paid to proper fit across a wider range of ages, particularly for pre-teens who fall in the uneasy area between 24” juvenile bikes and adult bikes, and for whom it is notoriously difficult to find a well-fitting, well-priced bicycle.

Deplorably poor marketing of the value of the bicycle

Finally — and this goes back to the splintering of the industry I mentioned at the beginning — we seem to be more interested in promoting particular agendas than in coming together as a whole to promote common interests of the industry.

I have worked in the bicycle industry for 25 years, and tried to (and watched many others trying to) maintain a viable business at 35% margin on bicycles. Almost everyone in the bike industry agrees that this margin is not sustainable, particularly since most independent bike shops can’t make up for low margins with higher volume, and since many bikes end up being sold at a discount. So we supplement with accessories, parts and labor, all of which command higher margins. In the end, and under the best circumstances, those who keep a neat house can make a living wage and a small profit.

However, there’s a problem with this model. The cost of living has gone up, while the same is not true of bike prices. With the rise of online selling in particular, manufacturers who distribute bikes through conventional channels scramble to compete on price and drive the average price of a bicycle down. It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that 35% margin on a lower price bike yields fewer dollars than the same margin on a higher price bike, and we’re not selling more of the lower priced bikes to make up the dollar shortfall.

As a result, we’re trying to sustain our businesses with lower margin dollars (on average), while the cost of virtually everything — rent, utilities, wages, insurance, credit card processing, etc. — has gone up. In know I’m repeating myself when I say that, yes, bike manufacturers continue to produce higher priced bicycles for the enthusiast, but we have not done a very good job of convincing the everyday consumer and the novice rider of the true value of a quality built and quality assembled bicycle. Almost every day during the season we have turned away a consumer looking for a <$300 bicycle.

The solution is NOT making more <$300 bikes. That is simply an unrealistic expectation of what a safe and durable bicycle should cost, and what a reputable bike store can sustainably sell. No one expects to buy a $100 full-featured smart phone. Similarly, the average consumer should be aware that a respectable everyday bicycle should command the price of somewhere between $750-1000.

Yes, it’s a hefty price tag. But consider that a quality bicycle is a versatile, environmentally friendly vehicle for both pleasure and utility, an exercise machine, is supremely economical and efficient to operate, and, in the era of planned obsolescence, is remarkable for its sheer longevity. Marketing something based on its lifetime value rather than the newest technological innovation may not be sexy, but marketing on value and setting proper consumer expectations may result in not losing those consumers to Walmart, or turning them away from cycling entirely.

Must-have Bike Book

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Twelve quotes to convince you to get Just Ride by Grant Petersen, a no-nonsense, supremely practical and refreshing book on biking:

  • Goals: “Counting days is best of all because it’s easiest. When you count a day, you check it off whether you ride five minutes of five hours. I rode my bike today! Count things that add up fast, come easy and encourage you.”

  • Fashions: “When you don’t race, almost every shirt, sweater, jacket or coat you own is a cycling garment.”

  • Courtesy: “Be saintlike on the bike path.” That is the title of Chapter 22. This entire half-page chapter should be required reading for anyone who’s ever shouted “ON YOUR LEFT!”

  • Dieting: “A typical, healthy low-carb diet includes lots of meat, eggs, cheese, all above-ground vegetables, berries, walnuts, almonds, macademia nuts, low-carb Greek yogurt, and maybe some dense-cocoa/low-carb chocolate for a treat.”

  • Water: “When you sweat, you get thirsty and drink. This has been a successful, automatic hydration strategy for mammals for millions of years.”

  • Gravity: “Your bike won’t stand up by itself, and a kickstand it the simplest, most obvious, most logical way to do the job.”

  • Common sense: “If your chain and your rear cogs have grown old together, they may both need replacing.”

  • Aesthetics: “Beausage is a useful concept that can help cure you of an obsession to keep the bike spick-and-span. Buy good stuff, use it, and enjoy the beausage.”

  • Brawn: “Steel is the oldest, heaviest, and cheapest material, but also the toughest, safest, most repairable, most durable, and I’d say the most beautiful.”

  • Love: “Everybody who hangs out around cyclists knows of successful cycling couples, but they’d be successful couples with or without riding, so don’t think riding is relationship glue.”

  • Vacation: “The most fun I have with my bike is during overnight bike camping in the local hills.”

  • Fun: “Whatever benefits accrue from riding your bike won’t stop accruing just because you’re having fun. In fact, the more fun you have on it, the more you’ll ride it.”

Just Ride is available at Cosmic Bikes for $13.95.

2018 Interbike Impressions: THE GOOD

Whew! We just got back to Chicago from the Interike tradeshow. For a retailer, it’s getting harder to get at-a-glance view of our industry, as it’s undergoing a splintering, and the once almighty industry-wide Interbike is getting supplanted by smaller regional shows. Many major US bicycle suppliers are sitting out, and therefore it’s difficult to pinpoint major trends happening in conventional bike design and offerings.

That doesn’t mean we can’t spot at least some strong trends: the good, the bad and the ugly.

First, the good.

(We’ll tackle the bad and the ugly shortly.)

Cargo is HUGE!

As urban families, adventurers and micro-trepreneurs scale down their car dependence, they are increasingly turning to high-capacity cargo bikes, and several companies have stepped up to meet the growing demand. Though only a handful of cargo bike makers were present at Interbike this year, their commitment to this form of transportation is evident in the scope of their offerings and creativity of their booth displays. The most notable players with tremendous design energy were:

Yuba Spicy Curry

Yuba Spicy Curry

Benno: fully loaded

Benno: fully loaded

  • Yuba Cargo Bikes
    Spanning cargo bike options to meet a wide range of needs and price ranges, including a $999 full size longtail Mundo workhorse, cruiser-like compact Boda Boda, front-loader Supermarché, and several e-assist models, Yuba stands poised to literally change the way families move around American cities.

  • Benno Bikes

    The designer behind this brand, Benno Baenziger, was the brain behind the phenomenally popular Electra Bikes, and his new cargo bike company is infused with the desire to make simple, functional and well designed bikes for everyday transportation, utility and adventure.

  • Tern Bikes

    Though primarily known for their folding bikes, Tern is blazing the trail in the compact, electric-assist cargo category with the phenomenally popular (and easy to store) GSD.

Adventure is everywhere

Kona Rove: at home on any terrain

Kona Rove: at home on any terrain

About a decade ago, urban cycling began to dominate the industry, and its impact on product design was evident everywhere from bikes, to bags and apparel. That is currently being edged out by adventure biking and bikepacking, and that sensibility is spilling over into the urban market as well. Crossover products, such as gravel bikes, which are equally at home on urban streets and unpaved fireroads, are the new standard, and many hybrid bikes —the staple of urban commuting— have taken on adventure characteristics, such as smaller, higher volume tires, disc brakes and mounting eyelets to extend their cargo-carrying capacity.

This is great news for the bike consumer, because it’s increasingly possible to have a do-it-all bike for about $1000 or less.

The Noble Profession,

Efficient Velo tools in action

Efficient Velo tools in action

Raising the professionalism standards for bicycle mechanics is an extremely welcome trend, as the barrier to entry has traditionally been very low, and there are almost no established industry-wide standards. Organizations such as Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association and United Bicycle Institute are working to change that, and to increase the competence and professionalism of the bicycle technician. Additionally, companies such as Efficient Velo Tools and Wheel Fanatyk, that manufacture premium quality specialized tools to aid bike mechanics in the performance of their trade, help raise the profile of the profession.

Made-to-order bikes

An interesting development, and one that — in my opinion — is long overdue, is the arrival of companies that offer a more personal, semi-custom buying experience to the bike buying public. The best of these companies realize three things: (1) most customers typically want more color choices, fit and customization options than what’s available on a typical bike showroom floor, but are not prepared to shell out in excess of $2000 for a custom build, or more for a fully custom bike, (2) the assortment of bikes on the showroom floor that the shop owner had to select in advance, trying to anticipate what potential customers will want to buy, may not be the best way to meet the diverse needs of those customers, and (3) at the same time, a full-service bicycle store (not the internet) is still the best and safest place to purchase a bicycle with included professional assembly and skilled follow-up maintenance service.

One bike, many faces: Roll “Adventure”

One bike, many faces: Roll “Adventure”

Roll “City” step-thru

Roll “City” step-thru

Roll “sport”

Roll “sport”

In response to this, companies like Roll Bicycles offer a streamlined selection of modular bikes: a quality bicycle frame (available in several sizes, and a step-over and step-through configuration), that can be ordered in a choice of attractive colors and finishes, and outfitted with several different component packages for sport, city or adventure use for a set price of $750, with a couple of limited upgrade options available as well. The bicycle shop stocks a few representative models, and the customer may not walk out of the shop with their new bike on the day of purchase, but in about a week they can take delivery of a fully assembled bike outfitted to their preferred specifications.

At Cosmic Bikes, we’ve been using this process with Brompton folding bikes for many years, and it works very well in balancing what we as a shop have to carry in stock, and getting the customer the exact product they desire.

Stay tuned for….

Interbike impressions: the Bad and the Ugly!

The Best Time to Ride Your Bike is NOW

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Aren’t you relieved August is over? Seriously, between the heat, the air & water show (aka. war porn) and the back to school buying bonanza, the once lazy dog days of summer have become the pressure cooker of frayed and volatile emotions.

Hellllloooo September!

By contrast to the period preceding Labor day, early weeks of Chicago autumn offer a relaxed vibe and some of the best cycling weather of the year. Even if you haven’t ridden much this summer, this is a fantastic time to roll out your bike right now and take advantage of milder temperatures, less crowded trails (and campgrounds, if you fancy overnight bike trips).

If you haven't used your bike to get around before, rest assured that it will get you from point A to point B in the city quickly and easily, with no waiting and less hassle than public transportation, and at a considerably lower cost than a car. For riding short distances around the neighborhood, just about any bike will do. Really. Any basic bike is good enough to get you started, as long as it meets the following criteria:

  1. It rolls, and

  2. IT STOPS. Seriously, this is non-negotiable, if your bike doesn’t stop, get it to a mechanic. Your safety, and the safety of others on the road, is surely worth the price of a tune-up. This seems like a good place to point out that, having been in the business of selling and repairing bicycles for a quarter of a century (yes, I’m that old), I can tell you that if I had a buck for every time someone tells me their bike is “in really good shape”, but whose bike — in fact — failed a basic safety inspection performed by an experienced mechanic, I would be happily retiring in Sedona not having to run a bicycle shop. So, it bears repeating that your bike should be in good repair. It’s perfectly understandable that you may not know what to look for, and that’s what we (or your local bike store) are here for. We'll go over it with you, and recommend needed repairs.

But, to continue, don't let lack of fancy equipment be an obstacle. You can always upgrade later if you get more into it (Pro Tip: Winter is a great time to upgrade your biking equipment, often at a great price. It will also make you extremely popular at your seasonally slow local bike shop!) If your needs grow, you may want to move up to a lighter, faster bike. A good quality hybrid bike is a great choice that, at $500-600 won’t break the bank, and will easily handle almost any riding in and around Chicago.

Contrary to what you may have been told, you don't need tons special equipment or garments. While seasoned riders can get quite picky and vocal about their favorite bike brands and gear, chances are you already own almost everything you need to begin enjoying your bike today, and even using it for transportation. With a decent pair of shoes, comfortable pants, light sweatshirt, windbreaker and a backpack, you can ride to and from work, head over to the coffee shop, bookstore, or post office, and pick up a few groceries on the way back most of the way through autumn.

While you really don't need to rush out and spend a bundle on expensive bicycle gear, a few well-chosen, reasonably priced items will make your commute more efficient, comfortable and safe.

  • Protect your head. Bicycle helmets are not required by law in Chicago, but that does not mean you should leave things to chance. We strongly encourage you to wear a well-fitting helmet, and forgo the use of headphones while cycling.

  • If you need to leave your bike unattended, invest in a good lock, and learn to use it properly.

  • Basic front and rear lights are required if you ride after dark.

  • A bike must have working brakes to be street-legal in Chicago.

  • Good quality street tires will reduce rolling resistance, provide better handling in inclement weather, and protect against punctures. If you are considering new tires, Cosmic Bikes offers a complete Flat Prevention Package that will protect you against flats for ONE FULL YEAR!

  • Rear carrying rack and bags will take the load of your back and ensure a more stable ride.

  • Fenders will protect your face, clothing and bike from excessive splatter.

  • Your butt will thank you for a comfortable seat.

Yes, you can ride safely on the streets of Chicago. For the traffic averse, the best advice I can offer is follow your gut. The safety of your ride rests largely within your control, and there is absolutely no reason to push yourself into situations that don’t feel safe to you. And most of all, enjoy — enjoy the still-warm days and crisp evenings, explore your city, and relish the ride.

You will not regret it.,

How to Carry Stuff on Your Bike

Reposted from Chicago Bike Blog

Grocery panniers in action

Grocery panniers in action

OK, so maybe you don't want to ride your bike to work. Maybe it's too far, too early, too dressy, too fussy, whatever. That doesn't mean that, in addition to being a fabulous recreational vehicle, your bike can't be a super utilitarian machine for getting around the city when you are not going to work.

I love to use my bike for grocery shopping. There are several enticing grocery options within 3 miles of my house, as well as several Farmers Markets on weekends. If I forego the car, I can get a nice morning ride in, and I can carry quite a bit with well-chosen equipment.

The number-one, most useful item is a rear carrying rack -- an aluminum platform which sits over the rear wheel of you bike. It provides a good place to carry your u-lock, and, with a couple of bungee cords, it will allow you to carry an unanticipated load in an emergency. Best of all, bicycle racks are designed to fit a variety of standard bicycle bags (or panniers) made specifically for carrying tons of stuff on your bike.

A versatile option is a large open-top pannier known as a grocery pannier (see photo above). It's a collapsible carrier shaped to fit a paper grocery sack. Such panniers are available from a variety of brands, and range in price from about $45 to $90. Another option we like is Ortlieb Backroller, a pair of large, waterproof bags without dividers or organizational distractions. These will carry your groceries securely even in inclement weather.

Regardless of brand or type, panniers attach to the bike rack with a combination of hooks and/or straps. Unlike heavier metal baskets, these bags can be taken off in seconds or folded flat when not in use. You can use them to carry your "regular" bag of briefcase (no need to move stuff back and forth between bags when you are cycling). Panniers can be carried singly or in pairs, and are great for carrying take-out, six-packs, library books, packages to be mailed, groceries (of course!), and many other things you can think of.

Burly Nomad Trailer ($339) with grocery pannier.

Burly Nomad Trailer ($339) with grocery pannier.

The most affordable way to add serious capacity to your bike.

The most affordable way to add serious capacity to your bike.

If you are serious about carrying loads with your bike, but don't need to carry cargo all the time, you may be a candidate for a cargo trailer. We don't currently stock cargo trailers at Cosmic Bikes, but they are always available by special order. For most trips, I am partial to two-wheeled trailers, such as the Burley Nomad. It's basically like having a trunk of a small car attached to your bike, and is a great choice if you're getting groceries for a family, and even for Costco expeditions. Unlike single-wheel trailers, this one offers terrific stability while it's being loaded, or maneuvered around a full parking lot with a load in it.

Quickly gaining popularity among load-carrying cyclists are various types of cargo bikes with heavy-duty carrying racks or platforms integrated into the frame of the bike. These bikes will accommodate several kids or large and loads up to 400lbs (charcoal bags, potting soil and kitty litter, large musical instruments, etc), while the sides of the rack can be used to mount extra large carrying bags. At Cosmic Bikes, we stock cargo bikes from Yuba, and it's an option that makes a lot of sense if you shuttle passengers or carry significant loads on a regular basis.

Hauling kids with Yuba Sweet Curry ($2199)

Hauling kids with Yuba Sweet Curry ($2199)

Shlepping cargo on a Yuba Mundo Classic ($999)

Shlepping cargo on a Yuba Mundo Classic ($999)

Don't forget, that you may be able to use what you already have. An afore-mentioned rear rack makes a great base for an ordinary milk crate, which -- if you can find one -- makes a fabulous bicycle "trunk". If you have a child trailer that your kids are not using or have outgrown, use that for shopping expeditions. Urban commuting doesn't have to be about spending money on more bike stuff. It's about using your resources creatively. So have fun with it, and stop by Cosmic Bikes for gear, or for free advice.