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

bikeshopday_white.jpg

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.

IMG_1232.jpg
IMG_1257.jpg
IMG_1484.jpg

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

IMG_4229.JPG

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.

Wednesday Morning Diner Rides

P1340107.JPG

Feeling the midweek blues? Come on out for our Wednesday morning DINER rides.

If you work from home, or can sneak in late to work from time to time, come on out for a brisk, shortish ride with breakfast at genuine diner location.

The idea is to keep riding through the fall (and winter?), and to visit and support local establishments at the same time. To keep things moving quickly, we'll meet at various area coffee shops, and visit a different diner each week.

If you want to have some local coffee before we depart, arrive a little ahead of time so that we can start the ride a 7am SHARP. Don’t expect the ride to be the most direct route from the meeting point to the diner of the week, because we’ll want to get in some miles. At an easy-moderate pace, we’ll complete the riding portion in about 40-45 minutes, and still have plenty of time to enjoy a hearty breakfast.

After breakfast, we split up, so you can continue with the rest of your day.

For each ride, be sure to bring: your bike, helmet, lock and CASH. Many places we will visit are CASH ONLY establishments. The diners on the menu this Fall are: Yellow Rose, Mayfair Restaurant, Big Top and Edgebrook Coffee Shop. For more information and details on each ride’s meeting spot, click on the event links below.

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

6a00d8341cf6ad53ef0105351cb8e3970c-800wi.jpg

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

bo17-2_1600x.jpg

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

Bike_Fall_Chicago.jpg

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.

5 Bike Adventures You Can Have Today

The idea that worthwhile life experiences and adventures have to involve international travel, significant investment and considerable allotment of time are damaging, and keep many of us from filling our lives with adventures right now. It perpetuates the notion that leisure and recreation can only be earned through sacrifice, soul-crushing work, and saying no to what you deeply yearn to do. So we say: say yes!

Adventures lurk inside the city, or just outside of it, and even a day --even several dedicated hours -- spent relishing the outdoors, or doing something our of the ordinary, will make a difference in your week and in your outlook.

1. Breakfast al fresco:
This can be done on a weekend morning in cooler weather, or -- in a pinch -- early on a work-day when the days are longer.
Ride your bike to a nearby beach or natural area. Depending on how much time you have, I would suggest a distance of 5-12 miles one way. Bring along a portable stove, cookware, uncooked breakfast fixings and a thermos of hot tea, or a way to make a hot beverage of your choice. A small table cloth is a nice touch. Pro tip #1: unless you have a self-staring stove, pack matches or lighter!
You will not believe how delicious, nourishing and warming your meal will taste. Take your time enjoying it. Your sneaky adventure will buoy you for the rest of the day.

2. Full moon ride:
Grab a good set of bike lights, and set off before dusk on a full moon night. Ideally, plan a route that in 1-1.5 hours of riding will take you to a body of water or an open field to view the lonely satellite. (Our favorite viewing spot in Chicago area are Gillson Park and beach in Wilmette, or the Skokie Lagoons off Tower Road on North Branch Trail.)
Riding home at night on an unlit trail, with only the circle of your own bike light to guide you is a beautiful way to be alone with yourself.

3. Inclement weather bike ride:
Why not turn bad weather into your ally? Dress for it, but don't expect to be completely comfortable. Finding a way to enjoy the experience despite adversity is what makes it an adventure. One of my favorite rides was a chilly, rain-soaked, early April small town exploration on Brompton Bikes in Fox Lake, the last stop on the Milwaukee District North Metra line. Instead of our usual 30-40 miles, we limited ourselves to about 12, including a meander through the rain-soaked Grant Woods Forest Preserve, where we ducked under a picnic shelter and fortified ourselves with a little bourbon-soaked hot tea we brought along for the occasion (highly recommended!). Dunkin Donuts coffee never tasted as good as it did while we waited for our return train.

4. Foreign cuisine:
In a large city going to an unfamiliar ethnic neighborhood can be almost as exotic as an actual trip to a foreign land at a fraction of a cost. I recommend leaving your smart phone at home, and biking to an area you rarely visit. I've lived in Chicago for over 30 years, and there are still plenty of options for exploration, including Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, Rumanian, Nigerian, Middle Eastern, and many more. If you're not sure what to order, do the really adventurous thing and ask for a recommendation from the server. As a result, I once ended up confronting a plateful of very spicy but nearly raw meat at an Ethiopian restaurant.
Pro tip #2: a Brompton folding bike will quickly provide a conversation opener and help to bridge any communication gap.

5. End of the line:
Pick a regional train route, hop on with your bike, and go to the end of the line. Using Chicago Metra Train routes alone yields a dozen desinations, so you could try a new one every month! Once you get past the suburban sprawl, you will find that nature and open spaces are a lot easier to get to. The small town you end up in may have a friendly breakfast spot, where you can get some tips on best nearby places to disappear for a few hours. The quiet rural roads are not likely to have a lot of traffic, and the bike will easily carry you to a place where you can enjoy silence and solitude. In milder weather, you can bring along a packable hammock and even enjoy a midday nap, or simply spend some moments suspended in the company of trees and birds.

Just go!

IMG_6283.JPG
IMG_0499.JPG
IMG_4466.jpg

Great River Trail by Brompton

OldManRiver.jpeg
Cactus.jpeg
Parlor.jpeg
Arnolds.jpg
IceCream.jpeg

We picked the wrong day for this ride. With our Bromptons in the trunk of the car, we headed out of Chicago intending to ride out and back over a 20 mile stretch of the 60-mile Great River Trail between the towns of Fulton & Savanna, Illinois.

However, after the first few miles of nicely wooded, shaded path, the trail took us over vast, open expanse of prairie, crackling in midday sun. To be fair, the prairie landscape is nothing short of breathtaking. Miles of uniquely midwestern flora along the trail deserve to be fully explored and appreciated. However, though the thermometer readings may have been in the mid-90's, with heat radiating off the exposed ground we felt like we were under a broiler. We began to look with anticipation for the smallest hint of shade offered by spindly trees and sparse sumac bushes.

At last we came to a beautiful evergreen woodland park with pine-scented shaded paths, a working water fountain, and a very civilized washroom. We used our bottles to generously douse ourselves with water from head to toe. This would be doable, we thought, prematurely, as it turned out. After a short run through the state park, the trail spit us out again onto the side of a flat, bare, straight, sun-baked road, with contours of a US Penitentiary shimmering on the horizon. Gamely, we headed on, but after a couple of blocks it became clear that continuing the journey as planned might actually put us in danger of heatstroke.

We decided to cut our loses and turned east into the small hamlet of Thomson, IL in search of light colored t-shirts, sunscreen and water. We were pleasantly surprised to find all three at Arnold's Bike Shop. Actually, we were even more surprised to find Arnold's Bikes Shop in the first place -- tucked away in a tiny town, Arnold's is a minuscule shop, packed to the rafters with recumbent bikes and trikes! Our Bromptons were an instant conversation starter, and the owners gave us free tubes of sunscreen and a free t-shirt to cover up my sunburnt shoulders, and pointed us to a nearby old school ice cream place.

On the way back to Fulton, we took a little extra time to explore the beautiful piney state park, and discovered a tiny, secluded campground directly on the banks of the Mississippi, pictured in the main photo.

We'll definitely be back. In cooler weather.

 

Season: July (NOT recommended. We'll repeat this ride in the fall.)
Distance: 20 miles (out of 40 planned)
Weather: Brutal heat, mid 90's.
Highlights of the trip: gorgeous piney campground on the banks of the Mississippi at Usace Thomson Causeway Recreation Area, Arnold's Bike Shop in Thomson, IL.

10 (or so) Reasons to Own a Brompton in Chicago

  1. You live in a small space / live with someone who resents the amount of space bicycles take up / need all the space you have for your exotic orchid collection.
    A folded Brompton makes a 24" x 24" x 8" package, taking up approximately 1.5 sq ft of floorspace, and fits neatly in a closet, under a desk, or in the corner of entryway or garage.
    (It also fits nicely on a rimmed rubber boot tray, which is handy to have during wet weather, and will definitely minimize any spousal resentment).
  2. Your office building does not allow bicycles.
    I'd say they're not very progressive. Haven't they heard about peak oil and the havoc internal combustion engines are wreaking on the environment? Apparently not. But, guess what? They don't have to know that tidy little black package you're wheeling in and out every day is a bicycle. Or they can pretend not to know.
    The Brompton Cover Bag is a sneaky lightweight device that protects you from being accused of bringing a bicycle into the building, as well as protecting others from coming into contact with potential dirt from your Brompton.
  3. You hate bike share.
    Right? Those Divvy bikes have roughly all the grace of a cow. A Brompton can do the same thing -- close the gap between the train stop and your office, hop short distances while doing errands, give you a lift when you're running late -- only with style and finesse.
  4. You'd rather not ride a bike when it's raining. Or when you're really tired. Or on those occasions when you've had a few cocktails with people after work.
    A Brompton lets you seamlessly combine cycling with other forms of urban transit. If you set out on a bike, but don't feel like continuing for any reason at all, fold it up, hail a cab or hop on the bus. Or maybe just pop into a coffee shop for a quick cup of Joe, and discover that you don't mind riding further after all (you can still change your mind later). Conversely, if you've been interminably waiting at a bus stop, you may decide to just say no, whip open your Brompton (while other commuters gasp with envy and amazement), and get wherever you're going on your own power.
  5. You can't stand the thought of being separated from your bike. Ever.
    Bring it with you. That way your bike will probably never be stolen. Bring it home, to work, into the grocery store, restaurant, or to Wyoming.
  6. You're sick and tired of Chicago.
    See note about Wyoming, above. If you can swing it, bring your Brompton on a plane, and get away for a month. If not, put in the trunk of your car and get out of town for a day.
  7. You don't want to get your hands dirty. Or your pants. Or other people's pants.
    It's a little talked about fact that a Brompton folds with all of its naughty bits neatly tucked away inside. This vastly minimized the chances of you or anyone else coming in contact with chain grease.
  8. You are not mechanically inclined.
    You don't need to be. Unlike some other folding bikes which require you to (a) have time and patience, and (b) be a contortionist or (c) have the use of three hands, the Brompton fold is quick, easy, and secure. All it takes is about 8 seconds (this is not and exaggeration), and three simple steps, and the bike is securely folded without the need for any additional straps or magnets. Unfolding is even quicker and more impressive (and even if you're really not mechanically inclined, it can make you appear that way).
  9. You work on an aircraft. Or you own one. Or a boat, or RV (in which case I definitely don't want to hear you complain about how expensive Bromptons are).
    Bromptons are great for anyone who regularly travels using some other means, and wants reliable transportation at their destination. Money jokes aside, one of our customers is a professional truck driver. He keeps his Brompton in the living space behind the cab, and when his truck is being loaded or unloaded (which can take hours, usually in the middle of nowhere), he uses it to get to the nearest town.
  10. You like well-made things. Or cute small things.
    The people at Brompton take quality seriously, that is why each bike is built by hand by highly qualified team at their London factory. (And it's also why the last sentence was dead serious. It was lifted straight off the Brompton page, and they don't mess around). It is true, however, that Bromptons are exquisitely made little engineering marvels, with surprising little touches that cause delight every time they're used. And, yes, they are cute and small.
BrompOffice copy.jpg
brunchton-191.jpg
BrompTaxi copy.jpg

Brompton S1E: Your Partner for the Urban Salsa

MY18 Brochure_Page_12.jpg

It's that unassuming Latin guy who looks like someone's absent-minded dad, until he decides to dance the salsa with the restaurant owner on the sidewalk in front of her taco place. Suddenly, you forget that you were just snickering at his New Balance gym shoes, and his polo shirt coming untucked in the back. Cuz all you can do is just look at his hips in those narrow black jeans, and wonder how can he pack that much passion into such slight movement, how do his feet just know where to land, and how does he manage to utterly command the dance without for one second losing concern for his partner.

The Brompton S1E (especially in your basic black) is all that. Plain. Slightly introverted. Charmingly unpretentious. But always ready to respond to your needs. Personal transportation needs, of course.

If single-speed bikes are the last word in cycling simplicity, the S1E trumps them with compactness and portability. No matter how sexy and elegant, your fixie still has to ride on the bus rack, or wait at the curb while you go to work or eat a restaurant meal. Not so the S1E -- this one is welcome anywhere you go, and is never vulnerable to others who might be tempted by its charms.

It folds small. Really small. Two feet by two feet by eight inches small. That's what happens when you design a folding bike with tiny wheels to fold not in half, but in thirds. It fits demurely under your desk at work, travels quietly in the trunk of your car or taxi, and sits neatly near your front door at home, lying in wait.

Because, really, it's always ready to spring into action. The beauty of the trademark Brompton 3-part fold design, is that unfolded, the bike is longer, more sure-footed than any other compact folding bike. And that's a better ride, small wheels notwithstanding.

So, what's the ride like? Great. Really great: fast, nimble, responsive. The S1E feels light and maneuverable, offers great control in an urban setting, and can take off like a rocket on an unobstructed trail. It's hard not to feel zippy on this bike, even after you've put in a long day's work. Bring it down from the office, unfold it with a practiced hand, hop on and maneuver deftly through the parting sea of pedestrians who look on incredulously (seriously, you're gonna ride that thing?), as you coast seamlessly into traffic. But you just start pedaling and you catch your cadence, your rhythm. Half-way down the block, you feel like you've grown wings, when you start to dance this crazy urban dance with your perfect two-wheeled partner.

Details:

S1E is the simplest Brompton configuration available: flat handlebar, single speed, without rack or mudguards. Simple pricetag too: $1200.

Milwaukee Meander

IMG_3802.JPG

The lake view is the same, but the minute your feet touch the ground, you know you are not in Chicago anymore. The vibe is different, more friendly, laid back.

It was a last-minute decision to come, but it's an easy drive to Milwaukee, and we arrived well before lunchtime. Milwaukee has more bicycle trails than you can shake a stick at, and, unlike Chicago trails, which are mostly linear, and therefore inherently somewhat redundant, the trails here make tantalizing loops, and you can often get back to your starting point without actually retracing your steps (imagine that!).

Originally, we thought we would ride a loop using the Hank Aaron Trail and the lower half of the monster 120-mile Oak Leaf Trail, but it was just too ambitious with almost half the day behind us. So instead, we headed north on the lakefront section of the Oak Leaf Trail, and then meandered along the trails that follow the Milwaukee River Greenway.

Along the way, we came upon the Riverside Park and lovely arboretum, and we poked around the unpaved paths for a bit before riding on. We were chatting idly about how nice a beer would be right about now, when, as if by magic, a iron gate appeared on the side of the trail with a little bearded  man in a red hat, crooking his finger at us in a beckoning gesture. (No, seriously, it was just a very tempting "Beer Garden" sign above the open gate.) Deliciously refreshing New Glarus selections were offered in .5 and 1 liter steins, and we consumed our half-liters with relish at a rustic picnic table.

This seems like a good place to note that ONE LITER is a heck of a lot of beer. It is, in fact, approximately three regular beer bottles. Yet no one seems to bat an eyelash when a 110lb lady who looks like your aunt (she was in line ahead of us) orders a liter of Oktoberfest Bier, and saunters over to her table, lugging a beer stein roughly the size of her torso. There, she joins several other patrons, some of whom are working on their second liter, with empty steins waiting to be returned for their $5 glass deposit. Interestingly, no one seems to be getting terribly drunk. This is due either to that laid-back air we picked up on when we first got out of the car, or perhaps the little guy with the red hat had something to do with it.

Further down the trail we found a large bulletin board with all the summertime beer gardens helpfully marked on a map! On our journey that day, we stumbled upon another one, and this time we indulged in a brat to go along with the second half-liter. We enjoyed this simple repast while listening to a lederhosen-clad accordion player.

Not having spent much time in Milwaukee, we were unfamiliar with beer gardens, but I assure you that they are a fabulous innovation, and there should be at least one along every bicycle trail. It seems like a sure-fire money making opportunity, as most bicycle riders I know are also devout beer enthusiasts, and I am mystified that other cities, specifically Chicago, are devoid of trail-side beer gardens. Until our city catches on, we plan to make regular trips back to Milwaukee to explore its vast network of trails, and sample beer selections along the way.