Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Big Changes Here

Hey gang! I've written a little bit about some changes in my life here, but I haven't sat down to write about the biggest change. Until now.

Regular readers know that I've been working as head mechanic at bikes@vienna for a little over five years now. Well, that's all changing now. No, I'm not leaving the shop! Rather, John Brunow, founder, owner, boss and friend, has moved back to Iowa, where his parents live and where both he and his wife Ces grew up. In fact, they'll be living in the very town where Ces grew up, in a house built by her grandfather, with the very same phone number she had growing up.

So what's that mean for me? It means that I am taking over ownership and operation of a bicycle shop, something I've idly thought about on and off for years, what with my love of cycling. I don't know that I ever really expected it to happen, and certainly not in this manner, but it's a wonderful opportunity and I'm excited and honored that John put it in my hands. I have a lot to learn, but I've been lucky to work with good people, both here and at the Community Cycling Center (Hi Beth!) in Portland. And I was lucky to have found some small business counseling services that offer free or nearly free classes, counseling and support here in Northern Virginia. I'm also fortunate to have good people working for me, which makes a world of difference.

For those that don't know, bikes@vienna is an unusual shop. I like to tell folks that "we sell what other shops don't", and that's pretty accurate. You won't find a road bike in the shop, unless it's a customer's bike in for repair, or one of mine. Nor will you see mountain bikes, though you might see a few bikes that vaguely resemble mountain bikes. We don't even sell the ubiquitous "hybrid" style of bike that's the bread and butter of most shops.

What do we carry? Primarily a mix of folding bikes and recumbent bikes and trikes, with a few other oddballs mixed in, such as the Rans "crank forward" bikes, a sort of semi-recumbent. Those of you who are regular readers can probably guess which way I lean, since I've rhapsodized so much over my Brompton and folding bikes in general. I do love the folding bikes, and am quite the Brommie enthusiast, but I think the recumbents are very cool too. If you've never tried one, get to a shop that has a variety and spend an hour or two or three riding. Compared to conventional bikes, the range and differences in design are really striking. I'll write more on that in the future, but for now, suffice to say our selection is quite varied.

So as I move forward on this new (to me) venture, watch this space for the musings and thoughts and joys and challenges of a small business owner, as well as the regular stuff you're used to reading. And if you're in the DC area sometime, please stop on by. You'll find a quiet, low-key shop that has a unique blend of products, services, and staff.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Trip Down Memory Lane...

... with books! Books that those of you of a certain age (can you say Boomer?) might very well recognize.

A while back I stumbled on a book in a library sale, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, in an abridged Random House Landmark edition, and it brought back fond memories of hours spent in the library as a kid. And I've spent a LOT of hours in the library, then and now. My mom worked in our local library as I was growing up, and I had the rare treat of being able to go into work with her and have the library to myself for a good half hour. Sheer joy for a kid who loved books!

The Landmark (and World Landmark) series of books were published by Random House in the 50s and 60s, written to a young audience (ages 9 - 15), centering on American and world history. I remembered reading a number of them when I was in elementary school, and I credit them with contributing greatly to my love of both history and reading, which I've carried through to this day.

So what did I do? I poked around online, learning more about the series, including the fact that it's apparently popular today with the home schooling folks. And I found other people who had fond memories of them, such as "The Boomer Child's Bookcase". And I corresponded with my brother and mother, both of whom remembered the series well. In fact, my brother (the first kid in the family) remembers having a subscription to the books as a kid... making me jealous in retrospect! So I decided to pick up a few of the books I remembered best, courtesy of, and it's been a lot of fun so far reacquainting myself with them.

One of the surprising things is how many of the images from the books I remember, both photos and artwork. The covers were particularly evocative, such as the one for The Flying Tigers, by John Toland. Which brings me to another remarkable aspect of these books... they were written by well known authors and historians, including Toland, William Shirer, Quentin Reynolds, Sterling North, Richard Tregaskis and others. And while they were clearly written to a younger audience, they don't read as if the authors are "talking down" to the reader. No wonder my brother and I grew up to be "book nuts" and history buffs. In fact, my brother even has a Master's degree in history, though he makes his living as a musician and music teacher.

So, how many of you out there remember this series of books? What era of history did you find most interesting? Due in large part to my dad's service in the Army Air Force in WWII, that era has been my focus, then and now, but I find any aspect of history fascinating. How about you? There's Gettysburg, by Mackinlay Kantor, and Paul Revere and the Minute Men, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher... or The Story of Atomic Energy by Laura Fermi and Exploring the Himalaya by William O. Douglas (associate justice of the Supreme Court and credited with preserving my beloved C&O Canal as a National Park). Please share any thoughts and memories you might have about these wonderful books.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Recent Events

Hey gang!

Time to catch folks up on what's been going on in my life of late. It's been far too long since I've posted, and a lot has happened.

First, as I had said in the last post, I've moved. I didn't know I was moving until shortly before I had to, but it's all worked out in the end. I'm now settling in to my new place... it's a roomy basement apartment in a single family home, with my own kitchen, living room, dining area, bedroom and bath. It's a little farther from work than my last place, but that's ok, I was kinda thinking I wanted a little bit longer ride to work, so I got that.

My little cat Tybalt is also settling in, feeling more at home every day. For those of you who have never owned a cat, trust me, change is NOT their favorite thing in the world. From the time I first started boxing things up, through the process of moving out, staying in a temporary place for a week, and moving in here, he's been a bit freaked out. In my old place he spent most of his time hiding in the rafters.... once I moved here, he burrowed under my blankets whenever I wasn't here, as near as I can tell. But for the last week or so, he's been out and about in the apartment when I've come home, so that's a good sign.

In the middle of all of that, there was the Vienna Halloween Parade, and as always, bikes@vienna made a splash. This year, John's goal was to get as many trike owners as possible to come and hook up their trikes into one giant train, aiming for 25 trikes in all. And I was hoping to assemble a "Brompton Brigade" of Brompton owners, riding and folding their bikes along the route.

Well, neither of us really met our goals, but we still had a lot of fun and made a memorable sight. We ended up with two trike trains of about a half dozen Sun EZ "delta" style trikes, which made quite a sensation looping and circling down the street. On the Brompton side... well, there were only two of us, myself and Christy, who was decked out in a great witches outfit and had lighted plastic pumpkins hanging from her handlebars. In the end, we ended up with me hopping off and folding my bike, walking a short way, and unfolding and remounting, while Christy circled around me, now and then doing appropriate "Vanna gestures" to call attention to what I was doing. Even the announcer at the reviewing stand was impressed, commenting on both the trike trains and my "transformer bike", as he called it.

So far, I haven't been able to find any photos of us in the parade, much to my disappointment. I know folks were snapping photos, but I just haven't been able to track any down online. I'll post links if I find any, or if anyone out there knows of some, please let me know!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

New Digs and Apologies

Hey gang!

I just wanted to let my loyal readers know that I have not fallen off the earth... I've just been in the midst of moving for a while now. I found out rather unexpectedly in late September that I was going to have to move, and the intervening time has been rather busy and unsettled. But I'm in my new place now, slowly unpacking, and getting back into something like my normal life. So please watch this space for future news! I promise to write more soon.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Strange discovery

This past week, I was in a small grocery store on the New Jersey shore, and discovered a product that I had assumed had long ago vanished from the market... CANDY CIGARETTES!

No, really... they still make them! The look just the same as they used to... long, thin white sticks of sugar, corn syrup, corn starch, tapioca, gelatin, and artificial flavors. And they taste... well, awful, honestly. One of those things that makes you wonder what you were thinking as a kid! The packaging is the same as I recall from childhood...with one exception: the word "cigarette" no longer appears anywhere on the package. Other than that, take a look, and you'll see they look just the same... names like "Lucky Lights" and "Kings", in boxes that look like cigarette boxes, complete with a fake tax stamp on the top.

Really strange... given current thinking about smoking, you'd never imagine someone would think these were a good idea still. Go figure.

Friday, August 13, 2010

One of my favorite bikes...

Hey Gang!

I haven't written much lately, but a recent "side discussion" with some members of the BOB (Bridgestone Owners Bunch) list has inspired me to write a bit about one of my many bikes. Oddly enough, it's not a Bridgestone, but if you look at the info on the BOB list you'll see it's not really just about Bridgestones.

Anyway, a member of that list (and coincidentally, a member of my Yahoo group, dedicated to older Miyata, Specialized, and similar touring bikes) started a conversation among several of us who have or have expressed interest in old Centurion road bikes. I'm fortunate to be the owner of a 1978 Centurion Professional, a bike that just isn't all that common... in fact, I've never seen another in person, and have only heard of a few other owners through the internet. Centurion was a brand created by Western States Importers, back in the late 60s/early 70s. They weren't truly a manufacturer... there was never a Centurion factory, as there was a Miyata, Bridgestone, or Fuji factory. Rather, the bikes were designed by WSI in the US, and the construction was contracted out with first Japanese and later Taiwanese factories. More detail on the company and bikes can be found at, an excellent article by Ashley Wright on the late Sheldon Brown's website.

My Centurion came to me through the Community Cycling Center, in Portland, Oregon, where I worked for about a year and a half. The shop took in donated bikes, and some of those bikes came to us through other shops in the city. One day the Bike Gallery truck pulled up, and as I was helping unload a pile of Huffys and Magnas (low end, discount store bikes), I noticed what looked like a nice, striking orange road bike all the way at the front of the truck. I said to the Bike Gallery guy "That orange bike looks kinda nice!" and he said "If it was my size, it never would have made it on the truck." To which I replied... "It looks like it might be my size!"

I pulled it off the truck and was immediately taken with it. I'd mostly seen low end Centurions at this point, and certainly never a high end one from this early in their production. It was clearly well made and really, really pretty. Among its features are a gorgeous pearlescent orange paint, applied over a fully chromed frame and fork, built with lugs and other fittings that look remarkably like a Cinelli (high end Italian road bike) of the era. It came to our shop in beautiful condition, and I was sorely tempted to negotiate with the shop to buy it. It didn't help that one of my co-workers kept walking by me saying "That orange bike sure looks nice.... and it's your size...."

By the end of my work day, I had to give it a try, so I pumped up the tires and took it for a quick spin around the block. I was hooked! Back to the shop for a little negotiation with the manager (it helped that I was assistant manager at the time), and the bike was mine for a more than reasonable price. A little work on a few things, and a set of pedals, and it was ready to ride. And what a ride! Fast and nimble, and just stiff enough to feel like you get good acceleration and power when sprinting or climbing. And did I mention pretty? Definitely one of the most visually striking of my many bikes.

For the bike geeks in the group, here are some specs...

The frame is built of Tange double butted Champion cro-moly tubing with "fastback" seatstays and fully sloping fork crown, along with long point lugs with round cutouts, very much like a Cinelli, as I said. The components are high end Japanese parts of the era, with bars and stem and seat post from the SR Royal series. The crankset is a Sugino Mighty Custom with drilled out chain rings and milled arms. Brakes are early DiaCompe GranCompes, and the derailleurs and shifters are the first version of the great SunTour Cyclone series. The hubs are Sansin Pro-Am model, which were laced to a set of Mavic Module E rims, one of the few parts that I'm sure were not original. According to catalog info provided by Ashley Wright, the bike originally came with Araya "tubular" rims, but those were obviously replaced by an earlier owner. Also missing from the original parts were the SunTour Winner freewheel and the pedals, which would have been MKS UR-K Customs. I've made reasonable substitutions along the way, but the bike isn't 100% original, and I'm okay with that.

I've tried to get a Centurion Yahoo group off the ground, but it's suffered from a remarkable lack of activity. If you're curious it can be found here:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Really Nice Gesture by a Customer

There are times in the retail bike shop world when one gets really frustrated and tired with a customer. It's true. None of us, employees or customers, are perfect. We get on each other's nerves, irritate one another. It happens, and it's usually totally unintentional, so you learn to take a deep breath and move on.

Then there are interactions like we had the other day. A long time customer of ours thought he'd detected a strange new vibration in his bike, and asked if I'd look at the bearings in his front wheel. We gave him a "loaner" wheel for a day or two, so he could keep riding while I looked into the problem, and also so he could see if the phenomenon was present with the other wheel or not.

Long story short, it turns out there really wasn't anything "new" happening, but other factors had conspired to make an existing vibration more pronounced. We talked about it, and agreed it wasn't worth worrying about and the wheel bearings were fine. When he asked what he owed, I told him it was covered under our "continuing care" policy... when you buy a bike from us, any labor under $20 is free... and swapping the wheel and tire fell comfortably into that. But the customer wouldn't take no for an answer and said he was going to get his wallet.

I didn't talk to him again, but a few minutes later, John, my boss, told me what had transpired... the guy had left John $50! So when lunch time arrived, one of our staff was sent out, and returned with a pile of burritos for us all, as well as a carton of ice cream and a big bottle of root beer. Burritos and root beer floats for everyone... it definitely made a hot summer day feel a lot cooler and more fun!

It's days and customers like that one that make the few tough times a lot more bearable. And makes you really appreciate being appreciated.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lovely Summer Evening Ride

Well, I've been having a tough time squeezing in bike rides so far this summer, but this evening I had a lovely one, even if it was short. I left work about 7:30 and rode out our local rail trail, the W&OD. It was a gorgeous evening, bright blue skies and warm but not hot, and for a change, not humid either!

I decided to ride another relatively recent addition to my "stable" of bikes... my 1978 Trek 530 road bike. Those of you paying close attention to my bike collection might notice that I seem to have a disproportionate number of bikes built in 1978... at least 4 at last count! I have no idea why this is... it's certainly not been intentional. But while 1978 has no particular magic for me, that general era of late 70s to early 80s does have a special appeal, as that was the period in which I first got into cycling.

Folks who know me also know of my fondness for road bikes from that era built by Trek. Back when I bought my first Trek, in 1980, they were still a fairly obscure company, not the dominant force in the industry they are today. It was kind of "you mean someone is building high quality bikes in Wisconsin????" at the time. And back then, they were largely handbuilt, using what at the time were pretty standard construction methods, but which today are considered "classic" (or antiquated, depending on your point of view!). I've been fortunate enough to own a total of five of their bikes from this period, and the 530 is one of the three I currently own. It's one of their more "racing oriented" models, so it feels a bit more nimble and agile than my other two, which were "sport touring" bikes.

Another feature of this bike is that it has most of its original components, unlike my 1980 Trek 414, which has been modified time and again over the years, and now sports a semi-modern set of components. The 530, on the other hand, has vintage 1978 Shimano 600 parts mostly, from what's commonly known as the "Arabesque" era of that parts group. You can see the fancy curlicues that give the group it's nickname in this photo of the left shift lever. Cranks, brakes, brake levers, shifters and derailleurs are all the original Shimano 600 parts, while the hubs are period correct Sunshine Professionals, a high quality Japanese hub of the era. The rims are curent model Sun M13IIs, which look about as "period" as any modern rim does. Bars and stem and seat post are all from Sakae Ringyo (SR), which was typical of Treks back in the day. Of course, those of you who know me or follow this blog are not surprised to see the Brooks saddle or Carradice saddlebag... personal favorites of mine.

Aside from having a good time riding this particular bike, it was just a gorgeous evening all around. A fair amount of folks were out enjoying the trail, and I also saw several deer and rabbits, as well as one rather blasé groundhog who was unimpressed by my passing. Since it was getting on toward sunset, the light was cutting across the landscape at a very shallow angle, which I always find dramatic and beautiful. It made for sketchy visibility on the ride out, but sunglasses help with that. All in all a wonderful ride.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kittens at work!

I meant to write about this a couple of weeks ago, but just didn't get around to it. One of my co-workers, Al, recently rescued a trio of tiny kittens that a neighbor had found in the grass catcher of his lawn mower. They were about two weeks old at the time, and TINY! The first Saturday Al and his wife had the little ones, his wife had plans the whole day, so Al brought them in to work, where he fed them and took care of their needs in between fixing and assembling and selling trikes. I'd never seen kittens so young, and it was just amazing to me how tiny and frail they are at that age. And cute!!!!

Here's little Chelsea enjoying a meal in Al's hands. And no, contrary to what someone posted on my Flickr page, that's not Phil's Tenacious Oil he's being fed!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Macgyver on a bike?

I've seen some inventive repairs in my life, both in my bicycle work and theatre work, but yesterday a fella came in off the trail with an improvisation that really surprised all of us. Alas, I was unable to get a photo, but I'll try to describe in words what he did.

Apparently, somewhere along his ride, or perhaps over the course of several rides, 4 of his 5 chain ring bolts (chain rings are the big sprockets attached to the cranks that you turn with the pedals) had worked loose and fallen off the bike. When the rider realized this, he figured he needed a temporary fix to get him to the nearest shop, so he turned to something near at hand... grass stems! Seriously... he used a number of strong, fibrous grass stems to TIE the chainrings in place! The amazing thing is, it worked. I'm not sure how far he rode that way, but any distance is pretty remarkable.

So, next time you have a mechanical problem on your bike... maybe you don't have to reach for your cell phone first!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Evenings!

I've been lucky to have the chance to enjoy some lovely summer evenings of late... Last night, on my way home, I stumbled upon our local "Concerts on the Green" event, and listened to a fun bluegrass group as the evening cooled things down. Families on blankets and lawn chairs, some other folks with bikes... even a couple of our customers with their tadpole trikes. A classic summery event.

And tonight I enjoyed a walk along our local rail trail and was treated to another installment of the Amazing Firefly Display! I don't know if they are actually more active or abundant this year, but it sure seems that way. I've had a number of walks lately graced with the luminous display of these amazing little critters. Magical.

All the while, whenever I'm outside in the evening these days, it seems the air is filled with frog song. One of my favorite sounds of summer!

So, where you grew up, was it "firefly" or "lightning bug?" I recall both, but I can't be sure which was New York and which was Maryland. Hmmmmm...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Field Trip!

Yesterday, I went with John (owner of bikes@vienna, my employer) to the Patagonia store in Georgetown, in Washington, DC. We had been invited to show off folding bikes to the staff and customers at their shop as part of their "Bike to Work Week", which strangely falls several weeks after most other folks' "Bike to Work Week".

It was a slow day of business for them, unfortunately, but it was still fun to do and we did get the word out a bit about folders. We had a sampling of Bromptons with us... each of the three bar styles as well as each of the gearing systems we have in stock - two, three, and six speed. In addition we had catalogs and pricing sheets to hand out, along with some freestanding banners provided by Brompton. Several of the shop staff took test rides, as did some of the customers. All seemed to really enjoy themselves and were surprised at how easy and fun they were to ride.

As it turns out, this may have been a good "practice run" for us, as the folks at Patagonia would like us to come back on a busier day to show off the bikes. Anything we can do to get the word out helps, so we'll make the trip down there again.

While I was there, I also took the opportunity to take one of the bikes out on the street, where I unfolded it, hopped on, rode around a bit, then folded it back up again... all in front of a bus full of tourists. I clearly caught a lot of people's attention, as I heard comments as I did this. Next time I'll make sure I have business cards and brochures to hand to the folks on the bus!

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Ride On My "New" 1978 Proteus

Well, Spring has settled in, and Summer is just round the corner, so I've been trying to get out and ride, with limited success. This week, on my "weekend" (Tuesday/Wednesday) I did manage to get out for a short ride on the lovely 1978 Proteus Design road bike I bought last fall.

It was a gorgeous day... the sun was out, it was warm, but not unbearably hot, and the humidity that we'd suffered with for a few days had mercifully blown away. A perfect day for a ride. I headed out on our local rail-trail for a nice, relaxing ride.

Aside from a few trips back and forth to work (a really short ride), this was really my first ride on this bike, so I was anxious to get a feel for it. I have to say, it's everything I hoped for... light and nimble, but not squirrely. I like my road bikes to be responsive, but not stiff as a board, and this bike fits those criteria nicely. Built from the classic Reynolds 531 double butted tubing, there's just enough flex for comfort and a lively ride. There's a reason this tubing was a hallmark of fine bicycles for years, and I'm fortunate enough to own several bikes made from it.

In addition to the frame tubing and construction, the bike features very high quality components, most from Campagnolo's classic Nuovo Record group. Beautiful, durable, and smooth in operation, Campy's parts were another sign of a fine bike back in the day, and still are, although Shimano has captured the lion's share of the market today. One relatively unusual feature of the Proteus is the use of Campy's bar end shift levers, which really weren't that common back then. Most Campy equipped bikes used their downtube mounted shifters, while bikes that came with "bar-cons" tended to use the very fine SunTour Power Ratchet model. Frankly, the SunTours are better, but it's fun to have a drive train that is "tutti Campagnolo", even with bar-cons.

As it turns out, the one problem I encountered on my ride was with the shifters... Shortly after I turned for home, the tension screw on the right lever began loosening up, ultimately getting so loose that the derailleur inevitably moved to the smallest cog in back, severely limiting my gearing choices. Basically, I had two to choose from... the highest gear of about 100 "gear inches", or one slightly lower at about 80. Lucky for me the trail is pretty flat! And silly me, when I left for the ride, I grabbed only a spare tube and tire levers. Mr. Be Prepared was anything but! Ah well, it was still a fun ride.

More photos of the bike can be seen at: 1978 Proteus Design Road Bike

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

2010 Cirque du Cyclisme

Regular readers of this blog will know what Le Cirque du Cyclisme is... a gathering of classic bike enthusiasts and their wonderful bikes. This year marked the 13th year of the event, and the third here in Northern Virginia. A few years back, when it was in Greensboro, NC, I managed to get down for the weekend, and attended the Saturday seminars, as well as the Sunday bike show/swap meet. Since it moved to Virginia, I've only been able to get time off work for a few hours on Sunday, so I make a fairly quick lap of the show floor and peruse some of the fun offerings at various folks' tables full of bikes, frames, and parts. Fun time all around, made more fun this year by bringing a friend along who had never been.

All in all a good show, but I got the feeling there were fewer bikes this year. There just seemed to be more space between the bikes, and it just felt more sparse all around. And this year there seemed to be a distinct lack of "city" bikes and other bikes outside the realm of road bikes. Granted, the event generally does focus on "classic lightweights", so the fine steel road bike is the norm, but in years past there seemed to be more mixte framed bikes, and bikes with upright handlebars and more casual or utilitarian use in their design. As a fan of such bikes, particularly the high quality ones, it was a little disappointing.

That's not to say there weren't some lovely bikes to ogle... there certainly were. In particular, I was taken with the two late 70s Treks here:

I've owned a 1980 Trek for 30 years now, and it's a lovely bike (you may have read about it here before). I now currently own three late 70s/early 80s Treks, and I'm a big fan of that brand in that era. The two shown are really great examples... not truly "original equipment" bikes, but set up with mostly components of that era, as one might have customized them at the time. Which makes perfect sense that Trek sold both framesets and complete bikes. My own 1980 started as a complete, standard model 414, but I immediate swapped out the wheels, and over the years, altered any number of things, to the point where she now has a mix of eclectic parts ranging from 80s to 90s era. It makes for a fun and functional bike, if not a showpiece.
One other high point of the show was meeting framebuilder Doug Fattic and seeing the fixture that he uses for framebuilding. Unlike many such items, Doug's is set up so you can use the fixture itself to lay out the design of a frame, rather than starting with a paper drawing. It looks like quite the setup, and I'd love a chance to try one out sometime.

I keep thinking I need to carve out some time off for the event and really immerse myself in the whole weekend of seminars, banquets, auctions, and bike show. And I keep telling myself "this year I'll show some of my bikes"... but with a full time job as the head mechanic at a small, busy bike shop, it's hard to really make a good case for taking that much time off at this point in the season, when we are really, really busy. But maybe someday....

More photos are at:

Cirque du Cyclisme, Jun 6, 2010

Thursday, May 27, 2010

First Ever Brommie Yummie Ride!

This past Sunday, I participated in the first of what may be many "Brommie Yummie" rides... a sort of progressive dining by folding bike event. A group of intrepid Brompton owners rode about lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, dining on doughnuts, vegan baked goods, and English "chip shop" fare. Read more about it here:

The photo above is of some of the riders walking through an unexpected street fair. All part of the fun!

Below is the organizer of the ride, Steven Huang, standing in "crane stance" among our bikes, gathered in a compass circle on the site of the former Todd Shipyard in Red Hook Brooklyn.

More photos are at: Brommie Yummie Ride, May 23, 2010

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


First, I must offer apologies to regular followers of this blog for not having posted anything for over a month now. It's been a busy and challenging time lately, on all fronts, and I frankly just haven't been inspired to write. But let's see if we can fire up the old boilers again and get this ship moving...

Yesterday, I found myself with a set of bikes in my repair stand that made quite a contrast. I tried to get a good photo of the pair, but I fear that it really doesn't do justice to the strange duo I was working on.

To the right, you can see a classic old Schwinn Twinn, the basic tandem out of the grand old Scwhinn company in Chicago. In contrast to the very high end Paramount tandems of the era, this one is a heavy, sturdy, simple workhorse. I won't hazard a guess on the weight, but suffice to say it took some effort and grunting to get it up there in the stand. These were the bikes that were the staple of many a rental fleet, especially a beach towns, where many a happy couple cruised the boardwalk on sunny days. Sturdy, welded steel frame, stout steel wheels, all steel components... and one gear with a coaster brake in the back. Not the kind of bike you'd want to take on long, hilly rides, but for a mellow outing with a friend or sweetheart, perhaps a picnic midway, it was just dandy. This one was found at a yard sale for next to nothing, and I'm sure it will give the new owner a lot of smiles.

On the left, and difficult to make out, is the main frame and back wheel of a much newer tandem.... a tandem recumbent to be more specific. Even more specifically, it's from the Vision line of recumbents, and aptly named the Double Vision (for all you Foreigner fans?). It doesn't look like much without the seats and front wheel, but when fully together this is quite an impressive bike. It seems to go on forever... a very long bike that makes squeezing it in the shop a challenge. I generally find myself driven to sardonically calling them "Battlestar Gallactica" when we have one in the shop, and everyone in the shop knows which bike to which I'm referring. Don't get me wrong, they're good bikes, and the owners I've talked to all love them. They're just a bit of a pain to maneuver around our small repair area.

I actually have a bit of a soft spot for the Double Vision, of all the tandem recumbents. A number of years ago, we had one come into the non-profit bike shop where I worked in Portland, and all of us mechanics just had to give it a try. I have to say, it was a challenge. As I'd never ridden a recumbent previously at that point, and had exactly one tandem ride under my belt, I could not get solid control over it on the first try. Luckily for me, a colleague had a lot more experience with both, so he took me for a spin around on it, with me in the "stoker" seat. It was a blast, honestly.

Anyway, it was a funny situation yesterday with such two very different tandems in the same repair stand. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, each represents a very different set of requirements and limitations, as well as price range. Both could be a lot of fun to ride. And I find it fun to work on such very different bikes. That's one of the joys of my work... I get to handle all manner of bikes. Do I have my favorites? Sure, and I have those that I'd just as soon not work on, if I can skip it. But I honestly enjoy the variety of working on such a wid variety... it's one of my versions of fun!

(Oh, and in the window behind the tandems is a Brompton P6R in Apple Green. I seem to have become the arbiter of what goes in the front window, and it's usually a Brompton of some type. Big surprise, I'm sure.)

Sunday, April 4, 2010


And this morning I noticed the forsythia are starting to get their
green leaves.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Signs of Spring!

After an unusually snowy winter here in the DC area, this week we are seeing sustained signs that spring is here!

At the shop, folks are coming in with their bikes, in the time honored tradition of everyone remembering they own a bike in the same narrow window of time. We went from a virtually empty repair ticket board to one that's chock full of tickets, with turnaround time for most repairs now about a week and a half. Ah, if only some of these people had thought to bring their bikes to us in January or February.

In other realms... tiny traces of green appeared, then blossoms... overnight the forsythia outside door went from bare to glorious gold about a week ago. The first signs of spring leaves are cropping up on the branch tips.

And tonight, I extended my ride home, to take in a couple of marshes and the strident song of spring peepers! Mixed in were a couple other species of frogs or toads... I need to look up what they were sometime, since I don't know all the calls. And a Fowler's toad hopped away in my headlight beam as I rolled down the path. Finally, as I was headed home, a red fox hesitated, then bolted across my path, disappearing into the brush.

A lovely night.

Ahh... spring.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

More Brompton US Championship

Here's a shot of the trio of gents who won the "Best Dressed Male" prize, a lovely Brooks Barbican messenger bag!

The Philadelphia Daily News has some photos up, and I show up in two of them:

I'm in photos 5 and 8, behind and to the left of the woman dressed as a stewardess, who I suspect is the sole reason I appear in any photos at all. It pays to be near one of the winners of "Best Dressed", apparently!

I've also posted some of my own photos on Flickr:

Brompton US Championship, March 20, 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tom and Newton after the race!

Tom at bike start point

We run, unfold, run to start line, and ride.

Race number in place!

Waiting for start.

"Brocky" with bike

"Brocky", AKA Steve Huang

Steve was all decked out in a boxer's robe and trunks, with gloves, for that "Rocky" look. I thought with the race being in Philly and all, he'd be a sure bet for Best Dressed Male. No such luck... it went to a trio of guys in velvet coats, plastic top hats and shiny silver pants.

Steve, by the way, designed the t shirt for today's race, as well as the 2010 Brompton World Championship shirt. He works at Bfold in NYC part of the year.

Gathering for Brommie Promenade

Monday, March 15, 2010

Check the bikes@vienna blog!

Seems silly to post this twice, on two different blogs, so check out the latest post I put on our shop blog, about an interesting visit by a customer with dogs:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A change in the comments policy on this blog

After discovering FIFTEEN new "comments" this morning, all of which appear to link to some sort of Asian adult entertainment site, I have changed the comment settings for this blog. In future, all comments will have to be approved by me before they appear on the blog. I don't like having to add this extra step, but it's apparently necessary. I will endeavor to act quickly to approve appropriate comments.

Thank you to all my readers for your understanding and patience.


Monday, March 1, 2010

North American Handmade Bike Show 2010

This year the NAHBS was held in Richmond, VA, so it was easy for me to get to. Ironically, I actually spent more time at the show when it was in Portland, OR, in 2008. I guess it's just easier to make a real outing of it when it's so far away... one's more inclined to take time a chunk of time off for a distant event, perhaps. And of course, 2008 was my first time, so I immersed myself a bit more.

That's not to say 2010 wasn't good... just that my time was measured in hours rather than days. I still enjoyed the show and saw some amazing, wonderful bikes. And I got to visit the folks from Brompton, who sent Katharine from their UK offices, as well as their US agent, Ed Rae. I spent a fair chunk of time at their booth today, and it seemed they got a good amount of attention and interest. I think people were suprised to see a folding bike there, even more so one made in England. But the Brompton is essentially a handmade bike, so it fits in better than one might think.

After visiting with those folks, I then went on a lap around the show, checking out the various builders' work and also checking out some of the tools and materials of the trade. As in 2008, I found the show inspiring, and I hope it helps get some more momentum behind my efforts to get my own framebuilding moving forward. It always helps to see other peoples' work, to see the kinds of things that folks get excited about as well.

For me, bikes built from a more "transportation" perspective appeal to me. To my mind that encompasses commuting and errand bikes, as well as touring and randonneuring cycles. And luckily for me, that range of bikes was well represented at the show. It's lovely to see the various special touches builders are incorporating into bikes designed to get you and some stuff somewhere. Custom racks, classy bags and bag hardware, fenders, lighting systems, all integrated into the design of the bike... it makes for an elegant, practical, and artful bicycle. One of the nicest bikes I saw was this "mixte" from Yipsan, complete with custom rack with some lovely woodwork incorporated into it. The customer apparently has a thing for sunflowers, and that was an inspiration for the overall design for the bike. It's not merely a beautiful bike, however... aside from the rack and lighting system, the bike also has an internally geared Shimano Alfine hub and disc brakes, which makes for a solid, reliable and worry free bike.

Sacha White, aka "Vanilla Bicycles" of Portlan, OR, was also there, and par for the course, showed some impeccable work. Below is one of his interpretations of a "practical" bike. Gorgeous machine, and eminently useful.

In a different vein, Richard Sachs was there, showing his impeccable work, slanted mostly toward the racing set:

Then, in the realm of the whimsical and weird, there was this bike from Ground Up that incorporated a rearward facing "flamethrower"... a system incorporating some sort of fuel compressed in a tank, with a nozzle facing aft over a small burner cup, similar to a tiki torch, which ignites the vaporized fuel! Photos of the system in action are quite amazing!

And finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't include at least one photo of this amazingly shiny, sparkly bit of bicycle "eye candy" from Cherubim... an amazingly finished and polished machine utilizing some older classic parts, highly plated and polished. Gorgeous!

More photos can be seen at: NAHBS February 28, 2010

Also, Google NAHBS 2010 to find other folks' pictures... I'm sure there are lots that are better than mine. I'm still getting the hang of shooting these bike shows.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pretty walk home this evening

Just a lovely evening... crisp air, a crescent moon in a bright sky, and I spotted a Cooper's Hawk swoop into a tree just ahead of me at one point. I stopped and watched him for a minute, then he suddenly took off. As I followed him with my eyes, I saw another, smaller Cooper's coming from the other direction. They both made arcing turns to fall into parallel flight, then flew away into the darkening sky. Beautiful! Perhaps a mating pair, since the second one was noticeably smaller than the first.

Oh, and before you drive yourself crazy looking for the hawk in the picture above, he's not there. This is just a nice shot of the moon through the branches of a tree that I shot a few minutes later.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Yep, I did it. I bought myself a pair of snowshoes. I'd heard over the years from various folk how much fun they were, but never felt any great drive to buy a set here in the mid-Atlantic, where heavy snows are pretty rare. Then back in December we had a big storm... dropped around 20" here, which is a lot for us. And the first day I walked in to work after the storm, I saw a pair of women zooming along on their snowshoes as I slogged through the snow in my regular boots. It looked really fun... but geez, "there's no way we'll get another snow like this this winter" I thought.

Well, um... we did! As you know if you live here, or if you've followed my blog. In fact in February we've gotten something around a total of 30" of snow, all in the space of a week. So as that series of storms was descending upon us, I decided to give it a shot and ordered a pair of snowshoes online. There were a few snags along the way... but yesterday around noon, there they were, thanks to UPS! So I decided to waste no time and headed out to try them out on... you guessed it, my beloved C&O Canal!

What a blast! It's an amazing sensation to be out in deep snow and to be able to walk ON it, instead of sinking deep and having to slog through it. It's all about surface area, I suppose, and these suckers have plenty of that. Sizing of snowshoes is based on weight, so for me a 30" x 9" snowshoe is the best choice. They look huge but once they're on, they're really not ungainly. Maybe it's because I read and heard many warnings, but I really didn't ever feel like I was having to work hard to avoid tripping on my own feet. I'd heard that was one of the adjustments you have to make, essentially adopting a wider than normal stance, but I didn't really have to think about it. Perhaps my mind and body compensated unconsciously, or perhaps I naturally walk a little bowlegged (I'm suddenly reminded of a recent Prairie Home Companion "Lives of the Cowboys" sketch... but I digress!). Either way, I found it easy and natural to walk in them.

And what a gorgeous day! A little chilly, but not windy, and while it was mostly overcast, it was still lovely to be out in the snow in solitude. I think the whole two plus hours I was out I saw exactly two people, both on skis. The towpath was covered in snow, as were some parts of the canal, and the woods to either side wore it like a soft white blanket. View of the river were as always spectacular, and the water itself was an amazing shade of green. There were a lot of ducks out and about, and a couple of kingfishers (skittish birds!), and a fair number of deer. I managed to get a few good pictures of the deer, and even some nice shots of the ducks. Even the trees were remarkable, with their branches and trunks standing out in dark contrast to the snow.

Take a look at the flickr album Feb 17, 2010 Snowshoeing on C&O Canal to see more shots, including a series of closeups I took of the severed end of a large, fallen tree branch. A surprisingly beautiful thing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In the Immortal Words of Ron Popeil...

"But wait, there's MORE!"

More snow that is. We were sitting here with about two feet, give or take, already on the ground, and then yesterday another storm rolled in, bringing with it somewhere around another foot of snow and lots of wind. It may still be coming down a little in some parts of the DC region, but I think it's now mostly the wind we have to worry about.

Anyway, I went for a nice long walk in the woods and around Vienna today, while it was still coming down.

Apparently, the local NBC affiliate sent this reporter and her cameraman out to stand next to Maple Ave, in Vienna, and talk about the snow. We're weird in the DC area... weather is a major news story. I suspect any of you in the midwest are thinking "this is news????"

Anyway, one of the featured topics was apparently the Vienna Inn, a local institution, a tiny little bar/restaurant with great chili dogs that seemed to be the only open business in town. Note the number of cars in the lot... and I'm sure more folks walked! Busy day for them.

More photos can be seen here:

Feb 10, 2010

Monday, February 8, 2010

Some More Photos...

... of the big snowstorm of February 5th/6th. Click on the highlighted links below to see more.

I went out on Saturday for a nice long walk in the woods behind my place, and took a BUNCH of pictures while the snow was still falling. It was probably a good two feet at that point, and I think we topped out around 30" here, but I don't know that for sure. That's me after the walk. If it looks odd, it's because my right arm is sticking out, holding the camera.

01-06-2010 Snowstorm,midday

And here's a shot from Sunday, and my walk in to the shop. I'm lucky that a good part of my commute involves a walk through the woods. This is the small stream I cross every morning, looking very wintry and lovely.

Feb 7, 2010, day after storm