Thursday, March 31, 2011

Closing at 6 Thursday, March 31

We are attending the Tiny Bikeshop Concert at Calhoun Cycle tonight, March 31, so we will be closing at 6pm, rather than the usual 7:30.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Posters are here!

Our new posters are in, and they're selling fast. We ordered 100, and at least half that number were pre-sold. On Saturday when Adam Turman dropped off the posters and I opened the package, customers in the shop were clamoring for them. Clamoring, I say! I will be surprised if they are still available in a couple weeks. No reprints are planned.
If you ordered one through our web-page and live in town, come and get it. If you ordered one and live far away, it's going to be mailed to you this week. If you told me you want one, but haven't paid yet, you can make your order official by clicking here, by ordering over the phone at 612-727-2565, or by coming into the shop and buying one.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The future of personal transportation

I chipped in my 2 cents about fuel prices a few days ago, and I would like to expand on that a bit today with a discussion more specifically about bicycles. I've been getting around almost exclusively by bike since 2004. I started out motivated by environmental and geopolitical values and a basic understanding of the implications of our limited energy supply. But now I just think the bicycle lifestyle is a better way to live. Bicycles have been a force for good in my life, causing me to slow down, inspiring me to be more local, and along the way I got healthier (mentally and physically). I take tremendous comfort in the idea of being able to move independently around the city or out into the countryside under my own power. I do make use of buses and the train, and I tend to walk between 3 and 7 miles most days, but nothing gives me the freedom, ease, and speed of mobility that I get from my bicycle. I'm not anti-car, but driving, to me, resembles an unpleasant, somewhat frightening chore, and I only do it as a last resort, usually after much procrastinating (writing this post is actually an example of this procrastination). And if you believe as I do that the future of cars and energy is at best uncertain, then it makes sense to figure out a transportation modality that doesn't have so much dependency on the system as we know it.

I have immersed myself in bicycles - riding them, selling them, servicing them, reading/thinking about them - continuously for 7 years, and I have developed some opinions that I think may be of value for bicycle transportationalists, both experienced and novice. Since I have spent much time thinking about an uncertain future, and how bicycles play into it, I also have a few specific ideas on what is, and is not, desirable on a bicycle for long-term future transportation.

First of all, I wholeheartedly reject the notion that the Dutch, the Danish, the Chinese, or the 1950s French/English somehow have a monopoly on the wisdom of transportational cycling. The bikes that were developed and ridden in these places tend to be products of a specific time and geography and culture that, in my opinion, is not 100% transferable to Jim Thill's bicycle priorities in 2011 Minneapolis. This is not to say that these other bike cultures didn't give us some good ideas, just that they aren't the last word. For example, internal gear hubs, a hallmark of the oft-romanticized Dutch city bikes, for all their potential advantages, continually fall short of (hyper-inflated) expectations and have a number of significant downsides. Again, I'm not saying you shouldn't use an IGH, just that there is no free lunch. If you are buying a bicycle from me, I will be happy to discuss the trade-offs with you at length.

Here is my daily rider:
In 1992, the frame started its life as a Trek "Multi-Track" bicycle. The Multi-Track was an early attempt at a crossover or "hybrid" bike, which, in a nutshell, was a road/cross bike with mountain-bike style handlebars and drivetrain and better tire clearance than a typical road bike. This frame was rescued from a scrap heap by a friend and traded to me for rusty lumps of metal. After I obtained the frame, I turned it into a fixed-gear. It has a generator lighting system, fenders, and both front and rear racks (loaded with groceries in the picture). Tires up to 700x38 fit with fenders. It is reasonably comfortable, but not heavy and ponderous. In fact, with my summer tires on it, this bike is fun and sporty, and I have ridden it up to 150 miles in one day. Not bad for a grocery-getter! Fixed-gears have few moving parts, and are therefore among the more reliable, lower-maintenance bikes you can ride. And since it is generally acceptable to run a fixed-gear without a rear brake grinding on the rim, the wear and tear on the rear wheel is minimal. With a modest inventory of chains, chainrings, cogs, tires/tubes, bearings, and some occasional cleaning and lubing, I could reasonably expect to ride this bike with minimal ongoing expense for many, many years. Fixed-gears are limited, of course, in that they just have one gear, and the rider can't coast down hills. This may be fine for a reasonably fit (and zesty!) rider like me in a reasonably flat place like Minneapolis, but some of us will be willing to trade off the easier maintenance schedule for gears and coasting. Keep reading.

If a utilitarian fixed-gear is not your style, I have just one bicycle to suggest: The Surly Long Haul Trucker with 26" wheels and the stock part-spec, more or less (with flexibility to suit individual desires, quirks, and fetishes, of course). This bike has all the attributes I want - relatively affordable, sturdy, high quality parts that are commonplace AND easy to service or replace, and it is made specifically to carry your shit, whether we're talking camping gear through the Tetons, veggies from the farmer's market, or ammo to your apocalyptic zombie-proof bunker. In the past I have suggested that cyclists concerned about an uncertain future should buy TWO of these bikes, one in the appropriate size, and one in a smaller size for old age to account for possible skeletal shrinkage (keep that one in the box for easy storage). Having two identical bikes builds in redundancy in parts. The drivetrain parts of the LHT are interchangeable, for better or worse, with parts from many old mountain bikes and most of the cheap bikes sold at Wal-Mart. In a pinch, parts from a Wal-Mart bike that somebody else threw away may keep your LHT going down the road! And what the heck, if you do buy two, the unused one may actually be a stable investment, with a better rate of appreciation than a money market account, and more tangible utility than, say, jewelry.

Friday, March 4, 2011

2011 HC Poster

Last year we contracted Adam Turman to make the first HC poster. This year we're working with Adam again on the 2011 edition, which we think will be very popular, given the popularity of gravel-road racing and touring:

These will be $30 each and quantities will be limited. You can pre-order your poster by clicking here.

2008 meet 2011

Those of us in the retail bicycle business tend to recall 2008 with a mix of fondness and trepidation. That year was probably one of the best in the bicycle industry ever, certainly our highest grossing year by far at HC, arguably because of a summer of gas prices approaching $4/gallon. I recall that people who felt squeezed by $75 fill-ups were inclined to fix up old bikes rather than buy new ones, and we kept busy refurbishing older bikes that summer. Millions of people rescued long-neglected 1970s and 80s vintage 10-speeds from their garages. For months we couldn't lay our hands on ANY 27" tire (the usual size on the old 10-speeds), regardless of brand, model, or which distributors we called. Even the New York Times picked up on the story, and published a review of 27" tires in, get this, the Style section.

Of course, there was a downside to soaring gas prices. Although the academics can argue over how to attribute causality more precisely, I thought the connection was pretty clear: our economy cannot handle $4 gas. Housing developments in the outer suburbs became ghost towns. Many people lost jobs, and mortgage defaults soared. With fewer people going to work everyday, and a corresponding decrease in consumer activity, the demand for gas dropped, and prices fell precipitously. Our business at the shop was way down in 2009 and 2010 because gas was cheap again and because people had really tightened their belts.

But it looks like gas prices are escalating quickly. A quick survey reveals that my facebook friends are talking about political turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, Peak Oil globally and specifically in Saudi Arabia, a conspiracy by President Obama and Democrats to force us to be "green", a conspiracy by Republicans to make Exxon richer and destroy the middle class, etc, etc. Personally, I don't care about assigning blame to various bogeymen, but I think constantly about how to deal with the reality of $3.47 gas in February, months before the driving season actually begins.

I've been paying attention to this stuff for long enough to know that any notion of predictability is an illusion. Will gas get much more expensive this summer? Or will our fragile economy crash again, and send gas prices plummeting for lack of people able to afford to buy it at any price? Or perhaps some completely different scenario that will lead to rationing and long lines? Who knows! Volatility and uncertainty seem certain. Expect the unexpected.

I am probably preaching to the choir - if you read this blog, you are probably on-board with the magic of getting around on a bicycle and not being a slave to the gas pump and political upheavals 10,000 miles away. If by some chance you started cycling because of the cost, uncertainty, and geopolitical/environmental implications of the hydrocarbon economy, then I'm betting that you very quickly discovered countless other benefits, for example: improved fitness, fresh air, a fun new social life, daily adventure, and being more in tune with your natural and man-made environments.

Ah listen to me, I'm ramblin' again. But this is probably a good year for transportation-oriented cyclists to BOTH lead by example, AND to gently encourage non-cyclists to discover all the great things about getting around by bike. It's probably best to not be a bike Nazi or overly preachy about internal-geared hubs or fenders or helmets. In the near future, I will write up some of my thoughts on commuting bikes, and the myths and fetishes that, in my opinion, get in the way of bringing new cyclists into the fold.