30 October, 2007


My neighbor asked where I was going a few days ago. "The leather store in Baltimore", I replied. He's been giving me strange looks since. (I was really just going to get buckles for a prototype bag).

In any case, you may have seen this Japanese bike-leather worker's site. We have the opportunity to work with another Japanese leather worker and I've ordered a sample seat bag. I'm throwing this out here to get opinions on the desirability of bags like this. Obviously they will be expensive, but probably less than Berthoud bags. There are some advantages: They will be designed to last almost forever. Leather develops a lovely patina and looks better with age. And they are very very durable and waterproof. On the other hand they are heavier.

In other leather news we are working on importing some high quality, but relatively inexpensive leather handlebar tape; it's like Brooks tape, but cheaper.

E-mail Troubles

Just a short note to tell everyone that we seem to have had some technical problems with e-mails over the last week or two. Several e-mails to customers did not arrive and we didn't receive some sent to us. I don't know why this happens occasionally, but I do try to answer every single e-mail (that needs an answer) within 24 hours, except on weekends; I take weekends off. So please check your spam/bulk file and e-mail a second time if you didn't get a response.

The drawing on the right may not do much for our e-mail troubles, but it's handy when cleaning/greasing retro-friction shift levers, still the best shifters ever made.

26 October, 2007

Oil Prices and Bikes

It's time to go a bit off topic again. Oil prices topped $92 per barrel yesterday. By Spring we may have $4/gal gas prices, which is still ridiculously low by European standards. I guess more people will be commuting by bike.

What amazes me about this is not the prices, but the press stories. Over and over we are told the this is due only to speculation. But the fact is that it is a function of supply and demand. Here is an excellent post that explains how demand is just now starting to outstrip oil production. Some of the best and easiest to digest information on oil can be found in posts by Jerome Guillet, who writes under the name "Jerome a Paris". Jerome is a Parisian banker who specializes in energy related finance. He posts to Daily Kos and European Tribune. His series about the lead-up to $100/barrel oil is fascinating. Another super site about energy issues is The Oil Drum blog.

Basically, we are about to reach, or have passed, what is called peak oil. This does not mean that we will suddenly run out, but that production capacity, even assuming continued new oil field discoveries, can't be maintained. Unfortunately demand is being not only maintained, but is rising rapidly. That means prices are likely rise much faster in the future.

If this post is not gloomy enough you should read this article about a major new UN report. Actually, please read it anyway.

What does this have to do with bikes? Well it is good news for the commuter and city bike business.

I'll leave you with one last thought:

"Did you know that the bicycle is the most energy efficient transportation mode? It is 3 times more efficient than walking, 5 times more efficient than using the train and 15 to 20 times more efficient than driving a car."

24 October, 2007

A Few New Parts

I'm not the only one who thinks the late model Simplex were the best friction dérailleurs ever made. I wrote this post about the famed Super LJ model, but as I continue to use the dérailleurs it becomes obvious the the later drop parallelogram models are even better. We have sold many new-old-stock SX610 models since I introduced them here. Sadly our supply is running low and we've not been able to find more. We did, however, find a stash of slightly later model Simplex, the 440 in both regular and long cage versions. They are not as pretty as the SX610s, but they shift just as well.

The second photo is of the prototype new VO bell mount. It'll be nice to be able to mount classic bells on older frames.

Finally I've posted some new mixte frame photos here. This is one of Ahren Rogers' VO city bike frames.

22 October, 2007

Obligatory Pumpkin Photos and Baker's Bike

Half the blogs I've seen in the past few days have a photo that includes a pumpkin. So here are VO's obligatory pumpkin photos.

In other food news, bakers in Europe traditionally used delivery bicycles with large covered baskets on the front. These were even called "baker's bikes. It seems that the large Hershberger front baskets sits perfectly on our new Porteur rack. It's as if it was made for that very rack. The Hershbergers, however, are moving to a new farm in an even more remote area, where freight pickup is unavailable. So that's, sadly, the end of our stocking their baskets. Get them while you still can.

19 October, 2007

Which Fenders? And Other Questions.

Though we are in a severe drought here on the East Coast, I know that it's been raining out west. I know because the most common e-mailed question we've been getting lately is, "Which fenders will best fit my bike?" Often the e-mail includes a photo of the bike. Unfortunately it's hard to answer that questions without a few measurements.

The basic rule in fender fitting is that the fender should be at least 8mm wider than the tire; 10mm is better. So a 35mm fender will fit up to a 26-27mm tire; a 43mm will cover a 32-35mm; 45 covers 38mm, etc. The reason for this clearance is that otherwise little pebbles, sticks, and other debris that are thrown up by your tire will get lodged between the fender and tire.

Next, we need to determine if the fender will fit on your frame. The width of the fender is measured on the outside and we need to check if it will fit in the brakes, in the fork crown, and in between the seat stays. To check the brakes simply apply them, so the pads touch the rims, and measure the width between the arms. Also check that you have at least 10mm vertically from the tire to the brake. Next check the width and height of the fork crown. Finally check that the seat stays are far enough apart and that the brake bridge is at least 10mm above the tire. You may have noticed that I've not mentioned the chain stays. Those are easy because you can always trim the bottom of the fender to clear.

Of course metal fenders are flexible and can be bent, so if the fit is close you can always squeeze the fender in a few millimeters at the offending spot.

As for fender length; that's easy, get the longest fenders possible. Long fenders keep you a lot drier. And if you live in the Northwest, get a mudflap for the front fender too. If you ride brevets or in pacelines, your fellow riders will appreciate a rear flap as well.

I've already posted about how to install fenders here.

Now on to other common questions:

When will Ostrich handlebar bags arrive? I wish I knew. I bug my Japanese agent about this every week and he just say that they are a small shop and are totally swamped, "but it won't be too much longer". The good news is that the new production run will have clear map cases and a strap for the upright loop on the rack. Update: Just got an e-mail. They are finally finished and on a ship heading our way. George-san, you must read the blog!

When will Portuer racks be in stock? They are at the polishing shop now and will ship to us in about a week, I hope.

What about Courier racks? The builder is finishing them right now and says we should have them in about 3 weeks.

When can I buy a Strida folding bike? The container of bikes is due to hit port on October 22, so we should have them 1-2 weeks later. I'll write a little review of my Strida soon.

How about Soma silver reverse brake levers? They arrived today!

17 October, 2007

French Bells and French Tandems

I bought the little AFA bell in the photo on E-bay. I like it because it can be used on older bikes that don't have room for a VO spacer mounted bell. We're having a similar mount made and will soon offer a Japanese brass bell with this type of mount. This is such a great design; why did it ever go out of production?

Cycles et tandems FOLLIS is one of Frances oldest and most respected bike builders. From Classic Rendezvous:

Established in 1903, this bicycle building business was known for it's artisan approach, gaining a particular reputation for its tandems. In the 1970s, a strong USA importing and promotional effort was entered into, with such noteables as Wayne & Dale Stetina campaigning the bicycles on the USA race scene. The USA success ended in the late 1970s, but they remain in business at the above address.
What does this have to do with VO? We just bought two new-old-stock high end Follis tandems from 1984. These have been hanging in a warehouse for 23 years! They were built for the famous Mel Pinto Shops in Washington DC and are decaled with MP logos. One is a Grey 56cm/50cn and the other is a blue 61cm/57.

Enlarge the photo of the spec sheet for details and check out the components. These are very nice bikes built with top of the line parts including TA Tandem cranks. They may not be Singer or Herse bikes, but the quality is close. The list price for this model was $2900 in 1984. This is not the more common mid-range MP tandem.

They'll be here in two weeks and I don't know what the price will be, but we'll take offers if anyone is interested ;<)

15 October, 2007

Quick Change Pedals and Other Neat Gadgets

One of the problems with using my rando bike for short rides is that I don't like to change into bike shoes. Of course I could get out a wrench and change pedals. The best solution, however, is MKS's quick change, or "EZ" pedals.

The EZ system works like the release on a high pressure air line. You push a little ring and the pedal releases, then you can snap in another. It's all very quick and almost effortless. Since I have MKS MM-cubes on three of my bikes, they are my favorite clipless pedal, it's easy to switch to the EZ version. My other pedal is the very well made MKS Promenade EZ, which is double sided and can be used with toe clips. I use mine with half clips.

We'll have the pedals in the store soon. They are not cheap, but I think their convenience makes them well worth the price.

The second photo is of the ViVa bag loops on a saddle. A few folks wanted to see what they looked like when mounted.

Derek Z. told me about the cool new Surly rear cable hanger on the right. We'll have them in the store in a few days.

12 October, 2007

Cities and Bikes

I've noticed these articles in the past few days that you might find interesting.

The first is from the online edition of Wired. It's entitled 'City Bike' Hot New Category at Bicycle Industry Show. The article identifies hotbeds of urban cycling and tries to convince us that riding a bike in a city is a very new and suddenly hip phenomena. As for Interbike, this about sums it up:

At Interbike 2007, the bicycle industry's giant annual trade show, the shift toward the urban rider is loudly evident. Fancy road and mountain bikes are clearly no longer king of the roost -- or road. It's the scads of fixed-gear, town, single-speed and other urban bicycles that are drawing the crowds.

The rise of the urban biker is reflected in Specialized's 2008 catalog, which lists 34 different models of city bike to choose from.

As someone who loves food I've long followed and tried to participate in the Slow Food movment. A related Slow Cities movement has also captured the imagination of many and it is nicely summarized in this article in Spiegel. Be sure to click through the lovely photos.

Supporters of Italy's "Slow City" movement are trying to develop liveable cities, banning cars from city centers and blocking McDonald's branches and supermarkets. The movement is spreading across Europe and is now taking off in Asia.

Today there are almost 60 certified slow cities in Europe and two in Australia. Here are the Movement's goals:

Slow Cities are cities which:
1- implement an environmental policy designed to maintain and develop the characteristics of their surrounding area and urban fabric, placing the onus on recovery and reuse techniques
2- implement an infrastructural policy which is functional for the improvement, not the occupation, of the land
3- promote the use of technologies to improve the quality of the environment and the urban fabric
4- encourage the production and use of foodstuffs produced using natural, eco-compatible techniques, excluding transgenic products, and setting up, where necessary, presidia to safeguard and develop typical products currently in difficulty, in close collaboration with the Slow Food Ark project and wine and food Presidia
5- safeguard autocthonous production, rooted in culture and tradition, which contributes to the typification of an area, maintaining its modes and mores and promoting preferential occasions and spaces for direct contacts between consumers and quality producers and purveyors
6- promote the quality of hospitality as a real bond with the local community and its specific features, removing the physical and cultural obstacles which may jeopardize the complete, widespread use of a city's resources
7- promote awareness among all citizens, and not only among inside operators, that they live in a Slow City, with special attention to the of young people and schools through the systematic introduction of taste education.

From the (Montreal) Gazette we have this story about Montreal's plans to set up North America's first widespread bike sharing program. It'll be based, of course, on the very successful program in Paris.

The first city-issue self-serve bikes are to appear at specially designed outdoor stations in fall 2008. By autumn 2009, it's expected 2,400 bikes will be available for as little as $1 per half-hour, at 300 stations around central neighbourhoods.

The idea is to encourage Montrealers and tourists to use the public bicycles instead of cars for short, inner-city trips. Users will be able to pick up a bike at one station, use it, then drop it off at any station of their choice.

San Francisco is considering a similar plan reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

More than a dozen European cities have government-sponsored programs in which bikes are provided for people to share. Last month, Paris started the most ambitious program yet, providing more than 10,000 bikes at 750 stations and expecting that the program will be double in size by year's end.

Now, hilly San Francisco is gearing up for a program of its own. A proposed city contract with Clear Channel Outdoor Inc. that gives the company advertising rights on transit shelters also would require the company to set up a bike-sharing program if the city opts for one. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the contract this month.

The cost to use such a program would be free or nominal, San Francisco leaders say, pointing to the Paris project as a possible model.

We'd better speed up work on those production VO city bikes. Or should I have a nice slow lunch first?

09 October, 2007

Glenn's Cyclotourist Frame

Glenn's new Velo Orange frame is the 650b version of our Randonneur frame. The most striking feature of the frame may be the saddle bag bumpers. These protect the rear brakes from the saddlebag that Glenn likes. I first saw bumpers like these on an obscure Japanese touring bike. We had also considered reversing the Paul Racer brakes so they would be mounted on the forward side of the seat stays, but this seemed the better solution.

Again, a black frame is very difficult to photograph so thanks for your efforts Johnny.

Rack Photos

I'm really pleased with the new chrome plated VO racks. One always worries that the production version won't be as nice as the prototypes, but in this case they might even be better. These racks cost $80 to $85 and are a spectacularly great deal. Ask your local frame builder how much they would charge for a similar rack, over $200 I'll bet. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

08 October, 2007

Extra Long Honjo Fenders and Chrome Racks Arrive

A big tractor trailer pulled up an hour ago and disgorged hundreds of Honjo extra long fenders, chrome plated racks and Nitto parts. It'll take us most of the day to unpack all this stuff, but we'll be getting everything up on the web site soon. More details and photos later.

03 October, 2007

VO In Taiwan

We import components from Taiwan, but recent orders for VO products from that country might be the result of a post on Wingsfab's Vault and Style.

Here is the translated post, and here it is in the original. Beautiful workmanship Wingfab. And the photos throughout the blog are great, especially the seafood.

I was just thinking about going to the Taipei bike show in March. Maybe it's time to rub shoulders with the buyers from Trek, Cannondale, Specialized... "You're from Velo what?"

The second photo is of a prototype VO bottle cage. It's not perfect, but the manufacturer now understands the issues. This particular factory does not make bike parts and the owner might never have closely examined a high-end water bottle cage. It's hard to explain that quality, not cost, is the most important thing. They think that if they raise the price by 20% we'll go elsewhere because that's what most other clients would do. So we keep stressing that cost is secondary and they probably keep thinking that we're very strange Americans indeed.

02 October, 2007

Prototype Photos

For your viewing pleasure we present the new VO racks with integrated decaleurs. The constructeur racks will also be available with a decaleur. This will really clean up the front of your bike and make it easy to use a handlebar bag. In the past you would have had to fly over to Paris, dig up some old constructeur, and beg them to make one of these for you. In a few months you'll be able to get one from VO.

Next up is the brake that will, I hope, soon become the VO long reach caliper brake. It still needs some tweaking, but it's close. I'm not sure what the reach will be yet, but the goal is to have a brake that's stiffer than the Tektro R556 with almost as much reach.

Click on the photos to enlarge them. Your thoughts, opinions, and suggestions are are welcome.

01 October, 2007

Interbike Wrapup

Here are a few final Interbike notes

We also placed an order for a new line of inexpensive, but beautiful, MKS toe clip straps in brown, black, and white.

Dutch bikes are so cool that I'm tempted to stock the Batavus delivery bike shown on the right. They are orange after all. Would anyone buy one?

The photo on the left is of one of two new Suntour Superbe cranks. They are actually less than superbe in finish quality. But I'm requesting samples and pricing info.

Back to the new VO production bikes. Here are some details on the city bike:

  • The city bike is a Tig welded version of our Gentleman and Madame models. We couldn't find a factory to fillet braze them and there are simply no lugs made that will work for this design.
  • 650B
  • The bike is set up for internally geared hubs or single speed only. The tubing is very high quality and all the usual VO braze-ons are included. It will be black powder coated.
  • A metal chain guard will available.
  • I'm still not certain about the brakes. Either VO cantis or Tektro R556, or the new VO long reach calipers (that probably won't be ready in time). Opinions?
  • I would like the frame and fork to sell for around $450-$500.
  • We are aiming for quality that's better then any frame made in Taiwan. Production will be overseen by one of the most respected Japanese framebuilders who will visit the factory regularly. There will also be an outside QC expert and project manager on the ground in Taiwan. She works for a major Japanese component manufacturer and is used to expecting the best.
It was gratifying to see Velo Orange fenders on some very fine custom bikes, such as the Sycip on the left. By the way, you'll see various upgrades in VO fender hardware and finish over the next few months. We're aiming for Honjo quality! We will start to wholesale the VO fenders to other bike shops next week, so please tell your local shop owner.

We will order some Lepper saddles tomorrow.

Is it time to join the 1990s and start stocking stems for threadless forks? Would having some manufactured that look like the models in the photo above (those are out of production) be worthwhile?