29 June, 2007

A Quick Note

It's been so busy I've not had time to put all the new stuff we have into the store, but here is a list:

  • Lomotec Retro light, but not the version with standlight or switch yet.
  • CLB city bike levers
  • NOS Stronglight dust caps
  • NOS TA bidon cage clamps in the ancient paper packages.
  • All sizes of Rivendell/Nitto stems
  • Another case of the rare and beautiful Simplex/Gipiemme retrofriction shift levers
  • And more neat stuff that I haven't even unpacked yet
I'll try to get this stuff counted, checked, and set up in the store by Monday

We also have the latest essential biking accessory from Japan. That's right, we now stock the amazing e-bell. Read all about it here. Sumi-masen!

And finally, we've stopped opening the showroom on Saturday morning. We simply get too few customers then; everybody must be out riding.

27 June, 2007

For Your Eyes Only

Since the CIA has just released the "Family Jewels", describing how they spied on Americans and tried to assassinate various heads of state, I thought I would release some data on getting bike parts manufactured. Many people e-mail to ask how various projects are coming so I thought we needed to explain the delays. Now I'm still new at this, so I probably don't know all the secret shortcuts, but here is our basic operational plan.

Let's take the VO water bottle cage as an example. First we look at dozens of historical drawings to get ideas. Next I make sketches of the cage and send them off to my Taiwan agent by e-mail, not secret courier. At this point a few weeks have elapsed and he has given the drawings to a real draftsman and stopped giggling at my sketches, (Tom, have you stopped laughing?). The plans are drawn in Solid-Works, sent back and forth a few times as various versions are considered and several small changes are made. Now finished, translated, and double checked, they are sent off to five factories that make cages. Most have no interest in doing a small run of high-end cages for an unknown company, but one likes the idea. The problem is that they can't find exactly the right stainless steel rod to meet our specs. We broaden our specs as a few more weeks slip away.

So here we are, in a few more weeks we'll receive samples. Then we will pay for tooling cost. The tooling will be made and then the cage. Now months, not weeks, have slipped away as we wait for our turn in the production schedule. Eventually the first run will be completed and packed. Then we will wait for a freighter, not Air America, to bring then to the US and a truck to haul them to Annapolis. Eventually they will be for sale, but it won't be soon.

25 June, 2007

In Europe, "An Attack on Car Culture" says WSJ

After my post about a car, I thought I'd better write something about how bikes can replace cars. But those consummate liberals at the Wall Street Journal have beaten me too it. Check out this article and slide show about bike transportation in Europe. The WSJ waxing poetically about bike culture---have I fallen down the rabbit hole?

The WSJ also gives a nice plug to The Dutch Bike Company, which sells a nice selection of heavy, but sturdy, Dutch cycles here in the US.

The idea of free or low cost loaner bikes has really taken off in some European cities. Read this post from TreeHugger that reports the Barcelona bike program has had some 30,000 users in three months.

22 June, 2007

The 2CV, Not a Bike

Working around bikes all the time, I occasionally find the need to get away from them. A couple of days thinking about something else clears the mind and gives a new perspective. Perhaps the blog needs a break too. Last weekend I got away by attending the Citroen Rendezvous in Saratoga Springs (click to see the photos). You see, my car is now a 1982 Citroen 2CV, or Deux Chevaux.

Now I know that many readers are anti-car, but I think the real issue is how we use our cars. I love to travel, by bike, sail boat, train, plane, and, yes, car. Having a car for longer trips, long errands, carrying heavy stuff, etc., makes perfect sense. It's the daily commuting and taking a car on little errands that could be accomplished on a bike or by foot that really bugs me.

But back to the 2CV, it carries four people very comfortably, has a top speed of 70mph, and gets, by my calculations, 54mpg around town. It does this with a 2 cylinder 602cc engine that is so simple almost anyone can fix it. But since the car was designed in the late 1930's for French farmers, who had never owned a complicated machine, it is amazingly reliable. They have been driven on several round-the-world, trans-Asian, and trans-African expeditions

The seats come out with the flick of a lever to turn it into a sort of van, or so the seats can be used for a picnic. Oh yes, the roof rolls back to become a convertible. There is even a commercial "truck body" version. It is also fairly safe, based on crash tests done in the '70s.

So why is it that we need SUVs? It may not be a bike, but the 2CV is the next best thing.

The last photo shows a very odd 2cv made for French fire departments. Can anyone guess it's purpose?

19 June, 2007

"Rene Herse" Name Revived

While at Cirque, I learned that the rights to the Herse name had been purchased by Mike Kone of Colorado. Together with builder Mark Nobilette, they plan to build custom bikes under the "Rene Herse" name. This has generated some lively discussion on the Classic Rendezvous list and more than a few e-mails among those of us who build this style of bike. Mike and Mark plan to offer bikes at the very top of the price range and in the Herse style.

I'm throwing this out for discussion because it is an interesting marketing tactic. I don't think these new bike will be mistaken for real Herse bikes in the same way that the current Buggatti cars made by Volkswagen are not confused with classic Buggattis, But that is not to say they might not be excellent products.

If Mike and Mark plan to produce bikes that are comparable to the classics, and they do, then they have set a very high hurdle indeed. It is easy to say that you will build bikes that can carry on the legacy of, perhaps, the finest constructuer in history. But quite another thing to do it. It certainly takes a lot of confidence to believe that you can rise to such a standard and to essentially announce to the world that you will henceforth start building the very best bikes on the planet. Certainly Mark is a fine builder, but I have never seen any of the bikes from Mike's last venture, "Cone Head Bikes" so it's hard for me to speculate on the outcome. And Herse was famous for technical innovation. Can one suddenly decide they will be innovative? It's certainly possible in a larger company that can hire a research department, but for a small bike shop? I guess we'll see when the first bikes are delivered and are ridden. Let's not forget that Herse bikes are even more renowned for how they rode than what they looked like.

So, what do you think?

More Mixte Photos

Here are a few more photos of Lorna's new mixte. It still needs a generator, but the build is very nice. Check out the internally expanding seatpost and very cool chain guard.

The color is a very close match to the blue used by Rene Herse. Interestingly, Neil (who ordered the frame as a present for his wife) didn't like the color at first, but now says it's probably better than what he had envisioned. I'm still trying to talk him into center pull brakes ;<)

14 June, 2007

The First VO Mixte City Bike Frame

Here are two photos of our prototype mixte city bike frame which is going to Neil B. It was built by Ahren Rogers, nice fillet brazing. Note the generator mount, chainguard bosses, and rear brake location. The slightly odd cable guides are for the shifter cable for a SA 8-speed internal geared hub. I think we'll switch to non-wrapped seat stay caps on the mixte frames since they would then look like the mid-stays, a more consistent appearance.

Ahren will build up the frame over the next couple of days and Neil's wife will get a very nice present on Monday. Neil, we want lots of photos please.

BTW, our next frame is a semi-lugged mixte frame from Johnny's shop with rando geometry!

13 June, 2007

Shop News and Growing Pains

Here are a few items of interest, at least to me:

  • Tressostar has just discontinued green, gray, and ORANGE handlebar tape! What are they thinking?
  • TA has confirmed that we can get another 100 Pro 5 VIS cranks. This was a 60th anniversary batch that was forged, but never polished. I wonder what they planned to do with them if we had not bought them, just dump them? You can reserve a set. This is all there is; forever; really, unless they dig up another dusty box.
  • Honjo will finish our fenders late next month. The fenders will take 2-3 weeks to ship. When they arrive we'll have several new models.
  • Our Velo Orange brand fenders will be finished next week and will ship by freighter. If they look good we will immediately order a 650b version.
  • We are out of Ostrich bar bags and, for the first time, are really pushing a Japanese company to finish an order ASAP. We'll see if it works.
  • If you want decaleurs or racks you should order soon. We will run out for 4-8 weeks. Sorry but our sales have increase threefold this year and we just didn't plan for it.
  • The Porteur chaincases should be available next week.
  • I think the name of our eventual built-in-Taiwan bikes will be Cycles Escargot. The idea is to have a less expensive line of bikes, but without diluting the VO brand name. Opinions please? We are shopping for a factory to make a 650b touring frame and a 650B city bike frame. These will also be sold as complete bikes.
  • I am almost finished designing an absolute top of the line cost-not-considered VO frame. The intent of this frame will be to be as light, look as beautiful, and ride as well as any rando bike on the planet. I don't think a $2500 frame will sell particularly well, but I'd like VO to have a halo product that folks will consider alongside Singer, Weigle, Mariposa... Of course saying it is the easy part. Johnny, you have your work cut out for you.
  • Speaking of Johnny, frame orders have been rolling in steadily and the wait time for a Rando frame has now increased to 8 months. The first mixte city bike is back from the paint shop and I'll post photos very soon.
  • Does anyone want to order the first VO Camper frame? We will sell the first couple at cost (with racks.) But we get to pick the paint and some of the options.

12 June, 2007

Silver is the New Black

While we have been trying to get silver inverse brake levers made, Soma has done it and we have the result in stock. Now make no mistake; these are not as elegant as the eventual VO levers. But they are available from the VO store right now, which counts for something.

The photo shows them mounted in our Belleri Tour bars. What a perfect combination for an elegant city bike.

Today I ordered two runs of custom handlebars from Nitto. Both are porteur bars, but made from the tubing used for Nitto's road bars. So they are nice and thick when taped and accept inverse brake levers. One is a version of the Nito Promenade bar we currently stock. The other is narrower, more traditional, and better for riding in city traffic. Please don't ask me when they will arrive; I don't know yet.

Finally, Soma has come up with some very nice bar-end plugs that are silver, yet lock in like Velox plugs. At only 8 grams each they will help with that ultralight randonneuse build.

11 June, 2007

More Le Cirque Photos

I've added another 36 photos of interesting bikes from Le Cirque. Which bike is your favorite ?

09 June, 2007

Le Cirque Photos

I'm attending Le Cirque du Cyclisme this weekend and I though you might enjoy seeing some details of the bikes scattered about. Tomorrow is the bike show so I'll take more photos, but for now I've posted a selection in this album. There are some neat details to discuss and emulate.

05 June, 2007


Of the mass produced French bike-boom era cycles, Motobecanes have always been my favorites. The design and quality was always, at least to my eye, a bit above equivalent Gitanes and Peugeots. Of course there were some excellent smaller brands like Urago, but they are hard to find. Motobecanes can be easily and cheaply bought at yard sales, swap meets, and on E-bay.

My favorite Motobecanes were the Grand Record and Jubilee. They have decent construction of Vitus or Reynolds 531 tubing with Nervex lugs. The handling is comfortable and stable, as a rando bike should be. In fact I currently use a Jubilee as my everyday city bike and have a Le Champion frame in reserve. The Grand Record and Jubilee make very good budget classic randonneuse and are probably the least expensive way to approach the feel of a constructeur bike. This Classic Rendezvous page explains the full Motobecane model line-up.

David Barnblatt obviously appreciates Motobecanes as he has transformed the two Mirages and the Grand Record shown into truly lovely machines. His Grand Record is probably a better rando bike than most any complete production bike available in the US today. Check out the gold Mafac competition brakes and levers, Honjo fenders, and Simplex seat post, not to mention Campy high flange hubs and Velo Orange racks. More photos of his bikes can be found here.

The last photo is of my own Jubilee city bike which is still waiting for the prototype large porteur rack and VO fenders. It may also get 650B wheels.

02 June, 2007

Sara's Black Randonneuse

We have a small album of photos on line of Sara's new black Randonneuse frame. Johnny took these first shots outside his Brooklyn shop. (Thanks Johnny.) It's hard to photograph a black frame, especially in bright sunlight, but I think you'll get the sense of it. We hope to have more photos when it's built up. Note the eyelets on the inside of the fork for the hub generator wires. The brakes will be highly polished Paul racers.