28 March, 2013

Back from Taiwan

I just got back from Taiwan and the the Taipei Cycle show. We also visited some of the factories that make VO products. Before I get into the product stuff, I wanted to tell you a little about Taiwan.

Many Americans still think of Taiwan as a poor country, and until fairly recently it was. But today Taiwan is 20th in the world by GDP (PPP) per capita according to the IMF. (So it's ahead of the UK, Japan, France, Denmark, etc.) The streets of Taipei are as filled with luxury cars, expensive boutiques, and eateries as Washington, Paris, or Tokyo.

In fact it's the eateries that fascinate me. It's hard to find a city block without a half dozen places to eat, from tiny nooks with six seats to world-class French restaurants. Even the little lanes, some no wider than an alley, are lines with Taiwanese, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Indian and countless other places to eat. Then there are the night markets, street markets that open as locals get off work and don't close until midnight or later. Many, if not most, of the stalls sell street food. Shilin market, the biggest, has over 500 food stalls. Night market staples include oyster omelets, fried squid, anything barbecued, stinky tofu, steamed dumplings, and a lot more. You can get pretty full for $10-$15. Taiwan may be the only country I've visited that's more obsessed with food than the French or Italians.

Bicycling is popular in Taiwan, but not in downtown Taipei. The city is set in a mountain valley so air pollution gets trapped and the smog can be awful. Then there is the car and scooter traffic. A few folks do ride downtown, but I'm not brave enough. A superb subway system, called the MRT, means that you can get anywhere cheaply and quickly, even beyond the downtown area. The MRT has train cars with room for bikes so cyclists can get to the surrounding countryside easily. There are plenty of bike paths, country roads, and lanes in the city's outskirts and beyond.

We started our trip by visiting a few of the factories where VO products are made. We visited the frame factory to discuss a new VO off-pavement touring frame we're working on. It seems that Grant Peterson had just visited so the owners invited us all to lunch. I've known Grant for a few years and it was nice to chat in a relaxed atmosphere.

We saw a new pedal we'd just designed that's based on the old Barelli pedals. These use huge bearings and a lot of new tooling, so it was gratifying to see that everything fit together and looked as it should. We'll be testing them shortly.

We discussed three new fender models at the factory that makes all the VO fenders. We also considered the possibility of a VO rinko fender. This would be primarily for our Japanese customers, but we might sell them here as well. (We'll soon have a rinko headset as well.) The fender factory's owner took us to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants. Set in a port town, it resembles a fish market. One room is filled with aquariums and tubs of ice containing dozens of types of fish and shellfish. That's where one examines the offerings and selects dinner.

The Taipei Cycle Show is massive, bigger than Interbike, and, at least from the visitors perspective, much better run with no long lines for badges, better nearby food, and plenty of helpful staff.

We had a dozen meeting with suppliers on the first day discussing various VO products they make as well as looking at other new stuff they were making. We talked with several factories about making a few of our components in black, since we now get that request fairly often. I know it's a radical idea, but we've heard that some cyclists do like black bits. I think we'll start with black Grand Cru seat posts, Grand Cru 1-1/8" headsets, and Grand Cru caliper brakes.

We spent the next two days wandering around talking with companies we don't currently work with and looking for new stuff. Overall I was disappointed with the offerings this year. Usually there are a dozen or more new components and accessories that we find and might at least consider importing. These days we prefer to design our own parts rather than simply importing an existing product, but it's still fun and instructive to see new ideas. Sadly, we saw very few innovations that I would consider worthwhile. I'm hoping it was just an off year and there'll be an explosion of creativity in 2014.

One new product we'll import is bag loops that clamp to saddle rails. We used to sell the Japanese Viva loops, but they became hard and slow to import and these new ones seem like a sturdier design. We are also looking at several classically styled plastic saddles, we hope to find one that feels like our ever popular Model 3 saddle.

There are other new developments and products, but for competitive reasons I'll keep those secret for a while longer. It's always a treat to visit beautiful Taiwan and enjoy the food and conviviality. The people are always so very friendly and helpful to clueless foreigners, and most speak at least a little English. I can't wait to go back, just wish it was closer.

21 March, 2013

Info Overload

We covered this topic in a previous post back in 2009, but we wanted to revisit it since now everyone and their mothers has a smartphone and GPS.

“Sweet. This is what 15 miles per hour feels like.” I was super excited when I got my first handlebar mounted computer.  From then it was downhill so to speak. I talked about cadence, lightweight components, and KOMs.  I replaced the batteries every time it died, but this one time I got lazy and put it off. Then something amazing happened. I started riding without all the information, without the knowledge about how far I had gone, what my average speed was, or what my cadence was. I felt free.

Not caring about numbers and just enjoying your surroundings is amazing. You’re free you can take in the landscape, ride because you like it, and think about things completely unrelated to biking like how to best cook
that random can of SPAM in the cupboard. I know how far my regular loop is and if I want to go somewhere new, I do one of two things: a) go on the internet and see what roads I need to take or 2) get on my bike, start pedaling, and go wherever I want.

Scott knows several randonneurs who cycle brevets without a computer. Years of experience has resulted in the ability to judge their speed very well. Some wear a watch, just so they can keep track of the control closing times, as well as provide feeback about their pace.

I’m not advocating that everyone gets rid of their computer. It is a valuable tool for certain riders and in certain situations; but with the rise of smart phones are they as necessary as before? I use the smartphone and the MyTracks app in my pocket as an aid to know where I’ve gone and where to go if I get too lost. It knows where I’ve been and can upload the map to my computer to see the route when I get home.  Others have taken up using GPS units that not only triangulate your position, but also tells you your speed, distance, cadence, heart rate, and segment info amongst other things.

So this whole thing begs the question...do you keep an eye on your performance and if so, how do you do it?

Btw, we uncovered 4 sets of MK1 50.4 cranksets and 5 sets of Dajia Lowrider Racks and we're blowing them out.

-Igor and Scott

12 March, 2013

Wheel Obsession

By Igor

I’m obsessed about wheels. Hubs, rims, spokes, and (ahem…) nipples.  There is something about building a wheel that leads to such a deep connection with the bike.  The selection of parts, building, and truing entails decisions that will make you honest with yourself and bring out real emotions. The bicycle wheel is an amazing, delicately balanced creation.

The choice of components of a wheel build is not something to be taken lightly. The rim is the most important part of the wheel, for it takes the load, shock, and deformation of the wheel to accomplish a comfortable and safe ride.  A rim out of round will lead to complications during building and an uncomfortable ride. A rim that has been manufactured by cutting corners to cut costs will save a customer money at first, but will only lead to costly repairs and replacements down the road (pun intended).

Hubs have more to do with frame design: spacing, gearing, braking, and application.  There is something to be said for all types of bearings. Sealed bearing (cartridge) lasts a very long time because they are kept away from the elements, so they are perfect for city riding and touring. Ceramics are fast and light but can wear out and damage steel races. Loose ball bearing is traditional and can be adjusted and overhauled, but requires much more care and maintenance [than cartridge].

Oh the spoke…the seemingly lowly spoke.  Much of the time when I hear people talk about the newest bike they build up, how much it weighs, the components it has, the type of wheel or X laced to Y without knowledge of the spoke attributes. The spoke is a very important consideration because they are dynamic. They change with shock and stress from frame distortion.  There are so many different styles of spokes that I won’t even get into all the benefits and drawbacks of each one in this post, but it is an important conversation to have with your wheel builder regarding your application and stress factors.

Nipples. Brass. Always.

Anyway, here's a few pictures of my latest build for Adrian's Bertin. 32h Campagnolo Record hubs, double butted DT Swiss spokes, VO Raid Rim, brass nipples.

You should always talk to your wheel builder about these choices and lacing patterns. They are the most valuable resource for the quality and safety of your ride.

Wheels are the component of the bike that I’m most passionate about. The whole process of lacing, truing, dishing, rounding, truing, dishing, rounding, truing, rounding, truing, dishing, and truing is something that I find therapeutic and intensive at the same time.

Scott’s obsessed about bike luggage and rumor around VO is Casey has never slept due to thinking about bikes 24/7/365. So what keeps you up at night? Headsets? Pedals? Bar plugs?

04 March, 2013

Nic's NAHBS Report

By Nicholas Carman (Gypsy by Trade)

The North American Handbuilt Bicycle Show (NAHBS) is always an exciting place to view bicycles. Builders are challenged to push form and function to new heights, exploring ideas new and old to make the best bicycles possible. This year's show in Denver, CO was ripe with new wheel dimensions including 650b mountain bikes, over a dozen fatbikes (26x4.0”+) in every frame material imaginable, and the new 29x3.0” size pioneered by the Surly Krampus. Titanium frames were plentiful and bamboo frames had a strong presence. Even the custom carbon market seems to be growing.

More bikes featured disc brakes this year, including touring, rando and city bikes. One beautiful lugged steel rando bike mated Campy 11-speed equipment to new TRP cable-actuated hydraulic disc brakes. Many bikes were wearing lightweight luggage in the modern bikepacking style, including a Cielo (Chris King) touring frame with luggage made by Tanner in Portland, OR of domestic canvas and leather, attached to the frame without racks. Such a refined statement may help persuade some riders into lightweight touring.

It is always interesting to see how Velo Orange products are used in the wild. How about Ultegra brifters on a VO Porteur handlebar, attached to a bike with a carbon fork? That's not what Chris had in mind when he designed those bars, I'm sure. What about 650b Diagonale rims with a SRAM XX carbon crankset and a classic aluminum chainguard? Of course, there were more traditional pairings as well, mating lugged steel to shiny alloy cranks, fenders, and racks. Take a look.
Geekhouse bikes are a mash-up of modern function and retro styling, and sometimes retro function with modern styling They featured several VO parts including 650b Diagonale rims on their pink Brentwood porteur bike, which paired an aluminum chaingaurd and a 1x10 SRAM XX drivetrain. A similar purple city bike spent some time at the Brooks booth, displaying a VO stem and rear constructeur rack with Brooks luggage.
Jon Littleford's Expedition Touring bike spared no detail for the long haul, including a rust-coat with a clear coat finish and expedition-grade racks with stainless coverings to minimize abrasion from pannier hooks. Dynamo lighting and internal wiring connected to a vintage Cat-Eye tail light and a modern headlight. A Grand Cru headset and VO bar tape were prominent up front, while a VO touring hub made the rear end shine. I asked Jon to display the features of this hub. He shifted onto the smallest cog, lay the chain on the chainrest and unhooked the brake, removed the wheel, and after removing the QR skewer, he quickly removed the entire cassette along with the oversize aluminum axle. This process would have been no more difficult along the roadside, and within seconds, one could replace a spoke on the drive side of the wheel, which is usually obscured behind the cogset. Additionally, the freehub pawls are exposed for cleaning or lubing, and sealed cartridge bearings can be removed and replaced without tools. Reassembly is just as smooth. During this process-- no more than a minute-- I held the bike upright on the table while snapping photos.
Vincent Rodriguez
This fast city bike featured a steel frame and a carbon fork, and was built with a VO fluted double crank, Grand Cru headset and a VO Porteur handlebar with Ultegra brifters neatly attached.
This young builder from Tokyo brought a nice rando frame to the show, unpainted, to show his tidy brazing. His bike featured a 50.4 VO double crank, and a Cinelli aero bottom bracket shell.

Curtis Odom
Curtis machines exquisite hubs inspired by vintage styles, but with modern guts. Several wheels were built with VO rims. Most of his wheels were built with Ghilsallo wood rims from Wheel Fanatyk.
This classic road bike uses vintage bits and VO elkhide bar covering. From a distance, this looks much like a few VO Rando frames I have seen. Chris Bishop builds bikes in Baltimore, MD, one of the nearest framebuilders to VO headquarters.

Note: Many framebuilders remove manufacturer decals for shows like this, so it was a challenge to verify the identity of metal fenders, which adorned bikes in abundance. None are pictured here but most likely, some were from VO.

01 March, 2013

Blank Plume Alaire Design Contest

Many classic French city bikes had beautiful chainguards with the manufacturer's logo. In that tradition we made this blank Plume Alaire chainguard for frame builders and others who want to add their own logo or graphics. The chainguards are highly polished aluminum so you can etch, engrave, or paint them. You could even make a circular decal to fit.

With not much to discuss at yesterday's staff meeting, we speculated on fun chainguard graphics. Casey created the example below, but we'd like to see what our customers might come up with.
So we welcome anyone who would like to try their hand at a design or logo. We'll pick the one we like most and post it on the blog in about 4 weeks. This is only for fun; VO won't use anyone's artwork. The winner gets a $100 VO gift certificate plus a chainguard (blank, or not, as you prefer).

You don't need to buy a chainguard to participate. Simply download the .png files of the chainguard's outline. The basic png file can be found here. And here is a file with dimensions. To enter, email us a .jpg or .png file with your design.

Update: The last day of the contest is 4/1/13