31 January, 2019

Bike Build Ideas: Dirt Research Kenai Basket-Packer

by Igor

Fully rigid MTBs from the last century make excellent townies and commuters. They're affordable, capable of clearing wide, 26" tires with fenders, and often have rack mounts to boot! They're also not so precious that you'll feel bad about throwing it around during your commute or errand run.

Here we have a mid-90s Dirt Research Kenai frameset that I picked up from our good friend, Sukho in PDX. Admittedly, the build took a bit longer than expected because I waffled between three directions we could have gone: bring it back to its former glory as a fully rigid MTB, dirt-drop Cigne'd off-road tourer, or Klunker'd basket'd townie. I think the right direction was chosen.

Dirt Research was a brand developed and designed by Tom Teesdale, the legendary framebuilder who built bikes under TET Cycles for the likes of Ritchey, Kona, Dean, Fisher, etc... Not a whole lot of information is available online about the Dirt Research brand as it seems that it was around for only a couple years in the mid-90s. Additionally, this particular Kenai frame seems a bit elusive as it has some fancier cable routing around the seat cluster and different colored decals than other, similar models I've seen online. The routing looks like it was grabbed from the Pecos, perhaps it was repainted? If any sleuths reading this have any additional info regarding the frameset, please let us know in the comments!

Here is that super neat cable routing. Since this is a 1x drivetrain, one of the brazed-on cable guide is unused. I'm not sure if this is better or worse than the a regular cable stop, but it sure is cool! I imagine this was specifically designed for cantilever brakes rather than V-brakes as the cable's positioning makes the exit right down the middle of the stays, perfect for our powerful Zeste Brakes.

The frame is built from Columbus Nivacrom tubing, which is their offroad racing tubeset. It feels fairly lightweight and springy for their oversized profiles. According to the label it's "extra leggera", extra light. The fork uses 4130 Tange chromoly steel with a lovely unicrown.

All-in-all this was a fun build up that provided us numerous opportunities to use VO components and accessories in a slightly different way than usual. The rear end and fork do have fender mounts, so I used an L-bracket to get the necessary clearances and solid mounting. Since the clearances were slightly different between each end, I gently shaped the rear L-bracket around the seatstay bridge. Not really necessary, but makes for a lovely, custom mounting detail.

The front end got a Cantilever Randonneur Front Rack with a Wald 137 Basket firmly zip-tied to the platform. A Transporteur Bag keeps all the stuff in. Add a butt-rocket bag or a rear rack and you'll be good to go for an overnight or a couple day long tour!

Shifting is taken care of by Shimano's SLX 11 speed system. Pairing the Shimano ZEE Crankset's 36T chainring with the 11-40T cassette provides enough gearing to climb a tree. The derailleur also features a clutch, so chainslap is a thing of the past. You can also turn it off, which makes shifting slightly easier since you aren't fighting the powerful spring for each shift. This option is very useful for offroad vs city riding.

I'm happy with the way this turned out. It's a ton of fun to ride, and I am happy to keep an older, obscure bike back on the road, even if its current setup isn't exactly the way it was intended to live its life!

The bike is for sale with everything you see here for $1850 shipped anywhere within the contiguous USA. If you're willing to pick up locally, let us know and we'll knock off some $$$ since we don't have to pack or ship it. If you're outside the US, shoot us an email and we'll get you a shipping quote!

28 January, 2019

Decaleurs: What Are They and What Do They Do?

By Scott

So what exactly is this thing and why does it play an integral part of mounting Randonneur Handlebar Bags? Well, a decaleur (deck-ah-lure) is part of an overall system that is designed to prevent a handlebar bag from flopping around. The idea is that the bag would rest all of its weight on the front rack while the decaleur exists to support/affix the top portion of the bag to prevent it from tipping off the side of the rack. One of the misconceptions of a decaleur system is that the decaleur is there to support the weight of the bag. That is not the case, that is the rack's job. I want to stress this. The rack supports the load, not the decaleur.

There are two parts of the decaleur system: the receiver and the bag mount. The receiver is most often mounted to the stem or headset and the bag mount is bolted directly to the back (facing the rider) of the bag. This makes for an effective and easy to use quick release system for securing the bag while also having the ability to quickly remove the bag from the rack to enter a restaurant, cafe, or office. While the likelihood of a bag bouncing out of the receiver is extremely low, we suggest using a toe strap or the integrated strap that goes along with our Randonneur Handlebar Bag to secure the bottom of the bag to the rack.
The Anatomy of a Decaleur

An alternative to the separate rack and receiver is a system where the decaleur is a part of the rack: the "Integrated Decaleur". This is our preferred system as it provides a stronger, simpler, and lighter system than a separate decaleur and rack system. The integrated system is best for medium to large handlebar bags like our Randonneur Bag. Note that our handlebar bag has pre-installed grommets so you don't need to drill, punch, or use a soldering iron on your new, fancy handlebar buddy. We have these available for cantilever brake studs (which also works with V or linear pull brakes) as well as braze-on styles (which also includes p-clamps for forks without rack mounts).

There are two other benefits of the Integrated Decaleur system: 1) it creates a standardized distance from the rack to the bag mount, thus making mounting and installing a medium/large handlebar bag a total cinch - just bolt the bag mount on the bag and slide the bag mount into the receiver. 2) it eliminates the potential issue of small frames not being able to take handlebar bags.

So! All decaleurs and parts have been put back into stock and are ready to receive your Rando Bags!

An absolute unit of a Rando Bag: http://treetopbags.blogspot.com/2016/01/14-tall-randonneur-bag.html

23 January, 2019

Randonneuring 101

By Scott

Randoneuring is a great way to get out and see new places and meet new people. We thought with the rando season either underway (you folks in So Cal are lucky in that regard) or about to commence, a brief primer on what is randonneuring would be appropriate.

We'll start out by saying that the best resource for randonneuring (if you are reading this in the USA) is RUSA. They are governing body for randonneuring in the US and have links to all the clubs who run rides around the US.  If you're outside the US, a quick google search will land you the name and contact details for the organizing group in your area.

So, now that we have that out of the way, what is randonneuring? I'd go with an organized ride of a distance equal to or greater then 200 km (125 miles) along a set route with a series of check points (controls) along the way. Time limits exist for the rides. A 200 km ride has a limit of 13 1/2 hours to complete it, which works out to an average speed of 15 km/h. As the distance goes up, the time limit does as well.

Rides start with Populaires - typically a 100 km (62 mile) event with one or two check points/controls to introduce cyclists to the principles of randonneuring.
Brevets are the traditional distances of 200 km, 300, 400, 600 for a series. Complete all four rides in one season and you get a lovely medal from France. Brevets also include longer events of 1000 km and 1200 km's all the way up to mega distance events like the Around Hokkido event in Japan that is 2400 km long! (If you want to know how to pronounce a word in the randonneur lexicon, just pretend to be Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther movies)

(Part way through the Inaugural Cascade 1200 in WA state in 2005)

Every fourth year is the grand daddy/momma of randonneuring events, Paris-Brest-Paris. PBP is a 1200 km event that attracts entrants from all over the world. At one point, PBP was professional road race, but transitioned in the 60's to a randonneur event. Lots of randonneurs plan their year(s) out in order to take part in this great event. I've never managed to get to France for PBP due to a variety of factors, but I certainly know lots of riders who have entered and all come away with a great deal of respect for the distance and an affinity for the French people who line the route during the event to cheer them on even in the middle of the night.

Randonneuring also has a team event called the Fleche (arrow in French). Teams of riders - at least 3, but no more then 5 bicycles - ride a route of their own choosing over a 24 hour period, with all the different teams arriving in the same end location, typically for a breakfast together. The ability to create your own route and the communal finish spot is one of the aspects of the Fleche that makes it very popular amongst riders.

The key with randonneuring events is that they are not races. There is no prize for the first finisher and everyone gets the same medal or pin celebrating the completion of that distance. The BC Randonneurs that I rode with for many years had new pins every year that celebrated various aspects of cycling or the Province. So there is a camaraderie between riders on brevets that would not exist in a racing situation. All the riders are the in same boat when it comes to the weather and the terrain and lots of riders work with other riders to overcome the issues of day and complete the event.

One of the tenents of randonneuring is self reliance. Riders are on their own to deal with punctures or issues with their bikes. A solid, reliable bike is valued by many over a fragile, ultra light weight bike. Also, riders must at some point during rides like the 300, 400, or 600 km events deal with riding in the dark. There is lighting and reflective requirements set down by RUSA and other governing bodies, but riders must come up with their own way to see the road as well as the route sheet that they navigate by.
(Scott's old rando bike during the Endless Mountains 1240 in PA in 2009)

So if this sort of event appeals to you, get in touch with RUSA or your local group and try out randonneuring this year. Has anyone already made plans for attending PBP this year? Let us know in the comments and come August we'll be dot watching the event and cheering you on.

17 January, 2019

Introducing the 2019 Luggage Lineup!

by Igor

We're excited to offer two new colors to our luggage lineup that we think you'll enjoy: Rust and Avocado! In addition to these new colors, we've done a few subtle updates to the designs of the Transporteur and Day Tripper Bags that makes them even more practical and clever.
The Transporteur has received removable lower straps. The idea is that if you take the bag on and off the bike often, the lower straps can be affixed to the bottom of your Porteur Rack or Wald Basket. That way you can quickly connect and disconnect the bag without the need to string the lower straps through the openings, which can be a pain if you're using a basket with a small grid pattern. You also won't have anything dangling from the bottom of your bag when you walk through the office, grocery store, or cafe. You can also keep the straps attached to the bag if you frequently lock your bike up on the street for extended periods of time.

Thanks to Chip of WhatBars for the push to get this design change into production!

The biggest change for Day Tripper Saddle Bag is that it receives a super sturdy buckle for the rear flap in lieu of the Version 1 drawcord. It makes cinching down loads simpler and allows easier access even with gloves.

We also dialed in the fit and position of the strapping to keep even the most fully-loaded bags super stable and secure over the roughest terrain.

While super-modular Randonneur Handlebar Bags, Snapper Sacks, and Cell Phone Pouches remain unchanged from last year, they all get the new color treatments.

Color-wise we are retaining Black and Burgundy for 2019. Design-wise, if you want to scoop up some Version 1 Transporteur and Day Tripper Bags, they are available on super-sale while supplies last. They're all perfectly good and functional bags, they just have fixed lower straps and draw-cord closure, respectively. Jump over to the Bag Collection for deals on last year's colors and styles.

14 January, 2019

Doug's Sportif Pass Hunter with 105

by Igor

Doug approached us with a vision of his Pass Hunter build: sporty, lightweight, wide 700c tires, fenders, and the perfect mix of modern and traditional. Of course that sort of build is right up our alley!

Starting with everything that rolls, we went with front and rear VO Touring Hubs laced to RAID Rims. Panaracer's 700x38mm Gravelkings present a confident and comfortable ride for the varied terrain Doug plans on riding through. They measure a bit narrow (36.5mm), but that was expected and leaves enough room for the 50mm Snakeskin Fenders we sneaked in.

We selected Shimano's 11 speed 105 component group. That level has been Shimano's workhorse for a very long time and has never let us down. This generation's shifter body is supremely comfortable and pairs exceptionally well with the 44cm Nouveau Randonneur Bars. Don't mind the uncut steerer tube. Doug requested it be left as is so he can do the final fit when the bike arrives. It's currently all done and capped with a VO Knurled Stem Cap.

I think every multi-purpose bike should have fenders. They don't weigh much and add a ton of value to the bike's function. In addition to keeping your backside and drivetrain significantly cleaner, it also makes a more "filled in" visual appearance. Form and function. Function and form.

The Pass Hunter was really intended for 45mm wide fenders, but with the added size of the tires, we needed to step up to the next fender width of 50mm. To make them fit accordingly, I dimpled the fender slightly to sit snuggly against the chainstay and within the fork crown.

An additional fender strut was mounted to the front fender as well. Notice how both fender stays are parallel. It's the little things that take a bike to the next level.

Matching Rustines Rubber Bar Plugs add a nice touch of color.

This turned out to be one terrifically versatile and fun ride. If you want your own VO build, simply shoot us an email and get the process started!

You can find the complete build list right here.


You may be wondering what's up with the Pass Hunter. It isn't being discontinued. It's being shelved for now and is in the process of a total refresh. We'll provide more details as we have them. But for now, if you're interested in a Pass Hunter and are between 5'9" and 5'11", now is the time to get your 55cm Pass Hunter. They're on sale and we won't be getting more in.

07 January, 2019

A Polyvalent Made for Two

by Igor

Our recent New Year's Instagram post brought up several questions from readers regarding setup, fit, and handling using a stem-mounted kid's seat. We went back and forth about the pros and cons between a trailer and a seat for a long time. We finally decided on the seat for the ability to talk to him during the ride - which is an invaluable learning and bonding experience. After having gone on many, many short and long rides with him, I thought it would be a good time to talk bike setup and well as tips to keep both you and your kid happy.

A low trail front end design is a must. Kids are heavy and only get heavier. And while the weight isn't in the same position as a front basket full of groceries and a 6-pack, they still weigh quite a bit and you wouldn't want your wheel and handlebar flopping around. The handling of the Polyvalent is predictable and easy. It's such a fantastic ride, that it allows me to forget about the bike completely and really enjoy our shared flying-through-space experience (even if it's just down the multi-use path).

Upright, swoopy handlebars are your friend. Your arms need to clear the seat's sides and your chest needs to clear both the back of the seat and the kid's head + helmet, so the more upright you are, the better. I prefer the Curvy One Handlebars for their back sweep and width. An aluminum alloy stem would probably be ok (nothing specifically was stated in the instructions otherwise), but just to be safe, I paired those bars with our steel, 90mm Removable Faceplate Stem for an upright, visible, and safe position.

After the first spin around the block, I realized that my knees were touching the corners of the seat. I blame my long femurs. I'm probably not the first to find this out, but the solution is pretty simple. You can either go with a wider spindle (what I did), pedal extenders, or an MTB crankset. The important thing is that you need to get your Q-factor (tread) fairly wide.

Wide, cushy tires - I chose 650bx47mm WTB Horizons. They're not fancy, but they're not supposed to be. They are terrific work-horse tires. They're hearty, take lower pressure, and aren't terribly susceptible to punctures as very supple tires are. Please don't change your tube or re-fill your sealant with a toddler on the side of the road. Pro-tip: I use these tires tubed and add 3 oz of sealant to each tube. No worries about a blow-off and the puncture probability is down to nearly nil.

You won't be able to mount a front mounted basket or handlebar bag due to the leg extensions, so attach a saddle bag or pannier for snacks, change of clothes, diapers, and wipes - basically a mini baby bag. You're probably not going to be out long enough to necessitate a full sized bag, but bring the essentials just in case - you never know... Thank me later.

Of course, a positive attitude is a must! Sing silly songs, point out birds, go over some bumps, take breaks to look at horses, and go to the park. Have fun and happy riding!

03 January, 2019


By Scott

I was listening to a podcast yesterday on the way home. It was an interview with Alton Brown, the Food Network host, author, and generally interesting fellow. The podcast/interview centered around watches and food - the watch website Hodinkee was the host - and one of the themes that came out was emotions.  In the context of the interview, it centered on why someone would obsess/fixate on a specific watch/model/style when they were buying or looking at watches. This got me thinking, as one can, about how emotion relates to bicycles.

I think for some, emotion and bicycles relates to the act of riding a bike. The joy, the feeling of flying, of moving around a city or place at a pace that is directly controlled by your efforts and that of the machine you are riding.

For others, the emotion of bicycles is the bike itself. The interest in the lugs or paint on a frame, the details of the derailleur mechanism or the other little features that only become evident when you examine the bike close up.

I mean, there is no logical reason for someone to spend time and money to restore an old Peugeot UO-8 or Schwinn Letour. One can go to a bike shop and buy something that is lighter, more reliable and compatible with modern parts for not much more then what some folks have dropped over time with new parts on a bike made in the late 60's/early 70's.

So why do we do it? Well that is where I think emotion comes in.

For me, it is a love of an all-rounder bicycle - an historically British style where the bike could be used for touring, both on and off road, and for commuting to work. For me, the Polyvalent is the modern progression of this style. Equipped with braze-on's for everything one might need and room for wide or narrow tires, it can be anything you want it to be. The feeling I get riding it over rough roads/tracks is fantastic. Knowing that I'm independent of anything or anyone else is very empowering as I explore the smaller paths and roads of Maryland.

I know of customers who obsess over certain brands. They collect and ride a variety of bikes from one maker and become very knowledgeable about the details and features of that brand/model.

So what emotion gets you when we talk of bikes? Is it the feeling of riding, an interest in a particular brand, model, or something else?