Friday, December 21, 2012

Moving with a cargo bike

Sadly, not the way I would prefer for that sentence to be parsed, but here it is:

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Swift Industries

To use the Campeur as a hauling bike, I have so far just been putting stuff in the trailer. There is only so much room in there, though, and I don't want to hook it up for solo rides, for grocery shopping, etc. To that end, I plan to add a rear rack and have acquired a small saddle bag and rear panniers from Swift Industries. There is no getting around the fact that these are pricy items. That said, panniers and bicycle luggage in general are expensive items, and the inexpensive options carry hidden costs. I specifically chose to support Swift Industries because they are a regional company, the luggage is made by hand, and I love the philosophy and business ethic of the small firm. See a bit more here:

A month after ordering, just as promised, the bags have arrived and I am simply blown away by them. I love how they look, and the construction is solid. The design is well-thought out, from D-rings for shoulder strap to compression straps where they should be. The pockets are the right size and where I would have put them. The materials are wonderful; waxed canvas, cordura, and waterproof vinyl interior linings. They fold flat when empty, but bulge out (and unroll to tower upwards) generously.

For simpler, shorter rides, I have also added a Little Dear   saddle bag. It is just the right size for a lock, lunch, jacket, and critical tools. Attaches with leather straps and a wooden dowel to the loops at the back of the saddle. It looks huge on my tiny bike but is actually a fairly petite bag when compared to other traditional saddle bags.

I'm looking forward to breaking these bags in, and I would not be surprised to see these bags outlive me. It is a real pleasure to find companies taking the time to build things slowly and properly, and relatively close to home.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Let There Be Rack!

Neither the included bracket nor the special cantilever bracket I bought from Longleaf worked for the IQ Cyo light on the Campeur frame. I knew I wanted a front rack, so waited for that to be installed before figuring out how to mount the light. The Pass Hunter rack does have 4 mounting points for lights, but included no bracket, so I had to fashion one. I want the lamp low enough and off to the side enough that a semi-bulky object (or bag) can sit off the edge of the rack without hitting the light. The bracket should ultimately be sloped down a bit, but for now I made a temporary one by finding a piece of donor steel in my parts box, cutting and grinding it, and then bending it in a vise. I still want to shape one which will hang a little lower, and little more elegantly but the point here was to be able to install and test the light with its dynohub. Similarly the routing of the wire (and securing with zip ties) are all temporary, but wholly functional.

Here's the light, rack, and bracket:

As the sun went down and a gentle rain started, I took it out for a 3 mile spin. Wow! It is certainly bright enough to ride on my dirt country road at a sane speed.

I have it mounted on the left side of the bike, thinking that will improve visibility for oncoming traffic (the light will not be blocked by the bike itself). I do see many lights (in America) mounted on the right, however. This could possibly better illuminate hazards on the shoulder, but I found the coverage great with the current setup. I chose the "N" beam pattern which leaves an alleged dark spot in front of the bike in order to focus more of the beam far ahead where it is needed. I have to say, though, that the shadow zone immediately in front of the bike is plenty illuminated, it is just dim by comparison. This is a powerful little light, it is not pleasant to stare directly into (it also has a clever lens and shield arrangement to prevent this). All in all, very impressed!

Monday, November 5, 2012

20 miles, 60lbs

Barring racks and luggage to really test the "camping" abilities of the Campeur, I attached the trailer, put in a 35lb kid, a U-lock, some tools, some water, and hit the road. 10 miles later, we took a break in the beachside town of Yachats, OR where we refueled with a blueberry-lemon muffin at Bread and Roses. The park was just across the street, so we spent a few minutes on the slide. Wanting to further test the weight-bearing abilities of the frame, I added a 6-pack of cider in glass bottles and a medium fuji apple. This brings the estimated cargo weight to 60.1 lbs, not counting the mini pump, multitool, spare tube, sippy cup of water, etc. Lets call it 60 to be certainly underweight/conservative.

35lb kid/clothes/boots
7.8lb hard cider
2.7lb u-lock
17lb trailer

The ride was great! I am not all that impressed with the Nashbar trailer in general, but the price was right (free from a friend). I do have experience with it on two other bikes, however, so I think I can quantify "the Nashbar experience" and how it changes a ride. This definitely felt better/smoother than pulling the trailer on the Shogun. The gearing is great; there are moments on the Shogun where I have to wonder about stopping to walk, but I was able to spin (albeit slowly) up all the hills without much complaint or ill-will towards the universe. I can't imagine I would personally pack 60lbs of camping gear so this is encouraging.

I know 20 miles is no great distance, but it is long enough to give a firm idea of how the bike handles. It is also about right for a S24O camping trip, which is more along the lines of what I selected this bike for than for months-long touring.

The saddle is taking a bit of time to break in. It is generally comfortable for ten miles and then I start to notice its firmness. I know these saddles take a while to get used to, and according to others, VO saddles take even longer than a Brooks. The fun part is that I had just spent several miles working on a different saddle (on the Shogun) before switching to this one. I do not love the textured surface on the top, as I think I prefer the smooth, but I am still glad to have bought the complete bike and enjoying the savings that the bundle provided. That said, I still think about a day when I will replace the saddle with a Flyer.

I'm also starting to miss the bar tape. It should be here (along with a front rack) in a day or two. I am through experimenting with hood position and ready to tape. I am starting to disenjoy the feel of the bare metal bars, even with leather cycling gloves. Nonetheless, I continue to be very impressed with this bike.

Here's today's setup:

On and Off the Road

Atypically clear weather afforded a great bikeride yesterday. A handful of gravel miles and a dozen and a half on pavement. I took a brief detour at the local elk forage field to ride in the muddy ruts, over fallen branches, and on a stretch of "road" that would make a 2wd automobile pilot nervous. The Campeur was delightful in this context. Previously mentioned toeverlap aside, the slow-speed handling was no problem, the gearing was sufficiently low, and the tires were wide and grippy enough. I have them at relatively low pressure per Jan Heine's suggestions). It really felt quite a bit like my old hardtail Haro mountain bike; just a tractor trudging over the obstacles and through the mud. The drop handlebars take a little getting used to in this context, and I wonder if I should put my cyclocross interrupters on... but I was able to get around just fine. Very encouraging!

Chart from Jan Heine's site, click image to visit

I still have not been able to test the bike under load, eagerly awaiting delivery of racks. In the meantime, I might try with the bike trailer + kid, which will at least give me an idea of how effective the low gears are. As it is, riding 20 miles with no luggage is a breeze and the gearing is sufficient that the modest hills on my road (which are not fun on my other bikes) are really almost enjoyable.

I will have to return with a camera to show the bike in action, but this is the elk forage on a dry summer day

Over time I will be talking about other methods of kidhauling and practical cycling, not just this new bike, but right now this bike is taking most of my spare time, so there you have it.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Still loving the Campeur, but one issue since adding the fenders has become apparent: the small (51cm) frame and large wheels (700c) conspire to create a bit of possible toe overlap. This became much more noticeable since adding the fenders. It is simple enough to avoid, by remaining mindful of pedal position during the rare slow and sharp turns, but this is not really possible during a crisis. It is probably much better to contact a static fender than to kick a spinning tire, but it is all not great.

photo from the Velo Orange blog

For many frames, the smaller sizes will use different wheels; 26" or 650b. I certainly would have preferred this, but it can also upset the handling to the point where the framemaker needs to re-design the smaller sizes to work with these wheels. The Crosscheck that I test rode also had 700c wheels and did not seem to have this issue, but it also lacked fenders.

I am not willing to lose the fenders, and love the handling of this bike enough that I want to work with it. What I am not sure about is how switching to smaller wheels might detract from the ride quality. It could improve it!

Expense aside, I would love to try this. I've asked VO for their thoughts, but welcome any other ideas from those experienced with various wheel sizes on frames not intended for them, as well as other shorter riders.

There are some interesting insights here:

and Sheldon Brown aims to sooth with these words:

"Many, many people ride bicycles with fairly severe overlap with no practical problems, sometimes having to make a slight adjustment to their pedaling habits at very slow speeds.
On smaller-size bikes with full-sized wheels, it is usually impossible to eliminate overlap without causing adverse fit/handling issues."

and, the Velo Orange Blog has an entry about the issue.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Velo Orange Campeur - Happiness Sets In

Getting the fender just right

Today I received and aftermarket saddle binder bolt and was able to secure the saddle into the bike. Despite pouring rain, I took it for a ten mile jaunt on gravel and pavement. Wow, I love it! The ride is supersmooth, it tracks just fine freehanded, and the fenders worked very well. I was soaking wet but cozy and warm in a merino shirt.

The other bikes I have been riding lately are a Soma Smoothie (steel road bike set up in a racer direction) and a Shogun (vintage sport-touring bike with VO porteur handlebars and baskets on the rack). The Shogun is actually amazingly spry and nimble, but not as much so as the Smoothie. The Campeur, which I was not expecting to feel quick, is right between the two. It is lighter than I was expecting, and the gearing is well-chosen. The bike was about as pleasant as a bike can be while climbing, and for the first time I did not dread the "fork hill" on the way back to my house. Probably just new bike excitement, but I really am feeling great about this bike.

Also, VO replied to my concerns of the damaged paint, broken bolt, and missing pieces. They responded rapidly despite the hurricane closing their office. The issue with the bolt was indeed that a crucial washer was missing, and they are addressing this on other frames. The paint damage seems to have happened while being shipped, and they are adjusting their packing procedure. As I took the brunt of this as a beta-tester of sorts, they are graciously sending me a front rack. This is about 1/5th the price of the frame, which I feel is more than adequate for the slight damages I have to put up with. All in all, I am a very happy campeur, and wouldn't hesitate to continue to recommend Velo Orange as a dealer of parts and bikes.

Of course I am going to need more time to properly assay and review the Campeur bike, but after that first ride, I really love it! The fit is great, the shifting is smooth, and the components feel solid. I really like the micro-ratcheting shifters in particular.

I am not sure I love the pedals I put on it, some Shimano hybrids which I used on the platform side. Not as grippy as I had hoped, and I had a little numbness in the foot. I need a little more time to determine if they are keepers or not.

Velo Orange Campeur: First Impressions and Frustrations

My Campeur has arrived!

The bike is rather attractive; it is especially impressive to see the gleaming silver hardware after so many years of ubiquitous black parts. Certainly the gear cluster is going to be black soon enough.

Blobby welds were expected, and are really not too bad. Also within tolerance would be a few nicks and scratches in the paint, but I am a little disappointed in the number and severity on this frame. One and possibly two are deep enough that I am concerned and will coat them. The worst is a series of little blemishes under the Campeur decal. It creates a bubbly appearance and feeling that looks really terrible and cheap. Not enough to send the bike back, but really disappointing and at odds with the whole "classic" look.

I'm not sure if my photos really capture the nature of these spots. They are highly visible; as a metric my wife spotted them instantly with no prompting.

The bike was simple to assemble with a couple exceptions. The first is that the bar tape was not included. Not a huge deal, not too expensive to buy, but I live in a very remote area with no decent bike shop within a 90-minute drive. That is quite a ways to go for bar tape. I've contacted VO and hope they will remedy this, but the wait is frustrating. I plan to ride without the tape for a while anyway, to verify the positioning of the hoods.

The other issue is that upon installation the seatpost binder bolt was unable to clamp enough to hold the post in place and then snapped as I tightened it. After removing the broken pieces, I realized it was missing it's washer, which might have been the spacer required. Another possibility is that the male portion was milled too long, and it was bottoming out.  None of my other bikes use a compatible bolt, so now I cannot even test-ride the bike (see above regarding just going to a the LBS and grabbing a new one). I did actually call the two bike shops within an hour, and neither have such an exotic item as a keyed 19mm bolt. I went ahead and mail-ordered a Sugino replacement, hoping it to be of higher quality or milled more accurately.

Not being deterred, I continued working on the bike with what I had: a brand new set of VO steel fenders. Again, some disappointment as two of the 5mm bolts to hold the stays onto the dropout eyelets were missing. This is not a big deal financially, but a show-stopper as far as fender installation goes. I was able to steal some from my MTB water bottle mounts. Uglier (they are ancient and filthy panheads) but they work. The fenders were giving me a bit of trouble to install perfectly, but I was expecting it to be a challenge. The main issue is with the eyelets which mount the stay to the fenders. Positioning them symmetrically is very challenging, and when they are not exactly positioned right, the entire fender is biased to one side or the other. Adjusting the stays in the R-clips is not the answer here. After a lot of fiddling over 2 days (3 sessions) I was able to get a decent line and no rubbing. Not perfect, but close. I feel VO should include a couple spacers for where the fenders mount to the fork crown and the seatpost stay. This $1 extra in hardware would go a long way to making the $55 fenders work out for everyone. They suggest using presta-valve locknuts, but not everyone has those laying around. I suppose they assume anyone installing fenders on their own has a stash of hardware, and they might be right, but again I think the minor touch of including "nice to have" hardware would make their product much more appealing. Raise the price $5 and include a couple extra bolts and spacers.

One key to getting the fenders put on was to slightly bend the washers which go inside the fender. It was very difficult to get enough thread through to put the nut onto until I "potato chipped" the washers a little bit with some pliers. You can see what I mean here:

The washer on the right was adjusted to follow the contour of the fender just a bit. This made a huge difference.

All of this is indeed disappointing, yet minor. I still cannot address the ride quality of the bike! Most of these items would have been hardly worth mentioning if the bike had been assembled at a bike shop with a spare hardware bin. It does, however, serve as anecdotal evidence to confirm some rumblings out there that VO has some issues regarding quality control and "fit and finish". For the relatively low price, I expect some compromises, but these issues seem like they could have easily been nipped in the bud with a little more quality control and packing efficiency (for example, there was no packing list or checklist).

To their credit, VO did reply rapidly. Understandably, they are closed now because of Hurricane Sandy, and I am not at all faulting them on a slow reply to my missing bolts and tape in the face of a natural disaster. That said, the way that they do address these issues is going to seriously effect how I feel about them as a company, and how I feel about the experience of mail-ordering a bike from them.

More soon (I hope) as I actually get the thing ready to ride!

Update: VO did reply and have sent out replacement hardware as well as reasonable explanations for the issues. I am feeling good about the purchase and love the bike. More here:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Shellac and Twine

Like many other bike dorks, I've gone ahead and slathered some shellac onto the cloth bartape on the Shogun. 3 coats. I am pleased with how it looks and feels. Original color was yellow. Shellac was amber.

I also added a simple rack and some Wald folding baskets.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Sudden Turn - The VO Campeur

When I decided it was time to invest in a new automobile-replacing bike, the Surly Long Haul Trucker was what I had in mind. Intended as a touring bike, lots of people have used them for commuting and utility bikes for many years. I was thinking of it as a less-expensive version of a Rivendell "unracer"; a bike meant to last and provide comfort without pretending to be a racing bike. As I do not live near a decent bike shop, I came close to just ordering one of these based on the mountains of positive reviews out there. My cooler head prevailed, though, and I went to test ride them to choose my frame size. To my surprise, none of them fit me well. There are probably accommodations I could make with different stems, handlebars, and seatposts, but the frame felt either too small or too large, the sizing was not granular enough. Us short people got no reason...

The bike shop suggested I try a Crosscheck, another very popular frame with a huge cult following. It is still touring capable, but is marketed as a cyclocross bike. A higher bottom bracket, and a different "effective top tube length". To my surprise and delight, it fit like a glove. Very nimble, peppier than the sluggish LHT, but still durable enough to load up witih cargo. Indeed, a friend of mine rode hers from Minneapolis to my home in Coastal Oregon. That is more touring than I will probably ever do. 

Then the question was if I wanted a black one (I already have a black bike) or to wait for the 2013 obnoxious green, they call "hospital foam".

While admitting it is a bit over the top, I actually like the loud color and was telling myself it is a good nod to safety, as well as having the bike remain visible while parked on a crowded rack. I was not as into its modern black hardware, but so be it.

However, breaking news occurred!  As I was looking at the Velo Orange site, I noticed that their Campeur frameset was available as a complete bike. This bike is built just as I would want it (as a triple, and balanced for front and rear luggage). I was planning to have the Crosscheck converted, and the pricing after all the modifications I was going to make to the CC made them comparable in price.

Velo Orange has mixed reviews on the net, and it highlights the dangers of researching projects on the net in general. Most of the criticisms are that the items are using obsolete technology like friction shifters and cantilever brakes. However, I am old enough to have grown up with friction levers and never had an issue (that I couldn't fix) with them. I have had lots of frustrating experiences with indexed shifters, though. Similarly, another criticism of the Velo Orange frames are that they are designed for threaded forks. I enjoy threaded forks because they are easy to adjust bar height. To each his own, anyway. I generally avoid cycling blogs because the discussion is so opinionated and mean-spirited, really odd for such a pleasant interest. 

The Velo Orange is also criticized at being aimed towards those who just appreciate its aesthetics or have a nostalgic agenda. If the bike were otherwise junk, I might agree, but I don't think that a specific look is automatically a bad thing. If it were, I would hate 90% of the bikes on the market now anyway. I would much rather have something that looks like an antique than something that looks like a plastic spaceship. That said, as part of full disclosure, I enjoy wool clothing more than nylon, I like books more than electronic tablets, and I use hand tools for woodworking as much as possible. It is not an "older is better" thing as much as a love of simplicity and a minimalist bent. I also love technology, but prefer to let others debug it for a while before jumping on board. I am very glad I did not buy a 1st generation iphone, nor a 50 disc CD changer. Again, to each his own. 

And yet, I am going to take one for the team and become an early adopter of a Campeur complete bike. There is a lot of arguing out there about the merits (or lack thereof) regarding this bike, but not many people have actually claimed to have one or plan to, so I'll share my experiences here.

I love the Velo Orange philosophy and aesthetic, and I like having the option of supposedly-obsolete yet simple and time-proven hardware. Other bikes and blogs are available for those who prefer carbon fiber and electronic shifting. On this one, I will continue to explore utility, comfort, health, and jaunts into the woods and beyond for adventure. I'll be pulling my kid, hauling groceries, doing light touring, and who knows what else. I'll see what this bike can do on dirt trails. 

I would not suggest that anyone else buy a bike unseen; in fact I have myself been burned in the past doing this. However, life is short and this bike just excites me so much more than the Crosscheck did. 

Even if this does not turn out to be the bike I want it to be, I am grateful that small companies like Velo Orange are building in a specific style (any specific style); learning from the past and remaining true to what has worked. This may confuse many modern cyclists, and if you want to know more about that, ask me about my hand-tool woodworking some time. I suppose this makes me an official retro-grouch, except I am really not all that grouchy, and was attracted to this bike precisely because it is new and does have some modern engineering despite an older overall design sense.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Couple Upgrades

Velo Orange has delighted me with their Porteur handlebars, quill stem (so I could pull them up a little higher than the old SR stem), inverse brake levers, and cushy cotton tape. The tape is glaring yellow now but will soon be shellaced to an almost leather color. More soon, but here is how it looks now. It is very comfortable! I was able to do 20 miles with the kid in the trailer today, 4 miles of that on gravel.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Preparing to pull

My aim for 2013 is to drive as little as possible. We currently live in an area where this is very difficult, but starting in January, we will temporarily live in a town which is wholly bikable. Hopefully this will transform into a permanent situation. I have an informal commitment to bicycle as much as possible for those three months, driving only when needed to leave town or go on extended, infrequent shoopping and errand runs. I will be taking classes 5 days a week and my aim is to bicycle every day regardless of weather, and to combine this commute with grocery shopping and other household needs. Longer recreational/fitness rides will occur on weekends, with the aim of getting into light touring at some point.

Bad weather is about to set in her in the pacific Northwest, and while it doesn't bother me too much, I am reluctant to take my daughter out in it, at least at first. I am therefore trying to get a ride in nearly every day during these last nice days. If all goes well, I will find a clothing situation which allows her to continue riding with me.

It is honestly not that fun to pull a kid in a trailer. She weighs 30 pounds (more every day) and the trailer itself is spec'ed at 17lbs. 47lbs is a fairly heavy load; this is about what a touring bike would carry for an extended trip. As this is a goal of mine, I want to get into the shape required to do it, and hopefully have it become more fun. On the other hand, this type of "training" makes it feel like flying to take off on a solo ride with no gear.

The current rig is an entry-level mid '80s Japanese road bike, a Shogun 100.

I've scavenged components to build it into a commuting bike, but I am about to continue the transformation. Currently, it has a Suntour "Blueline" derailer, which only works in friction mode. That is fine with me, but it does need constant tweaking. I might upgrade it at some point. The wheels are 27" Weinmann rims with Vittoria tires. When finances allow, I would love to convert it to 650b wheels, but not totally sure this bike is worth it.

What I do have planned, and already ordered, are some new handlebars and brake levers. More on that soon.

For now, this is the Kidhauler. Its transformation is actually to become more of a city bike for my wife, so that she will resist the temptation to adulterate her Soma Smoothie. I am in the planning stages of my own kidhauling/town/etc bike, a Surly Crosscheck. More on that soon, too.

This blog is for anyone to enjoy, seek inspiration from, or comment upon. I will be using it largely as a journal, though, for my own reference.