Page 1

* Community Bike Shops * Veggies, Not Lawns

pg. 10


* The Xtracycle Revolution pg. 6

pg. 12

* Rain Gear for the Retro

pg. 4

Electric Commuter We build the ultimate long-distance electric commuting bicycle

the Journal of Practical Bicycling

Fall Fa l l - the P ra ctical Ped al 2007 - Pa g e 1

From the Editor

by Wiley Davis


ven people who have never owned a computer (and still think Al Gore invented the internets) know that the web is changing society in dramatic ways. They know that there’s this newfangled thing called “participatory culture” that’s causing folks to do the darndest things; things like writing publicly about their sex lives (or worse, writing about their

public sex lives.) And most people know that Time magazine recently named us its “person of the year.” Thanks to the easy availability of information, people are dabbling in all sorts of things. Even old fashioned activities such as knitting and farming have become hip pursuits. But behind the scenes, especially in professional circles, a backlash is brewing. That backlash is most vocal in the creative sector. Writers, photographers, graphic designers—all of them have watched as the buyers of their work (web sites, magazines, etc.) have turned to vast legions of amateurs for material. It’s a phenomenon known as “crowdsourcing.” The crowdsourcing paradigm rests on the availability of a huge crowd, enabled by the free availability of tools and information, which is willing to create content for free. Sometimes these amateurs are lured in by prizes for top entries (even the government has gotten in on the crowdsourcing game as evidenced by DARPA’s Grand Challenge contest for a computer-navigated off-road vehicle) but often they will generate content simply because they enjoy doing so... because they feel they have something to offer

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and they want others to see it. Naturally, crowdsourcing also generates a swath of terrible content, but if the crowd is large enough, brilliant gems will always emerge. It’s easy to see why this is a scary model for creative professionals. It seems to threaten their livelihoods. Many have spoken out against crowdsourcing, arguing that reliance on amateurs leads to substandard quality and an eventual

with the various activities themselves, but rather, with the audiences that watch them. Ball sports fit nicely into the old audience model. Emphasis has long since been shifted away from any direct correlation between participation in sports and watching sports. Football fans who haven’t held a football in thirty years will put on a jersey and feel like they’re out there on the field. If their team wins, then they won.

Participatory culture is not communism, it’s freedom—freedom from a marketing campaign that has long told us to just sit back and watch. end to their professions. Andrew Keen, a dot-bomber who failed in his attempt to make a business out of the web hype of the 1990s, has written a book called “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture.” Keen writes that “Web 2.0 worships the creative amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer. It suggests that everyone — even the most poorly educated and inarticulate amongst us — can and should use digital media to express and realize themselves. Web 2.0 ‘empowers’ our creativity, it ‘democratizes’ media, it ‘levels the playing field’ between experts and amateurs.” And this, he argues, is not a good thing. This new “leveling of the playing field” is, in fact, nothing more than the latest incarnation of communism, a Marxist assault on our American values and culture. I can understand the notion behind his reasoning. Participatory culture is rearranging the old order. It’s toppling old structures and new ones have yet to clearly emerge. For those occupying the old buildings, these amateur newcomers can only be seen as a destructive force. But they’re not. They are, in fact, builders of a new kind of audience that will be the ultimate venue for the works of talented creative professionals. The destructive work of the crowds is a necessary clearing away of a system that equated access to tools with talent. It’s also, and this is the important part, a clearing away of an audience that has been conditioned for vicarious entertainment. This realization came to me on a bike ride with friends. We were discussing our general dislike of traditional ball sports like baseball, basketball, and football, trying to rationalize how we could have such disdain for those sports, but still have an appreciation for bicycle racing. We concluded that our disdain had nothing to do

Whereas for us, watching bicycle racing on television is a bit different because we ride. Bike racing has not been marketed as extensively as traditional ball sports in the U.S. and therefore attracts an audience primarily of amateur participants who watch not because they live vicariously through the accomplishments of the top riders, but because they want to witness the amazing refinement of an activity they themselves enjoy. For an amateur participant, watching the pros is the recognition of an incredible feat and the relation of that feat to one’s own experience. This is a powerful form of appreciation. As one of my friends on that ride said, “When I hear that lance Armstrong averaged fifteen miles per hour through the Alps, I know what that means.” Knowing what something means is paramount to appreciating it. And that is why participatory culture will ultimately be good for creative professionals. It’s building an audience of people who will know what it means to create great writing, great paintings, and great film. In the same way that more bike commuters will lead to more people watching the Tour de France, more citizen journalists and citizen farmers will lead to a greater appreciation for (and subsequent market for) the amazing output of professional journalists and farmers who spend their lives advancing the state-ofthe-art in their respective professions. Participatory culture is not communism, it’s freedom—freedom from a marketing campaign that has long told us to just sit back and watch. But the professionals need not worry. Their services will soon be in demand once again, only this time, the audience will demand real talent, and will pay for it not just with dollars, but with a deep, meaningful respect because participation, breeds appreciation. b

Impractical Pedal

Table of Contents Departments

Gear - Pg. 4 Looking for some functional rain gear? Look no further than the rain cape. Become your own little tent against the elements.

Odds & Ends - Pg. 5 Commuting with oxygen and bike-by-number.

Traffic - Pg. 13 Does your lawn service harvest? Imagining a world with a vegetable garden in every yard and a landscaping crew to harvest it.

Profile - Pg. 14 Commuting commitment in Reno, Nevada.

Gaston Dilmoore’s Outdoor Situation - Pg.15 Chewing the root and staying on route proves difficult for our intrepid explorer/adventurer/ladies man/Britisher/buscuit-eater.

Features Cargo Bikes - Pg. 6 How two guys from Stanford changed the way Americans use bicycles.

The Electric Bicycle - Pg. 8 If it can emerge from a failed beginning, the electric bike could revolutionize sustainable transportation.

Bike Advocates in Reno - Pg. 10


A motley crew puts together an impressive community bike shop.

Editor - Wiley Davis Editor-at-Large - Neil Zawicki

- Contributors Mike Henderson David Cain Willem Butler

H HONDO Publishing

the Practical Pedal is published quarterly by HONDO Publishing with a print circulation of 10,000 copies.

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Rain Capes by David Cain


’ve just returned from a trip downtown to drop something off at a friend’s house. There is a steady, moderate rain as I cruise down the hill, and through the village to run my errand. I then make my way back up the hill, huffing a little at the steep parts. I arrive home, take off my rain cape, and get back to work. My feet are a little damp and I am a little warm from the ride. Other than that I am dry. Keeping dry while riding is always challenging because you are dealing with two wet elements, the rain coming from the sky, and the sweat coming from within the confines of whatever rainwear you’ve got on. Despite the claims of many modern “wicking fabrics,” it is frequently a challenge to keep dry while biking. I’ve tried a variety of solutions and most of them involved letting as much air as possible pass by my body while keeping as much water as possible from getting in. This involves unzipping my rain coat most of the way up, so it’s just hanging open, but still joined near my chest and then opening the pit zips. I also purchased a medium priced neon yellow rain shell that promised to be rain resistant, but in anything other then light rain offered no ability to shed the showers. It also got hot pretty quick.

Enter the rain cape.

Rain capes achieve much of the above in a simple and effective manner. Look them up and you’ll find references to classic English cycling gear, or images of Chinese commuters on their way to work, a veritable sea of multi-colored rain capes. In any event, rain capes were often the gear of choice before cycling specific rain outfits were widely marketed. You don’t see rain capes often these days, but you should, because they make sense. The concept is simple; the cape is essentially a poncho with or without a hood that is specifically shaped to drape

neatly over the body of a rider while positioned on their bike. Inside the cape are two pieces of twill cord that are meant

to be tied around your waist. These are intended to keep the cape from flapping in the wind. At the front of the cape are two roomy loops through which you pass your hands; they also provide a means of keeping the cape from flapping up with the wind. The beauty of the cape is its simplicity. Pull it over you head, tie the waist strap, put your hands through the loops and climb on your bike. You’ve effectively donned your own personal little tent to inhabit while you go about town.

ily interested in speed, but I’m happy to trade off some wind resistance for the comfort of inhabiting my bike tent. Is it an effective means of keeping dry? For the most part, yes. I don’t think there is any form of bicycling raingear that is completely effective. I own a Carridice Duxback waxed cotton rain cape. In practice I find it to work well except along my arms where the fabric lays on them while I reach out and hold the handlebars—they get damp after a while. A cape made of a different fabric might eliminate this problem. Also, you’ll find your feet start to get wet from spray and your movement into the rain. To deal with this, the tradional English rain kit included spats, which are booties with straps that go over the foot and up the front of the leg and over the knee. I don’t mind my feet getting a little damp, so I just go with the cape and maybe an extra pair of socks to change into. I should mention that if you don’t have fenders, your

chances of staying dry and clean with a rain cape are pretty much nil. Get fenders! Beyond these two areas, I stay dry with a rain cape. If I start to get hot while I am biking along, I can always flap the cape up and let the air move a bit. Remember there is nothing other than your usual attire under the cape, so you are largely doing your riding in a little triangular space unencumbered by any other close fitting gear. If it is getting cold, putting on the cape provides a degree of shelter from the wind that nicely moderates the chill. The cape has become my go-to rain gear. I keep it strapped to my saddle in a little roll and do not need to think about encountering bad weather. It is compact and uncomplicated. I like to think it is even a little stylish—in a dashing retro geeky way. It wouldn’t be any good if it didn’t work as well, or better, than any of the other raingear methods I’ve tried and by this measure it succeeds quite well. b

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What’s it like?

I find wearing the cape a takes some getting used to. Once on the bike, you cannot see much of the bike nor your body. If you are used to glancing down to see what gear you are in, you’ll have to adjust to shifting by feel. You can always fl ip the cape up with your hand to look, but if it is really raining, it is easier to keep the cape draped over the break levers and handlebars. It can also be a little disconcerting to put your hands into the two loops because this limits the range of motion, although I’ve never found this to be a problem. The loops are sized to allow lots of movement. You’ll notice that the cape adds somewhat to your wind catching surface area. I imagine this would be a big turn off for anyone who is primar-

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Odds & Ends Bike-by-Number


fter the August 1 bridge collapse in Minneapolis, United States Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters placed some blame for the poor state of our roads on cyclists, saying bike trails and related programs sap too much of the billions of federal dollars raised by the gas tax. She said that money should go to pave highways and bridges.


Percent of federal transportation dollars that fund bike paths and walking trails.


Percent of all U.S. trips to work, school, and the store that occur on bike or foot. Bicyclists and pedestrians account for about 12 percent of annual traffic fatalities, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Nope, it’s not a rocket bike


e received 101 submissions for our Practical Cycling Photo Competition Extraordinaire. But there can only be one winner and that winner is Leo Buss, a marine biology professor at Yale who sent in this photo of himself on his commuting bike rigged up to carry three oxygen bottles. No, it’s not a rocket bike. It’s Leo’s way of getting some exercise after developing interstitial lung disease in 2003. Formerly an avid swimmer and scuba diver, Leo lost enough of his lung capacity to prevent him from swimming or diving. Looking for a way to stay active, he turned to cycling. “Lung disease got me into cycling,” Leo says with a laugh. “I was never a cyclist before but there aren’t very many athletic activities that allow you to carry oxygen bottles. But biking does.” His commute, which he rides at least four time per week, is 38-miles round trip. He uses all three bottles of oxygen to complete the route. “They’re set to give me eight liters of oxygen per minute,” he says. “That’s as fast as they’ll flow and I use every bit of it. As long as the oxygen is flowing, I feel

normal. Sometimes I’ll get a bum fill on one of the bottles and run out before I’m done. If there aren’t any hills to ride I can just go slow. But if there’s a hill, well, I get off and walk five steps, rest, walk another five steps. I’m pretty good about making sure the fills are good.” When he started riding he got quite a few questions from fellow cyclists. But now that most are familiar with his story, he’s just another commuter carrying some gear. “The kids are the best,” Leo says of the curious spectators. “They want to know if my bike has nitrous.” So what will Leo do with the ExtraWheel trailer? Simple, haul more oxygen for longer bike tours. “I love riding now. Once I got on the bike, I couldn’t get off of it. Riding is now a great part of my life.”

The Big Prize

Leo won an ExtraWheel trailer from ExtraWheel USA. The ExtraWheel trailer is an innovative single-wheel trailer made in Poland. It uses a full-sized bike wheel and hangs the load on either side, making for an incredibly balanced, lightweight, load hauler. You can find more information about these cool trailers at b


The amount of money, in millions, spent by Minneapolis/Saint Paul on its bike programs. The money has been used to create bike lanes, connect existing walking and biking trails with one another, and install signage to alert drivers of the presence of bicyclists and walkers.


Percent of trips to work in Minneapolis made by bike, during the dead of winter.

2 - 37

The average temperature, in Fahrenheit of a Minneapolis winter.

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A Long Tail

and a Dream How two guys fom Stanford have changed the way we use bicycles.


even years ago, a couple of buddies from Stanford went knocking on bicycle-industry doors peddling a strange idea: a long-tailed bicycle designed for hauling lots of cargo. But their sales pitch wasn’t going well. Even the few people who seemed interested in the pair’s cargo bike told them to take their idea elsewhere... like to a poorer country. “Our goal was to popularize bikes as a means of righteous transportation and to do that we knew we had to sell them in the U.S. market, but it was like pushing a big load up a steep hill,” says Kipchoge Spencer, one half of the Xtracycle duo. “When we started Xtracycle there was zero market acceptance. We had a lot of trouble finding any interest within the industry. Everyone said the Xtracycle would never fly in this country. They said, ‘go to Africa’.” The trouble was, they’d just come from a poorer country. Ross Evans, the designer of the Xtracycle cargo bike, had conceived of the idea while helping people in Nicaragua make their bikes more suitable for practical uses. Ross met Kipchoge at Stanford while working to complete his degree in engineering and product development. After graduating, Ross headed down to Nicaragua with a little grant money and began looking for ways to make the bikes used by Nicaraguans more utilitarian. He set up a small fabrication shop and started building wheelbase extenders for local bikes. When he returned to the U.S., Kipchoge convinced him to turn the bike extender into a business—whether the North American market was ready for it or not.

Ross Evans (left) and Kipchoge Spencer founded Xtracycle Inc. to promote bicycles as a viable form of transportation.

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So what’s an Xtracycle Anyway? The concept behind the Xtracycle is simple. A bike with a long wheelbase will distribute weight more evenly between its two wheels, enhancing both durability and stability. In addition, the long wheelbase also provides room for transporting big things like lumber, baskets of produce, loaves of bread, people (adults and children,) and anything else you can conceivably strap to its long side. The Xtracycle is not a complete bike. It is a bolton component that lengthens a standard bicycle frame.

You can buy complete bikes from Xtracycle, but they’re actually just standard bikes pre-assembled with the Xtracycle add-on. Ross and Kipchoge toyed with the idea of incorporating the long wheelbase design into a complete frame, but ultimately settled on a modular design because it was cheaper for them to produce on their own (remember all those locked industry doors) and because modularity enhanced the sustainable ethos that underpinned their fledgling business. “We recognized that there was a large standing stock of bicycles out there and repurposing some of those bikes was a great proposition for us,” Kipchoge says. Even though they offer completely assembled bikes, most people buy the Xtracycle in kit form and add it to one of their existing bicycles. The nice thing about the Xtracycle approach, perhaps the best thing about it, is the way it integrates load-carrying functionality into the bike. Unlike trailers (excellent devices in their own right,) the Xtracycle never needs to be hitched up; it’s always ready to accept cargo, no prescience required.

An Idea Catches On The doors Kipchoge and Ross knocked on back in 1998 are slowly beginning to open. Surly, a frame manufacturer they’d approached with the idea of making long-wheelbase frames, is in the final testing phase of a frame they call the “Big Dummy.” It’s compatible with Xtracycle accessories, primarily the huge Freeloader load-carrying system developed by Ross. And Kona Bicycles has announced they’ll be offering a long wheelbase bike of their own design called the “Ute” in their 2008 catalog. Unlike the Surly offering, the Ute will be available as a complete bike but it won’t be compatible with the Freeloader bags.

thereof) of a vibrant industry offering accessories, variations, and components. The bicycle industry gained an incalculable advantage when it began standardizing components for interchangeability. On the other hand, there’s always room for a few standards in any arena (Apple and Microsoft,) and the real test will come from the market—any of the standards will do well if buyers can get an assortment of useful accessories for it.

The Future of Cycling

That incompatibility inspires mixed feelings for Kipchoge. “It’s encouraging for the future of the long bike,” he says. “But it’s discouraging because it uses a new system that’s incompatible with what’s already out there.” Compatibility, Kipchoge believes, will be crucial for the long-term viability of this new category. It’s a point well taken. The life and death of a product is often delineated by the existence (or lack

Incompatibilities or not, the fact that there are now three players in the utility bike market is encouraging. No doubt companies such as Trek, Specialized, and Shimano are looking on with interest. The marketing dollars and publicity these companies could bring to utility cycling could do wonders for the category. As Kipchoge sees it, these corporations have a unique opportunity to switch from recreational equipment manufacturers, to suppliers of a sustainable form of transportation. Companies such as Xtracycle, Surly, and Kona have barely cracked open the door. “Our sales have been doubling every year,” Kipchoge says. “But we’re still

An Xtracycle is a competent load-hauling machine. As this photo shows, a longtail bike can haul as much as a trailer-equipped bike. just a blip on the radar. A culturally significant blip, but a blip nonetheless.” Xtracycle has managed to slowly build up a following of loyal customers who spread the Xtracycle gospel wherever they go. They’ve done this without the aid of an immense advertising budget. Instead, they’ve done it by building a product that works, at a time when such a product is needed. But they’re aware that it will take larger players to push cycling into its next phase.

Kona and Surly’s New Longtails

“Utility cycling needs more exposure... the thought leaders need to adopt it,” Kipchoge says. “People like Al Gore or Leonardo DiCaprio... they just don’t get it. Instead of promoting the not-solutions like hybrid cars, they need to be getting on bikes. We’ve got a lot of work to do still.” But with any luck, the most difficult work has already been done by entrepreneurs like Kipchoge and Ross—the work of prying open locked doors. All that’s left is for the big players to step through, into cycling’s grand new era. b ��������������������� ���������������������


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oth Surly and Kona are getting into the longtail game. Surly’s been teasing us with their Big Dummy frame for more than a year now, but they’re known to be perfectionists. When asked about the delay, Surly’s marketing genius, Andy Corson, simply said, “It’s not perfect yet.” What we do know, however, is that the new frame will be compatible with all of the Xtracycle accessories like the Freeloader and Wideloader. Insiders also tell us that the frame features mountain-bike-like geometry with a fairly high bottom bracket and stout construction. Kona’s new longtail, the Ute, takes a different approach. It will not be compatible with Xtracycle components and, judging from the photos, will be a bit shorter than an Xtracycle-equipped bike. Their 2008 catalog entry lists 26” wheels and a MSRP of $799 for a complete bike. The Ute should be available in October, meaning if you’re reading this, Surly you can probably rush out to buy one. b

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Electric Bicycles Where oh Where Are the Good Electric Bicycles?

ibility problem induced by terrible design and poor performance. Among cyclists, electric bikes are thought of as slow, ugly, and poorly made. Among non-cyclists, they are thought of us fun little toys to be used in the confines of gated communities and destination resorts. But in spite of their image problems, electric bikes are beginning to emerge as a serious form of transportation. Thanks to advances in battery technology and a vibrant community of do-it-yourself enthusiasts, the electric bike category is poised for a transformation from stepchild, to glowing wunderkind of sustainable transportation. The purists will resist, naturally, but that’s what purists do. The rest of us, we who desperately want an alternative to the automobile, will embrace the electric bicycle as soon as good ones become available.

By Wiley Davis


Introduced at the wrong time and marketed in the wrong way, the electric bike has suffered from a credibility problem induced by terrible design and poor performance.

t was a cycling crowd (I was in a bike shop, after all) and I’d uttered the phrase that must not be uttered. Eyeballs glanced around, seeking to know the whim of the group—would anyone admit anything other than disdain? I uttered it again, “Seriously,” I said. “What do you think of electric bicycles?” The issue of purity was raised. “Well, they seem to defeat the purity of the bicycle,” someone said. “They’re ugly as sin,” another added. Ugly and impure. But not, I imagined, in the outlaw biker kind of way. None of that so-bad-it’s-good stuff here. “So none of you are fans of of the electric bike?” I asked. A silence. Finally, from the back of the shop, someone said, “They might be okay if...” he carefully turned his words over before continuing. “Maybe if they got more people to stop driving cars so much.” He looked around at his fellow cyclists, his knicker-wearing brethren, and they nodded their heads in modest approval. “I mean... I wouldn’t buy one,” he continued, the others shaking their heads in agreement with that too. “But they might be good for some people.” “Yeah, blind people,” someone quipped. Blind people indeed. The trouble with the electric bicycle, as that group was highly aware, is that they seem to have been designed by people who know nothing about bicycles, at least not good bicycles. The failure in design is not simply aesthetic, but functional as well. Introduced at the wrong time and marketed in the wrong way, the electric bike has suffered from a cred-

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A Failure of Technology

Lacing a brushless DC motor into a new wheel. The original wheel supplied with this motor was of very poor quality. Like many electric bikes and components, the bike-ness sof this motor seems almost to have been an afterthought.

Larry Pizzi is a bike enthusiast with years in the bicycle business. And even though he’s the public relations spokesman for Currie Technologies, the largest manufacturer of electric bikes in North America, he’ll be the first to tell you that most electric bikes have been big failures. “When electric bikes first came out,” Pizzi says, “the technology just wasn’t ready. We’ve seen dramatic improvements in all the technology. When Currie started, we had to develop everything: motors, controllers, none of it existed for an electric bike application. We even had to design our own battery charger. Seriously. No one made a charger. Now we don’t have to do all the devel-

Continued on Pg. 13

Building The Kind of Electric Bike We Want


he technology needed to build an electric bike that can help displace automobile use exists now. But what kind of bike would that be? To answer that question, we have begun build- A cutaway rendering of the battery ing prototype electric housing we designed . Thin profile of bicycles. The first one, pictured here, is a commuting less than 3cm allows bags to be hung bicycle designed for people on the front rack, over the battery. who have long commutes (12-40 miles.) The idea behind this project is simple: Build an electric bike that will be serviceable by any bike shop using standard components, use non-proprietary electrical pieces with interchangeable parts (motor, controller, battery,) and give the bike reasonable performance targets of: 25mph average speed, 40+ mile range, weight under 50lbs, exceptional durability, balanced handling, intuitive user interface, and bitchin’ style. We’re not ready to divulge any major technical details, but we can tell you what our aim is. Our aim is to give people who want to reduce their automobile usage a real option for doing so. And we want to give them not some toy, but a serious piece of machinery that will enable them to do more with a bicycle than they ever thought possible. For us, electric bikes are a way to make

Continued on Pg. 15

John Friedrich stands next to the Surly Cross Check electric bike. The lithium-polymer batteries on the front rack balance the weight of the rear hub motor. This bike is designed to go more than 40 miles on a single charge with a top speed of 30mph. ������������������������������

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Dirtbags Get ‘R Done What have you done for your community bike shop lately? By Mike Henderson


hey were supposed to look nice—like wait staff on a cruise ship, or caterers. Noah shaved, Kyle tried to wash the ink off his arm where he writes notes to himself, and they were all wearing clean pants. They’d bathed for their love of bikes. Earlier they’d had a meeting to coordinate their volunteer efforts for a grand-opening party being thrown by Cathexes, an architectural firm here in Reno, Nevada. The firm had reclaimed a derelict building for their headquarters and put up plywood as a wall covering, turned a recycled sidewalk into a reception desk, constructed a basketball court in the lobby, and built stairs from Glue-lam beams. They’d hired a band for the party and invited everyone they knew. Not only that, but they’d also gotten the Reno Bike Project a bro deal on the lease, allowing the Reno Bike Project’s community bike shop (Papa Wheelie’s) to occupy some space in the back, accessible through the alley. And now all they had to do was clean up spills, serve drinks, and keep the crackhead bums out of the party—it’s downtown Reno, after all. That and they had to hit the guests up for donations, which is the important part. That’s how this clean thing works. Clean is money. They had the space. They had the motivated volunteers. Now all they needed was some cash.

Wassa bike project anyway?

Thats a damned good question because you begin to lose people right there in the name: Bike Kitchen, The Hub, Reno Bike Project. To a guy rolling a Wal-Mart cruiser to work, or a guy riding a high-end cross bike to Trader Joe’s, a Bike Project probably seems like a bunch of unwashed twenty-somethings with an ample supply of bike frames, a profound respect for PBR, and penchant for hooliganism. Sure it’s those things, but it’s also a place where either of those fellows on bikes can come to learn how to fix their machines. Ladies too. And little kids. But the interesting question isn’t what a Bike Project is (just show up some night and you’ll find out soon enough) but rather, how does such a thing get started? For that answer, you have to talk with people like Kyle Kozar, Noah Silverman, or Mikey, the founders of the Reno Bike Project. “Kyle and I were just sitting around one day,” Noah says, “and we decided we were going to do it and sent out an email.” Noah is kind of hard to pin down at first. With his ratty clothes and proliferation of facial hair he sometimes seems a lot older than he is. He’s mellow, usually, and speaks quietly and quickly, as if every sentence is going to be the last one of the evening. Though he

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has a full XTR original Ibis SS that he got at a thrift store, he borrowed my single-speed for a dirt ride and stomped up Peavine Mountain like you wouldn’t believe. “We put out a couple of donation fliers and it just snowballed from there,” Kyle adds. Motivated by the idea of people using bikes to get around, Kyle started asking people about the idea of a community bike shop, a place where people could go to get cheap bikes and learn how to fix them up and maintain them. Turns out, most people thought it was a great idea. It turned out to be a good year for community projects in Reno. The same year birthed not only the Reno Bike Project, but the Holland Project (an all ages music and art venue —, and the Great Basin Community Food Co-op (a local and

organic food store — Reno has the Arttown art festival (, and soon, the big music store, Maytan, will be launching the Reno Music Project ( If anyone’s in a position to appreciate the communityoriented transformation Reno is experiencing, it’s probably Mikey. Mikey’s a fourth-generation Nevadan turned bike geek. He comes from a family of cowboys who used to operate a ranching outfit right where the Wild Oats grocery store is now. He sort of resembles a cowboy with his beaten up old nag of a bike, rolled up jeans, ragged head wear, and of course, his drinking habits. He talks about the formation of the Reno Bike Project in his deliberate, quiet way, speaking in terms of community need.

You got to have friends

But even with a lot of motivation and a recognized need, how did a bunch of dirtbags like these guys get this kind of thing working? How did they move from grand idea sketched out over a few beers to an actual space where people of all stripes can come to fiddle with bikes? Part of the answer is that they have a ton of support in the community. They’re connected. “We live in Reno,” Kyle says in a loud voice tinged with irony. “It’s pretty incestuous here. Everyone knows everyone.” “And their business,” Noah adds. “It seems like a city, but it’s just a small town,” Kyle continues. “A big village is what it is,” Noah says. Incestuous alliances aside, much of their success is owed to the awesome group of volunteers they’ve managed to attract. They have a teacher, an environmental scientist, a CEO, several students, Gwynne Middleton (the financial guru and behind the scenes muscle,) and dozens of others who want to be a part of Reno’s fledgling bike culture. And there are lots of people who want to participate. Sometimes the RBP meetings in the Silver Peak Brewery overrun two tables with more than 20 people in attendance, the brewery’s bike rack visibly inadequate for such an onslaught of bikers. Most of these people have been in the bike scene for years, though many are newbies who were attracted by the community bike shop concept. In many ways, Reno seems like the ideal kind of place for such a project. But, as Kyle notes, there’s still a long way to go in the campaign to make bikes as ubiquitous as cars. In his eyes, the Reno Bike Project is just the beginning of a trend toward transportation cycling. “In the last two years there’s been a big increase in the number cyclists here,” Kyle says. “Two years ago there might have been a bike rack in front of somewhere, but it wouldn’t have anything parked on it.” These days it’s fairly common to see bikes stacked on parking meters outside the Imperial (a fairly new hipster bar,) and downtown summer events swamp the amphitheater’s bike parking completely. The three tiny racks outside the Century Theater are always full for the matinée. And as Kyle notes, this surge in cycling is a recent phenomenon, literally within the last two years. This year in particular; the month of May was dramatic. As Reno eased gingerly out of (sorry-excuse-for) winter, urban cyclists poured out onto the streets. “Fuel costs going up empowers people to want to ride bikes a lot more,” says Mikey. “When it costs you $50 to fill up your tank, then it makes

it a little hard for the average working people to really want to keep their car.” The Reno Bike Project’s contribution to the community has not gone unnoticed. Donations pour in whenever Noah puts up an add on the local craigslist. They had to have a special meeting to discuss the infrastructure challenge of storing all the bikes they expect to get back from Burningman. They got a Community Pride grant from the Neighborhood Advisory Board and one from the Nevada Arts Council to build artistic bike racks downtown. Recently RBP was recognized by Truckee Meadows Tomorrow with an Accentuate the Positive, Silver Star Award, which recognizes them as having measurably improved the quality of life for residents by positively impacting several of the areas quality of life indicators, including air quality. All of these accolades will go a long way toward cementing RBP’s place as an active and relevant community service. Underneath all the awards, however, the Reno Bike project is about the bikes, fixing them, getting more of them on the streets, and about building a community of people who want to see more bikes cruising around town. Nights at Papa Wheelies end with volunteers wiping greasy hands on rags and spilling out into the alley. Bugs swarm around the flood lights as voices and strange noises echo through the high-rise neighborhood. Maybe there’s a concert in the park, or pool to be shot in one of the down town hole-in-the-walls, but there’s always somewhere to go as riders speed down the alley and over the river, fanning out across the city through the night.

Looking fine in their custom-made black-tie T-shirts, members of the Reno Bike Project prepare to serve drinks and wipe up spills for a fundraising party.

What about the cash?

Oh yeah, the cash. The friends of Cathexes were good to the Reno Bike Project. All told, the group collected roughly $900 in donations. Sure they had to wipe up spills and keep the crackheads out, but their mothers would say they got the money because of how clean they looked. b

Mike is a writer and aspiring urban bike geek from downtown Reno, Nevada. He just picked up a splendidly disreputable urban riser-bar road bike with some SWEET dia-comp brake levers from The Reno Bike Project and switched all (three) of his spoke cards over. Read more about the project @ 970-259-1946

Stainless Steel

waterbottle holders for your com commuter

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Where my tennant farmers at?

Three Observations on Ski Lifts Editor’s note: We realize that skiing and cycling are different... sort of. But they’re both activities we love and, well, we thought that perhaps by putting a little ski-related something in the magazine, it would help bring us a good winter. This is our superstitious snow dance.

1. Your chances of being menaced by poisonous frogs are greater than your chances of sitting next to a skilled conversationalist on a chairlift. While there are certainly exceptions, most of us end up on chairlifts with people who either stare at their skis without muttering a word, or who want to talk about the weather. “Wish we had more snow, there’s usually twice as much this time of year,” is a common refrain, to which I usually reply, “I wish we were half as tall.” Perhaps I am one of the reasons why most people just stare silently at their skis. To encourage chairlift repartee, I suggest that, instead of lining up according to the number in our party, we should be queued with people who share our interests. For example, there could be lines for silent types, lines for appreciators of puns, and lines for snowboarding existentialists—or even better, combinations thereof. After all, who wouldn’t jump at a chance to ride up the hill with a pun-loving, Sartre-quoting, ennui-suffering snowbrooder?

2. Talking about the chairlift will not make you interesting.

Who’s Got Time To Harvest? by Willem Butler


ipping out your front lawn and putting in a vegetable garden is poised to be the next wave in landscaping. It’s a bit of a do-ityourself fad at the moment, sort of like fixed gear bicycles, but after the boom times of the fad fade away, the underlying ethos of the movement will remain. That’s when we’ll all come to our senses and hire landscapers, those poor sods (ha!) we’d fired when we got bit by the DIY farming bug that was all the rage. That’s right. In the near future, I predict that gardens will indeed rule the suburban landscape. Copies of the Farmer’s Almanac will once again grace the coffee tables of the well-to-do middle class. Every man woman and child will have a pair of Carhart overalls hanging in their closets just at the end of their color-coordinated rows of alligator shirts and Docker shorts they use for casual Fridays at work (in the near future I also predict that even small children will have to wear laughably not-casual casual clothes on casual Fridays.) However, in spite of all these farm-like accouterments, these middle class purveyors of micro agribusiness will hire out the actual work of planting and harvesting. But WAIT! You say. What on earth is the underlying ETHOS of this urban planting thing? Well, my friend, let me tell you. That ethos is we will all soon rec-

ognize the sheer silliness of spending our hard-earned dough on ornamental plants that consume far too many resources (water, time, money) for their respective output. We’re Americans after all, and we came from good old practical and puritanical stock. We’ve since learned about things like opportunity cost and the value of time, of course, so even though we have what’s called a “work ethic” in our ancestry, we won’t have to apply any such thing to our vegetable gardens. No sir. We’ll hire it out. We’ll ask ourselves how those silly people of the past (those who suffered through the 1990s) didn’t figure out that they’d been paying good money to landscaping companies and getting pretty much nothing in return when, all along, they could have been getting a big ol’ crop of veggies for their dough. And guess what? You take those veggies and sell ‘em right back to your landscaper. Why’d we ever ditch that company-town model anyway? How’d we ever let ourselves use our land so inefficiently, huh? Isn’t that what we’d kicked the Indians off of it for in the first place? So lets get to starting up those micro agri-business fiefdoms post haste. And while we’re at it, somebody look up on the internet how to make mint juleps; I feel like doin’ some sippin’ out on the old porch. b

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Many topics make for great piste-side prattle, but technical chairlift trivia isn’t one of them. Lines such as, “This is a Garaventa CTEC lift capable of moving 2400 people per hour,” just don’t impress like they ought to. For some reason, people will tolerate slope-side soliloquies about the weather, but try informing them that chairlifts with an uphill power unit are more efficient than chairlifts with a downhill power unit, and you might as well just have told them you have a rare but highly contagious face tumor (such a thing exists, just ask the poor Tasmanian Devil.) It’s not that chairlifts can’t be compelling subject matter. It’s just that the information isn’t presented in a compelling way. But chairlift manufacturers can change this by equipping their lifts with electronic scoreboards. For instance, one measurement that would be perfect for public display is efficiency. Contrary to what you’d think, when a lift runs faster, it’s efficiency usually decreases as we mere humans start piling up like cars in a Portland ice storm. But if efficiency information were publicly displayed, lift-riding itself could become a sport as we would then have the feedback required to hone our ability to load and unload at ever increasing rates of speed. And lines like, “I rode a lift at 98% efficiency yesterday,” might actually help you sound cool.

3. Chairlifts corrupt otherwise good people by granting them an anonymous and astonishing sense of self worth. I think it has something to do with the height. I avoid skiing under the lift line like I avoid talking to people with communicable face tumors because, no matter how skilfully you ski, someone (usually many) will laugh at you, call you names, and even spit at you as you go by. Snowboarders (at least the ones who refuse to appreciate puns) will knock snow from their boards the second you ski under them. I am certain they are all good people. But if you put good people on pedestals, they’ll boast first of your wisdom, then your stupidity. The towers of a chairlift are such a pedestal. The solution is simple. Dig a big trench up the mountain and put the chairlift in it. The trench should be dug deep enough so that the chairs ride at ground level—within reach of retaliatory snowballs and epithets. Chairlift riders, deprived of their elevation-induced senses of self worth, and subject to retribution, will be free to display the good manners that they’d wanted to display all along. And for those whose inflated sense of self worth is an inherent condition, their new-found vulnerability will at least encourage them to maximize lift-riding efficiency. b

Continued from Pg. 8 opment work. There are other firms out there who have done a lot of the R&D so we don’t have to do everything ourselves. It makes a huge difference in what’s possible today versus previous offerings.” The biggest improvement has been in battery technology. The key to understanding the importance of batteries to the design of a lightweight, svelte, high-performing electric bicycle is energy density. Energy density is a measure of how much energy can be stored for a given volume or weight. Early electric bicycles were powered by sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries, pretty much the same battery that powers the starter motor in your car. An SLA battery has an energy density of about 22 watt-hours per pound. To get a reasonable range and performance out of an electric bike, you’d need to have roughly 350 watt-hours of battery storage. With SLA batteries, that’s a 20-pound battery. That means the battery would weigh as much as the whole bicycle. Nickel-Cadmium and Nickel-Metal-Hydride batteries were improvements over SLA, but even these have energy densities that fall shy of what is required, with the batteries weighing in at 12.8 and 8.5 pounds respectively. But a new battery that packs the necessary punch is trickling into the market. Lithium batteries promise, and in fact have already delivered, 5-pound battery packs that store more than 350 watthours of energy. These small and powerful batteries have been around for a couple of years powering laptop computers, cellular phones, and, perhaps most famously, iPod music players. But now they’re making their way into electric bike and car applications (the Tesla Roadster is the most hyped example of a lithium-powered EV.) But it remains to be seen if companies such as Currie, or any of the other electric bike manufacturers, can overcome that other failure of the past: poor design.

A Failure of Design We now have the batteries and the suppliers of all the technology needed to make an electric bicycle that is useful as a means of transportation. But as of this writing, you can’t walk into a bike shop and purchase an electric bike that can be repaired with standard bicycle components, that looks good (i.e., like a bicycle and not some kind of experiment in clichéd futuristic design,) and that performs well enough to commute with.

From a design standpoint, most electric bikes have been failures. And not just aesthetic failures but failures in performance as well. To understand why these bikes failed, we should probably take a step back and think about who these bikes were marketed toward. When electric bikes first hit the North American market, the people responsible for them imagined that electric bikes would entice non-cyclists to throw a leg over the saddle. But that logic hit a big snag when, instead of buying electric bikes, people who had never had any interest in pedaling bought electric scooters instead. And having committed to gimmicky designs based on inferior bicycle components, these marketers found they had no product to lure people actually interested in cycling. None of the early models could go much faster than fifteen miles per hour. It’s not that these speeds are completely inadequate, it’s just that most cyclists can achieve speeds of twentyfive miles per hour without any electric assist at all. Unless they’re in great shape, they won’t be able to maintain that speed for very long, but they do frequently go that fast on their own. In addition to their slow speeds, these bikes had poor ranges of 10-20 miles at best. For a cyclist, the prospect of paying extra money and lugging around extra weight for a machine that won’t even go as fast or as far as they can pedal is just not worth the trade-off. But because the first few waves of electric bicycles were never intended for use by cyclists, we ended up with ugly, slow machines that weren’t much good for anything but zipping around retirement communities. The focus on non-enthusiasts resulted not just in poor performance targets, but in poor aesthetic targets as well. When you’re designing for a market uneducated about the intricacies of bicycle design, you can’t rely on subtle indicators to sell product. A non-cyclist won’t be impressed by a particular bottom bracket or headset. To lure that type of buyer you need cruder, more garish strokes; lots of plastic, bold new graphics, and design that screams “I’m an electric bike” are the kinds of features you go for.

The Road to Better Design There are already signs, however, that manufacturers are addressing these design failures. The technology

now in place allows for enough flexibility in design to address past failures. And the market itself has changed. The world of product design has undergone incredible changes over the past few years. The complete penetration of 3-D design software and rapid prototyping capability into the product development cycle, along with improved materials and manufacturing processes, has led to a cornucopia of products with superb design. Apple Computer has led the charge in this arena by filling the market with products that are well designed, well engineered, and superbly packaged. Post iPod, consumers expect nothing less than tasteful, well-appointed design. What this means for the electric bike industry is a growing non-enthusiast market that is primed to appreciate the impeccable design of traditional bikes, a design that has reached a very refined state thanks to more than one hundred years of design evolution. Subtlety and tastefulness will become selling points. Currie Technologies has developed a series of bikes they call the Izip Express. These bikes have higher top speeds and greater ranges than Currie’s

previous offerings. It remains to be seen, however, if their new offerings will appeal to cycling enthusiasts. The real test will be in the bike shops. If the bike shop employees dig your electric bike, chance are you’ve got something that a lot of other people will want as well. b

When the Revolution Comes...

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Fa l l - the P ra ctical Ped al - Pa g e 1 3


Addison Wilhite: Reno, Nevada

By Mike Henderson

Bikes and roller skates have a long and incestuous relationship,” Addison Wilhite tells me as we’re waiting for a break in traffic so we can cross Lakeside Drive and ride back up Windy Hill, the one decent acclivity on his 12-mile commute to work. It’s a cool night in a string of hot ones and the wind is whipping up a major forest fire nearby in the Mt. Rose Wilderness. In Reno, headwinds blow in every direction and Addison’s daily route to his job as a high-school English teacher never seems to offer the joy of a tailwind.

sometimes blustery mornings. Addison is chronicling his efforts via blog, sharing the pains and joys with the world. “Something about riding in weather like this is so peaceful,” he wrote on his 5th day of commuting, a camera phone snapshot of a frosty dim countryside added for emphasis. It’s the idea of foul weather that scares off many would-be bike commuters. But in a world where mud-slinging trucks are advertised as a symbol of ruggedness, we have to ask just how rugged can you be if you only venture outdoors in the comfort of your heated/air-conditioned/poshly-upholstered luxo-wagon? Technology can turn us into sissies, or it

Addison keeps warm thanks to the miracle fiber produced by state-of-the-art organo-bio textile machines commonly known as sheep. For a time, Addison was the curator of the National Roller-skate Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska where he learned about the bike-skate connection and posed for a Smithsonian Magazine photo shoot. So I ask, “What’s the connection between bikes and skates?” But the break in traffic comes and he takes off without answering. Addison and I are tackling the biketo-work-month-challenge (on bikes, not skates.) We’ll each ride more than 400 miles this month, rocking two wheels instead of four through the chilly and

can help us actually contend with our environment. Addison keeps warm thanks to the miracle fiber produced by stateof-the-art organo-bio textile machines commonly known as sheep. Australianwool tights and a bit of good ol’ American fortitude keep him warm and happy. In fact, this sheep technology may even work too well. “I used to ride in much colder temperatures on a mountain bike though ice and snow,” he

Pa g e 14 - the P ra ctical Ped al - Fa l l

says. On a nice evening in August “I’m wondering how much quicker I he admits, “I feel like a wimp now.” would get to work if I could stock up on Wimp or no, there are still days when a supply of EPO,” Addison wrote on day the idea of riding to work gets the best of 19, musing on the admission that Bjarne you and the car beckons like a carnival Riis had doped for his tour win. Still, an pitchman. But there’s always a foolproof urban cyclist has to make compromises. way of ignoring that call. “It’s been said “I’d been so lazy and such a slacker [in before,” Addison wrote on day 22, “but as previous months] it was just important for a cyclist, when you have one of those days me to follow my own, like, letter-of-thewhere you feel tired and dread getting on law-rules,” he says after admitting that he the bike, the best cure is throwing the leg had to make a weekend run to work by car over your bike anyway, and a few pedal to drop off some clothes and supplies midstrokes later your brain reminds you with month. “I said I’d ride to work every day an, Oh, yeah, this is why I love to ride that I work. So that’s what I did, and even my bike feeling.” though it made Addison, like many more sense to drive others, found that one day a week for preparation for any supplies, It would commute is a mathave violated my ter of habit. “The pact with myself.” first couple of days There are hassles I agonized over it,” with this bike he says. “The difcommuting, for ference in temperasure. But you work ture around here A pair of bicycle skates shows that through them, is such a big deal.” nutty people have never gone out of same as with the But he got his sys- fashion. car-hassles of traftem down and a fic, insurance, feel for what he needed. “After that it was fuel, the DMV. But Addison and I just easy, very easy.” Nutrition was one thing keep “throwing a leg over” and the ride he had to work into with 40 minutes of continues. Fortitude. From time to exercise twice a day. “I need to be better time I ask about the roller-skate conabout getting enough calories during the nection but the answer is elusive. b day. I’ve been close to the dreaded ‘bonk’ a couple of times on the way home.” Addison plans on riding 15-17 days a Addison doesn’t like to carry a month in the fall school year based on his rack or put too much extra gear on his habit forming month of May, balancing svelte Rivendell All Rounder. “They’re the bike ethic with the realities of being practical and everything,” he says of a teacher. Read more about his commute, the new slew of cargo bikes, “but for biking, music, TV, movies, and the ocme it’s all about flying across the plancasional tasty bike-roller skate interet. It’s more fun to be light and free.” twinement at Light, free, and more powerful, perhaps.

Gaston Dilmoore’s Outdoor Situation


’m afraid this root is making me drowsy. Or is it the route? Dash it, I’m in space, so to speak of. The route would be fine, if it weren’t for this outlandish 1983 Redline BMX I’ve got between my knickers. Too small, isn’t it? At least for me and my frame of reference. I’m drowsy.

It’s the root. It’s the route. Nunzig has been feeding me this root. Tells me it’s for my nerves. He said so like such: “You take this root, it’s good for my nerves.” Did he say his own nerves? “Nunzig old boy?” I asked him, pedaling like a minx at the fiendish Redline, “why again am I taking this root?” He continued to pedal his Huffy. “It’s on the map.” “There are roots on the map?” “Yes, sir. The route runs the base of the mountain.” “Well, then, that’s quite a root,” I reasoned, pedaling all the while. “Do you suppose I can take the whole thing?” “We’ll take it together,” he said to me. You see? “Are you taking the root as well?” I asked him. “How could I not?” he replied. “I’m just next to you here.”

Continued from Pg. 9

“Actually old bean, you’re a bit to the lower portion, and just a bit Penelope shaped.” “Did you say Penelope shaped?” I had to consider that one for a bit. “I suppose I did, old chap,” I shouted. “Damned am I drowsy, it must be this root.” I only had seven little nips left of the root, but I ate some anyway. Then, the

There was a downhill, and I lifted my boots from the pedals. It lasted three days. More root? I’m drowsy. “Sir, I can assure you that hill did not last three days.” “Well, what time do you make it?” “Half six.” “Have you seen my trousers?”

There was a downhill, and I lifted my boots from the pedals. It lasted three days. rattle of our chains filled the brisk air like the clattering of typewriters at the London Times in 1962. I knew we had no choice but to keep on that root. “Stay on the route,” called Nunzig. “Three more bites,” I said. “Pardon?” “The root.” “Oh yes,” he laughed. For my…your nerves.” “Did you say your nerves?” “Yes, sir. Your nerves.”

“Several times.” By now, the backers were attempting to contact us through the operation of a hot air balloon, which I could see just beyond the weeds. I knew as well as anyone that the backers above all else wanted me especially to stay on the root. “We’ll make it sir,” assured Nunzig. “As long as you stay on the root.” Good fun, this biking. Sustainable, too. b

Bike Geek and The Breeze

The slim profile of the battery (3cm) housing allows use of the front pannier racks for load carrying as well. This rendering shows the battery and the mounting rack. The bike can carry up to four of these batteries, each with a 10 amp-hour capacity. One pack will give the bike a range of 4050 miles... of course you still have to pedal. that happen. Even though we love our simple, elegant, pedal-powered machines, there are days when we need to ride farther than we feel like or when we need to get there more quickly than we could with pedal-power alone. Our project bikes are not scooters. They’re bikes that need to be pedaled, they just allow you to pedal farther and faster than you could without the electric motor. Of course, it wouldn’t be much fun if we just bolted together a bunch of parts. That’s why we’ll be adding a few dashes of invention of our own. By the time the Winter issue of the Practical Pedal comes out, we’ll have a brand-new user interface and some slick component housings to debut. Again, we can’t give away any details until it’s ready to ride, but the goal is to create an interface that is intuitive and invisible, and one that im-

proves upon the torque-sensing pedal systems already out there. Our housings will incorporate some nice features and will be made with durability, beauty, and ease-of-use in mind. We dream of a day when you can walk into a bike shop and buy transportation, not just sporting goods. And we dream of a day when consumers will be given real choice in their mode of transportation. Electric bikes aren’t a magic bullet, they won’t satisfy everyone’s transportation requirements, but they do fill a need for a large number of people who’d like to ride to work, but must live far away. Electric bikes would be a boon to people who’d love to ride to the store, but have to grocery shop for a family of five. In our garage, the pieces are coming together. Stay tuned for a full test-ride and detailed specs in the next issue. b

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the Practical Pedal - Issue 2 Fall 2008  

Participatory culture is not communism, it’s freedom—freedom from a marketing campaign that has long told us to just sit back and watch. co...

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