Gear

  • Game changer: Magnic Light

    Springtime a year ago we were pleased to contribute to a Kickstarter campaign for a new kind of bike light called Magnic Light. There was a lot of speculation voiced in various forums whether it was a hoax, because the physics involved defied most peoples' understanding. If this very simple invention was for real, why hadn't it already been invented? "Everybody said 'that's impossible.' Then somebody came who didn't know that, and did it."

    We're happy to have received our first shipment straight from inventor Dirk Strothmann in Germany, for sale right now. Wait, it's August, not even dark until late? More about that in a bit. I've got them on the only bike I own without built-in lights, a Brompton. Everybody who likes playing with magnets, magic tricks, or seeing and being seen on a bike smiles, and some even laugh in amazement to see Magnic Lights work. Come by for a demo.

    Now is ze time that we look (advisory: techno soundtrack):

    Magnic Lights are very bright, lightweight, incredibly efficient bike lights that use no batteries, are self-contained, and don't require building a wheel around a dynamo hub. This makes them a game-changer, I dare say historic because I think someday most bike lights are bound to work similarly. All you do is position the small light units in proximity to any normal metal bike rim, and they work. Unlike superficially similar "be seen" products like Reelights, these don't require mounting magnets in your wheel, and are plenty bright enough to be your only lights. This is the jaw-dropping part: just the motion of the metal rim itself, not magnetic or even necessarily ferrous, is enough to power the lights. No contact or noise, no external parts or wiring, lighter weight and an order of magnitude less drag than the very most expensive dynamo hubs. There's no such thing as free energy, but any resistance created by Magnic Lights is utterly negligible, even with a wheel turning free in a stand, for minutes. They boast the brightest dynamo taillight on the market (aim carefully please!), and while the headlights don't measure up in brightness or beam shaping to the best available, they aren't too shabby either.

    complete_2

    They run about $250 for a set of 3: 2 headlights and a taillight. That's more than most battery systems, but less than most dynamo systems not built in at the factory. And if you are really focused on high efficiency and light weight, whether for practical, aesthetic or obsessive reasons, Magnic Light is simply the best bicycle lighting system there is.

    This concept could not previously have been realized practically because only recently have rare earth magnets become powerful enough, and LEDs efficient enough, for supply and demand to meet, so to speak. It turns out that any conductive material such as an aluminum rim - not just magnetic or ferrous - will produce so-called eddy currents when moving through a magnetic field. This invention harnesses these currents to turn a tiny generator without contact.

    There are some issues. The biggest for people like us who use bikes to carry stuff is that since the lights and the generator units are integrated, they can be mounted only in locations that provide the correct small rim clearance and good light placement simultaneously. The provided mounting hardware doesn't have an answer for rear racks, whose mounted luggage will block the light. If you don't have either a skinny-tire fenderless road bike (Portland?!), or a bike with cantilever brake studs, there are only somewhat compromised mounting options. What's more there's no standlight, so you go dark when not moving. We'll make sure you understand all these issues before selling you a set: please bring your bike if at all possible.

    We're pretty sure it's just a matter of time before the technology makes its way into more form factors, with broader feature sets. How about a stand-alone generator you connect to fork blade or seatstay that has power out for standard lights and other electronics? For now, for many, being an early adopter of the first, purest expression of the idea is part of the appeal.

    What's wrong with cheap simple battery lights, anyway? No matter how much better they are than, say, 10 years ago, the inescapable reality is that the more you use them, and the brighter they are, the faster they burn out. The bigger the battery, the heavier and more fragile the light when dropped. Nobody would accept this dynamic in any other form of transportation. Battery lights are essentially disposables, at odds with the sustainable elegance of bicycles that can serve for decades.

    What dynamo lights bring to the table, that battery lights never will, is liberty to run them IN THE DAYTIME. All the time, without a care in the world. With no bulbs to burn out and no resistance perceptible, why not? Tipped up just a bit, today's brighter LED lights are conspicuous a mile away in broad daylight! No battery light is bright enough to be useful in daytime without committing the user to a really onerous recharging scheme all the time. To my thinking, that's a better single safety investment than a wardrobe full of day-glo plastic garments and even a crash helmet for non-sport biking, because it can ward off rather than mitigate collisions. Our experience running bright daytime lights supports the conclusion of studies conducted with motorcycles, that they draw significant notice from other road users, preventing right-of-way violations in particular.

    One last thing: one reason that battery operated lights have remained popular, apart from their lower initial expense, is that they can easily be transferred from bike to bike. If you care enough about safety and convenience to value the benefits of generator lighting, there's a good chance you own more than one bike. But then, equipping multiple bikes with generator lighting can be prohibitively expensive. Magnic Lights can be moved from one bike to another in seconds with no tools: only the inexpensive mounts need installation in advance.

    One of the better early reviews: http://bike.duque.net/review-the-magnic-lights.htm

  • Happy birthday to us: the Clever Index

    We opened in June 2007, five years ago. We were the first, and we remain the largest shop in town dedicated more or less entirely to bikes as practical urban transportation for families like ours. And yours. We've learned a lot, since none of us except our mechanics had any bike shop experience, and we've expanded three times to 7,000'sq through a recession in a town with nearly 70 other bike shops.

    Various reports and some spreadsheet dinking on five years of business data, several thousand bikes, produce some interesting "Harper's Index"-type statistics about who we are and who we aren't. We're weird, for sure. We think being non-redundant accounts partly for the success we've enjoyed.

    THE CLEVER INDEX

    Percentage of bikes sold with kickstands* : >99.9
    Percentage of bikes sold with factory-installed fenders : >97
    Percentage of bikes sold with full or partial chain covering : >95
    Percentage of bikes sold with belt drives : 0
    Percentage of bikes sold with factory-installed racks : >85
    Percentage of bikes sold with internal hub gearing : >70
    Percentage of bikes sold with generator lighting : >38

    Percentage of bikes sold with drum brakes : >20
    Percentage of bikes sold with disk brakes : <3
    Percentage of bikes sold with coaster brakes : <1
    Number of "cruisers" sold : <5
    Width of skinniest tire on bikes sold : 1.25"
    Width of fattest : 4.5"
    Average tire width : 1.75"
    Ratio of beer growlers to water bottles sold : 8:1
    Ratio of wool to non-wool garments sold, excluding rain gear : 18:1
    Ratio of steel to aluminum bikes sold : 7:1
    Number of bikes with carbon fiber components sold : 11
    Number of bikes with suspension forks sold : 4
    Most common number of speeds on bikes sold : 8
    Percentage of bikes with front derailleurs sold : <2
    Number of single-speed bikes sold : 17**
    Number of 300-lb fixed gear cargo trikes sold, mahogany : 5
    Number of child seats sold : almost 1000
    Number of child trailers sold : <20
    Number of Brooks saddles sold, either loose or factory-standard on bikes : >900
    Number of non-Brooks saddles sold, loose : 4
    Number of car racks sold : 0
    Average weight of bikes sold : can we help you lift it onto your rack?
    Lightest bike sold : <20lbs
    Speed of a 20-lb bicycle at 160 watts effort : 14.8 MPH
    Speed of a 60-lb bicycle at the same effort, level ground : 14.6 MPH
    Speed of a 20-lb bicycle at the same effort, 5% uphill : 7.2 MPH
    Speed of a 60-lb bicycle at the same effort, 5% uphill : 6.1 MPH
    Speed of a 20-lb bicycle at the same effort, 5% downhill : 23.9 MPH
    Speed of a 60-lb bicycle at the same effort, 5% downhill : 25.5 MPH***
    It never gets easier; you just go faster : what Greg LeMond said
    You don't have to go faster; it just gets easier : what we say

    Lemma : carrying weight doesn't make it harder; you just go slower. Until you get stronger.
    Number of helmets sold, with fitting advice : 2414
    Number of helmets sold to people who did not ask for them : 0
    Percentage of bikers who are women in Portland : 31
    Percentage of women customers at Clever Cycles : 64****
    Women to men on staff : 4:5
    Average customer age : 36*****
    Average staff age : 34
    Cumulative years of staff experience riding bikes for transportation, as adults : 113

    * Bromptons don't need kickstands to sit up
    ** Mostly kid bikes, excluding balance bikes
    *** http://www.kreuzotter.de/english/espeed.htm
    **** We don't have a pink division
    ***** We guessed
  • LED dynamo headlamps brighter and less draggy than halogen

    You can get a complete dynamo wheel plus bright headlamp that never needs batteries or bulbs for about $150 these days. A wired taillight only a bit more…. Though these systems are all nominally 3W, the older halogen types produce palpably more drag than the newer, brighter, longer-lasting LED types.

  • Family bike trip: Portland to Breitenbush and back again

    For our vacation, we the Fahrner family rode from our door in Portland up into the Cascade mountains along the Clackamas river, camped one night along the way, then spent four nights at Breitenbush Hot Springs. We rode home in one day. 193 total bike miles, 12,000′ of climbing, with a camping load and our 6-year old son in a child seat. This was an unforgettably wonderful experience for all of us: 4 days of total relaxation at the springs book-ended by 3 days and a night of bike camping.
    loaded

    breitenbushWe first visited Breitenbush last autumn, taking a Zipcar. The stay was far too short; we resolved to return. Breitenbush Hot Springs is an amazing place, a worker-owned cooperative on a beautiful site in ancient forest. The soaking pools are clothing-optional (mostly none). The food is organic vegetarian, no alcohol or caffeine. It’s off the grid: they generate their own electricity from the river and operate year-round on geothermal heat. They even run their own code-compliant sewage system for 190 people. There is no phone service apart from the office, no cell coverage: forget internet, radio or TV. Beside soaking, eating, and lounging about (I napped a lot), the hiking really can’t be beat, and there are usually new-agey kinds of workshops taking place for those so inclined. That’s not us, but I did indulge my inner hippie by slathering naked self head-to-toe in sulfurous volcanic mud, letting it bake on in the sun, and washing off in the c-c-c-cold swift river. Perfect!

    We approached the idea of riding there tentatively, because though we ride every day, it has been some years since we’ve camped or even put more than 35 miles in a day on bikes as a family, much less nearly 200 heavily laden with lots of climbing mostly in mountain wilderness, beyond all services including cell phone signals. How would our son handle days straight sitting in his seat? But between the waste of parking a shared car at Breitenbush all week, our wanting to get some long-form biking in, and the need for blog fodder, well, we had to try it. Plus, we’ve needed to put in some extended test miles on new production elements of Stokemonkey, our elusive electric assist system specific to longtails, and this sounded like a good challenge.

    It had never been entirely clear to me at what range Stokemonkey would become more burden than help. For utility hops of a few dozen miles or less in steep places like San Francisco or Seattle, it’s a no-brainer, but could we make the charge last this many miles in these mountains, with these loads, and still have Stokemonkey, with its weight and displacement costs, be a net advantage? I’m happy to report that we could. And that son is a champ in the seat for long hours, even offering back rubs. We’ll travel this way again.

    We rode out about 18 miles along the Springwater Trail to join this route near Gresham, shared by Matt Picio at Bikely, complete with excellent cue sheet:

    Clackamas Camping out to Breitenbush (route courtesy Matt Picio)

    elevation

    cycleanalystI figured out the total miles, then divided by the number of watt-hours we’d be packing in the batteries on each bike to come up with a per-mile power allowance of about 8 watt hours. It takes a lot of discipline not to open the throttle every time you get a little tired, but keeping under the allowance would assure that we’d have enough juice left to help with the tough climbing on the second day as shown in the elevation profile above. In practice, this meant using the assist only uphill and for the odd acceleration from a start, at least on the more climb-intensive outward leg. Coming home we could be more liberal with the assist.

    Though each bike weighed nearly 150 pounds with cargo, 2 large NiMH battery packs each, passenger and all, we maintained an average speed of 11.7 MPH over the 193 miles, working no harder uphill than on the flats. Downhill, that extra weight is all gravy, which allowed us to ride home in a single easy 96-mile day. The bikes handled beautifully with all the weight; they are designed to.

    climbing breakOf course, riding lighter bikes with lesser loads and no motor assistance is entirely feasible, and preferable from a simplicity point of view. It would also be slower and rather grueling on the steeper, longer inclines. For that matter, we could have hiked there and home if we had so much leisure. For us, for this trip, motor assistance made the difference between practical and appealing, and not.

    In all, we used 1642 watt hours of assist each, so 3284 total over 193 miles, or 17 watt hours per mile for the 3 of us together. (Our capacity was half that; we recharged from Breitenbush’s small hydroelectric service.) Now, a single gallon of gasoline packs about 37,500 watt hours. So, if you come up with a car that gets 2,206 MPG with 3 occupants and camping gear in the mountains, you’ll have matched the energy efficiency of our quiet, cool-running, simple little human-electric hybrid system, now patented.

    Packing was a bit stressful. I come from the minimalist school of camping, where you remove the staples from the teabags after discarding the 4 layers of extraneous packaging, and then decide that loose tea would be better yet, and conclude finally that you can do without tea for a few days. I shaved my head to sidestep that whole shampoo and comb quagmire. My wife, on the other hand, thinks nothing of packing a few books, four changes of clothing for five days, giant towels, etc. We compromised, sort of: if it fit on the bikes after the batteries, tools, charger, first-aid, water stowage, and other basics, I was fine with it. We’ll pack less next time. I packed some trash bags so in the worst case we could stash useless items in the woods at a marked spot for retrieval at a later date, including batteries if it came to that.

    The ride up was pleasant after Estacada, if uneventful, and just plain uneventful before that. Having son narrating in his tireless way kept us entertained even passing through the town of Boring, Oregon.
    lower clackamas
    We camped at Riverside Campground, at mile 60-something the first night. This is the site of the last readily potable water along the route. We slept in two Hennessy hammocks, which I’d long been curious about as compact comfortable alternatives to a tent. Need to fine-tune the bottom insulation strategy for the cold dawn hours or colder seasons, but we’re sold. The sound of the rushing river lulled us quickly to deep sleep.

    hammocks

    The second day’s climbing was more intense, or we were sore, or both, but the weather was great and the scenery fantastic. It culminated at mile 18 in a wall of a climb to the pass that we dreaded to imagine hitting without Stokemonkey. The pass came sooner than expected, with a breathtaking view of Mt. Jefferson clad in glacier, and we then bombed down to Breitenbush with some euphoric whoops. I ran out my charge to a splutter along the loose gravel road just a mile or so from our destination.

    parkingWe parked our bikes at the door of our cabin, which led to quite a lot of curious loitering by other visitors to the springs. But we learned quickly to stop telling people that we had biked there with child from Portland because it stopped conversations cold, as either a greener-than-thou affront or just too freaky. “Who drove the support vehicle?” A Dutch family we met there on the last day found out as we were leaving. They were incredulous. I admit that made me proud: Dutch people think we’re hardcore. At the same time, I wish more people understood that biking needn’t be some kind of enviro-martyr stunt, sport, fundraising strategy either personal or institutional, etc.

    carl crosses

    Homeward was mostly downhill, after the initial very sharp climb back up to the pass. The first couple hours after the pass were the nicest riding I’ve enjoyed in many years, with perfect light and warmth and a bike heavy enough to hold its momentum up nearly all the little rises after letting loose up to around 35 MPH on the longer descents. We whistled and sang in gratitude.

    Our mood took a big hit at Austin Hot Springs, which is right alongside the road. We thought we’d lunch there and maybe take a dip where the hot vents mingle with the cold river water. We rolled up to the river’s edge, between trucks, and beheld a sickening spectacle: trash, trash everywhere. Brawndo cans and Doritos bags, used tampons and condoms, excrement-smeared toilet paper, giant bean cans, inflatable water toys, cassette tape fluttering, cigarette butts and beer bottles, some broken. Green trees sawed down and dragged halfway into fire rings. And there in the clear water, some yahoos had submerged a large roll of carpet and weighted it with rocks so bathers could avoid coming in contact with the riverbed. It was a crying Indian moment. Anger and shame drove us back to the road.

    The Breitenbush community states that its primary purpose is to protect the springs and the land around them. Instantly, in view of the fate of Austin, we felt a wave of gratitude for that mission accomplished. I thought of some of the remarks I’d come across about Breitenbush being expensive or exclusive, or a bit precious, and I murmured “well thank god!”

    Clouds rolled in low and it began to rain lightly. For the first hour or so it came down at a rate about equal to evaporation in our wool and peached nylon pants, but after a few more hours we were quite wet, though warm from exertion. My body proved an astonishingly effective rain shield for our son, even in his denim jeans. Beyond cell range, without radio we couldn’t guess whether these showers were going to blow past or compel us to set up a hasty camp. We had no raingear save those trash bags. We changed into dry wool and pressed on, just as the showers luckily subsided for a few more hours, catching us again only 15 miles from home on the Springwater.

    flatBoth bikes acquitted themselves flawlessly, with zero trouble save a flat due to a heavy staple; we patched in place. We rode my 2003 Xtravois longtail, and a 2007 prototype of the Surly Big Dummy longtail. The Surly’s running a Shimano Nexus 8 gearhub with roller brake, the same robust setup as on all the Dutch bikes we sell. Xtravois has a Rohloff gearhub. Schwalbe Big Apple tires on both, 24″ on the Surly. Both bikes have been “dutchified” to produce effective seat tube angles below 70 degrees, with short stems, swept bars, and sprung broad Brooks B67 saddles. I don’t think I’ll ever ride long distance any other way willingly, assisted or not. The only bicycle-specific items of clothing we brought were helmets.

  • Introducing Retrovelo

    Retrovelo is a small bicycle company in Leipzig, Germany, who in 2003 introduced a new style of bike: the Balloon Racer. These bikes are part city bike, part zero-generation mountain bike, and part, well, a whole lot of other elements borrowed from bikes over the last century. While “retro” in aesthetic, these bikes are not warmed-over anything, but new designs executed with exacting vision and technical innovations never before seen in production bikes. Clever Cycles is the first North American dealer.

    They are stunning, easily among the most beautiful bikes I’ve ever seen. The step-through models could be pieces in a gauzy photo shoot with Marilyn Monroe. Confectionary or cupcakes with buttercream frosting come to mind, but those are sticky, weak and ephemeral, while these are timeless lugged cro-mo steel, tough and purposeful. The guys’ ones evoke lumberjacks and German shepherds and underwear (maybe that’s just me).

    balloonThere’s almost a danger in this prettiness: you might think looks are their strongest point. In fact they ride marvelously. Weighing about 10 pounds less than similarly outfitted Dutch utility bikes, and supporting a sportier posture, these bikes scream fun, with wheelies and jumps feeling as natural as just gliding along. More than any other single thing, it’s the tires. Many people with a little knowledge of tires take one look at these fatties and assume that they must be slow. You know what they say about a little knowledge? Schwalbe re-introduced balloon tires in 2001 with the “Big Apple” after decades of obsolescence, and they did it really right, starting with light, supple casings that result in lower rolling resistance than many narrower, higher pressure tires (the data is buried). You can run pressures as low as 25psi, and just float over crummy pavement, rails, even the odd curb or flight of stairs. They are fast. Really. Take a test ride!

    Context

    Retrovelo designer Frank Patitz, for whom Schwalbe named the signature “Fat Frank” tires now appearing on a number of Retrovelo-inspired bikes, loves mid-20th-century American industrial design with a zeal found more often outside America than in. On his visit with us in Portland recently he’d stop at every old Nash Rambler, Ford Falcon and the like on the street to photograph them. (We were riding, of course; my eventual eye-rolling produced assurances that he doesn’t actually own a car, but just that he admires them as design objects.)

    The bikey parallels of these old cars are the balloon-tired “clunkers” that, after 30-40 years of service (or sitting in people’s garages) got reborn as the first mountain bikes in Northern California, in the late 1970s. Retrovelos are partly an homage to these bikes. Hub gears, drum brakes, Brooks saddles and those distinctive swept handlebars are back! Here’s mountain bike pioneer Joe Breeze taking a Retrovelo down Repack, the legendary Marin County run:
    Joe Breeze takes Paul down Repack

    I confess to a certain curmudgeonliness about mountain bikes, or at least about the gap between how they are designed and marketed and how they are most often used. Mountain bikes are presented as toys you load up on cars to drive someplace free of cars, to escape. In reality, mountain bikes are the dominant utility bikes of America. Older, unsuspended ones especially, retrofit with lower-profile tires to bring down the bottom bracket, a rack, fenders, maybe some more comfortable bars please, clamp-on lights: these are the tough, lovable mutts of the American street. The proudest few ascend the karmic spiral of Craigslist and methamphetamine reincarnations to become Xtracycles. You have to love the punk-rock frankenstein aesthetic, or you don’t. What if bikes like this could be designed?

    I see Retrovelos as a brighter, less ironic ending to the mountain bike story, or another fork of the story picking up from that same start, thirty years later. They take the essential fun, toughness, and comfort of archetypical mountain bikes, but instead of leaving all the useful, transport-oriented stuff to be bolted on haphazardly by the second or third owner, it’s designed in, gorgeously.

    Models, specifications, prices

    Our first shipment consists of models Paul and Paula, Max and Maxi, in 7 colors: black, olive, ivory, dusty rose, grass green, stone gray, and dove blue. All are complete with Nexus hub generator lighting front and rear, Roller (drum) brakes, rack, fenders, kickstand, bell. Paul is $2099; Paula $2149; Max $2399; and Maxi $2449.

    Paul and Max frames are 56cm only (32″ standover), suiting riders from about 5’8″ to 6’2″; Paula and Maxi fit from about 5’2″ to 5’11″.

    Paul and Paula feature Shimano Nexus 8-speed “red band” (premium) hub gearing and an elegant chain guard. A first in production bikes, models Max and Maxi feature the Swiss Schlumpf High Speed Drive to extend the range of the 3-speed gearhub to 466%, comparable to some 27-speed drivetrains. You shift the Schlumpf by tapping the button in the middle of the cranks with your heel:

    Want more pics?

  • We're having a sale. And a ride.

    usFrom Friday November 23rd through December 23rd, buy any one item and receive 25% off any 2nd item of equal or lesser value. We’re also temporarily knocking $250 off the cost of a bakfiets. The bakfiets discount doesn’t apply for people participating in the San Francisco free delivery program — that much of a deal might precipitate a singularity in the bike-time-oil-money matrix with unpredictable cosmic repercussions.

    On Friday the 23rd, at noon, come join us for an easy ride around the neighborhood. Very family friendly.

    Happy Thanksgiving, friends. We are thankful for your patronage and warm support of our new enterprise.

  • Basil has landed, and the San Francisco Bakfiets shuttle

    This week we received a large shipment from Basil, a bicycle bag and basket maker in the Netherlands. It took us a long time to get, and to our knowledge we are now the only source of much of the collection in North America. We’ve barely gotten it tagged and onto the floor, but the reception has been great. We have already heard it pronounced “the first worthy upgrade to a bungeed milk crate,” and overheard an urgent cell phone call about “really cute bags, but at, like, this bicycle store!” Here is bicycle luggage that doesn’t look like sporting goods, but just like nice luggage, nice hand and shoulder bags, nice briefcases, nice baskets in mesh or wicker, including dog baskets. Come check it out.

    A lot of people remark that our Dutch city bikes seem big. And heavy. And while a test ride quickly shows that said qualities contribute to a “Cadillac ride”, that’s not their main rationale. No, the bigness and heaviness find useful meaning in the physical clearances and structural integrity necessary to haul stuff comfortably, sometimes heavy and bulky stuff. The bikes are platforms for racks, bags, baskets, and child carriers. Ever try to put big panniers on your typical light, compact bike only to find that it hits your heels or the handling goes south? What about a kid seat and panniers? Your bike is too small and weak. What about a front basket? No, you won’t be putting one of these on even a top end touring bike or domesticated MTB, but it’s no problem for Oma:

    This gets near the heart of what we’re about: biking can be more than weekend sport or recreation, and more than weekday personal mobility (commuting). It can be about everyday transport of passengers and things. The Basil collection helps fill in this big picture, beautifully, proclaiming that utility bicycling isn’t just for eccentric or tightwad recycling enthusiasts and professional messengers (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Without this transport part provided for as a practical, attractive choice, cars remain an apparent necessity even to many city households, and bicycles a discretionary expense. We’re here to help flip this idea around. Yes, of course it’s the Next Big Thing.

    San Francisco

    A couple posts back we talked about ways to get bakfietsen down to the San Francisco bay area more economically. Well, we updated that post a few days ago with details of our plan, so have a look if this might be you. We’re collecting orders for what we hope can be a pre-holiday delivery run.

    keg

  • Cleverchimp is now Clever Cycles

    Cleverchimp LLC is now Clever Cycles LLC. The latter company has absorbed the former. The formalities are complete; we’re opening a bike shop here in Portland. We’re now a two-family business instead of one. Or rather, we’re now two families very busy opening a new business. Before long this site will look quite different. Stokemonkey will continue to be developed and supported; the Cleverchimp name will likely shift from being a company name to a brand name of products that Clever Cycles develops.

    Dean and Rachel Mullin live a ten-minute ride away from us. They have four children, three dogs, a cat and a dozen chickens. They’re down to one car now that sits idle mostly. Like us, they’re an all-bicycle, all-the-time kind of family. After working through the usual succession of typical solo bikes to trailers, tag-alongs, tandems, and sprawling mutant permutations thereof, they acquired a ZEM, and found it rather heavy. Their search for an assist motor put them on the Stokemonkey/Xtracycle path. They bought two. Rachel had meanwhile identified the Bakfiets as a missing piece of the puzzle between the too big, 300-lb ZEM and sometimes too small or light Xtracycles for big family transport. A few weeks after we spent a warm afternoon on a slightly tricky Stokemonkey installation, Dean proposed “Let’s open a bike shop!” It turns out he was serious.

    I had always imagined Cleverchimp diversifying away from just assist kits into a bike shop, but not so fast. Not fast at all. Dean’s a lot more decisive than I am. All four of us complement each other pretty well. We all want our children to see and understand what we do for a living, to understand that turning 16, or 21, or 42 doesn’t mean you need, or need aspire to a car (if it will even be an option in 2020, 2025, or 2045), and to build a business they can someday run, if they choose.

    We’re doing something that’s either unprecedented, or whose previous attempts to do in this era, in this country, have failed in silent obscurity. We’re selling bicycles designed squarely to replace car trips, or render cars entirely spurious within town, even for larger households, as a matter of pleasurable, enlightened self-interest instead of frugal compulsion, hairshirt eco-guilt, or body-sculpting fantasy. Exclusively. Bikes you can haul your sweetie to the movies with, that he can haul you back home on, and that you’ll both haul your kids to the grocery on. There’ll also be folding bikes for their ability to permeate the smallest interstices of your mobile life, be it under the table at a posh restaurant, through the aisles of local shops, between the seats of a train, or in the trunk of a shared car or cab. Soon there’ll be more hub gearing, generator lighting, center stands, mudflaps, bells, and steely plain-clothes cargo goodness than under maybe any other roof on this continent. I’ll save details for future posts, but longtime readers of this blog should have a pretty good idea. We live it. Actually, you ain’t seen nothing yet. We’re always learning.

    We assure ourselves often that “if it can work anywhere in this country, it can work in Portland.” We can’t go anywhere without being halfway mobbed by interest in our rides, and nobody in town sells this stuff. Whether or not it works as a business, we won’t regret introducing vital new material strains of bike culture to Portland. We hope to help restore Portland’s streets to the child’s play and slow conviviality they were designed for, to return the advantage to city businesses without parking lots who sell bulkier stuff than haircuts, to revive the enchantments of place and distance within our city by opening the eyes, ears, nostrils and lungs of those who traverse it, to take back family vegetable gardens and fruit trees from retrofit driveways and garages, to reclaim our bodies for the complete locomotive functions they are evolved to serve, and to proclaim, daily, that free and dignified people of all ages and stations in life needn’t strap themselves into cages weighing tons to go places, carry things, live long, and prosper.

    Our shop will open during the month of May June (drat contractors!) at 1516 SE 9th Avenue, right off Hawthorne, across from the Lucky Labrador brewpub. A grand opening will follow us getting up and running more completely.

  • Haul your crutches with it!

    A bit over three years ago, as I was designing Stokemonkey, I corresponded with Surly’s Dave Gray about various ideas, as he’s a crafty person with some experience of electric propulsion. Months ago I sent Surly a kit, in hopes that they’d bang on it and tell me what they thought. Surly designs and sells, by my unresearched guess, more high quality steel bicycle frames than anybody else in North America, and they tend to build into particularly fine, heavy-duty Xtracycles, attractive platforms for Stokemonkey.

    In addition to seeking design feedback, my sending Surly a kit was a marketing psychology experiment. Would these strong, proud, hard-riding young people living in a flat city be caught dead with an electric motor on their Xtracycles? Some of the softer guys rode it first, but it took Dave breaking his leg to set up his alibi. [Soft guys: thanks for the reports!] After many days of cruel non-disclosure that something interesting was coming together, this morning Brother David Sunshine blogged the result:
    cripplemobile

    O man! Can it be made to lean with the bike — parallelogram linkage — and when can we order one with integrated bassinet? You say it needs more weight on the sidecar… more batteries? The area is getting big enough for onboard solar charging to make sense….

  • ITandem

    Remember ITchair? It’s been wonderful, but son wants to pedal. He’s not big enough yet for a trail-a-bike/tag-along, and can’t keep up on a bike of his own. So how about I remove the footpegs and hook up some stoker cranks? I wasn’t sure it would work when I ordered the parts, but I had to try. It was a snap! It works pretty much like Stokemonkey, only children are much more expensive, much noisier, and nowhere near as powerful:
    itandem
    father, son

    More movies:

Items 1 to 10 of 28 total

per page