Insulated (top) and regular (bottom) CamelBak Quick Stow flask. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
The CamelBak Quick Stow Flask, folded. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
At last year’s PressCamp, I got so many water bottles that I ran out of space in my luggage. So while packing for this year’s PressCamp, I thought I could get away with not bringing any. Well, day one and there’s no bottles in sight. Joke’s on me now.
But, perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. Seth from CamelBak came to the rescue and I ended up with two of their new Quick Stow flasks for my gravel ride.
Let’s be clear: Soft bottles aren’t a new “thing.” They’ve been around the market for quite sometime. What CamelBak did with the Quick Stow, however, was incorporate their technical know-hows to improve upon a soft bottle.
At first glance, the existing CamelBak hydration pack user will feel instantly at home given that the water bottle uses the same blue polyurethane material (BPA and BPS free in case you’re curious) from their hydration reservoir. For the cap, CamelBak designers incorporated the design cues from their podium bottle, plus a self-sealing silicone bite valve similar to the ones found on the hydration packs. There’s also a lockout switch to prevent leaks during transport.
I was given both the normal ($20) and the insulated version ($28) and both worked very nicely. The cap was easy to thread on/off with an opening large enough for ice cubes and drink powders (whisky anyone?). And it never leaked. The textured surface also gave it a nice grip while I was sweating under the Utah sun.
The Quick Stow holds 17oz of fluid, a bit less than your standard water bottle but overall that’s not a huge deal. It’s wonderful for short rides, or longer rides where you want to carry a bit more fluids without the clumsiness/real estate issue of a hard bottle. Its small footprint also allows one to stow it inside the pocket of say, a Specialized SWAT liner bib … plus it’s great for traveling.
Now, the insulated version works the same way but with the addition of an insulation wrap that will keep your drink cold for about twice as long as its non-insulated brethren. After a few rides with both, I found myself liking the non-insulated version as it was packed down smaller and was slightly easier to squeeze given the single wall design over the double-walled insulated version. Alas, that’s just a personal preference.
The Bontrager TLR Flash Charger floor pump. The silver barrel is the pump and the bigger, black cylinder is the air chamber for tubeless. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
We wish the PSI gauge have more markers for more precise reading. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Flip the red lever down to charge the chamber for tubeless. Flip it again to release the air, or use it just as a normal pump.
Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
The pump head is plastic but it worked liked a champ during out test, gripping both schrader and presta value with ease.
Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
The red lever and the bleed valve. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
For the longest time, owning any tubeless tire almost meant you’d be better off owning a compressor too in order to help it seat properly. A regular floor pump/co2 sometimes worked but a compressor gives you that massive volume of compressed air with just a squeeze of the nozzle lever.
I reluctantly got a small Craftsman compressor when I converted my mountain bikes to tubeless. I found the compressor to be awfully loud as if I was mowing the lawn inside my garage. Good headphones helped but that’s just not very ideal … Can you imagine what it’d be like having a compressor in your two bedroom Brooklyn apartment with squeaky wooden floors? Yeah, not a good idea.
But the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger could very well replace the need for a compressor.
Just Flip the Switch
Built with two chambers, the TLR Flash Charger is part pump, part (manual) compressor. After flipping the unmistakable red switch, you pump air into the giant chamber. To use the stored air to seat a tubeless tire, all you’ll have to do is flip the switch and watch the air blast into the tire.
It’s that simple.
It takes about 42 strokes to get the chamber charged to the red indicator. Which, at about 160psi, was plenty enough to seat our 26, 29, and 700c tires with extra.
Pump it Up … Eventually
The other function of the pump is, well, to inflate your tires. Here I feel the TLR Flash Charger comes up a bit short. It’s not that it doesn’t fill the tires with air just like every other pump. But instead of just connecting it to the tire and pumping away, the TLR Flash Charger needs to be equalized (with the tire) first before one can start the actual inflation (Huh?).
Think of it this way, say the tire already has 100PSI and you want to check the pressure. The pump will pull about 50 psi from the tire for the equalization to happen. It’s not a big deal if the tire is flat as a pancake, but it was annoying having the need to do the extra work. So plan ahead if you’re in a time crunch.
I would also love to see a more precise pressure gauge. The numbers on the existing top-mount (thank you) gauge were easy to read. But I was left scratching my head at the fact that it only showed increments every 20psi with no markers in between (other than 30PSI). So what if I wanted to pump it to 90PSI? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having a built-in bleed value?
This won’t be an issue if you measure your tire pressure in bars instead of psi but come on, for $120 you would think that’s a no brainer.
So is this pump for you? That depends. The TLR Flash Charger works beautifully in setting up all sorts of tubeless. It’s as good as any compressor in that regard albeit without all the noise and need for electricity — which is great if you’re living in a place with sensitive neighbors/housemates/kids, or don’t have the room for an electric compressor.
I really liked the concept, and it would be perfect to the be only pump you should own if Trek can do away with the air equalization.
I don’t do “gnar.” Perhaps sometimes I do “epic,” but definitely not gnar. Why? I like my teeth. My mom paid a lot of her hard-earned teacher salary on straightening my grill in junior high, so I figure I can at least keep it dialed for her. It seems to me like most “gnar” prospects on a bicycle can involve broken body parts. I will just continue to sit back and watch Red Bull Rampage on the interwebs from my couch, thanks.
So then these slick Freerider ELC shoes from Five-Ten showed up on my doorstep and suddenly I felt inadequate. Not “metal” enough. Not “shred” worthy enough. Can I wear these? I mean, I’m almost 40 and have a lot of Lycra in my closet. But I do have a fat bike with flat pedals and baggy shorts. Time to stoke my inner F*¢K YEAH !! (Sorry Mom)
Mind you, these are no Chucks or Kursks or fixie messenger shoes. These kicks are killer: a durable upper with a protective strap to cover the laces from picking up cholla barbs; a solid, firm but walkable sole that doesn’t flex on the pedals; and a grippy tread that doesn’t slip. Nothing is going to break through this skin. And they are SOO comfy on the inside, like velvet socks for your hooves. Lace ’em up tight and let ‘er rip. Tough on the outside, soft on the inside. Just like any downhiller’s mom would want.
Now while I still don’t plan to dabble in the “gnar,” at least I have some good coverage if my #rideepicshit plans start to get nasty. Use protection. Make every day you return from the trail in one piece a Happy Mothers’ Day. Your feet will thank you, too.
The Lazer M2 Magneto and a Lazer Blade helmet chilling in sunny NorCal. Photo: Eric Gneckow/Element.ly
Plenty of vents on this Lazer Blade. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Lazer AeroShell deployment. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Let’s get this out of the way—yes, you will feel like a gigantic Fred when you first click Lazer’s Magneto M2 shades to the specially-designed magnetic bits that hold them to your helmet straps. “What will they think of next?,” you’ll ask yourself, as you lament today’s cyberpunk age of cycling while reminiscing fondly of Bernard Hinault’s aviators gleaming in the sun.
But once you feel the air flow over your unencumbered ears, you’ll quickly get over it.
Long among the rarified “I can get this because I work in a bike shop” helmet brands (for me, anyway), Belgium-based Lazer has gained widespread attention in recent years for a series of thoughtful accessories that solve problems many riders never knew they had. The M2 is the second-generation flagship of the company’s Magneto line of sunglasses, which ditch the armature of traditional shades in favor of a stubby magnetic attachment.
Magnets, how do they work?
The magnetic anchor points are easy to install on the straps of any helmet—in this case, Lazer’s own Blade—and provide a great deal of adjustment in combination with multiple rows of magnets on the sunglasses themselves. After a few minutes of fiddling, the arrangement provides a snug fit mimicking that of typical shades.
It’s hard at first to understand why any of this actually matters, but it hits you after the first pedal stroke. Other high-end shades have various intakes to channel air across the ear, but Lazer’s system has nothing in the way that would limit air flow. It’s glorious, and it only gets better as the sun cranks up and the miles tick on.
Have you ever wrapped up a huge ride and found your ears sore from your sunglasses? Sure, you’ll probably survive, but it’s not even an issue with the Magneto system. The attachment also comes with the ancillary benefit of keeping your helmet strap well-behaved by providing a rigid axis across the front of the face—another example of Lazer solving a problem you didn’t realize existed until these crafty Belgians figured it out.
Zeiss is nice
This all would be moot if the business end of the shades were crap, but Lazer did a fantastic job with the M2. The Carl Zeiss lenses are stunningly clear with zero distortion, and the close-fitting design does wonders to block the wind. A treatment to the lenses also keeps them from fogging up, though it’s hard to say if that will last over the long term.
Lazer kindly includes an easy-to-swap set of spare armatures that convert the M2 to a more traditional design, but in a bit of irony, the arms actually extended back far enough for this tester to hit the structure of the company’s Blade helmet. It is possible to get them into position with some determined wiggling.
Over-engineering you’ll love
The Blade itself is a lightweight lid with an updated version of Lazer’s cozy Rollsys system, which tightens the helmet through a top-mounted rolling mechanism instead of the more common rear ratchet. I’ve found it to be the most comfortable fit mechanism by far among the many I’ve tried over the years, providing light and equal pressure across the head reminiscent of a well-fitting (and safer) beanie.
The simple strap guides along the sides of the helmet are also a slam dunk in a subtle way—the stay-flat design spreads the straps wide around the ear, making it easier to achieve a comfortable fit. The low-profile helmet still manages to wrap around a large portion of the head, providing ample protection in a stylish package.
But wait, this is Lazer! Simply making a helmet is not enough! This Blade also comes with an optional plastic windshield called the Aeroshell, a tight-fitting cover offering an aerodynamic boost at the expense of ventilation. It can be a fair trade-off depending on the circumstances, be it racing a time trial or even just a spin on a cold day.
The Blade is also made to work with many of the Lazer’s other bits and bobs—a helmet-based heart rate monitor eschewing the old-school chest strap, an always-there rear LED and a little strap-based lock for quick coffee breaks. It’s a trove of well-considered accessories that each address a nagging problem, issues that Lazer has thoughtfully accommodated in a way that improves the overall pleasure of cycling.
Add on the Magneto system, and it’s a lot of goodies on offer for the humble helmet. A Lazer spokesperson was not available to confirm whether the company is developing a sleek helmet mirror for the Blade, probably due to the fact that I never attempted to identify or contact that person.
I will say that the Blade probably doesn’t come out on top of the competition in terms of ventilation, something I’ve longed joked is a consequence of the company’s Belgian roots. Yet Lazer has appeared to improve significantly in this area since the similarly styled Genesis was my go-to lid, and with so much going on with the Blade and Magneto combo, it might be time for another look.
eTap-equipped MKI road at NAHBS. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Frame holding jig in the finishing booth. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A few of Andrew's origin frames. The steel one in the middle was the one he build while attending UBI in 2009. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew prefers to operate the foot switch bare-footed for better feel and control. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Mise en place. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Pre-weld markings. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Spent welding rods. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Head tube on the welding jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A bunch of triangles made while practicing welds.. and finishes. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A JET horizontal mitering bandsaw plus the must-have, multi-use gallon bucket. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Rear triangle alignment jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Custom frame oven designed by none other than Andrew himself. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Frames. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Welding time. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew seen through the yellow curtain. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew, with a MkI road, and Manny. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A custom aluminum frame is somewhat of a unicorn these days. Stroll down the aisles at NAHBS and it’s obvious that the dominant materials for frames are titanium, carbon, and steel. And those are all wonderful materials in their own right, but I have a soft spot for aluminum.
Well, Klein’s gone now (RIP), but my hope of finding a good aluminum bike is not.
The Low Down
Sure, you could go with a big name factory option like Cannondale’s CAAD 12 and Specialized’s Allez, but if you want custom aluminum hand-crafted by an expert, Andrew Low of LOW Bicycles is your guy.
Growing up with interests in model airplanes, guitars and cars, Andrew started building roll cages for off-road vehicles while pursuing his degree in fine arts in Colorado. After moving back to his native San Francisco in 2005, he got really into bikes, and eventually got the idea to make his own frame.
Years of researching tools, saving money, and welding practice finally yielded two frames by the summer of 2010. From there, Andrew “started to take those around town where bike messengers were hanging out.” The LOW frames were an instant hit, and that was the origin of LOW Bicycles.
Today, besides offering four different track models, LOW is dipping into the resurgent aluminum road and cross market with their new MkI road and cross frames—all made in their 500 square foot shop so tidy you would think you just walked into a boutique car shop. Here’s what he has to say for himself.
Why aluminum? I like the look of oversized tubing as opposed to steel frames but I also wanted to make racing bikes and aluminum is a great material for that, dollar per dollar it’s the most effective material for racing. It’s really versatile in that you can make a really stiff bike and you can make really comfortable bike contrary to popular belief.
It’s just how you shape the tubes.
Aluminum is softer than steel and it’s not as rigid and brittle as epoxy which you find in carbon fiber.
How many frames do you make now? 12 frames every four weeks, and we stop 4 weeks out of the year. So that’s about 120 bikes a year.
Describe your bikes in five words: Beautiful, aggressive, well-designed, well-made, fast.
Why #thismachinekillscarbon? Because if you get on our bikes you won’t feel any disadvantage because you’re on an aluminum bike. I came up with that hashtag myself. The full quote is “this machine kills carbon and your preconceived notion of superiority.”
That’s what we’re setting out to do with our road bike. It started happening now in the industry where big brands are investing into high-end aluminum bikes. Specialized with their Allez which is a beautiful bike in my opinion. Some people are starting to realize that barring from buying the highest end carbon frame you can get just as good if not better performance out of aluminum. One of my bikes will ride much better than a similar-priced carbon bike. You’ll feel the difference.
Uphill or downhill: Downhill.
Favorite riding place: Riding in Marin is awesome, riding through traffic is fun. I used to love riding the city loop
One thing people don’t know about you: I am working on getting my pilot license.
Favorite music: Bands that I grown up loving: the Ramones. Jonathan Richmond, jimmy Hendrix, Lou reed, a lot of stuff from late 70s, early 80s. I play the guitar.
What are you most proud of? That I’ve able to keep this going for five years. Most businesses fail within the first year. I am proud that it took off to begin with. We have a shit ton of struggle keeping the business going. But I am just really proud that I did something people like. For me that’s awesome. It’s validating.
How long does it take to produce one frame: About 30 hours per bike.
Morning or night person: Both. I don’t sleep that much. I go to bed late and wake up early.
People have been asking me why Element.ly has been so quiet here lately.
I’m sorry about that, but I have a pretty good excuse this time.
I was dead.
Now I don’t actually remember dying or being in a coma or much of anything during what was apparently a pretty rough three week period, but here is a what I do know from the stories I have been told by my amazing wife Terry and my friends who came to visit.
I was on a bike ride.
A birthday ride.
It was my friend Cory’s birthday and we decided we needed to ride in celebration.
We were in Marin, San Rafael to be exact, and we were headed for Point Reyes Station for coffee and muffins.
I, as those who read this website know, have been having a horrible time with my back, and I had stopped at the golf course on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. to stretch it out.
I had been given a series of stretches by my Physical Therapist and Cory kindly stopped to watch me do my little stretching ritual. In the middle of stretching I started to sway back and forth like a cartoon character.
Cory figured I was goofing.
Then he took a closer look behind my glasses and realized my eyes were rolling into the back of my head.
He instinctively knew the birthday ride was over.
The first of many “lucky” things happened next: Cory caught me before my head bounced off the pavement.
The “luck” continued, because if we had been 15 more minutes into the ride we would have been over the hump headed for nowhere and probably in a cellular “dead” zone.
But just like as if it were scripted in a movie, more luck as off the golf course comes a stranger who knows CPR.
On a golf course.
In the middle of nowhere.
Performs CPR on me.
Saves my life.
I wasn’t really ready to die, so this “not dead” thing really seems to play in my favor.
I turned 50 this year, I eat fairly well, I stopped smoking years ago and I showed none of the signs of an imminent heart attack. When I visited the surgeon yesterday he said mine was a tough heart attack to categorize. I wasn’t having any pain in my jaw or numbness in my arms or pain in my chest.
I just drew the proverbial hereditary short straw. My grandfather checked out early with a bad heart. My dad has a bovine valve in his chest and a pacemaker. A crappy gene pool seems to be the diagnosis.
So anyway, the golf course angel brought me back to life and the ambulance carted me off to the hospital where they froze me. Literally. To try and save my brain. You know, slow things down.
My shit was blocked up.
But, luckily for me, it was the kind of blockage which probably would not have shown up on a stress test. Early attempts to fix the problem were unsuccessful.
So they got after it.
Pull a vein from here and another one from there and redo all the plumbing.
The surgery went off without a hitch and the doctor claims I will experience 100 percent recovery.
I am hoping he means 100 percent back to my high school healthy heart days and not 100 percent back to my heart just before the “incident,” but I guess only time will tell.
Oddly, this was suppose to be the year I got fit. I mean truly fit. (Just like a lot of other years, but you get the point)
I started a new job with inGamba, an amazing bicycle touring company based out of Marin and I was going to “work” while riding my bike and promoting the brand. I had landed a dream job for someone who loves to ride their bike, drink good wine, and eat amazing food. Mangia, Beve, and Bici, as we say at inGamba.
I had started to commute by bicycle every day and starting to put in plenty of miles on the weekends.
I was making plans.
Well, I find that all pretty funny now. Because as the saying goes, life is what happens when you are making other plans.
So I learned a few things about myself while dead. Well not so much during the dead part, but during the road back.
One, I’m not going to be one of those guys who all of suddens knows so much more. I won’t be handing out diet tips or life advice or running around hugging strangers. Although, I am extremely excited I did not exit stage left I am not any smarter or insightful than before things all went ass-over-tea-kettle.
Two, people are amazing. I mean truly amazing. Starting with my wife, who somehow held it all together day after day after day. Even when I was lying there frozen like a lump she stayed the course and watched over me. And my boss (don’t believe everything you hear about the Portuguese), co-workers, former co-workers, and long lost friends stood at the ready to do anything which needed to be done. And the “social medias” were inspiringly filled with thoughtful things to keep me entertained, when I was coherent enough to comprehend what was going on.
Let the Comeback Tour Begin
Finally, I have plans. I didn’t really understand I had plans. But I do. I want to be successful at my job and my marriage and my friendships and my interactions with the world every single day. And I want to make some photographs. And I want to ride my bike. And I want to be a better writer. I want to write. I have never really said that out loud before.
I guess I knew most of this, but it is only now that it has reached the point of clarity.
And for the record, I don’t feel lucky. People tell me I am, but I don’t really feel like lucky is what it is. I think had it been kidney stones or heartburn or head lice I would feel pretty lucky.
I feel grateful, but not so much lucky.
And now I’m home recovering and back to causing everyone grief.
For example, I started riding my mountain bike around the neighborhood, until the doctor found out.
He was not happy.
Something about my sternum.
Apparently when they crack you like a walnut, it takes time for that to heal.
So no riding my bike out-of-doors for the next six weeks.
I am allowed to ride the bicycle trainer indoors.
But whatever. I’m gonna ride my trainer, keep being a pain in the ass, and look forward to riding my real bike in Italy in June.
Special shoutout to: Terry, Cory, Lisa, Joao, Nate, Ted, Bryan and the kids at Pivot, Brad and the kids at Kali, Katura and Fritz, Chuck and Lana, Nate, Randy, Greg Asfar, My family at inGamba, Greg Ahrens, David, Beatrize, the gang at Seven Design, Ariel, Chuckie, Jakob, Keith, Mikey, Paloma, Xico, my kids from SF State, Chris Baker and his beloved JCPenneys card, Scott, MV and the kids, Chad, Lewis, Gregg, Olivia and the boys, Alex, Leander and Traci, Brendon, Tracy, Denise and Ross, and so many more.
Climb into the back of your wardrobe and pull out some winter kit from when you were younger. I dare you. It’s horrible. Offensive. Uncomfortable. And it didn’t work very well. You either rode wearing an expensive bin bag—wetter with sweat than you would be with rain—or you didn’t ride at all.
These days it couldn’t be more different. All of the major brands are making innovative, stylish and extremely functional attire for the hibernal season. Excuses are now out of fashion. There’s no such thing as bad weather anymore, only poor sartorial choices.
I’d been hearing good things about Sportful‘s Fiandre—no prizes for guessing, it’s Italian for “Flanders”—range for some time, so when the opportunity came to test it after Il Lombardia alongside some of the guys from Team Tinkoff, I cleared my schedule.
The Race of the Falling Leaves is the autumnal classic, the final monument of the season, a testament to the beauty and the challenge of riding in cold and wet conditions, the perfect backdrop to a review of some extreme threads. So naturally, when we met outside the hotel on the the banks of Lake Como, the sun was splitting the rocks and people were more concerned with their shades than their thermals.
Still, with a few chilly descents to deal with, the Fiandre No-Rain short sleeve jersey and its matching bibshorts were perfect. Good against showers and gusts, while still breathable enough for when the sun came out or the climbing got aggressive. Which it tends to do when you’re scaling Madonna del Ghisallo and the Colma di Surmano, desperately trying to keep pace with Ivan Basso, Roman Kreuziger and Sergio Paulinho, all three soft-pedalling and chewing the fat while we chewed our stems.
Heavy-duty items in the range had to wait a little longer for a proper testing, but after a couple of months worth of winter rides, they’ve now become firm favorites. I don’t want to ride in anything else.
The Extreme Neoshell Jacket is a marvel. Breathable and stretchy but completely waterproof. Cut to fit like a winter jersey, but warm enough to wear as a jacket even in the frostiest months. The chunky zipper and taped seams protect against drafts and soakage—and they look cool. Combined with the right kind of base layers or thermals, it could be the only top you need from autumn right up into the spring.
As a small aside, it’s worth trying this on while in your riding position because anyone who likes a snug fit might find their normal size a bit tight under the arms while standing. Once you’re riding, however, it’s like a glove and while offering an impressive level of protection, it feels light and unrestrictive.
The No-Rain bibtights don’t disappoint either, with plenty of features to keep you snug in the most inclement conditions. There’s an extra layer over the thighs and knees, which is always welcome when riding into piercing winter winds, and there’s even an extra rear flap for protection against wheel spray. Minimal stitching keeps things tight, and some reflective piping is a good idea for this time of year, when visibility can be low.
I found myself in the back of the sag wagon pumping air into my buddy Marco’s third flat tire with nothing but a small hand pump. And all I could think of was why on God’s green earth did a sag vehicle not have a proper f@#$%432ing pump and why can’t these people keep air in their tires.
We were well past the lunch stop on day one of what was going to be a rain-soaked, flat-infested, mud-packed 2016 Coast Ride from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.
I got on the phone and found out the second floor pump ended up in the other sag wagon, so we made a plan to meet up. At the next convenient moment I was handed a Lezyne pump, of which I am a big fan, with some bizarre contraption fastened to the end of it.
Turns out this little orange, red, and silver wonder is the KCNC Pump Head. Not the most enticing or marketing savvy name, but when something works this well who needs marketing. These things should sell themselves.
I was shocked how smooth and precise this little pump head operated and after repairing countless more flats I had to have one. The lever moves on ball-bearings and locks down going in, instead of out. Which after an initial “what the what” moment, is brilliant.
I found the KCNC’s website, but couldn’t find this little beauty on there anywhere. Luckily, the owner of this fine pump pointed me to Fairwheel Bikes who not only carries the KCNC Pump Head, but all sorts of other goodies, including tools from my beloved Abbey Tools.
Now, I’m not sure everyone is ready to plunk down $40 hard-earned to replace what is already a pretty reliable head on their Lezyne pump or whatever pump you are using … but if you are at all frustrated with your current pump head/bicycle valve relationship then you should definitely take a closer look at this little gem.
I have tried a lot of baggage options for my commute: bicycle messenger bags, handlebar bags, backpacks, fanny packs, my jersey pockets, etc. But it wasn’t until one of my friends at Seven Design showed up to work with his bikepacking rig, decked out in bags, that I decided to try the oversized seat pack.
As I started my search for the perfect one, I found out the bikepacking community is not only much larger than I had ever imagined, but also crazy—almost fanatical—about their bike, bags, packing techniques and weight savings.
I found the robust website bikepacking.com to be entertaining, informative, and a nudge terrifying.
The idea of heading out in the great unknown with a bike packed with a hammock, a coffee grinder, duct tape, four old film cameras, and some beef jerky appeals to me about as much as a rectal exam.
I understand there are people, nomads really, out there who enjoy the whole getting back to their caveman roots and “roughing it,” but I think I fall under the … a hotel without room service is roughing it type.
I enjoy a long, hard, stupid bicycle ride as much as the next person, but at the end of the day I don’t wish to pull my sleep quarters from the bicycle roll attached to my handlebars. I prefer a hot shower, a pat on the head for my dog, a kiss goodnight from my wife and the comforts of a full-size pillow. More power to those of you who think a pillow is a pillowcase filled with your dirty cycling clothes.
Which brings us back to why on earth I have this giant seat bag strapped to my honest-to-goodness road bike. Well, you see, if you have been reading, I have a bad back. And wearing a backpack has been exacerbating the situation. So now instead of carrying my rain gear, commuter wear and other essential items on my body, I have been stuffing them in Charlene.
And I could not be any happier. The bag is made of 500D Cordura, comes in a handful of color choices (I chose multicam black) and cinches down pretty snuggly. If I have stuffed it to the gills, the bag has a tendency to sway when I stand up to climb, but I wouldn’t expect otherwise. For me this is a small trade-off to keep the weight off my body.
Every morning, I leave the house before dawn secure in the fact everything I need for the day is safely stowed in my big, ol’ oversized seat bag.
A little bit of smoke from the welding.
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Di-Acro Model 4 hand-operated bender awaiting orders.
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Disco ball, a must have for every office.
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A beauty shot of Cameron's personal Falconer.
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Cameron's favorite tool: his hand-made chainstay subassembly fixture
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Cameron welding away.
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Shavings from the milling machine.
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
The workshop whiteboard
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A well-used lathe.
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Frame welding jig.
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Cameron working away inside his shop in San Francisco's Bayview district
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
While many bike frames are made with exotic materials these days, Cameron Falconer, of Falconer Cycles, uses good old-fashioned steel.
Located in the Bayview district, a stone’s throw away from the original Trouble Coffee company, Cameron is one of a handful of frame builders that calls San Francisco home, not to mention the dude’s quite a fixture in the local cross-country/cyclocross racing scene.
Instead of complicated tube shapes, which which have become the norm, Cameron is out to build simple and functional, TIG-welded steel bikes. They are precision-made tools that are meant to be used/ridden/abused day in and day out. That’s no BS.
It’s been three and a half years since Cameron got into building bikes full time. We met up with Cameron recently while he was working on a special non bike-related project for a buddy. But what the heck, we chatted anyway.
Five words to describe your bikes:
Simple. Practical. Forms follow function. Tools first.
Best part about the job:
The best thing is being able to do something creative and be able to constantly refine what I do in trying to improve it. I find it pretty rewarding, to see people riding my bikes and enjoying it.
Once I deliver the bike to somebody it’s theirs and they can do whatever they want with it quite honestly. They can cut it up and make pry bars, bongs out of it. That’s not really my business but I prefer, much prefer people to ride them. And they do. It’s always really nice running into somebody and having them do something cool and having a cool experience on something I made. That’s what keeps me going.
First thing you would do as a captain of a pirate ship:
Assumed I already only have one leg, I would make everyone brush their teeth, hygiene is important.
Uphill or downhill:
There’s no preference there, I like them both.
Describe your idea of a perfect holiday:
Ride a bike at somewhere interesting with people I like on mountain bikes … Bunch of real high places in Colorado. Oakridge, Oregon. I’d love to go to the Alps, never been there. A lot of places are just in the big mountains, pretty unique spots.
What’s it like at the transition from being a welder at a metal fabrication shop to a bike builder?
There were some challenges. I already knew the frame building trade from work at Ed Litton and a few other friends. I think you just keep getting better at what you do so I would never claim to say the stuff I made is perfect.
Ed Litton whom I worked for, Rick Hunter of Hunter Cycles whom I’ve raced for and still race on a team supported by him. I started racing for him in 1997. He’s been a super big influence on me. Sean Walling at Soulcraft. I am really lucky to have a lot of my friends around here who do this for a living. They’re really good folks and we help each other out, so there’s definitely a lot of cross-pollination going on.
As far as inspiration goes most of my inspiration are people who do stuff that I think is really well executed and really simple.
The local frame-building scene here is amazing. There are tons of talented people doing it.
How much would you charge to wash all the windows in Marin?
Let’s say there’s an average of 15 windows in a building, and how many buildings are in Marin County anyway … 100,000 at least? So a couple million windows give or take. Assumed that’s a few year’s work I would guess, it’ll be pretty monotonous so I want to see $150k a year to do that. Half a million would be cool. Someone would have to pay for my gas too.
Thoughts about the new wave of axle, bottom bracket standard and disc brakes? Does that affect you in anyway?
Yes it does. It matters. Thru axles are generally a good thing, particularly with disc brakes. The boost standard that’s coming right now is also potentially a good thing for real strength. Most of the new BB standards I think are a waste of time… Other than the new T47 standard. That’ll be a good useful standard.
In my world I think it is going to be adopted by a lot of people. There are benefits for people like me for sure but I don’t see it as a necessity in particularly for steel builders. If you’re building titanium where you need bigger diameter tubes there are some definite benefits to it. In steel, there are benefits as well. You can run different cranks and such. It’s easier.
Hardest part of the job:
It would be being responsible for every aspect of it. You’re the CEO but you’re also the janitor. So whenever something goes wrong or right it’s your fault. Whatever responsibility there is in here is all mine and it can be a bit much sometimes.
What would you cook for your friends:
Same thing I cook most nights probably. Big pile of vegetables and some sausages.
My girlfriend asked a question like that the other night. We were watching a skateboarding video at a friend’s house and she was like if you can speak every language or skateboard like these guys … and both my friend and I were like we want to skate like these guys. It’s like defying gravity. I see it as nearly a super power. I would love to be able to get on a skateboard and do super high-level skateboard tricks. It’s totally outside of my world. I am the world’s worst skateboarder. It’s close enough to be a super power for my taste.
Guilty pleasures? Not really. Honestly I don’t watch whatever housewives, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills or anything. I don’t even watch TV.
Favorite cocktail: Good proper margarita.
If you get to be any animal what would you be?
Maybe a marmot. Because they get to hang around in the rocks in altitude at beautiful places and sleep all winter.
Anything else you would like to add? Any tips for those who are looking into building bikes?
As far as people wanting to learn how to build bikes, don’t have any illusion to it … it’s a hard way to make a living and certainly not the best way to make money. It’s rewarding in a lot of ways but it sure as hell isn’t easy.
The stuff I make, I feel like if you’re buying from somebody you’re buying the tangible representation of what they think is important. So you should buy a bike from someone you get along with the best, regardless who that is, and whose world view in regards to cycling best matches yours.