We Love Aluminum Frames, and You Should Too

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eTap-equipped MKI road at NAHBS. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Frame holding jig in the finishing booth. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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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

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Andrew prefers to operate the foot switch bare-footed for better feel and control. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Mise en place. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Pre-weld markings. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Spent welding rods. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Head tube on the welding jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A bunch of triangles made while practicing welds.. and finishes. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A JET horizontal mitering bandsaw plus the must-have, multi-use gallon bucket. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Rear triangle alignment jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Custom frame oven designed by none other than Andrew himself. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Frames. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Welding time. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Andrew seen through the yellow curtain. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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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.

As a kid I drooled over a Klein Quantum Pro with that badass orange paint job, or the flaming red Cannondale CAAD Cipollini rode. There’s a certain beauty to fat tubed, smooth welding frame that just screams come at me bro.

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.

The Interview

Andrew Low. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew Low. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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

Shaped aluminum tubes ready to be cajoled into a frame. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Shaped aluminum tubes ready to be cajoled into a frame. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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.

Andrew hard at work. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew hard at work. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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.

Anything else you’d like to add: Buy my bikes!


I Died and Came Back and This Is What I Learned

A portrait of my sexy self taken shortly after being released from the hospital.

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.

Thrice, actually.

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.

Done.

Kaput.

Lucky Me

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.

A stranger.

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.

Clogged.

Stuffed.

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.

Triple bypass.

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.

Life Happens

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.

Whatever.

So no riding my bike out-of-doors for the next six weeks.

I am allowed to ride the bicycle trainer indoors.

Awesome.

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.


Sportful’s Fiandre Kit Is an All-Weather Must

Photo: Paolo Ciaberta
Photo: Paolo Ciaberta

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.

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Photo: Paolo Ciaberta

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.

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Photo: Paolo Ciaberta

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.


Pump. Pump. Pump it Up.

Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
KCNC’s pump head will have you pumping and jumping for joy. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

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.

Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

Charlene Is Both Big and Beautiful

The Porcelain Rocket Charlene seat bag bring gear swallowing goodness to your bike. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
The Porcelain Rocket Charlene seat bag brings gear-swallowing-goodness to your bike. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

“How can you even pedal your bike with such a large …”

Hey. Hey. Hey.

Be nice.

I have been riding my bike, trying to cut out the pastries and not eat after 8 o’clock at night.

“No. No. No. Not your gut. That giant saddle bag.”

Oh that.

My Charlene seat pack from the Canadians at Porcelain Rocket has garnered its fair share of stares and comments, but I hardly notice it is there anymore … until someone makes a comment.

Now the Porcelain Rocket Charlene isn’t even their largest seat pack. As a matter of fact they call it the “little sister” to their behemoth Mr. Fusion V2 seat pack.

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.


Cameron Falconer Knows the Best Tools Are the Simplest

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Fire it up. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A couple of bikes. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A little bit of smoke from the welding. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Di-Acro Model 4 hand-operated bender awaiting orders. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Disco ball, a must have for every office. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Cutting metal. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A beauty shot of Cameron's personal Falconer. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Cameron's favorite tool: his hand-made chainstay subassembly fixture Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Cameron welding away. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Shavings from the milling machine. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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The workshop whiteboard Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A well-used lathe. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Frame welding jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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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.

Cameron Flaconer. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Cameron. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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.

Design inspirations:
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.

Dummy axles. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Dummy axles. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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.

Chosen superpower?
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.

Getting ready to weld. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Getting ready to weld. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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.


Let Me Tell You About “My Guy”

Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

I’m suffering with pain in my back.

I have been dealing with this pain for longer than I care to remember.

Or at least trying to deal with it.

And recently it was diagnosed as a pinched nerve in my neck, which considering what I have gone through to get this diagnosis is fairly encouraging news.

This pain has caused the first hour of my rides to be almost unbearable, as pain stabs into my shoulders, my arm tingles and it feels like someone is dancing the boogie woogie on my chest.

I have tried to suffer in silence, but when everyone rides away from me or when I just flat out refuse to ride with my friends … I end up having to explain.

And this is when it happens.

I’ve found out every single person I know who rides a bike has a guy.

“You’ve gotta see my guy.”

“Go. Try my massage therapist. She is the best.”

“My rolfer is amazing.”

“You should check out my yogi.”

“I swear my acupuncturist changed my life.”

“This guy, this fucking guy, is a life saver.”

“This pilates instructor in the neighborhood really dialed me in.”

“My guy understands the human body better than anyone I have ever met.”

“You should totally go to my chiropractor. She is the bomb.”

I find this incredibly annoying, but also super interesting.

Like all my friends who have succeeded I, too, want to find my guy.

I have tried acupuncture, chiropracty, rolfing, massage, self-massage, and as many home remedies I could stomach. I have read books on chronic pain and core training. I have tried heat and ice and ice and heat. And I have even tried whisky, like in the old western movies.

But, I have yet to stumble upon “my guy.”

I have heard enough tales woven by my friends about how they too did extensive and exhausting searches for a cure for their pain and then one day wandered into some yoga class or asian herb shop or new age chocolate/stone massage seance treatment center in search of a cure. And there, out of thin air, appeared their “guy.”

Recently, I have done the unthinkable, I have actually gone to see a doctor. And the doctor has told me my years of carrying camera bags and cameras, mixed with my years of riding a bicycle has caused my shoulder blades to separate. She has suggested I need to unstretch out my back, build my shoulder muscle back up and slowly pull my shoulder blades back together. She suggests I need to work on counter-balancing the stretching bicycling has caused with good old-fashioned, focused hard work.

And here I was just hoping to find “my guy” and have him or her tweak my little toe and make the pain go away.

Instead, I have started with a series of exercises, paying constant attention to my posture and how I carry my bags and being consistent.

The hard work has begun, but the search has not halted.

I’m not giving up on the “my guy” theory.

So, when I tell you about my back, feel free to tell me about your guy.


These Walkable Cleats Will Have You Striding Like a Boss

Speedplay Zero Aero Walkable Cleats. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
Speedplay Zero Aero Walkable Cleats. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

I’m clamoring down the stairs, both in an attempt to get out of the rain and to hopefully grab the BART train I can just hear pulling into the station below.

Normally, I would be sporting a pair of MTB shoes and my beloved Shimano SPDs, but today I’m “testing” the new Speedplay Zero Aero Walkable cleats.

I had given up on Speedplay pedals a number of years ago, both because I was having trouble with initial setup—mostly my fault—and because I was tired of skating all over the place on their crazy, raised, oddly shaped cleats.

I had a couple of friends who used to carry the Speedplay pedal cleat covers in their back pockets and swore it was totally worth it. They loved their Speedplay pedals for their lightweight, tensionless float, impressive adjustability and dual-sided entry. But the thought of having to carry cleat covers with me every ride, let alone remembering to put them on at the coffee shop had me looking elsewhere for my pedal fix.

Speedplay Zero Aero Walkable Cleats. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
Speedplay Zero Aero Walkable Cleats. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

Now I was trouncing down those stairs, across the platform and onto my train without a single misstep. The new(ish) Walkable Cleats have solved the ice-rink feeling of the original Speedplay cleats and after a little tweaking from my fit expert I have finally fallen in love with Speedplay pedals.

I still won’t be packing the Cleat Buddies in my jersey pocket, but for my more finicky friends, they come with the cleats if you are this type of rider.


This Lezyne GPS Is Like Crack for GPS Data Junkies

Lezyne GPS. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
Lezyne GPS. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

Remember the days when the purple route line was just a highlighter stripe on a paper Michelin map? My old Polar CS200 had everything I needed before the days of GPS cycling. Then a particular company got us hooked on the GPS crack. And we all dropped a carbon wheelset’s worth of cash to see a grainy picture on our stems of the next 2.0 miles of our rides. Then topo maps. Gradients. Road databases. So much data—Rand-McNally right there under our sweat-dripping noses. You want data? You gotta pay for it. Until now.

Enter the Lezyne GPS. If you can still call a device that tracks your location on the surface of the earth from over 13,000 miles away “minimalist,” this is the embodiment. So is the price tag. Ranging from Mini to Power to Super GPS, Lezyne leaves off the map, but maximizes function and value. Want numbers? They have all the numbers you need.

Speed, time, elevation, time of day, lap splits, plus you can Bluetooth or ANT in your heart rate, speed, cadence, and power meters to bike-nerd it all out. On the Super GPS you can even Bluetooth in your phone and get text, email, and call alerts. Is your jersey pocket vibrating because Junior’s school office is calling or because work is saying “Lunch is over”? No need to guess. They have their own GPS Ally app for iOS and Android, plus they can auto-sync to the ubiquitous Strava for the ultimate social bike-geek data experience. But wait, it gets better. I have used the Super GPS for a whole month before recharging the battery. Watts for days.

So, what is wrong with the unit? Small stuff. You can only sync one activity at a time. No problem if you are always connected. If you go off the data grid for an epic week, well, you will have to take a few extra minutes uploading each gnar ride individually. The other downside? The bluetooth phone connection is somewhat finicky when switching between devices. I ran the Lezyne for a week on my phone connection with no problems. Then I let my wife try it out for a while. Getting it to switch between hers and my phone for alerts was a little trying and cumbersome, so, stick with what works first for you out of the box.

Bottom line, if you want to experience your ride and see the map later, look no further. Even if you have to adhere to a Zone-3 Over/Under 1 minute ON 1 minute OFF regiment, ” target=”_blank”>Lezyne still has you dialed. Look at the rocks now and the map later. Enjoy your ride. Outside is Free.

Editor’s Note: Lezyne responded to our article with a couple of tips on pairing.

Try these in this order:
Make sure the device has the latest firmware: http://www.lezyne.com/gpsroot/gps_downloads.php
With the Super GPS plugged in, delete the “settings.fit” file from the device. This will reset any screen customization, but reset all connections too. We’ve found this to help when pairing to a new phone.
Make sure the phone has the latest Ally app update, and unpair any existing Lezyne GPS devices in the phone’s bluetooth setting. Then toggle the Bluetooth off and on.
Then, try pairing to the Super GPS through the phone’s Bluetooth settings, rather than through the Lezyne App

I know this sounds like a lot of effort, but it’s really the nature of Bluetooth. It will become more reliable and robust over time, however.


Rapha Climber’s Shoes Are The Kicks You’ve Been Looking For

Rapha Climber's shoes. Photo: Colin O'Brien/Element.ly
Rapha Climber’s shoes. Photo: Colin O’Brien/Element.ly

I’m vain. You are too. Admit it. You don’t like it when someone compliments your bike or your kit? You lie. Cyclists are the peacocks of the sporting world.

From my first ride with Rapha’s Climber’s shoes, I was in love, because my buddy noticed them immediately. Sure, they performed well too, but I was expecting that. Anyone making high-end cycling products that don’t work flawlessly in 2016 should be ashamed of themselves. We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to functionality. When it comes to fashion, however, it can often be slim pickings.

Designed in conjunction with Giro, they combine the latest technology from the American shoe and helmet maker—such as the uber-stiff EC90 SLXII sole—with classic looks that match right up with the Rapha aesthetic. The perforated body is a nod to shoes of yesteryear, while the simple velcro straps provide a nice, uncluttered appearance on top.

Rapha Climber's shoes. Photo: Colin O'Brien/Element.ly
Rapha Climber’s shoes. Photo: Colin O’Brien/Element.ly

The British brand’s minimalist offering differs significantly from their GT model, providing a pared back option for the rider looking for a fast, comfortable, good-looking shoe without any bells or whistles. The Climber model weighs in at 215g compared to the 320g GT version, and comes with three velcro straps instead of the ratchet or wire closure systems popular with other manufacturers.

They don’t look very “technical”—industry speak for designed in the dark—but they’ll perform with the best of ’em. Nothing fancy, nothing loud, just comfortable kicks you can put on and forget about. Some people might like something flashier, and that’s fine. If you like metallic colored shoes covered in flags and logos, go for it. Whatever floats your boat. But for yours truly, these were just the ticket. Understated, functional and lightweight—the holy trinity of desirable characteristics for any (wannabe) stylish cyclist. Now if only it were warm enough to take these pesky shoe-covers off.