As I sit here in my not-so-cozy office and listen to the rain pelt against the roof with wild abandon I am reminded of the days when rain was a legitimate reason to ride the trainer.
Yes, this is another one of those ol’ man tale of the days before indoor plumbing and this fancy thing called eeeelectricity. Well, not that far back, but well before the days of windproof, waterproof materials.
We grew up wearing cotton on our feet, hands and legs. When it rained or snowed we were soaked to the bone and freezing. If you were lucky enough to get some wool socks you were the cat’s pajamas. We still used phrases like “the cat’s pajamas.”
And no matter how hard we tried to get our boots and mittens next to the radiator, we almost always had to pull them back on wet for the bus ride home.
End of history lesson.
Now the number of choices for winter and rain gear is nothing short of miraculous and I’m going to share of few of may favorites for 2016 in the coming weeks.
First up is the Castelli Tempesta line, including the dreamy Tempesta Race Jacket.
This jacket is not only prepared to keep you dry, with its waterproof taped seems and water blocking zipper, but it is stuffable, easily spotted in the dark hours of winter, and race cut. No more flapping, stiff, garbage bag style rain protection.
Throw in a couple of rear pockets and a butt flap and this jacket is ready for you to either start your day in the rain or stuff it in your pocket as the perfect insurance plan.
The Tempesta lineup also includes a pair of 3/4 pants which are everything you want and nothing you don’t.
One the best parts about such amazing rain gear is you never have to worry about putting on wet kit, just shake the shake Tempesta jacket and pants out and out the door you go … rain or shine.
Fabric Cell Elite saddle in Blue. The translucent top just glows in the light.
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A durable polyurethane top, the hex-shaped air cell core, and a flexible nylon base that makes up the Fabric Cell Elite
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
At 155mm at its widest, the Cell Elite has plenty of cushy real estate for your rear.
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
The top view of the Fabric Cell Elite
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
At first glance, the Fabric Cell Elite looks like a normal saddle with a bright-colored top. Well, it’s much more than that. And if you’ve never heard of Fabric, you should.
Launched in 2014 by the founder behind the hugely popular UK brand Charge Bikes, Fabric has in a short time brought on quite a few innovative products: The striking carbon ALM saddle designed in collaboration with Airbus, the Chamber multi-tool, and the cageless water bottle system. The Fabric guys are obviously onto something.
The Cell, in true Fabric fashion, is not your ordinary comfort saddle. No gel, no cutouts, no crazy amount of padding.
Beneath that opaque waterproof cover is a trick air-cell that acts as an air spring just like those neon Nike Air Max 95s you wanted so bad when you were young. Unlike the pressurized air cell in running shoes where an unfortunate puncture will spell it’s premature demise, the Cell’s airsprung will not be affected even if its polyurethane top is punctured or torn. ‘Cause you know, stuff happens.
My first ride on the saddle was during a wet cyclocross race (tells you how much I love the saddle that came with the bike) and my initial thought was it’s one bitchin’ saddle. I was a bit skeptical on the effectiveness of the air cell core and that slight noise it made when I squeezed it with my hands. However, I never heard a thing when I was out on rides. And the air cell? It works. Not only does it act as a nice landing during my remounts, but the top has just the right amount of grip even in the rain. One extra credit for the Cell’s nylon base is that it makes post ride clean up a whole lot faster. Just rinse and repeat.
It’s been a month since the Cell was bolted onto my bike and it’s such a comfortable ride it’s staying on there. Its generous 155mm-wide platform reminded me of the old WTB SST (with a different cushion feel, of course.) Oh, and it’s a unique looking saddle that’s not black or white (Fabric does offer a black and opaque top).
At 354 grams, The Cell elite is not going to win a weightweenie contest; it’s not what it’s designed for. It’s one heck of a saddle for all it’s intended purpose, though. Super comfortable, a clean look, plus the price is right at around $65 with 6 different color ways to match your steed.
Carla McCord is a veteran of the cycling industry. Now the marketing manager at Pivot Cycle, she’s been a bike shop salesperson, a mechanic, and a graphic designer. She was even there when the first woman-specific Terry saddle was introduced (more on that in a bit.)
Named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in the Industry by Bicycle Retailer and Industry News in 2014, Carla has been helping various companies in marketing and communicating products to customers. Call it the bridge between you and [insert your favorite bike company here]. Sounds easy right? Well, it’s easier said than done really, as you’ll read in the following interview.
On top of it all, Carla is one of the nicest and hardest working people I’ve had a chance to meet since I’ve started shooting/writing cycling stuff. Oh, and I hear she’s blazing fast on the bike, too.
So what do you really do for work?
Well, the official title is the marketing manager for Pivot Cycles. The unofficial title would be more interesting. You know, it’s a funny combo, marketing is a lot of things to a lot of people and I think there’s an impression out there that you’ll spend a lot of time bro-ing down … I joke about it all the time that I am at these events just to give free stuff and hangout.
And the reality is that is actually a very tiny part of it. The biggest part is you’re trying to think about what is it you do and how that is going to be interesting to people. You’ll spend a lot of time strategizing, you’ll spend a lot of time planning one year, two years down the road. I am in a really privileged place in a sense that my job is to essentially make people happy.
It’s a huge responsibility. We think about this, the stuff we make at Pivot, these bikes, when someone decides to buy one of our bikes and that’s going to be the thing they ride. For most people that is a significant thing—that’s going to be their fun budget for a while. So it’s a huge responsibility to make sure we communicate in a way they get the real one, it fits them perfectly, it’s set up perfectly so that six months from now, heck, we’re responsible for their fun. They believe our stuff is going to help them to go out and to enjoy the trails, the mountains, the desert and we‘ve got to make sure we hold up to our end of the bargain. So we work really hard to do that.
Were you always in marketing?
Oh gosh that’s the funny one. I have a painting degree. I have a BFA from the University of Washington and I was really serious about it for a while. And then I realized I can pay my bills if I’m employed. At the same time I had worked my way through college at bike shops as a mechanic and salesperson.
The wrenching was an accident. And honestly I wasn’t that great of a wrench. Though if you’ve got a 20 year-old, one-inch-threaded-everything beater old road bike and a campy tool set, I can fix the hell out of that bike. Since then, there are other mechanics that are better than I am.
But I was actually really good at helping people find things and helping people solve their problems. I started working at bike shops pretty much exactly the same time the first women’s saddle was introduced. It was about ’91-’92.
Georgena Terry should be in the cycling hall of fame for that saddle. It really was that one product. For years it was like you had to know that in order to make your saddle comfortable as a woman means you go to the bike shop, borrow the dremel tool and dremel out the plastic in the inside of the nose of the saddle. For beginner cyclists, that was completely inaccessible. They didn’t even know what to ask.
Being a woman in a bike shop in the ’90s was really, really rare. I happened to work at a woman-owned bike shop in Seattle so it was even more rare. I learned a lot of cool stuff about how to talk to different demographics of people not as demographics, and that’s one of the things that was really important.
How many golf balls can you fit in a school bus?
I’ll just guess: 567,000
Uphill or downhill?
First thing you’d do as a captain of a pirate ship?
I’d probably make sure everybody has really frilly blouses because I want a really picture-esque pirate ship that’s aesthetically pleasing. I would design the pirate ship experience to make it visually impressive.
A friend’s coming over, what would you cook them for dinner?
That’s pretty easy. That’s all about getting some really good Mexican food going. That is just my home food. Awesome guacs, good skirt steak, and some homemade tortilla if I am really adventurous but honestly my tortillas are really bad. More guac because I am an avocado addict. I used to live in LA and that is definitely something I miss about LA, just the nonstop availability of a Mexican butcher shop.
Describe your idea of a perfect holiday.
I am kind of a sit in one place kind of person so when I go on vacation what I like to do is to find a spot and basically live there as long as I can. Honestly my vacation I usually try to turn into something I can also get a little work in so I can stay for a month. The cool thing about that is you get to know the local restaurants, bakeries, the food, the people and you’ll start to see the stuff you don’t see otherwise. Always got to have a bike on hand cause you’ll see so many more things on bike than by car. I walk everywhere, always with a loved one, so I’d definitely go with my husband Cam … and our baby on the way … it’ll be a family vacation.
If you were a stalker would you be good at it?
Yeah I’d be awesome at it actually. I am really good at getting information. It’s part of being a good marketing manager. You have to be able to do your research, to do your Google things. You’ve got to be able to come up with ideas and figure things from what you find, so I think I’ll be pretty kickass at it.
Most embarrassing story?
I don’t know. I got myself tangled up with some packing tape this morning.
I’d like to be a Google billionaire so I can give all my money away to all the schools. I think it’s something that’s really important that we don’t do enough of.
Choose a car, any car, to represent yourself.
Exactly the car I drive. It’s a Subaru Outback with all kinds of things attached to it. It’s got a rooftop box, a Thule rack, and special shocks so I can run a 4 banger Thule rack and not bottom out my rear suspension.
It’s filled with Border Collie hair at all times. You can’t get into my car without getting coated in dog hair because I always have a dog. There’s probably one snow shoe and some camping gear.
If you were an animal in the wild, what would you be?
Ravens, because they’re super smart. They remember everything and they know you. If you’ve got local ravens they see you. They’re gorgeous that there are lot of beautiful colors in their feathers. Ravens just seem like they kind of have it together. They’re always out there doing interesting raven stuff that they seem they’re smart enough that they have plans.
Any advice for those looking into breaking into this sport industry?
You can’t just think it’s a bro thing. And by bro I mean all these folks want to come in thinking it’s super easy, fun time thing that they get to be a cool guy.
I spend a lot of time in front of Excel, work really hard, think a lot about what I am doing and I also have a lot of folks who work really hard around me. It’s awesome and I try to be respectful of that.
At the same time, it’s a small industry and the most important thing is to have integrity around what you do because if you don’t, man, first of all, what are you doing for yourself, and in the end, that’ll come back to you six months or six years down the road. Somebody’s going to remember and you’ll see the same people over and over. It’s important that you treat them all very well.
Not that I don’t want to, but I can’t. I mean, it’s kinda rough to roll up to a photo shoot carrying 30-40lbs of camera gear.
But with the car in the shop (thanks, rock) and the fact that I am in the studio this week, what the heck, it’s only a mile. NBD I can do that. It’s only a mile but dude, no flats! Half mile, 10% descent immediately followed by a 14% climb (well that’s the average but it’s far steeper than that in some sections) for another half mile … aka the Warren Wall for you SF readers.
So it’s a bit of a workout but whatever. I’ll deal with it. Here are some notes from the past few days (so far).
Day one: Super early call time equals riding in the dark. Those new Knog lights are pretty sweet (review soon).
Day two: Shut up legs, I’m half awake. But hey, I have my coldbrew, a bottle of fruit smoothie and it’s warm enough to wear a t-shirt at 7 a.m. without freezing my ass off.
Day three: Alright alright alright I’m getting used to it now. 14% in street clothes is a bitch but at least I’m wide awake by the time I make it to work. Forgot my coldbrew today and that Odwalla mango protein shake was gross. What was I thinking?
Day four: Barely made it to work on time. Rushing up Warren and trying not to swear sweat too much just don’t work.
Day five: TGIF
Here are a few things I came to really enjoy during the “commute.” It’s been a hard week on set yet the ride to and from home (Weeee downhill!) is arguably the best daily escape, or even a bit of a guilty pleasure I can count on to get away from the grind for just the right amount of time like having my pasta perfectly al dente. No phone, no KOMs, just rides, dude.
Plus a little bit of workout doesn’t hurt, either.
Spring Break is an annual migration ritual in the midwest that clogs the I-75 corridor from Dayton, Ohio to Atlanta and all the way, I think, to Cuba, though I’ve never followed it that far. We simply can’t handle that last fifteen minutes of winter, a season of cold mud for us, and plenty of folks spend a full day of their vacation driving to southeastern resorts dense with other midwesterners on a busy interstate for blanket-congested beaches.
So we veer east to Asheville. The drive is shorter, your neighbors didn’t beat you there, and they somehow fit more outdoors into North Carolina than any three midwestern states combined. And now, before all of the mini-van and Airbnb rentals have been claimed, is the time to start planning and dreaming for this trip.
I should warn you: Asheville has already been discovered. It is possible, in fact, that you have already heard of it. Still, it is nice to pretend that you are not the typical tourist, that you have a special status somewhere between pottery-shilling local and carpet-bagging northerner. So here is how we create this fantasy for ourselves:
It helps to go with an Airbnb rental in a leafy neighborhood somewhat removed from downtown. Our favorite by far is in West Asheville, a marginally gentrified neighborhood where we moved last spring into a home designed by two globe-trotting architects. When a fellow customer at the West End Bakery referred to Asheville proper as “Disneyland,” we were able to respond with knowing nods that communicated our solidarity: Yes, here in West Asheville, we alone have found what the old Asheville used to be. (Something about aging hippies?)
Or don’t stay in Asheville at all; try Brevard. This is where the mountain biking paradise really starts, after all. We like to rent at The Hub and ride in nearby Dupont State Forest. The single-track is fun, the climbs are not punishing, and you get to frolic in waterfalls that were featured in The Hunger Games. We love to stay at The Red House Inn in Brevard for its full English breakfasts and the local cycling knowledge of owners Daniel and Tracie Trusler.
Eat at the same restaurant more than once. It is the familiarity of repeated visits that make you feel at home and less like a tourist anxious to fit in as many different experiences as possible. Destinations worthy of return trips for us have been The Square Root in Brevard, and in Asheville, places like The Laughing Seed (vegetarian), and All Souls Pizza. But in a foodie place like this, it is difficult to go wrong.
Cultivate a relationship with a local guide. We love the spirit and professionalism of the folks at Fox Mountain Guides, who are great with kids and for the past few years have revealed to us the hidden joys of just-off-the-path rock-climbing in the area.
Try to stay for a full week. When you have been there long enough to have chance encounters with waitstaff from last night’s dinner while browsing the stacks at Malaprop’s Bookstore, it makes the world feel a little bit smaller.
One last trick: try applying for jobs. You may like your job back home, but there is something about throwing your hat in the ring that makes the fantasy feel real. And who knows, you might get lucky.
TLDR: After happily being a car and bus commuter for over a decade, the Faraday Porteur S e-bike made a biker out of me.
Before turning 16 and getting a car, I biked everywhere. I lived in Eugene, Oregon, one of the most bikeable cities in the U.S., and trekking across town was a breeze. My parents were divorced and lived on opposite sides of the Willamette river, so I did this often.
But you can’t take girls on dates or friends to parties with your bike, so I moved on to car-hood and never looked back.
That is until now. I’ve just moved to Portland from San Francisco and I’m trying to embrace the local lifestyle. And that means biking. Biking is definitely part of the San Francisco scene as well, but too many of my friends were injured while doing it for me to consider it while I was there. In SF the auto vs. bike dynamic is a borderline blood feud. Portland feels more like Eugene in its vehicular temperament, so I’m open to giving it a shot.
Not only is biking in line with the environmental ethos of PDX, but it’s almost a necessity. I’m part of a larger migration of people moving here from all over the country (for which I feel extremely guilty. Sorry, Portland), and we’re all clogging up roads that were never meant to accommodate so many commuters. Main arteries are jammed up for blocks during commuting hours and, shockingly, the locals are telling me it’s getting exponentially worse.
So not only do I not want to be part of the problem, I also don’t want to sit in traffic on the way to work—a headache I thought I was leaving that behind when I left SF.
But this presents a huge problem: Which bike to choose? It’s a daunting market and culture to get into, with so many brands, features, and variables to consider. Ugh.
Fortunately my laziness and predilection for tech toys have guided the way. Many people like myself would consider biking if we didn’t have to show up to work dripping with sweat, smelly and exhausted. These people—my people—also like biking but don’t identify with the seriousness of Bike Culture. We just want something fun, easy, and practical.
Electric bikes are growing in popularity for precisely this reason. They weren’t an option for me last time I was riding regularly so I was excited to try one out now. Getting an e-bike also seemed like a very “Portland” thing to do.
Faraday Porteur S
When I asked around, one of the most recommended models was the Faraday Porteur S. The company started out with a Kickstarter campaign and this is their second model ever produced. They’ve cut back on some of the materials to make it a bit less expensive than the first one ($3500 for the original, $2800 for the Porteur S), and the new slate gray color rather than the green is a little more inconspicuous. I actually prefer some of the downgrades, like the metal fenders instead of wood. Its biggest selling point for me was that it didn’t look like an e-bike, just a retro-looking commuter. Beyond that, I really didn’t know what to expect. How do these things work anyway?
I popped into Clever Cycles on Hawthorne, Portland’s premier e-bike shop, where Eva hooked me up with the tester from Faraday. She handed me the charger, showed me where the On button was, adjusted the seat, and sent me on my way.
Back in the Saddle
The first few minutes were spent just getting used to riding a bike again, period. Fortunately the cliché is a cliché for a reason. Next came dealing with traffic in an unfamiliar city and suddenly feeling like an unprotected meat sack. It was about 5:30 pm on a Tuesday and cars were angrily piling up on Hawthorne. Not only that, but I could feel the other bikers rolling their eyes at my n00bishness. And wait, where was I going again?
I decided to get off the busy street and figure my shit out.
Once the traffic noises receded, I could finally focus on the bike. The almost imperceptible whir of the wheels and chain. The firm support of the leather seat. Now it was time to try the motor. In the e-bike world, there are generally two types of motors: Pedal assist and throttle. Pedal assist waits for you to pedal before it engages and the throttle gives you the control. The Porteur S is a pedal assist motor with two levels of power.
While pedaling, I flipped the switch on the handlebars to the lower setting, using my left thumb. There was the briefest instant of “Is this thing working?” and then zing! It felt like an invisible hand pushing me along. It was immediately fun.
Photo: Keith Axline/Element.ly
From top to bottom: Power button, tail light, charger connector. Photo: Keith Axline/Element.ly
The head light automatically comes on when the bike is on. Photo: Keith Axline/Element.ly
Cautious to Reckless
I was flying through back streets at 20 mph on the higher power setting, with barely any effort. I know it’s 20 mph because that’s when the motor cuts out and you can feel that it’s just you pedaling. This speed clip is artificially added so that you can still ride the bike in areas designated for normal bikes. If the motor can assist you past that speed then different laws apply to your bike and you lose some of the freedom of where and how you can ride.
The Porteur S has five gear speeds which you can change from the handle opposite the motor control. I really only used gears four and five (the hardest to pedal) but the others are nice to have for steeper hills.
As I rode, I tried to think of the last time I experienced such a clear win with no downside. With the Faraday, it seemed, you get all of the fun of biking but without the effort (I know, I know, for a lot of people the fun is the effort). Also, there’s no noise or exhaust from a gas-powered motor. The bike isn’t as light as a normal commuter, but at 42 lbs. it was still relatively easy for me to carry up the 10 stairs to our rental. It’s one of the lightest comparable e-bikes out there.
The next morning was my first commute, and I’ve never been so excited to go to work. I found a route that would avoid traffic and allow me to eat up the blocks without stopping. I pressed the button on the casing behind the seat and the built-in front and back lights automatically turned on. After a few blocks I developed the habit of kicking on the motor whenever I was accelerating and then cutting it while coasting or braking. I don’t think this actually saves any battery life, but it made me feel efficient and it helped me think a few moves ahead. No regenerative braking on the Porteur S, but the disk brakes provide more stopping power than calipers so they’re ideal for city riding, especially in Portland’s rainy weather.
When I did have to get back on Hawthorne to go over the bridge, I was able to fly past three blocks of solid cars. Waiting at a light with six other cyclists, I peered out of the corner of my eye to see if anyone was scoping me out. No one cared. The hipster camouflage of the Porteur S was working. Though it might’ve tipped my fellow commuters off when I beat even some of the cars off the line. Accelerating quickly is probably where the motor helps the most.
Having ridden the bus into work for a couple of weeks, I noticed I got to the office in half the time. If you consider the need to park while driving a car, I even beat that commuting time. I’ll admit that this is due to some illegal riding on my part—running red lights and stop signs—but I don’t think I’m alone in that respect. When the coast is clear, I’ll go.
Can I Keep It?
I left the bike charging in the sitting area of our office while I worked. I got a lot of questions and impressed comments. Mostly people wanted to know what the motor assistance felt like and how powerful it was. I was still looking for a reason that not everyone was riding one of these things, and the cool factor wasn’t it. The guys at the office were into it.
One of the few negatives I could conjure about the bike was that the battery charge indicator on the handlebar is pretty difficult to read. It’s an e-ink display and even in direct light I couldn’t tell where it was at. I would estimate that I could do three days or more of commuting without charging, but I didn’t want to get stranded so I just charged the bike whenever I could.
So let’s do some math. If I save 15 minutes each way (a conservative estimate for sure), that’s 30 minutes a day. 2.5 hours per week. 10 hours per month. If I’m actually working during that time instead of traveling, then I’ve paid off the bike in under a year. Not to mention the $5/day bus fare I’m saving. Plus there’s the immeasurable value of daily exercise and actually enjoying the commute. I’m sold. Did I mention I’m good at rationalizing big purchases?
Don’t Just Sit There
Even after a week of riding, I still get a thrill when the motor kicks in. If you’ve enjoyed riding a bike at any point in your life and you commute to work, consider picking up a Porteur S or similar e-bike. Do the math and see if it’s a win for you.
Especially if you sit all day for your job like I do. Bike commuting is a great way to combat the health risks of an otherwise sedentary life. And e-bikes make it so it’s not a huge effort. Even if you’re feeling lazy, you’re not going to dread getting on your bike in the morning because you can get where you need to go with minimal effort.
Don’t let the “bike brohams” psych you out either, saying it’s cheating or somehow not real biking. That is just sour grapes. It seems they may have cornered themselves into an identity preventing them from enjoying anything that doesn’t involve some sort of pissing contest of machismo. Just do you.
For the past few years, all my camping has been on a bike. Bikepacking, or bike camping, or bike touring, whatever label you want to use, enforces a minimalist approach simply through a lack of space. Oh, and the rider’s ability to haul weight.
Having the double strike of being both skinny and out of shape, this means I generally try to use a pretty light setup. Bivy sack, 6 oz tarp, space blanket ground tarp, fuel tab stove, etc. For the trip down the Lost Coast, my gear without food or water came in at around 14 lbs. Which isn’t a whole hell of a lot, as these things go.
Because of this, I’ve developed a deep-seated aversion to heavy, bulky gear. Car camping means just that: Coolers, dishes, utensils, firewood, spare clothes, inflatable mattresses, all that stuff!! That isn’t camping. That’s … glamping.
I wasn’t ever going to go car camping, until last weekend. My better half had enough of my avoidance and booked a weekend with friends at the Bodega Bay Dunes campground. Using a borrowed SUV, we packed in more than I could have ever imagined. Things actually reached the point that there wasn’t enough space for me to sit in the passenger seat. In an effort to make room for myself, I pushed a bag into the back of the SUV, which created an avalanche of gear onto the top of my son’s head.
Yet, once we arrived, it all kind of worked. The tent, which is more of a palace that can sleep at least 6 and is tall enough to walk in, set up as advertised. Which is to say, literally one minute once I figured out its fancy auto-erecting mechanisms. There was a box for kitchen stuff, a box of food, a cooler for, um, cold stuff. Whenever someone needed something, it was there.
With the exception of forks, which were somehow missing from the equation.
And that gave us the luxury of not only having to not worry about much, it also gave me the luxury of relaxing. With more minimal bikepacking, there is always the nagging voice in your head that’s asking questions. What food do I have that’s going to go bad first? Has it already gone bad? Is there clean water nearby? Where in the world am I going to go take a dump? Speaking of that, how is my supply of baby wipes? And where did I stash that avocado, because all of a sudden I am starving!
Bodega Bay Dunes is one of the prettiest of the Northern California coastal campgrounds.
Little boys can find all kinds of things on the beaches of Northern California.
Driftwood. We have alot of it!
Seaweed + pen = AAAARRRGGGHHHH!!
Glamping leaves more energy for carrying tuckered out newborns.
Some trees are made for climbing.
Things that would never go bikepacking: Propane, plates, rolls of aluminum foil, coffee pots...pretty much everything on this table, in fact, would never go bikepacking.
S'mores are always an acceptable way to make up for burning the living Hell out of dinner.
Don't forget to look up once you get out of town.
Without that voice in my head, I could climb a tree with my son, pop open a sea weed root to see what’s inside (air, by the way), and watch the teenagers attempt to start a fire with Adam helping. We burned the heck of of dinner, ate s’mores to make up for it, sang Adam “Happy Birthday” using a Minion Peeps as a candle, drank cider, sung along with Jason as he played his guitar and tried to make coffee with boiling water, coffee grounds and an egg like my Pops had told us his parents used to do. (For the record, even though it looked gross, it kinda worked. Kinda. Some raccoon probably got the caffeine high of it’s life after scavenging that coffee ground/egg patty out of the garbage can afterwards. We sincerely apologize to whichever park visitor got greeted by that sight!)
After cramming everything back into the SUV, we drove home, picking up lattes on the way to make up for the egg coffee experiment. Sipping my latte, relaxed and watching the scenery go by, I came to the realization that glamping wasn’t so bad after all. Except next time we needed to remember that forks are not optional.
Pegboards full of blue-handled tools—nipple drivers, caliper wrenches and the like—cover nearly every inch of wall, and the floor is a kind of obstacle course of repair and truing stands.
It is the showroom and final stop on the tour of Park Tool’s 85,000-square-foot facility in Oakdale, MN and when CEO Eric Hawkins leans against it’s newest repair stand with a hydraulic lift, this seems to be where the tour will end.
But Hawkins likes to end the tour where the story of Park Tool actually begins. He walks over to an odd sculptural piece on caster wheels. It is made with the base of a dining room table, a shell casing filled with cement, a ’37 Ford truck axel and a broken hockey stick.
Hawkins never tires of showing his father’s creation, the very first bicycle repair stand.
Two Sore Backs
Bicycles, whether in the peloton of the Tour de France or meandering along some state park bike path, are likely on the move because of Park Tool. Bike mechanics in more than 70 countries grab the tools to change break pads, spoke wheels, and adjust front and rear derailleurs.
That Park Tool rose up from a local fix-it shop in the Hazel Park neighborhood of St. Paul to having a 90 percent share of the global market for bicycle maintenance tools is a great American business success story.
“With us,” Hawkins says, “we have been in the right place at the right time with the right thing.”
The story, however, did not start with ambition. It began with two sore backs.
Howard Hawkins had just graduated from a technical college, where he learned welding and blacksmithing, when he bought a repair shop in 1956 with a friend, Art Engstrom. America was in the middle of a post-war housing boom and with it came all sorts of things to repair, like radios, televisions, and lawnmowers. Ice skates were in constant need of sharpening during the long Minnesota winters.
The housing boom also meant growing families with children riding bikes. From their shop, Hawkins and Engstrom sold and repaired Schwinn bicycles. The two were growing tired of stooping over bicycles on the ground when they came up with the idea for a contraption that could hold a bike off the ground and rotate 360 degrees.
Even today, the first stand is something to behold. The odd mix of items are smartly arranged to provide a solid, anchored weight in the base, along with a strength to support and balance a bike. Howard Hawkins laid down sure and economical beads in his welds and his first stand still stands ready for any bike triage.
Engstrom and Howard Hawkins repaired bikes with it for a few years before showing it to Schwinn in 1963. At Schwinn’s direction, the two designed a commercial stand that soon took its place wherever Schwinn bikes were repaired.
“He didn’t know anything about bikes, but he learned by putting his hands on things,” the younger Hawkins said of his father. “To him, everything was about common sense.”
That Midwest ingenuity began to come up against new challenges in the late 1960s, when the shifting and breaking mechanisms in bikes became more complex. Repairs were difficult because the tools for the new components did not exist.
Engstrom and Howard Hawkins began making the tools: wrenches, frame alignment gauges, bracket and cable tools. The tools in the early years were built from scratch with whatever materials were left over in their shop.
Meanwhile, the two were among the nation’s top Schwinn dealers and at one point operated out of three different locations. The demands for tools became so great the two sold the shops in 1981.
As the tool line expanded, Park Tool have out-grown a couple of other facilities. They make close to 400 different kinds of tools for bikes and hold more than two dozen patents.
Park Tool tracks the cycling industry and seems to have a tool every time something new is released. Because of its standing, companies often share the specs on new components so that Park Tool can make tools to be available at the time of the item’s release. It has enjoyed spikes in growth thanks to mountain biking, BMX and American success in international cycling.
The company also recognized that cyclists began to learn how to take care of their bikes and has a robust line of consumer products, from folding allen wrench sets to tire patch kits.The Park Tool website is also a repository for informational articles and video tutorials.
Tools get shipped to more than 70 countries. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Bottom bracket tools. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Chain whips ready for shipment. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Some of the employees commute to work by bike and factory floor fans are a good way to dry off clip shoes on a rainy day. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Some of the tools past and present in the Park Tool showroom. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
“I think its important for us to take the mystery out of the bike,” Eric Hawkins said. “If you can show someone it’s easy to fix a flat tire, they’re likely to go for a ride. For a lot of people, being able to work on the bike is an ultimate goal. We are happy to give them that education.”
Eric Hawkins grew up in his father’s bike shops and learned the business just from watching. He went off to college and came back to work for Park Tool for a while until he could figure out what he wanted to do with his life.
The younger Hawkins started making suggestions from what he learned from college marketing classes. He suggested having a presence at trade shows and other cycling events and his father agreed.
It was Eric Hawkins idea to patent the Park Tool shade of blue, Pantone 2935, which in cycling has become as recognizable as the green of the John Deere tractor.
“What better childhood than to hang out in a bike shop,” he said. “I learned a lot about assembling bikes and without knowing it, common sense. My dad did have any great ambitions, he was content making a living with the bike shops, but to his credit, he let me try some things.”
Even after both Engstrom and the elder Hawkins retired, Howard popped into the factory a couple of times a week just to check on things. He even helped assemble display boards for the industry’s two biggest events, Interbike and Eurobike.
Hawkins and Engstrom were able to revel in the company’s 50 anniversary celebration in 2013. This past January, Howard Hawkins died in Arizona from a heart attack. He was 82.
Eric Hawkins has done much to modernize the company, but is a careful steward of his father’s legacy. There are pictures and newspaper clipping throughout the Park Tool office and one of every color and model of Schwinn Stingray ever made is lined up along an office, much like it looked in the old Hazel Park shop.
One way Eric Hawkins enjoys honoring his father is with a joke he always told people when asked how many people work for him. When I asked Eric how many work at Park Tool (between 50 and 60), he repeated his father’s line, “About half.”
I’ve been thinking about compression lately. As summer fades into shoulder season, the word connotes loss—shorter days, earlier sunsets, busier schedules, less time to ride. But on the road with your kit, it’s a must. Compression means more than support, more than forestalling fatigue; without it, my legs feel slack. My arms feel noodly. Lightweight is fine, but I still need the kit to fit. And “club” is not a fit. (Not to get all Velominati on you, but I mean, c’mon.) Somehow, Capo’s Corsa SL kit manages to walk that tightrope perfectly.
My first ride wearing it was a scorcher. It clocked in right around 50 miles, but it was a hot, mid-August afternoon in the shadeless hills of the East Bay. Three Bears, Pig Farm, up Reliez Valley. And my abiding thought the entire time was why are these bibs so comfortable? That’s not a usual thought when it comes to cycling apparel. Generally speaking, if you’re thinking about your clothes while you’re riding, something is wrong. The goal, I’d always thought, was to forget you were wearing kit at all. But this was better: I knew it was there, it just felt good. The wide leg bands stayed put like they were painted on, but without a hint of chafing. The shoulder straps were secure despite being gossamer thin.
Up top, the zipper moved when I wanted it to, but didn’t when I didn’t. I’m generally partial to a certain scorpion-accented company, but its zippers have always left something to be desired; not these. Heat management became like a game to distract me on climbs. Getting pitchy, let’s take it down a few inches. Almost there. Over the top, time to cinch it up for the long tuck. Even the sleeves played their part—long without being too long, and compressing without squeezing. (Granted, I’m in possession of two of the skinniest arms since Chris Froome, and as such fall squarely into Capo’s decidedly Euro fit parameters; your mileage may vary.) There was a bit of room in the midriff—less than I’d expect from what the company terms “a more relaxed fit,” but when the next step up is basically skinsuit, one brand’s “relaxed” is another brand’s “race.”
Add in a pair of socks with blue accents to complement the stark black/white motif of the kit, and the triptych became my go-to over the next six weeks: Everything from a 20-mile pre-work spin to a solo 90 on the weekend, in temperatures from the high 50s to the low 90s (the former with an early-morning vest, the latter with a base layer that looks like fishnet stockings). There wasn’t a ride I could imagine that wasn’t right for the Corsa SL. It might be smack in the middle of the company’s product range, but there’s nothing “value” about the fit, form, or function. And now, even as I can tell those warm sunny days are numbered and the rest of my life compresses, I’m pulling out the armwarmers to get just one more ride with it before I move on to something less summery.
I have been what the community calls a “Roadie” since 2001. That was the summer the entire country watched Lance Armstrong win the Tour de France for the 3rd time. I was in awe. Cycling was just beginning to have it’s time in the sun in the U.S. I traded my Rockhopper for an entry-level road bike and never looked back. Boy what a mistake that was—I was too young, no one had taught me the n+1 equation yet.
I’m older (and wiser?) now, and have learned that balance is important. Road bikes on Saturday, dirt church on Sunday. In the spring of 2012 I got my grubby hands on a sweet new squishy bike through the fine folks at Scott. I rode that piece of plastic as much as possible for the two years I had it. Raced it into the dirt. Tore it apart in the most abusive ways imaginable (I was relearning how to mountain bike, which can get a little messy). I got really comfortable on trails again. I cursed that younger version of myself, for what seemed like stripping away years of adventure and thrill seeking in the woods.
I enjoyed that bike every day up to the one where it was stolen from my garage. Greedy bastards. They stole my adrenaline fix.
Bikes are expensive, and I was low on cash, so I simply resorted to riding road bikes again to fulfill my need for speed. I won’t go into how burnt out I got riding roads over the last couple years, but if you’ve biked a fair amount, you can probably imagine. I unknowingly missed the woods. I wanted to stay in bed and sleep rather than go out for morning rides with my club. It was time to get back on the trails again, and so here I am doing just that.
Here’s a few things I’ve learned going through this process.
The fitness benefits are superior.
I struggled for a long time to gain back the level of fitness I had that summer. I wondered why I was so fucking slow. Where had that effortless zip gone? I had been riding road bikes a lot, putting in hours, trying to stay fit. But I was still feeling sluggish, heavy, slow.
Then it occurred to me that it was because I wasn’t riding trails. The ups and downs—the intervals—that’s what was missing. Mountain biking gave me that adventure I’d always been looking for and a much more intense workout—a combination that was more powerful than anything I had found road riding. I enjoyed the intensity, the thrill of the downhills we’re great, but I was just as into the work put in to get up there in the first place.
When I was riding dirt, my brain shut off and my body went to work. It was fun, and I rode as much as I possibly could. All these things allowed me to reach a peak level of fitness—without ever checking my heart rate or chasing a KOM.
Buy a fun bike.
It’s important that you kickstart your way back into the sport. Test ride a lot of awesome and ridiculously expensive bicycles. Make it a fun project—over do it. This will give you a sense for what each bike does well and how each of them is suited to your interests. Then you’ll be able to make a good decision. Make sure you take the time to find what’s right for you in your price range.
Lately, I’ve been riding the 2014 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Expert. This is the Evo model, which in my opinion has far too much travel for a trail category bike. Unless you are Gee Atherton, you have no business floating on 150mm or more of travel. You’ll just get lazy.
Having a bike that will roll over just about anything is fun, but it doesn’t allow you to practice a ton of technical skill. I ended up locking out the suspension often. I didn’t need all that travel—even on the more technical trails. And I swapped the stem for something more angled which brought my riding position and center of gravity down a bit. It’s not the most elegant climbing bike, but a little customization helped me climb better.
Overall, this bike is a blast. It’s not the right bike for me, but I believe downgrading the suspension on a standard Stumpy model would do the trick just nicely. And that bike is a crowd pleaser.
The idea here is to find something that will allow you to fall back into the sport easily without presenting too many technical or mechanical challenges. Get the right bike for you, so you can focus on the ride.
Roadies are boring.
Ok I can say this, because essentially I am one. And when I say “Roadies” I mean it in the true classical sense. You know that guy, you’ve seen him. If you are out there seeking course records or some magic number on your watt-o-meter, you are seeking the wrong thing.
Next time you are out on your bike (no matter road, cx, mtb), take a different turn. Shit, take the wrong turn. Go somewhere you’ve never been before. Ride a fire road or hike-a-bike to some new and unridden place. Seek something more than getting in your workout before you have to go sit in your cubical for the rest of the day.
I think this is the most important lesson I’ve learned along the way. I got in a rut so to speak, because I lost track of why I was out there in the first place. If you incorporate adventure and fun in your rides, they will always be rewarding.