There hasn’t been much rain in San Francisco over the past few months and while the first day of summer is only days away, SF weather is as unpredictable like a tweetstorm out of somewhere nowhere. You see, weather in this seven by seven mile city can fluctuate from sunny 70s in Downtown to a depressingly foggy 50s out in the Sunset. And rain? The weather can be so nice that every single hipster would be out lounging in Dolores Park today and then there can be nothing but pouring rain the day after.
Yea, you get my drift. What you need is a dependable, packable waterproof jacket. My latest favorite? The Orion Jacket from the Mission Workshop.
Fittingly designed in San Francisco and made in Portugal, the Orion is monotonous. It doesn’t draw much, if any, attention. It’s black like the original Ford Model T, has minimal branding and some glossy black zippers. That’s about it. Or looks to be it. But no, the Orion is anything but another run of the mill shell that would flock a MUNI train stop on any rainy day.
Its similarity to other black waterproof shell ends there, however. Constructed out of three layers of Toray Entrant fabric, the same Japanese chemical company that supplies carbon fibers to build Pinarellos and Boeing 787s, the Orion is windproof and waterproof against outside elements, yet also permeable to allow moisture from the inside to escape during activities. It’s the jacket one would want to be wearing while dashing to bus stops or riding alongside Karl the Fog. Remember those glossy zippers I mentioned earlier? They are fully taped and waterproof too.
Moving upward, the Orion has a removable hood with a built-in visor. Now, the hood is so exceptionally big that I can fit it over my helmet. I suppose that’s the reason behind its size given its intended usage as a do-it-all activity jacket because no one designs a waterproof jacket for indoor usage. Though large in size, the hood can be adjusted three ways so you won’t look like a total doofus using it without a helmet. The hood is also removable by disconnecting seven non-metallic Pyrm Snap fasteners that have proven to be very secure and easy to use.
Besides having all the major pockets in natural places, the Orion also features a rather useful rear pocket at the lower back. It’s great for stashing gloves, gels, prescriptions from my optometrist, or if you want to go a little extreme, a small first aid kit. Thankfully, there hasn’t been any violent protests around town to cover this year.
That Entrant fabric is pretty amazing, as well. It’s thin, flexible, and not too noisy compared to other shells I’ve owned in the past. The Japanese-made fabric has kept me dry in the rare nasty thunderstorms as well my children’s barrage of juices and milk all throughout this spring. It did get a bit cozy at times, as all waterproof jackets do in some shape or form, but the zippered vents built under each arm were effective and easy to operate one-handedly even when out riding.
The more I wear it, the more I notice the designers’ attention to detail. Its tapered cut fits very nicely, with just the right amount of dovetail to cover my rear while riding. I do wish the angled cuff was a bit stretchier or adjustable to fit my chicken arms better, especially since I am one of those who likes to pull my jacket cuff higher up my arms when I am doing stuff.
It packs down very nicely and weighs like nothing too, which gives me more reason to carry it around town, or when I am travelling. At $445, the Orion is priced toward the higher end of the spectrum amongst notables such as the $419 Noorøna Bitihorn Gore-Tex Shake Dry and the $749 Arc’teryx Alpha SV. Is it worth it? I love mine and it’s a investment I would not hesitate to pull the trigger on.
The expo at Sea Otter has always been an integral part of the festival where enthusiasts can see, touch, purchase the latest gear, rub elbows with the pros, and score free swag. If you like any of the aforementioned things, then the 2018 edition which happened exactly a week ago with a sold out exhibit space featuring 500 exhibitors, would be right up your alley. It was even better than InterBike to be honest, and here’s a condensed version of what I saw.
Bikepacking is all the rage now and I spotted this sweet saddlebag from German bag specialist Ortlieb. Besides the use of obligatory waterproof fabrics, the $145, 11-liter, medium sized Seat Pack M features a stiffened bottom for stability while its small footprint is full-suspension and dropper post friendly. It’s got a roll top and bright orange compression straps to keep your content from bouncing around, but Ortlieb upped the game further with the inclusion of a purge valve on the side to enable users to compact it down even more.
Instead of showing a complete lineup of their rigs, GT had this little booth highlighting their history in full-suspension. There was a RTS, LTS, i-Drive, iT1… You know it. This 1998 STS-DH Lobo still looked amazing and oh the memories.
Shimano didn’t have a whole lot of new stuff to show, but they did show us their newest Ultegra RX rear derailleur which is basically a road derailleur with a Shadow Plus clutch to combat against chain slap and retention over rough terrains. The target audience? All you cyclocross gravel riders. The $109.99 RD-RX800 mechanical derailleur is compatible with both 1x and 2x 11-speed drivetrains and up to a 11-34 cassette. Available this summer.
Besides the RX derailleur, Shimano also has this purpose-built trail work rig for the organizers of the Trans-Casadia race. Built around a Shimano Steps e-bike system, the custom Sycip bike comes with a rack to carry a chainsaw, extra fuel and battery for the bike, full internal cable routes, and is adorned with more bling bits from ENVE. I just want to take this bike when I go camping.
Goodyear is diving head first into bicycle tires. We’ve covered the road-going Eagle All-Season in detail in another post. And here’s an up close look at their Newton tire intended for aggressive trail, enduro and downhill. The level of detail Goodyear has put in to it from its textured, reinforced casing to the precision-molded knobs is simply amazing. The Newton comes in both 27.5 and 29 from $70-$90 depending on the compound and casing selected.
Fi’Zi:K is an official sponsor of Team Movistar and it’s nice to see the Italian company offering their top of the line Infinito R1 shoe with Movistar blue trim equally for both men and women. It’s nice to see companies stepping up their efforts in treating women’s pro cycling equally, plus this special edition shoe looked GREAT in person.
Since we’re talking about shoes, Speedplay’s founder Richard Bryne showed me his latest project: An ultra thin carbon outsole. It doesn’t look like much but Bryne told us his latest creation with Shimano SPD-SL cleat is about one centimeter lower than a pair of Shimano shoes with the same cleat. The outsole has just been granted its own patent and while there wasn’t any word on when it would ever hit production, the original Speedplay pedal started out as a personal project too…
Vision has had the Metron 4D aero handlebar for a while now but the latest version, the Metron 4D Flat M.A.S, is aimed at those who might want to mount a time trial extension from time to time for that one time trial or triathlon. Besides the obvious cable routing for electronic wires and a comfortable aero flat top, Vision engineers added a mounting slot on both ends near the center clamp where one can quickly install the extensions and be done with it. It’s perfect for those who can only have one bike.
Kask introduced the $249 Valegro helmet with Team Sky at Tour De France last year and these lightweight lids are finally available in the States. Weighing in at a claimed 180-grams for a size small, it’s generous 37 air vents means your noggin’ will stay cool in the heat of the battle. It also includes antibacterial, fast-drying padding and Kask’s signature eco-leather strap to make every ride a comfortable outing.
Swiss apparel maker Assos not only showed up in their trademark Mobile Showroom, but they also brought their newest XC collection to show. The XC jersey comes with an earthier color palette and is tailored for riding in a more upright position which mountain and gravel riders are more likely to be in. Say goodbye to road jerseys pulling all over the place.
Assos also showed a pair of their new off-road Rally bib with a more activity-specific cut and an outer panel now interwoven with Dyneema polyethylene fiber to protect against abrasion and be more durable because mishaps on dirt happen way more than we’d like to admit and it sucks to ruin a pair of bibs worth a few Benjamins.
Longtime grip maker ODI got the usual collection of its Lock-On clamps in all kinds of colors but they also have these grip-inspired drink coozies for your cold one. These $8 sleeves come in 8 colors and grabs just as well as its line of grips. Also works as a joke to tell the unsuspecting that it is a new grip diameter standard.
These Italian-made Mint socks not only look sharp, but for every pair purchased a dollar goes towards National Interscholastic Cycling Association. Minted plans to release new, one and done designs in limited quantities on a quarterly basis so don’t wait before they’re gone for good, and for a good cause.
Steel is still real and New Jersey-based Von Hof showcased the ACX painted in eye-popping orange. Handbuilt in the US with the intention to be a dual cyclocross and gravel adventure machine, the Columbus-steeled ACX features a liberal use of custom-shaped tubes with a racing geometry, 40mm tire clearance, front and rear thru-axle, and then surprised us with a T47 bottom bracket. The $2,395 ACX comes in six standard sizes in two-color paint of your choosing with a matching ENVE CX Disk Fork. If stock sizing is not your thing, VonHof is also happy to make a custom one for you starting at $3,250.
IRC is making a comeback to the tire scene and the Boken is the Japanese tiremaker’s latest gravel tire. Available in 36c and 40c, the $80 tire uses a proven diamond center tread for speed with taller knobs on the side for cornering over rough roads. It’s tubeless ready and IRC have decided to go with a single-ply casing to be lighter and conform to the terrain better than multi-ply tires. We were told the tires were a hit at the recent road-heavy Belgian Waffle Ride and can’t wait to try ours.
Oregon-based Sage titanium showed off their prototype Flow Motion hardtail. According to owner David Rosen, the Flow Motion will come with a few firsts. It will be Sage’s first mountain frame and first model to be built entirely in-house. Designed to be paired with a 120 to 150mm fork, the long-travel hardtail is what Rosen envisions as a do-it-all dirt bike with room to accommodate up to 27.5x 2.8 or 29x 2.35 tires. The Flow Motion will be available for $3,900 frame only and customers will be able to build their own bikes on Sage’s web configurator.
Silca had a relatively small booth this year but they did have a few of their prototype Sicuro titanium bottle cages lying around.
Syncros almost broke the internet on the first day of Sea Otter with these super lightweight Silverton SL carbon hoops. OK, lightweight carbon hoops, we’ve heard that before, what makes these Syncros so unique, however is that the entire wheel from its 31mm (26mm internal) hookless rim, carbon spoke, and hubshell (with DT Swiss 190 ceramic hub guts) are tensioned and molded as one piece that is said to improve its strength and stiffness. At $3,500 per set, these Centerlock-only puppies sure ain’t cheap but what is $3,500 in the name of marginal gain?
I am a dad now so kids bikes are always on my radar and I couldn’t help myself but to stop and stare at this wooden Early Rider Bonsai balance bike. Besides its one-piece Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certified marine ply birch veneer frame, the other visually striking part about the Bonsai is its one-sided rear wheel that makes it almost too gorgeous to be a kids bike. It’s got 12-in Kenda tires rolling on sealed hub bearings, a real 1-1/8 headtube with a real headset, an aluminum cockpit and a classy riveted saddle. It’s also only $159. Here’s a kids bike I actually want to keep around in my house for once.
Continental might seem comparatively slow in terms of tire development but they are by no means slackers. The German tiremaker takes their time in development and opts to perfect the product and safety instead of just throwing it out there. Tires such as the Grand Prix 4000 is a prime example of how they prefer getting it right the first time and thus remains to be a popular choice all these years. For 2018 they have revamped their mountain bike tires, not one, but four of their bestsellers: The Trail King, Race King, Cross King, and Mountain King. Highlights include updated thread patterns, improved casing with Cordura to eliminate sealant leakage, a less pronounced checker pattern on the sidewalls and finally, thread on the Mountain King (second tire from left) co-developed with fellow compatriot and frequent collaborator Adidas based on the trail running specific Continental rubber outsole. The new tires are available in 27.5, 29 and also 26 because they know many of us still love to ride our “outdated” bikes with 26in wheels.
The first time I saw Velocio kit in the flesh, it was on Ted King. As clothes hangers go, a pro cyclist could make almost any old rags look good, but his outfit stood out on its own merits. The colours were subtle. There were no funky, clashing technical panels. And you had to squint to read the branding. To me, that’s the holy trinity of bike kit fashion.
When I got my hands on an ES Jacket and some thermal bibs – my own, not Ted’s – it stood out again. Clean lines, a great fit, and subtle reflective touches to offset what is otherwise pure black. The jacket is light, making me doubtful of the claims that it would work with just a base layer down towards freezing. I was wrong.
The “spring” mornings around here have been frosty and I haven’t once felt a chill. It also stands up well to strong winds and rain showers. Really well. So well, I’m smug about it riding past shivering cyclists. I’m not sure how much use I’ll get from the two-way zip, but it’s a nice feature that might as well be there as not, and I’m sure someone will love it for their own reasons.
I’ll bet on the bibshorts being comfortable no matter what you throw at them, even though rides so far have been short – anything more than a couple of hours when it’s 4º or 5º celsius isn’t my thing. The pad is cushy and they’re well-made. The only critique I’d offer is that the raised lettering printed on the lower leg began to show signs of peeling after just one wash. Personally, I’m fine with taking it all off and having the shorts totally plain, but I’d imagine it might upset some people to buy a high-end pair of bibs only to have them looking less than pristine almost immediately.
They are thermal and I’ve been pairing them with leg warmers, but unless you’re riding in real summer heat they’re not so thick that they’d turn you into a sweaty mess. Here in northern Europe, I think they’ll be usable all year on all but the hottest days. The pad is worth another mention, too, because it comes up higher in the front, providing some modesty insurance to anyone who’s ever worried about showing the coffee shop a little too much. The non-riding half of my household thinks this is a major plus.
I have a wardrobe full of every kind of bike kit, from eye-wateringly tacky event jerseys and some gear from my old club that’s so eurotrash it would make Mario Cipollini blush, to the latest and greatest from the all the big brands. And it’s all good. But the thing is, I stick to the staples. Choice cuts from Giordana, Sportful, and Castelli. Everything else comes and goes, but I always revert back to the most reliable rotation. This Velocio kit is now part of that list.
A monstercross bike with clearance for 650b x 60 or 700c x 42 tires? What’s not to love? Well, Surly has got you covered with their new Midnight Special. Starting with a TIG-welded double-butted 4130 chromoly steel main triangle, the Midnight Special is made for pretty much any riding besides racing. It’s got front and rear fenders including rack mounts, flat-mount disc mounts, a 142×12 rear thru-axle with vertical dropout out back complimented with a 100×12 thru-axle steel fork.
Photo: Surly Bikes
Photo: Surly Bikes
Photo: Surly Bikes
Photo: Surly Bikes
The Midnight Special comes in eight sizes from 40cm-64cm and is available now at a very reasonable $625 for the frameset (with chromoly fork) or $1,799 complete featuring a SRAM Rival 22 2×11 groupset and a pair of TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes. Ride all day, anywhere, anytime.
Having owned several Castelli bibs over the years, I thought I’d nail the sizing with a “medium.” Well I was wrong, and the size “medium” felt a wee bit too short in the shoulders for a thin 6’ 3”. So we thought why not give it to a properly proportioned Matt – an everyday Portland cyclist with many hundreds of bikepacking, mountain biking and commuting miles under his belt – and change up the review format to a Q&A. Thanks for putting in some time with these Matt!
Castelli describes the Premio Bibshort as a departure from a product line that is unabashedly made-for-racing and minimalist – a high-quality bib with more compression in the legs and lower back that “comes up a bit higher in front to hold everything in.” How does your experience with the bib reflect or diverge from that description?
Castelli has produced a bib that remains snug around the legs; you won’t find them bunching up on your thighs after miles in the saddle. This is made possible by a surprisingly comfortable band of rubber treads near the opening of the legs. The front certainly does its due diligence to “hold everything in.” At first, it almost felt a little too snug, but after getting on the bike I felt right at home.
How would you rate the comfort of the chamois pad in this bib? How would you describe other comfort attributes (compression throughout the garment, breathability, leg cuffs, chafing from seams?)
The chamois pad has a wonderful taper that makes it feel less like a diaper and more like an extension of your body. The gradual increase in thickness made the seams almost unnoticeable entirely. While in a comfortable riding position, the waistband up front feels almost nonexistent, thanks to the tension placed on the shoulder straps. The mesh in the rear that holds the shoulder straps together is light, breathable, and kept my back cool under the jersey. This fabric is light enough to be forgotten about, but durable enough to feel confident about.
What are your expectations of durability for this bib, and how would you compare your impression of durability to other bibs and shorts on the market today?
At this price point, I am expecting the Premio Bibshort to last many rides and to hold up in the wash. I wouldn’t expect anything less than top quality from Castelli and so far they feel nothing short of that. All of the seams (especially where the elastic shoulder straps meet the shorts) are reinforced with an intricate stitching pattern that is durable and robust, while maintaining maximum comfort.
Based on your body size and the size of this bib, what has been your experience with overall fit and the fit of the shoulder straps?
As a 5’8 male with a 32 inch waist, the medium size was the best choice for me. I found the legs to be slightly longer than other bibs out there, but not too long to cause discomfort. While in an riding position I experienced no discomfort whatsoever, that being said, standing up-right made things a bit tight up front. Castelli wasn’t lying when then said the front comes up high. The straps keep this bib in place while feeling light and airy around the back and shoulders.
At $250, this is a pricey — though not astronomically so — bit of kit. What kind of rider would you recommend consider buying the Premio Bibshort, and why?
The price of this bib is a bit steep, but I feel that you really get what you pay for with the Premio: advanced chamois pad, light weight, breathable, minimal seams. I would recommend any cyclist to consider trying these out. I would especially encourage those who are riding long distance, as the shorts become almost unnoticeable while riding.
Anything else we haven’t covered?
Style! This bib is sleek and smooth. With minimal seams and branding these things look great. Around back, each leg gets a small Castelli logo and modest dash of reflective print that is practical and looks neat.
For reference, please share your experience testing this bib.
My first ride with this bib was on one of my favorite routes that includes lots of climbing and tight turns. Before leaving the house, I felt a little skeptical about the tight fit. After a couple of miles warming up I had forgotten all about the slight discomfort I had felt after being in a riding position. The chamois pad provides a delightful mix of comfort and breathability. The compression in the legs and back offers support without feeling constricted. Overall, this is a high quality bib that any cyclist should consider trying out. Whether you are riding centuries, track racing, or commuting, this bib is worth every penny.
Until recently, I lived in Rome, where “winter” is something of a theoretical concept. Everyone’s heard of it, sure, but they don’t really understand what it really means. The minute the temperature creeps below 10ºC, people appear in balaclavas, snow boots and full-length insulated jackets, presumably to cover up the inch-thick thermal onesie that they’re wearing underneath.
It made me soft. My hardy Irish blood grew accustomed to the sunshine, and even though I rode all year round, I can honestly say that – trips elsewhere excluded – I went years without getting wet on my bike. And I was never cold.
And then I moved back to Dublin, immediately realising that my bike wardrobe was totally unprepared. It’s not that it ever gets properly glacial here; the problem is that it doesn’t ever get hot, and you never – and I mean never – know what it’s going to be in a few hours’ time.
Adaptable is the name of the game. And it’s exactly how I’d describe Castelli’s Alpha Ros jacket, an all-weather marvel from the Italian brand that harnesses all the goodness of their game-changing Gabba and takes it up a notch. The result is a product that redefines the standard for winter kit.
It’s not waterproof, in the strict sense of the word, but it works flawlessly in the rain. And it’s super soft, fits brilliantly, and offers plenty of ventilation when you want it, so you’ll be happy to use it in blue sky conditions, too.
The prominent parts of the seams are sealed, and Gore’s new (brilliant) Windstopper membrane is rain-resistant, so while I still carry a light shell for torrential downpours, this is all you’ll need in typical wet conditions. The two-layer construction separates the outer shell from an insulation layer, both of which zip up separately. It looks funny at first, but it’s a nice option to have when you just need to let a little air in without freezing.
There’s a nice and high double collar, complete with soft lining, and the seamless cuffs are similarly soft, with a snug cut that slots in perfectly underneath gloves without bunching up and leaving any exposed spots. And on top of the traditional rear pockets, there’s a zipped one on the front, too. Most riders will be accustomed to having three pockets, so this extra one isn’t strictly necessary, but I thought it was a nice touch.
So, is it worth the $350 price tag? That depends on how much you like being warm and dry. For me, it’s a resounding yes. It’s not cheap, but the Alpha Ros is a cut above anything else I’ve tried and it makes most of the competition look seriously out of date. And alongside some cosy new gloves and shoe covers to match, it’s enough to get even me outside when there’s a gale blowing.
Whether you are crashing through the brush in search of delicious chanterelle mushrooms, hiking long miles to your next camp or bounding through the snow like a goofball, the Hillsound Equipment Armadillo LT gaiters are an excellent option for a waterproof barrier that can take a pounding with panache.
Coming high up on the calf, the LT features a sculpted shape that fits close to the leg while leaving room for necessary layering in cold weather. This well-considered fit, which I consider half the battle in gaiters, is effective at keeping pesky dirt, water and snow out of the hiking shoes. The design maintains freedom of movement when rock scrambling or bushwhacking.
The quality of the hardware is clear from the first time you zip these up. A burly waterproof zipper closes off the gaiter, featuring an oversized pull that is friendly to bulky gloves. A sturdy front retention hook slips easily under laces for a secure fit. The buckle, the strap that goes under the shoe, the cuff strap – all feels great, and inspires confidence that the model can hold up to serious use.
I had no issues with water soaking through the fabric of the Armadillo LT despite hours of tromping through rain-soaked woods and six-inch-deep snow in the Pacific Northwest, and the gaiters seemed to live up to Hillsounds promise of breathability. The Flexia fabric also handled the abuse of spiny bushes and rock abrasion with hardly a scratch — the lower part of the gaiter is a tougher fabric, with a lighter and more flexible material up top.
At 315 grams for this tester’s large, the Armadillo LT is the lightest in Vancouver, Canada-based Hillsound’s lineup. It is also the least expensive, at around $49. Two models profess to offer greater durability and breathability, but at a greater penalty in weight and cost – the highest-end Super Armadillo Nano gaiter comes in at $79, and a weight of 380 grams in size large.
I believe these gaiters are a great fit for through-hikers putting in long miles and anyone looking for a well-fitting, quality piece. Mountaineers might lean toward the other models, yet I would confidently take the Armadillo LT on my next alpine adventure.
When Rapha’s loopback jacket arrived to my apartment, the mercury was pushing 40ºC [I’m not sure what that is in fahrenheit, so let’s just call it “Hot AF”]. It was sharp-looking, sure, but not what you want to see during southern European summertime. Just the thought of it was enough to induce severe perspiration, and so, it waited patiently, for the weather to change and the autumn to come.
A couple of months later and it’s become a go-to, which is about the best thing you can say for any garment. But I do have one bone to pick, albeit a pedantic and totally silly one. Rapha’s own description reads: “Trucker jacket utility with the comfort of a jersey.” I’ve just travelled from southern Spain to northern Portugal, and along that 1,100km stretch of road, at not one single rest stop did we see a trucker wearing Rapha.
Trucker jackets usually come in heavy-duty fabrics like denim or canvas and close with sturdy metallic buttons. And while the lightweight loopback fabric used here would be fine against bare skin, this isn’t a jersey. I’m not sure why they’re trying to make either association. Perhaps “blouson” didn’t sound as cool?
That said, you’re buying the jacket here, not the marketing copy. And the only bad thing I can say about the product is that I was a little confused by the sales pitch. I’m not sure how much more I can add, other than to say that it goes well with a tonne of stuff, is very comfortable, and the reversible, high-vis and pink cuffs are a nice touch for anyone feeling a little fancy. The water repellent, wind-blocking material is quick drying, so it does a great job as a cycling commuter jacket, but thanks to some low-key retro styling and a smart cut, it does just as well on social occasions. All in all, a solid addition to any wardrobe.
Who in their right mind would lust after a $200 titanium bike hammer? Me. That’s who.
For certain repair or build tasks, especially on a pricey carbon whip, there’s nothing better. Titanium has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal and yet can be up to 45 percent lighter. Thus you can have this featherweight, 235 gram, Abbey Tools hammer in your toolbox for those tasks where you need to deliver a blow, without having to carry the heft of a regular hammer. The lower weight also allows faster speeds with less effort when, say, trying to remove some pesky press fit bearings.
The backstory is a good one. Orica GreenEDGE professional mechanic Craig Geeter first dreamed up the hammer while wrenching on pro bikes and then reached out to Jason Quade, owner of Abbey Tools. Quade luckily had some extra titanium laying around from his days building heat exchanges for the nuclear industry and built a quick prototype.
“At first I thought it was the dumbest thing anybody had ever requested,” Quade said. “But then, once I started to use it, I realized Craig’s idea wasn’t dumb at all and was actually pretty awesome for the light tapping you do on modern bicycles.”
Quade ended up making an initial batch of 50, with each one numbered and then engraved with the owner’s name. That batch sold so quickly that the hammer has since become a regular item in Abbey Tools’ catalog.
Most people still buy them for their bikes, but the hammers have also found a following with gun owners who like them for adjusting sites and tapping pins out. Because they’re non-magnetic, the hammers sometimes get used in data centers were magnetic signatures can be a problem.
If you asked me whether I absolutely need my $200 hammer the answer would be a stiff no. But if you asked me if I regularly enjoy the fine craftsmanship and precise mechanics, my answer would be a pounding, er…, resounding yes.
I met Bice Bicycles’ founder (and only employee) Dario Colombo a few years back, on a bike-packing trip from Venice to Turin. He showed up with a big smile and an old Pedersen, a peculiar Scandinavian rig with a cantilevered frame and a hammock-style saddle, complete with a set of modern pannier bags. It made a good first impression.
As we rode along the banks of the Po river, he talked enthusiastically about his business building steel frames, getting away from the homogeneity of the modern bike market by making products that would last and that could be tailored to each rider’s ability and needs. This also made a positive impression. When we got home, I promised, we’d talk some more. So this chat is long overdue.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Like a dating profile? My name’s Dario, I’m a nice guy, handsome, hard-working, a generous lover [laughing] … Before becoming a frame-builder, I worked as an electronic engineer for Siemens, and as an environmental engineer, working on the development of cycling in the city of Milan. I also worked at a biomechanics lab specialising in sports, and as a teacher on sustainability and smart cities, when I opened four cycling workshops around Milan to help young people repair their own bikes, have some fun, and maybe discover a future career.
Aside from the work, I suppose people would call me a Xennial, I’m still young, but old enough to remember rewinding my cassette tapes with a pen. I’ll happily drink beer but I prefer wine, in my part of Italy we say “La birra fa pisciar, il vino fa cantar,” – Beer makes you piss and wine makes you sing. I prefer mountain climbing to sunbathing and beaches, and I love music and cycling, obviously. If you made me choose between a concert and a bike, I’d tell you that I was riding to the gig. I actually did it last year when Dub FX played in Sestri Levante, on the Ligurian coast, I think it was more than 2,000 metres of climbing over about 220 kilometres.
When did you get into bikes?
Let’s say that before 2007, I wasn’t a cyclist. I went for a ride every so often, but nothing special. That June I went on a cycling trip to Provence with eight people and it changed my way of seeing the bicycle. From then on I started to bike-pack and to use it constantly for commuting and fun. I never had any grand delusions – if you saw my Strava you’d know what I mean – and I’ve always just seen the bike as something to have fun with and as a means of transport. I’m a committed singlespeeder, but at the same time, I don’t dislike innovations like e-bikes, especially not when you’re talking about something like a cargobike.
Why did you start making frames?
It was a gradual thing. Aside from my professional experiences, it began as an experiment, I just wanted to be a part of the bike world. My previous jobs were all positive experiences, but none of them really felt right for me. And I’ve always enjoyed creating things from scratch – but never to assemble them – and I liked bikes. It seemed like an obvious fit.
I started out modifying an old Leri frame, turning it from road to pursuit, changing the geometry and the rear end. The funny thing was that, even if it was a game to me then, before beginning that frame, I built a rig that I continued to use for three years. That first one was finished on Christmas eve, 2011, it was snowing and as is the tradition around my home town, there was a guy dressed as Santa doing the rounds, handing out presents. Meanwhile, I was flying around on my homemade track bike, it was such a weird beginning that I felt like it could only be a good omen!
What was the hardest thing about starting out?
Learning everything from scratch, self-taught, and above all, learning from my (many) mistakes, without letting them discourage me. In Italy, old frame-builders don’t have the money or the time to invest in young people, to pass on their skills and knowledge – even though a lot of them want to. So I wasn’t able to learn as a proper apprentice, and I could only get the knowledge by asking questions, listening, and watching. I came home several times after a day spent by with a frame-builder, only to completely change the whole workshop and machinery – as well as my mental modus operandi.
Another big difficulty is knowing the value of a firm “NO”. Involving the customer in the building process is an great experience for both parties, but it needs well-defined limitations if I’m to enjoy my work and they’re to get the best possible end product. But it’s a work in progress – I’m always learning!
Have you changed a lot?
So much. Every encounter with a frame-builder corresponded to a lesson in technique and in life. How to point a chassis, what type of welding alloys to use, how to TIG weld, how to set up the workshop to optimise my space, how to approach customers.
Not to mention the type of frames: at the beginning I didn’t even have a real price list, but now I’ve got a series of models that I’ve developed based on my experiences. I started with 29er frames and then moved on to touring, CX and most recently to the gravel and bike-packing scenes. Roughly, that corresponds to my personal cycling life.
One thing hasn’t changed: my desire to adapt and improve. Experimenting with new techniques and new tubing, for example, is an everyday thing for me, but it has nothing to do with market demand or programmed obsolescence. It just reflects my desire to keep moving and getting better.
Who buys a Bice?
The average customer is somewhere between 30 and 45, they generally have a lot of cycling experience, and are fed up with the modern “disposable” world. They don’t mind waiting four months for a truly custom frame. What’s the difference between that and one off the shelf? Well, you know who made it. You know it’s real.
Cycling has changed so much in recent years. Where do you see it going from here?
The modern bike industry is a child of our times: there is such a huge supply of products and a lot of the history, emotions, and memories, are being annihilated by increasingly heavy marketing campaigns. A year or two on from the presentation of a new model and it’s already “old.” Just one financial mistake, a speculative move made on the other side of the world, and a historic brand disappears. But I think a lot of people want to distance themselves from all that. I certainly do.