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Tough times…can’t sell my bikes

If you frequent this site enough, you’ll know that I like to flip bikes for fun. I really don’t make money on it, just enough to cover my next flip and take the wife out for a few drinks. But recently my flips are far and few and in between. Let’s go back about 2 weeks, keep in mind, I usually sell my bikes within the first few days of listing it.

This time I had a total of 3 bikes to sell. One of them I picked up at a local thrift store in which I reconditioned the stuck shifters. I paid $30 for it and I listed it at $100. My last bike I sold that was very similar to this model, was gone within a few hours. After 3 weeks of trying to sell this bike by posting multiple listings…nothing. I did sell one of my other bikes, but that took 2 weeks. The last bike I have, the lady never showed up and never returned my emails…flake.

So I sit there wondering, does the economy have an impact on used bikes as well? I also have a feeling that new bike sales will be hurting since more people will have less disposable income to spend on a bicycle. Or it could do the total opposite and have a different effect. Our economic down turn could wake up people and invest in a bicycle to use for daily errands. What sucks too is that gas prices have crept up again…but don’t get me started on that!

“Bicycle Design” Contest Finalists Posted

James over at the excellent Bicycle Design blog has posted the six finalists (out of over 60 entries) to his “commuter bikes for the masses” design contest.

Check out the finalists by visiting this link. There are some VERY intriguing concepts over there…but like one of the commenters, I’d love to see the rest of the designs as well.

Head on over and check it out…and when you do, is there anything that catches your eye? Do any of these solutions help encourage non-cyclists to swing a leg over and starting riding to work?

Review: Banjo Brothers Messenger Bag

Several months ago, the good folks from Banjo Brothers sent me one of their Model 1050 messenger bags to test out. My review is long overdue, and I’ll get to the specifics of why in a second…

bag

First, here’s a bit from the Banjo Brothers website:

— Huge 2000 cubic inch capacity (18L x 14H x 8W when full)
— Ballistic fabric exterior with hanging liner
— Padded, removable laptop sleeve included
— One-handed, on-the-fly shoulder strap adjustment
— Lots of pockets for pens, folders, accessories
— MSRP: $79.99

2000 cubic inches is pretty large…and that’s the main reason I delayed so long in posting a review of this bag; during the warmer months, I just don’t have much to carry. Further, on a hot day, this bag covers my entire back, leaving me extremely sweaty. During the summer I used the Banjo Brothers bag as a beach bag…it allowed me to carry two beach towels, drinks and snacks and let me keep my hands free to carry toys and to hold my boy’s hand while we walked the 1/2 mile to our secret spot on Pass-A-Grille Beach.

Now that the cooler months are here, I don’t mind the extra coverage on my back, and I can ramp up the amount of stuff I carry (books, papers, a wind/waterproof jacket, lunch, balaclava and gloves, repair tools and a mini-pump, etc.). The Banjo Brothers bag handles loads like this wonderfully.

Let’s take a look at the construction and features of the bag: the body of the bag is made of a stout ballistic nylon fabric in black, with a grey-colored nylon interior. There’s no traditional “truck tarp” liner, but between the black exterior and the liner, there’s some type of VERY effective waterproofing. More on that in a bit…

Construction of the bag is adequate. The stitching isn’t as tight as I’m used to seeing, but at least it is even and the thread is strong. All the fabric edges are covered by finer-weave nylon and the attachment points for the straps are either bar-tacked or sewn on with a strong “X” pattern…very sturdy. I’ve had no stitching or fabric failure since I started using the bag back in May, and I’ve hauled a couple of pointy, heavy loads.

The inside of the bag is fairly simple — a large compartment with two open-topped pockets and two key clips along the front corners of the bag:

interior

On the outer wall just inside the main flap is a pair of stacked pockets — one open-topped and one with a sturdy zipper. Over these are sewn several pen slots and a strip of nylon webbing “daisy chain” to attach a blinkie or other items:

daisy

The bag is held shut by means of two quick-release buckles and a pair of vertical strips of hook and loop material. The bag’s closure system allows it to adjust for some pretty big loads, and that’s always a nice feature! Over the outside of the flap is a bag-wide strip of highly reflective material.

The reflective stuff is pretty noticeable, wouldn’t you say?

reflect

The shoulder strap system is made of wide but soft seatbelt webbing with a large integrated pad and an easy-to-use adjustment buckle. The harness also includes an anti-sway strap that fits under your arm. The bag’s harness is designed to go over your left shoulder, and there’s no way to swap that out for “righties”, as the straps are sewn directly onto the back of the bag.

strap

This is first messenger bag I’ve tried that is truly “on the fly” adjustable…with some bags, you’ve got to release a clasp or similar to lengthen or shorten the shoulder strap; not so with the Banjo Brothers bag — merely grab the bottom of the strap, hitch the weight of the bag onto your upper back and pull the strap. Voila — adjusted! To lengthen the strap, simply place your thumb under the chromed clasp and push upwards. It’s quick and painless and very effective.

One minor gripe I have with the bag isn’t really the fault of the bag, per se…because the padded area of the strap is wide and my shoulders are narrow, the bag has a tendency to slip off my shoulder. One time, the strap slipped and pinned my braking arm against my side as I approached an intersection! This problem only manifests itself when loads are light…the heavier the load, the more stable the strap (and the whole bag, for that matter) is. To prevent this from happening with lighter loads, I squeezed on a few thin bands of clear silicone to the underside of the pad…it doesn’t slip anymore!

A lot of bag manufacturers will sell you the main bag, but if you need to carry a laptop and a cell phone you may need to purchase accessories such as a padded sleeve or a holster. Not so with Banjo Brothers — both of these items are included in the purchase price.

Padded laptop sleeve:
laptop sleeve

Cell phone holster:
holster

Earlier, I mentioned waterproofing. Up until yesterday, I hadn’t had a chance to test the bag in wet conditions…but on the way to work yesterday I got caught in a fierce storm, soaking me to the bone. When I arrived at work, I had to pour water out of my shoes! Lo and behold, my work clothes and other belongings were absolutely dry inside the bag. Whew! One of the tricks Banjo Brothers uses is the way the body of the bag and the lid are cut…extra “gussets” fold down as the lid is closed, creating overhangs that eliminate water-entry points at the corners.

gussets

Timbuk2 users will know that despite the heavy truck tarp interiors of their traditional messenger bags, those exposed corners will let a bit of water in — glad to see that Banjo Brothers (and other bag makers) have addressed this with a little creative fabric cutting.

Overall, I really enjoy using this bag — the harness takes the sting out of a heavy load and prevents that load from swaying too much. The more cargo, the better the bag feels and performs. I trust its waterproofness now that I’ve had a chance to see it in action, and it’s got enough organizational features that lets me carry my things without a lot of hunting around for small bits.

Yes, it is a rather plain-looking bag…and no, there are no customizable liner colors, stripes, accessory pockets or wild exterior color schemes to choose from as with other bag makers…if it bothers you, sew on a ZPG patch and be done with it!

Likes:
— good harness system
— good capacity for heavy loads
— stable on the bike
— great value (accessories included!)

Dislikes:
— stitching and overall finishing is a bit crude but completely functional
— plain-jane color scheme may not appeal to everyone
— really hot on your back in warmer weather
— narrow shoulders may not like the wide strap pad

Banjo Brothers makes a couple other sizes of messenger bags and they also make a fantastic backpack (reviewed on our sister site The Bike Geek: click here for the review). They’ve also got a wide range of other cargo solutions for bike and for body…all at great prices! Check them out by visiting Banjo Brothers on the Web.

Guest Review by Ken Sturrock: Gary Fisher Simple City 8 M

Editor’s note: When Gary Fisher Bikes unveiled their prototype Simple City platform at the 2007 Interbike, there was TREMENDOUS buzz in many bike blogs about this bike…a mixture ranging from extreme excitement to skepticism and even genuine dislike. Since its release to the public, though, there haven’t been many articles written about the bike, and I haven’t run across any detailed reviews of how the bike actually performs. Enter Ken Sturrock, fellow Tampan and good friend of the Bikecommuters.com crew — who has graciously offered to provide us with his own words on the bike, its features and his likes and dislikes. Here is his review:

Gary Fisher 8M

I recently purchased a Gary Fisher Simple City 8M (from Carrollwood Bicycle Emporium in Tampa, Florida) and although there was a lot of early attention to this bicycle on the net I have seen little posted by actual owners. The Simple City is an interesting ride that is hard to categorize. I bought it because it fit my need for a fun and useful urban bicycle. However, before telling you about what it is, I want to clear the table a bit and mention what it is not.

The Simple City is not a “Dutch Bike?. It does not come with a full chain guard, a coat guard nor a built in lock. The Simple City is also not a cargo bicycle. Despite the prominent front basket, you can’t load up heavy stacks of newspapers or machine parts. This bicycle is also not an “indy-hipster-steel-is-real? bicycle because the Simple City is essentially a mass produced Trek made out of aluminum in China.

Now, a little bit about what the Simple City actually is. According to the marketing story, Gary Fisher was influenced by a “Dutch Shopping Bicycle? and decided to build something similar. The bicycle has some utility features but also has a strong “fashion bike? vibe to it. The frame uses oval shaped aluminum tubes and routes the rear cables through the down tube; it also has a steel fork with touring style mount points midway up the blades and 700c wheels with 32mm tires that use Schrader valves. Both the seat post and handle bar stem are alloy and the handle bar stem is a classic adjustable quill design. The pedals are standard metal toothed double-sided jobs with channels and mounting holes for toe clips and straps. The saddle, like many components on the bicycle, is a Bontrager. The saddle material is a brown synthetic “leatherette? with a gel layer. The stock saddle is comfortable and looks good on the bicycle. The handlebars are classic looking “city bicycle style? and come with hand grips that match the saddle. The drive train varies depending on the model but is based around Shimano’s Nexus series of internally geared hubs. The rear brake depends on the hub used and the front brake is a serviceable but plain dual pivot caliper. When not moving, the bicycle is supported by a slick two-legged Pletscher kickstand.

The Simple City is currently available in four models:

1.) 3M – A matte black diamond frame with crème colored trim, a three speed Shimano rear hub with a coaster brake and an optional front basket.

2.) 3W – An aqua blue drop frame with white trim, a three speed Shimano rear hub with a coaster brake and an optional front basket.

3.) 8M – A crème (sand) colored diamond frame with white trim, an eight speed Shimano Nexus rear hub with a rear roller brake and a standard front basket.

4.) 8W – A white drop frame with aqua blue trim, an eight speed Shimano Nexus rear hub with a rear roller brake and a standard front basket.

The bicycle is also available in the following sizes:

1.) Drop Frame: Small 16?, Medium 18.5?
2.) Diamond Frame: Medium 18.5?, Large 21?, Extra Large 23.5?

My personal bicycle is an extra large 8M. I am 6’1? and weigh about two hundred pounds but have longer than usual legs and a shorter than usual torso. My traditional (not compact) road frames tend to be in the 58cm to 60cm range and the XL Simple City fits me very comfortably. My body position on the bicycle is a bit more aggressive than upright but it is far from a drop bar position. The starting position is very classical in that with the saddle set for proper leg extension, I can sit on the saddle and stay upright at a stop by leaning the bicycle over and balancing on my tip toe. However, I typically get off the saddle at stop lights. I have never felt comfortable on relaxed bicycles like cruisers so I find this position a great solution for regular riding.

The bicycle’s civilized features include a set of metal fenders in a complementary color and a matching chain guard. The fenders are mounted solidly to dedicated eyelets front and rear. Some have commented that the front fender is too short and I have not ridden it in a real down pour yet so I cannot comment about that issue. The chain guard is a modern and minimalist looking design which I find very attractive. Although I have not managed to catch any clothing in the chain yet, the guard may not do as good of a job as one with more coverage – time will tell.

chainguard

The first thing that everyone notices about this bicycle is the giant metal front basket. People comment about the basket as I ride by them and it’s the thing that people seem to like most about the machine. The basket is really a combination of a rack and a basket and is rated for 10kg (22 lbs.). The outer frame of the basket is secured to the bicycle with braces that run to dedicated eyelets at the end of the fork and to the sockets located mid-blade. The frame and basket are also connected to a metal strut that runs from the brake bolt at the fork crown. The frame of the basket is painted to match the bicycle (crème colored on my bicycle). The inner part of the basket looks very similar to a metal mesh in/out bin that might have appeared on a corporate desk in the 1950s and is painted a complimentary color (white, which matches the fenders and chain guard on my bicycle). The inner part of the basket is secured to the outer basket frame by two hex headed bolts and a Velcro strap. If the strap is loose, the basket will rattle like crazy. I’m not sure why Fisher used a Velcro strap instead of simply using another bolt because the inner basket is not meant to come out (editor’s note: we have since discovered that this strap is meant to secure a standard Kryptonite U lock inside the basket). As mentioned above, the basket is standard on the eight speed models but is an optional accessory for the three speed models.

basket

The bicycle also has a stiff spring that runs from the bottom of the down tube to the back of the fork crown. The spring is supposed to prevent the fork from rotating too far too quickly and slamming the basket frame in to the bicycle frame while stopped and loading up the basket. However, this is purely guessing on my part as the bicycle came without a manual or any documentation at all. The spring is not noticeable except every once in a while it will make a “sprong? noise while turning.

To test the basket and the spring, I tied two 5kg telescope counterweights into the forward corners of the basket to see how the bicycle handled under a worst-case maximum load. The results, predictably, were not pretty. The first trick is to actually keep the bicycle upright while attaching the counterweights. The bicycle will happily tip off of its kick stand and land on its side if you are not holding it. I then moved the counterweights to the center of the basket and the bicycle would just barely stand on its own as long as you didn’t move your hand too far away. Riding the bicycle with the 10kg load in the basket is possible but is a miserable experience. The bicycle feels like it is riding through sand and it could be used to teach people what the word “inertia? means. Under a full front load, the bicycle doesn’t want to go in to a turn, and once it does start to turn, it doesn’t want to come back to center. Naturally, the bicycle will handle better if the weight is shifted towards the head tube and centered left and right. Most likely the 10kg load warning in the basket is probably related to structural failure of the basket rather than providing any sort of “safe to ride? weight guidance. Even if you decide to carry light weight items in the basket, it is advisable to use some sort of bungee cord tie down to keep the items from flipping over the side and to try to minimize rattles. Don’t get me wrong, the basket is useful for lighter loads and very cool looking, but as I wrote earlier: The Simple City is not a cargo bicycle.

The drive train on the bicycle is fabulous. The shifting is precise and extremely smooth – under load, coasting or stopped. I have yet to feel that I was missing a step. In other words, the gearing seemed pretty near perfect and has a nice low gear, a nice high gear and no ugly gaps in between. It’s the best shifting bicycle I have ever ridden. While certainly no road bike, the bicycle is remarkably fast. See the graph for the hub’s range in gear inches (using Sheldon Brown’s calculator). The bicycle’s drive train is also completely silent. While the three speed models use a grip shifter, the eight speed models use the higher end Alfine trigger shifter. The Alfine shifter is also the only plastic component on the bicycle.

gear chart

Jack did an earlier review of the Redline 530 commuter which featured Shimano roller brakes. The roller brake is an internal hub brake that attaches to the side of the Nexus hub and is operated by a hand lever. Jack found that the rear roller brake performed well but that the front roller brake was lacking. The Simple City 8M avoids that issue by using the roller brake in back (or a coaster brake on the 3 speed versions) and a traditional dual pivot caliper on the front. I found that the brakes were well matched and perfectly capable of stopping the bicycle comfortably. The only brake drawback is that the front brake does not have a quick release lever so pulling the wheel off will require adjusting the brake or deflating the tire.

front end

The Simple City handles well and is surprisingly nimble. Although some may worry about the harshness of ride due to the aluminum frame; harshness is subjective. The Simple City comes with a steel fork, decent saddle and fairly wide tires. I have not found that the ride quality diminishes my enjoyment of the bicycle. My extra large Simple City 8M weighs in at about 34 pounds from the factory.

Naturally, bicyclists like to customize their rides and I am no exception. I ordered a Bontrager rear rack from the bicycle shop which attaches to the dedicated rack mounting points. I also transferred my toe clips, my brown Brooks B17 saddle, bell, head lights and tail light from another bicycle to the Gary Fisher. I then placed an order with Velo Orange for a set of panniers, an elegant water bottle cage and a set of matching brown leather toe straps. Note that the drop frame models do not have water bottle mounting points while the diamond frame features two mounting points. Although the head lights mounted fine on the handle bars, I will probably experiment with a way to mount lights farther forward and a little lower on the basket frame.

So far, I am very pleased with the Gary Fisher Simple City 8M and would encourage anyone to give the bicycle a try. It may not be the ultimate commuter but it’s a great riding and stylish machine.

rear end

We’d like to thank Ken for taking the time to do this thorough rundown of the Gary Fisher bike for us…and for taking illustrative photos for the article. If anyone else out there wants to take a crack at a guest article (product review or advocacy/tactical issue), drop us a line — we’ll always entertain reader submissions!

Assorted Fun Stuff For Your Tuesday

Here’s a collection of odd bits I’ve been emailed in the past week — or things I’ve discovered surfing the Web. Enjoy!

Artistic bike racks have been all over the news…nice to see that cities are trying to simultaneously spruce things up AND add bicycling infrastructure. Here’s a shot of a really nice bike rack just outside Millenium Park in Chicago — forwarded by our friend Ann Rappaport:

bike rack

Faithful reader Kevin Turner of Jersey City, NJ forwarded a link to the following online cartoon:

system

The complete cartoon series is called “The System” and can be found by clicking here. Based on the cartoons’ content, I can gather that the artist is a bike commuter, graphic designer and a serious smartass — thumbs up all the way around! There are several other commuter-friendly strips in his collection, too.

I spotted this on the excellent Cycleicious blog a couple weeks ago. Since then, I’ve scoured the Web looking for a high-resolution version so I can print and distribute these beauties wherever I go. No luck…but if any of you happen to find a better version out there, please post a link in the comment section:

car recall

And finally, good friend and fellow commuter Richard D. (known around here as “The Punisher” in keeping with our B-list superhero theme) sent me the following photo to let everyone know that he talks the talk even while relaxing with a bigbore shotgun. The tshirt is from KHS Bicycles clothing collection. Gas Sucks — Blast a Hole in the Sky!

gas sucks

Enjoy your Tuesday!