Category: Guest Articles

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 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.


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.


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!

Frederick Lippens spends a good mile of his commute rolling over cobblestones. While most of us don’t have commuting routes that rough, there are some good tips to share, so Frederick offered to write an article about his experiences. I’ll add some of my observations at the end, since just under a mile of my own commute (including the street right in front of my house) is on 1920s-era cobblestones.


On my daily commute in Antwerp, Belgium I have about one mile of cobblestones, which is not disturbing because it’s quite short and more of a welcome variation. Some people think they are remains of Roman roads; well, most are not, although a few of them still exist and are even still in use. But believe me: you don’t want to try those; just take a close look at Via Domitia, a preserved stretch in Narbonne (South of France):

via domitia

But it is true that quite a few of these roads still follow the original itinerary; they just put a new layer over it — why bother building a completely new road?

Enough history, let’s get down to business.
What do you do when it’s a longer stretch…what’s the best way to tackle a road like this?
Is there a secret recipe telling you how you should do it? Some just fly over them while others have to visit the dentist for new dentures after a stretch of these cobblestones.
There are different ways to approach this problem:
– weight plays a role; heavy bikers have less problems because they are more steady
– contrary to what most may think, you must remain seated, stay on your saddle — that way you have more control
– if it’s really a long distance you might consider deflating your tires a bit (more comfy that way)
– a curved fork is better than a stiff straight-bladed fork as is a frame that is less stiff (so people with bent forks and wobbly frames have an advantage)
– riding faster is better because it ‘flattens’ the road surface, you ‘float’ from bump to bump
– of course do not try the ‘ride faster method’ when it is wet, because cobblestones are very slippery
– always make sure you wear a helmet

more cobbles

The fact that these cobblestones are so slippery when wet is something I learned the hard way when I was young, but there is one big advantage when you fall on a surface like this. You don’t get any abrasive wounds as you would get on tarmac or even worse on gravel.

If you don’t know where you kidneys are located, believe me, you will be able to pinpoint them exactly when you have tried a nice stretch of cobblestones.

Still they have a certain charm; think Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix, … … aaah, la douce France.

When cobblestones are wet, they are tremendously slippery. The rough surface and all those nooks and crannies trap water, grit and oils right at the surface, and in some cases the road will become almost as slick as ice. I’ve seen many a cyclist go down on the cobblestones in Tampa…the tiniest bit of moisture is enough to cause concern. Riding steadily at a moderate pace seems to be the trick — no sudden accelerations or braking, no hard steering efforts…sort of like driving on snow or ice (I know what you’re thinking: “what does a Florida resident know about driving in snow?”). Lowering your tire pressure is good for a little extra contact patch, as is swapping out skinnier road tires for something a little meatier (28mm or 32mm tires are nice).

These techniques apply for any rough road surface — whether it is old, cracked asphalt or “chip and seal”. My favorite “tip”, though, is to use your imagination: I like to pretend I’m in the Paris-Roubaix on the stretches of cobbles. Taking your mind off the incessant rattling is a good thing!

even more cobbles

Our friend Ann Rappaport has been at it again…some of our readers marveled at her homemade kitty-litter bucket panniers, but that’s nothing compared to this incredible feat of DIY engineering! She was gracious enough to document the process in words and photos for us. Here it is:

The rack

Front Rack Supplies and Construction:

-Metal shelf supports/rods that are a squared off U shape:
Four @ 3 foot
One @ 4 foot
-Electrical Conduit Hangers
Two @ ¾?
-U bolts, threaded at each end and have the flat metal piece that runs between along with the two nuts
Two @ the size to fit your bikes front forks
-Clear aquarium tubing (One foot is more than enough)
-Metal Screws — I used 20 total, but the lengths may vary; buy a few extra of each size
10 @ 3/16?x3/4? long
6 @ 3/16?x 1? long
4 @ 3/16?x1 1/4? long
-Lock Nuts
20 @ 10-24
-Lock Washers
20 @ to fit screws
-Screws to fit your bikes predrilled holes on the bottom of the bikes front forks

-safety glasses
-Metal drill bits
-Hack Saw
-Metal File

Points of Importance:

1. These shelf rods have an “up? end. Always measure from that “up? end. This allows you to make use of many of the predrilled holes. To check this, measure the distance between the holes before starting. Mine were 12? apart from “up? end going down, but different when starting from the other end.

2. There are slots cut into these rods to put the shelf support into. When cutting place your blade at end of the slot but not any closer to solid metal between each of the slots (some of the predrilled holes are in this solid metal area as well). If you cut “too short? you will need to improvise.

2. Don’t use a drill in one of these pre-cut slots; use a hammer and a punch instead. The drill will grab and get caught. Once a large hole is punched you can enlarge it with the drill.

3. Very important to mark first, then cut/drill each rod piece after you have held it up to the portion of the uncompleted rack that is attached to your bike. Mark all drill holes this way, cut off waste end/extra rod length this way.

4. File every cut [of the rod] as you make them.

5. Verify before you get all those screws, lock nuts and washers that 3/16? is the correct size for your brand of shelf rod.

The Shelf Rods:

The 3′ lengths will each be used for one 12.5 ? piece and one 23.5? piece. From the resulting four 12.5? pieces you make the rack frame (the square). From the remaining 23.5″ pieces you make the uprights that support the rack from below at the fork as well as the ones that connect to the handle bars and the back of the rack.

The 4′ length will be used for two 12.5? pieces which bolt on the rack’s center. Also the uprights from the fork attach to them. The remaining length, under 2′, is used for the various braces.

Order of Construction:

Use these instructions as a guide. They worked for my bike. Your bike is different; it may need a different sequence of steps. I put lock washers on every time I used a screw. You have to assemble, then attach the rack while building it in order to mark where the cut or drill hole should be on the next piece [to be worked on]. Then take parts off/apart so you can cut and drill. It was the only way to ensure correct placement of cuts and/or drill holes. Note on the pictures which side of the shelf rod faces out. I made mine so that the finished side was out and all lock nuts are inside the shelf rod itself.

1. Make the flat surface of the rack; mine is 12?x12?


2. Using a predrilled hole, if available, attach each upright to the bottom of the fork in the existing holes.


3. Place the next two 12.5? lengths onto the rack frame while holding it in position so that you can mark where you need to drill the screw holes both in the uprights and the two 12.5″ lengths.


You will need another person to help with this step. The two 12.5″ lengths will each have 3 holes marked (one at each end and one in the approx. center); the two uprights will each have one hole marked. You will continue with this approach to marking, then drilling or cutting.

4. After drilling these 8 holes, screw the two 12.5? pieces to the frame and then screw the frame to the uprights. The four pieces that are parallel to one another on the flat surface of the frame should all be either on the top of the other two perpendicular ones or all under. I put them on top.


5. Mark where you will cut the extra length of upright off — the mark/cut should be on an angle so it lays flush to the bar it is joined to.

flush cut

6. Make the uprights that hang from the handlebars. I cut and bent the end to allow the two surfaces to meet better.

handlebar uprights

Measure and cut the other end for the conduit hangers. I did not have any shelf rod extend above the handlebar. This is contrary to any of these types of racks I’ve seen.

conduit hangers

7. Measure and cut the cross brace at the top of the lower uprights (just under the rack but over the tire).

8. Do the same for the cross brace on the uprights attached to the handlebars.

9. Use clear mineral oil to help the tubing slide onto the large U bolts. Cut it so that it does not extend onto the threads. Hold a piece of shelf rod near so that you can mark the location of the drill holes and cuts. Put the metal cross piece that came with the U bolts against the fork; I put the label touching the fork/paint.

u bolt

The many slots have been great for attaching those small bungee cords. It wouldn’t be hard to engineer a way to attach panniers under the rack. The benefit of this being just a platform is that you can attach whatever is needed and are not limited to one thing such as a basket.

We’d like to thank Ann for sharing this with us, and we can’t wait for the next incredible project to come…this lady’s got SERIOUS DIY skills!

Matt FitzGerald:

I’ve been giving this some thought and have realized that there is an unwritten code of commuting by bicycle. No one else discusses this code and I cannot find a reason why it should remain shrouded in mystery. These aren’t rules to keep you safer or save you time, just things that make this whole bike commuting thing fun and worthwhile.

The first rule is probably the easiest. When you pass another cyclist going the opposite direction, give a quick wave or a nod of the helmet. This small act of acknowledgement helps to build community among cyclists. It is just an easy way to say “way to go, buddy” to others out on the road.

If you are passing someone going the same direction, give a short acknowledgement of their presence. Base it on how much faster you are going. If you are speeding by, a simple “howdy” is fine (after an “on your left” to let them know you are coming). If you are not blazing past them you can use “great weather for a ride” or “XX more miles to go.”

Similarly, if you are getting passed, give them a “hello” back and let them pass you. The last thing anybody wants is to fight over positioning, especially on busy or dangerous roads.

If you pull up to a stop light or sign with another cyclist, talk to them. Ask them where they are headed, what routes they like, anything. If they have a piece of gear you’ve never seen or have been meaning to try, ask them about that. Nobody likes to sit awkwardly at a light next to someone when you could easily be talking.

Don’t draft behind someone you don’t know without taking a turn at the front of the line. Nobody likes a wheel sucker.

Don’t work real hard to pass someone if they are going to have to pass you again in a block or two. Passing can be a pain and on certain busy roads is dangerous. So don’t pass unless you are traveling at a faster speed. A better option is to link up and bike pool. You can pull each other through the wind and maybe even strike up a conversation.

Always, always stop or slow down when you pass another cyclist who is having equipment troubles. Ask if they need a hand or a certain tool. You never know if they lost their tire pump or their flat repair kit is with their wife (thankfully we have put together a second kit).

And finally, the rule I have the most trouble with, take time to check stuff out. By that I mean, if you see something that would make a great photo, stop and take the photo (if you carry a camera with you). If you see something curious, want to check out a new shop that has opened on your route or just wonder where a road leads, take the time to go look. The amount of time it takes will be amply made up for the by the times you discover something wonderful.

Check out Matt’s blog at

We met Doug at the Urban Commuter Expo. Super cool guy and we told him about Guest Articles. The fella is quick, he sent me his article on Monday morning. Enjoy!

We all should know that fitness needs to be a daily part of life. Did you know that low intensity high frequency exercise benefits our bodies the most? Cycling to work, school or any daily errands can accomplish this.

Regular physical activity and/or exercise decreases mortality, improves cardiovascular and respiratory function, reduces coronary heart disease risk factors, lowers the risk of colon cancer, improves immune function, and enhances a sense of well-being. After giving up smoking, becoming more physically active may be the best thing you can do for your health.

Although many people enthusiastically begin exercise programs at one time or another, only 50% sustain their participation for more than six months. We ALL need to commute. Cycling could sustain your continuous participation in exercise.

In 1992, the American Heart Association (AHA) officially named physical inactivity — not lack of exercise — as a major independent risk factor for heart disease. In many ways cycling could be considered your best defense against physical inactivity.

The Surgeon General has recommended that all Americans over the age of two years accumulate at least 30 minutes of physical activity, of at least moderate intensity, on most, preferably all, days of the week. Three 10-minute or two 15-minute bouts of exercise yield cardio-respiratory fitness gains comparable to those from one continuous 30-minute session of equal intensity.

Consider the benefits of using bike commuting as your basic means of transportation and you will realize it’s a health issue. You are NOT leasing your body, nor will you be trading it in for the latest model. You CAN upgrade, and modify the engine to keep you on the road longer and in the fast lane. This can be done systematically and automatically in your daily life, as you keep riding your bicycle and for everyday occurrences. Choosing to expand or enhance your commute is matter of preference and/or your goals and needs. But in the long run bike commuting will ultimately improve you LIFE!

Live Strong,
Doug Sullivan,RN,AFAA

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