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Book Review: “It’s All About the Bike” by Robert Penn

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of receiving a review copy of It’s All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels by Robert Penn (New York: Bloomsbury, 2010). The book is the retelling of the author’s quest in obtaining a custom, handmade bicycle, and I hate to gush so early on in a review, but I LOVED the tale.

all_about_bike

Many of us, myself included, have long dreamed of a bicycle handmade to our exact specifications…with just the perfect geometry and handling, the hand-chosen parts, and the overall aesthetic hammered out over months and years of fantasizing. Even for a longtime bicycle collector like myself, the following passage resonated with me…Penn has just described his current fleet but:

With this small troop of hard-working bicycles, my bases are covered. Yet something fundamental is missing. Like tens of thousands of everyday cyclists with utilitarian machines, I recognize there is a glaring hole in my bike shed, a cavernous space for something else, something special. I’m in the middle of a lifelong affair with the bicycle: none of my bikes even hints at this…I need a talismanic machine that somehow reflects my cycling history and carries my cycling aspirations. I want craftsmanship, not technology; I want the bike to be man-made; I want a bike that has character, a bike that will never be last year’s model. I want a bike that shows my appreciation of the tradition, lore and beauty of bicycles. The French nickname for the bicycle is La Petite Reine — I want my own ‘little queen’.”

And with that, Penn sets off on a whirlwind journey to get his “little queen” made: alighting on the doorstep of renowned bespoke builder Brian Rourke Cycles, traveling halfway around the world to procure a set of wheels from Steve “Gravy” Gravenites (and getting to ride down Repack with Gravy and MTB legends Charlie Kelly and Joe Breeze!), getting rare factory tours at Chris King Precision Components in Portland, Continental in Germany and both Cinelli and Campagnolo in Italy, among other stops. At each stop, Penn delves into the history of bicycles and the development of various components and technologies that we now take for granted. Penn’s coverage of the history and lore of the bicycle never bogs down the story; in fact, these tidbits enhance the tale and show that Penn truly respects everything having to do with these two-wheeled wonders.

It’s All About the Bike is a quick read…”engrossing” is a word that comes to mind. Perhaps the idea of a custom bike can be seen as an extravagance, and I can understand that. Penn’s tale is more authentic than that, however. Never once did I feel that Penn was simply a wealthy man looking for something expensive to incite jealousy among his peers; rather, here is a man who put in the miles on many other bikes and earned the privilege of being able to fulfill his dreams of a handmade, perfectly-fitting machine that he would then ride with abandon all over the globe. Penn’s storytelling skill is refreshing and honest and his love for the bike carries throughout the book. I’ve recommended a lot of books over the years; in fact, sometimes it is hard for me to remember a book I really disliked. Nevertheless, It’s All About the Bike stands out as a passionate, fact-rich and thoroughly enjoyable read for anyone who loves the artistry, history and craftsmanship of a good bicycle. Pick up a copy for your favorite cyclist for Christmas…they’ll thank you for it!

Pimp Your Bike, MakerBot Style!

Here’s a fun one that appeared in our inbox yesterday, from the makers over at MakerBot. They’ve used their MakerBot plastic 3D printing machines to “pimp out” a bike in a video spoof of MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” (one of my tv guilty pleasures…shh, don’t tell anyone):

[Here’s] the latest episode of MakerBot TV, which focuses entirely on ways to make your bike even more awesome with unique accessories! What makes these accessories different is that every item featured in MakerBot TV Season 1 Episode 7 was printed on the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic, an affordable open source printer that can make just about any object in plastic.

I thought this might be something you’d be interested in posting on your blog as a new way that you and your readers can design and print personalized accessories for your bike! Check out the video [below] for a hilarious spoof on “Pimp My Ride,” called “Bot My Bike” hosted by Xzibot (Xzibit’s robot cousin)!

Here are just some MakerBotted objects featured in the episode:

– Valve cap
– Tire levers

– Handlebar plug

– Light assemblies

– Sprockets

– Cup holders

– Phone holder

– openVolver light kit (grid of 36 diffused LEDs with 255 levels of brightness and built-in light strobe animations)

– Multi-colored spoke beads

You can download all of these accessories on Thingiverse.com, MakerBot’s online community where users can post digital design files, document their designs, and collaborate on open source hardware.

The Thing-O-Matic works like a robotic hot glue gun: ABS (the same plastic used to make Lego) or biodegradable PLA thermoplastic goes into the MakerBot as filament and is heated to a controlled temperature. The melted plastic is then pushed through the nozzle in a thin stream, building an object layer by layer.

MakerBot Industries was named one of the top 20 startups in NYC, and has been featured in The New York Times, Wired, The Colbert Report, The Wall Street Journal, Engadget, CNN, Financial Times, NPR, the Economist and others.

MonkeyLectric’s “Design a Pattern” Contest

Our friends at MonkeyLectric are having a contest:

Create a pattern and enter it in our contest. You could win a Mini Monkey Light and even get your pattern included in the final product!

Use the grid template and color palette below to draw your pattern. You can print out this file and use markers, or open it in your favorite image editing software.

Submit your pattern at MonkeyLectric.com/contest to enter the contest. The top five entries will win a new Mini Monkey Light! Entry deadline is October 30.

Full details, template downloads and other tidbits are available on the MonkeyLectric website. Also, there’s a great gallery of current entries to get your creative juices flowing.

monkeylight

Video: Bikes Make Life Better

Our friends at Peopleforbikes.org tipped us to a new video they’ve posted on YouTube. It combines bicycles and light art, two of my favorite things, and is really quite enjoyable. Seeing as how National Bike Month is in full swing around the country, the video is certainly worth sharing.

In their words,

We all know that when people ride bikes, life is better. In this short video, we bring this idea to life as riders trigger projectors throughout a city, transforming an urban environment into a vibrant, colorful world. A world made better, by bikes.

Check it out and tell us what you think in the comments below.

Product Review/Sneak Peek: Planet Bike Super Flash….TURBO!

(STAFF WRITER’S NOTE: Due to technical difficulties, this post was delayed…A WHILE)

I arrived home from work the other day to find a small brown box addressed to ‘lil ol’ me!

Oh! What could it ever be!?!?

Planet Bike

Mark from Planet Bike sent out a new product to try out that will be released this  Spring!

<INSERT DRUM ROLL HERE>
Introducing the NEW 2011 SuperFlash TURBO!

Planet Bike Super Flash Turbo

Here is an into from the ‘wordsmiths’ at Planet Bike:

In 2006, our introduction of the Superflash tail light ushered in a new era of innovation in bicycle lighting.  Building on our tradition, we are now proud to introduce the evolution of bicycle safety: the Superflash Turbo.  We paired our time-tested design with a powerful 1 watt LED, then added the new attention-grabbing Turbo flash pattern. It’ll give you peace of mind riding day or night.

Superflash Turbo tail light (#3070)

  • 1 Watt Power LED plus 2 red LEDs for visibility up to 1 mile
  • New attention-grabbing Turbo flash pattern
  • Soft-touch power switch accesses flashing or steady mode for up to 100 hours of run time on two AA batteries
  • Ultra compact vertical design is weatherproof, lightweight and durable
  • Includes bike mounts and clip mount for multiple mounting options

MSRP     $34.99

In my initial inspection of the light I couldn’t find any major differences. The Turbo is the exact size of the tried and true original Super Flash. The housing is identical, with the exception of the red “TURBO” printed on the clear face and the big RED Super Flash lense

Since I had just ridden home from work, my first chance to test this light out would be on my next trip to and from work.

The next day, I suited up and clipped the Super Flash Turbo onto my bike. It was a bit overcast, so ambient light was at minimal levels. I felt as if I was being followed by a group of glow-stick swinging club kids! The TURBO light pattern is definitely more eye catching…

(side by side comparison of the Turbo & Standard Super Flash light pattern)

I am excited to say I was one of the most visible people out on the wet streets of Portlandia!

Many more miles of commuting ahead of me… I’ll give you an update at a later date…gotta ride!