Monthly Archives: November 2011

Small Bikes, Big City: A Quick Brompton Bike Review

Great things come in small packages. The little bicycles that could. The meek shall inherit the city. How many other cliches could I use as a title for this post? Any of these would be accurate.

Two full days touring London on Brompton folding bikes was enough to know that they are in many ways the ideal city bike. When engineer Andrew Ritchie fiddled with various folding bike designs in his apartment in the London district of Brompton, he was on to something big–in a small package. He didn’t just design a bike that folds compactly. He designed one that’s folds to a size hardly bigger than its 16″ wheeels, and tucks the messy and fragile parts between the wheels, and offers a ride that’s surprisingly close to larger wheeled bikes.

Here’s my quick take of the Brompton folding bikes, based on 30 kilometers of city riding:

  • The tiny bikes comfortably fit both 6’2″ Dick with his 35″ inseam and me with my 29″ inseam. Amazing.
  • The front end feels twitchy at first, but you adjust quickly.
  • The bag attaches to the head tube, not handlebars. It also feels odd at first, especially if the bag is full.
  • Once you’re rolling the bike handles like any other bike, even on rough pavement.
  • The low gear on the two speed models we rented is not low enough for any sort of hill.
  • Instead of a kickstand, you just fold in the rear wheel and voila! it stands alone.
  • The nose of the saddle is molded to fit your fingers, making it easier to carry.
  • Our rental model was fairly heavy to carry. If I had to carry it more than 100 feet I’d take the time to unfold it. Brompton offers lighter models. I wonder how much lighter they would feel.
  • Folded, the bikes took up less room on the underground than a small suitcase. We sat with ours in front of our knees and there was still room for people to pass down the aisle.
  • The hub generator lights work well, but since they go off after a minute or so of standing, I’d add small blinking lights too. I love built-in, hub generated lights. Taking things off the bike whenever you lock up is a real pain.

All in all, it’s a good little city bike. If I lived in a small apartment in the city and commuted by rail, I’d definitely consider getting one for my non-sport riding. Here’s a quick demo of Dick unfolding the bike. It takes him just over a minute, but with a little practice, I’m sure he could do it in half the time.

What about you? Would you get over the dork factor and ride a tiny wheeled folding bike?


Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Gear Talk


48 Hours in London with a Brompton Bike

As excited as I was to find bikes for hire in London, I wheeled my little Brompton foldie out of the shop with a bit of trepidation. After two full days in London, I still wasn’t comfortable with the left-hand driving traffic, even as a pedestrian. Even with the thoughtful “Look Left” and “Look Right” markings to warn continental Europeans and Americans, I was on alert each time I stepped into the roadway.

So there we stood with bikes in the bustling West End shopping district at twilight, 5 kilometers from our hotel in South Kensington. Since the Velorution bike shop was only a few blocks from the Oxford Circus station, we considered taking the underground, but once we got rolling we didn’t want to stop. With a set of left turns around the block to avoid a difficult right turn we were rolling down Oxford Street surrounded by double-decker buses and black cabs. Too bad I didn’t have my GoPro helmet camera to capture the excitement.

First stop the next day was the Tower of London. Since we got a late start, we carried the bikes on the underground and parked them on the street while we took a dramatic and gore-filled tour with a Beefeater guide, then walked up and down the endless stairs in the tower filled with armor, weapons and memorabilia of the long line of kings. We were dazzled by the exquisite crown jewels collection and amazed at the excessive decadence of items. My favorite was a gold tureen with a capacity of 144 wine bottles.

From the tower we began our 10 kilometer history tour of the city, viewing the iconic Tower Bridge (often mistaken for the London Bridge), then crossing the actual London Bridge (a completely ordinary bridge) over to the south bank of the river. There we rolled down cobbled lanes past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the replica of the Golden Hind, the sailing ship of Sir Francis Drake. For my San Francisco Bay Area friends, that’s the explorer and the ship that claimed our area for the British crown in 1579 as “New Albion.” It didn’t stick.

After a late lunch at a surprisingly tasty burger joint near The Clink (yes, it’s a prison), we rode back across the Thames on Westminster Bridge in the fading light, stopping on its wide sidewalk to admire Big Ben, the Parliament buildings and the London Eye. Probably our best view of London at the perfect time of day.

The early 4 o’clock sunset meant that yet again we rode back to the hotel in the dark: braving a roundabout (yet again), getting disoriented in Hyde Park (yet again), and missing a turn onto the street that turns into Gloucester Road (yet again). In London, street names seem to change every quarter mile.

The next morning we headed out for more: a quick jaunt through Kensington Gardens, through Paddington and up to St Johns Wood in a pilgrimage to Abbey Road. While you need a map to find Abbey Road (aka Grove End Road aka Lisson Road), you don’t need a sign to find its famous crosswalk. The small crowd of tourists dodging traffic to recreate the photo from the Beatles’ album cover gives it away. Given that London drivers are not keen to stop for pedestrians, even in a crosswalk, getting a good photo requires careful timing.

Then it was another 5 kilometer tour across town through yet another park to return the bikes. Total cycling distance: 30 kilometers or 18.5 miles. Not high mileage, but enough to see a lot more of the city than we would walking or on the underground. We also got a good feel for how these little folding bikes perform, but that’s a post for another day.

Have you ever driven or cycled on the “wrong” side of the road? What was the hardest part for you?

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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Travel


Fashion Friday: Call of the Wild in London

When you’re wearing a leopard print helmet from Sawako Furuno, you’ve got style no matter what else you’re wearing, or riding for that matter.



Posted by on November 25, 2011 in Cycle Fashions, Travel


Velorution Prevails Where Barclays Fails

For shame, Barclays! The London cycle hire program your bank sponsors discriminates against Americans, whose credit cards lack “smart card” chips. And unlike the Velib system in Paris where you can buy a day pass online, the Barclays bikes require a smart card at the kiosk. Are they afraid that hordes of right-side-driving Americans will be massacred by aggressive black cabs and lumbering double-decker buses? Could be.

Riding these bikes was in my Top 5 things to do in London, so I was really bummed. Even though I was pretty sure we were out of luck, I had to ask the folks at Velorution, a bike shop focused on city bikes I had read about. The owner, Andre, confirmed that you either need a smart card or they can issue you a special card, but you have to be a London resident. But, he offered, Velorution rents Bromptom folding bikes at a reasonable rate. Interesting. I had never ridden a foldie and was intrigued.

While we were thinking about whether and how long we wanted to hire the Bromptons, we browsed through the store’s wide selection of bikes and gear. Of all the city bike-oriented stores we’ve been to, Velorution is one of the biggest, on par with Clever Cycles in Portland, Oregon. They also offer mail order, which could prove useful in the future. I searched the large selection of panniers, hoping to find the elusive Fast Rider Congres Black Charm. They didn’t offer anything comparable, but Matt took the time to look it up online and suggested I talk with their bag buyer when she came in to the shop later that afternoon.

Dick was immediately drawn to the Pedersen bikes with their hammock saddles and unusual truss frames. He took one out for a spin around the block and declared it felt natural with a comfortable seating position, despite its unusual look. “You have no idea how much I want this bike,” he confided. His birthday is tomorrow, but I don’t think there’s room in my luggage for a Pedersen.

Meanwhile, I moved on to helmets and clothing, where I found a delightful leopard helmet that I just had to have. A girl can never have too many helmets, can she? And there, amidst the dapper tweed coats and capes and smart modern jackets, I found the elusive Brooks rain cape. Last year, I searched for months for an outlet to buy this very cape which had received rave reviews at Interbike. And here it was at long last, unfortunately after I already have a cycle-specific rain coat I picked up in Amsterdam.

We left the store with a leopard helmet for me and two Brompton foldies for the rest of our trip. The Bromptons fit both of us well and only took a bit of adjusting for the markedly twitchy front end. We pedaled away from the shop as the sun went down and so our bike adventures in London began.

How far will you go for bike accessories or equipment? Would you pay the extra overseas shipping and taxes for a unique item?

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Posted by on November 25, 2011 in Gear Talk, Travel


On Tradition: Foot Guards, Ghosts and the Queen

Tradition is a curious thing. Some cling to it with all their might, others feel compelled to break free. Unlike other European countries, England has held on to its royalty even as it gradually became a democracy. There was no equivalent of the storming of the Bastille. No royal heads rolled here and the Royal Family is still beloved by the British and their goings-on make the news worldwide.

Before we arrived, my Scottish co-worker Heather suggested a traditional English pub, the Grenadier. She said it would be hard to find, and my Google maps agreed, but we took on the challenge anyway. Heather was right. But we kept calm and carried on until we happened upon the little alley tucked behind the Luxembourg embassy, not far from Buckingham Palace. The Grenadier was indeed a find.

Built in 1720 as the Officers Mess for the first Royal Regiment of foot guards, also known as Grenadiers, it was frequented by the Duke of Wellington and King George the IV. For those not up on history (like me), the Duke of Wellington was the General who defeated Napoleon. What else I did not know was that the pub was haunted. Apparently, a young Grenadier was caught cheating at cards and the other soldiers gave him a such a severe beating that he died after seeking refuge in the pub’s cellar.

I’m happy to say our meals were fine, the beers were traditional English brews and there were no ghost sightings or other paranormal incidents. No “solemn, silent spectres were seen moving slowly across the low-ceilinged rooms” or “unseen hands rattle tables and chairs” or “low sighing moans heard emanating from the depths of the cellar.” I’m glad I didn’t know about the ghosts until after we left.

The next day we visited Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guards, along with several hundred other visitors. Much of the ceremony was over my head, but the pomp and circumstance–bearskin caps and plumed metal helmets and the marching regimental band–was intriguing, but IMHO a bit overrated. A lot of standing around for a minimal view.

We didn’t realize that the ceremony was dragging on longer than advertised because the Queen was heading out for a state meeting, interrupting the ceremony. The bobby stationed next to us gave us a quick warning “this would be good time for your camera” and out rolled the Queen in her Bentley with her entourage of motorcycle police. Even though she rolled right past me, I would never have known except for the noise from the crowd of women, which bore a striking resemblance to Angry Birds. If there was a royal wave, I missed it.

Where do you stand on tradition? Are queens and foot guards and elaborate ceremonies still meaningful for you? Or are they ghosts of a bygone era?

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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Travel


A One Day Tour of Paris by Bike

Dick’s colossal flight delays left him with just a single day to see Paris before we had to catch the train to London. Fortunately, the Vélib bikeshare system made it easy to see the sights much faster than taking the Metro. Dick had two must-see items: the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, but we packed in more thanks to Vélib.

10:00 am Riding along the Seine. We picked up our first pair of Vélib bikes just outside our hotel near the Eiffel Tower. Dick raised the saddle up to its max, I put mine in the middle and we were off. We crossed the Seine and rode the cyclepath along the river toward the Louvre. The air was brisk, but it felt really good to have the wind in our faces since the day before was spent in airplanes (Dick) or subways (me). As we rode past the Place de la Concorde I shuddered, remembering how Michelle and I had accidentally gotten caught in the center of this grand traffic circle on bikes–after dark.

11:00 am The Louvre. After a quick photo opp in the main courtyard we turned in our bikes at a nearby Vélib station just outside the gates, and then entered the Louvre through the Pyramid. The Louvre has an expansive collection and we had little time, so we focused on statuary. I love the grand marble statues in the light and airy courtyards. Since most statues were made to decorate gardens it only seems fitting that the museum has created an outdoor feel in an indoor setting. Strolling the statue gardens was most relaxing, even though the guards had to clear one courtyard when an unattended bag was found. A quick jolt back to the 21st century.

3:00 pm Notre Dame & the Latin Quarter. After the Louvre we made a quick duty free shopping stop and then grabbed another pair of bikes. We pedaled over the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge crossing the Seine, to the Île de la Cité, the island in the middle that is the original village of Paris and home to Notre Dame Cathedral. We made a quick stop to gaze at Notre Dame, then crossed over to the Latin Quarter where we cruised this historic neighborhood’s narrow one-way streets. One way for cars, that is, not bikes.

6:00 pm Eiffel Tower From there we pedaled fast down the left bank of the Seine to reach the Eiffel Tower before the sun set. We dropped off the bikes at the Vélib station and then sat underneath the tower, snacking on sandwiches parisiens from the snack bar as darkness fell and saw the tower’s stellar lights come on. By the time we ascended the tower, the city was fully lit up and sparking, with gentle wisps of fog blowing by.

9:00 pm Dinner at La Fontaine de Mars Finding a restaurant for dinner proved to be a challenge since most restaurants aren’t open on Sundays. But we found one about a kilometer away–certainly walking distance. But given we were tired, we grabbed our third pair of Vélib bikes and pedaled to dinner at La Fontaine de Mars, which specializes in cuisine of the Southwest region of France. That means one thing only to me–Cassoulet–and I was lucky to find it on the specials menu. We shared a Tarte Tatin for dessert then grabbed our fourth pair of Vélib bikes for the quick ride back to the hotel, where we slept very well from our busy day.

If you only had one day in Paris, would would be on your must-see list?

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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Travel


Guilty Pleasures in Paris

Poor Dick! He was scheduled to meet me in Paris on Friday morning. But between mechanical failures, bad weather and careless airline processes, he didn’t arrive until Saturday afternoon, a full 33 hours late.

As I listened to him fume about his daily travel delays at a dollar a minute, I didn’t dare tell him of the fabulous time I was having while he was waiting in the terminal for hours on end, eating bad airport food and struggling to rebook his flight. I kept my guilty pleasures to myself.

When he called me to tell me his overseas flight was cancelled, he didn’t need to know I having a culinary high at Neva Cuisine. Or that while he was checking in at the airport hotel Michelle and I were riding Velib bikes around the city. Nor that I was in Nirvana at the Buddha Bar when he called to say he’d missed his connection and they couldn’t book him a flight until the next day.

But he kept pushing until he found someone competent enough to get him a flight that night, albeit with a stop at Heathrow, his third stop in a one stop flight. When he finally arrived at Charles de Gaulle he was tired, angry and wondering how unlucky he could be. The count: one cancelled flight due to mechanical problems, one wind storm in Chicago, one missing maintenance log and two instances of the gateway not being ready when the plane arrived. But all that mattered to me is that I could finally hug my sweetie.

What’s the longest you’ve ever been delayed on a flight?

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Posted by on November 20, 2011 in Travel


La Cuisine Gastronomique à Paris

After two full days of meetings and two full nights of social activities, our annual sales kickoff was over! Now my co-workers and I could explore Paris at our own pace. Stéphane, our customer support manager, knew just the place for a “gastonomic” dinner: Neva Cuisine. The chef at Neva was trained by Stéphane’s brother-in-law, who in turn trained Stéphane’s wife Sofie. With such connections we got the best table in the house, the same table that Metallica shared just last week. Maybe that’s what inspired Yannick to cut loose un peau.


The dinner was indeed a gastronomic experience of carefully chosen ingredients, prepared carefully for maximum flavor. The was no ordinary dinner of foie gras and roast duck. The foie gras, embellished with gold flecks in the aspic top, melted smoothly across my tongue, and the Colvert Rôti was roasted to perfection.

But the pièce de résistance was la sphère déstructurée chocolat, an ice cream filled chocolate sphere glazed with silver and doused with hot chocolate sauce at the table. Magnifique!

After dinner we walked up to the 18th arrondissement passing the famous Moulin Rouge in search of a dance club. We considered and rejected more than one, then switched our search to finding a taxi, which proved just as difficult. We almost rented Velib bikes, but they didn’t take our chipless American credit cards. In the end, half of us caught a taxi and the others simply took a long walk back to the hotel.

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Posted by on November 18, 2011 in Travel


Fashion Fridays: Prêt à Vélo

Armed with a city map and one day bikeshare passes, Janet and Michelle are ready to brave the busy streets of Paris on their Vélib bicycles. Skinny jeans and a full scarf on Janet and a classic pea coat on Michelle mean they do it in style.




Posted by on November 18, 2011 in Cycle Fashions, Travel


Pedal Savvy Fashions at SF Bike Expo

Look, a blog post with bike fashion photos and not a single one of me! The cool gear at the SF Bike Expo was worth the trip to the city and cost of admission alone, but it was the Pedal Savvy fashion show that made the expo for me. The stylish fashions and cool bikes in last year’s show were brilliantly eye-popping, a definite inspiration for me to up my game. You know where that led.

This year’s show once again featured both made-for-the-bike and standard street apparel, with some vintage items thrown in. There definitely seemed to be more technical bike wear disguised as standard street apparel this year. I guess the mainstrean bike industry is catching on to what the boutique manufacturers figured out years ago–not everyone wants to look like they stepped off a bike, even if they just did. I like this trend because it gives you the best of both worlds on those days you’ll be putting in more miles, like the 35 miles we did to get home from the show.

Here are the Pedal Savvy models as they rolled around the bike runway. Click the thumbnails for a large photo slideshow.

Oh, look a video too. And still no me. This is the final promenade of the models and their bike. At the very end you’ll see Ms. Pedal Savvy, the stylist who made it all possible.


Posted by on November 14, 2011 in Cycle Fashions

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