Category: bicycle

The P/R is Dead. Long Live the P/R!

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The Kogswell P/R. Remember this modestly-priced, TIG-welded, made in Taiwan frameset with new-fangled “low trail” geometry and painted-to-match fenders from 2006? When I first came across photos of Adam A’s build, my dreams for a European-style utility bicycle seemed to come true. Little did I know that the P/R would set off a flurry of low-trail madness. Together with Rivendell’s early efforts, the P/R also helped solidify, if in a niche way, the return of 650B to the United States. I suppose the P/R defined the current steel-bike zeitgeist, albeit in a flawed way.

From Bicycle Quarterly

From Bicycle Quarterly

Matt G. of Kogswell was really ambitious. He was able to bring quite a few products to market for budget-minded fans of steel bikes – from frames to brakes to hubs. The original custard-color P/R seemed to be a damned good idea – a creative way to return to an old, largely forgotten design of the French Porteur. From what I understand, Jan Heine was a consultant on the design. The three fork options (50mm, 40mm, and 30mm of trail) helped define offset and trail figures and subsequent load carrying for a wider range of customers than could be served by the small cadre of custom builders doing classic French design. The tubing was strong – I remember hearing it was the same as a Surly Long Hall Trucker. The horizontal dropouts allowed for fixed gear or an internally-geared hub to be used, along with derailleurs. People set up their G1s mostly as porteurs and with all kinds of gearing set-ups. The powdercoat color was sharp – understated, vintage-inspired, and looked good with both silver and black parts. The color-matching steel fenders evoked the aesthetic of utilitarian British 3-speeds that provided basic transportation to the masses in the UK after the war. The upslope on the top tube wasn’t dramatic (although I would have liked a level top tube), keeping the lines fairly classic. The original P/R still turns heads and evokes questions when I ride my “G1” around town. I think its the fenders.

Elegant simplicity: 'Duke's Kogger

Elegant simplicity: ‘Duke’s Kogger

Then Kogswell opened up the design. Smart people contributed. The “G2” was skinny-tubed with black powder. The second generation P/R brought in folks’ desire for an lighter bike that could be more “R” (randonneuse) than “P” (porteur). It was still classic looking, but I fear that design-by-committee lost the focus of the original project. It became all-things-to-all-people-who-didn’t-want-to-spend-a-lot-of-money. I was one of them. I picked up a used G1 and set it up as an inexpensive transportation-oriented porteur that I could lock up overnight in the city with aplomb. But as I followed the development of Kogswell, it became difficult to keep track of G2 and then G3, and the 700c models, 26″ models, rack prototypes, and then flaws in design, and finally liquidation of the remaining stock. I picked up my wife’s black P/R for a couple hundred dollars. I don’t know what version it was. Matthew moved on.

Anthony at Longleaf planned to carry on the P/R project but I read recently that he won’t be able to pursue it further. There’s likely no one reason the P/R is no more. But some of the design-by-committee chaos may be to blame, as I saw repeated with Rawland. The original Sogn – a mid-trail all-rounder designed by and for Kirk Pacenti’s 650B tires was just a blissful, tough trail bike. Then it moved again to skinny-tubed, low trail, huge clearances, etc. It may be perfect for some folks, and I totally respect that – but I see Rawland trying to be too many things for too many people. So we have older models dropped, new initiatives sketched out with lots of discussion… and what I see as a lack of focus. Innovation is good, but original, consistent vision and reliable products are good too. I won’t pretend to know how hard it is and the guts it takes to do a start-up frame business. I’m just writing as a rider and observer, so take it with the ignorance it arrives from.

Back to the P/R: I still like the original idea and I’ll bet there’s a good market for a porteur-centric frameset. Velo Orange has the Polyvalent – but I don’t follow V-O stuff so I can’t speak to that frame’s qualities. Better photos and less chrome on the builds would help me with that one, though. Soma’s forthcoming randonneuse may work as a good porter, too. My Pelican does the job wonderfully, but your close to the realm of custom/small batch offerings and that’s a different discussion. But the idea of a simple, relatively inexpensive porter as either a mixte or a level top tube’d frame set with color matching fenders and horizontal dropouts for city-utility riding remains a winner in my mind. City-Utility. Maybe it could be called the C/U.

Brompton: Raise ‘Da Saddle

Last year when I found a new M6L on Craigslist in Los Angeles, I hopped in my car and headed north without hesitation. After some time with a 90s Brommie and a stint with a Tikit, I now knew what I wanted and jumped at the chance to score this useful little bike. Once-a-week Trolley rides to work made the Brompton a necessary luxury in getting two and from the station.

In my quick decision to pick up the bike, I also rationalized that my wife (5’3″ to my 6′) could ride it too. That hasn’t happened too much, but I’m keeping my hopes up. As many know, the Brompton comes in one size, with adjustability between riders only available through changing the seatpost height and saddle direction. One can also pick up an extended seatpost from Brompton. My saddle height is 75-76cm – which slightly exceeds the standard post that came with the bike. Not really wanting to spend extra money (I got a good deal and wanted to keep it that way), I looked at the seat post clamp and saw there was room to attach the seat toward the top of the clamp (this seems sound, but please sound-off if not).

This worked well with a normal Brooks B17, but I was still maybe 1cm off my preferred saddle-height. I have a Brooks Champion Flyer in my parts bin, and the extra height from the sprung saddle put the seating position right where I needed it. Anyone with a taller saddle height than I would probably opt for the extended seatpost. But if you’re just barely over the standard limit, give the Flyer a try.

Commuting with a Touring Bike

In many ways, a bicycle set-up for touring represents the ideal commuter – strong, durable, comfortable, relatively upright, and dependable. But for those of us with U.S.-scale commutes (like my 10-mile ride into work with hills), the racked, bagged, sturdy touring bike can be overkill and less than satisfying riding home after a long day. Plus, I like to think that my 20-mile round trip commute stands as my fitness regimen, rendering trips to the gym or runs after work unnecessary (plus, more time at home with the kids).

That being said, at least one day a week, I find myself needing to slog in a bunch of stuff – clothes, books, grading, and my 15″ laptop. This is when a touring bike can be handy. But I pine for a commuter-version of my Ebisu randonneuse – light, quick, perhaps with only a porter rack to bring a computer bag and even a small grocery run on the way home.

The Big Bike: Sizing Variations

When it comes to bicycles, everyone has a size. Most people are fit too small. Mine is 58cm top tube by 58cm seat tube for road riding. Its “french fit” according to Competitive Cyclist. But others who believe in Rivendell’s sizing would argue its too small, as you can’t get the handlebars up, up up. But for randonees and hard efforts over distance, I like the handlebars 1-4cm below the saddle, as both of my randonneuring rigs are 58×58:

My Protovelo is a big bike. Like Grant’s latest project, it has a long top tube. 60.5cm! And the seat tube is 60cm center-to-center. That’s a size larger than my preference. But for touring, a larger bicycle makes it easier to ride with the handlebars even with the saddle, which has the advantage of providing comfort and making it easier to enjoy the view on a relatively leisurely pace carrying a bunch of stuff. When I’ve tried to push the Protovelo on harder efforts, the size of the bike and the component choices (Riv-ish to a tee) seem to have a ceiling. In other words, the bike just wants me to slow down and enjoy the view.

I built it up as close to Rivendell’s preferences as I could. 7-speed freewheel, Nitto parts, Brooks saddle, touring gearing, etc. Its a big, luxurious ride. Feels like a Cadillac. It can be good to have variety in bicycles if you have more than a couple.

The 650B Mixte Parisian

At a cafe, a mixte is a ham and cheese sandwich. On the road, shod with 650B wheels, it makes for an particularly effective city bicycle, the perfect place from which to enjoy the unfolding metropolis, and of course, to get where you need to go.

650B makes a lot of sense for city riding and commuting: the smaller wheel diameter makes for a stronger wheel, the fatter tires float over imperfect road surfaces, the space to take fenders for all-weather riding, and the threat of toe-strike on the front wheel is significantly reduced. In France, where 650B originated and was widely used on inexpensive city bikes, you see them everywhere on bikes from the 60s & 70s – still doing their work many years later.

Traffic in Paris has its own flow, and there are lots of starts and stops as scooters maneuver and pedestrians j-walk. The mixte is ridden by men and women, and makes sense in this respect. Outfitted with porteur bars, a rear rack, and integrated lighting, and after a month of seeing these bikes do their work throughout the city, they clearly are the most Parisian of the Paris bicycles. Not all of these are mixtes, but the show some of the everyday uses for the 650B city bike:

Riding the Marne

I’ve been in Paris about two weeks, and spent most of my time (besides teaching) as a flaneur. Walking, wandering, riding – sometimes lonely, always engaged, constantly observing. When I first arrived, I assembled the bicycle and rode everywhere. But last week, I gave into walking – something this city begs for. Its been delicious, especially in the rain.

On my first free day since I arrived, I followed a route out of Paris and along the Marne River. The routes featured on the website seem aimed at the recreational rider, but I’m having a hard time finding other routes out of town. This ride along the Marne was flat, not terribly exciting, but full of lovely scenery. Plenty of dirt sections popped up along and beside the route. I tripped over the directions in the beginning, as they were more detailed than I expected. I tend to be obsessive about directions, and often get lost in their minutia. Once I began to trust myself, the ride became enjoyable.

The river path was a deep green and provided peaceful surrounds for meditative riding – mostly bike path with very few cars. After several miles, the path turned to gravel, and I took that for a while. With an evening appointment looming, I turned around and made my way back into Paris without looking at the directions. Next time, I’d like to venture further. And maybe find some climbing.

Then it was back to Paris, land of the Velib.

650B Plugger

You know that comic strip, Pluggers? My grandparents usually have one or two of the strips taped to their refrigerator. The featured creatures are very frugal, and anyone who demonstrates practical frugality is a “plugger.”

Whoever owns this 650B bicycle, with excellent red tires, must love them – because look at that tread!

What to bring on a trip?

I’ve been a big fan of Swrve – from the people to the products – for quite a while now. Whenever I’m passing through LA, I try to stop by the factory and try some stuff on. Last week, I stopped in and picked up a pair of their jeans in black Japanese denim.

I’m preparing to teach a short course in Paris, and I hope to do a lot of riding around the city and certainly through the countryside. These seem like the perfect pants for such a trip – sharp enough wear with a blazer and just about the perfect jeans on a bike. And made in LA!

Stay Puft Bicycle Man

The days of Hetres on the Protovelo are numbered. They are a joy to ride, but I’m moving it over to Col de la Vies for an inexpensive performer on commutes for the fall. I look forward to wearing black rubber, for as much as I liked the creme tires with clear powder, the current scheme makes me more foppish than I already am.

This being said, I’ve enjoyed playing Bibendum on this bike.

Color is Nice

I’ve been happily riding my Nobilette-made Protovelo since 2008 in RCP. The RCP was lovely – it had a nice sheen and one could see the brazing details like flame marks and brass fill, and also provided a peek at the tubing manufacturer’s markings:

The RCP was holding up well here in San Diego, which has less rain than other parts of the world, but we get it, and the air is rather salty. This bike was one of the early RCP jobs at Riv, and I’d heard the rust protection wasn’t as good as later examples. But there were no problems – it was solid. There was some flaking of the powder at the droputs, but the rust that developed was purely aesthetic and typical of anyone who changes wheels now and then to fix a flat. I always intended to get color on this bike. It was just a matter of deciding which to get.

Originally, I considered Pea-Sage Green, seriously thought about one-color Navy, and went with chocolate brown and creme accents – as it is a Rivendell after all, if a prototype. The Riv painter does a great job!

It was quite a task for Rivendell folks to track down these decals, as the new Protovelo epigraphs are in Helvetica. We found some in blue, and I really quite like the scheme. While the foppish Riv owner in me might salivate at the thought of running my white Hetres on this, I’m going to go back to black rubber with the Honjos originally on this bike. With Albatross bars pushed all the way down, it will serve as a classy city bike for my new 11 mile each-way commute. Hetres for dirt, though!