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.

Second City Bike

For nearly twenty years, I’ve made San Francisco my second city. In 1993, I began dating the woman who I now call my wife, who’s father lived on Potrero Hill in the city and mother lived in the East Bay. For nearly twenty years I’ve traveled north from San Diego frequently, exploring the neighborhoods and cities – and more recently making friends and discovering the beauty of the area by bike.

Among those friends are the folks at Box Dog Bikes. They design and sell the Pelican, a refined all-rounder made for the kind of urban utility, mixed terrain, and distance riding that the varied terrain of the San Francisco Bay Area allows. The bike got a great review in Bicycle Quarterly, and I’m sure many folks are familiar with the particular qualities of the design.

For much of the last year when I visited, I would spy a 58cm 700c model from a previous batch that was hopscotching around the shop – it sat for a time above the merchandise; it was in the glass below the counter for a while; and the last time I went in, the frameset hung with newer Pelicans above the workshop. I asked Gabe if the 58 was still around. It was.

My nearly 2-year old commute is 10 miles each way, and my stout Kogswell, built for 5-mile utility rides, was no longer fun. My Protovelo always begs my legs to slow down and enjoy the ride. The commute offers me precious time for exercise, so I wanted to ride to work in a spirited fashion – I wanted something akin to my Ebisu, but built with a porteur rack, which I find the most useful for carrying clothes, sundries, a computer, and/or books. I wanted to be able to do a 30-mile loop on the way home and count it toward “training” for brevet season. I wanted the Pelican. And I got it.

Built up with Gabe’s Bicycle Quarterly bike as inspiration, the Pelican has served as a daily commuter for the last 2 months. I’ve also taken it out on longer rides with a rando bag attached to the rack. On flats, the Pelican rolls as straight as an arrow with a front load – or without. On climbs, it feels lively – and on descents, it tracks more predictably than any bike I’ve ridden. Fendered, light, durable, and equipped with a Shimergo 8-speed drivetrain, I feel like I can go from commute to 300K without any hesitation. It’s a fantastic bike. Paired with the Pass & Stow rack, the complete bike is all about San Francisco design. I’m in the club!

A Million Little Nannies

Looking smart: helmet-less in Paris.

Over the last few days, the “helmet debate” hit a new peak with a well-articulated essay in the Sunday Review by Elizabeth Rosenthal, who used her experience on the Parisian Velíb to argue against helmet hegemony. Note that her argument was not against helmet use – but against requiring helmets for bike share programs in order to increase participation, and ultimately, modal share in cities. I couldn’t agree more.

Let it flow.

In so many ways, my bike education arrives from conversations with Grant Petersen. Nobody has made the helmet argument better than him. It’s a subtle, smart argument about safety. I almost always wear a helmet, as my 10-mile commute is not facilitated by infrastructure, and I ride it relatively fast, as I treat it as “training” for fitness (I have little other time to devote to exercise these days). Its what Jan Heine calls an “American” commute – different from the short urban jaunts that characterize European city riding. But when I ride short urban jaunts, I don’t wear a helmet. Re-read Grant’s post, or his chapter in the brilliant Just Ride to find out why. Riding without a helmet means that being on a bike is normal and safe – which it is. Just like I don’t wear a helmet getting into the bathtub, working in the garage, or driving a car, I choose not to wear one sometimes when I’m on my bicycle. One should note that all of those activities are much more risky for head injuries than bike riding.

But what Rosenthal’s story does is move beyond personal safety and point to cycling advocacy. She’s writing about the success of bike share programs, and ultimately to how we grow bike modal share, thus creating more livable cities for all who inhabit and pass through them. In the spirit of the flåneur, we should do everything we can as riders and advocates to bring the aesthetic joy of riding to the forefront of the urban experience and advocacy efforts. Moving happily beyond the helmet hang-up here in the United States is an important step in embracing the everyday joy of moving through space astride a bike. That’s why I especially enjoyed the Here and Now coverage of Rosenthal’s view: the tone of the story is so charming and affirmative, that it puts all the nattering helmet nabobs in the place they belong – the crying room.

So, regarding these million little nannies that wag their finger and say you’re an idiot for not wearing a styrofoam hat, their frame echoes through a smaller and smaller chamber. I can’t surmise what compels people to tell others what they should do, based on nothing but unsubstantiated, but deeply held beliefs about safety? As a new parent, I experienced the same thing – everybody had an opinion about how I was wrapping my daughter, burping her, feeding her, keeping her warm. Lots of dads experience this, but I was left wondering: what gets into peoples’ minds where they feel they have the authority to tell strangers what’s best for them?

Everyday people are changing cities by walking and biking. Now, we take authority over what it means to ride a bike. Its normal, fun, safe, and for everybody. Its like walking. Its a blast. Defeating the “safety” police for normal city riding is one important victory in creating a more livable urban experience.

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.

Touring and Natural Beauty

Touring is damn fun. A trip allows for a rhythm that’s tough to break upon return. Wake up – pack up camp – get on the bike – ride – eat – ride – eat – set up camp – whiskey – go to sleep – repeat. In between lies the rush of sensory experiences that’s quite hard to gather together into something coherent. Take, for example, the ocean along the Mendocino and Sonoma Coasts on my recent Lost Coast tour. So boring!

Black Sheep Finally Together

The only purpose-built mountain bike I’ve ever bought was a GT triple-triangle something-or-another in 1992. I should probably have a nice, light, modern hard-tail, but in the mean time, I’ve replaced my dirt-worth Rawland with a swiss-army bike I bought from my friend Dustin – almost a year ago!

I’ve finally put it together and can’t wait to take it all over the place – terrain be damned. The idea was to build it up as Dustin had it – with most of the parts from him too. So there’s nothing new here. I did want a drop-bar mountain bike kinda thing, like a Salsa Fargo. But I didn’t want dirt-specific drop bars, as the bike is meant to do everything from a tour, to a century to commuting, to hammering – so an always-pleasing Noodle got the call. I wanted to set the bars up high enough so that riding in the hooks wouldn’t be that far off my normal road-bike position on the hoods. So, here it is. Time will tell, but so far it fits like a glove. Now that the trails are plenty dry, time for some trips up and down some hills!

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 DNF – Lemonade out of Lemons.

I rode a strong and happy randonee with San Francisco Randonneurs two weeks ago. Then, my spring break provided an opportunity to get out of town, clear my head, visit with far-away friends, and ride an exceptional course for the Russian River 300k.

Heading home, I had the Solana Beach 400K in my thoughts, but I hadn’t committed to it. The Healdsburg/Hopland 400K I rode last year felt great – probably one of the best rides I’ve ever had. But I didn’t commit to this year’s 400K until the day before. Since returning from San Francisco, time at home with my kids has seemed especially satisfying. Maybe it was the head-clearing function of a nice long randonee. But I had mixed feelings about signing up – until I jumped in at the last moment.

A 4am start would mean a typical 5 hr. per 100K pace would get me in before midnight – but it would also mean I’d be away all day, and likely sleeping most of Sunday. It also meant a very early morning – but I was ready. Unfortunately, when I showed up to the start right at 4am (I need to time driving distances better from our new neighborhood!), there was no one to be found. I circled the parking lot of the Solana Beach train station a few times, and eventually parked and walked around the area where the Corona 300K begins and ends. Then a sick feeling came over me – I just assumed this ride would start here – but upon shining a flashlight on my cue sheet, it became painfully clear that the start was a mile down the road at a Holiday Inn. I drove over, got my stuff out, and started 20 minutes behind. This was to be a very lonely 20-22 hour ride.

Yet, bombing down the coast before dawn was a blast. Riding up Mission Valley and Mission Gorge, up toward Alpine felt great. Then I started climbing out of Alpine toward Descanso. I felt OK. But I also wanted to be home with my kids. Maybe that’s why out-of-town rides result in more focused riding. Its hard to explain, but as I approached Descanso, the thought of a DNF popped into my head. Already 60 miles in – I could at least get a good 200k for the day and be home for dinner. But finishing the ride provides its own rewards, stretched over several days afterward.

I guess my head just wasn’t in it for this Saturday. My body felt fine, and could have pressed on. But I just didn’t want to – something that occurred to me even when I finally signed up. These rides are just the best thing – if one’s head is in for it. Mine wasn’t. So I called our RBA and turned around. Immediately, it felt like the right decision. I thought about dinner with my kids, a burbon before bed, a nice morning of newspaper-reading, and taking the family to mass before pancakes.

On the way down, I felt relieved. Maybe two weeks is not enough time to digest a ride and prepare for another. Maybe I should have finished that revise-and-resubmit before the ride to cast it from my thoughts. Maybe – just maybe – I wasn’t mentally prepared. Other things got in the way, and I felt like I made the right decision – especially as I began my descent back down into Alpine, stopping at the famous Alpine Brewery for a photo.

The winding descent vial Arnold Way and Harbison Canyon provided the smell of spring-chapparal and tactile thrills as the Ebisu carved the turns effortlessly. By the time I hit Dehesa Rd., familiar backcountry terrain pulled me homeward. Then at the Sycuan Resort, I saw some familiar faces from sdbikecommuter gathering in the parking lot – several friends among them. They were headed on a ride from North Park to the Alpine Brewery for lunch and to fill growlers. I told them about my morning travels and turn-around, and wished them a good time despite their invitations to join, as I was focused on riding back to Solana Beach to get my car. Then one of them – perhaps Jeff – said something to the effect of “you have a big chunk of the day already blocked off – come along!” That stuck in my head as we pedaled our separate ways.

About a quarter-mile later, I found myself turned around and trying to catch up. When I did, I couldn’t have been more happy, even though it meant climbing back into Alpine after *really* enjoying the descent. This just meant I’d be able to ride the descent again! I met some great folks, and enjoyed riding with friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and had an excellent cask-conditioned ale with a pulled-pork sandwich. Some folks loaded up their panniers with freshly-filled growlers and we headed back. I split off to ride back home to La Mesa while they took a northern route through Mission Trails. They reminded me how much fun one can have on bikes with friends. I had about 120 miles on the day, which felt great. And when I was sitting at a long table at probably San Diego’s most exclusive brewery, enjoying the stories, ideas, and camaraderie of good people, I realized that this is what randonneuring – wandering – was all about. There will be another 400K, but I had a blast.

I rode home, took a shower, and held my kids in my arms while enjoying a beer. I looked at the clock – 4pm – and wondered where I’d be if I stuck with the course. Maybe close to Hemet? We drove up to Solana Beach for grub and grog at Pizza Port, then walked along the beach under moonlight before retrieving the car and heading home. It was a great day.

Wine, Wind, and the Water: Russian River 300K

After a difficult 300K in February, it was time to redeem myself. My spring break fell in between NAHBS and the San Francisco Randonneurs Russian River 300K. I was going to head north to stay with my in-laws, write a little, and ride a little. But I couldn’t be away for two weekends, so the choice became clear. It was easy – ride with SFR and skip the show!

The adventure begins on I-5. Cool W123.

I took the Brompton, the Protovelo, and the Ebisu up for the trip. Its rare I get to drive up with an empty Volvo station wagon, but being alone, I had plenty of room for a different bikes for different riding. The nearly theft-proof Brompton took me around the city and Oakland while cafe-hopping, rode the Protovelo around the East Bay, and took the Ebisu into Hiroshi to inspect the wheels and size some low-riders. I couldn’t believe it, but the chain needed replaced after only a year of riding. Hiroshi remaked gently that randonneuring is tough on bikes, and that components may need more attention than nomral. It was nice to visit with Hiroshi, and I got to go to Rivendell and talk with those guys, and check in with the fellas at Box Dog.

The weather looked great – overcast and cool. There were more than 100 riders at the start. We took the pledge, said some hellos, and headed off over familiar territory. With SFR, I’ve ridden Lighthouse and Two Rock/Valley Ford 200ks, Old Caz 300K, and Healdsburg/Hopland 400K. All of them I absolutely loved. The terrain is varied, and the course – especially from the bridge through the Marin towns – feels as familiar as home.

We made our way through the Marin towns, and then up toward Petaluma. I fell into a group following Willie’s tandem into Healdsburg, perhaps the easiest 30 miles I’ve ever ridden. At the Safeway in Healdsburg, the thought occurred to me that I’d break off on my own through the grape vines of Healdsburg and along the Russian River on River road, but luckily I found Bruce on his excellent white Ebisu and we traded pulls for a while. Then we found a larger group including Carlos and Bill and pacelined toward Highway 1. The wind howled, and the heavy fog turned into light rain down Tomales Bay. The rollers between Bodega Bay and Marshall include climbs that slap you in the face, but the rollers after Marshall are more even. Something on the Edelux light mount was wrong, began to slip, and the mount broke in half before i got the Golden Gate Bridge. Besides fidgeting with the light, it was an exceptionally enjoyable day. I finished in 14:50.

The day begins: Camino Alto

Bruce et. al.

Paceline is cool. Photo by Hillbubba.

Happy rider. Photo by Hillbuba.

By and large, this was my favorite course yet.