I'll Have Couplers With That

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The threat of winter makes me want to bundle up with a cup of tea (not Earl Grey!), lots of blankets, and – don’t judge me – trashy TV shows. Since I avoid cold weather at all costs, the winter definitely cuts into my riding time. Luckily I have a Kurt Kinetic trainer and Spinervals DVDs on the way to keep me from turning into a lump. Hey, an indoor trainer might help me with my speed since there will be no stops to say, “hi” to random dairy cows or farmers’ markets with irresistible treats.

I then start thinking about the alternative to hibernation – a vacation to somewhere sunny and warm! That gets me thinking whether or not it will be a bicycle trip, which leads me to travel bikes. When I first started working at Bilenky Cycle Works (for real – not just sorting bank slips), I was 19. Handling steel and titanium retrofits became my “specialty” early on since custom bicycles had too many technical and geometrical (that’s math) details for me to confidently sell at the time. I have since learned a whole lot more about the ins and outs of custom Bilenky bikes, but that’s a story for another day! Maybe my next column?

A little background on turning an existing bike into a travel bike: Almost all steel and titanium bikes can be retrofitted with S&S couplers – even bikes with ovalized tubing. Some builders even retrofit carbon, but we stick to our two loves, steel and ti. The bikes are cut and then the couplers are brazed (for steel bikes) or welded in (ti bikes). Paint is touched up or completely redone and then the bike is sent back in a nifty airline-legal hard case with all the accessories to get your bike travel on.

Oh, you want my top reasons why you should have at least one bike with couplers? Well then:

1. Your retrofitted bike in the case now flies as regular baggage. That’s about $25 for us regular folks, $0 if you fly Southwest and also $0 if you are ballin’ and have some sort of elite airline status. I hope to get there one day….That’s a whole lot cheaper than shipping your bike to your travel destination ahead of time or checking it in a huge bike box for a couple hundred bucks.

2. The awesomeness of having your own bike that fits you while you are traveling. If you are not normal-sized (like me – waaaa!) then it’s really hard to find a rental bike that fits. Hello, kid’s beach cruiser bike. And you could buy a folding bike, but I don’t think I’d want to go on a two week European tour on a folding bike. Fast descents in the Alps on 16” wheels? No thanks. This is not a hate letter about folding bikes for anyone thinking I’m getting mean; they are awesome and perfect for commuting. I’d take the 20 second fold-up time for riding NJ transit (or any daily mass transit) over the conductor yelling at me for not having bungee cords for my full size bike any day. Yes, that really happened, and yes I’m still bitter over it.

3. The general convenience of being able to make your bike smaller if need be. You can break it in half to put in your trunk, backseat, or boat. Unless your bike is ridiculously small like mine and can fit in the backseat completely together, (sad, I know) this is a huge help!

4. Couplers make a great conversation starter. And if you just moved to a new town like I did and are looking for new friends, you need all the help you can get!

And speaking of travel and bikes, who wants to join Bilenky Cycle Works for their 2nd epic Framebuilder Express train trip from Chicago to Sacramento for the 2012 NAHBS?! Guaranteed shop talk and shenanigans!


Freak Snow / Freak Show

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The forecast on Friday was for an unseasonal nor’easter to slam the Philly area sometime on Saturday. I didn’t believe it. I directed traffic on tiny Ranstead Street alongside the Armory (um, how do you turn a 48ft race trailer being pulled by a pickup truck, Cooper Bikes?) and greeted the exhibitors as they arrived with their products. It was a comfortable late October day and the iron-gray sky didn’t frighten me.

Everyone had a blast at the post-setup party hosted by Brooks England at the Armory and then it was off to bed to get ready for show opening the next morning. Overnight it drizzled and by mid morning it was raining. Shuttling between the show hall and the Unitarian Church where some of the seminars (and the fashion show) were to be held, I was glad to be wearing my cold weather gear and snow boots, but despite the fact that there were flakes of that wet white stuff falling, attendance seemed about the same, if not better than last year. I had no idea that outside the small and warmer circle of Center City Philadelphia, up to 4 inches of slush was enveloping the area and thousands were without power.

I have to thank the stalwart souls who braved the storm to attend day one of the 2011 Philly Bike Expo and all the exhibitors, sponsors, seminar leaders, volunteers and food vendors for not panicking and cancelling. You are all to be commended for your dedication and courage!

It was quite the contrast from the breezy Armory to the roasty-toasty Unitarian Church. We had a full house for the fashion show and the students and faculty of Philadelphia University’s Fashion Merchandising Dept. did a commendable job bringing out the runway glamour we always knew cycling apparel was capable of. Congrats to all the fashion raffle winners; there were some fantastic prizes that included bags, helmets and clothing! (Pat Gaffney, owner of 10 Bilenky bikes walked away with the majority of the prizes….I swear the raffle wasn’t rigged!) At the Saturday night after party thrown by Keswick Cycle at their new West Philly location, I placed only a couple MPH behind in the goldsprints! Coulda beat you, Isis Shiffer, if I hadn’t fallen off my training schedule!

Day two, Sunday, was sunny. Yay! It was as if the wintery precipitation of Saturday had truly never been. Sunday usually sees a drop in attendance, but this time (thank-you, Mother Nature!) it was the reverse. Deva Black-Regan, in her adorable rainbow-knitted hat, checked wristbands at the side door all day- sending those without the requisite purple, yellow, or orange identifiers around to the front entrance. (There was only one tricksy potential gatecrasher with a story.) When asked if she’d like to take a break, Deva said, “No, I’m good. I’m meeting so many cute guys!”

The Zombiecat was rescheduled from late Saturday afternoon to Sunday noon. And the winner won a Girl.Bike.Dog messenger bag with brains on it. I must say I sampled some tasty eats from all four of the food trucks during the course of the weekend. Their tantalizing aromas wafted in and were impossible to resist. I have to make special note of the breakfast taco from Honest Tom’s, the veggie slider and tater tots from Chewy’s, King Kabob’s steak kabob, and the mac & cheese and greens from GiGi’s Caribbean Soul Food. (What was that yummy flavor in the greens? I have a sneaking suspicion it was not vegetarian!) As a show coordinator, I now have 4 shows under my belt. I know more about the ins and outs of this segment of the bike world than ever before. I think I’m almost ready to write a book!

Exhausted after breaking down the show and saying goodbye to the last of the loading-out exhibitors, I faced a four hour drive home and therefore had to miss the final and impromptu afterparty. Who was there? If you were, let me know. I want to hear all about it!


Zombies Ahead

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Why is interest in cyclocross exploding across the country and the world? In the past four or five years we’ve seen cyclocross events popping up everywhere. The resulting heightened awareness has even led to new UCI regulations that embrace xc technologies; so is it just a passing fad? I think not. The answer is: zombies! They’re not just for Halloween anymore. Read on.

The evidence is all around us, and everybody’s preparing for the zombie apocalypse. First, the small screen came out with a zombie-themed series. (AMC’s The Walking Dead, now in its second season.) And coming in December, a major-studio zombie movie, (World War Z) starring Brad Pitt! The mainstream press, and even the CDC website (.gov!) is weighing in with guidelines as to how to best weather a hypothetical zombie outbreak. Most importantly, the definitive handbook to the zombie threat, “The Zombie Survival Guide” by Max Brooks (former Saturday Night Live writer and son of Mel Brooks), explicitly states that the bicycle is the mode of transport with the best features for escaping from zombie hordes.

Bilenky Cycle Works is also getting ready for this potential/eventual catastrophe. BCW has added zombie historian and certified thoeretical zombiologist Jake Christiansen to the staff. (He’s also working in the paint department, and sometimes, if you call, it just might be Jake answering the phone.) Jake is an expert. When not working at Bilenky Cycle Works, he portrays a zombie at Terror Behind the Walls- the famed haunted house located at the historic former Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Known to insiders as “the Haunt”, Terror Behind the Walls (TBTW) is five minutes by bike from the 23rd Street Armory where the 2011 Philly Bike Expo will again be held on October 29 and 30.

Jake has been sharing his extensive zombie knowledge with BCW’s Isis Shiffer . Isis is directing the presentation of the Philly Bike Expo’s first annual, ZombieCat. This is a world premier! Utilizing Jake as a resource ensures authenticity. ZombieCat- yes, you guessed right: it’s an alleycat- but with zombies! Test your skills against the undead! Win prizes! (Brett Novick of Pedal Pushers’ Club has designed a limited edition commemorative T-shirt!)

Until reading “The Zombie Survival Guide” myself, I had only heard rumors about the connection between bicycles and escaping from zombies. I was under the impression that a cargo bike would be perfect: one could suit up in protective gear, load up with his or her supplies, (weapons, food and water) and go! However, since studying the book and doing my own further research, I have now realized that it is the portage aspect of a bicycle (in addition to its human-powered and essentially noiseless operation) that earns it the Guide’s high recommendation. See, this is where cyclocross comes in again. As more and more people become aware of and involved in the sport, there is increased opportunity for the public to hone the necessary abilities for (un)real and present dangers. And come to think of it- maybe Richard Sachs has been an agent of the FVZA (Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency) all along. Look it up! And maybe Jed Kornbluh’s Philadelphia Cyclocross School is really the FVZA’s new secret academy! (Since the closing of the FVZA’s Santa Rosa facility in 1975, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.) At the time of this writing, neither Mr. Sachs nor Mr. Kornbluh could be reached for comment.

Serious cyclists already ride with strength and precision. We’re tough and not afraid to get dirty. We will be in a unique position to help others in the weeks ahead by encouraging them to get in shape and get on a bike. And when the terrible time arrives, the owners of the best equipped, lightest, and most maneuverable bicycles (and those who know how to use them) will be able to make a quick getaway. And don’t forget the helmet. It’ll shield your brain in more ways than one!


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