March 4th, 2011

Introducing the "Happy Bicycle", from HIGH MINDED bicycle Co.

Why didn't someone tell me earlier, I wasting my time designing a new bike for air travelers, that someone had beaten me to the punch? Why did it take until today, for someone to email me a link to the Happy Bicycle?

When next you travel to some alien land, don't walk around not knowing what to do with your hands, afraid people might know you're a tourist. Blend right into the peloton, on your own Happy Bicycle, from HIGH MINDED Bicycle Co.. Travel can be taxing, not knowing when you might find the next toilet, so wear an incontenance pad in your undies, while you ride your Happy Bicycle, from HIGH MINDED Bicycle Co.. Consider wearing a drink hat so you don't dehydrate, on your Happy Bicycle, balancing your fluids right there in the privacy of your own pants. Blend in even more with zinc cream the colour of locals' skin, and that way be sun smart, well hydrated, and never in need of a wee, as you wiz about sightseeing, on your Happy Bicycle from HIGH MINDED Bicycle Co., in Shanghai. 

From the mission statement of HIGH MINDED Bicycle Co:
"I go with the trend!" This is still HIGH MINDED spirit! Inspired by the spirit of this, yet the creativity and imagination HIGH MINDED has been greatly play, HIGH MINDED companies still design and produce the original of the world, have complete independent intellectual property rights "suitcase-folding bike," This is not only to people's lives has brought great convenience, but also to fill the gaps in the field of world cycling, the level of China's bicycle industry became a world leader.
Fabulous stuff. How long before Eurovision's boundaries incorporate China? Because Ukraine needs to know how it feels for we imperialists' children, when the Nouveau riche move onto our blocks, acting like they know how to be. Of course, while I laugh, one in every million Chinese will buy a Happy Bicycle from HIGH MINDED Bicycle Co., in Shanghai, and push that company's sales past Giant's and Electra's combined. Go ahead China, steal our industry. Be the biggest maker, and market. You can't take our snootiness.

The Scrap Deluxe by Velorbis [Review]

Product reviews bring readers to blogs. So, if you're lonely, and want readers, write a review, on your washing machine, long haired cat, new jeans, whatever you've got. After three months of owning a Velorbis Churchill Classic, I sat down and wrote a lengthy, detailed review, laying bare any fault I could find after 90 days of solid use, and describing the genuine pleasure this bike had brought me. Now if I type "Velorbis Review" into goggle, I find my blog about architecture and bicycles. You might call reviews a "side line" of mine.

If you have come to this review, because you are thinking of buying a Scrap Deluxe by Velorbis, you will most likely want to read related reviews also: my Velorbis Churchill Classic Review; my earlier review of the Scrap Deluxe ladies model; and my part technical, part art theoretical, review of Balloon Tires. Though I'm more of a writer than a media presenter, I've uploaded a brief clip to youtube as well.

How I came to possess this Scrap Deluxe
Some weeks ago, a comment was left below my now famous Velorbis review, asking for a review comparing the Churchill Classic and Scrap Deluxe. Brassy as ever, I put it to Velorbis that they should give me a Scrap. "How about a loan?" they replied, to which I said they would not want the bike back, once I was finished. I would not be treating this bike as an ornament, as I'm sure some buyers do.

It bides well upon Velorbis, that they have since given me a Scrap Deluxe to review. I could write the most scathing review now, and still keep the bike. You may have noticed Brooks Saddles post unfiltered criticism of their products on their website. Knowing from my earlier review of my Churchill Classic, that I would be merciless, Velorbis have shown great faith in their product, but over and above that, a genuine commitment to transparency, by giving me a bike, no strings attached. It seems manufacturers are learning customers would rather buy products with a few imperfections, than walk into deals with their eyes closed.

The full list of faults
Allow me then to dispel anyone's suspicions, that I might in any way be beholden to the generous donors of my new favourite bike, by being thorough in my criticism of the 3 Velorbi that live in my house.

Some paint on the chain-side chainstay of my 1 year old Churchill Classic has come off in flakes. Sure, the bike is kept outside, and I live by the beach, and that WD40 I have been spraying around might not have helped, and maybe they're stone chips, but doesn't anyone make a titanium bike of this kind, for anal oxidizationphobes such as myself? My wife's Scrap Deluxe ladies bike—that she purchased after reading my other review—came with a plastic head-badge, not a chromed aluminium one, as specified. Now the fake chrome finish is peeling. Also, her handlebars show rust where I accidentally scratched them with my son's scooter (if you're reading this Primrose, the situation was desperate, the poor love was crying with a graze on his ankle, very loudly, etc., and if the bars were made of stainless as specified, you would never have needed to know any of this). For the sake of my marriage, I hope Velorbis will leave a comment below, to let us know if perhaps my wife's bike was part of some dodgy batch, for which a few inferior parts might have been substituted? Okay, and to wrap up the issue of rust, so precious to precious coastal dwellers like me, I should point out that the rear racks of my Churchill Classic, that admittedly I have bashed around (isn't that what rear racks are for?), are showing signs of rust too. Rust specs keep showing through the chrome cranks, but thus far I have been able to polish them clean with aluminium foil.

A few days after posting this review, Velorbis wrote to advise that since late 2010, all their rear carriers are galvanized before painting, all handlebars are now stainless steel (no exception), and, "Pedal arms are now alloy and the crank wheel is powder coated to protect against rust".

The take home message for me, is that they are reading and taking an interest. The take home message for you, should be that I have a unique situation living here near the surf. I watch aluminium oxidize! Plus all bikes get paint chips from use. Unless you live near the beach, you should be able to just dab them with nail polish and forget all about it.    

My thoughts about how these are made
Regular Behooving Moving readers will know, how I agonize over outsourcing. Velorbis don't hide the fact that they are based in Denmark, and have their frames made in Germany. This could explain why their frames have always had a braze-on gear cable end, on the right chainstay, that was redundant back when they used SRAM7 gear hubs, and is still redundant now they have swapped to Shimano. If their office was attached to their factory, I'm sure this little matter would have been fixed in an instant. But this is just how the bike business rolls. Frames and parts can be sourced from the ends of the earth, and will most often all fit together with only minor interface problems. The alternative would be brake levers made by frame makers: very "agricultural", as CB would say.

Upon taking delivery of my FREE Scrap Deluxe, I decided to atomize my Churchill Classic. Tinkering. I'm a tinkerer. My disappointment with the paint on that chainstay, was quickly forgotten, as the joy of disassembling a well put together machine grew with each component laid on the floor. All the fixings are indeed stainless. No signs of rust on the fenders. Nothing overtightened, or loose. It struck me actually, just how much work goes into making bikes such as these. The sheer labour involved in assembly, makes such a bike worth the money. Whoever Velorbis are paying to build these things up, while they focus on marketing, knows what they are doing.

European mystique
However, we must remember, that while the English speaking world was seeing bicycles as sporting equipment, the Europeans kept on knocking out sturdy commuting bikes by the millions. America's rediscovery of utility bikes, the kind we're now seeing news of from NAHBS, has the smell of a novelty event, work bikes fussed over as though they were jewelry. The Europeans slap bikes together, more like Hill's Hoists, or wheel barrows, or hammers, than Swiss watches or whatever those crazy Americans think bikes should be. The welds are tidy enough, but would win no "Best Welding" ribbons. The problem such matter-of-fact bike makers in Europe now face, is that C-word, China, from whence most Europeans' bikes emanate now.

So can these bike makers stay afloat, by marketing their European made bikes to England's former colonies, as somehow noble or chic? Given our propensity for self-flagellation, and our authenticity fetish, it shouldn't be hard. To wit, Velorbis now issue their bikes with lush leather envelopes in which to keep "service records". It makes one wonder if Velorbis have service centers all over Europe. They do? You're pulling my leg! Please, if you do present your service record card to your local bicycle mechanic, could you film their reaction? We would all love to see it.

Mock though I might, I buy into this too. And be honest, you wouldn't be reading my blog if you weren't effete too. Just yesterday, some lovely naïveté crossed the street beaming, to ask where I had purchased such a lovely machine. "Oh, they come from Denmark," I told her. "They cost $2000—though this one was given to me, to review for my Blog. Est-ce que tu parle francais?" And she said, "Oui."  Me: "Voulez-vous avoir le sexe?"

My rigorous road test
But if you're running late, fighting traffic, carrying loads, lost, sweating, and have burning thighs, all the Euro cache in the world wont compensate for a crap bike. Like atomizing my Churchill Classic to see if it's actually well made, I decided to put my Scrap Deluxe to the ultimate bicycling challenge. Could I use this bike to visit a few shops around Newtown, Woolloomooloo and the office district of Sydney, dine at my favourite restaurant in China Town, meet a friend for an after-work drink back at Wynyard, then make it to another friend's house in Bondi before her early bed time, not really knowing my way? With my pannier loaded for an overnight trip, and my clipless pedals in place of the flats, I gave it a try.   

For my serious concrete-jungle assault, I found the Scrap Deluxe mostly up to the task. The thin retro steel framing tubes provide less lateral rigidity than would be ideal when hammering out of the saddle; the power doesn't go straight to the road. If you want that, buy a Cannondale. I worried on a few big descents that those drum brakes might not pull me up, if I went as fast as I might have—though I know disc brakes need maintenance, and drum brakes just are. In any case, not many riders, me included, would make a habit of speeding down steep roads choked with cars. Aside from the weakish type brakes, and lateral sway, no other inadequacies in the bike ever took my mind from my task. That's the real test of a bike when put through a challenging ride. The Shimano Nexus gears, that Velorbis have switched to from SRAM7, change every bit as well as Shimano's highly regarded Alfine rear hub, that I guess only costs more because it is lighter. The old style cranks weren't at all flimsy. The riding position is perfect, in my opinion, as I remarked on with my review of the Churchill. Upright enough to feel safe. Forward enough that you're able to climb and accelerate. It's an overall thumbs-up as well for Schwalbe's Fat Franks. I wrote this boffin piece about the rolling resistance of balloon tires, without making mention of how sure-footed they are. Heading down Military Road from Vaucluse to Bondi (yes, I had missed a few turnoffs), it was reassuring to know my tires weren't about to stray into any cracks in the old concrete surface. Arriving to a hero's welcome—"You rode all the way from the city on that big old bike"—made it all worth it.

Some technical details worth mentioning are: the new school cartridge style bottom bracket, showing we don't have to live in the dark ages for the sake of being cool; the silver cable outer, that just looks better than black; and the full swag of prestige components, like Bush and Muller lights and Brooks leather everything.
Scrap Deluxe or Churchill Classic?

If having to choose one over the other (the Scrap Deluxe or Churchill Classic) I would probably take The Churchill Classic, for the added puncture resistance of those Schwalbe Marathon tires. Marathons have a 5mm thick SmartGuard® strip, protecting against such things as thumb tacks or grass seeds. Fat Franks have a protective Kevlar belt, or Kevlar®Guard, that while not adding so much to rolling resistance as SmartGuard® strips (something lower pressure fat tires cannot afford), is unlikely to stop a thumb tack, large piece of glass, or wire strand from puncturing your tube.

I would choose the slightly more practical bike because the joy, for me, of a fully equipped utility bike, lies mostly in the getting around. The slightly increased risk of enduring a flat with those supple Fat Franks, weighs more heavily than the compliments and looks that I am missing out on, because the Scrap is more showy. I should say as well, that the big wheels and slender forks provide the Churchill Classic a slightly more comfortable ride than those fat tires on the Scrap could ever match, even if you were prepared to go slower and let out some air.

In a round and about way, I guess I'm recommending the Scrap Deluxe if you want a bike for making the scene, and the Churchill Classic if—like me—you rely on your bike for transport and really don't want any flats. Not that my Churchill is much use to me while it's lying in pieces! Neither have I punctured on my Scrap—aside from on the first day, but then I hadn't yet put my Dr. Sludge in.

Concoction of a Faux Modernist Masterpiece
Let us conclude though with some lyrical waxing over this bike's fabulous looks, that after all, are what most likely piqued your interest to find this review. Whatever I might say about paint—and my Primrose's silver Scrap shows little sign of troubles yet—I cannot fault Velorbis's style sense. Cream, silver and leather. No itchy hand wanting to add a splash of maroon. I want Velorbis to lie to me, say these are made in Walter Gropius's Fagus-Werke factory. Could they be? Please! And could some photos of Scraps be arranged inside the Maison de Verre? or on the ramps of the Penguin Pool in Regent's Park Zoo? They should be sold, of course, in William Crabtree's Peter Jones Store in Chelsea, London. I am referring only to pioneering Modernist works, not in America, because this is the bike I wish we could say someone designed at the Bauhaus. I want to hear Schwinn stole the idea of the balloon bike, from some famous European architect/furniture designer/minimalist composer and action writer. 

Indeed, if I told you right now that Le Corbusier himself had designed it, and that royalties from every sale went to his estate, you might just agree, that it's not worth buggering up some good stories for the sake of the facts. Let us agree, right here and now, that someone from Velorbis was conducting archival research in Paris, when they uncovered plans for this bike in Le Corbusier's archive, signed by Le Corbusier, 1932. Thus a classic of the early Modernist era was brought to light, and made commercially available, allowing us now to indulge our nostalgia for that period in history, while staying fit, and beating traffic. Nice.