Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Babes in BikeLand III - Minneapolis

A Grown Man's Very Good Day!

So I’m in Minneapolis on business and decide to drop in on my friend Erik Noren of Peacock Groove Cycles. I figured I’d do an interview with him for the Fixed Gear Gallery website.

During the interview, (soon to come - see the bottom of this page for a sneak peek at this controversial frame-builder,) he mentions Babes in Bikeland III. This is a women’s only alley cat race around Minneapolis on Saturday evening. Did I say women only?! Who am I to turn down such an invitation.

Over 160 women lined up for the start of the race in between the old Pillsbury grain elevator and the old soap factory in the St. Anthony Falls section of north Minneapolis. What an incredible variety of bike enthusiasts! And truly, "enthusiasm" is the best word to describe what I saw.  This is Carrie, last year's winner of the Babes in Bikeland II.  She's standing with one of Erik's show bikes...this one a tribute to the Kill Bill movies.

Chelsea and Kayla were the race organizers, and did a great job. They even sold the beer cups at the after party.

Unlike most alley cats with men racing, it seemed that most of the 160+ women were sharing their ideas and plotting out their plans for the race together.  Sometime in pairs, sometimes in groups of three or four.  Here are a few shots of the gals planning their routes with the provided checkpoint maps.

I love this picture of one woman's route notes...on her arm.

And some helpful men standing around the start too!

Here's a short video of the start of the race.

The winner of the race, Jana, took about one hour and twenty minutes to complete the course and return with a correct manifest.  She smoked all the others.  She won a custom tig-welded frame from Erik Noren at Peacock Groove Cycles.  (Thanks to I Bike Mpls for the image link.)

The after-party in the alley behind One On One Bike Shop was incredible.  Hundreds of people celebrating, kegs of beer, silly bike antics, and Swag!

This was a great celebration of cycling in Minneapolis.  Next fall, when you're starting to feel sorry for yourself because of dwindling beach hours and that sudden drop in temps....saddle up and show up for the Babes in BikeLand Alley Cat.  Guaranteed a good time.  Thanks gals!

And for those of you who don't know Erik Noren of Peacock Groove Cycles, here's a sneak peak at some raw footage from my interview with him.  WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE AND PORTLAND BASHING!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Steelwool Bicycles "Tweed" Review

Steelwool Bicycles Tweed (Ottawa, Canada)

Expedition Touring Frame & Fork $680 Canadian ($625 USD)

Complete Bike as Reviewed Approx $1100 Canadian ($1009 USD)

Since the very first day last year when the Steelwool ad showed up on the FG website, I wanted to get my paws on one of their bikes. I liked the lugged steel, and simple paint scheme. But, alas, they had no American dealers as yet.

Fast forward a year or so, and I get the advance copy of Where Are You Go, a documentary about the Tour d’Afrique (the race/tour from Cairo to Capetown in Africa.)

We were planning to show it as the feature presentation at this year’s FGG Symposium Film Night. As it turns out Steelwool is one of the film’s sponsors and their bikes are featured in it. This gave me the idea to get one of the bikes to ride and showcase during the week of Fixed Gear Symposium events. Will, from Steelwool, was all about that idea.

The Steelwool website features three main production bikes; two street bikes, generally known as the Sweet City Limited, designed for the fixed gear crowd, (the 200 series limited, and the 300 series limited,) and the Tweed; the subject of this review. When Will asked which of their bikes I wanted, I told him it should be the Tweed, a tweaked out multi-purpose rig, and not either of their street offerings. Most of the bikes we review here are street-fare. I saw an opportunity to review something more flexible and substantial.

As delivered, the bike came ready to ride, minus a set of pedals. In fact, within ten minutes of slicing open the box, and stealing a set of used platforms off the shelf in Dennis’s store, I had pumped up the tires and was riding down the road. They sent the bike in its fixed gear configuration, loaded with Steelwool branded goodies. The review bike is an XL, according to their website, featuring a seat tube measuring 59 cm effective c-c, and a matching 59 cm, slightly sloping top tube.

As far as XL bikes go, this is a tad on the small side. This sloping top tube configuration gives the bike a tight feeling in the cockpit. On a standard frame, I need a 61 or 62cm seat tube to make it work. The Tweed’s slack geometry makes it easy to stretch it out to a comfortable size for me, and also makes it possible for a wider range of riders to hop on. And it’s a great feeling to be in the woods on road bike with a hefty standover clearance. I will say the XL is likely at its limit with a rider of about 6’2” in height.

The bike shines with old-school sheen. The muted green basecoat along with the contrasting brown patches on the down-tube and top-tube give it a vintage feeling. This is reinforced by the classic brazed lug construction. The frame is made of Tange Prestige double butted tubing and is no lightweight. The feeling, however, is one of a sturdy, stiff, bike that will go anywhere you point it, and carry any reasonable load. It also has the accoutrement to prove that out. The frame carries most every braze-on imaginable, from dual water bottle bosses and rack mounts, to an assortment of brake options rivaling the entirety of the mountain bike world: cantilever bosses, drilled fork and bridge for calipers, AND disc mounts. Our review bike features Tektro Oryx cantis, front and rear.

And it doesn’t stop there. One of the key defining features of the Tweed is its eccentric bottom bracket with two adjusting bolts on the top. (All Steelwool bikes have this feature rather than track forks.) There’s a seat tube mounted front derailleur hanger, seat-stay mounted cable runs, a rear derailleur hanger, tight vertical dropouts, and a set of triple cable-bosses on top of the top tube,(just in case you want to shoulder the bike on your next Cyclocross event, or hump it up three flights of stairs like me.) They’ve also included a few special taps for attaching fenders. Steelwool says they designed the bike to fit single-speed, derailleur, and internally geared systems.

The Tweed’s design is the equivalent of a Leatherman multi-tool. You carry it in your pocket because it serves the main purpose of being a knife, but should you need it to do something a bit unusual, you’ll probably find the right tool in there somewhere. This bike seems to epitomize as much a designer’s philosophy as it does a builder’s craft. Here’s a bike that can do it all, without stretching its original intent too far.

Let’s look at the pics:

The Bits:

As delivered, the Tweed was set up in an unusual configuration, and that was by our request. As a heavy expedition or Cyclocross rig, it’s probably not best-suited to the fixed gear world. But, since we were reviewing it for this site, asked them to do their best to comply. The Tweed came to us with a collection of Steelwool branded bits. The wheels look to be a generic aero wheel with a very nice smoky grey anodized, large flange, hub. The hoops themselves are heavy, but the hubs look gorgeous and got a lot of attention while I rode the bike during the symposium. The crankset (144 BCD) is another Taiwanese confection that wears Steelwool’s brand. Nothing special here, but it does the job. The drive train was set at 46x18, a decent gear for tugging all that weight around the streets and the woods.

The bars are a sweet set of “Raundoneur” curvies with a shallow drop. These are designed for the long-haul. They’re fitted with Tektro black levers and dressed up with brown faux leather tape. The stem is another generic thing with a Cane Creek headset. The seat is another generic add-on, but rather comfy, attached to a serviceable seat-post, neither of which will get you running out to buy them on eBay.

The Tweed is sporty. Everyone compliments its aesthetic appeal. It almost begs you to take it off the trail and test it out. Mr. Wizard, at the FGG, thought that would be a good idea, and without much fanfare, got on his new Ridley cyclocross bike and took me to tour the Traverse City Xcross course behind the state hospital. I immediately told him I’d have to go put a freewheel on the back, and he scoffed at that. “Let’s go….right now.” And off we went.


While the gearing wasn’t perfect for the course, the bike easily handled the rolling hills and tight trails. I pounded hard on the pedals and the Tweed responded fluidly. I was surprised at how supple it was in the bottom bracket; not sloppy, just right. To look at that huge concentric BB, you’d think it would be quite stiff, but they’ve figured some magic out with the Tange tubing here. It was very comfortable on even the most dynamic areas of the course, but never seemed to lack power when I had to hammer on it.

During the Symposium, I rode the bike everywhere, putting well over 200 miles on it that week. Moreover, I was anything but gentle with it, (as witness the numerous clear-coat smudges I caused.) I rode hills in Leelanau County, the rollers on the Old Mission Peninsula, and even competed in the hill climb competition on the Tweed. Living its life as a fixed gear ride is likely not the best end for this frame. If it were mine, I’d toss on a good set of wheels with a single speed freewheel, or maybe spring for one of the new internally geared hubs.


Buy the frame and fork and just try to beat them up. The bike is gorgeous, with classic lines, even with its sloping top tube. It has every brazed-on bit you could ever imagine using, and the eccentric bottom bracket will make for easy and fast chain tensioning. As ridden, it’s definitely not a bike I’d take out with the big road dogs here. They’d drop me in a minute. The bike’s weight is its main drawback. Most of that weight, however, comes from the solid frame designed to carry just about anything. Unfortunately, the parts that came with this build were simply distractions. I wouldn’t recommend them, excepting for the hubs and the bars. But I must add here, this was not Steelwool’s call. They would’ve preferred sending one of their lighter street-ready rigs.

The slack geometry on this bike makes it feel more like driving a big old sedan than the sports cars we’re used to reviewing here. But, as SNL’s Linda Richman would say…”It’s like butter!” It’s low center of gravity, combined with high bottom bracket, long wheelbase, and masculine tubing present a formidable counter assault to any obstacle in your way. Throw down the fact that it can handle innumerable configurations, take huge loads, and feels comfortable on long rides, makes this bike beg to have S&S couplers installed so you can take it anywhere you go at the drop of chain-ring bolt.

The Up Side:

  • Super tough lugged Tange Prestige Frame and Fork $680 Canadian
  • Incredibly versatile
  • Braze-on heaven
  • Aesthetically gorgeous with classic lines
  • Eccentric bottom bracket with top-mounted Allen set screws
  • Beefy, beefy, beefy
  • Smooth ride with great degree of adjustability
  • Fits up to 38mm tires with fenders
  • Disc brake mounts
  • Frame and fork good value for level of workmanship

And the Down Low:

  • Heavy
  • Eccentric Bottom Bracket scares some people
  • I’d like to see a higher end build available with better bits
  • Track nuts on front axle slightly larger than flange on dropouts.(When I first tightened the nuts down, they had the wheel shift a bit from its fully seated position in the dropouts.)
  • Pricey at first glance (Remember to convert currency from Canadian)
  • XL should be at least a centimeter longer on the top tube to accommodate taller riders.

The Short of It:

This bike may in fact be the only mathematical defense to the N+1 rule. It feels like I’m getting five bikes for the price of one with this Canadian beauty, ((N+1)-4) anyone? Buy the gorgeous frame and fork, leave the bits behind.

See the full video version of this review here:

Hyperlink References:

Steelwool Bicycles: www.steelwoolbicycles.ca

Tour d’Afrique Race/Tour: http://www.tourdafrique.com/epictours/tourdafrique

Where Are You Go – Movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NpubbAzKSY

Lostgears’ Flickr Set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/billpalladino/sets/72157622245366722/

Tweed On The Trail Video File:


Lostgears’ Video Review File: