Background. Every cyclist and every driver in the U.S. should be required to spend time in Portland. At 5pm Friday I stepped out of the Oregon Manifest show onto N. Weidler Street on my way back across the river to the aptly-named Hotel Deluxe. I don't think I moved for the next twenty minutes as a constant stream of commuting cyclists rode by: young and old; male and female; on all manner of bikes.
Commuting year round in the bay area I'm lucky if I see half-a-dozen cyclists coming or going on my South bay route (and that's during the summer months). In Portland there were that many cyclists stopped at every red light. It was an amazing sight and an inspiring glimpse of how transportation should be working everywhere.
It's no wonder then that Portland and the North West has such a rich bike builder culture. I met stock analysts, librarians, big company escapees and backshop mechanics at the show, and they all wanted to turn their passion for the bicycle into their day & night job.
There was Sean Chaney at Vertigo Cycles who took a class in titanium welding and hasn't looked back. His beefy cross design sported massive bowed chainstays and unique top tube ports for internal cable routing. Per local custom the bike was unwashed.
Dave at Velvet Cycles works in steel when he's not working the stacks. In addition to a sweet Track bike with kryptonite green cranks, seatpost, handlebar and hubs, there was an off-road fixed rig with what I called "Suicide" seat stays (pic) that showcase his refined hand-filing skills. The stays look great, like they'd been cut from bar stock, but Dave will be testing them for durability before declaring them a regular starter.
Joseph Ahearne's bicycles, complete with elegant racks were standouts with stylish touches like the celtic headtube badge, double top tube, two-tone paint, fenders and gracefully arcing handlebars.
333Fab is Maxwell Kullaway and Bernard Georges of Seattle. The team builds race bikes in steel and titanium, with a judicious use of carbon where appropriate. Slate Olson was riding his 333fab singlespeed in the Cross Crusade that Sunday... I'll take that as a ringing endorsement.
Of all the materials employed by the craftsmen at the show, none was more surprising and intriguing than wood. Renovo's R2 road frame (pic), available in a variety of woods was notable for it's blend of old school material and high-tech manufacturing. And there was the Wheel Fanatyk's gorgeous, luminous Ghisallo wood rims (pic). Available to accept tubs or clinchers, these wheels are reputed to smooth out the worst road surfaces. They certainly were pretty.
Vanilla and Sacha White were in the house with several bikes including the offshoot Speedvagen - brand cross bike that graced the Edge Composites booth at Interbike. Light, fast and unquestionably durable, Speedvagen is really the only way to satisfy your taste for Vanilla with the full-custom waiting list stretching out five years (and for the foreseeable future closed to new orders).
The new offerings from Perren Street merit much more attention than I'm about to give them here, but fear not, with so many pieces on the way to the Velodramatic wardrobe, there's plenty of time and miles to give them the coverage they deserve.
I count myself lucky to have met and spent time with Graeme Raeburn, the latest addition to Rapha's design team. Graeme expertly walked me through the nuances and refinements of the collection, and there's an impressive number of them to catalog.
I've already admitted the Winter Gilet was my favorite piece; a no-questions acquisition that's going to see lots of action as the weather turns cooler. Five pockets, shaped tricot collar, quiet softshell fabric with Hytrel® membrane and a cut that marries comfort and style are what makes this undeniably pro.
The same fabric finds an equally compelling deployment in the long-awaited softshell winter gloves (pictured above) and here. I'd ordered these last winter but Rapha's quality control czar rejected them as substandard. Now they're back, production issues have been resolved, and they're definitely worth the wait. The light softshell fabric provides a second-skin fit with just the right amount of compression. I slipped on the medium and for a moment considered running for the door. Patience. I can wait a week or two more for supple, sniper-padded, leather and softshell bliss.
While I wait for the gloves, I'll be enjoying the tailored minimalism of the Fixed Jacket, but I'll save that report for another post, this one has run its course.