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“New Stuff” by — surprise — Mike Librik, the low-tech guy himself

You do see the sledge hammerIt has been a while since I had a chance to talk over some new products in the shop. This may be old news to some. Sorry if some of this is “long attention span theater.” Just read until you are bored.

TerraTrike EVO-Bosch:  Last year, TerraTrike introduced their first version of the Rambler EVO, a trike with a factory-installed electric conversion kit. Despite a few rapid price hikes during its first months of availability, it remained a good deal on an electric trike. I had some disappointments with the design. Though TT created an elegant mounting system for the battery, we still didn’t have a frame that was really built from the ground up, ready to mount a battery like you see on more finished upright e-bikes. No biggie. I was concerned about the Falco motor they spec’d since, as a former Falco dealer, I’d had a few problems with these systems. TerraTrike used simplified, pre-programmed control software intended to avoid all the fussy fidgeting with motor parameters that ate up a lot of my time. OK, we’ll see. Once we started getting EVO’s out on the street, we had some complaints from big people with steep hills that the motor didn’t have the torque to get them up their worst climbs. Hmmph.

Lately, my greatest fears were realized and TT got reports of motor systems doing some unpredictable things. This was my experience from my days selling Falco kits. TT asked us to stop selling the EVO, leaving both them and us with expensive, but unsellable inventory sitting on hand.

But, good news… the revised EVO has arrived with a Bosch motor system. Like the Shimano STEPS system we’re seeing on ICE and AZUB trikes, this system replaces the crankset, not the rear wheel. This means you lose your front derailer, but with an electric assist your low gears are much less important. It gives greater low-speed torque, so for the critical business of getting you up the worst hills, it is better suited. Since it doesn’t affect your rear wheel, you have a greater number of choices in transmission. The new EVO-Bosch comes with a plain old 8-speed derailer, but we’re working on them to pair the Bosch motor with a NuVinci continuously-variable transmission which has proven to be such an effective combination with the STEPS systems we’ve sold on AZUB trikes.

Once again the price went up, since the Bosch system costs more than Falco, but you get what you pay for. We’re expecting a retrofit kit for the lower-priced Falco system so we can clear out our remaining inventory of that model, and I expect we will focus on the Bosch-equipped EVO’s. More about that as we start playing with the new systems. I wish TT had used STEPS since we know it better, but here comes another learning experience for us.

Bionx crumbles: I tried to stay optimistic about a revival of Bionx, our Canadian e-motor supplier, but I’ve lost heart. We’ve liquidated our remaining inventory, mainly to existing Bionx customers to get them reserve parts. Much like when BikeE went under 18 years ago, I’m reluctant to create new dependent customers, even at a discount. I want to support what I sell.

The big question is “what next?” We need a reliable e-motor conversion system.

  • I don’t see myself picking up Falco again. See my article on the EVO above. Hub motors offer great versatility, but I’m not looking to go down that path again.
  • With “mid-drive” motors like STEPS and Bosch delivering better climbing torque, and with bike component design catching up with this new innovation, I’m ready to embrace mid-drive motors. I was strongly resistant to earlier systems for recumbents that actually had the motor at “mid drive,” halfway back on the frame. I didn’t like seeing the motor, with all its torque and force, bolted haphazardly onto the frame of the trike in some place that the frame maker never intended for torque to be placed. Mounting the motor at the crankset makes sense. STEPS would be my choice, but like Bosch, it requires the frame to be built specially for the purpose of holding the motor. “No problem,” I think, since on most trikes nowadays that just means a re-designed boom, not a whole new frame. Unfortunately, the trike makers aren’t helping. AZUB will sell us STEPS booms, so no problem. ICE only wants to sell STEPS booms with new trikes and won’t let us do a retrofit. TerraTrike has thrown in their lot with Bosch. Hopefully I’ll be able to get Bosch TT booms for retrofits on newer TT models (no dice for Rover or older Tour models). Catrike has been keeping a low profile. They doubtless have something planned, but so far, they are no help.
  • There is a whole zoo of retrofit mid-drive kits, which is the most likely replacement. Bafang is the one most people are familiar with. These replace the crankset on any trike without needing special frame fittings. Currently, no company selling these is set up like Bionx was – which was to specifically support dealers like me. I can do like many online dealers do and track down someone in China and have them ship me a pallet-load of them, but that isn’t what I’m looking for. We’ve talked with some Bafang retailers about giving us a small discount and selling the kit for a competitive price, charging for installation (we never needed to do this with Bionx which sold at a more respectable margin). There are many other companies making similar things, but they are all sold direct to the consumer online. Several customers are waiting for me to decide on something, but I remain the same plodder I’ve been since 1996.

When I finally make up my mind, I’ll let you all know. But if I am going to sell a product, then I’m damn well going to support it. I’ve been fiddling with and using e-assist for nearly 20 years now, and I know about the range of quality and the problems which can arise. I’m not going to put my stamp on something without demonstrated quality and manufacturer support. More on this as it develops.

TerraTrike Gran Tourismo: TerraTrike’s new flagship trike is establishing itself as a popular model, as it should. It isn’t their most expensive offering, which suits me fine. TT has always been, in my mind, the trike for the masses and it is good of them to put their focus at a lower price point in their range. And best of all, the way the GT comes shipped makes it easy for us to offer a range of colors and spec level without having to special order. We can get you the GT you want quickly.

I’ve not much else to add about that. It is a good trike at a good price. You have to ride it to see if it is really for you, but offering that service is why we’re here.

Lightning Phantom: One of my favorite 2-wheelers has received an upgrade. The Phantom now comes with hydraulic disk brakes standard, as well as better tires. Yes, the price went up, but that’s how it always goes. On the flip side, I’ve still got some older model Phantoms and I can cut a deal. Talk with me directly if you are interested.

Adventure HD with STEPS: We’ve sold a few STEPS systems, but finally got a demonstrator model on the floor. This means we also have the scaled-up Adventure “HD” model permanently in the showroom as well. As an ICE demonstrator, we’ll be able to rent this out for people considering a purchase who want to see if it will carry them up that godawful hill in their neighborhood. I haven’t gone through and priced that yet, but as usual rentals would be 5% of retail for a 24-hour overnight rental, or 2.5% for an afternoon “get it back today” rental. ICE has gone insanely cushy on the Adventure seat. This company does nothing by half-measures.

More Electronic Gizmos: Mike Librik (me, that is) is this low-tech guy who just wants to see your bicycle run forever. He is not into sophisticated electronic gizmos, even though many of his customers are. So I hire people like Ron and Micah who are more gee-whiz than I am.

So it is with a sort of reserved professional enthusiasm that I tell you that new Cateye Sync lights can be synchronized and controlled through a smart phone app, or through each other. You can also monitor battery levels in the lights through the app. I’ll have to go get one of those smart phones some day. I’m still getting over buying the laptop computer. Never mind that SkyNet, or the Cylons, or the HAL 9000, can now turn off your bike lights from some satellite somewhere when you are trying to cross a busy intersection in the rain at 2AM during the lush rush. I’d better just let you call Micah and ask him about this.

Speaking of gee-whiz electronic gizmos, the Cycliq cameras (“cyclic?” “cycle IQ?”) have either a headlight (the Fly12) or taillight model (the Fly6), and they store the last few minutes of riding footage. Why do this? While we’d like to assure you that motorists and cyclists always co-exist in mature harmony, this isn’t always the case. If you are harassed on the road, you will wish you had some evidence, and now you do. Indeed, if you are hit by an irresponsible driver who then flees the scene, you really need evidence. Cycliq cameras also have a security alarm that will complain if the bike is moved with the alarm active, and it will “bluetooth” connect to your phone to alert you, if you are in range.

Well … I surprised myself.  Didn’t know I had that much to say about the newest gizmos, but there ya go.

The Texas Trike Shootout

The newest event at Easy Street’s Heart of Texas Recumbent Rally is the Texas Trike Shootout.  I expect this event to be exclusive to the 2019 rally.

texas trike shootout

Back in the 1990’s when ESR got started, the #1 recumbent news source was Recumbent Cyclist News, and editor Bob Bryant did reviews of any ‘bent he could get his hands on.  When Bryant managed to get two closely-competing bike or trike designs in his stable at once, he’d do a dual, comparative review called a “shootout.”  I’m borrowing that term here.

Earlier in 2018, Bacchetta Bikes made a splash at Recumbent Cycle Con by introducing the Bacchetta CT2.0 carbon racing trike.  The CT 2.0 took an existing European design and enhanced it with innovations used by Bacchetta, known mainly for making fast recumbent two-wheelers.  Prior to this, there were only two “fast trikes” that one could buy “off the rack,” so to speak:  The Catrike 700 and the ICE VTX.

I will not knock the 700’s speed, but it keeps a lot of sport-touring ideas, like the mesh seat and rear disk drag brake, and a plethora of standard accessories for comfort.  It was not a full-blown “win at any price” trike like the VTX, with its carbon shell seat, titanium axles, and meticulously analyzed and hydroformed frame geometry.

2019 ICE VTXThe VTX is the one to beat.  Can the CT 2.0 do it?

Well, let’s find out!  At the 2019 rally, Bacchetta and ICE pit crews will be attending with their trikes.  Here is how it will work.

  1. A select group of rally attendees, probably 10-15 people, will each race both models.  (See below for how we’ll decide who races.)  These races will be competitive with both trikes on the course at one time.
  2. We’ll lay out an out-and-back course, making a steady climb to a turn-around, so climbing speed is a factor.  The trikes will circle a pole before returning, so turning radius and turning stability is a factor.  Then the trikes descend to the finish, so top speed is a factor.
  3. We will measure all the individual times for each trike.  We will also count total wins.  The trike with the lowest overall time across all riders wins.  The trike with the most individual victories wins.  Most likely these measurements point to the same winner, but I’d be curious to see why if they don’t.
  4. We will see how an individual’s times compare on each trike, and the companies can look into why different people’s times vary.
  5. We intend for a variety of people to race, not just the biggest, fastest people.  Sure, someone signed up for the Warriors’ ride will ride faster than someone signed up for the Scenic ride, but we’d like men, women, short, tall, big, small, old, young… a wide variety of people to race these.  All this is to help both companies make a better racing trike.  And we’re doing it to have fun!
  6. The course will be laid out to give a competitive spectacle but also to be safe.  We don’t want anyone dying for the cause, here.
  7. We’ll aim to give lots of people a crack at this, but we will limit the number of racers just because we figure people will only want to watch two trikes race each other for so long.  We will do some time trials on Friday to determine who will race, along with our own selection criteria.  So, let us know id you want to do it (email works, use culture@wemakecyclingeasy.com), get there on the early side, and make sure you are on the list when you arrive.
  8. Whether you race or not, you’ll be able to ride both trikes.  Experts will be on hand to help you get off that low seat! We’ve got all weekend and lots of opportunities to ride.
  9. The CT 2.0 will not be available for sale until summer of 2019.  Come ride it and race it in the spring!  If you are on the fence about ordering this trike, this will give you a better chance to check it out than you might have had at Recumbent Cycle Con in Nashville.  The 2019 VTX will be available in January of 2019, and will be on display in Austin from that time
  10. If you want to race then contact trikemike@wemakecyclingeasy.com and let me know, but it isn’t essential that you do.  Please get to the rally as soon as you can so we can put you in the time trials.  Just because you aren’t the fastest rider doesn’t mean you shouldn’t race.  Leggy Lance bike racer types are welcome, but so is fat old granny.  We want a diverse range of riders, and since each rider’s times count toward both trikes, we’ll still be doing a balanced assessment of the trikes even if Lance vs. granny isn’t a balanced race.

That’s it.  Since I don’t foresee a product release like this every year, expect this laid-back showdown only at the 2019 HOT Rally in Keller.

Specifying a custom AZUB tricycle

For information specific to AZUB’s 2-wheelers, look here.

Like many high-end recumbent makers, AZUB typically builds your trike to order and gives you lots of choices.  This is a good thing so long as you know what you want and don’t find all these decisions intimidating.  We’ll lay our your major choices specifying the parts on your AZUB.  You don’t have to read all this, we can just listen to your wants, needs, and budget and work up the spec for you.

The basic distinctions

AZUB essentially offers three different trikes, distinguished by what level of suspension you want.  The T-Tris is unsuspended (no shock absorption), the TriCon is rear suspended (suspension on the rear wheel only), and the Ti-Fly is fully suspended.

There are two other trikes.  The Ti-Fly X is a Ti-Fly reconfigured in front to work with larger front wheels, specifically for rugged off-road use.  The FAT is a T-Tris redesigned in the rear end and in the front hubs to accommodate extra-wide tires for sand, snow, mud, or other challenges.

The feel of all these trikes are similar in the seat choices and the handling.  The rear suspended TriCon and Ti-Fly are more stretched out and not as nimble as the T-Tris, and they weigh more.  If you are looking at an electric assist then suspension is likely more worth it, since you’ll be heavier and moving faster, meaning bumps will clatter you around more.

You have your choice in seat height in any of these models.  They all come stock with a low seat, but if you want a more casual trike that is easy to get in and out of, you can specify a high seat adapter on any of the trikes.

You also get your choice in rear wheel diameter on all three.  A 20 inch wheel is more compact, more nimble, and more foldable.  It gives a lower range of gears and is naturally stronger than a larger wheel, especially under hard turning.  a 26″ wheel gears higher using most transmission systems.  Our rule of thumb is if you are the sort of rider who likes to pedal when going downhill, to see what kind of top speed you can hit, then you’ll want a 26″ rear wheel.  A larger rear wheel is also smoother riding, but this only applies to the unsuspended T-Tris.  If you want a fast AZUB trike when you probably want a 26″ T-Tris without the high seat adapter.  However, AZUB does not optimize for speed.  Their designs focus on ruggedness for touring.

All the trike frames will split apart for transport.  You can make any into a folding trike by adding in the folding hinge and a few other parts specifically to make the trike easier to disassemble.  This is best done at the time of purchase, but any non-folding AZUB trike can be made to fold by getting these parts.

Transmission

These are your “gears.”  The primary questions about transmission are:

  1. How wide a range of gears do you want?  That is, do you want to have both really low gears for climbing and really high gears for speed?  A more narrow range of gears can get you one or the other, or something in between.
  2. Do you want the convenience of internal gearing?  Internally gearing lets you shift when stopped and is easier to maintain.  All the complicated bits are inside, making them much rugged.  However, they cost more than traditional derailer gearing.  They usually have a more limited range of gears unless you get really spendy.

Let’s look at our choices as of late 2018.

  • 3×9 derailer gearing.  This is the typical shifting system you see on most bikes.  “Derailers” (often called “derailleurs” if you do Euro-speak) move the chain between different sprockets.  It is the least expensive form of transmission and can be set to have a wide range of gears.  AZUB offers derailer gearing with either trigger shifters or bar end shifters.  We can show you the difference in these shifters when you come by.  Bar end shifters cost a little more.  In terms of gearing range, a 3×9 speed system gets you about a 525% range, meaning your highest gear is 5.25 times “bigger” than your lowest gear.  With a few simple mods we can get this range as high as 670%.
  • NuVinci N380 hub.  This internally geared hub is continuously variable.  There is not a finite number of “speeds.”  It has a 380% range and you can dial any ratio in that range.  There are no jumps between gears and you never lose torque when shifting.  It costs more than derailers and doesn’t have the range, but it is very popular with casual cyclists who don’t plan to attack big hills and like user-friendly feel of a continuously variable transmission.  It is difficult to convey the appeal of this, especially when one is used to using gears on a bike.  But if you are “gear-phobic” and don’t want to shift gears then you should check out this system.  You can widen this gearing range by adding a front derailer, with some restrictions.  (Unofficially, we think AZUB offers this option because their sales staff visited us at the 2017 HOT Rally and saw this mounted on Micah’s AZUB Origami.)
  • Rohloff Speedhub.  There are a lot of internally geared hubs out there, but queen of them all is the Rohloff Speedhub.  Not ones for half-measures, this is the only other stock IG hub option that AZUB offers.  This 14-speed hub has a 526% gearing range, similar to a derailer system.  This is a durable, heavy duty IG hub intended for long-distance touring use.
  • Pinion 12- and 18- speed system.  The Pinion Drive is an internally geared crankset, meaning the mechanism is all up front, under your pedals.  The 12-speed drive has a 600% range and the 18-speed drive has a 636% range, with much finer graduations between gears.

Brakes

  • Drum brakes.  These are great brakes for trikes.  They are weather sealed and very simple to maintain.  They have a soft feel to their stop.  This is good on a trike because you two front brakes doing all your stopping, so if a stop is too abrupt then you can lift your rear wheel.  We especially recommend the larger, 90mm drum over the standard 70mm drum.  It gives better stopping power but still keeps the “soft” feel.
  • Mechanical disk brakes.  By far the most common trike brake option.  Mechanical disk brakes like the excellent Avid BB-7 brake are powerful, user-serviceable, and so common that any mechanic will know their way around them.  If you often need to remove your front wheels for transport they are the best choice.
  • Hydraulic disk brakes.  These are most powered, best modulated (controls of braking power) and lightest brakes you can buy.  They require very little service, but if they do need service they require special tools and procedures.
More

Naturally, they don’t stop there

  • Dynamo hubs are an option that let you run your lights and electronics off of pedal power.  No more finding a plug to recharge.  A great choice for the self-contained outback triker
  • AZUB offers many color choices as standard options, or for an extra fee they will paint it however you like.  They will even paint different parts (frame, boom, seat, rack, swingarm, etc.) different colors.  Nobody else offers this option.
  • Three different seat sizes are available, depending on your torso length.
  • Tires, pedals, and other parts and accessories can all be specified as you want.

As we said before, the best thing is to tell us what is important to you.  Tell us how you see yourself riding.  We will work with you to finish out your AZUB trike.

Fort Worth shop update — June

Time for a long-overdue update on progress at the new shop.

I’ve long held that one cannot gain wisdom without feeling like an idiot, and I’m feeling a lot wiser now.  I think it is a good thing to have one’s contractor handle the city building permits since they are the one responsible for doing the work, but what I’ve learned is that as client I should take the trouble to follow up with the city and verify that the permits they pulled are the ones they said they’d pull.  Had I done this I wouldn’t be sitting here idle for three weeks.  With a partitioning wall, door reconstruction, rearrangements to the overhead lighting, and some plumbing repairs to do, this fellow went and pulled a permit for paint and carpet work.  A city inspector came by and pointed the problem out to the crew who was there, but the guy in charge did nothing, despite my protests, and they came back and shut down work.

After a lot of prodding I did get this fellow back into the city where we learned we needed an asbestos report done for our carpentry permit, which got done.  And to his credit, my contractor did complete all the permit applications, despite now being charged double for them due to the stop work order.  He didn’t just wash his hands of his little debacle and leave me scrambling to find a replacement.  I can’t say I’d hire this yoyo again, though.

ESRNT sign is upOne bit of progress is that despite the stop work order on doofis, the sign company was able to come and install the big sign in front.  So that warmed my cockles a bit.  Also, our work bench is complete and just waiting for the stop work order to be lifted, probably Monday or Tuesday, so I can get the tools set out.  The same carpenter (a former recumbent shop owner in the DFW area) is finishing up our counter.  Getting computers, tools, and inventory on shelves set out is ready to go, but I’m waiting for the contractor to finish some drywall work.  Once that dust settles there are lots of things ready to go.

Hopefully we’ll manage a soft opening by the end of June.  I’ve learned to moderate my expectations, however.

Work on the trail progresses in a schizophrenic manner.  The concrete contractor got an early start, but the city of Keller asked him to stop since they hadn’t actually issued him a purchase order for the work.  They got that out, and now the work seems to be set back several weeks.  I’ll see what I can do to move that along, but that depends on everyone’s schedules.

I was really glad several months ago when I put the matter of finding the location behind me so I could set to work setting things up.  Now I’m really looking forward to putting this phase behind me.  Me feel wiser every day!

Easy Street Fort Worth update

A view in the back door, which we contrarily plan to make into the main showroom entrance.

So this is a little embarrassing. My plan is to make this blog the #1 place for Easy Street info, but one of the most significant recent events got posted on Facebook but not here! So, for the record, we’ve signed a lease on a new shop in Keller at 2041 Rufe Snow Dr. #101. That is old news to most of you, so I’ll move on.

Micah has cleaned out his Austin apartment and handed in his keys, so he is now based in the Fort Worth area.  The shop has a phone number, 817-846-8903, and an email addy.  This is all diligently recorded on our Directions page and our Contact page.  But then you probably knew that too.

Behind the scenes, power is on in the premises and the contractor has a key.  Work should begin inside later this week. We’ve got a storage unit nearby and have started transferring inventory and supplies. Once a little floor work is done I’ll be able to begin storing things inside.

The Red Carpet trail, as cleared out by the Keller Parks Dept.

The surveyor finally got their report to my civil engineer, and once I have his report next week I can move forward with our trail.  Since any bit of trail needs a name I’m going to call it “The Red Carpet” trail, as a nod to my idea of good service.  I figure that should sit well with the management of this shopping center too, as well as the city of Keller.

More to come.  I figure once the floor is done, the electrical inspection is passed and we have a cash register and work bench in there we’ll be able to do business, if only by appointment.  If you have a need, feel free to contact Micah, as he plans to hit the ground running.

Serving you less!

Now that all the excitement over the new shop announcement in Keller is passed (with the grand opening celebrations looming ahead), it is time to get down to some unpleasant facts.

Easy Street staff is about to get stretched very thin.  I’ve got four people working this operation, including myself if you count all my executive navel-gazing as work, and now we’re going to try to run two shops at a 200-mile distance.  Yes, you can expect to see new staff come on at both shops, but not immediately.  Most of you are familiar with the term “growing pains” as they apply to business.  At least in the short run, if not the medium, our ability to tend to your needs will diminish.  Here’s the dope:

  • Showroom hours will shrink.  As of April, the Austin showroom will be open Thursday through Sunday, now closed Monday in addition to Tuesday and Wednesday.  We will need extra time to catch up jobs, orders, receiving, and all the other back-office stuff.  I’m sure they will all be driving up from Corpus Christi on Monday to stand dejectedly with their noses to the door glass, wishing they’d troubled to look at the new store hours.
  • Similarly, the Keller shop will be open from Wednesday to Saturday, closed Sunday through Tuesday.  Micah will be on his own up there, with support from me when I can, but I’ve got a shop to run down here.  Micah’s impression of the Dallas market is that it’s lucrative, but demanding and wants it done now.  Well, too bad.
  • On the events front, expect less of them for the time being.  We’re going to hunker down to the bread and butter business of stocking the showroom, informing our customers, and getting their repair jobs done.  Rebecca will have two shops’ books to keep, and will increasingly cover inventory management.  We won’t stop doing events, and we will be throwing a grand opening for the Keller shop, but we will stop doing the more ambitious ones… for the moment.  Having said that:
  • The Spring Glamping trip is cancelled.  I should have seen that coming sooner, but looking at things realistically I can’t pull both Rebecca and I out of the shop during our busiest time of week in one of our busiest months.  I expect to return to Glamping in the fall when business is starting to slow down and we can catch our breath a little.  Anyway, no one had actually signed up for it yet.
  • With Micah off working his magic in Keller, I won’t be able to trot him out to consult on hi-tech gizmos any more.  Yes, I’ll learn about some of this stuff, but the past few years of having him around has made it very easy for me to push stuff off on him that now I’ll have to come up to speed on.  I was painfully aware of this a couple of days ago when he was fussing over a customer with an electronically shifted Catrike he’d built up with a power meter crankset.  There is all this bike stuff now that talks to your smart phone.  I guess I’ll be getting myself a smart phone.  You may know me as a mechanical problem solver, but I’ve never been into the “hot new things” like Micah has.  I’ve got some catching up to do, and here comes STEPS And Di2 and all that.
  • Similarly, Micah has been able to pull on my supply of doo-hickies, thingamabobs, and other little problem solvers that have accumulated around this shop since the 90’s.
  • Lastly, and most painful for me, is that our ability to do fast turnaround service drops considerably.  I know some of you have to come a long way for your repair work, and I’d like to be able to drop everything and knock out your job.  I may even be able to, but I can’t promise it and a part of me unwisely wishes to promise it.  I mean I should be able to tune up this 1980’s vintage Inifinity in 100 minutes, and maybe I could if these yo-yos didn’t keep parading into the showroom.  And Laurie needs off when?  There is gonna be some unhappy people, and I’ll get to meet all of them.

This condition won’t last forever.  There will be new staff.  There may even be more people of Micah and Laurie’s caliber, but these are hard to shake out.  Even so, new hires will first be doing build work which keeps the showroom stocked but doesn’t help us react to someone’s immediate needs.  The vast variety of designs and systems on recumbents means that training people even to do check-overs isn’t trivial.  Indeed, to me the simple “check over” is intended as assurance to you that no problems will spring up soon, and that takes a depth of understanding that most people don’t come in off of the street with.

Is everyone happy yet?  Thanks for letting me get this off my chest.  It has been bothering me now for a few months.  The need to cancel the Glamping trip made this announcement more urgent, so there it is.

2041 Rufe Snow Dr. #101, Keller, TX 76248

This is it.  I’ve signed the lease!

Look for us in the Keller Place shopping center at the SE corner of Rufe Snow and Tarrant Parkway.  We’re all the way at the north end of the complex.

Note the open area behind the center.  You’ll get a few delivery trucks rumbling through, and a bit of employee parking, but it will serve as a near-in test ride area.

Here is a view out of the showroom doors

Beyond that, in cooperation with the City of Keller, Easy Street will install about 200 linear feet of trail to connect to the Little Bear Creek trail.  LBC connects to the John Barfield trail that connects to the Cotton Belt trail and you can easily do a 20-mile out-and-back if you want, ranging to North Richland Hills (Micah will have a 10-mile all-trail work commute) or up to Grapevine.

If you are in the area, head on down and snoop.  I’ve marked off the proposed trail and the Parks Dept. has offered to help with clearing in advance of the survey team.

In typical Mike Librik fashion, the layout will be bass-ackward.  We’ll have showroom windows facing Tarrant Parkway, but the customer entrance will be to the rear, facing the test ride area.  This will also give you a more private place to park.  And that puts the bathroom in the showroom.

You can email Micah at Keller@WeMakeCyclingEasy.com, and a phone number is coming soon.  Build out work always takes longer that you expect, but hopefully we’ll be doing business by the end of April.  Hopefully.

If this doesn’t destroy me utterly and bring the whole enterprise down in a flaming ruin, its gonna be a blast!

Now the real work begins.

HOT Rally weekend update on Easy Street North Texas

ESR north TexasIt’s not as rainy a weekend in Austin as expected, though the College Station Senior Games, farther to the rainy east of us, have been cancelled due to weather concerns. This would have traditionally been the weekend of our big annual Heart of Texas Recumbent Rally, but it would have been nerve-wracking going into it with the weather so uncertain. It isn’t cold, but everything is pretty wet.

I decided back in November to put the rally on hold this year because we’d launched the effort to get a second shop opened in Fort Worth, so I’m taking this occasion to write an update on that work. This may tax your attention span. It definitely taxes mine!  On the surface little is visible, but the reality is that this has consumed me. My thanks to Micah and Laurie for keeping up with trends in the market and helping with the customers, and Rebecca for keeping up the administrative stuff.

I don’t see anything as certain until a lease is signed, and you’ll hear me crowing about that when it happens. But up till now there has been lots of driving back and forth, visiting places, rounding up contractors for estimates, writing descriptions of work, calling various city inspectors, and intense conversations with real estate agents and/or property owners. This has all been instructive and character building.  :^/  I’m reminded in some ways of when I was a greenhorn bike dealer, with customers occasionally explaining the basics of bike maintenance to me. Maybe not so mortifying, but instructive.

Micah communing with Plan A

Over the past few months I’ve come up with 5 possible scenarios for a Ft. Worth shop. The first place I found I thought was going to be it, but it was the first case of dealing with a property owner whose place was in shambles and who thought it was my responsibility to fix his property for the benefit of paying him rent. I just couldn’t abide that. Is this unrealistic? That was “plan A,” in a retail strip center well situated by a decently long, but not the longest, trail. I still miss that place, just not the guy who arrived in a chauffeured Rolls Royce to tell me he had no money.

Lots of work needed on Plan D, but lots of potential

I spent a few weeks working seriously on “plan D,” a space I really liked, with great highway access and trail access, though again the trail wasn’t the longest and it was broken often by neighborhood streets. This was a case of a “light industrial” zoned auto garage that the city had re-zoned commercial. The owner had to put a lot of money into it to make it rentable and seemed agreeable to doing so. After my experience with “plan A” I was adamant about his needing to get it up to code. He had the vague way of talking, but when I finally got a firm number on what was needed to bring it up to code he couldn’t avoid the matter and finally told me I’d need to replace his HVAC system, update the electrical and insulate all the walls. The next time I do this I’ll be better at getting to the truth of things sooner.

Back on the trail, I looked back at “plan B,” which was another light industrial space well situated next to great trail. I knew I’d have to put money into fixing it up without much help from the land owner. After all the hoops I jumped through on plan D I got right to things like calling the city inspectors, only to learn that I couldn’t put a bike shop in a place zoned “manufacturing-light.” I got great encouragement from the chair of the local planning commission to get the zoning changed, but considering that the property owner (whom I’d never met) needed to sign off on it and I’d certainly end up like the owner of plan D, needing to upgrade everything, I pushed plan B to the back burner. Thinking about the owner’s leasing agent pushing the lease on me a few weeks ago, who certainly knew I couldn’t even do business there once a lease was signed, sure gives me the creeps.

Real estate agents confer while Micah communes with Plan C

So as of this last week, I began to run the numbers and make the calls on “plan C,” which is a nice retail center in a ritzy northern suburb. It is close to great trail, perhaps the best.  This trail is long with lots of trees, but I’ve a 200 foot gap to it from a quiet corner at the end of the loading dock, meaning I will need to get into the trail-building business to connect my customers to it. The city is enthusiastic and the Parks director sent me a grant application to get the city to cover 33-50% of the cost of it. A list of contractors is due this coming week. I don’t yet have assurance from the board of the corporation that owns the shopping center that I can run trail across part of their property. Most of the trail would cross undeveloped parkland, and I don’t have the city council’s approval for that yet, but I’m optimistic with the Parks director so happy about it. As you might guess, the space is expensive compared to the others, but still less than I pay in Austin. I’d get a generous tenant improvement allowance, though I wouldn’t be able to spend it on my trail (makes no sense to me). I’m busy sketching out a floor plan, ready to share it with the fire marshal.

If I get the go-ahead from the management, I expect I’ll take the plunge. I’ve got a lot of confidence in the product and in Micah to make thing work. But if this falls through then there is “plan E,” which is to move all the goods into Micah’s house, get him a van, and work by appointment, at your location if necessary, or at some trail head, and work at low overhead (though with much less cash flow) until the right place comes along. I’m hoping for a more conventional approach than that. I’d like to get past this stage, not prolong it.

Me getting prettier every day

That’s it. These past few months have been some of the hardest in my life. Having done this bike-wizard thing for over 20 years now, I don’t mind having a different project consuming me. Responding to all the requests to get more Easy Streets out in the countryside has just been the impetus to this work, but I’ve been there in spirit already. It all means spending all my time doing stuff I’m not experienced at, generally feeling like a bit of a fool, spinning my wheels, working inefficiently. I’m slow, but I’m stubborn once I commit, no surprise there.

Next weekend is what I’d hoped would be “grand opening” weekend, and it certainly won’t be happening then. But it will at some point. More news to come.

Early March update:  The shopping center approved the trail plan and it is written into the “letter of intent” document they sent. I’m waiting on contractors’ bids and a civil engineer’s report, as required by the city, and the trail proposal goes before their Parks Board this week.  

ESR North Texas update

So our funding campaign clanks on, with me, the great communicator at the helm.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/esrnorthtx-bicycle#/

The bad news is that we’ve had only so much response from my customer base.  Even with the offer of 110% credit very few are looking ahead to purchases they might make in the future.  I’m sure I can be doing a better job of promotion, and on that note I’m going to thank those who have contributed.  Many have asked me to expand this shop, but few have stepped up (right at the start) to support.  But there is still time, and you can still invest now through December 15th.  You can even bypass Indiegogo and contribute directly, saving me a few precious bucks.  That won’t reflect in our campaign progress numbers, but that brings us to the other thing:

The good news, on the other hand, is that it doesn’t matter if anyone else contributes.  The shop expansion has funded and is moving forward thanks to other financing efforts.  Once we put Thanksgiving behind us I’ll get to work on the lease, the permitting, and the contractors.  Micah will start determining what inventory will be on hand and Rebecca will start planning a major ‘bent event for DFW.  Meanwhile, back in Austin, Laurie continues training to fill in Micah’s carbon-soled shoes.

I will still be honoring the 110% credit return offer, even if it isn’t explicitly needed, so buy in if you wish.  I like the idea of carrying a mandate from my clientele.  Micah is at work up in DFW contacting the local cycling community, and I’ll be furthering that effort.  We’re here for you, and we’re out to hit the ground running.

See you in Fort Worth!

What little I know about off road triking

Now that I’ve had a chance to do some off road riding on trikes, I can share a few observations. Those with more experience than I can chime in. I will posit some contrary views here.  This may get a little technical in parts.

What makes for a good off road trike?

Rear wheel traction – Strangely I don’t see much focus on this, but the #1 problem I have triking on rough ground is loss of rear wheel traction. We’ve all known about this problem, it is why trikes usually don’t have a rear brake except for a parking brake. Anything you can do to move weight to the rear wheel helps off road. If you have a sliding seat and boom, like many TerraTrike or AZUB models do, move it all back as far as you can. ICE trikes have a fixed seat mount but ICE makes an accessory that will move the seat back for taller riders, which may be beneficial. Recline the seat as ice fullfat loadedmuch as you can stand to. Rear hub electric motors and rear mounted batteries help, as does cargo loaded to the rear.

My feeling is the frames designed for 20” rear wheels have an advantage here since the rear hub will be tucked closer to the rider’s mass. Trikes like the Rambler and Rover we’re actually designed for 24” rear wheels but come standard with 20”, so they don’t get the full advantage. Big rear wheels are good for speed, but have less traction.

A caveat here is that having the seat adjusted far back on the frame works against stability because the rider’s mass is closer to the edges of the weight triangle. If that isn’t clear, imagine a triangle drawn between the ground contact points of the trike’s three wheels. Once you move weight outside that triangle, usually on a sideways sloped surface, you begin to unweight one of the wheels and move toward tipping. Still, this instability is manageable, and rear wheel traction problems are so common riding off road that you should address them, either through adjusting what you have or selecting the right trike.

Knobby tires are an obvious way to get more traction, as are wide tires, even if they aren’t knobby. Reducing your tire pressure is another big factor, and of course wide tires can roll at lower pressures better than narrow ones.  I’ve never had a chance to directly compare knobby vs. street tires since I’ve only taken stock trikes out. Even our shop demo Full Fat has street tires on it since it is mainly test ridden in the paved parking lot. I know from riding the Full Fat that inflation pressure makes a big difference, and the biggest advantage of fat tires is your ability to ride them at 15 PSI. Whatever tires you have, lower the pressure as far as you can.

Ground clearance — This is what you usually see touted as defining an off road trike.  Some trikes have higher ground clearance by design, such as the Rover, the Rambler, or the Adventure. They don’t need oversized wheels, they just have a straight frame tube, handlebars above the frame, and no chain idlers hanging down. Catrikes have idlers assemblies hanging terratrike rambler all-road below the frame, and AZUB trikes have handlebars under the frame, working against ground clearance. Trikes like the ICE Sprint and the AZUB Ti-Fly have curved frames that aid stability but reduce ground clearance. But these were designed to be faster trikes, and if you are going fast on-road and carving into turns you want that stability, and higher trikes suffer from tippiness.

If you look closely at this frame and at the picture of the White Ice in Antarctica, above, you can see that the frames are not the same. The original White Ice had a bent frame tube visible beneath the near front wheel hub.

Jacking up the wheel size, like when you turn a Rambler into an All-Terrain, or an Adventure into a Full Fat, does increase ground clearance, but this further increases tippiness. My problem is that Ramblers and Adventures already had a pretty high seat before increasing wheel size. I was impressed with the prototype 3×26” Ti-Fly, because the big wheels were paired with a dropped frame and (what started with) a low seat. Remember I said the Ti-Fly wasn’t an ideal off road trike, but when you put on big wheels then it does work well because the rider’s weight is lower relative to the hub axles. While the Full Fat is based off an Adventure frame, the original White Ice trike that Maria Liejerstam rode to the south pole was built on a Sprint frame. Remember what I said about the weight triangle and stability. Just getting some of the rider’s weight beneath the level of the hubs will bring benefits in stability. The instability of putting big wheels on trikes is a problem, but it is compounded by the manufacturers’ choice of what trikes (Ramblers and Adventures) they put the big wheels on.

An anecdote is the one time I took a group of inexperienced riders out on a forest trail, the one casualty we had was the fellow riding the Rambler All-Road. He was stopped on a sideways sloping trail and he looked back over his downhill shoulder at the rider behind him. That move alone tipped the trike downhill. Crazy-high ground clearance is not necessarily your friend.

experimental Ti-Fly

This prototype 3×26″ Ti-Fly was commissioned through ESR and has landed in Austin.

Big Diameter Wheels – I treat these separate from ground clearance though they are used mainly to increase ground clearance. Big front wheels do confer benefits that should be noted. In particular, since they come closer to the rider, it is easier for the rider to “wheelchair” the trike, laying hands on the front tires and pushing them directly, giving all-wheel drive when facing a challenging rise on loose ground. You will see my repeated concern with drive traction here. Also, “wheelchairing” gives you the ability to back up. In dense foliage it is easy to get into a situation requiring a very tight turn which the trike can’t make. If you aren’t on a trail at all then you may find yourself unable to move forward and needing to backtrack. This ability to “wheelchair” is the one true benefit I can see to big front wheels. One can argue that big wheels roll over obstacles better, but given enough traction a smaller wheel will do it too. The practice of wheelchairing argues against front fenders on an off road trike. A rear fender will keep water off you, but I’ll point out that going through water off road increases erosion and siltation. You shouldn’t be blasting through streams anyway.

I don’t see any benefit to a bigger rear wheel. It reduces traction. A wide tire is handy for not bogging down in sand and mud, but a larger diameter doesn’t help as much considering its drawbacks. This begins to paint a picture of a Full Fat with a smaller rear wheel. I will grant that this wouldn’t look as impressive as a 3×26” Full Fat, but I’m the sort who is more interested in what works than what looks good.

Suspension – Suspension is worth it, but not essential. Pay more, get more. You will cover rough ground more quickly and with less jostling to your load, less vibration on the bolts holding the trike together.

Steering type – Direct steering, like on newer TerraTrikes, turns much tighter. Its simpler construction means you can modify it for better ground clearance more easily. For example, the single steering rod on a Rambler should be mounted using longer bolts and spacers to move it as high as possible to improve the trike’s ground clearance.

Internally Geared Hubs – This is a great way to make a trike even more expensive, but worth it in this application. I’m never too concerned about rear derailers hitting the ground on-road, but on soft sand you could bury your chain in grit. I’m especially impressed with the NuVinci CVP hubs, which never lose torque during a shift. They don’t “clunk,” and even other IG hubs with discreet gears will have a moment of slip and clunk when shifting under load. And if you are downshifting then you are probably under load.

Summing up — What would I consider an ideal off road trike? Nothing yet.

I like the ICE Adventure 20”, though the quick release linkages in the handlebar aren’t rock solid and the indirect steering isn’t as tight as direct steering. I like how the rear wheel is close to the rider. If the seat had just a little adjustment on the frame then you could use an IG hub without a sprung chain tensioner for an elevated chainline that would be easy to keep covered (that is, use boom adjustment to tension the chain and adjust the seat for fit).  Granted, seat recline could be used to adjust leg length.

I was impressed with the stock TerraTrike Rambler, though the frame design keeps the rear wheel pushed back too much. It has high enough clearance with its 20” wheels, and the direct steering will get you through very tight turns in a switchback trail. It could use an IG hub without a chain tensioner by tensioning at the boom

I was impressed with the 3×26” Ti-Fly, though I’d like to see it done with a 20” rear wheel. Again, the indirect steering is a limitation. I don’t like how the handlebars are set under the frame, and some of its chain management drops too low as well. But its adjustable seat and boom give great flexibility in set up, and also the ability to use an IG hub without a tensioner.

How knobby a tire do you need?  If your trike will only be used off road then I see no reason to go completely knobby, but if you will be on some pavement these will limit your efficiency.  One compromise is to only put a knobby on the rear wheel.  While there are semi-knobby tires with a smooth center and knobby edges these are aimed at two-wheelers who need the extra traction cornering.  Front wheels are highly loaded by the rider’s weight and don’t have much problem with traction.

A big thanks goes to Martin Kreig and bikeroute.com for preserving this image of the L.A. Pipeliner

I’ll take a moment to tip the hat to a nearly forgotten design from S&B, the scruffy custom recumbent house from the Los Angeles ghetto town of Compton. S&B built a trike called the L.A. Pipeliner which was designed to be folded and dropped down through an 18” manhole into a sewer pipe, where it allowed inspectors to pedal their way through the L.A. sewer system. Note the extremely tight wheelbase and track. It had a very simple chainline and the USS steering was above the frame. S&B trikes had their cheap aspects, to be sure, but I’d be interested in putting a NuVinci N380 on that puppy and taking it down the trail.

I do have a few extra TerraTrike All-Road wheelsets around, and the All-Road is going out of production, succeeded by the All-Terrain, whose semi-fixed seat is more solid than its predecessor but lacking in useful adjustability. And the new Gran Turismo models are coming in. Direct steering, dropped frame. The semi-fixed seat is the same as the All-Terrain, but once can adjust leg length through seat recline. Hmm. Change out the crankset on the 2×10 model for an MTB compact crank. Hmm.

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