Product Review: Biria’s mini velo

Biria Mini-20

Biria Mini-20

About a year ago, I wrote a post on how a mini velo style bike is a great bike for urban living. Well, I changed my mind…it’s not just great- it’s actually the perfect urban city bike!

After moving to Oakland, we were confronted with a new set of conditions. First of all, the streets in downtown have way too many traffic lights for bicyclists. The stop and go momentum makes it harder to ride a full-sized bike. This is where mini velo excels. Its small 20 inch wheels with a lower rotational mass overcomes this problem. It makes it easier to start and stop.

2012 model

2012 model

Very often living in a city, the weight of what you ride/carry to run multiple errands affects your overall experience. Picture yourself locking up your bike several times to different bike racks and also having to lift up the bike from the street level onto the sidewalk. It can get pretty cumbersome. What about those times that you forget to bring your u-lock (or u-lock key). Well, with the mini velo, it is small enough to just bring with you into the shop.

Tektro Tenera brakes and SRAM-X5 shifters.

Tektro Tenera brakes and SRAM-X5 shifters.

BART is a great public transit option in Oakland. There are 8 stations and it covers the city pretty well, but the few elevators they have are tiny and escalators (bikes supposedly are not allowed on them) are super narrow. Many times, carrying your bike down the stairs is the only the option. So, carrying a smaller bike down the stairs and maneuvering a compact bike into a crowded area helps a great deal.

Pro Wheel Chariot crankset, standard 53/39T chainring.

Prowheel Chariot crankset, standard 53/39T chainring.

Moreover, the bike infrastructure in Oakland is relatively bad. You have bike lanes disappearing and even bike sharrows that disappear suddenly. Sometimes, the bike sharrows are in the door zone. And one way streets are common. As you know, it is an obstacle course for cyclists. Sidewalks clearly are not the place for bikes; but when it’s a one way street or you feel your life is on the line, I have to admit I do sometimes ride on the sidewalks (certainly at a very slow speed and where pedestrians are almost absent). Riding on a smaller bike such as the mini velo feels like you are not intruding as much into the pedestrian space.

SRAM X7 rear derailleur

SRAM X7 rear derailleur

Nellie and I moved into another place that doesn’t have nearly enough indoor bike racks in the garage and keeping your bike indoors makes a huge difference to how long your bike stays in good condition (and clean). Thus, we have to store our bikes in our unit. Size does matter. Also, I used to have an office space that a full-sized bike wouldn’t fit, but with a mini velo, of course!

This is my office at work. The Mini-20 easily fits in there.

This is my office at work. The Mini-20 easily fits in there.

In addition to riding in the city, she wants a bike that she can go for a long distance ride sometimes. None of her current bikes meet all of these criteria in one bike. So, Nellie decided to give the mini velo a try on a long ride. We just did a 30 miles/48 km ride, and Nellie wasn’t a bit tired. She said it’s the best bike she’s ever had.

Beautiful, isn't it?

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Here are the specs and comments for the Biria Mini-20:

- Aluminum alloy frame and fork. After a long 20 miles/32 km ride, it can be harsh on your wrists because shock is not as well absorbed. But going just around town, you won’t notice it.  Remember, city streets in America are poorly maintained so this is not a factor if you live in the suburbs or on foreign soil where there is good infrastructure.  The good thing about aluminum is that it’s pretty light at 22 lbs (under 10 kg).

- 51 cm (c-t) frame, one size only. Nellie’s 5 ft 3 in/160 cm tall and there’s only 5mm to go at the minimum at the seat post.  I’m 5 ft 8 in/173 cm and I can still fit, however, I need a longer stem. The great thing about mini velo is that it really can be ridden by a male or a female.

- Two choices of colors for the Biria:  matte black or nickel silver. Nellie had the black one and it’s a nice color in person. Very chic and stylish.

- Tektro Tenera brakes and calipers. Good, solid and soft brakes.

- 20 x 1 1/8 CST tires. They are heavy and cheap, and prone to punctures. We immediately changed them out. The narrow size of tires helps reduce the high rolling resistance from small wheels.

- SRAM X-7 rear derailleur and SRAM X-5 shifters. The shifters are easy to shift with just your thumbs, but it’s a bit slow (not a problem if you’re not racing). Nellie’s bike is 2012 and the current model comes with Shimano 105 rear derailleur, and with 27 speeds (18 speeds for the 2012 model).

- Prowheel Chariot crankset (53/39T). Other than it’s made in China and provides a standard range, I don’t have any comment here.

- Saddle, grips and pedals. The saddle is very narrow at 35 cm wide , and it was immediately replaced with a woman’s saddle. The pedals are horrendously small and one sided only, and was also immediately changed. The grips are fine.

- Joy Tech hubs with Joy Tech quick releases. The quick release wheels and seat post makes it a good storage bike. Surprisingly, it really can fit into our Scion IQ with both wheels removed.

The current model retails at $900, which is not a bad price. Overall, the bike feels solid, more solid than any bike I have ridden. It is zippy and stops on a dime. I could see why these type of bikes are so popular in cities in Asia. I may have to get one for myself in the future.

Nellie and her mini velo.

Nellie and her mini velo.

Bike Denver

Flat Irons, near Boulder, Colorado

The Flat Irons near Boulder, Colorado, not far from Denver.

We have lived in and visited both coasts of the US and have a pretty good understanding of both sides. But we never quite understood Middle America, aside from what the media shows us. So, we decided to go visit Denver, Colorado. (No, not because of marijuana legalization there.) It’s not too far of a trip to take from the Bay Area, and I heard it’s not a bad city to bike in. Denver is referred to as “the mile-high city” or 5280 which is the number of feet it sits above sea level, and it’s located next to the Rocky mountains, which are the highest mountains in the United States.

This time, we planned to travel light which meant that Nellie brought only a single backpack and I brought only my messenger bag. We left our Bromptons at home because we thought the bike-share program that they have in Denver would suffice and be more convenient. The closest bike-share station would be only a block away from our hotel, so why not. As a bonus, our hotel was located next to the only cycle track in the city, on 15th St.

This bike share station is located on the sidewalks near our hotel on 14th St. and Welton St.

This bike share station is located on the sidewalk near our hotel on 14th St. and Welton St.

As a matter of fact, the bike-share stations are nicely distributed across downtown Denver. There are 700 bike-shares in 83 stations, twice as many as in San Francisco. It’s called Denver B Cycle, and sourced from the same company as most other bike shares in the US, Alta Bikeshare. Although their mobile app didn’t work, we could locate another station without even looking for one. It’s that ubiquitous. There was this brand-new redeveloped neighborhood called Prospect which was not completely done, and a bike share station was already in place. I was impressed.

A bike share station is placed in Prospect neighborhood which is not completely finished.

A bike share station is placed in the Prospect neighborhood, which is not even fully built out.

The bike shares are always located on the sidewalks and not in the street, which I think is an ideal setup. The sidewalks there are generally very wide, up to 20 ft/6 m wide. By locating the stations on the sidewalks, you don’t feel the pressure to hurry because you are in a safe zone. Also, it’s nice to undock or dock your bike off the street, unlike how it is in SF. Bike shares invite newbies, so having them on the sidewalks makes them more welcoming.

However, I still don’t like using bike shares when I would like to mindlessly wander throughout the city exploring. The 30-minute grace period was always on my mind because I didn’t want to accrue penalties. Also, docking/undocking is a huge hassle when you have to do it every 30 minutes. My opinion is that bike-shares are good if you know where you are going and only need it for going short distances. It would not be good for recreational our touristic cycling and for going long distances.

The only cycle track in the city on 15th St.

The only cycle track in the city on 15th St.

Our hotel was located next to the only cycle track in town on 15th St. It was nicely done with crossbikes and protected barriers, but the intersection was not protected. Also, what I don’t get is why the cycle track was on the left-hand side. I heard that another cycle track is coming to a nearby street on Broadway, a north-to-south commercial corridor which should make a better network of bike paths.

A crossbike with a right turn bike box.

A crossbike with a right turn bike box.

Another commercial corridor in downtown that is bike-friendly is the popular shopping area, the 16th Street Mall, which is closed off to cars. There are hundreds of shops and street vendors located on this long stretch. The identical tiles on both the street and sidewalks give it a very pedestrian-friendly feel to it. No need for bike signage.

16th Street Mall is closed off to cars except buses and bicycles.

The 16th Street Mall is closed off to cars except buses and bicycles.

Denver has a bike modal share of 2.9% in 2012 (20% jump from 2011), most of which I see riding on the extensive Cherry Creek bike trail. The Cherry Creek trail stretches 11.2 mi/ 18 km from Cherry Creek Reservoir in the south and through downtown in the north. It serves for both recreation and transportation. It’s a must if you do visit Denver and go for a bike ride. Some of the best scenery within the city is along this riverside bike trail. The water running next to it is surprisingly clean!

You see both recreational and utilitarian cyclists on the Cherry Creek bike trail.

You see both recreational and utilitarian cyclists on the Cherry Creek bike trail. I like how there are street signs installed on the bridges, so you know where you are going.

People actually go rafting on the creek and the water is pretty clean.

People actually go rafting and kayaking on the creek and the water is pretty clean!

Confluent People street art by local artist, Emanuel Martinez, under Speer Blvd. and Little Raven St.

The “Confluent People” mural by local artist, Emanuel Martinez is located at Speer Blvd. and Little Raven St.

What I like about Denver is it’s numerous parks, and the majority of them you can really bike within them for quite a distance with flat topography. City Park is my favorite and has a zoo and the Museum of Science and Nature. It’s located not too distant from downtown. Another park I recommend is Washington Park in the Pearl St. neighborhood. It’s voted as the most favorite park in Denver by the locals.

Denver City Park

City Park, not too far from downtown Denver, is a great place to bike recreationally.

Denver Bicycle Cafe

Our favorite cafe is the Denver Bicycle Cafe. You can get food, beer or coffee while you wait for your bike to be fixed.

Denver Bicycle Cafe

Denver Bicycle Cafe also has comfortable outdoor seating (not shown here).

Coolest looking bike corral in Pearl St. neighorhood.

A nice looking bike corral in the charming Pearl St. neighborhood.

Green Cyclery bike shop in Pearl St.

Cute little Linus bikes in the Green Cyclery bike shop on Pearl St.

Nice window dressing!

Creative window dressing using bike wheels!

I still think Denver has some ways to go in terms of bike infrastructure and reducing their use of cars. But I admire how much they are embracing the ideas of New Urbanism and I feel like they are doing the bike thing better and faster than many other American cities. For example, their 15th St. cycle-track was completed this year and now, the city is proposing another cycle-track on Broadway St. In addition, I really like their ubiquitous bike-shares, but it’s just not ideal for visitors to use them to explore the city because of the time limits. Visitors and recreational riders should rent a bicycle instead. Their Cherry Creek bike path is great fun to bike on and quite scenic, but then, it doesn’t go in every direction to really serve bike commuters. However, I do think that overall, the city government gets it and it’s just a matter of time.

A couple of more things I want to mention for anyone who is going to visit Denver and bike around. You may need some time to adapt to the higher elevation. At higher elevations, oxygen is less concentrated and so your body will have to adjust and breath shorter but more frequent breaths. At first, you might feel worn out faster when exerting yourself. However, the air is just fine for Denverites who are known to be very active outdoors. So once you adjust, you should be fine. Also, one of the fun things you can do in Denver, if you are of drinking age, is to ride your bike around to all the different local breweries and do some free tastings. Denver has great local beer! Many can be easily reached by bike.

Happy Trails!

Buffered Bike Lanes in South San Francisco!

While Rotterdam just completed its amazing Green Connection project and Copenhagen is almost done with its admirable Bicycle Snake, South San Francisco just got its first buffered bike lanes. Yes, it’s pretty lame when you are comparing it to those inspirational projects, but it’s a great feat for such a place where it’s a ghost town after 6pm. So, kudos to South City!

South San Francisco, the Industrial City. Courtesy of hillbabies.blogspot.com

South San Francisco, the Industrial City. Courtesy of hillbabies.blogspot.com

For those of you that don’t know South San Francisco, it’s actually a neighboring city south of San Francisco (not part of SF) and it’s known as the Industrial City. It’s the birthplace of biotechnology and it’s basically an office park where freight trucks, delivery trucks and cars are all you see. The city is mostly comprised of very wide streets with speed limits upwards of 40 mph/64 kmh, and barely any pedestrians strolling on narrow sidewalks.

So, it’s surprising to see a road diet of a street of 4 car lanes into 2 car lanes on Forbes Blvd. The road diet starts at the cross street of DNA Way and ends at Allerton Ave. And to top it off, the city added buffered bike lanes- the first of its kind in South San Francisco. Pretty cool, eh?!

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Eastbound on Forbes Blvd.

I have never ridden on such a smooth paved street in the States for as long I can remember. I know this is not going to last though because after awhile, the condition will deteriorate and as you know, we have a lack of infrastructure maintenance. For now, I feel more safe because I don’t have to look down on the road for cracked pavement or potholes. I can have my full attention on the road ahead. And as a matter of fact, you will find yourself riding faster. Also, the buffer zone makes me feel safe as well.

A few of these pedestrian signals are installed.  You have to press a button to cross.

A few of these pedestrian signals are installed. You have to press a “beg” button to cross.

However, it’s too bad that the speed limit is still posted at 35 mph/56 kmh. Does it make any sense on a 2 car lane street? You have a road diet, with wide medians to calm traffic, and new crosswalk signals installed; and still the speed limit is at 35 mph/56 kmh? At least, install a protected barrier on the buffered area of the bike lanes.

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Eastbound on Forbes Blvd.

Moreover, when you reach the intersection, you have to share the space with autos.

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Forbes Blvd and DNA Way intersection.

Lastly, the buffered bike path should be extended all the way to the Caltrain station (see blue arrow in bottom image). It’s a logical next step. This will provide a safe passage for the last mile commuters. I truly hope the city is working on it.

Green arrow: beginning of new bike path.  Red arrow: ending of new bike path.  Blue arrow: need to expand to Caltrain, public transit system in the area.

Green arrow: beginning of new bike path. Red arrow: ending of new bike path. Blue arrow: need to expand to Caltrain, public transit system in the area.

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This is at the intersection of Forbes Blvd. and Allerton Ave.  This is how it used to look before the road diet.  Courtesy of Google Maps. 

Velo Love

You all know that the French word for bike is “velo” and with those four letters word, it can spell out “love” in English.  It’s so fitting, right! Because we know how much we love our bikes and if we our significant others have bikes they would love each other as much.  =)

bikes in love3

bikes in love2

Vehicles blocking bike lanes pt. 2

This parking patrol on a Saturday morning with no cars on a two vehicle lanes directional street, and he still parks on the bike lane.

On a Saturday morning with no cars on a two vehicle lanes one directional street, this parking officer blocked the bike lane instead.  He can’t even park next to the curb to give citations.

Pathetic! Bike lane is blocked by two trash bins. That is how bicyclists are treated.

Pathetic! Bike lane is blocked by two trash bins. That is how bicyclists are treated.

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UPS truck parked on the northbound side of Franklin St. in downtown Oakland – May 2014.

Hello fellow bicyclists,

Last time, I wrote a post about bike lanes being blocked by all sorts of things from delivery trucks to piles of dirt. I had never seen a vehicle parked outside a bike lane, but there was this UPS delivery truck that to my surprise did something out of the ordinary-park on the outside of the bike lane. I wanted to thank the driver but he/she wasn’t there. But this time, I saw another UPS truck parked outside the bike lane and was able to catch the driver. I asked the driver, “Is it the company’s policy to not block bike lanes? It’s the second time I’ve seen this.” She shook her head, no. Then I asked, “Did you purposely park there to leave the bike lane open?” To my surprise, she said that she just didn’t want to block any cars that wanted to park or leave. Anyhow, I still wanted to let her know that it’s a good thing she didn’t block the bike lane because it can be dangerous for cyclists to have to weave out into traffic when bike lanes are blocked. She said, “No wonder! There was this female cyclist earlier waving to me to say thank you but I didn’t understand.” I hope that the UPS driver, knowing what she knows now, will do the same thing everywhere when she’s behind the wheel.

Yep, we bicyclists still get no respect!

rewarer

UPS truck parked on the southbound side of Franklin St. in downtown Oakland – June 2014.

Be safe and cycle well!

I gave the driver of this USPS van and he nodded. I think he knows why I did that. Respect!

Similar to the UPS parking spot, another delivery van parked outside of the bike lane. I gave this USPS driver a big ‘thumbs up’ and he nodded. I hope he knows not to block bike lanes.

Bay Area Bikes – A nice and niche bike shop

This location is located in Uptown, on 2509 Broadway.

The shop’s new location is in Uptown, on 2509 Broadway St.

I passed by and discovered this bike shop called Bay Area Bikes at 2424 Webster St. when I was going to a car rental nearby. It is ironically situated in an area (Auto Row in Oakland) that is filled with car dealerships. Stick it to them, Bay Area Bikes! When I walked in and spoke with Clay who owns the place with his wife, Glenda, I knew this shop was for me. They are great people who believe in making the community livable through biking, and they carry quality bikes because they don’t believe in “race to the bottom prices”. They have bikes and accessories that I really like and they appear to carry bikes for everyday folks, in addition to performance bikes.

A nice setup for Tern bicycles.

A nice display for Tern folding bicycles.

Here is a review from a friend, Kristen, that I think says it all about Clay and his bike shop. One day on the ferry to work, I told her about Bay Area Bikes, and she said, “That’s where I got my bike!” She said that at first, she went to at least 4 to 5 shops all over Oakland and everyone ignored her completely. I have always felt that bike shops intimidate women, particularly women that are buying a bike for the first time, and Kristen is in this category. Most shops carry mostly performance bikes, the employees are usually men, and the way the bike shop looks exudes masculinity. But this particular shop is different from the norm.

These words were taken from our conversation: “When I got to Bay Area Bikes, I was immediately greeted and treated with respect. I had no idea what I needed or wanted, other than a good-for-commuting bike that wouldn’t hurt my back. They suggested a Tern folding bike, demonstrated to me, and let me try out the bike, but I still wasn’t sure if it would hurt my back. They then recommended me to go rent one for a day at their Bay Area Bike Rentals in Jack London Square, but then a friend let me borrow one for a whole week. So I tried it and and went back to Bay Area Bikes.” She got everything from them, from a bike helmet and lock to a commute bag and her dear Tern Link D7i folding bike. She says that through the whole process “everyone was friendly and helpful, and to this day every time I go in for a service (or yet another accessory) they are just as nice and easy to work with, and they never talk down to me.” A great recommendation from a new devoted customer!

Xtracycles cargo bikes for family, headquarters in Oakland!

Yuba Mundo cargo bikes for families, rated #1 by the Danish Cycling Federation (No kidding! From a country known for its cargo bikes).

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You can get these cargo bikes electric-assisted too!

Stromer e-bikes is made in Switzerland.

Stromer e-bikes are made in Switzerland “because the Swiss don’t build cars.”

There are four locations of Bay Area Bikes now. One is in Pittsburg and the other three are in Oakland. One is a bike rental in JLS as I mentioned earlier; the second is in Uptown and carries commuter and performance bikes. The newest shop just opened about a month ago at 2509 Broadway and 25th Street, which sits in between an Ethiopian restaurant and Smythe’s Accordion Center (yes…that folksy instrument, accordion!). It’s a nice and niche bike shop.

Why do I like this shop particularly? They are the only Brompton authorized dealership in town and secondly, they fill a niche that most bike shops don’t. Furthermore, they sell great quality bikes:  Tern and Brompton folding bikes, Swiss-made Stromer e-bikes, Oakland-based Xtracycle and Yuba cargo bikes, and nice accessories to go with the bikes. The target here is for everyday cycling with utility in mind. And any woman stepping into this shop is not going to shy away. They carry stylish bags and an equal number of bikes for females and males, which reflects the almost equal gender split of ridership in Oakland.

Bromptons of all sorts!

Bromptons of all sorts! Oakland A’s in the top left and Cal Berkeley in the bottom right. I think someone just bought a SF Giant’s one.

Stylish Po Campo bags for the ladies.

Stylish Po Campo bags for the ladies. Yes, they carry Brooks saddles too (not shown).

Clay is a believer in Bromptons, so much that he has a tattoo of it.

Clay has so much faith in Bromptons, so much that he has a real tattoo of it!

Finally, when you talk to Clay, you will certainly feel like you bought the right bike because he only carries bikes that he believes in. Moreover, he has immense knowledge of his bikes and is happy to share his knowledge with you. He knows every little detail about the bikes he carries and can make an informed opinion for you if you like. Oh, his wife Glenda is super patient and I am glad for once there’s a woman working in a bike shop.

If you have a love for Bromptons like I do, this is the place to go to!

Happy Pedaling!

Bird’s-Eye View of the East Bay Bike Party

Courtesy of East Bay Bike Party

Image from the East Bay Bike Party

I was going through the memory cards for my camera and I completely forgot to post this 8 minute video I got of the East Bay Bike Party which happened a couple of weeks ago. It’s better late than never.

It was cool to see it from a different angle- in this case a bird’s-eye view.

The bike party passed by about 10:30 pm and lasted for about 25-30 minutes. They came in waves and I could tell you that the numbers of bike partiers numbered close to a thousand. Nellie and I were enthused the whole time and thought, “Wow, they just keep on coming!”