Saturday, April 24, 2010

Giant Chixie: Cool or Uncool?

I was drawn to a twitter post today that mentioned Giant's new bicycle: the "Chixie," a fixed-gear ride built specifically for women. Though perhaps gimmicky and slightly offensive (chixie? really?), I think there are some good ideas behind this bike.

Let's be honest: bicycle components and clothing built specifically for women have to walk a fine line. Ideally, they would appeal to urban hipster 20-somethings AND forty-year-old suburbanites who are more likely to actually dole out the cash to buy their products. The incentive to make products that people actually buy seems to mean that most of this stuff is designed for the forty-year-old suburbanites (re: trying to buy decent cycling gear here), and less for the 20-something urban rider. The Chixie represents a big step away from the grandma stuff towards the cooler stuff.

My initial reaction to a large manufacturer like GIANT is: ugh, another factory pumping out bicycles without any style. I feel this way about Trek too, although my father would probably disagree. Perhaps it's pretension, but there's something achingly uncool about GIANT and Trek; I just feel like these ubiquitous navy blue/silver hybrid bicycles have no soul. Of course, was my mini Fuji pumped out by some other assembly line in China? Yeah. But at least Fuji knows a thing or two about style (check out their 2010 Classic series: it's so sexy).

I think the ideas behind this bike are good. I know I sound like a broken record when I talk about bicycle sizing, but it IS nice to see a mainstream manufacturer produce something that fits. There is a lot to be said for that. Also: the Chixie incorporates a Sugino crankset, the 46T Messenger, which is a nice crankset for a stock bike. Also: this bike is a little bit cool. It has the plain chrome frame that some fixed-gear riders crave and a nice bright blue color scheme. My guess is the Giant Classic Road saddle is neither comfortable nor designed for women, but that is easily replaceable.

Clearly, if you're a female fixed-gear rider, this isn't the bicycle you're going to take to the track. Also, it's way overpriced. You could buy a small, nicer IRO for $200 less. In fact, I think is speaks more to the "I have money to burn and I might ride this cute bicycle to get my coffee" crowd. But, I'm happy to see companies producing small, sexy(ish), fixed gear/singlespeed bicycles for women. Amen to that.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Interview with a Bike Builder: A.N.T. Bike Mike

Photo from

This is my interview with A.N.T. Bike Mike who owns his own bike building business in Holliston, Massachusetts. Check out Mike's sweet bikes and read his blog here.

Did the name A.N.T. precede Alternative Needs Transportation or were you looking for a name as you started your bike-building company?

Yes. I always liked the name A.N.T. and I think the image fits what I was trying to convey. An ant is small, but can carry many times it's own weight, it works independently, but is part of a larger group [like a bicycle].

How did you initially land a gig at Fat City Cycles and what exactly was your job there?

I rode my bicycle cross country, ended up in Boston and just got a job at Fat City off the street. I worked in the paint department and moved up to lead painter after 5 years.

Did you enjoy working in a bicycle factory? What were some things you liked and disliked about that job?

Fat City was a sweat shop, but a good one. It was a lot of fun, being with other young people that were into bikes, music and art. I disliked the politics, the low pay and lack of benefits...long hours etc... I guess the same issues other jobs in sweat shop factories have.

Are you still involved in Independent Fabrications? I have seen their bikes sold at NYC Velo.

I am still friends with everyone at Indy Fab and drop by there every once in awhile to see what is going on. It is a good place to work, but I wanted more.

How long did it take you to get your independent shop set up (machines, tools, income) to a point where you were able to start your own company with your partner Betsy?

I worked part time as A.N.T. for about 1 1/2 years, before going full time with it. I was still at Indy, working full time, when I started A.N.T.

Do you do any advertising for A.N.T. or do you just rely on word of mouth?

I advertise in Momentum Magazine, Urban Velo Magazine as well as Eco Velo [blog]. I used to advertise in more magazines and blogs/websites, but have tapered off. I depend more on shows and events, like NAHBS and local events. It is better to meet with people in the flesh and show my work off.

Do you enjoy working alone your shop? Do you ever miss having co-workers?

Yes, I enjoy working alone. It would be nice to have someone do the dirty keeping, clean the bathroom, clean the machines, assembly and shipping...answering emails.

What was the first bicycle you made and how did it go?

My first one was made at Independent. It went easy, because we already had a system in place and someone to help me. When I started A.N.T. I was already moving along fine.

I have heard from newbie bicycle welders that it “takes a while to get the handle of it.” Would you say this is true?

My first 50 frames were pretty good, but then the next 100 I thought were not that great. I did not feel good about my welding until I welded about 300 frames. I have welded many, many hundreds now, so pretty good at it now.

About how many bicycles do you build a year?

I build about 45 to 50 complete bicycles a year. These are most often with forks, stems and racks made by me and I build the wheels too, along with being a fully equipped bike with fenders, dyno lights, chainguards and stands. If I were building racing bikes I could make a lot more in a year or if I were only making frames.

How long does it take, on average, to make one bicycle?

Anywhere from one a day to one in a week or more. I have basic bikes that are easy and cost less and others that take a lot of hand work and those take a lot out of me. Making the bike is the easiest thing I do. I am good at it and have a great honed system. It is the running of the business that is hard. I get so many emails and phone calls it can take up a whole day.

What is your favorite part of the manufacturing process of a bicycle, from start to finish? What is your least favorite part?

I like the whole process. I guess that is why I wanted to work alone, so I can do just that...well I don't like shipping.

On average, how much do your bicycles cost?

I don't like averages. My bikes range from $1,400 complete to $6,000 I can make a very nice bike for $2,000 to $3,000

I know you make commuter-minded bicycles that have a retro style. What is your favorite kind of bike to make and why?

I can't have a favorite. I like bikes to much and think you should have many to fill any void. My favorites change with my mood, the weather...but I guess if I had to boil it down...a fixed Roadster with a D-Rack in the front.

How many bicycles do you have and which do you enjoy riding the most?

Right now I have 3. I normally have about 4 or 5, but one just got stolen and the other I sold and have not replaced yet. I have a fixed Scorcher that I like the best right now.

What are people generally looking for in a bicycle when they come to A.N.T.?

Most people see what I have made and offer and just go for an image that I have shown and then maybe modify it a little. I have a nice niche of building a certain style and people come to me for that.

Do you approach your bicycles from more of a design perspective or more of a functional perspective?

I do both. Sometimes from design and others from just function and then melt them in the middle.

How do you think your bicycles reflect your personal style?

Simple from a distance, taking a closer look finding something of interest and much more intricate.

What is the main thing that separates A.N.T. bicycles from other handmade bicycles?

It used to be that I was the only classy black bike with a front flatbed I guess now it is only my personality and they way I work with people.

You say in the Zachary Lee video on your blog that U.S. cities were (unfortunately!) built around the automobile. I think NYC in particular is initiating changes that encourage cyclists to hit the streets—whether it is more bicycle lanes, more bike parking or even free helmets. But there is the feeling, especially in Manhattan, that cars still rule the streets. What do you think we can do as cycling enthusiasts to change this? What do you think is the most important change that we need to see in order to promote cycling as a viable means of transportation?

I think cycling enthusiast are doing all they can and they are getting somewhere. These things take a long time. In the 20 years I have been in Boston it is way better now. Unfortunately I think what would really do the trick is having two things happen...Celebrities on bikes and cute girls on bikes. Most of us in the U.S. are TV babies. We need TV people on bikes. Cute girls on bikes, make boys want to be on bikes [not in a SUV, motorbike or whatever]. Now this is already happening and I think it is helping a lot. Just need more of it and for it to not stop [like a fad].

What would you be doing if you weren’t building bicycles?

I just can't think of what I would rather do.