Amsterdam Diaries Part 9- Coffee With Pete Jordan

Friday December 16, 2016   

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Back when I was making out the schedule for this trip, my strategy was to get the supplier visits locked down first and then leave some open room for meeting other relevant, interesting people. High on my list of people I wanted to meet was Pete Jordan.

Pete Jordan is an American who has lived in Amsterdam since 2002. He is also the author of the book ‘In The City Of Bikes: The Story Of The Amsterdam Cyclist’. This book first came to my attention from a customer’s recommendation a few years ago. It is hands down the most entertaining and informative book I’ve ever read about Dutch bikes and the history of biking in Amsterdam. If you are into Dutch bikes, this is must read stuff here.

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I’ve read Pete’s book cover to cover twice now and I often go back to reference specific sections like Chapter 6 where he highlights the key factors that have lead to the Dutch obsession with bikes and how it contrasts with the United States’ obsession with cars. I dwell on this section of the book a lot as someone who dreams of cities like Chicago someday resembling Amsterdam with a constant stream of bikes up and down every street. This chapter is a bit of a double edged sword; it’s inspiring for me to read about the Dutch biking culture but equally depressing reading about how historically ingrained the car culture is in the US.

When I first finished his book, I was inspired to meet Pete someday. I really wanted to meet this fellow American expat who moved to Amsterdam and was as nuts about Dutch bikes as I was. Our lives followed similar trajectories up until a point; that point being when I decided to move back and sell Dutch bikes. Pete on the other hand decided to stay and make Amsterdam his permanent home.

I reached out to Pete a few months before my trip to try and arrange a meet up. I was really excited when I heard back that he was available and up for it. After I got to Holland we settled on a place and time and met for a coffee at de Wasserette (Dutch for The Laundry) in De Pijp neighborhood of Amsterdam.

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This cafe provided the backdrop of our conversation

We hung out for about an hour and had some great conversation. It was really cool and kind of strange, having read his book I felt like I knew him already and was catching up with an old friend. Pete is an easygoing and friendly guy, it certainly helped that we have such a strong commonality in our passion for all things Dutch bikes.

In addition to being an accomplished author, Pete also happens to be a talented photographer. I picked Pete’s brain about how to capture and share the experience of Dutch biking. When I come to Amsterdam on these trips this is something that I always try to do but can be really difficult. I want to make this experience available in the virtual sense to the J.C. Lind family, where they feel like they are a part of the action. I mentioned to Pete how it can be frustrating when you either can’t get your camera ready fast enough to capture a Mom biking by with 5 kids on her bike, or, right after you put your camera down the action you’ve been patiently waiting for rolls right past you. Pete made a good suggestion which is to narrow the focus of what you want to capture. So you tune your radar, turn it into a fun challenging game and only pull your camera out for that preordained theme you’ve chosen to capture; ie. people transporting their Christmas trees on their bike. For a prime example of his strategy in action, check out this post from the Workcycles blog (Beldoppen: Why Only Some People Can Be Artists) about a really cool photography project of Pete’s.

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De Lairessestraat – a highly trafficked street in the Oud-Zuid (Old South) neighborhood of Amsterdam

I took the above photo the day after I met with Pete as this particular street came up during our chat. This is De Lairessestraat, a long straight street that runs the entire length of the linear Vondelpark (Amsterdam’s iconic city park). It is an arterial street, highly trafficked by many modes of transport as you can see. It also happens to be a street that has what in Dutch terms is inferior bicycle infrastructure. Cyclists have no protections from motorized traffic and have to share a narrow space with parked cars to their right and trams/cars/buses to their left. Pete mentioned that Amsterdam’s city hall is currently discussing potential improvements to make this street safer for cyclists. Just like here in the states, they have the same NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) folks who object because they don’t want to lose their parking spots. However, Pete pointed out very casually that this being Amsterdam the city council ultimately will side with the cyclists.

It was encouraging and refreshing to hear such places exist where the local government prioritizes cycling. It hasn’t always been this way in Holland. One of the key takeaways from Pete’s book for me was that the Dutch biking culture is not something that just came naturally or without any resistance or effort, the Dutch have had to fight long and hard for it.

I recommend checking out the above YouTube of Pete’s appearance on David Letterman while he was promoting his first book ‘Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All 50 States’. Not only is the video hilarious but it will also give you a great introduction to Pete. I haven’t read ‘Dishwasher’ yet but I just ordered a copy and it is next up in my reading list.

We have ‘In The City Of Bikes’ in stock at The Shop and I gotta say, I get almost as much joy from selling a copy of Pete’s book as I do from selling a bike. Thank you kindly Pete for taking the time to meet with me, I hope to see you again the next time around.

The sun is starting to set on this trip, stay tuned for my final entry where I’ll wrap things up.

-Jon

Everything Goes Perfect Every Time…

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Over the nine years we’ve been in business, everything has gone super perfect every single time*. Until recently that is, when our perfect streak was broken after we ordered a Gazelle Tour Populair Step Over 8 Speed 61cm and they mistakenly shipped us a 3 Speed instead. We talked over the options with Gazelle and shipping this bike back was going to be too wasteful and costly. Plus we don’t necessarily hate this bike. It just wasn’t what we ordered which means we had to add another model to our list of offerings.

It is very much by design that we choose to stock only the 8 speed Tour Populair. For starters, the variance in retail price is only $50 ($1,099 for 3 speed vs. $1,149 for 8 speed). But, there are other differences not easy to sort out to the untrained eye. The 3 speed has old school rod pull Sturmey Archer drum brakes. Sure they’ll slow you down but long term they are not as easy to service or source parts for as the modern Shimano Roller Brakes on the 8 speed. The dynamo generator on the 3 speed is also old school; one of the external coke bottle style ones, contrasted with the modern low friction internal Shimano hub dynamo on the 8 speed. Long story short, the 3 speed is the bike you ride with a tweed jacket as your holiday weekend bike whereas the 8 speed is more of a four season Genuine Dutch Transport city bike.

We do like having this bike around as it’s pretty neat to look at, but we’d rather take this opportunity to offer our customers a sweet unbeatable price on a unique set of wheels (and get back to our nice and tidy, streamlined stocking list of only 8 speed Tour Populairs).

The fine print – save $250 from retail price (sale price $849 vs. retail $1,099). In store pick up only. This deal is on this bike only while it lasts. It is a 61cm step over so ideal for riders within a few inches on either side of 6′ tall.

*NOT

Frozen Cables: A Case Gone Cold

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Chicago winter can be cold, they says. But they’re usually talkin’ about the temperature.

It all happened back in December. I was sitting alone at the bike shop, nursing a bottle of Jack and sweatin’ bullets wonderin’ what scheme I could come up with to afford my next meal. The bikes just weren’t comin’ in; the cold had scared most folks off the streets. Leastways, offa two wheels. Heaven knows you can’t avoid the streets in this town. So there I was, the bikes weren’t comin in, but the bills sure were. And just as I was about to open a new bottle, she came in the door.

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Plenty of dames had come to me before (and plenty of fellas, too) by which I mean to say, they’d come to me in distress. But this one had white on her face like it was rice, but maybe it was the cold. The point is, she was scared, trapped, stuck, and had no one to turn to… ‘cept me. Well, she come in outta the cold with her bike, a nice cargo bike, the kind you buy to carry your kids an’ all your groceries around town, same as a car. This was one helluva lady, I thought. Then she starts chattering hysterically about her shifter not working, her brakes not working. I take a look at em an’ say, Lady, your brakes and shifter are fine. She looks at me bug-eyed and tries em out herself. She’s incredulous, says they wouldn’t budge just minutes ago.

So I start puttin’ the pieces together. I was reminded of a case a buddya mine took on a few years back. He went mad, so mad they threw him in the loony bin, talkin’ ’bout frozen cables, couldn’t shift or brake with frozen cables. I shuddered. Somethin’ about the whole ordeal made me wanna book a train straight to Florida and hide out there, never show my face in this town again. But it was a coward’s fantasy. I really needed to take this case. The bills an’ all that. Plus I couldn’t let this girl down, not her nor her little kids an’ their cold rosy cheeks and cold little snotty noses. I told her I’d get to the bottom of it.

Was I goin’ soft? I’d worked with a lotta classy dames in my time but with this one… I didn’t even haggle on the price. In my line of work, in the back of my mind is always the thought that the next client in distress who comes in’ll be the one who melts my cold heart. But back to the story…

Before she left I installed new cables on the bike, right after blowing out all the water that was stuck inside the housing, and then I lubed em up something fierce. I thought my problems were over and I was home free. It wasn’t too many days before she came back, though, with her pretty brow furrowed and those dreadful words on her ruby lips, “It happened again.”

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Over the next couple weeks I trailed the suspect: Cold. It wasn’t easy, January and February came and weather was balmy, by Chicago standards anyway. The cold kept hidin’ out in places I didn’t expect. March? I mean, come on, who’s counting on a cold snap in March? But then It’d disappear just as quickly.

Finally, the crook struck again. This time I was poised, ready to spring the trap to take It down. But as usual, things never work out quite the way I plan, but hey, I ain’t no forensic scientist. I decided to stake out the bike and monitor the cable. It was a sleepless night, but the minute I felt that the cable had frozen, I cut it up, housing and all, into sections. I labelled the sections with numbers. I was in a frenzy, feeling like I was following the lead that would crack the case wide open.

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Sections 10, 11, 12 had the greatest amount of water in them

After cutting off each segment of housing, I tested the cable to see if it moved within or if remained stuck. When I’d finally cut them all, I figured out where all the ice was, and I couldn’t believe my naivete. The water had pooled in the lowest section of the housing. I shoulda known. Of course it would. Just like gravity had knocked me down and humbled me a thousand times, gravity had pulled the water down to where Chicago’s mean, cold streets had frozen it, and I couldn’t see it till the very end.

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I ended up replacing both the cable and the housing, but so many questions lingered, unanswered still: how did the water keep getting in after I’d blown it out? What could I do to stop water from getting in? I wanted answers, but I was tired of using this poor woman and her bike as bait in my little scheme, not to mention, after daylight savings time hit, those sub-freezin’ temps went into hiding, and my case went cold.

Spring is on the way, and folks are suddenly looking cheery and amicable again. But I’m still nursing this bottle-a Jack because I probably won’t see that frozen cable for 8 months. I probably won’t see her again either. I guess I should be thankful. She gave me a check and thanked me for all I did. She might be safe, for now, but I’ll keep that file open, I’ll keep it warm. When winter comes again, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve.

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To be continued…

-Keith, mechanic, and private detective

Amsterdam Diaries Part 8- Workcycles Visit

Thursday December 15, 2016 Continued

After a fruitful morning with Bicicapace, I had some breathing room in my schedule before an afternoon visit with the guys at Workcycles. The hectic pace of the previous three days’ train travel had worn me out. Having a day without boarding any trains and being able to ride my bike around Amsterdam was just what I needed. Following my nose around town, I popped into a few bike shops, had lunch at one of my favorite spots and visited some old haunts.

With my trip down memory lane complete, I continued on to the business at hand.

2016-12-15 14.27.07The mothership. Workcycles headquaters, located in the quintessentially Amsterdam neighborhood, the Jordaan. A familiar place that I arrived at on a familiar bike. That bike (pictured above) was one of the first ones I ever sold back in 2008. My friend JL, who I introduced you to in Part 1, bought it second hand from the original owner when he lived in Chicago a few years ago. When JL moved back to Amsterdam, the bike was repatriated back to the country where it came from.

We are grateful that Workcycles exists, a bike company that is uncompromising in making bikes that are purely utilitarian. The thing that makes Workcycles different from so many others is they don’t try to beat well marketed ideas with better marketing of their own. They try to beat well marketed ideas with better ideas.

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We have been a Workcycles dealer going on five years now. Each year they have reinforced their status as the core brand we sell here at J.C. Lind Bike Co. Therefore, it goes without saying, I prioritize spending as much time with them as I can during these trips across the ocean.

If you’ve been following my posts about this trip, you know that earlier in the week I visited both of the factories, Nijland and Azor, where Workcycles bikes are made. My primary purpose of visiting their showroom, which I did both today and the following day (Friday), was to catch up with the Workcycles crew including founder Henry Cutler.

On these trips, I aim to get a glimpse of their day-to-day operations and find out the inside scoop on their plans for the immediate and distant futures. It’s also key for me, as I’ve stated before, to get to know the people behind the brands of bikes we sell.

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The Fr8/Gr8/Kr8 bikes can be personalized with a custom nameplate

One of the cool things I learned is we will have more choices of fonts going forward on the CNC nameplate.

Another thing I picked up on this trip is that we have the option to order Fr8’s in a special configuration designed to handle even more weight than the venerable Fr8. We refer to it as the Heavy Duty package and it includes tires with a higher weight capacity, even beefier rims, an 8mm thick saddle rail and a double seat tube clamp. It’s commendable of Workcycles to continue pushing the envelope of what their bikes are capable of.

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Workcycles Fr8 in Vermilion RAL2002

The Workcycles Fr8 is hands down our best selling bike model from any manufacturer. We always keep a healthy inventory of this bike in the neutral black and matte grey colors, but, every once in a while we try to bring in a few Fr8’s in funky seasonal colors. One of my favorite things to do on these trips is to get inspiration for color ideas. Our Workcycles shipment that just arrived last week has Fr8’s in both Vermilion RAL2002 (see picture above) and Patina Green RAL6000 (see picture below), which were both influenced from seeing these bikes during my visit.

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Patina Green RAL6000

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Another first for me on this trip was getting to test ride the e-assist Fr8 (shown above) and Kr8 (below). Electric assist is a hot topic these days and only seems to be getting hotter. For years now I’ve been pretty staunchly anti-e-bike and as of the writing of this post it is still not something we offer or do any service on at J.C. Lind Bike Co.

That said, this visit to Amsterdam and my test rides of the e-assist Fr8 and Kr8 along with my read on our industry and the more frequent conversations I’m having with existing and potential cargo bike customers, I’m starting to come around and see some of the value and legitimacy of e-assist for certain situations. Long story short, with so many pros and cons, it’s a complicated topic which is better left to its own blog post.

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I got a kick out of playing ‘I spy’ with Workcycles bikes on this trip. Here is a photo gallery of the #workcyclesofamsterdam bikes I came across.

Workcycles is never idle. If they aren’t working on a new project, they are busy selling, servicing and improving their existing line of bikes. Per one of Henry’s recent blog posts, it appears some big changes are afoot. It was great chatting with him and learning more about their future plans. Thank you very much to Henry, Richard and the rest of the team for taking time out of your busy schedule to indulge my curiosity. And finally, thank you for making such great bikes.

With all of my vendor visits behind me, I had a few more days left to enjoy Amsterdam and a few more interesting meetings still to come…

-Jon

Amsterdam Diaries Part 7- Bicicapace Visit

Thursday December 15, 2016

After three days of exhausting travel by train and bike throughout most of the country, it was nice to sleep in a little and only have a 10 minute bike ride to the next bullet on my itinerary. That bullet being a meet up with Bicicapace, a young cargo bike brand out of Milan Italy with whom we’d been in touch for about a year.

Once I had booked my trip to Amsterdam, I reached out to Stefano from Bicicapace to see if it would be possible to test ride their bikes during my visit. As luck would have it, our schedules aligned and they were going to be passing through town on dealer visits around the same time.

I was thrilled to finally be getting a chance to see and ride their bikes after a long period of looking at pictures and reading about them online. Bicicapace makes three models, the Classic, JustLong and Sport. I was able to try out both the Sport and the JustLong.

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Bicicapace JustLong with Sport model and my Brompton in background

Right out of the gate the JustLong fits seamlessly with what we offer at The Shop. It is a dedicated family truckster cargo bike, capable of transporting two kids on the long rear rack with Yepp seats or on a cushion for older kids. When I rode it, it handled really well and I was pleasantly surprised with how stable it felt even with a full size adult passenger on the back. The 20 inch wheels keep the center of gravity nice and low, and the low step through frame make it a great option for a wide range of rider sizes.

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The JustLong rear armature ring is a kiddie retention system that also doubles as a basket for other cargo as seen in the picture below.

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When riding on the back it’s good to have a place to put your feet.

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The JustLong rear rack is compatible with one or two Yepp Maxi Easyfit seats.

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The JustLong comes with Option A- Folding Flatbed front rack (above). Or Option B- 80 liter PVC/Cordura front mounted bag (below).

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The Sport model, as the name implies, is sportier and less upright than most of the bikes we sell. The handling of the Sport was responsive, making it an agile bike, perhaps better suited for messengers or somebody who wants to carry cargo without siting bolt upright.

So you’re probably wondering whether you will be able to see these in Chicago anytime soon? I’m happy to report the answer is yes. We have a shipment from Bicicapace arriving imminently. Stay tuned to our website and social media channels for news of their arrival.

But wait, that’s not all! Stefano and Claudia also introduced me to Velo-ce, a brand of stylish Italian city bikes. High on looks without sacrificing on smart practical features. This spring we will be bringing in the Classic Draisina. Dyno powered lights, roller brakes, internal gearing, 2 leg center stand with fork spring, chain case and Brooks saddle. These are all of the types of things we are into here at J.C. Lind Bike Co. These also happen to be the things which unfortunately are hard to find in most bikes.

 

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The Velo-ce Draisina Classic in Verde Pastello

It felt great knowing I’d be returning home having successfully scouted out some new blood for the shop. This is one of the big reasons why I make these trips. Discovering bike brands I never knew existed before and getting some valuable hands on experience with new product.

Thank you very much Stefano and Claudia for making the trip to Amsterdam, next time I think I’ll have to come and see you in Milan.

My morning visit with Bicicapace complete, I had the whole day ahead of me to explore Amsterdam on my bike and drop in on the guys at Workcycles. Check back for the next installment as my trip keeps rolling on.

-Jon

Amsterdam Diaries Part 6- Gazelle Visit

Wednesday December 14, 2016 Continued 

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After an enjoyable morning visit with Ronald Onderwater in Bruekelen, I was back on the train on may way to the town of Dieren to visit the Gazelle Rijwielfabriek (‘Rijwiel’ being the old fashioned Dutch term for bicycle and ‘Fabriek’ factory). It’s funny, when I originally scheduled all these visits I didn’t make the connection that I was starting my day at what is essentially a one man bike company and ending it at the largest bike factory in the country.

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We’ve been a Gazelle dealer for six years, making them one of the longest running brands we’ve ever carried at The Shop. Lucky for us, there has always been a US distributor for Gazelle. This is something we don’t take for granted, as it saves us a lot of heavy lifting compared to having to import them ourselves from Europe.

The factory is only a block or so from the Dieren train station. Approaching it by bicycle from the station, it was a cool, almost cinematic experience as I rounded the corner and the whole campus came into view. To see how well-maintained the original brick facade is and the original sign, was a rare and special sight; it would be as if Schwinn was still around, still making bikes, and had a historic and well-maintained facility in the city of Chicago. I recommend playing around with the google street view above to get a good glimpse of the outside. Be sure to scroll left to check out the newer parts of the factory as well.

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Image from Gazelle website (https://goo.gl/images/ebdlJI)

The original facade is incredibly well preserved and what was once a factory behind those walls is now their office spaces with most of the factory now set up in new annexes to the original building.

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Some of the beautiful tiles that greet you as you enter the front door of the factory.

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This is the reception area right as you enter. It’s just amazing how much of the original building they preserved and incorporated into the new functional space.

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Nice to see a Tour Populair proudly on display next to the reception desk. That is the employee cafeteria in the background.

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Image from Gazelle website (https://goo.gl/images/Isvu1w)

Here’s a birds eye view of the brand new assembly lines. For more of a complete inside tour of the factory, check out the videos here on the Gazelle website.

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Love this conveyor belt they have.

Here’s a brief look at the genesis of Gazelle from this Sheldon Brown-esque website about Dutch Bikes, Rijwiel.net, created by Herbert Kuner.

1892: Willem Kölling, working as a post office agent in the Dutch village of Dieren, resigns and starts a bicycle trade by ordering one bike in England. His trade expands prosperously. Kölling starts a co-operation with the hardware and stove retailer Rudolf Arentzen from Dieren.

1902: Arentzen and Kölling buy new premises at the site of the present factory, and start the production of bicycles. In the same year, the first complete, Gazelle branded bicycle is sold.

Fast forward to 2011; Gazelle was purchased by Pon Holdings BV, who invested heavily in updating, expanding and improving the factory. The ‘new’ factory was officially unveiled in 2015.

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Gazelle is a large scale manufacturer with a dizzying array of bicycle models. We, by comparison, are an independent bike shop that is all about Genuine Dutch Transport. The Tour Populair is the Original Dutch Transport. Much like the preserved facade of the factory, the Tour Populair is what makes Gazelle an iconic Dutch brand. They are both examples of Gazelle building off of its past, not tearing it down.

At the time of writing, we have a healthy inventory of frame sizes in both the step through and step over Tour Populair.

Thank you to Ewoud who gave me a complete tour of the entire place. After finishing up at Gazelle, it was back to the train station and from there back to Amsterdam. During the first transfer in Arnhem I could sort of make out the announcement in Dutch that the train would not be going anywhere. This was confirmed by the frustrated faces on all the passengers as they got up and exited the train. Long story short, my perfect unblemished record of train travel the past three days was over.

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Biking in Amsterdam during rush hour. If it’s not on your bucket list it should be.

My train being cancelled turned out to have a silver lining. Because of it, I ended up re-routing my trip to Amstelstation instead of Amsterdam RAI. This meant I had about a 2 mile bike ride in the thick of Amsterdam rush hour. I was exhilarated by the energy of being a member of this steady stream of bikes and people, seemingly without end, both in front and behind me.

Next up on the tour I will meet with somebody whose bikes I’ve only been able to admire online until now. Stay tuned to find out who.

-Jon

 

 

One Earth Film Festival Kicks- REPOST

We are taking a day off of our Amsterdam Diaries posts to shift our focus to the One Earth Film Festival.

Please note the shop will be closing today at 6pm instead of our usual 7pm.

Who hasn’t gotten sucked into binge-watching documentaries on Netflix? Imagine if your binge-watching happened at locations all over Chicago like a scavenger hunt and connected you with people in your community–well that’s basically the One Earth Film Festival.

Prioritizing accordingly, the shop will be closing an hour early at 6pm on Wednesday March 8th instead of our normal 7. We’ll be heading down to Hyde Park for the One Earth Film Festival screening of Power To The Pedals which starts at 7pm.

Please consider this an open invite to ride along with us. We will meet at The Shop and depart promptly at 6pm. Not that we had to tell you, but we’ll be riding at a slow and relaxed pace (it builds up an appetite for movie watching).

One Earth Film Festival’s been running for six years, gracing Chicago roughly every spring with a series of movies- usually documentaries-of an environmentally conscious nature. There’s usually a bike-related movie or two on the schedule, gotta love that. More generally, OEFF just happens to combine three things we’re big nerds about: bikes, environmental issues, and Chicago!

Tickets are free with a suggested donation of $4. I’d advise booking a ticket in advance as it could sell out. They will also be screening Food Frontiers on March 8th. Each film is roughly 30 minutes long and there will be a discussion with the filmmakers and producers afterwards.

If you can’t make it on the 8th, I highly recommend checking out the other screenings which are all over the city and nearby burbs. The One Earth Film Festival runs from March 3rd through the 12th.