Friday, 20 June 2008

Downtube Mini now available

As of yesterday, the Downtube Mini is available to purchase from Velo Chocolate. It's priced at £350 including shipping. We've put it that way because, as it's in America, if we gave the price ex-shipping, it would seem very low, and then the shipping cost would come as a nasty surprise. The shipping is, in real terms, about £100, but even with the shipping included it beats its main rivals on price. Bromptons seem to start at about £500 for the 3 speed, and the Dahon Curve is £350 for the 3 speed version before shipping. Factor in the 8 speed Sturmey Archer hub, and the Mini looks like the best deal on the block!

Given that the bike is shipping from the States, you should be prepared for a potential tax bill following it into the country. This sometimes doesn't happen, for reasons we can't fathom, but often it does. This will be for VAT against the purchase price ex-shipping, and given the amount of the actual price you pay is made up of shipping and assembly and tune-up in the US, it's not too high.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Downtubes on World Naked Bike Ride

Sometimes an opportunity comes up that's just too cool to turn down, and World Naked Bike Ride was one of those! It's not so much a protest, more an awareness raising event, pointing out the problems of the dominance of oil in our economy, and by way of nakedness, illustrating the fragility of a cyclist in traffic. It also happened to look like a lot of fun! So, I recruited a female friend, packed up the Downtubes, and headed for the Southampton ride. We hung some Velo Chocolate adverts on the racks, and headed for the Common, with a little trepidation. Poor Jo, now known as Lady Downtubediva in the cycling community, was more than a little nervous, but after we'd shed our clothes, it didn't seem such a big deal, and the combination of that and the signs attracted quite a bit of interest!

The ride itself was huge fun (Jo said she'd never had so much fun in her life), going right through the centre of Southampton, and attracting 156 riders. We were cheered and applauded all the way round, and saw nothing but smiles and support. Judging by the rise in the number of hits on Velo Chocolate since the weekend, there's nothing quite like getting a naked girl to ride your bike through town to attract a bit of commercial interest! Below are photos which are hopefully "safe for work" enough. I think the second one captures the joy of the event rather well!

The Tea Tricycle - a tale of frustration

Velo Chocolate has a sister business, at least theoretically; the Tea Tricycle. This is my wife's brave venture; a mobile tea service selling 32 varieties of organic and fair trade tea from a cargo trike. The plan was that people strolling through Southampton town centre wouldn't be limited to very expensive coffee, but could also buy a lovely hot cup of tea. The trouble is that Southampton City Council, in their infinite competence, gave us wrong information about licensing, and are now insisting that no license is available, and that all the street traders are being prosecuted in Southampton. Now, apart from being fundamentally illiberal, this is a royal pain in the backside, since we've invested the money in the trike, the stock, and kitting it out. The new plan is to run market stalls selling boxes of the tea, with the trike at the end selling hot cuppas, and maybe to do festivals and events as well. Since Velo Chocolate is responsible for the maintenance of the Tea Tricycle, I thought you might like to see it (and no, that's not my wife, it's her business partner). The trike now has a lid, too......

The Downtube Mini Arrives

Not very long ago, Velo Chocolate received a Downtube Mini, for test purposes, and assuming we decided it fit the bill, to use as a bike for the press to test out. Well, having tested it fairly thoroughly (my 11 year old son decided he should test it by going over the handlebars at least once), we've decided it's a bike we really want to offer.

The Mini has a very similar frame to the bigger Downtube bikes, and is similarly stiff and robust, but is smaller, with 16" wheels rather than 20. This means it folds really compact, almost as small as a Brompton, and fits in even very small cars, is practical for the tube, in fact anywhere that the folded size is really important. We see it as a direct competitor for the Brompton, and it has some distinct advantages. For one, it seems likely to be better at accommodating bigger riders, for another, it has an 8 speed Sturmey Archer hub gear, which gives a wider gear range than the Brompton, thirdly, with a seatpost rack fitted, it carries luggage much better than any Brompton I've seen, and finally, it's going to be cheaper than even the 3 speed version. The Brommie definitely folds a bit smaller and neater, but for us, the price differential is too much to overlook. The final price here has yet to be decided, since we need to find a price point that makes Downtube enough money to justify the extra hassle of shipping them to customers over here (they'll ship direct from the States), but which represents the usual great value for money that you expect from a Downtube.

Our bike has been going through it's paces, carrying me on several London commutes, and carrying a friend on a very special ride (more of that later). At 6'3, it doesn't quite have the seatpost height for me, but I only need an inch or so, and I'm looking at a device called, unprepossessingly, the Butt Buddy which would move my seat up by another 2 inches. With the Axiom quick release seatpost rack on, it carries my Ortlieb Office Bag 2 beautifully, and has plenty of ground clearance for panniers too. I've added a Brooks B66 in an attempt to get the extra saddle height I needed, but it turned out not to be any higher. The bike has acquitted itself well on the Embankment Grand Prix (my lack of full leg extension not withstanding), and it folded up tiny to be out of the way on a crowded train, and also in a clients office. I'm loving it, and I can't see me wanting to do without it! I'll have to, however, since once we agree the price with Downtube, I'll be working hard to get it out to the press, ideally the mainstream press rather than cycle mags. One publicity stunt we pulled has already attracted a lot of people to this site, but I'll say no more of that for now. The pictures below are not really presentation quality, I simply snapped them with my camera and Blackberry at different times - expect better on the site. Looking at the second image, I can see that I have been blasting around London with the cardboard badge still attached to the rack. What a class act!

New Products on the way

We're working very hard to add new products to the Velo Chocolate range. It's not easy, because as a small new retailer, wholesalers don't really want to deal with us, but we've got some exciting, new and innovative products on the way. The first of these will be front lights which are almost as bright the the £100 Dinotte lights, but will cost £20. We have those in stock, but we're waiting on Twofish, a supplier of really good light mounts, to come through with mounts for us.

Of course, we're also very excited about the Downtube Mini as well, but more about that soon.

A number of people have asked about racks and mudguards for the Downtube bikes, which are something we wish we could offer. At the moment, we can't find the right supplier, so what we're about to do is add links to other online bike sellers who have the best racks and mudguards. To fit the mudguards to the IXFS you need a fitting kit, since it doesn't have the conventional holes and mountings. We've ordered the parts to put these kits together, and will be adding them to the site soon, so you can easily mount any set of standard 20" mudguards (the Dahon ones look to be the best).

We're particularly excited to be taking on the Nutcase Helmets line; we think the UK market is short on really cool and fun helmets. Protecting your head is a good idea, but why would you want to look bland or dorky? Look out for the designs below to appear very soon: