The day will also be a big one for the search terms: Moulton, What is a Moulton, Moulton Bicyle, Moulton Bike, Moulton, Where Can I Buy a Moulton, and Molton, Multon, Moltoon, and probably every other misspelling imaginable. Suffice it to say, it we're not talking Schwinn here. Undoubtedly, a great deal of web traffic will end up in one particular place, www.portapedalbike.com.
The little film tells the story of two inventive architects buying their children a small wheel bike. As ISWE recently learned, this is, in a way, also the story of PortaPedal Bike. The PortaPedal bike biography also begins with children riding bicycles, two inventive architects, one of them on a quest to buy small wheel transportation for his children.
Al Cappello, co-founder of PortaPedal bike, latched onto an affinity for bicycling from an early age, growing up in Buffalo, New York. Al and his friends would start out on their bicycles on Saturday morning and be gone all day. They would ride to the Niagara River and to the city dumps, where they would scavenge what good things they could find. It was their bicycles that gave them that freedom. Through those adventurous, industrious roots, Al's interest continued as he entered high school. Without a car, Al worked in restaurants until he was able to save up for an adult-worthy steed, a French, Fontaine bicycle with Simplex gears and cottered cranks. The Fontaine was his companion as he continued to enjoy cycling through his college years and training as an architect in Arizona.
After college, in 1987, Al and a colleague, Jeff Looker, struck out on their own to form a new architectural firm. As it would be, Jeff was also an avid cyclist. His cycle consisted of a specially built Cooper frame, adorned with Campagnolo components. Al and Jeff both commuted about 12 miles to work on a daily basis. Cycling was a part of their lives and a true means of transportation. They would both drive in to work together on Monday with their car full of cycling equipment and fresh business attire for the week. They would leave their car at the office until Friday until, much to their wives' chagrin, they would load their car and head home with a pile of dirty clothes and bikes.
In 2007, largely inspired by an economic downturn and subsequent disappearing demand for commercial retail and restaurant architectural designs, Al and Jeff adapted by entering into a new venture, Acoustic Vibes Music, a physical and online retailer of high-end and custom acoustic instruments. This would be the business platform prototype for the bike shop. In 2010, Al and his wife, Donna opened PortaPedal Bike, an online and physical retailer of all the best in folding and small wheel bikes ranging from Montague to Moulton and everything in between.
Architects train to solve problems. They identify the issues, they survey their resources, they design solutions. An issue for Al had to do with his, as he refers to him, "sin-in-law," the young man who had, at the time of this writing, not yet married his daughter. The "sin-in-law," it seems, traveled with Al's daughter to visit Al and Donna by means of small airplane. While the little airport they would land at is only three miles from Al and Donna's house, it was 30 miles from their business. A visit from the kids could mean a sixty mile trip from work to the airport to the house and back to work. There had to be a better way. The group decided that better way involved a couple of folding bikes. They could store them in the plane and pull them out at the airport to ride the short distance to Al and Donna's house. Problem solved. As the moustachioed father demonstrates in Me and My Moulton, small wheel and folding bikes solve problems. They can fit in an apartment, a car trunk, and they can accommodate riders from 12 to 100. They can fit in an airplane and that was ideal for Al and the "sin-in-law." And then the inevitable addiction set in.
Sales vary by season. Phoenix and Tempe's season is the opposite of much of the rest of the US. Snowbirds come south in the fall and winter and that's their cycling season. At that time the majority of the sales are local. Conversely, in the summer, when the rest of the country is cycling, online transactions comprise the majority of sales. Either time, customers are equally pleased with the capabilities of small-wheel and folding bikes. Customers talk about the ways the bikes enhance their travels, how enhance their life, how they ride more and more frequently, how they use their bikes to ride to the store, and how the feel fitter and better. Al and Donna enjoy the stories their customers tell and especially their photos from far off destinations such as Thailand or Hawaii. Some customers are hesitant to consider small wheels, opting to come in to see a 26" Montague first. But when given a chance to actually ride a small wheel bike, they almost always come back with a smile on their face. The bikes are quick, agile, comfortable, compact, and fun. Al says you don't have to sell small wheel bikes, all you have to do is demonstrate and explain them.
Few if any bike shops sell the spectrum of bikes available at PortaPedal. PortaPedal sells Brompton, Bike Friday, Moulton, Dahon, Montague and Tern. This provides PortaPedal shop visitors an unparallelled opportunity to actually ride and compare the assets and attributes of these similar yet quite distinct brands of bikes. Al is thus uniquely equipped to help us understand the differences. Because most bike shops that do sell small wheel or folding bikes only have one or a few at most, it's difficult to know if what you're buying is the best choice for you. This is even more difficult with online searchers, when you obviously can't take a test ride or even a very close look. It can be a pig in a poke. One can end up with a bike that is not well suited, a bike that is not ridden, and a rider that doesn't ride.
At the shop, Al often takes, on average, up three hours with a client to help them decide, purchase, learn to fold and unfold properly, disassemble and assemble, and transport their bike. PortaPedal's new location is right next to a quiet neighborhood. He will go on a ride with clients, across different terrain, with Allen wrenches to adjust their cycling position to make sure it's comfortable. Al doesn't want his clients to get home with the bike and be frustrated. He wants them to have fun and enjoy riding. Toward that end, Al has a little bit of general advice for anyone who is considering buying anywhere, especially online.
In terms of technology, Al says we are certainly seeing more internally-geared hubs. This is interesting to small wheelers, because we've been using them all along. Internally-geared hubs have always had the advantage of keeping small and complicated parts safely concealed from all sorts of road hazards from water to mud to errant tree limbs and car bumpers. Modern tech is simply making these "clickety-clack" three-speed hubs better with broader, evenly spaced gear ratios, decreased resistance, and smoother performance. But, as Al notes, even the Sturmey-Archer HD is now nice and smooth. Internally-geared hubs are especially well-suited for traveling because they eliminate an external derailleur that can be easily snagged and thrown out of adjustment. They also make for a more compact fold. According to Al, Moulton is already using Shimano Alfine 11s on some of their higher-end models. Tern is using Shimano 11 and Nexus 8s. Bike Friday is using all kinds of hubs, even Rohloff hubs. Tern is also coming out with a model with 2.5-inch tires for a smoother, un-suspended ride. Al says it looks like a little fat bike. Al actually had one in the shop. It didn't last very long because it was an extremely capable, comfortable ride because of the larger diameter time. Someone snapped it up. Al is also seeing a lot of enthusiasm from the bicycle manufacturers. Brompton has gone, in just 4 years, from about 22,000 units a year to 45,000 units last year and every one of those sold. Tern, a young company, is growing because of their innovation. Dahon is also innovating with things like cable routing inside the tubing and Rohloff 14-speed hubs. Al concludes that the manufacturers are gaining confidence in their niche and that means we're going to see a lot of growth and innovation.
Al concluded our virtual shop visit with a little advice for ISWE--take our bikes to events to show people how they perform. Al said, "Take your small wheel bike to an event. Take it the two miles to the grocery store. Take it on the light-rail system or the bus. Give it that everyday exposure. Show people how they work and that they ca do everything their large-wheeled counterparts can do, let them ride them, and the will be amazed." ISWE took this as an opportunity to convince the wife to add more small wheels to the stable. Al finally laughed and said, "You've got to."
Al then summed it up like this:
Cycling is a great activity. It benefits all ages. One of my customers, came in to upgrade from an older model to a new bike. He is 83 years old. Cycling is beneficial physically and emotionally. It can have a real impact on our lives. Big bikes; we do a lot of work for big bikes. We buy racks for them. We put the racks on top of our cars. If we travel to another city, we have to worry about them on the racks, even if they're locked up. We haul them all around. We do a lot of work for our big bikes, but the little bikes bend over backwards for us. They take the hard work out of cycling. They make it easier to integrate cycling into your life; and if you can do that more, you're going to be healthier, it's a great social activity with your friends. It's going to keep you young. I'm sixty years old, but I feel twelve years old when I ride little bikes.
ISWE wants to extend all a super-extreme small-wheel thank you to Al and Donna Cappello for being so generous in providing ISWE readers with such a wealth of information about small-wheel and folding bikes. Also, thanks to PortaPedal Bike for doing so much as a local business in Tempe and around the world online. If there was an ISWE award, we would be giving one to Al and Donna Cappello of PortaPedal Bike!