Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 20
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
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It’s New to Us by Jean Stratton

BIKES ARE BEST: “What has surprised me most is how the quality of bikes has gotten better every year at the lower price points. It’s the trickle-down effect technology.” Charles Kuhn, owner of Kopp’s Cycle, is shown with a red and white Fuji cross-town 4.0. This popular hybrid is noted for its versatility on different riding surfaces.

National Bike Week Brings Out Cyclists, Kopp’s Cycle Has Bikes, Supplies for Everyone

Get pumped! May is National Bike Month, and just about everyone, from kids to grandparents can be seen cycling. They are pedaling to school, to lunch, to stores, on the towpath, and even up and down mountains.

With the advanced technology of today’s bikes, there is almost no limit to where a bike can take you, and in fact, it is taking many people to work these days. In hopes of encouraging even more bike commuters, the League of American Bicyclists is promoting this as National Bike-to-Work Week.

“The best thing that has happened in the past couple of years is that people are riding bikes for transportation, to work and other destinations,” says Charles Kuhn, owner of Kopp’s Cycle at 38 Spring Street. “We have really noticed an increase in the number of people riding bikes to work in the past three to four years.”

Adds Michael Suber, past president of the Princeton Free Wheelers bicycle club and former chairman of the Princeton Township Sidewalk and Bikeway Advisory Committee (which has been replaced by the Princeton Joint Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee): “Some reasons for this include interest in fitness, concern about obesity, high gasoline costs; also, it’s non-polluting, and it’s fun.”

A Mile Away

“My neighbor rides his bike about one mile to the Princeton University campus nearly every day, as he has done for many years. My wife Phyllis and I ride to errands of more than a mile or so, and also ride from Princeton to nearby towns for visits and to lunch.”

According to the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey, “25 percent of all trips are made within a mile of the home, 40 percent are within two miles of the home, and 50 percent of the working population commutes five miles or less to work. Yet more than 82 percent of trips five miles or less are made by personal motor vehicle.”

Other studies indicate that people are receptive to biking to work, if safety issues are in place. A Rodale Press survey found that “Americans want to have the opportunity to bike to work instead of driving, with 40 percent of those surveyed saying they would commute by bike if safe facilities were available.”

The League of American Bicyclists points out that since bicycles are solely human-powered and use no fossil fuels, “more than 238 gallons of gasoline per year are currently displaced by replacing car trips with bicycle trips.”

They also produce less noise pollution, contribute to fitness, and reduce stress (“riding a bike instead of sitting in your car in traffic is less stressful”). The bike commuter can also “avoid traffic delays by taking off-road trails, bike lanes, and wide curb lanes, which allow you to ride past traffic.”

Other pluses include decreasing car maintenance and gasoline costs, less money for parking, and arriving at work refreshed and full of energy! And, if it has been a tense day at the office, you can ride off the stress on the way home after work.

Your Own Power

The League of American Bicyclists adds that “commuting under your own power gives you a sense of accomplishment. You can even take the long way home and ride through a park or along a local river or lake.”

Not only do bicycles cost far less than automobiles to purchase and maintain, they do not require a continual intake of increasingly expensive gasoline, and also cause little, if any, wear and tear on roadways.

For individuals who want to go “green” and adopt environmentally-friendly practices, a bike is a sure thing.

Charles Kuhn of Kopp’s Cycle knows all about this. He started riding a mini two-wheeler at 18 months, and has continued to be a biking enthusiast throughout his life. As the owner of the oldest bicycle shop in North America, he is uniquely knowledgeable about all aspects of bicycles.

Founded in 1891 by E. C. Kopp, the shop was the hub for cycle racing in the U.S. during the 1970s. “My father, who purchased the store after World War II in the ’40s, coached the National Olympic and Pacific-American teams, and was honored by the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame,” says Mr. Kuhn.

“I was the youngest of six kids, and all of us worked in the store from time to time. And as the youngest, I worked there a lot. We had four different locations — originally on Nassau Street, then John and Witherspoon Streets, and here on Spring Street for the past 15 years. This is the best. It has the most space for our display of bikes and in the back for repair work.”

Major Brands

Cyclists can find whatever they need at Kopp’s, and will receive friendly, knowledgeable service. Major bike brands include Fuji, Bianchi (the oldest bike company in the world), and Haro, a company in California. “The owner, Bob Haro, rode the bike in the famous scene from the movie E.T.” reports Mr. Kuhn. The store also carries the Ferrari line, made by Colnago, and the latest addition, the new E-Bike Breezer.

“The hybrid or cross bikes are the most popular because they are versatile, good for commuting to work in town, or riding on the towpath by the canal. Hybrids are really 90 percent of our business, and most of our bikes are in the $300-$400 range. We also offer financing. These are well-made quality bikes.”

The other 10 percent, high performance racing bikes, are considerably higher in price.

Mr. Kuhn points out that bikes are better than ever today. “They are more dependable, and there is better value. Durability and dependability have definitely improved. There have been big advances in technology.”

Customers are all ages, from tots to teens, to parents and grandparents, and many are regulars. Kopp’s has bicycles for all of them. “One of my favorite things is selling a new bike to kids, whose parents I had also sold bikes to. I’m dealing personally with second and third generations now.

“We have Trail-a-Bikes for little kids to ride, which attach to the rear of their parents’ bike, and there are also little two-wheelers without pedals for tots to try their first bike.”

Latest Addition

The latest addition to the store, however, is for adults, and Mr. Kuhn is enthusiastic about it. “The biggest new thing we have seen for 2010 is the E-Bike, the Breezer, with an electric motor. It is available in the store now. It’s great for people who ride to work, and don’t want to arrive all tired out. It can go 18 m.p.h. and 20 miles before it needs recharging. It is only for those 18 or older.”

Kopp’s also offers a complete range of accessories, including saddles, helmets, lights, locks, luggage racks, baskets, speedometers, and a full selection of cycling clothing and gloves. Helmets are a must today — for children and adults — and Kopp’s has a wide variety, from $40 to $240. “Every helmet is the same as far as safety is concerned,” explains Mr. Kuhn. “But the more expensive ones can be lighter and cooler.”

Most bikes come without fenders now, he adds, but they can be added, and most models can be customized to the rider’s needs and wishes.

“One of the biggest differences with a bike shop and a department store is the personal attention and the choices. We often have six different sizes of a bike; a department store only has one. We also do bicycle fittings and customize the fit of your current bike to maximize efficiency and comfort.”

Kopp’s is also known for its full-service repair, and is certified by the Cycle Engineers Institute. Mr. Kuhn continues to enjoy this hands-on part of the job.

“Bikes should be tuned once a year,” he says. “We service the entire bicycle, to bring it back to the original factory specifications. I try to treat every bike that comes in as if it were my very own.”

As bikes get older, they need more care, he adds, and careful attention should be given to tires, brakes, and chains. “The chain is so important and needs replacement at least every 1000 miles.”

Good Repair

Certainly, keeping a bike in good repair, along with careful riding, is one of the most important responsibilities of any cyclist. The League of American Bicyclists points out the need for an ABC quick check. A is for air — properly inflated tires; B for brakes — inspection of pads for wear; and C for crank, chain, and cassette — inspection for wear and tightness and security of bolts.

The League also stresses the need to learn and obey the rules of the road. And it is important to be visible, including wearing brightly colored clothes, and displaying front and rear lights for night riding.

The New Jersey Department of Transportation has prepared a New Jersey Bicycle Manual, which offers information on all areas of cycling — from how to choose a bike properly to maintenance, safety equipment, and riding hazards to traffic controls. It also contains material on New Jersey cycling organizations.

There are many such organizations in the area, including the Princeton Free Wheelers club (with members from 18 to 80), which sponsors a variety of rides and tours of varying lengths and difficulty. Some are weekly rides in the area, and others are special events.

Recreational biking offers many advantages. As the League of American Bicyclists points out, it is a low-impact, aerobic activity for all ages. “A 130-pound cyclist burns 402 calories while pedaling 14 miles in an hour. A 180-pound cyclist burns 540 calories in the same time and distance.

If commuting to work is factored in, biking is an ideal solution to the need for moderate physical activity, which can be practiced five times a week.

Bike Town

Princeton is a great bike town, says Mr. Kuhn. Many residents ride to work or to shop, and the Borough and Township have made efforts to initiate cyclist-friendly policies. In addition, Princeton Borough periodically holds bike auctions of unclaimed bicycles, with one planned for this summer. Information may be obtained from the Borough Clerk’s office.

Mr. Suber points out that “with the support of the Princeton municipal governments, the Princeton Joint Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee seeks to coordinate joint projects, research special transportation topics, and report findings and recommendations to the municipal governments. Membership includes representatives from Borough Council, Borough Traffic and Transportation Committee, Princeton Township Committee, Princeton University, Princeton Regional Schools, Sustainable Princeton, and others.”

Those who ride a bike rather than drive a car to a store often can be rewarded with special values on purchases from a number of establishments. For example, the Whole Earth Center has offered a discount to shoppers who ride a bike to the store. A card is punched if the cyclist makes a $10 purchase. After 10 punches, a $10 discount is offered on purchases. An alternative is a $1 discount each time, if $10 is spent.

Another biking advocate is Princeton Tour Company, which provides various bike tours for residents and visitors. Among them are the “Townie”, the Einstein, Literary Greats, Parent/Student/Alumni, the Princeton Genius, and the Revolutionary Tour. Each focuses on a special theme or area, says Mimi Omiecinski, founder and owner of the company. “We also endorse the Princeton University cycling team, which assists us with tour route consultation.”

Why not join the more than 42.5 million Americans who ride bikes? That is more than the numbers who participate in basketball, golf, running, soccer, tennis, and skiing. It is a way to combine exercise, travel, friendship — and more. Michael Suber notes that romance has begun and flourished among members of the Princeton Free Wheelers, adding, “Family memberships are also very popular, as they include all minor children in the same household.”

Biking has certainly provided a congenial career, life-time activity, and a wide range of friendship for Charles Kuhn. “I enjoy all the people who come in and have continued to come for many years,” he says. “I don’t have customers; I have friends.”

Kopp’s Cycle is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m, Thursday 10 to 7, Saturday 9 to 5. (609) 924-1052. Website:

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