Thröwback Week #3: Scattante Empire State Courier

Dear Loyal Readers,

I am away this week. However, rather than let this blog lie fallow, I’ve put on my rubber gloves, rummaged around in my archives, and retrieved one moldy post per day for recycling. Maybe you’ve read them before, maybe you haven’t, but each is a reminder of a simpler time when road bikes had rim brakes, fixies were still cool, and gravel was just a piece of road grit in Jobst Brandt’s eye. Anyway, I’ll be back on Monday, February 27th, but in the meantime just think of this as the “Best Of Old Bike Snob,” or “BOOBS” for short.

Also, a sincere thank you to all of you who have donated to the continued mediocrity of this blog. If you haven’t and you’d still like to do so, details are here. If you haven’t and you don’t that’s fine too. Thanks as always for reading, and I’ll see you back here on Monday the 27th.

Yours etc.,

Tan Tenovo

BSNYC Product Review: Scattante Empire State Courier

[Originally published January 5th, 2009]

As I mentioned in my penultimate post of 2008, I actually received a present for the holidays. Well, I’m pleased to report that this present was in fact a bike:

You may remember that way back in September I reported that I was the victim of an “involuntary collabo,” in that Performance Bike (the Wal-Mart of mail order bicycle retailers) incorporated elements from this very blog into the marketing copy for their Scattante “Courier Series” of urban singlespeed bicycles. Basically, the Scattante “Courier Series” is a copy of Specialized’s Langster line in that the bicycles are regionally-themed, except that the “Courier Series” is made of steel, is much cheaper, and has even less cachet (if that’s even possible).

At the time, I was simultaneously flattered and irritated to learn that I had been used to help launch a line of quasi-Langsters. As such, I was also simultaneously flattered and irritated when a person from Performance subsequently offered to send me one of the bikes gratis. On one hand, I neither needed nor had room for another bicycle. (Much less one that’s a pre-packaged copy of a pre-packaged copy of an urban bicycle.) On the other hand, I am a cyclist, and all cyclists know that it is a sin to refuse a free bicycle, no matter how objectionable that bicycle may be. On the third hand (the one on which I wear my gold “BSNYC” five-finger ring), I was curious to see whether or not Perscattante had come anywhere close to hitting the mark. Yet on the fourth hand (the one I keep down my pants while I watch TV) I did not want to give Performance even more publicity.

Finally, I decided to use my fifth hand (that’s my decision-making hand) to flip a coin. If it came up heads, I’d take the bike. If it came up tails, I’d tell Performance to go have an “involuntary collabo” with themselves. Heads it was.

Once I accepted, I realized I now had a unique opportunity. While I wasn’t particularly interested in adding to the vague, fluffy, and bloated canon of bike reviews, I was interested in reviewing the attitude Performance is attempting to sell with this bike. In other words, can you purchase “street cred” for $499 plus shipping?

Of all the “Courier Series” bikes, the Empire State Courier was the one that seemed like it was trying hardest to be gritty. So that’s the one I chose. Here’s Performance’s cringe-worthy copy, complete with references to my blog:

Looking for a sure-fire way to lower the pistadex? Ditch your old bike on craigslist to make room for the new Empire State Courier from Scattante! Watch your friends marvel at the clear-coat over raw steel industrial look of this simple yet effective single speed road bike. The riser handlebars make for a comfortable and stylish bike just begging to be taken out for a little fixed gear freestylin’.

Here’s what it looked like when it came out of the box:

While my friends might “marvel at the clear-coat over raw steel industrial look,” I marveled at the smoke-grey plastic chain guard. Nothing says “street cred” like pant cuff protection. I won’t bother commenting on the bike’s appearance, since these things are subjective and it really doesn’t matter what I think, but obviously the whole thing’s pretty understated and it’s about as polarizing as a grey sweatshirt. Now that I had the bike, I compared it against the specs on the site:

The stem was silver instead of black and the grips were not of the locking variety, but otherwise it matched up. Perscattante also attempted to redeem themselves for the chain guard by shipping the bars with the uber-chic Reverse-Mounted Brake Lever (RMBL) setup, but I chose to reorient them more traditionally during assembly:

Speaking of assembly, it was fairly straightforward, and it took way more time to remove the reflectors, warning stickers, and various other safety gewgaws than it did to actually put the thing together. However, it is worth noting that both wheels were pretty far out of true, which I attribute to the footprints that were visible on the box:

I certainly won’t blame Perscattante for this as these footprints could have been applied anywhere. (Actually, now that I think about it, the mailman did have to stand on the box in order to peer over the white picket fence that surrounds my cottage.) However, if you’re an inexperienced mechanic and you’re buying this bike because it’s cheap these are the kinds of things you’ll end up paying to have corrected by your LBS. In the end, your Empire State Courier could wind up costing you almost as much as the Langster from which it was copied.

I, however, am an experienced mechanic, and so I promptly stress-relieved the wheels by blowing marijuana smoke onto them (I’ve never actually read “The Bicycle Wheel” but I think I’ve got the gist), fashioned a crude spoke wrench from a carrot, trued the wheels using the brake pads as a reference (the equivalent of tuning a guitar to itself, or turning up your stereo to drown out your TV), and commenced the first ever BSNYC/RTMS Street Cred Test.

Test #1: Boutique Acceptance

Like most cyclists, when I acquire a bicycle I will spend some time and money to “dial it in.” However, this bicycle was the equivalent of an unplanned pregnancy, and I was damned if I was going to spend a single red cent on my new bastard child. Furthermore, it was also vital to the Street Cred Test to evaluate the bike entirely as-is. (What good is a cheap bike if you have to spend another $200 to make it “cool?”)

However, I also allowed myself two exceptions. Firstly, the toe clips that came on the bike were tiny, and it was way too cold to ride in my ballet slippers. So I simply substituted them with a larger pair of plastic toe clips I had in my parts bin. (I was embarrassed to learn I actually had a pair of plastic toe clips in my home.) Also, while the bike is equipped with a flip-flop hub, it only came with a freewheel, and there was no way I could adequately test the bike’s street cred without a fixed cog.

Fortunately, I realized that taking my new Empire State Courier to the trendiest track bike boutique in town to purchase a cog and lockring would be an excellent opportunity to test its fixter appeal. How would NYC’s self-appointed fixed-gear cultural elite react to the bike? After considering my options, I decided on Chari & Co. in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where you can buy things like Nike sneakers (nothing’s better for cycling than Nike sneakers), $120 “candy rims,” and $95 limited edition Casio G-Shock watches.

My Empire State Courier performed well on the ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Since I’m reviewing the bike’s street cred rather than the bike itself, I won’t lapse into bike reviewer speak and try to describe the ride. All I’ll say is that it rode as nicely as any inexpensive bike I’ve ridden, and that while there’s absolutely nothing fancy on the bike it’s all perfectly serviceable. (Apart from the flimsy toe clips, that is.) Basically, it felt like a singlespeed hybrid, which was probably due to the wide risers. I did conduct one highly technical test on the frame, which involved tapping it in various places, by which I determined the steel was straight-gauge, like the Pake or the Mission. (Also, if it was butted I’m sure Perscattante wouldn’t let you forget it.) Anyway, assuming the thing fits you, you don’t want to shift, and you’re a competent mechanic there’s not much wrong with it.

As I crossed the bridge, I realized that I was probably about to become the very first person in the world to take an Empire State Courier into Manhattan. I felt kind of like Henry Hudson (probably because Henry Hudson was left by his crew to die somewhere in Canada). I also marveled at the fact that a bicycle that had been designed to evoke New York was probably conceived in North Carolina, certainly built in China (I know this from the sticker I peeled off the head tube), and besides the purloined BSNYC references really had no connection to New York at all. Here’s what it looked like on the bridge against the backdrop of its supposed “native” environment:

As I drew closer to Chari & Co., I grew nervous. What would these purveyors of track bike chic think of me and my lowly Empire State Courier? Would they dismiss me as an interloper with an off-the-shelf bike? Would they express curiosity about my ride? Would they not realize it was a Perscattante (the bike has minimal branding) and instead compliment me on my “tight whip?” I relaxed slightly when I noticed a Schwinn Madison tethered nearby:

I mean, my bike had to be cooler than a Schwinn Madison, which had probably also been purchased from Performance. It was also cooler than this Xtracycle thing:

After all, my bike was fully incapable of carrying anything.

Soon I reached my destination:

I knew right away from the ashtray on the stoop that I was at a serious bike shop:

Taking a deep breath, I opened the door and prepared to be judged. And judged I was. As soon as I stepped across the threshold a customer looked me up and down, regarded the bike, looked back at me, and exhaled in a derogatory fashion. It was sort of a “harrumph,” but there was no vocalization, only air. I knew exactly what this exhalation of breath meant, because I’ve exhaled the same way in England after ordering a slice of pizza and being handed a piece of wet bread with corn on it. It meant simply, “This is pathetic.” I smiled back, because while I was ostensibly there to buy a cog he had already given me exactly what I was looking for. Here’s what it looks like in Chari & Co:

I leaned my bike against the wall and sought an employee to help me purchase a cog and lockring. Some people appearing to be French were carefully studying a $98 Candy Rim seatpost. To be perfectly fair, the staff exhibited none of the attitude displayed by their clientele, and they supplied me with both a 16 tooth cog and a Dura Ace lockring. (I wanted a Dura Ace lockring so something on my bike would be NJS. I also passed on their offer to sell me a used cog. I assume many of their customers are forced to buy used cogs because they’re spending $98 on single-bolt alloy seatposts almost exactly like the one on my Empire State Courier.) Of course, the politeness could be because the shop was small and I had been forced to leave my bike way back by the door. As such, they might not have seen what I was riding. Then again, at one point one of the employees was forced to move my bike, and at no point did he glare at it, spit on it, or drop it intentionally.

I concluded that in the rarified world of track bike boutiques, my Empire State Courier rated something between scorn and total indifference. But I had to know more. So I conducted another test.

Test #2: Peer Acceptance

I decided it was important to test my new bike’s curb appeal on the wider trendy cycling public. And nowhere in New York are people more trendy and bike-centric than in Williamsburg, Brooklyn–the heart of the Great Hipster Silk Route. On any given day Bedford Ave. is lined with bicycles like fat deposits clinging to the wall of a coronary artery. I needed to know what the people of Williamsburg thought of my bike.

As a cyclist, my own eye is drawn to pretty much any bike I see locked up on the street. I figured most people who ride bikes in Williamsburg are probably the same way. I also figured that simply asking people if my bike was cool would not yield an honest reply. Instead, I needed a “secret ballot.” And since I had resolved to spend absolutely no money on the Empire State Courier (besides the money I had paid for the cog and lockring at Chari & Co.) I knew that not only would I have to fabricate a ballot box myself, but that I’d also have to use only what I already had on hand.

Fortunately, I had a plastic box in which I had been storing some old tires, and equally fortunately my new bike’s downtube was equipped with water bottle bosses. So I cut a slot in the top of the box and made some holes in the bottom so I could bolt it to the frame:

I then secured a pad to the top of the box using strapping tape, and attached a pen to the spiral binding using a piece of brake cable:

I also made a sign. Since my bike was a generic Langster copy I used a generic Sharpie. Behold the “Super Staunion:”

Here’s the sign I made:


(I need to know–I got it for Christmas!)

Leave your comment on pad below and place in ballot box.”

Cost: 30 minutes, $0, and just a small hunk of my dignity. Here’s how it all looked when I was finished and it was mounted on the bike. Granted, it’s not exactly a billboard, but as I mentioned I was counting on the fact that any passing cyclists would check out the bike. If they did, they’d certainly notice the sign, and hopefully be compelled to vote:

I then brought it to Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg and locked it to a street sign at the corner of N. 6th Street on New Year’s Day. Almost immediately, a small crowd gathered:

I then left the bike for approximately an hour and a half, returning just as the sun began to set. Not only was it still there:

But there was also a note inside the box. It worked! Here’s the actual note, 100% authentic:

“Nice bike but Brakes are for Woosies!”

This was heartening. I had a nice bike! All I had to do was remove the brakes to not be a “woosy.” Sure, the person who left the note must not have noticed that I had the wheel flipped to the freewheel side, and that riding it brakeless would have meant almost certain death, but I was still pleased. I mean, all I had to do to have a nice bike period in this person’s eyes was to remove the brakes. And while at Chari and Co. my bike elicited only scorn and indifference, on the streets of Williamsburg it actually managed indifference and backhanded compliments. Promising indeed. Even more promising was the prospect that the note had been meant ironically (this was Williamsburg after all), in which case it simply meant I had a nice bike. Sweet.

Test #3: Customization and Photography

I had no intention of removing the brakes, mainly because I like brakes, and also because I was enjoying using the bike in freewheel mode. Between the upright position and the fact that I could ride it in sneakers it was coming in handy for short trips, and coasting seemed to go better with this type of casual riding. Still, my bike needed something to distinguish it so people would actually notice it, and I was at a loss. I wanted to do a genuine Fixedgeargallery-type photo shoot, since photographing your fixed-gear is even more important than riding it. (Yes, I was rocking/running a freewheel, but still.) I had also promised myself that I would spend absolutely no money, yet I didn’t want to do the sorts of things people on Fixedgeargallery do when they want to customize a bike for free, like wrap the frame in colored electrical tape or remove the grips and cut the bars down to six inches in width. So I cheated a bit. I emailed Knog and asked them to send me some “hipster cysts.” And boy did they ever:

I immediately set to work removing the “hipster cysts” from their packaging. It was a lot like shucking oysters, though unlike Sylvain Chavanel I managed to complete the process unscathed. Here is the pile of shells:

By the way, I’m very grateful to Knog for their generosity. Also, their lights are indeed quite handy in that you can mount them just about anywhere (as you will see shortly). This is especially useful for today’s misshapen race bikes and components since they don’t always accommodate lights readily. However, in the spirit of honesty I also feel compelled to point out that while the rubber body is truly ingenious the little light that lives inside of it is less impressive. Of the 30(!) Knog Frogs I received, six did not work, three worked in solid non-blinky mode only, and one refused to shut off after I turned it on. Here are some of the gutted defective* Knogs:

That said, not too long ago I purchased a front and rear light from a company whose name rhymes with “Sigma” (because, well, the company is Sigma) and only one of them worked properly. So I suppose Knog’s one-in-three failure rate is better than Sigma’s one-in-two. It’s also possible they sent me some old “hipster cysts” with bad batteries or something. But I did not have time to go swapping batteries in order to find out, or to upgrade the guts like you might on an old suspension fork. I had customizing to do, and I had pictures to take. My Empire State Courier was about to develop a case of “hipster cysts” that would doubtless have the New England Journal of Medicine pounding at my door.

*(Note–important defective Knog follow-up.)

Once I was done, I headed outside to take some photos worthy of Fixedgeargallery. Here’s the front and the rear of my “whip,” complete with “hipster cysts:”

Here’s a gritty urban shot which highlights the lights, the bike’s graffiti-meets-goth-meets-psychedelia decal, and some trash:

Flip-flop hub, complete with hubular cyst:

Of all the shots I took, though, this is the one I felt was truly Fixedgeargallery-worthy:

Please note that, except for the bike, the scene is exactly as I found it. That includes both the beer bottle and the urine, neither of which I placed there. I truly feel this can compete with the best the Gallery has to offer. Quite simply, it has all the elements:

But in order to truly appreciate the bike, you’ve got to see it at night:

Coming and going, there’s just no missing me:

It’s a beautiful sight, and one that brings tears to my eyes (unless I wear welding goggles). Due to the lack of a central switch (free product idea–are you listening, Knog?) it takes me like a minute to turn the bike on fully, but it’s worth it. It kind of feels like I’m powering up a spaceship. And once my rolling freak machine is ablaze, there’s only one thing left to do–head to a local playground for some freestylin’.

If “street cred” means looking completely stupid, this bike doesn’t have it right out of the box. It’s going to take you some work. But as you can see, if you try really hard and call in a few favors, it’s more than possible.

The Bottom Line

Scattante Empire State Courier

Buy it if: you feel like it.

Don’t buy it if: you don’t.

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: