Category Archives: Bicycle Accessories

Bicycle Skirt Guard Review

Bicycle Skirt Guards – A to B 61, September 2007

Skirt guard - A to B

The Sprint

Splash Bicycle Skirt Guard Review

The Splash

Butterfly Bicycle Skirt Guard Review

The Butterfly

Original article from A to B 61 September 07

Skirt guards play an essential role in keeping loose clothing – from dresses and skirts to coats and scarves – out of the rear wheel spokes,so they’re not entirely about women and not entirely about skirts. If you carry a child in a rack-mounted child seat, or an occasional adult on the rack itself, a guard will also help to keep questing fingers and toes out of the spokes. And they can help to cut spray from the rear tyre, quite a lot of which emerges sideways in bad weather.

They disappeared from English machines some forty years ago, when we still made real bicycles, and real ladies still rode them. From the 1970s,the British market became a place of tasteless Chinese MTBs equipped with mudguard-less knobbly tyres and not much else. You strapped a couple of these to the Discovery, roared off to the country park, and if you were silly enough to get caught any distance from the car when it rained, your skin-tight fluorescent Lycra got all wet and muddy, reinforcing your view that bicycles were only practical for fine weather and leisure rides. On the near Continent, the bicycle developed altogether differently. People rode to work, to the shops and to school, and they expected to do it in their everyday clothes. Skirt guards (dress guards in Europe) remained common, as indeed did lights, mudguards, bells, stands and all the other essentials.

But through the wilderness years, demand persisted in Britain, with ladies establishing secret supply routes from Continental purveyors. A handful of ‘real’ bike shops kept selling proper accessories too, and if you want to find one of these treasure troves, most of them advertise in A to B. One such establishment is Bicycle Workshop in west London, run – quite coincidentally – by a delightful lady called Ninon,one of the country’s key authorities on hub gears, and thus a frequent visitor to these pages.

A few months ago, a Sunday paper happened to mention that Bicycle Workshop kept skirt guards and the shop was inundated with grateful ladies, battering down the doors with their stiletto heels. All right, we made that bit up,but people certainly travelled from far and wide, and Ninon is now regarded as something of an authority on skirt guards,and so we test her current selection here. A word of warning, if you are considering a mail order purchase: most guards are designed to fit the classic Dutch roadster and may take some adaptation to fit to anything else, unless you happen to have a forty-year-old ladies roadster made in Birmingham, as we do.

Sprint (also Gist) – £8

The guard is a sort of squashed fabric umbrella that pulls down over the mudguard. It weighs next to nothing, it’s relatively cheap and it keeps clothing out of the spokes,but don’t expect the fabric to protect children’s fingers. Fixing is by elasticated straps which hook over the hub axle. This will not work with all hub gear bikes, and the fit of the guard is dictated by the position of mudguard clips – there wasn’t enough room on our Lafree. On the positive side, fitting and removal take a matter of seconds.

Splash – £15

The Splash is a much more sophisticated affair,with smoked plastic side panels that hook over the mudguard lip at three points,and are fixed to the seat stays with clips.It’s well made and looks good on the bike,but is designed for 28inch wheels and metal mudguards,neither of which are common in the UK. That said,it fitted adequately onto the plastic mudguards and 26-inch wheels of the Lafree,but with a slightly distorted look.The plastic guards are relatively flexible,so not the best for children,but they cover a big arc of wheel.The Splash comes with a choice of 16mm or 20mm fittings,and these can be used with or without rubber sleeves to suit most steel frame tubes and thin alloy tubes.

Butterfly – £15

Because the Butterfly is made from more rigid plastic,it comes in four pieces,with two each side, fitting in front and behind the wheel lock and/or dynamo. The more rigid material makes this the safest guard, but it’s also the fiddliest and slowest to fit,with little metal clips that firmly grasp the mudguard.The Butterfly looked fine with 26-inch wheels,and because of the two-piece assembly,should fit 28-inch too.The only weakness is that the fitting kit only came with 16mm stay clips,so we had to borrow the 20mm ones from the Splash to fit it to our alloy Lafree.This isn’t entirely satisfactory,because the neat clip covers are designed for 16mm clips,so they won’t fit properly on the bigger ones. But we liked it,and would probably choose this one as the most substantial,and arguably,the prettiest skirt guard.

Other designs come and go, according to availability. Mail order p&p £5, or visit the shop, but fitting must be booked in advance.
Bicycle Workshop
tel 020 7229 4850

A to B 61 September 07

Brompton Folding Bike Rear Frame Clip Review

Brompton Retrofit Rear Frame Clip

Brompton Rear Frame Clip ReviewBrompton frame clip. Originally published in A to B 61 – September 2007

Whatever your views on the slightly esoteric argument about which is the best folding bike in the world, you can’t deny that Brompton’s engineering expertise is absolutely first class. In this latest upgrade, they’ve performed a loaves and fishes style miracle by adding features without adding any weight.

There are two styles: new bicycles are already being made with a lighter seat clamp, that works more smoothly and holds the seat post tighter. This more complex quick release/rear frame clip version is now a £10 option, but from January 2008 it will become a standard fitting,with the lightweight clamp as a discount option. Got all that?

The frame clip version weighs about a gram more than the old-style clamp, but it incorporates a little clip assembly that can be set to stop the rear frame folding down when you lift the bike. We’ve never really seen the point in this, because once you get used to the sagging rear frame, it’s a real convenience, but a locking pivot can be useful if you regularly load up a rear rack. In any event,the public wanted one, so the company has obliged.

As we’ve come to expect, the engineering of the levers,springs and other widgets is superb. We rarely read instructions, but this was an exception, because fitting can be a bit puzzling. Once in place and adjusted (about 15 minutes), the bike works as normal until you turn the rubber suspension block around (yes,they supply an anti-friction washer) until a little groove points upwards (you could do it in the dark). In this position, a little clip catches the suspension bush, enabling you to lift the bike in conventional fashion.

Everything works with satisfying clunks and clicks,and the new basic clamp is lighter (and cheaper on a new bike), while the clip-type gives you that lovely warm feeling of adding only one gram to the bike. Either type could be a worthwhile upgrade for people with slipping seatposts, because the clamping action is much improved as well. We’ve tried other rear frame clips, some Heath Robinson, and some rather elegant, but none works quite so well, and none does the loaves-and-fishes bit.In the end, bikes like the Brompton will get copied in the developing world, but it’s these little design touches that make the British bike excel – this is a development in the best Brompton tradition.

Quick-release £11.62 Quick-release/frame clip £21(£10 with new bikes) . From all good dealers

A to B 61 – Sep 2007

Dutch Shopping Pannier Review

Dutch Shopping Pannier

Dutch Shopping Pannier ReviewThis is one of those simple ideas that leaves you wondering why we aren’t all using something similar on a daily basis.It’s a semi-rigid pannier that fits a standard bicycle rack,but instead of buckles and belts,it simply hooks over the frame,hanging much like a conventional pannier by gravity alone. You might expect it to jump off or blow around in the wind,but it doesn’t seem to.

As it only takes a few seconds to lift the pannier on and off the bike,it can be carried into the shops or into the office as a bag or briefcase,then plopped back on the bike,carried home,and straight indoors.No clumsy, time consuming loading and unloading, no ‘double-handling’ collateral damage to delicate items,and a quick getaway assured.

The pannier measures a reasonable 30cm deep by 38cm long and 17cm wide,giving a capacity of about 19 litres.No,we don’t know what that means either.But think of it as about one foot square by 6 inches deep,if that helps,or in terms of supermarket shopping, eight four-pint milk containers.

Dutch Shopping Pannier Review

Note the carrying strap and simple clamps.The Velcro does very little

In practice, the capacity is closer to four milk containers, because the pannier closes with a zip,and if you over-fill it,you can’t do the zip up.This put us off using it on a daily basis for serious shopping,but it remains a firm favourite for the post run,and popping out for odd bits and pieces.Being safely over A4 size, it’s ideal for business meetings,and surprisingly stylish.And for less than £20,it’s pretty good value,even if you only use it occasionally. We’d like to see it redesigned with a couple of integral bungees instead of a zip,and some reflective stripes would be nice, but don’t let that put you off – it’s a useful and practical accessory.

Dutch Shopping Pannier £16.85 (inc post & packing) . DutchBike  mail tel 0031 20 6123819

A to B 59 – April 07

Reelight SL100 Bicycle Light

Reelight SL100

This is one of those neat ideas that’s been tried before, but somehow the technology was never quite up to the job.This time, with a few caveats, it works rather well. So, how do lights function without any power? Energy has to come from somewhere, of course, and as so often in cycling, the engine is your legs.The principal is similar to most bicycle computer wheel sensors. A magnet is fixed to the wheel spokes (a pair in this case), and as the wheel turns, the magnets whizz past a stationary electrical coil in the back of the lights, producing a pulse of electrical energy. In the old filament lamp days, this would not have produced a tiny glimmer, but with modern ultra-bright LEDs, the output is good, and the extra rolling resistance negligible. Oddly, considering that red LEDs are better understood than white, the front white light is stronger than the rear red.

Reelight SL100 Bicycle Light

Front and rear Reelights. Both lights incorporate reflectors and twin LEDs. Note the large magnet fixed to the spokes

A set of two lamps plus four magnets weighs 240g, which compares well to battery lights, or a dynamo or dynohub system. Is the output comparable? Not as bright, obviously, but very eye-catching, because the lamps flash as the wheel revolves.The magnets should be mounted opposite each other, giving two flashes per wheel revolution – actually, it’s more complicated than this because each light contains two LEDs, and when the magnets pass, these each flash back and forth twice, producing four very quick pulses of light, but it looks like one.

The magnets can be fitted to most spoke layouts.We tried them on Alexander’s 14inch Triang Moulton, which has 20 spokes, and an uneven five pairs per side, so the magnets produce a slightly off-beat flash: light, space, space, light, space. Groovy.

So what are the disadvantages? Obviously at low speed with a big wheeled bike the lights flash rather slowly, and at high speed on a small-wheeler they flash in a frenzied blur. Flashing bicycle lights are now legal in the UK, but only if they flash at 60 – 240 flashes per minute. At 12mph, a 26-inch wheel revolves at about 130rpm, which comes in at just over four flashes per second, so if you go any faster you’re in illegal territory. On a 16-inch folder, you’d reach top flash at a mere 7mph.To make matters worse, the legislative meanies have ordained that a rear light should be at least 350mm above the ground (there’s no minimum front lamp height). As the Reelights fit on the axle, this technically makes the rear light illegal on any bike with sub 26-inch wheels.

Should we worry about all this nonsense? Not really.Think of the Reelight as a back-up system and it’s excellent. On Alexander’s bike they function as Volvo-style ‘day running lights’, particularly useful in the mad people-mover throng outside Manor Park Primary on a foggy winter morning. At 12mph, the little Triang Moulton emits a healthy eight flashes a second, which should wake even the dopiest school-run mum. Rolling resistance is too small to measure, and the only real disadvantage is that the powerful magnets cause the lights to vibrate on their brackets in a rhythmic (or in this case, off-beat) manner.This might annoy, but it might help you to hum a little tune as you bowl merrily along.

Legal things apart, Reelights are ideal for small-wheeled bikes. They fit a Brompton and fold away without any issues, and the high flash rate kicks in at walking pace, and becomes almost steady at speed – there’s certainly enough light to get you home in an emergency. If you want more, you only need to fit more magnets… Reelight also produces the SL120, which emits a steady 120 flashes per minute while in motion, plus a full five minutes standlight capability when you stop.
Reelight SL100 front & rear £28 . SL120 £36 . Derailleur bracket £2 . Spare magnets £7 Danish Manufacturer . UK Distributor 2pure  tel 0131 448 2884 mail

A to B 57 – Dec 2006

Brompton Back-Pack

Brompton Back-Pack

From my very first days of owning a Brompton I scoured the catalogues looking for desirable accessories that could turn a promising piece of ironmongery into a really useful piece of equipment. Eazy-wheels gave shopping tro l l ey roll-ability, while the B-Bag seemed to offer a defence against baggage handlers, but where was the rucksack? Surely someone, somewhere would produce a practical rucksack. But I never found one.

Brompton Back-PackAnd then Brompton produced the titanium bikes, and the urge to upgrade got the better of me. I bought an S2L-X.This much lighter machine simply cried out to be carried, and as I couldn’t buy a rucksack to carry the Brompton, I decided to make one myself instead.

Designing a rucksack from scratch is a difficult process. Making one is virtually impossible. So the first step was to find an existing model that could be easily adapted to suit. Conventional rucksacks with their internal frames had little to offer and for a while I was stumped.Then came the breakthrough. I was looking for a frame that would carry a precious cargo weighing about 11kg.What other precious cargo came in that sort of size? Yes, children!! Very quickly I found the perfect rucksack in the form of the Vaude ‘Jolly Light’ Childcarrier.

The Vaude Child Carrier is a really excellent piece of kit. But all that I needed from it was the frame. Extracting that could not have been simpler.All I had to do was remove two bolts and undo a couple of straps.The rucksack frame was well capable of supporting the Brompton, but the next challenge was how to get them to mate  together.After much head scratching I finally concluded that the base of the folded  Brompton needed to be flattened in some way, and the most logical way to do that was to fit a rear rack. I then needed to flatten the rucksack base, and the best way to do that was to attach a simple plywood plate.The rack would then sit on the base just like books on a shelf.

…if a rucksack hangs from your shoulders… you will soon have back problems…

At this point I probably need to get a bit technical. Modern rucksacks do not hang from your shoulders. If that happens, the weight will be taken by your backbone and soon you will have back problems.A well designed rucksack takes the weight and transfers it to your pelvis using a hip belt. The Vaude is an excellent frame and does this brilliantly. Its balance is very good, but because the centre of mass of the bike is a fair way behind you, there is a moment to be balanced and that is done by the shoulder straps. So there will be a significant pull on the straps, but it will be backwards rather than downwards.

The rucksack base plate is very simple to make and fit. It consists of a piece of 10mm plywood, 36cm by 16cm. Cut a 40mm diameter hole centrally through it, 4cm in from the left-hand side. Now place the Brompton onto the plate with the seat stem located in the hole and fit two plastic blocks (the type used for self-assembly furniture) inside the frame to stop it sliding off. If you have Eazy-wheels fitted to your rack, then you will need to cut out a couple of notches to accommodate them too.The plate is then attached to the frame using 15mm copper pipe saddle clips. A coat of paint probably helps it to look a bit less like a DIY job at this stage.

In use, the Brompton is placed on the base plate, locating by the plastic blocks and the saddle stem passing through the hole.There are already two buckles at the top of the frame, and I use an old trouser belt which winds around the bicycle frame and can be drawn up reasonably tight with the buckles.The weight of the bike is carried by the base plate; this top strap is simply to stop it falling backwards.


My bike weighs about 11.5kg, and the rucksack 1.5kg, making 13kg (29lb). If you can carry 13kg, the next question is whether 13kg of Brompton is any more difficult to manage than a normal 13kg rucksack! To find the answers I met up with Jo in Dorset. Jo, now retired, is a fit lady and had just returned from walking the Dales Way. Normally she carries a pack weighing 7kg (15lb), so this was a good test.We hiked for 41/2 miles along the Corton Ridge, the inland section of the South West Coast Path by the Hardy Monument. Jo remarked that it was more comfortable than she had expected.

I am actually quite a fit walker and often carry heavy rucksacks, so 13kg should be no problem. S tarting at Rhossili in South Wales, I rode the six miles to Port Eynon and then backpacked the bike back along seven miles of glorious limestone coast. C a rrying food and drink was overcome by using Lowepro Street & Field packs fixed to my waistbelt, which worked perfectly. Other items can be hung or fixed to the bike frame using velcro, clips or straps.The saddlebag that holds the Brompton cover is excellent for odds and ends.

The bike can be protected and disguised simply by fitting the Brompton cover.You will need to cut two one-inch vertical slots through the cloth to accommodate the strap, but it works very well.With the cover in place passers-by have no idea what you are carrying – only that it’s large! The bike proved to be just as easy to carry as a conventional rucksack, but I would recommend using walking poles. My intention is to use the bike to climb hills and then descend by another route.Typically, about ten miles on foot, then cycle back to the start!

A to B 54 – June 2006

SP Brompton Luggage Post

Brompton Luggage Post

SP Brompton Luggage PostFIRST PUBLISHED A to B 53 – April 2006

Good ideas arrive on our doorstep almost every day. For all sorts of reasons, some are not quite as good as they first appear. Maybe too heavy, too fiddly, or not unusually, a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. But you can generally rely on Steve Parry of SP Bicycles to come up with a practical, useable good idea. Anyone who knows the Brompton luggage system will know that it’s both clever and practical – a selection of large, medium and small panniers that click-fit onto the front of the bicycle. Once you’ve got used to something this effective, you’ll want to fit the panniers to other bikes, but the click-fit block is Brompton-specific, so you can’t, or at least, not very easily. 38

Steve Parry’s latest accessory is a Luggage Post; effectively a Brompton luggage block mounted on a short stem fixed to a seatpost rack clamp.These clamps will fit any size of seat post, from the oversize Dahon and Brompton posts down to the full range of conventional posts.You can either mount the Luggage Post behind a Brompton and carry panniers front and rear, or whip it onto just about anything else, making the Brompton luggage panniers more or less universal.

…a Brompton luggage block mounted on a short stem fixed to a clamp…

In Practice

SP Brompton Luggage PostA quick flick through our transitory bike collection revealed that the SP Luggage Post will fit most small-wheeled bikes, from Moultons and Micros to the Airframe, plus the majority of full-size bikes, provided they have enough clearance between the rack and saddle.The only real problem is that a suspension seat-post will probably get in the way. An advantage with smallwheelers is that the block can be fitted very low down, putting the load rather lower than it would be on a big bike, helping to keep things stable. On some bikes, the Luggage Post can be lowered until some of the weight is carried on the rack – a good idea if you are intending to carry a lot of weight (Brompton suggest a maximum of 10kg for the block itself, but we’d suggest keeping below 8kg). On the Brompton, folding is more or less unaffected. Loosen the quick-release on the Luggage Post, swing it forward, and you end up with a folded package a little taller than normal. In 30 seconds or so, the post can be removed and refitted upside down, leaving the bike more or less as compact as any other.The weight penalty of 480g, complete with fittings, is a modest price to pay for such versatility.


Whether you own a Brompton or not, this is an effective bit of kit. The cost depends on what you already have: The Luggage Post costs £50, a Brompton carrier block another £15, and a suitable Brompton pannier bag £32 to £50. This is one of those rare accessories that leave you wondering how you survived before the postman dropped it through the letterbox. Very, very useful.

Brompton Luggage Post £50
Weight 480g
Max Load (estimated) <8kg
Seat Post Size 25-33mm
Manufacturer SP Bicycles
tel 01934 516158

A to B 53 – April 2006


Bobike Junior Child Seat

Bobike Junior Child SeatMost of our friends were agreed on one thing when Alexander arrived – we might previously have lived a car-free lifestyle as rootless ‘dinkies’, but all that was going to change. Sage nods all round.

First there would be nursery, followed by playschool (both made worse when we exercised our parental prerogative and chose out-of-town groups), then school, plus a long list of extracurricular activities and a ceaseless round of parties in distant villages. Some of them even began discussing car-share schemes.

The car never happened, and we’re glad of that, because not having access to a car doesn’t half concentrate the mind when choosing transport options. Child trailers saw us through those infant years – pulled initially by one or the other of our Bromptons, but later behind the priceless Giant Lafree power-assisted bike, especially as the boy grew, and the volume of ‘stuff’ expanded (parents will understand).

For train-assisted journeys, we used a range of folding/collapsible solutions, graduating from a baby sling to a Burley Solo child trailer, a Brompton-mounted child seat, and most recently, the invaluable ITChair. For the school run – and optional for longer journeys – the mainstay has been Steve Parry’s tandem Brompton.

Older Children

With the boy now six-and-a-bit, and sprouting like a bean up a pole, the on-bike options are becoming more limited. But if someone tells you their child went solo at 31/2 and now pedals him/herself everywhere, they’re either living in the Outer Hebrides, lying, mad, or (more likely) using a car for the tricky bits. Alexander often rides his own bike to school and to local parties, but when he’s tired, or the weather’s dubious, or we’re riding a long way, it still makes sense to travel en tandem: For years, we’ve used a rack-mounted child seat on the Ezee Sprint electric bike, but the rack was starting to sag. Clearly, we needed something sturdier.

Years ago, before the invention of the bulbous people-mover, bicycle seats for older children were quite common, but they’re much rarer these days. Any number of manufacturers produce rack or frame-mounted seats, but very few of these are suited to children of five and above.

Bobike Junior Child Seat Folded

Folded down, the Junior is unobtrusive, but the harness straps must be secured with care


The bag bracket will carry a pair of small panniers either side of the seat, or a lightly- loaded rucksack when folded down

In Holland and Germany, as we so often point out, it’s another world, and child- carriers abound. One of the very few to have found its way to Britain is the Bobike Junior, a rear-mounted seat designed for children from four to nine years old (or five to ten, depending which brochure you’re reading). If you have a podgy 91/2 year old, we should qualify that upper age limit, because in the small-print, the gross weight limit, including luggage, is 32kg, or five stone in what Francois Mitterrand would call Anglo-Saxon measures. For reasons that will be explained, we wouldn’t recommend exceeding this limit.

Fittingly, in this ‘vision of the future’ issue, the Bobike Junior is a clever multi-purpose device.

When little Hans is elsewhere, the seat back folds flat, which not only does wonders for the drag coefficient, but produces a wide rack suitable for carrying all manner of awkward things home from B&Q.The seat back also incorporates a steel frame that can be folded down behind the seat to create a longer load platform, or some vestigial luggage capacity when the seat is occupied.

…The Junior weighs 4.8kg, even before you’ve mustered the podgy ten-year-old…


We fitted the Junior to the long- suffering Ezee Sprint, the various fixtures and fittings coping reasonably well with the slightly unusual geometry of the bike, so it should fit most conventional diamond frames. A few tips here: the frame tubes have to be clean and grease-free (that includes spots of road tar), and the bolt threads should be lightly greased.Tighten the fixing bolts, ride a few miles with the seat under load, and re-tighten everything, because the clamps are fitted with plastic bushes that take up a bit of slack as they ‘run-in’.

Bobike Junior Child Seat

Highlighted in black, the support structure is clearly well in front of the child’s weight

Usefully, the Junior shares a quick-release system with its smaller cousin the Maxi. This means that children of various sizes can be accommodated on different bikes as and when required.The seat is secured by engaging the nose in a connector bolted to the seat tube and plonking two struts into a pair of brackets secured to the chain stays.This produces a triangulated structure, but unlike a conventional rack, which generally puts a pair of struts under the load, the supporting legs of the Junior are positioned well forward of the seat.When the child sits down, the seat base bends down and back, putting far more strain on the assembly than is really necessary. Fortunately, the mountings and bolts are the type used to secure truck bumpers, but we never really worked out why it had been made this way. Another slightly odd feature is that the manufacturer assumes you’ll be keeping the luggage rack in place under the seat, which seems like a lot of unnecessary weight (a kilogram in our case) when you’ve just bought an expensive child carrier and rack combined.The Junior weighs 4.8kg, even before you’ve mustered that podgy ten-year-old, so you’ll probably want to remove the rack, as we did at first.

The odd geometry, plus the rather woolly plastic joint bushes, make the thing feel a bit insecure. From the sharp end, we’re told this is great news, or as Alexander puts it cheerfully,‘a seat with s’pension’. He’s right up to a point – the Junior does a good job of cushioning road shocks, albeit by the slightly downmarket expedient of bowing and flexing.

Is it safe? Yes, but bear in mind that a child hanging off the side making rude noises at his friends will cause a lot more strain than a heavier child reading a book. Alexander weighs 22kg, which is well within the 32kg limit, but his weight makes the Junior drop by 4mm, plus another 3mm or so on the bumps. So for us, the chair needs to be at least 10mm clear of the mudguard or rack to avoid noisy contact on bumps. A heavier child and/or luggage will need greater clearance unless the seat were deliberately allowed to rest on the rack. In the end, we refitted the rack and allowed it to do just that.

Another area that cause us slight concern was the lack of leg protection.We’re used to a child seat with moulded plastic sides that make it impossible for the child to put a foot anywhere near the wheel.This omission on the Junior was puzzling until we read the instruction leaflet; ‘Fit Bobike foot protection plates if your bicycle is not fitted with dress guards’. Dress guards are rare in the UK, but we’d strongly advise fitting one or the other.

Similarly, the safety harness is a bit wimpy, and rather poorly mounted on the top of the seat back, which will – in any event – fold forward under stress.The front mounting is better, but the buckle may prove a temptation for small inquisitive fingers.The belt also has a tendency to fall off the shoulders, something that can be improved by crossing it over behind the child’s back.With no sides to the chair (again, this is something we’re used to) we’d really want to see a better safety harness. After a fun-packed day chasing granny’s sheep, Alexander usually falls asleep within ten minutes, and a sleepy child will sag forwards, backwards or – most unnervingly – sideways.


We were prompted to look at the Bobike Junior because we were worried about the integrity of a cycle rack for carrying larger children, but we’re not convinced this folding seat does a better or safer job. In some areas, such as the footpegs, it’s massively engineered, but in others it doesn’t seem man enough for the task. Of course, we have one large child – for larger families juggling awkward logistical problems with several smaller ones, it could be useful, especially if you already have a Bobike Maxi.

A to B child seat design

The A to B child seat of the future would fit on a standard rack

This design clearly isn’t perfect, but where do child seats go from here? Most ‘sensible’ bicycles have a rack, and removing the rack rather narrows your carrying options. So we’d suggest a moulded plastic bucket seat that clamps to the rack, but with extra stays to spread the weight of a child into the frame.We’d also suggest a two position reclining seatback, both for sleeping children and awkward luggage, but not necessarily folding flat, provided the seat can be fitted and removed in a minute or two.The harness has to be really good – preferably the five-point type.

Heavy and expensive, surely? Not in our experience. We’ve solved the six-year-old problem by putting some extra struts on a basic child seat – the final structure weighing less than 1.8kg. Even if a reclining mechanism doubled the weight, it would still be lighter than the Junior.


Bobike Junior Child Seat £85 (plus £15 for the MTB kit used on our bike) .Weight 4.8kg (101/2lb) Manufacturer Dremefa BV web mail UK Distributor Amba Marketing tel 01392 840030 mail web Amba Marketing

Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyres

Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyres

Schwalbe Marathon Plus TyresPuncture proof? Well, not exactly. As Schwalbe carefully points out, ‘…like everything in the world – this tyre isn’t indestructible. But against the typical tyre killers that everyday cyclists encounter, like pieces of broken glass, flints and small thorns, it’s the best protection we could devise…’

The secret is in the ‘SmartGuard’ layer under the tread. Unlike kevlar and other high-tech reinforcement bands that resist tyre penetration, SmartGuard is a thick layer of soft rubber that lets them in, then smothers ‘em. Some nasties just bounce straight out, while others begin to penetrate, but are defeated by the sheer depth of rubber. To reach the inner tube, a sharp pointy thing needs to be rigid and 6 – 8mm long, which is enough to see off all but the most humungous thorns, nails and glass shards.

…the Marathon Plus feels like an ordinary, if slightly frumpy tyre…

The downside is a tyre weighing 740g on our 406mm samples (more than a kilogram for some bigger tyres).That’s about 350g heavier than a typical 406mm tyre, and a massive 500g heavier than the lightweight Primos we were replacing. In other words, you could be looking at a weight penalty of up to a kilogram for the pair. With a thick layer of rubber around the tyre, you might expect rolling resistance to be high too, but it’s actually remarkably good. We’ve tried all kinds of ‘puncture-proof’ technology over the years, and most added enough rolling resistance to feel lethargic and slow on the road. But the Marathon Plus feels like an ordinary, if slightly frumpy tyre, and the figures confirm this. Roll-down speed on our test hill was between 14mph and 15mph, which is broadly typical for a 20-inch tyre. In fact, our best figures were right up with the narrow, high-pressure tread- free jobs. Having said that, the Marathon Plus seems to be affected by temperature more than most, and the figures vary a great deal. Most of our tests were carried out at 15C but at 10C, the tyres are 1mph slower, which suggests there could be a real penalty to Grey pay on frosty mornings. blobs are actual We’ll have to wait a few results at around 15C. The months to find out, but in black blobs are at lower temperatures most circumstances, most people would be unaware of the difference.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus TyresPuncture-proof?

When we first saw the technology on display at a bike show, Schwalbe was encouraging punters to stick pins in the tyres. So in an A to B first, we put down a row of five drawing pins, accelerated towards them, and ran straight over the lot. All the pins stuck in the front tyre and stayed there, but when we prised them out, the air stayed put. It’s difficult to be scientific with tyres, which are notoriously fickle in the way they fail, but for the time being, we’re thoroughly convinced – no ordinary tyre could have done that.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyres

Grey blobs are actual results at around 15C. The black blobs are at lower temperatures.


…Have we accidentally created the most reliable bicycle in the world?

We’ll keep using the Marathon Plus to see how things progress, but on a short acquaintance, we’re impressed. A near one kilogram weight penalty would not suit a bike that gets carried regularly, but if punctures are your biggest fear, these tyres Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyreswill give some peace of mind, although at £23.99 each, they’re quite a pricey option.The Marathon Plus is available in all the common sizes, down to 47-406mm (20-inch). Schwalbe is planning to release a 349mm (16-inch) version soon, bringing this sort of puncture technology to compact folding bikes too. Performance gets a bit trickier to predict in the small sizes, but if the 20-inch tyre is anything to go by, performance should not be greatly affected.

Incidentally, we tested the tyres on our ancient Heinzmann- assisted Cresswell (now Pashley) Fold-It, currently giving granny-with-train (don’t ask) some gentle assistance to the shops. Have we accidentally created the most reliable bicycle in the world? Simple rugged steel frame, drum brakes (rear only on our example), puncture-resistant tyres and a bullet-proof SRAM 7-speed hub. The only weak points we can see are the cranks and chain, and if they break, the bike still has a front-mounted Heinzmann motor to get you home… If all else fails, it will fold small enough for the train.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus £23.99 each from good cycle shops. Manufacturer Ralf Bohle GmbH web www.schwalbe.comUK distributor Bohle UK tel 01743 874496 mail

A to B 48 – June 2005

Greenspeed Brompton Hub Brake

Brompton Hub Brake

Greenspeed Brompton Hub BrakeThese days (touch wood) the best folding bikes are pretty reliable, clocking up a similar mileage between failures to a conventional bicycle, but wheel rims and spokes can still cause problems on hard-used small-wheelers.We’re not sure why the spokes suffer, but most of the problems with rims are caused by the brakes. A 16-inch rim has little more than half the braking area of a big wheel, so it can overheat on long descents, and will wear out at least twice as fast.Worn rims can be dangerous, but even if they don’t disintegrate, rebuilding a wheel can be a time-consuming and/or expensive process.

Internal drum brakes are an obvious solution, and they’re fairly easy to fit to most folders if you have the time and the inclination. But you won’t get one on the Brompton, which has a slender 72mm front ‘drop-out’ width.Various attempts have been made to slice drum brakes down to size over the years, but there were always technical problems.The answer came – as it so often does – with a bit of lateral thinking.The Australian-made Greenspeed recumbent trike uses Sturmey Archer drums, and Greenspeed remanufactures the hubs to reduce the 100mm width.When the company took on the sideline of distributing the Brompton last year, it occurred to proprietor Ian Sims that with a little more machining, the Sturmey brake might be squeezed onto the Brompton.

Bred on the antipodean HPV racing circuits, the Greenspeed/Sturmey hub is substantially stronger than a normal Brompton wheel, with oversize 12mm ball-bearings (normal Sturmey bearings are 10mm) and 36 instead of 28 spokes.The result is a rigid, maintenance-free front wheel and consistent braking in all weather conditions.

Fitting & Removal

Very easy.The hub brake comes with a long torque reaction arm that slots into a clamp placed around the fork. It’s then just a case of refitting the cable. Brompton cable runs are precisely measured and the cables can get in a tangle if misrouted or misaligned. It’s essential that the front brake cable runs in front of the other two and down through the cable gatherer brazed to the right side of the frame. If it doesn’t, something will get trapped when the bike is folded. By pure chance, the standard outer cable is about the right length for the Sturmey hub, but a longer inner cable will be needed.

Drum brakes are generally a heavy option, but this narrow hub isn’t too bad, giving a total wheel weight of 1,120g. Subtract the weight of the old wheel and caliper brake, and the net gain is only 385g, or just under a pound, which is quite acceptable for a stronger and more reliable wheel.

Greenspeed Brompton Hub Brake

With the flange removed, the off-side spokes anchor directly into the drum

Removing the wheel is particularly easy – the axle nuts come off as usual, the cable slips off and the torque arm slides out.The operation is cleaner too, because the rim isn’t caked in the usual slippery mixture of oil and aluminium powder, and there’s no caliper to trap mud and debris. Another advantage of doing away with the caliper is that the tyre can be inflated before you refit it – useful if you’re struggling to repair a puncture.

On the road, the first impression is of near silence compared to a caliper or V-brake. The drum is powerful, but progressive. A gentle squeeze on the lever gives a strong stop of 0.3G – 0.4G, but grab the lever in panic and brake force rarely exceeds 0.56G. In practice, this means that a drum brake is less likely to send you flying over the handlebars than a fiercer and less forgiving V-brake.The drum will also be unaffected by water, oil or mud. In extreme conditions it gets warm, but there’s no risk to the tyre, and it soon cools down. The rear caliper brake is still grinding away at the rim, of course, but we found we tended to make more use of the front drum, so rear brake life should be slightly extended too. When you come to fold the bike, the cleaner front wheel is very welcome.

Two small provisos: if you ride through a deep flood, the drum brake could be out of action for some time, and ours had a slight judder, possibly a side-effect of the adaptation.


The Greenspeed hub seems good value for money, and in terms of servicing, it should prove to be fit-and-forget technology. If your Brompton has a tendency to eat rims, spokes or bearings, a drum brake upgrade will pay for itself fairly quickly, even ignoring the hassle of breakdowns and the danger of exploding rims. It also looks jolly nice, should aesthetics influence you in any way.

Brompton front drum conversion

Price £80 (hub only), or £120 (entire kit), plus £10 to £15 postage outside Australia. Greenspeed Recumbent Trikes tel +61 3 9758 5088 mail

UK Distributor: Westcountry Recumbents

A to B 48 – June 2005

Ergon MR-1 Race Grips

Ergon MR-1 Race Grips

Fitted to a Brompton. Note the scuffing on the top edge of this (left) grip - it can touch the ground when the bike is folded

The problem with adapting bicycles is that almost everything you do adds weight. A few seemingly practical extras can make a folding bike almost unliftable, so it pays to be a bit selective. Replace your old handlebar grips with Ergo Race grips, and the penalty will be in the region of 200g. Not much? Not on its own perhaps, but this is a slippery slope. Are they worth the weight and expense?

The grips incorporate flat plates that spread the load over the meatier parts of the palm.The grips come in ladies and gents sizes, and two styles, with or without miniature bar-ends.The basic palm-support jobs (FP-1 or MP-1) cost £20, but with the bar-ends (FR-1 or MR-1), you’re looking at a slightly scarier £28.95, plus the 200g weight penalty.

Fitting should be straightforward enough on a conventional bike, but the importers have had enquiries from Brompton owners, so we chose this more difficult option and converted a Brompton.This means quite a lot of cutting and shaping to the plastic and foam of the grips, the final position being quite critical to prevent the left-hand grip hitting the ground when the bike is folded.There are two adjustments – the angle of the palm support and the angle of the bar-ends, which come with a sort of micrometer scale for the really nerdy.

Once fitted and adjusted, the grips seem to work well, spreading the load in a more comfortable way, and giving a number of alternative riding positions. For touring, the comfort level was universally praised – even after some hours in the saddle.The manufacturers claim the improved riding position will alleviate all manner of ailments, which is possible, but we’ll stick with comfortable hands and wrists for now. If handlebar grips give you odd aches and pains, this may well be a solution. If you can live without bar- ends, the cheaper, lighter FP-1 or MP-1 should work just as well.

Ergon MR-1 Grips

Price £28.95 . Weight 130g each . Distributor Fine-adc mail:

A to B 48 – June 2005


The ITChairThere’s a real demand for carrying children on the Brompton, something we can vouch for from personal experience. It’s also probably the most common question we get asked. Integrating the bike itself with rail or bus is straightforward, but children make life much more complicated.Trailers are great, but even the most compact takes up more space than a folding bike designed for an adult, so they present a bit of a challenge on public transport.

When Alexander was two, we solved the problem by adapting a conventional child seat to fit on a Brompton seat pillar, a device that went on to give four years of priceless service.Wonderful for long trips, the child seat was nevertheless a bit clumsy for shorter journeys to shops, and later, to school. Fitting and removing it required an allen key, which was invariably at the bottom of a bag, in the wrong pocket, or worst of all, on the kitchen table at home. Strapped on top of the folded bike, the seat produced a small package, but the operation required a strap, which was invariably at the bottom of the bag, on the kitchen table, etc.

Our SP Brompton trailer bike proved to be a practical alternative – great for longer rides, but in terms of folded size, effectively two Bromptons. And guess who gets to carry the two Bromptons and the bag?

…ten minutes later, wife battles through traffic to deliver child…

The ITChair

When we first came across the ITchair, it seemed to promise a practical tool-free solution for short trips, although we were sceptical that a Brompton was roomy enough for two, or that the device could be fitted and removed as quickly as was claimed.

Note the folding footrests and frame yoke

Who is it aimed at? Leisure seems the obvious market, but we’ve heard from several readers who long to eliminate that daily school-run nonsense: dad rides Brompton past school to station, ten minutes later wife battles through traffic in Volvo to deliver child, then runs home empty.The ITchair promises to carry a smallish child a modest distance, then fold away more or less out of sight, with the exercise being repeated in the evening, or not, as the case may be – it sounds like a flexible solution.There are a few complications and traps for the unwary, but by and large, it really does what it’s supposed to do.

The device is disarmingly simple.You get a steel tube (aluminium is in development), fitted with a yoke at one end and a clamp at the other.To fit it to the bike, you slide the cushioned yoke over the frame tube and push it up against the frame hinge plate, where a hook on one of the yoke arms engages with the plate, to prevent the ITchair from lifting off again. At the other end, the clamp goes round the seat post and is secured with a standard hinge clamp lever borrowed from the Brompton parts bin.

The ITchair can even be used as a temporary seat on the train

Newer Bromptons have a subtly different hinge, but the ITchair cleverly gets around this with a reversible yoke, giving two alternative hooks.This operation needs an allen key, but unless you regularly swap Bromptons of mixed vintage, you will only need to do it when initially setting the ITchair up.

From the top of the tube, a seat post protrudes horizontally, giving about 10cm fore and aft adjustment to the child saddle, and a pair of neat motorcycle footrests pop out lower down.

In Use

Alexander is slightly taller and slimmer than the average very-nearly-six year old, and as he can ride the ITchair with reasonable ease, we’d say it was suitable for children of up to six. Climbing aboard will be a problem for a nervous child (some refused to even consider it), but the more outward bound types scramble on and off like monkeys, an operation made easier if the adult is already firmly aboard.

The clamp has to do a lot of work, but looks strong enough

The ITchair adds virtually nothing to the size of the folded package

Once in the seat, Alexander’s knees nestled comfortably below the handlebars.You might think handgrips would be useful, but in practice the child either holds the bars, puts his hands in his pockets, scratches his head or does a Mexican wave. The saddle and footrests give plenty of stability, and the rider’s arms tend to cradle the child, so they really would find it hard to fall off.With a bit of experimentation we found it was surprisingly easy to take three hands off the handlebars, so indicating is not the problem you might expect. One word of warning – if the child holds the gear shift and you change up unexpectedly, you will squidge a tiny finger.

For younger children, this central position feels secure, and there’s a perceived advantage in keeping an eye on the child too. In theory, you can carry a baby in a suitable carrier, but for the sake of your knees, you’ll need to find something very narrow. Sadly, we had neither baby nor carrier to hand, but it’s clearly possible.


The primary disadvantage for the rider is pedalling with your knees further apart than normal.This has little effect on power output, but we wouldn’t recommend putting knee joints through too much of this sort of stress.With a large five-year-old and an old short-frame Brompton, we’re looking at a worst-case scenario. Any combination of a smaller child, a post-2004 bike and a saddle set well back will make life much easier. A narrow child saddle would help too – we used a conventional saddle and found it annoyingly wide even without a child on board.

Whilst looking for disadvantages, the increased weight over the front wheel might encourage a slide on gratings and low kerbs.We didn’t experience any problems, but would certainly suggest riding with more care than usual.That’s obviously a matter of common sense with any child carrier, but our lower rear-mounted child seat handled superbly even at high speed – something we wouldn’t recommend with the child upfront.

…with 10kg in the bag, an 85kg rider and a 20kg child, we’re on the limit…

Staying with weight, Brompton suggest a gross bicycle load of about 115kg.With 10kg in the front bag, an 85kg rider and a 20kg child, we’re right on the limit.This might be all right, and it might not – we certainly noticed some slight fretting where the ITchair pushes up against the hinge, indicating that the bicycle frame and saddle stem had been bowing slightly under the stress. Once again, this is an extreme example – most adult/child combinations would be safe enough.


Folding takes just a few seconds: release the clamp, lift off the ITchair, fold the bike, and reclamp the ITchair to the lowered seat pillar, sticking out and down along the left side of the bicycle frame. This leaves a folded package little bigger than normal. It’s a bit heavier, adding 1.6kg in this case, but lighter and smaller than the alternatives. Incidentally, Alexander rather enjoys carrying the ITchair himself, but you have to watch five-year-olds – they’re liable to put things down and wander off. Luckily, you’ve got the bike. Another useful feature, as we discovered on a busy post-Christmas train, is that the ITchair can be clamped to any suitable vertical post, making an extra seat. Small boys love this kind of thing.


The ITchair is far from ideal, but it’s a brilliant bit of lateral thinking, and within reasonable limits of child size and weight, journey length and so on, it really does perform well. The real proof is whether we use it ourselves. In practice, the ITchair proved hard work on our steeply inclined school run, but has been used almost without exception on rail trips, where compact size and folding speed are more important.To date, we must have used the chair on a dozen trains (some quite busy) and ridden 50 miles or so.We very much wish it had been around three years ago, but we’re delighted to have found it now.

ITchair E199 (£135) inc European airmail delivery . mail . web

Bigfoot Brompton Bag

Bigfoot Brompton Bag

Bigfoot Brompton BagWe’re not actually that keen on bags since the railway companies got folder-friendly, but they have their uses.Yachtsfolk need to protect their bikes from salt spray and flying bowsprites, whatever they might be, and the same principle applies to those regularly checking a bike in as anonymous luggage, whether at the airport, the restaurant or even (particularly even) Mrs Hampton’s Bordello & Old Time Massage Parlour. Of course, you may think you need a bike bag for another reason; whatever, it will leave your wallet thirty quid lighter and your Brompton nearly a kilogram heavier.

The Bigfoot Bag is made in Britain, from grey, green, navy blue or red cordura. It’s a waterproof fabric, but you can expect the untaped seams and very long zip to leak under extreme conditions.The bag has carrying handles and a shoulder strap, makes a nice snug fit around a typical Brompton and will just accept a bike fitted with the extended seat pillar too.The bag also comes without branding to reduce the risk of theft. Maybe, but that’s not much use if the thief is working on the lucky dip principle.

At 910g, the Bigfoot is mid-range in the Brompton bag world – somewhere between the Brompton cover and the ‘B’ bag reviewed in A to B 44. Just for the record, the ‘B’ weighs 2.3kg and gives serious protection; the basic Brompton cover weighs 290g and gives very little protection; and the super-lightweight cover we use ourselves for libraries and the like, weighs 100g and gives no protection at all. Horses for courses.

We wouldn’t recommend buying a bag unless you’re sure you need one, but for certain applications,something of this weight could be quite useful.The downside is the 910g of extra baggage, and a packed size of about 40cm x 10cm x 10cm.

Bigfoot Brompton Bag £30 (trade enquires welcome) . Bigfoot Bikes 50 Hayes Street, Bromley, Kent BR2 7LD . tel 0208 462 5004 mail

Xerama Folding Pedals

Xerama Folding PedalIf you read the Oyama Victor test in A to B 44 you may have noticed our brief mention of the Xerama folding pedals (‘similar to, but neater than the better- known VP117’).We rarely have space to say much about accessories in these bike tests, but we were quite impressed with the Xerama. Once upon a time, the Chinese produced heavy, ugly (or even dangerous) copies of Western or Taiwanese products, but the tendency now is to copy foreign ideas, improve them, and still send them round the world at knock-down prices.

The Xerama folding pedal is typical. Pull outwards on a spring-loaded locking tongue in the middle of the pedal, and the platform folds down, leaving a relatively small bearing block protruding. It’s easy to do with gloved hands, or in the dark, even for the terminally mechanically inept, and there’s little risk of slicing a hole in your finger as with some similar designs. Unfolding the pedal is a simple reversal of the procedure, the platform coming back together with a nice satisfying clonk.

The useable pedal area is 95mm x 70mm (about average), the stickey-outey bit when folded 55mm long (average again), and the ratio of folded/unfolded size is 2 to 1 – again, more or less typical. But the Xerama pedals weigh only 205g each, making them the second lightest on the market, and they cost £10 a pair in the UK.When you consider that not so long ago, a pair of nondescript folding pedals cost £30, that really is quite a bargain.

We can’t say how long they’ll last in service, but the pedals have ‘proper’ cup and cone adjustable bearings, and (as far as we can judge) reasonably well engineered components elsewhere. The weak point of this design is usually the sliding tongue:VP produced one a while back and were forced to replace the plastic tongue with aluminium after a few months. This one is plastic, but looks up to the job.

Just to encourage you to buy loads and loads (they must have a container-full), the importer is offering a further £1 discount to A to B subscribers. Now if that isn’t the perfect Christmas stocking filler for a folding bike owner, we don’t know what is.

Xerama folding pedals . £10 per pair (£9 to subscribers) + £2.60 p&p . Bigfoot Bikes 50 Hayes Street, Bromley, Kent BR2 7LD . tel 0208 462 5004 mail

Solidlights 1103


Solidlights-1103Goodness gracious.There we were, getting used to the idea of bicycle lights with three ultra-bright white LEDs, when a single much brighter LED came along (see A to B 43). A few weeks later, and that light has already been overtaken by events, because power has trebled once again.Yes, the future has arrived, and rather more rapidly than we would have dared predict a few months ago.

Why join this candle-power arms race at all? The problem (if you haven’t noticed) is that car lights have become more effective in recent years, while bicycle lights are stuck in the 1970s, thanks in part to archaic regulations, of which more below. Bright lights make it easier to see and be seen, particularly when you’re moving fast and have just been blinded by 200 watts of quartz-halogen.

The Solidlights range are produced and marketed as a cottage industry, so this small British company has been able to gear up to introduce new technology while the big Japanese manufacturers are still bartering over wholesale prices.Two options are currently available – the 1103, with a single three watt LED, and the 1303, with three similar ‘bulbs’ and three times the power output.

We’ve decided to test the smaller 1103, because it’s cheaper, lighter, and more than adequate for most purposes. Unlike the chunky Cateye EL500 tested in A to B 43, the 1103 is tiny, measuring just 40mm square if viewed from the front, by 62mm deep.The mounting bracket (similar to, but incompatible with, the Cateye bracket) more or less doubles the size.

…taste the forbidden fruits of full power, and there’s no going back…

Solidlights has achieved this compact package by putting the battery elsewhere, not that it’s particularly large or heavy. Like the Powabyke on page 20, power comes from Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.The capacity is nominally 16.5 watt/hours, from a pack measuring 90mm by 42mm by 26mm and weighing 130g (Solidlight’s figures are refreshingly accurate). By comparison, a typical set of four ye olde AA NiCd rechargeable batteries weigh only 100g, but deliver a less than devastating three watt/hour punch. Or a set of the very latest, sexiest NiMH AA batteries weigh a similar 100g and can achieve 6.3 watt/hours. So, as a rule of thumb, the Li-ion pack is about five times as effective weight for weight as typical rechargeables, and twice as good as the very best.

Road Testing


The battery is small enough to fix to the handlebars, but you need to avoid loops of cable that could be snagged

How does it work? We haven’t the faintest idea, but you clip the lamp bracket to your handlebars, velcro the battery pack to something suitable (it comes with a non-slip silicon rubber pad) and plug in. Everything is neatly and functionally designed – one long press on the big waterproof switch ignites the LED, and another long press turns it off, which  should make it difficult to turn on or off by  mistake with frozen fingers.

The lamp has three power settings that can be found in sequence with quick prods at the button.The lowest setting gives the sort of output you might have expected from a cutting edge lamp back in 2003, such as the Cateye EL200. It’s a soft blue light, bright enough to ride by, but not really up to illuminating pot-holes and other nasties.The mid setting is similar to one of those quaint old-fashioned halogen dynamo lamps, or the LED star of last summer, the EL500, but the beam is broader, giving a softer, more even spread of light, without the sharply focussed centre spot.

Those who don’t know any better (poor innocent darlings) could live quite happily with this mid-power setting. But, once you’ve tasted the forbidden fruits of full power, there’s no going back.The beam is completely round in shape, comparatively broad in reach, and of an intensely cold blue-white light. Illumination is good enough to read the road with confidence, and about the same brightness as a pair of halogen lamps.With this sort of light output, ignorant motorists dart for cover, presumably expecting a Kawasaki G-1300 turbo to spring at them out of the dusk.The lack of a central bright spot leaves you a little short on long- range information when riding fast on really dark roads, but for most other purposes, the light is superb. One of the strange quirks of LED lights is that you might not be able to see the road at a great distance, but the lamp will pick out reflective signs far beyond your ability to actually read the small print. Perhaps more importantly, it demands attention from oncoming traffic at a kilometre or more.

…German approval makes them legal in our own sad, forgotten little country…

Up to now, this sort of power meant great big lead-acid batteries, and/or rather limited battery life. But with its LED ‘bulb’ and tiddly, but efficient, Li-ion battery pack, the 1103 is claimed to run for 33/4 hours on full brightness (we did a little better – about four hours), or double that on the middle power setting.When the battery is almost flat, the lamp flashes three times and reverts to low power, giving a further twenty minutes on ‘reserve’.

The charger is equally compact (35mm x 42mm x 90mm), lightweight (230g) and intelligent. It will run from any mains power source worldwide, and gives a full charge in three hours 20 minutes (on Castle Cary voltage, at least), reaching 90% capacity in less than two hours, which is worth knowing.The downside of a separate battery is that everything has to be disconnected and reconnected to charge it.The tiny three-way connector is a bit fiddly, and would be difficult to fit with cold hands.


A compact and powerful front light would suit a folding bike very well, mounted either on the handlebars or bolted permanently above the front brake caliper. Fitted as such to a Brompton, there’s still plenty of room to fold as normal, although whether you’d want to leave something this special on the bike is another matter.The battery lead is only 50cm long, so you have to find somewhere close to the light, but the velcro fixing works well.

If you’re not keen on batteries, we’re told a dynamo-powered kit is on the way.Team this tiny, indestructible lamp with a good hub dynamo and – for a price – you have created one of the toughest and brightest bicycle lights around.

Ah yes, price. As tested, complete with Li-ion battery and charger, the Solidlights 1103 costs £195. If you want to use your own batteries (5 x AA cells should last nearly two hours), the light alone costs £120. It’s difficult to put these sort of figures into perspective. A Schmidt hub dynamo plus B&M halogen headlamp will cost you about £150, but give rather less light.The Cateye EL500 one watt LED costs £45, but lacks a plug-in charger and is similarly lacking in oomph against the 1103.You pays your money and takes your choice.

Incidentally, if you’re one of these annoying people who can’t live without the biggest and best of everything, the triple LED 1303 is bigger, brighter and more expensive. It’s hard to see why anyone would need this sort of power on-road, but boys will be boys.

We should also point out that LED lamps are technically illegal in the UK – well, probably. The Germans, eons ahead of us as usual, are now approving individual products, including the new Trelock LS-600 and the Cateye EL500 (look for the EL500G if you can find it).As far as anyone can tell, German approval makes them legal in our own sad, forgotten little country, provided of course, your local judiciary are Euro-friendly.At three watts, the Solidlights 1103 just scrapes in under the power limit, but it’s still an LED and it hasn’t passed those German tests.Thus, ironically, you could be riding with one of the most eye- catching lamps available, get mown down by a dumb motorist and end up losing all hope of compensation because your front light hadn’t passed some test in Germany, and our own legislators are dithering in the 1950s.Take our advice and go for powerful lights.


Solidlights 1103 LED Complete kit £195 Lamp only £120 .Weight Lamp 130g Battery 130g Total 260g Battery Lithium-ion . Battery Capacity 16.5Wh . Run time full-power 4 hours . Charge time 3 hours 20 mins . Manufacturer Martin-Jones Technology Ltd mail web

Brompton ‘B’ Bag

Brompton-B-BagIf you regularly fly with a folding bike, you will know all about baggage handlers, the meticulously trained gorillas employed by airlines to heave your precious possessions from tarmac to hold and vice versa.

With a full-size bike, air-carriage may be expensive and time- consuming, but you can at least be confident that something so evidently fragile won’t get lobbed around too much. For folding bikes like the Brompton – that look much like other bit of luggage, but are both heavier and more fragile – it’s a different story.

Brompton has produced a bike cover for many years, but it’s more about disguise than protection, and there’s a coherent argument for leaving the cover off, in the hope that the handling-gorillas will show a little compassion.

The only real alternative is a conventional hard case – we usually suggest marching into a luggage shop with your Brompton and choosing a size that will comfortably take the bike, plus a few pairs of knickers and classic lightweight trousers tucked in where space permits.This will protect the bike against most eventualities, but makes life mighty difficult at point B. In short, what do you do with the case when you arrive? One option is to throw the whole lot in a taxi, but cycling straight out of the airport is one of the joys of folding bikedom, and you’ll need a better solution if you’re touring. Bike Friday gets around the problem with its patented TravelTrailer – basically a hard case that sprouts wheels and becomes a trailer. But the wheels add extra drag, weight, expense and complication.

The boffins at Brompton think they have come up with a compromise in the form of a padded soft bag, tough enough to give some protection during and after the flight, but light and compact enough to carry away on the bike.This, to avoid confusion with soft bags and hard bags, has been christened the ‘B’ bag. So in this crazy world, you might just find yourself explaining to a ‘one’ booking clerk in Bombay that you need space for a ‘B’ bag in coach C of the 8.20 ‘one’ service to Diss. No room for confusion there, then.

A Brief Description

The ‘B’ is made of a ruggedly woven nylon cordura fabric, padded to a depth of 5mm on the sides, with a solid base of laminated alloy and plastic.The result is very strong, but flexible enough to roll away into a manageable package. At the rear of the bag are two rugged little castors, supported on ball bearings, to give mobility on smooth surfaces. In ‘wheeled suitcase’ mode, you lift the bag with a little strap at the front and it whizzes along beautifully. For tougher customers, there’s also a broad shoulder strap, and a pair of conventional handles.

Weight is 2.3kg – a lot less than a hard case, of course, but rather more than a conventional soft bag. Dimensions when loaded are approximately (the bag is sculpted to some extent around the bike) 24cm wide, 64cm long and 58cm to 67cm tall. Any Brompton will fit, even those without a folding pedal (though we’d strongly recommend getting one) and/or with the longer SP6 seat post.The packed bag is little larger than the bike, but there’s enough space for carefully packed clothes, and even documents in the near (but not quite) A4-size zipped internal pocket. Another clear-fronted pocket just happens to take a copy of your favourite folding bicycle magazine, which may be pure coincidence, but thanks anyway lads.

With quick-releases on the straps, and floor to floor zips, the bag opens right out, so there’s little or no lifting required to load the bike. Ride off, and you’re dealing with a bag measuring 15cm x 25cm x 65cm – relatively cumbersome, but manageable enough, either on your back, strapped to the rack, or even poking out of the ‘Touring’ pannier bag.

In Practice

Brompton-B-BagNo doubt, the bag will be used in innumerable different ways.We would suggest carrying the ‘B’ on your back, and packing clothes into several plastic bags stuffed into a touring pannier for the trip to the airport. At the check-in, the bike and clothes go in the ‘B’ as hold luggage, and the Touring pannier plus essentials stays with you as hand luggage, with the packing and unpacking operation reversed at the other end.

Without the bike, the ‘B’ has an 80 litre capacity, although you wouldn’t want to carry too much weight in it. One question we had to answer was whether you can ride a Brompton carrying a second bike in the ‘B’ bag? Well, you can, but it’s not an operation for the faint-hearted, and you wouldn’t want to carry 12kg too far…The other classic use will be for yachting folk – yes, the straps are long enough, and the bike small enough, to dangle down through a 60cm x 60cm hatch. Hopefully, there’s enough padding should you forget the bike’s there and chuck the anchor down after it…

We’ve seen all sorts of travel bags over the years, from the basic (our own lightweight covers), through the cumbersome, to the plain useless (see Trek F600, A to B 41).This new Brompton-specific bag answers most of the criticisms of previous designs, being light enough and small enough to transport, but tough enough to give the bike some real protection. If the handlers drop it three metres off the end of an elevator, the bike will suffer, but it should survive the everyday knocks and bangs of air travel.

Brompton ‘B’ Bag £95 . Weight 2.3kg . Unfolded Dimensions H67cm W24cm L64cm Folded dimensions H15cm W25cm L65cm . Manufacturer Brompton tel 020 8232 8484

Cateye EL500 Headlight

cateye-el500-headlightLight Emitting Diodes, or LEDs, have been around for years.We don’t need to worry too much about how they work except that in place of the old-fashioned white-hot bulb filament, there’s a gap where electrons, er, sort of vault across, giving off light in the process. No filament to burn out or vibrate to bits (life is effectively infinite in bicycle terms), greater efficiency, so batteries last longer and/or weigh less.

Initially, you could have any colour you liked as long as it was red and rather dim, but the power, efficiency and colour range has expanded enormously.Three or four years ago, the best red LEDs began to exceed the brightness of traditional rear lights and a few are now approved for use in Germany, although the situation here is a bit confused (so what’s new?).White LEDs, like black tulips, seemed an impossible dream, but they soon began to appear, although brightness and colour were not what they might have been.

In December 2002, we tested the best white LED lamps around – the Cateye EL200 and EL300 – and were quite impressed. One of the oddities of these lights is that they can scare off motorists or seek out a reflective sign at a kilometre, but fail to illuminate a large pothole right under your nose.The reason for this, so the boffins tell us, is tied up with wavelengths, photons and other mysterious things. Suffice to say, white LEDs are great in town, but less practical in open country where reflective signs and motorists are thin on the ground, and potholes more prevalent.

In the past, LEDs were small (typically consuming 200mW), so lights tended to be fitted with a handful of them, making reflectors complex and inefficient.The breakthrough has come with the advent of the powerful Luxeon 1,000mW white LED, combining the brightness of the best halogen bulbs, with the long-range penetrative power and lower battery consumption of a white LED.The first one watt LED torches surfaced about a year ago (several are now available, mainly on US websites), and they’ve just started to appear in bicycle lights.We were lucky enough to raid the first consignment of Cateye EL500s to arrive on these shores – they should soon be in the shops for about £45.

Prayers Answered

On paper, this is the answer to every bicyclist’s prayers.Where our EL200 used to fill with water at the first sign of rain, the EL500 is claimed to be waterproof to 30 metres or 100ft.Whether that’s true, we can’t say, but Alexander said it worked well in the bath and it scared the wits out of our goldfish at 300mm. Even if water does get past the neoprene sealing ring, the reflector/LED assembly is sealed, the electronics are encapsulated in silicon rubber and the on/off switch (clever this) is a sealed magnetic switch.We feel confident enough to say that this torch is waterproof for most cycling/outdoor activities, except perhaps, deep water scuba-unicycling.

Like other LED front lights, the EL500 is not legal on its own in the UK, but to be honest, approval here can be only a matter of time. The far wimpier EL300 has gained approval in Germany as the EL300G and UK lighting laws are so discredited as to be virtually worthless. We’d have no qualms about using this as a sole light source, and we’re sure the police would nod in approval. Thanks to some clever reflector technology, the EL500 casts an intense ‘slot’ of light to the sides for those awkward roundabout moments, and gives a nicely focussed beam, with just enough scatter to illuminate verges close by. It’s not as good as the best halogen dynamo lighting set, but brighter than almost everything else.

The mounting bracket is the standard Cateye H-32 – not the cleverest design, but quick-release and easy to adjust.The light only weighs 190g complete with batteries, just 40g more than the smaller EL200 and 105g less than the chunky EL300.

Power hungry

The bad news is high power consumption.The Luxeon is more efficient than a traditional bulb, but not by much, and battery life is nowhere near Cateye’s ‘up to 30 hours’ claim. Power consumption is 2.2 watts with conventional alkaline batteries, or 1.3 watts with rechargeables, at slightly reduced brightness. Depending on battery quality, run time will be 3 to 81/2 hours with rechargeables, or 51/2 – 71/2 hours with conventional batteries. In practice, the EL500 can run for another 50 hours, but at much reduced brightness, so you won’t be left groping in the dark when the battery fails, but you may end up changing batteries (4 x AA cells) more than you would like.

This would make an excellent caving light because of it’s compact size, water- resistance and extended ‘back-up’ run time. No doubt the run time and brightness will improve with more intuitive electronics, but in the meantime, delight your friends with the brightest, most penetrating light around.


Cateye EL500 . £44.99 . Weight c/w batteries 190g . Power consumption 1.3 – 2.2 watts Battery life full brightness 3 to 81/2 hours reduced brightness Up to 60 hours .Manufacturer Cateye web . UK distributor Zyro PLC tel 01423 325325 mail

S&S Couplings

S&S CouplingsLiving without a car brings its own joys, but add a tandem to the equation and life gets more complicated. Given the attitude of most train operating companies to tandem carriage, long distance rides are tricky indeed. My wife Anna and I planned an epic from Portland Bill in Dorset to John O’ Groats in the far north: ride up, train back, simple. Except that the Thurso-southwards train doesn’t take tandems, and nor does the Scotrail bike-carrying road van which runs parallel to it in the summer.

What to do? One very pleasant, but decidedly round-about option, was to hop on a boat to the Orkney islands, transfer to the overnight Stromness-Aberdeen ferry, and then board the mainline GNER service next morning; and that would take tandems, as long as we bagged the one space quickly enough. It remained the preferred option until pressure of work forced us to cut the trip short – now Anna, myself and ‘Black Lightning’ would be boarding at Glasgow. So we were back to square one.

S&S Couplings

Eek!! With the frame carefully marked, a short section is cut out of each tube

But trains do accept folding bikes (even tandems), so another solution presented itself – fit S & S frame couplings to the bike.The couplings are precision-made stainless steel threaded lugs that allow any full-size frame to separate in 60 seconds or so. American Steve Smilanick invented them about ten years ago. He was due to board a Mediterranean cruise, and wanted to take his Bianchi race bike along for 100- mile day rides while other cruisers were lolling in port. With a degree in Industrial Technology (not to mention his own machine shop) he had no trouble designing and producing the first S&S couplings.

S&S Couplings

Three pieces of tube, with the couplings behind

They worked so well that he went into business, and ten years later is kept busy producing ‘thousands’ (he wouldn’t tell me how many thousands) of the things a year, for cyclists who want the performance and rigidity of a full-size bike (‘cumbersome’ to A to B veterans) with at least some of the convenience of a folder.

Naturally, a couple of old Bickerton hinges pop-rivetted onto the frame tube wouldn’t do the trick, and the S&S couplings are impressively machined from solid billets of stainless steel.They do a 6Al 4V titanium version as well (for titanium and carbon fibre frames), an aluminium one (for ally frames) and even a chrome-moly coupling. All of these are intended for new frames, not retro-fit, and they come in various sizes, to suit most frames.The couplings are produced on a Mazak Multiplex CNC lathe; one of those all-singing, all-dancing machine tools. Solid bar goes in one end, and finished couplings pop out the other. Demand is such that this particular machine churns out nothing but Bicycle Torque Couplings, as they’re also called, though the company also makes specialised machinings for all sorts of other uses, including rockets.That might explain why some people insist that Steve Smilanick is an ex-NASA engineer; he isn’t, and never has been. Incidentally, you can’t just wander into your local bike shop, buy a set of couplings and fit them yourself. S&S will only sell the parts to recognised professional frame builders (they list 100, from all over the world), which underlines just what a precision job this is. St John Street Cycles of Bridgwater fitted ours.

…ordering from new makes sense, as fitting involves stripping the frame bare and repainting it…

Strong Nerve

That’s how I found myself ensconced in SJS’s kitchen (which appears to double as a wheel- building station) with Graham Tomlinson, who has been doing bikey things in Bridgwater for nine years. ‘I started off building frames for St John Street, but now I do most of their S&S work. It’s pretty seasonal, but I suppose it averages out at one or two sets a week. Most of those, maybe 60-70%, are for tandems, and most are on new bikes rather than retro-fits.’

S&S Couplings

Brazing the couplings into place

Ordering the couplings from new makes a lot of sense, as fitting them involves stripping the frame bare and repainting it. In theory, brazing only burns the paint off either side of the coupling, but St John Street prefer to repaint (or in our case, powder coat) everything. Once you have a bare frame, it really is a case of taking a hacksaw to it in exactly the right place, and removing a short section of frame tube, though I’d say it needs a strong nerve, keen eye and steady hand. Graham, thankfully, appears to have all three.

S&S Couplings

The finished frame ready for painting and reassembly - the three connectors must be perfectly aligned in the front tubes

‘I do the tubes one at a time,’ he told me; ‘cut, then braze on the coupling.That way the frame is always held rigidly in line by a solid tube – if you tried to cut all three at once, the frame would go all over the place.’ By now we’d been joined by Kevin Sayles, St John Street’s main frame builder, who settled down, mug of tea in one hand, banana in the other. ‘The brazing can be tricky,’ he added. ‘We use 55% silver braze, and that can be contaminated by the stainless. It’s tricky, but it can be done.’ The chrome- moly couplings are TIG welded rather than brazed, the metal plated to avoid corrosion and with rubber sleeves to cover the weld, and avoid the need for repainting. It’s cheaper than the stainless steel route, but intended for fitting to new frames only.

…Once fitted and tightened up, the couplings should be stronger than the frame…

Once fitted and tightened up, the couplings should be stronger than the frame tube itself. According to Steve Smilanick, tests have shown them to be both stronger and stiffer than Reynolds 531. ‘You can jump kerbs,’ he told me, ‘race downhill on a mountain bike, carry heavy loads while touring, crash the bike etc, it’s all no problem. In ten years, we haven’t had a single failure or return.’

S&S Couplings

Brake and gear cables need to be refitted with special quick-release joints

Well, I suppose that’s what you’d expect him to say, but the S&S website is littered with testimonials from people who’ve done epic round the world trips, with no ill-effects.That appeared to be backed up by a customer we met in St John Street’s showroom: ‘They’re terrific,’ he said. ‘I’ve had them fitted to my solo bike as well as my tandem, and they don’t make any difference to the ride at all – I can’t detect any frame flex.’ He might have added that there’s little weight difference either, as each stainless coupling tips the scales at just 115g, so adding three of them to a 18kg tandem won’t turn it into an overweight lump.

…we should be OK boarding trains that have a couple of normal bike spaces…

S&S Couplings

Final assembly is a big task, involving almost as much work as building a new machine

There’s one thing you can’t do with S&S couplings, and that’s fit them to a monotube frame, like that on the Giant LaFree. (Of course, even if you could, it wouldn’t do much good on the Lafree’s oval-section tubing – I have it on good authority that oval-shaped threads don’t work very well). According to Steve Smilanick, this is because the coupling is designed to cope with tension and compression loads only, as found on a conventional frame, not the bending components to which monotubes are subjected.They will work on a monotube recumbent though, or if the frame has a structural seat tube that connects front and rear halves together.


So, we now have a Thorn tandem with three S&S couplings, which allow the front third of the bike to part company with the rest in about a minute.You can have two sets fitted to a tandem if you want, splitting it into three parts (like Ancient Gaul, if you know your Asterix) but for train carriage (and simplicity) we thought a two-thirds/one-third split would be enough. As it is, the big section is about as large as a conventional solo, so we should be OK boarding trains that have a couple of normal bike spaces, but won’t take tandems.

Splitting is a simple process, using the C-spanner supplied with the conversion, though of course you have to split the cables too – one just puts them on the slackest setting (lowest or highest gear, as appropriate) and unscrew the neat little threaded connectors. Putting everything back together again is a little more tricky, and you really need an accomplice to hold everything steady, but with practice the couplings go together just as you would expect greasy chunks of precision-milled stainless steel to go together.

Being stainless, they won’t corrode, and maintenance is undemanding.They do need tightening periodically, and taking apart every now and then to remove grit that may have worked its way in – water won’t do any harm, but grit will.That, and re-greasing, is just about all you need to do.As for wear, you might expect the mating teeth to get sloppy over time, but they’ve thought of that too – the teeth are tapered, with a millimetre or two of clearance at the top of each one, so as wear takes place, the faces stay in close contact.

Now all this precision engineering doesn’t come cheap. Prices start at £350 (as an extra on a new Thorn solo) and retrofits (including the full respray) are from £500. Our tandem conversion cost £650 (three tubes to split on a tandem) which included powder coating the entire frame. Sceptics might say we could have bought a couple of secondhand Bromptons for the same money, but that’s missing the point.There’s something special about riding a tandem that you don’t get from any other two-wheeler – the speed, the team working – so having all that, and being able to stick it on a train for the journey home, is very like having your cake and eating it.

Peter and Anna departed for Scotland on Saturday 31st August.
Did the couplings successfully deceive Virgin Trains? No idea, but we’ll let you know in A to B 44

Contact details

S&S UK agents Bob Jackson Cycles tel (factory) 0113 255 1144 (shop) 0113 255 9844 mail . Kinetics tel 0141 942 2552 mail St John Street Cycles tel 01278 423632 mail . Roberts Cycles tel 0208 684 3370 mail . For a complete list of framebuilders worldwide, see or mail

FreeRadical Cargo-kit

freeradical-cargo-kitThe carrying capacity of a conventional bike shouldn’t be underestimated – it’s amazing what you can fit into a decent set of panniers. However, with cycling as my main form of transport, I often wished I could carry heavier or awkwardly-shaped items.The obvious solution was a trailer, and I picked up a great hand-built one, but found that for a number of reasons it didn’t quite suit my needs. Most crucially, with a trailer you only have the extra cargo capacity when you’ve bothered to lug it round with you.

Few people would be willing to keep even the slickest, lightest trailer permanently attached to their bike. If you’re of a well organised persuasion, this probably isn’t a worry, as you’ll just hitch a trailer on when required. But personally I decided I’d like to be able to hop on my bike knowing I could carry a big load whenever the need arose.That’s why I ended up buying a ‘FreeRadical’, a kit designed to turn a regular bike into a cargo bike.


According to the booklet, ‘installation is meant to be carried out by a professional bicycle mechanic only’. But I enjoy fiddling with bikes, and had enough confidence in my mechanical abilities to have a go.The first task is to remove the rear wheel, chain, rear derailleur and brakes.The FreeRadical frame then simply bolts into the dropouts for the rear wheel, and is also attached near the bottom bracket.This produces an extended bike frame which seems pretty sturdy – I’ve had no problems with mine as yet. Rear derailleur and brakes need to be re-fitted with the extended cables provided with the kit.

…you can even carry passengers… up to a maximum payload of 90kg…

With the rear wheel slotted into place, you’ll find the wheelbase has grown by around 38cm (15 inches), which means extending the chain by attaching the extra 30 inches of links supplied.With everything back together and re-adjusted, the remaining task is to assemble the load-carrying frame.The FreeRadical has four vertical tubes – one pair in front of the rear wheel, and one pair behind. Into these slot two U-shaped racks, one on either side of the wheel, straddled and clamped into place with what the surfer-dude designers have styled a ‘SnapDeck’, but we would call a bit of plywood.

Carrying Stuff

freeradical-cargo-kit-1Load carrying is done primarily in so-called ‘FreeLoaders’: Nylon flaps which attach to the racks. These are open at the top, so shouldn’t be used simply as bags (I initially made that mistake and lost a few things as a result!).The idea is that you put your shopping in bags and put the bags in the FreeLoaders.The open- topped design allows you to carry large or awkwardly- shaped loads, such as wooden planks.

As well as lashing on loads via the FreeLoaders, you can strap big objects onto the SnapDeck platform, and you can even carry passengers this way, up to a maximum payload of 90kg. Footrests are available as an option to make the ride a bit more comfortable! Other options include horizontal racks to give even greater load- carrying capacity. I haven’t tried these, but on the web site there are lots of pictures of sporty right-on types carrying canoes and the like.The full package (bike and FreeRadical), is referred to (with more surf-jargon) as an XtraCycle.

Extending the wheelbase of your bike obviously produces a significant change in handling. I think this is best summarised as an increase in stability with a corresponding decrease in manoeuvrability – a bit like changing from a small-wheeled folder to a conventional road bike. It’s a subjective thing, but I really like the ‘cruiserish’ feel of the XtraCycle.The bike remains nippy enough, and the extra length is a key factor in the bike handling well under loads.The whole assembly adds just over 4kg to the weight of your bike.This does affect acceleration a bit, but not excessively so.

Train Friendly?

Being 38cm (15″) longer and marginally wider at the back than a regular bike, the question of compatibility with public transport is important. In my experience, on trains where bike storage is in a guards van, an XtraCycle slots in no problem.Things become a bit more complicated where bikes are forced to jostle for space with passengers. For instance an XtraCycle will fit fine in the bike space on a Virgin Voyager, provided you remove the front wheel, but on trains with space for only two conventional bikes, an XtraCycle will take up both spaces. And the guard would probably take some ersuading to let it on. Having said all this, in my recent experience you have to be pretty brave to take even a conventional bike on many journeys – I think I’ll follow A to B’s advice and get a folder for the train.

…the design is not well suited to British weather… the SnapDeck absorbed water and warped…

A Few Problems

freeradical-cargo-kit-2Most significantly, the design is not as well suited to British weather as it might be, which is hardly surprising, as the designers are based in Nevada.The FreeRadical frame is made of steel, while the racks that slot into it are aluminium. Given a heavy shower the vertical tubes of the FreeRadical collect water, and corrosion occurs rapidly, all the more so because of the interface between the two metals.Thankfully, this problem can be avoided by wrapping some waterproof tape around the junction between the racks and their sockets. Another damp-related problem I encountered was that after being left outside overnight, the SnapDeck absorbed water and warped. I’ve since painted it with exterior varnish, which seems to have worked.

You may need a few extra parts too. I found the new chain did not mesh properly with some of the gears on my rather old and worn rear cassette.This meant I had to shell out for a new cassette… Not a problem with hub gears, obviously.You may also need to upgrade the brakes for the extra weight, although my V-brakes worked fine.


For me, the FreeRadical has been a big success, enabling me to pootle happily about with large quantities of shopping, recycling, and the occasional friend. I’m sure a trailer would be a more appropriate solution for many people, but I definitely think a FreeRadical is worth considering if you regularly pull heavy loads, or simply fancy trying something a bit different.The ability to carry a passenger will also do wonders for your popularity, and helps to extend the role of the bicycle even further.

Unfortunately XtraCycle doesn’t do itself any favours in the way it brands the product: The skater/surfer terminology grates after a bit, and the web site is full of testimonials from born-again cycling-dudes whose lives have been transformed, which can be a bit off-putting to more cynical British eyes.


FreeRadical £225 (plus £14 p&p)
Weight (claimed) 4kg (8.8lb)
Maximum load 90kg (200lb)
USA Manufacturer Xtracycle mail web
UK Distributors (England) Re-Cycle tel 01845 4580854 or 4580758 mail
web . (Scotland) Edinburgh Cycle Co-op tel 0131 3371484


glowbagIt’s a measure of just how in tune we are, that we immediately thought a Glowbag was something you planted tomatoes in (don’t bother – home-made compost is just as effective), but it turns out to be a bag that, er, glows.

As walkers, cyclists, equestrians and motorcyclists will knowl, it pays to be seen, and reflective clothing does quite a good job.The trouble with day-glo jackets is that they make you look like a banana. No problem if you’re a fruit fetishist, or the sort of brave soul who really couldn’t care less, but some people object to dressing up like a Belisha beacon to avoid being turned into strawberry jam by an incompetent motorist.

The answer is to dress in fashionable black, but wear something highly fluorescent, such as a Glowbag, which comes (naturally) in fashionable black, with stripes, a triangle, or large rectangle of Scotchlite material.This is the stuff the professionals use, and it throws back light from car headlights to spectacular effect. As the fashionable young people at Glowbag like to say: ‘This is no fluorescent yellow strip! This isn’t about looking like a complete nerd!’ Ah, quite so.

Glowbags come in two types – ‘Grand’ (a 25 litre courier bag), and ‘Midi’.This is much smaller, indeed the two zip-top pouches on the Midi will barely accommodate ‘two cans of Carlsberg’, according to Glowbag, which could mean multiple trips to the off-licence. For unashamedly nerdy but practical types, a couple of tinnies might translate into an Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 map, A to B magazine, wallet, house keys, puncture repair kit and a few basic tools.There’s also a handy little pouch on the strap, that makes a jolly useful home for your mobile phone, provided you’re fashionable enough to own one, and of course, know how to use it.

Our only real criticism is that you have to make a conscious effort to sling the bag behind for it to be effective.They’re also fairly expensive: the small Midi bag costing £21 to £26.50 and the Grand, £52 to £59.The price depends on the amount of Scotchlite in the design, which gives you an idea how expensive the raw material is. Still, street credibility never came cheap.

Glowbag Ltd tel 0207 5822282 mail

Top-draw Dynamos – Bush & Müller Dymotec S12 & Dynosys LightSpin

bush-and-muller-dymotecDynamo lights have many advantages.They’re always on call, lightweight, and extra- bright, but traditional dynamos are noisy, inefficient and unreliable.These days, there’s a renewed interest in hub dynamos, which are virtually silent and more reliable, but expensive to buy and fit.We’ve looked at the best bottle dynamos we could find, to see if they’re: (a) worth the extra over a conventional bottle and/or (b) comparable to a hub.

Two manufacturers dominate this business – Swiss company Dynosys, manufacturer of the LightSpin, and Busch & Müller from Germany, manufacturer of the Dymotec.The LightSpin is basically a high-tech version of a conventional six volt bottle dynamo, with improved bearings and electronic voltage control, while the Dymotec comes in three forms: the ‘6’, a more efficient version of a conventional dynamo, the ‘S6’, like the ‘6’, but with voltage control, and the ‘S12’, with everything else, plus a greater output. All can be fitted in place of a conventional bottle or hub dynamo except for the S12 which has an output of 12 volts (all other systems are six volt) and thus needs dedicated lamps, or hard-to-obtain 12 volt bulbs if upgrading older (ie, electronic-free) lamps.

While we’re on the subject, if adding a new bottle to an old system, it’s worth bearing in mind that some ‘medium-tech’ lamps may contain zener diodes to dump surplus voltage and improve bulb life.With the exception of the basic Dymotec 6, these posh-end dynamos contain more sophisticated voltage control and should not be used with zener diodes, because the dynamo will do its best to supply power to the bulbs and zener, which will simply throw the surplus overboard. If in doubt, it’s a good idea to replace the dynamo and lamps at the same time.

We’ve tested the LightSpin against the top-of-the-range B&M Dymotec S12.The 6 and S6 are cheaper, and broadly similar, but with lower output. For the purposes of making the test as realistic as possible, we fitted the dynamos to a hack bike with slightly wobbly wheels, although if spending this sort of money you’d be well advised to have the wheels trued, because a wobbly wheel will reduce efficiency. Both the designs dealt manfully with wobbles and inclement weather.

Dymotec S12

bush-and-muller-dymotec-speed-vs-powerThe Dymotec 6 costs £38, the S6 £110, and the S12 (complete with 12v versions of the Lumotec Oval Plus front light and Toplight Plus rear lights), no less than £300. Sounds like a reasonable budget for a bicycle. But for engineers everywhere, this is more or less the dream spec for a dynamo: 12 volts, 6.2 watts and 60% efficiency. For the rest of us, let us just say it’s solidly made, reliable and efficient.

So, what do all the numbers mean? As any woman will tell you, it’s largely a man thing: big numbers meaning a generous wallet, unrivalled fertility, and so forth, but a 12 volt dynamo really does make some sense.

Most battery lights are three volts, and dynamos six volts – the voltage being a measure of the electrical ‘pressure’. On its own, this tells us nothing about the light output, but the greater the pressure, the easier it is for the power to fight its way through those embarrassing dodgy joints held together with sticky tape. In short, a 12 volt system is more reliable.

Efficiency is the difference between the power you put in and the electrical power that comes out of the dynamo. Some are atrociously inefficient, turning only 20-30% of your hard won effort into light, while the rest floats off into the night as heat and noise. Fortunately, dynamos are small, absorbing 15 watts or less for an output of three useful watts. For those who’ve forgotten their school physics, voltage (electrical pressure) multiplied by amps (the current or volume of electricity) equals watts – the measurement of electric power.

Fifteen watts doesn’t sound much, but if you’re tooling gently home on a bicycle at a modest 13mph, your total power output may be less than 75 watts, so a crummy old dynamo could be absorbing nearly a quarter of your leg power.

Better quality bearings, and other much more complicated things, bring greater efficiency. Busch & Müller claim 40% for the 6, 55% for the S6, and 60% for the S12.That efficiency is used to cut the overall power consumption on the six volt units, but with the S12, B&M has chosen instead to provide a greater output: 6.2 watts, plus the 40% chucked away as heat, giving a total drain on your legs of 10.3 watts.All a bit complicated, but the result is a bit less effort, twice as much light, and a very tiny reduction in global warming.

In practice, our test yielded a whopping peak output of 8.7 watts (the extra power recharges the standlight lamps in the first few minutes of operation). But with a steady output of 15.2 volts above 8mph, we suspect the S12 might be powerful enough to eat bulbs relatively quickly. Don’t care, eh? You will when you find the bulbs cost £12.99 each.

Rolling resistance is barely discernible.When we tested a down-market three watt dynamo in October, it knocked 1.4 mph off our typical coasting speed.The S12 (generating 8.7 watts), only reduces the coasting speed by 0.5 mph – noticeable, but insignificant.


…not a bad chat-up line…you could ask them to come up and inspect your zener diodes…

Fitting the S12 is quite straightforward, and we managed to assemble a complete system including the front and rear lamps in about an hour. One bit of advice – do solder the connectors if you can.There’s no point in spending £300 just to see the wiring fall apart on the first soggy night. If you don’t have the technology, trim the wires to length and seek out a man or woman with a soldering iron (not a bad chat-up line, all things considered – you could ask them to come up and inspect your zener diodes too). Otherwise, assembly is fairly self-evident.The dynamo needs to be carefully aligned, like any other, but the Dymotec units also feature a crafty contact pressure adjustment, which should be set as low as possible for any particular tyre/weather combination. If the lights flicker, increase the pressure a bit. For rough conditions, the rubber roller can be swapped (hardly a roadside job) for B&M’s ‘weather-proof’ design, a rotary wire brush that would do a decent job of buffing up your small parts.This should be kept well away from frail tyre sidewalls and small fingers for obvious reasons. B&M make the point that it should only be used ‘temporarily’ in ‘rainy, snowy or icy’ conditions.We didn’t need it, but it was nice to know it was there.

Light output

bush-and-muller-dymotec-lightWe tested the S12 with Busch & Müller’s wonderful Lumotec Oval Plus front lamp and Toplight Plus rear lamp, produced in 12 volt versions specifically for this dynamo. Both have a standlight function too – the rear LEDs continue to burn at full brightness for about five minutes, while the front switches to a single white LED that lasts for ‘at least’ ten minutes. Ever tried waiting for a standlight to go out when there’s something good on the telly? Should your unsoldered connectors drop off, the front standlight is as powerful as some elderly filament bulbs, and easily bright enough to get you home.

As for the halogen main beam, don’t expect two or three times as much light as normal, just because you’re generating two or three times as much power, but in terms of brightness and spread, the Lumotec is unrivalled. Country roads are easily navigated at speed, and oncoming cars tend to assume you’re motorised, treating you with a bit of respect. Our only criticism is that enough light scatters through the transparent rim of the lens to dazzle the rider in open country, which is a bit counter- productive.The easy answer is a strip of black masking tape, but surely this should be sorted at source?


dynosys-lightspin-dynamoUnlike the B&M S12, this is a six volt device, so you can use it with conventional six volt lamps, provided you seek and destroy those pesky zener diodes. It’s also relatively cheap at £70 – a full £40 less than the B&M S6, which has a lower output. Efficiency is claimed to be 65-75%, so with our measured power output of only 2.6 watts, we estimate a power requirement of less than four watts.With such a low demand, the wheel can be spun quite easily – you can’t feel it on the road.The coasting speed was reduced from 15.3 to 15.2 mph – a barely discernible effect.

Incidentally, the low power output on our graph doesn’t necessarily make this a seven stone weakling amongst dynamos. Traditional bottle dynamos tend to call it a day at three watts, but the LightSpin provides whatever the bulb demands, up to a recommended maximum of 4.8 watts. It just happens that our bulb combination demanded only 2.6 watts. With this dynamo (and the B&M S6 too) it is permissible to fit a three watt bulb at the front and 0.6 watt at the rear, making 3.6 watts in all.

We paired the LightSpin with the neat little Hella Micro FF front lamp.The result was noticeably less exciting than the B&M S12, but the lamp throws a smaller, well defined pool of light just where you want it. Or at least, it does if you take great care aiming the lamp.


Value for money is a difficult concept at this level. After all, you can buy a basic dynamo for less than £10, but we wouldn’t recommend cutting corners to that extent if you commute on a regular basis.The B&M in particular is frighteningly expensive, but it offers unrivalled light output.The cheaper B&Ms and the Lightspin have a more conventional power output, but great efficiency.

They’re all better than the cooking variety, but are they as good as a hub dynamo? They’re certainly noisier, and compared to the hubs we’ve tried, the useful power kicks in at a slightly higher speed – 5mph instead of 4mph.That might seem irrelevant, but a hub will keep the lights close to full brightness at a smart walking pace, whereas the bottle dynamos will not.They’re relatively vulnerable too, both to the elements and vandalism.

On the positive side, a bottle dynamo is quick, easy and cheap to fit, and there’s no drag when it’s turned away from the tyre, although drag has been virtually eliminated from the hubs these days anyway.

Our instincts are moving towards the weather-proof, no-nonsense hub, but there are plenty of reasons why you might prefer something easier to fit, and if you want hub performance from a bottle, one of these might suit. If you’re looking for low rolling resistance above all else, the LightSpin is the best, but if power matters, go for B&M’s S12. There’s enough oomph here to recharge a mobile phone, or even a lap-top, provided you can find a suitable adaptor.


Dymotec S12 (c/w lamps) £300
Power output (claimed) 6.2 watts
Efficiency (claimed) 60%
Manufacturer Busch & Müller tel +49 2354 9156 mail web
UK distributor AMBA Marketing (UK) tel 01392 840030 mail

Dynosys LightSpin £70
Power output (claimed) 4.8 watts
Efficiency (claimed) 65-75%
Manufacturer Dynosys tel +41 62827 4828 mail web
UK Distributor Gearshift tel 0700 0700 531 web