FIRST PUBLISHED October 2002
Cycle 2002, Steven Norris MP, Brompton, Gekko, Airframe, Birdy
With CYCLE 2002 something of an unknown quantity, it was with a degree of trepidation that the Mole set forth for Bogworthy Junction and parted with the customary arm and a leg for a window seat on the London Flyer.
Armed with a copy of Ken Livingstone’s wonderful Cycling Map of the metropolis, the journey from Paddington to Islington proved relatively straightforward, despite an almost complete lack of cycle facilities. Islington, for those who aren’t aware, is an unexpectedly miserable quarter of our fine capital city, situated somewhere beyond Kings Cross. Once there, one had only to join the caravan of bulgy- thighed types to reach the Business Design Centre. This turned out to be a rather jolly little venue – hardly Olympia, but a pleasantly proportioned edifice, in scale with the modest aspirations of a British bicycle show.
One understands that bookings were painfully slow initially, but by Day One there were over 100, filling the halls pretty well. Not all were of use, naturally. Several were showing something called Spinning machines, which on close inspection turned out to be bicycles without wheels. Quite why one would pay good money for a bicycle without wheels is beyond the Mole. Rather like an aeroplane without wings, one would have thought, but a good many bright and fashionable young things were spinning cheerfully away, making a nonsense of New Labour’s claim that intelligence is on the increase.
Elsewhere, one unearths a slightly more complex version of the same thing – a conventional-looking bicycle linked by cables to a large televisual screen.Through complex electrical jiggery-pokery controlled by two clean-cut youths, frantic pedalling results in some horribly realistic hills unfolding on the screen, with the added realism of excruciating pedal effort.
All manner of sporty types tried their hand on this infernal machine, including cycling’s Mr Big, the Rightly Honourable Steven Norris, formerly a Tory MP, but now a professional transport lobbyist, supporting cyclists, motorcyclists, motorists, and any number of other ‘ists’, for a modest remuneration. Unlike the Lycra-clad types, Mr Norris proceeds to ride the Marin County Downhill Course at a nice steady A to B pace, as one might expect from a fellow with a reported loathing for bilious Lycra and daft cranium helmets. In any event, Mr Norris makes no secret of the fact that he finds exercise in other ways, and quite right too.
The image of Mr Norris plodding happily around Marin County was to have a certain symbolism, for at CYCLE 2002 the racing, countryside- decimating, and working-out types were to meet head- to-head with those for whom the bicycle is primarily a pleasant means of getting from A to B.
Folding bikes had taken up a classic defensive position, thanks largely to a strong showing from Brompton on the right flank and newcomer Airframe to the left.Weaker brands, such as the overweight Gekko and ‘What’s your perfect size?’ Handybike occupied the middle ground.
Incidentally, whatever your perfect size might be, those six-inch wheels have proved less than ideal for the Handybike, which is to be redesigned around more conventional rubber. As one suspected all along, size really does matter, at least where wheels are concerned.
Mind you, the Handybike is a relatively practical machine against the monstrous Gekko tandem, which proved so complex no-one seemed willing or able to fold it. At the other end of the scale, one has serious doubts whether two persons would be able to ride the bike either.
Close by the Mole discovered the Armadillo range – folding bicycles allegedly manufactured in Bangor, North Wales. It seems the Cycle Citi Corporation of Taiwan is in the process of creating 160 jobs there (Bangor, not Taiwan), and expects to churn out 350,000 bicycles a year, some of the folding variety. Unfortunately, bikes that suit the Far Eastern market are not necessarily competitive in Europe.The smaller models are light, but much too small for anyone of a modestly portly disposition.The top-of-the-range OY102 is an attractive and reasonably comfy 3-speed 16-inch job, not unlike an updated Cresswell Micro, but with a retail price of £349, one suspects the brand will make little headway against the similarly priced Micro or Brompton ‘C’ type.
This ‘long wheelbase’ model (as opposed to chronically short) is quite a neat and handy folder, as the Mole demonstrated to the young lady from Cycle Citi, who claimed that the excesses of the night before had affected her bicycle folding capabilities. A note to head office: Do try to employ staff who can actually do the business.
“…bikes that sell in the Far East are not necessarily competitive in Europe…”
Airframe probably had the nicest stand in the show – well lit, exquisitely designed, and displaying some cheerful- looking Airframes in a variety of fruity colours. One wishes the bike well – the wibbly- wobbly frame will not appeal to all, but the rideability and general sporty stance of the bike should produce sales. According to one seasoned observer, the bike actually rides better than the Birdy… it’s also somewhat cheaper.
The Birdy popped up here and there at CYCLE 2002, although manufacturer Riese & Müller was officially absent.The most remarkable example was the Escape, a conventional Birdy Red with a large clockwork mechanism where the rack might be.The idea is that forward motion winds up the spring, with the energy being released when the lights turn green. Such devices are something of a Holy Grail in the cycling world, but one suspects the eventual solution will be electrical. Still, full marks to young Thomas Jenkins for doing it the hard way.
Elsewhere, Avon Valley Cyclery was displaying some more conventional Riese & Müller products, including the new Froglet: Birdy- style suspension in a near-Brompton package. Another exclusive was the Bike Friday range – the first public showing in the UK for some years.The stand was rounded off with a few Dahons and hand-built Moultons, dotted about in a jungle setting so realistic one could almost feel the mosquito bites.
Electric bicycles were very much in evidence at CYCLE 2002, with some sophisticated crank motors setting the pace.The gossip amongst the trade is that the delightful Giant Lafree Twist has been a runaway success, thanks to the demise of Yamaha, and general growth in the market. Actually, the Yamaha is not quite dead. Lumbered with a number of unsold bikes,Yamaha Europe proceeded to flog the lot to one Freidbert Meinert, on the condition that they were sold suitably disguised. Freidbert has gone one better, neatly upgrading the machines, and ironing out most of the flaws in the process.
Out have gone the Nexus roller-brakes, auto gearbox and indifferent lights, to be replaced by V-brakes, Lumotec lights, hub dynamo and conventional gearbox. This smart and effective package will be sold as the Smartbike for £785 – a worthy competitor to the Lafree Twist.
“…a conventional Birdy Red with a large clockwork mechanism on the back…”
The other crank-driven newcomer is the Oxygen, an Italian bike marketed in the UK by Pedal & Power of Chester. Like most Italian products, Oxygen marketing involves delightful young ladies wearing very few clothes. The Mole reproduces an example for the general good of cycling (see A to B 31), and yes, one appreciates that she couldn’t possibly cycle in those heels.
This sort of thing tells us quite a lot about the Italians, but very little about the product. However, one understands that this range of smart, conventional-looking bicycles will be equipped with Shimano Megarange gearing, lead-acid batteries and a reasonable price tag of £600 to £700.There’s also a neat tricycle conversion put together by Parker Products, retailing for £955.
Unlike its European sisters – which must be pedalled to obtain electric-assist – the UK-spec Oxygen has a handy ‘couch potato’ twistgrip throttle.This sort of thing helps to explain why the British are now the most obese nation in Europe.
If the Oxygen succeeds, it’s bound to put pressure on such brands as Infineon and Powabyke, whose frumpier Chinese products have gradually increased in price, while the crank motors have come down. One awaits the coming battle with interest.
Will the lighter, prettier and more cycle-like crank-drive bikes take sales from the cruder Chinese hub motors? One suspects prices are set to fall at the bottom end of the market.
Child carriers were rather poorly represented at CYCLE 2002, with only one trailer on show and very few child seats in evidence. The most interesting example was the Family Bike, an Italian product with similar advertising to Oxygen, but we just don’t have the space.This is an adaptable family of machines with mix-&- match accessories to accommodate luggage and/or one or two children.The most fascinating add-on was the Integrale – a front child seat complete with pedals. Unusually, Alexander Henshaw refused to try this, or perhaps he’d heard that a fully laden Family Bike had fallen over on the test-track, fortunately without injuries.
The favourite amongst the Telly-Tubby fraternity was, as usual, the Like-a-Bike. These little wooden machines were underfoot throughout the show, despite the best efforts of the BDC’s burliest security guards. Sunday’s photo-shoot resulted in predictable chaos, when five diminutive riders converged on the A to B stand, through, between and under the crowds.The photo session was followed by a visit to the test-track, where a remarkably talented two-year-old led the field, but was pipped at the post when the A to B man took the inside line.
Amongst the most interesting products at CYCLE 2002 was the ‘Ultimate Folder,’ brought over from California by Len Rubin to illustrate his lectures at the show.This machine is a Brompton- clone constructed almost entirely from titanium. Even with a 14-speed Rohloff hub, weight (without pedals) is 9.4kg, or a little over 20lb.The bike rides well and feels rigid, with the exception of the handlebar adjust mechanism – one of the few components that wasn’t made of titanium.
Due to patent complications, photography was banned, but the Mole succeeds in capturing an exclusive image of a group of men ogling a small grey object on the floor.The price for this vision in brushed satin would eclipse the cost of a season ticket from Bogworthy to London. Rumours are coalescing in the £4,000 region…
All things considered, CYCLE was certainly a success: grump- free traders (well, almost) and a jolly and informative spectacle for more than 18,000 visitors over four days. The Mole understands the show is now set to become a firm annual fixture. Ladies and gentlemen – CYCLE 2003! Contact details for the products and services above can be found on www.atob.org.uk.