FIRST PUBLISHED October 2004
Show time once again, and The Mole boards the early Bogworthy Flyer for London, already standing in the platform this particular morning, as Network Railtrack – or whatever it was called at the time – had lifted the rails further west without so much as a by-your-leave.
Rather confusingly – not having travelled up to Town for a while – one discovers that Thames Trains has evolved into something called first Great Western Link. This may or may not be related to first Great Western, for the two appear to share a new murky brown corporate identity, an amalgam, one assumes, of fGW’s previous green, latter-day vile purples, and Thames’ chirpy reds and blues.
…a preponderance of bicycles without wheels linked to television sets…
Apparently ‘one’ is expecting to bid for what will soon be known as Greater Western, which will then no doubt re- emerge as ‘one’ Greater Western, and the sign-writers will start again, and so on and so forth.
The Mole understands that A to B has received angry calls from a ‘one’ executive claiming that this humble organ has been making fun at the expense of the ‘one’ logo. One suspects the only people laughing will be the PR consultants and designer-luvvies who keep coming up with this nonsense.
The good news is that the railways are – bit by bit – being reintegrated into something that might just, one day, work as smoothly and economically as dear old BR used to do. According to the fGW spin-meisters, the newly integrated fGW and fGW Link will share offices adjacent to those of Network Rail (West), thus coming perilously close to recreating Brunel’s magnificent Great Western Railway. Time will tell. Eventually, our train shambles into Paddington, allowing one to wrestle one’s Brompton from the hordes of other Bromptons in the vestibule, and pedal off across the city to Islington for CYCLE 2004.
Marching into the hall, the Mole arrives during one of those nightmarishly Kafkaesque moments, as a petite lady stands on a balcony and attempts to swallow a microphone. It turns out to be petite Transport Minister Charlotte Atkins MP explaining that she used to ride a bicycle, but due to al-Qaeda, traffic conditions, lack of mudguards, nice cumfy limousines, etc, she wouldn’t dream of riding in the capital these days. A nice positive note on which to kick off the proceedings.
Now in its third year, CYCLE is settling down as a professionally run, if rather compact, show. For 2004, there are plenty of manufacturers in evidence, but rather too many mountain bikes, and a preponderance of bicycles without wheels linked to television screens.
Study the catalogue for signs of practical accessories such as pumps, lights (shock, swoon) or mudguards (stunned silence) and you won’t get very far. But should your interests extend to Fi’zi:k Technogel strips, or X-Type chainsets with hollow BB spindles, you will presumably find some sort of satisfaction.
Not that day-to-day cycling was completely neglected. St John Street Cycles had a nice monopoly on luggage, mudguards and dead sensible bikes furnished with bulletproof Rohloff hub gears and lights that actually worked.
Just a few stands away, Avon Valley Cyclery was exhibiting a mouth- watering range of Bike Fridays, Airnimals (including the new budget Joey), Birdys and a full range of Dahons, including a few 2005 models. For industry watchers, the thrust seems to be towards full-size folders (notably the neat Cadenza) and low/mid-range 20-inch bikes, such as the Vitesse, none of which is very exciting, but new, nonetheless. Avon Valley was also showing Brompton in a rather low-key way, plus a soon-to-be-launched 8-speed Sturmey version of the Airframe, neither company exhibiting this year. The only real excitement, indeed the only excitement in the folding bike world for some years, is the all-new Mezzo, brain-child of Jon Whyte of ATB Sales. Should you be wondering, Jon’s main business is designing mountain bikes, cruisers and other strange things, for the like of Marin.
As with the equally innovative Mike Burrows, Jon comes from the world of motor sport (Formula One in this case), and thus rather refreshingly carries no baggage concerning cycle clips, 26-inch wheels, triple chainrings and all the other accepted wisdom of the bicycling establishment.
The Mezzo – aimed directly at the Brompton – has taken several years to develop. ‘I didn’t start with any special respect for [Brompton designer] Andrew Ritchie’, says Whyte, ‘But I soon developed some’.
Like the Brompton, Whyte’s machine features mudguards (shock, swoon, etc), sensible gearing (4-speed hub or multi-speed derailleur), 349mm (16-inch) wheels, and some exquisite engineering.The folding system is part Brompton and part Birdy, with a little bit of Bike Friday thrown in, proving that everything short of inflatable frame tubes has already been used or discarded. Weight is nothing special, but the Mezzo looks to be a rigid and techie machine for the trendier sort of commuter, although without Brompton’s wonderful luggage system.
ATB technical person Ian claims to be able to fold it in eight seconds and unfold it in six, although one suspects mere mortals will take a little longer.
…this year, the really weird stuff had been swept from the halls…
The real surprise is that prices will shadow those of the Brompton ‘T’ type – £595 for the 4-speed hub gear bike, and £625 – £645 for a 9- speed Capreo derailleur.
In its first two years, CYCLE played host to all sorts of weird and wonderful things, but this year the really weird stuff had been swept from the halls, leaving student Matthew Dobson looking a bit lonely, with his delightfully formed but somewhat impractical Flea.
Asked whether he had actually ridden the Flea, Matthew proved somewhat evasive, but who can blame him? Designers really should leave those 6-inch wheels bolted to the wheelie-bin where they belong.
After reaching a crazy wheel-spinning zenith in 2003, electric bikes were virtually absent this year, with just Ebike showing its attractive US machines and late-comer 50Cycles, with a hastily prepared Ezee display.
Finally, one is indebted to the cheeky young fellows at Avon Valley Cyclery for the price tag below, displayed on a Brompton ‘C’ Type. Well, really! Making fun of young people wearing sandals (with or without socks) is neither funny nor clever. Incidentally, should anyone be thinking of checking, the website is currently unregistered. Any takers?