A Rheilen at Blaenau
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond to your article on North Wales, and specifically to clear up any misconceptions about connections between the Conwy Valley and Ffestiniog railways.
Clearly you had to act on the advice you were given that connections could not be guaranteed.This being a Sunday in late October when there is a bus rather than train on the Conwy Valley service, the massive road works between Betws-y-Coed and Blaenau Ffestiniog were making timekeeping very unreliable. Happily the road works have ended (after two years!) and connections are reliable again.
May I assure your readers that there are excellent relations between Arriva Trains Wales, the Conwy Valley Rail Initiative (community rail partnership for the line) and the Ffestiniog Railway. It has been official policy to maintain connections with two key services at Blaenau Ffestiniog around mid- day and mid-afternoon on every day of the week including winter Sundays when buses run in lieu of trains.There has been no substitution of trains by buses; winter Sunday services have been provided by bus for about ten years with a grant from Conwy and Gwynedd councils; prior to that there were no Sunday services on the line.
I will end with three pieces of good news; first, the Conwy Valley line reopened following flood damage on 7th March; second, we are close to concluding plans for a complete timetable revamp from December 2005 which will see much improved connections with main line trains at Llandudno Junction and with the Ffestiniog Railway; and third, this summer will see longer trains with an ability to carry more bikes!
Acting Community Rail Officer
Conwy Valley Rail Initiative
Readers may recall (A to B 46, page 40) that we were unable to travel via the Conwy Valley railway line because substituted buses failed to connect with Ffestiniog trains.We look forward to trying the new trains and are delighted to hear about the new timetable. (Eds)
It’s good to see The Mole at work again on the rail ‘network’ (A to B 46). Up here (South Manchester/North Cheshire) Virgin continues to make things difficult for local trains (they get in the way of the intercity money trains when Virgin are running late).
The First Class open return to London (180 miles) is £288, with Standard (cattle class) at £187. And if you board without a ticket – even after waiting twenty minutes or more at the ticket office – train staff will refuse to sell you a cheaper Saver ticket.This new policy covers all Virgin stations.Will the company now decrease the number of ticket windows even further? I normally find less than half the ticket desks open during the rush hour. At bigger Virgin stations there are automated machines, but the queues get longer…
Changing the subject completely, the Sturmey Archer hub is now slipping on my 1999 Brompton 5-speed, after around 5,000 miles. Brompton says it has no 5-speed hubs, and can only suggest upgrading to a SRAM hub and new rear frame. My local dealer, Bicycle Doctor, is unsure how cost effective that would be on a five-year-old bike. Have you any thoughts? Surely I can’t be the only person with a spent hub? Incidentally, the new Brompton web site gives no email or phone contact details, forcing you to write to them.
Virgin’s fare policy, particularly on the unreliable Manchester corridor, is shocking and unacceptable. In 1992, before these rotters got their grubby hands on the West Coast line, an Open Return cost £84 (£114 at today’s prices) and a Super Saver Return £30 (£41 today). After taking inflation into account, the walk-on leisure fare has since risen by 43% and the Open Return by 86%. Strangely, the government subsidy on this formerly profitable route has also risen sharply. No wonder British transport policy is in such disarray.
The answer to upgrading an elderly 5-speed Brompton is to fit new Sunrace Sturmey internals.This relatively straightforward operation is covered in A to B 39. Brompton’s phone number is widely available, but really should be on the web too: 020 8232 8484. (Eds)
I was saddened to read of the demise of yet another of Jim McGurn’s ventures. Perhaps Jim should consider returning to publishing, as his most successful venture was New Cyclist magazine. But like you, I tend to agree that the money Jim’s bidding for could be better spent – after all, Sustrans is the only big lottery-funded project to exceed its promises. The doings at Bogworthy Junction sound like those at Pontefract Monkhill (Pontefract has three stations serving two/three lines). Monkhill has a wheelchair-unfriendly footbridge, so disabled travellers arriving at Platform 2 must either travel on to Knottingley, or on terminating services, wait until the train has crossed to another platform to start back.
The signs suggest the line to Wakefield was ‘built’ using European funding, but the stations were actually opened on a freight line, disused by passenger trains since the Beeching era.The line really needs three more new stations, one serving a suburb of Pontefract, and one each for New Sharlston and Crofton. Most important, it needs reconnecting to Wakefield Westgate to connect with long-distance trains. Our anti-rail government has ensured that most services now terminate at Wakefield Kirkgate.We know what to expect – in a year or two, the services will be terminated because they’re ‘uneconomic!’ It takes 40 minutes to travel into central Wakefield by road, whereas our old service did it in 20 minutes.
Note the disturbing pattern.The Wakefield-Pontefract line was reopened in 1992 (by a Tory government, ironically), to provide an hourly service to Wakefield Westgate, with connections for Leeds and London. Local services like this are being deliberately run-down. (Eds)
In Jim’s Defence
In the spirit of helping you maintain your high journalistic standards, the item in The Mole, A to B 46, omits to mention Jim McGurn’s present firm: Company of Cyclists. Having been going for several years, putting serious grant money to good use, this certainly isn’t in the failure pattern. And these words are from an ‘innocent backer’ (of his earlier enterprise). The remainder of A to B 46 is, as ever, informative, humorous and incisively cynical.
Thanks for my regular magazine. I enjoy reading about the woes at Bogworthy Junction and their causes. I am so fed up with Labour’s poor record on public transport, climate change and the environment in general that I set up www.craplabour.org.uk. It looks rather similar to www.labour.org.uk/home
More Conversions Please
If you were inclined to enlarge A to B, how about a detailed profile of a bike (or two) per issue that is actually ‘in service’? By this, I mean someone is riding it, and significantly, has modified it or improved it to suit his or her needs.Your source might be a rider/reader/individual or a retailer/mechanic who has had a hand in setting up such a machine. I’d like to read about the creativity and diversity of what is in use out there. This could be an old or brand new bike. Less a ‘road test’ than a sharing of ideas, parts sources and home-made solutions. How has Pia set up her bike to commute year round in Stockholm? How has Chris made his Brompton lighter and faster for a longer commute than most people would find appropriate? What do hardcore London messengers ride, what do they wear out, change and improve?
Danbury, Connecticut, USA
Staying near Westport CT a few years back, we heard distant sounds of trains tootling through the forest. Eventually curiosity got the better of us and we caught one just to see where it went. Nice enough town, Danbury, but the museum was shut.Yes, conversions are great subject matter. Do let us know about your favourite bike. Just one rule: it has to be in daily use. Not an expensive, impractical ride-in-the-park job. (Eds)
My feet are size 10: not massive, but my heels occasionally catch on the castors at the rear of my Brompton. I have inverted these cone-shaped parking wheels which reduces the number of ‘hits’, but I still suffer problems. Before trying some sort of Heath Robinson fix to my 1999 T5 I thought ‘there’s an elegant solution out there!’. I read that wheels from in- line skates can be used. Is this really the best solution?
Two hardy perennial Brompton complaints involve the unlocked rear frame dropping down when the bike is lifted, and the rear rollers catching one’s ankles. Our advice with either problem is to persist. Most people do get used to the loose frame, and it makes manoeuvring the bike much easier.The little roller wheels only seem to affect certain people; mainly men with larger feet, for obvious reasons. If you can’t acclimatise, Steve Parry produces extra-thin wheels (tel: 01934 516158). Apparently, Brompton’s new taller rollers (see page 14) are not narrower enough. (Eds)
More Touring Please!
One of the things I’ve longed to see more of in A to B are examples of people touring at home or abroad with folding cycles.The article in A to B 45 about the Yorkshire Dales, and the two brilliant items in A to B 46 have been sorely lacking in the past!
Please encourage readers to send in their experiences/adventures/advice. I love my Brompton, but its use is not for commuting in my case, as the distances are too great. I want to take it abroad and would find inspiration from reading about other experiences.
Ranges & Inches
With regard to comments by Professor Pivot (A to B 46), we have had a Marathon Plus 26- inch tyre on the back wheel of our Nihola trike for about a year. Unlike the 20-inch moped tyres on the front, it has not punctured in that period. Any additional drag is not noticeable, although it probably would be on a bike.
As for lower gears, lowering the range might give a large percentage reduction, but it also reduces the range in inches considerably, leaving closer ratios. For example, with a 3- speed hub, 43″/57″/76″ might become 30″/40″/53″.The effect that a modest reduction to first gear can have on top gear was not readily apparent from the article.
Prof Pivot replies:Very true. In Clive’s example the gears are reduced by 30%, giving a reasonably low first, but dragging top gear down from a practical 76″ to a leg-spinning 53″.There is, in any event, a law of rapidly diminishing returns with very low gears, for all sorts of reasons, but primarily because walking becomes an easier option! Apologies for not making this clear, although in all the examples, I did fix top gear in the practical 80-inch region. I also hope to complete testing a pair of Marathon Plus puncture-resistant tyres before the next issue.
When I was a kid – and I’m now 83 – I was a very keen cyclist. I explored the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire countryside and enjoyed a simple, non-challenging companionship with the Feldon Wheelers. At the age of 14 I cycled all round western England, staying at Youth Hostels or sleeping rough.
Much has happened to the world and me since those happy, distant days. Nearly two years ago, after angioplasty, I began to find long walks a bit beyond my capacity and my thoughts turned to those youthful days in the saddle. My enquiries led me to a guy who very kindly loaned me his Giant Lafree for an afternoon, and I tried it on the hills that define the historic town where I live. I was amazed.
Going up one steep hill to the top of the Downs, I overtook a young chap on a lightweight racing bike, fully kitted out in all the gear. Out of sheer embarrassment and compassion for his feelings, I dropped back and we exchanged biking stories until our ways parted at the top of the hill.That clinched it and I ordered my own bike.
That summer I explored the lanes under the Downs and took to the tops themselves. The only challenge proved to be stiles and the sometimes very steep gullies. My bike and I are now happy companions when the sun shines and we can take off on the tracks and lanes.
Lewes, East Sussex
Should anyone doubt the magic capabilities of electric bikes, Julian’s letter should set them straight. The Lafree is also a superb tool for those considering leaping into the car-free (or car-lite) world. Incidentally,Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has apparently said he doesn’t cycle because it’s ‘hard work’. Maybe Giant could get him out of his limousine? (Eds)
One Final Tour
A serious illness has virtually stopped my cycling activities, but I really, really would love to have one final go at touring Italy once again. I am therefore looking into ‘power assistance’ for my touring bike. However, the article in A to B 43 ‘Kettlewell by bus’, using a lightweight folding bike and rucksack was fascinating, and this, with some form of power assistance, seems to me to be the solution to my requirements.
Electric power is out of the question due to its weight and limited range, so I have been looking into a ‘Mitsubishi Encore’ engine, as supplied by Dimension Edge in America. (42cc, small in size, 7lbs in weight, can be fitted onto a folding bike and has a range of 250 miles per gallon).What I need to know are the legal requirements/restrictions, for power assistance to pedal bicycles in Italy or indeed Europe? (I do know that in the U.K. I must have road tax, insurance, MOT test, as with a moped, but this does not apply to engines under 50cc in America) Can you please advise, or direct me to somewhere I can find out?
Houghton-le-Spring,Tyne & Wear
In Britain, even minimalist internal combustion machines are classed as mopeds, but the rules are different elsewhere.Try ‘Buzzing’, the magazine of the Autocycle & Cyclemotor club: editor, Andrew Roddham, tel 01733 204713, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Incidentally, battery/electric bicycles recharged from a small onboard generator may be legal, and a few machines are already out there (see A to B 46, page 13). Such a machine could run for long periods in blessed silence, recharging while you’re having a coffee. An even more civilised alternative would be a methanol fuel cell, running silently for days on a few litres of methanol. Unfortunately, apart from military and aerospace cells, nothing seems to be available yet. (Eds)
The Department of Transport now requires local authorities to take into account the loss of VAT and fuel duty revenue when assessing the value for money of congestion-busting measures such as bus lanes.Why not apply that sort of formula to cycling? According to the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group: ‘Estimates of the benefits-cost ratio [of cycling] range from 3:1 up to 14:1… for every £1 invested in cycling we get back £3 back in savings’.
Colin Hersom of Oxford
(thanks also to Paul Denyer and numerous others)
The Final Word
Delicious, idiosyncratic, fallible, mostly impartial, eagerly awaited . Entertaining & informative Stimulating stuff . Like the style . Splendid stuff! Absolutely fabulous! Love your views on eco-friendly transport .The best A5 magazine on two wheels . A thoroughly enjoyable read and great value . Still the best choice for unbiased information on cycling and travel news The most fascinating of all the cycle magazines I receive regularly . Nothing brightens up a drab February morning like A to B . I look forward to every issue and read it cover to cover! A damn fine publication – informative, witty, left-wing and literate . I always appreciate the front cover picture . A to B was recommended to me at a dinner party by someone who doesn’t have a folding bike, but enjoyed the magazine! I can see why . Positive attitude to car-free living . I especially like the pedal-assist reviews and design innovations Well worth it – just a bit less on electrics and more on other bike-related transport . Please produce an annual league table of bikes . I would like more ‘touring with folders’ articles More on campaigns for better cycle provision . I’d like to see more on electric scooters Don’t stray too far from cycling; we get politics 24×7 .Don’t be so hard on ‘cumbersomes’ (I hate the word); let’s be happy about all two – or three – wheeled travel . A good read, although I’m not that excited about the contents!The greatest ‘little’ read around I like quirky anti-car magazines . Stay controversial . You can’t please all of the people all of the time, just some of the people some of the time…