Category Archives: Letters

Letters – A to B 47


7th March 2005.The first standard gauge train for many months returns to Blaenau Ffestiniog. PHOTO: Richard Hayward


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!
John Davies
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)

Daylight Robbery

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.
Dale Langham
Wilmslow, Cheshire

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)

Transport Sell-out

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.
Bill Houlder

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.
Paul Stobbs

Not Labour

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 It looks rather similar to
Clive Mowforth
Dursley, Gloucestershire

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?
David Campbell
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)

Big Foot

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?
Mike Lomas
Attleborough, Norfolk

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.
Graham Richards

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.
Clive Parsons

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.

Wonderfuel Lafree

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.
Julian Tayler
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?
Anthony Cox
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

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)

Cost/Benefit Analysis

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…

Letters – A to B 45

Jaundiced and Amateurish

The consensus here is that you have not done yourself any favours with the recent Birdy Black test (A to B 44).Whilst we know people will form their own opinions, the feel of the test is both jaundiced and amateurish for what is normally a very professional publication.

Our main bone of contention is the tyre issue.You could have brought the bike back, or at least phoned so we could mail you a replacement tyre. According to our mechanics, this is the only incident of a Birdy tyre coming off the rim.With 10,000 Birdies produced a year, I think we would have heard of any large-scale problems.With respect to the test bike, we also tried and failed to seat the troublesome tyre and fitted a new one.We agree that what happened to the test bike is potentially serious, but it doesn’t deserve the bad press.

The other issue is the taller Comfort stem: we equip 90% of our Birdies with Comfort stems, as purchasers are either female or prefer a more upright riding position. In our opinion this adds negligible weight and cost and adds no complication to the folding procedure. As for carrying long, heavy objects under your arm – we would advise using a trailer.We could go on, but we would end up criticising 75% of your test.

Richard and Gary
Avon Valley Cyclery, Bath

Good in Parts

Thanks for the interesting and insightful review of the Birdy Black. Although you have some valid concerns about the tyres, and value-for-money against the competition, there is one feature that I particularly admire on the Birdy that received little attention: the rear suspension protects the rack, as well as the rider, from road bumps.This might seem a strange concern, since groceries don’t usually mind being jostled, but less stress on the cargo also means less stress on the bike. I’ve experienced pinch flats, broken spokes, and even a cracked frame, as a result of heavy loads on the rear rack. Almost all of Riese and Muller’s bikes offer this feature, perhaps most elegantly on the Avenue city bike.

On most full suspension bikes, one could only obtain this advantage by clamping a rack to the seatpost, but that would be marginal for loads heavy enough to make this an issue. The new Tubus Vega rear rack mounts on the suspended portion of the frame, but it only works with bikes that have special mounting points. Several German bike manufacturers are now making bikes with these mounting points, but I haven’t found any outside Germany.

Charlie Sullivan
New Hampshire, USA

Dahon is Better

I’d go along with your comments on the Birdy Black. My commuting problems have been solved with a Dahon – cheaper, better equipped, and with better road tyres. I’m getting a second set of wheels so that I can use it both for the commute (partly towpath in winter) and for fun on the road. It actually handles the towpath very well, and is certainly better than the Birdy on the road, and even at list price it would be cheaper than the Birdy Black (though not the Red). Actually in standard form it makes a lot of Bike Fridays look pretty silly too, at UK prices at least.

Mike Hessey
Dudley,West Midlands

Bascule Crossing

The recent tragic level crossing crash near Newbury lead to my revisiting a personal piece of lateral thinking.Why not treat the at-grade crossing just as you would a waterway crossing, where the road or railway is swung, lifted or slid clear of the boats? On reflection I opted for a ‘lifting’ design, allowing the deck surface to rest on the track foundation.This design would suit most one or two-track high speed lines including those with overhead electrification.The essence is a counterweighted lightweight platform which sits across the line, and has to be powered into the down position, presenting a positive means of ensuring the rail route cannot be occupied by a vehicle when the road is raised. Naturally, the signalling would show ‘line blocked’ until the platforms were in the ‘up’ position (much as the current system indicates if the barriers have failed to lower, or other warnings to activate, by maintaining the rail signal at danger). Swing bridges exist on the A82 and A9 trunk roads and there is a very famous lifting bascule bridge on the A2…Tower Bridge.

Dave Holladay Glasgow

bascule-crossingThere are many advantages – cars cannot turn onto the tracks (surprisingly common), small objects will be thrown clear as the bridge lifts, while larger ones will prevent it from lifting, keeping rail signals at danger.Two-wheelers would no longer have to negotiate slippery rails, and the weight of HGVs would be transferred away from the track, reducing maintenance. (Eds)

Another Weighty Problem

After reading about weighty riders in A to B 44, I wonder if I’m unique. Over the space of around six years heavy commuting from Oxford to London, I’ve managed to break almost every bit of my first Brompton, so much so that the company replaced the frame, handlebars (twice), handlebar stem, gear sprocket (three times), gear casing (once), folding pedal…. and I’m not that hefty (88 to 90 kg).

Paul Mylrea

Some people break things and others don’t. I weigh 85kg (big bones, you see), but have never broken anything on a Brompton (or anything else) apart from a pair of very old handlebars that gently sagged at the traffic lights (I rode on carefully).That might imply that I’m a heavy but gentle rider, but my 1991 Brompton managed to hold off a large field at Cyclefest a few years back (for half a lap at least), so we can’t be that lethargic. It must come down to riding style. (David Henshaw)

Towing Kayaks


The Innova Safari - an inflatable that can be carried by bike

Just wondering about trailers for a Brompton, as I am about to replace my 1994 bike. Ideally, I’d like a trailer that could carry quite a bit of shopping and also firewood from the local sawmill.

This is probably a crazy idea, but I’ll throw it in anyway! I am going to buy a kayak early in 2005, as I feel the need to work on my upper body as well as the lower half, which benefits from cycling and running. I intend to use it on the Oxford to Banbury canal which is about seven miles away, along a mainly shared-use path. Is there any way I could tow a kayak behind a Brompton, or one of our bigger bikes? They are eight feet long I believe.

David Earley

See page 36 for general advice on trailers. As for the kayak, we’d say you have two choices – either an inflatable (it can be carried on a Brompton, see, but you’ll need some puff, or a ‘spine’ trailer, such as the one produced by Bikes at Work in the USA.This useful and adaptable vehicle – see – can be extended in sections from 50cm (20″) to a maximum length of 295cm (116″) and is suitable for canoes of up to 5.5 metres long and 150lb on weight. At current exchange rates this costs a reasonable £195, plus shipping of £49 (surface mail) or £78 (airmail). Every home should have one. (Eds)

Political Intrigue

Watching the 6 o’clock news on BBC1 on Wednesday 10th November I was distracted from Andrew Marr by a man stepping out of 10 Downing Street carrying a folded green Brompton. Surely he must be an A to B reader? Does anyone know who he is and what he was doing there?

Seamus King
Maltby, South Yorkshire

Several other letters on this momentous event. Sir, you have been unearthed. (Eds)

Trailer Bikes

Regarding the letter ‘Two-Child Transport’ (A to B 44), our children Daisy and Anders are now three and five respectively. From about the age of six months, we used a Rhode Gear carrier on a Dawes Galaxy touring bike.Then when Anders was two we fitted a crossbar seat, with foot rest on the down tube and loops to stop his feet slipping.

Now the children are older, Anders rides a Tag-along trailerbike.We got one without gears for about £100, but you can buy a Trek for £120 which is a lot more like a real bike. I preferred the crossbar seat, as it is great for talking to the child while we are riding, and I can explain when we stop to cross roads, and ask him if it’s clear to proceed. I’m hoping that will be useful for road safety awareness!

Now Daisy can ride with stabilisers, we’ve got a Trail-gator for my wife’s bike.When they both go to school (two miles), we’re planning to get one of those Bike Friday Family Triple tandems.

Adrian L Mills Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

The Bike Friday Family Triple seems to be the favourite solution for carrying older children. (Eds)

On Your Doorstep?

Regarding the letter ‘Utopia’ (Letters, A to B 44), we would recommend Morag jumps on the train to visit Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op at 8 Alvaney Terrace (near Whitehouse Loan). My catalogue is out of date, but they design their own hybrid/town bikes and would certainly advise on a suitable bike for around £200.Their prices are competitive, and they are a workers’ co-operative.

Alex & Val Lawson
Cowes, Isle of Wight

Thanks to those who recommended the Bicycle Co-op.The shop did once supply ‘proper’ bicycles, but it no longer seems to, and has yet to respond to our request for information. (Eds)


Go German!

…has Morag thought of buying German bikes for herself and friends? They could hire a van and bring back ten bikes, complete with dynamo lights, mudguards, propstand, pump etc. The German bikes we saw are slightly lower quality than Dutch bikes, but a lot cheaper, starting at around £200. My German bike (a Goericke Dorada) is the one I ride most in the winter. It is extremely comfortable and the totally dependable back-pedal rear brake works well even in the rain. I don’t think anything similar is available in the UK. I can recommend: . .

Re: ‘An Electrifying Practice’, could I say that the best advice is probably to buy a new moped! We have found over long experience that there are usually only one or two car- free solutions to each transport problem, and if you find one that works, stick to it! I also combine scooter and bicycle transport daily, as we could find no other solution other than to buy a car. I take the kids to school on foot and then have 25 minutes to do nine miles to work, and often have to go back to work in the evening, making 36 miles each day, cross- country.There are no nearer jobs! However, I always try to fit in an hour on the bicycle for shopping and exercise, before fetching the children again. A scooter will, I hate to say, get you further and faster than an electric bike but only costs a quarter as much as a car to buy and run, and doesn’t block up the roads.

And no, we still have not needed to buy a four-wheeled gas guzzler!

Fiona Le Ny

We find the best electric bikes are just adequate for our longest regular cross-country journeys of 18 miles, but the technology is a bit marginal. On the positive side, we have the exercise and all the freedom of a bicycle, without the hassle of helmets, insurance, road tax and so on. (Eds)

Out of Stock…

After your glowing report on the Giant Lafree ST we went out to try and buy one, but everyone must have had the same idea! We checked the Giant website for local stockists, but had to go to Cambridge just to try the 4-speed Comfort, as there were no bikes in Norfolk.We ordered the 5-speed ST, only to get a phone call to say it will be at least March 2005 before any come on stream from Giant. Gosh – do they take that long to make? Or are they not making any at the moment.What’s the problem?

Phyll Hardie Norwich, Norfolk

Giant has had problems persuading cycle shops to stock the Lafree, which caused a shortage when demand inevitably took off. Full marks to those shops that ordered the Lafree in 2002, when we first said it was something special, and commiserations to those who waited until potential customers were queueing out of the door.The bike trade in the UK needs to be more proactive – it’s no use grumbling that big discount stores are selling all the MTBs when you don’t back the specialist products.We hope Giant will favour those who had the faith to order early on. (Eds)

Chargers & Stands

Giant Lafree StandSome while ago you made a recommendation for a centre stand for the Lafree electric bicycle. Can you please provide the details and, if possible, a retailer (preferably in Dorset)? I have owned a Lafree Comfort for two years and apart from wishing that I had taken your advice and bought the basic model and an extra battery, I have been pretty much satisfied. I only have one gripe and that is the battery charger… I am now on my third one as well as my second battery, the latter I suspect, being changed as it was felt that the charger could not have failed… again.The bike is used daily (Monday to Friday) on a 14-mile round trip to work, as well as numerous lunchtime trips and is an ideal workhorse – comfortable, safe and, apart from the charger, extremely reliable.

I am a tad over 16 stone and carry my Jack Russell in a specially-designed container on the rear carrier, so we’re no light load, which probably explains why I have to charge the battery almost daily. I usually ride on the ‘eco’ setting, deliberately making hard work of it for the sake of exercise, but when I’ve had a bad day I can take it as easy as I like.

All in all, I’m happy having just the one car and the Lafree, and value both the exercise and the economy… I would however, appreciate any comments from other regular users who have also found a problem with the charger as I’m sure that I’m not the only one.

Mick Jarrett
Crossways, Dorset

The stand is a Swiss-made Esge dual-leg device – make sure to ask for the one with long legs (the stand, not the assistant). Some mild adaptation is needed to clear the Lafree motor, but it’s worth all the trouble. If the excellent Dorchester Cycles doesn’t keep these, we’ll be very surprised. (Eds)

Charged in Error

Having suffered the oft-reported failure (Lafree Long-term test, A to B 44) of my 2003 Giant Lafree charger, I ordered a replacement in May and was surprised to receive a different unit made by Metco, which seems much more positive in operation. Charge time is about the same and the LED system similar, but after reaching full charge it turns off, then cycles on and off, staying on for roughly two seconds in every 64.With my old Panasonic unit it was hard to tell if it was trickle charging or not and the cut-out time was always rather vague and variable.

Tony Flecchia

If your charger has failed, you’re clearly not alone, but hopefully the problem is now resolved. Giant has confirmed that the Panasonic charger has been replaced. (Eds)


ITchair on BromptonIn a recent (last 12 months) issue of your excellent magazine you ran a picture of a Brompton with a bar running from the seat post to the front of the frame with a small child seat on it, the child sitting between the arms of the rider. Please could you let me know something more about this device. Is it an official Brompton product or a bit of clever Heath Robinson engineering on the part of the owner? I have a Birdy Blue and would like to try something similar for myself and my five-year-old daughter.

Also, do you know of any trailerbike product or adaptor that would allow me to safely and securely fit a trailerbike to the seat post of my Birdy without compromising the manoeu- vrability of either bit? I have found a Trek unit that fits, but it is a snug fit, and any attempt at shimming it makes the connection too tight to turn effectively.

Richard Marks Oldham, Lancashire

The ITchair was designed in Spain and adopted by the Spanish Brompton distributor Bike-Tech. We’ve heard that production seats should be ready by Christmas.These will be in light alloy, complete with a saddle or baby seat (as shown).We think the ITchair could be adapted to fit the Birdy and other folding bikes. More information at or (Eds)

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

Top of the pile . Superb in every way . An oasis of good sense . Small, but perfectly formed A beacon of sanity amidst the encroaching madness . Interesting, intelligent and literate A refreshing lack of spin . Important, amazing and informing . Well presented and informative . The only mag for Mr Everyman with an interest in day-to-day cycle usage Excellent, at a time when most decent bike magazines have folded . The ‘Folder’ events are missed! Always read first in this house . The style of writing makes all articles an enjoyable read . I do not like the anti-car attitude: there is a place for bikes and cars Carrying bikes by car should be covered . Don’t be afraid to be ‘in the face’ of car culture! The only magazine about minimalist transport and against government/big business transport policies . More on car-free living, please . More about campaigning and political developments Keep highlighting the widening gap between government targets and reality . Too blinkered in some reviews . Less Brompton bias please . As Brompton owners, we find technical information, improvements and modifications interesting . Brilliant – I’m not that interested in electric and folding bikes, but they’re significant socially [a social scientist] Professor Pivot is right on my wavelength [a scientist] . Inspiring, especially cycle trailers I completely endorse your appeal to reason and sound engineering versus fashion and ‘lifestyle’ . I like the train articles .Any electric folders? What is an electric bike when it runs out of battery? More folding touring and travel would make a fabby read even fabbier A to B remains a crucial read – I still love the humour . Love the slightly eccentric style Reading it is all over too quickly .A cracking good read . I enjoy it all – especially the humour Please publish a list of all bikes! [It’s at – Eds] . Even more please! Bring back Mr Portly . Please bring back Mr Portly . Mr Portly reminds me of an acquaintance, but I have never let him read it . Cheaper than Penthouse . Love it! Great fun – up the Establishment

Brompton Catch

Letters – A to B 44

Spuds at the Ready Lads…

Great idea (Whacky Fringe, letters A to B 43) to let us have a go at scaring the wits out of the media.We need overtaking cameras on bicycles that dish out fines according to a set formula. For example, a gap of two metres between cyclist and passing car, no problem. One and a half to two metres, careless driving = £50 fine; one to one and a half metres, reckless driving =£100 fine; and under one metre, dangerous driving = £500 fine plus disqualification for twelve months and the driver resumes as a learner.Where railway crossing barriers replace gated level crossings, the barriers should be kept down, with motorists paying a toll for them to be opened.That would stop such roads becoming rat runs.

If something isn’t done soon I expect that someone will form the CLA (Cyclists Liberation Army).There’s no need to blow anything up – it’s amazing what a few misplaced traffic cones can do. And I remember seeing a World War Two cartoon in a garage.The mechanic is saying, ‘After we’d got it all apart we found a potato stuck in the exhaust pipe!’

Bill Houlder
Pontefract,West Yorkshire

A Sustrans Member Writes

Peter Henshaw’s letter in A to B 43 describing the Association of British Drivers as ‘a small group of right-wing nutters with a tenuous grasp of reality’ shows that he suffers from a tenuous grasp of truth about us.

We are not connected to any political party and we insist that all speed limits must be obeyed.We want motorway speed limits raised to 80mph in good conditions, but we support 20mph zones near schools, reinforced by speed cameras during school hours. Many of our members are keen cyclists and belong to cycling organisations (Sustrans in my case), and some joined in the London to Brighton ride.

Peter’s proposal to form a cycling organisation wanting to ride in their own lanes on motorways gave me an idea: to form the ARC (Association of Responsible Cyclists).We promise never to ride on pavements, over pedestrian crossings, on the wrong side along one-way streets, through red lights, or after dark without lights.

Now PLEASE don’t tell me only a minority of cyclists commit the offences I’ve mentioned. I see most cyclists doing at least one of these things almost every time I’m out, and I cannot believe Cheltenham has a monopoly on idiotic cyclists.

Colin Rose, member of the Association of British Drivers

We’re astonished that anyone who regularly rides a bicycle in this country can subscribe to the ABD’s line on speeding. Driving at high speed is never acceptable. Some relatively minor roads near us are lethal for non-motorised users.Why? Because they are within a few miles of the A303 trunk road. After pounding the motorway network at 80mph+, it takes drivers some minutes to drift back to reality, making ordinary roads ‘no-go’ areas for everyone else.

And we’re deeply sceptical about the ABD’s apparent approval of 20mph limits and cameras in front of schools, but only ‘during school hours’.What happens when children move up to college? Or – to use a fatuous, but perfectly realistic example – when children are delayed by extra-curricular activities? And how about the rest of the walking and cycling population – ordinary people cycling to work, OAPs popping out to the shops? The truth, of course, is that the caring stuff about 20mph and schools is pure spin. (Eds)


Breezer Bike

Sensible bikes. Amsterdam, Dunbar? San Francisco actually - an advertising shot for Breezer utility bikes. PHOTO:Mark McLane

Since I use my bike as others would a car, I have become regarded as something of a cycling expert by my friends. Unfortunately this is far from the case, so when people ask me to recommend a bike I am somewhat at a loss. Several of my friends are keen to take up cycling, and are looking to buy a new bike, but are daunted by the choice. I would like to be able to give an actual recommendation, i.e. a make/model and a shop/website. Can you help?

My friends are mostly mums with young children, so haven’t a great desire to go fast, but probably would like to be able to keep up with the kids as they grow up. I can’t imagine that they would be impressed by a typical ‘shopper’ style – it would have to be more fashionable than that. I myself made the mistake of buying a cheap mountain bike when I started out, and though the low gears are useful for pulling a heavy trailer, I’d rather have something with mudguards, lights and a basket/rear rack. Can you suggest a bike which would be suitable for accompanying young children to school, some excursions further afield and day-to-day shopping, and that is unlikely to require much maintenance? I would be embarrassed to recommend something costing much more than £200.

I have high hopes for turning Dunbar into a mini York or Cambridge, where cycling is seen as a way of life.The town is small, so shops and school are within two miles of almost everyone, and although it can be windy here, the land is fairly flat and the weather is dry. I am in the process of forming a ‘safe routes to schools group’ to improve cycle access to the school, and I am hopeful that with a bit of encouragement most of the children will be getting to school under their own steam in a few years. All the mums I have spoken to are keen to cycle more, and kids always want to be on their bikes.

Morag Haddow
Dunbar, East Lothian

Take a look at any similar town in northern Europe and you will see very few cheap MTBs, but plenty of bicycles, generally featuring hub gears, lights, mudguards, chainguards, skirtguards, pumps, sensible tyres and so on.These machines are practical, sensible and fun to ride. It’s a sad fact that in the UK, most people’s experience of cycling involves wobbling around the park on a heavy, energy-sapping, accessory-free £70 ‘mountain-style’ bike.

It’s difficult to get the message across, but buying a cheap bicycle really is a false economy. People who wouldn’t dream of driving a Reliant three-wheeler can be remarkably penny-pinching when it comes to a bicycle. But if you can re-educate your friends to appreciate more ‘sensible’ wheels, Dutch-style roadsters are available from as little as £250. Giant produce several, although few shops are willing to stock them in the UK. At the ‘quality’ end, Cycle Heaven in York (tel: 01904 636578) stock the Gazelle. Otherwise, UK importers are worth a try, or you could even nip across to Amsterdam for a weekend, soak up the relaxed cycling vibes, and come home with a bike, plus a load of practical accessories. Incidentally, we wonder whether it would be cost-effective to buy a £70 Chinese MTB, sell (or more likely, chuck away) most of the components and re-equip it with hub gears, mudguards etc? (Eds)

Instant Convert

I would like to say thank you! Four years back, I was 37 years old, putting on weight, using the car to go everywhere, and feeling very unfit. After finding out about A to B on an electric bike website, I phoned, bought some road tests, and bought a secondhand e-bike.

There are no buses or trains where we live on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, and I was able to use the bike to ride to and from work. People at work (and at home!) take the piss out of me, but knowing through A to B that there are like-minded people out there gave me strength to keep going. Not only am I still cycling 28 miles every day, but I am enjoying every minute of it.

Alan Stribling
Harleston, Norfolk

Excellent. Our friends and family are equally mystified (but generally less rude) about our enthusiasm for electric bikes, yet these machines really are priceless for eliminating awkward car journeys beyond the range of most peoples’ cycling abilities. (Eds)

An Electrifying Practice

I am a fit 43 year old General Practitioner. In recent years I have cycled the four miles to work in the summer and kept a battered old moped at work for home visits during the day. This year my moped has died and I’ve been back to using the car all day, and have missed the exercise.

I’m wondering whether an electric bike would be suitable for the journey to and from work, plus home visits in the day: 75% of my visits are within two miles, 95% within four miles, with 5% up to ten miles away. I average three visits per day.

Time is tight, I live in Penzance, Cornwall so I have hills everywhere, but I want to get around quickly, without missing out on the exercise.What is the fastest, most seamless and most reliable pedalling-plus-electric combo? I saw an advertisement for the Wavecrest Tidalforce and liked the sound of the 20mph, but I’ve got no idea if I could import one.

Mark Russell

For obvious reasons, speed and car-style reliability are going to be important to Mark. On paper, the specification is fairly straightforward – largish NiMH battery, regenerative braking to take the edge off those switchback Cornish hills, and a rapid charger, preferably with a second battery pack topped-up and ready to go in the surgery.

In practice, it’s a bit more difficult. Experience suggests that the Giant Lafree is the most reliable and efficient electric bike on the British market. But it isn’t fast, and the small battery puts a definite cap on range at about 20 miles – just enough for those ten-mile house calls, provided a spare battery pack is available at base.

Several faster bikes have come onto the market, and for a doctor on call, something capable of 18-20mph would seem eminently sensible.Yes, they’re technically illegal, but one wonders whether the ‘15mph’ law has much meaning when excessive motoring speed appears to be the norm. Modern Far Eastern bicycles like the Ezee Sprint are quite capable of maintaining 17mph or more even in hilly territory, but their high-geared motors tend to wilt when the going gets tough. On the positive side, the Sprint has a large but reasonably light battery and a fast charger.

As regular readers will know, regenerative braking offers the apparently magical capability of ‘recycling’ effort that would normally be wasted going downhill – useful, one would think, for the valleys and steep hidden coves of Cornwall. On the negative side, only a small proportion of the energy is recovered, and they’re rare beasts:The Tidalforce, designed for the US market, provides regenerative braking and a claimed 20mph cruising speed, but the company has not been forthcoming with technical specification, so beyond the usual optimistic claims, it’s hard to find firm information on its capabilities. Similarly, with the Canadian-made EPS bikes, the technology sounds good, but we have yet to try one in ‘real’ conditions. (Eds)

Badge Engineering

I just saw a Specialized folding bike on a web site. I didn’t know they had one out. I’ve been collecting information on Bike Fridays and Bromptons, and I hope to get a look at a couple of these bikes next week.

Have you got any information on the Specialized model? Will it be reviewed in your magazine any time soon? Should I consider one as an alternative to the above? I’m enjoying A to B, and only wish there was more of an emphasis on bicycle commuting over here!

Glenn Garland
Chapel Hill, New Carolina, USA

Specialized, like Trek, Dawes, Raleigh and most big manufacturers, have their folding bicycles manufactured for them by Dahon. As Dahon is the acknowledged expert, there’s nothing wrong with this, but you will generally pay a premium for the name tag. Bike Friday and Brompton manufacture high quality niche products that generally out-perform the ‘badge engineered’ machines. (Eds)

Who Lets The Lockers Out?

Stratford upon Avon is a small town at the end of a rail line, which runs too few trains to Birmingham and London. Bikes are a popular form of transport in the relatively flat area; most are the rusty old faithful sort ridden by surprisingly fit grey-haired persons.

To cater for this enthusiastic pool of potential customers, the station has proudly installed three metal hoops under a glass cover for six cycles, and a row of six secure cycle lockers (which only take 600mm more platform space than the hoops and covers).

On enquiring about the availability of these lockers, I am told that they are rented out for periods of six months to six persons. My observations suggest that the tenants very rarely use their facility.Thus the train company makes an easy killing on recouping the cost of the lockers whilst the lockers are little used.This does not seem to provide any real benefit to the wider public who might otherwise be tempted to ride to the station.

Is this typical of how secure cycle accommodation is actually used, or is Stratford an anomaly? Information from readers around the country would be of interest.

Robin Sankey
Stratford upon Avon,Warwickshire

According to Gerard Burgess, Communications Manager at Central Trains; ‘The reality is that open cycle lockers invite abuse and vandalism. A few years ago someone actually moved into one of the open cycle lockers at Sleaford! The idea is that renting a locker gives regular commuters the confidence to set off to the station knowing that they have secure storage. By keeping them secured when the bike isn’t there we prevent misuse.’

Take a Ride

An update – infuriating – on trains from Stansted Airport. A long conversation with Diana of One-Railway, which now includes the Stansted Express, concludes that all trains to the airport on a Saturday (September 18th in my case) are Stansted Express trains, none of which take unboxed bikes. So I’ll return from the Pyrenees with no option but to ride from Stansted.What sort of a bl%^&*()dy country are we coming to? I can fly into Gatwick and their trains take bikes, and don’t stink either.

Alan Roblou
Via email

We’re not flavour of the month at ‘one’ right now (see Mole).When we put this query to the company, we received only a sullen silence – rail companies really are their own worst enemies at times. Fortunately, the answer is at hand. Alan need only cycle a few miles to pick up a local train at Stansted Mountfitchet or Bishop’s Stortford. Rather pleasant after being cooped up in a plane for hours. Of course, what he should really do is travel with a folding bike and cut out all that hassle (unless he’s using RyanAir). (Eds)

Tighter Restrictions

South West Trains is carrying out a ‘consultation’ proposing a reduction in the off-peak times when cycles may be taken on trains. Although claimed not to affect those with folding cycles, if implemented, this would reduce further the options for the majority of cyclists to combine train/cycle travel.The proposal also runs counter to the Strategic Rail Authority’s own guidance to train operating companies as highlighted in A to B 42 (p14).

Andrew Croggon

Following the (late) arrival of new stock, South West Trains will be introducing tighter restrictions on bicycles from 11th October 2004 – see our website for details. Folding bikes are currently welcomed on all rail services in the UK and we’re confident that the industry sees sufficient commercial advantage in this to bring errant train operating companies back into line. (Eds)

Weighty Problem

I would like your recommendation on what folding bike to buy. I will use it to commute eight miles to work every day. I weigh 340lbs [155kg or 24 stone], but I need a bike that weighs as little as possible.

Russell Shymansky
Brooklyn, NY, USA

Without, hopefully, being too personal, it isn’t often that a folding bicycle is asked to deal with this sort of weight. Only two manufacturers responded to our query: Brompton, perhaps wisely, felt this was beyond the design parameters of their ‘off-the-peg’ machine, but ‘bespoke’ manufacturer Bike Friday can build just about anything to order.Their heaviest customer to date was a 26-stone farmer from South Dakota.The bike ended up weighing around 13.6kg. (Eds)

Lard with our Learning

Rolling ResistanceYour assertion that ‘rolling resistance rises as wheel diameter decreases’ (A to B 43) might well be disputed by some. Most notable would be Dr Alex Moulton, who has based the whole of his design and production of small-wheeled bicycles on the opposite premise, given that very high pressures can be introduced into the tyres.

Incidentally, am I alone in lamenting the long absence of the redoubtable Mr Portly? I shudder to think what his calorific intake must have been since he last graced the pages of A to B with his pearly prose. It is sad to realise that some regular but recent readers don’t even know of his existence. On the basis that incessant industry and infrequent recreation make Jacqui a miserable citizen, could we have a little lard with our learning, and the occasional appearance of Mr P?

David Price

Beautifully put.Yes, we should have made it clear that our comment assumed all other factors to be equal. Lightweight sidewall construction and high pressures have transformed the rolling character- istics of small tyres, but they’ve also reduced the rolling resistance of big tyres (although not to the same extent), so small wheels remain at a disadvantage, albeit, a relatively insignificant one.

Mr Portly, our ‘fat nation’ food columnist, has been squeezed from these pages through lack of space, like many other enjoyable, but less factual things.We hope to make amends by either increasing the size of the magazine or becoming less industrious. (Eds)

290 miles in Three Days

May I comment on Peter Bolwell’s letter (‘Which tyre size?’, Letters, A to B 43)? I was in a similar quandary some years ago, eventually buying a Brompton more from faith than conviction. It was the right decision, although I’ve also bought bigger-wheel bikes since.

I’m a senior citizen with no pretensions of super-fitness. But, you can see from (News) how much I enjoyed a 290-mile trip in three days on a Brompton. My view is that mechanical efficiency is relevant, but comfort and state-of-mind are much more important. And, if you’re going for a pleasure ride, a Brompton lets you start and/or finish where you like, before jumping on and off cars, boats, trains, buses and even planes. If I were limited to one bike, it would unquestionably be a Brommie.

Incidentally, I really enjoyed the item on brakes in A to B 42; more of the same, please.

John Burgess

100 miles in 8 Hours

Bicycle Tyre SizeI am enjoying reading A to B 43 delivered today. However, with regard to The Mole’s item on Eurotunnel, the company’s latest flyer gives their fares as, Day Return or Single, £16, Standard Return, £32.

Regarding the letter on tyre size, a 16-inch Brompton wheel measures 16-inches, while a 20-inch fitted with a road tyre has a diameter of approximately 18-inches, the 20-inch referring to use with a 2.25in width tyre. I have just returned from France where my Brompton carried me over many of the Vosges ‘ballons’ during the Semaine Federale. Despite long 16km ascents of 9% and shorter ones of 0.3km at 15%, it was not quite necessary to walk! Gearing is ‘reduced’, ie 44-tooth chainring x 13/15 tooth sprockets. On the final day I made a comfortable ride (except for the excessive heat!) of 100 miles in eight and a quarter hours, at an average speed of 14.2mph. I use standard Brompton tyres. This is not my first 100-mile ride, either! I do use a Brooks saddle.

Mark Jacobson
Herne Bay

Metric size (eg 349mm) relates to the rim diameter and guarantees a tyre will fit a particular rim

Imperial size (eg 16-inch) relates to the tyre rolling diameter for a particular tyre width only

Tyre sizes (usually in inches for smaller sizes) refer to a nominal overall tyre diameter that’s rarely correct, because diameter varies with the tyre width.When buying a tyre, it’s best to quote the more consistent ‘bead seat diameter’ ISO figure – 349mm for the 16-inch Brompton and 407mm for most 20-inch machines.There are others, but we won’t bore you. We usually treat the 349mm as having a 17-inch diameter (slicks like the Primo tend to be a little smaller) and the 407mm as 19-inches in diameter, but every tyre is different. (Eds)

Two-Child Transport?

I remember an article in one of your issues about a father who customised a trike to carry his twin infants. I rely heavily on my bike to get me and our two-year-old around and am expecting another child in January. I’m going to upgrade to a trike with child seat but need to find a seat/basket arrangement which would safely carry a new-born baby. If anyone has any ideas, I would be very grateful.

Karen Rodgers, Cambridge

Gentle Off-Road Brompton?

My wife and I are – as so aptly described in the pages of your magazine – members of the ‘grey brigade’! Being of sound mind, but not perhaps of body, we wondered if a pair of folders, possibly Bromptons, would be suitable for canal towpaths, cycle paths and the like.

At the moment, I have a typically heavy and unsophisticated mountain bike on loan. I can winkle this beast into our hatchback, but two of them would be a bit of a squeeze. I could fit a bike rack, but that would be too cumbersome. How do Bromptons with Schwalbe tyres perform on paths?

Rod Paul
Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire

The standard Brompton makes quite a good job of forest trails and surprisingly serious off-road stuff, but the stickier sort of mud will bring you to a rapid halt.We don’t often recommend the cheaper Brompton ‘C’ type, but it sounds ideal for your purpose – lightish, compact, low geared, and with slightly treaded Raleigh Record tyres and no mudguards. As for Schwalbe tyres, they don’t seem to grip any better than the old Raleigh Record, and our Readers’ Survey suggests they may be more prone to punctures. (Eds)

Touring Brompton?

Do you have any opinions or experience of touring on a Brompton? I have recently acquired one, and to my surprise find it one of the most comfortable bikes I have ever ridden. However, I fail to see how one can carry much luggage without losing the parking and folding facility, although I suppose you could tow. I would also be interested to hear anecdotal stories of any subscribers experience of touring on a Brompton.

Paul A F Wilson

Most people are pleasantly surprised by the Brompton’s rideability, and many A to B readers seem to have attempted long heavily-laden tours. Our advice on luggage is to buy the largest ‘touring’ front pannier bag as your primary luggage carrier.The pannier system can carry big loads without introducing any serious instability – Brompton suggest a maximum of 10kg, but double that is feasible if necessary.You don’t say if you have a rear rack (T-type) or not.The rack is much less useful than it appears because, when loaded, it compromises folding and parking, but it’s useful for carrying a long, heavy object, like a tent. (Eds)

An Appropriate Forum?

There has been considerable debate in A to B recently about the relative fuel efficiency of cars and trains, which has left me a little confused in the end, but what about trams? They are of lighter construction than trains and so should, surely, require less energy to move? And what of the humble bus, or the trolley bus, which can be run on renewable energy?

I’m not sure that A to B is the ideal forum for debating this subject, but I don’t know anywhere more suitable either. It’s something we all need to understand, and plan for intelligently and in time!

Felicity Wright

The tram industry has been slow to capitalise on its green credentials. In fact, due to their light weight, low rolling resistance, low speed, and ability to squeeze on standing passengers at peak times, trams are superbly efficient people movers. Energy consumption as low as one kilowatt/hour per kilometre, (around ten miles per gallon) has been claimed. If that’s true, miles per gallon per passenger would run well into four figures at peak times, and it’s difficult to move people more efficiently than that.Technically, any grid-connected transport operator can purchase power from a green source if they wish – something road transport is unlikely to be able to match, for a while yet at any rate. (Eds)

LED plus Dynamo Lighting?

Lots of interesting reading in A to B 43, so here are a couple of queries:Would the small Di Blasi drum brake fit on the front of a Brompton? And what would you think about running a couple of one watt white LED lights from a dynamo?

David Nichol
Symington, Ayrshire

Like most front hubs, the Di Blasi unit is too wide for the Brompton, which is an unusually narrow 75mm between the fork drop-outs. So although the drum itself would fit, the axle would have to be cut down – not impossible, but tricky. If any engineers are looking for work, Brompton-friendly hub brakes would provide steady business.

A pair of one watt LEDs probably could be run in series from a slightly altered dynamo. Not only would this be brighter and more reliable, but it would be relatively easy to incorporate a battery or capacitor-powered front ‘stand-light’ system too. (Eds)

Coldish or Warmish?

I noticed your review of the Cateye EL500 lamp.Was it the cold (bluish) white variety, and was it as good for seeing the road ahead as a 2.4W dynamo lamp?

A two watt input power for one watt of light output means no efficient driver electronics (a small fraction of the £45 price of the Cateye). Incidentally, any readers with access to soldering irons might want to buy the Lumiled LEDs directly from Farnell Electronics ( to make their own auxiliary lamp.The one watt ‘cold white’ LED with heatsink and 10 degree lens is order code 432-5746 (£10.91 + VAT), but a ‘warm white’ (filament bulb coloured) one watt LED and heatsink is order code 490-8971 (lenses are available separately, eg order code 489-4467).

Alan Bradley
Belfast, Northern Ireland

We’re struggling to summarise the performance of a lamp in words.The colour is rather less blue than earlier white LEDs, but distinctly ‘cold’ nonetheless. Light output seems to be broadly similar to a typical halogen dynamo lamp, but not up with the very best. (Eds)

Power-Assist Trike?

The feature on the Di Blasi trike in A to B 43 gave me an idea for transporting my disabled wife. As I do not own a car and normally use a variety of bicycles (including a folder) for getting around, the options for taking my wife along are somewhat limited, as she can only walk short distances and getting in and out of buses is difficult for her.

A tandem is too difficult as she cannot pedal, so a one-passenger trike (an electric- assist trishaw, in fact, but narrower) could fit the bill.

Brian Brett
Nelson, New Zealand

We turned to the experts for this one. Zero, distributor of the Christiania and Nihola trikes, can provide cyclo-style versions of either, suitable for a single adult. Cycles Maximus of Bath no longer produce a single-seater pedicab, concentrating instead on a conventional side-by-side arrangement (see A to B 39).The company suggests that in practice a larger cab is not a great deal more cumbersome, and most people find they need more space than they initially think. (Eds)

Folding While Riding

Brompton CatchI’ve been riding a Brompton for five years regularly on a 12-mile stretch of road. Six miles is smooth concrete and asphalt, but the other six miles is a very coarse asphalt, so the bike vibrates noticeably riding over that part. Over the five years, it has happened that at the end of a ride I’ve found the frame clamp looser than at the beginning.

Well this week I was near the end of the rougher stretch of pavement, when I noticed a wobble in the steering.Then it cleared itself up, but it soon came back again. I was trying to look down to see if I had a tyre problem, when the lever on the frame clamp spun free. I lost complete control of the steering, wobbled for about two seconds, and then the bike just collapsed, and I went over the handlebars down onto the road. Landed on an elbow and a shoulder, but fortunately didn’t break anything.

If you’re riding a folding bike over a rough road, just note the position of the clamp at the beginning of the ride, and be aware of it. On a Brompton, that should be enough to catch any loosening of the clamp, and it has to spin around a few turns before it comes off completely.

Peter Nurkse
Santa Cruz, California, USA

We were quite surprised by this, because we’ve ridden tens of thousand of Brompton miles, and have never heard of such a thing. On a dark night (especially after a few gin & tonics), it’s possible to tighten the clamp 90 degrees out of position, causing the hinge to fold instantly, or very quickly. And if the bike is lying down in a car boot or aeroplane hold, the clamps can unscrew, if left loose.The lever is deliberately made with one arm longer and heavier than the other, so it should never open by more than half a turn whilst riding – the lever has to turn three times to open. Even after one turn, the bike feels pretty odd, demonstrating that something is amiss. Possibly your clamp had been fractured or damaged in some way? (Eds)

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

The best magazine I have ever bought . A work of genius! A joy to behold . Singular, unique and one of a kind . Simply the best! Simply perfect . The only magazine worth subscribing to! Informative and fun . A to B has never been so good . A different viewpoint Well written, humorous and good technically . Technical is good, politics and multi-modal stories are great . Good read, bargain price . Never squeeze the Mole out again – Intelligence, wit and good-heartedness makes your mag . Mole in issue 43 was brilliant – witty, but making a serious point or two . Witty, well-written and useful . Joy to read – all other work put on hold when A to B arrives! Well written and edited, but just a little biased at times? Read from cover to cover, but not keen on some of the terminology – eg, ‘cumbersome’ and ‘fuel’ for electric charge . The reviews are pitched just right and in plain English [from a teacher] . I enjoy articles not covered in mainstream cycling magazines More recumbents and family cycling please . More on trike developments please . More on components . More travel stories please – taking the bike on planes, buses, cars, etc More anarchy required – great magazine . The design and format is looking a bit dated [but] 12 issues a year please . Who knows? When I am a bit older (I am only 74 now), I may think about an electric-assist bike . Electric bike tests suddenly very informative since I was knocked off my bike and partially disabled . Keep up the electric bike information Your love affair with the Giant Lafree is often rather too obvious . Thanks for recommending the Lafree – I have been very pleased with the bike for getting to work across London . Human power, not electricity . Totally brilliant, monthly please! A good read, eagerly awaited, don’t go monthly! Independent, reasoned comments on the establishment’s antics . Bring back Mr Portly! More of the young lady with the dark hair please, she has such a lovely smile! Glad you haven’t joined the PC Brigade

Letters A to B 43 – front changers . regenerative braking . semi-recumbents . small tyres

Climb Every Mountain


The ‘kick-change’ Speed Drive is well suited to the Brompton

Regarding Brompton gears (A to B 42), those who own the 6-speed machine would no doubt do well to experiment with sprocket changes, but owners of older machines (which I believe cannot be economically upgraded) don’t have this option. I think that the principal objection to multiple chainrings is that, so far as I am aware, there is no ‘mainstream’ conversion available. Inevitably, they do add complication but I liked the minimalist approach of a Brompton rider I encountered on the C2C who shifted his chain with a hand-held hook, apparently fashioned from a wire coathanger. My own design uses a Shimano braze- on mech and thumb shifter and is mainly aimed at filling the gaps in the standard Sturmey 5-speed range. I agree a wider range would be helpful but, pending the availability of better things, it seems we have to choose – never mind the width, feel the closeness!

I agree with what you say about possible chain-related problems; you might have added that the cage of the front mech has to be open at the bottom so as to allow the bike to fold. It occurs to me to add that a conversion provides an excuse to get rid of the rather down market standard chainset and benefit from shorter cranks.

George Winspur
Rochester, Kent

We’re still not keen. A multiple chainring adds more weight than a sprocket change and you have to fold the bike with care, particularly when the chain gets a bit old and slack – we’ve seen broken tensioner arms caused by misaligned, slack chains. For older Bromptons, we’d recommend either fitting the excellent Mountain or Speed Drive conversion (not cheap, but engineered for life), or trading the bike in for a new 6-speed with alternative sprockets. The secondhand value of grotty old Bromptons makes this very worthwhile. (Eds)

Extra Gears = More Speed?

I found the test of the Lafree Comfort ST interesting, because I’ve been using a SRAM 5- speed hub on my Lafree Lite since fitting it early this year. After nearly a thousand miles, I can confirm that the change does improve somewhat with time as Giant indicated, but it never gets anywhere near the slickness of the Nexus three speed. However, it soon becomes instinctive to stop pedalling and allow that moment extra for the ‘click’ from the hub. Given the hill climbing ability, it doesn’t matter if one involuntarily stops at a change down from second to first, since even a 1 in 7 hill start with a 14 kilogram trailer attached is easy with moderate assistance.

I’ve also tried both 18- and 17-tooth rear sprockets in place of the standard SRAM 19- tooth. Any hypothetical illegality due to the use of the 18-tooth is virtually undetectable, given that the power begins to phase out at higher crank speed. However, the legal position isn’t really the issue, particularly with a 17-tooth – it’s more the lack of available power. In fifth with the 17-tooth, the least incline or moderate headwind forces a premature change down to fourth, leaving one travelling slower than if the original 19-tooth was in use, so after extensive testing with both 18- and 17-tooth, I concluded the standard arrangement was best. Also, as ever with NiMh or Nicd battery power, what’s viable when the battery is fully charged can soon prove not to be so in the latter half of the charge usage as the voltage reduces.

Tony Flecchia

One problem with the Lafree for enthusiastic cyclists is the rather limited top gear ratio of around 80-inches – if a higher gear is used, the bike will either run illegally fast or, as Tony found, give up on hills. A solution might be to fit the bike with a 5-speed hub and ultra-high gearing to give four power-assisted ratios, and a sort of overdrive top, for use with the motor turned off when the going is easy and you want to pedal at higher speed. (Eds)

Familiar Semi-recumbent


Urban Glider (above) and Giant Revive (below) Despite technical differences, the bikes are remarkably similar in terms of geometry and equipment

At the CTC York rally I had a brief try on a pedal-assisted semi- recumbent electric bike from an outfit called Urban Mover. It was twistgrip operated, but power only came on when pedalling. At around £850, I thought it was very competitive, and streets ahead of the Lafree in appearance.

giant-reviveBut for ‘worried . mum of  Surrey’  (Letters, A to B 42), don’t   think of buying  your 14 year old an electric bike. Offer him a decent sports tourer with a reasonable rack/pannier/saddlebag arrangement. He’ll be fitter, stronger and more independent… never did me any harm anyway.

Jim Whitfield

Ah, those were the days. Incidentally, despite having a bus season ticket, editor David Henshaw cycled six miles each way to school for several years (and occasionally home to lunch), all on a single-speed bike, dreaming all the while of owning a Sturmey 3-speed (this is all true). However, that was in flat seaside terrain.We should have made it clear that the route described in the letter crosses the South Downs between Albury and Cranleigh – a climb of at least 500 feet each way.Throw in the stress of dealing with rampaging four-wheel-drives, and it’s definitely an electric bike job, unless the young man is really keen.

The Urban Glider UM30 is a fascinating machine, very similar to the unassisted Giant EZB semi-recumbent, but with NiMH power and a competitive claimed weight of 26kg. If you want one you’ll have to hurry, as Giant is taking action to get it removed from sale due to copyright infringements, which is hardly surprising. (Eds)

Which Tyre Size?

I was interested in Nils Hoglund’s letter in A to B 42. I have no personal experience of folding bikes but I am hoping to buy one in the near future, and have been carefully scrutinising the reviews in A to B to select my model. Despite the acclaim given to the Brompton, I am rather put off by what appear – to someone used to a conventional bike – to be its very small wheels, which look like a lot of hard work, and I have been considering the Dahon Helios as an alternative, simply because of the 20-inch wheel size.

I would welcome some information and discussion on this point, and contributions from other readers’ experiences. Are 16-inch wheels really too tiring for anything more than short journeys nipping around town?

Peter Bolwell
Hastings, East Sussex

Although we’re evangelists for small wheels, we can’t deny that rolling resistance rises as wheel diameter decreases, but with modern tyres the effect is quite small.The best 20-inch (406mm) bikes are almost indistinguishable from big wheelers – in fact, the reduced mass and lower wind resistance probably makes them faster on good road surfaces.With the smaller 347mm tyre fitted to the Brompton, the performance gap is beginning to widen, but we’ve ridden 100 miles (once!), and many 50 mile days without exhaustion. If you can find a comfortable wind-cheating position, the tyre size becomes relatively unimportant. Sub-347mm sizes really are limited to short distances, although oddly our rolling resistance figures don’t seem to bear this out. Perhaps the extra fatigue results from the choppier less forgiving ride, rather than rolling resistance alone? (Eds)

Fluctuating Thingies

EPS Amigo Electric Bike

Drive system on the EPS Amigo, one of the very few electric bikes to offer regenerative braking

It is well known that a fluctuating magnetic field will produce a fluctuating electric current in a conductor and that conversely a fluctuating electric current will produce a fluctuating magnetic field. Can someone explain why an electric bike is designed to be run by pedal power on a level road and power-assisted to climb a hill but not arranged to charge the battery and at the same time provide braking assistance when travelling downhill.

Alex Massie
Chirnside, Berwickshire

Professor Pivot Replies: ‘Regenerative’ braking is something of a Holy Grail for cyclists and by far the most common question about electric bikes. My negative replies are always met with rather crestfallen, gloomy looks! Firstly, electrical braking can be and very occasionally is built into electric bikes, but it’s hardly worthwhile for a number of reasons. As a general rule, motors turn much faster than road wheels, so a fair amount of energy is required simply to turn the gears and motor. Consequently, most are fitted with a one-way clutch to disengage the motor when the rider is coasting or pedalling without assistance. For the motor to be available as a brake, it would have to be permanently engaged, with all the energy losses that would entail.

A few sophisticated wheel-speed AC motors have been produced, eliminating the frictional loss problem (and, incidentally, most of the noise). As AC motors are inherently well suited to providing regenerative braking, these are usually fitted with such a system. However, when you take into account chemical, electrical and frictional losses in the battery, controls, wiring, motor, drive system and tyres, plus vehicle wind resistance, there may be very little power left to store. A few years ago I experimented with a Zappy scooter, and found that the descent was regenerating a mere 20% of the energy consumed on the climb! I suspect that suitable AC motors will eventually become commonplace, but the impetus for regenerative braking will have more to do with reducing stress on the conventional braking system than improved power-assist efficiency.

Whacky Fringe

We all know that the Association of British Drivers is a small group of right-wing nutters with a tenuous grasp of reality. However, they have garnered a huge amount of media attention, out of all proportion to their real significance.

So, let’s set up the Association of British Cyclists (ABC) whose job will be to pronounce similarly whacky views, albeit from a two-wheel perspective.The ABD wants to ban speed cameras (except for those few in ‘appropriate places’ of course) – the ABC will counter with a demand for cameras placed every 100 metres on every stretch of road, everywhere.The ABD wants the motorway speed limit raised; the ABC would like to see it cut to 40mph, with the inside lane reserved for bikes. And so it goes on.

This way, the ABC can be dismissed as a radical fringe, leaving the CTC and LCC looking terribly moderate and responsible.Well, it’s a thought isn’t it?

Peter Henshaw
Sherborne, Dorset

Trundling and Musing

While trundling home in a downpour recently, I managed to enter a higher mental plane by contemplating on the design of a folding tandem. I’ve thought for a long time that there is an empty niche for a Brompton- or Birdy-esque tandem, folding to public transport size in less than a minute without disassembly.

The problem has always been, what to do with the timing chain? Folding the rear wheel under interferes with the chain. All obvious solutions involve removal and filth. My mind drifted back to articles in recent A to B’s and the piece in issue 39, on shaft drives. I think that this is the answer.A shaft drive connecting front and rear cranks, with a chain final drive.

The bike would fold in the same places as a Brompton, have 349mm wheels, suspension front and rear, drum brakes and an 8-speed hub.The solution seems so obvious that I think that I must have missed something. Nothing in cycling design is really new, so has this been done before?

Davy Nichol
Symington, Ayrshire

It can be made to work – see the folding shaft-drive on the Di Blasi trike, page 36. (Eds)

Peak Oil

Tony Raven (Letters, A to B 42) was right to be wary of any pundit using the phrase ‘running out of oil’. But those in the ‘70s with access to the best data were predicting that output would reach an absolute maximum around the year 2000 and then go into permanent decline. In the event, the year-on-year increase in global demand was substantially curtailed following the oil crises, but after a short-lived decline, consumption resumed its upward trajectory. Contrary to Tony’s impression, those leading the wake-up call on Peak Oil are primarily retired geologists. See the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (

Bill Jamieson
Stow, Borders

Clip Your Own

You might be interested in visiting which describes some removable SPD pedals I made using MKS Promenade pedals and a cleat from another pedal.The pictures are on the Minnesota Human Powered Vehicles Association website for reasons that are too complicated to go into! I have replaced my folding toe clips with this new solution. Much better when clipped in and much more convenient when using ordinary shoes.

Peter Amey
Bradford on Avon,Wiltshire

The MKS Promenade demountable pedals (see Helios SL) are a useful folding bike accessory, but cost in the region of £60 a pair. Any good bike shop should be able to order them, although Norman Fay Cycles is the only stockist we’ve yet come across – tel: 0191 456 1055. (Eds)


I have two 5-speed Bromptons both with front and rear carriers etc, the older with two gear levers, the younger (inherited from my late son) with one. I keep one in southwest Scotland where it is moderately hilly, and being of free TV licence age I would appreciate some power-assistance on the hills! The nearest shop and pub are five miles return away along the coast road, but I would be tempted to go further with a little help.

As an avid A to B reader,I have sensed that you are coming round to the idea of folding electric bikes? Presumably a brake upgrade would also be recommended?


We’d recommend contacting either Kinetics in Glasgow (tel: 0141 942 2552) or E-go (tel: 07974 723996). Both have experience in fitting small motors into small wheels. (Eds)

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

Excellent – more of the same for twelve months please! Genuinely useful, interesting and entertaining . Super – don’t change it . Vastly overpriced . Excellent value . Fantastic mag, monthly please, pretty please! PS Less electric bikes, more folders . Thanks for the article on brakes . More about trips and maintenance of folders, a bit less on electric bikes Just the right balance – I read every item . Could you do folding tandems? Too many electric bikes! Please include more articles from Japan and Asia . Rob Cope’s rail guide is sadly missed . Different but interesting . I like the politics related to all forms of transport Required reading on the way to the Le Mans 24 hour race . Rekindles my enthusiasm amongst all the gloom . I love the magazine, but my wife hates being ignored while I’m reading it Creates domestic dramas as we both try to grab it . Best thing since our homemade bread A voice of sanity, and fun besides! My bi-monthly dose of sanity – keep pedalling it!

Letters – A to B 42 – 150mm cranks . Brompton . GoBike . Peak Oil . ScotRail

Peaking Early?

Martin Snelus comments on concerns over oil in A to B 41.When I went to school in the ‘60s I never expected to be able to drive a car – oil was going to run out before I reached driving age. When I was at University in the 1970s and went through the oil shock, I never thought I’d own my own car because the oil was going to run out before I had a job and could afford one.We even had petrol rationing in the ‘70s because the end was so close. All my life there have been pundits predicting the imminent end of the oil age.That oil reserves are ultimately finite and will run out is undeniable and we should therefore husband them wisely. And if the pundits keep predicting the imminent end, eventually one of them will be right and be able to say I told you so.Whether David Goodstein and Paul Roberts are those pundits, or just more joining the long line of failed pundits, I don’t know.The current concerns and the pundits rushing to press seems once more better correlated to Western concerns about Middle Eastern politics than geology.

Meanwhile I will continue to cycle and drive a thrifty car to preserve whatever oil there is left.

Tony Raven
Royston, Hertfordshire

Quite right too, but the situation really is different now, because the supply/demand equation is much more finely balanced than it was in the 1960s or ‘70s. As recent events have shown, the very suspicion that supplies might be reduced is enough to cause global panic.The oil doesn’t need to actually run out, just run down by a few per cent. Like Global Warming, Peak Oil may only be verifiable when it’s too late to do anything about it. (Eds)

Folder Friendly or Noo?

There appears to be some confusion about ScotRail’s carriage of folding bikes.The National Rail Guide sponsored by Brompton states ‘Folding cycles are carried free without restriction’, while A to B’s own website says of ScotRail: ‘There are no special restrictions on folding bikes’. On the other hand, the leaflet displayed at ScotRail’s own stations says: ‘Cycles completely folded down and enclosed in a container or case throughout the journey are carried on all services and do not need a reservation.’ To complicate matters further, when I emailed ScotRail for clarification, a customer care assistant responded that folding bikes were treated exactly the same as other bikes and would need reservations on relevant services – mostly those north of the Central Belt. On a recent trip between Inverness and Aberdeen with my Bike Friday I did not dare put the matter to the test and reserved one of the two bike spaces available per train. Any other readers’ experiences?

Roderick Clyne

The ‘must be enclosed in a container or case’ clause dates back many years and has rather annoyingly been kept on the books by a minority of train operators looking for an excuse to evict folding bikes.This restriction is never applied to our knowledge, but do beware – if you attempt to travel on a packed commuter train with a big, oily, uncovered, and nominally folded bike, the guard may quote the rule. However, Scotrail is bound by the wording in the current ATOC/Brompton national leaflet, and if this states no restrictions, there are no restrictions. For a larger machine, such as a part-folded Bike Friday, some sort of cover would be a courtesy on a busy train, but not an obligation. ScotRail has failed to respond to our request for clarification. (Eds)

Planning Permissible?

Bikeaway Bicycle LockerI am looking for a lockable secure housing for our bikes which can be bolted to the front of our house. I found a company that sold such objects through your advertisements but can no longer locate the company. Could you help?

Manuel Alvarado

Perhaps surprisingly, Sustrans does not keep a list of recommended suppliers, but its town planning consultant Chris Dent adds that a front garden bike locker could fall foul of the planning rules if it exceeds a height of one metre. Anyone thinking of doing the same would be well advised to have a friendly chat with their local planning officer before investing in a large structure.

One of the best suppliers is BikeAway Ltd, Bell Close, Newnham Industrial Estate, Plympton, Plymouth, Devon PL7 4JH.Tel: 01752 202116, fax: 01752 202117, web: and email: BikeAway’s individual lockers are widely used by railway companies and local authorities and cost £460 each plus VAT – quite a lot, but it’s a substantial product that should protect your bike(s) for years to come. (Eds)

Some Answers and a lot more Questions

In A to B 41 Malcolm Mort asks if anyone knows of a source of good quality 150mm cranks. Chris Bell of Highpath Engineering will shorten cranks for about £36 including postage.The smallest practicable amount of shortening is 20mm, so 170s can be shortened to 150mm. I noticed Mike Burrows states that he now, ‘runs 150 cranks on all his bikes’. I suspect he has shortened his existing 170s. Regarding the benefit to knees of shorter cranks, what is it that can damage knees? Is it the angle through which the joint moves, or is it the largest angle of bend? Or both! Saddle height is relevant in this matter. If your saddle is low, then the angle of bend – from straight – will be large, even with short cranks.

In The Complete Book of Bicycling, Greg Lemond reckons most people – including professional cyclists – have their saddle too low. He reckons we should position the saddle as high as is comfortable, ride for a while until we are used to it, then raise it a little more, and repeat the process. Another factor affecting the knee joint angular movement is how much, if at all, we ‘ankle’. Using the ankles can make a considerable difference to the effective length of the cranks and consequently how much the knee joint rotates.

I am trying 157.5mm cranks and have noticed that I do not ankle as much as I do with 170s. Is there any evidence that long cranks can cause knee joint damage? I know from experience that long cranks can be uncomfortable and make it impossible to get a smooth pedalling action, but whether this would cause damage is another matter.Where do the figures come from in the published inside leg/crank length tables? Perhaps none of this matters now that it has been demonstrated that crank length does not affect power output?

Mike Lenton Kirby-in-Furness, Cumbria

Holy Matrimony

Brompton foldedWe were rather chuffed to find a handy padlock that fits snugly on the ever-faithful Brompton, disappearing inside the frame when the bike is unfolded. It is called Wedlock and is made by Specialized. We bought it here in Switzerland from a mail-order shop called Véloplus (, but it may well be available elsewhere now. It obviously adds a bit of weight to the bike, but we have found it rather nifty. It folds out like a concertina and is great for securing the bike to likely-looking poles when it is not feasible to carry the bike inside (although I am getting quite shameless – my Brompton enjoyed its first trip to the cinema recently, as well as happily shopping in supermarket trolleys, on the strength of A to B’s advice!)

Juliet Fall
Geneva, Switzerland

Our advice is to avoid locking up your Brompton at all costs, particularly in London and the southeast of England, where thieves are aware of the secondhand value of the bikes. A kindly bike shop will generally agree to put the machine behind the counter for a small remuneration, and if your local shop refuses, let us know! However, for those who cannot avoid parking in town, a fitted lock seems a worthwhile investment.The Wedlock is available from a number of UK mail-order outlets for around £50. (Eds)

Thanks Ken!

Brompton on a busThis winter I have been using the Brompton and bus to get to work. At £1, it’s a lot cheaper than the £3.80 rail fare from Redhill to Croydon. The luggage rack could be almost purpose-built for a Brompton. Another advantage is there are no steps up and down from the platform.

The bus is slower, but overall the time is much the same because the route is more suitable and stops near(ish) to my destination. I use the route 405 which is a London bus, hence the £1 fare for cash.

Andrew J Holland
Redhill, Surrey

Modern low-floor buses are a great advance, with plenty of flexible space for luggage, including folding bikes. As a general rule, we still recommend covering your bike on the bus (at least, until you get to know the drivers) because a bus driver has the right to arbitrarily refuse luggage he doesn’t like the look of.Thanks are also due, once again, to His Holiness Ken Livingstone for revitalising London’s transport. (Eds)

GoBike Gone?

Go-bike Folding BikeI am looking for a good folding bike in the 20-inch size for longer trips (I commute 14 miles every day, plus train, with a Brompton, but the ride is a bit too far some days… I read about a folding bike today that I haven ìt seen or heard about before. It does not appear to be listed in your website Buyer’s Guide or Price List? So, I am wondering if it’s a brand new thing, or is there really nothing new in the biking world? It looks really cool and it is called GoBike. It seems to be Canadian, and can be found at

Nils Hoglund

Similar in many respects to the Birdy, the GoBike is indeed made in Canada.The manufacturers agreed to let us have a test sample when European sales commenced.We were told this would be happen when a cheap manufacturing deal had been struck in the Far East, but the GoBike project has since gone strangely quiet. Anyone know more? (Eds)

On the Case

My wife bought a Dahon Helios last year on your recommendation. She is pleased with it and would like to buy a hardcase for it, primarily to protect it from rough handling when travelling by air. Do you know of any firms who market a suitable case? The folded size of the Helios is quoted as 32cm x 66cm x 84cm.

John K T Fyfe

You’ll be delighted to hear that Dahon UK has recently sourced the ‘Airporter’, a hardcase with internal padding and ‘bomb-proof ’ in-line skate wheels.They claim it fits all 16″ and 20″ wheel Dahon bikes, and will carry their 26″ machines with the wheels removed.The Airporter costs £169.99 from (Eds)

Small Point

One very small point. Moles eat worms not insects.They are therefore carnivores.

Stephen Slaughter
Horley, Surrey

Our proof-reading team points out that ‘Mammals in Britain & Europe’ classifies the mole as an insectivore. If mistaken, they will be fed to a family of weasels. (Eds)

Better in Germany

After reading your article on the Puky child bike (A to B 41), we thought you might be interested to know about the child’s bike we bought in Germany for our daughter Jasmine, now six years old.The bike is a copy of the Puky Z8, but cheaper (it cost us the Euro equivalent of £75) with slightly cheaper components. However, it comes with a bell, propstand, rack, front and rear reflectors (not lights), comfortable saddle, enclosed chain case, ‘crash pad’ on the handlebars, etc. It also has a back-pedal brake – Jasmine took a few minutes to get used to this, but now seems OK.The make is indeterminate, but it’s definitely manufactured in Germany and not Taiwan! The only name on it is ‘ErlKonig’.

The downside is that you have to go to Germany to buy it! We bought ours at a little bike shop in Baden Baden while on holiday, and the shop agreed to post it to us for the equivalent of £25, so we didn’t have to wrestle it on and off trains and planes.

There are many similar bikes in Germany, and if travelling as a tourist, you could probably fly home with one. Whether you could pay for your holiday with the saving is another matter – but it might be fun trying!

Fiona Le Ny

Multi-gear Brommies

Thanks for the information on fitting 12/18-tooth sprockets to the Brompton 6-speed (A to B 31).There was an excellent article in the Cyclists Touring Club magazine about a year ago on fitting a front mech to the Brompton, giving a double chainring and a greater range of gears. Perhaps a kit based on this would be useful?

A wider Brompton frame would accommodate the 8-speed Sturmey hub with drum brake – the only snag I can see is the decrease in efficiency (weight is not a big problem for me as I do not carry the bike often). Our local buses are low-floor Optare vehicles and I often wheel the Brompton on without even folding it. It fits well in the wheelchair space.

David Greensmith
Clunbury, Shropshire

A front changer can bring all sorts of chain-tension and clearance problems on the Brompton, so for the small increase in gear range we wouldn’t recommend it. By contrast, a 6-speed rear sprocket swap is easy, cheap and relatively snag-free.The 13/17-tooth option is straightforward but offers a limited range, while 12/17, 13/18 and (best of all) 12/18-tooth upgrades can be fiddly, but are well worth the effort. For parts and advice, we’d recommend contacting London hub gear experts Bicycle Workshop (020 7229 4850). (Eds)

Junior Electrics

Giant Lafree SportMy son has just turned 14, and I am thinking of buying an electric bicycle for him to use to get to school (seven miles of country lanes, including a steep hill both ways); to town (four miles of the same); to after-school sports and to visit friends. I know very little about this form of transport and would appreciate some advice.

SensibleOur criteria are safety and reliability, along with the capacity (in terms of both power and space) to carry substantial bags of books/files and/or sports kit (including, if possible, racquets/bats).We also need to know about re-charging the batteries (the school run is six days a week and includes late evenings). Oh yes, and if it looked a bit cool, that would be a bonus! What we really need is a Which? magazine type guide to electric bikes.

Diana Birkett
Albury, Surrey

Electric bikes can, indeed, be ridden by children of 14 and over, although this big potential market seems to have been almost entirely ignored. Looking cool is probably the biggest problem though, because that’s one thing most of these bikes will never be. However, there are one or two exceptions, notably the Tornado (£745 from Eco-Bike, tel 020 8839 9700) and the EV range (see page 14 – up to £1,300 from Powerscoots, tel 0870 606 7788).

We’d like to recommend the Giant Lafree Sport, but this sensibly-engineered, cleanly-styled cruiser is not yet available in the UK (although you might consider lobbying Giant UK on 0115 977 5900). An alternative would be to find a suitably cool donor bike and add an electric motor. One of the best kits is the Electro-Drive (£365 from E-go, tel 07974 723996).

For a mini-review of the key machines, visit our (under-utilised) Electric Buyer’s Guide at

Most decent electric bikes should manage up to 20 hilly miles, provided they get a good overnight charge. School and back, plus town and back without an intermediate charge would be marginal for some, but the answer to that would be a school top-up. Even less likely than undercover parking you’d think, but worth asking, nonetheless. (Eds)

Giant Lafree Sport – cool, but sensible


Re the ‘Final Word’ item on Brompton wrist strain (A to B 41, page 25), I can heartily recommend the stubby bar ends from Avon Valley Cycles.There is a note in my 1998 End-to-End journal which says, ‘The bar ends are to the Brompton what Bo Derek is to Ravel’s Bolero’.

Bob Hutton
Nailsea, North Somerset

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

Hard hitting but humorous . Better than New Labour! The best magazine I receive! I get very twitchy when A to B is due .Avidly read, totally enjoyed and used for reference. Bizarrely (since I don’t have a folding bike) this is my favourite magazine . Never fails to delight . I like the style! Well balanced . Interesting and readable . Consistently excellent Refreshingly irreverent, independent and bold, yet humble enough to admit when wrong Any chance of going monthly? A compact and competent transport forum . Excellent – less technical stuff at last! I like the technical content . Hold the cynicism and bring back the railway guy [from his partner] . Needs to be bigger with dedicated sections [A to B] deserves a far higher readership and a long-awaited award . Light at the end of a fume-filled tunnel . I can’t live without it . Luv it, luv it, luv it! Keep it quirky!


Letters – A to B 41 – auto gears, cycle paths, electric folders, helmets, politics, tricycles

New Labour, Tired Old Policies

While its title suggests that it is not exclusively a cycle magazine, I did subscribe to A to B expecting to read primarily about bicycle use, design and innovation, and I’m not entirely dissatisfied. But after two issues, I’m starting to get a little grudging about the space devoted to electric motors, battery efficiency and solar charging viability.

And – despite the recognition that the Government is trying to regain some sense and control over the railway system – you criticise it as being incompetent, anti-democratic, anti-cycling and not to be trusted. I think you have overlooked the difficulty of undoing privatisation and failed to recognise the Government’s firm commitment to the Kyoto targets on emissions and energy use.

I don’t say the Government is beyond criticism, but I’d prefer to read about Sturmey Archer hubs than a simplistic analysis of government policy, in an area that A to B recognises is even more complex than epicyclic transmission. More cycling and a little less railway consumerism please.

Jim Whitfield
Beverley, East Yorkshire

Long-term subscribers may recall that we’re reasonably non-partisan in our criticism of government – we had little good to say about the Tories either. But you must be joking Jim, surely? New Labour could have prevented railway privatisation, but they didn’t. And when it finally dawned on this hopeless shower that the railway was descending into chaos, they could have brought it back under national control, but they didn’t. Despite all the evidence, they then pressed ahead with a similar part-privatisation of the London Underground.They’re dead anti-cycling too.We may eventually forgive them for putting their (strangely right-wing) politics ahead of the national good, but not for a decade or two. And as for Kyoto…

Generally speaking, we don’t consider ourselves to be a ‘cycling’ magazine, but a magazine that helps to integrate bicycles with real-world transportation. Sleeper trains and solar-powered pedal taxis are just what we’re about. (Eds)

Policemen & Breakfast

With reference to the letter ‘Vicious criminals’ (A to B 40), my experience is a little different to Mrs Foster’s. Cycling on the footpath to the station in a busy local town, I rounded a bend to find a police officer (pips on shoulder grade) walking towards me.

I dismounted, and walked the remaining yards towards him, saying ‘whoops’, or something similar.We stopped to talk. He said he had no problem with cyclists on footpaths, as long as they showed proper constraint for pedestrians. He had recently attended a meeting of the town council where one councillor had said he regularly cycled on the footpath because of traffic volume.

I was also interested to see the article on the Caledonian sleeper in the same magazine.Whenever my wife and I have taken the sleeper to Inverness one of the highlights has been breakfast in the hotel adjoining the station.The last time we did the journey was in 1992, so I hope the hotel is still there. If so, the breakfast experience is not to be missed.

Michael Denham
Orpington, Kent

This sounds very like the Royal Highland Hotel: ‘One minute from stepping off the train’. Book in advance on 01463 231926 and you can still enjoy a delicious breakfast for £9.50 per person. (Eds)

No Brainer

With regard to the bicycle helmet bit (Mole, A to B 40) I work in a brain injury unit and would like to say that I could show you the result of not wearing a helmet, but of course I can’t, because they don’t come to us. I can say from personal experience that whilst a helmet won’t ‘stop’ a lorry, it will stop their wing mirror which nicely cracked the side of my helmet but left the contents (relatively) okay.

Re: John Smith’s letter about taking bikes on planes, I invested a hundred quid in a padded bag for my bike only to find that the baggage handlers had seen it as a challenge, buckling one wheel and snapping the other.This was quite some feat given that the wheels were in their own padded bags within the bag.

Andy Mantell

The majority of trauma victims delivered to brain injury units, and indeed mortuaries, are the victims of car crashes, because car occupants are by far the largest at-risk group. Statistics can be manipulated to say all sorts of things, of course, but there’s no doubt that motoring deaths through head injury are quite common, whereas bicycles account for comparatively few deaths through head injuries (see Mole).Why is no one lobbying for motorists to wear helmets? (Eds)

Cranks & Crumps

I have been riding with 150mm cranks on my Dawes Kingpin for some while. I find I can spin the pedals very easily, thanks in part to low gearing. I really noticed the difference when I was forced to ride my backup Kingpin following a spill on my way to work, which damaged my best bike.The 165mm cranks felt like huge windmills in comparison.

The fall taught me one very important thing.When I hit the road, the impact broke my helmet and without it I fear I would have been badly injured. In the past I have tended to ‘just nip out’ for short journeys without putting my helmet on, but Never Again. A cyclist is vulnerable all the time – my bike and I simply parted company whilst negotiating a left turn on a greasy smooth surface.

Steve Morton

150mm is Perfect!

You expressed surprise at Mike Burrow’s observation (Letters, A to B 40) that 150mm cranks might be good for you.When I renewed my subscription recently, I made this very comment!

I have used 150mm cranks on various bikes for years, after being advised ten years ago to give up cycling on account of my painful knees. I refused, but did my best to make the bicycles easier to ride – light, low rolling resistance tyres, better adjustment and (for me) glucosamine capsules and shorter cranks. I am still cycling and my knees are (usually) OK.

The 150mm cranks seem strange for a few days, but once you get used to them, longer cranks feel terrible. 170mm cranks were once the norm, but the length is now creeping up – 175mm on many bikes, and even 180 or 185mm: the stuff of nightmares.

The main problem with 150s is getting them at a reasonable price and quality.The excellent TA version is too expensive for everyday use, so as a general rule, only very poor chainsets are available. Stronglight used to make the ‘950’ series alloy chainsets in the 150mm size, and these only cost about £30 for the standard 26/36/46 triple chainring. But Spa Cycles has sold all stock and says nothing is available. If anyone knows of a source of good quality 150mm chainrings, please could they share the secret?

Malcolm Mort
Liskeard, Cornwall

Thanks to the record number who wrote in praise of 150mm cranks (there were none against). Our apologies Malcolm for failing to take the matter seriously until it came from Mike Burrows and numerous others! It seems the case is proven. See page 37 for further analysis. (Eds)

Trikes Welcome

I have to say that we can’t find anyone in the Sustrans NCS team who has any knowledge that trikes may not use bridleways (Letters, A to B 40).We have long advocated three- wheelers in the form of tow-along bikes and trailers, and four-wheelers in wheelchairs, and I welcome trikes in the same category.

Journeys for multi-wheeled machines will get progressively easier, as our ambition is to remove all barriers from our paths.The most difficult sections left to cope with will be the Ridgeway and other historic routes, where narrow parallel tracks might exist.

John Grimshaw
Director, Sustrans

Hub Gear Miscellanea

I will be interested to see if the new Sturmey 8-speed (A to B 40) proves reliable in service. On paper, it looks close to my ‘ideal’ gear set up: 5 or 6 fairly close gears, plus a lower ratio for steep hills (I find a super-high gear less useful).

I am a bit wary of recent Sturmey gears (except 3-speeds). My early Sprinter 5 broke very quickly, and the free replacement internal didn’t last long, despite being relegated to gentle use, and I was warned off the Sturmey 7.

I still use the old S5-2 twin trigger model on several of the family bikes, or 3-speeds where possible. I prefer the Sturmey 3-speeds to SRAM, as the bearings are protected by labyrinth seals.The left-hand bearing on the SRAM fitted to my first Brompton is very worn due to salt, sand and water entering the hub (the sprocket and chain oil reduce the problem on the right-hand side).

One thing to watch out for with drum brakes is grease leaking out onto the brake shoes. I had this problem with a new X-RD3 I bought last year. I had to get the brake plate replaced (free of charge) and thoroughly clean the inside of the drum.When I re-assembled the hub, I packed the left-hand bearing with a very sticky grease (LPS paste from about 25 years ago), hoping this would act as a barrier.This seems to have worked so far (about 9 months and 500km of use).The roller-brake version may be a better choice. Rollers should be immune to grease leakage, and also seem easier to replace, though I don’t know if brake performance is good or not.

Martin Fillan
Hennebont, France

As we said in the 8-speed hub test, gear 6 can cause trouble if the cable is not adjusted with care, and we’ve also noticed a slight grinding noise when pulling hard in 1st. Strange because 1st is direct drive. However, our hub was a pre-production example, so we’re sure these will prove to be teething troubles.The X-RD8 is otherwise quiet, bug-free, and feels pretty efficient.We’ll keep you posted as we clock up the miles. (Eds)

Up-Market Brommie?

The existence of the Birdy Grey (£1,800) and the New Series Moulton (£4,000) shows that there is a market for ‘high price point’ folding bicycles.Where is the £1,000 or £1,500 Brompton? I don’t mean the SP conversions, but a proper stock bike, sold through the standard dealer network.The bike would have the same design goals as the original, but the design solution would simply be more expensive (and presumably better).Wouldn’t this be a win-win situation for Brompton?

Jeremy Lawrence
Neubrandenburg, Germany

It’s no secret that the engineers at Brompton are scurrying with extra urgency, suggesting that something might be in the pipeline.What we’d like to see is an ultra-light 2-speed city bike, using Brompton’s own simple but effective derailleur.With Dahon about to launch bikes claimed to weigh well under 10kg, the pressure will be on to stay ahead of the game. (Eds)

No Bike Carriage?

We are concerned about the Light Rapid Transit system proposed for Gosport. Firstly, the Gosport part is being built along the main axis of the local cycle path network which will mean significant change for cyclists. But the biggest problem is the crossing of the harbour to Portsmouth.At present the pedestrian ferry carries 600 bicycles an hour at peak times, and with ‘no fear of favour’ they accept tandems, trailers, tricycles, mopeds and motorbikes.We have even crossed with a tandem, with U+2 attached, and they only charged us for one bike!

The DfT inquiry stated that the ferry would probably cease to run within two years of the opening of the LRT. Even with the promised ‘cycle shuttle’ the current number of cyclists would swamp the system. No British LRT carries bikes and even folding bikes are usually unwelcome.With the withdrawal of ALL cycling facilities, one wonders how this large number of cyclists will cross the harbour.The only option is a lengthy (18-mile) detour, much if which is on dual-carriageway.This withdrawal is a real insult to local cyclists.

David & Maggie Williams

The proposed South Hampshire Rapid Transit raises all kinds of issues. Firstly, we think the scope of the scheme is too limited.With equipment in place to tunnel under Portsmouth Harbour, the contractors might as well keep digging to Ryde on the Isle of Wight, thus bringing the SHRT trams to Shanklin, and revitalising the time-expired Island rail network! There’s also a good argument for taking the line further west, from Fareham to Southampton.

Much of SHRT1 will follow the former Fareham-Gosport railway. In the event of conflict, Sustrans has a policy that reinstating public transport should take precedence over cycle use, although one assumes that an equally direct route would generally be insisted upon.

The SHRT scheme is not dissimilar to the Bay Area Rapid Transit in California, a busy metro line that carries many bicycles under the harbour to San Francisco with a few sensible restrictions, but only folding bikes are allowed at peak hours. (Eds)

We asked for comments from South Hampshire Rapid Transit. According to Mike Gannon, Engineering Manager:

1.The public local inquiry did not come to the conclusion that the cross-harbour ferry would cease to run… In fact, the ferry company are confident they will be running a service for many years to come, which is evidenced by their recent investment in two new vessels. 2.The change to the existing cycle network is visual in nature.There will be no loss of amenity for cyclists [and] it is also intended that secure cycle parking facilities will be provided at all the stops along the segregated section of SHRT 1 route, and that where possible all stops will be linked into cycle path networks. 3.With the private sector, we are examining opportunities for light rail vehicles to carry cyclists. 4.The promoters are committed to the provision of sustainable transport services, and will endeavour that important links such as the Portsmouth Harbour crossing are maintained.

When Things go Wrong

Could I add a bit to the information supplied by In Brief, A to B 40? If a passenger is not satisfied with the reply they get from a Train Operating Company when they complain, they can get the Rail Passengers Committee to look into it, the RPC has frequently done this and secured better compensation for passengers, partly because the RPC has a statutory duty to act as the passengers’ champion and the TOCs can’t just ignore them.

Every station and train should display the address of the local RPC. It can also be found at

Colin Langdon
Member of the NorthWest RPC

Honda Magic

Looking at your latest review of an electric folder it appears you may be ‘blissfully’ unaware of the existence of the Honda Step Compo. I wasn’t aware it was available in the UK until I spotted it being sold on eBay by this company:

I have always dream’t of seeing a review of this bike in A to B. The rule is never to buy anything until you’ve read the review in A to B. However, the UK price is double that in Japan, so perhaps it is not a mainstream product. Still, the spec looks good on paper.

Jonathan Pattison

The Honda certainly looks a light and attractive machine. But we’d worry about range: despite a 12 – 18 mile claim, we think that in hilly Somerset the bike would be unlikely to exceed 11 miles, going on our experience, and the quoted battery capacity. (Eds)

Blissfully Unaware

Bliss Electric BikeAs a Bliss owner, I read your report on the Bliss electric bike (A to B 40) and do take in much of what was said.The problem is that people like Dahon and Brompton do not yet see the advantages of E-power, so they just don’t offer it. Meanwhile the Chinese are catching up – and will pass us – then we will have no choice but to buy from them.The bicycle market is going the same way as the motorbike market did in the past.

I am not ‘green’, but the fact is it’s quicker in town on a bike. Many others out there have bad backs or some other problem and an electric folding bike would be ideal.

Many people from 40+ have not been on a bike for years and can only remember the hard effort required to get from A to B (no pun intended). A little ‘electric assist’ takes away the first fears from the hard memories of 20+ years ago…

Perhaps it will change.Your last section in the report points the way forward, but as Brompton and others are on ‘a nice little earner’, I think your words will fall unfortunately on deaf ears.

I did a lot of work finding out about folding bikes before I got my Bliss and knew that the Brompton, Birdy and Dahon were the best in the field but fitting my own motor and electrics was a no-go area, so I dismissed them.

Peter Bruce

Conventional bicycle manufacturers, with the skills and techniques to build really good electric bikes, do seem to be ignoring the genre, leaving the field open to less knowledgeable manufacturers, resulting in some very dubious products. As Peter rightly says, electric bikes are perfect for bringing people back into the cycling world, but the products have to improve. (Eds)

Do It Yourself

In A to B 20 (October 2000), you featured a very interesting ‘home brewed’ electric bike package. I have access to an electric motor such as this and would like to have a go at converting my old Raleigh Tourist to electric power. I have access to machining services and would be hopeful of achieving a satisfactory result.

Tony Grayston

That machine was built by Steven Bissex and has apparently been quite a success.These days we’d recommend buying a cheap electric bike (see A to B 38) and cannibalising it.With motor, battery, charger and controls costing from £350, a home- brewed bike has never been easier. (Eds)

Recumbent or Trike?

Powabyke Trike

We know why she’s got a smile on her face. Electric trikes like the Powabyke can be great fun

Could you suggest a suitable bike for an elderly lady who lives in the country and wants an electric bicycle to get to the shops (and a bit of independence)? I’ve seen the EZB semi-recumbent advertised in your magazine and the electric version would seem to be suitable, as it’s nicely low-slung and looks stable. Have you tested it? I want her to be safe, but I don’t think she would go for the wheelchair look! Maybe a 3- wheel pedelec scooter would be better, if Irish road law allows!

Mike Hargaden

The electric version of the EZB has been delayed – always a bad sign. But we wonder whether the need to lift your weight up and forward when climbing off might be difficult for an older person. A tricycle makes a good compromise if traffic conditions allow. An electric-assist tricycle costs a lot less than an invalid machine, goes faster and carries more shopping, without the ‘invalid’ tag. Every active grandma should have one! Full list on our website: (Eds)

From New York…

I am looking for a folding bike for short rides to the train station and lunchtime rides in Central Park. Is there a big difference between more expensive Dahons such as the Helios SL ($800) and the Bike Friday Pocket Pilot Plus ($970)? I’m trying to figure out if it is worth the extra cost. I currently ride a Specialized Allez road bike on weekends.

Jonathan Chandler
New York, USA

The Helios SL is the ‘production’ version of Dahon’s ground-breaking Helios XX. On paper, the spec is similar, but the Dahon is a little cheaper in the US (much cheaper in the UK). A few years ago, a mass-produced Chinese product couldn’t begin to compete with a hand-made US machine, but the gap is closing rapidly. However, with a price differential of only $170, we’d probably go for the home-designed and built product, although we might judge otherwise in different markets. (Eds)

To Nottingham…

I am a cyclist who normally uses a racer but am going to buy a folding bike to use it locally on buses and our newly opened tram service. A shop here is selling a Phillips Parkway at about £230. It has three Sturmey Archer gears and appears to fold into a fairly small package (with bag). It is a little heavy at 13kg, but as I would not intend carrying it that far, it seems to fit my needs of being fairly cheap and useable.

Andrew Ludlow

We’ve been a bit suspicious of Raleigh’s Far Eastern ‘Phillips’ branded folders since a Raleigh rep told us he had never ridden one and had no intention of doing so – never trust a manufacturer that puts a secondary brand label on its folding bikes. However, Raleigh now sources folders from Yeah, and they’re basically older versions of the Dahon. So a Phillips bike is really a slightly out-of- date Dahon; a bit cheaper than the ‘real’ thing. But for regular use on trams and buses, you need to spend at least £400.Think Dahon Presto or Vitesse, or Brompton L-type. (Eds)

Auto is Miles Better

nexus-inter-4-auto-dIn a letter to your excellent publication (A to B 40), John Ramsey wrote that automatic transmissions for bicycles require sensitivity for speed and pedal force.While I agree this is true for sports cyclists, I feel that for commuting, sensitivity to speed alone works very well.

A couple of months ago, I bought a Moulton Automatic, a recent but short-lived APB model from Pashley, which I bought extremely cheaply as it had been discontinued. I was planning to convert the Nexus 4-speed Auto D transmission to manual use, but in practice I found the system to be marvellous for commuting. In particular while negotiating the complicated junctions on today’s roads, it is great to have freedom from gear changes, enabling right-hand signals to be made without interruption. And having the bottom gear engaged automatically at the lights is another of many small, but important conveniences.

The Auto D changes gear according to the speed of the bicycle. Even though my commuting is across hilly Brighton, I find the hills no problem with this transmission. When I ascend the hill, my speed drops and the bicycle selects a lower gear. I feel it would be good if A to B were to try the Auto D system, to see if you find it to be as great a boon for commuting as I have.

Patrick James

Shimano’s Nexus Inter-4 Auto-D.The latest three-speed is completely automatic – no batteries and no controls.The system integrates with the company’s automatic hub- powered lights

We did in fact try the Nexus Auto-D back in October 2001 on the Yamaha Easy electric bike. Although initially sceptical, we were pleasantly surprised by the system’s ease of use, particularly in traffic. Most town bikes would benefit from hub gears and automatic transmission of this kind. (Eds)

Puncture Protection

With regard to your article on tyres (A to B 40), I find that on the Milton Keynes Redway cycle network I get a puncture every six weeks when riding on unprotected (ie non-kevlar) tyres, whatever the size.

Now I put in tyre liners after the first puncture and replace the tyres with kevlar- belted examples when they wear out. I now get only one puncture a year. It seems that kevlar can be very effective, but only certain brands work – if it isn’t available in a particular size, I use tyre liners instead.

I’ve also tried ‘slime’.This works when the tyre is punctured, but if you leave the bike standing overnight (or outside the pub for an hour or two), the slime dribbles out and the tyre goes flat, so you wake up (or stagger from the pub) to find a flat tyre.

As flats are a real problem on commuter journeys (less so on tour), I will stick with liners and/or kevlar.

Martin le Voi
Milton Keynes

We were surprised that kevlar tyres did so badly in our survey and should point out (again) that results of this kind can be unscientific.The big disadvantage with liners is extra rolling resistance, which can be substantial, particularly on smaller tyres.Where time is money, or we need to keep an appointment with clean hands, we still rely on Tyreweld foam.This can repair and inflate the tyre in seconds, although it’s relatively expensive and it doesn’t always work. A good second line of defence is to carry a spare tube – particularly useful for a child trailer (or a bicycle with monoblade forks) where tube removal takes only a few seconds. (Eds)

Provincial Thinking

I hear that Eurotunnel has posted substantial losses this year. I remember that when the Channel Tunnel was first discussed, passenger services (including sleepers) would be available countrywide, feeding into the Tunnel and across to the continent. Sleeper trains were built and drivers trained at considerable expense, but since then, all quiet.The sleepers were sold off to Canada at a considerable loss and I didn’t hear any more about the drivers, although I remember meeting one in a restaurant car in Scotland.

Will we ever see national services? We have enjoyed using the Tunnel on several occasions, sometimes by car to access Motorail services on the Continent. But if reasonably- priced motorail services were available from the North of England we would beat a path to their door.What prevents this? Are there some restrictive practices going on?

Dr Dennis Parker

For readers unfamiliar with the tunnel saga, Eurotunnel is the heavily indebted private company that built the tunnel for its own car and lorry carrying shuttles, and provided paths for long-distance rail freight and passenger services. Passenger trains run only from London to Brussels, Paris and a handful of other destinations, and are operated by Eurostar, formerly a subsidiary of state-owned French, Belgian and British Railways. Following UK rail privatisation, the British arm changed hands several times, and is now a complex animal, owned principally by the French company, so effectively part-owned by the French state.

The through provincial rail services on the British side were also a victim of privatisation, the trains being built just as British Rail was dismembered. Although the state operator was preparing to run services to Europe from all over Britain, the private operators – demonstrating their usual flair – abandoned the project, and the vast sums put into the scheme were quietly written off.

Despite Eurotunnel’s problems, Eurostar is doing very well.The company has a 66% market share of London to Paris business, with total passenger figures of 6.3 million in 2003, and a prediction of over 8 million in 2004. Meanwhile, major political change might put provincial trains (and indeed motorail) back on the agenda, but don’t hold your breath. Recent shareholder turmoil at Eurotunnel is unlikely to affect Eurostar rail services through the tunnel. (Eds)

Shoulder Strap?

I read with interest the 2004 Brompton feature in A to B 40.The new carrier frame will make a worthwhile reduction in the overall weight of the Brompton plus luggage.

For some years I’ve been hoping that someone would design or modify a medium-sized monostrap backpack which could be latched to the Brompton luggage block and worn comfortably on the back when carrying the folded bicycle. Such a pack would compliment the Brompton panniers and be ideal for urban commuters.

Jack Anderson

Brompton has been quietly producing a pannier shoulder strap for some time.This works with the old or new frame, and (amongst many other things) solves the old Brompton conundrum of carrying bike, bag and cup of tea when running for the train.The strap costs about £8. (Eds)

Which Sprocket?

What is the largest rear sprocket that will fit on to the Sprinter hub on my Brompton T5? The limitation seems to be that an excessively large one would hit the rear of the horizontal frame tube. Presently I have a 13-tooth sprocket on the back and a 44-tooth at the front. My aim is to reduce the overall gearing of my Brompton for a reasonable cost.

Steve Watkin
Orpington, Kent

Your ‘pre-SRAM’ chain tensioner only gives clearance for the standard 13- or 14-tooth sprockets, but you can fit the newer tensioner designed for the SRAM 3-speed, which will accommodate a 15- tooth sprocket. Some say a 16-tooth can just be squeezed in, although Brompton doesn’t recommend this.With a SRAM hub, a 17-tooth fits easily, and an 18-tooth after some gentle frame bending… Incidentally, the 12-tooth sprocket on our experimental Brompton T6 with 12/18-tooth set-up has finally expired after some 3,000 miles. Bottom gear is 29″ and top 82″. (Eds)

Oil Shock

A few emails have been arriving in my mailbox relating to my ‘Letter From America’ article in A to B 40. More and more information is reaching the reading public about the world oil situation, and concern is rising rapidly.

For those who wish to know more, I recommend two books coming to market: Out of Gas:The End of the Age of Oil by David Goodstein, and The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous World by Paul Roberts. Both of these authors are well-qualified to write on this subject, and A to B readers will find their views interesting, if not reassuring.

Martin Snelus []
Torrance, California, USA

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

Serious, witty, irreverent, informative, invaluable . Informative and fun . Lively, anarchic Good fun and unique information . Should be force-fed to transport politiciansConstantly dug out and re-read . Good common sense answers to daily problems . Good practical advice covering subjects other cycle magazines don’t cover . Like the mix – especially the politics! The mix of topics is right for me . Like the technical bits – especially hub gears I particularly like the articles on electric bikes and kits . More back to back tests! More titanium topics for nerds . More on self-made folders please . More on top-end folders Could do more on rail coverage – ie, Rail Rovers . Any chance of an article on ways to modify the Brompton to reduce wrist strain? Like the travel articles . Please test some folders with derailleur gears .Thanks for being you


Letters A to B 40 – Lights . Pavements . SolarTracker . Statistics . Trikes

Statistics & Damn Statistics

I would like to throw a little light on the understandable confusion regarding the DfT’s cycling statistics that you discussed in the December issue (Mole, A to B 39).The recent change from showing a decline to a rise in cycle use, as I understand it, is related to the emphasis put by Government statisticians on trunk roads.With the tremendous rise in traffic over the last few decades it’s not surprising that cyclists have been forced away from congested trunk roads onto smaller roads.This didn’t mean that there were fewer cyclists, just that there were fewer using trunk roads.The recent change has come about by the statisticians being convinced of this displacement and a change in the emphasis between data sets.

The optimism that Sustrans has relates to our own statistics gathered on the National Cycle Network.The biggest rise here (around 18% last year) comes on the traffic-free sections. Sustrans has been trying to convince the DfT that such cycle journeys should be included in the national figures, but we have not yet won that argument, so the national statistics still fail to include trips made on dedicated cycle routes.This is a shame for several reasons, and the issue of funding you raise is potentially significant. It also means that the increase in cycling that we are witnessing on traffic-free routes is not adding to Government figures, which one would have thought would be in its own interest, and that the more cycling is transferred to such routes (though I would emphasise that a lot is actually new and inexperienced cyclists) the less the rise in cycling is officially recognised.

Kevin Saunders
Senior Press Officer
Sustrans, Bristol

That’s a very polite way of saying the DfT is concerned that cycling might be mistaken for a serious mode of transport and thus attract funding from road construction. Suspicious folk that we are, we tend to assume that Sustrans’ figures relate mainly to car-born leisure cyclists, but ridership surveys do not seem to reflect this. According to Sustrans, 41% of cyclists on their routes are there for ‘utility’ purposes and 35% are making a car-replacement journey. Only 13% used a car to access the Network. (Eds)

Double Your Lumens

With reference to the article on the Lightspin dynamo (A to B 39), I have been running two x 2.6w Lumotec Oval lamps from a Lightspin dynamo.Two lamps seem to work better on a trike – one mounted on each kingpin and illuminating immediately ahead of each wheel. They also turn around corners like a handlebar-mounted lamp, which helps on twisty lanes.

I checked with Werner Stettler of Lightspin, and he said that the dynamo would cope, but to please limit the top speed to 30mph to avoid overcooking the electronics. I left the lights running all year because, as you say, the resistance is minimal. Never had a bulb blow.

Rob Hague
Westcountry Recumbents

A great solution if you want really powerful lights with minimal rolling resistance. And according to Simon Korn, the Brompton importer for the Netherlands, the Lightspin can supply a single four, or even five watt bulb, although as far as we know, these sizes are not available in the UK. However, Simon tells us the Lightspin will not reliably supply these higher outputs when driven from a small tyre. Something to do with the curvature of the sidewall apparently…(Eds)

Vicious Criminals


Which route would you take during the rush-hour? The A16 near West Deeping

I thought I had better write to you and inform you of a vicious crime that took place today. My wife and her friend both cycled to work today, on the footpath. A policeman quite rightly stopped his van to tell them to cycle on the road.The fact that they were on the path  alongside the A16 between Market Deeping and West Deeping is no excuse for their behaviour.They should have been on the road, risking death and not endangering the (non-existent) pedestrians.

It is nice to know that crime in this area is so low that the police have nothing better to do. In fact the crime rate is so low, the policeman had time to drive back again just to make sure they were still on the road. I mean we can’t have cyclists being safe can we?

We contacted the local highways authority to check the actual status of the path and they couldn’t believe the story.The A16 (a designated Red Route) is not a road you cycle on at 9am unless you are a) stupid, b) desperate or c) bloody minded.

Paul Foster

When the law punishes innocent people like this and – quite frankly – puts ordinary respectable citizens in fear of their lives, it comes into disrepute.We would have no hesitation in cycling along this lonely rural footpath and would ignore any police request to rejoin the A16. (Eds).

Bikes by Air

There’s no point in taking the ‘legalistic’ approach when carrying a folder by air (pages 8 and 11, A to B 38).This will head straight for conflict and you will loose! The airline can charge you a kilo rate of 1% of the First Class fare. I was quoted £350 for a single flight from Singapore to Heathrow with a 30lb ‘cumbersome’ bicycle.

Arrive early and choose your check-in desk carefully. Male personnel are less prone to histrionics [! Eds], more prepared to bend the rules, etc.With a folder, just make sure that it is packed so that, if a weight is placed on top of it, the parts that graunch together are protected. Properly covered in a bag, I have never experienced a problem.

Cumbersomes or recumbents are ‘oversize’ and ‘fragile’ items. All the airlines have a system for this, which usually involves hand-carrying (i.e. pushing) to the aircraft. Do not deflate the tyres, merely making them soft is enough.The reason is to make the cycle more stable – nothing to do with exploding at altitude. Sometimes you will be required to removed the pedals, or turn the handlebar, but packing is self-defeating. In a naked state, special care is ensured. Many airlines carry ‘sports equipment’ such as cycles, surf boards, diving gear etc for free, subject to space, but you must declared it in advance.

If travelling to or via the USA, you now have a baggage allowance of two items each weighing 32kg. And if you’re flying Business or First Class, the interpretation of the baggage limits will be very flexible. But since 9/11 you will have to clear your cycle through U.S. Customs and then personally take it to any connecting flight… quite a task!

Finally, since 9/11, quite lowly mortals working at the check-in have assumed God-like powers, which can go as far as not allowing a person on a flight. A calm, non-confrontational approach is best, and if possible, arrange things in advance by email, and carry written proof.

John Prince

No Trikes Please

Di Blasi Trike

The Di Blasi folding trike - not for bridleways

In the conclusion to your review of the Pedicab (A to B 39) you say ‘…even the Lynch-powered machine is legally a pedal tricycle… so it can go anywhere a bicycle can go’.This is incorrect – it cannot legally be used on public bridleways, where bicycles can go. Cycling on bridleways was legalised by the Countryside Act 1968, an Act which specifically permits the use of bicycles. But unlike all other highway legislation, which says that ‘bicycles, tricycles and pedal cycles with four or more wheels’ are carriages under the law, the Countryside Act only allows two-wheeled cycles on public bridleways.

Di Blasi Trike

I have had a bee in my bonnet ever since I bought a Longstaff tricycle, and have been more concerned since Sustrans started designing its network on the assumption that bridleways could play a useful role. Unfortunately, those who cycle on three wheels, (whether through choice or  to cater for a disability), now have to avoid certain sections of the National Cycle Network, because Sustrans didn’t negotiate with the landowners for permissive cycling rights for three-wheelers on the bridleway sections. Sustrans knows of this problem, but does not consider it worth addressing.

I appreciate that one has to be a bit of a nerd to know these legal details, but as an enthusiastic reader of A to B, (including the nerdiest bits), I wanted to draw your attention to your error, so that multi-wheeled cyclists do not accidentally trespass on bridleways.

As a footnote, you may notice that the definition of a cycle does not include unicycles. As a result of this legal definition, single-wheeled cycles do not count as ‘carriages’ (or vehicles in modern terms), and so are not caught by any highways legislation on vehicle use. So feel free to use your unicycle the wrong way up one-way streets, ignore all traffic signs, ride at night without lights, etc. Perhaps A to B should review a unicycle – small in volume, and easy to take onto a bus or train? I regret to say that I neither own one, nor possess the skill to ride one.

Graham Lansdell

We’re often asked for folding trikes, of which the Di Blasi is a rare example.We don’t think much of their bikes, but the trike looks rather neat. At 21kg (46lb), it isn’t light, but the claimed folded size is 113 litres (3.9cu ft) – smaller than most bicycles. Concept Edge, tel: 0208 9925352 (Eds)

Our Greatest Joy

Thank you for another brilliant magazine – every article was fascinating! Regarding electric bikes (Editorial, A to B 39), it may only be because we live on an in-village section of Sustrans Route 6, but we’ve seen half a dozen electric bikes in our small village alone (plus one that is used to get to work).

A few weeks ago I was cycling Lincolnshire’s quiet country lanes without any difficulty (albeit on an AnthroTech recumbent trike), yet today I’m having difficulty even walking, due to arthritis of one kind or another.This makes me so worried that at some point I won’t be able to cycle any more, giving another good reason for you to keep telling us all about the benefits of electrically-assisted bikes, trikes and load-carriers.

We none of us know what may hit us quite suddenly and possibly take away our greatest joy in life. So please do keep giving us something positive to think about, rather than old age and increasing disability.WE certainly appreciate it, and who knows how many of us will need some assistance in the future!

Brenda Swain
Mansfield, Nottinghamshire

Electric Bike V Hatchback

Your defence of electric bikes (Editorial,A to B 39) is strongly supported by my own experiences. Due to advancing age and living in a hilly area, I had reduced my utility cycling to ‘ideal’ conditions only, with a resulting loss of fitness and increased car use. But I was missing cycling, and I finally overcame my feeling that electric-assist might be considered cheating.

I found A to B a ready source of information and purchased a Giant Lafree Lite.The effective mudguards and occasional use of the electric-assist meant that inclement weather, headwinds and shopping loads no longer put me off, leading to a marked increase in cycling and fitness.The Lafree also made it possible to use a large cycle trailer for the recycling run and the ‘large waste’ disposal I’d been carrying out for 54 working neighbours since retirement.This was formerly done with my hatchback!

The trailer has completely replaced these car journeys, even where hills are involved, and in the first four months the car has covered just 79 miles, whilst the bike has done 1,135 miles, making the car virtually redundant.

Would those who oppose electric-assist cycling wish to deny me your advice, and prefer me to do that 3,000 miles a year in my car instead?

Tony Flecchia

Escaping Balls

I have just returned after spending two months with my Brompton in Tournon-sur-Rhone, France. It was nice to be there, but not such a nice trip. Just as I was leaving Valence Ville, my folding left-hand pedal dropped off on the road, when all the ball bearings escaped! This took place at 18.10 hours. I photographed the pedal at 18.16 and still managed to get to the station a mile away, and catch the 18.38 train!

I would like to know what you consider to be the best folding pedal? I need one because the bike is awkward to carry on public transport with a pedal sticking out.

Dianna Hamilton

You won’t find another folding pedal that combines the lightness, ease of use and compactness of the Brompton design. Some people get through them at quite a rate, but we’ve never broken or replaced one in some 30,000 Brompton miles (admittedly spread over four bikes and pedals). When the bearing gets a bit loose, start injecting oil at regular intervals.When it gets very loose, pick up a rebuilt exchange pedal from a Brompton dealer before something goes wrong. (Eds)

Not the Best

solartracker-electric-bikeMy wife owns a SolarTracker SLB electric bike – a special model with 20-inch wheels introduced for riders of smaller stature. She’s a volunteer helper at Age Concern and once, sometimes twice, a week, is a DJ/night leader for hospital radio in King’s Lynn, which necessitates riding home very late at night. She does the twenty-mile round trip into King’s Lynn several times a week and at first was delighted with the bike, but now we’re not so pleased.

When the bike experienced problems in the first year, she was charged labour and for replacement parts. On Day One the cones, cups and balls in the front wheel were damaged, and within eleven months the rear tyre was – quite literally – worn down to the canvas, but only on one side…The dealer fitted a new £20 tyre and claimed the unusual wear was due to road camber! The battery connection system was abysmal – a brass pillar protruding through the bottom of the battery box, making contact through the weight of the batteries! The arcing as the batteries bounced up and down was burning the contacts away.

Soon after, one of the batteries failed. A replacement set would have cost £140, but I found a cheaper source of larger batteries at Screwfix [].This increased the range, enabling her to visit her mother 27 miles away, recharge there and return home.

The machine is too low-geared to realistically pedal-assist, but it’s too heavy to pedal now anyway. My wife recently arrived home exhausted because the batteries had failed, due to water getting into the battery box. No sooner had I sorted this than the new rear tyre had worn out even faster than the first. My wife has now done nearly 4,000 miles.

Joseph Hemmings
Watlington, Norfolk

We’ve been a bit suspicious of the SolarTracker since the importers refused to let us test one, although we did manage to borrow a bike for a morning (see A to B 21).There are lots of similar machines – most are adequate for light use, but if you expect to ride any distance, you really have to spend a little more. In our experience, the Heinzmann, Giant Lafree and (arguably) Powabyke Commuter are the best options for more serious use. (Eds)

Minifold Mystery

minifold-folding-bikeI’ve recently come across a ‘Minifold’ bike. It measures little more than 36 inches in length, has a cast aluminium frame, and tyres and wheels from a Raleigh kids bike circa 1960. I suspect this is an expensive and sophisticated prototype – the wheelbase is too short, and the ride terrible. I think it has a Swindon connection, possibly from the Vickers aircraft factory. If anyone has any information, could they please contact me at Cyclecare Purton.

minifold-folding-bikeTim Whitty, Cyclecare

Auto Boxes


The Hagen Variable-diameter Chainwheel - similar to the Deal Drive

I was interested to read Michael Bartlett’s letter about the Azip bike with its automatic transmission (A to B 39). I logged on to an American cycling website a few years ago and the contributors were quite scathing about the Azip, ‘…a $200 bike for $400’. As for the automatic gears, they work by centrifugal force causing weights on the rear spokes to travel outwards, this being linked to the derailleur mechanism.Thus, the gear ratio is determined by speed alone. As one person on the site said, ‘Great for cyclists from Florida rest homes’.

Generally speaking, bike autotrannies need to be sensitive to both speed and throttle opening, ie pedal force. It can be done! On Tomorrow’s World a few years ago, there was a device that worked on the chainwheel, composed of a lot of little sprockets on spring-loaded arms, such that they were pulled inwards under chain tension, thus effectively reducing the radius of the chainwheel. Now, with this on the chainwheel and an Azip arrangement on the back, we might have a worthwhile arrangement.

My other half, who isn’t a keen cyclist, has a bike called a ‘Real Breeze’ with a more sophisticated Shimano auto system, linked to a computer-type speed sensor on the rear wheel and powered by a lithium battery changing a hub gear via a solenoid. Unfortunately the Florida principle applies to this, too – don’t even look at a hill, unless you want to override the auto. In which case, why bother…

John Ramsey

All very true. Shimano has recently introduced a 3-speed automatic with some degree of tuneability and a power feed from the hub dynamo, but still no torque sensor.The chainring device sounds like the Deal Drive, developed by Michael Deal of Bath University a few years ago.We thought this was a great idea, but it doesn’t seem to have gone any further. (Eds)

Shorter = Faster

With regard to the Zero folding bike test (A to B 39), if you had told me a few years ago that 150mm cranks were for children, I would have agreed entirely. Now I would have to disagree. It started with some German recumbent builders putting on short cranks (down to 110mm) as a way of reducing the size of the fairings, to improve the aerodynamics, but they discovered that they were going, if anything, better with the short cranks, even on their training bikes without fairings.

This has caught on in the recumbent world, and I now run 150mm on all my bikes. It is better for your knees, lighter, and the higher RPM is easier on the transmission, and your heart and lungs.You should also get more power when going flat out. Small really is beautiful!

Mike Burrows

We were amazed by this revelation, because (certainly if you have longer legs) standard cranks can feel on the short side, suggesting that longer ones might give more power. Even if you are not looking for maximum performance, it’s worth noting that shorter cranks and a higher cadence (spin rate) might help to alleviate knee damage. Any more observations received with interest. (Eds)

Zinc-Air or Magnesium-Air?


The Magpower cell. The magnesium plates can be seen protruding from the top. The breathable membrane on the surface is kept saturated with salt water from a reservoir in the base.

Recently I stumbled upon a web site showing an electric bicycle powered by a zinc-air fuel cell [see].The company claims a range of up to 200km (120 miles), with a recharge time of five minutes. And zinc is environmentally benign compared to some of the other substances that power electric bikes.

Assuming this isn’t vaporware, could this be the Holy Grail we e-bike enthusiasts have been waiting for? Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find much information on cost, nor about how one goes about ‘re-charging’ the fuel cell exactly. Long live A2B!

Steve Wirzylo
Toledo, Ohio, USA

This is not quite as practical as it sounds. Apparently zinc-air cells are difficult (but not impossible) to recharge, so this system uses a replaceable battery cassette that gets shipped back to the works and rebuilt. Hence the five minute recharge claim – a bit cheeky that one! You can imagine that the energy required to post the heavy battery back, rebuild it and post it out again must far exceed the energy content of the thing.

We think the magnesium/air fuel cell shows more promise – you put in salt water and magnesium plates, which gradually dissolve, producing electricity and milk of magnesia, which can be safely disposed of. Apparently, the reaction usually produces hydrogen too, but this rather unnerving tendency has been suppressed.To recharge, you just slot in new magnesium plates every now and again – a genuine five minute affair.We’ve been trying to persuade the Canadian manufacturers, Magpower, to let us do Land’s End – John O’ Groats with one of these – so far without success. For details, tel: +1 604 940 3232 (Eds)

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

Inspiring . Brilliant . Informative, humourous magazine . Only a large premium bond win affords such pleasure . As much fun as riding a bike… well almost . Fun, lively, informative Interesting, informative, witty . I especially enjoy folding bikes and technical matters Especially like info on trailers and how to make the most of our public transport fiasco . Love the pro-public transport stance . Balance of articles is about right . More on accessories, racks, lights, brakes, pedals and clothing . More on the latest battery developments please Too many [sic] electric rubbish and too political, Iraq etc . Excellent, but don’t go too electric please . Please do another test of load-carrying trailers . Glad you appear to have given up the word ‘cumbersome’ [conventional diamond-frame bike] . More off-road and folding hybrids . I’m 74, and find the shiny cover tends to slip off onto the floor when I drop off

Letters – A to B 38 – Brompton . Ezee Forza . Ryanair . Solar power . Swing arms

Wretched Ryanair

Concerning ‘Airport Folders’ (Letters, A to B 36), I have seen handlers (literally) throwing bikes onto a trailer at Heathrow. Moreover, as the baggage carousels get larger, so even 700C wheeled bikes must take their chances with the hard cases. I am lucky enough to find myself in lovely places (usually for work) and take my Brompton for weekend use when work is over.This year: Lisbon, Paris, Bordeaux, Stockholm,Vienna, Rheims and Rotterdam.

The Brompton (with riding clothes, shoes, helmet and tools) fits into a large Samsonite case.The case is now black as well as the original blue but the bike remains intact.Total weight is slightly over the 20kg allowed by most airlines, but I’ve had no surcharge so far. However, wretched Ryanair has now cut the allowance to 15kg. So for the (Bergerac) Bordeaux and Skavsta (Stockholm) routes, I used the Carradice Brompton bag padded with a Karrimat – a total weight of only 15.7kg with clothes and tools. Ryanair threatened penal surcharges for excess, but I was not charged.

With hand luggage, what really counts are the terms of the carrier and not the recommendations of the International Air Travellers Association. Conditions are available on demand and the law says that travellers cannot plead ignorance.Take the three carriers I have flown with this year:

British Airways 6kg 55cm x 40cm x 20cm
Easyjet 5kg 45cm x 35cm x 20cm
Ryanair 7kg 50cm x 35cm x 23cm

None checked the size, and curiously, the only one to check the weight (at Bergerac – not busy, so perhaps nothing better to do) was Ryanair, the most generous. Only today I read that the Office of Fair Trading has compelled a number of carriers to keep their terms in line with those recommended by the IATA.

Malcolm Clarke

Pilots Pay Too…

I am an avid reader of A to B and thoroughly enjoy it even though I am a pilot with Ryanair and I guess part of the ‘fuel burning population’. In the course of my employment I fly 900 hours a year and thus burn about 900 x 2,200kg of aviation kerosene (1,980 tonnes) but I do move a lot of people around for not too much money! Fortunately the CFM56 engines on the 737-800 are amongst the most efficient and least polluting engines in the world at the moment, so at least that is something!

To make up for this I rarely drive, apart from the trip to work (hard to cycle 18 miles in a full pilot’s uniform and arrive in a fit state!), but I do a lot of riding around my local area on my two bikes, a Brompton L6 and Specialized MTB.The Brompton goes with me on longer trips and fits perfectly in the largest Delsey rigid suitcase, along with my clothes and other bits and pieces. (If anyone wants the details, it is a Delsey Model 90179 AT costing about £80, and one would swear that has been designed perfectly for the job.

I am new with this airline and as yet have not carried the Brommie with them, but as a Ryanair pilot I have no more rights than the customers, and I am aware of the rigid baggage policy, as I have had to fork out large amounts for baggage when using them to position for flights for my previous company. I guess that is the downside of cheap fares!

Name & Address supplied


Burrow's KnightsbridgeMr Martin (Letters, A to B 37) might like the look of the Knightsbridge, even though the arm doesn’t swing: I still favour simplicity and light weight. It was designed for AVD, manufacturer’s of the Windcheetah, but I may make one or two myself.

Mike Burrows

Ooh, lovely! Should anyone lust after a simple, light, yet highly effective folding bike, Mr Burrows has just the thing.That chain-guard really does double as a rear frame member – not swinging, but a light and innovative solution.Tel: 01603 721700. [Eds]

Some Dual Swing Arms…


Giant Revive

In A to B 36 it was suggested that a chain might be hidden in the swing-arm of a cycle, the Riese & Müller Avenue seems to fulfil this brief. Hope to see a road test.

Jeff Baker
Tattershall Thorpe, Lincs


R & M Equinox

After reading Hugh Martin’s letter about hollow swing arm drives on bicycles, I do know of one. Riese & Müller produce a bike called the Equinox, which has a chain running right through the suspension swing arm and even an enclosed chainring guard. Incidentally, I think Giant’s Revive EZB may have one too, on its high specification model, if it makes it to production. It does seem like a great design for a clean, efficient chain drive. Maybe you could review one or other of these bikes?

Andrew Sutcliffe

The Avenue has a conventional chain line as far as we know. Both the Revive LX and Equinox run the chain through a frame member – a halfway house to a one-piece monoblade chainguard/rear frame assembly.The EZB project seems to be progressing rather slowly (see News), which sounds a bit suspicious, but we understand that the first bikes will arrive in 2004. [Eds]

Go Anglia!

Regarding your comment (Letters, A to B 36) that British railway companies will not sell you a ticket to Amsterdam, Anglia will, from any of its stations (and possibly others) to Amsterdam and elsewhere, and at a discount. For bookings, call 08700 409090. Incidentally, I would advise readers to urge the SRA to accept Anglia’s bid for the new ‘Greater Anglia’ franchise, or we could end up with some jumped-up bus company running our trains.

I agree that so called ‘travel agents’ are little more than flight and car hire agents, but I don’t think getting SNCF to run British trains will help.We recently went by train to Gstaad, Switzerland via London/Paris/Montreux, and Raileurope was unable to deal with the Swiss end, referring us to Swiss National Railways.We finally booked with Trainseurope (see, a company based in March, Cambridgeshire.The tickets didn’t arrive particularly quickly, but we had a completely hassle-free journey, despite the TGV arriving in London 30 minutes late.The Anglia service was on time as usual.

Richard Bearman

Anglia, like Chiltern, was franchised to railway managers who, by and large, seem to have run a model franchise, despite abolishing SuperSaver fares. Bicycle provision is probably unequalled. Another excellent suggestion for worldwide rail bookings is the travel agency arm of the Ffestiniog Railway, which has been doing this sort of thing since 1836.The staff are both helpful and knowledgeable: Email: Tel: 01766 516010. [Eds]

Bike Space Reductions

Re: Letters, A to B 37. Our new trains currently being built for the fast main line services between London and Portsmouth will have spaces for six cycles and two wheelchair seats. The new trains that will provide the local stopping services will only have space for two cycles and one if a disabled passenger is carried.

The new trains will cover all routes currently operated by slam-door trains, and will start to be introduced in the next few months. It is hoped to have all in service by the end of 2004.The current Wessex electrics will provide the core services on the Weymouth line.

Simon Brown
Customer Relations Officer, South West Trains

Oh, No it Won’t…

Having spoken at length to the manufacturers of the Ezee Forza bike (A to B 36), I feel it is only fair to point out that you have been slightly misled! The bike you tested, with the excellent lightweight nickel-metal hydride battery, couldn’t be retailed at £650 in the UK, although the cheaper sealed lead-acid battery version probably could.

The NiMH battery and full spec as tested, would add £200-£250 to the price quoted, which of course puts a very different perspective on your review, especially in reference to the ‘end of the line dinosaur’ Powabyke range! In fact, the retail price of the Forza would be more than our 24-speed Commuter – a considerable price hike for a few kg?

We are in the middle of finishing two prototypes at the moment, including an NiMH option for all Powabykes. I think you will appreciate the weight advantage.

Nick Child
Managing Director, Powabyke

We look forward to a new Powabyke battery with great interest. Ezee is not to blame for our rather optimistic price estimate.The company gave us a raw trade price and we added a reasonable margin for a dealer selling direct to the public.We did, however, forget to factor in VAT at 17.5%, which would bring the price up to £760-£820.We still think a direct mail-order outlet could sell the bike for this, but via a dealer network, the price would be closer to £900 or £1,000.The prospects for the Forza certainly do become a bit stickier at this level. [Eds]

It Happened in a Trice

Regarding the KMX review in A to B 36, a major and not too obvious drawback of tricycle recumbents is the nasty injuries that can occur when the rider’s feet slip from the pedals, catch on the road surface and are dragged under the frame cross members.The rider’s knees and feet act as brakes and he/she may be thrown onto the chainset with rather unfortunate results.This happened to me once at around 17mph, or was it 17:00 hours?

Anyway I suffered a hole in my big toe you could put a pencil in, which took months to heal properly, a few broken and dislocated ribs and rather gory grazing of hands and knees. I’m not blaming anyone, but I think I should have been informed of this possibility when I bought the Trice. I have spoken to a couple of tricycle recumbent owners who have experienced similar things, but it’s possible the lower ground clearance of the KMX may help in avoiding such a mishap. Recumbent trikes are tremendous fun but should probably be used with toeclips or ‘clip in’ pedal systems – just in case.

Thanks for an interesting, witty and informative magazine. I too like the flying lady and would also like to express my fondness for the general A to B ethos.What puzzles me is how the other magazines manage to get it so wrong? I think perhaps I’m suffering from plaudit overkill… arrrrrgh… (Crashes to the ground clutching copy of A to B).

Ronald Arthur Dewhirst

Sometimes we walk a tightrope between excessive ‘nanny-state’ scare-mongering and providing legitimate safety information.When testing the KMX, we made a few (very) low speed experiments and decided that a misplaced foot probably wouldn’t get drawn under the machine, but the truth is we don’t know. If in doubt, SPD-style clipped pedals would make a wise purchase. [Eds]

Solar Down Under…

solar-trike-greenspeedYou might be interested to know that solar panels certainly do work on a trike, at least in Australia.We built a machine with two lightweight 30 watt panels, set up on the rear, so that they could be pivoted to catch the sun as you were riding along.We used a Heinzmann motor and four 12 volt batteries. I found I only needed the 270 watt motor for about 20% of the time, when climbing hills at less than 20kph (13mph).This seemed like the most efficient way of using the extra energy.

On a 40km round trip over rolling hills, average speed increased from 19kph to 26kph with the solar assistance. I also found that however far I went, I never managed to flatten the batteries, so it seemed to have an infinite range with the solar panels on the trike.

One of the nicest things was that one no longer needed low gears, as you can see by the size of the chain ring.The smaller ring was never used.The all up weight was 30kg, and I found that the extra weight seemed to make no difference on the level, but it was definitely faster downhill!

Ian Sims, Greenspeed Recumbent Trikes
Ferntree Gully, Australia

We’re convinced that a lightweight electric-assist recumbent trike has a great future. [Eds]

Practice Makes Perfect

We were at Tandem 2003 last week; a week-long rally of several hundred tandemists, including a few machines fitted with S+S frame couplings, as advertised by St John Street Cycles (see back pages).We never saw them uncoupled, as the tandems all arrived and departed as complete machines on top of large cars.

This led us to wonder – are the couplings any good? At the sort of price shown in the adverts, they ought to be, so why are the machines’ owners not putting their cycles in the boots of smaller cars, or even taking them as luggage on trains? I think we were the only cycle-camping participants at the event who didn’t arrive by motor. Have you ever reviewed S+S couplings in A to B?

Further to your experiences of disorganisation at the CTC’s Birthday Tea (Mole, A to B 37), we can let you into a secret.They can achieve such levels of disorganisation only because they have had so many years of practice! One or other of us have attended about a dozen Birthday Rides events over the past two decades, and each one has featured 5th August birthday tea chaos.We now always take our own food and drink!

Cathy Melia and Graham Lansdell

We touched briefly on S+S couplings some years ago. It’s a great idea, but expensive, and folding can involve a lot of fiddling with cable connectors.Very few companies are licensed to fit the couplings – the two primary ones in the UK being St John Street Cycles (tel: 01278 441538) and Kinetics (tel: 0141 942 2552). It’s disappointing to hear that people are basically too lazy to split their tandems for carriage, but not particularly surprising. [Eds]

CDs, PDFs and Other Animals…

Having just searched through my back numbers of A to B, I thought ‘If only it was on a CD’. Many magazines now put back numbers on Compact Disc.What chance for A to B?

Ken Smith

A CD looks unlikely for the time being.We’re highly suspicious of PDF, HTML, and other esoteric files and generally happy with the printed word.We also keep and sell a lot of back-numbers. One thing we really must do is to put a comprehensive master list of articles on our web site. (Eds)

Off the Rails

Re: Mail on Rail, A to B 37.The closure of city centre sorting offices brings further costs, mostly palmed off on Royal Mail staff who now need to run cars to get to and from the ‘remote’ sorting centres. I’d estimate that in some cities 80-90% of the traffic around 5am is generated by Royal Mail.The other issue is hazard – I’ve seen a motorway crash where a Royal Mail articulated lorry ended up on its side across all three lanes.

Dave Holladay

Unobtainable Stand

The mention and photo of the Esge stand (A to B 37, page 28) got me excited – I have been trying to get one for seven years.They’re not to be had in Hereford though. One retailer thought Esge had folded? Another thought Raleigh sold one, but the current catalogue only includes something that looks like a tuning fork that would be less stable. Help!

Ian Taylor

As with most specialist parts, you need to find a specialist shop. Ours came from Avon Valley Cyclery of Bath, but most of the shops advertising in A to B should stock this sort of item. If they don’t, tell them they should! [Eds]

Nasty Moment…

I too used to have an Esge stand (2,000 miles on a Lafree, A to B 37) fitted to the Pino I ride with my disabled daughter. After a trip to York a few years ago we returned to collect our car which had been parked at Kings Cross Station. I wheeled the bike, with my daughter on board, off the platform and out to the car park. As I put the stand down there was a ‘Ping’ and one leg of the stand fell onto the floor. It was lucky I was still holding the handlebars or my daughter would have been on the floor too. So don’t put too much trust in yours when loading children into a rear seat. Before this incident I too had been very impressed with the Esge stand. I have since fitted the stand made by Häse and find it superbly designed for the purpose.

I recently fitted a Heinzmann 200 watt motor into the front wheel of my Pino so that I could keep up with everyone at the Company of Cyclist’s Week in the Cotswolds. My daughter doesn’t pedal at all and weighs about ten stone, so I tend to lag behind on the hills. But the Heinzmann made such a difference. Not only could I keep up, I even managed to give a boost to some of the trikes. I couldn’t tell you what kind of mileage we did, because I found the electronics upset my cordless computer readings. (I’ll have to fit my old one back on!) I even took the charger on one day and persuaded the park rangers at Cotswold Water Park to let me recharge during the lunch stop. By measuring the route for that day on the map it seemed to be about 17-18 miles each way, plus some vicious climbs.

Mike Armitage

The Esge is more stable than a traditional stand, but it isn’t necessarily stronger, so it’s best not to ask too much of the legs, which aren’t really designed to stand the weight of a large child. A good tip when putting a child in is to assume the bike will fall over.That way, if it does, you’re ready to whisk the child to safety. Bicycles are dispensable… [Eds]

Over to you Brommie!


Our child seat conversion. Clearance is tight, but it works well, even with a four-year- old on board

I have a new Brompton and I am getting on fine with it, but would like to fit a child seat. Cycle Heaven of York wasn’t too keen to provide much advice, presumably being concerned about liability. I bought a seat from Index and it fitted fine – not bad for £25.The trouble is my heels keep clipping the footrests of the seat so it was back to square one. I’ve tried positioning the clamp further up on the seat post but there is too much flexing. I may investigate a Polisport seat, but wonder if you had the same problem?

Darron Dixon-Hardy

Adapting a child seat is liable to invalidate both the bike and seat warranty.We think this is one for the manufacturer – how about a child-seat kit, Brompton?

Our Polisport seat (see A to B 24) fits at the bottom of the pillar. Clearance is tight, but never a problem.We reduced the load on the seat pillar by mounting a rubber yoke under the seat, transferring weight into the rear mudguard.This still works well (Alexander now weighs 18.3kg), and provides a well-damped ride, although we’ve destroyed at least one mudguard in three years. [Eds]

And Another…

How can I transport my three young (nearly one, nearly four and nearly six) children around using two adult bikes? Any pointers as to where to look/what to use would be appreciated. I own a Brompton L6, so knowing what I can do with that would be helpful.

Mark Hind

We’re great advocates of trailers – safe, secure, dry (usually) and instantly removable for solo rides. If you do any child-carrying that includes bus or train, the Brompton child seat is priceless, folding up and down in seconds and occupying little more space than the folded bike. (Eds)

Weighty Problem

I am interesting in getting a folder, but I have been warned off by a major manufacturer because of my weight. I weigh 102kg (16 stone), which is not excessive given my build and height (6′ 2″).The manufacturer I spoke to was concerned that a folding frame might not cope with this amount of weight bouncing around on the frames his company produces. He seemed to think that other folder manufacturers would also advise riders of my weight that their frames would not be able to take the punishment for any length of time. I’d like to see if your opinion is the same and whether any brand of folding bike stands out as being substantial enough to cope with a rider of my weight.

Paul Slater

Cruelly, we threw this one at the manufacturers. Airframe says customers of 151/2 stone (99kg) have no problems, Dahon recommends a maximum load of 16 stone 6lb (105kg),Brompton says 18 stone (115kg), and Bike Friday said they would be delighted to build a bike for you, as their bespoke products have been made for riders of up to 26 stone (164kg) in the past! Pashley and Strida declined to comment. [Eds]

To Pedal or Not to Pedal?

I wonder if you would mind answering a little question for me, please? I bought back issues 27 and 31 to read the reviews of the Giant Lafree Twist and Comfort, but even now I am not absolutely clear on a point that is important to me. It’s this. Can they be ridden on power only, i.e. without pedalling at all?

Jim Haigh

It’s surprisingly easy to miss the most obvious points from a test, for which we apologise. Electric bikes come in two forms – Pedelecs such as the Giant Lafree, which must be pedalled, and E-Bikes, where leg-power is optional. For more information, see page 28. [Eds]

Tight Tyres

I’m a poverty-stricken Brompton rider in my 50s and have been mending punctures for forty years or so. But I have great difficulty in getting the tyres off my Brompton. I feel quite humiliated that I need to get (usually) a man in a bike shop to mend punctures (and pay around £10), simply because I can’t remove the tyre.

Has anyone any tips? Does anyone know where I can buy a set of metal tyre levers? Local bike shops only stock plastic ones which bend. I feel desperate about this, and feel sure that some A to B reader will come up with a solution.

Liz Moore, London

You are not alone Liz – small tyres are usually tighter on the rim than their big cousins (but there are huge variations, with some 406mm tyres literally falling off once deflated). As for 347mm tyres (16-inch), in our experience, the Schwalbe and Raleigh tyres are tight and the Brompton and Primo are quite a bit easier.We wouldn’t recommend using metal tyre levers or excessive force, as this can precipitate early rim failure.The best advice we can give (see also Professor Pivot) is to avoid punctures – the Schwalbe and Brompton tyres are (relatively) immune, with the Primo mid way and the Raleigh far and away the worst. [Eds]

Light Fantastic

cateye-el-300gI have found that a more efficient version of the Cateye EL300 (page 16, A to B 33) is sold in Germany as the EL-300G, incorporating a battery current regulator and low battery warning light.The regulator should improve performance with rechargeable batteries and give a longer battery life.This lamp meets the strict German regulations and at E50 is about the same price as the inferior British model. I got my local bike shop to ask the UK Cateye distributors about the EL-300G, but they said they only sold the standard model.

Bill Johnson

The EL-300G manages battery consumption more efficiently and has better lenses than its cruder counterpart, which seems to result in increased brightness rather than extra battery life.

Interestingly, the light fails to meet the latest German regulations through being too dim in the main beam area, but too bright outside it. A special exemption was granted for Germany, and German regulations are normally treated as being the equivalent of British Standards, so it may be legal in the UK. By all but these most exacting regulations, the EL-300G is a superb lamp, but not currently available here.The UK distributor was unable to comment. How helpful. (Eds)

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

Congratulations on reaching your tenth birthday . Utterly and completely brilliant . Always interesting and thought provoking .Against fierce competition,A to B is almost certainly our most enjoyed magazine! Consistently interesting . I love it – it’s great . I love your magazine and its bolshie way . I read it cover to cover . Cover to cover read . I read and enjoy every word – sometimes twice . I like the ‘old time’ British flavour and humour Don’t be tempted to go monthly . Should be monthly . Should be weekly . A to B has real articles unlike that pap in Cycling Plus and, increasingly, the CTC magazine . Much better than the CTC magazine . I bought a Brompton on the strength of your review. I’m glad I did – it’s great .The best – great range of topics, well balanced reviews and healthy cynicism to boot! Excellent. Continue to strive for change in the cultural perspective . Still wonderful, but I didn’t like issue 37 . Great article on Royal Mail trains . Please continue with A5 format and pro-rail, pro-cycling views . Rather too much on electrics, but enjoyed nevertheless More pedals, fewer electrics . A regular ‘workshop for beginners’ would be nice . Could we have an article on servicing and adjusting the SRAM 3-speed hub? More on kids’ bikes, family cycling and maintenance classes . Life-enhancing [from a doctor] . Essential to my life It’s good to know I’m neither alone nor insane…

Letters – A to B 37 – Giant Lafree .Mad Dogs . Rail . Sexism

Sexist AND Ageist!

A to B Sexist and Ageist?I really am rather disappointed to read that A to B feels it has to advertise for ‘young ladies’ to be available to act as hosts for the CYCLE 2003 show this Autumn, as per your advertisement.When I first saw this I thought it was a joke but on second reading, you are serious. Perhaps I am getting like Victor Meldrew, as I’m now in my mid-50s but I DON’T BELIEVE IT!

Seriously though, really – you must know that we don’t need to sink to the lowest common denominator when looking for pleasant, helpful and informative hosts at such an event (which is what is really needed, surely). I never thought that such a well written and commendable magazine would feel the need to be both sexist and ageist. Don’t you agree that smartish, pleasant, fairly/quite knowledgeable men and women of all ages would be much more appropriate as hosts at such an event?

Dave Swindells
Hadfield, Derbyshire

Sex and Age,No Barrier!

Having seen your advertisement, I felt I should respond. I have 45 years cycling experience, 20 years of cycle commuting, and I currently own a Bike E,Windcheetah, Saracen ATB, Raleigh Randonneur and a Birdy Black, doing all my own maintenance. I am an early retired university lecturer, 54 years of age, with good communication skills, able to encourage cycling as a viable alternative mode of transport

In order to comply with the selection criteria in your advertisement, I have booked for a full sex change in August, although this may leave me a little tender if bike demonstrations are required. I intend to address the ‘young’ element of your advertisement by having my navel pierced and purchasing low-slung buttock cleavage revealing jeans, which should distract attention away from my greying beard.

Graham Bretherick
Holmfirth,West Yorkshire

Confused readers should turn to the bottom of page 42, issue 36. I have to own up for dropping this ‘advertisement’ in just as the magazine went to the printers. A ‘For Sale’ ad had been withdrawn, and it’s easier to drop in a few lines than adjust the line spacing right down the page. I should add that our normally vigilant proof-reading team didn’t see the offending lines.

The idea (in so far as there was an idea) was to provide a subliminal ‘feel-good’ message for the CYCLE 2003 show, but the ad had a bigger, and less positive, effect than anticipated. One very reasonable objection came from CYCLE, whose Michael Heal made the point that A to B is not taking a stand at the show, so what were we intending to do with the young ladies? In any event, why would we need a bevy of beauties when we have our own wonderful Jane?

This small ad caused more complaints (all from men, incidentally) than the full frontal nudity in issues 15 and 31 (both still available should anyone wish to research further). (David Henshaw)

While We’re on the Subject…

For some time now she’s been missing. In fact the last time we saw her was A to B 33. Where has that graceful lady flowing effortlessly from ‘A’ to ‘B’ gone from your cover? Has the poor woman gone in for a face lift or is she just another victim of the appaling state of the British transport system, and failed to make it to the publishers on time?

I think we should be told.

Steven Brandist
Birstall, Leicester

Our leaping lady was indeed removed from A to B 33 onwards – less quirky corporate image and all that.We’re quite prepared to change our minds, but would we dare put her back? (Eds)

Moving Swiftly to Virgin Trains…

Much as I like trains, British train companies are unfortunately heading the wrong way by eroding their natural space advantage by cramming more and more people into seats which are ‘ergonomically designed’, and therefore guaranteed to be uncomfortable for nearly everyone. Meanwhile, luggage space is shrinking to nothing. I can now get the same uncomfortable space more cheaply on a bus, or have the option to suffer it for less time (and often more cheaply) on a plane. And if you fancy insulation from other travellers, only a car can now provide it. Indeed, television advertisements for cars have started extolling the private personal space and comfort they provide compared to trains. I even saw one sick advert where a train has to stop at a level crossing to allow the ‘superior’ car to go past.

Recently my wife and I planned to take our recumbent tricycle tandem from Stafford to Edinburgh, but discovered this will not be possible because that route is now served by sardine-cans called ‘Voyagers’ which cannot take tandems or tricycles. My requirement may appear unreasonable because the cycle is almost 3.5 metres long and one metre wide, but it splits within minutes into two shorter sections making transport reasonably practical. I have carried it on buses in Saudi Arabia with hardly a raised eyebrow.

Even the cycle-friendly ScotRail is only able to accommodate cycles along the Far North lines in the summer by transporting them by road. Better than not transporting cycles at all, but it does rank alongside other crazy modern railway practices, like carrying train drivers to work by taxi over distances of more than 100 miles.

In Poland I still enjoy long distance train travel in carriages with compartments. My experience of First Class seats on Voyagers is that they’re no more comfortable than a long- distance bus. As for getting my tandem from Stafford to Edinburgh, I hired a van. It was against my principles, less convenient (I had to drive), and it contributed to air pollution, road congestion and the danger to cyclists. For all that it cost me less than the two First Class train tickets I had intended to buy, and it made me wonder if I can continue to justify my preference for rail over other forms of transport within Britain.

Wojtek Kawecki
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

Thanks for the Info…

I am shortly going to cycle the Trans-Pennine Trail and was looking for information about whether I could take my bike on the train from Rochdale to Southport and return from Hull to Rochdale. I found your site through Google, and just wanted to say how extremely useful it is. I have bookmarked the site and will use it again in future to research getting to the start of other long distance cycle routes. It has all the information I could possibly want all in one place.

Paul Martin

For those who haven’t visited our web site, it’s full of information, including a comprehensive guide to carrying conventional bicycles and folders by National Rail, London Underground, ferries and privately-owned railways.Most of the information, covering the 25 key Train Operating Companies is also available as a leaflet published by Brompton, and available at all staffed railway stations. The A to B web site is at (Eds)

Bus not Rail!


400 fewer cars - one of the Glastonbury specials fills up after the Festival

‘T in the Park’ (the Scottish equivalent of the Glastonbury Festival) operates coaches from both Edinburgh and Glasgow at ten minute intervals – very different to Glastonbury’s legendary traffic chaos, and coaches shuttling between Castle Cary rail station and the site. Simply another case of the Scots showing the English how to do something properly?

Dave Holiday

The Glastonbury Festival is three times bigger than T in the Park, attracting more than 100,000 visitors, most of whom arrive by car, causing utter chaos. But our public transport system does a remarkable job too:This year, 18,000 travelled by train to Castle Cary, then via the free connecting buses to the Festival. Our guess is that Castle Cary station could handle about 35,000 Festival-goers (a third of all visitors, in other words) given more trains and staff. Incidentally, the best route is train to Castle Cary, then by folding bike via quiet country lanes to nip in the back way, eliminating all queueing. If the organisers will allow us, we intend to provide a cycle route map next year. (Eds)


Bike Space Evaporating

I travelled to Normandy from Poole last week.With a limit of five bikes per train on the Wessex Electric services, and no reservations, there must already be problems, but the guards told us that with the new carriages there will be a maximum of two bikes per train, and only one if a disabled passenger needs the space.These carriages are coming into service next year and certainly raise concerns about family travel, for instance.

Mick Gardiner
via email

The guard could well be right, but the good news is that the older Wessex Electric trains will continue to run to Weymouth for the foreseeable future, and these account for half the services to Poole.We think the intention is to put the new trains to work on Southampton and Portsmouth services first. Either way, it’s yet another squeeze on limited bike space. Incidentally, South West Trains has failed to reply to our requests for information – not unusual. (Eds)

Vive la France!

With reference to Dave Minter’s letter in A to B 35. About this time last year I wanted to go to the Floriade display, between Haarlem and Amsterdam, but wished to spend a few days in Antwerp on the way. So I toddled down to Poole Station only to be told that they couldn’t sell me tickets either for the whole journey, or even from London to Antwerp. I pointed out that I had purchased tickets for Bournemouth to Paris a few years previously, so, ‘could I get the required service if I went over to Bournemouth station?’ Answer: ‘No, no longer’. ‘Where can I go then?’ Answer: ‘Try Bath Travel or Thomas Cook’. So, I did, but with equal lack off success; ‘We don’t do that any more’.

This confirmed my opinion that travel agents are probably infringing trade description legislation these days as all they seem to do is to flog packages of holidays without providing any ‘travel’ services. But I was surprised at Thomas Cook, bearing in mind that it produces the excellent European Train Timetable on a monthly basis (at £10 this must be the best value in the whole field of published material!). However, someone at Cooks did mention RailEurope.

At some stage I had obtained a quotation direct from Eurostar on a London to Brussels basis, but after one non-stressful phone call to RailEurope I obtained a ticket from London to Amsterdam (actually out to Antwerp where I alighted, but returning via Amsterdam, at minimal extra cost).

The astonishing thing was that the Eurostar trains both ways were identical to the ones in my earlier quote (dates and times) yet the overall fare through RailEurope was less than the Eurostar quotation for the London – Brussels section alone!

I was so amazed that despite the Europe thing and the existence of the channel tunnel, it had become more difficult to get such ticketing that I wrote to my MP, but she gave the predictable answer that these were private companies now and ‘what can you do?’

Anyway RailEurope got me sorted (tel: 08705 848848, web: I still had to buy a separate return ticket for the Poole to London stage.

Norman Payne
Broadstone, Dorset

RailEurope is a division of SNCF, the nationally-owned French Railway operator, and has vowed to become, ‘…the consumer preferred choice for buying SNCF and Eurostar tickets and the No. 1 UK seller of rail-based travel and holidays in Europe.’ Remember when the UK had a cohesive national rail operator too? French and German railways seem able to sell tickets to and from any European destination, but only London and Ashford in the UK… Maybe we should invite SNCF to run the British railway system too? Incidentally, Eurostar offers some great deals on its own network, such as London to Avignon for £69 in September or October: see (Eds)


My wife has been finding it too painful on her knees to tackle the hills around us recently, and we had begun to think about an electric bike, when a friend from our local Friends of the Earth group lent me his pile of A to B’s. After reading the favourable comments on the Giant Lafree, (and having already tried and rejected the Powabyke), we set off in search of one.We eventually tracked one down in Hereford and bought it after a brief trial. It proved up to the job of tackling our hills, but produced a horrible squealing of brakes on the way down. After the dealer tried without success to adjust the brakes, he replaced them with better quality Shimanos. Silence! Now my wife waits patiently for me at the top of each hill. She says it’s like being a child again, when all you had to do was get on the bike and go: no great effort and no fiddling with complicated gears. She did complain it made her face ache from grinning too much!

After showing it off to a group of friends on a family ride for Bike Week, one of them borrowed it to try up the impossibly long and steep hill that runs up to his house. It made it, and a couple of weeks later, he too is the proud owner of a Lafree, but he had to go to Hampshire to get one.

At a party last weekend, largely populated by bike riders, the bike was much discussed. It was admired, but there was a definite air of non-approval which compared with the cry of ‘Judas!’ when Bob Dylan also ‘went electric’ for the first time in the 60’s. So beware, buyers, prepare your moral case before admitting to your ownership.

Thanks to A to B for the detailed reviews and an amusing read to boot. So my beloved bike’s a ‘cumbersome’ is it?

Alan Terrill
Minsterley, Shropshire

Bob Dylan makes a rather apt comparison.The cycling world can be painfully conservative, but we’ve found the most vociferous antis are those who make 90% of their journeys by car, with a brisk workout by bike at the weekends. Somehow, that’s OK… it’s a funny old world.

No-one should feel defensive about riding an electric bike – particularly if they suffer from knee trouble. By the way, how about the acronym ‘sparkies’ or ‘sparklers’ for electric bicyclists? Cumbersome sparkies, folding sparkies, recumbent sparkies… (Eds)

End-to-End by Sparkie?

I am finding it difficult to obtain information on power-assisted bicycles in the UK. I want to go from Lands End to John O’ Groats. I was going to do it on an Aprilia Enjoy electric bike, but I don’t think it would have enough range, and when I rode it with the motor off (as I would have to do in the event of a flat battery) it was almost impossible to pedal, even up the slightest slope. So now I want to do it on a petrol-driven bicycle either like the Solex or Sachs. Here in Australia (and most other places) this is considered a bicycle. However in the UK it is something else, (I think they try to keep a straight face and call it a motor vehicle). If this is the case, how do I go about using one of these bicycles in the UK. I could buy one at home, in Europe or perhaps the UK.

Hugh Clark
via email

In Britain, internal combustion-assisted bicycles are covered by motorcycle legislation, so you’ll need a helmet, insurance, MOT and road tax. Unless you have a particular enthusiasm for the genre, you really would be better off with a small moped.

The woefully inefficient Aprilia has now been withdrawn – a relief to us all. But could a better electric bike do the end-to-end? We think the front runner would be the Giant Lafree: (a) it’s easy to pedal unassisted and, (b) it’s light, with a light, compact battery.Three batteries permanently plumbed in (it’s more efficient that way), would give a daily range of up to 70 miles, assuming a ten hour overnight charge, but you wouldn’t want to carry much camping gear… (Eds)

Great Swinging Chaincases

When it comes to ‘evolutionary dead ends’ the shaft drive bikes by Zero and Aurora are much more likely candidates than the admirable Ezee Forza in A to B 36. Shaft drive has been rediscovered every few years since the 1890s and has always failed to catch on for exactly the same reasons. It’s heavy and complicated, gear ratios are virtually impossible to change and it has more friction than a chain drive. Chains also help to absorb road shocks, limiting the unwanted feedback from rough road surfaces to the pedals which has been a problem for shaft drives in the past.

The latest systems may claim to have conquered friction, though it’s hard to see how two sets of skew gears with their associated oil seals and bearings could ever approach a chain drive for efficiency.Weight is clearly going to be a problem, judging by the apparent need for anything up to four chainstays. Previous versions have at least contrived to make the shaft casing substitute for one chainstay. Perhaps Zero could also explain how a simple klaprad with fixed rear triangle ‘compares well with the Brompton in terms of folding’?


Some 1950s motorcycles put the chain inside a combined suspension arm/chaincase. Suitable for bicycles?

As usual, the simple answer to the problems of oily trouser legs, dirty chains and rapid transmission wear can be found in any Dutch cycle shop – the fully enclosed chain guard. It’s lightweight, removable for maintenance and friction-free.

If budding engineers still feel the urge to borrow motorised technology, here’s an idea I just cobbled together: 1950s motor scooters pioneered a light alloy casting forming the chaincase and the swing arm of the single-sided suspension. Eminently suitable for bicycles, and it could even weigh less than the chain and seat stays it replaces. For folding it could easily be made  to swing underneath the frame, Brompton-style.

Dispensing with the traditional bottom bracket would leave ample room between the pedals for a multi-speed gear box. Is there any good reason why the output sprocket has to be concentric with the pedals? Variable gearing from the pedals to a separate sprocket could result in an ultra-compact chain drive with 18 or 20 teeth on both the chainwheel and rear sprocket. How about rear swinging arm bearings concentric with the output sprocket, for suspension without chain length variation?

Hugh Martin
Antingham, Norfolk

We agree about the shaft-drive – the good old chain is still king, for all sorts reasons.We don’t know if a hollow swing-arm has been used on a bicycle before, but it sounds perfectly feasible and the chain would last forever. By the way, Zero isn’t responsible for the claim that their folder compared well with the Brompton – that slightly dubious quote comes from the first owner… (Eds)

In praise of Derailleurs

In your review of the Orbit Orion (A to B 36), you criticise manufacturers for cramming more and more cogs into the rear wheel. Personally, I’m a fan, but what I can’t understand is why they keep selling the front derailleurs to ordinary mortals (racers really do need closely spaced gears).

A nine speed cassette now comes with smoothly spaced cogs from 11 to 34-teeth – a range of over 300% which puts all hub gears to shame, and plenty enough for utility cyclists. Moultons and Birdys have been sold with such gearing for ages, but anyone rediscovering a ‘normal’ bicycle still gets bamboozled with more gears and controls than they’ll ever need, or possibly ever bother to work out.

I don’t believe that your wonderful magazine is ‘anti-car’ (I’m not sure if anyone actually is), but you are coming across as distinctly anti-derailleur – shame on you!

Mark Candlish

Our main argument against derailleurs is that hardly anyone understands them and uses them properly, particularly once two levers are involved. For most cyclists a hub system really would be better, and the SRAM and Shimano 7-speed hubs gives a range of very nearly 300%, albeit with some friction losses.Yes, a 9-speed derailleur (without front changer) can work well – we particularly liked the SRAM 9-speed on the Bike Friday Crusoe (A to B 25).There are some mild engineering arguments against – principally the rapid wear and (more controversially) reduced efficiency of the small sprockets needed on sub-24 inch bikes. (Eds)

Pavlovian Response

You’ve occasionally published my anecdotes on fitting a Currie electric drive to my ‘workbike’ (now much improved since the importer fitted a decent hub: the original kept snapping spokes) and I thought my latest ‘mods’ might be of interest to readers.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a teacher in a comprehensive school.While my electric bike has caused some interest and fascination with the pupils, its silent approach has caused some problems when crossing the school yard to park.

I tried the standard cycle bell. Unfortunately this is so seldom heard these days that youngsters just don’t take any notice. I tried an enormous (biggest I could find) ‘ding dong’ bell, but with no better results. Finally I taped a Halfords air horn to the frame.This gets RESULTS!!

Now my approach to those blocking my path is a couple of polite ‘ding dong’s’, followed by an almighty ‘BLAAART’ on the horn.This usually results in lots of swearing, diving for the bushes etc, to the point where pupils now ask me to blast the horn just so they can watch their mates jump. But the important thing is that they’re learning to move out of the way, so I rarely need the horn. It’s a bit like Pavlov and his dogs really – they’ve learned to respond to ‘ding dong’ to avoid the pain of ‘BLAAART’!

John Rutter

Security Weakness

With a veritable plethora of new electric machines coming on the market, perhaps you could comment on the security aspect of these bikes, in particular, the batteries. I seriously considered an electric cycle some months ago, but as it would have meant leaving it on a cycle rack at Surbiton station all day, I was a bit worried about having bits filched from it – the battery mainly.The only cycle with a battery that appears to incorporate a moulded-in handle (thus capable of having a security cable passed through it) is the Powabyke. Some others do appear to be locked in place, but this is not necessarily commented on in your tests, and neither is the security of said locking arrangements.

As for a folding bikes, it’s obviously best to carry it with you, but there are times when you have to leave it chained to something. Perhaps I am paranoid, but if I leave the Brompton unattended for any length of time I remove the frame clamps. Manufacturers should be persuaded to offer decent built-in security or discounted locks with new cycles.

Ashley Needham
West Molesey, Surrey

Batteries are generally quite well protected, with locks on all of the major machines, although not many would deter a vandal or thief for very long. But we think the Giant Lafree and Viking are the only bikes with cycle locks fitted as standard.One alternative is to buy a grotty-looking old Powabyke, but the only real answer is bike lockers, and these are starting to appear.We’re told that secure bike storage is being considered for stations in the Surbiton area. (Eds)

Mad Dogs & Englishmen

I have done some travelling with a folding bike in Taiwan and intend to go back soon. Has anyone discovered how to deal with the problem of semi-wild dogs? It seems that dog ownership has now spread to Asia, and the animals are breeding and living in the suburbs of towns along the coast lines. Packs of four or five will close in on a cycle in an alarming hunting mode. An airline brochure carried an article about this problem and suggested ‘forcing its head into the ground’. Fighting with wild dogs is surely out of the question?

Peter Rawlin

We’ve recently received a sample personal alarm.Would this piercingly loud alarm make a practical dog deterrent, we wonder? See what you think – Radio Shack, Catalogue number 49-417. (Eds)


Browsing through Calderdale Council’s website today, I note that the following vacancy attracts a considerably higher rate of pay than that of a Calderdale Council Road Safety (including cycling) Trainer, which is £5.45p per hour:

Models – Post No ED098
£6.91p per hour (unclothed)
£6.59p per hour (clothed)

Applications are invited from persons interested in joining a pool of ancillary staff who are called on from time to time to support Adult & Family Learning at venues throughout Calderdale…Travel expenses would be paid…

Mieszek Konrad-Kosicki

We suggest Calderdale employs the unclothed models to teach road safety, thus improving wages and increasing attendance at a stroke. (Eds)

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

The best – no doubt! Excellent magazine . A delight to receive and a pleasure to read The astutely critical tone is refreshing . Sensible and thoughtful . A wonderful read As welcome as the monthly pay cheque . Should be monthly . I laughed so much I nearly fell off my chair . Look forward to it . A treat . Don’t change anything . Some of the best things come in small packages . I don’t need a folder or electric bike, but I love your style How about an article on touring by electric bike? Could you cover Moulton bikes too? More on folder expeditions, improving brakes and adapting gears . More on rail and trikes All power to your cranks . Just keep churning it out . Shine on, crazy diamonds!

Letters – A to B 36 – Albert Winstanley . Brompton . Cycle Paths . International Rail Tickets

Useless Cycle Network

The picture on page 41 of A to B 35 sums up the situation in Nottingham (and too many other British cities) as far as cycling ‘facilities’ are concerned – white lines painted along uneven pavements obstructed by signs, traffic lights, trees etc. If this is British best practice, I’d rather not have it, thanks! The best lanes in Nottingham are the bus lanes – they are wide, clear, smooth and regularly swept of debris. And they’re in force 24 hours a day. The biggest problem with cycling in Nottingham is the ring road and horrendous one way system, which seems always to prevent you from getting where you want to go, to such an extent that ignoring ‘No entry’ and ‘No right turn’ signs will often get you to your destination quicker and more safely than going round Broadmarsh several times.

Oh, and for an example of the differing attitudes of road builders to cyclists and motorists, one only has to look at Raynesway (A5111) in Derby, which has just been slewed (to make way for yet another bypass).The road surface is excellent, but the token cycle path alongside seems to have been shovelled out of the back of a lorry and then stamped down with a pair of welly boots. Needless to say, I use the road!

Dave Burbridge

Please Sell me a Ticket!

I’m riding the Paris-Brest-Paris Audax ride in August on my old Moulton and I want to take the train there and back with my bagged bike. I’d prefer to travel there 16th August and return 23rd August.

I’ve previously read in A to B that I should be able to get through tickets (possibly discounted) from my Midlands station (Tamworth) to Paris rather than a ticket to London, plus Eurostar ticket, but I can’t find a method that works.When I try to book online on the Virgin or other British railway websites, nothing recognises Paris, Gare du Nord or similar. Any suggestions as to how I can get through ticketing from Tamworth to Paris (ultimately St Quentin-en-Yvelines, but Gare du Nord would do)?

Dave Minter
Via email

The failure to establish a user-friendly through ticket system has to be one of the biggest scandals of the rail privatisation debacle. Although long-distance trains stop at Tamworth, the station is run by Central Trains, and in your area only Virgin sells through tickets, so you’ll have to buy separate single tickets to and from a Virgin station.Then,Virgin can only sell tickets to Eurostar destinations, so you’ll need separate local French tickets too.That said, at £79 to £89, the Birmingham – Paris bit can be good value.The Virgin customer service line is 0870 789 1234. For train times, German Railways ( provide an excellent English-language European service, but you’ll still have three tickets to book. Any better suggestions? (Eds)

Sturmey Responds

Just a couple of points about your report on the Dahon Vitesse (A to B 35).The Sturmey- Archer 3-speed is not the same as when it came from Nottingham, as the hub internals are very different.With the original AW hub, it was possible to find a ‘false neutral’ between gears 2 and 3, which nobody really minded until Dutch manufacturers asked us to correct it 15 years ago.We consequently introduced a ‘no in-between gear’ (NIG) 3-speed hub in 1989, but only in the drum-brake version, which is widely used here in the Netherlands.The old AW 3-speed continued to be made alongside the new hub, largely because it was a cheaper system.

When production was moved to Taiwan, the new owner was naturally unwilling to produce two different 3-speed systems, so the NIG was introduced into the AW. Spares for the AW will eventually run out, but the internals of the new hub (part number HSX143) were designed to fit the old hub shell.The gear indicator toggle chain is also longer.

Note too, that when Sunrace bought Sturmey-Archer they quickly recognised that the Sturmey-Archer name was much stronger in Europe than elsewhere, so the decision was taken to omit the Sunrace name and continue to brand the products as Sturmey-Archer.

Alan Clarke
Sturmey-Archer Europa N V, Amsterdam,The Netherlands

Nothing New

As an older reader (just celebrated my 80th birthday) and Pashley Moulton ATB rider, can I join in the debates? First,The Mole’s mention of Milton Keynes in A to B 35: I seem to remember the place was first conceived, with its grid-iron layout, as being dedicated to public transport (trams!) and cycleways, before the motor lobby hijacked the town.

Next, your News (page 19, A to B 35) that they’ve re-invented the shaft-drive. And why not? I’ve heard of shaft-drive bikes in the 1920s and ‘30s: it was only the slump in that decade which killed them off. I also recall the Trident (unfortunate name) from the 1980s, which had lovely German-designed skew gears in the rear wheel stay, but was ruined by a rubbish frame from Taiwan.Then there was a good made-in-Germany roadster, not to mention my old Yamaha Townmate scooter and other motorbikes, from the beautiful 1950s Sunbeam to BMWs. Shaft-drive must have a future, especially in transport bikes, and it’s a perfect match for the indispensable hub gear.

Doc Arnold
Appledore, Devon

Interesting about Milton Keynes: we’d never heard that before, but it might help to explain why this very car-centric town has a street pattern focussed on the railway station… According to Carlton Reid of cycle trade magazine BikeBiz, the Sussex drive unit fitted to the Aurora bikes may be the same unit that was fitted to the Trident back in the 1980s – apparently it first made an appearance at about that time. (Eds)

Which Airport Folder?

We require folding bicycles in a case of suitable dimensions to take on package tours.The cases must be able to withstand the rigours of airport handling and protect the bikes. The machines are for touring day rides of up to 50 miles – they must have mudguards, a gear ratio from below 40 inches to 75 inches, and carry the food, tools and clothing required on the ride. Is anything produced that meets our requirements? If not, would you suggest a compromise?

Richard & Margaret Nicholl
Wincanton, Somerset

We generally recommend the Bike Friday or the Brompton for hard case carriage by air, because these two fold into particularly square, compact, packages – the best defence against airline baggage handlers. If you like the Brompton’s rather upright stance, the L6 offers a gear range of 40″ – 86″ (or a bigger range with aftermarket sprockets), weighs from 11.6kg and costs £524. Fit a decent saddle and bar-ends, and this bike is more than capable of holding its own with sportier machines. If you do a lot of this kind of thing, a Bike Friday makes sense – typically expect gears of at least 31″ – 90″, weight of 10kg and price in the £1,000+ region.We should also mention the Airframe (light, but a bit bulky), the Birdy (full suspension, but equally large) and assorted Dahons (cheaper, but mostly larger and heavier). (Eds)

Tried the BMW?

We live near Rochester, upstate New York, and ride around the parks and along the Erie canal with two children, one on a tag-along behind my wife’s Birdy, while I ride an Airnimal. I can thoroughly recommend this fast, light and sturdy bike. I have a fast set of wheels (Araya rims fitted with 28 spokes) and an ‘all purpose’ set with standard rims and Spanky knobbly tyres.The climate here does not help – we are very near the Canadian border and there is lots of snow for five months of the year. So even with the knobbly tyres, it seems that I may have to invest in a more conventional mountain bike. I wondered if you considered reviewing the BMW folding mountain bikes (Q3.S and Q6.S) or if any of your readers have any recommendations? They certainly look like mean machines, but with a serious price tag (just under $1000 and $4000 respectively).

Baz van Cranenburgh
Fairport, NY, USA

For many years BMW folding bikes were thinly disguised Montagues, but the Q3.S and Q6.S are very different.We’ve been unable to get a bike from BMW, or a reply from Montague, but we notice that BMW is still listed as a partner on the Montague website. Anyone know more? (Eds)

The Holy Grail

I continue to search for an electrically-assisted bike which will give me enough help on our steep hills here in the Chilterns.Through the kind assistance of Addiktion Cycles in St Albans, I had a good long trial ride round the outskirts of the town on a new Lafree Twist. It was exhilarating on the flat, down hill and up slight hills, but it did not give me enough help on significant hills. Admittedly, I am nearly 73 years old, out of condition and on blood pressure drugs, but I am still disappointed, because you found it ‘possibly the best power- assisted bike, so far’.

I have tried other bikes in the past, but ruled them all out (Powabyke too heavy, Heinzmann too expensive, etc). Do you have any other suggestions, please? I really enjoyed my ride today, except for the steeper hills!

Brian N. Parsons

We were impressed by the Ezee Forza (see page 34), or try the Electro-Drive kit, which has limited range, but will climb almost anything:Two contacts – tel: 07974 723996 or 01244 671999, or email: or

Cheaper at Halfords

The article about map holders in A to B 34 was of particular interest as I have been using the Zefal map holder with my Brompton for over five years, but mine came from Halfords and cost £3.99. It appears to be just the same as the Zefal and is available in all Halfords branches under their own cycle luggage label, although it now costs £4.99.

I am thinking about getting a carrying case for my Brompton as it is getting more use on public transport these days.The case made by Carradice appeared to be a nice piece of work when I examined one at the London CYCLE show last year, but they’re expensive and produce a rather bulky package to carry around when riding. However I see that Dahon markets a bag for folding bikes with 16″ wheels which they claim will fit the Brompton. It is made from tough padded nylon with shoulder straps, and when not in use the bag folds into its own pocket and can be carried as a waist pack.This ‘Doubleplay’ bag looks ideal, and costs only £24.99.The problem is that none of my local dealers had heard of it.

John Swain

Dahon tell us the Doubleplay is out of stock, but the standard 16-inch bag is available direct for £19.99, plus £3.50 postage.Tel: 01580 890007. (Eds)

Golden Days Awheel

I had subscribed to A to B for nearly three years off and on before I purchased a Brompton L6 last August.Thanks to your readers’ letters I was able to ask all the appropriate questions, and was pleased to see that the nice copper-haired Stephen at Ratcliffes of Leigh gave honest replies, didn’t dismiss my concerns, and didn’t treat me like a mithering pensioner. Nor did he bat an eyelid when I returned from a 40-minute trip around the town


The Brompton has exceeded all hopes and met all my needs so far. I find the saddle unsuitable for a day ride, but I’m reluctant to change it because I’m reluctant to increase the weight, which I find just manageable.

It was the sheer joy of reading Albert Winstanley in Cycling World that first got me on a bike in my early forties. I hope he’s still around – please write another letter Albert! Perhaps you could reveal the whereabouts of any hidden copies of Golden Days Awheel – a cycling treasure discovered in the St Helens Central Library?

Anne Kilmurray

Albert still resides at a very earthly address in Bolton, Lancashire. (Eds)

Brompton Update

A few comments on my Brompton, which is used for coastal surveying work:

1) Schwalbe Marathon tyres: No punctures in 3,000km (1,900 miles) of use – part urban commuting where the problem is broken glass, and survey work where most punctures are due to thorns.The rear tyre lasted 3,000km, but the front has not been changed.

2) Pedals:The folding pedal got a bit too worn after about 2,000km (1,250 miles), so I have fitted old track pedals with toe-clips. I carry a 15mm spanner should I need to remove the left-hand pedal. I intend trying the MKS removable pedals when these become available.

3) Saddle height adjustment: Being tall, I fitted a telescopic seat post, and when folding the bike, I sometimes remove the top section.When unfolding, the main stem comes up to the maximum, and the top section is fitted with a plastic collar which also secures a rear LED. Removing the saddle helps with train racks, but is not usually necessary.

4) Rear frame pivot:This has worn a lot, probably due to salt, sand and water getting in during survey work, so the frame will be going back to the factory soon for new bushes. I intend to fit a grease nipple to improve bearing life.

5) Carrying bag: I made a nylon bag to carry the Brompton, with pockets for the saddle and left-hand pedal.This is useful on ferries that charge for bikes and in some (posher) hotels.

Martin Fillan
Hennebont, France

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

Best mag of them all – one improvement: should be monthly! Love the political slant and the intellectual but anarchic style . Good mixture, bang up to date, balanced and dynamicRefreshing, honest, and a consumer guide too! Refreshingly different . A joy to read Don’t change – A to B is a perfect vision for the world . Honest, witty and non-commercial Still an excellent read . Good reading and honest opinions throughout . Well worth the money Really enjoyable . Excellent, crap-free read . Keep it A5 please . More bike tests – too hung up on rail travel .Any pressure for a decent rail service is good . Please ignore comments asking for less politics . More on folders, less about electric bikes . More electric bikes please More electric bikes . How about info on electric scooters? How about an article on trikes? Don’t forget recumbent trikes! Can’t wait for it! Top sprocket! Irreverent, soulful and fun

Letters – A to B 35 – Citybug scooter . Lights . Paths. Giant Lafree . Load-carriers

Old-tech Fights Back

Thanks for the review of LED lamps in A to B 33.The case design of the new Cateye lamps certainly appears to be a bit of a let down. Given the slightest opportunity, moisture will always creep into the electrics of poorly sealed cycle lamps and terminals will need occasional treatment with switch cleaner.

I use an Ever Ready Night Vision front lamp on my Brompton. I replaced the mounting bracket with a sawn-off section from the Ever Ready Night Rider bracket, enabling the lamp to be mounted near the centre of the handlebars, with a thick piece of rubber inside the clamp to avoid over-stressing the bars.

Rechargeable NiMH ‘C’ cells and a Reflectalite GH155 halogen bulb give excellent performance in a virtually waterproof lamp.The Night Vision was given a 5-star rating in issue 3 of The Folder – February 1994.

Up until about 18 months ago, Night Vision lamps were available in Woolworths, but Energizer UK may be able to advise if they are still available.

Jack Anderson

We did indeed give five stars to the Night Vision lamp. Ours, modified in much the same way as Jack’s (but permanently bolted in place of the front reflector, and fitted with a socket for recharging), is still in use nine years later – powerful, moisture-free and running with the same halogen bulb…The downside is a weight of 260g, plus an equally chunky bracket, but that’s still lighter than today’s Cateye EL300, so perhaps things haven’t advanced all that far. (Eds)

On the Right Wavelength

I’m a Canadian working on a PhD here in the UK, and was delighted to discover (in short order) the Brompton folding bike and your magazine! Regarding the discussion on lights in the current issue, it seems the human eye is sensitive to light which tends to the blue side of the spectrum (including ‘white’ LEDs) in such a way that, while the light from such devices is visible from a great distance, in many cases the lights actually do not provide great visibility.There is, of course, a great deal of dispute and debate on the topic, but a good source of information can be had at A brief quote: ‘Blue is the shortest wavelength/highest frequency colour of visible light, and, as such, scatters the most readily.This is why the sky is blue rather than any other colour from the sun’s white output spectrum.’ And it explains why yellow light is so often chosen for use in foggy conditions, as it scatters less.While the better LEDs produce quite white light, this still scatters somewhat compared to the output of yellow incandescent bulbs.

Waldemar Kowalski-Daher

Yum, yum

Since writing to you (Letters, A to B 34), I have found a better rain cover for the Cateye EL200. Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolates come in a clear plastic box measuring 14cm x 7.5cm x 7cm, which is ample. I clamped the lid to the bracket, fitted the lamp and put the box over the top, secured by two elastic bands – completely rain-proof, even in driving rain.

A G Bannister
Padstow, Cornwall

The Angle of Dangle

I bought Cateye LD600 and EL300 lights before your article arrived, and I have no complaints about them. I have used both in flashing mode and the Police have not shown any interest so far! But why sell lights that are not yet approved? Is Cateye planning to get these LED lights approved retrospectively? Or are they going to give us a trade-in on the approved lights?

The trouble with LEDs is that most have a 20 degree wide beam and the regulations call for 80 degree beam width inwards and outwards horizontally. So without a clever lens, an approved lamp would need a minimum of 8 LEDs, angled accordingly. Maybe the Cateye lenses are to spread, rather than concentrate the beams, which might explain why they are less satisfactory for lighting the road.

Incidentally, ‘white’ LEDs are really blue ones with white phosphor in front, reducing efficiency and increasing cost. As our eyes are more sensitive to the green/red end of the spectrum, perhaps LED lights should be comprised of a mixture of colours for maximum brightness and minimum cost/power consumption.

Mike Hargaden

No Pump?

Your reviews of the Giant Lafree Twist in issues 27 and 31 convinced me that this was the electric bike to go for.The chap at the Solex Centre (King’s Road, London, for those interested) was extremely helpful and informative, allowing me several test rides on adjacent roads. Collecting a new machine a week later (and ordering a spare battery), I tried its performance on the 7-mile run home to north-west London – your review in issue 27 was right on the mark!

As I had dreaded a puncture, I’d taken with me a can of Finilec (similar to Tyreweld). Luckily, this wasn’t needed, but on arriving home it occurred to me that this expensive bike carried no essential extras: no puncture kit, no spanners, or Allen keys. Surely these could be included as goodwill? They were supplied with the Raleigh Boulevard Tourist (of whose weight and handling the Lafree now reminds me) that I purchased in 1965.

As I read Giant’s comprehensive owner’s manual, the light dawned: ‘Every 50 hours of riding: take your bike to the dealer for a check-up’. Are they serious? I know this is a power-assisted cycle, but is it really so precious? With anticipated daily commuting use, I’d be bringing it in every month! Anyway, Giant may be stingy, but I do like the Lafree Twist.

Chris Gielgud

With any bike, we’d suggest a thorough service after the first 50 hours (600 miles) or three months use, whichever comes first – a good shop should provide this as part of their after-sales back-up. At the first service, parts such as spokes, wheel bearings, brakes and chain will have ‘bedded down’ and may need adjustment and/or lubrication.Thereafter, if you make your own regular safety checks and adjustments, a bike may not need to see the inside of a shop for years. But for the non-mechanical, a professional check of brakes, tyres (including pressures) and bearings every 600 miles sounds a worthwhile investment.

Good point about tools and pumps.The Lafree rear wheel is quite difficult to remove, but that’s more to do with the Nexus 4-speed hub than the electric-assist. Don’t worry too much though – we’ve only had one puncture in 1,500 miles.

According to John Kawecki of Giant: ‘In these modern times there are more pumps sold by bike dealers than bikes themselves! We stopped supplying pumps with bikes many years ago as it became apparent that the customer wanted to choose a pump that suited their specific needs. If we supplied the pumps with the bikes then this would have to be reflected in the retail price of the bike and would not give a customer any choice. Sorry, but that’s the way of the modern cycling industry.’ (Eds)

My Car Costs Less!

I value all the technical information in A to B, particularly reports of tyre performance, electric bikes, batteries and real costs per mile. But I would appreciate a more detailed breakdown to show depreciation and maintenance costs.After all, there’s a lot of difference between 5p per mile and 10p per mile, which compares unfavourably with running my car (7.5p per mile, petrol only).And I suspect that a cycle-motor might cost less than 3p per mile.

The latter seems more promising than electric power for someone old and feeble like me for long distance touring, especially with a crank-mounted motor driving through a derailleur, giving the ability to climb anything.The thought of persuading the average B&B landlady that charging a battery overnight will not break the bank or catch fire while she sleeps is something I do not wish to tackle! In this context, fuel cells (using bottled gas) seem more promising, but I can’t see it happening before I ‘jump into the box’. Roll on the petrol-assisted semi-recumbent that does 200mpg.

Ian Taylor
Leominster, Herefordshire

Our electric bike running costs are calculated according to a simple fixed formula, assuming 2,500 miles per year, making no allowance for non-compulsory extras, such as insurance, 2p per mile for consumables such as tyres and chains, plus:

1. Purchase price fully depreciated over ten years. 2. Battery depreciated over 700 charge cycles (NiMH or NiCD) or 350 charge cycles (lead-acid) 3. Electricity consumed at 6p per kWh 4. Mileage per full charge based on the A to B test.

The resulting figure – generally 6p to 9p per mile – should really be compared to full motoring costs – currently averaging 30p-80p according to the Automobile Association. Against your 7.5p fuel cost, a typical electric bike costs around 0.1p per mile! As for cycle-motors, the AA puts the running cost of a moped (assuming 4,000 miles a year) at a scary 25p per mile.You could probably halve that, but clearly even a cycle-motor would cost more than an electric bicycle.

As for landladies, we’ve recharged electric bikes at a number of strange places, including a railway ticket office and an ice-cream kiosk – slightly bemused looks, but no problems. A payment of 5p would easily cover the fuel cost. (Eds)

Rightful Place…

I was delighted to see the letters by Michelle Whitworth and Patrick James (A to B 34), stressing the importance of cycling on the road with other vehicles. In North America, we too have those with a fantasy of a segregated system for cycles, free from competition with motor vehicles.The more that we can persuade people to get out of their cars and walk, cycle or take public transport the better, but realistically, we’ll be sharing the road with motor vehicles for the indefinite future.

The existing road system was designed to make it efficient to get from A to B, with an almost infinite number of origins and destinations. As cyclists, the less distance we have to go out of our way between A and B, the better.This usually means taking the existing road.

I’m grateful for the pioneering work of John Forester, in his Effective Cycling (first edition 1975), for outlining that cyclists fare best if they behave like a car, obeying traffic rules, signalling their intentions and taking their rightful place on the road. I rode for nearly fifty years before encountering this material, and it has really focused my attention on the hazards and how to avoid them. For example, most urban accidents occur at intersections, not from being hit from behind. Special paths or lanes for cyclists just compound the dangers of this mix. Forester’s book is now published by MIT Press.

Bob McInnes
Victoria, B.C. Canada

The 1993 reprint of ‘Effective Cycling’ is available in the UK – about £20 for the paperback (Eds).

D.I.Y. Cycle Routes

Urban cycling without recourse to Sustrans paths (Letters, A to B 34) is easier than you might think. Simply note your start and finish points on a street map and draw a line between the two.You can then choose a route linking up all the side streets running parallel to main roads – these are surfaced, reasonably direct, lit, safe, virtually traffic-free and don’t usually involve gyratories and junctions from hell.

As for low-mounted lights, I was very nearly flattened by a lady motorist who didn’t see my Brompton front light on an unlit street, so it’s now at handlebar height, without folding problems. I also use a secondary rear light at saddle height.

Charlie Hall
Whitley Bay,Tyne & Wear

In Sustrans’ defence, the organisation has always recommended the Dutch cycle path model (see page 36), where road traffic usually gives way to cyclists. It is not Sustrans’ fault that UK local authorities and the DfT have generally refused to adopt this approach, leaving most urban cycle paths difficult and dangerous to use. As for lights, we would suggest keeping the battery/dynamo lights where they are, but fitting secondary high-mounted LEDs front and rear.The LEDs illuminate signs and alert motorists, while the low-mounted conventional battery or dynamo light provides warning of pot-holes and other nasties. (Eds)

Load Carriers Rumble On

In support of Professor Pivot (A to B 34, page 14), I tried the Cargo Bike when on holiday with our two children of 17 months and nearly five.There is plenty of room for them plus luggage, and in addition to the features mentioned by Steven Brandist (Letters, A to B 34), there is also a frame lock.

On a flat clear road with a following wind, it performs well. But when you start to climb, the handlebars flex and you soon run out of gears, so you resort to pushing.There is little point in fitting lower gears because at low speeds handling becomes challenging.The brakes are weak too, so emergency stops and steep descents are a bit risky.

Catherine Girvan

And From The Trade…

In reply to the debate over child and/or load-carriers, by far the most important thing in parents’ minds when purchasing a vehicle to carry children is safety. Front-loading tricycles, such as the Christiania, offer a number of advantages:They are more stable than two- wheeled vehicles; they have a sturdy box that protects its passengers; they have a more assertive presence on the road; the children are always in view of the rider; it is safe to carry babies in their cots. Note too that the Christiania Light has 24-inch wheels all round.

Andrea Casalotti
ZERO, London

Sleeping Centurions

Richard Dunn has missed out on a couple of points (Letters, A to B 34). First, unlike our ‘free’ press, A to B’s policy of not being pro-car isn’t anti-car. If I were looking to buy a financial product, my advisers would have to declare an interest – our national press claims to be unbiased, but the contrary is often the case.

Secondly, while ancient Rome had traffic problems, it also had traffic laws which make Ken Livingston’s £5 charge seem very reasonable.You could only use two-wheeled vehicles at certain times, and it wasn’t advisable to charge at a pedestrian crossing, as they were basically a set of stepping stones across the street. Early traffic-calming perhaps – drive carefully or wreck your chariot! An idea that might be worth copying.

Bill Houlder

Rules Of The Road!

I commute to work by bike/train, and every day I see the same thing – cyclists flagrantly breaking the law in ways they would never dream if they were driving a car. And this is everywhere, not just London: running red lights (the favourite), going the wrong way on one-way streets, cycling on pavements, cycling at night without lights, ignoring pedestrian crossings when in use… the list goes on.These ignoramuses don’t seem to realise that when a cyclist gets away with breaking the road traffic laws, the motorists who witness this get p***ed off.The more annoyed they get, the less respect they show to all cyclists. I’m not saying motorists are innocent in this, but I can understand their irritation with cyclists.

Jason Collins-Webb, Reading

Load of Rubbish

I think the principle of electric vehicles is great, it’s just that I haven’t had any luck. I bought a Citybug e2 scooter, and the throttle/drive mechanism malfunctioned twice after only a few miles. I also bought the Bikit electric-assist kit, unfortunately before reading your review.The kit won’t install on either of my bicycles because the frame tubes are too thick and I can’t get the proper clearance between the pedal crank and sensor.

Since I don’t live in a hilly area, and I’m not faced with the prospect of carting heavy loads, I don’t really need electric-assist, but if I do want to have an electric bike in the future, should I invest in something like a Giant LaFree or Heinzmann?

Steve Wirzylo,Toledo, USA

We don’t think luck comes into it! Cheaper powered vehicles are designed for occasional leisure use. If you want something that will give good service, it’s best to choose a proper bicycle and a reputable drive system.The Lafree and Heinzmann are probably the best around at present. (Eds)

Nuts in May

Your picture of the nudists and a Brompton in A to B 31 brought to mind a claim made to me some time ago by my friend Julian of ‘Bona Bicycles’, Balham. He swears that Andrew Ritchie originally intended to call his splendid machine the Hampton – and was only dissuaded by a colleague observing that the folding process might entail some small risk of getting his Hampton caught.

Edgar Newton,York

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

Much appreciated . An enjoyable and encouraging read . Devoured within minutes of arrival Like the honest down-to-earth style . Look forward to it immensely . Well written from start to finish . A different outlook on the cycling world . A breath of sanity in an insane world A haven of common sense . Read from cover to cover… the wife dreads its arrival I do not own a car, so regard A to B as perfect . Brompton and A to B have improved my mobility Essential reading for someone who chooses not to own a car . Keep up the anti-car bias A pity your advertisers don’t update their copy more often! Small, but beautifully done Refreshing – A to B gives an infusion of optimism that all is not lost! Better every year! My primary small-wheeled bike info source . A good practical magazine – humourous too! More on electric scooters please, and support for making them legal . Keep up the trials of power-assisted bikes . More electric bikes, please . Could you test the new CCM Evox semi-recumbent? More info on rail bargains . Less politics and transport, more bikes Confine politics to transport! Please give addresses and phone numbers – not everyone has email The best cottage industry on wheels . The only bike mag I read . Love you to bitsWIFE: ‘Excellent cycling coverage’ HUSBAND: ‘Top birds’ .As the late, great Eddie Cochran sang: ‘Hallelujah, I just love you so


Letters – A to B 34 – Cycle paths . LED lights . Load-carriers . Rim failures

Hilly, Dangerous and Circuitous

I was surprised to read views in A to B that I normally only encounter from non-cycling motorists (Geoff Green, Letters A to B 33). Although I sometimes use a car for work (when transporting people or equipment), I try to use my bike. As the journey takes five to twenty minutes longer by bike, I need reasonably speedy routes from A to B – much as I would like to spend my day dawdling about on the Sustrans network.

Going to work, I travel on a derestricted three-lane highway in preference to the shared-use path.The latter entails not merely slowing down for the occasional pavement but bumping along an appallingly surfaced narrow path, giving way at every slip road (one of which is on a blind bend where motorists are travelling extremely fast and where fatal accidents have occurred), negotiating roundabouts and crossing a busy road (with no dropped kerbs) where cars are coming from three directions.The path is liberally sprinkled with broken glass, and icy in winter, whereas the roads are gritted and de-iced by cars.

On another journey I make from my office, the cycle path is only on one side of the road, so you must turn right across a roundabout to reach it, cross two more roundabouts, give way to three supermarkets, and negotiate a ‘cyclists dismount’ section where the path narrows under a bridge, only to find that, after a little more than a kilometre (and 14 dropped kerbs), the path suddenly ends, because the designers assume cyclists are heading for the north-south bridleway that crosses it.You then have a frustrating wait to cross back on to the road. Meanwhile, the road-going cyclist is in the distance.

I use Sustrans routes for leisure trips or if they are convenient, but they rarely are. Some are very pleasant in the summer but daunting in the winter and after dark (some run through an area where a murder of a young woman is still unsolved two years later). Route 72, for example, has little relevance to the cyclist commuting between Newcastle and North Tyneside as it adds several miles, lots of hills, and includes some bad design features.

The statistics support the cyclist choosing the road since a high proportion of accidents occur on so-called cycle paths – hardly surprising, as most accidents occur at junctions. Perhaps Nottinghamshire is different, but my experience of Right to Ride conferences and trips to other parts of the country suggest that the problems I have described are hardly unique to this area.The CTC has fought hard since the 1930s to keep our right to cycle on the roads, which – unlike cycle paths – tend to go somewhere useful.

Michelle Whitworth
Tyne and Wear

Right to the Road

I read Geoff Green’s letter with concern. Generally I do not use these ‘facilities’, as they are an extremely poor alternative to the road. A ‘cycle lane’ is usually a strip painted on the carriageway, so car drivers often assume that cyclists are duty bound to stay in the gutter.

There are also things called ‘cycle routes’, which are mainly lines painted on pavements. The ones I’ve tried all lead the cyclist to rejoin the road somewhere dangerous – usually a road junction where it is most dangerous to do so… Cyclists should never feel obliged to use these cycle lanes. Councils create them because the roads are increasingly being perceived as the ‘property’ of car drivers. Most roads in the UK are older than the car, and we all have the right to use them.

Patrick James
Hove,West Sussex

Leisure Use Only

cateye-el200Following your review of LED lamps in A to B 33 I bought a Cateye EL200. It gives a good light, but as a lamp design, it’s certainly not worth £25. As you said, its mounting bracket is poorly designed, but you didn’t mention its fatal flaw. Maybe you didn’t use it in wet and windy weather, but if you try riding against strong winds in heavy rain you will find the interior of the lamp swimming in water. It won’t last long like that, so I put a clear plastic bag over mine – it slightly affects the light output, but not much. Bitter experience with the first generation of red LEDs suggests the makers assume we are all fine weather riders only.

A G Bannister
Padstow, Cornwall

We didn’t come across any serious weather while testing the lamps, but we have since and, yes, our EL200 gets wet inside too. Mind you, there isn’t much to go wrong, except the switch and the battery terminals, but we should have spotted the drain hole under the lamp… Obviously Cateye is an adherent of the ‘total loss’ system; allowing water out as fast as it comes in. A strip of insulation tape along the leading edge might be a better solution, but we certainly do sympathise. (Eds)

Yellow or Blue Beam, sir?

It just happens I had purchased a Cateye EL200 (white) and a Cateye LD600 (red) about a month before A to B 33 thudded through my letterbox, recommending these lamps. I have used them in my regular cycle commuting journey, on a moon-less journey on a canal towpath and (the EL200) walking on a busy unlit country road after dark.

First, I agree that the mounting provided for the LD600 (red) is poor. I discarded it without even trying it. I noticed one on someone else’s bike that had evidently defeated efforts to tighten it adequately. On the other hand I disagree about the mounting for the EL200.The cam arrangement allows me to adjust the beam up and down to suit the conditions, and the slight swivel is handy when used with other lights in very dark conditions. It stays where it is pointed.

As for weather-proofing, it has rained every time I have been out since Christmas Day, with four hours of the heavy stuff on Boxing Day, plus a couple of hours in medium showers and spray today.The LD600 (red) lives under my saddle and is protected from falling rain.The EL200 is exposed to rain and spray on the handlebars, but I found surprisingly little sign of ingress – some slight condensation, but the weather was very cold.

Whereas the light from the LD600 (red) is very visible, considerably outshining my other LEDs, usefulness of the EL200 is more conditional.Walking against oncoming traffic, drivers plainly saw it, slowed immediately and gave reasonable room, even though it wasn’t aimed at them. But when cycling off-road at night, it was near useless, as the very blue light seems to reveal less than a yellow beam. For lighting your path, the EL200 is still eclipsed by filament lamps, such as the Sigma Sport FL100 (2.4w, 5x AA batteries). I have to conclude that LEDs have a way to go yet before they are a good light to see by.

Allan Luxton

The yellowish light from traditional lamps certainly seems to illuminate the road better, which is hard to explain, when the LED beam reaches so much further. But these new white LEDs are indisputably better at picking out reflective material, such as ‘cat’s eyes’ and road signs, even at a considerable distance. And they’re far superior at catching the attention of motorists, which seems to be more important than lighting your path these days. (Eds)

Run Time Discrepancy

Thanks for A to B 33, and especially the section on LED lights.Why are the ones for cycles so power hungry? Last year I bought a Lucido Lightwave torch (£24.99) from Field & Trek (they have a number of outlets nationwide).This has four LEDs and runs off three AA cells, giving a claimed life of 336 hours continuous use, which I have no reason to doubt.

Lucido also produce a C10 model, with ten LEDs, which has a claimed continuous run time of over a month (720 hours) continuous use, but which I did not purchase because it appeared to be far too bright for my purposes.

I’d be interested to know why I should pay for something designed and priced for a somewhat limited market, when it would appear that a torch attached to the bike would do the job a lot better?

Bob Frost
Deal, Kent

We’ve received a number of letters querying our results, which gave battery life well below the manufacturer’s claims in most cases.We measured the power consumption for each lamp and divided it into the rated capacity of typical alkaline and nickel/cadmium batteries – not particularly scientific, but clearly more accurate than the manufacturer’s methods…

The Lucido claims are way off the mark.The theoretical battery life of these lamps (using the best batteries available) is 34 hours for the Lightwave, and 90 hours for the C10. Quite good, but nowhere near the claims. Are bicycle-specific lights worth buying? Only if they’re rugged enough for everyday use – and some may not be, see page 12… (Eds)

Legal LED Lights

brompton-bicycle-lightI have moved my Brompton’s (old style, non- halogen) front dynamo lamp from its rather low position to the top left side of the handlebar using the clamp part of a Vistalite VL300 bracket (with extra rubber insert) and an L-bracket from my box of bits.The lamp has to extend mostly behind the handlebar so that it just misses the wheel axle when folded (the outer edge of the lens is protected by sellotape). Others could probably make a better homemade bracket. If an official bracket was available it would be much neater than this, but I was unhappy with the low standard mounting.

Also – according to Cycling Plus magazine, the Cateye EL300 is the first front LED lamp to pass British Standards: it isn’t marked as such because the pass is so recent. I am still unimpressed with the Basta SL6: I replaced its circuitry with my own, sealed the gaps with epoxy resin, and chose a seatpost BS6102/3 Knightlite for battery backup/legality.

Alan Bradley

We’re not convinced that high level lights are more visible to drivers, but are willing to be persuaded otherwise. Incidentally, do keep the light below the maximum BS height of 1.5 metres. Failure to get this right may cause legal problems after a collision.

It would appear that Cycling Plus has made a minor boo-boo over the Cateye EL300.This front LED lamp is definitely not BS approved, but a British Standard version (EL300BS) should be available ‘from mid-2003, if not sooner’, according to Cateye. As we said, some examples of the Basta lamp have suffered from water ingress, but improvements are apparently being made. (Eds)

What About the Cargobike?

cargobikecargobike2I couldn’t have agreed more with Professor Pivot’s comments on child carrying in A to B 33. However, he seems to have been rather fixated with Mr Burrows’ new contraption as the only solution! The Cargobike by Dutch bike builder VanAndel fits Professor P’s criteria rather well… and it doesn’t require any modification before being pressed into service. The Cargobike is a ‘load before rider’ configuration with a 20″ front wheel and 26″ rear, the rider sitting directly behind the load box which has a bench seat to the rear of it and two child harnesses. Great for seeing what the little blighters are up ts to, or if your excessive load of shopping is about to fall out! We tested it recently and were very impressed. It rode and functioned in true A to B form. It was surprisingly easy to push if the hills got too much, or for Loadcarryers: 8-Freight (top), negotiating around the shops.The no- Cargobike (below) nonsense standard spec will please too: Full chainguard, Nexus 4-speed hub, hub brakes, mudguards, dynamo and an agricultural strength stand – but what else would you expect from a Dutch bike? The Cargobike is sold in the UK via

Steven Brandist
Birstall, Leicester

Prof Pivot replies:Yes, it was a little amiss of me to concentrate on the one design, as a number of intriguing cargo bikes exist on the continent. Keeping the cargo in view is certainly useful, but like most such machines, the Cargobike has two potential weakness – wheels of different diameters, with all the attendant hassle that brings, and a long and rather complicated steering train. Having witnessed a steering joint fail on a long wheelbase recumbent, sending the rider through a hedge (fortunately unhurt), I am wary of advocating such unnecessary complication! The Cargobike costs a little more too – £1,150 against £975 for the 8-Freight. (Eds).

Rim Failures Unacceptable

With regard to rim failures (Pivot Points, A to B 32), I can’t help thinking that excessive wear might not have been properly considered when they started putting alloy rims onto bikes instead of steel ones.Aluminium provides better braking, but at the expense of wear to a vital component. I wonder how many utility but non-enthusiast cyclists (ie, the ones who don’t read cycling magazines) ride a high mileage but know nothing about this. I can’t help feeling that there would be a lot more fuss if a car’s brakes were wearing away the wheels every time they were applied, in such a way as to make catastrophic failure a high probability.

My Brompton has now done 3,000 miles and I was planning on asking Bike Trax to do a major overhaul, but it looks as if I might have to pay for a rebuild of the back wheel too. And if you ride a 5-speed, you can’t just change the whole wheel, since the hub is now irreplaceable.

John Love

Firstly, don’t panic – catastrophic failure is extremely unlikely, provided you inspect the rim once in a while and stop immediately if the brakes show any sign of juddering. However, as you say, many people don’t inspect rims regularly, and they shouldn’t need to.

16-inch rim replacement should cost in the region of £60 including parts and labour, making it one of the biggest running expenses for a Brompton, but it’s unavoidable without resorting to drum, disc or roller brakes.

Incidentally, despite hearing a number of gloomy reports about Shimano’s roller-brake system, the brakes on our Giant Lafree have settled down well, giving excellent all-weather service at 1,000 miles plus.We’ll keep you informed… (Eds)

Lay off the Car

A to B generally includes a good balance of interesting and informative articles, covering both the technical and practical aspects of cycle use. However, some of the more virulently ‘anti car-use’ contributions grate a little. Those contributors should realise that anything pursued to excess – or without consideration for others – can be equally unacceptable. Hence pedestrians find cycle use on footpaths irritating… if every motorist abandoned the car and turned to cycle use, think of the effect! There were traffic problems in ancient Rome…

Richard Dunn
Kettering, Northants

Traffic problems have been around since the invention of the wheel, but as you quite rightly say, mis-use of transport causes problems, and mis-use of the car has reached epidemic proportions. Selfish behaviour by motorists does indeed force cyclists onto the pavement once in a while – we’ve all done it.We’d be delighted to share the roads with pedestrians, horses or even chariots. (Eds)

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

A to B is my favourite . Good value . First class and fun . Good and lively . Absolutely invaluable . Analytical and informative . Good mix of features . A good read .Always a good read Common sense and refreshing approach . Back to its best – more bike info, fewer gimmicks It really is great now . More on full-size folders . More imaginative designs, less about Brompton Perhaps more about accessories . Beware always of smugness and cynicism . Definitely too much about electric bikes . Not too much motorised stuff please .Very interesting – particularly electric bikes and public transport . Keep up the electric bike work! Bring back The Mole . A brilliant light in a dim world . Multum in Parvo [much in little] Small is beautiful . I would like to have it more often if possible [Ah, wouldn’t we all?]


Letters – A to B 33 – Airframe . Brompton . EZB . Virgin Trains . Zap

Wibbly-Wobbly Wings

Thank you for your excellent review of the Airframe.You have certainly identified the most important features of the bike – the aluminium frame not only gives exceptional light weight but also an enjoyable sporty ride.When you combine this with the structure, you have a very comfortable ride and a bike that can indeed be ridden over drains and manhole covers with no shock to the system.

However, as the cliche goes, you cannot ‘have your cake and eat it’, and the modulus of elasticity of aluminium is one third that of steel.Would you complain when boarding an aeroplane that the wings are ‘wibbly-wobbly’ (Mole, A to B 32)? Of course not; if they didn’t flex, you would disembark rapidly.

Naturally, a relatively elastic frame gives some loss of efficiency, but this is more than compensated for by the increase in acceleration due to the lighter weight of the bike.There are three points that need correcting in your review: 1) The vertical adjustment of the handlebars is actually 50mm; 2) There will be two saddle columns to cater for riders from five foot to six foot three inches; 3) The handlebar stem has been meticulously tested by an independent materials laboratory and found to be completely satisfactory.

Colin Jarrett
Silkmead Tubular Ltd, Dunstable

More Italian Technology

italian-technologyThe ‘retention toilets’ on Virgin’s new Cross- Country Voyagers not only shut down and lock themselves when the water runs out, or the tanks fill up with effluent, but there is no facility to top up with water en route.The good old ‘dump on the track’ loos were often given a quick top-up, and High Speed Train sets were given water bowsers at all major stations.

On one recent train (crammed with over 200 people, after collecting passengers from the broken-down train in front) only one of the three toilets was working, and that on a wing and a prayer. Even three is barely adequate for four carriages – we used to have two per carriage. If that one toilet had shut down, we’d either have had riots, or people would have been forced to relieve themselves in the gangway between the coaches, with accomplices holding modesty screens across the doors.

Dave Holladay

Lots of complaints about the new Voyager – they’re also unreliable, too small, too noisy, lacking in luggage and bike space, and mobile phones don’t work in them.We stick by our view that British Rail’s High Speed Train was (and remains) one of the finest trains ever built. (Eds)

Cards on the Table

Are you a commuter magazine? Or a folder and electric bike magazine? If you are a commuter/utility mag, then please include some full-size wheel commuter/utility bikes (Dutch preferably).

In the last three years cycling to work, I have seen just one Brompton and one unknown folder – everything else is a ‘Mountain Bike’, or the most popular bike of all – the BMX. If, of course, you are a specialist folder/electric bike magazine, then you’re doing an excellent job.

M Griffiths
Maidstone, Kent

This is a tricky issue – we’d love to do more on utility bikes (we reviewed them briefly in A to B 25), but we feel this sort of machine is more within the remit of the CTC magazine, ‘Cycle Touring & Campaigning’, or ‘London Cyclist’. However, they aren’t testing them – for whatever reason – so we will definitely return to ‘proper bikes’ at some stage. People ride the most extraordinary bicycles in this country, and the blame lies largely with cycle magazines and cycle shops. If people aren’t shown proper bicycles, they’ll never discover how wonderful they can be. (Eds)

Use Those Paths!


Everyone has their own candidate for most useless cycle path. We rather like this example from Dulwich in south London. Cyclists are expected to leave the carriageway just behind the photographer, give way to a private drive, negotiate the chicane round a tree, before rejoining the carriageway at the junction - the road isn’t even particularly dangerous, but the cycle path certainly is.

Thanks to the sterling efforts of Sustrans and other lobbyists over the years, we now have a half decent network of cycle paths throughout the country. Yet wherever I venture, I see cyclists riding on the road, oblivious to these facilities – sense, self-preservation and reason cast to the wind. It would come as no surprise to me if the government decided to suspend future provision as a waste of public funds, and who do we have to blame but the selfish antics of those who can’t be bothered to slow down to negotiate the odd pavement crossing.

Geoff Green
Mansfield, Nottinghamshire

As we understand it, the government provides very little money, thus cycle paths tend to be designed for local leisure use, rather than commuting. Few motorists would opt for a new road bypass if it ran twice round the local beauty spot, through a series of gates, and ended in a sea of broken glass. At night, there can be personal safety issues too. Off-road cycle provision is useful, but what we really need is safer roads. (Eds)

Are They Related?





Congratulations on an exceptional Issue 32. I was fascinated to read about the Giant EZB. However, I cannot believe that you did not notice the Giant’s remarkable resemblance to the Riese and Müller Equinox, even down to the fine detail of the chain concealed in the rear fork?

All of the frame members and unusual angles are almost identical, also the suspension, the seat, rear deck, hub gears, chainguard, etc. If the Giant was yellow, it would be difficult to tell them apart! Is this a coincidence, or just a straight copy?

It would have been interesting to compare the newcomer with the bike it appears to have been cloned from. Or at least to acknowledge that the Giant is not quite ‘A brand new concept’ or ‘a completely new sort of bicycle’.

Michael Roberts
Cirencester, Gloucestershire

The general layout is bound to share a few angles, just as conventional bikes do. Incidentally, we didn’t mean to imply that we saw the EZB as a brand new concept, rather that this was Giant’s view. Giant denies any link accidental or otherwise between the designs, and points out that the R&M bike costs £1,080-£1,330 while the EZB costs £595-£975. (Eds)

Better Bike Book

Just a quick reply to the queries on page 16 of A to B 32 about a good manual for bicycle repair (and the review of what sounds like a dreadful one on page 10), I find Ben Searle’s book Bicycle Maintenance is comprehensive and written by someone who really knows his subject and communicates it well. He deals with both Sachs and Sturmey Archer hub gears. The book costs £18 including UK p&p directly from Ben Searle, 77 Strathmore Road, Horfield, Bristol BS7 9QH. For overseas postage rates, contact Ben on 0117 9879894 or by email at:

James Greig

For Sturmey See Tony

In response to the queries about instructions for maintaining hub gears Letters, A to B 32), my website has copies of the original documentation for virtually every Sturmey (and BSA) hub produced.There are instructions for more than 40 hubs, from 1902 until 2000.These are presented in PDF format, making the drawings zoomable (typically up to 800%) and easily printed out on a page-by-page basis.

Tony Hadland

Our apologies to Tony, who is much too self-effacing to mention that he is also the author of ‘The Sturmey Archer Story’, which includes some invaluable tips. See also page 37 of this issue. (Eds)

More Goo

Regarding instant puncture repairs (A to B 29). If your readers are near to a branch of Decathlon they can buy small cans for puncture repairs at £3.These claim to fix one MTB tube and comes with schraeder and presta adaptors. Can’t tell if it works in practice, but it’s got to be better than wrestling with the tyres on my Moulton at the roadside!

Steve Cray

Zap those Lights!

bicycle-lightsMany thanks for all the words of elegance, wit and wisdom I glean from your matchless pages every issue. Could I seek direct enlightenment about two matters, please? I’m about to fit a Zap motor (probably the SX model from a UK supplier) to my conventional roadster to coset a grumbling knee on my daily, far- from-flat, six mile commute.

I’m wondering which 26″ x 1.75″ tyre to fit with the Zap.There are plenty of low-tread styles at my favourite local suppliers, but blank looks at the mention of the Primo, which is regularly lauded in A to B. Should I hold out for this brand, or is it favoured more for its high-pressure, small(er) wheel benefits?

Short of importing Zap’s own lighting products (assuming they can still supply), where nearer home might one purchase 12 volt cycle lights to fully exploit the power source? Much of my route is delightful by day but hazardous at night, so in the darker months I expect that the beefier lamps would be as much a boon as the assisted hill climbing.

Anthony Foard
Wirral, Cheshire

Following financial problems, Zap appears to have ceased manufacture of its motor, so if you have one, hold on to it.The Zap uses a large 12 volt lead-acid battery – an excellent candidate for powering a headlight.When we were using a Zap, we fitted twin headlamps with 6 volt 3 watt halogen bulbs and wired the pair in series, feeding directly off the battery.The result was enough light to give safe passage along the most miserable country lanes and convince motorists that the bike was something bigger, resulting in the sort of courtesy cyclists rarely see.The lights increased the drain on the battery by only 4% – hardly enough to measure. As for the tyre, it doesn’t need to be a slick, but must have a central tread-free area to contact the Zap friction roller. (Eds)

Brompton Map Holder

I eagerly look forward to each new issue of the magazine – a brilliant read!

I am hoping that you can help as I imagine that somebody has solved this problem before. I use a Brompton for surveying possible cycle routes and frequently need to refer to a map. Can you suggest a suitable map holder which does not interfere with folding the bike?

Alan Couchman

Two proprietary map-holders are said to work on the Brompton.The Zefal, which Velcros to the Brompton bag frame (mail-order from Avon Valley Cyclery), and the Mini Map Holder (mail-order from St John Street Cycles). St John Street says this will just fit the standard handlebars, but works better on the Brompton handlebar upgrade brace.We have no experience with these map holders, but will endeavour to compare them before the next issue. (Eds)

Greetings from Belgium

Congratulations on your excellent magazine. Am I the only subscriber in Belgium?

1. It would be nice if you could add a link to your web page directing us to a few extra (colour) pictures of the items you test.
2. Please keep in mind your readers from out of Britain. I can live with the ‘railway’ section, but I am not at all interested in several pages on the history of the M1 (as I can imagine that you would not be interested in reading anything on the E40 or the E17 that cut through Belgium either!!)
3. I agree that the Brompton is a quality tool. Outside Britain however, with prices that are sometimes 50% higher, the superiority over other constructors is not always so evident!

Filip Decock
Avelgem, Belgium

An opportunity for some statistics! Our European subscription base is pitifully small – 7 in The Netherlands, 7 in Belgium and 16 in Germany.This compares with 150 in the United States, and a total of 2,100, mainly from the UK.The print run is now 2,500. 1). Despite a few niggles, our epage experiment seems to have worked, and we think colour pictures are an excellent idea. See ‘A to B Gallery’ at 2) We’d love to hear about the E40, provided it covers as much historical ground as the A5! 3) Around 75% of our (mainly British) readers own a Brompton – obviously our choice of articles tends to reflect this. (Eds)

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

A standard others can only admire . A breath of fresh air . A splendid magazine .The best cycling magazine available . Honest, factual and practical . Fascinating . Always readable Essential reading . Very good throughout . Should be twice as thick and twice as frequent A consistent top-quality read . Good reading – good value . Like the bike/public transport mix Excellent coverage of wide topics and intelligent reviews . Slightly whacky style makes A to B a pleasure to read . £12 is cheap for good independent advice . Helpful and informative Please emphasise the environmental and health aspects of pedal power . Fewer battery bikes please! Our main interest is electric machines . More about restoration Hoping to read about tricycles . Too much about trains and not enough anti-car bile More long-term tests of Birdy and Brompton . More trip planning and multi-modal transport Occasionally anti-car (I don’t own a car, and am not pro-car) . A beam of light in a grim world An island of sanity in a country going slowly mad . Invariably accurate, occasionally caustic – rather good . A bit blokey and sexist, but otherwise rather good

Letters – A to B 32 – Auto Lights . Manuals . Suspension Seat Posts

A Jolly Good Machine!

I read with interest your comments about the Giant LAFree Lite electric bicycle. A few days after reading your review, I stumbled upon a chance to test one. It proved to be everything you said it was.The bike is a revelation. It was indeed almost completely silent, and my best estimate is that the pedelec motor arrangement did about two-thirds of the work of moving bicycle and rider.

At the same time, I tested one of the Sport models, and the difference in handling was dramatic.The Sport model (and others of its weight class) rides like a moped; the Lite model rides like a bicycle.The light weight of the bike and battery opens up a new world for the long-range rider. For longer range, carry a spare NiMH battery.This is not a serious option with a heavy lead-acid battery, but it is perfectly reasonable with the battery pack of the Lite model.

Thanks to your review, I have seen the future of the electric bicycle. It provides a quiet, easy and sweat-free ride.Your comments were spot on, as usual.

Martin Snelus
Torrance, California

The US cycle trade has interpreted the Giant electric brand as ‘L.A.Free’, whereas Europe insists on ‘Lafree’. The Sport model seems to be known here as the E-Trans or E-Race. (Eds)

Bottom Preload

I think your review of the Giant Lafree is unfair and incorrect in the comments on suspension seat posts: ‘…the saddle to crank distance varies as you ride…’ and ‘There’s no easy answer, other than fitting a proper suspension system.’

It is important to set the preload to about equal to the rider’s weight so that when you sit on it there is little if any deflection. It appears that the seat post on the Giant Lafree (and the Powabyke Commuter) had little if any preload and when the rider sat on the saddle the seat post moved down quite a bit and he was in effect sitting on pogo stick.This would give a wallowy ride with varying saddle to crank distance and, as your reviewer found, make stopping at traffic lights a hazardous and uncomfortable experience as well as making pedalling inefficient.

A suspension seat post can give most of the advantages of rear suspension without its major disadvantage – the bouncing when riding out of the saddle. Neither the seat post nor rear suspension accommodates high frequency irregularities in the road surface – the annular pneumatic suspension deals with these, together with the padding in your pants.

Mike Lenton
Kirkby-in-Furness, Cumbria

Quite so. Our escape clause on these occasions, is that we always adjust bikes as prescribed in the manual. Giant doesn’t put any information in its manual because the bikes come with a leaflet from Post Moderne (ours didn’t). Powabyke says nothing because its older seat posts are non- adjustable.This has now changed, and Powabyke says the manual will be updated. (Incidentally, don’t try unscrewing the plate under the seat pin on older Powabykes, or the spring will fly out).

The disadvantage with preload, of course, is that a given setting will only work properly for people of similar weight, and the abrupt travel stop on rebound can be annoying. Post Moderne suggests adjusting for a fairly large static deflection of 10-15mm, out of 40mm travel.The company also provides springs of three different rates for fine-tuning. (Eds)

Easy on Auto Lights!

I normally respect the technical aspects of your reviews but it seems you are still in the dark about lights – namely the operation of the Nexus hub dynamo (unless you were sent a duff). I recently fitted an identical system and can report that it works perfectly. I leave the switch on auto all the time and it comes on ‘like magic’ as it should, in any low light conditions – it does not need to be very dark.The only thing you cannot do is switch between modes while moving. However, once set to ‘Auto’ while stationary there’s really no need to ever fiddle with it again. I’m very pleased with mine and recently completed a 10- hour night ride, running the dynamo continuously without any problems. Drag seems much less than with a rim dynamo.

David Kemp
Woodbridge, Suffolk

Auto Conundrums

lumotec-bicycle-lightYou commented in A to B 31 that the Lumotec light did not come on under trees/twilight. I have one fitted with the SON hub dynamo, and whilst the instructions were unclear, I found that it has worked very satisfactorily.The problem I have found is getting the rear light to work – I suspect earth connections.The rear light is powered from the SON hub through the Lumotec front light, but I have only used the live wire.

It took me a while to work it all out.There is a switch on the headlamp – ‘S’ is for ‘Sensor ON’ and ‘1’ is ‘Always ON’. So in theory you should always have your lights on when they are needed. It was only after a while that I realised the Lumotec rear light came on automatically too, and I am guessing that when the connection is fixed it should come on at the same time as the front light.

Adrian L Mills

Readers may recall that our unit worked well, but failed to switch on at dusk unless you stopped and restarting. It turns out that the Comfort (and any other bike fitted with the Nexus automatic hub dynamo and automatic Lumotec lamps) has light sensors on the dynamo switch and the lamp, but one is redundant.With no information as to the meaning of ‘S’ and ‘1’, we used the Nexus sensor switch, which didn’t work too well. But leave the Nexus ‘ON’, and the Lumotec at ‘S’ and everything works perfectly… If you’re buying one of these automatic systems, we’d suggest matching the Lumotec with a non-sensor hub, or the Nexus hub with a non-sensor lamp.

With Adrian’s system (non-sensing hub, but sensor front light and ‘slave’ rear light) a power feed should run to the rear lamp from ‘downstream’ of the sensor – the terminals are under the lamp. In this way, front and rear lights should switch on and off together. (Eds)

Engineered for Safety?

Regarding car ads (Mole, A to B 31), I saw one a couple of weeks ago for a Mercedes, suggesting that the car was ‘better than walking’. I sent a note to the Advertising Standards Authority explaining why it isn’t… I’ve only had an acknowledgement back so far.

I’m not sure about motor manufacturers realising that improved safety features get cancelled out by changed driving practice, as you suggest in the Giant review (A to B 31, page 25). I believe it (and it’s my job to calculate its effect), but I know other safety engineers who deny it. One Swedish engineer I worked with summed it up as ‘Volvo drivers are maniacs’. It’s well explained in Robert Davies’ Death on the Streets and Risk by John Adams.

Peter Stanton

New stock? Never!

New sleeper train guards vans (A to B 31, page 14)? Not likely! When these are scrapped, that’ll be the end.They were recently refurbished and should last as long as the sleeper carriages themselves.

As for 12-tooth sprockets (page 17), we have used one on a Brompton for many years, without problems.That said, we used Shimano Dura-Ace, although filing off the splines was very hard work.

Finally,V-brakes (page 21). Perfectly adequate? You testers may not live with most bikes long enough to wear the rims out, but some of us do! And more energy going into the bike means more has to be taken out by the brakes. If an electric bike is used as you advocate – 30 mile round trip commuting – it will see lots of rim wear. Even on a Dawes Galaxy, the rims fail before the tyres now.

David Edge

We’ve now done 500 hard miles with a 12-tooth sprocket without a hint of trouble.We take the point about rim wear, particularly with a fast and fairly heavy commuter machine like the Comfort, although we’ve heard that Shimano roller brakes can be less than reliable in the long run. Good old drum brakes are still the best choice, but discs are getting lighter and cheaper all the time. (Eds)

Like That Bike!

We bought a secondhand Like-a-Bike through your small ads. It arrived on Thursday afternoon and by Tuesday afternoon our four year old could ride her own bike – built in obsolescence! We have since lent it to various friends.

Catherine Girvan

These little pedal-less bikes are a great learning aid, and fun too. At 21/2, Alexander very quickly mastered balance on a Like-a-Bike, despite having lost all confidence on a conventional bike with stabilisers. Eight months later, he rode straight off when placed on an ordinary bike. Now aged 31/2, he’s quite proficient, and proof enough for us that the system works.

We couldn’t sell our Like-a-Bike – it’s become a much loved family heirloom. (Eds)

Unnatural Desires

I have an irrational desire to own a recumbent and I like the idea of being able to convert my T5 Brompton, if only so I can convert it back if it proves to be a bad idea.The web site address I have isn’t supported any longer and I wonder if you have any up to date contact information for the manufacturer or an importer? I thought you had reviewed it in A to B but can’t find the item.

Secondly, I have had a reliability problem with the Basta rear standlight fitted as an upgrade to my Brompton.As the dark nights are drawing on I took it to pieces and found on close examination of the batteries that they are alkaline not rechargeables (as I had thought). Fitting a new set of long life batteries seems to have solved the problem. I mention this as others may be having similar problems and it could be a cheap and easy solution.

Paul Denyer

The Brompton recumbent kit is still produced in Germany by Juliane Neuß. Juliane can be emailed at , but Bikefix (Lamb’s Conduit Street, London, tel: 0207 405 1218) usually has a demonstrator available.We reviewed the kit in A to B 8, and great fun it was too. The Basta Standlight is a hybrid dynamo/battery rear lamp giving the best of both worlds – plenty of light underway, but remaining on for four minutes when stationary too.The batteries should last for years, but Brompton says a few early lamps were faulty, and yours could be one of these.We’d recommend a visit to your dealer. (Eds)

Any hub info?

Can you give me a few handy tips, or guide me to where in your esteemed publication you have mentioned adjustment of hubs other than the Sturmey 3-speed. And could you explain why the Brompton should not be adjusted ‘on it’s haunches’ – why not do it upside down? Finally, if money was no object would you buy a Rohloff hub? Are you still happy with your crank-mounted Speed-Drive system?

Mark James

There really is very little consumer information on this subject (see below), so it’s high time we tackled hub gear adjustment – one for Professor Pivot. As for the Brompton, when the rear wheel is folded under the bike, the cables are pulled tight, making a nonsense of any adjustment. And if the bike is upside down, the shifter may be slightly depressed, giving similar results.With the 5-speed in particular, the only sure answer is to adjust the hub in the ready-to-ride position, then grovel about on the ground, or use a small mirror to check the indicator position.

No, we wouldn’t buy a Rohloff – we’re delighted with the Speed-Drive and the wide-range Brompton 2×3, both of which give adequate gear range for a lot less money and trouble. (Eds)


Can you tell me how I can get instruction manuals for bicycles, similar to the Haynes manuals for cars? Alternatively, do firms like Shimano and Sturmey Archer supply maintenance/overhaul literature?

Kenneth Smith
Ulverstone, Cumbria

Haynes does produce a bicycle book (‘The Bike Book’, Fred Milson, £14.50).We haven’t seen it, although we understand it has just been reprinted. Otherwise, the best general guide book these days is Richard’s Bicycle Book (ISBN 0 330 37717 5).

For hub gears and older bicycles, the ‘Reader’s Digest Home Maintenance Manual’ (ISBN 027 6000 064), was published for about twelve years from 1972, and includes a superbly illustrated bicycle chapter.This was published on it’s own from 1974 as a paperback: ‘The Reader’s Digest Guide to Bicycle Repairs’ (ISBN 027 6000 722), but went out of print long ago.

Both Shimano and Sturmey Archer can supply information sheets, but they’re designed for professional workshop staff and can be hard going… Although we say it ourselves, we dealt with day-to-day maintenance of Sturmey 3 and 5-speed hubs rather well in A to B 23. (Eds)

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

Gloriously unglamorous . Pithy, pungent, progressive and perfect . An absolute gem The best . An information magazine par excellence! Entertaining and much needed A beautiful magazine .A treat waiting to be read . Extremely interesting . Still a great read Excellent read . A very interesting read . I read it cover to cover – even the technical bits An instant read on arrival . Good value for money . Full of intelligent comment without a surfeit of jargon . I am not too excited about electric bikes, but that could change The only reliable resource for railway information . Don’t change the content, style or format Priority to bike tests, please . Fab! Please review the Birdy Green . I’m interested in tricycles Like news on what politicians are doing . Keep up the quality reviews and political comments Too political and serious recently . Historical articles would be nice . More general articles More news, less nudes please . [The nude], Issue 31, page 5 is not acceptable, but don’t take me off your mailing list . Please do not publish this comment . Knows its stuff – serious soul I could pop my clogs soon, but must subscribe for another two years . Occasionally incomprehensible to post-colonials . Get the feeling you’re fighting a losing battle? [No]

Letters – A to B 31 – Letters – Brompton . Buses . Electrodrive . Hub Gears . Night Sleepers

Teach ‘em a lesson!

I’d like to add my voice to the recent debate (Letters A to B 29 & 30) on feigning injury after a crash. I have suffered two nasty incidents in the last few years – one where I was deliberately sideswiped by a motorist and another where a car passenger engrossed in a mobile phone conversation opened his door onto a cycle lane. As I avoided a serious collision and/or injury in both cases, the police were completely disinterested, even though I had some enthusiastic witnesses.The point is not so much that I suffered trauma, but that I was lucky or skillful enough on these occasions (probably the latter!) to escape injury. Neither miscreant showed the slightest remorse, both got off scot-free, and they’re both liable to re-offend.The next time it might be a child or an elderly person.With the benefit of hindsight, I would certainly stage an injury in future, if it helped get the police involved.

William Smith
Kensington, London

Easy on the Motorist!

I am surprised at your answer to Malcolm Clarke’s letter with regard to feigning injury following a Road Traffic Accident. I have been a motorist for many years and a cyclist since childhood, and I have certainly seen some stupid driving, but I have also seen some stupid cycling, especially more recently – cyclists riding through pedestrian crossings while people are crossing, along pavements, the wrong way down one-way streets, and through red lights. If a cyclist does this and is hit by a car, are you still going to claim the motorist is to blame? If so, feigning an injury in an attempt to arouse sympathy from the crowd would be outrageous. I really believe you should think this through again. If I drove my car like some people ride bikes, I would expect to lose my licence.

Colin Rose (Member, the Association of British Drivers)
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Cyclists certainly do some daft things, but they’re generally only risking their own lives. Children can be daft too, as can animals – as an experienced motorist, you’ll no doubt appreciate the need to predict their actions too.The biggest cause of crashes is motorists driving too fast for the conditions and being unable to avoid animate or inanimate objects such as cars, cyclists, children, brick walls or trees.The first rule for all road users must be to travel at a speed that allows them to stop when the unexpected occurs. And as motorists represent the greatest danger to others, we think it’s perfectly fair that they should suffer tougher penalties if they fail to observe this simple rule.

Incidentally, in a useful bit of Euro-harmonisation, we understand that the UK may eventually be forced to adopt the Dutch model, putting the onus on motorists to prove that they were not at fault following a collision with a cyclist or pedestrian, rather than visa versa. (Eds)

Cars are Rubbish

Thanks for running an interesting magazine. I think it’s wonderful we can have a magazine for car bashing. If anyone asks me why I don’t drive (I can, and have a licence), I say ‘I would be ashamed to’. Apart from the fact that cars are ugly, inefficient and stink, they’re rubbish in engineering terms, solving the problems of centrifugal and gyroscopic forces by simply adding more weight and wider tyres. How car drivers are not ashamed to take it upon themselves to live off the fat of the land in this way is beyond my comprehension.

Henryk Belda
Penicuik, Midlothian

More Bus Troubles

After travelling to work with my Brompton on the bus for six months, I encountered a problem on 1st July. A new driver said ‘We do not accept folding bikes’. I said ‘I haven’t had any problem before’, to which he replied ‘We carry pushchairs and suitcases.We do not accept folding bikes!’ Fortunately, he agreed to let me travel that time.

However, since our paths could cross again, I took his registration number and called Arriva HQ, where I was told that the company leaves it up to the driver, but I was impressed with a response acknowledging my complaint two days later. Coincidentally, I encountered the same driver the following day. He just looked at my pass and said ‘Thank you’.

Only five days after the incident I received a written response from the Operations Manager apologising and explaining that I can travel with my bicycle as long as there is enough room on the bus, which there always is, because I commute in the opposite direction to most other people.

The company explained, ‘the driver concerned will be seen regarding this incident,’ and even enclosed two free single trip vouchers. I was impressed with the way Arriva dealt with my complaint, especially since I rely on the bus to get to work. It would be ironic if the company now responsible for the Dales Bike Bus is found to be turning away passengers at the first sight of a package that looks vaguely like a bicycle.

Jonathan Pattison

Rivet Counting

In A to B 3, you trialled the three 7-speed hub gears then available and wrote thus: ‘… we would totally discount the Shimano… the seven speed appears to be lacking in all areas against the other hubs.’ In Cycle Touring & Campaigning magazine, Chris Juden reluctantly recommended the Sachs over the Sturmey Archer at the same time. In the current issue of Velovision, Crispin Bennett suggests the Shimano Nexus 7 is more trouble than it’s worth.

In A to B 30 you tell us that the Sachs/SRAM 7-speed is, ‘nowhere near as pleasant to use or adjust as the superficially similar Sturmey or Nexus’. Can you clarify please? Before you conclude that I am a sad rivet counter, my main concern is to buy products as locally as possible – now that Sturmey Archer has gone, I would have little doubt that Shimano would like to become the sole supplier of these hubs.

Clive Parsons

In most respects – weight, price, gear range and (particularly) adjustability – the Sturmey was streets ahead of the opposition, but it proved frail in service.With the benefit of several years use of the others – the Nexus has the edge on adjustment, but like Chris Juden, we’d give the SRAM a rather grudging thumbs up overall. Our main gripe is that this hub uses a thin steel rod rather than a cable to effect gear changes, which can be hit-and-miss affairs. Sun Race Sturmey is reintroducing the old Sturmey Archer hubs, so we may see a new 7-speed in the shops soon. (Eds)

Hard Enough?

I have been searching for a hard suitcase to fit a Brompton and at last I’ve found one… a Globe-Trotter Eminent GT Pullman 32in, reduced from £109 to £43.60 in the sale at Debenham’s Stoke-on-Trent store. Lucky me!

There is room on all sides to cushion the bike with clothes etc, to help protect it during airport loading and unloading. A more expensive Globe-Trotter model was given a glowing write-up in the travel section of the Sunday Telegraph recently. It said the Globe- Trotter brand was well known for durability. However, I have not yet been able to put the case to a flight test. Globe-Trotter cases are distributed by Greenwich Group Limited, Fourth Floor, 5 Greenwich View Place, Millharbour, London E14 9NN.

Chris Proudlove

Sleep On It!

Thanks for the information regarding cheap sleeper tickets in A to B 28. I used it early in March to travel to Fort William, spending just one night in the town. Due to strike action, I found my return journey the following day was to be from Inverness. As I didn’t fancy a road coach transfer, I cycled to Inverness via Aviemore. On another trip, I travelled from London to Glasgow, and cycled to Stirling, returning three days later by train.The following information may be of use to fellow travellers:

1) If storing a Brompton bicycle in a sleeper berth, it will only fit at right angles to the bed and can be positioned near the sink. On three trips where I had to share, the other person was happy with this! I did cover the bike with a plastic sack.
2) A full touring pannier bag will fit along the sink unit shelf between the two beds.
3) I used another sack over the front bag to keep the rain off…

Roger Taylor
Weybridge, Surrey

The sleeper trains are a great way to get to Scotland with your bike and they’re run by Scotrail, not Virgin – reason enough for some travellers.We managed to fit all our bags and two Bromptons in the berth when we travelled to Aberdeen a few years ago, but space was obviously at a premium. For those with larger bicycles, skis, or huntin’ shootin’ & fishin’ paraphernalia, the Caledonian Sleepers still have guards vans, but the situation may change when new rolling stock is introduced. Visit for the latest information. (Eds)

A Vote for Solid Tyres

Why are cycle shops so set against solid tyres? Punctures put people off cycling, and with modern technology such as shock absorbers, telescopic forks etc, it shouldn’t matter too much if they are a wee bit firm!

I’d given up cycling because of punctures – I used to cycle to work, but the bike proved unreliable, so I started motoring. I had a Bickerton too, and I loved it! But at the start of a holiday in the Lake District, I suffered a flat tyre, miles from the nearest cycle shop.What with the bad weather as well, I ended up taking the next train home.

Now, thanks to Green Tyres, I’m back on the bike and life’s worth living again!

Jean Watson
Muirhead, Strathclyde

For bigger wheels and lowish speeds, solid tyres can be perfectly practical. However, rolling resistance and a hard ride become more of a problem on smaller tyres, particularly 16 inch and below.We tried a Brompton with hybrid foam-filled tubes and the tyres were warm to the touch after a couple of miles, as was the rider (see A to B 9). Big sizes abound, but there are no solid tyres to suit the 349mm Brompton, Micro or Bickerton.To some extent, though, the puncture resistance of modern tyres has reduced the need for solid tyres.You might find it worth looking again at pneumatics! (Eds)

Know Any More?

A group of us are looking into trying to buy a Velocity electric bike from Switzerland as we’ve read some good things about them. Unfortunately, the website is all in German and we know of no outlets in the UK. Do you have any information on these very practical sounding bikes?

Richard Peace
Wakefield,West Yorkshire

This is one for our Swiss and German readers, because this attractive and practical-looking bike is not available in the UK at present.The specification reads like an electric bike wish-list: 24kg (53lb) in weight, top speed (an illegal) 18mph, range 17 miles and recharge time of under an hour. If you have no luck, try the manufacturer:Velocity AG, Burgweg 15, CH-4058 Basel, Switzerland. Tel: +41 61 693 4358. (Eds)

In Favour of the Heinzmann

At last you review the best ebike! I bought a Heinzmann after road-testing all the others and being disappointed every time. Reading the company’s website convinced me to buy one and I am not disappointed. None of the problems you mentioned are there on Heinzmann’s own bike, the Estelle, and the range of motors is helpful: I chose a good compromise of speed and range.

My bike has a conventional throttle control but includes a pedal movement sensor that acts as a ‘dead mans handle’, disconnecting the motor when you stop pedalling.You really must have a safety device of some sort on any electric-powered machine as it has to be safe to leave around children.

I hardly ever turn off the ignition, except for long periods of non-use, or to discourage tampering – the bike is padlocked when not being ridden.The batteries lock onto the rack effectively and hide very well behind panniers too. I bought mine with an extra battery, which always comes along.This is great when I forget to recharge or make a really long trip.

I plan to change the bicycle frame for a much bulkier one as I carry two kids of five and eight years old plus luggage. I tried a pedicab and a trailer, but we usually cycle in heavy, slow or stationary traffic. Incidentally, the front child carrier is hung on the handlebars and balances everything nicely – it’s not much fun carrying just one child on the back as all the weight of two batteries is there too.

The Estelle comes with every accessory you might need – speedo, pump, lights, mudguards, high pressure tubes and really good tyres with reflective walls. DO get a real one to try sometime – Yamahas and Powabykes nearly put me off E-bikes altogether. I still like riding bikes without power, but not while carrying or towing. Remember lightweights? You don’t get to do this sort of riding often when you have kids.


After 700 miles, we’re also pleased with our Heinzmann. Range while towing is a bit limited at 10- 14 miles, but it’s quite hilly here and the two hour recharge is a real bonus. Like Tim, we rarely use the powered bike for solo rides, but they’re becoming increasingly rare.What the Heinzmann has done is enable us to take Alexander on more and longer leisure rides that we might not have made otherwise. A few weeks ago we rode 12 miles to the Gartell Miniature Railway at Templecombe in Dorset (highly recommended for steam enthusiasts) and plugged the battery in at the ticket office for the journey home. Excellent stuff. (Eds)

A Spoke-eating Curry

Some months ago I bought a Curry Electrodrive and fitted it to my ‘get to work and back’ MTB. It works very well and I’m delighted with it although after 400+ miles of satisfactory service, the strange wobbling from the back of the bike and funny angle of the brakes became too much to ignore.You’ve no doubt guessed what comes next – Yep, ten spokes had snapped at the head end. What made it even worse was that they were all on one side, leaving only eight holding that side of the wheel up!

When the unit is bolted in place it bends the spokes towards the main unit and this stress eventually snaps the heads off.To remedy this I’ve fitted thick rubber sheet under the retaining plates, but only time will tell if this has cured the problem. It was fun re-lacing wheels again after all these years (I used to build them for friends when I was a lad) but I didn’t get the dishing right – good enough for work though!

John Rutter
Hartlepool, Lancashire

The Electrodrive is available in two versions – one driving via the spokes, which we always thought a bit dubious, and the other via a custom drive mechanism into the back wheel. Unfortunately, this cheap and powerful bicycle drive appears to be without a UK importer at present, but let us know if you hear otherwise. (Eds)

Bike, Scooter or Car?

I need personal transport to and from work, and I’ve never ridden an electric bike before. My journey is approximately 15 miles (seven miles there and seven back); the land is quite flat (North East Lincolnshire), and I am a reasonably fit 40 year old, but will need to do this five days a week. I remember cycling a non-electric bike when I was in my early twenties (the same type of journey), and I found that taxing five days a week.

Do you think a modern electric bike would be feasible? Or should a greying oldster like me use a car or scooter? Would even an electric bike puff me out?

Paul Hunter, via email

Please don’t consider the car or scooter, because the electric-assist bikes below will handle this sort of daily mileage with ease, and provide you with exercise and fresh air too. If speed is a priority, we’d suggest the Electrodrive (but note the warning on page 15), followed by Powabyke’s Euro, or Commuter. If low weight is important, we’d suggest the Giant Lafree Lite or Comfort, and if you have a suitable bike already, try the Heinzmann or S-Drive conversions. (Eds)

Dinner Plates

Just a quick note to support Martin Fillan’s comments about catching his feet on Brompton rear rollers. As a size 101/2 (45 European) I had exactly the same problem, especially if I was wearing trousers with turn-ups, which tended to catch on the rollers. I overcame it by taking the dished plastic wheels off and putting them back on with the dish facing inwards. This seemed to give just enough clearance.

Paul Elliott

We’d still suggest giving your feet a few weeks to become accustomed to the rollers before making changes, because the full width rollers really are useful, especially on the train. Back in 1991 when we bought our first Brompton, we found the rollers annoying, but within weeks we’d acclimatised and the problem never recurred. (Eds)

Brompton Trailer Hitch

Is there a child trailer tat would hitch onto the Brompton? I believe they normally clip onto the bottom bit of the back of the bike. I have just had a baby and am wanting a trailer, but lack any kind of space in my flat so am possibly looking for a collapsible bike, too.

Emily, via email

If space is a problem, we’d suggest the Brompton (unbeatable folded size), Burley Solo trailer (the smallest and lightest around), and the Burley hub-gear hitch.This is the best trailer hitch available, and you can even fold the Brompton rear wheel under with the trailer connected. Not cheap, but worth every penny. Burley UK: 07000 287539, Brompton: 020 8232 8484 (Eds).

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

Another epic issue . Excellent . Absolutely great . Love it . Not A to B, you’re A* Useful info and a great read . Unpretentious, small format, interesting . Humour, modest size, and above all, an eclectic mix . Dry humour . Love the acerbic wit . Best value publication A cover to cover magazine . Best magazine in the country . Bit lefty, but I enjoy it immensely Nice to read a different view on cycling . I look forward to it . Long may you continue Still the best . Jolly useful and fun . Always inspirational . Enjoy comments on modern life and glimpses of a potentially better future . Best representation of ecology with responsibility Very interested in electric bikes . Not remotely interested in electric bikes . Like the bits on railways and politics . Commuting by train with a folder is not that important to me Any information on Bromptons welcome . More on load-carrying, less on electrics More on cycling by folder in big cities . More on standard cycles and maintenance Keep up the comments on politics . Love it . Should be compulsory reading!