Tag Archives: A to B 31

A to B 31 – Reclaim the Lanes!

A to B 31 CoverIssue 30 featured only one road test.This time we have a queue of seven bikes that would take over a year to despatch at the rate of one per issue.We’ve decided to cut a number of regular features and hold some tests over until next time.The result, we hope, is something for everyone, and – needless to say – we’re pretty confident they’re all UK exclusives. In the long-term, we could solve the problem by growing, but that would mean a subscription increase – something we’ve tried hard to avoid.Your views would be welcome…

Several readers have shown concern that we might sell or trade their personal details to other publications or companies. As we do everything in-house from your initial enquiry to dispatching magazines – and have no intention of trading information at any price – please be assured that junk mail will not follow.

A to B 31 Index

A to B Blog 31, August 2002 – Sexy Advertising!

Sexy Nexus Shimano, A to B magazineFIRST PUBLISHED August 2002, A to B magazine.
Sexy advertising, Nudist Bromptons

It seems that New Labour now controls the biggest advertising budget in the United Kingdom – no less than £143 million last year. One wonders where it all goes. Particularly galling, given that asthma, obesity and heart disease are on the increase – together with less quantifiable but equally costly ailments such as stress – is that not a single penny of this vast budget has been used to promote the benefits of cycling.

Like it or not, advertising really works, hence the enormous budgets of the car manufacturers. Watch the ads, and you’ll believe – at some primeval level – that a car will make you smarter, sexier, more fashionable, or perhaps even a dab hand at wrestling bison to the floor. For who knows where such subliminal messages take root? These motor car ads are very tempting, of course – even for those who live and work in the inner city, and have no need for a car, or indeed anywhere to put it.

Meanwhile, the cycle industry has proved woefully inadequate – thanks to a seemingly terminal malaise – in fighting back in any meaningful form.

As the car manufacturers are aware, the vague promise of sex and/or bison wrestling, shifts product, even where the product concerned is a complex, smelly, dangerous and in some ways rather unsavoury machine, both for the owner and anyone within range. Bicycles, as everyone knows, provide health, wealth and speedy A to B transport, even before sex and other perceived benefits are brought into the picture. One might assume that cycling would be a self-publicising activity, but in a world of skillfully spun subliminal messages this appears not to be the case; hence the free-fall in bicycling usage.

Actually, a small band of overseas cycle industry players are quite good at selling two-wheelers as lifestyle accessories, and although most of their copy is directed at the German and Dutch markets, a little finds its way over here. Take Shimano, for example. Its utility bike products vary from the jolly good, to the downright pathetic, yet their market image is a crafty blend of high technology and user-friendliness. And how does Shimano sell these utility products? Why, with sex, of course! And the company has learnt the vital lesson – familiar to car manufacturers everywhere – that a sexy lady sells product to both men and women.


Sitting pretty without a bike in sight

The delightful ladies in our examples are busy promoting the benefits of bicycling, even though the one on the left is sitting on a bar stool enjoying a nice cooling drink. But in marketing terms, she has good legs, and that’s all that really matters. Were she sitting beside a Ford Thrust Probe, one might be tempted to visit the showroom, but there are enough pointers here to indicate that she rides a bicycle. No outlandish Lycra or ungainly crash helmet, but a nice top, a short skirt and a fine pair of legs.

Presumably, lady consumers spot a means of toning their own pins to a similar state of perfection, while the men choose Shimano in the vague expectation of buying the delightful creature a drink on the way home from work. We older folk merely try to recall the days when we had either the legs, or the pulling power, or both. It doesn’t really matter how it works, but work it does. To be fair, Shimano’s utility advertising features a few young men and some carefully manicured older folk too, but the headline images are young, sexy and predominantly female. If the UK government were to spend a tiny proportion of that £143 million budget on images promoting alternative transport – not necessarily involving sexy young women, but you get the picture – it might make a start on tackling the transport crisis.

Elsewhere, thanks to the tireless efforts of Japanese distributor Mizutani, the Brompton certainly sees more than its fair share of sexy advertising, although beyond this column, little finds its way to the West. Strangely, the Brentford bike also seems to attract a vociferous following amongst the nudist fraternity, but one hesitates to suggest a reason for this.

Brompton Nude Australia, A to B magazine

An artfully arranged photograph. Ian (right) demonstrates the bike to Maureen and Peter Whitworth-Chalk at the Twin Falls Nature Retreat, Ellenborough, New South Wales

This month, yet another example wings its way to these pages, courtesy of US-based Naturally magazine. In the Summer 2002 issue, Naturally visits Australia, where journalist Ian Maxwell purchases a New South Wales ‘Discovery Pass’ (‘a month’s unlimited travel on trains, buses, trams and ferries’) and sets forth to visit the state’s scattered naturist colonies by Brompton and public transport. All in a day’s work, eh?

Ian doesn’t say, but one assumes he donned clothes for the public transit bits. Either way, the mission was successfully completed, and all on a pass costing a trifling £70, or about £300 less than the British version. It all looks rather tempting from the viewpoint of a wet and dreary British summer. If nothing else, our illustration proves that our Australian cousins really do have glowing all-over tans. Naturally can be found at www.internaturally.com

One suspects there might be a lesson here for New Labour. If a shapely ankle can promote cycling, just imagine the effect of regular full-page full-frontal advertisements in The Times…

August 2002, A to B magazine

The World We’re In – Will Hutton

the-world-were-inWhat has the rise of American conservatism over the past few decades – seemingly reaching a crescendo in the Presidency of George W. Bush – got to do with how we get from A to B over here, on the other side of the pond? Will Hutton’s latest current affairs tour de force, following on from his analysis of UK politics in The State We’re In, shows in detail how Britain has drifted more towards this American mindset over this period whilst being decidedly diffident towards the European Union and its aims. Anyone who’s experienced the decline of our public services, transport included, since the early 80s and wondered how such a well-orchestrated campaign of confusion and farce has come to be can find the answer here.

As you might expect from a high-powered economist and former newspaper editor, the 350+ page tome has an academic slant, with many research references to clever-sounding people you’ve never heard of sprinkled liberally throughout. Many of the basic points are obvious, but eloquently made. At the heart of the process has been the unfettered expansion of the US and UK stock markets and the growth of an American corporate culture interested only in unsustainably fast money-making.

Most revealingly the author was clearly in the know about the recent Worldcom scandal way before it happened.That such a situation was apparently an open secret before the company itself owned up, is in itself an indictment of the cosy relationship between big business and government in the US.The book is packed with good insight into the surreal world of corporate America where membership fees at the ‘right’ golf club cost $30,000 a year and a $15,000 wristwatch is de rigeur. On a deeper psychological level this is a culture where any idea of direct support for the public realm is too often seen as socialism or communism in disguise – this is a country that wants knowledge of human genes to be privatised and sold to the highest bidder.

What does all this mean for us over here in little old Britain? The influence of right wing US-modelled think tanks has grown since Thatcher’s election in 1979 and the Blair government has done little to reverse a system ideologically bent over backwards in favour of free-market solutions to the provision of public services.The supposed efficiencies of the system are given the lie by the facts; Railtrack has collapsed with millions of debt and private finance is running scared of it, whilst it will be 2008 before the London Underground Public-Private partnership reckons it can deliver any new trains. This is also an excellent read should you be considering which way to vote in any European referendum: a vote to opt out, argues Hutton, is a step closer to the American way of life and whose transport system would you rather have – mainland Europe’s or America’s? Enough said.

The World We’re In – Will Hutton
ISBN 0-316-86081-6
Publisher Little, Brown
Pages 420
Hardback UK Price £17.99


CYCLE 2002

cycle-show-2002Bicycle shows – other than the purely leisure variety – are something of an endangered species in the UK. Major public events are almost unknown here, leaving the field open for a plethora of specialist shows. But these are mostly enthusiast gatherings, without the breadth of exhibitors or visitors you might expect at a big public show. Our own Folder Forums were typical, bringing together the entire (admittedly small) folding bike industry, but it’s more than four years since our last glorious shindig on the Isle of Wight, and things being what they are, a repeat event looks unlikely.

So when we heard that a new annual show was to be launched in London, and that it would not be built entirely around ‘personal fitness programming’ and the like, we took an interest. CYCLE 2002 takes place at the Business Design Centre – a small but delightfully formed venue in Islington, north London from 26th – 29th September. Should the show succeed, 2003 will be bigger and better. If it fails, the industry may have missed its final chance… the choice really could be that stark.

The entry list for CYCLE 2002 is by no means finalised, but here’s a snapshot of the stands we think will be of interest. Please note that the list is by no means exhaustive, and the information may well have changed by the time you read this. For the latest details, check the CYCLE 2002 website at www.cycleshow.co.uk

A to B Magazine

Stand A3

Ah yes, an essential stop-over for all visitors.We’ve booked a modest broom-cupboard fronting the cafeteria on Level Three to sell back issues of the magazine and a few knick-knacks and baubles. Do drop in for a chat – this is a rare opportunity for us to get out and say hello, and we’d love to see as many readers as possible over the four days.We may also display a few bikes from manufacturers who will not be at the show. And for anyone with more than a passing interest in folding bikes, electric bikes, or just bikes, damn it, our show seminars are not to be missed:

1) The History of the Folding Bike

Tony Hadland
history-of-folding-bikeTony is a familiar figure on the folder circuit and author of just about every book in the field: The Moulton Bicycle, The Spaceframe Moulton and The Sturmey Archer Story.With the late John Pinkerton,Tony also co- authored It’s in the Bag! – still regarded as the definitive history of folding bikes in the UK.Tony expects to provide a slide show backed up with some real hardware – classic folding bikes, in other words. He’ll be available for questions and signed copies of his books will be on sale at the A to B stand.
AM and PM Friday 27th

2) The Future of the Folding Bike

Len Rubin

len-rubin-future-of-folding-bikeVisitors to the Second Folder Forum may recall Len’s electrifying performance at the Weymouth Pavilion in 1997. We’re flying him in from California yet again, and this time he’s agreed to provide two lectures on the future of the genre: gears, lightweight materials, sprockets, widgets and much else besides. Len is currently working with an aerospace company, developing a titanium- framed hub-geared bike, and this should make an appearance if it’s ready in time.
AM Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th

3) Electric-assist Bicycles

Dan Hornby
Working for the Sakura Battery Company and market leader Powabyke, Dan is probably the UK authority on electric bicycles, with an unrivalled knowledge of where the industry is coming from and – following the closure of Yamaha Europe, and a number of bankruptcies – where it’s going…
PM Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th

4) Adam Hart-Davis

adam-hart-davisAdam will be a familiar face to UK television viewers, presenting his own history programmes and now fronting the popular science programme Tomorrow’s World.What the BBC won’t tell you is that Adam is that rare thing – a personality who actually rides a bicycle to get from Point A to Point B.
AM Friday 27th


Stand M110

airframeFirst conceived in 1976, the revolutionary Airframe folding bike went into production for a few short years in the early 1980s before being quietly withdrawn, following a number of relatively minor technical and managerial problems.

Thanks to the persistence of designerPM Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th Grahame Herbert, and the engineering know-how of Silkmead Tubular of Dunstable, it’s back, with the official launch taking place during the show.The manufacturer is claiming a weight of 10.6kg (23lb) complete with 4-speed hub, carrier and mudguards, and a folding time of ten seconds. Bikes will be available for test rides, and both Grahame Herbert and Colin Jarret of Silkmead will be on the stand.


Stand G46

Quite a hit with wealthier folding bike enthusiasts and billed as Britain’s answer to the Bike Friday.We can’t tell you much else, because Airnimal has never allowed us to test the machine, although they did once offer to write a test themselves! Not quite what we had in mind. Find out for yourself at Cycle 2002.


brompton-folding-bikeStand M26

For those who don’t know, the Brompton is generally accepted to be the folding bike for commuters, offering an unrivalled combination of folding and rideability.

Apart from a couple of appearances at the CTC York Rally, Brompton hasn’t taken a stand at a public show for some years.That alone makes this appearance interesting enough, but there’s quite a bit of new hardware on show for 2002, including the 6- speed gear system, and a number of consumer upgrades for older bikes, including a handlebar brace, battery lighting sets and numerous small but useful accessories.We’re also reliably informed that the stand will be fronted by Andrew Ritchie – designer of the bike, managing director of the company, and according to many a delighted rail commuter, well on the way to full Sainthood. He’ll never forgive us for that.


More hobby-horse than bicycle – we liked the Like-a-Bike so much, we bought one. We’re holding a Like-a-Bike owners rally at our stand on the Sunday, featuring a mass cavalcade… assuming we can find enough bikes and owners. It might just be Alexander.We’re told there will be a free T-shirt for all participants, plus prizes. For confirmation, check with A to B.

Other Stands

At the time of writing, Powabyke will be demonstrating a full range of electric bikes including the new Commuter, on Stand M22, Mission will be showing the Space Genie folder on Stand M28, and Dahon will be on Stand M1. Pashley has yet to book. For the latest on stands, speakers and events, either call A to B on 01963 351649, mail us at a2b@onetel.net.uk or visit the CYCLE 2002 website: www.cycleshow.co.uk


Preview Day (Thursday 26th) is open only to press and trade.The booking hotline is 01923 690 648. For all other days, tickets cost £10 on the door, or £8 in advance, with a further 10% reduction for groups of ten or more. Children aged 5-16 pay £6 in advance, or £7 on the door, there’s a Family ticket for £25 in advance or £30 on the door. All these tickets can be booked on 0870 733 1022, or by visiting the CYCLE 2002 website.

How to get there

By Car

You’re joking, of course? We won’t even bother giving you motoring instructions because (a) neither we nor the Business Design Centre would suggest arriving by car, and (b) you’d be a fool to try. For the fools amongst you, ‘limited’ parking is available adjacent to the BDC for just £4.50 for each two hour period or part thereof.

By Train and Bicycle

You’ll find the Business Design Centre on the west side of Upper Street in the centre of Islington.The area is well served by cycle routes offering quick and relatively safe access to and from Euston/St Pancras/Kings Cross, Marylebone and Paddington stations. Liverpool Street,Waterloo and Victoria are a bit more challenging unless you know London reasonably well – if in doubt, order a free cycle map of Central London (Map 10) from Transport for London on 020 7222 1234.

The good news (possibly unique too) is the lure of free secure bike parking at the Business Design Centre, plus a complimentary Bike Health Check. Ooh, matron!

By Train and Tube

Head north on the Northern Line City Branch (that’s the right-hand loop on the tube map), and jump off at Angel. Emerging onto Upper Street, turn right and walk up the road for about five minutes – you can’t miss the venue, it’s quite large. From Euston/St Pancras/Kings Cross, it’s probably easier to walk straight there – about 15 minutes at a brisk A to B pace.

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 www.scotrail.co.uk 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!


Brompton Gearing

brompton-gearingHaving given up hope of getting my Brompton T5 gears fixed, I decided to upgrade to a new six speed version. As I have kept the Schlumpf Mountain Drive from my old Brompton, I have no need of any lower gears. In fact, the transition between Schlumpf top and Brompton bottom is perfect, but I find the Brompton derailleur gears so close together that the difference between them is hardly noticeable. Is it possible to fit a smaller high gear cog, so that I can coast at over 20 mph at a reasonable pedal cadence?

Anthony Lamb, London

Apologies to those who do not own a Brompton, but there is a great deal of interest in this subject and developments are continuing apace. In short, yes, it is possible to fit a smaller sprocket to the Brompton 6- speed, and bigger sprockets with up to 18 teeth can be fitted too.

I am indebted to Steve Parry, engineer of the SP Brompton, for researching this matter. After some experimentation, Steve is now producing a ‘wide ratio’ kit for the 6- speed Brompton consisting of Shimano 12- and 18-tooth sprockets adapted to fit the SRAM hub.The conversion takes less than an hour, but be warned – it does involve cutting, grinding or gently crushing the very rear of one of the frame tubes (invisible, and strength should not be affected) to make room for the 18-tooth sprocket.

The result works surprisingly well.The shift quality is almost on a par with the standard 13/15-tooth combination, but the bike now has a total gear range of 282%.That’s more than a Nexus 7-speed hub, equal to the SRAM 7-speed and almost as wide as the SRAM 3-speed plus Speed Drive (formerly the Mountain Drive Type 2). Leave the standard 50-tooth chainring in place and this extra range will give you a 93-inch top gear which is certainly enough for a 20mph cruise if you have the strength! A better alternative for most people would be to fit the optional 44-tooth chainring, giving a top gear of 82 inches and bottom of 29, as in the chart overleaf.

Before hundreds of readers leap for their cheque books, I should outline a few complications. As the Brompton tensioner is not designed for such a dramatic gear differential, it barely provides sufficient movement to keep the chain tensioned and allow folding in either gear, so a slightly worn chain might cause problems.

Another difficulty, as a glance at the chart will reveal, is a considerable overlap between the gears (although none are identical, as occurs all too frequently with derailleur systems).To avoid disappointment, it’s best to think of this as a four speed system – effectively a three speed with an extra-low bottom gear, or three low ratios plus ‘overdrive’.This leads to another complication: with four ratios where seven would be more usual, the gaps between the gears are quite wide.The final criticism arrived by fax from Holland, courtesy of Simon Korn, Brompton’s inestimable Dutch distributor and another engineer with a long association with the little bikes.

Simon has played with 12-tooth sprockets for years, and claims that sprocket life can be very short – less than a few hundred kilometres in some cases.This seems to be because the derailleur sprockets are designed to be driven by six small pegs, and three must be ground off to fit the SRAM hub. Apparently the pegs ride out of their grooves, bursting the sprocket. All the same, sprocket life depends largely on the rider’s weight and strength, so one fellow’s 200 kilometres, might well be another’s 2,000. An answer might be to braze the 12- and 18-tooth sprockets together, producing a very rugged little block, but that sort of thing can get a bit complicated…

Criticisms aside, the SP conversion does some remarkable things, adding nothing to the weight of a standard 6-speed, and giving a similar range to much costlier, heavier and less efficient options.

My personal preference is for the nippier standard ‘close-ratio’ option, but if I had to choose one bicycle for all occasions, I would probably choose this wide ratio 6-speed Brompton! Whether the sprockets can be made to last will no doubt be revealed. If they don’t, a 13/18-tooth combination would provide a less radical solution. Simon Korn markets all manner of gear options, including Anthony’s set-up: a standard 6-speed plus The 18/12 tooth conversion – space is tight, Mountain Drive, giving 12 evenly spaced gears but it works and a greater range than the Rohloff hub!

Finally, several readers have grumbled that last month’s item lacked fitting instructions and other technical information. Unfortunately, lack of space in a magazine of this kind makes such detail impossible. Both Brompton and the Mountain Drive company can provide written or verbal advice if required (although both may curse me for saying this). But don’t expect Brompton to endorse odd conversions like the above!

Giant Lafree Comfort

giant-lafree-comfortWe first saw the Giant Lafree Twist Lite (not to be confused with the Lafree, full stop) back in October 2001, and tested it a couple of months later. Unusually, we jumped straight in and rated it ‘possibly the best electric bike on the market.’ Why?

Our enthusiasm might have had something to do with the Twist being amongst the lightest electric bikes around. It’s also the quietest we’ve tried, arguably the most attractive, and probably the most efficient… On the negative side, it’s fast, but less powerful than some, and it has only three gears, which further compromises hill-climbing, but taking everything into account, we reckon it comes top overall.

A few months down the line, Giant has created a deluxe job, taking the no-nonsense Lite, and adding a pile of components to produce the Comfort – aimed right at Yamaha’s Easy Plus. Is it worth the extra over the Lite? And is it better than the Yamaha? That’s of purely academic interest now that Yamaha has quit the European electric bike scene.

So What’s New?

We thought the Lite was one of the best equipped bikes around, which must have made Dutch readers fall about laughing.The lights aren’t top quality, but they work, and the package includes a rack, chainguard, Axa wheel lock, side-stand, galvanised chain and decent mudguards. OK, it costs £869, but it’s a bike that smells of quality.

The Comfort shares the same frame and drive system, but accessories are joined by suspension front forks and seat post, Shimano roller brakes (instead of perfectly adequate Tektro V-brakes), a Shimano Nexus 4-speed hub, and ‘automatic’ lights.

Whether you feel these part numbers are worth an extra £200, depends how you view the individual components.

We’re not Shimano hub gear fans.The 4- speed offers no extra gear range over the 3- speed fitted to the basic Twist Lite – indeed, at 184%, the range is slightly less than the simpler, lighter and more efficient SRAM 3-speed. So what’s the point? With comparatively little power available, the closer ratios do help to keep you on the move, but don’t expect the 4-speed to climb steeper hills or go any faster, because it won’t.What this bike really needs is the good old Sturmey Archer 5-speed, which offered 226% range from a cheaper, lighter gearbox.With the Giant factory being just down the road, Sturmey’s new owner Sun Race might pick up the contract…We certainly hope so.

Likewise with the Shimano Nexus roller brakes – they’re somewhat vague in operation, with a little residual friction and quite a lot of metal-to-metal noise. On a more positive note, there isn’t enough friction to seriously compromise the Comfort’s 15mph roll-down speed, and the brakes are progressive and apparently fade-free. Shimano claims a degree of anti-lock sensitivity thanks to some internal widgetry – all we can say, after trying our best to provoke disaster, is that in dry conditions a panic stop doesn’t quite lock the front wheel and just locks the rear.That’s close to perfection, but don’t try the same trick on a slippery surface, because it’s not that clever.

giant-lafree-comfort-seatpostThe suspension components – Post Moderne springy seat pillar plus RST front forks – are hardly state-of-the-art, but they work well enough, absorbing small kerbs and other tedious lumps and bumps, leaving a silky ride under most road conditions.Within a very few miles, the seat post needed fettling to prevent the saddle rocking from side to side, which is not unusual with these devices. However, adjustment is quick and easy and should last for some time once the bearings have bedded in.The post can also be locked out if you feel like an unsuspended ride.

The saddle to ground height on our large framed model varies between 98cm and 108cm, or a centimetre or two less with the suspension compressed.This effect – where the saddle to crank distance varies as you ride – is common to all suspension seat posts and a few other types, and it’s not very satisfactory. Set the saddle at the correct height for efficient pedalling, and you’ll fall off at the traffic lights. Set it while stationary and your knees will be bent under way.There’s no easy answer, other than fitting a proper suspension system.

…is there really any point in suspension if compliance in the forks does the same thing for free?

Strangely enough, although the front forks seem to do their work very well, we couldn’t spot them sliding up and down on the road.What they do – and it’s a term that will be familiar to drivers of certain elderly sports cars – is ‘shimmy’, or vibrate back and forth on bumps.You don’t really notice when you’re riding, but is there really any point in suspension if compliance in the forks does much the same thing for free?

Auto Lights

giant-lafree-comfort-front-lightThe lights had us foxed for a bit, but the design is quite logical. At the rear there’s a conventional- looking LED light, featuring an optional ‘automatic’ setting. Once on auto, the lamp is controlled by movement and light sensors, so it only comes on whilst under way in the dark… Damn clever these Chinese! When you stop, the light only stays on for five or ten seconds, but tiny movements and vibrations are enough to keep it lit at the traffic lights – you have to keep very still to outwit the movement sensor. So as a general rule, the light looks after itself, turning on in the evening when the first motorists are reaching for the sidelight switch, and staying on for as long as you need it. If you’re working on the bike in a dark garage, the lamp gets very confused, but that’s what the OFF switch is for.

giant-lafree-comfort-rear-lightThe front system is completely separate, comprising a Shimano Nexus Inter-L hub dynamo and light sensor, plus Lumotec Oval halogen lamp.This doesn’t work quite so well – firstly, it has to be pretty dark for the auto feature to kick in, and it won’t start unless you stop, if you get our drift, so the light won’t come on as you ride through a tunnel, or under trees, which seems to be the whole point with an automatic system. Come to that, it won’t start unless you pull away with care, because rapid acceleration – such as spinning the wheel – shuts the thing down.The good news is that the Lumotec lamp is superb, producing the brightest and broadest spread of light we’ve ever seen from a dynamo.

The lights fitted to the Comfort are powerful, but we’re not convinced about the merits of automation.Yes, it’s a great idea if you can rely on the lights to pop on when required, but pretty dangerous if they don’t.To catch on, automatic lights will need a single idiot-proof handlebar switch – this system is too complex.

On the Road


The front dynohub - note the roller brake and ‘mock’ brake disc

Having tested the Lite only six months ago, we won’t dwell on detail. Suffice to say, the Comfort is similarly upright, with widely appreciated swept-back bars, and it offers an excellent top speed of around 16mph, plus modest hill-climbing and world-beating economy. Despite a virtually handbag-sized 156Wh nickel-metal-hydride battery, range is around 20 miles – cutting edge stuff efficiency-wise.

If this all sounds too good to be true, there have been criticisms of the Panasonic drive system fitted to these Giant electric bikes. Crank-drive motors require some strange techniques: If  you pedal fast – normal procedure for maximum  power one might think – the power assistance fades away, because power output is chosen to match a modest leg speed in each gear. Faced with a hill, it’s sometimes necessary to change up a gear rather than down, which takes some getting used to, and can leave the impression that the bike is less powerful than it is. For maximum power, think low pedal cadence – once you’re in tune with the system, the Comfort will climb just about anything with modest effort on your part.

The Comfort differs from the Lite in a number of respects. Obviously the ride is greatly improved, as (arguably) are the brakes. Perhaps one of the disadvantages of these Compared to the Lafree Lite (see A to B 27) the 4-speed Comfort provides a less ‘peaky’ human/electric power graph, but the overall range is unchanged sort of upgrades – as motor manufacturers have discovered – is that better equipment encourages faster driving/riding, which tends to cancel out the perceived safety benefits.The Comfort certainly feels pretty secure, and we definitely found we were riding it fast.Whether you think Dutch roadsters should be roaring up hill, blasting down dale, and weaving through traffic like cycle couriers is another matter.We found it rather fun.

…we’d blow the extra two hundred quid on a second battery,giving a 37 mile range…

The gearbox is fiddly to adjust and has to be just so, or changes can be accompanied by nasty noises. Ratios are a little closer, and slightly higher than before.The Lite offered 44″, 59″ and 80″, while the Comfort gives 45″, 56″, 68″ and 83″.The new third gear and higher top make a surprising difference to speed and endurance: the Lite ran for 20 miles at 12.8mph, while the Comfort managed only 18.5 miles, but at a cracking 14mph.A lower first gear would improve hill climbing: a 13% slope is easy, but 18% is hard going.


We loved the Lafree Twist, and we love the concept still – they’re smashing bikes. But is the Comfort better? The deluxe bits cost an extra £200, plus the weight penalty of 3.1kg. Not much? Well, yes and no.Where the Lite broke all records for an electric machine at 22.2kg (48.8lb), the Comfort weighs 25.3kg, or 55.6lb.You pays your money and takes your choice – in this case, our estimated running cost of 5p per mile for the Twist, increases to 5.8p for the Comfort.You might consider 0.8p a small price to pay for the improved ride… the choice is yours.

Our view is that the cheaper Lafree Lite still narrowly pips the Comfort in the ‘best electric bike’ category – we’d blow the extra two hundred quid on a second battery, giving a 37 mile range. But the Comfort certainly grows on you. Everyone who tried it admired and enjoyed the bike, including the sort of young professionals who wouldn’t normally consider a bicycle – if Giant can crack this market, they have a winner on their hands.


Lafree Twist Comfort £1,069
Weight bicycle 21.4kg (47.1lb) battery 3.9kg (8.5lb) total 25.3kg (55.6lb)
Gears Nexus 4-speed
Ratios 45″ 56″ 68″ 83″
Batteries NiMH
Voltage 24v
Capacity 156Wh
Maximum range High power 18.5 miles
Two-hour range High power (from previous test) 10.3 miles
Full charge 3 hours 50 min
Spare battery £195
Overall running costs 5.8p per mile
UK distributor Giant UK tel 0115 977 5900 mail info@giant-uk.demon.co.uk web www.giant-bicycles.com


Aphid Spingo

aphid-spingoWe get some strange phone calls and emails here at A to B. Many are from inventors, usually claiming to have invented (or more disappointingly imported) the lightest, fastest, smallest electric and/or folding bicycle known to modern science. We’re always polite, because amongst the also-rans, there are bound to be a few gems. And you never know… a surprising amount of today’s mainstream technology started a decade ago with some lone nutcase metal-bashing in his bedroom.

Usually, the phone call is the last we hear, because the invention only really existed on the back of a beermat brought home from the Rose & Crown, but on this occasion, the inventor arrived a few days later, carrying a beautifully-finished prototype that really was smaller and lighter, etc, etc. Obviously, we sat up and took notice.

Adrian Walker is a young man with a mission. As a member of the post-dotcom generation, he was looking for the next big thing and like many with experience of city commuting, he decided that alternative transport might be worth pursuing.The result is a battery/motor system designed to fit scooters and bicycles.

The Spingo system has a number of clever features. Superficially, it’s a cross between the sadly defunct Zap friction-drive motor and the Sinclair Zeta bicycle drive. If that doesn’t sound very promising, don’t worry, because Adrian has refined the technology to produce something that appears to be both practical and stylish.

The battery pack is NiMH. Instead of a plastic case, the individual cells are sewn into a fabric ‘wrap-pack’ that simply wraps around a scooter stem, bicycle frame tube, or even your waist.That doesn’t sound like rocket-science, but it’s a practical solution to a long- standing problem.The only disadvantage is that the batteries look remarkably like a roll of explosives. In a world where terrorists have no qualms about blowing themselves up, security forces are inclined to shoot first and ask questions later… Mind you, if you’re the sort of bod who finds urban terror-wear chic, you’ll no doubt view the prospect of becoming collateral damage in the war against terrorism a small price to pay. Battery packs will be available in Black, Khaki, Camouflage or Urban Camo (yes, really).

How it works

aphid-spingo-2The drive unit is small and extremely light. At its heart is a Maxon RE40 motor, not dissimilar, we’re told, to the motors that drove that funny little tea tray across the dusty plains of Mars.These tiny Swiss motors are credited with efficiency of up to 98%… something that’s a bit difficult to verify.

Drive is transferred by a toothed belt to a neat friction roller, drilled like a Swiss cheese.The whole unit is spring-loaded against the wheel, but can be retracted and locked out of use when required. Control is via a little drum that clips to the handlebars, offering speed control and two power modes. Like many such machines, power is set to come in at above 1mph or so, protecting the motor from overload and acting as a safety cut-out when stationary.

Weight and size are perhaps the key selling points here – the motor/drive unit weighs about 1kg, and with switchgear, wiring and batteries, you’re looking at all-up weight of 4.5kg (10lb).That’s about the same as the Sinclair Zeta, but much lighter than the more comparable Zap, which weighed 8.6kg. On a typical micro-scooter, gross weight comes out at 8.5kg (19lb), which is noticeably lighter than the 10kg Xootr eX3 we tested back in October 2001. On a lightweight folding bike, you’d be looking at 15kg, or about 35lb, which would put it in a class of its own, some 5kg lighter than anything else we’ve tested.

OK, it weighs less than your average touring bike in power-assist trim, but how does it go? We only had the chance to ride the scooter option, but we can confirm that speed topped out at about 14mph. Fitted to a scooter, the range is claimed to be up to 20 miles, although this was achieved in the much slower ‘economy’ mode, and on a smooth warehouse floor.

With our experience of such things, we’d suggest that the 192Wh pack might propel a scooter for 12 to 15 miles, and a bicycle for 20 or more, assuming a ‘typical’ pedal input from the rider. If that sort of mileage can be achieved, a Spingo scooter would give four times the range of the Xootr and three times that of the Zappy, at a comparable speed.


Powered scooters are, of course, illegal in the UK. But this one is relatively civilised: quiet, controllable, light and compact. However, we’re more interested in the bicycle application, because power-assist kits are rare and something this small – provided it offers reasonable performance – would suit the sort of user looking for modest power with complete anonymity.

Price is expected to be in the region of £350-£500 for a kit, but production is still some way off, and dependent on Adrian and his engineering colleague finding backers. Not necessarily financial – business and technical help would be welcome. Any takers?

Adrian Walker
Aphid Designs Ltd
Unit 8d Chalford Industrial Estate
Tel: 01453 886366
mail: info@aphiddesigns web: www.aphiddesigns

PBW Trekking Bike + Rohloff hub

pbw-trekking-bikeForget metric – when describing folding bikes, the cognoscenti usually resort to the imperial wheel size, as in: ‘8-inch folders are rubbish’, ‘16-inch folders are compact’, or ‘20- inch folders are faster on the road’, etc, etc. As a general rule, if you’re looking for out and out performance, you’ll need a 20-inch, or more accurately 406mm (or occasionally 451mm) folder.The really sporty 20- inch machines are mostly ‘demountable’, taking apart for air travel, although they usually include a quick-fold feature as well.

Thanks presumably to the airline connection, this market is dominated by US companies, such as Bike Friday, Gaerlan, and PBW, with a solitary Union Jack being waved by Airnimal.

We tested a PBW Road Bike back in A to B 20. Although nominally available in Road, Trekking (like Road, but with flat bars) or MTB versions, in practice you can mix-and- match just about any components you like – one of the advantages of dealing with a small manufacturer.Thus time we’re looking at one of the most expensive variants – a Trekking model with front and rear suspension and 14-speed Rohloff hub.

Like most high-tech US folders, PBWs are custom-made, so if you order one, it’s guaranteed to fit.The custom-built machine arrives with an adjustable stem – during your first weeks of ownership, you fiddle around with this until you’re comfortable, mail your vital statistics back to PBW, and the company makes you a personal stem. Now isn’t that a good idea?

PBWs start at under $1,000 in the US, but thanks to the bits and pieces, ours costs a rather weighty $2,500, or close to £2,500 including duty,VAT and delivery to the UK.

The Rohloff

rohloff-hubThe Rohloff Speedhub is an interesting beast if you like that sort of thing.The German manufacturer started life producing bicycle chains and other components before taking the brave step of developing, building and marketing a unique 14-speed hub in 1998. An astonishingly complex bit of engineering, the Speedhub offers a number of advantages over more conventional gears: Firstly, the ratios are evenly spread, so the 14- speed hub offers a similar range and flexibility to a typical 27-speed derailleur system. Without a derailleur, there’s (usually) no need for a chain tensioner, so ground clearance is not compromised (particularly important with small wheels), and with the moving parts safely sealed in an oil bath, life expectancy should be more or less infinite.That’s fortunate, because the key disadvantage is a price tag of around £600 in the UK. According to Rohloff, there’s no weight penalty, because at 1.7kg, the Speedhub is similar in weight to most 7-speed hubs and the complete system is only 200g heavier than a comparable derailleur.

A little more controversial is the question of efficiency. Rohloff claims a figure of 95-98%, but independent research (see A to B 27) suggests a figure closer to 90- 91%. Rohloff later telephoned to offer some complex counter- arguments that we simply can’t go into here. Suffice to say, they disputed the figures.

What do we think? We’d say there was some loss of efficiency over a well-maintained derailleur or a simple 3-speed hub, but it’s certainly no worse than a typical 7-speed and smoother than some.The hub does exhibit quite a bit of drag though, and it’s enough to spin the pedals when coasting.This might explain why the PBW managed only 14.1mph descending our test hill. For a 20-inch bike wearing 32 x 406mm Schwalbe City Marathon tyres, that’s on the low side, suggesting that there’s enough drag to take the edge off fast descents.

Riding a Rohloff-equipped bike for the first time is a strange experience.The gears click smoothly in and out of engagement as one might expect, but if you start at the bottom and work your way up, they seem to go on for ever.With a total range in excess of 500%, the Rohloff really does offer a gear for every eventuality, and unlike a 3×9 speed derailleur, you can find the right cog by turning a single twistgrip, although the change is a bit heavy and notchy.

Unusually, the twistgrip is linked to the hub by twin operating cables, rather than a single cable and return spring like most hubs.When you change up, one cable pulls the hub into gear while the other trails – and visa versa when you change back down. Another unusual feature is that the ‘detent’ notches are in the hub itself, so it’s impossible for the cable to go out of adjustment and try to engage, for example, gear 21/2.The cables will slacken with age, (there’s a tension adjustment to deal with that), but it won’t  miss a gear provided the cables move  reasonably freely.The rather stiff clicks you feel when turning the twistgrip are the gears actually engaging at the rear end.

…the hub starts quite smoothly, but becomes progressively rougher up to gear seven…

In practice, it is possible to provoke a slight graunch if you pedal too hard through the change, or do something equally clumsy, but as a general rule you top it up with oil, tighten the cables and forget it. Exactly as things should be.The only evidence that complicated things are happening in the hub is a slight difference in ‘feel’ between the gears. Looking at Rohloff’s charts and the independent efficiency figures, it turns out that this vague feeling is backed up by what’s actually happening inside the hub.

pbw-trekking-bikeThe Speedhub starts quite smoothly (and efficiently) in 1st gear, but becomes progressively rougher (and less efficient) up to gear seven. Thereafter a magic transformation takes place, because gears eight and nine are silky smooth and amongst the best efficiency wise, but engage the bigger numbers and it’s downhill all the way to top, where things get relatively rough again.

In practice, changes can usually be made under load, but that transition change from rough seven to smooth eight and back takes special care. After a bit of practice, you begin to treat the gears as two separate blocks of seven. Pass between them too rapidly, or while pedalling, and the hub tries to engage seven and eight simultaneously. Ouch! What we don’t know, after an acquaintance of only a few weeks, is whether the components would eventually ‘run-in’, making things smoother.

According to Rohloff’s technical literature, the hub contains three epicyclic gear sets, with the individual ratios making use of one, two or all three of these sets, with direct drive in gear 11. Obviously the more cogs that are involved, the rougher and less efficient the result, although strangely enough, we rated gears eight and nine smoother than gear 11 (direct drive) even though they both use a single epicyclic set.

Are we being ultra-critical? Well, we’d be a lot less demanding if the hub cost fifty quid rather than 500, because the last thing we want is for you to fork out a year’s savings and be disappointed.To sum up, the Speedhub is no doubt capable of running for a lifetime with no more maintenance than a few drops of sewing machine oil once in a full moon, but if you’re the sensitive type who insists on a sewing machine ‘feel’, you might find cause to grumble.

On the PBW, the ratios are close to perfection – evenly spaced between 19″ and 97″. A shade low perhaps, but few cyclists would argue with that sort of range.The only real disappointment is the graunchy change between eight and seven.With ratios of 45 and 40 inches you’ll be making this change whenever a moderate hill turns into a steep one, and this slow change doesn’t help. But, to be fair, derailleurs suffer from all manner of awkward changes too.The Rohloff has just the one fault.

It’s widely accepted that Americans have softer bottoms than Europeans…


pbw-trekking-bike-front-suspensionIt’s widely accepted that Americans have softer bottoms than Europeans.Why else would they design such things as Harley-Davidsons, Cadillacs and floaty air suspension units on bicycles? British derrieres, honed by suspension-free Mini Coopers, unsprung bicycles and indifferent furniture, are made of sterner stuff. OK, that ignores such unsprung US products as the Bike Friday, and softly-softly Brit offerings, like the elegant Moulton… But there seems to be a general hard/soft divide.

All PBWs feature Cane Creek air suspension at the rear with the option of Ballistic elastomer forks at the front.The rear suspension is really little more than an air reservoir – the pressure can be adjusted, but there’s no damping adjustment. In fact, there’s no damping at all, other than friction in the mechanism, although pricier units are available, offering various levels of sophistication. If you have a decent pump with a Schraeder valve, it’s possible to set the pressure, but beyond 120psi or thereabouts, the unit locks up completely, presumably due to internal friction. So the choice is either a relatively soft wallowy ride, or dead firm. If you’re not used to pedalling smoothly, you should choose the latter, because an aggressive pedalling style with low air pressure simply makes the back of the bike pogo up and down.

pbw-trekking-bike-rear-suspensionThe front elastomers are controlled by a pair of rather vague adjusters that appear to add stiction as you twiddle. In practice, we set them soft when the rear was soft, and sticky when the rear was rock hard.

We wouldn’t dare say anything clever about spring rates or rebound damping because we couldn’t detect such niceties – just soft or hard. On ‘soft’, the bike will go places 32x406mm tyres were never intended to go without tripping over the boulders, and on ‘hard’ you can pedal any way you like without bouncing out of the saddle. It’s nice to have the choice, but we’re not convinced we’d want to pay much extra for it.


pbw-trekking-bike-foldedIf you’re used to dismantling the bigger, sportier kind of folding bike, you’ll love the PBW, but if you’re expecting Brompton-style performance, you’ll be disappointed. It’s actually quite similar to the Brompton – even sharing the same frame hinge.The frame folds to the right, the rear triangle underneath and the saddle stem locks it all together, but it’s a much sloppier performance and you have to remove the stem and strap it to both wheels before you can walk away. That said, the PBW is quicker than the Bike Friday – and arguably easier than the Birdy in Not some respects, thanks to its constant chain the length.The end result measures 84cm x 83cm x neatest 38cm or 265 litres, which in good old imperial equates package in the world, but at 265 litres, the PBW to just over 9 cubic feet. As the suspension forks add a packs small for this class of bike bit of width, and a left-hand folding pedal would help, our figures should be treated as a worst case scenario. Not bad for such a sophisticated package.The bike is also designed to fit inside a case measuring 74cm x 56cm x 28cm with the removal of a few bits.

Weight, at 13.4kg (30lb), would be enough to put some people off, but that’s the downside of suspendy bits and 14-speed hubs.The basic PBW is not a heavy machine.


We like the PBW. It represents a good compromise between foldability and performance, neatly filling the gap between the Birdy and the Bike Friday. What’s more, PBW is a small outfit, so you can expect personal and helpful service. Our conclusions on the Rohloff were less clear – we think there are too many gears, they’re too close together, and of variable quality. It’s a great idea, but the consensus was that a smaller, lighter, wide ratio seven speed hub would be better.

Suspension? It’s nice on a mountain bike, and jolly useful on a utility get-to-work bike, road surfaces being what they are, but we like our sporty bikes lightweight, lithe and simple.We would certainly put a PBW on our shortlist, but we’d keep it simple and go for one of the cheaper models.


PBW Road Bike $2,495
Weight 13.4kg (30lb)
Folded dimensions W38cm H83cm L 84cm
Folded Volume 265 litres (9 cu ft)
Gears Rohloff 14-spd hub
Ratios 19” to 97” (in even steps)
Brakes Cane Creek V-brakes + SRAM 7.0 levers
Tyres Schwalbe City Marathon 32-406mm
Front Suspension Ballistic forks (polymer)
Rear Suspension Cane Creek AD5 (air filled)
Manufacturer PBW tel +1 530 566 9699 mail info@PBWbikes.com web www.pbwbikes.com

Dahon Helios

dahon-heliosDahon has come a long way from its pile-’em-high, sell-’em-cheap origins some 30 years ago. Early models were a bit spindly and heavy, and were viewed somewhat snootily in the UK as inferior Far Eastern imports. If you could afford it you bought a Bickerton, or later, a Brompton – if you couldn’t, or you were badly advised, you made do with a Dahon.

How things have changed! The Dahon name has risen inexorably in the last five years, and the company now produces a wide range of machines from modern versions of the pile-’em-high jobs (typically the Boardwalk and derivatives) to machines in the Birdy and Brompton class, with price tags to match.

The Taiwanese/US company specialises in 406mm (20-inch) wheeled bikes, and produces a big range (confusingly so for the uninitiated) featuring a seemingly endless variety of frames and specifications.We test them on a regular basis, giving the thumbs up to the cheepy Boardwalk back in June 2000, for example, but a much more equivocal reception to the expensive Jetstream eight months later.This rather sums up Dahon’s problem – it’s a mass-market manufacturer, very skilled at churning out good cheap bikes that do most things pretty well. But the company is now trying to build in the sort of quality needed to compete in the £500+ market.

This time we’re looking at the 2002 spec Helios. At £499, it has a fight on its hands, because it’s up against some powerful opposition: £459 buys the compact and very rideable Brompton L3 and £475 the stylish but undergeared Giant Halfway. But the real killer in the £500 zone is the Brompton L6, a newcomer at £524. For our money, this is one of the finest folding bikes around, so the Helios really needs to perform. Elsewhere, the vagaries of international pricing give a very different picture: In the USA, where the Brompton costs over $800 and the Helios $499, the tables are turned – the Dahon comes out cheaper in the Euro-zone too.

Gear ratios are close to ideal… nicely spaced and easy to use…

dahon-heliosPut the 2002 Helios alongside a Shopper-style Dahon from the last decade and you’d be hard pressed to spot the family resemblance. That peculiar headset is long gone, along with some other strange and sometimes dubious components – the new bikes are stylish, well finished and distinctive. Specification is pretty good: Next folding pedals, Shimano Sora 8-speed derailleur, Promax V-brakes, side stand, full mudguards and a pair of strange Ritchey 20″x1.5″ tyres. Bolt this lot to a brushed aluminium frame and you have a package weighing 12.2kg (26.9lb) – that’s a kilogram lighter than the Boardwalk and 1.4kg lighter than the Jetstream. More importantly, it’s about the same as the Halfway or the Brompton.

The Helios is a striking machine with some unusual features. Note the ‘reversed’ handlebars and the bracing tube above the mainframe hinge

Gear ratios are close to ideal, with first at 33″, top at 90″ and six others dotted about in between, all nicely spaced and easy to use thanks to a gripshift changer.We’re not wildly fond of derailleurs on folding bikes, but with the Sora, Shimano seems to have cracked the range, price and performance equation. If the system continues to work as smoothly and reliably as it did in the first hundred miles or so, it has our vote.

Get over the concept of a folding bike with a working derailleur, and you’ll begin to appreciate that the new Helios is much more rigid than Dahons past. Quite why is unclear, because the stem and frame look much the same, but the company has obviously got its sums and equations right. One element that might play a role in beefing up the frame is the unusual hinge.The main frame hinges in a conventional manner, but there’s an extra bracing tube above, linking the front frame to the seat tube.This contains a joint directly above the hinge, but there’s no locking mechanism – just a cup and cone device to locate the two tubes.The rider’s weight plus any backward pressure on the handlebars, puts the tube in compression, so a catch isn’t required.The only time you feel the tubes move relative to each other is when pushing or lifting the bike – climb on board and the tubes engage rigidly together.This sort of design requires precise frame construction to work reliably – whether it continues to locate after a decade of abuse is hard to say, but the frame is certainly rigid when new.

…We’re used to slightly skittish bicycles, so no grumbles here…

Aluminium bikes can feel rather ‘dead’, but the Helios is both comfortable and lively, which left us scratching our heads all over again. Presumably the compliance comes from the tyres, which are wide and run at quite low pressures (65psi maximum). Handling is good, but this is not a laid back hands-off machine, like some 20-inch bikes. Given the wide tyres, we’d guess the slightly skittish nature of the bike comes from the strange handlebar design, which looks back-to-front and puts your hands just behind the steering axis.This looks peculiar at first, but you soon get acclimatised.

We’re used to slightly skittish bicycles, so no grumbles from us, but you might be buying a 20-inch bike because you want something stable, so you might disagree. For us, the overall effect of a rigid frame, comfortable ride and useful gear ratios is an entertaining and very useable bike that encourages the rider to press on.

The Promax brakes work perfectly well, or at least they would have done if they hadn’t been fighting against two of the wobbliest rims we’ve seen on a test bike.That’s bad news at this level, because if a customer forks out five hundred quid on a bike and finds the brakes are binding and juddering, he’s going to march straight back to the shop. And quite right too.We hope they sort it – there’s nothing wrong with the components, just poor quality control.

The tread on the Ritchey tyres (actually ‘Ritchie Rov’r’, a name that might have lost something in the translation) is rather unusual, with a multi-faceted diamond tread pattern that produces a gentle whistle on the road.This, according to the sidewall, is the result of Vector Analysis Tread Design. Better or worse than other designs? Who can say, but the tyres make an entertaining noise and seem perfectly safe.With a speed of 14.3mph on our test-hill, the Rov’rs roll quite well, but they’re not as free-running as some.You’d never guess on the road though – the generally lively stance of the Helios gives the impression that rolling resistance is pretty low.



The main frame is joined by a substantial hinge (below), while the cup and cone joint in the top tubes simply rest together

The bell makes a satisfactory noise, the mudguards guard against mud as and when required (although they rattle a bit, especially at the back), and the prop stand props.We liked the rack, which now comes with a conventional bungee, plus a useful bit of Velcro for holding the folded bike together and/or securing things to the rack.

The Helios has no lights, but there’s a mounting plate on the rack that should accommodate most common LED lights. If you fit one, you’ll have to move the mudguard-mounted reflector, which is high enough to obstruct a rear light.


Dahon Helios Folding BikeThe Dahon system has changed little over the years, but attention to detail makes folding much easier.The handlebars fold down to the left of the bike, the excellent Next pedals flick down in a second or two, the mainframe breaks in two and hinges to the left, sandwiching the bars between the two wheels. Finally, the stem drops down, but it doesn’t lock the package together, so you’ll need to use a bungee to keep everything from unravelling when you pick it up.

It all works particularly well and it’s certainly the quickest Dahon we’ve seen, going up or down in a consistent 15 to 17 seconds, provided the cables don’t snag on anything. However, this time does not include setting the saddle height or tying the package together with a bungee. In a realistic commuter situation, you’re probably looking at 30 seconds or more, but that sort of time would stand up well against anything except the Brompton or Strida.

The folded package is particularly neat, stands well on its road wheels, and at 12.2kg it’s easy to carry.The package measures 84cm x 66cm x 32cm, which equates to 177 litres, or 6.3 cubic feet if you prefer. In terms of volume, that’s twice as large as a folded Brompton, but one of the smallest and neatest fold-in-half bikes around.


Dahon must be congratulated.The 2002 Helios is classic Dahon, but the component package and design details have produced arguably one of the best machines of its type anywhere in the world: it’s light, easy to fold and – best of all – a joy to ride. Is it worth the money? It’s certainly worth $500 or E600, but we’re slightly less ecstatic about £500. All the same, it compares well with the Brompton and the Giant Halfway.The Brompton has the edge on portability and practical no- nonsense commuter features, while the Giant has a certain style… But, the Helios is probably the most long-legged of the three, making it the best choice for longer rides. It also folds rapidly enough to keep most commuters happy, and the folded package is about as small as 20-inch bikes get.


Ridgeback Helios £499 (also branded Dahon)
Weight 12.2kg (26.9lb)
Folded Dimensions W32cm H66cm L84cm
Folded Volume 177 litres (6.3cu ft)
Gears Shimano Sora 8-spd derailleur
Ratios 33″ – 90″
Brakes Promax V-brakes
Tyres Ritchey Rov’r 38-406mm
Manufacturer Dahon
web www.dahon.com UK web www.dahon.co.uk
UK distributor Madison tel 020 8385 3333

Powabyke Commuter

powabyke-commuter-electric-bikePowabyke has been around for several years now, and the Bath based company dominates the electric bicycle scene in the UK. Fundamentally, the machines are little changed – including the legendary battery that really does weigh more than some complete bicycles – but equipment levels have improved out of all recognition.

Back in November 1999, our first Powabyke had one gear, a dodgy rear brake, and a host of other historic bits from the Chinese bicycle manufacturer’s parts bin.Three years on, the UK company has completed a rapid learning curve about bicycles and bicyclists, specifying some much better bits, and the Chinese have learned a lot about putting things together.The result – admittedly some way short of Japanese or European best practice – is a perfectly respectable machine.And it has to be, because where the first Powabykes were hitting the streets for less than 500 notes (the base model is still £539), the new Commuter costs no less than £845.That’s right up with such ‘quality’ machines as the Giant Lafree Lite – can Powabyke really compete in this rarefied field?

Powabyke has tried very hard to escape the Essex Man Leisure Toy label, and one avenue the company has explored is selling bikes to the Post Office and various police forces. In practice, you’re still unlikely to see the Old Bill or your local Postie squirting around on the machines, but the feedback has been valuable.

…to lose the Far Eastern moped tag, Powabyke has gone for classic bicycle equipment…

Desperate to lose the Far Eastern moped tag, Powabyke has gone for classic bicycle equipment – lots of gears, chunky 26 x 1.95 tyres, proper pedals, and centre stand, plus obvious visual cues like a sturdy rack and fitted panniers, and some key labels – Shimano (OK, only Acera) gears and brakes, and Sun Rims.These are labelled Big Mammoth Fat (why not Big Fat Mammoths?), which suggests they would be more at home on a teenager’s MTB – in any event, they’re black and they look sturdy. Several other features are now shared across the range, including V-brakes and stronger front forks.What you don’t get – and we think they’re major omissions on a commuter bike – is a lighting set or chainguard.

As with most top-of-the-range variants, you have to pay for the bits and bobs. In this case, the tyres, gears and panniers add £100 to the otherwise very similar 21-speed Euro model, which is itself £150 pricier than the basic 5-speed job. Incidentally, we’ll be keeping you up to date with our Long Term 5-speed in October.

On the Road

powabyke-commuter-electric-bikeThe Powabyke features a two- position key – the first notch offering ‘power-only’ mode and the second ‘power-assist’. Both options are claimed to click in at a strangely precise 2.3mph – above that speed, you have the option of pedalling or not, as the whim takes you. After a few minutes in power-only mode the bike forgot to cut out below Lots 2.3mph, so any accidental movement of to play the twistgrip could get the front wheel with – two gear shifters, one spinning. And on the stand, the bike pulsed gently brake lever and a twistgrip throttle back and forth – weird.We didn’t use power-only again.

In power-assist, it’s all very civilised. Pedal as normal, and power is available if required – gently at first, then in a (relatively) spine-tingling rush in the 9-10mph zone, before fading away at 15mph.The Powabyke is one of the few machines that really does provide assistance up to that legal limit, and as we found last time, the motor helps you maintain an impressive average speed. Despite a maximum of 15mph, average speed in hilly country usually exceeds 14mph, and we saw 14.6 a couple of times. How? Like the Euro, the Commuter has enough power to grumble uphill at a reasonable speed, plenty of gears to keep momentum up on the flat, and enough weight to roar down the other side. Put these factors together and average speed is bound to be high.

Not that we’re delighted with the gears. As we’ve said before, electric bikes don’t need many gears, provided they have a reasonable range, because the motor helps to fill the gaps. In this case, the total range is 25″ to 90″.The top half dozen are more or less ideal, but forget the rest: we rarely went in search of more elusive ratios. Are 24 gears ever necessary? Like plenty of cyclists, we find three chainrings and eight sprockets pretty confusing. Approaching a steep hill can cause all sorts of painful noises as the rider wrestles with four levers in an attempt to predict, then engage the best cogs for the climb. Pulling away – particularly on a gradient – can be similarly fraught. Nine times out of ten, you get it wrong, and with a motor that doesn’t engage for the first second or two, you can get into difficulties.

The situation is not improved by a system that can find only 21 gears at any one time. Try as we might, we could not get the changer to index correctly with the rear mechanism, implying a fundamental problem. The Powabyke’s secret is an unusually flat power curve, giving Not a disaster, but reasonable hill-climbing with good cruising enough to produce some rough changes and unexpected missed gears.The front changer works well enough, and with power-assistance you can get away with leaving the rear mech in position eight and living with three gears. But surely, a nice hub system would be better?

Early Powabykes made some painful noises.The new motor is noticeably quieter, but the note hardens considerably under load – it’s much louder than the Heinzmann and other quality hub drives. Power output is quite modest at low speed, but climbs rapidly to peak at nearly 700 watts at around 7mph, before falling to just a glimmer at 15 or 16mph, according to battery charge.The motor has more than enough power to see you through most terrain at 12-15mph in the top three or four gears, but if steeper gradients drag the speed below 8mph, power falls off rapidly and those lower gears begin to look quite useful.The twistgrip throttle provides plenty of control at low speed, but above 10mph or so there’s a sudden transition to full power – something you only really notice in traffic, or while trying to keep speed down to pace other riders.

On the gentle gradient of our roll-down hill, speed reaches 14.4mph, which is slow for a big-wheeler – no doubt due to the chunky tyres. But with the sort of impetus that only 41kg (90.2lb) of ballast can provide, steep hills can be exhilarating. Fortunately, the Acera V-brakes drag speed off without too much drama and the bike generally handles well at speed. Our only reservation is that the tyres (smooth and gently rounded in the middle, but knobbly at the edges) become unstable when leaning hard into fast corners.

The saddle is a massive frumpy affair, sitting on a suspended stem, and looking rather like a conventional saddle that’s been sat on by a chunky couch potato. Actually, it all works quite well (but note our criticism of suspension seat posts on page 23) – the suspension is smooth and unobtrusive and the saddle much more comfortable than it looks. On initial acquaintance, some riders assume the Commuter is fully suspended, presumably because there’s plenty of squidge in those fat and relatively low pressure (40 – 65psi) tyres.

powabyke-commuter-panniersOther features brought a less ecstatic response.The micro-adjust bars harbour elusive play that can’t be adjusted out, and the panniers are a bit small… still there’s no pleasing some people: they’d be fine for commuting.

As a general rule, men like it – there’s a certain macho appeal here, plus the inevitable draw of speed and big numbers (gears, watts, purchase price, etc).The symbolism is a strange mixture – maximum speed might only be half that of a humble moped, and it looks like a side-valve job from the 1930s, but the Powabyke gives a surprisingly thrilling ride. If you like your engineering chunky, solid and practical, the Commuter is spot on.

Women tend to be less enthusiastic. Sitting astride a 13.4kg battery pack is much less entertaining for smaller people and we’ve heard suggestions that the 14cm width of the battery not only looks ungainly, but could force your knees apart sufficiently to cause joint problems when pedalling. If a test ride gives that impression, don’t even consider it. Then there’s the weight of the bike… if you think you’ll have problems flicking it back onto the stand or picking it up when it falls over, you’re not a natural Powabyke customer.


Back in June 2000, the similar Euro achieved 33.9 miles before the battery raised the white flag.That’s pretty good, particularly as this mileage was recorded on our hilly test route, with a total climb of nearly 500 metres. Despite a bigger 504Wh battery, the Commuter did almost exactly the same – 32.8 miles at an average of 14.3mph. On easier territory, these machines can go enormous distances – we managed 51 miles before lunch one day. In power-only mode, you should see at least 20 miles, assuming you avoid gradients steeper than 12% or thereabouts, which will stall the motor.

These hefty bikes not only go a long way, but they’re predictable too, averaging between 14 and 15mph, largely independent of gradient or wind direction – a level of consistency that could be useful for daily commuters. Unfortunately, these feats have to be set against a charging time of almost ten hours.

Thanks in part to Powabyke’s unique subsidised battery replacement scheme (£80.75 in the UK), running costs are below average, at 4.2p per mile. Cheaper Powabyke models cost even less, thanks to lower annual depreciation charges.


Is the Commuter worth the money? For those cycling long distances every day, or companies looking for a tough, no nonsense pool bike, the Powabyke Commuter has much to commend it. Mainstream Cyclist Touring Club members will hate it (we’ve heard from some who do), but if you can handle the conceptual problem – this is definitely not a bicycle – it’s almost certain to put a smile on your face.

As we found with the Euro two years ago, a willing motor and all the gears you could need (if you can find them), produce a very long-legged bicycle.With range of over 30 miles, and an ability to maintain a high average speed, the Powabyke Commuter will tackle most commuter journeys with disdain. Around town, it’s a bit of a gear-crashing whale, but on the open road, it performs surprisingly well. Just one thing – unless you really intend to ride off ride (not natural territory for this sort of bike) buy some proper road tyres.


Powabyke Commuter £845
Weight (bike) 27.6kg (60.7lb) (battery) 13.4kg (29.5lb) (total) 41kg (90.2lb)
Gears 24spd Shimano Acera derailleur
Ratios 25″ – 90″
Battery sealed lead-acid
Voltage 36v . Capacity 504wh
Full charge 9 hours 40 min
Maximum range 33 miles
Two hour range 16 miles Power-only range 20 miles
Distributor Powabyke tel 01225 443737 mail sales@powabyke.com web www.powabyke.com

World View – United Kingdom Transport

I went to a road safety conference the other day, and two things stood out. One, I was the only journalist there, reflecting the media’s disinterest in such a ‘worthy’ topic.Two, the conference was titled ‘Are We Still Failing?’, the point being that after several years of falling, road deaths have plateau’d at around 3,500 per year.

Not only that, but we seem as far away as ever (if not further) from a sustainable integrated transport policy. Despite the traffic calming, speed cameras and a high profile public debate, drivers still speed, congestion gets worse and Britain is more car dependent than it’s ever been.Among the assorted road safety officers, police and transport campaigner at that conference, the prognosis was one of almost unremitting gloom.

Lyn Sloman, determinedly cheerful Deputy of Transport 2000, spelt out what’s happened in the last few years. ‘A lot of the ideas which in the mid ‘90s were seen as barmy have now been accepted by councils and police authorities,’ she said. ‘But despite that shift, there’s very little sign that our roads are becoming less dangerous, largely because of the motoring backlash.’ How has this happened?

…this was serious… the Government was executing more U-turns than a London cabby…

In the ‘80s, we had Mrs Thatcher’s ‘Great Car Economy’, and the ‘greatest road building programme since the Romans.’ Traffic calming schemes caused a terrible furore, with a generally hostile media doing its best to rubbish the whole idea.The public mindset always seemed to put cars first. In a previous life as a motoring journalist, I wrote an article about traffic calming, and asked one pedestrian with a pram what she thought of some newly installed road humps. ‘Hmm, well, they could damage the cars, couldn’t they?’ Her first thought wasn’t for her own safety, but that of the cars! How things have changed. Since then, traffic calming has become part of the scenery, and in the way of these things, most people seem to have accepted that it’s here to stay.

Oddly enough, it was under the Tories that transport policy really began to change. Having a medical doctor as Transport Minister was a good start, and sure enough, Brian Mawhinny was the man who introduced smoke testing for diesel cars and vans. A Conservative Chancellor introduced the fuel tax escalator, which increased tax by a minimum of 6% every year. Public attitudes were changing too. In 1993, the RAC’s annual Report on Motoring put the following statement to drivers: ‘I would use my car less if public transport were better’ – 37% agreed, and by 1997 that was 45%.

In this climate, Labour swept into power promising an integrated transport policy. The following year, a transport White Paper admitted for the first time that traffic growth had to be curbed. Even the Department of Transport had apparently accepted the notion that more roads generate more traffic – the Whitehall equivalent of perestroika.The times really were a-changing, or so it seemed.

But then it all began to go pear shaped. Lorry go-slows on the M25 protested at fuel tax; the media (in particular the tabloids and car magazines) became vociferously anti- integration.We were seeing a full scale motoring backlash. No matter that motoring was as cheap in real terms as it had ever been, or that in European terms, UK motoring taxes were about average – the facts didn’t enter into it. It all culminated in the nationwide fuel protest of August 2000 – queues at the pumps and a full blown crisis.

Now this was serious. Faster than you could say ‘the beleaguered British motorist has finally had enough,’ the Government was executing more U-turns than a London cabbie. The fuel duty escalator got the chop. As a sop to the road hauliers, 44 tonne lorries were allowed into Britain. And the roads programme was reinstated, at least partially. All this against a background of railway disasters, and bus deregulation that wasn’t delivering. It’s not over yet either.The Government has now backpedalled on speed cameras. By the end of June, all had to be coloured bright yellow, and new cameras could only be installed where there had been at least four deaths or serious injuries – the words ‘bolted’, ‘stable’ and ‘door’ spring to mind.

And it looks like public opinion and practice really has swung back the other way – in 2001, only 36% agreed with the RAC’s transport statement. In other words, drivers are less receptive to public transport than they were in ’93. Meanwhile, traffic has continued to grow and cycle trips are actually falling, which makes the official aim of trebling cycle use by 2010 look like a sick joke.

So, after a brief window of opportunity in the late 1990s, it’s now back to doom and gloom. Or is it? ‘There is public support for congestion charging,’ says Lyn Sloman, ‘but only if the money goes straight into public transport.’ No one is better placed to do just that than Ken Livingstone, and he’s made it clear that this will happen with his £5 congestion charge. If it works, other cities across Europe are poised to follow suit.

Even if it doesn’t, some changes from the ‘90s really have stuck. After a decade of use, traffic calming now has widespread acceptance – I think the same will happen with speed cameras, eventually. Remember, Barbara Castle became a motorists’ hate figure when she introduced drink-driving laws, but who argues against those now?