Tag Archives: A to B 32

A to B 32

a-to-b-32-coverProblems with space as usual, so we’ve expanded onto the internet. Don’t worry if you aren’t connected to the confounded thing – the magazine will continue on paper just as before, but we’re hoping to use the net to publish travel articles and items of general interest that would otherwise remain on file. E-publishing is not new, but we’ve listed the ‘shadow’ articles below, together with the ‘real’ ones, which just might be.The address is www.atob.org.uk/32/ plus the relevant page number below.There’s no security password, so these pages are available for anyone to see, but the index is in the magazine, just to annoy non-subscribers.

Thanks to all those who made our stand at CYCLE 2002 such a success, particularly Roger de Freitas for the accommodation, Rob Cope for organising it, Adam Hart-Davis,Tony Hadland and Len Rubin for the fantastic lectures, and Pod & Gordon for tailing Alexander.Thanks also to the 150+ subscribers who took the trouble to drop by and say hello.We really do appreciate the kind words, and apologies that we had so little time to spare, particularly on the Friday morning.

A to B 32 Index


A to B 32 Blog, October 2002, Cycle 2002

Cycle 2002, Steven Norris MP, Brompton, Gekko, Airframe, Birdy

With CYCLE 2002 something of an unknown quantity, it was with a degree of trepidation that the Mole set forth for Bogworthy Junction and parted with the customary arm and a leg for a window seat on the London Flyer.

Armed with a copy of Ken Livingstone’s wonderful Cycling Map of the metropolis, the journey from Paddington to Islington proved relatively straightforward, despite an almost complete lack of cycle facilities. Islington, for those who aren’t aware, is an unexpectedly miserable quarter of our fine capital city, situated somewhere beyond Kings Cross. Once there, one had only to join the caravan of bulgy- thighed types to reach the Business Design Centre. This turned out to be a rather jolly little venue – hardly Olympia, but a pleasantly proportioned edifice, in scale with the modest aspirations of a British bicycle show.

One understands that bookings were painfully slow initially, but by Day One there were over 100, filling the halls pretty well. Not all were of use, naturally. Several were showing something called Spinning machines, which on close inspection turned out to be bicycles without wheels. Quite why one would pay good money for a bicycle without wheels is beyond the Mole. Rather like an aeroplane without wings, one would have thought, but a good many bright and fashionable young things were spinning cheerfully away, making a nonsense of New Labour’s claim that intelligence is on the increase.

Elsewhere, one unearths a slightly more complex version of the same thing – a conventional-looking bicycle linked by cables to a large televisual screen.Through complex electrical jiggery-pokery controlled by two clean-cut youths, frantic pedalling results in some horribly realistic hills unfolding on the screen, with the added realism of excruciating pedal effort.

Cycle 2002, Handy Bike

Handybike – six inch wheels proved less handy than had been hoped

Steven Norris MP, Cycle 2002Cycle 2002, Gekko folding tandem bikeAll manner of sporty types tried their hand on this infernal machine, including cycling’s Mr Big, the Rightly Honourable Steven Norris, formerly a Tory MP, but now a professional transport lobbyist, supporting cyclists, motorcyclists, motorists, and any number of other ‘ists’, for a modest remuneration. Unlike the Lycra-clad types, Mr Norris proceeds to ride the Marin County Downhill Course at a nice steady A to B pace, as one might expect from a fellow with a reported loathing for bilious Lycra and daft cranium helmets. In any event, Mr Norris makes no secret of the fact that he finds exercise in other ways, and quite right too.

The image of Mr Norris plodding happily around Marin County was to have a certain symbolism, for at CYCLE 2002 the racing, countryside- decimating, and working-out types were to meet head- to-head with those for whom the bicycle is primarily a pleasant means of getting from A to B.

Folding bikes had taken up a classic defensive position, thanks largely to a strong showing from Brompton on the right flank and newcomer Airframe to the left.Weaker brands, such as the overweight Gekko and ‘What’s your perfect size?’ Handybike occupied the middle ground.

Incidentally, whatever your perfect size might be, those six-inch wheels have proved less than ideal for the Handybike, which is to be redesigned around more conventional rubber. As one suspected all along, size really does matter, at least where wheels are concerned.

Mind you, the Handybike is a relatively practical machine against the monstrous Gekko tandem, which proved so complex no-one seemed willing or able to fold it. At the other end of the scale, one has serious doubts whether two persons would be able to ride the bike either.

Cycle 2002, Armadilo folding bike

The Armadillo OY102 – a sort of updated Cresswell Micro

Close by the Mole discovered the Armadillo range – folding bicycles allegedly manufactured in Bangor, North Wales. It seems the Cycle Citi Corporation of Taiwan is in the process of creating 160 jobs there (Bangor, not Taiwan), and expects to churn out 350,000 bicycles a year, some of the folding variety. Unfortunately, bikes that suit the Far Eastern market are not necessarily competitive in Europe.The smaller models are light, but much too small for anyone of a modestly portly disposition.The top-of-the-range OY102 is an attractive and reasonably comfy 3-speed 16-inch job, not unlike an updated Cresswell Micro, but with a retail price of £349, one suspects the brand will make little headway against the similarly priced Micro or Brompton ‘C’ type.

This ‘long wheelbase’ model (as opposed to chronically short) is quite a neat and handy folder, as the Mole demonstrated to the young lady from Cycle Citi, who claimed that the excesses of the night before had affected her bicycle folding capabilities. A note to head office: Do try to employ staff who can actually do the business.

“…bikes that sell in the Far East are not necessarily competitive in Europe…”

Cycle 2002 - Airframe folding bikeAirframe probably had the nicest stand in the show – well lit, exquisitely designed, and displaying some cheerful- looking Airframes in a variety of fruity colours. One wishes the bike well – the wibbly- wobbly frame will not appeal to all, but the rideability and general sporty stance of the bike should produce sales. According to one seasoned observer, the bike actually rides better than the Birdy… it’s also somewhat cheaper.

The Birdy popped up here and there at CYCLE 2002, although manufacturer Riese & Müller was officially absent.The most remarkable example was the Escape, a conventional Birdy Red with a large clockwork mechanism where the rack might be.The idea is that forward motion winds up the spring, with the energy being released when the lights turn green. Such devices are something of a Holy Grail in the cycling world, but one suspects the eventual solution will be electrical. Still, full marks to young Thomas Jenkins for doing it the hard way.

Cycle 2002 - Escape mechanism

The Escape – a large clockwork mechanism where the rack might be

Elsewhere, Avon Valley Cyclery was displaying some more conventional Riese & Müller products, including the new Froglet: Birdy- style suspension in a near-Brompton package. Another exclusive was the Bike Friday range – the first public showing in the UK for some years.The stand was rounded off with a few Dahons and hand-built Moultons, dotted about in a jungle setting so realistic one could almost feel the mosquito bites.

Electric bicycles were very much in evidence at CYCLE 2002, with some sophisticated crank motors setting the pace.The gossip amongst the trade is that the delightful Giant Lafree Twist has been a runaway success, thanks to the demise of Yamaha, and general growth in the market. Actually, the Yamaha is not quite dead. Lumbered with a number of unsold bikes,Yamaha Europe proceeded to flog the lot to one Freidbert Meinert, on the condition that they were sold suitably disguised. Freidbert has gone one better, neatly upgrading the machines, and ironing out most of the flaws in the process.

Cycle 2002, Smartbike electric bike

The Smartbike – a Yamaha Easy without the bugs

Out have gone the Nexus roller-brakes, auto gearbox and indifferent lights, to be replaced by V-brakes, Lumotec lights, hub dynamo and conventional gearbox. This smart and effective package will be sold as the Smartbike for £785 – a worthy competitor to the Lafree Twist.

“…a conventional Birdy Red with a large clockwork mechanism on the back…”

Cycle 2002, Oxygen Italian electric bikeThe other crank-driven newcomer is the Oxygen, an Italian bike marketed in the UK by Pedal & Power of Chester. Like most Italian products, Oxygen marketing involves delightful young ladies wearing very few clothes. The Mole reproduces an example for the general good of cycling (see A to B 31), and yes, one appreciates that she couldn’t possibly cycle in those heels.

This sort of thing tells us quite a lot about the Italians, but very little about the product. However, one understands that this range of smart, conventional-looking bicycles will be equipped with Shimano Megarange gearing, lead-acid batteries and a reasonable price tag of £600 to £700.There’s also a neat tricycle conversion put together by Parker Products, retailing for £955.

Unlike its European sisters – which must be pedalled to obtain electric-assist – the UK-spec Oxygen has a handy ‘couch potato’ twistgrip throttle.This sort of thing helps to explain why the British are now the most obese nation in Europe.

If the Oxygen succeeds, it’s bound to put pressure on such brands as Infineon and Powabyke, whose frumpier Chinese products have gradually increased in price, while the crank motors have come down. One awaits the coming battle with interest.

Will the lighter, prettier and more cycle-like crank-drive bikes take sales from the cruder Chinese hub motors? One suspects prices are set to fall at the bottom end of the market.

Child carriers were rather poorly represented at CYCLE 2002, with only one trailer on show and very few child seats in evidence. The most interesting example was the Family Bike, an Italian product with similar advertising to Oxygen, but we just don’t have the space.This is an adaptable family of machines with mix-&- match accessories to accommodate luggage and/or one or two children.The most fascinating add-on was the Integrale – a front child seat complete with pedals. Unusually, Alexander Henshaw refused to try this, or perhaps he’d heard that a fully laden Family Bike had fallen over on the test-track, fortunately without injuries.

like-a-bikelike-a-bikeThe favourite amongst the Telly-Tubby fraternity was, as usual, the Like-a-Bike. These little wooden machines were underfoot throughout the show, despite the best efforts of the BDC’s burliest security guards. Sunday’s photo-shoot resulted in predictable chaos, when five diminutive riders converged on the A to B stand, through, between and under the crowds.The photo session was followed by a visit to the test-track, where a remarkably talented two-year-old led the field, but was pipped at the post when the A to B man took the inside line.

len-rubin-ultimate-folding-bikeAmongst the most interesting products at CYCLE 2002 was the ‘Ultimate Folder,’ brought over from California by Len Rubin to illustrate his lectures at the show.This machine is a Brompton- clone constructed almost entirely from titanium. Even with a 14-speed Rohloff hub, weight (without pedals) is 9.4kg, or a little over 20lb.The bike rides well and feels rigid, with the exception of the handlebar adjust mechanism – one of the few components that wasn’t made of titanium.

Due to patent complications, photography was banned, but the Mole succeeds in capturing an exclusive image of a group of men ogling a small grey object on the floor.The price for this vision in brushed satin would eclipse the cost of a season ticket from Bogworthy to London. Rumours are coalescing in the £4,000 region…

All things considered, CYCLE was certainly a success: grump- free traders (well, almost) and a jolly and informative spectacle for more than 18,000 visitors over four days. The Mole understands the show is now set to become a firm annual fixture. Ladies and gentlemen – CYCLE 2003! Contact details for the products and services above can be found on www.atob.org.uk.

The ‘Classic’ Moulton – Paul Grogan

The Classic MoultonWhere do Moulton owners get their boundless enthusiasm? it takes a lot of nerve to self- publish anything, let alone a title as specialist as this.Where, one wonders, do they find the time? Do they do anything else?

The ‘Classic’ Moulton is an apparently exhaustive reprint of Moulton catalogue specifications from 1963 – 1974, which sounds like the biggest yawn in publishing history, but results in a sparkling little book – well, quite big actually, being a full A4 format. The real delight of The ‘Classic’ Moulton is the illustrations – each model painstakingly digitised and coloured in loving precise detail. The book is full of these charming little reliefs, and the result is not only useful for Moulton anoraks, but a book of unexpected beauty for ordinary mortals too.

The text is understandably on the dry side, but it’s not all listings and part numbers, and the final chapters include some useful reprints from the Moultoneer magazine, covering suspension overhaul and general trouble-shooting.

For anyone buying or restoring one of these 1960s Moultons, this book provides an invaluable guide. But even for those who don’t know one end of a classic Moulton from the other (and aren’t overly curious) it deserves to become a coffee table classic.

The ‘Classic’ Moultons Paul Grogan
ISBN 0-9543265-0-4
Pages 55
Softback UK price £16.50, Europe £18.00, Rest of World £21.00
Credit Card Sales Tel 0121 743 8646

Cycle Maintenance – By Richard Hallett

cycle-maintenance-bookAt last, a pocket-sized bicycle maintenance book! Strangely enough, if the Cycle Maintenance Introduction is to be believed, bicycles now come in three distinct styles – racer, tourer and, er, Brompton. Unfortunately, this radical start is tempered by a complete lack of information on said folding bike or any of it’s cousins. Hub gears get only the briefest of mentions, and although the book is copiously illustrated, the beautiful photographs involve the sort of brand names that you and I either dream about, or can’t pronounce, or both – Campagnolo, Colnago, Shimano Dura-Ace and so on.

Utility bits and bobs like mudguards, lights and fitted luggage do get mentioned once in a while, but you know the author’s heart isn’t really in it – he’s clearly itching to get back to the orgasmic boy’s-toy stuff. The result is a strange animal – a beginner’s guide apparently written, edited and photographed by the cycle racing fraternity. Under the heading ‘Toolkits’ we find £5,000 worth of Park Tools: just the thing for those fiddly roadside repairs.What this sort of book ought to be telling us is how to repair a broken frame with nothing more than a pair of silk stockings and a hair-grip. Or a hundred and one uses for a Mole wrench.You know: handy, practical stuff.

After a few chapters of carbon fibre forks, wheels strung with quivering quadruple- butted titanium spokes, and immaculately groomed fingers wielding immaculate Park Tools, you begin to suspect that bicycle maintenance might be closer to rocket science than you originally thought.

It’s difficult to recommend this book.Those who own the posh stuff probably don’t need a beginner’s guide, while those nervously destroying their first inner-tube in the garden shed, will find precious little guidance here.

Superficiality abounds – take the following advice on saddles: Symptom: Excessive pressure from saddle. Cause: Saddle not level/Saddle wrongly shaped. Remedy: Ensure saddle is level/Change saddle. Great, must remember that.Then there’s the section called ‘Identify your [clipless] pedals’. Surely, if you’re the sort of bod who buys clipless pedals, you have some idea what kind you’ve bought? And if you aren’t remotely interested, you’ll blow a great big raspberry at this page, like most of the others.

Cycle Maintenance is a sad by-product of Blair’s New Britain: A triumph of style over substance and a wasted opportunity. In years to come historians will nod wisely as they leaf through this sort of thing.

Cycle Maintenance Richard Hallett
ISBN 0-600 60676 7
Pages 112 Softback
Publisher Hamlyn
UK price £9.99
USA $16.95
Canada $25.95

Encycleopedia 2002-03 – Compiled by Alan Davidson

encycleopedia-bookEncycleopedia was one of the big success stories of the alternative transport world. It didn’t take advertising as such, but manufacturers were ‘invited’ to sponsor their own page.The disadvantage of this system is that very small, very poor concerns can get left out, while big manufacturers producing utter rubbish get in. So all credit to McGurn, Davidson et al, that this didn’t happen in practice, presumably because the small fry were subsidised and the big ‘uns turned away.

Running to six editions, more or less annually in the late 1990’s, Encycleopedia became an essential reference work for those purchasing or researching anything from a child’s tricycle to an electrically-assisted pantechni-quad.Then parent company Open Road crashed to the ground and Encycleopedia ceased to be.

But good ideas generally refuse to lie down. Jim McGurn, Peter Eland and Dan Joyce may have moved on, but Jim’s former business partner Alan Davidson has fought to bring Encycleopedia back from the grave – it’s late, it’s thinner than it used to be, but it’s back.

Sheer volume isn’t everything, but useful content is the bottom line when you’re shelling out twelve quid, so it’s instructive to look back at the Encycleopedia story by the number of bikes and trailers covered in each issue.The book closely mirrors the Open Road story, starting as a modest organ with around 30 product reviews, growing to a chunky 147 pages and no fewer than 91 products in 1997, but sliding back to 71 products in 2001 before falling over the abyss.

Effectively compiled by a husband and wife team, the new edition is obviously smaller, covering just 36 machines, but it’s the same old gold mine of information, at the same old £12 cover price. Beside the product entries, there’s a wealth of features from some familiar faces – cycle mapping by Cycle City Guides (hi, Martin), trailers from Two Plus Two (how are things, Stuart?), HPVs by Richard Ballantine, Karta Singh on whatever it is that Karta does best, and so on and so forth. Ever get the feeling that cycling is a small world? Well, yes, but there are some fresh products, ideas and services here too. And that’s why Encycleopedia is so important – if we all keep referring back to the 1997 edition, the alternative scene will eventually wither and die.

If you can bring yourself to forgive all that has gone before, forget the readies you lost when Open Road crashed and treat an Encycleopedia purchase as a patriotic duty.

Encycleopedia . Alan Davidson
ISBN 0-9542052-0-0
ISBN (USA) 0-9669795-6-7
Pages 90 Softback
Publisher Encycleopedia & Alpenbooks Press (USA)
UK £12
USA $24
Europe E19
tel 0161 484 0579
mail alan@encycleopedia.com
web www.encycleopedia.com

EU Directive & Motor Insurance

The road from A to B can be strewn with legal hurdles. Send your queries to Russell Jones & Walker, Solicitors, c/o A to B magazine

“What will be the effect of the proposed EU Directive harmonising motor insurance? Apparently the technical term ‘rebuttable presumption’ is enshrined in the law in many countries – if a large vehicle hits a smaller one then the driver of the large vehicle has to prove innocence. So a lorry/car conflict would be the same as a bike/pedestrian one. Surely this a saner approach that the ‘might is right’ situation on British roads at present? However, I believe that it goes against the idea of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in our legal system?”
Roy Benson

The proposed change in British law comes as a result of a new draft European Union Directive seeking to harmonise motor insurance laws across the EU. One of the proposals is that it would compulsory for motor insurance to include cover for a victim’s injuries, whether or not the driver was at fault.This is already the law in France, Belgium, Sweden and Finland. Currently in the UK, pedestrians and cyclists are not covered by a vehicle’s insurance, unless the motorist is found liable for the accident.

If British law is changed in line with the Directive, it would only apply to accidents between motor vehicles and cyclists or motor vehicles and pedestrians.The EU feels that motor vehicles cause most accidents (as I am sure you would all agree!) and that cyclists and pedestrians are always the weaker party in any accident – the new rule would also apply to children, as pedestrians or cyclists. As for domestic animals, the Directive is surprisingly quiet! I would assume the new rule does not extend to pets.

As to whether these changes would undermine our hallowed principle of innocent until proven guilty, the situation is this.The fact that a motor vehicle has compulsory insurance to cover any victim’s injuries would have no bearing as to who was actually liable for a specific accident, if the case went to court. Furthermore, having insurance would not affect the amount of damages awarded to the victim.

If the proposed Directive is ultimately accepted, we would have until December 2004 to change our domestic law.

A to B Notelet: In the media frenzy over this proposed change to UK law, it was conveniently overlooked that the new rules would apply to children and pedestrians as well as cyclists. Should readers become involved in any future bar-room/letter page brawls on this issue, it might be worth emphasising this point. Cyclists are an easy target, but we’re all pedestrians at some stage in our daily lives and it’s hard to argue against a law designed to protect children…

Your legal enquiries are answered by Russell Jones & Walker, Solicitors – the best national firm servicing the needs of individual people, with branches in London, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sheffield, Cardiff and Bristol. For further information call Jeremy Clarke-Williams on 020 7837 2808

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

A Jolly Good Machine!

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

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

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

Martin Snelus
Torrance, California

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

Bottom Preload

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

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

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

Mike Lenton
Kirkby-in-Furness, Cumbria

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

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

Easy on Auto Lights!

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

David Kemp
Woodbridge, Suffolk

Auto Conundrums

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

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

Adrian L Mills

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

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

Engineered for Safety?

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

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

Peter Stanton

New stock? Never!

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

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

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

David Edge

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

Like That Bike!

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

Catherine Girvan

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

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

Unnatural Desires

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

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

Paul Denyer

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

Any hub info?

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

Mark James

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

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


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

Kenneth Smith
Ulverstone, Cumbria

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

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

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

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

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

Aluminium Rim Wear


If daylight is visible under a straight edge, wear is well underway. This example is close to failure

I always put the correct type of brake blocks on the bike. My steel front wheel is still OK, requires Fibrax brake blocks and the bearings greasing occasionally, though the braking is not as good as the alloy rear.

Ian Fleming

This is, indeed, a common problem, so you were lucky to get six years use out of the rim! Steel rims will last until they’re consumed by rust, but they’re heavy, and braking effect can be unpredictable, particularly in the wet. Aluminium is lighter and provides a much better friction surface, but the metal wears away rather rapidly, hence the problem. Small wheel rims have less surface area, so wear is greater, and Bromptons seem particularly prone, although statistics being what they are, this may be because Bromptons tend to do a higher all-weather mileage than other folders.

Do alternative brake blocks help? In the absence of proper research, it’s hard to say.Wear is primarily caused by grit caught in the block, rather than the block itself. Larger, softer blocks trap more grit, but apply less pressure to the rim per unit area, and vice versa for the smaller, harder variety. There’s some evidence that the large, soft kind can enhance the machine’s stopping ability without obviously increasing wear, so I’d suggest large blocks if in doubt.The Aztec long block is a good all-round performer, although I would hesitate to claim this was the best, by any means.

Of one thing you can be sure. Ride any distance on a small wheeled bike with alloy rims – particularly on muddy, wet and/or salty roads – and you will eventually experience a rim failure. Rims can fail catastrophically, but this is rare and usually the result of poor maintenance. The chances of failure can be minimised by following a few simple rules:


The first sign of failure. With reduced tyre pressure, a rim like this can be ridden a short distance with great care

1) Inspect the rims regularly, particularly in winter. Failure is caused by many factors, but it’s sensible to start inspecting the rims at 2,000 miles or two years, whichever comes sooner, and checking on a regular basis thereafter. Road grit tends to accumulate around the rear wheel, and it’s here that the inspection should be concentrated. Grinding noises or obvious bright score marks usually mean something nasty trapped in a brake block, and removing it can extend the rim life by many miles. On the other hand, it could mean that the brake block material has worn through, putting the steel backing plate in direct contact with the alloy rim. Never, ever, ride a bike in this condition – the steel can eat through the rim in a matter of minutes.

Failure normally occurs when the rims have worn wafer thin.Wear is easily detected by holding a ruler against the rim, or rubbing your finger tips across it – if the surface feels slightly concave, wear is underway, but if the blocks have worn a pronounced groove, failure may be imminent.This sort of thing can only be judged by experience, so if in doubt, get a second opinion, or simply replace the rim.

2) For obvious reasons, rims tend to fail after the tyres have been inflated. A heavily worn rim can survive for months without any sign of distress, but over-enthusiastic work with a footpump causes a bulge.You can use this to your advantage by deliberately over-inflating the tyres every few weeks and thoroughly inspecting the rims. But don’t try this ten minutes before pedalling to work.


Do nothing and the rim may fail catastrophically...

Generally, a ‘young’ bulge occurs over a couple of centimetres of rim and makes it’s presence felt as a rhythmic thump whenever the brake is applied – mild examples as a gentle tap through the brake lever, but serious bulges may cause the bike to vibrate noticeably. Stop (without a panic brake application, naturally) and take a closer look.

If major damage has occurred, push the bike home. If you attempt to ride, there’s a very real chance that the wheel will either lock solid or disintegrate.

…There is one more option – the brake blocks can usually be realigned closer to the spokes…

3) With mild examples, all is not lost. If the bulge is small, reducing the tyre pressures – 20lbs front and/or 30lbs rear – should get you home. But do ride with caution and stop to investigate any noise or vibration. If there is a growing crack around the damaged section of rim, or you can’t eliminate the bump-thump under braking, there is one more option.The brake blocks can usually be realigned against an unworn section of rim closer to the spokes. If the brakes work smoothly and the bulge in the rim looks stable, it’s permissible to ride on with care.


With the new rim brought up against the old, the spokes can be transferred one at a time

Alloy rims are not expensive, but fitting is time-consuming, so labour costs can push up the price. If you have the confidence, small wheels are much easier to build than the large variety, and with hub gears, there’s usually no complicated rim offset or differential spoke tension to worry about.

The easiest way (provided the spokes and nipples are in good condition), is to put the old wheel in a vice, loosen the spokes, and transfer them one at a time to the new rim.This should be stood alongside the old one, with the tube hole in the same position. Start transferring the spokes nearest to the new rim and work methodically round the rim, fitting the nipples loosely in place as you go. A drop of oil will not go amiss here, as it’s difficult to tension spokes that are tight on their threads, and dry threads will corrode later.When the closest seven (or 9 on a 36-spoke wheel) have been transferred, move straight on to the next group, then cross the wheel to the third and fourth. In an hour, you should be holding a loosely strung wheel.

Small wheels are easy to true as well, but if in doubt, it’s time to call in a professional.Truing involves tightening the spoke nipples very gradually to the proper tension, checking as you go to correct any rim misalignment, either horizontal or vertical.

Experts will run through this process very quickly, but it’s worth taking your time.The wheel can be either mounted in a vice, or refitted to the bike temporarily. It is, however, essential to mount the wheel firmly, in such a way that a fixed point can be brought up against the top or side of the rim as required, to check the alignment.

First hand-tighten the spokes, then give each one a half turn and check that the wheel is starting to come together reasonably straight. As tension begins to build, it’s a good idea to go round the rim, pushing hard against the side of each spoke with your thumbs to ensure the spoke and nipple are properly bedded down.

bicycle-rim-alignmentThe next stage is to check the vertical and horizontal alignment.To check this, you’ll need a fixed point, such as an old spoke mounted on a heavy block – slide the block forward until the spoke just contacts the high spots on the rim. The aim is to adjust the spoke tension until your fixed point touches the entire rim when the wheel is spun. If the wobble is up and down, gently tighten all the spokes at the high spot and loosen those on the far side of the wheel. If the wobble is side to side, loosen the spokes attached to the appropriate side of the hub, and tighten those on the other side.

With the rim more or less true (don’t spend hours fiddling at this stage), go back to the start and tighten all the spokes by a smaller, but equal amount, recheck, and so on.When the spokes produce a nice satisfying twang when struck, and the rim is as well aligned as you can get it without tearing your hair out, you’re more or less there. If you have time, it’s worth leaving the wheel overnight, squidging all the spokes again with your thumbs, re-check, re-adjust, re-twang, and so on. Perfection is quite unnecessary: provided the brakes work smoothly, there are no vibrations, and the tyre runs a reasonably straight course, the wheel is fit for the road.

After riding for a week or two, it’s worth re-checking the tension. Such attention to detail is sadly all too rare these days, but on a rear wheel in particular, correct tension can greatly enhance the life of the spokes. It’s generally assumed that the spokes break through excessive load – partly true, but the real reason is that a loosely spoked wheel bends and ‘squirms’ as load increases, and this constant fretting movement causes the spokes to fail through metal fatigue.

Airframe 4-speed

airframe-folding-bike-1Most of the serious folding bike designs have gone out of production at some point: Brompton, Micro, Strida, Microbike, and so on, but the majority have subsequently returned. Some, like Peter Radnall’s little Micro, have performed the feat twice, but all – with the exception of the Swedish (then Japanese) Microbike – remain in production at the time of writing.

Until late September, the Airframe seemed to be the exception. Conceived by Wimbledon architect Grahame Herbert in 1978, the Airframe went into limited production a few years later, but just about everything went wrong, and the project rapidly foundered.

For 15 years, this unusual bike was largely forgotten, but our story in 1996 (see Folder 19 & 20) helped to rekindle an interest, and Grahame went on to re-design the machine, eventually finding an engineering company with the will and the know-how to produce it. Now, after a further six years, a small production run has commenced.

A great deal has changed in a quarter of a century. On the positive side, production techniques have improved, making this innovative but complex light alloy machine more practical. On the other hand, the folding bike market has come a long way too…The commuter side of things is now dominated by the Brompton, and the Brentford company will take a lot of shifting from that top slot. In the 20-inch market, Dahon’s machines look conventional, but they’re lighter, faster and cheaper in relative terms than their 1980s equivalents. Competition is even fiercer at the sporty end, with Bike Friday, Birdy, Airnimal and others fighting for sales. In short, the market that was new and exciting in the early 1980s is much more sophisticated, and any newcomers or returnees will have to fight hard to survive. Does the Airframe have what it takes?


airframe-folding-bikeThe Airframe is quite unlike any other bicycle, owing more to structural engineering than transport machinery, which is what one might expect from an architect designer. The best way to visualise the frame is as a group of three triangles, with the usual cycle paraphernalia – wheels, cranks and chains – bolted to the extremities.The triangles look similar to a traditional diamond frame, but the principle is completely different, because almost every joint is hinged, enabling the triangles to fold into long thin triangles when the seat tube is lifted up. In use, the rider’s weight passes down through the seat-tube, transferring the load into the two top tubes, which try to make the wheels do the splits.They can’t, because the bottom tubes are in tension, holding the wheelbase and bracing the bottom bracket. In theory, the more weight applied at the top; the more the bike tries to do the splits; the more tension in the bottom tubes; and the more rigid the machine becomes.

Conventional aluminium frames can end up surprisingly heavy because aluminium – although light – is liable to flex and fail unless produced in thick (ie rigid) sections. In a conventional frame, there’s lots of stress around the frame joints, made worse because they’re usually welded. On the Airframe, flexible joints are able to ‘give’, so bending and twisting doesn’t really occur in the tubes, and there are few stress-raising welds. Consequently, the bike is constructed of very light tubing.

All dastardly clever, but don’t expect a bicycle that’s rigid in the traditional sense.You don’t so much ride an Airframe over the landscape, as ooze through it, gently rolling with the lumps and bumps rather than fighting against them.You might not fancy a bike that goes with the flow, particularly if you have memories of the Bickerton, but the result is a surprisingly sporty beast that rides as well as some suspended machines. Clearly an element of ‘give’ brings compensations.

…the gears are a bit disappointing for such a sporty machine…


The first, and rather unnerving, impression is that the pedals are loose in the cranks. Once you’ve got off and ascertained that they aren’t, it begins to dawn that that gentle creak was the crank assembly moving, and far from being a problem, it’s all part of the fun.

Now, as any frame builder will tell you, these sort of movements are not conducive to efficient power transmission, but the Airframe certainly feels efficient, climbing hills at least as well as the Brompton, even with the rider standing out of the saddle. All very strange, particularly as the bars are pretty flexible too.The handlebar stem, by the way, appears to harbour one of the few places where twisting forces might cause problems – we’d guess the kink just above the headset was the weakest point.

Get over the wayward bottom bracket and unexpectedly good hill-climbing, and sooner or later you’ll hit a nasty bump.Those used to small-wheeled bikes with high pressure tyres (100psi Schwalbe Marathons in this case) will know exactly what to expect, but the Airframe is different. Even at maximum tyre pressure, you can hit an unexpected 4cm kerb at speed and live to tell the tale.With a little less pressure in the tyres, the bike simply floats over obstacles, dissipating the shock. Less serious road furniture such as gratings and man-hole covers disappear completely.

We’ve criticised suspension in the past for being too hard, too soft, or – most annoyingly of all – under-damped.The Airframe does very well without any suspension… The downside is unwelcome lateral twisting and bending in the frame joints. It is possible to ride an Airframe fast and point it with a surprising degree of precision down switchback roads, but this sort of entertainment is not for the faint-hearted.

airframe-folding-bikeThe gears are a bit disappointing for such a sporty machine, but we’re glad Airframe opted for hub gearing.There are few suitable hubs around at the moment, so the company has made do with the Nexus 4- speed.This unit can run with silky smoothness, but it’s hard to adjust, relatively inefficient and lacking in gear range. Our pre-production bike (by no means the final spec, incidentally) offered gears of 43″ (on the high side), 53″, 64″ and 78″ (on the low side).That 184% range is similar to the 3- speed Brompton, but rather less than the 215% offered by the Brompton 6-speed. Ironically, that bike’s close ratio hub/derailleur system might have suited the Airframe better than the Brompton, but there we are.

Tyres are Schwalbe Marathons – not as fast as the Brompton tyre (a slightly disappointing 14mph on our test-hill), but safe, comfortable and probably the best all-rounder.

airframe-folding-bikeThe riding position is sportier than most folding bikes, with a saddle set well back and low bars. If you’re more used to a touring bike, and have rejected the Brompton for its upright stance, this will be more to your liking. The saddle height is adjustable from a rather high 87cm to 101cm, but the bars are less helpful, moving only a couple of centimetres around the 95cm mark. You wouldn’t get a short person on our Airframe, while those in the six foot region found the saddle OK but the bars a bit low.

So much for sporting around on your lonesome. Like most folders, we’d guess the Airframe will spend much of its life in a commuter situation. For luggage carrying, you either fold the rear rack up against your briefcase and bungee it to the seat tube, or drop the briefcase in the carry-bag, clip the bag to the saddle rails, and tuck the rack up behind, with or without bungee according to taste.

It’s hard to resist making comparisons with the Brompton’s pricey, but super-duper commuter pannier system.The Airframe arrangements are nothing like as clever and nothing like as quick, but well up to commuting with a single small hard case and/or a bit of loose shopping on the way home – let’s say half a dozen oranges, a bottle of wine, two litres of milk, and a tin of dog food. Any more and the bag rolls and sways, catching your ankles and threatening to spill its precious cargo.

The bag isn’t very stylish either. In terms of street-cred (or 7.15-to-the-city-cred in commuter-terms) the Airframe looks super-sexy and the briefcase holder is stylish in a 007 sort of way, but the carry-bag has as much sex appeal as a deflated balloon.You’ll lovingly unfold the bike where everyone can see, march purposefully out of the station and fit the bag round the corner.

Let’s face it, the Airframe is not really a machine for carrying things on. It’s as sensuous, highly strung – and (arguably) as rewarding – as a racehorse.Without exception, the Airframe’s bright alloy tubing and CNC-machined pastel-anodised bits and pieces drew admiring glances and comments.The anodised bits come in pastel pink or blue – both very fetching, but watch what you wear or you’ll be upstaged by your wheels.


…we found it a more practical package than the Birdy, and easier to fold too…

Some would say this was the Airframe’s strongest suit… others would not know where to begin.The bike starts with an advantage over almost everything else on the market: it’s light – not spectacularly light, but comfortably lighter than most.The Airframe weighs 10.5kg (23.1lb) – against 11kg for a comparable Birdy, and 11.4 to 12.3kg for the Brompton. Only the Brilliant Micro can match the Airframe for weight, but that’s not really in the same performance league.

airframe-folding-bikeWeight isn’t everything of course. A folding bike needs to fold quickly, easily and – most important of all in the long run – repeatably. The weakness with the Airframe is that despite Teflon shims, the joints are pretty stiff, making folding a chore, and it never seems to produce the same package twice. It’s also one of those three-handed jobs.

First, twiddle the front wheel through 180 degrees until the cables start to complain, then push the bike backwards with the rear brake applied, whilst lifting the saddle. If all goes according to plan and you avoid catching a finger, the frame magically concertinas upwards.Assuming you’ve got this most difficult bit out of the way, you’ll be ready to rotate the safety catch, lift the locking plate and swing the handlebars down either side of the frame. Finally, and rather satisfyingly, you lift a sleeve, allowing the saddle stem to flop down against the package, then fold in the rear rack, which clips rather vaguely to the stem, holding everything together.

The Airframe also has folding pedals, but as conventional pedals barely protrude from the package, we wonder whether they’re worth all the trouble. Our pre-production bike came with Wellgo FP4s – possibly the worst folding pedal ever designed.We’d suggest specifying the excellent Next pedals on the production bikes.

If you’re intending to bag it up, folding can takes minutes rather than seconds, partly because you’re never quite sure how easily the bike will fit the bag. In practice, we found ourselves leaving the bag at home.The folded Airframe is long, but looks techy enough to earn the respect of most railway guards, although we wouldn’t venture onto a bus without the bag. Generally speaking, we found it a more practical package than the Birdy, and easier to fold too.

Folded volume is a very reasonable 180 litres, or 6.4 cubic feet in groats and spleens. Production bikes will be fitted with a quick release front wheel, reducing the length of the package to 92cm, and bringing the volume down to 162 litres. If you can live without a front mudguard, the volume comes down to 122 litres or 4.3 cubic feet, which is well into seriously compact territory. But removing wheels is a grubby, time-consuming task.Worth it, apparently, if you’re hoping to put an Airframe in the boot of the ‘new’ Mini.

…Chelsea or Cannes – anywhere style has greater significance than practicality…

Without bolting and unbolting things, you have a package that occupies about twice as much space as a Brompton, and a little more than the Birdy. In practical terms, it fits behind the seat backs on the train, or lengthways in a spacious luggage rack, but it won’t go sideways, and it won’t even think about fitting into one of those dinky little luggage shelves on the Class 158 or 159 (only provincial Brompton commuters will understand this one).

What you can do is place the bagged package on the overhead racks.We should qualify this, because racks vary in size, and many people simply can’t lift 10.5kg over their heads.Worth knowing though, especially if you can find a big strong man to do it for you.


With its dishy looks, comfy ride, and wayward behaviour, the Airframe is a bike you’ll either love or hate. Price-wise, it slots neatly between the pricier 6-speed Bromptons and the fairly basic Birdy Red. Its only real weakness in this company is the lack of gears, but that won’t be a problem if you’re commuting somewhere flat. In other words, it will go down a wow in Chelsea or Cannes – anywhere style has greater significance than practicality.

Will it succeed? The market is awash with folders at the moment, but there’s probably room for another bike as unusual as this one.The interesting question is who will buy it and why? Will women choose the Airframe for its light weight, sporty looks and colour co-ordinated bits? Or is this 20-something sporty male territory?


Airframe £650
Weight 10.5kg (23.1lb)
Folded Dimensions W32cm H55cm L103cm
Folded volume 181 ltrs (6.4 cu ft)
Dimensions (less front wheel) W32cm H55cm L92cm, (less front wheel and mudguard) W32cm H45cm L85cm
Gears Shimano Nexus 4-spd hub
Ratios 43″ 53″ 64″ 78″
Saddle height 87-102cm
Tyres Schwalbe Marathon 37 x349mm
Manufacturer Silkmead Tubular Ltd
tel 01582 609988
mail silkmead@btinternet.com

Flexible Space on Trains

Luggage space causes a lot of grumbles. Once there were guards vans, but this all came to an end in the 1980s, when the oily Cecil Parkinson – then transport supremo – made it clear that the vans would not replaced because railways were as good as dead.


The railways desperately needed new trains to replace 1950s rolling stock and Parkinson (read Margaret Thatcher) was hoping to sweep local rail services away and replace them with buses. In the end, the bus venture foundered, but Cecil got his revenge by forcing the railways to build cheap and nasty trains, fitted with lots and lots of seats.

This looked mighty cost-effective on paper, and seats – as any passenger will tell you – are generally a good thing, But for those with luggage, bicycles, prams or wheelchairs (almost everyone, in other words), the new trains proved deeply unpopular.

The Class 150 ‘Sprinter’ was typical of this new generation. Nearly 150 seats were crammed into two carriages – three abreast on one side of the narrow aisle and two on the other. Initially the trains had no tables, and no provision for luggage, although common sense has prevailed over the years, with seats being removed, albeit in a piecemeal and random fashion to make way for luggage. Most Sprinters now have space for a portable wheelchair ramp, and either one or two folding bench seats per two-car train for bicycles and/or other luggage.These changes have reduced the seating capacity to 142 in some units, but helped to keep the trains flexible in day-to-day service.

…there’s plenty of luggage space where it’s most needed, but extra passenger seats when required…

flexible-space-on-trains-2For the Westcountry, at least, the situation is about to change, following some clever design work.Wealthier train operators are simply replacing the elderly Sprinters, but for the cash-strapped Wessex,Wales & Borders and Valley Lines TOCs, new vehicles were not an option. Instead, the decision was made to refurbish the 15 year old trains, at a cost of £75,000 a time. A few units have already been completed at Canton Depot in Cardiff, and the final trains in the 25 strong fleet should be back in service by Autumn 2003.

flexible-space-on-trains-3The refurbished two-car units provide a mix of ‘traditional’ airplane-style seating, plus seven tables with facing seats, and 25 tip-up seats located close to the doors.These trains need to handle holiday crowds and peak hour commuter traffic (often on the same day), so the aim has been to provide plenty of luggage space where it’s most needed, but extra passenger seats when required.The area around the doors has always been spacious, but now for the first time, there are two tip-seats in each vestibule.

Perhaps the most welcome change is the removal of the much maligned three/two abreast seating formation, and replacement with a more conventional two/two abreast arrangement.The result is a fresher, more open appearance, and a conventional width gangway, against a mere 42cm on the old Sprinters.

flexible-space-on-trains-4The bike space is still there, but instead of a crude tip-up bench seat, the company has fitted three individual tip-seats on either side of the carriage. A bicycle still occupies three full seats, but several folding bikes or items of luggage can now be accommodated along with one or two passengers as required. And if a group of bikes are travelling at a quiet time, they can be placed both sides of the carriage – room for about six bikes in all.

Thanks to the new tipping seats, the overall seating capacity of the two-car units has barely changed at 141.This is effectively an increase because the old three-abreast seats were rarely filled. On the outside, the trains are locally ‘branded’, with large graphics on Welsh,Wessex or Westcountry themes.

For folding bike commuters, the new trains are a big advance, providing enough room for ten or more bikes per carriage without any serious loss of passenger space.

It’s nice to have some good railway news for a change.The Cardiff team has effectively produced a new train at a fraction of the cost of the real thing. For those still living with old-style Sprinters, refurbishment can make a real difference at a reasonable cost.This sort of make over should pay dividends very quickly, both in terms of passenger comfort and financial return.


For further information contact Richard Gibson, head of Public Affairs,Wessex Trains tel 01392 473117 mail richard.gibson@wessextrains.co.uk


gecko-folding-bike-1Ever experienced the classic cyclist’s nightmare? The one where no matter how hard you pedal, the horizon gets further and further away? Buy a Gekko and you’ll have a unique opportunity to experience the night terror for real.

Play fair, A to B! Surely you can’t compare the Gekko to a proper bike? But why not? Brompton, Birdy, Bike Friday and Dahon… they’re folding bikes too, but they either stand against conventional bikes or fall by the wayside.The problem for the Gekko is that folders with 16-18 inch wheels have got ever so good – both at folding and riding.

The Gekko

The Gekko was designed and refined over a period of ten years by Australian Jamie Herder. As so often happens, the aluminium prototype (known as the Ant) looked good and reportedly weighed less than 10kg. No doubt it rode well too.The production version, made by Tsan Ching somewhere in the Far East, is a very different animal – the componentry is poor, the bike is ‘orrible to look at, and – most damningly – it’s ‘orribly ‘eavy too.The steel frame is over-complex, and if you care to factor in a forged bottom bracket, steel side-stand, large coil-sprung saddle (quite unnecessary with balloon tyres), you wind up with a tiny bike weighing 15kg (33lb). It’s the heaviest machine we’ve tested since the Skoot in April 2001, and that ceased production soon afterwards, but please, we really shouldn’t take all the credit for that.

you stand a good risk of getting mown down by pedestrians…

Why is weight such a problem with folding bikes? By definition, these machines get carried a good deal and – believe us – every atom counts if, for example, you’re humping a bike from Platform 1 to Platform 13 at Birmingham New Street.

The typical weight for a good (ie, multi-speed, comfortable, fast) folding bike is somewhere between 10kg and 12kg.That’s a great deal easier to manoeuvre than 15kg, and of course, you’re riding a better bicycle when you unfold it. The second catch with the Gekko, as with the Skoot, is that it’s a single speed machine, with gearing, in this case, of 41 inches. That means an ankle twirling top whack of around 8mph, at which speed you stand a real risk of getting mown down by pedestrians in a busy city. It’s all made a good deal worse by 121/2 inch 30psi tyres with the rolling characteristics of damp putty.

gecko-folding-bikeYes, the rolling resistance leaves much to be desired, although it could have been a lot better had we been able to fine-tune the tyre pressures. We managed to adjust the front tyre (this wheel has a sensible tally of 16 spokes), but space is at such a premium in the rear wheel (28 spokes), that we couldn’t find a pump that would reach the valve. Fitting twenty-eight spokes to a 12-inch wheel might sound like overkill, but 28-spoke hubs are common on childrens bikes, so they’re easy to source and cheap…

gecko-folding-bikeOur rolling resistance figure came out at 10.1mph, which is jolly good, all things considered, suggesting that 12- inch tyres (even 30psi ones) can be viable. But that sort of figure has to be compared with the results from the ‘real’ folding bikes, where even the 16-inch Brompton manages 14mph or more these days. So if you buy a Gekko you’ll not only be hampered by a cruising speed of 8mph on the flat, but you’ll suffer a 30% reduction in downhill speed too. Hill climbing is even worse, because the frame flexes like mad under load, and the saddle height is limited to 94cm, which is simply too low for most people. Clearly this bike is seriously challenged against the opposition.

…Walking has much to recommend it, at a minuscule cost in shoe leather…


gecko-folding-bikeMaybe the smaller wheels allow it to fold smaller? Er, no.The Gekko hits the same brick wall that has stopped numerous folding bike designs in their tracks since the Brompton achieved a folded volume of three cubic feet. It might be improved on tomorrow, next year or in a future century, but then it might not, because below 20 inches, wheel size has little to do with folded size: the deciding factor is the frame, and it’s very difficult to make a full-size frame fold smaller than three cubic feet, sorry, 85 litres.

To fold the Gekko, the handlebars pull out and drop down, the saddle stem drops (but not very far) and with a safety pin removed, the frame sort of concertinas up in the middle, bringing the sticky-out bits together. Not that close together as it happens, because the final volume is 6.1 cubic feet – not as big as we’d feared, but much too bulky for the bike’s folding ability to be viewed as a saving grace.


According to trendy bike-bits impresario Simon Goude, who is apparently helping to market the machine in the UK, ‘The Gekko is very sturdy and rides well with a big bike feel…’ Pardon? He must be joking.

The Next folding pedals (standard on the Dahon range) are very good, and the V- brakes were a pleasant surprise. Oh, and we liked the dinky little alloy rims and the short but substantial rack, that will carry a friend if you have the muscles and the nerve (wheelies are an ever-present risk). Otherwise, for £250 the bike has absolutely no redeeming features. If speed is not a priority, a good micro-scooter costs a lot less, covers ground at much the same rate, and folds smaller and quicker. Come to that, walking has much to recommend it, at a minuscule cost in shoe leather.

If you want the speed and stability of a bicycle, the 3-speed Brilliant Micro costs about the same as the Gekko and folds to the same volume, but rides twice (yes, twice) as fast and weighs only 10.5kg. If folded size is less critical, that hard-earned £250 will buy a Philips (Dahon) Boardwalk, offering 20-inch stability, double the speed, etc, etc. The Gekko is billed as a trendy accessory for trendy young urbanites. If you happen to be such a thing, and you hanker after something a bit more stylish than a run-of-the- mill Brompton, take our advice and save up for the Panasonic Traincle – titanium frame,14- inch wheels, compact fold and a gorgeous little feather-weight at just 6.8kg (15lb).

Next please.


Gekko £250 Weight 15kg (33lb) Tyres 203mm Folded volume 235 litres (6.1 cu ft) UK Distributor Gablemere Ltd tel 01905 779922 mail jwallis@gablemere.co.uk

Giant EZB

It isn’t every day we got to report on a completely new sort of bicycle. For years, the range included such things as cruisers and racers, plus some serious acronyms – MTB (mountain bike), APB (all-purpose bike) and BMX (bicycle motocross), plus a whole family of recumbents with acronyms all their own.


For the latest innovation, we’re indebted once again to Giant, a company making efforts to set the standard in cycle design. After a brief flirtation with radical British engineer Mike Burrows, the Taiwanese factory introduced the moderately successful Halfway monofork folder. A year or two later, the company teamed up with Dutch cycle designers and Japanese electrical engineers, to produce the Twist, an electric bike that went on to outclass almost everything else in its field.

…it looks radical, but beneath the skin it’s very easy to use…

There’s a clear lesson here – choose your global  partners with care, take note of what they say  (Burrows left disgruntled), and translate their designs into high quality hardware, retailing at a reasonable cost. Giant’s next radical step has emerged as a complete redesign of the recumbent, and the company is hoping that the acronym EZB (pronounced ‘eazibee’) will become as widely known as MTB and all the rest.

Recumbents have been around for years – since long before they were banned from international cycling competitions for being too fast (trust the French, eh?) – but with very few exceptions, the concept has failed to get beyond the leisure market. The EZB recumbent – or more correctly semi-recumbent – follows the pattern of recent Giant launches – it looks radical, but beneath the skin it’s very easy to use, thanks to some careful attention to detail.

The design philosophy revolved around comfort and safety. Comfort is certainly well catered for, with full suspension on the LX model (rear only on the cheaper DX), and no fewer than five adjustments for fit – saddle height, steering height, steering reach, backrest height and backrest angle. Research indicated that a recumbent angle of 46 degrees would suit most people, but it was decided to offer a modest degree of adjustment too. On the DX the saddle sits on a massive aluminium tube (a different arrangement looks likely on the upmarket LX) sliding up and back sufficiently to suit just about anyone.The handlebars are adjustable for height, and there’s a splined rose to set the fore and aft position.


The LX features a fully enclosed chain, electronically-controlled rear damper, front suspension and Nexus hub gear... weight is a hefty 22kg.

Some thought has obviously gone into the geometry. A brief ride confirms that the bike is stable – notably so while indicating or looking over your shoulder – and manoeuvrable. Despite a longish wheelbase of 122cm, the EZB will almost turn in its own length, and seems well up to squeezing through the sort of gaps city commuters have to deal with.Thanks to the (comparatively) high saddle, visibility is excellent.

…it’s no surprise that an electric version is under development…

Initially, Giant is offering two models.The DX comes with 8-speed Sora derailleur and coil-spring rear suspension, for £595 – an excellent entry-level price for a machine of this kind.The LX costs a gulp-inducing £975, but almost every component is different – the bike is finished in a snazzy grey, with a lot more fairings including a full chain enclosure, Gears are (disappointingly) 7- speed Nexus with roller brakes, and there’s a fully automatic lighting and computer system, plus active suspension (yes, we’re quite serious).What this seems to do is stiffen the rear damping when things get a bit choppy. At the time of writing, the LX was only available in mock-up form, so we await a ride with fascination. Both bikes look as though they would take conventional panniers, but also feature a clever-looking rack designed for quick release luggage, although the exact details have yet to be announced.

Despite an aluminium frame, the EZB is not light, particularly with the LX gizmos on board, so it’s no surprise that an electric derivative is under development – we should hear more about this next year.

For Whom?


The DX is cheaper and lighter, with basic rear suspension and derailleur gears

An interesting one this.The big squidgy saddle, step-thru frame and laid- back riding position make the EZB an obvious bet for older, stiffer folk. On the other hand, the looks are bound to attract a younger generation – if the 1970s Raleigh Chopper can make a comeback as a fashion item, the EZB should be able to achieve much the same status.

Between the two lie the 20 and 30- something commuting types.The EZB is a great deal more practical than it looks for city use, and the maintenance-free lighting and transmission on the LX are bound to appeal.

In Holland, where they know a thing or two about bicycles, Giant claims that 80% of potential dealers have signed up. In the UK, where the company has to contend with the Sidney Scroat ‘pile-em-high-sell-em-cheap’ fraternity, it may have a fight on its hands establishing the necessary 100 dealers.

It seems many in the cycle trade have dismissed the concept, but those who have been persuaded to take a ride are more enthusiastic.This all sounds strangely like the reception given to the Halfway folder and the Lafree Twist. Giant had some difficulty enthusing dealers to accept either, but these machines eventually succeeded when the public started to make the running… no doubt the same will be true for the EZB.


Weight could be a real drawback. At 22kg, the LX weighs as much as the Lafree Twist: an electric bike.With seven gears, and an overall range of only 244%, it certainly ain’t going up hills.This can be sorted, of course – one suspects the Mountain-Drive would suit the EZB, as would the Rohloff hub system.Then there’s the forthcoming electric version…We expect to hear a great deal more in the next few months.


Giant EZB Recumbent . £595 (DX) £975 (LX)
Weight (DX) 17kg (37.4lb) (LX) 22kg (48.4lb)
Wheelbase 122.2cm
Gears (DX) Shimano Sora 8-spd derailleur (LX) Nexus 7-spd hub
Tyres 406mm
UK Distributor Giant UK tel 0115 977 5900 web www.giant-bicycle.com

R & M Frog

It’s hard to tell where Riese & Müller are coming from with the Frog. Is this a serious attempt to create a commuter version of the popular and surprisingly long-legged Birdy? Or are they just having a bit of a laugh? And if so, at who’s expense?


The Frog is broadly similar to the Birdy, featuring an alloy frame and full suspension: elastomer at the rear and coil sprung leading link jobby on the front. But around about there the similarity ends.

The Birdy is equipped with largish 18-inch wheels, but the little Frog wears 12-inch rubber…Yes, that’s right, the same size as the Gekko.The Frog also has a tiny frame, with two stage seat tube and single stage handlebar stem adjustment.The disadvantage of this sort of arrangement is that you wind up with a bike that’s taller than it is long, with the saddle almost over the rear wheel and an 87cm wheelbase.Yes, it’s prone to wheelies.

Another key difference from the Birdy is in the gearing – the Frog features a very sensible 3-speed Nexus hub controlled by a SRAM gripshifter, whereas the Birdy has derailleur gears – both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.You need to fold the bike in the right gear to avoid the chain wreaking all sorts of havoc – consequently, olding the hub-geared Frog is a bit easier.

…simple, but effective design features, including a height chart etched into the stem…

Giving a folding bicycle a small frame is not necessarily the panacea it might appear.  Unless you’re designing a machine exclusively for midgets, you need an awful lot of quick release levers and telescopic sliding tubes to get an adult on board. As a result, the little Frog is not as light as it appears: 10.4kg or 22.9lb – lighter than the ‘full-size’ Birdy, but not by very much.

r-and-m-frog-folding-bike-stemThe good news is oodles of adjustability.The saddle can be positioned anywhere from 58cm to 109cm above the ground, which should suit anyone from a very small boy (yes, Alexander had a go) to the world’s tallest man. Unfortunately, the handlebars are nowhere near as adaptable, so the small boy can’t reach them and the world’s tallest man would be delving around between his knees. But for 99% of the adult population, it’s fine.

Incidentally, both stems features some simple, but very effective design features – height is fixed by conventional quick release levers, but there are fail-safe detent buttons too.These pop into preset holes in the stem, so if (for example) the quick release gets knocked off, the bars shouldn’t come off in your hands. Another feature of the ‘why didn’t we think of that?’ kind is a ruler etched into the saddle stem. Simply dial in your fave personal number and all should be well.

On the Road

The first sensation is of a certain waywardness at the front end which feels like impending catastrophe, but there’s nothing wrong, just a side-effect of 12-inch wheels… For town use the gearing is just about right at 35″, 48″ and 65″.The bottom gear is effectively limited by that short wheelbase – any lower and you’d be straight over the back. Even in second gear, it’s all too easy to lift the front wheel, which almost brought disaster ten minutes into our test.


Rolling resistance is poor in comparison to ‘proper’ bikes, but miraculous by 12-inch standards.The Schwalbe Marathon tyres are rated at 65psi, although we never managed to ride at these pressures because a conventional pump wouldn’t fit on the back (shades of Gekko here) and when the front tyre is fully inflated it rubs on the mudguard. But even with “…a fun-loving giant in a a degree of squidge in the tyres, the bike rolls fashionable city with no drop- quite well. A Birdy or Brompton would be out kerbs and lots of cobbles…” of sight, but against other micro-folders the Frog is in a performance category all its own.

The best bit is the suspension.This is broadly similar to the Birdy, but the effect of the long travel suspension, squidgy tyres and short wheelbase is a remarkably soft and compliant ride.The Frog can be ridden down kerbs half as high as its wheels with surprisingly little drama.We were a bit more reticent about riding up the same kerb, but 5cm is no great problem. Cobbles… what cobbles? Ride across the sort of surface that would shake a Brompton owner’s false teeth out, and there’s little sensation.The downside of all this suppleness is a slightly rice-puddingy feel. Push hard on the left pedal and the Frog squirts to the right; pull hard on the bars and the front wheel paws the air. If you do both at the same time almost anything is possible.

As fun products go, the Frog does rather well in the accessory department – Next folding pedals, practical mudguards, a side stand and one of those horrible saddles with a row of LEDs underneath. As far as we can judge, the Froglet comes in any colour you like, as long as it’s slimy green.


r-and-m-frog-folding-bike-foldedEven for a novice, the Frog is easier to fold than the Birdy, taking about 20 seconds or so.The finished package measures 62cm long by 49.5cm tall and 32cm wide.That’s a volume of 98 litres. In old-speak that’s 3.5 cubic feet: smaller than anything except the Brompton, which is taller than the Frog, but shorter and narrower.There are a few wayward cables, and the package only ‘sort of’ locks together, but folding remains pretty impressive.


You might have a particular reason for wanting a Frog.We reckon the ideal purchaser would be a fun-loving giant in a fashionable city with no drop-kerbs and lots of cobbles. Sounds like John Grimshaw. If you don’t run a cycle path charity, it really depends how potty you are – a Brompton C3 is half the price and eminently more sensible, while a Birdy Red offers a better ride and safer handling for just a few quid more.

What these dry, sensible options don’t offer is a sense of fun.The Frog has fun in abundance, and if you still think it’s funny after parting with £720, it’s definitely the bicycle for you.

But where this super-adjustable, stylish and funky little machine should excel is as a pool bike in the sort of office where the Brompton is regarded as deeply uncool and the Birdy as much too complicated. Poor loves.


Frog £720
Weight 10.4kg (22.9lb)
Gears Nexus 3-spd hub
Ratios 35″ 48″ 65″
Folded dimensions W32cm H49.5cm L62cm
Folded volume 98 litres (3.5 cu ft)
Tyres Schwalbe Marathon 54-203mm
Manufacturer Riese & Müller tel +49 6151 366 860
Initial UK stockist Avon Valley Cyclery tel 01225 442442 mail info@bikeshop.uk.com

United States – The Third Way

united-states-the-third-wayDon’t ask me why they named it Ridgecrest.There is no ridge and the town doesn’t sit on the crest of anything. Ridgecrest is a nice quiet community of some 30,000 people on the edge of a huge valley in the middle of the Mojave (mo-HAH-vee) Desert, about 190 miles northeast of the Los Angeles area, where I live and work.

They regularly advertise for ‘retirees’ to come and live there, and in exchange for hot summers they promise 360 days of sunshine per year, friendly neighbours and a low cost of housing. It all sounded interesting, so I entered a one-month mail-order subscription to the local newspaper, liked what I read, and decided to go there for a brief visit.

We set out as a team of four – one slightly scruffy 65 year old prospective retiree (me), one slightly scruffy Brompton L5 folding bike, one thoroughly disreputable Chevrolet pickup truck, and one little book – The Third Act by Edgar Bronfman Jr of the Seagrams Distillery family. Mr Bronfman is a retiree and doesn’t like the idea any better than I do.

We set off eastwards for 40 miles on the great Los Angeles freeway system, then turned north, up through a mountain pass and onto Highway 395 into the Mojave desert. The first sign – ‘Next gas, 50 miles’ – said it all.

On the way up US395 we stopped at three old gold mining towns, which today are little more than ghost towns.The newspapers of 100 years ago tell us that when these towns were in their prime, thousands of people lived liked pigs, worked like dogs and died like flies. Looking over what is left of these towns, I believe every word.

We continued up the highway and finally topped a small hill, rounded a bend, and arrived at Ridgecrest. No ridge, no crest, but a nice green oasis in a huge dry valley.The town is about 100 miles west of Death Valley, which is 2,500 feet lower, 20 degrees F hotter, and you don’t ever want to go there.The Mojave desert is hard country, and Death Valley is the hardest place of all.

After settling into a pleasant motel, I took the Brompton out for a ride in the cool of the evening.Three years ago, I bought my Brompton as an aid to car-free retirement.That idea seems more and more practical, but there has been no retirement yet.

Up and down the wide streets we rode, stopping to talk with the local people from time to time.They like their town and a number of them had come to Ridgecrest as I did, answering some advertisement, visiting for a while, and then retiring there for good.They told me that housing is about 25% cheaper than Los Angeles – something I had already gathered from the local paper.

united-states-the-third-wayFor the next three days, my routine didn’t vary. I started the day at 6am with a cool morning Brompton ride around the sleepy town, and then spent the rest of the morning visiting and asking questions.Afternoons – which in August mean 110 degrees desert heat – were spent in the motel reading The Third Act. Evenings brought more sightseeing after things had cooled off for the day.

The afternoons proved to be extremely valuable. Edgar Bronfman has thought seriously about retirement, and in his book, he divides life into three acts.The First Act (‘Learn’) covers the years of childhood, and the second Act (‘Earn’) the long years of earning a living and developing skills. But his main attention goes to the coming of the Third Act, which he sees not as retirement but as ‘Give Back’. He quotes former US president Jimmy Carter who insists that ‘We are old only when our regrets replace our dreams’. Mr Carter, 77, shows no sign whatever of growing old.

During my wandering around Ridgecrest, my thoughts turned from retirement possibilities to Third Act possibilities. Many assured me that opportunities were everywhere – in hospitals, libraries, schools, churches, public safety sites.There are many places to make use of the skills learned in the Second Act, especially if the community doesn’t have to pay for our work.The message from Mr Bronfman and others is the same – don’t retire from life; give back. Retirement leads to boredom, regrets, and endless old age complaints. Give back whatever you can, wherever you can, whenever you can.

One thing surprised me during my daily travels around Ridgecrest. My Brompton attracted much attention, which never happens where I live, with much folding and unfolding of the machine and interesting comments. Perhaps this is just idle curiosity, or perhaps a symptom of the isolation of the town.The community has no regional rail or air service and Bakersfield, the nearest transportation hub, is about 100 miles away.

The capabilities of a folder would be more obvious to an isolated desert dweller than to the resident of a major metro area. If you were to live car-free in Ridgecrest, the only way out of town would be on the Greyhound intercity bus lines. A folder would be your passport to regional and national mobility.

After three days, it was time to pack up and leave. South, down US395 we went, back past the old mining towns (Red Mountain, Randsburg, Johannesburg), through the mountain pass, and then west onto the fast-moving 10-lane Los Angeles freeway system.

The Third Way. Edgar Bronfman & Catherine Whitney . G.P.Putnam’s . ISBN 03991 48698