We live in momentous times. Not just because the world stands on the brink of what may yet deteriorate into a third global conflict, but – ironically – because the UK transport scene has lurched towards oil-centricity. New rail services, both freight and passenger, have been abandoned, current services are being scaled back, and the Government is pouring funds into a new round of trunk-road construction. The days when the Government heaved Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott onto a bicycle to illustrate transport policy are long gone…Whatever your politics, the good news comes from London, where Ken Livingstone is pressing ahead with the Congestion Charge, hoping to use the funds to improve public transport and cycle facilities. Good on you, Ken.
The mention of dubious cycle paths in the last issue brought forth an entertaining crop of poor facilities. The Mole’s personal favourite hails from the Georgian pile once known simply as Brighton, but now, one understands, reborn as Brighton & Hove City. In a rambling aside, one wonders whether the town formerly known as Brighton will be constructing a smart new cathedral to match its city status? If so, one wonders whether the good burgers of the metropolis will incorporate any of the fine ironwork from the pile of flotsam formerly known as Brighton West Pier, which got wind of the city tag back in January, and promptly fell into the sea.
Brighton, though careless with its priceless listed structures, is relatively generous to cyclists, allowing bipedular access to the promenade, unlike most other seaside towns or, indeed, cities. Away from the promenade, a considerable amount has been spent on cycle facilities, but not always wisely, as illustrated above. One cannot help admiring the ‘Give Way’ markings in advance of the pole – a masterful flourish. Our thanks to former journalist Fred Pipes for this fine example of local authority mis-spending. Many similar delights can be viewed at Fred’s one-man crusading web site: www.weirdcyclelanes.co.uk
As mentioned in this column on more than one occasion, the vast sums spent on useless cycle ‘facilities’ might yield a larger (and certainly more enthusiastic) bicycling population if re- routed into cheerful feel- good advertising. A number of interesting photographs have since arrived to illustrate this point – interestingly enough, all the recent examples featuring electric bicycles or scooters of various kinds.
In the interest of fairness, the Mole has carefully selected positive role models of both the male and female variety. Such images require little in the way of explanation, although in passing one appreciates how dancer and popular musician Geri Halliwell acquired the fine pair of legs, but how might evolutionary theory account for the manly chins of Formula One racing drivers? A by-product of unnatural G-forces, perhaps?
Incidentally, for Part Number geeks, Geri models a Heinzmann ElectricSurfer scooter, while David Coulthard rides something called a Prima Joe Fly – 20-inch wheels, full suspension and regenerative braking. Sadly, the 0 to 60 time is not recorded.
But just a moment – is this cheerfully helmet-less David Coulthard the same Formula One racing driver who has recently become patron of the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust? A well-meaning, if slightly potty organisation lobbying hard (against overwhelming evidence) to make bicycle helmets compulsory? According to the Bicycle Helmet folk, David is a keen cyclist who, ‘cycles almost every day in Monaco as part of his training regime and always wears a helmet himself.’
…The railways have done rather well, with traffic figures approaching 40 billion passenger/kilometres…
Well, nearly always. Despite all this sexy publicity, one suspects cycling numbers are continuing to decline (see Mole, A to B 30)? One is left very much in the dark on this question, for following a marked fall in cyclists late in 2001 and the damning graph in A to B 30, the Department of Transport appears to have air-brushed bicycle statistics from its quarterly road traffic bulletins. An innocent mistake, surely? Well, maybe – when pressed, a DoT spokesperson would say only that, ‘…the data for the periods you require are unavailable at present…’ Stalin would have recognised the tone.
In marked contradiction, cycle path charity Sustrans is claiming ‘a rise of up to 50% in the third quarter of 2002’, but of course, their figures relate entirely to cycle paths, and primarily to leisure journeys, including car-assisted ones, no doubt.
Needless to say, car usage continues to rise out of control, with growth of between 2 and 3% in the first half of 2002. Following sustained lobbying from the road-construction pressure groups, the government caved in (once again) after Christmas, announcing a multi-billion pound ten-year road construction programme, before admitting that traffic conditions in ten years time would be no better than today. The final solution, eh?
Thanks primarily to road congestion, the railways have done rather well in the last decade, with traffic figures approaching the 40 billion passenger/kilometre mark in 2000 – possibly the highest level ever, but certainly since Doctor Beeching was in short trousers. Unfortunately, Railtrack’s gross mismanagement, allied to the greed and cynicism of a number of rail operators and tightening of government purse strings, has brought this remarkable period of growth to a halt.
Without new passing loops, reinstated double track, re-opened lines and new trains, there really is little chance of the rail renaissance continuing. So can we expect a similar government ‘predict and provide’ spending round for the railways? Er, no. Faced with burgeoning demand for rail, the Strategic Rail Authority has been instructed to cut costs by eliminating grants for new passenger and freight facilities, and instigating ‘Tactical Service Reductions’, a masterful new concept aimed at cutting less profitable services to make room for ‘fat cat’ intercity trains.
Ironically, most of the trains to be removed from the timetable in May 2003 – including the entire Bristol to Oxford service – were introduced only recently (see Mole, A to B 7). Launched in 1998 as Stage One of a proposed Bristol-Oxford- Cambridge service (demonstrating just what privatisation could achieve, ho ho), Bristol to Oxford makes an interesting case study. The line was supposed to benefit from new trains and new intermediate stations, but the trains never arrived and – thanks to the unprecedented increase in costs since privatisation – after four years of planning work and countless budget over-runs, only one station (at Corsham in Wiltshire) actually got off the drawing board. But with the trains about to be axed, work on the ground has obviously ceased. Again… The more complicated Oxford to Cambridge bit – which would have involved real expenditure on track and signals – is now dead in the water.
…Expect a round of railway closure proposals, unless Saddam engineers an oil supply crisis first…
According to Richard Bowker, the trendy Virgin Trains man running the Strategic Rail Authority, ‘In parts of the country, the tracks are too congested… Our long-term objective remains to increase capacity through more trains and new track where it makes sense’ (A to B italics). In transport, all modes are equal, but some are evidently more equal than others.
Bowker was to return to this disturbing theme at the National Rail Conference late in January. Looking back from a hypothetical golden age ten years hence, he added a coded hypothetical warning: ‘…there was certainly some service rationalisation earlier in the decade, [but] the prophets of doom warning of Beeching Mark 2 have proved to have been totally misguided.’ Oh yeah?
We must assume that – despite the spectacular growth in rail passenger figures – such much-needed rail ‘bypasses’ as Bristol-Oxford-Cambridge no longer ‘make sense’. More worryingly, we have been warned that the SRA doesn’t have much faith in rural branch lines either.
But to be fair, Richard Bowker is nothing if not even-handed. After all, he might have been tempted to provide funding for desperately needed double track on the Salisbury to Exeter line, where the franchise is run by Stagecoach, one of whose executives just happens to be his dad… But why bother enhancing the railway infrastructure? Bowker has just wasted £29 million of taxpayers’ money shoring up the SWT share price, even as the Government was preparing to pour hundreds of millions into motorway-style ‘improvements’ to the adjacent A303 trunk road.
With things going very much that sort of way, perhaps a nice new Rover would make a sensible purchase? Particularly as the company appears to be offering a lifetime A to B subscription with any new Rover 25, 45, or 75 off-loaded before March 31st. What a kind thought. And just the thing for that tedious drive from Salisbury to Exeter, eh? Unless, of course, things go horribly wrong in the Middle East. Expect a round of railway closure proposals in 2003, unless Saddam engineers the mother and father of all oil supply crises first.
With such a breadth of subjects to cover, we do try to avoid going over old ground, but this one really was too good to ignore. Back in A to B 19 (August 2000), we outlined how to save money on rail fares by using ‘split tickets’.The theory is quite simple and perfectly legal – as a general rule, rail fares are set according to the time of day to provide maximum returns for the railway company concerned. Peak fares are known as Open Singles or Returns, and represent the legal fare for the journey concerned. On less busy stretches of line, and outside peak hours on the busier bits, there are all manner of concessionary fares available, the principle ‘walk-on’ fares being the Saver at about half the cost of an Open Return, and the cheaper, but slightly more restrictive Super Saver.These clever marketing devices were invented back in the good old days by British Rail, to maximize revenue for its shareholders (you and I, in other words), and keep as many travellers off the roads as possible, which surely, is what railways are all about? By contrast, today’s private railway companies are looking for profit rather than full trains, and this change of emphasis has seen most Open Return fares spiral through the roof (because the ‘business sector’ will pay it), with associated attacks on the conditions and availability of Savers and discount cards (because Saver fare levels are protected by law, but the conditions of carriage are not).
In a perfect world (see most countries elsewhere in Europe) the Government would be reducing road congestion by keeping fares low and investing in railway infrastructure to increase capacity, but in the UK, limited track space and shorter trains leave these crude financial controls as the only option available.
Open Return fares in and out of London at peak times can exceed 35p per mile. If you’re travelling, say, 12 miles into London each day, on busy trains over congested track, this makes sense, with the two-way fare of (12 x 2 x 35p) £8.40 representing reasonable value against the alternatives. Regular travellers can travel for much less with a season ticket, and after around 9.30am, prices plummet to 12p per mile, or even less with railcard discounts.That’s the free market – think of it as a peak-hour Congestion Charge.
However, it all becomes illogical and a bit unfair for longer distance commuters.The track and trains might only be congested for the last 15 miles of your journey, but you’ll be asked to pay the same 35p per mile, all the way from the distant shires.With some early morning trains running virtually empty for hundreds of miles, this plainly makes little economic sense, but you can be sure that someone somewhere is receiving a profitable subsidy. Like it or not, that’s the distorted market known as railway privatisation.
Note the careful wording above: ‘You’ll be asked to pay X’. In fact, you are perfectly entitled to pay a cheap ‘country’ rate for the quiet portion of your journey, switching to the peak rate for the last busy miles into London.This is the principle of ‘split’ ticketing.You buy two or more separate tickets for the journey, which is within the rules, provided the train stops at the intermediate station or stations.You don’t need to get on or off, but you must obtain all the necessary tickets in advance. Free market principles, once again, but this time acting in favour of the consumer, so less widely publicised.
Phone the rail information line, and you will be quoted the full Open Return fare at peak times, but split ticket options are available on most long distance trains into London and other big cities – finding the boundaries just takes a little research. Back in August 2000, we provided Didcot and Newbury as West Country examples.Thus, instead of paying £71 for an Open Return from Castle Cary to London, the split ticket fares totalled:
Castle Cary-Newbury-Castle Cary (Saver Return) £16.70
Newbury-London (Open Single) £14.50
London-Newbury (Open Single with Network Card discount) £9.55
It’s a measure of how rapidly the ticket situation has got out of control, that the unprotected Open Return fare has since risen to £83 – an increase of 16% in 21/2 years – while the partially protected split ticket combination has risen to £42.30 – a more reasonable 4%. Eventually even a company as poorly managed as First Great Western had to notice that some 400 new passengers were apparently commuting from the West to Newbury.The company may have been earning more in fares than before, but it proceeded to put a peak hour restriction on the cheap Newbury fare, killing the split-ticket option.
…Complicated? Well, yes, but probably worthwhile for a saving of £28…
The Great Western main line. Tickets are expensive close to London where trains are full, but the railway company (like most others) will charge you the most expensive fare, no matter where you start your journey. Commuter trains regularly run virtually empty from Plymouth to Newbury
The Carnet Solution
We’ve argued for years that the answer is to provide books of ‘carnet’ tickets for irregular commuters. As with a season ticket, you’d pay in advance for a number of discounted journeys, but with the flexibility to make the journeys when you wished, rather than on consecutive days. Great Western has finally and grudgingly agreed to consider a carnet solution, but in the meantime, we’re determined to help the company keep its trains reasonably profitable, so we’ve come up with a new split ticket option:
Castle Cary-Pewsey-Castle Cary (Saver Return) £13.10
Pewsey-London-Pewsey (Saver Return) £25.20
This option (yes, despite a fare increase in the meantime, it’s actually cheaper than the August 2000 version) only works on selected peak hour trains, but the following more complex option is valid any time:
Castle Cary-Pewsey-Castle Cary (Saver Return) £13.10
Pewsey-Newbury-Pewsey (Open Return) £16.00
Newbury-London (Open Single) £15.60
London-Newbury (Open Single with Network Card discount) £10.30
Complicated? Well, yes, but probably worthwhile for a saving of £28 over the Open Return fare.The problem for First Great Western (and any other greedy and unimaginative companies that might be reading), is that once customers start playing the free market game, nothing is sacred.Take the Castle Cary-London off-peak fare of £36. Can it be beaten? Of course it can! You can travel on the same off-peak trains with the following tickets:
Castle Cary-Newbury-Castle Cary (Cheap Day Return) £14.00
Newbury-London-Newbury (Cheap Day Return with Network Card discount) £9.30
There is nothing simple about rail fares any more, and with a bit of research, you can usually save quite a bit of money.For example, you can often travel on slower cheaper trains through restricted stations, then hop on to the express once you’re back in the country. Season tickets can be used as part of a split ticket package too.
If your local rail company is asking an exorbitant amount for a particular journey – especially where trains are running relatively empty – it’s worth finding out whether a split-ticket option exits. If not, you can lobby for change by speaking to the local press and/or your local Rail Passenger Council. Please bear in mind that from the moment you start doing anything complex, your morals must be self-evidently beyond reproach. Always purchase tickets before departure, and make it clear to railway staff what you are doing to avoid misunderstandings. Happy and cost-effective travelling!
All staffed stations are obliged to sell any tickets or combination of tickets. But to avoid mayhem at the ticket office, it’s better to make complex purchases over the internet.This is also a good place to check ticket prices and conditions.We’d suggest www.thetrainline.com (good if there’s a bicycle involved) or www.qjump.co.uk which also runs internet services for some train operating companies
Down the Tube is a thoroughly depressing book. That’s no fault of Christian Wolmar’s, we hasten to add, because the author of Broken Rails (the troubled tale of rail privatisation) has made an equally impressive job of piecing together the history of London’s Underground Railway.
For students of British transport history it’s all here – the unplanned chaos of Victorian days (‘A row over a siding led to a tug of war involving the Metropolitan trying to pull away a locomotive chained to the rails…’), through the glory days of the 1930s, when somehow the management came right; the funding came right (bonds – remember that); the architecture, the trains… even the graphics and maps. For a dozen wonderful years, London’s Tube was the biggest and most advanced metro system anywhere in the world.
After the War, the Tube became a political football – surplus to requirements, thought the Tories (who were trying to create a sort of Los Angeles-on-Thames), and an expensive nuisance to the Socialists, who had other things to spend money on.
There followed a nightmarish period of decay, populated by greasy I’m-all-right-Jack union job’s-worths (‘…more than my job’s worth to fit that hot tap washer, guv…’) and greedy, out of touch executives (at one stage there were 26 chauffeur-driven limousines at HQ, costing some half a million pounds a year). Between them, they tore the system apart.
It took the Tube a surprisingly long time to enter the intensive care ward, but it finally succumbed in 1987, when a small fire developed – through the usual mix of incompetence and poor training – into a fireball, killing 31 people.Thereafter, politicians sat up and took notice.They’ve been passing the buck ever since, but the Tube remains on the critical list…
And so, in 2002, the battle lines are drawn: In the left corner, we have London mayor Ken Livingstone, with dreams of funding a Tube renaissance through an issue of bonds. In the right corner, a group of Treasury zealots and assorted fruitcakes, with a Frankenstein’s monster of a scheme called the Public Private Partnership, the details of which are beyond mere mortals, but seem to involve tearing infrastructure from operations (see Railtrack), and paying private-sector companies a great deal of money to do a modest amount of work, at little risk to themselves.
For reasons that our cousins from overseas might find hard to understand, Britain’s well-entrenched and nominally left-wing government is whole-heartedly behind the right- wing zealots, rather than Ken – the people’s choice. Confused? It’s all horribly familiar, and we know what happened to the railways.Whether the absurd PPP wins through (how will anyone actually know?) or fails miserably, we can be sure that politicians will continue to blame each other for decades to come, and that a vast amount of public money will be thrown at the Tube. As we said at the start – depressing.
Down the Tube £9.99
Publisher Aurum Press
Hilly, Dangerous and Circuitous
I was surprised to read views in A to B that I normally only encounter from non-cycling motorists (Geoff Green, Letters A to B 33). Although I sometimes use a car for work (when transporting people or equipment), I try to use my bike. As the journey takes five to twenty minutes longer by bike, I need reasonably speedy routes from A to B – much as I would like to spend my day dawdling about on the Sustrans network.
Going to work, I travel on a derestricted three-lane highway in preference to the shared-use path.The latter entails not merely slowing down for the occasional pavement but bumping along an appallingly surfaced narrow path, giving way at every slip road (one of which is on a blind bend where motorists are travelling extremely fast and where fatal accidents have occurred), negotiating roundabouts and crossing a busy road (with no dropped kerbs) where cars are coming from three directions.The path is liberally sprinkled with broken glass, and icy in winter, whereas the roads are gritted and de-iced by cars.
On another journey I make from my office, the cycle path is only on one side of the road, so you must turn right across a roundabout to reach it, cross two more roundabouts, give way to three supermarkets, and negotiate a ‘cyclists dismount’ section where the path narrows under a bridge, only to find that, after a little more than a kilometre (and 14 dropped kerbs), the path suddenly ends, because the designers assume cyclists are heading for the north-south bridleway that crosses it.You then have a frustrating wait to cross back on to the road. Meanwhile, the road-going cyclist is in the distance.
I use Sustrans routes for leisure trips or if they are convenient, but they rarely are. Some are very pleasant in the summer but daunting in the winter and after dark (some run through an area where a murder of a young woman is still unsolved two years later). Route 72, for example, has little relevance to the cyclist commuting between Newcastle and North Tyneside as it adds several miles, lots of hills, and includes some bad design features.
The statistics support the cyclist choosing the road since a high proportion of accidents occur on so-called cycle paths – hardly surprising, as most accidents occur at junctions. Perhaps Nottinghamshire is different, but my experience of Right to Ride conferences and trips to other parts of the country suggest that the problems I have described are hardly unique to this area.The CTC has fought hard since the 1930s to keep our right to cycle on the roads, which – unlike cycle paths – tend to go somewhere useful.
Tyne and Wear
Right to the Road
I read Geoff Green’s letter with concern. Generally I do not use these ‘facilities’, as they are an extremely poor alternative to the road. A ‘cycle lane’ is usually a strip painted on the carriageway, so car drivers often assume that cyclists are duty bound to stay in the gutter.
There are also things called ‘cycle routes’, which are mainly lines painted on pavements. The ones I’ve tried all lead the cyclist to rejoin the road somewhere dangerous – usually a road junction where it is most dangerous to do so… Cyclists should never feel obliged to use these cycle lanes. Councils create them because the roads are increasingly being perceived as the ‘property’ of car drivers. Most roads in the UK are older than the car, and we all have the right to use them.
Leisure Use Only
Following your review of LED lamps in A to B 33 I bought a Cateye EL200. It gives a good light, but as a lamp design, it’s certainly not worth £25. As you said, its mounting bracket is poorly designed, but you didn’t mention its fatal flaw. Maybe you didn’t use it in wet and windy weather, but if you try riding against strong winds in heavy rain you will find the interior of the lamp swimming in water. It won’t last long like that, so I put a clear plastic bag over mine – it slightly affects the light output, but not much. Bitter experience with the first generation of red LEDs suggests the makers assume we are all fine weather riders only.
A G Bannister
We didn’t come across any serious weather while testing the lamps, but we have since and, yes, our EL200 gets wet inside too. Mind you, there isn’t much to go wrong, except the switch and the battery terminals, but we should have spotted the drain hole under the lamp… Obviously Cateye is an adherent of the ‘total loss’ system; allowing water out as fast as it comes in. A strip of insulation tape along the leading edge might be a better solution, but we certainly do sympathise. (Eds)
Yellow or Blue Beam, sir?
It just happens I had purchased a Cateye EL200 (white) and a Cateye LD600 (red) about a month before A to B 33 thudded through my letterbox, recommending these lamps. I have used them in my regular cycle commuting journey, on a moon-less journey on a canal towpath and (the EL200) walking on a busy unlit country road after dark.
First, I agree that the mounting provided for the LD600 (red) is poor. I discarded it without even trying it. I noticed one on someone else’s bike that had evidently defeated efforts to tighten it adequately. On the other hand I disagree about the mounting for the EL200.The cam arrangement allows me to adjust the beam up and down to suit the conditions, and the slight swivel is handy when used with other lights in very dark conditions. It stays where it is pointed.
As for weather-proofing, it has rained every time I have been out since Christmas Day, with four hours of the heavy stuff on Boxing Day, plus a couple of hours in medium showers and spray today.The LD600 (red) lives under my saddle and is protected from falling rain.The EL200 is exposed to rain and spray on the handlebars, but I found surprisingly little sign of ingress – some slight condensation, but the weather was very cold.
Whereas the light from the LD600 (red) is very visible, considerably outshining my other LEDs, usefulness of the EL200 is more conditional.Walking against oncoming traffic, drivers plainly saw it, slowed immediately and gave reasonable room, even though it wasn’t aimed at them. But when cycling off-road at night, it was near useless, as the very blue light seems to reveal less than a yellow beam. For lighting your path, the EL200 is still eclipsed by filament lamps, such as the Sigma Sport FL100 (2.4w, 5x AA batteries). I have to conclude that LEDs have a way to go yet before they are a good light to see by.
The yellowish light from traditional lamps certainly seems to illuminate the road better, which is hard to explain, when the LED beam reaches so much further. But these new white LEDs are indisputably better at picking out reflective material, such as ‘cat’s eyes’ and road signs, even at a considerable distance. And they’re far superior at catching the attention of motorists, which seems to be more important than lighting your path these days. (Eds)
Run Time Discrepancy
Thanks for A to B 33, and especially the section on LED lights.Why are the ones for cycles so power hungry? Last year I bought a Lucido Lightwave torch (£24.99) from Field & Trek (they have a number of outlets nationwide).This has four LEDs and runs off three AA cells, giving a claimed life of 336 hours continuous use, which I have no reason to doubt.
Lucido also produce a C10 model, with ten LEDs, which has a claimed continuous run time of over a month (720 hours) continuous use, but which I did not purchase because it appeared to be far too bright for my purposes.
I’d be interested to know why I should pay for something designed and priced for a somewhat limited market, when it would appear that a torch attached to the bike would do the job a lot better?
We’ve received a number of letters querying our results, which gave battery life well below the manufacturer’s claims in most cases.We measured the power consumption for each lamp and divided it into the rated capacity of typical alkaline and nickel/cadmium batteries – not particularly scientific, but clearly more accurate than the manufacturer’s methods…
The Lucido claims are way off the mark.The theoretical battery life of these lamps (using the best batteries available) is 34 hours for the Lightwave, and 90 hours for the C10. Quite good, but nowhere near the claims. Are bicycle-specific lights worth buying? Only if they’re rugged enough for everyday use – and some may not be, see page 12… (Eds)
Legal LED Lights
I have moved my Brompton’s (old style, non- halogen) front dynamo lamp from its rather low position to the top left side of the handlebar using the clamp part of a Vistalite VL300 bracket (with extra rubber insert) and an L-bracket from my box of bits.The lamp has to extend mostly behind the handlebar so that it just misses the wheel axle when folded (the outer edge of the lens is protected by sellotape). Others could probably make a better homemade bracket. If an official bracket was available it would be much neater than this, but I was unhappy with the low standard mounting.
Also – according to Cycling Plus magazine, the Cateye EL300 is the first front LED lamp to pass British Standards: it isn’t marked as such because the pass is so recent. I am still unimpressed with the Basta SL6: I replaced its circuitry with my own, sealed the gaps with epoxy resin, and chose a seatpost BS6102/3 Knightlite for battery backup/legality.
We’re not convinced that high level lights are more visible to drivers, but are willing to be persuaded otherwise. Incidentally, do keep the light below the maximum BS height of 1.5 metres. Failure to get this right may cause legal problems after a collision.
It would appear that Cycling Plus has made a minor boo-boo over the Cateye EL300.This front LED lamp is definitely not BS approved, but a British Standard version (EL300BS) should be available ‘from mid-2003, if not sooner’, according to Cateye. As we said, some examples of the Basta lamp have suffered from water ingress, but improvements are apparently being made. (Eds)
What About the Cargobike?
I couldn’t have agreed more with Professor Pivot’s comments on child carrying in A to B 33. However, he seems to have been rather fixated with Mr Burrows’ new contraption as the only solution! The Cargobike by Dutch bike builder VanAndel fits Professor P’s criteria rather well… and it doesn’t require any modification before being pressed into service. The Cargobike is a ‘load before rider’ configuration with a 20″ front wheel and 26″ rear, the rider sitting directly behind the load box which has a bench seat to the rear of it and two child harnesses. Great for seeing what the little blighters are up ts to, or if your excessive load of shopping is about to fall out! We tested it recently and were very impressed. It rode and functioned in true A to B form. It was surprisingly easy to push if the hills got too much, or for Loadcarryers: 8-Freight (top), negotiating around the shops.The no- Cargobike (below) nonsense standard spec will please too: Full chainguard, Nexus 4-speed hub, hub brakes, mudguards, dynamo and an agricultural strength stand – but what else would you expect from a Dutch bike? The Cargobike is sold in the UK via www.dutchbike.co.uk
Prof Pivot replies:Yes, it was a little amiss of me to concentrate on the one design, as a number of intriguing cargo bikes exist on the continent. Keeping the cargo in view is certainly useful, but like most such machines, the Cargobike has two potential weakness – wheels of different diameters, with all the attendant hassle that brings, and a long and rather complicated steering train. Having witnessed a steering joint fail on a long wheelbase recumbent, sending the rider through a hedge (fortunately unhurt), I am wary of advocating such unnecessary complication! The Cargobike costs a little more too – £1,150 against £975 for the 8-Freight. (Eds).
Rim Failures Unacceptable
With regard to rim failures (Pivot Points, A to B 32), I can’t help thinking that excessive wear might not have been properly considered when they started putting alloy rims onto bikes instead of steel ones.Aluminium provides better braking, but at the expense of wear to a vital component. I wonder how many utility but non-enthusiast cyclists (ie, the ones who don’t read cycling magazines) ride a high mileage but know nothing about this. I can’t help feeling that there would be a lot more fuss if a car’s brakes were wearing away the wheels every time they were applied, in such a way as to make catastrophic failure a high probability.
My Brompton has now done 3,000 miles and I was planning on asking Bike Trax to do a major overhaul, but it looks as if I might have to pay for a rebuild of the back wheel too. And if you ride a 5-speed, you can’t just change the whole wheel, since the hub is now irreplaceable.
Firstly, don’t panic – catastrophic failure is extremely unlikely, provided you inspect the rim once in a while and stop immediately if the brakes show any sign of juddering. However, as you say, many people don’t inspect rims regularly, and they shouldn’t need to.
16-inch rim replacement should cost in the region of £60 including parts and labour, making it one of the biggest running expenses for a Brompton, but it’s unavoidable without resorting to drum, disc or roller brakes.
Incidentally, despite hearing a number of gloomy reports about Shimano’s roller-brake system, the brakes on our Giant Lafree have settled down well, giving excellent all-weather service at 1,000 miles plus.We’ll keep you informed… (Eds)
Lay off the Car
A to B generally includes a good balance of interesting and informative articles, covering both the technical and practical aspects of cycle use. However, some of the more virulently ‘anti car-use’ contributions grate a little. Those contributors should realise that anything pursued to excess – or without consideration for others – can be equally unacceptable. Hence pedestrians find cycle use on footpaths irritating… if every motorist abandoned the car and turned to cycle use, think of the effect! There were traffic problems in ancient Rome…
Traffic problems have been around since the invention of the wheel, but as you quite rightly say, mis-use of transport causes problems, and mis-use of the car has reached epidemic proportions. Selfish behaviour by motorists does indeed force cyclists onto the pavement once in a while – we’ve all done it.We’d be delighted to share the roads with pedestrians, horses or even chariots. (Eds)
The Final Word
In which you get your say… briefly
A to B is my favourite . Good value . First class and fun . Good and lively . Absolutely invaluable . Analytical and informative . Good mix of features . A good read .Always a good read Common sense and refreshing approach . Back to its best – more bike info, fewer gimmicks It really is great now . More on full-size folders . More imaginative designs, less about Brompton Perhaps more about accessories . Beware always of smugness and cynicism . Definitely too much about electric bikes . Not too much motorised stuff please .Very interesting – particularly electric bikes and public transport . Keep up the electric bike work! Bring back The Mole . A brilliant light in a dim world . Multum in Parvo [much in little] Small is beautiful . I would like to have it more often if possible [Ah, wouldn’t we all?]
“I’ve heard that a new high performance tyre has become available in the Brompton’s size. Is this true? And is it worth buying?”
John Wentworth, Buckinghamshire
Yes, the Schwalbe Stelvio is now available in the Brompton size, but before analysing its performance, we should look briefly at the history of small tyre technology.
With the majority of bicycles designed around tyres of 26 inches in diameter, the technology has always tended to follow the larger sizes, with small tyres – generally destined for children’s bicycles – being bottom of the heap. All this changed in the 1960s, when Dr Moulton introduced his ground-breaking 16-inch machines that performed in a broadly similar way to big-wheelers of their day.This performance was due to a number of factors, including full suspension and relatively high pressure Dunlop and Michelin tyres, developed especially for the machine.
By the 1970s, the mass-market 16-inch Moulton had been replaced by the more specialised 17-inch AM model, and the 16-inch format began to fade away. For the next 20 years, the technology stalled, and when the Brompton arrived in the late 1980s, designer Andrew Ritchie was obliged to choose between two rather mediocre tyres – the Raleigh Record and the Schwalbe, more generally known then by its anglicised name: Swallow. These tyres were heavy with poor rolling characteristics, but they were the best available. Of the two brands, the Raleigh was marginally better.
Fortunately, although the Brompton was only selling in small numbers, recumbent HPVs of various kinds were making a big impact in the USA, creating a completely new market for high quality 16- and 20-inch tyres. Quite what happened next is shrouded in mystery, but it seems Vision – one of the largest recumbent manufacturers – approached Taiwanese tyre manufacturer Cheng Shin with a radical new design.
The tyre they agreed to make was the Primo Comet, and when released in 1996, it transformed the market overnight. Most of the rolling resistance of a tyre is caused by flex in the sidewalls, as the nominally round tyre contacts the flat road and distorts.This effect can be minimised in two ways – by producing a tyre to withstand high inflation pressure, thus reducing the degree of distortion, or by making the sidewalls flexible, reducing the work required when flexing takes place. Clearly, these requirements are somewhat contradictory, but the Primo scored in both departments, withstanding inflation pressure of 90psi or more and rolling better than any small tyre by a fair margin. It was also remarkably light, and tough, provided you didn’t try running a dynamo against the flexible sidewall…
For six years, little changed.The very successful 37-349mm and 37-406mm Primos (13/8″ x 16- and 20-inch respectively) were joined by a narrow racing tyre, but this proved too frail for everyday use and demonstrated no marked benefits over its wider cousins.
…Although some users found the tyre ‘skittish’ in certain conditions, the Brompton tyre was a massive hit…
Brompton was so delighted with the performance benefits of the Primo that the company designed its own tyre based on the same carcass technology and built by Cheng Shin. Launched in early 2000, the Brompton tyre was effectively a Primo with a discreet tread and a dynamo track.The tyre was produced in two versions – conventional, and kevlar-belted for added puncture resistance. Although some users found the tyres ‘skittish’ in slippery conditions, the Brompton tyre was another massive hit, offering long life, reasonable puncture resistance and light weight, together with rolling resistance similar to the Primo. Incidentally, the kevlar version rolls less well, and has been known to fail at high pressures, without necessarily demonstrating greater puncture resistance. At about the same time, Schwalbe updated its 1960s vintage tyre, to produce the Marathon, a very smart kevlar-belted tyre with deep tread and a reflective sidewall.
Arrival of the Stelvio
Last year, the small wheel fraternity got excited all over again with the launch of the Schwalbe Stelvio in small sizes.This narrow racing tyre had been around in 700C form for a year or two, but the first 406mm (20-inch) and 355mm (18-inch, primarily suiting the Birdy) tyres were found to roll better than the opposition, by a fair margin. Schwalbe claims that the improved rolling performance comes from the use of flexible silicon rubber in the sidewalls, and a narrower 28mm tyre tread.Tyre width has a small effect on rolling resistance because narrower tyres have less tread to flex, although in this case, the tyre has been beefed up with a kevlar belt, which probably negates much of the advantage.
Tests of the 406mm tyre, conducted by MIRA on behalf of Inspired Cycle Engineering, demonstrated a significant advantage over the Continental Grand Prix and Primo Comet tyres. However, results from one tyre size do not necessarily stand up for another, and the Primo Comet chosen was 1.75″ in diameter, rather than the sportier 37mm. I decided to gather my own data.
Most rolling resistance tests are carried out in aircraft hangers and other large under- cover spaces, but there’s a lot to be said for trials on ‘real’ surfaces, although field tests must be set up and observed with great care, as wind speed and direction, and air temperature, can have a marked effect on performance. For some years, my tests have been carried out over a 630 metre stretch of ‘B’ category road with what can only be described as a ‘mixed’ road surface. Bicycles are timed over this downhill stretch from a standing start, and – provided weather conditions are similar – it is possible to compare results taken years apart.
In January, wind-free days are rare, although I eventually found the conditions I wanted late one evening.Temperature fluctuated between 3.7 and 6 degrees C, which is on the low side, but the important thing is that all the tyres were tested back to back in near identical conditions. Inner tubes were the standard Raleigh 37-349mm for the Marathon and Brompton tyres, but the smaller Schwalbe tube (claimed to suit any tyre between 32 – 47mm diameter) for the Stelvio. Results are averaged from four or five runs and proved reasonably consistent, although the Marathon took a few minutes to warm up.
First out was the Schwalbe Marathon.Tyre pressures were set at 85psi rear and 65psi front – pressures that give good results on mixed road surfaces for a cyclist of my build.The Marathon achieved an average roll-down speed of 13.2mph, which is broadly what one might expect from a fairly frumpy kevlar-belted tyre at those temperatures.
Then the new Stelvio tyres were fitted to the bike and inflated to the same pressures. Results were much better, at 13.9mph, which is good for 16-inch, but hardly state of the art. Repeating the runs with inflation pressures of 100psi rear and 80psi front brought a slight improvement to 14mph.
At this point, we know from experience that higher pressures can be counter- productive, as road vibration can actually begin to reduce the rolling speed, an effect that I first observed with the Primo tyre back in Folder 17.This, I should add, is true for the Brompton and others, but fully suspended small-wheeled bikes, such as the Birdy and Moulton, can give very different results.
However, access to the Pantour suspension hub (see page 21), gave a unique opportunity to try the tyres at the maximum pressure of 120psi on a fully suspended Brompton.This produced a more satisfactory roll-down speed of 14.4mph, which is right at the top end of 16-inch performance, particularly in such cold weather.
Remarkable? Well, yes and no.The final test runs (at the lowest temperature, incidentally) were of the standard Brompton tyre, inflated to a comfortable 85psi/65psi. Once again, under the same conditions, the rolling speed was 14.4mph!
One should be cautious interpreting results of this kind.Yes, it’s true that on paper, £20 worth of tyres performed just as well as a £170 suspension/tyre/tube package, but roll-down tests do not give a complete picture.What the figures don’t reveal is that the Stelvio/suspension set up was undoubtably faster uphill, making better use of the power input from the cyclist. It’s probably true too, that the new tyre would perform better on smooth surfaces, so one would expect the Stelvio to shine under racing conditions.
But for day-to-day use, the Brompton tyre still seems to represent the best compromise between comfort, price and performance. Despite descending our test hill at race-tyre speed, it proved extremely comfortable – probably the best of all the combinations tried. Handling was predictable too.The Stelvio was fine at low pressure, but with 120psi front and rear, it proved hard to control, especially on rough tarmac.
Once again I have filled my allotted space, but I hope to return to this matter soon (hopefully in the next issue) with a more detailed review of 16-inch tyres.
The 349mm, 355mm and 406mm Schwalbe Stelvio tyres are available from specialist dealers or by mail order from Westcountry Recumbents mail email@example.com Prices start at £13.50 each
Small wheels play an important role in the alternative transport world, enabling recumbents and fared HPVs to be built sleeker and lower, and folding bikes smaller.
Twenty years ago, most small (ie, sub 24-inch) tyres absorbed energy like a sponge, handled badly, tended to puncture and generally caused frustration and annoyance to all who came across them.Today, thanks to a liberal dose of cutting edge technology, the picture is completely different.Tyre life and general performance is broadly similar to the traditional big-wheel jobs, and rolling resistance is much improved, but there’s a price to pay: vibration. Much of the reduction in rolling resistance is due to more compliant tyre sidewalls, but the rest comes from increased tyre pressures. In the 349mm and 406mm sizes, tyre pressures of 90 and 100psi are now the norm, with the new Stelvio pointing the way to 120psi and beyond. Run a small tyre at this sort of pressure on a bike without suspension and pea-sized road irregularities become pot-holes, and pot-holes gaping, bike- shattering chasms. And, as Professor Pivot notes on page 16, high tyre pressures can actually be counterproductive on some surfaces. All these matters come to a head on the Brompton, which has useful suspension at the rear, but nothing at the front.With rising tyre pressures, this lack of suspension is becoming a problem.
Enter the Pantour hub. Motorcycle enthusiasts may have seen this sort of technology before, in the sprung rear hubs that came briefly into vogue during the 1940s and early ‘50s before swinging arms became commonplace.
How does it work?
The Pantour is a simple device.The slightly oversize hub shell contains two axles held rigidly together and secured to the forks by end caps. In use, the hub rotates around the lower shaft (A), while the upper shaft (B) rests against a polymer block, which gives the springing effect The outer shell of the hub rotates on sealed needle-roller bearings.
The travel of only 12mm is quite small, which is fortunate, because – as eagle-eyed readers may already have spotted – if the hub lifts up, the wheel rims will move relative to the brake blocks. If it moves too far, the blocks may miss the rim altogether. In practice, this isn’t a great problem, because of the way the hub (and thus the rim) rotates rearwards as well as upwards, although obviously the brake blocks need to be set with extra care.
Shafts A and B are fixed rigidly to the fork drop-outs – the quick-release skewer running through A. At rest (left), the primary polymer pushes the hub shell down until the rebound polymer rests against the shell. Under load (right), the hub shell rotates rearwards and upwards, forcing shaft B against the primary polymer.
Despite the limited travel, the Pantour hub offers a number of advantages.Weight is a tiny fraction of any alternative suspension design, the hub adding only 50g against the very light Brompton hub. At 35mm or so in diameter and – more importantly – 100mm between fork drop-outs, it’s bigger than the Brompton hub (it could easily be made narrower, of course), but even though this means fitting wider forks, there is little effect on the folded size of the bike.Where the design really scores is in the rather esoteric field of ‘unsprung weight’. If you think about it, the aim of suspension is to reduce the amount of weight forced to deflect sharply on hitting an obstacle, reducing shock forces to the frame and causing the load (that’s you) to deflect in a more comfortable and dignified manner.The lower the ‘unsprung’ element in the equation, the faster and more precisely the suspension will work. If you fit a Pantour hub to a bicycle, the only unsprung elements will be the tyre, rim, spokes and part of the hub, and you can’t get much lighter than that. Most suspension designs not only add more weight to the bike, but add it in the form of unsprung weight, which is generally counter productive.
Fitting requires replacement stretched forks (supplied as a kit by UK importer Kinetics of Glasgow), a quick-release skewer, repositioned mudguard (37mm tyres can contact the stay as the suspension flexes, but not the new 28mm Stelvio), and fine-tuning of the Brompton lower stop mechanism to keep the bike folding properly.The Pantour can be set in the forks at one of three angles, effecting the degree of verticality of the motion (and thus the relative hardness), and the hub comes with a choice of two grades of polymer.We chose the softest and the most vertical action, which suited the Brompton well, although other bikes (or heavy luggage) might require different settings.
…the suspension feels nicely damped, exhibiting little or no ‘po-go’ effect on hills…
How does it perform?
With suspension movement of only 12mm, you won’t turn your Brompton into a downhill racer, but that’s not the point.What the hub will do is more or less eliminate tiresome high frequency vibration, no matter how high the tyre pressure. Pot-holes are little changed, but – perhaps surprisingly – rocky tracks and trails are noticeably easier to negotiate.The overall effect, with a rider of typical weight, is a slightly softer feel than the standard rear suspension.
The suspension feels nicely damped, exhibiting little or no ‘po-go’ effect on hills.You’ll be pressed to find any side-effects – the rearward movement seems to introduce a tiny rearward shimmy under some conditions, but that’s about it.
Longevity is hard to judge. In winter use, the shell is bound to fill with water and grit, but there isn’t much to go wrong inside. Our only long-term worry would be the ‘sealed for life’ roller bearing assembly, which looks expensive.
At first glance, the Pantour is prohibitively expensive – £135 for the basic hub, plus £35 for wheel building, and a further £45 should replacement forks be needed (yours can be modified free of charge, on an exchange basis). But on the other hand, this is the only practical way to build suspension into the front of a small-wheeled machine, and fitting takes less than a couple of hours.
The Pantour is one of those rare bolt-on accessories that leave you wondering how you survived without it. At first sight, the ride and performance of the bike are not radically transformed, but in practice – particularly on longer rides – higher tyre pressures and subtle suspension compliance work together to produce a taughter, more sophisticated, and – according to Professor Pivot – freer-running machine. If you ride any distance on an unsuspended small-wheeled bike, this device could be worth every penny.
Incidentally, it’s possible that the vertical wheel movement would have a beneficial effect on rim life, although no-one yet seems to have measured this. If nothing else, the movement between rim and brake blocks will help spread wear over a greater rim area, but it might also reduce the tendency for deep tram-lines to form in the alloy surface. That’s quite unproven, we hasten to add, but if true, the Pantour could pay for itself in a few years in rim life alone. Reduced vibration should give spokes, bearings, fingers and luggage an easier time too. Invaluable if you carry a lap-top computer in the front pannier.
We’ve tried the Pantour on a Brompton, because that seemed the most obvious application, but the hub would work equally well on recumbents and other unsprung folders, such as the Bike Friday.The Pantour is obviously designed to fit a conventional bike too – presumably giving the same step change in comfort. Suspension of this kind would be useful anywhere sprung forks would be too heavy or bulky, or where greater suspension travel is simply unnecessary.
Pantour also produces a front disc-brake model offering 25mm of travel, and a rear hub (12mm travel) designed around a standard Shimano 9-speed derailleur system. Long- travel rear suspension is reported to be on the way too.
Pantour 2002 Prolite Suspension Hub £135
Net Weight (against Brompton
hub – less hub nuts, but including quick release assembly) 50g
Polymers (red) rider weight 100-200lb (blue) rider weight 200-300lb
UK Distributor Kinetics web www.kinetics-online.co.uk tel 0141 942 2552 . mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Manufacturer Pantour tel +1 760 739 9058 mail email@example.com web www.pantourhub.com
A to B must be the only bicycle magazine in the world that knows next to nothing about quick-release skewers, because they’re rare on small-wheeled machines. If you don’t either, they’re the little rods that stop bicycle wheels falling off, with a handy lever on the end to help thieves make off with ‘em. So why are most (non-hub gear) bicycles fitted with quick-release skewers? Fashion alone, it seems – outside the racing world quick- release wheels serve little purpose.
One way to stop folk half-inching vital components from your bike is to fit some species of locking skewer, and in our limited experience of such things, the German Pitlock is a super-duper example.
These devices are available in a number of shapes and sizes to lock the obvious things, like front and rear wheels and seat posts, plus a couple of things we wouldn’t have thought of – ‘Ahead set’ forks and brakes.The pattern for each of the skewers is the same – all stainless steel, with a tamper-proof cap on one end and a shaped nut recessed inside a stainless recessed-thing at the other. On our examples, the nut is shaped like the Isle of Wight, and there’s a special tool provided which only fits Isle of Wight-shaped nuts so you can take things on and off.
There are 255 other replica islands available, so a thief would be very lucky to unfasten yours. Should you loose the special tool, the box contains a code number for reordering, unless, of course, you threw it away with the other packaging…
Not only is the Pitlock system a theft deterrent, but the skewers are almost certainly lighter than the ones you have already – the seatpost design weighing a mere 28g, against 40g for a more conventional pattern. Even the chunky rear wheel skewer weighs only 50g. Besides the price, our only slight grumble is that disassembly yields lots of fiddly little parts that would be irretrievably squelched into the mud during a night-time roadside calamity. But that aside, Pitlock skewers probably make a good investment, even at £20 for the front wheel, or £36 for a three-piece set including front wheel, rear wheel and seat pin (available in two lengths – 36mm or 60mm). Other special order bits include extra long skewers for tandems or bikes with ‘extra-thick drop-outs’. Sounds to us like troublesome teenagers, but we’re told it’s the bit the rear wheel fits into.
Pitlock anti-theft skewers £20-£36 Weight 28-50g UK distributor Orbit Cycles tel 0114 275 6567 mail firstname.lastname@example.org web www.orbit-cycles.co.uk Manufacturer Pitlock web www.pitlock.de
1. London Cycle Maps
Transport for London’s excellent cycle maps are essential equipment, whether you’re cycling, scooting or walking into the capital.The maps show official cycle routes in blue (these are of variable quality) and other recommended off- road and on-road routes in green and yellow – these are mostly chosen by London Cycle Campaign members and are generally safe, quiet and direct.
With some careful planning, it’s possible to travel miles across London without sharing road space with cars: Much of the cycle route from Paddington to Whitehall is now traffic-free, and it’s easy to patch together routes from back roads and cycle-friendly parks, just about anywhere in Greater London. British Waterways has finally agreed to allowed cycles back onto key stretches of the Grand Union canal, too.
There are 19 maps in all, covering the whole of Greater London, from the central zone out broadly to the M25. All are available free, although Map 10, covering the key central area, is currently being updated and reprinted, but should be available by the time we go to press.
Downside: Some official routes are poor, but don’t blame the map!
Stockists: Call TfL on 0207 222 1234, or at most cycle shops.
2. Folding bike
(Plus Tube/Rail/River Bus)
A folding bike should be top of your shopping list if you live in London, Greater London, or indeed anywhere else. For those relatively close to public transport, lacking secure cycle parking at home or work, or simply longing for a more flexible travel mode, a folding bike can change your life.The compact machines – in practice, that means Brompton,Airframe or Micro – can be carried on all (yes, all) Underground and mainline train services. If travelling in the peak, it’s worth investing in a bag or cover to avoid oily conflicts with fellow passengers, and it’s worth avoiding central zone tube stations. Most of these involve steps or lifts, and they can be very busy. But as a general rule, a folder allows you to forget the time-consuming hassle of changing from one Underground line to another, or from Underground to bus, because it’s usually quicker to nip out and pedal.
The advantages go on and on: In fine weather, cut out the Underground altogether and cycle home.When public transport fails, leaving passengers trapped, just nip onto the street and pedal home. Hardened motorists can carry the bike in the boot, then abandon the car in a quiet suburban street and pedal in – annoying for those who live there, of course, but cheap and effective.
As a general rule, a good folder, used sensibly with other transport, provides the fastest and most flexible solution to city travel. But which to buy? If public transport and parking space are not major issues, look at 20-inch machines, such as the Dahon range, a Bike Friday, or the Giant Halfway. Of the true compacts, the Micro is fine for occasional use, the Airframe remains an unknown quantity, the Birdy is best for longer commutes on indifferent surfaces, but the Brompton – born, built and refined in London – is undoubtedly the king for most commuters most of the time.
And finally, if you’re a member of the old school – 26-inch wheels, canvas panniers, good enough for grandad, and so forth – you might be influenced by the fact that the Cyclist’s Touring Club has recently elected a Chairman and Vice-Chairman who both ride folding bikes. How things change!
Downside: Folders are relatively expensive machines (don’t cut corners though) and it’s all too easy to become a folder bore (‘How long did it take you? You want a Brompton mate – through the park, two stops on the tube, ten minutes tops, whoosh!’
Stockists: London is the UK centre for folding bike dealers, with half a dozen specialists – see ads in this issue, or try the A to B stockists list on our web site.
3. Commuter bicycle
Of course they still exist! Chuck out that sad old Mountain Bike – the tyres are all wrong, it’s dangerous after dark and it absorbs precious energy like a sponge. Good sensible bicycles with lights, mudguards, racks and other essential equipment are available through a number of cycle dealers in London and other cycle-friendly cities. For serious traffic- light credibility, go for a genuine Dutch, Danish or German roadster, but you may prefer something lighter and more sophisticated for the hilly bits. As a general rule, for journeys of up to five miles or so, a bicycle beats everything else hands down.
It’s well worth investing some proper money in a real commuter bike – quality components, suspension (optional) and a light, sprightly frame. Remember, there’s no longer any need to cut corners – £500 spent now will be back in your pocket in well under six months.
Finally, hassle your employer for decent secure under-cover parking. In the era of Congestion Charging, cyclists are the new gold card commuter aristocracy. Demand facilities! If you’re intending to ride to the station, cycle parking has improved a great deal in recent years, but few stations provide secure or covered parking. Another reason to do some lobbying, because thanks to the largesse of his Holiness the Mayor, money will be available, or at least, that’s the theory…
Downside: Bicycles are only allowed on specified rail and Underground services – see our ‘Bike/Rail’ web pages for details. Get a puncture, and you’re on your own.
Stockists: Numerous specialists sell ‘proper’ bikes, but surprisingly few are in London. Once again, A to B is a good place to start, but expect to visit York, Oxford or Cambridge.
…From the foothills of High Barnet to the craggy peaks of Purley…
4. Electric bicycle
London is situated in a bowl – flat in the middle, but progressively hillier as you travel north or south. If you live beyond Crystal Palace to the south, or Hampstead to the north, an electric bike could be a worthwhile investment. For journeys of more than five miles, journey times should beat all-comers, especially if you work in the congested central area. From the foothills of High Barnet, or the craggy peaks of Purley, you’ll save time, and lots of lovely money, by eliminating other modes altogether. Compared to a public transport season ticket, or Congestion Charge premium, you’ll be in profit in well under a year – electric bikes start at around £500, but expect to pay £1,000 for a good commuter machine. Running costs are generally more than a bicycle, but much lower than the other motorised alternatives.
Of the numerous good, bad and indifferent bikes on the market, only three really shine – the Powabyke, the Giant Lafree and the Heinzmann.The Lafree is well equipped, quiet and light enough to carry home on the train in an emergency, provided you avoid long flights of steps.The Powabyke is poorly equipped, heavy and brutish, but tough as old boots.When buses, cars, trains, mopeds and other bicycles are floundering in the snow, you’ll be at your desk as usual.The Heinzmann Estelle is a quality German machine (say no more, squire), with the marked advantage of recharging in two hours flat.
The electric-assist Holy Grail is a viable folding commuter machine, combining items 2, 3 and 4 in a single lightweight package.This remains some way off, but specialists such as Kinetics, or A goto B of Notting Hill, can supply something state of the art for a price.
Downside: Non-cyclists and cycle enthusiasts alike will accuse you of cheating.
Stockists: Springing up all over, but we’d suggest starting with the Electric Commuter Co, 1308 High Road, London N20, or the Solex Centre, 408 King’s Road, Chelsea, London SW10.
(plus bus/tube/train/river etc)
Used in conjunction with buses and other public transport, walking can get you a long way, reasonably quickly.This has to be the best way to appreciate London’s parks and green spaces and you can do it just about anywhere, anytime without upsetting officialdom. Most bus stops now display real-time info on the whereabouts and routes of buses – that doesn’t stop three coming at once, but at least you’ll be forewarned.
Downside: Somewhat reliant on the vagaries of public transport.
Essential Equipment: Transport for London publishes a free guide to bus routes in central London. Call 0207 222 1234 for a copy.
These days all mopeds have electric start and some sort of weather protection, with no gears to worry about – just ‘twist & go’.They are very light, easy to ride, and fuss-free. Most are two-strokes but there are a few quiet and economical four-strokes as well – 150mpg here we come! And if you’ve got a full car licence you can ride one straight out of the showroom with no need for further training (not necessarily a good idea). Out on the road, expect to be treated by other traffic as if you’re on a bicycle. Price? The cheapest Chinese imports start at £700, but expect to pay £1,200 upwards for a quality brand.
Downside: Parking can be a problem in some areas, and you’re subject to the all the usual traffic laws – drink/driving prohibition for you, MOT and tax for your wheels.
Essential Equipment: Insurance, plus helmet, waterproofs and gloves. Piaggio has produced a motorcycle parking map of London. Price £2.50 from Piaggio dealers, or telephone 0800 20 30 10.
7. Small Motorcycle/Scooter
Not all motorbikes are Harley-Davidsons, Ducatis, Triumphs or BMWs. Shame, but there it is. Seriously, there are lots of sensible, good value bikes out there, and all of them have the jam-busting abilities of two wheels with the speed of a car once out of town.The choice is really between fully automatic scooters (comfy, with built-in weather-protection and luggage) and basic 500cc motorbikes that cost about the same as a 250cc scooter – £3,000-£4,000 for a new one, but there’s lots of choice secondhand. Expect 50-65mpg on a 500cc bike, 75-85mpg on the scoot. For longer commutes, there’s nothing to compare for sheer convenience and fun.
Downside: As for mopeds, but more so. Essential Equipment: As for mopeds, but more so.
No, don’t laugh – they may be best known as children’s toys, but micro-scooters can be quite useful over short distances. If you’re faced with a walk of up to a mile (on reasonable surfaces) to the Underground station, scooting will get you there a lot quicker, especially if hills are involved, but watch those brakes in the wet…Their use is banned on railway platforms, but they appear to be legal in long passages and covered ways to and from station and Underground platforms. Get to work, and it folds up out of the way.
Downside: Limited range and dubious street-credibility
Stockists: Too numerous to mention
9. Powered micro-scooter
These machines are either slightly illegal or downright seriously illegal, depending which test case you’ve been following.You’re unlikely to get sent to the Tower on a first offence, but if you decide to travel this way, be prepared for a legal challenge of some description.The more civilised electric variant fills the gap between micro-scooter and bicycle – shortish journeys of one to three miles. Hill climbing is hardly sprightly, but with some muscle assistance, you should be able to get up most gradients. Look for a compact folding machine – if it’s too heavy or awkward to take on the Underground, it won’t be much use to you.
For the seriously potty brigade willing to set forth into the cut and thrust of city traffic at 25mph on three-inch wheels and/or upset their fellow citizens on the pavement, the petrol option exists. Other more or less hairy variants include skateboards and roller-skates (yes, really).
Downside: The Met may decide to impound your wheels for your own safety.
Stockists: Visit a micro- scooter outlet, wink and say ‘Got anything with a bit more poke?’.
Ideal companion for a folding bike, a helicopter is worth considering if time matters more than mere money. Landing fees at the not-very-central Battersea Heliport (yes, you’ll need the bike) range from a reasonable £75 plus VAT to £995 plus VAT for a Chinook. (Useful if you’re considering a military coup – and who isn’t these days?)
Unfortunately, ‘copter parking is very much at a premium, so you’ll also need a pilot to fly your machine back out and meet you again after work, for another £75, plus etc etc. Chartering might make more sense. For example, six commuters can charter an Augusta 109 for the day, for around £1,350 plus VAT. Commute time from Stansted Airport (or any useable landing field around London, come to that) is about 15 minutes.
Downside: Stylish, but a bit pricey
Contacts: Battersea Heliport tel 020 7228 0181. Charters (Air Harrods) tel 01279 660800
This lecture was originally presented by author Tony Hadland at the CYCLE 2002 show in London, September 2002.The emphasis is on British- designed and foreign folding bikes that had a significant impact in the UK. ‘Portable’ is used inclusively to represent folding, separable and demountable cycles.
Seventies, Twenties and the Coming of the Compact
The 1970s were a boom time for cycle sales in the UK. Many of the machines sold were small-wheelers, usually 20-inch wheel shoppers, some of which folded. It was also a time when the floodgates opened to cheap imported folding cycles. For a time the Raleigh 20 range became that company’s biggest seller. One hundred and forty thousand were sold in 1975, perhaps 10% of which were the folding Stowaway model – the name being ‘nicked’ from the 1960s Moulton range.The Raleigh 20 Stowaway first appeared about 1970, competing head-to-head with the Dawes Folding Kingpin. It rode quite well and was robust, but no lightweight, weighing about 36lb.The Dawes and Raleigh folders competed with somewhat similar Puch and Elswick Hopper machines imported from Austria.They were also up against very cheap but poorly made East European U-frame folders, which were widely marketed via mail order and petrol station forecourts well into the 1980s.
But 1970 also saw a major advance in portable cycle design – the coming of the lightweight compact folder, in the form of the Bickerton.This ‘flexible friend’ was, in single- speed form, half the weight of a Raleigh Stowaway and about half the size when folded. A number of cycle tourists used the machine to great effect. Perhaps the best known was the Newbury grandmother Christian Miller, who rode across the USA solo and wrote the entertaining book Daisy, Daisy based on her experiences. Bickerton later introduced early US-designed Dahon folders to the UK. Since then Dahon have frequently introduced new models in the UK, many incorporating the company’s patented low-profile folding steering head/handlebar stock mechanism, and often sold at the low end of the market under other names such as Ridgeback, Philips and Rudge.
The breakthrough achieved by Bickerton encouraged other designers to try to do better. Peter Radnall, who ran a cycle components company in the West Midlands, designed the Micro for his own use. A very short wheelbase steel-framed machine, it was perhaps the first commercial exploitation of a Y-frame. Before going out of production, it achieved modest success with several manufacturers. In the 1990s, it was relaunched in improved longer-wheelbase form by Cresswell and is now made by Pashley as part of its Brilliant range. For occasional use by riders up to medium height, it is one of the lightest, most compact and affordable portables. Another compact lightweight was Grahame Herbert’s Airframe, designed soon after the Micro.This, like the Bickerton, used aluminium but in a much more triangulated manner, sacrificing a step-through frame in favour of greater rigidity in the vertical plane.The Airframe, however, did not go on sale until the mid-1980s and despite good reviews, did not sell well. After many years out of production, it became available again in slightly revised form in 2002.
The Airframe folds into a relatively long, thin package – what is sometimes referred to as a ‘stick folder’. Perhaps the ultimate ‘stick folder’ thus far is the Strida. Many enjoy this elegant machine as a form of kinetic art: some say it works better as sculpture than transport. Its ergonomics are necessarily compromised by the striking triangular design but as its designer Mark Sanders makes clear, it is intended to bridge the gap between walking and ‘proper’ cycling. As such, the machine is “…the biggest breakthrough was the Brompton… the benchmark against which all others are judged…” virtually grease-free. It incorporates many unusual features, such as a structural steerer tube and monoblade wheel mounting, enabling easy tyre repair. Launched in 1987, it remained in production for about five years and was later relaunched in modified form as the Strida 2.
But the biggest breakthrough in compact folders was, of course, the Brompton, launched in 1981, and the benchmark against which all other compact folders are judged. Amazingly, the current equivalent model is some 5lb lighter than the original yet costs about the same after allowance for inflation.
This completely bucks the usual trend, whereby specialised bicycles typically get heavier and more expensive as their production run continues. Much of this success can be put down to the single-mindedness of the machine’s inventor, Andrew Ritchie, who has resolutely resisted significantly diversifying his model range. Instead, he has concentrated on constant minor refinement of his winning concept, achieving a near optimal trade-off of engineering compromises for the intended use of his bike.
Alex Moulton and Raleigh went their separate ways in 1975.Two years later, Moulton conceived his spaceframe concept and in 1983 started selling the AM range of high performance dual-suspension separable small-wheelers.These broke new ground as the first series-produced high performance portables. They were used successfully for transcontinental touring and Audax riding. Fitted with streamlined fairings,AMs twice broke the flying 200 metres HPV record (for a conventional, non- recumbent, riding position).And on a separable AM Jubilee, amateur rider Dave Bogdan successfully completed the world’s toughest single stage race, the Race Across America (RAAM), averaging nearly 300 miles per day.
In 1992, Pashley started building a cheaper range of 20-inch wheel spaceframe Moultons and in 1998 Alex Moulton introduced his very refined but extremely expensive New Series, since when he has sold as many as he could make. In 2000, Bridgestone of Japan started making a re-engineered aluminium version of the original 1960s F-frame Moulton, including models with a new version of the 1960s Stowaway frame joint.
The introduction of the Moulton AM series was followed by a number of other performance portables. Some, such as Strutt (UK) and Montague (USA) used large diameter wheels. (Most Montagues sold in the UK were The badged as Rudge Bi-frames and marketed by Raleigh, although a few were sold as BMW Trekkers.)
Other makers used small wheels, with or without suspension. Bike Friday, launched in the USA in the late 1980s, rapidly established a reputation for performance, albeit usually with a relatively harsh ride, due to the lack of suspension on most models. Early advertising emphasised the famous Bike Friday trailer – a hard-shell case with detachable wheels into which the whole bike (and the trailer’s wheels) could be packed for easy air travel. Bike Friday went on to produce a folding tandem and folding recumbent.The UK-based Airnimal uses slightly larger wheels than the Bike Friday and has rear suspension as standard.The German Birdy uses smaller wheels but with dual suspension and relatively easy, compact folding.All these machines have their merits and demerits, but since the AM Moulton introduced the concept of high-performance series- produced portables, there has been a steadily increasing choice for potential purchasers. It just depends on how much you value the various facilities offered – weight, speed, handling, ride quality, rider position, adjustability, luggage carrying, ease of stowing, equipment options, spares availability, service support, purchase price and running cost.
So today we have a very good choice of portable cycles.Well-proven compacts epitomised by the Brompton, performance machines such as the Moulton and Bike Friday, and even large-wheeled off-road machines. Certainly, after more than 120 years of portable cycle design, we have not heard the end of the portable bicycle story yet.
For a more comprehensive review, read the book ‘It’s in the bag!’ by Tony Hadland and John Pinkerton, and its online supplement by Mike Hessey, who also runs the authoritative Folding Society web site. For details, see: www.hadland.net and www.foldsoc.co.uk
I love my Powabyke. In eighteen months, nothing has bent, dropped off or ceased to function. Actually that’s not quite true, but I’ll come to that in a moment. It powers up hills and impresses bystanders with astonishing acceleration. It’s not exactly sophisticated, but has a certain brutish charm. However…
The other day, I was bowling along an undulating back road in rural Dorset, wind behind me.Very gradually, I caught up with an elderly chap on an ancient sit up and beg. Easy, I thought – with my 21st century electric bike I’ll just shoot past him with a casual wave of the hand. Except that as I drew alongside, I found that my legs couldn’t spin any faster, and we were just beyond the 15mph limit, so I couldn’t expect any electric help either. Anyway, we eventually struggled past, only for him to click into the highest ratio of his long-legged Sturmey Archer, re-pass me (without a word) and disappear over the horizon. I never saw him again.
For me, this is the 5-speed Powabyke’s only major failing – with a 36-tooth chainring, the standard gearing covers 33-65 inches – fine for climbing the side of houses, but not so good for making progress on the flat. A to B got to work, but found that the standard chainring and axle are of an odd splined pattern.The crude, but effective answer, was to bolt a 40-tooth chainring behind the standard ring, giving a modest but useful 11% increase in speed.The five gears now cover 37, 42, 51, 60 and 72 inches. It’s still too low for my liking, especially on an electric bike, where the whole point is to use battery power to support higher gearing and thus more speed with less effort. Our upgraded 5-speed now has more relaxed cruising at 15mph, but the only long-term solution is to splash out on a proper gear system. Powerbyke also produce 21 and 24 speed Euro variants with more practical ratios, but they’re quite a bit more expensive.
…if they were made in Russia, peasants would use them for ploughing…
There’s another Powabyke peculiarity. It’s heavy, weighing in at around 39kg, or halfway between a bicycle and a moped! Much of that weight is down to the good old-fashioned lead-acid battery. Stagger indoors with that under one arm, and you’re liable to do yourself a mischief. Still, there’s any upside to everything – if you forget your keys, the battery could come in handy as a small battering ram.
But maybe that’s part of the bike’s charm.The Powabyke is a solid, low- tech sort of machine. If they were made in Russia, peasants would use them for ploughing when the collective’s tractor broke down. In motorcycle terms, it’s a cross between a Ural and a Harley-Davidson. If that doesn’t make any sense, think of the Powabyke as one of the older pre-yuppy Volvos; the ones made of cast iron with massive rubber bumpers.
It’s easy to see where this avoirdupois comes from. Quite apart from the battery (which incidentally, has a pleasing resemblance to Flash Gordon’s raygun) the bike is engineered on massive dimensions – more Forth Bridge than Millennium Bridge. Almost everything is made of steel: even the mudguards, for goodness sake!
This very solidity encourages a confidence that may or may not be misplaced. I’ve taken mine down rocky bridleways more than once, and it works surprisingly well. For a start, the Powabyke has two-wheel-drive (pedals to the rear, hub motor to the front), while the power delivery is so linear that you can feed it in gently with the twistgrip – just what you need to ease over obstacles.That’s backed up by tyres that are quasi-mountain bike in their size and chunkiness. In fact, the power delivery is so delicate that it’s possible to trickle the bike up hills at walking pace, while you stride along beside it – a useful trick if the battery runs low on the road.
All good fun, but the Powabyke’s bottom line is it’s sheer usefulness.We don’t have a car, so the bike is generally used for the hilly 12-mile round trip to Yeovil, which of course is well within its 20+ mile range. Anna has found it saves a good ten minutes on the trip (compared to pedalling) and she arrives fresh to teach her yoga class. And she gets wafted home despite carrying a load of yoga equipment and shopping. Only two things bother her.That monstrous weight makes the Powabyke difficult to park and almost impossible to haul up steps. And if you’re not used to motorcycle-style twistgrip throttles, you can get caught out if your hand slips and the power cuts in unexpectedly.
…a few brief moments of joy as cars, scooters and motorbikes flounder in your
We’ve strapped on a couple of ancient panniers, but the sturdy rear rack takes useful loads as well – it’s an awkward shape though, with rounded sides that make it difficult to use stiffer, more capacious panniers.The bike is surprisingly comfortable, thanks to the sit-up riding position and suspension seatpost.There is also a ‘mountain-style’ version, which is much the same, but without the mudguards – don’t even go there.
As to riding technique, in theory the Powabyke can be ridden without pedalling at all, once the power comes in at around walking pace. In practice, this is too slow and boring. So I tend to use power and pedalling all the time for maximum speed and acceleration. At the traffic lights, full power from both man and machine gives (relatively) blistering acceleration, and a few brief moments of joy as cars, scooters and motorbikes flounder in your wake – doesn’t last long though.
I mentioned earlier that nothing had gone wrong with our Powabyke, which isn’t strictly true.The most serious fault happened last week, when part of the plastic headstock cladding cracked and broke off, allowing the battery to jiggle around in the frame.All Powabyke batteries do this to a certain extent over potholes and cobblestones which is annoying, to say the least.Anyway, the plastic surround finally decided enough was enough, allowing the weighty battery to leap around even more.That disturbs the contact between battery and motor… so power cuts out unpredictably. Some strategic use of sticky tape and rubber mounting (old inner tube) has improved matters, but it’s still not ideal.
The only other failure came when the single fuse blew, for no apparent reason. I stuck a new one in (a standard 20 amp glass type) and all has been well since. Mind you, that was after riding the Powabyke six miles home without power, which on a 39-kilo bike is no joke.
Apart from a few scrapes and the odd patch of rust, the finish has stood up well, while the chunky tyres have shown negligible wear, and look good for plenty more miles.
This isn’t a proper A to B road test, so I haven’t accurately measured the recharge time, but we just leave it on overnight and the bike is always raring to go next morning. Needless to say, the bike gets charged in the garage – it’s more than my hernia’s worth to heave the battery indoors. Mind you, this low-tech approach does make it cheaper to replace – Powabyke offers a subsidised exchange scheme which nets you a new battery for £80.50. Ours still seems in fine fettle, anyway.
And finally, the 5-speed Powabyke is cheap, at £645 for the 26-inch wheel version we’ve got – there’s a 24-incher for fifty quid less.That makes it £250 cheaper than the (admittedly more sophisticated) Japanese opposition. Reflecting that price, the brakes and gears are cheap items of doubtful lineage – still, they do the job, so what more do you want? Yes, you can keep your NiCd batteries and bleeping electronics, I prefer the rustic Best wishes to Peter & Anna, who are getting married in March charms of a Powabyke.
Powabyke Euro 5-speed £595 – £645
Weight 39kg (85.8lb)
Manufacturer Powabyke tel 01225 443737 fax 01225 446878 mail email@example.com web www.powabyke.com
While most of us are focused on Iraq, there is a disturbing scenario unfolding in South America. For a month there has been a national strike in Venezuela, touted as a, ‘middle class protest against a corrupt, left-wing regime.’
Little could be farther from the truth.The inequity between rich and poor in Venezuela is just a little larger than that in the US, where 13,000 Americans earn more than 22 million of their fellow countrymen. Venezuelan political history is full of such strife between Left and Right, with the Right (often getting covert support from the US) winning out.
President Hugo Chavez has tremendous support from the poor and disenfranchised. Like Salvador Allende in Chile during the 1970’s, he promised a ‘bloodless revolution’, to address the inequities between rich and poor. He also thumbed his nose at Mr Bush by inviting Fidel Castro to visit, and by visiting Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Not a wise move unless, of course, you supply 15% of the United State’s oil.
Venezuela’s oil power is a two-edged sword. If the US weren’t so caught up with Iraq and North Korea,Venezuela would be due for the kind of monkey business that caused the overthrow of Allende. However, Mr Bush has more pressing issues, at least for the near future.
If (or, perhaps when) we go to war with Iraq, we will loose more oil (yes, we’re Iraq’s biggest customer, accounting for 70% of its exports). So if the Venezuelan strike goes on, we will be losing more oil than OPEC can cover by extra production.This is the real Achilles heel for the US.
And, here’s another interesting set of facts. Our oil refineries on the Gulf coast are set up to take Mexican and Venezuelan crude. Switching over to crude oil from the Middle East takes about three weeks and costs many millions of dollars, which the oil companies are loathe to spend. And oil coming from the Middle East takes six weeks to arrive, while crude oil from Venezuela takes only a week.
According to some analysts, an oil shortage of this magnitude will result in a world- wide recession to rival the slump of the 1930’s… to say nothing of putting an end to the SUV craze.That might just be the one bright spot in this whole scenario!
Being a pacifist – and very much against going to war to satisfy the vendetta of a spoiled fraternity boy – I am much troubled by the Iraq question. Maybe we (the world community, not the lone US cowboy), should put an end to the regime of Saddam Hussein to avoid a real bloodbath in the future?
Ask yourself this question; if we could have stopped Hitler in 1935, would it not have been better than waiting until 1940? Surely, the regime of Saddam Hussein is as bad as Hitler’s? They have invaded other countries, gassed their own civilians, and done unspeakable things to maintain power. Given the chance they would do far greater harm to the world, and the policy of containment only seems to have prolonged their end goal.
For a country totally dependent on oil imports, like the USA, war could be serious. And the prospect of a global recession should certainly be considered when decided whether to go to war. But can we, as civilised people, not do more to avoid some of the mistakes we made in the last century? Can we really afford to let this regime of tyranny fester within its borders? Is the regime of Hussein a cancer that could spread? I’m damned if I have the answer, but I’m not sure I will let my antipathy for Mr Bush and his antics cloud the real picture.