Tag Archives: A to B 35

A to B 35 – Cool trailers!

If you’re lucky enough to own any of the later Folder magazines or early A to Bs, we hope you’ll agree that they really were rather good. In those far-off days – before the two-monthly A to B cycle became a bit of a production line – we spent a lot more time over the writing and artwork.The photos were scratchy black and white, and – pre-internet of course – the audience was small, but the results could be quite entertaining.To mark our fast approaching 100th edition we’re dragging some of these classics out of the archives and remastering them… where possible in glorious technicolour. Do send in your requests… we have most of the original photos, so pretty well anything is possible.

A to B 35 Contents

A to B 35 Blog, April 2003, Congestion Charge

A to B magazine, Congestion Charge, Day OneFIRST PUBLISHED April 2003
London Congestion Charge Launch, Rough Guide launch

On Monday, February 17th, the Mole joined the world’s media on the streets of London for the launch of Ken Livingstone’s long-awaited Congestion Charge. This turned out to be something of a disappointment because (a) Ken had wisely chosen a half- term launch date, thus eliminating the school run from the equation and (b) the Mayor had talked up the potential for disaster to such an extent that whatever transpired could only be viewed as a successful launch.

In the event, traffic levels were down a thumping 25%, forcing media commentators into a frenzy of interviews with each other for want of stationary motor cars and grumbling occupants. The Mole spent an equally fruitless morning attempting to track down a small body of protesters, rumoured to be waving placards beside the A3 somewhere south of the river, but all to no avail.

By the evening, a formerly hostile media had changed sides, with even the vociferously anti-Ken lobby giving a wary thumbs up. Yes, the charge gave every appearance of being a discriminatory kick at the poorer motorist, but the media soon grasped what Ken had known all along – that the only people driving into central London at peak times were posh nobs.

Thus, the spin changed overnight, with the Congestion Charge melting seamlessly from an indiscriminate tax on the poor to a democratic congestion buster, clearing the streets of filthy-rich, selfish motorists to make room for the buses that the downtrodden masses had been using all along.

Ken had taken quite a gamble introducing the charge (although nothing like as big a gamble as he had made it appear, of course). But the real loser was arch transport spokesperson and Tory Mayoral candidate-in-waiting Steven Norris, who laid caution to the wind on the eve of Charge-day, announcing that he would scrap the system if elected. By Charge-day +14, with traffic stabilised at 10-15% below its former level (just as Ken had predicted), Norris had grown strangely quiet.

A to B magazine, Congestion Charge launch, Mike BurrowsAmongst the winners on the day was Mike Burrows, who cheekily chose this day, of all days, to publicise his 8-Freight load carriers in the capital, arriving by train with no fewer than three machines, a feat for which we must thank the unrecognised British Rail engineers who endowed the Norwich rolling stock with sufficient luggage space.

Wandering aimlessly through the near deserted streets of Vauxhall, the Mole happened upon a pair of Mark 3 Brox HPVs, billboarding the Toyota Prius, which turns out to be a hybrid petrol/electric vehicle, sensibly exempt from the Congestion Charge. According to Toyota, those signing up for the Prius receive a £1,000 grant from the Energy Savings Trust (see page 9), and save £100 on the road tax and £1,250 on Congestion Charges each year (less a £10 administration fee). Of course, would-be Prius owners could pocket the entire £17,000 purchase price by cycling to work instead – an irony that was no doubt lost on the ad agency concerned.

A to B magazine, Toyota Prius advertisementTwo weeks later, the Mole attended ‘Keeping us Moving’, a conference widely billed as the post-mortem of the Congestion Charge.This cheerful shindig was staged by something called EPSRC, working in tandem with another thing called ESRC. For non- transport professionals, these worthy bodies are composed of charming academics whose role seems to involve finding new and imaginative ways of spending tax-payers’ money.

Rather disappointingly – although entirely predictable, given that the Department for (road) Transport was a primary sponsor – this day of egg-head debate centred largely around motoring matters.The only real difference of opinion being the long running spat between the ‘predict-and-provide’ chaps (now on the ascendancy, in the wake of the government’s latest round of road building), and the ‘demand management’ boys, fighting a desperate rearguard action.

As one might expect, bicycles were off the agenda altogether, and rail conveniently sidelined.The Mole discovered why, when sharing a mid-morning coffee with Professor Phil Goodwin, the government’s amiable advisor on transport affairs. ‘I’ve given up working on rail’, says Phil, ‘…because nothing ever gets done…’

Prof Goodwin went on to pour scorn on his master’s policy of building roads, whilst predicting ever greater congestion: ‘For governments to say this themselves is unprecedented’, says the transport advisor, with a twinkle in his eye. Fortunately, he has a day job. Interestingly, he goes on to predict that HMG will do a U-turn and back the Congestion Charge, ‘…within 16 months, give or take four months.’

At the morning press briefing, the Mole took the opportunity to ask whether the conference might best be described as a crisis meeting? ‘There’s no crisis in research’, proclaimed the egg-heads, as one man. Putting it into practice, of course, is another matter. ‘It’s more an opportunity than a crisis’, chips in one professor. ‘The only way to get research into practice is with a high level political commitment’, adds another, implying, rather woefully, that commitment might be lacking in government circles.

Consequently, Keeping us Moving offered little of interest, but there were a few innovations, such as the Deflatable Road Hump, an air-filled device that deflates under slow-moving traffic, but stands firm when it senses rapid movement. Clever stuff, but will it deflate for bicycles? We weren’t told.

…it deflates under slow- moving traffic… will it deflate for bicycles? We weren’t told…

Clever Innovation Number Two is the GPS-controlled private hire system. London, it seems, has 44,000 mini-cabs, of which only 4,000 are registered – many of the remaining drivers being uninsured, with a small but identifiable proportion being homicidal maniacs into the bargain.

It seems the public interface of the system is a roadside box into which one inserts 50 pence and types a destination. Then, through the action of clever mechanisms that must remain unexplained, a message is sent into space requesting the arrival of a mini-cab. Back on terra-firma, all the registered mini-cabs are buzzing about radiating their position to the same orbiting satellite, and the box duly pinpoints the nearest, then prints and disgorges a ticket indicating its registration number, estimated time of arrival, and the fare.

Not only does the system choose the nearest cab, but it guarantees a registered (and thus, one hopes, user-friendly) driver, and dispatches passengers on a first-come- first-served basis, eliminating any post- theatre unpleasantness.

A to B magazine, Rough Guide Launch, Jason Patient

The Rough Guide launch – photographer Jason Patient salutes one of his images…

Back at the conference, a rare moment of insight comes from Professor Glenn Lyons of the University of the West of England. ‘Public perception of travel modes is drifting further and further away from reality’ says the prof, helpfully explaining that bicycles are now beyond most peoples’ field of imagination and trains are considered expensive and inconvenient, but cars are cheap, fast, secure and reliable.

A to B magazine, Rough Guide launch

…and the view from the balcony

During the 2000 fuel ‘crisis’, Professor Lyons moved quickly, obtaining funding for an emergency survey of motoring habits. This revealed that some 30% of commuters changing transport modes when the pumps began to dry up, with 25% of parents walking or cycling their children to school, although the crisis had little effect on business travellers. ‘Habitual behaviour inhibits mode choice’, sums up the professor with a sigh. In laymen’s terms, given a swift kick up the backside, we could solve our transport ills in days. Roll on the next fuel crisis.

After a satisfactory lunch, the participants took their seats for a blast of hot air from a panel composed of the Great and the Good in transport, chaired by BBC Transport Correspondent Simon Montague. First up for ritual humiliation was Steven Norris, who was reminded that he had promised to ‘scrap the charge’. Norris, ever the politician, replied ‘It’s important to split the principle of charging, which is entirely sensible, from any particular scheme.’ One suspects the problem with the London scheme is that the incumbent mayor thought of it first…

It’s a sign of how far Norris has to squirm that even John Dawson of the Automobile Association spoke kindly of the Charge, accepted that ‘tactical charging’ made sense, and that motorists were generally in favour.

Warming to this theme, a traffic engineer stood up and admitted that he had helped to design the computer model for the layout of Milton Keynes, a town specifically designed around the car, yet now as congested as anywhere else. Was this honest man about to come over to the demand management camp? A conversion on the road to Buckinghamshire? Sadly no – the fellow merely concluded that the residents of Milton Keynes would jolly well have to live with congestion. He’s probably right, but one somehow expected a little more insight from a conference organised by the country’s transport intelligentsia. Is that really the best that £40 million a year and Europe’s most powerful computer can come up with? Two weeks later, the Mole joined a motley crowd of flotsam and jetsam from the bicycle world at 80 The Strand, the magisterial home of Penguin Books.The occasion was the rather grand launch of the Rough Guide to London, sponsored by Mayor Ken’s Transport for London.

For those unaware of how the other half live, the views from Penguin’s 10th floor balcony are most striking, although the book turns out to be something of a disappointment (see Review, page 11). No matter! For in a neat post-Congestion Charge twist, the BMW drivers grinding painfully along the Embankment below are effectively subsidising both the Rough Guide and the cocktails. Bottoms up!


Are electric micro-scooters legal?


The Aphid Spingo, good concept but is it legal?

I’m now worried by reports in the media that the courts are treating these machines as small motorcycles and putting points on the driving licenses of un-insured, un-taxed, un-helmeted users. Are they legal on the road, on the pavement – or as one shop told me – on cycle paths?”

David Johnson Truro, Cornwall

It is hardly surprising that there is such confusion, since the legal position certainly requires considerable clarification. Unfortunately, the current situation is far from satisfactory.

In a High Court case (CC N Yorks v Saddington, Oct 2000), a Go-Ped petrol-driven micro-scooter was found to come within the definition of a motor vehicle under Section 185 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.This means that their use is governed by the same legislation that applies to motorcycles and mopeds, since there is no criteria for minimum power or speed output.

Since then, the Vehicle Certification Agency, responsible for approving new vehicles, has considered that electric micro-scooters are also covered by the ruling, since they are no less ‘mechanically propelled vehicles intended or adapted for use on roads’.This was more recently confirmed in a subsequent High Court case (Letitia Water v DPP, July 2002) involving a City Bug electric model.

They are therefore deemed to be mopeds in the eyes of the law, since mopeds are the lowest powered two-wheel vehicles. However, this means they must meet the standards required for a moped to be used on the road.This will include the requirements for mirrors and lights, under the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 and the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989. It is therefore illegal to ride a typical fun electric micro-scooter on the road.

It is also illegal to use them on cycle paths and pavements, where mopeds are not permitted.This leads to the ridiculous situation that the only legal place to ride an electric scooter is on private property.

“…riders potentially face a £1,000 fine and 6-8 points on their driving licence…”

However, any vehicle approved under European Community Whole Type Approval can be legally used on the roads.To date only one model, the German Charly MZ, has obtained EC approval, and this can, therefore, be legally registered as a moped, and used on the roads in the UK.

In fact, trendy urban types and youngsters alike are committing a whole raft of offences when you see them scooting around in a pair of shorts in the street. All the requirements for riding a moped must be met, including a licence, registration, insurance, a tax disc, and even an MOT after three years. A crash helmet must also be worn. Chris Eubank discovered this to his cost, when he was charged for scootering round Brighton without a helmet. He received a conditional discharge and had to pay £35 in costs.

Toy manufacturers have advertised the scooters as legal provided they are only ridden by children over 14, relying on electric bike legislation, but it is clear that the Department for Transport sees things differently.

Provisions in the Transport Act 1981 state that an electric bicycle avoids being classed as a motorcycle if it weighs less than 40kg, is fitted with pedals, has a maximum power output of 200 watts and cannot be propelled at more than 15 miles per hour. But in the City Bug case, the judge ruled that the scooter was not, ‘fitted with pedals by means of which it is capable of being propelled’, and therefore the Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycle Regulations 1983 would not apply.

This is clearly a grey area in the law, with many micro-scooter riders not unreasonably feeling that they are being arbitrarily restricted from engaging in harmless fun, or from adopting an environmentally-friendly transport solution.The Department for Transport has confirmed that there are no proposals to create a new category for scooters, or to adapt the electric cycle category to include them.

A further complication is that, despite defining micro-scooters as motor vehicles, the judges have so far refrained from actually categorising them, on the basis that this fell to the Department for Transport.This has made it impossible to obtain insurance since insurance companies are understandably reluctant to provide cover for vehicles which cannot comply with requirements.

As far as enforcement goes, this is obviously a matter for police forces to consider in the light of local circumstances, but warnings have been issued in a number of regions. While we often hear that ignorance of the law is no defence, it may be that in some cases ignorance really is bliss, since the police attitude has, by and large, been merely to warn riders genuinely unaware that their scooters are classified as mopeds.

But be warned! Driving without insurance is a Level Five offence, and riders potentially face a £1,000 fine and 6-8 points on their licence, if they have one. New legislation means that youngsters who have not yet qualified for a full driving licence will have these penalty points added to any future licence. And yes, police have confirmed that children will lose their licence when they’re old enough to hold one.

And that’s not all, people have been picked up for driving whilst disqualified and even drink driving, so riding one of the petrol-powered machines home from the pub could cost you your licence! The situation with electric scooters is more confused. According to The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, at least one rider has been let off with a caution by the police, who concluded that the vehicle was covered by the same archaic catch-all law that applies to cyclists: ‘people who were very unsteady on pedal cycles, vehicles propelled by foot and steam-propelled vehicles’.The Department for Transport is unable to conclude definitely, since the issue has not yet been tested in the courts, but the view is that since the scooters can be classed as mopeds, it would be inconsistent if the same drink/drive legislation did not apply. So on top of everything else, make sure you stay off the liqueur chocolates before considering a scoot.

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

PowerShift grants – available for cars, but not bikes

   Giant Lafree Electric Bike
DfT Grant Available
Jeep Grand Cherokee LPG
Urban Fuel Consumption (petrol equivalent)
16 miles per gallon
17.8 litres per 100 kilometres
Giant Lafree*
Urban Fuel Consumption (petrol equivalent)
1,450 miles per gallon
0.196 litres per 100 kilometres

Ever heard of PowerShift? For some reason, the authorities like to keep it a bit quiet – it’s actually a government-funded scheme to encourage the use of alternative fuelled road vehicles by refunding a sizeable chunk of the purchase cost. Electric, Compressed Natural Gas (NGV), Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), Hybrid Fuels… all offer better emissions than conventional petrol or diesel cars, but being rarer and more complex, tend to cost more, so PowerShift is a useful, if rather elaborate, scheme to get more owners on board and help to pull down purchase prices.Typical grants (12,000 have been distributed to date) are around £1,000 a time.

A few months ago, David Janner-Klausner of Transport 2000 asked us whether we had considered campaigning for electric bicycles to be included. Fully-powered electric motorbikes have now joined the scheme, but the Department for Transport refuses to consider electrically-assisted bicycles because:

…people who may have purchased normal bicycles would, if grants were available, choose an electric version instead.This would, of course, lead to a net increase in transport emission levels.

According to all the evidence we’ve seen, this is patent rubbish and typical of the official view that one is either a cyclist (and thus, irredeemably glued to two wheels) or a motorist – ie, a class of person who would never consider riding a two-wheeled machine.

On the contrary, there is a growing body of evidence that electric bicycles can kick- start a pronounced shift from car use. According to the Powabyke/Leeds University survey (see A to B 26), 26% of daily commuters, and 34% of those undertaking general A to B trips, would otherwise have used a car. Another important finding from this survey was that electric bikes get more use than conventional bikes, and tend to be used for more ‘serious’ – ie, non-leisure – journeys.

…it seems absurd that grants are available for… the Jaguar X Type and …

In any event, statistics can be misleading.The Henshaw family could be said to have transferred from bicycle to electric bicycle for some journeys, but these days – travelling 24 hilly miles each week towing a child trailer – we feel the need for some assistance. Had an electric bike not been available, we might well have been tempted to turn up at Alexander’s playgroup by car, just like everyone else. Electric bicycles are actually quite good at replacing the sort of short car journeys that everyone agrees should be shifted to other modes. Just the job for grant aid, surely?

Faced with this sort of evidence, the Energy Savings Trust – which runs PowerShift on behalf of the Department for Transport – caved in, but in a reply to David Janner-Klausner, made it clear that there would be no grants on electric bicycles. According to Matthew Robinson of the Energy Saving Trust:

I have looked into the matter further, and have established that our main funders (Department for Transport) decreed that only registered road vehicles are eligible for grant funding.Therefore vehicles such as fork-lift trucks, ones used at airports, and also electric push bikes are not eligible for funding.

Having read your arguments, I agree that purely on an emissions basis, if we were considering funding electric scooters then we should also consider funding electric push bikes. Unfortunately as I indicated above this would not be allowed under DfT rules.

It seems absurd that grants are only available for the 114 vehicles listed on the PowerShift register, particularly as 95 of them are using an alternative form of petroleum (LPG), and the list includes such world renowned gas guzzlers as the Jaguar X Type, BMW 5 Series and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Indeed, as LPG vehicles generally return fewer miles per gallon than their petrol-powered equivalents, we’d suggest that PowerShift is using tax-payer’s money to increase fossil fuel consumption. Only the DfT can change the rules… gentle pressure could make all the difference.

For further details, contact David Janner-Klausner, Policy Officer, Good Practice Unit,Transport 2000, The Impact Centre, 12-18 Hoxton Street, London N1 6NG Tel: 020 7613 0743 ex.116

The Rough Guide to Cycling in London

From memory, the ‘Rough Guide’ travel-book series started life as a spin-off from a television programme of the same name a decade or so ago. Now some bright spark has hit on the idea of producing Rough Guides to cycling in capital cities, starting with London – the project getting off the ground with sponsorship from transport authority ‘Transport for London’. As with TfL’s award winning London Cycle Maps, the Guide is free, but on this occasion additional sponsorship has come from bicycle manufacturer Trek.

We’re not averse to sponsorship in principal, but we don’t think this formula works. It’s not that the Rough Guide dwells overly on Trek products and dealers, but there’s an insidious slant towards that sort of world.The result is a guide aimed at cycling newbies that puts loads of emphasis on MTBs, silly clothing, road bikes, and even cycle racing, but ignores hub gears, chain guards, and all the other essentials of urban commuting. How many new cycle commuters, for example, are interested in the pros and cons of leg-shaving in competition? Or Criterium Racing, whatever that might be? Under ‘Equipment’ we’re told to check reviews in Cycling Plus, What Mountain Bike? or Single Track. Are they serious? What about Velovision, or the CTC’s Cycle magazine, or even A to B? Magazines reviewing practical stuff for practical day-to-day commuters?

Strangely, for a book of this kind, electric bikes get half a page (with a few technical errors, unfortunately), but recumbents are dismissed, and folding bicycles – the key to city travel for a growing minority of cyclists – merit just a few lines. Similarly, cycling with children is virtually ignored, but in the Congestion Charge era, it’s a primary issue for parents looking for a non-motorised school-run alternative.

What we hoped for was the sort of insider information that have made previous Rough Guides such a success – where to find a bacon sarnie at 5am, or how best to navigate the capitals back streets.There is some route finding information in the Guide, but it’s a bit patchy – maps of key cycling cut-throughs would be better.

On the positive side, the first 20 pages on safety, the London Cycle Network and the financial advantages of cycling are useful stuff, as is the list of cycle shops in the capital, which alone make this a ‘must-carry’ guide. But much of the rest is either irrelevant or down-right off-putting to cycle returnees. Had we been asked (and we weren’t) we would have produced a very different Guide. Unfortunately, 200,000 have already been printed (although the cost is dwarfed by the £11 million being spent on cycling in the capital this year). Incidentally,TfL is asking for comments on its web site , so do make your views known.Yes, there are two gorgeous Treks to be won!

The Rough Guide to Cycling in London . Free from Trek dealers and HMV stores in the London area.

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

Old-tech Fights Back

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

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

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

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

Jack Anderson

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

On the Right Wavelength

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

Waldemar Kowalski-Daher

Yum, yum

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

A G Bannister
Padstow, Cornwall

The Angle of Dangle

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

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

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

Mike Hargaden

No Pump?

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

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

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

Chris Gielgud

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

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

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

My Car Costs Less!

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

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

Ian Taylor
Leominster, Herefordshire

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

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

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

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

Rightful Place…

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

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

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

Bob McInnes
Victoria, B.C. Canada

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

D.I.Y. Cycle Routes

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

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

Charlie Hall
Whitley Bay,Tyne & Wear

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

Load Carriers Rumble On

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

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

Catherine Girvan

And From The Trade…

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

Andrea Casalotti
ZERO, London

Sleeping Centurions

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

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

Bill Houlder

Rules Of The Road!

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

Jason Collins-Webb, Reading

Load of Rubbish

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

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

Steve Wirzylo,Toledo, USA

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

Nuts in May

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

Edgar Newton,York

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

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

Tyre Pressure – Real-world & Witch-craft

“It’s nice to see Professor Pivot using ‘real world’ testing for tyre comparisons, and some believable results. A couple of observations though – we tend to quote pressures in pounds per square inch (p.s.i.), but only notice the ‘p’ and ignore the ‘s.i’. For the same indicated pressure, a larger tyre will have more pressure inside and give a harder ride. In the same way, the smaller cross-section Stelvio will have a smaller outside diameter.When I tested 700C against 27″ of the same tyre, the difference was clear.

Finally, what’s all this nonsense about ‘faster up hill’? When climbing hills, the power input is as variable as the descending force is consistent – please don’t mix science with witchcraft!”

Mike Burrows

Professor Pivot replies: Narrow section tyres do require higher pressure, and the effect can be quite marked. For example, the cross-sectional diameter of the Brompton 37-349mm tyre is 34mm and the Stelvio 28-349mm tyre is 30mm. If my limited mathematics is correct, the larger tyre has a cross-sectional area 28% larger, so where 80psi might be adequate in the large tyre, it seems reasonable to assume that a little over 100psi would be required in the smaller example.Verification of the theory – and an entertaining parlour game, no doubt – can be found by inflating a bicycle inner tube and a heavy goods vehicle inner tube to the same pressure and sitting on them…

But will the narrow tyre at 100psi react in exactly the same way as the wider example at 80psi? I suspect that if the two tyres strike the same bump under the same load, the cross-sectional area will be temporarily reduced by the same percentage in each case – let us say 20%. Once again, I must apologise if my thesis is running ahead of my mathematics, but I believe a reduction of 20% in the cross-sectional area for the big tyre would result in a deflection of 3.48mm, but for the small tyre the deflection will be only 3.08mm? This suggests that the smaller tyre might transmit smaller ‘choppier’ deflections to the bike – a harsher vibration, in other words.This might increase rolling resistance, but would also tend to reduce energy-wasting bounce when pedalling hard.

A good rule of thumb, whatever the bike, rider, road and tyre combination, is to inflate the tyres (individually, to avoid confusion) until the ride becomes harsh, then set the pressure a little below this point.These personal figures should give a reasonable ride/handling/rolling compromise specific to you and your bike.

Mike also makes an excellent point about keeping ‘seat of the pants’ observations well separated from repeatable and reasonably scientific results such as roll-down tests. But observations – however implausible they might seem at the time – do occasionally lead to a new avenue of enquiry, so they’re worth making, with the proviso that they are treated with the necessary caution.

When testing the Stelvio and the Brompton tyre back-to-back on repeated roll-down tests, I obviously rode back up the hill a number of times. On these return runs, the Stelvio tyres certainly seemed to make smoother progress, allowing the rider to hold on to a higher gear. But with no means of measuring the power input from the rider, I fear this casual observation must remain unproven!

Reamers & Pins

“Recently, whilst replacing my 7-year-old Brompton’s rear mudguard, I noticed play in the rear triangle pivot. Some on-line research suggested that the pin retaining screws cannot readily be unscrewed and would have to be drilled out. A replacement pin is available as part of a kit, but there were ominous references to expensive tooling to deal with the frame bushes. I duly drilled out the screw heads and pushed out the steel pin, which indeed showed some wear at the ends where it runs in the bushes.

To my surprise, the bushes appeared to be only slightly worn and I was able to make up a replacement pin from some over-size silver steel rod.This is now installed and the play has disappeared so I did not need to find a dealer to do the repair.

Assuming the pivot does not seize through lack of lubrication, I doubt if a degree of wear matters much, except when it causes those not used to the Brompton’s rear end bobbing to ask if something is wrong!

George Winspur

Professor Pivot replies: Your observations are entirely correct, George. Brompton does insist that the new bushes be reamed to size using a precise and rather specialist tool. Only a limited number of UK dealers, and distributors in Spain, Germany and the USA are equipped with these tools, so – besides the Brentford factory – these are the only outlets able to undertake a full rebuild.

However, the Brompton functions well with a surprising amount of wear.This can be measured by sitting the bike in the part-folded position and rocking the back of the rear wheel. From my experience, 5mm of play has little or no effect on handling. If modest play has developed, the life of the hinge can be extended by adding a few drops of heavy oil at regular intervals, particularly after riding in the wet.There’s no need to do anything else until play reaches about 10mm, which should take 10,000 miles, or even more. By this time, the bike may feel a bit nervous, particularly on fast reverse curves.

A complete rebuild will probably be needed, but as you also correctly observe, most wear occurs on the pin, so it is often permissible to replace the pin alone. For those with an engineering background, the complete kit (including pin, replacement screws and even a suitable drill should the old screws be seized) costs £11.84 from good Brompton dealers, or the factory.When fitting the pin, make sure the bushes are well coated with grease, but take care to keep grease clear of the threads, both on the screws and the inside of the pin.The screws must be locked in place with a suitable thread sealant – if left dry, they can unwind in use, and ultimately cause the pivot to collapse.

For machines ridden in extreme conditions, the life of the pin can be extended by fitting a grease point, which not only allows grease into the heart of the assembly, but expels grit or water that may have worked its way in.The expert at this treatment is Steve Parry – tel: 01934 516158 or email: spbicycles@aol.com

Chariot Cougar 1

chariot-cougar-1Hardly a day goes by when we don’t grumble about the lack of bicycle trailer awareness in the UK.The Dutch and Germans love ‘em, or so we’re told. On the Continent (and, to be fair, in some more enlightened pockets here), the School Run no longer means heaving a tonne of Volvo into a queue of other Volvos, to drop your tiny charges in the ‘Strictly No Parking’ zone outside the school gates, but a quick and hopefully stress-free cycle ride.

This sort of journey – generally a couple of miles or less – is a perfect candidate for cycling. A child seat is great in the summer, but for secure, all-weather transport, a trailer makes a better option. Hence our frustration – trailers are cheap to buy (bought a new Volvo lately?), economical to run (just work off that breakfast) and practical (no parking restrictions and very little queuing).

We’ve had experience with two classics in the trailer field – the Winchester (now manufactured by Kool-stop) and the Burley Solo, the latter fully reviewed in August 1999 (A to B 13). In the same test, we tried the Chariot Cheetah, but found it a bit leisure- orientated for our tastes – more jogger than cycle trailer.We’ve revisited the Chariot stable to see what’s changed and stage a rematch with our elderly, but much loved Burley.


chariot-cougar-2By the time a Chariot trailer arrives in your local cycle shop, it has done a fair old mileage.The trailers are manufactured in Canada, then shipped to Germany for distribution by Zwei plus Zwei. In the UK, trailers were formerly sold through Two plus Two, the trailer specialists in Lewes, but new distributor Amba is aiming to take on board a number of regional shops too. By and large, that means the sort of outlets that advertise regularly in A to B.

Back in 1999, Chariot produced only four designs, but by 2003, the Cheetah had been joined by a bewildering range of alternatives.We’ll try to keep things simple: there are three ranges – city, touring and sport. For practical, everyday commuting, the city trailers are the best choice. There’s a basic Comfort model at £360, plus the Captain at £430, with ‘proper’ (as opposed to moulded plastic) spoked wheels and polymer-bungee suspension. These chunky, practical load-carriers include a cavernous boot for serious shopping and a waterproof polyethylene floor-pan that extends right over the wheels to cut spray, a big problem on child trailers.Take our word for it – if you intend to use a trailer on a regular basis, in all weathers, most other designs will stay soggy inside and out for much of the winter.The Comfort and Captain are uniquely sensible and practical in this respect, but they’re a little wide (102cm) and heavy (claimed 13.7kg) for some purposes.These big trailers won’t negotiate most supermarket aisles, and bundling one into a small shed at the end of the day – folded or not – would be a frustrating task.

The touring trailers (base model Cabriolet and deluxe Corsaire – priced as above) are typical bike trailers, more suited to fine-weather commuting and/or weekend leisure use. As with the city trailers, the deluxe job has spoked wheels and suspension. Chariot also produce the Chauffeur at £400, an older design, now made exclusively for Zwei plus Zwei, so one must assume, a big hit on the Continent.

Finally, we have the sports models; the Cheetah at £360 – broadly as tested last time – and its deluxe cousin, the Cougar, at £430, with the now familiar ‘proper’ wheels and an unusual leaf-spring suspension offering longer travel and better response than the bungee type. Both of the sports jobs also come in single-seater versions, priced at £330 and £400 respectively.We chose the Cougar1. It sounds obvious, but if you’re carrying only one child, it’s better to go for a single-seater.They’re lighter, more manoeuvrable – both on the road, in the supermarket, and in the shed – and they can be shoe-horned onto public transport.That’s the practical reason for our choice.The other is that the Cougar1 looks remarkably sexy as trailers go – a mini Formula One car in red, grey and silver livery, with tinted windows and that adjustable suspension.

The Cougar

…lightly loaded child trailers ride best with almost zero tyre pressure…

Where the Winchester and Burley ooze practicality from every pore, the Cougar is about as impractical as cycle accessories get. Despite a wheelbase of 65cm, in true Formula One style, the interior measures just 30cm across, with 60cm headroom, and 50cm legroom.That’s barely large enough for our just-turned-four year old, let alone a modest Thomas-the-tank-engine lunch box, and you can forget shopping on the way home. If luggage won’t fit in the rear bag, slung kangaroo pouch style behind the trailer (with a minuscule weight limit of 1kg), you’ve had it. Chariot also produces a luggage rack or ‘lightweight extra luggage’, which perches ludicrously on the roof, so the lightweight luggage risks blowing away, or being eaten by a motorcycle courier at the traffic lights. It’s all nonsense on a bicycle trailer, of course, but makes more sense when you realise that the Cougar is primarily a ‘stroller’ (for which a handy conversion kit is available).This also explains the effective rear parking brake.

To be fair, this is the single-seat version.The Cougar2 is only 11cm wider, but offers nearly twice as much width inside – 59cm. That’s reasonably generous for two and ample for one, provided you can live with the extra weight and bulk.


The Cheetah suspension has two leaf springs - the clamp can be slid along to adjust the spring rate

OK, we’ve settled that shopping might be a problem, but how does the Cougar perform on the School Run? Image- wise, it’s a striking success. Kids really do appreciate the tinted windows and racy lines, and mums immune to less- flamboyant trailers, squeak with delight.

Alexander particularly admires the ‘s’pension’. One thing we’ve learnt, is that lightly-loaded child carriers ride best with almost zero tyre pressure, or the poor mites will be shaken to bits. Even then, trailers have a tendency to crash into pot-holes – it’s worth remembering that the occupant(s) can’t see what’s coming and brace themselves.

The Cougar gets around the problem with a pair of leaf springs each side, the two leaves being tied together by an adjustable clamp that can be moved to alter the spring rate.That’s a great feature on a machine designed for children from 0 to 5 years old, but we’re not convinced the softest setting would react properly under the weight of a baby – we ignored the weight chart and chose this setting for our 18kg boy.Those Canadian roads must be mighty smooth.

In normal use, the suspension doesn’t react, because the springs are pre-loaded against a polymer stop. But hit a bump and the leaves overcome the pre-load, allowing the wheel/s to rise up over the bump to a maximum of about 35mm. It’s much more effective than the squidgy tyre option, giving greater travel and better control.

Why has suspension taken so long to arrive? Presumably the engineers haven’t been listening to the legitimate complaints of small children. One or two other designs now offer suspension, but generally a less compliant polymer system, as on the Cougar’s larger cousins, the two seater Captain and Corsaire. In our opinion, you’re better off with low tyre pressures than this sort of thing, which is not intended to do more than round the tops off bumps, and (according to Chariot) only work satisfactorily with a load in excess of 25kg anyway.

According to Alexander – who’s well placed to voice an opinion – the Cougar leaf springs, hammock seat and general cosy fit, combine to provide a jolt-free ride, so full marks on that score. Incidentally, although the Cheetah looks low and wide, its wheel track is less than three times its seat height, whereas the much lower Burley Solo and two-seater Winchester are around 4.7.This makes the Cheetah less stable in theory, but we’re not suggesting it’s likely to turn over – child trailers have a massive reserve of safety.



Wheels are secured by clevis axles - push a button and the wheel pops off

The Cougar weather-proofing is about as complex as they get, offering no fewer than four individual layers. Basic protection is provided by a full-length mesh fly-screen, which should stop small stones thrown up by the towing bike.To add a bit of sun screening, a sun-roof with nifty tinted visor can be rolled out under the mesh, and in cold weather, a full-length polyurethane cover provides wind-proofing and protection against flying horse pooh and mud, although Chariot emphasises that this option is not rain proof (and it definitely isn’t). All Chariot trailers can be fitted with full rain covers, but they’re a £20+ option, and you need to remember to buy one and carry it when the weather looks dodgy. All the same – from our experience of leaky roofs and screens (they all leak in monsoon conditions) a well-sealed separate rain cover is probably a good idea.



Not the smallest package, but quite neat - note the tight fit for the wheels

Trailers have come a long way. Our Burley ‘dismantles’ rather than folding, and the wheels are bolted in place, so you need a spanner and can expect to get grubby.The Winchester folds flat in a few seconds, but the wheels are held by locking-pins, which can make removal a fiddly, oily operation.

To fold a Chariot trailer, you simply pull out a pair of safety pins and push two levers forward, allowing the whole trailer to hinge downwards with a scissor action.The tow hitch pops out after releasing a pin, and depressing a lock button.The wheels are even easier, being secured by ‘clevis axles’ featuring a couple of raised ball bearings that engage with a groove in the frame, holding the wheel in place. Press a rubber cap in the centre of the wheel and the assembly pops off.

With practice, the process takes about 20 seconds, leaving a package weighing 10.8kg (Chariot claim 9.7kg).Two provisos: On the single seater the wheels won’t quite fit inside unless the tyres are partially deflated, which would add all sorts of annoyance at journey’s end.And we’d be slightly nervous about the security of the clevis axles after years of abuse.That aside, it’s probably the quickest and easiest folding system around.

For the Cougar1, the result of all this activity is a folded package of 105cm long x 59cm wide x 27cm tall.Volume is 167 litres or 6 cubic feet – slightly smaller than the Cheetah we tested in 1999, mainly because the wheels can now be stowed inside (although we might have missed this last time). Back then, we thought the trailer was unsuitable for carriage by train. Thanks to the reduced folding time and smaller package, we’d say it’s much better today, although the same cannot be said for the two-seater models.

Hitches & Accessories


The axle tow bracket mounted to a hub-gear bicycle. Note the over-size allen-key nut - part of our Burley hitch!

Chariot produces three hitches, which are all interchangeable on any of their trailers. Cheapest is the universal tow arm – a ball-joint and fairly sophisticated frame-tube clamp at £30. The disadvantage, of course, is that the clamp must be positioned and tensioned every time the trailer is used. OK for leisure rides, but not feasible on a daily basis, or secure enough when it’s wet or icy.


Chariot’s baby seat can be fitted to any trailer in the range

The standard hitch is the ‘axle tow arm’ – a simple alloy bracket secured to the rear axle of the bike with the standard quick- release or hub nut.The tow bar ends in a plastic ball once again, which slides backwards into the bracket, and is secured by a pin.This design doesn’t quite allow for full rotation (the ball could be strained if the bike falls over, for example), but it’s quick and easy to use on a daily basis. Both the above include safety straps looped around the bicycle frame – the straps, incidentally, being a little shorter than we would like.


The stroller kit - neater and lighter than most. Chariot also produce a buggy kit and that all-important ski kit

Top of the range is the German- made Weber hitch, costing £50.The bicycle end if this complex device incorporates a basic stand, a clever universal joint and the trailer socket, the assembly being permanently fixed to the bicycle frame. At the trailer end, the tow bar terminates in a locking device that engages the bicycle with a satisfying click and can even be locked on or off with a key to prevent theft.The makers (and presumably the stringent German safety authorities) are so confident in the system that there is no safety strap. Once it’s all fitted and working, hitching up and unhitching is quick, easy and secure.

The list of options includes stroller, hiker and buggy kits, plus – most spectacularly – a £150 ski kit for the Cougar or Cheetah. If you’re just starting out with trailers (and children), you might find the baby seat (up to 10 months) or baby support (10 – 20 months) more useful. For cold weather, there are two foot-warmer options, plus a wind-proof and/or chill-proof Polartech sleeping bag sort of thing. Serious stuff, and all beautifully made.


At £330 to £430, Chariot trailers look expensive against supermarket jobs and pile-’em-high Chinese horrors selling for £100 or less. But the quality of the range speaks for itself, and most people who know something about trailers agree they’re superb machines.

Better than the Burley? Tricky one that. Alexander prefers the Burley, which is more practical, but less exciting; lighter, but slower to fold; and about the same price. In the end, you’ll probably want to look at both ranges before making up your mind.


Chariot Cougar1 CTS (c/w axle tow arm) £400
Weight 10.8kg (23.8lb)
Tyres Cheng Shin 47-406mm
Folded Dimensions L105cm W59cm H27cm
Folded Volume 167 litres (6 cu ft)
Accessories Buggy kit £55 Stroller kit £60 . Hiking kit £60 . Skiing kit £150 . Rain Cover £20 Baby seat £35 . Weber hitch £50 . Universal hitch £30
German Distributor Zwei plus zwei tel +49 (0)221 9514700 mail info@zweipluszwei.com web www.zweipluszwei.com
UK Distributor AMBA Marketing (UK) tel 01392 840030 mail sales@amba-marketing.com

Shadow Bicycle Alarm

shadow-bicycle-alarmSecurity is a headache for cyclists. All too frequently, you return to find either an empty space or a pile of wreckage where your pride and joy had been sitting only minutes before. A major transformation in the attitudes and behaviour of society is the only real answer, so we might have to make do with protection for a wee bit longer.

The Shadow alarm is produced by Evnatech, a small company in Wales, and it’s a brave attempt to solve the problem by making a bicycle too hot to touch, hopefully eliminating vandalism as well as theft. Once upon a time, alarms were relatively hefty devices, but the Shadow is a small cylindrical tube that you shove in the handlebar and forget.To turn the alarm on and off, you insert a small ‘key’ (actually a coded jack-plug) through a small hole in the handlebar grip.This produces a variety of interesting noises – removing it again results in silence if the alarm is deactivated, or a sort of ‘grmmph’ when it’s ready for business. From now on, any movement of the bike will result in a piercing warble, loud enough to give even the most persistent thief a collywobble.

Of course, alarms are not the be-all and end-all of security, as any house-owner or motorist will testify.The exponential growth of the alarm industry has resulted in a world where we no longer take any notice, and false alarms can cause a great deal of annoyance to innocent passers-by. For example, it would be nice to alarm a folding bike on the train, giving protection should someone try to walk off with it. But the Shadow is too sensitive for that sort of environment – it would probably go off if an innocent cyclist tried locking their bike to the same rack too.

That aside, the Shadow is an effective little device. It’s small enough and light enough (40g, or 10g lighter than claimed) to fit and forget, and a welcome deterrent against theft, vandalism or plain fiddling, on those occasions when you pop into a cafe for a cup of tea and a cream scone. It’s also a practical overnight alarm too.With the alarmed bike parked in a garden shed or garage, you’ve effectively alarmed the whole premises.

The bad news (there had to be some, didn’t there?) is that the Shadow only fits tubes with an inside diameter of 17-19mm.Tackling the random sample of bicycles in our workshop, it will fit older Brompton handlebars with an outside diameter of 23.5mm and Pashley Micros, but it won’t fit post-1995 Bromptons, our Giant Lafree, or the new Dahon Vitesse. If in doubt, it would be wise to get advice – the Shadow will fit most mountain bikes or hybrids, provided they have empty, straight handlebars.

Evnatech has been listening to these grumbles, and is working on a version for drop – and other curly – handlebars, including those of smaller diameter, which should deal with our unusual collection. Production is expected to commence in a month or two.

Shadow Bicycle Alarm .Weight 40g . Price £30 . Manufacturer Evnatech Cymru Cyf tel 01545 580128 mail sales@evnatech.com web www.evnatech.com


Brompton luggage for all!

brompton-luggage-for-allEven those with no love for small wheels have to grudgingly admit that the Brompton front carrier system is superb, and arguably better than the universal KlickFix system. The Brompton design is based on a frame- mounted carrier block, and a variety of panniers, which can carry big loads and pop on and off the bike very easily.

Once you’ve got used to this sort of convenience, traditional panniers look positively Stone Age, and a frequent request from those owning both a Brompton, and a fleet of other bikes, is whether the carrier block can be fitted to other machines.The short answer is yes, but it’s not easy…

On the Brompton, a metal plate is brazed to the frame, and the carrier-block bolted to this plate. If you’re building a new machine, or completely rebuilding an old one, Brompton can supply the plate and you can do exactly the same. But before waving an oxyacetelene torch at your bicycle, check that the luggage won’t foul the handlebars or other parts, as the Brompton handlebars are unusually tall… A little more clearance can be found by grinding the carrier block base so as to angle the block and pannier forward, away from the ‘bars.

If brazing is not an option, the carrier-block can sometimes be bolted in place. Remove the forks, drill through the head tube and bolt the block in place from the inside (the bolt heads may need to be ground down to clear the fork tube). Obviously, all components must be of the best quality, as the Brompton carrier-block is designed for loads of up to 10kg (all on a pair of small 5mm bolts!).We’ve carried twice this weight, but it makes sense to play safe with conversions…

As several readers have noticed, our Giant Lafree takes Brompton luggage. Fitting the pannier to the front proved impractical, but there was room on the Lafree’s rear rack, so we decided to fit the pannier on the left side at the rear.


The finished carrier. Note the large self-tapping screw threaded into the extrusion

Modern alloy rack stays are light and strong, but need to be treated with care (we sometimes carry a child seat on the rack, for example), so it’s better not to weld, deform, or drill them.We decided to make a simple bracket using a length of aluminium extrusion from an old television stand. This useful material is strong, pre-drilled down the middle to accept self-tapping screws or small bolts, and can be easily cut and shaped.This was particularly important in our case, because the extrusion needed to fit snugly between two alloy rack tubes.

Once the extrusion was a snug fit, we drilled a small mounting hole in each of the stays and fitted the self- tapping screws that once held the TV stand together…With the Brompton carrier-block ground flat on its rear curved  face, we were able to bolt it straight onto this  new mounting plate.  In use, we found the screws needed tightening a couple of times as the parts bedded in, so we filled the mounting plate with builders’ ‘expanding foam’, which hardens to a rubbery consistency, helping to spread the considerable loads that are being transferred from the pannier into the rack frame. The rack-mounted Brompton pannier has been very successful.We wouldn’t want to overload it, but the ability to swap luggage between any of our bikes (the Fold-it has a Brompton block too) is a great advantage. If you don’t feel confident to undertake this sort of job, any good cycle engineer should be able to produce something similar.Those with knowledge of Brompton carrier-block conversions include Cyclecare (tel: 0207 460 0495) and Kinetics (tel: 0141 942 2552).The mounting plate is available direct from Brompton (tel: 0208 232 8484), and carrier-blocks, panniers and other parts should be stocked by Brompton dealers (see www.bromptonbicycle.co.uk for a list)

Smart BL181WW

smart-bl181wwThese days we barely seem to finish ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the latest bit of technology before it’s overtaken by developments. Actually, Smart launched its three-LED front light before Christmas, but it seems to have got off to a slow start. And the breakthrough? It isn’t as bright as some, but it’s smaller, neater and cheaper.

One of the disadvantages of ‘white’ LEDS has been their high voltage requirement, making three or even four batteries necessary. The Smart uses only two AA cells, so the casing has been shrunk right down – 8cm long, 3.5cm wide and 4cm high.Weight, including batteries, is just 75g, or105g with the bracket.This twin battery set up does mean the lamp is quite sensitive to battery voltage, so it draws much more power (but produces a similar beam) with a pair of good quality alkaline batteries (nominally 1.5 volts each) than with rechargeables (nominally 1.2 volts each). Estimated battery life is pretty good – we’d say 15-28 hours with rechargeables and up to 30 hours with conventional batteries.The light can be used in flashing mode too, which would broadly double these figures.

For once, the bracket is excellent, fitting any tube from 22-26mm in diameter, with a release fitting that’s well made and quick and easy to adjust.The lamp itself slides on and off the bracket with a satisfying and reassuring clunk. Generally, despite its diminutive size, both the lamp and bracket feel solid and are satisfyingly ergonomic in form.

Is it waterproof? No, in a word, but our test may have been a bit harsh. After a couple of minutes sharing an invigorating shower (don’t get the wrong idea), we found a single drop in the battery compartment. Fortunately, the switch, lens and electronics live beneath a slightly better sealed compartment with a rubber surround that certainly looks water-tight. Let’s say, better than most, but probably not storm-proof.

The BL181 is not road legal as a primary light source, but would make an excellent additional light on the handlebars. And at £16 it’s reasonably priced.

Smart BL181WW white LED light
Range (head-on) 7/10 (45 degrees) 5/10
Price £16
Power Consumption 43-86mA
Weight (c/w bracket) 105g
UK Distributor Moore Large tel 01332 274236 web www.moorelarge.co.uk

Puncture-resistant Inner Tubes

puncture-resistant-inner-tubeAs regular readers will know, punctures and/or poor rolling resistance come up all too frequently on these pages – for the latest technical meanderings, see page 17. As a general rule, anything that serves to reduce rolling resistance will make a tyre more prone to punctures and vice versa.The greater part of rolling resistance – at low speeds, anyway – is the result of unwilling tyres and tubes flexing against an unforgiving road, and there’s no escape from that.

A thin inner-tube will roll well but tend to puncture, whereas a thick tube (or a thin tube plus a tough liner) will roll badly, but resist punctures. Clever technology can help in either case, but this month we’re looking at a product from the ‘brute-force’ end of the technology spectrum – Raleigh puncture-resistant tubes. We’ve chosen a 16-inch example, because rolling resistance problems are always amplified with smaller tyres.

The principle is simple enough – the tube is made of fairly conventional stuff, except on the top face, which is thick enough to prevent most objects penetrating to the air reservoir inside.The first disadvantage is a weight per tube of 260g, giving a weight penalty against conventional tubes of about 70-100g per wheel, or 140-200g for the pair. Quite a lot, but rather less than Schwalbes’ new puncture-resistant tyres (see page 20).

The other disadvantage is poor rolling resistance. Brompton’s 349mm tyre is usually one of the best in its class, and with conventional tubes, and typical tyre pressures of 55psi (front) and 65psi (rear), we recorded a typical 14.3mph on our test hill.

Fitting is no more difficult than usual, although it’s best to avoid ‘rolling’ the tube in, because if it twists, the thinner underbelly may end up on the top. Once fitted, and back at 55-65psi, we recorded a rather miserable 11.7mph, although inflation to 90psi all round brought this back up to 12.7mph, albeit with a fairly rough ride. If the figures mean nothing, it’s rather like swapping 16-inch tyres for 12-inch examples, or going back twenty years, when most 16-inch tyres performed this way.

Whether you think the extra weight, 11% -18% loss of performance, and rough ride are worth all the trouble depends on your fear of punctures, and just how effective puncture-resistant tubes really are, which we can’t tell you.

Puncture-resistant tubes are available in most popular sizes from 121/2 inch upwards, but Raleigh tell us the 16-inch tube tested here has just been deleted, due to lack of demand. Stocks may still be available, particularly in the smaller, friendlier sort of cycle shop. And the tubes are made by our old friends Cheng Shin in Taiwan, so there might be an opening here for a budding entrepreneur.

Raleigh Puncture-Resistant Tubes (all figures relate to 16-inch tube)
Price £5-£6
Weight 260g
UK Distributor Raleigh Parts & Accessories Tel 01623 688383

Dahon Vitesse D3

dahon-vitesse-d3Whenever we test a new Dahon these days, we seem to remark on how well the machines are coming on. In motoring terms, Dahon is the Ford of the folding bike world – lots of models and mega- bucks global sales. These are machines for everyman – not upper class super- compacts like the Brompton, or testosterone-fuelled jobbies like the Bike Friday, but good honest value for money machines. And the value side of things just keeps getting better.Thanks to Dahon’s new Chinese factory, and a price realignment with Europe, UK prices have tumbled in the last year.They’re now virtually on a par with the United States, which is almost unknown for a folding bike, or indeed, any sort of bike.


The Vitesse might be described as the Ford Focus of the Dahon range – a reasonably economical, reasonably fast and eminently practical machine. In many ways, this bike is the natural descendant of the immortal Dawes Kingpin, the first of the 20-inch folders, that went on to spawn a whole range of frightful fold-in-half machines that caused untold damage to the genre in the 1980s.Yes, we’re talking ‘shopper’ here, but the Vitesse is light years from its 1970s roots. In fact, just about the only common component is the venerable Sturmey 3-speed hub, manufactured in Taiwan rather than Nottingham these days, but back on the market following the outrageous corporate rape and pillage of Sturmey Archer a few years ago.

…With cheap labour effectively running out, one assumes prices will eventually rise…

The other key component is a light and well finished aluminium frame. A year or two ago, this sort of feature would have been impractical on a modest shopper, but thanks to China’s Third World pay rates and growing expertise, a frame of this quality is now available on a sub-£300 machine. Quite where it will all end, we’re not sure.With pay and conditions already on their way up in China, the smart manufacturing dollars are already moving into Vietnam and Cambodia, but where then? With cheap labour effectively running out, one assumes the price of manufactured goods will eventually rise, but the philosophical and practical ramifications of this thesis are – thankfully – rather beyond the scope of this article.

On the Road


Yes, it’s that hub again - manufactured in Taiwan, and with a new alloy shell but broadly as it left off in 2000

Where were we? Ah, yes, the Vitesse.The initial impression is of a very light, possibly sub-Brompton weight machine. At 12.7kg (28lb in old money) it’s reasonably light, but the 11kg -12.5kg Brompton shouldn’t worry unduly just yet.The illusion is caused by the comparatively large folded size of the Dahon, of which more later.

Gear ratios are always something of a compromise on three-speed bikes.With the grey market in mind, Dahon has aimed low with  the Vitesse, choosing ratios of  42″, 56″ and 74″. All credit to this light and nippy bike that 74″ feels distinctly low, but you’ll be glad of the 42″ bottom gear with a load of shopping on board, even on modest gradients.

Handling might best be described as ‘competent’; the bike exhibiting no obvious vices, but providing no great entertainment either. One good sign is that it can be ridden hands- off with a degree of nonchalance that’s unusual for a small-wheeled machine, although by modern standards, the 20 x 1.5″ tyres are more Rubenesque than twiglet, which must help in the stability department.The only slight grumble was a degree of play in the handlebar stem hinge.This is easily adjusted out, but it’s worth checking that the dealer has run through such basic checks before you hand over all that lovely money.

Rolling resistance is good, thanks to a pair of competent Kenda Kwest tyres. Riding with 50psi in the front, and the recommended maximum of 65psi at the rear, we averaged 14.7mph on our roll-down test, which is a shade slower than the best 20-inch machines.

The riding position is rather short on adjustment, with a fixed handlebar height, limited fore-and-aft saddle movement, and maximum saddle height of only 101cm. But in practice, the position probably suits 90% of the population, excluding only those with particularly long legs and/or short arms.

G-forces and all that

…the front managed 0.72G before lifting the rear wheel… Exciting stuff, but all in a day’s work…

Thanks to (another) new toy – a digital G-force meter – we can tell you more than you probably want to know about brake efficiency. G-force is a measure of stopping or accelerating force, measured using gravity (1G) as a basis. Modern cars can produce a brake force in excess of 1G on a good dry surface, thanks to four grippy tyres.Two wheelers – particularly upright examples like the Dahon – are hampered by the fact that the rider will sail over the bars long before achieving a stop of 1G. In this case, the rear brake averaged 0.36G before the wheel locked up, and the front managed 0.72G before lifting the rear wheel. Exciting stuff, but all in a day’s work.

The figures are taken independently, and it’s no use adding them together to claim a stop of 1.08G, because under severe braking, force at the rear is effectively nil, as the wheel begins to lift.Thus the maximum force for the Vitesse is 0.72G.Whether that’s good or bad, we won’t know until we’ve tried a few more bikes. Finally, we’re only measuring maximum stopping force here, not brake system efficiency, which would require another device to measure the force applied at the lever.

The unbranded V-brakes work well, although the rear is hampered by an S-bend in the cable, giving a rather woolly action, and both proved hard to set up, thanks to out-of- true wheels, a common Dahon fault. Once again, a good dealer should sort this for you, but of course, many will not.The sturdy brake levers are adjustable for reach; useful if you have smaller hands, although the adjusting screw was missing on one of ours.



A proper rack. Note the universal reflector/rear lamp mounting plate

Very good.The Vitesse comes with a proper old-fashioned rack complete with chrome-ey spring-clip, full mudguards and flaps, perspex chainguard, a stand, bell and twistgrip gear change. It all works well, although we had a couple of complaints that trouser legs (presumably raffish flares) could catch in the main frame hinge, and the new Sturmey gear-shift felt rather heavy and notchy. Those with smaller or weaker hands might prefer to fit ye olde post-1937 Sturmey trigger… unmatched since, but enough nostalgia.The hub itself ticks along much as it used to in’t Nottingham days, but we spent longer than expected getting the adjustment right, for which we shall blame that sticky twistgrip.


dahon-vitesse-d3-foldeddahon-vitesse-d3-pedal-foldedTo begin with, it’s standard Dahon stuff – the handlebars fold down to the left, then the main frame breaks in the middle and folds to the left, sandwiching the bars. But there’s an extra fiddly element on the Vitesse, because the handlebars need to be rotated in the stem to prevent the brake levers fouling the stand and/or the ground. As delivered, the bars needed little rotation, but this set-up felt all wrong on the road, putting the levers too high and the gear indicator too low.With the brakes and gear-shift moved to a more comfortable position, the bars had to be rotated by nearly 180 degrees when folding the bike. It’s all a bit fiddly – fine for the occasional Sunday outing to the park, but much too annoying for a regular train commute.

Drop the saddle stem and fold the right-hand pedal (the excellent ‘Next’ design – a standard Dahon fitting) and you’re left with a package measuring 83.8cm long, 67.3cm tall, and 33.7cm wide. At 190 litres, this is slightly bulkier than the similar Helios we tested last summer. If that lot means as little to you as it does to us, the Vitesse occupies a volume of 6.8 cu ft, or about twice the volume of the folded Brompton, which continues to set the pace, folding wise.

Unfolding is straightforward in theory, but cables, brake levers and cranks tend to tangle with each other, which can easily double the time.


If you’re in the market for a nice sensible folding bike with hub gears and a rack, the Vitesse is more or less in a class of its own. It won’t break any speed records, either folding or on the road, but it’s a competent, pleasant machine, and with reasonable care, should give years of willing service. Is it worth £299? We’re joking, of course.The Vitesse would be a reasonable buy at £399, but knock £100 off and the opposition is left reeling.Well, would you rather ride a Pashley Micro or a base-model Strida? One suspects the top end of the market will shrug off Dahon’s ruthless march towards quality and value, but the cheapies could be in real trouble because machines of this calibre simply didn’t use sell for £300. Until now, that is. Dahon is on to a winner.


Dahon Vitesse D3 £300 (US $400)
Weight 12.7kg (28lb)
Folded Volume 190 litres
Folded Size L83.8cm H67.3cm W33.7cm Gear System Sunrace-Sturmey 3-speed hub Ratios 42″ 56″ 74″ Manufacturer Dahon web www.dahon.com UK Sales Cyclemotion web www.dahon.co.uk tel 01451 860083 fax 01451 860083 mail sales@cyclemotion.co.uk

Cycling Cities – Groningen and Nottingham compared

cycling-cities-groningenUK cyclists often gaze enviously over statistics in the media, quoting Dutch cities as the ultimate paradigm for those relying on pedal power. Figures of between 25- 50% for journeys by bike are often bandied about, often with a range of simple-sounding explanations; the Dutch are ‘greener’, the country is flatter, they have more cycle lanes, they invest more money in facilities.

By comparing two ‘cycling cities’ both here and in The Netherlands, a more complex but more interesting picture emerges. Nottingham is historically associated with the name of Raleigh cycles (although these are now made in the Far East) and over the last two decades the city council has made some effort to accommodate cyclists in its transport policy. Groningen, on the other hand, has attained almost mythical status in the cycling world since the late 70s, having managed to curb car use and encourage a huge uptake in both walking and – especially – cycling.

OK, so the comparison may be a little unfair, as most places fall short of the standard set in the northern Netherlands city and Nottingham cannot claim automatic status in the premier league of English cycling cities, such as York, Cambridge or Oxford. But truth be told, it is probably a more typical example of the efforts being made by British local authorities struggling to get more than a tiny proportion of the population out of cars and onto bikes. In many basic respects though, the cities are broadly similar, so in theory there is no inherent reason why Nottingham couldn’t become the UK’s first Groningen. Both cities are ‘county’ capitals with a population in the greater urban area of between 400,000 and 500,000. Both have some income from tourist visitors but both are predominantly working towns where the transport network is for the use of people who live and work in the area.


GRONINGEN - a true network. Cycle routes are mostly segregated and link the heart of the city with outlying suburbs, industrial estates, schools and leisure facilites

GRONINGEN – Gridlock to Cycle Nirvana

Reading about the city’s rise to star status in cycle usage terms it becomes clear that Groningen’s hallowed reputation is no accident. For much of the 1970s it was feared that growth in motor traffic would overwhelm the city and at that stage there was no reason to suppose they would progress beyond the UK’s current general attitude of recognising the problem but being chronically incapable of doing anything about it. Groningen’s current percentage of daily journeys by bike (often quoted at between 50% and 60%) seems to have been due to a definite and deliberate policy by the local city council based on the following:

1. Motor traffic was regulated and often deliberately excluded from certain city areas. The ball was set rolling in 1977 when the City Council sprang into action by digging up and removing a six-lane highway in the city centre to replace it with a more human landscape of greenery,Watnall bus lanes and pedestrianization. Subsequently, manyBurton roads were narrowed to reduce motor traffic speed or even shut entirely to motorJoyce traffic.Thirty kmh (19mph) limits on minor roads, and especially in residential areas, became the norm.



The key to the success of the Dutch model is that cyclists have priority to motor traffic. This is even true at major intersections, although motorists do not always obey.


At light-controlled crossings, the cycle lane is marked across the carriageway to reinforce the point. As a result, cycle lanes are much safer and easier to use than in the UK

From 1990 the city was divided into ‘pie sectors’ whose boundaries could not be crossed by private motor traffic so that now, not only are motor journeys to the city centre highly regulated, but so are ‘cross town’ trips. The pedestrian area was extended (also fully open to cycles) and thousands of trees were planted. This ‘sectoring’ was highly contentious at the time but in the long term the city continued to thrive, and the number of visitors has actually increased. More ‘car-clearing’ programs are planned and in future visitors by car will most likely be required to park on the outskirts in one of several large multi- story car parks in a ‘park and ride’ scheme.

…it was seen as a replacement to car provision, rather than an additional cost…

2. Land use planning became geared towards sustainable transport. Siting of buildings and their function determines how far people have to travel and by what means.This simple credo means that major buildings, be they industrial, civic or cultural should be next to or very near the main cycle and public transport routes. From 1991 a ‘restrictive’ parking policy for businesses was introduced – new labour-intensive businesses were allowed only one parking space for every ten employees, less labour-intensive businesses were allowed one space for every five employees and businesses with a high interest in lorry/car access and with low labour intensity had no parking standard and were located on industrial sites. In practical terms this planning policy led to the concentration of development around the station area, with a mix of buildings including housing, shops, offices and cultural centres.The parking standard of one space per ten people was applied. Shuttle services and coordinated car pooling (with its own council officer) transport people between the station and outlying areas.

3. Cycle use was positively encouraged by the development of an integrated cycling infrastructure.This had the advantage, after initial capital costs, of being cheaper than a car- orientated infrastructure to run. Crucially it was seen as a replacement to car provision, rather than an additional cost, as often happens in the UK.A ten-year cycling plan cost around £18 million, with the stated aim of bringing the existing cycle network ‘to perfection’.The emphasis has been on producing an interconnected ‘spider’s web’ of suitable routes, both alongside main roads into the city but also with numerous radial connections. The ‘car clearing’ policy has helped, by giving the high quality cycle paths priority over motor traffic at junctions. Groningen has also provided cycle signing, cycle traffic lights and secure, often guarded and sheltered, cycle parking.

Moreover, arresting and reversing car growth wasn’t simply seen as a transport or even just a planning issue, but central to the city council’s main aims in city planning; their master plan, or ‘Struktuurplan’ has two overriding aims that drive policy in all areas: firstly, Groningen’s central economic and cultural position should be strengthened, and secondly, the quality of life should be enhanced.

Of course, such words could easily be a wishy-washy vote-catching commitment, but determined and largely successful efforts to curb car use and encourage other forms of transport suggest that it’s not so. Perhaps most interestingly, when contrasted with the UK, encouraging walking and bike use was and still is seen as central to economic progress and quality of life in Groningen. Motoring lobbies and many sectors of the economy (witness the fuel protests) over here would have you believe that curbing motor traffic is economic suicide.These detractors did exist in Groningen, which makes the city council’s forthright attitude all the more commendable. Initially public reaction was generally hostile to the plans, but now the council receives numerous requests from residents and businesses alike to ban traffic in their street and ‘bicyclise’ it!

Effect on National Policy

It was only as recently as 1989 that the national government of The Netherlands committed itself to abandoning a policy that catered for a growth in motor traffic and pledged itself and its finances to encouraging all alternative means of transport.The national average for cycling trips is now around 25%, with many committed cities such as Delft able to reach 40%. Groningen’s brave lead paid off as well – after the national government’s change of heart it agreed to pay for 80% of the city’s cycle infrastructure which otherwise would have all come from city coffers. Poetic justice indeed.

NOTTINGHAM – The First Steps?

First-hand experience tells me that Nottingham is a great place to cycle if you want a pleasant day out pootling around the castle and then out to the fine Elizabethan Wollaton Hall. Of course this is not the same as living there and trying to get around by bike – no doubt a typically frustrating English cycling experience. Frustrating in the sense that the city has some excellent schemes and has shown genuine commitment, but has failed to follow through in the Dutch style. Despite a valuable attempt at cycling provision, statistically the city remains stuck in the doldrums along with much of the rest of the UK at around 2-4% of trips made by cycle.

Nottingham Cycling

NOTTINGHAM - far fewer cycle routes and the principle examples are leisure orientated, reaching into open country rather than outlying conurbations. Some, such as Sustrans Route 6 are wastefully shadowed by local authority and Dept for Transport routes. Remarkably, no routes penetrate the city centre.

Nottingham’s Cycling Story

Comparing the cycling histories of Nottingham and Groningen, one overwhelming fact stands out.The ‘Dutch’ model is one largely planned and implemented under the direct, central leadership of local government (albeit with other groups involved), whereas Nottingham is a much more ad hoc affair with pro-cycling groups of one sort or another trying to squeeze concessions from the powers that be, who often seem to view cycling provision as an unnecessary expense, despite paying political lip-service to ‘green’ ideals.

Glance at the number of bodies involved in Nottingham and you begin to see the inherent complexity involved in building a cycling programme; several local authorities (some more committed than others), Pedals (Nottingham’s cycling advocacy group), Sustrans, the Highways Agency, the Department for Transport, British Waterways, Cleary Hughes Associates (cycle planning consultants) and various bicycle user groups and local employers. All were, at one time or another, working on such schemes as the Greater Nottingham Cycling Project, the Nottingham section of the Millennium Cycle Route, Cycle Challenge, Green Commuter Plans, the STEPS initiative, local transport plans (including cycling and walking strategies), the Work Wise project (lending/hiring bikes), the Homezones project and the Clear Zones project (you can breath in now). At times the system resembles not so much the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing but an octopus trying to go in several directions at once.

…the Highways Agency is one of the biggest problems in implementing proposals…

But in the context of our public/private, lobby-led political system, much has been achieved by committed bodies in Nottingham. Since the early 1980s, starting from a base of almost nothing, greater Nottingham now has over 100km of cycle network in place, an impressive increase in cycle parking and information services such as city route maps, learning to ride classes and organised rides.Yet despite all this, cycle use remains stubbornly low, suggesting that the real cause of these low rates (roads that are relatively unsafe for cyclists) remains.

Achievements and Obstacles

The construction of a well-signed skeleton network of recognised cycle routes must count as a major achievement. Cyclists in most British cities will be familiar with the system to a greater or lesser degree, pieced together from such things as canal towpaths, ‘on road’ cycle lanes, bus lanes, pavement cycle lanes and increasingly nowadays, traffic- calmed minor roads.The main cycling arteries head into the centre from the south-west along the canal and River Trent, and from the north-east along the ‘mixed’ style Millennium Cycle Route, although cycling connections from the east lag behind.The programme also included some cyclist-friendly traffic engineering features, such as combined cycle and pedestrian crossings (toucans), advanced stop lines and cycle contraflows. Sadly and not unpredictably, many of those involved in promoting positive measures found the Highways Agency – the central government body responsible for the country’s main roads – to be one of the biggest problems in physically implementing agreed proposals. Several long trunk road cycle schemes are still held up by the Agency.

Similarly, some of the local councils surrounding the city proved more positive than others (a pattern repeated across the whole of the UK). Such factors have lead to a lack of routes to the north and east of the city. Here one local council remained adamant cycling was not a priority due to the hillier nature of the terrain; a case for promoting electric bikes surely! Outlying councils also seem to lag behind the City Council in providing facilities such as parking.

…Despite evidence of increasing use… rates of cycling have not rocketed Dutch style…

Most notably there has been a big effort in Nottingham to encourage employers to Nottingham – An example of British best practice, but the underlying message is that cars have priority joint-fund cycling schemes.Various councils, teaching and health institutions and two large private firms between them had a work force of 32,000 (77,000 if students are included) who were encouraged to cycle to work with such incentives as free loans for bike purchase, bike mileage allowances, secure parking, free showers and bikers’ breakfasts.


Nottingham - An example of British best practice, but the underlying message is that cars have priority

The Future

Despite evidence of an increase in use of the network, overall rates of cycling have not rocketed Dutch style. Crucially, political will seems, at best, lacking and at worst deliberately obstructive.This means vital areas such as planning often totally overlook the transport implications of their decisions, a pattern repeated right across the country. As Hugh McClintock, a Nottingham-based planning expert comments, ‘Arguably the most fundamental challenge in encouraging cycling is to reverse, through land use planning and other measures, the continuing trend… to longer trip distances, which are harder to cover on a bike… In 1991 only 47% of people working in Nottingham City lived there, compared to 53% in 1981.’

Cycling is not an optional add-on to transport policy. As in The Netherlands, it should be funded in a large part by central and local government and not left to committed bodies of experts and volunteers to struggle against the established order. It should be seen as integral part of the bigger picture.

Thanks to Hugh McClintock for information provided and for writing and editing the excellent ‘The Bicycle and City Traffic’ (1992 Belhaven Press – out of print) and its successor ‘Planning for Cycling’ (2002 Woodhead Publishing Ltd). All views in this article however, are those of the author.