Tag Archives: A to B 38

A to B 38 – Ten Years On…

atob-38 Yes, ten years and 61 editions ago, we started publishing the diminutive ‘Folder’ magazine that evolved into A to B. Thanks to all those individuals who’ve helped in various ways over the years (if only by subscribing), and to the companies that have backed us from Day One – shops such as Avon Valley, Cyclecare, Cycle Heaven and Norman Fay, and manufacturers: Andrew Ritchie of Brompton (subscriber 30), Hanz Scholtz of Bike Friday (55) and Mark Sanders of Strida (91).We now have more than 2,400 subscribers, incidentally…

Things have certainly changed in the office. If you’re sending us written material or photographs, do put your name and contact details clearly on the item itself. The A to B office is in a permanent state of chaos: cats demolish teetering piles of paper, children reverse Range Rovers and trailers across the desk, and magazines, envelopes and maps stack up in every corner. If we lose your name, we probably won’t be able to use the item!

A to B 38 Contents


A to B 38 Blog, October 2003, Fuel Cell Symposium

Fuel Cell Symposium, Cycle 2003
David Henshaw

One hesitates to take sides in the railway national/private ownership debate, but as an ordinary commuter one becomes increasingly suspicious of industry pronouncements on targets and achievements. Take, for example, the claim that 80% of trains run within five minutes of time – itself, a shocking indictment of the private network, but nevertheless pure fiction, as most commuters will agree.

Visiting a selection of London-based shows in September, the Mole keeps a personal record of rail performance between Bogworthy Junction and Paddington, a line hewn from Wessex shales by Great Men, but operated today by a loathsome crew of bus executives and anonymous business types.

During a typical week’s commuting, involving no adverse weather conditions, miscreant leaves or other hazards, one observes that a modest 60% of trains depart on time, but only half that number – ie 30% – arrive on time (or within five minutes of time) at the other end. Most were small delays of six to ten minutes, but two trains arrived disruptingly late – 15 and 30 minutes apiece. Excuses were many and varied, and mostly aimed at Network Rail, although some were a little odd, such as we’ve stopped to let another train pass. What train could be more important than the Bogworthy Flyer? The royal saloon, perhaps?

But we digress from the real matter in hand, for having arrived (some minutes behind the royal party, one assumes) one sets forth on the long and rather complicated trek eastwards to Excel, a conference centre located even further east than docklands, but convenient for the M25 and City Airport, apparently.

Several hours later, one arrives at the Fuel Cell Symposium, where groups of jolly-looking boffins are eagerly expounding to knots of nervous suits why liquid hydrogen is out this year, but compressed gas is in. And with another ten million they’ll be able to prove it…

Without delving too deeply into such unpleasant things as oxides and polymers, the Mole gathers that the hydrogen economy (or at least, the transport part of it) remains some way off, or as one helpful boffin put it: ‘as viable as a pixi’s fart’, which seemed rather apt.

…the boffins are adamant that compressed hydrogen is safe… they would say that wouldn’t they?

A to B magazine, Fuel Cell Symposium

Jörg Weigl’s Hydrogen-powered trike

The transport display proves suspiciously static, with only one vehicle on the move – an entertaining hydrogen-fuelled recumbent, produced by one Jörg Weigl of Germany. For fuel cell geeks, the Optima trike weighs 65kg and can be ridden for up to 550 miles at speeds of up to 40mph on a tank of compressed hydrogen. It also utilises a low temperature polymer-exchange-membrane fuel cell and lithium-polymer energy buffer, which is just about understandable, although the Mole was floored by the ‘four-quadrant-synchronous-engine-frequency-transformer’, choosing to nod wisely at this point.

Is it practical? Er, it cost E32,000 to build (Jörg will knock up another for E20,000 should anyone be interested), and it carries fuel at a pressure of more than 5,000psi.The boffins at the Symposium are adamant to a man and woman that compressed hydrogen is perfectly safe, with 10,000psi being the Next Big Thing, but they would say that, wouldn’t they?

robotThe real problem is that no-one has yet dreamed up a practical way of refuelling a vehicle of this kind, so filling stations are a bit thin on the ground. The general consensus is that robot actuation will be required, as the risks of (a) some clown blowing up the immediate neighbourhood or (b) inflating his jacket and floating off into the stratosphere, are not insignificant.

The city of Middlesbrough, which strangely enough has a ready made hydrogen ‘grid’, is considering installing a filling station, but that would involve travelling to Middlesbrough, a prospect too frightful to contemplate.

Fuel Cell Symposium, BOC/Sigen marathon car

BOC/Sigen Marathon Car

The fuelling problem was brought into focus by the BOC/SiGEN marathon car – ˜ticking over’ on the test track, but too cumbersome to steer around the circuit. Designed to compete in the annual Shell Eco- Marathon, the car should have finished amongst the leaders, but achieved ‘only’ 1,200 miles per gallon. It seems that fuel consumption is measured by weighing the fuel tank before and after a run – fine with conventional liquid fuels, but hard to accomplish with hydrogen at 5,000psi…The judges quite rightly ruled that the vented gas should be included.

…Ten years and millions of dollars to develop, and it’s a complete and utter load of old rubbish…

The only bicycle on display (safely static and de-fuelled) was the very same Aprilia Enjoy compressed hydrogen machine dismissed by Professor Pivot in A to B 27. This has a claimed range of only 47 miles, so would only be of use to those living in or around Middlesbrough, even if Aprilia had kept the Enjoy in production, which it has not. All things considered, one is increasingly optimistic about the future for pedal power.

This impression is reinforced by a visit to Stuff 2003, a show promoted by something called Stuff, a magazine stuffed largely with partially clad young ladies, and aimed at young men with more money than sense.

segwayFor 2003, Stuff invited alternative transport manufacturers to display their wares in a ‘Stuff the Congestion Charge’ zone. Thus, the bicycle world was represented by Brompton and Airnimal, two suitably techie folding machines, plus the single speed Bike-in-a- Bag; arguably less techie, but useful enough for the young man with neither money nor sense.

Otherwise, Stuff the Congestion Charge was clogged with electric scooters of all kinds, which, as good A to B readers should know, are not legal on roads or pavements in the UK. This technicality seems to have escaped the attractive young people busily flogging the machines to gullible passers by. When the Mole produces a copy of A to B 35, complete with damning legal judgement on the matter, the retailers go into a huddle and decide the scooters might be legal in some areas. Further discussion results in a grudging acceptance that the scooters could be legal, but only if registered, taxed and insured as mopeds. Quite why anyone would choose to travel to work on a machine with six-inch wheels and a three- mile range, when they could be riding a nippy Honda 50, is beyond the Mole, but it takes all sorts.

Superstar of Stuff the Congestion Charge was undoubtably the Segway, an example of which performed a number of demonstrations over the weekend. It’s hard to see quite what the purpose of this device is. Range is claimed to be ‘up to 15 miles’, but judging by the frequency with which the demo Segway sneaked off for a crafty recharge, that looks a bit optimistic.When your Segway conks out on the road, you’re supposed to lift it into a car trunk and carry it home. Oh yeah? This ‘portable’ machine weighs 38 – 43kg (83 – 95lb), according to spec…

Top speed is put at 12.5mph, which sounds reasonable enough, but it’s still somewhat slower than a 15mph electric bicycle, with half the range. So at £4,000, no less, what is it actually for?

In any event, the Mole understands that all 6,000 Segways are to be recalled after reports that a number of users – including Hero of Baghdad, Bush Junior – had fallen off when the battery went flat. Sad but true; when the battery coughs and dies this multi-million dollar gyroscopic machine falls over, tipping its human cargo into the gutter. Ten years and millions of dollars in development, and it’s still a complete and utter load of old rubbish. We’ll give it three months before they pull the plug.

It was with some relief that the Mole arrived at CYCLE 2003 on the lookout for proper bicycles with pedals. Now in its second year, the show remains something of a mixed bag, with spinning (ie, bicycling without a road, or indeed, a bicycle) appeared to get the upper hand over the real thing.

Electric bikes were absent, apart from the ludicrously dumpy little Bliss, described rather breathlessly as a high quality lightweight dual purpose ultimate leisure, folding electric bike. Whatever happened to the comma?


Trek F400

The folding bike sector was much more interesting. New to the market are Trek and Specialized, both cashing in on Congestion Charge mania (it’s surprising how much panic a £5 charge can generate). The Specialized is more or less a badge-engineered Dahon Roo, so unless badges mean a great deal to you, stick with Dahon and keep a couple of hundred quid in your pocket. On the other hand, Trek seems to have done some real evelopment work, producing a range of quite interesting designs, albeit on what might be described as a Dahon floorplan. The range runs from a decent Sram 3- speed at £470 to a sexy any-colour-you- like-as-long-as-it’s Starry Night black variant complete with Shimano Deore 9- speed derailleur, for a cool £750. All have the same love-it-or-hate-it vertically stretched alloy frame tube that looks as though it’s been sat on by an elephant.


Specialized Globe Mity

Birdy has introduced a new White model fitted with Shimano’s small-wheel-friendly 9-speed Caprio gear system, but thanks to exchange rate anomalies, it’s going to cost £1,050. Hmm. Less excitement at Brompton, which has launched three new colours – orange and two shades of blue, making no fewer than four blues in all. There’s also a new bag frame, which doesn’t sound very exciting, but produced from a complex array of alloy tubes and plastic mouldings, it’s noticeably lighter and altogether more Bromptonesque.

Surprise hit at the show was the Zero shaft-drive bike. Yes, shaft-drive adds a lot of complication, cost and friction to a conventional bike, but on a folder it neatly eliminates that oily troublesome chain. Claimed to weigh a reasonable 13kg (281/2lbs), the new alloy-framed Zero comes with Nexus 3-speed hub for £475 – a neat, low- maintenance folding bike, one suspects.

condor-20-inch tourer

Condor’s 20-inch wheel tiny-tourer

The best prototype folder on display was the Knightsbridge (see page 12), produced by the irrepressible Mike Burrows. A brief spin around Islington confirms the bike to be one of the nicest 20-inch machines around. The unusual frame is superb, and the bike performs better with a single well-chosen ratio than some multi-speed machines. A real delight that may yet see limited production in folding or rigid form.

The best product fixed firmly to the wall was Sturmey Archer’s new S80 Phoenix hub gear: 305% range, 8-gears, 1.45kg, and so on. A bicyclist’s wish-list, but as yet unavailable in the shops… One awaits developments with keen interest.

For children there was very little to see. KMX seemed busy with their recumbent trike, but star of the show was Condor’s new range of diminutive 20″, 24″ and 26″ wheel touring bikes. There are no plans for a 16″ version, but there seemed to be plenty of interest, despite a price in the £500 region.

A miniature tourer should please the Cyclists Touring Club technical officer, Chris Juden, who’s rumbled on about the lack of such things for decades. Chris, it seems, has finally given up hope of guards vans returning to the Portsmouth line and decided to buy a car instead. He won’t be alone amongst Britain’s car-free journalistic community: The Mole understands that Folding Society supremo Mike Hessey has purchased a Smart car, and having experienced the state of Central Trains rolling stock, one has a certain sympathy. Which brings us back to the railways. British Rail pork pie anyone?

Slow Coast Home – Josie Dew

slow-coast-home-josie-dew-reviewIf you ride a bicycle you will probably already know of Josie Dew, patron saint of cycle touring and diminutive travel writer, whose previous volumes The Wind in my Wheels, Travels in a Strange State, A Ride in the Neon Sun and The Sun in my Eyes, have rightly become classics of their kind.Well, they have at A to B Towers, anyway.

For the uninitiated, Josie is afflicted with a genetic urge to travel, and she’s been doing it since her parents finally loosened her reins, at the age of about ten. Many of us suffer from travelitus, of course, but Josie also turned out to be a fine writer and observer, thus allowing the rest of us to share her experiences in exotic and sometimes rather odd corners of the world.

Slow Coast Home is a rather different – and in some ways more difficult – project, because it’s the story of a cycle tour in dear grubby old Blighty: a 5,000-mile circumnavigation of England,Wales, and a scattering of rocky satellites and islets.

It must be easier to write about foreign parts, because in Britain most encounters seem to begin, end, and very often major on, the weather and the lack of camping accommodation. All credit then, to Josie, for producing a readable and at times very enjoyable volume.

One also needs to take extra care with the research at home, because most people will claim to be an expert on at least part of it.We’re glad to say that in our own little corner, Josie is spot on, unearthing the same charming Westcountry factlets we love to bore you with ourselves.

In places this is a thoroughly depressing book. It’s the story of a land populated largely by fat, vulgar, rude and arrogant folk, with a few decent old dears thrown in when you least expect ‘em. From the gormless, aggressive youths spitting on passing cyclists to the lethal, muddle-headed elderly motorists, we’re all in here somewhere.

Ah yes, motors. As any ‘A to B’ cyclist will appreciate, cars were bound to be a key theme in Slow Coast Home. As Josie discovers (as if she didn’t know already) there are too many cars, being driven too fast, on roads that simply weren’t designed for such unpleasantness.True to form, cars sit in country lane-blocking jams, fill our heroine’s lungs with mucky particulates, then break free and sweep past with inches to spare. Again and again and again. Once in a while, the monsters behind the wheel vent their anger and frustration on this innocent passerby, but the best passages are reserved for the surreal moments, as when Josie gets boxed in by a pair of 4x4s on a Devon lane:

“Her dirty glower said,‘Go on you pesty pedalist – get out of my way! For I am bigger and I am grander!’ But trying to get out of her way was pointless… I knew that any moment now, Mrs Discovery would come haring round the corner… Right on cue, loomed Mrs Discovery who, amidst much burning of rubber, just managed to slam on her brakes in time before I became entangled in her bull-bars. I was now pig in the middle of two very fat and shiny elevated bonnets, polished up like cut glass… behind which sat two irritated women staring down their noses at the low-life in their way… Such are the consequences when one chooses to drive tanks down narrow country lanes.

Finally, there was nothing for it other than for Mrs Cherokee to relent and reverse. Unfortunately, I don’t think Mrs Cherokee had ever relented in all her Cherokee-helmed life, for it became evident that she couldn’t find reverse. I watched her, and Mrs Discovery watched her, as she sat strapped in her all-terrain flight deck grappling unsuccessfully with her controls…

But oh! – what reversing! With diabolical technique, Mrs Cherokee edged her way in reverse down the hill by way of rear-view mirror navigation… She ground up the bank one side before mounting it on the other, removing whole clumpfulls of delicate wild flowers in the process… Eventually… having obliterated great chunks of rare bankside flora, Mrs Cherokee reached the mouth of a track… the dust settled and we each went our respective ways.”

What sort of pitiful world have we created? Travelling by bicycle, Josie is greeted like a creature from another planet (another thing A to B types might recognise), but as an alien, she’s well placed to convey just how odd our little planet has become. Even the familiar bits. After reading Slow Coast Home, you will never look at familiar places and familiar attitudes to transport in quite the same way again.

Everyone should read this book. If nothing else, the terminally lazy might grasp that if a diminutive woman of five foot nothing can haul 70kg right around the coast, they might just be up to cycling to the corner shop themselves once in a while. And despite all the unpleasantness, Josie usually manages to pull a silver lining from behind the clouds, which is fortunate, because there are plenty of them.

Three warnings should you happen to bump into the author: Don’t mention the weather, don’t comment on her youthful looks, and don’t shout; ‘You could do with a motor on that, love!’, or she may throttle you with her bottom bracket. Ooh, the unkindest cut of all!

Slow Coast Home Josie Dew . ISBN 0 316 85362 3 . Pages 457 . Illustrations 32 colour photos Publisher Time Warner Books . Price £20.00 (UK) $38.95 (Canada)

Folding bikes on Airlines

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

“I regularly travel overseas with a Brompton, checking the bike into the hold, but I was disturbed to find that Ryanair is now demanding payment of E25 for a fully-folded Brompton. The charge, brought in on 14th February, is described as a ‘sporting equipment’ fee. Surely if the luggage is within the weight limit and does not contain any dangerous items, the contents are your affair?” John Wilcox, Derby (our thanks to the many others who have written).

I’m afraid that the answer is not necessarily going to be one you will want to hear. It is up to the airlines what they allow onto their planes at the end of the day, but there is an expectation that they will allow reasonable luggage within their stated size/weight allowances. It is reasonable to refuse to carry luggage in order to comply with law, or if it would affect the health and safety or comfort of other passengers or crew. It is also reasonable to refuse luggage which is unsuitably packed, fragile, or contains perishables.

Most airlines permit hand luggage conforming to International Air Transport Association guideline dimensions: length 56cm, width 45cm and depth 25cm (but the sum of all three dimensions not to exceed 115cm).There is also a 5kg weight limit. Even the Brompton folding bicycle (height 56.5cm, length 54.5cm, width 25cm) is just outside the guideline dimensions, but with the lightest model weighing 11.35kg, there is an automatic excuse for every airline to refuse it as hand luggage.

Checking it into the hold is another option, but still not guaranteed.These excuses might sound feeble, but if ground staff are determined to refuse you, these are tried and tested winners: ‘It can’t travel on the conveyor belt like an ordinary suitcase/rucksack’, ‘There is a risk that staff might damage their backs handling it’, and so on.

As for Ryanair’s ‘sporting equipment’ supplement to store folding bikes in the hold, the Air Transport Users Council (who run an advice line for air passengers) have confirmed that they are entitled to charge, on the basis that since a folding bike is different to a suitcase or rucksack, it will require special handling during storing and transporting. However, they did point out that it was unusual to charge such a supplement, and more likely to occur on a charter flight. Most other leading airlines would not charge a supplement if the bike was within the overall weight allowance.

On a more positive note, my research produced accounts of people taking their folding bikes on planes with no such problems, including the marketing director of Brompton, and Simon Calder, travel correspondent for The Independent, who termed his Brompton ‘without a doubt, the best travel accessory of them all’.

The best advice is really to check-in early, before storage space becomes an issue, and to wear your brightest smiles for the ground staff.With enough charm and finesse, you might even wangle an upgrade! [See also Letters, page 11. Eds]

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

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

Wretched Ryanair

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

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

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

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

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

Malcolm Clarke

Pilots Pay Too…

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

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

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

Name & Address supplied


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

Mike Burrows

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

Some Dual Swing Arms…


Giant Revive

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

Jeff Baker
Tattershall Thorpe, Lincs


R & M Equinox

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

Andrew Sutcliffe

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

Go Anglia!

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

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

Richard Bearman

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

Bike Space Reductions

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

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

Simon Brown
Customer Relations Officer, South West Trains

Oh, No it Won’t…

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

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

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

Nick Child
Managing Director, Powabyke

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

It Happened in a Trice

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

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

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

Ronald Arthur Dewhirst

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

Solar Down Under…

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

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

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

Ian Sims, Greenspeed Recumbent Trikes
Ferntree Gully, Australia

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

Practice Makes Perfect

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

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

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

Cathy Melia and Graham Lansdell

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

CDs, PDFs and Other Animals…

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

Ken Smith

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

Off the Rails

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

Dave Holladay

Unobtainable Stand

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

Ian Taylor

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

Nasty Moment…

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

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

Mike Armitage

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

Over to you Brommie!


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

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

Darron Dixon-Hardy

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

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

And Another…

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

Mark Hind

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

Weighty Problem

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

Paul Slater

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

To Pedal or Not to Pedal?

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

Jim Haigh

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

Tight Tyres

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

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

Liz Moore, London

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

Light Fantastic

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

Bill Johnson

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

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

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

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

Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyres

Avoiding Punctures

Professor Pivot“Can you tell us how to deal with or prevent punctures? I don’t mean sticking a patch on, but what is the best strategy? I believe that the hassle of punctures really does put people off using a bike regularly for important journeys. In Peterborough the cycleways are edged with thorn bushes like pyracantha.”

James Haugh

Astonishingly, some local authorities continue to plant thorn bushes next to cycle paths and have no policy for sweeping debris from paths – something normally done by motor traffic on the road. Not surprisingly, cycle path usage continues to languish in these places.

James is quite right, of course.The (often irrational) fear of punctures does put many people off cycling, but these days the threat can be largely eliminated.With the right equipment and some basic preparation, roadside disasters should become rare events.


Choose good quality tyres and tubes, and replace them before they’re life- expired. Cheap and/or worn tyres are much more likely to puncture.The range of tyre brands is bewildering, and some are only suited to particular uses, so I can only give a few pointers: I’m not convinced that kevlar-banded tyres really do give much protection, but many swear otherwise.They certainly increase rolling resistance, as do puncture-proof liners, which can also cause tube failure if incorrectly fitted. An interesting, but heavier, option (as yet untested by A to B) is Schwalbe’s Marathon Plus, constructed with a special spongy lining to ‘bounce’ objects back out of the tyre.This is now available in the 47- 406mm (20-inch) size, with 18″ and 16″ on the way.

Surprisingly enough, slick and lightly-treaded tyres often work quite well, presumably because they are less likely to trap and hold road debris. But paradoxically, you shouldn’t write off treaded tyres either, because some are very puncture resistant. As a second line of defence, thick puncture-resistant inner tubes seem to help, at the expense of increased rolling resistance.

For a given bike/tyre size, ask regular users what they’d recommend. Much of the advice will be pure hearsay, but you should begin to get a picture of what works and, more importantly, the brands to avoid.


Keep the tyres correctly inflated. Under-inflated tyres are good at picking up debris and can also suffer ‘pinch punctures’ on bumps and kerbs. It seems reasonable to assume that over-inflated tyres might be vulnerable too, although I have no specific evidence for this. A simple rule of thumb is to inspect the tyres with the bike loaded.They should bulge slightly around the road contact patch: No bulge, or too pronounced a bulge, and you’re asking for trouble.

Secondly, it might seem obvious, but if you can avoid thorns, roadside debris or glass, you will more or less eliminate punctures.Try to stick to the well-swept part of the road – wobbling along in the gutter is a recipe for tyre failure. If in doubt, jump off and push – or even carry – the bike through. Once back on a clear stretch of road, check the tyres quickly for foreign bodies and decide whether to remove them. If an object has barely begun to penetrate the tyre, remove it. If in doubt, break it off flush with the tyre and carry on – the inner tube will sometimes grasp and seal an object with very little loss of air. If you hear or feel a rhythmic bump, always stop and investigate.This sort of procedure takes seconds, but can save hours of unpleasantness.

Traditional cycle tourists use all sorts of clever tricks to prevent debris penetrating the tyre, including blades positioned close to the tread to knock objects off.These sort of things are best left to the experts, because they can cause more harm than good if poorly fitted or adjusted. However, it’s probably worth pouring in one of the proprietary leak sealants, but don’t forget those regular inspections.


Some cyclists take pride in their instantaneous roadside repairs, but a large proportion of mine seem to fail, particularly in miserable weather.These days, I very rarely bother to carry a puncture repair kit, following instead a few simple rules:

a) Holts Tyre Weld is a mixture of sealant foam and compressed gas that repairs smaller punctures and re-inflates the tyre. Designed to inflate one tubeless car tyre,Tyre Weld is arguably more effective with bicycle tyres, providing up to a dozen repairs, depending on the canister and tyre sizes.This product will usually get you home, and can even be treated as a permanent repair if you’re lucky. It won’t work in every case, but it seems to be wholly or partially effective in about 75% of punctures in my experience.

b) If sealant doesn’t work, it may be possible to pump the tyre up, ride on, re-inflate, ride on, and so forth, especially with front tyres, where less pressure is required. It’s not much fun, but easier than wrestling with the tyre, tube and glue by the roadside. Sealant foam can take a few minutes to work, so this technique may gradually provide a cure.

c) Ride a folding bike! If the worst happens, you can complete your journey or reach a cycle shop by train, bus, taxi or hitching a lift.This last resort is rare, but a folder does give peace of mind that you will be able to get home quickly and easily by other means.

Giant SuXes

giant-suxesEveryone loves the classic ‘Dutch’ bike – curvaceous, loaded with down-to-earth accessories and dead practical. Once upon a time, you could buy bicycles like this in Britain from the likes of Raleigh or Dawes, but the British cycle industry went all leisure- orientated, before disappearing up its own bottom bracket, so to speak, which means we have to import this sort of thing these days. If you want a ‘proper’ bike, you really have to go to Holland, Scandinavia or Germany, but there are a few mass-produced machines too.

…very little lateral rigidity. In fact,it’s almost in Bickerton country…

We’re reviewing a fairly typical machine – Giant’s oddly-named SuXes – a pun that presumably works in several languages. Launched in early 2002, it’s selling in reasonable numbers here, and much bigger numbers in mainland Europe, as one might expect. Price is a tolerable £300-£360, and the SuXes does everything you would expect a Dutch bike to do, and does it reasonably well, so what’s the problem? We’re going to commit a major sacrilege here and give it the thumbs down.You may not agree with all of our reasoning, but we think you’ll agree with most of it.


The SuXes is a heavy beast at 19.4kg (43lb), and that’s with an aluminium frame.The price you pay for quality, eh? Well, not in our book, as we shall see. For the moment, we’d just like to remind you of a similar Giant bike that weighs 22.2kg.Yes, the Lafree Lite is 2.8kg heavier, but it’s a ready-to-run electric bicycle, and in our book, one of the nicest electric bikes you’ll find.Whip out the battery, and the Lafree is over a kilogram lighter than the SuXes. Begin to see the problem? If you live in Amsterdam, you’ll no doubt be happy with a 19.4kg unassisted bike, but in Sheffield, Bristol, or bits of Leeds, Manchester, Edinburgh or Exeter, you’d do better to choose the 22.2kg bike that sails up hills on its own, surely?

OK, it’s a proper traditional bike without power-assist, but all that weight has gone into making a sturdy, rugged frame that’s easy to propel and will last for ever? Not in this case.The SuXes has a step-thru ‘ladies’ frame, with twin ‘top tubes’ that sweep down towards the bottom bracket, then change their minds and head south to join the seat tube. It all looks very rugged, but there’s little lateral rigidity, in fact, it’s almost in Bickerton country. For those unfamiliar with the more flexible kind of folding bike, this means you can twist the handlebars by a couple of centimetres relative to the saddle. With a substantial load on the rear rack, it’s easy to provoke a ‘shimmy’, whereby the load swings left when the handlebars swing right, and visa versa… An entertaining party trick, but not very helpful when you’re trying to put some force through the pedals.We’d also be worried about frame life. Aluminium is a great material, but it has a relatively low fatigue strength, and constant twisting and flexing can be very fatiguing…

The SuXes comes with the Nexus 3-speed hub for £299, or the 7-speed for £359. Ours is a 7-speed – something we’re particularly grateful for, because with the weight and flexy frame, you need plenty of ratios. At 37″ to 90″ the ratios are on the high side, an impression not helped by the slightly soggy feel of the 7-speed Nexus. Get on a long downgrade with a following wind, and the SuXes will pelt along, but in mixed uppy-downy terrain, it’s a bit depressing. Again, no problem if you commute a mile or two through central Amsterdam, but this is not a bike for more serious mileage or serious hills.

For the first few miles as the cables settled in, the Nexus tended to miss the odd gear, but once adjusted, it ran like clockwork, and we see no reason why it should not function without a hiccup for years and years. Our only real grumble with the Nexus 7- speed is that wheel removal can be a bit tricky.

Brake Miscellany

…powerful brake applications are an acquired art…a brake limiter makes sense.

Like the pricier Lafree, the SuXes comes with Nexus roller brakes. Non-technical readers must forgive a technical digression at this point, because this device is aimed at you and it’s worth having a grounding in its function.We’ve mentioned roller brakes before, and gradually become less sceptical about Shimano’s rediscovery of this ancient technology.The brakes work by squeezing steel rollers against the inside of a rotating steel hub.The bad news is that heat is rather concentrated, so these devices tend to include a ‘disc’ to disperse it.The rollers can make some strange metal on metal noises too, but being grease-packed, are impervious to the effects of water and/or oil, so the braking effect is consistent in all weathers.

Rollers have a tendency to fierceness in operation, so Shimano fits a clutch, preventing the wheel from locking up when the rollers do.We’ve had experience of the IM50 version of this brake, which apparently has a clutch, but you’d never know.The SuXes is fitted with the IM40, and on this hub (recognisable by its smaller ‘disc’) the clutch operates at quite low force. Under severe braking, the rollers lock, the clutch slips, and you won’t find any more braking force however hard you pull on the lever.

giant-suxes-hub-brakeShimano markets the system as ‘anti-lock’, but don’t get carried away with the idea that it’s as sophisticated as a car or motorcycle set-up. From our tests on the SuXes, we’ve found that the clutches will slip with a brake force of .45G with a typical rider, which is too high to prevent the rear wheel locking (it locks up at .33G on a dry road), and too low to get the best out of the front brake in the dry (a good stop should hit .75G or more). In the wet, or when cornering and braking (never a good idea), the clutch would almost certainly fail to work before one, or both, wheels lock, sending you flying.

That said, we’re very much in favour. Really powerful brake applications on a two- wheeler are an acquired art anyway, so a brake-limiter makes sense for most riders, most of the time. It won’t prevent slips and slides, particularly in wet or icy conditions, but it should more or less eliminate that most dangerous crash – the locked front wheel, sending you sailing over the bars.Two slight worries – the clutch will overheat rapidly if abused, so don’t overdo it on Alpine descents, and the rollers tend to lock and unlock with a jolt, which should be harmless, but might just provoke a slide in marginal conditions. Otherwise, a great step forward in road safety, as a former Metropolitan Police commissioner used to say about a certain car tyre.

Hub-mounted brakes offer many advantages, including the elimination of rim wear (caused by brake pads working against the wheel rim), so lightweight alloy rims can be specified. But for some reason the SuXes has chunky stainless steel examples – quite attractive in a retro sort of way, but all adding to the weight. As elsewhere, the messages are a little confused: high-tech hub brakes and low-tech rims.Why?


All the usual ‘accessories’ are standard, as one might expect on this sort of bicycle. But (mixed messages again), the quality of the components is not really up to the job. There’s no suspension, but standing on a pair of tall and relatively wide Michelin Transworld City tyres, the SuXes doesn’t really need it.These tyres look exceedingly retro (let us guess: they’re the latest thing?) and claim to offer a degree of puncture resistance. Considering the upright stance of the bike, rolling resistance must be quite good, because we recorded 15.2mph on our test hill, which is about as fast as upright big-wheel bikes get.

The skirt-guard does its stuff (oh, all right,, no one actually tested it wearing a skirt) and the Axa lock works a treat.The rack is built in suitably chunky Dutch style and would carry a friend with ease, but we were concerned about the rather small 5mm bolts, which are also too short to go right through the chunky aluminium drop-outs.With the added uncertainty of the flexy frame, we’d be wary about carrying more than 10kg on the rack.

giant-suxes-rackThe dynamo is our old friend the Joss Spaninga Wave (see Giant Lafree, A to B 27). It’s not humongously useless, but would come some way down most people’s Christmas list. Incidentally, we retested the rolling resistance with the dynamo lights on (why didn’t we think of this before?) and recorded a speed of only 13.8mph. If that means nothing, putting the dynamo on is rather like swapping a free-running full-size machine for a bicycle with mediocre 16-inch tyres – enough to annoy you if you ride a lot at night. At the rear, very sensibly, the SuXes has a battery LED, but it’s poorly made (we snapped the lens clips changing the battery) and has no clever features.

The chainguard is of the all-encompassing variety, assembled from a sort of jigsaw puzzle of plastic components. It’s the sort of thing an infinite number of monkeys would have no trouble with, but you could get very confused on a long weekend. It’s probably a bit frail too – part of the jigsaw puzzle was missing on ours, thanks to heavy-handed couriers. Mudguards are substantial (heavy in other words) but a bit marginal in length, so you’d probably want to fit front and rear mud flaps for all-weather use.


Would the SuXes make a wise purchase? We think not. If you lust after this sort of thing, there are literally thousands of old Raleighs and Rudges knocking around for virtually nothing, because those pre-1960s bicycles really were made to last several decades.You can buy a very useable roadster for £20 or less (we’ve been trying to off- load one for years), leaving a couple of hundred quid for new cables, an 8-speed Sturmey hub, modern tyres and decent lights. No plasticky bits, no wobbly frame, similar weight, and a nice wodge of change in your pocket.

At the other end of the scale, you could spend £880 and buy a Lafree – a bike that weighs much the same, but powers up hills.Yes, it costs more than twice as much, but if you commute anywhere remotely hilly, that could be the best £500 you’ve ever spent.

Would we suggest buying a modern ‘classic’ of any kind? We might, if it skillfully combined modern technology with old-style practicality, but the SuXes does not.


Giant SuXes 7-spd £360 (3-spd £299)
Weight 19.4kg (43lb)
Gears Shimano Nexus 7-spd
Ratios 37″ 43″ 49″ 58″ 67″ 78″ 90″
Saddle Height 87-104cm
Reach 45-49cm
Tyres Michelin Transworld City 37-622mm

UK Distributor Giant UK Ltd tel 0115 977 5900 mail info@giant-uk.demon.co.uk web www.giant-bicycles.com


Bargain Basement Electrics


Thompson Euro-Classic - £350

We mentioned in the last issue that electric bike prices were falling.This time we’re looking briefly at the new bikes available for less than £500. If you’re wondering why such cheap electric machines are popping up, it all comes down to China’s massive two-stroke motorcycle problem and attempts to reduce pollution by getting commuters back on bicycles – albeit electric ones.There are now 300 companies producing these electric ‘scooters’, with sales of two million last year, and a prediction of three million in 2004. Such vast economies of scale help to make exports cheap, so these well-equipped bikes with vestigial pedals are now setting forth to conquer other markets.


Euro-Classic £350 . Euro-City £400 . Euro-Tourer £450

David Henshaw

If you’re not in the electrical business you probably haven’t heard of Thompson. It’s a large family-owned electrical goods wholesaler with premises in Worcester and interests as diverse as toasters and washing machines.Tony Thompson and son Carl have fingers in all sorts of import/export pies, but sell mainly to market traders and discount electrical shops in the UK. In the dim and distant past, that would have placed Thompson firmly at the tackier end of the business, but with almost everything now being made in China, Thompson’s goods may well be sourced from the same factory as the classier Comet or Dixon product sold on the High Street.These days, nothing is quite what it appears.


Thompson Euro-City - £400

Tony got into the electric bicycle business quite by accident whilst sourcing vacuum cleaners in China, as one does in the electrical trade. He happened to look out of the factory window and saw dozens of little electric bicycles scurrying about, and the vacuums were soon forgotten. Once the deal had been done (new brushless motors and Japanese Panasonic batteries thrown in), Thompson found itself one of the biggest players in the UK market, selling 1,200 in the first year.They investing a further half a million pounds, and are now predicting sales of 3-4,000 in year two and 5-6,000 in year three. If you’re importing a bottom end electric bike, be prepared to quake in your boots – Tony is close to retirement, and he expects to go out on a high note.

The Thompson message is value Thompson Euro-City – £400 for money, and the Chinese have thrown in a surprisingly high spec.The range comprises three machines: the Classic, City and Tourer, plus the more expensive and moped-like Duo, of which more another day.

All the bikes feature brushless DC motors.To cut a long story short, brushless motors have no wearing parts, so they’re reliable, quiet and efficient. And they’re usually designed to pull away from a standstill without destroying themselves, unlike the earlier, cruder breed of DC motors, which tend to cut in at walking pace, giving no assistance from a standing start.The bad news is that the switching function of the brushes is reproduced electronically, and electronics have a tendency to go pop when overstressed. Thompson say the control system is extremely reliable.

Otherwise, these are technically very simple machines – six 6 volt lead-acid batteries feeding, er, 36 volts into a 200 watt motor (up from 150 watts last year).They’re all as ugly as sin, but who cares? They’re practical (all have lights and indicators) and very very cheap. Last year’s headline retail price was £300, but to hedge bets against the tangled Euro-legislation fiasco, the Thompsons have wisely added a ‘pedal-assist’ switch to the bikes for an extra fifty quid. Call it insurance, guv.

Legal Complications

We’d better recap on the legal maelstrom. For twenty years, British power-assisted bikes, like US machines, have been available as ‘pedelecs’ – where the motor only cut-in when you turned the pedals – and ‘E-Bikes’, which you didn’t need to pedal, but could if you wanted to. In Euro-land, meanwhile, the E-Bikes were generally illegal, and Brussels is now trying to bring us into line.

The different types have similar power outputs and (more importantly) identical top speeds, but to put it in tabloid terms, Herr Kraut is telling us to turn our pedals and trim our waistlines, when we’d rather follow the free-market Yanks and decide for ourselves whether to stay trim and slim, or grow fat and lardy. More seriously, many older and/or partially disabled people really need that freedom to choose.

Thanks to lobbying (by disabled riders, amongst others), our civil servants tried to negotiate a compromise, but the situation remains in complete chaos, with contradictory UK and European law in place simultaneously. At the ever helpful Department for Transport, the main man has retired with a headache, leaving minions who simply don’t have a clue.Their current advice is to wait and see what the courts say…

If E-Bikes are banned (all bets are off at the moment), and gran is seen coasting on her Thompson, but spots the old ‘blues ‘n twos’ in the mirror, she need only flick to Pedelec mode. (‘But I was pedalling officer, honestly.’) If no-one’s looking, she can put her feet up, and go on her way.The affair is developing into a classic Euro-farce, but fifty quids worth of switch does at least give the end-user some insurance should the legislators turn nasty. Just to add to the confusion,Thompson is poised to put the E-Bike version back on the market, and why not?

Ride & Equipment

Thompson Euro-Tourer

Thompson Euro-Tourer - £450

Equipment levels are pretty good. The lights take a direct feed from the battery and are thus pretty powerful – more moped than bicycle.When the power’s turned off, the lights draw power from the motor, which usefully functions as a crude generator when coasting. There’s also a functional electric horn, indicators of rather dubious daytime value, a rear rack, stand, and front suspension forks throughout the range.The 18-inch wheeled City also has a rear coil spring, which absorbs largish bumps, and all the Thompson Euro-Tourer – £450 bikes can be fitted with a useful front basket for £7.99, and/or a lockable rear top box for £14.99. A spare charger – useful for topping up the battery at work – costs £29.99.

The only real problem is that these bikes are single-speed and low geared, with short cranks. As far as the Thompsons are concerned, their bikes are aimed exclusively at older people who wouldn’t (or couldn’t) pedal if they were being chased by a family of Grizzly bears.We won’t argue with them (the Thompsons, not the bears), because they know their market and they’ve already sold a thousand of the things. All we will say is that everyday cyclists looking for a bit of assistance will be driven mad by pedals that are only really useful below 7mph.This inability to add much oomph of your own will make a big dent in the range too, but we’d guess at 15 to 20 miles, provided the territory is reasonably flat.

Wheel size varies according to model (the Classic has 24″ wheels, the Tourer 22″, and the City 18″), but the fixed gear ratios are all 48″.With a taller seat pillar, longer cranks and larger chain ring, all these bikes could be made reasonably pedallable, but we doubt it would be worth the trouble.Thompson could have specified all these parts, of course, but they’re adamant that their market sector won’t pedal, so that’s that.

After a short ride on each, there isn’t a lot to add: the 200 watt brushless motors are quiet and pull well (the 150 watt is rather feeble), top speed is around 12 or 13mph (15mph is the legal maximum), the pedals are more or less there for show, and the suspension works quite well, although not well enough to prevent things crashing around in the noisy top-box. Brakes are barely adequate to hold back a 40kg machine, so you need to exercise some care, especially in the wet. Hills are a problem because of the limited pedal-assist, but the 200 watt motor is capable of surmounting a 10% hill at a modest speed. Incidentally, there will be a larger 250 watt motor for next year, and brushless motor watts are nice big efficient ones, so that promises to be fairly perky.

Brainy types may already have gathered that the expensive Pedelec mode is next to useless except on steep hills, because it only lets the motor cut in when it senses pedal input, but you can only realistically pedal at low speed. Just ignore it.

F2 Motorcycles

E-Bike Retro £399 . E-Bike Cruiser £499

Peter Henshaw

f2-motorcyclesI enjoy cycling – not just a particular bike, but anything with two wheels and a set of pedals. At least, that’s what I used to think until I rode the E-Bike Retro. It’s slow, hard work and wobbly.

But then perhaps I’m missing the point, which happens to be a rock bottom price tag of just £399. Thompson apart, this is the cheapest electric bike in Britain. Powabyke used to be the price leader, but they now start the thick end of £200 more than one of these. So is this the breakthrough for electric bikes? If so, it’s about time, because as many detractors will point out, you can buy a bargain basement 50cc scooter for the price of a Giant Lafree or top end Powabyke. A fairly unpleasant, low-tech scooter, but a scooter nonetheless, with weather protection, a 30mph top speed and no need to pedal.

The Retro looks tiny, like a cheap child’s bike, an effect heightened by the bright yellow and blue battery case which sits on the rear rack. Start riding, and it feels like a child’s bike as well. Even with the seat stem at the top of its travel, my stubby 30-inch legs felt cramped and uncomfortable, so only the seriously short need apply.There’s only one gear, and it matches the pedal-twirling 48″ of the Thompsons, so even with the right size legs, cycling more than a couple of miles would be a fair old challenge.

Except that most Retro owners won’t be doing anything so rash. According to David Angel of F2 Motorcycles, who lent us the test bike, the typical buyer is a short senior citizen who wants to nip down to the shops with as little pedalling as possible. And here the Retro delivers, after a fashion.The modest 150-watt motor is clamped to the frame, and will trundle the bike along at an estimated 10mph without pedalling.We didn’t have time to test range, which the maker says will run to 18 miles at 13mph.

With or without pedalling, riding the Retro is not a very pleasant experience.The combination of the high-mounted battery and a less than rigid frame make for a distinctly wobbly ride.This is magnified by the soft and squashy (35-45psi) 22″ x 1.75″ Cheng Shins, which squeak and squeal reluctantly around corners. Almost every component underlines the low price – the plastic brake levers and steel cranks – and paint was starting to flake off the test bike. Mind you, the Retro is quite well equipped, considering. A front basket, battery-top rack, chainguard and rear stand are all part of the package. Good value then, but perhaps the Retro’s strongest suit is the fact that its low price tag will attract crowds into the showroom.Then they’ll hopefully spend a little more on a better bike.

The Cruiser

If they do, then this is it, because the E-Bike Cruiser, though just £100 more than the Retro, is in a different class. It shares many of the same components, and it’s still a no-no for six-footers, but this one has been designed as an electric bike, and it shows.

…the Retro has nothingin it’s favour but price…theCruiser is streets ahead…

Instead of the small 24 volt battery sitting on the rack, there’s a substantial 36 volt unit styled into the main frame.That partly explains why the Cruiser weighs 40kg, 25% more than the Retro, but it also makes the bike look more professional and all of a piece. It certainly feels nicer to ride, more solid and stable than the Retro – the lower battery mounting and a more solid frame probably do the business, though it wears exactly the same squishy Cheng Shin tyres.The ‘Wixing’ brakes are made of dubious stuff, and no more effective, but somehow this E-Bike feels more trustworthy than its entry-level cousin.

Once again, it comes with a single, breathless 48″ gear, and anyone with a leg of 30 inches or over will find it a non-starter. But for others, the Cruiser has its charms. (The stickers actually call it a ‘Commutabike’, but who are we to quibble?) Instead of an afterthought bolt-on, the 180-watt motor is incorporated into the rear hub. Better still, the brushless hub is astonishingly quiet. Apply throttle from a standstill, and the Cruiser glides gently away with Rolls-Royce aplomb – after the squawking and whining of older DC motors, this is heaven. Performance is gentle and sedate, which is somehow in keeping.The maker claims 20 miles at 13mph, though once again, we didn’t get the chance to test it, and 10mph seemed a more realistic speed on the flat.


F2 Motorcycle’s E-Bike Cruiser

There’s something else that sets the Cruiser apart, and makes the extra £100 well spent. It is very well equipped: a colour-coded top box, a rear rack and front basket to take care of the shopping.There is suspension at both ends: admittedly, the impressive looking braced front forks have about half an inch of movement, and there’s just a springy seat post at the back, but it’s suspension nonetheless. A three-LED display shows the state of the battery, and a front light is part of the package too. Like the Thompson bikes this works off the battery which might be illegal, but who knows with Britain’s Mad Hatter electric bike legislation? There is even a three-LED rear light set into the top box, but strangely enough it isn’t connected.You also get a chainguard, skirt guard and rear stand as part of the deal.

I was impressed by the Cruiser.The £399 Retro has nothing in its favour except price, but for just £100 more, the Cruiser is streets ahead in style, equipment and function. If you’re on the short side, and aren’t too bothered about gears, this might be the affordable electric bike you’ve been waiting for.


These very cheap bikes cost a little more to run than their more expensive cousins (we’ve estimated 5p-6p per mile) because with limited pedal input the range per charge and battery life is reduced. But the potential is huge – older folk, those who simply can’t pedal, tubby middle-aged types banned from driving who won’t pedal, and everyone else making the sort of short car journey a Thompson or E-Bike could do with ease. If granny’s legs go all wobbly, or you’re up against the ‘can’t pedal, won’t pedal’ mentality in the pub, just throw back: ‘electric bike, no need to pedal, three hundred and fifty quid’. Then sit back with a grin on your face.

Thompson Electrical tel 01905 763376 web www.thompsons-online.co.uk F2 Motorcycles tel 01295 712900 mail david@f2motorcycles.co.uk web www.f2motorcycles.co.uk


Bike-Hod Carryall Deluxe

bike-hod-carryall-deluxeThere aren’t many genuine innovations in cycling. Look hard enough and you usually find that a similar machine wowed the audience at the 1897 Cycling Expo, or was widely patented in Uruguay in 1953.The principle behind the Bike-Hod may or may not have popped up before, but it remains more or less in a class of it’s own today. Most bicycle trailers, whether of one- or two-wheel construction, might be termed horizontal load carriers, whereas the Hod has a vertical bag, like a shopping trolley for bikes.

The history of the Bike-Hod is a little convoluted, but worth a brief resume.The design first saw light of day back in 1980 as a collaborative venture between industrial designer Derek Hendon and interior designer Stuart Morris. According to Stuart, Hendon went on to, ‘make lots of dosh, while I’m still selling Bike-Hods.’ That’s true enough, but Stuart also runs the innovative cycling emporium Two plus Two from premises in Lewes in East Sussex (the company is now divorced from Zwei plus Zwei of Switzerland, but that’s another story).

The cheap and practical Bike-Hod did well in the 1980s, thanks in part to Stuart’s knack for publicity, which included a mail-delivering ‘train’ of Hods.That one made the BBC national news.You’d think all would be well, but things began to go wrong in the 1990s, first when the business was sold to the frame builder Michael Tonkin, a good engineer (he still makes Hod frames today), but a less skillful publicist.Within a few years, the Bike-Hod had almost faded away, and Stuart took the business back

…a strange mixture of gawky practicality and elegant design…

Hard Knock number two came when Stuart teamed up with Zwei plus Zwei and manufacture was licensed to a German shopping trolley manufacturer called Andersons.This seemed a smart move at the time, but resulted in the elimination of the Hod’s elegant towing shaft, which meant adding a brace, which prevented the trailer folding. Big problem.

Meanwhile Stuart continued to produce his own superior version for the home market, and now makes ‘em all once again.Today, there are a number of options, ranging from a solid tyred basic version at £199, to a Deluxe job with spoked wheels and pneumatic tyres for £225 or £235, according to the bag spec.There’s also a timeless wicker basket-equipped Hod for the county set, but patience! We’ll come to that. Our test trailer is a Deluxe model with cheaper Carradura bag at £225.

What is it?


The hitch is simple and rugged

The Bike-Hod is a strange mixture of gawky practicality and elegant design.The frame is deceptively simple, but thought through with great care, so as to put the load in a stable position between the wheels, yet occupy as small a space as possible. At the bicycle end, the hitch consists of a small exhaust clamp (owners of early Minis may recognise this), welded to a short tube.The flexible part is a piece of automotive heater hose, fixed firmly to the trailer shaft, but able to pop on and off the exhaust bracket thing, secured by a quick-release pin.Three clamps are available: 28mm to fit most conventional seat posts, 32mm for the Brompton, and 36mm to clamp around frame tubes – particularly useful for the Moulton APB and other bikes with easily gouged alloy seat posts. Crude, or a masterstroke of design? There’s something very English about finding a solution amongstsuch humblecomponents.

The Japanese would spend long hours hammering away at their Computer Aided Design packages, then build something much too complex, the Americans would prefer a delightfully tactile but rather expensive light alloy casting, and the Chinese would produce an overweight monstrosity.The Englishman, on the other hand, makes a trip to the motor factors and it’s all sorted.

The trick is to load the heavy items at the bottom… and the light ones at the top…

Two minor disadvantages: you will curse the Hod hitch if you’re fussy about scratches and dents on your seat pillar (the clamp is easily over-tightened), and small or arthritic hands may find the hose difficult to connect. A little petroleum jelly helps with a new example, and the device ‘runs-in’ fairly quickly, but you’ll be cursing for a couple of weeks.

Apart from the hitch, there are few moving parts to worry about.The small 121/2″ tyres fitted to the Deluxe models are a bit tricky to inflate with the more cumbersome sort of pump, but they roll reasonably well – better than the ‘solid’ Greentyres fitted to cheaper versions anyway. In either case, maintenance should be minimal.

The Carradice bag is made from black waxed cotton, with orange or green Carradura fabric as slightly cheaper options. All of these materials can be considered rainproof (but not necessarily stormproof). As well as the main 60 litre bag, there are two large sidepockets, one above each wheel.

Best of all are the two delightful wicker basket options which Stuart claims, ‘…are made to order by journeymen basketmakers sitting cross-legged by a salt-water lagoon in Sussex.’ Somehow we’re not surprised that the baskets are produced by a group of elves in the Home Counties, but that’s Bike-Hod mythology for you. Unfortunately, they don’t work for a ham & cheese ploughman’s these days, so expect to part with £90 or £100 extra for the wicker option. For an upmarket delivery business or style-conscious picnicker, the wicker basket will no doubt be worth every penny.

On the Road


When weight is carried low down, it has to be lifted before the trailer will flip over. A higher load is less stable

Bike-Hods have a rather undeserved reputation for instability, but if packed and used with care, they’re perfectly safe.The trick (a sensible rule for any trailer) is to load heavy items at the bottom and lighter ones at the top.

With trailers, we tend to refer to wheel track versus seat height as a measure of stability. In other words, the higher the load relative to the distance between the wheels, the more likely that the trailer will topple over on a corner.With a heavy load on the floor, a Bike-Hod has a track to height ratio of almost 7:1, which is well into the stable zone. On the other hand, put a few heavy objects near the top, and the ratio can approach 1:1, which is asking for problems.

Instability is accentuated by the Hod’s rather upright stance, which tends to exaggerate bicycle movements, resulting in a certain twitchiness, particularly at speed on a bumpy road.This effect can be reduced by mounting the hitch as low as possible on the bicycle, which tends to lean the Hod forward.

In practice, we never managed to lift a wheel, but the Bike-Hod can give some strange feedback to the bicycle when fully loaded, so it makes sense to proceed with caution, especially on bumpy or icy roads.

With the bag removed, this effete  picnic accessory transforms into a serious load carrier. Our personal record is 43kg of conti-board shelving, measuring 38cm x 183cm (15″ x 6′).We got that lot on the train too.The weight limit is 50kg (110lb).


Not very sophisticated this feature, but then it doesn’t need to be. Ready for the road, the Hod occupies an enormous 119cm tall by 96cm long, by 64cm wide, but by loosening one 5mm Allen screw, the tow hitch can be folded round and down, reducing the package size by two-thirds, to 91cm by 42cm x 64cm. At 245 litres, that’s pretty small, but more importantly, it no longer shouts ‘bicycle’ and can thus be taken just about anywhere.To all intents and purposes, once the tow hitch is folded down, the Bike-Hod becomes a slightly-larger-than-life shopping trolley. And even the most jobsworthy rail guard won’t bat an eyelid at a shopping trolley, so trains are easy, as are buses, provided they’re not too busy. It’s all an optical illusion, of course, because the Hod is actually quite a substantial trailer.

bike-hod-carryall-deluxe-3On the Deluxe model, the wheels can be detached by releasing two pins, producing a thinner 26cm package (150 litres).This is easily accomplished, although getting the pins back in can be a fiddly and curse-invoking operation.To get the full benefit, you’ll also need to remove the mudguards, a slightly less fiddly 5mm Allen-key job, reducing the width to 50.5cm and 119 litres. Fully folded, the Hod – which now looks like one of those ludicrously chunky backpacks favoured by young Australian tourists – would pose few problems on public transport.Transport is made easier by the Hod’s lightweight construction – our typical example weighed a relatively trifling 5.6kg, or a shade over 12lb.

Once at the shops, the ‘folded’ Hod trundles along like a shopping trolley, without causing too much inconvenience. A quick fiddle with the Allen key, stuff the heater hose back in and you’re cycling home in a trice. Two Plus Two is also testing a ‘Walk-Hod’ attachment – an S-shaped shaft that fits in place of the tow-bar and puts a rubber handgrip at a comfortable height. Price? About £25.

With the tow-arm folded back the Hod could be a large shopping trolley. Note the quick-release wheels


You can’t resist warming to the Bike-Hod. It’s quirky and quixotic, but a simple design that really works. It’s become something of a favourite with Brompton owners, because the machines work rather well together, especially where there’s a need to hoik the assemblage onto a train or into a car boot. A Hod is also ideal for the old trick of carrying a second Brompton to pick up wheel-less friends. And the 60 litre bag will swallow quite a big shop. All good practical stuff.


Bike-Hod Carryall Deluxe (c/w Carradura bag & 28mm hitch) £225
Weight 5.6kg (12lb)
TyresCheng Shin 121/2″ x 21/4″
Track 61cm
Folded volume 119 – 245 ltr
Spare hitch(28, 32 or 36mm)£14
Extra Carradura bag £69
Wicker basket £90 or £100
ManufacturerBike Hod Trailers tel 01273 480479 mail info@twoplustwo.uk.com web www.twoplustwo.uk.com


Knight Cycles

knight-cyclesNot so long ago, before Britain began its rapid retreat from the world of industry, the city of Birmingham was known as the workshop of the world. In part, this came about because most of the industrial giants were based there, churning out everything from nuts and bolts to trains and cars. But the region also has a tradition of small, family-run workshops, often playing a supporting role as sub- contractors to the big industries.The number of small fry in the Black Country (generally speaking, Birmingham and its satellite towns and cities) once ran into many thousands.Today, the number of factories is much smaller, but despite three decades of wholesale industrial decline, the tradition lives on.

The cycle industry is symptomatic of many others: Once there were tens of big manufacturers in the region, but by the 1990s this assortment had been whittled down to just Raleigh and Sturmey Archer, both in Nottingham, in the East Midlands.Today – although a rump Raleigh marketing organisation survives – both have ceased manufacture, leaving only tube-maker Reynolds, and a few dozen small specialists making forgings, tools and assorted cycle widgets in Birmingham.

The Black Country is littered with buildings left over from the great manufacturing era. Many are ugly, dark, squalid sheds, but not all…The Tower Works in Wolverhampton is actually quite an attractive building  with a priceless transport pedigree.  Built towards the end of the 19th century, the factory is thought to have churned out Humber bicycles for Rudge Wedge & Co (the history is byzantine in the extreme), before being sold in 1910 to the Stevens family, early motorcycle engine pioneers, who went on to produce the AJS. Very much following the pattern of the times, the building was adapted for manufacture of Clyno motorbikes and finally cars, until 1928, when Clyno moved up and out, only to disappear without a trace in the Great Depression.

…the last full-time employee left five years ago… his wheel-building jig makes a handy coat-rack…

More recently, the Tower Works was bought by the local authority and split into units for small industries, including Knight Cycles – not as one might suppose, established in the heyday of the ‘ordinary’, but in the 1970s.

Knight Cycles is currently run by Mike Hesson and his daughter Angie, although there were more staff here in busier days and there may be again if business picks up. John, the last full-time employee, left five years ago, but his wheel-building jig remains on the bench (it makes a handy coat-rack), and it could be dusted down tomorrow. It’s this sort of flexibility that has allowed the very tiny industrial concerns to survive, against seemingly overwhelming global odds.

The company currently builds wheels, but it wasn’t always so. Back in 1965, Mike was an electrician by trade, but a racing cyclist by inclination. As an impetuous young man, he decided to follow his heart, purchasing Hales Cycles, a small shop in Tipton, near Wolverhampton.Ten years later the premises were compulsorily purchased, and Mike nearly bought another shop in nearby Wednesbury. But he had by this time established a reputation as a wheel and frame-builder and in 1975 went into partnership with Barry Moore, a fellow racing cyclist, and Frank Clements, then owner of Orbit Cycles.

Hesson & Moore established quite a reputation, building and selling racing bikes under the Knight Cycles brand, but it was a competitive and unpredictable business. On the contrary, the wheel-building side had some lucky breaks, winning the contract to supply wheels for the popular Bickerton in 1980, a contract that soon pushed output to around 1,000 wheels a week.

Thus, quite by chance, Knight Cycles became a wheel-builder, specialising in large production runs of small wheels, which were difficult to make by machine.These days, whether in Taiwan or Britain, most cycle wheels are built by machine. But hand-made wheels – even the mass-produced kind – are better than machine-made examples, so the top-end specialist cycle manufacturers generally choose the traditional kind too.These two different specialities were the twin niches that Knight Cycles found, almost by accident in the 1980s.

The Brompton Connection

The Bickerton sold in big numbers for a few years and led to another niche contract. In the early 1980s the delivery girl of the time phoned the factory from outside a rather unpromising workshop in leafy West London. She was delivering a batch of a hundred 16- inch wheels to a new customer based at ‘The Powerhouse’ in Kew, and although a neighbour had agreed to accept the delivery, the tiny workshop was locked and empty. Back in Wolverhampton, Mike took a deep breath and agreed to leave the batch on trust.

Today, he’s very glad he did, because that initial order of wheels was destined for the Mark 1 Brompton.Today, Brompton is easily Knight Cycle’s biggest customer, purchasing between 400 and 600 wheels a week. By the mid ‘90s, the Bickerton and the frame- building business had gone, but by then the Brompton was becoming firmly established, neatly filling the void. Other smaller contracts currently include wheel building for Condor racing cycles (Knight used to make some of the frames too), and Whyte Cycle’s sophisticated mountain bikes, but Brompton is by far the biggest.

…problems with Brompton wheels are rare… that’s the advantage of building by hand…

Wheel Building


Angie laces the wheels in batches of fifty. Each wheel takes about three minutes

As anyone who has wrestled with spokes and rims will know, wheel-building is a tricky and time-consuming black art.The spokes need to be ‘laced’ into the hub and rim, screwed loosely into place, then brought to full tension and ‘trued’ to produce a rim that runs accurately relative to the central hub.Thanks to years of experience, Mike and Angie turn out an impressive number of wheels to a high standard, and Brompton – renowned amongst sub-contractors for attention to detail – is certainly happy with the quality. As we often report in our road tests, wheel-building accuracy is often compromised on small- wheeled bikes, and some examples (mentioning no names) require careful truing work before the bike can be ridden. Buy a cheap folder by mail-order and you can be in trouble. But problems with Brompton wheels are quite rare – that’s the advantage of building everything in Britain, and building by hand.

For the Brompton contract, spokes are bought in, but the pricey bits – the rims and hubs – are owned by Brompton and delivered by the lorry-load direct from Holland and Germany respectively.This eases cashflow complications for the sub- contractor and enables Brompton to keep a close eye on stock levels. If the Brentford factory were to run out of wheels, production would dry up quite rapidly, but a stock of several thousand inWolverhampton ensures continuity of supply.

Wheels are built in batches of 50, with Angie lacing the assemblies together and Mike tensioning and truing the finished wheels. Each batch takes about 21/2 hours to lace, an hour to tension and another couple of hours to true, so Angie usually works a slightly shorter day, getting away early to pick the kids up from school.

Lacing is predictable, but trueing can vary batch by batch. Deciding how many rims to reject is a vital part of the quality control operation. Knight Cycles scraps about 1% of the alloy Rigida rims delivered from Holland. It could accept almost all of them, but the time taken to true that last 1% would make the operation uneconomic. On the other hand, a greater percentage of rims could be rejected, saving truing time, but wasting rims.With a keenly priced contract, this sort of decision can make the difference between profit and loss. And this is where a skilled hand- builder can return a profit and turn out first-class wheels.


The spoke tensioning machine - still very much a hand operation

Initial spoke tensioning is the only part of the operation done by machine, with the rim secured in a home-made air-powered jig, but it’s a skilled job.The spokes are not, as one  might expect, adjusted to a preset tension, but wound  in to a preset depth with an air drill. Building the more complex rear wheel, Knight Cycles use 152mm spokes one side and 153mm the other, which when precisely wound onto their threads by the tensioning machine, will automatically give the correct ‘offset’ to place the tyre dead centre between the frame drop-outs.

Experienced cyclists have been known to re-true the Brompton wheel to sit centrally within the rear frame – an understandable error. In fact, it’s the frame that’s offset to one side: the wheel should sit within a millimetre or so of the bicycle centre line.

When removed from the tensioning machine, the spokes should be more or less at their final tension and the wheel pretty true – you could certainly ride off on one if you really needed to. From this point, it’s all done by eye and by feel – the wheel sitting in a jig and the spokes adjusted up or down to give a near-perfect wheel. Once again, perfection is available, but at a price.The expensive racing wheels take longer to true than the Brompton wheels, but cost a lot more. Finally, the wheel is removed from the jig, the offset checked, and another unit is ready for the long journey down to London to be built into a Brompton.Wheels plop off the production line every 21/2 minutes.

Although Bromptons have suffered spoke failures in the past, when using different rim/spoke/hub combinations, the current set-up appears to be quite strong.The only maintenance required is a check of the spoke tension after a ‘running-in’ period of a few months, or less for heavier and/or high mileage riders. A well-adjusted and maintained wheel should last for years or even decades, but rim wear is a big problem with 16-inch wheels, and few survive for more than five thousand miles or so.There’s no easy answer to this one, apart from regular inspection and cleaning, although new materials might help.

Today, with just two staff, Knight Cycles is set to move to a smaller and tidier workshop in the same building. Running a small operation – as we know at A to B – has its compensations, including the freedom to arrange working hours to suit personal circumstances, but Mike sometimes laughs about his little factory. ‘We had a guy come in last week asking for Goods Inwards. I said ‘this is Goods Inwards, Good Outwards,Tool Setting, and I make the tea.What can I do for you?’

Mike Hesson, Knight Cycles,Tower Works, Pelham St,Wolverhampton WV3 0BW tel 01902 420305

Letter from America – Well done, Mr Breeze!

mr-breezeJoe Breeze is unlikely to be a famous name among A to B readers, but most of us will be aware of his legacy. About 25 years ago, north of San Francisco, California, the young Joe Breeze and a few friends started a bicycle revolution.They gathered on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais and began trying out some ideas, utilising little more than old bike frames, single-speed drive trains, fat tyres and lots of testosterone. A few hikers and many horses were utterly terrified, but out of all this activity, along with a few broken bones and perhaps a scrambled brain or two, came the mountain bike we know so well.

The American bicycle industry sat up and took notice quickly. Sales had been stagnant, and the industry was looking for Something New.They found it in the mountain bike, and within ten years mountain bikes made up the bulk of American bicycle sales. All sorts of accessories were invented to add a bit of profit for the retailer, but the basic system remained the same.The machines had a frame, two wheels, handlebars and a seat, and little else. Suspension came later.

As usual, there were some unintended consequences to the revolution. Everyday bikes – those designed to carry the ordinary rider from A to B – disappeared from the American bicycling scene.All bicycles were sold like mountain bikes – frame and wheels only, without accessories. Selling a bicycle was a low-profit activity for retailers, while selling accessories was a high-profit activity. Everything that could be sold as an accessory was sold separately. First there were the ‘10-speeds’, then ‘cross’ bikes, then hybrids and comfort bikes, but they all looked more or less like mountain bikes. Customers had a hard time telling the difference between them.

…These days, less than 1% of all trips in the USA are made by bicycle… Re-enter Joe Breeze…

Mountain bikes invaded Europe too, but there the everyday bicycle, with its fenders, luggage rack, bell, mirror and lights survived. It did not happen that way in the USA [or in Britain. Eds], and the situation today is much the same as it has been for years.

Two years ago I bought a new comfort bicycle for commuting to work. By the time I had finished adding on all of the accessories which might be considered standard equipment in Europe, I had increased the price of the bicycle by almost 50%, given a good workout to my skills in assembly and profanity, and had laboriously produced a new creation. A to B readers would no doubt call it a commuter bicycle. I call it a UBC – Urban Battle Cruiser.We think differently about many things around Los Angeles.

My UBC has almost 5,000 commute miles on it now, with no mechanical problems and no flats. It does the job and does it well.There are some advantages to buying bicycles without any accessories.The buyer can customise the final product as desired, and tailor it to his/her needs.That is the good news about the American sales system.The bad news can be seen by standing on any American street corner and watching the passing traffic.There are very few bicycles out there…

These days less than 1% of all trips in the USA are made by bicycle. Observers will notice immediately that almost all bicycles are ridden the way they are sold – without any accessories except the legally mandated reflectors.These machines are almost useless except in excellent weather, on excellent road surfaces and in broad daylight. In fact, most American cyclists would not know a well-equipped commuter bicycle if they saw one. It has been many years since any have been seen in our shops. Until recently, that is…

Re-enter Joe Breeze. Mr. Breeze, now middle-aged and somewhat thinner of hair and thicker of waist, has re-entered the bicycle market with a new line of ‘Breezers’, which he advertises as ‘Transportation For A Healthy Planet’. He may have some real winners here, because once again the American market is stagnant and once again the industry is looking for Something New.

Breezer BikesThere are eleven models of Breezers, all well equipped for daily transportation from A to B.Three are folders, and any similarity in geometry to a Brompton or a Birdy is strictly coincidental, of course – these are the Compact models.Two other bikes, called Range models, designed for heavy duty long distance work, are closely related to the classic tourist bicycles of yesteryear.The six Town bikes are the most interesting for the average daily rider. All are fully equipped for daily use, with internal hub gears of various speeds, fenders, luggage racks, lights and all the other small accessories which make for practical cycling.These models are supplied with either diamond or step-thru frames and are colourful and stylish machines. Premium prices for these premium bicycles do not seem to present any problem to buyers.They easily outshine my UBC which, sad to say, is neither colourful nor stylish.

Once before, Mr. Breeze revolutionized the bicycling world with his mountain bikes. The first revolution happening largely by accident.This time he is trying to do it again, by design. As industrialist Henry J. Kaiser once said, ‘Find a need and fill it’.There isn’t much testosterone embedded in these bicycles, but there is much good sense and practical design.They are truly transportation for a healthy, safe, practical and sensible USA. WELL DONE, MR. BREEZE. May your tribe, and your Breezers, increase and multiply!

Breezer Bikes tel +1 415 339 8917 web www.breezerbikes.com

Bicycle Brake Lights

Professor PivotI’ve been trying to locate a rear LED light incorporating a brake light.The only ones I have seen recently are those gimmicky types with built-in indicator lights. I’ve managed to find a few products on the internet, such as Mavic, whose ML-273EZ seems to fit the bill.

Gethin Sheppard
Cowbridge, South Glamorgan

The Mavic design shows two LEDs in rear light mode, but five under braking, which would certainly prove visible at dusk, or during the night. Surprisingly though, the system is activated by a rather crude switch looped over the rear V-brake. Useless if your machine doesn’t happen to feature V-brakes, and rather dubious if it does.The gimmick sounds like the B-Seen, a rather expensive lighting, indicator and brake light set widely advertised in the UK cycling press in the last few months.

However, a light weight and effective brake light system utilising ultra-bright red LEDs is perfectly feasible these days and could be made to function automatically using a ‘tilt switch’.With all the componentry inside the rear lamp housing, there would be no wires, no switches and very little extra weight over a conventional rear lamp. Sensitivity would not be as good as a wired system, but probably adequate. I believe there is no legal difficulty with fitting a brake light in the UK, but I don’t think a device of this kind is currently on sale. If anyone knows better, please do get in touch.