Tag Archives: A to B 41

A to B 41 – Night Mail 2004

atob41Tale of our times: Like many, we were finding the burden of unsolicited emails a bit tiresome and decided to reopen our long disused email address box at atob@onetel.net.uk in place of a2b@onetel.net.uk, because it seemed a more logical address anyway. What we didn’t know is that many of you have been communicating with atob@ for years, presumably without reply. When we activated the address, tens of emails fell out, some quite old. If you’ve been waiting years for a reply, do try again. Otherwise, please alter your address book, because a2b will soon be extinguished.

2004 looks set to be an important year for folding bikes, electric bikes and, by definition, this magazine. No products available yet, but if you look closely, there are some clues in this issue – faster, lighter electric machines, lighter, more aerodynamic folding bikes, and easier ways to pedal. The A to B world has never looked so interesting.

A to B 41 Contents

Peter Bottomley MP

A to B 41 Blog, April 2004, Uri Geller bicycle, Cycle Helmets

FIRST PUBLISHED April 2004
Uri Geller folder, Cycle Helmets & Statistics, Peter Bottomley MP.

One is most gratified to hear that the Blair Government is not afraid to legislate where the fabric of our society is threatened by dark forces. One refers, of course, to David Blunkett’s Anti-Social Behaviour Act, giving Street Wardens (whatever they might be) and private security guards the power to impose £30 fines on cyclists caught riding on the pavement. This sort of nonsense sounds suspiciously like policy created from the musings of focus groups and the like: The way to reduce pavement cycling is to provide safer roads, but the quick and easy vote winner is to levy on-the-spot fines on Raleigh shoppers wobbling back from Safeway.

The cowards! Mind you, Blair et all seem to be taking some notice of this column. One has barely to suggest renationalizing Railtrack and it is done! Bring rail maintenance back ‘in-house’? One’s wish is granted. Now a novel idea has been floated to renationalize railway stations, as suggested in A to B’s past, ad nauseam.

Kicking out the train operating companies, by forcing them to bid for franchises against the Strategic Rail Authority, would now be comparatively easy. One assumes this idea will be quietly floated a month or two after A to B 41 goes to press.

Of course, Prime Minister Blair is not the only discredited leader thrashing desperately about in search of coherent policy. The Mole is tempted to accept Colonel Gaddafi’s invitation to attend the Libyan International Transport & Logistics Exhibition, a trade fair aimed at opening up the north African hinterland by air, sea and rail. Perhaps our own Dear Leader could try a similar ploy, and bring vital overseas aid and expertise to tackle our own transport problems?

A to B magazine, Uri Geller Folding BikeOne is increasingly reminded of just how odd the world has become. Few people would have predicted Gaddafi’s denouncement of terrorism, let alone an invitation to all and sundry to fund railway lines across the Sahara. Even fewer, one assumes, would dare predict that the erstwhile spoon-bender Uri Geller might launch a folding bicycle.The ‘Uri-Bike’, marketed under the rather unfortunate slogan ‘Bend it-Bag it’ is in fact, more or less identical to the existing ‘Bike-in-a-Bag’. The only real difference is that the 20-inch, 6-speed Bike-in-a-Bag sells for £240, while the 20-inch, 6-speed Uri Bike sells for £300. To be fair, Uri is throwing in a Reevu helmet with every purchase, plus the sort of endorsement that only an erstwhile spoon-bender can provide. This bike, one assumes, will only bend if the rider concentrates very hard.

According to Uri, the ‘top quality machine’ has such an uncompromising specification that he now rides one himself: ‘Although there are many exercise bicycles available, they do not offer the mind stimulation of open-road cycling.’ It’s hard to argue with that. The Uri-Bike might not be the best folding bike in the world, but celebrity endorsement will bring it to the attention of the sort of people who might not otherwise think of stimulating their minds and, indeed, buttocks with Uri on the open road. In that respect, the Uri-Bike is a Good Thing.

A to B magazine, George Stokes, Romford RecorderOn the other hand, cycle helmets appear to be of dubious value. For an example of just how detached from reality the pro-helmet campaign has become, we must thank reader Jean Elliot of Upminster, who provides a cutting from the Romford Recorder. It seems young George Stokes of Romford has narrowly escaped serious injury after being struck by a lorry while crossing the A127 Southend Arterial Road on his bike – a most regrettable incident, and one naturally wishes the young man a rapid recovery.

But since the incident, George’s mother has joined the cycle helmet campaign, even though – as the sharper sort of reader may already have observed – young George received a broken ankle in the ‘horrific collision’. The Romford Recorder quotes Mrs Stokes as saying, ‘I see youngsters now riding their bikes without a helmet in the street, and I just want to stop them and tell them to wear one…’ Yet even a complete medical duffer will appreciate that a helmet is unlikely to reduce the likelihood of a broken ankle. The answer is for the Department for Transport to provide a safe crossing of this very dangerous road.

…even a non-medical type will appreciate that a helmet is unlikely to reduce the likelihood of a broken ankle…

The debate as to whether, or to what extent, cycle helmets protect the user from small knocks, mild concussion, or death is becoming increasingly vociferous, so it might be wiser to concentrate on more general themes.

One is indebted to safety researcher Malcolm Wardlaw for two reports: Assessing the Actual Risks faced by Cyclists, and Safety in Numbers: More Walkers and Bicycles, Safer Walking and Bicycling. Beyond the rather cumbersome titles, these tomes make interesting reading, bringing together evidence from around the world that risk levels for pedestrians and cyclists can be predicted from a simple formula.

Without delving too deeply into the mathematics, a subject upon which the Mole is sadly ill-informed, it seems that a motorist is less likely to collide with a person walking or bicycling where walking or bicycling are common activities. This relationship – first proposed by a certain Mr Sneed in 1949 – can be expressed as a formula, the risk of collisions with cars being approximately equal to the 0.4 power of the numbers enjoying a particular pursuit.

Returning to the sort of terms we lay-folk might understand, if a country (or indeed Romford) were to double the number of cyclists, Sneed’s Law suggests the number of collisions between bicycles and cars would rise by 20.4, which – one is reliably informed – produces a figure of 1.32. Thus an increase in bicycle usage of 100% results in an increase in crashes of only 32%, reducing the risk per cyclist by a third.

…compulsion always reduces the number of cyclists… child cyclists by 42% and adults by 29%…

Conversely, if the number of cyclists is reduced, the likelihood of an individual cyclist being struck by a motor vehicle increases. Quite why this should be is beyond the intelligence of a humble insectivore, although it seems reasonable to assume that in more enlightened places, motorists have become hard wired to expect a bicycle to wobble across their path and take avoiding action. Whatever the rights and wrongs of bicycle helmets – and one has no argument with those individuals who choose to wear one – compulsion always reduces the number of cyclists. Typical figures are those recorded in Melbourne, Australia, where compulsion reduced the number of child cyclists by 42% and adults by 29%.

A to B magazine: Cycle Usage vs Fatalities

Cycle usage versus fatalities in 14 European countries. As cycle usage declines, crashes per cycle/kilometre rise. Britain is currently on the black arrow. Cycle helmet compulsion would tend to move us towards the grey arrow, increasing risk

Peter Bottomley MPPeter Bottomley MP Cycling

Naturally, this reduction in the number of cyclists tends to reduce the number of cycling road casualties, but thanks to Mr Sneed’s Law, the reduction is rather less than one might expect, and the remaining cyclists face a greater risk, initiating a vicious spiral of increased risk and declining usage.Worse still, there is no evidence that displacing large numbers from bicycles reduces fatalities overall. Many former cyclists would walk instead, a mode that (rather surprisingly), puts individuals at greater risk of death per kilometre than riding a bicycle.

To apply this to British experience, we need only glance at the rather depressing graph of cycle casualties versus cycle mileage gathered from 14 European countries. The first observation one might make is that the risk of being turned into raspberry jam by a 40-tonner is remarkably small, even in places like the UK, which are some way to the left (ie, dangerous) side of the graph. But if a compulsory helmet law were to push cycle usage even further to the left, the risk would rise rapidly, negating most of the (often perceived) benefits of helmet use.

In the light of this wider road safety picture, the current fixation in Parliament and elsewhere with cycle helmet provision makes little sense. For a whole raft of reasons, from increasing obesity to road danger, any measures that reduce bicycle use are clearly bad news, both in terms of transport and public health. On the other hand, measures to control the speed and volume of motorised traffic tend to encourage cycle use, and are thus – like the Uri-Bike – a Good Thing.

Moving swiftly from Romford to East Sussex (as indeed one can on paper), we find that Peter Bottomley MP, elected representative for delightful West Worthing, has fallen victim to just such a policy. After speeding through no fewer than four speed cameras, the unfortunate fellow has been banned from driving his 115mph Daewoo Laganza for six months.

Never one to miss a PR opportunity, Bath-based Powabyke has presented the MP with an electric bike for the duration of the ban, much to the delight of the local paper, the Worthing Herald. One hopes the fresh air and modest exercise will encourage Peter to move to two wheels on a more permanent basis!

Bicycling Science – 3rd Ed – David Gordon Wilson & Jim Papadopoulos

Bicycling Science - 3rd EditiionBicycling Science is a hallowed canon. Published in 1974, it was the first serious, academic work on general cycle science to appear since Archibald Sharp’s Bicycles and Tricycles in 1896. A collaboration between Frank Rowland Whitt, technical editor for the Cyclists’ Touring Club, and David Gordon Wilson, professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bicycling Science affirmed cycling and human power as subjects fully worthy of proper scientific study and analysis, and sustained exploration and development.

In the then climate of a cycling renaissance, Bicycling Science enjoyed success precisely because it was academic and technical. In 1981 a second, much expanded edition was produced, largely the work of Dave Wilson as sadly, Frank had suffered a stroke.The second edition is a bible which anyone involved with cycling technology is assumed to have read – carefully. However, modern cycling has seen many changes and developments, and the book has been in need of a strong update.

It has come. Bicycling Science Third Edition is far and away the best and most interesting edition yet. It benefits from substantial contributions by Jim Papadopoulos, a mechanical engineer and ‘recognized genius’ with a special interest in cycling and the mechanics of steering. Areas in previous editions which were weak, or have seen change, have been strengthened.The result is a well-organized book, consistent in quality throughout. Between what is new, and lucid, literate presentation, there is never a dull moment, not even for a reader who is familiar with the first or second editions.

The first section on human power includes a chapter on bicycling history with a few choice revisionist elements, a long and important chapter on power generation, and a short but fascinating chapter on how cyclists keep cool. (Start: ‘For each unit of work put into the pedals, a cyclist must get rid of about three units of heat.’)

The substance of the book is in the second section covering bicycle physics – power and speed, aerodynamics, mechanical resistance, braking, steering and balancing, mechanics of power transmission, materials and stresses, and much more. It is good, solid stuff, comprehensive yet concise. A nice touch is a continuing personal practical note. Dave is a cyclist, and so for example, the discussion of the mechanics of shimmy, an event which can scare a rider witless, includes the things one can do to stop it.

The final section of the book is on human-powered machines and vehicles. Unusual human-powered machines are described, and there is a discussion of how human- powered vehicles may develop in the future.

Cycling has grown, and so has Bicycling Science; the new edition is more than twice the size of the first one. For veterans of earlier editions and new, technically-minded readers alike: highly, highly recommended.

Bicycling Science . US$22.95 . 477 pages, 226 illustrations . Author David Gordon Wilson . Publisher MIT Press mail mitpress-orders@mit.edu web mitpress.mit.edu . ISBN 0-262-73154-1

Cambridge Trains Map

Reopening Railway Lines

Scottish Borders Trains MapVery often Anarchist’s Corner tells a tragic and unresolved tale, but these examples are rather different.They’re two of the most important transport good causes around, and you really can do something to help. Even if you never travel by train, and don’t live in these areas, don’t forget that they are net generators of road traffic, which affects every road in the country. Overseas readers might be surprised to hear that major transport infrastructure decisions are made by volunteers in Britain…

Scottish Borders: Back in the late 1960s, after Doctor Beeching had erased half of Britain’s rail network, one major trunk line teetered on the brink of extinction.The direct ‘Waverley’ route from Edinburgh to Carlisle provided suburban rail services in Edinburgh, long-distance links throughout the Scottish Borders region and an essential diversionary route should either of the other trunk lines from the south be disrupted.

Despite some powerful arguments in favour of retention, the Labour Government of the day chose to close the entire line, and the final train duly ran on 6th January 1969: it proved to be the last major rail closure in the UK.

So what, one might ask? We discovered the negative effect on tourism ourselves back in 1998 (see Mole, A to B 8). For the locals – the voluntarily and involuntarily car-free (37% of adults in the area at the last census), students, children, the unemployed and so on – the effect was more or less complete isolation. Galashiels, with a population of over 14,000, found itself 33 miles from a railway station, while Hawick (population 14,500) is no less than 50 miles from Edinburgh. Many smaller towns, including Selkirk, Melrose and Jedburgh, were cut off that fateful day too.

More recently, the effects have been felt just as keenly by those who could afford a car, because the long tenuous road link into Edinburgh is proving increasingly slow and unreliable for regular commuting. As was all too often the case, promised road ‘improvements’ failed to materialise, leaving the central Borders woefully served, while road and rail routes on the east and west coasts were steadily upgraded.

…a trust has been set up to force the taxman to chip in under the Gift Aid scheme…

Thirty years on, despite near total indifference from the British Department for Transport (well, what did you expect?), political change in Scotland has put railways back on the agenda. After a long and heroic struggle, a small but vociferous pressure group is close to securing 35 miles of rebuilt commuter line from Edinburgh south to the Borders town of Galashiels.

What can we do? A committee of MSPs from the Scottish Parliament is currently debating the Waverley Railway Bill and taking written evidence from interested parties. This could, of course, be a letter relating to general environmental issues, but would carry extra weight if (like us) you have had problems getting in or out of the Borders region whilst on holiday, or perhaps chosen to travel elsewhere for the same reason. Evidence of disrupted rail travel on surviving Anglo-Scottish rail services is also admissible, because should the entire Waverley line be reopened, it would have great strategic significance.

For wealthy types, the campaign also needs donations, and a trust has been set up to force the tax man to chip in under the Gift Aid scheme. A nice irony there – the Waverley Route Trust receives no assistance from the Strategic Rail Authority or the DfT, but you can screw some money out of the Government all the same.The Trust is seeking £40,000 for a professional study of the options for taking the line further into the Borders.The basic commuter railway will solve one problem, but the Waverley line will be carrying charter trains and freight (principally timber traffic), plus through intercity and sleeper services, should it ever reach Carlisle.To make a donation, telephone Bill Jamieson on 01578 730262 and ask for the Waverley Route Trust Gift Aid declaration form.

Maybe you think railway reinstatement is a load of rose-tinted tosh? Not in Scotland it isn’t.Work is about to start on rebuilding lines to Alloa in the Central region, and Larkhall in Strathclyde. England might exist in a transport policy vacuum, but things are progressing north of the border.

Letters in support of the Waverley Railway Bill should be addressed to the Waverley Railway Partnership: Bruce Rutherford, Head of Network Management,Transport & Environmental Standards, Scottish Borders Council, Council HQ, Newtown St Boswells, Melrose,TD6 0SA. For further details tel 01578 730262 or web www.thewaverleyroute.co.uk

Cambridge Trains MapCambridgeshire: Far away from the Scottish Borders, another crucial transport matter lies unresolved.The railway line from Cambridge to Huntingdon closed long ago as a through passenger route, but a branch from Cambridge to St Ives remained open until 1970 for passengers, and well into the 1980s for freight.When the last freight train left, the track was mothballed, and although some serious vegetation has overwhelmed the infrastructure in the intervening years, the track is still in place.

Meanwhile, Cambridge, and the satellite towns and villages along the route, were growing at an unprecedented pace, and the A14 road linking Cambridge with Huntingdon had become one of the busiest dual-carriageway roads in the country. As the years passed, plans came and went for waking the slumbering railway line, but with no national guidance, local arguments over cost and provision prevented progress being made.

The need for a commuter rail service was obvious, but a reinstated line to St Ives, continuing on a new alignment into Huntingdon would also provide a diversionary route for long-distance trains and form part of a rail ‘M25’ for freight and passengers bypassing London. In other words, this is infrastructure of national importance.

Sadly, none of the plans worked out and Cambridgeshire County Council decided to convert the route into a guided bus corridor. Guided buses were a briefly fashionable idea, considered cheaper and more flexible than rail by some local authorities, but experience has shown many flaws.We do not have the space to outline all of the reasons why a guided busway is such a bad idea, but briefly: buses would be slower than rail (even slower than today’s bus schedule), they would not carry bicycles, and the busway would be expensive to build – the latest estimate has passed £100 million and is still rising. Even the inventor of the guided busway, who happens to live in the area, thinks this is not a suitable candidate for conversion!

Rail could carry long-distance traffic, plus local trains across the city to the (frighteningly congested) Addenbrookes Hospital, and even Stansted Airport.Trains would also carry bicycles; one study predicting that bicycle carriage might increase revenue by 28%. Remember, we’re talking about a commuter rail service into Cambridge, one of the most cycle-orientated cities in the country.

With studies predicting at least 7,000 purely local passengers a day, no-one is suggesting that a railway would not be viable. Unfortunately, the County Council is ignoring the wider transport picture and clinging desperately to the bus scheme.

Rail campaign group Cast Iron has organised a petition in favour of rail reinstatement.You can join the petition and find out a great deal more about the issues involved at the campaign website: www.castiron.org.uk. Alternatively, write to: Cast Iron, St Francis House, 10 Newmarket Road, Cambridge CB5 8DT, or email chairman@castiron.org.uk.The deadline for objections to the guided bus scheme has now officially passed, but there’s never any harm in hassling the Department for Transport: transportandworksact@dft.gsi.gov.uk

Mailstar

Mailstar Delivery BikeIf you think about it, the toughest most cost-effective bicycles on the planet will be machines honed to perfection in a tough commercial environment. Forget those fair-weather mountain-style machines with wobbly suspension pivots and 521/2 useless derailleur gears; the ultimate bicycle will be a machine designed for daily commercial use, where time means money.

Mail deliveries rather lend themselves to the bicycle, which helps to explain why most postal services round the world use bicycles for at least some deliveries, and posties in the UK alone clock up a remarkable million plus miles in the saddle each week.That, says the Royal Mail, is the equivalent of riding 40 times round the world, or if you prefer, to the moon and back twice… every single week.

Back at the dawn of mail deliveries, the Post Office experimented with early velocipedes, much in vogue with dandies of the time (a bit like today’s equally useless MTBs), but the machines proved impractical, which shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

Numerous trials followed, as both the bicycle and the Post Office evolved, but it was not until 1896, when an initial fleet of a hundred machines were purchased, that bikes began to be taken seriously. In 1929, a standard design was introduced, with a carrying capacity of 50lb (22.7kg), and a service life of four years. By 1935, this standard bicycle had swept away all previous designs. It was to remain essentially unchanged for an astonishing 63 years, produced by a number of companies, including W R Pashley of Stratford upon Avon, who became a primary supplier from the 1970s onwards.

…By this time, the British bicycle industry had more or less evaporated…

In 1992, the familiar postie bike, now coded RM92, was upgraded and renamed the Millennium.The principal changes were Sturmey-Archer hub brakes in place of the reliable, but archaic, rod-operated type, a lighter frame (not difficult), wider tyres, 26-inch wheels, and a few plasticky bits. Incidentally, records suggest that an electric version was introduced in January 1993, but no one seems able to verify whether this was a single prototype or a large-scale experiment – it certainly didn’t catch on.

Mailstar delivery bike - Spectro 5-speed

Spectro 5-speed hub, well protected cable and (just visible below) sprung chain tensioner

By the late 1990s, the Royal Mail was running the largest and possibly the oldest fleet in Europe – more than 30,000 machines, many still with rod brakes and other pre-war fittings. Despite some tentative experiments with mopeds, it was clear that bicycles would always be needed, and the Royal Mail invited 12 companies to tender for the contract to replace RM92, of which six expressed an interest and supplied a prototype.

Mailstar Delivery bike panniers

Big panniers and plenty of room for awkward parcels on the rack. An LED light completes the package

By this time, of course, the British bicycle industry had more or less evaporated, and of the three short-listed for evaluation, the only truly British contender was the Pronto workbike from Pashley, the company already building the post bikes. The other shortlisted manufacturers are thought to have been Dawes (but made in the Far East) and Valdenaire. The Royal Mail ordered 60 of each design and began a twelve- month trial.

…our bike broke the Royal Mail testing machine! The Pashley Pronto was the winner…

With such a large and hard-working fleet (surprisingly, the Royal Mail has more bicycles than vans) reliability was to prove a crucial factor, working in favour of hub brakes and gears, and against flash derailleurs. Posties had also asked for stands and locks (which would be easy) and suspension, a much more difficult proposition within the strict price, weight and reliability constraints of the contract.To add to the pressure, one of the stipulations was that the bike should carry more than the 23kg payload of its predecessor.

According to Dan Farrell of Pashley, the selection procedure was extremely rigorous, but where the Royal Mail testing machine eventually broke the other bikes, ‘our bike broke the testing machine!’

In 2000, the Pashley Pronto was pronounced the winner, and the Stratford upon Avon manufacturer geared up to start replacing the Royal Mail’s ageing fleet from 2001. The MailStar name was chosen by Royal Mail from competition entries submitted by Pashley employees.

SRAM Hub BrakeThe bike has a rugged specification: simple, but immensely strong step-thru frame, 5-speed SRAM hub gears, hub brakes, alloy rims, ‘multi- surface’ Nokian or Schwalbe tyres, plastic chainguard, aluminium mudguards, rugged centre stand, frame lock, automotive-grade brake cables and front and rear carriers. Interestingly, lights are not integral with the design, and with the accent on safety and reliability, a front hub dynamo would seem an obvious upgrade.The design load (rider and mail) is 150kg, with a total mail capacity of 32kg, split evenly between the front tray and rear panniers and rack.That’s appreciatively more than the RM92, provided, of course, that postmen and women don’t weigh more than they used to.

The design life was five years, but this is expected to be exceeded in practice – quite an achievement, considering the environment the bikes operate in. Not only does the MailStar carry impressive loads, it also has to withstand being dropped (sometimes literally) from vans, to speed up deliveries to outlying suburbs. Not surprisingly, it’s a fairly chunky machine. Complete with massive rear rack, twin panniers and front letter tray, the bike weighs about 26.6kg (59lb).Weight is one of the few complaints from staff, who are otherwise very appreciative of the improved brakes and gears.

Safety is paramount these days, thanks to Health & Safety legislation. Helmets have recently been made compulsory for posties – an unpopular move in our part of the world, at least, but perhaps inevitable in the current climate.

Health & Safety excesses aside, the Royal Mail shows no sign of giving up on the bicycle.The company has experimented with bikes other than the MailStar in recent years, but none has quite made the grade.The Brompton has been considered for pecialist deliveries and the Royal Mail has held trials with Powabyke machines in Essex and Plymouth to judge whether power-assisted bikes might speed things up in hilly areas. The electric-assist bikes proved popular with postmen, but were not judged tough enough, and none have yet been adopted.

Pashley Pronto Bike

The Pashley Pronto is the ‘civilian’ MailStar and shares the same chunky rear rack, centre stand and simple but rugged construction

OK, it’s a classic workbike, but can I buy one? The Post Office refuses to pass on time-expired bikes to the public, presumably to avoid fraudulent use. Until recently, these were cut in half and scrapped, but many thousands of older machines are now shipped off to start a new life in Africa, where the rugged construction and sturdy carriers must make them prized possessions. Of 9,000 bikes exported to date under the Re- Cycle scheme, half have come from the Royal Mail.

Officially, you won’t get a postie to part with his bike for love nor money, but Pashley continues to produce the identical Pronto for some £450, although you can’t buy one in Post Office Red for obvious reasons. Many bikes are sold to overseas postal services, and a few to  industry.

Meanwhile, Pashley continues to churn out some 4,000 to 5,000 MailStars a year, replacing the hard-working machines on a never-ending seven-year cycle. After the expenditure of a considerable amount of time and money refining the product, neither Pashley nor the Royal Mail are planning changes. Seventy years in the making, and still delivering 75 million items a day to 26 million addresses. MailStar, a transport icon.

Pashley Cycles tel 01789 292263 fax 01789 414201 mail enquiries@pashley.co.uk

nexus-inter-4-auto-d

Letters – A to B 41 – auto gears, cycle paths, electric folders, helmets, politics, tricycles

New Labour, Tired Old Policies

While its title suggests that it is not exclusively a cycle magazine, I did subscribe to A to B expecting to read primarily about bicycle use, design and innovation, and I’m not entirely dissatisfied. But after two issues, I’m starting to get a little grudging about the space devoted to electric motors, battery efficiency and solar charging viability.

And – despite the recognition that the Government is trying to regain some sense and control over the railway system – you criticise it as being incompetent, anti-democratic, anti-cycling and not to be trusted. I think you have overlooked the difficulty of undoing privatisation and failed to recognise the Government’s firm commitment to the Kyoto targets on emissions and energy use.

I don’t say the Government is beyond criticism, but I’d prefer to read about Sturmey Archer hubs than a simplistic analysis of government policy, in an area that A to B recognises is even more complex than epicyclic transmission. More cycling and a little less railway consumerism please.

Jim Whitfield
Beverley, East Yorkshire

Long-term subscribers may recall that we’re reasonably non-partisan in our criticism of government – we had little good to say about the Tories either. But you must be joking Jim, surely? New Labour could have prevented railway privatisation, but they didn’t. And when it finally dawned on this hopeless shower that the railway was descending into chaos, they could have brought it back under national control, but they didn’t. Despite all the evidence, they then pressed ahead with a similar part-privatisation of the London Underground.They’re dead anti-cycling too.We may eventually forgive them for putting their (strangely right-wing) politics ahead of the national good, but not for a decade or two. And as for Kyoto…

Generally speaking, we don’t consider ourselves to be a ‘cycling’ magazine, but a magazine that helps to integrate bicycles with real-world transportation. Sleeper trains and solar-powered pedal taxis are just what we’re about. (Eds)

Policemen & Breakfast

With reference to the letter ‘Vicious criminals’ (A to B 40), my experience is a little different to Mrs Foster’s. Cycling on the footpath to the station in a busy local town, I rounded a bend to find a police officer (pips on shoulder grade) walking towards me.

I dismounted, and walked the remaining yards towards him, saying ‘whoops’, or something similar.We stopped to talk. He said he had no problem with cyclists on footpaths, as long as they showed proper constraint for pedestrians. He had recently attended a meeting of the town council where one councillor had said he regularly cycled on the footpath because of traffic volume.

I was also interested to see the article on the Caledonian sleeper in the same magazine.Whenever my wife and I have taken the sleeper to Inverness one of the highlights has been breakfast in the hotel adjoining the station.The last time we did the journey was in 1992, so I hope the hotel is still there. If so, the breakfast experience is not to be missed.

Michael Denham
Orpington, Kent

This sounds very like the Royal Highland Hotel: ‘One minute from stepping off the train’. Book in advance on 01463 231926 and you can still enjoy a delicious breakfast for £9.50 per person. (Eds)

No Brainer

With regard to the bicycle helmet bit (Mole, A to B 40) I work in a brain injury unit and would like to say that I could show you the result of not wearing a helmet, but of course I can’t, because they don’t come to us. I can say from personal experience that whilst a helmet won’t ‘stop’ a lorry, it will stop their wing mirror which nicely cracked the side of my helmet but left the contents (relatively) okay.

Re: John Smith’s letter about taking bikes on planes, I invested a hundred quid in a padded bag for my bike only to find that the baggage handlers had seen it as a challenge, buckling one wheel and snapping the other.This was quite some feat given that the wheels were in their own padded bags within the bag.

Andy Mantell
Brighton

The majority of trauma victims delivered to brain injury units, and indeed mortuaries, are the victims of car crashes, because car occupants are by far the largest at-risk group. Statistics can be manipulated to say all sorts of things, of course, but there’s no doubt that motoring deaths through head injury are quite common, whereas bicycles account for comparatively few deaths through head injuries (see Mole).Why is no one lobbying for motorists to wear helmets? (Eds)

Cranks & Crumps

I have been riding with 150mm cranks on my Dawes Kingpin for some while. I find I can spin the pedals very easily, thanks in part to low gearing. I really noticed the difference when I was forced to ride my backup Kingpin following a spill on my way to work, which damaged my best bike.The 165mm cranks felt like huge windmills in comparison.

The fall taught me one very important thing.When I hit the road, the impact broke my helmet and without it I fear I would have been badly injured. In the past I have tended to ‘just nip out’ for short journeys without putting my helmet on, but Never Again. A cyclist is vulnerable all the time – my bike and I simply parted company whilst negotiating a left turn on a greasy smooth surface.

Steve Morton
Hereford

150mm is Perfect!

You expressed surprise at Mike Burrow’s observation (Letters, A to B 40) that 150mm cranks might be good for you.When I renewed my subscription recently, I made this very comment!

I have used 150mm cranks on various bikes for years, after being advised ten years ago to give up cycling on account of my painful knees. I refused, but did my best to make the bicycles easier to ride – light, low rolling resistance tyres, better adjustment and (for me) glucosamine capsules and shorter cranks. I am still cycling and my knees are (usually) OK.

The 150mm cranks seem strange for a few days, but once you get used to them, longer cranks feel terrible. 170mm cranks were once the norm, but the length is now creeping up – 175mm on many bikes, and even 180 or 185mm: the stuff of nightmares.

The main problem with 150s is getting them at a reasonable price and quality.The excellent TA version is too expensive for everyday use, so as a general rule, only very poor chainsets are available. Stronglight used to make the ‘950’ series alloy chainsets in the 150mm size, and these only cost about £30 for the standard 26/36/46 triple chainring. But Spa Cycles has sold all stock and says nothing is available. If anyone knows of a source of good quality 150mm chainrings, please could they share the secret?

Malcolm Mort
Liskeard, Cornwall

Thanks to the record number who wrote in praise of 150mm cranks (there were none against). Our apologies Malcolm for failing to take the matter seriously until it came from Mike Burrows and numerous others! It seems the case is proven. See page 37 for further analysis. (Eds)

Trikes Welcome

I have to say that we can’t find anyone in the Sustrans NCS team who has any knowledge that trikes may not use bridleways (Letters, A to B 40).We have long advocated three- wheelers in the form of tow-along bikes and trailers, and four-wheelers in wheelchairs, and I welcome trikes in the same category.

Journeys for multi-wheeled machines will get progressively easier, as our ambition is to remove all barriers from our paths.The most difficult sections left to cope with will be the Ridgeway and other historic routes, where narrow parallel tracks might exist.

John Grimshaw
Director, Sustrans

Hub Gear Miscellanea

I will be interested to see if the new Sturmey 8-speed (A to B 40) proves reliable in service. On paper, it looks close to my ‘ideal’ gear set up: 5 or 6 fairly close gears, plus a lower ratio for steep hills (I find a super-high gear less useful).

I am a bit wary of recent Sturmey gears (except 3-speeds). My early Sprinter 5 broke very quickly, and the free replacement internal didn’t last long, despite being relegated to gentle use, and I was warned off the Sturmey 7.

I still use the old S5-2 twin trigger model on several of the family bikes, or 3-speeds where possible. I prefer the Sturmey 3-speeds to SRAM, as the bearings are protected by labyrinth seals.The left-hand bearing on the SRAM fitted to my first Brompton is very worn due to salt, sand and water entering the hub (the sprocket and chain oil reduce the problem on the right-hand side).

One thing to watch out for with drum brakes is grease leaking out onto the brake shoes. I had this problem with a new X-RD3 I bought last year. I had to get the brake plate replaced (free of charge) and thoroughly clean the inside of the drum.When I re-assembled the hub, I packed the left-hand bearing with a very sticky grease (LPS paste from about 25 years ago), hoping this would act as a barrier.This seems to have worked so far (about 9 months and 500km of use).The roller-brake version may be a better choice. Rollers should be immune to grease leakage, and also seem easier to replace, though I don’t know if brake performance is good or not.

Martin Fillan
Hennebont, France

As we said in the 8-speed hub test, gear 6 can cause trouble if the cable is not adjusted with care, and we’ve also noticed a slight grinding noise when pulling hard in 1st. Strange because 1st is direct drive. However, our hub was a pre-production example, so we’re sure these will prove to be teething troubles.The X-RD8 is otherwise quiet, bug-free, and feels pretty efficient.We’ll keep you posted as we clock up the miles. (Eds)

Up-Market Brommie?

The existence of the Birdy Grey (£1,800) and the New Series Moulton (£4,000) shows that there is a market for ‘high price point’ folding bicycles.Where is the £1,000 or £1,500 Brompton? I don’t mean the SP conversions, but a proper stock bike, sold through the standard dealer network.The bike would have the same design goals as the original, but the design solution would simply be more expensive (and presumably better).Wouldn’t this be a win-win situation for Brompton?

Jeremy Lawrence
Neubrandenburg, Germany

It’s no secret that the engineers at Brompton are scurrying with extra urgency, suggesting that something might be in the pipeline.What we’d like to see is an ultra-light 2-speed city bike, using Brompton’s own simple but effective derailleur.With Dahon about to launch bikes claimed to weigh well under 10kg, the pressure will be on to stay ahead of the game. (Eds)

No Bike Carriage?

We are concerned about the Light Rapid Transit system proposed for Gosport. Firstly, the Gosport part is being built along the main axis of the local cycle path network which will mean significant change for cyclists. But the biggest problem is the crossing of the harbour to Portsmouth.At present the pedestrian ferry carries 600 bicycles an hour at peak times, and with ‘no fear of favour’ they accept tandems, trailers, tricycles, mopeds and motorbikes.We have even crossed with a tandem, with U+2 attached, and they only charged us for one bike!

The DfT inquiry stated that the ferry would probably cease to run within two years of the opening of the LRT. Even with the promised ‘cycle shuttle’ the current number of cyclists would swamp the system. No British LRT carries bikes and even folding bikes are usually unwelcome.With the withdrawal of ALL cycling facilities, one wonders how this large number of cyclists will cross the harbour.The only option is a lengthy (18-mile) detour, much if which is on dual-carriageway.This withdrawal is a real insult to local cyclists.

David & Maggie Williams
Gosport

The proposed South Hampshire Rapid Transit raises all kinds of issues. Firstly, we think the scope of the scheme is too limited.With equipment in place to tunnel under Portsmouth Harbour, the contractors might as well keep digging to Ryde on the Isle of Wight, thus bringing the SHRT trams to Shanklin, and revitalising the time-expired Island rail network! There’s also a good argument for taking the line further west, from Fareham to Southampton.

Much of SHRT1 will follow the former Fareham-Gosport railway. In the event of conflict, Sustrans has a policy that reinstating public transport should take precedence over cycle use, although one assumes that an equally direct route would generally be insisted upon.

The SHRT scheme is not dissimilar to the Bay Area Rapid Transit in California, a busy metro line that carries many bicycles under the harbour to San Francisco with a few sensible restrictions, but only folding bikes are allowed at peak hours. (Eds)

We asked for comments from South Hampshire Rapid Transit. According to Mike Gannon, Engineering Manager:

1.The public local inquiry did not come to the conclusion that the cross-harbour ferry would cease to run… In fact, the ferry company are confident they will be running a service for many years to come, which is evidenced by their recent investment in two new vessels. 2.The change to the existing cycle network is visual in nature.There will be no loss of amenity for cyclists [and] it is also intended that secure cycle parking facilities will be provided at all the stops along the segregated section of SHRT 1 route, and that where possible all stops will be linked into cycle path networks. 3.With the private sector, we are examining opportunities for light rail vehicles to carry cyclists. 4.The promoters are committed to the provision of sustainable transport services, and will endeavour that important links such as the Portsmouth Harbour crossing are maintained.

When Things go Wrong

Could I add a bit to the information supplied by In Brief, A to B 40? If a passenger is not satisfied with the reply they get from a Train Operating Company when they complain, they can get the Rail Passengers Committee to look into it, the RPC has frequently done this and secured better compensation for passengers, partly because the RPC has a statutory duty to act as the passengers’ champion and the TOCs can’t just ignore them.

Every station and train should display the address of the local RPC. It can also be found at www.railpassengers.org.uk

Colin Langdon
Member of the NorthWest RPC
Liverpool

Honda Magic

Looking at your latest review of an electric folder it appears you may be ‘blissfully’ unaware of the existence of the Honda Step Compo. I wasn’t aware it was available in the UK until I spotted it being sold on eBay by this company: www.electricbikesdirect.co.uk

I have always dream’t of seeing a review of this bike in A to B. The rule is never to buy anything until you’ve read the review in A to B. However, the UK price is double that in Japan, so perhaps it is not a mainstream product. Still, the spec looks good on paper.

Jonathan Pattison
Leeds

The Honda certainly looks a light and attractive machine. But we’d worry about range: despite a 12 – 18 mile claim, we think that in hilly Somerset the bike would be unlikely to exceed 11 miles, going on our experience, and the quoted battery capacity. (Eds)

Blissfully Unaware

Bliss Electric BikeAs a Bliss owner, I read your report on the Bliss electric bike (A to B 40) and do take in much of what was said.The problem is that people like Dahon and Brompton do not yet see the advantages of E-power, so they just don’t offer it. Meanwhile the Chinese are catching up – and will pass us – then we will have no choice but to buy from them.The bicycle market is going the same way as the motorbike market did in the past.

I am not ‘green’, but the fact is it’s quicker in town on a bike. Many others out there have bad backs or some other problem and an electric folding bike would be ideal.

Many people from 40+ have not been on a bike for years and can only remember the hard effort required to get from A to B (no pun intended). A little ‘electric assist’ takes away the first fears from the hard memories of 20+ years ago…

Perhaps it will change.Your last section in the report points the way forward, but as Brompton and others are on ‘a nice little earner’, I think your words will fall unfortunately on deaf ears.

I did a lot of work finding out about folding bikes before I got my Bliss and knew that the Brompton, Birdy and Dahon were the best in the field but fitting my own motor and electrics was a no-go area, so I dismissed them.

Peter Bruce
Croydon

Conventional bicycle manufacturers, with the skills and techniques to build really good electric bikes, do seem to be ignoring the genre, leaving the field open to less knowledgeable manufacturers, resulting in some very dubious products. As Peter rightly says, electric bikes are perfect for bringing people back into the cycling world, but the products have to improve. (Eds)

Do It Yourself

In A to B 20 (October 2000), you featured a very interesting ‘home brewed’ electric bike package. I have access to an electric motor such as this and would like to have a go at converting my old Raleigh Tourist to electric power. I have access to machining services and would be hopeful of achieving a satisfactory result.

Tony Grayston
Buckingham

That machine was built by Steven Bissex and has apparently been quite a success.These days we’d recommend buying a cheap electric bike (see A to B 38) and cannibalising it.With motor, battery, charger and controls costing from £350, a home- brewed bike has never been easier. (Eds)

Recumbent or Trike?

Powabyke Trike

We know why she’s got a smile on her face. Electric trikes like the Powabyke can be great fun

Could you suggest a suitable bike for an elderly lady who lives in the country and wants an electric bicycle to get to the shops (and a bit of independence)? I’ve seen the EZB semi-recumbent advertised in your magazine and the electric version would seem to be suitable, as it’s nicely low-slung and looks stable. Have you tested it? I want her to be safe, but I don’t think she would go for the wheelchair look! Maybe a 3- wheel pedelec scooter would be better, if Irish road law allows!

Mike Hargaden
London

The electric version of the EZB has been delayed – always a bad sign. But we wonder whether the need to lift your weight up and forward when climbing off might be difficult for an older person. A tricycle makes a good compromise if traffic conditions allow. An electric-assist tricycle costs a lot less than an invalid machine, goes faster and carries more shopping, without the ‘invalid’ tag. Every active grandma should have one! Full list on our website: www.atob.org.uk (Eds)

From New York…

I am looking for a folding bike for short rides to the train station and lunchtime rides in Central Park. Is there a big difference between more expensive Dahons such as the Helios SL ($800) and the Bike Friday Pocket Pilot Plus ($970)? I’m trying to figure out if it is worth the extra cost. I currently ride a Specialized Allez road bike on weekends.

Jonathan Chandler
New York, USA

The Helios SL is the ‘production’ version of Dahon’s ground-breaking Helios XX. On paper, the spec is similar, but the Dahon is a little cheaper in the US (much cheaper in the UK). A few years ago, a mass-produced Chinese product couldn’t begin to compete with a hand-made US machine, but the gap is closing rapidly. However, with a price differential of only $170, we’d probably go for the home-designed and built product, although we might judge otherwise in different markets. (Eds)

To Nottingham…

I am a cyclist who normally uses a racer but am going to buy a folding bike to use it locally on buses and our newly opened tram service. A shop here is selling a Phillips Parkway at about £230. It has three Sturmey Archer gears and appears to fold into a fairly small package (with bag). It is a little heavy at 13kg, but as I would not intend carrying it that far, it seems to fit my needs of being fairly cheap and useable.

Andrew Ludlow
Nottingham

We’ve been a bit suspicious of Raleigh’s Far Eastern ‘Phillips’ branded folders since a Raleigh rep told us he had never ridden one and had no intention of doing so – never trust a manufacturer that puts a secondary brand label on its folding bikes. However, Raleigh now sources folders from Yeah, and they’re basically older versions of the Dahon. So a Phillips bike is really a slightly out-of- date Dahon; a bit cheaper than the ‘real’ thing. But for regular use on trams and buses, you need to spend at least £400.Think Dahon Presto or Vitesse, or Brompton L-type. (Eds)

Auto is Miles Better

nexus-inter-4-auto-dIn a letter to your excellent publication (A to B 40), John Ramsey wrote that automatic transmissions for bicycles require sensitivity for speed and pedal force.While I agree this is true for sports cyclists, I feel that for commuting, sensitivity to speed alone works very well.

A couple of months ago, I bought a Moulton Automatic, a recent but short-lived APB model from Pashley, which I bought extremely cheaply as it had been discontinued. I was planning to convert the Nexus 4-speed Auto D transmission to manual use, but in practice I found the system to be marvellous for commuting. In particular while negotiating the complicated junctions on today’s roads, it is great to have freedom from gear changes, enabling right-hand signals to be made without interruption. And having the bottom gear engaged automatically at the lights is another of many small, but important conveniences.

The Auto D changes gear according to the speed of the bicycle. Even though my commuting is across hilly Brighton, I find the hills no problem with this transmission. When I ascend the hill, my speed drops and the bicycle selects a lower gear. I feel it would be good if A to B were to try the Auto D system, to see if you find it to be as great a boon for commuting as I have.

Patrick James
Hove

Shimano’s Nexus Inter-4 Auto-D.The latest three-speed is completely automatic – no batteries and no controls.The system integrates with the company’s automatic hub- powered lights

We did in fact try the Nexus Auto-D back in October 2001 on the Yamaha Easy electric bike. Although initially sceptical, we were pleasantly surprised by the system’s ease of use, particularly in traffic. Most town bikes would benefit from hub gears and automatic transmission of this kind. (Eds)

Puncture Protection

With regard to your article on tyres (A to B 40), I find that on the Milton Keynes Redway cycle network I get a puncture every six weeks when riding on unprotected (ie non-kevlar) tyres, whatever the size.

Now I put in tyre liners after the first puncture and replace the tyres with kevlar- belted examples when they wear out. I now get only one puncture a year. It seems that kevlar can be very effective, but only certain brands work – if it isn’t available in a particular size, I use tyre liners instead.

I’ve also tried ‘slime’.This works when the tyre is punctured, but if you leave the bike standing overnight (or outside the pub for an hour or two), the slime dribbles out and the tyre goes flat, so you wake up (or stagger from the pub) to find a flat tyre.

As flats are a real problem on commuter journeys (less so on tour), I will stick with liners and/or kevlar.

Martin le Voi
Milton Keynes

We were surprised that kevlar tyres did so badly in our survey and should point out (again) that results of this kind can be unscientific.The big disadvantage with liners is extra rolling resistance, which can be substantial, particularly on smaller tyres.Where time is money, or we need to keep an appointment with clean hands, we still rely on Tyreweld foam.This can repair and inflate the tyre in seconds, although it’s relatively expensive and it doesn’t always work. A good second line of defence is to carry a spare tube – particularly useful for a child trailer (or a bicycle with monoblade forks) where tube removal takes only a few seconds. (Eds)

Provincial Thinking

I hear that Eurotunnel has posted substantial losses this year. I remember that when the Channel Tunnel was first discussed, passenger services (including sleepers) would be available countrywide, feeding into the Tunnel and across to the continent. Sleeper trains were built and drivers trained at considerable expense, but since then, all quiet.The sleepers were sold off to Canada at a considerable loss and I didn’t hear any more about the drivers, although I remember meeting one in a restaurant car in Scotland.

Will we ever see national services? We have enjoyed using the Tunnel on several occasions, sometimes by car to access Motorail services on the Continent. But if reasonably- priced motorail services were available from the North of England we would beat a path to their door.What prevents this? Are there some restrictive practices going on?

Dr Dennis Parker
York

For readers unfamiliar with the tunnel saga, Eurotunnel is the heavily indebted private company that built the tunnel for its own car and lorry carrying shuttles, and provided paths for long-distance rail freight and passenger services. Passenger trains run only from London to Brussels, Paris and a handful of other destinations, and are operated by Eurostar, formerly a subsidiary of state-owned French, Belgian and British Railways. Following UK rail privatisation, the British arm changed hands several times, and is now a complex animal, owned principally by the French company, so effectively part-owned by the French state.

The through provincial rail services on the British side were also a victim of privatisation, the trains being built just as British Rail was dismembered. Although the state operator was preparing to run services to Europe from all over Britain, the private operators – demonstrating their usual flair – abandoned the project, and the vast sums put into the scheme were quietly written off.

Despite Eurotunnel’s problems, Eurostar is doing very well.The company has a 66% market share of London to Paris business, with total passenger figures of 6.3 million in 2003, and a prediction of over 8 million in 2004. Meanwhile, major political change might put provincial trains (and indeed motorail) back on the agenda, but don’t hold your breath. Recent shareholder turmoil at Eurotunnel is unlikely to affect Eurostar rail services through the tunnel. (Eds)

Shoulder Strap?

I read with interest the 2004 Brompton feature in A to B 40.The new carrier frame will make a worthwhile reduction in the overall weight of the Brompton plus luggage.

For some years I’ve been hoping that someone would design or modify a medium-sized monostrap backpack which could be latched to the Brompton luggage block and worn comfortably on the back when carrying the folded bicycle. Such a pack would compliment the Brompton panniers and be ideal for urban commuters.

Jack Anderson
London

Brompton has been quietly producing a pannier shoulder strap for some time.This works with the old or new frame, and (amongst many other things) solves the old Brompton conundrum of carrying bike, bag and cup of tea when running for the train.The strap costs about £8. (Eds)

Which Sprocket?

What is the largest rear sprocket that will fit on to the Sprinter hub on my Brompton T5? The limitation seems to be that an excessively large one would hit the rear of the horizontal frame tube. Presently I have a 13-tooth sprocket on the back and a 44-tooth at the front. My aim is to reduce the overall gearing of my Brompton for a reasonable cost.

Steve Watkin
Orpington, Kent

Your ‘pre-SRAM’ chain tensioner only gives clearance for the standard 13- or 14-tooth sprockets, but you can fit the newer tensioner designed for the SRAM 3-speed, which will accommodate a 15- tooth sprocket. Some say a 16-tooth can just be squeezed in, although Brompton doesn’t recommend this.With a SRAM hub, a 17-tooth fits easily, and an 18-tooth after some gentle frame bending… Incidentally, the 12-tooth sprocket on our experimental Brompton T6 with 12/18-tooth set-up has finally expired after some 3,000 miles. Bottom gear is 29″ and top 82″. (Eds)

Oil Shock

A few emails have been arriving in my mailbox relating to my ‘Letter From America’ article in A to B 40. More and more information is reaching the reading public about the world oil situation, and concern is rising rapidly.

For those who wish to know more, I recommend two books coming to market: Out of Gas:The End of the Age of Oil by David Goodstein, and The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous World by Paul Roberts. Both of these authors are well-qualified to write on this subject, and A to B readers will find their views interesting, if not reassuring.

Martin Snelus [mjsnelus@yahoo.com]
Torrance, California, USA

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

Serious, witty, irreverent, informative, invaluable . Informative and fun . Lively, anarchic Good fun and unique information . Should be force-fed to transport politiciansConstantly dug out and re-read . Good common sense answers to daily problems . Good practical advice covering subjects other cycle magazines don’t cover . Like the mix – especially the politics! The mix of topics is right for me . Like the technical bits – especially hub gears I particularly like the articles on electric bikes and kits . More back to back tests! More titanium topics for nerds . More on self-made folders please . More on top-end folders Could do more on rail coverage – ie, Rail Rovers . Any chance of an article on ways to modify the Brompton to reduce wrist strain? Like the travel articles . Please test some folders with derailleur gears .Thanks for being you

solartracker-electric-bike

Electric bikes – How Many Watts?

Professor Pivot“There seems to be some confusion with regard to the legal power of electric bikes today. I am hearing that the maximum power permitted is now 250w and not 200w. Is this correct?”

Alan D. Shaw
Northampton

Once upon a time, the law was the law and we all knew where we stood, but today things are a bit more complicated, thanks in this case to Europe. Basically, we now have both British law, allowing 200-watt motors for bicycles (and 250 watts for tandems and trikes), and European law (250 watts throughout) on the statute books at the same time, resulting in confusion as to which should take precedence.The same applies to the legality of so-called ‘e-bikes’ that allow the motor to be operated without pedalling.These are legal under British law, but illegal under European law. Neither the Department for Transport or Department for Trade & Industry seem willing or able to answer these questions, even suggesting rather unhelpfully that the matter should be settled in the courts!

To make things even more complicated, electric motors are rated on a ‘continuous’ basis, so that 200-250 watts rating bears little relation to the actual power at the wheel. A continuous rating is, crudely, the power that a motor (or indeed, a human) can produce all day. It can be precisely defined, but I have yet to find a British, European or ISO definition, although one, or perhaps several definitions, must exist.

Study the graphs in A to B road tests, and you will see that most electric bicycles produce in excess of 400 watts, and peak outputs of 1,000 watts or more are not uncommon.These powerful motors were designed for the US market, where some States allow motors of ‘up to 1,000 watts’ and a top assisted speed of 20mph.With the collapse of the US electric bike market, they’re now being sold elsewhere, and it’s a measure of how confused the situation has become that these machines are being openly traded in the UK. Personally, I do not feel that a normal bicycle has the lights, brakes and other equipment to deal with these higher speeds, and with long-range fuel cells not so far off, I would prefer to see a new hybrid bicycle/moped vehicle class, allowing greater speed, but with compulsory insurance and so forth. [As in Switzerland and elsewhere, see News, Eds].

For now, provided your electric bicycle does not exceed 15mph under power (24km/h in Europe!), or burn rubber at the lights, you can buy and use just about anything you like. At some point, an innocent bicyclist will be stopped on a US or European machine and hauled before the courts. Barring appeals, this will give a clear precedent for cycle trade, police and public to follow.

One wonders how the Department for Transport sees its role? It is quite absurd that the official transport bodies are unable to settle this matter, but as we know all too well, bicycles are hardly a top transport priority.

Methanol Fuelled Bikes?

Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC)

Miniaturisation of the DMFC has been extremely rapid, from the 2.5kw lab plant ...

I ask these questions because it seems to me that a sensible use for bio-methanol would be as fuel for extremely low-mpg transport, such as 28cc engine-powered bicycles. Surely this would be a truly sustainable form of low cost transport and without the battery range limitations of electric bikes (speaking as a Heinzmann rider).”

Simon Rayson
Dorchester, Dorset

There has been no suggestion to my knowledge that recent changes in electric bicycle legislation will bring harmonisation with Europe where small internal combustion- powered bicycles are concerned, but legal matters of this kind are so labyrinthine that change of this kind is quite possible.

Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC)

.. and a one watt mobile phone supply.

Speaking theoretically – as we must – methanol is, indeed, an excellent fuel. Not quite as ‘green’ as it might sound, because a considerable amount of fossil fuel is used in its harvesting and distillation from grain or plant waste, but a largely renewable fuel all the same. Current production amounts to some 30 million tons per annum – a tiny spec in motorcar terms, but enough, if we chose, to provide 300 million individuals with 4,000 miles per annum of renewable transportation indefinitely… assuming they could all be persuaded to ride internal combustion-assisted bicycles, of course!

Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC)

An electric bike would require around 100 watts from today’s 20 watt package PHOTOS: Aalborg University, Denmark and Toshiba

A better option, eliminating the noise, smell and inconvenience of the engine would be the DMFC, or Direct Methanol Fuel Cell. Smart money is already pouring into DMFC research for low-power devices, and the first (rather bulky) lap-top power cell, with maximum output of 20 watts, is about to go on sale, with smaller, more powerful cells just around the corner.

Several problems exist – methanol is poisonous, and unlike hydrogen cells, the DMFC produces as much carbon dioxide as an internal combustion engine. However, there is a promise of greater efficiency, and of course the raw fuel could be produced sustainably, making the operation potentially carbon-neutral.

A DMFC cell would be lighter than any current battery, give silent power, unprecedented range and instant, relatively safe, liquid refuelling. Predictions are dangerous things, but I would be very surprised if the Japanese do not launch a DMFC fuel-cell bicycle on their domestic market within two years.

Recharging an Electric Bike on the Move

“Many years ago I cycled to Nice from home in the Birmingham area. Due to a road accident, I am not able to do such a silly thing again, though I would like to.Would it be possible and legal to tow a small generator behind an electric bike, leaving it running whilst riding?”

Anthony Skidmore
Halesowen,West Midlands

…we’re talking hybrid petrol/electric/human power… [but] the roar of a petrol engine would be quite out of keeping…

This question should really be broken into two parts – legal and technical. Under UK law (the Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles Regulations 1983) an electric bicycle is defined as a machine where ‘The motor assistance must be provided by an electric motor.’ Which sounds fine, except that, ‘Propulsion by an internal combustion engine is not permitted’. Now, of course, this wording is intended to outlaw direct drive from an internal combustion engine.What you propose is, effectively, a mobile battery charger, topping up a conventional battery.This would be another interesting matter for the courts to decide. One assumes the legal debate would centre on this concept of ‘propulsion’, thus I suspect the trailer would make no difference – if this form of charging was adjudged to be within the law, it would also be legal carried on the bicycle.

Technically, there are no great complications:We’re talking hybrid petrol/electric/human power here. Such a vehicle could run on human power in flat urban areas, human and electric power on hills, and top-up the battery from the internal combustion power source as and when required. Range would be quite considerable, because fuel consumption would be nil on many journeys. But on the open road, the roar of a petrol engine would be quite out of keeping, so it’s hard to see the advantages over a small motorcycle for longer journeys.

Once again, one suspects that fuel cells may soon render such dramatic steps unnecessary. Provided an internal combustion engine is not involved, the regulations seem to allow any form of electrical power generation, from solar to nuclear. Neither of these extremes are very practical, but a small fuel cell probably would be.

Trek F600

Trek F600 folding biikeIt isn’t very often we get to test the sexier kind of bicycle. Not that we’re objecting to honest shoppers and folders, or even the less-than-honest Chinese electric MTBs that we seem to make a speciality of condemning these days. But once in a while it’s nice to play with some quality bits and pieces. Something like the Trek F600.

Trek is an extremely well known brand about which we know precisely nothing, because Trek has never crossed into our world, and we’ve seen no reason to cross into theirs.The company is actually a US bicycle manufacturer (well, designer would be closer to the mark) producing the usual vast range of MTBs for leisure- orientated off-roading – aluminium ones in this case. However,Trek also makes road machines and BMX bikes, and for older and wrinklier customers, the shop-person will delve under the counter and bring out the ‘Navigator’ brochure.This portrays ordinary, slightly wrinkly folk riding bicycles with chainguards, and the odd Shimano 8-speed hub gear, a mechanism which translates as an ‘internal drivetrain’ in Trek-speak. And right at the back, you’ll find the folders.We’re picking up vibes of fashionable young person’s manufacturer, with a few sensible offerings for those techno-greys who can still get their leg over, so to speak.

Quite why Trek decided to get into folding bikes, we’re not sure, but they did, and their ‘F’ series bikes made a first appearance in the UK at Cycle 2003.What we do know is that Dahon played a key development role, because certain key components are pure Dahon. Ask awkward questions and you’ll be told that the bikes were primarily designed at Trek’s European design centre. Perhaps commissioned might be nearer the mark?

Three bikes make up the range: the F200 (in blue, with rack, mudguards and 3-speed SRAM hub), F400 (silvery-blue, with or without the sensible bits, plus better cranks and Shimano 2200 8-speed derailleur) and F600 (black, shorn of all sensible bits, with rather nice wheels and Shimano Deore 9-speed derailleur).The hub-gear bike is a reasonable £470, the mid-range one £470-£500, depending on equipment, and the black job £750. That puts the cheaper bikes up against the Brompton L3 or Giant Halfway, and the top- ender against the likes of the Birdy, Dahon Speed Pro and Helios SL. Deciding that we’re more likely to be moved by something flash than a set of plasticky mudguards and a rack, Trek has provided us with the F600.

F600

Trek F600 folding bike hinge

The frame hinge is chunky hydroforming is the and attractive.

Wherever the primary design input came from, the ‘F’ range folders are fine machines, constructed from neatly sculptural hydroformed aluminium tubing. Before you run off to check the dictionary, next big thing – you put a boring old metal tube (generally aluminium) in a mould and pump it full of high pressure water, enough producing lovely sinuous shapes. Trek has made good use of the technique here, with frames that bulge and curve in all the right places. Quite whether the hour-glass head tube, or near figure-of-eight profile mainframe have any positive effects, we’re not sure, but the bikes are certainly very rigid.The immediate impression – unusual for a folding bike – is that you can ride as hard as you like and all effort will go straight from the pedals to the ground, without getting lost on the way.

…if we were putting a derailleur on a folder, this is the sort of system we’d choose…

Trek F600 folding bike stem hinge

We’re less happy about the stem hinge, but it works well.

The frame also has a highly-strung ‘brittle’ quality that can make the tubes quite noisy. Slight play in the headset on our example emerged as staccato clicks and clonks.

At 11cm, the main frame hinge is unusually tall in the vertical plane, which more or less eliminates flex, and the sculptural handle closes with a satisfying click, which inspires a certain confidence. Rigidity is aided by the Torsion Groove, a Dahon patented slot and mating groove on the hinge faces – simple and effective, like all the best ideas.

The handlebar stem folds around the newish hinge design that we’ve criticised in the past (see Dahon Presto, A to B 36).Whether the mechanism has been re-engineered, we don’t know, but there’s little or no play on this example, although it’s still possible to misengage the hinge in the dark, which we think could result in the bars collapsing as you pull away. Still, no-one else seems worried, so perhaps there’s no cause for alarm.

The Trek-branded saddle is excellent. A bit heavy, at 440g, but very comfortable. Both the saddle stem and seat tube are adjustable over a wide range, the handlebars from 98cm to 117cm and the saddle from virtually nothing to 104cm, which should suit most people.The general impression, reinforced by the rigidity and a reasonable 105.5 cm wheelbase, is of a bike for bigger people, so if you’ve discounted other folders as too small, this may be the machine of your dreams.

On the Road

Once under way, the Schwalbe Marathon tyres set up a pleasant zizz that reverberates tinnily in the hydroformed tubing.The feel is sporty, precise and dead fast, an impression heightened by the Deore gear set, that always gave knife-through-butter changes, despite some clumsy folding and unfolding (see below). Much of the credit must go to the Jagwire cables – take our word for it, you will be delighted by the precise, almost friction-free action.

The Jagwire effect is visible with the brakes too. A mere touch on the lever translates into a gentle brake application, the Shimano V-brakes working quietly and progressively, without the squeal and drama you tend to find with cheaper brands.That said, maximum power is a little disappointing.The rear wheel locks up at .38G, which is a little early, and the front is almost impossible to lock, thanks to a brake limiter.We managed a best front brake stop of .62G, which is perfectly adequate, but not quite up to the best available. With both brakes applied, maximum force is about .68G, the bike feeling very stable at this level. As we’ve said before, there’s an argument in favour of deliberately limiting front brake force to prevent those over-handlebar incidents, and Shimano has wisely followed this road.Without the limiter, the free-running cables could all too easily result in a locked front wheel.

Our only grumble – and it’s a very common problem – is a degree of brake bind and snatch due to poorly-trued wheels. A good cycle shop will sort this out at the Pre- Delivery Inspection stage, but a lazier (or less folder-orientated) shop won’t.

Drive train efficiency must be high too, because we guessed the bike was a shade low geared, but a check revealed first to be a highish 31″ and top a healthy 89″. Hmm, interesting.The Deore shifters change up in single gear steps, and down in anything up to four, so you can get most of the way through the gears with two grabs at the lever.That sort of thing makes for a noisy change, but the single steps are generally pretty slick. If we were putting a derailleur system on a folder, this is the sort of set-up we’d choose: Nine gears are a good compromise and the ratios are more or less spot-on.

…It has to be said that folding is not the Trek’s strongest suit…

Rolling resistance is not terribly good, but you’d never know it on the road.We recorded a roll-down speed of 13.7mph on our test hill, which is verging on shopping territory for 406mm tyres, and well below the best Brompton tyres, for example. Brakes and bearings are fine, so this relatively poor performance must be down to the Schwalbe Marathon Slick tyres, even at pressures of 55psi front and 85psi rear. Maximum pressure is 95psi, but you’ll need a good surface for that sort of thing, because the rigid frame transmits every lump and bump, albeit in a lithe and sporty way.

In practical terms, the F600 has no lights, rack or mudguards, so riding in winter can be a damp, sticky affair, and you’ll need battery lights and a back bag to carry all your bits and pieces.The mounting points are all there, but if you really want an all-weather Trek, you’d be better advised to buy the cheap but well-equipped F200 and upgrade from a 3-speed to 7- or 8-speed rear hub and dynamo lighting set.

Folding

Trek F600 magnets

The little magnets should hold the bike together when folded, but follow the instructions and they miss by some way

 

Being an American product, warning stickers abound on the Trek. Our favourite involves folding: ‘…keep fingers and other body parts out from items which are folded.’ Which body parts? Nose, perhaps? Errant nipple? Pinch-an-inch flab deposit? Obviously nudists should take care not to stick anything wobbly into the mechanism. It has to be said that folding is not the Trek’s strongest suit: It’s relatively heavy, at 11.9kg (26lb) – hardly arm-stretching, but for a bike without accessories, definitely on the heavy side. If the F600 was equipped to commute in all weathers, you’d need to add at least 10% to that, which would put the bike firmly at the puddingy end of the folder scale.

trek-f600-magnets-nudistThen there’s the folding technique. Trek folders come with a handbook, but never trust instructions such as ‘…avoid pinching yourself or the cables…’ or ‘…hold the cables out of the way…’. It begins to sound like a three-handed job.

trek-f600-folding-bike-folded

Not the smallest package, but like most Dahon designs, reasonably quick and easy to do

One of the neater Dahon touches is a pair of little magnetic plates that hold the two frame halves together. Follow the instructions (saddle stem, then bars, pedals and mainframe) and you will produce a neatish 207 litre package, but you’ll have to hold it together yourself because there’s no way the magnets will make contact.With a bit of experimentation, we produced a smaller package by removing the saddle, then folding the pedals, the mainframe, and finally the bars.The saddle stem has to be stowed down the middle.This process allows the magnets to come together and produces a lower, longer package measuring 34cm across by 92cm long and 59cm tall. Folded volume, at 185 litres or 6.5 cubic feet, is smaller than the Giant Halfway, and a smidgen larger than the similar Dahon Helios, which is quite good for such a substantial machine.

trek-f600-folding-bike-bag

The three-piece bag system is much too complicated. It's tedious to fit, ungainly, heavy and cumbersome

All this mucking about does no good to the beautiful black paintwork, the ‘nail biter’ VP-117 pedals gouge chunks out of the Bontrager cranks if folded in the wrong place, and the matt black finish on the saddle stem comes off all too rapidly.With practice, the bike comes together reasonably quickly and consistently, but if folded frequently, the F600 would soon look tatty.

So far so good.Trek also provides a ‘three-piece folding bike bag’.The most useful part is a shoulder strap that loops around the bike fore and aft, enabling you to carry it in reasonable comfort. But rather oddly, there’s also a little dog basket thing, which can apparently be used as a sort of drip tray to prevent your F600 leaking muddy water all over the Italianate marble flooring.That’s all a bit designy and wimpy, but we get the idea.

Part three is even stranger – a sort of blancmange with a hole in the top. So you come steaming into Waterloo, 30 seconds before departure of the 17.32 to Effingham Junction: you sit the dog basket on the ground, fold the bike, place it in the basket, strap the shoulder strap to the machine at two points, feed it up through the hole, lower the blancmange over the bike and clip it to the dog basket in four places. Are they serious? This convoluted process produces a much bigger and more awkward package than you started with.Trek also claims that the blancmange converts into a backpack, but even our battle-scarred origami- minded folding technicians failed to complete the task.

With the three pieces costing £44.99, our recommendation is don’t even think about it. Old copies of The Sun do just as well as a drip tray (and are a lot more entertaining). A shoulder strap is useful, but you will find cheaper examples elsewhere.

Conclusion

Manufacturers seem to be jostling to dominate the posh end of the folder market, but look closely and you’ll see that most of them are Dahons, or Dahon-clones.The move upmarket has pushed prices through the roof: In 2003, the average Dahon cost £410 in the UK, but today you’ll pay £661 – an increase of more than 50%. And that’s cheap.The Birdy range now starts at £875 and runs to almost £2,000.

Against this sort of competition, the Trek gives a good account of itself, and at £470 to £750, it’s reasonably priced. Folding isn’t the best (probably easier than the Birdy, all the same) and weight is on the high side.The real competition here will come from Dahon’s own Helios SL due here next month – only £50 more expensive than the F600 and claimed to weigh just 8.2kg, or 21% less. Sounds like a win-win situation for Dahon, but we’ll let you know in June.

The Trek folders deserve to find buyers, and they will, partly because fashionable badges mean a great deal to some people.That said, tucking the bikes away in the old timers’ brochure hardly sounds like active marketing, which suggests that Trek might be a little embarrassed by the whole thing. A shame, because the F600 is a lively, efficient and rather sexy little number.

Specification

Trek F600 £750 .
Weight 11.9kg (26lb) .
Gear System Shimano Deore 9-spd .
Ratios 31” – 89”
Folded Volume Folded as instructions 207 litres (7.3 cu ft) Saddle stem removed 185 litres (6.5 cu ft)
Folded Dimensions As instructions L82cm H70cm W36cm Stem removed L92cm H59cm W34cm
Tyres Schwalbe Marathon Slick .
Size 35-406mm . Manufacturer Trek Bicycle Corporation
web www.trekbikes.com .
UK Distributor Trek Bicycle Corporation tel 01908 282626

Crank Length

Bicycle crank length - road speed vs rider effort

Heart rate versus effective road speed for different crank lengths. Cadence was adjusted to suit each crank length: ie at 15mph, 175mm were spun at at 79rpm, 125mm and 100mm at 89rpm. Peak power of 780 watts was recorded with 175mm cranks, but both 155mm and 125mm managed 770 watts, and 110mm, 705 watts.

I too used to belief firmly that 150mm cranks were only for kids, or adults with very short legs. In fact, after much experimentation, I came to the conclusion that extra-long 185mm cranks suited me best, and that the formula put forward by Kirby Palm [see www.nettally.com/palmk/crankset.html] was correct.

Then two of my customers, Rob Hague, and Mark Mueller started experimenting with short cranks. Rob found an improvement in his race times by going from 170mm to 150mm, even though he has long legs! Mark found that after training for a month with 110mm cranks, he was back to the same performance he was getting with 170mm cranks. My son Paul tried 100mm cranks on his trike and found so much improvement over normal length cranks, that there was no way he was ever going back to normal ones.

Then a customer, Irene, who had hired a trike with 165mm cranks for three months, came to take delivery of her new trike. I measured her legs against the formula, and discovered that according to Palm, she needed 150mm, so I fitted a pair of 150s for her.

After a few days I got rave emails from her saying how smooth the trike felt, and how much better than the demo it was.This seemed rather puzzling to me, as the hire trike was a little lighter.Then she told me that with the new trike, she did not get leg cramps any more, which had been a problem for her with the old trike.Then the penny dropped. It was the cranks which had made the difference.

Next, Paul built a trike to race at the 24hr Pedal Prix at Wonthaggi.Without time to train all the team on 100mm cranks it was decided to use 150mm cranks. Despite losing a few laps following the collapse of an experiment wheel which had been fitted by mistake, they won the race by three laps! Paul then did some tests on our new Computrainer machine and came up with the following results. In all it seems than the higher cadence gained by using short cranks, has no negative effect on power output, and gives an improved leg function, with reduced stress.

On a recumbent, short cranks also help to get a 69rpm, 155mm more efficient aerodynamic were spun at fairing over the rider’s legs.

Puky Child Bikes

Puky Child BikeBringing up a child focuses the mind in all sorts of surprising areas.Take children’s bicycles, for example. As an adult, you wouldn’t normally give them a second glance, but once with child, you’re obliged to buy the things.

In the UK, bicycles designed for children vary from poor to atrocious, both in design and execution. A typical specimen comes with trick suspension that barely moves, pearlescent paint masking agricultural tubing, derailleur gears that don’t index properly, no lights, no bell and no mudguards.

When Alexander was two-ish, we bought him a little 12-inch wheeled bike. It was heavy (7.8kg), had only one brake (on the front wheel, so we had to reroute it to the back), small hands couldn’t grip the adult brake lever, the componentry was poor and the finish was miserable. And that was a good bike from a reputable shop.

The problem lies with Far Eastern manufacture, importers and distributors who, frankly, couldn’t give a damn, and shop prices so low, the retailers aren’t interested. It needed be like this.The Chinese are skilled engineers, and they’ll build whatever we ask – we’re just not asking the right questions.

…Bicycles designed for children vary from poor to attrocious… In Germany, things seem to be different…

In Germany, things seem to be different. When Britain started on the road to wholesale de-industrialisation in the 1980s and ‘90s, the Germans were a bit more cautious. As a result, many mechanical and electrical things are still manufactured there (gasp, swoon).We don’t mean repackaged or badged, but manufactured in the metal-bashing sense. Look closely at most ostensibly German products, and you will usually find that they really are German products, from design through to manufacture.

Back in October 1991, we came across the wooden Like-a-Bike and fell in love with it, as indeed, did Alexander (see A to B 26).You really couldn’t produce a machine like this by franchising the design and manufacture to a company on the other side of the world, and of course, the Like-a-Bike was (and still is) made in Germany. It’s a well-designed, well-crafted product. It may cost a bit more, but you know it will go on pleasing children for years, if not generations, to come.

With Alexander fast approaching five, and already much too large for both the 12- incher or the Like-a-Bike, it was time for new wheels. Assuming, like many Brits, that Puky only produced toddler’s tricycles, we hadn’t given the brand too much thought, but a chance invitation from the distributor to try their bicycle range made us sit up and listen.

Puky

Puky Child Bike BrakePuky translates rather badly into English, especially if you’re feeling a bit the worse for wear, but when originally established in Düsseldorf, in 1949, the company was called Puck. A mischievous or evil sprite, says the OED, which sounds perfect. A few years later, the name was changed and the company moved a short distance to the little town of Wuelfrath, and has been expanding ever since.

Puky make just about every wheeled device imaginable, from charming frontier-style handcarts to some professional-looking go-carts for older children, complete with ‘Formula One spoilers’, plus a range of bicycles for children of all ages.The bicycles are broadly graded by wheel size: 12-, 16- and 18-inch for the tiddlers, and 18- or 20-inch for the over-fives.

puky-child-bike-trailer

The Puky Z8.You can’t usually tow a caravan with a child’s bike, but the Puky bikes accept the Burley trailer fitting.

The 18-inch bikes come in two styles: the Z8, a traditional child’s step-thru machine in monstrous red, yellow and blue, and the Cyke 18-1, a Y- frame ATB-style bike, in red or silver.These machines are designed to suit children measuring more than 115cm, or 3′ 9″ in that delightfully graphic language we used to use.

None of the 18-inch bikes has gears, but both are available in road-going trim, with wheel reflectors, stand and dynamo lighting kit, as the Z8B or 18-1B respectively.These things mean little to us, but for a five-year-old it’s the equivalent of a turbocharger and alloy wheels. Prices range from £125 for the basic step-thru, to £160 for the Cyke 18-1B, with the go-faster stripes and turbo.

For older children (broadly seven plus), 20-inch bikes come in four styles: City 20-3 (as the junior step-thru, for the less discerning), Cyke 20-3 (ATB-style, as in 18-inch), Skyride 20-3 (delightful curved alloy frame, aimed at girls), and Alu-Cyke 20-3 (as for Cyke, but alloy frame). Prices range from £205 to £240, according to spec.We might be able to report back on the 20-inch bikes in a year or two, but we’re ideally placed to try the 18-inch range.We settled on the basic Z8, and top-of-the-range 18-1B.

On the Road

The first impression – for better or for worse – is that these are not light bikes. It’s slightly disappointing that a basic child’s bike like the Z8 weighs 11kg (24lb), or just a shade lighter than a decent adult folder. On the other hand, 15kg is not unusual for a Chinese machine, and the Puky bikes are clearly well made, with the sort of frames and componentry that should see out several generations.

The Z8 is styled much as children’s bicycles have always been styled. Mudguards and frame are steel, there’s a neat rack with a spring-thingey, and the chrome certainly appears to be thick and lustrous. Brakes are unusual in UK practise – Shimano cantilever at the front and back-pedal hub in the rear wheel.The arrangement makes sense though, because the back-pedal brake can be applied quickly and precisely by even the frailest child, and overall brake force and controllability is Light Years ahead of what might be considered the norm here.

Alexander has always wanted to be let loose with our G-force meter, and this was his chance.The rear brake turns out to be much less aggressive than back-pedal devices we’ve known. Getting the pedals in the ‘quarter past three’ position took some practise at first, but Alexander still managed some stops in the .26G region, with a best of .31G. With plenty of weight at the rear, the wheel is still some way from locking up at that sort of level, which is probably best on a junior machine.

The front cantilever brake is more powerful, causing the tyre to scuff with a best stop of .5G, but still some way from locking the wheel.The best combined brake figure is a little higher – .53G, or perhaps a little more with practise. Generally speaking, that’s excellent. Provided the front brake is fed in with care, the bike stops smoothly and rapidly, but a poorly-trued front wheel on the Z8 (the 18-1B was OK) made adjustment tricky.

At 45 inches, the gearing would be ideal in Holland, but it’s much too high for Castle Cary, giving a rare old turn of speed on the flat, but failing to clear everyday gradients in these parts. Fortunately, the rear hub is fitted with Sachs/Sturmey splines, so a good cycle shop should stock a range of sprocket and fit one in a few minutes.We settled on a 17- tooth, giving 37-inch gearing. That’s low enough for our five-year-old to stomp up a 7% gradient and just fail 9% (1:10).

Unusual in Britain, the Impac Street Runner tyres are 18-inch (actually 47-355mm), and they look good for many miles, with enough tread to see of the pearlescent-frame jobs on the rough, but fast on the road too.

Fittings and fixtures

puky-child-bike-chainguardAdjustability is a bit limited, but perfectly adequate for the intended 115 – 125cm height range.The saddle adjusts from 57cm to 66cm, and the handlebars from 71cm to 83cm.Typically, children will be ready for this sort of bike somewhere between the ages of 4 and 81/2. Alexander, just over average height, needed both saddle and bars near the bottom of the range.

puky-child-bike-hubLike some step-thru folders, the rear frame tubes of the Z8, curve up and around to create a substantial rack – well up to carrying chunky panniers (they’re available as extras), or even a tiny passenger if they’re into acrobatics. As this is the non-road version, there’s no dynamo, reflectors or stand, but the Z8 is well equipped, with substantial ‘bell end’ handlebar grips to protect tiny hands, a proper bell, full chainguard, and a ‘crash pad’ of fabric-covered foam wrapped around the handlebar stem.The bike comes with trainer wheels too, although the more ‘grown-up’ Puky machines like the 18-1B do not.

All in all, the Z8 is broadly recognisable as the sort of machine that most British parents and grandparents will have learnt to ride on from the 1930s to the 1960s: safe, dependable and much more effective than it looks.

18-1B

puky-child-bike-18-IB

The Puky 18-1B. Fashionable ‘Y’ frame with dynamo lights, rack, stand and substantial mudguards

As for the Z8, except…The frame is completely different, the girly step-thru being replaced by thumping great ‘Y’ shaped ovaliod tubes painted (on our example) in bright red, complete with flame graphics.Tyres are the same size as the Z8’s, but chunky off road Schwalbe Cruiser 11’s, with a narrow slick section in the centre and substantial knobbles elsewhere. Downmarket versions of these sort of features can be found in any British bike shop, of course. But the rest of the fittings are almost unique. Like the Z8, the 18-1B has substantial steel mudguards, but with a bit more clearance for off-roading.Then there’s a spindly steel rear rack (the same design is fitted to all bikes above the Z8), partial chain guard, stand, and all the other safety equipment from the Z8, including those chunky grips.The dynamo is noisy and inefficient, but the (un-branded, non-halogen) front light works surprisingly well,The rear light is too dim, and it protrudes beyond the rear tyre, which looks vulnerable (ours was cracked in transit). If doing any amount of poor weather road work, we’d fit a better quality and more compact standlight. Generally, the lights are a great safety aid, even during the day, when they can be used as Volvo-style ‘day-running’ lights.

At 11.5kg, the 18-1B is heavier than the Z8, and rolling resistance is a little higher (some parents might see this as an advantage, of course).Where this unusual machine really scores is in pushing all the right street-cred buttons, without seriously compromising ridability.This bike is safe, sensible and long-legged, but it doesn’t look it, and to ‘big boy’ five-year-olds, that sort of thing is important.

Conclusion

Alexander is now the proud owner of a Puky 18-1B. Having scoured the shops for weeks, when we tested this machine we didn’t hesitate in buying it, which sounds rather like the Like-a-Bike story all over again.

We had in mind a scary price differential against the Chinese jobs, but we were wrong. An 18-inch bike of uncertain parentage will cost around £100, but you’ll only pay another £25 for the Z8, £35 for the 18-1, and our well-equipped 18-1B – in a different league, practicality wise – is only £160. If children start out on impractical, poorly-made bikes, they’re unlikely to buy better bikes later on, so a few extra quid at this stage could really pay dividends. Full marks to Puky for competing so successfully in a tough global market, but do remind us…Why did we de-industrialise our economy?

Specification

Puky Z8 £125 .
Weight 11kg (24lb) .
Crank length 125mm .
Tyres Impac Street Runner Size 47-355mm .
Saddle height 57 – 66cm .
Handebar height 71 – 83cm .
Gearing 45″
Puky 18-1B (where different to Z8) £160 .
Weight 11.5kg (25lb) .
Tyres Schwalbe Cruiser 11
Manufacturer Puky GmbH web www.puky.de .
UK distributor Amba Marketing (UK) Ltd
tel 01392 840030 mail sales@amba-marketing.com web www.amba-marketing.com

Night Mail

night-mailThis is the Junk Mail crossing the border
Delivered by truck now, that is the order
None of it wanted, all of it waste
All of it tinged with commercial distaste
Delivering catalogues all unsolicited
Names on the mailing list slyly elicited ‘Yearly subscription’ – that’s the refrain ‘Take out a loan or a time-share in Spain’
Unwanted brochures shrouded in plastic
Thousands of leaflets bound by elastic
All come unbidden, a waste of a trip
Bound for the landfill, bound for the tip
All come by lorries pounding the highways
Blocking the ring road and clogging the by- ways
No more will the Night Mail arrive at the station
Derailed by the forces of privatisation ‘Victorian problem – Victorian answer’?
That just insults the fine service they ran, sir
Imagine old Isambard taking this tack: ‘Sorry we’re late sir, leaves on the track’!
Now, gone is the romance
Gone is the snobbery
The twenty-first century’s Greatest Train Robbery
So while we’re all sleeping the postman is driving
And the profits of shareholders quietly thriving
To bring us material for which no-one asked
To redress the balance is how we are tasked
Here comes the postman rounding the block
Here comes the postman, here comes his knock
With quickening heart I leap from my bunk
Anything interesting, dear?’
Nothing, just junk!’

With acknowledgements to W H Auden, Ballard Bertram and the BBC