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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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?
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)
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.
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.
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)
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?
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
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
Member of the NorthWest RPC
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.
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)
As 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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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)
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.
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
In 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.
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)
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
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)
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
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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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 [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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