Tag Archives: A to B 42

A to B 42

atob-42-coverA slightly unusual issue this time because we’re overwhelmed with bikes.This has meant squeezing out The Mole (no doubt back on full form for the next issue) and much else has been cropped to make room, but with so much fascinating hardware around, we guessed you’d rather we cut the waffle and made space available.

We continue to live through momentous times. Oil prices have peaked in recent weeks, on the mere suggestion that supplies from Saudi Arabia might be disrupted. And here in the UK, the hint of a few pence on a gallon has brought the threat of another road blockade. Meanwhile, we’ve been branded the fattest, or perhaps it’s the fastest-growing fat nation in Europe (maybe on earth), as we continue to exercise less and drive more…Where will it all end? Whatever’s coming, it’s just as well to be prepared, and that’s what A to B is all about.

A to B 42 Index

Letters – A to B 42 – 150mm cranks . Brompton . GoBike . Peak Oil . ScotRail

Peaking Early?

Martin Snelus comments on concerns over oil in A to B 41.When I went to school in the ‘60s I never expected to be able to drive a car – oil was going to run out before I reached driving age. When I was at University in the 1970s and went through the oil shock, I never thought I’d own my own car because the oil was going to run out before I had a job and could afford one.We even had petrol rationing in the ‘70s because the end was so close. All my life there have been pundits predicting the imminent end of the oil age.That oil reserves are ultimately finite and will run out is undeniable and we should therefore husband them wisely. And if the pundits keep predicting the imminent end, eventually one of them will be right and be able to say I told you so.Whether David Goodstein and Paul Roberts are those pundits, or just more joining the long line of failed pundits, I don’t know.The current concerns and the pundits rushing to press seems once more better correlated to Western concerns about Middle Eastern politics than geology.

Meanwhile I will continue to cycle and drive a thrifty car to preserve whatever oil there is left.

Tony Raven
Royston, Hertfordshire

Quite right too, but the situation really is different now, because the supply/demand equation is much more finely balanced than it was in the 1960s or ‘70s. As recent events have shown, the very suspicion that supplies might be reduced is enough to cause global panic.The oil doesn’t need to actually run out, just run down by a few per cent. Like Global Warming, Peak Oil may only be verifiable when it’s too late to do anything about it. (Eds)

Folder Friendly or Noo?

There appears to be some confusion about ScotRail’s carriage of folding bikes.The National Rail Guide sponsored by Brompton states ‘Folding cycles are carried free without restriction’, while A to B’s own website says of ScotRail: ‘There are no special restrictions on folding bikes’. On the other hand, the leaflet displayed at ScotRail’s own stations says: ‘Cycles completely folded down and enclosed in a container or case throughout the journey are carried on all services and do not need a reservation.’ To complicate matters further, when I emailed ScotRail for clarification, a customer care assistant responded that folding bikes were treated exactly the same as other bikes and would need reservations on relevant services – mostly those north of the Central Belt. On a recent trip between Inverness and Aberdeen with my Bike Friday I did not dare put the matter to the test and reserved one of the two bike spaces available per train. Any other readers’ experiences?

Roderick Clyne
London

The ‘must be enclosed in a container or case’ clause dates back many years and has rather annoyingly been kept on the books by a minority of train operators looking for an excuse to evict folding bikes.This restriction is never applied to our knowledge, but do beware – if you attempt to travel on a packed commuter train with a big, oily, uncovered, and nominally folded bike, the guard may quote the rule. However, Scotrail is bound by the wording in the current ATOC/Brompton national leaflet, and if this states no restrictions, there are no restrictions. For a larger machine, such as a part-folded Bike Friday, some sort of cover would be a courtesy on a busy train, but not an obligation. ScotRail has failed to respond to our request for clarification. (Eds)

Planning Permissible?

Bikeaway Bicycle LockerI am looking for a lockable secure housing for our bikes which can be bolted to the front of our house. I found a company that sold such objects through your advertisements but can no longer locate the company. Could you help?

Manuel Alvarado
London

Perhaps surprisingly, Sustrans does not keep a list of recommended suppliers, but its town planning consultant Chris Dent adds that a front garden bike locker could fall foul of the planning rules if it exceeds a height of one metre. Anyone thinking of doing the same would be well advised to have a friendly chat with their local planning officer before investing in a large structure.

One of the best suppliers is BikeAway Ltd, Bell Close, Newnham Industrial Estate, Plympton, Plymouth, Devon PL7 4JH.Tel: 01752 202116, fax: 01752 202117, web: www.bikeaway.com and email: info@bikeaway.com BikeAway’s individual lockers are widely used by railway companies and local authorities and cost £460 each plus VAT – quite a lot, but it’s a substantial product that should protect your bike(s) for years to come. (Eds)

Some Answers and a lot more Questions

In A to B 41 Malcolm Mort asks if anyone knows of a source of good quality 150mm cranks. Chris Bell of Highpath Engineering will shorten cranks for about £36 including postage.The smallest practicable amount of shortening is 20mm, so 170s can be shortened to 150mm. I noticed Mike Burrows states that he now, ‘runs 150 cranks on all his bikes’. I suspect he has shortened his existing 170s. Regarding the benefit to knees of shorter cranks, what is it that can damage knees? Is it the angle through which the joint moves, or is it the largest angle of bend? Or both! Saddle height is relevant in this matter. If your saddle is low, then the angle of bend – from straight – will be large, even with short cranks.

In The Complete Book of Bicycling, Greg Lemond reckons most people – including professional cyclists – have their saddle too low. He reckons we should position the saddle as high as is comfortable, ride for a while until we are used to it, then raise it a little more, and repeat the process. Another factor affecting the knee joint angular movement is how much, if at all, we ‘ankle’. Using the ankles can make a considerable difference to the effective length of the cranks and consequently how much the knee joint rotates.

I am trying 157.5mm cranks and have noticed that I do not ankle as much as I do with 170s. Is there any evidence that long cranks can cause knee joint damage? I know from experience that long cranks can be uncomfortable and make it impossible to get a smooth pedalling action, but whether this would cause damage is another matter.Where do the figures come from in the published inside leg/crank length tables? Perhaps none of this matters now that it has been demonstrated that crank length does not affect power output?

Mike Lenton Kirby-in-Furness, Cumbria

Holy Matrimony

Brompton foldedWe were rather chuffed to find a handy padlock that fits snugly on the ever-faithful Brompton, disappearing inside the frame when the bike is unfolded. It is called Wedlock and is made by Specialized. We bought it here in Switzerland from a mail-order shop called Véloplus (www.veloplus.ch), but it may well be available elsewhere now. It obviously adds a bit of weight to the bike, but we have found it rather nifty. It folds out like a concertina and is great for securing the bike to likely-looking poles when it is not feasible to carry the bike inside (although I am getting quite shameless – my Brompton enjoyed its first trip to the cinema recently, as well as happily shopping in supermarket trolleys, on the strength of A to B’s advice!)

Juliet Fall
Geneva, Switzerland

Our advice is to avoid locking up your Brompton at all costs, particularly in London and the southeast of England, where thieves are aware of the secondhand value of the bikes. A kindly bike shop will generally agree to put the machine behind the counter for a small remuneration, and if your local shop refuses, let us know! However, for those who cannot avoid parking in town, a fitted lock seems a worthwhile investment.The Wedlock is available from a number of UK mail-order outlets for around £50. (Eds)

Thanks Ken!

Brompton on a busThis winter I have been using the Brompton and bus to get to work. At £1, it’s a lot cheaper than the £3.80 rail fare from Redhill to Croydon. The luggage rack could be almost purpose-built for a Brompton. Another advantage is there are no steps up and down from the platform.

The bus is slower, but overall the time is much the same because the route is more suitable and stops near(ish) to my destination. I use the route 405 which is a London bus, hence the £1 fare for cash.

Andrew J Holland
Redhill, Surrey

Modern low-floor buses are a great advance, with plenty of flexible space for luggage, including folding bikes. As a general rule, we still recommend covering your bike on the bus (at least, until you get to know the drivers) because a bus driver has the right to arbitrarily refuse luggage he doesn’t like the look of.Thanks are also due, once again, to His Holiness Ken Livingstone for revitalising London’s transport. (Eds)

GoBike Gone?

Go-bike Folding BikeI am looking for a good folding bike in the 20-inch size for longer trips (I commute 14 miles every day, plus train, with a Brompton, but the ride is a bit too far some days… I read about a folding bike today that I haven ìt seen or heard about before. It does not appear to be listed in your website Buyer’s Guide or Price List? So, I am wondering if it’s a brand new thing, or is there really nothing new in the biking world? It looks really cool and it is called GoBike. It seems to be Canadian, and can be found at www.legroupego.com

Nils Hoglund
Sweden

Similar in many respects to the Birdy, the GoBike is indeed made in Canada.The manufacturers agreed to let us have a test sample when European sales commenced.We were told this would be happen when a cheap manufacturing deal had been struck in the Far East, but the GoBike project has since gone strangely quiet. Anyone know more? (Eds)

On the Case

My wife bought a Dahon Helios last year on your recommendation. She is pleased with it and would like to buy a hardcase for it, primarily to protect it from rough handling when travelling by air. Do you know of any firms who market a suitable case? The folded size of the Helios is quoted as 32cm x 66cm x 84cm.

John K T Fyfe
Edinburgh

You’ll be delighted to hear that Dahon UK has recently sourced the ‘Airporter’, a hardcase with internal padding and ‘bomb-proof ’ in-line skate wheels.They claim it fits all 16″ and 20″ wheel Dahon bikes, and will carry their 26″ machines with the wheels removed.The Airporter costs £169.99 from www.world-wheels.co.uk (Eds)

Small Point

One very small point. Moles eat worms not insects.They are therefore carnivores.

Stephen Slaughter
Horley, Surrey

Our proof-reading team points out that ‘Mammals in Britain & Europe’ classifies the mole as an insectivore. If mistaken, they will be fed to a family of weasels. (Eds)

Better in Germany

After reading your article on the Puky child bike (A to B 41), we thought you might be interested to know about the child’s bike we bought in Germany for our daughter Jasmine, now six years old.The bike is a copy of the Puky Z8, but cheaper (it cost us the Euro equivalent of £75) with slightly cheaper components. However, it comes with a bell, propstand, rack, front and rear reflectors (not lights), comfortable saddle, enclosed chain case, ‘crash pad’ on the handlebars, etc. It also has a back-pedal brake – Jasmine took a few minutes to get used to this, but now seems OK.The make is indeterminate, but it’s definitely manufactured in Germany and not Taiwan! The only name on it is ‘ErlKonig’.

The downside is that you have to go to Germany to buy it! We bought ours at a little bike shop in Baden Baden while on holiday, and the shop agreed to post it to us for the equivalent of £25, so we didn’t have to wrestle it on and off trains and planes.

There are many similar bikes in Germany, and if travelling as a tourist, you could probably fly home with one. Whether you could pay for your holiday with the saving is another matter – but it might be fun trying!

Fiona Le Ny
Folkestone

Multi-gear Brommies

Thanks for the information on fitting 12/18-tooth sprockets to the Brompton 6-speed (A to B 31).There was an excellent article in the Cyclists Touring Club magazine about a year ago on fitting a front mech to the Brompton, giving a double chainring and a greater range of gears. Perhaps a kit based on this would be useful?

A wider Brompton frame would accommodate the 8-speed Sturmey hub with drum brake – the only snag I can see is the decrease in efficiency (weight is not a big problem for me as I do not carry the bike often). Our local buses are low-floor Optare vehicles and I often wheel the Brompton on without even folding it. It fits well in the wheelchair space.

David Greensmith
Clunbury, Shropshire

A front changer can bring all sorts of chain-tension and clearance problems on the Brompton, so for the small increase in gear range we wouldn’t recommend it. By contrast, a 6-speed rear sprocket swap is easy, cheap and relatively snag-free.The 13/17-tooth option is straightforward but offers a limited range, while 12/17, 13/18 and (best of all) 12/18-tooth upgrades can be fiddly, but are well worth the effort. For parts and advice, we’d recommend contacting London hub gear experts Bicycle Workshop (020 7229 4850). (Eds)

Junior Electrics

Giant Lafree SportMy son has just turned 14, and I am thinking of buying an electric bicycle for him to use to get to school (seven miles of country lanes, including a steep hill both ways); to town (four miles of the same); to after-school sports and to visit friends. I know very little about this form of transport and would appreciate some advice.

SensibleOur criteria are safety and reliability, along with the capacity (in terms of both power and space) to carry substantial bags of books/files and/or sports kit (including, if possible, racquets/bats).We also need to know about re-charging the batteries (the school run is six days a week and includes late evenings). Oh yes, and if it looked a bit cool, that would be a bonus! What we really need is a Which? magazine type guide to electric bikes.

Diana Birkett
Albury, Surrey

Electric bikes can, indeed, be ridden by children of 14 and over, although this big potential market seems to have been almost entirely ignored. Looking cool is probably the biggest problem though, because that’s one thing most of these bikes will never be. However, there are one or two exceptions, notably the Tornado (£745 from Eco-Bike, tel 020 8839 9700) and the EV range (see page 14 – up to £1,300 from Powerscoots, tel 0870 606 7788).

We’d like to recommend the Giant Lafree Sport, but this sensibly-engineered, cleanly-styled cruiser is not yet available in the UK (although you might consider lobbying Giant UK on 0115 977 5900). An alternative would be to find a suitably cool donor bike and add an electric motor. One of the best kits is the Electro-Drive (£365 from E-go, tel 07974 723996).

For a mini-review of the key machines, visit our (under-utilised) Electric Buyer’s Guide at www.atob.org.uk

Most decent electric bikes should manage up to 20 hilly miles, provided they get a good overnight charge. School and back, plus town and back without an intermediate charge would be marginal for some, but the answer to that would be a school top-up. Even less likely than undercover parking you’d think, but worth asking, nonetheless. (Eds)

Giant Lafree Sport – cool, but sensible

Bolero

Re the ‘Final Word’ item on Brompton wrist strain (A to B 41, page 25), I can heartily recommend the stubby bar ends from Avon Valley Cycles.There is a note in my 1998 End-to-End journal which says, ‘The bar ends are to the Brompton what Bo Derek is to Ravel’s Bolero’.

Bob Hutton
Nailsea, North Somerset

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

Hard hitting but humorous . Better than New Labour! The best magazine I receive! I get very twitchy when A to B is due .Avidly read, totally enjoyed and used for reference. Bizarrely (since I don’t have a folding bike) this is my favourite magazine . Never fails to delight . I like the style! Well balanced . Interesting and readable . Consistently excellent Refreshingly irreverent, independent and bold, yet humble enough to admit when wrong Any chance of going monthly? A compact and competent transport forum . Excellent – less technical stuff at last! I like the technical content . Hold the cynicism and bring back the railway guy [from his partner] . Needs to be bigger with dedicated sections [A to B] deserves a far higher readership and a long-awaited award . Light at the end of a fume-filled tunnel . I can’t live without it . Luv it, luv it, luv it! Keep it quirky!

Hope Mono Disc Brake

Which bicycle brake system?

Which brake system?

Professor Pivot“A to B 41 was interesting, as always, but I’m a bit confused by Martin Fillan’s comment (Letters, A to B 40) about grease leaking onto brake drum linings and his suggestion about using a roller brake.What exactly is a roller brake? Is it better than a drum? And is it easier to replace? I can’t find one in the Sturmey catalogue, so whose is it and how much extra will it weigh?”

John Burnett
Swindon

Brakes are a fascinating subject, long neglected by this august publication. Broadly speaking, the problem faced by engineers since the invention of the wheel has been to produce a simple, tough device capable of transposing a large but weak hand or foot movement into a small but powerful force to push against a rotating body and slow its progress.The brake then needs to dissipate the considerable amount of heat generated – something that few bicycle brakes are very good at.The following devices are all available today to retard the progress of bicycles… Some more successfully than others:

1. Caliper brake

Alhongo Dual Pivot calliper brakes

The Alhonga dual-pivot caliper. More complex than some, but the principle is the same - two arms, one attached to the brake cable and the other to the cable sleeve.The wheel rim is clamped between the two brake shoes

Long outmoded on motor vehicles, a caliper brake (sometimes called a side-pull) consists of a pair of curved arms or calipers pivoting somewhere beneath the headset bearings, with ‘blocks’ of friction material at their lower extremities. By the action of a pull rod, push bar, or more usually a flexible cable these days, the friction blocks are moved towards each other, squeezing the two outer faces of the wheel rim in the process.

The caliper is light and cheap, because the rotating element is already in place, but being completely exposed to the elements, it is badly effected by rain, grease, oil and grit. Different calipers and brake blocks are affected in different ways, but the most important element is the frictional co-efficient of the wheel rim material. Chromed steel lasts for ever, and works very well when dry, but loses most of its stopping ability in the wet. Aluminium is less effective in the dry, but relatively good in the wet, making it a safer material overall. Unfortunately, aluminium rims can wear away quite fast, especially on small-wheeled bikes.

The quality of the brake ‘feel’ depends largely on the friction material and the construction of the caliper. Poor calipers bend and distort when the brake is applied, giving a rubbery feel at the lever and/or judder or squeal.

Calipers are notoriously difficult to centre correctly, which can leave one brake block rubbing against the rim, and a wobbly rim will cause one or both blocks to rub intermittently. Generally, the rim disposes of heat quite successfully, but heat build-up can be a problem on long descents, particularly for heavily-laden or small-wheeled bikes. Excessive heat in the rim can cause tube failure and a catastrophic blow-out.

2. Band brake

Band Brake

Band brake principles. Friction between the tethered band and rotating drum tends to slow the drum’s progress

A long-outmoded Edwardian technology, the band brake is nevertheless worth mentioning because these devices do still turn up in the rear wheels of Chinese bicycles once in a while. A band brake utilises a flexible band of friction material, firmly fastened at one end and wrapped loosely round a rotating steel drum.When the band is pulled tight by a lever, it wraps tightly around the drum, slowing its progress.This tendency for the brake to apply itself without undue effort from the rider is known as ‘self servo’.The bad news is that the effect usually disappears in reverse, so a band brake will not stop you running backwards down a hill…

Band brakes are cheap, low-tech devices, but the negative aspects go on forever.With the drum inside the band, there’s nowhere for heat to go, and being difficult to protect from the elements, water can slosh straight in, resulting in a near total loss of braking effort. Brake bind, shriek and squeal can be a problem too, especially after a good soaking.

3. Drum or hub brakes

More correctly an ‘internal expanding shoe’ brake.This was the standard motorcar and motorcycle brake for most of this century until superseded by cheap reliable discs, and remains a favourite on hard-used and/or heavy bicycles. The general layout is two curved aluminium blocks or ‘shoes’ faced with friction material, both pivoting at the same point, and pushed outward at the other end by a cam of some kind, to make contact with a metal (usually steel) drum. Like the band brake, drums exhibit a self servo action – the leading shoe tending to be drawn harder into contact with the drum, whilst the trailing shoe tends to be pushed away, and visa versa in reverse. A variant common on older motorcycles and cars was known as ‘twin leading shoe’ – much more effective going forwards, but virtually useless in reverse (see band brake).

Drums can be heavy, although much of the weight penalty is negated where the brake is combined with a hub gear, and modern manufacturing techniques can reduce the weight significantly.The shoes are largely immune from contamination, but internal and external sealing arrangements can be a bit crude. Sealing problems between the gear and brake components of a hub can result in grease contamination, which can ruin the shoes, and poor external sealing can allow water in, although this generally requires total immersion.Wet friction shoes lose most of their effect, and as they start to dry, a violent self-servo action can result in brake snatch and squeal.

Hub brakes are not good at dissipating heat, but they make do by transferring it into the substantial mass of the hub in the short term, where it can safely radiate away when the descent is over. If a good quality drum does overheat, it should gently ‘fade’, or become less effective until cooled. Adjustment is rarely required once the shoes have bedded in, and the progressive action and ‘feel’ of a hub brake beats most other types.

Drum brake exploded diagram. Left to right: back plate (fixed pivot above, moving pivot and lever below), brake shoes faced with friction material and steel drum.This is the Sturmey Archer ‘BR’ of 1932 – it survived, effectively unchanged, for 70 years

4. Back-pedal or coaster

coaster-brake

Simplified coaster brake diagram. Left to right: brake arm and hub dust cap (fixed to bicycle frame), brake shoe segments, brake actuator, rotating hub shell. Back pedalling drives the actuator into the shoes, forcing them against the inside of the hub shell

Rare in Britain, but common elsewhere, the coaster is usually combined with a hub gear. Pedal backwards and a metal cone slides through the hub, pushing metal brake segments against the rotating hub shell. Operation can be a bit insensitive, with a lack of feel, although hubs vary. Being grease filled, a coaster brake is more or less immune from contamination. It also has no exposed levers and cables to go wrong, requires no adjustment, and lasts more or less for ever. Like the drum brake, heat dissipation relies on warming the hub on a descent, then allowing the heat to escape. In extremis, localised heating from the metal-on-metal contact can boil away the grease or even weld parts together, although I have never heard of this on a bicycle.

5. Cantilever and V-brake

Similar rim-squeezing action to the caliper, but the force is provided by two vertical arms, pivoting at the bottom and brought together by a cable pulling the top of the arms together.The only real difference between the cantilever and V- is in the way the cable pulls the arms. In both types, the brake blocks are mounted some way down the arms in order to gain a degree of mechanical advantage.

V-brakes have become the braking system of choice because they’re light and crudely effective in operation. Problems are as for the caliper brake – water and oil contamination, rim wear, difficulty with centring and heat build-up on long descents. Cheap V-brakes can be unpredictably fierce in operation, so many feature pressure limiting devices of various kinds (usually fitted in the cable) to prevent the front wheel from locking up. Other problems include squeal on cheaper units, judder, and frame or fork distortion when the brake is applied. On the positive side,V-brakes are simple to maintain.

6. Roller brake

Nexus Roller Brake

Diagrammatic view of Nexus roller brake. Force from the brake lever is applied through the operating lever (top) to the central cam.The cam pushes the rollers out against brake shoe segments, forcing them into contact with a rotating drum, integral (in some designs) with a cooling disc

Like so much else in the bicycle world, the roller brake is a Shimano invention, or re-invention. Combining elements of the drum, coaster and disc brake, the friction effect comes from steel rollers which are forced outward by a cam, pushing metal shoes against a rotating steel drum. Heat build-up can be a problem, but most designs incorporate a cooling disc, just like a ‘proper’ disc brake. Brake feel can be unpleasantly ‘woolly’ and vague compared to other types, and the shoes can make nasty metal-on-metal noises unless well greased.That’s also the good news, because water and oil won’t make much headway into a grease-packed unit.

7. Disc brake

Hope Mono Disc Brake

The Hope Mono Mini bicycle disc brake. High pressure fluid pushes a piston against a friction pad, forcing it into the disc. Most brake assemblies contain two (or more) opposing pistons, but here the caliper ‘floats’, allowing a fixed friction pad to contact the back of the disc

This brake generally utilises a pair of friction pads, which are forced against opposite sides of a steel disc. Heat does build up in the disc (they can glow cherry red on a hard-driven racing car, or after stopping a high speed train), but the disc is well exposed, so heat is rapidly dissipated and fade is rare. Disc brakes have become the preferred means of de-acceleration on just about every wheeled vehicle, from aircraft to trains, cars and motorcycles. Progress in the bicycle world has been limited, mainly because the disc brake lends itself to hydraulic operation, which can add weight and complication. Pads may also bind slightly in the ‘off’ position, which can be frustrating on a fractional horsepower vehicle. Early bicycle discs were heavy, ineffective in the wet and noisy, but these problems have been largely eliminated by reducing the disc to a delicate tracery of struts.

In answer to the question, it isn’t easy to convert a bicycle to roller brakes because the Shimano Nexus system will fit only a Shimano hub. But if you have a Sturmey Archer or SRAM-equipped bike, there’s really no need – an upgrade to hub brakes is generally quite easy (not on smaller bikes like the Brompton, unfortunately). In practice, few roller, drum, coaster or disc brakes work badly enough to be worth changing.

giant-lafree-comfort-st-power-consumption

Giant Lafree Comfort ST

Giant Lafree Comfort ST Electric BikeA little under three years ago, Giant revealed the Lafree Lite, raising the stakes in the electric bicycle world overnight.This quietly understated machine was quite simply Light Years ahead of the opposition. At 22.2kg, it was lighter than almost everything else, yet it was well equipped, and offered a reasonable 20-mile range. Crucially, it was also a really nice bicycle to ride, either assisted or with the motor turned off. A year later, the Lite was joined by the Comfort – £200 more expensive, but complete with decent brakes, automatic halogen lights, front suspension forks and a suspension seatpost.

…it seems Giant didn’t so much choose the 5-speed option as jump ship…

We were less complimentary about the Comfort, principally because it weighed an extra 3.1kg.Those reservations didn’t stop us buying one, though, and 3,000 miles later, we’re still delighted with our load-carrier, winter school run transport and shopper.The bike continues to do well and – incidentally – has run almost entirely on solar power since early March (see A to B 36 and 37).

One mild criticism has involved the gearing: 3-speed Nexus hub on the Lite and 4- speed Nexus on the Comfort. Both hubs have the same 184% range, giving a bottom gear of about 45″. In practice, that’s low enough to climb most gradients and haul some impressive loads, but we’ve been defeated once or twice. Long 16% (1 in 6) slogs are just manageable, but not with a trailer in tow.

Enter the 5-speed

Giant Lafree Comfort ST Electric Bike - SRAM 5-speed hub

SRAM 5-speed hub. Note the all-enveloping chaincase and the gear adjustment can be checked through the little perspex dome

It seems Giant didn’t so much choose the 5- speed option, as jump ship for one of the few suitable replacements, as Shimano has given notice that production of the 4-speed Nexus hub is to cease.We have mixed feelings about this – the 4- speed was a heavy and rather unsophisticated lump, but it forgave all selector ‘click box’. Gear sorts of abuse and was particularly well suited to electric drives, which can put out a lot of power, sometimes whilst you’re in mid gearchange…

There are two suitable replacements; the recently back-in-production Sturmey Archer 5-speed, and SRAM’s P5, latest version of the elderly Pentasport. In the event, Giant went for the German hub rather than the home product (like most Giant bikes, Sturmeys are now made in Taiwan), perhaps because the SRAM offers a whopping 251% range, against the Sturmey 5-speed’s 225%.That’s much broader than the 184% of the Nexus 4-speed, and the SRAM weighs a whopping half a kilogram less as well.

…the clunky change can make the Lafree slower in town than the old model…

We’ll get straight to the downside – like the Sturmey, the SRAM is a fine piece of engineering, but it can’t deal with the rider pedalling, or motoring, through changes. Against the relatively slick Nexus shifting, the SRAM is ponderous and slow. It rarely misses a gear, but you can’t start pedalling until you hear a click from the back wheel signifying a complete change, and this takes an age.The pause is longer changing down through the gears, but still evident with upward changes. If you rush it, the hub simply refuses to do the business. First gear is a particular problem, especially when a steep gradient takes you by surprise – in other words, just when you need a low gear in a hurry. By the way, Giant claims that the change improves with use…

Giant Lafree Comfort ST Chainguard

The new frame is both lower and more rigid than the old design.These chainguard/motor/battery mouldings are more difficult to refit than they look

The clunky change can make the new Lafree slower in town than the old model, but we soon got used to treating it as a wide-ratio 3-speed, using gears 5, 3 and 2, which saves a bit of time. In hilly country, things are very different. On really steep hills, where the 3- or 4-speed bikes would be struggling, the 5-speed has a ratio and a bit left in reserve. How useful this is depends on where you live, and how you expect to ride the bike. As with the Honda Compo, but more so, there really is no practical limit to the hill climbing ability of the 5- speed Lafree.

Top gear is a shade low, at 79″, against 80″ for the Lite variant and 83″ for the 4-speed Comfort. Heading down, the ratios are 64″, 50″, 39″ and 32″, which would be reasonably low on a conventional bike. Overall, that’s slightly undergeared, so we’d be tempted to reduce the size of the hub gear sprocket by a one tooth, giving a top ratio of 83″.You could go further and give the ST a nice fast ‘overdrive’ top, but that would be illegal so, of course, we wouldn’t dream of recommending it…

If all this talk of percentages, ratios, inches and sprockets sounds confusing, all you really need to know is that the 5-speed Lafree offers unsurpassed efficiency. Compare the power consumption graph on page 18 with that for the Honda on page 28, and it’s immediately obvious that the Lafree’s Panasonic drive is not only fundamentally more efficient, but the extra two gears help it to run closer to peak efficiency for more of the time.The system also cuts out when you pass a preset pedal cadence, so there’s no need to turn the motor off when riding above 15mph.The SRAM hub feels efficient too, helping to make the ST one of the most pleasant electric machines to ride unassisted.

Adjustment is probably the easiest we’ve seen on any hub or derailleur system. Thanks to a little transparent window on top of the ‘clickbox’, you just twiddle the cable adjuster in Gear 3 until two cross-hairs are in alignment. Other manufacturers please note.

Other changes

An occasional criticism of the Lafree was the relative flexibility of the step-thru ladies frame, although frame flex is less important on an electric bike than a conventional bike, because you’re less likely to be heaving on the handlebars.The new 5-speed addresses the problem with a beefier 6cm mainframe tube in place of the older 4cm x 51/2cm oval design.The bike certainly feels a lot stiffer, but there’s a 300g weight penalty, even after the lighter gearbox has been taken into account.

For the time being, the 3- and 4-speed Lafree will continue in production in both ladies ‘step-thru’ style, or gents, with a traditional top tube, but the 5-speed will only be available in this step-thru form. Bad news for gentlemen is that when stocks of the 4- speed hub have been exhausted, only the base 3-speed model will be available with a full frame. However, the new design is probably just as stiff, and there’s no top tube to get your leg over. At 40cm, the step-thru height is unusually low, against nearly 47cm on the old model.

Giant has also added a few grams by fitting a full chainguard, but it’s hard to understand why.The old guard was light, simple and must have done a reasonable job, because our chain is in fair condition after 3,000 miles.The new one is made from four plastic mouldings, bolted, screwed and clipped together in the most confusing manner imaginable.The bits don’t fit together very well, and ours rubbed on the wheel on arrival – it took five minutes to fix the problem and an hour to reassemble the bits.The chain will last for ever, but you’ll need a modest tool kit, an even temper and plenty of time to get the wheel off by the roadside.That’s a shame, because one of the Lafree’s primary selling points was easy wheel removal, compared to other electric bikes.

Another small, but significant change, is to the automatic lights, where the duplicate Nexus sensor has been omitted.When we tested the Comfort (see A to B 31), we found it interfered with the light sensor in the Lumotec front light.This odd mismatch has now been cured, leaving a front light that goes on and off according to ambient light levels as intended. If you ride through a tunnel, or into a glade of trees at dusk, the lights will come on.We’d rather it happened in brighter conditions, but it is a superb system nonetheless.

Range

giant-lafree-comfort-st-power-consumption

The Lafree sips fuel where others slurp - note the low peak consumption and the very small amount (the grey area) wasted by the machine’s control systems

Just to recap, all the electric bikes we test (or at least, those that are up to it) are ridden on our long established course across the hills into Dorset, given a brief (and usually insufficient) two- hour charge and sent home again. Back in 2001, the Lafree Lite managed 20 miles at a rather leisurely 12.8mph. The following year, the slightly higher geared 4-speed Comfort managed only 18.5 miles, but at a much more impressive 14mph.

…It’s the most efficient electric vehicle we’ve seen, and the best hill climber..

With marginally the lowest gearing of the three, and five well spread ratios, it seemed logical that the ST would do better, but we were still surprised to achieve 20.1 miles before the ‘low fuel’ warning light began to flash, and a total mileage of 22.9 at a reasonable 13.2mph. In terms of fuel efficiency, that’s easily the best we’ve seen – 6.8 watt/hours per mile based on the nominal battery capacity, or more realistically, 10.8 Wh/mile if charging losses are taken into account.

giant-lafree-comfort-stIf you think 23 miles isn’t far, remember we’re riding fast in hilly country. On a more leisurely 30 mile jaunt with Alexander in the child seat, the ST came home with two ‘fuel’ lights still glowing out of five. On the ‘ECO’ setting, we’d say 40 miles would be quite within reach with care.

Charging rate is better than most; our two-hour top-up providing a 52% charge, giving (in this case) a range of 9.9 miles at 13.3 mph.The charger is the same light, compact unit provided with Lafree bikes since their introduction, and the total charge time of 3 hours and 50 minutes is unchanged.

Running costs come out at 7.9p per mile, which is the same as the 4-speed Comfort, the £50 extra purchase cost being offset by the improved running efficiency. Incidentally, we’re assuming a replacement battery cost of £195, but Giant tell us dealer prices may vary, so it could be worth shopping around. An up-to-date running cost comparison chart can be found on our website.

Conclusion

The Lafree ST is the heaviest Lafree yet and, at £1,149, the most expensive, none of which sounds very good. But it’s only marginally heavier, and it only costs fifty quid more than the 4-speed Comfort. In the credit column, it’s the most fuel-efficient electric vehicle we’ve seen, and the best hill-climber, which is quite a rare feat. Our only real doubt is over the gearbox – we’d certainly recommend trying it against the cheaper 3- or 4-speed bikes before making a decision. But gearbox and chainguard niggles apart, the rigid frame, smooth looks and overall efficiency make this one of the best electric bike yet to reach these shores. It’s one of the most expensive, but we think most users would consider it a price worth paying. (For more background on the Lafree, See A to B 27 & 31)

Specification

Lafree Comfort ST £1,149
Weight Bicycle 21.7kg (48lb) Battery 3.9kg (8lb) Total 25.6kg (56lb)
Gear system SRAM P5 hub
Ratios 32″ 39″ 50″ 64″ 79″
Batteries Nickel metal-hydride
Nominal capacity 156Wh
Maximum range 22.9 miles
Two-hour range 9.9 miles
Fuel consumption 10.8Wh/mile
Full charge 3hr 50m
Test Duration 200 miles
Running costs 7.9p per mile
UK distributor Giant UK tel 0115 977 5900 mail info@giant-uk.demon.co.uk

MicroMaxxi – Breezer Itzy

MicrosMaxxi Breezer Itzy Folding BikeNot so long ago, the renowned Joe Breeze – inventor of the mountain bike to some – decided to import a line of folding bikes into the States, as part of his Breezer label’s move away from the MTB.Whose products would this giant of the US bicycle world choose as a partner we wondered? Birdy perhaps? Or maybe Brompton – both were looking to improve their US representation at the time.To our enormous surprise, Joe settled on Oyama, a Taiwanese/Chinese manufacturer of crude, toy-like machines from the murky basement world of budget folders.

Not all Oyama products are completely hopeless, and the 20-inch folders look quite presentable, but the real joker was the ‘Micro’ 14-inch bike, which Joe labelled the Itzy and began flogging for $450.We felt compelled to write the following in our web-based Buyer’s Guide:‘The little Itzy has a super-short wheelbase and is not really suitable for carrying a typical North American.’ Fair comment we thought, but it resulted in a flurry of emails from the States, including the sort of Good Cop, Bad Cop stuff outlawed by the Geneva Convention. In the event, we failed to back down (the pocket review is still there for anyone who wants a good laugh), and Breezer went on to withdraw all lines of communication.

…twirling pedals and overly-low seat post… make you feel like a complete plonker…

The Micromaxxi

Actually, if the Itzy had been branded as a $200 trailer park accessory, as it has in the UK, we’d have been kinder, because the bike – sold here as the Micromaxxi for £185 – is a long way from being the worst folder in the world. That said, it does have some rather damning faults, not least of which is that it’s totally unsuitable for the average North American.

The problem here is wheelbase, or at 81cm, the lack of it.That wouldn’t matter if this decidedly small bike was only to be ridden by small people, but the handlebar height is 92cm, and the saddle goes up to 89cm, or even more for those with nerves of steel.

You don’t need to be a mathematician to calculate that when a bicycle is taller than it is long, it’s likely to be a bit unstable, particularly if 68% of the rider’s weight is born by the rear wheel (compare these figures with the Honda on page 27).

The Micro is available in steel and alloy derivatives, the alloy model allegedly weighing a respectable 8.7kg. Unfortunately MaxxiRaxx, the importer, decided against the alloy job, so ours is steel, and it weighs a substantial 11.4kg, which would be acceptable for a folding bike with gears and accessories, but it’s extremely heavy for a tiny single-speed job.

On the positive side, the Micro is well finished.The welds are quite neat, the silver paintwork is lustrous, and the bike feels unusually rigid and stable.The 14-inch alloy wheels (not to be confused with the Bickerton and ‘baby’ Moulton 14×13/8″ size) are unusual in the UK, with a metric size of 40x254mm.You’ll want to look after the Duro tyres, because they’ll be next to impossible to replace. About 13 inches in overall diameter, the tyres may be small, but they’re positively grown-up against the 203mm tyres fitted to the Gekko and other slightly dubious tiny-folders.

MicrosMaxxi Breezer Itzy Brakes

You don’t often see calipers as cheap and nasty as this nowadays

The rigid frame and largish wheels combine to give the Micro a surprisingly good ride, with modest pothole hopping capabilities. But get out of the car park onto a proper road and the Micro is blown away by all other two wheelers.The single 43″ gear is totally inadequate, and the twirling pedals and overly-low seat post combine to make you feel (and look) like a complete plonker. So outrageously daft is this machine that scaffolders and the like, who might be expected to have some pithy witticism in store, simply stare open-mouthed.

Acceleration and top speed are so poor that we were unwilling to tackle a roundabout, the general impression being that the bike is something of a danger to shipping, forcing other cyclists to pull out into the traffic to pass.This is strictly not a commuter machine.

Considering the ‘over-square’ dimensions of the bike, it is perhaps just as well that the brakes are atrocious, because decent brakes would have the rider performing involuntary ‘stoppies’. The front manages a barely acceptable stop of .45G, but a convoluted cable run and basement-level caliper conspire to give an emergency stop of .2G at the rear. If you’re having trouble picturing a stopping force of .2G, think of something just noticeable to the rider.

Folding

microsmaxxi-breezer-itzy-folding-bike-folded

The Micromaxxi produces a neat and compact folded package

Much better news here.The bars fold down quite neatly against the front wheel, and the frame hinges in the middle, bringing the rear wheel round to sandwich the bars. Drop the saddle stem in the right place and it fits neatly round one of the brake levers, which helps to hold it all together.The folded package measures 33cm wide by 55cm high and 63cm long.That’s 114 litres or 4 cubic feet, which is almost Brompton-sized, so stowage space shouldn’t be a problem.

The Micromaxxi comes with a rather smart bag that folds away into itself and clips over the bars. it might also morph into a backpack, but we just didn’t have the patience to find out.The problem is, it’s all much too fiddly and time-consuming. Bags are not usually required on trains anyway, so the five minutes needed to unzip it and wrestle the bike in is wasted time.

Conclusion

In the sub-£200 region most of the opposition is quite large and/or heavy, as you might expect, but most of these bicycles can be ridden a realistic distance at a realistic speed. The Micromaxxi is the cheapest super-compact bike around, comparing well – in terms of folded size – with the Brompton ‘C’ type at £375, or the Riese & Müller Frog at £700. But it just isn’t rideable.

The importers suggest that the bike might suit caravanners and other leisure purchasers, but we think it serves little purpose in this market either. A Brompton or Dahon will carry a container of water or fuel, bring home the shopping, and splosh cheerfully along rough towpaths – the Micromaxxi will do none of these things. If you really can’t spare more than £200, buy a budget 20-inch folder. If you want a similarly practical compact folding bike, you will regret not a penny of the £375 Brompton ‘C’ type.

Specification

Micromaxxi £185 . Breezer Itzy $450
Weight 11.4kg (25lb)
Max Saddle height <89cm
Gear Ratio 43″
Folded Dimensions W33cm H55cm L63cm
Folded Volume 114 litres
Manufacturer Oyama Industrial web www.oyama.com
UK distributor Touchstone Designs
tel 01342 844678 mail info@touchstone-design.co.uk web www.touchstone-design.co.uk

Croozer Cargo

Croozer Cargo Bicycle TrailerOwning both a Giant Lafree and a Powabyke I’d always felt they would be ideal for pulling quite a sizeable amount of gear about, and that without a trailer, I was not making best use of them.The Croozer Cargo from Zwei plus zwei seemed to promise a lot (lightweight but reasonably strong construction, easy fixing to most axles, 30kg payload and a reasonably straightforward fold) and at £125 it wasn’t too expensive. Having never even ridden a cycle and trailer combination before I was understandably apprehensive about taking it out and about on West Yorkshire’s often busy roads.

One month later and I’m wondering why I ever doubted the practicality of using a trailer in general and the Croozer in particular. First-off, if you are after a heavy duty, ‘bomb-proof’ trailer for light industrial use the Croozer isn’t for you; the combination of mild steel frame and nylon sides with a plastic base is clearly built to be light (10.5kg) and manageable and as such is ideal for shopping and other everyday ‘convenience’ use (and 30kg is still a very decent maximum payload).This is a remit it carries out excellently.

croozer-cargo-bicycle-trailer-hitch

The hitch is bolted onto the rear axle. A clevis pin provides a quick release

Assembly from the flat, folded item is pretty quick; pull out the sidewalls and secure with the ‘griphead’ bolts then fix on the wheels with the spring clips before slotting on the towbar and securing it with two more spring clips. Fix the coupling attachment to the bicycle hub axle and you are away – the only tool needed is a spanner to release the axle nut, unless it’s quick-release, in which case this is a tool-free operation!

The problem when riding with a moderately loaded Croozer attached to an electric bike is that you forget it’s there – potentially costly if passing through narrow access points on cycle paths.The trailer is allowed to swivel and pivot freely behind the bike by means of a spring fitting which in general works excellently, though it delivers a peculiar ‘pull-push’ effect carrying a heavy load up a steep hill as the spring stretches and compresses (the only time I noticed this was pulling a 25kg sack of compost up a steep hill with a Brompton that was not geared for hill-climbing). Attached to the Lafree this problem is much reduced.The Croozer sits nice and level behind the Brompton because of its similar 16×1.75″ wheels. As an added bonus, both trailer and cycle will take the same inner-tube.

…the experience has made me a trailer convert… motorists tend to give you more space…

croozer-cargo-bicycle-trailer-folded

The Croozer takes five minutes to fold - not a day-to-day job

The smart red nylon cover looks flimsy but strategically placed velcro provides a reasonably firm fit and at least some resistance to rain, though it’s certainly not fully waterproof. Indeed, the longevity of some of the components was my only concern. In commendably honest fashion the instructions give very helpful information on wear and tear; in particular rims, spokes and hubs should be kept as dry as possible and maintained well, as water (particularly salt water) will corrode them very quickly. Happily the straightforward construction lends itself to easy repair and modification by a competent home mechanic, for example more solid, durable sides could be fitted if heavy pointed or sharp items were a regular load.

The experience has made me a trailer convert; if anything the presence of a trailer whilst cycling makes me feel a little more at ease, as motorists tend to give you more space. It also encourages you to ride further out from the curb and take a wider line around corners – this more assertive riding style itself being a safety feature. I’m now firmly sold on the idea of towing by cycle.

Specification

Croozer Cargo £125
Weight 10.5kg (23.1lb)
Maximum Load 30kg
Cargo Hold L76cm W47cm H34cm
Cargo Hold Volume 121 litres
Folded size L85cm W60cm H15cm
Manufacturer Zwei plus zwei web www.zweipluszwei.com
UK Distributor AMBA Marketing tel 01392 840030 mail info@amba-marketing.com

Honda Step-Compo

Honda Step Compo Electric Folding BikeThis article dates from June 2004, and the Step-Compo has long since disappeared. It was a brave effort by the Japanese – a lightish, stylish folding electric bike, but it was soon overwhelmed by cheaper Chinese tat

Not everybody can see the point in owning one, but most people recognise that a folding electric bike needs quite a dose of high technology if it’s going to be portable and rideable. To satisfy these two contradictory requirements, take the most efficient motor and batteries you can find, bolt them to the lightest frame and add the neatest folding mechanism.The Honda Compo is a classic in such company, and naturally enough, it hails from Japan, where space-saving electrical gadgets are very much the thing.

Honda has been producing folding electric bikes for the domestic Japanese market since April 1998, with the launch of the racy-looking Raccoon Compo.Three years later, the Raccoon was replaced by the lighter, and even more stylish, Step Compo. Export efforts revolved around the simultaneous launch of the Step Wagon – one of those bloated people carriers, the Americans laughingly call mini-vans (you should see the maxi). In America, the Compo is viewed as a Step Wagon accessory, but for the home Japanese market, this compact, cute and reasonably light machine seems to have been aimed primarily at women – not the station wagon kind, but everyday ladies making everyday bicycle journeys. Electric bikes are big news in Japan, with sales of close to 500,000 last year, and – being Japan – a sizeable minority are folding models.

…Mayor Ken’s Wonderful Congestion Charge has created a whole new market…

OK, an electric folding bike is ideal for Mr Macburger’s leisurely circuit of the trailer ark, and Mrs Suzuki’s station commute, but would you or I want one? Demand has apparently rocketed in the UK this year, with several dealers reporting container- loads of bikes pre-sold before arrival. Most are for leisure use, but a growing minority of buyers are, like Mrs Suzuki, looking for a practical rail-link folder, and let us not forget Mayor Ken’s Wonderful Congestion Charge, which has created a whole new market in motorised car-boot jobs in and around London.

In theory, a folding electric bike offers all the storage advantages of a conventional folder, plus the ability to laugh at gradients and headwinds. In practice, most of the current crop are either too heavy, like the ETC, or offer limited performance, like the SRAM Sparc-powered Dahon Roo. A glance at the graph below reveals that nothing quite hits our weight/performance target, but some are getting close.

The Honda Step Compo

Forget those dorky shoppers and frightful frumpy folders of old – the Step Compo is one of the neatest and most sharply-styled small bikes you could hope to find.The general stance is vaguely Birdy-esque, but otherwise the machine is more or less unique. The frame is delightfully crafted aluminium, featuring an oval blue-anodised main tube, hinged at the rear to a silver-anodised monocoque housing the power unit and battery, with two arms reaching back to provide rear wheel drop-outs.The polished alloy saddle stem pops out the top of the monocoque at a rakishly sharp angle.The front end is less satisfactory from a styling point of view, with a rather ramshackle hinge operated by a sort of wand, and slightly naff chromed stem and forks.

Despite this front/rear disparity, the Compo is a real looker.The motor/gearbox assembly is styled along motorcycle lines, but it’s unobtrusive, and the tiny battery nestles invisibly behind the saddle stem.To the untutored eye, this is no more than a bicycle with a slightly unusual frame, and you really do have to look hard to pick out the electrical accoutrements.

Electric Bike Performance Chart

STATE OF THE ART: The lightest electric bikes tend to have the shortest range. Note that the best performer to date is also the crudest – the Zap friction drive fitted to the Brompton

…Honda claims the motor will pull to 14.4mph, but this certainly isn’t the case…

Gears come, very sensibly, courtesy of a light and compact Nexus 3-speed hub in the rear wheel. Like the Panasonic power unit fitted to the Giant Lafree and other electric bikes, power is fed into the crank (through what would conventionally be the bottom bracket), so both human and motor output is fed through the gears in the rear wheel.This is the best system for hilly areas, because the motor effort can be geared down, which keeps the motor singing happily, even at low speed on steep gradients.

Honda Step Compo Folding Electric Bike Stem

The styling at the front is less satisfactory

Gear ratios are highish for a small- wheeled bike at 43″, 59″ and 80″, but low in electric-assist terms. Unassisted, the bike nips about like any other small folder, although the extra weight, and a degree of mechanical resistance in the power unit, make the machine feel quite slothful.Turn the key to the green ‘ON’ position and it’s a different story. Unlike the Panasonic Porta-Ranger we tried back in December 2001 (the Honda’s natural competitor), the Compo is a perky little performer, with enough oomph to lift the front wheel in first gear if you don’t take care.This tendency is exacerbated by a short 98cm wheelbase and rear- biased weight distribution (65% of the weight is over the rear wheel). It shouldn’t cause a serious upset, but you do need to take care pulling away, particularly on steep gradients.

honda-step-compo-electric-bike-battery

Note the aluminium monocoque, power key, hinge and motorcycle styling cues.The battery lives in the box behind the saddle stem

honda-step-compo-electric-bike-power-consumption

The Honda power consumption graph is quite revealing. The white peaks represent power used by the motor in each gear, while the grey area represent the power drawn from the battery. At low speed, a considerable amount is wasted.

Within a few seconds, you’re up through the gears at 8 or 9mph in top, with the power-assistance starting to fade away. By 10mph, the motor is fading fast, and top whack is a shade over 12mph. Thereafter, you have the choice of cruising gently along at 12mph with the motor making a modest contribution, or taking advantage of the 80” top gear and pedalling on to 14 or 15mph on your own. If you take the high speed option, you need to reach down and fumble with the key, because the motor will otherwise continue to buzz uselessly as you pedal. Incidentally, Honda claim the motor will pull to 23km/h or 14.4mph, but this certainly isn’t the case.

With saddle adjustment of 71 to only 96cm, we found higher speed a bit beyond our reach at first. Strangely enough, there’s plenty of stem left when the saddle hits the maximum height stop, so if you buy a Step Compo, we’d recommend doing what we did and drilling out the height stop pin.This enables the saddle to be raised to 100cm or so, which should suit all but the lankiest Europeans. However, a word of warning in best nanny state tradition – beware of making such adaptations if you’re both tall and chunkily built, because with a stem as steeply raked as this, there’s a real risk of over-stressing it, with rather unpleasant consequences. It’s worth remembering that these little bikes are designed for delicate porcelain-skinned Japanese ladies, not hairy barbarians like you.With the handlebars fixed at a lowish 91cm, the very tall may feel a bit ‘bum-in-the-air’, but for some that racy position will be an advantage.

Road behaviour is on a par with most other small-wheeled, short-wheelbase bikes. The Compo is nippy, but easily caught out by potholes, and rolling resistance is a bit depressing.Tyres are the ‘small’ 305mm 16-inch size widely used in the Far East. State-of- the-art rubber in this size rolls quite well on a good surface, but the 50psi Duro tyres achieved only 13.4mph descending our test hill.That’s respectable, but noticeably slower than the ‘big’ 16-inch Brompton tyre, for example, and very slow by 26-inch standards.

The real beauty of a crank motor is hill climbing, and once the going gets tough, you soon forgive the little Honda any slothfulness on the flat. Compared to the Porta-Ranger, and the similarly-powered Lafree, the crank sensor is insensitive, so a little more muscle power is needed before the motor chips in. But pedal reasonably hard in first gear, and the Honda will climb anything South Somerset has to offer. Gradients of 12.5% (1:8) are easy, restarts at 18% a mere trifle, and we just cleared 22%, or 1:41/2, and you don’t see many roadsigns like that outside t’Dales. Serious gradients are quite hard work, of course, but a great deal easier than riding a conventional bike, and faster than pushing one.

A word of warning.The Honda power unit buzzes along quite efficiently on the flat, but if the motor speed is allowed to fall, the power managed only 9.7 miles at consumption will rise alarmingly. Forget to change down on a hill and you’ll be eating batteries. In this a modest 11.8mph…” respect, the fuel-sipping Panasonic is streets ahead.

Another difference to the Panasonic system is the ‘Eco’ setting.The Giant Lafree delivers full power until you reach a hill, when the motor output is ‘capped’ to limit the climb speed. On the Honda, power is unaffected, but you have to give the pedals an extra push before the motor cuts in (thereafter, you can pedal as normal). Forget it – like most economy devices, this one is virtually useless. If you want to ride for economy, avoid straining the motor at low speed, and turn it off once in a while, something that applies to all electric bikes.

Equipment is limited to the centre stand, a bell and a pair of vestigial mudguards that might be useful in a shower, but would leave you very wet in serious rain.

Range & Charging

honda-step-compo-electric-bike-rangeThe Honda Step Compo’s nickel-metal hydride battery is genuinely handbag-sized, weighing just 2.2kg.The problem is a capacity of barely 84 Watt/hours.To put that in perspective, the Lafree has a 156Wh battery and the Ezee Forza 314Wh – almost four times the size. Surprise, surprise, the Step’s bijou battery is lighter, but gives barely a quarter of the range. Riding our usual hilly ‘mountain’ course, the Honda managed only 9.7 miles at a modest 11.8mph. Riding exactly the same course on ‘ECO’ yielded a range of 10 miles at 11.6mph. Honda claims a range of 121/2 miles with normal power and 19 miles on ECO.That might be possible in laboratory conditions, but you’d be lucky to achieve anything similar on the road.

The battery has a neat and fairly accurate 5-LED fuel gauge, but you have to nip round to the back of the machine and press a button to see it. With the range being so limited, the lights pop off at intervals of little over a mile, although the final flashing ‘reserve’ light stays on for almost quarter of a ‘tank’ – more than two miles. In practice, of course, the light flashes away unseen and unheeded until the motor cuts out.When it does, this sprightly little machine starts to feel a bit depressing. The frame is rigid enough, but the ‘stiction’ in the drive makes it hard to pedal, and the limited gear range and rather high gearing doesn’t help either.

We generally recommend buying an electric bike with twice the battery capacity you need on a typical ride. On that basis, the Honda is really only up to trips of five miles or so, which is a bit disappointing. It’s hard to understand why the engineers went for such a small battery, accounting for only 12% of the vehicle weight.Twice the battery would give a range of more than twenty miles (bigger batteries discharge more efficiently too), for a weight gain of only 2kg – a trade-off most people could live with.

Overall running costs, including bike and battery depreciation, consumables and electricity, works out at around 8.5p per mile – one of the most expensive around. Fuel consumption – including charger losses – is just over 14 Watt/hours per mile, which compares rather badly to the Panasonic-powered bikes. (The leisurely Porter-Ranger achieved about 11.5Wh per mile and the much faster, and wonderfully efficient Giant Lafree ST, 10.8Wh per mile.)

The good news is a rapid charge.This comes out at about two hours twenty minutes, putting the Honda amongst the exclusive list of electric bikes that will recharge over a leisurely lunch. Unfortunately, the charger is pretty big (25cm x 10cm x 5cm) and in 240 volt land (that’s almost everywhere except Japan and the USA), the bike needs a chunky 240-110 volt converter too.This pair, plus leads and plugs, weigh almost 2kg, which doesn’t sound much until you realise that on ten to twenty mile trips you’ll be carrying this little lot in a backpack…

Incidentally, to transform the performance of the Honda Step Compo, simply swap the rear 14-tooth sprocket for a 13-tooth, increasing the gear ratios to 46″, 64″ and 86″. This increases the maximum assisted speed to 13mph plus, giving the bike a more relaxed long-legged feel at the expense of extreme hill climbing ability. This simple change results in a higher average speed (12.7mph) and a greater range (10.4 miles). Well worth the effort.

Folding

honda-step-compo-electric-bike-folded

The Honda makes a neat and compact folded package. Off the stand and with the saddle stem removed, it’s even smaller

How long have you got? The easiest way to fold the Step Compo is to put it on the neat little centre stand, and release and fold the handlebars, mainframe and pedals.The VP-116 pedals are reasonably compact, but a bit cruel to fingers, and nails in particular. Fold One is a less-than-a- minute job, producing a package of 186 litres or 6.6 cubic feet. which is much much smaller than the Porta-Ranger and well into conventional folding bike territory.The wheels need to be strapped together (a strap is supplied) and the package sits very tidily and securely on the stand. Folded like this, the bike would be welcome on most train services, but you’ll need the arm muscles of an all-in wrestler to hoik 18.7kg on board.

…the Honda Compo is a stylish and effective electric folding bike…

If you have another minute to spare, removing the saddle stem and strapping it between the wheels reduces the volume to 158 litres, which we’ll call Fold Two, and lifting the stand reduces the volume to 130 litres (4.6 cubic feet).With the stand up, the package tends to fall over, but this lower, slightly longer Fold Three package will go almost anywhere a Brompton will go. And that’s seriously compact.

Last but not least, if you have five minutes to spare, the Honda has a clever trick up its sleeve, for not only is this a folding bike, it’s a separable one too. As tricks go, it’s a bit long-winded, involving no fewer than 26 illustrations in the helpful (but entirely Japanese) handbook. Basically, you start by whipping out the battery, unfastening a quick release on the left handlebar, twisting and removing the left twistgrip and brake assembly and putting it in the battery box. Having relocated both the front-rear cables to the rear, you fold the handlebars as normal, open the frame hinge and press a little release button, which rather alarmingly allows the hinge to fall apart.This leaves you holding a 2.2kg battery, a front section weighing 4.2kg, and a much larger rear portion with all the electric and drive gubbins, weighing in at 12.3kg.The process is grease-free and relatively quick and foolproof.Whether it would be any use is another matter, but clever, nonetheless.

Honda also supply a neat soft bag affair to carry the bike at Fold One plus the stand. This comes complete with shoulder straps, or a front strap and rear castors – much easier, but for smooth surfaces only. A neat touch is that the seat tube drops into a steel subframe fixed to the castors, so the bike stays upright and most of the weight ends up on the wheels.You might not want to wrestle the bike into the bag very often, but it’s obligatory on the Shinkansen and pretty useful on the Routemaster to Little Cobblington. The usefulness of the bag is limited by the gross weight (20kg, including 1.3kg of bag) and the usual folding bike Catch 22 – what do you do with the bag when you ride off?

Conclusion

On paper, it’s easy to dismiss the Honda Step Compo. It’s heavier than most (but not all) conventional folding bikes, and slower than a full-size electric bike, with about half the range. Even amongst folding electric bikes, some of the crude Zap friction-drive conversions we’ve seen do much the same thing for little more than half the price.

On the positive side, it folds well, it’s pleasant to ride, and it’s a stunning looker. If style is your thing, whether on the commuter run or cruising those hilly Sustrans leisure routes, you might well be tempted by the Step Compo.

With a high-tech lithium-ion battery, higher gearing, and a few grams shaved off here and there, we think the bike would be greatly improved. Meanwhile, a spare battery will increase the range to 20 miles, for about £150. It will also reduce the need to carry the heavy charger on longer day rides.

We think the Honda Step Compo certainly does have a place in the great scheme of things. It isn’t cheap, but if you can live with the limited endurance, it’s a stylish and effective electric folding bike.

Specification

Honda Step Compo £1,095
Weight (bicycle) 16.5kg (battery) 2.2kg (total) 18.7kg (41lb)
Gears Nexus 3-speed
Ratios 43″ 59″ 80″
Batteries Nickel-metal hydride
Nominal capacity 84Wh
Maximum range 9.7 miles
Fuel consumption 14Wh/mile
Full charge 2hr 20m
Running costs 8.5p/mile
Test Duration 60 miles
Manufacturer Honda web www.honda.com
UK distributor 50cycles tel 020 7794 5508 mail fiftycycles@50cycles.com web www.50cycles.com

Strida Mark 3

Strida Mark 3 Folding BikeStrida Mark 3 Folding BikeAs an internet buyer, the experience was simple. I chose, I clicked, I bought, it arrived the next day, I unpacked, unfolded, fitted the seat, and rode. And nearly fell off. But although your first ten seconds on a Strida are bewildering, your brain quickly reprograms your senses. It’s short, rigid, nippy, and surprisingly comfy. My wife at 5′ 7″ thought it was great, because the riding position really is very upright, and the clever adjustable seat slides up and down the rear of the ‘triangle’ (after loosening three bolts), making it comfortable for both the short and the tall (six foot is probably the maximum though).The handlebars are placed very close to your body, which is unnerving at first, but quickly becomes very natural. It’s sort of steering from your stomach – none of this stretched-out-racer-style lark. I imagined I’d be thrown out of the seat upon mounting pavements and bumping over long grass, but the frame changes (see below) must have worked, because it feels far more rigid than a Brilliant Micro on the road, but is still compliant enough to tackle towpaths.

Anyone doing their maths will have realised that this bike is not without limitations. A single 52″ gear means that long distance tourers, off-roaders (a sticker on the frame forbids wheelies), nor racers will find satisfaction here. But if you’re in no hurry and don’t mind riding a sliver of Dairylea, one gear can be enough. Settle yourself into the bike’s comfortable 10mph cruise, enjoy the gentle flex still present in the plastic crank wheel, and let the world enjoy the spectacle of an adult riding a shiny silver coat-hanger.

Accessories

You can spec your Strida out with a whole plethora of accessories at www.strida.com. I settled for a small plastic rack, a pair of rather short plastic mudguards, some nicely engineered folding handlebars, and a pair of folding pedals. All models come fitted with a natty Allen key tool which fits snugly under the seat (why don’t all bikes have built-in tools like this?).

The Strida is likely to appeal to those who want a bike without all the messy, ‘technical’ bits. If you like to just unfold and ride, you’ll appreciate the drum brakes, which along with the Destruction testing by belt drive are Stephanie, largely Ethan & Sam maintenance-free and laugh in the face of wet weather.The complete lack of grease means you can chuck it around without fear of soiling your clothes, and the Strida 3 doubles as an entirely safe climbing frame for small children. Nice. It’s also a doddle to keep clean, unlike more fiddly folding bikes, as the cables run inside the frame, and both wheels are fitted to monoblade forks, making wheel, tyre or tube changes much easier.

The Mark 3

Strida Mark 3 Folding BikeStrida have made several improvements to the third generation bikes, claiming that the new folding handlebar reduces folded dimensions from 45″ x 21″ x 20″ to 45″ x 21″ x 9″, which reduces folded volume from 309 to 139 litres (10.9 to 4.9 cubic feet)!

They’ve also increased overall frame stiffness by using 7000 series heat-treated aluminium (which certainly sounds cool), and aluminum now replaces plastic in the front stem and bottom tube, which helps direct pedal-energy into the drive belt, which is where you want it. My friend with a Strida 2 claims his model is unwillingly to climb even the gentlest of hills, something that A to B also observed in June 1998 when testing the Mark 2.

…sufficiently entertaining to make you want to jump on and ride…

Range

Strida Mark 3 Folding BikeTo find out if it can cut the commuter mustard, I draped a sheet over my 24-speed Dahon, hung up my pannier bag and resigned to cycling my 11-mile round trip commute on the Strida for a week. I (luckily) don’t have to rely on public transport for any part of my journey, so no news there I’m afraid. First morning out, I allowed an extra 20 minutes, but the ride took only four minutes longer than normal, which surprised me. No drama. No stress, and no obvious flexing from the frame. Every morning for the rest of that week the thought of riding it to work became an exciting challenge.The simplicity of the bike – one gear, drum brakes, and not much else – made me feel like a little kid again.

Conclusion

The Strida will never replace my day-to-day Speed Pro, nor will it carry great loads long distance, but it’s sufficiently entertaining to make you want to jump on and ride it. Really steep hills are out of the question and the top speed is only 10-12mph, but do you know what? These things seem trivial when I stand back and look at the bike. It is a one- off, a design icon, and something truly different in a world of conformity.Who would have thought it possible to create a truly enjoyable bicycle from three aluminium tubes and a pair of plastic wheels? It’s one of those beautifully simple inventions that delivers more than you expect.You’ll just know if you want one. In fact I want another one.To keep on the coat rack at work, just for emergencies.

Strida Mark 3, from £345 according to spec.
Strida (UK) Ltd tel 01728 745000
fax 01728 747707 mail uk@strida.com web www.strida.com

Ezee Quando

Ezee Quando Electric BikeThis article was first published in June 2004. Ezee has more or less gone out of business now, and big heavy electric folding bikes like this are very much a thing of the past

We have to be honest; most electric folding bikes are horrible.Without being so cruel as to name names, we’d have to admit that half of the bikes we’ve tested are either complete rubbish or close to it.

Part of the problem is the conflicting design constraints discussed elsewhere, but that doesn’t explain everything.The fact is that the Chinese are churning out cheap rubbish and greedy middlemen are flogging the things in the UK for mouth-watering mark-ups, without even test- riding them. How does 250% profit sound?

The Shanghai Ezee Kinetics Co, run by Waiwon Ching and his son Ken, is a bit different.Working from a small factory in Shanghai, and a European office in France, the pair are determined to break the ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ pattern and introduce a decent range of Chinese bikes.

We tested the Ezee Forza back in June 2003 and were suitably impressed.The electronics needed some fettling, but the basic concept – quality alloy frame, nickel-metal hydride battery and fast, efficient motor – proved perfectly sound.The bike has gone on to reach nearly 2,000 miles on long-term test and continues to work well. Mr Ching has now launched a folding bike called the Quando, and we had a brief look when father and son passed through the UK earlier this month.

Like the Forza, the Quando has a nicely-engineered aluminium frame, NiMH battery behind the seatpost and a powerful brushless hub motor. Unlike its big brother, the wheels are 20-inch, the frame folds, and the motor is in the rear wheel, rather than the front.The disadvantage of this layout is that you can’t fit a geared hub – one of the Forza’s best features.

Ezee Quando Electric Bike Hub

The Quando’s rear-mounted motor is compact, but it leaves little room for gears. Note the band brake.

We’re not very happy about the Ezee dual power control system.This has been brought about by confusion over whether UK electric bikes are legally allowed to motor along without the rider pedalling (they probably are allowed at present).The Ezee system features a torque sensor on the crank that brings the motor up to full power a second or two after the rider starts pedalling. The motor can also be more precisely controlled with a conventional twistgrip throttle, but this does not have a safety switch to prevent accidental power application when standing still.

We’d like to see a simpler system, where a crank movement sensor feeds power to the twistgrip, rather than squirting 36 volts straight into the motor.We only dwell on this because the Quando is the most powerful folding electric bike we’ve seen, so precise control is important, both for safety and fuel efficiency.

Ezee Quando Electric Bike Suspension

The rear suspension pivot and polymer are under the battery

The bike also has a single 53″ gear. If you can picture this, the rider starts pedalling and one second later the characteristically smooth, torquey brush-less motor cuts in, propelling the bicycle forward at a cracking pace.Within a few seconds, you’ve passed 12mph, leaving the 53-inch gear behind – further acceleration relying on the motor alone. On full throttle, the power continues to arrive smoothly and cleanly right up to (or a shade over) the 15mph legal limit. At this stage the bicycle stops accelerating and relaxes into a quiet cruise. Hills of up to 10% are simply ironed out, but steeper gradients will slow the motor to varying degrees. For example, our, ahem, 83kg rider (not Jane, incidentally) slowed the bike to 11mph on a 7% (1:14) gradient, 7mph on a 10% gradient, and the bike even managed a restart with reasonable enthusiasm at 12.5% (1:8)… all without turning a pedal. Anything steeper, and you need to provide some modest assistance, the absolute limit depending on how heavy and how fit the rider is. Our steepest local hill is about 18% (1 in 6), and we cleared that relatively easily, so an enthusiastic rider in the North Yorkshire Dales should do a lot better.

 …with one fairly low gear and oodles of power, this machine is more moped than bicycle…

Brakes are somewhat low-tech for such a speedy projectile – a nondescript caliper on the front and a rather noisy and ‘wooden’ band brake on the rear. Stopping requires quite a heave on the levers, producing a brake force of .33G from the back, which is just enough to lock the wheel (but not in reverse – see page 11).That’s adequate, but the similar .33G brake force from the front caliper brake is some way short of the power we would normally expect.

The Quando has suspension – a Moulton-style sliding fork at the front and a polymer bungee at the rear. Both units work well enough, but the front suspension can bottom- out with a nasty crash on rough roads, and the rear has no damping effect, so the bike tends to pogo up and down a bit when you’re pedalling fast, which you usually are.

Saddle height is a bit limited too, at 84cm – 94cm.That’s too high for some of the grey- market customers it might appeal to and too low for taller folk. But this is a prototype, so we can afford to be generous – these are relatively minor faults. Like the Forza, the Quando is fully equipped with mudguards, a stand, a chunky rack, bell and trip computer.

Range

ezee-quando-electric-bike-handlebar-hinge

The handlebar hinge is well engineered, but there’s a bit of play in the pivot bush

With one fairly low gear and oodles of power, this machine is more moped than bicycle, so range is less than it might have been, had we been able to test the bike in our normal ‘flat-out, plus typical pedal-power’ mode.That said, 15 miles is a good result in hilly country and with hardly any assistance from the rider. Average speed is around 141/2mph, which really isn’t bad when you consider that it’s difficult to pedal above 12mph and the motor only runs to 15mph…

Fuel consumption (including some losses in the charger) is close to 30 watt/hours per mile, but this high figure is hardly surprising when you take the performance into account. Back in June last year, with the same battery pack, a slightly less powerful motor, and more suitable pedal gearing, the Quando’s big brother consumed 18 watt/hours per mile, giving an excellent range of 33 miles.With the torque-sensor disconnected and a choice of pedal ratios, we think the Quando could easily exceed 20 miles, even on our hilly test route.

With the rocket boosters empty, the bike is still quite pleasant to ride. Despite a little play in the handlebar hinge (very common this), the frame is rigid enough to make pedal effort productive and the 53″ gear is a reasonable compromise.

ezee-quando-electric-bike-folded-2

The folded. Quando could pass for a conventional 20-inch folder

Recharging proved a bit of an unknown quantity because of a suspected charger fault, but the figures suggest four hours or more to reach a 90% charge (the Forza took five hours) and the rest of the night on a slow trickle charge to top right up. The charger is the same light, compact fan- cooled unit supplied with the Forza (see A to B 36).

Folding

Like most 20-inch bikes, the Quando folds into a large package, but the operation is easy enough and the result is very neat, all things considered. Dimensions are 38cm wide, 90cm long by 66cm high.That comes out at 226 litres or 8 cubic feet. Not minuscule, but perfectly acceptable by non-assisted 20-inch standards (the archetypal Dahon Vitesse measures 190 litres, for example). In terms of weight, the Quando is a very different animal. It’s lighter than some folding electric bikes, but at 25.7kg (20.2kg with battery removed), still way outside our folder viability zone (see graph, page 26). Once again, improved gearing and range would make a lot of difference.We think 25.7kg is a lot of hardware for a 15-mile ride, but probably acceptable with a 25-mile range.The bike would be capable of this with the right gearing.

Conclusion

Some people wouldn’t choose the Quando if it was the last bicycle on earth. But for others, it’s the dream machine they’ve given up hope of finding. If you’re old or infirm and you need a bicycle that can easily haul you home when you can’t manage another pedal stroke, this is one of the best options available. As a boat tender, the bike would cope with steep, unpaved climbs from remote harbours and carry back provisions on its substantial rear rack. The Quando would also suit a commuter in a hilly city, storming up gradients that leave conventional cyclists puffing and blowing.There are smaller electric folders available, of course, but this machine folds well enough to carry in most car boots, by train, or by boat, assuming reasonable stowage space.

The price remains a bit vague for the time being, but the target is £650 – cheaper than the much less effective Bliss or Powabyke folders. If the makers can achieve that, they have a guaranteed winner.

Specification

Ezee Quando (estimated price) £650
Weight (bicycle) 20.2kg (battery) 5.5kg (total) 25.7kg (57lb)
Gear ratio 53″
Batteries nickel-metal hydride
Capacity 324Wh . Range 15 miles
90% charge 4+ hours
Fuel consumption 30Wh/mile
Manufacturer Shanghai Ezee Kinetic Technology
fax +86 21 58224040 mail sales@ezeebike web www.ezeebike.com
European enquiries Ken Ching mail kenching@ezeebike.com

Letter from America – Flop!

letter-from-america-flopMake your dreams come true! Come to the USA and leave with a small fortune.The time-honoured way to do this is to bring a large fortune with you, arrive in Las Vegas and spend a month or so gambling the nights away. If you are lucky, you will leave Las Vegas with a small fortune. If you are unlucky, you won’t have enough money left to buy breakfast.

That is one way.There is now a better method. Bring over a large fortune and open a group of electric bicycle shops. No matter how beautiful and well-run they are, your large fortune will disappear quickly. Sell out soon and you may still go home with a small fortune.Wait a bit longer and you will almost surely go broke. Many have tried and given up, sadder but wiser.

Reading the adverts in A to B gives the impression that the electric bike market is thriving in the UK. It isn’t thriving here. My local bike shop, which is a large and serious place, now has one electric bike standing in a corner in the rear of the store. It is dusty, marked down to half price, and attracts little interest and no buyers. It has been there for almost two years.This shop has tried to sell at least four brands of electrics over the years, and the results have been the same. Little interest and hardly any buyers.Why?

It isn’t this way everywhere. Chinese sources expect sales to top 4 million units this year. Japanese sources report sales of 500,000+ in 2003 and increasing steadily.The Western Europe/UK market seems to be humming along with 50,000 sales each year. And yet in the USA, with a population of 290,000,000 and bike sales of 10,000,000 units per year, electric bike sales probably don’t exceed 15,000 units annually, and that may be an optimistic estimate.

…to Americans, practical transport has two (or more) wheels…

letter-from-america-flop-3I know of only one successful electric bike shop in all of the USA. It is in our Pacific Northwest, in the state of Washington.The owner has by far the best American website in the business (www.electricvehiclesnw.com) and even he uses the website for occasional grumbles about the market. How can this lack of interest be explained?

The American mindset gives some clues.To Americans, practical, useful transport has four (or more) wheels. Anything with less than four wheels is automatically classified as a toy.We have many types of scooters for sale.There are electric-powered, gas-powered, and people-powered scooters, in both stand-up and sit-down models. Most are very cheap, many are unsafe and none are legal for street use.Transport in the USA is about cars.There are a few starving students cruising around on 50cc motor scooters, and of course there is the testosterone-crazed motorcycle crowd (also known as organ donors), but it really is all about cars. If you were to stand on a street corner of any American city, you would see rather few bikes, and you would quickly determine that the riders are on the bikes because they probably cannot afford to drive a car.You would be most unlikely to see a single electric bicycle unless you stood on that street corner for a year or so.

I am a daily bike commuter, and I see one every six months. Americans do not favour any sort of physical effort in their choices of daily transportation, and they have the waistlines to prove it.

The American Way of Life encourages this mentality. Relatively low taxes and relatively high spendable income are treasured parts of the American scene, and woe unto any politician who tries to change that. One economist has described our economic policy as, ‘private wealth and public squalor’. A low-tax policy will produce that sort of thing. The most important part of the policy is Cheap Gas. UK visitors quickly see that the price of gas in the USA is less than half the price in the UK.The difference is not the cost of gas. It is a difference in national taxation policies.

Cheap Gas encourages living far from work, endless driving, using cars for almost every activity, suburban sprawl on a grand scale and short changing other forms of transit. In the USA we ‘invest’ in highways and roads, but we only ‘subsidise’ public transit.The words are important, and they tell the story.There is very little place for the practical electric bicycle in that story. And so it goes all over America – on four gas- powered wheels, not on two electric-powered wheels.

There is, to be fair, some possibility of change.The era of Cheap Gas may be ending, whether Americans like it or not.There are also signs that many Americans are tired of endless driving and the costs involved, and are moving closer to their work, and may even be using some of those millions of bikes in their basements and garages for neighbourhood travels.The children of today zipping around on those toy electric scooters could well be the teenagers and adults of tomorrow zipping around on electric bikes.

The American Way of Life did not always revolve around cars, and expensive gas. Global warming concerns and the necessity for alternative energy sources may produce drastic changes. No one knows for sure, but some signs are out there.

In the meantime, let me offer some good advice for UK visitors. Leave your large fortunes at home. Do not bring them to Las Vegas. Do something sensible like buying nice swamp land or digging a tunnel from London to New York City.You will be happier and more successful. And do not even consider moving into the electric bicycle business here in the USA.Trust me on this. For the present, there is only one word that describes the USA electric bike scene. FLOP.