Tag Archives: A to B 43

A to B 43

A to B 43 CoverSince May, our old web address a2b@onetel.net.uk has remained in use on our web site, but only accepting mail with the word MAGAZINE printed in the body, effectively screening out all automated mail. Our primary email address, for magazine subscribers only, changed to atob@onetel.net.uk and this remained unrestricted.

Onetel is now making its own anti-viral arrangements, necessitating a change to @onetel.com, so we’re changing again: a2b@onetel.com for casual web enquiries and atob@onetel.com for you lucky lot. Please wipe out all other addresses and use this one in future, because after 1st September the old addresses will cease to exist. No code words needed. Dead simple, eh?

Enough tedium – we thought it would be interesting to reveal which of our test bikes we’d most like to keep each month.This time, it just has to be the Helios SL. See what you think.

A to B 43 Contents

A to B 43 Blog, August 2004, Eurotunnel Cycle Service

Eurotunnel Cycle Services, London to Bright Charity Ride 2004

Press freebies are a bit thin on the ground these days, prompting the Mole to make grateful haste to Folkestone, following an invitation from Eurotunnel to ride through the Channel Tunnel and around something called the Pas de Calais, the foreign bit at the other end.

In the event, the riding through part turned out to mean putting ones bicycle aboard a trailer and travelling by minibus within a train, which sounds like rather more hardware than is strictly necessary, but there we are.

A to B magazine, Eurotunnel Cycle Service, trailerThose wishing to take advantage of the Eurotunnel Cycle Service might wish to note that the closest railway station is actually Folkestone West, not Central, as carelessly printed in the press-pack, and that the cyclists’ rendezvous point is not at the terminal at all, but south of the M20 near the Folkestone branch of Tesco’s. One trusts this information will spare other cyclists the ordeal of joining the M20 motorway for the final approach to the terminal and being apprehended by security guards on the premises. Eurotunnel, it seems, has procedures to keep cyclists out of the tunnel.

A to B magazine, Eurotunnel Cycle Service, France

Hangover- free: Fiona from Bournemouth making it all look very easy. PHOTO Jon Brooke

With composure fully restored, it is time to meet our driver, Norman, not at all the PR type, who kindly stows our bicycles on the trailer and makes us comfy in the minibus. This being a rather choice outing as freebies go, the ‘us’ includes Simon O’Hagan, a charming senior hack from the Independent on Sunday, who makes some excuse about crossing for the D-Day landings. With hardware and journos safely on board, we drive onto the train, vibrate for half an hour at Warp Factor One, and emerge in the Pas de Calais, which is not a bit like Folkestone.

At the Centre d’Affaires in Coquelles we are met by our tourist board minders – Laurence, who rather confusingly turns out to be a woman, and Nicholas, pronounced Nicola, who surprises us all by being a man. Soon we’re rolling through Sangatte, and into the uppie- downie bits, with Nicholas puffing and blowing on Laurence’s bicycle, while the cyclist drives the back-up van. Under cross-examination, it emerges that Nicholas has been banned for drink-driving and has thus been obliged to join us in some gentle exertions.

The coast road rolls past the cliffs of Cap Blanc Nez and Cap Griz Nez where Hitler first spotted Folkestone through his binoculars and famously changed his mind about the invasion. All too soon we’re pedalling through Wimereux, distinctive for its compulsory blue and white beach huts, to our seafront guest house, the Villa Tremail, where the maitre d’ has kindly opened a packet of PG Tips, producing some very weak tea in our honour.

…one of those events that sounds good, but leaves one wondering how it all went so horribly wrong…

The evening visit to a seafood restaurant proves noticeably short of high jinks, our small group remaining stubbornly sober, despite an unlimited bar tab Independent Simon mumbles the old D- Day excuse, and Fiona from the Bournemouth Echo spends the whole evening toying with a single glass of wine.The menu includes steak, cod, and poisson de la jour, which turns out to be something odd but very tasty beginning with ‘r’. Retire to bed, tiresomely sober.

The next morning, we awaken to a sumptuous breakfast and another round of weak tea, before remounting our steeds for the ride back to Calais by the lightly trafficked inland route. Pausing only to stock up with duty-free in a handy hypermarket, which Norman cheerfully stows on the minibus, it’s all aboard once again, back on the train, another thirty minutes of underfloor massage, and we emerge in miserable old Britain.

Norman asks us to point out that the minibus runs from Folkestone at 08.00 and 15.30 daily, returning at 12.30 and 17.30 from Coquelles. In other words, a day trip is quite practicable, and at £16 for rider, bicycle (and child if on a child seat), quite good value. Strangely, a single ticket costs £31, Eurotunnel adding darkly that day- trippers failing to return will be liable to a £15 penalty. One assumes Norman counts them all out and counts them all back. Do cyclists from the Pas de Calais ever make the return trip to Folkestone? Somehow one suspects not.

Things aren’t all bad in Grande-Bretagne. The Mole was delighted to see Uncle Ken returned as mayor of London early in June, albeit with a less Congestion Charge-friendly assembly. This wonderful news was either deliberately or accidentally marked by a shindig in Trafalgar Square entitled ‘Lifecycle, Bikefest in the Square’ – one of those events that sounds good, but leaves one wondering how it all went so horribly wrong.

As one understood it, this was to be a demonstration of the latest advances in capital cycling, and London’s big cycle dealers, plus manufacturers Brompton and Giant booked space with enthusiasm.


Bikefest: The modest tent

Quite why the normally astute Transport for London asked management company, GDF Diversivents to stage a BMX/skateboard-fest is unclear, but wires obviously became crossed somewhere along the line. On arriving at Trafalgar Square – which certainly looked like a suitable cycling venue on a Sunday afternoon – the Mole was greeted with a rather fierce sign to the effect that bicycles were banned. Limited cycle parking, it seemed, was available elsewhere (bicycles must be removed by 6.30pm on pain of death, etc), or you could just bugger off, depending how enthusiastic you were about BMX and skateboarding. Anyone innocently wheeling their bike across the Square was swiftly evicted by a posse of security guards, the ‘Strictly No Bikes’ rule being vigorously enforced. Not a good start. The second problem was the tent. You can book larger tents for suburban weddings, yet this one was hired to accommodate Sustrans, the London Bicycle Tour Company, Leukemia Research, Giant, The Cycle Show, Evans Cycles, Brompton, Cycle Training UK, Cycle Works, the London Cycling Campaign, the All Abilities Access Group, Bikeweek and the National Cycling Strategy.


‘No Bicycles’

To make matters worse, the very small tent had just one very small entrance, so those members of the public who managed to fight their way in through the mêlée of stallholders, were obliged to turn and fight their way back out through the same orifice. Obviously, anything as cumbersome as a bicycle would have been a serious hazard in such a small space, so display bicycles were banned too.

Outside, there was a bicycle try-out zone, manned by London’s very able Bikefix, but it was hidden away behind the concert hall plasma screen showing nothing in particular, and the BMX, skateboard and roller-blade demo zone. With Bikefix (bless ‘em) intent on demonstrating recumbents, the sensible commuter bikes were rather swamped.


Bollywood on Bikes was the best bit

One suspects that even the French might have made a better job of it, but then transport faux pas are something of a British speciality these days.Take the London to Brighton charity cycle ride. Organised by the British Heart Foundation (‘in tandem with Shredded Wheat’, apparently), this event has become the biggest in Europe, attracting 27,000 official riders each June, plus numerous hangers on, including a few, no doubt, who just happened to be visiting the Tooting branch of Sainsburys and found themselves swept along in the throng.

Anywhere else in Europe, special trains would be provided to get 27,000 cyclists home, but not here. In previous years, the British art of fumbling through came into play – extra guards’ vans were found and dusted down, seats were removed from octogenarian rolling stock, and thousands of cyclists ferried home in time for tea.

In 2002, the British Heart Foundation received a note from the then train operator South Central, advising that new rolling stock would be in use on the Brighton line in 2004, so there would be no special arrangements.To enforce the “…the British Heart Foundation decided to send everyone home by road…” ban, an exclusion zone would be created around Brighton railway station, effectively banning all cyclists on the day, whether taking part in the ride or not.

Although suitable rolling stock was available for hire, the British Heart Foundation decided to send everyone home by road, marshalling a fleet of trucks and buses on to the A23, which promptly ground to a halt.

Meanwhile, Brighton railway station was under siege, protected only by a thin blue line of security gorillas. At this stage, a wily group of bicyclists rode to the northern suburbs and boarded a London train at Preston Park station. Having no bikes, the security bods got caught up in the chaos on the A23 and failed to beat them to it.The bicyclists boarded the train, the guard refused to restart, and the line was effectively shut for an hour and a half, until the police arrived and marched the offenders off to Brighton nick.

A to B magazine, World Naked Bikes Rides UK

The ripple effect of this infamous dénouement left confusion and congestion for some time. Innocent cyclists visiting or shopping in Brighton were left tearfully stranded, trains were cancelled and roads blocked. Some participants had driven two cars from London to Brighton in the small hours, left one, returned to London with the other, cycled back to Brighton, and driven back… a total of 230 car-miles. One wonders whether the stress and pollution of the day didn’t kill as many participants as were saved by the healthy exercise.

A to B magazine, World Naked Bike Rides SpainNext year, an altogether better option might be to join one of the World Naked Bike Rides, which tend to be urban events, and thus more easily accessible. Strangely, WNBR has received zero coverage in the cycling media, something A to B hopes to correct, with contributions from Spain (mainly bottoms), The Netherlands (rather formal, and exclusively male), and the USA (exuberantly uninhibited, as one might expect).

Well, it sounds more entertaining than National Bike Week, and quite effective as protests go. The aim, according to a breathless Press Release from World Naked HQ, was to, ‘face automobile traffic with our naked bodies as the best way of defending our dignity and exposing the unique dangers faced by cyclists and pedestrians as well as the negative consequences we all face due to dependence on oil, and other forms of non-renewable energy.’

A to B magazine, World Naked Bike RideEr, yes. In 2005, they’re hoping to organise 1,000 rides. Perhaps they should hijack the London to Brighton? A bit more entertaining for railway staff, anyway.

Folding bikes, of course, were unaffected by the Brighton disaster, although several ever-so-slightly smug folding bike owners found themselves caught up in the rail chaos on the way home, including Brompton marketing manager Edward Donald.

It seems that Brompton has been asked to produce the national ‘Bikes on Trains’ poster, to be displayed at stations and railway ticket agencies throughout Britain. Here was a great opportunity to push the bike/rail message and encourage the use of folding bikes.

A to B magazine, Cambridge-st Ives RailwayBut nothing is simple these days. National rail posters have to be cleared by the Strategic Rail Authority, Association of Train Operating Companies and each of the 25 railway companies, reducing even the most inspirational design to a committee-inspired shell, and the artist to a quivering wreck. Sure enough, the first draft was deemed ‘insufficiently off-peak’, the second contained ‘too many bicycles’, as did the third.The fourth had ‘no visible safety fencing’, the train ‘didn’t look like a real train’, the station – you guessed it – wasn’t a real station and there were too few pedestrians. Finally, and most ludicrously, ATOC felt the poster was putting too great an emphasis on ‘touring in the countryside’ – the raison d’être, surely? The great names of British railway poster art must be turning in their graves.

Fortunately, a few weeks later, ‘New’ Labour finally lost patience with our costly, inefficient, corrupt and generally useless privatised railway and abolished the less-than-Strategic Rail Authority.

Just days before, the Mole had received a desperate communication from Cambridge, where campaigners and residents have been fighting a long battle to have their railway service reinstated, against the wishes of Cambridgeshire County Council, which is pressing for the line to become a guided busway (see A to B 41). Things looked good for the railway campaign when the Council grudgingly revealed that it had received 4,000 letters opposing the busway, two that were ‘uncommitted’, and a miserly four in favour. Unfortunately, in one of its last, and pottiest policy statements, the Strategic Rail Authority unhelpfully chipped in with the announcement that it was in favour of, er, turning the strategic rail corridor into a busway. With friends like Richard Bowker, what need has the railway for enemies? Which brings us to the less than gratifying news that railway strategy will now be handled by the Department for (Road) Transport. Plus ça change…

Eurotunnel Cycle Service: Bookings are compulsory – tel 01303 288790 or 288933 Monday to Friday 09.00 to 17.30 email uktkt.desk@eurotunnel.com web www.eurotunnel.com/cycle . Pas de Calais Tourist Board: tel +33 3211 03460 mail accueil@pas-de- calais.com web www.pas-de-calais.com . Villa Tremail: tel +33 3213 03358 mail villatremail@free.fr

Letters A to B 43 – front changers . regenerative braking . semi-recumbents . small tyres

Climb Every Mountain


The ‘kick-change’ Speed Drive is well suited to the Brompton

Regarding Brompton gears (A to B 42), those who own the 6-speed machine would no doubt do well to experiment with sprocket changes, but owners of older machines (which I believe cannot be economically upgraded) don’t have this option. I think that the principal objection to multiple chainrings is that, so far as I am aware, there is no ‘mainstream’ conversion available. Inevitably, they do add complication but I liked the minimalist approach of a Brompton rider I encountered on the C2C who shifted his chain with a hand-held hook, apparently fashioned from a wire coathanger. My own design uses a Shimano braze- on mech and thumb shifter and is mainly aimed at filling the gaps in the standard Sturmey 5-speed range. I agree a wider range would be helpful but, pending the availability of better things, it seems we have to choose – never mind the width, feel the closeness!

I agree with what you say about possible chain-related problems; you might have added that the cage of the front mech has to be open at the bottom so as to allow the bike to fold. It occurs to me to add that a conversion provides an excuse to get rid of the rather down market standard chainset and benefit from shorter cranks.

George Winspur
Rochester, Kent

We’re still not keen. A multiple chainring adds more weight than a sprocket change and you have to fold the bike with care, particularly when the chain gets a bit old and slack – we’ve seen broken tensioner arms caused by misaligned, slack chains. For older Bromptons, we’d recommend either fitting the excellent Mountain or Speed Drive conversion (not cheap, but engineered for life), or trading the bike in for a new 6-speed with alternative sprockets. The secondhand value of grotty old Bromptons makes this very worthwhile. (Eds)

Extra Gears = More Speed?

I found the test of the Lafree Comfort ST interesting, because I’ve been using a SRAM 5- speed hub on my Lafree Lite since fitting it early this year. After nearly a thousand miles, I can confirm that the change does improve somewhat with time as Giant indicated, but it never gets anywhere near the slickness of the Nexus three speed. However, it soon becomes instinctive to stop pedalling and allow that moment extra for the ‘click’ from the hub. Given the hill climbing ability, it doesn’t matter if one involuntarily stops at a change down from second to first, since even a 1 in 7 hill start with a 14 kilogram trailer attached is easy with moderate assistance.

I’ve also tried both 18- and 17-tooth rear sprockets in place of the standard SRAM 19- tooth. Any hypothetical illegality due to the use of the 18-tooth is virtually undetectable, given that the power begins to phase out at higher crank speed. However, the legal position isn’t really the issue, particularly with a 17-tooth – it’s more the lack of available power. In fifth with the 17-tooth, the least incline or moderate headwind forces a premature change down to fourth, leaving one travelling slower than if the original 19-tooth was in use, so after extensive testing with both 18- and 17-tooth, I concluded the standard arrangement was best. Also, as ever with NiMh or Nicd battery power, what’s viable when the battery is fully charged can soon prove not to be so in the latter half of the charge usage as the voltage reduces.

Tony Flecchia

One problem with the Lafree for enthusiastic cyclists is the rather limited top gear ratio of around 80-inches – if a higher gear is used, the bike will either run illegally fast or, as Tony found, give up on hills. A solution might be to fit the bike with a 5-speed hub and ultra-high gearing to give four power-assisted ratios, and a sort of overdrive top, for use with the motor turned off when the going is easy and you want to pedal at higher speed. (Eds)

Familiar Semi-recumbent


Urban Glider (above) and Giant Revive (below) Despite technical differences, the bikes are remarkably similar in terms of geometry and equipment

At the CTC York rally I had a brief try on a pedal-assisted semi- recumbent electric bike from an outfit called Urban Mover. It was twistgrip operated, but power only came on when pedalling. At around £850, I thought it was very competitive, and streets ahead of the Lafree in appearance.

giant-reviveBut for ‘worried . mum of  Surrey’  (Letters, A to B 42), don’t   think of buying  your 14 year old an electric bike. Offer him a decent sports tourer with a reasonable rack/pannier/saddlebag arrangement. He’ll be fitter, stronger and more independent… never did me any harm anyway.

Jim Whitfield

Ah, those were the days. Incidentally, despite having a bus season ticket, editor David Henshaw cycled six miles each way to school for several years (and occasionally home to lunch), all on a single-speed bike, dreaming all the while of owning a Sturmey 3-speed (this is all true). However, that was in flat seaside terrain.We should have made it clear that the route described in the letter crosses the South Downs between Albury and Cranleigh – a climb of at least 500 feet each way.Throw in the stress of dealing with rampaging four-wheel-drives, and it’s definitely an electric bike job, unless the young man is really keen.

The Urban Glider UM30 is a fascinating machine, very similar to the unassisted Giant EZB semi-recumbent, but with NiMH power and a competitive claimed weight of 26kg. If you want one you’ll have to hurry, as Giant is taking action to get it removed from sale due to copyright infringements, which is hardly surprising. (Eds)

Which Tyre Size?

I was interested in Nils Hoglund’s letter in A to B 42. I have no personal experience of folding bikes but I am hoping to buy one in the near future, and have been carefully scrutinising the reviews in A to B to select my model. Despite the acclaim given to the Brompton, I am rather put off by what appear – to someone used to a conventional bike – to be its very small wheels, which look like a lot of hard work, and I have been considering the Dahon Helios as an alternative, simply because of the 20-inch wheel size.

I would welcome some information and discussion on this point, and contributions from other readers’ experiences. Are 16-inch wheels really too tiring for anything more than short journeys nipping around town?

Peter Bolwell
Hastings, East Sussex

Although we’re evangelists for small wheels, we can’t deny that rolling resistance rises as wheel diameter decreases, but with modern tyres the effect is quite small.The best 20-inch (406mm) bikes are almost indistinguishable from big wheelers – in fact, the reduced mass and lower wind resistance probably makes them faster on good road surfaces.With the smaller 347mm tyre fitted to the Brompton, the performance gap is beginning to widen, but we’ve ridden 100 miles (once!), and many 50 mile days without exhaustion. If you can find a comfortable wind-cheating position, the tyre size becomes relatively unimportant. Sub-347mm sizes really are limited to short distances, although oddly our rolling resistance figures don’t seem to bear this out. Perhaps the extra fatigue results from the choppier less forgiving ride, rather than rolling resistance alone? (Eds)

Fluctuating Thingies

EPS Amigo Electric Bike

Drive system on the EPS Amigo, one of the very few electric bikes to offer regenerative braking

It is well known that a fluctuating magnetic field will produce a fluctuating electric current in a conductor and that conversely a fluctuating electric current will produce a fluctuating magnetic field. Can someone explain why an electric bike is designed to be run by pedal power on a level road and power-assisted to climb a hill but not arranged to charge the battery and at the same time provide braking assistance when travelling downhill.

Alex Massie
Chirnside, Berwickshire

Professor Pivot Replies: ‘Regenerative’ braking is something of a Holy Grail for cyclists and by far the most common question about electric bikes. My negative replies are always met with rather crestfallen, gloomy looks! Firstly, electrical braking can be and very occasionally is built into electric bikes, but it’s hardly worthwhile for a number of reasons. As a general rule, motors turn much faster than road wheels, so a fair amount of energy is required simply to turn the gears and motor. Consequently, most are fitted with a one-way clutch to disengage the motor when the rider is coasting or pedalling without assistance. For the motor to be available as a brake, it would have to be permanently engaged, with all the energy losses that would entail.

A few sophisticated wheel-speed AC motors have been produced, eliminating the frictional loss problem (and, incidentally, most of the noise). As AC motors are inherently well suited to providing regenerative braking, these are usually fitted with such a system. However, when you take into account chemical, electrical and frictional losses in the battery, controls, wiring, motor, drive system and tyres, plus vehicle wind resistance, there may be very little power left to store. A few years ago I experimented with a Zappy scooter, and found that the descent was regenerating a mere 20% of the energy consumed on the climb! I suspect that suitable AC motors will eventually become commonplace, but the impetus for regenerative braking will have more to do with reducing stress on the conventional braking system than improved power-assist efficiency.

Whacky Fringe

We all know that the Association of British Drivers is a small group of right-wing nutters with a tenuous grasp of reality. However, they have garnered a huge amount of media attention, out of all proportion to their real significance.

So, let’s set up the Association of British Cyclists (ABC) whose job will be to pronounce similarly whacky views, albeit from a two-wheel perspective.The ABD wants to ban speed cameras (except for those few in ‘appropriate places’ of course) – the ABC will counter with a demand for cameras placed every 100 metres on every stretch of road, everywhere.The ABD wants the motorway speed limit raised; the ABC would like to see it cut to 40mph, with the inside lane reserved for bikes. And so it goes on.

This way, the ABC can be dismissed as a radical fringe, leaving the CTC and LCC looking terribly moderate and responsible.Well, it’s a thought isn’t it?

Peter Henshaw
Sherborne, Dorset

Trundling and Musing

While trundling home in a downpour recently, I managed to enter a higher mental plane by contemplating on the design of a folding tandem. I’ve thought for a long time that there is an empty niche for a Brompton- or Birdy-esque tandem, folding to public transport size in less than a minute without disassembly.

The problem has always been, what to do with the timing chain? Folding the rear wheel under interferes with the chain. All obvious solutions involve removal and filth. My mind drifted back to articles in recent A to B’s and the piece in issue 39, on shaft drives. I think that this is the answer.A shaft drive connecting front and rear cranks, with a chain final drive.

The bike would fold in the same places as a Brompton, have 349mm wheels, suspension front and rear, drum brakes and an 8-speed hub.The solution seems so obvious that I think that I must have missed something. Nothing in cycling design is really new, so has this been done before?

Davy Nichol
Symington, Ayrshire

It can be made to work – see the folding shaft-drive on the Di Blasi trike, page 36. (Eds)

Peak Oil

Tony Raven (Letters, A to B 42) was right to be wary of any pundit using the phrase ‘running out of oil’. But those in the ‘70s with access to the best data were predicting that output would reach an absolute maximum around the year 2000 and then go into permanent decline. In the event, the year-on-year increase in global demand was substantially curtailed following the oil crises, but after a short-lived decline, consumption resumed its upward trajectory. Contrary to Tony’s impression, those leading the wake-up call on Peak Oil are primarily retired geologists. See the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (www.peakoil.net).

Bill Jamieson
Stow, Borders

Clip Your Own

You might be interested in visiting www.bikesmithdesign.com/peters_pedals/ which describes some removable SPD pedals I made using MKS Promenade pedals and a cleat from another pedal.The pictures are on the Minnesota Human Powered Vehicles Association website for reasons that are too complicated to go into! I have replaced my folding toe clips with this new solution. Much better when clipped in and much more convenient when using ordinary shoes.

Peter Amey
Bradford on Avon,Wiltshire

The MKS Promenade demountable pedals (see Helios SL) are a useful folding bike accessory, but cost in the region of £60 a pair. Any good bike shop should be able to order them, although Norman Fay Cycles is the only stockist we’ve yet come across – tel: 0191 456 1055. (Eds)


I have two 5-speed Bromptons both with front and rear carriers etc, the older with two gear levers, the younger (inherited from my late son) with one. I keep one in southwest Scotland where it is moderately hilly, and being of free TV licence age I would appreciate some power-assistance on the hills! The nearest shop and pub are five miles return away along the coast road, but I would be tempted to go further with a little help.

As an avid A to B reader,I have sensed that you are coming round to the idea of folding electric bikes? Presumably a brake upgrade would also be recommended?


We’d recommend contacting either Kinetics in Glasgow (tel: 0141 942 2552) or E-go (tel: 07974 723996). Both have experience in fitting small motors into small wheels. (Eds)

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

Excellent – more of the same for twelve months please! Genuinely useful, interesting and entertaining . Super – don’t change it . Vastly overpriced . Excellent value . Fantastic mag, monthly please, pretty please! PS Less electric bikes, more folders . Thanks for the article on brakes . More about trips and maintenance of folders, a bit less on electric bikes Just the right balance – I read every item . Could you do folding tandems? Too many electric bikes! Please include more articles from Japan and Asia . Rob Cope’s rail guide is sadly missed . Different but interesting . I like the politics related to all forms of transport Required reading on the way to the Le Mans 24 hour race . Rekindles my enthusiasm amongst all the gloom . I love the magazine, but my wife hates being ignored while I’m reading it Creates domestic dramas as we both try to grab it . Best thing since our homemade bread A voice of sanity, and fun besides! My bi-monthly dose of sanity – keep pedalling it!


Are trains really ‘green’?

Professor Pivot“The current issue of Modern Railways magazine has an interesting article by Roger Ford on car, train and plane energy efficiency (June 2004, pp30-31). Ford’s analysis, ‘suggests, and I expect that this will generate some howls of protest, that a family of four going by car is about as environmentally friendly as you can get’. He has obviously forgotten the bicycle, but then he is talking about long distance journeys. Given that in theory ‘nothing can equal the steel wheel on steel rail for environmentally friendly transport’, what has gone wrong? A new state-of-the- art Virgin Super Voyager weighs 40% more per seat than an Intercity 125. Second, faster trains use a lot more energy – cutting the London-Edinburgh time by 30 minutes increases energy consumption by one half. Is half an hour worth it? Third, new trains are badly engineered.The new Pendolino intercity trains use 14 times as much energy for lighting as the trains they replace. How can this be?”

Dr Tim Leunig (daily commuter)

There’s no doubt that energy efficiency has been largely ignored by the railways since privatisation. Some of the last British Rail commuter trains were designed to use 20% less power than their (already efficient) predecessors, through lightweight construction, and by using AC motors, which can more easily provide ‘regenerative braking’ – putting electricity back into the supply when slowing down. For various reasons, this system was never made operational, and conventional brakes remain in use today. Meanwhile, the railway power supply is being completely revamped in the southeast to allow even more power-hungry German machines to enter service. Another odd modern practice is the tendency to put a diesel loco at either end of a train, because it’s cheaper than paying Network Rail to operate the points for the locomotive to run round to the front on branch lines! And although I have not seen the figures, I don’t doubt that the new Virgin Voyager is less fuel-efficient than the wonderful Intercity 125 trains (another British Rail achievement, incidentally). As with cars, extra weight through increased crash-worthiness, power-hungry air-conditioning, and greater acceleration are beginning to make inroads into the inherent efficiency of rail vehicles, although as we shall see, the figures stubbornly indicate that both modes are becoming more fuel-efficient.

When comparing road with rail, we must try not to lose sight of the bigger transport picture. Road transport has indeed become slightly more fuel-efficient in recent years: average vehicle consumption improving slightly, from 25.2mpg in 1993 to 28.2mpg in 2002, largely because of the introduction of fuel-efficient small diesels. Incidentally, these figures are drawn from total vehicle mileage and total fuel consumption, so they include buses and HGVs, which might sound unfair. On the other hand, only 5.8% of traffic is HGV, and the figures also include mopeds and motorcycles. Cars and light vans account for an astonishing 92% of total mileage.

In broad terms, the fuel consumption of road vehicles has hardly changed in 80 years because the increase in efficiency has been obscured by increased weight, bigger engines and so on. Only in North America have cars genuinely become more economic (from a very low base, of course).Throughout the developed world, vehicle efficiency is thought to be on the fall again – presumably because of the recent growth in gas-guzzling 4-wheel- drives, and as a side-effect of increasing congestion. And irrespective of the fuel efficiency of individual vehicles, the growth in UK vehicle mileage has caused an increase in overall consumption, from 39.5 million tonnes (petroleum equivalent) in 1993 to 41.5 million tonnes in 2002.


Virgin’s new Pendolino (left). Is it really less fuel-efficient than it’s predecessor (right)? PHOTO : www.the-siding.co.uk

Meanwhile, the amount of fuel consumed by the railway industry (mainly diesel fuel and electricity) has fallen dramatically, from 0.93 million tonnes to 0.72 million tonnes (petroleum equivalent) in the same period, even though rail passenger/miles have increased by almost a quarter.There are many reasons why this might be so – scrapping of older thirstier freight locomotives, reduction of heavy coal traffic, and (hopefully) better vehicle utilisation, being the obvious ones.

If we look more closely at the 2002 figures and remove the fuel used to move freight (about 10% of the total), we find that passenger rail vehicles consumed some 648,000 tonnes of fuel and covered 443 million train/km.This could be expressed as 684 km/tonne or .581 km/litre, or even more conveniently, as 1.7 miles per gallon. As the average passenger loading in 2002 was 89.6, we can deduce a rough figure of 148 mpg/passenger for rail.

Yes, passenger rail vehicles are getting heavier, thirstier and faster, and they’re doing more miles, but because they’re faster, they’re attracting a lot more passengers, which helps to explain why the mpg/passenger figure is holding up so well.

Roger Ford suggests that a family of four can travel long distances more efficiently by road. In theory – provided their vehicle was a little more efficient than average – this would be possible, but as we all know, the problem with road transport is a passenger loading per car that hovers frustratingly around one. In other words, cars are usually carrying one person to work, or worse still, undertaking ‘positioning moves’; running driver-only to pick up passengers. In ‘cradle to grave’ terms, intensively-used rail vehicles do much better. As always, the answer is to make better use of public transport.

But, as Tim rightly observes, rail could do better and could make more effort to build on its many other environmental advantages.With the right technology, reduced track congestion and even better vehicle loadings, an improvement to 300mpg/passenger or more would be quite achievable.

Dahon Helios SL

Dahon Helios SL Folding BikeFor some time we’ve been predicting that the winners and losers from the next generation of folding bikes will be judged in terms of weight. On a conventional bike, light weight is little more than a good talking point, but a folder has to be carryable. We’ve lost count of the strapping great fellows who’ve told us they can’t understand our enthusiasm for lightweight folders. And if you too can run the length of Clapham Junction with a 15kg bike, or heave it over the sill of a car boot, you won’t really be interested either. For the rest of us, lightweight folding bikes are the future.

…our demo bike was sold before we could grab it. Clearly there was a demand…

Every gram counts, but once you get into exotic materials, the cost can rise rapidly.When we built our lightweight Brompton back in 1998, some changes were easy and cheap, but others cost 50p or more, per gram saved. Our fully-equipped bike ending up weighing 10.4kg and costing £687 (including purchase cost) – figures that look respectable even today.

Back to conventional off-the-shelf technology in 2004, and a typical Dahon or Brompton will weigh 12 or 13kg and cost around £500. But start stripping weight off, and the price rises rapidly. Birdy market a couple of bikes in the 11kg region for around a thousand pounds, and Bike Friday will sell you an even lighter machine, but it’ll cost well into four-figures in the UK. At the ultra-light end, there are a few single-speed, titanium oddities, such as the 6.5kg Panasonic Traincle, but that’s more or less priceless here, and a bit of a quirky thing to ride.

Dahon launched its assault on the ‘quality end’ last year with the limited edition Helios XX, which weighed a claimed 7.8kg without pedals, and cost £1,000.We say ‘claimed’ because our long-promised demo bike was sold (by a shop that must remain nameless) before we could grab it. Clearly there was a demand.

Dahon Helios Folding Bike Front Wheel

At the heart of the SL are these beautiful Rolf wheels and lightweight Schwalbe tyres

The XX utilised all sorts of expensive bits, but after some careful cost/benefit calculations, Dahon introduced the ‘budget’ Helios SL for the summer 2004 season.This bike costs a relatively slimline £800 and weighs 8.65kg on our scales, or precisely 19lb in real units.That’s far and away the lightest bike we’ve tested (if we ignore the Traincle), and one of a very select group of sub-10kg bikes – certainly the only one costing under the magic grand. Congratu- lations to Dahon for converting a relatively conventional aluminium bike (our last Helios weighed 12.2kg) into a super- lightweight racer. How was it done?

The Knowledge

The basis for this machine is the Helios 20-inch wheel bicycle, reviewed in more conventional form in A to B 31. Centrepiece of the conversion to SL spec are a pair of beautiful and ultra-light Rolf wheels, with 14 radial spokes on the front and 16 more conventionally-strung spokes at the rear.The spokes are noticeably ‘waisted’ to save weight (double-butted in engineering terms) and the wheel rims are the deep racy kind.Tyres are a super-lightweight version of the Schwalbe Stelvio we tested last year in 16-inch form.

…a wheel/tyre combination making all the right noises and transmitting all the right vibrations…

Dahon Helios Folding BikeWe judged the conventional Stelvio to have similar rolling resistance to the Brompton or Primo, which was slightly disappointing, but it weighed a few grams less, and was better suited to narrow rims. At 172g, the new ‘Light’ version fitted to the SL is probably the lightest production 406mm tyre in the world. It’s hard to believe that not so long ago, the 260g Primo Comet was considered a world-beater…The Light Stelvio rolls well too, reaching an excellent roll-down speed of 15mph on our test-hill, but in this respect, it’s still narrowly beaten by the Primo. Schwalbe has launched the tyre as a ‘Dahon Special Edition’ in snazzy orange and black, although a mass-market version is expected in the autumn.

Pair the Light Stelvio with inner tubes weighing only 74g apiece, and wheels weighing 500g, and you get an idea where much of the weight has been taken off. As any Formula One designer will tell you, if you’re removing weight from a machine the wheels are a good place to start, because lighter rotating bits react faster and more precisely to power input, plus cornering and braking forces. This certainly holds true for the SL, which goes far better than you might expect from a bike/rider combination that’s only 5% lighter than the cooking model.The bike storms away from the lights, leans hard through sweeping curves and brakes smoothly and consistently. Of course, much of the performance comes from the enthusiasm of the rider, and nothing generates enthusiasm more than a highly strung wheel/tyre combination making all the right sporty noises and transmitting all the right vibrations.

The gear system (presumably chosen on weight grounds) is SRAM X-7, which is actually an 8-speed, just to confuse the innocent consumer. It’s very pretty to look at and seems to do all the proper gear things as and when expected, although the change is not quite on a par with the very best. According to SRAM, the 7-series features ‘speed release spool detent shifting’, whatever that might mean, if indeed it means anything. In practice, most changes are satisfyingly crisp and clunky, rather than sewing machine slick.Very Germanic.

Dahon Helios Folding Bike GearsAs compromises go, the ratios are more or less perfect.The 34-inch bottom gear should get the Helios up most gradients without too much huffing and blowing, and the top gear of 88-inches is tall enough to nip along on the flat with a following breeze, but not high enough for spinning down long gradual descents. Power transmission is wonderfully direct and there’s very little flex from the rear of the bike, so the Helios SL tends to encourage you to work hard and reward you with the desired forward motion. Standing out of the saddle is less satisfactory, because there’s quite a lot of flex in the front of the frame and the handlebar stem, which feels too frail for grunty, sweaty riding. Whether this is enough of a problem to put off the more seriously athletic types remains to be seen. A Bike Friday is certainly tauter, and thus almost certainly a little faster, but within the slightly flexy limitations of the Helios frame, the SL runs a surprisingly close second. And don’t forget how much money you’ve saved.

Dahon Helios Folding Bike - PedalElsewhere it’s hard to see where the weight has been shaved off.The handlebars look like carbon fibre and are called Carbonlite, but seem to be made of aluminium. No matter, they’re clearly very light and they look the part. Speaking of looks, the orange and black tyres, black frame, black stem and orange/yellow saddle may not be your cup of tea, but the general effect is suitably striking. As evidence for this, the hot wheels elicited a nod and grunt from a passing racer – a rare occurrence with a small-wheeler.

Opinions differ over the riding position.The saddle starts as-low-as-you-like and goes up to 100cm from the ground, while the bars are adjustable between a lowish 92.5cm and a giant 112cm. Not surprisingly, big people had mostly nice things to say, but those with a shorter torso and arms complained that although the saddle was in the right place, the handlebars were a bit of a stretch. Adjusting the height doesn’t cure the reach problem.


Dahon Helios Folding Bike - Folded

Not the smallest folded package, but perfectly manageable, thanks to its low weight

Typical Dahon, and easier than most.The handlebars fold down using the same mechanism we took a dislike to on the Presto in A to B 36. It does seem better on this example, but we know from experience that play can develop with use, which is something you really don’t want on a sportier bike like this. No complaint in that department with the mainframe hinge, which was horribly tight, producing a nasty groan whenever we forced it to perform. It got more cheerful after a bit of lubrication, but don’t we all? Nice tight engineering tolerances are no bad thing in hinges, but when you come to fold your beautiful new SL in front of an appreciative crowd, they’re liable to fall about laughing.

Folded size is adequate rather than stunning: 40cm wide, 68cm tall and 80cm long. That’s taller and wider than the standard Helios, but shorter, because the SL has slightly smaller tyres and no mudguards. Folded volume ‘as it comes’ is a reasonable 218 litres (7.8 cu ft), but remove the seat pillar and stow it between the wheels and the volume reduces to a much more presentable 180 litres (6.4 cu ft).Various fiddlings with handlebars will reduce the width below 40cm, but it’s hardly worth the trouble unless you expect to be travelling on a very packed train, for example.The bike comes with a velcro band to tie the wheels together, but as nearly always happens, we lost it within ten minutes. Fortunately – provided the bits are all properly secured – this is an easy bike to carry.You can’t argue with 8.7kg.

The folding process is aided by a pair of MKS Promenade demountable pedals. If you haven’t seen these before, fitting and removal involves pulling back a little spring-loaded collar on the pedal stem, which allows the pedal to slip out, leaving just the 20mm collar. Weighing only 175g apiece, these are the lightest ‘folding’ pedals around, with only the Brompton pedal leaving a smaller folded projection or more efficient folded/unfolded size ratio (6:1 against 4.3:1 for the MKS). Our only criticism is that you have to double check that the collars have seated properly before riding off. One of ours was a bit sticky, resulting in a loose pedal on a couple of occasions.When removed, the pedals have gooey greasy stubs. Dahon provides a little bag to put ‘em in, which solves the grease problem, but leave the bag on the train, and you’re completely stuck.You’ll also be £60 poorer (see Letters). Incidentally, with the pedals stowed elsewhere (‘Is that an MKS Promenade in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?’), the rest of the bike weighs only 8.37kg. A small, but significant bonus.


A short paragraph this one.The SL has no mudguards, no pump, no lights, no rack and no stand. But it’s a standard Helios frame, with standard fitting lugs, so you can bolt most of them on if you want.The only thing we’d demand if we were using the bike on a regular basis would be lightweight mudguards of some kind – there must be such a thing?

Speaking of accessories, the Rolf wheels do not take kindly to reflectors, which are, of course, a legal requirement in the UK and almost everywhere else.We found the reflectors supplied with the bike fitted the front wheel (albeit rather close to the hub) but wouldn’t play ball with the rear spokes. If some clown knocks you off your SL at dusk, a quick-witted lawyer may pick up on this, so would-be purchasers need to find a BS- approved reflector that fits.


Rather to our surprise, we found ourselves using the SL for all sorts of journeys, the light weight more than making up for the large folded size for rail trips. On the open road, the low rolling resistance and crisp gear change were much appreciated too.

We think the SL is worth every penny of that eight hundred quid, and even if it wasn’t, it has the lightweight market all to itself. If you’ve bought A to B with the intention of spending a few pounds on a car-boot bike for Sunday afternoons in the park, we insist you think again. If you can live with the lurid orange/black colour scheme, this is a bike you will learn to love – it rolls well and it’s a dream to carry.

The real market, one assumes, is amongst younger, trendier, more serious riders, and the SL bursts straight into Airnimal/Bike Friday territory, breaking all the weight records by a considerable margin. Add some basic mudguards and a pair of LED lights, and you could build a practical super-commuter weighing less than 9kg – a sensational figure. If you would prefer to put those few precious grams into full suspension, Dahon also produce the 9kg Jetstream XP.


Dahon Helios SL . £800 . Weight 8.65kg (19lb) . Gears SRAM X-7 8spd . Ratios 34″ – 88″ Folded Dimensions W40cm H68cm L80cm . Folded Volume 218 litres (7.8cu ft) .Folded Dimensions Saddle stem removed W40cm H56cm L80cm . Folded volume Saddle stem removed 180 litres 6.4cu ft . Manufacturer Dahon web www.dahon.com . UK distributor Cyclemotion tel 0800 585405 mail sales@cyclemotion.co.uk web www.dahon.co.uk

Cateye EL500 Headlight

cateye-el500-headlightLight Emitting Diodes, or LEDs, have been around for years.We don’t need to worry too much about how they work except that in place of the old-fashioned white-hot bulb filament, there’s a gap where electrons, er, sort of vault across, giving off light in the process. No filament to burn out or vibrate to bits (life is effectively infinite in bicycle terms), greater efficiency, so batteries last longer and/or weigh less.

Initially, you could have any colour you liked as long as it was red and rather dim, but the power, efficiency and colour range has expanded enormously.Three or four years ago, the best red LEDs began to exceed the brightness of traditional rear lights and a few are now approved for use in Germany, although the situation here is a bit confused (so what’s new?).White LEDs, like black tulips, seemed an impossible dream, but they soon began to appear, although brightness and colour were not what they might have been.

In December 2002, we tested the best white LED lamps around – the Cateye EL200 and EL300 – and were quite impressed. One of the oddities of these lights is that they can scare off motorists or seek out a reflective sign at a kilometre, but fail to illuminate a large pothole right under your nose.The reason for this, so the boffins tell us, is tied up with wavelengths, photons and other mysterious things. Suffice to say, white LEDs are great in town, but less practical in open country where reflective signs and motorists are thin on the ground, and potholes more prevalent.

In the past, LEDs were small (typically consuming 200mW), so lights tended to be fitted with a handful of them, making reflectors complex and inefficient.The breakthrough has come with the advent of the powerful Luxeon 1,000mW white LED, combining the brightness of the best halogen bulbs, with the long-range penetrative power and lower battery consumption of a white LED.The first one watt LED torches surfaced about a year ago (several are now available, mainly on US websites), and they’ve just started to appear in bicycle lights.We were lucky enough to raid the first consignment of Cateye EL500s to arrive on these shores – they should soon be in the shops for about £45.

Prayers Answered

On paper, this is the answer to every bicyclist’s prayers.Where our EL200 used to fill with water at the first sign of rain, the EL500 is claimed to be waterproof to 30 metres or 100ft.Whether that’s true, we can’t say, but Alexander said it worked well in the bath and it scared the wits out of our goldfish at 300mm. Even if water does get past the neoprene sealing ring, the reflector/LED assembly is sealed, the electronics are encapsulated in silicon rubber and the on/off switch (clever this) is a sealed magnetic switch.We feel confident enough to say that this torch is waterproof for most cycling/outdoor activities, except perhaps, deep water scuba-unicycling.

Like other LED front lights, the EL500 is not legal on its own in the UK, but to be honest, approval here can be only a matter of time. The far wimpier EL300 has gained approval in Germany as the EL300G and UK lighting laws are so discredited as to be virtually worthless. We’d have no qualms about using this as a sole light source, and we’re sure the police would nod in approval. Thanks to some clever reflector technology, the EL500 casts an intense ‘slot’ of light to the sides for those awkward roundabout moments, and gives a nicely focussed beam, with just enough scatter to illuminate verges close by. It’s not as good as the best halogen dynamo lighting set, but brighter than almost everything else.

The mounting bracket is the standard Cateye H-32 – not the cleverest design, but quick-release and easy to adjust.The light only weighs 190g complete with batteries, just 40g more than the smaller EL200 and 105g less than the chunky EL300.

Power hungry

The bad news is high power consumption.The Luxeon is more efficient than a traditional bulb, but not by much, and battery life is nowhere near Cateye’s ‘up to 30 hours’ claim. Power consumption is 2.2 watts with conventional alkaline batteries, or 1.3 watts with rechargeables, at slightly reduced brightness. Depending on battery quality, run time will be 3 to 81/2 hours with rechargeables, or 51/2 – 71/2 hours with conventional batteries. In practice, the EL500 can run for another 50 hours, but at much reduced brightness, so you won’t be left groping in the dark when the battery fails, but you may end up changing batteries (4 x AA cells) more than you would like.

This would make an excellent caving light because of it’s compact size, water- resistance and extended ‘back-up’ run time. No doubt the run time and brightness will improve with more intuitive electronics, but in the meantime, delight your friends with the brightest, most penetrating light around.


Cateye EL500 . £44.99 . Weight c/w batteries 190g . Power consumption 1.3 – 2.2 watts Battery life full brightness 3 to 81/2 hours reduced brightness Up to 60 hours .Manufacturer Cateye web www.cateye.com . UK distributor Zyro PLC tel 01423 325325 mail zyro@zyro.co.uk

S&S Couplings

S&S CouplingsLiving without a car brings its own joys, but add a tandem to the equation and life gets more complicated. Given the attitude of most train operating companies to tandem carriage, long distance rides are tricky indeed. My wife Anna and I planned an epic from Portland Bill in Dorset to John O’ Groats in the far north: ride up, train back, simple. Except that the Thurso-southwards train doesn’t take tandems, and nor does the Scotrail bike-carrying road van which runs parallel to it in the summer.

What to do? One very pleasant, but decidedly round-about option, was to hop on a boat to the Orkney islands, transfer to the overnight Stromness-Aberdeen ferry, and then board the mainline GNER service next morning; and that would take tandems, as long as we bagged the one space quickly enough. It remained the preferred option until pressure of work forced us to cut the trip short – now Anna, myself and ‘Black Lightning’ would be boarding at Glasgow. So we were back to square one.

S&S Couplings

Eek!! With the frame carefully marked, a short section is cut out of each tube

But trains do accept folding bikes (even tandems), so another solution presented itself – fit S & S frame couplings to the bike.The couplings are precision-made stainless steel threaded lugs that allow any full-size frame to separate in 60 seconds or so. American Steve Smilanick invented them about ten years ago. He was due to board a Mediterranean cruise, and wanted to take his Bianchi race bike along for 100- mile day rides while other cruisers were lolling in port. With a degree in Industrial Technology (not to mention his own machine shop) he had no trouble designing and producing the first S&S couplings.

S&S Couplings

Three pieces of tube, with the couplings behind

They worked so well that he went into business, and ten years later is kept busy producing ‘thousands’ (he wouldn’t tell me how many thousands) of the things a year, for cyclists who want the performance and rigidity of a full-size bike (‘cumbersome’ to A to B veterans) with at least some of the convenience of a folder.

Naturally, a couple of old Bickerton hinges pop-rivetted onto the frame tube wouldn’t do the trick, and the S&S couplings are impressively machined from solid billets of stainless steel.They do a 6Al 4V titanium version as well (for titanium and carbon fibre frames), an aluminium one (for ally frames) and even a chrome-moly coupling. All of these are intended for new frames, not retro-fit, and they come in various sizes, to suit most frames.The couplings are produced on a Mazak Multiplex CNC lathe; one of those all-singing, all-dancing machine tools. Solid bar goes in one end, and finished couplings pop out the other. Demand is such that this particular machine churns out nothing but Bicycle Torque Couplings, as they’re also called, though the company also makes specialised machinings for all sorts of other uses, including rockets.That might explain why some people insist that Steve Smilanick is an ex-NASA engineer; he isn’t, and never has been. Incidentally, you can’t just wander into your local bike shop, buy a set of couplings and fit them yourself. S&S will only sell the parts to recognised professional frame builders (they list 100, from all over the world), which underlines just what a precision job this is. St John Street Cycles of Bridgwater fitted ours.

…ordering from new makes sense, as fitting involves stripping the frame bare and repainting it…

Strong Nerve

That’s how I found myself ensconced in SJS’s kitchen (which appears to double as a wheel- building station) with Graham Tomlinson, who has been doing bikey things in Bridgwater for nine years. ‘I started off building frames for St John Street, but now I do most of their S&S work. It’s pretty seasonal, but I suppose it averages out at one or two sets a week. Most of those, maybe 60-70%, are for tandems, and most are on new bikes rather than retro-fits.’

S&S Couplings

Brazing the couplings into place

Ordering the couplings from new makes a lot of sense, as fitting them involves stripping the frame bare and repainting it. In theory, brazing only burns the paint off either side of the coupling, but St John Street prefer to repaint (or in our case, powder coat) everything. Once you have a bare frame, it really is a case of taking a hacksaw to it in exactly the right place, and removing a short section of frame tube, though I’d say it needs a strong nerve, keen eye and steady hand. Graham, thankfully, appears to have all three.

S&S Couplings

The finished frame ready for painting and reassembly - the three connectors must be perfectly aligned in the front tubes

‘I do the tubes one at a time,’ he told me; ‘cut, then braze on the coupling.That way the frame is always held rigidly in line by a solid tube – if you tried to cut all three at once, the frame would go all over the place.’ By now we’d been joined by Kevin Sayles, St John Street’s main frame builder, who settled down, mug of tea in one hand, banana in the other. ‘The brazing can be tricky,’ he added. ‘We use 55% silver braze, and that can be contaminated by the stainless. It’s tricky, but it can be done.’ The chrome- moly couplings are TIG welded rather than brazed, the metal plated to avoid corrosion and with rubber sleeves to cover the weld, and avoid the need for repainting. It’s cheaper than the stainless steel route, but intended for fitting to new frames only.

…Once fitted and tightened up, the couplings should be stronger than the frame…

Once fitted and tightened up, the couplings should be stronger than the frame tube itself. According to Steve Smilanick, tests have shown them to be both stronger and stiffer than Reynolds 531. ‘You can jump kerbs,’ he told me, ‘race downhill on a mountain bike, carry heavy loads while touring, crash the bike etc, it’s all no problem. In ten years, we haven’t had a single failure or return.’

S&S Couplings

Brake and gear cables need to be refitted with special quick-release joints

Well, I suppose that’s what you’d expect him to say, but the S&S website is littered with testimonials from people who’ve done epic round the world trips, with no ill-effects.That appeared to be backed up by a customer we met in St John Street’s showroom: ‘They’re terrific,’ he said. ‘I’ve had them fitted to my solo bike as well as my tandem, and they don’t make any difference to the ride at all – I can’t detect any frame flex.’ He might have added that there’s little weight difference either, as each stainless coupling tips the scales at just 115g, so adding three of them to a 18kg tandem won’t turn it into an overweight lump.

…we should be OK boarding trains that have a couple of normal bike spaces…

S&S Couplings

Final assembly is a big task, involving almost as much work as building a new machine

There’s one thing you can’t do with S&S couplings, and that’s fit them to a monotube frame, like that on the Giant LaFree. (Of course, even if you could, it wouldn’t do much good on the Lafree’s oval-section tubing – I have it on good authority that oval-shaped threads don’t work very well). According to Steve Smilanick, this is because the coupling is designed to cope with tension and compression loads only, as found on a conventional frame, not the bending components to which monotubes are subjected.They will work on a monotube recumbent though, or if the frame has a structural seat tube that connects front and rear halves together.


So, we now have a Thorn tandem with three S&S couplings, which allow the front third of the bike to part company with the rest in about a minute.You can have two sets fitted to a tandem if you want, splitting it into three parts (like Ancient Gaul, if you know your Asterix) but for train carriage (and simplicity) we thought a two-thirds/one-third split would be enough. As it is, the big section is about as large as a conventional solo, so we should be OK boarding trains that have a couple of normal bike spaces, but won’t take tandems.

Splitting is a simple process, using the C-spanner supplied with the conversion, though of course you have to split the cables too – one just puts them on the slackest setting (lowest or highest gear, as appropriate) and unscrew the neat little threaded connectors. Putting everything back together again is a little more tricky, and you really need an accomplice to hold everything steady, but with practice the couplings go together just as you would expect greasy chunks of precision-milled stainless steel to go together.

Being stainless, they won’t corrode, and maintenance is undemanding.They do need tightening periodically, and taking apart every now and then to remove grit that may have worked its way in – water won’t do any harm, but grit will.That, and re-greasing, is just about all you need to do.As for wear, you might expect the mating teeth to get sloppy over time, but they’ve thought of that too – the teeth are tapered, with a millimetre or two of clearance at the top of each one, so as wear takes place, the faces stay in close contact.

Now all this precision engineering doesn’t come cheap. Prices start at £350 (as an extra on a new Thorn solo) and retrofits (including the full respray) are from £500. Our tandem conversion cost £650 (three tubes to split on a tandem) which included powder coating the entire frame. Sceptics might say we could have bought a couple of secondhand Bromptons for the same money, but that’s missing the point.There’s something special about riding a tandem that you don’t get from any other two-wheeler – the speed, the team working – so having all that, and being able to stick it on a train for the journey home, is very like having your cake and eating it.

Peter and Anna departed for Scotland on Saturday 31st August.
Did the couplings successfully deceive Virgin Trains? No idea, but we’ll let you know in A to B 44

Contact details

S&S UK agents Bob Jackson Cycles tel (factory) 0113 255 1144 (shop) 0113 255 9844 mail factory@bobjacksoncycles.demon.co.uk . Kinetics tel 0141 942 2552 mail UKKinetics@aol.com St John Street Cycles tel 01278 423632 mail robin@sjscycles.com . Roberts Cycles tel 0208 684 3370 mail info@robertscycles.com . For a complete list of framebuilders worldwide, see www.sandsmachine.com or mail steve@sandsmachine.com

Ezee Sprint & Rider

The Sprint

Ezee Spring Electric BikeThe production Sprint is broadly the same as the Forza prototype we tried back in June 2003, so won’t dwell too long on the detail. Beneath the skin there’s a new power controller with larger and better cooled something- or-others, and the charger has been slightly derated to reduce overheating in that department. The headlight has changed too – it’s bigger and altogether sexier- looking, but just as feeble in practice, although a better dynamo works wonders. And in place of the bargain-basement trip computer there’s now a decent Cateye or Sigma. Also standard is a chunky centre stand, a bell, and – nice touch this – a plastic track pump and cable lock.

The seat height was a bit limited on our prototype with saddle adjustment of only 86 – 96cm, but there’s now an optional taller seat pillar, giving a height of 91 – 101cm.This comes at no extra cost, provided it has been ordered with the bike. Rather confusingly, there’s also a bigger frame, to be sold as the ‘20-inch Sprint’, which does much the same as the tall pillar without the option of reselling the bike to a short person.

The Sprint weighs 29.2kg (lighter than all but the Lafree) and the light, rigid frame now comes in a swish dark grey rather than polished alloy, but the efficient motor, nickel-metal hydride battery and suspension remain unchanged.

…we averaged 15.7mph… the fastest we’ve ever seen…

On the negative side, the rear mudguard still rattles, the saddle is big, ugly and not conducive to effective pedalling (we’ve fitted a racing saddle to ours – a great improvement), and the battery gauge and power control systems are a bit odd, of which more below.

The ‘hall-effect’ brushless motor on the Sprint is strikingly efficient. Peak power consumption is only 500 watts, but most of those watts emerge as impressive pulling power, rather than heat. On the open road, with sustained gentle pedalling, the Sprint can easily hit 18mph, and cruise for mile after mile at 16mph, consuming rather less than 250 watts in the process. It has only three hub gears, but the ratios are perfect and the gear range is all you need with such a powerful motor.

Average speed is very impressive. On our hilly range-finding course, we averaged a blistering 16.1mph, making the Sprint easily the fastest electric bike we’ve seen, although at 27.9 miles, range was a little less than we achieved last year. Perhaps that isn’t surprising.

Ezee Spring Electric Bike Front Light

Both the Sprint and Rider are impressively well equipped - note the front suspension, dynamo lights and good solid mudguards. Only the front hub motor marks this out as a Sprint

Ezee’s neat little fan-cooled charger gives a full charge in just over four hours, then reverts to a slow trickle charge. It’s worth remembering (and this applies to most chargers of this type) that the trickle charge is around ten times slower than the ‘late for work’ rate. In other words, if the charger cuts off after, say two hours (not uncommon), the battery will only be half full, but a further 25 hours at the slow rate should fill it right up.The only thing to watch is temperature – if the battery begins to get warm, disconnect it.

Thanks to the impressive range, and replacement batteries at a relatively modest £200, the Sprint costs only 6.4p per mile to run – the cheapest NiMH electric bike on the market.


Like most manufacturers, Ezee has become embroiled in the electric bike Euro-farce, sending German-style pedal-sensor machines (pedelecs) to mainland Europe, and hedging their bets with twistgrip throttle plus pedal-sensor for the UK.We’re confident this is legal here, but if the European Parliament says it isn’t, so what? As we understand it, there’s some perfectly good British legislation still on the books that says it is – we didn’t fight wars for this sort of nonsense, jack boots in Whitehall, Magna Carta, etc, etc.

…perfectly good British legislation…we didn’t fight wars for this sort of nonsense…

Ezee Spring Electric Bike - Hub

The Rider - the primary difference is a bigger, heavier lead-acid battery. Note the unuseable battery lock below the frame tube

With some bikes, this pedal-assist / power-on-demand debate is of little relevance, but for the Ezee Sprint, it really matters, because these bikes have a powerful motor controlled in a rather crude way by the pedal sensor. If used in pedelec-mode, the bike won’t help you pull away (awkward on hills), then blasts off on full power after you’ve pedalled for a second or so. As long as you keep the pedals turning, there’s no way of cutting the motor (except by partially applying the brakes) and when you stop pedalling, the power keeps coming for a second or so. It’s less of a problem on long rides in open country, but inefficient, annoying and frankly dangerous, in busy town traffic. Still, that’s a problem for the Germans. UK bikes can be controlled independently with the twistgrip throttle, but the motor still whacks in as soon as you pedal.We’d recommend disconnecting the pedal movement sensor altogether – you may disagree, but don’t buy The one until you’re happy with the Sprint hub controls provided. motor – impressively

With twistgrip control alone, the efficient, but needs Sprint is transformed.You can ride without decent controls power (quite pleasant, if you can live with that dinner-plate saddle), or feed in just the number of watts you want when you want it.You can accelerate smartly out of steep side roads or on to busy roundabouts with full human power to the rear and full bike power to the front, or just troll along without pedalling if that takes your fancy. Freedom, control, safety and economy. ‘Up yours, Delors’, as The Sun might say.


At £850, the Sprint costs more than we’d hoped, but it’s streets ahead of most other bikes in the £800-£900 price bracket.Who in their right mind, for example, would choose a Neanderthal TGA Electrobike or an Easybike, over the Sprint? More serious competition comes from the top-of-the-range Powabyke Commuter at £845, but even here, the tables are just as one-sided – the Commuter has no front suspension, a heavy lead-acid battery, noisy old-tech motor, ten hour charge time, steel frame, no lights, no trip-computer, and so forth… For the same money, the Sprint is lighter, faster, more comfortable, better made and better equipped. In a desperate search for suitable metaphors, we’ll turn to the plains of Africa.The Powabyke is a bit of a hippopotamus – big, heavy, ugly as sin, but good for a few miles once you get it up to a canter.The Sprint is more like the wildebeest – a little classier, undoubtably better looking, and much faster, with impressive acceleration.

An easy choice? Well, not quite, because we’ve yet to mention the Lafree – arguably the gazelle of the electric bicycle world.The Lafree Comfort is £250 more expensive than the Sprint, but the basic model is only £50 more, and it has a track-record of quality, efficiency and reliability that will take some beating. For much the same money, would you choose the light, delicate base-model gazelle or chunkier top-end wildebeest? From what we’ve seen it comes down to sex, or rather, the sex of the purchaser.Women generally fall in love with the gazelle, can be persuaded to ride the wildebeest, but would rather crawl than get acquainted with a hippo. Men tend to vote the other way.


Ezee Rider Electric BikeSuperficially, the Ezee Rider is identical to the wildebeest (sorry, Sprint), with the same generous component package, but it costs only £690, and the technical spec is cruder and simpler.The neat NiMH battery has been replaced with an old-fashioned lead-acid pack, which is almost twice as large and weighs a back- breaking 13.8kg (slightly more than the Powabyke battery). Obviously an off- the-shelf purchase in China (it’s strangely familiar), the battery pack doesn’t align with the Ezee battery lock, but it’s hard to imagine someone trying to steal it anyway. An additional complication is that the larger battery necessitates a taller and more upright saddle stem, so shorter people may find the 91cm minimum too high.

In place of the Nexus hub gears, the Rider makes do with a 5-speed Shimano SIS derailleur bolted to a cheap and cheerful DC motor, and the rear Nexus roller brake is replaced with a conventional V-brake.This lot pushes the gross bicycle weight up to 37.5kg – 8.3kg more than the Sprint, but a few kilograms lighter than its main competitors.

Most bikes at this price have useless gearing, but the gear range on the Rider is 45″ to 89″, almost identical to the hub-geared Sprint.We’re told that new bikes will be fitted with the Shimano Megarange system, giving an even lower 37″ bottom gear.

With a fresh battery the Rider will bowl along at 18mph on the flat, the motor singing a cheerful rhythm with the pedal strokes in pedelec mode. It’s only really when you come to a hill that the lack of quality begins to show.The cheap derailleur has be used with care to avoid clicks and crunches, and below 10mph the motor’s effectiveness begins to wilt, despite battery-hammering power consumption of around 700 watts.

…you’ll know right away whether this blend of performance and efficiency is for you…

The 45″ bottom gear helps you do your bit, but that’s not the point surely? In practice, an electric bicycle of this kind (we’re including almost everything below £700) would struggle a bit in, say, Devon, or the Lake District, although it would make light work of nagging East Anglian headwinds, provided the hills were of the rolling kind. Shallow gradients are eaten up at impressive speed (often 14mph or more), but the bike will only just climb a 10% gradient on its own, and on steeper hills, the rider has to work increasingly hard.We cleared 14% with some fairly serious effort.

Range is much as you might expect from a large lead-acid battery and relatively inefficient motor. As on the Sprint, the fuel gauge has three LEDs – green meaning OK, occasional yellow means you’re climbing a steep hill (if you hadn’t noticed), continuous yellow means you’ve more or less had it, and red means the motor is about to conk out. In this case, the yellow light came on at 20 miles, with the motor cutting out at 25.6 miles – an average speed of 15.3mph.That’s seven miles less than we achieved with the original Forza last summer, but slightly faster.The range is better than it sounds, because the battery managed several more gentle miles after a rest.These figures are from a UK-spec bike with pedal sensor disconnected. Mileage would be at least 10% less with the sensor in place, although the dangerous aspects don’t apply to the same degree, because the Rider motor cuts in and out in a much ‘softer’ fashion than the Sprint. If you can’t, or don’t want to pedal, the Rider will maintain 15mph+ without pedal-assistance for about 18 miles, provided the country is of the undulating kind.

Fuel consumption is 19.4Wh/mile with charger and other losses included (and a good deal higher with the pedal-sensor system).That’s fairly typical, as is the running cost of 5.8p per mile. A 90% charge takes 71/2 hours, but typical of lead-acid batteries, a full charge takes quite a bit longer at a slower rate, to a total time of 10 to 12 hours.


The Rider is heavier and less efficient than the Sprint or Lafree, but at £690 it slots into a completely different price bracket. Up against such monsters as the Viking, the Oxygen Atala, or the 21-speed Powabyke it emerges unscathed, although the margin is less clear cut, especially against the Powabyke.The Sprint is lighter (but not by much), unarguably faster, and with similar range and running costs. It all comes down to accessories, and in this department the Rider wins without question, offering the same package as its more expensive brother.

These bikes remain relatively untried: our early sample has done something over 1,000 miles, marred by control unit and charger failure early on.These should now be sorted (but bear in mind our general warning about NiMH chargers).You’ll either love or hate the Ezee bikes and you’ll know right away whether this blend of performance and efficiency is for you. Idiosyncrasies aside, we still rate the Sprint second only to the Lafree, and in our book that makes it one of the best electric bikes around.


Ezee Sprint £850 . Weight Bicycle 23.5kg Battery 5.7kg Total 29.2kg (64lb) . Gears Nexus 3- spd hub . Ratios 46″ 62″ 85″ . Batteries NiMH . Capacity 324Wh . Max. Range27.9 miles Full charge 4hrs . Fuel Consumption Pedelec 14.4Wh/mile . Running costs 6.4p per mile

Ezee Rider £690 .Weight Bicycle 23.7kg Battery 13.8kg Total 37.5kg (83lb) . Gears Shimano SIS 5-spd . Ratios 45″ – 89″ . Batteries Lead-acid . Capacity 432Wh . Max. Range Pedelec 27 miles Motor-only 18 miles . Full charge 10-12 hours . Fuel Consumption Pedelec 19.5Wh/mile Motor-only 30Wh/mile . Running costs 5.8p per mile . Manufacturer Shanghai Ezee Kinetic Technology web www.ezeebike.com . UK distributor 50Cycles web www.50cycles.com mail tim@50cycles.com tel 020 7794 5508

Di Blasi Trike

Di Blasi Trike

Di Blasi TrikeWe’ve never been particularly fond of the 16- inch Di Blasi bicycle. Certainly, it has a clever folding action, but at 14kg it’s on the back-breaking side of heavy, it has too many wobbly joints, and it simply doesn’t stand up in comparison to your typical Brompton or Dahon.We’ll hold fire on the newer 20-inch version, which might perform better.

For some years, the company has also produced a trike, which looks absolutely fascinating on paper. Now, at long last we can answer a few questions about the hardware. Yes, it really is a full-size trike (albeit with 16-inch wheels), and yes, it really does fold into a Brompton-style package in a matter of seconds. Of course, there have to be a few compromises with something this complex, and at £800, is this really a viable product?

Folding & unfolding

Even experienced engineers will marvel at the Di Blasi trike.We can’t begin to explain what individual rods, linkages and hinges do, but fold the pedals and release a catch down by the saddle stem, and the back of the machine folds inward and curls up, like a frightened hedgehog. Release a second catch on the handlebar stem and the front folds forward and in, allowing the front wheel to disappear between the rear wheels. If you wait long enough with a saucer of milk, it might come out again.

The process is wonderful to watch, and results in a rectangular package sitting neatly on its rack, and a crowd of oohing and ahhing spectators. Even more remarkably, this rectangular block that was once a tricycle measures only 27cm wide, 62cm long and 66cm high.That’s 111 litres, or if you prefer (as we do), 3.9 cubic feet. So, yes, this large tricycle has wound up smaller than almost any folding bicycle you care to mention, with the exception (narrowly) of the Brompton.

…Even experienced engineers will marvel at the Di Blasi trike…

Is it easy to do? In theory you just push a couple of levers, but there are a few pitfalls for the unwary. The front wheel must be pointing forward, or it can jam as it tries to rise (or fall?) between the rear wheels, and if you don’t start with the pedal cranks in a vertical plane, everything can get fouled up. Otherwise, yes, it is very easy. And, if anything, unfolding is easier – the machine just sort of flips out, and provided the catches have re- engaged and the pedals have popped out, you can ride straight off.

Di Blasi TrikeAnd now, having got enthusiasts for folding and metamorphosing things all steamed up with excitement, we must qualify the more amazing bits.Try lifting the trike, and you’ll discover that it’s a lot heavier than a Brompton – 20.2kg to be precise (Di Blasi, rather unnecessarily, suggest 21kg), whereas a typical folding bike weighs 12kg or so, which most people can manage, at least over short distances.Twenty plus kilograms really is too heavy for the older or frailer folk who might want a trike. A young, able-bodied person might be able to carry it, or lower it into a car boot for you, but on your own, you’ll be stuck.We found a lightweight sack-truck useful for moving the Di Blasi about, but this won’t negotiate steps. Di Blasi do sell a neat bag with a shoulder strap that would make carrying easier and give some disguise on the bus.

Di Blasi TrikeStrangely, few concessions have been made to weight. Besides the cranks and wheels rims, the trike is almost entirely steel (even the rack) and some of the joints and brackets are pretty chunky.We think a weight of 15kg would be feasible with better use of materials, although this would obviously cost more.

Back with the good news, you can take the Di Blasi just about anywhere. Folding bicycles are allowed on all trains and most buses these days, but trikes are more or less universally banned.Technically, the Di Blasi is banned too, but we just walked aboard. Like a Brompton, the folded Di Blasi is both train and bus-friendly, but you need to plan your journey to avoid stepped bridges and long corridors, and it’s a good idea not to let the bus driver count the wheels…


Di Blasi Trike Headset

A profusion of joints and rods around the headset

Di Blasi Trike derailleur

The derailleur drives to the left wheel. Note the universal joint - this allows the drive shaft to fold up

The first special obstacle with the Di Blasi is single (left) wheel drive, which allows the trike to manoeuvre with great dexterity to the right, but rather hinders things when turning left.Try to pull away in what might be termed a spirited manner, and the drive wheel loses adhesion and slips like mad. Perhaps surprisingly, the Di Blasi has a relatively wide track, at a shade over 67cm, but it’s still narrow enough to lift an inside wheel on corners and adverse cambers, and (provided you lift the unpowered right wheel) you can ride for some distance in two-wheel mode. Incidentally, we’d suggest deliberately finding these limits somewhere soft and car-free before riding any trike in anger. Once you’ve got it on two wheels, you’ll begin to get a feel for avoiding it in future.

All this applies to any trike with two wheels at the back.The Di Blasi exhibits a few oddities of its own, against more traditional trikes.The wheelbase is a bit short, which can make the ride a bit choppy and nervous, and there’s a degree of free play in the numerous linkages and pivots that make the thing fold so wonderfully.This results in wheel track and camber angles that are only nominally correct most of the time, and some slightly odd handling traits, plus a few clicking, clonking and squeaking noises on the move. At very low speed, none of this matters, but you wouldn’t really want to ask too much of the machine at speed.

Unless you’re into leaning out, motorcycle sidecar style, cornering has to be a rather sedate affair, and there are more surprises in store when it comes to stopping. Bikes and trikes are obliged to have two independent braking systems, but the Di Blasi (quite legally) has both systems on the front wheel – drum brake on the right and band brake (plus a useful parking lock) on the left. In a straight line, the brakes do a reasonable job – .42G from the rather ‘woolly’ drum and .52G from a powerfully self-servo band brake (see A to B 42). But a crash stop with the band brake leaves the front wheel scrabbling for grip. Use both levers and the trike will stand on its front wheel, which can be most exhilerating.We managed a respectable stop of .63G with all three wheels just on the ground.

…Use both levers and the trike will stand on its front wheel… On a corner, forget it

On a corner, forget it.There you are, spinning cheerfully down a steep curvaceous road, and a car pulls out in front.Your only hope of braking and staying upright is to pull up in a straight line because any sort of panic brake application while cornering will flip the trike over. In marked contrast, braking on snow and ice would instantly lock the front wheel, resulting in no brakes or steering at all.

Di Blasi Trike Drum Brake

Two independent braking systems - band brake behind and drum brake in front

In reality, you won’t be spinning, leaning or flipping, the Di Blasi, because it’s not meant for high speed.This is a suburban shopping and commuting trike, with seven derailleur gears giving a range from 23 to 50-inches. Normally, we’d say that was laughably low, but in this case, a 50-inch gear is quite high enough, giving a top speed in the region of 10mph, which is adequate for its intended use. Higher gears and speeds would be dangerous, and lower gears would be impractical, because when climbing a steep hill in first, the front wheel tends to skid to the right with each pedal stroke, as the single driven wheel pushes the trike sideways. If you stand out of the pedals to put some extra weight over the front wheel, the left driven wheel just skids (see acceleration).

For those who still want to ride long distances at speed on a folding trike, it might just be possible to fit 349mm wheels and Primo tyres, and the little Shimano Capreo derailleur set would give some nice high ratios.

This is all hypothetical, of course.The vast majority of Di Blasi trikes find homes with little old ladies looking for safe, ride-to-the- shops transport, and provided you don’t do anything silly, it does this very well.The narrow track allows the machine to nip along surprisingly narrow pavements, and once at Sainsbury’s, the small wheels and short wheelbase help it manoeuvre into all sorts of corners, the trike easily turning (to the right, at least) in its own length. If you are up to looking suitably frail and harmless, you could probably get away with riding through pedestrianized areas banned to bikes and thus – like Aesop’s hare – reach the door of the supermarket before the motorist has parked, and the cyclist has chained his bike to a stand down the mall.This is where the Di Blasi really wins – it can get away with doing most of the things a disabled trike can do, and sprint home with the bacon at 10mph. And don’t be too concerned about all the talk of flipping, rolling and skidding.We showed the Di Blasi to an experienced trike user and she was impressed, so as trikes go, it’s clearly not particularly unstable.

…Within days, the lovely chromey bell had shrugged off most of its chrome like dandruff


Considering how tiny the package folds, the Di Blasi trike is exceptionally well equipped. Full mudguards in chromed steel (weight no object, once again), a halogen dynamo lighting set, attractive chrome-plated bell and a substantial rack.This measures 28cm by 45cm and sits more or less over the rear wheels, so it should carry a good load. We rode for some miles with Alexander on the back; this low-slung 20kg human load actually improving the stability.The maximum recommended load (rider plus luggage) is 100kg, so we would have no qualms about putting 30 or 40kg on the rack, or better still, slung from panniers either side. Any weight here would tend to make the bike more stable and improve the grip.

Passengers are a no-no, officially at any rate.The rack is fabricated from cross, rather than longitudinal bars, so a conventional rack-mounted child seat will not fit. Di Blasi make no recommendation for carrying children, but we think the trike makes a jolly good platform for that sort of thing.We’d suggest a side-facing child seat, although it would need a quick release mount if you don’t want to compromise the easy foldability.

As with too many Italian products, the Di Blasi is rather let down by the quality of some components.Within days, the lovely chromey bell had shrugged off most of its chrome like dandruff, and some of the threaded components seem to be made of putty. Unusually the headset is a plain bearing, which might cause problems after a while, and other silly things spoil the look of the trike, like the Di Blasi letters on the frame, which peeled off before our eyes. Elsewhere, particularly for safety-related items, the finish and general quality seems to be very good.We managed to bend one of the chain links, but suspect this occurred whilst folding, as the chain is obliged to do some odd things.

Reader Denise Rayner (see box) tells us that the ubiquitous Selle San Marco saddle fitted to the trike is particularly uncomfortable in, shall we say, a critical area. Unfortunately, it’s welded into a special cradle to suit the twin seat tubes, so fitting an alternative would be difficult. Saddle height is adjustable between 83 and 96cm, locked by two quick releases at a choice of four heights, at least one of which should suit most people. if you want a custom setting, the tubes can be drilled, but there’s no escaping those maximum and minimum heights. Height adjustment should be easy, but the tubes tend to jam on the lower settings, which can be very annoying. Handlebars are fixed at 100cm – a bit upright for some, but then wind resistance shouldn’t be a great problem at 10mph.

Reader’s Experience Denise Rayner “Suffering from MS, I needed a trike.The Di Blasi is heavy – lifting it into the car was difficult, but manageable. Riding made me nervous at first, but within three minutes I was whizzing round our local park, and I ended up doing 12 circuits – about three miles. I was ecstatic to achieve 12mph. Like anything else, folding is easy when you know how, but because I was tired I found it very hard. I haven’t used the trike as much as I would like because I really need a ‘Bike Buddy’ to ride with.” (Anyone willing to share gentle rides in London can contact Denise at sunray7@blueyonder.co.uk)


What can we say? Trikes are rare enough anyway, and this compact folding version is probably unique. Ride two-up and you get cheery waves from Hell’s Angels on motor tricycles, while car-drivers – barely familiar with bicycles in most cases – just stare open- mouthed. In some ways, you have to be a bit of an exhibitionist to ride something like this, but you don’t necessarily have to look or feel like a complete banana, as we willingly do in, on, and sometimes under the more unusual forms of A to B transport.

If you have the space, a Powabyke electric trike costs the same, and does much the same things, with the bonus of whizzing up hills. On the other hand, if you need a compact folding trike, the Di Blasi is the best (and only) member of its class…


Di Blasi folding trike £800 . Weight 20.2kg . Gears Monsoon 7-spd . Ratios 23″ – 50″ Folded Dimensions H66cm W27cm L62cm . Folded Volume 111 litres (3.9 cu ft) . Test Duration 30 miles . Manufacturer Di Blasi web www.diblasi.it . UK Importer Concept Edge web www.conceptedge.co.uk mail info@conceptedge.co.uk tel 01895 850455