Tag Archives: A to B 44

A to B 44 – Oddly enough… We’re still laughing!

A to B 44 CoverAnyone renewing their subscription last month should have spotted our survey questions (yes, thanks to all those who pointed out that questions 5 and 7 were exactly the same). Democratic as ever, we’ve published the results on our website in a new page called Feedback, dedicated to your views. Just for the record, folding bike tests remain easily the most popular item in A to B, attracting 29% of the proportional representation votes.The Mole follows with 25%, and Reader’s Letters and Electric Tests both scored more than 20%. Quite coincidentally (we’re not that democratic) this issue is predominantly about folding bikes.

Lack of space is a perennial problem for such a minimalist magazine. Suffice to say that if you were hoping to see something this time and it isn’t here, our apologies. And finally, our ‘bike of the month’ is the Oyama Victor. See what you think.

A to B 44 Contents

Lynne Curry: 1955 – 2004

Lynne CurryMost small magazines could offer a list of mentors – people who helped to shape the look and feel of the publication. Somewhere near the top of ours would be Lynne Curry: journalist, linguist and professional car- free person. Lynne enjoyed making fun of our supposedly ‘posh’ southern origins, implying that she came from humble northern stock.Whether this was true, we never knew, but for the last years of her life, Lynne, and husband Martin Whitfield, lived two stops up the railway line in the market town of Frome. Lynne and Martin had restored a derelict mill, creating a uniquely stylish (some would say rather posh) home and business, specialising in ‘green’ transport initiatives.

We first met on a ‘Folding Society’ ride in the summer of 1994, soon after the couple moved to the West Country. Lynne was a rare thing in the bicycle world – seriously glamourous, but tough as hob-nailed boots. She was also generous, kind, anarchically funny and passionate about the use (and mis-use) of the English language.

Years passed, and the enthusiast-based Folder evolved into the slightly more political A to B. Lynne was always there to advise, criticise and generally discuss what worked and what flopped. If it didn’t make her laugh, or make sense, she would always say so.

And – ever the champion of folks north of Watford – any southern bias received swift retribution by email: one of her favourite past-times. An acute and instinctive observer of humankind, Lynne’s conversation and writing could be funny, sarcastic and bitingly satirical (often all at the same time), but never cruel. Diagnosed with cancer just over a year ago, Lynne rarely used the ‘C’ word, never complained, and never let us know how cheated she must have felt. In the last weeks of her life, she slipped quietly from public view, leaving us with only memories of a long and eventful friendship.We hope that just a little of Lynne’s professionalism, insight and humour lives on in A to B.

A to B Blog 44, October 2004, CYCLE 2004

FIRST PUBLISHED October 2004
CYCLE 2004

Show time once again, and The Mole boards the early Bogworthy Flyer for London, already standing in the platform this particular morning, as Network Railtrack – or whatever it was called at the time – had lifted the rails further west without so much as a by-your-leave.

A to B magazine, CYCLE 2004, Charlotte Atkins MP

Charlotte Atkins MP – a petite lady swallowing a microphone

A to B magazine, CYCLE 2004, Sweet Pea

The Sweet Pea, one of Dahon’s 2005 bikes. Finished in slinky pastel shades, the bike is aimed at young women – new folding bike territory

A to B magazine, CYCLE 2004, Grahame Herbert

Grahame Herbert, designer of the Airframe, gets his finger caught in the new 8-speed hub

Rather confusingly – not having travelled up to Town for a while – one discovers that Thames Trains has evolved into something called first Great Western Link. This may or may not be related to first Great Western, for the two appear to share a new murky brown corporate identity, an amalgam, one assumes, of fGW’s previous green, latter-day vile purples, and Thames’ chirpy reds and blues.

…a preponderance of bicycles without wheels linked to television sets…

Apparently ‘one’ is expecting to bid for what will soon be known as Greater Western, which will then no doubt re- emerge as ‘one’ Greater Western, and the sign-writers will start again, and so on and so forth.

The Mole understands that A to B has received angry calls from a ‘one’ executive claiming that this humble organ has been making fun at the expense of the ‘one’ logo. One suspects the only people laughing will be the PR consultants and designer-luvvies who keep coming up with this nonsense.

The good news is that the railways are – bit by bit – being reintegrated into something that might just, one day, work as smoothly and economically as dear old BR used to do. According to the fGW spin-meisters, the newly integrated fGW and fGW Link will share offices adjacent to those of Network Rail (West), thus coming perilously close to recreating Brunel’s magnificent Great Western Railway. Time will tell. Eventually, our train shambles into Paddington, allowing one to wrestle one’s Brompton from the hordes of other Bromptons in the vestibule, and pedal off across the city to Islington for CYCLE 2004.

Marching into the hall, the Mole arrives during one of those nightmarishly Kafkaesque moments, as a petite lady stands on a balcony and attempts to swallow a microphone. It turns out to be petite Transport Minister Charlotte Atkins MP explaining that she used to ride a bicycle, but due to al-Qaeda, traffic conditions, lack of mudguards, nice cumfy limousines, etc, she wouldn’t dream of riding in the capital these days. A nice positive note on which to kick off the proceedings.

Now in its third year, CYCLE is settling down as a professionally run, if rather compact, show. For 2004, there are plenty of manufacturers in evidence, but rather too many mountain bikes, and a preponderance of bicycles without wheels linked to television screens.

Study the catalogue for signs of practical accessories such as pumps, lights (shock, swoon) or mudguards (stunned silence) and you won’t get very far. But should your interests extend to Fi’zi:k Technogel strips, or X-Type chainsets with hollow BB spindles, you will presumably find some sort of satisfaction.

Not that day-to-day cycling was completely neglected. St John Street Cycles had a nice monopoly on luggage, mudguards and dead sensible bikes furnished with bulletproof Rohloff hub gears and lights that actually worked.

A to B magazine, CYCLE 2004, John Whyte, Mezzo

John Whyte and the Mezzo

Just a few stands away, Avon Valley Cyclery was exhibiting a mouth- watering range of Bike Fridays, Airnimals (including the new budget Joey), Birdys and a full range of Dahons, including a few 2005 models. For industry watchers, the thrust seems to be towards full-size folders (notably the neat Cadenza) and low/mid-range 20-inch bikes, such as the Vitesse, none of which is very exciting, but new, nonetheless. Avon Valley was also showing Brompton in a rather low-key way, plus a soon-to-be-launched 8-speed Sturmey version of the Airframe, neither company exhibiting this year. The only real excitement, indeed the only excitement in the folding bike world for some years, is the all-new Mezzo, brain-child of Jon Whyte of ATB Sales. Should you be wondering, Jon’s main business is designing mountain bikes, cruisers and other strange things, for the like of Marin.
A to B, CYCLE 2004, Mezzo Folding Bike
As with the equally innovative Mike Burrows, Jon comes from the world of motor sport (Formula One in this case), and thus rather refreshingly carries no baggage concerning cycle clips, 26-inch wheels, triple chainrings and all the other accepted wisdom of the bicycling establishment.

The Mezzo – aimed directly at the Brompton – has taken several years to develop. ‘I didn’t start with any special respect for [Brompton designer] Andrew Ritchie’, says Whyte, ‘But I soon developed some’.

Like the Brompton, Whyte’s machine features mudguards (shock, swoon, etc), sensible gearing (4-speed hub or multi-speed derailleur), 349mm (16-inch) wheels, and some exquisite engineering.The folding system is part Brompton and part Birdy, with a little bit of Bike Friday thrown in, proving that everything short of inflatable frame tubes has already been used or discarded. Weight is nothing special, but the Mezzo looks to be a rigid and techie machine for the trendier sort of commuter, although without Brompton’s wonderful luggage system.

ATB technical person Ian claims to be able to fold it in eight seconds and unfold it in six, although one suspects mere mortals will take a little longer.

…this year, the really weird stuff had been swept from the halls…

The real surprise is that prices will shadow those of the Brompton ‘T’ type – £595 for the 4-speed hub gear bike, and £625 – £645 for a 9- speed Capreo derailleur.
A to B, CYCLE 2004, Matthew Dobson, Flea
In its first two years, CYCLE played host to all sorts of weird and wonderful things, but this year the really weird stuff had been swept from the halls, leaving student Matthew Dobson looking a bit lonely, with his delightfully formed but somewhat impractical Flea.
Cycle 2004, Matthew Dobsob, folded Flea

Asked whether he had actually ridden the Flea, Matthew proved somewhat evasive, but who can blame him? Designers really should leave those 6-inch wheels bolted to the wheelie-bin where they belong.

After reaching a crazy wheel-spinning zenith in 2003, electric bikes were virtually absent this year, with just Ebike showing its attractive US machines and late-comer 50Cycles, with a hastily prepared Ezee display.
brompton-bc1
Finally, one is indebted to the cheeky young fellows at Avon Valley Cyclery for the price tag below, displayed on a Brompton ‘C’ Type. Well, really! Making fun of young people wearing sandals (with or without socks) is neither funny nor clever. Incidentally, should anyone be thinking of checking, the website is currently unregistered. Any takers?

Bicycle Design: The Search for the Perfect Machine – Mike Burrows

Bicycle Design - Mike BurrowsThe sleeve of this book reads like a who’s who of the UK cycling world: written by Mike Burrows, edited by Tony Hadland, first printed in 2000 by Jim McGurn (and now in the safe hands of Bicycling Books), photos by Jason Patient et al, cartoons by Jo Burt and Geoff Apps, foreword by Richard Ballantine, and so on.

Burrows spends 173 pages gleefully debunking the legends and long-held urban myths of the bicycling world, and the result is almost guaranteed to delight. Positioned somewhere between Richard’s Bicycle Book and Bicycling Science, Bicycle Design is technical in parts, but the complicated bits are generally deciphered (and/or debunked) in the most elegant fashion.We reviewed the first edition in A to B 21, but someone seems to have nicked that copy.We’re reliably informed that recumbents get more of a mention this time around and there are some new colour photos.

Bicycle Design 2nd Edition . 2004 . £16.95 . 173 pages . ISBN 0 9520603 2 9 . Pedal Press

The Bicycle Book

The Bicycle BookHaynes is best known for its car manuals, less so for washing machines, computers, mankind (no really – ‘120,000BC to the Present Day’) and bicycles.The inspiration for The Bike Book came from a keen cyclist at Haynes’ Sparkford factory (just down the road from Castle Cary), and the 1994 volume is now in its 4th incarnation.

Editors and sub-editors tend to know little about bicycles, allowing all sorts of bloopers to get into print, leading novice cycle commuters to buy carbon fibre grunge-inserts, zillions of derailleur gears and flo- yellow skin-tight Lycra.Yes, The Bike Book includes plenty of knobbly tyres and sexed-up racing machines, but it’s a well-written and carefully researched book that covers hub gears and mudguards too.

Most people of modest mechanical ability should be able to change a cable, or adjust most species of brake or gear mechanism using this book. Just for the record, the 4th edition has been updated to include STi and Ergopower combined brake and gear levers, hydraulic discs, suspension forks and those troublesome Aheadset things.There are also a couple of new pages specific to women, presumably following criticism of male-centricity.

In the grumbley department, we can’t agree with the sub-heading, ‘Helmet wearing is voluntary, not a legal requirement, but few bike riders are brave enough to venture on to the roads without one.’ That’s a misleading and one-sided dismissal of a complex debate. We also lament the passing of line drawings, as some of the 800 colour photographs are a bit small and indistinct, but this seems to be a publishing-wide phenomena.

The Bike Book 4th Edition . 2003 . £14.99 . 178 pages . ISBN 1 84425 000 8 . Haynes Publishing

Brompton Catch

Letters – A to B 44

Spuds at the Ready Lads…

Great idea (Whacky Fringe, letters A to B 43) to let us have a go at scaring the wits out of the media.We need overtaking cameras on bicycles that dish out fines according to a set formula. For example, a gap of two metres between cyclist and passing car, no problem. One and a half to two metres, careless driving = £50 fine; one to one and a half metres, reckless driving =£100 fine; and under one metre, dangerous driving = £500 fine plus disqualification for twelve months and the driver resumes as a learner.Where railway crossing barriers replace gated level crossings, the barriers should be kept down, with motorists paying a toll for them to be opened.That would stop such roads becoming rat runs.

If something isn’t done soon I expect that someone will form the CLA (Cyclists Liberation Army).There’s no need to blow anything up – it’s amazing what a few misplaced traffic cones can do. And I remember seeing a World War Two cartoon in a garage.The mechanic is saying, ‘After we’d got it all apart we found a potato stuck in the exhaust pipe!’

Bill Houlder
Pontefract,West Yorkshire

A Sustrans Member Writes

Peter Henshaw’s letter in A to B 43 describing the Association of British Drivers as ‘a small group of right-wing nutters with a tenuous grasp of reality’ shows that he suffers from a tenuous grasp of truth about us.

We are not connected to any political party and we insist that all speed limits must be obeyed.We want motorway speed limits raised to 80mph in good conditions, but we support 20mph zones near schools, reinforced by speed cameras during school hours. Many of our members are keen cyclists and belong to cycling organisations (Sustrans in my case), and some joined in the London to Brighton ride.

Peter’s proposal to form a cycling organisation wanting to ride in their own lanes on motorways gave me an idea: to form the ARC (Association of Responsible Cyclists).We promise never to ride on pavements, over pedestrian crossings, on the wrong side along one-way streets, through red lights, or after dark without lights.

Now PLEASE don’t tell me only a minority of cyclists commit the offences I’ve mentioned. I see most cyclists doing at least one of these things almost every time I’m out, and I cannot believe Cheltenham has a monopoly on idiotic cyclists.

Colin Rose, member of the Association of British Drivers
Cheltenham

We’re astonished that anyone who regularly rides a bicycle in this country can subscribe to the ABD’s line on speeding. Driving at high speed is never acceptable. Some relatively minor roads near us are lethal for non-motorised users.Why? Because they are within a few miles of the A303 trunk road. After pounding the motorway network at 80mph+, it takes drivers some minutes to drift back to reality, making ordinary roads ‘no-go’ areas for everyone else.

And we’re deeply sceptical about the ABD’s apparent approval of 20mph limits and cameras in front of schools, but only ‘during school hours’.What happens when children move up to college? Or – to use a fatuous, but perfectly realistic example – when children are delayed by extra-curricular activities? And how about the rest of the walking and cycling population – ordinary people cycling to work, OAPs popping out to the shops? The truth, of course, is that the caring stuff about 20mph and schools is pure spin. (Eds)

Utopia

Breezer Bike

Sensible bikes. Amsterdam, Dunbar? San Francisco actually - an advertising shot for Breezer utility bikes. PHOTO:Mark McLane

Since I use my bike as others would a car, I have become regarded as something of a cycling expert by my friends. Unfortunately this is far from the case, so when people ask me to recommend a bike I am somewhat at a loss. Several of my friends are keen to take up cycling, and are looking to buy a new bike, but are daunted by the choice. I would like to be able to give an actual recommendation, i.e. a make/model and a shop/website. Can you help?

My friends are mostly mums with young children, so haven’t a great desire to go fast, but probably would like to be able to keep up with the kids as they grow up. I can’t imagine that they would be impressed by a typical ‘shopper’ style – it would have to be more fashionable than that. I myself made the mistake of buying a cheap mountain bike when I started out, and though the low gears are useful for pulling a heavy trailer, I’d rather have something with mudguards, lights and a basket/rear rack. Can you suggest a bike which would be suitable for accompanying young children to school, some excursions further afield and day-to-day shopping, and that is unlikely to require much maintenance? I would be embarrassed to recommend something costing much more than £200.

I have high hopes for turning Dunbar into a mini York or Cambridge, where cycling is seen as a way of life.The town is small, so shops and school are within two miles of almost everyone, and although it can be windy here, the land is fairly flat and the weather is dry. I am in the process of forming a ‘safe routes to schools group’ to improve cycle access to the school, and I am hopeful that with a bit of encouragement most of the children will be getting to school under their own steam in a few years. All the mums I have spoken to are keen to cycle more, and kids always want to be on their bikes.

Morag Haddow
Dunbar, East Lothian

Take a look at any similar town in northern Europe and you will see very few cheap MTBs, but plenty of bicycles, generally featuring hub gears, lights, mudguards, chainguards, skirtguards, pumps, sensible tyres and so on.These machines are practical, sensible and fun to ride. It’s a sad fact that in the UK, most people’s experience of cycling involves wobbling around the park on a heavy, energy-sapping, accessory-free £70 ‘mountain-style’ bike.

It’s difficult to get the message across, but buying a cheap bicycle really is a false economy. People who wouldn’t dream of driving a Reliant three-wheeler can be remarkably penny-pinching when it comes to a bicycle. But if you can re-educate your friends to appreciate more ‘sensible’ wheels, Dutch-style roadsters are available from as little as £250. Giant produce several, although few shops are willing to stock them in the UK. At the ‘quality’ end, Cycle Heaven in York (tel: 01904 636578) stock the Gazelle. Otherwise, UK importers www.dutchbike.co.uk are worth a try, or you could even nip across to Amsterdam for a weekend, soak up the relaxed cycling vibes, and come home with a bike, plus a load of practical accessories. Incidentally, we wonder whether it would be cost-effective to buy a £70 Chinese MTB, sell (or more likely, chuck away) most of the components and re-equip it with hub gears, mudguards etc? (Eds)

Instant Convert

I would like to say thank you! Four years back, I was 37 years old, putting on weight, using the car to go everywhere, and feeling very unfit. After finding out about A to B on an electric bike website, I phoned, bought some road tests, and bought a secondhand e-bike.

There are no buses or trains where we live on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, and I was able to use the bike to ride to and from work. People at work (and at home!) take the piss out of me, but knowing through A to B that there are like-minded people out there gave me strength to keep going. Not only am I still cycling 28 miles every day, but I am enjoying every minute of it.

Alan Stribling
Harleston, Norfolk

Excellent. Our friends and family are equally mystified (but generally less rude) about our enthusiasm for electric bikes, yet these machines really are priceless for eliminating awkward car journeys beyond the range of most peoples’ cycling abilities. (Eds)

An Electrifying Practice

I am a fit 43 year old General Practitioner. In recent years I have cycled the four miles to work in the summer and kept a battered old moped at work for home visits during the day. This year my moped has died and I’ve been back to using the car all day, and have missed the exercise.

I’m wondering whether an electric bike would be suitable for the journey to and from work, plus home visits in the day: 75% of my visits are within two miles, 95% within four miles, with 5% up to ten miles away. I average three visits per day.

Time is tight, I live in Penzance, Cornwall so I have hills everywhere, but I want to get around quickly, without missing out on the exercise.What is the fastest, most seamless and most reliable pedalling-plus-electric combo? I saw an advertisement for the Wavecrest Tidalforce and liked the sound of the 20mph, but I’ve got no idea if I could import one.

Mark Russell
Penzance

For obvious reasons, speed and car-style reliability are going to be important to Mark. On paper, the specification is fairly straightforward – largish NiMH battery, regenerative braking to take the edge off those switchback Cornish hills, and a rapid charger, preferably with a second battery pack topped-up and ready to go in the surgery.

In practice, it’s a bit more difficult. Experience suggests that the Giant Lafree is the most reliable and efficient electric bike on the British market. But it isn’t fast, and the small battery puts a definite cap on range at about 20 miles – just enough for those ten-mile house calls, provided a spare battery pack is available at base.

Several faster bikes have come onto the market, and for a doctor on call, something capable of 18-20mph would seem eminently sensible.Yes, they’re technically illegal, but one wonders whether the ‘15mph’ law has much meaning when excessive motoring speed appears to be the norm. Modern Far Eastern bicycles like the Ezee Sprint are quite capable of maintaining 17mph or more even in hilly territory, but their high-geared motors tend to wilt when the going gets tough. On the positive side, the Sprint has a large but reasonably light battery and a fast charger.

As regular readers will know, regenerative braking offers the apparently magical capability of ‘recycling’ effort that would normally be wasted going downhill – useful, one would think, for the valleys and steep hidden coves of Cornwall. On the negative side, only a small proportion of the energy is recovered, and they’re rare beasts:The Tidalforce, designed for the US market, provides regenerative braking and a claimed 20mph cruising speed, but the company has not been forthcoming with technical specification, so beyond the usual optimistic claims, it’s hard to find firm information on its capabilities. Similarly, with the Canadian-made EPS bikes, the technology sounds good, but we have yet to try one in ‘real’ conditions. (Eds)

Badge Engineering

I just saw a Specialized folding bike on a web site. I didn’t know they had one out. I’ve been collecting information on Bike Fridays and Bromptons, and I hope to get a look at a couple of these bikes next week.

Have you got any information on the Specialized model? Will it be reviewed in your magazine any time soon? Should I consider one as an alternative to the above? I’m enjoying A to B, and only wish there was more of an emphasis on bicycle commuting over here!

Glenn Garland
Chapel Hill, New Carolina, USA

Specialized, like Trek, Dawes, Raleigh and most big manufacturers, have their folding bicycles manufactured for them by Dahon. As Dahon is the acknowledged expert, there’s nothing wrong with this, but you will generally pay a premium for the name tag. Bike Friday and Brompton manufacture high quality niche products that generally out-perform the ‘badge engineered’ machines. (Eds)

Who Lets The Lockers Out?

Stratford upon Avon is a small town at the end of a rail line, which runs too few trains to Birmingham and London. Bikes are a popular form of transport in the relatively flat area; most are the rusty old faithful sort ridden by surprisingly fit grey-haired persons.

To cater for this enthusiastic pool of potential customers, the station has proudly installed three metal hoops under a glass cover for six cycles, and a row of six secure cycle lockers (which only take 600mm more platform space than the hoops and covers).

On enquiring about the availability of these lockers, I am told that they are rented out for periods of six months to six persons. My observations suggest that the tenants very rarely use their facility.Thus the train company makes an easy killing on recouping the cost of the lockers whilst the lockers are little used.This does not seem to provide any real benefit to the wider public who might otherwise be tempted to ride to the station.

Is this typical of how secure cycle accommodation is actually used, or is Stratford an anomaly? Information from readers around the country would be of interest.

Robin Sankey
Stratford upon Avon,Warwickshire

According to Gerard Burgess, Communications Manager at Central Trains; ‘The reality is that open cycle lockers invite abuse and vandalism. A few years ago someone actually moved into one of the open cycle lockers at Sleaford! The idea is that renting a locker gives regular commuters the confidence to set off to the station knowing that they have secure storage. By keeping them secured when the bike isn’t there we prevent misuse.’

Take a Ride

An update – infuriating – on trains from Stansted Airport. A long conversation with Diana of One-Railway, which now includes the Stansted Express, concludes that all trains to the airport on a Saturday (September 18th in my case) are Stansted Express trains, none of which take unboxed bikes. So I’ll return from the Pyrenees with no option but to ride from Stansted.What sort of a bl%^&*()dy country are we coming to? I can fly into Gatwick and their trains take bikes, and don’t stink either.

Alan Roblou
Via email

We’re not flavour of the month at ‘one’ right now (see Mole).When we put this query to the company, we received only a sullen silence – rail companies really are their own worst enemies at times. Fortunately, the answer is at hand. Alan need only cycle a few miles to pick up a local train at Stansted Mountfitchet or Bishop’s Stortford. Rather pleasant after being cooped up in a plane for hours. Of course, what he should really do is travel with a folding bike and cut out all that hassle (unless he’s using RyanAir). (Eds)

Tighter Restrictions

South West Trains is carrying out a ‘consultation’ proposing a reduction in the off-peak times when cycles may be taken on trains. Although claimed not to affect those with folding cycles, if implemented, this would reduce further the options for the majority of cyclists to combine train/cycle travel.The proposal also runs counter to the Strategic Rail Authority’s own guidance to train operating companies as highlighted in A to B 42 (p14).

Andrew Croggon
Kingston-upon-Thames

Following the (late) arrival of new stock, South West Trains will be introducing tighter restrictions on bicycles from 11th October 2004 – see our website for details. Folding bikes are currently welcomed on all rail services in the UK and we’re confident that the industry sees sufficient commercial advantage in this to bring errant train operating companies back into line. (Eds)

Weighty Problem

I would like your recommendation on what folding bike to buy. I will use it to commute eight miles to work every day. I weigh 340lbs [155kg or 24 stone], but I need a bike that weighs as little as possible.

Russell Shymansky
Brooklyn, NY, USA

Without, hopefully, being too personal, it isn’t often that a folding bicycle is asked to deal with this sort of weight. Only two manufacturers responded to our query: Brompton, perhaps wisely, felt this was beyond the design parameters of their ‘off-the-peg’ machine, but ‘bespoke’ manufacturer Bike Friday can build just about anything to order.Their heaviest customer to date was a 26-stone farmer from South Dakota.The bike ended up weighing around 13.6kg. (Eds)

Lard with our Learning

Rolling ResistanceYour assertion that ‘rolling resistance rises as wheel diameter decreases’ (A to B 43) might well be disputed by some. Most notable would be Dr Alex Moulton, who has based the whole of his design and production of small-wheeled bicycles on the opposite premise, given that very high pressures can be introduced into the tyres.

Incidentally, am I alone in lamenting the long absence of the redoubtable Mr Portly? I shudder to think what his calorific intake must have been since he last graced the pages of A to B with his pearly prose. It is sad to realise that some regular but recent readers don’t even know of his existence. On the basis that incessant industry and infrequent recreation make Jacqui a miserable citizen, could we have a little lard with our learning, and the occasional appearance of Mr P?

David Price
Derbyshire

Beautifully put.Yes, we should have made it clear that our comment assumed all other factors to be equal. Lightweight sidewall construction and high pressures have transformed the rolling character- istics of small tyres, but they’ve also reduced the rolling resistance of big tyres (although not to the same extent), so small wheels remain at a disadvantage, albeit, a relatively insignificant one.

Mr Portly, our ‘fat nation’ food columnist, has been squeezed from these pages through lack of space, like many other enjoyable, but less factual things.We hope to make amends by either increasing the size of the magazine or becoming less industrious. (Eds)

290 miles in Three Days

May I comment on Peter Bolwell’s letter (‘Which tyre size?’, Letters, A to B 43)? I was in a similar quandary some years ago, eventually buying a Brompton more from faith than conviction. It was the right decision, although I’ve also bought bigger-wheel bikes since.

I’m a senior citizen with no pretensions of super-fitness. But, you can see from www.foldsoc.co.uk (News) how much I enjoyed a 290-mile trip in three days on a Brompton. My view is that mechanical efficiency is relevant, but comfort and state-of-mind are much more important. And, if you’re going for a pleasure ride, a Brompton lets you start and/or finish where you like, before jumping on and off cars, boats, trains, buses and even planes. If I were limited to one bike, it would unquestionably be a Brommie.

Incidentally, I really enjoyed the item on brakes in A to B 42; more of the same, please.

John Burgess
Croydon

100 miles in 8 Hours

Bicycle Tyre SizeI am enjoying reading A to B 43 delivered today. However, with regard to The Mole’s item on Eurotunnel, the company’s latest flyer gives their fares as, Day Return or Single, £16, Standard Return, £32.

Regarding the letter on tyre size, a 16-inch Brompton wheel measures 16-inches, while a 20-inch fitted with a road tyre has a diameter of approximately 18-inches, the 20-inch referring to use with a 2.25in width tyre. I have just returned from France where my Brompton carried me over many of the Vosges ‘ballons’ during the Semaine Federale. Despite long 16km ascents of 9% and shorter ones of 0.3km at 15%, it was not quite necessary to walk! Gearing is ‘reduced’, ie 44-tooth chainring x 13/15 tooth sprockets. On the final day I made a comfortable ride (except for the excessive heat!) of 100 miles in eight and a quarter hours, at an average speed of 14.2mph. I use standard Brompton tyres. This is not my first 100-mile ride, either! I do use a Brooks saddle.

Mark Jacobson
Herne Bay

Metric size (eg 349mm) relates to the rim diameter and guarantees a tyre will fit a particular rim

Imperial size (eg 16-inch) relates to the tyre rolling diameter for a particular tyre width only

Tyre sizes (usually in inches for smaller sizes) refer to a nominal overall tyre diameter that’s rarely correct, because diameter varies with the tyre width.When buying a tyre, it’s best to quote the more consistent ‘bead seat diameter’ ISO figure – 349mm for the 16-inch Brompton and 407mm for most 20-inch machines.There are others, but we won’t bore you. We usually treat the 349mm as having a 17-inch diameter (slicks like the Primo tend to be a little smaller) and the 407mm as 19-inches in diameter, but every tyre is different. (Eds)

Two-Child Transport?

I remember an article in one of your issues about a father who customised a trike to carry his twin infants. I rely heavily on my bike to get me and our two-year-old around and am expecting another child in January. I’m going to upgrade to a trike with child seat but need to find a seat/basket arrangement which would safely carry a new-born baby. If anyone has any ideas, I would be very grateful.

Karen Rodgers, Cambridge
phil@philrodgers.co.uk

Gentle Off-Road Brompton?

My wife and I are – as so aptly described in the pages of your magazine – members of the ‘grey brigade’! Being of sound mind, but not perhaps of body, we wondered if a pair of folders, possibly Bromptons, would be suitable for canal towpaths, cycle paths and the like.

At the moment, I have a typically heavy and unsophisticated mountain bike on loan. I can winkle this beast into our hatchback, but two of them would be a bit of a squeeze. I could fit a bike rack, but that would be too cumbersome. How do Bromptons with Schwalbe tyres perform on paths?

Rod Paul
Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire

The standard Brompton makes quite a good job of forest trails and surprisingly serious off-road stuff, but the stickier sort of mud will bring you to a rapid halt.We don’t often recommend the cheaper Brompton ‘C’ type, but it sounds ideal for your purpose – lightish, compact, low geared, and with slightly treaded Raleigh Record tyres and no mudguards. As for Schwalbe tyres, they don’t seem to grip any better than the old Raleigh Record, and our Readers’ Survey suggests they may be more prone to punctures. (Eds)

Touring Brompton?

Do you have any opinions or experience of touring on a Brompton? I have recently acquired one, and to my surprise find it one of the most comfortable bikes I have ever ridden. However, I fail to see how one can carry much luggage without losing the parking and folding facility, although I suppose you could tow. I would also be interested to hear anecdotal stories of any subscribers experience of touring on a Brompton.

Paul A F Wilson
Worcester

Most people are pleasantly surprised by the Brompton’s rideability, and many A to B readers seem to have attempted long heavily-laden tours. Our advice on luggage is to buy the largest ‘touring’ front pannier bag as your primary luggage carrier.The pannier system can carry big loads without introducing any serious instability – Brompton suggest a maximum of 10kg, but double that is feasible if necessary.You don’t say if you have a rear rack (T-type) or not.The rack is much less useful than it appears because, when loaded, it compromises folding and parking, but it’s useful for carrying a long, heavy object, like a tent. (Eds)

An Appropriate Forum?

There has been considerable debate in A to B recently about the relative fuel efficiency of cars and trains, which has left me a little confused in the end, but what about trams? They are of lighter construction than trains and so should, surely, require less energy to move? And what of the humble bus, or the trolley bus, which can be run on renewable energy?

I’m not sure that A to B is the ideal forum for debating this subject, but I don’t know anywhere more suitable either. It’s something we all need to understand, and plan for intelligently and in time!

Felicity Wright
Redditch

The tram industry has been slow to capitalise on its green credentials. In fact, due to their light weight, low rolling resistance, low speed, and ability to squeeze on standing passengers at peak times, trams are superbly efficient people movers. Energy consumption as low as one kilowatt/hour per kilometre, (around ten miles per gallon) has been claimed. If that’s true, miles per gallon per passenger would run well into four figures at peak times, and it’s difficult to move people more efficiently than that.Technically, any grid-connected transport operator can purchase power from a green source if they wish – something road transport is unlikely to be able to match, for a while yet at any rate. (Eds)

LED plus Dynamo Lighting?

Lots of interesting reading in A to B 43, so here are a couple of queries:Would the small Di Blasi drum brake fit on the front of a Brompton? And what would you think about running a couple of one watt white LED lights from a dynamo?

David Nichol
Symington, Ayrshire

Like most front hubs, the Di Blasi unit is too wide for the Brompton, which is an unusually narrow 75mm between the fork drop-outs. So although the drum itself would fit, the axle would have to be cut down – not impossible, but tricky. If any engineers are looking for work, Brompton-friendly hub brakes would provide steady business.

A pair of one watt LEDs probably could be run in series from a slightly altered dynamo. Not only would this be brighter and more reliable, but it would be relatively easy to incorporate a battery or capacitor-powered front ‘stand-light’ system too. (Eds)

Coldish or Warmish?

I noticed your review of the Cateye EL500 lamp.Was it the cold (bluish) white variety, and was it as good for seeing the road ahead as a 2.4W dynamo lamp?

A two watt input power for one watt of light output means no efficient driver electronics (a small fraction of the £45 price of the Cateye). Incidentally, any readers with access to soldering irons might want to buy the Lumiled LEDs directly from Farnell Electronics (www.farnellinone.co.uk) to make their own auxiliary lamp.The one watt ‘cold white’ LED with heatsink and 10 degree lens is order code 432-5746 (£10.91 + VAT), but a ‘warm white’ (filament bulb coloured) one watt LED and heatsink is order code 490-8971 (lenses are available separately, eg order code 489-4467).

Alan Bradley
Belfast, Northern Ireland

We’re struggling to summarise the performance of a lamp in words.The colour is rather less blue than earlier white LEDs, but distinctly ‘cold’ nonetheless. Light output seems to be broadly similar to a typical halogen dynamo lamp, but not up with the very best. (Eds)

Power-Assist Trike?

The feature on the Di Blasi trike in A to B 43 gave me an idea for transporting my disabled wife. As I do not own a car and normally use a variety of bicycles (including a folder) for getting around, the options for taking my wife along are somewhat limited, as she can only walk short distances and getting in and out of buses is difficult for her.

A tandem is too difficult as she cannot pedal, so a one-passenger trike (an electric- assist trishaw, in fact, but narrower) could fit the bill.

Brian Brett
Nelson, New Zealand

We turned to the experts for this one. Zero, distributor of the Christiania and Nihola trikes, can provide cyclo-style versions of either, suitable for a single adult. Cycles Maximus of Bath no longer produce a single-seater pedicab, concentrating instead on a conventional side-by-side arrangement (see A to B 39).The company suggests that in practice a larger cab is not a great deal more cumbersome, and most people find they need more space than they initially think. (Eds)

Folding While Riding

Brompton CatchI’ve been riding a Brompton for five years regularly on a 12-mile stretch of road. Six miles is smooth concrete and asphalt, but the other six miles is a very coarse asphalt, so the bike vibrates noticeably riding over that part. Over the five years, it has happened that at the end of a ride I’ve found the frame clamp looser than at the beginning.

Well this week I was near the end of the rougher stretch of pavement, when I noticed a wobble in the steering.Then it cleared itself up, but it soon came back again. I was trying to look down to see if I had a tyre problem, when the lever on the frame clamp spun free. I lost complete control of the steering, wobbled for about two seconds, and then the bike just collapsed, and I went over the handlebars down onto the road. Landed on an elbow and a shoulder, but fortunately didn’t break anything.

If you’re riding a folding bike over a rough road, just note the position of the clamp at the beginning of the ride, and be aware of it. On a Brompton, that should be enough to catch any loosening of the clamp, and it has to spin around a few turns before it comes off completely.

Peter Nurkse
Santa Cruz, California, USA

We were quite surprised by this, because we’ve ridden tens of thousand of Brompton miles, and have never heard of such a thing. On a dark night (especially after a few gin & tonics), it’s possible to tighten the clamp 90 degrees out of position, causing the hinge to fold instantly, or very quickly. And if the bike is lying down in a car boot or aeroplane hold, the clamps can unscrew, if left loose.The lever is deliberately made with one arm longer and heavier than the other, so it should never open by more than half a turn whilst riding – the lever has to turn three times to open. Even after one turn, the bike feels pretty odd, demonstrating that something is amiss. Possibly your clamp had been fractured or damaged in some way? (Eds)

The Final Word

In which you get your say… briefly

The best magazine I have ever bought . A work of genius! A joy to behold . Singular, unique and one of a kind . Simply the best! Simply perfect . The only magazine worth subscribing to! Informative and fun . A to B has never been so good . A different viewpoint Well written, humorous and good technically . Technical is good, politics and multi-modal stories are great . Good read, bargain price . Never squeeze the Mole out again – Intelligence, wit and good-heartedness makes your mag . Mole in issue 43 was brilliant – witty, but making a serious point or two . Witty, well-written and useful . Joy to read – all other work put on hold when A to B arrives! Well written and edited, but just a little biased at times? Read from cover to cover, but not keen on some of the terminology – eg, ‘cumbersome’ and ‘fuel’ for electric charge . The reviews are pitched just right and in plain English [from a teacher] . I enjoy articles not covered in mainstream cycling magazines More recumbents and family cycling please . More on trike developments please . More on components . More travel stories please – taking the bike on planes, buses, cars, etc More anarchy required – great magazine . The design and format is looking a bit dated [but] 12 issues a year please . Who knows? When I am a bit older (I am only 74 now), I may think about an electric-assist bike . Electric bike tests suddenly very informative since I was knocked off my bike and partially disabled . Keep up the electric bike information Your love affair with the Giant Lafree is often rather too obvious . Thanks for recommending the Lafree – I have been very pleased with the bike for getting to work across London . Human power, not electricity . Totally brilliant, monthly please! A good read, eagerly awaited, don’t go monthly! Independent, reasoned comments on the establishment’s antics . Bring back Mr Portly! More of the young lady with the dark hair please, she has such a lovely smile! Glad you haven’t joined the PC Brigade

Oyama Victor 1.0

Oyama Victor 1.0Ever get that feeling that the world has become a fast moving and confusing place? Take the world of folding bikes, for example. Not long ago, the Brompton was compact, the Bike Friday was sporty, the Dahon was cheap and cheerful, and almost everything else from the Far East was utter rubbish. In time-honoured fashion, you knew where you were.

Brompton and Bike Friday are still very much with us of course, but badges that were once the butt of innumerable folding bike jokes are fast becoming respectable.We noted the same process in the last issue with the very presentable Ezee electric bikes, and now folder manufacturers are moving the same way.The truth is that the Chinese in particular have done a lot of catching up in a remarkably short space of time. Initially spearheaded by the US and European-inspired Dahon brand, a revolution is underway.

…the Victor 1.0 looks like a Dahon, or – dare we suggest – a Bike Friday…

Oyama

Oyama Victor Folding Bike GearsOyama will be best known to A to B subscribers for copying the Brompton, launching the rather absurd Space Genie on an unsuspecting public in February 2002.We were less than complimentary to the Space Genie then, and laughed all over again the following year, when this and other Oyama bikes were adopted by US distributor Breezer.The Space Genie was an over-priced and ill-conceived attempt to cash in on the success of the Brompton and that – so the orthodoxy went in those far off days – was the best that Chinese and Taiwanese engineers could achieve.

Then in August this year, we discovered a new Oyama bike, and were intrigued.The Victor 1.0 looks like a Dahon Speed, or even – dare we suggest – a Bike Friday, with an aggressively raked monotube frame, straight bars and sporty bar-ends, but it was to be launched at a price of £350 – half the cost of a comparable Dahon and, for all the comparison is worth, a quarter of the price of a Bike Friday.

‘Ah yes’, the experienced folding bike watcher will say, ‘but the Oyama has a wobbly steel frame, crude 5-speed derailleur and weighs 15kg plus’. Not so.To save the bar-room pundits further embarrassment, we can reveal that they are entirely wrong.The Victor has a rigid alloy frame, 406mm (20-inch) wheels, all- up weight of a shade over 12kg, 8-speed Shimano Acera derailleur and numerous other light and delicately crafted bits. Folding bikes traditionally cost 25% to 100% more than their non-folding cousins, but the Victor 1.0 seems to break all the rules – can it really be this good?

The Victor

First impressions are positive.The Victor has clean lines (marred only slightly by a stem raked forward a little too steeply), deeply lustrous metallic paintwork (blue or red) and some snazzy graphics. Just about everything else is either sexy matt black or polished alloy.The frame, handlebars, saddle stem and (daringly) forks are made from aluminium, as are sundry other bits. In fact, the only substantial chunk of steel is the lower stem, and we’re not sure that is strictly necessary, of which more below. Interestingly, the spokes are made from something non-magnetic, which usually means stainless steel, but in this case they’re painted black. Something left over from the Chinese space programme perhaps? Who knows.

…the Victor is a real whopper… high enough to give shorter folk vertigo…

It’s a measure of how things have changed that a bike assembled from Chinese bits can look and feel so good: the Alex alloy rims are nicely machined, the Velo Crossflow saddle is leather (or, perhaps, leatherette), and the Xerama folding pedals (similar, but neater than the better-known VP117) look suitably chunky.

Like us, you may not be familiar with UNO Dimensions bar-ends, HA Speedwheel chainrings, or Chosen hubs, but don’t worry too much – they’re smart-looking and apparently serviceable Chinese facsimiles of quite nice bits and pieces from elsewhere.

A brief spin tells you a little more. Like all mid-range Shimano derailleurs, the Acera changes nice and crisply, with an occasional mild crunch, and the bike goes as well as it looks. But it’s designed for giants.The Chinese certainly seem to have taken on board the early European criticism of their tiny machines, because the Victor is a real whopper.The saddle goes up to a healthy 100cm (a shade more at a pinch), and the bars start at 100cm and climb to 119cm, which is high enough to give shorter folk a degree of vertigo. Oyama really could have saved itself a lot of weight and bother, as Dahon has done on most of its new designs, by eliminating the telescopic handlebar stem altogether, because hardly anyone will make much use of it.

Oyama Victor 1.0 MudguardMore of a problem is the saddle to bar ‘reach’ which some find quite a stretch.We have a fondness for rather upright bikes at A to B, and immediately put the saddle as far forward as it would go, but still felt like children on the Victor. Larger and more wirily-framed persons, particularly those used to drop handlebars, will be delighted.

Cover a reasonable mileage and you may find yourself grumbling about the saddle, but you can say that about almost any non-recumbent bicycle. Otherwise, the 30″ – 87″ gear range deals with most things.The 32-406mm Kenda tyres are fast-looking, which is half the battle, and inflate to a reasonable 65psi, all of which you’ll need at the rear, unless you’re quite light. At 14.2mph, the roll-down speed on our test hill proved more or less average for this tyre size.The weather was a bit autumnal and the rear hub bearings a little tight, so the Kendas could probably do better on a good day.

The unbranded V-brakes are excellent – quiet, progressive and effective, with power limiters both front and rear.We achieved best stops of .59G from the front, .38G from the rear (with the wheel locked), and a joint effort of .75G without any really scary stuff going on. If you take an interest in this sort of thing, you’ll appreciate that figures like these are more or less state of the art. Generally speaking, the feel of this bike, in terms of acceleration, cornering and braking, is impressively similar to something costing a great deal more.

Accessories

Make no mistake, at this end of the market, the Victor is a well-equipped bike. Mudguards are of the stubby bendy-plastic variety, and look trendy, but perform reasonably well in light rain; the stand does what it’s supposed to; and there are mounting points for a rack and/or proper mudguards should you feel so inclined. Everything feels well set up, and works straight out of the box, except for the bar-ends, which are delivered pointing downwards, but you’d probably want to adjust them for comfort anyway.

Folding

Oyama Victor1.0  Folding Bike Folded

A reasonable folded package

Not ‘alf bad, actually. If they’re not already down, you’ll need to drop the handlebars to their lowest position, then fold them using the stem catch, and carefully fold the frame in half, sandwiching the bars.We choose words with care, because the right-hand bar-end (remember, the bike was delivered with them pointing down) comes very close to snagging on the cables as you fold the bike.To complete the fold, the saddle stem drops with a quick release, and the Xerama pedals fold in (only the right-hand pedal in practice). All being well, the bike comes together in a reasonably compact fashion, measuring 44cm across, 83.5cm long, and 63cm tall.That’s a folded volume of 231 litres or eight cubic feet – not strikingly compact, but typical for a 20-inch machine. Whip out the saddle stem and the height comes down to 57cm, reducing the volume to 209 litres or 7.5 cubic feet.

Oyama Victor Folding Bike Hinge

The chunky mainframe hinge is nicely engineered

Folding can do horrible things to paintwork, and the Victor is vulnerable in this respect, the metallic finish being protected by a thin and rather brittle high gloss lacquer coat. A few weeks knocking about on station platforms and in and out of car boots would play havoc with the beautiful finish, but then you can’t have everything for £350.

…in terms of spec, the Victor is streets ahead of anything else in the £350 zone…

 

Oyama Victor 1.0 Folding Bike Stem Hinge

The stem hinge may prove to be a weak spot.The pivots tend to twist in the bracket, loosening the hinge

There are no clips to hold the bike in its folded form, but in that respect the Victor is no better or worse than most other 20-inch bikes.The hinges themselves are a mixed bag.The frame hinge is substantially engineered and more or less fail-safe.The stem hinge is equally well-crafted, but the latch is a bit dodgy-looking and we’re concerned that after a bit of use, it might develop enough play to separate. Hard riding put some movement into our handlebars after only a few miles.This is easy to adjust out, but it’s a problem that will return if you habitually pull hard on the bars. If Oyama is listening, this needs re-engineering. If you’re buying one, don’t worry unduly – we’ve seen worse on bikes costing three times as much. Just keep it in mind and watch for movement.

Conclusion

In an effort to gauge what value for money really means in this strange new world, it might be constructive to compare the Victor with the Trek 600 we tried back in April 2004. OK, the Trek has a trendy US badge, but it’s basically engineered by Dahon, whereas the Victor has no obvious track record. Both bikes have 20-inch wheels, both weigh within a shade of 12kg, both have a gear range of around 32″ to 90″, although the Trek has nine, rather than eight gears. Folding is broadly similar, but the lack of bar-ends and mudguards allow the Trek to make a slightly smaller package.They’re both suited to larger people too.

Differences? The Trek is almost certainly stronger, particularly around the hinges, but the Victor is better equipped elsewhere, and dynamically speaking, the bikes do much the same thing.The only serious difference is in price – £350 for the Victor and £750 for the Trek. Not being particularly badge- orientated, we wouldn’t hesitate in picking the new Oyama. Never thought we’d say that.

In terms of spec, the Victor is streets ahead of anything else in that £350 zone.Would you seriously choose a Pashley Fold-it, Di Blasi, or Strida over a bike like this? The Victor even succeeds in putting pressure on mid-range Dahons and Dahon-clones in the £500 – £700 region, which is quite some feat.

If you’re looking for a smart-looking, fun, sporty folder, and pennies count, go Victor. It might not be up to Iron Man Triathlon events, but it looks as if it might.You really are getting quite a nice little bike for the money.

Specification

Oyama Victor 1.0 £350 .Weight 12.1kg (27lb) . Gears Shimano Acera 8-spd . Ratios 33″ – 90″ Folded Dimensions W44cm H63cm L83.5cm . Folded Volume 231 litres (8 cu ft) . Folded Dimensions (saddle stem removed) W44cm H57cm L83.5cm . Folded Volume (saddle stem removed) 209 litres (7.5 cu ft) . Manufacturer Oyama Industrial Company Ltd web www.oyama.com UK Distributor Mission Cycles tel 01622 815615 mail info@missioncycles.co.uk

Brompton SP Trike folded

Brompton SP Trike

Brompton SP TrikeI used to ride a bicycle up to 12,000 miles a year – now I would just fall off. I have developed a balance problem and so decided to try a trike. Now, everyone says that trikes are for people with balance problems, but I tried one with two wheels at the back and could not move! Most roads have camber and with two wheels at the back on a slope, you are sitting at an angle and my ears kept telling me that I was falling. So I then tried a trike with two wheels at the front, which was much better, because my eyes could see that both wheels were on the road, passing the message to my brain that we were not, in fact, tipping over.

So I bought a new Newton trike with 700C wheels. It seemed a great idea and the answer to my problem, but it soon left me very annoyed, as it had lots of faults.These ranged from an unfinished braze, through to brakes that jammed on all the time, with lots of problems in between. It was pretty unrideable. I took it to St John Street Cycles in Bridgwater and they eventually spent eight months re-designing and rebuilding the whole front end, producing the superb machine I now own and enjoy.

…Stephen Parry secretly converted a Brompton into a trike for me…

Without Wheels

Brompton SP Trike folded

Not the smallest folding package in the world, but tiny by trike standards

Meanwhile, I was without wheels, so Stephen Parry, designer of the SP Brompton and a friend, secretly converted a Brompton into a two wheels at the front trike for me. He turned up one day with a big smile on his face and asked my husband and myself to visit his workshop as he had something to show us. Initially he was concerned about whether it would be stable enough, but it was fine. I took it for a ride, but was gone for so long that Stephen and my husband got worried, as they thought I may have fallen off. No, I was just enjoying riding the unusual trike and having a wonderful time!

The trike has the usual Brompton 3-speed hub, plus a double chain ring, giving six gears.V-brakes on the front are operated by a twin-cable lever, backed up by the standard rear brake.

The frame folds like any other Brompton and the handlebars fold down onto the top tube. Not super- compact, but easy enough to get into the house for storage – most trikes are such big beasts that it’s impossible to get one through the front door.This one even fits in the back of a car. Folded dimensions are approximately 92cm x 92cm x 66cm high. [558 litres or 20 cubic feet. Eds]

Far Superior

I have now done well over 600 miles on the SP Brompton Trike. My usual route is 26 miles including a 1:6 hill and I rode this route about twice a week for many months. I did manage the hill, but found it difficult with such limited gearing. I considered asking Stephen to put more gears in, but by then, SJS Cycles had rebuilt my Newton trike and as that had 24 gears and a more traditional (less upright) riding position, it was better suited to the longer rides that I wished to do.

One very noticeable difference between the two trikes, was that the SP Brompton, which really was a prototype, was far superior in build quality and functionality (it worked!) to the production Newton trike. But having now spent a total of £3,000 on the Newton, I have decided to keep it, as it is better for longer distances.

The SP Brompton Trike obviously cost money too, although it was only about half the cost of the Newton. I would give it excellent marks for build quality, functionality and foldability/versatility.The only comment I would make, is that if you are going to use it regularly up steep hills, you would want more gears.

Steve Parry, SP Bicycles . tel 01934 516158 . mail spbicycles@btopenworld.com

Giant Lafree Comfort Power Switch

Giant Lafree Comfort @ 3,600 miles – Long-term test

Giant Lafree Comfort

8.30am in February - another frosty school run

As regular readers will have gathered, we’re quite fond of our Giant Lafree. Other electric bikes have come and gone – some pausing only long enough to expire, explode or disgrace themselves in some other way, but the Lafree goes on and on.

Like all best friends, it’s thrown the odd tantrum and had the occasional sulk, but in two years and 3,600 miles, it’s never let us down. After a few early mods (see Lafree at 2,000 miles, A to B 37), we have hardly touched the bike.Two punctures and two broken valves in the first few months showed up faulty tubes, but the replacements haven’t been disturbed since.The same is true for the Nexus roller brakes, which bedded in during the first weeks, but haven’t been adjusted since, and the chain, which has been oiled only once.

With the arrival of the slightly faster Ezee Sprint in August 2003, we decided to increase the top speed of the Lafree by reducing the sprocket size by one tooth, from 21 to 20.This had the effect of increasing top speed by about one mile per hour in favourable conditions, but reduced the mileage per charge by about 10%. For lighter cyclists this may be a useful mod, but not for those towing trailers and/or tackling steep hills.

…the princely sum of £1. Not bad for two years ‘motoring’, eh?

In October, after a period of prolonged and heavy rain, the handlebar-mounted power switch started misbehaving. Removing the cover showed that water had found its way inside, but a few days drying out with the cover off cured the problem.The switch detente involves a spring and tiny ball-bearing that’s easily lost.When putting the cover back, a blob of grease will keep the ball in place and help to prevent water getting in.We certainly never suffered a recurrence of the problem.

Giant Lafree Comfort Power Switch

The power switch is vulnerable in very wet conditions, but a blob of grease seals it

Two months later, one of our two batteries appeared to fail, but on inspection, the cells seemed OK.The Lafree charger features a ‘refresh’ button, that very gently drains, then refills, the battery to keep the 20 internal cells in ‘sync’ with each other.We had ignored Giant’s advice to refresh every month, resulting in some cells being empty while others were almost full – a very confused battery.We decided to perform a ‘super- refresh’, by individually draining each cell, then recharging the battery.This really works, and may be worth trying if you suffer similar problems, although the battery remains the weaker of the two. Strangely enough, a mileage test revealed that both were capable of ‘as-new’ performance, but the weaker one sometimes fails in service after seven or eight miles. It may be that these problems stem from over-use of our solar charger, which fills the battery quite slowly, but we have no evidence to prove this, and the gentle charge may even be beneficial..

Battery problems aside, snow and ice did nothing to halt the Lafree in its second winter. In favourable weather, Alexander rides to school on our Brompton trailer-bike, but when it’s too cold or too wet, the Lafree pulls the trailer. It’s on these sort of wet or bitterly cold mornings that a reliable electric bike proves its worth.

In late May, the charger failed, cutting off before the battery was properly charged. Talking to other high-mileage owners, this problem is not unknown, and Giant says a batch were affected and the chargers should now be reliable. In practice, with our reduced mileage, the solar panels covered for the broken charger for some weeks.

Since then, all has gone smoothly. In our first year, the playschool run boosted weekly mileage to 40. Over the course of this second year, we’re averaging about 30 miles – mainly short trips to town, and usually with the trailer attached, but a few longer day rides of 30 to 40 miles.The big question will be over battery life – our batteries have reached around 200 charges each, and although the theoretical life is considered to be 1,000 charges, we’re expecting to do a lot less, but time will tell.

The Maxxis tyres are probably good for 5,000 miles, so they’ll soon be due for replacement.We’ll probably do the chain at the same time. Running costs make interesting reading: in 3,600 miles, we’ve used about 29Kw of electricity. More than a third of this has come directly from the sun, at zero environmental or monetary cost, and the rest from the grid, for the princely sum of £1*. Not bad for two years ‘motoring’, eh?

Do we still love the Lafree? You bet. And so does almost everyone who has tried it – two out of three recent visitors going straight home to buy top-of-the-range 5-speed STs, which tells you something about the bike’s pulling power. It’s an A to B classic.

*Putting it another way, we’ve ridden for two years on the energy needed to heat a typical living room for an evening. In petrol terms, it’s the equivalent of just over half a gallon – half the annual consumption of the family mower.

Giant Lafree Comfort £1,099 . For UK stockists, call 0115 9775900

Birdy Black

Birdy Black Folding BikeIn a world where Dahon now produces the lightest folders and Oyama can sell a reasonable sports machine for just £350, you’d think the traditional Western manufacturers – Brompton, Birdy and Bike Friday – would be watching their backs. No doubt they are, and we know new products are under development, but the ‘old world’ bikes are starting to look a little jaded.

Why should anyone bother buying a heavier and much more expensive product from Europe or the USA when the Chinese are making similar things for a third of the price? That all depends on what the pricier bikes have to offer.The Brompton is still unbeatably compact and the Bike Friday and Airnimal provide a quality ‘big bike’ feel that would be hard to match, but what of the Birdy? We’ll run through the pros and cons of spending £1,250 on a bike that’s essentially unchanged, after a production run of ten years or so.

Birdy Black

For those unfamiliar with the genre, the Birdy was launched in late 1994 as a competitor to the already long-established Brompton. Designed and marketed by Riese & Müller in Germany, the bikes are manufactured by Pacific in Taiwan – hardly a cut- price producer these days, of course, so all those sea-miles and middle-men add what economists laughingly call ‘value’.To buy our Birdy Black, with a few modest accessories, would cost the innocent consumer no less than £1,323.

Birdy Black Folding Bike Front Coil Spring

Birdy front coil spring and polymer suspension - the whole lot hinges round and back when folded

The Birdy frame is of chunkily-crafted aluminium throughout, and almost everything hung off it is light alloy too, with the exception of nuts and bolts, saddle rails, and a few other bits. It might come as something of a surprise then, to find that our test bike weighs 11.7kg (25.8lb) – almost as much as the Oyama featured on page 20. Admittedly, the Black is fitted with the optional rear rack and mudguards, but it’s also a relatively expensive model and generally considered to be the lightest in the range. By way of comparison, the much cheaper (well, £830) Birdy Red weighed 12kg when we tested it back in December 1999 with much the same accessory pack.The Black weighs a little less than the similarly equipped Brompton ‘T’ type, and probably a little more than a Bike Friday built to this sort of spec. Obviously, it’s no heavyweight, but it wins no special awards in the weight department either.

On the road, the bars are very low, a feature you will either love or hate. More comfortable riding upright bikes, we hated it, but anyone familiar with drop bars and head-down white line chasing will feel right at home. Birdy does offer a taller, height-adjustable ‘comfort’ stem as an option, but it adds weight, cost and folding complication, so if you really don’t like the ‘bum in the air’ position, a Birdy probably isn’t for you. On the other hand, the bike has many loyal converts – mostly occasional rail users who simply can’t live with the more upright Brompton.We suspect you will know very quickly whether the Birdy is for you.

Specification

One of the reasons for the Birdy’s loyal following is the suspension – arguably the cleverest and most effective system fitted to any folding bike. It’s pretty conventional at the rear, with a pivot down by the bottom bracket and polymer suspension bungee, but in place of conventional forks at the front, the Birdy has an odd-looking swinging arm and combined bungee/steel coil spring apparently better than Deore, but arrangement.This suspension is ‘anti-dive’ (unlike suspension forks, the front of the we’re not competent to judge…” bike won’t dip down under braking), but compliant enough to absorb lumps, bumps and even climb small kerbs.

The result of all this sophistication is a smooth ride (we suggest choosing the softest ‘yellow’ rear polymer of the three options) and quite a lot of weight and complication. The rigid frame and compliant suspension make fast cornering safe and secure, although the front end of the bike feels a bit light and lacking in directional stability.This may be entirely a matter of personal preference, but for carrying a long heavy object under your arm, as one does, we prefer the more upright Brompton which puts less weight on your arms. Similarly with hand signals – you may disagree, but we find the Brompton a little less jittery riding one-handed.

Gears vary across the Birdy range, from the cheaper 8-speed Shimano Deore on the Red to £700 worth of 14-speed Rohloff hub on the Grey. Our Black has Deore XT, which is apparently better than Deore, but we’re not competent enough to judge. It all seems to work well enough, giving a slightly low gear range of 30″ – 87″ and a nice reliable change, once you’ve mastered the space-age Meg-9 shifter, which has one lever to go up and another very similar one to go down.The Black is also fitted with Shimano 105 ‘Hollowform’ bottom-bracket and cranks, which are claimed to be stiff yet light, something that, once again, we can’t verify.

Brakes are Avid, which will either make you jump up and down with excitement or not, according to taste.They certainly work well enough, but the Birdy’s rather short 101cm wheelbase makes the bike a bit ‘tail-light’ under braking, reducing the effectiveness of the rear brake. Using our high-tech G-force meter, the best stop proved to be only .34G before the wheel locked up.The front brake works well, provided you have the strength to give it a mighty heave.We managed reliable stops in the region of .6G and even saw .66G on one occasion, but thanks to the short wheelbase and extreme difference in lever pressure required, it’s difficult to improve on this with both brakes. In fact, we never saw .66G again.

Tyre Problems

Birdy Black Folding BikeTyre

A nasty bulge. Modern high pressure tyres really shouldn’t do this sort of thing

Riese & Müller has had its share of tyre problems over the years. The 355mm tyres fitted to the Birdy are designated 18-inch, but are actually about 17-inches in diameter, so only marginally bigger than Brompton’s nominally 16-inch 347mm tyre (see Letters, page 14 for more). With such small tyres, the odd millimetre here and there really does matter, but the 18-inch size has always been let down by poor quality.Things have improved a bit – you can now buy a Schwalbe Marathon in this size (not that we rate the Marathon particularly highly), but the bikes are shod as standard with R&M’s own tyre, produced by Maxxis. These look great, but they’re heavy (400g apiece) and distinctly ‘old- tech’ in design.This all conspires to make the Birdy feel more slothful than it looks. On this occasion our Birdy Black failed to complete the roll-down test (see below), but when we last tried a roll-down test with the Maxxis, the bike managed only 11.7mph, which is about as bad as it gets.To put that in perspective, early Bromptons and Bickertons, with historic Raleigh Record tyres, rolled further and faster.The Birdy really does deserve better. More positively, the Birdy is a great convertor of pedal energy into forward motion, so rolling resistance is less significant than it might be.

 …The tyre began to distort… bulging far enough to stop the wheel rotating…

The serious stuff involves tyres exploding off the rims, due to poor tolerances. Soon after we inflated our front tyre beyond a modest 60psi (they’re rated at 90psi), the tyre began to distort and lift off the rim, bulging far enough to stop the wheel rotating. Had someone been riding at speed, the result would almost certainly have been an unpleasant over-handlebar incident. Even worse, after releasing the air and repositioning the tyre, we found it had developed a permanent set, so we had to complete our test very gingerly, with less than 30psi in the front tyre to keep the bulge at bay.

We’ve checked with a cross-section of Birdy owners on the A to B database and five have experienced similar failures – four in Germany and one in the UK. Some mentioned the opposite problem; tyres that were too tight on the rims. But loose or tight, we would expect better quality control on a bicycle costing well into four figures. Until it’s fixed, our advice is to limit pressure to 50 or 60psi.

Equipment

Birdy Black Folding Bike Rack

The latest Birdy rack is suspended on struts linked to the rear frame. When folding, this pulls the rack down, producing a neat package

The list of options is quite long, but we’ll try to keep it simple. Our bike came with mudguards, a side stand and the latest rear rack. Birdy racks seem to change with the seasons – we think we’ve seen three distinct designs over the years.The latest SL rack is darned clever, suspended on a sort of cantilever, which allows it to hinge down as the wheel folds away, a la Brompton. Unlike the Brompton, the rack doesn’t end up quite under the bike, but it goes far enough for the bike to stand on two little rollers in a part-folded ‘parked’ position. For £36 (if originally equipped), the rack is an extremely useful accessory.

Mudguards have improved a great deal too. Once a flippy-floppy afterthought, the Birdy can now be said to have proper mudguards for an extra £22, sensibly mounted and protected from scuffing by little plastic pads. Our bike was also equipped with a stand, although we’re not sure how useful this is in practice, and don’t forget the extra weight – odd grams here and there can be critical on a folding bike.

Other options include Lowrider clips to fit panniers either side of the front wheel (a neat idea at £29), Expedition Carrier (at £53, a pricey way of fitting rear panniers), lights (dynamo or battery), Pump (should be standard, surely?), Frame Bag (£25 – an expensive way of carrying a toothbrush), and three cover options.The £29 Cover, like the Brompton cover, really only disguises the bike, but for more serious travel, you can specify a Bag for £70, or hard-sided Suitcase at £180.

Folding

Birdy Black Folding Bike FoldedThe Birdy is a distinctly odd bike to fold, and if you get it wrong you can end up mud wrestling with chains, tyres and other grubby things, while the mudguards get scraped and bashed, hence the plastic pads. Now, we know some people find it easy, but despite being reasonably adept with Dahons, Bike Fridays, Bromptons and Micros, we usually get in a grubby tangle with the Birdy. Our primary problem comes right at the start, because it’s essential to put the left-hand pedal in the down position and the bike in a high gear. Most folding bikes prefer the pedals to be broadly in the right place, but with this Birdy/Brompton style ‘compound’ fold, derailleur gears can cause problems.The Brompton, Birdy Green and Birdy Grey have hub gears, which are fine, but the other Birdys are derailleur. Sorry, but we just could not get used to this. It’s a damn nuisance.

Birdy Black Folding Bike FoldedThe rear frame unclips, folding down and round, to end up beside the frame, locked in place by the descending seat post.Then the front wheel and unclipped front suspension rotates round and lock into place behind the headset. Unlike the ‘loose’ Brompton rear wheel, both wheels on the Birdy must be unclipped before folding, which is either an advantage or a hindrance, depending on your point of view. Pedals are of a conventional non-folding design, but the folded package is so wide, they do not protrude.

On this occasion, we produced a package measuring 82cm long, 63cm tall and 40cm wide, giving a folded volume of 207 litres or 7.4 cubic feet, which seems pretty typical on past performance.To be honest, it’s a bit disappointing, and broadly similar to much simpler 20-inch designs, such as the Dahon.The other disappointment is that it’s very difficult to fold a Birdy without getting your hands dirty, because there’s really no escape from grappling with the tyres and other grubby bits. Again, you may profoundly disagree, but we think this rules the bike out for the smarter sort of person with nice shapely nails, which is a PC way of saying women and the more effete sort of gentleman.We may be wrong – do let us know.

Conclusion

As we saw in the the last issue with the Dahon Helios SL and in this issue with the Oyama Victor, the mainstream folding bike manufacturers cannot afford to be complacent, because there are some excellent designs starting to arrive from the Far East at extremely competitive prices.

On paper, the Birdy Black, more than most, is in big trouble. It has the sort of price tag that could give elderly Cyclist Touring Club types a heart attack, yet it’s relatively heavy, difficult to fold, and it produces a big cumbersome package.We’re sometimes accused of favouring the Brompton, but (sigh) it really does fold much smaller, much quicker, and the process is generally oil-free. And we could add that a Brompton doesn’t usually try to fling off its front tyre. On the road, the jury is more split, with a sizable minority favouring the Birdy, but the new Mezzo (see News) is likely to take sales here too, and it costs half the price.

As mentioned somewhere or other above, you will know if you are a Birdy person, but if you aren’t you would be well advised to keep that £1,250 (£1,323 in this case) safely in the bank. For commuters, a Brompton or Mezzo is less than half the price, and for leisure riders and tourists making occasional use of public transport, a custom Bike Friday will (or should) fit like a glove and give years of pleasure for about the same price. If you have been seduced by the Birdy’s undoubted qualities, we’d suggest starting with the Red, which is almost as good as the Black, but leaves you with £400 in your wallet.

Specification

Birdy Black £1,250 . Weight (as tested) 11.7kg (25.7lb) . Folded size W40cm H63cm L82cm Folded volume 207 litres (7.4cu ft) . Gears Shimano Deore XT 9-spd derailleur .Ratios 30″- 87″ Manufacturer Riese & Müller web www.r-m.de mail team@r-m.de tel +49 6151 366860

Brompton ‘B’ Bag

Brompton-B-BagIf you regularly fly with a folding bike, you will know all about baggage handlers, the meticulously trained gorillas employed by airlines to heave your precious possessions from tarmac to hold and vice versa.

With a full-size bike, air-carriage may be expensive and time- consuming, but you can at least be confident that something so evidently fragile won’t get lobbed around too much. For folding bikes like the Brompton – that look much like other bit of luggage, but are both heavier and more fragile – it’s a different story.

Brompton has produced a bike cover for many years, but it’s more about disguise than protection, and there’s a coherent argument for leaving the cover off, in the hope that the handling-gorillas will show a little compassion.

The only real alternative is a conventional hard case – we usually suggest marching into a luggage shop with your Brompton and choosing a size that will comfortably take the bike, plus a few pairs of knickers and classic lightweight trousers tucked in where space permits.This will protect the bike against most eventualities, but makes life mighty difficult at point B. In short, what do you do with the case when you arrive? One option is to throw the whole lot in a taxi, but cycling straight out of the airport is one of the joys of folding bikedom, and you’ll need a better solution if you’re touring. Bike Friday gets around the problem with its patented TravelTrailer – basically a hard case that sprouts wheels and becomes a trailer. But the wheels add extra drag, weight, expense and complication.

The boffins at Brompton think they have come up with a compromise in the form of a padded soft bag, tough enough to give some protection during and after the flight, but light and compact enough to carry away on the bike.This, to avoid confusion with soft bags and hard bags, has been christened the ‘B’ bag. So in this crazy world, you might just find yourself explaining to a ‘one’ booking clerk in Bombay that you need space for a ‘B’ bag in coach C of the 8.20 ‘one’ service to Diss. No room for confusion there, then.

A Brief Description

The ‘B’ is made of a ruggedly woven nylon cordura fabric, padded to a depth of 5mm on the sides, with a solid base of laminated alloy and plastic.The result is very strong, but flexible enough to roll away into a manageable package. At the rear of the bag are two rugged little castors, supported on ball bearings, to give mobility on smooth surfaces. In ‘wheeled suitcase’ mode, you lift the bag with a little strap at the front and it whizzes along beautifully. For tougher customers, there’s also a broad shoulder strap, and a pair of conventional handles.

Weight is 2.3kg – a lot less than a hard case, of course, but rather more than a conventional soft bag. Dimensions when loaded are approximately (the bag is sculpted to some extent around the bike) 24cm wide, 64cm long and 58cm to 67cm tall. Any Brompton will fit, even those without a folding pedal (though we’d strongly recommend getting one) and/or with the longer SP6 seat post.The packed bag is little larger than the bike, but there’s enough space for carefully packed clothes, and even documents in the near (but not quite) A4-size zipped internal pocket. Another clear-fronted pocket just happens to take a copy of your favourite folding bicycle magazine, which may be pure coincidence, but thanks anyway lads.

With quick-releases on the straps, and floor to floor zips, the bag opens right out, so there’s little or no lifting required to load the bike. Ride off, and you’re dealing with a bag measuring 15cm x 25cm x 65cm – relatively cumbersome, but manageable enough, either on your back, strapped to the rack, or even poking out of the ‘Touring’ pannier bag.

In Practice

Brompton-B-BagNo doubt, the bag will be used in innumerable different ways.We would suggest carrying the ‘B’ on your back, and packing clothes into several plastic bags stuffed into a touring pannier for the trip to the airport. At the check-in, the bike and clothes go in the ‘B’ as hold luggage, and the Touring pannier plus essentials stays with you as hand luggage, with the packing and unpacking operation reversed at the other end.

Without the bike, the ‘B’ has an 80 litre capacity, although you wouldn’t want to carry too much weight in it. One question we had to answer was whether you can ride a Brompton carrying a second bike in the ‘B’ bag? Well, you can, but it’s not an operation for the faint-hearted, and you wouldn’t want to carry 12kg too far…The other classic use will be for yachting folk – yes, the straps are long enough, and the bike small enough, to dangle down through a 60cm x 60cm hatch. Hopefully, there’s enough padding should you forget the bike’s there and chuck the anchor down after it…

We’ve seen all sorts of travel bags over the years, from the basic (our own lightweight covers), through the cumbersome, to the plain useless (see Trek F600, A to B 41).This new Brompton-specific bag answers most of the criticisms of previous designs, being light enough and small enough to transport, but tough enough to give the bike some real protection. If the handlers drop it three metres off the end of an elevator, the bike will suffer, but it should survive the everyday knocks and bangs of air travel.

Brompton ‘B’ Bag £95 . Weight 2.3kg . Unfolded Dimensions H67cm W24cm L64cm Folded dimensions H15cm W25cm L65cm . Manufacturer Brompton tel 020 8232 8484

Folding bike in Israel

A commuter in No-Folderland – Letter from Israel

Tel-Aviv MapThis story comes from a land where the notion of a folding bicycle is practically unknown, and it has a happy ending:There is a Brompton dealer in Tel-Aviv, as of March 2004, called Ilan’s Bikes, and the shop is within walking distance from where I live. Actually, Ilan (a Brompton owner himself) was cautious about the enterprise. He said let’s wait and see if people do order…

My folder affair began some three years ago, owing mainly to the emerging Israeli train system and the development of the seafront shared-use promenade and Yarkon riverside park.Tel- Aviv is one of the few cities of its magnitude in the world that exists without an underground rail system.

From the days of the Turks and then the British, a railway line followed the coastal plain from Lebanon through Haifa,Tel- Aviv and Gaza, with side routes from Haifa through the plain of Esdraelon to Syria and from Tel- Aviv through Lod and Ramla (a Turkish-built administrative centre) to Jerusalem. After the British left, the system fell into decay – the ‘valley train’ to Lebanon was abandoned, and although the train to Jerusalem survived, it climbed the 700 metre ascent so slowly that it was practically useless.

…I scanned the internet for ‘folding bicycle’… the future turned out to be here already…

The renaissance started five years ago. New stations began to appear in the greater Tel-Aviv and Haifa areas – first Ha-Shalom, then Ha’Hagana near the new central bus station (holding the dubious record of being the biggest bus station in the world, but also one that neither the citizens nor the bus operators needed – aka the Tel-Aviv White Elephant), and University (near the exhibition centre). New suburban rail lines followed, many of the stations being built in the middle of nowhere, but near shopping malls, a policy that, surprisingly, has proved quite successful.The eastern suburban line, leading from the university to Bene Braq (actually, the Ayalon Mall), the Segula mall, Rosh Ha’ain (near an industrial park) and Kefar Sava has been running successfully for two to three years.The newer Rishon Lezion line has been less successful, due to its bad location. More ambitious plans include a completely new line to Jerusalem, and there are proposals to extend this railway as far south as Eilat on the Red Sea.

Cycle Paths

foldingbikeisrael-2At about the same time as the train improvements, they also paved a contiguous road through the Yarqon river park, which was later joined to the seafront promenade, giving me an off-road route almost all the way to work.With these ground breaking developments, the time was ripe for a folding bicycle.

This was pure inspiration. Actually, I never saw one. (Later I was to learn that there where some half a dozen Bromptons and a score of 16-inch Dahons in Israel, but I had never witnessed any of them.) I recalled seeing in the Discovery Channel’s Tomorrow’s World a part on folding bikes, with this guy halting in front of a supermarket, folding the bike and then proceeding to use it as a supermarket trolley (well, sadly enough, you can’t do this with a Brompton!). So, I scanned the internet for ‘folding bicycle’. Surprisingly, the future turned out to be here already.There was plenty of material, mainly from Britain, including ads and a couple of comparison articles (from A to B magazine, I guess).

The name Brompton came up regularly, as the commonly- accepted standard commuter for my distance hauls, allegedly offering acceptable riding experience and folding small; much more expensive than I had in mind, but still affordable. Other models seemed to be either cheaper but inferior or forbiddingly expensive science fiction pieces. It so happened that I was scheduled to spend a week in London on business at the time, so I made my mind to return home with one.Then, the trip was cancelled at the last moment. Frustrated, I compensated myself by ordering the bike by mail, ignoring the extra cost (from Avon Valley, including the suggested A to B subscription, whatever that meant – let it be!). I agreed to compromise on the colour, so the bike came after a few days in a big carton. I unpacked the contents and learnt from the manual how to fold and unfold it.The next day, we started the on board a train is strictly work schedule we’ve maintained ever since: the bike forbidden here…” carrying me to work and me carrying it upstairs.

Some improvements were called for, though. I upgraded the original three-speed gearing – being too little and too high – to six-speed reduced gearing, which has been doing the job right. Surprisingly, on small wheels one needs fewer speeds to be comfortable. And I always ride with feet firmly strapped to pedals, by either toe-clips or cleats. Being tied to the pedals makes for efficient pedalling, making it practical to ride on rough surfaces and climb steep inclines, such as the infamous Wooden Bridge illustrated, in the park en route to work.

I insisted upon a rack (in addition to the very practical front bag). In no way does it interfere with train commuting; on the contrary, the additional pair of small rubber wheels (which I replaced with bigger ones from an old cabinet!) makes it practical to tow the folded bike on smooth surfaces over medium distances, as in train stations and malls. You hold the folded package with four fingers by the saddle, lifting it a little. (The practicality of this position may depend upon one’s height, though). Needless to say, the original saddle was quickly torn in the process, which turned out for the good – got me a Brooks saddle instead, which is superior for both sitting and towing.

My normal route to work does not start from a station on the map. I live close to the beach, exactly 3.5 km from Hagana station, three from Hashalom station, 3.5 from Central station and six from University. Getting to any of these by public transport in the morning would take around 30 minutes, but getting to Hagana by bike, including folding, takes 13 minutes. Usually I take the long (and pastoral) 10km route – gliding down General Allenby street to the beach, along the seafront and through the riverside park to work, which is near Bene Braq station.When I want to take the short, noisy and polluted 7km route, I climb a few metres up Allenby and glide down King George the 5th Street into the city. Obviously, the British did leave some traces behind…

Folding bike in IsraelThe railway can be useful too. A nice train station has been built in an industrial park I used to visit on business errands quite often, some 90 kilometres from home, and which – though located on a main road – was virtually unreachable by the bus system.

Carrying bicycles on board a train is strictly forbidden here.The regulations do not mention folding bikes, but I have been delayed only twice (and released after a short inquiry) by overzealous conductors.Thorough baggage checking is routine here on entrance to train stations and other buildings. So, arriving at the gate with the folded and covered package may cause unnecessary delay. (‘What is inside?’ ‘A folded bicycle.’ ‘What?’) On the other hand, once in the station, the folded bike had better look like an ordinary bag, just in case the conductor gets over-excited.The trick is to glide nonchalantly up to within a few metres of the security officers to catch their attention (but not too close to become an annoyance), spend 20 seconds laboriously folding the bike and covering it, then march to the guard saying ‘it’s the bike, remember?’

… The police were already on their their way… the ‘suspicious bag’ was my innocent bicycle…

The bicycle cover is handy once boarding, as shown by the following anecdote, (incidentally demonstrating how little known the concept of a folding bicycle is here). In the Jerusalem central bus station, I once left the folded bike, in its thin default cover, in the line for a bus, asked someone to watch it and left for the toilet.When I returned, the safe keeper was gone and a crowd had gathered at a safe distance. As I approached, I was signalled to keep away from the suspicious bag.The police were already on their way.The ‘suspicious bag’ was, of course, my innocent bicycle, albeit thinly covered, with the rack and rear lights clearly protruding from below. Even as I took it by the hand, I was advised never to leave my ‘bag’ this way again.Then, the bike went aboard the bus’s baggage area, and remained an anonymous bag all the way to Tel-Aviv.

Living in no-folder-land is by means bad. People respond well to the idea as soon as they see it. Positive comments on the practicality of the technology are common. However, they find it harder to accept the price.These people can appreciate why they should pay over $2000 for a full-suspension MTB, weekend mountain biking being a widespread sport here. However, they find it harder to appreciate the price for something that delivers the first impression of a child’s machine. (The 16-inch revolution of the 1960s has never reached these parts).

Let us hope that this situation changes, because Israel – especially the coastal plain – is ideal territory for folding bikes. Infrastructure is getting better: the rail network is developing, two underground lines are planned (on paper at least) and sporadically, bicycle tracks make an appearance (leading from nowhere to nowhere, but sure, it’s a start). Oh, and Ilan is reporting some folding bike sales.